21.9.17

VIENNA, AUSTRIA!

We've been back from Europe for a full month now and I'm just getting to sort through our pictures now. Sorry for the wait! Many of you followed along real-time on Instagram, but those photos were just a few of what you'll see here :)


Vienna was so darn beautiful! Switzerland was all out natural beauty, but this was urban beauty, and you know know how I feel about cities. Heart eyes! The buildings were stunning, and thanks to the Habsburg dynasty, there were tons of palaces. Did you guys know that Marie Antionette was an Austrian princess before moving to France for her marriage to Louis XVI? Vienna was a major world power for so much of history and the buildings and art echo it's past.


Before I dive in to sharing the pictures, I wanted to mention how we've been able to travel as much as we do - we always always always get free flights using Aeroplan points from various credit cards we use. It's a bit complicated, and you need to be financially responsible to make it work, but it is possible for most families to do what we do if you follow our step by step guide to free flights. My husband has written out a very detailed post explaining it for beginners, so head over to that post if you're curious! We could definitely never afford to travel the world as we do without a few savvy tricks: FREE FLIGHTS, Airbnb instead of hotels, and cooking almost every meal. I know for many the idea of a vacation is staying in a nice hotel and eating out, and I don't blame you (that sounds great to me too!), but when you want to travel the world with your family of five, this is the only way we can swing it.


We had such a great time staying in Vienna! Our Airbnb was the trifecta of European style (concrete floors, white walls, exposed brick) and we were right outside of downtown. The only problem in this Airbnb was that the kitchen was really poorly stocked - like, there was one spatula and one wooden spoon as far as utensils went - so cooking was difficult. Thankfully the food in Austria was much more affordable than our next stop to Switzerland, so we bought lots of groceries and did our best in our kitchen. Below you'll see the view from our upstairs window of our courtyard, our front porch, and a bit of our lovely white nest.


This was our first trip traveling without a stroller or any diapers and we felt SO FREE. Oh my goodness! After taking our babies and kids on various trips in the past where we had to pack entire suitcases to store the pack-and-play, the formula, the diapers and wipes, etc. this felt like the lightest trip yet, by far.


Another thing that added to our levity was bringing these scooters for our kids. Vienna had free bike rentals for 1 hour time blocks, so Brad and I hopped on those rental bikes and the kids scooted beside us as we explored the city. Any of you who have traveled with kids before knows that the pace is very slow with kids, so this was a really cool experience and a first: exploring a new city at a normal speed! The scooters were able to be the kid's carry-ons as well, so it wasn't extra weight for us to fit into our luggage, and they rode them everywhere so we didn't have to carry them either. It gave us a glimpse into the next chapter of our lives with three kids. Though we never let having little ones stop of from traveling, it has never been easy. This summer was the easiest trip we've done to date, and it made us really excited for future adventures with our kids as they're more and more able to participate in the varying aspects of travel.


We went to almost every museum, palace, and castle that was on our bucket list. We always did the more "adult" activity in the morning, when the kids were at their best. The deal was that they had to earn the "kid" activity in the afternoon by behaving well in the morning. It worked really well!  For the most part, the kids enjoyed every museum that we went to, but they definitely take after me and don't need very much time in each room (sorry, Brad, who loves to browse and read everything!) One tip to museum-ing with kids is to give them an old digital camera or one of your phones and have them take pictures of their favourite paintings or sculptures. Brad thought of that idea, and it saved our time at the Vienna Art Museum! They suddenly paid so much more attention to the art around them and took it really seriously! We ended up with about 300 blurry Madonna and Child pictures on our phones, but they never complained!


Here's a list of the "adult" activities we did (museums, palaces, etc.)
  • Haus der Musik - The Sound Museum. This was a bit information heavy, but the piano staircase and professionals playing on the Steinway in the entryway made it pretty unforgettable. Any music buffs wouldn't want to miss it, but I could have ;)
  • Kunsthistorisches Museum (art museum)
  • Schonbrunn Palace
  • Belvedere Palace (very first thing we did in Vienna)
  • State Opera House
  • Hofburg Palace (was the impressive palace complex near the Museums Quarter - it was gorgeous but the actual visits were average - Sisi Apartments, Sisi Museum, Silver Collection, none were amazing)
Here's a list of where we ate when we did eat out. It's not exhaustive, but we did our research and loved every place!
  • Fine Dining - Grace (service and food were both out of this world)
  • Dim Sum and Authentic Chinese -  (service was horrible, food was outstanding)
  • Family-friendly Wood-burning Oven Pizza - Pizzeria Osteria da Giovanni (can't recommend this place enough!)
  • Tapas - Lola  (we got takeout because we weren't sharing with our kids, lol. Note: they don't usually do takeout but they were willing, and it was phenomenal)


