I'm just a girl trying to have a cup of coffee all around the world. This is a blog about travel, expat life and our adventures living an international lifestyle, with two kids and a dog.

Andrea Fellman of Wanderlust Living Travel Blog

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Posts by Category: Family

Adventure September 20, 2017 posted by

3D Art Gallery Budapest: Where you become a part of the art

While we were recently in Budapest, one of the best things we did was visit the 3D Art Gallery Budapest. My kids actually found out about this attraction while they were researching things to do in Budapest. Now, you may be wondering what exactly is a 3D art gallery? Well, I was too! Essentially, the 3D Art Gallery Budapest was unlike any other art museum that we’ve been to, because here you become a part of the art!

Someone in our family was really good at this…

3D Art Gallery Budapest

I was not sure what to expect when we arrived at the museum. It’s not that big, and when we entered we came to the desk and paid a small entrance fee. A guide explained that we had to find creative ways to insert ourselves into the paintings. It took us a little while to warm up and get the hang of it.  It wasn’t always obvious how to position ourselves in the paintings. My husband is trained in improv and my kids are definitely not camera-shy, so they all seemed to have an easier time then me. So I was pretty much the photographer, as usual. As we we moved to each painting we quickly realized that this was not just about standing in front of the painting. You had to react and make facial expressions as if the paintings were real. By the time we got to the third room, we really started having fun with it. The kids were fighting over who got to jump in the painting first. They even competed with their dad on who could manage the best pose!

Striking the Pose

Once we walked through all the rooms of the museum, one of the staff then took us back through to get some family photos of us! I so appreciated this service, and am glad that they did this. He was able to direct us on where to stand, how to react and he knew where to stand to make the photo look the most realistic. I liked that they waited until after you went through independently the first time,  because that gave us a chance to loosen up and allowed our kids to use their own creativity. Then it was nice to go through again with a more professional eye, and with someone helping us get the best possible shots. This also allowed me to get in some of the photos too.

Scroll through our photos and tell me your favorite!

 

 


 

Sometimes it pays to have your kids do some of the travel planning and research!

Visit their website and be sure to check them out if you find yourself in Budapest.

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3D Art Gallery Budapest: Where you become a part of the art
Family September 15, 2017 posted by

What to do in London with Kids in the Winter

Last year, we decided to visit London with kids in the winter. More specifically, we took the kids to London for New Year’s Eve! Call us crazy but we thought hearing the bells of Big Ben in London on New Year’s Eve would be one of those big family bucket list moments. While we stood on Westminster Bridge in the cold and I drank wine from a water bottle, my daughter actually fell asleep on the curb! Maybe hearing the bells at midnight wasn’t on her bucket list, but it was definitely a night to remember.

Visiting London with kids in winter is actually quite fun. Yes it may be chilly, but seeing the festive holiday spirit all over the city was a fantastic payoff. I was hoping to see more snow, but unfortunately we just got caught in the rain a few times.

 

London with Kids in the Winter

Where to Stay: We stayed at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge hotel because our New Year’s Eve tickets were for the Westminster bridge section. However, even if you are not going to London for New Year’s Eve this is an excellent hotel because of its location. You are literally just over the bridge from Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. James Park, and Buckingham Palace. It’s also very close to the London Eye. We loved walking over the Westminster Bridge every morning to start our day. The hotel is massive and has all the modern amenities you would expect, even an indoor pool in the basement.

Generally, I like to stay in smaller hotels but for the purpose of our first trip to London with the kids it was really ideal. They have a nice cafe downstairs for coffee and easy grab-and-go type breakfasts. The customer service was fantastic and we liked being able to consult the concierge on a few occasions. In fact, before we even arrived in London, the concierge helped us secure what appeared to be sold out Harry Potter Studio tickets!

Great Location for New Year’s Eve

Park Plaza Westminster Bridge is absolutely the best place to stay if you are going to London for the New Year’s Eve celebration with the kids. You will be given a wristband the morning of New Year’s Eve, because entrance to the hotel will be secured and limited for hotel guests only. The streets around the hotel will also be blocked off. The subway station at Westminster Bridge closes for a large part of the night as well, so you will want to be back at the hotel earlier that day to avoid the traffic and closures.

We just walked out the Park Plaza to get to our designated section for the New Year’s Ever fireworks show. It was so easy and convenient and to reach the secured entrance on the Westminster Bridge. It was seriously the quickest entrance to a large event ever. We went through security, our bags were checked and once you were in you could not leave.  So pack a bag of drinks and snacks!

Buy London New Year’s Eve Tickets: Tickets for the New Year’s Eve fireworks go on sale in September. You can sign up for the sale alerts here.

Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park

Every holiday season, Winter Wonderland takes over Hyde Park. This large winter-themed carnival is filled with plenty of rides, games, food booths and even an ice skating rink. It is free to enter but of course the games, rides and special attractions are not free. Warning: You will spend money. There are also special events and shows that vary from year to year which require tickets. We really enjoyed the day wandering around playing the games, eating and drinking and then having the most fun ice skating. One of my children was not so graceful on skates, but we got her up and going around eventually. Winter Wonderland is definitely something not to miss with the kids in the winter. (Dates: Mid November – January 1st)

Natural History Museum

This is a fantastic way to spend part of your day. If your kids are into dinosaurs this is the place to go! The showstopper is the large and most complete Stegosaurus skeleton in the world being on display. While the dinosaur is impressive, the room in which it is housed in actually caught my attention more!  Yes, I know that you go here for science but the building and architecture itself is absolutely stunning. The natural history museum has a variety of special exhibits happening year round. Check their website for more information closer to your visit dates. You may also want to check out the Dino Snores for kids, where they get to sleep over night in the museum. In the winter, the ice skating rink and the carousel just outside the Natural History Museum looks like something from a fairy tale. Especially if you go at dusk. We didn’t spend too much time inside the museum as it was so packed. We opted for hot cider, snacks and riding the carousel.

**After hitting the Natural History Museum, very close by is  SNOG for frozen yogurt or Bubblology for bubble tea. My kids love bubble tea so we always search for this in different cities.

See a Theatre Performance

What’s a visit to London without seeing a show!? We saw Wicked and it was fantastic! I had actually already seen it before but the kids thought it was so impressive too. There are always plenty of shows happening, so buy your tickets in advance if you are there during the holiday season. Shows fill up quickly because kids are all off on holiday. There is discounted ticket booths in the Covent Garden metro station so you can check there if you want to take a chance.

Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studios Tour

You must BUY TICKETS EARLY for the Harry Potter Studio Tour. This is a top attraction for families and tickets sell out. The other thing to be aware of, is that this tour is not in the city and will take up most of the day. You will take an hour bus ride to the studio, where you will spend about four hours and then take the hour bus ride back. Our tickets included the coach bus ride to the studios and we boarded the bus at London Euston train station. There are other ways of getting there depending on who you booked through so please read your tickets and instructions carefully. Once at the studios you have a timed entrance and a time when you can start to enter the line. If you arrive early don’t worry, there is a large gift shop (naturally) and a cafe to grab a drink or a snack.  You walk independently through the studio and can go at your own pace, but it will take you about  2-3 hours. About half way through there is a nice cafeteria for food and where they serve the Butter Beer, so be sure to stop for that. The entire experience was impressive, I highly recommend!

KidZania

You may have saw my video gushing about this place. I really was not sure what to expect, and to be honest I thought it was going to be too young and babyish for my kids. However, this was my kids favorite thing in London. I honestly think they enjoyed it more than the Harry Potter Studio. KidZania is an experience you have to see to believe. KidZania literally transports your children to another world. More specifically to a city, fun by kids. The city KidZania allows the kids to play and learn independently from adults. They are able to have jobs and make money. They can be a doctor, firefighter, work for the postal service, work in broadcasting, fashion retail, learn to cook, write for the newspaper and even play on a professional soccer team.

KidZania is for slightly younger kids. My daughter had just turned 12 and I think that is probably the cut off age. The entire experience is impressive, from the start of entering at an airport and being helped by British Airways to the end when you have to clear customs with an immigration officer. Bravo!

Tower Bridge

I had been to London several times and do you know, I had never seen the Tower Bridge!? Well, this time we didn’t just see it but I literally ran over it on one of my morning runs!  I heard that the Tower Bridge tour is great. But we did not go because I waited too long and tickets were sold out. Even if you can’t or don’t want to visit the museum, the park is lovely and is a must see. Even my kids thought this bridge was impressive thought it looked fake.

