Sunday, December 10, 2017

Life Lately Round 9

Time for another update -- it's been awhile since one and while I have posted, I know that some of you (hi Mom!) like to see what we are doing besides just traveling :)

My last update was in July before we left for France -- you can read about our France trip herehere, and here.  And then we spent most of August just hanging out, getting back into our routine -- and of course going to the beach!  The weather is insanely hot in August (like too hot to even play outside) so we usually spend our free time at the beach and staying cool -- and many evening walks to get ice cream!

September brought the start of a new school year for Serafina and a more full-time schedule for her as well.  Which was quite the adjustment for both of us.  However, she absolutely loves going to school and seeing her friends, and her teacher is amazing.  I am going to be so sad when she has to go to the big kid, real public school next year!
There was also an airshow in our small town to celebrate the Spanish Air Force.  Our airplane loving gal thought the show was just simply amazing (although some of the airplanes were a little too loud for her).  We went to a friend's apartment right on the beach and had such an amazing view of all the airplanes!

October brought my parents here for a very fun visit -- Serafina was so excited to hang out with her MamMam and Dpa and see them every single day for a whole month.  It was perfect!  And it allowed Trevor and I to sneak away for a full FIVE days of travel without our Peanut -- we went to Copenhagen and Stockholm and it was amazing.  We were all so sad when my parents had to leave, but can't wait for MamMam to come back again soon :)
loving all the birds near my parents' AirBnB place
We also celebrated Halloween on base at the annual Trunk or Treat event.  Serafina wasn't a big fan of her costume, but we attempted to go as characters from the movie Totoro.  Peanut also got to sit in a fire truck which she loved!

November brought colder weather (finally!) and lots of cooking which happens to be Serafina's favorite activity at the moment.  And a birthday party at the local horse riding place... where our sweet gal just shined.  She could not have been happier up on the horse and did not want to leave.  We may be looking into lessons for her once she turns 3 -- eek!

We had a wonderful (wonderful) Thanksgiving with our close friends.  It was about five families and we all have kids around the same age so while the parents ate and drank, the kids just ran around and had way too much fun!  We have really lucked out with our amazing friends here :)
best we could get -- our gal did not want to stay still for a picture!
Now the Christmas season is here -- which in Spain stretches all the way into January!  We did Santa pictures on base (Spain doesn't do Santa, they do the Three Kings) which was a little terrifying for our Peanut -- she hated every minute of it!  However, we also attended Winter Wonderland on base and Santa arrives by helicopter.  Remember how our little lady loves airplanes (and helicopters) -- well, this was the highlight of her Christmas season so far and she can't stop talking about how Santa came on a helicopter!

waiting for Santa

We also took a day trip to Gibraltar for a Christmas Market (we had heard there was a decent one).... well, it was eight stalls and just slightly underwhelming.  But we had a wonderful lunch and Peanut loved riding the rides set up for kids (it is really common here for a city to have a few rides for kids set up on the weekends).  Serafina also got moved up to the next swim class -- Spain usually does everything by age, but they moved her up early since she is ready ability wise!  We are so proud of her and she just loves going swimming each week!

We can't wait to keep celebrating Christmas -- we have a few fun activities planned, but no travel plans for the near future.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Weekend Adventures {Copenhagen + Stockholm}

Recently, Trevor and I were able to take a trip JUST us -- that's right, no Peanut!  My parents were visiting and they were more than happy to watch our sweet girl while Trevor and I traveled on our own.  We knew our little lady was in the best hands possible, so we thoroughly enjoyed our time away...

We chose to go to Copenhagen and Stockholm.  Copenhagen because it is one of our most favorite cities ever (and I have a great friend who lives there and we wanted to hang out with her) and Stockholm because neither one of had been there and it was on our list of places we both wanted to see and explore!

I'll break down what we did and where we ate -- but we really only spent about 8 hours in Copenhagen as we had both been there before and explored much of the city previously.  Our primary goal for Copenhagen was to see my friend and to enjoy the city (and shop of course).

