Winding down...

In February, when Grant first proposed the idea of Switzerland for a few months, I had no real expectation for what the time would hold. In the following 6 weeks, we packed our bags, got passports for the girls, found care for Kellydog, lent my car to my sister-in-law, and had friends who were remodeling their home housesit for us. Everything kind of fell into place and with so much going on in such a short period of time, the adrenaline was at an all time high with little time for introspection. 

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In April, after a short trip to visit Gigi and other family in New Jersey, we made our way to Switzerland (via Portugal) and instantly the emotions were high -- what were we doing?! Who picks up and leaves the country (alas, for Grant's job) after the two years we had - between Emery's premature birth and subsequent screenings/therapy and Grace's kidney surgery last December (we also had moved to California less than 2 year prior, buying a house and settling in). On one hand, it was kind of crazy. On the other hand, it was absolutely perfect.

Our time here has been a beautiful balance between travel warrior weekends taking us on adventures around Europe to beautifully boring weekdays exploring the playgrounds of Zurich. Monday-Thursday the girls and I explore the amazing playgrounds of Zurich, visit the Lake, and occasionally hit some playgroups or storytimes at the local library. Mostly, it is just the three of us spending hours upon hours making lego towers, playing playdough until we lose all the clay in the grass below and picnics in magical places new to us. Poor/lucky Daddy has travelled almost every week, racking up on passport stamps but also not getting the relaxed downtime we have enjoyed. 

Our weekends have been absolutely magical, making it the best summer of my life! While I was more than well-traveled before we came upon this adventure, travelling with my girls has changed everything. No longer is it about the places we are going, rather the journey. Seeing their jaws drop in awe as we travel through small mountain towns by train, listening to them sing in the back seat while we road trip, or seeing the pride on Grace's face when she packs her own bag for the airplane - these are the moments that life is about. We have all learned lessons in agility, curiosity and gratitude this season.

A year ago, but especially 2 years ago, I never would have imagined travelling so far away from Grace's Kidney specialist (we have had one break through infection that required solo mom not just going to the kinderhospital but also obtaining appropriate medication from Germany...) or Emerson's physical therapist. In reflecting on Emery's therapy this year, so much of it was hoping she would walk -- never imagining she would climb, run and swim through Europe with a contagious laughter - the greatest joy my heart may ever know. 

This morning Grant and I woke up early and while the kids played, we chatted about what we will miss about living here. Our lifestyle is number one: I love living in our apartment- having the kids all on one floor, less space to keep clean, renting means fewer to-dos, etc. I also love having less stuff - we have been so creative making bracelet beads from straws, using boxes in every which way possible, and turning everything into a "tool" for our playdough. Not having a tv leads to 3-hour long Disney Danceoffs and we have had more tea parties than the Madhatter. I'll miss our carless community and the peace of mind of safety for my girls as they learn to ride bikes basking in the Swiss Sun next to fields of wildflowers with trains hissing by. I'll miss the amazing playgrounds - there to challenge our kids not just take up space. I'll miss the amount of time we get with Grant - although he is travelling so much, he hasn't had so many late night work events that take him away from family dinner time so regularly. Dinner followed by exploring new parks that take us into the late evenings (the sun sets at 10 here) has been pure family magic.

Of course, there are things I am excited to get back to - first of all, my friends! Anyone reading this knows I tend to make friends pretty easily, but I haven't really made any close friends at all, it is pretty sad. For the most part, we have travelled so much, it has made cultivating relationships hard. Coupled with the fact that we are only here for 3 months, I understand no one wanting to make a temporary investment in the crazy American family who moved to town, admittedly we haven't made much of an effort either. 

I can't wait to get home and cook in my big, organised kitchen - complete with gas (cooking on electric has been an education), my beloved crockpot, garbage disposal, and garlic that actually tastes like garlic (it is very very weak here). As my double stroller doesn't fit down the grocery aisles here and we have no childcare since Amelie left the week we got here, I had to do all of my grocery shopping online at CoopatHome which was awesome as I could search in English. 

