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In many countries, but seemingly mostly in China, we have found on our travels, many very bizarre items. Often they’re fairly ordinary, it is just the English translations that raise eyebrows. So here are some of the best we’ve seen.

Of course we love this one as our big thing is family travel. So next time in China, order the Family Photo item on the menu…

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How about some crap and muscle?

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I’ll be in Croatia in July. Might give the special smallpox tortillas a miss…

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Hard to choose between ordering a ‘nice day’ or ‘ ‘ten thousand treasure road’

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This is a classic

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Just love the big bowl menu!

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Anyone for false dog meat?

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Don’t even know what to make of this one

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Syrup forks the fever?

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And to end your meal, how can you resist tasteless coffee?

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Next time, we’ll look at bathroom humor. Just can’t help ourselves.

In our travels over the years we’ve always got great joy out of strangely worded (or unique) English signs, especially in China. Here are some of our favorites (excluding toilet signs and menus – they will be featured in their own right, of course).

Here goes

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Political incorrectness in China is so dire as to actually be funny

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Is this a warning for cheezits only?

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Make of that what you will

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Very relaxed atmosphere in Australia 0 even if a plane hits your car…

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One of our all time favorites – I took this photo in the shower in our hotel in Beijing.

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Whatever that means

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Fantastic turn of phrase!

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We know they’re tough in China, but surely not so strict…

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When airlines just give up

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The sign that took all the joy out of Saudi beaches

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As dog owners, we love the wording.

More later!

Quivertree’s Top 9 Family Destinations for 2013
1) Morocco
The kingdom is an outstanding family destination. Try camel trekking in the Saharan dunes or a family culinary class learning the art of couscous or tagine; sleep in tents and mountain fortresses (kasbahs), and go horseback riding along miles of Atlantic beaches and through traditional mountain villages.

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Djema el Fna, Marrakech

2) South Africa
South Africa is our safari destination of choice. Plenty of family friendly lodges, some with high (animal proof) sleeping platforms out in the bushveld, where the sounds and activity of the wild surround you at night. Other highlights include a 3 day cultural immersion tour in Zululand, secluded Indian Ocean beaches, hiking Table Mountain and an African Jazz Safari, where your family will learn the secrets of township jive.

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Up close and personal on safari in South Africa.

3) Myanmar
This emerging world class destination is paradise for families. Play soccer with kids in rural villages, climb inside the ancient temples at Bagan, travel by horse and cart, explore fantastic Inle Lake from a motorized dug out canoe, and hike to remote tribal villages near Kengtung.

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4) Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos
A classic family combo. Explore amazing Angkor by ATV and horseback, and try your hand at kite surfing on the beaches of Vietnam. Explore off the beaten track North Vietnamese ricefields by bike staying in villages along the way, or cruise up the Mekong and deliver supplies to local schoolkids along the way.

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Getting wet while mahout training near Luang Prabang, Laos

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Making a few extra dong (Vietnamese currency) on the streets of Hanoi

5) Thailand
An all time favorite. Learn to train elephants on a mahout course, dress up and live like a Thai family for a day in a village, zipline through the jungle and enjoy incredible beaches.

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Relaxing day out fishing, Thailand

6) Ecuador
A great South American family destination. Swim with turtles and sealions in the Galapagos, feed the llamas in the courtyard of your hotel, get a blessing from a real shaman in the jungle, horseback in the foothills of a tropical volcano, explore the Amazon by canoe or white water and stand in two hemispheres at the same time.

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Hate to see what happened to the other guy.

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Incomparable Galapagos

7) Colombia
An emerging paradise for families. Trek to isolated Caribbean beaches in Tayrona National Park and explore the great city ramparts in Cartagena. Stay on a hacienda and learn the secrets of growing coffee, and explore Medellin, a wonderful city for families that can keep you busy for days and our #1 city in Latin America!

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Bizarre Volcan Totumo near Cartagena

8) India
India is a perennial Quivertree favorite. Stay in real palaces in the Rajasthan desert, ride elephants and search for elusive tigers, explore small villages and visit local schools, and imbibe the colors and smells of Asia. Explore the Jungle Book in real life, be blessed by a temple elephant, travel on a houseboat in Kerala, learn how tea is grown and trek through the Himalayan foothills.

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Learning the art of snake charming. Don’t try this at home.