København (Copenhagen)
Shopping -- one of my favorite cities to shop in as I just love Danish everything.  Lego is a Danish brand so while things may not be cheaper, they often have different selections than many other stores.  And the original Legoland is in Billund, Denmark and I highly recommend a trip here if you have kids (we went years ago and would love to go back some day).  Royal Copenhagen is another favorite of mine -- gorgeous porcelain that started in the 1770s for the queen.  Previously, the flagship store had a "seconds" section where there were discounted items that had slight flaws.  Now there is a larger store outside the city where they keep their seconds.... sadly, we didn't have time to get out there but we were able to add to our amazing mug collection! There are also plenty of small stores carrying Danish items, so just wander the streets -- you are bound to find something amazing!

Eating -- our personal favorites: the sausages (often called French hot dogs) -- great sausages put inside a loaf of French bread with sauces stuffed inside too (we think the best ones are the random food carts around town) and also the cinnamon rolls (the English translation is snails) which are just amazing at any bakery.  We ate at a huge food hall for lunch and then had coffee and snails with my friend.  Trevor and I both love Danish cuisine, especially smørrebrød which is essentially a very yummy open face sandwich.  You can get just about any toppings on it that you can imagine and they never disappoint.

Tourist Activities -- there is lots to do in and around Copenhagen, and Trevor and I had seen most of it already, so we spent our time eating and shopping, but we did do a few tourist things!  A stop at Nyhavn is a must on any trip to Copenhagen (it was the port for the city and today it is very recognizable by its colorful old houses).  We also went up the Tower at Christianborg Palace which is free and a great way to see the whole city -- this was our first time doing it and it was great fun!  And finally, I can't go to Copenhagen without a stop at Tivoli Gardens which is my favorite amusement park I have ever been to (and it is the second oldest in the world).  It is not a Disneyland or Six Flags, so don't expect a park like that.  But is has charm, fun rides, and some decent places to eat.  We lucked out and the park re-opened the day we were in the city after being closed for three weeks to decorate for Halloween, so we went in at dusk to enjoy all the Halloween decorations and festivities with just about every other person in Copenhagen -- it was perfect!  Such a wonderful way to end our amazing short day.

Malmö is just a short 30 minute train ride from the center of Copenhagen, across the gorgeous Oresund Bridge (but you will be traveling in the tunnel on the train -- train tickets are super easy to buy in the Central Station in Copenhagen as it is a big commuter train).  We chose to stay in Malmö because it was quite a bit cheaper than staying in Copenhagen for the night, and on the way to Stockholm anyways so it worked.  We stayed here and loved it, such a unique, old hotel and the beds were so dang comfortable (and had such a good breakfast).

We had been to Malmö previously for a day trip and loved it, so we were happy to head back for a short time!  We arrived in town late and after a super long day of traveling, we simply crashed once we got settled into the hotel room.  But the next morning, we had some time to explore.  On our previous trip, we went to this bath house and I seriously recommend going if you have the chance -- hands down one of the best things I have ever done when traveling (be warned, bathing suits are not allowed)!  But we skipped the baths this time and went to the Malmö Museer (museum) and it was actually extremely cool -- had a little bit of everything: modern Swedish design, ancient castle, an aquarium and more.  Trevor and I just kept turning corners and finding more and more museum -- it was very unexpected and a great way to spend our morning!
 We then caught the train to....

We took an afternoon train from Malmö to Stockholm -- it was a great way to see the countryside and also relax a little bit (the ride was about four and a half hours).  We stayed here and it was amazing -- perfect location, great breakfast buffet and super comfortable room!  It is brand new (and still under going some construction), so we got great deal.  I highly recommend going with a hotel that has a free breakfast; Scandinavian breakfasts are amazing -- huge spreads of meats, cheeses, bread, pancakes, eggs and more.  So so good!

Our first full day in Stockholm we slept in (no kid, remember?), ate a huge breakfast and off we went to explore.  We started off at the Vasa Museet -- an amazing museum completely dedicated to the Vasa ship -- a warship that sank in Stockholm harbor in 1628 and was raised and restored over 300 years later.  This museum was so cool and so impressive to see all the restoration work up close and personal (pictures were a little rough in the dark museum, so no judging!)

