Friday, January 30, 2015

Eiffel Tower as You've Never Imagined It

I try to be a realist when it comes to envisioning our family's travels. I know things aren't going to always be pleasant, and certainly rarely relaxing. I prepare myself for that mentally. But every once in a while, the romantic gets the better of me and I get some crazy idea in my head.

In the case of our trip to Paris, I had my heart set on a perfect photo of all four of us, smiling happily in front of the Eiffel Tower. In fact, I was so wrapped up in this fantasy that on the second day of our trip, we went back to our apartment while the rest of our multi-generational group went to the Eiffel Tower. Both boys were starting to fade from a day of sightseeing and I feared I wouldn't get THE photo that I had unrealistically imagined for weeks prior.

So on our last morning, when my kids were up early, the four of us headed out, Destination: Eiffel Tower. However, aspirations of perfect photos and mesmerized kids were quickly dashed the moment we stepped out of the Metro station. I realized I had made two crucial errors.

1) It was New Year's Day. Um, oops. Go figure that the morning after the New Year's Eve festivities would mean that the Eiffel Tower was looking a little worse for wear. Not only was there shattered glass everywhere we stepped, but it was also hard to avoid some of the night's revelers who hadn't yet made their way home. It was like choosing to visit Times Square in New York City on New Year's Day. What were we thinking?

We purchased a crepe from a stand as we started to approach the Eiffel Tower and sat on a bench to eat it. Within a few seconds, a gentleman started throwing up 2 feet from us. I was so disgusted and my mood was quickly turning very sour.

2) My father-in-law had generously lent me his new fancy zoom lens. I thought it would be a fun place to try it out and get some interesting up-close-shots of the Eiffel Tower that you could only get with this lens. But I forgot to bring my regular lens, too. Meaning I got my zoom shots, but I also couldn't fit the entire Eiffel Tower in one photo, either. There went my dreams of a perfect family photo. I had to settle for fuzzy cell phone shots if I wanted any of us in the picture too.

As we walked toward the Eiffel Tower, my grumpy mood was in full swing. In addition to being disgusted, now I was frustrated with my camera and in my mind, the whole morning was ruined. I was going to leave Paris without that picture. My husband, on the other hand, found the whole scene absolutely hysterical. The boys were completely fascinated by the aftermath of the New Year's celebrations and they were in a great mood, too. I realized I was the only one bringing us down.

Did this one photo matter more to me? Or was it that we actually all had a good time and enjoyed being in the shadow of one of the world's most scenic spots that mattered the most?

It was at that point that I noticed a man who had fallen asleep in the median, traffic whizzing by, bottle of champagne still clutched in his hand. And I started laughing so hard I couldn't stop. The whole scene was just so outrageous. There was no point holding on to some absurd disappointment. This was my moment at the Eiffel Tower, too. True, there would be no photo. But you know what? My kids are still talking about the Eiffel Tower. It's the one thing I'm certain they'll both remember from our trip to Paris for years to come.

And boys, if you ever get the chance to celebrate New Year's Eve at the Eiffel Tower, don't be that guy who falls asleep in the median.

This post probably isn't particularly helpful if you're planning a trip to Paris with your kids. Instead, check out the family guide to Paris' 8 central arrondissements that I wrote for Ciao Bambino. It'll give you some fun, yet manageable, daily itineraries. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Memories of London's Paddington Trail

My husband first learned of our opportunity to live here in England on a business trip 2 years ago. He spent his last night of the trip in London, and wandered over to Hamley’s to buy the boys each a little gift. He was hoping to get them excited about our potential British adventures. His present to Little Arrow was a small Paddington Bear stuffed animal, and it has sat on a shelf in his room ever since. 

Beyond that bear, the boys were basically oblivious to Paddington. Let’s be honest, he doesn’t have quite the modern appeal of Frozen, Harry Potter, or the current favorite at our house, Lego Ninjago (ugh).

But I saw the trailer for the new Paddington Bear movie a few months ago, and I knew I absolutely had to introduce one of Britain’s most iconic and beloved children’s characters to my kids. In fact, when we went to see the film a few weeks ago, it was Little Arrow’s first time at the cinema. They adored it from the opening scene to the credits and now they’re hooked on all things Paddington. I’m excited to start reading the books with them.
Our Christmas Eve day trip to London came at the tail end of a temporary exhibit of more than 50 Paddington Bear sculptures around the city, called the Paddington Trail. Each was uniquely designed by a celebrity and Big Arrow quickly made it a goal to see as many as possible throughout the day. Fortunately several of them were along our planned route for the day so we were happy to indulge him.


