Tag Archives: travel with kids

October 2, 2008

vermont b&b tailor-made for toddlers

If mixing a New England B&B and a toddler doesn’t strike you as a match made in heaven, you haven’t been to Lyndonville, Vermont’s Wildflower Inn yet.

Just picture it, agreeably worn-out kids, fresh from a day of fun activities on the farm, drinking apple juice from rocket-shaped sippy cups while their equally agreeable parents sip an “oaky” chardonnay and admire Vermont’s green countryside.

Located in Vermont’s rural Northeast Kingdom, the Wildflower Inn is just a twenty minute drive from St. Johnsbury, home of the Fairbanks Museum. In an hour, you can reach New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory or the Cabot cheese factory. If you want to save on gas, there’s plenty to do at the Inn — two hours of kids and teen activities daily, an outdoor pool, a petting barn with a charming miniature horse, wagon rides, a play room, access to bike trails and your choice of two modern play structures.

The Wildflower has a proven track record of doing whatever it can to make families comfortable and happy. Accommodations range from standard hotel rooms (all with great views) to private cottages. The restaurant caters to children but remains up-scale enough to make parents happy.

The Wildflower Inn is family owned and operated. The views from the Inn, especially during foliage season, and the personal, friendly service is a guaranteed to be worth the trip!

east coast whirlwind

We’re just back from a fantastically chaotic 5-week travel binge- Boston, Cape Cod, New York, Chicago, a lake in Wisconsin, home (with a double-case of RSV caught somewhere in the germ-swamp of OHare).

Cape Cod: a whirlwind of parents and grandparents and children and sandy feet and beach crabs. 9 grown-ups looking after 6 kids, all under 4. Milo taught Alastair how to eat shells. Eeek.

Which was all a far cry from New York City, where we spent two glorious weeks in that perfect end-of-summer balmy – but not baking-hot – weather. It was a fun routine of elevators (“Mino push the buddon please to go down down down?”); cheerful doormen (“Mino say heddo to friend man?”); stroller rides to Washington Square Park for its plaza where the men drink from paper bags and play chess; and lots and lots of taxis, policecars, firetrucks, and other vehicles of New York’s Finest, including a fine horsie with tickly whiskers who says Neigh.

The lake in Wisconsin was the pinnacle of kid craziness. We had 10:11, with no child over the age of 6, and only one other over the age of 3. We stayed in our friend’s great-grandmother’s chalet-style rambling lake house, with a massive lawn sloping down to the lake, a rowboat, sailboat & motorboat, on-site tennis, and a huge porch that afforded the adults some wine-drinking and politics-talking time (Sarah Palin…really???) while the kids careened around the yard. Milo learned about bumblebees and spiders, and why we should only look and not touch. Alastair learned how to say “guh, glerrrrramph” and whack at the other babies.

Home via Milwaukee, where we stopped by Calatrava’s amazing bird-ship-like art museum sailing out over Lake Michigan for some play in the lobby. A magical white, windowy, watery open place with shocks of sculpture color, perfect for running and gazing and wearing out kids before our long (delayed) flight home.

September 25, 2008

straight from the blogger’s mouth

One of the best ways to help your child become a true citizen of the world is to travel as often and far as you dare. It helps them learn to love adventure, open their mind to new ideas and cultures, and break out of routine.

Of course, traveling with children is not always easy. It’s dirty, filled with cumbersome gear and, for me, often involves wearing way too much of whatever my son had for dinner. Sometimes regurgitated.

But the secret is that those hardships are a small price to pay. In fact, I would argue that any discomfort or annoyances are, at the end of the day, completely and totally worth it. The advantages of traveling with my son — what he learns, what I learn — makes any angst about the process seem silly by the time we return home. And I’m not alone. There are plenty of other Moms out there who are traveling all over the world with their kids and blogging to tell the tale.

