Author Archives: Andrea

Barcelona July 13, 2018 posted by Andrea

Barcelona is home.

We just wrapped up another school year here in Barcelona and it was just as great as the first, maybe even better! When you move abroad the second year is usually better than the first because you are a bit more settled in and truly begin living in a place. The first year is filled with meeting new people, adjusting, navigating the city and just trying to get into your groove. When we moved to Barcelona we knew we would be coming for two or three years, one was never an option. We knew from moving to Costa Rica that it just takes too much effort to stay for only one year.

People do it, of course, the “family gap year” is definitely a thing, but so many people that arrive in a place for a year wish they could stay longer and we personally know so many people that thought they were just coming for a year but ended up staying for another.  A year just goes too fast!

We are a bit different in that we don’t have to go back to a job, career or for anything in particular and if we wanted to leave and go try living somewhere else in the world, we could. It’s totally up to us, but sometimes that’s not as wonderful as it might sound. That is the challenging and frustrating part of living abroad, you feel like you are constantly in a state of decision making.

This year was all about making the decision to stay not just for one more year, but six years!
Why six?

Well, because if McKenna starts high school here. The thought of changing schools in two years when she is in 11th grade is daunting. Plus, at that time they start to really get into the IB program and grades and transcripts matter for planning for college, and she definitely wants to go to college. So we have four years of high school for McKenna, but then two years more for Hudson to finish high school. So it’s sort of like, we either leave now or maybe after one more year (McKenna could start 10th grade somewhere else) or stay for the long haul.

At the start of the school year, McKenna was struggling a bit, she was transitioning between friend groups and well, she had a period of time when she asked if we could leave, go back to the States or move to London. She is a teenage girl so any sort of middle school drama was going to be found anywhere we went, but Harris and I were bummed because we love it here so much and we wanted her to love it too. Obviously, we were not going to move countries based on a 13-year-old girl’s emotional mood, but we felt bad that for a period of time she wasn’t happy.

This is why moving abroad with younger children is sometimes easier as they don’t have quite the strong opinions that older kids might have. But, as parents with teens will know, once children get older and start navigating their world, they have opinions and thoughts and feelings, all of which we value.

Like any parent anywhere in the world, you want your kids to be somewhere where they are happy, fulfilled and thriving. We’ve also been gone on this “adventure” for five years now, so maybe she thought we’d finally had enough and were ready to go back home, too.  Because some aspects of living abroad can get tiring, for sure! For example; she can’t work in Spain so she’s sort of bummed she can’t get a job at the mall. {LOL}

Sure, if something happened next year we could obviously move and get her into a school somewhere, whether its back in the USA, London or who knows where!? But there is also a part of us that would like to finally just settle and not have to be in decision-making mode anymore. There is comfort in making a decision, committing and moving on with your life. So that is what we are doing. We have decided to stay in Barcelona, and not just because we are comfortable here, but because we absolutely LOVE living in Barcelona.

How long you are staying or if you are leaving, is always a topic of conversation among the international community, and earlier this year we started to tell people we think we’re staying until the kids graduate from high school, because we honestly don’t know how we would upgrade our life.

After McKenna’s 8th grade graduation last week I think something was made clear to all of us, that we now know we are staying for six more years. Barcelona feels right. Barcelona is home.


I should also note that McKenna is on board for this and she had a great school year after getting over a little hump, she is excited about High School here, this week;) And this will probably be the last post where I share anything too personal (or embarrassing) about McKenna. 😉


Barcelona is home.
Adventure June 21, 2018 posted by Andrea

I may have liked Porto better than Lisbon!

Porto Portugal with kids

This is a long overdue post, I am sorry to leave you all hanging if you found my Lisbon with kids and visiting Sintra blog posts. Thankfully, a kind reader left a comment asking me where the Porto Portugal post was, which nudged me to get the final Porto Portugal with kids post done! Actually, it’s funny that I didn’t write about Porto sooner because I may have liked Porto better than Lisbon! So here we go…

We drove to Porto from Sintra and it happened to be Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend and traffic was insane! This is why I said I regretted driving, the main train station drops you right in the center of the city and later I would find out this was literally around the corner from our hotel. But we spent a nightmare of about an hour stuck in city traffic trying to get to the hotel. Literally an hour trying to go about 10 blocks and we were all starving!


Where we stayed

It happened to be Easter break when we were in Porto, so I decided that I wanted to stay at a hotel that would have a Easter brunch of some kind. We stayed at the InterContinental Porto and while I was initially totally turned off by the extremely busy street that it sits on I ended up loving this location; it is right in front of Liberdade Square and was perfect for accessing all the different parts of the city. I usually prefer smaller boutique hotels but in the end, I truly loved this hotel for the incredible service, the super cool lounge that became our family living room each day and the concierge who helped us get dinner reservations at two wonderful restaurants on a very busy weekend.

We booked the family suite which was on two levels. The kids thought this was pretty cool and when I got upstairs to our room and saw the huge bathroom and large bathtub, I was also impressed. Every afternoon they filled our coffee table with all sorts of drinks, fruit and snacks which was lovely as well. Their Easter brunch was also fantastic and my kids also got the chance to decorate their own chocolate eggs.


Discovering Porto

Garden Cordoaria 

After we got settled the kids and I went walking around and discovered this great park that was perfect for letting off some energy after sitting in all that traffic. From here you can walk up and see the famous twin churches Igreja do Carmo (known for the blue and white tile facade) and Carmelite Church that are joined by a house. From here you will also see the fountain of the lions and then you should make your way to Spirito Cupcakes.

Lello Bookstore

If you are a Harry Potter fan then Porto should be on your list of places to get to. J.K. Rowling lived in Porto and taught English for two years and there are two locations that helped spark her inspiration for the Harry Potter series.  The first one is Lello Bookstore and the moment you step inside you will feel like you are literally in one of the Harry Potter books. This is one of the most beautiful bookstores I’ve ever seen. You have to buy a ticket for about 5 Euros to get in, but that ticket can then be used towards a purchase. There was a line outside every day, so we woke up early one morning and bought tickets right away, then jumped in the line. They can only let so many people in at a time, so when people come out, they let more in. The line went quickly.

Majestic Cafe is the cafe where J.K. Rowling said she would write. There is always a line in front of this cafe as well, and this cafe isn’t cheap either. I went to check it out by myself one morning just as they were opening.  I had the traditional Nata pastry and a cappuccino. It’s a beautiful cafe, but if I’m being honest, my cappuccino wasn’t very good and I was a little unimpressed. I liked the tiles and the facade of the building from the outside better than inside.

*It has also been said that she took inspiration from the train station and the black capes that the University students wear in Porto.

Right next to Lello Bookstore is a very cool store called Vida Portuguesa that you should definitely go in to. It is two levels and filled with wonderful gifts, books, home items, accessories and toys.

The city streets of Porto are filled with beautifully tiled buildings, and I honestly thought I saw more here in Porto then in Lisbon. One of the streets you should not miss walking down is R. da Flores this street is filled with colorful buildings, cafes, restaurants and shops. This is also where we saw the CUTEST father and daughter street performing duo! They even had a live white chicken with them. I absolutely loved them.

