D.C. For The Fourth

I just want to preface this post by saying we have been to Washington D.C. a few times before, so this trip wasn’t about seeing all the sites. It was more of a take time off to hang out as a family sort of trip, since my husband has been super busy with work lately. With that said, here’s a little bit about what we did while we were there:

 

The first place we stayed was actually a little bit south of DC and was right by the National Harbor. It would have been an amazing place to sit outside and people watch, but it was soooooo hot. We seem to have a knack for picking the hottest, most humid environments to spend the 4th of July holiday (last year we were here).

We ended up spending the majority of our time at the hotel, either running around their big grassy lawn, or swimming at the pool. It was so cool because they had a giant movie screen by the pool, and fountains for you to splash and run around in. But the best part was the whole back side of the hotel that faced the water was covered with glass windows.

At the end of the day, we got to sit on our balcony, drink some wine, and enjoy this view of the harbor. It was pretty incredible.

The next two nights we spent in D.C. in a hotel that was actually very close to Chinatown. It made me all nostalgic because the very first time we ever saw D.C. was a month and a half after we were married back in 2008.

Look at those two youngins, so obviously, madly in love! We actually found Chinatown by accident. We had walked who knows how many miles after seeing ALL of the monuments, and were looking for food. I was dead tired and super hangry with the husband, when all of a sudden we turned a corner and there was Chinatown! Not just Chinatown, but a Nando’s in Chinatown!! For those of you who don’t know, Nando’s is a South African restaurant. At that time it was the only one in the States, so my husband, who had just moved from his home country of South Africa, pretty much felt like we won the lottery. We make a point of eating there every time we visit.

Back to the story at hand! We were also next to the cutest little outdoor shopping mall. Seriously. Beach balls and fairy lights for decorations? So fun.

Essie and I were up to our usual shenanigans of dancing and running around. They even had fountains for kids to play in next to these cool pieces of art, which we were told explicitly not to climb on.

We also got to see Georgetown while we were there, which is one of my favorite things about D.C. I love the shops.

I love all the charming little houses that have secret gardens tucked away next to them. But most importantly I love the food. You guys. We had our minds blown by the best burger I have ever had in my entire life. I wish I had taken a picture. We got it to go, and it was so amazing we inhaled it before I even thought to take one. If you ever visit you have to go to Good Stuff Eatery and get the Prez Obama Burger. Seriously. Best. Burger. Ever.

The real reason we decided to brave the crowds, heat, and humidity was for the fireworks show that you can watch from the National Mall. We went once, back in 2013 and loved it so much we vowed to go back. Well the next year we had a very tiny baby with us, so we didn’t go then. The year after that we were in another country, so couldn’t go then. Then last year my in-laws came to visit, and we wanted to take them someplace new (they had seen D.C. already), so we didn’t go last year either.

This was the year. We chose to sit  next to the Washington Monument instead of behind it, nearer to the Capitol like we had previously, and it was the perfect spot.

Esmé was completely enthralled, and didn’t take her eyes off the show for one second.

I have to be honest and say that this trip was a bit of a mission. Driving four hours to go wander around in 90+ degrees with 90% humidity, while pushing through crowds with toddler in tow was not ideal. But getting to watch her little face with eyes lit up brighter than the sky, made it more than worth the effort.

Traveling Truths: Paris

I’m going to tell you something. I get serious travel envy. It often happens as soon as we get back from a trip, or worse yet, while we are actually on vacation. It really doesn’t take much. I see someone else’s Instagram post about some beautiful far off place, and immediately I need to see it too. They make it look so perfect, and fun, and fabulous! I think that’s actually part of the problem. We only share the best snippets of our journey.

I want to know the whole story. I want to know the mishaps, or crazy stories that got them there. Mostly I want to know we’re not the only ones stumbling through, trying to make it look like we know what we’re doing.

So in pursuit of honesty, I thought that I would share with you guys some of our traveling truths (failures) from our last trip. Because as much as I loved Paris, it was far from perfect.

Truth #1:

Esmé got very sick while we were there. She got Pink Eye, and some sort of cold virus as well. The first day she had it just in the left eye, and it wasn’t too bad, so we were going to wait it out and see what happened. We went to a pharmacy, got an antiseptic eyewash (that she hated), and waited to see what the next day looked like. The next morning she looked better, but, as the day wore on, the right eye started producing gunk, and her left eye got worse. By day three she looked TERRIBLE. The problem was by the time that we were able to speak to our pediatrician (thank you time delay), it was already too late in the day to get her in to see a doctor. On day four we were finally able to get her in to a doctor thanks to our wonderful hotel concierge. We got antibiotic eye drops, and she was 100% improved within a day.

How did this affect our trip? For starters, we had to have her wear her sunglasses everywhere. We didn’t want her spreading it to anyone, but we also didn’t want people thinking we were child abusers. Her eyes were red and swollen all the way down to her little cheeks. I literally had a pain in my chest having to look at her, because I knew she had to be so uncomfortable.

We also had to go back to the hotel at 4 hour intervals to give her drops. This was the hardest. It was a wrestling match every time to hold her down, and she screamed like she was dying. I’m sure we made our neighboring guests super happy.

Truth #2:

We brought one too many suitcases. I’m pretty sure this took two years off my husband’s life. Every other time that we have visited Europe we’ve either had a rental car, or have stayed with family who had a car. Basically, we’ve never had to walk all our stuff to and from the airport/hotel. So I packed just like we did for all the others…one suitcase for each of us. Huuuuuuuuge mistake.

The problem was that we had a toddler with us. One of us had to push the stroller with one hand while pulling along a suitcase and the other person pushed/pulled two suitcases; OR one person pushed all three while the other person pushed the stroller (I know this option seems ludicrous, but my husband actually attempted to push all three suitcases at once because it was such a mission doing the stroller and a suitcase).

There were heated discussions about a certain someone (me) not packing everything into two suitcases at least three different times during our trip. Lesson learned.

Also we stayed at two different places while we were there. It was so much fun moving all our stuff again.

Truth #3:

Versailles was almost a total disaster. I say almost, because we managed to keep it together while we were inside the palace. The best part about this truth is that I have a photo of the exact moment that it fell apart! This picture right here, when I was taking a picture of Emile taking a picture of Esmé frolicking in the gardens. She tripped and totally ate it immediately after our picture.

She had an epic meltdown afterward. It was so loud that other people who were there with their own crying children were giving us the stink eye. We didn’t know how sick she was yet because this was day 3 of her sickness. It was past nap time. Then she got a dent in her head from falling on her face with her sunglasses on. Rough day.

