Vienna, AUSTRIA – July 2016 : PART ONE

We traveled to Vienna, Austria in July 2016! It was our first trip as a family of four!

As if through divine intervention, a few factors miraculously came together in the final days of nursery school before summer which allowed us to make last-minute travel plans: Henry’s passport finally came in; at the same time, we found someone willing to watch our dogs when all kennel facilities were booked; and we had enough miles and points for “free” flights and a hotel room. Score! Matt and I threw around a few ideas, then spontaneously booked a trip to Vienna, Austria.

Why Vienna? I mean, why not, right? Matt had had an interest in visiting for awhile, and we’d had friends who recently travelled there, piquing our interest.

Abu Dhabi Airport Terminal 1
Abu Dhabi Airport Terminal 1

So, the first week of July, we took off on our first vacation as a family of four. It was lovely to return to Europe; as if coming back home, which it was in a way.

We flew in on Qatar Airlines, passing through Doha on our way to and from. It was an easy, comfortable experience and the airline took great care of us as a family. So appreciated! Checking in, they always put us at the bulkhead seats where we were provided with a baby bassinet each flight – first that’s ever happened. They also gave out little activity kits and stuffed Mr. Potato Heads for the boys to stay busy. I have nothing but great things to say about Qatar Airlines.

look at all of us moms taking pictures of our boys here! i love it!

Since we had built up enough Marriott points to use on a hotel stay, we had a few places to choose from. Deciding on the Renaissance was actually a really great idea, in hindsight. The hotel itself, in the old Imperial Riding School, was great! The breakfast each morning had a nice variety of food, to include what I can only describe as “crack waffles” (so delicious). We also had access to the lounge, which we crashed in each afternoon for coffee (or wine…) after a long day out.

The hotel is ideally located right next to a train line, so we were able to buy cheaper tickets on a regular train into the city from the airport, rather than take the airport express train, which is not only more expensive but, if taken, would’ve been a further walk to the hotel. Each Vienna train/metro ride costs €2.20/adult (€1.10/child) no matter where you’re going, and is valid for all transfers. This made getting around the city easy and inexpensively.

Our first afternoon in, we just walked around the neighborhood to get our bearings. There is a grocery store, pharmacy, launderers, and a big park all within a mile – really convenient for traveling families. The neighborhood – Landstrasse – is (much like the rest of Vienna) beautiful to just walk around and enjoy what you see. One of my friends who had already been to Vienna told us it was enjoyable to just walk the city. I couldn’t agree more.

Stadtpark

Day 1 – Innere Stadt

Early the next morning we set out, again on foot, and as per usual for us, with no real plan. I have a hard time making a firm itinerary because I don’t know how easy a new city is to navigate and I can’t predict how the boys will be each day. So, we decided to just walk toward Innere Stadt – Stephansplatz to be exact – and see where we could go from there.

Mozart's House
Mozart’s House

Mozart's House

St. Stephen's Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral

St. Stephan's Cathedral

St. Stephen's Cathedral

St. Stephen's Cathedral

St. Stephen's Cathedral

St. Stephen's Cathedral

From the impressive St. Stephan’s Cathedral, we moseyed down Kärntner Straße, and over to Albertinaplatz. We popped into a cafe right there for a coffee + nursing session. Very important break for all members of the family.

Once satiated, we moved along towards Michaelerplatz to Hofberg Palace. Then we found ourselves winding through the streets, in a bit of a roundabout way, until we found Rathaus.

Austrian National Library
Austrian National Library
Hofburg Palace
Hofburg Palace

Hofburg Palace

Hofburg Palace

Michaelerplatz
Michaelerplatz

Stopped in a few stores as well…

Vienna Starbucks
A Starbucks! For our mug.

