Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Austria- Our Winter Wonderland

Why don't American schools have a half-term break?  It's a brilliant idea:  take a week off in the middle of the term so everyone can relax and recharge.  Last week was half-term break around here and we made the most of it by heading to Austria for our first proper family ski holiday.  I feel like we have discovered the perfect, family-friendly winter vacation.  It was a true winter wonderland.

Picturesque Tirol, Austria
Austria is well known for its Kinderhotels -resorts designed specifically with families in mind.  On the advice of a friend, we chose to stay at the Babymio which is a beautiful family run hotel set up for families with babies.  They provided everything we needed for an enjoyable holiday: a family suite complete with crib, changing table, toys, etc.  There were toboggans, and strollers and baby backpacks available to borrow.  There was a fabulous indoor pool area and children's' playroom.  They even had a baby food buffet in the dining room. And the best part:  childcare offered everyday so we could go skiing.

Ready for Ski School
The hotel was located right next to a beginner's ski area which was perfect for us.  The kids took lessons and Tom and I took it easy.  My goal was simply to have fun and make it through the week without breaking any bones.  I'm happy to report that I succeeded on both counts!

We had snow every day.  It just kept coming and coming.  One day we experienced an actual blizzard, with raging wind and heaps of snow.  Tom and I got stuck on the chairlift for over 30 minutes.  I must admit, I was a bit scared.  Dangling above the ground, being beaten by the fierce wind, totally helpless. I was so relieved when my skis hit the ground that I didn't even mind going down the mountain in the horrible conditions.

What is it about snow that draws kids in?  We had snowball fights, built snowmen and made snow angels  There was plenty of sledding (or "sledging" or "tobogganing") for all.  Even walking through the snow was a thrill for my kids.  At the end of the week we were all sad to leave.   It was so much fun for all of us.  I can't wait to take them skiing again next winter.

What is your favourite winter holiday? 
Do you crave the sun or do you head for the snow?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Celebrity Sighting in Rome

Did I mention that we had a celebrity sighting during our weekend in Rome?
We spent several hours at St. Peter's; climbed the dome, wandered around the church, taken heaps of photos, all while wrestling with our squirmy baby (no strollers allowed!).  We were pretty much frazzled when we decided to leave.  I just couldn't deal with the crowds (or the squirmy baby) any more.  And the big kids were getting restless and hungry.  It was time to move on.

As we left the church we noticed a large crowd assembled out front for the day's peace rally.  We stayed to the left so as to walk through the square without disturbing the speakers at the rally.  We walked on and I started to get a strange feeling that everyone was looking our way.  I asked Tom, "Are we walking right through the middle of something?"  He noticed that everyone was looking past us, up at the window overlooking the square.

People started cheering.  And in a few brief moments we surmised that someone very important was about to make an appearance from the window.

So, we stopped right there (in front of the crowd, directly below the window) and I grabbed my camera.  And just as I did, he appeared, released 2 doves, and made some very brief statement about peace.  It was all over in a matter of 40 seconds.

But I did get a photo.

My out of focus, face obstructed photo of the Pope
See?  Right there?  Behind the podium?  Yes, that's him.  The Pope.  Can you believe how perfect our timing was?


Thursday, February 9, 2012

How to Enjoy Rome With Kids

When you think of the ultimate family getaway, Rome might not be the first place on your list.  But maybe it should be.  Our recent long weekend in Rome was one of my very favourite holidays.  You can take your kids to Rome and enjoy it.  Here's how:
Tossing coins into the Trevi Fountain said to guarantee one's return to Rome
Take care getting there.  Our littlest kiddo is only 18 months old but I am so over holding him on my lap on an airplane.  We bought him a seat and strapped him in for the quick 2 hour flight.  Best decision ever.  I was actually able to peruse my guidebooks while he cheerfully kicked the seat in front of him.  (Which brings me to my next point:  place one of your other kids directly in front of the baby who will be kicking the seat the whole time).

The view from the dome of St Peter's
Location, location, location.  We rented a spacious apartment in the heart of Rome through Sleep in Italy.  It was so nice to have space to spread out and a kitchen for basics like milk and snacks.
The Arch of Constantine
Bring the Right Gear.  I was so glad to have a car seat that attaches to a stroller frame.  It made it easy to tote the car seat through the airport and it made it possible to use taxis while in Rome (The subway system is quite limited there).  A good baby backpack would have been useful at St. Peter's because they do not allow strollers inside.
The Roman Forum

Bring Extra Hands.    We brought Nana.  'Nuff said.

Enjoying the view from one of Rome's 7 hills
Feed 'Em Right.    Pizza and gelato make for very happy kids (and grown ups, too).

Hire a Guide.    This is the single best thing we did in Rome.  We used Rome Kids Tours and they were brilliant.  Our guide was so good at keeping the kids entertained that I could actually enjoy the sites myself.  And we all learned so much along the way.  We also had a private driver who whisked us from one site to another.  This way we were able to hit all the major sites before the kids were too exhausted, hungry, or burned out.  It was a bit of a splurge but worth every penny.
Our guide showing the kids what the Colosseum originally looked like

Be Realistic.    Kids can only handle so much museum time.  Avoid the lines by buying tickets in advance whenever possible.  The Colosseum, The Forum, and the Dome of St. Peter's were big hits with my little kids.  At the Vatican we flew past miles of amazing art work and focused on the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel.  When we're traveling with kids we are constantly forced to prioritize.  And we always remember to find the playground for some down time.  (There was a small playground in the gardens behind the Castel Sant' Angelo).
Inside the Vatican Museum Hall of Maps
Soak it In.  The Italian people adore children and babies.  Every waiter and taxi driver we encountered was practically gushing over our kiddos.  The baby has been kissed by more Italians than I can count.  It was amazing how many young men would stop to ooh and ahh over the baby.  This kid-friendly culture is so welcoming that you can't help but feel the love. In fact, I don't think I have ever felt more welcomed in a foreign city before. 
St. Angel Bridge

Rome loved us and we loved Rome. So many amazing sights, treasured ruins, beautiful scenery and wonderful people.  Can't wait to go back someday. 

But first, we're off to Austria tomorrow for the half term break!  See you in a week.

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