Posts Tagged ‘family travel’

Family Dinosaur Discovery

Monday, January 24th, 2011


Assisting at a fossil site

Your chance to assist at a fossil site comes July 30 - Aug 5, 2011, on our Family Dinosaur Discovery.

This July, our newest summer family vacation, Familly Dinosaur Discovery, includes a slew of western adventures from dinosaur excavations and rafting on Colorado River, to hiking in the Colorado National Monument and horseback riding. You’ll even get to prepare fossils in a professional lab.

But July’s still a few months away. Until then, you can check out the dinosaurs right from your computer, on Smithsonian magazine’s Dinosaur Tracking blog.

Family Dining in Florence

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Guest Blogger William J. Higgins, FAIA is an architect with 37 years of worldwide experience, has practiced in 10 different countries, and has traveled through more than 20 countries across Europe, Asia and North America. He is contributor to two recent books: International Practice for Architects and Founder’s Folly. He has a Masters of Architecture degree from Harvard University, a Bachelor’s Degree from Louisiana State University, and has taught at Stanford University. He is a founding Principal of Architecture International, Ltd. and was a Principal of The Architects Collaborative, Inc. Here, he shares some advice on dining in Florence.

Diners at a Cafe in Florence

Diners at a cafe in Florence

Florence is an Italian jewel box filled with iconic art, glorious architecture, flavorful food, and rich wine. Therefore, finding a suitable family-friendly trattoria that would welcome a two-year-old and seat a table of seven adults seemed a formidable challenge, but we were fortunate that several candidates were located in our new Santa Croce neighborhood and we tried Pizzeria I Ghibellini located just a few blocks from the family apartments.

We had just ordered a family meal of the famous hearty and filling ribollita bread soup and beef lasagna when Amelia, our toddler niece, began to demonstrate how terrible the “terrible twos” could be. Admittedly, the dining hour was late, but this was Italy after all, and while all the adults sipped wine or beer and talked while waiting for our supper, Amelia had nothing to do. Eventually she became quite animated and even agitated, perhaps due to hunger. She started pounding on the table with her fork, and yelling, “Dingle hopper! Dingle hopper!” Amelia had recently seen Disney’s film The Little Mermaid about thirty times in which, you may recall, the fork is called a dingle hopper.

We, of course, thought it was quite amusing and a sign of future brilliance that she knew the Little Mermaid word for fork, so we smiled, kept sipping, and talked over her yelps. But as the clamor continued the amusement wore off, especially for the waitress. She came over to our table, crossed her arms over her generous form, and peered down at little Amelia, with a silent stare that needed no translation. Our bambina slowly dropped her fork on the table and slinked underneath it to be in the protection of her father’s legs. When our food arrived, we all wolfed our dinners, retrieved our dear little mermaid, and then retreated to the safety of the nearest gelateria.

On our different treks to Florence, I always tried to plan our dinner meals to be a short walk from our hotel, in deference to the advanced ages of our parents. Buca dell’Orafo, near the Ponte Vecchio, is one of those restaurants and one of the many cellars or buca-type eateries beloved by Florentines. An orafo is a goldsmith and the buca, “hole in the wall,” was once part of an old goldsmith’s shop. One interesting aspect of this dining experience is their custom of placing full, large carafes of wine on the table and charging customers according to how much wine has been consumed from the carafe. Saluté!

We dined family style on thin, silky, bicolored fettuccine with porcini mushrooms followed by bistecca alla fiorentina, the traditional grilled steak preparation of Florence. We passed the wine carafe, poured, relaxed, and had a wonderful meal in this unusual and delightful buca.

There are high water levels on the walls of this below-ground restaurant, marking the great flood of 1966. During this epic storm caused by days of heavy rain, Florence was engulfed in a colossal natural disaster as the Arno River rose above its banks and went cascading through the city streets. Today, you can see the high water marks along the restaurant walls at your standing head height. Many tourists seek out the Buca for its warm atmosphere and traditional recipes but they should check the weather forecast for rain before they go.

