Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tarragona: Doing Rome in a Day

This past Summer we decided to do some local adventures while teaching in our study abroad program in Barcelona. We rented a car (which happens to be really cheap out of the El Prat airport) and drove around the towns of Catalunya. Our favorite visit was Tarragona, which once housed an entire Roman settlement. Check out our vid (above) for some of our favorite adventures!

An important side note: Anyone who knows us will know that we were especially excited by how inexpensive it is to see all the main Roman ruins in Tarragona. It's only 7 Euro per adult and kids are free!

Monday, December 12, 2016

27 Songs You Need for the Perfect Road Tripping Playlist

If you've ever been on a road trip with us, you'll know that there's usually a lot of music in the car when we travel. There's also a lot of singing (want proof? Check out one of our latest Expat Snippets). Inevitably, there are a set of songs that usually get requested more than others. In no particular order, here are some of the latest and most requested songs in the car:

1. 'Non-Stop' - Hamilton Broadway Soundtrack
Perhaps your family is like ours...songs from the Hamilton musical are pretty much on non-stop repeat (that is, the songs that aren't laden with profanity). Non-stop is our favorite because it's a total production. EVERYONE in the car can sing. Other songs that were clean, or only required minimal editing on our part: Alexander Hamilton, You'll Be Back, Guns and Ships, The Room Where It Happens.

2. 'Seagulls! (Stop it Now)' - Bad Lip Reading
Ok, this could be any Bad Lip Reading song, but since we've worn out the other two big ones (Choo Choo Go and Bushes of Love), we've been playing this one continuously as well. Bad Lip Reading has gone from simple YouTube comedy to content that rivals even the great Weird Al Yankovic! And...speaking of which 

3. 'Word Crimes' - Weird Al Yankovic

I'll admit it. I'm one of those Weird Al Followers. He was a major part of my childhood, and when I got an autograph from him at a local grocery store in LA in the 80s, my fandom was secured. UHF - yes please. His last album (literally his last), was genius. Word Crimes had a long run in our car, but other songs that have been common sing-alongs in the car include: Skipper Dan, The Saga Begins, The Hardware Store, Yoda, Ebay, Lasagna, Your Horoscope for Today.. actually, I could do a whole blog post on Weird Al Sing-Alongs for a cross-country road trip. Yeah, they're that good.

4. 'Hot Summer Nights (Won't Last Forever)' - The Aquabats

Huge fan of the Aquabats, and not only because I know them. Not only do they do the best concerts on this Earth, they're also the brains behind Yo Gabba Gabba, and they know how to make a toe-tappin' sing-along. Our favorite has always been 'Hot Summer Nights (Won't Last Forever)', the tale of a poor naive beach bum who can't take a hint. Classically funny, and fun to sing along with too. 

5. 'Birdhouse in Your Soul' - They Might Be Giants

My absolute favorite band growing up was They Might Be Giants. I am such a big fan of TMBG that when I went to New York in my 30s, I made a special trip to the 1964 World's Fair site just to see where they filmed their first video: Don't Let's Start. Birdhouse in your Soul is one of those classic TMBG songs, and truth be told, we've had so many in our playlist, it's not even funny. The fact is TMBG have been the most prolific song writers in the history of the United States. Yeah, I said that. Count em, they've written hundreds upon hundreds of songs. Other great songs (new and old) we've enjoyed are: Take Out The Trash, Istanbul, End of the Rope, Icky, 813 Mile Car Trip, Seven, The Mesopotamians, etc.

6. 'Wildfire' - Seafret

Every playlist needs an endearing slow slong, even one for a family with 4 boys ages 7-16. Wildfire is that song for us. Seafret is a relatively new band, but their music is rich and lyrical. No doubt we'll have more on this playlist soon.

7. 'Ophelia' - The Lumineers

I've been a fan of the Lumineers since before their big hit, "Ho Hey" and their music has been a common fixture in our playlists. Ophelia is the latest to echo through the car. Other greats include Stubborn Love, Submarines, and Dead Sea (with a little editing).

8. 'Still' - Great Lake Swimmers

Love the tune and love the lyrics, but I love meaning even more.

