Chateau Vaux le Vicomte

VauxThis weekend, there were a lot more smiles in Paris than usual – spring has finally arrived! The trees are starting to look just a little bit greener and the thermometer is slowly reaching 21 degrees – the magic number when it is possibly to sit outside in a T-shirt.

The terraces of all the cafés in Paris were packed this weekend, so we decided to venture a little bit further afield and jumped on the train for a day trip to one of the lesser known chateaux close to Paris, Vaux-le-Vicomte.

True, it is not the easiest chateau to get to. If you are taking the train, you need to jump on a commuter train to Melun (about 50 minutes outside of Paris) and then either take a shuttle bus or a taxi. But the trip is absolutely worth it.

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Vaux-le-Vicomte was build slightly before Versailles and the gardens were landscaped by the same landscape architect, Le Notre. Rumour has it that, when Louis XIV visited Vaux-le-Vicomte, he was so jealous of the beautiful chateau,  he promptly threw the owner, his finance minister Le Fouquet, into jail (arrested by no other than D’Artagnan, head of the Musketeers). Le Fouquet was then kept in prison for the rest of his life together with the Man with the Iron Mask. All pretty exciting stuff, don’t you think?

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Vaux2The grounds are very easy to explore and the highlight of the trip is the visit to the chateau, where you can rent period costumes for children. We just went up to the reception desk and rented the costumes for 4 euros each. There is truly nothing better than dressing up as a Musketeer or a Renaissance Lady whilst exploring a chateau.

It is a much more accessible chateau for families than Versailles is; it is so much smaller and there aren’t really any crowds. I really do recommend it, especially if you need to get away from the bustle of Paris!

– Emilie

PS. Apologies for the blurry photos, I just snapped these photos on my phone!

Tuesday Tips: Bringing up children Bi-lingually

IMG_8495Having bi-lingual children is great — it is so impressive to see them jump from one language to the other seamlessly. For our Tuesday Tips series I wanted to jot down a few things I have learned about bringing up children with two languages (though I am by no means an expert). I hope they help and I would love to hear your tips and your experiences!

I was born in Germany to a French mother and an Irish Father who had met in San Diego. So we were tri-lingual: I went to a German school, my brother and I spoke German together (and still do), but my father spoke English to us and my mother spoke French. It was a great experience and something I am so grateful my parents insisted on, because, my gosh, I really rebelled as a kid. We were living in this teeny village in Germany and I did not want to be different from all the other kids. But every time I answered back in German to my mother, she did not answer me until I repeated myself in French… so I did not have the choice!
Interestingly, I have always gravitated towards English. I moved to England to study right after finishing high school, so English is now my most dominant language and the language I naturally felt the most comfortable speaking to my children.

My two daughters are now also totally bi-lingual, but the circumstances are very different to my German childhood. We live in a huge cosmopolitan city and, though the kids go to the local primary school (and speak French, of course), they have always had at least two other Anglo-speakers in their class and numerous bilinguals from all across the world. It is so normal for them to speak two languages, they don’t even think about it.

So here are a couple of tips:

  • Stick to the one language you have decided to speak to your child – Of course there will be moments when you will have to switch (homework for example), but it is important to stick to one language and build up a relationship with your child in that language. I read somewhere that a child needs to be exposed at least 30% of their waking time to an environment where the foreign language is spoken to be able to learn the language properly.
  • Build a network – one of the things that has been really helpful for us here in Paris is to have an English speaking network of friends. Joining the local Anglo parenting Network helped a lot. The children have grown up together and still speak in English to each other, though, when they are with French friends, they will swap back to French. It means that it feels normal for them to speak to other children, not only adults, in English even when in their home city.
  • Don’t listen to and don’t worry about myths – I have been told that bringing up my children with two languages may delay their development or might even give them a speech impediment. Total nonsense if you ask me. As long as your children are thriving and happy, I don’t see a single reason why speaking two languages should harm them. And in all cases, the benefits outweigh any potential downside.
  • Books and Films – I mostly read books in English to the girls to counteract a whole day of French in the classroom. Again it is also interesting to expose them to a different culture via books. When we watch films, we watch them in the original language they were filmed in. We also have the international BBC Iplayer to watch nature documentaries etc. in English and Netflix if we want to have a movie night and watch a film.
  • Travel – We are lucky, as we are only a short plane ride away from my family in Ireland and a train ride away from all our friends in London. Traveling to English speaking countries is really helpful as there is nothing better than emersion once in a while to develop language skills. It also helps for my children to put their second language within a context. They read books about children wearing uniforms to school, riding double decker buses and eating fish and chips, but there is nothing like being able to see and understand the culture of the language you are learning with your own eyes.
  • Reading and Writing and Music – For Coco, who is nine now, learning how to read and write in English has opened a new world to her. Again so much of learning a language is also getting to know a different culture. Listening to the lyrics of songs, reading books and also writing has been a massive step. Interestingly she has never had a formal class in English but, because of learning how to read phonetically in her French school, she managed to teach herself how to read in English.
  • Ideally I would love to send my kids to live in a host family abroad when they are 16 or 17 for 6 months. I did this when I was 17 and lived in the USA for 6 months. It not only improved my English a lot, but also it was an amazing experience to get to know a different culture.

