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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How I Plan Trips: Finding and Organizing Fun Family Activities

Last week I shared my initial steps for planning a family trip. While I felt it was a necessary post to write, it’s not the part I really enjoy and look forward to. I’m much more interested in the “how we’ll spend our time once we’re there” part of travel planning.

Instead of steps, I’ll break this down into the various “stages” I find myself working through as I prepare for a trip. I should note that these stages work best if you have a couple of months until your trip starts. On those occasions where a trip gets booked with short notice, I identify one or two key resources (perhaps a blog that covers the region, or a guidebook that has excellent family resources) and just jump right ahead to the Finalizing phase.
You can spend as much or as little time on this as you want. I spent only a few hours preparing for our Ireland trip. But I spent two months planning our Scandinavia trip last summer. Hopefully this will help you use whatever amount of time you have wisely.

My travel planning happy place.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Postcards from the Lake District: Hawkshead

Many a famous writer has hailed from the Lake District in northwest England (like William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter). One visit there and you'll realize how creativity could be sparked into greatness by the amazing beauty that surrounds you there.

Alas, I'll fall far short of their ability to describe this place with the written word. Instead, I'm relying on my trusty Canon Rebel camera to do that for me over the next few weeks in a series of photo essays about our long weekend there in October.

Hiking Around Hawkshead

When I rented our adorable cottage in the Lake District, I selected it completely at random. I liked its size, the fact that it had a small playroom, and that it had some character and plenty of outdoor space. But I knew absolutely nothing about its location. I figured as long as it was in this beautiful area of England, it would probably be fine.

Monday, November 10, 2014

How I Plan Trips: Initial Steps

I recently asked on the Arrows Sent Forth facebook page if any readers were interested in hearing more about how I organize our travels and plan our trips. I (happily) answer lots of questions from family members and friends about this, but haven't written much about it.

Some of you experienced travelers may read this series of posts and roll your eyes. What I do is pretty basic stuff. And certainly, there may be better ways. This is simply what works for me and my family. For those of you just starting out in family travel, I hope this is a helpful starting point.

Step 1: Choose a Location

Sometimes this is the hardest part! Prior to moving abroad, we often based trips around things we had going on. Maybe we tagged along on my husband's business trip. Or road tripped it for a wedding. Other times we were craving sun and warmth, and just looked up where the cheapest direct flight to Florida was.

One of our favorite family trips was to Iowa for a big family wedding! (Look at that cute ring bearer!)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Day Being an Expat Got Easier

I've been pretty up front that the first few months of life as an expat were difficult for me. I think I managed it pretty well and usually had a smile on my face. But I also refer to this time period as "the blur." I barely knew what end was up most of the time, and each day seemed to present a series of challenges I could never anticipate. I have a lot of fond memories from this time, too, don't get me wrong. But I'm happy to be past that initial "settling in" phase.

Because at some point, it just gets easier. This seems to be true for almost every expat I know. I'm not sure there's a definitive timeline to that. For some, it's probably just a few weeks or months. For others, maybe a full year or more. I can clearly picture my moment of serenity in my mind.

I was hiking on a footpath just a couple of miles from my home.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Tips for Visiting Kylemore Abbey

I've seen a lot of gorgeous old buildings in my travels. And I've seen a lot of beautiful, natural landscapes too. Rarely have I been lucky enough to witness the two merge together quite like they do at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, Ireland.

The Abbey is nestled into the bottom of the Twelve Bens, a mountain range in this northwestern part of the country. As if the building and its setting at the base of a mountain that is blanketed in green trees weren't enough for your eyes to feast on, it is situated directly in front of a lake. I think Mother Nature knew this view was so special, it needed to constantly show off its own reflection.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Visiting Connemara, Ireland

If I were handing out awards Oscar-style to the different portions of our trip to Ireland this summer, here's how it would go:

Most Luxurious Moment: Adare Manor
Best Cinematography: Cliffs of Moher
Best Surprise Performance: Connemara Region

My husband wanted to visit the Connemara region because he never had the chance to come when he spent a semester living in Ireland. It was the one part of the country he hadn't been. Quite honestly, I assumed there was a reason for that, and thought we might be a bit underwhelmed by what we found there. And because my husband requested that I not plan too much for our days there, I hadn't even read much about it in advance (somewhat unheard of for me).

