Posts Tagged 'travel with kids'

Weekly Menu, August 21-27 (Paris Parens)

Well, we really are back. Almost three weeks now, and still everyday, I miss our carefree lives overseas. I’ve been reluctant to post again, not wanting to break the spell of our magical month away. Keep it sacred. And yet, here we are in the City, back to reality. More on that later.

Our last two days in Paris we didn’t write about. Probably because we were too conflicted about our departure.

Paris was beautiful. Just as it was when we arrived, but hotter at the change of July to August. We cabbed it to Appartement Blanc on a Sunday, dropped our things, and went out in search of fun. We found it in the Tuileries, at the trampolines. Ten individual trampolines. Two Euro for five minutes of jumping. I would have paid more. The kids loved it. Brilliant, brilliant idea. I may quit my job and bring it to New York.

Jumping, jumping, jumping

Next stop, the amusement park in the Tuileries, where the kids honed their bumper car skills, among other thing. And then home, for dinner out on the square.

The next day, we woke up early(ish) and headed to our local cafe for pain au chocolat, fresh squeezed o.j., cafe creme and espresso. Our last day! Melisa and I wanted to take the kids to the pyramid at the Louvre. And we wanted to walk.

This plan was met with some resistance from the train fetishist, but walk we did, through the Right Bank, and to the Louvre.

Waiting for the metro, in the Marais

On the way discovering some gorgeous streets, shops, passages, like this one:

Here’s the obligatory picture of the kids in front of another monument.

At the pyramid

There was down time.

Time for everyone to get in something they need.

Including our budding photographer Magnolia (or was this Jasper?).

Time for more monuments. Here’s one of my favorites: Notre Dame.

And the resolution of the gelato v. glace smackdown: we declare a tie.

It's all good.

We had a great day!

And then we were off the next morning, too early, too soon. We had just arrived; how could we be going home?

Back at Charles de Gaulle

I took some comfort last week in the words of someone new I met. Try to make a little of every day a vacation. Why wait for those precious weeks every year?

Weekly Menu:

Sunday: Great day on the beach! Chasing it with our version of Diana Kennedy’s Shrimp in Adobo sauce, with rice, avocado, and scallions.

Monday: Pasta with fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and parmesan, side salad with CSA lettuce

Tuesday: Skirt Steak marinated and grilled with summer squash

Wednesday: Date night for Melisa and I! The kids will have burgers on the grill.

Thursday: Chicken Fajitas with grilled onions, mushrooms, fresh salsa and guacamole

Friday: Grilled whole fish stuffed with scallions and herbs and tomato/cucumber salad

Saturday: Might be time again for pizza on the grill! Melisa and I are partial to a white pizza and the kids like margaritas

May your week be filled with starry nights, sunny days, and melon and olives!

The Glorious South, Part Deux (And Off to Paris)

Well, we’re headed back to Paris. On the high-speed train. Vineyards, sunflower fields flying by.

We’ve spent the last week in the South of France. We had planned to make some field trips to neighboring towns and cities—Uzès, where we’ve stayed before, for the market and the Pont du Gard; St. Remy de Provence, a beautiful little town for walking and exploring; Marseille for some deeper discovery of the harbor and winding streets, plus we had hoped to visit some new spots: Anduze, Toulouse, Carcassone. In the end, we stayed Chez Mousseron, enjoying the company and the pool, the local markets, shopping, and the beach.

As Melisa noted, the beach was a highlight. This time around we rented beach chaises at a private club. At last, my own cabana boy! Bringing me salade Niçoise! Rosé! A mojito! San Pellegrino! The kids playing in the Med in front of us. An umbrella thoughtfully put up for Melisa. A lovely and convenient bathroom, shower, and parking.

Folks, this is the way to hang at the beach. And I could have done it EVERY DAY.

The kids loved the beach, too. Even more, though, they loved Pirates Paradise, a restaurant we tried for lunch. Located in a huge outdoor shopping complex in Montpellier, Pirates Paradise is a theme park and eatery in one. There’s an entire pirate fight on the hour. A kids play area. Waitresses dressed up like pirate wenches, and waiters like pirates. You can eat in a galleon. Eat over the water. Eat in a pirate jail. It was entertaining, and the food wasn’t bad either.

Meanwhile, Melisa would have rather been exploring all those new cities I listed at the top. She gets a little high off of the new (whereas I get my high from il dolce far niente). One of the great things about being gone a month is that there is time to get a healthy dose of everyone’s individual interests and find some common ground.

