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Category: A Perfect Day (page 1 of 2)

A Perfect Day in Barcelona

View from Park Guell

There are dozens of perfect days you could have in Barcelona; the city is a museum in itself, with beautiful sights, fantastic shopping, delicious food, and plenty of options for outdoor fun. For a full list of things to do in Barcelona, refer to your guide book. But, for a quick take on what is a perfect day (imho) in this Catalan city, I’ve cobbled together a list of what you could do with or without kids to get a real feel for Barcelona. This is a perfect day if you are traveling in a cooler season or aren’t looking to go to the beach.

Morning: Wake up bright in early (in Spain that would be about 9 a.m.) and enjoy walking through the city before all the shops open (they open around 10 a.m.) This is a beautiful time to walk through the old Gothic quarter, through the narrow cobblestone streets, to feel the city as it is just waking churros y chocolateup. Spain is a later day culture, so things don’t really start moving until 10 or 10:30 a.m., then they break for siesta between 1 and 4 p.m. and re-open until about 10 p.m. You can either grab a sandwich, tortilla (which is really like a quiche and has nothing to do with the tortillas used for burritos, etc) or splurge a little and try out Spain’s famous Churros y Chocolate. For this sweet treat, head to Carrer de Petritxol (aptly named the street of chocolate) and pop your head into the only establishment open at the ungodly hour of 9 a.m., Granjala Pallaresa. The chocolate here is rich, so you might want to order one portion for two people and then more if you are still hungry (clearly, we did not adhere to this advice).

Mid-Morning: Make your way to the Sagrada Familia, a MUST-SEE in Barcelona. This church, designed by Gaudi to be the Catholic church wonder of the world, is 130 years in the making, and a sight to behold. Outside are thousands of depictions that you could gaze at for hours, and inside it is truly a magical experience. The structure is built to be like a forest when you enter, with light peaking Inside Sagrada Familiathrough the stain glassed windows in brilliant orange and yellow (sunrise, sunset) or deep blue (evening). In fact, watch this news story done by 60 Minutes for some of the history of the church (a little bit of education makes traveling so much better). The line to get in the church was somewhat long even in February, so plan on spending some time there. There is a beautiful little park surrounding it, so you could even send one generous soul to stand in line for tickets and enjoy some time with the kiddos in the park, under the shade of trees, instead of in line under the sun. On your way to the church, you can take Passeig de Gràcia, a main street with many expensive shops but also lined with some other Gaudi buildings.

La Pedrera

Gaudi’s La Pedrera on Passeig de Gràcia

Afternoon: This is siesta time in Spain, but if you don’t feel like going back to your hotel for three hours, then grab a sandwich and drink to-go and head on the bus out to Park Güell. This beautiful park was originally designed to be a retreat for Barcelona’s rich families, a haven amongst the towering trees in Gaudi-designed fairytale homes. Unfortunately, it was never completed, but you can still see the homes, enjoy a beautiful view over the city and spend some time exploring the park. The shade from the trees will be a nice respite from the summer heat, but it is also a great place to Inside Park Guellspend time in the winter. To get into the Monumental Zone (where the houses and the structure for the market are) you will need tickets, which you can book ahead of time or when you get to the park. If you have to wait for your designated entry time, just explore the park surrounding the zone. NOTE: If you are there with a child who requires a stroller, take a baby carrier instead! There are tons of steps in the park and we made the mistake of bringing the stroller, which gave my husband a great workout, but was not the most convenient. So, I would leave the stroller at the hotel and strap the baby on for a more comfortable time at the park.

Late Afternoon/Evening: Come back to the hotel, freshen up, and relax before heading out for tapas. If you prefer to have dinner instead, realize that most restaurants don’t really open up their kitchens until 7:30 or 8 p.m.

Option 1: If you are hungry for a nibble, grab some tapas ahead of time and enjoy a walk down La Rambla and along with waterfront before the restaurants open.

Option 2: Head to the Picasso museum in Barcelona’s charming El Born neighborhood and then find a cozy restaurant around there to finish the day.

Restaurant Recommendation: If you or your kids are hesitant about some Spanish specialties like fried pig’s ear and the like, then I highly recommend checking out the restaurant Sesamo, a delicious vegetarian restaurant in the heart of the city. We tried the tasting menu, which included 7 small courses, including dessert, and wine for 25 per person. It was freshly made, delicious, and not tofu-based, so it really could appeal to all types of eaters. You can also order off the menu if you are with kids who just want something simple. But, I highly recommend this place.

Note to vegetarians/vegans: Spain is not traditionally a veg-friendly country, however, there are more and more veggie places popping up in the big cities. In Barcelona, we found many delicious veggie restaurants or places with yummy vegetarian options. Check out this list for some great places to try for fresh, Spanish cuisine without the meat!

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Additional Tour

Dali Museum Dali Museum Dali Museum

If you have a couple of extra days in Barcelona, I would also visit the Dalí museum in Figueres (about 1 – 1.5 hours by train outside of Barcelona). It was designed by Dalí himself, and it is an enchanting experience for Dalí lovers. The town itself doesn’t have that much on offer, so I would head out in the morning, spend a couple of hours at the museum and then head back. A round-trip ticket for the semi-fast train is about 30, for the faster train (1 hour) that lands at a train station outside of Figueres, it is about double. I would just take the 1.5 hour one, since you can then walk straight to the museum and not worry about buses or taxis. ALSO BRING A BABY CARRIER. Strollers must be checked in at the front of the museum and since the building is rather large with many stairs, you will want a baby carrier for non-walkers.