But take a look at what we found. And I think you'll agree that it was definitely worthy of our three days there.

It was everything you hope for in an Ireland vacation: remote villages, charming cottages, rolling hills that fall into deep blue water, sheep dotting the fields. We even saw mountains and beaches.  It even rained the entire time we were there! And what we loved most is that it still seemed a bit undiscovered. Sure, there were fellow tourists there admiring the views just like us. But it wasn't overrun with travelers like some areas of Ireland.

More on the rain and how we didn't let it stop us still to come...

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

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cliffs of Moher: A Dream Fulfilled

I'm not really big on regrets.

But if I could do my college years a bit differently, I would have studied abroad. In fact, sometimes I think that this opportunity to live in England is my second chance at having that experience (albeit with two little kids instead of a carefree college lifestyle...)

When my husband returned home from his own study abroad experience in Ireland, I spent a lot of time looking at his photos. Of all the amazing places he went, I got completely fixated on the Cliffs of Moher. We hadn't been able to travel to this spot on the west coast of Ireland when I visited him because the logistics just didn't make sense. But ever since, I have longed for the chance to see it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Falconry Course at Adare Manor

I'd love to say that my kids are always up for an adventure. That they're brave beyond their years, happy to try new things. But that's simply not always the case. I suspect that's true for most children.

For some reason, both my boys are quite scared of animals. I'm sure that's partly because we don't have any pets (Big Arrow is terribly allergic to dogs and cats.) When we were asked to participate in a falconry course at Adare Manor in Ireland,  I was relatively certain it was just going to involve lots of hysterical crying and two boys clinging to my legs while I tried to get them to participate.

So to convince them that this was a good idea (indeed, one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities), I had to dig deep into the parenting bag of tricks and drop the ultimate incentive.

Harry Potter.

Big Arrow has been begging us to read the Harry Potter series to him for a year now, so when I told him HP has an owl and that we were going to get to hold some owls, his initial look of terror transformed into a "how quickly can we get started" look.

Monday, September 8, 2014

5 Things to Do at Adare Manor with Young Kids

If you're a lover of Ireland travel (and who isn't?), you may have heard of Adare Manor. It is widely considered to be one of the finest hotels and resorts in the country... a country known for its fair share of fabulous places to stay. When I had the opportunity to experience a stay at Adare with my family in July for a review at Ciao Bambino, I was a bit intimidated at first. My boys don't exactly sit still with their hands in their laps for even 5 minutes. I wasn't sure we belonged in a property as luxurious as this.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Making Summers 2/18 and 5/18 Count

I read somewhere that you only get 18 summers with your child. Isn't it a little mind-boggling to quantify such an ethereal thing like "summer."

I'm sure before I became a parent, I would have thought that 18 sounded completely reasonable. But now, with two boys growing up rapidly before my eyes, 18 seems so terribly inadequate.

How can you possible fit in all the melting popsicles, cannon balls into the pool, underdog pushes on the playground, and smells of charcoal grills and musty tents in just 18 years?

My very best memories from my childhood are planted firmly between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. Maybe that's because my mom was a teacher, and had so much more time to do fun things with us during the summer. Maybe because our vacations, when my dad was blissfully away from his job, almost always took place in the summer. Camping trips to Vermont and Maine with my cousins, swimming at my aunt and uncle's pool, the summer reading program at the local library, runs through the sprinkler, and the taste of Bomb Pops. There's something so wonderfully magical about summer.

We're halfway through the British summer. We've spent our first month making amazing memories. Such a sharp contrast to last summer, when I didn't even know where the grocery store was, let alone anything fun. I wrote this post about savoring our first British summer, but the truth was, we spent most of our days waiting in line at the cell phone store or the bank.

This year, we've done a bit of exploring, including our trip to Ireland, but mostly it's been about picking strawberries. And splashing around in fountains (that date back to Elizabethan times... this is England, after all). Trips to the park and the beach. And riding scooters up and down the street with the other kids in the neighborhood.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Our Biggest Travel Mishaps (and Lessons Learned)

One of my (many) flaws as a blogger is only sharing the dreamy memories. I love to write about blissful strolls through markets. Endless afternoons on sunny beaches. Terrific resorts. Tantalizing food. You get the idea.

