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taking two kids to Europe where to go? March 2010

taking two kids to Europe where to go? March 2010

Mar 31st, 2009, 07:03 PM
  #1  
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taking two kids to Europe where to go? March 2010

I've always turned to the wonderful people on this board for help and I need some ideas again...We'd like to take a big trip with our two kids on a two week trip to somewhere in Europe.

We have two girls - ages 7 and 12. They are great travelers and we often take weekend trips. They make friends easily, try almost any food once and can amuse themselves on/in planes, trains and automobiles. They also have that habit that most kids have of being able to sleep anywhere. We went to New York for the holidays a few months ago, and they actually enjoyed the Met for a few hours, so we can do art museums.

We have a map of Europe on the basement wall and have a list next to it of our 'dream countries' - still in development. To date, included in the list are: Ireland; Scotland, France, Italy, Spain.

My husband, and oldest daughter - are very loyal fans of the t.v. show Top Gear. As a result, my husband came up with the idea of doing a driving tour - landing in Barcelona and driving around to Rome. While it sounds good - just imagine the beauty of that much coastline - but, that's a lot of time in a car, and I would really like to get to Venice this trip. The girls would love the countryside of any of the countries - the Chateau of the Loire, the medieval castles of Ireland or Scotland and the beauty of Tuscany (Siena is a personal favorite of mine that I would love to share with them). Neither my Husband nor I have been to Spain, so that would be a whole new experience for all of us. I honestly think that our kids would be really happy no matter what we do.

We tend to be modest in our travel expenses. Last time in Italy we really enjoyed staying in smaller inns and got the added benefit of spending less money. A picnic of some bread, cheese and salami to economize on food expenditures is actually a treat that we usually use to bring the overall cost of the trip down. We'll pick up basic supplies from a grocery store to have for snacks and breakfast. I expect that we would do the same when our kids are with us.

So here we are, wondering what country(ies) to set our sights on - we would like to begin to focus and get some new ideas that we may not have thought of. Have you taken any good trips with your kids? Can you suggest any particular places that might be a bit 'off radar' that kids would enjoy? Did you have any disasters related to travel with your kids that we could avoid?

thanks for your ideas/suggestions/thoughts and advice!
jujubean is offline  
Mar 31st, 2009, 08:28 PM
  #2  
 
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Jujubean,
If you click on my name you will find some travel reports. Three of them involve traveling in Italy with children.

Henry
Henry is offline  
Mar 31st, 2009, 09:22 PM
  #3  
 
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It sounds like you're making a good start in considering what you and your kids enjoy. I would say that with only 2 or so weeks, you should limit yourselves to two countries, at the most, but preferably one.

Start making lists of the kinds of things you like and want to do, and how you could do that in each of your possible countries. Figure out the best things about previous trips.

About going from Barcelona to Rome, that's a possibility, but it would be a lot of time in the car.

We've taken our son on 3 trips to Europe (for personality-related reasons, our daughter hasn't gone yet - but we're taking her this year). The first trip, we started in London, thinking it would be more familiar. I quickly realized, for him at least, it did not bother him at all to be in a foreign country where he couldn't speak the language.

Trip 1: The most "normal," and iwent to places that DH & I had already been. London, the Loire Valley, then Paris. Son's fave was London, but he had been a big Anglophile for a long time.

Trip 2: Like all our trips, a combination of cities and countryside, which is how we like to vacation in Europe. Also, DS (and us) enjoyed the castles. We bagen in Barcelona (DS, like me, likes art and architecture), then traveled through the Languedoc area of France (castles)(new place for DH and I), the Dordogne (castles), and ended with 2 nights in Paris. Even better than the first trip.

Trip 3: Something new for all of us. Started in Prague, then 10 days in the Czech, Slovak and Hungarian countryside, mostly visiting castles. Ended in Budapest. Educational & interesting.

Trip with DD: She said she just wanted to go to Europe. We love Italy, so we'll return to Italy. She's not a big-city person, so we're making short stays in the big 3, and one week in the Marche.

With kids: as few one-night stay as possible. Limit long car trips. We do lots of historic & cultural activities, and our kids enjoy them. Castles and old homes or buildings are always a hit.
Lexma90 is offline  
Mar 31st, 2009, 11:32 PM
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To take the trip from Spain to Italy in a car you should return the car back to Spain or the repatriation fees will add a great deal to the cost of your vacation.
Taking on the Top Gear theme maybe you should “race” your husband using public transport. Then you will not be in a car all the time!
ribeirasacra is offline  
Apr 1st, 2009, 03:30 AM
  #5  
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Thanks for the link and thoughts. Lexma90, you bring up a good point "iwent to places that DH & I had already been.' I think that I favor Italy and France because I've been there and feel comfortable there. I've already managed travel in the country, so it may not be so stressful for the kids. While it's always nice to see new places sometimes adding a new spin to the old places can be a lot of fun too! But I don't want to 'waste' a trip for my husband and I by going to the same places.....I know, bad attitude.
jujubean is offline  
Apr 1st, 2009, 04:00 AM
  #6  
 
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I know the feeling. I found on our first trip that my son was very comfortable in other places (we've traveled a lot in the U.S., too), so that familiarity on our part didn't matter. We're taking our daughter to familiar places this time primarily because we want to go to those places, too, plus we're including an area we've never been to (Le Marche). It's fun to show the kids places we've enjoyed, but new discoveries are great, too. Consider whether it will be stressful to the kids to visit a place that's new to you - I found that it wasn't to our son!
Lexma90 is offline  
Apr 1st, 2009, 05:23 AM
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Hi, juju,

I would recommend against driving from Barcelona to Rome. I'd go stir crazy in a car on a trip of that distance, and I'm far from being a kid. Plus, the car drop-off charges would be exorbitant. And there are stretches that would be SO boring.

I'd take those kids to the Dordogne and let them enjoy the castles, the caves, canoeing on the rivers, the incredible scenery, the wonderful markets, etc. It's a paradise for kids. If you wanted, you could split the two weeks up and do one in the Dordogne and the other in Provence.
StCirq is online now  
Apr 1st, 2009, 10:49 AM
  #8  
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StCirq,

Yes, a long time in the car. But for me that's not the thing that is off-putting. The tick against it for me is that on a driving tour, you don't get the chance to be in one place and get to know any of the people there, or to get comfortable with the place. You're just another face quickly passing through. And of course, the drop charge on the rental car is certainly a negative when going on the cheap side.

The Dordogne sounds interesting. I have a friend who teaches college French...maybe she could help me get by. I looked it up online and checked my trusty map. I didn't realize that the area had so many castles(no caves for me though - terribly claustrophobic). Are there any particular destinations that you would recommend? The markets sound great to me - and provence sounds nice and warm (at least warmer) at the end of a long winter.

I just spoke with both kids, here's their current dialogue:

my 7 year old: "I want to stay in a place that has curtains on the beds! And I want to play with other kids and see nature and have yummy food."

My 11 year old says: "I want to learn about their culture and stuff and I want to explore the countryside and meet people and see art. I'd like to see how good their pastries are too!" (this from a kid who is skinny as a rail!)

thanks for helping me flush out these ideas - I really do appreciate your advice.
jujubean is offline  
Apr 1st, 2009, 10:54 AM
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juju, just click on my name (or StuDudley) and you'll find days worth of reading about the Dordogne.
StCirq is online now  
Apr 1st, 2009, 11:38 AM
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I'll chime in about the Dordogne. DH and I first visited after reading many great comments by StCirq and others. I looked forward to taking my kids to the area.

The area is gorgeous, great food, interesting historic sites, and amazing prehistoric cave paintings.

DS, who was 10yo when we visited, loved it too. He loved everything we did. The Font du Gaume cave paintings are something he still talks about. He enjoyed the castles - I would say that Beynac, Commarque and Castelnaud (in that order) were his favorites. Commarque is less well-known, and in the woods, but that made it even more special.

Interesting about the markets. When I took him to a market in Paris, when he was 10yo, he was bored. But 2 years later, at the Sarlat market, he had a great time helping us pick out way too much food for a fabulous picnic lunch.

With our son, we stayed right in Sarlat, so we could wander around in the mornings and evenings. We stayed at a B&B on a main square, so we could sit at a cafe in the square, and he could wander around, or just hang out in the room, and join us when he wanted. It worked out very well. Caveat: we visited in late May, when the Sarlat traffic wasn't as heavy as it gets further into the tourist season.

If you want to experience city life, the Dordogne area is easy to combine with Paris or even Barcelona (we did both on our last trip to the area). Or Provence, if you want to visit other more rural areas.
Lexma90 is offline  
Apr 1st, 2009, 01:41 PM
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Wow, great information. Lexma90, we will be traveling during school spring break, usually late March or early April so we should beat the summer crowds. I really like your idea of combining with a trip to Paris or Barcelona. Maybe arrive Paris, spend a couple of days before going South to Dordogne, then take off from Barcelona. Now that's a trip I could sink my teeth into!

Another option that my husband proposed was a trip to Northern Italy. Lake Como and Venice as the highlights. Since he can't have Top Gear, he wants to sail - Barcelona or Lake Como would be great for it - albeit a bit chilly in April!

