Category Archives: Travel

Simple Vacations Are Rewarding, Too (no matter what your Instagram feed tries to tell you)

We’ve just returned from our spring break in New England. Over the past week we wound our way from Kennebunkport to Portland, Maine and then on to Boston, Massachusetts. Our vacation was laid back and simple, filled with fresh sea food, trips to the ocean, and long walks. This journey was also educational as my daughter learned about the Boston Tea Party, the American Revolution, and the founding principles of the United States. #parentingwin

Over spring break, I saw many of my friends posting photos of their adventures – from Mexico, to Florida, to Italy – families were taking this time to get away, explore, and unwind. Travel is a wonderful way to bond as a family, gain an appreciation for the world around us, and learn about different cultures. In an increasingly global society, travel prepares us to work with colleagues, customers, and collaborators from other lands. And as Saint Augustine said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

However, to reap the rewards of travel, you don’t have to take an elaborate or expensive vacation. Jet setting families look pretty on Instagram, but most of us don’t have the funds or the time to set off on an around-the-world tour. In fact, a “staycation” or short trip can give you the same benefits. So friends, don’t fret about keeping up with the Joneses. Create a special experience that works for your family. This is something I know a thing or two about!

When I was a kid, my family couldn’t afford many vacations…we usually had one getaway during the summer. My parents would cram sleeping bags, pillows, drawing pads and a box full or markers, food, and games into our 1980s station wagon and we’d drive three hours to a placid lake in northern Wisconsin. There we would pitch a tent, cook our meals over an open flame, and pee in the woods. It was simple and perfect. At night we’d lay near the empty country road that ran along our property and watch stars shoot across the pitch black sky. We’d tell ghost stories with flashlights under our chins while munching on Jiffy Pop.

At the lake, my brother and I lived in our swim suits and always smelled like a mixture of Coppertone, Off!, and algae. There were no cell phones, no flush toilets, no showers, and we were in heaven. Those rustic, “roughing it moments” – as my dad referred to them – are some of the best memories of my childhood.

Tent camping taught us to appreciate nature. My dad would take us on hikes through pine forests in search of deer tracks. We would catch grasshoppers and learn how to tell time by watching the sun. On the shores of the lake, we would find snails and my mom would tell us about the escargot served in France. My brother and I would wrinkle our noses.

Those long summer days were filled with teaching moments. It was where I learned about the glaciers that once covered Wisconsin and the importance of freshwater lakes. We learned about the logging industry in our state and toured paper mills. And usually one night during our stay, we would venture into a nearby town to partake in a Wisconsin fish fry. If we ever complained about being bored, my parents would hand us the drawing pads and markers and tell us to make art.

Next time you’re planning a trip, think about something simple and close to home. Head to a museum, a State Park, or go camping in the woods. Encourage your children to put down the electronic devises and spend time with their imaginations. Help them expand their understanding of the world through fun, hands-on learning.

Happy traveling! -Mara

Adventures in Barcelona: The Eixample

Hey friends! Our holiday in Barcelona has been an incredible family adventure. What a beautiful city filled with great art and delicious food – two of my favorite indulgences. I recently posted about our first days abroad as we explored the Barri Gotic (or Gothic Quarter). Today I will tell you about our time in the Eixample – a neighborhood brimming with Modernist Architecture, designer shops, stylish Catalan tapas bars, and wide pedestrian boulevards. This is a very chic section of Barcelona with inspiring architecture at every turn.

We stayed in a beautiful apartment along Carrer del Rosselló, a bustling street which leads to Passeig de Gràcia in one direction (one of the main shopping avenues in Barcelona, which showcases two of Gaudi’s most famous buildings: Casa Batlló and La Pedrera), and the amazing Sagrada Familia Basilica in the other (Gaudi’s most revered architectural masterpiece which was begun in 1882 and remains under construction to this day). The organic, undulating designs of the Modernists are awe inspiring. Even children are fans, as many of the buildings give the sense of a Dr. Seuss imagined world come to life.

Our apartment rental gave us the opportunity to live as locals, as we shopped at the Mercat de la Concepció – filled with vendors specializing in fresh produce, artisan cheeses, meats and pastries, frequented nearby shops, and discovered off-the-beaten-path cafés and bars. The Eixample is perfect for families as everything is within walking distance, and there are plenty of green spaces and playgrounds for little ones.

From our apartment, we easily traversed the city by foot. Our longest walk was to Gaudi’s Park Güell – a glorious city garden which offers breathtaking views of the city – and that only took 20 minutes, not bad.

Here are some photos of our adventures in this exciting section of the city.

