NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Our first book published!

Not every journey is intentional, or physical.  When we embark on the great adventure of having children, we hurdle along a road at differing speeds with unpredictable twists and a confused itinerary filled with laughter, rainstorms, drama, challenges, thrills and unique experiences.  It’s not too different from a very long road trip.  This past year, we discovered writing and blogging fit into this frame as well.

Today, we proudly announce that our book (Explore The World With Your Kids!) offering parents travel advice is available on the iBooks platform!

Book-Cover-1Download_on_iBooks_Badge_US-UK_110x40_090513

 

 

 

 

 

The book provides to readers everything we know and have learned so far about traveling with kids, with specific ideas, strategies, and recommendations for discreet age ranges.  It also provides advice on how to approach resort travel, packing (including the dreaded stuffed animal dilemma), road trips, gluten-free dining, dining budgets (where strategy is essential when traveling with teen boys!), airplane travel, souvenir strategies, and security (both physical and internet/privacy issues).  It’s not merely about gear and babies.  It also covers ways to make travel fun and interesting for your elementary school kids, tweens, and teens.

Download it today and help us launch this daring adventure with a strong sales start!  Proceeds from the book will help cover the costs of the website.  If we manage to make a profit after a year, we have designated the Make-A-Wish Foundation as our preferred charity….so help us reach our goal of helping out that great charity as well!

If you had told us 18 months ago that we would become self-punished indie authors in the family travel sector, we would have laughed.  We are accidental tourists here.  It sort of feels like the morning after a long drive on a long road trip that involved an unanticipated late-night stop at a roadside hotel.  You wake up and the first practical questions that come to mind are: where are we and how did we get here?

Unlike the passing-through road-trippers, however, we are here to stay.  We know how we got here.

Last spring, we were discussing with friends family travel to the world’s great places with small kids.  We were in particular convincing one friend that it is never too early or too difficult to take small kids to major metropolitan centers like Paris, NYC, London, DC, etc. The friend then said:  you should create a website and share what you know!  Kate found the thought intriguing and looked into it on a whim.  It became quickly obvious that everything she wanted to say was too much for a website.  Work on the first draft of the site was abandoned.  This book was written by Kate, edited by Mike, and reviewed by Marguerite.  And then we went back to the website.  This website and this blog are, thus, a second edition.  They are designed to help others put into practice what the book recommends.  Even that was not enough, and so the Pinterest boards began to proliferate.  Then came the Twitter presence.  Then came the Facebook presence.  Then we added Tumblr to the party last week.

We hope the book and companion website/social media tools are helpful, particularly to young families and expats starting out on the great adventure known as traveling with kids.  We know from experience that a few simple steps and a focus on the bigger picture can help make travel with kids easier and fun whether your kids are pre-walking, pre-teen or pre-college.  We hope the book and tools we are assembling help you have more fun on the road and become smarter consumers of travel goods from gear and tech to great adventure packages and accommodations.

In the month that we have been online, we have already found a rich, welcoming, fun, and oh-so-interesting community of family travel Twitterati, bloggers, forum hosts, and people.  We look forward to getting to know everyone better.  We look foreword to contributing to the conversation about engaging family travel that inspires a thrill to explore the BIG WORLD among you and the LITTLE EYES in your family.  We have been loving the engagement so far and look forward to more of it as we continue along this unanticipated and thrilling journey!

 

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Trip Insurance Top Tips

It’s that magical time of the year.  Families in the Northern Hemisphere are trapped by snow and ice, pining away for Spring Break and Summer Vacation.  The world outside looks kind of like this:

Old-Town_snowy-park-1 Old-Town_icy-river-1

You do your research.

You book your tickets.

You book your hotel room.

You have spent thousands of dollars or euros and your next trip is all set.

Mission accomplished!

You can buy the trip insurance tomorrow.

You get up and decide to go for a walk.  Then this happens:

Foot-in-Cast

Here is our top tip for buying travel insurance:

BUY IT IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOU BOOK.  

Trust us people, we know what we are talking about.

Our affiliate partners at Travelex can help you out.  Don’t lose your investment in a big trip because mother nature (or the flu) require you to rip up your itinerary and stay home.

