Monday, December 15, 2014

Bucket List Item: Introducing Baby to Costa Rica

Last month, my family ventured to Costa Rica for our first international family vacation. Flying was surprisingly easy, as I discussed in my last post (which was about a month ago - I have been very neglectful of this poor little blog!).  The rest of the trip was just as stress-free, for the most part. We LOVED introducing our beloved Costa Rica to our 10-month-old babe, Avy!

Our first international family vacation was a success - look at that happy baby!

Because we had Avy with us, there wasn't a lot of sightseeing, eco-adventures, or excursions occurring. We did drive up to Monteverde to hike through the rainforest at Selvatura and learned about coffee growing and roasting at a true-blue coffee farm and mill, but that trip was only three days of our two week vacation. (I will, of course, be writing about those experiences down the road, and hopefully not a month from now!)

For the rest of the time, we relaxed, spent time as a family, swam in the pool, and visited the beaches at Carillo and Samara.  That was about it, and it was glorious. It was a complete break from my usual style of travel, which is go-go-go, but with a wee baby change is to be expected.

Here are the highlights of this particular travel bucket list item:

1. Introducing our baby to the ocean

She was not a fan. Not at all. The waves freaked her out, the sun was pretty hot and made her cranky, and we didn't like that she tried to eat all the sand and debris that washed up from the tide onto it. I am not implying Playa Carrillo is littered - in fact, it is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, in my opinion.  Pictures and video cannot do that beach justice, as it is pristine and peaceful. But it is a beach just like any other, and chunks of driftwood, seaweed, and other assortments of ocean paraphernalia do find their way onto the sand after high tide.

Playa Carrillo is arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

We did have a fun day at the beach once we struck a balance - Avy was situated on a beach towel under the shade of a palm tree, with a pile of 'cleaned up' sand for her to spread all over herself.  My hubby and I took turns splashing in the waves, and once Avy was far enough away from the crash of the ocean she liked to watch the water, pointing to the waves and narrating her thoughts.

Our babe experiencing the ocean for the very first time.

We did manage to get her to swim for a little bit in the water, which made for some beautiful photographs (in which she looks like she's enjoying herself, but I know the truth). Next time, she'll be a little fish I'm sure.

2. Strolling the streets of Samara

Samara is a touristy surfing village near our home in Guanacaste. It isn't as touristy as Tamarindo, but it definitely lacks the 'locals only' vibe that Carrillo has. Still, I like walking its streets and dining at the cute restaurants that line its beautiful white sand beach. There is an atmosphere to the town that makes you feel hip and cool, even when you are pushing a stroller and have never stood on a surfboard in your life.

Strolling the streets of Samara in Costa Rica.

The beach in Samara is very nice, but I think it pales in comparison to Playa Carrillo. This is mainly because it is very populated - there have to be about seven surf schools in town and a TON of hostels and hotels - and also there is a coral reef some ways out into the water, which leaves sharp little pieces of coral embedded in the sand, just waiting to slice your feet. Carrillo has neither. But Samara Beach is still beautiful, as most Costa Rican beaches are, and worth a visit!

The beach at Samara, Costa Rica.

To Avy's delight, we even encountered a group of about 10 monkeys eating fruit in the trees above a section of the beach. Monkeys are currently her favorite animal, so we thought it was neat that she was able to see them for real, and not in a zoo setting.

Monkeys enjoying their day at Playa Samara.

3. Swimming in the pool at Grandpa and Grandma's house

And this is how we spent the majority of each day. Avy loves the water (except, ahem, not ocean water apparently) and so the pool was a huge hit. Grandma joined us often, although unfortunately Grandpa had an injury at the time that prevented him from coming in for a dip.

Avy Bear and her daddy enjoying a beautiful morning swim in our pool in Costa Rica.

The pool is so beautifully landscaped that you feel you are in paradise while swimming. Palm trees, ginger plants, colorful flowers, and primly trimmed hedges line the pool's edge, hosting several birds and animals such as parrots, squirrels, hummingbirds, and butterflies. We swam several times a day: morning swims, afternoon swims, and the occasional night swim to cool down before bed. It was perfect.

The landscaping is unreal - that's magazine quality gardening right there!

There wasn't much more to our vacation, other than the side trip I mentioned above, which will be featured in a series of posts later on. It was the first time I'd personally been on a vacation where I really did just relax. No agendas, no itineraries, no pre-planned potential blog posts to check off. It was nice to just spend time with my family.  HOWEVER, next time we go, I have a huge list of family-friendly adventures that we will experience - I haven't completely changed!!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tips and Tricks for Flying with an Older Baby

My family and I just got back from a two-week holiday in Costa Rica, where my 10-month-old daughter got to spend some quality time with her grandparents in their Guanacaste home.  I was apprehensive but hopeful regarding the entire 'flying with baby' scenario, but due to being extremely prepared and well-researched, it all went smoothly.

Here I share my top tricks and tricks for flying with an older infant.  I hope it helps!!