9) Adriatic Europe
Travel the “real” Italy of the South by bike, learn to make authentic pizza and explore off the beaten track whitewashed villages and little visited Baroque masterpieces such as
Lecce. Then cross by ferry to Croatia, a land of sublime beauty and adventure that is ideal for families – from high ropes courses to family white water rafting, from kayaking
along the walls of historic Dubrovnik to hiking the white mountaintops of Velebit National Park, Croatia is a wonder for families.

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Gorgeous towns all over the region. This is Monopoli, Italy

Havana street

Cuba is one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been with my kids. It feels incredibly safe and the people are overwhelmingly friendly. The street theater is great for kids as is the general exuberant atmosphere- walking through the streets of various towns in Cuba is a real joy. Often front doors are kept wide open – in fact in Vinales, wanting to see what Olympic event was being shown, Benjy walked into someone’s house to check. The owner didn’t bat an eyelid. All in all, with a little preparation, Cuba can be a terrific family destination. However, one does need to be aware of certain things.

Benjy (red shirt in foreground) happily strolling through a market in Trinidad

Trinidad – look for the open doors

  1. In summer, Cuba is mighty hot! Regular precautions are very necessary – hats, lots of sunscreen and bottles of water. At times it feels like it is easier to get alcohol than water, so stock up on bottled water and keep it in your fridge in your room.

    Always carrying water!

  2. First aid kit – it’s a good idea to stock yours well and bring it with you on the trip. While you may get some pleasant surprises – my wife bought a tube of after sun lotion for 75c, you may not be able to get your hands on the various medicines you are familiar with.
  3. Because laundry services are not as common as in many other destinations, pack some detergent or extra soap and get used to doing your own every few days. Of course that also allows you to pack lightly.
  4. Unless you absolutely must have the luxuries and services of a hotel, try staying at some casa particulars. These are state approved rooms to rent – basically a B&B – in people’s homes.  As many enterprising Cubans have realized that this is an excellent source of income, they put a lot of effort into making the rooms as comfortable as possible. They are also cheap – a room that can accommodate a family of 4 generally is $25 a night! More importantly this is a great way of interacting with regular Cubans. If your Spanish is good, or if the casa owner speaks English  you will get a really wonderful opportunity to learn a lot about the country, the sights, the people and the city. (Luis Miguel who runs the terrific Casa 1932in Havana is n excellent example).

    Back streets of Trinidad

  5. Snacks – Cuba is not big on supermarkets and snacks. In fact it is pretty empty when it comes to things which one may be used to for fuelling our kids. So take lots of this with you. We really treasured all our different granola bars we brought with us and ended up rationing them.

    No snacks to be seen in the not very super “supermarket” but lots of alcohol

  6. Food – while Cuba is not a destination one goes to for the food (mostly very plain), kids will probably be happy with the basic offerings of chicken, beef, fish and pizza almost everywhere. Our son supplemented his diet with a healthy daily diet of churros, but in general he pronounced himself pretty satisfied with the food.

    Benjy and his beloved churros

  7.  Safety – for some reason I’ve found that a lot of people feel Cuba is dangerous. Our experience is that it is the opposite. It feels remarkably safe wherever you are at all times of day and night. Even walking through some pretty gritty parts of Havana late at night the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. I’ve never felt so safe in any other big city. And rather than want to rip off foreigners, it seems Cubans – taxi drivers included – only want to engage tourists in conversation.
  8. Beaches – while we chose not to do a resort/beach trip, the beaches we did visit were fabulous and there’s no doubt Cuba rivals any other destination for beaches and sea water quality.

    Amazing Cayo Levisa

  9. Computers, internet etc – these are awful and not really accessible in Cuba. So if you have kids – like we mostly all do – who are hooked on computers and the internet, brief them in advance and work out a suitable substitute. Between the music and street atmosphere they will be well compensated, but be aware!

We elected to do a more cultural trip and get a taste of the real Cuba rather than stay in any resorts and mix only with foreigners. The result was a fascinating peek into  a culture and society which seems plucked from another era. Our son felt this was his best trip ever and we all loved the people – even with the language barrier, we had countless wonderful interactions with regular Cubans.

More open doors in Trinidad

That’s Cuba for you – juice box sized rum

This really is a great place to visit with kids!