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SHUTTERBUG NOTES — One Four Challenge, week 4 — THE BIG REVEAL

Week Four of this One-Four Challenge begun by Captivate Me is always the best one. After editing the same picture for three weeks in a row, in the fourth week everyone shares their final version, alongside the prior three week versions.  So much fun.

People who have been following along with me these last few months know that I am a twice-failed Photoshop editor. The third time has been the charm. This month, I have been going wild experimenting with all the fabulous effects Photoshop provides. I saved the wildest edit for last.

The image this month has been a dragon. Technically, it’s a salamander. Skip forward to The Big Reveal for more information.

I wanted motion and I wanted fire to turn this guy into a real dragon.

Here is the result, using the Twirl Filter (-180 degrees):

One-Four_Loire_week-4

and using the Twirl filter + a Red filter at 55% to generate a truly wild and fierce image:

One-Four_Loire_week-4b

 

Isn’t it amazing to see how the eyes and the teeth transform into something so fierce and dangerous just by twirling the pixels?  Isn’t it amazing to see how the emotion of the picture changes when an angry red color and an inversion are added?

Personally, the earlier versions are closer to reality and are my preference.  But I am captivated by what Photoshop can do to amplify the emotive effect of a picture.

So here are the four versions and a poll….let me know which one you like best.

Week 3: inversion + contrast

One-Four_Loire-3-contrast

Week 2: accent color red; accent color yellow

One-Four_Loire-2b One-Four_Loire_2

 

Week 1: Base image, minimal edits

One-Four_Loire-1

The Big Reveal

Kids with their active imaginations may very well see fierce dragons everywhere in the masonry in the Loire Valley, in every palace that the great Francois I called home.  Francois was indeed a fierce guy.  But this creature is actually a much more humble salamander and Francois was a complex guy.  He was a true Renaissance man.  He imported Leonardo da Vinci to design the staircases in Blois (where this photo was taken) and of course at Chambord.  The salamander with the crown was his symbol and can be found everywhere in the these two palaces.  But in our humble opinion the salamanders at Blois are the loveliest.

To see more (unedited) pictures and to learn more about how much kids love to visit this heartland of fairytales, see our website page dedicated to the Loire Valley at: http://exploretheworldwithyourkids.com/europe/the-loire-valley-france/

SHUTTERBUG NOTES — One Four Challenge….Inversions

One of the truly awesome things about this One-Four Challenge (take one image, edit it once a week for four weeks) started by Captivate Me last year is that it provides inspiration to do wild and crazy things with photos.  For beginners like me that are learning how to use Photoshop  while we participate in the challenge, it also provides inspiration to experiment with the program’s various editing functions.  I still have not made it to the selection tools and image manipulation items, since I am still exploring the range of color and visual effects available in the program.

Three mischievous hints about the location of the photo appear at the bottom of this post.  Can you guess the location?

This week is an excellent example.  Normally, with an architecture image, my goal would be to make sure the contrast was sharp enough to render the image faithfully without too much pixellation.  This month’s challenge showed me photographers from around the world going wild with vibrant color throughout the image. This week, I also saw lovely pictures rendered into black and white with only a splash of color.  I was thinking of going for this effect today (B&W, with a splash of color).

Photoshop had other plans for me, again.  But instead of fighting me, Photoshop showed me a new side.  It showed me the neatest effect.  Learning from the other photographers, I was supposed to invert the image first and then take a few additional steps to achieve a different effect.  But the inversion was so awesome, I decided to play with it instead.

What color befits a dragon best?  Red of course.  So I added a red filter (83% density).  I tried it with and without luminosity and decided the glow from the “preserve luminosity” setting worked best.  Then I cropped the image to eliminate the masonry column in the foreground which was distracting in this version of the photo.  The net effect is to deliver a glowing dragon lighting up a night-time frame:

One-Four_Loire-3b

 

The inversion lent an air of motion to the picture that I had not expected.  It also transformed the surrounding masonry, making the rest of the masonry look more like fire than the original.  It was such fun to see this effect that I stopped editing.  Maybe next week I will get to the B&W with a splash of color….Let me know whether you like this week’s version and whether you have figured out where it was taken.

