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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Whiteside Mountain - North Carolina

Highlands, North Carolina is known for its beautiful hiking. There are hikes of all lengths and levels. We traveled to the Cashiers area and spent four amazing days relaxing, hiking to waterfalls, and touring the Biltmore grounds. One of my favorite parts of the trip was our Whiteside Mountain hike. If you love to get out in nature and go hiking with your kids, Whiteside Mountain is perfect. We did not have kids yet, but we were traveling with friends who had a 3yo and an infant. Whiteside Mountain is a 2 mile hike that the website lists as moderate. If you are an avid hiker, this will be a nice and easy walk for you. Some spots might be challenging for those who do not hike often. The 3yo that we were hiking with walked almost the entire hike on his own. Our friends carried their infant in a front carrier.

The kids will love the many waterfalls that are found all over Cashiers and Highlands as well. Dry Falls is a great waterfall to see because it is easily accessible for families and part of the path goes behind the waterfall. The children will also like riding in the car as you drive under Bridal Veil Falls.

Thanks to Debbie at Delicious Baby for hosting Photo Friday. Stop by to see all the great travel photos!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Grand Place - Brussels, Belgium

This is the sixth part of a series of posts in which I am sharing pictures and thoughts from my first major trip with children. You can read the first five posts here: Trier, Germany; Kelty Convertible Backpack; American Cemetery and Memorial; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Zermatt, Switzerland and the Matterhorn.

When we decided to make the trip to Europe with our 10mo in 2005, so many people thought we were nuts. They asked us how we would be able to enjoy ourselves. How were we going to go out and have a good time? And the most common question we got from our 2o something friends? What about all the great beer?

I will admit that planning this trip was much different from planning the trip we took recently (Christmas 08). Big S was still small enough that he was content with sitting in our laps or the stroller for many minutes at a time. Even though we were traveling with our little guy, we still got to enjoy so many activities geared towards the big kids! The Grand Place is the perfect example of this!

The Grand Place is the central square in Brussels, Belgium. We stayed in Brussels for one night as we were passing through on our way to London from Frankfurt. Brussels is a beautiful city. The Belgium lace, the Belgium chocolate and the Belgium beer certainly lived up to their reputations. It was absolutely surreal as we enjoyed a meal while sitting in the middle of the Grand Place. I wish that I could remember the name of this great little restaurant/bar. They had the most amazing les Carbonnade Flamandes, a beef stew made from hearty Belgium ale, and pommes frites, french fries that are fried not once but twice.

Manneken Pis

This funny little cutout was in the chocolate store where we shopped for what seemed like hours!

And the beer you may ask? We enjoyed that too! My favorites were: Framboise (a rasberry beer), Kriek (a cherry beer) and Kwak (an amber beer that is served in this very cool glass).

Enjoying that great rasberry beer!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Travel Blogger Tuesday - Keeps Me Smiling

Lorraine, from Keeps Me Smiling, is the co-owner of My Busy Kit and the blogger on Keeps Me Smiling. Lorraine knows firsthand how crazy traveling with kids can be because they have been all over the place! I enjoy reading her blog because she throws a little bit of everything into the mix. I especially love the pictures that she shares on her Photo Fridays. A few of my favorite posts:

Top Ten Reasons Why I am Still Blogging -- I agree with every single one of these. Number 5 made me laugh out loud!

Kids in Space -- My son was in heaven when he saw these pictures

Families that Travel Together

On a side note, check out her business website, My Busy Kit. Please note: I have not tried the My Busy Kits out nor did I get asked to write a review. I need to pick up two for my children! These travel kits are full of great activities to keep your child busy on the road. They are perfect for the mom who doesn't have time to sift through the toys at home and pick out the appropriate ones for travel or for the dad tired of packing all the 2 foot action figures! Lorraine and her business partner have already done that for you!

Camping? Book your campsite early!

Twice now, we have tried to book a campsite a few days in advance and they were all booked up. We were not picky either. We looked at all campsites within a 100 mile radius of us (that included three different states!) and couldn't find a single one during the weekend of Easter and the weekend after Easter that had tent campsites left. Yesterday I booked a campsite for next week and we got the last tent site available. I remember when you could just call the day or two ahead and book two or three sites without a problem. I would imagine that this trend is going to continue as families continue to cut back on travel costs. I think more families are giving camping a try. I have several friends who used to love to camp but haven't since they had children. Now that travel is something that is easiest to cut out of the budget, my friends are finding camping as a great alternative!

We have always loved camping...ok...my husband has always loved camping. I tolerated it for awhile and now I love it! We have been camping all over the place: the beach, the woods, the zoo, even our front yard when our power was out for two weeks due to a hurricane. I have even been camping at 8.5 months pregnant (my family will tell you that I was miserable to be around on that trip...an air mattress and a pregnant belly do not mix!). We haven't been camping in awhile so I think this trip will be different from other camping trips. I am used to my little ones being content to sit in my lap all day while I read a book and then going to bed as soon as it gets dark because we lock them in the packnplay. This time though, we will have two very active children with us. I will keep this in mind as I pack for the night and plan activities. Keep an eye out for the follow-up post after the camping trip!

