Joys of a hol­i­day with teens in win­try Europe

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - BRUNETTE LENKIC

I HAVE pre­pared for a win­ter fam­ily hol­i­day in Ger­many, France, Italy and Croa­tia know­ing that a hun­gry teenager can turn were­wolf in an in­stant.

I am trav­el­ling with teens — a 17-year-old son and 14-year-old twin daugh­ters — so I ac­cept the em­bar­rass­ment when one vis­its the ho­tel break­fast buf­fet eight times and I de­cide to ig­nore the gummi bears float­ing in an­other’s ce­real bowl. When we dine with rel­a­tives, thank­fully they serve us body-weight equiv­a­lent por­tions. The hol­i­day comes af­ter a busy year in which fam­ily life has been com­pressed into meet, greet, eat and re­treat. Travel should re­boot our con­vivi­al­ity.

Europe in win­ter is re­laxed. There are mostly do­mes­tic tourists in the cap­i­tals and fewer touts. It’s easy to see the Mona Lisa at the Lou­vre in Paris and to linger at the Sis­tine Chapel in Rome. Sound-and-light dis­plays cheer the early nights; Ber­lin’s cen­tral street, Unter den Lin­den, is lit like an en­chant­ment. We wan­der amid Christ­mas mar­ket stalls, eat­ing hot chips or wurst or crepes ooz­ing with camem­bert and blue­berry jam, fol­low­ing the sound trails of buskers.

Each of us has a say in our itin­er­ary, so gal­leries are off­set by Le­goland, his­toric build­ings by gelato bars and long travel days with mooching.

The sea­sonal tradition of vis­it­ing churches and cathe­drals to ad­mire na­tiv­ity dis­plays is one I en­joy more than my brood, who urge me to visit alone. I also want to pay re­spects to Edith Piaf, Mar­cel Proust, Os­car Wilde and Jim Mor­ri­son, buried in Paris’s Pere Lachaise Ceme­tery. ‘‘Oh, good,’’ re­marks Twin Two. ‘‘We’re go­ing to spend the af­ter­noon with dead peo­ple.’’

These young ones pre­fer liv­ing cul­ture, us­ing mime and lim­ited for­eign-lan­guage skills, and they won­der whether and how much to give to beg­gars.

The trio has packed for them­selves but I take ex­tra wool­lens, sus­pect­ing they’ll need to bor­row mine. They don’t — Europe’s cold is man­age­able by dress­ing in lay­ers and be­cause in­door venues are set up for it.

But the wind bul­lies us when we view Ber­lin from the top of the Vic­tory Col­umn, Paris from the steps of Sacre Coeur and Rome from an up­per ter­race of the Colos­seum.

In Zadar on the Dal­ma­tian coast, we lis­ten to the song the win­ter waves play on the town’s sea or­gan. We look out of train win­dows and see snow set­tled on the ar­chi­tec­ture of bare trees and the shoul­ders of moun­tains.

My teens use tech­nol­ogy as time out. Ear buds mean do not dis­turb. When the girls have their fill of the Lou­vre, they re­move them­selves to a bench near the Egyp­tian an­tiq­ui­ties and play on their games con­sole.

How­ever, liv­ing so closely for five weeks, there are in­evitable clashes. Mr 17 and I face off in Paris one day. I take the map and his sis­ters and leave him to find his way back to the ho­tel.

Mind­ful that early morn­ings are an out­rage in the teenage uni­verse, I sched­ule ac­cord­ingly. The only time I get my three up early (and in the lobby by 6.30am), the travel gods rub their hands glee­fully. What fol­lows is a day of dis­as­ters, with the weather, trans­port, sched­ules and toi­lets against us. Twin One throws up on a coach and then sits sto­ically for six hours as we inch through a truck block­ade and into Mi­lan.

But even a travel day from hell can’t pierce the bub­ble of good­will around us — ex­tra food, free tick­ets, con­sid­er­ate at­ten­tion and the re­cov­ery of ev­ery­thing Twin Two leaves be­hind on three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions.

We also snare great lowsea­son deals dur­ing our De­cem­ber-Jan­uary hol­i­day. A first-class Eu­rail group pass is cheaper than sec­ond-class train tick­ets. Our ac­com­mo­da­tion is cen­tral, pleas­ant and af­ford­able — in Paris, we can stroll to the Eif­fel Tower from Ho­tel la Bour­don­nais; in Ber­lin, our rented apart­ment on Wil­helm­strasse is 400m from the Bran­den­burg Gate; in Rome, Ho­tel Em­maus is 250m from the Vat­i­can.

Our best deal is 75 per cent off the reg­u­lar price of a fam­ily room in Venice. Ho­tel Mar­coni, on the Grand Canal, is 50m from the Rialto Bridge and the per­fect place from which to watch gon­do­liers skip­ping to stay warm as they wait for cus­tomers, and to spot lovers, pink-cheeked and glove-in-glove, obliv­i­ous to ev­ery­thing but each other. Like my teenagers, they are find­ing hunger bites hard­est in win­ter.


Paris is less crowded in win­ter

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