London: London Loves

We really only have a full day layover in London so we will incorporate food and fun into one blog.

IndianWhat to eat: England was once the kingdom where the sun would never set, it was so vast. India, Africa, Asia, America to start have all been colonies. As the British returned home, they often brought with diverse foods so London is truly an amazing place to eat. I’ve never been to India but I can say I’ve never had such good Indian food as in London. So, we made sure to eat Indian!

You can’t go to London without stopping in a pub for a meal. Luckily, many of the upscale pubs offer extensive and solid kids food menus. We chose the Hereford Arms, which was near our hotel and had been in existence since Victorian times, having been a haunt of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Alfred Hitchock. The children’s menu was great; little enjoyed traditional fish, chips, peas and a sticky toffee pudding after. Be aware: when eating at pubs, you may have to order at the bar and pay upfront for food, unlike in the states where you wait for service and a bill. Pubs also become more adult centered after 8 and often close around 10 – a pub is very different than a “bar” in the states.

What to do: With only one whole day to stay in London, we hit two of my favorite places. Keep in mind, there are TONS of great museums and things to do in London and most of the museums are free. FREE! But we had to prioritize for this trip.

The Tower of London: This isn’t a free museum but without a doubt, one of my favorite places in the world. I was sure little would love it, with it’s ghost stories, ravens, towers, yeomen, armories full of armor and weapons and gorgeous giant diamonds and gem collection! And indeed he did love it. We were there for almost 4 hours and there was certainly more to see. The armory collection within the White Tower was the biggest hit; plan to stay there for some time. Tips: Be sure to take the Yoemen tour, it’s free with admission and a very good way to spend 45 minutes. Also, buy your ticket ahead of time, save a lot of money and you won’t have to wait in line.

The Victoria and Albert Museum: This giant decorative arts and design museum was built in 1852 and houses over 4.5 million artifacts. Let that sink in… 4.5 million artifacts. There is simply no possible way for one to be bored here – there is something for everyone! We checked out art, furniture, paintings, crafts and the post-renaissance statuary collection. The V&A has some great little nooks for kids to explore and we spend some time in one that included a building area and costumes from the Victorian times to try on.

I’ve been to London a dozen times, and had we another day, we would have included the British Museum to get our Egyptian history on and the Museum of Natural History. In fact, the first night we were in London the Museum of Natural History was holding a kids sleep over camp – what a wonderful opportunity to check out the museum! We’ll for sure try to do that next time. A quick check on their websites will let you know what special exhibitions and kids activities are planned. Little LOVES hanging out with kids in different countries, it’s a great way to get your child to interact.

And like clockwork, it started to snow as we left London, blanketing the row homes in a perfect white dusting, straight out of a Dicken’s novel, inviting us back.

jbuguyigiy

Advertisements

Barcelona: Cooking School

When researching Barcelona, a partner at my company recommended taking a cooking course. Because we were traveling with my sister, who loves to cook, as well as little, who is always up for helping in the kitchen, this idea made perfect sense. What a truly unique way to experience culture – a food and market tour followed by a cooking class.

Honestly, there are so many highly rated classes the only reason we chose Barcelona Cooking School (BCS) was the fact that they charged half price for kids. At about $75-$100 a lesson per person, it was a significant savings.

The class started with us meeting in the BCS offices right on La Ramba, where we were introduced to Chef Lalo and we headed to the famous La Boqueria market. La Boqueria is on the site where there was a monastery at one time with the market being on the boulevard of La Ramblas, but it all moved indoors to the current space in the 1800s. Our chef admitted that most avid foodies, chefs and locals do not shop there, as it is expensive compared to other local markets. But the location is great and many folks that live in the immediate area do frequent it for quick shopping.

We started with the market tour, where Lalo brought us along to pick peppers, fresh eggs, herbs, jamon (ham), and seafood – we bought mussels, prawns, cuttlefish and baby clams. He pointed out how to determine the best and most fresh fish and how to ask for origin labels to ensure shellfish was coming from the Mediterranean or fish from the north sea. We took mental notes of where the peppers and Spanish saffron was the least expensive so we could pick some up after class.

