2016 Travel Roundup

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Tony and I were discussing 2016 this morning. For many, and certainly from a global view, 2016 saw a lot of terrible things, but personally — for Tony, Matteo and I — it may have been the best year of our lives.

Travel Roundup

January — We celebrated the New Year at midnight in the sky as we flew back to Abu Dhabi from Munich at the end of our Christmas vacation.

February — A weekend away to Ras Al Khaimah for Tony’s first official half marathon

March — Tony jetted off to London in Etihad’s luxurious first class apartment for a soccer weekend

March/April — We spent Spring Break in beautiful Copenhagen, Denmark

May — Over Mother’s Day weekend, our family made the short drive to Dubai for a relaxing weekend at the Park Hyatt

June — Tony and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary (!) with another weekend in Dubai, this time staying at the Ritz Carlton. Somehow, we missed blogging about this weekend away.

July/August – For Tony’s summer break from work, we got out of the blistering heat of Abu Dhabi and started our 6 week of travels. First stopping in London, then a few days in the Highlands before making our way to Edinburgh. From there we flew back to London to catch the flight back to the US where we spent soaked up family time in Michigan, Arizona and Ohio. On our way back to the UAE, we stopped for a few days in beautiful Amsterdam, to catch our breaths and try to acclimate to the time differences!

September/October — While we debated taking a trip during this time period, we opted not to because Matteo began pre kindergarten in September. The change to his schedule took a lot of hard work and purposefulness to get used to, so we didn’t want to add to the chaos any more than necessary.

November — In later November we took our first trip east to Asia with a vacation to Malaysia.

December — That brings us to the current month. We spent 10 days in Paris for Christmas before leaving for 4 days in Geneva, Switzerland where I sit writing this at this very moment. Paris at Christmas time was absolutely magical, and Geneva has proven to be the perfect spot to relax and after the hustle and bustle of the City of Light (more posts coming on this trip).

Tomorrow we leave Geneva and fly back to Abu Dhabi to spend the final days of 2016 in our apartment. When we made the decision to move to Abu Dhabi, so much of it was based on a perceived opportunity to travel and see the world, and we’re definitely working toward that goal. I’m excited to see what travels lie ahead in 2017!

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Michigan

We left Edinburgh and flew back to London where we stayed the night before departing Heathrow for our flight to Detroit. Flying out of Heathrow is a pain in the ass. No way around it, no point in sugar coating it. The drive from our hotel to the airport was full of traffic, and therefore stressful, but we did find the agents working at Heathrow professional and kind.

Our seats were Economy Plus which means we had a little more leg room than the regular economy class. It’s just enough extra room to make a longer flight more bearable. Writing this a month and a half after the fact, I can’t remember too much about the flight itself — which means it must have been fairly easy. At this point, Matteo is truly a pro on a plane. We don’t have any qualms about flying with him — even long flights. We let him choose where he wants to sit (typically the middle) and he loves using the inflight entertainment system. I do remember that this was the flight where he watched Finding Nemo three times in a row!

We landed in Detroit, grabbed our bags, and made our way to where Aunt Chris was waiting to bring us back to her place. Although Michigan was hotter and more humid than average, it still felt nice compared to what we’d been used to in Abu Dhabi! The time change from London to Detroit meant that we had a 5 hour time difference to contend with, but we quickly learned that traveling east > west made time change transitioning much easier.

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Summer fun with Uncle Jerry

Over the next dew days, we had a blast with Chris, Jerry, Grandma and Grandpa Thom, Kyle, Candice, Brady, Rachel, Stella and Jax. It was particularly fun to watch Matteo enjoy some of the classic, summer playtime activities that Tony and I enjoyed during our own MidWest childhoods. There were sprinklers, water guns, soccer, tee ball, and games of hide and seek. Matteo definitely remembered staying at Chris and Jerry’s house last year — and was SO excited to play with the awesome pirate ship and castle toys that he’d enjoyed last summer. Another highlight? Aunt Chris took Matteo fishing — and he caught not one, but TWO fish! It was so exciting! I think it’s safe to say Matteo  is an Aunt Chris fan for life.

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Matteo’s first fish

We also got to visit Tony’s grandparents at their new condo. Last year, they were preparing for their move, and this year we got to see them settled in their lovely new home. We were treated to lunch and dinner at their place and Matteo had a blast pretending to be a superhero who was fighting bad guys as he ran through the hallways.

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Matteo and his great grandparents

After nearly a year away, what can I say other than it was just so enjoyable and wonderful to sit with family, chat, catch up — just be together. I enjoyed driving again (I don’t have my license in the UAE) and, of course, shopping at Target.

