A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel with my sisters to Italy to meet our brother, Chad, who is studying architecture in Rome. Getting there was more of an adventure than I would have liked, which leads me to the following PSA:
Your passport has to be valid for 3-6 months after your intended return date or they will not let you on the plane to a foreign country. You may be asking “Why then do they have expiration dates if the passport isn’t valid for 3-6 months prior to that?” I don’t know. But now you know: get your passport renewed.
And so we had to leave one sister stateside to get her passport renewed and meet us later in the week in Rome, and after a canceled flight and a huge delay that led to us missing our first night in the Cinque Terre, we finally made it to Italy.
Throughout our trip, we were very grateful for the kindness of strangers, friends and friend of friends who helped us navigate, kept the baby entertained on long train rides, let us cut in line, offered us free hot chocolate and showed us where to get the best pizza and gelato. Even though parts of it were much rougher going then we anticipated, any time you get to spend in Italy is pretty magical.
So first up, some reflections on our time in the Cinque Terre. Oh how I wished we hadn’t missed our first night here. It was so beautiful and peaceful. Although it seems kind of silly to fly half way across the world to visit the coast, I don’t think there’s a coast nearby that is quite as picturesque. See for yourself:
I’m so glad our Airbnb host recommended we take the ferry to visit the other villages of the Cinque Terre. We stayed in Riomaggiore, which is wonderful because it is nice and quiet. But getting to see the others from the sea and visit each of them for a couple of hours was a great way to maximize our time there. If we had had another day, we would have spent some time walking the trails between the villages or laying on the beach.
What else can I say about Cinque Terre? It’s great. You should go sometime. The food is all good. The views are incredible. It’s wonderful. Oh, and I really liked that we made the most of our week-long trip by having some quiet downtime here and some fast-paced exploration in Rome. It was the perfect combination.
A few months ago, Steve and I were thinking about doing a babymoon, or in some way, one last hurrah before our next little one arrives and all that gets more… challenging. At first we thought we’d go just the two of us, but we realized that our three oldest are really at this golden age for adventuring. They’re good at listening and following instructions (i.e. not wandering off into the street or just disappearing somewhere), and they love to adventure and try new things. We wanted to soak up one last family vacation just the 5 of us, before a new little one comes along that, at very least, requires more equipment to travel with.
Having loved our trip to Victoria last spring, we decided to take the kids there. It was a place we know we enjoy, but have already explored, so if we didn’t actually get out much, we wouldn’t be heartbroken. Plus, you have to take a ferry to get there, and ferries are pretty magical. Of course, we got the more magical ferry experience on accident. We planned to drive to Port Angeles and take the Coho Ferry across, about a 45 minute voyage. But after booking our AirBnB apartment (non-refundable), we discovered the Coho was out of commission for the week of our trip. WHAT!!!??!?! I guess I wasn’t aware you could just not have a ferry running. So in a panic we had to discover other options and were fortunatley able to find a ferry that sailed from Seattle and was over a 2 hour journey. More expensive (=less fun for adults) but more time on the water (=more fun for kids).
The Victoria Clipper, sailing from Seattle, presented another issue. It only sails once a day, at 8 am from Seattle, and at 5 pm from Victoria. Which meant that we would have some time on the bookends of our trip in which we would be without a place to keep our things. So we decided that instead of the adults carrying a larger suitcase, each person was going to have to carry their own backpack. We packed only the bare essentials and headed off.^ Daddy and Ellie on the Victoria Clipper^ Our first stop: the fountains outside of Parliament
^ So much of Victoria was under construction, but the cherry blossom trees were in bloom! ^ Naptime was an important part of the day. Being 7 months pregnant, I had no complaints about this. ^ I think this will always be one of my favorite pictures. Love these boys so much. ^ When we decided we’d be taking the kids, we knew we’d end up spending more time in the condo then if it were just the two of us, so we decided that the view and feel of our AirBnB was important. I’m so glad we chose this one. Gorgeous views, easy access to everything we wanted to see and do. And the hostess had a record player that got very, very loved as the weekend drew on. So loved, in fact, that now we have a record player of our own. ^ Side note: These windows had such amazing light… I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make Steve snap some pictures. AHHHH. I want to live in this apartment forever. Not even joking. And with the way this election is going… ^ Before our trip, I gave Olivia the option of choosing to have a birthday party or to go to Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel while we were in Victoria. She chose Afternoon Tea, so we did just that. It was pretty magical, and they even gave her an edible “Happy Birthday” sign. Such fun when you’re almost five years old.^ Here they are with their backpacks on our last day. We had a five hour chunk of time to kill, so we wandered around the city, ate some waffles and some fish tacones (that’s a cone-shaped taco in case you were wondering), watched the boats and sea planes and picked up our stash of hot chocolate and coffee from Murchie’s (because they make our favorite). The kids did pretty well carrying all their own things, so I think we’re ready for a family backpacking-through-Europe trip.
^ We gave each of the kids an allowance for the trip. They could spend it on whatever they wanted, but once it was gone, it was gone. Olivia saw a sparkly mermaid doll on the Victoria Clipper so she saved her money the whole time in order to get that on our return trip. Ellie picked a journal and pen from a stationery store that she loves. Like a lot. When we took a breather outside of Parliament on our way to board our ferry, she got right to work on her journal, writing important things like, “I love my sister Olivia because she plays Anna and Elsa with me.”
In the end, I’m so glad we took the kids with us for our babymoon. There were some moments when I had to take my expectations into check and remember to be flexible. Fortunately, Victoria is full of the nicest Canadians, so we always felt welcome. The kids are already begging to go back, and they can’t stop talking about that ferry.
And now we’re off to make scones and drink tea, in anticipation of becoming ex-pats. Cheers!
