Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Top 10 Kid-Friendly Things to See and Do - Part 2

This is a little backwards, I realize, but following is the second half of the list of Salome's favorite stops and adventures from our world trip. See the previous post for the first half of the list.

6. Mountain Hut near Schladming, Austria. A short hike up the mountain took us to the "hut," which was actually a small, very charming restaurant run by a friendly family. The food and drink were good, we toasted with shots of a local liqueur with Austrians who spoke little English, and after a while, the owner broke out his accordion and dancing ensued. But all of this doesn't explain why Salome loved it. Not only was there a pen full of rabbits and guinea pigs for her to play with, but she got to spend the afternoon with some kids her age, a rarity on our trip. She also loved to feed the donkeys on a nearby farm, until we ran out of apples and they brayed at us in what she took to be a threatening manner.

7. Estancia, outside Buenos Aires, Argentina. Salome looked like a natural in her bright red serape as she galloped along the trails of the ranch land about an hour outside Buenos Aires. We spent three hours on horseback in the morning, enjoyed a delicious barbecue lunch on the lawn outside the ranch house, followed by three more hours of riding in the afternoon. Salome loved every minute of our estancia visit, and had no thought of missing the afternoon ride in favor of a siesta in one of the hammocks that swayed invitingly in the sunshine. (I thought hard about it, but in the end went along for the ride.)

8. Feeding pigeons in Krakow's main market square. I never would have believed that Salome could spend so much time feeding pigeons. We bought pretzel rings from vendors on the cobbled square, which was surrounded by two- and three-story buildings on all sides, including Krakow's beautiful cathedral at one corner. Us adults drank coffee or beer, and watched the people and horse-drawn carriages pass by, as Salome got to know the pigeons so well she even named some of them.

9. Hyde Park, London. Lots of walking trails through woods, a lake with swans, a children's play area with all kinds of imaginative climbing structures, and even a Peter Pan statue. How can a kid go wrong?

10. Ranthambore National Park, India. There's not much to do in Sawai Madhopur, the small town outside the entrance to one of India's premier national parks, other than ride through the park in either open-topped buses, or jeeps, looking for elusive wild tigers. On our first two safaris, we saw plenty of monkeys, deer and bison, and even a crocodile, but no sign of tigers other than some prints in the soft dust at the side of the road. But on our third foray, Ava alertly spotted a flash of orange in the brush, and our jeep headed cross-country. We followed the tiger for a half hour or so, and at one point got within about 10 feet of her. She walked toward us languidly, yawned, and then turned away. Being in an open jeep, we were a bit nervous, but thrilled at the same time. We also watched from further away as she stalked a bison.

I'd love to hear about your kids' favorite travel spots, either in the U.S. or anywhere in the world.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Kid's Perspective - Top 10 Things to Do

I asked Salome to list her Top 10 favorite things to do or places to visit during our world trip, and following is first half of the list. (The second half will follow soon.) I look forward suggested additions, comments, complaints, etc.

1. Playground next the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain. You may be familiar with architect Frank Gehry's creation of titanium-plated geometric shapes, but you might not know that right next door is a fantastic playground, which Salome has dubbed the greatest in the world. Kids can spin, slide, swing and climb on equipment painted in bright, primary colors, while their parents snooze on the adjoining green lawn. The park and museum sit alongside a peaceful river through the center of town.

2. MBK Mall, Bangkok, Thailand. Sure, Salome is a shopaholic, just like her mom. But if you can't find something you simply must buy in this multi-story shopper's paradise, you won't find it anywhere. On the lower floors are the typical department stores, but as you climb the escalators to the upper floors, you can find warrens of merchant stalls selling everything from jewelry and electronics to textiles and leather. Obliging sellers will burn copies of pirate DVDs, which customers select from fat display catalogues. And don't miss the food court, which features mouth-watering international delicacies, including Thai, Chinese, Indian, Greek, Italian and Japanese dishes, at incredibly cheap prices.

