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Backpacking in the Med with a Preschooler: Experience

As it`s well known both Greece and Italy are indeed child-friendly places. Children are admitted pretty much everywhere and run around freely but DO seem bit better behaved than UK kids. Come to think of it, I cannot think of kids in any country I visited that do NOT seem better behaved then UK kids. No exaggeration there, though, the Italian and Greek little ones and the bit bigger ones did their share of making noise and doing all the childreny things, but there was never malice associated with it.

The biggest difference in comparison with UK was the reception a very small child got: in the UK it is generally only other parents and older people that react positively to children. In Italy you will get a mixed group of youths obviously travelling to have some fun on the beach and they will try to engage your wee one with chat, smiles and jokes. This also - sometimes at least - happens in Poland and is, in my opinion, the result of less separation between different age groups and `life-stage niches` in these countries.

In Greece people are also extremely child friendly and, what will might be almost unbearable for a British father (and probably many mothers too) they will touch your child all the time - and all people: teenage girls, 20-something youths and middle aged mothers, old ladies and aged men, train conductors and bread sellers, people you meet at the bus stops and in cafes, they will all pat arms, pinch cheeks, stroke hair, tickle tummies and so on. I am Polish so I wasn`t that bothered (though in Poland men don`t do it, or do it much less) but it was very hard for my husband!

Being equipped with a pretty and sociable preschooler is then a contact- advantage, as we were virtually all the time greeted with countless exclamations of `bella` or `kala` and expressions of interest as well as tolerance towards crying, running round the restaurant table at a speed, and twenty trips across the dining hall to have look at the fish in the aquarium on the other side while forming a major stumbling hazard for the staff.

Getting half-portions was easy in Italy but not so much in Greece, I also managed to wangle a discount for a triple room out of two hotels on the ground that the `bimba` didn`t really need a separate bed (she happily used one when provided though).

Our daughter is now over 4 years old, well travelled and very adaptable. She never had problems with new places and as long as familiar or likeable people were present she always seemed to positively relish new experiences. This is important as I know of children similar in age who would pay with stomach upsets and sleepless nights for a visit to grandparents in the same town. She is also healthy, quite tough and a good eater. With this in mind, please let me thoroughly and wholeheartedly recommend camping with a preschooler in the Med.

Living in a tent was easier for Katie than us (she is, after all, smaller) and although she missed her toys and her bed, she caused no problems whatsoever. She slept well - I am sure that sleeping with both parents virtually in the same bed helped! She didn`t seem to have problems with heat at night, although she often slept around midday which she never does here. The daytime heat was what was probably hardest for her to cope with and thus I was very glad we didn`t go in high season. However, if you don`t go to too many adult attractions (I mean ruins and long walks here....) it would be easier even on hotter days.

I made sure that she wore hat and I covered her with sunscreen to start with so she tanned nicely and without problems. She ate lots and lost of ice-cream (very good food for children and even all this sugar is OK as long as the child is on the go…), supplemented by piles of fruit, tomatoes and occasional plate of pasta or piece of grilled veal or beef. The only thing I was very careful about was to make sure that she was well watered and never ever refused or delayed her drink.

We brought several small-sized books which we read more at first and less later (but how many times can one endure `Mr Funny` or the story of Moomin-Mama`s lost handbag?) We also brought a set of felt-top pens and a few pencils with some colouring books and this was brilliant for the entertainment she needed during rare quiet times in the tent or travelling by train or in the airport.

She had one transitional object (read: cuddly toy) and she cuddled it, threw at walls, fed, and sang to - in other words it performed its usual functions.

In Italy we bought bucket-and-spade set and she had a chance to use it 3 times on the beach, we also bought lavishly illustrated `Pinokio` book in Italian and she spend quite a long time poring over it as well as using it as bartering tool with Italian children.

Generally, neither of the holidays was child-centred in any way. It is something you can still afford to do at this age when the child simply enjoys being with you and as long as you don`t do anything INCREDIBLY boring like staring at one picture for 30 minutes everything should be OK. We did, of course, provide some concessions like seeking out that sandy beach once in a while or visiting every play-park she noticed. She had a chance to play with Italian, Greek and foreign tourist children several times and generally that was successful, with gazing, smiling, touching, sharing toys and food making up for deficits in communication. She definitely missed the company of other children provided normally by the nursery she attends and enjoyed the encounters very much.

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