Weekend Getaway: Warsaw

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I visited Warsaw once a very, very long time ago on a school exchange trip. It was in the mid ’90s and it was a fascinating place – full of Soviet-era architecture, but already buzzing with potential. Now 20-odd years later I am sure that potential has been fulfilled and I would love to go back and discover the city with my kids. Kristina, one of our lovely readers, lives in Warsaw with her family and was kind enough to put together a list of things to do, see and experience in Warsaw with kids!

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Kristina was born in a small, little town in between the Alps and the Adriatic sea in the North East of Italy. With a Czech–Bulgarian mother and Italian dad, she soon developed an interest in studying languages, cross cultural relations, travelling and different foods. After living in Paris, Prague, the English countryside and London, Kristina, her Anglo-Scottish husband and their two (soon to be three!!) children enjoy life in Warsaw. (more…)

Tuesday Tips: Traveling in Paris with kids

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Summer here and I thought it was high time to write down some random tips of what to do in my lovely city with kids. Paris is such a great place to visit and so easy to get around that it is a great destination with children, even young ones. But there are a couple of things that might be good to know:

  • Hilariously my very first tip actually has very little to do with kids and has everything to do with coffee and bars! Basically if you want to save a cent or two always order and drink a coffee at the bar in a Parisian café, not on the terrace. The price on a terrace can be more that double than the one if you sit by the bar. The same goes for most drinks. (By the way: a café is an espresso, a noisette is a macchiato and a crème is a cappuccino roughly speaking).
  • All neighbourhoods in Paris have little squares with play equipment (like place des Vosges on the photo above). They are simple, easy going and a nice way to get away from the crowds. If you are looking for a real park, go a bit further afield and head over to the Buttes de Chaumont, which is super French and has grassy areas, so a good place to go and kick a ball around.
  • My favourite Parisian street food is good old-fashioned crepes, and you can still find a lot of little hole-in-the-wall crepes stands that will throw together a “jambon-fromage-champions” (my personal favourite). My kids absolutely love them.
  • In restaurants do ask for a kids menu, even if it is not advertised. Especially less touristy places will often happily make a smaller plate for kids.
  • If you have the time to teach your kids just a few words in French, it is totally worth it. I have seen the sternest French waiter melt when he had been addressed in French by a little foreign tourist. Even “Bonjour”, “Merci” and “S’il vous plait” is enough.
  • When you ask for anything, be it a baguette in a boulangerie or directions on the street, start with “Bonjour” not “Excuse me”. It just the way we start a conversation over here. If not you might finish with your questions just to have a pointed “Bonjour” thrown back at you.
  • For me the best way to get around Paris, if you have a bit of time, is by bus. They use the same tickets as the metro, but are so much more pleasant and such a great way to see the city. The free public transport app is unfortunately only in French at the moment, but it is so easy to use that I think you could use it with even the smallest knowledge of French.
  • If you have even more time then the very, very best way of getting around Paris is to walk! Paris is much smaller than London and New York so it is actually easy to walk from one attraction to the next. On the left bank of the Seine a lot of the quays are closed to cars and are a lovely way to discover Paris. On Sundays the right bank of the Seine is also closed to cars.
  • As we now all know, French Kids don’t throw food 😉 which is actually only partly correct of course. But it is true that people expect children to behave in restaurants and will ask the waiter to ask you to be a bit quieter. Do not take it personally as it happens to French parents as much as it does to foreigners. I try to smile and apologise and that normally does the trick.

As I mentioned, this is a bit of a random list, but these are some of my top tips to visiting Paris. If you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them!

– Emilie

Tuesday tips: Traveling light (with children)

Tuesday Tips Traveling Light with children

Summer vacations are around the corner for us and we have lots of exciting travels coming up that we’ll be sharing with you soon. In the meantime, we have been thinking about packing tips — isn’t packing suitcases for a family the biggest job ever? Personally, when I’m packing, I prefer my kids to be out of the house, so I can prepare in total focus and with ultimate concentration. It usually takes me almost a full day to pack — and then I’m not even counting the prep work of washing, folding, and sorting beforehand!

