Full balls out confession: I am obsessed with Western European architecture. Doors, ornate decor, tiles, gargoyles, columns, all of it. No joke, I like old buildings, they’re a novelty to me as Toronto is full of new building construction. I like to marvel at the compositions. I love to picture who graced those doorsteps over the past couple hundred years. What stories can that door tell? Were there good byes? Warm embraces? Happy reunions? Wedding proposals? First childhood steps? The doors of Lisbon, Barcelona and Paris have so many stories to tell.
I also think I am meant to live in Europe and tell those stories, but I digress…
From our first day in Portugal, much to the chagrin of my children who were eager to run in the playground down the street from our guesthouse, I was admiring the doors of Lisbon. Luckily for me, they’re everywhere and you don’t need to go out of your way to find interesting ones. And even better news, I had almost three weeks ahead of me on our trip to find as many amazing doors as I could.
Here are some of my favourite doors in Lisbon, Barcelona and Paris that I made the kids pose in front of. Oh and a warning – my children are in every picture. There is no picture of a door without my kids in it. Please do not email me and ask me for that picture of the door without my kids in the shot.
DOORS OF LISBON
If you take a trip to Lisbon, I can guarantee that you will end up with a ton of pictures of doors on your phone. Why? Lisbon exudes colour, in every weather condition and I have the proof. Portuguese doors come in all colours and sizes. The doors are big or little. They’re purple, brown, green, red or blue. Some are made of wood and some are made of intricate iron work. I don’t think I ever saw the same doorknob twice.
Lisbon is a city on the sea and and is loaded with history. The city of Lisbon lies in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and the River Tagus and was once seen as a gateway to the “western world”. These doors are invitations into the lives of the people of Lisbon throughout the years.
I also get a kick out of they’re never quite flush the way we do them in North America, these ones always have a slight angle to compensate for the slope of the road. As romanticized of a notion that I have of Lisbon, it’s likely a fact that the majority of the doors in the city centre I saw have been in place only after 1755. In 1755, there was a tsunami, earthquake and fire that ravaged the city, over 75,000 people died and some ruins still exist today.
DOORS OF BARCELONA
During the majority of our three days in Barcelona, rain poured from the sky. It was the wettest couple days of the entire trip. Because of that, we didn’t get out and do as much exploring on foot in the city as I would have liked. Kid you not, my children and I ate dinner at restaurants within 300 feet of our hotel on La Rambla. All three nights. That’s how rainy it was. Except our last day, of course.
Our foot traffic was mainly contained in the charming Gothic Quarter, or Barri Gòtic. And the door pictures here are confined to this area. This is the centre of the old city of Barcelona. It is said that the remains of the city’s Roman wall and several medieval landmarks are here. It is bordered from La Rambla to Via Laietana (east to west), and from the Mediterranean seafront/port area in the south to the Ronda de Sant Pere, north.
Most of the quarter is closed to regular vehicle traffic although open to service vehicles and taxis. Many scooters were in the alleys, making our trek almost like a game of Frogger if you are not paying attention. The narrow streets are filled with trendy bars that open after dark and enough food vendors to keep you well fed. You will also find street musicians, kitchy shops and doors to apartment complexes.
This is a city I want to return too without my children. Don’t get me wrong, I love them to pieces, but there is a vibe to Barcelona that screams for me to have some adult fun and passion there. You know what I mean?
THE ONE DOOR IN MARSEILLE
Even though our trip extended through Marseille, Cannes and Milan, the kids were in a revolt mode against posing in doors. I had subjected them to too much already at this point. Travel with kids is fun, right? It’s the best education for them, right?
This one, lonely door in this feed in Marseille is on Rue Vacon in the Vieux Port area. This isn’t the door that I like the most and this may not be the door that can tell the best stories. This was the door my kids agreed to pose in front of. Only because they had just finished chocolate chip muffins at Emilie And The Cool Kids across the way. Cheeky children.
I honestly did not take any pictures of doors without my kids in the frame.
By the time we arrived in Paris, the kids were good sports again and posed in a million and one different doorways for me. That’s an exaggeration. I didn’t get that many doors, but I got a few here.
Paris is magic. There is something in the air that moves you emotionally to love it. It’s like they’re spraying magic love potion everywhere. The tiny streets are brimming with stalls selling fruits and vegetables, cured and cooked meats, cheeses, bread, chocolates and pastries. Case in point, our hotel, Cler Hotel had a fruit market immediately to the left of the door. It was such a highlight for us!
My curiosity about social factors started to come into play here. Why were some doors really high in height? One answer I received was some of the door ways had to be high enough for a horse and rider to come through. It was explained to me that sometimes you are not entering directly into a home, but into receiving area like a courtyard and the rider could safely store the horse there opposed to the street.
Another answer I received about the height of the doors is that the higher your door, the wealthier you were. It was a show of affluence.
Long before door bells, many residences in Paris used large iron, bronze and brass door knockers. While I wasn’t able to find many still in use, I saw plenty of buzzers for different apartments. It was a challenge to make sure my kids did not press them all.
COULD I MAKE A TRIP OUT OF ONLY ADMIRING DOORS?
Yes, try me. I would continue my obsession with the cherubs and serpents that adorn some door knockers. I’m dying to know what some door frames have faces in the middle at the top.
