Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Travel Plans - your help please

In less than a month I am off to Europe with my girl, Fred. We're flying to Hong Kong first for three nights, into London for two nights, then train up to Manchester for the wedding, Lake District for a few days, train back down to the south of England to stay with more family and then Paris for a week, and 2 nights in Helsinki on the way home (we're flying Finn Air so that stop was a last minute throw-in).

England is pretty much sorted, I've been to London before, so I'm happy just to hang out at the park with Fred and maybe ride a double decker bus. There's enough family stuff going on that I don't think we'll be looking for ways to entertain ourselves and I'm hoping she'll enjoy the train travel. We were booked into a expensive-for-the-rest-of-the-world-cheapish-for-London hotel but I've just cancelled our booking and switched to the YHA in Earl's Court, because I think Frederique will appreciate the social qualities, and we won't have to be so best-behaviourish, and it's on the Piccadilly line. And it's cheaper. We have our own room of course.

Hong Kong
In Hong Kong I'm thinking about doing the Peak and maybe an island visit. Fred is allergic to shopping and I don't love it either, so while no doubt we will do some low level acquiring, it won't be an activity as such. Can anyone else make any suggestions? Zoos, museums, botanical gardens - Fred actually likes museums, as long as they're the sort where you can run a bit and be noisy and interested and touch things. Disneyland is probably out (see below).

And Paris. We've booked an aparment in the Marais (3rd district). Apart from eating pastries and drinking hot chocolate and gawping at the Eiffel Tower (not sure if we'll go up it), I have no plans. I think the Louvre might be a bit overwhelming, and probably frustrating for me if we do it at Fred's pace. I'd quite like to take her to the Notre Dame (well, I want to go and she'll have to come). My rough idea for each day was Do Thing in the morning, lunch near or at Thing, then lose ourselves in a park somewhere. Dinner in our apartment probably. Again, Disneyland is probably out (The part of me that is still six years old sitting in front of The Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night wants to take her. The part of me that knows it will be hyperstimulating for both of us, overpriced and crowded and full of cheap crappy Disney stuff says stay away. Fred doesn't really 'get' Disneyland yet anyway, though I did tell her we could go to Cinderella's house. Do you think it would be wrong for me to pick some random fancy house and just tell her that that is Cinderella's house?) Any other suggestions, including making a case for the Louvre with kids, welcome. I'd love to get out of Paris for a day and take her somewhere more naturey or beachy - but it has to be somewhere we can get to without a car.

We're in Helsinki for two nights. I have no idea what to do. We're booked into a private room at the Eurohostel. I'd also love suggestions for a good playground.

Any suggestions for good travel toys we can take away? I'm not too worried about the plane cause they'll be tiny tellie and plane packs and little toothpaste and the crash safety booklet (she loves that). But there will be hotel time, train travel, and other time to fill, and a good toy will help her get clear headspace and rejuvenate her energy (though what makes a good toy for Fred I STILL don't know. Pity Bedda is dead.) So far on my list I have:
*Books (A couple of easy, lightweight chapter books or short stories I think, we read the first chapter of Ramona the Pest the other day and she'd have happily had the same chapter read over and over. And we'll buy new books or magazines or comics on our travels.)
*A travel journal
*Pencil case chockers with new pencils, gel pens etc
*Colouring/Activity Book (one like her Charlie and Lola that encourages her to draw in the rest of the pictures)
*I thought maybe a little bag thing, with some make up and bits and pieces of jewelry and a little mirror and the like. I can give it to her on the plane perhaps.
*A favourite soft toy to cuddle.
*The French flashcards (we can BOTH do some intensive training on the Eurostar)
*A walkman or ipod?? (I can't decide about this, I'm also vaguely tempted to get a handheld game thing, but that way madness lies).

Anything else - non-toy - I should pack that I might not have thought of?


  1. LOL at the Cinderalla house thing.

    I think it might work.

  2. There are a few things I always take with me when I'm travelling that make the whole experience far more bearable.

    1. A pillow (I always use a feather one, and unless you have allergies I'd highly recommend it, as you can roll it up really small and tie it with a ribbon) - makes sleeping on a plane/train or even just relaxing far, far more bearable.

    2. lavendar oil - great for (a) smelly toilets and (b) a drop on the pillow is v. relaxing.

    3. chewing gum for the plane for takeoff/landing (or lollies to suck).