The biggest challenge when I’m packing, is to pack as little as possible. We mostly travel by car, and with the 6 of us stowed in the car already there is not a lot of room for luggage. Or, if we fly, we usually try to pack in small, carry-on suitcases. So here are some tips for packing practical and light — please do share your tips as well (I need them)!!

Layering: I like bringing some cardigans or hoodies to layer over t-shirts and summer dresses. A few pairs of knee socks keep feet and lower legs warm. Leggings are great layering pieces as well.

Footwear: Saltwater sandals, Crocs or Natives are waterproof, easily cleaned, and can be worn over above mentioned knee socks if necessary. Flip flops are so easy and small to pack. (I try to avoid taking wellies but for some trips they’re mandatory…)

Pac-a-mac foldable raincoats: the kind of raincoat that fold up inside a pocket and can be strapped around your middle. We have one for each member of the family, and they keep us warm and dry when needed. We take no other coats than these. (Added bonus — we have bright coloured macs in one colour — great to keep an eye on the kids in busy places!) You can find them here, here or here, for example.

Turkish towels: so much smaller to pack and quicker to dry than terry towels. They double up perfectly as picnic blankets or sheets, by the way. (Available here.)

Personal backpack: each child carries a small backpack with a notebook and a pencil-case, a sunhat, sunglasses, a thin and royal sized square scarf (doubles as a blanket, play mat or sun screen), one favourite doll or stuffed animal, a little pouch with some tiny toys for imaginary play (like Schleich animals, Playmobil characters, cars or trains), and some small games (a deck of cards, Uno, Dobble or memory are good examples and fun to play as a family).

A small umbrella stroller (and/or small carrier): even though for city living I prefer a bigger, more comfortable stroller, for traveling we prefer the lighter, smaller type of buggy. (We have an old MacLaren Volo for this purpose. I recently saw the Babyzen YoYo on a trade fair and it also looked really cool, and small!) If your child is big enough, you could think of taking a Micro Scooter instead of a stroller (ok, this is maybe not packing ultra light, but they’re great to take if you can!).

Argan oil and Shea Butter: I love argan oil when I’m traveling — I put it on my face, body, and hair. One bottle for everything — less is more! Shea butter is also lovely for face, lips, hands, dry patches of skin, hair even.

Shampoo and samples: a little bottle of shampoo doesn’t just wash hair, body and hands, it’s also great to use as laundry detergent — to quickly hand-wash some underwear or t-shirts when on the road. Also, I was just talking to Courtney, and she mentioned taking samples for toiletries instead of the big bottles — so save up the little sample bags that are given to you in the beauty department!

That’s what I came up with… Again — please share your tips for light packing. I can use them, I promise!

xxx Esther

A weekend at the Opal Coast in France

BoulogneSurMer_kidsWe’ve discovered that the Côte d’Opale (Opal Coast) in the upper North-west corner of France is aptly located for a Babyccino Kids meet-up — it’s only a few hours drive from Paris and Antwerp (where my dad lives), and it’s also just a 20 minute drive from Calais, where the channel tunnel connects France directly to the UK. So it’s pretty much on the doorstep from London as well!

A few weekends ago Emilie and I got to spend some quality time together and discover this pretty region of coastal France with our families in tow. A visit of only two days but absolutely jam-packed with activities!

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Stonehenge, inside the circle!

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Last weekend our little family, along with 24 friends, made a special visit to Stonehenge. We’ve been to Stonehenge once before and we’ve driven past it several times, but this visit was an entirely different experience, one that none of us will ever forget.

My friend Lesley organised a private group tour for 30 people  which meant that we got to go into the inner circle after it was closed to the public, without any barriers surrounding the stones. We had an hour to stand/run/play amongst the stones, soaking up the mystery and magic of this incredible site while the sun was setting on the horizon. I think we all sat there pinching ourselves!