Friendly taxi team

Cuba!

Not the kind of literature we find in our local Barnes and Noble.

Streets of Havana

Cuba is the most fascinating country I’ve ever visited.  It is like nowhere else I’ve been. It is like traveling to another period in history, at least before the internet and Post Cold War period.

Signs of the Revolution everywhere

We flew into Havana after a quick 3 hour flight from Toronto. Immediately one is hit by the heat and humidity, even at 10pm. Havana is a crazy, busy, loud, vibrant city. It is also falling to pieces. In fact the poverty of the country is startling. There are no conventional shops or supermarkets. Rather miserable little stores which seem half empty. The city has trash lying everywhere, 1950 era cars belch out black fumes and all is in disarray. Restaurants are generally poor and that is when they actually have something on offer (there is a large discrepancy between the menu and what is actually available). Yet for all that, we enjoyed the city thoroughly. Firstly it feels incredibly safe, very unusual for a large city. It has a vibrant atmosphere, and some beautiful architecture, although most is not in the best state of repair. Its beaches are gorgeous and quite something to behold, being used by locals rather than tourists. And like everywhere we were in Cuba, the people seem genuinely excited to meet visitors and are very friendly.

One incredibly interesting place to visit in Havana is the Museum of the Revolution. This represents Cuba’s modern history and there is a lot of anti USA propaganda/information. There is no better example of history being dependant on who writes it. Just fascinating.

At the Museum of the Revolution

We stayed in no hotels on our trip. Instead, we only stayed in casas particulares. This is a curious Cuban institution whereby, in order to allow citizens to supplement their meager incomes, they can rent out rooms to tourists. All rooms must have bathroom with hot water and a fridge (essential)are are regulated. A bit like a B&B. This is a great way to meet and interact with locals and a much richer experience if you are able to forgo the luxuries of a top hotel. In Havana, we stayed at Casa 1932, and our host, Luis Miguel, is the best introduction to the country. He is so welcoming and knowledgeable that I cannot imagine a better way to start a trip.

Eating is also quite an experience. Like the casas particulares, the government sanctions restaurants in one’s home. These paladares are all over so don’t be surprised to be solicited by someone to come eat at their place, then be led through some alley, up a flight of stairs, through the house to a terrace where a restaurant of sorts has been cobbled together. Very innovative.

Nothing much in any shops but lots of alcohol

From Havana we travelled to the hill country of Vinales in the west. Vinales is a lovely, sleepy little town surrounded by beautiful small mountain like structures called mogotes and is the area famous in the country for coffee and tobacco cultivation.

Cars of all types

Liora and Benjy getting helped out on excruciatingly hot walk in Vinales

After that it was off to Trinidad, Cuba’s colonial gem. Trinidad is a gorgeous town, and although a little touristy, in Cuba one is always close to real life. On our last night in Trinidad, we were caught in a mighty thunderstorm and had to take refuge in a large restaurant, soon packed by tourists and residents alike, all seeking shelter. After a while the power went out, but not only did the musicians keep playing, they even tried to sell their CD by flashlight. Quite a night.

Trinidad

Cuba is not for everyone. If you like your luxuries, designer stores, great food – don’t go! If you want to see a culture and society so different from almost anywhere else, and experience beautiful beaches, amazing vibrant society and the friendliest people anywhere, try it!

The weird and wonderful of Cuba: Cuba is like nowhere else. Here is my list of the weird and wonderful things we encountered:

For kids maybe? Juice box sized rum…

WEIRD:

  1. The local, excellent ice cream chain Coppelia has many flavors on offer  but they are not available to tourists. Tourists seem to have a designated flavor available on any given day If you don’t want that flavor, bad luck.
  2. Cuba uses 2 forms of its currency. Again one is for locals, the other for foreigners. It was apparent to us that the only way to get by in this terribly poor country was to somehow get one’s hands on the tourist form of the currency.
  3. Restaurants – there is absolutely no point reading a menu without first enquiring what is actually available. Just because an item is on a menu is meaningless- there is as good a chance as not that it will actually be available.
  4. Alcohol – it seems easier and almost as cheap to buy alcohol as water. Alcohol is everywhere. In fact it is even sold in juice box like containers.  It is very common to see people walking around openly drinking. And most alcohol seems to be drunk straight out of the bottle. Forget the niceties of using a glass.
  5. Cars – Cuba has an incredible array of USA made, pre boycott cars. They are painstakingly kept alive through the owners’ ingenuity. One of the most common sights on the streets is seeing someone deep in his car’s bonnet trying to make some adjustments. In fact most taxi drivers have a traveling companion – we thought to help when inevitably the car breaks down.
  6. Shops and supermarkets – well firstly there aren’t any, not in the conventional sense. There are tiny little shops which either look empty, half ruined, or selling a ridiculously small sampling of goods. It’s not an economy that looks like it is thriving (except for alcohol).
  7. Taxis – seems that if you have a car (or a horse or bicycle) in Cuba, you’re a taxi. Cars will approach you at any time and yell “Taxi”. Why not?

