Stonehenge, inside the circle!

Stonehenge inner circle
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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inner circle Stonehenge
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.

Coco and Atlas

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

Scoot Basket
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

gondola ride in the grand canal
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.

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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!).

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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.

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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

Weekend Getaway: Milan

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I love Italy! To be honest, who doesn’t? The landscape, the architecture, the history, the food and the people — a beautiful holiday is guaranteed whatever corner of Italy you decide to explore. Milan always struck me as the most “sensible” city of Italy, known more as a business and fashion capital than as a tourist destination. But I have completely changed my mind since Paola, who runs her own PR agency and blog in Milan, put together of list of must-see things in Milan. Now Milan has jumped up a few places on my top 10 list of cities to visit! Introducing Paula…

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I’m a communication consultant in Milan and mom of four-year-old Leonardo. I moved to the city a long time ago and am now living with my family in the Navigli neighborhood… it’s a very charming and interesting place: I love walking Leonardo to school, which is just in front of the canal, and sipping my cappuccino in one of the several bars of the area before starting my workday. I hope you enjoy my recommendations!

SEE:

Museo del Novecento Housed in Palazzo dell’Arengario, in the heart of Milan, just opposite the Duomo cathedral, this gallery displays a wide variety of twentieth-century works of art. You can admire paintings and sculptures from different art periods, such as Futurism and Transavantgarde, that can enchant and surprise even children, as some sculptures by Boccioni. An educational programme dedicated to schools and children is also available.

Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia ‘Leonardo da Vinci:  With its 40,000 m² in total, it is the largest scientific-technical museum in Italy and owns the worldwide largest collection of machine models manufactured from drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. A real paradise for children, where they can discover the different pavilions, from the transport pavilions to the rail pavilion – which houses last century’s first locomotives. You can also board the Toti submarine, or even make a stop in the area dedicated to laboratories, where you can participate at activities organised around the museum.

Duomo  In Milan, a visit to the Duomo cathedral and its terraces, from which you can admire a truly breath-taking panorama, is a must! The church is an artistic monument of incredible importance, and its spires, recently renovated along with the entire facade, a real treasure of the city: Those who are athletic and patient can climb the 201 steps on foot, while those who prefer a comfortable ascent can easily take advantage of the lift.

Navigli  Designed and built to connect the Lombardy capital with Lakes Maggiore and Como as well as the river Ticino, the Milan historic canals represent today a very lively district and an epicentre of culture, events and nightlife. Take a pleasant walk through the small, typical artisan shops, the cosy cafes and restaurants, or even a nice boat trip. And if you are in the area on the last Sunday of the month, a tour of the traditional antiques market cannot be missed.

PLAY:

MUBA  The Museo dei Bambini was inaugurated in early 2014 at the Rotonda della Besana, one of the most representative architectural buildings of the eighteenth century in Milan. It is a permanent centre of cultural and artistic projects dedicated to childhood, a place open to innovation that combines the excellence of national and international culture, education, science and arts, to promote the development of creativity and creative design thinking. The museum has an excellent bistro, an interesting bookshop and a beautiful garden to play at.  

Parco Sempione  Sempione Park is the green lung of the city, where you can walk, drink coffee, or simply sit on a bench reading a book. Of course, there is also a large play area for the little ones, with slides, swings, merry-go-rounds, a small train…  

Giardini Indro Montanelli It is a park located in the heart of Milan, in Via Palestro, where every day many generations of young citizens spend the afternoon, enjoying a tour on the historic small train or having a classic ride on a pony. There are three play areas and an entertainment space with merry-go-rounds and ponds with ducks and swans. Within the gardens there is also the Civico Planetario (Civic Planetarium), the largest in Italy, and the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale (Civic Museum of Natural History), that are definitely worth a visit, especially if you are travelling with astronomy or zoology enthusiasts!

EAT:

Isa e Vane  A delicious bistro with a warm homely feel and definitely kid-friendly, where you can enjoy delicious and genuine foods even in the courtyard … The owners, Isabella and Vanessa, know the art of hospitality and make you feel as if you were in your own living room!