Looking for the best places to visit? Great hotels that won’t mind if your child stomps up and down the stairs while you check-in? Funny stories of just how much a four-year-old can barf on an airplane? Commiseration? Inspiration? Look no further than your browser. There are plenty of great Mama blogs that explore the where’s, why’s and how’s of traveling both near and far with young’uns with experience, poignancy and, most importantly, humor. Here are some of the best:

Wanderlust and Lipstick

Traveling Mamas

Travel Savvy Mom

Backpack to Buggy

Mother of All Trips

MinneMom’s Travels With Children

Delicious Baby

Kids Go Global

SoulTravelers3

Two and a Half Travelers

What about you? Know any great blogs that examine the good, bad and funny of traveling with kids? We’d love to hear about them.

September 12, 2008

haggling by the pound

My husband tapped his foot impatiently as my son started to squirm in his stroller. It was time to move on — the morning was getting late and Cairo’s famous open-air bazaar, the Khan-al-Khalili, was becoming crowded. The alleys of the market were filling with tourists, fresh off the tour bus, and over-ambitious baksheesh men looking to take them to the “best” stalls for a small fee.

But I wasn’t quite ready to leave. No deal had been struck.

The shopkeeper, sensing my family’s irritation, looked at the small, ornate brass teapot in my hand and magnanimously said, “I can see your family is waiting. So I will give you a good price. Usually, this is 150 pounds. But for you, I can offer 100 pounds.”

It wasn’t a shocking sum. One hundred Egyptian pounds is less than $20 U.S. I would pay much more at the hotel gift shop or a store back home. And I could certainly afford to spend the money. But I knew I could get a lower price. I couldn’t walk away now. The competition had only just begun.

“Too much. But I can give you 20,” and then giddily waited for the expected outraged rebuttal.

I love to haggle. Whether it is in the bazaars of the Mideast, the open markets of South America, or just the guys selling fake designer bags on Canal Street, I cannot resist the heated back-and-forth price negotiation that transforms shopping from leisure activity to sport. Ever since my father introduced me to bargaining as a little girl while traveling in western China, I’ve been enamored with any situation where I can negotiate my own price. I love the feeling of having some say over whether an item costs too much, to assign my own value to the things that I want to buy.

And yes, I am not too proud to admit that I also enjoy the fight — with all the tricks, guilt trips, and fast talking that come with it.

So now, as my husband looks on with annoyance — and quite often, embarrassment — I am all too willing to insult merchandise, ignore tales of woe and throw small tantrums for monetary discounts that, in the country’s home currency, usually amount to only a few dollars off asking price.

The shopkeeper twirled the end of his mustache thoughtfully. “I can see you drive a hard bargain. You are a mother. You must appreciate value. But only 20? I am a poor man. And look at the fine work of this teapot. You will not see such quality in another shop. But maybe I can give this to you for 80 pounds.” He opened his arms and smiled widely as if he were bestowing a great gift.

I raised my eyebrow. By Cairo standards — a poor city at best — the shop seemed fairly prosperous. But by mine? It is unquestionable that the few dollars I would save on the exchange would mean much more to him than to me. And despite knowing this, I still could not relent. At least, not by more than it would take to keep the game going for a bit longer.

“Twenty-five. And I can go no higher. My husband and son are waiting,” I said with little remorse as I put the teapot back on the display case.

“Not enough! 70 and no less! Do you think I am Ali Baba?” he asked, raising his arms in mock offense. This is a phrase I heard often as I traversed the market, an allusion to the story in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, an insinuation that the shopkeeper is a thief and can therefore let go of his merchandise for less than it’s worth. I smiled every time I heard it.

“No, no. But 70 is still too much,” and raised my offer to 30 pounds. He glared at me, tapping his fingers edgily on the counter, expecting me to become uncomfortable enough in his silence to increase my price. But I would do him one better. I nodded, thanked him for his time, and turned to walk out of the shop.

Before I reached the alley, he called after me, begrudgingly accepting my offer, his face fixed in a frown. I happily returned to receive my prize, trying not to look too smug in victory.

As I walked on to the next shop, ignoring my husband’s remonstrations so I might begin a new match over some papyrus and a small perfume bottle, I thought again of the shopkeeper’s reference to Ali Baba. Of course I didn’t think he was a thief.