Very, very common sight

WONDERFUL:

  1. The people are overwhelmingly friendly and very open  to foreigners. Everywhere we were asked where we were from and engaged in conversation. Equally important, we felt completely safe everywhere. Mo matter the time or area, we always felt totally secure. Havana may have a very run down feel and look to it, but it felt like the safest large city I have ever been in.
  2. Music. It is no myth, the music is fabulous and everywhere. Wherever one eats – from a large restaurant to someone’s home, expect a traveling musical group to entertain you royally.
  3. Beaches. Cuba has no end of spectacular beaches. One we visited isCayo Levisa inthe Northwest. Simply paradise.
  4. Cars – see above. It is simply incredible to see all the USA made 1950’s cars everywhere, in the most amazing colors. Fantastic!

Fabulous Cayo Levisa

Cayo Levisa

Marrakech

Need any teeth?

We were fortunate to make a quick 2 day stopover in Marrakech. It is one of those places I’d always wanted to go to as it has a certain allure few other places in the world do.
We stayed in a riad right in the middle of the old walled city, the medina. At first we were a little wary at venturing too far from our riad – not because of safety (the city felt incredibly safe at all hours) but because the medina is such a jumble of alleyways that we weren’t sure we’d ever find our way back again. Yet after a little bit of adventuring and discovering, we realized we were pretty good at finding our way around.

Our riad was down this alley. Maybe off this alley. Somewhere nearby

Two days isn’t really enough anywhere but such is the throbbing non stop activity of Marrakech that it actually felt enough. Roaming the streets and back alleys of the souk is incredible – it goes on and on forever- but a lot of the shops are pretty much the same so after a while it loses a little bit of its magic. However it is intriguing to see real life within those walls and alleys. The food is wonderful and if you tire of couscous and tajine, there’s plenty of Western stuff available as well. There are also many bakeries and it’s a treat just tasting a few different delicacies all over the place. We also did a walking tour of the city beyond the walls which is well worth doing – the medina can get a little claustrophobic after a while.

Benjy and his grandfather

Then there’s the incredible Djema el Fna, the famous night market/street carnival/outdoors circus – you name it. This is just a hive of activity of storytellers, restaurants, sellers of anything and everything, snake charmers etc etc. I got into a bit of trouble when I accepted a drink of tea at one stall (I don’t really like tea – I thought, naively, I was being polite) and then when I give it back after a couple of sips was hit up for a few dirhams. And then there was our one diabolical encounter. Entering the souk on the first afternoon, we were ushered into a medicinal shop, we we’re completely captivated by the shop owner, treated royally and then faced with a huge bill for the few items we had thought of purchasing. A rude awakening.

Great fun at the medicinal shop till the bill arrived

Looking at a market street

View from dinner

Marrakech is a great city, no doubt. It is a very fun place to take kids (I was with my father and my 14 year old son) but it can get a little much after a while. But everyone is so friendly and eager to help you if you have any problems or questions that you can’t help leaving with a smile and good memories.

Djemaa el Fna at night

Outside the Treasury at Petra

Even a quick 3 day trip to Jordan was enough to convince me that this is a spectacular family destination. Jordan really has it all, even if we only had time to see a few of its many highlights. But what incredible highlights they are! This is really a country everyone should visit as it has everything: desert, sea, great hiking and biking, and of course World Wonder Petra. And the people are so hospitable, you’ll want to stay a lot longer.