1. Ensure you have a bottle for take-off and landing

After reading nightmare stories online from several mothers about screaming babies who cried from the moment the plane left the ground, I was nervous about taking Avy Bear up on a plane. Prior to becoming a mother myself, I was always one of those people that shuddered when I saw a family holding a baby walk up the aircraft aisle. Of course, I would never comment or criticize: I just never liked being trapped near a wailing baby, helpless to do anything to calm it. (I am a little control freakish, yes, but I'd never grab someone else's child or be snotty enough to lean over and give my two-cents' worth on how to keep that baby quiet...)

After a nice bottle at take-off, Avy drifts into sleep, along with her Daddy.

I DID read that many babies are great travelers; you just have to get over the pressure change in the cabin that notoriously hurts little eardrums.  Advice from several sites recommended feeding your baby upon take-off, and again as you felt the aircraft begin to descend for landing.  I am going to repeat that advice, because it was EXCELLENT.  Feed that baby, and help his or her poor little ears adjust slowly and comfortably.

Avy was hungry before take-off, and was starting to get squirmy. We occupied her as best we could, giving her little sips but keeping the bulk of the bottle in reserve.  As the plane began to pick up speed down the runway, we allowed Avy to finally eat her fill, and she drank all the way up until the plane was stabilized.  She didn't cry once.

As soon as my own ears began to notice the pressure change upon arrival to our destination, we began feeding Avy her next bottle. This time we portioned it and let her drink slowly, so that her ears would adjust as we slowly dropped in altitude.  She didn't even notice the pressure change, and played happily the whole way.  It took us two flights to arrive in Costa Rica, and two more to get home, and during those four flights, Avy only cried once (and that was because we forced her to nap when she was tired, and she cried for about one minute).  Thank you, other mothers, for the advice on timed feeding!

2. Bring LOTS of snacks and treats

Since timing your liquid meals is super important to the overall auditory health and comfort of your baby, it might be necessary to prolong the gap between bottles longer than normal on a three to four hour flight.  This is where the beauty of snacking comes in.

Avy enjoying her flight.  She got to eat like a kid at a sleepover, and she loved it.

It is also very hard to feed an older baby a true-blue solid meal if he or she has graduated to finger foods. Unless the food is specifically labeled as baby food and is still sealed, security most likely won't let you take it through. That means your hard work dicing and mashing a plethora of healthy and easy-to-eat foods for your baby could end up in the garbage. We brought a few pouches of Heinz pureed baby food for our daughter, but even so, opening them up, pouring them into a bowl, mixing with rice cereal, and feeding her with a spoon just seemed like way too much when packed like sardines in a three-person row on the airplane.

What we did was pack several bags full of different snacks: strawberry puffs, Cheerios, yogurt treats and vegetable puffs.  Not the healthiest way to feed a child for a day, but it IS only for part of a day, and it keeps everyone sane. Avy would play and flirt with other passengers, but when she started to get antsy - and that happened a lot - we'd pull out a little handful of snacks and she would settle back down.  Overall, she didn't eat very much, but the variety and the timing helped to keep her happy and occupied.

3. Don't pack too many toys

I totally over-packed on the toys. Many websites recommended bringing some favorite toys along with two or three new toys that baby had never seen before.  I think this is too much.  A) She only played with about two of her old toys that I brought, and only for about 5 minutes at the most with each, and B) she could have cared less about the two new toys I packed for her.  I tried to avoid toys with noises and lights, since I didn't want to disturb the other passengers, and they didn't seem to pack the punch I was hoping for.

Landing in beautiful Costa Rica.  Avy made flying with a baby easy!

But it didn't matter - Avy was more interested in looking at and chatting with the other passengers and the stewardess, playing with the papers in the seat in front of her, eating her snacks, and sleeping. This is not to say all babies are the same... except I sat beside two other babies during our four flights, and those two babies also neglected to play with any toys.  So save a little room on your carry-on and just tuck in a couple of favorite toys.  I'd put snacks in the saved space instead!

4. Do pack some antibacterial wipes

I'm not a germaphobe by any means.  I believe in building immunity through natural play with the world. But that's not to say I liked the idea of Avy shoving the man-handled safety card into her mouth and ingesting germs from all far-reaches of the Earth. So I did pack both wipes and Lysol wipes. I didn't scrub the plane down upon entry, but when Avy was looking hungrily at the back of the seat in front of her and all its hard-plastic chewy goodness, I did give it a cleaning before she inevitably licked and gummed it. I know from experience you can't stop her from shoving things in her mouth, so I was prepared for a little housekeeping on the plane. Just don't be that annoying person that disinfects EVERYTHING and EVERYONE - if you are holding your baby and keeping her occupied, she's not going to lick the entire plane and contract the plague.