    4. Noise cancelling headphones. I can't tell you how much better these make a plane trip. They usually come with an adaptor that allows you to plug them into the plane's entertainment system, if not, you can buy separately. They totally block out the weird background noise you get on the plane, and crying babies, and also make the movies etc much easier to hear.

    4. If I'm flying Qantas I take a blanket (polar fleece one from Ikea) as for some reason it's always freezing on Qantas flights, although not other airlines. Again, it rolls up really small.

    5. Snacks. I hate plane food and also it's not necessarily there when you're hungry. I usually take nuts and dried fruit (with particular reference to prunes).

    I'd be all for an MP3 player for Fred, and before you leave you could load heaps of books-on-tape (I guess they're books on CD now, really) plus maybe some French lessons - I downloaded a whole lot of free ones from the internet onto my iPod that are really good - I can't remember where from, but google and you'll find.

  3. Anonymous1:55 PM

    Paris, you will need a pocket full of euros for the many carousels that dot the city. Hotel de Ville, a stroll from the Marais, has a beauty! Also, handy to Berthillon icecream. And the very charming (yes, really must go) Red Wheelbarrow bookshop in the Marais. Also, the boats, if you are there on a Sunday at Jardin de Luxembourg. Cheap, relaxing and only in Paris. The jardin is beautiful, too. And it has a fenced off playground and (quel surprise!) a carousel.
    You are more than handy to the Centre George Pompidou. You get a magnificent view over Paris without climbing a single stair. But if you do feel the urge to climb Notre Dame's spiral staircase (400+ steps) takes you up where the gargoyles dwell. Having your own apartment will be a Very Good Thing, too. Oh, the places you'll go!

  4. Best traveling toy - a russian doll. When Elwyn was three and we dragged our tribe across Europe (for two and a half years), he carried his set of russian dolls everywhere. Great because they nested inside each other and could fit in my hand bag or jammed into the pocket of his duffel coat. They had an air of secrecy and magic, the way they unpacked to form a cast of characters. Another portable hit were Polly Pockets and Mighty Max but the Russian Dolls outlasted everything. Give it to her at the airport and it may last the whole trip.
    As to travel hints - Hong Kong zoo is great - very beautiful. The bird markets (Kowloon side) are worth a visit too. The islands are great, but if you've only got a few days, I'd be content with riding the ferries and the trams. Tin Hau Temple is a bit magical too.
    Paris - the doll's museum is a must and a boat ride down the Seine. Hmmm... this could be a very long comment. I'll send you an email before you leave.

  5. For London I was going to suggest the Tate but then you were not keen on the Lourve in Paris .. hmm.
    Have a look here anyway:
    I'd take F for a walk by the Palace and show her the soldiers. Can you just do a sightseeing tour on a double decker bus? Sounds silly but would be fun I reckon, up top! See the Tower etc.

    Paris, there is a beautiful garden Jardin somethingorother. You must go up to Sacre Coer, and ride the carousel at the bottom. Seriously the view from the Arc de Triomphe is so good and cheaper to get up than the Eiffel Tower. If you're only there for a couple of days just stay in Paris is my advice.

    Honkers, yes go up to the peak, maybe a Star Ferry ride (cheap) or a bus to Stanley to the market. You may enjoy shopping in some of the cuter shops (Blythe type hobby shops?)

    Haven't been to Helsinki but looks beautiful and I'm sure you can google a few good fun things to do.

    Think about what Fred really loves to do and work on that, Asha loves to draw so we pack decent pens and blank scrap books, colouring in etc. that they give you only has a limited interest and puzzle books are useless for Fred's age.

    Will think about this more and let you know if I think of anything. X

  6. I'm not responding because I'm insanely and irrationally jealous ;-P

    How about some different kind of card games? Like Uno (Tara LOVES this game), snap, pairs, Old Maid (another fave of Tara)..the beauty is that they are all small and compact. Travel games are great too..Connect Four, Guess Who for example. These are all suggestions that require you to interact I know. I would go the IPOD or a PSP (Molly just said she thinks you can put music onto PSP's.)for some personal time for Fred. If she likes them, Polly Pockets keep Tara amused on trips away (I loathe them though).

    My lj friend Michelle has just returned from Paris so I'll get her to pass on some advice :-)

  7. I would say don't do polly pocket (loathe them here too) or anything with small parts on the plane, things getting dropped drives me bonkers on aircraft!