Starbucks, Amman airport

Scampering at Wadi Rum

We started in the desert at Wadi Rum. It’s hard to describe the experience of being in real Lawrence of Arabia territory. Wadi Rum is fantastic, one of the greatest kids’ playgrounds I’ve ever seen. Massive dunes, off roaring everywhere, amazing rock formations. My boys were in their element climbing around, getting dirty (weeks later some of my clothes still feel as if they have the desert sand in them) and being free to run and roam anywhere without any boundaries. Fantastic! And to complete the experience we stayed in a tented camp eating traditional food (and paying an exorbitant amount for a bottle of water) and enjoying a wonderful time together. Only problem for my 14 year old and me was trying to find out the score of the Chelsea v Barcelona Champions’ League (first leg) semi final, the first game we had missed for years. Just no way to do it in the desert!

One of many natural bridges, Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum dinner

From Wadi Rum, loaded with sand everywhere, we made our way to Petra. Petra was a recent inclusion in the New 7 Wonders of the World, and it is an unbelievable site. For one thing, it is immense. I’m sure you could spend days there and not see most of it. It is a tough place though – by mid afternoon we were wiped out and had to retreat to our hotel (which was very 2nd rate and did not offer much retreat). Benjy, my 14 year old, who had been to Petra before, enjoyed being our tour guide, especially on the hard slog up to the monastery. The sudden, dramatic appearance of the monastery makes the hike well worthwhile. Keeping up with my two teenagers made it even more worthwhile.

Monastery, Petra

Petra

Vanquished Barcelona logo from Petra sand

Local flavor, Garish

Next stop Amman, the capital. I did not have high hopes for Amman, yet we were very impressed. This is a clean, beautiful city and it really grows on you very quickly. After a quick stop at a supermarket (always one of our favourite things to do in foreign places) and a bakery (well who would not like that?) we went to Jerash which is one of the most amazing and underrated places I have ever seen. Underrated only because many people go to Wadi Rum and Petra, but not Jerash. This is an incredible Roman city, with 2 amphitheaters, massive columns, roads, an arch built for Hadrian and lots more. And there’s a definite Middle Eastern flavor with many local visitors dressed in traditional clothing. This is really a must see site.
Our last night we spent in downtown Amman walking along Rainbow Street, a very lively area weith lots of bars and restaurants. After a few more Jordanian delicacies, it was sadly time to go. However, we had another chance to witness the extraordinary friendliness of the local people. On arriving back at our hotel, I asked the taxi driver how much the fare was. To which he replied:” Anything you want to pay”, grinning. The nicest people, and we will be back!

Hadrian’s Arch, Jerash

Jerash

Tasting some local fare at Mercado Santa Clara

We loved Quito. Some places just surprise you and Quito is one of them. The city has a very mixed reputation. Look on Tripadvisor and every few posts will concern personal safety, stories of scams, amazing feats of pickpocketing, robbery, mugging etc. So one can’t help having some feelings of trepidation on arrival.

Quito’s Old Town with Alfredo and Joaquin on the left

Old Town, Quito

It didn’t help that our prearranged, prepaid for transport from the airport never showed up. Being in the travel services industry, this is something that really irritates me as I know how important first impressions are. Never mind, we’ll just get by on our own.
We stayed at Cafe Cultura. It’s a beautiful old building in a great area with lots of character and it has many strong points, including the huge bedrooms and bathrooms. So within five minutes all our luggage was strewn around the two rooms everywhere. We stayed here for a total of five nights in three separate stays over a two week period so we got to know it pretty well. My review said: Beautiful hotel with flaws”. Sadly the longer one stays here, the more the flaws stand out, from spotty internet to slow service to the constant noise from the passages and entrance.

Up Pichincha overlooking Quito

Anyway we were fortunate to have the incredible Alfredo Meneses and his son Joaquin as our guides for 2 days. Just having a guide at all was new for us, but I cannot imagine someone with as much energy and pride in his city as Alfredo. He is wonderful, and Joaquin is not far behind. Not only did we do a standard tour of the Old Town (with its dazzling array of colonial buildings) and go up the Teleferiqo on Volcan Pichincha (sadly a white elephant attraction if ever there was one), but Alfredo took us to the Mercado Santa Clara (seemingly off limits for tourists) where we tried any number of local fruits and delicacies. He also treated us to a day at the exclusive spa, Papallacta which was a real treat after so long on the road traveling.

