Our favourite places to stay and books about them!
There’s a great new series of books by Lonely Planet publishers. The City Series books include tidbits of information, displayed collage style, and interspersed with pictures. The difference from a Dorling Kindersley type book is the humorous tone and the inclusion of cartoons. Simon and I read Rome: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know by Klay Lamprell. Other cities covered are Paris, London, and New York. There is also a large almanac volume called The Travel Book: Cool Stuff to Know About Every Country in the World, which Simon devoured over a weekend.
Like most kids, Simon loves looking at old photos of himself, and repeating favourite family travel stories. We were reminiscing about the coolest places that we’ve slept. Number one on my list is a retired caboose outside of Kamloops. When Simon was 5 and train crazy, we drove out for a railroad vacation. We visited the spiral tunnels, the driving of the last spike near Cragellachie, the Revelstoke Railway Museum, and Beardale Miniatureland near Revelstoke. Hostelling International Shuswap Lake has 3 cabooses, so I rented all 6 berths in one so we could have the run of the place (and being a hostel, it was still cheaper than a hotel) There were llamas, a firepit, some canoes, and a tasty communal pancake breakfast.
In Italy, some religious orders offer rooms for hire. We met a lovely Benedictine nun in San Gimignano. She rented rooms to support the other nuns who were cloistered. It’s called Monastero di San Girolamo. She was a helpful hostess, and we felt we were friends after a week. When we left, she said, “I’ll see you again.” When we questioned her about that, she said she meant in heaven of course.
There’s a Zen Buddhist centre in an apartment building in Paris called Maison Zen, and if they don’t have students, you can rent an apartment. There are steep stairs, goldfish in a garden pond, and lovely watercolours by the owner on the walls. The key appeal of this memory is the time my friend Gail took Simon out to find breakfast. They brought back Pain au Chocolat pastries from three nearby bakeries in the name of comparison tasting.
Renting an apartment in an historic part of town allows you to live like the locals and really get a sense of a place. I love waking up early and walking around before the other tourists arrive en masse. Favourite neighbourhoods in which I pretended to be a local were Greenwich Village in New York, Mont St. Michel in northern France, and quiet Cannaregio in Venice. In Venice there was a fruit and vegetable market just outside the door so we could buy fresh basil to make brushetta. There was also a fresh seafood market, and Simon was relieved when a couple of live snails escaped back into the water.
Closer to home, we stayed in a sod house at Hummingbird Haven by Cochrane. The Great Canadian Barn Dance near Pincher Creek is also an interesting place to go for a weekend if you ever had a hankering to play the washboard.
Staying in campgrounds is always memorable because you are right there in a beautiful location, and it’s so wonderful to have a walk just before you go to sleep. One of our favourite places was Joshua Tree National Monument in California. I loved the black shapes of the boulders in the dusk. The National Park Service in the U.S. has many great campgrounds. Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon was built in the 1920s. Everything that goes into the ranch must come down the river, or be carried by mules. They had a very calm and steady mule who always carried the eggs. Other great national parks we recommend are the little cabins in the Okefenokee swamp in Stephen C. Foster State Park in Georgia, USA and the Cinnamon Bay Campground in St. Johns, US Virgin Islands.
My favourite place NOT to stay? The ice hotel near Quebec City! It was great to visit during the day, but looking at the great blocks of ice that made up the beds convinced me that a room at the Quebec City hostel was a better choice! We do like staying in hostels, partly for the expense, but also because it’s easy to meet people and chat with other travelers. Simon often found other kids to play with, and we sometimes hooked up for joint sight seeing.
Rounding out our favourites list is the Nickelodeon Hotel and the Sheraton Vistana condos, both in Orlando, Florida. The former has water slides, game shows in which guests are slimed, and the lifeguards throw cream pies at the kids who run on the pool deck as a joke. The latter are quiet timeshares that rent out when they aren’t full. Because we’re often in hostels, Simon liked the luxury of a jetted tub and multiple pools to choose from. There were also feral cats to feed the leftover bits of those monstrous huge turkey legs they sell in DisneyWorld.
I grew up reading about kids having all kinds of adventures. I personally blame my travel bug on The Bobbsey Twins and National Geographic’s World magazine. It’s Tintin, Asterix, and The Good Times Travel Agency who captured Simon’s imagination. We recommend The Good Times Travel Agency graphix series by Linda Bailey and Bill Slavin. Three siblings travel to ancient China, Greece, the Ice Age and Middle Ages in a fun comic format. Now those kids have slept in some wild places!