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.