Europe with kids, ain’t it grand?

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“I don’t know why everybody says Europe is so beautiful,” my youngest complained today as we walked our bikes through a crowded street of Old Town Zadar, Croatia, trying to avoid running into tourists. “Look at all the cracks on the stones!”

“Do you know how old those stones are?” I said. I don’t know how old those stones are. Old. Very old.

I’ve spent half the summer defending Very Old Europe to my kids and explaining why they should appreciate their surroundings as much as going to roller coasters and water parks. Some days, I lose the battle.

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Today, I promised them that after I finished my work, we’d go somewhere. My oldest, “A,” wanted to go to a history museum, which naturally meant his brother, “W,” wanted to stay home.

“Why do we have to go somewhere that seems like school?” he said. “It’s summer!”

Sometimes, I think my kids have a secret pact. If one wants to do something, the other must protest. I run the spectrum of wanting to keep them from being spoiled brats to wanting to keep them content in a country that is not their own.

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Today’s destination was the Archeological Museum. Lots of old, cracked things. “W” was not impressed. I kept having to stop and say nagging, motherly things to him, like, “Don’t sit on the tomb!”

“A” is more of a history buff who likes lingering on past lives. We walked around the museum talking about the people who must have made the objects we saw. “W” sped past us looking for interactive exhibits that haven’t arrived in this country just yet.

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If the best education is not learned in the classroom, I hope all of this “old stuff” is rubbing off on both kids. It’s kind of like taking them to an antique store and wanting them notice more than a dusty collection of stuff. Not everything comes with an app or video or a climbing ropes course like the children’s museum back home.

If one child tours museums looking miserable, disinterested and bored, will he still take it in by osmosis? Or do the teenage years last way beyond the teenage years? (He’s only 10).

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I keep having to remind myself that my kids are not mini adults. They’re just kids. Their travel experience is not supposed to be like mine.

We will not look at cracks in cobblestones in the same way. And I need to be fine with that.

 

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Pounding the Marble Pavement

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Sarge’s company rented him a stick-shift car, and I don’t know how to drive it yet. Being on foot is my favorite kind of exercise anyway, so I don’t mind walking. And I’m noticing things I would never see from the driver’s seat.

We went to dinner a couple of nights ago at Gricko Grill, a tiny owner-run spot where we had simple grilled meats wrapped in pita bread and served with raw onions. We all gave it rave reviews. On the walk home, we noticed a wedding party driving the other way, kind of like a New Orleans-style funeral parade. The party went by waving flags, singing, honking and shouting as they passed. We smiled, waved and shouted back.

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My favorite place to walk so far is just a mile from our house in Old Town, an ancient area that spent several centuries under Venetian rule. It reminds me of Italy, with its Forum, Roman ruins, churches, shops and cafes. One of the most remarkable things about Old Town Zadar is that it’s paved in marble that’s almost slippery enough to skate across, polished by millions of feet over the centuries.

That’s not the only mesmerizing thing about the city. There’s a Sea Organ built into the marble steps along the Adriatic Sea that plays haunting piped music as the waves lap against the steps. And nearby, there’s a modern Greeting to the Sun with glass plates formed in a circle that collect solar energy for a light show at night. We were there on a chilly and windy afternoon, so we sat on the solar panels to warm up and people watch.

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For dinner, we went somewhere that’s already becoming one of Sarge’s favorites – Kobona Bonaca – a place where he dined alone when he first arrived in town. The restaurant is tucked behind the Sea Organ by a church square.

“I tried to open the door and it was locked,” Sarge said of his first experience there. “I turned around to leave and the door opened. It was the owner. He put his hands in his pockets and said, ‘Do you have jingle lingle?’ I said, ‘Yes, I have jingle lingle!’ He said, ‘Then you can come in!’ ”

Then he poured Sarge a drink on the house, served him braised lamb and talked about America, Croatia’s civil war in the 1990s and things they had in common, like the fact that they both spent time living in Florida.

The owner remembered Sarge right away when we walked in. He sat us in a sunny spot at a heavy wooden table and brought us drinks, then something extra – a shot of cherry liqueur. The drink is one of the city’s specialties, and the owner said his friend distilled it himself from the Maraska cherries grown in this region. I let the kids take a sip. They said it tasted like cough drops. To me, it was more like a sweet cherry dessert, like a brandy.

By the time dinner was over, we went back to the end of the peninsula by the Sea Organ in time for the sunset. We had read that legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock once said that Zadar had “the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West, in Florida, applauded at every evening.”

Sarge used to live in Florida, and then we both lived in Hawaii, and we’ve seen some amazing sunsets. Last night’s was a pretty good one.

We watched it with our feet hanging over the sea wall. And with that, young W kicked his leg and accidentally sent his Adidas sneaker flying into the Adriatic. Sarge said his shoe will probably make it to Italy before W does.

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