With a baby and toddler, traveling can be daunting, especially when kid-friendly doesn't turn out to be baby and toddler friendly.

We've realized what a difference that is, so we are here in hopes to share and learn about the best places to go with our babes and tots in tow.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Callian, France

The last time I was in south of France visiting my brother-in-law and his family I was about five months preggers. Now with a babe and 3 ½ year old tow, and my husband acting as pack mule (bless his heart), we descended Cote d Azur not knowing what to expect. We took the red-eye to Heathrow airport then connected into Nice. We had done the same thing with my son from Hawaii and it wasn’t the best plan then, but this time around the red-eye worked out and both kiddos, and they slept like the sweet little babes they are, and woke up just before we touched down in London. Customs was a breeze in Nice, with very short lines. We got those smart carts to help with the luggage and the car seats. The only pain was that we rented our car through Avis, which made you take a bus to terminal 2. It took us a while to figure that out at the empty Avis desk, right outside baggage claim. All the other rental companies had people at their desks, so I don’t know why Avis didn’t. We did get a great deal on the car and got a USAA discount, so I guess I can’t complain. Make sure to book early as cars with automatic transmission are hard to find. My husband and I know how to drive manual, but with the hills and distractions that come with the kiddos in the back, who needs more to worry about, ya know. We got the Premium size and the BMW 3 series fit us perfectly and also fit the roads perfectly. I did pack relatively lightly: a small suitcase for the kids clothes, a medium suitcase for my husband and my clothes, and two carry-ons each, plus the car seats, but we fit with all the bags and nothing had to be at our kids’ feet.
We headed out of the airport through a series of traffic circles (most area uses these circles—A LOT) going off in the wrong direction, but the toll booth guy was happy to tell us how to turn around. Make sure you have euros for the tolls before you leave the airport as the tolls averaged about €6 and you want to account for any wrong turns. Also, try to get directions to your destination from a local. Our google maps lead us astray by cutting out three traffic circles and causing us to aimlessly drive down narrow streets where sometimes we had to back up since the roads are often not big enough for cars two cars. Another thing to note is that even though you set your mobile phone to have international coverage, don’t count on it. We were never able call anyone but my sister, who lives in Washington state, the whole trip. That was convenient since her birthday was during our vacation, but not beneficial since we couldn’t connect to anyone else, especially my brother-in-law, whose house we were trying to find. Thankfully, my broken French, plus the kindness of the locals to break out in great English after my efforts to speak was enough to get us to our destination.

We stayed at the Resort & Spa Château de Camiole and it was lovely. Our relatives told us about the place and we found them on hotels.com. I can't believe how inexpensive it was. For some reason, hotels.com had very, very low rates. Too good to believe, but in this case it was exceptional!

Resort & Spa Château de Camiole
Road 56 Route de Fayence, Callian
83440 France

My brother-in-law works for the Four Season there, and we almost stayed there, but the Camiole Resort proved to be so much more kid friendly and very, very nice. We got the 2P room, which had one master bed room with a double bed, and another bedroom with a set of bunk beds. I loved that we had a full kitchen and the playground there was like an enchanted forest with fun equipment.

Here are a few pics of the place.

Things to know about this resort, which aren't a big deal, but would have been good to know ahead of time.
  1. There isn't someone at the desk 24/7, in fact they don't open until 9:00 am (something we didn't know when we needed to check out and leave for the airport)
  2. You need to do all the dishes and put them away upon check-out. Leaving them washed in the dishwasher is not the same thing.
  3. You have to take your trash out yourself, which is near the Kid's Club
  4. You need to request new towels and it is an additional cost to get new ones.
  5. No one tidies up the rooms and there isn't a broom in the units, so you may want to request one, especially cheerios, goldfish and kids!
All the above aren't negatives, just things we've learned and wanted to pass on to make the visit even better. We really liked staying at the Chateau de Camiole and plan on staying there again for future visits.

As for our activities, we hung out at our families beautiful home in Callian and also took the kids around for some fun. Fayence is a neighboring town and they are known for their gliders-the gliding capital of Provence. The kids really loved watching the gliders get pulled up by a small prop plane and then released. We were able to take scooters and bikes to ride down to the runway and watch up close the planes taking off. There is also a nice cafe connected to L'aerodrome de Fayence, where we stopped to get drinks and some refreshments, which was very kid-friendly. I would sip on the Orangina and then chase the kids around in the fields, with the owners looking on approvingly.

Here is a video (not a good one) of the planes taking off with the gliders. Del said that people take off from there and can glide to Switzerland and stay up for 8 hours! There was this cool experimental helicopter too. Something I might have been brave enough to try before I had kids, but no longer!

