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.
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.
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.
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Our 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!
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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.
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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.
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.
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!
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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!
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.
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!
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.
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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.
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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As 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).
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).
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.
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.
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!
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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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.
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:
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.
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.
Parc 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.
Le Balmoral looks like an American dinner with retro colours and is children very child friendly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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!).
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!
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).
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.
Such a fun way to discover Paris, I highly recommend it!
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In 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.
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?
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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…
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!
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.
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!
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?
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.
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!
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When 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…
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.
Produce 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)!
PS Yummy Puy lentil salad
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Every 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! ; )
Our 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.)
The 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!!!)
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!).
This 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)!
Going 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).
The 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.)
The 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!
We 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!
Beautiful 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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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.
PS I order my children’s name tags from this place and they are the cutest!
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Our final week of summer holiday has been a really wonderful one. I turned my phone off, stuck it in the bottom of my suitcase, and haven’t checked it even once! I wanted to disconnect a bit and soak up these carefree summer days before we return to London and the kids go back to school. I’ve made a point of spending quality time with each of my children, asking questions, really listening to their answers, just being more present. We’ve gone on long walks, played games, read books, hung out in our pyjamas and have just been generally slow and lazy. It’s not going to be easy going back to our normal routines and early morning wake-ups (plus jet-lag! eeek!), but I’m so thankful for our long summer away.
Speaking of long walks… I wanted to mention a new baby carrier I’ve discovered which has completely changed my life (or at least my walking-with-Marlow life). Earlier this summer Marlow started to complain about being in the Ergo carrier. I would strap her in at the onset of our walks and within minutes she would ask to be put down. I started to wonder if perhaps she wasn’t comfortable in the Ergo anymore. (Sidenote: of all the baby carriers I’ve tried, the Ergo has been my favourite. I didn’t think it was possible to find a better option.)
Enter the Tula toddler carrier. I am convinced this is the best option for toddlers aged 18 months and over. The Tula is a lot like the Ergo, but it’s got a wider fabric body which is better for toddlers because it doesn’t dig into their little thighs. Also, the fabric is much softer and so it fits over their bigger body with ease and is really comfortable, both for the toddler and the mama. Marlow has ridden comfortably in the Tula for several long walks without ever asking to be put down. It has made such a difference during the past couple weeks, especially since I haven’t had my husband to offer shoulder rides to tired children.
I hope you don’t mind me sharing a few photos from a recent beach walk with my kids. I hid my phone away and haven’t taken any photos this past week, but my sister snapped these photos and I’m so happy to have them as a memory of our lazy late summer days.
p.s. I’ll be in London next time you hear from me. Wish me luck on that long flight back home. : )
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Have you every been to Budapest? I would love to go! I’m a little bit obsessed by old European capitals at the moment, so Budapest is right at the top of my list of places to visit. One of our lovely readers, Diane, visited Budapest recently and put together a little lists of things to do and see.
Diane and her husband John are avid travelers. They began taking their daughter (now 4.5) abroad when she was 18 months old. They now travel with two kids (their son is 2). Here is their list of things to see and places to play, eat and stay:
Castle District – Located on the Buda side of the Danube, the Castle District is a must see for three distinct reasons. First, the trip to the Castle District is a blast for kids as it includes riding in a funicular. Once there, you will be dazzled by a wide array of buildings including the Royal Palace and the Matthias Church. But before you explore the charming streets of the District, stop and look across the Danube for the third (and, in my opinion) best reason for visiting the District – the views of Pest. You will have stunningly perfect views of Hungary’s enormous Parliament (third largest in the world), its distinct bridges and the lovely Danube itself. This is the perfect place for a family photo, if I do say so myself.
Heroes’ Square and City Park – City Park is a little like New York’s Central Park in that it has a bit of everything on its grounds including Budapest’s zoo and Szechenyi Baths. We elected not to visit the baths with two small kids but did spend an afternoon at the zoo. As it is located in the middle of town (and is one of the oldest zoos in the world), Budapest’s zoo feels intimate and the animals don’t seem so far away. After spending part of the day at the zoo, it is worth taking a stroll through City Park to visit Vajdahunyad Castle, especially if, like me, you have a child obsessed with princesses and castles. On the way out of the park, stop in (closed-to-traffic) Heroes’ Square and take in the imposing monument and statues of Hungary’s most important national leaders.
Memento Park – The final resting place for communist statues, Memento Park allows you to imagine what life was like behind the iron curtain. Although the significance of the statues will be lost on smaller kids (as it should be), they will enjoy climbing on the larger than life statues and sitting in the old Trabant car parked near the entrance. Once they are older and learn about the Soviet bloc in school, you can pull out the old photos and show them just how close they got to history. Memento Park is a bit out of the way in outer Buda but there are several easy public transportation options. Our kids enjoyed the trip out there just as much as they did the statues.
Mini Polisz – Located at Nyugati ter, near the train station and WestEnd City Center, Mini Polisz is the ultimate interactive and roleplaying museum for young children. The space is divided into different businesses, including a Tesco grocery store, bank, mechanic shop, hair salon and doctor’s office. Children can move from one location to the next, taking on the jobs required of each business. Among the more creative sections is a roadway where kids can practice obeying traffic rules while riding scooters and trikes. There also is a baby room for those under one and a snack counter. For a more substantial meal, head over to the WestEnd City Center mall which offers over 50 dining options.
Children’s Railway – Operated by children (under adult supervision), the Children’s Railway is a fun way to see the hills high above Budapest. The train’s route takes you past a number of sites, including Challenge Land Adventure Park, an outdoor park with several different ropes courses for visitors 4 and up. As we had a little one with us who couldn’t participate, we opted to skip Challenge Land but a lot of people recommend it!
Verne Restaurant – Verne Restaurant is just one of a seeming endless row of restaurants located on the popular pedestrian shopping street, Vaci utca. What distinguishes Verne from other restaurants is the enormous playground located in the back of the restaurant. We had not seen a playground of that magnitude at a restaurant not called McDonald’s. It came equipped with a slide, playhouse, sandbox and plenty of shovels and buckets. Our kids did not want to leave. For the adults, the restaurant offers a varied menu including pizzas and traditional Hungarian dishes.
Pizza Eataliano – With three locations in popular tourist areas of Budapest, you are never far away from an Eataliano outpost. As the name suggests, this is the place for pizza and also pasta, all at a reasonable price (especially if you dine off of the lunch menu). The children’s menu offers several pizza and pasta options and includes dessert (ice cream or chocolate cake).
Gelarto Rosa – Rumored to be the best ice cream in Budapest and it certainly lives up to its hype. This tiny shop scoops the ice cream into the shape of a perfect rose. As a bonus, they offer dairy-free and other allergen-free flavors. This meant that my son, who is allergic to several common foods, was able to enjoy a daily treat. As the shop is small, there is generally a line out the door but it is worth the wait. Plus, the shop is just a few storefronts down from Szent Istvan ter (St. Stephen’s Square) and its beautiful Szent Istvan Bazilika (St. Stephen’s Basilica). Take your ice cream over to the (car free) square and let your kids run around while you enjoy the view of the beautiful church.
Jegbufe – Ever wonder what it must have been like to live in the Communist era? Jegbufe gives you a chance to step back in time. In business since 1952 (and apparently not renovated since them), Jegbufe is a Budapest institution serving pastries and drinks just as they did prior to the fall of the iron curtain. In addition to retaining the Soviet-era décor, Jegbufe has kept the communist system of ordering goods: first, you view the items you wish to purchase. Once you decide which you would like to buy, you get into a separate line to pay. Once payment is complete, bring your receipt back to the original counter and claim your treat. Not surprisingly, they only take cash, and it can be a bit of a challenge to use a stroller inside. No doubt just like in the communist days.
Játékvár – If there is one item that makes a young child uniquely Hungarian it is their possession of an affordable, plastic ride on scooter. They ride them everywhere: in the mall, on the playground, at the zoo and on any and all pedestrian-only streets and squares. Naturally, we had to buy two for our own children (and find a way to get them home, but that’s another story). We bought ours at Játékvár at the Mammut I shopping mall, located near the Millenaris cultural center. However, these ubiquitous scooters can be found in various shops throughout town. If you have plans to tour the zoo, spend time in City Park or stroll down pedestrian-only Vaci utca., you can’t go wrong by investing in a riding scooter for your children. These scooters may just be the best souvenir we have ever brought back from Europe.
Memories of Hungary – There is no shortage of souvenir shops in Hungary selling cheap bags, magnets and other tchotchkes. However, for unique souvenirs of high quality, there is one shop that should be on everyone’s list. Memories of Hungary, located down the street from Szent Istvan Bazilika (St. Stephen’s Basilica), sells a wide array of beautifully crafted items including clothing, handbags and ceramics, as well as wine and food. For little ones, they have books, stuffed animals and beautiful hand puppets. The store’s employees speak perfect English and can help you find the right souvenir for that hard-to-shop-for friend or relative.
Apartment Rentals – We had great luck with Golden Stars Apartments which offered an array of apartments of different sizes throughout Budapest. They also arranged for an airport transfer with car seats. We elected to rent an apartment on pedestrian-only Vaci utca. Vaci utca was the ideal location for a family with small children. We were a stone’s throw away from many food options, including the kids’ favorite, McDonald’s, and the kids rode their new riding scooters to dinner each night. When my son lost his right shoe (we only brought one pair with us), we had several options for purchasing a new pair. When the kids got a little restless during the witching hour (you parents know what I mean), we took them around the corner to a perfect playground set against the backdrop of the Danube. And when it was time to head out and sightsee, we had several public transportation options available to us within a five minute walk, including trams and the metro.
For those who prefer hotels, you can’t beat the family activities available at the Four Seasons Budapest, located on the banks of the Pest side of the Danube. The hotel offers both baby- and kid-sized amenities for their littlest guests, including baby toys and child-sized robes and slippers.
P.S. Diane hired a local photographer to take photos of the whole family in Budapest. Such a great idea, I never have a single photo of the whole family when we go on holiday. She used Brita Photography.
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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!).
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.
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!).
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!
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! 😉
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!
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! : )
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. : )
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!
p.s. Feel free to add tips in the comments below if you have any other recommendations for people visiting the city. Thank you!
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Living in this lovely city of Paris is great… but it is easy to forget all the great things to do and visit just outside the city. A couple of weekends ago we jumped with some friends on a commuter train (the RER B) and within 40 minutes we had arrived in front of the stunning chateau of Versailles, known for its beauty and also the over the top extravagance of the Kings and Queens of France who lived there.
The children were amazed by the opulence of their surroundings and how crazy it was that this whole chateau was built just for one man and his entourage to live in! Good old Louis the 14th sure knew how to live it up!
The main palace is amazing to visit, but with a whole gaggle of children in tow, we opted for a visit of the gardens surrounding the palace and a visit to the smaller Trianon Palace together with Marie-Antoinette’s domaine, which has been restored very recently.
It was a lovely day: we picnicked, played hide and seek between the manicured hedges, strolled through the different gardens, and had a good look around Marie-Antoinette’s retreat.
We finished the trip with a boat ride on the Grand Canal, just like Marie Antoinette would have done, I am sure.
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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.
(Artwork by Andreas Gursky)
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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 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).