Passeig de Gràcia

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Our Apartment and the Eixample

Casa Terrades

La Sagrada Familia

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Park Güell

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Thank you for joining us on this joyous adventure. Do you have a favorite vacation spot? If you have ideas of where we should go next, please share them! – Entertaining Family

 

Happy Holidays from Barcelona

Hola friends! This year our family is enjoying the holidays in Barcelona, Spain. There is something wonderful about spending this time of year abroad….we get to see firsthand how another culture celebrates the season, meet new friends, try different foods, surround ourselves with great art and architecture, and spend a lot of uninterrupted time together as a family.

Our first days were spent at The Serras, a lovely five-star hotel along the waterfront with a beautiful rooftop bar and a delicious restaurant on the main floor specializing in Catalan tapas and fresh seafood. It was the perfect home base for touring some of Barcelona’s most historic sites including Ciutadella Park, La Rambla, and the Barri Gotic (the Gothic Quarter).

I have to say, after a long flight across the Atlantic, I love spending the first days of a trip in a comfortable hotel. First of all, the check-in time at most hotels can be flexible, and even if you can’t get into your room right away the concierge will keep your bags safe while you explore the city. Secondly, a hotel has amenities to pamper you after a long flight (and as you battle jet lag) – whether it is a glass of Cava at check-in, a well made bed, room service, or an in-room massage. It is nice to feel well cared for! (To keep our expenses down, and to spend time living more as locals than tourists, on day three of our trip we moved from our hotel to a wonderful apartment rental – we will feature that in our next post!)

Barcelona is a very child friendly city, and our little one was welcomed in to all restaurants, museums, and shops. Her favorite things about our first days in Spain had to be: churros and hot chocolate, the beach, the Picasso Museum, and the incredible doors found throughout the Barri Gotic. Probably in that order.

Around every corner in Barcelona there is something beautiful to behold. Whether it is the repeating arches found in doorways and stairways throughout the city, the rich colors of the food and spices in the Boqueria Market, or the simple but profound juxtaposition of old and new, it is a feast for the eyes!

Here are some photos from our first hours in Barcelona. You can also follow Entertaining Family on Instagram!

Arc de Triomf in Barcelona

Amazing Old Doors

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Tips For Air Travel With Small Children

My husband and I have been traveling with our daughter since she was a baby. She’s flown domestically and internationally – most of the time it has been delightful, and other times, meh….

There was the day she projectile vomited on a plane from Milwaukee to Detroit. The turbulence was awful and she lost it…literally…

Then, on a flight to Vermont she spiked a 104 degree fever. I had nothing to make her more comfortable or relieve her fever.

And most recently, on a trip to San Francisco she got her head stuck in the telescope handle of my suitcase (don’t ask).

These unfortunate events have happened for one reason…to ensure that I have experiences to draw from when doling out advice for traveling with children. So here goes dear parents, here goes…

Practical tips for plane travel with small children:

1.) Make a list and check it twice! Keep a paper or electronic list of everything that you need to pack and check it off as you go. Take the list with you so that you can use it again at the conclusion of your trip.

2.) If you’re lucky enough to be traveling with a partner, put one adult in charge of taking care of the little one’s needs (potty breaks, snacks, tantrums) and one adult in charge of luggage, ticketing, security, and gate navigation. Don’t rely on one person to do it all.

3.) Dedicate specific pockets in your carry on bag to keep IDs, passports, boarding passes, car keys, and credit cards. When you are stressed, these are the first things to be misplaced.

4.)When packing your carry-on bag, make sure that you have at least one change of clothes for your child, a travel bottle of Children’s Tylenol, and a small blanket to keep your little one warm and cozy (planes can get really cold).

5.) Allow your child to pack a little “carry-on” that has books, toys, coloring supplies, and an iPad loaded with parent-approved games, movies and TV programs. Keeping your little one occupied will help make the trip go smoothly.

6.) If you drive to the airport, make sure to send yourself a text with the location of your vehicle – it takes two seconds. Parents, you can get easily distracted when you arrive at the airport and have to unload luggage and children. It’s easy to lose track of your surroundings. And believe me – when you get home from a long trip, the last thing you want to be doing is wandering around the parking garage.

6.) Once you have made it through security, purchase a small snack and beverage for your little one. Then, if the airport has a kids play area let your child run around and burn off some energy.

7.) Before you board the plane, make sure your child uses the bathroom – even if they tell you they don’t need to! I’m convinced that kids have a physiological response to a plane’s takeoff which makes them have to go potty. “Mommy, mommy, it is an emergency! I need to use the bathroom now.”

