Tag-Archive for » travel with kids «

Sunday, July 13th, 2014 | Author:

 

Having just returned to Australia from a 4000-km family reunion/research trip through 5 of the 7 countries that once upon a time belonged to the former Yugoslavia, I thought I’d list a couple of each country’s highlights. So here they are, in the order that we visited them. A few of my photographs appear afterwards.

Balkan Highlights

Sarajevo, Bosnia

We stayed in Baščaršija, the old part of the city. Imagine lots of tiny, cobbled alleys filled with brass and silversmith stores and courtyard restaurants where tourists and locals sip Turkish coffee and puff away on hookahs. And poking up above the minarets and steeples, the gorgeous fir-clad peaks that enfold Sarajevo. Magical.

Knin, Croatia

Knin itself is a pretty uninspiring place these days, but I loved wandering around Kninska Tvrđava, the enormous fortress that looms above the town. Parts of the fortress date from the 9th century; in the 11thcentury, it housed the King of Croatia. During the wars of the 1990’s, the Serb paramilitary captain Dragan Vasiljković and his Kninjas took up residence here, and war crimes allegations against Vasiljković hold that he tortured prisoners within the fortress walls. It’s a massive complex, replete with ancient latrines, dungeons and awesome views.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Boasting city walls that are perhaps the most impressive I’ve ever seen, the old city of Dubrovnik is a spectacular conglomeration of orange-tiled roofs, steep alleys and cobbled courtyards. It’s also packed with tourists. I heard more Aussie accents here than I’m used to in Sydney. Dubrovnik boasts some great museums; I particularly enjoyed the Ethnographic Museum, which features articles used in the production of various local staples like homemade wine, bread, olive oil and so forth. To escape the crowds, we stayed in a private villa in the far quieter but equally spectacular coastal town of Mali Zaton, 10 minutes outside Dubrovnik.

Kotor, Montengro

Set in the deepest, longest fjord in southern Europe, Kotor is a small town sandwiched between the cerulean waters of the Bay of Kotor and the ‘foothills’ of Mt Lovćen, the black mountain from which Montenegro gains its name. The mountains aren’t really black. But they are incredibly craggy limestone behemoths coated with cypresses, magnolias and patchy grass, through which goats and goat herders wind their way. Kotor features a walled Old City just as picturesque as Dubrovnik’s, although far more intimate in scale. The hike up the ancient walls to the ruined fortress above the city offers sublime views of the bay and city walls.

Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

So beautiful it doesn’t quite seem real, Sveti Stefan is a tiny island housing a former fishing village/former and present day resort, connected to the shore by a narrow walkway.

Montenegro’s roads

Definitely one of the highlights, given the endless twists and tunnels and the insanely reckless local drivers (many of whom, judging from the number of roadside crosses, pay the ultimate price for their recklessness). We drove from Cetinje, the 18th century capital of Montenegro, to Kotor via Lovćen National Park, along a road that has 28 hairpin bends in a row as it corkscrews down the mountainside. Each bend is numbered, so you can count how many more twists your bewildered stomach has to endure! Driving from Ostrog Monastery to Visegrad in Bosnia, we wound our way through more than 50 often dripping and unlit tunnels. That road snakes through the Tara Canyon, which is just 200 metres shallower than the Grand Canyon in the US!

Tara National Park, Serbia

Gorgeous alpine scenery and wonderful hiking country. One of the many benefits of having a husband for a local guide was that we enjoyed a private farm stay here, and partook of plenty of our host Obrad’s homemade rakija. The traditional steep-roofed wooden houses of this region are really picturesque.

Studenica Monastery, Serbia

Built in 1190 by Stefan Nemanja, father of the first Serbian king, Stefan Nemajić and of Sveti Sava, the saint who was the first archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox church, the two churches within the Monastery complex house some incredible frescoes. There’s a portrayal of a pregnant Virgin Mary reclining, smiling, while another lady holds her hand. There are also paintings of her bathing the infant Jesus and another of a man and a woman kissing. Scandalous! We stayed in the monastery’s guest accommodation — simple but adequate meals included in the price — and we were lucky enough to bump into a very enthusiastic local guide who shared with us his love of the monastery’s uniquely ‘human’ frescoes.

Belgrade’s Skadarlija district, Serbia

I spent my last night in Belgrade’s Skadarlija district being serenaded by Roma musicians in a restaurant called Tri Šešira which opened in 1864. Skadarlija is Belgrade’s cobbled, flower-bedecked Bohemian quarter, home to many writers and poets in the past. Today it’s filled with galleries, cafes and restaurants, many of which feature live Roma music as you dine. Perfect!

So those are the highlights of my trip. Please also see my post The Former Yugoslavia Part 2: …and the Tragic for my list of some of the most heart-wrenching places I visited in the former Yugoslavia.

 

 

Sunday, July 13th, 2014 | Author:

 

On our way to the Balkans this summer, we stopped off for a week in our former home of Wuyishan in China. It was wonderful to catch up with some of our old friends and to visit our children’s former kindergarten and teachers. I also found myself stunned (I’m not sure why; I should be used to it after 2 ½ years living in China!) by the number of new developments in Wuyishan and San Gu since we were last there. There’s even a polar bear theme park in the making in San Gu — in the subtropics of Fujian Province!

On the downside, it was a little disheartening to see how much Mandarin the girls have forgotten. By the time we left China at the end of 2012, Ekatarina at six years old was speaking like a native. Yet even though they’re both attending Mandarin class for 3 hours every Sunday here in Australia and doing plenty of homework, they scarcely seemed to remember any when we arrived back in Wuyishan. Clearly it’s as easy for children to lose a second language as it is to gain it!

Monday, March 17th, 2014 | Author:

 

We’ve booked flights for a family holiday/research trip to the former Yugoslavia and to China.

After flying out of Sydney on the 24th of May, we’ll have one week visiting our second (or third, in Lazar’s case) ‘hometown’ of Wuyishan in China. Then it’s on to Serbia. From there, we plan to spend about four weeks driving through Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Kosovo before heading back to Serbia for our flight home on June 30th. Along the way, we’ll visit all the major settings featured in my novel — among others, Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Priština and Belgrade.

As well as providing an opportunity to undertake further research for my novel, this will also be the first time our children have seen their father’s birthplace. There are so many cousins, aunts and uncles for them to meet. And of course, they’ll get to visit all the special places Lazar remembers from his childhood.

 All in all, we’re looking forward to an exciting and educational trip!

Wednesday, April 03rd, 2013 | Author:
 

 

We are settling into our new life in beautiful Canberra and I am thrilled to report that the family’s Chinese lessons are continuing ‘down under’. We have enrolled the girls in Sunday morning Mandarin classes at the Australian School of Contemporary Chinese and joined the Australia China Friendship Society. The ACFS held a lantern making workshop where we all made paper lanterns prior to the Lantern Festival. And ― big thanks here to the lecturers in Mandarin at the Australian National University ― we have met three lovely international students with the English names of Sandy, Bob and Emma who have very kindly volunteered to tutor the girls in Chinese. So while we’ve accepted the fact that the kids will lose some of their Mandarin now they’re out of their 24/7 Chinese environment, at least they will keep their toes in the water of bilingualism here!

 

The girls with their wonderful lanterns after the workshop

Friday, November 30th, 2012 | Author:

 

Last weekend we went to the wedding reception of one of our favourite former students, Butterfly.

As we neared the groom’s house, we passed an excited crowd on the road and spotted the beautiful bride in their centre: a man in flip-flops and with his slacks rolled up to his knees was dragging a small wooden cart in which Butterfly knelt, clad in her scarlet wedding dress and veil. 

Three motorcycles were weaving across the road in front of the bridal cart. While one man rode each bike, another straddled it backwards, using a cigarette to light firecrackers he’d then toss in front of the wedding procession.

The wedding lunch was served in the courtyard of the groom’s family’s house. Another hundred or more guests sat under temporary awnings erected in the laneway beside the house. A small army of caterers prepared all the food on the spot, using massive steamers and portable gas bottles to cook everything right there in the courtyard.

As is usual on special occasions in China, no rice or vegetables were served — just masses of meat and seafood. We ate pig’s ears, crocodile, lobster, crab, lamb, whole steamed duck, some dish involving huge slabs of fatty, steamed pig skin, and several different soups. There was one featuring dried mushrooms and some type of offal; another with bamboo shoots and pork; also a sort of egg custard with dried prawns and dried mushrooms sprinkled on top and finally, very sweet peanut soup. We scarcely had time to taste each dish, much less finish it, before it was whisked away to be replaced by the next.

Once we were all well and truly full, the kids spent a while playing in the marital bedchamber with Butterfly and Ifan’s nieces and nephews. No one seemed to mind a bunch of kids jumping about on the bride and groom’s new bed! Everything in the bedroom was new and either pink or red: new red sheets and pink pillows, floral arrangements of pink and red roses on a red plastic stool beside the bed, a swathe of pink fabric decorating the mirror. Looking down on all this from the wall was an enormous, airbrushed wedding picture of the gorgeous bride and groom. 

It was wonderful to see Butterfly looking so happy, and so beautiful in her traditional scarlet and gold qipao.