Speaking of delivery, I thought that would be what I missed most - on demand meals from Munchery, same day delivery from Google Express and Amazon - but I haven't bought a thing except for groceries since we got here and it has been liberating (for my psyche and my wallet!) With delivery laws in Switzerland preventing anything that isnt Swiss made from being shipped (without a huge tariff) I haven't shopped online or really spent money on anything but experience -- where as back home there were daily boxes piling up outside our door. #guilty

I'll miss the ingrained sense of servitude for our planet and others - recycling isn't a big thing here, it is expected and everyone just does it - everywhere - without a reminder. There is a pride, without being prideful, in caring for your community - parks aren't filled with trash, and the expectation to care for your possessions is evident -- something even granola California could learn from. I'll miss the laughter of little children playing outside our windows, and of adults toasting with friends - our community is so active here with echoes of joy bouncing off our concrete building.

While I am sad we only have two weeks left of European exploring (two road trips planned - one through Germany, one through Switzerland) before we go, the lesson of family travel is our souvenir. I love travelling with my family. Just the four of us exploring the world through a new lens of love and appreciation. There is nothing better in the world the travelling with them and I can't wait to bring our travels back to the states as we explore California with a new sense of vigour. 

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Regrets? Sure we have a few - I really wanted to explore more of France with the girls, but we can do that next year.  I had hoped we would find an outfit or two for each of us to bring back as a momento, and also wish we would have brought our fancy DSLR camera so we would have at least one quality family pic from the trip - oops! I also intended on learning German, but when Amelie quit I had to cancel my German class and I think I know less now than I did before we arrived, as everyone speaks English with me, likely because they hear me talking to the kiddos before we get up to the counter. Loud Americans :)

As we open our Calendar to July, we count down our last two weeks here in Switzerland before heading to Virginia/DC for a few days until finally reunited with Kellydog, friends and family back in California the 21st. The next few weeks will be busy, but if they are anything like the last 3 months, I know they will be beautiful. We fully intend on coming back next summer - which gives me time to get planning for more planes, trains and automobiles!

Have a great 4th weekend, you know we won't be taking our freedom to travel for granted this year!

 

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Malta: Family Trip!

Malta. Truth is, aside from having a "Maltese-poodle" dog, I have never really given much thought to Malta. In preparing for our European adventure, I began following lots of mommy bloggers in instagram, one who went to malta and I was immediately captivated by her photos of ancient ruins, clear blue water and gorgeous landscape.  

All of our travels are a mash-up of inexpensive "Google flight" searches and spg points and Malta was the best of both - hopping down to the island for about $200 per person and free night stay, just 12,000 points per night at the Westin resort. 

We headed out early on Friday morning with the quick, 2 hour flight on Swiss Air. The airline has impeccable service- we even got a delicious quiche as a snack on board! Once we arrived in malta, we got to the hotel but our room wasn't ready. We walked around a bit, finding that the town of St a Juliana is a little bit more like party-central Cabo with beer bottles broken everywhere, so went back to the hotel only to find that every kitchen was closed between 10:30-12noon - which meant we couldn't eat!  

We hung by the pool and then eventually had lunch before being checked in to our room that came with an incredible patio - it was an outdoor living room! We took a boat ride that evening then ordered room service - and when coming from zurich - it was soooooo inexpensive and delicious, we did it the next day!  

 

I highly recommend the Westin - very family friendly with Westin kids Club and playground, but I would stick mainly to the resort and it's beautiful pools and beaches - we were pretty underwhelmed by the towns though wish we had a chance to explore more by boat.  

 

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We flew out early Sunday morning after enjoying the hotels phenomenal, and I mean phenomenal, breakfast buffet and getting some energy out on the playground. Overall was a very relaxing weekend and a great family escape! If we do Europe again next summer, The Westin malta will be on our tour!  

Mainau - A wonderland for Families near Zurich

While doing a quick look at possible stops on our way home from the Bavarian Castle Crawl, I spotted information about a little Island Mainau off of Lake Constance in Germany and with vivid pictures of glorious flowers, a cafe, and lots of playgrounds - I knew we were in!

