Family travel with flair

Jenography on Yahoo: The worst places to take children

TweetWe all love talking about the best places to take our families. Well, last week I had the opportunity to talk about the flip side: the worst places to take children. As it turns out, there are very few “terrible” places to take children, judging from the places mentioned by the other bloggers included in the piece, featured on Yahoo! Travel. It’s mostly down to bad timing — like at the destinations I mentioned — or not enough planning or, ahem, “adult” situations in which the adults don’t act very grown-up. It’s pretty exciting to be featured on Yahoo! Travel, one of the biggest travel content providers in the world. I recently wrote another piece for them: I Flew Business Class While My Kids Flew Coach. So What? Check out the piece: The Worst Vacation Spots to Take Kids and Why Do you have any places that are no-go for children? Leave a comment and tell me what they are.    ...

What Americans coming to the UK need to know

Tweet My brother and his family are arriving from Texas, which has got me thinking about all the helpful advice I like to dole out to Americans who visit — tips that go beyond “don’t do the Dick Van Dyke accent from Mary Poppins”. I also enlisted a couple of knowlegable and qualified friends on their sage advice drawing. Here are the things every Yank should know before visiting the UK. And oh yeah, don’t do that Dick Van Dyke accent from Mary Poppins. Nevermind the season: Bring a warm jumper and a scarf. The chill in the UK comes rain or shine and gets into your bones. This is especially true if you’re staying in an historic listed hotel or B&B, through which cool breezes frequently stroll. You will need an umbrella or chic rain slicker all year round. You can leave one neighborhood with blue sky, take a 20-minute tube ride and come up into a storm of lowered gray clouds and cold rain. Rainy London is a fact. Prepare yourself for culture shock. When I first visited, I expected the common language and the Anglo culture meant that the UK was America, with better accents. Rookie mistake. Respect that this is a foreign country, with its own mores and practices. Go to a pub. Visiting the pub is one of the delights of British culture. These aren’t the British themed pubs in America, with flags everywhere and sports TV. These are places to actually relax, chat, maybe play a board game or cards. A delight. Bring deep pockets, literally. Pound coins are marvellous compared with those old paper dollar bills — so convenient and compact. But collect too many of them and they can clank in your pockets like Come with some small change (30p per visit) for loos in train stations. They’re clean, they’re convenient, but they do cost. Tips from Expat Mum Toni Hargis, a British expat living in Chicago A lot of the UK isn’t air-conditioned and it can get hot (occasionally) in the summer. There’s really not a lot to be done about it, and moaning doesn’t help. Don’t omit the word “please”. It’s a cultural thing but Brits expect to hear a “Please” either at the beginning or the end of a request. The service is much slower than in the US. As with the lack of air conditioning, you’ll just have to deal with it. Moaning or complaining makes you that stereotypical American tourist. When planning a route, don’t just...

Visiting Dealey Plaza & standing on the grassy knoll

TweetDallas’s role in the national tragedy of JFK’s shooting was something we learned a lot about while I was growing up in Texas. The city had a reputation of being a cold, money-oriented metropolis, miles away from the hippie vibe of Austin or the international oil reputation of Houston. We spent an entire section in my university American history course on Dallas, the city’s collective guilt about the shooting and conspiracy theories . Then for the most part, the city’s particular role in the tragedy faded for me. That is, until a few years ago, when we visited Dallas with the children and went to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza, downtown Dallas. My English husband was the driving force behind the visit. Now I would recommend it to anyone visiting the city. The museum in the former book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald was positioned as the President drove by in the open-top convertible. You can stand feet away from where he supposedly sat (the area is glassed off, with a tableau of cardboard boxes and old books) and look down on the route the Presidential calvacade took. We’ve all seen the picture, the famous Zapruder film. You may have watched Oliver Stone’s movie JFK. What’s striking is that the site looks astonishingly identical to the old clips and photos, accessible and set within the downtown office district. There are white crosses painted on the road marking where the first and second bullets hit. You can drive right over them in your car. Will Self visited Dealey Plaza and describes it as a cramped, workaday urban space. I would describe it more an unexceptional, if you didn’t know its history. There’s a roomy parking lot next to the Museum entrance. There’s a small urban park. There is the grassy knoll topped by a fence — you can go and stand on it.   If the children had been older I would have loved to linger more at the museum. It is appropriate for children although younger ones less engaged with politics will want to scoot through more quickly. It paints a picture of the time period, the world events that occurred before the shooting, the event itself and what unspooled afterward. I had been worried I would feel like a leering thrill-seeker. Instead it refreshed my memory on the time period and made it more real. The city is commemorating the anniversary of Kennedy’s death, soem say acknowleding and coming to terms with its role more than...

