The blog for inspired travel with children

Friday, October 11, 2013

Road Trip: West Texas

We drove out to west Texas this summer, and while it was hot hot hot, we still had lots of fun. Now that temperatures are dropping (well, a little), a road trip out to west Texas sounds perfect. The scenery is spectacular, with an endless sky, beautiful mountains, and incredible light.

We explored the area from our base in Alpine, which is about 20 minutes from the more-famous Marfa. Despite the region's remoteness, there is plenty to do. Marfa is home to the Chinati Foundation, which houses Donald Judd's sculptures and other exhibitions. Some of the work is outdoors, and there's plenty of room to roam, so it's perfect for antsy kids.

Marfa is a very small town and thus very walkable. Traffic is minimal, although beware of the train that blasts through town every so often. There are few chic shops and a number of art galleries all within a few blocks. Marfa Book Company is unexpectedly wonderful. After browsing for awhile, we had a great lunch at the Food Shark food truck parked next door. The line was long but the food is worth the wait. There were lots of modernist picnic tables (meant for sharing), and plenty of room for restless kids to run around during the wait. If you're lucky, the train will chug by while you're waiting!

Marfa is also home to The Get Go, a small but fantastic grocery store. It's packed to the rafters with (almost) everything you could hope for. I bought a cute tote bag as a souvenir.

Downtown Marfa

The Food Shark in Marfa

Hotel Paisano, where we sipped coffee in the courtyard

The Chinati Foundation

We visited the McDonald Observatory, which hosts "Star Parties" most evenings. The night viewing was too late for us, so we opted for a daytime Solar Viewing session, and were rewarded with the sighting of a solar flare. The Observatory was originally dedicated in 1939 with one telescope; the facility now includes five principal research telescopes. 

We also visited the pool at Balmoreah State Park. It's a huge spring-fed pool. Parts of it are paved like a conventional pool, but other parts are natural; in one area the bottom is hard to see it's so deep. We saw a few fish and turtles.

An image from Balmoreah State Park website - look at that water!

Yes, the region a bit of a drive from Austin (or from anywhere!) - but so worth it! It took us about seven hours to get to Alpine, and another 20 minutes or so to everywhere else. The remoteness seems to underline the relaxed mood - there just isn't much to stress you out, and it's pretty easy to go with the flow. We can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Travel Gifts: Haptic Lab Map Quilts

Looking for a gift for a new parent who loves to travel?  Or who loves a particular city? It would be hard to do better than one of these sweet cotton quilts from Haptic Lab.


These sweet yet geographically precise printed quilts measure 36" x 42" and are hand knotted. They come in three color ways and can even be personalized.

Haptic Lab also makes large all-white city quilts with hand-stitched (rather than printed) maps - featured cities include London, New York, Paris, and more.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Metropolis II at LACMA: Video!

I mentioned Artist Chris Burden's Metropolis II, still on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in a previous post. It's a fascinating piece, and would keep many a kid enthralled for a good long while - even those past the train-obsessed age.

However, I just came across this video of the work, and thought it was worth sharing - it really gives you a sense of the piece - and it looks like so much fun!

LACMA is also hosting free story-times for the kids every Monday and Friday at 2 pm in the Korean Art Galleries. The Metropolis II exhibit is ongoing, so if you are headed to Los Angeles, be sure to stop by LACMA!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

San Francisco: The New Exploratorium!

I confess I was a little disturbed when I first learned that the Exploratorium in San Francisco was moving. Its historic home at the Palace of Fine Arts is so singular, so perfect, that it just seemed heretical to consider moving. On the inside, "Palace" is bit of a misnomer; the interior is raw, industrial, and vast. The setting is beautiful, of course, and the buildings are a romantic dream - who can forget those mysterious grecian ladies, forever peering into the depths atop their columns (the ladies are even visible on Google Maps!). Then there is the lovely lagoon, complete with swans (I'm not sure if the swans are still there, but I remember them from childhood visits). There is something very Californian about the happy contrast between the industrial, the natural, and the classically beautiful - between science and romance. The place was designed by Berkeley architect Bernard Maybeck for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, and was never intended to last...  But it did, for a good long time (it was renovated in 1965).  

