The blog for inspired travel with children

Friday, December 14, 2012

My New Herb Lester Maps

My Herb Lester maps have arrived and I LOVE them!  You may recall my recent post about this company's maps and guides; now that I have a few in my hands I can tell you that they are just as charming as they looked on the screen.

I ordered Rome for my husband's stocking (shhh), because that's where he'd like us to go next (hey, I'm game).  We'd also like to go to Amsterdam, so I ordered that one too.  The maps, the little illustrations and the type design are very engaging - I can't wait to try them out in the field.

I ordered the Austin guide just for fun - I live in Austin, and was curious as to what the author would include.  I liked that he included places like Callahan's, a feed store that is not normally considered a tourist-spot, but is fun to visit, especially for a non-Texan.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, these maps are not geared specifically to people traveling with children.  However (at least in these particular guides) the very personable descriptions will give you a pretty good idea of whether a site would be appropriate for your child - and many are entirely appropriate.  The Rome guide identifies a favorite toy shop, for example; both Rome and Amsterdam note excellent art supply shops, and each of the guides I ordered identify pleasant outdoor sites.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Atlas Obscura

The Atlas Film Studios in Morocco

Atlas Obscura is an online resource every curious traveler should know about, particularly those with children in tow. Where conventional guidebooks will direct you towards the same old museums and sites until the end of time, the Atlas Obscura suggests that you go a different way, guiding you towards a possibly wonderful place (or at least an interesting one) you might never have heard about otherwise.

According to the site, "If you're looking for miniature cities, glass flowers, books bound in human skin, gigantic flaming holes in the ground, bone churches, balancing pagodas, or homes built entirely out of paper, the Atlas Obscura is where you'll find them." As it happens, I am looking for these things.  Or rather, I am open to finding them, or whatever else is out there (and is kid/family-appropriate!).

The Evolution Nature Store in New York City

The Sanctuary of Truth on a beach in Thailand

Kids, naturally, are often drawn to the obscure, the grotesque, or the somewhat strange.  Contributors to the Atlas not only identify interesting sites, but provide the often fascinating story behind them. The Thai Sanctuary of Truth, for example, is not an ancient temple, but a modern one (construction began in 1981); its profusion of carvings incorporate multiple regional religious traditions. The Atlas Film Studios, in Ouarzazate, Morocco, turns out to be the largest film studio in the world. Scenes from Star Wars (among many other familiar films) were shot here. The Studios offer tours daily.

Using the Atlas, you will find historic sites of all kinds - outsider art, cabinets of curiosities, museums dedicated to esoteric subjects, natural wonders, and places that defy categorization.  Visiting hours, prices, additional online resources, and any other pertinent information is helpfully listed for each site.  

Design Panoptikum in Berlin

Salar De Uyuni in Bolivia (Salt Flats)

Friday, December 7, 2012

San Antonio Daytrip

San Antonio is my favorite place for a daytrip - there is so much to do, so much history and atmosphere, and such variety of experience to be had.  We started off our weekend trip with lunch at Shilo's, an old-time German-Texan institution right in the heart of touristy downtown. Yes, it is full of tourists, but no matter - it's a fabulous survivor, with its wooden booths, raw plaster walls and tin ceiling.  The menu is full of German-Texan specialties like bratwurst and other sausages, potato pancakes, and sauerkraut.  The root beer is homemade and delicious.

Shilo's (photo from their website)

After lunch the relatives we were touring with suggested going for a boat ride, which is something we'd never done, but which suddenly sounded perfect after such a heavy lunch.  The Alamo could wait.  We picked up tickets down by the riverbank and after a few minutes wait were cruising peacefully along the river listening to our thankfully-low-key and knowledgeable tour guide.  The best parts were when we left the main part of the busy river walk, and explored the more workaday parts of the river - there's just no other way to get this interesting perspective on the city.

One of the floodgates on the San Antonio River (we're about to go through it here)

A river through the city...

And of course - the Alamo!

A bit later, we wandered all around the Alamo, which has lovely (if crowded) grounds.  A side building, originally the Old Convento, houses displays of nineteenth-century military uniforms, guns, swords, and other artifacts.  Outside, my son eagerly joined the crowd of children peering down into the acequia at the huge carp swimming to and fro.  I admit, these fish were really beautiful!

Later on, we tried to dine at La Gloria, but the hour-long wait again put us off.  Instead we found Tomatillo's, just a few blocks up Broadway.  This place is unassuming from the outside and couldn't be called hip, exactly, but has pretty darn good straightforward tex-mex (and good-enough margaritas served in comically large goblets).  Are you traveling with a bunch of kids and just need a good tex-mex place that will make everybody happy?  Tomatillo's is your place.