This month marks the longest continuous period I’ve spent with my kids (and my wife for that matter) since they were born. I admit I was a little worried about how it would go. Thirty-three days is extreme togetherness, and as mentioned in previous posts, there have been the typical bumps in the road you might imagine on any trip.

At the market in Sommières

We’ve had FUN. We love road trips. We love ice cream, swimming, a gorgeous view. Exploring. Finding secret places. The promise of great food.

I’ve learned new things about my kids. I’m proud of what good travelers they’ve been. Both of them weathered the overnight flight here like pros, and walked off their jet lag in Paris. They’ve made friends in France and Italy. They’ve tried sausages, cured tomatoes, new fruits, fish, local specialties like tielles (seafood pies from Sète) and mussels, paella, olives, cheeses, meats. They’ve tried to speak French and Italian for niceties (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, excuse me). Gamely carried their own backpacks and pulled their suitcases through airports and train stations, up to taxis, cars and apartments.

And they have tried blend in with the locals on occasion.

So it’s with a heavy heart that we leave the South, knowing our days here are numbered. Yesterday, I cleared out the Mireva and drove it back to the rental company. We said our goodbyes to our generous hosts, who have fed us and entertained us (no small feat) for a week. Kim drove us to the train station and walked us to our couch to bid us bon voyage.

I’m not usually the one who is upset on departure; that’s Melisa’s department. But as soon as Kim was out of sight, I surprised myself by bursting into tears and crying on Melisa’s shoulder.

It’s all gone by so fast. Didn’t we just step off the plane, a whole month of friends and travel ahead of us?

A day and a half more in Paris, and then back on a plane to New York.

What a whirlwind.

Our plan is to make the most of the City of Light in the next 36 hours. After all, there is the gelato v. glace smackdown that needs to be solved, the Tuileries and the great pyramid at the Louvre still to see. There’s still some time to squeeze more of la belle vie out of this trip!

Honey, We Forgot to Bathe the Kids (and Other Ways to Tell You’re Happy)

You Were Here

Arrivederci, Italy!

Friday was our last full day in Chianti. We pulled out of the driveway on Saturday morning, Melisa and I teary, Magnolia looking glum. Jasper, true to form, turned bright eyes to the next stop on the Italian Riviera, and the promise of that “Cars 2” ice cream he was (still) hoping for at the hotel.

Big field trips marked the second week of our stay. While New York was suffering through a close to 100-degree heat wave, temperatures in Tuscany dipped from the 90’s to the mid-70’s. We missed the hot, dry days, (and tried to remember how much we’d long for cool weather the second we got home), and took the opportunity to do a bit more exploring.

Cortona charmed us. It’s a bit larger than the other hill towns we visited, but generally, everything seemed more local (less tourist-y), and more lively. This was a bit surprising as we were there, in part, to fulfill a wish of Melisa’s to see Bramasole.

Bramasole, Cortona

You might remember that Bramasole is writer Frances Mayes’s home, made famous in Under the Tuscan Sun. It’s pretty gorgeous. And we were far from the only tourists seeking it out. Still, somehow Cortona got to us, and we’d go back in a flash.

We traveled to Pisa, our longest journey from Chianti (about 1 1/2 hours), to see the leaning tower. Folks, it’s really leaning.

We were in luck; the tower has just been reinforced and cleaned, so it looks like a skinny lopsided wedding cake. Unfortunately, kids under 8 cannot climb to the top, so we did our viewing from below.

Florence!

Florence, despite being only 1/2 an hour away from us, was a late addition to the agenda. We had planned on visiting Rome, but it was too complicated (and far, and expensive) from our outpost in Castellina. So we “settled” for Firenze, which in the end charmed us into spending two days exploring the red-roofed streets. We succumbed to an impulse we always resist in New York: the pull of the horse-drawn carriage. It was completely fun (if expensive); a lovely way to see the city.

The Meriva zipped in and out of the busy Florentine streets, batting off the velos and motorcycles that buzz like flies on the road. We stopped at the overlook on the way out of town and took pictures of the Duomo, the Campanile, everything. And of course, there was gelato.

Petale di Rosa at Festival de Gelato in Firenze

Our last day in Italy was also our best day. Melisa chose Siena, a city we had already visited and loved, for our destination. The day was bright and clear, and warm, and we wandered in and out of shops and up and down winding streets, into the Campo. The find was Antica Pizzicheria, where we stopped to order sandwiches, and were seduced by Antonio De Miccoli, the butcher and proprietor of the shop.

Antonio!

