Feb 4, 2017

Budapest, Hungary




2017 is sadly our last full year living in Europe so the pressure is on to see and do as much as possible. Since January is the off-season around here, it's typically a great month to score cheap flights and save money on reduced hotel rates. I didn't have my heart set on a specific destination for this month and my decision was going to be driven solely by price. Direct flights and a great rate on a five star hotel brought us to Budapest! What made the trip even better was the fact that we recruited our best friends living here to join us for the weekend. I'm not sure who had more fun, the kids or the adults, and here's the best part... we returned home as happy as we left, friendship still intact and talk of a future trip in the works. 



The capital city of Hungary once known as two distinct cities, Buda and Pest, united in 1873 to become what we now know today as Budapest. Connected by The Chain Bridge which spans the Danube River, is a marvel of engineering and its size alone is monumental. Two recognizable landmarks, Buda Castle and Parliament, sit across from each other, divided by the Danube river, and dazzle with lights upon nightfall. Given the physical separation of the city, how does one decide where to stay? Well, Buda and Pest are unique in their own right but for those interested in a bustling atmosphere, Pest would be my pick. Buda is the hillier side of the city and gives a quieter feel, with castle hill, monuments, residential areas and narrow winding streets. Pest is the flat and urban center of the city home to the parliament, synagogue, heroes square, St. Stephen's Cathedral, the opera, zoo, and the popular Szechenyi Spa, just to name a few.










The weekend forecast was divided by wintry mixes and sun, granting us the beauty of seeing the city in two different lights. There was something magical and alluring once nighttime rolled around; the city lit up, snow fell, and the reflections of the iconic buildings could be seen on the icy river. Our children chased each other, jumped through puddles, ate snow, tried new foods, and gleefully shouted as we arrived back to their "castle" in the evenings. They were in awe of this city as much as we were. The people of Budapest were friendly and welcoming, the landmarks were jaw dropping, our money went a long way here, and the food was some of the best we've had throughout Europe. When asked the popular question, "which city traveled to is your favorite?" Budapest will pop into our minds as a top contender amongst the many.





Travel Notes

Accommodations
Sofitel Budapest This hotel's location is prime if you want to be within walking distance to many sites. It sits near the Chain Bridge giving an easy path to the Buda side. The hotel staff were wonderful and greeted our children with teddy bears upon arrival. The hotel offers a spa, pool, and great breakfast buffet- although a bit pricey! Oh, and let's talk about how comfortable the beds were.  I can't remember the last time I stayed in a hotel and checked-out so well rested. My husband and I joked that we would love to own that mattress and linens, and sure enough, they can be purchased online through Luxury Collection Store.

Restaurants
Zeller Bistro A farm to table bistro with a cozy ambiance and delicious dishes. It's off the beaten path from more tourist sites and a reservation is a must. I wouldn't label this place a kid-friendly restaurant as it seemed more guests were there as couples. The staff were sweet with our children but I probably wouldn't recommend coming here with a big group of families and small children. 

Vak Varju This is named after a flatbread loaded with various toppings and is hands down, so tasty! Their menu is comprised of a large variety of Hungarian dishes. After sampling each other's appetizers and entrees, we didn't taste anything we didn't like. The thing we loved about this restaurant, other than the awesome food, was the kids play corner. Our kids had a blast playing in the gated area before and after their meals. As for us adults, we were stoked about the setup!

Iguana We were all craving Mexican food since we haven't found any great restaurants with this specialty in Germany. Iguana restaurant hit the spot! If you love margaritas, salty chips, and burritos, then make this a stop on your trip to Budapest.

Transportation
Airline: We found cheap tickets from Germany to Hungary via Eurowings 

Airport Shuttle to Hotel: Once at baggage claim, we purchased a transfer to our hotel with the company Minibud. Since we were a group of 7, we were given our own passenger van. Typically, if traveling with a smaller group, you would share a passenger van with other people staying either in your hotel or in neighboring accommodations. 

Tours: We opted to do the City Tour Hop-on Hop-off Bus for one of the days in the city because of the cold weather and precipitation. It was our first time using one of these tour services and it was a really great way to view the city, listen to an audio guide with historical information, all while having the flexibility to jump on or off at different sites. The kids loved riding the bus and here's a parent perk, a large BOB stroller fits on the bus without having to fold it up!

Itinerary- 4 days and 3 nights
  • Day 1
    • Depart Stuttgart in the am and arrive in Budapest early afternoon (flight time 1 hour and 10 minutes)
    • Transfer shuttle to hotel
    • Hotel check-in 
    • Walk to Central Market Hall 
    • Window browsing on Vaci Street
    • Lunch and drinks at a pub
    • Hotel for kid's nap time 
    • Dinner at Bistro 
  • Day 2
    • Breakfast at Hotel Buffet
    • Catch the Hop-on Hop-off tour bus
      • Heroes Square
      • Vajdahunyad Castle 
      • City Park
      • Jewish Quarter and the Great Synagogue
      • Duck into a cafe for coffee and hot chocolate
      • Ride the bus around the city listening to more history
      • Gellert Hill 
    • Spa treatment and pool time at the hotel / kid nap time
    • Dinner at local restaurant
  • Day 3 
    • Breakfast in hotel room (purchased bread, jam, and fruit from local store) 
    • Walk to Buda Castle
    • Fisherman's Bastion 
    • Matthias Church
    • Lunch on the go
    • Wine bar to purchase wine
    • Shoes on the Danube Memorial (click the link to read about this emotional memorial)
    • Hotel for kid's nap time
    • Dinner at a local restaurant 
    • Walk to the parliament for night pictures
  • Day 4 
    • Check-out and travel day

*We didn't get a chance to do the Thermal Baths or Margaret Island but they would be places to fit into your itinerary if time permits. 


































Jan 17, 2017

International Flights with a Toddler



Just the thought of travel with babies and or small children is enough to send some parents into panic mode. They quickly place travel plans on the back burner hoping for a better timeframe when the children require less things and are more mature to really appreciate the destinations. I'm writing this to encourage anyone having similar thoughts to rethink the possibility of taking big trips with your little ones. Traveling with children isn't downright simple but with a bit of planning, organizing, and a great attitude, the trip will fall into place and you'll be able to laugh off the not so great moments and hold on dearly to the special ones. 

Our travels throughout Europe are never long hauls but we recently took a transatlantic flight from Germany to America for Christmas. As the captain came over the loudspeaker announcing a total travel time of 10 hours and 25 minutes, I would be lying if I didn't say that a small wave of panic came over me. How would our almost three year old handle that many hours in a confined space? It's been three weeks since our trip and I'm back here to share with you some great tips that aided in a smooth travel day. Our toddler was happy and continues asking us when we will be flying on an airplane again; a sign that he wasn't traumatized by the hours spent in his seat! 

Here's our "Top 10" plus a bonus of noteworthy tips to help prepare you for your next flight with a toddler!


1. Converse with the Child About Your Upcoming Trip
We have found that talking with Brecken about a trip in the days leading up to the departure helps him understand where we are going, our means of transportation, what he can expect, and of course- how much fun it's going to be! That way, the day of travel seems somewhat familiar with less unknowns and questions, minimizing the scariness!

2. Airplane Figurines and Videos 

Brecken loves to play with his airplane toys while watching videos of airplanes! Most kids are intrigued by machines that move and will get excited for an upcoming trip after viewing an entire video about airplanes. Click here to view a great video about airplanes on youtube. 

3. Choose a Children's Backpack 

Brecken is currently in the "I want to do everything on my own" and "Mom, stop. I don't need your help" phase. So, in my opinion, it's the best time to start giving him small tasks and responsibilities. Starting with, his own tiny backpack to carry during our travels. It makes him feel grown up and assured knowing that most of his favorite things are securely strapped to his back! Here are a few well designed tot sized backpacks. 
4. Snacks and Drinks
Long International flights provide meals and drink services but I also pack a lot of snacks for the those moments when my child starts to get hungry and nagging me for food.. which is about every 30 minutes. Some of our favorite non-messy snacks for travel days include granola bars, dried fruit, fruit snacks, goldfish, pretzels, and apple sauce pouches. I always pack a rewards snack bag of lollipops, gummy bears, tic tacs, and m&ms in my purse to reward him here and there for good behavior and trips to the potty while traveling. I also like to travel with an empty water bottle to fill up after we get through security. I've found this water bottle to be the best! 

5. Technology 

For most flights with longer durations, a small tv will be in the headrest in front of you. There's a kids section that has some of the latest movies and tv shows for children. Be sure to pack headphones that will fit your child's head, here's a link to the pair we purchased for B and they were perfect! Even though a small tv is provided, we also packed his iPad to use during layovers or to play educational games. I believe minimizing a child's screen time everyday makes it more intriguing and pacifying when you need them to be entertained during long travel days. I can't recommend this toddler case enough! 
Breck's favorite Apps and Tv Shows: 
  • Tiny Hands 
  • Letter Quiz
  • Monkey Preschool Fix-It
  • EduKitty 
  • Baby Bum Video
  • PJ Masks
  • DinoTrux 
  • Paw Patrol 
  • Sofia The First 
6. Which Toys to Pack
Let your children choose which toys they want to bring in their backpack. I try to steer him clear of toys with tiny pieces that will inevitably get lost. This last trip he chose a small frying pan, a few pieces of play food, giving him the enjoyment of being an inflight chef. Other moms have suggested packing a small bag of new toys to surprise a child once seated on the plane. Here's a few must-pack toys recommended by me and other traveling mamas:
  • Play-Doh(This ranked number one by many!) 
  • Gel window clings 
  • Crayons, coloring book, and blank paper
  • Stickers
  • Kids flashlight
  • Pipe cleaners and beads to string 
  • A few small books 
  • Koosh ball 
  • Duplo blocks 
  • Magnatiles
7. Bring Comfort Items
If there's one thing you can't forget to pack is your child's beloved lovey, whatever that may be! I understand how important this item is to Brecken and have purchased a ridiculous amount of these loveys. He now requests some over others, labeling them as softer.. But in any case, traveling with more than one is extremely important to avoid a lost lovey and a frantic child. I also travel with this small toddler sized pillow and a small blanket if I know he will be sleeping for a good portion of the flight. 

8. Request a Child's Meal

Brecken is the least picky eater I have ever met for someone his age. He would be content eating most of the adult meal selections given by the airlines even if they included broccoli. However, this last trip, we didn't realize that somewhere in the booking process the agent must have requested a child's meal for him. He was served first in the cabin and the food was in line with what most toddlers eat, ie: chicken nuggets, corn, mashed potatoes, and a brownie with sprinkles. Breakfast included fruit loops, milk, and a banana. If your child (age 2-12) would prefer this type of meal selection, you can request it during the booking process or by calling the airline. 

9. Prepare for Messes and Sickness

For us, it always seems that the one time I forget to pack a change of clothes or a bottle of tylenol, my child needs one or the other! I've come to think worse case scenarios when packing for him. I now always pack the following in this category: 
  • 2 plastic grocery bags for dirty clothes or to use as garbage bags
  • Pull Ups for overnight flights
  • 1 set of extra clothes 
  • 1 pair of pajamas for an overnight flight
  • Baby Motrin or Tylenol and essential oils
  • Wipes 
  • Hand Sanitizer 
  • Digital Thermometer 
10. Make it Fun and Ask for Help if Needed
Kids can pick up on our emotions as parents. Traveling can cause tension and heightened emotions for everyone. Remember, these tiny people will bring their best tantrums to the table if they feel our anxiety. Most strangers are friendly towards children and I've encountered some of the kindest people willing to hold a bag for me or help push my stroller when they see me struggling. The flight attendants are also there for assistance. Press the call button and ask for an extra hand if needed! When all else fails, take a walk up and down the aisles with the kids, play peek-a-boo, I-Spy, or just hand them the iPad and a piece of candy.. anything to keep them happy and save your sanity!

Bonus Tip
If you happen to be an airlines reward member or have a credit card that provides access to airport lounges, you will find your early arrival at the airport or long layovers to be much more enjoyable. Even if you don't have a credit card or airline rewards to gain access to these lounges, you can enter with a fee. We have access to Priority Pass and the Delta Lounges which provide hot food, complimentary bar services, and shower rooms large enough for the whole family. There is no doubt in my mind that the 6-hour layover in Atlanta would have been quite miserable without these amenities. 




















Dec 14, 2016

Berchtesgaden, Germany / Salzburg, Austria / Hallstatt, Austria



One of my best friends, Lauren, and her husband, Dirk, traveled from Colorado to Iceland to say "I do" and adventure around for a week. They then caught a flight south to spend time with our family and come along on a mini-trip to Austria with me and Brecken. The car was packed full, giving the impression that all on board would be taking a lengthy trip. The reality being that we were only going to be gone for three days. But hey, my ability to travel light doesn't come natural and is nearly impossible by the time I pack enough for the littlest lad in the group. Dirk and Brecken were backseat bros and nodded off throughout the drive or played games on their electronic devices. Lauren was my conversational co-pilot, leaving minimal dead air in-between us during the four hour drive.

Our first stop was Berchtesgaden, Germany. A town in the Bavarian Alps located just across the border from Austria. Surrounded by majestic mountains and crystal clear creeks and lakes, this area boasts natural beauty. While the scenic landscape alone is enough to lure travelers here, many tourists actually stop in this region to visit Hitler's "Eagle's Nest" or go deep into the ground to experience the salt mines. With limited time, we chose to go into the salt mines, thinking this would be more fun for Brecken. After purchasing tickets for the tour, we dressed in our mandatory mining jump suits and rode a train deep into the dimly lit, cold, underground. The best part of the tour was the wooden slides and a boat ride on the mirrored lake. Brecken was half terrified of the slide, as you can see in the picture below. His immediate response after we came to a halt at the bottom of the fast slide was, "mommy, I go home now." Discovering the salt mines was an educational thrill that gave us ample information and amusement without being another mundane tour.

We made it to Abtenau, Austria where we rented and apartment on the farm of Johann and Petra. I pulled into the driveway and was unsure as to whether or not we were at the correct address. Johann walked towards our car, smiling, waving, and greeted us with a jovial Grüß Gott (may God greet you). Our stay on his organic farm was a slice of goodness.

One day of our trip was spent in Hallstatt and the other day in Salzburg. Staying in Abtenau set us in-between both of these locations and amidst green fields, grazing cows, and a backdrop of brilliant mountains. The small town of Hallstatt sits along the calm waters of Hallstatt Lake. Wooden homes line the town giving it a charming appearance. There is an allure here; tourists seeking an escape from the bustle of everyday life to seek out a place that represents storybook features. To get the best views of this town, glide along the water in a rented electric boat or take the funicular up to an overlook.


Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart and the filming location for the famous musical, The Sound of Music. We parked near the Mirabell Gardens and slowly made our way through the gardens and onto the bridge spanning the Salzach River. Standing on the bridge my eyes gazed upwards to the clifftop fortress perched high above the old city. Church bells rang, classical music wafted through open windows, and horse hooves clopped through the cobblestone streets as carriages carried tourists here and there. Weaving through streets we ended up on the famous, Getreidegasse, easily recognized by its tall, narrow buildings with wrought iron signs. A small city with a slow-paced speed, Salzburg is lovely and quite manageable for those on a tight time schedule. 

Travel Notes

Accommodations
Organic Farm Stay This apartment was wonderful and is separate from the owners home. The wood work throughout the apartment was crafted by Johann himself and it's obvious how much pride he takes in his property. He has a barn full of toys for children as well as ponies, cows, kittens, and bunnies.

Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden
Salzbergwerk Website to access information on opening times, FAQ's, address, pricing, and online ticket purchase. There were a few children under the age of two on the tour, however, baby carriers are not permitted.


