On another beautiful winter day in Rio, we were headed to the Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açúcar) and apparently everybody in town had the same idea – we got there and it was p-a-c-k-e-d! We decided to visit Parque Lage instead of waiting for an unlikely parking spot at the Sugar Loaf. Parque Lage is located in the neighborhood of Jardim Botânico (very close to the actual Jardim Botânico – Botanical Gardens). I hadn’t been there since my college years, a long time ago 😉 We followed the signs to Jardim Botânico and after some confusion (even cariocas get confused!), we arrived. You can park there for R$ 7 a day.

Parque Lage house

My mom and Eric arriving at the historical house at Parque Lage

The Lage’s house and the park

We walked towards the house, which is an Italian “palazzo” built by Henrique Lage for his Italian wife, an opera singer, in the 1920s. These days the house is home to the Escola de Artes Visuais, EAV (School of Visual Arts – not a college though, anybody can sign up for art classes). Inside of the mansion, you can find EAV’s art galleries and students painting in the hallways (my daughter thought it was really cool seeing them paint).

Julia loved seeing the EAV students in action

Julia loved seeing the EAV students in action

Smack in the middle of the house there is a pool, and surrounding it, D.R.I.‘s restaurant tables.

Smack in the middle of the house there is a pool, and surrounding it, D.R.I.’s restaurant tables

Inside of the house, Julia was wondering if she could use the pool

The house is at the foot of the Corcovado Mountain (with the Christ statue on top), so you can see it in the background. The gardens are huge, and part of Floresta da Tijuca preserve, one of the largest urban forests in the world.

Loved this tree!

Loved this tree!

The house is very pretty, inside and out, but the kids really wanted to explore the gardens, so we ended up not spending a lot of time inside. Long before the Lage family acquired the land and built the house, this area was a sugar cane plantation (in the 16th century).

English gardens in front of the house

English gardens in front of the house

Lunch at Parque Lage

Since it was lunch time, we decided to eat at D.R.I., which I had tried and enjoyed at a different location (at Shopping da Gávea). Too bad they don’t offer the kid’s menu during the week, but there are some kid-friendly options anyway.

Julia and Eric shared a delicious shiitake mushrooms pasta, I regretted not ordering the same for myself (my mom ate the same thing and also really liked it). In truth I wanted to eat the “escondidinho” which is a very traditional Brazilian dish: it has a layer of mashed potatoes (or mashed yucca) hiding (escondendo) a shrimp layer (or carne seca = Brazilian beef jerky); some cheese, butter and seasonings finish it off. Unfortunately they didn’t have it that day. I ordered a shiitake and leeks omelet with a side of greens; it was good but nothing extraordinary.

My shiitake and leeks omelet at DRI, Parque Lage

My shiitake and leeks omelet at DRI, Parque Lage

The shiitake mushroom creamy pasta at DRI, Parque Lage

The shiitake mushroom creamy pasta at DRI, Parque Lage

They had high chairs and an activity sheet and crayons for the kids (the latter is not so common in Brazil), Julia and Eric liked everything.

Julia and Eric enjoyed their lunch at DRI, Parque Lage

Julia and Eric enjoyed their lunch at DRI, Parque Lage

I thought the menu was fairly large for a small restaurant inside of a park, you can get a full meal or just a snack, afternoon tea or breakfast, which by the way is quite popular. On the weekends you can have the breakfast between 9 AM – 1 PM and it will cost ou R$ 27 while during the week you can get it for R$ 25, between 9 AM – 12 PM. If all the tables are full, you can always bring food to have a picnic at the front lawn or at the picnic areas in the gardens.

Exploring the gardens – ops, forest

The gardens are not exactly what I imagine when I hear the word “gardens”: lush rainforest patches connected by cobbled stone streets. The only “garden” in the traditional sense, is the English garden in front of the house, created around 1840 (unfortunately it was undergoing some maintenance work and we couldn’t get in). Following the cobbled stone streets you get to the garden’s main attractions: a small Aquarium, inside of a grotto; an old-fashioned kids playground; a “castle” (including a tower that could had been Rapunzel’s); another grotto; a lake with a gazebo; the old stables and carriage house; a pond with carps; and the trails that go up the Corcovado Mountain, with its beautiful views (note: there have been reported cases of people being mugged on the trails that go up the mountain, so it’s better to stay close to the park’s main area).

Parque Lage’s Gardens

Parque Lage’s Gardens

We started our walk through the gardens going to the Aquarium (Aquário da EAV), the kids enjoyed seeing the river species in the 12 tanks inside of a grotto (I swear this grotto reminded me of a Hobbit house from the Lord of the Rings movies!). The natural light enters through the ceiling and at the time of our visit, was casting some nice rainbows around, which Julia really liked. The aisles are kind of dark though, and there was a bit of water dripping from the grotto-like ceiling making some puddles here and there (Eric slipped in one of those). Better to carry small children around. My kids particularly liked the carps and the piranhas!

The Aquarium at Parque Lage

The Aquarium at Parque Lage

Eric and my mom inside of the Aquarium at Parque Lage

Eric and my mom inside of the Aquarium at Parque Lage

One of the tanks in the Aquarium at Parque Lage

One of the tanks in the Aquarium at Parque Lage

We walked to the old-school playground, with swings, slide, see-saws, a climbing structure and some tables and benches that you can use to have a picnic. There are no bathrooms nearby (only inside of the house) and no changing tables either (nothing like the outdoor changing table we saw at Parque dos Patins in nearby Lagoa), we changed Eric’s diaper on one of the benches. We brought a soccer ball so Eric chased the ball while Julia played, since the playground equipment is not appropriate for toddlers. The slide needs some maintenance, the playground could use some TLC.