Fruit at Mercado Santa Clara

But what we really loved about Quito was that we actually got to know it, as opposed to just seeing the sights. We walked everywhere trying out different food, popping into shops and Dani, just turned 18, even tried a casino – for five minutes as we couldn’t breathe inside with all the smoke.

Dani outside the casino

Two memories will always stand out for me. On our first day, Alfredo introduced us to a Quito curiosity, Yogurt and Yuca. These are small shops selling blended yogurt which you drink while munching on fresh yuca rolls. After one tasting we were addicted. This was definitely one of the most delicious local foods I have tasted anywhere in the world.
And then, we were fortunate to be traveling during the Copa America, being played in Argentina, and despite Ecuador’s national football team’s ineptitude, the atmosphere was electric. On a Saturday afternoon after some touring, Benjy and me sat in the square at La Mariscal and watched a huge game: Ecuador v Venezuela, actually 2 of the weakest soccer teams anywhere, but somehow elevated to a big game because of our location. Just great with fabulous atmosphere.

Posing outside the Presidential Palace

All in all, this was probably our favorite place of the whole summer trip (even more than Cusco). Quito just surprises and the more time one spends there, the more hooked you become. Try it, it’s worth it.

Papallacta Hot Springs

Quito from Pichincha

San Diego

Feeding at SeaWorld

A few years ago, I took my boys, then aged 9 and 7 to San Diego for a few days. It was February and that time of year when us Seattlelites are itching to escape the rain, greyness and cold. So what could be better than some time in the winter sun of Southern California? Wrong! Our trip coincided with some of the heaviest rain and flooding the city had ever seen. What an irony. And despite that, we had a great time. Because San Diego is just the perfect place for a family vacation.

Fun at SeaWorld

We stayed at Marriot Residence Inn in Mission Valley. After initially getting lost (my son in 3rd grade was doing a unit on compasses so I let him navigate; we could not find our way out of the airport), we found the hotel easily. It’s a perfect hotel for families: a two room suite, pool and complimentary breakfast complete with a wafflemaker.

Feeding the giraffe at the Wild Animal Park

Despite the rain, San Diego was fabulous. There is just so much for a family to do! We went to SeaWorld, San Diego Zoo, Old Town )charming and quaint although a little less so when the roads are flooded up to your knees), the World War II aircraft carrier Midway, and lots more. Including the excellent Wild Animal Park where families are carried through the park on a little train, itself a source of amusement for kids. We loved the park, despite some early setbacks (I had to pull over on the highway as I couldn’t see through all the rain; then my youngest son threw up in the gift shop). And then we trekked out to Legoland and at last the sun came out after four days of non stop rain.

Legoland

Legoland…in the sunshine at last!

San Diego is definitely one of the best places for a family trip. There is much we didn’t get to see or do, including the beaches, and you could easily spend a week there and still not see it all.

Wild Animal Park

Giraffe feeding at Wild Animal Park

Got to love those outside showers!

A number of years ago we spent two weeks in Duck, North Carolina with some of my wife’s extended family. This is a wonderful part of the world, a real family playground. Duck is pretty busy in the summer, but the beaches are fabulous. Our house was just minutes from the beach so our days mostly followed the same pattern – not a bad thing at all in such a great location!

Fun on the beach

I’d start my day with a run. A little foolhardy, mind you. After about 20 minutes, I could hardly breathe thanks to the heat and humidity. Even at 7 in the morning. But the reward for this was an early swim in the ocean. Then the family would wake lazily and slowly, on typical beach town time. Breakfast, then the morning on the beach. Off the beach for lunch, then back on, and then those outside showers which beach houses all come with. We’d close the day with takeouts and a movie, just real bliss.

Go up the stairs on the beach and you’re at our beach house!

Duck is not as quiet as some beach towns I’ve been to (Long Beach Island,N.J. has a string of tiny, sleepy towns) but for some it will be too quiet. For them, Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brother first flew, is a few minutes down the road. Now that’s a growing, big town with all the shops and amenities anyone could possibly want. Whatever you need you’ll find there (we had to find swimming diapers – I reckon if you can find those – we did – you can find most of anything).

Beach house pranks

The Outer Banks are sometimes plagued by turbulent summer weather. But for a relaxing, beautiful magical family beach vacation, it’s really a hard place  to beat.