(photo from the San Francisco Parks and Recreation website)

The Exploratorium in 1977
Exploratorium Founder Dr. Frank Oppenheimer

One thing that was truly fantastic about the Exploratorium (and I hope it carries over into the new space) was its transparency. New exhibits were always being created on-site, in nearly full-view of visitors. It was fascinating to be able to peer into the workshops of the incredibly creative and clever elves who made the Exploratorium the magical place it was.

The new museum is at Pier 15, and promises to be spectacular, so I won't sulk for too long. The museum is keeping hundreds of its old exhibits and adding 150 more. The space will be divided into six  areas of focus: Human Phenomena, Tinkering, Seeing and Listening, Living Systems, Landscape Observation, and an Outdoor Gallery. Have a look at their website - it looks like a fantastic place.

The Monochromatic Room

Studying Plankton Populations

The new site will also be far more accessible, particularly by mass transit - and that is something to celebrate. It's fairly close to the Embarcadero Bart station, and is on the streetcar route (these vintage beauties are also fun for kids). It's also only steps from another of my favorite places, the Ferry Building Marketplace (which I wrote about here).

Luckily, the old building isn't going anywhere, although it's not yet clear who or what will take over the space.

All photos from the Exploratorium website, except where noted.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Favorite Places x2: The Adventure Playground and Fourth Street in Berkeley, California

These two favorite places go together beautifully, with something for everybody!  If you are visiting the San Francisco Bay Area and don't know about the Adventure Playground over in Berkeley, you should - there aren't too many of these parks and this is a great one.  It was created in 1979 and still has that old 70s feeling, where kids run (relatively) wild and build their own world.  

By helping with a bit of cleanup, kids may earn hammers or paintbrushes, which they may use to make their own mark on the place.  They may also simply play - there's lots to climb on, in and through.  There's a zipline (for ages six and up), which my son's favorite part.  He also loves rolling down the small hill tucked inside a plastic barrel.  To each his own!

One of the excellent things about this park is it's location. It's right down by the water, with wonderful views in all directions, a little beach right next to the entrance, and plenty of places for walking and exploring.  It's a beautiful spot.  It also happens to be a few minutes drive from one of the best shopping districts around: Fourth Street in Berkeley. While Fourth Street is home to some chain stores, you will also find a large number of small and beautiful independent stores - The Gardener,  The Builders Booksource, Rabat (shoes), Castle in the Air, Miki's Paper... There are also several wonderful places to eat - I love Tacubaya, Bettie's To Go (I love eating a slice of their pizza out on the sidewalk), and O'Chame.

Back to the Adventure Playground: as a city park, admission to the Adventure Playground is free. However, for a small fee (a $10 flat fee as of this writing), kids aged seven and older maybe left here for up to three hours. Can you see where I am going with this?

Here's what you do: After registering at the office (a few steps from the Playground), drop the kids (remember, they must be at least seven) at the Adventure Playground. Then head up to Fourth Street for  lunch a bit of shopping.  When you're ready, pick up the kids... but don't leave yet.  Take a walk together down to the pier, or around Cesar Chavez Park.  It's a wonderful way to experience the bay - the views are fabulous, the air is bracing, and there's just so much to see.  

P.S. On April 18, the merchants of Fourth Street are hosting a sidewalk sale, with deals ranging from 40-60% off. Wish I could be there!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On the Web: PlayGroundology and Magical Urbanism

From Playgroundology, who found it on Architektur fur Kinder

I'd like to introduce you to a couple of my favorite websites - PlayGroundology and Magical Urbanism. These sites are not travel sites, exactly, but they are a terrific resource for the traveler nonetheless - and I think they're particularly terrific for the traveler with children.