8.) Once you are on the plane, ensure that your child’s seat is equipped with a disposable bag (a.k.a. “barf bag”), and take time to locate the nearest bathrooms. Remember, it is best to seat your child in the middle seat or next to the window. If there is turbulence and one of the luggage compartment opens, you don’t want anything falling on your child.

9.) Get your child situated with their blanket, iPad and a toy or two. Let them take of their shoes and get cozy. And remind them of the universal airplane rule: no kicking the seat in front of you.

10.) At some point during cruising altitude, make sure your child uses the bathroom – even if they tell you they don’t need to. Because, you guessed it…there is also a physiological response to a plane’s landing that makes a child have to go. And there is nothing more disgusting than using a plane’s bathroom after you have landed. I was once stuck in this situation – the air circulation fan had been turned off, the lights wouldn’t turn on, and the faucet wouldn’t run.Oh, the memories! Oh the horror!

11.) When you have gotten off of the plane and are waiting, and waiting, and waiting…whether it is for luggage, for a rental car, for a taxi… involve your child in little games like “I spy with my little eye” or “find the shape”. Anything to prevent boredom. When kids get bored, they get their heads stuck in luggage handles!

In the end, if your child did a relatively good job on the trip, compliment them for it. It is tough work for a kid to spend a day in airports and on planes following instructions, paying attention and sitting quietly.

I hope these tips are helpful. I could write a book about air travel with kids…this just scratches the surface…

If you’re looking for more ideas, check out this post from My Treks and Travels!

Bon Voyage!

Explore Montréal

My dear friends, today’s post is long over due! I apologize for the brief hiatus from Entertaining Family…it has had to do with our kitchen remodel, a full travel and work schedule, and a broken laptop…blah, blah, blah. Anyway, I am back and pleased to share a post about our recent adventures in Montréal.

If you haven’t been, I would highly recommend this sophisticated metropolis along the Saint Lawrence River. With fantastic restaurants, lively neighborhoods, beautiful architecture, and interesting street art, whether you are traveling solo, with a friend, a lover, or child, there is plenty to keep you occupied. The city is easy to navigate with convenient metro and bus lines, and almost everyone in the service industry speaks both French and English.

Our family flew from Milwaukee to Montréal by way of Detroit (my favorite of the large, international airports). It took about three hours to get to our destination – easy breezy, right? After a relatively short cab ride, we arrived at our hotel. As I stepped out of the yellow taxi and onto the old cobblestone street, I knew that we were embarking on a wonderful week abroad.

Streets of Old Port Montreal

Standing at Hotel Gault

We stayed at the beautiful Hôtel Gault located in Old Montréal, the historic district of the city. The hotel included a casual restaurant (open for breakfast and lunch), bar, lounge, and library. There was a wonderful photography exhibit on display, and plenty of places to sit and relax.

Martini at the Gault

Bar at Hotel Gault

Our hotel room was beautiful, with a huge wrap-around terrace that offered views of the downtown skyline. While on vacation, we were caught in a snow storm (spring in Canada!) and the terrace became a winter playland for our daughter. Thankfully, the next day was sunny and warm…

OLD MONTRÉAL

We could have spent our entire vacation in Old Montréal – there was so much to see and do. The narrow streets made getting around by foot the preferred method of transportation. Old stone paths wound us past the most exquisite architecture and sculptures.

Centre d'hisoire de Montreal

The Streets of Old Port

The Talking Ladies of Montreal 1

The Talking Ladies of Montreal 2

Also found in this great section of the city, is the Notre Dame Basilica, the Montréal Science Center, and Place d’Armes, a beautiful public square which is perfect for socializing, people watching, taking in the city, or arranging a horse-drawn tour.

Notre Dame Montreal

Science Center Montreal

Place d'Armes 1

horse drawn carriage

Food choices in Old Montréal are abundant, but our favorites were:

Chez Delmo: an upscale seafood restaurant with fresh ingredients and impeccable service – the perfect place to begin an elegant night on the town. In addition to serving beautifully plated meals, the wine list was extensive. The place is formal, but not stuffy.

Nolana: this rustic Italian eatery on Rue McGill is worth a trip. The tile pizza oven in the back of the restaurant cooks dishes to perfection! Pizza’s are served with a scissors (what a great way to self-serve!), and the seafood was fresh and tasty. In addition, the menu included a cocktail section that included wines, mixed drinks, bourbons, and other liquors.