I want to know why all the doors in Lisbon lack windows. Why are so many doors in Paris glass?
So yes, I can make a trip back just to satisfy some of these questions.
I’ll be giving away 2 passes to one lucky person to “The Brick Bar: Toronto” happening July 5-7 at Rosehill Venue & Lounge, 6 Rosehill Avenue, Toronto, ON M4T1G5.
Time and exact date TO BE AGREED UPON between the lucky winner and myself. I will give you three options to choose from. Times will be between 4:00pm and 8:00pm entry.
JUNE 13, 2019 NOTE – GIVEAWAY CLOSED BUT TICKET DISCOUNT IS STILL ACTIVE!
After amazing events overseas, weeks of planning and building, the Brick Bar is coming to Toronto for you to come and play with. And it looks like one hell of a playground!
This Pop-Up, is the first of its kind and will consist of over 1 million blocks, transported and assembled into the ultimate nostalgia trip, hello life size LEGO!!! The bar will feature sculptures made completely from building blocks as well as an abundance of blocks for people to shape into their own creations. There will also be local DJ’s spinning tunes all day.
This unique bar will be sold on a first come first serve basis with tickets limited and will only run for three nights so get them while you can, this event might sell out. The Brick Bar will have an Instagram worthy menu as well including a Brick Burger and Cocktails!
Please note: Under 18’s must be accompanied by an adult and should attend prior to 6pm.
Talented or inclined to be an amazing builder? There will also be lots of prizes to be won for the best builders!
Ticket prices include entry for 90 minutes in the bar, lots of prizes to be won, ping pong on a table made from 22,500 bricks, and most really, we know you are going there for the amazing instagram photos you’re going to flood your feed with…
The event will only be in TORONTO for THREE NIGHTS WITH TICKETS NOW ON SALE! If you do not win the giveaway or do not want to enter, here is a 15% discount for you:
This contest is not administered by Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or any other social media platform. There are no refunds or exchanges, no exceptions. OPEN TO CANADIAN RESIDENTS AVAILABLE TO BE IN TORONTO ON JULY 5-7.
Little Man, Miss M and I recently returned from the trip of their lifetime. I say “their” lifetime because my trip of a lifetime happened over a decade ago and was to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Theirs? We went after the best of Western Europe. Lisbon. Barcelona. Marseille. Cannes. Milan. Paris. Planes, trains and buses all over that part of Europe. The kids are still young, so I know that their travels aren’t over yet, but I’d have to say that this trip was so far one of their most impactful.
This post contains affiliate links for Booking.com and Amazon that provide me with a tiny commission if you choose to make any bookings or purchases.
I had made the parenting error of telling my daughter that for her tenth birthday, I would take her anywhere she wanted to go. Expecting the answer of Harry Potter World in Universal Studios or Newfoundland to visit family, I was confident in my words and let her think about a response.
It was to just be a mother/daughter trip to mark Miss M’s celebratory 10th birthday. Ten years that amazing little human has circled around the sun. Ten years since my life changed forever and for the better. As we got closer to the trip date, I realized I couldn’t leave Little Man behind for almost three weeks with his Dad. Not that his dad wouldn’t love him and keep him fed and alive! The bond between brother and sister is strong and neither of them could have survived that long without the other. So I changed all our plans and reservations to bring him along. Brave Mom?
THE POSTCARD THAT INSPIRED OUR
BEST OF WESTERN EUROPE VACATION
It all started with this postcard of Cannes in the French Riviera. One day it came home with my son from his Montessori daycare when he was maybe just 3 years old. It got forgotten in the backseat of the car. From there, it fell under the passenger seat, it got shoved into storage compartments, but continually kept resurfacing in my daughter’s hands. Cannes.
When Miss M announced that Cannes was to be her desired destination for her tenth birthday, I laughed and asked if she was serious. Yes, she most certainly was. I asked if she knew where France was and if she realized that this wasn’t just a weekend road trip. She did. It proved above all that she was definitely my daughter, that was a move I would have made with my parents.
My parents never would have obliged me though. Not because they didn’t want too, I can promise you that my Mom definitely would have if she could have. It wasn’t in their capabilities back then between their work and financial commitments. Me? Well, I thrive in the gig economy and have the ability to take 3 weeks off here and there. In fact, I can take a laptop and work anywhere I want. What a difference 30 years in the world of technology makes!
I COULD NOT GO BACK ON MY WORD
I made the decision that I would take my daughter to Cannes to appease her. What kind of a parent would I be if I went back on my words? She caught me in my literally phrase – “anywhere she wanted to go”. For the record, I did offer up less extravagant and more local options, but she wasn’t having any of it. It took nine months of saving the money and planning the trip. I changed dates numerous times based on work planning and projections, then settled on April. April is traditionally a lull in my work schedule and as it turned out, a much more economical time to go over the summer when Miss M’s actual birthday is.