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friends at Stonehenge
Marlow at Stonehenge
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Adamo Family at Stonehenge
Stonehenge is just a two-hour drive outside of London, located in pretty Wiltshire. We stayed in the area and made a weekend out of it, but you can also drive out there for a day trip (most of our friends drove to Stonehenge and back to London that day). It’s pretty incredible that, in the middle of the rolling hills and pastures of the English countryside — just two hours out of London, sits a site that is more than 5,000 years old (built at the same time as the great pyramids in Egypt)! We listened to a podcast about Stonehenge in the car on our drive out there, and what I found most incredible was that the site was created in several construction phases taking more than 1,000 years!

Visiting Stonehenge the normal way is still quite amazing, but if you’re able to plan in advance and book private entry it’s something I so highly recommend doing.  Lesley booked our trip back in January and even then the availability was really limited for the summer months, so it’s something you really have to plan. But totally worth it!

Courtney x

Little Trip away: Marrakesh

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France has a funny school break at the end of April. It can be absolutely gorgeous or it can be dismal weather over here, so if you want some guaranteed good weather, you need to go South. Coco, who is nine now, and I skipped and hopped onto a plane and went to Marrakesh for a short break, and (not very surprisingly) it was amazing and just what the doctor ordered. Marrakesh is only 2.5 hours away from Paris by plane, so it is an easy escape.

I was not able to take much time off work and yet wanted a real break with sun, so I did something I have hardly ever done before and booked us into nice hotel. (You know one of those things where they cook for you and you don’t have to plan anything?). We stayed at the Beldi Country Club which worked out awesomely. It was about 15 minutes away from the airport, but a world away from our everyday life – we instantly felt on holiday.

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We spent some time exploring the hotel and its gardens, did some pottery and swimming and Coco instantly became friends with the whole gaggle of kids running round. In fact, one of my lasting memories will be the sound of a horde of sandals chasing each other around the gardens.

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We went for a full day horse ride around the foothills of the Atlas mountains, through villages and little creeks and hills – it was absolutely stunning and such a great way to explore the area.

We also visited Marrakesh, its souk, where we had lunch in the lovely Café des Epices, the palaces and the beautiful Majorelle gardens. We strolled around Jemaa el-Fnaa square, but I have to admit the people, the snakes and the heat suddenly got too much for Coco, so I picked her up and we jumped into a horse drawn carriage to take us around the old city, which worked out as the perfect way of discovering the sites. I get quite into bartering so the Souk was perfect for me and, though we only got tat, it was a lot of fun!

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It was absolutely amazing to pop out of our daily routine and suddenly be in a completely different place, with completely different sounds, smells, temperature, nature and architecture. We absolutely loved it!

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It was also very special to have a bit of time with Coco on my own as I realised how big 9 years is and how much she has grown and developed. So nice to stop, even for a short while, and be able to take in the important things in life!

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– Emilie

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!

So Awesome Wallet cards

So Awesome wallet flash cards so awesome alphabet cards These So Awesome wallet cards don’t just looks beautiful, they’re also super practical. A selection of cards the size of a credit card, made from durable, easy-to-clean, biodegradable and kid-safe (non-toxic, food-safe) plastic, are kept together by a re-closable ring. The size makes them super easy to throw in your handbag or nappy bag. They can be kept together and read as a book, or they can also be played with individually. So fun! I have found them especially handy when we’re traveling, or in restaurants. Casper and I like to play with the Color and Shape cards — I ask, what colour, and he says ‘blue’. For all the colours. ; )

xxx Esther

 

 

Our visit to Copenhagen, a few favourites

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The last weekend of February, Tamar and I (without our kids!) spent a few days in Copenhagen, the beautiful capital of Denmark, and we loved discovering this wonderful city. There’s just so much to appreciate — the beautiful architecture, slightly austere and with deep, beautiful colours. The very kind and handsome people. The amount of bikes! The food culture (no surprise that the best restaurant in the world is located right here). The sea, right there. And, of course, the design, apparent in each and every detail of society.

Here are a few of our favourite discoveries. I definitely recommend visiting Copenhagen — we definitely want to go back soon with our kids!