Thank You to Commenters — Revised Edition Below!

A special thanks to Learning to See Light and Snows Fissures and Fractures  for their comments overnight.  Both liked the image, but noted quite rightly that some of the detail had been lost.  So I experimented with one additional adjustment layer: Brightness/Contrast.  With the brightness set to -58 and the contrast set to +75, all the detail is back without losing the fiery effect.  Thanks so much for the feedback!  Let me know if you like this revised version better.

One-Four_Loire-3-contrast

Last Three Hints About The Location

1.  This image is the featured image on one of our website pages.  All you have to do is go to our website and you will find the image easily.

2.  The place is unique, but it is not alone.  It is in a European neighborhood filled with similarly storied and amazing places.

3.  This dragon appears in a staircase so famous that an American tycoon replicated it in his own massive mansion in the mountains.

 

NOTES FROM THE ROAD–How to Get the Most From Your #Paris Pass

Paris_Bookinistes

I love Paris in the spring time….the summer, the winter, and the fall…..

But how do you introduce your child to this magical city with so  many things to do without breaking the bank and without losing your mind?

Let us introduce you to our affiliates at the Paris Pass.  They can help. Our post below provides secret tips and advice on how to get the most out of this city pass.

You know the basics of the city pass system: pre-pay for discounted admission to major cultural attractions and public transportation; receive a plastic card that delivers your access upon arrival.  This is how it works in Paris:

Regular readers of our blog know that we love the city pass systems.  But our reasons for loving the one in Paris are very different from the ones in London or NYC. It’s more about convenience and cost savings.

It is less about speed, in part because skip the line options are only available at the three big museums (Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou) and the wax museum.  But mostly, it is because Paris is not about speed.  It is about savoring beauty in all its forms.  It is about being smart about how you accessorize and embellish your life.  We consider the Paris Pass a tourism accessory.

1.  Buy During Flash Sales, not just before your trip

If you follow our tips and strategies below, you will get the most value and savings from your Paris Pass at any time of year.  But you can BOOST your savings by buying the pass in advance during flash sales.

How does this work?  It’s very simple.  The Paris Pass will periodically announce a FLASH sale, usually over a limited period of time (like a weekend).

If you buy during these discount periods, all the savings and values described below are amplified because you are purchasing the pass during a sales period.

Buy your city passes during the sales period, through our website, to get the maximum value.

You don’t have to specify in advance the dates during which you will use the passes, so you can purchase them in advance.  You can choose to have the passes shipped to you for an additional fee, or you can request for it to be waiting for you in central Paris for pick up and activation.

So if you have already purchased your airline/train and hotel and have locked in your dates, start thinking immediately about how many days of the Paris Pass you want and be ready to pounce when a Flash Sale has been announced!

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook since we tell our friends and followers whenever a Flash Sale in underway.

2.  Cost Savings — 3 Attractions Per Day

In a contest between London and Paris as to which is the more expensive city, we don’t know which one would win.  This luxury global capital is stunningly beautiful, and it comes at a price.  Yes, you could wander the streets of Paris and take your kids to the marvelous playgrounds for free.  We wrote about our favorite playgrounds in Paris HERE.  The playgrounds are stunning and impressive and fun.

But you did not travel all this way just to hang out in playgrounds and parks did you?  What kind of message does that send to your kids anyway?  Travel to a major cultural capital on the planet and never see some of its art or history?  Everyone who has read our e-book “Explore the World With Your Kids!” (available on Kindle HERE and on iBooks HERE) knows that we believe passionately in the importance of ensuring that everyone on a family trip has a good time.  This INCLUDES the parents!

If you are going to spend an hour with a cafe au lait watching the kids play on swings, the least they can do is accompany you to see Monet’s Water Lilies.

And then it becomes tricky.  Because those museums in Paris are expensive.  Welcome to our friends at the Paris Pass!

Are You Visiting Paris? Get A Paris Pass Here!

Like the other city passes, to get the promised savings you need to visit three (3) sites per day.  The Paris Pass is sold in increments of 2-day, 4-day and 6-day bundles.