PlayGroundology is a rich compendium of all things playground, from all over the world. The site looks at not only the nicest playgrounds, but also simply interesting ones, wherever they are found.  However, the site's primary focus is really play itself. There are posts on films, art exhibits and installations, playground news, old photographs, and other fascinating tidbits, all related to play and playgrounds. You can search by country - the U.S. and Canada are heavily represented (the writer is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia), but there are also posts from Tunisia, Hungary, Sweden, and beyond.

From a recent post on Singaporean playgrounds and new stamps celebrating play - the Toa Payoh Dragon Head Playground

The other site that has recently grabbed my attention is Magical Urbanism.  This one's a bit difficult to search by country, but get lost in it anyway - you may discover the inspiration for your next trip. This site catalogues the moments of urban life that take you by surprise, inject a little joy into the environment, or simply brighten your day when you encounter them... the kind of things I want my child to experience wherever we are. These aren't necessarily big destination places, but primarily everyday sites, made better by art.  In one post he points out the fabulous Toledo Metro Station in Naples, designed by architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca and involving a number of artists including Robert Wilson and Francesco Clemente. What child (or parent, for that matter) wouldn't thrill to a subway ride beginning here?

These benches, created by the Danish artist Jeppe Hein, would be so fun to encounter on a walk through De Haan, in Belgium, if that's on your itinerary... They hold an obvious appeal for children.

And look, look, at the amazing "Slinky Slings Bridge" in Oberhausen, Germany (by Tobias Rehberger and Schlaich Bergermann and Partner) - my son would love it.

I love these sites because they aren't travel sites - they don't tell me what famous sites we "must" visit - but they do inspire the explorer in me. They make me want to get out there and look around. They don't highlight "adult" places or "kid" places, but rather human places - places that are good - inspiring - for people, period. And more than anything, when I travel with my kid, I want him to be inspired, along with me.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Delightful Language Learning Resources: Biscoto Journal

Now, how cute is this newspaper for children? Biscoto is published in France for a young readership, but it's also available online. The newspaper contains stories, games, puzzles, and other fun stuff. The design and illustrations are completely charming and original.

Apparently French children even have their own "real" newspapers, and they read them, on paper. I love this. What a great way to learn about the world and participate in culture the way adults do?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Durango, Colorado

After a few days in Santa Fe, we drove to Durango, in southern Colorado to visit family. This meant that we had an enthusiastic six year old (my niece) ready to show us around this pretty little mountain town - perfect!  And Durango really is quite good for the traveler-with-child - it's small and easy to navigate, there's lots to do, and the mountain setting is beautiful.

Our first stop the morning after our arrival was the wonderful new-ish Durango Discovery Museum, which occupies a rehabilitated power plant right downtown (and right on the Animus River).  The staff here (with substantial help from the community) have done a great job of creating original exhibits geared for kids of all ages.  In the near future, the Museum plans to begin working with an established exhibit company, but I was impressed with the museum as we found it - it doesn't lack for stimulating activities.  

The airy interior of the Durango Discovery Museum

A rube goldberg machine

The treehouse, for climbing up, and up, and up...

The enclosed toddler play area

After a few hours here we headed to Zia Taqueria for lunch. I hear this place is always crowded, and it was pretty bustling when we showed up, but the line moved quickly and we were soon happily eating some excellent mexican food (they have a children's menu). May I recommend the fish tacos? My sister told me she'd been addicted to these for a good long while, and I could see why. Yum.  On the subject of food, be sure not to skip Bread, a superb bakery.  It's slightly out of the way but worth it (they make sandwiches too).

The next day we drove down to Ignacio to visit the Ute Cultural Center and Museum.  It was a last-minute sort of decision, and I'm glad we went.  The Southern Ute Nation has made a lot of money through casinos, and from what I hear they have put the money to pretty good use.  Certainly the Cultural Center is housed in a beautiful modern building with inviting landscaping. The Center also houses a library and archive as well as meeting space.

