Romantic Italy

Hello, my friends!

If you have read my blog post on Venice, you would already know that we had travelled to Italy in end March. We were there for 11 days and covered just the 3 big cities – Rome, Venice and Florence.

I have penned down my experiences in Rome and Florence here: http://rheawrites.com/travel/romantic-italy/ 

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Enchanting Venice

I had mentioned in my last post that we had gone to Italy in end March / early April. The blog post on the trip got delayed because I had run out of hard disk space to download all the photos! I finally managed to create space and here’s the first post on Italy – that fabulous country.

It was an 11 day vacation – 3 days each in Venice, Florence and 4 days in Rome. I planned to put all of it in one post with 3-4 photos of each place but we fell in love with Venice and I wanted to put many more photos!

Read my post on Venice here: http://rheawrites.com/travel/enchanting-venice/

 

Fun Family trip to Western Australia

 

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It was the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere in 2015. I was 6 months preggie and was already sweating profusely everytime I stepped out in the sun. We were thinking of a vacation and requirements were: short flight (considering how uncomfortable a mom-to-be can get in those cramped-up flights), cool weather and a place where we can let loose our 1.5 year old monkey do some jumping around and play to his heart’s content!

Perth ticked all our boxes: it’s 4.5 hours away from Singapore, excellent weather in May-June – bright sunshine with cool winds, lots of parks and farms for the kids. So we quickly booked our flights (found some cheap deals on Singapore Airlines) and applied for visas (and lost all that savings on the super-expensive visas).

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We weren’t expecting much from Perth – it didn’t enjoy the same glowing reviews as Sydney and Melbourne from our friends. Our itinerary was 3 nights in Perth, 2 nights in Busselton (didn’t find accommodation in Margaret River) and 3 nights in Freemantle.  

In the end it was one of the best vacations we have had – loads of fun with our kid who loved running about in the open spaces, petting kangaroos, watching slumbering koalas and colourful birds. Read on for details.

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Getting Around

We had rented a car from Avis right from the airport itself. Driving in Australia is a breeze – everyone follows the rules and nobody honks even if you are driving a bit slow which my husband is sometimes prone to do.

The car made moving around, especially between cities and towns, very easy and we could take pit stops every now and then for photo breaks or just to stretch my legs. After an initial struggle and resistance from the kiddo to sit in a car seat, he got used to it and started enjoying having his own special ‘throne’ (as we would call it). I had kept some drawing books, color pencils and videos on the phone handy which kept him busy for the short day trips we made.

Perth Highlights

King’s Park

It is an enormous and beautiful green space on a hill and impossible to cover in a day. The weather was outstanding the day we went! I finished the book I was reading basking in the sun, with a h-u-g-e milkshake (duh! I was 6 month pregnant) and watching my hubby playing football with my son. I had the best burger in my life that (OMG! Wish I could go back right now). That was the time I decided, this has to be one of the best vacations I have taken!

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City Centre

We spent some time around the shopping malls in and around Murray Street and Hay Street with me picking up some cheap maternity stuff from Target. There was a beautiful square at the end of the blocks of malls which seemed to be a venue for street music and arts.

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Caversham Wildlife Park

This animal farm is part of the much larger Whiteman park which also has a motor museum, vintage railway rides and many other attractions. It’s a 35-40 minute drive from Perth city centre. We reached around lunch time and had a hearty meal of burgers and fries before doing anything else (I don’t think I stopped eating in that trip!). We should really have reached there at 8:30am when the park opens but getting a 1.5 year old showered and fed and then getting myself ready and fed takes long in the mornings.

We could only do the wildlife park which was a lot of fun – this must have been the best highlight of our trip.

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Kid’s Food

My son, the pickiest eater in the world, lives on biscuits and milk when on vacations. I try to fret not and let it ruin my holidays, but still, being a mom, it bothers me if he isn’t eating well at all. There though he was more than happy to have those filling milkshakes for snacking and somehow loved the Aussie bananas (he hates bananas in Singapore) and fruits that we picked up from the super-markets. We had booked serviced apartments or self-contained cabins for the trip so I would make French Toast or porridge in the mornings and in the evenings to keep him full. All of the restaurants we went to were child friendly, so a scrumptious bowl of chips or spaghetti, boiled eggs would be available mostly everywhere. Best of all – the waiters and waitresses were so accommodating and friendly to our kid that we always felt welcome.  

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Busselton Highlights

We wanted to stay in Margaret River which is where everyone goes but sadly we could not find accommodation in a single farmhouse because they were all sold out the days we wanted to stay. We found accommodation in Busselton – a small town in the wine region about 220km from Perth. GPS guided us to take the freeway (the Aussie highway) for as long as available but we took a small detour to hit the very scenic Old Coast Road at it’s very beginning.

We stayed at Mandalay Holiday Resort and Tourist Park and we certainly don’t regret it! It’s a kids’ paradise! It has 4 kids outdoor play area including a giant pillow for jumping (I would jumped on it too but for the baby in the tummy), large fields to play in, heated indoor pools, bicycles for renting and the beach is just few yards away! We loved it so much that we extended our stay here by another day and cut down on Freemantle by a night.

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The Busselton Jetty was a 10 minute drive from the resort, so we went there in the late afternoon to catch the setting sun. There was a jetty toy train ride for the kids and an observatory, but unfortunately  they were closed by the time we reached.

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Margaret River Region

It’s the wine region in South Western Australia and very pretty.

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We drove to Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse in Dunsborough some 30km away – a lovely ride passing through tiny towns. Considering my health, we didn’t climb up the lighthouse but I am sure the view would have been spectacular (something for the next trip!).

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On the way back we made a stop at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory! It was such a fun place even for adults, as we could see people making chocolates and there was an array of selection of chocolates to sample and buy. The coffee and food too were delectable. It had a patch of green area at the back for the kids to play while the parents can munch on some goodies. My son joined other kids moving the stumps of logs chopped from the forest and kept in the clearing.

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We followed signs to the wineries to see what they looked like – there were so many names on the signs so we picked one named Rivendell (both me and my husband are Hobbit and LOTR fans). It was unfortunately closed by the time we reached which was past 3pm. A person there told us to try the winery just opposite –  The Aravina Estate.

It was a lovely place with rows and rows of short grape trees – the foliage was a bit yellow because of the season. There was a small building with a restaurant overlooking the estate and a car museum (!). We splurged a bit in the restaurant and it was totally worth it. The out of the world french dishes and the terrace dining made the experience memorable. Later, we spent a good half hour playing with bubbles in their perfectly manicured lawns and showing the vintage cars to our very excitable kid.

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Some more things to do in the region…

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Yallingup Maze – we couldn’t finish it!

Country Life Farm – there are some ponies, llamas and kangaroos to feed, an indoor kid’s playground, a pond to paddle boat in and a small cafe.

 

Freemantle Highlights

Since we changed the dates last minute, we changed our serviced apartment and it was a bad choice of acco. The apartment looked quite old in everything it had and worst of all there was a water leak from somewhere in the bathroom – not good especially with the cold. The reception office was closed over the weekend so there was no way to get it repaired.

What was a low point on the acco, was more than made up by the lively atmosphere of this beautiful town. We had a lovely sumptuous dinner in a Mexican restaurant. All of the shops were open until 9pm unlike in Perth where everything seemed to be closing down by 6pm!

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A highlight was the Freemantle Markets – I loved the shops selling at a variety of knick-knacks and the vibe here. There was a public piano where a very kind lady pulled up my kid and played a kid’s tune with him!

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This was one of the best trips I have had (possibly because of the food! and my happy hormones) with my family. We missed doing a lot of things – and that’s as well because it gives us an excuse to go back.

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If you have any suggestions of Things to Do in Western Australia it will be most welcome and would help with making the itinerary of the next trip.

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Pack smart for travel

For me,

Smart Packing = Packing light + Taking everything you need on a holiday

Striking a balance is key!

Holidays should be stress free, happy and rejuvenating, something that will make you feel good once you are back home! Seriously you don’t want to come home with a back pain with all the pulling, pushing, lifting, lugging and carrying huge heavy suitcases. Neither do you want to spend your holidays in stinking clothes because you only took 1 pair for 10 days.

Recently we went on a holiday to Melbourne and Sydney, Australia with our two kids for 15 days. Being autumn there (18-8 degree C daily temperature range with 30-40kmph winds in Melbourne!), we had to keep in mind the sudden temperature changes, so layering was compulsory, and we all know layering means more clothes! Remember, we have always lived in hot and humid places like Kolkata and Singapore, so this was winter for us.

