And We're Off!

Off on an adventure!

I'm packed. Stevie's packed. Everett's packed. I really hope I'm not forgetting anything.

Today we leave for a 9-day family trip, exploring Madrid and Rome! The last time we were in Madrid, this is what happened. So needless to say, I don't remember a lot of the trip. But what I do remember... isn't great. So we are excited for a do-over! And the last time we were in Rome we toured hardcore, going underneath the Vatican and meandering through ancient Roman ruins. That trip was pretty epic, because we experienced 30 days of travel with just two backpacks and Rick Steves guiding us to and fro.

This time around, with Everett and his mammoth stroller and all the baby paraphernalia ON EARTH, we hope to take a more relaxed approach. Not necessarily touring and hitting tons of museums. Just wandering around, eating in cafes and taking in the deliciousness of the dolce vita. It feels very strange to have such a loose approach to this trip, but we figure if we set the bar pretty low, the trip will feel like a success if we just make it there without a major breakdown. And eat some gelato.

I am leaving my computer at home (gulp). I can't remember the last time I didn't travel with my laptop (it's been years), so I am excited and a little freaked about that. But I really want to detach and just experience this vacation with my family the old-fashioned way. I know I will have my hands full with my son, but I also don't want him to feel like second fiddle while mommy is blogging incessantly. So it's a big decision for me but I feel really good about it. However, my phone will be working and I will be posting to instagram like a crazy person, because, well, I'm a crazy person. So you can follow along our trip there, if you're into drooling over travel pics like I am. Also, I have a few posts ready to go, so there will be some content that I am excited to share even while I am away, so you can hang around the blog next week and there will be some fun recipes and recent travel posts to browse through :)

We are suuuuuper excited to celebrate two of our friends getting hitched in Rome, and anticipating what it will be like to travel abroad with our little baby... who is just shy of 10 months! Stevie's birthday is this weekend, too, so there is more than enough to clink our celebratory wine (or sangria!) glasses to!

For those of you who have been to Rome and Madrid before, do you have any suggestions on places or things to do/see/eat? Leave me a comment and let me know! And also - prayers for the 9+ hour flight with a baby pleeeeeease!

Love love love.

11 Tips for Planning A Euro Trip

Tips for Planning A Euro Trip.

This past June my husband and I went on a 4-week trek across 5 countries and 20 cities. We had an ABSOLUTE BLAST and learned a ton along the way. Many of you have asked questions about how we planned, what we learned and if there are any tips I would offer in planning and trekking across the old country. Since we didn't die, get robbed or even become separated for the 30 days of our trip (which is another story entirely), I would consider our experience a safety success. Below is a compilation of tips that I would offer to you if you're planning a Euro trip. Learn from our mistakes!

1. Find Your Book.

We used Rick Steves for EVERYTHING. He is this awesome Euro-tripper who has traveled to Europe every summer for 30 years and written books about experiencing Europe on the cheap. His books reference everything, from how to pack to where to buy train tickets and must-see itineraries for each city. I used Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door 2015: The Travel Skills HandbookRick Steves Best of Europe and the Rick Steves' French, Italian & German Phrase Book. These were holy texts to us.

2. Research. Meaning Pinterest. Blogs. Webpages.

I read a lot of blogs. I kept a Pinterest board with tons of packing/planning tips that I continued to reference during the months leading up to our trip. Feel free to browse my board for a list of helpful sites.

3. Create Your Tool Box. With Electronics.

If you don't have an iPhone already, you should have one. Because it makes travel so convenient. You can Facetime with your family back home FOR FREE when you are connected to wifi. I have not found Skype to work as seamlessly as Facetime. This small feature alone makes the iPhone so incredibly boss to Android. Sorry, Dad. I've drank the Apple-flavored Koolaid. But in all seriousness, on Father's Day we Facetimed my dad from a sidewalk cafe in Rome. While drinking wine and eating bruschetta. THIS REALLY HAPPENED. I am like a walking ad for an iPhone. Please go and buy one now. And call me from a sidewalk cafe in Rome. K.