Along the Duoro river is the medieval Ribeira (riverside) district, narrow cobbled stone streets are filled with small shops and restaurants. Walking around here you get a real sense of how merchants must have filled the streets back in the 14th and 15th centuries. In fact, the city center of Porto became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. This medieval riverside neighborhood is located inside a 14th-century Romanesque wall and includes the Porto Cathedral, one of the oldest and important Roman Catholic structures in Porto.


This is also where I found a great pottery shop and bought a few things! This pottery shop was right next to the restaurant we ate at called JimĂŁo tapas e vinhos. I apologize, but I cannot remember the name of the shop nor can I find the business card the woman gave me!

The Porto Bridges

The only thing I really knew about Porto was that it produced Port wine, was home to the Lello bookstore and that one of its bridges, the Maria Pia Bridge, had been designed by Gustave Eiffel (Architect of the Eiffel Tower). When we arrived in Porto we crossed the Duoro River by driving on the Dom LuĂ­s Bridge, which I thought was the Maria Pia bridge, but it is not. I was so confused, and many people are. The famous double-decker metal bridge where pedestrians can walk across the top and where traffic drives along the lower deck is the Dom Luis Bridge. Gustave Eiffel’s bridge is further down the river and was a railway bridge, but looks similar although it does not have the lower deck. Porto actually has six bridges but these are the two of most interest. They connect the city of Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, the center of the port wine industry, where you can take tours and visit many port wine cellars.

We took a short riverboat cruise, that went up and down the Duoro river so we could see some of these bridges, it felt like the thing to do, it wasn’t very long and it was a nice boat ride.

We went into the World of Discoveries museum that taught us about Portuguese history and how Porto played a vital role in discovering routes to Asia. They had actors dressed up as explorers and shipmen telling parts of the story and engaging the kids. Then we took a small boat ride that told a story of one of the expeditions. This was actually sort of fun, the kids seemed to like it even though they were probably a little old for it, but it was well done. I’d recommend it for kids under 10 for sure, but even I was able to get a better understanding of Porto’s history so it was worth it and does not take that much time.

“Portuguese discoveries are the numerous territories and maritime routes discovered by the Portuguese as a result of their intensive maritime exploration during the 15th and 16th centuries. Portuguese sailors were at the vanguard of European overseas exploration, discovering and mapping the coasts of Africa, Canada, Asia and Brazil, in what became known as the Age of Discovery.”

 

Where we ate Porto

Steak n Shake (Ha!) – As expats, American food is truly a treat and we consider this “foreign food” so we totally indulged at Steak n Shake. Burgers and milkshakes and fries, oh my! The square where Steak n Shake is located is lovely and has a handful of other restaurants. One afternoon Hudson and I grabbed a slice of pizza at a little shop in this square and enjoyed just sitting in the sun.  We also ate at JimĂŁo tapas e vihnos  in the riverside district; find this restaurant and you’ll find the pottery shop I mentioned! We also stopped in Spirito Cupcakes – yummy cupcakes, ice cream, donuts coffee and other desserts.


The concierge made us reservations for these two restaurants.

Ze Bota
– great traditional Portugese restaurant, we had a family style meal that was fantastic!
ODE Port Wine House – amazing dinner inside a tiny restaurant that felt like the inside of a boat. We left the kids back at the hotel for this one.

Bonaparte – Very cool pub – go here for a drink!
Honorato Hamburgueres Artesanais – stopped in for a cocktail and it was the best cocktail ever! I LOVE the smell of Lemongrass, and well this was like drinking it, but in a sweet good way!


This is the Old Warehouse Factory of Ceramics building and it was beautiful. Inside were a few restaurants, that we did not eat at, but they had the cutest and quirky decorations, one restaurant had motorcycles on the walls!

Comme Ca – Adorable restaurant in the old ceramics warehouse building – we did not eat here, but I wanted to.


Motorcycle Cafe – I cannot find the name of this place, but it’s in the Old Wharehouse of Ceramics building, too.

Restaurant Bar Galeria de Paris – a quirky cafe with all sorts of collectables on display near the Lello Bookstore.


I really liked Porto and wish that we had had one more day there because I didn’t really get to explore Vila Nova de Gaia. I think I may have liked Porto better than Lisbon because it still felt like a small town, it also felt cleaner and more organized than the capital, maybe because Lisbon had so much construction going on everywhere. I can’t really put my finger on it, but I thought Porto was just as great as Lisbon but Lisbon seems to get all the attention. I may need to go back without the kids to investigate a bit further…

 

I may have liked Porto better than Lisbon!
Andrea June 15, 2018 posted by Andrea

A photo diary of my dad’s trip down Route 66

The first thing I did when I got to Oklahoma City was to get my dad’s camera. In fact, “Where is his camera?” might have been the first words out of my mouth when I saw my dad’s wife.  I was absolutely going to be the one to have all of my dad’s photos from his trip down Route 66.

A small recap for anyone that does not know…

He had left Minnesota to ride the mother road on his Harley Davidson, it was a lifelong dream of his and since we lived in Pasadena, California, he thought he could road trip down Route 66 and spend some time with us.

Unfortunately, after leaving our house in California on his drive back home to Minnesota he was in a fatal motorcycle accident just outside of Oklahoma City. He was airlifted to the hospital and while he was not officially DOA, it was pretty close. I flew to Oklahoma City, where I met my brother, his wife and one of his sisters, after two days we took him off life support. Yup. I know. It’s heart-wrenching but in a fucked up way, a beautiful story. My dad literally died living his dream. And I will be pissed if I don’t go the same way.

 

My dad took over 500 photos on his trip (clearly we have that in common). Today would have been his 66th Birthday and I thought this might be a good time to go back through his photos and publish some of them. I thought that sitting down and going through them was going to be painful but, as I’ve been editing and resizing them, I have found myself smiling – he would have been a great travel blogger!

I have been wanting to write some epic story about the photos since I got them. I thought one day that I might craft a brilliant poetic story that would have people sobbing!  Perhaps I would even submit this story to some other website or magazine. But I just don’t think I have that in me. Or maybe I do but what comes more natural to me is to just be me and write something quick and witty, to let the photos speak for themselves. Because really this was his trip, and just seeing it through his eyes is enough, there aren’t any words needed or, God forbid, my words just mess it all up.

He took beautiful photos and he took so many photos that I am pretty sure I could take his exact trip one day. I have photos of all the hotels he stayed in, even some of the rooms, street signs, and so many valuable points of interest, that it would not be hard to piece it all together! So anyways….

Happy 66th Birthday – here’s a look back on your trip down Route 66!


















 




 

 

A photo diary of my dad’s trip down Route 66
Travel May 22, 2018 posted by Andrea

Finding some fun in Florence, Italy

After spending a couple days at that dreamy spa in Tuscany we drove right into the middle of swarms of tourists in search of fun in Florence, Italy. And I wanted to turn the car around and go back to the serenity of Tuscany.

We were staying right in the center of it all, about two blocks away from the famous Uffizi. This was an error in both judgment and not being informed on how insane this area can be. We could barely drive our car down the street to get to our hotel because it was so packed with people! This is also what you get when you visit Florence the week of Spring Break. But we were told by several people that Florence is like this ALL the time.

