Monthly Archives: July 2013

Scenes From A Beach

It’s photo Friday time, and in honor of leaving on our 2 week beach excursion to Destin to celebrate the end of Summer I found pictures from our beach trips from years past. We go several times a year, always to Destin, and always to Whitley Bay, in the UK, and we have added in some other places along the way. Warm, cold, we don’t mind!

Deception Pass State Park

Deception Pass State ParkDestinDestinDestinDestinWhitley BayWhitley BayDestinTampaGrayton BeachGrayton BeachWhitley bayWhitley bayWhitley bayWhitley bayDestinDestinBeadnellBeadnell, UKDestinDestinDeception Pass State ParkDeception Pass State ParkDestinDestinDestinDestin

What is your favorite place to go to the beach?

This is part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. Check it out!

The Good – And Bad – Side Of Instagram While Traveling

For someone like me, who loves to take pictures and fancies myself as a sort-of ok photographer (in the realm of amateur photography), Instragram instantly became both the answer to my prayers. Having the ability to take photos, and share them, instantaneously, warms my photo-taking heart. Add in the fact that I can filter my photos til I get the look I desire and it becomes, in my eyes, a masterpiece. When deciding what pictures to add to my blog, or to Facebook, I worry about overwhelming people with too many photos – I am sure not everyone wants to see picture after picture of buildings, statues, beaches and, more importantly, my kids. But I love that Instagram takes that hesitation away, that whoever chooses to follow me expects to see nothing but photos! (psst, follow us on Instragram – passportsandpushchairs!)

It seems perfect, and the answer to every traveling families wishes, a quick way to share photos, an automatic backup of pictures that you take while on vacation, and an easy way to revisit your trip with a click of a few buttons and some scrolling back through your pictures, all in one space, but there definite disadvantages to this otherwise easy to use and helpful app.

I have two accounts, a personal account and an account related to this blog, with no way to switch between the two except to log out and log in. When we are traveling this can become an inconvenience, with some photos taken to be shared by one account, some on the other, and some on both.

The pictures taken with my phone, while decent, don’t compare with the photos taken by my fancy camera, but in order to share those I need to email them to myself, download them onto my phone, and then instagram them. Again, doable, but not the most efficient use of time.

At the end of the day Instagram does what it should – it is a vessel to quickly share pictures of a moment, or memory, as it happens. I will take that, flaws and all.

Recent Instagram pictures:

Annapolis, June 2013

Annapolis, June 2013

Vancouver, June 2013

Vancouver, June 2013

Seattle, June 2013

Seattle, June 2013

DC, June 2013

DC, June 2013

Whistler, June 2013

Whistler, June 2013

This post is part of the new Instagram Travel Thursday linky, hosted by Skimbaco LifestyleDestination UnknownChild ModeHines Sight BlogLive.Do.Grow.House of AnaïsLuxury Travel Mom. Click on any of the above links to check them all out!

Pack Light, Pack Right – Packing With Kids

I am a packer. Actually, I am an over-packer. I grew up with a dad who loved the motto Pack Light, Pack Right and tried to instill that in our whole family over our years of travel. He seems to be the only one who still adheres to that saying, and does it well. I, on the other hand, have veered dangerously the other way, but as we travel more I am working hard on cutting back on what we bring, but it still seems that no matter what we pack it is a lot!

Case in point, our luggage as it was packed up and ready to go for our one week trip to Seattle and Vancouver. 3 suitcases, 5 carry-on bags and a baby carrier. Missing from the picture are our two car seats.

Definitely not packing light nor packing right!

Definitely not packing light nor packing right!

When I see it in a picture it seems excessive, but when packing I work hard at bringing only the things I think are necessary. The first thing I do is lay it all out on the bed like this:

Initial packing, round one

Initial packing, round one

I pare it down, which was difficult on this trip since we had a fluctuation in weather during the week.  I wanted to get it all down into a kid size suitcase, and we had access to a washer/dryer the last half of the week, so I brought enough to cover 4 or 5 days, with room for messy clothes and accidents (which came in handy!). All of the stuff above ended up in this suitcase, so I did pretty good with their stuff!