I had this vision of how our trip was going be, with lots of things to see and do, and all the pictures I wanted to take. Then life happened. We had to change plans almost daily, depending on how Esmé was feeling, but we made it work. Traveling with kids is never easy, but it is certainly one heck of an adventure.

Besides, in ten years time you’re not going to remember all the bad stuff that drove you crazy, (unless you’re my husband…then you will never ever let your wife forget the suitcase incident as long as either of you lives). It’s the good stuff, like kissing in front of the Eiffel Tower while it sparkles, that you take with you. That is what drives you to go out and do it all over again somewhere new.

An American Family In Paris

First of all, I know that this is long overdue. I have been putting off writing about Paris because I knew that as soon as I started going through all my pictures I would start getting homesick. Yes homesick. I can feel you rolling your eyes at me, but I’m telling you. It’s very much possible to have that achy, heart-longing feeling for a place that you do not actually live in. It’s a thing and it happened to me.

Second, we saw so much when we were there that I decided to divide it into two posts. This first one is all the touristy things that we got to see while we were there. First up, Notre-Dame Cathedral…

We actually visited Notre-Dame twice. The first time we were exploring the city with family, so we just walked around the grounds and admired the cathedral from the outside.

It was quite a rainy, gloomy day our first trip there, which made for a very moody experience. What with all the stone gargoyles glowering down at you and skeletal spires towering overhead.

Another cool thing we discovered was that in the back of the cathedral there was this beautiful little garden. (Esmé is pouting in the picture because there was a swing that was there, and there was also someone on said swing therefore preventing her from reaching full joy potential. Don’t worry though because about 5 minutes after we made her take a picture, the person got off, and she got to swing to her hearts content)

The second time we went we explored the interior, and the inside of the cathedral was just as impressive, if not more so, than the outside.

For me, churches are one of my favorite things to see when we travel. I think it’s because they are generally hundreds and hundreds of years old and there is so much history behind them.

It always makes me wonder about the kind of people who have come to worship, and what kind of lives they lived in whatever time they happened to be living them.

We got to see The Eiffel Tower!!! It is massive. It is breathtakingly beautiful. It is fabulously French. We went and saw it in the day time and were pretty flabbergasted until we saw it at night time…

Every night as soon as it’s dark, for five minutes, every hour, on the hour, the tower sparkles! We took a river cruise down the Seine and the boat was right next to the tower when it started sparkling. I can not even begin to explain how absolutely beautiful it was. Esmé loved it so much, she got upset any time it went out of sight on the way back. I’m pretty sure that it’s the closest I’ll come to seeing magic happen. It was spectacular.

Speaking of spectacular, we saw the spectacular spectacular! Well, we saw the outside. The reviews for this place were too mixed for me to actually pay to go and see the show, but it was so cool seeing the place that inspired one of my favorite movies.

The gardens in Paris are all so pristine! We actually figured out why while we were visiting the Luxembourg gardens. Do you see how there are chairs lining the lawn in the picture above? Well, those chairs are all around the gardens so that people don’t sit on the grass. They have these signs posted everywhere telling you to keep off of the lawns, and while we were there we actually saw security chase this woman out of the garden! He had a whistle and everything, so they take their garden maintenance very seriously.

When the grounds look this amazing though, I really don’t blame them. I honestly wish that I had taken more photos there because all the tree-lined promenades were so perfectly manicured you had to see it to believe it.

All throughout the garden there were these mini gardens, if you will. You would be walking along and all of a sudden it opened up into another perfect lawn with a sculpture of some sort in the middle, surrounded by beautiful flowers. There was literally perfection hiding in every nook and cranny of this place.

Esmé was happy because she got a chance to stretch her legs a bit and run around, as they had a huuuuge playground inside. Emile and I were happy because there was a little place just outside the playground, that sold the most amazing custard pastries. We all were happy because we ended the trip with a trip to Angelina’s for hot chocolate. It was basically like drinking a hot brownie batter. Heaven. The Luxembourg gardens were a smash hit for the whole family.

Versailles! I literally have to take a breath before I think about describing this place. Versailles is a gilded, very ornate, monster of a palace. It’s absolutely massive and is so over-the-top that it’s very easy to see why there was a revolution. You actually can’t get the whole of it in the picture frame unless you’re standing very, very, very, VERY far away.

You know what? I lied, because you see that building way up at the front there in this picture? That’s the palace. And not all of it is in the frame. Sorry guys. Though this was taken behind the palace in the gardens, so maybe it’s possible if you try from the front?

Here’s part of the back of the palace, and actually the middle floor of the central building is the hall of mirrors.

The inside of which looked like this. Pretty amazing, no? We got the audio guides and tried our hardest to listen to all the history about how magnificent this place was, and what went into making it.

However, Esmé thought it was a race to see who could get through the palace the fastest, so we really only caught snippets here and there. For instance we know that this was King Louis XIV’s chapel, but that’s all I got before I went running off to catch up to my little love.

You know what? That’s OK. Because as beautiful and amazing as the Palace was, the gardens were even better. They were so vast, that even though we must have walked 5 miles, we only saw a small bit of them. In the picture above, they literally stretch all the way to the horizon.

I could have happily spent a week here, wandering around exploring every square inch of the beautiful grounds. Esmé on the other hand could not.

I don’t know if it was the fact that she was sick, or the fact that we were doing this around her nap time, but she had a rough day.

Basically, this was not as big a hit for us as a family. My husband and I loved it, but if you have younger kids who still take a nap, this is a bit of a stretch for them. Totally worth it, mind you, but you will have a serious cranky-pants on your hands at the end of the day.

Last, but definitely not least…the Louvre! I really wish we had done a bit more research on this place because it’s massive. It is actually the world’s largest museum, and it’s impossible to see everything in one trip.

I think the reason why I didn’t bother to research the museum, was that I knew we were going to have our toddler with us, and I wasn’t expecting to see all that much. I know it’s super touristy, and probably reveals my lack of art history/ interest, but all I wanted to see was the Mona Lisa. Anything else that we were able to see would just be icing on top of the cake. So that’s where we headed first!

Everyone always talks about how disappointed they are because the painting is so small, and it’s too crowded, so I had low expectations. However I was pleasantly surprised when we made our way over to the exhibit. I mean, it’s definitely not the biggest painting there is, but I still felt like it was such a treat to see. It also wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be. It was definitely the busiest exhibit we saw while we were there, but it was no where near the horror stories I’d read about online. So so happy that we got to see her!

We actually were able to see a lot more than I had anticipated. We saw Napolean III apartments (above), Venus de Milo, the Victory of Samothrace, The Coronation of Napoléon (an enormous canvas!), the French Crown Jewels (serious drooling), and we even got to see the original foundations of the Louvre itself in the Medieval section. Our trip to the Louvre ended up being the perfect way to wrap up our trip to Paris.

Something we learned by accident, because we had a late nap, is that it’s actually a lot better to go at night time, than first thing in the morning (This was also the case for Versailles, because we went early afternoon, around 2, and there was no line). We didn’t have to wait at all to buy tickets, and the line for security had maybe five people in front of us? I think we got there around 6 pm, and it was perfect. That may have also been why it wasn’t so crowded in the Mona Lisa room. Also they allow you to take your stroller inside (something we could not do at the Palace of Versailles)! It’s a bit of a mission going up and down lots of stairs if you’re not close to an elevator, but it was such a help for us.

Did we have a favorite after seeing and doing all these things? Hands down, all three of us loved the river cruise at night past the Eiffel Tower. It was kid friendly, so I was more relaxed because I didn’t have to worry about keeping her under control. They also had mini bottles of wine to purchase, so we sat, cuddled together (because it was freezing), and drank our wine as Paris floated by. It was magic.

We Amsterdam

A few weeks back, we got the opportunity to travel and visit family in Switzerland again. We took advantage of my husband having to work in Amsterdam while we were there, and Esmé and I flew up to stay with him for a long weekend. Friends, Amsterdam is, hands down, one of the coolest places I have had the pleasure of seeing in Europe.

Those of you who follow me on Instagram will have to forgive me for sharing some of the same images here, because they are just too pretty not to re-share. But let’s be honest… if you went wandering past all these cute little shops where people just happened to be sitting, admiring them on their bicycles, would you not also take a picture? Then proceed to share that picture as many places as possible? I thought so. Also, if you hadn’t figured this out already, this is going to be a photo-heavy post. Consider yourself warned.

We spent the whole of our first day there just wandering around the city. We had no specific destination or goals in mind, we just wanted to take it all in at our own pace. I feel like that is the best way to see cities in Europe. I mean, it’s always nice seeing the major monuments, or museums that attract people in the first place. But our favorite places we’ve seen have been those that we just happened to find because we took a day to wander around.

We did have to take a nap-break after lunch (we ALL needed it), and when we woke up, the sun had come out! We hurried and bundled ourselves back up to go wander around some more.

As charming and beautiful as it was, there was one caveat about exploring the city. It really wasn’t a toddler-friendly thing to do, particularly in winter. It was busy. We were there in the middle of winter and the sidewalks were jam-packed with people walking around. I honestly got a little overwhelmed at times, and was thankful I had my husband there to help navigate us around.

In addition to navigating through the crowds, you also have to watch out for all the bicyclists. There is actually a separate lane for all the cyclists next to the actual road for cars. Trolleys and cable cars also share the road. Basically we decided that it was safest to keep Esmé in her stroller for the majority of the time.

When we did come across an area where cars/bikes/trolleys were not allowed, we let her out to run around a bit. She particularly enjoyed this little sitting area that had these tilted circular tables. She climbed on every single one, and walked around and around on top of them, singing ‘Ring Around the Rosie’ the whole time.

We walked until my feet were numb from the cold. Then we headed back to have dinner in our hotel, and figure out what we wanted to do for the next day. I told Emile that I thought it would be neat to see an old windmill while we were there, because that’s what I think of when I think of something being ‘Dutch’ or from the Netherlands. Well guess what husband did?

He found me a windmill!! Ok several, if we’re being specific, but how cool is that? I told him I wanted him to take my picture as I was doing a cartwheel in front of it on the pier. He said “Yeah definitely do that, because then I can laugh my butt off when you cartwheel off the pier into the water.” Spoilsport. What you see above is the second closest I could come to my interpretation of a windmill.

It was such a fun visit because in addition to all of the windmills there was an old Dutch village to explore.

There were all these tiny little houses that had mini canals in between one another (this was charming initially, but actually turned out to be a serious pain in the a** when a certain munchkin had to go pee, and there were three canals in between us and the potty).

Bathroom debacle aside, Esmé was in heaven. Since it had rained in the morning, there were puddles to jump in about every two feet, and plenty of space to run around.

Matter of fact, she did just that in this little garden where a group of people were trying to make a film of some sort. She completely derailed their efforts by running circles nonstop behind them through the garden.

One of the coolest perks of our little day trip was getting to tour this place where they make wooden shoes. We also got to tour the cheese shop while we were there, but it wasn’t as interesting because you didn’t really get a demonstration of how it’s made. At the shoe place, the guy literally took a block of wood and turned it into shoes! It was absolutely fascinating to watch.

Outside the shop they had yellow wooden clogs of various sizes to try on/ pose for pictures in.

Needless to say, the opportunity was not lost on us. After that we had to head back on our tour bus back to the city.

Esmé didn’t feel like napping when we got back, so we went out for a walk again. This time we decided to see the ‘Iamsterdam’ sign, and it was far and away one of the craziest places I’ve ever been. It was literally crawling with people. Everyone was trying to climb on top of the letters without really worrying where (or who) they were stepping on.

The one good thing about braving the crowds around the ‘Iamsterdam’ sign was we ended up finding a playground! This girl loves her swings. She really does have a knack for finding them wherever we go.

I love love loved this city. I loved the people, who were so friendly and helpful (they also speak English). I loved the row upon row of charming narrow houses all squished together. But mostly I loved the character that this city had.

Amsterdam may not be the most kid-friendly place we’ve been to, but it was certainly one of the craziest, most interesting cities I’ve seen. I would definitely go again in a heartbeat given the opportunity.

 

Seattle Weekend

img_0150

We decided to visit Seattle while we were staying in Portland for two weeks. We thought that we would do a road trip over the weekend, so we could visit someplace new, and we were totally blown away. Here’s a run down of what we saw while we were there.

fullsizerender-6

Our first day there was jam-packed with activities. We knew we only had a day and a half to really explore, so we left as early as we could to get the most out of Friday. Much to Esmé’s obvious excitement, our first stop was the playground by the EMP Museum. That place was easily her most favorite thing about our trip.