  8. helsinki is a pretty and relaxing city. i think it would be a lot nicer when it's not raining. i was there a few years back on the way to st petersburg - wandered around in the rain a bit and went to the art gallery.

    i think the most exciting thing you can do there is catch the ferry across to tallinn. i haven't been there but it's meant to be gorgeous. (small medieval city.) my parents were in helskinki recently and did go to tallinn so i'll send my mum over here if she's got any suggestions.

    i know you didn't ask for suggestions for london but my favourite favourite place in london is the british library - they always have exhibitions of books and manuscripts and printing presses and things. some of it would be ok for children i think. once i saw a hans christian anderson exhibition and it was amazing. it's all free.

  9. My librarian side says a big yes!! to the MP3 idea, not only for the books on tape you can load from the interweb, or your local library ;), but also for stories & poems that friends and family can record. Always nice to hear friendly voices when you are far from home.

    The Tate in London has had a big push towards being kid friendly. I think you can pick up kids activity packs and follow art trails there now - there is also some fun stuff on their website to look at before you go, as someone else posted.

    The natural history museum in london was very quirky cool, and you can easily pick just a little bit of that to visit.

    In Paris, the outside of the Georges Pompidou is very fun, with stairs and vents and allsorts on the outside, there is a very fun crazy fountain/ pond near there too. Perhaps instead of the Louvre, you could try the Musee D'Orsay? There are many beautiful buildings in Paris that could easily stand in for Cinderella's pad :D

    Something nice from when i went travelling as a little kid was my very own diary. (You can buy some very cheap art journals around the place) My mum prompted me to stick in train tickets, labels off bottles, any weird thing that took my fancy really. At the end of each day i had a different prompt that we filled in together based on a sense - today i saw, heard, touched... It was a nice thing to come across in the bottom of a drawer when i moved house recently. And Fred can also draw in it too, and collect messages & autographs from your family overseas...

    Another thought for any location really, although there is that shopping aversion you mentioned, is to visit a market. food markets are especially fun from a little person's eye level.

    um, enough blathering, have a great time!


  10. Anonymous11:17 AM

    Some great ideas for you. When Beryl took a fairly young Sarah Nespolo to Italy and Europe, Sarah had her own camera and took lots of pictures of people's animals - dogs on leads, cats sunning themselves, birds etc. It was a child's eye view of a world we see at a different level. Beryl said it was also an icebreaker because few people refused the request. Then Fred has her own pictures to review on planes and boats and trains. It would be a supplement to the diary suggestion.

  11. I'd agree. Does Fred have a camera?
    Liam has a vtech camera which cost about $100 (probably cheaper now) but he loves it. The photos aren't great quality but good enough for a kid. You can also create video clips or put sound attachments on photos. It has games too which would keep her busy on trains etc.

    Trying to think about kid-friendly things I've done in those places and haven't really come up with much. Maybe the cemetery - Pere Lachaise (Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison etc) It's nice to wander around and check out the nice old headstones. (Don't fall asleep on the grass though because you'll get yelled at!)ytjw

  12. Anonymous2:06 PM

    Sounds totally awesome, Penni!

    I used to travel a lot when I was a small person - lots of flying back to the USA to visit my Dad's family. My mum always used to pack me a "plane bag." It was a bag full of little wrapped parcels that fitted into my carry-on. The parcels had little tags on them that gave instructions about when they were to be opened: "an hour after take off", or "the first night you arrive", or "sitting in a park" etc etc. Inside the parcels were just little things that would be practical or fun on the trip: a little lip balm, a new book, a puzzle of some kind, a chocolate frog, a sketch pad etc.

    I can't tell you how excited my plane bags made me - the anticipation was a whole game in itself.

    Also, if you are looking for delicious, cheap food in the Marais, I highly recommend
    L'As du Falafel
    34, rue des Rosiers.

    It's not much more than a hole in the wall, but jeez is it tasty.And you can carry your falafel off wherever you like. (although there is often a queue of Parisans and tourists having their falafel fix)

    Have fun!