5. If there's an empty seat, see if you can snag it

On the way down to Houston, we had a less than full airplane.  That meant we had an empty seat between us, and Avy had it all to herself.  What a blessing that was! She got to stand, bounce, crawl, and get all her wigglies out.  Usually planes are packed to the nines, so I realize this is a rare occasion.  But if you do happen to see an empty seat, sweet talk your stewardess to see if there's any way you can be placed in that row.

Hello Houston!  We made it through Avy's first flight with literally no problems!

6. Keep your wipes, bum cream, and diapers close at hand

On our way down to Costa Rica, I had a perfectly packed carry-on bag just for Avy. It contained ten to fifteen impeccably packed diapers all in a row, wipes, cream, bottles, snacks, toys, a blanket, a change of clothes, a spit-up towel and more.  It was perfect.  And then we got onto the plane and it was too large to go under the seat, so we had to put it in the overhead compartment, and basically we never saw it again until landing.  I lie: we pulled it out twice.  Once we needed it for a diaper change, and the second time we grabbed her snacks and a bottle for landing.  It was a total pain, since we had a stranger sitting on the aisle seat, and she liked to sleep through her flights.  We felt so disruptive and rude, although the lady was great and completely understanding.

My impeccably packed carry-on... it just didn't fit under the seat.

I learned my lesson and on the way home, I packed Avy's diapers, cream, wipes, bottles, snacks, and a couple of toys in my oversized purse carry-on, and slipped it under the seat in front of me.  So much easier!  Everything was on-hand, accessible, and we didn't have to disturb anyone. If you think you'll need it during your flight, keep it in a bag that can be stored under the seat. Anything else, including random emergency supplies (like an extra change of clothes for blow-outs) can go up top, since you might not need to use them.

Those are my top tips. Avy was a great traveler, which makes me hopeful that we can have many more family vacations like this one without too much stress. It was surprisingly easy to fly with a baby, and the only bump we ever had was when my travel-sized shampoo exploded in my carry-on (luckily it was in a plastic bag).

Our first family vacation was a success!  

Do you have any other 'flying with baby' tips?  Please share them in the comments below!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Losing Weight Before a Trip: Should You or Shouldn't You?

With thoughts of lounging on a Costa Rican beach looming in my immediate future, my present has me fretting about my post-baby body (and who are we kidding - it wasn't tight and toned pre-baby either!).  On one hand, I want to set a positive body image example for my daughter by embracing who I am and what I look like, flaunting my baby pouch in a little black bikini and not worrying about the cellulite on my thighs.  On the other hand, I'm a normal woman who shudders at the thought of lolling about on the beach with my less-than-supermodel form.

Maybe I'm not being PC about the topic. With all the Facebook posts filtering through my news feed about mothers not caring about their size, or wanting their sons to see them nude so they know what a real woman looks like, I know I shouldn't be concerned about losing weight for my trip.  But I can't help it.

How many times have I stressed myself out about losing weight before a trip? Countless!

At least two to three months before every trip I go on, I worry about this.  Do I need to go shopping to buy clothes that flatter my current size, or do I hold off and wait to see if I actually manage to tone up before I go?  (Usually it is the latter, and no, I don't usually tone up before I go to answer your question. I usually don't even go shopping at all.)

Throw in having a baby: major changes to my body (some that I doubt are reversible), no time to exercise, eating like garbage because I'm just happy to be eating let alone cooking a plethora of healthy meals, and you have someone who is dreading wearing a swimsuit to the beach.  I know a lot of my 'excuses' can be solved - I can cook healthy meals in the evening after Peanut goes to bed, I could get up earlier and exercise before the baby wakes up... but I kind of don't want to.  I really like sleeping in the mornings and getting some time to put my feet up in the evenings.  A girl has got to have some down time, you know?

I want my baby to grow up without a weight complex - and I know that starts with me... but it is hard.

Do they make full-body swimsuit Spanx?  I need a wetsuit with a built-in corset. That might be my solution.  *le sigh*

Ultimately, I will do what I always do: my best.  I'll fit in a workout once or twice a week if I'm motivated, maybe do some sit-ups while Avy Bear is playing in her exersaucer, and I'll have a salad or two during the week.  I'll walk to the store with the baby instead of driving.  I will swear off pizza - well, until that night when I'm too tired to cook and Joey suggests we order in.  I may or may not lose about 5 to 6 pounds, but I'll be ridiculously proud of that and tell everyone.

And I will allow myself to have a fantastic trip, introducing my child to travel. I will enjoy the beach because my husband will tell me I look great and I'll believe him, even as I scoff at his compliments.  I will feel strong, because this slightly rounded body grew a human being and brought her into the world.  I will eat arroz con pollo and greasy fried plantains, because those are my favorite Costa Rican foods.  Yes, I'll eat some fresh fruit, too.  I promise!

What about you?  Do you try to lose weight before going on a trip?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Booking Airline Tickets for a Baby: What You Should Know

Booking Airline Tickets Baby

Some exciting news for this new family: we are headed to Costa Rica in November!  The tickets are booked, hotels taken care of, and a list of fun activities and destinations drawn up.  My husband and I have been to Costa Rica before (we even got married there), but this is the first time we've ever been there with our wee babe, let alone traveled on a plane with her.  This is a whole new ball of wax!