But maybe, every now and again, I can see the attraction in thinking myself one.

traveling “abroad” in tahoe

Zen (sort of)Earlier this month our entire family went up to Lake Tahoe for a vacation (grandparents, great-grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins – everybody). Our excuse was the wedding of a close family friend who got married at beautiful Chambers Landing on Labor Day, but we ended up staying for the week afterward, and it was glorious! The weather was beautiful, the lake and surrounding towns virtually deserted, the sales on great ski clothes hard to beat, and the mix of visitors was surprisingly international.

As a child, my family would visit Tahoe during the summer and over the winter holidays. But I could not remember ever having been there in the fall or following a long weekend. From what I could tell, most Americans frequented the area at the same times of the year that my family used to. However, this year, we saw a lot of people from western and eastern Europe and the Middle East, who seemed to have the right idea by visiting after Labor Day.

Even our 3-year-old noticed the foreign flavor amidst the pine trees and woodsy fresh air. One day, we were walking to the hot spring that overlooked the lake on the north shore, and we passed a large, young family that seemed to be from the Middle East. They were speaking what I took to be Arabic. After we passed by them, our son turned to us and said, “They’re speaking Spanish.”

My husband and I looked at each other with eyebrows raised, and we shared a silent little laugh and asked, “How do you know it was Spanish?” He struggled for a minute with his answer, so we tried to help him a bit. We said something like, “Are you sure it was Spanish or did it just sound different to you?” He thought for a minute and replied, “It sounded different to me.” We were interested in what he thought about this, so we continued, “did you understand what they were saying?” He said, “No, I didn’t understand what they were saying.” We said that we didn’t understand either, except when they smiled at us and said “Hello,” when they passed by. That seemed to sit well with him, and he nodded in agreement, “Yeah, they said hello.”

Another day, the larger group of us headed to a Mexican restaurant in Kings Beach, called Caliente. (The food was very good, especially the Mahi Mahi fish tacos and their signature drink, a mango tequila concoction called the Chupacabra – mmmmm!) After we told our son that caliente meant “hot” in Spanish, he had a hoot repeating it over and over again with a cheerleader-like fist pump, “Ca-li-en-te!!!” To add to the experience, my brother-in-law, who grew up in Santa Monica and loves authentic Mexican food, started teaching our son and his son (the two cousins were born just two weeks apart) all of his favorite Spanish words. The runner-up to caliente seemed to be picante. The two boys were climbing all over in hysterics yelling “caliente! picante!” Who were we to suppress such enthusiasm? Iye yi yi!

The whole week was relaxed and fun like that. It was great to bum around with the family on the lake and at the water’s edge. Some days the cousins used sticks with skewered hot dog bits to fish for crawdads (crawfish) among the rocks or off the pier, dutifully throwing them back after giving them a good look. Other days we paddled in a raft on the lake or swam in the pool that was fed by a nearby hot spring. At night, we played cards and drank hot cocoa or red wine. That was the Lake Tahoe I grew up with. There were a few moments, though, when we encountered sounds, sights or flavors from places much farther east than Nevada and farther south than Yosemite. And if that is the Lake Tahoe our son grows up with, that will be more than all right with me.

locked inside, saudi arabia!

This is #4 of an ongoing dialog of our travel which included 4 countries and a 4 year old. Please check the prior archives for the previous sagas.

We departed our winter Christmas in Paris and jetted off to Jeddah for new cultural experiences and a new season, Hajj and summer. While there are some interesting things to do in Saudi Arabia, I understand it might not be on your travel itinerary soon but it was an experience of a lifetime for us.

We felt honored to be invited to see this very sacred country. Jeddah is very near both Mecca and Medina. We could not wait to experience living in a completely different society with drastically different customs. In the end, I would say I have never met so many kind people in my life.

We felt a huge resistance in acceptance of our traveling to Saudi Arabia from our friends, clients and even a preschool director. A small percentage of our friends and associates felt as excited as we did for the trip, a sad commentary on this day and age in our world. I was most disappointed in our neighbor who in an agitated state informed me that I, as a feminist, should never set foot in that country that demeans women and treats women as sub human. I told him that I was not sure what it would be like in Saudi Arabia and would go find out first hand before I would make any decisions about a county that I had not been too.