We then made our way to Skansen -- the world's largest open air museum.  This place would have been amazing with our Peanut.  It has a large zoo, a children's petting zoo (this part was so much fun), and interactive exhibits showing life in Sweden past and present.  Because we were there during off season, there wasn't much going on but it was still very cool to walk around.  We had an okay lunch inside Skansen -- I would recommend eating elsewhere unless you are stuck (like we were)!

Then we went to the Nordiska Museet -- a museum all about Swedish cultural history.  My personal favorites were the jewelry and fashion sections, but we both enjoyed this museum. We then grabbed some coffee and went on a boat tour of Stockholm.  I am not usually one for super touristy tours, but 1) I had a broken toe and desperately needed to sit for a little bit and 2) it was such a wonderful way to see the city that I actually highly recommend it!  We would've preferred to do a tour of the archipelago or go to a neighboring island to visit more of Sweden or see a castle or two.... but either the timing didn't work for our plans or the boats weren't running as we were visiting during off season.  But we did this exact tour and really enjoyed it.  We learned a lot of and it was a great way to rest while still seeing the city.

We then went to dinner at Omnipollo -- seriously some of the best beer and pizza we have ever had.  The beer was more of the northwest style for beer so it tasted a lot like home and well, we just kept drinking it :)

We had only one more day to spend in Stockholm, so we first headed to Fotografiska -- Stockholm's famous photography museum.  It was well worth the long walk (it isn't close to a metro stop) and a much smaller museum than I expected, but we both loved it.  And the view from the cafe on the top floor is amazing -- definitely worth a coffee and cinnamon roll break!

We then wandered through the Sodermalm neighborhood (this is also where Omnipollo is) on our way back towards the more main downtown area for lunch.  Sodermalm is very cool with a funky hipster vibe -- fun shopping and amazing places to eat!  We ate at La Neta (near main downtown Stockholm) and it was seriously some of the best Mexican food we've ever had.  It is a fixed menu for lunch, which worked in our favor since no one at the place spoke English -- only Spanish or Swedish.  So the nice owner translated the menu into Spanish for us then we were able to enjoy our amazing tacos and rice.  The restaurant is a little tricky to find (definitely a hole in the wall) so use a map (or your phone) if you can.

Then we went shopping and sight seeing on Gamla Stan, the old town and geographic center of the city.  This island has the palace (Kungliga Slottet) which sadly was closed but you usually can go inside and it houses a few smaller museums.  We went to Sjätte Tunnan for some beer and mead before heading to dinner.  Sjätte Tunnan is an old medieval cellar and does serve food but we never saw anyone actually taking orders -- they are known for their mead so that was what we tried.  We then had dinner at Günters Korvar -- traditional Swedish korv (or sausages).  This place was so damn good.  It is a ways outside the main city area (required a subway ride and also a 10-15 minute walk), but again so so worth it.  So worth it.  Oh and it is a small shack/food truck type place in the middle of the sidewalk with no seating.  But seriously, some of the best food I've ever had in my life.

Sadly we then had to head back to our hotel to get some rest for our early flight out of Sweden.  We flew out of the main airport and took the Arlanda Express -- a super easy train straight from Stockholm to the airport.  I recommend booking your tickets online in advance (it'll save you money the further out you book your ticket) and also give yourself plenty of time to find the train, it is across the street and almost underneath the bus station, but still not easy to find.  We almost missed our train -- oops!

Just a little note about Stockholm -- it is made up of a 14 main islands.  The museums we did our first day were all in the same area/on the same island, making it easy to go to all three on the same day.  We did use the subway system a little but honestly, it was easier to walk to most places!  They do sell day (or a few day) passes for the subway, but for the amount we used it -- they wouldn't have been worth it.  So we used a refillable card and just paid as we needed for the subway.  There is also TONS to do, way more than what we had time for -- so many museums and activities, especially in the summer months when you can explore the islands and more outside of the city.

