Thursday, April 20, 2006

Au Revoir Kate & Eloise

At 7:00 yesterday morning, Eloise bounded out of bed, eager to return to school, her friends and her life before the Kate/Eloise Project. On our walk to school, I asked her to recap the highlights of what we had done over the last 21 days. “Do you want the truth, Mom?” Probably not, I thought. “Of course”, I replied.

“The Chinese exhibition at the Royal Academy (China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795 at the Royal Academy of Arts which closed on April 17) was the best thing we did.” There was stunned silence from me as I surely had not expected that answer. Eloise explained. “It was the kid’s audio guide. It was fabulous. The stories were really interesting and I liked looking at the stuff they were talking about. It’s the first time you and I took the same amount of time to finish a museum. I liked the place too. You can get a nice cup of tea there.”

We discussed the other highlights:

The Palaeontology Museum in the Jardin des Plantes was fun because it is so old and funky. We hope they always leave it that way.

Basildon Park, where they filmed the recent Pride and Prejudice movie, was OK but not as much fun as Jane Austen’s real house and, thanks to the filming, way too crowded .

Musee Jacquemart Andre was a nice museum and had done everything right by offering a treasure hunt in English but the prize for completing the treasure hunt was disappointing.

The treasure hunt at the Cabinet War Rooms & Churchill Museum was good and so was the prize. Eating lunch at Inn the Park in St James Park afterwards was fun.

The Jardin d’Acclimatation was excellent and some of the rides were good enough to make Mac (Eloise’s older brother) feel really sick.

Re-reading the first post from the Kate/Eloise Project, I am reminded that we promised to deliver an epic piece of writing that would improve the family travel experience and now I am scratching my head as to how to deliver on that commitment. OK, here goes.

The Collecive Wisdom of the Kate/Eloise Project

Reverse the Roles - Eloise and I worked best when I presented the options of what we could do and she made the decisions. What she learned is that not all choices work out exactly as you think they will (the disappointing prize at the Jacquemart Andre or the lack of Keira Knightley at Basildon Park) but if you own the decision, you can always find something to like if you are in the mood to look for it. What I learned was to reverse the roles. It occasionally made me nuts but it was very rewarding.

Play it by ear – We had more fun when we took our decisions on what we should do on the day. Chopping and changing our plans was a welcome relief from life during school term. We followed our whims and it was fun. Also, there’s something to be said about only doing things you can do on short notice. Activities that demand lots of advanced planning tend to be crowded.
Children should write the reviews - It’s a blindingly obvious observation but in looking through the 4,973 travel guides for children on Amazon and dozens of the 69,300,000 websites offering advice on travelling with kids, I couldn’t find a young author. Thinking back on the fact that I would never had predicted that Eloise’s favourite activity during the Project would be a sophisticated and immense exhibition of Chinese art nor that her favourite West End show would have been the Blue Man Group, I’m beginning to think that the reason children often are bored and disagreeable when travelling is that we don’t have much of a clue of what they like, although, as Eloise pointed out, we think we do. I’m also beginning to think that what the world needs now is a children’s version of Trip Advisor. Maybe the Kate/Eloise Project has a second life.

Children prefer apartments – OK, there should be full disclosure here. We have a fabulous apartment in Paris which we rent to vacationers via the excellent agency, Rentals in Paris. But that is precisely where Eloise and I learned that renting is the best way to go. From Eloise’s perspective, it feels more like home, there is normally more space and most importantly, when Eloise has had enough of being a tourist, we can stay in our temporary home and eat a “home cooked” meal. I like the apartment option for similar reasons plus it gets you closer to the lifestyle of the country and is almost always cheaper than two rooms in a hotel.

Children like contests – Eloise will agree to do almost anything as long as there is a treasure hunt, a maze or a contest attached to it. The English are really the masters at this and it is the rare museum or stately home that does not offer an activity for young visitors. In a pinch, you can make up your own. For example, thanks to good advice from J.G. Links in “Venice for Pleasure”, Eloise and I furiously competed for the “Who Can Find the Most Madonnas” during our visit to Venice. This simple device gave us both a lot of satisfaction. I was shocked at how many churches she was willing to visit to win the contest.

So I guess that’s it. One child, 21 days of holiday, 2 cities and a budget. Eloise is now back in school. I am now back at my desk. Thank you, Julie Powell of the Julie/Julia Project for the idea and thank you Eloise for your enthusiasm and high spirits. As the old Italian proverb goes, “Good company on the road is the shortest cut.”

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