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Driving from Fussen, we were wowed by the wine country on the East side of Lake Constance but unfortunately couldn't sneak into any of the tasting rooms. After a few failed attempts, we took the car ferry over (be sure to bring Euros, credit card not accepted) which was fun for all seeing the beautiful lake from the comfort of our rental car! 

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Mainau was all that I read and more - it was absolutely glorious and I would recommend for families of all ages! The girls were in heaven as we walked in and saw a playground that seemed to just keep going and going with water features, climbing structures, swings, diggers for sand and more! It was packed but offered so much for everyone. Grant enjoyed the cafe at the entrance, hungry after the drive.

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Once we finally pried the girls off of the playground, we checked it the petting zoo where Emery was mesmerized by feeding the very friendly goats. Grace enjoyed watching the ponies but from afar. From there we climbed trees and then checked out some of the much touted floral exhibits which were positively spectacular, all with a setting sun behind us. There was a restaurant at the top which we only looked into but tabletops were decorated with such gorgeous florals I wish I could come back with girlfriends and enjoy some wine!

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The butterfly exhibit was a must-see and while it was very hot, the girls loved seeing all of the butterflies, flowers, and birds. It was probably the biggest butterfly sanctuary I have ever seen and was a nice note to end our journey on.

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I would recommend the 45 minute trip to anyone- it was a lovely lovely afternoon! 

Castle Crawling with Kiddos under 3

Let's be honest, when we found out we were going to be spending the summer in Europe, of course the inner princess in me immediately was day dreaming about bringing my fairy princesses to castles! At the top of the list was Neuschwanstein Castle.

Located in Germany, there are three castles of King Ludwig II of Bavaria that are famous with over 6,000 tourists visiting a day! The two primary castles Linderhof and Neuschwanstein Castle are bustling, and we wanted to get in on it! With Neuschwanstein being the castle that supposedly inspired Disney's castle for sleeping beauty, Grant was finding his way into all of our hearts with a surprise trip with a little Disney magic. We rented a car and drove through Austria to Germany where we settled into our hotel is Fussen on a very rainy Friday night.

While we had hoped to explore the charming town of Fussen that evening, Grant was on a call until very late and the girls were starving so we enjoyed some room service of Wiener Schnitzel, spatzel and Bavarian apple tart. The view from our room at Hotel Sonne was amazing, and the quirkly little hotel was overflowing with charm  - the perfect setting to get our girls ready for a princess weekend! 

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The next morning, we awoke very early and did the hotels amazing buffet breakfast that was included with the stay -- this buffet was so good - reason enough to stay there! Attentive staff, so many choices of food and they refilled my coffee 10x which never happens in Zurich! 

We walked around Fussen for a little bit and then headed to the castles - you have to show up an hour before your tour, and our tour was at 9:15 so we got there by 8:15. We parked, hiked up a hill to the ticket office, and then found out we were going to have to do a lot more hiking. Other moms had warned me we couldn't bring our stroller so we each tackled the venture with a baby bjorn -- and a 30+ pound toddler :)

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We hitched a ride with a horse and carriage that took pity on us that was filled with tourists from Shanghai that were more inclined to take pictures of our blonde babies and family than the gorgeous setting as we rode up to the castles. We are talking hundreds if not thousands of photos from strangers. When we exited the carriage - these strangers all picked up our girls and took pictures with them. We were stunned and paralysed with disbelief, unsure of what to do. Normally I don't let anyone touch my kids. The best part was they didn't speak English, but all insisted on air dropping the photos to us -- so strange but goes to show technology transcends all language barriers! 

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We got to the top of Neuchwastein Castle only to discover that we were supposed to be at Lindenhof Castle at 9:15 and the information lady at the top of the mountain was of no help, saying we were out of luck. So $60 later, we opted to just hike the bridge with sleeping babies on us and explore what we could -- stopping for fresh donuts of course.

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Overall Experience: The castle experience was beautiful if not overly welcoming for families. I'd highly recommend exploring - but if you have toddlers, I'd skip buying the pricey tickets - you arent allowed to bring carriers into the castles or strollers or backpacks, the tour is 3 hours, and apparently they are strict on the behavior of kids. Also, no photography and if you don't instagram it, it didn't happen - right?! (kidding, kind of)

From there we ventured to Maipau - more on that adventure to come! 