The playground at Parque Lage

The playground at Parque Lage

Julia and Eric at Parque Lage’s playground

Julia and Eric at Parque Lage’s playground

Julia enjoyed the climbing structure at Parque Lage’s playground

Julia enjoyed the climbing structure at Parque Lage’s playground

After they were done playing, we continued to walk around the gardens. We saw the charming Gazebo, next to a pond.

The Gazebo at Parque Lage

The Gazebo at Parque Lage

Next we headed towards the Castle, it has a tall tower which supposedly has a nice view. The problem was the path to go up: it was muddy and dark, so we didn’t think it was a good idea to go there.

The Castle at Parque Lage

The Castle at Parque Lage

We went by the Grotto, really nice but also quite dark, there’s no lighting and I could hear some bats when I approached the darkest area, so I turned around at that point. Julia barely went in, it was too dark for her. The exterior rocks of the grotto are covered by plants and vines, with a pond and a small bridge next to it.

Parque Lage’s grotto

Parque Lage’s grotto

Eric, Julia and I at the bridge next to Parque Lage’s grotto

Eric, Julia and I at the bridge next to Parque Lage’s grotto

We passed by the Stables/Carriage house on our way to the car, but they were closed. Too bad we couldn’t see it inside, although I think it’s being used by the EAV these days.

The Stables/Carriage house at Parque Lage

The Stables/Carriage house at Parque Lage

Since we were there with the kids, I didn’t even consider going up the trail up the Corcovado Mountain, which goes up close to 2,000 feet. This trail is not the safest either, there have been cases of people being mugged in the trail, so be careful if you decide to hike.

We ended up not seeing the Carp’s pond, where the children can feed the fish. We’ll have to come back for a picnic and then we can find the pond! It was a nice afternoon at Parque Lage, a good mix of history, art and nature.

Useful Information
Parque Lage’s official website
Address: Rua Jardim Botânico, 414, Jardim Botânico, Rio de Janeiro
Hours: Daily, 8 AM -5 PM
Parking: R$ 7
Good to know:
– Parque Lage has two gates, one is open to pedestrians and the other is open to vehicles as well as pedestrians.
– there are a couple of vending machines on the ground floor of the house, facing the Aquarium (on the right side if you are looking at the house).

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Tips for taking small children to museums

A blogger I follow posted her tips for visiting museums with kids and I decided to write down my own tips, since my kids are much younger than hers. We take Julia to different kinds of museums since she was an infant, and we’re doing the same with Eric. She’s now almost 6, and our strategies have changed over the years, but we’re re-using the old tactics with Eric (who’s almost 2):

Julia at

Julia at the Natural History Museum, NY, 2008

Eric at the Museum of Flight, Seattle, 2012

Eric at the Museum of Flight, Seattle, 2012

Infants: the easiest stage for us, since we took them in strollers and they were content to see anything new. We had a few small toys for the stroller, just in case. We tried to show them anything that was large, colorful or high contrast (which babies see better). Julia liked seeing the huge dinosaur’s fossils at the Natural History Museum in New York, even though she had no idea what they were. Eric loved the huge and colorful airplanes in Seattle’s Flight Museum, he was mesmerized. Of course their attention span at this age is very short and we don’t really know how much they can understand, so we visited the museums we liked to see and took them along. Something that worked in our favor: our kids always slept well in strollers, so we used to go to museums during their nap times – we got more time out of these visits. Most of the museums we visited in the US and Europe had diaper changing tables in the bathrooms (which is a great thing in Europe, where diaper changing tables are hard to find otherwise).

Julia at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), 2009

Julia at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), 2009

Toddlers (between age 1-3): once they are walking, things get a little trickier, getting them not to touch the art. We alternated between stroller and baby carrier, and let them walk around only when necessary (and “safe” – meaning there wasn’t anything easy to damage).

We created simple games, such as: “let’s find all the paintings that show kids or animals”. Or “Let’s count how many ____” (whatever it was that got their attention in a certain room or inside the museum). “What was your favorite painting or piece of art you liked best in this room?”, “Let’s look for more paintings or pieces of art that have the color ____ (ask your kid which color). When Julia was almost 3, I started calling out some details of the artwork we were seeing, for example “look at how much paint in this spot” or “this painting has lots of dots, come close to see them” or “this drawing was made with chalk, just like the chalk you have, while this one was painted with a brush and watercolors”. I also started commenting on “how”: “how do you think this huge painting was painted? Did they use a ladder? Did they paint it in pieces and then put them all together later? Let’s try to find the seams” or “Did one person paint it alone? Did s/he have help? How long do you think s/he took to paint it?” At this age a snack break is also a good idea, and my kids still napped in the stroller, so we also used the nap time to gain more museum time.

Julia

Julia at the British Museum, London, 2010

Pre-schoolers (between ages 3-5): in addition to all the other things we did while she was a toddler, we put one of our cell phones in her hands and told her to photograph everything that she liked in the museum (whenever photography was allowed, of course). She also likes to draw, so more recently she has brought a notebook and a pencil to sketch. I don’t really have the habit of printing our travel photos, but I do want to put together an album with her drawings and pictures from the trips.

Julia at the SFMOMA, San Francisco, 2010

Julia at the SFMOMA, San Francisco, 2010

Julia at the Pompidou, Paris, 2011

Julia at the Pompidou, Paris, 2011

Find out what kind of museum your kids like best! Something we noticed: Julia always liked the Modern Art museums better, since they usually have pieces that can be touched, some have sound or lights, and she can interact with certain pieces somehow. Not to mention many of them are very intriguing (is this art?), and get her curious to know what they are.

Julia at the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, 2010

Julia at the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, 2010

In the US and Europe, she also likes the Science Museums and the Children’s Museums, which usually have lots of interactive exhibits that are age-appropriate.