We wandered and shopped in some nice souvenir shops in this area, then grabbed some lunch at Wagamama. Wagamama has several locations all over the city, and we like it because Asian food is the one thing our family can all agree on! There is something for everyone and the service is fast and efficient.

St. James Park & Buckingham Palace

From the Park Plaza, past Big Ben and Westminster Abbey you will walk right into St. James Park. This is a lovely walk to get to Buckingham Palace. Just before you get to Buckingham Palace there will be a fun park that the kids will want to play at, which is fine because there is also a little snack house serving coffee, hot chocolate, and waffles! Then head over to Buckingham Palace, watch the changing of the guards (if you are there at the times they do it). We didn’t even plan to go at the day and time, but we just lucked out and happened upon the changing of the guards happening! We were on the side so we mostly saw them marching up to the palace not so much the changing, but that was just as fine too.

Fun Fact: McKenna is VERY afraid of pigeons. 

Time Run Escape Room

We did not do this on this particular trip but a more recent trip to London. An escape room is obviously not a historic monument or classic attraction. But our family does escape rooms all the time and this might have been our family’s favorite! If it’s really cold outside and you are traveling with older kids I would highly recommend this escape room. Kids should probably be at least eight but check the website to see if they have age restrictions. It was a difficult one and our family unfortunately ran out of time, but best of luck to you!

There are obviously so many more things to see and do in London with the kids. The biggest thing to remember when traveling is that you don’t have to see and do it all. Also, your kids do not want to go inside every museum, and that’s okay too. You are there to have fun and enjoy yourself, so just do a few things and wander – letting part of your day just unfold. It’s about the experience, not how many things you can check off the list. On the last day, all my kids wanted to do was walk through St. James Park again, chase the squirrels, play at the park and get hot chocolate. So seriously, do not over plan or overthink it all.


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What to do in London with Kids in the Winter
Andrea August 9, 2017 posted by

20 BEST moments of two weeks in England!

Spending two weeks in England this summer was definitely not the typical beach holiday, but it was refreshing to escape the Barcelona heat. We went to England for two weeks because our kids were going to sleepover camp for the first time. We thought it might be wise to stay in the same country as them, just in case anything should go awry, but we also thought –  why not take advantage of this time and explore the English countryside.

We had a great time and looking back I easily came up with my favorite moments, all 20 of them!

20 BEST moments of two weeks in England

1. Staying in Notting Hill

We rented and AirBnB one block from the famous Portebello Road and it was a great location for our few days in London. We only had two days in London with the kids and we were not doing any major sight seeing, we just wanted to keep it chill. We just wanted to walk to all the cute cafes, cruise the Portobello market, and wander the adorable and very colorful Notting Hill neighborhood. And of course we had to step inside the Notting Hill Bookstore from the movie Notting Hill.

2. London Escape Room

We love doing escape rooms in all the cities we visit! We promised the kids we would do one in London before they headed off to camp. Harris found one of the top rated and best escape rooms in London and it certainly did not disappoint! This might have been our families favorite of all the escape rooms we’ve done! Time Run Escape Room

3. Seeing School Of Rock with the kids

We did not get theatre tickets in advance and seeing a show was not on the agenda at all. Which I regretted once we were in London and I remembered, oh right – we should see a show! While walking around Covent Garden it started to rain heavily, we jumped down in the subway station to head back to Notting Hill and there was a discounted theatre ticket booth. Clearly it was meant to be. I darted across the packed station and said “What cha’ got for tonight!?” School of Rock was a really high energy show and the kids loved it!

4. Drinking from a BBQ grill

Yes, you read that correctly. My (now very good) friend Katja literally just moved to London from Mexico City. As in like five days before we got there. She is originally from England, but has been living abroad with her family for over 10+ years. We had an interesting meal at a the Eclectic Diner in Notting Hill, then we went for a cocktail at Trailer Happiness, a funky little tiki bar. We figured we might as well keep up the hipster theme. We somehow ended up ordering a BBQ grill filled with booze to share. This is why Katja is now a very good friend, you do not share large BBQ grill cocktails with just anyone.

5. Dropping the kids off  for summer camp

Dropping the kids off at the St Pancras train station was a top highlight, not because I was getting rid of my kids for two weeks but because this train station is such a beautiful historical landmark!  I had never been to St Pancras Station and had no idea it was such a gem. But back to sending my kids away to camp for two weeks, for the FIRST TIME. We spotted the XUK Camp sweatshirts on the counselors with swarms of kids around them right away. We checked them in, hung out for a bit but then hugged and said our goodbyes. It was so bizarre walking away from them. My gut felt like it had been slightly punched. 

6. Diana: Her Fashion Story at Kensington Palace

In honor of the 20 year anniversary of Princess Diana’s passing there is a special exhibit at Kensington Palace, Diana: Her Fashion Story and it is beyond GORGEOUS. Seeing this was an unexpected surprise. I did not know about this exhibit before we got to London and I still can’t even remember how I saw or heard that this was happening, but it was a MUST for me. I did this solo while Harris got some work done. This is on display until February 2018 so if you are in London I suggest you go! 

7.  Re-connecting with a friend from South Africa

We met Lole and her husband (who are from South Africa) in Barcelona while on a food tour with friends. We have remained in contact and randomly she was in London! She messaged me and we got together for dinner with her and her lovely daughter. It was so great catching up and talking about life’s twists and turns, but a highlight for me was hearing her and her daughter tell the story of them biking the famous Camino de Santiago through Spain. So funny.

8.  Harris being told he’s a “Wanker”

While driving from London to Peak District we had been on the highway for about 20 minutes and we were in the far right lane, then Harris moved over into the middle lane and a car zoomed passed us…

Harris: That guy just called me a Wanker!

Me: What, how do you know!?

Harris: Well he passed me and did this – Harris makes a hand jerking-off motion.

Me: Oh, is that the international sign for a Wanker!? LOL

Harris: I think so!

9. The Monsal Trail and biking through railroad tunnels 

The Monsal Trail was awesome! I am not a biker, I prefer running, but when in Peak District there are a variety of trails and Harris likes biking, so we biked. The Monsal Trail is a trail that used to be an old railroad that has been converted into a gorgeous trail that includes six railroad tunnels that you ride through. I absolutely loved biking through the tunnels, it was very cool. I had so much fun on this bike ride that I may have even agreed to bike with Harris back in Spain… maybe.

10. Pub Dogs & Pints

I had some favorite pubs while in Peak District and some not so favorite;) Two of my favorites were The Bulls Head (near Eyam) and The Anchor. The Bulls head was adorable inside and it came with the cutest pub dog named Jack! Not only was the pub cozy and the waitress friendly, but the fish-n-chips was SO good and it was literally the whole fish! The Anchor was my other favorite because they serve food all day and the staff was really nice and welcoming. This place felt like the being inside the belly of a pirate ship with even a rum room included.

The thing with the pubs in the peak District is, they are strict about their food serving hours – you better get there between 12-2 if you want lunch and 6-8 if you want dinner.  There isn’t much wiggle room and it was a little annoying. However, when we were late or behind the food serving schedule we went to The Anchor and they happily served us. Another pub that took us even though it was 2:30 was The Ashford Arms in Ashford on the Water, this was another stand out pub that had a lovely garden.

11. Tissington Trail 

Tissington trail was beautiful but just not as unique as riding through the railroad tunnels on the Monsal trail. However, the real gem of this trail was at the end when you reached the village of Tissington. We parked our bikes and walked around the town wandering into the most adorable vintage candy shop, browsed a beautiful home store and then stopped for some coffee and homemade fudge next to Tissington Hall, which is a gorgeous historical estate. This estate is popular for weddings and since it was a Saturday we saw a large group of dapper groomsmen getting photos taken. 

12. Peak District, pretty much ALL of it.

Never heard of Peak Distric?  Yeah most people haven’t. I actually read about Peak District in an inflight magazine, if you can believe that! Peak District is a national park in northern England and apparently the step sister to the bigger and more popular Lake District. Peak District is closer to London so it’s a bit more convenient and it is also a very easy drive from Manchester and Cambridge. It is well known for their hiking and biking trails but just driving around and exploring the the countryside stopping at all the small villages was fun too! I loved it here.

