Tag Archives: travel

Making History Come Alive

When traveling in your state, the nation, or the world, you can make history come alive for your kids so that when they study history in school.  Learn the tips to help your kids connect with the places you are seeing and the history. It doesn’t matter where you are at, you can create connections that help your child understand the world.

TIP:  Prep for the trip by having family night discussions that explain where you are going and the history of the place. 

From Nancy’s Recent Trip, here are the historical places she and her kids visited and learned from:

  • Churchill War Rooms gave us an incredible opportunity to see where Winston Churchill ran the British experience in WWII. The incredible Winston Churchill and his example was a great example for my kids. 
  • Greenwich is a great opportunity for sightseers interested in science since this is the location where modern clocks and other tools of travel were created. Heard of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)?  This is the place that the whole world’s time is set.
  • Tower of London is a great place to learn about the history of kings and queens of England and how quick the tide can turn on the leaders.
  • British Museum includes pieces of history from many times and countries.  In one museum, you can see Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and British history. From Mummys to Greek Gods, this place gives you a chance to discuss human history.
  • Shakespeare’s Globe Theater provides an opportunity to understand the greatest writer in history.  See a play while there.  But remember to prep your kids either with a synopsis or by watching the play on a video before you go.  If they understand the play before they get there, things will go better.
  • The Medieval Banquet was a great way to experience and understand the medieval era in an enjoyable way.  My kids LOVED this dinner and show  It was one of the highlights of the trip for them.
  • Stonehenge takes you back in time over 5000 years.  Tours from Antiquity  provided the most amazing tour with an archeologist who shared his findings in the area as well as those of others and the theories they currently hold about the culture that created Stonehenge as well as other henges and burial mounds in the area. 
  • In Copenhagen, taking the Bus Tour and River Cruise helped us get a feel for the city and the history.  We also visited the Round Tower and the Changing of the Guard.

Even though Nancy’s trip was to one of the most important historical cities, you can create the same experience in local trips.

Big Trip Tips

Planning a big trip? Nancy shares the tips she learned while planning and taking her big trip.  You don’t have to go out of the country to learn from her experience.

Some of the tips covered include:

  • Rent a Flat/Apartment/House–It is cheaper and helps a family have space and comfort
  • Get Groceries to save money and to understand the local food culture
  • Meet Locals–go out of your way to talk to people and learn about the place you are visitng.
  • Get a City Pass or Tour Bus to orient yourself and see a lot of the city quickly and easily. In London, we used Big Bus Tour and River Cruise and the London Pass which gave us entrance to almost major sites.  In Copenhagen, we used Stromma Hop On which included a River Cruise
  • Prep the kids for what they are going to see before, then explain during the visit to the site, and take time to review things seen after.  This helps create hooks that the kids can hang their experience on.
  • Plan your trip and create a written plan.  You can enter this plan in your cell phone with appointments that contain the  details to keep on track.
  • Make sure to plan flexibility in the schedule.
  • Plan times for relaxation in your sight seeing (River Cruise in the middle of a lot of walking; time in the park)
  • Make sure to do things each person wants to do.
  • Make a master folder with the itinerary and all the tickets, etc you need to get into the venues.
  • Use Google Maps to plan your path. Google Street view let me see all the way to the door of the flat.  But it failed me because we only had 3G in London.
  • Check your cell phone coverage. Does it work where you are going?
  • Figure out a money strategy ahead of time: Will your debit or credit card work? No longer need to use a money exchange
  • Plan your souvenirs ahead of time—think about who you want to buy something for and what might be unique. Tell each kid they can pick one thing for themselves.
  • Give the kids money they can use as they want. If they have a finite amount, they think about what they want to get.
  • Look for local shops instead of the tourist places to shop for memorable items.
  • Leave a slush fund for those times when you just need a treat or something unexpected happens because it will
  • Plan food that is kid-friendly.
  • Forget about fashion—go comfortable and take less (Walking shoes/Backpack/ Scarves, money belt, layering)
  • Find the Bathrooms and use them even if you think you don’t need to

 

London Calling

IMG_1198This show focuses on Nancy’s recent trip with her kids to London.  Listen to hear the amazing experiences they had.  Since there could never be enough time to discuss it in one podcast, here are more details to consider (some will also be covered in more detail in later shows).

NOTE: For more personal reflections, see this post (no podcast). 

Rent a Flat! London hotels are incredibly expensive and rooms are very small.  You can rent a flat for the same or less money.  We paid about $190 a night for a 2 bedroom flat near a Tube stop.  Having a kitchen allowed us to skip eating out for breakfast and gave us the option to take lunch with us.  It also got us to go into the local grocery store to try different British foods (do not miss Cadbury Chocolate or Hob Nobs–chocolate covered oatmeal cookies).

To locate a flat, check out HomeAway.com but make sure you check the source.  I filtered through about 40 different flats and about 9 different companies.  Some companies/flat owners did not reply, others were just sketchy.  I googled each company and checked reviews on Trip Advisor. I finally went with Ivy Lettings.  They had a story written about them in the London Times, good reviews on Trip Advisor, and they had a phone number on their site as well as a live chat.  The person I chatted with was able to help me find the best flat for our family.   There were a few problems when we got to the flat and Ivy Lettings was good to fix them quickly.  I’d rent from them again.


IMG_1534Ride the Tube!
One of the amazing thing about London is watching the people from all over the world.  There is no better place to have that cultural experience than public transportation such as the London Underground.  You don’t have to worry about sticking out as an American because you will probably be a minority speaking English.  I heard Russian five times a day, Italian, French, German, and a slew of different languages from the African continent.  It was so much fun to try and guess the languages.

You can just purchase a one-way ticket each time you use the Tube or a bus but if you plan to use public transport as your mode of transportation, there are ways to save money.  Thanks to Bob Hanford, a dedicated blogger whose site–London Toolkit–focuses on everything London, I was able to figure out the best option for my family.   Check out his blog on Oyster vs. Travelcard.  For us, it was better to Get a 7-Day Oyster and a Youth Oyster.  Bob patiently answered all my questions and even gave me suggestions of things to see near our flat and around London.  Thanks Bob for the great advice–even advice on getting to Heathrow early in the morning.

Take a Bus Tour to Orient Yourself  London is a huge city but the main tourist area isn’t that big.  Things are quite close together.  Taking a hop-on-hop off tour or another type of tour is a great way to get your bearings.  We took the Big Bus Tour and loved it.  Opt for the tour with the live guide.  It was so much fun and the one time we got on a bus with the taped guide, we switched to a different bus after one stop.  Big Bus Tour included a 48-hour ticket, a night tour, and a river cruise.  We were too tired for the night tour but we loved taking the river cruise.  Actually, the kids asked to take the tour a second time toward the end of our time in London.
IMG_1139One of the fun things about a hop-on-hop-off bus is the ability to get off when you see the unexpected.  A friend had suggested going to Hamley’s toy store so when we saw it on the tour, we jumped off and spent an enjoyable 45 minutes in the store.  Alex also wanted to take a picture at a certain Piccadilly Circus Underground sign and we saw it on our tour and jumped off to capture his photo.

Suggestion:From th  If you are in London on the weekend and can schedule your bus tour on Saturday or Sunday, do so because the traffic during the week really slows down the tour.  We were on the tour on a Friday and getting through the financial district was like watching paint dry (except for the great scenery). On Saturday and Sunday, the roads were clear and the tour would have been much quicker.


Get Down Under in London
 One of the newer museums in London is the Churchill War Rooms.  These are the actual rooms where the British Empire strategized its moves against the Nazis in World War II.  Nothing like being in the actual Map Room to bring history to life.  The tourChurchillWarRooms

includes an audio guide to help you get a feeling for what was happening below ground complete with stories told by the people who lived and worked in the rooms.  The impact of seeing the table where Churchill sat to give his address to London and the World during the war while hearing the actual speech was very impactful for my 14-year old.  His world history class will have a very special feeling when they discuss the war.