The Polar Bear in Paris was an amazing and unexpected treat for Olivia. The surprise in France, however, would soon pale to the surprise she would receive in Saudi Arabia.

Everything in Saudi Arabia revolves around the 5 prayer times a day. This makes any type of shopping nearly impossible. Stores open at 10am which is much like the U.S., yet less than 2 hours later the doors close and lock, the gates pull down on the windows of the store front and everything closes for the first 30 minute prayer time at 11:45am. The stores do reopen for 45 minutes but then close from 1pm-5pm. Business reopens again at 5pm but only for 45 minutes until the next half a hour prayer. They open again at 6:15pm for an hour then close at 7:15pm for the longest prayer time of the day, 45 minutes. They then open for their final period at 8pm and the stores are bustling until 12 midnight.

Isn’t that insane? People in Jeddah think so too. There was a time when it didn’t all close down. Many people I spoke to thought it should be changed back to the way it was when it would stay open and employees would pray in shifts. For now, though, everything just closes up over and over through out the day. As a visitor, you have to resign yourself to really rush and get in and get out of the shops or grocery throughout the day.

This crazy store schedule is where the most magical surprise came for Olivia, our four year old. If you get into a store and prayer time comes you are actually locked in the store. Olivia and I had an epiphany. The two of us had our driver drive like crazy to get us to Toys R Us by 7:14pm. This meant he went 40 mph not 25 mph; Saudi Arabia is a very slow relaxed place. No one is in a hurry except the Americans who are trying to get themselves locked into a toy store!

The toy store was the ultimate place to be locked in and trapped for the long 45-minute prayer. We rode bikes and scooters around the aisles. We played video games. We read books and drove cars. And we looked at EVERY doll. Prayer time came to an end, the lights came back on and the doors unlocked. We had touched and played with every thing in the store. Of course, you cannot leave the toy store without a little something (not Saudi rule, my rule) so I asked Olivia to pick anything she wanted. She chose a Barbie-like doll called Donya who was one of four in a set of Arabian Friends. Complete with Abaya/scarf and a hip outfit with really cute purse and boots. Then I couldn’t resist buying all the Arabian Friends for her….Muna, Amal and Ahlam.

She and I often talk about that fun experience we shared in Saudi Arabia while at home in San Francisco playing with our Arabian friends. When I say “how were we so lucky to be locked IN a toy store IN Saudi Arabia?” She replies “oh well it’s ma’shallah.”


September 4, 2008

bryggen, then and now

Bryggen, in between.While walking along Bryggen Wharf in Bergen, Norway, I ran my fingers across the boards of one building facade. The wood had started to soften, ravished by the saltwater air and harsh Nordic winters, but it still didn’t have the pliability I would have expected. It was only one of the little experiments I did during our stay in Bergen, testing to see if the relatively recently reconstructed UNESCO World Heritage site could be trusted to represent its actual history.

The wharf had been a busy thoroughfare in the city for hundreds of years. It existed before the Hanseatic League made Bergen one of their headquarter cities and was greatly improved upon during their tenure in the 1300’s. But the buildings of Bryggen, made of wood, could not resist the fires that plagued the city. Parts of the wharf were destroyed and rebuilt, time and time again, most recently in 1955.

Before we left on our trip to Norway, I had spoken with excitement about seeing the wharf with my own eyes. Between the postcard-worthy beauty of photographs and its inclusion in several period novels I’d enjoyed, I anticipated that the brightly painted buildings, refurbished or not, could hold the magic of the city’s magnificent history for me. A friend I shared my excitement with, however, was not quite so optimistic.

“Bah, I hate those reconstructions,” Robert said. “It’s like a theme park for adults. They’ve rebuilt it, sure, but only to put in a nice souvenir shop, a snack bar, and maybe even a photographer’s studio where you can pay $19.95 to dress up like a nineteenth century Norwegian sailor.”

