Our new happy place

For about a month straight, my husband would ask me, “Where would you like to go this weekend?” and I would tell him, “The Candy Store.” He would roll his eyes. Or he would say “I’m not driving downtown to buy candy. Or he would just not answer me as though it was not a serious response worth considering.

But THIS weekend, we head two full days downtown for other commitments AND a few hours to time to kill between events. There was no reason not to take our first trip to Dylan’s Candy Bar in Chicago!

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Now, before you roll your eyes and think to yourself, “That is a ridiculous place for adults to go,” I want you to think about the types of places that you visit when you’re on vacation. Maybe you hit a really cool bookstore. Maybe you stand in line for molten chocolate and churros. And maybe you go visit a really neat shop that stocks candy from all over the world, serves its own branded candy from a candy bar and has an attached café that serves amazing, over the top fizzy concoctions that you would only dream about as a kid. Wouldn’t that be exactly the type of place that you would go on vacation?!

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YES! SO MUCH YES!

When we arrived, a greeter handed us lemonade flavored lollipops, just for visiting. It gave my kids something to do as we considered the Care Bear candy collection. We were maintaining our cool until we hit the Bulk candy area, where you could pick whatever candy you like and pack it into a variety of excellent rainbow colored containers. If you looked up, you noticed the candy collection being monitored by giant rainbow gummi bears.

So much more than a candy store, Dylan’s Candy Bar promotes a colorful candy lifestyle. There’s candy jewelry, jewelry with candy charms, a whole Unicorn kiosk and Candy pillows, journals and more. It’s making me re-think my less colorful choices in life.

After the kids had hit their patience limit, we checked out and sat at the café for a more immediate gratification. The menu covers desserts, smoothies and drinks. I actually think there is food served too, but I didn’t see anybody eating food. All I saw was this. And this and this:

When the time came to head out, we were all smiles and satisfaction with the little ones chattering about their “Amazing cool drinks” and my husband thinking that maybe this is a place where we stop for adult beverages next time we’re in the city without the kids. It’s truly a place where everyone has a great time and unleashed the kid at heart!

 

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St. Petersburg

We hear so much about Russia in our history and our news channels. What is it to be Russian? What makes them proud? What can they build? To answer my questions and to put a face onto the unknown other, we traveled to St. Petersburg.

Built along the Neva river on contested land, Peter the Great built his city as a modern, beautiful marvel to rival other contemporary capitals in Europe. Further down the Neva, Peter built his “summer palace” as a direct response to Versailles. Additionally, he then built Peterhof as the “dasha,” or summer home of the Tsar, as a country escape from his official capital. Its beautiful gardens and working fountains were a marvel of technology at the time.

 

Although, honestly, I’m not sure who would have wanted that escape. The city has been voted the most beautiful in the world several times for good reason.  St. Petersburg is, foremost, a town of palaces. Each building a unique testament to wealth and privilege painted in pastel colors and decorated with statues of ancient gods and symbols of plenty. It is clean, smoke free, litter free and proud of its heritage as Peter the Great’s chosen capital.

Unbelievably, the interior of these palaces are even more startling. The talent that went into the inlaid flooring, gilded ceilings and paneled walls is unparalleled. Peter and his descendants drafted architects, designers and artists from Scotland, France and Italy to make their vision a reality.

The churches with their golden cuppolas and glittering mosaics speak to their strong faith which seems to be the foundation of its residents, who thrive on the banks of the Neva River. The buildings and street stalls that surround them comprise the backbone of St. Petersburg main industry: tourism. The maroushkas, porcelains, t-shirts and children’s toys offer you a piece of St. Petersburg’s rich history. I bought two of whatever I could carry.

And so, St. Petersburg is demystified. It is a beautiful westernized European city. The citizens speak English and Russian. They are capitalists with a long memory of different days.  They enjoy the same music and really good caviar that we prize in the United States. They are people as we are people. And if you have an opportunity to travel there, I hope you accept the chance to visit this beautiful city.

Loire Valley: Cheverny and Chambord

It’s been a wild two months with travel, and I’ve just now replaced my luggage and done enough laundry to justify taking the time to do another blog entry. And so, my lovely travel friends, I present to you our Springtime adventure to the Loire Valley.

As always, we planned our flight around the girls. We try to book flights to coincide with bedtime when flying long-haul trips. That way, the girls boarded the plane, ate dinner and fell right asleep for the majority of the flight. At three, Isabella is already a pro at check-in, packing the right toys for the plane and enjoying the flight.  We flew Economy Plus via United Airlines direct ORD to CDG.

We arrived in the morning, ready to grab a croissant and explore the Loire Valley. Our first stop was the Chateau de Chantilly, known as the home of Henri d’Orleans and for it’s amazing whipped cream desserts. Something for everyone.

It was a beautiful introduction to France. The grand chateau, the ornate décor, everything that a toddler could care less about. Mike demonstrates the proper technique for getting a toddler into a historic site below.