Kid Friendly....
While we didn't take our Peanut with us on this trip, we were extremely surprised and impressed with how kid-friendly every single place seemed to be, both in Copenhagen and Sweden.  All of the museums we went to had interactive exhibits for the kids or even entirely separate kid museums attached to the main "adult" one.  Stockholm had a few children's museums as well (most notably Junibacken -- a cultural center for kids focusing on the books by Astrid Lindgren).  I am actually seriously bummed we never made it to Junibacken as I am a huge Pippi Longstocking fan (HUGE), but next trip for sure!  Almost ever single place had stroller parking in a designated area so strollers weren't just clogging up walkways or entryways.  Most stairs in Stockholm had ramps for strollers (and bikes) -- no more carrying strollers up the stairs!  And each city had quite a few parks and/or green spaces for kids to play and run around.  This could easily be a trip we take again with the Peanut!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Travel Tips {Traveling with Food Allergies}

Most of my friends and family know that I have some food allergies which can make traveling a little challenging at times, especially when I don't know the language.  But I don't let it stop me from traveling and enjoying the amazing places this world has to offer -- and allergies shouldn't stop anyone!

So first -- I am mainly allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, garbanzo beans (chick peas) and soy.  In case you didn't know, tree nuts are all nuts (but not peanuts) -- so almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, etc.  Peanuts are a legume (so in the bean family) which is how and why I am also allergic to garbanzo beans and soy.  I found out I was allergic to all of this later in life, in college.  It made for quite the life change, but its been a good chunk of time now so I am used to it...

I am also lucky in the sense that while I do need to carry an Epi-Pen and Benadryl with me at all times, I am still able to handle trace amounts.  So I can eat items that may contain allergens or things that are cross contaminated.  This allows me to still order most things and just stay away from obvious foods that have nuts/soy in them.  I can eat at bakeries where products have been made with nuts -- I just won't order something that has been sitting next to/touching a product with nuts or that obviously has nuts in it.  Hope that all makes sense.

Over the years of traveling and dealing with my allergies, I have come to learn which foods are safe and which are not -- and which foods can contain hidden allergens.  This is a great website for more information on allergies, especially if you are new to living with allergies.  But here are my tips for traveling with food allergies:

Know Which Foods You Can and Cannot Eat: I always stay away from marzipan and macarons (the French ones) because they are always made with almonds.  I also avoid Asian food, including Thai food because it always has soy.  But I know that yogurt, meats and cheeses are typically safe for me.  This is always an easy (and cheap) grocery store/picnic option when you are traveling.  Pick up some bread or crackers to go with your meat and cheese and of course wine and you have a complete meal!

Read the Labels: Europe is wonderful at labeling all of their products (in grocery stores), putting allergens in bold.  Europe did this long before the United States caught on so grocery shopping is fairly easily in Europe (just know the words to look for when reading labels in another language).  Many restaurants offer menus with labels including the top allergens as well (especially in tourist areas).  We were in Sweden recently and every single restaurant had an allergy policy on their menus -- it was wonderful.

Do Your Research: know about the foods in the countries you are visiting -- for example, France is famous for their macarons but they are not nut-free.  Morocco likes to put nuts in a lot of their foods, even savory ones so you have to be careful....  Whereas English pub food is usually safe, same with typical German foods.  Know a few foods you can for sure eat in each country and you'll be a lot happier.

Be Prepared: the language barrier can be challenging, especially when trying to communicate you have allergies -- so learn the words in the language of the country you are visiting.  Some of the first words I learned when we moved to Spain was how to say "I am allergic to nuts."  But with the amazing internet, you can easily find travel allergy cards in various languages or use Google Translate to learn how to say what you are allergic to, keeping yourself safe.  I use the Google Translate app to figure out how to say what I am allergic to in the needed language and then take screen shots of the translations to use.  Just be warned that Google Translate is not perfect by any means.  For example, in Southern Spain, they use frutos secos for tree nuts (which literally translates to dried fruit), if you use the Google Translate translate word for nuts (nueces) most people won't know what you are saying!  So I often I will translate "I am allergic to nuts" and also include the words of various nuts, including peanuts so my message is more clear.  I also include things I can eat.  Many people assume I can't eat seeds because I am allergic to nuts, which isn't the case at all.  So just cover all your bases.  And if you know someone who speaks the language, get them to write down something for you!