In addition we had to carry medicines for the kids, toiletries, diapers, baby milk powder tin, milk bottles, some bowls and spoons, toys, breast pump and its related accessories, husband’s laptop and charger etc.

We had heard that in Melbourne one can experience four seasons in a day! So in addition to enough warm clothes we had to pack raincoats and umbrellas too.

We packed all this in 2 suitcases, one large size 28 inches (final weight 20kg) and a medium 24 inches (final weight 15kg), and two backpacks for myself and the husband (around 4kgs each mostly because of bottles filled with boiled water for the infant).

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For those of you who think we did a good job with the luggage, let me share some tips how packing a suitcase in a smart way can make your travel easier.

 

Tip 1# Mixing and matching

I used to pack a lot of clothes earlier but I have realized that fashion is all about mixing and matching clothing pieces and creating beautiful fresh new outfits everyday on holiday. You don’t really need 15 items for  a 15 day trip. For the last quite many trips I have been trying to pack as little clothes as possible. This does not mean I wear the same outfit for 10 days at a stretch. I generally take 3 bottoms: could be jeans, shorts, skirts, and about 6 tops and t-shirts, 2 jackets, 2 sweaters, couple of scarfs and caps. This way I can create new outfits for many weeks. It’s fun and the best part is since you have some space in the suitcase you have the opportunity to shop on vacation without fear of excess baggage fees!


Tip 2# Make a List

Packing can be fun!

True! All you need to do is make an exhaustive list of things you need that are categorised and just stick to it. For this you may need some good amount of time to think about all the things you generally need on a holiday and customise it according to the holiday destination (my general packing list is at the end of this post). Believe me more than half of your work is already done. Now it’s just organising the items in the suitcases. Simple!

Google beforehand about the climate/weather of the place you want to visit so you have a fair idea of what things you can pack.

Make a mental note of the clothes you want to carry, for yourself and your kids. Take all the clothes out and start putting them in separate piles according to individuals, so that you know how much you are taking. Visualising a huge heap of clothes and shoes can make you decide sensibly.

“Do I really need that extra pair of fancy shoes?”

“How much wear can i get out of this super heavy woollen scarf?”

“Can I not mix and match the tops and trousers skirts instead of taking a pair for each day?”

Two other advantages with a list are:

  1. Essential items will not get forgotten and
  2. It’s fun for almost everyone to strike things off a list.

 

Tip 3# Organize with Packing Cubes

After finalising what to take, comes how to take: that brings us to Packing Cubes, which changed the way I pack now!

We recently got introduced to them and can’t thank enough for that.

Packing cubes are bags of various shapes and sizes which helps you organise and compartmentalise your clothes in a suitcase.You can get them at Daiso (sometimes, but often out of stock) or online where the options are much much more. The most popular one is Pack-It cubes from Eagle Creek but we got ours from Qoo10 and Muji. These should last out at least 3 trips before they get torn or zipper doesn’t work and that is a very small cost compared to the whole trip.

We separated the winter wear and the daily clothes for all of us which made it quite convenient. We had taken about 9 cubes:

  • 2 medium sizes for El Mono (the pre-schooler)
  • 1 big double sided for El Gato (the infant)
  • 1  double sided for myself
  • 1 medium for the husband.
  • 1 separate cube for night wear for the four of us together
  • 2 separate cubes for our inner wears and
  • 1 cube for the dirty ones – I had put a dryer sheet in it which made everything smell fresh till the last day.

With these cubes, packing and re-arranging between two suitcases was easy and quick. Clothes did not tumble around in the suitcase and the husband didn’t get confused between the clothes of the two kids as everything was labelled. I still remember that on our previous holidays, me and hubby would spend a good half hour re-organising and re-packing the suitcases, after the kids went to bed. Everything went haywire inside the suitcase, and the whole process felt like an ordeal!

Now whenever I needed anything all I did was to take out the particular cube and Voila! it was done. The suitcases looked neat and strangely it made us feel calm and relaxed to see them so. Such is the power of organising I suppose!

 

After the trip, you can still use the cubes for organising your clothes in the wardrobe.
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Tip 4# Rolling instead of folding

Another tip which helped us is rolling up the clothing items instead of folding them and laying them flat on top of each other. This way you can see all your clothes at the same time. Decision making becomes easier and lot many clothes can be fit into the cube than usual. The clothes also don’t get creased this way.