The photo above is of my kids on yet another little trip away to Ireland. The moment they get onto the plane, they start speaking English to everyone around them.

Why Do Kids Lie?

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Here is a typical situation in our household: I hear a little pair of feet running off toward the bathroom in a hurry and then there is silence. Approximately two minutes later the little feet run off again. I then yell: “have you flushed the toilet and washed your hands?” and the answer is inevitably yes. I then point out that I am going to check the toilet and the hands. There is a moment of silence and the little feet run back; I hear the toilet flush and the water of the wash basin run.

A similar thing happens with brushing teeth, where a cheeky little girl once told me that she had indeed brushed her teeth, but the reason her toothbrush was stone dry was because she had carefully dried it with the hairdryer. The same cheeky girl once blamed a pot of mayonnaise for having dumped a whole sack of toys on the floor.

Now this can either make me giggle or drive me to desperation (often depending on how tired I am),  but apparently it is totally normal and is actually an important step in a child’s development. It normally starts at the age of two when a child suddenly realises that her way of thinking is different from others around them and limits are tested. It’s also an age where the lines between fact and fantasy are still very blurred. When they get older the lines become clearer, but the moral priorities are still blurred. The importance to please parents is very important, sometimes more so than actually telling the truth. I thought this article and this article were really interesting.

What I need to remember is not to lose my cool when it happens, as it is definitely more counteractive than anything else! Also a recent study has shown how punishing lying in children actually pushes them towards bending the truth more.

I have to say, after researching this, that my admiration for school teachers has grown even more. Can you imagine the tales teachers must have heard in their life?

– Emilie

The photo above is of my girls which I took the other day. They look like butter couldn’t melt in their mouth. Rest assured, it can!

Tuesday Tips: Going back to work

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A few people have asked lately for tips on going back to work following the birth of a baby, because let’s face it —  leaving the baby bubble and heading back into the real world is a challenge for EVERYONE (I defy anyone who says that they did not have even the smallest bit of anxiety about this).
I went back to full-time work after my first daughter turned one and again after the second was one year old, and both times it was such a big change that came with its own set of new challenges.  (I am an animation producer during the day and do my best to write for Babyccino at night ;)). I am happy to be back at work; I enjoy my job and I enjoy earning my living and working with interesting and inspiring people. I did have to make some compromises, especially in the first few years, but in the end, I managed not to literally combust, which I am quite happy with!  So here are a couple of things that worked for me:

1. Be organised.  I am possibly the least organised person in the world but dealing with kids and work has made me (moderately) more so. Spending Sunday night planning out dinner for the week and making sure that everyone has a stack of clean underwear (including me) makes the rest of the week so much easier. Basically it eliminates a lot of stress.

2. Don’t try to be perfect.  Don’t worry about things not being perfect. Good enough is often absolutely enough. If you have forgotten to get wrapping paper and you have to wrap a present in newspaper, no one is going to care or suffer. If the flat is sometimes a bit messy just because you don’t have the energy, it is not going to have any long term damage on your kids.
Roll with the punches and don’t be too hard on yourself. I have decided that it is all about marketing: if you come home and announce that tonight is going to be super exciting because you are going to have cereal for dinner, kids will feel like it is a treat not a let down.

3. Stick with what you know (at least for a wee bit of time). Going back to work is going to be stressful, so if you can, it could be a little bit easier if you can go back to a job you know, with people you know and a routine you know. You will not have to prove yourself as everyone already knows what you are worth and it just take a bit of pressure off you.

4. Take it easy on yourself.  In my case, I started working full time when I was 25 and had my first child at 32 and the second at 34. Considering that I will be working until 65 (possibly longer) I still have the biggest part of my career ahead of me. So I decided not to stress for the first couple of years and take the foot off the gas a tiny little bit. If that means my career stagnated a bit when my children were small, then so be it – there is still a lot of time ahead of me.

5. Surround yourself with a good network. Again this varies so much from person to person, but if you have family you should not be ashamed of asking them for help. In my case, I live in a city far away from my family, so I worked hard to build up a strong base of babysitters and friends. Sharing a babysitter with friends who have kids the same age works for us; it’s cheaper and if one parent is late someone else can help out. With older kids, having someone who helps with homework is key and if you can, you should think about having a cleaner. There is nothing better than coming home to a clean house and clean children. Basically whatever works for you is good, but the network needs to be trustworthy and strong. It needs to survive the unexpected!