Extras: while the United States uses vegetable oil for literally everything, which is straight soybean oil -- that doesn't really exist in Europe.  They use olive oil, sunflower oil or rapeseed oil much more commonly.  Soy is not used as an additive nearly as often in Europe as it is in the states.  I hardly ever have to tell people I am allergic to soy while traveling as it is typically only used in very obvious dishes -- like vegetarian food with tofu.  Europe has much stricter food laws and many countries are well ahead of the states when it comes to allergies -- making it easier (in my opinion) to travel even with allergies.  For example, Italy is one of the best and easiest places to travel if you have a gluten intolerance/allergy or even celiacs disease. 

And finally, don't feel left out or sad or frustrated for missing out on various things.  Yes, it is frustrating I have never had a macaron or never had the chance to eat some amazing Danish treats because of my allergies... I am still out traveling and experiencing the world, even if I can't eat my way through it!  Don't let allergies stop you from traveling and seeing the world.
enjoying amazing Danish food that I can eat!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Travel Tips {Potty Training}

So this is not a how to potty train post, because well... things work different for every single kid and there are plenty of books you can read (I preferred this one -- it was funny to read and has come highly recommended by many many people).

But, our potty training story -- Serafina's school did all the work.  They prepped her by talking about it in class, they prepped us by talking with us and giving us advice, tips, etc.  We were to take all diapers away (except sleep) on a Friday and work with our Peanut over the weekend, then come Monday, school would continue....  Each week a new kiddo gets a turn to be potty trained, they take the kid to the bathroom frequently and have big celebrations when kiddos succeed!  Serafina saw others potty train, got massive praise and it caught on super fast -- and I wouldn't know how to potty train a kid any other way (ha)!  

And now that our sweet girl is potty trained, we have the added challenge of traveling in Europe -- where public bathrooms are few and far between and often not the most toddler friendly places (no toilet seats, no toilet paper, usually very dirty... the list goes on).  And don't get me started about airplane bathrooms!

So -- when we spent close to ten full days in France in summer, we learned a few tips and tricks (and found a few great products) to help traveling with a potty trained toddler just a little easier.

Training Pants/Pull Ups -- we called them her "special underwear" and used them almost daily when we were traveling.  She still let us know when she had to go to the bathroom, but if she fell asleep in her stroller or car seat, we were safe from accidents.  Because we didn't call them diapers, it really seemed to help with her telling us when she had to go. 

Travel Potty -- we use this one and I cannot say enough good things about it!  It worked great in the hotel or at public restrooms as a toilet seat and even better as a standalone potty whenever and wherever we needed it!  It fit perfectly in a larger backpack or the bottom of our stroller.  We usually had it ready to go with a bag so it was easy to grab and get ready the minute our Peanut said she had to go potty.

Travel Potty #2 -- we have friends who whose this travel potty for boys and they love it.  They have a girl version too, but we could never get it to work for Serafina (although she does think it is a really fun toy!)

Training Pants Underwear -- we don't have these but I have heard wonderful things about them and have heard they can hold most accidents without even having to change pants!  So if you want to avoid the pull up route but still need something to contain accidents, these are perfect for you.

Baby Wipes -- these are my favorite wipes and perfect for travel because they have a great flip lid so the wipes stay wet.  We are lucky enough to live sort of close (an hour and a half away) to a Costco, so I stock up every few months.  Wipes come in handy for everything -- wiping hands after your toddler touches every single surface in the gross public restroom, toilet paper, etc. -- I will probably always travel with wipes now!

