The Dog Days of Summer at Dog Beach in San Vincenzo, Italy

As many of you know, I am a big ‘dog person‘ and my beloved Labrador, Leni, is one of the most spoiled dogs around. He has a passport, has travelled overseas and, quite possibly, has been to more countries than many adults. I am always conscious of choosing a vacation that will meet his needs and not see him left for hours at a time while we head off for fun.  So, with this in mind, imagine my absolute delight when I was organising our first trip to San Vincenzo, Italy and I came across the Dog Beach website. Could it be true? Could we really take our water-loving Lab to the beach with us in Italy? It seemed like a clear win-win for our entire family…and off we went!

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Found it!!

Dog Beach is located on the Mediterranean coastline of the western Tuscan region of Italy. Just south of the major port city of Livorno, Dog Beach lies on the pristine sandy outskirts of the town of San Vincenzo where the summer days are sunny, hot and long! A trip to the beach for you and your furry friend are practically what the doctor would order as a cure.

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Dog days of summer?!

Dog Beach is accessible off the main road, with limited free and abundant paid parking nearby. There is a small entrance fee for your dog, which helps pay for the facilities and a vet available in case of emergency. Dogs run around primarily off the leash but if your Fido isn’t very friendly, you might want to consider keeping him/her on a leash.  Sun beds, chairs and umbrellas are all available for rent.

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As if all of this wasn’t enough, we were delighted when a guy came by on a 4 wheeler selling gelato (ice cream).  It was only once I approached and asked him what flavours he had did he surprise me with “is it for you or for your dog?”  Yes, they sold all the wonderful flavours one would expect from Italian gelato, and similar dog-safe versions. Our dog consumed his pineapple and ginseng one too fast for me to get a decent photo but as you can imagine, he was thrilled.

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Dog-friendly gelato, devoured in about 30 seconds…!

If you find yourself wondering where to go this summer and don’t want to leave your four-legged friend at home, I highly recommend the San Vincenzo region, with daily trips to the Dog Beach.

Good to know:

-Shower/wash stations are available for spraying down your dog at the end of the day. On our last trip, these cost 1€
-A small snack shop is located nearby with sandwiches and cold drinks for sale. Cash only
-there is a dog gift shop where you can buy toys for the beach for your dog, kids and different souvenirs
-if your dog has never been in salt water, watch his/her consumption. It can give some dogs an upset stomach, just be aware
-there is a free fresh water station for filling up your dog’s water bowl
-Bring cash with you as you will need it for everything and hard as I tried, I failed to locate a bank machine/ATM nearby

Most importantly, have fun!! Bring an extra towel or two…!!

 

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Dog Beach San Vincenzo

 

 

 

Adventure Families: Avalanche Fear and 5 Tips for Families Skiing / Snowboarding

I’m often asked by people “aren’t you scared of avalanches when you ski so much?” Short answer: Yes. Any skier/rider worth their weight that spends time in the mountains KNOWS this is a permanent risk underlying our favourite activity. Avalanches are real. They kill real people every year. They are not exclusive to the Alps and they can happen anywhere with mountains/hills and at almost any time.

So, if that’s true, then what the heck makes me go up a mountain, with my children and ignore this reality.

Several factors lead to this; none of which I intend to sound smug or dismissive. I am forever aware that this is part of mountain life and sports and try to be smart and prepared.

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Like all parents, I fear ANYTHING happening to my precious kids.

5 Tips For Getting Over Avalanche Fear:

  1. Trust the mountain rescue workers to do their jobs. That does NOT mean only after an avalanche has struck. Mountain rescue workers around the world are working day in and out to secure mountains and make sure they are safe for us to enjoy. They post daily risk factor scales (usually 1-5 rating or a flag system) and shut down mountains they deem unsafe. They routinely bomb mountains to set off avalanches (in secure situations) that seem evident. Watch the following video of a purpose-led avalanche by the amazing staff at Glacier 3000/Les Diablerets:https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fglacier3000%2Fvideos%2F907671902668989%2F&show_text=1&width=560
  2. Wear Recco reflector strips. My entire family does. We wear them in the recommended manner of one on one boot and one on the helmet. Recco is a trademarked avalanche rescue system that almost every ski resort in the world uses to find people trapped in an avalanche. There are several clothing companies that now make winter wear with Recco sewn into their clothes. Their transmitters are the best in the world and when the juniors start wanting to experience more freeride and off piste adventures, we will buy one for each of us.
  3. Stay on piste and listen to the advice of the mountain staff. If they have closed my favourite piste for the day, I don’t argue or think I’m above their decisions. I listen to their advice and stay where it is safe.
  4. On my personal to-do list is to take one of the numerous FREE avalanche safety training courses offered throughout Switzerland next year. Anyone can attend and as my juniors get older and push the boundaries of their skiing, I will make sure they are fully trained up in this area. Look to see if courses are offered near where you ski or at your favourite mountain gear shop.
  5. ABS Airbag systems. We don’t have these yet but we will all get them when/if freeride becomes a part of our lives. Check them out!

