Category Archives: Family Fun

Family Fun / Life Abroad / Travel

Our Trip to Berlin

December 7, 2017

We just returned from a quick trip to Berlin to visit the Christmas markets, and tomorrow we’re off to Zagreb, Croatia for more! I figured I would try to sit down and write a quick post about our trip before we dive head-first into our next trip and slide directly into Christmas in the days following.

Berlin was the first home exchange we arranged after we joined the site. A nice family contacted us about swapping, and knowing how wonderful Germany is at Christmastime, I jumped at the chance to set up an exchange for December.

It was cold in Berlin, so the kids were forced to be all bundled up for our exploring. Lark was unsure of the number of layers we were requiring her to wear.   We visited the remains of the Berlin wall (yes, America, let’s all take a moment to remember how great that wall was, shall we?)  We visited many a brauhaus and the girls tried (and loved!) Bavarian sausage. (The numerous pretzels and fries we consumed were also a hit, go figure.) There were a couple points where we had both kids sleeping — one in the carrier and one in the stroller — which always feels like the biggest win and most relaxing part of vacation. That last photo above included two sleeping children and hot chocolate with Baileys so… WIN/WIN/WIN.  A couple of the Christmas markets had little rides which Prim got to partake in. It was a big moment for her and probably the beginning of her begging to ride every sad, lonely plastic horse stationed outside a supermarket. (Hooray.)  Prim insisted on riding on the front of the stroller at multiple points during the trip so she could “talk to Larky.” It keeps Lark happy and we get a few minutes of freedom from having to tell Prim to keep walking, so the fact that it may ultimately result in our travel stroller collapsing is a relatively minor concern.   We walked all over Berlin, even though it was really cold (it even snowed while we were there!) I thought we might not walk as much during these winter trips due to the weather, but we managed to clock in over 6 miles one day and over 9 miles another, and between 4 and 5 miles on both of our travel days, so clearly the cold isn’t hindering our exploring much.
Trying to take a decent photo with a 2 year old… it’s a challenge, guys. Just nursing a baby on a German train, like usual.  Germany, your delicious beers and carbs are proof that I was meant to be German. I can’t wait to return someday soon!

Budget-Friendly Weekend Fun / Family Fun / Life Abroad / Travel

How We Travel on a Budget

September 11, 2017

As you know, we have been traveling a lot recently, trying to take advantage of our current living situation by visiting many of the countries that are within arm’s reach of the Netherlands. I wanted to take a minute to explain how we do this on a budget.

While it may look like we’re rolling in dough over here, galavanting all over Europe, we actually took a pretty big pay cut to come to the Netherlands. I gave up my job when we moved and KC’s salary was adjusted to reflect Amsterdam’s lower cost of living, so we are definitely not in a position to be throwing money around on lavish vacations.KC and I had talked extensively about traveling while we were abroad and trying to really maximize our time while overseas. Unfortunately, when we started planning out trips for this year and working out the total cost, we were running into a huge hurdle: our “holidays” were killing us financially. KC and I are by no means financially reckless, so we opted to cut down the number of trips we were going to take.

Even reducing our vacation days though, I was realizing just how expensive these trips were going to be. Not only that, but traveling with two little ones meant we couldn’t book a cheap hotel room or studio — we had to book something with at least one bedroom (and ideally two). Furthermore, packing a major city into just a few days wasn’t really an option, as the kids can realistically only be subjected to so much sightseeing in one day, so we were going to have to take longer trips — spending more time in each city.

After stressing out over this and wondering whether we should just abandon most of our travel plans, I came across the website homeexchange.com. I poked around on the site and thought it might be a good option for us, but the site only allows you to actually contact other members by becoming a member yourself. I hemmed and hawed over it and finally brought it up to KC. I reasoned that the yearly fee of €130 would be worth if even if we only managed to get one night out of the membership, so we decided to bite the bullet and join.

I set up our profile one night and went to bed (as the setup took my entire evening — it was time-consuming!) By the next day I already had multiple requests for exchanges.That €130 membership fee has been some of the very best money we’ve spent this year. Not only have we booked three trips via exchanges for this year, we are in the process of potentially booking another five before we return to the states next year.

In case you’re curious, the exchanges are all free — you just pay the membership fee up front to gain access to to the messaging system which allows you to contact the other members on the site. We set up exchanges with other people like us — usually families with young children. It’s great because they already often have a toddler bed for Prim and/or a crib for Lark, plus lots of toys to keep the girls occupied.This post isn’t sponsored or anything, I just thought I would post about our experience because Home Exchange has been such a great options for us. I also think it’s important to be somewhat candid about our life on the blog, and while we are certainly having amazing adventures traveling Europe during this once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s not because we’re making Bay Area tech salaries over here and have money to burn.

