‘Smartening Up’ the Family Trip

One great poet; one great vacation

One great poet; one great vacation

It would have been easy for us to play off last week’s trip to Grasmere, in England’s Lake District, as an extended goodie run.

After all, one of the reasons we traveled there from our vacation rental outside of Penrith was to visit the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop, a tiny little bakery that has used the same recipe for the better part of the last 200 years.

But the town also is the final resting place of poet William Wordsworth, and both Powerwoman and I really wanted to pay respects and see his grave. So we did what any travel- and poetry-obsessed set of parents would do: We whipped out the Wordsworth in an attempt to get the girls excited for our true modus operandi.

At first, they resisted. Then, following a reading (parts) of “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” and some of the “Lucy Poems” (including “Strange fits of passion I have known”), they softened a bit, and actually started having fun.

By the time we actually made it to downtown Grasmere, both kids had been exposed to a healthy dose of Romanticism (I’m talking about the approach to poetry, not the notion of Mom and Dad being all lovey-dovey). And they thoroughly got into it.

As we walked through the cemetery toward Wordsworth’s grave, L whipped off some poems of her own, referring to herself as “Tennyson,” another poet we mentioned during the lesson.

R, of course, mimicked her sister, celebrating her accomplishments by chanting the word, “poem.”

For the rest of the trip (three more days at that point), the girls created dozens of their own poems—engaging in a sort of toddler rap. Every time they came up with one they liked, they mentioned Wordsworth and other poets about whom we had taught them. Some of the biggest winners were recited 40 or 50 times.

We certainly didn’t expect the trip to become such a celebration of words; we were just sharing some history.

Still, for us, the lesson was simple: Even if you think the kids might be “too young” for something, you never know when new information might strike their fancy, when a little knowledge might take them a long way. Powerwoman and I liken this to “smartening up” a vacation. In our experience, it can enhance even the quickest and seemingly boring vacations.

Sure, there’s a chance this new information will go straight over their heads. But by not sharing it, you risk the kids learning less about the new experiences they have. And in our family, that simply isn’t a risk we wish to take.

What sorts of knowledge/information do you attempt to pass down to your kids while traveling?

Like a Virgin

Little R, loved every minute on the high-speed train.

Little R, loved every minute on the high-speed train.

We’ve relocated to Northern England for the better part of the next week. Some of the items on the agenda for the coming days include hiking, reconnecting with (some of my wife’s distant) relatives, and baaaa-ing at the sheep in the pasture out our door.

Of course our girls also will spend significant amounts of time talking (and, undoubtedly, drawing) about how we actually got here: One of the high-speed trains up from London.

We took the ride with Virgin Trains, from Euston Station up to Penrith, a city in the heart of England’s Lake District. Because we sat in First Class, we had reserved seats, a table, all-you-can-eat food (including a stellar breakfast service), and porter help with the bags. Because it’s Virgin, the girls also received “Kids Bags”—backpack-sized satchels full of games and puzzles to do while we were en route.

To say the girls made the most of the experience would be an understatement.

R was the bigger fan; she spent at least 90 minutes of the 3-hour trip peering out the window or asking about Thomas the Tank Engine (a natural association, given our activity).  L liked the train too, but was scared a bit by the rocking.

(Overall, we managed to survive just fine until about ten minutes before departure, when R threw a tantrum and knocked a full cup of tea into my crotch, and L threw a tantrum just go be like her sister.)

Still, the verdict is that train travel trumps airplane travel because a) you can walk around as much as you’d like during your ride b) you can look out the window and see more than simply clouds, and c) first class is something average families actually can afford (it cost us a grand total of about $300 for all four of us, round-trip).

Don’t get me wrong, traveling by train isn’t perfect.

In Europe, where railroads can go up to 125 mph, motion sickness can be a real issue; L felt sick pretty much every time she looked out the window. In the U.S., where we (inexcusably) lack the same sort of high-speed rail they have here, train travel can take a while.

From our perspective, after two consecutive excursions from London involving train travel, the rails provide a nice alternative to airplanes.

Beside, trips are always better when the getting-there is part of the fun.

From the perspective of a family traveler, what do you like best about train travel?

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