By seduced I mean with cheese, and wine (and Antonio’s big personality); first a bold Tuscan white, then a light, dry Vernaccia, and finally, a delicious Brunello. The wine kept coming, along with a board teeming with cheeses, bread, then cured tomatoes, delicious olive oil to taste, pastes (parsley, pestos, hot pepper, eggplant). More and more. Plus conversation. We were in heaven.

What were the kids doing, you may ask? Running in and out of the little shop and taking bits of cheese and bread. Playing hide and seek among the velos outside. Happy.

We left sated, poorer, and very very glad to have pushed aside the soft red strings that passed as a doorway and asked if they could make us a panini.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the best way: sleepy and poolside, under the bright sun.

Last pic of the pool, promise.

Could it get any better? It could. Date night! Mimma & Franco, our hosts, agreed to watch the kids so Melisa and I could have one night out for dinner. We chose Osteria Le Panzanelle in nearby Lucarelli. What a place. The meal started with prosecco and ended with panna cotta, the highlight being (besides the company) an amazing Spaghetti di Pesticcia (house-made spaghetti with mushrooms and pork sausage). What was in it? I wish I knew. I think I tasted a bit of cinnamon. It was heaven.

This wine was another highlight of the meal.

In short, we loved our trip here. Specifically:

Waking up and looking out over the Italian countryside.

Morning from our bedroom window.

Our incredible view from the terrace. Our hosts. The drive from San Donato to Castellina, all rolling hills and mountaintops.

A view from my favorite drive

The food. Walking through the sleepy villages.

Climbing the ramparts in Monteriggioni

Radda in Chianti

Visiting Radda in Chianti

Stepping up to a counter and saying Buon Giorno.

The kids had a slightly different take. They loved: gelato everyday, pool everyday. They loved having two children about their age at the house to play with for two weeks, hide and seek in the yard and in the cities we visited, the tree swing on the terrace below, making flags with new friends, and running amok.

They loved (as did we) the Australian family who was at the big house up the hill our first week, also on a month-long holiday, hanging out at the pool with us. The three older kids raced in the pool, and fetched coins from the bottom, and were universally kind and sweet to our two little ones.

Jas & Nola loved castles, and ramparts of the small hill towns. They loved the carriage ride we took through Florence.

Secret tunnel in Castellina

Il Campo in Siena. They loved the campaniles, the tunnel in Castellina. The playground in Radda. Carousels. They loved having the mommies around all day. Pasta almost every meal. Mud baths.

Jasper loved the lizards scurrying around our house, helping shop at the Coop (the local grocery store) and the iPad. Magnolia the swing, the butterflies (that flit in one window and out a door all day) and her power-bikini.

Here’s one barometer of happiness: the kids probably got bathed 3 times. Remember they were in the pool everyday. We  just shined it on, and they certainly weren’t going to argue.

Italy, we loved ya. And we’ll be back!

A parting gift of lavender

Speed-Dating the Italian Countryside, Kids in Tow

We’re settling in at Ovile. By that I mean I’ve unpacked, and the days are beginning to have a bit of rhythm:

Sleep in (7:30-8 am), get up, open the doors, breakfast on the terrace, field trip or pool, lunch in or out, gelato, pool, Campari, sometimes more pool, dinner, reading, writing, bed.

Dinner on the terrace

I’m getting better and better at navigating the steep stone drive in the Mireva (the kids say to me, “mommy, that was your best one” when I back down the driveway). The sharp stone turns on the switchbacks to the house remind me of my fifteen year old self, surreptitiously driving my best friend’s dune buggy out in the Texas countryside. I hit a bank of gravel on a turn and skidded through a barbed-wire fence and into a cow field. Those were some times (sorry, Dr. Sumerlin). And yet, times I’d rather not repeat here with a drop-off into the olive grove.

I have managed not to hit any of the deer (so far), which are smaller and prettier than we have at home, but no more brainy. By the way, the deer bark. Our host, (and grandmother) Mimma, told me that and she doesn’t seem like she’d lie to anyone. Though if she’s lying to me, I’m buying it, as long as she keeps saying “Ciao cara!” every time she sees me.

Back to the rhythm. Here’s the thing: “Let’s go to the market in Panzano!” doesn’t elicit, “great mom, do you think we can find that butcher again?” from the kids. There is some coaxing to be done.

So we’re working it out. We’re taking shorter field trips, working in gelato where we can (so far only once a day but I can see a time in the future where we hit twice in 24 hours), and spending a good chunk of the day in or at the pool. We haven’t quite hit the sweet spot on this arrangement, but I’m confident we’ll get there.

