Category: Travel with children

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!

Family Fun and Celebrity Sighting at Rissers Beach, Nova Scotia

Our walk near Rissers Beach, Nova Scotia

Our walk near Rissers Beach, Nova Scotia

Weather in Nova Scotia can be unpredictable, but this past weekend we lucked out!  We had planned a family trip to Rissers Beach area to stay in a family friend’s cottage.  It was a 3 bedroom, winterized cottage with views of the ocean and surrounded by farmland, walking trails (and this may sound creepy but…) a beautiful graveyard from the 1800’s.  We went with my husbands parents and his sister, her husband and their daughter.

In the evening before bed and early in the mornings, Nana and Papa took the girls for a walk to find deer and they spotted some each time.  They apples from the trees along the way and loved their time being wrapped up in blankets and carried on their little adventure.  Saturday was warm and sunny.  Warm enough that when we went to the beach, my little bug immediately wanted to get in the water.  She gleefully ran in and out of the waves as if she didn’t even notice that it was freezing cold water!  The first beach we went to was Crescent Beach with white sands that appear to go forever.  It is one of the few beaches in Nova Scotia that you are allowed to drive on.  A few cars were there, and a small plane flew by but didn’t land.  Later there were people horseback riding as well.  One of them looked exactly like Nicole Kidman, but I’ve googled this fact and can’t find any information that she may be visiting this weekend.

Not far down the road is Rissers Beach, with a campground that has sites right on the ocean.  Sites 21,22 are good ones, because they have trees for privacy but are also still on the ocean.  Washrooms are nearby.  In between beaches there are antique stores and a kayak adventure business.  Kayaking would be perfect for families with older children as there are many coves and islands nearby to explore.  A little futher down the road is Petite Riviere where we visited The Maritime Painted Saltbox which was a quaint barn housing paintings, folkart and furniture created by the owners of the property.  There is also a vineyard and a river for fishing in the area.  Green Bay is a road leading along the ocean again, with many cottages for rent.  It offers beautiful scenery and small sandy coves to sunbathe, swim and walk.  This is where we ran across local celebrities, ‘Ricki and Julien’ from the Trailor Park Boys television show and movies.  They were apparently there to celebrate a friends birthday that weekend, but this picturesque setting was far removed from the trailor park we see them in on T.V.!

Overall, I highly recommend this area of the province.  There is lots to do with the kids in nearby towns of Bridgewater and Lunenburg.  On the way home on Sunday, we took the Lahave Cable Ferry across the river and took the scenic lighthouse route back towards Lunenburg.  In October the leaves are brilliant colours of orange, yellow and red.  It is a great time of year if you enjoy hiking and outdoor activities.  Alternatively July and August would be great for a beach holiday.  If you want any more information about the area, feel free to post a comment!

Crescent Beach

Crescent Beach

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Open Farm Day in Nova Scotia

This past weekend, the government of Nova Scotia, Canada, hosted an event called Open Farm Day.

photo courtesy of Nova Scotia Agriculture website.

photo courtesy of Nova Scotia Agriculture website.

There were 52 farms across the province participating featuring all different types of farming and various activities planned at each site.  We chose to visit this one.

Farm: Sunni Knoll Farm
Type: Dairy
Host: van de Riet family
Civic Address: 234 Mill Village Road., Shubenacadie
County: Halifax East Hants
Directions: Take exit 10 from highway 102, come to 3 stop signs and turn right at each. Drive approximately 1 km down Mill Village Road until you reach civic number 234

There were lots of activities for the kids at Sunni Knoll Farm! It was a beautiful afternoon, bright sunny and not too hot, not too cold.   As we rounded the bend on approach to the farm, we were overlooking bright green pastures as two horses came bounding along pulling a wagon of laughing kids and parents up and down the rolling hills.  We parked and got out to meet our friends who had been there a few minutes.  A fellow Mom was quick to inform me that she wasn’t sure about the llama, but the farmer taking her around to the kids was worth a second look, so we headed in that direction first!  My daughter wasn’t so sure about petting the llama, but she really enjoyed saying the word over and over again.

Next we went to visit with a goat that a young girl was showing off to the guests.  We thought it must have been pretty cool to have your own goat, and she told us that she actually had 6 goats of her own (and was quite proud of that fact).  I had to make a quick escape from the goat because my ‘little bug’ became fascinated with its rear end and started trying to stick her finger there.  The other adults pretending not to notice as I quickly pulled her away.  Luckily the next area had a bottle of hand sanitizer for public use.

The cows were pretty exciting for all of the kids.  They fed them grass and moo’d back and forth.  The baby calves were also very sweet.  At 4pm they started to milk the cows and you could go in to watch the process.

The cows

The cows

I loved this whole experience but was a little disappointed with this because I thought we’d see a demonstration by hand.  I guess that is rarely done these days.  It was all done by machine.  I think the highlight for the kids was the display of antique tractors.  They got to sit on them and pretend to drive and none of them wanted to get off.  There were also chickens to visit and a really neat version of a sand box.  Instead of sand, the box was filled with dried corn (feed) and it had plenty of tractors and farm toys to use to dig around and play.There was some art for sale including traditional hooked rugs and painting exhibits and a BBQ provided by the local Shu-Mil 4-H Club as well.  The trails and the fields made for a beautiful place to take a stroll with some peace and quiet.

All and all it was one of the best afternoons we’ve had in a while.  I will definitely be taking our family to visit some more farms at next year’s event!  It has also inspired me to look into some more fall activities in Nova Scotia and I found a great website for U-pick farms and associated activites.  It lists farms in U.S., Canada and several other countries.  Check it out and let me know if you have any other suggestions for fun fall family outings!

Serious tractor driving going on!

Serious tractor driving going on!

The farm version of a sand box.