I tend to leave out the "and then the two-year-old had a meltdown" or "my five-year-old complained the entire time we were there" moments. Yes, they happen. We deal with them and move on, and try not to get hung up on it or let it ruin our experience. They're rarely what I remember most about our travels anyway. Maybe that's a survival mechanism?

Aside from those normal frustrations, though, we have had some interesting experiences of rotten luck during our year of traveling around Europe that are worth sharing. We've learned some valuable lessons from them, but my biggest takeaway from it all? My kids handle unfortunate situations much better than I do.

SICK IN SCANDINAVIA, Summer 2013. A week in Scandinavia was our first major voyage into Europe with the kids, having just moved to England the previous month. For the most part, things went really smoothly. And then my husband and I both got sick halfway through the week. Fortunately, it only lasted about 24 hours. We were both feverish, achy, and exhausted, but we were able to care for the boys which was my biggest concern.

What I learned?
  • Always pack some basic medicine. Once we had some ibuprofen in our system, we were much more functional.
  • Do something easy and let go of your planned itinerary. After staggering through Gothenburg the night before, we gave up on the idea of more sightseeing and just headed to a children's museum near our hotel the next day. Kids had a ball, and my husband and I moved from bench to bench, supervising them but also resting.
  • Research your medical options in advance. Where's the closest hospital or 24-hour medical center to where you are staying? This is especially important if you're staying in a rental property, where there isn't staff to ask like you'd have at a hotel. 
Universeum in Gothenburg, Sweden. A fun place for kids to play and parents to rest.

CANCELLED PARIS TRIP, Fall 2013. Again, sickness struck, only this time it was my kids and it happened before we departed for a planned trip to Paris (I wrote all about the yucky details here.) I still haven't emotionally recovered from the disappointment.

What I learned?
  • Always get trip insurance. This would have covered our apartment rental and pricey train tickets. As it were, we basically paid for a trip we never took. Le sigh.
CAR PROBLEMS IN PORTUGAL, Winter 2013. We rented a car to drive from Lisbon to the Martinhal resort in southwest Portugal. It's about a three hour drive. The car didn't seem quite right from the beginning, but I ignored the issue and kept driving. Long story short, we found ourselves stranded on a Portuguese highway. Eventually, we got to our resort, albeit 5 hours later than expected.

Not what you dream of when you imagine a Portugal vacation.

What I learned?
  • Ask when you pick up your car what to do in the event of an emergency. Our paperwork was in Portuguese, meaning we called about 5 numbers before we got the right one. Doing so while stuck on the side of the highway was not ideal. My friend Keryn at Walking on Travels wrote a really great post on what to do when you have an accident in your rental car.
CLOSED EUROTUNNEL, Spring 2014. We had planned to drive through the Eurotunnel on our way to Belgium over the Easter holiday. All seemed fine until we were parked in line to board the train (you actually drive your car onto a train, much like you would a ferry). Suddenly, delay signs flashed up on the screen and announcements started blaring from a loudspeaker across the parking area. All in all, we were stuck in a parked car for 4 hours before we were able to cross the Channel. Yikes.

Our view for four straight hours, with two kids in the backseat anxious to get on with the journey!
What I learned?
  • Always, always pack a few more snacks and diapers than you think you'll need (bottle feeding a baby? Ditto those supplies.) I was kicking myself that I didn't get up 5 minutes earlier in the morning to make a few PBJ sandwiches, as I had intended to. Luckily, we bought the last two hot dogs before the parking lot vendor sold out.
I share some of these, not to scare you away from your own adventures, but to show you that a) even when travel isn't picture perfect, it's still worth doing, and b) we can do things to be better prepared the next time around.

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walking on Travels.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Battle Proms: My July 4 Cure

Holidays are a challenging time when you're an expat. Living abroad means not spending those key days each year with your family and friends by your side, as you're likely accustomed to doing. And then there are those holidays unique to your specific country which slip by without any fanfare. For us, Thanksgiving and 4th of July will always be emotionally difficult, if for no other reason than it's just a normal day of the week all around us.

Last year, July 4 was particularly depressing. My facebook feed was full of updates and photos of celebrations, cookouts, pool parties and fireworks. Having only been here a month, we basically knew no one, and I sat around most of the day in a funk. I vowed next year would be different. So when some friends mentioned going to the Battle Proms concert, scheduled for July 5, I thought it sounded like the perfect solution to beat my homesickness.