The entrance to the Ute Cultural Center and Museum

The Ute Language reminded me a little of the Finnish language - a world away...

The permanent exhibition was so interesting - it covers the history of the Ute people in a very engaging way. There is an introductory video (not so exciting for the kids, but not too long), and there explanatory texts throughout, but there is also a great deal of more interactive material that kids can explore  A real tee-pee grazes the ceiling of one room; a "campsite" with an improvised shelter made from branches is nearby. You can walk through a small cabin modeled after those built for resettled Indians, sit at a child's desk in an Indian School. The material culture on view is fantastic as well. The craftsmanship and exquisite beading on the many costumes on view was stunning and very inspiring. 

On our last morning we had pancakes (well, some of us had pancakes; I fortified myself for our drive to Santa Fe with eggs and hashbrowns) at Oscar's Cafe, a cozy little diner with a miniature train tootling around the perimeter of the room. Not a bad place to get breakfast - your basic diner.

There is so much to see in this area that we couldn't do it all - at the top of my list for next time is a trip to Mesa Verde National Park. It's less than an hour from Durango and includes 600 cliff dwellings and thousands of archaeological sites.  On a previous visit, we checked out the fish hatchery at the Wildlife Division - it's on the Animus River and right in the center of town.  You can buy fish food and watch the fish whip the water into a mini tempest as you drop of a few pellets.  An indoor natural history exhibit features taxidermied animals of the Rocky Mountains.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Santa Fe to Durango and Back

After a few marvelous days in Santa Fe, we headed north on route 84 towards Durango, Colorado. Before we left town we picked up croissants at our new favorite bakery, the French Pastry Shop, and road snacks at Whole Foods. The drive takes roughly four and a half hours, whether you take the smaller 84 or the larger 550.

I didn't take many photos heading north - but part of me wonders whether I'd have captured the beauty of the landscape anyway. I did take more photos on the way back to Santa Fe via highway 550. The landscape was quite stunning and the ever-changing light and sky conditions only heightened the drama. Despite the dramatic landscape, the road itself is not treacherous - it was pretty easy-going both ways.

Driving south, we passed through a number of tiny towns, including Aztec, Co. One little highlight was crossing the Continental Divide, which divides the continents rainfall and sends it coursing either to the Pacific or the Atlantic (and, though unmentioned by the sign, the Gulf of Mexico - the sad state of the Rio Grande River notwithstanding!).

Leaving snowy southern Colorado...

Passing through Aztec, CO

...heading into snowy northern New Mexico

Driving south on 550

The Continental Divide

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

New York: The New York International Children's Film Festival

From the Studio Ghibli film "From up on Poppy Hill"

If you're in New York City this week and looking for something to do - take note (and hop to it!)... The 2013 New York International Children's Film Festival is running through Sunday. You won't find so many wonderful cinematic options for children anywhere else - the festival features 100 films (shorts and narratives; live action and animation), as well as workshops and filmmaker Q&As. There's even a series of spring break camps following the festival for inspired young film-goers.

From "A Cat in Paris" (nominated for an Oscar in 2012 after playing the 2011 festival)

The festival was inaugurated in 1997 and has become a serious and respected business - the festival now includes a distribution arm, and its jury includes such notables as Susan Sarandon, Gus Van Sant, and Uma Thurman. The real audience is always the children though - films are geared for ages 3 - 18, and young viewers may vote for their favorites.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Magical Santa Fe, New Mexico

La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe

Santa Fe really does feel magical...  and while it's fabulous for adults (all that art, excellent food, spas and whatnot) it turns out to be fabulous for kids as well.  The scale is perfect for children, for one thing - the central part of town around the plaza is very cozy, with plenty of interesting things a short walk away (you'll want a car or busfare for some things - there's just so much to do here).  The plaza itself makes a good stop, with all that room to run around and play.  Mine quickly made new friends at the fountain while I sat and chatted with an old friend and Santa Fe resident...