This means you need to plan strategically.  Remember to divide and conquer.  If you cannot leave Paris without having seen a few cultural gems and know your kids cannot handle a second museum in a day, ask your spouse to hang with the kids while you enjoy the paintings or the history.

Three attractions in a day may sound like a lot when traveling with kids.  But it isn’t, if you use our secret savings strategies for transportation.

3.  Transportation Included — Secret Savings

The Paris Pass comes bundled with three transportation options:  the hop-on and hop-off big bus, the metro, and the bateux Parisian.  This is a goldmine of embedded savings if you use it correctly.  We have four tips or life hacks that will help you get the most value from this feature.

i. Use the Big Bus as your taxi

We know that not everyone is a fan of being on a big tourist bus.  You like blending in with the locals.  But just like in New York, part of the thrill of being in Paris is to drive through the streets seeing the beautiful buildings.  This is especially true for your kids.

In addition, the bus route takes you to the top 10 must-see attractions.  No need to worry about figuring out the metro route.  The kids will entertain themselves during the drive as the bus will take you through the city’s finest neighborhoods and to the top locations: Eiffel Tower; Champs de Mars; Louvre Museum; Notre Dame; Orsay Museum; Paris Opera House; Champs Elysées Étoile; Grand Palais; Trocadéro.  It’s a great way to orient yourself and your family.

This is where you really rack up the savings because in addition to serving as your transportation the Big Bus counts as one of the attractions.

So all you have to do is use the bus to take you to two different attractions each day and the Paris Pass pays for itself.

We have been to Paris with a 5 year-old.  In one day alone when visiting friends we walked her through the two main churches (Notre Dame and Saint Chappelle, both on the Paris Pass) before lunch.

You could actually get through FOUR attractions in one morning.  Entrance to Notre Dame and entrance to the Crypt below are two separate entry fees and two separate attractions on the Paris Pass.  The exquisite Saint Chappelle church is right across the street, literally hidden from view.  Right next door is the Conciergerie.  Presto!  The pass has paid for itself on Day 1 before lunch.

You could start your day at the Louvre (attraction #1), walk through the gardens which double as the front lawn (giving the kids a snack along the way), stop at the hidden playground with the carrousel and the trampolines, then pop into the Orangeries (attraction #2) to see the Water Lilies and still make it to a very French 1 pm lunch.  From there, walk or take the Big Bus (attraction #3!) to the guided tour of the Opera Garner (attraction #4!) in late afternoon.

For a bonus, you could treat the family to dinner at O Chateau (10% off).

ii. Use the Bateaux Parisiens River Cruise at night

The Eiffel Tower is located a bit off the central tourist site areas.  Plan your day and your Big Bus route to leave you at the Trocadero for dinner.  Then head to the Eiffel Tower at night, when it sparkles.  Don’t worry if your kids don’t want to go up into the tower.  Head to the river.

The Bateaux Parisians are an included attraction in your Paris Pass.

Enjoy seeing the city from the river as the lights flicker on.  There is no better way to explain to your kids why Paris is still known as the City of Light than this boat tour.  We know.  We have done it with a 5 year old and an 8-year old.  They were delighted.  What about we jaded parents, who had never deigned to take this tour at any other point in our lives?  Did we suffer through it?  No.  We smiled.  Because the beauty is irresistible in general and it is even more beautiful when we see the wonder and smiles in our kids faces as they take it in for the first time.

iii. Find all the attractions inside Zones 1, 2, and 3 for the Metro

The Paris Metro covers a significant amount of territory quickly, efficiently, and elegantly.  The Metro stations themselves are works of art.  But don’t mess with the Metro when it comes to the main destinations above.  Use it to help you get to some of the other sights available on the Paris Pass without spending a fortune on taxis.

But you need to be careful.  The Paris Pass only covers Zones 1, 2, and 3.

iv. The Versailles Challenge

If you are heading out to Versailles or any other location in Zone 4 you will have to pay extra.  This is where strategy really comes in to play.  Any trip to Zone 4 in general and Versailles in particular is a full day event.  Getting out there and then back in to the city will take time.  You WILL spend the entire day there.  The palace is magnificent and massive, as are the grounds.  Your Paris Pass gives you discounted access, but unless your kids are troopers about touring sites like churches at night then you will never be able to get to the three sites needed to maximize your savings on the Paris Pass.