 

 

 

7 Tips for Traveling in Spain

The beautiful Alhambra towering over Granada

The beautiful Alhambra towering over Granada

Spain has much to offer: incredible museums, jaw-dropping architecture, inspiring music, warm and hospitable people, beautiful weather, and an excellent public transportation system. This makes it one of my top recommendations in Europe. Their updated high-speed rail system now makes it incredibly fast and easy to zip from one major city to another, which makes it a great destination for a one to two-week (or more) vacation.

Now that my son is a major crawler, I was a little worried about traveling with him, knowing that he would be itching to move around and not be as willing to sit in his stroller for long stretches of time. And, I was partially right. It was easier to tour around all day when he was five months and perfectly happy to hang out in the Ergobaby while we traversed Italy. But, luckily, it wasn’t that difficult in Spain. We made a few more pit stops so he could stretch his muscles and we built in some siestas so he could explore our hotel room, but all in all he ended up being a very good travel toddler and made me excited about continuing our nomadic lifestyle in the coming months and years.

In future posts, I will highlight each of the cities we visited and give recommendations on what to do in a short amount of time. But, first I wanted to give a few general tips for traveling through Spain (with or without kids).

1. Travel off-season

This is often a tip for travelers going to popular countries, but it applies especially to Spain. We went in February and while it wasn’t the super sunny and warm Spain we know and love, it actually turned out to be the perfect time of year for us to explore the cities and avoid hordes of tourists and excessive heat. The temperature was about 50 degrees most of the time we were there, getting warmer in the afternoon sun and a bit cooler in the early morning. But, we saved a ton of money on comfy hotels in great locations, never waited in line for museums or major sights (the only thing we had to book in advance was our visit to Alhambra in Granada), and essentially enjoyed the country with its citizens rather than tourists. I can’t recommend this enough. Since most of the US and Europe is cold in the winter anyway, it helps make the season bearable when touring interesting cities, visiting beautiful museums, and basking in some not too intense sunshine in majestic piazzas.

2. Hostals are not your typical hostels

We stayed in a couple of hostals (Spanish for hostel), which are hostels in the sense that you can have multiple beds in a room, but most of them are private rooms, with private bathrooms, cleaning service, and all the amenities you would normally get in a hotel room. The only difference between a hostal and hotel is that some of them do not have restaurants attached, so you can’t eat breakfast there, and there won’t be the luxury additions like a spa or pool. But, if you are traveling with kids and want a more spacious room with more beds without having to pay hotel prices, these are a great choice. One night we stayed in five star hotel and though the bed was more comfortable, we actually had way less space than in our beloved hostals, which were located in the best spots in each city. So, check out tripadvisor for reviews and don’t be afraid to book a hostal in Spain.

3. Get the Renfe Spain pass

Most travelers in Europe have heard of the Eurail pass that allows you to hop on and off trains for a limited amount of time in select countries at a set price. However, the Renfe Spain Pass is the best bet when doing Spain. You can buy it at the train station or online (though the train station might be optimal so you can also book your reservations for where you want to go on your trip). A normal adult pass is 169 and it lets you take 4 trips (e.g., Barcelona — Madrid — Granada — Seville — Madrid). Most of these trains are super high speed, going 300 KM per hour, which means you can zip across the country must faster than with a car and avoid the hassle of finding parking in the city. We bought our passes at the Barcelona train station and booked our reservations (reservations can be cancelled up to 15 minutes before the train leaves and the credit will go back on your pass, so it doesn’t hurt to book ahead of time to make sure you get the train you want). Children under 4 travel for free, and older children have a discount. You can also get a pass that allows for 6, 8, 10, or 12 train rides (note that if you have to change trains, each ride counts as 1). The only hitch is you have to make your reservations for the trains at the train station, so I would just make them all in one go and change if needed. Also, even though babies travel for free, you also need to make reservations for them, so don’t forget to mention that when you are booking. Plus, don’t forget to take a picture of your Spain Pass in case it gets stolen or lost! With the number, they can easily replace the pass for you.

Note: I would use the pass only for long, more expensive trips. I wouldn’t use one of the journeys to go from Madrid to Toledo which is only about 30 roundtrip.

4.  Do more day-tripping than hotel-hopping

My rule of thumb is usually a minimum of two nights at one hotel, but I prefer three. In cities like Barcelona or Madrid, you can easily take day trips to see other parts of Spain (Toledo is only 30 mins by train from Madrid), and avoid having to lug your suitcases from city to city. Plus, the big cities have so much to offer that one day doesn’t do them justice. Less is more here… so instead of trying to make a new city each day, get to know the country better by spending more time in each place and saving something for another trip!

5.  Make lunch your big meal

Spanish restaurants have some pretty amazing lunch deals where you will get a first, second, dessert, and drink for 9-10. The portions are generous and filling and since Spaniards offer lunch until 4 p.m., you can easily do a later lunch, make it your big meal of the day and just enjoy a few tapas for ‘dinner’ instead of waiting to eat at the official dinner time of 9 p.m. (most restaurants don’t even open until 8 p.m). Tapas bars offer food from 5 or 6 p.m., so you can join Spaniards in their ‘appetizer’ phase, try a few small dishes, and get to bed at a decent hour.