BUILDING OUT OUR WESTERN EUROPE ITINERARY
Cannes was the ultimate destination of course, but I couldn’t just travel to France and only see Cannes. Not to be selfish or anything, but if I’m traveling over to France, I’m going to see and experience a few things along the way, not just visit one town for a couple days. My daughter and I sat down and decided we would start in the western part of Europe and work our way there. We put together an itinerary that saw us flying to Lisbon in Portugal, getting used to the time change there and acclimatizing to Western Europe before moving on. Little did I realize at that planning stage what an incredible family friendly destination Lisbon is and how much my kids would love the food and roaming the streets with no agenda in mind. And I fell head over heels in love with European architecture, especially doors.
We took three full days to create our own itinerary of what we felt like doing. We arrived on Thursday, jet-lagged from our red eye flight across the ocean and bone tired. I almost caved and let the kids eat McDonalds. Almost.
On Friday, we walked from our guesthouse to the marionette museum and then to Sao Jorge Castle and took in the surrounding area. Saturday, we toured the Belem District and ate the pastel de nata. We had to see what the hype was all about!
Sunday, we traveled to Sintra, Pena Palace, Cabo da Roca (the most western tip on continental Europe) and Cascais. On Monday before our flight to Barcelona, we walked the local neighbourhood and looked for interested things we had missed before. We purposely ate at any restaurant that did not have English words or phrases in the window. Because of that, we had the best meals and it’s Little Man’s favourite place that he still talks about.
Where did we stay in Lisbon?
We stayed at City Lofts Lisbon Guesthouse. It’s located in the Barrio Alto neighbourhood and walkable to pretty much everything except the Belem District. We took the Aerobus from the airport when we arrived in Lisbon down to the Metro Cais do Sodre. Then the kids and I walked to our accommodations from there and then back when it was time to leave. We arrived about noon, which is before check in. The amazing staff held our bags for us and sent us to the best restaurant that the kids demanded we revisit and order the same thing.
We had a triple room at City Lofts Lisbon Guesthouse with what I believe to be the only private bathroom in the premises. The kids and I really enjoyed the spacious room. It was perfect for us, as there was a doorway separating the bedrooms (one had two single beds, one had just one single bed), I was able to have some free time when they went to sleep at night. Continental breakfast was served in a central area and was pretty basic but served our needs quite well. I had my morning coffee so I was happy.
My discovery during the course of our trip? Lisbon was by far the best value for our dollar. I’m afraid if the businesses in Portugal find out, it won’t be a secret anymore.
FROM PORTUGAL TO SPAIN
We choose Barcelona as our second destination. We realized how easy it would be to travel there by air from Lisbon and then how easily we could take the train from there into France. My rationale for choosing Barcelona was also because of the food and architecture scene that I had read so much about. I was not going to be disappointed. The food – divine! The gothic quarter? Wow!
When we arrived in Barcelona, it was already evening. We located the Aerobus, took it to Plaça de Catalunya – which is the central area where all buses stop in Barcelona. Our hotel was a whole kilometre south on La Rambla so we walked straight there. It was dark outside, and we wanted dinner. We checked in, dropped our bags and then went on the hunt for food. I choose a restaurant just down the street from out hotel that was famous for it’s tapas. I enjoyed the meal immensely. The kids? Not so much. I had to switch gears for the next few meals.
We had read in advance of this trip that La Rambla was pick pocket central and to guard ourselves accordingly. I developed many tips and tricks with the kids to safe guard our cash and documents while traveling. I consider ourselves very lucky that we made it through the whole trip without losing anything.
Here, the kids and I decided to purchase a two day open bus tour so we could hop on and off wherever we wanted. Barcelona seemed really big to us compared to Lisbon and we weren’t sure we could walk it and explore as much on foot. Sadly we got derailed by rain everyday except our last day when we were departing for France, but we still tried to make the best of it! During the rain we did not hop off the bus much so our destinations ended up being a couple places near to the bus stops.
We did devote a whole afternoon to the Barcelona zoo (my kid’s pick, definitely not mine). I got a whole morning at Palau Güell, which was a 5 minute walk from our hotel and we spent more time and money than I care to mention in the Lindt Chocolate store. Aside from that, we only saw the outside of Sagrada Família, Camp Nou (the home stadium of FC Barcelona) and Casa Mila.
Where did we stay in Barcelona?
We stayed at Cuatro Naciones. Once upon a time, it was clearly a very luxurious, turn of the century hotel. Miss M and Little Man loved racing each other up the stairs I don’t want to say anything bad about it, because for the price point, it’s a good value. And I have always firmly believed that you get what you pay for.
As I mentioned before, it was right on La Rambla, which is the main street for restaurants, shopping and the gateway to all things touristy in Barcelona. The location can not be beat and the staff are very friendly, helpful and accommodating.
We had a triple room at Cuatro Naciones with a private bathroom. The room was spacious, but dated. Our balcony overlooked La Rambla and it wasn’t noisy at all. Continental breakfast was served in a central area and was again, fairly basic, but it was all we needed. There was a lounge area in the hotel that had a computer with a printer for guest use, which is great for printing out homework that got sent over from one of the kid’s teachers and train tickets.
