Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Final Destination: The French Riviera


 Aquaphobia? 
I must say, some of the best "toys" are free.
Oh hey.
Waiting for his first train ride.
Arrival into Monte Carlo the same time as the Grand Prix made this Snobville town my least favorite.
This one caught the boys' attention...
Our humble little airbnb kitchen.
 And more home cooked meals...
The boardwalk in Nice was vaguely reminiscent of Honolulu, Hawaii.
I waited until our last destination to save room for my all-time favorite macarons.
 Oliviera - A restaurant serving incredibly fresh local produce and hand-picked olive oils from various regions. My favorite olive oil had a sweet almond flavor to it, and was (surprisingly) from Nice. : ) Oh, and the owners are super friendly!
Hopping over next door to Ventimiglia, Italy.
 The Italian Mafia...er Polizia.
Now would this be considered the Italian Riviera? 
JJ made a new friend.
 The view from the stone (literally) town of Eze, France.
 The goofball after he had his share of splashing around in more puddles.
 Looking out from the gorgeous Cap Estel hotel
 Yes, water to begin our Finale slash 7-year Anniversary dinner at La Table de Patrick Raingeard - Beautiful presentation of the delicious entrees, wait staff were surprisingly non-snobby and accommodating to a 1-year old, and very much approachable! 
Cucumber gazpacho with mozzarella foam
Ravioli foie gras with sea urchin foam
Gazpacho lobster mascarpone foam 

 Fish marinated with soy yuzu and caramelized ginger, served with a side of beets
 Sweet tomato veal with roasted garlic and pureed carrots
 Pistachio mango ice cream with lemon verbena served in a "glass" of sugared ice
Lemon-vanilla ice cream served with lemon meringue sticks and a gelatin cheese mousse dome
C'est bon, Chef Patrick Raingeard!

And that concludes our finale dinner in France - We walked away with wallets that were much lighter, but tummies that were gastronomically full. We probably won't be doing that again for awhile... ^_^

Oh, and how did JJ manage to remain an angel during Mommy and Daddy's 3.5-hour long anniversary dinner? The iPad once again, never ceases to disappoint, and many thanks to the wait staff at Cap Estel, who were amazing at entertaining the Little King.

We traveled by air, land and sea - plane, car and train with the little bugga. Now the real question is, how did we manage to stay sane while traveling with a 1.5 year-old? Read on...

A disclaimer I must make before I begin is that we are by no means professionals when it comes to traveling with a toddler. We simply enjoy traveling and seeing the world and wanted to continue that with our little one, even though he will most likely not remember it years down the line (he still remembers the Eiffel Tower though!)...but hey, there are always photos. The pros to traveling with a 1.5 year is that they are FREE. Okay, and then it ends there, just kidding. Honestly, I do feel that little J has developed tremendously since our trip. Call it a coincidence, but he started putting two words together after we returned, and developed an affinity for "eiffel towers," cars and trucks (go figure). There is no better way to learn than to be totally immersed in a new environment and culture. And it does not necessarily need to be overseas. A trip to the beach (he's actually only been to our local beach once...sad, I know) or nature hikes have the same affect on children. They don't know the difference at this age. The point is, travel is more for the parents at this age, as selfish as it may sound. But bringing them along is less selfish, I suppose? : )

Ease them into it. I don't think we would have been brave enough to make our child's first flight a 14 hour one, including a layover. His first plane ride was a 1-hour flight. Sounds easy, but at the time he was about 7 mos old and we panicked at the thought. I honestly don't really remember the flight, possibly because it was only an hour long. He sat through car rides up and down the California coast, with several breaks in between of course. His next flight was 5-6 hours long, and because he wasn't completely into toys or the iPad, the plane ride was slightly tortuous. Since that time, he hadn't been on a flight until The Big One. It was definitely a jump, going from 5 hours to 14 hours, but we figured we would make it work, somehow. Was it any easier than the previous flights? Not really, but there were moments when he would behave like an angel, watching cartoons and playing with his toys for a few hours straight....but once he passed his nap and bedtime, life was rough.

Come armed with supplies. I think of the plane ride as a battlefield, and it would be very unwise to come unarmed. As a parent, you need to make sure you have every prop you need to calm down a screaming child who could potentially make your family the villain of the airplane. The internet is full of excellent resources in this day and age! I find that the most helpful suggestion is to pack a bag full of new, cheap toys- no need to get fancy here, the $1 section at Target also does wonders. Whip them out one at a time, so you have room for them to grow bored and move onto the next one. Some suggestions would be a travel magnetic doodle pad because it's clean (Pictionary is always fun when they don't quite know how to draw yet, but enjoy guessing), paperback picture books, some sort of putty that doesn't stick to everything, a ton of his favorite snacks and sippy cup (don't assume they'll eat airplane food, do you enjoy eating it??), Hot Wheels cars...and I save the Bazooka -aka the TV or iPad, for the end, as that is usually what will hold their attention for at least an hour anyhow.

