Archive | travel

A Day in Oxford // England with Kids // Part 3

IMG_1645 One of our favorite places in the world is Oxford, “the city of dreaming spires.” I visited my friend Laura in Oxford when she was a student there, and then I returned as a summer university student about 10 years ago. Elliott has also visited twice, and we each have our own memories and our own favorite places around the city.

Also, has anyone else read A Severe Mercy, part of which takes place in Oxford? We read it together when we first started dating, and it is a book that we reference often as our inspiration for a tender and adventurous marriage.

We decided to go to Oxford on our second day in England, on Friday, April 8th. We stayed on our feet almost all day and managed to see a lot of this beautiful place!

IMG_0039 First stop: the local library. This was unintended; we got off the bus at the wrong stop — whoops. But we needed wifi in order to orient ourselves. (Later that day we bought SIM cards for our iPhones and now have U.K. phone numbers and data. We’re European locals again for a few weeks!)

IMG_0076 Found these two cute prisoners at the Oxford Castle. We could definitely use one of these at home — hah!

IMG_0040 IMG_0078 IMG_0079 Magdalen College and Magdalen Street (pronounced “Maudlin”) are everywhere in Oxford! Our little Magdalena (nicknamed Lena) loved that.

IMG_0082 At The Eagle and Child pub for lunch with my own littlest child.

IMG_0083 We enjoyed following in the footsteps of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and the other “Inklings” to eat and talk at this pub, but we found more Americans here than anywhere else in Oxford. It’s more of a tourist attraction now, I suppose… oh well.

IMG_0043 Around the corner from the pub is the Ashmolean Museum, where the kids saw their first Egyptian mummies and enjoyed the beautiful children’s section.

IMG_0084 IMG_0096 IMG_0085 We adults paid £2 each to go inside the private grounds of Balliol College, one of the many colleges that make up Oxford University. The gardens were in gorgeous spring bloom! It was a perfect spring day, and we ended up staying for over an hour, exploring and then relaxing on the grass. Visiting Balliol is one of my favorite memories of our trip so far. These are a few of my favorite photos (out of about 100!).

IMG_0048 Reading the hymnbook in the Balliol chapel. They’re both beginning readers, so they have been trying to decipher signs and books everywhere we go on this trip.

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IMG_0058 After Balliol, we walked across the street to visit Blackwell’s, a huge and incredible bookshop. When I was a summer student, I spent many hours studying and reading inside the Classics section or the cafe there.

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IMG_0091 IMG_0090 IMG_0092 We walked on to Christ Church Meadow on our way to visit Magdalen College. The kids were enjoying a precious hot chocolate that Elliott had purchased for them in Blackwell’s. He rarely buys them anything sweet, so they were savoring every sip!

IMG_0062 A view of the Christ Church Cathedral from the Meadow.

IMG_0063 IMG_0064 IMG_0065 IMG_0066 Approaching Magdalen College now. All the trees in bloom…!

IMG_0068 Inside the cloisters of Magdalen College. Years ago I went up to the top of that tower with some friends. The key to enter was about 10 inches long.

IMG_0101 The deer park in Magdalen College.

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IMG_0073 We walked through the grounds to the meadow behind the college. The story goes that Lewis and Tolkien used to walk together around the meadow here, feet crunching on the path as they discussed faith and life.

IMG_0070 This beautiful old house reminds me of Toad Hall from The Wind in the Willows!

IMG_0071 IMG_0072 I used to come back here to the meadow and quiet gardens behind it as a summer student to read and study. What a gloriously beautiful place!


IMG_0074 If you are in need of grit, Magdalen College has some.

IMG_0075 Magdalen College’s boats being gathered up for the night. I wish we could have hired a punt boat and taken the kids around the River Cherwell in the meadow; I have fond memories of doing that with friends as a summer student. We’ll have to save that for next time… maybe when they can all swim!

