The Coolest Bathroom Ever!

Disco Ball_2

Our fourth day in Madrid, we decided to take a day trip to Toledo. There are two train stations in Madrid. Chamartin is in northern Madrid and handles all traffic heading to the north of Spain. Atocha is located closer to the south of Madrid, and handles all train traffic heading south. Toledo is located about 30 minutes south of Madrid by train, so we headed down to the Atocha train station to get our tickets and head on our way.

We were late for the train we wanted to make. We had a particularly difficult time waking up our children and getting them ready. Our hotel was about a ten minute walk from the train station, so we set out with our baby in our ergo, with my husband and our babysitter alternating running with and carrying several of the other children. Alas, we still did not make our intended train!

When we finally made it inside the train station, our five year old declared she needed the bathroom. So my husband and I split up. He went to find the ticket office and secure us tickets on a later train to Toledo. I, along with our babysitter and the rest of our children, set off to find the bathroom.

The Atocha train station is a little bit of a maze. It reminds me a little bit of Penn Station in NYC, but with more sunlight and less shopping. There are different areas for the local trains and express trains. There is also more security at Atocha due to terrorist attacks a few years ago. So, it took us a little while to find the bathroom. And when we got there, “Oh, no!!!” You had to pay to use it.

The last time I had to pay to use bathrooms in a public space like this was when my husband and I traveled to Peru about ten years ago. We were taking a bus from Lima to Huacachina to see the sand dunes. I drank way too much Inca cola before heading to the bus station. I ran for the bathroom only to be stopped from entering and asked for money. I didn’t have any with me, so I had to go back and find my husband to get some coins before using the bathroom.

You think I would have learned to always be prepared with some coins just in case there was a fee for the bathrooms! But no. I didn’t. My husband had taken the bag with our i.d.’s with him to get the tickets, which also had my cash supply in it. What was worse is that it was my little daughter who needed to use the bathroom. Because Atocha felt like such a maze of a train station, we decided that we would just have to wait for him to come back and find us.

Every few seconds I would look towards the bathroom, wondering if I should have my daughter hop over the turnstile and just pay for the bathroom use when my husband arrived. The pitiful amount of .60 euros was all that stood between my daughter and the bathroom. But, she didn’t want to go into the bathroom without me, and I didn’t really want to teach my children that it was okay to not pay for things, so we waited. I started to add up in my head just how much it would cost to use the bathroom if we all had to pay. There were seven people in our party altogether. I was pretty sure that our baby and two year old would be exempt from the bathroom fee. That still meant that it would cost 3 euros for all of us to use the bathroom. I must admit I was starting to feel a little outraged that we would have to pay that kind of cash for a bathroom visit. Then I noticed a door to the right of the main bathroom entrance. On the door it said “family bathroom”. Well, it said it in Spanish, but you know what I mean. And the best part is that the family bathroom only cost .60 euro for everyone! It turns out Spain is a very friendly country for families to travel in. And not just because of the bathrooms.

As soon as my husband found us, I grabbed the needed coins, paid the attendant, and ushered all my children into the family bathroom. We opened the door, and what we saw was the coolest bathroom ever! A disco ball twirled from the ceiling in the middle of the room, showering us with moving slivers of light. Soft music played lullabies to soothe even the most distressed and crying of babies. There was not one, but two, child-sized toilets for the children to use. A soft glider in pastel colors perfect for a nursing mother and baby stood off to the side of the room. A soft, cushy diaper changing area was next to the nursing chair. The lighting was soft and gentle, not harsh like in most bathrooms. It was clean and smelled of flowers. What a wonderful haven for a tired and frazzled family to find!

And that disco ball! All the rest of the amenities were lovely and inviting, but my children could not get over that disco ball! They felt like they were at the coolest party ever. It didn’t matter that it was in a bathroom.

Paul Salopek: The Man Walking the World

My husband has a genius ability for finding articles that are really interesting and off the beaten path. It matches his ability of finding off the beaten path travel locations. My husband is just pretty cool. His latest article discovery was this BBC article about Paul Salopek. He is a journalist/anthropologist who is walking the migratory path out of Africa taken by early migratory human groups into the rest of the world. He started in Ethiopia and is currently in the Republic of Georgia.

The article is a question and answer series that highlights some specific experiences, but also addresses why Paul Salopek is making this trek. He has a very interesting viewpoint about how walking creates connectivity between people and places. If you are interested in anthropology, psychology, and/or travel, you will probably enjoy the article.

I found it interesting that he disdains cars and planes as being devices that deprive us of really experiencing our surroundings. I have felt that on a very small scale moving from a community where my children and I could walk most places to a town where everything is a lengthy drive away. I miss the connection to the place we live that I had when we spent more time walking everywhere. And now with smart phones being so prevalent, I fear that connection is lost even more.

