It just so happens that I will be taking my daughter on her first trip to France this summer, so I was excited to read Jennifer Coburn’s new travel memoir, “We’ll Always Have Paris” and doubly delighted to get the chance to interview the author for TravelingMom and get the scoop on how to make your child’s first trip to Europe a success.
Europe can be a daunting destination to bring children for the first time. Is there enough to keep them interested? Can they handle all that history, and more importantly, all that walking? And well, we all know Amsterdam is a totally different trip with kids.
Author of the novels “Tales from the Crib” and “The Queen Gene,” Coburn’s travelogue chronicles the author’s first trip to Paris with her 8 year-old daughter and their subsequent adventures together in Italy, Spain and Holland.
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History Buff TravelingMom: Can you tell me things you did in Paris with your daughter that you can’t find in travel books or blogs?
Jennifer: Travel guides may list the Shakespeare & Company Bookstore on the Rue de la Bucherie, but what they don’t mention is that people can sleep there. This converted monastery is a bibliophile’s heaven, rich with books, history and a full calendar of special events. But if you are up for a real adventure you can spend the night at the bookstore with other “Tumbleweeds.” (I greatly appreciated it allowing us to sleep in its Writer’s Studio, but it’s nothing I ever want to repeat. Katie, on the other hand, had the time of her life).
Katie and I meant to walk from our hotel in Le Marais District toward the Eifel Tower, but wound up walking east (instead of West) once we crossed the River Seine. What a happy accident that was! We stumbled upon small pockets along the bank—almost like mini amphitheatres—where groups of 20-30 dancers were practicing their moves. Katie and I enjoyed watching couples dance the tango, then we moved on to another group dancing to salsa music. It made for great (free!) authentically Paris entertainment.
History Buff TravelingMom: Was it difficult to get an 8 year-old interested in museums, history and architecture—which is inevitable during a trip to Europe? What did you do to get Katie excited about your first trip?
Jennifer: To get her excited before the trip I showed her pictures online of the interesting places we planned to visit and suggested she pick a few sites that she wanted to visit. (One of these was Pompeii in Italy, which ended up being quite an adventure).
While traveling, I tried to engage Katie in museum visits by playing games like, Rename the Painting (we’ve come up with some doozies) and Pretentious Art Critic (our commentary is ridiculous). These keep visits light and fun. And I am absolutely going to get the Bad Mommy Award for this, but when I took Katie to see The Bodies Exhibit in New York when she was nine, she was bored out of her mind looking at the plasticized cadavers until I paid her a nickel for every anus she found. I know, I know, terrible, but I’ll tell you, it breathed new life into that visit.
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History Buff TravelingMom: In the book Katie never complains or whines—like I know mine would when she is tired and hungry or bored. Was this selective editing?
Jennifer: Katie has always been a very laid-back kid who doesn’t do a lot of complaining and whining. She probably realizes I’m too lame to do anything to help and just resigns herself to whatever’s happening.
History Buff TravelingMom: Sigh, lucky.
History Buff TravelingMom: What books did you and Katie read before or during your trips that you would recommend for travelers heading to Europe?
Jennifer: I bought Katie a guide to the Roman Coliseum and the Ruins of Pompeii—both books with lots of pictures! As for me, I relied on Frommer’s Guides. I didn’t start reading travel books like “Have Mother, Will Travel,” “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “How to Eat a Small Country” until we returned from our third trip. Now I am reading “Beautiful Ruins.”
History Buff TravelingMom: Did you try to learn the languages before your trips? What resources did you use or would recommend?
Jennifer: I bought the Speedy French, Speedy Italian, etc. booklets and tried to learn some basic words. I’ve got some mad charades skills, though, which came in very handy, especially in Italy.
History Buff TravelingMom: What are the benefits and drawbacks of traveling with only one child?
Jennifer: One child cannot possibly organize a mutiny. I enjoy traveling with only one child for the same reasons I chose to only have one child. That’s all the energy I have time for. I enjoy hanging out with Katie one-on-one and not having to balance the needs of two or more. God bless the mothers of multiples. I have no idea how they do it.
History Buff TravelingMom: As a card-carrying member of the “one and done” club, I agree.
Practical Tips for Traveling Moms
History Buff TravelingMom: What was your favorite accommodation during your travels?
Jennifer: We stayed at Las Casas Juderia in Seville, Spain and I cannot recommend this place more highly. It is right in the center of the historic Santa Cruz District and is unbelievably charming. When we arrived Katie checked under the bed because she swore there had to be a book of Latin spells hidden somewhere in the room. In the lobby, there was a piano bar every evening, and on the roof was a pool. The best part was the buffet breakfast, which had dozens of meats, cheeses, breads and lox! There was fresh fruit, cereal, and eggs. And check this out: wine and champagne (for breakfast!). The hotel was very moderately priced as well. (Going through a travel agent helped lower their listed rates.)
History Buff TravelingMom: What is the best money-saving tip you have for moms looking to take similar trips?
Jennifer: Well, this is a little dodgy, but I’ll leave it to your readers to make up their own minds. When Katie and I were in Italy, a nice Scottish boy at the Coliseum told me with a wink and a nod that if I were a European citizen, we would get deep discounts on museums and tourist attractions. I never told anyone I was British, but I did speak with an accent. We saved quite a bit until my husband insisted I stop because we weren’t paying taxes to the European Union and were therefore cheating the good people of Italy out of their rightful fees they needed for maintenance of historic and artistic sites.
History Buff TravelingMom: Warning: attempt this at your own risk, think of the embarrassment when you try to sport a bad British accent. If you could do any of the trips over again—is there anything you would do differently?
Jennifer: When we were in Venice, Elton John was playing in San Marco Square. Don’t ask what made me think that that was okay to miss! Six years later, I still regret it. In fact, when Katie and I are deliberating something, and we wonder if we’ll regret passing on an activity, we ask, “is this going to be an Elton John.”
History Buff TravelingMom: From experience, that advice is also good for restaurants and hotels. Finally, I have to ask, how can a girl who grew up in NYC in the 70’s be nervous about traveling anywhere?
Jennifer: I’m nervous about everything. I am a world-class hand-wringing neurotic who can work myself up into a tizzy over a trip to the post office. I still go, though.
One thing you are sure to learn from this traveling memoir is that you must pack your sense of humor—and some mad charades skills won’t hurt either.