6. Don’t feel the need to over do it. A lot of women (myself included) feel like they have to compensate and almost prove that having a child has no impact whatsoever on their working schedule. Unfortunately that is not true, so it might be better just to own that than to try and make everyone happy. Sometimes it is inevitable when a deadline looms, but often people are happy enough to postpone a meeting or conference call if it concurs with your children’s pick up time or dinner. It will mean that you will be less frazzled and more concentrated and everyone is a winner. Chances are your colleagues have similar priorities.

7. Treat yourself. Be it a manicure, driving or walking to work with music on at full volume, an espresso in the bar around the corner, or an hour of yoga at lunch time – find sometime that gives you a chance to relax and re-tank. I go to the cafe around the corner from school after school drop-off and have a cheeky coffee or two. Mornings in our house are hectic and so it gives me 20 minutes to gather my thoughts, talk to friends and get on my way. It is a small thing, but it is enough to give me the energy to move on and conquer the world. ; ) I think us woman have a tendency to forget ourselves with all the demands from work and family. The key it to scrape out one little moment that has nothing to do with work or family and is just for yourself – it is all part of self-preservation.

8. Above all, do not feel guilty. Here is the thing: in most countries at least 60-70 % of mothers work, for all sorts of different reasons, but mainly to support their families. My theory is that women since the dawn of time have been working, so there is no way that that you going back to work is going to mess your children up. (Conversely staying at home is also not going to mess them up). Of course you will miss them and they will miss you but you being happy is, in the long run, going to make your family happy. If you don’t impose your guilt on your children the chances are, they are going to be fine (possibly after a bit of a readjustment period) and so will you! Let yourself enjoy being back at work; it is not hardship, but something that defines you as much as your relationship, your family and your friends.

These tips are just based on my personal experience by the way, so they might not work for everyone! Would love to hear if you have any insights, because there definitely cannot be too many! As I mentioned in a previous post, there is no right or wrong way of approaching going back to work or indeed deciding not to go back, for everyone the right choice is a different choice!

– Emilie

Instant Apple Crumble

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At the moment, mostly governed by the cold, dark nights, we feel like we deserve something nice and warm, and apple crumble is a firm favourite. I have developed a little technique about making a super easy apple crumble. We make a huge batch of crumble and then freeze most of it. Then it is all ready to use! We just cut up an apple or two into some ramekins, sprinkle on the crumble and bake them while we are eating – seriously simple.

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Here is my recipe (if you can even call it that):

300g of plain flour
200g of unsalted butter cut into small pieces
150g of sugar

Put it in a bowl and rub the ingredients together until it resembles bread crumbs (some people use a mixer but I use my children because they love doing this). You can also add 2 teaspoons of cinnamon or replace some of the flour by almond powder. Some people like adding oats to the crumble, though I am not such a big fan of this!
I bake my crumbles at 180° until they are golden brown. Honestly they are mostly golden just when we have finished our main course, it is almost like magic ;)

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Finnish Babies in a Box

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Have you heard of this custom in Finland? I just read this article and had to share it! Every baby born in Finland receives a box from the state full of clothes, a sleeping bag, accessories and toys. The box can then be used as a bed. Everyone receives it, so it has become part of the excitement of having a baby.

I thought it was really interesting how over the years the content of the box has changed. In the ’30s the box contained fabric as woman were used to making their own clothes… and now the box contains condoms! The Finns are certainly moving with the times, but the principle stays the same and so generations of children in Finland have started off their lives sleeping in a cardboard box — such a great tradition!

– Emilie

Some thoughts about the recent events in Paris…

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Last night, as the end of a long day drew to an end, I had the need to jot down a couple of thoughts about the events in Paris since Wednesday. It has been terrifying, horrific, violent, senseless on the one hand… and beautiful, peaceful and full of hope on the other hand. It is very hard to describe what has been going on in this beautiful city of ours over the last few days, so apologies if I ramble. ; )

I wanted to start off by explaining to the non-French contingent the importance of Charlie Hebdo and how much it symbolizes so much of French culture. Here in France, illustrated stories and cartoons are a huge part of our culture. Adults as much as children devour illustrated novels. (One of my 9-year-old’s after school activities is a cartoon class.) My generation grew up on the cartoon books by Wolinski and Cabu, so these guys were not just people working for a small satirical magazine that sometimes found itself on the fine line between offensive and provocative, they were illustrators that have formed the rebellious spirit of a whole generation.

