Just go. There may not be a better time, there may not be another time. Thoreau said, “time is but the stream I go a-fishin’ in.” So don’t cut bait. Of course you will also have to wait, at stops and stations across the nations. But stand and look, or bring a book, or turn a stranger to a friend. Do it now, for this will end.
Now however, should be during the off-season, when there aren’t so many tourists. We’ve benefited from shorter lines, fewer people, easier views, and cheaper tickets. Winter in Italy hasn’t been that cold. (Lots of baby Jesus, but no El Niño!). We’ve tried to follow the good weather, moving from north to south as summer turned to fall then winter, but avoiding the crowds is key. Another way to do that is find the places that are not tourist meccas.
I’m reminded of the flocks of people standing before the Mona Lisa raising their phones for a shot over the heads of the huddled masses looking for unquiet inspiration. What about the other paintings in that room, or in the darkened corners of the Louvre, or in some small museum in some distant village where some other smiling masterpiece has no beholder? It could be you. And there’s a discussion, a lesson for the kids: what makes that painting, that building, that person, that thing, so famous? What is the artistic merit? What is the canon? What is the difference?
Here’s another, the shelf life on a tweeners attention span is short, and museums wear thin – as do cathedrals, castles, and myriad historical landmarks. The solution: playgrounds! Speaking of Paris, there are some good ones. Luxembourg Gardens has a big one, packed, traditional, but fun. Try La Villette, and spend the whole day. Not only is there a huge kid-friendly museum, there’s a supercool playground with a great slide. The slide alone is worth the trip. Even better, in Spain rent bikes along the Rio Madrid. Not only is it a great and fun ride, but every couple hundred yards is another playground, and crazy ones. There are multiple zip lines, tilted merry-go-rounds, par-cours/ninja-warrior structures, an all-tunnel-slide mountain, and these two/three person swinging rope things that are awesome. Once you’ve got playground awareness, they appear all over the place. That, and a few fun bike rides, boat trips, staircases (yes, spiral as in castles or viewish as in Eiffel Tower), and mysterious exploratory missions, and your kids will go to bed quickly and happily – always a plus!
Here’s another one. We did this in Venice, but any medieval city will do. Play “let’s get lost” and let kids take turns taking turn after turn after turn. When lost, who can find the way back? Back where? In fact, random walkabouts, subway trips, bus rides, or whatever can lead to serendipitous wonderfulness (or not, be careful). Or, let the kids take turns choosing what to do and give ‘em a bunch of options. They may not pick the museum you would, but they’ll have enough buy-in to pay attention. And whatever it is, take breaks, sit down and have a cuppa, recharge the batteries, watch the people – what are they thinking?
Then, onward and sideways. My wife does not approve, but I bribe ‘em with sweet treats all the time, “one more museum floor, one more hidden masterpiece, one more scenic vista, one more look around the next bend in the long and winding road.” Further, Ever Further!