Hand Sanitizer -- also comes in handy as most public restrooms (and even many at tourist places) don't have soap.  Usually Trevor and I would use this and we would use wipes for the Peanut, but she started using the spray after she saw use it and it was easy for her to use and we knew she was at least sort of washing her hands

Other tips: attempt to get your toddler to go potty whenever you see a restroom available -- tourist sights, museums, etc, since they are often free and fairly clean (everyone should try and take advantage of these toilets!).  We did a pull up for the airplane and I am really happy we did.  Our sweet girl told us she had to go potty, but then she flushed the toilet before I even got a chance to lock the door and it scared her so so bad -- "no pee pee potty, NO pee pee potty," so I was happy we had a back up plan for the airplane!  And of course carry extra clothes (we usually had two outfits with us at all times).

And just be flexible -- we had a wonderful time traveling and our potty trained toddler did great using the potty wherever and whenever!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Spanish Life {Schools}

The Peanut had her first day of her 2 años class last week -- so I figured this would be a good time to write a little about the Spanish school system, or what I know of it so far at least.

So, Serafina attends a guardería, a kindergarten in the true sense of the German word -- or a nursery school or preschool, essentially.  Her school has uniforms (adorable), a set curriculum with units and lessons, they give progress reports and everything.  All of Serafina's teachers have a teaching degree (most specialize in early childhood education).  The teacher to student ration is much much higher than you would ever see in an American preschool -- there are 20 kids in Serafina's class and ONE teacher.  Yes, I said ONE.  They usually have high school helpers each day (as a part of their own high school diploma) but I swear, those kids are so well behaved and it just boggles my mind that one teacher can control 20 two year olds, but I have seen it.  And all of this is fairly common for all traditional guarderías in Spain, at least from what I have figured out.

Public school in Spain starts around age 3 -- which is free (or a small fee is paid for supplies or if you choose to go to a private school).  Spain does not have kindergarten because what Americans call kindergarten is an entirely American concept, so the first three year of public school (called 3 años, 4 años and 5 años), are a little like American kindergarten.  The students all stay with the same teacher for these three years (called looping).  Serafina's school also loops, so she has the same teacher as last year.

The big kicker for public school is that your kid has to be fully potty trained which is one big reason why many Spanish kids are potty trained much earlier than American kids.  Because Serafina attends a guardería, she does not have to be potty trained, but she is -- because they work with the kids starting well before they enter public school.  Public school hours are 9am to 2pm without lunch because remember -- the Spanish don't eat lunch until after 2pm, so all the kids go home and have lunch with their families.  Serafina also goes to school the same hours, but hers are more flexible -- I can drop her off a little late or pick her up early and it's not a big deal.  And she does eat lunch at school -- a three course meal that is better and more well rounded than anything I could ever prepare at home -- and she eats it!

The cutoff date for starting public school is December 31.  For 3 años class -- you must turn three by December 31 of that year to start in September.  Classes are all based on birth year.  Kids who started 3 años this year were all born in 2014.  All of Serafina's class was born in 2015.  And because of this, she will not start at public school until next fall --  she misses the cut off by four weeks.  She will be 3 1/2 when she finally starts public school and will be one of the older ones in her class -- as is the case for her current class.

There is a really long crazy complicated process to sign up for public school which starts in March.  I still don't quite understand it even though I had many good friends go through the process this past March -- that'll be us this March, so I better get ready!  But I can discuss about enrolling Serafina into her guardería.  Last year when she attended, the school was private, so I just had to sign up at the school -- this year they switched to public to get more government funding so I had to go through some hoops to keep her enrolled.  I first had to go to city hall and ask for the paperwork for a certificate of residency (to prove I live here), then I had to fill out the paperwork, then return the paperwork with all of the needed documents (passport, visa, housing rental agreement, etc), pay a small fee and wait....  And pray I did all of it correctly because yes, it was ALL in Spanish.  And no one at city hall spoke English, not one word.  They told me it would take 10 days by mail for the paperwork to arrive, but in true Spanish fashion, it took over a month!  So I took it and the school registration paperwork to Serafina's school and officially registered her.