Is it worth it?  Let’s do the math using the cost estimates provided on the Paris Pass website.  The RER train ticket is about EUR3.25 each way (EUR7.5 per person roundtrip x 4 people = EUR30).  Entrance to Versailles is EUR18 per person x 4 people = EUR72). Total cost: EUR102.  A 2-day adult Paris Pass is EUR122.  That means it is worth EUR61 per day.  In addition, the Monument Cafe nearby offers Paris Pass holders 20% off their meal.

Our advice: Use the 2-day Paris Pass for attractions inside Zones 1, 2 and 3, where you can get the most value by seeing more sights. Then on Day 3 of your trip head out to Versailles on your own.

4.  Exploration Encouraged

There are many people who go to Paris and all they see are the world-famous sights contained on the Big Bus tour loop.  This is understandable.  These are stunning sights that create the classic first-time visit to Paris.

But if you are like us, you also want to show your kids something beyond these landmarks.  You want to show them lesser-known hidden gems.  The Paris Pass can help.

Hot Tip For Tourists In Paris - Paris Pass Saves $

Paris is filled with marvelous museums and attractions.  The Paris Pass encourages exploration of the city and its marvelous collection of museums by including a broad set of museums and experiences scattered all over the city.  For every blockbuster site (like Notre Dame) there’s the Pantheon on the Left Bank by the Sorbonne University.  There’s the Sevres Museum, the Cluny (Middle Ages) Museum, a Chocolate Museum, Malmaison.  Beyond the Louvre, there’s the lovely Rodin Museum and the marvelous Orangeries Museum where Monet’s Water Lilies are on display. You get the idea.

5.  Balance

Unlike NYC or London, both of which are filled with frenetic activity, Paris is all about sitting back and enjoying life.  So do yourself a favor.  When you visit with kids, plan to be there 3-4 days.  Use the Paris Pass to see the main sights as well as some museums you might never have heard of in a different neighborhood.  Then take the third day to meander.  Take your kids to the Bois de Bologne (metro zone 2) for the day.  Get lost in the Quartier Latin by the river.  This video from Expedia provides more inspiration.  Enjoy!

 

Finally, for a big trip like this, be sure to buy some travel insurance.  You don’t want bad weather or a bad cold scuttling your investment in this kind of trip!

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NOTES FROM THE ROAD — #SpringBreak #Deals in #London right now!

Regular readers of this blog know we LOVE London.

We dedicated a fixed page of our website to sharing our Top Nine Tips for Seeing London with Kids.  We updated the list with THIS blogpost in December to incorporate the fun new kid-themed adventures throughout the city associated with the Paddington Bear movie roll-out.  In September, we wrote HERE about all the wonderful books and apps for kids about London.  We have an Amazon.com store  and a Pinterest Board providing ideas on great books for kids of all ages regarding London.  We watched this video from VisitLondon and were itching to return again…

But let’s be honest.  London is NOT a cheap or an easy place to visit.  All those wonderful attractions charge an entry fee.  In addition to your transportation, hotel, food, and incidental expenses, the cost can add up quite quickly for a family of four.  The city is HUGE. One could spend a small fortune just getting to all the main attractions by taxi and boat.

Do NOT let these issues deter you from visiting this fabulous, legendary city!

We share with you today our favorite way to get good value and a bargain while trying to get around London and why we love the system created by our affiliate partners at the London Pass.

TIP:  If you really want to maximize your savings, purchase your London Pass during Flash Sales.  Purchasing your pass during these periods amplifies your savings.  Start looking for flash sales to be announced after you have purchased your airline/train and hotel bookings.  The easiest way to do this is to follow us on Twitter and Facebook….we notify our friends and followers of Flash Sales as they are announced.

