Category: Travel Tips

10 Things My Kids Loved About Spain

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It is amazing the impact that family vacations have on our children. My daughter, two and half years old during our recent adventure in Andalucia, Spain has not ceased talking about it, even 3 months later. The most interesting part is finding out what she liked about it and what has made a lasting impression. In random order, here are the top 10 things she talks about regularly:

1. 1.  The Bidet- Also known as ‘the bum washer’. She was amazed when she saw the extra porcelain bowl in our vacation house. After we explained how and when to use it, she needed to use the facilities a lot more frequently than usual.

2. 2.  Architecture – We did spend some time pointing out to her the differences between homes in Spain and homes in Canada but didn’t realize it was sinking in until one day she saw a picture on a magnet and told us it was Spain. It was actually Italy, but she was recognizing the cobblestone streets, flowers in window boxes, narrow alleys etc.

3. 3.  Fascination with Donkeys- While we were waiting for check-in time at our vacation house, we wandered around the quiet streets in the village of Gaucin. We came across a donkey tethered to a stoop in front of somebody’s house. We could hear the ‘hee-haw’ before we could see it. It must have been the excitement of hearing him and trying to find him that started this fascination. Once we found him, she didn’t want to leave and for the rest of the trip kept asking if we could go find the donkey. She still talks about him today.  (incidentally it also started an obsession with talking about donkey poop).

The Donkey, Gaucin, Spain

The Donkey, Gaucin, Spain

4. 4.  The airplane-This was a no-brainer. We knew she’d love it and all that was associated with the airport, security, luggage etc.

5. 5.  The moon- She has always loved the moon but actually seems to understand the concept of the world turning. In the daytime, she will say ‘Now the moon has gone to Spain’.

6. 6.  Mango flavoured ice cream- We were spoiled with daily gelato (Mom’s favorite) and she caught on quick to this daily ritual. She says she doesn’t like mangos, only mango ice cream? One gelateria, also gave her a chocolate cookie with her icecream and a clown on a stick.

7. 7.  Her special toy. Also a gift from a gelato stand. We bought various souvenirs throughout the trip, but this was her favorite. It was a free, red foam and plastic toy that you can pump. I believe it is to be filled with water and used for water fights but she doesn’t know that . She just imagines that it is something different each time she plays with it.

8. 8.  Patterns in the stone tiled streets and alleyways- It wasn’t too long before I noticed that she was examining the stone tiled streets very closely and would often decide to only walk on one particular shape or colour in the pattern. It was a game that could amuse her for ever. img_2415

9. 9.  Getting Lost- Ok, so this happened a couple of times. She picked up on it and is now forever wondering if we are lost again.

10. 10. ‘The Cottage’– This is the name she came up with for our vacation house in Gaucin. It was a beautiful whitewashed house in the country side complete with pool, pool house, many nooks and crannies to play, her own pint sized bed, toys galore and lots of farm animals in surrounding properties. She was in love. We could hardly tear her away. Whenever we went somewhere, she just kept asking to go back to ‘ The cottage’.

Many of the things she learned and loved were not those that I expected. I was excited that she was being exposed to a new language and culture. I thought she’d love the castles, swimming in the pools or maybe the horse and carriage rides.  She did, but they were not her favorites. When I asked her on the plane ride home what she liked the most about our trip, she said “ I liked that Daddy was with us the whole time”. What more could a parent ask for!

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? A Book by Thomas Kohnstamm

This title caught my eye when I was perusing the travel section at our local Chapters store.  It is the story of Thomas Kohnstamm, a fellow travel addict that struggles with trying to settle down to a stable job, while the lure of the open road keeps pulling him back out.  He decides that he can’t fight this addiction any longer and makes the transfor51f13u1dt4l_sl500_aa240_1mation to professional travel writer, in order to try and sustain his bohemian lifestyle.  Thomas lands a job as a Lonely Planet Guidebook writer in Brazil and takes the reader on the hilarious journey that results in the kind of Guidebook that you read each time you head off to a new destination.