IMG_1581Lay Siege to the Tower One of the kids’ favorite day was spent at the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.  It’s not everyday you get to walk in the courtyard where queens lost their heads and see the crown that sits on the pretty head of the current queen.  Tip:  Get there early–even before they open because the line to get in is long.  Then, when you enter, head right to the Crown Jewels before anything else.  The line to get into the Jewels can be so long that the interior of the Jewel House is more like the line labyrinth that snakes up to a Disney ride complete with pictures of what you are going to see and history tidbits to keep you interested while you wait 45 minutes to see a few rocks.  Since we were first in the Tower and first in the Jewel house, we were out in about 10 minutes.  That is enough for kids.

IMG_1619Make sure you take the Yeoman Warders’ Tour.  They do an excellent job and give a glimpse back into the gorey pass of the Tower mixed in with humor and facts about the buildings.  Not to be Missed.

Tower Bridge is easily the most famous bridge in London. Now you can experience the Bridge in a startling way–a glass floor that looks down on the traffic below.  Having walked on the glass bridge at the Grand Canyon, I thought I was prepared for the experience, but it was a bit more intense for me.  The kids loved it.

Ho Wench! One of the most fun experiences I had as a teen when I toured the UK was to go to a Medieval Feast.  There is nothing like pounding your fits on the table and saying Hey Nonny Noony  or yelling Ho Wench to get more mead (aka apple juice for those of us not imbibing).  The Medieval Banquet in London was fabulous! The food was plentiful andIMG_1512 the entertainment excellent–think court entertainment like singers, acrobats, jugglers and jousting.  We were each assigned to a House to which we pledged our allegiance and cheered for our knight in battle.  The kids loved every minute of it.  It isn’t cheap but if you have a London Pass, there is a discount.  And you have to remember that you get a great meal and entertainment.  It is cheaper than theater tickets and more fun for the family.

Get Bawdy with the Bard  We attended Shakespeare’s Globe and saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Before we went to London, I had my kids watch the Kevin Kline and Michelle Pfeiffer version so they would know the play.  There is nothing like sitting Globe–nothing.  And I have never seen a version of Midsummer like that one.  It was a modern interpretation wiIMG_1504th an Indian flare.  Think Shakespeare meets Cell Phones meets the Sitar and Rap Music.  I can’t even begin to explain how the song Major Tom ends up in a Shakespeare play but it WORKED!  The way the language and mood was interpreted (there are tons of ways to interpret Shakespeare) made the text and the concepts very accessible to my kids.  I had to cover my 10 year old’s eyes a few times and happily she doesn’t understand the sexual references in Shakespeare, but other than that, the play was a great experience (even with a pole in my way).  If you can go to a play, do so.  It is worth the cost.

GIMG_1251o Back in Time A bit off the beaten path, Greenwich is a great opportunity for sightseers interested in science.  Greenwich is the place where the Prime Meridian that divides the East and the West is located.

The site also hosts several amazing museums that cover topics like the history of how time was agreed upon (you might have heard of Greenwich Mean Time—yep it is that Greenwich), British Maritime history and so much more.  The views of London are also great from here.  You can see the huge size of the city from One Tree Hill (I can hear U2 singing).

IMG_1289Greenwich has so much to see that it would take a full day to see even a part of it.  For us, the Royal Observatory and The Cutty Sark were the two best museums.  Be warned that the Royal Observatory is up on One Tree Hill and there is no bus to get to the top so you need to walk it.  But you will be walking in the footsteps of amazing scientists like Sir Isaaic Newton.  Just about everything in our modern life works because of the men who worked at the Royal Observatory (clocks, calendars, map coordinates, and so forth that make travel and cell phones and just about everything possible).  The Cutty Sark is an amazing museum that allows you to see one of the great sailing vessels ever built.  The museum has interactive opportunities for kids and parents to learn more.

IMG_1326Cruise the Thames  One of the best ways to see the city’s most famous sites is to take a Thames River Cruise.  We took the cruise from Greenwich to Westminster Abbey.  It was a bit rainy and blustery, but the cruise offered some needed relaxation for tired toes and the first mate gave a great tour of the sites.  Not sure it was all true, but it was very entertaining.  The descriptions of the different bridges along with his comments on politics and history had us all laughing.  Remember that if you take Big Bus or get the London Pass, the cruise is included.

 

We Will Rock You IMG_1705
Stonehenge is less than 2 hours from London.  There are dozens of tour companies that can take you there.  But I wanted the experience to be something the kids would remember and learn from.  So, we went on a tour with an Archeologist who actually works on digs at and near Stonehenge and other prehistoric sites around London.
This isn’t aIMG_1707 tour for little kids but it worked for my 10-year old and my 14-year old learned a lot. If your kids are interested in archeology and history, this is a great option that gives them amazing access to information and insight into the pre-historic cultures that created the henges (no Druids or Aliens needed).

Our guide Edward was so excited to share his knowledge that it was infectious.  Being able to ask questions of an expert was also great.  Check out Tours from Antiquity for various tours.  We chose the Stonehenge, Avebury, Salisbury tour.

Sing with the Angels It can be quite expensive to enter St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. However, they are working churchesIMG_1495 and have services at specific times of day and on Sundays.  These are times when you can get into the churches for free.  The bonus to this is that you often get to hear an amazing choir and a beautiful sermon.  The minus is that there are areas of the church that are off limits and “touring” the church is not allowed.  However, if you want to sit and stare up at the beautiful surroundings and listen to angelic choirs, this is a superb experience.  Sometimes, you can even sing with the choir.

We attended St. Paul’s on Sunday and arrived a few minutes before the service started.  We found great seats and while we waited, I explained the history of the Cathedral and why old churches were decorated the way they were as well as the significance of various parts of the church and what would happen in the service.  We are Christian but not Anglican so the experience was very different from our church experience and was an amazing cultural opportunity for the kids.  During our service, we sang along with the choir as we read the liturgy.  It was a chance of a lifetime to lift our voices with the St. Pauls boys choir.

IMG_1479Check out the Markets for Lunch London has several food markets that offer both fresh vegetables and hot food.  These are great places for families with diverse tastes because you can each find something you like.  We ate at Greenwich Market, Borough Market, and Kerb at Southbank.  The food was quick, excellent and not too expensive.  We were each able to get something we liked and share with each other without the time and expense of a restaurant.  The only drawback is limited seating.

IMG_1483Kerb was the best market with all sorts of middle eastern dishes and picnic tables.  Alex had a lamb curry burger and I had the most amazing kebabs. You will have to plan your schedule so you end up at the markets at the right time of day. Some of them are only open at lunchtime, others are only open at night.  Then, each of them have a day in the week when they are not open.  It would be horrible to have hungry mouths looking for food when the market is closed.  Camden Market is supposed to be great but it’s a bit off the main tourist map.

Give Me a Break!  This should have been obvious but it took us more time to get going when we got up the first day.  We landed at 1pm and stayed up until 9pm to adjust to the time in London.  But, it still took us more time to get going in the morning.  So, cut yourself some slack the first day and don’t plan anything with a specific timetable.  Everything we had planned for the first day was flexible within a few hours of time.  Having an Oyster Travel Pass also added to the flexibility because we could get off the bus tour and take the Tube to the location we wanted to be.

Consider a City Pass In the past, we have suggested purchasing city passes. These are tickets that give you entry into multiple museums, tour options and so forth.  The London Pass also includes Fast Pass entry into some of the most popular attractions.  We used this to get right into the Tower of London without the line.  It saved us a few hours time. The London Pass isn’t for people sightseeing for one day unless you are a crazy power-sightseer.  You can’t see enough in one day to make it worth the cost. If you have multiple days to see the city, check out the site and see if the museums and other sites you want to see are listed.