P.S. For some of our favorite places to eat and explore in Victoria, see this post.
I hope I will always be able to remember the feeling of walking through the main square of Prague for the first time. The city is so charming and magical that it seems fake. It’s like how downtown Disneyland feels, only it’s real life and it keeps going and going. My toes were incredibly bruised by the end of four days there because I was always tripping all the time – I was never looking down at where my feet were…
I’m not even exaggerating. Little apartment buildings are painted the prettiest colors and have beautiful scroll details on all the windows and doors. It’s surreal. You can go inside churches that took over 1,000 years to build. And have since survived countless wars and regime changes.
Apparently, after the defeat of communism, the entire city was black from the burning of coal for heat. Many of the great churches and museums and the Charles Bridge are still black. But all the buildings in between have been scrubbed clean and repainted and they are just dazzling. I can’t even describe it, so you just need to go sometime, okay? But not on the weekends. Apparently it is becoming the Las Vegas of Europe because dining is so inexpensive there. So stick to a Monday-Friday schedule and you’ll be good.
We were super lucky to be with a group led by Sam and Robin, who had lived in Prague for a couple years. They live in Portland now, but they knew of some of the best places to eat and things to see and I’m glad they passed their recommendations on to us.
It’s hard to even list things to do in Prague because the list basically goes like this:
Leave wherever you are staying and walk around. Everything around you is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. Enjoy it.
Although I guess I could add a few more places to suggest if you’re interested.
Grosseto Marina – Our first night we ate at this Italian “floating restaurant”. The food was incredible. The view was incredible. It’s going down in history as one of my top favorite meals of all time. Plus, it was Steve’s birthday, which made it extra special. And you can order like 2 euro worth of focaccia and they will bring you a whole bunch. And I love focaccia.
Terasa U Prince – We went to this rooftop bar for drinks after dinner our first night. It’s magical. All the city landmarks are lit up in 360 degrees around you.
Bakeshop Praha – There are a couple of these around and they are so good. I miss them already. Bring me more chocolate croissants!!!!
Cafe Savoy – This is another place we mapped out ahead of time because I saw it on that Buzzfeed article about great pastry shops. They serve “Savoy Hot Chocolate” which is not the same as hot cocoa. It’s actually a drinking chocolate and it’s very rich. If you’ve never tried it, you really should. Also, I would recommend getting dessert from their counter instead of off the menu. The menu is limited, the counter has so many amazing options! Oh! And they have a pureed carrot soup that is one of the best soups I’ve ever tasted. It might sound weird but it is fabulous. You will like it. Even Steve liked it (a lot) and he is weird about cooked vegetables sometimes…
Gold Pralines – a Prague local told us these are the best chocolates in the city. I didn’t get to try all the chocolates in the city, but these ones are pretty good.
Lennon Wall – a little difficult to find on Kampa Island. But it’s pretty cool. And makes a great photo backdrop. See?
Hergetova Cihelna – A delicious restaurant. While we were there all kinds of security, including a bomb-sniffing dog, came to scope the place out. After we left, I think the Prime Minister of Israel and his entourage dined there. So basically, it’s a big deal. But you can still get a top quality steak for $30.
You know that Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas”? Well, apparently he wasn’t a king at all, but he was like the best person the people of Prague ever knew. Isn’t that nice? He has a whole square dedicated to him. And his story is so great that some Englishman adopted it and made it into that Christmas song we sing. In Wenceslas Square is the National Museum Building. It is one of the buildings still covered in black soot. When the Communists came and took over, they shot the building up and then demanded that the locals fix it. They did repair the holes in the facade, but with mismatched plaster, so you can still clearly see what the Communists did. Their own personal way of sticking it to the man. The city is filled with all kinds of little historical treasures like this.
Trdelnik – They make this at little carts all over the city and it is yummy. Basically, if you love pretty buildings and castles and spires and carbs, Prague is the city for you.
Additional Tips: Get yourself a map. There are very few thoroughfares. Almost no streets are straight or even go for very long by the same name. It’s easy to get turned around. So get a map and you’ll be better off.
That being said, Old Town Square and New Town Square and the Charles Bridge (and all the other bridges) are fairly easy to find, especially if you keep your map handy. You can walk to all of these destinations in just a few minutes, so don’t be afraid to explore and take different routes and you just may end up overlooking the city from a castle. And leave free time in your schedule! If we had had the time I would have loved to see a concert in some of the old concert halls. They play Mozart and many other famous pieces on a regular basis – and it’s not even that expensive! Basically, Prague is the coolest ever.
Wear shoes with thick soles. Two words for you: Cobblestone. Everything.
If you are exploring on your own without a local I would totally recommend this book: Prague and the Czech Republic by Rick Steves. I’d never heard of these books before, but apparently they are a big deal. When Robin and I explored the Jewish Quarter we followed along in the book – it’s the perfect way to learn a bit of the history and culture without being on an annoying tour or being completely inundated with tons of information. It is really well done!
Pickpockets are apparently a big problem, so be aware. Shoulder bags that zip and you can keep your hand on are better than backpacks, especially when using public transportation. Keep all irreplaceable documents (like passports) close to your body or in a safe place. When packing for your trip, jackets with inside pockets that zip are your best friends!
For me, it was important not to look too much like a tourist on our trip and to be dressed appropriately. I spent some time researching and the main thing to remember in both Berlin and Prague, is that locals are smartly dressed. In the winter they are bundled up, but there is nothing flashy or crazy going on. Think more conservative and natural. And no sweatpants ever.
Again, tap water is free and drinkable and they’ll give it to you only if you ask!
