The blog for inspired travel with children

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Monstrum: Inspiring Playground Design

The Cod at Vejlebro School near Copenhagen

I absolutely love the Danish playground design team known as Monstrum (meaning behemoth or monster).  They are responsible for a gaggle of gorgeous playgrounds across Scandinavia (as well as in the UK), with many in the city of Copenhagen.  Their designs are uncomplicated, but totally inspiring - the colors and forms are beautiful and inviting, and the structures are elegant and solidly built. While they hold obvious appeal for a child, this kind of design is terribly alluring for adults too - I know I’m drawn in just looking at them.  It did not surprise me to learn that the founders - Ole B. Nielsen and Christian Jensen - have a background in theater design.

The Blue Whale in Gothenburg, Sweden

 Spider and Mushrooms in Hillerod, Denmark

The Pike in Annedals Park in Stockholm

We got to play in one of these when we visited Tivoli, in Copenhagen.  “Petzi’s World” (on Monstrum’s site they call it Rasmus Klump Land) nestles in a corner of the park and is filled with delightful structures drawn from the world of Comic Book favorite Petzi (or Rasmus Klump). While kids gave themselves over to play within the enchanted maritime landscape, adults chatted amiably amid sweetly painted structures and sculptural elements (we met a nice family from Greenland).

Rasmus Klump Land in Tivoli, in Copenhagen

At F√¶lledparken in Copenhagen, the newish playground by Monstrum (completed in late 2011) includes interpretations of five of Copenhagen’s most famous towers: City Hall’s tower, the tower of Our Saviour’s Church (Vor Frelsers Kirke), the Round Tower, the dome of the Marble Church (Marmorkirken), and the Stock Exchange (Borsen) Tower. I love the way real architectural ideas are incorporated into play buildings.

Fælledparken in Copenhagen

This unexpected playscape incorporates a giant roly-poly bug, in part because (in the words of the designers): “it is really a creature we don’t see enough.”  Here and there, interesting facts about roly poly bugs are carved into the wood.

The Roly Poly Playground in Gentofte, Denmark

One dramatic playground illustrates the perils of the Bermuda Triangle, complete with broken ships, airplanes, and a surfacing whale.  Just the place for a child to safely explore some dangerous situations...

The Bermuda Triangle in North Bridge Park (Norrebroparken) in Copenhagen

All of these photos are from Monstrum's own website; I encourage you to visit the site for more pictures and projects!

Monday, August 27, 2012

San Francisco: Dolores Park and the Mission District

During a recent trip to San Francisco, we spent an afternoon in the awfully hip Mission District - lots of great little shops and places to eat, and, despite a great deal of gentrification, still some older places too. My husband was very pleased to see that the burrito joint he frequented during a teenage visit back in the 1980s was still going strong.

We arrived via the 16th Street BART station and walked straight to Bi-Rite Grocery for sandwiches and other picnicky stuff.  Bi-Rite is fashionable and crowded and hectic but is a good source for nice-quality lunch stuff.

For something sweet, I was determined to check out Tartine Bakery, which is just down the street from Bi-Rite. Despite the line (which looked scary-long but moved quickly), I knew this was the right decision as soon as I saw the place - good god, it smelled amazing! I bought some enormous chocolate chip cookies and some petite orange-currant ones (both proved to be delectable). Everything looked amazing.

Then we made out way to Dolores Park.  The park occupies several square blocks and features grassy slopes, scattered palm trees, and a brand-new totally-fun playground. My husband overheard one visitor remark "We came all this way to hang out at the park??" But with children, that's often just what we do. The trick is finding an amazing park like this one, with stunning views, delightful architecture all around, great food spread out on a blanket, and a well-designed play area. We were in heaven!

After getting our fill of playing and lounging and eating, we headed back into the neighborhood and paid a visit to Paxton Gate on Valencia Street. This store is fascinating for child and adult alike with its fanciful collection of taxidermy, pinned insects, fossils, stones, and related exquisite objects.  It is definitely exploring!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Santa Cruz: The Seymour Marine Discovery Center

The Queen of Aquariums in this part of the country is of course the wonderful Monterey Bay Aquarium.  However, if you are in the mood (or budget) for something more low-key, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center is a small and quiet but terrific alternative.  This aquarium features all sorts of gorgeous sea creatures - octopus, anemones, sea cucumbers, crabs, small sharks, fish, jellyfish, eels, barnacles, and the oddest worm you've ever seen.

The highlight for my son was getting to pet a real shark - in this case a very well-behaved Swell Shark (he was about a yard long). A kindly staff member showed each visitor the appropriate way to do it, and offered a hand towel afterwards for drying off arms.  I tried it too and I have to say, it was strangely thrilling. In a low-key way.  There was also a series of smaller saltwater basins for petting starfish and anemones, with a staff member on hand to answer questions (there were many).

There is a variety of exhibits on marine science - I saw very few children in this section however - it just couldn't compete with the fantastic animal life in the next room.

The Center is nicely situated on a bluff overlooking the Pacific; be sure to take a stroll during your visit.   You will not be able to miss the incredible (and beautiful!) blue whale skeleton installed outside. If you're hungry, there is a nice cafe in the neighborhood: Kelly's French Bakery (at the corner of Swift and Ingalls Streets). We sat outside in the sunshine and ate a delicious little spinach tart. Perfect afternoon!

Monday, August 20, 2012

New York City: Century of the Child

Series of personifications of childhood misdeeds, 1930

This new exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City looks like lots of fun: Century of the Child surveys the period from the turn of the last century, when the concept of childhood as a special time apart from the world of adults really took hold. The exhibit takes inspiration from Swedish "design reformer and social theorist" Ellen Key's 1900 book Century of the Child.

Lego building bricks, 1954-58

One of Them Had Polio, Skilled Teamwork Brought Recovery, 1949-50

Crosby Chair, 1998

The book "...presaged the 20th century as a period of intensified focus and progressive thinking regarding the rights, development, and well-being of children as interests of utmost importance to all society." The exhibit features historical toys, games, furniture, posters, and other fascinating artifacts.

Child's Wheelbarrow, 1923

Optical Color-Mixer, 1924

War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things, 
by Lorraine Schneider, 1966

My son was particularly taken with a photograph of a set of over-sized furniture, made so that adults can experience what it's like to be small.

"Maxi" set including Tripp Trapp chair, by Peter Opsvik

The show includes special art programs for families; see the calendar for details and dates. You can also explore the exhibit online here

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stay: IKEA?

Yes, IKEA is planning the launch of a budget-friendly (naturally) hotel chain, to open in Europe in 2014.

It seems like a natural extension of the IKEA brand, although apparently rooms will not actually be furnished with IKEA furniture (though it will have a Scandinavian feel).  One of the things I like about going to IKEA is pretending for just a moment, that we live in one of their tiny model apartments.  I always thought they should get into the hospitality business.  As an IKEA fan and a lover of good deals, I look forward to checking in!