The blog for inspired travel with children

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.