The great equalizer

Art? No, we’re not really seeing it. Nor are we doing thorough tours of any place we visit. We are speed-dating our destinations, all of which are within an easy 10-60 minutes from our house, and allowing for the idea that we might want to return to explore further. And so the sunny days here have a slow, lazy pace all their own.

Our first outing last Sunday took us to a market in Panzano, a gorgeous small town perched between two valleys and surrounded by spectacular views of the countryside. This is one of Melisa’s and my favorite out-of-town (or in-town, for that matter) pastimes: wandering a market, picking up local produce and prepared foods, dreaming up meals to cook back at home.

Another day, another view

The Panzano market takes place in a small piazza beneath the old city. A fountain, a large gnarled old tree and some benches mark the square, which is surrounded by a bustling locanda, a fancy hotel, and a bank. The requisite characters for the scene are all here: old men and women—the older the woman, the more shapeless her shift—sitting on the benches, talking. The old men are neatly dressed in button-down short sleeve shirts, their faces tan and wizened. If you are a middle-aged man, you seem to gravitate towards orange pants. Yes, orange.

Younger Italian women walk the stalls in high heels, holding a basket for their spoils, usually with a small child or two trailing behind.

All dressed for market day

Tourists wander through consulting each other, a bit uncertain. Bikers are stopped by the side of the road, grabbing an espresso for fortification against the dizzying hills and heat.

We park on the side of the road, between two trees. The “space” is very uneven, and when I feel one wheel leave the ground, I ask Melisa to get out of the car and help me back in. The Mireva is a rental, after all. The kids, of course, love it, and point out that the car next to us is also on three wheels. Adventures in driving!

We decide to see the old town first, a decision which we pay for later. A steep road takes us to the top of the hill where tiny streets meander past the church—isn’t it pretty from the outside?—and castle.

Panzano!

The castle, with its giant doors, two towers overlooking the hills and gate topped with a crown, is deemed legit by the kids.

Fit for a prince or princess

And that’s enough tourism for the day. Time to wander back down to the market. We’ve already exhausted the kids good-will (“I can’t take this walking!” “No, not another hill!” “Mommy pick me up” “I want to go to the pool”) so this shopping trip is a shorty. Rotisserie chicken (recommended by Mimma) and a quick look around while the kids sit among the seniors under the trees. We’ll be back next week for a more thorough visit.

Our second adventure (Monday) takes us to Radda in Chianti. Radda is a well-preserved small city surrounded by ancient walls. It’s quite pretty, but a bit well-to-do; more of a grown-up place with lovely shops and restaurants. The kids are impressed by the ramparts but even more impressed by the excellent playground in the park just outside the city walls. Twenty minutes exploring the city and 20 minutes in the playground…and that’s it! Pool time! As Radda is only about 10 minutes away, we don’t feel bad about making such a brief stop there. We’ll be back (for the playground).

We follow a winding road up to Volpaia, a tiny village that’s home to about fifty people. The drive is gorgeous; I’m not sure I’d ever tire of the sun shining down on the vineyards and silvery olive groves. We’re really here not for the sights but for lunch. Bar Uchio, presided over by Paola, is a taverna where we can get a simple sandwich or salad. Unfortunately, it’s closed. The sign on the door directs us to the fancy-looking restaurant across the street. Seems to be the only game in town, so we try it.

Sometimes the best things happen by accident. The restaurant is gorgeous. We sit on a terrace, under shady fig trees and large white umbrellas. It’s a family operation, and Paola seems to be the matriarch here as well. She wanders around greeting her diners.

Melisa and I decide a selection of antipasti is enough for us. We order pasta (hers with butter, his with pomodoro) for the kids.

The antipasti easily makes the best Italian meal we’ve had so far. Eggplant and mint in delicate olive oil, three kinds of crostini (tomato, liver, mushroom), radicchio and pecorino salad, tomatoes, mozzeralla and basil.

Shady terrace, amazing food

Everything fresh from the garden over the low wall we are sitting against. Another meal where I think I could linger forever, and quite frankly, no one seems anxious for us to go. Getting the check here, as in France, is a challenge, but a happy one. We leave sated and sleepy.

Tuesday, we switch things up to match our preferred pattern in Martha’s Vineyard: swimming in the morning and driving in the afternoon. The beauty of this plan is that the kids usually fall to sleep on the road. Ideally, we’d all be napping in the heat at home from 1-4 pm when Italy closes down. Since we’ve not been able to pitch this scenario successfully (not EVER, not ONE TIME) to Jasper and Magnolia, this is the next best thing.

