Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 22, 2017
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Kids around Europe

10 reasons why you should pack the family for a trip to the old country

Europe with the kids -- it's a daunting prospect that strikes fear into the hearts of even the most patient of parents, never mind the penny-wise or overwrought. You certainly don't need a crystal ball to predict that your adorable offspring will grumble and groan from the moment you get on that plane to the second you're back home again.

To make matters worse, between the debilitating jetlag and marathon sightseeing, you'll be more exhausted than you were during the craziest days of your residency. And the cost? Utterly ridiculous. Why would you ever bring your brooding brood to Europe? Because it's worth it, of course, every torturous step of the way.

If you're craving a relaxing getaway, a hammock or a colada of any kind, run screaming in the other direction. If, however, you and your family are looking for an experience to share together -- one you'll all remember for the rest of your lives -- scrounge up those frequent-flyer miles and break out the travel plug adaptor because this trip's for you.


Bond on Bond Street
1 Since some of the more, shall we say, "North American" virtues of family vacationing are completely absent overseas, your children will have no choice but to interact with you. Yes, with only three channels on that vintage hotel TV (or a whopping four if you happen to be in Britain), and no pool or game room to speak of, hotels in Europe are far from the resort-style destinations they are on these shores. And if your kids are young enough, they may even believe you if you tell them there's simply no way to recharge their Game Boys here either.

Also conspicuously absent: a surplus of quality-time killers known to stand in for family fun, like multiplexes and town-sized malls. Even if you do decide to spend a few at hours at Paris's renowned Galeries Lafayette, or brave the vast expanses of the MetroCentre in Gateshead, England or perhaps the Cevahir Mall in Turkey (Europe's answers to the West Edmonton wonder), the unfamiliar sights and sounds will surely have you chatting and window-shopping rather than simply meeting up at the food court hours later.

Speaking of food, European eateries also tend to focus on the fare instead of kid-friendly distractions like crayons and cartoons. The unexpected result? A decent conversation might actually break out…. unless, of course, a soccer game happens to be on. But being among "football" fans watching their beloved home team is actually one of the wildest G-rated experiences you and the kids can have overseas.


Join the Culture Club
2 Thanks to jet engines and high-speed Internet connections, our world is much smaller than it used to be. Still, the best way for your kids to become mindful citizens of the global village and help them understand how we're all the same and yet so different is to get out and pound the cobblestones for a while.

Let's face it: your kid doesn't really care about the Mona Lisa and, chances are, neither do you. Da Vinci Code histrionics aside, there is ample opportunity to sneak in a little culture on the Continent. You'll do fine as long as you keep the visits short and sweet, steer clear of long lines and always have plenty of snacks on-hand. Of course, there's also awesome architecture at every turn. What might be designated a historical landmark in Victoria, BC would likely be low-income housing in Vienna!

That said, it's not really about old paintings or bridges or buildings. It's not even about how much fun they'll have chasing pigeons in Piazza San Marco, kissing the Blarney Stone, tossing euros into the Trevi Fountain or playing Star Wars with baguettes.

Talking to your kids about how there are 800,000 bikes for 700,000 people in Amsterdam or telling them why that weirdo on the soapbox in Hyde Park is allowed to rant and rave about anything but the Queen will teach them more about people and our planet than a character breakfast at Disney World ever could.


Slow Down Fast
3 Europe will teach your kids that the world sometimes moves at a different pace. From those delightful Spanish siestas to the sheep-clogged lanes of the English countryside, your normally hyperactive kids may be requesting a little reposo themselves before you hit the Coliseum.

Besides, if you can fight the North American urge to cram it all in, not only will you get more out of the experiences, but you'll neutralize the exhaustion factor, too.

Case in point: getting around. Half the fun here is meandering about, slowly but surely… or perhaps quite quickly, if TGVs or autobahns are involved! In any case, kids of all ages will be entranced with the foreignness of European modes of transportation, and they will hopefully begin to see the value in simply enjoying the ride.

Drive on the "wrong" side of the road in Britain, float across the Channel in a hovercraft, take a gondola ride in Venice, hop a cogwheel train to Zermatt, punt the Cam in Cambridge or ride a bike through Amsterdam. Don't forget to stop and smell the tulips!


Have Fun with Food
4 If your kids' idea of international cuisine is the cafeteria at Ikea, listen up. As long as you're willing to roll with the punches -- they don't give out Michelin stars for having high-chairs, after all -- you and your kin may find you remember the meals more than the museums.

Whether your family prefers to slurp down oysters at La Coupole or knock back the knackwurst at Oktoberfest, a gastronomical adventure awaits at every turn. Even if there are only four choices on the menu, when food tastes the way it's supposed to, meals evolve from mere refuelling stops to long, leisurely experiences enjoyed as a family.

Be warned, though: anyone ordering foreign food in a foreign language in a foreign land (especially Scotland) might well end up with an unwanted plate of entrails. The good news? Bread is promoted from its North American position as evil vice to enjoyable European pleasure. And if you really want to get into the spirit of things, make like the locals and give your kid half a splash of wine in their water, as they do in France and Italy -- you'll all sleep better. Okay, maybe not.

A trip to the market to shop for snacks is all part of the fun. Not only will the locals yell at you if you touch the fruit, but the relative lack of junk food (aside from those ubiquitous German wafers) means junior may actually eat something healthy for a change. Plus, there's no better way to teach your clan that farm-fresh produce doesn't mean the prettiest, plumpest apple in the bunch.


Make History Together
5 Back home, your kids' history lessons are probably drier and dustier than the textbooks they're found in. Here, you can give them a crash course they'll actually love, because there's ample opportunity to make it fast, fun and strange enough to appeal to even the most ornery, disinterested teenager.

Being there will fire up their imaginations. The Cold War is only boring until you're standing in front a spray-painted chunk of the Berlin Wall. And who cares about ancient Christians or 18th-century plague victims until you're stepping among their skulls in catacombs beneath the streets of Rome or Paris?

Speaking of Rome, it may not have been built in a day, but your kids can see the history of its architecture in one at the lasagna-like Basilica di San Clemente. Short attention spans will be rewarded with a quick descent through layers of time, ending -- or rather, beginning -- with a first-century mansion down low. Just keep it cool and the kids will eat it up.


Conserve to Preserve
6 To most of the world, Canada's wealth of fresh water is an embarrassment of riches. Overseas, your teenage daughter's usual 20-minute hot shower will not be an option. In fact, she should consider herself lucky if your hotel room has a shower at all, and not simply a tub with a trickle coming out of a hole somewhere nearby.

As evidenced by the serious shortage of toilet paper and those pay-per-use, coffin-sized WCs, Europeans know that water and paper are not to be wasted. This inconvenient novelty is sure to raise a few eyebrows among your brood, and, hopefully, encourage conservation. Fuel is another cool case of Continental concern; no armadas of gas-guzzling SUVs on these shores, where subcompact is a serious understatement when it comes to cars.


Climb Your Family Tree
7 If you wait to send them off to do the Grand Tour on their own -- whether in high-school or university -- chances are your kids will be distracted by the more "liberal" pleasures of Europe (the Hofbrauhaus in Munich and the cafés of Amsterdam quickly come to mind). Take them now, on the other hand, and you're in charge of programming. What to do with this all-too-fleeting power, you wonder? Make it count.

Design your trip to be a little more personal, for a few days or even just a few hours, and your whole family will come away with a brand-new perspective. Whether you're bringing your teenagers to visit the site of a German concentration camp, taking your grade-schoolers on a pilgrimage to a tiny Greek isle lost in the Aegean or schlepping the whole gang to your great-grandmother's Romanian village, sharing and learning about your family history together, and in person, will have a lasting impact.

By creating a European experience your kids can relate to on a personal level, they will begin to understand their place within the world, then and now.


Tackle Problems Together
8 Think of the trip as your own little gang's Amazing Race -- you know, that reality show where teams race across the globe in a sort of intercontinental treasure hunt. Your prize may not be a million dollars (though in fact, it may actually cost you close to that), but you will be richly rewarded nonetheless.

In the end, after a week or two of honing your group's orienteering skills -- deciphering subway maps in foreign languages, negotiating narrow ruelles in search of legendary Left Bank pastry shops, or trying to find Platform 9 3/4 at London's King's Cross Station (Harry Potter parents, you know what I'm talking about) -- your family will be a well-oiled machine, a strong team, united against the strange and unfamiliar, utterly fearless in the face of foreignness. The satisfaction of overcoming these obstacles together will serve you well when you can't find your car back home at Pearson's airport parkade.


Do It Now Before It's Too Late!
9 Now's the time to take on Europe, for too many reasons to count. If you have a young family, your little ones may still be a good two decades away from a dorm room of their own, and who wants to wait to see the world until then?

The sad truth is that putting it off for too long may have its price. This is especially true if you have a hankering to see Italy, half of which seems to be sinking or leaning or crumbling into oblivion!

Alternately, for those of you whose teens are on the verge of heading out on voyages of their own, you may find there are few opportunities left to travel together as a family and make those memories that last a lifetime.


One for Them, One for You
10 Still need one final reason? If you and your significant other are secretly dreaming of a sunset stroll over the Charles Bridge in Prague sans enfants terribles, dragging the kids to Europe now will help you rack up those frequent flyer miles for later, when your mother-in-law finally agrees to take the kids for an entire week.

Start counting down the days as soon as you get home. A romantic getaway to Paris awaits!

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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