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Something I noticed in Copenhagen…

IMG_1103Last weekend, Tamar (my husband) and I spent a few great days together in the wonderful capital of Denmark, Copenhagen. We really enjoyed our stay (albeit we had quite some rain!), and I’ll definitely share some of our favourite discoveries here very soon. In the meantime, I wanted to post about something fascinating I noticed in Copenhagen…

IMG_1102 IMG_1104Even though it rains a lot in Denmark, and it can also be quite cold in winter, the Danes believe it is super healthy for their children to spend most of their day outside. Every time a baby or young child naps during daytime, it sleeps outside. For this purpose, there are special prams that are much bigger than the practical pushchairs we tend to use here in the Netherlands (f.e. the Bugaboo). I was chatting to a mum and she told me that Scandinavian children consistently  sleep in their prams for daytime naps until they are at least three years old! It is generally believed this is healthier for the children, and also that they sleep much better outside. Amazing!

Even when it rains, the babies sleep in their prams. They all have a huge (black) cover that completely covers and protects the sleeping child. When out and about, and a child wakes up and wants to sit, there are are special banana shaped pillows to support it in the back. Also, prams (with the sleeping baby inside!) are often left outside of shops or cafés, while the parents shop, sip their coffees or have lunch inside.

Copenhagen parenting outdoor play rain suit IMG_1101Another thing I noticed, is that children of walking age all own a special one-piece ‘outdoor suit’. It’s like a thick, warm rain / snowsuit that is worn on top of the ‘indoor clothes’. I’m told that often, the ‘indoor clothes’ are very easy-to-wear: often these are leggings and long-sleeved tops or all-in-one jumpsuits, made out of cosy cotton jersey or thin wool knits. When the child goes outside, the ‘outdoor suit’ is simply put on on top of the cosy (and easy-to-layer) indoor wear. So practical! Even when it’s raining or snowing, Scandinavian children spend most of their day outside.

Tamar and I were so inspired by all of this. We pledged to take our children outside even more, and definitely be bothered less by ‘bad weather’. (We even went to a department store to check out the ‘outdoor suits’!) Because as the Scandinavian say — there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!

xxx Esther

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.

A Berlin Christmas market

ChristmasMarket_Star ChristmasMarket_Smoked_Salomon ChristmasMarket_Candy ChristmasMarket_Nutcracker ChristmasMarket_Roasted_Almonds ChristmasMarket_Angels ChristmasMarket_WoodWorks ChristmasMarket_Toasted_Almonds2 ChristmasMarket_NativitySceneOur new Amsterdam team-member Nina just sent me some photos of her visit to the Christmas markets in Berlin, and I just had to share them with you here! I’ve never been to a German Christmas market, but now that I saw these photos I just know we’ll have to go next year. Aren’t they just amazing? Such an atmosphere, and I love the artisanal products, and the old-fashioned candy and nuts and traditional smoked fish. Thanks Nina, for sharing!

xxx Esther

Scoot Basket

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Scooter basket

I don’t think I know a scooter-riding child who wouldn’t love one of these Scoot Baskets on their scooter! My girls each have one and they love filling their baskets with little nature finds on our walks in the park (lately they’ve been collecting pretty leaves, nuts, and sticks).

The Scoot Basket easily attaches to any scooter with two velcro straps and stays in place perfectly. It also looks quite cute on their little scooters, don’t you think? Available from Scoot ‘n Pull, which also sells the Scoot ‘n Pull strap.

Courtney xx

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

Your house on Kid&Coe!

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Founded by Zoie Kingsbery Coe a few years ago, Kid&Coe is a booking service that lets families rent out their house when they are away, so that other families can have the convenience of traveling to interesting places while staying in a local family home. Instead of going though the trouble of booking an expensive hotel room, or (if you have several children) facing the difficulty of finding hotel rooms with connecting doors, Kid&Coe offers you the opportunity to stay in a family house with children’s beds, toys, books, a kitchen filled with everything a family needs, highchairs, washing machines, etc. It’s SO much more fun to stay in a family house than in an impersonal hotel room, and it is SO much more practical as well!

