Picking up a second language (where should we vacation)?

Debbie’s dust story reminded me of my experience in learning another language, where my pile of how-to-speak books is much like her weight bench — thickly covered with dust and good intentions.

But we’re going to force the issue. Next year I’m taking the family on vacation abroad

and would like some suggestions on where to go. The criteria are simple:

  • A relatively stable country (e.g., no dodging bullets)
  • An interesting cultural history.
  • Prefer non-English speaking, since we’re trying to incent ourselves to learn something.
  • A reasonable to take a 3 and 6 year-old on. We generally avoid the apparent tourist trappings where possible. (We’ve also done several tent camping trips this summer.)
  • The vacation will be 2-3 weeks, depending how much time Jeff lets me take off…
  • Easy to do “home-base” style traveling. For example, when we went to New Zealand, four years and one child ago, we spent three weeks in a fairly small section of the country. We’d visit a city for two or three days before moving on.

We had been seriously considering visiting France. I’ve heard numerous stories on how the French attitude differs, but after reading French or Foe, felt it was really overblown. The Rick Steves’ books also support this theory.
However, after my spouse read French or Foe she was in tears.

Other suggestions that have come up, none of these have been researched:

  • Croatia
  • — There’s an article in this month’s Frommer’s Budget Travel. It’s not on the beaten path, interesting history, and fairly economical.

  • Austria
  • — My spouse heard this would be fairly kid friendly.

  • Quebec
  • — It’s close, and we love Canada. Not as much history as we’d like, though.

    Recommendations?

    7 thoughts on “Picking up a second language (where should we vacation)?

    1. I might suggest an Asian country, but although I have toured a lot of them (usually tacked on a business trip), I wouldn’t consider them kid friendly and they require a lot of stamina (lots of time in a car, bus or train).

      The kid issue is stumping me. I assume you want to go somewhere that has stuff kids appreciate, but if you let them vote, you would end up seeing Micky in Florida or California (note that Tokyo and yes, Paris, have Disneylands)

      Maybe Italy? I love Austria – absolutely beautiful country and very laid back.

      A side note about France. We really didn’t have the rudeness problem in Paris, but this was several years ago before the recent “troubles”. The funny part was when we were in the Alsace region – the part that went back and forth between Germany and France more than a few times in the last couple hundred years (which is why “Strasburg” is in France). When there, my wife, who is fluent in German, would always ask if the person spoke German. They would shift their eyes left, right and look behind them and then start talking in German – which is apparently looked down on there.

    2. >The kid issue is stumping me.

      As long as they’re not cooped up, the kids are really good at entertaining themselves. For example, when we went camping this summer, they’d spend most of their time picking flowers or putting sand in buckets. Both are a bit overwhelmed at noise and crowds and are unlikely to enjoy Disney, which is ironic because I have two relatives that could score me a discount.
      Is there anything specific you’d recommend in Austria?

      As far as France goes, I was leaning towards an open-jaw route that started with us flying into London, spending a few days acclimating to the time zone/siteseeing, then taking the Chunnel over. Itinerary in France would include Loire valley and possibly Normandy, Provence and/or Alsace, saving several days at the end for Paris.
      – Jim

    3. > Is there anything specific you’d recommend in
      > Austria?

      Salzburg – See Motzart’s home! And of course Vienna. Mostly you go site seeing and eating and drinking, so you have to be into those activities.

      Your France proposal is pretty close to what I did, but in reverse. I thought the chunnel would be interesting. One minute I am looking at the Belgian countryside, the next minute darkness. No big deal, and at the time I thought somewhat expensive. With kids you might consider the boat thing, but I dunno though since I have never done it myself.

      My wife and I enjoyed France since we are into wine (her more so), so we did a lot of wine tastings and tours. The fun part about that is that everyone else you meet there are all tourists, not French (sorta like I never go to Disneyland which is 8 miles away). At one place we got real toasted with some Norwegians whose only English was “I am a Viking!”. We managed to communicate though, probably because we were all drunk. Classic.

      OT: You need to do a post on the new season of “Enterprise”. The new red cat suit? The new digital aliens?

    4. We just did France in April and loved it. The French were a lot nicer than the Italians, in many ways.

      I’d go to France 5 times before going to Italy. We really loved it in France.

      That’s a pretty smart place to go for romantic-based language speakers, and safe, and you’ll blend in fairly well. The French outdress us, but it’s a lot easier to blend in than in other countries where their appearences are different than us.

      We’re kicking around a tour of Costa Rica or Panama or Columbia, probably on motorcycles.

    5. Consider Brazil. It’s a country of friendly, family-oriented people, most of whom have taken some English. If you show any interest in their culture, you’ll make friends quickly. American characteristics will draw good-natured curiosity. Just use common sense and you will be safe. Consider Rio de Janeiro for current Brazilian culture, Teresopolis just north of Rio for a beautiful mountain retreat and the Dedo de Deus (Finger of God), Recife for nice beaches (thought to be the heart of Brazil by many), Minas Gerais for colonial towns, fazendas (farms) and gem mining, Santa Catarina for a unique German settlement, Iguacu for a waterfall resort, and the Amazon if you’re really adventurous (note: Piranha (pronounced pee-RAHN-yah)) don’t attack people for the fun of it). Intercity flight used to be cheap (ask for “ponte-area”). Carnival parties are in February; Sao Joao festivals are in June. Look for open-air markets and barter barter barter. For food, try Churrasco (Brazilian grill), seafood, feijoada (black bean conglomerate). For drink, try a batida (cane sugar rum drink), guarana soda (maybe a low caffeine version has been invented), and cafezinho (don’t be deceived by the size). Don’t drink local water unless you want to go through a metamorphosis. The thing to remember in Brazil is to take your time, eat slowly, talk to people. You’ll have a good time without spending too much money. Tudo legal (everything’s cool).

    6. If it weren’t for the non-English criterion, I’d suggest Belize. (Some locals speak an English dialect among themselves that could be counted for foreign….) Belize has a little of everything: Mayan ruins, jungle, the most pristine reef in the world, white beaches and clear water, relaxation, friendly people. Everything is affordable; everything runs efficiently. Consider using Ambergris Caye as your base. The tours we took were worthwhile, informative and inexpensive. We happened to meet our tour guides/owners (Daniel – Mayan ruins; Norman – boat tours) at our hotel’s beach “bar” and were treated like company. The Coconuts Hotel was comfortable, had hot water, and offered A/C which was necessary one night in May. They even offered free bikes to tour the island (short ride) and a library of swapped paperbacks for the beach. Inland, try to visit the zoo outside of Belize city. The food, a selection of Mexican and seafood, is quite good and goes good with the local Belikin beer. Again, don’t try the water -not even an ice cube. Belize is close enough to the US that you can get home if the kids get sick. Memories of sipping a margarita with toes dug into the sand as the Gypsy Kings waft through the darkness on a warm breeze last a long long time.

    7. Thank you all for the suggestions. We’re currently investigating Austria and Croatia.

      aaauger>Consider Brazil

      These are great suggestions. Once I get my spouse and the kids warmed up on traveling, I really want to work in something in Central or South America. The short list also includes Costa Rica (though on a bicycle ;-), Tierra del Fuego, and Santiago.

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