Photo Friday: Peyrepertuse

Peyrepertuse

Peyrepertuse, meaning "pierced rock"

The ruins of Peyrepertuse include a castle and fortress in the French Pyrenees, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The “Cathar castles” such as Carcassone, Queribus, Peyrepertuse, and a dozen or so others were a collection of fortifications and castles used as a refuge by the heretical Cathar sect during the Albigensian Crusade of the early 1200s. As the Cathars used these castles for hiding and protection, most of them are set high in the mountains, with glorious views, treacherous staircases, and rigorous ascents.

This post is a part of Delicious Baby‘s Photo Friday roundup. Thanks for joining us!

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For the Love of Libraries

Keep CML Strong

Friends, this is a travel blog, but I need to interrupt our regularly scheduled dreaming/planning/opining/listing/reminiscing for some politicking. I promise it won’t last long.

The Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) has a levy on the ballot this November–specifically, Issue 4.

  • Without the levy, CML could lose approximately half of their budget–up to 75% of their funding–and potentially close half of their 22 local branches.
  • CML’s quality rating is consistently among the top in the state and the nation–we are fortunate to have such a great system in our neighborhood.
  • CML has not increased its 2.2 mill levy in 24 years. It is the library’s only local tax support — 45% of the budget and state funding was cut $8 million.

So what’s the correlation between travel and libraries?

  • For many people, the first trip they ever take is within the walls of their local library.
  • For many people, the only trip they ever take is through the pages of a book.
  • When I’m planning a trip, my first stop is my library for DVDs, guidebooks, maps, culture books, and history books. Yes, I’ll buy one good guidebook and a map to take along, but the library helps me plan my trip and winnow my options.
  • Through your local library, you can get audio books, DVDs, or software that will help you learn a foreign language–at least enough to get by.
  • Visiting libraries in your travels is a wonderful way to see interesting architecture, find English-language reading materials, borrow new books when you’ve exhausted your stash, hop on free Wi-Fi, keep abreast of current events through periodicals, meet locals, hear music, and much more.

Between now and November, I’ll be publishing posts about visiting libraries at home and abroad as my show of support for Issue 4. I hope you enjoy these travel stories and I hope you consider voting for the levy in November.

For the Love of Libraries Round-Up:

To request a yard sign, donate, or learn more about Issue 4, visit Keep Our Library Strong. You can also stay connected through Facebook.

If you have a library travel story, please contact me–I’d love to publish it here, and it will in no way imply your support for the levy unless you want it to.

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In Defense of Baby Steps

Apparently, there is a Right Way to travel.

We should travel light, seek out authentic experiences, eschew other tourists while looking for the unbeaten path, throw away our guidebooks, and argue about whether we are tourists or travelers.* Most importantly, we should sneer at those who make other choices.

The Whisky Experience

The Whisky Experience, photo by Jessica Spengler (2006), available under a Creative Commons license.

Friends, I’ve done it all, lived on both sides of the travel coin. I’ve bummed around Europe with just a backpack and dragged around a suitcase that came up to my ribcage. I’ve celebrated a solar eclipse while dancing through the streets of Badu, Ghana in West Africa, but I’ve also paid to ride a whisky barrel through posed tableaux of moonshiners while tasting mediocre Scotch on Edinburgh’s touristy Royal Mile. I’ve buried my nose so deeply into Rick Steve’s guidebooks that I can practically smell his shampoo, but I’ve also thrown away my map in Venice, chasing stray cats through interconnected alleys until dusk fell and I was quite lost.

And I’ve sneered. Trust me, I’ve sneered, turning up my pert little nose at parents who take their kids to Disneyworld year after year. I’ve rolled my eyes at our very dear friends whose first and only trip overseas was an organized bus tour to the British Isles. (Why would you need a bus tour to someplace that speaks English?) I’ve mocked relatives whose restaurant recommendations for a city I’ve never visited include The Cheesecake Factory or PF Chang’s.

You know what? Being a travel snob is not charming. It’s not going to win anyone over, and I’m really sorry for it.

In my circle of friends, it is hip to bash chains. No one admits to buying books at Barnes & Noble or renting movies from Blockbuster. Let’s not even mention Wal-Mart. My friend Ann, a smart, thoughtful poet from a small town in Michigan, grew more and more annoyed with this, finally saying, You know what? I like chains. I’m grateful to chains. Without Barnes & Noble, we wouldn’t have a bookstore in my home town. Without Blockbuster, we wouldn’t be able to rent a movie. For many, chains are the entryway into a larger world–baby steps.