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We’ve written about Kid&Coe before here at Babyccino Kids, but I wanted to tell you how great it is to list your house there too. Our previous home was listed on the Kid&Coe website, and last May we had an inquiry from a family from Singapore who came to visit Amsterdam and was interested in renting our house during the spring break. We decided to rent out our house and make a little trip to Germany for those days, to visit our friends from Macarons and some other cool destinations along the way. It was a really great trip and we discovered so many wonderful places. And… the best thing — the money we made from renting out our house paid for our little holiday! When we came back, it was so nice to find a sweet letter from the family who stayed in our house, telling us how much they had enjoyed our house and how their little girl had loved playing with Ava’s toys.

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Listing your property on the Kid&Coe website is super easy to do. The application process is straight forward, and the Kid&Coe team is so great to work with. They write great things about your house, and make sure the photos look fantastic.

Because we just moved house our current place is not listed on the website, but this is the flat we always visit in Antwerp when we go there for a very important work weekend ; ). I really recommend listing your house with Kid&Coe — it’s so easy to do, and so worth it!

xxx Esther

PS The first five people to list their property on the Kid&Coe website though Babyccino Kids will get FREE professional photography!! 

PPS We’re excited for Kid&Coe to be the main sponsor of our ShopUp event in London this December — we look forward to seeing you there and if you have any questions about listing your property on the Kid&Coe website, their team will be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Our trip to Venice

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grand canal, Venice
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Venice has always been at the top of my holiday wish-list, and yet, in the 11 years we’ve lived in London, we’ve never managed to go. It’s either spring/summer when it’s too touristy and overcrowded, or late summer when it’s too hot and smelly, or winter when it’s apparently quite foggy and cold (although I’ve heard it’s quite magical like this). So… when it came time to book our October halfterm holiday, we decided it had to be Venice! And oh my gosh, it did not disappoint! I think this holiday might be one of my very favourites, which says a lot coming from a girl who likes a beach holiday more than anything. : )

The kids were absolutely intrigued by the concept of a city floating in water — that the buses and taxis (even ambulances!) are all boats, and that you’re completely surrounded by water at all times (even dead-end streets lead you straight into a canal!). I was so impressed by the beauty and colours of Venice — for some reason I didn’t expect it to be so colourful! I always pictured it to be quite grey, like the famous Canaletto paintings of Venice in the National Gallery. How naive was I?

Like I said in my previous post, the thing that impressed us the most is the fact that there are no cars. It makes it such a kid-friendly city, to be able to walk freely in the streets and play in the squares. At one point we were sitting at a sunny table at a pizzeria, finishing our glass of wine while Easton was playing football with a local Italian boy, Ivy and Quin were drawing with chalk in the street next to our table, and Marlow was sitting in the middle of the square playing with a little spinning top. All of them within eyesight, all of them completely safe to play in the street. Michael and I kept pinching ourselves.

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venice boats

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Anyway, here are a few photos (okay, loads! sorry! I hope you don’t mind?) and a list of some of the highlights…  (more…)

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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).

Vivi back of car

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).

Campers

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!

oysters

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

 

The Dopper bottle

SONY DSCIn the Netherlands, schools don’t provide a cooked lunch so my children leave the house every day with a backpack with a packed lunch and a bottle of water. Recently, Sara has been complaining about her current water bottle making funny sounds when she drinks, so I’ve been on the lookout for a replacement. And I found it! The Dopper is a Dutch design water bottle, with an ingenious 2-in-1 function of bottle and cup: the cap becomes a cup when you turm it upside down.

The design and idea of the Dopper stems from the growing frustration of the founder of Dopper, Merijn Everaarts, with the enormous amounts of plastic waste (the ‘plastic soup’, floating in the ocean). Merijn organised a design competition and the clever idea of Rinke van Remortel was the rightful winner. The Dopper is produced following the principles of the Cradle to Cradle philosophy and consists of no harmful substances. It can easily be cleaned, and is dishwasher safe.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Also — 10% of Dopper sales goes to the Dopper Foundation, which invests half of its proceeds in water projects in Nepal and the other half goes to water and plastic waste education projects.

An admirable bottle, don’t you think?

xxx Esther

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