Barcelona with my Bambinos

Last weekend, Grant was set to be back in the United States for his Wharton reunion and a board meeting in Boston and when I checked the weather forecast, it was more rain for Zurich! A quick glance at Google Flights showed inexpensive flights to Barcelona where the weather would be perfect and sunny - two clicks and we were booked!

A quick Mother's Day Weekend in Barcelona with my little girls was exactly the way I had hoped to escape another rainy day in the apartment, so with a backpack and double stroller, we took the tram to Zurich airport, checked in with Vueling Airlines, and then explored the amazing kid-room filled with changing tables, bottle warmers and a million clean and well kept toys for the girls to play with and get their energy out before our 1 hour and 45 minute flight.  

I had never taken Vueling Airlines before and it was okay. The seats were really really tiny - especially with an active 1.5 year old on lap, but the plane was clean and stewards very nice. While absolutely nothing is included - no luggage, entertainment or even a glass of water, the price was right and we took off after an hour delay on the runway. My big gripe with them though is they let us gate check our double stroller - but when we landed in Barcelona - we had to pick up with odd-sized luggage at Baggage Claim (which no one had advised us). Frustrating to haul through an airport with two little beans overly excited and exhausted from the early morning flight, it was less than ideal. Even the airport staff was perplexed as to why they wouldn't have a gate checked stroller waiting when we got off the plane. 

That said, there are worse things - and I wasn't about to let it ruin our awesome girls getaway! Next up I had arranged airport pickup to take us to our hotel through Welcome Pickups. I had googled the best way to get from the airport to downtown with two toddlers without bringing our own carseats, and Welcome Pickups seemed like an awesome service, boasting carseats and english speaking drivers who would give you highlights of the city on the drive in - and the price again was right - just $80 round trip! 

Well lesson learned, sometime you should pay more for a service. While the website looked professional, I can barely begin to explain how awful it was trying to meet up with our driver - who was an hour late AFTER he called me and I told him we had landed 40 minutes before and were just getting our stroller. His English skills were debatable, racking up $40 in phone bills trying to talk to him. But the kicker? Not only was he late - he arrived sans car seats. Thankfully the girls were passed out so they didn't know they were not properly strapped in, but oh my gosh I was livid yet out of options. I spoke with their customer service, who refunded $6 (ha!) and promised me carseats on the way back to the airport. No such luck, but this driver was nice, had a clean car and did show up on time, so whatever. 

Determined to still have a great vacation with only 29 hours on the ground in Barcelona, we got to the hotel, quickly refreshed and headed out on foot to enjoy the beautiful day! We were staying near the Arc de Triumf which was absolutely beautiful, the landscaping surrounded was lush, the sun shining, and people everywhere enjoying the sunshine. We stopped for a quick al fresco lunch and then headed down to the aquarium. 

The Barcelona Aquarium was a great place for the little ones to get some energy out and they sure did! We were tourists and bought the photo taken at the beginning of the tour of course and also couldn't resist helado (ice cream) in the cafe. The exhibits were nice, but the view the real gem overlooking all of the enormous yachts in town for the race. To be honest, the Monterey Bay Aquarium back home is about 100x nicer with more interactive exhibits, but for toddlers, it was a blast and they were free under age 3. We then walked along the coast all the way to the Olympic Village, stopping to play at half a dozen playgrounds peppered along the walk before we turned in for the night, this mom exhausted having walked around 11 miles pushing a double. 

The next morning we were up very early and out to feed Grace's cravings for pancakes at a lovely little bakery. Then we ventured up the street to La Sagrada Famlia where the sun was coming up over the gorgeous church, highlighting each detail. There are two amazing playgrounds, one on either side of the church, and we explored both and made some new friends while I enjoyed the views. We wanted to attend a mass but there was a lot of police activity with huge guns, so we decided to move on and venture downtown as we had a 10:30am class scheduled at the Museum de Xocholate. 