A small digression: this can also be used for storage of clothes in drawers – I learnt this from the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever” by Marie Kondo. I recommend it highly.

 

Tip 5# Reduce the amount of Toiletries

This can be done in two ways:

  1. Consider buying toiletries at your destination unless you are going to a place where things are more expensive.
  2. Take smaller amounts in small plastic bottles.

Also remember that not all varieties of lipsticks, eye-shadows, etc needs to be taken – take only the essential ones.

 

For us, it’s an ongoing effort to keep reducing baggage weight with every trip – I would like to cut down more on kids’ clothes as they are growing up and as a target hopefully we can fit everything into 25kgs for the four of us for a 2-3 week vacation.

 

I would love to hear other tips on travelling light – please do leave them in comments.

 

My packing list:

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8 Tips for Travelling with Small Kids

I love to travel and have been fortunate to find a partner who shares the interest in equal measure. We have two kids – an infant aged 8 months (El Gato) and his pre-schooler brother, exactly two years older (El Mono). Every time we get back from a vacation, the usual questions we get asked by friends and relatives are:

“Did you take your helper along?”

“Wow! You are so brave! Isn’t it painful for the long haul flights? How do you manage?”

“So many diaper changes and feeds? Isn’t it very stressful?”

“We are waiting till our boy turns 5 to go on a long distance vacation”

Even Hubby Dear (HD) had some of these fears before the first trip. But since our first baby, we have travelled a few times: a mix of short flights (1-2 hours), medium duration (4-7 hours) and long ones (13 hours) to various places when El Mono at different times was 6 / 8 / 12 / 18 months and more recently with the two kids together.

Since the first trip HD has been as comfortable as me with travelling with small kids. We are no experts in parenting, but I thought I would share some of the tips and ideas which worked to make the experience pleasant for us.

 

Tip 1#: Night Flights

We always try to get the direct night flights with a bassinet seat and one needs to book early for bassinet availability. Bassinet helps to avoid a paralysed arm the next day. This helps the kids to sleep especially if we tire them out on the day of travel. Even if the kids don’t, my logic is: for how long will they cry, couple of hours??, but eventually they are going to sleep and you can also close your eyes for a while. A rested mom on a holiday is the most important of all. Trust me!

Carry essential medicines in cabin baggage. Kids’ nose can get stuffy, so saline sprays can be a saviour during those moments. Panadol sachets are useful for any unfortunate fever in the flight. The homeopathy medicine Chamomilla for those times when nothing seems to stop a baby from crying.

All major airlines let you carry water for your baby and have kid’s/infant’s meal available. If my babies are asleep, I generally take those jars and crackers with me in my bag for the next meals.

 

Tip 2#: Packing Cubes and a separate Kids “Go-to” Bag

We got introduced to packing cubes before our last trip to Melbourne and Sydney and it changed everything, for the better!!! Read about these wonderful cubes in a separate post here.  In this trip we had a 4 consecutive nights spent in 4 different hotels – the cubes made the daily unpacking and repacking very quick and convenient.

This time around, we had made a “Go-To Bag” – as I referred to it the whole trip, out of a gym shoe-bag that we got free with some promotion; it was filled with all the snacks, the feeding bottles, few diapers, wipes, some scented plastic bags (you definitely don’t want that disgusting smell when kiddo decides to go poo-poo in the car), a thick table cloth (for those moments when you see a lush green patch and wish for a relaxed sit-down), a small toy, colouring pencils and so on. This was very handy and every time the kids wanted something, we like “Jeannies” had fulfilled their needs! This way you don’t have to stop the car all the time, rummage through the suitcases or the backpacks, and also when stopping for meals, just take the handy little bag along and you are set.

 

Tip 3#: Keep outdoor time for Kids in the itinerary

In advance of the trip, we now plan out a good balance of parks, places of interest and shopping in the itinerary, so that everyone is happy!

Disclaimer: Our kids are pretty young, so entertaining them is not so much of an issue, as long as El Mono has a ball to play with or a paper plane to fly, a green park, where my little one can crawl, and some planes, helicopters, birds in the sky! When visiting open places like parks, we would definitely carry a ball, a bubble maker and and one toy with us and we knew the kids were sorted. The kids at this age can easily be amused with things around and if some silly stories can be made up about those things, then its even more fun – for example I may say: “El Mono! Do you see that tree? Can you go and find out if there is an elf hiding behind it?”