Once inside, Olivia really loved the library and the beautifully appointed rooms. In her heart, she was now in a Disney princess movie. Isabella was still rather suspicious. This entire castle was filled with things she wasn’t supposed to touch and she took that as a personal challenge.

After letting the kids run in the chateau gardens and feeding them a proper lunch at the restaurant in the chateau, we wondered down the path to Chambord. Now, I was excited to visit Chambord. I knew we wouldn’t be drinking Chambord, but it looked like a beautiful chateau with gorgeous ambiance and I was just way too excited to see it.

And it was gorgeous. There is this amazing double helix staircase in the center that leads up through several floors and lets out on the castle ramparts. The girls explained that this was where the “Beast” fought Gaston on the turrets. They loved Chambord almost as much as I did.

After the kids ran all through the chateau, we headed to our home away rental home for a glass of wine, baguette and cheese. But that is a story for a different post.

Until then, Au Revoir!

Mica

The Magic of Storytelling

What’s your favorite story? As an adult, you may not have one. But if you ask any kid what their favorite story is, their eyes light up and they give you the longest, most detailed summary that you’ve ever heard. Sometimes there is singing involved. Sometimes, there are different voices for various characters. This is the magic of storytelling.

Although, hopefully, the magic of storytelling doesn’t end with childhood. Reading lets us travel through different times in history when you read Homer’s Odyssey. Reading provides different perspectives and allows us to experience life through the eyes of another person like in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Sometimes reading allows us to process the world we live in through stories that seem farfetched and unrealistic until you catch yourself quoting phrases like, “Constant vigilance!” from the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling or wondering if Chicago is the next district 13 as described in The Hunger Games series. Books travel with you overseas or at school when you reach for a tattered copy of Kitchen Confidential and it’s as though an old friend suddenly appeared.

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On February 4th, people around the world are celebrating the #magicofstorytelling by reading books to their children. Online, people are posting #shelfies, which are pictures of your bookshelf to promote reading at home. And the Walt Disney company has a drawing to win a library of hundreds of books for your child’s school and dozens for your home library. Please sign up here for a free entry, and show us your shelfie on twitter or Instagram by tagging @travelkids2 because I would love to see your favorite reads!

 

Fantasy Friday: Your 2017 dream location

If you could plan a trip anywhere in the world in 2017, where would it be?

1390It’s a brutal 5 degrees in Chicago today and I can’t help but imagine all the wonderful destinations that I could travel to this year. But if I had to narrow it down to my top 5

  1. St. Petersburg, Russia.
  2. Singapore
  3. Bogota, Columbia
  4. Monaco
  5. Nepal

St. Petersburg: I’ve never been to Russia, and they are building up to host the World Cup in 2018.  The city will be at it’s best advantage and the exchange rates are increasingly beneficial to US travelers. If you’ve never visited Peter’s castle, the Hermitage or the home of Catherine the Great, now might be your time.

Singapore: Singapore includes everything I love. Great fusion style foods heavily influenced by Chinese, Asian and Indian cuisine. A warm island climate. Plenty of big name international stores, museums and urban hot spots. I would visit for the street styles alone.

Bogota, Columbia: We had an aborted trip to Columbia booked in 2009 that remains a gaping hole in my passport. Beyond, my personal desire to visit,  Columbia is revived and ready for visitors after a long civil war. I’m interested in visiting the museums, parks and trying a new flavor of Latin cuisine. The route from Chicago requires a lay-over in Mexico which is just a plus in my book.

Monaco: I blame Grace Kelly. We recently watched “To Catch a Thief” and I fell in love with the glamour of Southern France and started reading about Kelly’s real life transition to royalty. The glittering coast is supposed to be the finest in the Mediterranean and I can’t wait to see it for myself. If I could manage to attend a glittering gala, I might actually die of happiness.

Nepal: the country is mostly recovered from the great earthquake of 2015 that wrecked Kathmandu. To my mind, no other country is as remote or awe inspiring as Nepal in literature or travel. In reality, locals are friendly and inviting to travelers and provide an authenticity to their delight in receiving your tourist dollars. Speaking of which, for budget conscious travelers, you can get by on less than $50 a day. Making Nepal as affordable as it is majestic.

And there you have it! My top 5 daydream destinations for 2017. We’ll see if I make it to any of these or if the new year has entirely different plans in store for us!

 

So you decided to start a blog…

There are a LOT of blogs in the universe. I get it. I read quite a few of them and depend on them like I do my morning coffee for insight and wit available at my fingertips. Blogs matter. At least they do to me.

Because we travel frequently and bring our children with us, I get many questions from my own friends regarding what to pack, rent or buy abroad. I have tips and experiences that might be valuable to you on a future trip. I have cute children who are semi-patient in front of a camera. In many cases they illustrate what NOT to do or the very specific tipping point when plans are not going, well, to plan.

Maui

What 8 hour flight?

So I hope that you enjoy the blog! Please send any questions or comments my way so I can provide the content that interests you the most!

Thanks and much love,

Mica