BWLEtravel’s Top Reasons To Use The London Pass

1.  Skip the Lines!

Truly, this is our top reason for favoring the London Pass.  Who doesn’t like feeling as if they were a VIP or an insider?  Just flash your pass and you are whisked inside.  We cannot tell you paparazzi will take your picture, but sometimes it will feel like it could happen.  Ten years ago we took our teenage niece on a multi-day tour of London.  This was our first introduction to the London Pass.  It was truly fabulous to zip to the front of the line at the Tower of London and Hampton Court.  It felt like a hidden secret at the time.

Skip The Lines With The London Pass

 2.  Save Money

We love luxury resorts and luxury destinations.  We also love being smart about how we spend our money.  If we are going to London for a few days and we know that we want to take tween to multiple legendary sites, why would we (or you) want to pay full price at the door each time?  This is how it works:

 Like all other city pass programs, the London Pass shares a bulk rate wholesale discount to individual retail purchasers.  The cost (with or without the public transportation add-on) is paid up front and in full when you buy the pass.  You can try to do the math, but it’s not worth the effort.  The London Pass has done it for you.  It’s very simple.

Do you think you think you will visit a minimum of three sites in a day?  If the answer is yes, then the London Pass delivers a savings on the entry fee starting with the third site you enter.  Just determine how many days you will want to be a tourist in London to know what kind of pass to buy.

You are not limited to the city limits in London.  Windsor Castle (see the video below) and Hampton Court (see our webpage, link above) are included in the Pass with discounted entry.

But note that each of these is at least a half day excursion.  At BWLEtravel, we consider them a full day excursion with kids.  So does it still make sense to use the London Pass at these all-day sites?  Yes, because entrance is still provided to you on a discounted rate.  At Windsor, no less than 8 different shops and restaurants offer companion discounts with the card.

In addition, the London Pass includes a range of other discounts (like 10% off at Liberty of London) and special promotions for things you would do anyway (like dining).  So when you are looking at your three items per day you need to look at all the options available through the pass system.  You need to plan ahead.

3.  Save Time by Planning Ahead, Without Losing Flexibility

Family travel requires planning ahead, of course.  The problem with planning ahead is that it often requires families to give up flexibility.  This is NOT the case with the London Pass.

You buy your tickets in advance, specifying only the number of days and number of people and whether you want to include public transportation.  Do this early…the tickets are good for nearly a year before you pick them up.  Then download their book (accessible through this link below).  Have fun going through it with your kids trying to figure out which places you really want to see and whether you can fit it all in to the trip.  Yes, they will let you buy additional days.

click here for your London Sightseeing Itinerary

One of the reasons we love this pass system is that, like its NYC cousin, it includes more than the obvious top sites.  A number of additional attractions are included for those who like to venture off the beaten path.  They include the water taxi to Greenwich and other boat tours on the Thames as well as backstage theater and sports arena tours . They provide discounts on London’s famous walking tours and theater tickets.  And where the museums are free, pass holders get special offers and perks.

Click here for your London Pass
So what are you waiting for?

PS — Don’t forget to buy your travel insurance from our affiliates at Travelex when you make the big trip to London!  Protect your investment from random weather and illnesses that can wreak havoc with travel plans.


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SHUTTERBUG NOTES — Week 2, posterized

 

 

This week brings fun with the Posterize Adjustment Filter in Photoshop!  It was interesting to see how different just one integer interval (4 versus 5 or 6) would render the picture.

In the end these are my two favorite versions:

One-Four_Loire_2  One-Four_Loire-2b

 

The red-toned version seems more appropriate for the dragon-like image, but the one with yellow accents also implies fire.

Any comments or reaction?

Three More Location Hints

Hint 1

A Duke was murdered here.

Hint 2

A Queen escaped by making herself a rope made of bedsheets

Hint 3

Another Queen reportedly kept magic potions in hidden compartments.  The compartments are still there, but the contents are long gone.

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Washington DC’s Phillips Collection

Suppose for a moment that you are on Day Three of your trip to Washington DC.

Your kids are staging their own little revolution.  They refuse to visit any building that features marble as the main material.  They don’t want to hear another word about wars or histories or presidents.  They are tired of large open spaces and tall ceilings.  Truth be told, you are kind of tired of all of that as well.  You long to show your kids a hidden gem in Washington, a place off the beaten path, a place that feels more like a real neighborhood than an imposing relic.