While prepping for the trip, I had no idea what I was doing baby-wise.  I was on the phone for literally hours with the airline trying to figure out how to book Peanut and get all my T's crossed and I's dotted.  In order to save others the trouble, I've compiled a handy-dandy compendium of things new parents need to know about booking flights for babies over 7 days old and under 2 years old!

1. Book Your Own Flight First

If you are an online flight booker, like myself, you need to follow this first step.  Children under 2 typically cannot be booked online.  I am speaking only in general terms - there are probably airlines somewhere that have a system prepared for infant booking, but I've yet to encounter it.  I researched about four airlines in Canada, and none of them had the option to book a baby online.  So, simply book the flights for all the passengers in your party over the age of 2 as you normally would to get the ball rolling.

Don't cry Peanut!  We're not leaving you - we just booked ourselves first...

2. Call In To Book Baby's Flight With The Airline After

Once your tickets have been e-ticketed, you can then call in to the airline itself to add-on your baby. You will need your confirmation or e-ticket number to do so.  I didn't have a confirmation number due to, well I don't actually know why my ticketing website didn't issue me one, but it turned out to be a huge pain with the stupid automated system.  After yelling, "AGENT!" into the phone about a billion times, I finally was able to connect with a person who found my confirmation almost instantly.  (As you can tell, I am not a fan of automated phone systems...)

Once my confirmation was located, we were able to book Peanut as a passenger, albeit one that needs to sit on my lap for the duration of the flight.  You CAN book a seat just for the baby, as long as you bring a safety seat for them to be placed in, but it will cost you the same as booking a flight for an adult.  I'm assuming she'll be a little fussy, and I'll probably have to hold her anyway, so I saved the cost of buying a third seat by agreeing to hold Peanut for the duration of the flight.

** If you like to call into the airline to book your flights right off the bat, or you visit a travel agent to get your flights booked, the first two points in this article are probably of no help to you.  Sorry, but I am an online booker through and through! **

I wonder how interested the baby will be in looking out the window....

3. Babies DON'T Always Fly Free

Somewhere, someone told me that babies under 2 always fly for free, if you haven't bought the aforementioned adult seat for them.  However, this is untrue (and again, I'm not speaking for EVERY airline out there, only the ones I researched.  If you know of any airlines that don't fit this mold, please tell me in the comments section.  And I highly recommend you quickly Google your chosen airline for their specific policies before assuming what I'm saying applies.)

Babies typically fly for free only on domestic flights.  If you are flying intercontinental, say from Canada to the USA, taxes are charged but that's all.  And if you are flying international, the cost for a baby to fly is 10% of an adult rate plus taxes. So armed with that knowledge, you can adjust your flight budget accordingly!

On another note, if you have TWO babies under 2 (for example, twins) you need TWO adults with you in order for them to fly at the discounted or free rate.  One adult cannot be holding two babies on his or her lap.  If you are stuck in a situation where you are the only adult for two kids under 2, one of those little dollies needs to sit in a safety seat and pay the full adult price.

So what if Peanut's ticket was 10% of an adult flight? It's worth it to bring her here...

4. Check Your Strollers At The Gate (If They're Big)

Common sense dictates that if you are traveling with a large stroller, you'll have to fold it (or even better, dismantle it), bag it, and check it at the gate.  So keep in mind that you'll be carting your baby around the airport on your hip for awhile.  Smaller, fold-able umbrella strollers can be taken right up the jet bridge and checked with the stewards there.

As for the rest of your luggage requirements (car seat, playpen, baby's bag, baby's carry-on), you'll have to check with your chosen airline.  EVERY airline that I researched all had different allowances and requirements.  Some let you check a car seat and stroller or playpen for free (2 free items maximum) while others charged for everything that needed to be checked.  It seems to be pretty individual according to airline.  Make sure you research this aspect beforehand.

On a related note, if you are formula feeder or like to pre-pump breast milk for your little one, check your airline's guides on bringing bottles on-board.  They legally cannot deny you the right to feed your child, but they can dictate the size of bottle you bring on board.  Some airlines encourage you to bring small coolers as they can't guarantee fridge space to keep your milk at the proper temperature.  Once again, I beg you to check with your airline first before getting stopped at security in a really awkward situation.

Our stroller will have to be checked - it's massive!

5. Layovers Are Not Necessarily Bad

Both flights to and from Costa Rica that we booked have layovers in Houston.  (We are too poor to fly direct - I'm just happy we are able to afford going at all, and that's mainly to my Air Miles points that I've been saving for, oh, ten years!)

I fretted over those layovers, thinking they were going to make the trip so much longer and more difficult for Peanut, but as I discussed it with my husband, we both realized they might be small blessings.  The baby will be tired from leg one of the flight, and a nice sleep in a comfy room rather than conked out awkwardly on Mommy's or Daddy's lap will be much needed.  Not to mention that there is a pool and our little one is a water baby to say the least.

The hotels add an extra couple of hundred dollars to our trip, that is true.  But it will save us that much in therapy bills after we lose our sanity from dragging around an exhausted crying baby who has been flying for 10 hours and hauled through three airports.  Balance, people - that's what you are looking for!

Exploring new hotels is part of the fun of a layover, not to mention a well-rested baby!

I hope these little tips help!  I learned a lot the other day while speaking to about three or four different airline associates, trying to glean this information from them.

Do you have any other really helpful "booking for baby" tips?  I'll be posting an article on "flying with baby" just as soon as we make it through that process, but if I've missed anything about the actual booking experience, feel free to add it to the comments below!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Finding the Curious, Eclectic, and Strange in Seattle

strange things to see in Seattle Washington

My last post about Seattle ("Top 10 Things to See and Do in Seattle in Summer") focused on the more touristy-type attractions I experienced in the fun and exciting city.  The Space Needle, the EMP Museum, the Duck Tour - these are all things that people visiting Seattle really should try, just due to the entertainment factor.

However, if you are more interested in finding the more understated sights the city has to offer, this post is for you! Seattle is bursting at the seams with strange stores and shops, eclectic art, and fun 'curiosities'.

Seattle's Strange Stores and Shops

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop 

This place is not just a store. It also functions as a museum, as the owner is an avid collector of the strange and curious.  Displays of shrunken heads, 'mermaids', two-headed animals, paintings created on the heads of pins, and old carnival machinery can be found amid the shelves of equally unusual stock.   I loved this place!

The store is quite old as well.  It was begun in 1899 as a trading post during the Alaskan Gold Rush, and has remained open ever since, evolving into what it is today.  I'm not sure how long it has been a curiosity shop, but I'm guessing for quite awhile due to the large collection of oddities the store has amassed.

Seattle curiosity shop shrunken heads
Shrunken heads in "Ye Olde Curiosity Shop" in Seattle

I purchased a couple of shrunken heads, some jumping beans, and other really strange trinkets. Of course, my shrunken heads were fake, but I loved the look of them anyway.  Items I debated buying were paperweights with real bats or scarab beetles in them, jewelry carved of bone, and maggots prepared and prepackaged for your BBQ delight.  Oh, and they also sell fudge.

My jumping beans lasted for a few months before they faded away.  On a side note, in case you don't know all about jumping beans, he 'jumping beans' are actually seed pods with the larvae of small moths living inside them. As the larvae eats up the inside of the bean, the pod will twitch and roll, seemingly on its own.  Supposedly the larvae will form a pupae and eventually emerge from the hollowed-out bean as a moth, but mine must have died because no moth ever did emerge.  For a more horrific experience, people will sometimes heat their beans, causing the larvae to jump and spasm as it tries to roll the bean to a cooler place.  I did not do this, as for some reason I got really attached to my larvae.  I was quite sad when they did not hatch and emerge as moths.

Seattle Curiosity Shop mummy
Not for sale - the mummy on display in "Ye Olde Curiosity Shop" in Seattle

Not for sale at "The Olde Curiosity Shop" were the real mummies (according to the display placards), shrunken hands (also supposedly real), a grain of rice with the Lord's Prayer written on it in microscopic writing, and old fortune-teller machines from the 1920's.

Archie McPhee's

My travel companion's kids loved the "Archie McPhee" store, which is a toy store designed for children AND adults (and eclectic children at that).  Toys include The Existential Coloring Book, a Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure complete with cats, press-on tattoos of famous literary figures such as Edgar Allen Poe and Jane Austen, and other weird items of this nature. If you are looking for anything ‘bacon’, then "Archie McPhee" is your store. It featured bacon breath mints, bacon toothpaste, bacon jellybeans, bacon band-aids... you name it!

Archie McPhee Seattle bathtub tentacles
How many tentacles does it take to fill this tub? 1554 according their website!

I could have spent all day perusing the shelves of "Archie McPhee", simply to learn about all the wild and wacky products out there.  For all you entrepreneurs, if you have a totally random and even nonsensical idea for a child's toy or game, I highly suggest you approach "Archie McPhee" because they will most likely buy it from you for their store!  There was no limit to what this place will sell, it seemed!  Their slogan is "Confusing Seattle for 30 Years!" if that gives you some idea of the store's atmosphere.

Archie McPhee Wallingford Beast Seattle
The crazy and creepy Wallingford Beast in Seattle's "Archie McPhee"

The owner of this store also seemed to be a bit of an oddity collector, but didn't have as many "Not for Sale" display items as "Ye Olde Curiosity Shop".  There was the Wallingford Beast enclosed behind glass, but I have no idea what it is exactly.  You'll have to see it for yourself.