Where we stayed

Similar to Venice, we stayed at a historic palace dating back to the 12th century, Hotel Torre Guelfa. I love staying at these unique hotels, they always have interesting quirks to them. It makes me embrace the destination more. I didn’t even recall deciding on this hotel, so it was a pleasant surprise to me that there was a tower that lead to a roof top terrace!

We checked into the “green room.” While I was sitting in there with the kids while Harris was bringing up the rest of the bags, I literally felt claustrophobic and nauseous. The green walls were literally closing in on me. When Harris got to the room, I was like um, Harris this room is making me sick.  So, this is something I NEVER do, but I was like, we have to change rooms. So Harris went to see if any other room was available and lucky enough a larger room was, and so we upgraded to a suite that was not only was it a better color (blue), but it was much bigger, had a separate bedroom, a much larger bathroom, a huge window and even a small terrace for us to sit out on. Thank goodness we asked!

 

I loved the little breakfast room at Hotel Torre Guelfa. They also had a huge sitting area on the 4th floor. This is where you could climb the 72 stairs to get to the rooftop terrace, which had the most incredible 360 degree views of Florence.

Finding Fun in Florence, Italy

Florence did not thrill me. I just did not jive with Florence, at all. Yes, there were a ton of tourists, which is always frustrating. But I’ve been in touristy places before obviously, so I can look past that. It was something else, it just didn’t do it for me. This might be because I am not a huge museum person and I think the Renaissance is a total snoozefest. I also didn’t need to buy any leather goods that are sold all over the place nor did I need to buy jewelry that fills the entire Ponte Vecchio Bridge. But rather than spend more time telling you why I disliked Florence, I’ll share with you how we found our fun and the few things I absolutely LOVED.

1. Hotel Torre Guelfa’s rooftop tower

After walking around all day with gobs of people (and me being unimpressed), we all agreed that we just really wanted to go buy some drinks and snacks and go back up to the rooftop terrace to sit and take in the beautiful view, so that’s what we did. We enjoyed some of the cheese that we had bought on the way to Florence, and it was probably my favorite thing we did.

*You do not have to be staying here to go up to the top of the tower, so find your way here and take in the incredible view! 

2. The Iconic Duomo

Harris and I let the kids stay back at the hotel and when we walked to dinner. We turned the corner and we saw the most incredible view of The Duomo. This particular night the sky was doing some amazing things, and it made the Duomo look like a cardboard cut out! The Duomo is pretty impressive, but not the dome everyone sees in photos, the rest of the building.

3. The most amazing spaghetti ever!

We found this nice little square near the Pitti Palace and actually ate at two different restaurants here. Both times our food was great! But the showstopper was this insanely delicious spaghetti at Gustapanino!! The bruschetta at both places was fantastic as well. Borgo Antico is a restaurant right next door and the food there was excellent too. I highly recommend going here to sit outside in the sun and have a great meal.

4. Handmade Italian Shoes

Right around the corner from the best spaghetti in the world is this shoemakers shop. I stood and watched this cute guy make shoes. The amount of work that goes into making a pair of shoes was mesmerizing. The folding, cutting, stitching, trimming, carving and pounding. It was such a cool thing to see.

5. Dinner at La Bussola

We found this gem of a restaurant and they were barely able to squeeze us in, but I am so glad they did. The food here was really good and it had a very cool vibe too. I opted for their woodfired pizza, but looking over at my neighbor’s seafood pasta dish I was a bit jealous. Harris loved his gigantic piece of meat! 🙂

6. Buying colorful David Statues

I mean, how can you go to Florence and NOT bring home a colorful David statue!? Hudson bought the medium green one, while I bought a small lavender one for my office. Then I had to buy one for my mom and another friend too. 🙂

7. Finding this awesome photo booth!

The kids and I were on our way to our Airbnb Experience to make pasta and found this cool photo booth. Obviously, we had to take some photos. I LOVE our photos so much! I never seem to get in any photos, so this makes me happy. And it’s perfectly retro.

Right next to this photobooth is a very cool bakery, S. Forno. You should go here for a coffee and a pastry or to by some bread and other goodies! They also have a restaurant  http://www.ilsantobevitore.com/.


8. Airbnb Experience: Pastamania!

I never cook, so why not go on vacation and give it a try. I wanted to do something in Venice or Florence that would give the kids some hands on learning or at least a new experience. When I saw this Pastamania experience offered on Airbnb I thought it might be fun. McKenna is a “pastaterian” because she’s a vegetarian and eats so much pasta, so this was really for her, but Hudson had fun too! I really enjoyed the experience and I would recommend it to other families.

Pastamania was hosted at a restaurant called Vivanda  You should make a reservation to eat here.


9. Finding a few beautiful shops

Florence has a thing with stationary, marble paper and paper goods, who knew!? This shop Alberto Cozzi was a gem of a find right on the same street as our hotel. It had wonderful little gifts, leather notebooks, beautiful cards, stationary, paper and all sorts of goodies.

 

10. Door knockers and the Florentine wooden trays

The architecture in Florence didn’t impress me, but I loved the door knockers. I did not know about Florentine wooden trays until I was in Venice and our hotel kept serving my coffee, wine and snacks on them. A friend told me that I would see the beautiful trays all over in Florence, and sure enough, I did. So I bought a beautiful gold and blue one to bring home.

As I mentioned, I didn’t dig Florence, it wasn’t for me. Not every city is for everyone. If you want to take your kids to all the museums and give them a super-enriched learning experience (on vacation) and you all can tolerate that as a family, then by all means, go for it. But my 11-year-old son walked around taking pictures of naked statues and sending the photos to his friends in a Whatsapp chat – #justsayin.

I also realize maybe I should have taken a walking tour. Or have done a bit more research to find the things I like when I go to a city, so I might have also failed in some of my planning. But I also like to just show up and see where a place takes me. I hate being on a jam-packed schedule, that type of traveling is not for me. We also just came from a spa in Tuscany that I did not want to leave, so plopping myself in a jam-packed city right from there was a bit jarring. Which is probably why I liked it up at the top of our hotel’s tower so much, we were away from the crowds and had a peaceful birds-eye view.

Perhaps I’ll give Florence another try… or not.

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Finding some fun in Florence, Italy
Andrea May 10, 2018 posted by Andrea

Why Adler Thermae is the Most Dreamy Family Spa in Tuscany

Under the Colorful Tuscan Sun

From the moment we arrived at Adler Thermae, I immediately noticed a gorgeous crystal chandelier hanging over a staircase and guests casually walking through the lobby in their plush white bathrobes and slippers. It only took two seconds to realize we just walked in to a little slice of paradise. Located among the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany and only about an hour away from Florence, Adler Thermae is a five-star luxury spa that offers families a chance to escape the crowds in Rome, Florence and Venice to spend some time soaking under the Tuscan sun, literally.