OUR BEST OF WESTERN EUROPE TOUR
CONTINUES INTO FRANCE
We left Barcelona on the train after three nights and headed into France. Clearly not enough time to stay in Spain, we barely got a taste, but we Cannes was calling. Our next stop was Marseille. I had chosen Marseille almost solely on the reason of where it was located. South of France. That and a train stop. I figured the kids would be tired after a week of traveling and would be looking for a place to relax for a couple days before we picked up the pace again in Cannes. Initial internet searches were not bringing up a whole lot of things to do there with kids, so I thought it would be a quiet, scenic place in the south of France to recharge after running through the action packed areas of Lisbon and Barcelona. We would watch some boats go by.
I made no plans for these couple days. I was wrong! What I found instead was an incredibly family friendly destination with more for kids to do and explore than I had allowed time for.
Where is there to see and do in Marseille?
Since we only had a day and a half in Marseille, for our full day, our first stop was a toy store where I somehow got sucked into buying by son a two headed dragon and my daughter wanted Pokemon cards. Once they we appeased with their material goods and my wallet relieved of money I could have spent elsewhere, we travelled to Notre Dame de la Gard. it’s the most visited site in Marseille and I can definitely see why. The exterior of the church is an architectural marvel. While we did not enter inside, the basilica is said to be stunning.
From Notre Dame de la Gard, the amazing city views from the top are unlike anything you’ll find in southern France.
See that ferris wheel? After wandering into a local soap shop (Marseille is famous for it’s soap) and having the best pizza we could ever ask for at a restaurant in the Vieux Port area, the ferris wheel was our next stop. From the top, we had views of the city from another angle.
And then we managed to fit in a visit to The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations. One of the best perks for kids here? In the gift shop on the main floor is a library like set up where the kids have an opportunity to sit and read. There were a few books in English for them, but they enjoyed looking at the French books too.
And in the Vieux Port area? There are always street performers and we found a ton of entertainment.
Where did we stay in Marseille?
We stayed at Aparthotel Adagio Marseille Vieux Port, Marseille. It’s a bit of a longer walk than I anticipated from the train station. I could have sworn it said one kilometre, but with the kids and it being late evening, it just felt like forever to get there. It also didn’t help that we stepped off the train in Ain en Provence, then had to run back on because I neglected to open the Maps app on my iPhone to see where we actually were.
Then, once we arrived, the staff gave us wrong room at check in. It was rectified, and I believe that is due to a language barrier. My French is awful so could not really be their fault.
We had a 1 bedroom apartment with a King size bed in the bedroom that was really comfortable and a sofa bed in the living room. The accommodations were exactly what we needed. It was a break from the past week of hotel type stays and I was able to wash our clothing as we were traveling carry on only. It was a space where my son could make a fort and that made him happy.
The location of Aparthotel Adagio Marseille Vieux Port was an easy walk to the old port and there were so many great restaurants in the area to choose from. One night we ventured downtown on a recommendation for a steak dinner and took an Uber back. Marseille felt really safe and I hope to return one day.
THE ULTIMATE DESTINATION OF CANNES
From our couple “relaxing” days in Marseille, we took the train to Cannes. We were finally arriving at the ultimate destination in our best of Western Europe vacation! Cannes is nothing short of absolutely stunning and chalk full of historic places. Put aside the visions of the international film festival that happens there every year because there is more to the town than that. It’s Boulevard de la Croisette, curves along the coast, and is lined with sandy beaches, really upscale clothing boutiques and fancy hotels. If I had a million dollars in cash on hand, this is where I could buy a complete new wardrobe. Window shopping killed my soul because I wanted it all.
We had visions of frolicking in the Bay of Cannes, we were in the south of France! It’s April and warm here, right? The beach did have a lot of people there, but guess what? The water was cold. Seriously cold. It didn’t stop my son and I from taking off our shoes and wading out there though. We were here to have the experience and we’re Canadian, which automatically gives us super powers to withstand the cold water.
We explored Le Suquet, which is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Cannes and dates back to Roman times. Coming from Toronto where our oldest landmarks are maybe 150 years old, it’s just incredible to imagine what took place where you were standing 500 years ago. Who passed through what door? Who walked up this street? What battles were won and lost? What was life like? Who lived in that stone house?
I think it was everything my daughter was hoping for. I’m not quite sure what she expected, but it was certainly glamorous. I wouldn’t say that it was full of things for kids to do that we saw, but if I was to go back to the initial planning process of the trip, I would have planned for this town to be our “rest stop” instead of Marseille.
Where did we stay in Cannes?
We stayed at the Best Western Premier Mondial. It was a bit of a splurge! The location is right up the street from the water and in the middle of all the restaurants and shopping.
We opted for a Deluxe room because it has a separate lounge area. Also the washroom had a giant soaker jacuzzi tub that we all loved to take advantage of. I’m going to admit that we also splurged on room service and breakfast in bed, because well… Cannes. And I jokingly sang Happy Birthday to my daughter, but she thought I was nuts and made me stop.
A SMOKEY SMELL OF ITALY IN MILAN
Of all the destinations we visited, there always has to be a sacrificial lamb in terms of the downer. Sadly, I’m awarding this badge to Milan of which I had great hopes for. I had visited Milan on my first trip to Europe when I was 19 and I remember being completely fascinated and in love with Milan. For Little Man and Miss M, as soon as stepped off the train, people were lighting cigarettes and walking through the train station smoking. To us, it was an assault on our noses and the kids were not happy about it.