We had never visited the San Antonio Botanical Garden before, and boy, were we missing out!  It's beautiful and expansive, with so much to explore.  This was how we spent the next morning (and we'll need to go back, we couldn't see everything in just a few hours).

My son pointed out that this tree's not so great for climbing (there's a wonderful collection of potted citrus in the Orangerie in the background)

A map of the Gardens

The Gardens include some charmingly tiny historic houses, wide open lawns for running around in, a children's vegetable garden, a winding acequia, and a small Japanese garden with incredible bamboo fencing...

The Japanese Garden

There is also a series of rather futuristic glass pavilions and courtyards presiding over the site. My favorite, from a conceptual standpoint, was the Tropical Room, which housed coffee, chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, and allspice plants - and many more in a similar vein. Here is the beautiful Desert Room...

p.s. I found out - sadly, too late for this little trip - that Trader Joe's is now open in San Antonio, in the lovely Alamo Heights neighborhood!  The perfect place for weekend trip snacks, right?  Of course, Central Market is always great too (that's where we went - it's worth checking out if you've never been.  Best supermarket ever.).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Armchair Traveler: Holiday Shopping at KIOSK

A tiny flock of sheep from Columbia, available at KIOSK

One of the fun things about traveling is shopping - and there are so many ways to shop!  You can shop for beautiful clothes, or antiques, or fabulous textiles...  Or (and this is my favorite, as a budget traveller) you can shop for little things - unfamiliar drugstore or candy items with intriguing packaging, little toys (a given with us), or other little bits and bobs that are easy to justify hauling back home.

My favorite souvenirs from Denmark include a handful of miniature (and cheap) comic books featuring Rasmus Klump, and a gorgeous (and rather hefty) 1950s book of nature photographs entitled Geheimnisvolles Leben Am Wasser - Mysterious Life on the Water. These sorts of unexpected finds from far-flung lands make great Christmas presents - they always feel special somehow.  But if you haven't managed an overseas shopping trip this year, have no fear - I have a solution!

Kiosk is a wonderful online shop (they also have a bricks-and-mortar shop in New York City, which also a delight). They describe themselves thusly:

"KIOSK is a travel story depicted through objects, a collection of interesting things from around the world, a study of material culture, a shop, several people's efforts to preserve unique and indigenous objects, an installation, maybe just something other than what we are used to."

The shop proprietors travel the world (Finland, Japan, India, Columbia, and more, including the U.S.A.) and sell what they discover. Chances are good that you'll find something you like too - something you won't find anywhere else.  Like these tiny terra cotta bricks from Columbia:

Or these funny cards from Portugal:

I love the look of this dartboard from Finland (it isn't for children, but I still love it):

Kraul in Germany makes wonderful toys (Walter Kraul was a teacher at the Rudolf Steiner School in Germany), but they're difficult to find in the U.S..  Kiosk offers this one:

Colorful chalk from Germany:

And from the good old US of A (specifically, Vermont), this beautiful wooden sled:

The product selection at Kiosk is always changing, and you just never know what will turn up. You can shop all of their children's items here.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Herb Lester Maps and Guides

Herb Lester, I think I love you.  At least, I am head over heels for your fabulous maps and guides.  While not strictly for parents or children, these charming little guides highlight particular shades of each city that can work for all ages - for example, the Los Angeles guide is titled "How to Find Old LA"and directs you to "glittering 1920s movie palaces, down-and-dirty bars, ballrooms, diners and pizza joints." Now, you really should avoid taking your child to a "down-and-dirty bar" - but a 1920s movie palace and old-school diner might be just the ticket.

Another guide - "It's Nice to Be Alone in Paris" - is certainly directed at the solo traveler rather than the traveller with offspring in tow.  But don't despair - there is also "Paris for Pleasure Seekers" - this one sounds rather adult but includes spots like "belle epoque restaurants, opulent cinemas, and beatnik bookshops", as well as where to find macaroons.  All useful information for the imaginative parent.

With the Madrid map as our guide, "from the relative safety of cable car we gaze down at the vast expanse of the Casa de Campo, explore shops selling gloves, campling gear, old postcards and espadrilles, visit an abandoned station and one with its own forest." I'm not sure whether it's a station or a shop with it's own forest; either one sounds intriguing.

There is an emphasis on London and New York City maps, but there are maps for Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Austin. You can even subscribe to the series - Herb Lester will mail you each new map as it is published.  I can't think of a more perfect gift for the sophisticated traveller in your life (perhaps this person is you!).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chicago: Travelling with Baby

"Cloud Gate" (aka the Bean) by Anish Kapoor in Chicago's Millennium Park

To the new parent, traveling with a new baby can seem like a huge challenge, but it is more than doable, as evidenced by Leah's experience in the interview below.  I know from experience than in many ways traveling with  baby is easier than with a toddler - a baby is more willing to go where YOU want to go, and is easier to carry around.  There's no real reason to postpone that trip you want to take - it is very much worth getting out there with your baby!  Leah traveled with her family (including about-9-month-old Arlo) from Boston to Chicago and it sounds like a terrific trip.  

You recently spent a few days in Chicago - was this your first vacation with Arlo? 

Yes, it was our first family vacation on a plane! He slept almost the whole way during both trips!
Any special preparations you make for air travel with a baby? 
I read a bunch of blogs about what to bring and about how to travel with the baby, i.e., rent a car vs subway vs taxi cab and the required or suggested accoutrements. After a lot of back and forth, we decided that we didn't feel comfortable riding in cabs without a car seat so we bit the bullet and rented a car. It was a bit expensive but well worth the anxiety and stress we may have experienced had we just decided to chance it in taxi cabs. It also made it easier to get around the city because it was fast and we didn't have to depend on public transportation or anyone else. We also brought our BOB Stroller and our Ergo. They both worked out beautifully.
Tell us about some of the fun things you did on this trip! 
We did a lot of great things. We came to Chicago for a good friend's wedding so we attended that. It was great to show off Arlo to all of our good friends. We also went to the Renegade Craft Fair, explored Wicker Park and downtown Chicago by the Magnificent Mile (where we stayed), went to the Shedd Aquarium, explored Grant Park and the walked along the lake shore, ate a lot of good food and shopped! We also went to Hyde Park to see Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio. I ended up going on the tour alone because we realized how difficult it was going to be for Arlo to be patient for an hour. Jesse walked around the neighborhood and looked at the beautiful houses while Arlo slept in the Ergo. I was the lucky one and got to see that magnificent house!
How did you accommodate the baby’s needs (naps, feeding, things like that)? 
When we were out on the town, he would sleep in the Bob a lot. We also made an effort to bring him back to the hotel after breakfast and let him take a nap. He napped a lot in the car seat in the car. We also were almost always at the hotel by 7 or 8 so he could go to bed at his normal time. Our first night, we walked for about 2 hours and didn't get home until 10pm and he slept in the Ergo. He was fantastic. I nursed him in the Ergo as needed or in the hotel. He enjoyed food at the restaurants as well. I have to say, the Bob Stroller was a life saver and really kept us organized.
Was there anything you tried to do that didn’t turn out so well? 
Not really. Although we left the wedding at 8:30pm because he was getting cranky. Other than that, he was a total champ.
Where would you love to take Arlo next? 
Our next trip will be to Marquette, MI to visit my mom, stepfather and father. I can't wait!!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Help

Breezy Point, Queens (photograph by Mario Tama/Getty Images, from

New York City is one of our favorite places on the planet - a beautiful, astonishing capital of world culture...  Our heart is breaking for the people of New Jersey, New York, and other many places affected by the storm.  Please consider (as we have done) making a donation to help those in need, either to the Red Cross, or another organization.

One worthy alternative is Henry Street Settlement, which provides a range of services to needful New Yorkers of all ages (according to their news page, they provided 19,000 meals yesterday!).

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Delightful Cephalopodic Playgrounds of Japan

I’m not sure I would plan an entire trip around playgrounds - especially a major trip to a faraway land like Japan.  However, it’s one of the first things I look into whenever we go anywhere - it’s just good to know where we can go blow off steam and run around if we need to.  

Japan looks to have some awfully neat playgrounds worth keeping an eye out for - and a surprising number of them incorporate one of my favorite cephalopods - the octopus!  The play structures, most of which were built by the Maeda Environmental Art Co., are common and are typically found in neighborhood parks - nothing spectacular about these sites.  But sometimes a little stop at a neighborhood playground is just what you need when you’re on the way to something more spectacular!

There's a lot to love about these structures. The organic, amorphous shapes are very conducive to sliding, climbing, and slithering.  The faces of some these creatures are alternately slightly scary, poignant, or goofy.  While clearly octopi, the structures do not demand that the nature of your play be aquatic - they're suggestive but open-ended.  For more examples (and there are many, many more), click here.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Washington D.C.: Roy Lichtenstein at the National Gallery

Here's a big new art exhibit that may grab the kids' attention, and yours too - Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective just opened at the National Gallery in Washington D.C.

The paintings (the exhibit includes sculptures and drawings as well) are fun and thought-provoking - I'm fascinated by the Mirrors series and I think a child would be too!  Even if they're not usually excited by museums, Lichtenstein's work will likely get kids thinking about the possibilities of art, and how different ways of doing things (comics, big serious paintings) can relate to eachother.

The exhibit runs through January 13, 2013.