Adler Thermae Spa Resort

Adler Thermae is located in the town of Bagno Vignoni, a UNESCO Heritage Site. Bagno Vignoni lies on the Via Francigena, one of Europe’s most important medieval pilgrim routes. It was known as a popular place to rest, due to the fact that the town’s public bath had healing waters. Adler Thermae is just a short five-minute walk to the center of Bagno Vignoni where you can see the original bath and buildings from this popular medieval town. Adler Thermae has created a beautiful modern thermal spa with a variety of pools, saunas, steam rooms and relaxation areas for guests to immerse themselves in this tranquil setting, surrounded by iconic views of Tuscany.

“The thermal waters of Bagno Vignoni take their curative powers from the depths of the earth. The rain seeps down to the deeper levels, is warmed in the process and dissolves minerals and sulphur compounds from the limestone rock. At a depth of about one thousand metres, the water comes into contact with hot volcanic strata, where it is warmed further, enriched with valuable substances and forced up to the surface again at a temperature of 50°C.”

Adler Thermae Spa Pools

The main outdoor pool has a cycle of jets that rotate around the perimeter of the pool all day. This pool continues to the indoor pool area which then leads directly to the spa desk and waiting area. There is also a very large lap pool, an enclosed cave-like grotto where you can enjoy floating in a sea salt bath, and a lazy river-type pool with jets that push you along. My kids really enjoyed that.

Inside the spa itself, there are luxurious steam rooms with built-in individual seats made up of beautiful mosaic tiling. Around the back is an entire outdoor zen garden with several different saunas and massage rooms. There is a full gym with all the workout equipment you’d need and a studio for all the yoga and pilates classes they offer. There are plenty of treadmills both inside and outside all facing the breathtaking views of Tuscany.  

They take hydration very seriously at Adler Thermae. There are three different kinds of sparkling water on draft!

 

Adler’s Divine Dining

All meals are served in the main dining room. It was elegant yet relaxed enough for anyone coming straight from the heated pools or spa to sit comfortably in their bathrobe. The breakfast was buffet style with plenty of healthy options and an omelette station. Or you could request a few al a carte items from a small menu. We enjoyed daily menu options at lunch, including a variety of healthy ‘help yourself’ salads and side dishes. The fresh salads and side dishes was really enough to fill anyone up! The dining room was dimly lit at night, and the atmosphere turned a bit more elegant, probably because no one showed up in their robes.

When we arrived for dinner, a host escorted us to our reserved table. A dinner menu with select items was presented as well as the nightly kids options. Once we ordered our main dishes we were able to help ourselves to the all of the fresh salads and vegetables, and the endless amount of bread, meat and cheese that were on display. My husband and I were so happy to see such a variety of greens at every meal, it was a nice break from all the pizza and pasta we had been indulging in. Then, of course, there were the incredible desserts that we couldn’t say no to.

Adler Thermae Activities

Adler Thermae is not only a place for rejuvenation and relaxation but a resort that encourages exercise. It features a variety of daily activities and events. We received the “Today at the Adler” schedule every morning. It was filled with resort activities, special classes, health tips, notes from doctors and physicians, healthy recipes and more! My husband and I jumped at the chance to take advantage of the hour-long guided bike tour. We would have the opportunity to see more of the beautiful countryside. Our guide led us through two medieval villages, over rolling hills of farmland, and olive fields. We even had to navigate over a small riverbed. We had a great morning ride and it was nice to get some much-needed exercise! A few of the other activities the Adler offers are wine tasting, horseback riding, golf, hiking and a visit to a nearby organic farm.




Adler Thermae Rooms

We had a ground floor family suite with a bedroom with two twin beds for the kids and a king size bed in the main room with a nice sitting area. Our patio faced out to the breathtaking countryside. No photo can do justice to the view, but I tried to get a few shots! Just a short distance away from our room was also a children’s playground, ping pong tables, foosball and a basketball court. We were not in our room five minutes and the kids took off to explore and find all of these wonderful activities.



The bar area was a beautiful place that we sat before dinner and played cards as a family. After dinner, Harris and I sat and enjoyed the man playing the piano. The kids went back to the room. There is also a balcony with seating areas to take in the colorful sunsets each night.


The family that spas together…

One of my favorite things was getting out to the pool early in the morning as a family. The steam was just coming off the top of the pool and it looked beautiful.  I didn’t want to be the creepy person taking photos in the pool, but I managed to sneak just a few. Adler Thermae has really created a unique experience for families looking for more than museums and churches. Our family enjoyed the entire, fantastic experience. I’d highly recommend it to other families spending time in Italy. I didn’t realize it at the time, but breaking up our trip with a stay in Tuscany at Adler was a smart idea! It allowed all of us to slow down, relax and really enjoy our surroundings.

For more information and to book go here!


Disclosure: This was a media stay, however all my thoughts are my own. I share this with you because it’s what I like to do – and it’s A-mazing!

Why Adler Thermae is the Most Dreamy Family Spa in Tuscany
Barcelona April 25, 2018 posted by Andrea

Celebrating Sant Jordi in Barcelona

Celebrating Sant Jordi Day in Barcelona

Yesterday was Sant Jordi Day – the most WONDERFUL day of the year in Barcelona! This special celebration happens every year on April 23rd. It’s the day Catalunya celebrates Saint George or Sant Jordi, the patron saint of Catalunya. The tradition is that men give the women roses and women give the men books.

Celebrating Sant Jordi Day is not an official public holiday so all the stores, schools and businesses are open. However, everyone in the city is out and the energy on the streets is palpable. There are main areas of the city that have a huge concentration of booksellers, and table after table of vendors selling roses. There are also smaller book vendors, local shops and students selling roses on the side streets and literally almost every corner of the city. In fact, right outside my door was a group of girls selling roses, with proceeds going to a charitable cause helping a small village in Peru.

So who is Sant Jordi and why is this a holiday?

The story goes, that there was a dragon terrorizing a small village in Catalunya and Sant Jordi (or Saint George) killed him with his sword. When the dragon bled, he sprouted roses! Sant Jordi saved the village and the princess was up next to be eaten by the dragon. To read the more in-depth story you can go here.

So what’s with the books?

Well apparently, in 1926 Spain declared April 23rd Book Day, because that is the anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes, the most famous Spanish writer. England also respects April 23rd as the death of Shakespeare, so World Book day was formed. Only much later did the day of love also became a day of literature in the mind of the Catalunya people.” source

I heard about this holiday for the first time last year and I totally fell IN LOVE with it. I mean how can you not – roses and books – what’s not to like, right?! Some may compare this to Valentine’s Day in the United States, but to me it feels different. The focus is just on roses and books (red roses and also yellow ones to represent Catalunya). They do not get carried away with other gifts or chocolate and sweets. The streets just come alive. You see families and friends just strolling, grabbing drinks, and celebrating life with their loved ones.

When you walk around the city and see everyone (and I mean everyone) carrying roses, it warms your heart. This city is amazing. If you ever get the chance to come to Barcelona in April, make sure you plan your dates around Sant Jordi.

All around the city hotels and businesses decorate for Sant Jordi and one of the most beautiful sites in the city is the iconic Casa BattlĂł by Antoni GaudĂ­. We walked over to it last night and it was slammed, and not just with tourists. There were locals and lovers taking selfies and kissing in front of it. It’s truly a wonderful sight to see.