What's Battle Proms, you ask? I wrote a description for Anglotopia here, but essentially it's an outdoor classical music concert with a military twist. They're held in several locations around the UK, and we were fortunate to have one hosted at Burghley House, the famous Elizabethan home right here in Stamford.

We started with a picnic dinner, impressive stately home as our backdrop. (It's hard to take me seriously when I say that being an expat is hard, and then I drop a photo like this, right?)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Family Memories in Biarritz

There's a line in our family's favorite children's book, The Gruffalo, that keeps coming to mind whenever I think of our time in Biarritz in May.

"You lead the way, and I'll follow after."

My kids are oblivious about the nuances of travel. As long as their bellies are full and they can run around a bit, they're relatively content. That's true whether they're at a highway service station on a road trip or a gorgeous, five star resort on the beach. Makes no difference to them. Whereas we adults sometimes get so caught up in whether or not our hotel lives up to its TripAdvisor reviews or if the service at the restaurant was too slow.

Our only full day exploring Biarritz was a great example. Here we were, in one of the poshest cities in Europe. Passing by stores with names like Herve Leger and Hermes (thanks to excessive watching of the Rachel Zoe Project when Little Arrow was a newborn, I at least recognize these names!) People sitting in cafes, wearing sunglasses worth more than my entire wardrobe, sipping fancy drinks. Surfers, with their six-pack abs, clutching their boards ready for a day hanging ten. My kids didn't pick up on any of this. They simply knew this place had a beach, and therefore it MUST be amazing.

So they happily pranced out to the Virgin Rock in their dusty, hand-me-down crocs, as if they were running to catch that perfect wave.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bordeaux by Bus: The Visiotour

There are so many reasons I love traveling with my kids. I could probably list one each day and never run out. But by far the best reason is the quality time you spend together. Away from all the distractions of "real life."

I had just such a moment on our recent trip to Bordeaux aboard the Visiotour. This is a 70-minute tour around the city, aboard an open top, double decker bus. We did something we rarely do as a family on vacation... we split up, and Big Arrow and I went on the bus tour, while my husband and Little Arrow took naps back at the hotel.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Morning at Chartrons Market in Bordeaux

Our morning at the Sunday market in the Chartrons area along the Garonne River in Bordeaux was the stuff dreams are made of. Full of special moments that I want to remember down to the smallest details. What's more amazing than a true French market?

But it didn't start out that way. Big Arrow whined and complained the entire walk and tram ride to the market. Little Arrow refused to sit in his stroller or hold on to anything on the tram. I was beginning to think the morning was going to be a disaster and involve juggling two grumpy kids.

And then, as we departed the tram at the Chartrons stop, I spotted a playground. Instantly, moods did a 180 and the vision in my mind for how the day might transpire began to materialize. Instead of scowls, there were smiles all around.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Moments in France: Waiting for the Rain in Bordeaux

We thought it might rain for our entire two-day visit to Bordeaux. That's what the forecast was predicting, that's what the sky was suggesting. But other than a brief, light shower on our walk to the tram stop near our hotel our second day there, it never actually did. We're so thankful, as we spent the bulk of our time outdoors. (Although I love the shiny look of the streets in this photo, not to mention the green dino rain coat.) You can read all about our time in Bordeaux and Biarritz at Ciao Bambino.

This wraps up my Moments in France postcard series. (See my previous posts here and here.) You can expect a few more thorough posts about our time there here and at Ciao Bambino over the next few weeks, including reviews of where we stayed.

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

Friday, June 6, 2014

Moments in France: Beach Bumming in Biarritz

This post continues my series of snapshots of my favorite moments from our recent trip to the Aquitaine region of southwest France. (See my first post from Bordeaux here.)

All day long we dangled the promise of a late afternoon trip to the beach in Biarritz over Big Arrow's head. We spent a busy morning sightseeing around the city, which involved a lot of walking on his part. (Not his favorite activity.) He had fun at the various stops we made, but must have asked us at least a dozen times when he could finally go to the beach. If you have young children, you know these were not polite questions, but more the slow burn of the dreaded whiney voice.

So after naps, off we went. And barely had our feet hit the sand when he dropped to the ground and said, "Mom, let's sunbathe."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Worry-Free Day in Ghent, Belgium with Kids

Are you sitting down? I'm going to make two big confessions in this post.

CONFESSION #1: Despite how often we travel, I still get a little nervous before each trip, and sometimes each morning if we're heading out on a day trip somewhere.

I tend to be a bit of a worrier anyway. Will the weather be awful? Will the kids meltdown? Will we sleep ok? What if our rental isn't very nice? Car problems, flight delays, etc. There's no shortage of things that make me a bit apprehensive about traveling with kids. But it never stops us, thankfully.

We woke up on our third morning in Belgium, planning to spend the day in nearby Ghent. And like usual, I was worried. Concerned the kids were already getting burned out on sightseeing (have spent the entire previous day walking around Bruges). That there wouldn't be much to entertain them. And that it would feel too similar to Bruges, and thus seem like a waste of time.

And as is always the case, I went ahead anyway and we had such a great day there.

Ghent is much different than Bruges. It is larger and moves at a faster pace. Less tourist-centric (although there are still plenty). It has more of an urban feel, yet it is still decidedly historic and charming. After leaving the train station there, we spent our first hour just wandering around and letting the kids burn off some energy. (They will chase pigeons the world over, it appears.)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Moments in France: Relaxing in Bordeaux

I have so many favorite moments from our trip to Bordeaux and Biarritz in the Aquitaine region in southwest France. I'll be sharing a lot of details from our trip on Ciao Bambino and here on Arrows Sent Forth. But while I give myself a bit of time to organize my thoughts more fully, I'll post a few brief glimpses into our trip here each week.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Joys of Belgium's Food

One aspect of travel that I want to work harder at is food. No, not the quantity. We eat plenty, that's for sure. I want to focus more on eating at local, one-of-a-kind places, where we can sample the cuisine unique to that country or region. Expand our culinary horizons. And introduce that to our boys.

Doing so with kids isn't always easy. I can usually tell when my two just aren't in the right frame of mind to linger over a slow meal at a nice restaurant. Or try new foods. At times like this, I often give my husband "the look" and off we head to pick up a pizza or takeout or a grocery store. I usually kick myself after for missing an opportunity, but sometimes, it's the only option I feel we can tolerate.

Fortunately, during our long weekend in Belgium, we got to sample lots of local delights, in an atmosphere that was not only manageable with kids, but truly enjoyable.

One of my favorite memories from our trip was watching Little Arrow (2) eat his hot dog and Belgian "frites" with one of the little forks that are the custom there. His chubby little hand grabbed that fork so tight and he concentrated so hard. This is not a child known for impeccable table manners, so I'll never forget it. And it wasn't but a moment before he was dipping the fries in mayo (as one does in Belgium!) instead of his beloved ketchup. So proud.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Wallett's Court in Dover: Family-Friendly English Accommodation

I write a lot about the many benefits and wonderful aspects of traveling Europe with young kids. But there are limitations and sacrifices, to be sure. Especially when it comes to accommodation. The continent (and England in particular, it seems) is chock full of charming bed and breakfasts, lodges, manor houses, castles and so much more, all offering up a special, quiet night away. At various price ranges, too, which is fantastic.

But that's just it: a QUIET night. Meaning the 2-year-old who might throw a few fits in the process of settling into sleep in a strange place probably isn't welcome. Not to mention the fact that at most of these historic properties, it's just not possible to cram beds for four people into a tiny room. Things Americans, with our spacious hotels that can accommodate four or more without batting an eye, just don't often think about (or at least, I didn't).

Let me be clear: you CAN find places to stay as a family in Europe. Surely if you've spent any time reading about our travels over the last year, you know that's true. But you may have to give up the historic charm. Or the tucked away location. Or the hotel amenities.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dover, England for Families

A stop in Kent in southeast England was my husband's idea.

That's not a sentence you'll read very often on this blog. I consider us true partners in most aspects of life. But travel planning is almost entirely my domain. (Hauling bags and children, map reader, and suitcase packer? All him.)

He had traveled to Kent a few months prior for work and thought it seemed like a fun area (even though all he saw was a hotel conference room). And once we had decided to drive to Belgium over Easter, he suggested it as a way of seeing more of England while also breaking up our drive home. Made sense to me, so I worked with the folks at Visit Kent to figure out logistics for a 24-hour visit there. (Ok, so the trip was his idea, but true to form, I still executed the planning.)

I wrote about our stay in Dover over at Anglotopia, too.

This was the portion of our Easter trip that surprised me the most. I frankly thought we'd pass through, see the sights, give the kids a break from the car, and then be on our way. In the end, it was a real highlight of our long holiday weekend and I'm really glad we carved out the time for this stopover.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bruges City Walk with Kids

More than perhaps any other city I've ever visited, Bruges was meant for walking. There are destinations along the way, museums, churches to tour, etc., but I read over and over again that the best way to enjoy this place is to get lost amid its medieval streets.

And so we did. As you'll see in my Belgium itinerary, we spent almost a full day plus several additional afternoons just walking around the city. (Although we were never truly lost, which is probably a good thing when your strolls include two little boys!) We were so fortunate to have time on our side to get into some of the less explored corners of Bruges.

But many people come to Bruges as a day trip, or possibly an overnight. If you don't have the luxury of multiple days in the city, then you'll want to maximize your time and see as much as you can with what you have. And if your visit to Bruges involves kids, it'll need to be a walk that incorporates play and rest, too! So my husband and I (he's the navigator/map reader) put together our ideal Bruges City Walk with Kids.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Long Weekend in Belgium with Kids

When I was researching our trip to Oslo last summer, I kept coming across at popular tour of the fjords called Norway in a Nutshell. I loved the phrase "in a nutshell" as such a fitting description for something big being captured in something small.

Here me out, because I'm actually writing about Belgium, not Norway. But I think it's an accurate way to describe Belgium, too. As in, it's Europe in a nutshell.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cornwall's Coastal Beauty

I initially looked into a stay at Bosinver Farm Cottages (full review at Ciao Bambino here) because I saw photos from another travel blogger who stayed there, and it looked like great fun for kids. To be honest, I knew nothing about Cornwall, the southwestern most part of England.

Once we were booked to visit the area, I naturally started reading up on it, and more importantly, started seeing pictures of the area. I was simply stunned... I had never realized that some of England's coastal areas were so spectacular. While I'm learning all about the beauty of rural England just by looking out my window each day, it's relatively flat around the East Midlands where we live, and we're about a 90 minute drive from the coast (in the Norfolk area... also relatively flat). So I was really excited to see a more unique English landscape for myself, and introduce this part of the country to my parents during their visit.

And it definitely lived up to the hype (and made the 5+ hour drive worth it!). Our first taste was a trip to the beach closest to Bosinver (about a 10 minute drive away), called Carylon Bay.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Happy 5th Birthday, Big Arrow!

As you might already know, I write a post to each Arrow on their birthday. (Links to Big Arrow's 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, and Little Arrow's 1st and 2nd, if you want to catch up). It's the end of April, so even though I'm in complete denial about it, Big Arrow is turning five. 5. FIVE. Maybe the more I write it the more I'll believe it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Stay At Bosinver Farm Cottages in Cornwall

My review of Bosinver Farm Cottages in Cornwall was posted at Ciao Bambino today. It's worth a read, as Bosinver is such a unique accommodation in a truly gorgeous part of England. It was also a really special week for us, as my parents were here visiting and joined us for this trip. (Unfortunately my husband was back in the U.S. working and had to miss the fun.)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

London Transport Museum

I've been talking to lots of friends and family back in Indiana about what a long, horrible winter it was for them. For those of you not from the area, there was a period of several days when everyone was (no exaggeration) frozen inside their homes. Not to mention almost weekly storms that dumped anywhere from several inches to a couple of feet of snow.

On this side of the pond, we had a much milder winter. I sometimes neglected to mention to those back home that we could occasionally still visit the playground or take a hike in the woods without risking instant frostbite. But even without the frigid temps of America, gray, rainy days still got the best of me mentally at times.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Day in Cambridge: Photo Essay

A highlight of my sister's visit back in January was a day trip to Cambridge. We're so fortunate to live just an hour from this remarkable place. I wrote about a kid-free day in Cambridge here and here, back when I visited while we were in the early stages of planning our move to England. It was fun to return, and this time bring the boys.

Our day started with a double decker bus ride on the Cambridge Park n' Ride system (it's easier to park on the outside of the city centre and just take the bus in). These moments are always a good reminder of why it's so fun to travel with little ones. We could have just taken a spin on the bus and they would have been happy with that.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Highs and Lows of Expat Life

Whenever I undertake a major organizational project (like cleaning out a closet), it always looks messier at first, but by the time I finish, the results are usually pretty great. I think moving abroad is like that, too, at least for us. The first few months were a little ugly, but the more we get adjusted, the better it looks.