Schedule nap times on-the-go. In this case, since we were driving from town to town, we made it a point to leave after a late breakfast, so that our little one could nap in the car. Both parents and child are happy when nap-time isn't missed and no site-seeing time is wasted. However, there is also the possibility that they will wake up screaming (as in our case), while you still have another hour to go. There wasn't a whole lot we could do but to either offer snacks he couldn't resist or try to drown out the sound without strangling one another one. Another suggestion is to wear them out and then putting them into the stroller while you site-see around town (the ideal situation).

Prepare for meal times. Unless you have an angel of a child, they will most likely not enjoy going out for three meals in a day, and multiple that with the number of travel days. Similar to the plane ride, keep a stash of small toys and save the electronics for longer meals that require a quiet ambience (if you so choose that route!). Not all restaurants will have high chairs, or at least ones your child cannot climb out of. We purchased a pop-up high chair that wasn't the best, but served its purpose and was compact enough to fit into our stroller. If you are fortunate enough to have a kitchen included with your lodging, save dinner time for eating in when children tend to become sleepy and more cranky - and then save up those pennies to eat somewhere nicer towards the end of your trip.

Diaper bag. Keep a diaper bag of all the essentials you need - spare diapers, wipes, several changes of clothes. This is pretty much self-explanatory, but I feel as though children tend to make more of a mess while on vacation. It's as though they planned it that way, and sometimes you just need to let it go when they jump into that muddy puddle which drenches their entire outfit in mud, shoes included (true story).

Vaccinate. I know this is a controversial subject, but we are advocates for being vaccinated. Of course getting 5 shots in one shot may be a bit overwhelming, so spread them apart. When you are traveling overseas, it is extremely important to make sure your child (and yourselves) are updated on the proper vaccinations for the sites you are visiting. It keeps your family and others safe. The CDC website has all the information you need here.

Remain optimistic. Without a doubt, it is challenging to travel with a young child, and there will be curveballs they can throw at you without a moment's notice. It is even more difficult not to feel disappointed when you miss out on certain sites or delicious food mid-meal. Appreciating the night life of your destinations is most likely out of the picture unless you have a nanny or parent who is willing to watch your little one. After 5 years of traveling without a child, we had to learn to adjust our traveling lifestyle. It wasn't easy, but we found that the best thing you can do is to remain positive and to not allow the meltdowns and food protests to ruin your vacation. After all, you brought your child along for a reason right? Make memories, rather than trying to check off all the items on your itinerary.

Friday, August 1, 2014

La Belle Provence


Senanque Abbey - typically known for the lavender fields, which weren't in bloom yet :(
Falling asleep with fromage in his mouth.
Reenactment of my favorite childhood Disney film, can you guess which one? >_<
Climbed up to see the remains of an ancient chateau at Les Baux-de-Provence.
Mike conquering his fear of heights, with bebe in tote...
Homemade meals to replenish our pockets.
These moments make it it all worthwhile.
What most of our meals looked like, and no he didn't end up eating the greens.
No camera can fully depict this breathtaking cliffside view of Gordes.
The secret's out.
The estate featured in the film A Good Year, starring Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard is what inspired our trip (lack of a storyline, but consider it landscape eyecandy).
He was actually quite terrified!
The site where Van Gogh was hospitalized after he went mad and cut off his ear has been renovated to depict one of his paintings.
Little wine-o in the making
Wine tasting in la cave.
The new Bordeaux.
I love you "this much." : )
Red rock....are we still in France?
Taking a stroll through the Sunday markets.
French strawberries seem to be a different breed - heart shaped and beyond delicious!
Marius Fabre - one of the remaining traditional soap factories 
I never grow tired of seeing French blue shutters.
The French workout.
The charming little town of Lacoste (not the company).

Just when you may have thought I was finished with France, the pictures continue to pour in. It's difficult for me to narrow down close to four thousand photos, but that is what happens when we are traveling in the country I love with a camera in hand. I promise there is only one more post from our France trip and that shall conclude our trip! 

Looking back at our photos, I honestly don't know how we saw all the sites that we did with a 1 year old (will post more about that in the next post!). Reliving the moment through these photos brings back some of the "challenging" moments as well, which would have been just as interesting to document- but of course one never tends to think of doing so in times of stress...

The southern regions of Provence and all the quaint little villages were probably one of my favorite locations during our mini "Tour de France." Some of the most beautiful landscape views can be found here, and the best part is that it doesn't cost a penny to have a self-tour of each of these villages! Although not everyone spoke English, I found the people to be charming and kind, as are most people in smaller towns. The food also veered towards the traditional, but we decided to save our pennies by cooking most of our meals at the Airbnb  apartment we rented during our stay, which by the way, is the most economical way to travel comfortably with a kid. It also gave us a chance to live as the French do, shopping in the open air markets that featured fresh eggs, garlic, meats, produce and so much more. I find that the best thing to do when traveling is to immerse yourself into the culture to see life from a different perspective. And sometimes it's refreshing to get out of our own perspective in order to see the bigger picture.