Someday my husband and I want to walk the Camino de Santiago across Northern Spain. How does an experience like that change you as a person? I don’t know yet, but someday I want to find out.

You can follow this link below to the article. Enjoy!

Madrid: The Prado Museum

Outside the Prado

Outside the Prado

The second day we went to the Prado Museum, we were prepared to search for a few paintings that we really wanted to see. One was the “The Third of May 1808 in Madrid” by Goya. We had already been to the medieval wing of the Prado the day before. And our children can only handle so much time in art museums without being refreshed by more child-pleasing activities. So I wouldn’t say that we rushed through the museum, but we certainly did not spend a lot of time lingering on any one painting.

It is always interesting to see a painting in person that you have learned about. Some are more compelling in person. Some are less compelling. I remember going to an exhibit about five years ago of two of Van Gogh’s paintings, “Starry Night” and “Cypress Trees”. “Cypress Trees” had never really appealed to me, until I saw it in person. The texture of the paint, swirling in thick, textured patterns jumped out and made the scene seem alive in a way that it never had before. I had a similar experience with “The Third of May 1808 in Madrid”. It is hanging by its companion painting “The Second of May 1808 in Madrid: the charge of the Mamelukes”. The subject matter of both paintings is a battle between Napoleon’s soldiers and patriots from Madrid who rose up to fight and protect their homeland, only to be defeated and executed the following day. To stand in Madrid and see its history depicted in dark, sombre colors etched the history in my mind. Both paintings hang in a gallery of paintings by Goya known as the Black Paintings. Included in those 14 sombre works is “Saturn Devouring His Son”. This particular painting I have always found to be disturbing. Seeing it in person it was only more so. In fact, the entire room of the Black Paintings was a little too scary for our children. They asked to leave before we had moved a quarter of the way around the room. So my husband and I took turns in looking at the paintings in that particular area.

Other areas of the museum our children liked much better. Our 5 year old was especially transfixed by a painting depicting Helen of Troy’s abduction. One of the things I love about taking our children to art museums, is that I always learn something more about who they are by which paintings they respond to, and what questions they ask. Many history lessons or discussions about life have emerged from experiencing great works of art. I want them to grow up knowing the value of art, whether it is dance, painting, sculpture, music…….So even though it is sometimes stressful to take them to art museums, I cherish those invaluable moments with them.

Some beautiful memories were made outside the museum, too. Maybe they had to shake off the sombre mood from the Black Paintings. Maybe they just needed to run and play. We lounged in the sunshine as they gathered flowers on the hillside, and brought me piles of them.

DSC_0266 DSC_0269

I just love their sweetness! How lucky a mommy am I?

Local Adventures and Family Fun

The kinds of activities you participate in as a family in your local area are also the kinds of activities you’ll likely participate in while you are traveling. Aside from just having a lot of fun and bonding together as a family, local adventures are a great way to prep your children for travel. The children learn appropriate behaviors for hiking, museums, tours, or whatever your family likes to do. Parents learn valuable skills like knowing when the children are close to a melt down so they can preemptively strike and diffuse what could be a very stressful situation.

Really, we just like to explore and have fun as a family. Last weekend our local garden was hosting a family photography class. I like photography. My husband likes photography. Our children, even our 2 year old, are always taking whatever camera they see and taking photos with it. I thought this would be a great opportunity for us to expand our skills, so I signed us all up.

A professional photographer gave a brief lecture about the five elements of composition. We then had some time to head out into the garden and practice with our newly acquired information. Each person had some time to sit with the photographer and discuss a few of their favorite pictures. Then, as a class, we each shared one or two pictures and again talked about the elements of composition.

This is how each member of our family reacted to our experience.

My husband, being the very busy man that he is, relished the chance to work on his photography skills, even if he was sharing our DSLR camera with me.

I would have liked to take a few more pictures than I had the opportunity to, but really enjoyed watching my husband and children have a good time. The fact that it was a beautiful, sunny day surrounded by beautiful plants and my beautiful family, I probably would have had a good time even if I hadn’t taken any pictures.

Our six year old relished holding her own point and shoot camera and taking as many pictures as she wanted. She was thoughtful about her compositions, remembering the lecture we had regarding what makes a good photograph.

Our four year old loved taking pictures of her baby brother. She could have cared less about taking pictures of the landscape. At least we will know who to go to for good portrait photography some day.

Our two year old had my old iPod to take pictures with. She felt like such a big girl running around the gardens with her big sisters.

Our little baby just enjoyed being pushed in his stroller in the beautiful weather.

The class was a little long for the four and two year old, but we managed to hold off any meltdowns by discussing our next move of getting lunch, and asking for their input. The class was the perfect length for our six year old. She ended up with some really beautiful photographs. Let me share a few with you.