Fortunately, you came to the right place.  Let us help you.

Take a taxi or the Metro’s Red Line to Dupont Circle.  It is only a few minutes away from the central tourist areas.

Walk two blocks…..to America’s first modern art museum, the Phillips Collection.

The museum resides in the original house that held the collector’s initial acquisitions of modern art….in the early 20th century.  Since then, a large modern addition has been constructed.  The original masters of modern art can be found here, in an intimate setting.  From Cezanne to Stieglitz, from Monet to Rothko, from Bonnard to O’Keefe, some of the Western world’s modern masterpieces are all here.

Most are paintings kids can enjoy, with bright colors and strange angles that encourage viewers young and old to see the world from a different perspective.  If you are visiting on a Sunday between September and May, you can also treat your kids to a FREE concert in the music room in late afternoon.  Even if your kids don’t want to sit through the concert, the music floats through the old house and parts of the modern wing.  The effect is marvelous.

This YouTube video provides a nice preview of some of the masterpieces on view at the museum, paired with piano music

We wish we could tell you this was a hidden gem.  You may feel like it is, since the museum is not part of the Smithsonian Institution.  You can tell your kids that it is, and so be seen as being in-the-know.  But the truth is that this museum has been a mainstay and trend-setter for contemporary American art since it was established.  It is a famous and beloved fixture in Washington’s arts scene.

The museum has its own APP which we have just downloaded.  Watch this space as we plan to take it for a test drive!  We will let you know what we think.

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NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Top Tips for #FamilyTravel to #Aachen #Germany

A little while ago, we wrote a rather long blogpost focused on perfect day trips from large cities in Europe and the USA.  You can read that post HERE.

We promised to provide more detail.  So today we focus on Aachen, Germany.  We featured it as an easy day trip from Brussels, but it is also an easy day trip from Amsterdam, Antwerp and Cologne.

We hear that Aachen has one of the most wonderful Christmas markets in Europe.  We can believe it, given that the town was so charming.  But we have not seen it during the holidays. We were there in summer.  Based on our experience, here are….

BWLEtravel’s Top Three Tips for Family Travel to Aachen Germany

1.  See the Cathedral

Aachen is a lovely small (but not walled) medieval town.  It is near Germany’s industrial heartland which was bombed extensively during World War II…..but the town’s historic buildings managed to escape the war unscathed.

The cathedral is the town’s main attraction.  It’s two distinctive spires create a charming skyline, particularly when viewed from the nearby cafes.

Aachen_cathedral-silhouette   Aachen_spires

From the outside, it looks like every other cathedral in Europe.

Aachen_cathedral-exterior

But the inside holds surprises, particularly for those who have spent a fair amount of time visiting cathedrals in France and Italy.

The Aachen Cathedral is as opulent as its southern cousins of course

Aachen_altar

But it is amazingly, eye-poppingly ancient and exotic in ways one would not expect for Germany.

Many of its initial spaces are small and dark, with low ceilings.  They evoke a mystical time from Christianity’s very early days and its deep connection with the Middle East.

Aachen_old-window-and-lamp

The soaring arches reflect a complex architectural heritage, resembling in a striking way the Moorish arches in Spain’s south and the Islamic love of intricate illustration on ceilings

Aachen_Arches  Aachen_atrium

This octagon was actually constructed by Charlemagne around 800AD.  His throne is in the cathedral as well, but it is a surprisingly unassuming wooden chair.  It was so dull we didn’t even bother to take a picture of it when we were there.  For an excellent description of the throne and its history, check out the European Traveler blog HERE.

The striking mosaics are more modern.  They date back only to the late 19th century and were designed to evoke the era of Christianity when Constantinople (now Istanbul) was the seat of the Byzantine Christian empire:

Aachen_mosaic-ceiling    Aachen_golden-ceiling

Kids love this place for the color and the playful lines and all the glittering gold in the walls.  Years later, as adults, we still marvel at all that gold in the cathedral.  The ceilings and walls literally sparkle.