Here's a list of the afternoon activities we did to reward the kids (usually we had a blast, too!)
  • Walking around town, hunting for ice cream (expect to pay around 3€) 
  • Scooting, tickle fest, rough time, pastries (read: viennoiseries) bubbles at Stadtpark
  • Swimming at Badeschiff, a freezing outdoor pool submerged in the Danube River (a cool experience but paying to swim in 19 degree water may have been a bit foolish, even if it was 30 degrees that day!)
  • On a rainy day - indoor water park Diana-Bad (absolutely worth it - so fun, especially the water slides! Just be ready for co-ed change rooms and very few private cabins to change in - yikes!)
  • Various playgrounds around the city (Stadtpark was a fav!)
    As usual, Brad and I each gave one another one full day off in each location, and I chose to make mine two half days off instead of a full day. On my first half day in Vienna, I snuck away to a tiny little cafe/resto to snack and read for hours and walked the long and windy streets of Vienna. The next day I fueled up first at Juice Factory and then found a street of thrift stores and bought a wool sweater from Scotland. It was seriously my pride and joy you guys, and it sadly got into the dryer with a pile of laundry and shrunk (cue tears!). At least I had it for the Swiss Alps.


    The downside to Vienna, which you should know before you go, is that EVERY ADULT SMOKES. And loads of kids. I'm not even kidding. There was smoking everywhere - in restaurants, malls, cafes, train stations. It really put a bit of a grey cloud over the vacation - literally! It was also one of the grittiest cities we've ever been to. Even though the city is drop dead gorgeous in it's architecture, there was tons of tagging (read: not artistic, thoughtful graffiti, which I actually love), garbage in the streets, and general rough-around-the-edges-ness that most other cities we've been to haven't had. I've heard Berlin is similar, but I've never been, so I can't really say. In some ways, the grit added to the experience, so don't misread this, I'm just mentioning it because it was a notable observation, and might be a deal breaker for some.


    Vienna was such a cool city! The history is mind-blowing! Brad and I watched a four part documentary from the BBC while we were there about the Habsburg dynasty, the counter reformation, and the role Vienna played in WWII. It's also the most famous city for music, probably in the world, though we didn't go to any musical performances. And I didn't know this until our trip, but those viennoiseries that you can buy in the best cafes in Montreal? They're named after Vienna! The yummiest pastries I've ever had outside of Paris!


    Austria really wasn't on my radar when Brad suggested it for this trip, but I'm so glad we went! We didn't get outside the city, so no, we didn't see any Sound of Music glory (but we made up for it in the Swiss Alps, and yes, I've watched the movie since returning home!). It was one of the hardest cities we've ever been in as tourists because for the first time, English (and French) were very rare to come by, so we found ourselves clueless a lot of the time. We know exactly three phrases in German, and we found the general population in Vienna didn't have a lot of English. Other European cities we've been to (especially in Scandinavia!) have had a lot more English, or we've simply stayed with French countries and been fine with our second language, but this time we struggled. Being bi-lingual in English and French is such a blessing when traveling, but there is definitely a lot of the world where neither of those languages help you much!


    Before our trip when we were looking up churches to join on Sundays, Brad connected with a pastor at the church we went to in Vienna, New City Wien. He recommended his family's babysitter and we were able to meet her on Sunday, and then hire her to come watch the kids later in the week. For the first time abroad, Brad and I were able to go out ALONE. We rode bikes through the sunset-washed city and laughed at our good fortune. We felt full and light and incredibly blessed. It was a lifetime top moment. We ate at Grace and it was absolutely incredible. When we came home to three sleeping kids and our sweet babysitter, we knew a rest we hadn't known before - the combination of the adventure you feel when traveling abroad with your favourite little people, and the security and intimacy you feel after quality alone time with your spouse.



    After 9 days in Vienna, we boarded a plane for Switzerland, where we stayed in Lucerne (Luzern) and Berne (Bern). Those posts are coming soon...

    16.9.17

    mélange

    Hey friends! Is it Fall or summer!? Every day I change my mind. One minute I'm slathering on the SPF and the next I'm baking apple crumble. But I'm cool with it! What's been inspiring you on the interwebs lately? Here are a few articles I loved over the past couple of weeks:
    • This article really made me want to start a dinner club. Have you ever been part of one? It sounds perfect!
    • I've followed Ashley-Anne's blog for my entire married life, and I followed their adoption journey with interest for the past six years. I loved reading her update on her daughter, 5 years after bringing her home. 
    • Isn't this cake beautiful?  I need to make it stat... maybe for Chloe's birthday next week!

    • Every family has their unique rules. Don't think so? Just spend a week with another family and you'll realize! Mother Mag just posted five mom's 'family rules' and I loved reading them!
    • Recently we tried Good Food's meal subscription service because we had a coupon code, and honestly I loved it! I love cooking, so while getting take-out once in a while is a treat, I wouldn't want that daily, or even weekly. But Good Food brought back the fun in cooking and took away all the annoying parts (grocery shopping, meal planning). I'm a big fan, and this is not sponsored! I do have a coupon code to share though, if you'd like to give it a try! You'll get $40 off your first order, and I'll get $25 off my next one - win win :)
    • This drink looks so incredible! Anything with lavender grabs my attention, though I think it would need gin...

    • I have readers often ask me about the differences between being a Protestant and being a Catholic. Especially being a Protestant pastor's wife in Montreal, which has heavy Catholic roots, I am always researching to have the most helpful answers. Here is a great audio recording by an expert in the area, who was also a professor of Brad and I's when we took seminary classes in our newlywed days. 
    • I've been making this carrot cake recipe with zucchini on repeat for my kid's lunches! I'll post my altered recipe soon, but if you're in the mood for carrot cake, try this one!
    • I'm so in love with every decor decision The Faux Martha has ever made. Seriously, from her back yard to her fire place, I would copy it all in a heartbeat if we were ever in a place to renovate a home. See what I mean?

    Have a great weekend!

    14.9.17

    How many extra-curricular activities do your kids do?

    Since it's September and everything seems to be starting up again, I thought I'd pose this question. I feel like half of my random tasks include permission slips, signing the kids up for x, y, z, and figuring out our new schedule with the added hours of school and extra-curriculars. Here's where we landed.


    For me, swimming is a non-negotiable. Our kids will all be in swimming lessons until they are strong swimmers. It's a life skill, it's a safety issue, it's one of the lowest impact forms of exercise and the sport with the least amount of injuries. Once the kids are strong swimmers, it also opens up so many doors for other sports - diving, life guarding, synchronized swimming, water polo, etc. I'm also biased because I participated in every activity that I just mentioned as a kid and teen, and I still absolutely love swimming, but even my husband who is less aquatically inclined agrees. So swimming is an extra-curricular activity that we've done with our kids since age 3, and we continue to do weekly. Thankfully swimming lessons in Montreal are easy to find and affordable - hiring a semi-private instructor to teach Lily and Oli cost $11/kid/class. If they're in a group of up to six kids, it's even less. There's also discounts when you sign up more than two children, so it's a great option for us. At ages 4, 6, and 7, our kids all love the water and our older two are proficient swimmers. 

    This year for the first time, we've signed up our older two in an additional activity on top of swimming. Oli is doing indoor/ball hockey and Lily is taking a painting class. Both are affordable, right near our house, and on Mondays after school (which is Brad's day off, so he can take them). It's really a dream scenario and the kids are super excited about both activities! One thing I love about city living is that all of our kid's activities are within walking distance, and there are so many options for our kids.

    I'd love all of our kids to take piano lessons, but right now it's not something that seems possible - classes seem too expensive and we don't own a keyboard or piano (and don't really have space for either).

    So we're set on two activities for our 7 and 6 year-olds, and one activity for our 4 year-old. I don't think I'd want to do more than two at one time, for many reasons - guarding the kid's down time and our family time on evenings and weekends, saving money, and keeping the siblings together as much as possible since they're apart all day at school. I'd love to hear what works for your families!