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Our Michigan Family — we love you guys!

We always feel so welcome when staying with Chris and Jerry. On top of two people who definitely have the gift of hospitality, there’s nothing quite like seeing the people you love, love your child. I could have watched quietly as Matteo played with his great grandparents, cousins/aunts/uncles, and cousin-dogs all day long. There’s nothing better, truly. It was also awesome to be able to play outside again since the heat of Abu Dhabi had us housebound for much of May and June. It definitely made me think of the positives of living/growing up in the midwest — there really is nothing like a midwest summer!

After about a week of family time in Michigan, it was time to get on a plane again, this time to Arizona.

Edinburgh, Scotland

The quiet, open spaces of the Highlands were such a contrast with bustling London — and made for a great opportunity to relax and gear up for the next stop on our trip, Edinburgh. Tony and I had been particularly excited to see Edinburgh — we both have heritage in Scotland (Tony’s maternal great grandfather was a butcher in Edinburgh, and my side goes further back but has Scottish roots as well) and my oldest brother and sister in law spent a summer in Edinburgh many years ago that made an impression on me as a teenager. So needless to say, we were excited.

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Watch out for sheep!

Unexpectedly, the drive to Edinburgh was one of the highlights on the trip. Normally, long car drives just feel like something you have to get through in order to get to where you really want to be, but in this case it was so enjoyable. The Scottish countryside is MESMERIZING. The roads were hilly and winding, the sky was vast and beautiful, wildflowers were everywhere. For much of the drive, there were no other cars in view and so we could slow or stop to snap a photo, pointing out ruins to each other or pulling to the side to let sheep pass as needed. It was really fun!

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Edinburgh — Such a beautiful city

Once we made it to Edinburgh, I was surprised both by the size of the city and the beauty. The hills made for some incredible views. We snagged an Airbnb apartment right on the Royal Mile, putting us at a 5 minute walk to the Castle.

We loved so many things about beautiful Edinburgh. The weather was lovely and cool, and we only had a few instances of rain (we’d been prepared for far more moisture).

Highlights of the trip were definitely visiting Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace (the Queen’s residence when in Scotland) and, for Tony, Arthur’s Seat. Edinburgh Castle was incredibly crowded on the day we were there, and was not stroller friendly, but even with those annoyances we thoroughly enjoyed seeing this historic site. The weather was absolutely perfect and the views from the castle walls were breathtaking!

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Edinburgh Castle

Holyrood Palace is on the opposite end of the Royal Mile from the castle. We toured the castle and grounds in the morning. The highlight of this tour for me was the special exhibit of the Queen’s fashion — including items the queen wore when she was only 3 years old (beautifully preserved) all the way to present day. The items were beautiful and included information about each designer. It was interesting to see the garments and notice that as she grew up, she developed a very clear sense of style as most of the later garments were very similar in shape and style. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take photographs inside the palace, but we did get a few nice photos on the grounds.

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Holyrood Palace

With the recommendation of my sister-in-law Melissa, we knew we wanted to venture up to Arthur’s Seat for the fun of a hike and the reward of more beautiful views. Because we would not be able to take Matteo, we decided to do the hike separately. Unfortunately, on the day I wanted to go we had rain and a cranky Matteo, so I didn’t get to do the hike, but Tony did and shared his lovely photos.

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Tony’s view from atop Arthur’s Seat

Because it’s Tony, he of course tool the long way and decided to run up to the top of the hill. In addition to being a great workout, he was greeted with gorgeous, albeit windy, views of Edinburgh.

Our time in England and Scotland went by so quickly. It left such an impression on us — it was love, really. If there’s one location we’ve visited that we think ANY AND EVERY ONE would enjoy, it’s the UK.

 

 

 

Scottish Highlands

After four nights in bustling London, we packed our things and made our way back to Heathrow for our flight to Aberdeen, Scotland. London traffic on the way to the airport had me nervous, but the flight was short, easy and uneventful. At this point, the hardest point about traveling with Matteo has very little to do with Matteo — it’s all the “stuff” we have to bring (like the carseat and stroller).

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At Aberdeen’s airport, we picked up the rental car that Tony had reserved. I was quite nervous about driving in the UK — simply because I think the habit to want to overcorrect to the right side of the road would be difficult to overcome. But Tony did so well! I served as navigator and we were on our way for the roughly 3 hour drive from Aberdeen to the Airbnb we booked in the Highlands.

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The drive was lovely. Very little traffic and fairly straight forward with directions. We stopped on the way at a grocery store the Airbnb owners had recommended so that we could stock up on kitchen basics before we got in to the Highlands and away from store options. Every mile further we drove, the views became more and more impressive. Expansive, rolling green hills with gorgeous wild flowers everywhere you looked.