Fitting it all in the bag

Fitting it all in the bag

The final result for the kids suitcase

The final result for the kids suitcase

Our suitcases had all of our stuff, along with some extras, like all of our toiletries, and (ahem) my husband’s pillow, which makes all of our trips with us. We also had the bed Lila slept in inside one of the suitcases, which is fantastic for traveling and so easy to use, along with all her bedtime ‘stuff’, which included her blanket, pillow and several stuffed animals. It will be a good day when we can pack less than that.

Carry on luggage is a totally different story (and a different post), but these suggestions work well for us in keeping our luggage a little lighter – at least for the younger kids.

- Pack a day or two before, lay it all out based on outfit/day. Walk away for an hour or two, come back and reevaluate. You can probably remove 1/3 of what you originally thought you needed.

- With young kids (and no access to washer/dryer) you will probably need to account for one outfit per day, with one or two backup clothes in case of accident/messes. We generally bring pajamas that can be worn twice, so for 6 nights we would bring 3 pairs

- We decided adding in a third bag that is child sized means more bags for us to deal with but it also makes them responsible for their belongings, and if they know they have limited space to bring extra ‘stuff’ they limit what they bring. Plus they just look cute pulling it!

- We always bring a plastic bag for laundry and ziploc bags for any clothes that may be soiled or smelly.

- Packing cubes are great, and a good way to separate the clothes if packing for more than one person in a suitcase.

What packing tips do you have? Any great advice for packing less with young kids?

Seattle To Vancouver By Car

When we first booked our trip to Seattle we knew we wanted to go to Vancouver as well, and looked into several different ways to get there – plane, car, train – and ultimately decided we wanted to drive so we would take our time and see some sights along the way. And then a bridge collapsed and we had to reroute ourselves completely, but it was fine because we decided to add in Deception Pass State Park to our drive.

We made a short detour on our journey and stopped off at Gas Works Park, a public park  that was once home to the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant, located on the north shore of Lake Union. The views of Seattle were amazing, but the smells, well, not so much. There was definitely a lingering scent of urine that seemed to follow us wherever we went, so we didn’t spend too much time there.

The view from Gas Works Park

The view from Gas Works ParkGas Works ParkGas Works ParkGas Works ParkGas Works Park1 happy child, 1 not so much1 happy child, 1 not so much

To get there we drove North on I-5 to Mukilteo, where we caught a ferry to Whidbey Island.  Make sure you check the times, and based on signs along the drive it must get really busy, so I am glad we got there early. The actual ferry time was short, so we didn’t do much, and once we got off we just drove until we hit Deception Pass State Park, which is known for Deception Pass Bridge.

Once we entered the park we drove to a lot with access to a beach and did some hiking. The views were incredible.

Deception Pass State Park

Deception Pass State ParkDeception Pass BridgeDeception Pass BridgeChecking out the biggest slug we've ever seenChecking out the biggest slug we’ve ever seenHanging out on the beach at Deception Pass State Park Hanging out on the beach at Deception Pass State ParkA beach of rocksA beach of rocksDeception Pass State ParkDeception Pass State Park

From there we headed onto Vancouver,  with very few options of places to eat, and long-ish waits at the border (Peace Arch). I don’t know that another way would have been faster, since you have to deal with border patrol no matter the way, but going through Deception Pass State Park was definitely worth any extra time we may have incurred!

 

Croatia With Kids: Brac

This is part three of our guest post series on Croatia by my good friend, B. Check out their visit to the city of Brac!

As if our time in Croatia wasn’t perfect enough, it’s also home to an amazing archipelago. Close to 80 islands linger off the coast just waiting to be explored and discovered, so we thought it would be the perfect way to end our stay. We found another great place through Croatian Villa Holidays, and settled on a cottage just outside the tiny town of Murvica on the island of Brac. (The ‘c’ is pronounced with a ‘ch’, as in Bra-ch)

We drove the rental car about two hours north of Dubrovnik to the town of Makarska and hopped on a car ferry to Sumartin on the island of Brac. The ferry was fun for the boys. They loved it and really enjoyed running all over the boat and checking out the views. Once we docked in Sumartin we had a 40-minute ride to the town of Murvica just outside of the resort town of Bol. The island is small so it’s very easy to find your way around.