To this day if you ask her about Seattle, she will tell you she wants to go do the swing and the slide. It was one of the best playgrounds we’ve ever taken her to see: Massive climbing structure, tallest/longest slide I’ve ever seen, a very cool rock garden that has chimes for kids to play with, and an enormous water fountain just around the corner.

img_0649

Next we hopped on the monorail, which Esmé also loved, to Pike Place Market, (Emile and Esmé are right at the lower right had corner underneath the sign). It was busy, somewhat expensive, but a wonderful place for browsing and people watching. We took our time wandering around before walking back to our hotel.

img_0650

The last thing we got to do that day was a sunset tour of the Space Needle! I was so excited because I feel like it’s akin to going to the top of the Empire State Building in NYC. It’s just something you have to see if you’re ever there. It was so crowded that you had to wait for people to move in order to see the views, but I feel like it was well worth it. Esmé’s favorite view was of the playground we went to earlier, down below the tower. In fact she let us know that she would rather be down there swinging than up at the top taking in the view.

img_0646

My favorite part about visiting the Space Needle had nothing to do with anything we saw. It was what Esmé called it when we first saw it, that I will always remember. It was right next to our hotel, so we had this amazing view of it driving in. We told her ‘Look Esmé! It’s the Space Needle!’ and she said ‘OOooooo! Space Noodle! I see the Space Noodle.’ Even now, when she sees our Seattle magnet on our fridge, we’ll ask her what it is and she says ‘Space Noodle!’ So that’s what we all call it now.

img_0651

Saturday was my favorite day. We took the ferry to Bainbridge Island, and Esmé loved everything except being outside in the wind. She does not like wind, like even a little bit. We weren’t sure how much fun we were going to have on such a small island, but it ended up being the highlight of our trip.

img_0645

We went to this reserve where there were all different kinds of gardens, wooded areas, and meadows to see.

img_0644

At one point we came to this little bridge. I was squatting down to take a picture of Esmé leading us along the bridge when she just stopped all of a sudden. She turned, put her little arms on the bridge railing, and got lost in her surroundings for a bit. I was so happy I happened to catch it on camera. My little dreamer, lost in thought in a magical forest.

img_0652

We finished off the day wandering around a little harbor town that was one island over from Bainbridge. After we ate, we found a seaside park area for Esmé to burn off all her energy before heading back to Seattle. Such a perfect day.

img_0648

Before we knew it, it was Sunday. We packed up all our things, said one last goodbye to our favorite playground, and hit the road back to Portland.

Portland currently has my heart, as far as favorite places in the United States, but I think Seattle might be a close second. It’s almost as if Portland met NYC, or maybe not quite that big a city, but something similar. The downtown area is HUGE. There are all the massive department stores you’re familiar with, but then you also have these little boutique shops that are local and quite unique.

Then there’s also the outdoorsy side of Seattle: the views of Mount Rainier, the easy access to picturesque Pacific Northwest coastline. It’s majestic. It’s serene. It’s awe-inspiring.

I hope I get to see it again sometime soon. They really have the best of both worlds.

 

 

 

Esmé’s Portland Favorites

img_0487

We went to Portland a few months back, and Esmé had the time of her life. We had been before about a year ago, but obviously she didn’t remember it, nor was she as mobile and communicative. This year with her being a year older, I think she was able to enjoy it so much more than last year. Here are her top three favorites from our trip:

The Water Fountainfullsizerender-2

Or ‘Water Countain,’ as she liked to call it.  The picture doesn’t do it justice, but it was absolutely massive. Similar to a waterfall, you could actually hear it before you see it. As Esmé told me when I got her out of the car, ‘I hear the countain mama! I hear the water countain!!’

There were steps on either side where you could climb all the way to the top and play in the part where the water is falling at the top. You could also climb down under some of those square platforms and swim around, which several kids were, while we were there.  I was trying to keep Esmé from doing exactly that, as she isn’t the best swimmer yet, and I was terrified she would get stuck under there and drown. In hindsight perhaps not the best water fountain for a toddler, but she LOVED it.

Farmsimg_0488

Going to the farm is seriously one of our favorite things to do. There is a ton of room to run around and explore. There’s animals that you can often feed, and there’s generally food (for people) if there’s a gift shop area.

She made fast friends with the goats at the first farm we visited, by picking as many dandelions as she could to feed them. The chickens, however, she was not such a big fan of, and required me to hold her if we got within 10 feet of them.

Something that went down as a huge plus for me was the fact that this place was also a Christmas tree farm! Anyone who knows me knows that I am crazy about Christmas. We spent a lot of time wandering around and smelling that heavenly aroma.

img_0489

The other farm that we went to was a pick-your-own farm, which I thought was super cool. They had apples, tomatoes, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries while we were there. I think Esmé would have a tough time deciding which she enjoyed more, visiting the animals, or picking berries.

The best thing about all their berry bushes was that they didn’t have any thorns! We have a ton of blackberry bushes by our house that grow wild in the summer, but I dislike them for two reasons:  1) You are eaten alive by mosquitos and 2) you are then sliced to death by all the thorns on the bushes. So you can imagine how delighted I was to find these thorn-free bushes. I let Esmé run wild and pick to her hearts content.

Food

Esmé’s #1 favorite thing about Portland was the food. I am happy to say that we have, so far, raised a foodie. Home girl loves to eat just as much as her mama and papa. Actually, sometimes she will eat a bigger meal than we do, if you can believe it. Basically we ate our way through Portland. Here’s a sampling of what we ate…

Pretzel Fondue:fullsizerender-4

Just as glorious as it sounds. A fancified version of what you find at Auntie Anne’s at the mall.

Chocolate:img_0492

I don’t know if you guys have seen, or tried, those fancy Moonstruck chocolate bars that they sell in stores, but they actually had a shop near where we were staying. I never buy them because they’re expensive, but the reviews all said they had amazing hot chocolate.

I thought it would be the perfect rainy afternoon activity. Go in, share a cup of hot chocolate, not have to purchase super expensive chocolates, then head back to the hotel. I thought wrong.

I didn’t tell Esmé where we were going because as soon as you say the word ‘chocolate,’ she starts up with ‘I want some chocolate!!’ However, when I plugged the address into the gps in our rental, the wonderful navigation system announced ‘Routing to Moonstruck Chocolate Café.’ Esmé immediately responded with ‘Chocolate?? I want chocolate! Chocolate, Mama, Chocolate!!’ Now I had to buy her a piece of chocolate, thank you navigation lady.