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The Airbnb we booked is without a doubt our favorite booking so far. We stayed in a renovated oat mill. The mill was the perfect set up for our family — beautiful and rustic, so comfortable, and in a location that made us feel the Highlands. All three of us loved it. It was the perfect place for us to stay with Matteo. The owners, knowing we were traveling with a  little boy, even left several of their sons old toys for Matteo to enjoy — including a train set that entertained him for hours.

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The Highlands felt like the opposite of London. Where London was a place to expend energy and fit as much into a day as we could, the Highlands made the perfect place to recharge and relax. The house had wifi but no television, and it was a testament to the beautiful set up that Matteo didn’t even notice the lack of television during our stay. We spent the days reading, walking, taking in the view, cooking, playing with Matteo’s toys, running*, and trying to figure out ways to move to Scotland permanently.

I think we could have stayed in the Highlands for a month without getting bored. The beauty of this part of the UK — its unrivaled by any place I have traveled to before. It was like love at first sight — an instant connect and feeling of compatibility. With so many beautiful locations on our planet, we try not to visit the same place twice. The goal is to see as much of the world as possible! But Scotland…that’s a place we’d like to visit again.

All good things come to an end. After a quick 3 days/2 nights in the Highlands, we packed our things and hopped back in the rental car to make our way to the next stop on our summer travels adventure — Edinburgh.

*On our first full day in the Highlands, Tony decided to go for a run. His plan was to stick to a 6 mile path/loop that he’d found on a map. He took off around 7:45 am — by 10 am he wasn’t back yet and, knowing his mile time,  I was officially nervous. Another hour passed, and I started to panic. I had decided to give him until noon to get home or else I would have to go over to the cottage’s owner place across the street and ask for help. I was terrified that something had happened to him! Luckily, at 11:45 Tony made it back. He had gotten horribly lost on the poorly marked path and had to figure out a way back to our rental by manner of cutting through people’s farms. He even was zapped by a cattle fence in the process! All said and done, he made it back — filthy and exhausted — but okay. Because I had been so afraid that something terrible had happened to him, we made a pact to never go running without letting the other person know the route we planned to run — particularly when we do not have GPS to rely on.  Funny story now, but at the time I was a wreck!

Oh, What A Summer (London)

What a great summer.

We have been absent from the blog because Tony, Matteo and I have been traveling for the past 6 weeks. Leaving a few days after Tony’s last day of work for the 15-16 school year in early July, we first flew to London (from Dubai, and via Amsterdam) before landing at Heathrow airport. After an uneventful, but not particularly restful overnight of flying, we were so exited to arrive in London and begin our week of sightseeing.

That excitement had to be contained for a bit, as we were dismayed upon arrival to have to wait a full two hours to get through the incredibly long, congested line at passport control. Something we should have anticipated we were arriving in London for the very busy summer holiday season. Once through passport control, we collected our bags, hailed an Uber and made our way to the Holiday Inn where we would spend our first night in the city. After the first overnight, we moved to the beautiful Andaz London Liverpool StreetAndaz London Liverpool Street — a beautiful, 5-star hotel that exceeded all of our expectations for comfort and relaxation.

While this was my first trip to London, it was Tony’s third and he already had a good feel for the tube routes/stops we would need to know. Tony wanted to make sure I got to see the bulk of the iconic London sights — Big Ben, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, etc.

The first day of our arrival we had warm temperatures and plenty of sun, the rest of the trip was a bit more typical of London weather with intermittent haze, spitting rain, and cooler temperatures. Coming from the heat and humidity of Abu Dhabi, all of these changes were WELCOME.

It would be take far too long to describe everything we did while in London. If you followed along on Facebook or instagram, you probably have a good idea of what we were up to, but for now I’ll highlight three of our favorites from London.

HYDE PARK/PRINCESS DIANA MEMORIAL PLAYGROUND

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If you aren’t traveling with young children, it might be tempting to skip this paragraph thinking its not for you, and technically you’d be correct — you can’t get in to the playground area unless you’re accompanying a child — but if you find yourself in London on a beautiful day, go to Hyde Park! Within Hyde Park is the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, and our family easily spent several hours playing at the playground and wandering the park. There is a beautiful carousel, ice cream, plenty of space for a picnic, gardens to tour, and a gorgeous expanse of green space to soak up in the middle of wonderful London. We happened upon the playground on a particularly beautiful day with lots of happy children, and giggled as we watched Matteo make fast friends with a little Brit named James.