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Until then, I have discussed avalanches with the kids and we have practices the dog-paddle move you are meant to do to help create breathing space if you are ever caught in an avalanche. Our needs and the safety items on our list will expand as their skiing does but for now, I take comfort in playing it safe and only skiing when the pisteur/mountain staff say it is a moderate risk day. Their job is to make us safe and if I didn’t have faith in them, I don’t think I could ever take my precious children to 3000m/10 000ft.

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Things happen but trust the mountain staff to always have your safety in mind. We were caught at 3000m/10000ft when a storm came out of nowhere. Out came the snowcats to save us. These dudes were my heroes that day!

Photo/Video credit: Glacier 3000/Les Diablerets, ABS Airbag System, Fotolia, Jennifer Hart

Photo Journal: London at Christmas

Over the Christmas/holiday season, my family and I had the absolute pleasure of spending a few wonderful days in London. It was last minute and quite ‘uhhh what are we going to do?’ but turned out to be a real highlight of the end of the year.

If you are starting to think about what a holiday season would be like in London, take a look at some of these photos. I only had my iPhone (as this was unplanned) but I think I managed to capture the real holiday spirit. I love London, as you know, but I love it even more when it is glittery and decorated for the holidays. If you are looking for a destination for next Christmas, I highly recommend London. It is busy and crowded but there is something magical in the air during the holidays that even my husband, a Brit that pretends to be unimpressed with London, can admit to 😉

We didn’t make it to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland this year but we have gone in years past and enjoyed ourselves, despite the cost and crowds!

Enjoy!

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Tower Bridge and the Christmas Market along the south bank
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My favourite piece of graffiti in London!
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Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (made me think of my nephew back in Canada!)
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Loved all the lights leading up to the London Eye
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Sunny sky and Parliament (Big Ben is actually the bell inside the clocktower but I think it is safe to say we all refer to this image as Big Ben now)
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Had to snap this quickly before the changing of the guards-he was about to move and the crowd tripled in size in seconds!!
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The London Coliseum featuring Giselle by the English National Ballet
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A photo for my daughter
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Morning walk to Covent Garden
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What else can you say?
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Perfect end to a few days in London!

 

During our trip we stayed at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge and we all absolutely loved it! We woke up with the most beautiful view of Parliament and enjoyed everything else in-between. We’ll be back!

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View from our window – good morning, London

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart

Photo Journal: First Ski Day of the 2016-2017 Season

When I first moved to Europe from Canada, it took me a while to come to terms with how late in the year snow fall arrived. I was used to Halloween being a snowy event so when ski trips booked to the Alps for Christmas deemed dicey, my brain couldn’t compute.

Yet, compute was what I was forced to do when TWO Christmas/NYE trips in a row were all but ruined from a complete lack of snow. Global warming is not up for debate in my world and I truly believe we are seeing the affects of it in the Alps. Perhaps a topic for another day…

So, imagine my surprise when we hit the slopes this past weekend at relatively lower altitude (1800m/6000ft) Here are some photos from the 20th of November 2016 at Les Diablerets/Isenau. For tips on skiing with children, click here.

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart

Once Upon An Expat: Book RELEASE Day!

How exciting!! It is book release day for all of us involved in the amazing project, Once Upon An Expat. I want to personally thank, from the bottom of my heart, Lisa Webb from Canadian Expat Mom for spearheading this project and bringing together women from around the world to share stories with. We have laughed together, cried together and 99% of us have never even met. Something magical took place with the creation of this book and I’m bursting with pride to be a part of it!

So, what are you waiting for? Head on over to Amazon and order your copy today!

Weekend Getaways: Torino ITALY Part II

A weekend away in Torino is made easier with these tips and ideas!

My little family recently had the good fortune to spend a long, sunny weekend in Torino, Italy falling in love with its character, people, food and culture. As promised, I said I would follow up our visit with a list of What To Do and What to Eat in Torino. Although we were a family travelling with two kids (5 and 8) and yet I can just as easily see many of the things listed here as being fun for couples, friends, etc.

Here we go!

What To Do:
With no end of things to do in Torino, everyone in your group from the sports fan to anciet Egypt fanatic will be pleased. While not listed, I challenge you to count the number of Fiat 500s you see rolling through the small streets of Torino. A local car to Torino, it has never looked better than in her hometown! 

Egyptian Museum/Museo Egizi0 di Torino

-Parco del Valentino (Excellent spot for a run, walk, picnic or kick around with a ball. You can rent bikes in the park and there are a couple little cafes selling sandwiches, beer and gelato, of course)

-Market at Porta Palazzo/Mercato di Porta Palazzo (Located at Piazza della Repubblica, this is Europe’s largest market with 800+ venders and seemingly endless stalls to cruise past. Everything from fresh fruits, meats, cheese, clothing, home appliances and take-away food are for sale here. It can be a bit overwhelming but it is worth a nose around)

-Run/walk/cycle along the Po River (The Po River is the longest river in Italy and sparkles beautifully through the heart of Torino).

-boat tour along the Po River (you can either take a cruise along the Po river – departures near Parco del Valentino – or rent a kayak to go at your own pace. Times and departures are weather and season-dependant so please do some research on this one before adding it to your list. It is HIGHLY worth a tiny bit of effort!)

-Eat (see below)

-visit the Royal Palace 

National Museum of Cinema (a very different take on a museum but worth a visit – located inside Mole Antonelliana)

Juventus Stadium (home to the Italian Champions League 2015-2016 winners Juventus F.C., the stadium is a must see for sports fanatics and soccer/football fans. There are daily tours and a Juventus museum located inside)

-Mole Antonelliana (the official monument of the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics, this impressive monument is also featured on the Italian 2cent Euro coin)

-Eat more (see below)

-Palatine Towers (remnants from the Roman era, the Palatine Towers or Palatine Gate are an architectural must-see)

-Via Giuseppe Luigi Lagrange (shopping district – think high street to higher end)

What to Eat:
Take note: avoid the tourist trap restaurants. Piedmontese cuisine is so fresh, varied and exciting that despite potential language barriers in understanding menus in Italian,  I promise whatever you order will NOT disappoint. Give in to the local flavours and try something new and exciting. I understand many people are upset about the idea of veal but I included it in this list as it is a very proud dish from this region and at least now if you ARE anti-veal, you know what to avoid on the menus (which are often not translated or poorly translated in the better restaurants).

-Risotto (the main ingredient in risotto, Aborio rice, hails from this region)

-Gelato (ice cream of the best quality and the most amazing flavours)

-Vitello Tonnato (veal with tuna mayonnaise and capers)

-Antipasti (my favourites being misto-mixed antipasti and Tomini-creamy cheeses served with chilis)

-More gelato 😉

-Agnolotti (traditional meat stuffed ravioli)

-Cheeses (so many to choose from but I highly encourage that if the restaurant you are dining in offers a cheese plate, you should order it)

Good To Know:
To anyone that likes an early dinner, I’m afraid Italians aren’t prepared for this. Most places don’t start opening for dinner until 7:30-8pm. If you can’t deal with this, perhaps stop by somewhere and ask them if you can get snacks for aperitivo. This way you can satisfy your earlier need to eat without sacrificing on taste! 😉
The buses and trams in Torino are EXTREMELY easy to use and clear. We walked almost everywhere we went but took both bus and tram at other times to see things further afield.  We bought 2 day travel cards for sale at any tobacco shop / tabacchi (welcome to Europe, right?). These shops are easy to spot with the following on display outside each one.

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Tobacco / Tabacchi where you can buy your public transport tickets

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart

 

 

Weekend Getaways: Torino ITALY Part I

There isn’t much about Torino (Turin) not to love. We recently had the pleasure of spending 5 days in the former Italian capital and I have so much to say about it that I have decided to split this post into a few parts. With 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and a wealth of cultural, culinary and artistic activities to take part in, Torino is definitely worth adding to your travel bucket list.

Before I dig deeper into what to do, what to eat (a LOT) and where to go, I present a visual journey through this amazing northern Italian city where the alpine views are as impressive as the city itself.

 

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Wise words. I suggestion you follow them! 

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MMMMMMM!! Gelato as far as the eye can see (and stomach can handle)

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Like pasta? Like it A LOT?

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Rent-a-bike for an hour or a day – available throughout the entire city

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When you are a pig and forget to take a stylised photo of your food before you dig in. I swear, nothing tasted bad in Torino!

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Chocolate shoes! Know someone that would like these?
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Obligatory Juventus photo!

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Thank you, Torino, for such a memorable vacation. I will expand upon these photos soon but for now, you live in my heart and memory!!! I can’t wait to return 🙂

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart