May 30, 2014

Riquewihr, France: Alsace Wine Region


Doesn't this town look like the perfect place to celebrate an anniversary?! 6 year anniversary, to be exact! Last July, as the first of three heat waves made its way into Europe, D and I took a 3 hour drive from Wiesbaden to the beautiful village of Riquewihr, France. This too-cute-for-words cobblestoned town is part of the famed Alsatian Wine Route and is just about the epitome of French charm. Colorful houses, wine-filled shops, and flower boxes bursting at the seams with fresh blooms…if France ever had a storybook village, THIS WAS IT. One of my favorite things about living in Europe these last 3 years have been quaint towns like these, nestled in between vineyards and oozing picturesque scenery. The only other town that I could compare to this would be Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany…also one of my very favorites. Riquewihr, while also walled like Rothenburg, was much smaller and surrounded on all sides by lush, green vineyards. This place was practically begging me to stay there forever!

We stayed just inside the old walls of the town at the most adorable hotel with the most lovely views (Hotel à L'Oríel, in case you were wondering). Everyday we had a traditional European breakfast in the sitting room with the owner's friendly cat. Every night we dined al fresco with chilled wine, stinky cheese, and under the romantic ambiance of the French countryside. Sounds like a total dream, right? It was. Granted, it also reached 108°F one afternoon (no, seriously…I have photos of town thermometers), but with such sweet scenery surrounding us on our weekend of love, we almost didn't notice. Allllmost. 3 cold showers a day kept the heat tolerable, but I digress. We spent the morning of our first full day in Alsace wandering around the alleyways of Riquewihr, stopping in for wine tastings at various winery stores and shopping for French treats unique to the region. The rest of the afternoon was spent a short drive away in Colmar…the widely-known "capital of Alsatian wine". More French fun to come! 

May 29, 2014

3 Cruising Myths Debunked with Mundane Ecstasy

Cruise Day 14: Right now, D and I are probably sitting in an airport, waiting to hop our flight back to Germany. I hate the end of vacations. I especially hate waiting in airports at the end of vacations. Nothing like slapping you back to reality with a crowded Italian airport and a screaming toddler within earshot of your not-so-comfy coach seat. It's a far way to fall from a luxurious cruise ship, I'll tell you that! Nevertheless, now that our vacation has ended, I'm ready to get back to Germany and close out our last few weeks here. There are appointments to keep, an apartment to vacate, and one last festival to attend before we mosey on. A bittersweet German farewell, for sure. But before we close the book on all things cruise-related, check out the 3 myths my blog friend, Alys, has thoughtfully shared with you guys today! I couldn't have said it all better myself. Educate the masses, Alys!

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G’day! I’m Alys and I blog over at Mundane Ecstasy all the way over in Sydneytown (though we don’t really call it that any more). What a pleasure it is to be joining you all and contributing a little something about a road less travelled of my own.

Rhapsody of the Seas
Allure of the Seas Royal Caribbean

In 2012, we had the nightmare pleasure of organising our wedding and honeymoon to the USA in 6 short months. Note this wasn’t a shot gun wedding, we had just been together for 6 years and I had never wanted a long engagement. Planning a month long international holiday is hard work--planning to leave on that holiday two days after our wedding was mental. In all of the planning we knew we were going to want a week of lazing about by the water and that is when my husband had the genius idea to take a cruise around the Caribbean.

Allure of the Seas Royal Caribbean
Allure of the Seas at Falmouth Jamaica

We were so excited about the cruise, but I was blown away by how negative people were about the idea. Since that first cruise, we have been on two more with another one planned for Italy in the not to distant future. We ignored the Negative Nellys and I am so glad we did. Our friends now know us as cruisers, so much that we cannot talk about a holiday without people asking where the cruise will be. Noticing that a certain blogger is enjoying her own cruising adventure, I wanted to take a moment to talk about why you should get on that boat.

Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas

Myth 1: cruise ships are full of old people

Completely untrue. Cruising really is for all ages and that is reflected in the passenger list. On the honeymoon cruise, we were one of 200 honeymooning couples on-board. Around that there were couples celebrating all sorts of anniversaries (we met an amazing Texan couple celebrating their 30th anniversary with friends) or just travelling together. Cruising also makes an excellent family vacation. What parent wouldn’t prefer to show their children the world without having to deal with airports and on the at sea days let their children play with other kids whilst the parents laze by the pool? There were definitely retirees, older single travellers and couples, but they partied like they were 25, so don’t let that distract you. Cruise ships are melting pots of cultures and ages and the cruise lines plan for that, so there are activities across the ship to appeal no matter what sort of cruising experience you want to have. This is particularly true for the giant ships that leave Florida for the Caribbean.

Isla Cozumel, Mexico on the Allure of the Seas
Haiti and Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas

Myth 2: You spend the whole time sea sick

This one depends on where you cruise from. The water of the Caribbean is perfect, there were barely any waves and we just glided along barely aware we were even on the water. The same is true of the waters off the coast of Singapore. That water is again quite protected, so it was very calm. Leaving from Sydney Harbour was a very different situation. The demand for cruise ships is different in Australia with less passengers cruise lines inevitably send smaller ships. In addition, Australia is about two sea days from the Pacific Islands (compared to the one day at sea on our Caribbean/Asian cruises) and you have probably already figured out where this is headed. Each of us was sea sick on the first night as we headed out into open ocean and we got ill again when the ship sailed around a cyclone (yes there is a story there). So it is possible to spend some time seasick, but it isn’t the norm.

Haiti and Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas
Haiti and Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas

Myth 3: Cruises are expensive

This looks true on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you will get a very pleasant surprise. When I first got a price for a cruise, I nearly ruled it out. It looked like it was taking up way more of our budget than I was willing to spend for a week. On encouragement from the husband, we looked more closely at what that money actually bought. Simply put, in addition to your cabin and transport you receive three meals a day, incredible service, loads of activities (we watched “Brave” under the stars in the Caribbean drinking margaritas) and free room service. I should point out that the cruise line we sailed with did have a tipping culture, which as an Australian did add to the cost. In Australia, we tip because the service warrants it, but on the cruise ship the tip was included in the bill. Drinks, other than the basics, are additional but you can often get deals to pre-pay those which makes them cheaper. Overall though you get a lot for your money, more than if you chose to fly between each destination.

Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas

For us cruising is a simple, fairly painless way to see the world. I often describe it as your hotel taking you around the world and one of the best parts is unpacking on day one and then a week later packing up again having seen a few countries in the meantime. The flexibility of cruise ships is really what has made them a staple in our holiday plans. When we are in our 80s, I am sure we will still be sailing the world, drinking a pina colada under the stars.

You can read more from Alys and connect with her here!
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May 27, 2014

Ontario to Italy: Reasons To Dress

Cruise Day 12: D and I have been walking and wandering and exploring Europe non-stop for the last 12 days. Today, however, is a sea day. No itinerary to stick to, no alarm clocks to set, just a day spent relaxing and recouping by the pool as we sail up the Adriatic to our final stop, an overnight in Venice. Needless to say, this cruise has been BEYOND amazing. Though we were on our feet and up early most days, we've seen and experienced some stunning parts of Europe we never thought we'd visit. We've sat on our balcony, watched the sun rise, and felt the sea breeze invigorate us each morning. We've laughed until our bellies hurt over dinner and drinks with friends each night. We've relished the quiet moments, just the two of us, in the calm before the moving storm we're about to return to when we venture home. This was a much needed step away from chaos. Everyone should vacation before a big life change. It's given us some peace, patience, and a dose of calm clarity…a huge blessing as we prepare to embark on our new adventure. As we finish out these last 2 days of vacation bliss, take a second to get to know a blogger that's no stranger to my little slice of the interwebs. Angela is a wife, mom, and fashionista living and learning the Italian way of life in Modena, Italy. Thanks for sharing your story, Ang!

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I always wondered what it would be like to raise a family in Italy.     

 Actually, that’s part of the reason that I came here in the first place. My parents are Italian but none of us four kids learned the language growing up...and none of my nieces and nephews learned it either. I used to daydream about what life in Italy was like, and I longed to one day speak Italian and teach it to my eventual children. It's amazing how you have the power to change your own life, and with these thoughts in mind, I set out to make this dream become a reality. 

If you want to hear how I ended up in Italy you can read all about it here, the story involves dancing the Tarantella, living with three 20 year old guys and a lonely Christmas! I can only compare how my family and friends live in Toronto, Canada to what it is like in Modena, the small city in the mid-North of Italy where I live. And, let me tell you, things are DIFFERENT here! Some things, take dryers for example, don’t even exist here! Hardly anyone I know owns a dryer! Everyone hangs their clothes out on the line (even indoor lines like mine!) and then irons what they are going to wear. Almost everyone lives in an apartment or condo, with only two bedrooms and ONE WASHROOM!! We are lucky because we have an extra “powder room” that I insisted on! My husband thought I was being a “North American princess” when we were apartment hunting, but life is so much easier with two washrooms. Hello...PRIVACY! Everything is smaller here, the living space, the fridges, the cars, the freezers...ours for example, it’s the size of a shoebox!    


 It took me a few years to get used to living here and accept the fact that I wasn’t going to be moving back. Just when it seemed like I had adjusted, I became pregnant! It was kind of a surprise because we weren’t exactly trying, but I was SO HAPPY to be pregnant! The pregnancy and birth were a little complicated (read all about my birth story here), but everything turned out fine (aside from how difficult it is to navigate the Italian health system!). Now I have my little man, who just turned two, and we took him to Rome for his second birthday (I’ve done a whole series about the trip here)! My Italian husband and I decided that the best thing would be for me to stay home and raise our son. I really want him to be bilingual and speak English, so I accepted (with a bit of fear) the challenge of working part-time from home, but mostly being a stay at home mom.

 Before getting pregnant, I had spent the last 3 and a half years working together with my man at his family business. My husband is an only child and learned his parents’ trade, which they learned from his grandmother! They transform exotic leather, like alligator and python, into the World’s most luxurious leather belts. We’ve travelled together to some of the most prestigious fashion events and tradeshows in the industry including events in Milan, Paris, Florence, Munich and New York. As glamorous as that may sound it was actually a little stressful since we MAKE luxury products, but don’t earn luxury money! I’ve written a bit about this weird situation here and here. Actually, everyone in Italy has low wages compared to North American standards, and to top it all off, credit cards don’t exist here! I wrote about it here. To prepare for these fashion events I would shop the sales racks, vintage stores and used market stalls. This lead me to develop my Fashion Philosophy and my way of shopping, coined “Fashion Foresight - shop now, wear later!” It was fun, working in fashion, so I didn’t think I was ready to fade away into the background and miss out on all the exciting events and reasons to dress up. 


To me, being a stay at home mom meant being indoors all day, seeing no one and living with uncombed hair and pajama pants. I WAS SO WRONG! Italians are social beings and nothing changes when you become a parent. They bring their kids EVERYWHERE! All of the occasions I had for dressing-up at work were replaced with occasions to dress-up and go out with my son! As I mentioned before, the life here is different. Every city has a central square, called “Piazza” in Italian, which is the heart of the town. People never drive for more than half an hour to work and back (this is historically rooted and also tied to the price of gas, which I’ve written about here), so there is more time to do things like walk to a local store and go out in the evening. There are 60 million people living in Italy, and the ENTIRE country is 1/6th the size of my home province of Ontario. My husband often says “Italia è fitta”, meaning “Italy is packed!” In a seemingly small town, the apartment buildings are filled with people...in fact everywhere is always filled with people! There are rituals here. The Saturday morning stroll is a ritual, going for an aperitivo with friends & the WHOLE family (including kids!) is a ritual, and strolling to the Piazza, when you don’t know where to go, is a ritual. You are bound to find SOMETHING happening there, because there are always free events, concerts, markets or people hanging out. I had this fear that I would lead a secluded life indoors with a baby, but I was wrong. Everyday I found reasons to dress! And then I realized I really wanted to share this experience so I started my blog, Reasons to Dress.