As I shared a few months ago in my post about our 6 month anniversary as expats, we are really settling into life here in England. I can't decide whether it is normal to take several months for a place to feel like home, or if that's actually a pretty impressive length of time given the amount of changes our family made when we moved here.

Regardless, I can already tell that the whirlwind of emotions I've had over the past year has stabilized. I was recently asked to submit a tip for current or future expats for the HiFX Expat Tip Page, which got me thinking about some of the highs and lows of this experience. Before I forget what this first year has really felt like (hindsight is always 20/20, right?), I wanted to share a bit about the emotional realities, at least for our family.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A day at Parques das Nacoes in Lisbon

I think I've been putting off writing about our day at Parques das Nacoes in Lisbon for a few weeks simply because it's probably my last post about our Portugal trip and I just don't want the fun to end. But alas, there are more trips on the horizon this spring that promise to be just as wonderful. So out with the old, in with the new... We had a lovely few hours at this redeveloped part of the city, so I'll mostly let the photos tell you all about it.


We spent our morning at the Oceanario de Lisboa, which claims to be the second largest aquarium in the world. Naturally, the boys loved it. What's not to like about giant tanks of sea life?

Monday, February 24, 2014

What Can Kids Do at Windsor Castle?

A few days ago I shared some of my favorite photos from our visit to Windsor Castle (and I wrote a more comprehensive post about visiting Windsor at Anglotopia). But what did my 4- and 2-year-old sons do while we were there?

Here are a few ideas to keep young kids entertained at Windsor Castle:

  • Pick up the children's audio guide.

(Funky glasses optional.)

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Day in Windsor with the Queen

I'm currently participating in Mom vs. Winter Germs (Round IV for us this year... and the germs definitely have me beat.) So for my next few posts, I'm going to rely more on my photos to tell the story, and less on my words. (Perhaps that's a good thing?)

Our day in Windsor Castle last weekend was perfectly lovely. Beautiful building. Exquisite, ornate interior. Charming town. Pretty much exactly what I expected. I wrote all about our day at Windsor and neighboring Eton for Anglotopia, but I left out one big detail. We met the Queen.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Day Trip to Sintra with Kids

"You better write a blog post that will make this easier for the next family," grunted my husband as he folded up our double stroller for the fourth time in one day, lifting it onto yet another mode of public transport during our day trip to Sintra from Lisbon.

He's right. While normally I have no shortage of information to work with when planning trips and outings (I usually read several first-hand accounts of how families experience a certain location), I couldn't find much in the way of tips for visiting Sintra, a popular day trip location from Lisbon. In fact, I almost gave up on the idea of going altogether. The concierge at our hotel discouraged us, thinking it would be too difficult with kids so young.

But fortunately, we persevered. Because it was truly one of the most spectacular places I've ever been.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Lisbon's Belem with Kids

As I was researching our trip to Portugal, I was reminded of the country's key role (along with Spain) in the Age of Discovery, the time period in the 15th and 16th century when Europe became aware that not only did other continents exist, but that they could get there by sea. You'll likely recall bits and pieces from your own world history courses back in high school. (Names like Magellan, da Gama, and Christopher Columbus probably ring a bell.)

Portugal pays tribute to this era most notably in the Belem parish of Lisbon, located along the Tagus River, where many of the ships departed on their worldly voyages.

Besides being aware of the landmarks that are located there, I knew little about Belem, so it was a toss-up as to how much the boys would enjoy it. After all, they don't have a sense of the enormity of this history yet. Fortunately, each of the major monuments found there was surrounded by wide open spaces, statues, gardens, and plenty of people to make it interesting enough for them. In fact, it was the perfect starting point for our time in Lisbon.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Three Days in Lisbon with Kids

As I sat down to write about our time in Lisbon, I was trying to put into words why I enjoyed the city so much, what made our time there special and different from other cities we have visited. And upon reflection, one observation stood out to me.

We didn't go to a single park or playground. Not one.

I'm not really bragging about this... we love parks, especially ones in big cities. I'm a huge believer in the importance of some playground time when traveling with kids. It wasn't because we had lousy weather. It was quite beautiful for most of our stay, aside from the stray rain shower. And it certainly wasn't because Lisbon didn't have any parks to offer us. I had researched several in advance of our trip and I'm bummed we never made it to any of them.