Seattle's Eclectic Art Scene

Yarn Bombing

A walk through Seattle's Occidental Park introduced me to the notion of artistic 'yarn bombing', where artists cover every day city items with bright and colorful yarn patters.  Bicycle racks, stop sign posts, and parking meters were randomly covered in delightful rainbows of yellow, pink, and orange all around the park and surrounding area.  However, my favorite items were the trees in the park itself, as virtually ALL of them were wound with happy patterns of yarn.

Seattle street art yarn trees Occidental Park
Bright and colorful yarn adorns the streets of Seattle.


In 2010, a city report stated that there was "no street art in Seattle".  So either street artists in Seattle stepped it up a notch over the next year, or that report was a bunch of hogwash.  Seattle has TONS of street art, and some of the most interesting and amazing graffiti art that I've ever seen.  In all areas of the city, whether it was downtown, near the wharf, or even in some residential neighborhoods, I saw examples of great work being done by graffiti artists.  (Real graffiti, not that tagging crap that everybody hates.)

Seattle street art wall graffiti
The graffiti in Seattle is amazing!

Installation Art

The city has commissioned some really cool installation art to remain on permanent display throughout the city as well.  Some pieces I saw during my Duck Tour, and others I encountered while strolling through the city on foot.  My two favorite pieces were the silver tree and the giant Popsicle. (Which, I learned, changes color every year.  How cool!)

Seattle street art silver tree installation
The silver tree in Seattle is a beautiful piece of installation art.

Seattle street art giant Popsicle red
Tasting the Popsicle installation art (no, I didn't actually touch it with my tongue! YUCK!)

Totem Poles

It wouldn't be a northwest coast art scene without some totem poles. Being Canadian and a frequent visitor to Vancouver and Long Island, B.C., I appreciate a well-carved and colorful totem pole.  It was even better to meet a carver on the street and watch him craft a very big and very detailed totem pole right there in front of me.

Seattle street art totem poles
A totem pole being carved right there on the Seattle street.

I was only in Seattle for a short time, and between visiting the classic tourist attractions, and searching for the curious, eclectic and strange, this was all I had time to see.  What's your favorite piece of Seattle street art or your favorite strange store?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Top 10 Things to do in New York City (On a 3 Day Trip)

Statue of Liberty Top 10 New York
Quick trip? Then don't miss these famous landmarks in the "Big Apple"!

I could easily live in New York. It really is the city that never sleeps, but not only that, it never even gets tired! I visited one summer with some work friends, and am just waiting for the day when I get to return.

I was only in New York for three short days, but those days were certainly worth it! In the three days, I felt like I barely scratched the surface of what this fascinating city has to offer. I have the feeling you could spend a lifetime in New York, and be surprised each and every day by something new, if only you had the curiosity to explore.

Here's my list of Top 10 things to experience while in the good ol' 'Big Apple'.

1. Boat Tour of Manhattan

Our first day in New York was gloomy and overcast, and so the very first thing I ever did in New York City was buy an umbrella. I took the touristy route and bought one that proclaimed “New York New York” all over its black top. I love it to this day. I know, I know, I’m a walking tourist trap - but really, what is the harm in that? I am excited to be anywhere, and when I’m traveling, the place I’m visiting becomes the most exciting place in the world to me. Thus, I buy tacky umbrellas and get really excited about them.

We bought tickets to a Circle Line Sightseeing cruise boat tour, which took us around the tip of Manhattan Island and back again. We sailed past the beautiful Statue of Liberty, Immigration Island, and along the New Jersey shore, then up along the other side of Manhattan and under the Brooklyn Bridge before turning around and going back again.

On the boat tour of Manhattan - such great sights!

It was POURING down rain at the beginning of the boat tour, which caused nearly all of the occupants to cluster below deck where they were safe and warm. Not us Canadians! The warm (but strangely fish-scented) rain didn’t deter us, and we were rewarded by our stubbornness with prime seats on the top deck. We had excellent views of the Empire State Building, the Trump Tower, and many other major New York landmarks.

The Manhattan skyline during sunset.

2. Empire State Building

After looking at the Empire State building for so long, and from so many different angles, we decided to visit it in person. After a lovely Italian dinner in a quaint restaurant with a live opera singer (don’t ask me where it was - we found it after randomly strolling through the streets of Manhattan, getting lost about a million times), we hailed a taxi to the Empire State building. It was night by the time we arrived, but the view was not lost in the dark: in fact, I believe it was enhanced in the evening, as the lights of New York sprawled out as far as the eye could see. It was breath-taking!

A view of NYC at night from atop the Empire State Building

Many people complain that the Empire State Building is a waste of time: long line-ups, costly entrance fees, and an anti-climactic view once you reach the top. Well, I am here to say that we barely waited in line, the elevator ride was quick and efficient, the entrance fee was *slightly* costly (but how often am I going to go up there, for goodness sake? Get over the price), and the view was fantastic. I think, however, it is probably better at night. The day might offer a bit of a blander view without all those bright and sparkly lights.