The night we arrived in Milan, the news broke that Notre Dame de Paris was burning. I was heart broken. Since the kids and I had pretty much skipped past exploring every religious monument we had seen so far, I took this opportunity to allot time to see the Duomo di Milano.
This cathedral turned out to be the highlight of the Milan leg of our trip. While this cathedral was technically completed in 1965, the history of that site dates all at the way back to 335! Underneath the cathedral, the ruins of the old octagonal baptistery still exist and you can visit it. Little Man and Miss M attend a Catholic school here in Toronto despite our lack of practise, so they do know a bit about Christianity. I was able to set aside the Catholicism roots and have a good history lesson and discussion with them down there and their interest in archeology was definitely piqued.
And the view from the roof of the Duomo? Awesome.
From there we visited the really mesmerizing Leonardo3 – The World of Leonardo Exhibition a couple blocks away and then we landed ourselves right in front of La Scala – an opera house that the kids had read about in the book series of Thea Stilton. It was a cool moment for them!
Unfortunately, you couldn’t take a step outside in Milan without walking into a cloud of someone’s smoke, so the kids were not enjoying their outside time very much. One positive I will give to Milan? I normally dislike public transit in any city, but found their subway system was easy to navigate.
If I could have stayed one more night in Milan to have a full day there, I definitely would have taken a day trip to Lake Como. Lake Como was also one of our stops there when I was 19. At that time, I believe George Clooney had just moved there, so the town was abuzz!
Where did we stay in Milan?
Our hotel in Milan is going to remain unnamed. It was the least desirable of all the places we stayed. It was a triple room with a private bathroom. The staff were so nice and accommodating and the hotel is very close to the central train and subway station. We were off the subway and into our room in less than 10 minutes! However, there was mold in the air conditioner in the room and in the shower. The entire place smelled like smoke. The hairdryer smelled like stale cigarettes and blew that smell out into my hair when drying it. The beds were not the most comfortable and because of the smoke smell, we had the windows open. Remember the subway proximity? The street noise is loud.
Where I wish I had stayed in the same neighbourhood? Hotel Berna.
FINAL STOP – PARIS
We flew to Paris from Milan on Easyjet and I’m pleased to report we didn’t have any problems. Easyjet has a bad reputation and I chose the flight because of the good price with fingers crossed.
The first comment I am going to make about Paris is that “Instagram models” have taken the city over. They are staging their photo shoots everywhere. From fake picnics at the base of the Eiffel Tower to swirling in their dresses and straw hats in front of the Lourve, they’re hard to avoid. It’s kind of a comical situation when you’re trying to get cute pictures of your kids in front of certain places and the “Instagram model” keeps trying to push you all out of their frame… That said, Paris turned out to be Miss M’s favourite place on the trip.
We wished we had a week or more in Paris, despite it’s lack of affordability. No joke, it’s not a cheap place from meals to attraction tickets or accommodations, but there is something in the air there that brings a magic to your soul. It’s in the gardens, in the architecture, in the rooftops. It’s a place that screams “take me in and love me”!
We did. We love Paris.
As I mentioned, when we landed in Milan, the fire of Notre Dame was all over the news. Despite the burn, we were still able to walk within a certain proximity to see it. From our hotel, we did not smell the remains, but as we walked and got within a kilometre of the cathedral, you could smell it. Despite the tragic fire, the outside, to me still looked like the grand lady she was. She’s still there and she will be returned in time to her grandeur.
One thing we were not prepared for in Paris was the line ups for attractions, specifically the Catacombs of Paris and the Eiffel Tower. At the Eiffel Tower we waited an hour in line to get through security, an hour in line to get food, another hour in line to get tickets to walk up the stairs.
Miss M and Little Man slept in a bit that day and so we didn’t make it there until almost noon. It took a full afternoon to experience it. But worth it. Should we have gone earlier? Yes. Could we have bought our way to the front of the line? You bet, but I didn’t. We bought candy instead.
During this trip, I got to know the kids even better than I thought. Miss M’s teacher had once mentioned in conversation to me that she had a “dark side”. Sure she reads quite advanced books and has some morbid fascinations that I blame her Dad for, like his musical influence of Slipknot, but she really enjoyed the Catacombs of Paris. In fact, it was her destination pick!
The Catacombs of Paris are underground ossuaries in Paris, France, which hold the remains of more than six million people in a small part of a tunnel network built to consolidate Paris’ ancient stone mines. These bones are mainly from the 1700’s. Like actual skulls and femurs. they’re stacked very neatly I have to say. I was impressed by the organization, but by the end of the tunnels, I was ready to get out.
Where did we stay in Paris?
On a recommendation from my friend Eric at Travel Babbo, we stayed at Cler Hotel. I have decided that any time I visit Paris in the future, this is where I will stay. Breakfast every morning was amazing. The hotel location cannot be beat – in the 7th arrondissement, walking distance to Eiffel Tower, the River Seine and all the way to Notre Dame cathedral. There is even a fresh fruit market at the front door of the hotel! My kids were spoiled by the staff at the front desk who always had candy on hand for them and the kids were mesmerized by the elevator that we would race up and down the stairs.
However, since this is Paris, everything is small. When the kids fell asleep at night, I had to hide in the washroom to read as there wasn’t space in the corner where I could sit.