The best chocolate in New York City: Fine & Raw

TweetI’ve never been one of those crazy chocolate-lovers — the kind of person who breaks through walls to gain access to a square of Dairy Milk or  sniffs out a Green & Black’s from 90 paces, like a cacao-sensitised truffle pig. Chocolate is yummy…sometimes, was my measured opinion. That was, until our recent trip to New York City during which our guide from Levys’ Unique New York led us over hill and dale to the most outrageously good chocolate I have ever set tongue on. In truth, it wasn’t over hill and dale but across shattered-glass-strewn streets and past the Boar’s Head meat processing plant, because this chocolate source was in the emergingly hip neighbourhood of Bushwick. I’ll be writing more about Bushwick soon, but suffice it to say here that it truly blew my mind. I lived 10 years in New York City and you get pretty used to people telling you that this gritty enclave or that is the latest cool place. Sometimes it’s true and you find that the mouse-infested railroad apartment you rented just a few years ago is now so expensive they’ve practically erected a velvet rope outside. Sometimes you visit these neighbourhoods and see the young people with interesting facial hair amid the urban bombscape and think, “Good luck with that!” But Bushwick is one of those places with that weird evolving combination of art scene, creative types, restaurants that cater to the new hipsters and old-school bodegas that just works. One of the reasons is Fine & Raw. The founder of Fine & Raw, Daniel, has a chocolate mission statement (-sigh– these days who doesn’t?). In his case it’s completely justified. We walked into this storefront warehouse-like space (actually a former open-air garage between two buildings, now enclosed) which had a small glass counter at the front. On it, a few minuscule shards of Seasalt chocolate sat on a plate. I took a morsel, popped it in my mouth and my knees practically buckled. One of the guys wearing an “interesting” hat came over and cut up a Truffle Chunky bar for us to sample — reader, I married it. Fine & Raw uses raw chocolate without refined sugars, diary or additives. It’s sweetened with blue agave nectar and palm sugar, and avoids the bitterness of many dark chocolates, so much so that even the young children in our group — 9 and 7 — mmmm‘ed over the different versions. Eight of us shared one of the super-rich hot chocolates, made from...

Our plan for visiting NYC with kids

TweetOne of the perils of visiting someplace you used to live is a certain cockiness. You think, “Yeah, I know this town. I used to own this town. I don’t need no stinking guidebook.” Of course, that attitude doesn’t take into account — at least in this case — that I last lived in New York as a young, single and ready-to-mingle gal back at the turn of the century. This time, I’m arriving with kids in tow who have their own ideas of fun and the city has moved on. I’ve just come to terms with this and thus have hurriedly spent the past few days putting together some kind of plan so we don’t end up dragging exhausted children all around the island. Here are some of the highlights we’re planning: Going to the top of the Empire State Building — Truly iconic, and we’ve found what looks like a good little hotel 2 blocks away, Hotel Grand Union. We’ve booked a family room with a double and two twins, and it’s easy walking distance to the building itself, the 6 train, Penn Station and Koreatown, in case we fancy Korean barbecue. Eating food you can’t get in London — Pizza by the slice, honest-to-god bagels (boiled, people, they must be boiled) with cream cheese, American burgers. Milkshakes. Maybe even some vegetables. Maybe. Taking a Levy’s Unique New York graffiti tour of Brooklyn — This was recommended by a friend of a friend as a family-friendly tour outfit. It’s no wonder: the operation is run by the Levy family, who take visitors around the city personally (along with a few helpers). We’ll be taking the Brooklyn Represent tour, seeing graffiti, street art, gentrifying areas of the borough, ending at an artisanal pizza joint. Levy brother Matt is showing us round and I have a feeling my 14-year-old is going to love it. (Note: The Levy’s have kindly comp’ed our tour. I’ll let you know how it is.) Fighting the crowds in Chinatown — Crowded, busy, and distinctly different from the rest of Manhattan. We’ll be eating noodles (one of my daughter’s favourites) and duck pancakes. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge — Traversing the iconic bridge to Brooklyn Heights is one of the best experiences in the city. I’m crossing my fingers for a clear day. We may stop at Jane’s Carousel in DUMBO for a quick go-round. We’ll do this end of the week to hit the Thursday – Sunday winter opening hours for the carousel. Messing...

