For several years after the war - World War II, that is - the family used to spend its month-long summer holidays in the small Lancashire village of Poulton-le-Fylde near Blackpool in northwest England.
It was always a seriously low-tech affair. Bicycle rides to the seaside at Cleveleys, three miles away. Swimming off a pebble beach in notoriously cold Irish Sea waters. Picnics with old friends in nearby woods. Cricket on the village green.
Accommodations were in a tiny one-up, one-down, outside loo, row house, attached to the one in which we were billeted during the war. Number Five, Moreland Road.
But we loved it.
We thought about those days when going through some column letters received in the run up to Christmas. And realized how much the world of travel has changed since we started writing this piece some 20 years ago.
In those far off days - eons in technological terms - correspondents were looking for the nitty-gritty answer. The how. The where. The what. But now, with almost universal access to internet Web sites, readers are quite capable of researching for themselves the kind of accommodations they want, the best airfares, the train schedules, and so on.
Which means that the letters we receive these days call more for ideas and opinions than "Just the facts, Ma'm."
Like the question from Peggy S. of Toledo who asks for suggestions as to where she and her husband could possibly take two active 10-year-old nephews for a week's holiday in August. It should be "someplace special," says Peggy, but also somewhere safe.
She's currently thinking of an all-inclusive Mexican resort that specializes in family-style vacations - but she's not too familiar with the various resort options.
Well, neither are we. And never having stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, or anywhere else for that matter, we are in no position to make any judgments on the comparative merits. We suggest that Peggy sit down with a travel agent who knows about such subjects - and about what Mexico might be like in August.
But since we were asked for our opinion, and because we've had some experience with 10-year-olds in foreign settings, and because England has been on our mind recently, we're going to suggest taking the nephews on a very special trip and treat … to London.
There are plenty of good reasons. For starters, few cities in the world offer so many varied and splendid activities for youngsters - and oldsters. Also, it's easy to get there from here, with daily nonstop flights from Detroit. There'll be no language difficulties for anyone concerned. The city is simple to negotiate either by foot or public transportation. It's safe. And the whole adventure will be both jolly good fun - and Harry Potter educational.
We recommend staying in an apartment/hotel like the Citadines chain (firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-376-3898) that has some centrally located properties and very reasonable prices, particularly for stays of a week or more. All the rooms and suites have fully equipped kitchenettes with fridge and dishwasher, microwave, coffee pot, toaster, dishes, glasses, cutlery, and even flower vases. Perfect for multi-generations with eating habits that may not always be in sync.
In addition to visiting the Tower of London, the zoo, and Madame Tussaud's, riding the London Eye Ferris wheel and taking boat trips on the Thames, there are excursions to Windsor Castle or the seaside that would make a good change of pace.
OK. Next question.
LeAnn M. of Napoleon needs some advice on planning a trip in March with her college-age daughter. She's looking at either France or Switzerland but has one key prerequisite. She has to go to Grenoble in southeast France to visit a niece who is studying there.
Never having traveled overseas before, LeAnn wonders whether she should fly into Paris and spend time there, then visit Grenoble. Or fly into Zurich, call on some family friends in the area, and do the Grenoble thing afterwards.
All things considered, we would probably go for Option 1. It's much simpler, as she'll be staying in one country the whole time. There are direct flights to Paris from Detroit on Northwest Airlines And she won't have to juggle two separate family visits in a short period of time. Save Zurich for the next trip!
Paris in the springtime is very special, with a multitude of things to see and do. Check the Internet and Time Out: Paris, our preferred guidebook for background, accommodations, local restaurants, and activities, both traditional and offbeat.
The trip from Paris down to Grenoble will be a snap on France's bullet train, the TGV. It'll take about three hours. And there are several departures a day from the Gare de Lyon. (Call your travel agent or Budget Europe Travel Service, 1-800-441-2387 for best fares and reservations.)
And Bon Voyage!