The French are, on the whole, cynical, critical and irreverent (I mean this as a compliment). They are also, compared to all the countries I have lived in, the most politically aware and politically engaged. This is why the attack of Charlie Hebdo was so significant: it represents an attack on something us French hold the most dear: our freedom of expression. A quote by Voltaire has been repeated again and again this week: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to death your right to say it.” People here feel strongly that provocation by cartoonist are incredibly important, as the irreverence and humour is such a historic way in France to mock the government and society in general.

For most of Wednesday and Thursday, Charlie Hebdo was our main focus – Friday’s attacks irreversibly changed the scale of the attacks. “Je Suis Charlie” suddenly became so much bigger than it had been. It came to represent all groups targeted in the attack. “Je Suis Charlie” suddenly came to mean: I am a journalist, I am Jewish, I am the Police. The slogan became bigger than just France, it started to represent all the people targeted senselessly by terrorists.

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On Wednesday late afternoon, after letting sink in the terror of what had happened in my neighbourhood and in my city, I took the kids over to Place de la Republique. A spontaneous gathering was taking place and I felt like it was important to show the children (and myself) how a tiny little group of people can commit a senseless crime and how in the face of that, thousands of people gathered together peacefully to stand up against violence. The atmosphere on the square was so calm and strong and it was incredible to see how everyone needed to unite together and gain strength from likeminded people. I think, hopefully, that showing the children what was going on (both the good and the bad) was the best way for them to deal with the tragedies. The Charlie Hebdo shooting and the shooting of the first police man happened so close to us that ignoring it and protecting them from the events was not a possibility. But I do hope that by participating in the demonstration today and laying flowers down for the victims will give them an understanding of what happened and how important it is to stand up for our basic rights.

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- Emilie

P.S. For anyone living in France or whose children read French, I really liked the gesture by Le Petit Quotidien, a children’s daily newspaper who have made a version dedicated to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks downloadable free of charge.

Women: Are we our own worst enemy?

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The other day I was on the phone to my great university friend Suzie, who is a stay-at-home mom with four kids. In contrast I am a single, working mother of two, so our lifestyles are pretty different.

Now, what was very interesting about our conversation was how defensive we both were of our life choices and how we felt, both of us, that we needed to prove to each other that our life was hard and not at all an easy choice. Luckily enough we both picked up on that and had a really much more interesting conversation on how critical woman can be of each other and how much we each admired one another. Ha! (I think actually, it was our mutual admiration that made us feel we needed to justify our own choices. It’s almost a sort of insecurity in ourselves that leads us to feel we need to pick holes in the choices others have made).

Working mothers are criticised for neglecting their children and for putting work before family. Stay-at-home mothers are criticised for not contributing to the finances of the family and for having an ‘easier’ life. Seems like none of us can get it right! I sometimes have the feeling that women are so much harder on themselves – and each other – than men are. We constantly scrutinise each others appearance, ageing process, career paths and behaviour.  But why? Here is my theory: we are still very insecure about what is the right role for a woman in society, and to believe that the choice we have picked for ourselves is the right one, it is necessary to justify ourselves.

If it was just up to choice, it would be so much simpler. But the problem is, some women have to work to support themselves and their family, while other women have partners who have time-intensive jobs and so they themselves aren’t able to work and be away from family. Some women are simply more fulfilled by looking after their children, and of course there are others who simply cannot find a job at all! It’s not always an easy choice to make.

I guess what I am trying to say is that it would be great if we could avoid judging other women for their choices or look down on them. We should be celebrating individuality and accepting that different scenarios work for different people. If we did everything the same way, we would live in a very boring world. Life is so complicated anyway so why do we seem to be each other’s worst critics rather than enthusiastic supporters?

And we also need to learn to accept that the choices we’ve made are what work for us, for our lifestyle and our families. We shouldn’t need to feel we have to justify this to anyone. There really is no such thing as ‘having it all’; everything is a balancing act and we all balance our many roles in very different ways. Let’s make sure we stand up for ourselves – and all those other women juggling their lives too!

– Emilie (and Suzie)

Above is a photo taken a couple of years ago of mine and Suzie’s kids, who, though brought up very differently still get on like a house on fire!

Fish Cakes, an easy recipe

Fish Cake Recipe

I start the New Year every year with great resolutions, one of them being to always have a kitchen full of prepared, healthy, delicious food, so that I don’t need to think about cooking from scratch in the evening when we walk through the door at 6.30pm on a cold winter night. I manage to stay organised for about 3 weeks and then my enthusiasm starts to wane a little bit, BUT I have to say, for the first part of January, we eat fabulously well and early(ish)!

