It was a dinosaur. There’s no other way to describe the gnashing, crushing jaws, and the swaying neck that toppled the wall into rubble and sent the roof collapsing. In minutes, smiling faces were buried under piles of Lisbon ceramic roof tiles, twisted rebar and mangled air conditioners. We were fascinated, pausing longer than intended on our walk to the train station. When it was time to pull ourselves away, two-year-old Little Man didn’t want to leave. This was surely the highlight of his day, and perhaps his whole tour of Iberia (though the beach and gelato are high on that list).
Government grants and private entities have spent numerous Euros and hours to deck the abandoned walls of this European capital with art. This wasn’t just glorified graffiti. The art included etchings where the top layer of white paint was scraped off to reveal the burnt orange below (see photos), painted portraits of known figures, or experimental art by students. Edifices scheduled for demolition were adorned, wearing the art for a year or two before it met its demise in the jaws of the dinosaur. Street art tours of Lisbon are quite popular. If you plan the trip right, you might get the added bonus of a demolition show.
Many of our trip highlights and the children’s most vivid memories were created when we stumbled into something off the agenda and went with it. In Austria we climbed a hill to wander through a castle ruin, but spent most of our time observing frolicking salamanders. At Lake Bled in Slovenia we followed various families of ducks and a lone goosander with chicks. Ljubljana delighted us with a weekend children’s science festival, so our wandering was interspersed with stops at various exhibits outdoors or hands-on experiments inside historic structures. We watched the bubble guy (see video) while Little Man wandered away and was returned to us by an escort of mounted police when alerted that he had been missing for ten minutes (that was also unplanned and memorable, but not in a good way). In Venice we gathered around a dog for 45 minutes, watching him crunch crabs placed on the sidewalk by his owner who watched from his chair in a nearby art gallery, knowing they were a favorite pooch delicacy. And, of course, there’s the public transport in Europe. Trolleys, vaporettos, busses, trains, taxis, subways, tuk-tuks, horse drawn carriages – there’s no end to the amusements of riding public transport for children who aren’t accustomed to such luxuries.
The beauty of it all is that these types of exploratory adventures don’t have to be reserved for special family time abroad. Learning to enjoy the ‘off the agenda’ moments – moments that often turn into minutes or hours – is a good practice carried into everyday life at home. On vacation or not, unplanned moments can make some of the most vivid childhood memories. I ask Little Peanut (5) about the castle ruins in Austria. Remember the ruins we climbed? Blank stare. Remember, we saw the salamanders climbing on each other? A smile of remembrance spreads across her face.