As a final thought to the trip, I never once felt unsafe traveling solo with my children anywhere. We did not face harassment. While I did face many questions and comments about being solo from men, it was never menacing. More like a curiosity. I was able to take most of those moments and turn it into a lesson for my children on “courtesy”, which is something that lacks in much (not all, calm down Susan) of North American culture. While I do appreciate all the doors being held open and seats given to us on transportation, many dinner and drink invitations were extended to us (me), all of which I declined.
The kids and I really got to see the best of Western Europe in this whirlwind trip. Yes, I realize I didn’t take them to other amazing countries like Belgium or the Netherlands. I’m saving those destinations for more family trips in the future. I hope this gave my children a touch of the wanderlust that I experience daily and fuels their curiosity of the world.
When it comes to Mother’s Day hikes with kids, Mono Cliffs Provincial Park is top of my mind for a great spot close to Toronto. Located just outside of Orangeville, Ontario, it’s part of the Ontario Parks system. Worth noting, Mono Cliffs is also part of the Bruce Trail Conservancy of which I have been picking off a few kilometres of every year (like Dundas Peak and Tew’s Falls). I figure I might have it all complete by the time I turn 50.
A valid park permit is required to visit Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. You can obtain one in the parking lot or get a Seasonal Day Use Vehicle Permit from Ontario Parks for the year and you won’t ever have to worry about the parking fees there of 1 hour $3.00, 2 hours $5.00, full day $11.00. There is a large parking lot for vehicles, but it can fill up.
WHY CHOOSE MONO CLIFFS PROVINCIAL PARK FOR A MOTHER’S DAY HIKE?
There is one day of the year where my children are not allowed to complain about my choice of activities and it’s Mother’s Day. One of the biggest reasons I enjoy hiking at Mono Cliffs for Mother’s Day is for the variance of trails, all easy enough for my kids to handle. Some trails in this park are classified as moderate hikes, but my children have been on terrain far more difficult or advanced like the Barron Canyon Trail. This is a day where we can all head out together and no one is going to get upset because something is too hard or an area is too steep to hike on their own.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT WHEN HIKING HERE?
Terrains are quite mixed between the trails. Some trails are surrounded by forest while others are more of an open field like setting. They range from well worn, sandy paths to well worn, rocky trails, to wooden boardwalks. There are areas that are accessible for strollers, but I would not advise bringing them as you will encounter stairs and hills. Consult the park map of course and figure out where to find the lookout, cavern, ponds and more to explore.
There are 8 hiking trails that intersect with each other at Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. They are:
Walter Tovell Trail – 4.8 km
McCarston’s Trail – 3.6 km
Carriage Trail – 1.3 km
Spillway Trail – 1.3 km
Cliff-Top Side Trail – 2.8 km
South Outlier Trail – 3.5 km
Lookout Trail – 600 m
Link Trail – 600 m
None of the trails are very long and it is possible to see three or four of them in one visit. From the parking lot, you will start on a Carriage Trail. Continue on until you meet up with the South Outlier Trail and take a left, or follow Carriage Trail to where it meets up with the Cliff-Top Side Trail.
Did you know there is a cavern area there? Take the Walter Tovell Trail.
Wildlife that would pose a danger to visitors is not a concern. If you are looking for a safe place to take your family, this is it.
If you bring a blanket out on the trails with you, there are ponds with a sandy edge that is a nice area to sit and have lunch or regroup and have a snack. I do not think swimming is advisable in these ponds, but I did see dogs running in there and splashing around.
What’s a hike without a look-out? This is where the Bruce Trail and the Cliff-Top Side trail meet and will give you a splendid view! Come and find yourself here taking in the fresh air and scenery!
CAN I CAMP AT MONO CLIFFS PROVINCIAL PARK?
Mono Cliffs Provincial Park is a day use park, meaning there is no camping available here. The closest Ontario Parks campground is Earl Rowe. There are however, picnic tables next to the parking lot available for use during spring, summer and fall and this park is perfect for biking and hiking. The park is open year round, so during the winter, cross country skiing and snowshoeing is the thing to do.
Looking for white trilliums, Ontario’s provincial flower? You can find some here. While it is not illegal to pick a white trillium in Ontario, it is not advisable to do so, as it can seriously injure the plant and it can take years to recover from the damage. The trillium is slow growing flora that typically takes seven to 11 years to mature. They bloom for about three weeks and then turn pale pink as they begin to age. This picture was taken on Mother’s Day in 2018.
PLEASE PRACTISE SAFE HIKING
I always recommend that you carry a utility knife or multi-tool in your backpack because you never know what you could encounter. Utilize a bug spray and of course, sun screen during the spring, summer and autumn months. Have a first aid kit in your car.
Please wear closed toe shoes on the trails, we are still unsure of what the tick and Lyme disease situation is going to be like this year. There are been increases in cases year over year, so I implore you to keep your feet and ankles covered in bush, long grass and wooded areas. When you get back to your car, have a change of socks and shoes ready and please be sure to brush your clothing off before you get back in. Check your children behind their ears, in their hair and under their pant legs to make sure ticks are not clinging to them.