Fishcakes are something I have always loved and they are so easy to prepare in advance and freeze.  There is no hard and fast rule in making them; you can use any kind of fish (even tinned tuna or salmon at a pinch) and so the recipe is easily adaptable to each family’s taste. I served them with a nice green salad or peas or kale – basically anything nice and green.

Here’s what you’ll need:

-500g floury potatoes
-300g fish (salmon and cod are great, but you can even use a tin of salmon or tuna if that is all you have)
-1 leek or spring onions or chives or even capers (whatever your family likes, I like the little taste of leeks with fish)
-a handful of  chopped parsley
-salt and pepper
-table spoonful of flour (or a wee bit more)
-1 egg

Peel and boil the potatoes until they are soft. While they are boiling, gently fry the thinly sliced leek and let it cook down. Blanch the fish until it is just cooked and let it cool down, then put it in a mixing bowl with the leek and break it up with a fork. Add the egg and the flour, salt and pepper to taste. Once the potatoes are ready, make them into mashed potatoes with a potato masher. Let the mash cool off a little and add to the fish mix. Mix it all together with a wooden spoon. Put some flour on the kitchen surface and into a plate. start forming the fishcakes and once they are formed (you might have to add a bit more flour at this stage, depending on how wet the mixture is), toss them in a bit of flour on the plate until they are coated. (I like to make quite small cakes so this mixture makes about 16 cakes for me).

This is the point you can freeze the cakes (I lay them out on a small baking tray and freeze them like that so that they don’t stick together. Once frozen I then chuck them into a bag, which takes a lot less space in the freezer).

Whenever you need the cakes, defrost them, panfry them in a bit of oil and serve with a nice green salad or whatever you fancy!

– Emilie

Are We There Yet?

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Have you been following the Rosetta mission on the news lately?  I have been a bit obsessed in the last few days to see if the mission of landing an unmanned space craft on a comet that is about 6bn kilometres away from earth was going to work, so improbably and yet, somehow it landed! It took the space craft 10 years to reach its destination; insane, right?

As we were listening to an update on the radio in the morning, my kids were asking probing questions about the mission, which I have actually been at a loss to answer. Because, how do you explain comets, space crafts, 6bn kilometres and the universe to a 6-year-old over a bowl of cereal at 8 am in the morning? Not my strong point, and many of the questions, I have to admit, I actually could not answer.  So I discovered this little animated video  called “Are We There Yet” made by the European Space Agency. It is super cute and very informative, even for adults!

– Emilie

Rooftoppers

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Coco is at a stage now where she takes herself off to read her books and I am not part of that world anymore. It is kind of sad, but also such an important part of growing up and building her own world. I still remember the pleasure of getting lost in a book at her age and escaping reality and (occasionally) annoying siblings!

I also have to admit that a lot of books she reads frankly do not interest me at all! Let’s face it, a pack of mice solving mysteries is just not my thing…

There are some books though that she reads that are so well written and fun, that I sneak into her room at night to steal her book and read it myself. Her current read, Rooftoppers , is one of them. Written by 27-year-old Katherine Rundell, it is about a baby found floating in a cello case after a shipwreck in the English channel. The baby grows up to be a spirited little girl, who does not give up the search for her lost mother.

It is beautifully written and engaging and feels like a classic, even though it only came out earlier this year.

Both Coco and I highly recommend it! ;)

– Emilie

 

Sézane, a new label crush

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It is official, we are now heading into winter and I left home this morning with a wooly beanie on my head, yikes! For a couple of weeks now I have been obsessed with finding cozy kits and comfy coats — basically items to start hibernating in — and my latest label crush is the French online designer Sézane. They are starting to become a bit of a cult label over here in Paris.

 

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Have you heard of them? I love the simple designs and quality of the clothing. There are 4 collections per year (Autumn was launched in September and Winter will follow in December) and every week a couple of new pieces are added to the collection until the whole collection is available on the website. There is also Essential collection that is available all year round.

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If you happen to be in the USA I noticed that Sézane is doing a collaboration with Madewell, which looks amazing, but unfortunately it is not available in Europe!

– Emilie

A new breed of ’boutique’ youth Hostels

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As you might have noticed we do love travelling over here at Babyccino. Being based in Europe, especially Paris, makes it particularly easy to jump on a train, into a car or even a plane and discover new cities and countries. I try to take full advantage of this, but travelling is definitely not cheap, especially accommodation for a whole family. We’re lucky enough to have a lot of friends spread over Europe that we can stay with, but not every city in Europe has a friendly bed for us to crash in. So I have gone back to my roots and re-discovered youth hostels. Turns out that they are ideal places to pack in a group of children and grown-ups.