And so, after a morning at the pool and a lunch on the terrace, we set off for the “Manhattan of Tuscany”: San Gimignano. Sleep success with one child, but the other needed a longer drive.

We’ve generally thought that the more dramatic the site (the Eiffel Tower! Leaning Tower of Pisa! Coliseum!), the more the kids will enjoy it and remember. So far this is mostly true, the metro being a big exception.

San Gimignano fits the bill. Yet another city perched on a hill, this one is notable for its medieval towers—14 still remain of the original 70—that rise up over the tiny streets. It’s universally accepted as a major tourist trap and a must-see in Tuscany.

High city walls and an imposing gate mark the approach. “Wow that is some fortress!” we say to the kids. They remain unconvinced and grumpy. “Can we go back to the pool?” We stop at the first place we see and buy them lollipops to sweeten the deal. It’s an effective bait and switch.

The streets and towers are impressive, but it’s 97 degrees in the shade. We are all wilting.

San Gimignano

What is the equivalent of a lollipop for the adults? Gelato. That’s the only thing keeping Melisa and I walking. Well, that and the Campari waiting for us at 6 pm. It’s a beautiful day, and the town is memorable. But is every American here? Along with every Australian and Brit? It sure seems that way. And so, after a loop of the city, bypassing shop after shop selling souvenirs and postcards, we decide we’ve seen what we came to see and head back to the Mireva and drive towards gelato.

Gelato deserves a post all its own, but I’ll say this for now: deciding what flavor to try each day is a very enjoyable way to spend your time. That, and twilight at the pool.

Four for the Road: Off to Italy

July 9

When you think about driving in Europe you usually imagine yourself in a convertible, with a gauzy scarf around your head, wearing dark sunglasses, one hand on the steering wheel, speeding through hairpin turns with the Mediterranean sparkling far, far below and Cary Grant behind you, wondering at your prowess behind the wheel.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Despite my ample imagination, I have never once lived out that fantasy here in Europe. I’ve driven a number of cars, most of them very small, for longer distances than perhaps they were meant to go. Cars with names like “Twingo.”

Things have changed since I drove here last (about four years ago). The cars have been Americanized. They’re bigger. For the first time, I’m seeing SUV’s on tiny roads. Mini-vans. The drivers of these cars don’t seem to realize how big they are. They plow past blithely, making some roads instantly single-carriage. European driving, never for the faint of heart (and I think anyone who has ever driven with me will say I am no shy flower behind the wheel), has become a bit more exciting.

All packed up

Our car is a called a “Mireva.” It has funky doors that open away from each other. No idea what this adds besides interest. It’s a compact 4-door and our suitcases (and us) just fit. But it’s comfortable and has (exciting to me) 6 gears! How fast do you need to go to get to the 6th gear? Stick with me kids, we’re gonna find out.

The Mighty Mireva

We’ve made the drive from Montpellier to Nice before, but past that, it’s all new. When we hit Monaco, Melisa and I are like little kids, looking for the big “welcome to Italy!” sign. What are the kids doing, you ask? Mostly coloring or watching a movie, occasionally looking up at something we point out. The sign comes, and it feels like Christmas. Italy! The kids look up. “What?”

Here are some things that are different about driving in Italy than in France:

  • Folks are reluctant to insure you in Italy. Along with Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, FYI. We get around this by renting the car in France. For some reason that does the trick (yes, Grandma, we let the company know we’ll be taking the car across the border into ITALY).
  • The signs on the road are only sort of reliable. Actually, that’s not so different from France.
  • Sheer drops down to the ocean and tunnel after tunnel mark the drive (at least on the Northwestern coast). Who knew there were so many mountains here? All a bit hair-raising.
  • We can’t read ANY OF THE SIGNS. Usually, we try to bone up on a local language before we travel, but for various reasons before this trip, this did not happen. A problem for obvious reasons (hello, life with little kids).

Other than that it’s easy. And the 6th gear? You hit it at about 100 km/hr (about 60 mph). Given that the speed limit for European highways is 130 km (roughly 80 mph), it’s essential.

We drive along, oohing and ahhing over the views and trying to figure out what exit we need to take to hit our overnight stop, San Bartolomeo al Mare, on the Italian Riviera. We get off an exit too early (having skipped the GPS and the Michelin map being slightly indecipherable) and end up driving, for the first time, on real Italian streets along a beach road to the next town. Now I do get to live out some of my Grace Kelly fantasy, driving up and down the steep inclines and hairpin turns. Cary Grant is not on my heels, but there are a number of Italian drivers looking interested (to pass me). I ignore them, and try not to be too distracted by the views. The guard rails look like I remember them in the U.S. around 1976.