If you find a tick in your child’s skin, remove it! First, clean the area with rubbing alcohol. Get your tweezers out and push down on the skin as close to the tick’s head aa possible. Pull up slowly, yet firm with steady pressure. Try not to jerk or twist, doing so might cause the tick to be ripped in two. Once the tick is out, put it in a Ziplock bag and get it to your doctor as soon as possible for Lyme disease testing. Clean the affected area again with rubbing alcohol.
Worth noting – I do get decent 3G cell phone service here with my carrier (Telus). In some areas, it does slip back into LTE which is awesome. Always, always, always carry a mobile charger for your cell phone in case of emergencies.
Have fun on the trails! If you ever have any questions, do not ever hesitate to ask!
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My family left our home in Toronto and took a 2,100 kilometre road trip in the summer of 2017. Our first stop when we left the Toronto area was Tobermory, Ontario. The drive to Tobermory from our house is approximately 4 hours, however with the rate at which my children (and husband) need to exit the vehicle for pee, hunger and leg stretching, it honestly took closer to 6, yes SIX hours.
We spent two nights in Tobermory that summer and decided that we liked it so much we would return in the summer of 2018 as well. And you know what? It is safe to say, we will return. I am a really outdoorsy person and my children are slowly warming up to the idea of non-urban adventure. For us, in Tobermory, there is an abundance of things to do!
Here are our Top 5 things To See And Do In Tobermory, Ontario!
1.) Take a Boat Tour to see the two Shipwrecks in Big Tub Harbour
Really and truly, nothing beats scuba diving shipwrecks if you are a certified diver. If are not a diver or a snorkeler or you are traveling with your children and do not have other care for them while you are on a dive, then a viewing from a boat is the next best thing here. The two wrecks you can see in Big Tub Harbour in Tobermory are called Sweepstakes and City of Grand Rapids.
The Sweepstakes went down in 1885, spoiler alert – no treasures left and currently lies in roughly 6 metres of water. It is one of the best preserved shipwrecks of it’s time in the Great Lakes. The City of Grand Rapids wreck is from 1907, it was a double decker steamer that caught fire wile mooring. It was released from the dock and left it burn in the harbour. It sank where it lies.
Totally worth seeing – see if you can get on one of the glass bottom boats to do this!
2. Take a boat to Flowerpot Island
Take one of the boats to Flowerpot Island and spend the day – at least an afternoon, please don’t short change yourself on time here. Flowerpot Island is only accessible by boat from Tobermory and is one of the best experiences in Fathom Five National Marine Park! The island is famous for its natural “flowerpot” rock pillars, caves, historic light station and rare plants. This is a great spot for easy to moderate level hikers – my kids had no problem. Here you will find great swimming and snorkeling, picnic areas and overnight camping if you are adventurous. Be sure to bring your bathing suit in a day bag with you and have sturdy shoes, don’t come in flip flops and try to do the hiking – I don’t recommend it.
We were not prepared for the beauty here – it is so awe inspiring! The water really is the colour of these photos – no filter, I swear! And we shortchanged ourselves on time, hence I recommend spending more than a couple hours. The rookie mistake we made when we went was not packing a cooler. To swim, explore the flowerpots, hike the terrain and really take in the whole experience, requires a half day at least.
Word of wisdom to the Instagram Models of the world – please do not try to climb the Flower Pots. It’s dangerous to you if you fall, but it’s also disruptive to nature. Imagine being the asshole who damages one of these natural structures so terribly that it changes the appearance?
There are a couple boat charter companies to get you here from Tobermory, Ontario. You can combine a shipwreck viewing tour or simply take an express boat direct and they have ticketed return times when they drop you off. According to the Parks Canada website, they recommend that you spend 4-5 hours to hike and see it all.
Side note, there is really nothing to purchase here, bring your own food and water! Also there are not a whole lot of places to dispose of garbage here, so please plan to take back with you what you bring. worth noting, you have to pay for the boat ride here, but since it’s a national park and it’s Canada’s 150th birthday, admission this year to the island is free.
3.) Visit The Grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park
The Grotto, found in Bruce Peninsula National Park, just outside of Tobermory, is a place that is so popular, we couldn’t get in the first year we tried. I severely underestimated that it is one of the top attractions in the province and that just showing up would be suffice. It turns out it requires a little more planning to be able to see and experience this magical place.
We did our planning and did get into the Grotto in the summer of 2018. During the peak season of July and August, there are a couple ways to make sure you are in Bruce Peninsula National Park and can access the Grotto:
1.) Be there already as a camper at one of the backcountry sites along Georgian Bay or in Cyprus Lake Campground.
2.) Reserve parking in advance if coming from outside the park. Parking is assigned by time blocks and only a certain amount of cars are permitted per time slot.
3.) Head up there in the off or shoulder seasons of April/May/June or September/October when the demand to visit is much less.
There’s a twitter hashtag you can follow for more information – #GrottoParking
4.) Have ice cream at The Sweet Shop on Bay Street
There’s this sweet little ice cream shop with a lot of brilliant Canadian flavours of yummy ice cream. Located at 18 Bay Street, overlooking Little Tub Harbour, the locally owned Sweet Shop makes candy, fudge, chocolate and brittle onsite. Come after dinner, sit and relax! Walk around and see the boats in the harbour with ice cream in hand, you won’t be sorry!