Now, I have to admit that the youth hostels I have discovered are very different from the ones I stayed in during my days of Inter-railing across Europe. Gone is the flaky paint on the walls, the nasty neon lights and the horrendously uncomfortable mattresses. There is now a new breed of youth hostel — let’s call them “boutique” hostels — that have sprung up all over Europe and they are the perfect solution for traveling in a larger group.
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Casa Gracia kitchen
Last year we stayed in lovely Casa Gracia in Barcelona (pictured above). We were travelling with friends so we had a big room with a bathroom all to ourselves. It had all the advantages of a hotel (a great breakfast, a good inexpensive evening meal and a excellent tourist service) with addition to a kitchen that all guests were free to use. It was, of course, a lot cheaper than a hotel could have been (I believe it was around 27 euros per night per person).

This year we went to Venice and stayed at the Generator Hostel. Again we had a big room and bathroom that we shared between kids and friends.  The view from the room is across the lagoon over St Mark’s square, which is quite a breathtaking thing to see first thing in the morning. Again it was super child friendly, with a laundry room, inexpensive food and an excellent laid back bar and common area, great to relax and play in after a long day of sightseeing.

I also like the look of the Woodah Hostel in Copenhagen, the Plus Hostel in Berlin or the U Hostel in Madrid!

Have you ever stayed in a youth hostel with your family? Do you have any places to recommend? I would love to hear as I cannot wait to get our bags packed up again!

– Emilie

Arcachon

IMG_5146As the leaves on the trees here in Paris are slowly turning red, yellow and brown and summer is becoming a bit of a distant memory, I wanted to quickly jot down some notes about an area of France we discovered and completely fell in love with this summer. It is the Atlantic coast of the South West of France, just south of Arcachon.  A group of friends and us decided to go camping in an amazing campsite set in the middle of a pine forest with a view of the sea and Europe’s biggest sand dune, la Dune du Pyla. It was so beautiful and simple. I am not an avid camper and our little tent without any accessories looked a bit ridiculous compared to most people’s set up, but it was so much fun, no one cared (we often used the car as an extra room, picnic area and extra seating area).

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I picked up one of these little gas stoves and pots and we came up with some of quite successful one pot meals.
(The grown ups did sometimes go pick up a little tray of oysters and a cheeky little bottle of cold rosé to enjoy after the kids had passed out, so we were not really roughing it).

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Here are a few of the things we did: We stayed at the camping Panorama du Pyla, which is great with the most amazing view of the sand dune and the Atlantic. The bathrooms are spotless and there are a lovely couple of swimming pools and a little water slide. It is all very low key.

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We took a little boat over the water to the seaside resort of Cap Ferret and explored the Atlantic beaches and the still waters of the basin. We paddled around on these amazing little inflatable body boards we picked up at the local sports store.

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Finally we braved the big, though mellow waves down the road in Biscarosse and had some surf lessons with a nice guy called Paul. Even the youngest kids loved it. They looked so cute and felt like super heroes in their little wetsuits!

Surfers We will be back next year!

– Emilie

PS. my top tip for camping? Bring an eye mask! I think it made the difference between me being a very grumpy maman to someone waking up with a smile on my face!

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What kids around the world eat for breakfast

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I am sure a lot of you have come across this article in the New York Times but I still wanted to post it, as I think it is so interesting to see how differently children eat. At my flat we are so used to eating sweet things in the morning, be it cereal, porridge (very unusual for France) or tartines – the idea of  miso soup and soy sauce for breakfast would not even cross our mind. And yet it would feel completely natural somewhere else…

I remember Esther staying with me one day and telling one of her kids off for having grabbed something sweet to eat before eating something savoury. Only then did she realise that there was nothing savoury on the table! It is funny how we all have our breakfast traditions. I think it is the meal that we are the least adventurous about, possibly because adventure is the last thing on our mind when we are still waking up.

I also love the photos in this post, the children look so cute, still sleepy with ruffled hair and preparing themselves for the day.

– Emilie

My First Opinel

h23143003-1My grandfather once told me that every good French woman had a pen knife in her handbag. Now, that might have been a slight exaggeration, but a lot of us do have a couple of Opinels, the ubiquitous French pen knife. I have a small one to slip into my handbag to slice apples and divide cakes for snacks. I also have a bigger one for picnics!

I think it is so cute that Opinel is now doing a pen knife for kids, with a rounded blade. It not a toy but a fully functioning knife that is relatively sharp and can be used to help out at picnics and possibly cut down a couple of twigs. I guess I am teaching my kids how to become good French woman from a young age. My grandfather would be proud. ; )

– Emile

The importance of handwriting

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There are a lot of things I like about my kids schooling in France —  there are also a lot of things I criticise. Compared to the children of my Anglo-Saxon friends, school seems to be so rigid over here.

