Techie kids on vacation

OUR JOURNEY begins in Molstaberg, a small village 50 kilometers west of Stockholm.

Disconnected from technology, the techie Sraier-Phillips kids spend the next four days immersed in nature (photo credit: ILANA SRAIER-PHILLIPS)
Disconnected from technology, the techie Sraier-Phillips kids spend the next four days immersed in nature
When my football-crazy, screen-addicted, seven-year-old son questioned why we were going to Sweden and Denmark in the summer vacation and not Barcelona and Argentina, I knew I was in for a challenge.
Liad’s five-year-old brother, Idan, a Minecraft junkie whose daily exercise constitutes moving one or at the most two fingers on a keyboard, wasn’t enamored by the news either.
But I remained optimistic that the home countries of the makers of Minecraft and Lego were bound to hold some allure for techie kids. The hunt was on for attractions with a hands-on theme that would lure the kids away from their screens – places where they could do and be, not just look and see.
OUR JOURNEY begins in Molstaberg, a small village 50 kilometers west of Stockholm. Here, we join our Swedish companions at their summer haven, fringed by ethereal forests and lakes. Disconnected from technology (apart from a daily screen allowance of half an hour) our techie kids spend the next four days immersed in nature – forest walks, lake swims, blueberry and mushroom picking.
My aim is to bring them from the virtual world into the real world.
Day 1. “Where’s the computer room?” my youngest inquires, waking up in unfamiliar surroundings. The tragic news of the absence not only of a computer room, but also of Internet, is far from well received. But Idan’s woes are soon forgotten as he ambles through the towering canopy of green, indulging in the fruits of the forest – raspberries, blueberries and lingonberries. Along the way our hostess points out some strange-looking funnel-shaped mushrooms. “These are chanterelle mushrooms,” she explains.
“You can eat them, but they’re hard to find now.” The children fervently scour the area in pursuit of the golden-colored chanterelles.
Day 2. “We’re going to the forest,” Idan announces matter-of-factly at breakfast. Surprisingly, there is no mention of the laptop, tablet or cellular phone. Another day passes by swiftly in this tranquil setting, where time is of no consequence and pleasant distractions include the fleeting glimpse of a deer darting through the trees and the rustling of leaves as a frog moves evasively through the bushes.
Sweden is graced by some 30,000 islands known as the Stockholm archipelago.
In the summer, locals flock to these islands for a change of pace; some of them even purchase one. But we don’t have 65 million kronor ($7.7 million) to spare, so we settle for a small taste instead. Our piece of tranquility lies in Utö, a picture-perfect island in the southern part of the archipelago.
From the top of the hill a windmill built in 1791 commands a striking view over parts of the archipelago. We explore the island by bicycle, stopping at one of several beaches, where a small jetty with two diving boards juts out of the water. My eldest boldly climbs a threemeter- high ladder and one giant leap sends him plunging into the icy sea.
To replenish our energy we stop at the bakery. “Mmm… this is tasty,” says Liad, biting into a sumptuous kanelbulle (Swedish cinnamon bun) before boarding the ferry back to civilization.
On Day 5 we bid farewell to the forest and make our way to Stockholm. Our city visit starts at Junibacken, a museum inspired by the writings of Astrid Lindgren, author of the Pippi Longstocking series. Not your typical museum, Junibacken encourages children to express themselves freely and explore. In Story Square, a fun-filled playground examining the works of Swedish children’s authors, Liad sprints on the flying drum and Idan occupies the pilot’s seat of a wooden plane. “Where do you want to go?” he asks me, stocking the plane with vegetables from a nearby kiosk before take-off. “To Jamaica,” I reply, smiling.
Accompanied by sound and narration, the Story Train ride brings to life scenes from some of Lindgren’s most well-known stories. Culminating at Villa Villekulla, Pippi’s home, the boys race around excitedly, clambering onto Pippi’s bed, rummaging through an old treasure chest and sliding down the slippery slide. It’s the perfect place for hide-and-seek and they let their imagination run wild.
Skansen, the world’s first open-air museum, gives visitors a taste of traditional rural life in Sweden between the 16th and 20th centuries. It houses over 150 buildings that have been dismantled and reassembled from all over the country. The kids stroll around happily, showing no interest in the buildings.
Instead, their eyes pour over the map trying to locate the children’s zoo.
“Let’s kill a pig,” Idan shouts joyfully as we near the pig pen. “Soon it will be night,” Liad proclaims. “We must find the sheep.” It takes me a few seconds to realize that they are planning their survival and experiencing Skansen à la Minecraft. I have no choice but to forgive them for their outcries, even in the place responsible for saving the European bison from extinction.
TORN BETWEEN an aversion to excessive screen use and a will to save my sanity, I admittedly confess that screens come in handy on long rides.
The five-hour train journey to Copenhagen becomes far more tolerable with our techie kids alternating between the tablet and a selection of Minecraft action figures.
Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park and entertainment center oozing oldworld charm, proves to be the highlight of our stay in Copenhagen. A magical atmosphere greets us as we enter a wide, tree-lined boulevard. Peacocks strut gracefully around exquisitely landscaped gardens and ducks bob happily on a lake. Countless fish surface as we pass, hoping to secure a tasty morsel. The boys pedal their way up to a height of four meters on the Little Dragon, a flying carousel. In the Nautilus they ride in a fish, moving a lever to adjust the height as they soar upwards and then fall into the clutches of a giant octopus.