And that was the end of our lovely day in Oxford. Have you been? Which little nooks and crannies are your favorites?

7 :: in family, travel

Jet Lag and Farm Parks // England with Kids // Part 2

To see Part 1 of this series, click here!

IMG_0020 Jet lag is no joke, and it is especially rough when your kids are waking up right as you parents are just ready to go to bed. Ugh. However, I shouldn’t complain, as the kids crashed at their usual bedtimes, and Forest and Gil only caused trouble between 10pm-12am. We all slept in late the next morning!

IMG_0022 Our friends have a wonderful playroom for their young son, but even more wonderful was this gadget…

IMG_0019 … their amazing coffee machine which made me a cappuccino each morning! Or maybe more than one cappuccino, hah. I now know what I would like for Christmas, dear Elliott.

IMG_0144 My friend also had bouquets of gorgeous spring flowers all around her home, and more carefully nurtured blooms in her garden outdoors. What a gift to enjoy such generous and beautiful hospitality from old friends!

IMG_0024 While Elliott worked from home and Forest napped, Lena, Gil, and I walked into the little town of Gerrards Cross, admiring the gorgeous homes in the neighborhood along the way. They all had such English names and windows and gardens.

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IMG_0023 After a requisite stop in the town’s bookshop, we walked home and decided to go to a nearby “farm park” for the afternoon. This turned out to be one of Elliott’s greatest ideas ever, as it was just the right level of activity for the kids, low-energy activity for the parents, and cuteness all around.

IMG_0036 We need farm parks in the States! This one had a barn with adorable newborn animals to meet and feed, three huge outdoor playgrounds, a crazy indoor playground, delicious cafe, maze, tractor/hay ride, mini tractors and go karts for kids to drive themselves, and even a mini golf course. We stayed for 5 hours and could have stayed much longer!

IMG_0038 IMG_0025 IMG_0026 IMG_0027 Not so sure about the chickens. He cried every time they moved!

IMG_0028 IMG_0029 He seemed to like the Silkie chickens best, just like his dad does.

IMG_0034 Sheep in the background!

IMG_0030 I laughed out loud when I saw this photo because this is exactly how I felt about this time. We were sitting in bleachers waiting for the kids to give baby goats bottles of milk (!), and I was literally falling asleep on my feet, swaying slightly and catching myself just before losing my balance. Yikes! Where’s the cafe and a giant cup of coffee?!

IMG_0031 I am sure this is why Forest has a runny nose now… ugh. But how could I resist letting him try out an old-fashioned ball pit, and how could he resist a taste?

The older kids were off on a massive indoor playground, like a Chick-Fil-A indoor playspace x1000. If you want to see Lena taking on a slide with a 15-foot vertical drop, check out this video. I had sweaty palms while watching her!

IMG_0033 Falling asleep in my arms… one of the sweetest moments for a mother at the end of a wonderful day.

More to come. :)

4 :: in family, travel

Three Kids and Three Weeks in Europe! // Part 1

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This month, my little family is on the trip of a lifetime: three weeks in Europe!

We’ve been looking for a way to use Elliott’s extra vacation time, and so in January we started looking at airline tickets. Elliott found a phenomenal deal to Europe on Norwegian Airlines. For less than $1100, he purchased roundtrip tickets between LA and Europe for our entire family! We jumped on the flights, and now, in early April, here we are in the U.K.

The days are flying by, and I want to record them in real time if I can. I share a few photos a day on Instagram, but I don’t want to post too much on there. Besides, there is so much more to record and remember!

IMG_1305 Right before we left, our dear friends came to stay in our house and take care of our pets. They have two kids that are close to Lena and Gil’s age, and the four children had so much fun together! We were sorry to leave!

IMG_1310 Forest helped with packing. I’m hoping to write a list of what we packed soon. We brought 4 carry-on suitcases and didn’t check any bags, except for free-to-check baby items: umbrella stroller, baby bed, and narrow car seats and booster seats for our European rental cars.