When we got there, I ordered my hot chocolate, and let her pick something out (pink chocolate fish). We went to sit down to enjoy it, but as it turns out she didn’t like the hot chocolate. Then she only wanted more chocolate after finishing her piece. With all that sugar in her system, sitting with me while I sipped my drink was the last thing she wanted to do. She wanted to play with the door…opening and closing it, over and over again. She fell, and was then inconsolable, of course. I had to hurry and chug my very hot, hot chocolate, carry her out, and that was the end of that.

Not our best outing, but very good chocolates.

Pie:fullsizerender-3

You guys. This was the best chicken pot pie I have ever had in my entire life. I’m getting hungry just looking at this picture again. Esmé and I inhaled it, (she had to have the heart, of course), and then we also got a sweet mini pie for dessert. So so good.

Donuts:img_0494

I’m sure you’ve probably heard of Voodoo donuts before. This place is crazy busy, but it’s well worth the wait. I have to say these donuts are the closest thing I have found to my favorite ones in Barcelona. The inside is so soft and chewy, and not overly sweet. You can actually taste a little bit of the yeast that goes into the dough because they’re so fresh. The one that I got had a custard filling with chocolate on top, or basically a Boston creme, which is my favorite. The custard was also not too sweet, just perfectly cool and creamy. The chocolate was divine. Just a teeny bit of a shell and then soft, sweet, and rich underneath. While Esmé very much enjoyed this one as well, I think it’s pretty obvious it was a favorite of mine too.

There you have it! Esmé’s favorite things: food, farms, and a water fountain, in that order.

Charleston for the Fourth

IMG_6863

When we found out that my husbands parents were coming to town, my husband started thinking of fun things to do with  them. We love Charleston, and his Mom has always wanted to see it, so we booked ourselves a trip for the Fourth of July. As excited as we were to be traveling again, I really had some hesitations about our trip.

First I was worried about two other people being trapped in a car for 4 hours with our toddler. My husband and I are professionals at ignoring Esmé screaming her feelings at the top of her lungs until she feels better, but wasn’t sure how my in-laws would handle it.

Second, we had decided to go to a fireworks show all together, toddler included. This I had all sorts of issues with…It was going to be the first time for her staying up way past her bedtime, and I am super strict about her being in bed by 7:30 every night, so who knows what kind of meltdowns we were looking at; Some kids hate fireworks because they are so loud, they just cry the whole time. Also major meltdown potential; Lastly I hate big crowds, but I hate them even more when I have to navigate them with my child. It just brings out all kinds of paranoia.

Third, Esmé had recently outgrown her pack’n’play, so we were forced to get her a toddler-sized air mattress for our upcoming trips. At home she does a phenomenal job of staying in her toddler bed once we’ve put her down for nap, or the night. She will get up to get a few books for herself, but she climbs right back in bed and ‘reads’ herself to sleep. But an air mattress? Where there were no rails on any sides, so she could get up any time she felt like? I was not looking forward to finding out the answers to these questions.

As it turns out, things went a lot more smoothly than I had imagined they would.

IMG_6831

In the car the grandparents and Esmé were a match made in heaven. They played hard together counting fingers and toes, listened to Oupa’s special bird app that had all different bird calls, read books, talked about cars, traffic lights, and stop signs until they had nothing left. Then they all conked out together.

IMG_6871It was scorching hot while we were there, so much so that my clothing got soaked with sweat, and Esmé had a grand time touching it to make it stick to my body.

We kept Esmé cool by taking her to the fountains at the Waterfront Park. We tried the one where all the jets of water meet in the middle first, and she did not like it! There were actually a bunch of bigger kids who were going around to where the water came out, and putting their hands over it, causing it to spray all over the place (if you look closely in the picture below, you can actually see someone doing it behind us to the left). Which was totally fine! I think if Esmé were 7 or 8 she would be doing the same thing, but as she is a touchy toddler at the moment, she did not appreciate being splashed so much.

IMG_6864

The pineapple fountain on the other hand, she LOVED. She probably would have stayed there all day if we let her. I think this is a much more toddler-friendly fountain. The fountain itself is surrounded by steps that are the highest at the perimeter, then descend lower and lower to the center of the fountain. Basically it created the perfect baby pool for Esmé to lay, sit, kick, and splash in.

IMG_6866

She LOVED the fireworks show. I honestly think that, unless you have a very sensitive toddler, it’s one of the best experiences you can give them, as there is endless entertainment…Lots of people and kids everywhere to watch, lots of pets, lots of different food vendors were there as well, and then there’s the fireworks themselves!

The place where we saw them was one of those situations where you park somewhere and then they shuttle you to the actual place. In our case they used school buses, and Esmé was thrilled. She still talks about taking the bus to the fireworks whenever she sees a school bus.

Once the fireworks started, she was mesmerized. It was the cutest thing. She watched every single one, only taking breaks to tell us they were ‘so pretty’ or ‘vewy, VEWY loud!’

IMG_6865

There was a ton of people there, but it didn’t get crazy busy until after the show when everyone was leaving, which was also the time that Esmé passed out in her stroller, so she didn’t mind one bit.

I would say that the fireworks were her favorite part of the trip, but I know that she loved swimming with her Papa at the hotel pool the most. She asked to do it every day and would swim until her lips were blue and her little body was shaking.

IMG_6868How did the sleeping go? Well, that first night there was not fun. She took full advantage of the fact that she could just say ‘No!’ when we told her to go to sleep and then come over to see what we were doing. She finally crashed close to 11pm or so, but the next three nights went a lot better. I was actually really impressed with how well she did, and it was entertaining to see all the funny positions she fell asleep in.

We did have some meltdowns, but they were more to do with the fact that Esmé is a growing toddler learning to assert her will, more than being out of her normal routine. We also learned some things the hard way, because traveling as a family of five is different than traveling as a family of three. But that’s the thing about travel, the more you do it, the easier it gets, because you learn from your past mistakes.

Even though there were tantrums, and mommy hangry moments, and things forgotten, we still created some pretty magical memories.

Enchanté France

IMG_3858

Our first trip to France was a last minute decision to take a weekend and drive north. We decided to stay at a hotel in a tiny town called Bélesta, for Saturday night, and then we would spend Sunday exploring a medieval city nearby. It ended up being one of my favorite trips out of everything we saw in Europe.

IMG_3691

When we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted so enthusiastically. They brought out an ice-cold fancy bottle of french water, escorted us to our room, provided us with complimentary wine and treats, then let us know someone would be by shortly to set up the baby cot (it’s what they call a crib in Europe). I was flabbergasted.