Once there, we realized we were in the middle of nowhere waiting for some guy to pull up and show us to our cottage. Talk about trust! After Ray got off the phone with the landlord he said he didn’t speak much English and since I didn’t take Croatian in college, I was a bit worried. But we are always up for an adventure!

While waiting for our mystery man to show, our youngest son face planted in the gravely dirt road right beside a roadside cafe. As I’m yelling at my husband to grab the baby and give him to me, the bar keep runs up the hill to the main restaurant and brings back some wet paper towels for us to wipe his face and makes sure we are ok. What a sign, I had a good feeling everything would be ok after that.

Sure enough it was! Soon after, our landlord arrived and we followed him down a gravel road on the edge of a cliff for about 5 km. The scenery was amazing as we slowly inched along. My husband and I looked at each other a few times though, where on earth was he taking us?  Finally we rounded a bend in the road and we saw the cottage and it was literally an AHHHHHHH moment. The house was just as it was pictured and we couldn’t wait to get inside to see if the rest of it measured up. “Always lock gate” he said, ‘The goats, they eat, very bad for grapes.’ That’s the first time I ever heard that, adventure indeed!

The cottage in Brac

The cottage in BracView from the cottage in BracView from the cottage in BracA walk from the cottage to the beachA walk from the cottage to the beachAnother view of the cottage in BracAnother view of the cottage in BracA walk from the cottage to the beachA walk from the cottage to the beach

After the tour we realized we really were off the grid. Power lines haven’t been extended to this part of the island yet but the cottage was perfectly equipped. They had a water collection system for bathing and we used bottled water (provided by the owners) for cooking and drinking. We were on solar power and if the batteries dropped below 24 they told us we would have to boot up the generator. We decided to make a game of it and enlisted our oldest son’s help. We tried to see how little electricity and other resources we could use during our stay. He was our eco-cop and would turn off lights and make sure no one was wasting water. It was a fun eco-lesson for everyone.

The cottage was amazing but it was only a base for our exploration of the island. On the way to the house we passed some ruins up on a hill and after some research found out it was an abandoned Dominican monastery. It wasn’t a safe hike for the kids so while they napped Ray checked it out on his own and took some amazing photos. He told me it was a bit creepy because he didn’t see anyone the entire hike up and down. Plus, it wasn’t the safest place in the world; it was a ruin after all. He recommends it but doesn’t think small kids should hike it. This mom agrees!

The biggest resort town on Brac is Bol. It’s really busy June-September so the last week of May the tourist traffic wasn’t all that bad. Actually, it was pretty dead which was fine by us. The biggest draw in Bol is Zlatni Rat, or the Golden Beach. It’s a huge draw for windsurfers and kite surfers but also offers a great family friendly beach with a bar, food, gelato and plenty of sun! I loved the fresh fruit stand and so did the kids. Why don’t U.S. beaches have options like this?

Private beach outside the cottage

Private beach outside the cottage

We were only able to go to Zlatni Rat for one day because of the weather and we wanted to make sure we had time to enjoy our private beach at the cottage. Bol has some restaurants and bars and a lot of rental apartments and villas. The island is very well known for their Brac marble and is home to a stonemason school. You can take tours of both although they don’t open until June. One rainy day we decided to head out and explore. We winded our way across the island to the seaside town of Supetar, which is a very busy ferry port. We walked around the town enjoying the sights and settled into a café for lunch. They also have a nice little playground tucked behind some hedges along the waterfront where we let the boys burn off some energy.

The main goal of our stay on Brac was sun and relaxation. The Adriatic is blue and gorgeous and the white rocky beaches of Croatia are among the cleanest in Europe. We had our own little private beach down the hill from the house so when we had our sunny days that is where we spent our time. But unfortunately, they were few and far between. One such rainy day we headed to the town of Split on a ferry out of Supetar. Thankfully for us the mainland was not having the same rainy weather as we were.

The town of Supetar

The town of SupetarThe town of SupetarThe town of SupetarLunch at a 'Konoba' in Supetar. Whenever you see a sign with Konoba, it's a restaurant.Lunch at a ‘Konoba’ in Supetar. Whenever you see a sign with Konoba, it’s a restaurant.