Juice.jpg

One beautiful tHunting.jpghing about the market is the fresh fruit. Gorgeous fresh juices lined stalls for only a euro or two while cups of berries, dragon fruit and mangos sat in ice. Little picked mango and kiwi juice and watermelon juice. Chef explained to us that much of the fruit was greenhouse or out of season, except the mangos. He also showed us the foraged fruit area – tiny fresh berries – as well as the wild meat section, with rabbit, pheasant and grouse hanging. He showed us the difference in the color of meat when something is fed with grain, corn, free range and wild, which comes into play with Iberian ham, which is free range pork fed on acorns. This wasn’t for the weak of heart; there were many tongues, testicles, and lamb heads in the cases.

Once in class, we were given our tasks and instruction. Little was put on duty for dessert and Chef taught him to make Crème Catalan, a kind of crème brulee. We worked on a soup while others in the class cleaned seafood for the Paella and prepped ingredients for a Spanish omlette. BCS did a wonderful job with little; he was given real responsibilities – crack eggs and extract yolks, mix, use the torch to caramelize – all under the instruction of a professional but treated like a real contributor.

Paella2When we were done with our cooking, the 8 attendees and chef sat down to enjoy the meal together. It was delicious. Little tried many new things as kids often do when they are the ones cooking and he recognized a lot of what we grow in our own garden. He’s ready to return home and make some of the courses himself – including his new favorite, Pan con Tomate. Here’s how you make it:

·         Bread (toasted, sourdough)

·         Tomatoes from the vine, halfed

·         Olive Oil

·         Salt

Toast the bread lightly. Rub your tomato half on the bread, skin side up, until only the skin is left. Drizzle olive oil over the tomato and then add a sprinkle/pinch of flaky sea salt.

The above is the traditional Catalan breakfast and side for most meals that we enjoyed many times in Barcelona, sometimes with a simple slice of Manchego over it. Little swears he is going to make this every day when our tomatoes ripen this summer and the way he devoured it daily, I won’t be surprised.  Enjoy!

Barcelona: Where the Streets Have No Name

There is so, so much to do in Barcelona for families.

Gaudi Sites: There are some things you just HAVE to do in Barcelona and they shouldn’t LaSagrada5be skipped. La Sagrada Familia and all the wonderful things Antonio Gaudi did for example. La Sagrada Familia is the Basilica Gaudi famously started over 140 years ago that is STILL under construction. As Gaudi once said, his client (God) has no timeline. Under construction or not, it is absolutely a stunning and remarkable artistic contribution that is a must. The play of light in the glass, the towering arches, the tiny playful finds and passionate details – La Sagrada does not disappoint and is wonderful for families to visit. A few things to note:

  • It is a church. You must cover shoulders and knees and children need to be respectful.
  • Buy tickets ahead of time; it is wildly popular.
  • There are two different towers you can climb; you take an elevator up and walk across and down. Not for the weak of heart.
  • There is a great playground outside that is perfect for giving children an opportunity to run around; it’s split into two areas for tiny little and mid-sized ones.

 

ParcGueel3
Parc Guell

Parc Guell is another Gaudi masterpiece. The park sits on a hill overlooking Barcelona and contains two guard houses (you can visit one) as well as a nice area to walk around with gardens. When we visited, about half the area seemed to be under construction and that was disappointing. You’ll need to buy tickets ahead of time, as only 40 people are let into the park every 30 minutes.

 

Churches in Barcelona are beautiful and the ones we visited were free, with the exception of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, as that one came with a guided tour and trip up the Bell Tower, where we could see the roman wall and original old Barcelona boundaries.

 

BarcelonaCathedral1
Barcelona Cathedral

The Barcelona Cathedral is the resting spot for the tomb of St. Eulalia, the patron saint of Barcelona. The cathedral has much 14th and 15th century art as well as many famous characters from Barcelona history. You’ll find 13 white geese in residency in the outside cloisters, each one representing one year that St. Eulalia lived. We also visited the Church of Santa Anna, a 13th century monastery and chapel where we were lucky enough to attend a private Spanish Guitar concert. With only 20 seats in the chapel, it was very intimate and moving, but should only be attempted with children who can stay still for an hour and a half. Little was thrilled to buy a cd and have it signed after the concert.

