Monday, March 18, 2013

If You Only Travel to One New City with a Child...

It has to be Venice! Everything about the city was absolutely enchanting to Malanga Girl, from the magic of vaporetto rides up the Grand Canal to even the simplest things like the way that Cinderella sounds when reborn as "La Cenerentola." If the opportunity to see your child try spaghetti drowning in black cuttle-fish ink or to see her play with a plate of fried sardines before popping them into her mouth isn't enough, below is everything that pushed Venice to the top of our child-friendly destinations list.

1) Water! Canals! Vaporettos! Gondolas!

And better still, not a single car anywhere. Malanga Girl ran down Venetian streets, whipping around corners and racing to the next bridge to see if she could spot another gondola passing while we meandered along at our own pace.

2) Palazzos!

At least one of these palaces even has a jail hidden inside, I'm just saying.

3) Masks! Everywhere! And a chance to paint your own!

Ca' Macana in the Dorsoduro neighborhood is the place to go to paint your own masks. They have their own fabulous artisans' workshop just down the street from the shop and children as young as 5 (or almost 5, as was our case) can come in and paint their own mask for a fee. Malanga Girl selected a cat mask and learned how to mix pink and blue paints artfully, in addition to having the chance to play with some silver and gold paints and to select some fancy rhinestones and pearls to further decorate her mask.

Be sure to make a reservation.

Ca' Macana
Calle delle Botteghe 3172

And while you're in the Dorsoduro, check out some of the stores below that are in the same neighborhood.

4) Children's Book Stores!

By now you know I am a bit obsessed by bookstores and by the eternal search for the "perfect" bookstore. We found two lovely bookstores devoted to children's books in Venice. Toletta Kids is in the Dorsoduro neighborhood, not far from Ca' Macana. Laboratorio Blu is in the Cannaregio neighborhood's Old Ghetto. Both have an amazing selection of kids' books in Italian, some great books in English, and very inviting spaces for kids to sit down with big piles of books while they digest their latest gelato.
 Toletta Kids, Dorsoduro 1175
Laboratorio Blu, Cannaregio 1224 (Ghetto Vecchio)

5) Whimsical toys!

Signor Blum's 2-D wooden puzzles and mobiles wowed me. I wanted one of everything, from the miniature Rialto bridges in bright blues, oranges and reds to the gondola mobile I pictured hanging in a corner of my home office. I settled for letting Malanga Girl pick out a miniature tree decorated with different motifs instead of fruit. She had a hard time deciding between the music notes, ice cream cones and red hearts, but went with the music notes in the end. I am trying to figure out how to convince her that it should go somewhere besides her room, so we can all enjoy it.

Signor Blum
Campo San Barnaba 2840

Just across the square from Signor Blum is another toy shop, Lanterna Magica. They have a nice selection of toys like board games, dress-up clothes, and play kitchen accessories.

6) Gelato!

It's true that Malanga Girl has had a lot of good ice cream in her life already, but you can never have too much, right? This is just one more reason she loved Venice. The fish and pasta were also quite tasty.

Friday, March 8, 2013

De Madrid al Cielo

Even on a rainy day, Madrid makes me smile. Malanga Girl and I had a few hours to spend there this past Tuesday between our train arriving from another Spanish city and our flight back to Paris in the evening. My friend AL told us to meet her at the entrance to the Mercado de San Miguel, near the Plaza Mayor. The Mercado de San Miguel is new since the last time I was able to wander Madrid to my heart's content, but the Plaza Mayor and the Puerta del Sol (where the closest metro stop is) are as reassuringly familiar as a favorite old sweater. Sure, things change, like the Tio Pepe sign being taken down from Sol to make way for a new Apple store and the 2009 move of the Oso y el MadroƱo statue to a different point on the plaza. But I emerged from the Sol subway station and knew exactly which way to go. After fourteen months in Paris, I often come up from the metro at street level in different parts of town and have to spend a few minutes getting my bearings.

In any event, I snapped this picture of Malanga Girl in the Plaza Mayor just before the rain came down in full force. We spent the rest of the afternoon catching up with AL and eating the most delicious merluza I think has ever passed my lips. The beet, gorgonzola and hazelnut salad and the fresh-pressed banana juice were pretty close to absolute perfection as well. Oh, and the homemade hummus with sesame bread sticks had Malanga Girl practically licking the bowl. Really, I think I need to make a trip back to Madrid right now just to duck into Motha again. If you go there, you can thank AL for the recommendation.