On our last night in Paris, the Cap’n and I found ourselves a cozy little restaurant in the Rue Cler neighborhood. As we opened the front door, an orange cat followed us in and spent the meal twining around our ankles. From our table in the window, we could see the Eiffel Tower. An old woman rode by on a clanking metal bicycle. The window boxes were full of flowers. It was a perfect spring night.

The Cap’n, who is fluent in French, shared a joke or two with the owner, who brought us bread and wine, made a few recommendations, introduced us to the cat. The owner said, It’s a good thing you ordered wine. Tonight we have a shortage of Coca-Cola, and he gestured to where, a few tables away, a group of American high school students were eating.

The kids, two boys and three girls, looked like they might have gone to my high school in Cleveland. They all had accents I recognized as my own. They weren’t loud—just giggly—and were dressed appropriately, as if their mothers had opinions about what clothes they packed. They seemed like what one might call “nice kids”.

The Cap’n and I were feeling romantic. We were wrapping up several weeks in France here, in this perfect little restaurant, with a perfect view of the perfect emblem of the country. We held hands and savored our sweet and crisp little bites of foie gras. We petted the cat and eavesdropped.

It was clearly the kids’ first night in Paris, likely their first night in Europe. They spoke of exhaustion, of excitement. They did their best to be worldly, comparing countries they’d been with their families, mostly Canada. They talked about things their relatives back home said they simply must see in France, each time prefacing with, Well, my aunt said… or My dad always

Their food arrived. Each ordered steak and fries, medium, and squealed over the pink juice when they cut into their meat. When the waiter returned, they asked in English for more sodas. We’re out, he said. They didn’t understand him. We’re out. You had the last one, he said, gesturing all gone.  They asked again, he turned to the Cap’n, who translated. They asked for ketchup.

The owner threw his hands up in the air, puffed a little, and went to get it. As he turned, he made eye contact with us and winked. We smiled, touched fingers, and looked out the window, awfully pleased with ourselves.

All we know of those kids was that one hour in a Parisian restaurant. We don’t know if they enjoyed their trip—or even their dinner. We don’t know if they ate squid in Collioure or hit every McDonald’s within l’hexagon. We don’t know if they threw their guidebooks away or if they spent the rest of their trip on buses, being shepherded from one famous landmark to the next.

What we do know is that these five kids were dining out in a tiny Parisian restaurant. They weren’t with the rest of their group; they weren’t with their parents. They had traveled a long way to be there. They had found food and, presumably, a place to sleep. They were getting by.

Eiffel Tower light show

Eiffel Tower light show, photo by LunaMoth116 (2010), available under a Creative Commons license.

The light show on the Eiffel Tower began to sparkle, causing all of us to oooh and squeal and run out into the street. The owner came and stood behind us in the doorway, hands on his hips, looking up. Pedestrians stopped to watch. We were together in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, staring up at one of the most famous landmarks, lights flashing on our faces like fireworks, and we were all children then.

*And no, you didn’t ask, but what works for us is to travel light (a relative term, given our family), to seek out strange and quirky experiences, to greet every stray cat that crosses our path (beaten or not), to read a bazillion guidebooks but travel with only one, and argue about who gets to hold the map.

Posted in Opining, Travel Musings | 3 Comments

Guest Post at Nerd’s Eye View

Friends,

Swing on over to Nerd’s Eye View, where Pam is celebrating a month of guest posts. I’ve written one about Iceland–yes, you might recognize some of it, but stop on by and get to know her wonderful blog anyway.

http://www.nerdseyeview.com/blog/2010/08/18/shouting-into-the-wind/

Hope to see you there!

The Blue Lagoon

Granuaile, the wind, and me at the Blue Lagoon

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Flying the (Kid-)Friendly Skies

On my first airplane trip, when I was very little, I got a silver pin that looked like pilot’s wings, a coloring book, and a peek inside the cockpit. When I was slightly older, the cockpit was off-limits, but I got a plastic pin, and a coloring book, and a flight attendant took me on a tour of the plane (one of the double-decker ones). Now, kids are lucky if they don’t get thrown off the plane for crying.

I saw this post the other day on the most kid-friendly airlines, based on, as the author says, such things such as “priority boarding, snacks, entertainment, etc.” I love lists–who doesn’t?–but this was left me wanting more.

Granuaile

Kid friendly or friendly kid?

