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To Europe with Love: Traveling with a teenager

By: Fred Steinberg

You think your teen traveler would be thrilled with a boat ride down the Vltava River to share the lovely views of Prague with you. But she prefers a rainy night Ghosts and Goblins Tour sloshing around muddy ancient cemeteries, synagogue alleys and church yards. You would expect that in Paris she would love to be introduced to foie gras, onion soup, duck confit and moules frites while crowd-watching at a quaint bistro in the Latin Quarter. She prefers to munch on camembert and a baguette in the Tuileries while attracting hoards of pigeons by surreptitiously dropping crumbs behind her back to the chagrin of pedestrians and nearby bench sitters.  

Welcome to the exciting and somewhat perplexing world of traveling with a teen. First throw away your preconceived notions of what they would like – for us those suggestions were about half wrong. So, based on the experience of taking our granddaughter to Prague and Paris, here are some teen-centered travel tips, understanding of course that like real people, teens have varying likes and dislikes.

In Prague, start with the three-line, 28-stop Yellow Bus Hop On-Hop Off tour where the ticket is good for two days. It has stops at most every major site you would want to visit and includes a one-hour boat ride on the Vltava River. But if you go before 2015, best to avoid green stop five (the National Theater) unless you like to wallow in construction dust and debris and discuss the state of the world with a group of friendly construction workers who don’t understand a word of English, Spanish, Czech, French or German --  but do speak fluent Croatian. (I will admit our teen enjoyed practicing her soft ball pitching with balls of insulation that she threw at passing trucks.)

After wandering around the must-see Old Town Square and avoiding the friendly folks who will try to relieve you of your wallet or purse, duck into the Art Passage off the Square and buy tickets for the Prague Underground and Ghosts and Legends Tours at the Prague Special Tours ticket office. The Underground Tour will take you beneath the square through a labyrinth of tunnels, hidden rooms, cellars and catacombs, dating back to the 12th Century, showing how the Old City was built up vertically over the years to avoid constant flooding. The tour ends in an underground gallery, currently featuring an excellent collection of contemporary and late 20th century photographs of Prague.

Take the Ghost and Legends Tour at night to experience this fabled haunted city. Listen to descriptions of its medieval characters from headsmen, to church ghosts, ghouls and the Golem of the Jewish Ghetto while you tour hidden graveyards, church alleys and haunted spots. Be enticed with at least 10 ways to rid yourself of unwanted friends and relatives, from beheading and hanging to drowning, fire and live burial.  (Our teen seemed to pay particular attention to these and various methods of medieval torture.)

Have a late dinner at Marina Grosseto, located on a barge on the river, where the pasta and pizza are first rate. Reserve a river front table so you can best view the beautifully lit Prague Castle, Charles Bridge and nearby historic buildings.

Retire to your room or junior suite at the downtown Fusion Hotel - Prague, opened last year. It’s a funky boutique hotel with a stylish interior, art by contemporary Czech artists and clever poetry and quotations on hall walls. It features a wide variety of accommodations, from hostel rooms to suites with attractive prices to match, and a “360 Degree” rotating bar, the only one of its kind in Europe. (Our teen thought this was very cool. “A kind-of merry go round with alcohol,” she commented.)  

Paris, of course, is exciting for all ages. And we started with a quick stop at Notre Dame and wondered down to the Louvre. Due to the ever-present crowds we bought tickets in advance and planned our visit to include the Mona Lisa (teen: “She looks weird”), St. John the Baptist (“Who’s he giving the finger to?) and Bathsheba at Her Bath (“King David was entranced by her?). She was much more impressed by sculpture stops at the Venus de Milo (“Who cut off her arms?), Daniel in the Lions Cave (“He’s not going to last long”), Winged Victory, (“I guess the guillotine got her”) and Dying Slave (He didn’t have a great life anyway, I guess). No doubt for her the Louvre was a highlight of our trip.
In the late afternoon we stopped at a patisserie for a snack and we discovered another favorite pastime for our teen: photographing and eating pastries. And that would become a daily ritual. We would buy a mix of éclairs, tarts, petit fours, macaroons or napoleons and take them back to our rented studio for sampling and photographing. While good pastries in Paris now run from six to nine Euros, devouring them late in the afternoon does have one advantage -- it helps curb one’s appetite for dinner.

The following day it was off to the Aquarium de Paris to view a wide variety of sea life from snails to sharks. Out teen seemed particularly fascinated with the giant shark tank and wondered if she could entice her brother to go for a dip. The Aquarium features giant screens depicting videos and slow motion analysis of exotic sea species, and mini theatres showing animation, cartoons and National Geographic specials for various ages. One large theatre is used for live, inter-active sea-oriented shows and lectures.

Then it was off to Les Etoiles du Rex (The Grand Rex Theater), the largest cinema in Europe for a 50-minute interactive, behind-the- scenes tour which includes a projection booth, a special effects room and a sound stage where you become actors in an adventure film. Scenes from famous films shown at the Rex for more than 50 years are featured throughout the tour. Our teen thought this was very cool.

The following day it was off to my Paris museum favorite – the Garden of the Rodin Museum which our teen took to quickly and photographed The Kiss, The Gates of Hell (“Is there a place for my brother behind them?”), Eve, again, St. John the Baptist (“He still has that finger up”) and my personal favorite, The Burghers of Calais. Then it was off to the Jewish Quarter (after all, this was her Bat Mitzvah trip) and a visit to the Museum of Jewish Art and History housed in a beautifully restored 17th century mansion.  Featured are historic artworks, home furnishings, objects of worship, photographs and unique documents tracing the history of the Jews in France.

Our last day included walking along the Seine and through the Latin Quarter and a visit to the 14th century Concierge Palace of Justice and Prison which our teen was very taken with. We toured the Prisoner’s Gallery where they could congregate, the women’s Courtyard where they bathed and washed their clothes, the Grooming Room where condemned prisoners were striped of personal belongings before execution, the series of cells divided into sections for paupers, payers and high class “guests” and Marie Antoinette’s cell where she stayed before getting carried away and losing her head. A 19th century guillotine display fascinated our teen (“Do you think that head rest would accommodate a nine year old?”) 

Finally we took a late night “Batobus” boat for a 75 minute tour of the Seine from around the Ile de la Cite, the island on which Notre Dame is located, to past the Eiffel Tower which puts on a dazzling light show hourly after dark. It was a fitting and impressive finale to a teen’s first visit to “The City of lights.”


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