Since my husband and I eloped to Las Vegas, we never really went on an actual honeymoon, but I told him that this must be what it’s like for people who actually do. Well, minus the someone setting up your baby cot part.

IMG_3859

Once we got ourselves settled in, we decided to go for a walk in the little town, before the sun set. It was the most enchanting little scene. The majority of the village is made up of these ancient cobble stone buildings and walls. The streets are all paved with little square stone tiles.  It was so peaceful and quiet that the only sound to be heard, besides the squeak of our stroller, and our footsteps on the paths, was that of the wind whistling up from the vineyards and through the old cobblestone buildings. We only saw a handful of people on our walk, so it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves to explore.

IMG_3760

Once Esmé was all tucked in her little bed, we went and sat outside to enjoy our spoils in the fading evening light. Our room had a little patio that faced the town church, so we got to hear the church bells chiming the time, and see the neighborhood cat scale the building on his nightly prowl.

IMG_3868

Before we packed up and headed off on our drive to our medieval castle adventure, we had a spectacular breakfast overlooking the vineyards in the morning sunshine.

IMG_4827The drive up to the city of Carcassonne was the second best part of our weekend adventure. We wound our way in and out of vineyards that led to narrow mountain roads for what felt like forever. All of a sudden the view would open up, and there would be a little village tucked away in the hills. As we drove through I was amazed at all the golden yellows, pinks, and orange colored buildings with their sun-baked, red-tile roofs.

I so wished that we had more time to explore these tiny gems, and I did try, multiple times, to get my husband to stop the car so we could get out and take pictures. Alas, we were on a tight time schedule, and he did not give in to my pleas. Before I knew it we were lost in the woodsy mountain roads again.

As we got closer to the medieval city, we saw less mountains and sunny villages, more tree-lined roads bordering vineyards and fields of sunflowers. We were starting to wonder if we were ever going to get there when all of a sudden this sprawling castle-walled-city appeared before us as we crested a hill. I may or may not have let out a shriek of excitement in the car and woken up our sleeping child.

IMG_3725

My husband said that this place is like Disneyland, but better, because it’s the real deal, and he’s right! As you walk in through the entrance, you are immediately funneled into these tiny, cobble-stoned streets that are lined with shops so full of goodies, that their merchandise spills out onto the streets. I imagine that it’s probably what it’s like to go shopping in Diagon Alley.

IMG_3873

There is also a castle within the castle, if that makes any sense at all. It’s inside here that you can learn all about the history of this city and the fortress it once was.

IMG_3747You also get treated to some pretty phenomenal views of the grounds from the upstairs windows inside the castle, as you can see from the picture above.

IMG_3862

This was seriously one of the coolest experiences ever. It wasn’t castle ruins, or a tour of a gutted, nearly crumbling old building, it was a living, thriving, still in tact medieval village.

IMG_3872

We got to take a walk back in time through a castle with our daughter, and we found hidden treasures in the charming villages tucked away in the hills.

I’ve already told my husband that we have to go back. Even if it’s many, many years from now, I have to go back, and soak it in all over again.

Barcelona We Love You

IMG_4792

When we announced that we were going to be living in Barcelona for the summer, I was shocked at how many people said they would be there, and might be able to meet up with us. We live on the East Coast in the States, so we rarely get to see family or friends from the West Coast. I thought it was so funny that we were going to be even farther away, yet only now getting visitors. My husband said it’s because North Carolina is really not a tourist destination. While I may think NC is just as cool for it’s serene beaches near the dunes, and lush verdant forests in the mountains, I guess I have to agree him.

There is so much to see and do in Barcelona that even living there for three months, we couldn’t see it all. I have been asked by friends who came to visit while we were there, friends who are going to visit after we’ve been there, and random strangers what the best things are to see there. This is my list of our favorites:

GOTHIC QUARTER

IMG_4732

This was our absolute favorite place in Barcelona. On weekends when we were ‘home’ we would spend Sundays taking a stroll through this area. Every time we were there we found something new. It is quintessentially Europe. There is no other way to describe it. The narrow and winding streets are lined with little shops, cafe’s, restaurants, and bars. Above the shops elaborate wrought iron balconies spill over with plant life. Some streets are decorated with colorful bunting, others showcase laundry swaying in the breeze.

IMG_4731

The Gothic Quarter literally has something for everyone. If you’re a history buff, some of the old buildings and structures you’ll see date back to Medieval times. Love arts? Museums? This area is packed with little galleries featuring local artists, and there are several museums for exploring, including the famous Picasso museum.

IMG_4739

The famous Palau de la Musica Orfeo Catalana is also located in this area. We didn’t get a chance to see the inside, but you can see from the picture above, it’s just as breathtaking from the outside.

There are beautiful cathedrals to tour, (do bring a scarf or wrap if you are wearing something that doesn’t cover your shoulders- the Cathedral of Barcelona will not let you in otherwise), the shopping is amazing, and of course the tapas abound.

The Gothic Quarter really is something spectacular to see. If this spot does make your list when you visit Barcelona, do yourself a favor and lose the map. This is somewhere you just want to get lost. You can keep your phone close by to orientate yourself, but promise me you’ll let yourself go and wander.

BASILICA OF THE SAGRADA FAMILIA

IMG_4756

This was our second favorite. Sagrada Familia is the church of all churches. To put into perspective, we had to walk to the park that was in front of the church, about a block away, just to get the whole of the church into the frame. If you try to get a picture of it when you are actually next to the church, you won’t be able to get it all in.

IMG_4761

I have never been near, or inside a church that made me feel so small and simple by comparison. If the sheer size of the building doesn’t take your breath away, the detail work that covers every inch of this beautiful building will. You can see a small sample of it in the picture above, but it covers the entire facade of the church. The crazy thing is that construction is still ongoing, so with each passing day this church becomes even more grand than it was the day before.

IMG_4758

The outside of the church will leave you breathless in awe, but the inside of the church will knock you sideways with its beauty. Top to bottom the finest work of art I have ever had the privilege to walk through. It is actually incredibly difficult to photograph, at least when you only have an iPhone, because there is just too much to take in. The columns and pillars tower above you, branching out to connect with a starry ceiling high above.

IMG_4760

The stained glass windows are ablaze with color. The windows are so vast, and numerous, that the pillars surrounding the main nave of the church actually glow with a rainbow of colors. I’m afraid my pictures don’t do it much justice, but it is such a sight to behold.

