A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: amikulski

What We Read: Mission Scavenger Hunt Series

The Mission books are scavenger hunts for kids in various cities. There are ones for Barcelona and Paris, so we picked them up. We've misplaced our Paris book, but we have the Barcelona one handy.


The scavenger hunts tell kids to accumulate 100 points on their "mission" as special agents; you'd have to earn a majority, but not all, of the points available to achieve this. Most can be earned by visiting popular attractions and answering questions or locating things (such as a specific animal on a facade). There are also some points that can be earned anywhere in the city, such as finding a street performer. Some of these "anywhere" points are for trying local foods, which is a nice bonus for parents of picky eaters.

How fast a kid can earn the points depends on the pace the family sets for sightseeing. That said, even speedy tourists are going to need several days to complete their missions, especially if they are also visiting places that aren't covered in the book. I'd categorize my family as moderate in our pace, and we never completed the missions, even with 4 days in Barcelona and 6 in Paris. This is something to consider if your visit will be brief or if you have a kid who will be disappointed if the goal is not achieved. Our plan for using the books was to decide first what we wanted to do in a day, checking to see if the site—or anything nearby—was included, and taking the book along if it was. That way, it was still us calling the shots on what to do. We also had several conversations about how it was not a big deal if we didn’t reach the 100 points.

When we were out and about with the books, it was usually DD1’s responsibility to carry the book and read instructions. The reading level of the books is appropriate for kids who are in middle-grades chapter books, though they may occasionally need help with a word, especially names. Even though DD2 couldn’t read the book, she was engaged with the tasks. Everyone helped look for things and had fun with it.

We were able to incorporate the book into our sightseeing easily with one exception: the Louvre. We started off following the book but quickly found ourselves lost as we tried to find Egyptian mummies. I think that we may have been rerouted because of galleries that were closed that day, which made the directions inaccurate. We saw a couple of other cool things along this detour, but it wasn’t worth the frustration of doing the hunt and not finding what we were looking for. We gave up, got ourselves re-oriented, and decided to see what we wanted to see. In the end, I think this was a good decision because the Louvre is so enormous that you can’t see it all: it’s better to prioritize based on your own family’s interests.

To be clear, even though they contain some facts about the locations covered, the Mission books are no substitute for standard travel guides such as Lonely Planet or Rick Steves. These books include some information about the featured sights, but not in the same detail as a guide. This is perfectly fine for the function it fulfills, but parents need to know so that they have appropriate expectations of the books.

Thanks for reading! This entry wraps up our trip to France and Spain and this blog. I will now be documenting all of our trips in my new blog, Family Travel Files. Please join me there!

Posted by amikulski 18:33 Archived in Spain Tagged children france spain books Comments (0)

Where We Stayed: Madrid

sunny 85 °F
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Our apartment in Madrid was east of the city, about a 7-10 minute walk to the Artilleros Metro station. It's primarily a residential area, but there a few stores and cafes within walking distance, including a supermarket. There is a small playground a couple of minutes away, though we never used it. We were about 3 minutes from a bus stop; the route you can catch there passes a large supermarket (two stops away), and Retiro Park before ending at the Puerta del Sol. It's about 50 minutes to the end of the route, so I think the Metro is a little faster, but the bus lets you see more of the city.

The apartment had 3 bedrooms and 1 bath (shower only, no tub). There was a washer in the kitchen. The air conditioning situation was the best one we had on the entire trip: there was a unit in each bedroom as well as one in the living room. We remained cool and comfortable without having to strategize how to move cool air into the other parts of the apartment. The landlord was reliable and helpful as well.

In all, we had a good experience and would consider staying here again.

Website: https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1687019?adultsCount=2&childrenCount=2&noDates=true

Posted by amikulski 18:26 Tagged children apartments spain Comments (0)

Where We Stayed: Paris

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Paris was the city where we had the toughest time finding accommodations. It's expensive, so you can quickly find listings that are out of budget, especially if you want a good location. It's also a city with a lot of old housing stock, so finding a place with air conditioning (one of DH's must-haves) was also a challenge. We had interactions with a couple of flaky landlords as well; that is, we'd reserve their property online, write them to introduce ourselves, and they'd ignore our reservation request and email. After 24 hours, Home Away would automatically cancel the reservation, and we'd be left to wonder if we should try again or give up (I would give up after this happened twice). We looked at a variety of apartments and aparthotels, and even some traditional hotels before deciding on our apartment in the suburb of Noisy-le-Grand (FYI, "noisy" means "walnut tree" in French, not "loud").

If you have ever daydreamed about a charming apartment in Paris, I can almost guarantee that Noisy-le-Grand is not what you pictured. There are no white buildings with French doors and wrought-iron balconies. Nope, this is a center of Brutalist architecture where Hunger Games 3 was filmed (read more about that here). This map shows the hexagonal layout.


We stayed in the pyramid in the background of this photo.


Here is a neighboring building.


OK, so this is not the Paris you dreamed of. That said, if you can let that go, there are some good features to this location.

Noisy-le-Grand is not on the Metro lines, but it is on the regional train line (RER A). In general, I found that accommodation prices drop in neighborhoods served only by the RER. As always, distance to your stop, whether on Metro or RER, is always a consideration. From our apartment, I'd say it was about 5-7 minutes to the RER entrance inside the Arcades mall, with over half of that within the confines of the mall itself. Commute time into the city depends on where you are stopping and how much you have to ride the Metro once you leave the RER. It was about 15 minutes to get to a stop that connected to the Metro (approximately the city limits). If you're going farther in, it takes longer; for example, it took about 45 minutes to get to the Arc de Triomphe (Chales de Gaulle - Étoile station). Getting back for naps would have been really time-consuming, so we skipped them. It was not ideal, but we survived. For families who can skip nap or get their kids down in a stroller or under a tree while they're out and about (not my kids, though I hear some can do this!), the location is doable. Otherwise, it can pose a challenge.

Going in the other direction on the RER, you can reach Disneyland Paris, so this location is good for families who want to spend time at the theme park.

The mall was another upside to this location, even though we did not check out Sephora or any of the clothing stores. The Arcades houses several restaurants and a large Carrefour supermarket where we bought food for breakfast and snacks.

There was a park with some play equipment a few minutes away. We didn't go there because it appeared to be under construction, but it might be fine now. Lots of local residents use the plaza between the apartment building and the mall as an outdoor gathering space, but it is all concrete and sometimes we saw litter spilling out of the garbage cans (whoever is responsible for pickup doesn't do it often enough).

We had a good experience with the host, but he did not speak any English, which may make communication tough for some families. He does speak French and Portuguese, and he was gracious and informative when I dusted off my intermediate Portuguese skills to ask him questions in person or used my even-worse French in an email.

The apartment itself had 2 bedrooms: one with bunk beds and another with a double and a crib. The bathroom has a washer and a very small shower without a tub. The AC unit is in the living room and did OK at cooling down the bedrooms if we cranked it up. There was a spacious terrace with a table, but because of the heat wave, we didn't go out there to do much other than hang our clothes on the laundry rack that was also out there. In better weather, it would be a nice feature.

For the most part, this place was fine. However, it would really make a difference if a couple of details were improved. First off, the towels: the ones that were left for us to use as full-body bath towels were only slightly larger than the standard hand towels you see in the US. There were no extras, so we couldn't use 2-3 per person, either. What's more, although the towels were clean, they were worn really thin: for contrast, the towels I have been using in my house for over 16 years are in much better shape (and for the record, mine are not a luxury brand).

The second issue was with the pillows: they were really lumpy, yet flat. It seemed like every night DH and I would battle against them, trying to fold, scrunch, or punch them into a shape that would be comfortable for the night. Although the girls did not complain about theirs, it didn't look to me as if they were any better. Maybe it's just easier for smaller heads to find a comfortable spot on them. In all, some new pillows and towels could go a long way to help people feel more comfortable.

The listing can be found here.

Posted by amikulski 08:22 Archived in France Tagged children france apartments Comments (0)

Where We Stayed: Salamanca

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Our apartment in Salamanca was on a fairly busy street about a 10-minute walk from the historic city center. There are some businesses on the street, but we didn't check out many of them. The bakery two blocks down was underwhelming, but we did have a supermarket right downstairs to make up for it. There are more cafes on Gran Vía, which is between the apartment and the historic center.

I didn't see the nearest park, but DH took the girls there and said it was nice. It's called Parque de las Jesuitas and was about a 5-minute walk from the apartment (going away from the center).

Our apartment had 3 bedrooms, 1 bath with a shower/tub combo, washer, and drying rack on the small terrace. The AC unit was in the living room. Like in Barcelona, we cranked it up so that the cool air would spread throughout the apartment, with some (but not tons of) success. There were also 2 fans. During the day, we'd place the oscillating one in the living room to strategically blow cool air out. At night, the fans would go in the bedrooms (we had the girls share a room so everyone could get some cool air). The living area itself had comfortable seating and was the most spacious of all the apartments we rented on the trip.

The property managers were also very conscientious and helpful. They gave us some recommendations and pointed out many places of interest on a map in the apartment that guests can use.

In all, we had a good stay here. My only suggestion is to bring in another fan so that every bedroom can have one.

The listing can be found here.

Posted by amikulski 14:59 Archived in Spain Tagged children apartments spain Comments (0)

Where We Stayed: Barcelona

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Our strategy for this trip was to stay in apartments given that every stop was for at least 3 nights. Doing this gave us more room to move and the opportunity to have meals in if we wished, particularly for breakfast and snacks. Financially, we broke even or did better in the apartments because many hotels charge a lot for breakfast, and some would have required us to get two rooms because they can't accommodate a family of four in one room.

The apartment we rented in Barcelona had 3 bedrooms, 1 bath (shower, no tub), and a washer with a place to hang clothes from the window. There was an AC unit in the main living area, which did a good job in that room but only trickled into the bedrooms. We found ourselves cranking it up and feeling cold in the living room in the hopes that it would cool down the bedrooms; I'm sure it helped somewhat, but sometimes I wondered just how much it was doing. We did all manage to sleep in the bedrooms without anyone trying to call dibs on the living room futon to be near the AC.

Our host was reliable and was kind enough to let us check in early, while we were very jet lagged, which was much appreciated. He also offered us chips and beer.

The apartment was about a 7-minute walk from the Collblanc metro station (previous reviewers on HomeAway said it was shorter--they probably weren't walking with young kids). It's a ride into pretty much every attraction except Camp Nou, but that was OK for us. Although the Barcelona metro system can be hit or miss with regard to accessibility for strollers and wheelchairs, this stop has an elevator and escalator.

There is a park with some play equipment on the walk from the Metro to the apartment. We never stopped there because it hosted a firecracker (petardo) stand where people were testing out their purchases. The noise and potential safety risks gave us pause. However, I think that this is just a seasonal thing, as the city celebrated the feast of San Joan while we were there with plenty of firecrackers. It might be a good place for kids to play at other times of the year.

This neighborhood is technically outside of Barcelona--the address is L'Hospitalet de Llobregat--but it still has a city feel. There are plenty of stores and restaurants, so you don't have to go far for necessities. There was a Día supermarket about 2 minutes away from out apartment, which was really convenient.

Overall, this was a good place to stay. There were a couple of aspects that could be improved, like more space to hang wet towels in the bathroom and a more comfortable futon. That said, we used the futon only as a couch; maybe it is pretty good as a bed. Some fans for the bedrooms might help, too.

The listing can be found here.

Posted by amikulski 18:42 Archived in Spain Tagged children apartments spain Comments (0)

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