IMG_1554The Fast Pass for Westminster Abbey, Tower of London and Tower Bridge, along with the bus tour and river cruise make it a good deal if you are there in the height of tourist season. The cost of getting in to places like Westminster Abbey also makes the card a good possibility.  And if you want to go to Windsor Castle or Hampton Court, there are travel benefits in addition to the admission and Fast Pass.

If you are in London in the off peak season, Fast Pass probably isn’t important.  And, if you know the dates you are going to different locations, you can purchase tickets online for a discount. Do some calculating before you go. If you want flexibility, then the London Pass works well but may cost more.

Note:  The London Pass includes a different hop-on-hop-off tour that we did not take.IMG_1247

Make Time for Personal Interests One of the benefits of travel is seeing how something you love to do is done in another country.  Alex loves
skateboarding so we spent time at a few skateboarding venues.  It gave the rest of us time to rest our toes.  Anna wanted to ride double-decker busses so whenever we rode a bus, we went up to the top.  A few times, she got the front seat and was able to see out the window.

Plan Purchases Before You Leave Home  Instead of spending our money and time shopping for souvenirs, we planned what we wanted to buy before we left. Of course that was easier since I lived in London a bazillion years ago.  But you can still decide if you want to get t-shirts or teddyIMG_1681 bears.  Harrods is a must stop for teddy bears so we bought these for friends.  I had been wanting a Union Jack pillow for my couch and I found a fabulous one at Harrods.

We also shopped Primark–a H&M type store that has a larger variety of goods (not just clothes).  This was on my shopping plan because I had heard they had great UK themed goods.  My kids got  underwear with the Union Jack, journals with the flag, and t-shirts for $2.  Planning helped us save money and spend less time shopping and more time sightseeing.

Plan Your Expenses You no longer have to go to a money exchange bureau to get cash in London.  Check out your bank and credit card companies to see if they allow you to withdraw from ATMs in London.  We found that Barclay’s Bank allowed us to withdraw for a very small fee and our bank at home did not charge fees.  Also, using Visa cards with chips is very convenient.  I love my Capital One Venture Card because it allows me to pay for trip expenses with the miles I have saved on the card and it is easily used all over Europe. Plan your expenses and know which things you will need cash for (street markets and quick treats) and which things you will use the card for.  When all else fails and you have too much cash at the end, buy chocolate to bring home!

Give Up! Give In! Give Yourself Over Really, there is no way to see everything in a city like London.  Some of the things you want to do will be closed the days you want to see them (we learned that the hard way);  you may encounter long lines (like at the Platform 9 3/4 photo site); or you may be just too tired to see that site (the British Museum fell victim to our tired feet and we spent less than 2 hours there). Give up trying to get to everything.  Give in to whatever falls in front of you–especially if it is delicious food.  Give yourself over to the experience of being in the city and spend time talking to people rather than seeing dead people.  One of the most delightful experiences was speaking to the guard at the British Museum.  Our 30-minute conversation gave my kids a glimpse into the life of a Londoner.

IMG_1697

Kids asleep on my during the ride to Stonehenge. Can’t get any closer.

Get Closer My goal for this trip was to get closer to my children.  I think I achieved that in more ways than one.  You be the judge!

 

 

 

 

Itinerary  Here is the itinerary we followed in case you are planning 6 days in London:

Thursday

  • Arrive in Heathrow
  • Take Heathrow Express to Paddington Station
  • Buy the Oyster Card 7-Day and Oyster Youth 7-Day
  • Take the Tube to Ladbroke Grove
  • Get Money at the ATM
  • Eat Fish and Chips at the place across the street
  • Take a Tour or Go Shopping for groceries
  • Bed at 9pm

Friday

  • Take lunch with us
  • Big Bus Tour Hop on Hop Off Bus
  • Churchill War Rooms
  • Eat Lunch in St James Park
  • British Museum (open til 8pm on Fridays)
  • Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station (the lines are long–take time)
  • Kebabs and Fish and Chips

Saturday

  • GreenwichRoyal Observatory 
  • Greenwich Market for Lunch
  • The Cutty Sark
  • Thames River Cruise to Westminster
  • Walk Houses of Parliment
  • Attend Westminster Abbey at 5 for Evensong (you get free entry)
  • KERB food market at Southbank for dinner

Sunday

  • Church at the Hyde Park Ward
  • Church at St. Paul’s Cathedral (listen to choir)
  • Shakespeare’s Globe Play
  • Medieval Banquet (Opens at 5:15 and closes at 9:30)

Monday

  • Tower of London (it opens at 10 on Mondays–we were first in line because we arrived at 9–oops)
    • Tower Jewels first
    • Yeoman Warder tour
  • Tower Bridge and Tower Bridge Experience
  • Borough Market for lunch (seating is very limited)
  • Free time and shopping (skate shops and Harrods)

Tuesday

Personal Reflections on London and Denmark

IMG_1326I recorded a few podcasts about our trip that will post over the next few weeks.  The first one is located here.  But since the podcasts are meant to educate listeners about travel, it is hard to include the feelings I have about our trip.  So, this post is an extra one about my impressions and reflections.

My goals when I planned this trip were:

  • Show my kids the places I have lived and loved
  • Introduce them to other cultures and people
  • Allow them to experience life in another country–not just see the sights
  • Expose them to the people and places that changed history
  • Get closer to them and help them get closer to each other

Preparing the Invasion  Having lived in both London and in Odense, Denmark, I thought it would be easy to take the kids to these cities and feel comfortable in them. After all, I had spent significant time in both places.  But, I have to admit, two days before the trip, I had an overwhelming panic attack. Did Patton have that feeling before the invasion on D Day?   What was I thinking taking my kids across the world?  What about terrorists and so forth? What if we got separated?  What if, what if, what if?

I had done so much planning and strategizing.  I had an plan that would make both General Patton and Rick Steves envious.  I knew what sights were in the same area and how to get to them.  I knew how much time we needed for transportation and with the help of Google Street View, I knew details about the neighborhood we stayed in.

To calm myself, I reviewed my plan over again and plugged every detail into my phone.  It made me feel better. Until we landed.

Places I Lived and Loved: London  I thought it would be a great idea to take the Heathrow Express Train into London.  It was faster than a cab and much cheaper.  We flew Carry-on only with Backpacks and rolling bags so it was supposed to be simple.  Not so much.  But, we found our way to the Train and into the City. Google Maps is the trip planner’s best friend.  It gave me timetables and options for the Tube as well as Street Views so I knew how to walk from the Tube Station to our Flat–right to the door which was behind the building.  Phew.

IMG_1118IMG_1115When we reached the flat, it wasn’t quite ready.  Lucky for us, the best fish and chips shop in London was literally right across the street.  Never having been in a tiny fish and chips shop, the kids were overwhelmed with the fast pace.  They both opted for the Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas.  Mushy Peas did not go over well.  They are kind of like pea soup without the soup.  Not too bad if you added a bit of salt and pepper and ham.  The kids also got fizzys–that is what the Brits call sodas.  We sat on the street watching the hustle and bustle around us. Being from a quiet town, this was an experience for all the senses. Big cities move at a fast pace.

After dinner, we had a few hours to kill before bedtime and the kids opted for a trip to Oxford Street–the famed shopping street.  It has changed since my time in London over 20 years ago.  The more posh stores have been replaced with H&M and Primark and many American stores.  Maybe for the Brits, this is great but it was a bit disappointing for us.  However, we did join the masses of Londoners in Primark and buy a few things we needed as well as a few cheap souvenirs.

Lulu and the Loo Then, came the reoccurring problem we experienced the entire trip: Lulu needing the use Loo. She must have the tiniest bladder of any human being and the worst timing too.  Just after we leave a place with a free toilet, she needs to go.  REALLY BAD.