We also went to Frejus to the beach and then a playground area called Base Nature. They had everything there from bike trails, many playgrounds, trikes, scooters with ramps, roller skating, sports fields, and an indoor swimming pool. The kids loved it.

We also dined at an amazing restaurant in downtown Callian that was in the center of the town next to a gorgeous fountain. I think it was the Bellevue,but I will double check. The food was delicious, portions were surprising large, and rather reasonable. Keep in mind that dining in France is a delight and not rushed. We enjoyed the views and the food a little too long with our three year old, who had his only tantrum of the trip as we were finishing our cafe au lait. But the food was worth the tantrum! Needless to say, I got no pictures of the restaurant or the charming town of Callian since I was wrangling my son back to the car. I did get one pic of him mesmerized by the fountain that was next to our table.

It was a very quick five days vacation and I wished we had more time, but I know we will be back there many, many times in the future.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Smith Kids Play Space in the Park

The weather was so spectacular this weekend that we opted to go to a new venue in Philly rather than be indoors at Please Touch. So after we tried getting a family shot at the church where my husband and I were married, we had lunch at the Cassidys and then we drove down my favorite, Kelly Drive through Fairmoount Park to get to SMITH. We've driven past this place a million times when we lived in Philly, but the Cassidys let us know that they had just renovated and reopened the outdoor play space. The grounds are marked with an amazingly huge mansion that also has an indoor play area. That too is being renovated. SMITH was started by Sarah and Richard Smith in the 1890s when the health and welfare of urban children become a big priority. Supervised play was encouraged and so SMITH built this amazing area for kids to play in Philadelphia. There is an indoor play space within the Smith mansion and it is 24,000 square feet! We didn't go in, but it's supposed to be great. I think they are renovating the inside and updating quite a bit, but it's good now for a rainy day, and I am sure it will be spectacular when they are finished updating. Here is a link that gives a virtual tour. http://www.youtube.com/user/SmithKidsPlayPlace The outdoor play area is newly renovated and is incredible! It is the size of six football fields and has equipment and play areas for kids of all ages! The site says it has over 50 piece of state of the art equipment, and I'd completely agree. My son's favorite was the renovated wooden slide. Per the SMITH Web site--"The Giant Wooden Slide was added to the Playground in 1905. In 2005 through a generous gift from Ida Newman, who used to play at SMITH in the 1920s, the Slide was restored and dedicated in memory of her daughter Ann Newman. The one-of-a –kind Ann Newman Giant Wooden Slide is 39’ long and 13’ wide." The slide looks like a large sloped wooden floor and when you get on that burlap sack, you really fly! There is also a little tots play area with equipment perfect for the smallest of our babes to age 5 and then the rest of the amazing playground goes up to ages 10 and is packed with the best equipment and play structures I've ever seen. We packed it in and headed home after our visit to Smith and said farewell to our friends, but we immediately started planning our next trip to come back and check out the other hidden treasures in the playhouse. What a fabulous place and we love that the people of the community started it and have maintained this wondeful play space. You must visit and support this place too! Days and Hours of Operation Playground (for children 10 and under)

  • Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 4pm (April – October)

  • 10am – 7pm (Saturdays and Sundays ONLY; last weekend of June – last weekend of August)

  • Playhouse (for children 5 and under) Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 4pm (year round)
How to Get to SMITH SMITH is located in East Fairmount Park just above Kelly Drive near 33rd and Oxford Streets. For printable directions, please click here. There is plenty of FREE parking on site and SMITH is also easily accessible by public transportation. From Center City Philadelphia: •Take Kelly Drive away from Center City •Turn right at the equestrian statue of General Grant (Fountain Green Drive) •Take first right onto Mt. Pleasant Drive •Turn right at stop sign onto Reservoir Drive •Bear right into Smith’s circular drive From 76 (Schuylkill) East or West •Take the Girard Avenue/Zoo exit •Cross over the Girard Avenue Bridge •Turn left at the end of the Bridge onto 33rd Street •Proceed to the next traffic light and make a left (33rd and Oxford) •Drive 1/3 mile and turn left into Smith’s circular drive Public Transportation Take SEPTA bus #32 to 33rd and Oxford. Walk 1/3 mile into Fairmount Park. Smith will be on your left. OR Take #3 bus to 33rd & Cecil B. Moore walk one block south to 33rd & Oxford St. Walk 1/3 mile into Fairmount Park. Smith will be on your left. Please note that GPS or any Internet direction sites will not provide accurate directions to Smith.