In my hand luggage

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I have been on the road so often lately that my suitcase is just sitting open on the floor and gets emptied and refilled again on a regular basis. I also never have the patience for waiting for suitcases at airports, so I have been honing my talents of traveling not only with a capsule wardrobe but also with a little transparent bag instead of a sponge bag.

I thought it could be fun to share with you my little “capsule” transparent bag, so here is a list of some of my favourite things I always travel with:

  • Uriage facial wipes because they are the best: efficient, great for sensitive skin and one wipe is enough to get your face squeaky clean.
  • I actually am now French enough that I feel like I am missing something if I leave the house without perfume. Esther gave me this perfume stick recently and I am addicted, it is teeny and is not classified as a fluid and it also smells heavenly.
  • Klorane Dry Shampoo: This stuff is genius, especially if you have to get up early, jump on plane and then  go straight to a meeting.
  • I actually often do not take a foundation when I travel but only a tinted moisturizer. This Caudalie one is great, as it makes my skin look fresh and natural and also moisturises very well which basically makes it a two-in-one.
  • This Burt’s Bees lip balm is actually not available in France so I scoop it up every time I am in the UK or the US. I get very dry lips when I travel, so I love the fact that it moisturises and also adds a little colour to my lips.
  • I always have an eye mask with me as I like to sleep in the dark and I never know where I might pitch up for the night. Especially in Northern European countries in the summer I hate getting woken up when the sun is rising! This eye mask from Muji is super soft and machine washable.

Do let me know if you have any tips, I would love to hear!

– Emilie

Visit Greece! Camping at Serifos

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This is Pepi‘s second post about family friendly destinations in Greece (see her first post about beautiful Sifnos here).

By the time you have children, your priorities, and therefore the criteria you choose your travel destinations change. And although each family’s choices and preferences may be different, there are some basic facts such the children’s amusement, comfort and of course safety that you cannot really ignore as a parent.

Since we had a baby, we try not to give up our favorite destinations like the Cyclades but always seek for new places or why not some different vacation mode such as camping for our holidays. So if you are planning summer family vacations and you need stunning weather, magical beaches, healthy and tasty food, and most of all welcoming people then Cyclades is a great destination.

Especially now after the Greece’s Economic Drama that peaked the last 3 weeks, travelling to Greece is more vital for us the greek people than ever. The yearning for stability, in monetary and emotional terms is essential. And tourism is liquidity. And although Banks were out of function for 3 whole weeks after the Capital Controls were reinforced, now we are almost back to normal since they are open and ready to service the customers – which means that ATM will not be queued.

People are even more welcoming and more grateful than ever. And prices are significantly cheaper BUT the places and the smiles, remain as wonderful as always.

For relaxation: Camping Coral – Serifos

Serifos has a very friendly and a very well equipped camping, ideal for families – the CORALI. Only five minutes away the port on the famous beach of Livadakia. Coralli camping caters to even the most demanding camper, offering a combination of nature at its best and top notch camping facilities. Plenty of shade is provided by the tamarisk trees and the atmosphere around is really laid – back.

Your kids will be close to nature, at a safe environment so that you can also have some time to relax.

travel_6In this picture: Camping Coralli

For accommodation you can choose between Bungalow and Apartments, which, however, I recommend you to avoid as they are farther from the center of the camping and sea and their interior is not the most suitable especially for young children. (more…)

Visit Greece! Sifnos, a wonderful family destination

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Our friend Pepi from Athens is the driving force behind one of the biggest online children’s boutiques in Greece, Alice on Board. She’s a wonderful mama and sweet friend, and we were super happy when she offered to write up some family friendly destinations in her beautiful country. Greece is one of my favourite travel destinations, I love the amazing culture, the friendliness of the people, the yummy food… but I’ve never been with my family. After reading what Pepi wrote though, I was investigating flights to Greece immediately. : ) Here’s Pepi’s introduction of the beautiful island of Sifnos, and there will be another post following about camping at Serifos too. Thanks so much, Pepi! xxx

If you are looking for summer family vacations and you need stunning weather, magical beaches, healthy and tasty food, and most of all welcoming people, then Cyclades is a destination I suggest you should consider. Especially now after the Greek economic drama that peaked the last 3 weeks, travelling to Greece is more vital for us Greek people than ever. The yearning for stability, in monetary and emotional terms is essential. And tourism is liquidity. And although banks were out of function for 3 whole weeks after the capital controls were reinforced, now we are almost back to normal since they are open and ready to service the customers – which means that ATM will not be queued.