These are flowers from my favorite florist shop, Floristeria Navarro. I went there on Sunday night to get a sneak peek 🙂


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Celebrating Sant Jordi in Barcelona
Adventure April 12, 2018 posted by Andrea

We Finally Did It – Venice with Kids

We just got back from spring break in Italy with the kiddos. Venice has been on the kids’ bucket list for a long time, so we thought we should probably make it happen. If I am being honest, Venice wasn’t at the top of my list. I thought perhaps it was overrated and going to be overrun by tourists. Although, Harris proposed to me on a gondola in Venice about 17 years ago, so I was looking forward to going back to see what I remembered and if anything had changed. The kids know that is where he asked me to marry him, so I was also excited for all of us to take a gondola ride and share this special place with them. So we did three nights in Venice with kids! Then drove to a family-friendly spa in Tuscany, followed by a few days in Florence.

Venice with Kids

We took the water taxi from the airport to our hotel, which cost about 60 Euros. One thing you should know right now is that Venice is not cheap, but it can be. The public taxi costs 6 Euros a person, but we opted for a private taxi and I am SO glad we did.

Once we got into the main city waterways we were able to open up the roof and the kids were able to see exactly what they came for “the floating city.”  I would pay double to see the look of amazement on their faces as they soaked it all in. Totally worth the 60 Euros to have that moment all to ourselves. Not to mention the chance to take some great photos! The rain had stopped and it was overcast, but perfect. In fact, we saw more on that boat ride than on the gondola ride – so YES take a private water taxi to your hotel.

When we arrived at our hotel, the taxi turned into a narrow canal. Hotel staff came out and lowered the small bridge (more like a plank) for us to walk across to enter the hotel. It was the perfect way to start our stay in Venice!



Where We Stayed

Palazzetto Pinsani is an historic palace that dates back to 1260. It sits right on the Grand Canal, but is perfectly tucked away from the crowds. In fact, it’s so tucked away that to get out to the main streets you need to walk through what appears to be part of the abandoned palace grounds. The main courtyard is complete with old statues and columns lining the walkway. Our room was one of the canal-facing suites and it was huge.  The main room had a full king size bed with a ginormous couch (that Hudson took for his bed). He loved making a fort out of all the cushions. Queen McKenna took the large four poster bed while Harris and I slept in the bedroom.

Not only was our suite large enough for all of us, but we also had a large sitting room just outside our room that also faced the Grand Canal. This was a shared common space with the others in a suite on our floor. The dining room, bar and main lounge area had all the old world charm you could ask for. I loved all the beautiful trays that my beverages were served on! I would highly recommend this hotel for families that want Venetian style and to be a little hidden from the highly trafficked areas.

My favorite things in Venice, Italy!

1. The first thing you probably want to know is where we got gelato!? Our favorite was Gelato Fantasy. The scoops were gigantic and the guy who helped us was so nice. It was so good we went back the next night! Another place to check out is Suso Gelato. We did not try it but the line was a mile long and the flavors looked insane.

2. Acqua Alta Bookstore is a quirky store. It keeps all the books that have been water damaged and has made a staircase out of them in the back. There is also a full size gondola inside filled with books! I would say this is a hidden gem, but the gig is up, we were not the only ones there. The bookstore is located in a great neighborhood, perfect for wandering. In fact, right next door to this bookstore is a wonderful art studio called Papier MâchĂŠ, a true artists studio. There were no photos allowed so I do not have a picture of her shop, but it was stunning!  I bought two beautifully hand-painted ceramic masks.

3. Masks  – Some of the masks around Venice are silly, creepy, weird or super cheap. I highly recommend the shop I just mentioned above but we also stumbled upon Le Maschere Di, Eyes Wide Shut. This is an authentic Venetian mask and costume shop that has such gorgeous masks.

4.  Magic –  Harris is currently obsessed with magic. When we were wandering around the Acqua Alta Bookstore he was supposed to be navigating us in the direction of our hotel, but he actually led us to the magic shop, Mystery & Magic. I am SO glad he did, because on the way we walked through the cutest area. So after visiting the Acqua Alta bookstore navigate to this magic shop and you can discover some cool things!

5. Osteria da Carla is a small trendy restaurant with only a few tables. It’s creative cuisine, but both my kids found something and survived. If your kids are not that adventurous, we also went to VinoVino which is more traditional and kid-friendly with great pizza. Everyone was happy with their meal here. In fact, Hudson was sick of pizza and they had a chicken curry dish – so he was very happy to have a break from pizza.

6. St. Mark’s Basilica First, I am not a church person to begin with, but I wanted to see inside since I don;t think we went in 17 years ago. I love the style of the design on the outside, but inside it was a really dark and I didn’t really care for it, other than the tiles on the floor. And really once you see inside La Sagrada Familia, no church will ever compare. However, the terrace up top gives you a great view of St. Marks Square and the Grand Canal. If it’s a sunny day, I say it’s worth going in for that.

7. Do not take the kids on a tour inside Doges Palace. It’s not so much a beautiful luxurious palace with grand ballrooms, but more a government building, courthouse and prison. And the prison was not that exciting. Listen, I appreciate history and I like learning about crazy stories of the past but honestly, this was just a place where thousands of men made a bunch of laws and rules and sentenced people to be hung or sent to prison. We were all bored. Some of the ornate design and decorations were fun to look at but that’s about it. Beautiful architecture from the outside, so just stay out there and admire it.

8. Red Rose Restaurant, unfortunately, we were not able to eat here, but I tried – twice! Grrr. The restaurant is cute and the food looked amazing! Make a reservation. This was in our neighborhood of where we stayed which is a nice area to hang out.

9. The Rialto Bridge is iconic and beautiful, but unfortunately, it’s a hot mess. Filled with souvenir shops up and down and all around. I could not get off this bridge fast enough. Blah.

10. We stumbled upon an art studio that was sandwiched in between all these high-end stores. The artist came downstairs and gave us a demonstration of how he does his chalk drawings! This guy was great. We bought one of the drawings (only 20 Euros) and then he let the kids each pick out a small drawing for free.

11. Gondola Ride – Yes, it’s expensive at 80 euros for 30 minutes. But you’re in Venice, I say do it. The kids were so excited to do this and heck I was sort of too. It was a short ride, but very nice.

12. Zacaria’s is an eclectic shop with really cool light fixtures, jewelry, handbags, art and unique gifts. I bought a really cool handbag and I was tempted to buy some cool light fixtures but refrained. This is a great place to pick up a gift for someone!

13. Bel-Air Fine Art is a small gallery with modern, playful and engaging art that even the kids liked. I OBSESSED over the Rhinestone Buddhas. I purposefully walked the way of this gallery every day so I could visit them. They are by Metis Atash and are made up of 24,000 Swarvoski crystals and cost 13,000 Euros. OMG I wanted one so badly. I still want one badly. Sigh.

14.  Venice is expensive. The best way to save money is to eat pizza, pasta and sandwiches from the small shops and vendors instead of the sit-down restaurants. Trust me, you’ll be much happier and richer. Fresh pasta in a box from Happy Pizza was great. The owner’s face is on the box, and he was there working and handed us our box. I so wished I had taken a photo of the guy on the box, handing us our box. 🙂

Final Thoughts of Venice

I LOVED Venice and didn’t find it to be overrated at all. Yes, there were swarms of tourists, but that’s bound to happen when you go during spring break. We stayed on the outskirts and explored away from Saint Marks Square, so we found plenty of spots where there weren’t crowds of people.

Not everything we do or try is a winner, trust me. We ate at a few places that were pretty mediocre and paid a fortune. We also don’t mind letting the kids hang out back at the hotel while Harris and I wandered alone or went to sit in the sun and have a glass of wine. I really just liked hanging out in our hotel’s regal dining room area and out on the terrace, so instead of running around to find lots of cool spots (like I usually like to do) we just stayed in and enjoyed the hotel and overall atmosphere.

The only thing we could have done that I may regret not doing is heading over to the colorful island of Burano. Hey, maybe next time!

We Finally Did It – Venice with Kids
Andrea March 9, 2018 posted by Andrea

Recipe for the Best Weekend in Barcelona

So last weekend was wonderful. SO wonderful that I wanted to share it. Have you ever had one of those weekends that made you think – wow, life is good. Really good. I’m going to recap it here for any of you that care. If you’re visiting Barcelona, you may want to take some notes to make your own recipe for your best weekend in Barcelona itinerary.

Friday 11:00 AM

A friend was going to be in town for Mobile World Congress (the biggest tech conference in the world). This conference happens every year in Barcelona. Another conference that happens at the same time is 4YFN, which Harris found very interesting so he went again this year. Anyways, my friend Rebecca was staying at my FAVORITE hotel in Barcelona, which just so happens to be practically across the street. She’s a runner and while she lived here we never ran together. But we follow each other on the Strava app so it’s fun to still keep up with her on there. So, I swung by the Cotton House Hotel to pick her up for my usual Friday morning beach run. I don’t usually like running with people but this was a special occasion. I liked sharing my run with my friend, and not just on my app. 🙂

After our run I dropped her off back at the hotel and we snagged this photo. It’s black and white  – because no one looks good in a photo after running 5 miles. One of the workers from the Cotton House came out and gave us water and I laughed and said “I bet he thinks I’m your personal trainer in Barcelona.” HA!

Running with friends is fun.

Friday Night

While Rebecca was here we had dinner plans with our other friend Lisa and my husband Harris (he’s like one of the girls). The four of us went to Els Pescadors, in Poble Nou, a bit further away than we usually go. But I had heard about this restaurant, and whatever Lisa books is always excellent! We met up at the CH for a pre-dinner drink and then off we went. BUT FIRST – the Cotton House Hotel is to die for. It’s my favorite hotel (maybe ever) but in Barcelona for sure. While I haven’t been to all of them (yet), but I’m pretty sure this one will be hard to beat. I’ll do a full feature of it another time, but for now here are a few pictures. I think you’ll see what I mean.


Okay off to dinner at El Pescadors…

Els Pescadors

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when we got to Els Pescadors, but we arrived a little after 8:30 and we were the only ones there (they open at 8:00 pm). It was a very traditional looking restaurant, dark wood and white tablecloths. From the name of the restaurant, it was obviously all about the fish here. If you live in Barcelona you quickly get used to the fish being served with the head “la cabeza,” but that is nothing compared to the fish cart that was wheeled out for our menu presentation! Oh, this is going to be GOOD.

The waiter proceeded to tell us about all five of the fresh catches of the day, how the chef would prepare each one, and what vegetables and sides would accompany the fish. I didn’t understand some of what he was saying, but it didn’t matter. I knew whatever we picked was sure to be amazing!  Meanwhile, while we were engrossed in our dinner and conversation the entire restaurant filled up. We started with a glass of Cava, as you do in Barcelona, we had a few appetizers and the chef came out and suggested a bottle of white wine to go with our fish selection, and the fish was delish! 

Saturday in Barcelona

It was a glorious day outside! Glorious. My kids were doing the usual lazy Saturday morning thing. Late that afternoon they were each going to have a friend over for a sleepover. Harris was totally consumed with a new project for work, so it looked like I was going to be solo for the day. Woohooo! I have more energy then my entire family, and usually I give them some grief about being lazy or working. But today I let it go, but I certainly was not staying home.

One of the things that has been on my list to see in Barcelona is the San Pau Hospital, so today was the day.

Since I wasn’t running today, I walked the 2.4 miles to the hospital. I could have taken the bus but it was SO nice outside I wanted to enjoy the day. I made a quick stop at Chica Limona for a cappuccino and croissant and read my book a little. Then I continued on my way passing La Sagrada Familia, buzzing with tourists as usual. I made my way up the Rambla de GaudĂ­ which leads you directly to San Pau Hospital. I usually do not go north of the La Sagrada so I had never even seen this rambla before, but it’s great. You can sit at a cafe and admire La Sagrada from a distance. Then just five blocks up towards the end of this rambla you literally run right into San Pau Hospital.

San Pau Hospital

I CANNOT get over this place. I am kicking myself that it took me so long to come and see this magnificent architectural beauty!

Back in 1930 this was one of the biggest hospitals in Europe. It is essentially six hospitals in one and they call it a city within a city. This is the brilliant work of the famous architect LluĂŹs DomĂŠnech i Montaner (yes, there’s more in this city than just GaudĂ­). Montaner is also the creative genius behind the Palau de Musica and several private homes in Barcelona, including Casa LleĂł Morera that sits on the same block as GuadĂ­’s Casa BattlĂł.

I really do not understand why more people do not talk about this!! It is ridiculously gorgeous, and no one was there. Everyone was swarming La Sagrada, which is totally understandable. But this is SO worth seeing and it’s so close to La Sagrada. Not every building was open, but there are even underground tunnels that you can walk through! I was fascinated by the room in which hospital beds had been set up as they were back in the day. Honestly, this looked like a hospital in heaven. When I die, I’m totally getting one of those beds.

Even the room that had all the in-depth information and history about San Pau was displayed on the coolest structures. And the aqua blue tiles – sigh.  I entered the main building last and l had a hard time taking it all in. The colors, the textures, the tiles, the stonework, the windows, the columns, the statues, and funky stone formations – my neck was so sore from twisting and turning to see everything from every angle. I was seriously OD’ing on visual stimulation.

Eventually, I forced myself to leave so I could get back outside and enjoy the sun and the rest of the day. On my way home I sat down at a little cafe on Gaudi Rambla and had a Clara (beer with lemonade). Many of the restaurants were very busy as it was 3:00 pm, lunchtime. I was almost home when I remembered that a new place had opened up on Gran Via, called Colette. So I stopped in there and had a few tapas.

Saturday Night

I went home to check in on my family. Hudson and his friend were playing video games. McKenna and her friend were out walking around and getting bubble tea at ZenZoo. Harris was still working. I finished some laundry, thought about jumping on the computer, but quickly opted for a little cat nap instead.

My neighbor over at Cotton House messaged me to come over because her plans had changed. She was just staying in, and Lisa was coming over for dinner. I had already eaten the gourmet meal of my kids’ leftover spaghetti and was finally feeling lazy myself. But I got up and went over for a drink because there have been so many times when I have been home wishing someone would just message me to come have a drink! So back to the CH I went, because A) Rebecca was leaving tomorrow B) I cannot resist the CH. I’ll take a Gin & Tonic (or two) please!

