May 20, 2015

An Emotional Tour of World War II

By Noemi Gamel

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We have been home schooling, with various degrees of success, during our RTW trip. In addition to more or less structured grammar and math lessons, they have been learning history by visiting museums and sights that have historical significance. For our WWII unit, we visited the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan, the Anne Frank House in the Netherlands, and the beaches of Normandy in France.

The Hiroshima Peace Park is a stark reminder of one of the events that led to the end of WWII: the dropping of the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima. After sitting down with the kids under the shade of a tree in the park to explain the rationale and events leading to the bombing, we visited the various monuments in the park dedicated to peace and remembrance. I found the display of one thousand paper cranes very emotional, especially because it is dedicated to the children who died in the bombing and the project was started by a young girl who died of leukemia due to the effects of the radiation. Tristan walked away in tears from the exhibits demonstrating the acute burn and radiation injuries displayed by the wax statues, and a kind museum guide offered him a paper crane, a sign of peace. We were very moved by the gesture.

 
In Amsterdam, we waited for over one hour to enter the museum dedicated to Anne Frank. This was the one place Kara was most looking forward to in our RTW trip, because she read Anne Frank’s Diary a few years ago and was deeply affected by it. We were all very emotional during the visit, and at the end we had a discussion about prejudice and the importance of speaking out against injustice, whether it affects us directly or not.

 
We ended our unit on WWII with a D-day tour in Bayeux, France. We saw the bunkers and cliffs of Point du Hoc; the beaches of Utah and Omaha; and the Saint de Mere church and museum dedicated to the American airborne divisions. We were able to tie in what we learned at the Anne Frank house with what we learned about D-day and the liberation of Western Europe, which unfortunately came too late for Anne and most of the people who lived in the Secret Annex.

 
While we visited the sights a bit out of order, the children were able to learn about different aspects of the war and its impact throughout the world. I hope when Kara and Tristan study WWII in school, they can remember with reverence the sights we visited.

 



May 18, 2015

Sextant, Compass, and GPS

Did you know the Galapagos Islands belong to Ecuador… and Ecuador has the equator running smack through it? Yup, Zero Latitude.

What better place to feed your fascination with the whole idea of aligning stars, managing agriculture, calculating time and distance, and navigating directions? Imagine hanging out right where the center of the world is, under the Southern sky full of stars you might never have seen before (unless you’ve been to South American before!). Learn about navigational forces and sundials. Be astounded at how the ancient civilizations perfected their skills. Straddle the equator! Then after hiking, treasure hunting, and star gazing in the highlands, fly out to the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of the mainland.

In these volcanic islands you’ll still enjoy star lit skies at night, but from a completely different landscape than the mainland. Swim, hike, and kayak amongst breathtaking wildlife , bioth at your feet and soaring overhead.



May 15, 2015

Family Vacation in Historic Ireland

 

 

Ireland seems to have a voice that reaches out to you, calling you home to the rolling hills that sweep over the countryside in a color wheel of green. Every so often you might see the ruins of a castle or a whitewashed cottage bordered by a stone fence. The heart of every village is the pub, and it’s usually filled with friendly people sharing the day’s news, sometimes while listening to an impromptu seisun of traditional music.
Ireland is a small country with not even 5 million people. In fact, the United States has seven times more people of Irish ancestry than people actually living in Ireland! This may be one reason Ireland has become a top family vacation destination! Despite its relatively small stature, Ireland fills some pretty big shoes with so many wondrous natural and manmade sights. However, its biggest treasure is its people, who are among the friendliest and most welcoming in the world.

 
Almost a fifth of Ireland’s population lives in Dublin. It’s a large city with a small feel and you can see all of the best sites by spending a day walking around. Dublin is full of history and you can see it in its streets. From the Book of Kells on display at Trinity College to O’Connell Street and the General Post Office, headquarters of the 1916 Easter Rising, Dublin begs to be explored. It’s not just ancient history in Dublin. Ever hear of a little band called U2? They got their start right on the edge of Dublin’s Temple Bar district!

 
Heading west out of the city, you and your family will find yourselves in a completely different world. The Irish countryside, Connemara specifically, is adorned with small villages, rolling hills, green pastures, and roaming sheep. Connemara also has its own slice of pop culture fame. The famous 1952 movie The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara was filmed in the village of Cong in Connemara. There’s a statue in the town of Wayne holding O’Hara just like in the film!

 
While Ireland may not be world famous for its cuisine, it’s difficult to find a bad meal. The stews, bangers (sausage), potatoes, and fish all make for a hearty meal- not to mention the soda bread and brown bread. At the end of your meal, when there is only a bit of bread left, you can dip it in the what remains of the stew for the perfect finish to what is sure to be an incredible and flavorful delight!
There are so many reasons to take a family vacation to Ireland, and really none not to. Plus, we’ve taken into consideration everything that makes Ireland the amazing place it is, and we’ve incorporated activities, sightseeing, cuisine and culture to make your adventure one that you’ll hold deep in your heart for many years to come.