Olive & Gourmando: laid back and lively, this popular brunch spot usually comes with a long line. If you’re not keen on waiting for a table, there is a takeout option. If you’re not in the mood for a full meal, grab a coffee and sample a fresh baked pastry. The vegan and vegetarian lunch options are delicious!

CHINATOWN

Chinatown is relatively small, but worth a visit. It is within walking distance to downtown and Old Montréal. In addition to housing some great food options, there are wonderful shops, a pedestrian street – perfect for sightseeing, and lots of public art.

Window Eating in China Town Montreal

China Town Mural Montreal

PLATEAU MOUNT ROYAL

The Plateau neighborhood is definitely the cosmopolitan, hipster, artsy center of the city. If you are looking for a bustling neighborhood filled with shopping, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and exciting nightlife, then this is your spot! A quick Metro ride from downtown, this area of the city engages all of the senses. In addition to a great street scene, Mont Royal Park is an expansive green space with hiking trails, playgrounds, and wide open areas. As the highest point in Montréal, it offers beautiful vistas of the city.

Plateau Montreal

View from Mt. Royal

Our time in Montréal seemed too short. With so much to see and do, we could have spent another week exploring. My daughter has decided that this is her new favorite destination and she has already requested a return trip this summer. Relaxing, casual, friendly…this city is divine!

If you enjoyed our post about Montréal, check out some of Entertaining Family’s other travel stories. Here are some of our favorites:

Camden, Maine

Photos from San Francisco

An Italian Inspired Dinner Party

Wine Tasting in Wisconsin

 

Vacationing in Maine, Part 3: The “Other” Portland

More often than not, when I tell people that I love spending time in Portland, they assume I mean the city on the west coast. I’ve been there too, but my favorite happens to be the original, on the other side of the United States. This waterfront city in Maine is full of exciting things to do! It is walkable, has beautiful parks and other open green spaces, and has an exciting food scene.

For our family, no trip to Portland, Maine is complete without a visit to the Eventide Oyster Company. The casual raw bar and eatery is my favorite restaurant. Ever. Anywhere. The seafood is always fresh and delicious, and the preparations are innovative and exciting. You can’t go wrong with a dozen east coast oysters, and bonus, they often shuck them right at the bar while you watch over a cocktail. My six-year-old can gobble up a dozen on her own! And then she follows it up with a battered hake sandwich. My husband and I recommend the greens, broiled jumbo winter point oysters, and tuna crudo.

One of my other favorite spots to relax in Portland is Zapoteca Tequileria which has delicious margaritas, an extensive tequila menu, and fresh, modern Mexican dishes. It is a great place to linger over drinks and shared plates. The interior is dark and romantic and the food is consistently good.

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In terms of places to stay when we’re traveling, my husband and I are usually huge fans of Airbnb and Vrbo, but our most recent visit to Portland we stayed at the Press Hotel which opened in May of 2015. It is housed in the former Portland Press Herald headquarters, which is the state’s largest newspaper. Today the interior of the boutique hotel pays homage to its printing press roots. The walls are covered with typeface paper and you can find antique typewriters throughout the hotel – our daughter loved playing with them…as did so many of the guests. The lower level houses a small art gallery.

Our room in the Press Hotel was very spacious and the finishes were luxurious. And upon our arrival, they brought my daughter a children’s book (Blueberries for Sal) and some fresh-baked cookies. She felt like Eloise living at the Plaza.

Our family also really enjoyed dinner at UNION, which is located on the main floor of the hotel. The setting was formal enough to feel special, but casual enough to make our child feel welcomed. One of the lovely servers brought over some “play” dishes and spoons so that our daughter’s dolls wouldn’t starve. Very thoughtful! Seriously, it is these little touches that elevate an experience to something truly special.

If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Portland one day, and you have brought little ones along, they will love this city! Try the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum which offers short train rides along the water’s edge, the Children’s Museum of Maine with three floors of interactive exhibits, Eastern Promenade Park which has two miles of walking trails, a playground, and great views of Casco Bay, or walk the narrow cobblestone streets of Old Port. For a kid-friendly, low-fuss lunch spot, head to the Portland Lobster Company and grab a seat along the waterfront. Then help your kids find the statue of the Maine Lobsterman!

If you missed my earlier posts on our travels through Maine, check out Augusta Day Trips or Fun in Camden. Maine is a beautiful state – one of my favorite vacation destinations. If you haven’t made it there yet, I hope you will consider visiting this special place. It’s perfect for families who love outdoor adventures, great food, cultural experiences, and waterfront living. Take time to tour a few of the smaller, quintessential New England towns like Bath, Hallowell and Camden, and don’t miss an opportunity to see that “other” Portland. You will fall in love!

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on Montreal!

Vacationing in Maine, Part 2: Fun in Camden

This story was originally featured on Entertaining Family in August of 2015. In honor of spring break, we are sharing some of our favorite travel posts.

Camden, Maine is a picturesque harbor town with great food, lovely views, and terrific hospitality. From fishing boats, to open green spaces, to white churches with tall steeples that seem to touch the clouds, this town is breathtaking. In fact, the place is so beautiful, that it was the backdrop for the 1957 movie, Peyton Place starring Lana Turner. Sigh.

While vacationing in Camden, we stayed at the Hartstone Inn, a quaint bed and breakfast in the heart of downtown. It was a terrific location within walking distance of everything we wanted to do (hike, shop, eat really delicious food, sightsee…), and the accommodations were charming. Our suite was spread over two floors, making it spacious enough for our family to stretch out and relax (in fact, our daughter and her toys had their own bedroom on the top floor).

Camden is definitely a foodie’s paradise. The restaurants are plentiful, but here are some of our favorites!

1.) Fresh

Close to the waterfront, we chose to eat at this simple, elegant and understated restaurant not once, but twice. The food is prepared using local, seasonal ingredients and refined spices. If you go, you won’t just be delighted with the food, but taken with the service. Rada Valkova, the Owner/Manager who runs the front of house is a pro! She checks in on all of the guests, sets lovely blankets on each of the outdoor tables in case there is a cool breeze, and ensures that you are well cared for even after the check has arrived. The beer and wine lists are simple but well curated. And if you’re looking for recommendations, you can’t go wrong with any of the following dishes: oysters on the half shell, panko crusted green bean fries, quinoa falafel, tabbouleh salad, and the Balkani sandwich.

2.) Hartstone Inn 

Located on Elm Street in downtown Camden, our bed and breakfast also had an amazing kitchen. The proprietors of the Hartstone are a well-traveled husband and wife team who have published gourmet cookbooks with recipes tested in the Inn’s kitchen. Michael Salmon, owner and chef, was trained at the CIA and has worked in many different culinary settings. Today he runs his own kitchen and offers cooking classes to guests of the Hartstone. We found the dishes comforting, well seasoned and beautifully plated.

3.) Primo

A short drive from Camden, is this phenomenal farm/restaurant in Rockland, Maine. The farm is spread over four acres of land and visitors are able to walk the grounds and take in the sites. There are greenhouses with lettuces, micro greens and heirloom varietals, garden beds stretching for as far as the eye can see, and dedicated open spaces where the free-range chickens and pigs roam. Our daughter was in heaven, and quite honestly, my husband and I were too.

The restaurant is in a two-story farmhouse with a welcoming wrap-around porch. Having child in tow, we ate on the second floor which is the more relaxed dining area. There are cozy booths, warm tables, and a casual bar that serves a paired down menu. Whether you choose casual or formal dining, this place does it right and the chef is a two-time James Beard award winner.

This isn’t just a restaurant, it is an experience!

Aside from all of the great food, Camden also offers wonderful opportunities to explore nature. One of our favorite excursions was a gorgeous three mile walk that took us down scenic Bay View Street to Beacon Avenue and back on Chestnut Street. On the way we passed an ocean-front park, a picture-perfect lighthouse, a historic cemetery, and colonial homes that were build in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Just outside of the city is beautiful Camden Hills State Park with 30 miles of hiking trails. We parked the car, put on our walking shoes and ventured up to the top of Mount Battie. We were delighted with the breathtaking views of Camden in the distance. It is the perfect spot for a picnic or, like our daughter, a journaling session to capture the scenery!

After a few days of traveling, sometimes it is nice to spend a quite evening in. Towards the middle of our trip, we decided that rather than eating out once again we would sample some of the gourmet stores in town and have a picnic at our bed and breakfast. Our first stop was Lilly, Lupine and Fern, a well stocked wine shop that also offers imported cheese, crackers, nuts and sweets. We loved the owners, who were very patient and knowledgeable. I think they had a nice chuckle when our six-year-old daughter asked for some of their “softest, stinkiest cheese”. In addition to this wonderful store, there are plenty of shops along Elm Street where you can pick up groceries and specialty items.

Summer in Camden, Maine is magical, and we enjoyed our time exploring the city. We left feeling much more relaxed. It is a family-friendly and laid-back town, and we can’t wait to return. We were so grateful to all of the local residents who gave us tips on things to do and places to see! I hope you will consider putting it on your list of travel destinations.

Next Time: Portland, Maine.