Manhattan can be an expensive and intimidating destination for anyone. It’s a great place to travel as a family but it’s challenging to get past the big tourist destinations and into the real city. Here’s a few of our recent finds to get you started! The Tenement Museum is a fantastic window into the history of New York City and into America in general. It should not be missed but you must get your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment. Visits to the museum are by guided tour and there are several unique packages to choose from. Most of the tours take place at 97 Orchard Street, a renovated tenement building with a basement and 5 floors, each housing a different window into history. The building once housed 2 shops and about 22 apartments, each only 325 sq ft and without plumbing or electricity. During a 70 year period centered on about the turn of the last century, approximately 7000 individuals and 30 different businesses were housed in this one building.
We took their newest tour, the “Shop Life” tour, on the bottom level and enjoyed an overview of life as a new immigrant to New York with emphasis on the wave of German immigrants from about 1860-1880. We learned through old photos, newspaper clippings, an interactive card game, visiting rooms, holding artifacts, and a high-tech smart board (you may be impressed by the high tech smart board but your child will likely be a lot less impressed as there are many in school classrooms across the country). The 90-minute experience gave us all a multi-faceted vision of what life was really like for the proprietors, John and his wife Caroline, as well as glimpses into the other businesses that once occupied the building including a kosher butcher, an undergarment factory, and an auction house. The finale was a video of a nearby contemporary local storeowner and wrapped up the tour with thoughtful style and a new perspective on modern NYC life. The tours are billed for kids aged 8 and up because they do involve listening, sitting, and not touching. There are also food-sampling tours, live actress Read more
“Low in a vale, by wood-crown’d heights o’erhung,
Where fir, and larch, and beech are careless flung,
With silver Thames slow rolling at her feet,
Lies Henley-Contemplation’s calm retreat.”
Opening lines of a poem detailing the charms of Henley-on-Thames, published anonymously in 1827. The poem is attributed to Mr. Richardson, a temporary resident of Henley. Though I’ve never, technically, resided in Henley, I’ve visited regularly for over thirty years and consider myself perhaps an intermittent resident. I’m lucky enough to be here again.
Just 40 minutes from London, Henley-on-Thames was a medieval market town and river port and is most famous for the Henley Royal Regatta, which it hosts on the first weekend of July, Wednesday to Sunday. The race is 1 mile and 550 yards, finishing just downstream of the town bridge. Every room in town is booked at least a year in advance for the event (I speak from frustrating experience); the streets, trains, and riverbanks are backed with Pimms-drinking, hat-wearing spectators young and old. The regatta is not as Read more
Then (1991): The dusty train station was mostly empty except for a few tourists. I was approached by enterprising Czechoslovakians holding out pictures of rooms to rent, most in private homes. I rented a room near the old square with a view of the river. It was a bedroom in the apartment of a middle-aged woman. She was kind, charged a reasonable price, and spoke little English.
Now (2012): The train station in the Czech Republic is loud and bustling. It boasts a Burger King, a giant bookstore, DM, and Read more
Salem, Massachusetts is an oxymoron, at once both historical and fiction. The town is famous for the 1962 witch trails in which over 150 innocent people were arrested, imprisoned, and tried for witchcraft. Nineteen accused witches were hanged and one man was crushed to death by stones. In history, there were no witches in Salem, only mass hysteria. Now, there are witches in Salem, practicing Wicca, but there is still mass hysteria. This time, it’s chachka hysteria. You cannot imagine a town with more trinketry, souvenirs, junk-for-sale, keychains, and crass t-shirts. Read more
Looking for a new travel dimension? We heard about a local Renaissance Faire from a Groupon and decided to give it a whirl. $20 family pass, 30 minute drive – what could there be to loose? We saw singing, juggling, jousting, a working blacksmith, a pickle vendor with a little cart, dragons galore,
and a soda pub – buy one cool blue bottle of cream soda and get refills all day for a buck – sarsaparilla, root beer …. I don’t imagine we’ll be buying corsets, fairy costumes, or pirate paraphernalia anytime soon (not sure what those things have to do with the Renaissance though they were all present at the Faire), but we had a great time and were inspired to think about other possible options for traveling in time instead of space. We’ll start cheap and easy and then wander further away ….
There are so many cool camps for kids and only a small fraction are commuting distance from your home. Why not enroll your kids in a camp while on vacation? In Seattle there are unique opportunities for sailing and boat-building at the Center for Wooden Boats or rock music at the Experience Music Project. Boston has a sports broadcasters camp and there are plans for a history camp at the newly re-opened Philadelphia History Museum. Where is there a better place to study US history? Chicago International Children’s Film Festival has a film-making summer camp. Of course, some camps are full day but many camps are half-day or even just a few hours per day. Find cool camps wherever you’re going by searching the Internet for your destination or directly visiting the well known museums and attractions at your destination. Note that camps are popular for spring break too. Kids can learn about something they would never be able to learn about at your own home and parents can be tourists at their own pace, take a course themselves, work, exercise, or maybe just relax and read a book.
We signed our girls up for camp at the Mendenhall Glacier this week. They learned Wilderness Survival Skills including map and compass, shelter-building, making a fire, and using a knife. They met local kids from Juneau and learned all sorts of new camp songs. And, ah, the glacier! Pretty cool.