Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte near Paris

Like kids all over the world, my boys opened up a brand new tub of Legos on Christmas morning. I  read the age description on the box: suitable for 4-99, and thought, how rare to find something that can be enjoyed by such a wide range of ages.

And that's the task I had ahead of me when trying to find a day trip destination from Paris suitable for a multigenerational group of nine during our Christmas trip. I knew a break from the city during a week-long trip would be both pleasant and necessary. We all crave an escape from the crowds and the fast pace after a while. So I read up on a lot of the usual suspects. Versailles sounded way too big and unmanageable for our crew of nine to navigate in a few hours. Given the typical weather in December and January, Giverny and Normandy didn't sound like good options with young children either.

I somehow stumbled upon Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte's website. And I just had a hunch it was a good fit for us. It was probably my favorite day of the trip, as it was so peaceful and beautiful, and yet still decidedly French from beginning to end. We barely had to share the place with anyone else. The Christmas d├ęcor was unlike anything I'd seen before. Gorgeous, but not gaudy. The kids were pretty mesmerized by the whole experience, too.


This scene was made entirely of chocolate. The smell was incredible!

All in all, it was exactly what I had hoped it would be: serene, regal, and enjoyable for everyone from 5 months to 60+. Just like a classic bucket of Legos. Which just might be the strangest comparison I've ever made on this blog.

I'll be providing more information on a visit to the chateau at Ciao Bambino in the next few weeks, as the chateau re-opens for the season in March.

This post is a part of Friday Postcards at Walking on Travels.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Peaceful Parisian Moments

One of the reasons that Paris is my favorite European city is that in addition to its spectacular popular attractions, it's never hard to find a quiet spot or a corner where you feel like you're the only people there. I'm not quite sure how the city pulls it off, but having now been there three times, I find it always does. And certainly, after visiting with young children, my appreciation for that quality is higher than ever.

I had several of those moments on our trip over the holidays. Paris is an incredibly popular place to travel to between Christmas and New Year's. Lines at just about every museum and attraction we passed stretched for what looked to be hours. But just as you begin to feel a bit claustrophobic by it all, you walk a block or two, and you find yourself on your own and yet your surroundings are just as gorgeous.

A few examples:

Picture Perfect Paris. As we strolled the Champs Elysees, enjoying a crowded Christmas Market along the way, we eventually detoured over to the Pont Alexandre III. A beautiful ornate bridge, with the Eiffel Tower in the distant background, made for perfect photo opportunities. And without the many vendors found at the Eiffel Tower itself to bother us.

Quasimodo's backyard. While the front of Notre Dame had a maze of tourists lined up to enter, the back was nearly empty. This also happens to be my favorite view of the cathedral, where you can see the buttresses arch away from the spine of this magnificent structure. It didn't hurt that there was a couple of swings for my kids to play on, too.

Seine strolling. Later that morning, we walked from Notre Dame alone the Seine, freshly brought crepes in hand. We hardly passed a soul on this walk, despite being in the core of the city itself.

Victor's Neighborhood. And on our last day in the city, after our Eiffel Tower disaster spectacle, we met up with the rest of our group to enjoy a few sunny moments in the Place des Vosges. It's the square Victor Hugo lived on for most of its life. There were plenty of others out enjoying the blue skies that morning, but it wasn't hard to find a bench to sit on or a clear path to race your brother.

This post is a part of Friday Postcards at Walking on Travels.

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.

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.

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.