6. Look for tapas deals

Tapas used to be offered for free with the purchase of a drink and some places, especially in Granada, still adhere to this old tradition. We actually didn’t know this and one evening in Granada we popped into a tapas bar, ordered two bottles of water and two tapas, which were actually dinner sized portions, and walked away with a bill of 3 . Needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised. You can check online for tapas bars that still offer these deals. Otherwise, a tapa will cost between 1 and 5 (depending on the place and size) and a drink about 2. Still, a pretty cheap dinner with quality food.

7. Learn Spanish!

Unlike many other countries in Europe, English has not become the de-facto official language in Spain. Many people do speak English (especially at the hotels and at more touristy restaurants), but it is not as ubiquitous as in other European countries. So, brush up on your Spanish, download a translator app, and be prepared to challenge yourself a bit with some new phrases. I, shamefully, do not yet speak Spanish but I was lucky enough to get by with Italian wherever I ran into people who didn’t speak English. So, if you speak Italian or Portuguese, that will also help!

 

Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show

Just the norm little James Bond... a luxury car, luxury yacht, and a helicopter.

Just the norm for little James Bond… a luxury car, luxury yacht, and a helicopter.

Sorry for the writing delay. It turns out that Ft. Lauderdale is a more lying around than touring around type of city. However, after a few weeks of beach viewing and sun avoiding (I’m not a teenager anymore), I finally found a touristy topic to talk about. Welcome to the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show – an event that attracts the world’s beautiful people and their rich sugar papas/mamas. Though we aren’t on the market for a boat just yet (but we are more than happy to be invited as guests on those 30 million dollar mega-yachts. I promise to be entertaining, and the kid is always a hit), we coughed up the 25-dollar entrance fee to get a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous.

Baby 007 - on the lookout for a good deal

Baby 007

I’m not gonna lie – I was kind of expecting lavish champagne foam parties and an array of international entertainers once we crossed to the other side of the ticket booth. But, alas, it was mainly just dozens of booths selling …. boat stuff. Luckily, it was Halloween, and we had dressed the little one up as 007 (we found a tuxedo at a nearby shop and made it a theme), so the boat show at least came in handy for some great James Bond action shots (sitting by the yachts, on a speed boat, sipping a martini, hanging out with the Bond girls).

Ready for a high speed chase!

Ready for a high-speed chase!

It was also (kinda) fun to walk up and down the planks and gawk at the yachts that we weren’t allowed to get on without an appointment or a broker. Surrounding the boats, there are also some festivities like a loud bar tent with live music and drunk revelers who just loooooved the baby (alcohol tends to lengthen vowels).

There is also a whole part of the boat show with demonstrations and some kid-friendly activities (our kid is still too young to participate) so in all, it is an interesting and fun experience. I probably wouldn’t put it at the top of my list of must-sees, but if you are a boat fanatic and an aspiring yacht owner (or current yacht owner – in that case, read above about our guest-worthiness), you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful location to come see what is for sale.

Oh, and I’ve heard rumors of the aforementioned champagne parties, so rub the right shoulders and you might get an invite.

Orvieto – An Unforgettable Day

A stunning 14th-century cathedral, Etruscan caves, world-famous wine, and a town surrounded by Tufa rock, towering above the Italian countryside.

If you haven’t been to Orvieto yet, go. One of the most picturesque towns in Italy (and there is stiff competition), this beautiful city has enough sights and experiences to make it well worth a full-day or even two-day visit.

We only went for one day this time, so the following will be an itinerary if you don’t want to do an overnight. However, for an unforgettable overnight experience, I recommend booking a room at La Badia, the 12th-century Abby turned hotel that lies amidst acres of countryside at the bottom of the hill. This 4-star abode has been frequented by celebrities from across the world, but inside you will feel like you personally discovered your own peaceful, rustic, romantic getaway in one of Italy’s most visited small towns.

11 a.m: We arrived by train (about an hour from Rome) in the late morning and took the Funicular that is right across the street from the station to the top of the hill, into the old town of Orvieto. Surrounded by walls, the town is emblematic of the Etruscans, who always built their cities high up and surrounded like a fortress to protect from evil invaders (like the Romans). The Etruscans were also known for their development underground. Caves and passageways have been found throughout the area, where Etruscans would store wine, weapons, statuary, and build rooms for the dead. If you are interested in seeing some of these tombs, you can visit the largest Etruscan Necropolis near Civitivecchia and outside of Tarquinia.

At the funicular, we had a taxi take us to Orvieto’s majestic church that crowns the town and glistens in the sunshine as if made with fine gems and paved with gold. Sitting on one of the stone benches in front gazing at the masterpiecesof it, we craned our necks to take in its majestic glory. It is truly one of the most beautiful churches in the world, and alone is worth the visit to Orvieto. We then went inside and paid a nominal fee to see the masterpieces, among them The Last Judgement by Luca Signorelli. It is a different experience to see these paintings in situ, as they were meant to be shown rather than in a museum, and you can create several wonderful church tours in Italy that will be better than visiting some of the most famous museums.

 Yy<<<y baby typing

^was left there on purpose. While I was writing the draft for this, my little one crawled up and started typing on the keyboard, which I couldn’t bring myself to erase.

1 p.m: Small towns in Italy shut down during the hot afternoon hours, when workers go home to eat delicious lunches and then rest for a bit before returning to work, so take advantage of the quiet and do the same. We ended up at a touristy spot, where the prices are inflated and the food mediocre. However, we enjoyed a delicious glass of Orvieto Classico wine. This wine is famous world-over and the restaurants here usually have the best years on hand. Another famous Orvieto wine is Est! Est! Est!. The story behind the name derives from a German bishop’s quest for the best wine as he was making the long journey to see the pope. He sent a prelate ahead of him to search and received a message when the servant reached a nearby commune called Montefiascone and the message read Est! Est! Est! (here it is, here it is, here it is!).

Street in Orvieto

3 pm: I wanted to see the Etruscan caves in Orvieto and there are a couple of ways to do this. There is the official cave tour, which lasts about 45 minutes and you can buy tickets for it at the cave tour center right across from the church. However, because they are long winding tunnels, I wasn’t comfortable carrying my baby down there, so I skipped it (my husband went though and really enjoyed it, as they explained how the caves have been used throughout the centuries after the Etruscans). However, I did enjoy the second option, which was a tour of a private Etruscan cave. The owners of the restaurant La Buca di Bacco discovered Etruscan caves underneath their property during an archeological dig and Etruscan cavethey invested a lot of money into making them tourable and beautiful. Carving Etruscan statuary inside and showcasing some of the relics found there, they have turned this into a must-see for tourists in Orvieto. There is a fee to participate in the tour, but it is worth it. They also used to serve several course meals down in the caves for certain tour groups (my mom runs a tour company and we enjoyed many a meal down there, with candles flickering everywhere and wine flowing). Now, they only serve tour Inside Etruscan cavegroups upstairs, but you can still participate in the cave tour if you call ahead or stop by the shop and talk your way in.

4 pm: There is an archeological museum right next door to the church – it’s not going to blow your mind away, but it is a nice, small museum with some Etruscan treasures. They also have rooms with Etruscan paintings on the walls, which look just like the tombs. It won’t take you very long to go through here and when you leave head left for a stunning view of the countryside and the aforementioned La Badia hotel.

La Badia nestled in the countryside

La Badia nestled in the countryside

Orvieto is also famous for its hand-painted pottery and there are also beautiful stores along the old streets, so take some time to shop and just enjoy the atmosphere of this ancient town before heading back to Rome!

 

 

Flying Transatlantic with a Baby

Waiting for the flightI am happy to report that what I thought would be a journey through Hades ended up being a relatively pain-free experience. Of course, I didn’t sleep for 24 hours, but I also didn’t have a crying baby as we made our way from Munich to Madrid and Madrid to Miami, followed by a 45-minute car ride to Ft. Lauderdale. I would love to chalk it up to some magical mommy secrets, but I think it has most to do with having a baby who is still only 7 months (other, slightly older babies on the plane definitely gave their lungs a workout during the entire flight), and a baby who really loves to be on the road and around new people.

The Madrid airport

The Madrid airport

However, there are definitely a few secrets for easier international travel that I discovered on this journey, which I will share in a moment. But, first I want to give a special shout-out to the Madrid airport, aka the Googleplex of transit buildings, aka heaven on earth. Not only is it an unbelievably modern and beautiful complex, with curvy, Gaudi-inspired wood beam ceilings, ultra yuppie restaurants (i.e. the Evian café), and colorful seating areas with ample free charging stations, but it also has an enormous Madrid's kids playroomKID’S PLAYROOM! This child oasis is stocked with mats, toys, books, playpens, a crawl-through castle, rocking horses, a room with cribs in it, a kitchen for baby food, a child toilet area, changing tables, and even baby baths. After foggily booking our flight after a night of little sleep and mistakenly choosing a route with a six-hour layover in Madrid, you can only imagine Cribs in the playroommy relief when we hit this VIP’est of the VIP lounges (forget the business lounge with free drinks and food, for a parent this is the ultimate relaxation room while waiting for a flight). And, it wasn’t bad for my baby either! After he had woken up at 4 am, sat through a long car ride to the airport, waited for 2 hours for our flight and then embarked on a fuss-free first leg of our journey, he had more than earned some uninterrupted, non-distracted playtime with his parents.

Baby Playtime Baby Playtime

 

Refreshed from our playtime and expensive eats at this luxury airport, we then embarked on our second leg of the journey to Miami. I wasn’t thrilled when I saw our seats were in the long middle row towards the back of the plane. But, luckily there was one empty seat in our row, which we promptly converted into a little crib. I can’t say that he slept there the whole time (he is too curious to sleep through such a new experience), but it definitely gave us some free time to watch a movie and rest a little. I mean, it wasn’t the FRONT ROW with a BUILT-IN BABY BASSINET that some other family got, but you gotta work with what you have, not with what you don’t.

So, all of that being said, here are some good takeaways for parents traveling internationally with one or more bundles of (noisy) joy.

1. You are Priority Class everywhere

As I mentioned in my ten tips for traveling with a baby, priority everything is one of the many benefits of being a parent. When we arrived at the airport in Munich and saw the huge line for coach travelers to check in and the business class line with only four people in it, we immediately took the latter route. Feel guilty? Don’t. A baby that doesn’t have to wait around in line for an hour will be a happier plane baby, and trust me, the business class travelers will be grateful for that. We did the same thing going through security and at the passport checkpoint before boarding our flight for the states. In all, I estimate we spent a total of 10 minutes waiting as opposed to the 2 hours or so it would have taken us to get through all of the lines. The key is: don’t ask, just do. If they give you a problem, say ‘sorry, my baby has to eat’ and they won’t ask any more questions. But, not one person even flinched when we stood in those lines, so just go for it.

2. Bring a thin ‘play mat’ in your carry on

Now, we found kiddie heaven in Madrid, so we didn’t need to use our play mat. But, had we been forced to wait 6 hours with no place for our baby to crawl around or stretch out, I don’t think the journey would have been as pain-free. Just in case, I always carry with me a thin little play mat that doesn’t take up too much space but is always there in case we need to lay it on the ground and let him have some fun.

3. Get creative with toys

There is no need to pack a dozen of his or her favorite toys that will only fall on the ground and become unusable (because yuck, plane germs). To a baby EVERYTHING is a toy. Plastic water cups are endlessly fascinating to squeeze and hear crackle, the red security leaflet is almost like a comic book with all of its little safety drawings, and don’t get me started on the new touch screen entertainment centers. As a parent who wants my kid to have little exposure to our addictive devices, I did make an exception for the plane, and boy, did he have a grand old time swiping the screen and seeing new images pop up after he touched it. So, a toy or two is good, but remember, there is a whole new world of discovery in all of the little items found right in the seat pocket in front of you.

4. Get first dibs on front-row seats and other plane perks

Did you know that airplanes have little baby bassinets on hand? I sure as heck didn’t, which is why we ended up having to create our own sleeping space for the little one, because other, more seasoned parents laid claim to them ahead of time. If possible, get your seats in the front row, where no one is sitting in front of you, and on the wall, the flight staff will stick a bassinet for your baby. The key is to ask ahead of time for these seats and bassinets, because they are limited and it’s a dog eat dog parenting world out there.

5. Consider a portable crib

Portable Crib in Suitcase

If you have a baby that is crib-trained and you don’t know if your hotel or rented apartment has a crib on hand, you can always pack a portable crib in your suitcase (given it is a big suitcase). I was pretty amazed to see the usually large crib break down easily into this little portable carry-on, which is super convenient to put back together once you arrive. Now, if I can only muster the discipline to crib train my little one, we might actually use it.

Obviously other tips include bringing formula if the baby isn’t breastfeeding, snacks for the little ones, and layers of clothing due to the extreme heat when the plane AC is off and the extreme cold when it’s on… but most of those are common sense, so I didn’t include them in the numbered list.

Bon voyage and good luck!!

 

Oktoberfest…with Kids

Oktoberfest 2014

Now, there are two types of Oktoberfest experiences: with kids and without. I’m not gonna lie – without kids is a lot more fun. But, I’m here to confirm that it can still be enjoyed with the kiddos, especially if you don’t mind bringing them to what is a bit like Six Flags in the middle of New Orleans’ Bourbon street (minus the strippers, but some of the Dirndl get-ups I have seen come pretty close).

NOT what Dirndls look like at Oktoberfest.

NOT what Dirndls look like at Oktoberfest.

That being said, this is Germany, which means even the world’s biggest funfest is safe, organized, and well-monitored.

It might make you feel better about bringing kids to know that the first Oktoberfest in 1810 was actually a family-friendly wedding celebration between King Ludwig I and Crown Princess Therese von Saxe-Hildburghausen (gotta love those succinct Germanic names), and actually didn’t involve beer at all. Considering almost 7 million liters of beer are now drunk during this two-week event every year, it is safe to say that times have changed. However, it can still be a kid-friendly event, just like in the good old days, if you follow a few rules.

Here are Ten Tips to enjoy Oktoberfest as a family:

1. Go on Family Day

Tuesdays during Oktoberfest are family days, which means rides and games cost less. This doesn’t mean that the beer-loving crowd won’t be there, but it does mean there will be tons of other kids there as well (so you won’t feel so guilty bringing your own) and you won’t spend as much keeping the kiddos entertained as on the other days. If you can’t make it on Tuesday…

My man at Oktoberfest. He’s diggin’ it.

2. Go during the day and preferably during the week

Night is when it really gets crazy and unless your kids are older, I wouldn’t recommend bringing them in the evening. During the day, the crowd is a little tamer (there is only so much beer you can drink by 11 a.m.) and the tents are emptier. We went on a Sunday afternoon and found an empty table at the back of the wine tent (not as nuts as the beer tents), where we enjoyed the music and the atmosphere without the fear of someone passing out next to us.

3. Attend the Parade

Maybe I’m getting old, but for me the parade is the best part of Oktoberfest. You get to hear music and see Tracht from all regions of Bavaria, as well as watch the owners of each big beer tent cart their merchandise in a horse-drawn carriage down the street. There are two parades: on the first day of Wiesn (German name for Oktoberfest), where the beer is officially brought to the festival grounds, and one on the second day, which takes place downtown. There, you can see beautiful Tracht from the region and hear traditional music.  We went to the second day and my baby loved it!

Parade

4. Enjoy life outside the beer tents

The best part of Oktoberfest for kids are the games and rides. There are rides for kids of all ages and they are amusement park worthy, so they won’t get bored. Nothing is cheap here though, so mix it up by walking around and looking at some of the entertainment between rides.