One afternoon we took a snack and walked over to the small plaza in front of the Basilica; it's worth a peek inside to see the lovely interior (we didn't linger because the child was restless).  After that we crossed Fransisco street and slipped into a quiet, almost secret courtyard - this courtyard happens to contain a divine little chocolate shop called Todos Santos Chocolates and Confections.  The chocolate is very good, but the aesthetic of the shop is what really gets me - it's an exquisite little jewel box of a shop.  

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, just a block from the plaza

A Street in Santa Fe

We were lucky enough to spend a few nights at La Fonda Hotel in downtown Santa Fe, and this place only added to the enchantment.  If you don't stay here, do try to at least wander through the lobby.  Even better, pick up a few pain au chocolats from the French Pastry Shop and eat them beside the fire, as we did. There are two wonderful fireplaces, and they seem to keep them going all day, at east during the colder months.  Every little detail of this hotel is charming and thoughtful - the sweet decorative painting everywhere you look, the inviting chairs, and even the little mailbox where we mailed a few postcards (right next to the gift shop). For fun souvenirs, there is a fascinating little rock shop (Mama's Minerals) right off the lobby (facing Francisco Street); it's full of fossils and other interesting geological specimens, both tiny and huge.

La Fonda Lobby

A fireplace at La Fonda (we ate our breakfast croissants here - the fire is always going!)

Looking into the dining courtyard at La Fonda

We mailed our postcards here

We visited just two museums while we were in town, although there were many to choose from - the first was the New Mexico History Museum, which also includes the adjacent Palace of the Governors (the oldest government building in the U.S.).  The first was good for providing an overview of the state's history, although only the permanent exhibit was on view the day we stopped by.  The Palace of the Governors is a beautiful old structure; exhibits within mix cultural history with fascinating archaeological finds. Portions of the building are carefully exposed to view, something I found valuable in understanding the structure. A quiet grassy courtyard separates the two buildings.

The newer museum is on the left; the Palace of the Governors is on the right.

An exposed wall of the Palace of the Governors

We also visited the Museum of International Folk Art, up the hill from downtown.  We spent most of our time in the Girard Wing, which is an utterly delightful space. It's a must-visit for any creative person, child or adult (I wrote about it previously - it's still one of my favorite places!).  My son, who usually prefers hands-on exhibits, loved it.  It's filled with thousands of toys from around the world arranged into scenes.  Some are intimate, and some are almost monumental - the procession of boats through a series of miniature cities thronged with crowds was one favorite. Girard himself designed the exhibit and his creative spirit feels very alive here.

As it happened, on the day we were visiting, the museum's Art Education department was hosting a craft event.  We sat at a table filled with bags and bowls of shiny paper, sequins, cardstock, and other trimmings, and attempted to make relief versions of Shopka, a Polish (specific to Krakow) tradition... Conversation with the lovely volunteer revealed her to be a retired mathematician who worked on the U.S.S. Nautilus, the "world's first operational nuclear-powered submarine." My son was suitably impressed.

We were sad to leave Santa Fe - but excited for our mini road trip to Colorado to visit family.  We fortified ourselves with more pain au chocolate, made a quick stop at Whole Foods for provosions, and headed north on route 84 - more on that adventure in another post!

We did return to Santa Fe for one night before heading to the airport in Albuquerque - it was a brief stop, but we were able to enjoy a fantastic dinner at Tune-Up Cafe - this may be one of my favorite restaurants anywhere.  The food was fantastic (I had the curry chicken soup, Natalie had an excellent hamburger, and the child had a plain quesadilla), the ambiance was supremely cozy and unfussy, and children are welcomed - they had a selection of children's books on hand, as well as a good kid's menu. Before dinner, we also stopped into Beehive, a tiny but fairly well-stocked children's book store.