DSCN1986 DSCN1993 DSCN1924 DSCN1941 DSCN1972Our next big trip, we will provide a point and shoot camera for our children to share. Maybe they can make their own photo book with the pictures they take. Who knows? We’ll see where they want to take this new skill. The most important thing is we had a mini family adventure close to home, and had a really great time.

The Golden Key, a Chance in a Lifetime

Whenever we are trying to decide on a destination for our next big trip, we like to do some research to see what can see and experience while there. This year, we are planning a trip to northern Spain. Reading the history of Spain, I was reminded of the caves of Altamira which contain some of the oldest cave paintings ever discovered. I first learned of them in an art history course. Something you should know about me, I took several extra courses in history and anthropology while in college. So much so that my advisor kept saying to me, “You don’t have to take that class.” To which I replied, “I know”, and promptly signed up for it. To protect the ancient artists’ renderings, the caves are closed to the everyday traveler. Only those who can prove an academic need to study the paintings are allowed inside to view them. So today, my golden key would give me access to the Caves of Altamira. How amazing would it be to see in person some of the oldest visual art made by our ancestors on the planet?

Golden Key

Finding the Appian Way, and a Whole Lot More

Yesterday I had the opportunity to read a marvelous adventure story on the Emily Luxton Travel Blog, about how in travel, sometimes the random choices and unexpected events end up being the most enjoyable parts of our travel experience. In Emily’s case, she ended up hiking an unmarked path through the Vietnam country side. Read all about her adventures here.

Her story reminded me of when we were in Rome with our then 3 children and my in-laws. Near the end of our trip, the grandparents and older two children wanted to spend some time recuperating from our adventures with some hotel time. My husband and I wanted to go and explore some more. My husband has always been a huge fan of the Apostle Paul and tales of antiquity. As a history major, he is a vast source of information about the ancient civilizations of the world. He really wanted to find the Appian Way, the ancient road by which Paul entered the city of Rome. I was game, so we packed up our baby who was still nursing, and set out to find the Appian Way.

Now, the Appian Way is not one of the major tourist attractions in Rome. We took the metro to a part of the city that was definitely outside of the mainstream tourist areas. We did find a street called the Appian Way, but it was a modern version, and not the ancient thoroughfare we were searching for. With a baby in tow, time is a very precious commodity when traveling. When the baby has had enough, everyone must break to take care of the baby’s needs. There is no negotiating with a tired baby. So, we hailed a taxi and asked them to take us to the Appian Way.

The taxi driver did not know exactly where the Appian Way was, so he took us to where he thought it was. This also happened to be the site of ancient Christian catacombs outside of the city.


The countryside was absolutely beautiful.


I love exploring cities, but there is something so magical about getting beyond the cities and absorbing the natural beauty of the part of the world we are visiting. Flocks of sheep drifted about the grasslands rimmed by cypress and other towering trees. It really was an idyllic setting.


The only way to see the actual catacombs was to take a tour. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed. If you are ever in Rome, I highly recommend going to see them. Aside from the amazing size and maze like tunnels stretching for miles beneath the earth, the catacombs have beautiful frescoes. The subject of the paintings are of death and resurrection. Stories like Jonah and the Whale are depicted above the doorways to many of the rooms. Because they were the earliest Christians in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., all of the writing is in Greek instead of Latin. The fish symbol so prevalent in the early Christian writings was also depicted throughout the catacombs. We learned that the word fish in Greek is an acronym for Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There was a solemnity to seeing those ancient graves with their beliefs of the afterlife so vibrantly depicted in those frescoes. Touring the catacombs was one of our favorite things we did in Italy. Unfortunately, our little baby was not as much of a fan. She started crying about halfway through the tour. I don’t think she liked being underground.

Above ground, we fed her and took some time to walk around. And guess what? We did find the Ancient Appian Way, the road that Paul walked on his approach to Rome to appeal to Caesar.



So You Want to Get Your Passport

I first applied for a passport when I was finishing college. When it arrived in the mail, I remember feeling a huge sense of freedom. Now I could travel to all the amazing places I wanted to go! I still get that thrill whenever I use my passport. I like to know that I could just hop on a plane and travel to exotic destinations. Since our youngest will need his passport soon, I’ve been reminiscing on all the passport application experiences we’ve had. Between applying for our passports, our children’s passports, and replacing our passports when a well-meaning wife did laundry not knowing our passports were still in her husband’s pants pocket, we’ve gone through the process several times in several areas of the country. Here are some tips that we’ve learned along the way.