9. Food and Creative Love - Rusted Root

You may find this to be an enigma on this list. Well, it literally is. I introduced this song to our playlist 3 years ago, having been a huge fan of Rusted Root since the 90s. This song stood out because no one could figure out the Chorus line. It's become a game in our family, with some who still think the chorus is: All I want is food and green alien love." No, I still haven't told them what the name of the song is. It's just too funny to hear them try to figure it out, plus "green alien love" is classic.

10. 'Lakehouse' - Of Monsters and Men

This song is one of my favorite from one of the best bands to come out of Iceland, ever. Their music just has the feeling of travel and adventure, which is probably why the remake of "the Secret Life of Walter Mitty" featured their song, "Dirty Paws".

11. Madness - Muse

You might think Muse is a bit too intense for a road trip with kids, and for the most part, it can be. But there are a few songs that really inspire some sing-along. Madness is one of them. Another one is "Explorers" and if you're adventurous, "Supermassive Blackhole"

12. Wavin' Flag (Coca-Cola Celebration Mix) - K'naan

The undisputed theme of the 2010 FIFA Worldcup, or is it? Either way, great song for any road trip.

13. Ivan & Alyosha - All This Wandering Around

We've used this song for our own travel videos, that's how much we like it. Plus, it

14. 'The Re-arranger' - Mates of State

 I like to brag. I was a Mates of State fan before it was cool to be a know, when they became a household name among Mormons for their music on Studio C?  Their songs are uppity, catchy, and perfect for a drive. Their album Rearrange Us may be one of the best albums of the last 10 years. They're that good.

15. 'Careful' - Guster

This may be the mother of all sing-along playlist songs, as it was one of our first sing-along songs in the car. Yep, in between Disney hits, we were singing Guster. Their best album is Keep it Together, and the best song on that album is 'Careful'. Even after over 10 years of listening to it, it never gets old. 

16. 'Miracle Mile' - Cold War Kids

Upbeat, peppy,  full of energy, yeah, this song will work better than a 5-hour energy drink to get you through your drive. It was also the song we used on our very first travel video!

17. 'Creep in a T-Shirt' - Portugal. The Man.

There's something about your kids singing, "I'm a creep in a T-Shirt" that just gives you the feels. Seriously though, really upbeat and fun to sing along to. This song may actually hold the record for the longest stay on our playlist. "Evil Friends" is also a great song.

18. The One Moment - Ok Go 

This song was already amazing by its own right, and then they went and destroyed the Internet with the video they made for it.

19. Cousins - Vampire Weekend

Ok, this song is only on this list because one member of our family HATES it. Sometimes its fun to annoy people while you're driving. I still think it's fast and fun to listen to. 

20. Joan of Arc - Arcade Fire

So, the only reason why our kids love this song is because of the chance to sing some French. I think that's it. Still, Arcade Fire is an incredible band, so I'll take it.

21. 'Complicated Creation' - Cloud Cult 

Fast beat, pretty cool meaning. This also doubles as a great workout song.

22. Generator First Floor - Freelance Whales

Underrated song from an unheralded band. The song has quite a long intro, but once it gets going, it's great.

23. La Seine and I - Monster in Paris Soundtrack

The movie was mostly a knock off of the Phantom of the Opera, but when one of your voice talents is the son of John Lennon, you check it out anyway. Turns out that the music is pretty cool.

24. Buddy Holly - Weezer

 This is a classic. If your kids don't know it, they need to know it. Now.

25. Last Train to Clarksville - The Monkees

 Who doesn't know this song? Really? Just one of those timeless songs.

26. Hold Music - Architecture in Helsiniki
When a song has the lyric, "I bought me a dragon to lighten the load," you know it's a winner. 