Sundays down at Barcelonetta

This is my absolute favorite. Sunday’s down at the beach. I went for a 8 mile run, I planned on 5 but the weather was AMAZING. (Are you getting the theme that Barcelona has amazing weather?)

I love it down at the beach especially on Sundays because there are so many people out enjoying it!! These are my people. Runners are getting their runs in, kids are rollerblading, moms and dads are pushing strollers, older couples are walking hand in hand, young kids are hanging out, the skate park is packed, paddleboarders are in the water (with wetsuits) families are on bikes… and my favorite, the old guys are playing cards and drinking beer by 10:00am!! #LifeGoals



Funny thing about this picture – Opium is a club in Barcelona and I laugh when I run down here on Sunday mornings because there is always some guy hosing down the place from last nights/ early morning shenanigans!! One night I’m going to go see what is happening inside;)


When I got home I made all the kids pancakes and took a shower. Harris and I went to grab a bite to eat at Citizen Cafe, a great little place down the street from us for brunch. Then I went home and binged on some stupid Netflix show trying not to think about Monday. Unfortunately, Mondays are still Mondays in Barcelona too.

Let’s review your weekend itinerary…

  1. Cotton House Hotel – a must! (message me, I’ll come over)
  2. Els Pescadors – fish cart!
  3. Chica Limona (or Granja Petitbo) – breakfast / brunch / coffee
  4. San Pau Hospital – a jewel of architecture
  5. Sagrada Familia (yes go inside!)
  6. Colorette (new & unique tapas joint)
  7. Go down to Barcelonetta and walk around – you don’t have to run 8 miles, you can sit and have a cappuccino or mojito instead
  8. Citizen Cafe – brunch spot
  9. Bubble Tea at ZenZoo (just of Las Ramblas)
  10. This is a bonus – Go to El National for some more design eye candy. I love to sit in on of the middle bars for a glass of Cava and a few tapas

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Recipe for the Best Weekend in Barcelona
Barcelona February 23, 2018 posted by Andrea

Stay in a Family Friendly Chateau in the South of France

Stay in a Family Friendly Chateau in the South of France

Yes, we found – and stayed! – in a family friendly château in the South of France! I know. I didn’t really believe it either. When you think of the south of France you think of a romantic getaway and wine tasting with your sweetheart. You typically don’t think of taking the kids.

Let me stop you right there, because first of all – you can take your kids anywhere. It may not be as romantic but you can take them anywhere. You just need to know where to go and lucky you, here I am scouting it out for you first. This is what I LOVE to do. I honestly do not get any more satisfaction then showing people that what they think may be impossible, is totally possible!

So, let me tell you about the amazingly chic, family-friendly château in southern France where kids are totally welcome.

Just a short drive from Barcelona

Château St Pierre de Sejac is just three hours from Barcelona. It’s the perfect French escape for anyone living in Barcelona or visiting Barcelona. The Château sits just over the border in the Languedoc region of France, so if you are visiting Barcelona I say extend your trip a few days so you can get a little taste of the South of France. I mean, you’ve come all this way already so why not!?

Please bear in mind that we visited Château St Pierre de Serjac in the off season just after Christmas. So while the vines may have been empty and it was a bit chilly that did not take away from how fantastic this place was. I could easily see how this place must be a real slice of heaven in the warmer months, when the sun is hot and the grapes are bursting from the vines. However, there was still beauty in the off season as well, you’ll see.

 

Chateau St Pierre de Sejac

This 200-acre estate dates back to 1870 and has a rich history in the wine-making business. The property was completely renovated and opened in the spring of 2016. In the original chateau building that overlooks the infinity pool, there are eight luxury hotel rooms, for those couples lucky enough to be taking a romantic holiday without the kids. I was able to peek inside one of these rooms and they are stunning. The original chateau is also where you’ll find the main dining room that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as another cozy sitting room with the bar.

Scattered around the rest of the estate are the 36 self-catering properties built specifically with families in mind. That’s right, the owners are parents as well, and they too want to go on a holiday where it’s comfortable and chic.

There is a full spa on the property that offers a wide range of treatments. The spa also includes an indoor pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room. They even give you warm fuzzy blankets for cuddling up on lounge chairs both inside and outdoors. There is a beautiful event space for hosting large parties and events that also serves as a wine tasting room and wine shop. Inside this building and tucked just behind two large barn doors is where they have started to make wine again.

The Winery

The estate stopped making its own wine back in 2013. But a new state of the art winery was installed at the heart of the estate and a range of wine activities will also be available. September 2018 will be the first harvest to be made/blended at St Pierre de Serjac since the renovation. Château St Pierre de Serjac will call this wine “La Renaissance”.

They created two wine walks for visitors and guests. The walks pass through vineyards where the different varieties of grapes are grown on the estate. A guide is able to explain the history of the Château and the terroirs. The experience includes a visit to the winery followed by a tasting of 6 wines accompanied by a selection of tapas. They also have natural truffles on the estate, as well as a plantation with a walk that explains all about the different grape varieties found in the Languedoc region.

Chic Family Accommodations

The 36 units range from one to four bedrooms and are generous in size. They are stylishly decorated and fully equipped with beautiful kitchens, large dining tables for family dinners, and cozy living rooms with fireplaces. Property amenities vary, but all have an outdoor seating area and a BBQ grill, and 17 of these units have their own private pools. Corner units may have larger grassy areas, and a few even have infinity pools, while some second floor units have only a terrace, perfectly placed for incredible views of the sun setting over the vineyards.

We visited in the winter so even though there wasn’t a single juicy grape to be seen, the setting was still spectacular. I could see how this would be an ideal place to bring the family in the warm summer months.  The Château has a large outdoor dining space that it uses for family style BBQ’s and to host separate kid dinners as well. There’s a kids club during the summer that keeps the young ones busy with activities so parents can relax and be off kid duty for a while too.

Bike riding among the vines

The chateau has plenty of bikes for families to use and we took full advantage of these! Our son Hudson did not know how to ride a bike. Yes, I know this is a bit embarrassing and a parent failure on our part. But he is a skateboarding kid so bike riding sort of took a back seat. We had just talked about New Year’s goals a few days before we arrived at the Château. Learning to ride a bike was one of Hudson’s goals for the new year. We were going to get this done!

For two days we went out and rode bikes. We kept at it, though the wind and cooler temperatures weren’t much fun. On the second day it all came together for Hudson, and we had a blast watching him go! We will cherish this amazing travel memory; Hudson learning to ride a bike among the viness in the South of France. Honestly, this was the ideal setting because no one was around watching him. We had the bike paths and the long estate driveway all to ourselves.

Watch Hudson learn to ride a bike

 

It can be a hard thing for a resort to successfully mix adult-friendly and kid-friendly. But Château St Pierre de Serjac has really achieved it. I get wildly excited about places like this because it’s a place that lets families settle in and engage with their surroundings. Just because I travel with my kids doesn’t mean I’m always looking for the waterpark and 75 kids activities.

