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Moments That Matter With Aeroplan: London Edition

London. A city that often gets a bad wrap because of it’s lack of distinct seasons and continuous rainy weather, but one I love so very much. I guess I am a little biased because it’s my mum’s hometown. I have tons many memories from my many travels there as a kid and desperately want to continue the tradition with Maxwell.

#withAeroplan - So Sasha

This trip however did not go as planned and to be honest, what happened while we were there made it very difficult to get this post written. Every time I sat down to write, flashbacks of my mom’s unfortunate accident kept flashing back into my mind. I missed several days of shooting with a photographer so this is not as photo content heavy as my usual travel posts.I know most of you had been following along on Instagram and were aware of the head injury she suffered on our second day in central London. I had an impressive itinerary set up for the ultimate girls trip with her and Maxie. Sadly, we didn’t get to do even half of what I had planned due to the incident that left her hospitalized, concussed and off her feet for the rest of the trip. She is finally turning a corner with her recovery.

Funny enough, the forecast was supposed to be sunny and clear for our entire trip but I still planned on us us hitting the ground running during the first two days on the ground just in case. It was my safety net in the event we were pummelled with rain sometime later in the trip, which really wouldn’t be much of a surprise. And guess what? We did pretty badly later on in the trip, but hey that’s London for you. We did ended up doing and seeing some really cool things while we were there so if you’re thinking of heading across the pond any time soon, with baby or without, you should definitely take note of my recommendations below. But first, for the mamas that had messaged me about what it was like traveling with a young child to London, here’s a few things that you should definitely know:

I’ve done a long haul flight with Maxwell before to Barcelona and it was our very first family trip, also booked using our Aeroplan miles. That being said, I knew I could handle the time in the air with her especially since my mum was there but things were very different this time around because she was almost nine months older. At almost 1, she was moving around a ton. Trying to be independent. Eating solids. Far different that when she was exclusively breastfed. SOLUTION: We flew redeye on the way to London and were on a 7am flight on the way home to try to capitalize on her sleep and nap schedule. So, London isn’t the most non-stroller friendly city and navigating around the city with a baby was a challenge, especially when using public transportation. The tube is very convenient for commuters and normally the easiest way to get around the city. But with a stroller, it can be a nightmare. Very few tube stations have an elevators or what the Brits like to call “lifts” so what you can expect…the highest escalators you’ve ever seen in your life. PRO TIP: If you’r traveling alone with baby, go online and get familiar with the stops on each line that, pray and hope a friendly bloke will help you get to street level when you get off, consider Ubers and black cabs as well. The infamous black cabs in London are so large, I was able to get the stroller in the backseat without even collapsing it. Find accommodation with a good walk score. It truly makes life much easier when you are within walking distance of the tube, sight seeing, restaurants, a grocery store and parks that you can take your baby to during down time.

WHERE WE STAYED

#withAeroplan - So Sasha

On all my previous visits to England I have always stayed with family. Economical, yes but you can never really feel like a tourist or that you’re on vacation. You feel awkward sleeping in. There’s no room service. More importantly, very little privacy. There are loads of amazing hotels in the city but we decided to rent a flat and secured one via KidandCoe.com – the luxury, family friendly version of Air B&B. If you’re a family with any upcoming travel, you have to check them out. Through the site, we got connected to Merino Hospitality who has apartments, towns and homes throughout London and honestly they were the BEST. Based in the Holborn area we were close to most city central landmarks within either a walk or short tube ride away.  The apartment was set up with everything we needed for Maxwell; crib, highchair, toys etc. It was brilliant and helped her settle in nicely. Our kitchen was stocked with all the basic essentials so we didn’t have to pop out to do groceries right away. We had what we needed for breakfast, snacks and such. Bonus, close to tons of cafe’s, grocery store, restaurants, and both Chancery Lane & Holborn tube stations.

WHAT WE SAW

Now that I look back at some of the photos for this post, we surprisingly got quite a bit accomplished. Mum got to at least hit up a couple places she’s been dying to go to. In between taking care of her, I somehow managed to venture out with Maxie solo while mum rested and we had our own mama/daughter adventures.