Julia at the Austin Children’s Museum, 2012

Julia at the Austin Children’s Museum, 2012

Make it a habit: If you don’t ever visit museums, in your own town, it’s harder for the kids to learn to like them and behave properly. Supporting your local museums with a membership and taking the kids there often, if only for short periods of time, helps them see museums as a fun activity, not some boring place they are dragged into during trips. Not to mention it’s much easier to leave a local museum and go home in case of a tantrum and try again another day.

Julia and Eric at the Hakone Open Air Museum, Japan, 2012

Julia and Eric at the Hakone Open Air Museum, Japan, 2012

Respect the kids’ time: in our experience with our own kids so far, a museum visit doesn’t last longer than 2-3 hours, unless they sleep for a long time in the stroller. And of course, when the museum in question is a Children’s Museum, the visit might last all day – with some crying kids on the way out! Make sure your kids are fed before the visit (if not, bring a snack or make sure the museum has a cafe or some type of food), you might have to cut the visit short otherwise. We’ve had great meals at museums (the cafe at SFMOMA comes to mind), but more often than not, the food is not that great and overpriced – plan accordingly.

Julia at the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 2012

Julia at the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 2012

Prepare the kids for the visit: There are several books that introduce the kids to art and certain artists: when we went to Amsterdam and visited the Van Gogh museum, we read Van Gogh and the Sunflowers beforehand; when we went to the Musee D’Orsay in Paris we read The Magical Garden of Claude Monet. When we went to New Mexico, we read My Name Is Georgia, about the life of the painter Georgia O’Keeffe. And these are great art books for children: The Art Book for Children, The Art Book for Children, Book Two, 13 Artists Children Should Know, 13 Paintings Children Should Know e 13 Sculptures Children Should Know.

Julia and Eric at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, 2013

Julia and Eric at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, 2013

What are your strategies for taking your kids to museums?

Originally published in Portuguese here, on April 19, 2012.

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If you are thinking about going to the Grand Canyon with children, read on: we took our toddler and our pre-schooler last year, and I’ll list several kids’ activities and the age requirements for each one in this post. I’ve included some useful planning tips too. We visited the South Rim, the North Rim was closed for the winter.

Family photo in the Grand Canyon: check!

Family photo in the Grand Canyon: check!

When I scheduled our trip to the Grand Canyon, I started researching what kind of activities would be appropriate for my little ones. My son was just 1 year old (13 months at the time) and my daughter was 5. I knew we wouldn’t be able to do hardly any hiking, much less rafting or going down the Grand Canyon on mules, but I wondered if there was anything that would be tailored for little kids.

Julia’s first time seeing the Grand Canyon with daylight: at Mather Point

Julia’s first time seeing the Grand Canyon with daylight: at Mather Point

Safety: As soon as I started googling “grand canyon with little kids”, the main thing people talked about in forums was safety. Yes, before going to the Grand Canyon with small children, you should know your kids – are they the type of kids who will let go of your hand and run away as fast as they can? Are they the running -to-the-street-in-front-of-cars type? Will try to jump from any place regardless of what you tell them? I wouldn’t go to the Grand Canyon if my kids were like that, I would probably wait a few years and avoid the risk of a heart attack while trying to control them close to the edge of the canyon (or worse). If your kids aren’t the death-seekers type, and like my 1 year old are fine in a baby carrier or stroller, you’ll be fine. My 5 year old was very impressed by the Grand Canyon (and she’s afraid of heights, wouldn’t go too close to the fences).

You might be thinking: how dangerous is it, really? Well, if you stay in the Rim Trail, which is pretty much the paved flat walkway along the edge of the Grand Canyon, you get to the various viewpoints along the way that are fenced, but in several parts of the trail there isn’t any fence at all. Pretty much all the viewpoints had fences, I don’t think I’ve seen any without a fence, but sometimes to get there you go through a path without any fences. So if your kid decides to let go of your hand and run away, it can be quite dangerous. From the rim to the canyon floor, it’s an average height of 6,800 feet. And some of the fences are very widely spaced, I saw two girls who were probably around 6-8 (sisters) sitting on the outside of the fence in one of the viewpoints (it made me so nervous thinking they could fall backward at any moment that I had to walk away). There are signs cautioning visitors about falls, but every year there are a few deaths at the Grand Canyon because of falls, usually adults who wanted to get close to the edge. I saw a few families (with pre-teens or teens) who went beyond the fence and were posing for pictures at the very edge. Too bad some people don’t take these warnings seriously, glad I didn’t get to witness any accidents.

The 4 of us at the Grand Canyon – no fences here!

The 4 of us at the Grand Canyon – no fences here!

Junior Ranger Program: It was Julia’s first time participating in the Junior Ranger Program, which is available in most National Parks across the country, for children over 4 years old. You get the Junior Ranger Program booklet at the Visitor Center, for free.

The program has activities for different age groups, and each group has its name: between 4-7 the kids are “Ravens”, from 8 to 10 they are “Coyotes”, and 11 and up are “Scorpions”. The pages in the booklet are marked with the names of the age groups for which the activity is recommended. When the kid is done with the activities required to get a badge for his/her age group, you take it to a Park Ranger to verify and sign.

Julia was a Raven, so she had to complete 4 activities to get her badge – the minimum number increases with age. Most activities involve drawing or writing something the kids learned about the Grand Canyon – geology, history or biology-related and they also have to watch a live presentation by one of the Park Rangers. There are several presentations a day, they have different themes and you can find the schedule at the free newspaper given at the Park entrance or at the Visitor Center. We chose an 11 AM presentation, which is the shorter one (30 min versus 1h for most of the other presentations), so it would be easier on Eric.

The Ranger talked about how the Grand Canyon was formed, the different types of rocks, lots of interesting geological facts – he was great, really captured the kids’ attention, explaining everything in a way the kids could follow. Julia had to write down something she had learned from the presentation (I wrote it down for her), and then take the booklet to the Ranger so he could check and sign. He went through all of the pages she had completed, wrote her name in a certificate in the back of the booklet and then after doing this for all of the kids who were waiting in line, he got them all to say the Junior Ranger pledge. Then he gave each kid the Junior Ranger badge and a sticker, the kids feeling all so important. Julia was very proud 🙂

It was her first badge, and after seeing some kids there wearing other Junior Ranger badges from different Parks, she said she wants to go to these other places and collect other badges too…That’s great, since we’ve been planning to go to several other National Parks once Eric is a bit older.

Julia participating in the Junior Ranger Program: watching the Ranger presentation, drawing the Grand Canyon in her activity booklet, the Ranger signing her certificate and proudly showing her badge

Julia participating in the Junior Ranger Program: watching the Ranger presentation, drawing the Grand Canyon in her activity booklet, the Ranger signing her certificate and proudly showing her badge

Trails: most of the trails in the Grand Canyon are fairly difficult, for one obvious reason: you walk down, but you have to come back up. The elevation makes everything harder (the South Rim is at 8,000 feet). So they are not easy trails for little kids, who will get tired and ask to be carried up – not to mention the trails are not fenced and are quite narrow, no place for a kid to trip. You can’t really go down and come back up on the same day, the easiest way for those wanting to go down to the canyon floor is to go on the mule ride – which has a minimum height requirement (55 inches). For those wanting to go on the mule ride, you need to reserve far in advance, up to 13 months ahead – read more.

The easiest “trail” for those with small children is the Rim Trail, which is the flat and mostly paved walkway along the rim – it starts on Mather Point (the most accessible and popular viewpoint), next to the Visitor Center. You can even use a stroller on several parts of the Rim Trail. As I said before, the walkway is not fully fenced, so there are areas where you will be walking along the edge.

Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon South Rim – always remember you have to climb back up

Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon South Rim – always remember you have to climb back up

Wild Animals: the kids loved seeing the Elks and deer several times walking around the streets in the Grand Canyon Village and along the shuttle routes. We stayed in Tusayan, a small town just a few miles from the Grand Canyon Village, and when driving there at dusk we always saw a few deer. Other animals we’ve seen: crows and squirrels, too bad we didn’t get to see any coyotes or condors.

Elks in the Grand Canyon South Rim, next to the Trailview Overlook

Elks in the Grand Canyon South Rim, next to the Trailview Overlook

Rafting: There are many options for those who want to go rafting, and for some of the more tame trips the minimum age is only 4. Julia didn’t like the idea though, and since Eric couldn’t go, we didn’t push it. Most of the same-day boat rides depart from Page, which is 3h away from the South Rim. The Colorado River Discovery company is authorized by the Park to offer the boat tours. For longer boat trips (3-18 days) check this list, the age requirements vary according to the tour. My husband went on a several-day rafting trip when he was around 10, he doesn’t remember what company organized it, but he says it was pretty awesome.

Gabe, Eric e Julia em Mohave Point, na Hermit Route

Gabe, Eric e Julia em Mohave Point, na Hermit Route

Camping: Another way to visit the Grand Canyon the kids will probably enjoy is camping. There are campgrounds inside of the Grand Canyon Village, which is where the hotels, restaurants and other facilities are located in the South Rim. The Trailer Village is the choice for those who are going to use a RV. We decided against camping because of the very low temperatures at the time of the year we visited (below freezing at night at the end of November – Thanksgiving week). We’re not big on camping anyway (despite lots of camping trips growing up), but we do want to try a RV with the kids one day.

Gabe and Eric at The Abyss, one of the stops of the Hermit Route

Gabe and Eric at The Abyss, one of the stops of the Hermit Route

Biking: I looked into bike rentals too but the minimum age is 8. If you rather bike around than drive or take the shuttle, you can rent a bike and a trailer to pull the kids along. In our case Julia is too old for the trailer and too young for the rental. You ride the bikes through the paved roads in the Grand Canyon Village or along the Rim Trail, can’t really go down any trails on a bike.

Gabe, Eric and Julia in one of the Grand Canyon shuttles

One of the free shuttles in the Grand Canyon South Rim

Viewpoints: the easiest way to see the Grand Canyon for those traveling with little children is to go from viewpoint to viewpoint by driving your own car (going east, towards Desert View, with its cool watchtower) or to take a free shuttle that stops along the Hermit Road, to Hermits Rest (you can also drive there from December to February). The buses are wheelchair accessible, and have a place next to the driver for strollers, which have to be folded when you board.

Gabe, Eric and Julia in one of the Grand Canyon shuttles

Gabe, Eric and Julia in one of the Grand Canyon shuttles

Yavapai Geological Museum: this small geological museum is inside Grand Canyon Village, right next to the edge of the canyon, see the museum website. We ended up not visiting the museum, but I heard good things from the children attending the Ranger presentation about it.

Here we are at Mather Point amphitheater, after the Ranger presentation

Here we are at Mather Point amphitheater, after the Ranger presentation

Movies: at the main Visitor Center they play a 20 minute movie called Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder, but Julia is not a big fan of movie theaters so we didn’t see it. In Tusayan there’s an IMAX theater which shows a National Geographic movie called Grand Canyon: the Movie, 30 minutes long.

Helicopter ride: there’s no minimum age for the helicopter ride, you can take a baby on your lap and s/he flies for free. So it’s up to your kid if s/he is afraid to fly or not. My daughter refused to go, so my husband stayed with the kids while I went on a 45 min ride (sponsored by Viator) – which was incredible! I flew with a father and his 3 teenagers, they really enjoyed the flight. The views are stunning, and the moment the helicopter flies from the top of the rim into the Grand Canyon is amazing. I think my daughter would be fine once we were flying, but I tried to convince her to go for 3 days and she refused, we’ll have to do it again one day.

Loved seeing the Grand Canyon from a helicopter

Loved seeing the Grand Canyon from a helicopter

Food: restaurants, snack bars and a small market at the South Rim are located in the Grand Canyon Village. At Desert View there’s a snack bar which offers a few hot sandwiches, and at Hermits Rest there’s a snack bar with cold or pre-packed options available. Since you will likely spend quite some time going from a viewpoint to another, it’s a good idea to bring along some snacks (although you’re not supposed to eat on the shuttle). The Park offers free drinking water, and they tell everybody to bring their own bottles to re-fill as much as you want.

Gabe and Eric at the Desert View snack bar, in the Grand Canyon South Rim

Gabe and Eric at the Desert View snack bar, in the Grand Canyon South Rim

Bathrooms: not every viewpoint has a bathroom, so it’s a good idea to tell the kids to use the bathroom when there is one nearby. Most of the Park bathrooms had a diaper changing table inside of the women’s bathroom in the larger stall for disabled people. There are a few Family bathrooms here and there. The bathrooms were mostly clean and didn’t smell, but we visited in late Fall, not sure how it is in the summer time.

Lodging: try to stay in the Grand Canyon Village, but you have to make reservations far in advance. When we decided to go to the Grand Canyon all the accommodations at the Village were already sold out, 4 months before the dates we wanted. Not all the lodges have rooms big enough for the kids to share with the parents. Another option is to stay in Tusayan, just a few miles from the Village. There are a handful of hotels there, we stayed at the Canyon Plaza Resort, which I don’t recommend.

Have you been to the Grand Canyon with your kids? Do you have any other suggestions that I haven’t covered?

I originally wrote this post in Portuguese, right after we came back from our trip (December 3, 2012), original post here.

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I wanted to take the kids to see Rio’s Lagoa up close, and the best place for that is at the Parque dos Patins. This area is next to the heliport, where you can go on a scenic helicopter tour of the city.

Arriving at Parque dos Patins, Lagoa (Corcovado mountain and the Christ statue in the background)

Arriving at Parque dos Patins, Lagoa (Corcovado mountain and the Christ statue in the background)

Parque dos Patins means Roller skate’s Park in Portuguese, and there is a large roller skate rink at the center of it, of course. There’s a fairly large playground around the rink, bike rentals, bathrooms (which cost R$2 to use, but at least they’re clean), a restaurant with a beautiful view (Arab, middle eastern cuisine), a small pier and some other kid attractions (not free), such as a large trampoline, ball pit, etc. The parking is controlled by the city of Rio, and they only charge R$2 and you can stay all day long (on a weekday, not sure if it’s the same fee on weekends).

The large roller skating rink at Parque dos Patins, Lagoa

The large roller skating rink at Parque dos Patins, Lagoa

We got there a little before noon on a cloudy-turning-nice day, the park was empty and there were a few tourists taking photos at the pier. The kids immediately loved the fishing birds and ducks swimming around. Eric didn’t want to leave and kept repeating “pato” (duck) every 5 seconds.

Eric and Julia loved watching the fish

Eric and Julia loved watching the fish

My mom, Eric and Julia at the pier

My mom, Eric and Julia at the pier

The kids and I, why is it so hard getting them to pose for a picture?

The kids and I, why is it so hard getting them to pose for a picture?

Eric and my mom enjoying the view

Eric and my mom enjoying the view

After a few photos and a bathroom stop, the kids decided they were hungry and we sat down at Arab to eat, with a gorgeous view of the Lagoa. The one thing that makes this place not-so-perfect is the constant noise of the helicopters going up and down.

Arab restaurant, Lagoa

Arab restaurant, Lagoa

The restaurant had menus in (funny) English and Portuguese, prices are Rio-crazy-standard, Brazilians still haven’t understood the purpose of a children’s menu (they had 2 kids’ dishes available, both more expensive than the adult’s meals that we ordered, at R$ 34 each versus R$ 27). I ordered fried kibbe with catupiry (big mistake on the catupiry! It’s a Brazilian cheese that I love, but there was way too much!), which comes with hummus and rice with lentils and fried onions. My mom ordered the same, except she got the baked kibbe instead (which was MUCH better than mine). I also ordered mini-esfihas (meat esfihas, tiny, a basket with 8), these were pastries with ground seasoned meat on top; they were good and the kids loved them. The hummus was quite bad, very bitter, not sure how they managed to do that. Service was very slow, we spent over one hour there and it was empty, so I’m not sure what the waiters were doing. Besides being right next door to a big kid’s park, they had no high chair available, so I had to hold Eric on my lap.

Mini esfihas, the kids loved them

Mini esfihas, the kids loved them

After we finished lunch, we took the kids to the playground. It’s spread out over a large area, and the coolest thing in my opinion was the track painted on the ground – you can rent a bike or a “race car” (that the kids pedal, it doesn’t have an engine) to go around (or bring your own bike if you live in the area).

The playground at Parque dos Patins, Lagoa

The playground at Parque dos Patins, Lagoa

I thought the tracks on the ground were pretty cool

I thought the tracks on the ground were pretty cool

You can see the Corcovado and the Christ statue from the playground

You can see the Corcovado and the Christ statue from the playground

Julia making sure she still knows how to play in the monkey bars

Julia making sure she still knows how to play in the monkey bars

Diaper changing table at the playground

Diaper changing table at the playground

There were swings, see-saws, monkey bars, a rope-structure for kids to climb…Julia liked it, but everything was too big for Eric, there wasn’t any toddler-sized play equipment. Eric tried a climbing structure with ropes and a “climbing ladder” and went down one mean wavy slide, every kid going down hit their back badly on one of the “waves” (I have no idea why this slide doesn’t work, maybe the “waves” are too big, or the angle is wrong, no idea).

Swings at the playground, no toddler seat, unfortunately

Swings at the playground, no toddler seat, unfortunately

Eric had to do some climbing too

Eric had to do some climbing too

Julia trying out the horrible wavy slide

Julia trying out the horrible wavy slide

Julia loved this climbing structure

Julia loved this climbing structure

If we had more time, I would rent one of the 3 or 4-seat “bikes” to go around the Lagoa, seems like fun.

You can rent one of these to bike around the Lagoa

You can rent one of these to bike around the Lagoa

Useful information
Parque dos Patins
Av. Borges de Medeiros, 1900, Rio de Janeiro – RJ
Open daily, 24h

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Traveling to Brazil with a Baby

I haven’t met many people traveling to Brazil with a Baby, but in case you are going to be one of the few, here’s some info you probably would like to know and it might be hard to find.

1) Diapers & wipes: easy to find, there are US (Pampers, Huggies which are sold under “Turma da Mônica by Huggies”) and local brands available. The prices per diaper are much higher than in the US though, and the packages are smaller. Same goes for wipes. The quality is a bit different even for the US brands, I usually bring as much diapers and wipes as I can fit in my bags and then buy the US brands when needed. I bought local wipes once on sale and basically threw the whole package away, they were so thin and dry, simply didn’t work. There are several local brands and I didn’t test them all, so I can’t say all of them are bad like this, but I rather stick with what I’m used to at this point. Swim diapers are outrageously expensive, over USD $1 per diaper, so I always bring a bunch (Brazilians are not used to swim diapers, babies usually don’t wear them unless it’s required by the hotel or water park, which is not widely done either). You can find diapers and wipes in grocery stores and pharmacies. Cool thing to know: lots of pharmacies have delivery services in big cities like Rio and São Paulo.

2) Baby food and formula: pretty much all you can find is made by Nestle, and again, very expensive. Brazilians don’t usually buy baby food unless it’s an emergency, people usually cook their own for various reasons (it’s common for middle class households to have maids and nannies who are responsible for cooking it). Variety is slim and prices are upwards of R$ 7 a jar. The offerings are usually very Brazilian: beef stroganoff with rice for example (which my daughter really liked at the time). Formula brands from the US are very difficult to find, so I would highly recommend you bring your own cans of powder formula in your checked luggage (I don’t think I’ve seen US brands for sale in Brazil at all, although I’ve heard they’re available). You can find baby food and formula in grocery stores and pharmacies as well.

3) Sunscreen: another very expensive item, I always bring my own sunscreen with me. Forget the more “natural” or “less chemicals” sunscreens, they aren’t available. Bring big bottles with you. If you must buy them, grocery stores and pharmacies sell them, and try to find the ones that say “PABA Free” or “Não contém PABA”, which is a common allergen in sunscreens (I’m allergic).

4) Priority access: in airports, banks, public buildings and most places across the country, families with babies (and pregnant women) get to go to the front of the line or there are special lines that you can use. Particularly useful after you are in a crowded airport after having traveled for 8+ hours and needs to bypass an enourmous immigration and customs line. There is also priority seating in public transportation.

5) Restaurants: most places have high chairs and some have kids options (1-3 dishes that are “kid-friendly”, usually rice, beans, either beef or chicken and fries, or some sort of pasta). The high chairs usually have no seat belt or any type of closure at the front, it’s basically a very tall tiny chair with arms, a small baby could slide down through the front opening. Brazilians are usually very tolerant of kids in restaurants, and you see kids around even in “late” hours (9-10 PM).

6) Dinner and bed time: Brazilians usually eat and sleep much later than Americans, your average Brazilian family doesn’t really eat dinner before 7 PM ever, the kids are usually still awake at 9 PM. There are obviously exceptions to this, but in general, the whole country operates about 2 hours later than the average US schedules. Restaurants are usually fairly empty at 6 PM, which is a good thing if you are trying to eat early with your kids (yesterday we had an early dinner and at 6 PM in a fairly well-known place in a busy neighborhood – we were the only people eating, another group arrived when we were leaving).

7) Water: don’t drink the tap water. Buy bottled water or use filtered water, most households have good water filters. Brazilians themselves don’t drink the tap water, so you shouldn’t either.

8) Showers/Baths: it’s very hard to find bathtubs in Brazil. Unless it’s a higher-end hotel or a house, people only have showers, not tubs. Unless you are planning to give your baby showers, bring an inflatable bathtub. Most showers are electric showers, and the water doesn’t get as hot as the water heated up by a boiler like in the US – and the heat is instant, you don’t have to wait until the water warms up. How hot it gets depends a lot on how good the electric shower itself is.

9) Strollers: are fairly common, although sometimes the sidewalks leave much to be desired and you wished you had a jogging stroller. 😉 We always bring our umbrella stroller.

10) Car seats: now the Brazilian law requires that babies use car seats, even if it’s not very much enforced and there are still lots of Brazilians not using them. You can ride a taxi with your baby without a car seat, like in the US. If you are planning to rent a car, definitely bring your own car seat. Don’t even think about buying one in Brazil: they are way more expensive and usually not nearly as good (most don’t even have a 5 point harness, to begin with).

11) Clothes: bring all the clothes your kid needs, simply because clothes in Brazil are ridiculously expensive, even for little ones. You can find good quality and pretty stuff, but it will cost you. An average baby girl dress in a not-brand-name store in a mall in Rio costs around R$ 100, to give you an idea.

12) Cribs: ask the hotel as soon as possible if they provide cribs. Not all do!

13) Changing tables: the common changing tables attached to a bathroom wall that we see a lot in the US is very hard to find in Brazil. Malls have fraldários, which are great family areas with changing tables, high chairs and mini kitchen where you can warm up baby food or prepare a bottle, and a quiet nursing area. Most of them also have a baby tub with running water in case you need to bathe your baby after a blowout. The airports also have fraldários, in Rio’s international airport it’s outside of the boarding area so make sure to change your baby before you enter the secure area (dumb, I had to change my daughter once when we were inside and there wasn’t any place to do so, the bathrooms didn’t have any changing facilities or even counter space that I could use for that purpose). Restaurants usually don’t have any changing tables available. We usually change diapers in the car.

Any other questions? If I haven’t covered something you want to know, just ask me in the comments! Photos to come soon, I’m having a hard time editing photos in this super slow laptop.

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It was a beautiful 4th of July morning – perfect blue sky, not one cloud anywhere to be seen. We wanted to visit the Corcovado and it was the best day to do it since our arrival, clear, clear, clear. As soon as I got up I went to the official website to buy the tickets for the Corcovado train. It was early in the morning and there were still lots of tickets available throughout the day. I bought our tickets for the 12:40 PM train – two adults, since kids under 6 are free. The website is pretty lame, but we got our tickets and printed out the voucher (I used the English version to see how good it was – it worked, expect a lot of English mistakes though). Be warned – the website says the ID and credit card used online will have to be presented at the will call booth when you show up to retrieve the actual tickets (not that they’ll actually do it, they didn’t ask us to show anything, but they can).

We were coming from Niterói, across the bay, so we had to drive there. If you can, take the subway, bus or taxi to avoid driving. We found a free parking spot on a dead end street next to the Corcovado station, which was incredibly lucky (anyone who lives in Rio knows how difficult it is to park on the street, even crazier if it’s free). We arrived at the station and it was fairly organized, different lines for people who had bought the tickets online, a priority line for families with little kids, pregnant women, disabled people and the elderly and another line for people buying tickets on the spot.

Arriving at the Corcovado station

Arriving at the Corcovado station

We retrieved our tickets quickly and went to the back of the station to get in line for the train. There are some cute souvenir shops (they have improved the selection quite a bit since my childhood days, and so did the prices) and a snack shop selling some salgados (Brazilian finger foods) for a lot of money (and cash only). Julia said she was hungry, I bought a cheese quiche that she tried and said she didn’t like it, but then our train showed up and we had to board. I had one upset little girl on the way up…

Getting in line to retrieve our tickets at Corcovado station

Getting in line to retrieve our tickets at Corcovado station

The ride up the mountain is pretty, the tracks go through the forest, and at some points, the trees open up and you have a wonderful view of the bay or the lagoon down below (try to get a seat at the platform side – right side when going up, left side going down) to get the best views. The train stops 5 times on the way up (and down), not sure why because nobody gets in or out, and after 20 or so minutes you reach the top.

The Corcovado train (this photo was actually taken from the station at the top, shhh)

The Corcovado train (this photo was actually taken from the station at the top, shhh)

At the top you can climb the stairs to the statue of Christ or use the elevator and then the escalators to go up (there are not escalators going down, so you have to use the regular stairs and then the elevator). We climbed the stairs, stopping to take in the amazing views.

Gabe, Eric and Julia stopping to take a look at the Lagoa (lagoon)

Gabe, Eric and Julia stopping to take a look at the Lagoa (lagoon)

It was CROWDED! And some people were saying it wasn’t even THAT crowded. It was hard to find a spot to take a picture, since everyone was standing in front of the statue to take a picture, and at the end of the walkway it was even harder to get a picture of the Sugar Loaf, since loads of people were trying to do the same.

Downtown Rio and the bridge seen from the Corcovado

Downtown Rio and the bridge seen from the Corcovado

Julia thought it was pretty cool, but had enough quickly, and Eric is too little to roam free safely (even less so with the crowds), so we had to put him in the baby carrier which he hated – he wanted to run around badly.

Eric checking out the Sugar Loaf mountain  (Pão de Açúcar) and the bay

Eric checking out the Sugar Loaf mountain (Pão de Açúcar) and the bay

The statue is smaller than I remember, but still huge of course, and the views are stunning.

Family photo with the famous statue

Family photo with the famous statue

I still haven’t visited this place at night, they light up the statue and I’m sure the view is also amazing. Gotta go back one day to do that.

We told Eric to open his arms up but he didn't get it

We told Eric to open his arms up but he didn’t get it

There’s a restaurant and a snack bar at the top, and a souvenir shop, none of them accepted credit cards at the time, which made things a bit difficult for us since we didn’t have enough cash (after almost 11 years coming to Brazil and withdrawing money at ATMs easily, the main ATM network called Banco 24 Horas doesn’t take our US banks credit cards any more). We bought a hot dog which the kids split and had no more cash to buy anything. Don’t ever walk around anywhere in Brazil with too little cash – my husband needed the reminder. Considering the price of the snacks (R$6-7 a piece plus R$2-4 for one drink such as juice, ice tea or soda) and that a parking lot next to the station was charging R$20, a family of 4 like ours would need R$64 to pay for parking and one snack + one drink each.

Anyone seen the movie Rio? Classic photo of the Sugar Loaf mountain (Pão de Açúcar)

Anyone seen the movie Rio? Classic photo of the Sugar Loaf mountain (Pão de Açúcar)

We lined up to wait for the train going down, a monkey showed up on the power lines to say hello and disappeared before Julia could see it. The train showed up, we sat on the platform side this time, and we choose the wagon with the samba group so the kids could enjoy some music on the way down. Everything was going fine until the first train stop, at Paineiras.

Lagoa seen from the top of Corcovado mountain

Lagoa seen from the top of Corcovado mountain

We were there for a few minutes, the train didn’t move. Then we were waiting for 10 more minutes, nothing. The conductor came to say there was a power outage and we had to wait for the power to be restored. We ended up being there for 1 whole hour until that happened. Meanwhile, they unloaded most of the families with little kids and boarded them in vans to go down. We were about to board a van when the power was restored so we went back to the train. I asked if this happens often and the conductor said no. Later, I heard from my friends that indeed this has happened before. Maybe it’s faster to take the vans instead (although I still think the train is safer, considering how the folks drive these vans).

The Corcovado is definitely worth it, I wish they had a more reliable train service.