So how did we fill our time? I'm outlining our itinerary below, and providing some tips and tricks to help you if you're planning your own trip to Lisbon with kids. (You can also see our week-long Portugal itinerary here.)

Day 1: Our arrival day. After a 4 a.m. wakeup time for our flight out of London's Luton airport, we got settled into our Altis Prime apartment (a full review at Ciao Bambino to come!) and let Little Arrow take a well-earned nap. Once he woke up, we took the tram to the Belem parish, an area of the city that celebrates the Age of Discovery in a big, beautiful way. We spent the bulk of our time there letting the boys run around while we admired the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, a monastery built by Henry the Navigator, and the Monument to the Discoveries which is directly across the street. Then we grabbed a tram back, had a late dinner, and collapsed into bed.

Day 2: After breakfast, we took the metro to Parque das Nacoes. I know I said we didn't go to a park, but the name is a bit misleading. This part of the city was developed when Lisbon hosted the 1998 World Expo (the name translates to Park of Nations). It's full of shops, restaurants, stadiums, and several big tourist attractions. We went to the Oceanario de Lisboa, the world's second largest aquarium. It was really impressive.

After the Oceanario, we were drawn to the Telecabine dangling above our heads and hopped aboard. We opted to take it one-way, and then walked back to the metro/train station (Estacao do Oriente) from the other side. We had a quick lunch there before heading back to our apartment.

After the boys napped, we strolled around some of the historic streets and squares of Lisbon's city centre. (Essentially, our route was the Avenida da Liberdade south toward Rossio, and then the pedestrian-only Rua Augusta further south to Praca do Comercio, with a few detours along the way.)

Day 3: This was our big day trip to Sintra. It's about a 45 minute train ride out of Lisbon. Once in Sintra, we stopped for coffee and pastries while we waited for everything to open for the day. We then caught the bus for Palacio da Pena. We explored the palace for a couple of hours, and then headed back into Sintra's center for lunch. After lunch, we shopped for souvenirs while we waited for our train back to Lisbon.

Later that afternoon, we took the boys swimming at the hotel pool next door to our apartment, which was a really nice break for them (and us) after a big day of sightseeing. We also watched the sunset from our apartment building's rooftop deck, cocktails in hand. A fitting ending to a perfect Lisbon getaway.

I'll be writing a post about each of our days in Lisbon in more detail in the weeks to come.


  • Lisbon is extremely hilly. Some of the roads and sidewalks are so steep they leave you breathless after just a couple of blocks (and especially when pushing a double stroller). Ask around to determine what metro stops or tram lines are best to use based on your accommodation location and sightseeing destination. A slightly indirect route might allow you to avoid some of the more difficult climbs. (For example, we took the Metro one stop past our apartment because it was a downhill walk from that station.)
  • Trams are a great way to get around and fun for kids (especially the historic ones). You can buy tickets from the driver once on board (or the modern ones have ticket vending machines). Try to know your route in advance, as the driver won't typically announce each stop. If you can, sit or stand by the window so you can see the stop names as you approach. And plan to fold up your stroller, the trams get very crowded.
  • Most people working in the hospitality industry will speak basic English. We had no trouble communicating with anyone during our trip. That being said, it's always nice to learn a few of the basics when traveling, like hello and thank you.
  • Four days would have been ideal. There were several other big attractions I wanted to see but there just wasn't enough time without pushing the boys too hard.
Upon deeper reflection, I think we never made it to a park or playground for one simple reason: we didn't really need to. 

The boys played tag around various historic squares and spaces, climbed up turrets at Pena Palace, and got so much fresh air just walking around the city. There are portions of Lisbon that are tight and cramped (and charming!), like any European city, but for the most part, I never got that desperate need for space for the kids to run around that I sometimes get in urban areas. Plus, the Portuguese culture is so family centered and accommodating to young children that I also never felt unwelcome in the busier parts of the city.

If you have dreams of visiting Europe with young children, Lisbon would make a terrific starting point (and Portugal in general). It has so much history and character, all the amenities you could hope for, and a culture that adores children. Aside from the expensive flight across the Atlantic to get there, it's a relatively affordable destination once you arrive. 

Plus, it even has a few parks and playgrounds, or so I'm told.