Other Necessary Electronics:

Also super important to have? Other than the righteous iPhone?

Canon Rebel XTi DSLR Camera

- This was literally the most important thing on our trip. Literally.

- A Universal Plug Adapter

- An Acer Aspire Mini Laptop

iPhone Chargers (one of ours broke due to the changes in voltage, so pack extra!)

- An extra camera charger, like this Canon Battery Charger (for the same reason)

- Perhaps an extra camera lens if you like to get funky with the photos

- A Thumb Drive

- A Petzl Headlamp (Stevie proudly used this all the time)

4. Contact Your Cell Service.

Call your cell phone company and work out your calling/data plan. It might be worth tagging on an extra data or international calling package for the time you will be away, in case you want to use your phone for Googlemaps (which proved to be extremely helpful) or if you need to call home in case of emergency. Otherwise, it will cost you an arm and a leg when you do need to use your phone for these things. Anticipate your need to use the data on your phone. You will use it! So pay the extra $25 to add that coverage to your phone for a month or so. Otherwise you will pay $500 for the same thing when you're roaming. Yikes.

5. Plan Your Banking & Budgets.

On the same note, call your credit card company and tell them your trip itinerary. That way you won't have an issue in case your card is stolen and being used in a country longer than you're supposed to be there. Plus, they will shut off your card if they start to see the activity in a ton of other countries. Your credit card company is your friend. That is, if you have Amex. They are just so darn nice when you call.

Also, always over-budget. For everything. Some of these cities, like VeniceParis and London are so stinkin' expensive. And you want to be able to enjoy what the city has to offer and not be stressed about finances! So plan and save. Expect that you will spend more than you think. Florence has an incredible leather market, London has decadent tea, Munich has beer mugs that look like they are straight out of The Hobbit and you just might want to splurge a little to bring some of that fun home with you. So plan your budget accordingly.

6. Plan Your Packing.

Oh, there is much to be said about packing. Here are just a few fun tips:

// Elliot and Lena. They have a shared passion for vests. //

*Pack a vest.

Major props to Lena Hunt for loaning me her ridiculously cool Gap vest that can be folded down to pocket size (so convenient for travel!) I honestly didn't think I would use this much since we were traveling Europe in June and it's supposed to be HOT. But I wore that vest in every country. The trains, planes and buses can be seriously cold. I am not a fashionista (that accolade goes to my two sisters), but this is such a great layering item.

// The Vest made its way around Europe. Clearly. I'm wearing it in far too many pictures. //

*Material and Color.

Choose your coloring and clothing material carefully. Pack items made from simple materials, like cotton. They dry quickly when doing laundry and they hold up surprisingly well. Make sure to bring clothing in similar colors. I chose to bring black sandals, so all my clothing matched with black. I'll bet you didn't see me wearing any brown in any of my pictures! Other than the semi-brown slash golden vest. Obviously.

*Pack Tennis Shoes.

Yes, it's Europe, and yes, you want to look like a fashion model while you're touring the Old Country. But listen to me. You will wear your tennis shoes A LOT. So pick comfy ones. And relatively light-weight, easy-to-pack shoes that match everything. It's not as difficult as it sounds, I promise! We opted for Merrells. Mine were the Merrell Women's Barefoot Pace Glove and his were Merrell Men's Mix Master. We were excessively pleased with these purchases, as they made our touring so smooth and comfy.

*Use Packing Cubes.

These might be the most clutch item we have used on our trip. Stevie and I each purchased eBags Packing Cubes set of packing cubes to organize our clothing within our backpacks. We were able to fit more in the space and everything stays organized. I was a bit hesitant about making this purchase but I don't think I will ever pack a bag without them again. They are so, so convenient. Do not underestimate their power, ladies. You can pack a LOT more clothes in the same amount of space.

7. Mmm Matters of Hygiene.

It's really hard to keep everything perfectly clean when traipsing through multiple countries with one sweaty backpack. Doing laundry often really helps equalize the strange smells. Pack more laundry detergent than you think you will need. Because honestly, it's semi-impossible to buy the Tide Travel Packets once you're abroad. I have no idea why no stores carry it, so make sure to stock up while you're still in the U.S. Seriously.