3. Times Square

Our hotel was about three blocks from Times Square (and was only $99 per night - I thought that was a pretty good deal considering the gorgeous state of our rooms). We moved from the Empire State Building to Times Square and decided to spend some time exploring before we meandered back to our lodgings.

In the center of Times Square, enjoying the hustle and bustle.

Times Square is certainly exciting to see for the first time: the plethora of lights, images, sounds, people, colors, vendors... it is a whirlwind! But after the initial shock wears off, Times Square becomes another, more Technicolor version of an outdoor market. There are performance artists, street vendors, 24-hour restaurants, flashing TV screens, people shouting and laughing, horns blasting... at all hours! My female colleague Teresa and I were suckered into buying sketches of ourselves, which were fun to pose for but looked nothing like us in the end.

4. Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts

The next day, Teresa and I explored the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts. The museum is so huge that you can't possibly explore it all in a day, or even two. My advice is to pick a couple of areas that you are most interested in, and enjoy those. I am into Egyptian relics, so I just adored the Egyptian wing with the Temple of Dendur. The majority of my time was spent in that section. I did find some other classics, such as Degas, to peruse as well.

rooftop art installation New York Met Museum
The rooftop art installation at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art.

5. Central Park

Once Teresa and I were done with the Met, we spend some time wandering Central Park. Once again, this place is so expansive that you could spend all day in the park and not even come close to seeing it all. I don't even know exactly what areas we did see, but what I do know is that I loved the park. If I were a resident of Manhattan, I'd be in Central Park every day.

Central Park is so beautiful, and there's so much to do!

Of the different areas in Central Park that we visited, my favorite was the Bethesda Terrace with its giant Angel of the Waters fountain and pond. The Lower Passage is architecturally beautiful, with sweeping arches and artistic panels. A performer with a grand piano of some kind was playing classic Dave Brubeck during our visit.

I also really liked the 'Alice in Wonderland' statue and of course, the various street artists. Naturally, I filmed as many of them performing as I could, because I'm a nerd like that.

The strangest grand piano I've ever seen in Central Park, NYC.

6. Visit Ground Zero and Pay Your Respects

Downtown Manhattan has a lot to see for the out-of-towner: Wall Street, Trinity Church, Battery Park. But if you are going to see anything in that area, you really need to go pay your respects at Ground Zero. When we were there, construction was just getting started on the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. There was nothing 'polished' to see, but it was powerful nonetheless.  There really aren't words to express the emotion you feel standing there. It is very sobering.

Preparing Ground Zero for the beautiful memorial that is there today.

7. Visit the Various Neighborhoods (Like Greenwich Village)

We also walked up and down Soho and Greenwich Village, enjoying the quaint apartment buildings, green spaces, restaurants, and boutiques. I really liked the areas on Greenwich with the cobblestoned streets and flower-festooned balconies. It felt very European. It was in these 'trendy' but cute neighborhoods we did most of our shopping.

Due to our time in SoHo, we had lovely spa day in the Upper East Side (see post #45. Spend a day at a spa (in New York City!) after what you might call a shaky start to the spa trip.

8. See a Broadway Show

We capped off the night by soaking in a performance of “Wicked”, which was amazing! It was fun to say we'd seen a musical on Broadway, but to be perfectly honest, it was nothing extraordinary. I thought "Wicked" was a spectacular show, but it would have been just as good in Calgary or Vancouver. What I am trying to say is that if you have very little time in New York, or limited funds, seeing a show on Broadway need not be a priority. It would be just as well to wait until the show travels to your nearest musical theater venue and see it there. Probably cheaper, too.

Seeing "Wicked" on Broadway was fun but a bit expensive.

What your local musical theater venue probably WON'T have are all the various street performers milling around outside. I had almost just as much fun watching the percussionist with a plain bucket do his thing as I did watching "Wicked'. Almost...

After the Broadway show, Teresa and I made our way back to our hotel. This is where the night started to get a little interesting, and proved for me, definitively, that this is the city that never sleeps - but is always ready for some excitement!

9. Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall

We visited Radio City Music Hall and the NBC Studios (just outside though, no tour as they were both closed due to the late hour). Then we went to Rockefeller Center where I was sad to see that they do not have a skating rink available year round. (No, I didn't expect it. But I did wish it.) To quench my disappointment, Teresa and I went shopping around Times Square where I bought my first 'name-brand' purse.

Radio City Music Hall, all lit up at night.  Wish we had been able to tour it!

We got back to the hotel after wandering Times Square. We changed into club clothes because Teresa wanted to go salsa dancing with a friend at a bar in SoHo. We couldn't get a hold of her friend, but were all dressed up and looking good, so we went down to the hotel concierge to see if there was any place nearby that was known for dancing.

10. Go Clubbing in NYC

Teresa and I headed to this nearby club, only 11 blocks away (only!!). We walked because we’re dumb, but happily no one was mugged, raped, or murdered (thank you NYC!). We got to the address our concierge had given us only to find it was a male-only gay dance club. The bouncer was super friendly, and recommended a place one block away that he thought we might have fun at instead.