A couple of weeks ago, Steve and I had the opportunity to travel to Berlin, Germany and Prague, Czech Republic for the week. It was my first trip to Europe! Although I wouldn’t have picked either of those places out of all of Europe to explore first, I ended up being surprised by how wonderful each of these cities is.
We traveled as part of a group of MBA students from the University of Portland. Steve is getting his MBA and had to go, and I wasn’t about to let him go without me. As always when you travel in a group, you meet some characters that are very entertaining. Fortunately, most of the characters were pretty cool with us stealing away by ourselves most of the time. So that was nice.
Berlin really took me by surprise. I didn’t expect to enjoy exploring it as much as I did. Before our trip, we spent a bit of time thinking about what we wanted to do. We had limited time – essentially only two free days to explore, so we wanted to have an idea of things we really wanted to do or see so we could get them done.
I’ll just throw it out there that if you’re into museums, Berlin is the place for you. They have a whole place called “Museum Island.” And then they’ve got like a whole bunch of museums not on that island. Personally, I’m not the museum type. Especially not on short trips. I like to just walk around and look at things and eat things. Mostly, the ideal vacation is walking from good food to good food and seeing things along the way. So our plan was basically to look up food places, find them on a map, and then find a cool way to get there.
My favorite day was Tuesday. We set out for the Cafe und Kondetorei Buchwald because I read some random article on Buzzfeed recommending this place as one of the top 25 bakeries in the world. I don’t know that I would put it on that pedestal, but it was a fun adventure. On our way there, we walked through the Tiergarten. It was beautiful in the fall, and not too huge. In the middle of the Tiergarten we happened upon the Victory Column and decided to climb to the top. For about 3 euro a piece, this is one of the least expensive, touristy things you can do and I totally recommend it. The views from up there are amazing.
One of the most interesting things about Berlin, I think, stems from its separation into East and West via the Berlin Wall. From the top of the Victory Column you can still see the division of the city – old in the east and new in the west, with the line getting blurrier day by day.
A few other things you might consider doing on your adventure:
Cafe und Konditorei Buchwald – they’re famous for something called baumkuchen. It’s like an apricot cakey thing. And sometimes it’s covered in chocolate. It’s no cronut, but you should try some for the German experience and all that.
Berlin Wall – we stumbled upon the “Topography of Terror,” which is just as inviting as it sounds. It’s a city block where they have preserved a piece of the Berlin Wall next to the footprint of where the Prince Albert Hotel once stood before it was bombed towards the end of World War II. The hotel became the headquarters of the SS and all of Hitler’s operations. It’s an incredibly eery place to be. There is graffiti all over the wall and one of the markings said, “To Astrid: maybe someday we will be together.” Yep, made me cry right there in the middle of the city. It was even more impactful after having finished Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy this summer. The final book features a family separated by the Wall, so standing by something that caused so much pain and suffering for so long was a very sobering experience.
Brandenburg Gate – it’s huge, it’s beautiful, one time Napolean walked through it. And probably some other famous people, too. Go at night. It’s lit beautifully and there are fewer people around smooshing you. Also, it’s right next to the Reichtstag, which is not as well lit, and therefore probably more interesting to explore in the daylight. But it is the place Hitler had the SS set on fire so he could take control of the government. It is currently where the German parliament meets.
Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt – Our hotel recommended this as one of the best, authentic German food restaurants in the area. You can ask for an English menu. It was delicious. I had a potato and sausage soup that was so good and soothing on a slightly jet-lagged stomach. Steve had the veal schnitzel. I stole some and it was good.
Gendarmenmarkt – it’s so beautiful at night. And there is a concert hall. If we had more time, we would have gone to a concert because it looked amazing. Also, there is a little Christmas shop there that sells the famous hand-carved Christmas pyramids. They are incredible. Bring $100,000 with you so you can buy some.
Additional tips: Bring a warm coat. It’s cold in the fall and winter. Everyone there is wearing puffy, down coats so you won’t look out of place. // Also, know what you are going to order before going up to the counter. In Berlin, they prefer the clipped, most direct form of speaking. No “danka schoen” necessary. Just “danka” will do. // In restaurants, you will likely end up asking for the check.If you’re in a hurry, do it sooner rather than later.
Oh! And the most important thing. Well, in my opinion. The tap water is totally drinkable, but most locals don’t drink it because they are crazy prefer sparkling water or beer or wine. As someone used to drinking about a gallon of water a day, I thought I was going to whither away. If you ask for water in a restaurant, they will ask you “Still or Sparkling” and whichever one you pick, it is going to cost more than wine and they’re going to give you about a shot’s worth. Seriously. They treat it like Cleopatra just dropped her pearl earring into your water. But you can ask for tap water. And they will bring it to you and it is free and there is a lot of it. So, get yourself some tap water. Thank me later.
In case you didn’t get overloaded on vacation pictures via my Instagram, here are some more! Aren’t you so glad? I know you are. We spent last week swimming and playing at Lake Cascade in southern Idaho. My grandparents invited us to stay at the lake house. It’s so beautiful there. I love taking my kids to one of my very favorite childhood places. It’s amazing to see them enjoying the same things that I was fortunate to enjoy, and still do!
We were lucky to be escaping the ridiculous Portland heat. Goodness gracious. I am not cut out for 100 degree temps anymore. Seriously. I felt like Henry, who keeps saying over and over again, “I’m Olaf. I’m melting.”
And the water this year was incredible. It’s never been so warm! Lake Cascade is a reservoir created by glacial run-off and rain fall, so I think that because there was hardly any snow this year, the water was never that cold to begin with. I know all the skiers at Brundage and Tamarack were disappointed, but it worked nicely in our favor this summer.
