Wednesday, September 05, 2007

So How Was Your Vacation?

Labor Day in America has come and gone. School started today in Britain. The summer is over and after six weeks of non-stop travel, I’m back at my desk in London and even though the piles of unpaid bills and letters with bad news are bumming me out, home looks pretty good. It’s nice to be back.

Did I have a good time? You bet I did. Beaching and agri-tourism in North Carolina, driving through France, hanging out in Spain and Paris – all in all, it was a brilliant summer. Did I avoid the crowds? Well, I tried and here are just some of the things I learned this year about crowd-free summer travel:

1) Take your young children to Paris in August

Eloise and I spent 3 days together in Paris and once again I was blown away by how fabulous Paris is for young children.

On Day One we shopped for chic and inexpensive things for autumn and then headed over to the Conciergerie, a former royal palace and prison, to see Marie Antoinette’s last residence before she got the chop. There was lots of gory and vivid stuff from the Revolution’s “Reign of Terror” which Eloise enjoyed and no crowds which pleased me. (n.b. – A combo ticket is on offer with the neighbouring Sainte Chappelle which we bought but for now, I would give that a pass. The chapel is being renovated, the crowds were oppressive for such a small space and the amazing experience that I remember from my youth was incredibly flat. “Nice chapel, Mom, was Eloise’s polite response.)

On Day Two, we spent the entire day in the Luxembourg Gardens. We sailed boats on the fountain and because we managed to conspicuously capsize ours (don’t tell my father the naval officer), we met lots of other children from all over the world. Eloise beat her record on the carousel with the rings, we had superb cotton candy ( according to Eloise) and we managed to squeeze in the 4:00 pm performance at the famous puppet theatre. I thought it was one of the best days I had spent with my daughter in a long time. It was relaxing for me, entertaining for her, absolutely beautiful and the price was right.

On Day Three, we went to the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne. This old fashioned park with its rides and playgrounds and menageries is the nicest “amusement” park you can imagine and once again we spent the day in beautiful and relaxing surroundings which thrilled and delighted Eloise. If we had had a fourth day, we could have happily filled it at the Jardin des Plantes with its museums, zoo, maze and gardens.

It may seem counter intuitive to head for a big city with a small child and I’m sure you’ve heard a million times that no one goes to Paris in August but we had the most awesome time and best of all, we had the place all to ourselves.

2) North Carolina Beaches

North Carolina beaches in July and August are insanely better than anything in Europe. Yes, yes, I know the food and hotels in Europe are superior, but if the goal is blissfully warm water, consistent weather, mile after mile of empty, pristine beaches, no traffic jams, no parking problems and super polite natives during peak periods, North Carolina wins big time. Bald Head Island (my cousin has a great house there which she rents to nice people), Ocracoke Island, Atlantic Beach (getting built up but rent something at Pine Knoll Shores and you’ll be fine), and Duck are places you should check out for next summer if you are looking for very nice beaches with no crowds.

3) Fly Direct, Board Early, Boycott Northwest

This is a cautionary tale but what’s the use of having a bully pulpit if you don’t use it. To save a few dollars, my frugal husband flew to North Carolina with Northwest Airlines via Detroit. On the return flight, after checking in and being issued a boarding pass, the last 20 passengers in line were denied boarding because, according to Northwest, “the flight was overweight”. Now I’ve heard a lot of lame excuses in my time but this takes the biscuit. The whole scene was like a Mel Brooks movie with one enraged man being carried away by the police screaming “take some fat people off the plane and we can all fly!”

My husband was then re-routed over Cincinnati, missed the connection and had to wait 24 hours at a Marriott Courtyard before catching his flight to London.

And the compensation from Northwest? A $100 voucher on his next flight with Northwest- as if! Of course we’ll be taking this matter up with the management of what may be the world’s worst airline so watch this space.

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