The "Chocolate Museum" was offering a class (in Catalan) for ages 0-3 to paint with chocolate. I signed us up, because why not? All morning the girls were a buzz with excitement - Grace excited to "Go to school with baby Emme and paint with Chocolate". Of course we had to sample some even before the painting began. While in theory it was a great idea, the girls were exhausted and while Emery painted, Grace had a bought of homesickness after we said we would paint California. She just wanted her dog, her room and her friend Kenna so she went and sat in a corner and sulked. ;) Oh well, I tried! After class, we toured the museum and headed back to the hotel to change as we had chocolate in ever crevice.

Once home, we regrouped then went out for a lovely tapas lunch while Grace slept in the stroller. We hit another playground and then decided to go to the Museum of Barcelona Culture. I think it was $4 for adults to enter, and you can go twice - but really we went only because it was close to the hotel and air-conditioned. The cafe was amazing, but the exhibits were definitely geared towards adults and security wasn't taken by my cute little toddlers running freely through the exhibits so it was a short visit. 

We tucked into bed early, as the next morning, mother's day, we had a 7am flight which meant a 5am airport pick-up. I awoke Mother's Day in a twin bed with both my girls, sleepy but smiling, and wouldn't have traded it for the world. Overall, an excellent trip and I would highly recommend Barcelona to anyone traveling with Toddlers - it is stroller friendly and the park are everywhere and welcoming - not to mention prices unbelievably fair in comparison to Zurich ;)

Hope you all had a great Mother's Day! We are off to visit Bavarian Castles throughout Germany and Austria this weekend, glad to have Dad home and in for the adventure! 

Love,

The Swiss Family Allen

 

Embracing Daily Life in Switzerland

Another week in the books of our Swiss Adventure and I can honestly say we are starting to feel at home. While Mother Nature brought a mix of sunny days along with quite a few rainy ones this past week, the girls and I explored down by the lake - mastering the trams, feeding duckies, and even a nice long train ride to Rapperswil where we explored the kinder Zoo - seeing Camels, Flamingos, Penguins, Cheetahs, Giraffes, Zebras and more! While intimidating at first, the Swiss public transportation systems are ridiculously reliable and user-friendly with the awesome app that literally has a, "Take me home" button you push and just follow directions :)

Grant and I had an opportunity to steal away for a memorable date-night on Thursday, despite the onset of a tonsillitis for me. Right downstairs in our building, through a back-entrance door, we snuck into an intimate dinner at Hombi's Salon - a place of magic filled with creative passion by world-class tenor Christoph Hombis. When I met with him earlier that day, he requested we arrive anytime between 6 and 7 for cocktails but insisted we absolutely must be seated by 7pm. Grant was running late but we snuck in just in time to enjoy a lovely glass of white wine and some appetizers before the tenor/chef got to work preparing an immaculate dinner of pasta and meats and the freshest, most thinly cut prosciutto I have ever had - I will dream of it for years to come. After the main course, a lovely trio played classical music for us, with Hombi joining in - captivating the intimate audience before we enjoyed our dessert and stumbled back upstairs - having been served a few too many bottles of wine :) Truly an evening I will remember for the rest of our lives. 

When we first decided to make the trip to Switzerland with our two little girls, everyone immediately asked us where we would be travelling. I felt a lot of pressure - initially mapping out day and weekend trips for the girls and I while Grant worked, with longer getaways planned for the family. But reality is, we have two little girls, ages 1 and 2 - and what they want to do is play at the playgrounds, run around outside, and take in all that is new right here - which has led me to let go of that expectation and truly enjoy this opportunity as a chance for our family to live in Switzerland, not just use it as a landing board. Going to the market, exploring the rail system, feeding ducks along the lake and visiting local attractions that still let us get our naps in are what toddler day dreams are made of - and we are revelling in it! They wouldn't remember seeing historic landmarks, and while maybe a picture would help, I hope to bring them back to Europe when they can appreciate those things, but for now, focus on what they do revel in - picnics in the parks with mom and dad. Everything is new for each of us - no matter how well travel Grant and I had been in our single lives, exploring with our littles is new through the lens as a parent - and it is incredible! 