HIGH TEA

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We knew we wanted another High Tea experience (our first was in Dubai, at the famed at.Mosphere restaurant atop the Burj Khalifa) while in London. A quick search on Groupon led us to a good deal at the London chain Patisserie Valerie. Tony ordered tea, I ordered coffee, and we enjoyed a simple, yet lovely, traditional English tea together. The finger sandwiches, scones, and sweets were all delicious.

STAMFORD BRIDGE

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Stamford Bridge is the home of Tony’s beloved Chelsea Football Club. As Chelsea FC is one of the reasons for Tony’s previous trips to London, I was excited to visit this spot myself. We decided to walk the majority of the way to Stamford Bridge, which happens to be in the middle of a rather lovely (and expensive) area of London. While there, we were able to visit the fan shop and take a few pictures outside. It was fun to share Tony’s passion for an afternoon.

London was fantastic! We thoroughly enjoyed our time here, though I think we both walked away with the opinion that it might be a better city to revisit once Matteo is old enough to walk several miles on his own, rather than drag the stroller everywhere. While it was doable, that part of the trip could have been more enjoyable, if that makes sense. But there’s a reason why London is one of the most visited cities in the world — it’s magic!

 

Park Hyatt Dubai

During the first weekend in May, Tony, Matteo and I packed up and made the 1.5 hour drive to Dubai for a long weekend spent at the Park Hyatt Dubai.

Park Hyatt Dubai

We love to stay at Hyatt properties because of our award status with the chain, which gives us extra benefits like suite upgrade when available, late check out, free breakfast, etc. This Dubai property followed in the footsteps of the other Park Hyatt properties we’ve stayed at, it was absolutely beautiful with fantastic service.

The property is spread out, with separate buildings attached by breezeways and walkways. Every square inch of the property was gorgeous — with the blue and white theme, and modern, luxurious furnishings leaving us saying “wow!” throughout our stay.

Upon check in, we were upgraded to a suite which meant that we had a large bedroom and a separate living area (where we could roll Matteo’s cot at night). Also of note? The gorgeous bathroom that featured a HUGE tub!

With several restaurants, a great pool, gym, and spa, we didn’t feel the need to leave the property for the duration of our weekend stay. Because it was Mother’s Day (US) weekend,  Tony and Matteo surprised me with a morning at the spa where I received a wonderfully relaxing massage.

Our weekend was quiet and relaxing — the perfect preparation for the end of school year crawl that awaited us back in Abu Dhabi as we wait for our mid July summer break and the exciting line up of travels we have planned (UK > US > Netherlands).

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We will definitely make plans to return to the Park Hyatt Dubai property for a future visit when we want to get away, but don’t have the time/inclination to leave the UAE. A great, relaxing weekend!

Castles in Copenhagen

Of all the attractions we saw during our week in Copenhagen, the castles we visited top both of our lists of favorites. We rented a car on Wednesday of our trip to head out and see some sites beyond the city. While public transportation in Copenhagen is efficient and accessible, we chose to rent a car so that we could go at our own pace, and easily add/delete items to our itinerary based on our moods (read: Teo’s mood) throughout the day.

The drive to our first castle, Kronborg Castle, was incredibly scenic with views of the sea much of the way. The day was gray, rainy and cold but that served us well as there were not many tourists when we arrived at the castle. We really did feel like we had the place to ourselves! Without a crowd, we could safely let Matteo walk, run and play which he enjoyed immensely.

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Kronborg Castle

Kronborg Castle is described as “one of northern Europe’s finest Renaissance castles” and was built in 1574-1585. It is famously known as Hamlet’s castle, and performances of the play still take place on the grounds every summer. The castle is absolutely beautiful — in a cold, romantic, tragic way. We thoroughly enjoyed wandering the halls and exhibits, viewing the art, and taking in the history of this majestic property. Matteo wasn’t the least bit bored as he imagined himself a knight while we were there, and prepared to defend his “fortress”.

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Frederiksborg Castle

The next castle we visited was Frederiksborg Castle. This castle was built by King Christian IV in the early decades of the 17th century, and then rebuilt after a fire in 1859. The castle has been turned into a Danish history museum, vand has a very different, more opulent feel, compared to Kronborg Castle. The museum is laid out so that each floor of the castle houses art and historical displays from a different era of Danish history, with the top floor dedicated to the modern day royal family. Covering 500 years of history, the art on display on each floor of this castle is exquisite — as such, it was slightly less Matteo friendly. Each floor had a “hall monitor” present to keep guests from touching anything, getting to close to displays, etc. They were all kind and gracious — but you could see them visibly tense at the sight of our wild child.

 We so enjoyed spending the day at these castles. If you enjoy history at all, they are a MUST SEE on a trip to Copenhagen.