I discounted his comments until my arrival. To my dismay, I saw that the wharf buildings, now separated from the harbor by a busy city street, were filled with tour operators, restaurants and the dreaded souvenir shops that he predicted. And to add insult to injury, most of the shops carried all shape, size and manner of troll figurines, prominently displayed in the windows.

It was my son who took me beyond this façade, to find something altogether different. Something caught his eye down a small alley. Faced with such curiosity from a toddler, what else could I do but follow?

The wooden buildings were a mish-mash of planked walkways, stairwells and old-fashioned room outcroppings that had, over time, started to lean into each other. The alleys, with some buildings aged over 200 years, had been built upon and over, creating a somewhat surreal maze to navigate. My son thrilled himself by walking up, down and over, the weathered wood making a pleasant stomping noise under his feet.

Medieval lever systems poked out from just under the roof line just waiting for some rope and a load to heave. An abandoned wagon sat behind a stairwell, next to a large door that was probably once a stable. And back here, there were still shops. But they were hidden in nooks and crannies, visible only to the most stalwart explorer – like my son.

As I watched my son once again climb through this wooden labyrinth, I was startled by the footsteps of an oncoming traveler, made all too noticeable by the timber walkway.

“It’s something, isn’t it?” a young Australian man said to me, nodding a hello and giving my son a big smile.

“It is. Although I wonder what it would have been like back in its heyday,” I replied with a smile.

“Probably not too different from now. Up there would have been offices, sure, but down here for the masses? Places to find new berth on a ship, grab a glass of grog and a plate, maybe buy a few trinkets and find a warm bed for the night.”

He was right. As a bustling seaport, Bryggen probably always had an element of the theme park quality that Robert had mentioned. It was an intrinsic quality of the town, something vital and necessary to the success of the port. Though Bryggen’s current incarnation had adopted the more modern ice cream and plastic doll trade, it was not inherently different from what it had been all those hundreds of years ago.

As my fellow traveler snapped a few photos and moved on down the alley, I closed my eyes, breathed deep and allowed my son to draw me deeper into the jumble of staircases and alleys. It was all too easy to imagine a sailor in port for the day, meandering through the wharf to find a way to spend his earnings.

Now it was our turn. My son and I rambled, two pretend sailors on furlough, enjoying the feeling of being a little lost. We kept on until we came across a tiny shop in the shadows of a corner. Inside, we browsed the merchandise, compelled to spend the money burning a hole in my pocket.

I came away with the only thing I thought proper: two small troll dolls, their faces fixed in a comical grimace. One was for my son who had led me to this place and understanding. And the other? Inspired, I could think of nothing better to get as a memento for my friend, Robert.

polar bears in paris? travel to paris in december can be wonderful for kids!

Have I mentioned we are crazy about traveling? Generally we look for an island with surf, sun and Mai Tais and that is our destination. However, our most recent travels took us on quite a journey. We started in San Francisco and traveled to Paris, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, back to Paris and then returned to San Francisco. Not your average destinations of choice for a husband, wife and 4-year-old daughter. Paris in December…the dead of winter, Saudi Arabia..a country you can’t even get into without sponsorship, Egypt….don’t only AARPs go there?, and back to Paris in January…hard to believe it was even colder than December. It was the most fantastic trip of a lifetime.

This will be the start to a series of posts about our travels, tricks we found to making it smooth and easy with a 4 year old, travel disasters you might like to avoid, cultural experiences and how we are trying to make it all stick in her long term memory.

One thing Olivia won’t forget is the polar bear in Paris….

Paris was fantastic in December. We knew we would be experiencing all the seasons of the year in the next 6 weeks and we had to pack the appropriate items in just a few suitcases. We packed nearly correctly for winter in France. The key to our warmth lied in scarves and hats. Although Olivia looked tres chic in her Tea Collection denim and a pair of pink suede boots, her parents screamed “silly Americans tourists” in their white running shoes. The French DO NOT wear white running shoes.

