5 things I wished we knew before moving to a foreign country…

 

It is hard to believe we have been living abroad for 10 years. Our kids are bilingual, one trilingual, and our life as an American family has been forever changed.

Sometimes it is hard to explain what to expect living life abroad. When reflecting back on our move abroad, there are some things I wish we would have known before moving.

 

1. It will not feel like a vacation

This should have been obvious to me, but I chose to let the excitement of moving abroad overshadow the reality that this was “real life”and not a vacation.

As much as we would like our vacations to last forever, they don’t. Overseas vacations are often characterized by funny stories about asking for directions or ordering food in another language. Our move abroad had a short honeymoon period, where we felt like we were on vacation, but this ended quickly. For the first few years there’s a constant friction in dealing with a new language and culture that makes everything in life more difficult. We anticipated stumbling through the language for trivial things like ordering food. We didn’t anticipate things like reading and negotiating apartment contracts, interacting with doctors, mechanics, and school teachers, or dealing with issues with service providers like the cable company. Also, we didn’t anticipate the persistent fatigue that comes with not understanding a language. This was most evident for the kids, who had to endure being pushed to comprehend and communicate for many hours every day at school. Our kids came home crying many times because it was difficult for them, or worse because they were ridiculed for not understanding.

 

 

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2. You may feel like you lose your identity a bit.

In some ways, there is a sense of losing an identity, but do I feel like our life has been enriched by experiencing cultures outside of the one we knew. We still celebrate Thanksgiving and give our kids American traditions, yet, we also celebrate Swiss traditions. Our middle son was once told at school he was not American. To which his response was, “Of, course I am.”  We feel a love for both cultures but also feel like we are floating between both. When we return to America to visit we feel somewhat out of place. But likewise, living in a country where we (at least as parents) will always have strong accents when speaking Italian, gives us away as foreigners. The sense for identity gets lost between cultures.

Everything changes. Before we moved abroad, as Americans, we felt as if we coming from one of the best places. Thinking we had the best of everything. The first couple years abroad were characterized by noticing things that we wished were more like they are in America. Now, when visiting America, we notice things we wish were more like Switzerland. There are things we love about both places, and we are able to pick out the things we like and dislike without the cultural biases.

Montbéliard & Belfort, France

3. Everyone can be a foreigner

I know it may have been naive of me to think this, but for some reason I just thought we would be accepted wherever we went.

Coming from California we felt like we came from a pretty open minded, accepting culture. However, it took living abroad to realize that, unfortunately, there are stereotypes about people from almost every nation, even *gasp* our own. Regardless of where you are from, you are subject to having to deal with those stereotypes.

I remember an experience when we first moved to Zurich. We were confronted by a man on the train that decided he needed to tell us why he didn’t like Americans. It was surprising to us at the time. We were just as surprised when we were turned down from renting an apartment because we were not native Swiss.

The feeling of being a foreigner helps you gain more empathy for those who are foreign in your own home county.

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4. It will change your life in many ways

You leave your old life behind. Being immersed in a new culture enriches your life in many ways. The languages you speak, people you interact with, thoughts about your country, your way of thinking changes. You can see both your countries as an outsider looking in. See what you may have once thought was perfect, maybe is not.

When you move abroad the first few years are spent thinking, I wish this was like it is at home. But then a few more years of living abroad, you find yourself returning to visit ‘home’ and find yourself saying I wish it was like (they country you are now living in) Home will never feel the same.

 

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5. Be Flexible

Eat pizza on the beach.  Make friends with the locals.  Integrate into the new culture. Learn the language and speak it, even when not correct. It is more important to try instead of waiting to be perfect when you speak, it will never happen.

The inability to communicate can feel very isolating. There will be times of loneliness and discouragement, therefore learning the language is very important.

Learn to roll with the punches. You need to be flexible as life abroad brings many things you do not anticipate. The way things work will probably be totally foreign. What might be seen as being rude in your country, such a cutting in line, may be an accepted practice in another country.  

What once was just a crazy idea to move abroad has since become a life changing event for us. We wanted our children to grow up and see a world outside the one they knew. A world that would broaden their perspective and open their eyes to new languages and cultures. Moving abroad has forever changed who we are and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Alpabzug

 

We finally got to see a Swiss tradition that we have been wanting to experience for years.   In the springtime the cows are taken up the mountains to graze for the summer. Then, at the end of summer, the Swiss farmers bring their cows back down from mountains. It is called the Alpabzug.  Not every Swiss town participates,  you can check out the Swiss tourism site  for participation towns. Usually the Alpabzug takes place in the month of September.