5. Try a Radler

When you order a beer at Oktoberfest, you’ll get a Maß, which is ONE LITER. If you have kids, you are probably not quite as alcohol-tolerant as you once were. So, to avoid embarrassing yourself in front of your impressionable little ones, you can order a Radler, which is half beer and half sprite. Don’t worry, no one can tell the difference and this is not a ‘girlie’ drink; plenty of guys who want to enjoy the festival but still make it to work the next day will join you in ordering this lighter version of German beer.

6. Lighten the load

If you have a stroller with you, then by all means stock it with anything you might need. But, if you are traveling with older kids, avoid bringing too much to the Oktoberfest grounds. It is an expansive area and finding places to sit are not easy, so try to bring as little as possible to avoid getting tired. That being said…

There is no bad weather, just bad preparation

– German saying (or so I’ve been told)

7. Come prepared

This is Germany, not Miami, so chances are it will rain or get cold while you are at the festival. To avoid sniffles and colds the next day, bring a good rain jacket, an extra sweater, and pair of socks just in case.

Kids (not mine) in Tracht

8. Dress the part

Nothing is cuter than kiddos in Tracht. This might be the only time you can dress the whole family in a ‘costume’ that actually looks good on everyone. So, head to some of the cheaper souvenir shops, buy little Dirndls for the girls (mom included – trust me, it will do wonders for your figure) and Lederhosen for the boys. You’ll come home with tons of wonderful photos that will always remind you of the time you took your kids to the world’s biggest bar.

9. Check out Oide Wiesn

Unfortunately, this wonderful ‘old world’ Oktoberfest tent isn’t set up every year. But, when it is, it is definitely worth going to. You’ll find the crowd a bit tamer and get a taste of what Oktoberfest felt like before it became overrun with tourists. Plus, here you really experience some Bavarian culture through traditional music and dances.

10. Visit Bavaria

I know, you are thinking ‘wait, we are IN Bavaria already!’ But, I don’t mean the state of Bavaria (for non-Germany geography experts, Munich is a city in Bavaria), but the statue Bavaria. It crowns the Oktoberfest grounds and offers a wonderful vantage point of the famed festival. Usually, you can also climb to the top and look out through Bavaria’s eyes, but Oktoberfest might not be the best time to try that. Still, standing at the base of the statue and looking at the festival before marveling at this huge bronze sculpture that was unveiled at Oktoberfest in 1890 is a wonderful tribute to this fun-filled Bavarian tradition.

 Additional Tips:

  • Check out the official Oktoberfest site for times and events.
  • Oktoberfest is actually mainly in September, finishing off in the first few days in October. Good to know before booking your tickets.
  • For additional tips for non kid-toting revelers, check out my friend Cara’s blog on preparing for the festival.

 

Baby Monitor on the Go

As a nomadic family, we do our best to limit how many devices, toys, distractions that we have to cart around. That is why I was THRILLED to discover there are baby monitor apps!

Not only do typical video baby monitors cost around 200 bucks, but they are extra devices that you have to remember to pack, buy adapters for if traveling internationally, and are simply one more thing that you might lose on the road. We had been debating on whether to buy one for a few weeks (since we co-sleep it hasn’t been necessary) and almost did before I found out that there are a few apps out there that are cheap and do an amazing job of creating your own little digital baby monitor wherever you are. We have so far used it at home, but will obviously use it whenever we travel or if the little one stays with family members at another house.

Baby Cloud Screensaver

We are currently using cloud baby monitor, which works wonderfully. For 7 dollars, I bought the app on my Mac, downloaded it also on my iPhone, and it worked immediately. You can also use an iPad as one of the units. I set the computer as the ‘child unit’ and face it toward my sleeping angel. I set my iPhone as the ‘parent unit’ and carry it with me around the house. It can work on multiple Apple devices and there is even a function to watch more than one child. The only hitch is you need an internet connection (3G, Wifi, Bluetooth, etc) on both devices, which isn’t always available when traveling abroad. Some of the features the app includes are preset lullabies that you can play remotely (you can also add your own songs to the list), a button that allows you to talk to the baby, a screensaver with moon and stars to set on the ‘child unit’, and a nightlight button. Considering this is 20 to 30 times cheaper than a normal video baby monitor, it is essentially risk-free to try.

There is also a newer app out called Baby Monitor 3G, which has similar functions. I would have happily tried this one, but because I didn’t see any reviews yet, I opted for cloud baby. Additionally, there are similar baby monitor apps like Dormi and Baby Monitor.

So, before you invest a bunch of money in yet another device, try these out and get more out of the devices you already have. Plus, you can put the money you save towards another trip!

 

5 Great Aperitivo Places in Rome

As I have mentioned in previous posts, discovering Italy’s aperitivo scene is a little bit like discovering El Dorado. All of a sudden your dinners aren’t limited to pasta and pizza (living in Italy spoils you a bit, where these otherwise delicious foods become a chore to eat) and you’re opened up to a whole new world of food variety without having to commit to one dish. Plus, it can be much cheaper and you can eat earlier, yet still be part of the ‘scene’ instead of going to a non-aperitivo restaurant and sitting alone with the few other pale tourists who aren’t used to Italy’s late dinner hour.

Now the deal with most aperitivi places is you only pay for your drinks and then a buffet is included. Some places (as we found out only after a large bill) also charge per dish at the buffet so just check ahead of time. Also, I am only listing places that are baby-friendly. There are much trendier spots in Rome to see and be seen, but are too crowded and loud for a child (or children).

That being said, here are some of my favorite aperitivi spots in Rome.

Fancy Schmancy

La.Vi. : We happened upon this place right off Rome’s famed Via Condotti after I made my mom visit the ‘Church of Souls in Limbo.’ (NOT recommended. It is a room with a few books and those books have hand prints on them. But I digress…)

Now, being somewhat of a budget traveler, meaning I would only pay a lot for a meal if it really offers an incredible experience, I would not go here for regular dinner. It is expensive. It also isn’t the cheapest aperitivo joint, but the food is good, the wine is amazing (at least my mom liked it) and the fruit drink they put together for me was delish (tons of fresh fruit that I requested all blended together into a creamy heaven). The drinks are straight up 15 Euro each and they come with a free all you can eat buffet.  The great part is that because this is usually a pricey restaurant, the food is actually really good and much better than some of the other buffets. From quiche to broccoli to pasta and fish, it is a great spread and will fill you up. So, for 15 Euro (assuming you have only one drink here), you get a great meal in a beautiful ambiance. Plus, you might meet some interesting people.

Cheap and Juicy

Baylon Cafe: Though we lived in Trastevere for more than a month, we only discovered this place in the last two weeks. But, boy did we become regulars. One reason is (when the juicer is working) they have delicious fresh juices (i.e. lots of greens with a little apple, etc). Also, their buffet is pretty varied, so you can enjoy a variety of vegetables, traditional dishes like eggplant parmigiana, protein-packed goodies like chick peas, and some fresh options like salad. Plus, the price is great. As with many places, you pay for your drink and the buffet is free, but the drinks here are affordable and delicious. The minimum is 7 Euro per person, so opt for the more expensive glass of wine since you will be paying for it anyway. Cocktails cost a bit more but this place is SO hipster that they won’t disappoint you with their cocktail making skills. If you google aperitivo spots in Trastevere, you will see countless sites toting Freni e Frenzioni. It is the oldest aperitivo spot in town and gets very crowded, but there are only a few tables and it mostly caters to teens who don’t mind sitting on the concrete in the sun to eat some cheap food.

Food With a View

Vivi Bistrot: My mom loves to spend time in the most scenic spots in Rome (scenic = expensive). I love to eat cheaply. Vivi Bistrot fits the bill for both. This restaurant is built into Palazzo Braschi, a restored palace and museum, and the tables look out onto Piazza Navona. The cost of a drink is about 10 Euro and includes the buffet, which has hummus, ricotta cheese, little sandwiches, pasta salad, and some fresh veggies. Here, they also make non-alcoholic cocktails, but for those who want a little fizz, they have fruit-laden prosecco spritz cocktails, which are tasty and refreshing. Compared to what you will pay at any of the restaurants in Piazza Navona, this is a much cheaper way to enjoy the view without forking out a lot of money for mediocre food.

 Quality and Wifi

Compagnia del Pane: Let’s be honest: sometimes you just want some tasty food and free wifi. We are back in Trastevere with this restaurant and I should say first: what it lacks in ambiance (kind of like a Panera Bread but not as big), it makes up for in freshness and quality. Certain nights of the week, the restaurant lays out a spread of bruschetta, cheeses, breads, and meats. For around 10 Euros, you can fill up and enjoy a great glass of wine. CdP boasts quality ingredients and specially sourced spreads. Having enjoyed many a lunch here, I can attest to it also being a delicious pit stop throughout the day. The only catch is they don’t offer the aperitivo buffet every day, so you might want to check ahead of time.

A Holy Snack

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Cajo e Gajo: Again, in Trastevere, and not an aperitivo buffet like the others. Here, you pay for a drink (a glass of wine costs about 4 Euros) and they bring out a spread of little pizza bites, french fries, chips, olives, and crackers. So, it isn’t exactly dinner fare, but for a cheap snack, it is a great place to visit. The added bonus, and one of the main reasons it made it on this list, is it sits in a square that hosts a building owned by the Vatican. That also means that sometimes the pope swings by, as happened one day when we were sitting there. So not only do you get an inexpensive drink with snacks in a beautiful square, but you might get a chance to see Pope Francis himself!

 

 

 

 

The Appian Way to a Perfect Family Day – Rome

Baths of Caracalla, a 2,500 year-old road, magnificent villas, and a picnic to boot.. here is our itinerary for the Appian Way day.

Despite having to been to Rome probably a dozen times in my life, I had never visited the Appian Way – probably because it is out of the way. But, I am happy to report that this 2,500 year-old ‘Queen of the Long Roads’ is not only worth discovering, but it is a must-see. And, with a little planning, we found that we could create the perfect day on the Appian Way (no, I never tire of the rhyme).

Now, first off, a little history. This road isn’t just any old road.. it is the beginning of ‘all roads lead to Rome.’ Built in 312 B.C. by Appius Claudius, it is the first long road that allowed Roman troops to really start conquering all of the lands around them. Extended over the centuries, it witnessed the incredible rise and fall of the Roman Empire, as well as served as more than just an avenue for transport. In 71 B.C., after the slave revolt led by Spartacus, 6,000 slaves were crucified and the crosses carrying their bodies lined the road for miles. Sorry, a little gruesome, but not at all an unusual punishment back in the day.

But, you don’t have to picture that particular scene when you head to the Appian Way. We mainly marveled at the villas, imagined ourselves marching down this road thousands of years earlier (not to our demise), and relished in the undiluted history that graciously embraced us as we went back in time.

