Zakopane, Poland

Ah, Zakopane. Poland’s sporty resort town.

The drive in to Zakopane was really beautiful and fun. Nestled next to the Tatra National Park, as we wound our way to the center of town we passed trail heads that were absolutely BURSTING with tourists and hikers. Our Airbnb in Zakopane was further into town, walking distance to the pedestrian only strip of the shopping area.

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It was in Zakopane that we dealt with poor weather for really the first time during our summer travels. It started to rain on Saturday evening and pretty much didn’t stop until Monday. Luckily, we were able to take advantage of what we could Friday evening after arriving, and Saturday morning/early afternoon.

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Trail running in Zakopane

Tony hit the trails for a run early in the morning on Saturday while Matteo and I were still snoozing and then we went out as a family, first stopping at the park for Matteo to get some play time in. From there we went to the “downtown” area and checked out the shops, cafes and restaurants and then back to the park for some more play time.

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Once the rain started, it didn’t let up. This gave us time to catch up on some reading, Netflix, and podcasts, and to do a little bit of nothing too. Our airbnb was comfortable enough that vegging and not doing much felt like an okay choice. I still stand by my assessment that I really don’t mind the rain if I have the right gear, but we had nothing other than flimsy rain jackets (our umbrella broke in Toronto so we didn’t even have that) so we felt a bit stuck.

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We still pick up a postcard in every new city we visit. This is our pick from Zakopane.

Leaving Zakopane ended up being a bit of a pain — in addition to the heavy rain, we were leaving a tourist town on a Sunday afternoon, along with what seemed to be the WHOLE OF POLAND, to head in to Krakow. Add rain and lots of cars on the road to a ton of unexpected construction, road closures, and a few accidents and what should have been a 90 minute drive took a full 4 hours! I was mostly worried about Tony, who typically loses his patience in traffic, and Tony was mostly worried about Matteo (bathroom breaks? temper tantrums?) but honestly all three of us did just fine.

What else can you do but take in in stride? This has been a long, beautiful summer of travel so far so what is one day of headache? A small price to pay!

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Kosice, Slovakia

Leaving Budapest in our rental car, we made the 3 hour drive across the border to Kosice, Slovakia. Once we were out of the city, the drive was quite pleasant — beautiful countryside that included fields and fields of sunflowers.

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Kosice is not a big city and we knew that we wouldn’t need a lot of time here to see what we wanted to see. The two biggest features are the beautiful Old Town area full of shops, cafes, and restaurants and the centerpiece of downtown, their cathedral St. Elizabeth.

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Because we were in an Airbnb again after several nights in a hotel, a chunk of time was spent doing laundry! We were also excited to have access to the modest kitchen (more like kitchenette) so that we could cook lighter/healthier meals for ourselves.

Two nights in Kosice was enough to see the things we wanted to see. We were charmed by the beauty of this small town, full as it was with tourists.

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On the way to our next stop, we made our way to one more tourist stop, Spiš Castle. Situated on top of a high, steep hill, the castle ruins overlook the beautiful (BEAUTIFUL) Slovakian countryside. Smooth, slippery stones made for a bit of difficulty navigating this site but it was well worth it for the views that awaited us.

Matteo found himself overwhelmed by both the steep climb and decline on the way to and from the castle, so Tony happily gave him a piggy back ride both up to and down from the castle. While there were other families there with young children, it is definitely not a stop that one could visit with a stroller so if you make your way to this castle with young kids, plan on using a baby carrier if your child isn’t able to walk well.

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The castle was a great point to stop as we made our way over the Slovakia/Poland border and on to our next stop, the resort town of Zakopane.

Food Delivery Apps

Traveling with kids can be difficult. From my limited perspective as the mother of a very opinionated 4 year old, I know going in to a trip that there are only going to be so many “golden hours” each day during which we can freely do the things we want to do. Tony and I look at the trade off like this — we could wait a few years until Matteo is “easier” to travel with, or we can go now and know going in that we will won’t be able to go go go as we would if we were traveling just the two of us.

One of those concessions ends up being dinner time. Matteo does best on our trips if we do our sightseeing in the morning/early afternoon. We typically head out for 4 or so hours in the morning, have lunch and then can squeeze in another few hours. By the time evening comes around, Matteo’s mood will only be stable if he can relax and play in the comfort of our airbnb/hotel.

That means we end up limited when it comes to dinner options. Room service is always an option if you’re staying in a hotel, but that can get expensive fast. What we’ve depended on (and loved) for the last several trips, are food delivery apps. UberEats, Deliveroo, Foodora, Postmates, etc. allow you to browse local menus, make your selection, and pay all from your phone.

The apps available to you depends on your availability. Many include a sign up bonus such as $10 off your first order, or a discount when for referral sign ups. Tony and I take advantage of those situations by one of us signing up and then immediately doing a referral sign up for the other which often means saving $20 over two meals. These apps mean you can still explore cuisine in your area without having to actually go out.

We look forward to the time when we can take advantage of the evenings on our vacations as well as the morning and afternoon, but for now we’re okay with this compromise.  If you’re traveling with kids, or considering it, definitely take the time to download a food delivery app or two in your area to give yourself a Plan B when it comes to dinnertime.

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.

 

 

 

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!