Before continuing on…

Wiener Minoritenkirche
Wiener Minoritenkirche
Ferstal Passage Vienna
Ferstal Passage Vienna
Ferstal Passage Vienna
Ferstal Passage

Ferstal Passage Vienna

Ferstal Passage Vienna

Palais Liechtenstein
Palais Liechtenstein
Palais Liechtenstein
Palais Liechtenstein

Our visit happened to coincide with Rathausplatz being transformed into the Gastronomie/Vienna Film Festival event. Which…was amazing! Food stalls everywhere. Beer and wine on tap. Outdoor seating on a beautiful day in a beautiful setting?! Heaven.

Vienna Rathaus
Vienna Rathaus

We had left the Middle East during the final days of Ramadan. During this time there is no eating in public during the daylight hours, for about a month. There is also not much alcohol around at any time, anyway. Here in Vienna, all of a sudden, we found ourselves picking out local craft beers at a stall in a public park, and faced with the decision: What food shall we try today? I’m not going to lie, it felt a little thrilling. It’s funny how quickly we adapted to being in Ramadan mode (not practicing, but being respectfully mindful), and how it felt weird going back to what is “normal” for us.

Of course given the option we choose to sample Viennese foods.

spaetzle in Vienna
spaetzle

Making ourselves at home in a secluded gazebo, I was able to nurse Henry while Porter freely played around. Matt ferried food and drink for us to imbibe in. It was perfect. The epitome of vacation.

Viennese Food

Vienna Rathaus
Vienna Rathaus

Once lunch was over, we moved on towards Museumsquartier, or the area “with about 70 cultural facilities”. We crossed through Naschmarkt not knowing what it was at the time (we popped through there another day), then stopped for Porter to play at a fun playground in front of Karlskirche. Finally, we went back to the hotel. Though we didn’t expect to walk so much, the exploration was definitely worth it.

Burgtheater
Burgtheater
Austrian Parliament Building
Austrian Parliament Building
Karlskirche Vienna
Karlskirche

Karlskirche Vienna
Karlskirche

So, because this is such a photo-heavy, long post, I will stop here for now.

To be continued…

Coogee Beach, Sydney, Australia – September 2015

We stayed in the Coogee Beach area of Sydney on the last part of our Australia and New Zealand summer vacation, in 2015.

Coogee Beach Airbnb View

Since our flights from Abu Dhabi flew into and out of Sydney, we decided to bookend our vacation in the city. We spent the first few days in downtown Sydney, and the last few days in Coogee Beach for a different vibe. Of course, Sydney has a ton of cool areas along the coast, so it was a little difficult to choose just where to stay. It really came down to finding the right Airbnb place, honestly. Something with a combination of location, quality, and cost. We spent maybe a little more than we wanted to, but the place we stayed at ended up being awesome, just next to Coogee Beach with a view of the sea.

Hold me, it was so beautiful and such a great finish to our big vacation.

Coogee Beach Airbnb View
Coogee Beach Airbnb View

Coogee Beach View from Airbnb

We flew back down to Sydney on a quick flight from Brisbane. We flew Virgin Australia and they did give us a little bit of grief at the boarding gate for bringing the car seat on the plane…even though we checked their policy before booking tickets and had it printed out for reference. And we had a proper FAA label on the travel car seat. And we had it okayed when we checked in to our flight. The people at the actual gate stopped us and wouldn’t let us on the plane until they had it DEFINITELY APPROVED by nearly everyone else at Virgin Australia. Once it was okayed they were super nice, but dang if they weren’t thorough about their job there. Then we were finally allowed to board and it felt like everyone on the plane was staring at us, haha. Americans! Holding everyone up! Traveling with a toddler, OMG and a carseat….sigh. I hate feeling like a burden to others! We settled in quickly and Porter fell asleep immediately for the short flight, but I did have the pleasure of listening to some guy behind me talk about how stupid Americans are. FUN (Sir, I agree with you, but seriously, we’re all human here, just shut up). We made it back to Sydney, grabbed our rental car, and set off for our rad Airbnb apartment for the week.

