14 June 2017

The South of France

Whenever possible, I enlist the help and advice of friends or family, when planning a vacation. I do a lot of research on my own, whether it is through travel blogs, travel magazines, Instagram or books, but the best advice I always receive is from people who have been to the place and experienced it themselves.

So this trip was no different. I had been to the Cote d'Azur many years ago in college, but those were very different days. I was really starting from scratch with my planning. I contacted a friend from Albuquerque who is French and I knew traveled there often with his young daughter. I respected his opinion and knew his point of view would jive well with our (and our friends') wishes. 

He shared a website for booking a vacation rental called Maison Azur. The woman we were in touch with was helpful in answering questions about room configurations and outdoor space, as well as favorite restaurants and activities in the area. We decided on a villa that would accommodate our group of 6 adults and 4 children.

Booking accommodations tends to be the task that requires the most thought and planning and research. I find it the most stressful part of trip planning (I've been responsible for some doozies). Especially with small children, your home base is your mecca. It is a place to retreat to after a long day out and about. Evenings will likely be spent here while your children snooze and you finally get time for uninterrupted rosé sipping. You'll be cooking meals in the kitchen (we cooked every breakfast and dinner in our kitchen this trip). And the beds and bathrooms will hopefully make all guests comfortable.

We found a lovely place to park-it for the week. It suited all of our needs and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a place to stay in the Nice, France, area.

After finding accommodations, the next step we took as a group was to write down our individual wish lists - things we would love to see or do while we were there. We knew we would never do everything, but we felt like traveling with a group our size needed a little structure. We were lucky enough to have one of Dan's work colleagues, who lived in this region of France for a number of years, share his favorite beaches, day trips and ideas. His recommendations were all spot on and I look forward to returning some day to complete the list!

From our villa, we took day trips. We ate a hearty breakfast, the kids ran around in the yard and usually begged to stay and swim in the pool. Sometimes it's like pulling teeth getting out the door, but finally we crammed into our two Euro SUV's and hit the road. The roads as narrow and curvy. The round-a-bouts are BRILLIANT and I loved watching the joy on Dan's face driving a diesel manual transmission. Someone sat shotgun, listening to Siri pronounce the French street names (what did we do before Google maps?) and we found our way around the region.

How does one put a week's worth of memories into one readable post? I don't think I will ever be able to do it justice - the joy I feel traveling, the thrill of adventure, being out of my element but brought back to days when I lived in Europe for a semester. And at the same time, feeling this peace about just being. Being away from the daily grinds and demands of life and having meaningful conversations in the evenings, under the stars, over bottles (:o) of wine and reminiscing about the day just spent. There is something so romantic about traveling and really living in the moment.

Our moments were rich and wonderful. They were simple, but grand. And I think each of us really took time to appreciate each day we were there.

Our first day found us soaking up the grounds, the flowers, the paths and the pool. It was Sunday so the boys set out to grocery shop at E.Leclerc - a supermarche full of goodies. Afternoon rolled around and what else is there to do on a Sunday before a holiday in France? Go to the beach! We quickly learned how challenging parking can be...thank goodness for valet...and promptly parked our derrières on the beach. The kids played in the sand (Warren ate the sand), we ordered pizzas (why not?) and sipped rosé as the sun made it's way over the Cote d'Azur. You better believe we ended the day with gelato.

We chose a close jaunt for our second day. The night was rough for some - 3am wake-ups due to jet lag - and we wanted to ease into things. Of course there was swimming in the pool! But our excursion found us heading up the hill to Saint Paul de Vence. The quaint cobblestone pathways, fountains, art galleries and vistas won us over. That evening we dined on Niçoise salad on our massive outdoor table.

Day three found us on winding road to Grasse. The parfumeries here send scents of flowers out their doors. If you have time, they even have classes where you can craft your own perfumes. The smell of tuberose and jasmine and lavender are impressive. Most days, we ended our outing with food and drink. It makes everyone happy - young and old. We enlisted the help of Yelp! and found two tables outside to eat meals laden in gooey cheese.

Day four started on a high note for me (I am a baker by heart, after all) with freshly baked pastries. There were croissants, tarts, brioche... I tried them all. And then we went to the beach - yikes. This day, we chose a stone beach in Cagnes-sur-Mer. We paid for lounge chairs and soaked up some sun as the kids stacked rocks and played in the water.

Day five was probably the highlight of the trip for everyone. We hopped on the freeway and drove east to Eze. Almost every guide book will tell you it is a "must see" and I think we would all agree. This old town is perched on the high cliffs overlooking the crystal clear Mediterranean Sea. Our destination was "Le Jardin exotique" found by navigating tiny passageways by way of small signs. The garden was dreamy. Overlooking the sea and filled with larger-than-life succulents and taller-than-man cacti, the beauty was overwhelming. The children loved it, the parents loved it. The views were exactly what I imagined them to be.

Day six brought us back to St Paul de Vence. We split up the group today - it was our last day and we all had different things on our minds. Some shopped for art and some visited the sculpture garden. We all convened for the 3 hour meal that included escargot, shrimps, risotto with truffles and other local delicacies. I am not quite sure how the children made it through this, but they were as impressed by their meals as we were with ours.

That evening was our last... We never came close to crossing everything off of our to-do list (maybe on purpose? It leaves reason to return!). The older kids begged to return to the beach, so some of us headed back to a sandy beach near Antibes on a Friday evening to play in the waters. Watching the girls frolic in the water as the sun danced off of the waves was surreal. It was a moment I will remember forever. Our family with the 11-month-old decided that seeing "Old Nice" was better and they enjoyed the beautiful architecture, sculptures and sights along the promenade.

