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Mommy on a Shoestring: Day trips with international flair

Dancers in old-fashioned Dutch costumes in Holland, Mich.
Bonneyville Mills in Indiana's Amish country.
Holland State Park, Holland, Mich., looks across Lake Michigan. | Photo by Sharon VanderBoon
Kids can enjoy Dutch-style fun in this Holland, Mich., playground.
Holland, Mich., is famous for its spring tulip displays. | Photo by Sara Simmons
Dinner meats come straight off the spit at Fogo de Chao in Rosemont.
Elisa Drake, author of "Day Trips From Chicago."

It’s winter vacation and for many parents that means two weeks of uninterrupted time with our kids. Although having so much family time can be a blessing, it can also be a challenge as parents scramble for new ways to keep their kids occupied, happy and engaged.

And, if we can expose our kids to new cultures and historical events? Even better! So fasten your seatbelts and get ready for our guide to international travel without getting on a plane.

Go Dutch in Holland

“Holland, Michigan, is famous for its Dutch flavor in its food, festivals, flowers and its grand 12-story-high DeZwaan windmill,” says Elisa Drake, author of Day Trips From Chicago, (Globe Pequot Press, see elisadrake.com; Drake’s updated edition hits bookstores in February). Holland is about 150 miles northeast of Chicago, perfect for a day trip or a weekend getaway.

The town of Holland is charming with stores, restaurants and inns reminiscent of an Old Dutch town. Antique buffs will love the Wooden Shoe Antique Mall housed in a defunct wooden shoe factory and Drake says the Holland Clock Company is a “must-see” for German novelty clocks.

For a look back at the history of Dutch life in Michigan, visit the Holland Museum (hollandmuseum.org), that showcases paintings, Dutch artifacts, and costumes from days gone by. Drake also recommends taking your children to The Settlers House, which re-creates the hardships early Holland immigrants endured. For more information about Holland visit holland.org.

Unplug in Amish country

“Amish country is the perfect place to take a break from technology,” says Drake. Scattered throughout seven northern Indiana communities, it’s third-largest Amish settlement in North America.

Each of the many outstanding stores, restaurants and inns in Amish country showcases the simple beauty of Amish life. To get a feel for the area, Drake recommends taking the Heritage Trail Driving Tour. Pick up a copy of the self-guided tour of the 90-mile loop, at the Elkhart County Visitor Center or download the MP3 file at amishcountry.org.

Families interested in spending a few days in Amish country might consider staying at the Essenhaus Inn & Conference Center, which offers warm cozy rooms, an indoor pool and complimentary hot cocoa and cookies in the lobby. The property also boasts village shops, an Amish bakery and a family-style restaurant that serves homemade meals with over 30 kinds of pies.

Bonneyville Mill is another highlight of Amish country. The mill, Indiana’s oldest, continuously operating grist mill, still grinds corn, wheat, rye, and buckwheat (all available for purchase in the mill store).

In the Elkhart County parks around the mill, you can hike, cross-country ski and sled. For more information visit elkhartcountyparks.org.

Around the world in 5 meals

Travel the world one plate at a time by visiting these culturally rich hot spots that offer authentic ethnic cuisine in a family friendly setting.

Brazil: Fogo de Chao, 5460 Park Place, Rosemont, fogodechao.com

Vietnam: Tank Noodles, 4953-55 N. Broadway, Chicago, tank-noodle.com

India: Udupi Palace, 2543 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, udupipalacechicago.net

Peru: Ay Ay Picante 4569 N. Elston, Chicago, ayaypicante.com

Ethiopia: Ras Dashen 5846 N. Broadway, Chicago, rasdashenchicago.com

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