AND IT WAS RAD. We had a two bedroom, one bathroom place with an incredible view. It looked like it had been recently renovated – very nicely, so well thought out – and the owner left us little treats and some toys for our toddler, which was so thoughtful! We were just up the street from a park, walking trails, and all the cafes and stores at Coogee Beach itself.

Whilst in Coogee Beach, we planned on keeping things really low-key. This was the last few days of a long trip and we wanted to make sure we returned to real life actually feeling refreshed. Downtown Sydney was excitement, New Zealand in a camper van was adventure, Brisbane was wonderful but went by too fast, so Coogee was a final pause. The only major plans were to see our friends when they were available and to do the coastal Bondi to Coogee walk. One of our favorite things to do when traveling is to go to the grocery store, I know some people totally love doing this too and know what I mean. So, our first ventures out were to the nice local grocery store to stock up on staples and whatever Aussie products fascinated us. We visited a couple of the local cafes, and walked around the beach area, and took Porter to the children’s park to play a bit. Each night my middle school BFF, Liz, came over to hang out…which, it should be mentioned, was 100% out of her way to do so but I swear to God seeing her and her husband were the highlight to the trip! One night, Liz even babysat Porter so Matt and I could have a date. OMG. We ate a Brazilian steak house…and by “ate” I mean gorged and questioned our life choices, but it was so lovely! We owe her big time, and I’m looking forward to repaying that in whatever way we can 🙂

Processed with Snapseed.
Processed with Snapseed.

Now, the Coogee to Bondi (or Bondi to Coogee) walk I highly recommend if you’re visiting the Sydney area and can swing it. There is nothing like being outside on a sunny day and walking along the coast there. For some people, this is something they can do every day, freakin’ lucky bastards.

Coogee Beach

HOLY COW, it is STUNNING. The water is calm, then powerful, and so, so beautiful. There are parks, and people, and surfers, and families, and DOGS out enjoying the various places along the coast. SERIOUSLY, WHEN CAN WE MOVE THERE?!

Dunningham Reserve, Sydney, Aus

That is a cockatoo!

Dunningham Reserve, Sydney, Aus

Bondi Coogee Walk

Hunter Park

Marks Park

Once we got to Bondi it was about lunch time, so we moseyed around looking for some food, and ended up grabbing some quick lunch, and then a quick fika, before heading over to the beach.

Bondi Beach, Aus

Here, is where Henry had his first travel photo taken 🙂 At freaking Bondi Beach. What is this life?

Bondi Baby

We ended up cabbing it back just because Porter was getting a little sleepy/fussy (I forget how young he was!) and there are some stairs and what not along some parts of the coastal walk. Since we had the stroller, it was not ideal to keep taking him in and out – especially if he happened to fall asleep on the way.

On our last day, we cleaned up the apartment, packed up, and headed out for a drive before going to the airport in the evening. We were going to try to hit up one of the museums I suggested in the Sydney post, but we didn’t end up going in one either because Porter fell asleep in the car, or there was no parking, or something? Because life happens, what are you going to do? What we did was just drive around. From the downtown area we just followed the New South Head Rd east, until we ended up in the Vaucluse and Watson’s Bay areas. We just drove around drooling at some gorgeous properties and views towards Sydney Harbor. Wow.

Processed with Snapseed.

Just before heading over to the airport we stopped at a mall in Bondi…I’m not exactly sure why? But we did, which was cool. Then we headed on toward the airport right as the sun was setting, and I don’t remember much from there, other than we eventually boarded our Etihad A380 straight back to Abu Dhabi!

Australia and New Zealand were incredible, and I’m so glad that we decided to take an extra long vacation to do both in lieu of going home last year. I don’t know how doing the same thing with two (little) kids would be, but I guess…at this point, I’d more than happily jump at another opportunity! In any case, it was a special time and really nice to travel with Porter at his age, and before his brother came along. At times, it was really hard to believe where I was. Like, “Here I am LOOKING AT THE OPERA HOUSE!” or “Here I am in New Zealand, at the southernmost tip, closer to Antartica than ever!” For me, as an American, these things seem out of this world. More than anything, there are no words to describe how good it was to see friends while we were in Australia – that really made the trip. Other than that, I just tried to focus on the experience, and the sights, and some history, and tried to enjoy as much as possible however possible. I’m truly so thankful for the travel we get to do.