2.  Visit the Treasury

Where did all that gold come from in the cathedral?  We don’t know.  But we do know that this was not just any old cathedral tucked away in a remote corner of Germany near the Netherlands.  This was the home of the famous and revered King Charlemagne, the first European ruler that united Europe (albeit loosely) under one titular authority.  This was the center of the Holy Roman Empire, which most historians will tell you was neither Roman nor Holy.  It was the center of political and religious power in Europe while the Vandals ruled Rome and while the Moors ruled from Andalucia.

So when you are finished with the cathedral, walk next door to the rather imposing building known as The Treasury:

 

AAchen_Treasury-Walls Aachen_statues

Inside, you will find relics of Charlemagne’s European empire.  Boys and kids of a certain age will be delighted and a bit creeped out to learn that preserved body parts of King Charlemagne remain on view alongside swords and armor and of course the riches of the empire.

3.  Walk Around the Town Squares

Aachen offers visitors more than just ancient history.  Its elegant old town hall combines the old and the new, flying a range of flags (EU, France, Italy)

Aachen_town-hall

while old cafes and restaurants mingle merrily with more modern surreal statues that kids love, like this red horse:

Aachen_red-horse

 

We had a delightful day in Aachen.  People had told us to visit, without making clear why it was worth the effort.  Hopefully, this blogpost and the pictures show you why and how you should visit the town with kids.  Our five year old loved it at the time, and so did we!
120x395 Beach Chair

 

GFREE! — Washington DC

Every time we find another restaurant in our back yard that really gets the gluten free dining thing, we feel like we have won the lottery.

We have two words for all you celiac diners reading this blog: DEDICATED FRYER!

Welcome to Washington DC’s Scion restaurant, in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.

The wait staff understands the challenges of GFree! diners.  The kitchen not only has a dedicated fryer for the French fries, but it makes its own stock.

Celaics will be thrilled to discover that that multiple dining options exist on the lunch menu…..with radically different flavor profiles.  Imagine that: choice!  What a luxury!

Interested in Indian-inspired flavors?  Try the spicy yogurt chicken.  Kate likes her spicy meals HOT, so this dish while savory did not quite live up to the “spicy” moniker for her.  But it seems silly to complain when the dish was so tasty.  Perhaps the sweet chili glazed shrimp will be spicier?  Stay tuned, since we have to return to try this GFREE! dish…..unless Kate is lured away by the fig balsamic salmon or the spring risotto.  Every single side dish at lunch was gluten free.  Then there are the fries….hand cut herb and garlic fries.  Don’t get us started on the choices for appetizers and salads.

We are getting hungry just thinking about all these choices.

Yes, we will return.  Yes, we highly recommend this restaurant.

If you are visiting Washington DC and sticking to The Mall area of town, you may find this restaurant a bit out of the way.  But it is worth the short metro ride to the Dupont Circle stop on the Red Line.  Scion is a neighborhood restaurant in a lively part of town full of book shops and art galleries and restaurants.  For a tourist, the main attraction is the spectacular Phillips Collection museum just a few blocks away from the metro and the restaurant.  We wrote about the Phillips Collection earlier this week.  You can read that post HERE.  Scion is the perfect place to share a lunch with friends or family before or after visiting the museum.
120x395 Beach Chair

SHUTTERBUG NOTES — One Four Challenge, Week 1 Dragons

Hello photography friends!

Another week brings

— another image and another four weeks of fun

— with weekly hints about the location alongside the edits and

— at the end the big reveal plus a poll for you to choose your favorite version of the photo.

Thanks to Captivate Me! for keeping this challenge going…I am officially hooked.

Here is this week’s image:

One-Four_Loire-1

 

The baseline starts with the classic, basic Photoshop adjustments (convert to Profile, adjust curves, add contrast, add saturation).  Many thanks to Robyn and all the regular commenters on this stream of blog posts.  Your encouragements have motivated me to try so many new things that now these adjustments seem basic and boring to me.

Location Hints

Hint 1

This dragon appears in a famous man’s boyhood home.

Hint 2

It’s not really a dragon, it’s a real animal.

Hint 3

More than one famous and powerful person called this place home over the centuries.

 

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