One of the things I found unnecessarily strict here is the importance placed on handwriting. Children learn how to write in cursive script and are given bad grades if this is not done well. I never understood, how, in 2014, this made any sense and have been quite vocal about this to the teachers and other parents (who must roll their eyes at yet another foreigner lecturing them about their archaic teaching methods).

But the other day Violette’s teacher (who has been teaching for 34 years) made a very interesting point. Apparently 15 years ago the national curriculum had stopped the emphasis on handwriting, as it was thought that the use of keyboards was going to eliminate the need for writing by hand. They have now completely revised this stance based on a lot of research, as it seems that students taking notes by hand remember and analyse the material they are being lectured on a lot more than people typing notes. If you type notes, you have a tendency to write down the lecture word for word. If you write it down by hand, you are already analysing and interpreting the lecture, which in turn makes it a lot easier to remember it and learn from it. I thought that was so interesting! I found this article about a similar study here.

This is actually the saving grace behind the French education system: there is almost always some kind of theory behind the madness, even if it does not always seem obvious to a bystander!

– Emilie

PS. The above photo is of Coco’s homework, who is in the equivalent of 3rd grade. They are now starting to write with a fountain pen (I did not even know those things still existed!)

Star Sisters

Star SistersFor my daughter Coco, one of the biggest discoveries in her (relatively short) life has been reading. It has been lovely to observe how absorbed she gets into a book and how she cannot put it down — so grown up!

We were recently sent a copy of Star Sisters and the Royal Wedding by the lovely Jennifer Blecher. It is a cute book about two friends with magical necklaces who go on adventures and help other people, in this case, sorting out a Royal Wedding. Now, Coco is a girl who does not really like fairies and princesses (at least that is what she claims) but in this case, she read the book in one swoop.

I love Jennifer’s explanation on why she wrote this series of books: After a stressful day, she was sick of reading books to her daughters where girls were too snarky for their own good. She wanted something that was based on kindness and friendship. So she went about writing her own series — and, judging by Coco’s reaction, that was a very good move…

– Emilie

Weekend Getaway: Brussels

Brussels is only about 1.5 hours away from Paris and about 2 hours away from London. You can just jump on a train and it will take you directly to this lovely city. I have spent some great weekends there before having kids and would love to go back to show the family around. So I am super excited that one of Esther’s friends, Majolein, offered to put her top recommendations together for us.

at La Piola

Marjolein:

Brussels is known as the European Union’s capital full of grey (boring) buildings. It is less known as one of the greenest capitals in Europe, full of parks and beautiful places to visit for adults and kids. It is not one of those cities where you fall in love with it at first sight like London, Barcelona or Paris, but once you get to know it, you will certainly enjoy it.
Nine years ago I moved here and I now live with my man, my 3-year-old daughter Livia and my 5-month-old baby boy Mats. Coming from the Netherlands, I speak Dutch to our children, and their father, born in Brussels, speaks to them in French.
I hope you will come to spend some days in this nice city and will enjoy the tips below:

SEE:

Palace of Justice. Close to the Avenue Louise stands the immense Palace of Justice with a large golden roof. From this square you have a nice view over the city, going as far as the Atomium. You can take a glass elevator from here to go down to the streets below. From there you will be a 10 min walk away from the famous Fleamarket at the Place Jeu de Balle at the end of Rue Blaes. It is at its biggest on Sundays, but is open every day until 14:00.

The Musical Instruments Museum This is a great place to visit for children with over 7000 instruments to see and try. On the roof terrace you have a nice view over the city, while enjoying a coffee or some lunch. Around the corner from the museum is the Royal Palace  with the Warande Park  opposite of it.

Brussels is famous for Manneken Pis, the peeing little boy statue wearing many different costumes. Children (and grown ups) will go, take a look and have a good laugh.

From here it is not far to go to the Grand Place, the most famous square of Brussels with its beautiful buildings. There are lots of places here that sell the famous Belgian waffles and chocolate. Close by is Jeanneke-Pis,  a cute little squatting girl statue.

The Toy museum is another, not so well known, fun place for kids situated in an old house. Kids are allowed to play with all the toys in the museum.

The Children Museum has a play ground next to it and some goats.

Museum of Natural Sciences for Children is full of all kinds of stuffed animals and the largest dinosaur gallery in Europe.

You can’t leave Brussels without going to the Atomium, an iconic building from 1958 depicting an ice crystal. Moving staircases link the different spheres and from the top sphere you have a 360 view over Brussels.

In Mini Europe  you can visit the whole of Europe and all it’s famous buildings in one day. The easiest way to visit is by car or with the Hop-on-Hop-Off bus or Metro line 6 to Heizel/Heysel.

