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 two dogs!

Andrea Fellman of Wanderlust Living Travel Blog

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Posts by Category: Family

Adventure June 21, 2018 posted by

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 Jimão 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 Luís 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 Jimão 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 May 10, 2018 posted by

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
Adventure April 12, 2018 posted by

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 Mâché, 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
Barcelona February 23, 2018 posted by

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

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
Family January 11, 2018 posted by

The Greatest Showman: A world that we design

photo credit

The Show

I’m OBSESSED. Obsessed with the movie The Greatest Showman and the soundtrack!! No REALLY. I just got back from a 5 mile run listening to it for the 100th time.

Another reason I know I am obsessed is because I was up late last night watching YouTube videos of the cast talking about it. Pretty sure I’ve seen just about every damn interview they’ve done.

Since we live in Europe, this movie wasn’t even really on my radar, until someone on Facebook posted about it. I saw that Zac Efron was in it, so it peaked my interest just a wee bit. 😉 Then over Christmas break, out of nowhere my daughter said she wanted to see it. Again, I think Zac Efron might have something to do with it, but not entirely sure.

So we got back from France, and the very next night we went as a family to see it at the theatre down the street that is now playing movies in V.O. (Version Original) which means English. Hooray!

Walking into the theatre, this is what I knew: the movie starred Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, and the Barnum Circus. It would probably have lots of singing too. I didn’t even know that Zendaya was in it until the movie started.

HOLY HELL. If this is not the perfect movie to see to kick off the new year I don’t know what is! This movie just made me HAPPY. I wanted to sing, dance, and get up and take on the world!!

The dancing and singing is spectacular and one of the key messages of this movie is so needed right now. Wow. What a frickin’ show. If you have not seen it, I am telling you to GO! And if you don’t like it, well um… we can still be friends but just know that you are not 100% my people.


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The Songs

The songs ARE SO GOOD. One song that has really resonated with people is This is Me, sung by Keala Settle. She plays the bearded woman, and the song is chilling!! This is literally an anthem for everyone to be stand up and be themselves. Screw the naysayers. And going deeper, a song for groups and anyone that feels marginalized by society. “I am brave, I am bruised, this is who I am supposed to be” and other lyrics from this song have been made into t-shirts. (told you I’ve seen all the interviews)

But one song, in particular, has been literally pulsing through my head and in my heart. The song A Million Dreams resonates with me so much. Here are some of the lyrics;

We can live in a world that we design.
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take, for the world we’re gonna make.

I LOVE these lyrics so much because it is so empowering. You can design the life you want.

The Life We Want

Which gets me to my next point: Harris and I have designed a life we want. It’s not traditional and it’s a bit crazy and chaotic at times. We have taken risks and there are downsides. Our life is not perfect but we have intentionally designed our life just how we want it. We are both creators, dreamers, bootstrap entrepreneurs. We want to experience the entire world, we have kids and dogs and businesses but we juggle it all living abroad. Designing a life you want takes work, make no mistake. But at some point you need to decide on what you want and go get it!

I think I am writing this because maybe some of you that follow me and read my blog think we have it easy. We are always jet-setting off and doing cool stuff, staying in amazing places etc.. Maybe some of you think we somehow have piles of cash, maybe we got a big inheritance when my Dad passed away. Nope. Zero. Nada. We have worked our asses off for everything we have and are able to do. Nothing has been handed to us. I am not saying this for any other reason other than to say  – If we can do it, so can you!

Get busy designing the life you want.

This movie is about Dreams, Entrepreneurship, Love, Creativity, Ambition, Acceptance and taking Risks. It all speaks to my entire way of LIVING.

A million dreams are keeping me awake… what’s keeping you awake?

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The Greatest Showman: A world that we design
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