 

 


Just near the north entrance of the San Gottardo tunnel, which separates the German from the Italian speaking regions of the country, is a little village called Wassen. We have driven past this village many times but have never stopped.  Wassen is such a quaint Swiss Village.

 

 

 

 

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The Alphorns are very traditional and actually used by the farmers to call the cows into the barns at milking time.

 

Alpabzug celebrations are a big deal in these villages. Typically there is a town market where you can get all the local goodies, including raclette and bratwurst for lunch.

 

Each cow is adorned with a head piece and giant bell. It really is quite the sight to see.

 

 

Switzerland has different cantons, which are like states, each canton has their own flag. Wassen is in Canton Uri, which is represented on the yellow flag.

 

The blue shirt, worn by this farmer, is a traditional Swiss costume. Each Canton has their own type of costume.  Between the 26 Cantons in Switzerland there are over 700 types of tradition Swiss costumes.

 

The local farmers and their family walk their own herd of cows down the mountain.

We really enjoyed our first experience at the Alpabzug and would highly recommend seeking out one if you are in Switzerland during the month of September.

 

Climbing Monte Generoso in Switzerland

 

We have a view of Monte Generoso from our bedroom window and have wanted to hike it for years.  Finally, this last weekend we made the climb. Mount Generoso offers breathtaking views of both Switzerland and Italy.

We did a bit of research before climbing the mountain. There are a few options to get you to the top.  You can take a train from Riva San Vitale to the top.  Four a Family of Four it will cost you 108 Chf.  to ride the train up and back.

Monte Generoso has a Swiss and Italian side. There are many different hikes leading you to the top, which you can find here.  We decided to hike with our kids and opted for a shorter (4 hour) hike from the Bella Vista parking lot. 

You have a few options to arrive at the Bella Vista Station. You can take the train from Riva San Vitale, hike from Mendriso, or drive to the Bella Vista station. We decided to drive to the station as we knew a 4 hour hike would be long enough for our family. Fair warning, the drive up is a bit narrow and windy and parts.

From the station you can park in the parking lot and begin the hike. It is about 2 hours to the top. Part of the path follows along the train tracks,  so if you were to get tired you could always hop on the train.

The last few kilometers to the top of the mountain are fairly steep but offer beautiful views of the Swiss and Italian valleys below.

Once you arrive to the top you can see Lake Lugano below. On top there is a famous building designed by Mario Botta “Fiore di pietra” (Stone Flower). You can enjoy a self serve restaurant or a sit down restaurant with 360 degree views below. The building is quite fascinating in itself.  You can also access the roof for even more incredible views.

A climb to the top of Monte Generoso will not disappoint. We throughly enjoyed this hike and the views it had to offer. The hike down takes about half the time, which makes it a little under a 4 hour hike roundtrip from the Bella Vista parking lot.

Snorkeling with Dolphins & Turtles

We were very excited to try out our new underwater action camera while vacationing in Maui. What an incredible experience we had.

Before we left on the boat, our youngest was talking about seeing Dolphins. I told her there was a good chance we would not be seeing any Dolphins and was totally proven wrong. About 1o minutes into our boat ride we ran across a pod of dolphins. Honestly, it was one of the most amazing experiences. There seemed to be a hundred dolphins swimming right along our boat. The boat captain slowed the boat and let us sit right next to the dolphins. We put our camera into the water even though we could not see what we were filming.  To our surprise, when we got home and watched the video you could actually hear the dolphins communicating with each other, which you can see in a shorter video here. 

From the boat we could see dolphins jumping out of the water and one even came out and twirled.  It was amazing, a once in a life time for sure.

What an incredible experience to witness these beautiful animals in the wild.  To top it off, later while snorkeling we had a turtle swim right up next to us and breathe, that was amazing too. We hope you enjoy our video on our YouTube channel.

Lido di Locarno

Locarno Lido

We were excited to be a guest blogger for Simple Family Travel.  We met Kristin, at Simple Family Travel, through Instagram. Don’t you love Instagram for that? We have been able to connect with other families who share our love for travel.

Simple Family Travel asked us to write a guest post on our favorite swimming pool in Switzerland. Below is our guest post where we share one of our favorite places to swim in Switzerland.