Itinerary- 4 days and 3 nights
  • Day 1
    • Depart Stuttgart by 7:30am and arrive in Berchtesgaden by 11:30am
    • Tour Salzbergwerk 
    • Drive from Salzbergwerk to Lake Konigssee 
    • Early dinner and ice cream at Lake Konigssee 
    • Drive to apartment rental in Abtenau, Austria
    • Check-in
    • Find a grocery store to stock up!
    • Relax for the night and map out activities for the following days
  • Day 2
    • Breakfast at the apartment 
    • Tour of the organic farm
    • Drive from Abetenau to Hallsatt (Beautiful 40 minute drive through the mountains) 
    • Walk the streets of Hallsatt 
    • Rent a boat and cruise around the Lake
    • Take the funicular up to the observation overlook deck 
    • Return to the apartment rental to cook dinner and gear up for a day in Salzburg
  • Day 3 
    • Breakfast at the apartment
    • Drive from Abtenau to Salzburg (25 minutes) 
    • Walk through Mirabell Gardens 
    • Cross the bridge into the Altstadt 
    • Roam through Getreidegasse 
    • Buy mozartkugels!
    • Lunch outside at Gasthaus Zwettlers 
    • Roam the streets 
    • Dinner at our apartment 
    • Rest up for our drive back!
  • Day 4 
    • Check-out and travel day









































Dec 1, 2016

The Tuscany Region of Italy



Ten years ago, I got my first glimpse of the Tuscan countryside while traveling from Milan to Florence. I was a college student at the time and in the country for educational purposes. A December visit didn't leave me with beautiful memories of abundant vineyards at harvest season given the bleak landscape and frigid temperatures. However, December landscape aside, the history, architecture, and wine make this area pretty spectacular.

Fast forward to present day and I found myself wanting to venture back here with my family. I knew there were parts of the area that I didn't fully see or appreciate ten years prior. This time around there were so many things I wanted to do differently. Such as, stay at a villa set amongst the vineyards and olive trees or wander around the small villages taking as much time as needed or have locals cook an authentic meal for us. And, the perk of this trip were the additional travel companions, Mom and Mark.

We picked up our rental car at the airport and drove to the town of Vinci, home of Leonardo da Vinci. Our car engine revved as it climbed a steep gravel road leading to the villa. The moon lended light in the dark of midnight for our arrival. Morning eventually came and brought much surprise as we awoke to see the landscape surrounding the property. A short walk through the garden made way to an outdoor terrace on a hillside overlooking acres of vineyards. Each morning we ventured to this serene spot for coffee and conversations. As mentioned earlier, my biggest wish of this trip was to have locals cook an authentic meal for us. With much research and many email messages later, I had successfully reserved this service for the second evening of our trip. Two Italian women arrived with baskets overflowing of fresh ingredients. They washed up, immediately started cooking, and moved around the unfamiliar kitchen with ease. They had so much passion for the local produce and were eager to show us just how wonderful it was. I stood in the kitchen, wine in hand, hanging onto every word as they told me all about their culture and cuisine. The food was so delicious and unforgettable. 

While the villa was our peaceful haven, we did spend many hours away from it to mosey through Florence, Pisa, San Gimignano, Vinci, Lucca, and Viarregio. Each destination was unique in its own right and the immense historical, cultural, and artistic heritage of this region provided endless opportunities to explore, learn, and savor. Italy has stolen our hearts once again.

Travel Notes

Accommodations

Villa Betta Another awesome experience with an Airbnb rental. The villa was a mix of rustic/modern with a secluded backyard complete with a hot tub. It was centrally located to Florence, Pisa, Lucca, San Gimignano, and Siena... just to name a few places. Who doesn't love wine and chocolate? The property manager greeted us with both, a really nice touch. The house came stocked with wines from a winery down the road, olive oil, and honey; all available for a small price per item. 

In Home Chef
Chef In Tuscany is ran by owner Graziella and her small staff of chefs. They offer in-home chefs, wine tastings, and cooking lessons. There are select menus to choose from and are available for viewing on the website. Pricing came to 60 euros per adult and included 2 bottles of wine, a five course meal, and limoncello. Factor in the experience if you have reservations about this price. It was especially nice to have such high quality service and food all in the comforts of the villa. Let's be real, I wouldn't want our toddler in a fancy restaurant sitting through a five course meal so this option was perfect for us.

Literature
With so many sights to see, it can be overwhelming to know what to see or where to go. I've purchased travel books in the past but found a great selection at my local library. The Tuscany region travel book came with us for the trip and was extremely helpful to reference while we were out and about.

Florence
This is the capital of the Tuscany Region and a must-see city. We flew in and out of Florence and rented a car for the duration of our trip. We had an evening flight home and spent the afternoon in Florence to peek around and have lunch here before our return flight. This is no way enough time in the city but since I had been here years prior and had seen all of the sights, it was okay for me to not spend a few days. We had a great lunch at Casa Del Vin Santo where we watched Mario make pizzas. He was a skilled pizza artist and quite entertaining. Isn't it a breath of fresh air to watch someone love their job and take pride in it? Afterwards we stopped in a gelato cafe and ordered 2 cups of gelato at the tune of 20 euros. Thankfully they were heaping, but still.... All over Europe I have never paid more than 1.50 for a scoop of gelato. With no prices listed, I just assumed it was the same price. wrong. Buyers beware, ask in advance!

Pisa

As recommended by a friend, we were in and out of Pisa just long enough to see the leaning tower with our own eyes. It's magnificent to see and to read the history and restoration process of the tower. I'm glad we stopped there but after being in the quaint hills of Vinci, the crowds were a bit much.

San Gimignano
We loved this walled medieval town that's known for its towers. There are wonderful shops lined along the street selling everything from wild boar salami, vernaccia wine, olive wood cutting boards, pinocchio figurines, and beautiful linens. Ricca Pizza had some of the best pizza we've ever had. We circled back at the end of the day to order a large one to take along with us before departing this gem of a town.

Vinci

Since our villa sat above the hills of Vinci, we were too close not to take the time to walk through the birthplace of Leonardo and spend time at the Museo Leonardiano.

Lucca

This city has Renaissance walls that encircle its historic center. You will see people walking or riding bikes along the top of the ancient tree-lined walls. Make your way to the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, once an amphitheater during Roman times. Today, take a seat at one of the many restaurants located in this space.


Itinerary- 5 days and 4 nights

  • Day 1
    • Evening flight from Stuttgart to Florence
    • Pick up car reservation and drive to villa in Vinci
    • Late arrival means straight to bed
  • Day 2
    • Grocery shopping for the villa
    • Set up a game plan for day 3 and 4
    • Walk through the vineyards near the property 
    • In home private chef service for dinner 
  • Day 3
    • Breakfast at villa 
    • Drive to San Gimignano (30 minutes) 
    • Roam the medieval streets and shop along the way
    • Stop for a slice of pizza at Riccapizza 
    • Lunch at Bar La Cisterna (average food)
    • Drive back to villa
    • Dinner at villa 
  • Day 4 
    • Breakfast at villa 
    • Drive to Pisa 
    • Leaning Tower / Piazza de Miracoli / Duomo
    • Drive to Lucca 
    • Lunch in the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro 
    • Walk the walls of Lucca 
    • Drive to coastal town Viareggio 
    • Pit stop in Viareggio and check out the beaches
    • Drive back to villa 
    • Dinner at villa 
  • Day 5 
    • Pack and check-out
    • Drive to Vinci
    • Leonardo's birthplace 
    • Museo Leonardiano 
    • Drive to Florence 
    • Piazzale Michelangelo
    • Piazza del Duomo 
    • Piazza della Signoria 
    • Palazzo Pitti
    • Browse Mercado Centrale 
    • Lunch at Casa Del Vin Santo 
    • Gelato!
    • Drive to the airport and depart beautiful Tuscany 













































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