Useful information:
Official website of the Corcovado train
Corcovado train station is located at
Rua Cosme Velho, 513, Rio de Janeiro – RJ
Phone: 55 21 2558-1329
Prices (as of 7/4/2013): Adults R$ 46,00, Children (6-12) R$ 23,00, Under 6 – free
Hours: Monday through Sunday 8 AM – 7 PM, every 30 min.

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If you have been following what’s going on in Brazil for the past month, you might be wondering if it’s safe to travel right now, with all the protests. My answer is a resounding YES! and I will tell you why. Keep in mind that I’m here right now (in Rio) with my two kids 5 and under, so if I didn’t think it was safe I would have re-scheduled our trip.

First of all, a bit of background information: the protests aren’t happening every day or in every city. They mostly happened in São Paulo and Rio, then spread to several cities across the country, in mid-June. The protests started when the bus fares increased by 0,20 (which might not seem like a lot but the fares have increased over 400% in a handful of years). The protests weren’t very big by then, but once the police started overreacting and beating up peaceful protesters, everyone watching the cell-phone recorded videos in social media got upset and went to the streets just because we can. Brazil is a democratic country after all, we have the right to protest, and the police shouldn’t be trying to stop a legitimate protest.

Then all the frustration built up by years of rampant corruption came pouring out, and Brazilians flooded the streets to complain about all sorts of issues. There were obviously some people who went overboard, vandalized buildings, and there were some folks who had their own agenda – they used the protests as cover to loot stores. The vast majority of the people there were peaceful, but obviously that’s not what the media thinks it’s newsworthy. Anyway, the bus fares went back down, the much-hated Constitutional Amendment that had been proposed was voted down (PEC-37), and the protests started to simmer down. The FIFA Confederation Cup which just ended last Sunday and the outrageous amount the government has spent building the most expensive stadiums in the world were another source of anger. Every game saw lots of protesters outside the stadiums, one of them cost upwards of 1 billion reais (!). The reason? A ton of money being pocketed by corrupt politicians, of course.

The protests are smaller right now, and not happening as often. They are always scheduled to happen at the end of the day, usually after 5 PM, so people can go after work. So if you are coming to visit, you can go about during the day as usual, and just check with someone at the hotel or taxi drivers if they know of any protest scheduled for that evening, so you can plan around it. Or if you are feeling a bit adventurous, you can check it out (I don’t recommend going with kids, of course). Several of my cousins and friends attended the protests while I was still in the US, and they were all fine – didn’t see any fights, didn’t get close to the police, there were thousands of people on the streets and as I said before, the vast majority was peaceful.

I’ll leave you with a video made by a friend who works for a local newspaper, he attended dozens of protests:

Protests in Rio de Janeiro from Pedro Serra on Vimeo.

You can search #protestobr and #changebrazil in social media to find the latest information about the protests.

Portuguese word of the day: protesto, protest.

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I guess it’s fitting that I’m in my hometown of Rio de Janeiro as I write my first post. Let’s start with introductions!

My name is Luciana, which is a fairly common name in Brazil (and I’m always delighted that it’s quite exotic in the US, hah!), I’m a 35 year old designer, long-time blogger (my Portuguese-written blog Colagem is turning 12 years old this week), mother of 2 (Julia – almost 6 – and Eric – who will be turning 2 in the Fall) and travel addict. I’m married to Gabe, an American who has finally learned to speak Portuguese after 10 years of marriage, even though he sounds like our 5 year old (I’m not complaining, he knows I’m not!). He’s the reason why I moved to the US back in 2002, and together we lived in a few places, before settling down in Austin, the coolest town in Texas. Although we never say we’ll live there forever (we both agree we’ll have to live by the beach one day), we like it a lot, 100 degrees in the summer and all (minus the bugs).

We try to travel as much as we can fit in our schedule, including trips to visit his side of the family in Michigan and my side of the family in Rio, Brazil. We arrived last Thursday in Rio to visit my family for 20 something days, to meet a bunch of new baby cousins and (as I promised myself) to take Julia (almost 6 years old) and Eric (1 year and 8 months) to do some serious sight-seeing this time. There are quite a few blogs out there talking about Brazil, with the World Cup and Olympics coming up there has been a lot of interest, but I haven’t seen many people coming to visit with their kids. I’ve been thinking about writing in English for many years, and I think now it’s the right time (or past the time). We’ll see!

I’ll start writing about this current trip, and then slowly translate all my travel posts from Portuguese to English, so you will see a mix of current and older trips being posted. We’ve been to some great places with the kids since they were born, this is mostly going to be a family travel blog (which is what I write about in Portuguese anyway). After we’re done with this Brazilian trip, we’ll be going back to Michigan for a couple of weeks (we flew here from Detroit) and then heading to Stockholm and Copenhagen, for one week each. We were just in Dallas last month, and earlier this year we’ve been to Houston and went on a roadtrip from Austin to Santa Fe, New Mexico, which was great.  We started 2013 in Niagara Falls, Canada, and before that spent Thanksgiving driving around Arizona, stopping at the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon. Last summer we took the kids to Tokyo for 2 weeks, and also on a roadtrip from Texas to Florida. Anyway, I’m trying to give you a glimpse of the trips you will see here soon! I hope you come back to read about them. Deal? Tchau for now! (That’s how we say good-bye in Portuguese, sounds just like the Italian ciao)

The 4 of us in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

The 4 of us in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

PS: I’ll be working on the template in the next couple of days, if you see anything weird going on, let me know (pretty please)!

PS2: I had another project in English, called Family Trips Archive, which I never launched and not sure if it’ll ever go live (I hope it will, one day). Anyway, since FTA was also about family travel and I had a FTA Twitter account that I used for a while, I decided to rename it to BRTravelMom. So you can follow me there, and I hope my few FTA followers don’t mind the change, since the content will be the same.

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