Food: The Best Part

I think it is time to write about food.  For me, this is always the best part of traveling.  Our traveling companions-Dave and Jelena-are also food travelers.  We certainly enjoy eating food, but there is much more to it than this.  We like discussing food, finding the great local spots, visiting markets and making food.

I thought that this aspect of a our traveling experience would be somewhat compromised by having to consider the needs of our kids.  This certainly happened to an extent.  I have never in my life eaten more ice-cream or purchased as many popsicle thingys as I have on this trip.  As much as I like ice-cream, I am thoroughly sick of the stuff.  However, I appreciate how it allowed us to easily fill in the gaps on those hot afternoons dragging the kids from one attraction to another.

Our meals, on the whole, have been very good and occasionally delightful and surprising.   The kids have been willing to try everything….with a little coercion, I must admit…but isn’t that par for the course with young kids?  They have tasted cold lobster soup, cuttlefish, deliciously prepared duck with crispy apples, fois gras, raw fish parfaits, and loads of sweet pastries and croissants.  We only ate McDonalds once the whole time on this trip, and even that tasted good.  the best part was that this McDonald’s was under the majestic eyes of the apostles of Gaudi’s famous Segrotta Familia in Barcelona.  What a place to enjoy chicken nuggets!

The restaurant food in Barcelona was only okay  by my standards.  We tried tapas at a local pub (too many anchovies, mini-sausages, and pieces of soggy tomato bread for my liking)…tapas at a recommended, higher-end restaurant (the grilled squid was the best and the tomato bread was decidedly better than the pub fare)…and a seafood feast, also at a recommended higher-end restaurant (very expensive, nice selection, but salty!).  These experiences were good but left me very glad that our apartment had a decent kitchen and that we had access to an excellent local market.

We created the best meals of the Barcelona leg of the trip, bar none.  Dave and Jelena discovered the wonderful San Antoni market, full of fish and vegetable vendors.  It was only three metro stops away from our apartment, which made it easy for us to shop for our evening meal.  I usually made the kids an early meal of pasta or something like that before going to work on the adult portion of the evening with Jelena. Dave and Steve sourced out the wine for the evening, which was very cheap and good.  The best meal we created was a seafood risotto.  It took a lot of fumbling in pseudo Spanish and sign language to get the spices, fish bones for the broth, proper rice and all the seafood for this dish.  I thought that I had ruined it by adding too much dried hot pepper, but it was really very nice and we had done it all on our own…quite an effort!  It was during this meal that Landon discovered he loves scampi, prawns and shrimp too.

We expected our best meals to come in France, and we were correct.  Montpellier held some of the nicest surprises for us.  We ate the most delicious pizza that we have ever had, for one.  I am strictly forbidden from mentioning the name of the pizzeria for fear that it will become mainstream, but I will state for the record that onion confit and creme fraiche taste amazing on a pizza.  

We decided to go all out for a meal while in Montpellier, too.  We went to an ultra fancy restaurant and held our breath when faced with the eighty euro fixed price menu.  Let me be clear…that is 80 euros per person.  And we had Landon and Quentin with us, both of whom were not in the mood to sit around.  It could have been a bad scene, but it worked out brilliantly.  Our waiters were more than generous with us, creating some special items for our kids when we hadn’t even requested this.   Each course was delicious and paired perfectly with local wines.  We were thoroughly spoiled right to the end, when they filled up our table with chocolates, pastries and ice-cream.  Then came the bill…and they charged us nearly half of what we were expecting.  It came out to 45 euros each for the three adults, and nothing for the kids.  We still don’t understand what happened there.  It was a bargain for what we had.  Pretty nice.

Everything continues to go well in the food department.  We enjoyed the food in Alsace.  We only stayed there for a day, but found a reliable breakfast cafe, patisserie, and a higher-end restaurant serving French-style cuisine.  Today we were in Luxembourg City and Trier, Germany.  We didn’t really try very hard to find good food.  In fact, we ended up having ice cream for dinner.  Not exactly what I wanted, but hopefully it won’t happen again.

Tomorrow we’re back in the Hague.  I can’t believe we’re almost at the end here.  To be honest, I’m glad.  I am definitely homesick and miss my kitchen.

Barcelona Beaches: Our Experience

We had two beach experiences while staying in Barcelona.  the first was right in the city itself.  Barcelona has extensive sandy beaches, all of which were formal industrial lands rescued before the Olympics about 14 years ago.  Now, these beaches are absolutely crammed full of half naked people.  The sand blows everywhere because most of it is never covered by the tides. Still, the water was invitingly warm and blue.  The kids had a blast being tossed around by the waves, which were a little too strong for my comfort level.

The second beach experience was in a little town called Vilanova.  We got on a commuter train not too far from our apartment and rode for about 45 minutes outside of Barcelona.  I love the Metro system in Barcelona.  It is a little confusing at times, but you can pretty much get anywhere you need for very little money.  

Anyway, Vilanova was a nice little beach town.  Most of the shops were closed for whatever reason, so it had a bit of an abandoned feel, but the beaches were awesome and not too busy.  The water was much more shallow and the waves were perfect for the boys.  They could have played there all day, but it was just too darned hot!  Despite all of our efforts to defend ourselves from the sun, we still ended up a bit burned.  Stephen was hit the worst…his big, white back was just too much of a temptation for the sun, I suppose!  Even a few days later, he is still complaining and has been unable to wear his fancy European man-purse.

Landon let us know that it was the best day in the whole trip so far.  It would have been nice to get them back there another time, but we will have lots of days like that at Grandma Meanie and Grandpa Jim’s, I’m thinking.

In Paris with Two Sick Kids Continued!

So…since my last update, we have had one more kid come down with the fever and one adult as well (Stephen).  Fortunately, it only lasts for around 24 hours before passing.  Poor Landon had the worst of it.  We dragged him around Paris with the best of intentions…better to get some fresh air than stay cooped up in a crummy hotel room, right?  We really tried.  We tried carrying him when we were not sure how far it was between stops…we let him nap on my lap in a pleasant churchyard for an hour or so while Quentin chased pigeons….we tried.
Bastille Day celebrations ended up causing us some problems when we attempted to get back to our room.  All of the fuss around the dignitaries caused known routes to be blocked, which in turn caused us to try alternate courses of action, which in turn caused our feverish son to break down and cry.  We fruitlessly searched for needed bathrooms and even tried to visit the famous Jardin du Luxembourg in the hopes that the kids might have a chance to push around toy boats in the big fountain, something we knew they would love to do.  It took us over an hour to get there, and of course, the toy boat renter was just closing shop by the time we got there.  No amount of pleading moved him.  We were out of luck.  In the distance, we saw children riding ponies.  We gave that a shot.  Alas, we witnessed the last pony ride of the evening and had to drag Quentin away from the ponies sobbing.  Not far away, we saw a carousel and made a run for it.  It would do.  We waited for our turn and…you guessed it…it was the last run of the day.  Even the slides were closed up for the day.  We carried our exhausted children out of the park and began looking for a taxi.  A friendly cyclist noticed
that we seemed a little lost and gave us some advice for locating a taxi.  After some wandering, we finally did manage to get one.  The taxi driver was pretty interesting…he hit a bus just to teach the driver not to cut him off and told us of how he did the same to two cyclists, who needed to be taught a lesson about how to respect the rules of the road in Paris.
Thankfully, we made it home safe and sound, Landon burning up with fever and the rest of us tired and hungry.  Chinese take-out never tasted so good, even in Paris.
The next day, our final day in Paris, was more productive as the kids were finally in the 36 degree range.  We visited the tower one more time, gave some food away to a beggar from Bolivia who targets English tourists, bought the kids a couple of cheap souvenirs and attempted to view the Bastille Day activities when the heavens opened up.  The down pour was appropriately dramatic.  My favorite moment was rushing the ids under a restaurant awning at the same time a motorcyclist  had the same idea.  After the kids stopped panicking, we had time to take in the humor of the situation, appreciate the fury of the rain, take a couple of photos and make a run for the next awning.  
We squeezed in the nicest meal of the trip so far, a visit to the Museum of Modern Art, and a return trip to the the Jardin (also unsuccessful) before departing to Barcelona on the evening train.
All I have to say about the Paris experience is that we made it and know that pharmacies and decent medical care are easy to find, whilst bathrooms and decent activities for young children are not.  
I’ll wait a couple of days before reporting on our adventures in BBarcelona.  Did I mention that our laptop was marinated in orange juice while touring Paris on our final day?  Ah yes…it was just that kind of an adventure!  So…no more photos for a while.  Stephen, Dave and Jelena are swabbing the dismantled laptop as I speak.

Touring Paris with Two Sick Kids

Screen shot 2010-07-13 at 11.27.48 PMDuring our final night in Den Haag, Quentin developed a high fever.  Stephen and I were up most of the night with him, trying to figure out how to convert adult medications into child appropriate doses, as we had not thought to bring simple things like children’s Tylenol or Advil.  Note: this should be first on the list when planning for packing to any destination away from home.  Murphy’s Law forbids that you forget!