People are even more welcoming and more grateful than ever. And prices are significantly cheaper BUT the places and the smiles, remain as wonderful as always!

For the Cyclades lovers – Sifnos
We initially visited Sifnos in our earliest year (no kids) and although it may initially seems as an ideal island for bachelors, trust me this is a myth. What we actually adore in Sifnos is the variety offered in terms of activities, if of course you are not one of those that only need a beach to stay all day long.

sifnos_profitis elias 1000In the picture: Profitis Elias

WHERE TO STAY:
Every time we visit Sifnos we prefer to stay in Ag. Marina in a nice hotel close to the sea, Alkyonis Villas, which offers spacious rooms, especially for big families, terrace overlooking the sea – very important since in the evening you can enjoy and a glass of wine by yourself.  (more…)

Tuesday tips: Surviving long car journeys with children

Tuesday Tips car journeys with kidsOK, the title of this Tuesday Tips might be slightly exaggerated, but really — I’m not the biggest fan of long car journeys. And especially not with children! I feel like a snack service, entertainment centre and traffic control centre all in one, and that for a very. long. time.

Soon we’ll have another lengthy car journey ahead of us — we’ll be driving to the Loire Valley in France for a fun week of camping with Emilie and her girls, and afterwards we’ll continue our trip to the Cantal as usual. So not a bad time to pen down some tips to make long car journeys with children as pleasurable as possible! (And of course, I’m hoping for your added tips and tricks to make our journey easier…) Here goes!

  • With smaller children, it’s a good idea to plan (part of) your journey during their nap time.
  • Bring baby wipes for sticky hands and faces etc (preferably non-scented ones if you’re sensitive to smells with regards to car sickness)
  • Bring some plastic bags for trash.
  • Bring plenty of water in refillable bottles. I like to give each of my kids their own bottle.
  • Bring enough snacks (nuts, easy-to-eat fruits like grapes, and a few little sandwiches).
  • Bring audio books on Ipods with headphones. My kids are happily entertained for hours with these. You can also think about making a playlist for the whole family to enjoy — we love sing-alongs to kill the time in our car!
  • Bring (chapter) books for who reads, but only if they don’t get car sick (my kids are ok to read on straight highways)
  • Bring notebooks with pens, or a travel journal to work in on the road. These  are great too.
  • Bring neck pillows and thin sheets — great to use as blankets or as a sun shade.
  • For the last few hours, you can maybe play a fun film on an Ipad or car video set (with headphones).
  • For my own entertainment during the hours I’m not driving myself, I like to bring some crochet or knitting.

That’s it!! Wish me luck for in a few weeks… ; ) And as always, all tips and tricks are very, very welcome!

xxx Esther

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!

(more…)

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!

Hay House Copenhagen Hay House Copenhagen (more…)

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

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.

Arcachon

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

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.

CapFerretOysters

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

Surfers We will be back next year!

– Emilie

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

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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.)

river_walk1

riverwalk2

riverwalk3

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!

cantal_rodez

cantal_local

market_view

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.)



cantal_house6

cantal_house7

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

A few days in Portland

walking downtown portland

We’ve just finished a little road trip from Lake Tahoe, NV, where Michael’s parents have a home, back up to Seattle where we will spend the rest of our summer holiday with my family. We did some sightseeing along the way and really enjoyed exploring some new parts of California and Oregon we have never seen before. We decided to stop in Portland  on our way and spend a few days checking out the city. Despite having grown up in Seattle, I’ve never really spent much time in Portland… and we keep hearing such good things about it!

I can definitely say it is worth all the hype. Portland is such a great little city, so easy to navigate with all the wonderful shops and restaurants located downtown in an easily walkable grid. It’s a perfect destination for a weekend break because it’s small enough to explore, but still feels very much like a hip, happening city. We loved it!