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Morning: Rise and shine! We woke up fairly early to avoid spending too much time in the afternoon heat and headed out the door, baby strapped to my body. We caught the bus from our apartment in Trastevere to the Circus Maximus, where we glimpsed a view of the imperial palace atop Palatine Hill before making our way to the Baths of Caracalla. The baths are amazing for a couple of reasons: almost nobody goes there, so you can really walk among the ruins and let your imagination run wild;  it is included in the combo ticket that also allows you to see two villas on the Appian Way (we will get to those next); it is an incredible structure and once served 6,000 bathing Romans a day, who also did their exercise there, engaged in political discussion, plotted against their enemies, and so on.

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Mid-Morning: After seeing some of the beautifully preserved mosaics and the enormous walls at the Baths of Caracalla, we caught a taxi (about 10 Euros) to the old part of the Appian Way (Via Appia antica). There are many ancient buildings you can see along the road, which extends for miles, but since we had a baby and I am a firm believer in less is more while traveling, we limited ourselves to a couple of sights and opted for a more relaxing experience. The ticket for the Baths of Caracalla include entrance to the tomb of Cecilia Matella and Villa dei Quintili, and our plan was to do both of these, but because of Italy’s belief in very long lunch breaks and the heat, we ended up doing just Cecilia Matella, which was beautiful. The truth is, you can see most of the villas and tombs from the road, and there really isn’t a need to buy entrance tickets to any, unless you are dead set on looking at more mosaics.

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Noon: Along the road, there is a little restaurant that also has sandwiches and salads to go. We picked up a couple of sandwiches, bottles of water, and fruit cups, and wandered until we found a good place to picnic. Now, what we ended up doing is not officially allowed, but again, this is Italy. We saw a beautifully manicured lawn filled with statues, benches, and a small villa, and decided to hunker down there for our little picnic. Innocently spreading out our blanket and food, we played with the baby, took pictures, and happily ate before the groundskeeper came and informed us that this wasn’t actually a public space for picnics. It ended up being the grounds to a museum and the Appian way information center, which turned out to be quite convenient. But, what I love about Italy is the groundskeeper waited until we had finished our picnic and even spent time playing with the tot before asking us to pack up. No doubt he saw us earlier, but who can resist a cute little family enjoying some quality time outdoors? Certainly, not Italians. In case you don’t want to kicked out, a little further down the road there is a park, where you can legally picnic and play.

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Afternoon: We leisurely walked down the road, took in some of the sights, and then randomly hopped on a bus (there is only one out there) that took us to an even more random road from which we found a taxi and headed back home.

In a nutshell: The Appian Way is magnificent and if the weather is cooler, you can spend even more time out there than we did. The Villa dei Quintili looks incredible, as do so many of the other sights. So, come with good walking shoes and get ready to explore, wander, and get lost in time. The road is very bumpy (made of big rocks) so I would not recommend a stroller. Baby carriers are the best!

 

 

 

 

The Beauty of the Antipasto(ish) Platter

Antipasto platters are wonderful. You get a little taste of many delicious foods without feeling bloated from too much pasta or pizza or any of the other tasty carb-laden delights Italy has on offer. When we were in Rome, we started making our version of an antipasto platter every day, mainly because we knew we would eat out for dinner and we wanted lunch to be a little lighter. But, even now we love to make these as an afternoon treat. Sitting outside with a chilled glass of wine and a delicious platter of these finger foods, you can almost transport yourself to the Tuscan countryside, lovingly embraced by the warmth of the Italian sun.

Since we’re vegetarian, the antipasto plate we put together on a daily basis didn’t include Italy’s famous prosciutto and the like, but obviously you can include whatever your little heart desires. When we had Italian guests over, they also made up some quick platters (including meat) and suddenly, within 10 minutes we had a delicious meal on our table for all to enjoy.

So here is an idea for a yummy, easy antipasto(ish) platter. Normal antipasto platters that you buy at a restaurant will include grilled vegetables, along with some meat, and cheese. But, here is our light version. The main rule is : decide on whatever sounds good to you, put little portions of it around the plate, and sit back and enjoy.

  • Fresh olives (preferably from the supermarket’s olive bar) but you can use jarred olives if that is what you have
  • Sharp Parmesan cheese nibs or another cheese that you love cut into bite sized pieces. Alternatively, you can put a burrata cheese ball in the middle.
  • Fresh strawberries (or, as my husband prefers for some reason, cut up raw red pepper)
  • A handful of pistachios or walnuts, whichever nuts you love the most
  • Some crackers

antipasto2

Here are some alternative platters. With almost no work, you can create a delicious presentation and eat a great meal. If you are traveling, pick up seasonal, fresh foods from the local market and try this out. If you are back home, this is a great way to relive your wonderful vacation!

Left: Prosciutto straight from the deli on a bed of rucola (rocket lettuce)

Middle: Three types of Italian cheeses (also from the deli) with rucola in the middle, covered in yummy olives

Right: A delicious Caprese – buffalo mozzarella cheese (ideally packed in their juices when bought) sliced up with the sweetest tomatoes you can find (datterini in Italy), tons of fresh basil, and topped off with olive oil and a smattering of salt.

These are simple, easy to make platters that you can have anywhere, even while traveling since no cooking is required. They are also great appetizers for guests. With so many different foods on offer, everyone is bound to taste something they love. And, remember, these platters are basically an ensemble of whatever delicious foods you find that are fresh and easy to prepare!

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