13.  The Sir Williams Hotel and Barry the local bar man

We were driving around looking for a place to grab a bite to eat and we suddenly came to The Sir William Grindleford and from the outside it looked adorable! When we drive to the back to park, the views were fantastic and they had a little garden area with picnic tables. I went in to make sure they were serving food and as luck would have it they were! We were met by the nicest staff behind the bar, which included a young college kid from North Dakota of all places, and Barry, who seemed to be the the permanent bar fixture. He was hilarious and kept us entertained while we ate. I also asked to see a room upstairs, because I am totally staying here the next time we are in Peak District. There will be a next time.

14. Our cottage in the Cotswolds

Adorable. I felt like frickin’ goldilocks (with one bear) ha ha ha! This cottage was the cutest and even came with one of those iconic country doors that you can open just the top half, a small detail but one I loved! This stylish little cottage was in the town of Cirencester – one of the largest towns in the Cotswolds, but not in a horrible way. It was nestled behind one of the main streets in town so we could walk out our door and walk to everything.  The funny thing was, it was sort of behind a Thai restaurant so when we would leave we would get an intense smell of Thai food. Ahhh, nothing like stepping out your door in the English countryside to smell Thai food!;) 

15. Getting my running back in the Cotswolds

I have not been running. My excuses – the end of the school year was crazy per usual, lots of friends have been visiting, traveling and the heat in Barcelona. Lame, I know. So the one good thing about the weather in England was it made for some great running weather. I also found a cute store that sold the coolest workout clothing so I bought myself a few fun pairs of leggings, which may have also inspired me to get my ass up and go running.

16.  The Hare Trail

I spotted a couple gorgeous sculptures of painted rabbits, so I googled. It turns out that there are 85 of them throughout the 28 villages in the Cotswolds and this is known as The Hare Trail. They are decorated by different artists and are on display from March – September, then in October they auction them off and the proceeds go to a variety of charities. I of course wanted to find all of them, but probably only spotted ten.

17. Meeting up with a high school friend in the Cotswolds

What are the chances that a friend from high school was visiting her brother that lives in the Cotswolds the same week I was there!? Slim to none, but it totally happened! We met up for a pint at a pub (naturally). I was also able to meet her brother, his beautiful dog and her sweet family. They had already been to Iceland, spending a few days in the Cotswolds, then heading into London and then onto Paris. Catching up with her was such a fun treat!

18. Reading an entire book in a day

This was a first for me. I have never read a book in ONE DAY. I am not the type to sit still for that long, my mind and body just does not do that. However, if you put me in a cozy cottage while it’s raining, apparently my body can be persuaded to lay around all day and my mind can get wrapped up in something other than being productive. Yay!

19. Arguing about eating pistachios while driving 

Have you ever eaten pistachios? Well if so, then you know that this is a two hand job. Have you ever driven a manual car with the steering wheel on the right side of the car? Then you know that this is also a two hand job. Therefore, it is not safe to crack open pistachios, navigate the roundabouts while driving on the opposite side of the road and changing gears. Period.

20. Visiting Oxford – Wycliffe hall

The icing on the cake! Oxford is about an hour drive from where we were in the Cotswolds and so on the last day we took a drive to Oxford, so I could relive my youth! 20 years ago I did a study abroad program called EuroSpring and we stayed at Wycliffe Hall on Banbury Street in Oxford. Our walk over to the hall brought back so many memories. We passed by all the pubs we would frequent and the park we would walk pass everyday. Whoa – this took me back, way back. That EuroSpring trip opened my eyes to the world – and I’m pretty sure it was then that I decided I needed to see ALL OF IT.

The place where my wanderlust life began…

20 BEST moments of two weeks in England!
Costa Rica July 19, 2017 posted by

In Memory of Dawn the Dog Lady in Costa Rica

Yesterday as I sat curled up on the couch watching a movie with Hudson and petting Canela, I was scrolling through Facebook. I got the news that Dawn Scott, aka Dawn the dog lady, in Costa Rica had passed away. Dawn was a petite British woman, and a real spitfire. We had the pleasure of knowing Dawn because she rescued both our dogs Jack and Canela, among thousands of other dogs in Costa Rica. I meant to write about Dawn and share the following story years ago, so I guess this is as good of time as any, in her memory.

Dawn the Dog Lady

Dawn and her husband Sid are the people that we rented from the first time we went to Costa Rica for a month, over eight years ago. When we moved to Costa Rica for good, we rented from them again while we looked for our more permanent home. They own a house on Playa Flamingo called Casa Mimosa, split into three lovely apartments.

When we moved to Costa Rica, she just so happened to have two dogs that she had recently rescued, took care of and was now looking to place them in a good home. Jack was a little black and white Jack Russell with loads of energy. She found Jack with a broken leg, got him to the vet and nursed his leg back to health. Even though he kept his left paw up and bent a lot of the time, that did not slow Jack down at all.

Canela was stand offish and more timid. She was afraid of people but so sweet once you got to know her. Dawn had found Canela in a hole on the side of the road and took her in. She believed that Canela had been abused. Dawn told us that she really wanted the two of them to stay together because Jack was her happy therapy, and was great support to Canela. They had formed a bond, and so she really wanted to find someone to take them both.

Helping the Dogs of Costa Rica

Dawn would hold dog clinics in the surrounding areas to spay and neuter pets to help control the pet population. Many Costa Ricans cannot afford to take their dogs to the vet or have this procedure done. She would hand out flyers and tell all the locals when the clinics would be in their area. Dawn would even have her groundskeeper and housekeeper pick up dogs and bring them to the clinic if people lived too far away.

She found veterinarians to volunteer their time, and would pay for many of the supplies out of her own pocket. Dawn did this whenever she was called upon to help rescue a dog. She made sure the dogs received the care they needed.

We went to one of these clinics with her and saw the work she was doing first hand. The kids were a bit scared at first as we walked up and saw the dogs just laying there. The dogs were fine, just heavily medicated from the surgery. The dogs rested for about an hour after the procedure before they could be taken home. Dawn then sent them home with a bag of dog food and a new collar or leash.

How We Got Two Dogs

While we lived at Dawn and Sid’s, we all got to know the dogs. We would find Canela sleeping outside our door some days. Jack and Hudson were similar in personality and energy while McKenna and Canela were a bit alike in personality too, more serious and calm. As we prepared to move into our permanent home, Dawn asked us if we wanted to take them both. We had just moved to Costa Rica with two small children, we were not looking to adopt a dog, let alone two dogs! The kids asked frequently if we could take them. Harris and I were pretty decided that we could not take them. After all, we travel too much and we did not want to add this to our plate.

Then our hearts gave way. We could not deny that perhaps these dogs were supposed to be ours. Isn’t there a saying… you don’t choose your dog, the dog chooses you. Or something like that!?

Canela & Jack Arrive

I told Dawn we would take them, but we wanted to surprise the kids. We told McKenna and Hudson that we had to ask our new landlord if it was even okay for us to have dogs. A few days after moving into our house, we secretly planned for Dawn and Sid to bring the dogs and come up for sunset and drinks to see our new place. When Dawn and Sid arrived, the dogs jumped out of their truck and our kids came running out of the house to greet them. I said “Guess what guys, they’re staying!” McKenna’s eyes got huge and she caved right into my gut and gave me the biggest hug she had ever given me. Hudson ran around to the back of the house to chase Jack. The dogs belonged to us.

During our last year in Costa Rica we unfortunately lost Jack (which I also meant to write about). It was pretty traumatic and is still very painful. We called Dawn and Sid to let them know what happened to Jack, and she wasn’t exactly surprised. He was a crazy little dog who loved chasing cars, buses, quads and motorcycles. Fearless and a bit stupid, that little guy.

Once I read about Dawn, I instantly thought about Jack, bouncing around with his gimpy little paw and greeting her. We have met so many people that have positively impacted our lives, living abroad. We are better people because of them.

Thank you Dawn.

In Memory of Dawn the Dog Lady in Costa Rica
Adventure June 27, 2017 posted by

School’s Out For Summer!

First Year at the American School of Barcelona 

School is out for summer here in Barcelona! Our kids finished school on June 22nd and I think I may have been just as excited about it as they were. The morning routine can get old no matter what country you live in and making lunches for my kids can be a frustrating experience in the morning. I have to say, we had a pretty incredible first school year at the American School of Barcelona. The kids settled in pretty easily and made friends fast, which is such a relief as a parent. When you move to a new country and a new school there is a lot of uncertainty, but luckily our kids were able to adapt and transition without any major problems.

