Family Travel

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The Blog Awards Ireland is an annual award the recognizes excellence in Irish blogging. I’m happy to announce that ATriptoIreland.com is a finalist!

[Update: It won! Woohoo!]

blog_buttons_FINALISTATriptoIreland.com qualifies for the “Best Blog of the Diaspora” category in the 2014 Blog Awards Ireland. Last year, I made it to the longlist round of the competition; this year, the blog has made it all the way to the finals. I’m honored to receive this recognition and acknowledgement.

This is a good opportunity to outline what ATriptoIreland has become, and where I intend to take it next.  Read the rest of this entry »

One of the biggest tourist attractions in Ireland is Tayto Park, but it’s one that many overseas visitors skip because they haven’t the faintest idea what it is.

Tayto Park Bus

Tayto Park is Ireland’s answer to Six Flags or Disneyworld. It’s primarily a theme park, but it also involves a small zoo, and was conceived as a marketing stunt for a potato crisp company. (In America, they’re called potato chips, but in Ireland they’re crisps.) Consequently, nobody but Irish residents know what the heck Tayto Park is… After bringing my two kids there this summer, we can all vouch for the fact that Tayto Park is tremendous fun! Read the rest of this entry »

Wicklow is a great corner of Ireland if what you love is rugged scenery and outdoor pursuits. The mountains are picturesque, windswept, and just crying out to be the backdrop for your own romantic adventure. Helen Fairbairn’s Dublin & Wicklow: A Walking Guide will ensure you don’t get lost on your trek, nor (if you follow her advice) will you find yourself hopelessly out of your depth.

Dublin & Wicklow: A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn

Dublin & Wicklow: A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn

Beginning in Dublin, the routes Fairbairn details take you more-or-less gradually further and further into Wicklow, which is useful if you intend to follow the Wicklow Way for several days, or string a couple of paths together for a longer hiking experience. (Note on jargon: Americans go hiking, the Irish go walking. I use them interchangeably.) Each walk is graded for difficulty, so you can quickly find hikes appropriate for your party’s fitness level. Read the rest of this entry »

The Giro d’Italia came to Ireland this summer, and you can still trace its path through various parts of the country by the way everything was painted pink.

McCollam's Restaurant and Pub went completely pink for the Giro d'Italia, and hung a lot of bicycle wheels on the building for good measure.

McCollam’s Restaurant and Pub went completely pink for the Giro d’Italia, and hung a lot of bicycle wheels on the building for good measure.

The village of Cushendall in Co. Antrim, was every excited about the Giro, and appears to have gone out of their way to get in the appropriate spirit. While other communities made do with a few posters and the odd splash of pink, Cushendall went all out, painting buildings, cars, and bicycles, and hanging pink bunting everywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

My youngest child recently became a Lego fanatic (as am I). She was already enthralled by the Harry Potter books and movies, so the discovery that two of her favorite things were now combined (and just before Christmas, too) gave birth to a new obsession. Unfortunately, Lego stopped making Harry Potter Lego sets last year.

Ron, Dean, Harry, Neville and Hermione wonder if Crookshanks has eaten Scabbers in the Gryffindor common room.

Ron, Dean, Harry, Neville and Hermione wonder if Crookshanks has eaten Scabbers in the Gryffindor common room.

Most of the remaining Harry Potter Lego sets were apparently snapped up in stores during the Christmas rush, and now it’s hard to find Harry Potter Lego sets at a reasonable price. (Evidently, it’s not a new thing for investors to buy up collectible toys like this, and resell them online for two or three times the price.) What’s a geeky Dad to do? I want to encourage creative play and nurture her individual interests, but the prices of these hard-to-find Harry Potter Legos sets are eye-popping!

I disappeared into the Harry Potter Lego Internet rabbit hole and here are a few of the places I’ve found to buy discontinued Harry Potter Lego sets, or even used Lego pieces — all without breaking the bank.

First Place to Look: eBay (But it’s Not the Cheapest!)

The Fat Lady, secret entrance to Gryffindor Tower.

The Fat Lady, secret entrance to Gryffindor Tower.