NOTE:  According to Bob the Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, you can’t call it a bathroom or restroom in England because, as he was quick to point out, you don’t take a bath there and you don’t rest there.  So we spent the rest of our trip not trying to trip over our tongues when we said, “Where’s the toilet.”  Sounds so vulgar to my prissy American ears. 

Thank goodness for the Golden Arches and Starbucks. They saved our bacon more than once.  By the end of our 2-week trip, we finally remembered to go to the toilet before leaving any location with a free toilet.  I really should have taken pictures in each Loo.  I could have started a new blog rating them.  I think my favorite was the toilet at the Tower Bridge.  It could have been in a designer magazine. Marble countertops and gleaming faucets, modern toilets and excellent lighting.

IMG_1873The funniest Lulu/Loo experiences we had were in Denmark. The first public toilet in Copenhagen is in the Round Tower.  We had discussed this building during our family home evening prep for the trip.  Dad had explained that the Tower had a chute that people pooped into. After a few years, it got so filled up that they had to clean it out.  We joked that it was a Crap Shoot as to who got that job.  Anyway, we found the Toilet in the Tower. And guess what they built right next to it?  A modern toilet.  We had a great laugh and a few photo moments and thought fondly of Dad who wasn’t with us to see it  Ah, Shoot!

IMG_2088Then, we found this sign for the toilet at a Danish castle called Egeskov.   Conde Naste Travel Magazine voted it one of the most beautiful places in Europe and they were not kidding.  But the sense of humor and the family charm well exceed anything in any other castle in Europe.  It really was the best castle experience I have ever had.  More about the castle itself later.

Meeting the Rainbow of Humanity London truly is the most ethnically diverse city I have ever seen.  The first time I visited London in 1981, it wasn’t that way but today, you see people from every continent, every country, every ethnicity, every religion.  We live in a pretty homogenous part of the US.  But in our small part of the world, we have diversity.  On my street, there are families from five different countries and our kids go to school with a diverse ethnic group (very surprising for Utah Valley). But I am not sure we were prepared for the array of languages, clothing, and beautiful faces we met on the Underground.

From Burkhas to belly-piercings, the array of ways people dressed was incredible.   We heard different languages everywhere we went.  Some I recognized: Russian (of course), Czech, Spanish, German, French, Danish, Swedish, Hindi, Arabic, Swahili,  Chinese, Japanese and of course American (the really loud people on the Tube).

IMG_1222Alex had an assignment to meet and talk with local people.  That was a great experience for us to learn more about London and its people.  The woman who let us into the flat had recently arrived from the Czech Republic told us a bit about her reasons for moving to London. The guard at the British Museum, Kenneth, explained what it was like to live in London and his decision to move to a suburb so his kids would have better schools. A woman making bracelets from tires at the Greenwich Market explained that she had come to London from Hungary for a better, more vibrant life. Gary at the skate park discussed politics, religion, and travel with us. And Edward, our archeologist guide to Stonehenge explained about his life as an archeologist and his new assignment to write curriculum for British schools teaching the kids about their own pre-history.  These are some of the things my kids will remember most.

When you meet the SEA of humanity and SEE that they are not to be feared and that you have more in common with them than you have differences, you gain a different view of the world and its problems.  If we all understood how interconnected we really are, it would help end the violence.

Experiencing Other Countries One reason I wanted to rent a flat was so that the kids got the feel for what it is like to LIVE in London.  Our Danish cousin working in England, came to London to visit us.  IMG_1310Maria gave the kids a perspective on their experience.  For the kids, the flat was a tiny, cramped space.  It was smaller than 1/6 of our home.  But when Maria came in, she was so impressed with the size and told the kids that it was huge for a London flat.  Going to the grocery store was also an adventure.  Seeing different foods, the small size of the store and even having to pay for the plastic bags was eye-opening.

Alex has always thought he wanted to live in a big city with public transportation and bustling life.  He enjoyed London very much.  He told me it was his favorite city and he was going to move there.  Then, we went to Copenhagen and his favorite city quickly changed. The day we were in Copenhagen was unusually hot (we were not dressed for that having come from rainy London). In the Danish fashion, the short skirts came out to celebrate the weather.  Danish women are very pretty and Alex enjoyed the view.

In the end though, he kissed the ground when we reached home and said that he loved home most.  I did the same thing after my first trip in 1981.  Then, I went back again and again and eventually moved to Odense and then to London and Moscow.  Maybe he does have the world traveler/citizen of the world gene in him. I’d live in another country in a heartbeat.

Making History/Living History In Europe, just about everything you see is older than just about anything in the United States–much of it older than the country itself. Especially in London. Starting with William the Conqueror in 1066 and his fortress that turned into the Tower of London where all those beautiful ladies lost their necks to St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster and all the Victorian edifices build by the most industrious queen, London is awash in historic buildings mixed with the modern.  There are plaques on even seemingly normal buildings telling you of the famous people who lived there or the important events that took place there.

When we visited Salisbury Cathedral, we saw the Magna Carta written in 1215 which limited the power of the king and which is considered a founding document for modern democracy.  While viewing it, an American woman next to me turned to the docent and said in a Texas accent (and I am not kidding or exaggerating), “Well, this is older than our country!” I could not help myself and replied, “This document is one of the reasons why we have our country.” I wanted to say that the floor she was standing on, the cathedral she was in, the town she was located at and even the dirt she kicked as she walked was older than our country.

IMG_1707Speaking of Old, one of the most fascinating things we did was to take a tour to Stonehenge with an archeologist.  I let the kids choose what they wanted to visit outside London for a day excursion and they chose Stonehenge.  There are several tour companies taking sight-seers to Stonehenge, but I wanted more than a distant glimpse of some big rocks (you can’t get up close and personal like I did in 1981). So, we went on a tour with Edward from Tours from Antiquity.  Edward spent the time it took to drive to Stonehenge as well as other henges and Salisbury explaining the Pre-History of the area. His research dates human activities back to 5000 BC and he explained the types of cultures creating henges all over the countryside.  I learned more in 20 minutes with Edward than I had learned the previous three times I had visited Stonehenge.

Note: If you are ever at a cocktail party and someone begins to discuss the Druids and Stonehenge, you can let them know that the Druids were about 3000 years too late to the Stonehenge Party.  And there is no evidence for aliens even though I kept trying to get Edward to confess that there was–especially when I saw the crop circle in the field nearby.  He tried to tell me that it was just a farmer turning his tractor around, but those of us who grew up near Area 51 know better.  Diverging question:  Why are they called cocktails anyway? Well the answer to that is also almost older than the US. 

IMG_1231In our time machine, we went back in time and visited many amazing sites and met with incredible people who changed the world.  Bill and Ted would have been proud of our most excellent adventure.  At the British Museum, we saw the Rosetta Stone written in 196 BC and used in the 1800s to understand hieroglyphic writing.  We visited the Parthenon by viewing the friezes from its facade.The friezes are called Elgin’s Marbles because Lord Elgin, a lover of all thing Greek, found them laying around on the ground and loaded them in his ship in the 1800s and brought them back to London.  They served as dual purpose as balast for his ship.  We viewed Egyptian mummies and fist bumped with Amenhotep III.

IMG_1580We learned about British kings and queens: how they lived, loved and died.  The Tower of London was an incredible journey back in the bloody history of London–the battle fought by William the Conqueror, the prison for the famous and infamous and the location that for so many beautiful necks to lose their heads.  The Tower is now besieged only by tourists.  I guess it is arguable which raging horde is worse–the invading Normans or the invading Tourists.

For me, one of the most important historical figures we met was Winston Churchill.  The War Rooms where Churchill and his generals strategized the battles against Nazi oppression are now open for everyone to see.  These rooms located in a bunker under a government building in Whitehall remained virtually untouched for decades until they were turned into a museum in the 1980s.  When I lived in London, I had never heard of the museum.  For a student of history, the War Rooms were a tactile journey back in time.  Seeing the map where the battles were planned and troop positions recorded was incredible as was listening to the speech Churchill gave to the British people while standing at the table where he gave the speech on the BBC.

But all history and no play makes Jack a dull boy.  So, some history has to be experienced in a fun atmosphere.  The Medieval Banquet in London was a fun romp back to the gastronomical lives of kings and queens.  Complete with jesters, knights and wenches, the evening was pure fun.  Pounding the table, singing Hey Nonny Nonny, and calling out Ho Wench were so much fun.

IMG_2141The other fun romp in history was in Denmark at Egeskov castle.  Touring the castle itself takes about 30 minutes at kid speed and about 2-3 hours at adult speed. But we spent the entire day there with our Danish cousins enjoying the amazing grounds with a zip line, a tree walk, bungie jungle gyms, hedge mazes, secret alcoves, music gardens, automobile and motorcycle museums and (wait for it) Segway Jousting! Not even kidding–maybe exaggerating.  The kids rode their trusty Segway steeds through the course.  Alex got fancy with his ride. Check it out.  Besides all the fun, the view at Egeskov is incredible.  Built in the middle of a lake on the oak timbers of an entire forest, Egeskov has the ultimate moat.  I could not take a bad picture that day.

IMG_2007Places I Lived and Loved: Odense Growing up as an only child was lonely so my mom decided to have an exchange student come live with us.  Lene was from Denmark and was also an only child.  We became very close during the year she lived with us so I decided to live with her for a year after high school graduation.  Her parents, Hans and Hanne, opened their home to me.  Going back to Odense was a real mental time warp.

Not much changes in Denmark. Everything looked the same as it did 30 years ago.  Taking my kids to the house I lived in, the school I went to and the city streets I walked was fun. Attending Church with people I had know 30 years ago was incredible.  And beginning to remember my Danish was a real brain-bender.

IMG_1948Odense is the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen but it is also the birthplace of some of my greatest adventures and fondest memories.  It might not be as exciting as London in terms of sights to see but it is filled with great memories and family that I love.  We are so close that we are sisters by choice if not by blood and our children are as close as they would be if they were really cousins.  That is the great gift I received in Odense.

Getting Closer My biggest hope after being safe IMG_2644was that my kids would grow closer to each other and to me.  I think we achieved that.  Before we left, we talked about how we had to be a team while we traveled and watch out for each other.  We talked about how we needed to put our petty differences aside and not allow the tiny annoyances to ruin the experience.  The kids were great!  They didn’t fight the entire trip (besides a few minor scuffles) and we all got to be together in a place where we had to stick together.  Even though Alex would not let me say it out loud, we were the Three Musketeers. I loved watching my kids open their eyes to the big world, to take in history, to understand their place in the sea of humanity.

IMG_2671We did not only get closer to each other but we also got closer to our Danish family.  It was the highlight of the trip to spend 5 days with Lene and Kurt and their amazing kids.  It would not have mattered what we did in Odense.  Just being together with them was everything wonderful and then some.  Our kids just love every minute together. It was fun to see Alex having his hair braided by his older girl cousins.  It was fun to see Anna learn to play football (yes–soccer) with her cousin even thought she got the mother of all grass stains on her new pants.  It was amazing to see Hanne again and go back to the house I lived in the 30 years ago.

I was also able to reunite with our other Danish exchange students, Steen and Kim.  Thanks to Kurt, we drove to Arhus and met them and their families and enjoyed an amazing day just being together.  In 3 seconds, 30 years of time melted away and it seemed like we had talked only yesterday.  The day weIMG_2393spent together was actually the day Steen and I had graduated from Western High School 30 years earlier.  Kind of poetic.  I loved their wives and their kids and they loved my kids too.  I can’t wait until they visit us in the States.

What Does it All Add Up To?  You travel to see new places–or old places as it turns out.  But in the end what you really take home with you are the people you meet and the time you share together.  Travel is about getting to know yourself and others in the context of a different environment. It’s about reuniting with friends and making new ones.  It’s about returning to places you lived when you were a different person and introducing your kids to your past self. It’s about riding a bike and playing a game of SKATE with a famous person you didn’t even know was famous. It’s about getting to celebrate your 10thIMG_2600birthday in Denmark with your family singing to you in Danish.  It’s about tasting chocolate from four countries, sharing your favorite cookie (Hob Nobs) and your favorite pastry (brunsviger) and trying liver pate for the first time. It’s about banging on tables and drinking a soda in a pub in the middle of an ancient henge circle.  It’s about leaving the comfort of your routine to enlarge your view of the world.

And even then, you can’t explain what happens to you when you travel.  It’s all that and so much more.  No travel log can describe the feelings I have after this trip. People ask me if I had a great trip.  Of course, I answer that it was wonderful.  Then they want me to tell them about it.  I can describe some of the places and some of the experiences, but I can’t put into words the feeling and the change that was wrought in me and my kids and in our relationship with each other and the world.  That is the souvenir I bring home.

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Worth a Thousand Words and Better than Mine

LONDON

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DENMARK

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Flying with Kids: Insider Tips

Pamela Gann, a mom of 2 and former flight attendant discusses tips for flying with children.  She is the author of Flying with Kids: Insider Tips and Tricks from a Flight Attendant Mommy.

We discuss:

  • how to get through Security
  • flying alone
  • car seats on planes
  • packing tips
  • traveling with infants

Pam is a long-time listener.  We loved talking with her!

 

Disneyland Tips 2015

Since it is one of the places most visited by families with kids (our main listeners) and since we go there ourselves, we want to share the tips we learn for a successful trip.  We discuss Tricia’s first trip with her clan and how she made the week spectacular.

Check out Disneyland Tips from a past show.

 

Disneyland Tips

Hadley and Nancy discuss Hadley’s recent trip to Disneyland and how to make the most of a trip to Disneyland–even if you are not a fan of theme parks or Disneyland.

  1. Know what kind of Disney Family you are (Full On Disney or Casual Disney—do you need your Mickey Fix or Princesses or just some rides—a Cars/traditional family—older/younger kids? Fireworks and Parades shows or No Shows)
  2. Pick your time of year wisely—Disneyland is small so people don’t spread out like in DisneyWorld.  You can check touringplans.com to get an idea of the crowds.
  3. You don’t have to stay on property (we like hotels that have separate kids rooms) Desert Palms also the Marriott is good.
  4. Skip Park Hopper and focus on one park per day but use Fast Passes (there are some new wrinkles you will want to know about so check these out online)
  5. Think about what you will ride before you go and plan out your day (use apps and touringplans.com or RideMax)
  6. Get the Disney PhotoPass+ DVD before you go for $69 and all your photos are taken for you and are yours
  7. Skip the Disney Dining Package (bring your food/eat off hours)
  8. If you have School Aged Kids, look into Disney Youth Education Programs  This was one of our Best experiences in a Disney Park.

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Paradise Found in the Lower 48

What parents don’t want an island get away? But leaving kids behind to travel across the Pacific ocean might not be in your comfort zone. We found an island in the lower 48 states that is tropical, easily accessible and less expensive than a hula holiday.20140607_122757

If you think of San Diego for Sea World, Legoland and surfing, we found that San Diego has a romantic side to it just right in price and tempo for a quick  getaway. Leave the kids and the sippy cups and pack your swim suit and favorite black dress for relaxation on a very tropical island.

20140605_153107We stayed at the the Paradise Point Resort on Vacation Island to celebrate our 20th anniversatry.  It is an island oasis in the lower 48 that offers amenities and relaxation without the need to fly across the Pacific.  The island has so much to do that it was actually hard to think about leaving–and we didn’t for the first few days.  With 5 pools, a marina with boats and other water toys to rent, bikes, segways, tennis courts, mini golf, tennis courts, and white sandy beaches, there really is no reason to leave.

20140608_084802We enjoyed our stay in a Bayside Bungalow on the lagoon side.  The bungalow is a wonderful choice for a couple wanting a relaxing and romatic getaway.  We had our own beach and lagoon to have evening strolls on and lounge on.  The water was even warm enough to swim in (in California–the water can be very cold).  We even saw lobsters walking along the bottom.

20140607_122955We enjoyed swimming in the pools and eating in the various restaurants on property.  My favorite meal was eating poolside at the Tropics Cantina.  The carne asada salad was delicious and the atmosphere was wonderful.  We also enjoyed the lagoon-side lunch at the Barefoot Bar and Grill.  Barefoot boasts a beautiful view of the marina and a lagoon filled with leopard sharks and rays.  For a scuba diver, it was fun to watch them while eating. Dinner at Tidal, Paradise Point’s new restaurant, was a feast for the eye and the palate.

20140606_13245020140606_140503Even though it was hard to leave our island oasis, we did venture in to San Diego where we visited Old Town and ate at Casa Guadalajara.  The fajitas were plentiful and delicious.  We strolled Old Town looking at the various historic buildings.  One that we enjoyed especially was the Mormon Battalion presentation.  It is fun and interactive.  Arthur even got to dress up as a battalion member and pan for gold.

20140608_105218We took a Harbor Cruise with Hornblower and it was quite interesting and enjoyable and gave us a great view of the San Diego skyline as well as many of the military establishments around San Diego. Located next to the USS Midway, the cruise was quite accessible–just bring quarters for the metered parking or be prepared to pay $10 for all day parking.

20140608_134426Finally, don’t miss out on Coronado island and especially don’t miss Sunday Brunch at the Hotel Del Coronado.  It was amazing.  The hotel and the meal are a feast for the eyes and the palate.  I especially loved the ceviche, crab legs, shrimp, striped bass, and salmon.  If you are not a seafood lover, there is a carving station that is incredible.  Everything was abundant and delicious.  Since I am gluten-free, there was an entire section of sandwiches and paninis that I did not even venture to.  There was also a complete breakfast section.

20140608_135526Coronado beach was also incredible.  The sand and the sea meet beautifully with a view of Mexico to the south and Point Loma to the North.  We met another couple on a romantic getaway strolling the beach like we were.  We enjoyed watching a man make a massive sand castle and kids jumping in and out of the waves.  If we had more time, we would have taken some lounge chairs in front of the hotel and relaxed while being served by an impeccable staff.

20140608_135541San Diego makes the perfect easy get away since paradise is only 10 minutes away from the airport.  We only drove 66 miles in our 4-day trip.   Everything is close and easily accessible when and if you decide to leave Paradise.  But if you decide not to leave Paradise Point, you could spend your entire vacation there and be perfectly content.

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Dinosaurs and Rapids: Family Fun

Dinoland Nancy shares her family adventure in Dinoland and Flaming Gorge for a trip back in time and down a river.  Eastern Utah, near Wyoming and Colorado offers an amazing playground for families. Learn how we enjoyed three days of sun, river, fish, dinosaurs, native American history, culture, great food and accommodations in an amazingly beautiful part of the country. TroutCreek

Day 1: The Drive  Getting to Flaming Gorge and Vernal in Eastern Utah is easy.  We drove 3 hours east of Salt Lake City, Utah.  You can also access the area from Wyoming and Colorado.  We stayed at the Flaming Gorge Resort which is perfect for families.  The suites are essentially 1 bedroom apartments with a kitchen.  There were enough beds for every member of the family to get a great night sleep.  The resort has everything you need.

RiverDay 2: The River Flaming Gorge is an incredible playground.  The Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River has created a beautiful background for boaters, fishermen and lazy river rafters.  We joined the later group and took three generations down the Green River thanks to help from Trout Creek Files Outfitters who hooked us up with a boat and even taught my son how to tie on a lour and how to cast. Thank you to the great staff for helping us have a wonderful experience! The Green River is an easy adventure for families to take on their own. I was a bit worried since I had three generations with me, but the river had many families and lots of helpful people who got us going.  We had a very enjoyable time on the river looking down to see huge trout (lots of award-winning fish are caught here–up to 35 pounds) and looking up to see the rugged canyon walls circled by hawks and eagles.  The rapids are just enough to be fun without being scary fDinoTracksor the very young and the very old.

Day 3: The Reservoir Thanks to the great ladies at the Uintah County Travel and Tourism office, we learned about Red Fleet State Park, an incredible reservoir located just north of Vernal, Utah. The reservoir is an incredible boating destination but if you don’t have a boat, you can still enjoy its wonders.  We were shown around by Park Ranger Jeff and enjoyed paddle boarding and swimming during our stay.  One highlight of our Red Fleet experience was seeing ancient dino tracks in the rocks (check out the dino track next to my daughter’s hand). You can IMG_0952hike to them or rent a paddle board or kayak to make the trek to the tracks easier.  The water was a wonderful 70 degrees and fun to swim in! We will come back to this water wonderland again.

After our great day on the water, we returned to Vernal to our great hotel Springhill Suites for some  relaxation before heading out to McConkie Ranch to see ancient petroglyphs make by the Freemont Indians.  Located just north of Vernal on private property, the rock carvings are incredible. My kids McConkiewere pooped from the day’s adventures but perked up when they saw the first petroglyph.  The hike is not hard but is not for people with difficulty climbing so we left Grandma at the hotel. Seeing the ancient art and discussing what they could mean was so much fun for the kids.  They also loved seeing the lizards and bugs along the trail.  For city kids, it was a great adventure.

DinoNationalDay 4: The Dinosaurs The Vernal Area is the richest dinosaur destination in the U.S. with more dinosaur digs and bones than anywhere else.  A great place to start your dino-sized adventure is Dinosaur National Monument, located outside of Vernal, where an incredible wall of bones has been preserved and housed for easy exploration. The monument is not very large and not overwhelming so for a family not overly interested in dinosaurs, it was the perfect size. Check out our Al-osaurus with the state dinosaur of Utah Allosaurus.  They have the same temperament and look strikingly similar.

AlosaurusWe returned to Vernal and visited the Utah Field House, the perfect museum for kids and families who want to learn about dinosaurs.  With many hands-on learning exhibits, the museum teaches kids and parents how dinosaur bones are located and why the Vernal area is one of the richest locations in the world for dinosaur bones.  Don’t miss the movie–it is very educational and quite engaging.  Even my IMG_0936pre-teen sat through it with interest.  And remember to go out to the gardens and see the to-scale dinosaur sculptures.  You will know what it would be like to be chased by a T-rex or by the imaginary dinosaurs from Jurassic Park (see the first picture above).

We highly recommend the Uintah County and Dagget County areas for a wonderful unplugged family adventure.

IMG_0951Links to the Great Resources and Locations on our Trip:

 

 

Roaring in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz offers some unique experiences. For our inter-generational travel in California, we chose to see the Redwoods on the Roaring Camp Railroad and enjoy a quintessential beach boardwalk experience on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

The Roaring Camp Railroad is located just outside Santa Cruz.  In the summer, you can take the railroad from the Boardwalk to the mountains. The railroad is magical, set in a mountainous redwood forest.  On the day we rode the railroad, it was raining lightly with a fog and it was easy to imagine prehistoric creatures roaming the landscape.  When our 1917 Steam Engine appeared, it was like something out of a movie with steam billowing from it like a snorting dragon.  For Harry Potter fans, the experience was just like stepping on to Platform 9 3/4.

The ride itself was interesting to all generations.  Seeing the Redwoods by train is a great experience for younger children who cannot walk far and for grandparents not up to the hike.  The added excitement of experiencing the train made them all the more magical.  Watching the engineer switch the tracks and hearing the horn blow brought smiles to my pre-teens face (a rare sighting).  Everyone was happy with the experience.  The Camp is clean and makes a great place for lunch with many kid-friendly options.  The staff was very nice and the entire experience was amazing.  Roaring Camp Railroad sponsors fun events on holidays like an Easter Egg Hunt, Halloween Ghost train, Day out With Thomas and much more.  As difficult as it is to find something that everyone enjoys, this makes our list of the most fun California activities!

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is truly the quintessential beach boardwalk experience.  It brought back childhood memories to Grandma and gave great new experiences to our children. With a roller coaster on the National Registry along with many modern rides, an arcade and midway, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has fun for everyone.  Don’t pass up the best lollipops in the nation–created by Kendon’s in San Jose, CA, these lollipops are divine!  We were there on a rainy day so we did not get to ride too many rides, but it was still a fun time and my kids only wanted to stay longer.

We had lunch at the Picnic Basket, a local sandwich shop dedicated to simple, delicious food and treats, seasoned with lots of love. Local farmers, foragers, and artisans, including the famous Penny Ice Creamery, are the cornerstone of their seasonal menu. Lunch was a HIT with Mom and Grandma but not as much with the kids since the food is a bit upscale for their taste.  However, the ice cream, which is handmade by the owner, was a surefire hit with the kids.  We recommend this place for lunch to our friends whose kids’ palate is more developed or to adults wanting a quick delicious bite.  Ice Cream for Everyone!

San Francisco from the Top

San Francisco: an enchanting city and with a stay at the Mark Hopkins on Nob Hill, who wouldn’t be enchanted. We discuss our inter-generational travel to the city by the Bay and how to make it work for every generation along with our exciting adventures.

The City Is the Adventure

You would think that a city without a large amusement park would be the last place to take children.  San Francisco is an amazing place because it is the city itself that provides the amusement.  There is something about it from the hilly streets, cable cars, winding roads, bridges, fog and rain, and of course Nob Hill and the Mark Hopkins hotel that makes this city enjoyable for all generations.  This city holds extra charm for us because it is the city where my mother and I started our journey together–where my mom had lived as a single woman and then taken me as her baby and young daughter to enjoy city life.

During our 3 days in San Francisco, we took in the city’s sites using our San Francisco City Pass. From other shows, you know we are a fan of checking for City Passes that include multiple attractions and rides on local transport services–this was a great deal since it included museums, cable cars, muni-bus service, and a ride on the Blue and Gold Fleet.

The Escape from the Rock cruise around the bay plus Alcatraz was fabulous and well worth the extra money. Alex, who never stays still, listened to the narration intently.  He had read a few books that featured Alcatraz and was surprised to learn that Al Capone was just a short, fat Italian who he never would have recognized as a criminal mastermind. The view of Alcatraz was incredible.  We opted not to go to the island because the climb up is very steep and Grandma would not be able to make it.  Sometimes, with inter-generational travel, you have to make these decisions.

Another thing we are fans of are hop-on hop-off bus tours because they allow you to see the sites in major cities the way you want to in an efficient manner.  The City Sight Seeing San Francisco double decker bus was just perfect for this.  We opted for the 4-tour pack but only were able to do two of the tours–the downtown loop and Golden Gate to Sausalito. It was still a bargain and I would do it again (we ran out of time and it was raining in the evening so the night tour would not have been that much fun). The tour guides on both were lively and entertaining with great stories and information to help.

Because the weather can be very unpredictable in San Francisco and we dealt with a great amount of rain while we were there (houses in the city were flooding), we had to plan around it a bit. Remember to bring rain gear and warm clothes even in the summer.  The sweat shirt shops do huge business in July when tourists expect summer temps and get rain and cold.

We also enjoyed walking through Chinatown and going to the Chinatown Kite Shop.  Alex bought a Dragon Kite that we have since found is impossible for him to fly (the woman at the store was very knowledgeable and tried to help him find a kite that was easy to fly but he chose looks over function and how we have a nice kite hanging in his room).  We went to Japantown as well, but it is not comparable to Chinatown in size.  We did get some great Bento Lunchbox items and Origami papers there though.

Being in the city itself is the fun.  We rode the cable cars up and down California Avenue enjoying the feel of the wind in our faces and the fun of the ride.  Our HUGE tip is do not wait in line at Fisherman’s Wharf for the cable car ride–you can wait up to 2 hours to ride a cable car if you do on any of the three lines.  Walk, drive or take public transportation to any where down to the middle or other end one of the three lines and you can get right on.  At the end of the California line, there were only 10 passengers boarding and we got to take pictures while the gripman took a quick break.

Even though the city itself is the attraction, we did go to two museums: the Cable Car Museum and the Exploratorium. The Cable Car Museum sits on Nob Hill and can be accessed by the California line or the Powell-Mason line. It is the actual working hub of the cable car system and allows you to see how the cables run through the city and what employees need to do to keep the cars running.  It is incredibly educational and fun, especially after a few rides on the cable cars.  We left Grandma behind for this museum because the trek from the California line was too steep for her.  However, we could have taken her on the Powell-Mason line which drops you off right in front of the museum.

The Exploratorium is a uniquely educational and fun museum for kids and parents. It is filled with experiments and displays that, if the time is taken, can teach principles of science, physics, geology, meteorology and more.  My kids were less interested in active learning and opted for the “let’s have fun” approach and just played in the Exploratorium.  That has its value too.  Mom and Grandma got some needed time to relax while the kids entertained themselves. The Exploratorium is included in the San Francisco City Pass and the pass even gets you past the very long line to get in–you go to a separate window and get right in–a real plus for us since we were there on a day where the line had over 100 people waiting in it.  If you are taking the Golden Gate to Sausalito hop-on hop-off bus tour, you can stop at the Exploratorium before going to Golden Gate. Even though parking at this museum is free, it is difficult so if you have the tour, use it first as transportation to the museum and then join a tour a few hours later to go across the Golden Gate Bridge. Tip: The food at the Exploratorium is great.  Like most food in the Bay area, it is a step up from the common fare at museums.  We had the hand-tossed pizza and nachos which used REAL cheese and not sauce. It was very delicious.

Reaching the Top

The most enchanting part of our entire stay in San Francisco was the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins on Nob Hill.  I cannot say enough about this hotel.  People may shy away from it because of its prestige and location, but it is a fabulous family destination.  The service is incredible and the hotel is enchanting.  My kids ask everyday if they can go back to the Mark Hopkins again.  When we made our reservations, the staff asked the ages of our party members and if any members of our party had any special needs.  When we arrived, there were cookies and milk in our room for our kids and even a plate of gluten free cookies for me (WHOOO HOOOO!) The pastry chef at the Mark Hopkins has to be a cookie fairy.  These were the best cookies ever.  My kids and Grandma ate cookies day and night.

We had asked for a room that accommodated roll-away beds if possible–a rarity in a city hotel because the rooms are generally quite small. When we arrived and were shown our room, the manager called up and said that he was afraid that our room was too small for a roll-away but that he could move us to a room where one was available.  We agreed and the staff moved our luggage while we were at dinner.  When we arrived at our new hotel room, we found that we had been moved to a room on the 16th floor that looked exactly the same as our other room with one exception–it had a sun room where the staff had placed a roll-away bed with a teddy bear on it!  We had a 3/4 view of San Francisco to enjoy as well.  My son thoroughly enjoyed his stay in the sun room and did not want to leave.  The magic of older hotels is that there are small gems like this room tucked away in them.  We are so lucky we got to experience it.  After one of the staff told us that we were staying on one of the floors where the Saudi princes stay when they come, we had fun imagining who might have stayed in the room we were in.

The Mark Hopkins is truly a luxurious hotel but is also very accessible for families.  We met a family earlier in our travels (see our show on Monterey) and they were also staying at the Mark Hopkins.  The rack room rate is very reasonable and the rooms are quite luxurious.  Of course, the hotel has a wonderful set of suites if you need the extra space and have the money to spend.  These are very luxurious and include rooms that bring the charm of old San Francisco with a feel of staying in a library to a modern suite that feels like an apartment for a hip DotCom mogul.  But, you don’t have to splurge to take advantage of the amazing staff (that is the REAL difference in a good hotel and an amazing hotel).  The staff treated us like royalty.  They parked our Hundai rental car right next to a Rolls Royce and a Lexus happily and were there to open doors, give advice, and make our stay amazing.

The Mark Hopkins has a famous restaurant called the Top of the Mark.  It is a great place to have tea with the kids and enjoy the amazing view of the city.  It is one of the highest points in the city and the view cannot be matched.  The Top of the Mark has been the sight of many impressive parties and was a true in-spot in the 1960s.  In her younger days, my mom met Liberace at the Top of the Mark.

One option the hotel offers that I would suggest is the Club Intercontinental Lounge.  If you are not a member, you can purchase a membership while you are staying at the hotel.  Located on the Lobby floor, the Club offers 5 food and beverage services a day including a spectacular continental breakfast with smoked salmon, cheese, cold cuts, cereal, yogurt, fruit, pastries and much more. Grandma and the kids LOVED the last service called Sweet Dreams because they served their favorite cookies which we cannot say enough about! The food services are also very convenient if you are dropping in to the hotel during your activities.  The kids were able to get a soda and some fruit in between sight seeing and riding the cable car.  We were in no rush and did not have to sit with other diners while we just had a quick sip and then were off again.  It is a perfect option with kids who need to eat frequently but don’t eat too much each time.  As we enjoyed ourselves, we could hear the cable car bell outside which added to the charm. The Club also includes a game area where families can play games in the evening as well as a tv with DVDs and a Office area with computers, internet, printers and so forth needed to make travel plans easily. Members are also enjoy a later check out time–2pm–and a guest relations staff member there to help arrange anything needed.

My heart and the hearts of my children have been left in this beautiful city. They ask daily if we can return to the Mark Hopkins and to the wonderful city of San Francisco. The trip was a magical experience for all generations with my mom and I reliving our past experiences while making new memories with my children.  San Francisco is a place we will return to again and again.

Magical Monterey

Nancy and her family share their inter-generational trip to Monterey, CA including their stay at the Hyatt Monterey Hotel and Spa and their experience at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a delicious meal at Abalonetti.

Hyatt Monterey Hotel and Spa is the perfect place for families with members with different interests.  With an amazing golf course with an onsite pro, tennis center with an onsite pro, world-class spa with couples rooms and full beauty salon as well as two swimming pools, outside board games and Camp Hyatt for the kids, there is something for every generation to enjoy. The cozy nature of the property is incredible even though it is the largest hotel in Monterey.  It is very kid-friendly and the staff is amazing.  Dining at TusCA was fabulous and Knuckles Sports Bar fit the bill for a less formal meal.  Listen to the Podcast for more details. The Monterey Suite with two separate rooms was fabulous for a family or for our inter-generational group.  With two bath rooms and two TVs, it was easy to please everyone.  The bedroom had a king size bed and two roll-aways fit easily into the sitting room without taking up all the living space.  We were served a different evening appetizer based on locally grown ingredients each night we were there.   The pool was a wonderful break for the children and warm enough to enjoy even in springtime.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is an amazing place to take multiple generations for an educational and exciting experience. From the simplicity of picking up tickets to the great staff who fixed a problem with our behind-the-scenes tour and gave us a private tour, everyone in the staff was amazing. Thanks Scott and Andrea! The Aquarium focuses on the local sea life right outside the Aquarium in Monterey Bay.  As a scuba diver, it was easy to appreciate the quality of the exhibits.  However, grandmother and kids who have never seen these creatures in the wild also were amazed by the exhibits and the opportunities to interact with stingrays, star fish and so forth. The Aquarium exhibits are easy to access for all ages and abilities.  With frequent feeding displays and interactive demonstrations, you could spend several hours at the Aquarium.

Lunch at Abalonetti was a incredible.  The Chippino is literally the best ever. The calamari is world-famous for a reason–it is tender and tasty. No rubber here. Every dish that passed our table was enticing.  The children’s menu is also very extensive and according to our pint-sized tasters, the chicken nuggets were the best on our trip. Just please tell me who thought a child would order liver and brussel sprouts?  However, it probably was still the best liver and brussel sprouts the kid ever had.  The service was incredible and I will be back.

The food in Monterey was absolutely wonderful–both at the Hyatt and at Abalonetti.  This is a foodie paradise.

Learn to Ski or Take On Any New Challenge

Nancy chose this as the winter to challenge herself and learn to ski.  She and Shelly discuss taking on a new challenge in life and learning how to do something new and exciting.  They discuss the specifics of being successful at skiing but also the general principles of learning anything new or succeeding in life.

Nancy learned to ski at the Sundance Resort Ladies Day.

Here is a video of Nancy skiing–not bad for a true beginner who has only had four lessons.

Shelly suggested the following book: We Can Do, by Moshe Kai Cavalin

Other Post on Skiing

Blast in the Past

Want your kids to get interested in history?  Let them step back into it and try it on for size. We visit America’s Historic Triangle and enjoy more than just American history. How about history mixed with roller coasters and cannon fire.  Hear how Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg make for a great family vacation that teaches US history in a unique interactive manner focused on children and families.  We even get our roller coaster fix in at Busch Gardens Williamsburg!

Teaching the Cost of Freedom

During a trip to Washington DC, children learn that freedom has a cost and that cost can be very high.  Learn how to instill a lesson that helps your child to understand the cost of freedom and the history of the United States.  On our quick one-day trip, we were able to see as much as we did thanks to the Old Town Trolley company.  Their trolleys took us directly to the places we wanted to visit on our one day blitz of the nation’s capital.

Under the Sea in Georgia

We visit the world’s largest aquarium exhibit and swim with the fishes at the Georgia Aquarium.  We were able to see amazing sites like Whale Sharks, Rays, Piranhas, Lion Fish, Beluga Whales and More!  Hear how the kids enjoyed the trip!

Preparing Kids for Historic Travel

Whether you are traveling to historic places like D.C. or just visiting the local historic locations, a bit of preparation can help your children really absorb and enjoy the history they will see.  We share insights and tips on what to do to prepare: things like reading historic fiction, watching documentaries, discussing family stories, sharing pictures of you as a child in those places and many more tips help bring historic travel to life for kids and give them mental hooks they can hang their experience on to savor for years.

Intergenerational Travel

Traveling with children, parents and grandparents can be a bonding experience but it can also be difficult on the nerves.  Learn what to expect and how to set everyone’s expectations so that your trip is a bonding experience and not a blow up.

Hidden Treasure: Blanding

We found a hidden treasure for vacations and family reunions where you can see ancient ruins up close, swim and have access to dozens of national parks and monuments. Blanding, Utah–the name sounds bad, but the place is amazing.  Listen and learn where you might want to plan your next vacation.

The Abajo Haven Guest Cabins was our Base Camp and Bill was our incredible guide and amazing chef.  His ranch and his family are wonderful! His knowledge of the area in encyclopedic.  And his ribs are delicious!

The wonderful museum is the Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum–really it is incredible and has wonderful programs for families.

Importance of Family Vacations and Holidays

They take too long, cost too much and are too much work.  Are vacations and holiday times worth it for the family?  Why not just stay home?  We discuss why they are important even when the family gets stuck in a blizzard driving across Oklahoma or running to catch a connecting flight in 10 minutes.