 

 

 



May 13, 2015

Tulips in Amsterdam

By Noemi Gamel

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What do you think of when you hear of Amsterdam? Call me a total geek, but I think of tulips, windmills, the Anne Frank House, and The Fault In Our Stars book. To recover from our emotional but uplifting visit to the Anne Frank House, we headed to Keukenhof, one of the largest tulip gardens in the Netherlands (more then 800,000 tulip bulbs are planted each year).
The history of Keukenhof goes back over 500 years when Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria gathered fruits and vegetables from the woods nearby for her kitchen. The landscape architect father-son team by the name of Zocher designed the castle gardens in 1857, and for the last fifty years the estate has served as the main platform for the Dutch floriculture section.
As you walk into the gardens, you feel like you are in a Dutch version of Disneyland, where the theme is tulips instead of fairy tales. Everywhere you go, you see, smell, and feel the flowers. In addition to numerous paths, gardens, and ponds, you will also find a maze, green houses, tulip fields, a playground, and a petting zoo. Prepare to spend the whole day here!

 

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May 4, 2015

Temples and Shrines in Kyoto

 

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By Noemi Gamel

There is no shortage of temples and shrines in Japan thanks to the long and diverse history of Zen, Buddhism, and Shintoism. If you like history, comparative religion, or architecture, you can spend days contemplating these amazing buildings. If you are traveling with children, however, it is easy for them to get “templed out”, as Tristan phrased it one day.
So if you are going to Japan with kids, make sure you get the highest yield to avoid temple fatigue. In Kyoto, some of the highlights include Fushimi Inari and the Arashiyama district in the western outskirts of Kyoto.
We spent one afternoon at Fushimi Inari, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the god of rice and patron of business. This is a great shrine for kids to visit because there are many activities, such as walking the pathway of hundreds of traditional gates and guessing the weight of a rock to make your wish come true. The scenery is also very beautiful.
I also highly recommend a day trip to do a walking tour of the Arashiyama district. Your first stop should be Tenryuji Temple, which is one of the largest and most impressive Zen temples in Japan. The gardens are elegant and breathtaking, as are the simple buildings in the temple complex. From there, walk through the bamboo groves to the villa of Okochi Sanso, a popular actor who died in 1962. Though not a temple, the grounds are very pretty and offer scenic views of the area. You will be treated to a sweet and matcha tea at the end. After the villa, take a walk through the back streets of Arashiyama to the Gioji Temple. This is a very small temple, especially compared to Teryuji, but the moss gardens are so beautiful and intricate that you cannot miss it. Afterwards go to the main street of the Arashiyama township to shop and eat.
One final note about each of the temples mentioned above. All of them are working temples where priests work and the devout come to pray and participate in ceremonies. Depending on when you arrive, you might have a normal visit or be treated to something special. Stay flexible and enjoy your time in Japan.

 

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April 27, 2015

Kaiten Sushi in Japan

By Noemi Gamel

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One of our favorite dining experiences in Japan has been kaiten sushi. You may have seen it before in movies or your hometown, where the sushi is placed on a conveyor belt that travels around the counter, and you pick whatever looks tasty. In Japan, this is considered a form of “fast food”, and it certainly can be speedy dining experience, but that is about where the similarities to fast food end.
We went to a kaiten sushi spot located in the Tokyo Skytree that we loved so much we went back for more! The line to get in can be long but it is worth the wait. The sushi chefs at the center greet you with a hearty welcome in Japanese. The first time, we were lucky to get a four-person booth that abutted the conveyor belt. Kara and Tristan had a blast grabbing plates of sushi as they passed by.
If there was a particular dish you liked, you could ask the chef, or in our case, point to the picture menu, and he would custom make a few plates for you. Kara did that with the sweet omelet sushi.
Judging by how packed the place was, it was clearly popular with the locals. We were the only Westerners in the restaurant. I got the feeling that the kids’ excited squeals were a bit of a source of entertainment for our fellow diners! Our inability to speak Japanese was not a problem with the conveyor-belt set up. We just picked what looked good! There were several families with small kids there. Apparently some traditional sushi restaurants in Japan do not allow children, which is one of the perks of kaiten sushi. They are kid friendly.

When you are done eating, you just stack your plates on the table and the server counts them with a scanner and hands you your bill. Kaiten sushi tends to be a little cheaper than traditional sushi restaurants.
Have you ever tried kaiten sushi? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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April 24, 2015

Why You Should Travel to Italy

 

 

A picturesque scene from an Italy family vacation
If you haven’t decided where to go on your next family vacation, we can help with that. There are many reasons why you should travel to Italy. There’s a history lesson at every turn, offering new ways to explore centuries-old Etruscan villages; Roman ruins; medieval walled towns; and Renaissance cities that boast some of the world’s most revered artistic treasures. Italy also boasts an astonishing 50 UNESCO World Heritage Sites — 46 cultural and four natural.
Italy has no shortage of breathtaking natural landscapes, either. Its Mediterranean coastline stretches for miles, showcasing rugged cliffs, hidden coves, jutting fjords and harbor towns. From the Italian Alps and lakes region in the north to the verdant vineyards and olive groves in the central region to the volcanoes of the south, it is incredibly beautiful.
Another reason why you should travel to Italy is one that you’re probably already familiar with: the food! Pasta, pizza, fresh seafood, rich pastries, refreshing gelato and so much more have helped to make Italian cuisine a favorite for families everywhere.
We love Italy and know what a great destination it is for families. That’s why we’ve put together our Southern Italy: Volcanoes and Islands program that we’re débuting in 2016. The area from Naples south along the Amalfi Coast to Sicily is full of sights that are perfect for families to explore. The scenic coastal region is known for dramatic cliffs and medieval villages. There’s also ancient Pompeii, the Roman city that was buried under the ashes after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Your kids will love hiking to the top of the now-dormant crater and wandering through the wonderfully preserved ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