Hudson was a little behind in reading, so right away he was put into a reading group with an aid to get those students all up to the reading level they should be at. Hudson does not like to read and this was his biggest challenge this year, so finding him books he liked and getting him to read was our main focus. McKenna was a little behind in math, so she was also put in a group for extra math help once a week until she got up to speed. We appreciated that this was assessed quickly and that there was a process already in place for this situation. When you have international kids coming from all over the world, it’s not uncommon for them to all be in different places. Seeing that the school was so proactive and had a successful system to get both our kids get up to where they needed to be in these areas was reassuring.

The 7th grade class kicked off the year with a team building trip to the Pyrenees Mountains which I think was brilliant and was a great way for McKenna to get to know her new classmates. Then the 5th graders went to the Pyrenees for three nights at the end of the year as their “step up” trip, as they would be entering 6th grade and heading to middle school next year. This was a fantastic way to end the year but this trip specifically helped Hudson prepare for the two weeks of sleepover camp in England this summer. Which he has been a bit nervous about, but McKenna on the other hand cannot wait and even asked to go for four weeks!

A few other school highlights this year was the incredible Halloween parade and the performances that the middle schoolers and high schoolers had to collaborate and work on to perform. McKenna’s class was assigned popular TV shows and her group did a little skit and dance as the girls from the show, Pretty Little Liars. They all dressed up as the character A and it was pretty awesome. The International Fair had everyone contributing dishes form their home countries and a foam party!

We also loved Hudson’s meet the artist presentation and the 5th grade end of the year beach party in Castelldefels, and of course the 5th grade promotion / graduation. Group lunches with our neighborhood Whats App group, 7th grade parents dinner and a handful of other events, sleepovers, and Birthday parties with new friends. We also received the ASB yearbook which is beautiful and so creative! The cover is of Barcelona’s iconic Parc Güell and inside the entire book is themed with social media pages. Each grade/section is either Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr or YouTube, complete with search toolbars, hashtags, and follower counts. 

Summer Travel Plans

Originally we were “not really traveling this Summer” (ha ha ha) just two weeks in England, but then things/people happened and well, we couldn’t resist! So here’s where we are headed…

Relaxing in Stockholm, Sweden

Tomorrow we are heading to Stockholm, Sweden to see one of my best friends Christine, her husband Kirk and their beautiful son Oliver. They live in New York City, but did a home exchange with a couple in Stockholm for a few weeks and well, if they are going to be this close to us – we have to go! We have rented a little house in the same neighborhood where they are staying.  I really have no big plans for Stockholm other then to spend some quality time with our friends and play with Oliver. I find these trips are some of my favorites – “having no plan at all, makes the best plan of all.” If that isn’t a famous quote already – I’ll claim it!

Work & Play in Budapest

Why Budapest!? Well there is a very special man in Budapest, Rob Toth. Rob is the business broker that sold my website and he happens to live in Budapest. Rob has been asking Harris and I to come and visit him so we are finally going! Since selling my website we have remained in close contact with Rob for a variety of ongoing business reasons. I have actually referred a few people to Rob and a few of those partnerships were very successful. I even got an email from one of the business owners thanking me for literally “changing her life” and expressing her gratitude for her new found freedom! It’s THAT, that right there – I love connecting awesome people and if I can do more of that then hell to the yes! So we are going to Budapest to play but also do a little work.

Summer Camp in England

Then at the end of July we go to England for two weeks. We wanted to put the kids in camp this Summer, and we thought about heading back to the States, but then we found XUK Camp just outside of London. We thought – we live in Spain, they should go to a camp in Spain or at least Europe, but we wanted an English speaking camp. Why? Well, it will be there first time going to sleep over camp and we wanted our kids to have fun and not worry about the language, it’s summer after all. Many of the camps we were finding around Barcelona are in Catalan and other camps in Spain are obviously in Spanish so we thought a amp in England is great!

So what will Harris and I be doing while they are in camp? We will be roaming the English countryside. We will be in London for a few days, then staying at a charming bed & breakfast in Peak District (one of Britains beloved National Parks) and then staying at an adorable cottage in the Cotswolds.  From both of those places we’ll be dong lots of day tripping!

Once home from summer camp we will spend the rest of August sweating amongst the tourists here in Barcelona. Well, we will probably head up the coast to Costa Brava a bit to hit some of the beautiful beaches but other than that we will be home (siting in the air conditioning) trying to rest and prepare for school to start up again! (we go back to school on September 4th) The Summer is sure to fly by and then I will have two middle schoolers, which is totally crazy to me! It also makes me think about how time is moving so fast. Even though the summer time is crazy, we have to make sure we slow down and enjoy them. However, right now I have to pack…

Hasta lluego!

School’s Out For Summer!
Family May 13, 2017 posted by

Visiting Sintra with Kids (25 Photos!)

Sintra with Kids

When you tell people you are going to Lisbon usually the first thing out of their mouths is, you have to go to Sintra. Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for the colorful Pena Palace, Castle of the Moors, Palacio Quinta da Regaleira and Monserrate Palace and Park. Not to mention the actual palace of Sintra, Vila Palace which sits right in the city center. Sintra is about 30 minutes from Lisbon which makes it an easy day trip. However, I’ve heard a few people say they wished they had more time in Sintra. We decided to stay over one night, and I am so glad we did. Visiting Sintra with kids is easy and a lot of fun. But there is a lot of walking, so be prepared.

We actually rented a car and drove to Sintra because from there we planned to continue north to the city of Porto. You can also take a train to Porto, but we thought a car would allow us to be on our own schedule. Looking back, I may have skipped the car, but more on that in the next post.

Where we stayed in Sintra

When we arrived in Sintra, our navigation lead us to this cotton candy pink little gem of a hotel. I was already thrilled (I didn’t remember booking a pink hotel!). I couldn’t wait to see inside. There weren’t a lot of hotels to choose from, as we booked at the last minute so I was happy with whatever color it was. We went in and no one was in sight, but there was a bell to ring for service on a small dresser at the entrance. We rang and a nice blond woman came bouncing down the stairs and welcomed us. She told us our room wasn’t quite ready, so we parked our car next to the gardens, walked to town, ate some lunch and returned later.

Quinta das Murtas is a small bed and breakfast in a historic Portuguese villa. The main building has traditional rooms while behind the main house is a few cabins and family suites that sit next to their small garden and pool. We booked one of the family suites and it was a large studio-type room with three beds and a full kitchen. While the accommodations are not necessarily fancy, our cabin had large windows that faced the garden. We were surrounded by such lush green scenery that it made us feel like we were in a green house. This hotel is in a great location and only a short five minute walk to the center of Sintra.

When we arrived in town, it was very busy and swimming with tourists. I saw a few large tour buses and sighed a little, as it was Easter/Semana Santa week. We were gonna have to rub a few elbows.

Sintra is a very small village with narrow streets and some fun little shops, and restaurants. We walked for a bit trying to find a place to eat but most restaurants were already packed. I jumped on my phone, did a quick search and found Tascantiga, which looked lovely online, so we headed there hoping for a table to be open. With only two families in front of us, we waited about 15 minutes and were seated outside at a lovely table in the sun. I just told my husband to order a bunch of stuff so we could sample a variety of tasty Portuguese tapas. I am not sure what everything was, but we liked almost everything. Even my son loved his octopus blade!

Palacio Quinta da Regaleira

After lunch we headed to the tourist office to ask about tickets for visiting Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. These are the two of the most popular attractions in Sintra. We bought our tickets from the tourist office for both the palace and the castle so we were all set for the follow day. I recommend doing this to ensure you avoid any long lines in the morning. That said, the line at Pena Palace the next morning was not horribly long, and there was barely a line at the Moorish Castle by the time we arrived, mid-afternoon.

From the tourist office, we walked up the main road in Sintra to Palacio Quinta da Regaleira.  It’s about a 15-minute walk, and you can just buy tickets when you arrive at the front. We grabbed a map and started to make a plan. Then just as quickly, we decided to let ourselves wander and explore randomly. The grounds are filled with walking paths, old ruins, and a few towers for the kids to climb up. We eventually found our way into a cave and the underground walkways, a series of tunnels that lead to the cave of the Orient, an inactive well and a waterfall. This was one of the coolest areas of the palace grounds to explore!

 

 


 

We woke up early the next morning, had a light breakfast and headed straight to Pena Palace. Don’t worry about not having a car, there are tours that will pick you up and take you up to the entrance.  There are also tuk tuks that you can hire for about 10-15 Euros to drive you up to the top. We found parking pretty easily, but I suggest getting there early to be able to get a spot.

