New York, Two Teens, Three and a Half Days

With all its lights and energy, shows, museums, restaurants, and tours, New York City will stimulate and entertain even the most disinterested of teenagers. Here’s how we spent a few action packed days during February break in New York City.

Day 1: Arrival in NYC, NBC Studios Tour, Dinner in Greenwich Village, Walk through Times Square.

After an early check in at our hotel, we walked a few blocks to Rockefeller Center for a tour of NBC Studios. The highlight – seeing the Saturday Night Live set and learning how much of what we see on TV is an illusion. Dinner in Greenwich Village followed by an after dinner stroll through Times Square and a visit to Apple’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue.

Day 2: Chelsea Market, High Line Park, Lunch at a New York Deli. Broadway Matinee, Dinner on Fifth Avenue.

After energizing ourselves with lattes from Ninth Street Espresso and crepes at Bar Suzette in Chelsea Market, we walked the High Line. The High Line is an elevated railroad bed turned into park and walking path along the lower west side of New York. Instead of walking on the streets between the buildings, we walked above or among them, seeing the city from a different perspective.  Lunch was consumed at a deli before a 2 p.m. Broadway show (“Wicked”). Dinner was followed by cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery.

Day 3: Liberty and Ellis Islands, 9/11 Memorial, Tenement Museum, Dinner on the Upper East Side.

After going through airport-like security, we boarded the 9:30 a.m. ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands (buy your tickets in advance and arrive plenty of time before departure). Although the Statue of Liberty is closed for renovations, we were able to walk around Liberty Island while listening to an audio tour and learning why the French gave the U.S. her gift. On Ellis Island, our audio tour taught us about the many trials and tribulations of immigrants arriving in New York during the first part of the 20th century.

Back to Manhattan, snacks from a street vendor and a quick walk to the 9/11 Memorial (tickets are free but must be reserved in advance) where we waited in line to remember and to reflect.

Later at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, our engaging tour guide took us into the apartments of a family who lived in the building during the 1870s and another family who lived in the building during the Great Depression.

Day 4: Museum of Modern Art, Tour of the UN, Dinner on the Lower East Side.

After a leisurely morning and late breakfast, we headed to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), a short walk from our hotel. We took another audio tour (this one was free with admission) and browsed art by Monet, Picasso, Chagall, Rousseau, Cezanne, Matisse and many others, learning about a few of the artists’ techniques and inspirations and pondering what actually makes art. Then across town to the United Nations Headquarters where our tour guide, a young man from Peru, took us into the Security Council Chamber and the General Assembly Hall. Fascinating for all of us but especially for my kids, who both participated in Model UN during middle school. After a quick dinner, we headed home to our small town a few hours away, happy but exhausted from a few days in the Big City.

Getting there. Whether you fly, take the train, bus or drive yourself, allow plenty of time to acclimate to the hustle and bustle once you arrive before any scheduled tickets or tours. We found a great online deal and parked for $16 per day in a garage on 38th and 1st, much better than the $56 a day our hotel was offering. For parking deals before you arrive, check out Trip Advisor’s parking website guide.

Staying there:  Staying in NYC is not cheap, but there are many options and many promotions or deals. This trip we stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn, only a short walk to Times Square. The hotel’s price included two bedrooms, a sitting area and kitchenette plus a large buffet breakfast.

Trip taken February 2012.

Teens, Books, and South Africa

While planning our trip to South Africa, worlds and miles away from our lives in New England, I looked for ways to interest my teenagers in the trip. Although my kids (ages 13 and 15) like to travel, I have learned that if they read a book or watch a movie about the place we’re visiting, they are more invested in the trip.

So before we left on our adventure, I did some research and spent some time at the library. My kids each read a few of the books before we left, we bought a few books for the trip, and while we were there, we learned of a few more.

Ranging in ability, maturity, and intensity, some books appealed more to my daughter and others to my son. Neither of my kids read all the books but read the ones which interested them, including a few when we returned home. Following are a few of their favorites:

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba: an inspiring true story about a 14-year old boy who builds a windmill in rural Malawi, a country in southernAfrica. My son read this book in school and referred to it often during the trip.

The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony:  Both kids loved this funny and exciting true story about poachers, elephants, and life on a South African game reserve.

Invictus: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation by John Carlin: my son enjoyed this true story about Apartheid, the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and the changing of South Africa.

Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood by Robyn Scott: my daughter liked this true story about a young girl growing up in rural Botswana during the 1980s and 1990s.

Waiting for the Rain: A Novel of South Africa by Sheila Gordon: a story of two boys, one white and one black, growing up on a South African farm during Apartheid. My daughter and I enjoyed reading this book together, before and after the trip.