Finally adjusted to the time change, everyone is doing well! I am a bit down for the count with an incurable sore throat I can't get over - the remedies provided at the Apothekary here were of little help - with Grant heading back to the States Thursday, I may request some American cure-alls as my Mother's Day present. ;) 

Last week we also attended a local playdate for English speaking moms at the GZ Oerlikon which was a lovely way to learn of some fun places to explore. Grant stole me away for a few hours Saturday while the girls napped and we went to the famous Dolder Hotel - enjoying the modern art and a glass of wine while the rain came down. Amelie also treated our family to a traditional Swiss raclette on Wednesday which still has me full. Our days are simple, filled with small adventures we can savor stress-free. 

We have had great luck in meeting wonderful new friends - both through church and in our building - and I look forward to getting to know each family more as this week unfolds. I never would have imagined a more family-friendly city - and our community specifically is just filled with new friends all who have little ones of the age of Emery and Grace. With Grant traveling for Mother's Day, I am hoping to plan some fun local adventures with the girls this week to celebrate how happy they have made me as a mother and how lucky we are to write this chapter of our family's adventure here in Switzerland .... strong likelihood it will involve chocolate, if not chocolate and cheese :) 

Also would be remiss if I didn't give a glowing shout-out to the birthday girl, my beautiful Mom aka Grandbarb/Barbie! We love you, miss you, and can't wait to see you in just a few weeks! Enjoy your special day!

#MomTruthMonday: The Jetlag Edition

Inspired by my incredible friend Krista and her weekly #MomTruthMonday I look forward to each week, I couldn't resist boarding the truth train and share just how tough recovering from jetlag has been for our little family.

Let's be real. It has been tough. So tough. Borderline unbearable. While both of my kiddos have traveled plenty with time changes to Hawaii and the East Coast, this 9 hour time shift has thrown us all off, with sleep being interrupted by the need to use the potty or tummy's grumbling thinking it is time for dinner. We don't have a TV here, so our usual "quick fix" at calming crying toddlers down is taking a bit more effort finding books and activities to calm them in the middle of the night - and the boxes we sent arrived on Friday but we didn't get the notice until after business hours, so we can't get them until tomorrow since today is official Swiss Holiday for May Day so our distractions are limited.

While the struggle is real facing off with jetlag, we have also had the blessing of some dreary weather. I call it as a blessing as it has forced us to slow down, embrace the exhaustion and take each day one at a time. Being here for 3 months means we don't have to squeeze everything into a short vacation timeline, so for our first week in Switzerland our outtings were pretty limited - we explored the grocery store, learned how to take the train, bus and tram systems, and got a chance to know our new community. In an odd way, it all worked out just as it should. Fortunately, we did have a chance to explore the Nature Museum at the University of Zurich on Thursday and Saturday Grant took us to Luzern in picture perfect breathtaking weather - the lake was stunning and the snow on the alps adding romance to our stroll along the lake. Sunday we visited a new church, C3, which welcomed us with such open arms we instantly felt at home. I had searched for English services, and with the help of Google, landed at this church that also boasted childcare -- which meant english speaking families! We even met a family of four (soon to be five!) that live in our same building! Afterwards, we ventured around the lake on our bikes and explored some parks.

You guys, the parks here are AMAZING. I'll post more on that later, but it is insane. I can't even begin to describe how impressed I am...even the train from Oerlikon to Luzern had a playground on the upperdeck we happened upon - the kids were thrilled, even with older boys yelling at them in German - Grace just babbled back with a huge flirtatious smile on her face. Kids these days :)

It is raining again today, which is a welcome distraction after such a busy weekend and still recovering from the time change - so we are planning on visiting the indoor playground in our complex and maybe making some cheesy Raclette for dinner. 

All in all, Zurich is already proving to be an extremely livable city which we are enjoying more and more as we continue to explore - and look forward to uncovering all of the magic of this enchanted city when our sleep schedule is more on track, but for now, every new day is an adventure, even if it just attempting to figuring out the swiss laundry systems :) 

Have a great week!

 

The Swiss Family Allen