5.) Visit Singing Sands Beach
Singing Sands Beach is located off of Dorcas Bay Road south of Tobermory. This large sand beach with shallow waters is part of Bruce Peninsula National Park. I admit, when my family rolled up to this beach, we were not impressed. It looked like it was full of weeds, there were not a lot of people there and it was windy. My family is a little spoiled. The kids are used to Prince Edward County and Caribbean beaches.
It became an opportunity to push my kids into experiences to and take us all out of our comfort zones.
The water was warm and you could walk really far out before the kids lower bodies became submerged. The kids even had a good time. For those who are squeamish about things touching their feet in the water, I recommend wearing a pair of water shoes. It’s not really so bad once you walk out in the water for a bit. Admission here is free.
And as a bonus for you history buffs – there are historical walking tours available in town.
For those you you looking for the video blog – here you go!
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Standing on the top of Castelo de Sao Jorge in Lisbon or at the entrance to Guell Palace in Barcelona or on the balcony of our hotel room in Cannes looking down at the Mediterranean Sea, I felt liberated to have gotten to that point, solo with my kids. As far as solo parent vacations, this was the pièce de résistance. Lisbon, Barcelona, Marseille, Cannes, Milan and Paris with my nine year old daughter and five year old son. The trip, an early birthday present for my girl. For her 10th birthday, she requested a trip to Cannes, France. I was happy to oblige. She had clearly inherited my incredible sense of wanderlust and adventure.
I had made all travel plans, booked flights, buses, trains, hotels and coordinated so many variables such as walking distance from train station to hotel, that it was a very proud feeling that it all came together. Only I did it, alone, proof that a woman can attain and achieve a solo holiday with her children. I had scrounged, saved and hid away money, budgeted everything to the penny. There’s satisfaction in never having to see that spread sheet again. And an immense fulfillment in having made the plans for a one parent holiday with the kids. I was always the planner anyway, but this time there wasn’t anyone else to bounce ideas off of.
In the dead of night, while I huddled in the toilette with an iPad and headphones or propping up the screen with my suitcase, the pride was sometimes pushed over by a void, something that was missing. There wasn’t another adult by my side. Missing was someone to hold a conversation with that’s not about farts. An accomplice to laugh with, to wink at, to hold hands and pull in tight. It’s a feeling of loneliness and realizing that this was indeed a feeling of solo parent vacations.
Meet The Feeling Of Loneliness of Solo Parent Vacations
I have traveled solo in the past of my own volition. I have been the epitome of a solo female traveler. One who travels with friends too. There have been media fam trips, I have done numerous road trips with the kids in our home province and even took my son to the Caribbean for a work-vacation, but this is a different kind of trip. It smacked me with a deep emotion one night. This was the first real vacation without their dad. They missed him, he was clearly missing them and I figured that out. I’m not “fun daddy”.
Make no mistake, I’m not saying the trip was awful because I did not have my partner by my side. That’s far from the truth. The trip in a whole was a success and I certainly did not need someone beside me during this trip. The nights were a little lonely as my babies slept. Who really sleeps the entire time their kids sleep? And those waking hours had me thinking a lot.
Hell Broke Lose
A week into the trip, I had one of those awful nights that you don’t get in the parenting manuals. I went to bed feeling really beat up emotionally. It was the kind of night where the kids have breakdowns and run around and don’t listen to you and fight with each other and when you try to sit them down and talk about the situation, then they just cry instead of responding. Back in Toronto, it’s easier to handle because their dad can step in and we divide and conquer.
In a hotel on La Rambla in Barcelona after midnight? Nope. No support like another parent at all, it’s all me.
The kids thought my frustration was funny one couple nights ago when it was almost 1:00am by the time they went to sleep. They weren’t laughing the next morning when I dragged them out of bed. The hotel we were staying at stops serving breakfast at a certain time so we needed to get moving. And guess what? There’s no winners in any of these hard moments.
I’m certainly not happy because my kids won’t listen to me first and foremost and secondly because now some of our precious vacation time has been wasted in lieu of moments of discipline.
Whether it be time that we could have been in a museum or time that they could have spent going to bed at a decent hour, it was gone. The time that night was spent instead sitting on the floor of our hotel room picking up pieces of a smashed souvenir that one of the kids threw in a tantrum. And then that time had to be spent talking about respect for each other, respect for where we are, respect that we have to show other patrons of the hotel and that acting like animals will get us shown the door. Things I thought they had known as we travel a lot.
And Calm Again
It was close to midnight by the time the showers were finished, tears were wiped, the kids were in bed and the lights out.
I had illusions of a planned out day in the outskirts of Barcelona the following day, but bets were on tired kids who had only six hours of sleep two nights in a row having other plans. I accepted the fact that for two days in a row, I’m not going to experience anything but the inside of the hotel room or riding in a loop on one of those tourist sightseeing buses.
There was still plenty of time for us to be happy together. This was a foreign country to them. Foreign languages were spoken, they were out of their element and I needed to allow them to adjust. I needed to take some time and chill out.
What is most important is that we are here together and we still have time to make up for it. There will be another day for another adventure.
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