On the Oltrarno side of the Arno, we had dinner at the Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, or White Boar. The restaurant nestles on the ground floor of a 13th-century tower and judging from the buzz inside, does a good repeat business of locals and tourists alike. We were ushered into the first of its two cozy rooms by one of the owners. The dining room has exposed stone, wood tables, odd and old iron implements hanging everywhere, and lights that evoke a medieval mystery. Our two young waiters, Massimo and Marco, were friendly, English-speaking, and very professional. They were both quite enchanted with my mother-in-law and her Italian cheekbones and they spent the night charming us with their flamboyant style.

Cinghiale Biancois a comfortable restaurant with genuine Tuscan food. We savored our meal which started with taglierini with pesto, and was followed with a family style platter of tender and savory grilled meats. My father-in-law seemed to have the best dish of the night, the Tagliata con Rucola e Parmigiano, which was a perfectly cooked New York cut beef steak served with arugula dressed in olive oil and shaved parmesan. He protested in his usual manner that it was too much to eat, but the waiters egged him on and he finished it in grand style, washed down with a beer.

Where do you like to dine with family? Please share.

Ready to dine Florentine-style? Click here for our journeys to Florence.

Dinosaurs at the Smithsonian

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010
T-Rex at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC

T. rex at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Recently, 7-year-old Aidan Isenstadt of Elkridge, MD, found a dinosaur jawbone at Dinosaur Park in nearby Laurel, MD.  Since 2009, park officials have allowed the public to dig for fossils there; nine-year-old Gabrielle Bock also found a dinosaur tailbone there.

So what’s the best way to treat your own kids to some hands-0n discovery? Check our our brand-new Planet Earth and Beyond Smithsonian family adventure right here in Washington, DC. You and your kids (aged 9 to 12) can spend four days here at the Smithsonian, learning about science, nature, exploration, and discovery from Smithsonian’s scientists and experts.

Teaching Moments with Our Kids

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

A child works on a photography project at the Smithsonian Institution.

Every family vacation is an opportunity for parents to show off how much we really know about the world to our kids, right? We all remember dozing off in the back of the station wagon to our own parents’ teaching moments. This year, we’re introducing  our own teaching moments – including a new Smithsonian Photo Safari, where families with kids aged 9-12 have the opportunity to experience the Smithsonian in a unique way. Families will explore Washington, cameras at the ready, while also learning about photography and darkroom techniques, photo composition and ethics, and getting behind the scenes at the Smithsonian with our photography experts. Among other things, our tour includes a photo excursion to the National Zoo, where we’ll be capturing the texture, color, and movement of the animals.Which makes a parent wonder, “What kernels of knowledge will I have to share with my kid?”

To make sure you are prepared to impress, here are some crazy facts you can whip out while exploring the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park.

1. Bats can eat up to 3,000 insects in one night! They are also the only mammal that can truly fly.

2. A large python can grow up to 20 feet long and can eat a goat whole. Plus, the females are usually bigger than the males.

3. There are some species of frogs that can glide up to 50 feet through the air. Other frogs, like the Poison Dart Frog, have toxins in their skins that can kill it’s predators, including small mammals and even humans.

4. It is difficult to distinguish a tiger from a lion without its fur, but the tiger is the only cat with striped fur.

5. Some hummingbirds are so tiny, they weigh less than a penny.

If you’d like to share your photography addiction with your kids (or your kids are addicted already), check out this summer’s Smithsonian Photo Safari in Washington, D.C.

What’s your favorite quirky animal fact? Please share.

A Grand Entry to Venice

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Guest Blogger William J. Higgins, FAIA is an architect with 37 years of worldwide experience, has practiced in 10 different countries, and has traveled through more than 20 countries across Europe, Asia, and North America. He is contributor to two recent books: International Practice for Architects and Founder’s Folly. He has a Masters of Architecture degree from Harvard University, a Bachelor’s Degree from Louisiana State University, and has taught at Stanford University. He is a founding Principal of Architecture International, Ltd and was a Principal of The Architects Collaborative, Inc. Here, he shares a tale of arriving in Venice with family.