The service has also been especially awesome for us as all of the exchanges we have booked have been based on requests from other people (we’ve been members for 4 months and have gotten a whopping 84 requests for exchanges so far!) We are lucky in that we get a TON of requests on the site, so we have a lot of options; and it has taken so much of the stress of deciding where to travel off our (really MY) plate.

If you have any questions about our home exchanges feel free to leave a comment or message me — I’m happy to talk more about our experience with the site and discuss more of the specifics if you’re interested!

Family Fun / Life Abroad / Travel

Our Trip to Budapest

September 4, 2017

We returned from Budapest last Tuesday evening and I feel like I’m just starting to get back in the swing of things here in Amsterdam. As much as I love traveling, sometimes I feel like I need a vacation after my vacation — one that only involves sleeping and binge-watching TV (remember the days before kids when this was a possibility?? What a dream.)

Budapest was amazing and actually reminded me a lot of my beloved Oakland in many ways. I think it’s one of those cities that I could live in and would just grow to love more and more as time passed.  We spent eight days in Budapest and headed out to explore as soon as we arrived. Wandering around a new city is one of my favorite things to do while on vacation. Seeing the architecture and little cafes tucked into hidden alleyways — it’s the best.  When we were in Madrid we started off our trip by returning to the apartment in the middle of the day with the intention of letting the kids nap. After two days in a row of them refusing to nap while back at the house though, we just decided to start staying out during the day. Lark still naps well on the go, and Prim (our go-go-go party girl that she is) will literally be at 100% and then crash in the stroller or on KC over the course of a matter of minutes when she finally runs out of steam. She usually conks out for about 30 minutes and then is ready and raring to go again. (Luckily she is a good sleeper at night!)  Prim finds the fun pretty much wherever we are. I love that about her. We spent our week in Budapest wandering all over the city (I was oohing and aahing over the architecture, of course).  I mean, come on. Don’t you want to just wander those streets forever? Totally. As I mentioned in my Madrid post earlier, we did have an afternoon where we were tired and the kids were falling apart. KC was losing his patience and I was frustrated and the kids were coming apart at the seams and I had one of those moments where I wanted to just be back in Amsterdam and not dealing with “ALL THIS SH**” as my not-so-cool and composed brain puts it. But luckily within 20 minutes or so both kids fell asleep (on each of us, of course) so we wandered into one of the Ruin Bars and each had a very cold and very large beer.

It’s amazing what 20 minutes and a cold beer will do for your sanity. I was dying to see the inside of the amazing Parliament building, but when KC and I looked at tickets we realized that you had to take a 50-minute tour of the building in order to see it (there were no self-guided options). While this is something I would be all over if we were traveling without kids, with Prim and Lark in tow we determined that we were better off saving our money (and probably our sanity) and avoiding that. While we do stretch the kids on vacation, upending their schedules and forcing them into long days exploring and being patient in restaurants, we also recognize that these little ones have limits and it’s best if we accept the fact that we’re not always going to be able to do everything we want to do while traveling with them. We did see the Shoes on the Danube memorial during a rare moment when both kids happened to be sleeping. I was wearing Lark and KC had Prim on his back in the carrier, and even though it was around 90 degrees, we braved the direct sun so we could see the monument.

I have seen Holocaust memorials before and been to concentration camps, and I’m still always struck by how emotional seeing these things are. We walked down the row of shoes and I immediately saw a pair of child’s shoes among the others. All I could think of was how someone — a child’s mother or father, most likely — had to bend down and remove their child’s shoes knowing that they were both going to die. Even writing this out now is heartbreaking. There are no words to describe that kind of devastation. The current political climate in the US especially necessitates that we remember these horrific acts. This all happened within the modern era. Now is the time to brush up on your history, people.  Prim is becoming quite the savvy little traveler, and sometimes I look at her and I swear that she’s two going on sixteen. In her two short years she’s been to more places than I had been when I finished college, which is pretty crazy to think about.  And I have breastfed this little peanut in so many unusual and interesting places — including the Museo Nacional and Templo de Debod in Madrid, Parc de la Cuitadella in Barcelona, just outside Matyas Templom and at the baths in Budapest, and in line (literally shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of strangers) at the Frankfurt airport while waiting to be rebooked because our flight back to SF was canceled — ugh.

She will never know (or probably care) that she was nursed all over Europe, but these are some memories I’ll definitely hold tightly to. She’s truly my international baby.  We rode the cog-wheel train and children’s railway, and Prim’s push-puppy came along for the ride. We found that dog at a toy store in Budapest and Prim insisted on pushing it all over the city — literally everywhere. That poor puppy is so worn just from his few days of seeing the city, but man does Prim love that thing. And it was a great way to keep her moving when she wasn’t in the stroller.  We had a couple of really hot days in Budapest, so on one of them we headed to Margaret Island and ended up at the Palatinus Baths. Prim had a blast running through the kiddie pools and going down the little slides. I swear this girl has no fear — clearly I need to get her into swimming lessons ASAP, given how much she loves the water. You were so dreamy, Budapest! I hope we get to come back again someday soon.