Al Fresco Another ‘newcomer’ in the city catering business, Al Fresco is defined as ‘a meeting place with a kitchen’… High quality ingredients combined with a relaxed, informal atmosphere make this restaurant an event to share with the little ones. In this case, it is worth booking a table outside, in the lovely garden.

California Bakery If you do not want to give up an American coffee or a burger, you should definitely stop at one of the shops of this famous Milan bakery chain. But the main reason why I am pointing out this address is its unmistakable Picnic Brunch. As a matter of fact, during summer, in the store in Piazza Sant’Eustorgio, you can buy a fabulous basket for adults or children: tablecloths, pillows and baskets full of overseas cult food, are ready to be enjoyed in the open air park plaza, relaxing in the sunshine, in the best tradition of New York.

Aromando Bistrot If, like me, you love the retro style, you will literally fall in love with this restaurant, completely furnished with authentic vintage items that create a unique shabby atmosphere. Authentic is also the cuisine, based on traditional dishes, like a cold cuts and pickles starter, Cappelletti in broth and apple pie with eggnog sauce … Is your mouth watering yet?  

SHOP:

L’Elefante con le Ghette Born from the passion of three friends, Erika, Federica and Serena, this is the meeting place for those looking for style and comfort, a mix of Italian and northern Europe niche brands, but also clothes and accessories hand made by craftsmen-artists. In addition to a selection of more than 300 books for young readers, there is also a full schedule of events including workshops, meetings with authors and games.

Il Bianconiglio  Here you will find everything for the baby, from clothing to games, up to strollers and baby changing tables, especially second-hand ones, but in excellent condition… The vintage style is becoming trendy even for the smallest ones (ah, for moms a mandatory stop is Cavalli e Nastri, the kingdom of the Milan retro style)!

Mezzanotte An address in Milan that every mother should know. Originality, attention to detail and search for a unique style are the features underlying the selection of brands constantly made by Barbara Mezzanotte. And there are not only small dresses and T-shirts, but also many designer items, home accessories, items for baby parties and mums.

Il Gufo This boutique in the heart of Milan’s fashion district, at a stone’s throw from Via Montenapoleone, is one of the best known brands in the Made-in-Italy scenery dedicated to children. A brand born in the eighties, on the initiative of a mother who turned her passion for sewing clothes for her children into a job. Even today Il Gufo products are made with natural fibres and carefully selected fabrics, ensuring its customers the utmost control and safety.

SLEEP:

To experience a piece of the ‘Milanese life’, try one of the amazing apartments at Airbnb  like most people are doing lately… you can choose among loft, cozy flat or romantic attic!

A market in France

market_viewWhen we stay in our house in France, we always make sure to make the trip to the local market which takes place in Maurs, every Thursday morning. The ride by itself is worth it — the beautiful hills with the fog still hanging over the valleys…

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The market is a ‘farmers market’ in the true sense of the word — there still are farmers who will come to town, display their wares on the grounds in front of the medieval church and sell their beautiful products like eggs, vegetables, flowers and tools made from wicker or carved out of wood.

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market_avaProduce are fresh and abundant, and local. We love all the different cheeses and sausages, the artisanal bread, the wonderful fruit and vegetables… There’s even a woman with a giant water bucket full of trouts — she will catch the one of your liking and, uhm, clean it on the spot (the kids find this especially intriguing)!

market_garlicAnd every summer, I stock up on purple garlic that lasts almost a full year!

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market_fountainThe market is very much a social affair as well — people come to town to buy fresh produce, but also meet up with friends and family in one of the cafés (and drink café au lait of course).