Here’s a little recap of our visit and some photos too:

We arrived into Portland in time to check into our hotel and walk to dinner at Oven & Shaker in the Pearl District. We sat outside and enjoyed good pizza and beer. We then stopped by Ruby Jewel for ice cream on our way back to our hotel. Lots of people suggested to go to Salt & Straw for ice cream, but we never made it there. Apparently they serve delicious ice cream in the most unusual flavours (and it’s so popular they have a queue going around the block!).

marlow at Kenny & Zuke's

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at Kenny & Zuke’s (I ate the gravlax salmon bagel and it was delicious!) and then good coffee from Stumptown. We then enjoyed a bit of window shopping in the new Union Way shopping arcade across the street. Quin was excited to find a candy shop named Quin (!!) while I was happy to take a quick stroll through Steven Alan.

Quin candy shop

kids in portland

After window shopping, we walked down to Portland Pedal Bike Tours where we rented bikes for the day. We put the girls in a trailer behind my bike, Quin rode tandem with Michael, and Easton rode his own bike. We had so much fun cycling around the city and exploring the various neighbourhoods (once I got the hang of riding a bike in a dress and pulling two heavy girls behind me! oh my!).

girls in bike trailer

During our bike ride around town, we stopped for lunch at Por Qué No?. The kids were hot and sweaty from cycling in the 90º heat and they loved getting iced cold prickly pear juice to cool them off. The tacos were yummy too!

kids at por que no

At the end of our cycle, we stopped for a while and let the kids run through the fountains at the waterfront park near the Hawthorne Bridge. The kids were so hot, they went in completely clothed (we didn’t have their swimsuits!). I nearly went in too – I was so beat from riding all over town with the girls in tow! 😉

portland water fountain

For dinner that night we met one of Michael’s college friends at one of Portland’s hot spots, Tasty & Alder. The food was again delicious! It was worth the hour long wait to get in (no reservations taken). And even though we were the only ones in there with kids, they were really friendly and accommodating to our big group.

The next day Michael had a few meetings so I was on my own with the kids. We started our day by hitting up the photobooth at the Ace Hotel. I’m a sucker for the old-school photobooths, and my kids loved them so much, they were nearly in tears when I told them we had to leave!

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We then walked over to Powell’s Books, which is a great (enormous!) bookstore selling both new and used books. We sat in the children’s section reading books to each other for a good porting of the morning, and I let the kids each pick out two books to take home with them. It was a great place to escape the heat, and would equally be a great place to escape the rain or cold if you visited during other seasons.

After the bookstore, we walked over to Jamison Square. We picked up pizza from Hot Lips (great name!) and ate lunch in the park, and then the kids ran around in the fountains for a couple hours! Phew! : )

jamison square water fountain

On our way back from the fountains I managed to squeeze in a little visit to Canoe, which is a shop I had been eyeing for the past couple days. I wanted to buy everything in store! So many pretty homewares! Alas, I did not buy everything in the shop. : )

canoe shop

That night, we had a quick dinner at Lardo. The kids got hot dogs, and I had a tasty sandwich. It was all I could manage with four exhausted kids, but it was pretty good for a sandwich joint. The next morning we grabbed breakfast at Mother’s before driving out of town and heading for Seattle. They served us waffles topped with juicy blackberries picked that morning!

That’s it! What a great little trip. I definitely recommend visiting Portland. We will go back for sure!

xx Courtney

p.s. Feel free to add tips in the comments below if you have any other recommendations for people visiting the city. Thank you!

I lost Ava on the beach!

beach_gurski

Yesterday, I took our 4 children to the beach because it was hot and humid and the beaches in the Netherlands are windy and fresh. I met up with our friend Maud and her two children, and we were lounging and chatting and drinking fresh fruit juices and watching our children play. You get the gist. At some point, when Pim had asked me to play beach ball with him for the gazzilionest time, I finally got my lazy bum up from the deckchair for some tennis with my boy. After 3 minutes I looked around, and I noticed Ava was missing. Gone!

I started to walk around, looking for her. Nothing. I checked the water. Nothing. I went up to the beach club, nothing. And then I started to panic. I started to run around, calling her name. I called the alarm number, I went back to the beach club, where the part time manager was a police agent, and who took my calls from the coast guard (!). He tried to calm me, assuring me that she would be fine, she would get back. But the only thing I could focus on, is on that tiny chance that she wouldn’t be allright! I don’t think I have ever been so afraid in my life. In the meantime, there were loads of people (other mums) helping me search. Maud was running all over the beach and to the streets. But she was gone!

After a few minutes (in which I died a thousand deaths), my hero policeman finally got a call that she was found. Safely, further up on the beach. Quite a very far walk away!

Thankfully, she was safe. Tired, but safe. And I learned a few things, that I wanted to share with you here…

1. Beaches can be busy. In our case it was! Ava lost her way, and couldn’t find our spot again. So she started to walk, looking for us. What I usually do (and stupidly forgot this time), is to look for an anchor point — a certain flag, pole, bright umbrella, any reference that is noticeable enough for a child to find their way back to our spot.

2. Children should always wear a phone number on their arm. My other children were wearing their RingRings, but Ava had taken them off and I hadn’t checked / noticed. Stupid.

3. When children loose their way on the beach, they generally start walking away from the sun and the wind. So best to start looking in that direction. (So true — in our case, this is exactly the direction in which Ava went).

4. There’s an Amber alert app for your phone, in which you can save a current portrait photo of your child and other crucial information for when your child goes missing. I’ve had this app on my phone for a while now, but I never filled out my children’s details until now. Apparently, finding a decent photo of your missing child and recalling crucial information like length and eye colour is super difficult if you’re in a state of total stress and shock.  So best to do this now.

Hopefully none of this is ever necessary, but I thought to tell you just in case. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

xxx Esther

(Artwork by Andreas Gursky)

 

Djeco mini games (perfect for traveling!)

djeco_mini_games
My good friend Kim always brings the best gifts for my children. She recently visited us from London, and again managed to bring something awesome! She spoiled each of my kids with a Djeco Mini Game, and they are such a big hit. With the vacations around the corner, and so many of us traveling to faraway and exciting places, I thought they were just too good not to share.

djeco
Djeco Mini Games are a variety of 30 cards, all bundled in a pack, with each of them featuring yet another old-fashioned brain teaser. There are card packs with ‘spot the ten differences’, ‘find the missing piece’, ‘sudoko’, ‘maze’, ‘connect the dots’ etc etc — so much fun (also for adults)! And perfect entertainment for in the back of the car, on the plane, in the train, in a restaurant… You name it. I’m definitely going to pick up a few more (if indeed we manage to get away with our house renovations in full swing).

You can find a good variety of the Djeco Mini Games at PSikhouvanjou, Little Citizens Boutique, and My Little Day.

xxx Esther

The Bugaboo wool collection

Wool is known for its wonderful, temperature regulating properties. So this past summer, when it was hot and humid and sticky, I cut holes in a sheep skin and put it in my Bugaboo as a seat cover. Like this Casper was always on a soft, natural and breathable ‘mattress’, which kept him cool as well as comfortable.

So I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Bugaboo recently teamed up with Woolmark and created a beautiful woollen seat liner with exactly those same thoughts in mind! The seat liner is made from 100% pure wool and fits all Bugaboo models. It can be used all year long — in summer it will help to keep your baby cool and comfy, and in winter warm and cosy. It also has a pretty grey padded reverse side — so you can change your look every now and then.

Bugaboo also developed a super soft, 100% extra fine merino wool blanket in three pretty colours, and — this is so exciting for those mums currently expecting a winter baby — beginning of next year there will be a soft and natural merino woollen mattress cover for the Bugaboo carrycot available as well.

I love this line. So much prettier and easier-to-care-for than my home-made solution! (And Casper is ever so cosy and comfortable, as you can see!)

xxx Esther

Our summer holidays in Holland

Oh! It is so nice for me to remember our holidays in Holland this past summer! We went in July and we were so lucky with everything. We are in a program of house exchange and everything went just perfect!. We really loved our house and the garden with the lovely wooden house.

Great memories and lovely times in our garden!. So much fun. But speaking about fun… how great it was for us to ride a cargo bike the whole holidays!. For us Spaniards, riding bikes is not the norm, let alone a cargo bike!. That was just amazing, and we really really enjoyed it!

We really enjoyed our area, with the lakes, and canals. We had amazing weather so we got to do many things outdoors. We also went to our nearest city, Haarlem. We adored it! One of my favourites shops was Meneer Paprika. A really cool store and cafe, the paradise for children and adults!.

A very relaxed, healthy, quiet, and amazing summer we had!!. Really looking forward to going back to The Netherlands. In fact, looking forward to next summer!!!!! 😉

Happy to be back here!!

-Maria

To read more from Maria, visit her lovely blog Escarabajos Bichos y Mariposas.