During that same night, I also had a revelation about Landon’s strange “virus”.  A couple of days before this revelation, I was fretting about the appearance of a strange grouping of blisters on his leg.  My first thought was that they were resulting from a spider bite.  Then they expanded and started appearing in different locations on his leg and on his arm as well.  This made me think that they might be viral.  They eventually popped and seemed to be crusting over.  When strange spots kept appearing in clusters near the original spots, it came to was a bacterial infection.  Then I panicked.  We needed to get the kids to the doctor, but we were leaving on the high speed train first thing in the morning.

What a crazy morning we had!  We ran to catch the tram to the train station bound for Rotterdam, with me carrying poor exhausted Quentin.  Screen shot 2010-07-13 at 11.27.34 PMSteve pulled the extra bags and Landon–covered with about 8 different bandages–pulled his own.  We literally got on the train just before it pulled away.  Another thing worth considering when travelling in Europe by train is that they seem to have no elevators and even a lack of escalators.  We struggled with this in Den Haag, Rotterdam (up and down two large flights of stairs with 3 cases and Quentin) and eventually Paris as well.  Anyway, we met up with Dave and Jelena (who make it by the skin of their collective teeth), boarded the high speed train and zoomed off to Paris.

Screen shot 2010-07-13 at 11.28.19 PMBy the time we made it to Paris, Landon was looking pretty tired too.  We navigated the complicated Metro system with Dave’s expertise and then exited onto Rue St. Germain, a couple of kilometres from our destination.  We were all exhausted by then, but struggled on!  Luckily Paris has no shortage of pharmacies.  We were able to pick up some Children’s Advil along the way.  We reached our hotel and came up with our plans for the day.  First on the list: take Landon to the doctor and let Quentin sleep.

Landon ended up at Children’s Hospital here.  They don’t fool around.  He did have a bacterial infection and needed antibiotics.  Quentin rested and that carried us to the evening.  We are really close to the Eiffel Tower, so wandered down there for our first look in that night.  It was a nice ending to the day, despite everything.

I’ll continue my report of our trials later.  We’re packing for Barcelona.

Final Days in Den Haag

Screen shot 2010-07-11 at 12.29.30 PMI’m writing this update while watching the final World Cup game.  Landon has gone with his daddy and friends Dave and Rohan to watch the game in a small town outside of The Hague.  Public viewings of the game are limited in The Hague, so they needed to travel outside in order to get the experience of an expectant Dutch crowd.  Should be quite memorable for him.

We have had fun these past few days, despite some trouble sleeping and a few worries about Quentin’s tummy and a weird virus that Landon had managed to pick up.  I easily get stressed out about these kinds of things, but they passed without incident.  It can be difficult to know when to really worry sometimes!

We visited beaches along the North Sea yesterday.  They were crowded with casinos, over-priced beach restaurants, and tanned sun-bathers.  Lots of them.  Screen shot 2010-07-11 at 12.30.17 PMThe kids had a blast running and chasing the waves, but I couldn’t help but note the garbage floating in the water (not just one, but two sanitary napkins, plus a colourful assortment of food packaging) and the not-quite-real beach scape.  In the distance we could see grass covered dunes, but we decided that our efforts were a bit of a sunk cost at that point.  The kids didn’t mind, so therefore it was no big deal for us too.

Screen shot 2010-07-11 at 12.30.40 PMAfter a beach visit, we back-tracked along the tram route to a more quaint, historical beach area for lunch (Kaiserstrasse, I think).  I just couldn’t stomach spending any of our money at the casino restaurants!  It was all decked out with orange flags and had a nice vibe.  It was definitely the right choice.

We have really tested Landon and Quentin’s endurance over the last couple of days, too.  They have easily walked over ten kilometers.  Screen shot 2010-07-11 at 12.40.40 PMNot bad for little guys.  They are pretty used to walking from our routines at home, but it has been so hot and humid here.  We have toured on foot all around the centre of Den Haag and have been out to their famous mini-Netherland attraction, Madurodam. I was expecting it to be corny, but it was actually pretty impressive.  It would be a good place to visit before touring the Netherlands as it rendered many (if not all) of the countries most famous attractions in miniature and then gave a basic history of each. Screen shot 2010-07-11 at 12.31.28 PM The kids were the most impressed, however, by the giant fish prowling the mini canals.

Well, tomorrow we are off early to catch the high speed train from Rotterdam to Paris.  Quentin will finally get the chance to see the real Eiffel Tower!  He has expertly identified every power line tower he has seen over the past two month as the Eiffel Tower.  We’re only there for two days, so we’ll be packing in all that we can.

Halftime score:  0-0

To Europe with Kids: A Day at Delft

Screen shot 2010-07-10 at 1.59.46 AMWe herded the kids out the door with plenty of water and sunscreen and boarded the tram to Delft early yesterday morning.  It was the first test of our kids’ tolerance for city touring.  We completely expected to have to avoid entering gloomy old churches and endlessly walking through quaint neighbourhoods.