And I think that is it -- I will update this post as I learn more, especially as we go through registration/enrollment for public school next year!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Longer Travels {Southern France -- Provence}

The rest of our days in Southern France were spend exploring the region, taking day trips (out of our home base of Marseille).  Trevor and I had both wanted to see the Provence region of France, specifically during lavender season as this area is known for lavender -- and it was wonderful!

While there are many amazing small towns in this region of France, we had to narrow it down somehow.  We did so much research -- so so much -- on what we wanted to see and what was actually possible to see in our time frame.  We also tried to stay within an hour/hour and a half drive from Marseille as we were traveling with a toddler.  While we didn't get to every place we wanted to see, we loved everything we did see and were so happy we got to experience this gorgeous region.*

So, our list of day trip cities --

Pont du Gard
Famous Roman aqueduct that is one of the best preserved ancient aqueducts (and also highest).  We stopped here on our very first day on our way to Lyon and it was the perfect introduction to France.  And it was amazing.  I am not sure what we were expecting but the whole experience of Pont du Gard was fantastic.  While very touristy, it was also very local.  You do have to pay to enter the whole complex, but there are different price points based on what you want to do (anything from just going down to the river to see the aqueduct to walking across it).  With our toddler, they recommended we do the aqueduct and museums.  The whole complex is mostly a large park with various hiking trails  and a few places to eat (in addition to gift shops and touristy stuff at the entrance).  This place could not be more toddler friendly and we wish we had spent the whole day here.  Locals come for the amazing place to swim; where the aqueduct crosses the Gardon river it is a nice calm area with a great rocky beach -- perfect for a day hanging out in the sun and water.  And if that wasn't enough, there is an amazing kids museum as part of the complex -- we had to drag our sweet girl away!  For more information visit the Pont du Gard website.
This was our stop on our way back to Marseille and once again, we wish we had more time (and had also gone on a day other than Sunday...).  This small town is known for its unbelievable Roman theater -- it is only one of three intact ancient theaters in the world and it is massive, designed to seat 10,000.  In the summer, the theater hosts music concerts, so once again it was impressive to see an ancient theater set up for a modern concert.  The theater was not so toddler friendly (insanely steep steps), so I wore her for most of the time here.  Orange also has more to offer, but we only had a short amount of time, and the theater was definitely worth it.

Les Baux de Provence
Another small town, this one known for its car-less streets and amazing old castle at the top of the hill town.  So while this stop was worthwhile, it was also a little rough -- insanely steep hill town (parking only at the bottom), so very crowed and oh so hot.  The actual town is very touristy but the castle ruins are pretty amazing.  It is quite expensive to visit the castle, but they do various reenactments so try and time it right to see some (we did not, but oh well) and the views are worth it.  And most definitely not stroller friendly, so we wore the Peanut or she walked.

Vaison la Romaine
Another small hill town, this one known for its Roman archaeological sites + ruins as well as its thriving Tuesday market.  The town is divided into two parts -- the modern lower town and the ancient castle above the town.  We figured we could see the archaeological site while also experience the market.  We had been told to arrive early for the market, but we happened to be on toddler time so of course we arrived super late... However, it worked in our favor as it was so so packed with people and we managed to arrive right about when those who came early were leaving, so we found great parking.  I am not sure what we expected, but wow -- the market was insane.  Wall to wall people, wall to wall stalls of pretty much anything you'd ever want: it was a mix of a farmers market. gypsy market and craft fair.  And it was crazy and amazing and huge (we probably only saw half the market)!  It was so busy that we didn't even realize that we walked right past the archaeological sites until the market was over and people were packing up.  Sadly by this time we were over the heat, hungry and needed to move on to our next stop.... so we missed out on the sites but the market was worth it!  So for sure go for the market and either be prepared to stay after the market closes (about 1pm) to see the sites or go only for the sites!  In terms of being toddler friendly, if you go to the market later when it isn't as busy, then yes -- easily toddler friendly but many of the stalls have products at perfect toddler grabbing height, so just be careful!  We used the stroller and didn't have any problems navigating around with it.