3. Galapagos Islands boat cruise, Ecuador. Imagine a string of islands 600 miles off the coast surrounded by the cool blue water of the Pacific. Each island hosts its own unique species of birds, reptiles and mammals, and all of the animals are unafraid of humans, who troop through their home on daily basis. Swim with sea lions, wade with rays, check out blue-footed boobies and their hatchlings, and snorkel with giant sea turtles. If you go, take one of the smaller boats with fewer than 20 passengers for an intimate, unhurried glimpse into the living laboratory of Charles Darwin (just make sure the boat has hot water and private bathrooms in each cabin!)

4. Mountaintop Park, Schliersee, Germany. Schliersee is a tiny resort village about an hour south of Munich by train. An hour's hike takes visitors to the top of a small mountain, which offers views of the town spread out along the shore of a lake. The park at the top features children's activities such as trampolines, a coin-operated roller-coaster and a luge ride that runs in a plastic half-pipe to the bottom of the mountain. A tram takes guests who don't favor a hike or luge ride up and down the mountain, and a cafe serves sandwiches and large glasses of Delicious German beer.

5. Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany. Okay, beer is the claim to fame of this annual Bavarian bash. But don't skip the attractions outside the beer tents, which are just as much fun. The midway includes thrill rides, games, and enough food booths to satisfy any fair-food connoisseur. The most unusual attraction might be the Devil's Wheel, a large, circular wooden platform that spins at high speed. Fair-goers crowd onto the wheel, which spins faster and faster, tossing off players like beanbags. Once the crowd is reduced to a few hardy survivors, the attendants swing a weighted bag, trying to knock them off the spinning wheel. Finally, they use rope lassos to snare the remaining holdouts. All the while, the audience screams and cheers from the bleachers surrounding the Devil's Wheel. Salome actually tried this and lasted to the end of the kid's competition.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Welcome to the Beware of Wild Monkeys Travel Blog. I am a 48-year-old freelance writer and journalist based in Oceanside, Calif., just north of San Diego, and over the past 15 years, I have spent as much time as possible traveling to countries around the world. At first, my wife, Ava, and I indulged our travel passion as a couple, but after awhile, we took on a hitch-hiker, our daughter, Salome.

Our first trip as a family was in 1998, when we flew to France and drove across the country after sight-seeing in Paris. Salome was 18 months old at the time, and we had no idea how challenging the overseas flight with a toddler would be. We were so naive that we booked only two seats, and flew with Salome on our laps. An ugly situation was averted when the plane was delayed and sat on the tarmac for more than an hour, thanks to a kindly stranger who produced a lolly-pop just as Salome started to get really irate.

Another rookie mistake: we ran out of Huggies on the overnight flight, and didn't even know the French word for diaper when we landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport. A taxi driver figured things out and drove us directly to a drugstore. (The word, by the way, is "couche.") After the initial speed-bumps, the trip was wonderful, and people went out of their way to be nice to us when they saw we were traveling with a small child.

On this blog, I will post musings, travel tips, news tidbits, and anything I can think of related to family travel in today's wired, wacky world. While information for adult travelers is plentiful and easily accessible, I have found over the years that it can be much tougher to come across travelogues, how-to books and articles, and guides written by and for those traveling with kids, whether toddlers or teens.

I will also post occasional travel articles I have written about our rambles to far-flung locales, from Europe to Asia to South America.

I plan to post updates as we continue planning for a five-week trip to South Africa this summer, where we will attend World Cup matches and take a self-drive safari through Kruger National Park. Our itinerary includes an 11-day drive from Cape Town north to Nelspruit, which should be interesting, considering those folks drive on the wrong side of the road. When possible, I will keep this blog updated from the road, as well as from the confines of my home office.

So, I hope you enjoy this blog and I look forward to your stories, suggestions and feedback.

(FYI, the name of this blog, and a forthcoming book about our travels, came from a sign we saw on a bathroom door near Agra, India. See below.)