My daughter is young, but already computer literate enough to search eBay for Harry Potter Lego Sets.  The prices for complete Harry Potter sets tends to be sky high (eBay prices are second only to the after-market prices on Amazon) — although you can find bargains if you pay attention. You might find a loose set (no box, most of the pieces) for 1/2 to 3/4 of the (after-market) price of the unopened box, but that’s still expensive (as they’re going for three times the retail price when in-stores) and slightly dodgy, as you don’t know for sure that all the pieces are there until you build the set.

People also like to break up sets to sell the pieces individually on eBay, as they may make more money that way. The mini-figures are the most-valuable, some going for $40 each, even used! You might score a Harry Potter set for a (relative) song without any mini-figures, but your child might not be overjoyed, as the play value seems to depend on having the right beloved characters.

One way to find value for money on eBay is to buy loose lots of bulk Lego. Zoom in on the photos on eBay to see if there are any pieces/sets/figures you can recognize, and be prepared to bid $10 a pound (or more) for the lot. (Non-Harry Potter Lego tends to go for around $5 a pound.) Sometimes, you might notice most of a set or several great figures amid a sea of random Legos. The question is, whether your child would want the bulk parts to build things from their imagination or only be interested in the exact sets with instructions. If you were so inclined, you could buy the large lots, remove the parts/mini-figure you really wanted and resell the rest on eBay. That’s rather time-consuming. (Although to be fair, searching eBay and the internet at large for discontinued Harry Potter Lego sets is a time-consuming process, if you want to find value for money.)

Downloadable (Free) Instruction sheets:

Lego helpfully make all of their instruction sheets downloadable for free from Lego.com. (This doesn’t stop people on eBay trying to sell the instruction booklets for a  good price, however. Buyer beware!)  If you have a good supply of Lego bricks already, you could start by downloading the plans of a coveted Harry Potter set, and see how many of the pieces you already have. Probably most of them, but the colors might not be exact. But here’s the thing: don’t get caught up with being exact. Kids don’t let a desire for 100% accuracy get in the way of play. One of my daughter’s friends saw the multi-colored Hogwarts we built and exclaimed “A rainbow castle! How cool!” That reminded me kids aren’t as uptight as adults about collecting or having things perfect.

Bricklink: The Best-Kept Secret of the Lego World

Bricklink logoA great source of individual parts (new and used) is Bricklink, an online network of stores who sell Lego piece by piece, as well as some complete sets. You’ll find almost everything cheaper than eBay here.

However, many of the sellers are overseas, so the shipping and exchange rates can kill any price savings versus eBay. For comparison terms, I’ve seen a popular set like The Burrow go for up to $250 on eBay and around $110 on Bricklink. You can filter your Bricklink search by country, which helps to find the best combination of price and shipping costs. [Note: prices may have changed since this blog was posted.]

You can also buy Lego Harry Potter mini-figures individually on eBay or BrickLink if those are what the kids are really in love with. While one Harry Potter figure might still set you back $15 plus shipping (at the cheap end), that’s a lot cheaper than buying a whole set. Again, figures tend to be more expensive on eBay due to the auction effect.

Travel the dunes with the LEGO� Star Wars™ Ultimate Collector Series Sancrawler™

Buy Individual Bricks Direct from Lego.com

You can also buy individual Lego pieces direct from the Lego.com. The selection is much less complete than Bricklink, but you can buy in bulk whereas sellers on Bricklink often have only one or two of each brick. You will not find specific Harry Potter mini-figures or “Hogwarts” pieces there, but you should be able to find many of the pieces you need to complete Harry Potter sets, and in the correct colors. The same might be the case if you live close to a Lego store (we don’t, so I can’t pop in and see what they have). Shipping from the Lego online store tends to be more expensive than BrickLink, so if you are only looking for a few parts bear that in mind. I got bulk quantities of windows, tan bricks, doors, and other various parts that look like they belong in the Hogwarts castle, and the shiping is much more reasonable once you’re ordering a larger amount of bricks. They often have special offers or free gifts with purchase, so you can find great value or get some exclusive bricks by ordering direct.

Amazon.com: Possibly the easiest source of complete sets

Surprising, almost two years since I originally write this post, Amazon.com still have sellers listing complete Harry Potter Lego sets. Some are still quite expensive, but others look more reasonable once you’ve done your research and seen the much more expensive and complicated options out there. There are little stocking stuffers like the bagged Harry Potter in the Lab figure that are reasonably affordable, and larger sets like some of the Hogwarts sets (beware, there are several that make up the complete castle) and others with many unique and iconic pieces (such as the Quidditch Match set) easily available.

See the complete list of available Harry Potter Lego sets at Amazon.com…

In comparison to the more time-consuming sources, Amazon.com looks better all the time.

 

The Creative (and Cost-Effective) Approach: Buy the Unique Harry Potter Lego Bricks Only

Ginny Weasley mini-figure (c) Bricklink

Ginny Weasley mini-figure (c) Bricklink

One fun use for Bricklink.com is to get a bunch of different body parts and let the kids build their own characters. You can get torsos (the chest and arms) of Lego mini-figures wearing Gryffindor sweaters, Slytherin sweaters, generic Hogwarts sweaters, plain school-uniform sweaters, as well as quidditch uniforms. Add some male and female wigs (several should be red to become Weasleys), a few witches hats, brooms, wands, pets, and capes, and your child can mix and match to make most of the students at Hogwarts. You can also find Lego heads in a variety of darker skin-tones and create a Hogwarts that’s a little more racially balanced than the one found in the officially sanctioned Lego sets. (FYI, the Bricklink site is not the most user-friendly, so poke around for a while and set up a wanted list to help you source the parts you want.)

Solutions

My solution to ensure some creative Harry Potter-themed Lego fun without breaking the bank has used all of the above sources. First, I showed my daughter the downloadable plans for all the Harry Potter Lego sets which gives her great ideas, and helps her build approximations of them with our old Legos (we have tons, including a lot from my own childhood — one of Lego’s many virtues is that it’s practically indestructible!). Then, I ordered some special parts and figures from Bricklink (spiral staircases, Gryffindor banners, the Fat-Lady’s portrait hole, chocolate frogs, etc.), scored one small lot of mixed Harry Potter Lego pieces at a reasonable price on eBay, and found the rest of the pieces we needed on the lego.com site (where we got a free gift). I then left it up to my kids’ imaginations to build their own Hogwarts. The colors might be a mixed bag, but all their friends ooh and aah when they come over, and I haven’t heard one word of complaint.

 

My daughters are obsessed with Doctor Who. Besides the show itself, they love the trading cards and magazines. It’s their latest obsession, and one I’m very happy to support because — unlike Japanese Erasers or Silly Bandz — I actually credit this with turning my youngest from a very reluctant reader into an avid reading machine.

It all started with a trip to Easons this summer. I have fond memories of reading comics and kid magazines when I was a child, but the paltry few we have to choose from in the US are sheer drivel, and seem to have not a single redeeming quality. So, knowing Easons has the widest selection of magazines in my hometown, I took them in to see if anything caught their interest. After steering our youngest away from a predominantly-pink magazine with free chemical-laden make-up, she spotted an issue of Doctor Who Monster Invasion and decided that was her choice. The magazine came with a pack of trading cards, and when they opened it in the car, it was infatuation at first sight.

Each week all summer they waited for Wednesday with a quivering excitement usually only seen at bedtime on Christmas Eve. They each saved their pocket money to buy a copy of the magazine and studied the cards and read the magazine for days. They were in absolute nerdy nirvana. We had to scour the newsagents in Dublin to find one that sold the packs of cards, but find them we eventually did, and we stocked up and now use them as bribes rewards for reading. Finishing a book earns the girls 3-4 Doctor Who cards, and they are currently powering through books at a great rate — initially motivated by the reward, but increasingly by the enjoyment of the books themselves. (Our older daughter has been a great reader for years, but our younger needed all the encouragement she could get.)

After we came back to NC, we took out a subscription to the magazine. The day the monthly shipment comes is drop-everything-and-read day — and there can never be too many of those.