First, I can’t find anywhere in the post where this list came from. Did the author do the research and compile it herself? (Super cool if she did–that must have been a lot of work.) If so, was it based on feedback from friends and family, from social media, from the airline’s PR departments, or from her own experiences? Without knowing how the author compiled the list, I’m not sure how much weight to put on it.

Second, how is this different from a list of major domestic carriers? Did any of the big airlines NOT make the cut? Was the list compiled specifically to target American carriers, or did no foreign carriers rate? (Reading other posts about parents’ favorite airlines, I don’t think the latter can be true.)

Third, how were the ratings tallied? What was the criteria? Was each criterion weighted equally, or were some given more importance? For example, was boarding priority given the same weight as gourmet kiddy food and a backpack full of gifts?

Fourth, did the creators of this list award points for things that make flying nicer for humans in general (snacks for all, free entertainment) or only those perks enjoyed by children?

When we flew Icelandair last fall, I wasn’t expecting much. I’d read countless travel-review blurbs that said Icelandair had terrible food and was a pretty cut-rate experience. Flying with Granuaile, however, was a joy. Before the plane had taken off, an attendant had given her crayons, Icelandic coloring pages, headphones to keep, a pillow, and a blanket. As soon as we’d reached cruising altitude, before the beverage cart started circulating, an attendant handed her a hot grilled cheese sandwich, cookies, and a drink. Best of all, in Granuaile’s eyes, everybody had full control of a TV screen, built into the seat back in front of them, and there were plenty of kids’ shows at the touch of a button. Adults have to pay for their own food and entertainment, but Icelandair treats kids lavishly.

In doing a quick search of the Internet, it seems plenty of parents have opinions about their favorite airlines for kid travel. I’ve seen great love given to Air Malta, British Airways (repeatedly), Japan Airlines, Air New Zealand, Virgin, Quantas, Turkish Air, Gulf Air (two words: SKY NANNIES!), Emirates, and Lufthansa. While each of these airlines sound wonderful for their frills and perks, these are special-occasion airlines for most Americans. Seventy-five percent of my family travel is domestic, usually between Columbus and Seattle.

Frequent flyers usually have definite airline opinions, but I don’t have great brand loyalty, usually choosing the cheapest flights. Most domestic American carriers seem the same to me, especially in their rush to cut frills. Since starting to fly with children, I can’t remember an airline giving Granuaile special treatment. In fact, most have even cut priority boarding for families.

Sky Nannies sound pie-in-the-sky wonderful, but I realize they’re not likely to be embraced by American cost-cutting carriers any time soon. Failing that, I’d still like to see:

  • airplane bassinet

    Bassinet, carrycot, skycot--whatever you call it, it's a safe and cozy spot for your baby

    Bassinets/carry-cots: I’ve only read about them, never tried one, but they seem to appear only on foreign carriers, on trans-oceanic flights. Flying coast-to-coast in the US is a long haul, and a long time to have a tired child on your lap.

  • Snacks and drinks (water is fine) for children. Yes, parents should bring their own, but things happen.
  • Roomier restroom changing tables–hah!
  • Airline staff should be familiar with various travel apparatus. Parents who fly semi-regularly knows that a Sit ‘n Stroll exists, even if they don’t have one. Yet each time we take ours on board, the staff seems never to have seen one before, questioning us repeatedly about what it is, whether it meets FAA regulations, etc.

    Sit 'n Stroll

    Sit 'n Stroll: the greatest stroller/car seat ever. No lie.

  • Free TV with even just a few G-rated shows–kids don’t mind watching repeats, and PG can be too violent for younger kids.
  • Airport playgrounds and lounges for families. The few times I’ve used an airport lounge to wait for a flight have been wonderful, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking my young children into one. Airport playgrounds are a wonderful thing, just not as common as I’d like.
  • Priority boarding. It’s hard enough maneuver children, bags, and a car seat without the added pressure of people pushing past you, lifting bags over your head, and huffing angrily.
  • Family sections on the plane. Travelers without kids don’t want to be kicked in the seatback or listen to crying babies–I get it, and trust me, I don’t want my kids to kick or cry. That said, if they do, I’d rather be seated with other kicking, crying kids and parents who–it would be hoped–might have a bit more patience.

Do you have a favorite airline for family travel? What sort of amenities are important to you when you fly with your child?

