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.

outside
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.

fishing
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.

ggparents
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.

mi-family
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.

Advertisements

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.

Drive SHeep
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!

Edinburgh
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!

Castle
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.

Holyrood Palace
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.

Arthurs Seat
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).

13592835_10100163447553654_1177498831670317010_n

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.

HighlandsView

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.

HighlandsCOttage

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.

Highlandsfamily

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!

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).

grounds

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.

12932995_10100128904468274_5275091956494384708_n
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”.

12933114_10100128904598014_226719011880850532_n
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.

The Copenhagen Card

If there was one takeaway to give you after our trip to beautiful Copenhagen, Denmark last week, it is this: GO THERE.

We loved it. We have been incredibly fortunate over the last year of purposefully pursuing travel to visit some really cool locations. In the US, we visited Austin, San Antonio, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle and since moving to the UAE in September we’ve added Muscat (Oman), Istanbul (Turkey), Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck (Austria), Munich (Germany), Ras Al Khaimah (UAE), London (England — just Tony) and now Copenhagen (Denmark). While we loved just about every location on that list, Copenhagen has pulled forward as both Tony and my favorite place to date.

It’s just a beautiful city. It was very “toddler travel” friendly with super high walkability/public transport, as well as being easy to navigate. Tony and I will take turns writing about some specific parts of the trip, including our top list of sites to see, but for now I wanted to start with how we travelled to an expensive city without blowing our budget.

Scandinavia in general is considered an expensive place to visit. With the help of travel hacking, we started this trip ahead of the game. The 7 day hotel stay was covered with a credit card award earned last year — the only hitch was we had to stay at the same hotel property for the full 7 days. Typically, we like to hit more than one city on a stay that long, so we wanted to pick a city where we felt like we wouldn’t run out of things to do and see. Copenhagen delivered on that front. Our flights were booked on points, although we had to deal with a less than ideal route to make that happen (we flew Abu Dhabi > Rome > Paris > Copenhagen). Because we stayed at the Marriott Copenhagen with elite status, we had access to the hotel’s executive lounge giving us free breakfast each morning, as well as afternoon snacks and a hot hors d’oeuvres each evening. This bonus alone insured we could easily keep our spending in check on our trip.

12966856_10100132644627964_434682039_n

The other big cost saver for us was the Copenhagen Card. Benefits of the card include:

Tony purchased the cards for us at the Copenhagen airport. You choose the card based on the length of your stay — options include 24, 48, 72, and 120 hours. With Matteo under 10, and thereby covered by the purchase of an adult card, we only needed to buy two adult cards. The cost came to just under the equivalent of $245. I know that might sound steep at first glance, but don’t forget that it includes our transportation (including to and from the airport) for 5 days and admission to so many museums and attractions!

By using the list of attractions covered with the Copenhagen card, we were more easily able to narrow down what we saw and did each day. We visited both Experimentarium City and the Zoo — without the Copenhagen card, entry to those two places would have cost $65 and $66 respectively. That’s nearly half the cost of the Copenhagen card right there. We also visited three different castles, and the Viking Ship Museum with free entrance under the Copenhagen card. Adding all of the entry fees to the costs covered, we ended up saving about $40 overall buying the card rather than paying admission charges upon arrival. That savings does not take in to account the public transport we used — mostly, because I can’t remember all of the buses/trains we took, and charges varied depending on where you were going (i.e. more expensive to go to the airport than to the center of the city). Had Matteo been a little older and able to handle longer days, the savings would have been even greater as there were several museums we didn’t get to visit due to him holding us back (kidding! well, not really, but that’s travel with a  three year old).

1937043_10100126121290784_5296809044483755283_n
Glad to have the option for public transportation when the wind made walking feel too cold to our desert sensibilities

So that’s the Copenhagen Card! They can be purchased online at http://www.copenhagencard.com/buy-copenhagencard or do what we did and pick one up at the airport. How you get the card isn’t important, what is important is that you GO TO COPENHAGEN. You’re going to love it!

 

 

Toddler Travel Packing

12799408_10100129631391514_1207064140284407315_n
I love this photo — showing the reality of travel with a toddler. If he would have looked up from the iPad, he would have LOVED all of the boats. Oh well! He was happy, we were happy.