 

Pena Palace

Walking up to the front of the palace was a nice 10 minute steep climb. It wasn’t as horrible as it may appear. It’s a short walk, truly. I loved seeing the palace from a distance, and as we got closer all the layers started to reveal themselves. It was a little lighter in color than I had imagined it. Perhaps that is from seeing too many filtered photos on social media.  The color palette is interesting. While I would never put these colors together, they somehow work! The Royal family built Pena Palace on the site of an old monastery, as a summer palace. Dom Fernando of Saxe Coburg-Gotha and Queen Dona Maria II acquired the old monastery and the surrounding land, as well as the Moorish Castle and a few other estates in the area in 1838.

We made our way all around the palace walls looking out at the gorgeous views. We could even see the Moorish Castle in the distance. The palace is an eclectic mix of colors, textures, tiles, and Romanticism architecture . One of the stand out pieces is the large angry-looking statue that sits above an archway leading to a large courtyard. Kids will love this guy! Apparently, he is a depiction of the Greek God, Triton.

After we made our way around the palace we headed down to explore the palace gardens. I believe we spent more time wandering the palace grounds then the actual palace.  When looking at the map of the palace gardens it can be overwhelming. There is a lot to see and I don’t think we even saw half of the grounds.

The map showed a section called the valley of the lakes, so we made that our goal and I was so glad we saw this series of lakes. It was a beautiful walk and probably my favorite part! We followed the path around the lakes down and ended up at a nice resting area with bathrooms, a snack bar and a ticket office. You can actually start your journey here and walk up through the grounds to the entrance of the palace too. This was the perfect spot to stop and take a break. It also sits right next to the road that we needed to walk up to the entrance of the Moorish Castle. Perfect!


The Moorish Castle

By winding our way down the the bottom of the Pena Palace gardens, we walked up the steep road a little ways to reach the entrance to the Moorish Castle. This was not a long walk – maybe 15 minutes, but it is a little steep. Once at the entrance, take a gorgeous walk along a paved road. You’ll come across some ruins and eventually walk up a small hill to the official ticket entrance. From here you can either go to the right which will take you to the smaller hill top lookout first. I recommend doing this side first, because the other hillside is the highest peak and look out. By going to the right first, you end up walking the entire distance of the long wall which takes you up to the highest point. If you don’t do this first, you may skip this side, having already been higher.

There is no wrong way to explore of course, so just watch your step and take in the incredible views! Along this walk, you will be able to see the city center of Sintra, the Sintra Palace, and of course Pena Palace. This entire climb with the kids was fun and it is not too intense. My daughter was tired but my son was just so excited to reach the top. I had to make him wait for me.  I was also stopping to take a million photos of the views.

The Muslims built the Castle of the Moors/The Moorish Castle as a military fortress in the 10th century. The castle was strategically built high up in the Sintra hills to protect the local territory and Lisbon. It also served to control access to the sea.


I did wondered if seeing Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle in the same day was doable with kids. Let me tell you, it totally is. You can easily do both the same day and I highly recommend it. They are very close to one another and you are already up there so just knock them both out back to back!

If you are traveling with young kids that you can carry or are pushing a stroller you will get a work out. However, a stroller at the Moorish castle will be useless if you want to climb the walls and get to the top lookout spots. It is very narrow and with rocky stairs. So bring a baby carrier for the babies and you may need to carry toddlers alongside you carefully. If you are traveling with younger children I would definitely pack a backpack with some water and snacks.

Finally Thoughts

So, which one was my favorite? It’s hard to say, but I’d have to say climbing along the walls of the Moorish Castle was my favorite. I really enjoyed the climb and the incredible views. They have preserved the old fortress very well, it’s unbelievable. We spent the least amount of time at Pena Palace itself, and more time actually exploring the grounds. I also loved the mystical gardens at Palacio Quinta da Regaleria and the kids liked the underground tunnels a lot. I’m actually glad that we were able to see all three attractions. I wouldn’t change a thing about how we spent our time.

Visiting Sintra with Kids (25 Photos!)
Family May 4, 2017 posted by

Visiting Portugal: Lisbon with Kids

Visiting Portugal

Ever since we moved to Barcelona people have asked us, what are some of the top places in Europe we want to go? My first answer has always been Portugal. I mean, it’s right next door and Portugal was picked as Travel + Leisure’s Destination of the year in 2016, clearly we must go! We have actually ended up visiting our neighbor France quite a bit this first year. But finally for Spring Break, we created a week long itinerary for ourselves that would take us to Lisbon, Sintra and Porto. We figured why not hit them all in one trip? This will be the first of three posts. Here’s how we spent three days in Lisbon with kids!

Lisbon with Kids

Lisbon is a smorgasboard of action. In fact, I had a slight case of sensory overload. Lisbon is definitely having a moment, and it knows it. The weather is fantastic, prices are very reasonable, the city has a rich (and very traumatic) history, the people are kind (most speak English), and it has a creative vibe that just oozes into the streets. There are a lot of renovations happening. When you walk around town, you will see and hear a lot of construction. But it’s all for the sake of polishing up an already vibrant city. The real challenge is to not shine it up too much. Like any European city, we still want to see it for it’s authentic cultural self – with all its bumps and bruises.

The same day we landed, we hit the ground running with a walking tour of Lisbon from With Locals. This was the first time we did a city walking tour with our kids. I figured they are old enough now and they should learn a little bit more about where they are. More than our quick and random Google searches at the airport before boarding the plane. This also took some pressure off me to know where to go and what to see.

We met up with our guide Jorge at Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara in the Barrio Alto neighborhood. This is a fantastic promenade and park overlooking the city, and a great way to kick off our time in Lisbon. From up here he was able to explain in detail about the devastating 1755 earthquake, flood and tsunami that demolished the city. We spent the entire afternoon walking with Jorge as he explained the different areas, shared interesting and significant stories about Lisbon’s history and even engaged with the kids. When we all got hungry, he didn’t even mind stopping to let us grab a quick bite to eat. 

When our official time was up Jorge kept going because he really wanted us to see a few more hidden gems and end the tour at a lookout point. He took us to see some very cool street art that decorates a parking garage. Each level was done by a different artist and was a competition put on by the city. This parking garage actually brought us to the lookout point just as the sun was setting. On the way down we took a small street that lead us to Chapito. Chapito used to be just a very small circus school, but has now turned into a full performing arts school and venue for performances. Around back is a restaurant where you can dine under the big top. (We were not able to eat here – so make reservations).


Every European city has their sweet treats, but in Lisbon they are known as “convent sweets,” as they got their name because the nuns would make them with all the left over egg yolks. The yolks remained as the nuns used egg whites to starch their whites and to clarify the convent wine. This was another interesting fact we learned on our walking tour with Jorge.

Alfama Neighborhood

The next morning Harris and I let the kids sleep in and we got up to check out the Alfama neighborhood. This is the oldest neighborhood that was literally built to protect the castle, São Jorge Castle. The streets are very narrow and maze-like, which was intentional to make it difficult for enemies to attack the castle. Local people still live here. We passed one woman and her husband carrying their laundry down a small alleyway. We also saw all sorts of unique and random things, such as a mannequin leg hanging from a window and a little pink cut out of a house hanging over head.

While Harris made friends with a little dog I wandered happened upon a little ceramic shop. We walked what seemed to be the opposite way as we saw many people coming down, as we were making our way up, to what we had no idea. Eventually we came to a gorgeous, and very popular lookout known as Miradouro Porta das Sol.

We started our walk up to the Alfama neighborhood from the waterfront, and I spotted Brunch Cafe and Reina Dona Amelia Confeitaria (Queen Amelia – in reference to Amalia Rodrigues the famous fado singer from Lisbon). These are both two great places for brunch or coffee.


Next we grabbed the kids and went for lunch. We tried to go to the popular Time Out Market, which has a variety of food stalls with some of Lisbon’s top chefs. But we were not the only ones with this idea, and it was packed. So just behind the market, we passed a nice open courtyard that had some restaurants. We actually ended up eating at Mez Cais. This is a Mexican restaurant (LOL), but we were glad to have a seat in the sun sipping on our margaritas and virgin mojitos!  I obviously wanted Portuguese food, but when traveling with kids you have to choose your battles and well, tacos and guacamole won.

There was also a nice Portuguese tapas restaurant in the same courtyard that was fully booked and looked pretty good, Taberna Tosca. But whatever you choose to eat, there is always room for gelato at Gelato Davvero that is conveniently right on the corner.