My tips for travelling with young children

After a wonderful, lazy summer in the Seattle area with my family, we have just returned this week back to London. Every summer my husband flies out there with us, but unfortunately can’t stay the entire time… which means that every year I end up flying back home solo with all the kids.  It’s the teensy price I pay for a nice, long, extended holiday with my family. Totally worth the trek!

Plus, I feel like I’m getting kind of good at it by now. Or maybe it’s that my kids are getting good at it and that makes an enormous difference. In any case, I thought I would share with you some of my simple tips for (long-haul) flying with young kids…

  • Try to avoid the ‘oh my gosh, I’m flying for 10 hours on a plane with my kids –  I must pack every single thing I have in the house to entertain/feed/care/clean/change them’ feeling, and pack as little as you can. I used to bring the kids their own headphones for the TVs, and those neck pillow thingies for sleeping, and a change of clothes, and an entire bag of snacks. But it meant that I was carrying on at least two enormous (and heavy bags!). It made the schlep through the airport tiresome, and we often ended up not using most things. This recent trip, I packed one bag and tried to keep it as lightweight as possible. (You can also give your kids their own backpack and ask them to tote around the things they need for the plane – toys, books, snacks, etc.)
  • Use a baby carrier instead of a buggy. It’s so much easier going through security and navigating a busy airport if you’re carrying your baby instead of pushing them in a buggy. You can go straight through security carrying your baby – no need to empty your buggy, fold it up, have it examined by the airport security, etc. It also means you have your hands free to hold other children’s hands, or carry bags, etc. My favourite right now is the Ergo Baby Carrier .
  • We always eat in the airport before boarding the plane and skip the first meal they serve on board. It’s not easy holding a baby and trying to eat off your little tray in front of you. And inevitably one of your kids will need his meal chopped up, or will spill his drink in his lap, and you’ll have to get up to help… and it will be extremely difficult if you have your food on a tray on your tray table in front of you. Just skip the meal entirely.
  • Make sure your kids use the toilet before boarding the plane to eliminate any extra trips to the bathroom on the plane. It seems like common sense, but I have forgotten before… and there’s nothing worse than your child telling you he has to go potty when the plane is taking off and the seatbelt sign is on! (Also make sure to change your baby’s nappy.)
  • Pack simple, non-messy snacks. I like raisins because it seems to occupy the kids for a while, trying to grab little raisins out of the box, and they’re not messy. I also like to pack nuts or trailmix, snack bars, dried mango, pretzels, fruit, etc. Before take-off, I always have a box of raisins ready for the baby in case she gets antsy sitting still on my lap when the seatbelt sign is on. (I also still nurse Marlow… and that is a big help for calming her down, and keeping her ears from popping during take-off and landing. Nursing is the easiest thing, but if you don’t nurse, you should have a prepared bottle on hand for the same reason.)
  • Dress (you and your children) in comfortable clothing. I never bother with changing them into their pyjamas – I just find that it’s an extra hassle. Instead, I dress them in normal, comfortable clothes, and make sure everyone has an extra layer (like a hoodie or a cardigan) in case it gets cold. I always bring a scarf for myself because I always get cold on planes.
  • Don’t bring too much, but make sure you have some simple entertainment on hand. I have always found that once kids get to the age of 4 or 5, they are much more independent on airplanes because they can watch TV or movies. My boys are so easy on airplanes now. I don’t even think they got up to use the toilet the entire time on our recent flight from Seattle to London – they were either watching movies or sleeping. So… for children under 4, you will need to have some entertainment on hand. Things like simple paper pads and a pen, sticker books and colouring books (you can often buy them in the airport bookshops), and paperback books (hardback books are too heavy – leave them at home!). If you have an ipad or iphone you should make sure you have children’s games or books on there (see here for ideas).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. People are always so sympathetic to mothers travelling with small children. Ask the flight attendants to help if you need it. You can even ask for help when going through the airport. One time I had to ask for help getting my sleeping children and bags off the airplane and to over customs because I simply couldn’t carry everything. Someone came immediately to help me and got me all the way through the airport.

I hope these tips were somewhat helpful and not just redundant things everyone already knows. Please feel free to add any tips I may have forgotten below.  And lastly, I’ve written my tips for beating jet-lag here if you’re interested.

xx Courtney

p.s. Photo above is of my children on the ferry overlooking Seattle, and a photo of Marlow in the Ergo carrier.

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