^^ these are my grandparents, Bud and Ellie, with the girls. this is where our Ellie got her name. and Henry Campbell is named after Bud, whose full name is Merle Campbell, and also after my brother, Charles Campbell. It is their lake house that we visited, and it is always lovely to spend time with them, which doesn’t happen nearly enough.^^ I found a picture of my sisters and me with my grandma from 20+ years ago… and I was happy that my grandma thought it would be fun to recreate it.
^^ we always make a stop at my father’s place in mccall, idaho. they have delicious milkshakes!^^ my cousins, hailey and wyatt, are the same ages as my kids and they get along so well! the five of them had a sleep-over together in the attic after a very long day of swimming and s’moresing. ^^ henry was quite the celebrity when we snacked at ice cream alley. but seriously, who could not love those adorable little lips all blue from bubble gum ice cream.
^^ most of the days were just all about the swimming. with intermittent breaks to eat and maybe watch a movie. it is summer vacation after all.
and then came the fireworks!^^ the sunsets on the Fourth always seem particularly spectacular. we like to bundle up (to keep the mosquitos at bay) and watch it while we wait for fireworks. // lake cascade is my absolute favorite place to spend the 4th of July. I love the boats coming in while the sun set. I love the fireworks reflecting off the water as their echoes boomerang through the canyon. and then the boats return, glowing and sparkling in the darkness as amateur fireworks go off all over the lake. it’s pretty magical. especially when you get to take it all in with your favorite people in the world.
While we were watching the fireworks, Olivia exclaimed, “OOOHH! That one had hair!” and Henry remained mostly quiet until he blurted out randomly, “Hi, Firework! How was your day, Firework?” Isn’t he so polite?
(If you want to see a timelapse I took of the sun setting, the boats coming in and the fireworks from Donnelly, Idaho, check out the video here: Fireworks Over Lake Cascade.)
Where does your family like to vacation? Do you like taking your children back to your favorite places?
A couple of weeks ago, Steve and I got the opportunity to get away for a few days (thanks to some generous grandparents who took our kids) and explore Victoria, BC. We had the best time. Did you know Victoria was so cool? Right now, my idea of a good vacation is some place that is fun and relaxing, without having so much to do that you feel like you have to run around and see everything. Oh, and also, good food. Victoria has it all.
We originally thought it would be fun to stay in or near Seattle, but it’s so expensive that we realized we could do way more for way less in Victoria. Plus, I had never been to Canada before. I’ve lived in the gorgeous PNW my whole life and never crossed that border. Although Banff has always, always been on my list. And Steve really wants to go to Montreal. He is practicing his French.
Anyway, Victoria is beautiful and was the perfect getaway. We stayed at a condo we found on Airbnb. It was spectacular, with a 180 degree view of the city and the harbor. Airbnb is actually my favorite thing invented by the Internet. If you have never tried it, do! You will never go back to hotels. I feel like it makes traveling so much more affordable and real – not so touristy, and I love that.
Before embarking, we didn’t realize what a cool city Victoria is, but we had so much fun exploring that I thought I’d share our favorite things to see, eat and do in this beautiful city.
1. Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel: Steve surprised me by setting up reservations here for us. It is spendy (even more so in the summer months), but it was really fun and fancy. We started with strawberries and cream and were served tea with milk and sugar and then three courses of finger foods: sandwiches, biscuits and jam, and delectable desserts. It was fun to get dressed up and pass the afternoon drinking in the view of the harbor with the tinkling of china and soft voices all around. I definitely think we should bring back tea time as a standing tradition! (And now when you come over to my house I might serve you tea in teacups. Or coffee if you prefer that kind of thing.) Fun fact: they have been using the same china pattern since 1939, so you might be drinking out of the same cup that King George drank out of! // Reservations are suggested, but walk-ins are always welcome. 721 Government Street
Breakfast at the Blue Fox Cafe: Steve and I have a pact that whenever we are somewhere new we order one sweet breakfast item and one savory and split them. The Blue Fox has the best of both worlds. They’re famous for their multiple takes on the “Eggs Benny”, so of course we had to try it. We paired the Badger Benny with the Oranges del Sol French Toast. Let me tell you that I had almost lost my faith in French toast… because I always expect it to be so delicious and too often it’s just meh. But the Oranges del Sol renewed my faith. Perfectly grilled with cinnamon, roasted pecans, orange segments and triple sec syrup. Such exquisite perfection.Oh, and the Badger Benny was top notch as well. // 101-919 Fort Street
Charlie Bowls at Jam Cafe: Imagine everything you could love about breakfast all in one bowl: hashbrowns, biscuits, cheese, ham, green onions, fried eggs and hollandaise sauce. That is the perfection that is a Charlie Bowl. I want to eat this and nothing else forever. Except also Oranges del Sol (see above) and Murchie’s Hot Chocolate (see below). So, so good. (The French toast with grilled peaches here was also good, just not on the same level as the Oranges del Sol, in case you were wondering.) // 542 Herald Street
Red Fish Blue Fish: A little food cart famous for their fish and chips, this place has a great view and relaxed atmosphere and really good seafood. My favorites were their take on clam chowder, which had a very Thai curry feel to it, and their tacones (as in a taco + a cone, a cone shaped taco, if you will). This place is popular and the wait is long, but worth it. Also there couldn’t be a much better place to wait, in my opinion. // 1006 Wharf Street
Royal BC Museum: This is one of the coolest museums I have been to. I think it would be a very ideal place to take children, as it is very interactive. You can walk up to and almost touch a life-size wooly mammoth in their natural history section. The social history floor has an extensive exhibit about the First Nations that inhabit Canada, complete with a tour of their languages. I’m a language aficionado, so I loved that part. They also have walk-through exhibits of what a main street in European settlements would have looked like, complete with a tiny theatre playing Groucho Marx movies. The backdrops and sound effects look so real! The only thing missing was the authentic smells (and that’s a good thing, because, let’s face it, none of that smelled very good). The museum is not very big, so you can easily get through it in an afternoon, which is the way I like my museums. // 675 Belleville Street
Vista 18: I heard a tip once to find out where the best place is to watch the sunset and then plan to be there to see it. (Your weather app will tell you what time sunset is.) We asked our Airbnb hosts for recommendations and they suggested Vista 18. It was right next to our condo, but with gorgeous panoramic views of the city and harbor and a live band playing. Spectacular. One of those places you never forget. // 740 Burdett Avenue
Pagliachi’s: A very romantic spot for dinner or dessert. And so… yumm. // 1011 Broad Street
Murchie’s Coffee and Tea: Steve said that the Murchie’s Best is the best coffee he has ever had. We got some for our mothers for Mother’s Day because it is so good. And as soon as I had one sip of their hot chocolate I told Steve we had to take some home. It really is good. And also, I may be an adult but I still prefer to drink hot chocolate like a child, because it tastes much better than coffee. If you dine in, they serve your drinks and pastries on a silver platter. No kidding. We’ve also heard this is a much less expensive alternative to Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel. Also, don’t leave Victoria without trying one of their almond croissants. Just don’t. // 1110 Government Street
And honestly, just walking around Victoria was one of my favorite parts. Everyone is very friendly and everything is beautiful. At night the harbor is perfection.