Time for a Tuk Tuk Tour

Since the kids walked all over the city the day before and they kept seeing all the colorful tuk tuks whiz by us, we of course promised them a ride in oneThis was another great way to see the city, even though this tour repeated some of the things we saw on the walking tour. It was nice to just sit and cruise through the streets, taking in the city’s charming rhythm and vibe.

As luck would have it, our tour took us up to a different lookout spot. This spot was called Lady of the Mountain, and apparently it’s the highest in the city. Lisbon is known as the city of seven hills (even though there are more than seven hills), and I think we may have stood atop four of the seven lookout spots in our short three day visit. Which was fine with me because I’d much rather look out across a city then be taken inside another old church. 😉

Travel Tip: Be sure to hire an electric tuk tuk – the old ones are really loud and bumpy and the ride is not as enjoyable, trust me.

We enjoyed a nice authentic Portuguese dinner at the tiniest restaurant I’ve ever been in. We happened upon Lisboa Chica de Graça and just took a chance. I felt like I was in someone’s house, which I’m pretty sure we were. All of the restaurants in the Barrio Alto neighborhood were similar in style, small and quaint. Both of our meals were good, but not out of this world. In fact I can’t really remember what mine was. However, the apple dessert thing we had was fantastic. We almost ordered another one, but feared we did not have enough money. This place is cash only.  Another option a few blocks away that I wanted to try was Rosa Da Rua, but they were already full of reservations for the night.

After dinner, we dropped the kids off back at the hotel and Harris and I went to wander some more and check out The Pharmacy. This cool little wine bar that used to be an old pharmacy, and has kept most of the original shelving and architecture. We also stopped for one more glass at By The Wine. It’s only a few doors down from our hotel, and had the most beautiful arch of colored wine bottles. It was like being in a beautifully lit glass tunnel.

The next day we promised the kids they could go to Kidzania, which they had done in London and loved. Kidzania is a solid 20-minute cab ride outside the city center. We dropped them off and then went back to explore a little off the beaten path. It’s in a very cute neighborhood called Estrela E Campo de Ourique. We found beautiful streets with some boutiques, and then ran right into Jardin da Estrela. This is a beautiful oasis, and a nice change of scenery from bustling city streets. This is an excellent park for kids. It has a nice playground and plenty of green space to run. There was even a man renting out some pretty cool-looking modern tricycles. Too bad we didn’t have our kids with us, but it was nice to walk and enjoy the park just the two of us.


Then we had our evening family photo shoot with Flytographer!  We met up with our photographer at Elevador da Bica. This is where you can get one of the iconic trolley car shots in Lisbon since it goes up a hill and you can get the river in the background. Our photo shoot gave us another opportunity to wander the streets and take some fun family photos. This was something I have been wanting to do forever and thought Lisbon would back such a fun backdrop!

Where We Stayed

We enjoyed a stay at the Martinhal Chiado Family Suites. This is a brand new hotel in the center of Lisbon that is excellent for traveling families with young kids. They have modern, apartment-style suites that come with full kitchens, washer and dryer, high chairs, booster seats, cribs and even bathroom necessities like toddler potties and step stools. We had a one bedroom deluxe, that had a enormous living room and a bunkbed room for the kids. Breakfast was included in our stay, and there were a variety of food options to choose from. I loved their kid-friendly dining room. It’s got large tables, booths, pillows and even a car for the little ones to play in while they waited for their food.

The best part about Marthinal Chiado Family Suites is their childcare facility right on the property. It let’s you go out an enjoy the city for a kid-free day or allows you to have a dinner out with your spouse. The kids center has activities for kids up to about age nine, but they will of course watch older kids as well. The hotel has movie nights, the kids can play Xbox, or you could drop them off with their own electronic devices.

Our kids were a bit old for the kids center. We are very comfortable leaving our kids in a hotel room together on their own for two or three hours. My daughter has a phone and can message us using WhatsApp. We have a very mature 12 year old. The location of Marthinal is in the Chiado neighborhood and is very centrally located, it was very easy to walk and access so much of the city. The entire staff at Marthinal was very helpful throughout our entire stay and I highly recommend this property for those traveling with young children.

For more information read my full review here: Parental Paradise at the Martinhal Chiado Family Suites

Final Thoughts on Lisbon

We had a great three days in Lisbon. I think three days is a perfect amount of time to see the city with kids. It felt like a mix of San Francisco and Cuba, probably because of the hills, trolley cars, and construction. My husband and I agreed that this is probably what Cuba would have looked like if it hadn’t got stuck in the 50’s. Lisbon is a funky little city, and I was happy to see that even though it’s growing, it’s preserving its history, tradition and charm. Thank God the only Starbucks we saw was at the airport. I was also really glad we did a walking tour on the first day. I felt that I had a better understanding of Lisbon before we set off to explore on our own.

We did not get to some of the kid-friendly museums that were recommended to us because we opted to send the kids to Kidzania for the day instead. I am not a huge museum traveler anyways. I prefer being outside and parks so that was okay with me. We did not plan our dinners as I think we should have. We sort of just left that to chance. This was a mistake since it was Easter week and many restaurants were booked.  One restaurant that our tour guide Jorge tried to get us into was Maria Catita. He’s a local so I’d trust his recommendation.

Another thing I’d recommend for your visit is to please wear quality, comfortable shoes. The streets and sidewalks are hilly and made of small stones, which are actually pretty smooth and can even be a bit slippery. With the cable car tracks, uneven sidewalks, and construction, you need to watch your step and have flat shoes on!

Travel Tip: We had fantastic gelato at Gelatiamo – twice!

Travel Tip: Yes, Pink Street is pink. But don’t expect it to be as bright and shiny as all of those over-photoshopped photos on Pinterest. There are a few bars but sadly it’s not as exciting as one might hope.


Enjoy Lisbon!

Disclosure: The Marthinal Family Suites was a fully comped media stay for the purpose of my review. Read my honest opinions over on Walking On Travels. I share this with you because I think it is a fantastic property for anyone traveling with young children.

Visiting Portugal: Lisbon with Kids
Family April 25, 2017 posted by

You MUST book a Flytographer for your next family vacation!

Family Vacation Photos

We travel a lot and I take an obnoxious amount of photos. Sometimes I think we travel too much, and my kids definitely think I take too many photos, but those are two entirely separate issues, because today I want to talk about the issue of getting ME in the photos!  I heard about Flytographer from a few friends about a year ago. I thought this idea was brilliant! I oogled at my friends Flytographer photos and thought – OMG we need to do this! So on our latest trip to Lisbon, Portugal I booked us a Flytographer.

Sure, I’m in the family selfies, where everyone but me is making a crazy face (mocking me for wanting to take a family selfie). I love our family and all their multiple personalities, but we have not had a real professional family photo in at least four, maybe five years. My mom has been begging me for something she can actually put up on the wall and I wouldn’t mind having a family photo of us not all squished into a tiny thumbnail size photo. Flytographer was also started by a mom, she obviously understands the pain point of traveling and never being in any of the photos!

Flytographer

So here’s the scoop, Flytographer has a network of photographers in over 200 cities, you book your shoot wherever you are traveling and the photographer meets up with you on your vacation and makes sure that YOU get in the photos. Obviously you book a day and time in advance, to ensure you are looking cute and didn’t just get off a river boat cruise and your hair is a wild mess. In fact, Flytographer gives you a photo shoot concierge that helps you pick from a list of possible photo shoot locations, time of day when the lighting in that city may be best and matches you with the best photographer for your photo shoot personality. Mine even helped me to find a local salon in Lisbon to get a blow out!

 The other reason I have not had family photos taken for awhile is because I always wanted a backdrop that was unique and a little more special or fun, something that suited our family’s personality. Well what could be more fun and special then professional photos in a destination where our family is traveling!? Not only is the destination filled with endless backdrops, but it’s also a perfect memento from our trip. What’s a better keepsake, professional family photos or a fridge magnet? (Nothing against fridge magnets, but you could turn one of your photos into a fridge magnet – for all your relatives!!)

We met our photographer at the yellow iconic cable car stop on Rua da Bica to start our one hour shoot, from there we wandered the streets and took photos wherever we felt comfortable or saw something interesting. She also guided us to a special park and lookout area that is very popular in Lisbon, we grabbed some ice cream for the kids and continued to stroll laughing and warming up to the camera a little bit more. By the end of the photo shoot my kids started to really goof around and wanted to keep going! They were actually bummed that it was over and asked if we could do it again in Porto. Clearly my kids are not camera shy.