 

La Rambla: This famous boulevard has vendors along both sides and tourists wander along until they meet the harbor. It’s a great place to pick up little things but it was very busy – and very touristy. Once we had walked up and down, we felt there wasn’t much of a reason to go back. If you do make it to the Harbor, there is an aquarium and large shopping mall there.

gotic.jpgNeighborhoods: La Rambla is very famous with tourists as is the gorgeous Gotic (Gothic) quarter. While the Gothic quarter’s beauty cannot be beat, the bottom level is crawling with tourists, postcard shops, chain places like McDonalds and Dunkin Doughnuts. On one end, the Gothic Quarter meets the old harbor (Christopher Colombus’s statue is here) and on the other, it meets Ravel, a higher end neighborhood the is overrun by tourists on weekends. We preferred staying in the Born area, which I had been told was a lower-income area with students and artist. As a result there were amazing coffee shops, tapas bars, bakeries within minutes of our door. Which brings us to where we were staying:

Aparthotel Aladda: An Apart-hotel is a neat concept where you stay in an apartment but it’s a hotel-like environment: there is someone at the front desk to help you some of the time. The one we chose was a one bedroom, two bath with a mini kitchen and was within a 5-10 minute walk to Ravel, the Gothic Quarter and all of the amazing sites so we wouldn’t need cabs, metro or buses. Barcelona is a maze of tall, 18th century buildings that circle around little plazas, each with different restaurants, cafes and shops. Ours had pizza, sushi, Chinese and tapas, a British pub, as well as a shirt boutique, pharmacy and small market and turned into an open-air market on Saturday. Oh! And a small playground, which little LOVED and played in daily. It was just around the corner from a self-serve laundry and only 2 blocks from the Picasso museum. It can be so, so easy to get lost in Born but technology to the rescue – we could always open the phone to check in and re-navigate to our apartment.

 

Picasso1
Picasso Museum

Speaking of the Picasso Museum, that was a lovely surprise! They offer an audio tour geared just for kids! It was a huge hit for little, who listened to every single moment and learned so much.

 

With a good base and the right attitude, you really can’t go wrong staying and playing in Old Barcelona.

Barcelona: Spanish Nights (Tapas)

Oh, Barcelona. We have eaten so well.

There are two things you will see over and over again as you look for food in Barcelona: Paella (to be covered in another blog) and Tapas. Tapas happens to be the *perfect* food for traveling with kiddos.

Tapas are small savory dishes served at a bar. Here is the deal: the tapas bars open at lunchtime and don’t become real “bars” until much later at night. You can stop by a tapas bar with your kid for lunch or early dinner (we try to be done by 7) and you will be welcomed in. And what a treat – order a glass of Cava or Red wine and start exploring the menu.

We made a meal of tapas every single day in Barcelona. Of course there are touristy places that aren’t the best (I question “nachos” on an authentic tapas menu, but maybe I’m wrong). Honestly, there are SO MANY highly-rated tapas places on every block, a quick google search for reviews and the flexibility to walk another block will ensure you have an enjoyable experience.

Small plates mean that kids can try something without breaking the bank. Little always

Tapas5
Pan con Tomato

wanted Pan con Tomato (a bread toasted and spread with tomato and olive oil), olives, and a vegetable side (asparagus is in season now.) He would often try a fish or a ham as well. The adults ordered potatos bravos, a wonderful potato wedge with cheese and picante sauce, as well as other local treats like cheese plates, duck, scallops. A good rule of thumb is order a few “safe” things for the kids and a couple adventurous plates you would like to try.

 

 

 

Some of the fabulous places we ate wonderful tapas in Barcelona:

We had so many more recommendations but just hit up well rated places near our neighborhood (Born.) You really can’t go wrong with a quick google search and taking a peek at the menu.

 

Little Perspective: Parks when Traveling

Park 1Little Perspective:  Little guy wanted to begin blogging about travel and since he is 7 and a great writer, why not? He even posed pictures for it. So we are adding to our little family blog posts from him which we will call “Little Perspective” – enjoy! 

When I travel I like to find parks that are close to the hotel. Because they keep from me getting bored. Also, because I like to see other kids. Parks also give you good exercise.

If kids want to play with me I will pay with them even if they speak a different language. I always wish I could go to a park even if it’s very cold outside.