Travel Tips in Victoria:
If you plan on using a credit card, you need one with a chip on the front. All restaurants and stores use a handheld device that you put the card into. It’s nice because your card never leaves your sight and you can confirm right there that you are paying the correct amount. Apparently the US is way behind in these new safety measures, but we’ll be transitioning over in the next few years. We got an international credit card for this trip so we didn’t have to worry about fees and never had to exchange cash, which was very nice.
The drinking age is 19, but if you get carded (which I did almost every time… I know I look young, but I thought I at least looked older than 19…), you will need two forms of identification, one with a picture. Your name on a credit card will do for the second. Be prepared.
We parked our car for $6/night in Port Angeles, Washington and took the Coho Ferry across. Since we stayed right downtown, we never needed or miss our car (and were in fact glad to be rid of the hassle of finding parking, etc.). We didn’t go to some of the tourist attractions that are out of the main downtown area like the Butchart Gardens (Steve has terrible allergies this time of year, so an afternoon in the gardens would have made him miserable the rest of the trip), but we saw many buses that would have taken us there if we had wanted to go.
Have you ever been? Did I leave anything out? We are thinking of taking the kids maybe later this year. I think they would love it!
P.S. Victoria totally feels like a sister city to Portland. We actually heard the words “bikes” “beards” and “beer” in the same sentence and felt like we had been transported back home. Ha!
Last week Steve and I went with my family to New York City for a little (much needed) excursion. It. Was. Wonderful. I totally get why everyone loves that city so much. Everywhere you look there is something so beautiful that you will say to yourself, “Wow! This is the prettiest thing I have ever seen.” And then you will turn around and say, “Oh wait, maybe that’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Grand Central Station? Movies never do that justice.
Central Park? So romantic and quiet you would never guess it is smack-dab in the middle of one of the world’s biggest cities.
Everywhere we went there were breathtaking churches and intricate carvings on beautiful buildings. I didn’t even take pictures most of the time because I knew that no picture would ever do justice to actually being there. It’s really a place you have to see in order to fully appreciate.
Also, New Yorkers? Nicest people ever. Well, most of them anyway. Super helpful, super not flustered with how annoying tourists can be. (Because tourists are seriously the worst. I know I was a tourist, too, but I never took a selfie that stopped traffic or while I was at the memorial pools at Ground Zero, so I don’t think I was that bad.)
I feel like the easiest, most helpful way to recap this experience would be to just bullet point my favorite highlights, along with some tips if you ever wanted to do the same. Please keep in mind, we only barely scratched the surface of New York City. If you just go there with no agenda but to walk around and eat the food you will not be disappointed. (Because the food is so amazing. It kind of sucks to be back in my normal life with my normal food nowadays. I need to become a really amazing chef, fast. Or move to NYC. That would work, too.)
So here’s my list of favorite things, but not in any particular order
(or, 21 Things to Do, See and Eat in NYC):
1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: We also visited the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Modern Art, but this one was definitely my favorite. So many famous paintings, sculptures, and artifacts. We saw “George Washington Crossing the Delaware” up close and personal. And it’s humongous. And that was just one. There were so many incredible paintings, I can’t list them all. I definitely wish that we had gone earlier in the week when we had more stamina for exploring, because this place deserved no less than a full day of our time. MoMA is pretty cool, too. And for the first time I stood in front of a Pollock and totally understood the hype. His work really is pretty moving. It’s strange. I think you definitely have to see it in person to understand.
2. Taping of Late Night with Seth Meyers: We are huge Seth Meyers fans and have followed him from SNL over to late night, so we’ve always wanted to see him live. I tried calling ahead of time to reserve tickets to the show, but they were already sold out. So we learned that you can wait in the standby ticket line outside of the NBC Experience Store at Rockefeller Center for tickets. I think these were the most worth-while lines we stood in. It was really cool to see a show taped live. The studio is beautiful and Mr. Meyers did the whole thing in one take. It was so fun to see someone we’ve followed for years in real life. If only Fred Armisten had been there, too, instead of in Portland filming Portlandia. (Standby tickets are numbered and then those ticket holders are seated according to how many regular ticket holders don’t show up to check in at the appointed time. So, if 15 regular ticket holders don’t come, 15 standby ticket holders will be seated. Therefore, the earlier you arrive to the standby line, the better your chances are. At 9 am the line is divided into those waiting for Jimmy Fallon tickets and those waiting for Seth Meyers tickets. We arrived in line at 7:30 and were 3rd and 4th in line for Seth Meyers. You cannot get tickets for anyone not in the line. When we went the line for Jimmy Fallon was much, much longer. Only 148 audience members are seated in studio 8G. Click here for more information.)