Not only did we get to take awesome family photos in a unique setting but we were able to see a bit more of the city and the kids really enjoyed it.
Taking family pictures turned out to be a fun family activity. Have you ever heard that before!?

Then about five days later, while we were still on vacation and in Porto, my photos were delivered right to my inbox.  We all snuggled up in the hotel room bed and clicked through them together! While we all have our favorites, I’m just happy I can download ALL of them and decide on which ones to have printed with no rush or pressure.

We were given over 45 photos! Here are some of my top favorites, which photo do you like the best!? (Tell me in the comments)

 

WIN a Flytographer Photo Shoot for Mother’s Day!

Me and a few other flymoms are hosting a giveaway and three lucky people will win a 30 minute photo shoot!! Dads you can enter too! 🙂 Please enter through the Rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you can’t wait or don’t win –  book a Flytographer with this link and use “flytographermom” to receive $25 off your session! 

 

 

Disclosure: I did receive a comped 30 minute session from Flytographer. However, I paid for an extra half hour, because I wanted to make sure we got enough shots and I also wanted some individual shots of my kids. Since my photo shoot, I was asked to be a Flytographer Mom for a Mother’s Day campaign and am being compensated. All my opinions are true and I would be a Flytographer Mom whether they asked me or not. This is a seriously cool experience that I LOVE and highly recommend!!

You MUST book a Flytographer for your next family vacation!
Barcelona April 24, 2017 posted by

What to do in Barcelona with Kids!


What to do in Barcelona with Kids

So you’re coming to Barcelona with kids this summer, how wonderful! You and everyone else. Ha, ha, ha…

Barcelona is a fantastic city. There is so much to do and see, but it’s hard to know what to do in Barcelona with kids that will keep them engaged and having fun too.

Now, I do not know your travel style, budget or the age of your children, but most of this list is for kids around the ages of 6-14. At the bottom, I will list a few other spots that are great for any toddlers in tow. My kids are currently 10 and 12, but I have been to Barcelona with them when they were also 1 and 3 (for a month). We returned again the year before we moved here, when they were 8 and 10. So, I have actually repeated a few of these things with them at different ages. I will also tell you a few of my favorite areas and my honest opinions about a few popular attractions as well.

So let’s get started on the real deal of Barcelona with kids.


What to do in Barcelona with Kids Ages 6-14

1. Gaudí Escape Room

This is super fun! Not sure if you’ve ever done an escape room with your kids, but my kids absolutely love these attractions. We always try to do them in different cities when we travel. The Escape Hunt in Barcelona has a Antoni Gaudí themed room that will teach the kids a little bit about the history of Barcelona and the famous architect, Antoni Gaudí. We did this last Summer when some friends were visiting, and we were broken up into two rooms. This made it a fun and friendly competition, we all had a blast!


2. La Sagrada Família / Casa Batlló

You are in the city of Antoni Gaudí after all. Both of these are the two ‘must sees’ (in my opinion), and at least see them from the outside. I do highly recommend going inside, and you will need to buy your tickets for both of these in advance. For the Sagrada Família, you can purchase an additional ticket to climb up one of the towers. My friends did this with their kids and they really liked it. Casa Batlló is stunning from the outside and pretty funky inside too. You can go up on the roof, and they give you interactive iPad-like devices that guide you through. The devices are are sort of 3D-ish. The kids like these, obviously.


3. Park Güell

I love Park Güell. It’s absolutely gorgeous and has great views of the city too! This may not blow your kids away, but this is where the iconic Gaudí dragon is located. There are 86 columns that hold up the park above with the mosaic benches, and of course buildings that look like gingerbread houses. They only allow so many people in at a time, so you do need to buy tickets. They will give you a specific time to enter the park. Sometimes you can show up and get right in, or in the next time slot that same day. However, in the summer I would buy your tickets and plan the time you want to go in advance. There is a small kids park/playground tucked away to the right of where you buy tickets, if you have to wait a bit you can let smaller kids play here. The grounds surrounding the park are actually free, and really beautiful so be sure to wander a bit.

4. Rent Bikes

Head down to Barcelonetta and rent bikes. The beach is fantastic for cruising, stopping for lunch, having drinks etc. It gets less crowded if you ride further away from Barcelonetta towards Mar Bella Beach. The bottom of the W Hotel has some nice restaurants for sitting out and having lunch, sangria and watching the view. Warning: Barcelona’s beaches are nude beaches. Not everyone is walking around naked, but there will be a few topless ladies here and there and I have seen a man in his birthday suit (but that was early in the morning). Your kids may see some things, you’ve been warned!

5. Go on a Segway Tour

My kids love Segway Tours! We did these in Granada and Seville and it was our kids’ favorite thing. Barcelona has a age limit of 11 or 12, so only my daughter could do it here when Grandma was in town (yes even Grandma did it!). If you cannot do the Segway Tour, then maybe consider a bike tour, or the hop on hop off bus. Both are great options to see a lot of the city.

6. Make Paella / Cooking Class / Food Tours

If your kids are little foodies and enjoy getting in the kitchen, and you want to learn a bit more about Catalan cuisine and the food culture, then I recommend learning to make Paella. While I have not done this yet, it’s on my list when friends visit this summer. I have had so many friends tell me what a great experience this is. My friend Lisa highly recommends this company, Cook & Taste.  My friend Kat highly recommends the family Runner Bean Free Walking Tours.

We have done one of the Devour Barcelona tours which was great. Perhaps one of the daytime food tours might interest your family.

7. Tibidabo

Tibidabo is a park high up on a mountain top with a beautiful church that looks a bit more like a castle.  You can see it from the city center of Barcelona. While the temple/church will probably not excite your kids, the amusement park might. The rides are tame and may not blow your older kids away compared to the theme parks in the States, but it’s a fun place to go. There is also an awesome ferris wheel that is fun to ride, with incredible views of the city.


8. Arc de Triomf / Park de la Ciutadella

It is a beautiful arch and so much better than the Arch of Triumph in Paris. This one is built with beautiful red bricks and has a gorgeous pedestrian area for bikes, scooters, skateboards, and dogs. This is a great spot to rest and relax a bit. Pick up a baguette, some drinks and snacks and just chill. Your kids will enjoy the bubble man. Heck, I love the bubble man! There are some cool street performers on occasion, and for the little ones the balloon ladies are usually there too. If you continue on from the arch you will run right into Park de la Ciutadella. This a nice park and you can even rent row boats.  From there you will find the entrance to the Barcelona Zoo.

9. Picasso Museum or Street Art Bike Tour

If your kids are into art and can handle a museum, the Picasso Museum is a great and it’s in a very cool area. I chaperoned my son’s 5th grade class here, and everyone survived. And hello – it’s Picasso! Older kids might enjoy a street art bike tour. I am a big fan of street art and my kids think it’s pretty cool too.


10.  Palau de la Musica and Cosmo Caixa Science Museum

I have not been inside Palau de la Musica yet, but I am dying to get in there. I hear it’s fantastic. Again, not sure it’s exciting for younger kids, but you are on vacation – try something new!  Sometimes they pair a tour with a short concert, which could be worth doing if the show or music sounds interesting to you. There is also Barcelona’s science center Cosmo Caixa, if you want to escape the heat and head indoors for some hands on learning. The building itself is impressive. My kids liked all the exhibits here, and if you like science museums be sure to check it out. (Side Note: I should have just sent my husband here with the kids, I am not a science museum mom, I’d rather be at the beach. Science – I support it and believe in it but it’s wasted on me. – ha!)


11. Magic Fountain and Poble D’espanol

The Magic Fountain is fun for any age, because who doesn’t like a colorful water music show? It is technically called the Montjuic Magic Fountain but is not actually up on Monjuic – it’s down across from Plaza De España. If traveling by cab, just say “Fountain Magica” or “Plaza de España.” (If you say Montjuic he’ll think you want go there up to Monjuic park and castle.) Shows happen nightly on the hour every hour. Poble Espanyol (I have not been here in 10 years) is the cultural center meant to be like a Spanish village or old town filled with historic architecture, history, shopping, art, and handcrafted items from local artisans. This is where they host special events all year long, so check if something interesting is happening while you are visiting.

What to do in Barcelona with Toddlers

The Barcelona Zoo –  I love this zoo because the size is manageable and perfect for young kids. It has one of the best dolphin shows I’ve seen, mostly because it is a small intimate space so you are very close to all the action.