 

Lido di Locarno

One of our favorite places to swim as a family is the Lido di Locarno. The Lido is absolutely stunning and set right on Lake Maggiore. Not only is the location ideal, the lido has so much to offer:  pools, the lake, waterslides, restaurants, giant inflatable place structures, beach front access, a gym, a spa, and so much more.

They offer chairs and umbrellas for rent but during the busy season most are rented before noon. There are a few big trees throughout the lido that offer an ample amount of shade.

 

The Lido Locarno is open daily from 8.30am till 9pm.

Prices vary depending on what you do:

Adults start from 13 CHF and children (aged 4-15) start from 7 CHF. They offer a family pass for 2 Adults and 2 Kids starting at 37 CHF. If  you add on the waterslides the prices increase.

There are many options for parking around the Lido, which makes it quite convenient. If taking public transportation, the number 2 bus from the Locarno main train station will have you at the Lido in 13 minutes.

The location is amazing.  Honesty, every visitor we take to the lido is in awe when walking in.  The views are stunning on Lake Maggiore. There is fun for all age levels—from a baby pool to water-slides, beach volleyball to a lap pool.  When we visit we stay all day long. The kids come home happy and exhausted. Perfect win.

 

The Lido is open year round.  They have a giant indoor pool which connects to the  waterslides. In the summer months the lake and the outdoor pool is availabe also.  The diving pool has 2 diving boards and 3 platforms (5, 7.5 and 10 meter platforms)
We find the Lido di Locarno to be the perfect family friendly swimming pool.

Thank you to Simple Family Travel for having us be a guest blogger.

A little about the family behind Simple Family Travel. Kristin and her family live in Switzerland, although she is originally from Austraila. She came to Switzerland 16 years ago as an Au Pair, fell in love with a Swiss, and never left. Go follow their family adventures over at Simple Family Travel.  Their family motto is “Less stuff, more life” and they share tips and insights on keeping life simple, in travel and daily life.

Round-trip tickets from Europe to San Francisco for under $200

If you are flexible with your holiday planning and destinations you can find some amazing airline deals. Recently my brother introduced us to an email service that emails you incredible airline deals. Sometimes the fares are mistake fares but more than often they are 24-hour promotions.

We had no intentions in flying to the United States this year but when we received an email for flights from Europe to San Franciso for $195 round trip, it was too good to pass up.  The website with the incredible deals is called Scott’s cheap flights.   For a minimal subscription fee, you can receive weekly deals throughout the world.

 

We also like to use  Skyscanner as it allows you to search any date going to every location, which is convenient.  But if you are up for anything and willing to be flexible, we can highly recommend checking out  Scott’s cheap flights. 

 

Airlines usually offer a limited amount of seats at discount prices and they get snatched up fast.  Some are last minute deals and you need to be flexible with the dates.

Top 3 favorite beaches in Tuscany

 

 

Most people do not think of the beach when they think of Tuscany.  The thought of rolling green hills, vineyards, and quaint villages come to mind.  If you have yet to discover the beaches in Tuscany,  I would highly recommend a getaway on the Tuscan beaches.

 

The beaches along the Tuscan coast spread for miles from Marina di Carrara to Forte dei Marmi and down past Viareggio. We spent our last holiday in Viareggio and really enjoyed the beaches.

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Most of the beaches along the Tuscan coast are private, although there are public beaches sprinkled throughout. Viareggio has a nice sized public beach, along with La Lecciona Lido, and also a small public beach in Forte dei Marmi. If you are looking for a public beach, you can find them but the private beaches have much more to offer.

 

Many of the private beaches have swimming pools, restaurants and bars.  You can rent an umbrella and chairs for the day, usually 2 or 3 chairs per umbrella. For a family of 5 we usually need to rent 2 umbrellas, most ranging from 30 to 70 Euros a day.  Some of the private beaches offer discounts for families, just ask.  If you are staying at a local hotel, the hotel may be able to negotiate a better rate for you.

 

In Viareggio I can recommend the private lido Nuova Italia. Their pool is pristine and a great place to cool off after an afternoon on the beach.  The only downside to Nuova Italia is they do not have a restaurant but it’s not a problem to leave and return. Once you rent your umbrella, it is yours for the rest of the day.

 

The Tuscan coastline is amazing, there are so many choices of beautiful beaches along the coast.  Our top 3 picks for the beach and cities to stay in:  Forte dei Marmi, Viareggio, and Camaiore.

Have you been to the Tuscan coast? Drop us a line and let us know where you stay when you visit.