So many choices so little time!!
jujubean is offline  
Apr 1st, 2009, 02:01 PM
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This may not be up your alley, but my family did a fabulous trip to Alsace when I was a teenager, where we rented a canal boat that we operated ourselves and visited all the little towns along the way (can't remember where we started, but we ended up in Strasbourg). The boat had small bicycles on board, so we could tie up in a village and bicycle off to see the sights. We had to operate the locks ourselves on some parts of the canal, which was great fun (and interesting for kids!). There were castles along the way and great restaurants--and as kids we enjoyed sleeping in bunks on the boat. We were on the boat for maybe 5 days and then rented a car to explore other parts of France and ended our trip in Switzerland. Very memorable!
jspen is offline  
Apr 1st, 2009, 02:09 PM
  #13  
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I'll bet it might be economical in a way - yeah the boat rental would be painful, but then your meals could be home cooked and hotel is paid for.
jujubean is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2009, 04:46 AM
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Hi Jujubean: Why noy try a bike tour with the kids in one of the countries you would like to visit. More fun seeing small villages on a bike than sitting in a car. We did a bike tour with our kids back a few years ago and they loved it and there are plenty of places to stay with curtains on the bed. I suggest you call or email Duvine Adventures. You can join a family tour or they will set you up with a self guided tour. Enjoy! Larry
suelarry2 is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2009, 05:41 AM
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Hi - this is for lexma90 - I would love your Trip 2 outline, I am taking my son next summer and have just started to plan it! thanks
phyllisnovotny is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2009, 07:08 AM
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We rented a self-drive boat on the Canal du Midi (setting out not far over Spanish border, i.e. pretty close to Barcelona and going as far as Carcassone before turning back) -- really had great time moving at our own pace, managing the locks, etc. We picked Midi because we did it first week in May and thought it would be warmer that far south. It was fine then, but March/April might be chilly? Friend booked it -- through Connoisseur Cruises, I think? They had a US rep for ease of booking.
skibumette is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2009, 07:16 AM
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We were in Alsace last year during spring break( mid-April) and it was very cold and raw there. We enjoyed our visit but think the weather would cause problems with kids who want to be outside a lot. During the same trip it snowed in London and we wore gloves in Paris. Just a heads up regarding the time you are planning to travel to Europe.
HappyTrvlr is online now  
Apr 2nd, 2009, 07:40 AM
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I have a few thoughts about your trip. We have 4 kids and have taken them to Europe twice. We are planning a trip this summer with them to Ireland and Great Britain. We have a similar philosophy of staying in smaller places, eating picnics, etc.

One thing I would recommend is to go to two or three different types of places. For example, on our first trip we spent 4 nights in Switzerland at a B and B in the countryside, rented a car, drove alot to sights. Very relaxing. We took a cheap flight to Rome for the last 4 nights. Completely different experience. Busy, chaos, exciting. We loved them both, and it was fun to see such different places. Even the way the kids were treated was different. In Switzerland, people seemed to expect kids to be seen, not heard. We arrived in Rome where people were stopping us on the street to touch one of our kids blond hair and oohing and aahing over "so many wonderful children!"
What i mean by all this is that i would not go to 2 big cities or only do countryside the whole trip.

We personally like to take those budget flights like ryanair or easyjet, etc between countries. It allows you to quickly and sometimes very cheaply get from one spot to another. Taking a train is a good idea, too. I personally would only rent a car for more rural areas. I would hate to try to drive in Paris, Rome, or any other large city.

Our second trip we did 2 weeks in France. We spent a week in an apartment in Paris, then split the second week between the Dordogne and Provence. If I had to do again I would choose just one place that second week. We tried to do too much.

I agree with Lexma90 that Sarlat/Dorgogne are fabulous. Our highlight of the entire 2 weeks was the day we spent canoeing down the Dordogne River. We have never even done this in the states, but it was great. We stopped at Castelnaud, ate our picnic by the river, and climbed all the way up to the castle. I will also add that we also had the biggest language barrier in the Dordogne. We got by on my high school level french just fine, but if I had not known basic french, it could have been difficult.

We stayed in Sarlat at La Villa des Consuls (excellent reviews on tripadvisor). Sarlat was truly magical to stay in the old section. If you go, don't miss a market day.

My last thought is that your kids will like anywhere you go. If you and your hubbie are happy, they will generally be happy. If I ask them now their opinions, I get funny answers like "no I didn't really like normandy because remember I got that burned pizza." If I ask their favorite thing in Provence I get "playing with that kitten at the b&b we stayed at." It is not that they have zero appreciation for what we would consider the sights, it is just that they enjoy things for different reasons. My child who was five when we went to Rome would say his favorite thing was chasing pigeons in front of St. Peter's. I would personally choose where you and your husband are most interested in and will not be stressed. But even the best planned trips will have problems and even minor catastrophes. the things we enjoyed the least we love to talk and laugh about now.

You really can't lose no matter where you go. You will always cherish the adventures you had with your girls.
donnaS is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2009, 10:51 AM
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phyllisnovotny -

My trip report for that trip was very detailed, because another fodorite was visiting the Dordogne with her son shortly after our trip, so I included MANY details. It's in 3 parts (I hope these links come out correctly):

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...al-variety.cfm (Barcelona, Girona, Figueres)

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...ic-restaur.cfm (Languedoc & the Dordogne area)

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...-more-food.cfm (Paris)

I also sent an email to Fodor's, asking them to tag those reports under my profile, so you may be able to access them that way.
Lexma90 is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2009, 11:00 AM
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Ever since visiting the Dordogne I have fantasized about somehow having the dough to treat my sister's family and my godchildren and their folks to a trip. It is a wonderful destination--kids would love it. I'm a hard-living, city-slicking adult and I loved it.

We visited in late March, early April. You won't be canoeing then, but it was still very enjoyable. We combined it with a number of days in Paris. I did a trip report under my old screen name:

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...rip-report.cfm

Have fun, wherever you decide to go.
Leely2 is offline  

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