We all met up back at home to pack our bags and prepare for a 3am wake-up.

I think we are all still dreaming of unpasteurized cheeses, attempting conversations in French, days when our biggest decision was what city to visit and what wine to drink with dinner. Grateful for friend who wish to share the craziness with us. Ready to plan the next adventure! Who is in?

12 June 2017

Is it worth it to travel overseas with kids?

Playing at the beach, surrounded by French families on a Friday night

As we were flying out Saturday morning over the Côte d'Azur, I asked Dan, "Do you think it's worth it to fly all this way for a vacation?"

International terminal at SLC - Kiki and Nora ready to board their flight

Ten hours over the Atlantic gives you plenty of time to begin digesting your vacation. I always pour thru photos, take notes and try to think about how to continually learn from our travel. As any parent of a young child, you know that they change quickly and no season is the same...from one trip to the next, some things seem easier while other things get harder. So while I can never fully predict what vacation will look like, each time we go, I feel more confident in our ability to be adaptable. I learn something from each adventure and take it with me (or write about it). 

So nice that she can sit and eat her meal, while I sit and eat mine. Headphones and in-flight entertainment is a treat

I feel like we've reached a sweet spot with airplane travel. I think I'd fly almost anywhere with our seasoned little traveler. At 4 years old, she's made four overseas trips and knows how to navigate an airport, get stamps in her passport, run to gates and listen for directions. It's not without its challenges, but it is certainly simpler and easier in many ways each time we go. If you're committed to traveling with your children, no matter by plane, train or automobile, start early and do it often. It was a priority for our family and we did it, even when the challenge seemed too great. But it sure has paid off and given us all many rich experiences while paving the way for so many more. 

Sight-seeing and enjoying the little things

The experience is different when traveling with children which cannot be ignored. But different does not mean worse. I find that traveling with children forces us to slow down, pick activities thoughtfully and know when enough is enough. It also allows you to witness a culture in ways you never would have before - you're more apt to visit a park or play at the beach with other families. Your children will hear other children speaking different language or playing new games. You'll probably be visiting a grocery store, navigating unknown aisles and checkouts lines, because not every meal will be in a restaurant. I also find that we spend more time observing, not rushing from one place to the next. I do miss those days of late nights in street-side restaurants with carafes of wine, long strolls thru the labyrinth of tiny old town streets and hours of window shopping. But I know that we are instilling this love of travel into our daughter so she will someday sit in those cafes and wander streets and make friends from all across the world. 

The beach is always a good idea with kids

So, is it worth travel across the world for a week to play at the beach, eat gelato and walk through old villages? Yes, I (most definitely) think so. We grow as citizens and fuel our passion for travel. The small hiccups are easily forgotten while the bigger triumphs will stay with us forever.

Here is our group of travels - kids range in age from 11 months to 7 years! 

I can't wait to show you more from our travels! In the meantime, we will be recovering from the 3am jet lag wake-ups!

02 February 2017

Mexico for the Escape

If there was any year to "get out of Dodge" this was the year. Boise has seen record snowfall and lasting cold temperatures. Skies have been overcast and a dose of vitamin D (with SPF coverage, of course) has never felt so good.

Destination warm weather was Punta Mita, Nayurit, Mexico. And the sun, waves and warm breeze didn't disappoint. 

We rented a condo through a family-friendly travel site called Kid and Coe. Think Airbnb or VRBO with families in mind. Check it out for some dreamy, worldwide travel destinations (hint: I often peruse the site for destination ideas). 

The greatest part of our trip was the fact that we vacationed with the loveliest family we met last year while we were in Hawaii, sitting at the pool. You know how sometimes you just get along so well with a person, that you know you'd like to hang out again? Well, picture that and add in that your spouses also get along (and look like brothers) and your girls do too. So when they asked if we were planning a 2017 getaway and if we'd like to meet, we said yes.

Our flight from Boise (via LAX) landed in Puerto Vallarta on a warm Sunday afternoon. Plane rides are a breeze these days with a 3.5 year old, and I even read my book "America's First Daughter." A 45 minute taxi ride took us north to Punte de Mita, down a windy, cobblestone road to Los Veneros, a culmination of private residences. And right next door to a newly opened W Hotel, with two restaurants and ceviche bar. 

The grounds were beautiful, with many pools, lush greenery and lovely ocean views. The condo was spacious, with a full kitchen and large terrace. The one disappointment was not being able to use the main pool (which now belonged to the W) or the gym (also under the W) which was not clearly stated in the Kid and Coe website description. You win some, you lose some. 

Our days consisted of swimming, watching the girls dive for toys in the pool, reading books and playing in the condo, catching waves at the beach and eating out. We also practiced our Spanish with the patient waitstaff at the restaurants. We drank margaritas, swung in hammocks and gazed at bright stars in the night sky.

On the plane ride home, I read an article in the Delta Magazine about being a traveler vs a tourist by Andrew Zimmern. Meaning, to be a traveler is to get out and explore, immerse yourself in the country you visit, learn customs and cultures. I love being a traveler and dare say it is one of my favorite hobbies. This is more important now than ever in our world. However, sometimes being a tourist who sits by a pool, with no stresses is allowed. It's OK to leave the plans and adventures for another day and have the biggest question be: beach or pool?

Thanks for a great vacation, Joe, Harriet, Polly and Arnie. You were such wonderful companions and made the holiday all the better. Until next time!