5 ideas for carving Halloween pumpkins

TweetI love doing Halloween with my daughter here in the UK, especially since it’s still in its infancy. There’s a bit of trick or treating, there are a few parties but the celebrations aren’t over the top, like what can be a consumer-fest in the U.S.  I also find the whole super-gruesome costume thing that adult revelers have embraced creepy in the extreme. But one thing I am glad that has caught on here is creative pumpkin carving. I’ve never been particularly skilled in this regard. You have to get one of those little pumpking carving kits – knives can be unwieldy for fine work. In our neighbourhood I’ve been seeing some impressive versions. Here, my Halloween pumpkin gallery and 5 tips:   Tip 1: Use the natural contours of the pumpkin to create your design. Don’t worry about getting a perfectly shaped gourd. Unusual features can make it more interesting.   Tip 2: Two jack-o-lantern heads can be better than one for a front garden display   Tip 3: Carving a big face that covers a large part of the pumpkin lets out a lot of light for a dramatic display   Tip 4: You don’t need to restrict yourself to traditional faces. Ghost scenes, cats, witch’s hats — all look great carved into your favourite Halloween gourd.   Tip 5: The important thing is to have fun. A simple jack-o-lantern (triangular eyes, blocky mouth) is the easiest to carve with kids. You can always add a scar or a tooth or two.  ...

The Greatest Journey Meme

TweetI was tagged by Liz from The Mum Blog for the Greatest Journey Meme. Liz explains: I want to hear about your most memorable, incredibly journey so far – not just because of where you went but because of the emotional experience. Here’s my Greatest Journey: The two couples didn’t speak English but they gestured with their camera and my friend T stepped forward to take their picture at the Uluwatu Monkey Temple overlooking the ocean. Just as she snapped the shutter, a thin furry arm reached from the tree over one of the men’s shoulder, snatched his sunglasses off his nose. It was a split second, then the monkey retreated to a safe distance on the roof of an adjoining building, in accessible. We all laughed in surprise and the man made coaxing noises, until one of the other tourists said, “You have to give him peanuts,” available to buy in the temple. Sure enough, this monkey knew the score. The man tossed a peanut, which bumped over the surface of the roof. The monkey darted forward to claim it, at the same time carelessly tossing the sunglasses toward the man. He retrieved them and all of us laughed before saying goodbye in our respective languages. It was our first day in Bali and the trip turned out to be significant not only because of what I actually saw and experienced but also because of what I realised about travel. It was my first non-European holiday, the first time I invested “real” money to fly so far afield to a place so different from anyplace I’d been before. There were monkeys and jungle edging right up to civilisation. Small Hindu offerings stood outside practically every doorway and we donned sarongs to visit Balinese temples. We took pictures of chickens dyed pink and orange and children practicing traditional dance. We saw very poor people and wrestled with our role as “moneyed” tourists (although back home we struggled to pay rent and cover all our bills). We stayed in the most sumptuous hotels I’d ever seen (a perk of travelling with friends who were travel agents) and I recognised that staying in a luxury hotel is every bit as valid a way of travelling as renting a bargain basement room. (In Ubud, we stayed at the Begawan Giri, now the Como Shambhala Estate – which went a long way to helping me form this opinion.) I also learned these three very important lessons that have shaped my travel ever since:...

Disneyland Paris’s 20th anniversary celebrations: my top tips

TweetJenography is never known to miss a party, and Disneyland Paris’s kickoff of its 20th anniversary celebrations were no exception. My daughter and I were among a contingent of bloggers and journalists to the launch of the park’s year-long celebrations, which feature a gussied up Main Street, a new parade and a dazzling evening light and fireworks show. When Disneyland Paris opened in France 20 years ago, there were many cries of “Zut alors!” and speculation that Mickey Mouse and the land of fromage just didn’t go together. Twenty years later, the park is a standard stop on family breaks to the Paris area, whether it’s a once in a lifetime trip or a regular favourite. This was our second visit and the special events and touches the park is putting on for its anniversary definitely make it worth scheduling a trip over the next 12 months. We went over on the Eurostar, which is always so civilized, with the departure from St Pancras International station, the comfortable seats with power outlets, the bar car (ahem). (We sat opposite English Mum and her charming son (pictured right), tweeting each other from across the table. Why talk when you can social media?) From there, a quick transfer to the New York hotel, which is about a 7 minute walk from the gare, to drop off our bags, then onto the park. I was quite nervous about not having developed a “strategy” in advance. While Disneyland Paris is smaller than Disneyland in Orlando, there are still tricks you can employ to get the most out of a short visit. We quickly picked out rides we wanted to experience and for the next three days ticked them off our list. (See my recommendations for 8-year-old visitors below.) When my daughter said there was a ride she “really really” wanted to go on or something she was “desperate” to see, we went back to the list to see what it would replace. As a result, there were no tantrums or tears about missing out, even though we could have spent three more days exploring. Without a doubt, there were three 20th anniversary highlights that I recommend for any visitor: The new daily parade. All the Disney characters have new duds for the anniversary and the Disney Magic on Parade put them all on display. It incorporates new music (I defy you to stop humming the tune afterward), includes Rapunzel and Flynn Rider for the first time, features fun choreography and a new final...

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