  • South Bank. With so many attractions in a close radius, the South Bank is the perfection location to check out when you’re in London. Once you are in the area. Everything is easy and accessible by foot but definitely more enjoyable when it’s not pissing down with rain. It’s London’s cultural district located right on the River Thames. There you will find the The Sea Life London Aquarium, The London Eye, restaurants and national centres for the arts, film and performance. You can take a boat cruise down the Thames, always a fave when I am in the city, and it’s also within a 10 minute or less walk from Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben.

  • Big Ben. It’s actually the nickname for the Great Bell inside the clock in the north side of Westminster. Probably one of the most popular and historic London landmarks. It was our very first stop once we arrived and I was so bummed when we got there to find it was completely under scaffolding due it’s extensive refurbishment that will leave it out of commission for a few years. I wasn’t leaving without a photo though of me and my girl. I have one just like this with my mom when I was a little girl. The handsome Ben will be back in full effect in 2021 if you plan on any future travel to the UK.

  • Regent Street. You want shopping? Well London has no shortage of it but Regent Street has something for everyone, including my new favourite department store EVER…Liberty London. The building’s facades are all by famed architect John Nash and are some of the most distinguished architecture in the city. Every international brand has their London flagship here and if you tuck in just behind and around the top end, you will find the infamous Carnaby Street.

  • Carnaby Street. Ok, I am still talking about shopping but it’s impossible not to. This was such a treat to witness actually because it’s a spot where my mom spent a lot of time as a teen and it was the first time I’ve even seen it in person. Carnaby Street is soooo unique. The area is infamous because of the 60s era but it has reinvented itself over the decades and boom…today you’ll find nearly 100 shops and 60 restos nestled in this pedestrian street path in London’s West End found between Regent Street and Oxford Street. I popped in on a busy Saturday to find out it was Carnaby Street Eat food festival which I am sure was home of the longest picnic table ever. Of course I had to sample a few things – the burgers were delicious by the way and happily washed them down with Camden Pale Ale, even though I had just finished brunch at Arthurs’s inside Liberty London.
    Carnaby Street Eat Festival
  • Liberty London. No idea how I’ve never been here before but I first went in just for brunch and then got lost on floor after floor of contemporary womenswear and the most beautiful flower arrangements curated and sold by their in-house florist team. Upstairs after burning calories eating, I highly recommend you refuel with a quick bite at Arthur’s Restaurant. Named after the owner of Liberty London – Arthur Lazenby Liberty. It is basically interior goals and I was pleasantly surprised to not find the place on a Saturday flooded with influencers and instagrammers because the decor filled with wood, velvet, mosaic tiles and tons of millennial pink is what the gram literally lives for these days. Maxie thoroughly enjoyed being nestled up beside me in one of the velvet booths chowing down on her Mac & Cheese here.
  • Notting Hill & Portobello Market. This place gets the award for the cutest neighbourhoods in London. I think everyone has seen the movie Notting Hill and knows the quaint little area for their adorable, colourful row houses and home to Portobello Market; a tourist haven full of street vendors, performers, boutiques and cafes.

Aeroplan - So Sasha

  • Buckingham Palace. You only really need to see this landmark once and I’ve seen it several times over the years. The residence of the Queen and administrative office, it is a tourist trap for sure and impossible to get a decent picture in front of the palace’s epic gates but I couldn’t resist attempting one of my two favourite girls.

#withAeroplan - So Sasha

  • Covent Garden. Once a fruit and vegetable market in the early 1950s, Covent Garden is the spot to check out in the west end of London if you love food and theatre. We were lucky to be within walking distance to it and I would have loved to go back one ore time before heading back to Toronto. It may be modernized with all the current high end retailers, fancy restaurants and bars but this historic destination has preserved it’s cobbled Piazza and arches of the Market Building. It’s the home of street performance and somehow I got pulled into the mid afternoon performance in front of a crowd of at least 100 before heading off to one of the area’s most  famous restaurants’, The Ivy, to see and be seen.