Family Fun / Life Abroad / Travel

Our Trip to Madrid

August 31, 2017

If we’re friends on Facebook or Instagram, then you already know that we’ve been traveling for most of the month of August. We were in Madrid, Spain and then just returned from Budapest, Hungary.

Even though I did bring my laptop with me on our vacations with every intention of posting, it just didn’t happen. Our summer has been so busy and full and fun that the blog has taken a back seat to real life.

I have a bunch of photos from Madrid to post and will get to posting some photos from Budapest shortly.

We spent five nights in Madrid and had a great time exploring the city. We hit most of the major sites, including the Royal Palace, Buen Retiro Park and the Museo Nacional. I, personally, love museums, but exploring museums is a little tricky with two little ones in tow. The Museo National proved to be a bit of a bust, as I ended up ducking into a stairwell to nurse Lark and our short-lived visit ended with Prim going what we refer to as “full-noodle” (going limp on the floor having a meltdown — y’know, like a when you drop a cooked spaghetti noodle on the floor).

So yes, in case you’re wondering — traveling with little ones isn’t always easy. In fact, sometimes it’s just downright HARD. We definitely have days where KC and I are tired and are not as patient as we should be (with the kids… with each other… with everything) and Lark is teething and Prim just CANNOT with anything.

Those days are tough, and I’d be lying if I said I never have moments of thinking, “Why are we doing this???”

But overall, the good moments far outweigh the bad ones. And I think “This is amazing, we are so lucky” far more often than I feel like tearing my hair out and just hopping on a plane home.  Spain is amazing and probably one of our favorite European countries so far, but the Spanish schedule tends to be a little tough with the kids. Spaniards generally eat dinner late — after 8pm — and as much as we stretch the kids schedules, having dinner so late just doesn’t work for us. As a result we would basically eat in deserted restaurants at 6 or 7 every night (I’m sure the locals thought we were crazy. Or maybe that we were having lunch.) which worked well with the kids (no one to disturb at the tables nearby!) but we were forced to abandon a lot of the restaurants we wanted to visit as many didn’t even open until 8 or 8:30pm.  We did manage to have authentic paella, and even though I have to admit that I just am not the hugest paella person (sorry!) — it was delicious. And this amazing yellow door was just outside the restaurant, so of course I had to shoot P in front of it (we had escaped outside while KC finished and paid the bill — sometimes staying at the table that long just isn’t an option with a 2 year old.) We actually finished dinner pretty early our last night in Madrid, so we wandered over to Cafe San Gines for churros and chocolate — because what better way to finish up a meal full of rice than with a plate of fried dough and sugar, right? The woman taking our order recommended 12 churros, since we had three people eating and they come in sets of six. I wanted to only order six, but KC insisted on twelve, which I thought was ridiculous. Well, we sure did finish off all twelve and I’m really not sure whether I’m surprised, proud or totally ashamed of that, but they sure were delicious. Another doorway outside San Gines. Europe really knows how to do doorways right.  We walk everywhere when we travel and are always either pushing a stroller or wearing one of the kids (or sometimes both!) We average around 6 miles a day and Prim probably walks about half of that, at least. We do sometimes force her onto the stroller to get somewhere quickly, but we do try to let her walk and run around when she wants.  The times she is on the stroller board she mostly spends her time chatting with Lark. It keeps Lark entertained and is endlessly adorable — so, win/win.  These sister, man. There is just nothing better.  ^^ That’s the train station in Madrid — it has a little jungle inside. Isn’t that cool? Prim was fascinated by all the fish and turtles just chilling in the pond sections.  You were amazing Madrid!

A bunch of photos from Budapest will be coming up (hopefully) shortly.

Baby / Family Fun / Life Abroad / Summer / Travel

Our Trip to Barcelona + Traveling with Littles

July 19, 2017

We recently returned from a week in Barcelona and had the most amazing time. Barcelona is one of those dreamy cities that you feel like you could wander forever and never get tired of.

We visited a bunch of the “must-see” sites and ate our weight in tapas and pintxos, and I’m already plotting our return — I couldn’t get enough of Barcelona! KC and I both at one point were devising a plan for him to do a secondment with his firm in the city (the one hitch being that KC doesn’t speak Spanish… which is sort of a must. Ha.) But with the gothic architecture and countless skinny alleyways just begging to be explored, how could you not want to spend more time there? 

For those of you wondering how traveling with two little ones was — it was actually great. Prim and Lark were amazingly well- behaved on both flights (Prim even slept on the flight over — serious win) and they adapted to their new surroundings without a second thought. We played fast and loose with their schedules and they took it all in stride like a couple of pros. Traveling with kids is of course never as easy-going or stress-free as I really prefer my vacations to be, but I have to admit that the kids were really good on this trip. Even though they’re both so young (newly two and four months at the time of our trip), they both adapted well and I think really enjoyed seeing a new city. That’s Prim running around in the background of that picture above ^^. Some guys had just come though and done a sort of tumbling/street dance performance while we were having dinner and Prim felt inspired to go run around do some dance moves of her own after they had passed through. She was quite the hit with a lot of the locals. If you’re considering traveling with kids, my advice is do it. I am pretty structured and type-A (KC I’m sure is laughing out loud at this — “pretty structured??”) and I have to admit that the idea of yanking the kids out of their comfort zones and subjecting them to an unfamiliar city and upending their schedules totally stresses me out. BUT, since we are in Europe for a finite amount of time (or, at least that’s the plan for now… ha!) I have embraced the idea that we will be traveling with our kids a lot. We have four more trips planned before the end of the year and may be adding a fifth. I have also learned that taking these trips and pushing them outside of their routines seems to be a good thing overall. I like to think that it’s not only opening their eyes to new places, people and things, but also making them more adaptable to life in general.

If you’re wondering what we bring with us travel-wise, here is the general list. (Keep in mind that your child’s needs will vary based on their own age and home life and this is just what worked for us.)

European airlines tend to have stricter carry-on rules and more fees for checking bags than US airlines do, but that said, some things are non-negotiable when traveling with little ones. We luckily have been able to find flights that allow us to check a stroller and carseat for free, so in addition to that we check one large suitcase with all of the stuff for me and the kids and a travel crib (we love our BabyBjorn Travel Crib Light). We bring three carry-on bags: a small suitcase (verrry small. Europe!) with KC’s stuff in it, a backpack I use as a diaper bag with stuff for the kids, and a travel bassinet.

I brought four thin paperback books for the kids, a teether for Lark, and Prim was allowed to bring her small Jellycat lion and her baby doll. Aside from that, we brought our iPad loaded with a couple Disney movies and Prim’s headphones, and that’s it entertainment-wise.This is our travel bassinet. I found it super-cheap on an online family market here in Amsterdam and it’s been awesome for travel because it folds up into a bag the size of a standard diaper bag (similar here — on sale!). I brought it with me when I traveled with Lark to the US also and was able to have her sleep in it on one of the flights, as I had two extra seats next to mine. She will likely outgrow it before our next trip, but since Prim is now sleeping in a toddler bed, we will be able to transition Lark into the travel crib and put Prim into a regular bed with our travel bed rail.

About 2 months before we moved to Amsterdam, we shipped our regular stroller with all of our other things to the Netherlands. Since we needed an interim stroller and wanted something compact for travel, KC started researching umbrella and travel strollers. He happened to come across the Babyzen Yoyo, which was in basically zero US stores at the time and I had never even heard of. After some intense online-sleuthing, KC determined that this was the stroller to get for travel, as it folds up suuuper small (seriously, TSA is always like “WHOA that’s small!” whenever I have to zip it through security) but also has a pretty legit suspension system, making it ideal for handling all of Europe’s cobblestone streets.

At the time, I thought it was a little insane to spend so much on a second stroller; but now that we’ve taken multiple trips with this stroller and had a second baby, I am so glad that KC insisted on this purchase. Though it folds up smaller than an umbrella stroller, it has the options and amenities of a full-size stroller. We’ve added the carseat adapters (ideal for traveling with a baby less than 6 months old) and the ride-on board, which is perfect for P. Prim is able to sit or stand on it when she feels like it (or when we force her to — 2 year olds!) or we can pull the board up when it’s not in use (see the picture of KC with both kids and the stroller above to see the board pulled up).  And of course I can’t live without the Solly Baby Wrap. It’s so light and versatile, it’s perfect for travel. It can be balled up and shoved into a suitcase or diaper bag, it works as a lightweight blanket in the stroller, as a makeshift nursing cover, and it’s light enough to use in hot weather. Not to mention that the Spanish ladies were all totally obsessed with my wrap (and Lark in the wrap for that matter). I was stopped so many times on the street to have conversations in broken Spanish and English about my wrap (and its contents 😉 ) — clearly Solly needs to start some kind of global expansion program here.

We loved you, Barcelona. Someday I will be back to walk your streets and drink all the cava.

PS: If you have any travel-related questions, please leave me a comment and I’ll respond. 🙂