3. Pippin on Broadway: My favorite of the two Broadway shows we saw. This is a revival of a classic and it is incredible! The story is set within a circus, so there are all sorts of aerial tricks and gymnastics and dancing and magic and fire and just everything cool! Plus great music and lots of funny breaking of the fourth wall. A really fun show to see! (We bought tickets at the TKTS booth in Times Square the day of the show. Music Box Theater. 239 West 45th Street.)
4. Phantom of the Opera on Broadway: The quintessential broadway experience, beautiful music and sets. Never a disappointment. Steve and I have decided to learn to sing, “All I Ask of You,” as a duet, so you know. we’re super cool. (We bought tickets at the Majestic Theater 3 days in advance. 247 West 44th Street.)
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at the Ziegfeld Theater: The Ziegfled is a famous theater where movies often premier. It’s huge! And Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is actually a really good movie! I was surprised! If you’re in Midtown and need to pass a rainy evening, the Ziegfeld is a pretty great place to do so. (Also known as Bowtie Cinemas. They only show one movie at a time. 141 West 54th Street.)
6. Row Boats in Central Park: The most romantic thing you can do in NYC? Possibly. (It’s a big city, so that would a pretty big statement to make.) But definitely one of my very favorite things we did, just me and Steve early in the morning. So beautiful and tranquil and majestic all rolled into one. (Cash only. $15 per hour, plus $20 boat deposit returned to you when you return your boat. The Loeb Boathouse opens at 10 am.)
7. Highline Park: Everyone said we should go there and they were right. It’s very cool. If I were a New Yorker I would never tell anyone about this because I would want it to stay our little secret. But I’m not a New Yorker, so I told you. An old stretch of railroad was converted into a park and has various art sculptures on display as well as beautiful plants and little places to stop and take in the view of the Hudson or the City. You can get on an off at multiple locations, so it’s a great place to visit on your way to other places. (For more information, including access points, click here.)
8. Bryant Park: Just beautiful. Surrounded by gorgeous buildings and complete with a carousel! We were sitting there eating cupcakes as a giant yoga class was finishing up. I’m sure there is a place you could go to find out when the yoga class is so you could go and then feel less guilty eating your cupcakes there afterward. (Things to do in Bryant Park, click here. 42nd Street, Bryant Park stop on B, D, F, or M subway lines.)
9. One World Trade Center/Financial District: It was incredibly sobering to be at Ground Zero. There are memorial pools built in the foundations of the Twin Towers. If you know someone who lost their life on 9/11, you can look up their name and story, as well as the location of their name at the pools. Unfortunately, I felt like the throngs of tourists were not very respectful here. Just a few blocks away is the Financial District, Wall Street, etc. It’s kind of crazy to see how narrow and unassuming the streets are there. It’s like nothing important happens there at all… oh wait…
10. Union Square District – ABC Carpet and Home, The Strand Bookstore: If you are like me, you will probably never, ever be able to afford anything in ABC Carpet and Home, but it’s cool to look and dream. Beautiful handmade dishes and gorgeous light fixtures and just a million other things I could never buy. The Strand is a giant bookstore that will make you want to buy all the books they have, which is a lot. These two are really close to each other, so enjoy them both! (Also, if you’re going here, you might as well stop on over at Artichoke for some amazing pizza. They even have a crab pizza, which is really delicious if you like crab. Or they have the best margherita I’ve ever eaten if you don’t like crab. (ABC Carpet and Home: 888 and 881 Broadway // The Strand: 828 Broadway, on the corner of 12th // Artichoke: 328 East 14th Street)
11. Washington Square Park: Another beautiful park, another beautiful view. Warning: you may be serenaded by weird strangers here, but that’s just part of the experience.
12. 5 Pointz: So, I’m not entirely sure what is going to happen to 5 Pointz. It is a building, or series of buildings, that are usually covered with graffiti, but like the really cool, artistic kind. As of right now, there is debate about tearing the building down, which would be super sad. It also appears that there are seasons in which the art is all on display and then it gets white-washed over. We happened to go during the off-season, so most of the art was covered over, but it was still cool to see all the layers of paint and the graffiti that was on display. If it is still standing when you visit, you should definitely go. The area is called Five Points because it is where the five boroughs of New York meet. It has been the center of a lot of history for a long time and has been the site of slums, gang wars, all that kind of stuff. (Click here for more information.)
13. John’s Brick Oven Pizza: It’s hard to pick a favorite pizza from New York, because it is almost all incredible (As long as it costs more than $2.50 a slice. Anything less is, understandably, ummm, gross.) But if I had to, this would be the place. Delicious. If you’re on Bleeker Street, do yourself a favor and get yourself some of this pizza. (Cash only. No slices. 278 Bleecker Street, between 6th and 7th Avenue.)
14. Hungarian Pastry Shop: Pastries so light and heavenly you will wonder why we don’t let Hungarians take over the world. They are clearly doing something very, very right. I asked for the counter girl’s recommendation because there were too many wonderful looking choices and, sadly, far too little time. (Cash only. 1030 Amsterdam Avenue, between Cathedral Parkway and 111th Street in Morningside Heights. A place to pick up a few pastries before going to Central Park.)