Where We Dined

Lucky for me, Max is eating a lot of the foods I eat, and actually has quite a worldly palette, and also eats puree pouches that allowed me to eat just about anywhere I wanted to. Mornings we usually ate in or grabbed something quick on the go from Pret-A-Manger. They are literally on every single corner almost I swear and it allowed us to get moving and out the door quickly. I prefer to save my money for nice lunches, dinners and high teas rather than brekkies. Here’s some of our fave spots to nosh, see and be seen:

  • The Savoy. Well there are numerous places in London to have high tea. The Ritz is probably the most famous in the city but I’ve done it a few times already. I wanted to try something different and I wasn’t disappointed by my new choice. The entrance and lobby of the hotel property just feels so historic and of another era. The dining room is exquisite and the tea menu is great. Maxwell was obsessed with the live pianist plus the service was incredible. They even sent us home with a gift bag of the same loose leaf tea we ordered during our service, which was a nice touch.

  • Rosewood London. This gem of a luxury hotel is on High Holborn street so just a stone’s throw away from our flat and turns out that they have some pretty stellar dining there. I ate not once, but twice inside their Holborn Dining Room. The menu is quite heavy on seafood but they do have some stellar meat options like Cornish Rare Breed Sirloin and a 35 Day Aged Rib Eye but after having their popular Shrimp burger, there was no way I was deviating from it on my next visit. Not quite like I expected but better than I imagined, it was minced shrimp ground and formed into a patty, grilled and served in the most perfect egg bun topped with jalapeño tartare, which chips (fries) on the side. To drink, several rounds of their Green Elixir, which is NOT to be mistaken for a healthy cold pressed juice but rather the most delicious Gin cocktail I think I’ve ever had made with Beefeater, Green Chartreuse, lemon juice, elderflower cordial, cucumber and basil foam. Honestly, it is hard to describe in words but the taste I will never forget.

  • The Coral Room. Inspired by the 1920s, this classy additional to Central London’s libation scene is a MUST for those who want to be transported to another time via design decor and cocktails. Behind the bar you won’t find bartenders, but rather mixologists who take their craft very seriously. They take their time prepping their cocktails, really enjoy taking the time out to explain the process, and even surprised me with a couple fave mixes not found on the menu. The Coral Room is nestled inside The Bloomsbury, which is also home one of the city’s most beautiful indoor terraces that is lined with endless flower walls – Dalloway Terrace, that is open for all day dining and a hidden underground bar that is only open to the hotel guests and stays open late into the night. Somehow, my cousin and I managed to get in there after way too many drinks in the Coral Room,

  • Madison Terrace Bar & Lounge. I am a sucker for a rooftop terrace and usually try to find the best one when I’m visiting a city. If you Google “Best Rooftops in London” a fair amount will show up actually. The summer in London is extremely busy and just about anything worth going to requires a reservation made well in advance so I was lucky enough to get up to the Madison rooftop terrace. The only downfall, I had Maxie in her stroller as my plus 1 and children are not permitted in their bar and lounge, even outside. They were kind enough to let me up to see the epic view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which means I will just have to return for drinks on my next trip to London.

  • The Dorchester. This was my first time here and it was not apart of my original itinerary but glad Maxie and I got to experience an evening rendezvous at the property’s infamous bar. We went early, other guests were still finishing up the last tea service seating around 6pm, so we headed to the back where we sat by the piano to take in the live music. We shared small bites and I sipped on Negroni’s served in bespoke glassware created specifically for the hotel. The musicians were so kind as to play a few nursery rhymes for Max on the saxophone and piano and then entertained me with some 90’s R&B that took all the diners by surprise. Although notorious for celeb sightings, we unfortunately didn’t see any but I am sure the walls hold many secrets.

  • Arthurs. This spot is not to be missed if you’re in the Regent or Oxford Street you have to pop in here for a bite. The decor alone is worth the stop in and it’s not exactly a terrible thing that it’s located on the second floor of one of London’s top shopping locations, Liberty London. Also known for their cocktails (are you seeing a trend here?) and inviting bar, Arthur’s serves contemporary British cuisine that I promise you, they have dining down to a fine art. They are open for brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, early dinner and serve drinks all day long. I loved the Salmon Poke there, Maxie devoured her Mac & Cheese from the kiddie menu while mum was really into the smoke haddock fishcakes.