8. Extras That You NEED.

*Plastic Bags.

Specifically, Ziploc Bags. Pack lots of them. In multiple sizes. We have used them for so many random things. Packing snacks for day trips. Containing sunscreen. Waterproofing tiny gifts. Using them to quarantine dirty socks. The opportunities for this little invention to shine are endless on a backpacking trip.

*Lip Balm.

I am obsessed with eos Organic Lip Balm. My favorite flavors are Honeydew Melon and Passionfruit. We used this all the time, on dry trains and planes, and it was a little taste of home. Best lip balm ever.

*Leatherman Tool.

Whether you need to open a bottle, cut a string or unscrew a tiny opening for batteries, Leatherman Tool was my husband's favorite accessory on this trip. He wore it on his belt like some kind of urban cowboy. I had to stop complaining about how dorky he looked because we used it so often for so many random things.

9. Download Your Tours Ahead of Time. And Use

Rick StevesI know I've said it once but I'll say it again: the man is a genius. Read his books, download his audio guides (saves you so much $$$!) and take his self-guided walks. He's so bril. I hoped I would magically bump into him while we were on our trip so that I could casually whip out my 3 travel books I carried with me at all times, but alas, I did not.

The tours that museums offer are always expensive and often sort of a snooze. Rick is hilarious. Maybe it's just an American thing. But I got a big kick out of him. Make sure you download your audio tours while you still have wifi at the hotel, then just click on them once you get inside the entrance. You won't be disappointed.

// Left: What happens when you purchase the museum tour. Right: What happens when Rick is cracking jokes in your ear.  PS I so wish that were him photobombing on the right. Sigh. //

10. Wear a Moneybelt. 

They are so dorky. But just use it. Ours looked something like this Money Belt. We never got robbed and I think that's because Stevie was reaching down into his pants to get our money for anything. People just don't want to get that close to you. So the moneybelt, yeah, it works.

11. Zzzz.

Get lots of sleep! We got sick because we weren't sleeping enough. It's really hard to resist staying out late because everything is so wildly fun late at night... and it's hard not to get up early because breakfast is just so decadent. So you see the problem. Staying out late and getting up early AND pounding through the sights for 30 days in a row...? Yeah, your immune system will cry into it's pillow at night. So don't make it cry. Create a sustainable sleep schedule and make sure you're getting at least 8 hours per night. Sleep will give you endurance for the emotional and physical exhaustion that will occur.

These were some of the most important lessons we learned during our trip. If you have any specific questions while you're planning your trip, feel free to drop me a line!

Our Final Euro Trip Destination: Lovely London.

A Foggy Day In London Town. Not.

(Cue this jam. Now read.) 

London, you are one snazzy town. I think London is just about the perfect city. The people are polished, the children are polite, everyone has the GREATEST accent, and there is teatime and royalty and the Union Jack. What else could you ask for? London's allure hinges on a pristinely manicured edge, balancing it's wizened history with the city's fresh, innovative air of confidence. Steeped in rich fairy tales of knights in shining armor and queens in crowns, this town hosts an entire dream life for a little girl. Or 25-year old girl... Or a 29 year-old man, because Stevie fell in love with this place as much as I did. Let me tell you why.

// A bit squinty in all that London sunshine. We'll take it. //

I'll Have the Royal Wedding Blend, Thank You, Jeeves.

The waiters are all walking around in coat tails. Oh my word, the fanciness of it all. Our dear friend Nabihah, with whom we stayed near London Bridge, wanted to give us a proper introduction to London. She actually used that term, in her perfectly classy British accent,

"Kristen, you need tea. In order to get a proper introduction to London, you need to take High Tea at Fortnum & Mason."

Well twist my arm. Tea time is one of my all-time favorite things on the planet, and it just so happens that Fortnum & Mason is the fancy of all teatime fancy. Fortnum & Mason is the queen's royal tea and food supplier. Thaaaaat's right. Me and Queen Elizabeth. We drink the same tea, so you could say we're thick as thieves these days. I ordered The Wedding Blend, which was created especially for Will and Kate's royal wedding. Tea time was so elaborate, with the crisp, lady-like linens set off by Tiffany-blue tea cups and saucers and petite sandwiches and lacy petit fors and clotted cream (which is heavenly). Oh. I could go on and on. We were sorely under-dressed in our unwashed hippie clothing, but Nabihah was too polite and un-judgemental to notice. She is one classy broad. I'd like to take etiquette lessons from her. I wanted to take pictures in the tea room but it was so formal that it felt wrong to whip out my camera. You know what I mean? Let's move on. Though I really don't want to. The memory of high tea really lives on.

We Did the Stuff. We're Not Slackers.

Post-tea time, we were off for the day. I kept expecting to see a very pregnant Kate Middleton traipsing around (this was pre-George), but alas, she was being good and staying home. Resting her bones. So we didn't catch any royal glimpses, but we were always hopeful. We walked through Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, scouted for some cheap theater tickets (didn't find any) and then visited the Tower of London. This is the site of some serious historic action. Anne Bolyn and her infamous beheading (amongst many others), the Beefeater Tour, the White Tower, and the insane CROWN JEWELS. Holy cow. I've gotta get me some of those. I like to imagine that sometimes, her Royal Majesty wakes up, looks at the window, snaps her fingers and says, "Jeeves, I'd like to wear my jewels today. Just because I CAN. Fetch them for me, won't you my pet?" I mean, that's what I would want to do. Walk around that gigantic palace in my bathrobe and jewels. Maybe a cocktail in hand. I hope she does that, even if it's only once every few years.

More! And More!

We lunched on the Thames, caught an organ recital at Westminster Abbey, marveled at the footsteps of Parliament and Big Ben, wandered hand-in-hand through St. James Park (and Hyde Park, AND Princess Diana's delightful Kensington Garden), tried to stalk the queen at Buckingham Palace (she wasn't home, but her guards were pretty entertaining), enjoyed the epic British Museum (the epitome of an encyclopedia come to life) and the London Natural History Museum (British dinosaurs!), took a twirl on the London Eye, and tried to find Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. We were unsuccessful at that last one, but we decided that's where we want to live. When we move to London. In my dreams. I shall have a red front door. And maybe children who call me "Mummy." Oh gosh that is so friggin' delightful.

// Parliament. Union Jack flies high. //

// Who lied. These phones booths aren't quaint. They smell the equivalent to a urinal. //

Icing on the Cake.

One of the most spectacular parts of our London trip was seeing A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Shakespeare's Globe Theater. We bought 5-euro standing-room-only tickets and pushed our way as close to the stage as possible. Oh, we were close. I was absolutely enthralled. Thrilled. My age-old love for theater was ignited once again. These actors were FUNNY. And my God, they were so so talented. They brought Shakespeare to life in such a real way; you just know that guy was a piece of work. I was floored and all the more excited about getting back home and getting my audition material polished.

// Nighttime skyline. //

The End.

London made me feel strangely at home. You might say it was because everyone spoke English, but I really don't think that was why. I think London is a land of opportunity, of optimism and incredible poise. The dozens of busy cranes on the city's horizon only emphasize that I am not the only one who thinks so. The growth is spectacular and I love, love LOVED being a part of this bustling community for a mere moment.

The VERY End.

Well, this is it. I am sad for this epic trip's end, but thankful for the opportunity to have explored God's grand Earth. What a journey. What an education. My head is swimming with comparisons of Greek and Roman art, Michelangelo's brilliance to Da Vinci's nuance, Munich's foamy beer to Tuscany's articulate wine, Bavarian castles to French Gothic architecture, Pompeii's tragic tale to Britain's frilly monarchy, Amalfi's lemon orchards to Berlin's trailing Wall, the intoxicating Italian espresso, the spicy Spanish sausage, the sweet Parisian crepes, the decadent cheese, the - are you out of breath reading this yet? I am overwhelmed by just typing it. This trip is going to take a bit of time to process.