Split, a large port city in the northern part of Croatia, is mainly known for the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace. It sits on the harbor and is an easy walk from the main ferry station in Split. This large metropolis has a hip and young vibe and is home to many bars, restaurants and shops. We saw quite a few bachelorette parties and loads of young folk ready to party. Perhaps that’s why we had a harder time finding a baby seat in the local restaurants. We eventually gave up and settled on a café with tables outside so at least the pigeons could help out with the mess we knew we would be leaving behind. On this day we also brought the stroller and didn’t encounter too many issues getting around with it.

Diocletian’s Palace is inside the old city wall of Split and if you didn’t know where it was you might just walk right past it. The Roman Emperor Diocletian chose Split as the location for his retirement home and construction began in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries A.D. He knew what he was doing because the weather and view must have been amazing even then. It was established as a UNESCO World Heritage Center in 1979. It has architecture spanning centuries and is a must do while in the area.

In front of Diocletian's Palace

In front of Diocletian’s PalaceW and B in front of Diocletian's PalaceW and B in front of Diocletian’s PalaceStatueMarkoMarulicW in front of a statue of 15th century poet Marko MarulićW posing with 'Roman soldiers'W posing with ‘Roman soldiers’Diocletian's PalaceDiocletian’s PalaceDiocletian's PalaceDiocletian’s PalaceR walking in SplitR walking in Split

 

Another great day trip from Split is a visit to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. It’s the largest National Park in Croatia and is a cluster of crystal blue lakes, rivers and waterfalls dotted with pathways and bridges across the water. Just punch the name into your web browser and you will think that you are looking at doctored and fake photos. But it exists and from what we hear it’s worth the trip. We didn’t get there because our base was on Brac and we felt it would be too much travel for the kids in one day. But it is something I know we will do when we return.

Croatia. The people are friendly and kind and it’s no wonder, their country is incredible and the views alone should put you in a good mood. Add some wine from the local vineyard with the sunny Mediterranean temps and if that doesn’t get you in the vacation way, then nothing will! We will always cherish our first trip to Croatia, she was good to us (despite the rain!) and we know that we will return to her someday.

 

Next up, a side trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

 

Croatia With Kids: Dubrovnik

Let’s head back to Croatia, thanks to our friend B and her family! After they visited Cavtat they headed on to Dubrovnik!

Part II: Settling into Dubrovnik

The drive from Cavtat to Dubrovnik is simply gorgeous. The two-lane highway hugs the mountains right along the edge of the Adriatic Sea and winds north to Dubrovnik. As you get closer the walled Stari Grad (a.k.a. ‘Old City’) peeks out at you from between the twists and turns. It’s very reminiscent of the Pacific Coast Highway and the drive from Big Sur, CA to San Francisco. You catch glimpses of the striking turquoise water and the rusty orange terra cotta roofs and you sense how special this place is.

The city is smaller than you think but can be tricky to maneuver through, especially if you are unaccustomed to city driving. We rented a car for our stay and we have lived in cities with crazy traffic and both know how to drive a manual transmission so we felt okay… after a day or two. Seriously though, if you are uncomfortable in any way with narrow windy streets, fast cars, or aggressive drivers at every turn then driving may not be the thing for you. There are plenty of taxis everywhere you go and many people opt for a driver for the duration of their stay. We stayed in a condo at the top of a crazy steep and narrow two-way street (think Lombard Street but it’s a two-way street and chock full of blind spots). Oh, and we had off street parking but it was off of a very narrow street and into an even smaller and narrower garage.

So that brings me to the accommodations for our stay. They were perfect in every way! We found our villas through internet research and used www.croatianvillaholidays.com. A husband and wife team run Croatian Villa Holidays and they were professional, helpful and answered any and all of our questions. And they exist!!! Which unfortunately is not always the case. Do your due diligence and make sure you are working with a reputable company. Another great resource on accommodations in Croatia, as well all things Croatian, is a website called www.croatiatraveller.com. A woman named Jeanne Oliver writes it. She has been traveling to Croatia since the war ended 18 years ago and has a wealth of information on her blog/website. Great resource!