At last we’ve reached our overnight destination!

We drop our things and head straight to the pool. The sky is clear, bright blue, and white umbrellas flap in the breeze of the patio. All that’s missing is our rosé.

Happy.

We take a walk to the beach, packed even at 7 pm, and head back for dinner.

Kids on the Riviera

Magnolia took this. The next Annie Liebovitz.

We have booked our hotel with a demi-pensione, which means dinner and breakfast are included in the rate. (Dear food snobs: this is a tourist town and we have two kids in tow. Didn’t seem worth seeking out the little gem). We sit at a table marked with our room number and inevitably, there’s some confusion over what to do next (that lack of Italian again).

Italians eat a number of courses, and when we checked in we were asked to select a primi and secondi for ourselves and the kids. We’re momentarily confused by the antipasti course, but go with the flow, following the other diners into a pretty room stuffed with plates of food. Unfortunately for the hotel, Jasper is here. Jasper is a buffet-buster. It’s his favorite way to eat. Seeing him take on the buffet in Italy, with its beef carpaccio and marinated seafood dishes, is pretty entertaining.

Everything is delicious. There is a little tension when we have to convince the kids that the homemade gelato in the dining room will be better than the Cars 2 and Barbie ice creams they were offering by the pool. Essentially, we threaten them with no dessert if not gelato. Isn’t their life difficult? The pouting stops after the first bites of cioccolato, vaniglia and fragola (chocolate, vanilla and strawberry). There’s one dramatic moment at the table when Magnolia sticks out her tongue at our harried waiter. Here’s when we discover if Italians really do love children (even ours). The waiter grins and sticks his tongue back out at her. All is well.

Looking out on the balcony

The next day, we’re driving in Italy in earnest, along the coast, past Genova, Lucca, turning to the interior to pass Firenze, and tempted by the signs to Roma! Bologna! Pisa!

Finally, our exit in Chianti. We see immediately why it has entranced people from around the world. The hills are rolling and green, covered in trees and vineyards, and marked by umber-colored stone villages perched at their peaks like cake-toppers. It’s a castle paradise for a princess loving little girl, even if the castles are more medieval than Disney. The sky is a clear, strong blue with not a cloud in sight. We wind up hills, only to twist back down the other side. I’m getting my sea-legs with all the corkscrew driving.

There are more views, more vistas, than you can count. Around every corner is something pretty or remarkable. Dusty little locandas and casas right on the side of the road, grand villas embraced by pot after pot of bright geraniums, wizened old men standing side by side, smoking and talking as you amble past in your Mireva.

We find our turn off for Muricciaglia, the estate where we have rented our house. A winding and steep stone road leads down to Ovile, our home for the next two weeks. We pull up outside the stone terrace I’ve been imagining as my own private retreat for months. It looks just as I’ve pictured it.

"My" terrace.

Our hosts, Mimma & Franco, are in their 70’s and have owned the estate for 13 years. They welcome us with great warmth, offer us Campari and soda and conversation, suggesting the market in Panzano for Sunday morning. The kids are met by Ado and Ida, visiting grandchildren about their age. Everyone is happy.

First impressions: the air smells of lavender.

Outside one of our doors.

The sound you hear is of bees buzzing and cicadas singing. The yard is filled with butterflies. The view is hilltop, of olive groves, forests, vineyards and the occasional stone house. It’s spectacular, from every window and patio. And the colors are my favorites: deep greens and bright blues.

Deep sigh of contentment.

The pool beckons, and who are we to say no? We don’t.

Paris, Now and Forever (Even With Kids it’s Pretty Wonderful)

Paris!

We arrive!

The airport transitions at Charles de Gaulle are easy and in no time we are standing in front of the entrance to the apartment we’ve rented in the 11th Arrondisement.

Home sweet home, in Paris!

The kids snack (always time for more snacks) and press their faces against the elegant windows of a floral shop next door. Inside, hundreds of red roses lie on a large wooden table, their heads unbelievably overblown, their stems leggy like models. Seriously, I have never seen such gorgeous roses. Who is the lucky person who will enjoy them? Just as I’m beginning to imagine receiving them myself, a woman in an apron comes out of the shop. Uh-oh, here we go. She is—no doubt—going to scold the kids for leaning against the glass of the shop (a scolding worse if delivered in French). Instead, she invites the them inside her flower harem. It’s a Willy Wonka moment as far as I’m concerned (self-diagnosed flower junkie), but alas, I stay outside with the luggage, resigning myself to pressing my own face against the glass later. The kids return, smiling, and holding perfect, single fuschia orchids. They are delighted, as are we.