   Italians, even with the little amount of money they make, always look fantastic! It’s not about how much money they spend on their clothes, it’s about their sense of style, presentation and pride. There is a 90% chance you will run into someone you know when you leave the house, so why not look decent. Putting on a blazer and jeans is just as easy as putting on sweats. The first time I went for a stroll alone with my son “all dolled up” I felt SILLY?? What if someone asked me “where are you going, I thought you were just a stay at home mom with no where to be??” But that never happened. It was normal here to be presentable, and instead I ran into some of the moms from our playgroup who were also looking fantastic. At that point I started the Real Mom Street Style series on the blog, which I update weekly. Instead of being inspired by celeb mom fashion, I wanted to inspire other ladies with what real moms were wearing. I also feature my own readers who email me their OOTD pictures. (GO FOR IT I’d love to see your style!) I don’t necessarily think you need to live in Europe or Italy to enjoy dressing up and taking your kids out. Living here taught me that. Why should the only time we put on a necklace be date night? I put together this list of 10 places you can go (no matter where you live) with your kids and get dressed up. I’ve tried to focus on places that let you get a little fancy, since we all know that there are plenty of occasions to get sporty with kids.   

 I’d love to have you pop over to my blog and have a look and tell me what you think. It’s the spring in Italy, so I’ve been enjoying the Italian countryside this month, going to an Agriturismo, a cool event in the Tuscan mountainside and enjoying the many free events that happen in and around Modena. My blog is a way for me to stay connected to the English world and share life in this crazy, but also beautiful, pasta eating, clothes hanging, parallel parking peninsula of a country! I’m Angie from Reasons to Dress, nice to meet you!  

May 26, 2014

Dresden, Germany


Aside from Cologne, Dresden is the farthest city to the north that we've visited in Germany. I know...kind of sad, right? For some reason, even though we live in central Germany, we tend to gravitate towards Bavaria and the Southern regions of the country more often. No particular reason except that from what I hear, Bavaria is known for having more of the quaint, picturesque villages you envision when you think of what Germany must look like. When I think of northern Germany, I think of Berlin-type cityscapes...lots of history, but lots of modern buildings. Not having been to many (or any) Northern cities, I can't say for certain if my visions are correct. But if Dresden is any indication of what the north looks like, I'll be happy to declare I'm wrong!

D and I made a quick overnight trip to Dresden just after the New Year began. The air was chilly, but the city was warm and inviting, tourists and locals bustling everywhere. Our hotel was located right beside Zwinger Palace (Dresden's most popular attraction), placing us central to everything we wanted to see in the city. We spent quite a bit of time marveling at the colorful Baroque architecture of the Neumarkt. The Frauenkirche commands the Neumarkt skyline, with restaurant and shop-filled alleyways jutting off from every corner of the church. I found myself looking up quite often, gazing at the gorgeous stone facade shining against the blue sky. Dresden boast some major eye candy, to say the very least! Just behind the church lies the the famed Bruhlsche Terrasse, also known as "the balcony of Europe." From here you can look into the Neumarket, across the river Elbe, and view many classic Baroque buildings and sculptures scattered along the promenade. D and I snapped photos along the water, ate dinner at the ever-popular Augustiner Brauhaus, and ducked into Paulaner for an evening beer, but I think my most favorite part of our day in Dresden was watching the street performers dance with bubbles in the Neumarkt. Absolutely not something we'd usually waste time watching, but the crowd that formed around the 3 dancers drew us in, and the adorable bulldog that kept trying to eat the bubbles as they floated by made us stay. It was completely random, but definitely entertaining. That night, the opening of Dresden's Winterzauber filled the Altmarkt square, so we stopped in for a mug of gluhwein and watched as Perchten (the winter demon) snuck up on unsuspecting passersby (including myself). After our brief weekend away, Dresden had me wishing we'd made time to visit more German gems in the north. Guess we'll just have to make our way back someday! :)

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