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market_mandelaMarket day is a busy cay, because back home, we have a great lunch, a productive afternoon… and a delicious dinner! ; ) Ah, summer holidays — I can’t wait until next year!

xxx Esther

PS Yummy Puy lentil salad

A bit about our house in the Cantal, France

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cantal_mapEvery summer, we spend a few weeks in our family house in the Cantal, in France. The Cantal is an agrarian region located in the Auvergne, in the south-centre of France, with mountains, meandering rivers and the most picturesque little villages imaginable. It’s such a beautiful part of the world, and I thought it would be nice to give you a little tour of the neighbourhood! ; )

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house1Our house was built as a farm in 1789.  Inside, there was only one room with an enormous fireplace, where people used to cook and to keep warm in the harsh winters. The walls are super thick to protect against the heat in summer and the freezing cold in winter. Underneath the house, half in the rocks, were cellars that housed some smaller animals. Later, other buildings were built on the premises, enclosing the back of the house and forming a sweet little courtyard. My parents have lovingly restored and renovated the house, adding rooms in the attic and a modern bathroom. It’s such a unique and special place, with many memories for many people. (My mum passed away here 6 years ago, I wrote about it here, here and here.)

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cantal_spiderThe Sécadou is a little annex which used to have an open gable, allowing the wind to pass through and drying the chestnuts inside. Now, it is converted in a darling guesthouse. The horses and cows pass right by! Inside, those big beauties can sometimes be found. (They freak me out!!!)

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And this is the little playhouse that my dad made from an old cigar crate when Sara was little. All the kids love it! Plus, all the hostas in old copper pots (so the snails can’t get to them!).

cantal_tadpolesCatching tadpoles from the trough…

cantal_letterboxThe letter box. No joke!

cantal_atelierMy dad would get terribly bored if he wasn’t building something. So he’s converting the old bread oven into a new guesthouse/atelier.

cantal_chateauThis is the local chateau. It was built in the 12th century, and was inhabited until a few years ago. Sadly the roof of one of the big barns has recently collapsed… I’ve heard the community will start raising money to restore the buildings (which will be a huge effort given the fact that the village population counts only 194)!

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cantal)madeleinesA trip to the local bakery is mandatory every morning. Don’t you love the tiles, and the paper bag? (And children with a madeleine in their hands in the morning, are happy children!)

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cantal_treasuresGoing to ‘Vide Greniers’ (a kind of car-boot, or garage sales) are one of our favourite pass times over the weekends. Sometimes they are in stunning locations! And of course, I have ‘scored’ some treasures (amongst which a solid brass bed for Pim!). The children were getting into it as well, especially with the money they made selling loom bands, and the crochet purses I made for them — Ava bought a sweet doll, Pim bought Asterix and Obelix figurines and Sara bought more loom bands (smart girl).

cantal_cheeses

market_avaThe Cantal is known for its fabulous cheeses. There’s the famous Cantal, of course, the Salers, Fourme d’Ambert, Blue d’Auvergne, and (my favourite!) Saint-Nectaire. There are wonderful sausages and other local delicacies as well. We surely gain a few kilos each summer! (I’ll post more about the local market soon.)

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riverwalk4The nature around the house is stunning, and one of the activities we love undertaking is going for adventurous ‘river walks’. We descend to the brook in the vally, and walk upstream through the water — climbing waterfalls and all!

cantal_canoeWe took Sara and Pim for an 11 kilometer canoe trip on the river Lot and it was amazing.

cantal_colombierWe made a little trip to Château du Colombier, over 900 years old and in the same family for over 30 generations. There’s a park with a few wild animals like wolves, lions and brown bears. Pretty!

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cantal_conquesBeautiful towns and sights in the area include Aurillac, Rodez and Conques. But really, every little village is worth visiting, and just driving around the countryside is a spectacle by itself. (I also like going to Laguiole for knives, and the Potterie du Don for their beautiful plain oven dishes.)



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cantal_house8That’s it! I do hope you liked my little tour. If you’re ever thinking about visiting this part of France (it’s SO worth it!) and would like some tips, just let me know. I’m happy to help!

xxx Esther

La Mercerie Parisienne

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One of my favourite shops in Paris is not a shoe shop or a fancy food shop (though there are many). It is actually a beautiful, little haberdashery shop in the Marais: L’Entrée des Fournisseurs is full of ribbons, buttons, fabrics and wool, just like in the good old days. It also stocks some of my favourite sewing patterns by Citronille. The shop just launched a new website making it even easier to get hold of all the bits and pieces I think I actually need.

If you ever are in the neighbourhood, a browse around the shop is very worth it, but the website is a close second.

– Emilie

PS I order my children’s name tags from this place and they are the cutest!

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