You can’t get any more hands-on than Experimentarium City, Denmark’s first science center. Our first challenge is an obstacle course. We scramble hastily through a maze of ropes, striving to reach the finish in record timing. Next, we see who can jump the highest, laughing at the slow-motion playback authenticating the height of our attempts to outdo each other. At another exhibit we test our ability to generate electricity, pedaling away fast and furiously as a light on the wall magically turns on, music emanates from a radio, a TV starts working and colored lights flash on and off above our heads. From immersing themselves in giant soap bubbles to simulating a brain scan, I delight in seeing the children engaged in activity.
Set against the backdrop of the ocean, the whirlpool-like facade of the Blue Planet Aquarium superbly reflects sea and sky. This architectural masterpiece encased in more than 33,000 small diamond-shaped aluminum shingles showcases 53 aquariums and displays.
We enter the circular foyer, drawn into the alluring underwater world that leads from tropical oceans to the icy waters of the cold North. Accompanied by the mysterious sounds of the deep we head for the Ocean Tank, a 4.1-million- liter tank rendering a spectacular view of hammerhead sharks, stingrays, moray eels and other aquatic animals.
A 16-meter-long tunnel offers an opportunity to get up close and personal with these fascinating creatures. “Come and see this,” says Idan, pulling me over to a touch screen and selecting an image of a red lionfish from the museum’s new digital exhibition.
From Copenhagen we drive to the Land of Legends, Lejre. Set in beautiful, natural surroundings, this reenacted village offers visitors insight into life in the Stone Age, Iron Age, Viking Age and 19th century. The surroundings invite the kids to reenter the world of Minecraft, the theme being survival through creativity. Skilled instructors show them how to shoot a bow and chop wood with an Iron Age ax. The children learn the toil of grinding wheat into flour – a task that required six hours to produce a loaf of bread for one family. They then add water to the flour, rolling the mixture into small, flat cookies, which they cook on an iron plate on an open fire. “It tastes like matza,” exclaims Idan, biting into a cookie as he flips the others over with a wooden spoon. Next the boys get down and dirty in the archeological dig, uncovering the skull of a Viking woman and age-old treasures from bygone eras.
With great difficulty I tear them away from this captivating realm where history comes alive.
“Wow! It’s all made of Lego!” Liad exclaims in wonder as we enter the awe-inspiring Legoland. Just about everything, from the trash cans to a water bowl for dogs, is either built from Lego or made to look like Lego. A brightly-colored snake droops over the edge of a bamboo fence, two vultures stand poised on the branches of a tree and the beady eyes of a fearsome crocodile peer through the water.
Throughout the park large bins of Lego offer children an escape from boredom, leaving their parents to brave the long lines. Thrilled to find a ride with no wait, the kids spend hours riding through the Temple and shooting their way through its treasures with a laser gun, constantly striving to improve on their score.
THE LAST day of our trip dawns and Egeskov Castle awaits us with activities abounding. Owned by Count Michael Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Bille, this more than 450-year-old fortified manor boasts a superb lakeside setting with magnificently landscaped gardens. The grounds themselves are so captivating that the boys don’t even step foot inside the castle.
Liad sails through the trees on the omega while Idan clambers onto a swing in the play area. Before long the boys spot stairs spiraling up to the treetop walk and swiftly ascend, crossing swaying bridges with stops along the way. At the press of a button the air fills with the sounds of nightingales, garden warblers, thrushes and chaffinches. Next they race through the maze, try their hand walking on stilts and ride in wooden soapbox cars. As we stroll through the gardens, the children delight in the Edward Scissorhands hedges, looking on in awe at a snail crafted to perfection.
For the grand finale we enter the Garden of Life. Melodic notes ring harmoniously through the castle grounds as the children strike the percussion instruments scattered throughout the garden.
Reflections on our trip lead me to an unanticipated world of discovery. “This was definitely a learning experience,” I think to myself. In many ways I succeeded in bringing my techie kids out of their virtual world into the real world.
But what caught me unawares was the lesson they taught me in the process: with a little tolerance, acceptance and a spark of imagination, the virtual world and the real world can blissfully coexist.
Getting to the islands: Waxholmsbolaget (; +46 86001000 ) provides daily public transportation by ferry to the Stockholm archipelago.
Where to stay: If you’re traveling with kids the Scandic Hotel chain ( is an excellent choice, offering reasonably priced, comfortable family rooms, kids’ entertainment rooms, and two children up to the age of 12 stay free.
What to do: Junibacken (; +46 858723000) is open daily from 10 to 5, till 6 in July.
Skansen (; +46 84428000). Opening hours vary depending on the season.
Tivoli Gardens (; +45 33151001) is open from April 1 to September 20. Opening hours Sunday to Thursday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. till midnight.
Experimentarium city (www.experimentarium.
dk; +45 39273333) Opening hours vary according to the season.
The Blue Planet (www.denblaaplanet.
dk; +45 44222244) Open Mondays 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday, 10 to 6.
Land of Legends (www.sagnlandet.
dk; +45 46480878) Open from 10 to 5, but opening days vary according to the season. .
Legoland ( Opening hours vary according to the season.
Prices vary according to length of visit. .
Egeskov Castle (; +45 62271016) Opening hours vary according to the season.