Now that we’ve settled back home, I am already getting the itch to begin planning our next adventure. Winter is literally around the corner and I can’t help but think about a warm weather getaway next. I always like to say that the fall season is the perfect time to start thinking about travel goals for the new year and whatever your travel plans are, Aeroplan can help you get there. If you’re already a member you’ll already know this but accumulating miles may be easier than you think. If you think outside the box like we have, you can literally earn miles on hotel stayscar rentals, retail purchases, insurancebanking (credit cards), even online when you shop your favourite retailers like Sephora, Apple, Indigo, Hudson’s Bay, and so much more on the eStore getting you closer to that next trip faster. Not an Aeroplan member yet? Well, there’s really no better time than the present as they say and there’s some very exciting updates coming soon that I can’t wait to share with you guys. But until then, registering is easy and you can begin earning miles right away. For more information head to www.aeroplan.com.

This post is sponsored by Aeroplan however all views and opinions are my own.

Our First Family Vacation to Barcelona

Some of my favourite memories as a child are from my travels with my family. My mother had us on a plane traveling all over the world before the age of one. By the time I was 10, I had more stamps in my passport than someone three times my age. Being exposed to different cultures, food and language helped to make me the rounded individual I am today. I knew very early on, if I was lucky enough to have a child, I would do the same thing for them.

I’ve been an Aeroplan member since 2003. For years I had only been accumulating miles through booked airline travel and gas purchase. What a rookie mistake! When I was pregnant with Maxie I discovered there are endless opportunities to earn more miles to help get me one step closer to my goal – taking my family on our first vacation abroad.  If you were following my pregnancy earlier on this year, you may remember my nursery tour which was brought to life by purchases from Aeroplan’s retail partners on their eStore.  An online hub where you an shop from so many of your favourite retailers and earn miles on all your purchases. Believe it or not, I actually earned miles on all the big purchases and decor items for Maxie’s room. As an added bonus, we racked up extra miles over the last two years on groceries, date night dinners and just about everything in between using Réjean’s TD Aeroplan Visa Card.

The Destination – Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona with Aeroplan

Choosing a destination for our first family trip was no easy feat. With wanderlust permeating through my veins ever since I had to stop traveling after 34 weeks pregnant, I was overwhelmed by the endless possibilities of destinations we had to choose from. A wise person once told me, “A vacation with a baby is not a vacation. It’s a change of scenery!” Hearing that deterred me from a beach vacay this time around, knowing that I wouldn’t able to spend countless hours on the beach in a half induced piña colada coma. I decided that this would be a great opportunity to visit a city in Europe neither one of us had traveled to before. While most new parents think about a potential language barrier, time changes and travel time being an issue; we made that the least of our worries. We only wanted to make sure our destination had a great ‘walk-score’ because we wanted to explore the area mostly by foot. After much deliberation, we finally decided on Barcelona, Spain. It’s a baby friendly European city known for their food, art, historical sites and shopping. The winter time, although mild, is considered low season for this tourist friendly city, so traveling during December meant we were able to avoid crowds and line-ups while sightseeing.

Barcelona with Aeroplan

Barcelona with Aeroplan

La Pedrera Cafe

How We Traveled – Life As A New Family of Three

Traveling with a newborn for the first time is one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve ever experienced. I was stressed throughout the entire planning process but my anxiety reached a whole new level about a week from our departure. Questions like; “Will I be that person who has a baby that screams and cries during the flight?”. “Should we bring a car seat along?“. “Is our stroller going to be suitable for travel?“. “What about her diapers? Should we bring them along or purchase when we arrive?”. “Can we travel with pre-pumped breastmilk?” “Will the restaurants we want to go to be child and stroller friendly?”. I am telling you, the list of questions were endless and at one point I got so overwhelmed, I wanted to cry and cancel the whole thing. Thankfully, my circle of savvy traveling friends with kids got me to settle down and ensured me that everything would be alright. Our game plan was to travel as lean as possible. Pack only the essentials and anything else we felt we absolutely needed, we would just get it while we were there. I’m thinking about doing a separate post where I share what worked and didn’t in regards to traveling with Maxie, in hopes to give other new mums the confidence to board a plane early with their littles.