The cover of the book describes it as ‘A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics & Professional Hedonism’.  If that doesn’t make you want to read on, what would?  If you have ever wondered what it would be like to work for a major travel guidebook company or thought that  it would be a dream come true to have a job that required you to travel and research exotic destinations, then you have to read this book.  As long as you are not offended by the frequent f-bombs, tales of promiscuity and drunken debauchery, it is a really interesting read.  You learn a bit about Brazil while reading about the process of writing a guidebook.  I’ve always been curious about what that would really be like.  Whenever I travel, I always wish that I would meet a guidebook writer so that I could ask some questions.  How much do you get paid?  If the restaurants, bars and hotels don’t know you are a writer, how do you get such detailed information?  Wouldn’t that tip them off?  Do you travel alone all that time?  Is this the best job in the world?  The author answers all of these questions and more.  I would be interested to read a similar tale from a female perspective.  I wonder if all travel writers have the same experience?

I’m not giving the ending away by telling you that he claims that the writers don’t really visit all of the sites listed in the book, nor do they really follow the policy that says they cannot accept anything for free.  Lonely Planet doesn’t actually claim that they don’t take anything for free, they claim the writers don’t accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.  So…. really they can accept freebies.  I don’t really see anything wrong with this, as long as they really are objective.  I think it would be better to identify yourself as a LP writer because more doors would open up for you and therefore, more doors are opened for its readers.  I would still continue to buy the books, because, even if all the details aren’t exactly right, it gives you a place to start.  I read guidebooks just to decide if the place is the destination I’m looking for and what things I want to try to see and do once I’m there.  I rarely use the restaurant sections because there are always so many to choose from, that there is no need to go searching out the one that millions of other readers have also been to.  Having said that, there will always be a place for a guidebook in my backpack despite the claims of questionable ethics, I’ve always found them to be invaluable.

Webinar: The Variety of South Africa

Last week I attended an on-line seminar entitled the Variety of South Africa through GoWay Travel.  It is a destination that I’d love to travel to with my children in the future, so I thought it would be good to find out a bit about the country and options available.  It sounds like it would be a good place to take kids as long as they can handle the long plane ride from North America (17.5 hours from New York) .  I couldn’t imagine doing this with a young child but older children could probably handle it.  Currently South African Airways flies from NY and Washington via Senegal to Johanesburg.  Other alternatives are via London then Johannesburg or flying Emirates to Dubai ( 12.5 hours) and then another 8.5 to Cape Town. 

Once you’ve arrived, there are several game parks to choose from.  The Kruger National Park is the most popular, however you must take anti-malarial medication if you choose this one.   A safari in many of the large game parks, would be thrilling for children of any age but many only accept children over the age of six such as  Manyatta Rock Camp that offers elephant back safaris.   You will see, lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, hippos, zebras,  as well as many bird species.  Some of the parks located near the Eastern Cape and Madikwe region are in a malaria free zone and therefore do not require that you take anti-malarial medication.  Some parks in the Eastern Cape will only accept children age 6 and over but  the lodges and safaris in the Madikwe area are very family friendly, such as Jaci’s Tree Lodge.  Some lodges have packages where the first child stays free. 

In Capetown, Table Mountain stands over the city and can be visited by a revolving cable car.  There are penguins to visit at Cape Point, beaches nearby and lots to see in the city itself.  The Garden route is an area with beautiful countryside and lots of physical activities to do.  There is whale watching, Oudsthorn has ostridges that you can ride and Cango Caves to visit.  St. Lucia Wetlands, further up the coast are a breeding ground for turtles, so if you plan your trip right you may be able to witness this event.

 Overall, this seminar was informative, although ofcourse they were discussing primarily the accomodations which they sell on their site.  The information about the country was good and it was a quick and easy way to get an overview and talk directly to people who’ve been there before.  I’ve booked through this company before as they often have really good deals on long haul flights.  Recently they advertised Buy 1 Get 1 Free tickets from NY to South Africa at $1099 for 2 tickets! ( plus many taxes and surcharges) Still a really good deal.

Inexpensive Family Vacations

The website www.1001-vacation-ideas.com, recently published my story about our family vacation to Portugal.  I spend a lot of time planning vacations, and always try to get the most value for the least amount of money without compromising too much comfort or missing out on experiences.  This article shows how we went to Europe for $2500 Canadian (approximately $2000 U.S) and had a fabulous time.  Check it out!

Itinerary Series: Morocco

A journey to Morocco requires the following characteristics in a traveler:

1.  The ability to keep your wits about you as your mind is assaulted with a flurry of sensory experiences.  Fragrant odors wafting from every street vendor and spice market, constant commentary from the street tout that will follow you relentlessly throughout town and high pressure sales pitches to buy ‘beautiful carpets’.

2.  A willingness to change your itinerary at some point or multiple points during your trip as dictated by your bowels.

3.  An appreciation for the stillness that will come, after you’ve watched the sunset over a Saharan dune and are relaxing under the starry sky.

Morocco is a country rich in culture and culinary experiences, not to mention fascinating shopping adventures.  We traveled to Morocco in 2007 using the 2 week itinerary below but I will recommend a shorter duration when traveling with children.  The experience will be amazing but perhaps a bit intense for long periods of time.  If I return with my daughter, I would go to Marrakesh and stay in a hotel in the Ville Nouvelle or Hivernage area that has a swimming pool.  It is still close enough to the medina that you could walk or take a quick taxi ride in to see the snake charmers and performers at the  Djemaa-el-Fna.  At night the stalls sell all types of food, but some fun ones for kids to see would include the goats heads.  Marrakesh has lots of culture and educational experiences but it also has waterparks and camel rides to keep the kids happy.  After Marrakesh, I would fly to Ouarzazate and arrange a camel trek and overnight in a tented camp in the desert.

For those who are interested in a 2 week itinerary, here it is:

Day 1- International flights from North America, often arrive in Casablanca.  If you can get one to Fes directly, I would recommend it.
Rent a Car in Casablanca ( airport ).  Drive to Fes. Stay at Dar Roumana in the Qarmosa Suite.  Fes is an ancient labyrinth where you can enjoy getting lost as you walk past interesting stalls and shops.  There are some good restaurants and you can visit a tannery to see where they dye the leather. 

Day 2
Transfer to Batha Hotel in Fes.  (Dar Roumana was beautiful but booked the other 2 nights.  Batha Hotel was very basic but had a swimming pool and a better location for walking at night.) Spend your time getting lost in the medina, shopping along the way and sampling some food.

Day 3-6
Drive from Fes to Merzouga.  Pass through the middle Altas mountains, stop in Ifrane, a town that looks like it should be in Switzerlimg_0663_editedand.  Continue on to drive through beautiful palmeries until you reach the desert.  Stay at Kasbah Derkaoua for 2 nights and spend one night in bivouac under stars in desert after a camel trek to get there.

Day 6
Drive through Todra Gorge and do some hiking.  Stay overnight  outside Ouazarzate at Chez Talout.  The dining terrace overlooked a palmerie, riverbed and village which we enjoyed walking through the next day.  

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Day 7

Drive from Ouazarzate to Marrakesh
1 night at Riad Nejma Lounge (this riad was a bit far away from the main tourist areas but nice place to stay).  Shop, dine and be entertained at Djemaa El-Fna, wander the medina, visit medersas and view mosques.

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Day 8
Transfer to Jnane Mogador in Marrakesh 2 nights

Day 10
Atlas Mountains – hiking and camping ( this part of our trip had to be cancelled due to gastrointestinal upset)

Day 12-14

Drive to the Atlantic coast, visit the town of Essaouira.  Continue on to Oualidia and stay at Hotel-Restaurant L’initiale.  Relax on the beach and enjoy meals of fresh seafood served by locals on the beach or at nearby restaurants.

Day 14- Drive back to Casablanca for return flight home.

Introduction: Itinerary Series

Travel is ninety percent anticipation and ten percent recollection. – Edward Strecter.