We had only a brief stop in France before flying to Saudi Arabia where there would be no holiday season whatsoever. We were quite looking forward to that. Until Paris. In Paris we were fortunate to get a different view of the consumer season. The merchants in Paris gave a very different feel to the holidays.

All the store windows in Les Galeries Lafayette (a shopping area that is several blocks) are decorated each year for the Christmas holidays. They are not trying to advertise or sell you what is in the window rather it is a huge competition between the mall shops to have the most awe inspiring sidewalk window scene. The window displays are so popular that the sidewalks can become overcrowded to the point of not being able to see…except for the children. Kids are treated to a stair-stepped platform in front of the windows especially for their viewing. Kids do not miss a glorious thing.

After viewing all the amazing windows, from floating babies to dancing penguins, we went inside to find the elevator to the roof. On the roof of Les Galeries Lafayette during winter is the most fabulous ice maze that wanders here and there, ultimately ending at an igloo with a surprise inside… a polar bear. A 6-foot tall stuffed polar bear. Kids are running around laughing and hiding while adults are amazed by the 360-degree views of all of Paris. It was a real unexpected treat in Paris. While we will remember the amazing magnitude of the Eiffel Tower, Olivia will remember the polar bear in Paris.

take a trek from home

Is your little citizen dreaming of a trip abroad? Do you wish you could take them to China’s Great Wall or Costa Rica’s rainforest but have to savor a “staycation” instead this year? If so, we’ve found another way to get traveling: an amazing site that will take you and your little citizen trekking across the globe.

Global Trek sponsored by Scholastic is your little citizen’s passport to the world. Older kids can wander the site on their own and younger ones can mosey around the globe with your help. The site features a background, guided tour, and information about the people of each country. It even has a space for your citizen to journal about what they learn as they trek. This is a great site for making the foreign a little more familiar for your little citizens, especially the older ones!

August 28, 2008

one reason we travel: the kindness of strangers

With few exceptions, in our travel experiences locals are kind and helpful to us travelers. Having a child along seems to only augment locals’ desire to help disoriented foreigners as well as their desire to provide you with helpful child-rearing information.

Take a recent foray into an Argentine supermercado as an example. I was looking for plain, unsweetened, yogurt for my daughter Grace. It seemed like a very basic staple, especially in the large Western-style grocery store where I was shopping. To my dismay I faced a refrigerator case full of countless packaged yogurts, all of which boasted interesting fruity (and highly sugared) flavors. No supermarket staff was in sight so I turned to the other lone shopper in that aisle, a smartly dressed woman in her mid-40s, and in my most helpless tone struck up the following conversation. Bear in mind the entire conversation took place in two levels of Spanish – poorly (me) and fluently rapid-fire (smartly dressed woman). I have taken the liberty of translating my Spanish as if it were perfect and her Spanish as I understood it, not necessarily as she actually said it.

Me: Excuse me, I am looking for plain yogurt for my baby. Do you know where I can find that?

Woman: Oh of course, let’s see it must be here somewhere. (Proceeds to wander up and down refrigerated case peering carefully at each variety. She finally pulls one down and hands it to me). This one is good for babies.

Me: (After reading container) Oh I see, but this one contains sugar. Do you know if I can find one without sugar or without flavoring? Plain yogurt?

Woman: Oh but your baby needs sugar. She will like this flavor. (some kind of mixed fruit) Babies love this flavor.

Me: (Placing tutti-frutti, high-fructose corn syrup-laden yogurt in cart) Thank you, I will try it. But do you know if there is also any yogurt that is plain?

Woman: (Not at all flustered by my persistence) Yes, I think so. (Wanders again up and down the entire refrigerated case, finally pulling down a small carton which she hands to me). This one is plain. But I don’t think your baby will like it. Babies like sweet yogurt.

Me: (Trying to be as diplomatic as possible in bad Spanish) Thank you. We’ll try both of them.

The kind but insistent woman and I parted ways and I left the grocery store with a carton each of tutti-frutti yogurt and plain yogurt. To my delight Grace preferred the plain yogurt. It’s nice to be right but it’s even nicer to have a warm encounter with a kind stranger in a new place.