Australia has no dearth of parks and plain green grounds for kids; there are so many things for the children to do there that you are spoilt for choices. So in the most recent trip, every morning we had a long list of things to see/do which had few hours of touristy sightseeings, an hour or more in the sandpit/parks (always with the hope that the more they play, the more tired they get!) and some tidbit shopping here and there.

 

Tip 4#: List of items for Shopping

It maybe difficult to shop with kids in tow, so it’s best, if possible, to look online for the things to buy or make a list of the must-haves from a particular shop/mall. This way it makes it easier in the mind if you know exactly where to go, what to ask and what to buy. We had some basic things to buy in Australia, like something you don’t get in Singapore easily or it’s too expensive here. I knew exactly what to get, so one evening at Woolsworth, before retiring to our hotel after a long day, I picked up organic eatables, vegemite, Tim Tams, some organic body lotions and such for the kids. Apart from the above boring shopping I did pay couple of visits to Sephora and a few Australian boutiques too!

Making a list for everything makes me feel sorted and relaxed. Believe me, I have had those moments when I went absolutely crazy and nearly had a panic attack thinking I had to buy so many things without a “things I want to buy” list and got lost in glitzy overwhelming malls! Not very productive and it makes you feel depressed later.

So do some Googling beforehand and know what to buy, because you will always be short on time for shopping when travelling with kids.

 

Tip 5#: Hide the stains on the kids’ clothes

The last thing you want in your precious vacation photographs is your kids looking dirty in those 3 day old, sauce smeared sweaters and muddy trousers!

The trick is to pack dark coloured clothes mostly, because they are quite forgiving in the photos.

Layering is also a clever tip. If your little one decides to rub his cute chocolatey fingers on the t-shirt, do not fret, just put a short sleeved t-shirt / a shirt for a second day use.

 

Tip 6#: Serviced Apartments or Airbnb

Staying in a serviced apartment or Airbnb (as opposed to a regular hotel) makes living out of a suitcase slightly more comfortable when you have kids with you. This way you have to carry less utensils with you, like bowls, plates, spoons, etc so the luggage is lighter. Laundry if at all, becomes easy too.

Cooking light meals for El Mono was very convenient, like oats and banana, French toast, etc. Even for us, on those hasty mornings, homemade breakfast was very convenient and hassle free. Somedays it got really chaotic getting both kids ready on time, for the limited time breakfast spread in the hotel.

I try to feed my kids whatever is available and I believe if they are really hungry they will eat whatever is given. However, El Mono still doesn’t eat pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, etc. I let him eat whatever he is okay with (mashed bananas with oats, boiled eggs, bread, french fries, etc) knowing that it’s only for 1-2 weeks and I can get him back on a balanced diet once we are back.

 

Tip 7#: Lightweight Strollers

For our last trip we had taken one stroller thinking that mostly El Mono will walk and when he is tired we will carry El Gato in a baby carrier and El Mono will sit in the stroller. It was a big mistake not to take two strollers: Both the kids fell sick for a couple of days and we had to make the older kid sit in the stroller and carry younger kid the whole time for a few days. This took a big toll on our backs especially in Sydney where we had to walk all over as we couldn’t find a taxi with an infant seat: it’s mandatory in Sydney to put an infant in a baby seat even in a taxi.

 

Tip 8#: Share your itinerary with the pre-schooler kid

We find that El Mono can get quite cranky for no apparent reason. We have also found that if we tell him in advance of what is to come he is less cranky with changes. For example: “We are going to get into a car and you will have to sit in your own seat and wear a seatbelt” or “You can play with your ball when we are in the park but that will be after we have finished lunch”.

 

Finally, when travelling with small kids, we keep an open mind: we know that we may miss visiting a place on our list, or we may lose half a day or more to an unfortunate fever, or we may not be able to dine at a popular restaurant due to a cranky toddler. We expect for such things to happen and do not fret about it and it helps us to carry on with a smile.

So those are some tips we follow on our travels.

I would love to hear back from you awesome parents about what you do to make travel easy. Please leave your valuable tips and tricks in the comments section.