Frederiksborg Castle

IMG_20170430_142410_432 The Frederiksborg Castle is just a short 45-minute drive from Copenhagen and well worth it. Since we were staying in Copenhagen we decided to rent a car and make the drive. There are easy connections with the train but we wanted to continue on up to Kronborg to visit the castle that inspired Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. 

I would recommend the self-guided audio tour. To be honest, we really did not know much about the history of Denmark, but the guided tour through the castle gave us quite the insight. A ticket to view the castle is 75 DKK, about 12 USD, which includes the guided tour.

Inside the castle, there was an absolutely breathtaking church. The intricate designs throughout the ceilings and walls were breathtaking.

The Frederiksborg Castle is furnished throughout and gives you a look into Denmark’s fascinating history. The Castle suffered a horrible fire in 1859 but was restored and furnished with original furniture and art from that time period. It was a chilly day when we visited and I was happily surprised that parts of the castles were heated.

The castle features artwork throughout and the Museum of National History of Denmark has many originals on display. Just off the wing of the church was a huge room of art all done by Carl Bloch.  An artist who’s work I was familiar with.

The entrance into the castle gardens is free and well worth the walk behind the castle to see.  Spring had barely arrived when we visited so I can imagine in the summer the garden is stunning. They have a small cafe open in the summer months where you can sit and take in the views.

 

 

 

Hiking up Monte San Salvatore in Lugano

 

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If you want a workout with breathtaking views this is the hike for you. We hesitated to do this hike, as our youngest is only 7, but we gave it a go and it was well worth it.

 

 

 

To begin the hike, you can park in the Funicolare parking lot at:

Via delle Scuole 7
CH-6902 Lugano-Paradiso

For Parking, you will need the right change to get out. Make sure you have 1, 2 or 5 CHF on you. Parking is 4 CHF for those who took the Funicular and 10 CHF if you hiked up.

From there, walk out of the parking lot in the direction towards the lake & Lugano Paradiso train station.  Once you start up the road Via Corona there will be signs directing you to the top. The signs estimate it to take about 2 hours and 40 minutes.  It took us about 3 hours with a few breaks along the way.

The trail is marked with trail markers the whole way up.  In the beginning, you take a short trail through the forest passing some houses along the way.

Eventually, you will see the Funicular and follow the stairs along the tracks. This part was a little discouraging for my kids when they could see how much further they had to climb, but they were troopers.

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The halfway point seemed to be a bit after you reach the end of the trail following the tracks.

Along the trail, there are a number of panoramic viewpoints. The trail winds around the Lugano side of the mountain so you are able to see many beautiful views of the city and the lake below. On a clear day, you can see Monte Rosa and other snow-capped Alps in the distance.

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When you finally reach the top you will come out by the Funicular.  There is a restaurant where you can sit and admire your accomplishment. We enjoyed some refreshing drinks and snacks while soaking in the views.

There is also a section with picnic tables. So, if you decide to hike up with a picnic you have somewhere to sit and enjoy it.

 

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Just past the restaurant, you can take the trail about 5 minutes more to the very top. On the top, there is a little church and the most amazing panoramic views over Lugano. You can see parts of Italy, the Swiss Alps, and the winding Lugano Lake below. (Pictured above is the first look out, you have to climb a little higher for the best view of all. )

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There is also a church by the viewpoint. It is open to the public and you can go inside to see the little chapel. If you go around the backside of the church you will see a small door with stairs leading to the roof. Take the stairs up to the top, the views will not disappoint.

From the top, you can get a good idea of how Lake Lugano winds through the beautiful mountains.  Once you’re done enjoying the views, decide if you are going to hike or ride down on the Funicolare. The hike down is about an hour.

If you’re going to take the Funicolare down, it departs every half hour. During spring and fall, the last train down is at 5 pm. In summer the last train down is at 11 pm! If you miss the tram you have no choice but to hike down.

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The Funicolare ride is only a 10-minute ride to the top versus the 2 1/2 hour hike, although you miss out on some fantastic views.

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 Funicolare Lugano-Paradiso – Monte San Salvatore 

Adult return fares are 30 CHF and children 13 CHF. If you decide to hike in one direction they have a reduced rate of 23 CHF /10 CHF. Opening hours change depending on the season. 

 

 

9 things to see in Paris with kids

 

Paris is considered one of the most romantic cities in the world, add the kids to the equation and maybe the romance goes out the window, but it is still an amazing city. We have visited Paris in all stages of parenthood……babies, toddlers, teenagers, and we always go back for more. We absolutely love Paris and what it has to offer .

 

1. Eifel Tower

Of course, the Eifel tower is a must. Deciding on how to see it with kids is another thing. You have 2 options. You can take the stairs or the elevator. The walk is only about 10-15 minutes up. (704 steps)  The view from the 2 level is actually the best view of Paris, in my opinion. If you take the elevator make sure you get in the right line as there are 3 different Elevators. If the little legs get tired of walking maybe the elevator is the best option.

One year we showed up with a stroller only to be told we needed to fold the stroller up and carry it up with us (we had not purchased the elevator tickets ahead of time).

You can buy your tickets to take up the elevator. Tickets for the stairs are first come first serve. If visiting Paris for a few days, I would recommend the Paris Pass. With this Pass you can skip many lines and who wants to wait in line with kids?

A must after a visit to the Eifel tower is a picnic on the grounds. Not far from the Eifel tower there are grassy fields perfect for laying a blanket on and letting the kids run around. Some of our best memories are hours spent just relaxing on the grass by the Eifel Tower.

 

 

 

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2. Notre Dame

“I know, I know, another church to visit,” we usually say to the kids but I think the gargoyles attracted our kids to this church. If your kids are like ours (movie buffs) you may hear something about the Hunch Back of Notre Dame. The stained glass windows are breathtaking. It is easy to see how this church is one of the most famous sites in Paris.

If you are not tired of climbing stairs, the view from the top is worth it. You will need to buy a ticket to climb the tower.   Tickets are not needed to enter the church but you will have to wait in line.

 

 

 

3. Louvre

I know the thought of a museum with kids can scare most parents away but why not start them young? Our kids have been visiting museums since there were babies. I must say the toddler age can be difficult but if you are in Paris you should not pass up the opportunity to visit the Louvre. The Louvre is one of the largest museums in the world and can be overwhelming, obviously, you can not see it all in one day.  We like to prepare the kids before hand. Giving them a few artists to be on the look out for etc.

 

 

 

4. Cruise the Seine

When your feet have just about had enough, hop on a boat to cruise the Seine. There is hop on hop off boat that make it nice to see Paris from the river. There is always something about a boat that makes it seem more enjoyable for the kids. We have enjoyed cruising by the Eifel Tower both during the day and night for some good picture taking.

 

 

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5. Orsay museum

The museum offers guided tours for kids that make it more enjoyable for them. Admission for kids is free. The museum itself is a beautiful site. It is easier to tackle than the Louvre because of the smaller size, but a great museum to visit, even if just for a few hours to show the kids some of your favorite artists.

 

 

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6. Arc de Triomphe

Being one of the most famous monuments in Paris, it is a must.  The Arc de Triomphe is at the end of the Champs-Élysées, which is the famous shopping street. We enjoy strolling down the street which is lined with stores for the whole family.

You can climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe which has stunning views below.

 

 

7. Versailles

The Palace of  Versailles is outside of Paris but worth a day trip out to see. Maybe a good break for the kids from the city. The grounds and the palace itself are stunning.  I recommend buying your tickets online to avoid the lines. Our first visit to the Palace we waited in line over an hour just to buy our tickets.

I also recommend making sure your kids use the restroom before the tour. We could not locate a restroom in the Palace and we were forced outside again to wait in line.

The kids enjoyed the visit here very much. Pack a little picnic to eat with the kids in the gorgeous gardens.

 

 

 

8. Sacre Coeur

The hike up to Sacre Coeur may be hard for the kids but it is worth it. The church sits perched up on the hill and there are stairs leading up to it. The stairs are great to just sit and people watch with the kids. The church is free to enter and offers an audio guide you may want to download beforehand for the kids.

 

 

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9. Disneyland Paris

If the kids have happily visited all the above sites with you, why not reward them with a day in Disneyland Paris? Our first visit to the Park we were delightfully surprised at how much it resembled Disneyland California. Being California natives I must admit it was weird to be at the park in such cold weather, but our kids absolutely loved Disneyland Paris.

For us, Paris has always been a city our whole family enjoys. There is so much to do and see. This is just a short list of the hundreds of things to do and see in Paris with kids, but a good start. Traveling with kids can be daunting but it does not have to be. A little pre-planning, few pit stops at parks, picnics and breaks make the whole experience much more enjoyable for the family.

Have you been to Paris as a family? We would love to hear what you enjoyed the most?