Family Travel Q&A: A grand time with grandpa
The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered
Saturday 13 November 1999
Geoff and Joy Connolly, Maidenhead, Berks.
A. Well, first I should like to take my hat off to you both. What exemplary parents, and grandparents, you are! As for the idea of taking the children to Italy, it is hard to think of a better choice. This is not because special facilities for children - public baby-care rooms, high chairs in restaurants and so on - are particularly good. Rather, it is a question of attitude. To some extent it is the boundless indulgence (some would say over-indulgence) of children that makes special facilities for them superfluous.
Elderly and young, men and women, all make a tremendous fuss over children and make allowances for their needs in hotels, restaurants, shops or museums. While visiting a restaurant for dinner, for example, it is not uncommon for a baby to be whisked off to the kitchen for the delight of chef and staff, while parents (or grandparents) carry on with their meal in peace.
As far as exploring the Amalfi coast is concerned, too, you are in for a treat. It is a peninsula of soaring cliffs and deep gorges with a backdrop of Mount Vesuvius. Sugar-cube towns are carved out of bare mountains or perched above sheer drops into the sea, and a corniche curls and tunnels its way round the cliff to connect the towns and villages between Sorrento and Salerno. These 50 kilometres comprise one of the most beautiful stretches on the Mediterranean.
Sorrento is the largest resort town, and attracts many older British visitors in winter. It sits on a clifftop, yellow and crumbling. Hotels look out across the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius beyond. The posher ones have their own lifts down 100 metres of rock face to diminutive coves of grey volcanic sand, and rows of sun-loungers on concrete piers of floating jetties.
Positano has more panache to it. From the sea, it's not hard to imagine the village as a giant waterfall tumbling down a steep ravine. Close up, it is a quaint jumble of square, bleached houses and toy-sized gardens. Amalfi is a more mainstream resort, with small hotels looking out across a picturesque harbour. Inland, Ravello wins on the romance stakes. It splashes down a mountainside, with the Mediterranean just visible in the distance.
A week's stay in early March at Il Faro Hotel in Sorrento costs a total of pounds 936 for two adults and two children sharing a family room with Thomson Holidays (0990 502555), including flights and half-board accommodation. Vacanze in Italia (08700 772 772) has a variety of self-catering accommodation; a two-bedroom apartment in Amalfi, for example, costs pounds 656 per week any time till April including car hire, but not flights. Other tour operators you could try include Italiatour! (01883 621900) and Magic of Italy (0181- 748 7575).
Q.My 11-year-old daughter Lucy will be "doing" the Second World War at school next term. This will include a special project on the plight of the children who were evacuated from cities to avoid the risk of being bombed. I am not at all keen on museums that glorify war, so can you suggest somewhere I can take her to get an overall, balanced view of the subject?
Anne Fisher, Newcastle upon Tyne
A. You should take Lucy to the Imperial War Museum in London. If you are of pacifist persuasion, you may feel uneasy about visiting a museum with a name like this, not to mention the array of weaponry on display, including an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Don't be put off; this is one of Britain's best museums, as thought-provoking for children as it is for adults. The only unease I felt, when I took my own daughter there recently, was in the portrayal of the horrors of war - particularly the shocking Belsen 1945 exhibition - rather than its glorification.
As far as the evacuees project is concerned, you are in luck. There is a temporary exhibition, dedicated to this very subject, on at the moment. You can listen to recent recordings made by child evacuees, now in their sixties and seventies, recounting their personal experiences. There are also examples of poignant letters home to their mummies and daddies, and diaries describing the minutiae of day-to-day life of urban children in the unfamiliar countryside.
Another intriguing temporary exhibition is called Enigma and the Code- Breakers. It is made up of hi-tech interactive displays, and explores the world of code-breaking in wartime.
However, without a doubt the star attraction in the Second World War section of the museum is The Blitz Experience (for which, be warned, queues of up to half an hour long can build up). You start off in a reconstructed air-raid shelter, then walk down a blitzed street in 1940, complete with authentic sights, sounds and smells. It is highly convincing and rather frightening.
Although your main focus will be on the Second World War, do make sure that you also visit the First World War exhibition - The Trench Experience. Again, the sounds and smells are cleverly used to re-create life underground on the Somme in 1916. Another exhibition not to miss is From the Bomb to the Beatles, which tells the story of social and cultural change in Britain between 1945 and 1965.
Finally, I suggest that you steer well clear of the museum cafe - unless Lucy's next project is to be on the grimness of institutional food in late-Nineties Britain, and the audacity of charging high prices for such muck in an otherwise excellent museum.
The Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SE1, is open daily, from 10am to 6pm. Admission costs pounds 5.20 for adults and is free for children under 16. The Evacuees exhibition runs until the end of February, Enigma and the Code-Breakers runs until 3 January 2000 and From the Bomb to the Beatles until 29 May 2000. Call 0171-416 5320 for a `What's On' brochure with details of other special exhibitions
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