There’s so many ways, and times, the kids hear “no.” And yet, here was a perfect “yes.”

Our little apartment on rue Amelot is as cute as the pictures promised, sunny and whimsical. The beds beckon, but we resist and head out to lunch. As we walk to place de la République, I’m struck again by how beautiful so many things are here. It’s not just the roses that are more lush than they are at home, it’s the tiny grocer’s displays, the boulangerie windows, the patisseries. All done with such care.

Paris is spectacular this time of year: the balconies are teeming with cheerful bright flowers, and everything that can be green, is, contrasting nicely with the sandy-colored stone of the old buildings. It’s a bit cooler than we expected, mid-70’s, cool enough that in the shade you want a light cardigan. Nothing like the steamy heat we left behind.

On the square we find a typical cafe that fulfills our requirements (looks cute, seems busy, has something on the menu for the kids to eat) and sit down. I know we’re all running on empty at this point, but the kids are showing remarkable resilience in the face of jet lag. They color, they people-watch, they sip their lait froid (cold milk), while Melisa and I sip our rosé.

After lunch we head to one of the main events of the trip: the metro. Those of you who know Jasper are not surprised that this is a highlight of the journey for him. For those of you who don’t: my son is almost seven and the love of trains that began with Thomas has not waned. He is beside himself with joy, one of those moments with kids where I start thinking I need to channel some of that kind of happiness more often. Pure, unselfconscious; pretty great.

woo-hoo!

The metro lives up to the hype. First, there are the billets (tickets), a fun word to say. They are a whole process unto themselves: everyone needs a ticket (unlike in New York where the kids slip under the turnstile). You put the ticket in the slot, push through the turnstile, and then take the ticket back, before you can get through the final gate and into the metro. And you have to hold onto your ticket for the duration of your ride, on the off-chance that the metro police ask you for it. For Magnolia the hoarder, this is the best part.

The Paris metro is less gritty than our own subway. It’s clean, actually. And the tracks aren’t very deep, so it seems much closer. The first train that pulls up is an older one where you have to open the car doors yourself or they don’t open at all. Jasper is thrilled. I admit that this is rather thrilling for me, too.

The train takes us to one of my favorite places in Paris: the Jardin du Luxembourg. I always try to make it here when I’m in town. We stop first for ice cream: Melisa means to order caramel au beurre salé (caramel with salted butter) for M, but instead orders canelle (cinnamon). She orders praline for us. Both are good, but the canelle isn’t sweet enough for M so we trade her.

I scream, you scream

Here is one of the best things about Paris: sitting in the sun and watching the world go by. And at the Luxembourg Gardens, this pastime is high art. It’s Saturday, and the garden is strewn with people lounging about on pretty green metal chairs, there for exactly this purpose, and shady park benches. It’s beautiful. Kids, adults, elegant French seniors, tourists, all mingle. The picturesque pool in the center is crowded with children using long sticks to push colorful sailboats. The pool is surrounded by a low stone wall topped with pots pink geraniums. At one end of the park is the palace, and at the other, large trees trimmed just so that have the shape of rectangles standing on one end. The effect is casual, sophisticated, and very welcoming. I could stay here a long time.

How often do I take the time at home to just sit and turn my face to the sun, soak in one of our own pretty parks? I have been better about it of late, but not often enough. I resolve, as I do every time I’m in Paris, to try to do it more, and in good company.

We spend the afternoon in the Park, discovering a side of it that Melisa and I have never explored before: the playgrounds, carousel, swings.

Language is no barrier to kids playing. They wade in and communicate through looks and gestures. We wait until it’s about six before walking back to the metro and heading home, and, despite their evident exhaustion, the kids are still reluctant to leave. By that time, the day has become warmer, and the sun is making all the building glow gold, the blue roofs shining, flags flapping brightly in the breeze.

As we walk out, I’m struck by the number of parents teaching their kids how to play tennis, kids who are about as young as Magnolia, whom I’d be afraid to hand a racquet. Seems to work here. Maybe we should try it. Hmmm.

Late dinner, bed for all around 10 p.m. And still, I hear the kids talking in the other room. But at last it’s quiet, for all of us. Thirty-six hours later and finally, sleep.

