Summer's over

Just as quickly as it started it has ended. Summer is over with the kids going back to to school last week and me starting up 6 back to back weeks of travel this week. Overall it was a pretty good summer – as always sad to see it come to an end, although fall is a pretty good time as well with more opportunities for trail riding, pig roasts and the fall meet at Keenland.
Of course, the big event of the summer was the 18 days in Europe with the wife and kids. The trip definitely met all of my expectations: it opened the kids eyes to the way people live outside the US, we saw some great / historic sites and everyone came back alive ;-). I’ve already shared some pictures on Facebook, but I thought I would capture a few tips and tricks for anyone else considering taking their 10 and 12 year old to Europe for the first time.
First off, the apartment rental is a definite do again. It worked out great, giving us way more space than we would have had renting hotels and getting us into neighborhoods instead of tourist areas. The only real downside is that for some of them we had to set a time to meet the owner to give us the keys and check in, which means that you have a small window to actually get there (vs. a hotel where you can show up whenever you want). One added benefit was that all of the flats had free included wifi, which turned out to be more helpful than I thought for the down time and planning for the next day that we had each evening (see point below about Trip Advisor).
We used flipkey, homeaway and even a direct referral to someone from the blog (thanks Susan!) and they all worked equally well. One thing I wish we had started doing earlier (we eventually got into the groove) is go to grocery stores and buy food for breakfast (and even lunch) to eat from the kitchens. It would have saved us money and time when we were on heavy site seeing days.
Next up, I can’t recommend Trip Advisor highly enough. I stumbled across the site (and shortly thereafter the app) a few days before I left for the trip and it turned out to be invaluable in finding good places to eat (that were kids friendly – and cheap!), tour companies, tips to get tickets to high profile events and places to avoid. I was literally on the app (on my iPad) every night figuring out what we should do the next day. It helped me find a spectacular guide in Rome to help my kids really see and understand the history of the Roman Forum. It pointed me to countless great restaurants, including an out of the way place near our apartment in Paris that we never would have found that was probably the best meal we had the whole time we were there. It helped me get discounts on tickets that easily saved us a couple hundred dollars through the course of the trip.
Lastly something that was a bit of a disappointment: the night train from Rome to Paris. If I had to do it over again, I would skip this part of the trip. We ended up departing about an hour late due to a fire in the train station to the north of Rome, that also caused us to take a more easterly route adding another 2-3 hours. All of that was a bit of a black swan, but the service on the train itself wasn’t all that great. The restaurant car didn’t really have anything worth eating (glad we had a little food in our bags). The cars themselves looked to have been in continuous service for 30 straight years. My dreams of sleeping blissfully as my train car rocked back and forth were ruined by some of the noisiest tracks in all of Europe – I could actually tell the moment we crossed into Switzerland by the 10 dB drop in cabin noise (and then I did finally get some sleep).
I’ll end with a salute to my kids and wife – they were troopers. We walked an average of 3-4 miles a day, with one particularly rigorous day where we covered over 9 miles on foot. They never complained, said their feet hurt or wanted to just stop and go back. They took it all in and seemed to really enjoy most of it (the walk through the park in London in the rain was a bit iffy…). If they had half as much fun as I did then I think its something we’ll all remember for a long time.






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