This will be my first entry in a series of ‘Itineraries’ that I will share on my blog.  Over the years, I have spent countless hours researching destinations in order to create the perfect trip for my husband, friends or family.  It is always a lot of work, but one of my favorite parts of travel.  In theory, it would sometimes be nice to just hop on a plane and wait to see what treasures we will find and experiences we will have.  If I was planning a year to wander the world, I might actually consider this option.  In reality, we always have a limited supply of time and money, so I want to make sure we make the most out of what we have.  I don’t want to waste time, searching for a place to stay or backtracking because we missed a major landmark or a beautiful piece of scenery.  I also like to avoid tension on the road, when we take a wrong turn ( which will inevitably happen anyway and always still turns out to be a good experience in the long run).  I don’t want to exchange words with my husband when neither of us understand the subway system or how to find a taxi in a foreign land.  So… I plan.  I google, I read forums, I stake out the travel section at our local book store.  I don’t stop until I have maps memorized, found places to stay that will enhance our cultural experience without breaking the bank and figured out the easiest way to get from point A to B.  Now that we are traveling with a child, the planning becomes even more intense.   I make sure that we can take a stroller everywhere we need to go, that there will be places to stop for diaper changes, meals and naps, and that there will be activities that she will enjoy as much as we do.  Then I ensure that there will be a way for us to continue our holiday after she has gone to bed that night by indulging in some good food and a regional bottle of wine.

I love this part of travel, the anticipation and planning, but realize that many people do not.  For that reason, I am going to start a series, that will detail past itineraries and include recommendations for traveling with children.  These are meant to be used as a guide when planning your trip, however, please keep in mind that some details may have changed since the time of writing.  I always suggest booking in advance and where possible, I will provide website addresses to do so.  Enjoy!

Dreaming of Street Meat

The world is full of tasty delights.  While sitting down to a meal in a nice restaurant can be a great way to end the day, there are lots of other options that are easier on the pocket book and sometimes end up being the food you remember most about a country.  In many places ” Fast-Food” doesn’t involve looking for the golden arches, it is available direct from a local entrepreneur and prepared fresh in front of you.  My husband and I , affectionately call this ” street meat ” because the first time we encountered it, we were terrified that it would make us sick.  It turns out however, that every time we have been sick while traveling, it was after eating at a nice restaurant.

There are of course some guidelines, you need to follow, to ensure that the food is safe for your family to eat.  Always be sure that meat products were properly stored.  Watch to see if it is removed from an ice chest and make sure it is cooked fresh in front of you and hasn’t been sitting out for a while.  When possible, bring your own mug or glass, because re-usable drinking cups may not be washed in safe or hot water.

The following is a list of some of the best street food I’ve enjoyed.  Whenever I get home from traveling, I always want to eat like this but it seems that the key to these regional specialties is the availability of fresh food which we don’t often have access to in North America.

1.  Fresh Fruit, Bangkok, Thailand.- Fresh pineapple and melons on ice are peddled around in glass carts and sold on street corners.buying-fruit

2.  Corn over charcoal- Chaing Mai, Thailand.

3.  Donairs, Halifax, Canada- Atlantic Canadian version like the usual doner kebab, but uses a slightly sweet milk-based garlic sauce and tomatoes/onions. It should be very soaked and sloppy when served.

4.  Grilled mystery meat on any street corner in Asia.

5.  Fresh Seafood on the beach in Oualidia, Morocco.- The fisherman will come around to take your order then set up a BBQ and grill it right in front of you. Oysters are also on this impromptu menu if you are so inclined.Fish in Oalidia

6.  Orange Juice in Djamaa El Fna, Marrakesh- freshly squeezed but I recommend your own glass.

7.  Red Tea Djamaa El Fna, Marrakesh.

8.  Mint Tea, Fez, Morocco.- Made with green tea and fresh mint leaves steeped in you own tea pot with lots of sugar and poured using a special technique into what look like large shot glasses.

9.  Cheese, bread and sausages-Portugal, Spain, France and Italy- A staple found in any market, bakery etc.

10. Gyros,  Corfu, Greece.  – Consisting of meat (typically lamb and/or beef), tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce, and is served in pita bread.