We arrived without incident at the other club. This one was an all-black hip-hop establishment (I hope that's okay to say, because really, that's what it was. We were the only white girls in the line-up when we arrived.) The bouncer wasn't sure about letting us in seeing as we didn't really fit the typical clientele image, but we must have seemed willing and ready to have fun dancing, so he lowered the cover charge for us and let us through.

Found me some of New York City's finest!

Teresa and I had so much fun - we danced in the middle of the dance floor, and trust me, we dance like your stereotypical 'white girls'. I have no rhythm and my feet don't usually even leave the ground.  I wiggle more than dance. We were the ONLY white girls in the entire establishment - no joke or exaggeration. The ONLY ones. Teresa was also dressed as a 1960s hippie, her usual style. I was dressed much too preppy. We didn't fit in AT ALL. But we had a BLAST being a ‘spectacle’- people were dancing with us constantly, and taking pictures with us, chatting with us, having a good time. We didn't leave the dance floor the whole time we were there. We didn't even have a drink, since we'd already missed last call.

By 4:00 a.m., the club closed, but not before we made new friends from Harlem, Queens, and Brooklyn who gave us numbers to call if we wanted to watch fireworks with them the next day for the 4th of July.

Watching the fireworks over the Hudson River on the 4th of July.

Finally we made it home to the hotel after getting lost once (lost at 4:30 a.m. in NYC - a bit intimidating). We crawled into our hotel beds and crashed - what a fun evening! You can pack A LOT into three days in New York, but prepare to be tired!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Destination: Memory Lane - DTWH's New Blogging Challenge

This is a true fact: we travel bloggers can sure spin a tale.  We have stockpiled stories, from accounts of stunning beauty to hilarity to despair.  We talk about food, music, meeting strangers, and modes of transportation.  We share insider tips on prices and bookings, how to charm hoteliers and restaurateurs, and how to go to the bathroom in a variety of cultures. Our blogs are filled with literally hundreds of anecdotes about our travel memories.

That is why Down the Wrabbit Hole - The Travel Bucket List has created the "Destination: Memory Lane" Blogging Challenge.  We have asked travel bloggers to sift and filter through your hundreds of fantastic travel posts and present the TOP FIVE posts that contain your favorite travel memories.  These posts don't have be your best inspirational stories, infomercials for locales, or even contain great photography.  The purpose of this blogging challenge is to help your readers get to know you a little better by sharing five important and personal travel posts that are dear to your heart.

Here's what you have to do:

1)  Introduce your "Destination: Memory Lane" post with a summary of the blogging challenge's purpose.  You may copy the summary here or create your own.
2)  Repost the "Destination: Memory Lane" Blogging Challenge banner and these rules to assist those you nominate later on.
3) List the titles of FIVE cherished travel blog posts in your new blog post.  Provide internal links to those posts for your readers so that if they want, they can explore the stories fully.
4)  Summarize the main idea of each story in five sentences or less. Keep it short and sweet, but enticing!
5)  Nominate FIVE other travel bloggers to participate in this challenge.  Choose people you'd like to get to know a little better.  (And don't forget to let them know you've nominated them!)

*It is also good netiquette to link back to the person who nominated you.  Let's create a supportive network for one another!

So, without further ado, here is my contribution to the "Destination: Memory Lane" Blogging Challenge.

My Top Five Travel Memory Posts

1. Camping Through Iceland while 4 Months Pregnant - It was cold.  It was rainy.  The ground was hard.  I had some residual morning sickness. But it was beautiful and unique, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

2.  Partying it up with some some Scottish Military personnel my first night in Scotland - It started with two older gentlemen who drug us to a shady side-street, promising a better pub experience.  It ended with a drunken bevy of military bagpipers.  What a way to start my trip to Scotland!

3. Getting stranded at the Philadelphia airport overnight - I had no money, no luggage, and no where to stay.  I slept with some of the more interesting homeless citizens of Philadelphia on the airport floor.  And then I got flown home first class because I cried hysterically to the ticket agent. Go figure.

4. Going ziplining in my wedding dress - My hubby and I plunged through the Costa Rican jungle canopy in our wedding finest, after getting married on the beach.  My dress is completely shredded and will be of no use to my daughter in the future!

5. Riding in a helicopter over the Canadian Rocky Mountains - The majesty of the Canadian Rockies stuns me every time, even though I live only a few hours away from them. Flying over them is something completely different. Sometimes you have to remember to appreciate the beauty of your own 'backyard'.

Travel memories keep me alive when I'm not on the road.  For real.

I hope you enjoy reading about these travel memories as they are some of my favorite (yes, even the bad ones).  Here's to many more to come!

And now I have the extreme pleasure of nominating five more fantastic travel bloggers to perpetuate the travel love:

1) Mags on the Move
2) Girl vs Globe
3) Global Mouse
4) Just A Pack
5) Travel Geek UK