If you’re friends with Tony or I on Facebook or Instagram you will know that we just spent a week in beautiful Copenhagen, Denmark. Sorry for blowing up your feeds, everyone, but it was a pretty perfect week and we wanted to do whatever we could to save the memories for us to look back on later. We’re looking forward to sharing more about this trip on the blog in the coming week, but before we get to the specifics of Copenhagen I wanted to tackle the challenge of packing for a toddler.

Now that we’ve travelled a fair bit as a family, the packing process has become so much easier. The first trip I took with Matteo was very stressful — I felt like I practically had to pack everything we owned baby-related that we might need. Its not that way anymore. While I won’t go through the process of explaining every little thing that I pack for our toddler (there are plenty of packing lists on the web that do just that), I did want to mention a few of the essentials that make traveling with our rambunctious three year old a whole lot easier:

  1. Potette Plus 2-in-1 Travel Potty – This little potty invention has been a game changer for us. While we still use our little IKEA potty at home, it was too bulky to travel easily with when we’re out and about. The legs of this little potty fold under to make it practically flat. It fits easily in a carry on, and underneath the stroller when we’re out sight seeing. The potty uses biodegradable, disposable liners. We can go anywhere if this potty is with us.
  2. Favorite blanket from home – When I was pregnant, we received two packs of these wonderful swaddle blankets as a gift. At the time, I thought they were simply adorable and couldn’t wait to swaddle my little newborn. They were used CONSTANTLY in the first few months of Matteo’s life — and pretty much everyday since . These blankets are light and thin, they pack easily, and they wash and dry quickly. Matteo instantly recognizes them as something from home and they help a hotel bed seem like his bed.
  3. A few favorite toys. When you think of traveling, you don’t think of spending lots of time in the hotel room. The point is to be out and about, seeing the city you’re visiting. The truth is that when you travel with a toddler you will need to include some down time in your trip. To keep a hotel room from being completely boring for Matteo, we bring a few of his favorite toys with us in our carry on. For him, that means a little green airplane that he loves to “fly” on every flight, a toy car, and his current obsession, some sort of Toy Story toy (this time we brought Woody — so naturally he kept asking for Buzz Lightyear). Again, this isn’t about bringing everything your child could possibly want to play with, but rather a few favorites that will make the hotel room feel familiar, like home away from home.
  4. Snacks. My child is a PICKY eater. It’s bad. The fact is there’s a list of only about 10 items that he will currently eat. Because we travel internationally, we don’t always know if Matteo’s favorites will be available. For that reason, we always pack the “essentials” – Pringles, M&Ms, goldfish crackers, and strawberry pop tarts. Healthy? No, but these foods work as bribes when he’s tired on a long haul flight and guarantee that he’ll eat something if we’re presented with a menu that has nothing kid friendly. Thankfully, fruit is the same everywhere so we load up on his favorites when we reach our destination on each trip.
  5. Children’s pain reliever. It never fails that Matteo picks up a bug of some sort on our trips. The first year it was ear infections, last year we dealt with a wretched stomach virus, and this go around he came home with congestion and a cough. I love Walgreen’s brand Jr. strength ibuprofen in the dissolving tabs (can be found in store). Matteo doesn’t do well with suspension liquid, but doesn’t fight us when it’s time to take these tablets (intended for ages 2 to 11 years). I briefly looked in a pharmacy in Denmark this past week, but the language barrier made it really difficult to shop for children’s OTC medications. I was glad to already have what I needed already in my bag.
  6. iPad and Movie. The iPad has been a lifesaver for us. Its what gave us the time we needed to enjoy sightseeing at less-exciting-for-kids locations like museums. Before a trip, we like to download a new movie or television episode for Matteo to watch on the trip. Because the material is new to him, he will happily watch it over and over again. If you’re the parent of a little one who has a favorite show or character, gifting your kiddo with a new “movie” will give them needed entertainment while you enjoy your trip. Be sure to download it to your device so that you don’t have to rely on wifi to view! P.S. The newest Toy Story movie is FANTASTIC.

Nothing groundbreaking here, but these little things make traveling with a three year old not just bearable, but enjoyable for the three of us. Do you have any tried and true packing items of your own for traveling with a little one?