IMG_1311 And we’re off! We left on Tuesday, April 4, and we had to drive 2 hours to LA first. We parked our car in long-term parking and then took the shuttle to the airport. By the time we got through security, we felt like we’d already run a marathon! Packing, organizing the house, driving, and dealing with the airport had made for a very full day.

IMG_1315 We were super early to the airport, which I loved and Elliott begrudgingly accepted — hah! We have access to certain airport lounges thanks to one of our credit cards, so we headed there for a couple of hours before our flight.

IMG_1317 Lena had turned 6 the day before, so she was eager to break out some of her birthday presents!

IMG_1340 Time to head to our gate! The rolling suitcases took a little bit of figuring out…

IMG_1342 … but this makes it look like a breeze. For those who are interested, these are the suitcases we purchased after comparing tons of them. They fit the carry-on size requirements for all European airlines.

IMG_1345 On the flight, we were seated together, but I requested to move when I saw there was an empty seat in front of the bulkhead, which had the attachments for a baby bassinet. They let me move to that seat, and I was so thankful. However, Forest was really too big for the bassinet (he’s 30 inches long and weighs 20 lbs), and so he only slept comfortably in it for a few hours.

After that I had a terrible time getting him back to sleep; he just wouldn’t settle in the Ergo, the bassinet, or my arms. Finally we both fell asleep with me sitting down and him in the Ergo.

Elliott had a slightly better time with the older kids. Thanks to my move, they each had two seats to themselves! He also gave them melatonin, a natural sleep aid, which was new for us. I purchased this melatonin right before our flight, and our pediatrician friend recommended doses for them based on their age and size. It seemed to work well, as the kids slept off and on for about 7 hours. On a 9.5-hour flight, that is solid gold!

IMG_0017 And finally, many hours later, we landed at London’s Gatwick airport. The kids were still wearing their pajamas when we disembarked… oops!

IMG_1359 And here we are, ready to head out to our rental car. I didn’t plan it, but they are totally matching their suitcases.

IMG_0018 And now in the rental car! I did a lot of research and decided to get Diono car seats for Forest and Gil because they are so narrow and so safe. Thankfully, a mom I trusted in my neighborhood was selling two of them for $40 each, and so I purchased them for this trip and for Hawaii, and I plan to resell them or give them away afterwards. For Lena I purchased a Bubble Bum inflatable booster seat after hearing about it from more trusted pediatrician friends. It is also super narrow.

The Car Crash Detective’s “3 Across Guide” was helpful in determining which configurations of seats would probably fit into little rental cars. We rented a small Skoda Octavia station wagon, and all our luggage fit easily in the back. Now I am wondering why we have a minivan?!

At last, with everything and everyone securely in place, we left the airport. Unfortunately, by now it was 4pm and prime rush hour, so we spent the next 2 hours on the M25 highway around London, exhausted beyond belief, telling the kids “just a little bit longer!”

We finally arrived around dinner time to my friend Laura’s house in Gerrards Cross, a lovely neighborhood outside London. I’ll pick up our story again soon with the details of our first few days!

15 :: in family, travel

Our Kid-Friendly, Playground-Filled Trip to San Francisco! [Part 2]

IMG_0480 By now I know you have completely forgotten that we ever went to San Francisco… but there is more to share! But first of all — isn’t this such a sweet picture of Elliott and Lena?! I love those two blue-eyed people so much.

IMG_1677 To pick up where we left off, we were on Day 3 of our five-day trip to San Francisco, and our agenda for Saturday morning was to meet up with my college friends Emily and Anthony (who fell in love and got married after we graduated) and their two beautiful girls.

IMG_1691 We got kind of lost on our drive to meet them, though, and decided to check out Lombard Street as long as we were nearby. The crookedest street in the world! I’ve been on some crooked streets in my time, but I have to agree — this one wins.

becca-garber-san-francisco-5 Across the Golden Gate Bridge, a historic moment! We met up with our friends at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, which is a completely amazing place, all structured to delight and engage little minds and bodies.

IMG_1709 This thing they’re all bouncing on was a water-filled “lily pad,” like those water beds from the ’80s. More kids’ museums need to bring this idea back!

IMG_1704 View from the top of the hill outside the museum. We were surrounded by amazing, natural play structures and gardens outdoors, too. becca-garber-san-francisco-3 Streams to play in, giant building blocks that the dads wanted to play with too… you get the idea. It was awesome. Thanks for inviting us, Emily and Anthony, and I hope it isn’t too long before we can all play together again!

The rest of Saturday was a wash because the kids were still recovering from being sick and we all needed some time to curl up with books and take it easy. That afternoon we met up with my college friend Alison at another playground, and she and I got to chat and sip chai while Elliott followed the kids around the playground.

Afterwards we went home and I made pasta and Elliott said, “That really hit the spot,” and meant it, and you know it’s been a good day when you are so tired and full of delicious carbs and just happy.

becca-garber-san-francisco-2 The next morning we were up early to eat breakfast at the Ferry Building before starting a full day of adventuring. I took pictures of the building, shops, and my kids while Elliott waited in line at Blue Bottle Coffee.

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IMG_0475 I bought cheese pastries and apple turnovers for breakfast at Acme Bread, which is famous for a reason.

IMG_0497 Latte, pastries, and a playground on a beautiful San Francisco morning… I could get used to this…

Right after it opened at 10am, we arrived at the doors of the Exploratorium, a science museum along the waterfront in San Francisco. We had been warned that it would be a little too advanced for our young kids, and our friends were right, but Lena and Gil still managed to have a lot more fun than I expected.

It helps to have a science-loving, super playful dad. ;)

becca-garber-san-francisco-1 IMG_0505 IMG_0532 IMG_1730 (1) This face-distorting photo machine had us all in stitches. Also, how fun is it to laugh with your whole family at a mutual, inside joke? Look at Lena’s face!

IMG_0572 After that we met up with our dear friends David and Heather and their boys to go on a boat tour of the San Francisco Bay. We see each other about once a week in San Diego and decided to do almost the exact same trip at the same time — what are the chances?!

IMG_0541 Goodbye for a little bit, San Francisco.

IMG_0543 The island of Alcatraz! After this Elliott and I went home and finally watched Escape from Alcatraz for the first time in either of our lives.

IMG_0558 IMG_0561 Afterward our bay cruise, we decided to get lunch with our friends, so we all hopped on a tram to ride down the waterfront back to the Ferry Building. These crazy kids loved it!

IMG_0592 IMG_1733 Lunch at Hog Island Oyster Co. was out-of-this-world amazing! The chipotle-roasted oysters were my favorite part of the meal… and the bread, of course.

IMG_0610 We had heard so much about a hotel in downtown that has a special discount for members of the military, so we decided to spend our last night there. The Marines Memorial Hotel was great — and so was this free happy hour in the upstairs lounge and the free buffet breakfast the next morning — but overall we loved our cozy neighborhood experience in our AirBnB better.

IMG_1735 On our last evening in San Francisco, we walked down to Union Square and then up to Chinatown at sunset.

IMG_1736 And then we caught the trolley up to Nob Hill! I unfortunately was man-handling the stroller for our entire trolley ride (it would not fit where the engineer insisted I had to fold and store it), but Elliott got to sit on the outside bench with the kids and I think they all had a great time.

We returned after sunset, tired and content, and all managed to share a hotel room that night with no problems whatsoever. A new era in our lives where the kids actually go to sleep pretty much when they’re told and sleep all night!

The next morning we went…

IMG_1758 … to Monterey! The last stop on our list was the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and we met up with our friends again to explore the waterfront and then the aquarium. Both were smaller than I expected (especially after the grandeur and scale of everything in San Francisco), but the wonders of the ocean world were magnificently displayed.