 Family hiking on an Italy family vacationSpeaking of UNESCO sites and volcanoes, our Southern Italy family vacation boasts two of the country’s four natural UNESCO sites — the Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago north of Sicily, and Mount Etna, the country’s largest volcano. Both destinations are included on our trip, and your family can discover them in a variety of fun ways: from a kayak, on foot and from a boat. You can also swim and explore the islands’ sea caves. We’ve also factored in some free time for you to pursue your own interests in this amazing area.

Our General Manager, Jim Kackley, explains — in a nutshell — why you should travel to Italy. “Italy is such a wonderful destination filled with warm people, great food and incredible history. Many of us have been there without our kids, and now it is time to take them to see some of this wonder.”

 

 



April 20, 2015

Cherry Blossoms in Japan

By Noemi Gamel

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No one takes cherry blossom viewing as seriously as the Japanese people. They even have a verb to describe it: hanami, the art of viewing flowers.   I was worried that we were not going to arrive in Tokyo in time for hanami, but fortunately that was not the case. We spent two nights at a hotel near Narita airport before interrupting our RTW trip with a brief trip to the US for job interviews.
On the morning of our only full day, we went to Sakura no Yama Park to hanami. The park was full of Japanese people who were there not only to view the cherry blossoms, but also to watch the airplanes from Narita airport arrive and take off. We felt like locals! We also felt like we were witnessing a very intimate, integral part of Japanese culture.
During cherry blossom season, the Japanese will take days off work to pack a picnic and come to different parks throughout the country to hanami. Most pack bento lunches, place a blanket on the grass under the trees, and enjoy the view for hours. We saw some hardcore cherry blossomers with tents, as the day was chilly, windy, and the skies threatened rain. Nevertheless, no one seemed bothered by the less than ideal weather.
Children ran around in the park. Young couples took selfies with the cherry blossoms. Multi-generational families ate together among the trees. We felt humbled and blessed to be part of this essential element of Japanese culture for the day.

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April 14, 2015

Beijing in 72 Hours

By Noemi Gamel

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China’s visa requirements for those of us traveling with an American passport are rather strict. We were not able to get a visa to go to mainland China during our Round The World Trip, so we took advantage of the 72-hour visa-free transit policy. You can visit one of several choice cities for 72 hours as long as you fly in and out of the country via a direct flight. We chose to spend our precious limited 72 hours in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Ask anyone what are the “must-see” sights in Beijing, and you will universally hear the same answer: Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, and a daytrip to the Great Wall of China. While we have usually limited our sightseeing during the Round The World trip to one activity per day to keep costs down, we could not keep to our usual relaxed, slow-paced schedule on the 72-hour transit.
We spent one full day touring the historical sights of Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and Temple of Heaven. The architecture in all of these sights was breathtaking. We also learned a lot about Chinese culture and history on these tours. The weather was cold and wet, but we were rewarded at the end with a visit to a traditional Chinese teashop where we sampled some of the best tea I have ever had. We also went to a Chinese acrobat show that night. The following day we took a tour to the Great Wall of China. The weather was kinder to us, so we were able to enjoy just sitting on the wall and enjoying the views.
This portion of our trip taught me that sometimes you have to change your routine when you are traveling long term. We were so busy during our time in PRC, that we did not home school. Nevertheless, the kids (and we!) learned so much on the trip, that we left with a newfound appreciation for the Chinese culture.

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April 8, 2015

Hong Kong: Bright Lights, Big City

By: Noemi Gamel

Before visiting there, whenever I thought about Hong Kong I thought about Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. After spending four days there, I now have a completely new set of images to associate with this amazing city that truly is an urban paradise.
If you enjoy the noise, bright lights, and chaos of a large city, Hong Kong is the place to be. You will find trendy restaurants, a Starbucks on every block, and an efficient mass transit system that puts New York City to shame. Every night, a group of about forty buildings along the harbor put on a glitzy light show. It is free, popular, and not to be missed.
Space is a high commodity in Hong Kong. We stayed at a guesthouse in a prime location but the room was the size of a postage stamp. If one of us needed to walk around the room, the other three had to climb on the beds to provide enough space!
Within the concrete jungle of Hong Kong, there are many hidden gems of greenery. We spent one afternoon in Hong Kong Park, and another day in Lantau Island admiring the Big Buddha. If you are ever in this city, you must visit Victoria Peak to catch a glimpse of the skyline.

 

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