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cuba

In the midst this winter deep-freeze I’m dreaming of warmer days and of the early winter-escape that we took over the holidays back in December.

Our last big family vacation was a romp around Europe a little while back (see that post here). It involved several modes of transportation and hopping from multiple European destinations all with a one year old in tow. Since that trip we have long forgotten how it’s like to explore and travel through places lounging in coffee shops, art galleries and pubs at a child-free pace. So this time around we were on the hunt for a much more relaxed and stress-free travel option when bringing along our now exuberant two year old. We decided to try out something all together new for us.

Enter our first foray into the world of the almighty all inclusive.

We arrived in Cuba on the busiest travel day of the season to large crowds and slow line-ups through customs before embarking on a bus journey through the rolling hills of Santa Clara. If we hadn’t caught a red-eye, I would’ve been able to really take in more of the scenery of the small cuban villages and towns that our bus raced through before making our way to our hotel on the shores of Cayo Santa Maria.

Below are a few shots I managed to snap from the bus.

cuba cuba palm trees

 

Our routine in Cuba went like this: breakfast, beach until lunch (sometimes lunch at the beach), nap, ice-cream, pool, evening relaxation, dinner, toddler dance party, then sleep and repeat.

The highlight for me was definitely the beach; white sand, clear water and the sun. I couldn’t complain. That was… until I got sick. Despite already being doubly nauseous from being four months pregnant and from getting sick I still managed to enjoy each of the remaining days of this distraction from our long Canadian winter. And… yes, I did just drop that bomb.

cuba playa cayo

cuba palm tree2

cuba playa cayo santa maria

image1

Just short of the last day that we were in Cuba Omi befriended two lovely ladies that just so happened to be big times fans of Hamilton. Leila of Unikati & Co grew up in Hamilton, and as we got to chatting we shared our stories and near infinite love for the city. I can say that her enthusiasm for Hamilton may even surpass mine! Leila had been working on convincing her travelling friend Andreea of The Love Studio (with little to no resistance) that a move to Hamilton was just what she (and the city of Hamilton) needed.

On our last day in Cuba we ended up doing an impromptu family photo session with Andreea behind the lens. Being a professional photographer, her shots were infinitely better than mine (to be expected), and all the while she was shooting it barely felt like she was even taking pictures. You can see a couple of snaps of the family photo shoot on Andreea’s blog post about the trip to Cuba here. Her photos provide an amazing view and narrative of our warm winter escape.

Sigh…. winter.

petworth

From Iceland we made our way to England to a small and picturesque town about an hour south of London called Petworth.

We arrived in Petworth on a road that wound through a darkened tunnel of carefully trimmed trees and hedges. In the dusk we could see the faint outline of a wall which extended quite a ways outlining the Lord of Petworth’s land. And yes his “Lordship”, as he is referred to, does still live in Petworth, in his Lordly house (aka Petworth House). I could so picture a horse and carriage clip-clopping along on the road to Petworth passing by vagrant travelling merchants and perhaps even stumbling across a small village of hobbits.

I could stand to be corrected, but from what I’ve gathered the cottages and homes in Petworth are roughly from the 16th and 17th century. Yeah! And the town is filled with crazy old (and expensive) antiques from those two centuries.

One of the only antique stores that I ventured into, mostly because it actually looked like I could afford to buy something here.

One of my favourite places in Petworth. The Hungry Guest and its up-the-road neighbour The Hungry Guest Cafe. The Hungry Guest, like most destinations in Petworth, was less than a 5 minute walk away from our friend’s place. So it was an easy go-to-place for our daily “fancy” coffee runs. This place was so poshly fabulous. It had a walk-in chilled cheese room, where you could sample and be schooled about your cheeses before purchasing. They also had about a million spreads, jellies, jams, and chutneys to go beautifully with all their really delicious and expensive cheese (we did indulge just once).

During our stay in Petworth we also did a lot of pubbing. This was mostly because we love beer and pubs, but also because despite Petworth’s small size there was still a generous spattering of pubs to visit.

Our first pub visit was a rather adventurous trek through some rolling English hills with kids and babies and the ridiculously and unsually hot English sun. It was well worth the hike as fish and chips and hand-pumped ales of the perfect and proper English temperature were soon to be consumed.

A countryside pub in Petworth.

The Petworth leg of our European travels was by far the most relaxing. It made traveling with a baby seem like a piece of cake. Our friend’s have kids too, with one being the same age as Omi, so we basically co-parented for the mornings spent at home and then during the afternoons we’d venture out together on some beautiful day trips to the seaside, to medieval castles and of course to have a proper English cream tea.