IMG_20180223_060554_500.jpg

Berlin: Bells of Berlin

Cathedrals and churches in Germany tell stories. They tell the stories of the people that visited them; the hopes, dreams and prayers of those who attended, the gifts the rich devotes could gift; the scars from war, the special things that were saved in times of crisis; the miracle that some have been unscathed. They tell the story of Roman and Gothic architecture, of how people dealt with death and loss, of our amazing history of mythology and imagery and iconography and art.

What a great way to spend time with your child! And affordable to boot. We always look for local churches to check out in the neighborhoods we stay in while we are in Europe. We have interrupted mass in Galway, Ireland, discussed Game of Thrones with a Monk (also in Ireland), talked art with a nun in Scotland, listened to prayers from the devout in Germany… all without every being given a stinky eye or sharp word. In general, you will find that European churches enjoy young, well behaved, curious children. Well behaved is key – a church is a place of serious, devout worship and should always be treated with deep respect.

In Berlin, we went to the Parochialkirche in Mitte, the oldest (1695) protestant church in Berlin. It just so happened there was an exhibit on the Sistine Chapel, where large (huge!) reproductions of Michelangelo’s art was blown up so that every inch could be dissected into intent and backstory and meaning. Little had to be dragged out of this church exhibit; he couldn’t learn enough.

TV towerWe visited Mariankirche by Alexandreplatz (1270) which was not destroyed in WW2 so holds much of the local church artwork from the churches that were destroyed. There is a wonderful medieval fresco called “Dance with Death” that was painted in the entrance, wrapping around the walls showing how all members of society dancing with death, a white-cloaked specter.

Nikolai Kirche is an 800 year old double-spired landmark and who’s who of Berlin families, judging by the tombs. In 1939 it was turned into a public office and is now a city museum and concert hall. It’s the center of the Nikolai Viertel, which is an adorable

NikolaiKirche
Nikolai Kirche – Berlin

neighborhood with cute shopping and a ton of authentic German restaurants.

Berlin Dom – this is Berlin’s Cathedral and can not be missed. It does have a small entry fee of 5 Euro but it so worth it. The inside is spectacular and the crypt should not be missed. Little was fascinated by the tombs and caskets which are on display in the crypt and 500 years of Prussian burial history – so many little princes and princesses buried there in ornate boxes with crowns on top.

It’s a little uncomfortable jumping into the conversations to be had about God and death and ritual and history – and you can’t avoid those conversations when you spend time visiting churches in Europe. But be prepared for how you want to handle these conversations and the experience will be well worth it.

Berlin: Walking In Berlin

What to see? There is never enough time to do all the things I want to when we visit a place little hasn’t been before. We try to research beforehand a few “sure thing” places we know that all members of our family will enjoy and vet them with our group but also have back up museums if they happen to be closed or too busy or farther away than thought. In general, I make a list on google docs beforehand that I can quickly access with details; so any plans can be changed on the fly with a quick check on my phone of other nearby awesome places to check out.

Berlin has almost 200 museums, from the Currywurst MuseumCurrywurst Museum to the Mauermuseum (Wall Museum) to the Ramones Museum, there is  truly something for everyone. Our “short list” included:

DDR Museum: This highly interactive museum looks at life in the DDR before Germany reunited. There are 3 sections: Public Life, the State, and Private Life. This exhibit is great for kids because it really shows them the details: you can drive a Trabi car in an interactive exhibit, or explore an entire DDR apartment, flushing the toilet, opening the fridge and learning about common food, seeing what different outfits might look like on you (and learning about blackmarket Levis.) This museum is fabulous and stays open late so it’s a great addition to the day when most other museums begin to close. Good for all kids and adults. Be aware though – there are references to aspects of adult daily life that some kids might pick up on and a whole display about nude bathing.

 

Altes Museum: Altes Museum is on “Museum Island” – where you can find 5 of the major Museums. We chose Altes because of little’s love of ancient Greek and Roman times and Indian Jones. It’s probably not a good place for really young kids, kids that run around or love to touch. It’s a traditional museum with Greek statues and antiquities. If your child wants to see helmets, statues of Aphrodite, ancient jewelry, sarcophaguses, etc. then don’t miss this one.  Kids Free with adult entry!