Christmas at Disney World

When I was ten years old, my parents decided that we would break from our Christmas traditions and go to Florida for the holidays.  It was a great experience for us, so I thought I’d share it, in case there are some parents out there that are considering something like this for next year.

We live in Nova Scotia, Canada, so this was a very different  for us not to have cold weather and snow on Christmas day.  We are also a family that likes their traditions, so we tried to do a modified version of some of our annual Christmas festivities.

Most importantly, I have a younger brother and sister, who were quite concerned that Santa might not find us in Florida but please reassure your children that somehow he did!  I wasn’t too sure what it would be like to have Christmas without a tree, so I had the idea that we should take some lights with us, and I used them to make the outline of a tree on the hotel wall.  We still had stockings and left a snack out for Santa.  On Christmas day, we went to the Magic Kingdom but instead of watching the parade on television we were going to be able to see it in person!  It didn’t take us long to figure out that we could watch the parade next year on t.v. and instead took advantage of the lack of line-ups as we went on Splash Mountain, over and over again.  Everybody else lined the streets to watch the parade.  We always have a turkey dinner on Christmas Day and we were bound and determined that this year should be no different.  We headed over to Epcot center and went to the Canadian Pavilion  and sure enough they were serving turkey dinner :) 

I remember that it was a very festive atmosphere as there were beautiful Christmas decorations everywhere, huge trees and Disney characters that all had special Christmas outfits on.  There were performances all over the parks where carols were being sung and my personal favorite, was that all of the Epcot country pavilions  had something about holiday traditions in their countries.  I think it is a wonderful place to take your children any time of year but Christmas was particularly interesting.  I am all about traveling for cultural experiences with your children, but even the commercialism that is Disney can teach your kids about the world around them.  At the very least, they will have a blast, remember the experience forever and have a great sleep that night!

The Big Apple with a Medium Sized Stroller

New York City is a great walking city with ample parks and wide sidewalks that are easy to navigate with a stroller.  I traveled there recently with my 8 month old daughter and my mother.  My sister lives in Manhattan, and we plan to visit frequently in the upcoming years so I spent my days there keenly observing other tourists and locals with young children to get some tips for future trips as my daughter grows. 

 

The first lesson I learned is that a rain cover for your stroller is absolutely essential. I had it on my list to pack but somehow managed to leave it behind.  Of course it rained most of the time we were there!  Every other stroller we passed had one protecting their children from the rain, while I walked around with only blankets covering my child, sheepishly feeling like a negligent mother.  She didn’t get wet or sick (as I’m sure every other mother walking by was thinking) but a clear plastic cover would have still been much better.  Next time, I’ll also prepare for snow because you never know!  Snacks and stroller toys are also essential, although I did find that my daughter was easily amused just watching all the people go by.  Other considerations for your trip include Read more »

Do's and Don'ts for infant travel in Europe

My husband and I recently returned from a trip to Portugal with our seven month old daughter.  We have gone on backpacking adventures all over the world, and were determined that having children was not going to keep us from continuing to travel.  

 

I chose Portugal because we had enough points to fly to somewhere in Europe from Canada and since I am currently off work on maternity leave we wanted to go somewhere that would be relatively inexpensive once we arrived.  We wanted some relaxation time and some time to explore the country. Portugal seemed to meet all these criteria. 

 

I was thrilled to find out that the Portuguese love children and our daughter had a steady stream of women and even men stopping to pay her some attention.  The little old ladies would cluck their tongues and rhyme off beautiful sounding sentences in Portuguese. One woman stopped to talk to us while we were waiting for a tram in Lisbon.  She didn’t speak any English, and we didn’t speak Portuguese but we signed our way through a img_1438conversation.  She insisted on giving us a euro which we believe she was telling us was for our little girl’s piggy bank.  She wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Our tram driver also kept clucking and smiling at her to the point that we started to worry that he wasn’t really watching the road.

 

I think many of our friends and family thought we were crazy Read more »


 

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