There's a Lufthansa flight back to New York and I. Am. On it.

Paris. Ooh la la.

We Will Always Have Paris.

This elegant town has completely swept me off my feet. Surprised me with her rosy charms. Beckoned me with her delicious cwah-sohnBordeaux and macaroons. Teased me with her tales of fallen kingdoms and juicy jewels. She won me over almost instantly. It must be all that stained glass. I can't believe how good it felt to fall in love with dainty Paris. You always hear that this town is so ooh-la-la andfrou-frou and chic, but ugh, I am generally skeptical of such places. I figured Paris would be dirty, cheesy and touristy, riding on the hype of a romantic apparition from looong ago. You could say my expectation barometer was set sort of low.

I wasn't just wrong. I need to be slapped.

Because Paris. Is. Exceptional.

// Notre Dame. Minus Quasimodo. //

// Notre Dame. And Joan of Arc. //

Bonjour, Cherie.

This place still feels like a village. Strolling through the picturesque district of Montmarte (where we stayed for 3 nights), there are countless shops and cafes spilling out onto the sidewalk in bustling brilliance. These fine establishments create a makeshift office for a whole host of artists and writers, supplying them with a place to work at the mere price of a caffeinated (and sometimes spiked) beverage. You can tell these creative nomads by the beret, the poised pen, the faraway pondering expression and the third miniature cup and saucer of espresso with it's equally precious little spoon. Chanel-red lipstick, cigarette smoke and unshaven beards, these are the tell-tale signs of culture created long ago. Nameless cafes boast their role as the creative breeding ground for the likes of PicassoHemingwayVan GoghMonetDali... the list goes on and on. The crispy wonder is magnetic in this chilly village air. You can feel it, almost breathing. There are still stories to be told, beauty to be eloquently captured, light to be sparked. Paris is inviting, welcoming you into its odd family of bohemian 1920's-era addicts. There is no application, no entry fee, no need to apply. Just arrive. There is truly enough inspiration (and espresso) for us all.

// The Seine. Cue this jam. Because I had it stuck in my head during the entire Paris trip. Ridiculous, I know. //

// The works of Leonardo da Vinci. I have no idea why I was allowed to photograph these masterpieces, but I was. Thank you, dear Louvre. //

// The insane crowd surrounding a serene, sarcastic Mona Lisa. //

// Cheese and wine at noon at the Moulin de la Galette. Yes. //

Our Meandering Route.

Over the course of three days we wandered along the Seine, exploring Notre Dame, the Sainte-Chapelle, and la Conciergerie (where the guillotine had it's way.) One quick, craaaazy story about the Notre Dame: Back when Rome was in power and Christians were being persecutedSaint Denis was beheaded as a warning to others who were forsaking the Roman gods. Immediately following his beheading, Saint Denis picked up his head (say WHAT?), tucked it under his arm and headed north, preaching the gospel along the way, pausing only to wash his head off in a fountain, and continuing until he found a place where he finally laid himself to rest. Seriously. That's how the story goes. The Parisians were so impressed by this miracle that Christianity continued to gain ground (despite being under Rome's annoying thumb) and eventually the pagan temple was replaced by the church, Notre Dame. I am not kidding. You can see St. Denis in this lineup of Saint statues on the entryway to the church.

// I bet you can guess which one is Denis. //

// We got locked to the bridge! //

// Locking my love to the Pont de l'Archevêché. Just like the Kardashians. //

// Two keys. We both threw one in. A crowd of school children standing nearby cheered us on. Seriously.//

Oh so Bon.

We delighted in crepes in the Latin Quarter, nibbled on wine and cheese in St. Germain and noshed on macaroons along the Champs-Elysees. Stevie liked to say, “We chomp on the Champs.” Actually he rapped it. Sort of loudly. We gave Paris a true impression of 'Mericanism. We visited the Deportation Memorial, the Place Dauphine, and locked our love to the Pont de l'Archevêché. We toured the Louvre, strolled through the Tuileries Gardens, marveled at Napoleon's Arc de Triomphe and enjoyed a final French meal with 15 of Stevie's newly-graduated classmates who all just happened to be in Paris at the same time. Of course.

// Pont Alexandre III. This bridge is as gold as it gets. //

// From Left to Right: The Louvre // Something awesomely french // Eiffel Tower// Notre Dame exterior // Venus de Milo// Our view from Montmarte// An extremely french door // Arc de Triomphe// Notre Dame interior //

// Lots of love in front of Notre Dame//

Encore.

Am I missing something? Yes, the Eiffel Tower. We left our dinner party in a mad rush, begging our taxi driver to get us to the Trocadero district before midnight so that we could see the Tower sparkle before the lights went out. And we made it! And then made out.

Because that's what you do in Paris at the Eiffel Tower at midnight.

Yes, we are completely cheesy in Paris. Okay this town has totally gotten to me.

// The Eiffel Tower along the Seine. This is as Parisian as it gets. //

Meet Me At Midnight from Kristen Hale on Vimeo.

Can you sense our enthusiasm? Paris, I'm coming back for you. And your 5-story Louis Vuitton flagship store. In this case, parting is incredibly sweet sorrow.

Au revoir!

Madrid and Salamanca: Hot, Happy Anniversary.

So Happy.

Our anniversary was so hot, we never left the hotel room.

Allow me to elaborate. My husband and I celebrated our 6-year wedding anniversary on June 23rd. It  was so hot because we were both running fevers, and we never left the hotel room because we both contracted a flu bug.

Awesome. No, really, this is awesome. This is why I paid thousands of dollars to visit this amazing country and experience my Spanish heritage in action. NOT.

Commemorate in Epic Proportions.

Seriously. So steamy hot. We were guzzling way-out-of-the-budget Spanish bottled water like it was a lifeline. Yet somehow it mazed it's way down our chins and emptied into a sweaty pool on the flimsy hotel mattress. Sick. We groaned. Occasionally we changed it up and we moaned. Our muscles throbbed with the flu. Every time I looked over at Stevie, his lifeless body draped across the sweaty bed covers, his glazed sick eyes met mine in harmonious misery. We know how to party.

Eurosick.

How did this happen? Well, I'd like to blame it on the hellish 9-hour night train we took from Barcelona to Madrid (where Stevie spent most of this joyful ride resurrecting his dinner), but I don't really know if that's a fair reason. We had been traveling for three weeks straight, spending most of our time in public places. We were bound to come in contact with grimy germs at some point. And to add insult to injury, we'd been touring continuously for about 15 hours per day on very little sleep, so I guess our immune systems weren't exactly been thrilled with us. We just weren't prepared for this madness to happen. Who gets the flu in June? And what kind of couple gets it at the exact same time?! ON THEIR ANNIVERSARY??? Disgusting. I'm disgusted with everything.

For those of you who have been following our Euro trip, you might have been thinking it's been all sunshine and rainbows. To be honest, I had been thinking that, too. It's been a dream. Well, the trip has come to a crashing halt and I cannot kick myself enough for not packing more meds. And hand sanitizer. WE NEED NYQUIL!!! Stupid Spanish farmacias. I can't understand any of the labels.

This is Spain. We're supposed to be out touring. Painting things red. Sampling tapas in the Plaza Mayor and inspecting Velazquez's famous works like the Las Meninas at the Prado. Instead, we took turns rubbing each other's backs and praying for the torture to end, begging for this to only be a 24-hour bug.

So like I said, it was hot. One hot day followed by one incredibly hot night. And then another bonus hot day. How lucky. In the famed words of Miss Peggy Lee, “he gives me fever.” Great. Marvelous. Thanks for the reminder of all the wonders men can give us, Peg.

I guess I'll have to explore Madrid another year. I'm sure my Aunt Shirley will be thrilled to hear how marvelously we spent our time in one of her favorites cities.

Here's to chugging OJ in a Madrid hotel room for two days straight. And seeing nothing but its airport and train station. Not gonna lie, I am happy to say Hasta Luego, Espana.