Surprisingly, it was the boys who wanted to explore Delft’s “new” cathedral (completed 500 years ago), one of the city’s towering landmarks.  When we entered the city’s central square, the boys took off running after pigeons (a favourite pass time) until they heard the church bells ringing.  It was Quentin who suggested we go take a look inside the church to find those bells, and so away we went.

Screen shot 2010-07-10 at 2.21.08 AMWe let the kids take the camera, as I thought it might help them decide on what was the most beautiful or interesting things to them, instead of feeling as though they were being dragged around passively.  It worked quite well.  They were the most interested in the “dead people buried in the floor”.   We passed on as much information as we thought they would tolerate.  The elaborate tomb of murdered Willem of Orange…the two centuries and sacrifices it took to build the church…the ancient bibles.  Anyway, they were surprisingly intrigued by the place and took it in for about a half an hour.  I wanted to leave before they had a chance to discover that they could be bored!

Screen shot 2010-07-10 at 2.35.43 AMThe rest of the day was just as nice.  We had a very relaxed lunch.  Landon fed half of his lunch to a brown pigeon that he decided he wanted as a pet.  He schemed away for the rest of the day about how he was going to catch it.  Actually, I never considered pigeons as a great diversion for young kids, but we now know that if we can’t find a play park, it is easy to find an open square and a bunch of hungry pigeons in Europe.

After the pigeons, we tried our luck at a second old cathedral, this one predating the first by 300 years.  Quentin was wary of this one, despite the fact that it was considerably brighter than the first.  I thought that maybe the graves were getting to him.  Landon didn’t see the logic in this, and pointed out, “Why should he be afraid of something that is already dead?”  That is a typical Landon response, to let you know.  Quentin let us know that it was the music that was so scary.  We look a quick glance around, let the kids hover over an interesting grave for a while, and left.

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As you can see from the photo above, we also purchased a couple of soccer shirts for the kids.  Stephen couldn’t resist and the kids definitely have a degree of world cup fever.  He also bought a couple of flags which, to my chagrin, play the Dutch national anthem every time you wave them around.  Oddly, it seems as though our kids are the only kids (or people, for that matter) that are all decked out for Sunday’s game.  The Dutch are a pretty conservative lot, I suppose?  Anyway, many people found it amusing to see a couple little Dutch patriots wandering around playing the national anthem, waving flags and sporting the national soccer jersey.  I kept hoping no one would try to speak to them, as I don’t know how they would feel if they found out that our kids can’t speak a lick of Dutch!

In all, it was a great day and has made me all the more hopeful that this travelling with kids is really a good idea.  I have even seen briefly into a future where we travel every summer and explore more of the world together.  It is a nice thought.

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To Europe with Kids: Day 1

I’m going to be taking a little break from all of my educational musings.  I’m on vacation!

I was apprehensive about this trip at first.  To me, it didn’t make sense to spend thousands of dollars to drag our kids half way around the world only to keep them busy in all the same ways…hopping from playground to playground, avoiding churches and museums in favour of zoos and aquariums, and seeking out space for them to simply run around and be little kids.

Screen shot 2010-07-08 at 9.40.42 AM I was right to question the idea, although I forgot about the pure anticipation and excitement of the journey itself.   The boys were so thrilled to be travelling across the planet to Europe that I couldn’t help but feel excited myself.  I haven’t felt that way in ages.   And although this first day of our trip was an incredibly long and tiring one, it was fun and meaningful because Landon and Quentin were experiencing it all for the first time, without fear or disappointment.  And I have to confess that fear and disappointment are two rather large wet blankets that I have been known to carry around with me whilst embarking on or experiencing travel.  I am glad to say that, although I considered bringing them along for the journey, I left them behind this time.

Screen shot 2010-07-08 at 9.40.03 AMSo…here we are in our first evening in Den Haag.  Both Stephen and I fought to keep our eyes open from the time of our arrival at 9:00 until now.  We engaged in some fun park hopping to keep the kids happy (as I anticipated) and had a great meal at Crunch, which is a little cafe only a hop, skip and a jump from Dave and Jelena’s place.  Quentin particularly loved the tomato basil soup.

Photos: The first picture is from the beginning of our journey.  We decided to take the West Coast Express into Vancouver and then connect up to the Canada line (which goes straight to YVR).  Will definitely do that again!  It was fun for the kids and amazingly stress free!

The second photo was taken in a neighbourhood square just up the street from Dave and Jelena’s.  A local boy parked his inflatable pool in the fountain and was soon joined by a heap of squealing kids, including Landon and Quentin.  Definitely the highlight of the day.