27. Okay - The Piano Guys

Have to end this on a purely uplifting song. If you haven't heard the Piano Guys, this is nothing like what they normally produce (most of it is instrumental) but this is one heck of a great song.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Quick Guide to Lesser-Known Gems in NYC

Here's a little throwback...almost a decade ago, I spent a Summer living and working in Manhattan. While there, I prided myself on getting around and seeing some of the lesser-known, but definitely worth seeing, sites. In fact, after the two months, my co-workers gushed at how I had seen more stuff in NYC in two months than they had in the several years they had lived there. Anyway, here’s what I recommended–my Indie guide to seeing NYC.
Note: These are only a few sites, if you have some good suggestions, add your 2 cents below.
1. The site of the 1964 World’s Fair. A sight that maybe only an avid historian would love…this one has particularly cool meaning for They Might Be Giant’s fans. Not only do they mention the fair in a number of their songs, they filmed the video for Don’t Let’s Start (video below) thereSadly, the site is fairly run down now…half of it has been taken over as a skate park, and the arena behind me in the picture below has been overrun by a local theater company, which uses it as a junk site.
2. Strawberry Field: The immortal memorial to John Lennon still features plenty of flowers and a steady flow of Lennon music. It’s on the outskirts of Central Park and can be kind of hard to find…but once you find it, you get a “daily double” as just across the street is the hotel where John Lennon was shot.
3. Battery Park: Summer Concert Series. NY tends to have at the best Indie music, and it also tends to be FREE around the city. Battery Park is one venue definitely worth visiting, especially when it's FREE. 
Britt Daniel and his band Spoon in Battery Park
4. Go Meet Rupert. My FAVORITE experience while there…the Hello Deli, just around the corner from the Ed Sullivan Theater went famous when David Letterman introduced Rupert to the world about 20 years ago (wow has it been that long). Funny thing is, his Deli is actually a great place to eat…and Rupert is one of the nicest guys around. Right in the middle of orders, he’ll take a picture with you and even wish your dad a happy birthday on your cell phone (ok, that’s what he did for me…I cant imagine he’d have done it if it was busy when I went in). You’ve got to get there early though, the place closes at 4.
5. The NY Cathedrals. In the Cathedrals, of New York and Rome, there is a feeling, that you should just go home, and spend a lifetime, finding out just where that is. Ok, so few may know this Jump Little Children classic, but I’ve always held it as one of my favorites…so when I got to NY, I had to find every cathedral I could. St. Patrick’s is easy to find…but this one right in front of the Juliard* (below) was my favorite.
The LDS Temple is a very nice addition to the NY skyline
*Speaking of the Juliard…10 points goes to the reader who knows the Moxy Fruvous song that mentions the music school.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Can you avoid tourist mayhem and still get the "Europe Experience"?

I've had stress on my mind a lot lately. It must be the holidays. I've also been going through our photos and videos from the last few years of traveling around Europe. The funny thing is, behind every one of the pictures and videos is a set of stories, some of them hectic, some of them more pleasant. As humans, we never like to show the hard times, only the good ones (isn't that the 'fun' of Facebook? :) ). While reflecting on these experiences, I realized that there were quite a few places to visit that purported to provide that classic European Travel Experience, but that were too exhausting to actually enjoy. Paris, Rome, London -- each of these were incredibly stressful, and we traveled during the offseason. Don't get me wrong, they're worth the visit and I wouldn't recommend skipping them altogether, but we just found that traveling as a family with 4 kids, there were more enjoyable, less exhausting experiences that still provided that uniquely European cultural experience.

So, with those happy memories brewing, we put together a new video on our favorite places to travel as a family in Europe--the places we definitely plan on going back to on our next visit. Watch the video (above) and get our two cents on each place below:

[OBLIGATORY SPOILER ALERT LINE, in case you haven't watched the video yet]

5. Tarragona, Spain. 

The Mediterranean coast of Spain used to be a Roman settlement, and Tarragona has, perhaps, the best preserved sites. Add in the beautiful beaches, and this place was perfect. It was like being in Rome without the crowds, pick-pocketers, smelly subways...well you get it. No, it doesn't have Rome's splendor (we've done Rome, and there is no substitute) but we really enjoyed it as an ancient Rome experience. And what we enjoyed even more was how inexpensive it was to see it all.  We paid more for parking in a garage for the day than we did to visit all the Roman ruins. The Tarragona Family Card was under 50 Euro for the whole family, and we got admission to all the major Roman sites. Definitely worth it.

4. Black Forest, Germany.

Tour guides will tell you that Black Forest was therapeutic for those overburdened and facing stress-born illnesses. It only takes one visit to realize just how therapeutic the place is. A collection of beautiful Bavarian towns and throw in some waterfalls, an open-air museum, and, our favorite, a toboggan ride, and you'll not want to leave. People there are extremely accommodating as well. When we went, our AirBnB fell through and it didn't take much frantic searching before we found a place to accommodate us (and we have a family of 6!) Locals were happy to suggest homes and families we could talk to. Take a drive around the Black Forest for an enjoyable experience.

3. Rovinj, Croatia. 

Every stress-free trip list should feature a shanty beach town with beautiful views and ample places to relax, swim, etc. Rovinj is our favorite. We had originally booked a few days in Pula, but venturing 20 minutes into Rovinj made us realize that we had chosen the wrong place to stay. So much charm, and the local boat rides can be had for deep discounts if you ask, and if you travel in the offseason. Added bonus: the people of Croatia are incredibly hospitable. Some of the nicest people we met in Europe.

2. Lucca, Italy.

There's nothing big about Lucca. It's a small Italian town with the usual small Italian town delights. So why is it so high on our list? I don't know to be honest. We just really enjoyed it. Whether it was biking around the city walls or popping into a local pizzeria, it just felt like the complete Italian experience, minus the hubbub of tourists.

1. Salzburg, Austria.

Ok, we know what you're thinking: how can we put a major tourist destination atop this list?  Parking can be difficult in the city and there is a lot of foot traffic. But for us, the Salzburg Card made all the difference. For under 100 Euro, our family of 6 got to see all the best sites, plus we had full access to public transportation, making our visit to the city quite easy. Plus, how can you not feel relaxed in the city where the Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music.

Hope you enjoyed our list. Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube Channel and leave a comment on places you'd like us to profile!

Friday, September 23, 2016

New Expat Snippet! In which we can't get enough of Barcelona

By this time, you've probably figured us out. We kind of like Barcelona. It doesn't help that we go there so often, and happen to have A LOT of video around the city. Barcelona is unlike the rest of Spain, well Catalunya is unlike the rest of Spain, and Barcelona is the capital city. It's a hub of diversity where there's plenty to do with kids, and easy to get around even if you don't speak Catalá or Espanyol.

In our latest Expat Snippet, we've put together our most comprehensive tour of Barcelona yet. We can't promise that this will be the last Barcelona video, but we can promise it you'll enjoy it.

Leave a comment to let us know what you'd like to see more of in this amazing city.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Taking 4 Boys to Austenland - Sense & Sensibility?

 Watch the YouTube Video!
(Click above to watch the video on YouTube)

We have 4 boys. While life can be a mile-a-minute and exhausting, it's also been incredibly rewarding to have our 4-boy club. While our boys have been into video games, sports, and legos, we've also tried to encourage them to go beyond the normal "boy things" to do. We've had noteworthy success with our efforts - especially in the realms of museum visits and some less than masculine movies - we decided to test our training with a visit to the heart of Austenland, or the homestead in Chawton, England, where Jane Austen finished her manuscripts for Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility.

First, finding the place can be a little challenging, as it's off the beaten path, and some of the signs aren't as easy to follow. We ended up wandering until we found a taxi shelter and asked a bunch of taxi drivers how to get there--each of which had a different answer. It was like something out of a romantic comedy. It turns out that the home is in an unspectacular area, humble and small, but quaint.

Once we got there, we went into full Expat Smith mode, and found the most economical way to enjoy the home. Of course, this meant not actually going inside the main part of the home, but truth be told, the best stuff, in our estimation, is free. Those in charge of the homestead have made all the best, interactive stuff free.

So, without further ado, our photo-journal of how we survived Austen's home with boys:
1. Dress-up. Yes, dress-up. You'd be surprised how much 4 boys can get into dress-up. And for our boys, it was like Halloween, without the candy. They really got into it.

2. Take A Walk about the Yard
It may be small, but the yard is well-taken care of.

3. Live the Life.
The homestead has a number of interactive experiences you would expect for a historical site, and there are plenty outside of the 'pay' area of the homestead. You can visit the kitchen and some other living quarters outside of the house, and try out life in the 18th century, including writing with a quill:

4. Learn the history. 
The first room you enter after passing through the bookstore shows an engaging historical video, and includes some other fun interactive activities. It really set the mood for our boys.