IMG_1772 IMG_1778 “That’s a clown fish!” “Nemo!” “Yes, a clown fish!”

IMG_1783 IMG_1784 This Open Ocean display was my favorite thing in the entire aquarium. It’s so huge, and the fish swim by so fast, disappearing into the depths and darkness for minutes at a time before reappearing, flashing by, and disappearing again. It gave me a greater sense of being in the real ocean than any other display that day.

And that was our trip! Oh, and we picked up a new family member on the way home:

IMG_1992 But more about her later. ;)

3 :: in family, life lately, travel

Our Kid-Friendly, Playground-Filled Trip to San Francisco! [Part 1]

IMG_1563 Last week my family and I did something I have been wanting to do since we moved to California — we went to San Francisco! For a week! It was a dream come true for me to spend so much time in that city and really soak it up, so thank you, dear Elliott, for taking the time off and making it happen.

We haven’t been to San Francisco since our honeymoon (almost six years ago) — and we were only there for half a day on our way between Tahoe and the Pacific Coast Highway. I was thrilled to spend more time eating, walking, and playing our way through the beautiful city.

When we lived in Sicily, we traveled a lot, but it could be stressful, tearful, and limited thanks to having two babies. By contrast, this trip was… amazing. The kids were talkative, curious, full of questions, still happy to ride in the stroller, just old enough to cheerfully skip their naps, and went to bed without complaint around 7:30/8 every night. We had so much fun with them, even on the eight-hour car ride up there and back. Little troopers.

IMG_1570 We arrived in San Francisco on Thursday afternoon (October 1), and we were able to find our way easily to our AirBnB rental apartment in the Mission district. We weren’t sure what we would find, but we loved it! It was huge, and the Japanese artist who owned it charged us less than we would have paid for a hotel room. The kids loved this “tiger pillow” and “polar bear blanket.”

Elliott is very sad that in both these pictures he is on his computer — but in his defense he was researching where we should explore first in our neighborhood… and he came up with this:

IMG_1578 He lead us around the corner and up a street into the beautiful Bernal Heights neighborhood, which felt like D.C.’s Capitol Hill in some ways (beautiful, eclectic rowhouses and lots and lots of young parents and kids) except it was built on a steeeeeep slant, just like the rest of San Francisco. We played at a beautiful neighborhood park for a while and then started walking up and up and up and up…

IMG_1590 … high above the city streets and into Bernal Heights Park, which has a breathtaking view of the city at sunset.

IMG_1586 We had to adjust to the constant breeze and chilly air in San Francisco. I can’t believe that locals call September and October “San Francisco summer” and that it’s usually colder and foggier than this. Brrr!

IMG_1594 On the top of the world! Right at the highest point of the park, overlooking the whole city, we found the most amazing swing we’d ever seen:

IMG_1612 Later, famished, we walked back into Bernal Heights and found a little noodle shop on the main road. Doesn’t this bowl of ramen look like the perfect dinner on a blustery, chilly night? It was!

IMG_1616 We walked the final mile back home, tired and satiated, and then walked into our apartment building to find that Gil had fallen asleep in the stroller! He was sick at the time (and unfortunately had croup for the first three nights of our trip, which was miserable for all of us), which is the only reason he fell asleep in the stroller — he never does that! We all crept around him and whispered, treating him like the baby of the family once again.

FullSizeRender-1 The next morning, I had one goal in my mind: Tartine. I’ve been hearing about this bakery for years, and I was thrilled to find that it was only a mile from our apartment. We packed up and left the loft for an entire day of exploring.

becca-garber-san-francisco-6 Tartine did not disappoint! I waited in line while Elliott and the kids waited outside, and then — miraculously — I snagged a table that was big enough for all of us inside. Lena was so excited to dig into this famous morning bun and delicious Gruyère roll!