Summer 2016

Wine Country California

We are approaching the end of our second summer season living in Abu Dhabi. Hard to believe we’ve been here more than a year and a half already. We took note that other people tend to leave during the summer, and followed suit this year; however, we got lucky in how the timing of everything worked out. Henry’s passport came in at the last minute, we had a friend agree to stay with us and watch our dogs (because it was WAY too late to book them for a stay in a kennel), and we solidified travel plans, starting the next week, all within the span of a week.

Matt was feeling very homesick and wanted to go back to the States; however, I didn’t want to fly that far, plus fly multiple times once there to see/accommodate all of our friends and family. I wanted to go somewhere low-key, in a place close by with mild weather, and relax. Call me crazy. I was thinking Europe – a shorter flight, one location, live like locals for a bit. Awesome.

Wine Country California

Alas, I did miss my family and friends. It had been four years since I’d been back home to California. I agreed to go on one condition, and that was that we’d go to California and only California. I’m such a mean person.

I had to ask my husband what his friends or brothers would say if he asked them: “Would you like to fly multiple times  with an infant and a toddler, with luggage and car seats and what have you, and then deal with multiple time zones, multiple sleeping arrangements and all of those logistics, for a vacation?”

He didn’t want to admit it, but the only answer he could think of was…wait for it…don’t let me shock you…no.

So, to California (and ONLY California) we went.

Berkeley

Oakland California

Lake Tahoe California

Lake Tahoe California

But before that trip, we spontaneously booked a quick trip to Vienna, using airline miles and hotel points. We’d had three months filled with moving and house issues (what else is new), real sicknesses and mysterious illnesses, and I was really feeling the need to get out somewhere, anywhere we could be outside in fresh air. I love Abu Dhabi and I’m not directly affected by the extreme heat here (air conditioning everywhere), but after living in Sweden I have a very hard time being cooped up inside buildings.

Vienna Austria

The Swedes (or Germans, depends on who you ask) say, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing” to which I say, “Habibi, come to the UAE.”  What can I wear that makes 110 degrees F and 80% humidity bearable? Nothing. Especially with postpartum baby weight. I’m literally a hot mess.

Anyway, we chose Vienna for a few different reasons, and I will be doing a big post on Vienna soon, but it was definitely one of our favorite places to have ever visited. A much needed quick getaway and trial run traveling with two kids before the long trip to the States.

Vienna Austria Rathaus

We’ve now returned from our trip to California and what a restorative, wonderful, needed trip that was. Mostly for me. I needed to see my people, I needed to be back home. I needed to be around the people who know me, and who validate me. Does that sound vapid? I kind of don’t care. It’s hard living on the other side of the planet, or somewhere new every few years – or literally just away from your people – and it feels good to see your Aunties who tell you they love you and are proud of you for living the life you’ve always wanted and said you would. Matt’s family and friends are in one place, and we go there every time we visit “home”. My family is split between two states and my friends are scattered as well, so it’s hard for me to connect with my family, friends, and past as easily. This trip was grounding, reminding me that the people I have chosen to surround myself with are generous, funny, good humans that I truly wish I could see more often.

IMG_5648

What a battle it is to reconcile wanting to be comfortable and content, and wanting the adventure that comes with living abroad for some time.

Anyway, now we have returned home and I’ve gone about trying to establish a schedule again and enjoy the remaining weeks before nursery school starts up for my oldest boy. But the husband just realized we have another few holiday days off… So, we’re going to Bangkok.

In the immortal words of my hero Hunter S. Thompson:

No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.

That’s all that keeps running through my mind.

Do you have any tips for Bangkok? Thailand? Southeast Asia with tiny children? Here we go again…

Buy the ticket, take the ride.