If you do visit this church be sure to check out the museum that they have underneath the building. They have detailed photos and descriptions of the construction of Sagrada Familia, along with some of the original furnishings. I was fascinated by the scale models that Gaudi used with weights and strings. Such a revolutionary way of thinking.

I am happy to share that this is also very much a family friendly activity. There were a lot of churches we visited in Europe that we had to rush through, because of a certain excitable toddler. Here there are so many tourists, that your child’s noise kind of gets lost in the crowd.

When we visited Sagrada Familia, all we could keep saying over and over again was ‘Wow!’ We spoke to each other in hushed voices to be in the presence of such beauty, even though we were surrounded by numerous tourists all chattering together. To me this is something to be seen because you don’t just see something amazing. You feel something amazing. You feel the presence of something bigger and greater and more wonderful than you can put into words.

TIBIDABO

IMG_4762

This is a place for anyone looking to have fun. It’s a 100 year old amusement park set on top of a mountain top overlooking the city of Barcelona and the Mediterranean Sea beyond. The views here are incredible, and were it not for an early bedtime (for Esmé, not us), we would have loved to have visited around sunset. That way you would be able to watch the whole city glow in the setting sun.

IMG_4763

They have rides for big kids and young kids alike. We took Esmé’s for her very first ride on a carousel and she absolutely adored it. This particular carousel is a vintage one from the early 20th century and it looks like it belongs on top of a music box it’s so charming.

IMG_4764

The Templo del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus sits at the very top of the park and is not only a lovely church to visit, but offers you some very choice viewing areas of the city. We went up the stairs to the very first level ( in the picture: at the top of the taupe looking stone, before the grey starts), but you can actually pay to take an elevator to the top.

Getting to the park is also part of the fun. We took the subway and buses, and got to see some beautiful areas of the city. If you take the Funicular, which is a cable car, and little more expensive, I am told that you get an even better tour of the city as you go up the mountain. Either way, this is a wonderful activity to make a day out of with a group of friends or the whole family.

PARK GUELL

IMG_4787

Park Guell is another iconic work of Gaudi’s where you’ll see the famous, colorfully tiled, curving benches overlooking the park grounds, and the city beyond. This is a wonderful place for everyone to enjoy. There are flat, sometimes paved, pathways that go all throughout the park; but you would definitely be able to see it in a lot less time if you don’t have a stroller with you as you could take the stairs.

IMG_4789

If you follow the paths, or stairways up past the main terrace area, you’ll end up getting to see some spectacular views of the city. There is actually a hill at the highest point in the park that has a cross at the top where, if you get there early enough to beat the crowds, you can get an amazing panoramic view. We got there around 10:30 in the morning and it was already packed.

Beautiful views, and historical works of art aside, there are restaurants here if you want to stop and get something to eat after hiking around the park. There are also two wonderful playgrounds for kids to play: one for very small children like Esmé, and the other for much bigger kids.  This was one of the very first places we visited in Barcelona, and it really made for a spectacular start to our stay in this gorgeous city.

CASA BATLLO and LA PEDRERA- CASA MILA

IMG_4788 (1)

Here I have to make a confession…I walked past Casa Batlló on at least a weekly basis, if not twice weekly. Yet we never actually toured the inside of this building!

IMG_3236

Same goes for Casa Milà. I know, I know, it really is terrible. I wish we could have done the tour for both, but looking back, I think it’s probably best that we didn’t attempt it. Esmé never really cared for being inside smaller, closed spaces. We also left our baby carrier at home, so navigating our stroller up several flights of stairs inside these beautiful homes would have made me a nervous wreck.

Based on what I’ve read and heard, both of these are a must see, which is why I added them to my list. La Pedrera is supposed to be even more spectacular at night as they have a light show that really plays with the architecture of Gaudi’s work.

I think it would be family friendly for people who have children that are a little bit older, or people with baby carriers where you can contain your toddler, and minimize the amount of terror they can inflict upon other people. For now, I’m happy that I got to see the outsides of both on a regular basis, and even get a picture of the hubs kissing my baby girl. Doesn’t get any better than that.

A FEW LAST POINTERS

Take a tour bus! You will get to see everything the city has to offer, so you can see what you think you would enjoy the most, then go back and focus on just those things. In addition to an audio guide that you get to listen to while you’re on the bus, they will also give you a pamphlet/tour guide that you can take home. What I did was fold down the pages of places that caught our eye, then did a little more research on them when I got home to see if it was really something worth checking out. They also give you coupon books for several of the tourist attractions, so if you do decide to go and check some of the things out at a later time, you’ll get to get in for a discounted rate.

Buy tickets online in advance for anything you want to see. This includes: Park Guell, Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló, La Pedrera, and any museums you want to see. You will be able to skip the lines this way and save yourself hours of waiting time. When we went to Park Guell, even though it was around 10 when we got there, we would have had to wait 2 hours to get into the paid terrace area. Because we had Esmé, we opted to skip the paid park, and just walk around the park surrounding the area.

If shopping is top on your list, Passeig De Gracia is where you want to go. This world famous street has everything from Chanel and Louis Vuitton, to Zara and H&M. There were also quite a few really lovely boutiques that I had never heard of before, if you’re looking for something you can’t buy anywhere else. If you want to shop til you drop, you have to check this out. While you’re there you must go to Boldu bakery and replenish your energy levels with a little donut man.

IMG_4796

Get the lemon one, (unless citrus desserts aren’t your thing, in which case I would feel sorry for you), or the dark chocolate one. Literally the best donut I have ever had in my entire life. EVER. I walked 3 miles round trip just so that I could have it one more time before we came back to the States.

If you want to know what the best beaches are, see my post here.

Go wandering on Sundays. Nearly everything is closed on Sundays. Restaurants, and bars will stay open, but all grocery stores and retailers are closed on Sundays, (save a very few in heavy tourist areas near the harbour, or in the Gothic Quarter). As such, everything is a little less crowded, and a little more peaceful than it normally would be. It makes for the most wonderful wandering environment. You don’t feel so rushed, so you really get to enjoy the scenery around you.

Lose the map and look up! Otherwise you might miss this…

IMG_4797

Or this…

IMG_4795

Some of the best things we saw were things that we found by accident. In Barcelona, if you are too busy walking around with a selfie stick, or messing around on your phone, you will miss the best that this city has to offer. Because you don’t see it at street level, where all the shops and restaurants are, it’s up above them. That’s where the magic happens.

 

When Traveling With A Toddler Works, And When It Doesn’t

Traveling with a toddler is always a bit of a schlep, but we tend to think that it’s worth it. We love getting to show Esmé new places, and having her try new things. It can also be a risk. It’s easy to look at all the nice photos on Instagram and think that it’s all picture perfect. The truth is that sometimes it works out, and everyone has an amazing time. Other times you question your sanity for trying to satisfy your sense of wanderlust with a child in tow.

Generally we land somewhere in the middle, but in the past couple weeks, we experienced two situations that were so polar opposite of each other, I thought I would share. That way you can get an idea of what’s really going on behind those photos. Let’s start with Monaco:

IMG_4531

Monaco was a destination that my husband had been particularly excited to see. He loves Formula 1 racing, and was intrigued about all the hype of it being the world’s wealthy playground. I had a few reservations because I knew that it was a smaller place that a lot of people come to visit, and I’m not crazy about crowded cramped areas. However, I also was curious about this glamorous place I had always seen in movies.

The first hurdle was traffic. We were staying only a half an hour away in Saint-Paul, so we thought we would just make a morning of it, but what should have only taken a half an hour, ended up tripling due to traffic. We weren’t off to a great start because it was late morning, almost afternoon by the time we arrived.

Our moods improved once we found parking, and walked out to take in the views near the harbor. We were in a beautiful, new city, and we were excited to go explore!

IMG_4548Our next hurdle was finding a place to sit and eat, and a bathroom. The unexpected traffic made for very full bladders, and very empty tummies. We had brought our lunch with us, we just needed to find a place that was somewhat child friendly.

IMG_4551

This was a very fancy place and I was wary of letting loose our little monkey too near the nice shops and cars that were parked in front of the Monte Carlo Casino.

I tried asking a couple of people where the nearest bathroom was. The first man actually rolled his eyes at me, then looked away when he responded with mumbled directions (that weren’t correct). Obviously I was a serious waste of his time.

We split up then, so that my husband could get us settled in a park that we found, while I continued my hunt for a bathroom. The second man I asked worked at a very fancy jewelry store, and didn’t speak English, so I said ‘WC?’ ( which is what bathrooms are referred to quite a bit over here). He said ‘Ah, oi!’ and happily moved me to a window where there were very beautiful watches of a brand called IWC. I shook my head no, and then guessed ‘toilettes?’ to which he then pointed me, nicely, in the right direction.

IMG_4307

The park was actually a lovely reprieve from the crowds and craziness that is in Casino Square. Esmé toddled all around chasing after birds, only stopping to come back for a bite or two of food. Once we were all fed and had used the facilities, I wanted to take her on the LaDuree carousel. It’s a gorgeous white one that is right behind the casino. She had also really enjoyed the last one she went on, so I was eager to take her on another.

Third hurdle…getting on the darned carousel. There didn’t appear to be anyone manning the carousel, so I tried to flag down the waitress who was working at the cafe right next to it. She was very good at ignoring me, so I actually had to chase her down, get right next to her and ask if we could ride the carousel. She told us ‘It is for customers only,’ and hurried away to her two tables, out of 20 or so, that had customers.

Well! What was there to do but buy a macaron from the little shop and try again. I even asked the lady inside if we could ride the carousel if I bought a macaron. She was very friendly, and assured me that yes, of course I could. After I bought the macaron, I went, with bag visibly in hand, to stand near the carousel and try to catch the waitress, who still had only 2 tables, attention once more. Again, she was very good at avoiding me, and so after chasing her down, again, I said ‘We bought a macaron, can we ride the carousel now please?’ She responded saying ‘You have to eat here at the tables to get on.’ I plunked our cookie and our things down at the nearest table and then said ‘Now? Can we please ride the carousel now???’ and she finally had the guy let us on.

IMG_4535

IMG_4534

At this point in time we were all feeling very disappointed with our trip. Casino Square was very crowded; there weren’t any beaches to check out really; and there were very few child friendly things that we found to do, one of which I had to fight to get my child on. Really, you’d think I was asking her to part with a limb or something. I realize that we are probably not the target clientele for Monte-Carlo, but that’s no excuse for poor manners.

Now let’s look at when we got to stay in a castle in the north of Spain:

IMG_4146

We checked into Castillo de Arteaga on the last night of a road trip back home after spending a week with family. We were on the fence about going out again after checking in to see the northern coast of Spain, because we were all a little tired. Once we arrived, and saw all the steps that led up to the check in area, we heaved a huge sigh before each of us grabbed a side of the stroller to carry her up (something we have to do at least once a day wherever we travel) until a woman came running out and said ‘No! No! No!’

She guided us to the elevator and took up the rest of our bags herself. The concierge showed us up to our rooms and told us that ‘The room you will be seeing is actually a suite. You have been upgraded because we have to think of the baby, and what will be better for you, and also other guests,’ before showing us into our room.

IMG_4071

You guys. This place was a castle. Well obviously it’s a castle, but the room they gave us was quite literally a castle. It was enormous! It was also the fanciest place I think I have ever stayed in my life.

IMG_4072

If you scroll back up a couple pictures to the one where I’m standing in front of the castle our windows were the ones right at the top, underneath the arches, so we also had this magnificent view. Of course once they showed us our room, we knew there would be no trip out to explore the coast. As Esmé would tell you there was far too much exploring of castle grounds to be done…

IMG_4109

Her personal favorite was the bathtub, which was big enough to walk in. She had the best time moving candles from side to side, and fitting the plug into the drain, and then pulling it back out again. They provided us with an actual plastic baby tub to use, but we filled up the big one instead and had ourselves a pool party :).

IMG_4090

A little later in the evening, when we heard our neighbors arrive in their room, we figured out why they let us have the suite. Our neighbors had three children of their own, that we could hear, so I’m pretty sure their strategy was to keep the noise isolated to one area that was farther away from other guests.

I don’t blame them. If I had a hotel that had a restaurant with a Michelin star, I think I would also try to keep the noise level to a minimum to keep my wealthy patrons happy. Even if they hadn’t upgraded us, the staff went out of their way to be helpful and friendly, and that really made the trip for us.

Monaco was a bust for us. I think in order to enjoy your time there you need to be child free and willing to spend some money. Then you can take everything in at your leisure, and go shopping or gambling in between.  Castillo de Arteaga, on the other hand, was beyond anything we could have ever expected; but we never would have gotten such a fancy room if not for Esmé.

Now you see. Sometimes traveling with a toddler doesn’t work out at all like you had hoped. Even though you have a few nice pictures, the trip ends up being a disappointment. Other times it works to your advantage, and the trip ends up being even better than you could have ever dreamed.