I was so glad we started our tour of the trail at Selfridge's. Author Michael Bond got the idea for the Paddington books after buying a teddy bear for his wife at this iconic London department store. The window decorations (photos above) were completely Paddington-inspired, including Goldie, designed by supermodel Kate Moss. On the first floor, there were also lots of Paddington toys and collectables and several props from the movie on display.

Plus, we found Camouflage Paddington in the toy department (photo above). A hidden Paddington that wasn't even listed on the trail. The boys were impressed!

Then during our walk around the city, we found Sparkles (above) and Parka Paddington (below).

My favorite Paddington was Blush, pictured below, designed by the movie's villain, Nicole Kidman. Blush was in Leicester Square, in the middle of a fun Christmas market.

I thought we had found as many as we'd see, but then we raced by Rainbow Paddington near Covent Garden on our rush to catch our train. I'm pretty sure he's tipping his hat and wishing us a fond journey home.

The Paddington Bear movie opens in the U.S. this week. If you get a chance, it’s well worth seeing. Only prepare yourself, as your kids might be begging you to take them to London after! (And if you say yes and want more Paddington inspiration, I wrote this post about Paddington sites around London for Anglotopia.)
This post is a part of Friday Postcards at Walking on Travels.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Christmas Eve in London

Do you ever have days out with your family where everything just clicks? Nobody whines. Nobody throws a fit on the train. Everyone has so much fun it sort of feels like your favorite song is playing on repeat in the background all day long.

That is definitely not our every day. But that was our Christmas Eve in London.

I wish I had some behind-the-scenes, magic secret to share with you on why the day was such a success. I don't. It helped that the crowds were very manageable. It even helped that Little Arrow was a bit under the weather, meaning he was content to sit in his stroller for long walks most of the day.

And of course, it helps that London puts on a pretty good show when it comes to Christmas spirit and decorations.

We started at Selfridge's, one of London's most famous department stores. My two made a beeline for the toy shop.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Postcards from the Lake District: Tarn Hows Hike

When I read about the hike at Tarn Hows in the Lake District, it went straight to the top of my things to do list. If you hike much with young kids, you know it's always a toss up as to how well they'll actually walk on their own two legs without complaining or flat out refusing.

This hike not only looked gorgeous, but it was wheelchair accessible so we could bring our umbrella stroller and use that if anyone got too lazy tired. Which meant our two mile trek through some of the most gorgeous scenery of my life was relatively complaint free. The chance to breath in this air and admire these views in relative peace was outstanding. It's probably my favorite memory of the trip.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How I Plan Trips: Make Packing Easier

This is the last post in my 3-part series about how I plan trips. I started with Initial Steps, like choosing a destination and booking flights. Then I moved on to how to find and organize fun, family activities. The natural next step? Packing.

After becoming a mom 5 1/2 years ago, I've often stumbled upon the phrase, "the hardest part is getting out the door." Ain't that the truth. Stocking the diaper bag. Filling the sippy cup. Even just getting socks and shoes on everyone can seem like such a hassle. And that's just for a quick trip out to the grocery store or park!

So what do I do to make packing and departing even easier? Here are a few steps that work well for us.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Happy 3rd Birthday, Little Arrow!

A bit of blogging housekeeping: I'll resume my Postcards from the Lake District and How I Plan Trips series of posts next week. But as you may know, I like to write posts to the boys on their birthdays, and it is Little Arrow's third birthday. (You can read his 1st and 2nd posts, or Big Arrow's 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th posts.)

Happy 3rd birthday, Little Arrow! There was a time I didn’t think this day would come. Not because I didn’t think you’d live to see 3 (although your flying leaps off furniture and daredevil moves on the playground would suggest otherwise). But because for about a year and a half, you were sort of in a toddler rut.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Postcards from the Lake District: Wray Castle

In my post earlier this week, I explained that one of the ways I organize plans for our trips is by weather. Meaning I keep a list of outdoor activities and a list for rainy or cold days. I knew both from looking at the forecast and from what I've learned about English weather that I better be prepared for rain when we visited the Lake District.

At the top of my rainy day list was a visit to Wray Castle. It looked really unique... a medieval-style castle built in the mid-1800s. Because its somewhat strange history, the castle was given to the National Trust completely empty. Meaning no paintings, sculptures, furniture or other relics that typically fill these types of properties. Much to our delight, the National Trust has instead packed the castle with incredibly family-friendly activities.