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 | Author:

 

My parents, my sister and her husband and kids are currently holidaying here. Last weekend we all visited some of the earth houses, or tulous, of one of southeastern China’s minority groups, the Hakka people. The trip put me way out of my comfort zone: we hired a van and a Chinese driver for 3 days, and so my family was forced to rely on my awful Mandarin to communicate with our driver. I’m still in awe of Mr Jiang’s patience in deciphering my mangled instructions. In a language where using the wrong tone can mean the difference between saying ‘four’ and saying ‘death’, I made mistakes I’m even now shuddering to recall.

Anyway, the tulous are enormous, incredibly impressive structures with outer walls made from a mixture of mud, bamboo strips, glutinous rice and straw. They’re usually circular or square, and feature a single entrance and an interior courtyard equipped with wells — perfect for enduring a long siege! Originally, an entire clan lived inside each tulou. Nowadays many of them are in ruins. Others have been converted into hotels; still others house tea shops, souvenir stalls and little eateries. 

With more than 400 rooms, Chengqi Lou, the ‘king’ of the tulous, is the most awe-inspiring. But my personal favourite is Yuchang Lou, which is kind of like the tulou version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa — all its vertical supports lean in different directions. It looks like it’s been frozen in mid-collapse.

On the last day of our trip, we met a local man in the restaurant of the hotel where we were staying. When he discovered that we teach English at Xiamen University of Technology, he very proudly told us that his daughter was studying there. Then he pulled out his phone, called her and ordered her to speak English to us (I could just imagine his daughter saying ‘Oh Dad, no, please!’). So I started chatting with her and it turned out she’s one of my students! Small world, huh? Once we discovered that, her father invited us to have a couple of drinks with him, Chinese-style. That involves cries of “Ganbei, ganbei!” (‘Cheers’ or literally, ‘empty glass!’), followed by gulping a whole glass of baijiu, followed by holding out your dry glass to show everyone you’ve polished it all off. It was all a lot of fun and, for my family, a great introduction to Chinese hospitality.

Sunday, August 19th, 2012 | Author:

 

A few days ago, Pazu Kong, the wonderful and very knowledgable travel agent, author (and skilled magician, as my daughters discovered when they met him) who organised our trip to Tibet in 2011, asked me to write some tips he could give other parents interested in travelling to Tibet with their kids. He has included my tips on his list of things to pack/consider before coming to Tibet, and I’ll also reproduce the list below.

For anyone interested in travelling to Tibet (remember, you MUST organise your trip through a travel agent; you cannot get permission to go to Tibet any other way), I would strongly recommend Pazu’s services. He did a great job organising our visit to Tibet and was very sensitive to our needs as parents. You can contact Pazu via his website, http://www.cafespinn.com/.

Some Tips for Parents Taking Small Kids to Tibet…

I guess the number one concern of parents taking their children to Tibetwould have to be altitude sickness. Here are a few tips to help kids deal with it…

  • Don’t worry if they don’t eat too much. Decreased appetite is normal when arriving at higher altitudes. But do make them drink plenty of water. Liquids help with acclimatisation.
  • Explain to your kids that they might feel a little unwell when they arrive in Tibet. Make it clear that they should tell you if they feel headachy or nauseous so that you can get help. But don’t overreact! Our kids were 3 and 4 ½ when we went to Tibet, and other than being a bit irritable at first, they didn’t suffer any ill effects from the altitude.
  • Take things very easy for the first two or three days. Make sure your kids have plenty of time to rest to allow their bodies to acclimatise.
  • Remember to take care of yourself! Altitude sickness can be exacerbated by carrying weights, and that includes carrying your children. We found ourselves really over-exhausted after carrying our kids a lot on our first couple of days in Lhasa. Investing in a stroller might be a good idea!
  • Leave your visit to the Potala Palace for the last days of your time in Lhasa. There are a lot of steep stairs there, and children will struggle with them. So will you, when you end up carrying your kids up them.

Finally, keep in mind that small kids have very different interests than adults when it comes to sightseeing! We’ve found that our children generally enjoy outdoor activities far more than exploring temples. In fact, our youngest daughter was a little frightened by the monasteries in Tibet– the enormous statues, the dimness, the smoky air. The things she enjoyed most in Tibet were playing in the park outside the Potala Palace, having a ride on a yak at Lake Yamdrok-Tso, and running around Barkhor Square with the local kids. The other experience that both children were completely taken with was watching the monks debate in the courtyard at the Sera Monastery — they were absolutely fascinated.

Well, I hope these brief tips help! Enjoy your family holiday in Tibet and please feel free to contact me if you’d like to ask anything else!

–         Karen

www.karenmaric.com