Our place in Dubrovnik was a two-bedroom, 1 ½ bath two-story condo with two patios and a private pool. It was located in the hills above the city in a residential neighborhood and only a short drive to the ‘Stari Grad’. And the views, because it was tucked into a hill, were gorgeous. We had views of the city and port to the North and West and could see some of Croatia’s many islands in the distance.

View from the back patio of the villa looking North

View from the back patio of the villa looking North

 

View from the front patio of the villa

View from the front patio of the villa

After settling in we drove about a half mile from the Old City, parked and walked through a park and hidden city streets to the Old City Gate. The roads and walkways are not the easiest to maneuver through with a stroller so after learning this lesson the hard way, we opted for the Ergo carrier for our 18 month old for the remainder of our trip. Once inside the Stari Grad, the smooth polished city streets are stroller friendly. But, if you go off the beaten path the stroller can become a hassle.

Walking the narrow roads to the Old City Gate

Walking the narrow roads to the Old City Gate

Parts of the city wall go back as far as the 8th century, however most of it was built and completed in the 15th and 16th centuries. Now, these old city walls are teeming with tourists, residents, stores, boutiques and cafes.  Even though the city is a huge stop on the Cruise Ship circuit we still found it easy enough to get around. But we were there mid-May when it’s not quite as busy. The high season runs June through September.

Walking the Wall in Dubrovnik

Walking the Wall in DubrovnikWalking the Wall in DubrovnikWalking the Wall in Dubrovnik

Some of the highlights are walking the wall around the Old City, the Church of St. Blaise, the Rector’s Palace, Fort Lovrijenac, Dubrovnik’s Cathedral and walking the Stradun, which is the main thoroughfare that extends just inside the city wall at the Old City Gate to the Clock Tower at the far end. Many also recommend visiting the Franciscan and Dominican Monasteries, something we just didn’t have the time to do.

Acting the tourist part in the heart of Stradun

Acting the tourist part in the heart of Stradun

Stradun

StradunLooking into the Old Harbor from the Southern Entrance to the Old CityLooking into the Old Harbor from the Southern Entrance to the Old City

We also found the people of Dubrovnik to be extremely friendly and accommodating and English speaking. When dining out, all the menus were in English and most of the restaurants we encountered had high chairs (called ‘baby seats’ in and around Croatia). The sight of our children didn’t make anyone recoil in disgust, which is a far cry from some of my experiences here in the states! The food was great and perfect for kids. They are heavily influenced by the Mediterranean and offered wonderful pizzas and pastas. We also had some amazing seafood dishes of fish, shrimp and mussels. Even my 5 year old started to become a mussels connoisseur and he won’t even eat a tomato!

We didn’t have the best weather in the world for our stay; it was the rainiest May anyone could remember. They kept calling it ‘English weather’, ha! So we had to find some indoor fun as well. We did visit the Maritime Museum and the Aquarium, both located inside the Old City. We also visited the Rector’s Palace and the Church of St. Blaise. We spent plenty of time in our raincoats too and just made due. If you have children you know you can’t stay stuck inside all day! One such rainy day we rode the Dubrovnik Cable Car to the top of Srd Hill. Spectacular views of the whole city and the nearby island of Lokrum make this a must do. It is also home to a memorial to those who lost their lives in the siege of the city in 1991. See www.dubrovnikcablecar.com for more details.

Ride up the cable car to Srd Hill

Ride up the cable car to Srd HillFrom Srd Hill looking at the Island of LokrumFrom Srd Hill looking at the Island of LokrumOn top of Srd HillOn top of Srd Hill

Dubrovnik was beautiful, friendly and exceeded all of our expectations. We will definitely go back because we just didn’t get to do and see everything we wanted to. The weather kept us from sailing and from taking an old fishing boat around to some of the nearby islands. They were cancelled due to inclement weather. And with one napping child we just couldn’t take in everything the city had to offer. But that is fine by us, it gives us another chance to plan and start a new list for when we get to return to this enchanting city on the Adriatic.