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Drinking Like Babies: the Family Hotel Room

As someone who was scared of the dark for as long as I can remember, I loved going to bed on family trips, with the family sleeping together. My sister and I shared a bed, which we didn’t do at home. My mother would turn the lamp in between the two beds, throw a towel over the shade to shield our side from the light, and my sister and I would roll over and face the wall. I’d fall asleep to the sound of my mother’s fountain pen and my parents talking quietly in a corner. To this day, low voices make me feel safe and sleepy.

Grasshopper

Grasshopper, photo by AmandaLeighPanda (2008), available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

My dad says he would often run downstairs and bring back cocktails from the hotel bar, if there was one. According to him, my mother favored grasshoppers. But what I remember was a small, hard-sided, plaid travel case, about the size of a make-up case, that accompanied us on every car trip. Inside, were several small bottles, a cocktail shaker, some glasses, and a corkscrew. The most intriguing piece was a never-opened can of “screwdriver mix”. (Even now, I’m not sure what the evasively named “mix” might contain.) It fascinated me that we carried this case everywhere, yet this can was untouched. I grilled my parents each time we packed or unpacked the car–What’s wrong with screwdrivers? Why was the mix never used? Oddly, I don’t remember my parents ever opening that suitcase. Either they waited until we were asleep or they met their cocktail needs in other ways.

In packing to go to Bloomburg, I began to wish desperately for my parents’ little plaid suitcase.

Before I had children, it never occurred to me that they wouldn’t go to sleep when they were told. (Stop laughing.) When Granuaile was about 2, we took her to visit her Seattle relatives, flying in and out of Bellingham. Due to some confusion with our travel dates, we spent two nights in a hotel with her. The first night, we put her down, then spent the next several hours tearing our hair out, as our smiling girl popped up in her crib, happy to see us all in the same room. We pushed the crib into the closet and rigged a curtain out of strategically draped sheets (why I will never travel without a dark sheet and clothespins). She continued to hop up at every sound, pushing the curtain aside and jumping around in her crib. Finally, we turn off the light and pretended to sleep until she was quiet–an hour or so later.

Every trip since, we’ve either gotten a suite when possible or assumed that lights out for Granuaile meant lights out for all of us. In Iceland and Germany, we read with tiny booklights–though even those were enough to keep her up and chatting. The Cap’n and I dared not talk and tried to get comfortable with the idea that she’d sleep when she was tired.

With our trip to Pennsylvania, we were hopeful. Our room in Bloomsburg was a suite, which we were hoping involved two rooms, with a door between them. We packed the sleep/noise machine, the booklights, the dark sheet, and the clothespins. We got little earplugs for Granuaile, hoping she would wear them if we were too loud. (I think they’re still in Pennsylvania.)

At home, the Cap’n and I enjoy a cocktail on our porch after the kids are in bed. We swing on the porch swing, talk about the day, talk about the kids, remember why we like each other–remember why we like the kids. In packing, the Cap’n mentioned he’d miss our porch cocktails. I jokingly suggested we should bring some along. Brilliant, he said, but how? So we began discussing our favorites, figuring out how we could bring a maximum of taste with a minimum of fuss, finally agreeing upon Manhattans and negronis. One cocktail per each adult per day for a four-day trip was not a lot of liquid to transport, so we ransacked the kitchen, looking for the perfect container–not too big and not breakable. After dismissing our Nalgene water bottles (too big), Tupperware containers (too leaky), plastic bags (too…shapeless?), and Ball Mason jars (too fragile), we settled upon several 12-ounce baby bottles. Fitted with the leak-proof plastic disc, they were the right size, non-breakable, and were cheap enough to be lost. And let’s not forget classy.

There were a few hairy nights. Granuaile would thrash around in the bed, calling to us loudly, peering into the Wee Boatswain’s crib, singing little songs to herself. The Cap’n and I huddled on the couch, in the dark, IMing each other on our laptops, and pretending not to listen to her. We weathered it–for the most part–with grace, grace and plastic cups, hotel ice, and cocktails poured from baby bottles.

***

Two more things:

First, I’ve learned that the Zéro de Conduite bar in Paris serves cocktails out of baby bottles. Huh.

Second, I’d love to hear how other families handle sharing a room with their offspring. Are your children just better sleepers, or do you just accept they can sleep when you get home?

Posted in Remembering, Travel Musings | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Guest Post at cBusMoms.com

Sometimes the Pirates stay closer to home. Come visit our guest post over at cbusmoms.com about our day at Creekside in Gahanna. While you’re there, stay a while and explore. You’ll find lots of places for you–and your kids to play right here in Columbus!

Creekside Gahanna

Granuaile: Up the Big Walnut Creek without a paddleboat!

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