The farm version of a sand box.

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.

Do Snakes Eat People? A trip to Little Ray's Reptile Zoo

It’s always exciting when a zoo comes to you!  Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo is located in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada but this weekend they were doing a show at Exhibition Park in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  So we gathered up the family (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents) and headed out in the freezing rain to see some snakes and alligators.  Our little ‘bug’ and her cousin, who are 12 and 11 months, weren’t quite sure what to make of all of the people.  There were kids and strollers and a lot of comotion, but every once and a while, the crowd would clear and there would be a turtle slowly making his way across the floor.  The $6 entry fee was more than worth the delight we had watching the surprised looks on their faces when they realized that this strange looking creature was moving towards them.  When the turtle lifted his head, you could hear little gasps escaping their mouths and then they’d turn to look us in amazement. 

 The snakes were out and about as well, but it was harder for them to grasp that there was a beginning and an end to these rope like structures around the  zoo keepers neck.  The older kids, however were completely amazed by the  African Rock Python.  The adults learned some interesting facts about snakes.  Do snakes eat people?  Well, pythons can swallow the largest prey of any snakes, but there have only been eight documented cases in history of people bein eaten.  Most of them were farmers or fisherman and they smelled of the prey of the snake.  Another important fact is that snakes are deaf, so if you come across one, there is no use begging for your life.  The snake can’t hear you anyway.  Lastly we discovered that snakes do have a bum and it is called a vent.  So the next time you are looking for a polite way to tell your kids to sit down, you can say, ‘Down on your vent’ and they’ll think this is hilarious. 

Bug had a fun time petting the alligator and watching the ferrets run around their cage.  For some reason she was also drawn to the hawk.  I think it was because it had a lot of expression in its face.  Nana, was brave enough to let the tarantula crawl on her hands, but I luckily missed out on this opportunity.  My only concern with the show, was that they did not have much signage to tell you the facts about the animals.  If we go again next year, I’ll have to brush up on my reptile knowledge before hand so I can answer the many questions I’m sure she’ll be asking by the time she’s two!  Overall, it was  a great way to spend a Sunday with our family!

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.

Travel to Portugal: Itinerary Series

Portugal is a great option if you are looking for  a vacation that can combine independent travel with some resort and/or beach time.  Throughout the country you will find medieval castles, white-wash countryside villages, vineyards, outdoor adventure opportunities along with cosmopolitan cities that still maintain an old-world flare.  The Algarve region boasts some of the most picturesque beaches in the world set amidst ochre cliffs and myriad of relaxing resorts.  Although it maintains many historic and cultural sights, you will also find modern amusement parks, aquariums, playgrounds and more to give your vacation a balance that your children will be craving.  At a minimum, I would recommend this 15 day itinerary to cover Lisbon and the southern half of the country.  Accomodations are in the moderate price range but have been chosen to get the best experience for your money.

Day 1:  Arrive at Lisbon Airport via international flight.   Take a taxi to your accommodations.  We rented an apartment through www.travelingtolisbon.com.  Apartment 85 was great for our family in a good location with a beautiful terrace but there are many options to choose from.

Day 1-5:  Sightseeing in Lisbon.  Take time to wander through the various neighborhoods.  The Alfama district is difficult to navigate with a stroller as there are lots of steps, so I recommend a backpack carrier for your small children.  The Oceanarium at Parque das Nacoes is a highlight for all ages.  Try to be there on a Tuesday or Saturday, so that you can go to the flea market ‘Feira da Ladra’ in Alfama

Day 5:  Take taxi back to airport to pick up Rental car.   Drive 90 minutes to the village of Estremoz.  Stay at Monte dos Pensamentos (www.secretplaces.com) in an apartment that will sleep four.  They also have a baby cot available if needed.  Tel # 011-351-268-333-166.  Relax at the pool, wander the property to see various farm animals and vegetation.  Visit the village or pre-arrange a tour of the local vineyard- J. Portugal Ramos-vinhos.

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Day 6: Drive to Vila Vicosa and tour the castle and village.  We stayed overnight at www.pensaopolicarpo.com tel # 011-35-266-702-424.  It was a basic hotel at a good price in a great location.  They are able to provide extra beds and baby cots but may not be suitable for large families.

Day 7: Tour the town of Evora.  Take your children to the park.  Visit the standing stones, Almendres Cromlech on your drive south.  Drive to Lagos ( 218 km ) via toll highways for the quickest route.

Day 7-14:  Stay at www.clubeportomos.com tel # 011-351-282-790-550 in Lagos in the Algarve region.  Take day trips to Sagres, Lagos Zoo and/or Zoo Marine theme park.  Take a boat trip to see the grottos and sea caves.  Walk the historic part of town ( lots of children’s toy and clothing shops) and kids can take a spin on the carousel.  The beaches are beautiful and there are cliff top hiking trails from the resort all the way to town.  There is also an indoor pool, gym, sauna and jacuzzi and games room for rainy days at this resort.

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Day 14:  Drive via toll highway back to Sintra.  Allow approximately 5 hours for the drive.  Stay at www.casadovalle.com tel # 011 (+351) 91 937 1622.  There is a set of 2 adjoining rooms that can be rented for larger families.  They also have a crib available.  Tour castles  (Palacio da Pena and Castelo dos Mouros are the 2 most impressive), gardens, walking trails.

Day 15:  More time in Sintra.   Try to arrange flight departing in the late evening or stay another night in Sintra.  Drive to the airport to drop off rental car. (30 minutes)

I hope you enjoy your trip and can find this blog entry useful.  Everybody has different interests, however I think this can give you a starting point.  Please check out the websites for each destination to see if it looks like a fit for your family.  For background information on this series, please see Introduction: Itinerary Series.


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!

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!


 

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