Our courtyard

Martha’s Vineyard Vacation with the Kids: A Few More of My Favorite Things

Ahhh

Not to make everyone envious, but boy life is good here on Martha’s Vineyard. I am seriously relaxed. The house we are in is perfect; like the three bears I’m finding it not too big, not too small, JUST RIGHT. It’s comfortable, efficient, and in a great location. And it has a good bed that is not too soft. I don’t know about you, but a “taco bed” (Wenzlers will recognize the cottage lingo) is the worst (Def: Taco Bed: (noun) A bed that curls up around you like a taco shell).

Anyhoo, ugh, how has it already been a week? Now is when I start tweaking a bit and counting down the days (only 6 more days to go to the beach/eat Pie Lady pie/get up “late”/etc!!!).

Hands over ears: “I’m not LISTENING!!!”

Sorry, back to the post.

Some of our favorite things so far:

1) Breakfast at the Right Fork Diner. This was a discovery this year. Wow, how great for kids AND adults! It’s right on the Katama Airfield in Edgartown, so the kids can watch the biplanes take off and land. The food and service are great, and the coffee is DIVINE!

The Right Fork Diner, Edgartown

Waiting for breakfast at The Right Fork Diner

2) The new playground at the just-built Town Hall in West Tisbury. When the kids were little, we could drag them through a farmer’s market (or fill in the blank) with relative calm. Now they’ll be hiding around the busy stalls and generally making us crazy. The addition of a playground at Town Hall (next to the Grange Hall where the Farmer’s Market is held) means that one of us can stay with the kids while the other one wanders at leisure buying, tasting, and admiring. This is where we found the inspiration for our wedding flowers (dahlias! see header for the photos of inspiration).

West Tisbury Farmer's market

Our favorite flower stand

It’s seriously pretty. Don’t miss the Egg Roll Lady and the pesto from Pam’s.

3) Secret spots from the locals. We’re not iVillage so I feel I can share. Today it was a bit windy for our favorite beach, Squibnocket, and some very kind locals let us in on a new spot to try that was more secluded and calm called Great Rock Bight, right off the North Road in Chilmark and owned by the MV Land Bank. A moderately demanding (by our scale: gym-averse with two small kids) trail led us down to a gorgeous beach that was quiet  and not anything we’d read about/heard about in the years we’d been here before. The water was calm, and dominated by a very big rock off shore that the teens were swimming out to to sun themselves.

4) Menemsha again. The touch tank in front of the harbor master’s “office,” the low-tide crab-catching spots for juniors along the jetty (all you need is a net from the gas station), watching the fishing boats come in with their haul, the Bite (fried oysters twice already and Jasper has proclaimed them “seriously good”), ice cream from The Galley (my fave: a peanut butter chocolate dipped cone.

The Bite, Menemsha

The kids and Melisa prefer the black & white “frappe” aka a milkshake), Larsen’s fish market, and a calm (if rocky) swimming beach all make for a great stop for kids. And if you are an adult sans children: there are some cute antique and clothes shops to explore, not to mention the famed Home Port restaurant raw bar.

Round 1, Rotary Club Pancake Breakfast, Edgartown

5. Opportunistic eventing. Yep, when we’re here, we’re joiners. The Rotary Club pancake breakfast? Check. Tuesday night lobster roll dinners from the Community Church? Yes. Family movie night at the Chilmark Community Center? Pizza Night at the Orange Peel Bakery in Aquinnah? Storytime at the library? Snorkeling in Chappy? Customer Appreciation Day at The Black Dog? Pony Rides off the North Road? Yes, yes, yes and again yes yes yes. You name it, we’re game. We comb the Vineyard Gazette and MV Times for new places to explore. And MVTweets tells us everything that is going on as it is happening. Back-Door Donut night in Oak Bluffs has so far eluded us, but I’m hopeful. And the Wednesday family 80’s music night at live music venue Nectar’s is also on deck for some fun.

Pony Ride, West Tisbury, Martha's Vineyard

Watching Jasper take his turn around the ring.

6. Boogie boarding! So fun to get the kids up on boogie boards. And both of them are such champs: each was “womped” by a wave (Jasper went head over heels) and got up for more (in their water wings of course). Next stop: skim boarding. Love watching the little (and big kids) skimming around.

Squibnocket Beach, Chilmark

Assessing the surf at Squiby

7. Salt-water swimming! The water is warm and wonderful and we all LOVE IT.

8. Outdoor showers. Enough said.

9. The views. Bright green and sharp blue; my favorite summer colors, everywhere. The low stone walls, the gray-shingled houses, the hills, the cliffs….

Checking out Vineyard Haven

10. Sleeping until 7 am. Okay, it’s not everyday (Melisa very bitter here), but it’s happened. Sounds small, but it’s so right.


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