15. Royal Bangladesh Indian Restaurant: This place is awesome. It is really festively hung with thousands of Christmas lights that make for a very fun atmosphere. It would be the perfect place to have a birthday dinner, I think. The food is very good and the staff is helpful. I think it is hilarious that the website is royalfinedining.com, because although it is a blast, I would never have described it as “fine dining”. You’ll see when you go there. (93 First Avenue, between 5th and 6th Street.)
16. Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery: We called ahead and ordered my mom a New York Cheesecake for her birthday and got it on the night of our arrival. Yummy. Later in the week we went back for their $2 cupcakes. Divine. (126 Rivington Street.)
17. Tom’s Restaurant: Seinfeld fan? My brother dragged us here because he is a fan and this is Monk’s Diner (although really they are on a set and this is just the restaurant they photographed for the street view). But they have really delicious milkshakes. And on a lucky day, we’ve heard that Seinfeld and friends actually go there and put on little skits. (Cash only. 2880 Broadway, Morningside Heights.)
18. Hog Pit: Ribs that fall off the bone and are so tasty. Dennis chased this place down after it moved from the Meat Packing District because he liked it so much.
19. Shake Shack: Skip the lines and order frozen custard from the “C Line”. Best frozen custard for miles. Maybe hundreds of miles. (In the Theater District: 691 8th Avenue, corner of 44th Street. Other locations found here.)
20. Katz Delicatessen: A famous little deli where you can get the world’s biggest pastrami sandwiches. They’re $18, which seems like a lot until you see that they are putting an entire cow’s worth of pastrami on there. So maybe split it? Also, this is where Harry and Sally met up for lunch and that whole famous “I’ll have what she’s having,” line was filmed. (Cash only. 205 East Houston Street, corner of Ludlow Street.)
21. Cart Food: Gyros, falafels, hot dogs, ice cream, smoothies, you name it. A good New York experience. But beware of unmarked prices. If you don’t see prices clearly marked (especially in touristy locations), you may get a special inflated price just for you! Which you will feel obligated to pay because they already gave you your food.
And other things I think you might want to know:
If you do that whole Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island tour in the summer, you’re going to be getting the real immigrant experience complete with super long lines, what feels like months of waiting (and I do apologize to all immigrants for trivializing their trials), people crowding around you speaking languages you don’t understand. So, if it’s worth it to you to see that green lady up close and personal (she is pretty incredible), just be prepared. Same with the Empire State Building. Long lines. And just when you think you’re done standing in lines, more long lines. Bring provisions. It’s a good bonding experience for your entourage.
There are really cool things to do and see in Midtown (Rockefeller, Times Square, Broadway, etc.). But just steer clear of that whole area come the weekend. So many people you can’t breathe. Weekends are a great time to explore other cool parts of the city, because there are so many other cool parts.
Your neck will hurt from looking up at so many beautiful things.
In Chinatown, be sure to read the menu before going into a restaurant. Unless you like really authentic Chinese cuisine like goose liver and leek stew. In which case, Chinatown is your playground.
The Subway is super navigable and many New Yorkers are willing to help if you ask for directions. Get yourself a map and try to figure things out. The nice thing is that once you’ve looked at a map of the island a few times, you will see that the city is very well laid out. North? Uptown. Bigger street numbers. South? Downtown. Smaller Street numbers. Midtown? Middle street numbers, just below Central Park.
Everyone walks there, so sidewalks should be treated like streets. Stick to the right side so there are passing lanes for faster people. And also, bring good walking shoes. And I mean really good. New Yorkers wear lots of comfortable, yet stylish shoes like Keds or Vans, so you won’t be out of place wearing something that will keep you from wishing you could cut off your feet at the end of a long day.
Carry cash as much as possible. Many restaurants are cash only. There are lots of ATMs available, but if they aren’t yours you’ll have to deal with the fee.
Be flexible. There is always something cool going on somewhere. Make room in your itinerary for just exploring something you just heard about. There are concerts or movies or plays in the parks in the summertime. If you know anyone local, ask what they’ve been up to. Also, flexible schedules may make it possible to get less expensive tickets to shows, etc. Follow your favorite New York comedians, actors or musicians on Twitter and sometimes you can get free tickets to their shows.
Organize your time. If you have predestined shows or restaurants you want to visit, get out a map and do things that are close to each other on the same day so you don’t have to waste your time going back and forth on the Subway.
Before you go, check out this awesome book: NYC (Basic Tips and Etiquette) by Nathan W. Pyle. Hilarious and helpful graphics about how to navigate New York City without being annoying.
And of course, don’t stay anywhere but an Airbnb. I loved how ours made us feel like real New Yorkers for a hot minute. And now I understand NYC apartments in ways I never could have. I love seeing pictures of railroad style apartments and being able to imagine the layout having actually stayed in one! Ours was right near Katz and was the perfect location!
Last week I went to San Francisco with Mallory and our friend Cara for a last little getaway before they go on the ultimate getaway and leave for Peru for nine months. I am sad to see them go, to say the least. But it was fun to cavort around in California for a few days before they became expatriates.
And I didn’t have any babies in tow, so I took a lot of pictures. Ready? Here you go:
Union Nations Square
The Palace of Fine Arts was probably my favorite place that we visited. It was just huge and beautiful and romantic. Yep. If I lived in San Francisco I would go there everyday.
Everything about this city is cool. It’s always bathed in this ethereal coating of fog, which I’m quite fond of. O, and there are a million hills, so you get some good exercise hiking around. And then you are rewarded everytime you get to the top of a hill and get to look out on the great expanse of the city. And the Painted Ladies! They are my favorite. I do so wish I could live in one of those beauties on a very steep hill. I do believe that would be quite fun. They even have little secret gardens popping up every so often between them.
After spending a few days exploring San Francisco, we headed to Monterrey Bay for our last day together.