Barcelona with Aeroplan

Barcelona With Aeroplan

Barcelona with Aeroplan
Barcelona Cathedral – Gothic Quarter

Barcelona with Aeroplan

Barcelona with Aeroplan
Casa Batillo – designed by Antoni Gaudi at night

Cable car ride up to Parc Montujïc

Olympic Stadium – 1992 Games
Park Montjuic Magic Fountain
Park Montjuïc Magic Fountain
La Boquiera Market of La Rambla. Home to tons of food stalls with fresh seafood, meat, fruit, veggies, spices and candies all made locally

Barcelona with Aeroplan

Our Barça Accommodations in Dreta D’Eixample

Barcelona with Aeroplan

Without a doubt, we knew that the only way this trip was going to happen was if we stayed in an AirB&B. Having an apartment that gave us access to some of the things we have at home; laundry, kitchen etc just made me feel more comfortable. We were even able to query for properties that are “baby/child friendly”, and those properties were willing to provide a crib upon request. Plus, Euro hotel rooms are notoriously small and claustrophobic, so the AirB&B option gave us the space we needed. The challenging part was determine which area of the city to stay in. If we were traveling sans baby, I would have wanted to stay in the Gothic Quarter or El Borne but the amount of noise and foot traffic late at night was a slight concern. Consequently, we chose to stay in the Dreta d’Eixample (Right Extension) area, which was recommended by my dear friend Diala. The neighbourhood is home to Barcelona’s high end shopping streets, wide open plaza and footpaths, tons of Gaudi’s work and popular areas like Passieg de Gràcia, Casa Mila and Casa Calvet. We couldn’t have chosen a better hood to call home for the week. Personally, I would recommend the area to anyone and actually have to a couple friends and followers looking to travel there in the new year. Clean, trendy, easy access to taxis/public transportation plus close to amazing restaurants, galleries and some of the best shopping Barcelona has to offer – all within walking distance may I add. Here’s a sneak peek inside our humble abode on a quiet side street called Carrer de Diptacio in Dreta d’Eixample:

Barcelona with Aeroplan

Barcelona with Aeroplan

Barcelona with Aeroplan

What To See & Do in Barcelona With a Baby (or Without)

I truly thought eight days in Barça would be more than enough, leaving us with a couple days off just to rest but turns out, we actually ran out of time and didn’t get to cross everything off our list. When I put a request out for Barcelona recommendations on my IG stories before we left, we received an outpour of messages of every nook and cranny we should explore. After day one we quickly realized that having Maxwell along with us was not going to cramp our style at all. There are babies EVERYWHERE in Barça. I’m pretty sure 1 in 3 adult pedestrians were pushing a stroller. And that’s not all. In North America, we have a tendency to say our lives revolve around our kids schedule but in Europe it is the other way around. They believe their lifestyle should not have to change just because you have children. So it is very typical to see parents with young babies dining at restaurants past 10pm, shopping on Passieg de Gràcia late on a weekday evening and hitting up art galleries and museums. We decided to follow suit and take Maxwell to the Gothic Quarter, La Rambla, Parc Montjucïc, countless museums, galleries, rests etc and she did a lot of her napping on the go. This easy going lifestyle meant that almost everywhere was stroller accessible and baby friendly, so we never felt like we were missing out on anything while we were there. However, there are a lot of stairs in this city for some reason at a couple of historic sites so if you’re traveling with a baby, you may want to think about bringing a baby carrier.

Barcelona with Aeroplan

Flax and Kale Barcelona

Barcelona with Aeroplan

Flax & Kale – seriously look at all the colours in their food

Barcelona with Aeroplan

Barcelona with Aeroplan

Barcelona with Aeroplan
Gothic Quarter – 8:30am

Barcelona with Aeroplan

Barcelona with Aeroplan
Photos shot by myself and Olya Lisova

Must See

  • Gothic Quarter – You cannot go to Barça and miss this historic area so full of character. The narrow streets, the Barcelona Cathedral, tiny shops, cafes and museums, it is one of the most popular spots in the city. That being said, if you are looking to take photos, you better make sure you have an early start before the tourists all come flocking in around 9/10am.
  • Arc de Triomf
  • La Boquiera Market – I was obsessed with this marche and went three times during our visit. Arguably the best market in the world with rows upon rows of controlled stalls selling everything from the tastiest meats, seafood, chocolates, candies, seasonings, fruit, veggies, fresh juices and the infamous jamón in a cone – all locally made.
  • Christopher Columbus Monument
  • La Ramblas – a 1.2km pedestrian street lined with restaurants, cafes and shops starting at Plaça de Catalunya and ending at Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell.
  • The Sagrada Familia – The largest Roman Catholic Church in the world designed by famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. If you decide go, make sure to book your tickets advance and show up on time as they are strict. Also, the rooftop views are spectacular and worth the extra $.
  • Parc Güell – an expansive park composed of gardens and architectural elements created and designed by Antoni Gaudi. Built between 1900 and 1914, the park was officially open to the public 26 years later. In 1984, it was declared a World Heritage Site under “Works of Antoni Gaudi”.
  • Picasso Museum 
  • Parc Montjuïc – home to the 1992 Olympic Games in addition to museums, art galleries, Poble Espanyol (artisans’ village), and The ‘Magic Fountain’ that famously has a spectacular light show at night. You can get to Montjuïc by taxi, foot if your fit and adventurous, which Maxie and I attempted during a cab strike. Not easy as the hills are quite steep or by the cable car, our mode of transport on our second attempt to the top.
  • Passeig de Gràcia – One of the major avenues and known for the best shopping in Barcelona. Also, has some of Barcelona’s most celebrated pieces of architecture; such as Casa Baillo and Casa Milá (La Pedrera).

Where to Eat & Drink

  • 7 Portes – arguably has the best paella in the city. Cool trivia, this spot opened back in 1836 and got its name from the seven doors that leads into the restaurant. Pablo Picasso also used to eat here in his day.
  • Firebug  – Just on the outskirts of Eixample, we stumbled on this spot on our very last night and was not disappointed. A small space that serves large size tapas and sharing plates that are so delicious not matter how full you are, you will be hard pressed to order more. Plus the drinks are amazing, even the virgin cocktails.
  • Flax & Kale – perfect for lunch and brunch. The superfood bowl and cold pressed juices I would recommend but pancakes and pasta dishes are also fantastic.
  • Bar del Pla
  • Gallito
  • The Green Spot
  • El National – Ok, so this may be somewhat of a tourist spot and located just off Passieg de Gràcia but the set-up is pretty cool and something you should experience once. It appears to look like a flea market from the outside but once you’re through the doors you step inside a large gallery space that contains 4 bars and 4 restaurants comprising a very unique gastronomical Barcelona experience.
  • The W Hotel – Even if you’re not staying at this hotel during your time in the city, you MUST eat and drink in one of their restaurants. The property is located on the beach and the views are phenomenal.
  • Granja Petitbo
  • Bar Cañete
  • EL Passatge del Mur Muri – One of the best squid paella’s I’ve ever had in my life. The restaurant doesn’t open until after 8pm for dinner but the hotel also has a cozy lobby bar with great drinks and you can also order the full dinner menu from there if 8pm is too late for your dinner start time.

With the new year just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about what destination you would like to check off your bucket list next. Whatever your travel plans are, with Aeroplan you can get there. Pro Tip #1: Think outside the box when it comes to earning your miles. As an Aeroplan member you can accumulate miles on hotel stays, car rentals, retail purchases, insurance, banking (credit cards), even online when you shop your favourite retailers like Sephora, Apple, Indigo, Hudson’s Bay, and so much more on the eStore. Need help devising a plan on how to make your travel dreams a reality? Tell Aeroplan what your plan is for your miles. Pro Tip #2:  Tell Aeroplan what your plan is for your miles and they will help you get there. All you have to do is enter a few details pertaining to your goals here and you will be provided with a detailed plan.

I couldn’t think of a more better way to close out such a big year for us than this trip to Spain. I am so proud that we are exposing Maxwell to travel at such an early age and I do hope that she adopts our love of seeing the world. Thank you Aeroplan for being apart of this very special moment. I am already planning our next #TravelWithMaxie adventure. In the meantime, stay tuned for a forthcoming post with tips on how to travel stress free with your baby!

This post is sponsored by Aeroplan however all views and opinions are my own.

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