NikolaiKirche.jpgNikolai Kirche:Nikolai Kirche: The Oldest churh in Berlin (13th century) is actually a city museum (Stadtmuseum) where for 5 euros you can learn a ton about Berlin’s most famous 17th century citizens. A bit boring for most young kids and certainly a place where you need to mind your manners and be quiet, our little loved it because of the audio tour (free with admission) and the really neat items that were excavated during renovations – basically, tomb raiding. Kids free with adult admission.

LegoLego Discovery Center: This is a big indoor playground in Potsdamer Platz with 2 rides and a couple activity areas. There are areas to play, design, climb, watch fun movies. This place is a good stop for kids to blow off some steam and be creative; but it is packed (!!!) with tons of kids running everywhere. It’s a good respite from the serious museums.

Of course, we wanted to see so many more museums but there is only so much you can cover in a few days. Just makes the next-time list that much smaller – only 165 museums left to go!

 

 

Berlin: Where are we now?

German food! Pretzels, Brötchen, Nutella, Pommes Frites, Kinder eggs and all the chocolate, wursts – what’s not to love? Here are some tips to eating in Germany with kids:

BreakfastFrühstück! Most hotels, BnBs and Hostels will include a traditional “frühstück” which is something that shouldn’t be missed. It’s usually a buffet of meats, cheese, tomatoes and cukes, with different types of breads, the best of which is called “Brötchen” (meaning “little bread”), a soft-on-the-inside-crusty-on-the-outside treat. You’ll also find fruits, yogurts, cereals, muesli (granolas) and spreads like Nutella and jams. The traditional breakfast would be to make a little sandwich, often open faced, with a yogurt or cereal as a side and some fruit. This is a hearty breakfast that will hold you over for a light lunch and every picky eater will enjoy something. Look for accommodations that include Frühstück – little looked forward to choosing between all the options and filling his plate (and belly) full every morning.

Pommes Frites: traditional European French fries, often covered with Mayo, Paprika, Curry ketchup or dry, you can grab these at an Imbiss (snack stand) almost everywhere. Look for sandwich boards that say “Imbiss” and usually have an arrow pointing. You can usually find a sausage or “wurst” at the same stand – this is usually a hit with kids. You will order your sauces as opposed to putting them on yourself, so remember that, and often you will be standing while you eat as these places don’t often have seating.Pizza

Italian food: Okay, it’s not German. But German’s proximity to Italy and open borders mean there are an abundance of super great Italian places that accommodate families and are inexpensive. In the states, Italian food is either Olive Garden or fancy, expensive and not always kid friendly – that’s just not true in Europe. So while in Germany, know that you can always have a hearty, delicious sit down dinner with your kids at a local Italian joint (link to Berlin’s Piazza Rossa). Bonus if they serve Spaghetti Eis (see below).

Eis Café: Oh. My. Heavens. The Eis Café has evolved from when I was little and you would find some scoops, some special ice cream dishes and some sweetheart chairs in a tiny shop. You can now go to fabulous places with extensive menus that will cost as much as dinner but what a wonderful memory you will have. In Berlin, our friend Laura took us to Caffe e Gelato. I wanted Spaghetti Eis: a sweet dish where vanilla ice cream is run through a machine to look like spaghetti, a strawberry sauce on top to look like marinara and white chocolate shavings to look like parmesan. It’s just so delicious and as precious as it comes! The café Laura took us to also offered Eis Hamburger, Eis Sushi, and all the fancy desserts parents would like as well. This is a treat that shouldn’t be overlooked!

Traditional Dinner: Most traditional German places have a kids menu and welcome children but be prepared for traditional foods like schnitzel and spätzle. If you have an adventurous eater, you can easily find yourself in a 700 year old building eating authentic German dinner with a Berlin Pils.

Candy: Don’t skip a stop to the grocery store, where you can pick up for less than a Euro Gummis in every kind – today, we found Fairies, Dragons and Enchanted Trees. You won’t find these Haribo in your local American grocery store. Milka bars with flavors you can only imagine (plus the Milka factory here where you can design your own bar) and of course, the legendary Kinder Egg, mythically banned from the United States since the 1920s. Or 1992. Or 2010, depending on who you speak to. If you bring them home, you may go to jail. Or have them confiscated or pay a fee. Or just bring them home – I have yet to hear a consistent story. But the chocolate is delicious and the toys always a fun surprise!

KinderEggs

Guten Appetit!