Next stop, the Island of Brac…

Croatia With Kids, It’s Easier Than You Think! Part 1: Cavtat

What happens when you are an expat living in London, about to return to your hometown with an 8 month old, and none of your hometown friends have kids a similar age? You are introduced to another new family to the area by a mutual American in London, find out that in this sprawling city you live a mere 2 miles from each other, with boys the same age, and you become fast friends. When they move to Annapolis18 months later you are all heartbroken but realize that even when a year or more goes by between visits you all, boys and new children included, pick up where you left off. This is a guest post from my dear friend B, who was brave enough to take her 5 year old and 18 month old to Croatia for two weeks, and I think you will enjoy reading about her trip as much as I did!

Part I: Air Travel and the resort town of Cavtat

Croatia, or Hrvatska as the locals know it, has been on my travel radar since 2006. My husband and I are sailors and we heard through various friends how its crystalline waters and coastline were a sailor’s dream. So after a quick web search we were smitten with Croatia’s breathtaking coastline, gorgeous Mediterranean climate, and stunning old world architecture. We were newlyweds, young-ish and determined to watch the races of the Louis Vuitton Cup (precursor to the America’s Cup) in Spain in 2007.  We hoped to add Croatia to our itinerary back then, but work commitments and lack of vacation conspired against us. Hence, Croatia was shelved for a later date.

Fast-forward almost 7 years, 3 moves and two kids later and we finally had Croatia within reach! My husband, Ray, received a sabbatical through his company; a lovely perk that is extended to each employee after 7 years of service.  And without question, we knew we wanted to go to Croatia. While our original dream included sailing the Dalmatian coast and visiting wineries while we ate well and slept late, that dream needed to be tweaked to accommodate our two boys, a 5 year old and an 18 month old.

So in May of this year, planning and preparation came together and Croatia finally became a reality. We booked a red eye out of Dulles Airport on Lufthansa to Dubrovnik. There were no direct flights so we had one connection through Munich on our way to Croatia. And with it being a red eye, the children did better than expected. We did bring our car seat for the toddler because he is high energy and always on the go. While bringing your own car seat can be a hassle, for us there was no other option. He was comfortable in it, it was familiar to him and he was able to sleep for a few hours. Which is more than I can say for me!

There is a 6-hour time difference between here and there so when it’s 8:00 am in Washington, D.C., it’s 2:00 pm in Croatia. It did take a couple of days to adjust but we did our best to acclimate to the time change as quickly as possible. We left on a Thursday night and arrived Friday late afternoon. Since we couldn’t get into our villa rental until Saturday, we rented a room for the night in the town of Cavtat. (The ‘C” is pronounced with a ‘Z’, so it’s pronounced Zahv-tat)

Hotel Croatia in Cavtat

Hotel Croatia in Cavtat

 

The hotel pool at Hotel Croatia

The hotel pool at Hotel Croatia

Cavtat isn’t very well known to American tourists but Europeans love this quaint seaside resort town a mere 21 km south of Dubrovnik. It has some luxury hotels and properties and offers a relaxing beach getaway. We opted to stay the night at Hotel Croatia, a very James Bond-esque property made of stucco, metal and glass. We used Priceline and got a great deal for our one-night’s stay. It had an indoor and outdoor pool as well as several restaurants, stunning views and a quick ride to the center of the old town of Cavtat.

The room at the hotel was decent sized and we scored a room with a view and a child friendly balcony. Although, after our very long travel day we really didn’t use it or enjoy it all that much. We ate dinner in the buffet-style dining room and called it an early night. The chair in our room folded out to a twin-sized bed and they brought in a crib for the baby while we slept in a queen-sized bed. It would have been a bit cramped if we were staying longer but it suited us well for the night.

I wish we had more time to explore the town of Cavtat; it was quite beautiful and hosted some mighty fine looking mega-yachts in the harbor. Plus, after that long travel day and my older son’s whining I really just wanted to lounge by the pool like all those bronzed and chic Europeans I passed on my way back from breakfast. But we decided it best to check out of the lovely Hotel Croatia and headed north along the coast to Dubrovnik our home for the next 7 days of our Croatian vacation. Dubrovnik, ancient and stunning city by the sea (which in my opinion) really is the jewel of the Dalmatian Coast.

5 year old W, enjoying the hotel view

5 year old W, enjoying the hotel viewView of Cavtat from Hotel CroatiaView of Cavtat from Hotel Croatia