L'Isle sur la Sorgue
This was hands down my most favorite small town I have ever stepped foot in -- it was so picturesque and French; I loved it.  It is known for its antiques and its many working water wheels.  The Sorgue river surrounds the town, including various canals and waterways winding through the main part of town.  The tourism office will give you a map including a walking guide to see all the water wheels (and also has coloring set up for the kids).  This town was perfect to just walk, explore, grab a pastry and some coffee or enjoy lunch along the river.  Make sure you park outside the main part town (there was plenty of parking available in the parking lots).  And very toddler, stroller friendly -- we had to pry our sweet girl away from the coloring at the tourist office!

The biggest town we visited on our day trips.  Arles is famous for having Vincent Van Gogh live here and take inspiration from the town for many of his paintings.  Sadly, much of the town was destroyed by bombs in WWII but the Roman arena is mainly intact and pretty impressive (nothing compared to Nîmes' arena but still cool).  While we opted not to go to any of the museums in Arles (we arrived later and close to closing time for many), our main goal was to walk around and enjoy the city -- and find the various easels showing Van Gogh's paintings to give you a then and now comparison.  We loved Arles, and once again found an amazing playground for the Peanut to enjoy!

Luberon Region
L'Isle Sur la Sorgue is part of the Luberon region and a must see town -- the rest of the region is known for its lavender fields and wineries.  While we bought wine, we chose not to actually stop at any wineries because of Serafina (we weren't sure of the rules and had other places we wanted to see).  This area is for sure worth it during lavender season (usually July and August).  If you aren't here during lavender season then just head to L'Isle Sur la Sorgue and stop at many of the wineries you'll see on the way!  But the various towns and stops in the region that we went to --
Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque -- famous abbey with the gorgeous lavender fields surrounding it, don't worry about going inside the abbey (we had read and heard it wasn't worth it), but the outside is amazing (only go during lavender season), the gift shop is great for all things lavender

Gordes -- impressive hill town that really only deserves a quick stop to take a picture and enjoy the views, there really isn't much in the town if you don't go on market day but it is on the way to the abbey, so it's easy to pull over and take a quick picture!
Roussillon -- known for sitting on top of the world's largest ochre deposit and everything in the town is the orange/red color, while we didn't stop here, it was worth it to drive through to see the gorgeous red cliffs
We also then drove some of the famed lavender roads through the region on the way to Manosque and it was gorgeous.  Random fields of lavender just off the road, gorgeous tree canopy covered roads... it was awesome!  The only downside is that there is really no place to stop and Manosque isn't that great -- a good place to stretch your legs if needed, but not a dedicated stop.

For planning purposes, if you are interested -- we did Pont du Gard and Orange as stops to break up the drive from Marseille/Lyon (so only an hour or two at each place).  We did Vaison la Romaine, Les Baux de Provence and Arles in one day (it was a long day).  And then the entire Luberon region, including L'Isle Sur la Sorgue, in a day (long car day).

Also for those interested -- we did all of this driving and because we mostly did small town and freeway driving, it wasn't terrible (Trevor may feel otherwise as he was driver but....).  Most of the freeways had tolls -- you'd get a ticket when you enter the freeway, then pay when you exit, but easy to figure out.  Everything was pretty well marked and we were able to navigate fairly easily.  The major freeways had amazing rest stops -- playgrounds, multiple restaurants, nice bathrooms.  We also found parking fairly easy in most cities we visited, parking lots were easy to find (lots of signs) and not very expensive.

And that concludes our amazing trip to Southern France -- it was such an incredible trip and one that we will always remember!

*You will notice that we didn't make it to Avignon -- but we sure tried.  There was a festival in the city happening the entire time we were in France which made getting there a little difficult with all the people.  We drove right past/through the city on two separate days and were unable find any sort of place to park.  Then we had planned on taking the train from Marseille, but our toddler needed a relaxing, non-travel day... But that is traveling with a toddler -- always being flexible and adapting!  We also did not go to Nîmes on this trip as Trevor and I had both been previously -- but it is definitely worth a trip to see the amazing Roman arena that still is used today.

Blog Design by Get Polished