This Château stay is a slower paced vacation, and that’s okay in today’s world. Bring the cards and board games, read a book, go for long walks, ride bikes and don’t set schedules. Seeing my son learn to ride a bike was monumental. But really, I loved just watching my kids try to catch our new puppy Rex in the grass. Another treasured memory from our stay at Château Serjac. I truly cannot wait to go back and check it out in the spring or summer to enjoy one of their new wine walks and jump in the pool!

Château Serjac

 

 

Disclosure: Chateau St Pierre de Serjac hosted our stay. It worked out for us to visit on our drive back from skiing in Morzine, France over Christmas break during the off season. My opinions here are honest and my own. I WILL go back in the regular season because I loved it so much.

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Stay in a Family Friendly Chateau in the South of France
Adventure February 5, 2018 posted by Andrea

Send Your Kids to Summer Camp in the UK

Okay, yes, it’s only February. BUT if you are like us, you probably have already started plotting out your 2018 travel calendar. We might be slightly more travel-focused then the average family, but one thing that every family thinks about is summer travel plans. And if your kids go to summer camp, you have to start thinking about that sooner rather than later. I wanted to share with you the summer camp that our kids went to last year, because this was a very new and exciting travel chapter for us.

Do you want to travel in Europe without the kids for TWO WHOLE WEEKS? Then listen up. This is how you send your kids to summer camp in the UK.

 

Summer Camp in Europe

Last year we wanted to send our kids to summer camp. We thought the time was right, and it was an important milestone. We wanted our kids to have a full sleepover summer camp experience. We thought about sending them back to the US for camp, and as it happens, our school here in Barcelona partners with a camp outside of Washington, D.C. We almost did it, but then we thought, there has to be an English-speaking summer camp somewhere in Europe.

We first looked for an English-speaking summer camp in Spain, but we could not find anything. This makes total sense – we are in Spain after all. Why would there be an English summer camp? So then we had the bright idea to start looking in England, which is when we found XUK Summer Camps.

At first glance

This camp looked pretty great and it seemed to be reputable, it’s been around for 20 years. Harris even chatted with them several times via their online chat. We had the kids check out the website and printed out all the materials for the kids to look over and read.

McKenna was thrilled and super excited. Hudson not so much.

Hudson was nervous and scared about going to summer camp. He had nightmares and emotionally broke down at least a few times, asking us if he had to go. I almost gave in because I felt so badly about him having so much anxiety and stress over it. McKenna is two years older and maybe it was a great time for her to go, but perhaps Hudson needed more time? But Harris and I made the decision that we were going to force it and stay strong. It would be a real growth opportunity for him, although I still had some mom-guilt deep in my heart.

Camp XUK

XUK has a variety of summer camps to choose from. There are even day camps for smaller campers and a specific camp for kids to learn English. So depending on your kids ages and situation, you will need to pick the best camp for your child. Then there are certain field trips that they can take the weeks they are there, which are additional add-ons.

The camp provides a list of what to pack, and you can send your children with spending money which is given to the counselors to deposit. The kids have to go and ask to withdraw money from their account.  Parents and family members can send letters to the camp. We had the Grandmas send the kids letters in advance so they would get there upon arrival. You can also email the camp with a special message for your child, which are printed out and given to your child at lunchtime.

Dropping the kids off for camp in London

We were instructed to drop off the kids at Pancreas Station. While that may seem a little crazy – just check them in and hand them over in another country?! – it’s really okay. This wasn’t the first time we’ve handed our kids over to someone in another country. We did this both in Barcelona when they were 1 and 3 years old when they went to Kinder Barcelona in the mornings for three weeks. We did it again in Costa Rica when they were 3 and 5 at some random beachside school for a week, so we could go and explore without toddlers in tow.

When we got to the station we saw a large gathering of kids from the camp in large groups and a few counselor types with XUK shirts on. We asked where our kids should go as they were in the “Activity” specific camp for the under 13 set. I was very happy that our kids would be in the same age group at camp, so if nothing else they had each other. Someone pointed us to the right group. We were early so most of the kids hanging out had just finished camp and were waiting to be picked up. They all looked pretty happy (no one looked malnourished or miserable), so that was a good sign.

During Camp

Families can keep up-to-date with the kids’ activities via the Camp’s Facebook Page. The camp posts photos of what the kids have been doing every day. I’d be lying if I said I was not checking this page hourly at first. The kids were allowed access to wi-fi but it didn’t work so well. But we were able to Whatsapp with our kids on a few occasions. Of course, we don’t know everything that happened at camp, but our kids had some funny stories about some of the campers. What would camp be without some awkward things right?

I was really worried about the food – McKenna is vegetarian and Hudson can be picky. When I asked them about the food they both said without a beat “The food was good.” What? Camp food was good?! I assume they just ate pasta and pizza for two weeks, but whatever – if there were no complaints I don’t really care what they ate.

Another great reason why your kids should go to the XUK Camp is because they get to see a unique side of England. They’re traveling with other kids, and take field trips to attractions in London and cities like Oxford. How cool is that?

Picking the kids up from Camp

It was really bizarre to be going to the Heathrow Airport to pick up our kids, and from there directly fly home to Barcelona. The pick up and drop off of so many kids going so many different places was impressive to me. The camp coordinates all of this and gets your kids where they need to be and on time, whether it’s back at Pancreas Station, Heathrow, Birmingham or the Cardiff airport. Some kids literally take the EuroStar in and out by themselves. This is also why we love living internationally, travel is just a more natural way of life for all these kids.

I tried to not make a scene when we saw our kids with the counselors and other campers with them, but I was freaking out! I wanted to know everything. But most importantly, did they like it?! They LOVED it and not 10 minutes into the conversation they said they wanted to go back next year! I was ecstatic.

After Camp

McKenna and Hudson are still talking to the kids they met at camp last year. They even made plans to attend camp the same weeks as their friends this summer. Many of the kids come from all over Europe, and there were even a couple from the US. In fact, one friend of McKenna’s has been in Barcelona twice this last year and we got them together while she was in Barcelona.

Two thumbs up!

The reason I think I was so ecstatic was because I felt that we had really given our kids an opportunity to grow and be truly independent from us for the first time. Our kids are used to traveling the world, moving around and being flexible in life. But this experience was 100% their own, totally apart from us. Hudson conquered a HUGE fear and more than just survived, he truly thrived. The benefits and learning lessons we gave to our kids were the most important, but it also gave my husband and I two weeks to have our own fun and recconnect as a couple. Priceless!

We already live in Europe so this is an easier jump for us. Coming from the States it might be a stretch but if you are an expat family living in Europe I highly recommend it! Or if you are a digital nomad family, you may want to temporarily move to England this summer. Keeping in mind that it can rain a bit. 😉

I really can’t say enough about this new turning point for our wanderlusting family. I am so grateful that we found XUK Camp and that we made this happen for our kids. Let the countdown begin – we are all signed up for this summer!

 

Disclosure: I was not paid in any way to write this, but my kids better get the best bunk this year. 😉 LOL I share it with you because I want more kids and parents to have awesome experiences. Counting the days until they go back…

Send Your Kids to Summer Camp in the UK