There was an unseasonably hot heat wave that was hitting most of Europe, so on some days when it was too hot to do much of anything, we’d spend our days in Petworth enjoying our friend’s English garden a la inflatable pool.

reykjavik

This summer we ambitiously decided to take a multi-stop European vacation with a ten month old in tow.

Our main intention of this particular trip was to meet up with some dear friends of ours, who live in a small town south of London (stay tuned for that post soon). However, Steve and I have both always really wanted to visit Iceland and learned it was actually a lot easier than we thought to make this all come true. We decided to do a quick three night stopover in Reykjavik before moving onward to England.

What did not work out well was that the night of our flight that crazy torrential rain storm hit, with Pearson Airport being at its epicentre. Luckily our flight didn’t get cancelled but the six hour delay made for a challenging start to our travels and not to mention our first time traveling with a baby on the verge of toddling.

Once we finally arrived in Iceland, with bloodshot and bleary eyes, we soaked in some of the volcanic landscapes during the ride from Keflavik to Reykjavik.

Iceland is such a beautiful place!

A short walk from the main street of Reykjavik you can see black volcanic rocky mountains blanketed with a skirt of rich greenery from just across the way.

We stayed in a furnished Air BnB apartment that was perfect: close to the centre of town, great for midday breaks for Omi (to get some stroller free romping time), and it was likely cheaper than staying at a hotel or guest house.

Steve and Omi at the door of our Reykjavik apartment

On a few occasions I noticed young kids out and about on their own. I liked it and secretly wished that every child could experience this type of autonomy.

For most of our holidays (pre-departure) I usually spend a long time researching areas to check out: restaurants, cafés, galleries and shops etc. But on this trip we spent so much time preparing to travel with a baby that I did zero research about any of the places we were visiting. Luckily we stumbled across a lovely blog called I Heart Rekjavik, which gave us a few good tips for some places to eat. I don’t remember if this was a recommendation from the blog, but in any case we wanted to check out a restaurant by the old harbour called Icelandic Fish and Chips.

First off I love fish and chips and I would basically eat them from any dirty old hole in the wall. Sometimes the dirtier the better -right? Well this particular restaurant was no dive. In fact, it was extra great because it used all organic and local ingredients (right down to the salt)! It somehow made me feel less guilty eating something typically so bad.

We ordered Tusk, which is a cod-like Icelandic fish; spelt battered and fried with oven baked potato wedges plus a tzatziki skyronnaise dip (made from skyr; a uniquely Icelandic virtually fat-free milk product that’s basically like a cheese or yogourt) -yes please!

The Icelandic summer was relatively cool but the daylight lasted 24 hours. The first night in Rekyjavik, even though I hadn’t slept in over a day, I struggled to fall asleep because of the glowing light from the windows. However, few of the windows I saw around town had dark shades. In fact a lot of windows had no shades at all or just a delicate covering like this super cute window below.

Because much of the Reykjavik is on a hill it made for some layered views of roof tops and buildings when peering in between little lane ways.

The main commercial street in Rekyjavik becomes a pedestrian street during the entire summer season! During the summer the bicycle gates swing shut closing the street to pedestrians only. Amazing! Hamilton could learn a thing or two from Rekyjavik (their main street is a one lane one-way).

There were some really beautiful shops with gorgeous shoes, clothes and design goods.

We didn’t venture into too many stores but one that we did pop into was a Dutch owned store called Tiger. I just have to say this ain’t no Giant Tiger. They sell stationary, kitchen wares, toys, craft materials, electronics and even makeup at lower-ish prices. It’s kinda like dollar store meets Muji mashed up with some Ikea.

Reykjavik was so cosmopolitan in that there were so many different kinds of international food and bars that it took a little hard searching to find a place that actually served a traditional Icelandic meal. We ended up going to a place called Café Loki.

Two slices of homemade rye bread with herring and egg and three different kinds of fish. Surprisingly delicious was their sweet rye bread ice-cream. This was our last and my favourite meal in Iceland.

One thing we did a lot of while in Reykjavik was drink a lot of coffee and every where we got it from was simply amazing. On our way back from Café Loki we discovered a coffee shop I would’ve probably visited every day that we were in Reykjavik had it not been the last place we went to before getting on the airport bus back to Keflavik.

pink coffee bean roaster

cafe complete with pink coffee bean roaster

Just outside the coffee shop was something that I observed all over Reykjavik; leave your baby in their stroller outside while you run in to shop. I never heard any babies crying and there were no creepy baby snatchers lurking in the corner waiting to pounce on temporarily abandoned prams.

It was a very short stay in Iceland. The only thing I regret is not having had an extra day or two to have rented a car and driven around the countryside. Maybe next time?

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