1. The official information

All the official information and forms you need to apply for a passport can be found online by following this link to the U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs

FYI, when applying for a passport for a child, both parents need to be present, or you must provide notarized documentation from the second parent giving their permission for their child to apply for a passport. All the necessary details can be found on the website linked above.

2. Know your time frame

There are two kinds of places where you can apply for a passport, a Passport Agency or a Passport Acceptance Facility. A Passport Agency is a government agency solely for the purpose of processing passport applications. Some Passport Agencies require proof of international travel within a short time period and require an appointment. They are the best option if you need expedited service. Expediting a passport application is a more expensive option.

A Passport Acceptance Facility could be a post office, library, or a municipal office of some kind. There are many more Passport Acceptance Facilities than Passport Agencies, so it might be more accessible option. Some require appointments. Some can take pictures for your passport application. To use a Passport Acceptance Facility, I recommend applying for your passport at least four months before a planned trip. Why, you may ask? Just in case something goes wrong. When applying for our third daughter’s passport, the agent at the Passport Acceptance Facility made a mistake on her part of the paperwork. Six weeks after we applied for her passport, we received a letter telling us there was a problem with the application. We were leaving for Italy within two weeks from receiving this letter, and the only way to get her a passport in time was to drive two hours to the nearest Passport Agency. They were able to get us her passport same day, but we had to pay expedited fees on top of the original application fees. Four months gives you plenty of time to address any issues with the original Passport Acceptance Facility should there be a problem.

3. Bring your own pictures

Some locations will take pictures for you, but it’s better to have them taken before you apply for your passport. We didn’t know this when we applied for our first daughter’s passport. The website said they could take pictures on site. And they could, but she was so little that I had to kneel down and prop her up trying not to let my hands show in the picture. If she hadn’t been coordinated and strong for her age, we would have had to go somewhere else to have pictures taken and make a new appointment. A photography studio or even the local Walgreens are much more prepared for taking passport pictures of young children. They are both less expensive and more accommodating. You can preview the picture before they print it, and they’ll retake it if you don’t like it. The entire process takes maybe 15 minutes. I recommend getting extras. You never know when they’ll come in handy.

4. Have extras

Part of being prepared for any contingency is to have extras, extra pictures and extra birth certificates. Had we not had an additional copy of our daughter’s birth certificate, we would not have been able to go the Passport Agency to clear up the problem with her application because they did not return the copy we sent in with the application until after we returned from our international trip. I always get three copies of our children’s birth certificates so we have extras exactly for these bizarre situations where they suddenly become necessary. It’s the same reason I always get two sets of passport photos. In this case, redundancy is helpful.

5. Be prepared, be over prepared

It is very easy to print out the necessary paperwork and have it all filled out before you go to your appointment. This is helpful for two reasons. One, it forces you to gather all the necessary information. You won’t be missing any. Two, anyone who has spent time at a government agency (think DMV), especially with young children, knows that you want to spend as little time there as possible. The more prepared you are, the less time spent sitting on a hard plastic chair trying to keep your children entertained. If all goes well, there won’t be any mistakes on the application you’ve filled out, and you’ll be out of there fairly quickly. If there is a mistake, it won’t take long to copy down the information and fix the mistake. You’ll still be out of there fairly quickly. Bringing your own previously taken pictures will also help you get out of there more quickly. This will make you and your children happy.

All the passport agencies we’ve been to have been staffed by friendly, helpful people. Even those times when there has been a snag in the process, the workers have been very kind. I hope this information is helpful, and that you have a good experience while applying for your passport. If you have any additional tips, please share them in the comments. Happy traveling!

Why I am writing this blog….

A few years ago, when we had only a two year old, and a 4 month old baby, we took a trip to Puerto Rico. We decided to spend part of our trip at an eco lodge on the south side of the El Yunque rain forest. It was a very isolated place, close to waterfalls thundering over huge boulders into swimming holes, deep in the tropical jungle. For dinner, there was only one place to go to eat, about a mile down the main road from the eco lodge. This meant that everyone who was staying at the eco lodge ate dinner there. We would all walk down along the main road, our way lit only by the moon and stars. It is a special breed of traveler that chooses to stay in that kind of location far from resorts and a variety of amenities. They have the best travel stories. As we would eat together, we would trade stories of our travels around the world. One traveler told a tale of being on a train in the Italian countryside that caught on fire and had to be evacuated. Another told of caves on the island of Crete where there were wild parties in the 60’s. I realized that one of the elements of travel I love is the stories that emerge, and the sense of community that exists among fellow travelers.

El Yunque Swimming Hole

El Yunque Swimming Hole

I love travel. I love talking about travel, reading about travel, watching shows about travel, and writing about travel. That sense of community that I have found in my travels all over the world, I want to find here in my blog. Whether you travel with children as we do, or solo, or with friends, I hope you find that sense of community here as well.