PLAY:

The Bois de La Cambre  is a huge park, especially worth a visit on a Sunday when no cars are allowed and it becomes one big leisure and playing area. Skates and bikes can be rented here during the summer months.
In the middle of the park is a small pond with an island and a restaurant called  Chalet Robinson on it. It is reachable by a small ferry boat and is a perfect place to have lunch. You can also rent boats here. The park hosts several playgrounds and children can ride ponies.

The big playground Plaine de Jeux Renier Chalon is open every day (in July and August even until 21:00) with nice benches for parents to rest on. The ice cream van passes frequently in summer and makes a nice little music that all the children will recognise.

ParcTenBoschParc Tenbosch is also highly recommended. A small oasis of three hectares. It has plenty of lawns, lovely wooden benches, gentle slopes, a playground and sand pit for children and lovely trees, flowers and winding paths. Very much recommended if you need a little break, lie in the sun, want to have a picnic or let your children play.

EAT:

Balmoral

Le Balmoral looks like an American dinner with retro colours and is children very child friendly.

In the Rue Americaine there are two places to eat crêpes: Au P’tit Breton or the more modern Westend Bruxelles.

Gusto is a good Italian restaurant. I also highly recommend La Piola, which is one of my favourites.

For delicious pizza ‘al taglio’ (squares of different flavours cut at the spot) go to Mamma Roma (and some more locations in town).

You can find some great Asian food at Lucy Chang.

There are also many places for brunch, like Chez Franz or try one of the Pain Quotidien branches in town.

Another good place to go with kids, even early in the morning, is the huge Café Belga. During the weekend there is a market until 13:00 next to it and opposite there are ducks in the ponds waiting for you to feed them.

SHOP:

If you want to stay away from the high-street shops you will find nice places in the following streets: Rue Franz Merjay , Rue Darwin , Berkendaelstraat and Place Georges Brugmann all in the Ixelles neighbourhood. At Place Georges Brugmann you wll find the beautiful high-end children shop: Claude Hontoir. For toys good to Oli Wood Toys.

ClaudeHontoir

After visiting all these places you deserve some cupcakes and you can buy them at the cute shop: Lilicup.

If you are in town on a Wednesday there is a lovely market as of 14:00 at Place du Châtelain.

You can continue your shopping experience via Rue de l’Aqueduc, Rue du Tabellion, Parvis de la Trinité , Rue du Bailli. A route full of nice shops of all kinds: clothes, toys, food (delicious ice cream at Rue du Bailli 35), children, interior (like Zao on Rue du Bailli). You will also find cafés to have a drink or bite to eat.

Grasshopper  is a huge and beautiful toy shop in the centre of town, open every day till 19:00.

SLEEP:

Les Chambres de Franz and La Nuit Americaine  are two B&B’s located in Ixelles, one of the nicest neighbourhoods in town. In the first one ‘Le Studio’ is fitted to stay with children and the second one has an extra floor with a double bed.

Vintage Hotel is in a very good location and has 29 vintage style bedrooms with family rooms and inter-connecting rooms are available.

 

Context Travel – Tours around Paris

Sacrée Coeur

This weekend we went for a little adventure around Paris — the sun was out and it was the perfect day to discover Montmartre. It is ironic how, when you live in a city, you sometimes know less about it than all the tourists who visit!

We were delighted when Context Travel invited us for a tour around Montmartre, one of my favourite parts of Paris. The tour was tailormade for children, full of entertaining scary stories and legends. Our personal tour guide, Anais, was lovely, bi-lingual and could answer every single question that we asked her and, believe me, she was asked a LOT of questions!

We followed the path that St Denis (patron saint of Paris) walked after he, unfortunately, had his head cut off by the Romans. The legend says he walked from the bottom of the hill right to the very top, holding his severed head in his hands. The Sacrée Coeur was built on top of his final resting place (I do hope I have remembered this correctly!).

rue de l'abavoir

Following the path of St Denis we discovered the houses that Picasso and Van Gogh lived in and and got a glimpse of what Montmartre was like in the late 1800s (there were a LOT of cafés, cabarets and drinking establishments as Coco noticed). We saw the vineyards, the cobbled streets that are so different from the rest of Paris, and the hidden gardens and artist lofts. We walked up and down hill for 2.5 hours and could have easily continued!

vineyard

At the end of the trip we sat on the steps of the Sacrée Coeur and drew pictures of all the things we had seen on our walk. On the steps we also had an amazing view of Paris and of a street artist dribbling a football whilst hanging off a lamp post (nothing unusual in that).

Sacréé Coeur View

We did finish off the journey with a little ride in the Funicular which is part of the Paris metro. It is such a cute, random little train, that it is well worth the metro ticket it costs to use it.

Funicular

Such a fun way to discover Paris, I highly recommend it!

– Emilie

 

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