Venice's Grand Canal. Photo: William J. Higgins

Venice’s Grand Canal. Photo: William J. Higgins

The anticipation built as we approached Venice from Mestre along the narrow causeway. Entering magical Venice by car through the depressingly ugly square, Piazzale Roma, with its hulking parking garage and lines of buses, seems an unfair, cruel introduction to a glittering city. How can this be the gateway to ethereal Venice? But here we are, a family of eight in two rental cars, among the motorists who are naïve enough to endure the long lines at the Piazzale Roma garage.

Having been advised by good friends about the Venice parking challenge, I thought I understood the system. I proceeded to guide my rental car and my sister-in-law’s car behind me to the toll both of the main garage. Upon approaching, I took the parking ticket, and in my best Italian, told the booth attendant that we had two cars and we wished to park near each other. He forwarded me on to the garage attendant, who was the one in charge of our destiny. As I pulled forward and addressed the attendant, I could tell that he had already started to negotiate with me. First, he told me that there were no spaces for any cars. But we had just taken the entry ticket!

Remembering the advice of our friends, I flashed a few thousand lire (this was during the B.E. period, Before Euro). He paused and then waved me on to the left. I did not move. I said that we also had a second car right behind me with more family members including Il Bambina (my then two-year-old niece). He smiled, paused, smiled again, paused, and it was then that I realized that a few additional lire were necessary. After palming his hand with more lire, he walked with our cars to two parking spaces in the far corner of the garage that were now empty due to the absence of the owners who were on holiday. I pulled in and my-sister-in-law pulled in next to me. Voilá! We had technically arrived in Venice. Well, almost.

Our family ranged in age from two to eighty-two and we scurried off to catch the next vaporetto (water bus) to our much anticipated destination, the Piazza San Marco. Towing luggage, we approached the queue for the next vaporetto and were informed by the dock personnel that the next boat to Piazza San Marco was now at the boarding dock to the left. En masse, we moved toward the incoming water bus, each of us scurrying along with our luggage. My father-in-law, Rus, being the gentleman that he is, was carrying his tote bag and that of my mother-in-law. On rusty replaced knees, he was shuffling along the best his eighty-year old legs and three-year old knees would take him.

View of the Grand Canal. Photo: William J. Higgins.

View of the Grand Canal. Photo: William J. Higgins.

As we boarded the vaporetto, Rus was directly behind us and about ready to step onto the boat when the young macho attendant suddenly closed the shin-high gate. The boat immediately pulled from the dock and Rus, loaded with luggage, nearly stepped into the brown murky water of the Grand Canal. My wife yelled, “Papa!” as the vaporetto motored its way down the canal to Piazza San Marco. We all looked at each other and wondered, “Would we ever see dear Papa again?”

Our attention was soon drawn to the Grand Canal and the great scene ahead of us. Boats and vaparetti were motoring every which way along the canal like cars on a street, except there were no lanes or stop signs. We had never experienced anything so captivating. The emotion, the thrill, and the wonder of entering Venice by boat was powerful. Here we were cruising in a vaporetto looking out onto streets that were flooded. Unreal. I glanced over at my Mom, mother-in-law, and wife and saw happy anticipation reflect on their faces as they gazed at the majesty of the Byzantine and Renaissance villas that flanked the Grand Canal. It was like a parade of architectural gems, except that we were the moving float.

Then I looked at my toddler niece, who was carefully cradled between her parents, and saw a special amazement in her eyes, as if she were entering Disneyland for the first time. I wondered what was going through her head, and all I could think of was awesome delight. She was nothing but beaming smiles and welcoming innocence. That is how you should enter Venice.

Upon our arrival at Piazza San Marco, we anxiously waited for the Papa, not knowing if he really knew at which stop to disembark. Many fretful minutes passed before we saw him arriving on the next boat, positioned at the helm, waving to us with a broad grin and filled with the same sense of joy that we had. Papa had arrived in Venice! We all then walked along the Calle Larga XXII Marzo to our quaint hotel a few blocks away, the Hotel Flora. Upon check-in, we immediately went to the nearest café for a beer to relax our feet, and our nerves.

Ready for your own Venetian adventure? Click here for all our journeys to Venice.

What’s your favorite city? Please share.