  13. Thanks so much everyone, some fantastic suggestions here. Wheee!

  14. Wow, some great suggestions and I can't add too much except that if you go the iPod route I can send you some nice audio-book and music stuff on CD to download. Email me your address. We find that producing something new and interesting every so often keeps the novelty factor up, so put some surprises in your carry-on. There's a cute little wind-up fishing game that kept A amused on a plane trip, I got it at the $2 shop. I'll look for one for you. Also, fuzzy felt is good fun if she's into that. I wouldn't take any games/toys/pens that will be devastating to lose, tiny pieces dropped under airline seats are a PITA to recover. xx

  15. I have nothing to add b ut it all sounds incrediably exciting I'm sure you and fred will have an absolute ball no matter what you deciede to do.

    The IPod is a great idea, when we travel on a plane we always have lots of kids songs and stories on tape to listen to. When we flew (that would be me & two feral girls) from Perth to Sydney it kept Ef entertained the whole time.

    If you go down the journal path a poloroid camera would be cool for fred to record things along the way.

    Ef is a really foro the moment child. She will take a picture and talk about it for days and days and she loves to look back at all her pictures.

  16. Anonymous10:07 PM

    Hi Penni

    Tracey asked me to pop over and offer some Paris suggestions. I haven't forgotten, will get back to you over the weekend.

  17. On Paris: I think the Louvre is pretty kid friendly in that it is big and there are some good wide rooms and avenues and it doesn't feel crowded or quiet. I think a kid could run and look and be pretty loud and it would all get sucked up in the general noise of the place. I did find the Musee d'Orsay very crowded and overwhelming and I'd be afraid a little one would get lost. The cemetary is a good idea - there are lots of interesting carvings and again, there's space.

    For traveling, bring your own headphones, the big ones that sit over ears not in them, as I have found that the ear buds hurt my girls' ears.

  18. Anonymous10:22 AM

    Paris has beautiful puppet shows for children on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons in the Luxembourg Gardens and the Parc Montsouris. They're usually classic children's fairy tales with a lot of physical, slapstick humor, so it's easy to follow the plot even if you don't speak French fluently. The puppet shows cost about 4 euro when I lived in Paris five years ago - probably a bit more now, but still very reasonably priced.

    Kids can also go on pony rides in the Luxembourg Gardens and Parc Montsouris - the ponies are pretty slow, but if she likes animals, it might be fun.

    There's a science museum with a permanent exhibit on evolution and lots of animals. I don't remember the name of the museum (Jardin des Plantes?), but it's amazing to see how the bones in a whale's fin look like long, graceful fingers.

    I love the Picasso Museum and the Rodin Museum in Paris. It's really cool to see how the artists grow and develop over their lifetimes and the museums are small (they're both in old houses), so you can take time to really look hard for an hour or two, and then go do something more relaxed. The Rodin Museum also has a nice shrubbery garden with various statues, including the Thinker, tucked among the bushes.

    There are free concerts in churches all over Paris, including Notre Dame, around 4 o'clock in the afternoon on Sunday. They usually last for about an hour, and if you grab an aisle seat (or go to Notre Dame, where there are lots of tourists milling around the edges anyway), you can leave whenever you've had your fill of classical music.

    If you'd like to go somewhere outdoorsy, you might consider Versaille. The train ride is pretty short, and the gardens and grounds are beautiful and extensive. It's a good place for a long walk and a little quieter than Paris. Versaille (the palace) is also pretty cool - the details of the ceilings, floors, furniture, paintings, etc. is really amazing.

    Oh, and the Centre Pompidou has a great view of Paris. The escalator runs along a glass wall, so you see more and more of the city (the piazza below, and then Sacre Coeur to the north) as you go up. And being inside the Centre Pompidou is kind of like being in a gigantic hamster cage with brightly colored tubes and tunnels running every which way. Utterly delightful.

    If Fred is an adventurous eater, the Marais is a good spot for a delicious falafel sandwich and baklava with pistachios.

    A small sketchbook that fits into a purse is a great thing to take around town with you. I always love to copy pictures in museums - even if the drawings don't turn out perfectly, I see the paintings/sculptures so much better if I've taken the time to draw them. It really sharpens the eye. And it's great to find a spot where you can sit down and draw a bridge, or draw the person sitting across from you on the train.

    Oh, and there is a magic French phrase that you should know:

    Excusez-moi pour vous derangez, mais j'ai un probleme. Parlez-vous anglais?

    (Excuse me for bothering you, but I have a problem. Do you speak English?)

    This phrase will solve virtually any problem: the person will either help you personally, or find someone who speaks enough English to help you out.

    Bon voyage!