It was fun. So much fun, in fact, that a little later I’ll post a gazillion instagrams from the trip. Because I know how much you like Instagram recaps. Or maybe you don’t, and I’m the only one who does. Either way….
It’s times like these when I really wish I had some skill in landscape photography. It’s fun to play around in, but I just never feel like I can really capture how beautiful some of the places I go are. Maybe that will be the next thing I dive into… the only problem being that it requires more camera lenses and more free hands than are currently available to me.
A couple of weekends ago, Mallory and I were reunited with one of our college besties, Cara. We had all been wanting to go to Crater Lake for a while now, so we decided to make it happen during her visit. It was so awesome. Definitely one of the best trips of the summer.
We also went with our friend, Jo, who was moving to Los Angeles, and her escort Chris. They joined us for the first evening of our trip. We made it to the crater around 7:30, and even though it was getting dark, it was breathtaking.
The next morning, before Chris and Jo had to depart, we were determined to hike down to the lake. We found the Cleetwood Trail and hiked down. We even swam in the lake. It’s really too bad we didn’t bring our scuba gear (or ability to scuba dive), because apparently this lake is one of the coolest lakes to scuba dive in. It is the deepest lake in the United States, and was created by a volcano, Mt. Mazama, erupted and eventually caved in, creating a caveat that has collected rain and snow melt for thousands of years. It’s pretty cold, but surprisingly nice for swimming.
We stayed in Diamond Lake Resort, about 15 miles from Crater Lake. It’s just beautiful there, too. A little run down (but very clean) hole-in-the-wall kinda place with cabins and motels. It’s nothing fancy, but that’s perfect for me… it means we spent much more time outside enjoying the beauty of the Umpqua National Forest. Except of course when were watching the Olympics. (It is just so very sad they’re over, isn’t it?) O, and if you go there, you should go get pizza and ice cream at the South Shore Pizza Parlor. And you should go out on the dock and eat your pizza because it is really the only place in the world you will want to be at that moment. I’m telling you… inexpensive family/friend vacation!
I just love everything about lakes. You can have the best of all worlds… water and mountains. It just doesn’t get much better than that. I love the smell and the storms and the little lake towns that spring up around them. They’re my favorite.
Have you ever been? If you live in the Pacific Northwest and haven’t seen this, you really should. It is incredibly beautiful. Pictures definitely don’t do it any sort of justice.
We roadtrip with our toddler girls. A lot. At least in the last month we’ve been on the road quite a bit, and I feel like I’m really honing in on my skills as far as preparing for a smooth ride for everyone involved. Now, I’m not going to pretend we have no cranky moments, because we do. But, they are pretty limited, especially in the scheme of 7-9 hour drives. So, if you’re thinking of traveling with toddlers soon, I thought you might appreciate getting a jump start with some information that could make the whole experience a happy one for everyone.
Pack light. It really is an art form sometimes, but carefully planning out what you are bringing can really make everything go more smoothly. I like to lay out the clothes everyone needs day by day with only one set of spares. This way, I don’t have to pack anything more than what is necessary. Try to mix and match to keep everyone’s wardrobe pared down and minimalistic. There is really no sense in hauling around your whole house, especially with weather reports that can really give you a good idea of what you’re in for.
Pack well. The more you can do to be organized before you leave, the less frantically you’ll have to burrow through the trunk to find the diapers in an emergency. When you do pack up the car, make sure anything you might need to access during the journey is on top, so you don’t have to unload everything to get to some spare clothes or a favorite toy.
Choose good snacks. I avoid anything chocolate because it’s really messy, especially in a car or in little hands where it’s likely to melt. I also am very concientious about choosing snacks that are not high in sugar, fat, or salt, because they are more likely to cause upset tummies. And babies with upset tummies are not happy travelers. And parents with unhappy babies are also not happy travelers. So thinking about what you eat is important. And don’t forget to keep the kiddos well hydrated!
Use overnight diapers to keep leaks during the trip to a minimum.
Bring a special bag that is full of car entertainment. Coloring books and crayons are good, finger puppets, small stuffed animals, plastic figurines or cars and books are all great. Distribute the toys over time, not all at once. When the kiddos get bored with something, reach into the fun bag and bring out something new. They’ll be thrilled.
Learn some songs or bring CDs with lots of kid friendly music that you (the driver) can stand to listen to. Our girls love to sing and they are pretty content to sing their little hearts out just about the whole drive.
Ziplock bags are your best friend. I use them for everything. I use sandwich size bags for snacks to help keep crumbiness down (although crumbs still happen). They are also great for holding just a few crayons, so the whole box doesn’t end up scattered around the car. I use gallon size bags to pack up diapers and wipes and keep them handy in the car. I also use gallon bags to keep a spare change of clothes handy. And having other bags on hand is good, too. We always bring along little garbage bags for dirty/wet clothes, diapers, and all that other fun stuff.
Plan for breaks. Everyone needs to stretch their legs, go to the bathroom and get some fresh air every few hours. If you’re going on a trip you haven’t taken before, look ahead for major cities or stopping points so you know how long each leg of the journey is going to be.
Don’t be afraid to repack if you have multiple destinations. At the end of our Cascade Lake trip we spent one night in Boise before heading back. We repacked a smaller bag with only what we would need for that night and it was much easier than hauling around our big suitcase that had everything. Or, if you know ahead of time you’ll be having lots of little stops, consider packing smaller bags for each destination (or using those trusty Ziplocks to separate outfits) and keeping one central bag (with all the daily necessities like toothbrushes and diapers and such).
If you do all these things, you might not even need an iPad or DVD player. We haven’t used ours, although I’m not sure how long we’ll be able to keep that up.
Do you travel with your young children? Or do you stay put? If you do travel, do you have additional tips? I’d love to hear them!