Turo Park –  (AKA: Expat Central) Beautiful small park and great for young kids. There is a nice cafe in the park, Pinhan Cafe where you can get some great food and a glass of wine too.

L’Aquarium Barcelona – We went here years ago when the kids were tiny and we really enjoyed it. I am sure some things may have changed since then, but it’s down by the water in a beautiful location. It’s a great place to escape the summer heat for the little ones.

Barcelona Family Travel Tips

My favorite street is Passeig San Joan – this is not too touristy and isn’t packed with retail stores or souvenier shops. This is a beautiful wide street with green spaces, park benches and little playgrounds for kids that leads you right down to the Arc de Trimof, Park Citudella and the Barcelona Zoo. This street is very near La Sagrada Familia and Escape Hunt. So if you do those then you can walk along this street and find somewhere to eat or grab a coffee. This is also in the E’ixample neighborhood (where we live) very centrally located and close to everything, and where you’ll see some of the most spectacular modernista architecture!

El Born – The area that sits adjacent to the Arc de Trimof and Park Ciutadella. This is my favorite area for wandering! Of course the word is out on El Born, so it can get a bit touristy now. But it’s not as crowded as the Gothic area. Both are excellent for getting lost in the small narrow streets that Barcelona is known for.

Pro Tip: When you walk through the Gothic and El Born areas, all the souvenir shops sell Penny Skateboards – buy them. Let the kids skate in the open areas, alleys, at the arc, parks and wide pedestrian streets. This saved us! They will fit in a large suitcase to take home, and if you have more cities to go to they might come in handy. (Note: I am not responsible for any injuries or accidents.)

Gracía Neighborhood – A cool bohemian neighborhood with small narrow streets that you can wander and find lots of boutiques and restaurants. One of the hottest areas to live in Barcelona as it’s away from all the tourists. If you are here in August you MUST see the Gracía Festival (August 15th – 21st 2017). This is the biggest and best neighborhood street festival in Barcelona, where each street has a theme and creates the most elaborate decorations. Its a week long party in the streets!

The famous Boqueria Market is a bit overrated, in my opinion. It’s very crowded and touristy. Sure, there are some Instagram-worthy fruit and candy stands, but kids will be bored and hate the fish smell. Unless you plan on cooking some amazing meals, I’d skip it. Also, getting a seat at the few good restaurants inside will be very difficult, and if your kids are picky eaters, good luck!

Las Ramblas makes me want to stab my eyeballs out. If you must go to the Boqueria then you will probably encounter this hot mess. *Not to be confused with Rambla Catalunya – that is a very nice Rambla and I shop there a lot, but I will probably avoid it this summer.

Montjuic is not that exciting (for kids) I have to say. Sure you can ride the funicular and get a view of the city and the castle grounds are a good place to let the toddler run free but again, not too exciting. If you happen to be a runner and want to get up early and head up here, it’s a great workout with beautiful views. (Note: Montjuic Magic Fountain is not up here – it is the one I mentioned above and is actually down below at Plaza de España.)

BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS!

Wear a cross body bag and do not take it off while you are eating outside. But also be careful in restaurants too. If you place a bag on the booth or floor next to you, keep the strap around your leg. Do not put your phone in your back pocket or out on the table while you are eating. They will swipe your phone from your pocket and the table. They are like magicians here. It is no joke. Be wary of people that stop you on the street to talk and ask directions, they could be distracting you while their friend grabs your wallet or phone from your open bag. Keep your bags zipped. Sorry to end on such a sour note – but the pickpocketing in Barcelona is crazy, especially in the summer.

I hope this article helped in planning a fun and fabulous time in Barcelona with kids. If you have any questions, drop me a comment below!

What to do in Barcelona with Kids!
Adventure April 10, 2017 posted by

Winter Canyoning with the Tech 21 waterproof iphone case!

This past winter while we were in the French Pyrenees for ski week I was offered a chance to participate in something called winter canyoning.  Without knowing exactly what winter canyoning meant, I jumped at the chance to experience another wild and crazy adventure!  This would be the perfect opportunity to use my new Tech 21 Evo Aqua waterproof iphone case, because if you don’t have photos –  then it never happened, right!?’

What is winter canyoning?

According to our hosts at Adventure Creators, winter canyoning is much more than the physical activity you’d think it might be. Here’s their description of the adventure that awaited us.

“The biggest challenge in winter canyoning is psychological. It is after all counter-intuitive to immerse yourself in freezing cold pools of mountain water and to ‘go swimming’ when there are icicles hanging off the rocks! The rivers also run fast in winter so security is taken seriously by your fully qualified and experienced guides. This is not an activity to be taken lightly. Your first plunge into the icy water will take your breath away, but you’ll soon find yourself jumping from icy ledges into deep rock pools, abseiling down icicle-edged waterfalls and sliding down natural toboggans into the chilly waters below. This is an exhilarating and intoxicating activity like no other.”

That description either excites you or frightens the hell out of you. I was excited. My husband not so much. So I went on this activity solo.


Suiting up for Winter Canyoning

The week we were visiting the Pyrenees, they were having a bit of a heat wave, so my winter canyoning experience turned out to be more like Spring canyoning! This was nice, because even I was a little nervous about “plunging into freezing water.” While wild activities are definitely my thing, I’m not a fan of being cold.

My guide and I hiked had about a 15 minute hike to the rivers edge with all of our gear, then once we arrived we then started suiting up! I was literally dressed in a wet suit onesie, my entire body was covered including my head, only my face was seen! I was given rubber boots, gloves for my hands a helmet and of course a safety harness. I also had a backpack for ropes, some other gear and a place to put any of my personal items. 

The top pocket of the backpack is where I put my iphone that was safely secure in the Tech 21 waterproof case. I was excited to get some photos and maybe even take some video without worrying about ruining my phone, because when we came to the first waterfall I knew everything was about to get wet! 


My guide went over all the gear and how to handle the ropes and made me feel very safe. This was not my first time waterfall rappelling so I knew a bit about how to make my descent and I think he was happy that I was not new at doing these types of activities. Before I headed down the waterfall, these were the last few words we said to each other….

Me: So am I connected to you the whole time!?

Patrice: No

Me: Am I connected to anything?

Patrice: No

Me: Okay, this should be fine.

We rappelled down three waterfalls and my guide was very patient with me stopping to take photos along the way. We were in a narrow canyon with huge rocks all around us, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the river was rushing at a nice comfortable speed. The biggest challenge was not the waterfall rappelling but actually climbing over some of the big boulders in the water. Many of them were slippery so watching your footing was important. 

When we got to the point where the canyon opened up a bit we took our first plunge into the water and let our bodies just float down stream. I giggled like a kid and tried to just lay back and relax. The backpack was actually great for balancing on, as I tilted my shoulders and head back it was like a pillow.

Meanwhile, my iphone was in that front pocket and fully submerged in water! We stopped a few times along our journey so I could take photos and even shoot some video. The Tech 21 Aqua waterproof case is a great case to have for any adventures where you are in or near water. I would suggest testing the case at home as the directions say. We had a small hiccup installing the case properly so we were glad we worked that out before I went out into the wild to use it. The photos and video using this waterproof case turned out great!

I could feel the water against my wet suit, but I wasn’t cold. The water was refreshing, and it felt so amazing to just be floating on my back, looking up at the blue sky, drifting along so freely.  We had to swim to the side from time to time, and climb over more rocks as we floated along. In one section, we literally body surfed down a mini waterfall that had our bodies bumping into rocks a bit. I giggled again because it felt as if we were like human bumper boats! Then the river opened up again into a calm flow, and so we floated freely again.

Once we reached a pretty shallow part of the river, Patrice turned to me and said “we get out here”. I was a little disappointed because I just didn’t want it to end!

I sat in the river for a few more minutes to really pause and take a mental picture. I looked back at where we had just come from, I looked around at all the natural beauty one last time, took a deep breathe and got to my feet as I exhaled. We made our way up the hillside and back to the truck where we took all our gear off and shockingly I was completely dry! 

Check out my video of Winter Canyoning in the French Pyrenees!

 

Disclosure: This is a post in partnership with Tech 21 and I worked with the Adventure Creators for my winter canyoning in the Pyrenees. My epic experience is all my own and I share this with you to help you get out and have your own epic experiences!

Winter Canyoning with the Tech 21 waterproof iphone case!