5. And don't forget to visit Austen's tomb in Winchester, about 25 minutes away. 
This one isn't free, unless you want to worship with the congregation, but both the inside and the outside of the cathedral are worth the visit, and Winchester is one of those cool quaint towns with quite a bit of English charm.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Five European Side Trips to Get off the Tourist-Beaten Path

Tarragona, Spain
Even the most neophyte traveler knows to put the main attraction cities at the top of a list. Paris, Venice, London, and even Barcelona are full of them. But the adept traveler knows that just as much, if not more, wonderment can be had in the cities that aren't trampled by tourist Birkenstocks.

As a family of 6, we've put a lot of kms (and even more miles) into road tripping around Europe--more than 30,000 kms actually.  As much as we've enjoyed the Louvre, St. Mark's Square, Buckingham Palace, and the Sagrada Familia, we've found even more enjoyment in the side trips where local culture trumps consumerism.

1. Etretat, France - 2.5 hours from Paris
Let's be honest, you could pick any of the shanty towns on the northern coast of France and get a similar experience, but we picked Etretat because of its majestic cliffs. It has all the charm of a beach side village, the rustic shops, and laid-back lifestyle of fisherfolk and locals. It's also historically significant as a town where Van Gogh painted. And yet, it's relatively untouched as a tourist destination. When we visited in the Summer time (mid-June), the only "tourists" we could see were school kids on an outing.

2. Bassano del Grappa, Italy - 1 hour 15 min. from Venice
There are at least a dozen towns within an hour or two from Venice that are worth seeing, including Padua, Treviso, Cittadella, and even Romeo & Juliet's Verona. But we choose the smaller, but historically significant town that's equally as charming. As a historical visit, Bassano is where Ernest Hemingway served his tour of duty as an ambulance driver during World War I, and which served as an inspiration and backdrop for his classic A Farewell to Arms. Bassano also boasts some seriously beautiful views and a quirky but expansive weekend market that makes the visit even more worth it. It also has my kids' favorite place for Kebabs - Indiana (just down from the bridge).

3. Vicenza, Italy - 1 hour from Venice
So, it was impossible to pick just one side trip from Venice. If Bassano is the small town with the Italian local charm, Vicenza is the hidden gem with architectural splendor. Vicenza is the home of Venetian Architect Andrea Palladio, widely considered the most influential individual in the history of architecture. If Venice is the town Palladio built, then Vicenza was Palladio's playground. The town's center (which prohibits any tourist driving) features a plethora of picturesque places. Our favorite is the Teatro Olimpico, but the plaza and several other buildings are worth a visit, including Santa Corona, a Gothic Church that was built to house a thorn from Christ's Crown of Thorns given to the Bishop of Vicenza by Louis IX of France. 

Palladio's Teatro Olimpico
4. Tarragona, Spain - 1 hour from Barcelona
This Catalan city may not be the non-touristy hideaway that other places on this list are--it's the home to one of Spain's big theme parks, Port Aventura. But it certainly doesn't feel like a tourist-trodden town. Tarragona has the perfect mix of old Spanish town, ancient Roman stronghold, and beautiful beach. We liked Tarragona so much that no only are we doing an Expat Snippet video on it (stay tuned), but we're making it a regular visit on our Study Abroad trips to Barcelona each Summer. There's enough to see to spend a weekend in Tarragona, and what's more, it's extremely budget friendly. Tarragona boasts a set of intricately preserved Roman structures, including a forum, circus, and Roman walls. A family ticket to see all of them cost us 17 euro (!!).  Incredible views and easy on the pocketbook? Yes, please.

5. Oxford, England - 1 hour 20 minutes from London
Ok, so Oxford isn't exactly undiscovered country, but that doesn't make it any less worth a visit to get away from the maddening crowds of tourist-heavy London. Oxford is college-town, level-up--with superior architecture speckled all over the city, and nice access to the Thames. It's best to park outside the city at the Park n' Ride off the exit toward Oxford and take a Bus in, since parking is extremely limited. Christchurch is a good place to start, as it features the inspiration for Hogwarts' Great Hall, as well as the setting and inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (as Carroll, born Charles Dodgson, was a student there and based Alice on the Dean of Christ Church's Daughter, Alice Lidell).