IMG_1629 Not pictured: a delicious turkey and cheese melt on top a long, thin slice of real Tartine bread. We savored every bite of that amazing breakfast, and I think I’ll dream about it until I can go back again. I am such a sucker for good bread and deep lattes, so San Francisco and I got along swimmingly.

Also, Gil’s face here is priceless:

IMG_1633 We walked a few more blocks to beautiful Mission Dolores Park, which was calm and peaceful on a weekday. Apparently it is the gathering place for smokers, musicians, and alternative lifestyle-livers on the weekend… which is hard to imagine from these photos!

IMG_1637 We found the second awesome playground of the day there in the park:

IMG_0453 Below: “One for the money… two for the show… three to get ready, and four to goooooo!”

IMG_1638 (1) Also, this is the second of the only two photos that were taken of me the entire week in San Francisco. I guess I was too busy eating my way through the city to pose! (And I am not kidding… “where shall we eat next?” was a constant, happy refrain in my mind.)

IMG_0456 I think this was our fourth playground of the day? We were walking from the Mission district west across San Francisco, and along the way we literally came upon a new playground every half-mile! San Francisco has some of the best playgrounds in an urban space that I have ever seen (except maybe here).

That said, at home in San Diego I walk by playgrounds all the time and say, “No, kids, not right now, we’ll be here tomorrow to meet our friends anyway…” or some other excuse, but in San Francisco Elliott stopped at EVERY. SINGLE. PLAYGROUND. that we passed. Which was 10 playgrounds that first day alone! Dad of the year? Probably.

But he wanted to play on them too! And it made the kids so happy!

And he is — more than occasionally and in all the right places — a total softy.

IMG_0462 IMG_0463 We walked through the famous district of Haight-Ashbury because I wanted to see where the hippie movement started in the ’60s, although everyone said it was pretty grungy. We liked it, though, and some of the architecture and shops were beautiful. We also came across an amazing bookstore where we all wanted to spend about twice as much time as we did!

IMG_0470 But our goal was the California Academy of Sciences, and hopefully before closing time. We kept walking, came to Golden Gate Park, ate a picnic in the grass of one of the meadows, found another playground…

IMG_1651 … with another awesome slide…

IMG_1654 … and then finally dragged ourselves away to the museum. Which was, just as everyone had promised us, completely beautiful!

becca-garber-san-francisco-4 Our favorite part might have been the indoor, climate-controlled rainforest (top left) which also had a deep pool filled with Amazonian fish and animals, and a glass tunnel underneath so you could walk through and let the fish swim over you. We lingered as long as we could, enjoying the beautiful displays of hundreds of animals, plants, and birds.

IMG_1666 We had to get to the Ferry Building, though, because we were meeting my college friend Dan. We hadn’t seen him since our wedding! I failed to get a picture, but we had a great time catching up, enjoying a drink together at Gotts, and exploring the foodie shops of the Ferry Building. Next time we’ll all go flying, Dan!

FullSizeRender-2 That night, my friend Emily’s babysitter came to watch our kids while we went out for a date. We had made a reservation at The Slanted Door, a famous Vietnamese-fusion restaurant in the Ferry Building, but because Gil was still sick, we decided to stay close to our apartment. I found this list of the 30 Hottest Restaurants in San Francisco and discovered the top three were within a few blocks of our apartment. The Mission district is the place to be!

Ultimately we decided on the Old Bus Tavern restaurant, which looked promising and brews its own beer, but in the end we were pretty disappointed with the avant-garde menu. Pictured above: quail eggs. That was the only description, but when they arrived we discovered that they were poached, pickled quail eggs on a bed of salty, spicy fried leeks. Exciting! But ultimately the dishes went too far even for our adventurous palates. Oh well, maybe we’ll get another chance to eat out on a date in San Francisco in another five years!

To be continued in San Francisco – Part 2…

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8 :: in family, travel

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