Camping in the front yard after Hurricane Ivan

Getting ready for bed while we are camping at the Zoo

Hanging out in the tent!

Who needs toys while camping?!?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Zermatt, Switzerland and the Matterhorn: Living out #4 of my Bucket List

This is the fifth part of a series of posts in which I am sharing pictures and thoughts from my first major trip with children. In 2005, my husband and I headed to Europe with our 10mo son. We had a computer hard drive disaster and I thought that I had lost all of these photos. I was so thrilled to come across a CD with them; I wanted to share these first travel adventures with our little guy. You can read the first four posts here: Trier, Germany; Kelty Convertible Backpack; American Cemetery and Memorial; and Amsterdam, Netherlands.

When we were planning our trip to Europe, my dad (with whom we would be staying for part of the trip) asked me if there was anywhere else I really wanted to see but didn’t think we could do it. We had already packed this trip full, but I decided to mention the fact that #4 on my Bucket List was to see the Matterhorn. I have always been fascinated with the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland and I had taught a great book called Banner in the Sky to my 7th grade class. It is about a teenage boy and his rite of passage into becoming a man. He loses his father to a mountain climbing accident and then gets to climb that same mountain. The mountain and town are loosely based on the Matterhorn and Zermatt, Switzerland. Some of you may remember an old Disney movie titled Third Man on the Mountain. That movie is based on the book. This story only cemented that need to see the Matterhorn.

Imagine my excitement when we were able to add a trip to Zermatt in to our itinerary! Zermatt is this neat little town at the foot of the Matterhorn. There are no cars allowed, so you park at the bottom and take a tram up the mountain. When you arrive, there are these little cars that pick you up and take you where you want to go.

We stayed at a wonderful hotel called the Park Hotel-Beausite. This is quite possibly the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in! The rooms were spacious and beautiful. Although this was a very ritzy, expensive hotel, they welcomed my 10mo son with open arms. They had a beautiful crib put in the room. It was made of the same light wood that all of the furnishings were made of. This may seem trivial but the thing I loved about it was that it made us feel posh even though we were traveling with our little guy. The dinner included was sinful and it was where we tried some of our most exotic foods.

While in Zermatt, we took a ride in the tram up to the mountain so we could get the perfect view of the Matterhorn. We had wine in the Glacier Paradise, the ice bar carved out in a section of the glacier. We even bought a bottle of Matterhorn wine to bring home with us. They make the wine and store it the glacier! My husband got to ski the mountain in the middle of June.

Luckily, we were traveling with family because Big S was too little for the ride up the mountain. Because of the elevation, he could not go. My stepmom kept him while my dad, Daddy J and I made the trek. If you are planning a trip, be sure to check the age limits to make sure your children can go. If my stepmom had not been able to take him, the hotel did offer a babysitting service that we could have looked into using.

I am glad that we added this trip to our itinerary at the last moment. If you can't go, check out these live webcams of the mountain. It is gorgeous!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tips for Attending the Blue Angels Practice Session behind the Naval Aviation Museum - Pensacola, Florida

Pensacola, Florida is the home of the United States Navy's Blue Angels. When they are at home, the Blue Angels hold practice sessions twice a week on most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings (and a few other days depending on the week!) at 8:30am. These practice sessions are located behind the National Naval Aviation Museum on NAS Pensacola. Two weeks ago, we took the kids to a Friday practice session. It was amazing! I grew up in a military household so I am used to seeing the Blues and other aircraft, but seeing the Blue Angels so close was unreal!

It is a short walk to the flight line for the show!

A front row seat on the flightline waiting for the show to start!

After going to our first practice session, I have a few tips for those attending for the first time!

1. Call the Blue Angels' office ahead of time on the morning that you go. According to the website, the schedule is subject to change because of weather or other unforeseen events. I was glad we called before we left because they had changed the start time from 8:30 to 8am.

2. Bring earplugs. If you are sensitive to noise you will want earplugs. My husband and I were fine, but our kids were happy to have their earplugs. They sometimes have vendors selling them for 75 cents, but if you have your own make sure you bring them.

3. If you are going with children, bring chairs or a blanket to sit on. There are bleachers but they fill up pretty quickly. There was still space in the bleachers but we decided to sit on a blanket so the kids could move around. Make sure you get there early so you can get a good spot.

4. If you can pick your day, head to the practice session on a Wednesday. On Wednesdays, after the practice session, the museum holds an autograph session with the pilots. What a great opportunity for your kids! I plan on doing this at least once this summer. My son will be ecstatic! After the autograph session, let your children sit in one of the Blue Angel cockpits in the museum!

5. Bring your own water. The Pensacola humidity is tough in the summertime!

6. If you get there early enough, get a seat near one of the volunteers. The volunteers have walkie talkies that you can hear the #1 pilot communicate through. The volunteers also keep the kids informed of what is going on.

Here are other pictures from the practice session.

Check out other travel photos at Photo Friday over at Delicious Baby!