Games we played

I have to admit: our family was not always the most pleasant tour group, especially if we were visiting a fort, palace, cathedral, mosque or ancient ruin after having recently seen another fort, palace, cathedral, mosque or ancient ruin. I feel bad about it – all our tour guides were so nice, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Many of them had struggled financially during the tourism black hole of COVID lockdowns and I wanted to support them. And of course, I genuinely wanted to learn about the history or culture of their country. But somewhere in Rajasthan, India, our tour guides started sounding to me like the adults in the Peanuts cartoon television specials: “wah wah WAH wah WAH wah wah.” Maybe it’s because I’ve always been more of a visual or hands-on learner than an auditory one, and it is hard for me to remember all those dates, names of long-dead rulers, and sequences of who conquered whom. Sometimes their English was strongly accented and hard to understand. I was often distracted looking for good photo ops. One of our children saw no point in even trying to feign polite interest and could scowl fiercely and continuously for several hours – a level of persistence I often wished he’d apply towards other endeavors. Often one or more of us would lag behind, rush ahead, or wander off.   

We also tried audio-guides, online self-guided tours, and even just taking turns reading aloud something from an online guidebook. But a few times, we actually got more creative, and these are the strategies I would actually recommend trying when traveling with adolescents: 

2 Truths and a Lie Tour Guide: In Istanbul, there were four major sights that we thought must be on our itinerary: Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, and the Bosphorus. Each person was assigned one of these tourist attractions, and had to be prepared to be the tour guide for the family there. The twist was that the tour guide needed to invent one (or more) of the facts, and the rest of the family needed to guess what was fake news. It meant we each needed to read and remember a few things, and also pay attention to what the others were saying. A few times, when it seemed like other tourists were listening to us, I did have a pang of worry that we were spreading misinformation…! Nevertheless, eight (4×2) thumbs up on this game. 

On the Bosphorous

Ruins soundtrack: Volubilis in Morocco was another Roman ruin, and it certainly had its merits. But we’d already seen many Roman ruins, including some that were considered the best preserved, the biggest, the oldest and the most strategically important. After all, the Roman empire did quite a lot of construction in its time, much of which are now ruins. To stave off imminent unpleasantness, I gave Asher one of my earbuds, put the other in my own ear, and connected them to his phone. I asked him to DJ our tour: to select from his playlist the songs that he felt most related to whatever we were seeing, and tell me why he chose that song. Neither of us learned any names, dates or the significance of those tumbling-down walls, but I thoroughly enjoyed the next few hours walking through the ruins with Asher, and appreciated the window into his thinking and the kinds of connections he made.  

Museum pictionary: I personally quite like looking at art. Even if I don’t always understand it, I usually find something that moves me, that I want to look at longer, and/or that I like to think about. Despite my own personal preferences, we have generally avoided museums, under the assumption that it would not be the kids’ top choice of activities. Our visit to the Cairo museum reinforced that. However, we were visiting Madrid with James’ parents, and they wanted to visit the Prado. I said to James, “We have to come up with a way to keep this moderately engaging or our children will make our experience miserable.” We batted around a few ideas. Scavenger hunt? No time. Two truths and a lie again? Nah, did that already. Finally, James hatched the brilliant idea of having us draw the art we saw, and the others would try to identify it – bonus points for knowing anything about that piece of art. So, we each downloaded a drawing app to our phones, set a time to meet, and set everyone loose to explore the museum at his/her own pace. It was really fun, and everyone seemed to fully engage in the activity. James went for volume, drawing many different pieces. Asher used color to excellent effect. Corbin’s line drawings were quite effective in evoking the original pieces. I experimented with different styles, including a minimalist approach. Jim and Midge stuck to pen and paper. When we reconvened, we shared our drawings. We didn’t really have criteria or a good scoring system so everyone claimed victory – which was a totally acceptable outcome.

My drawing of Goya’s Dog, of which I am quite proud. Unfortunately, most of the family somehow missed the hallway where the special Goya exhibit was housed, and no one could guess it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: