Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy Holidays from Orlando!

Wishing everyone a very happy 2011, and offering some tips to follow for visiting Orlando with a family over the winter vacation:

TIP #1: Don’t bother getting tickets for the Magic Kingdom or staying in the Magic Kingdom area unless your kids are big Disney fans. We
hear the parks fill up fast and the traffic getting to Disney is insane!

We took Yamini to “Downtown Disney,” a shopping and entertainment area and got her a princess makeover - hair, nails, makeup, a bag of stuff to keep -- all for $56. Total deal, unless you go and buy the ugly princess dresses.

TIP #2: Get the multi-day passes to the parks you like, because the price isn’t much more and then you feel more free to come and go. We did 2 days at Sea World and a 7 day pass to Universal. (Best tip - stay at one of the Loews Hotels on the Universal property, then you get a free Express Pass on the rides and you can walk or take a mini boat ride to the park.)

TIP #3: Get to parks EARLY. We got shut out of Universal Islands of Adventure one day. Next day we got there by 8am and there were 5 minute waits for some of the rides! If you wait in a long line with your kids, Universal has this nice "kid swap" area, where one of you can go on with the kids, the other person holds the bag, jackets, etc, and then the other adult can go on, so the kids get two rides without waiting in line twice.

Best roller coasters, ranked by my family:
  1. Manta (at Sea World) - you are strapped in and the seat then moves up, so you are horizontal. It feels like you are flying!! So beautiful.
  2. Tie between Hulk and Dragon Challenge (kids like the blue cars better on the latter)
  3. Rip Ride Rocket
  4. Kraken (at Sea World)

Other awesome rides - Ripsaw Falls (great log flume with Dudley Do-Right jokes) & the Mummy (small roller coaster, but in the dark!).

For those of you (like me and Trevor) who are into Harry Potter - there were huge lines for everything!! But, the stuff we saw was pretty well done . . they have lots of cute details like the shops from Hogsmeade and Daigon Alley, etc. The Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice were good!

At Sea World, don’t miss some of the shows - we got to see a new Baby Shamu at the killer whale show and cracked up at the corny Seal and Otter Show, “Clyde and Seamore”! :)

TIP #4: Try not to eat any full meals in the park or on International Drive, unless you like Chain Restaurant food. We ate breakfast in the room or at WAFFLE HOUSE (yum). We at lunch at Whole Foods (10 minutes from Universal) and we ate dinner in downtown Orlando or the Winter Park neighborhood. On Xmas Day and New Year’s Eve, we made dinner in our time-share.

Best Orlando restaurants:
  • We love Houston’s (aka Hillstone Grill). It is in a beautiful setting here and has great food, drinks and service.
  • Old School Steak House - Linda’s La Cantina -- checkered tablecloths, great salad and awesome steaks!
  • Four Rivers Smokehouse - great variety of BBQ to eat at outdoor picnic tables (BYO), yummy BBQ sauce and very friendly management!! Our faves were the brisket, St. Louis ribs and pulled pork, but the chicken was pretty tasty too!
  • For desert, we went to Jeremiah’s (an italian ice and soft-serve stand), Mochi Frozen Yogurt (YUM!), or for the peppermint milkshake -- Chick-fill-a!!
TIP #5: If you are in Orlando for your whole winter vacation, remember not to spend all your time in the parks. We slept late, played mini golf, went outlet shopping (didn’t buy much), and relaxed in the room reading, doing homework, watching TV, and hanging out with each other! Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

December in New York City

The holidays are always hectic but fun in NYC.
On some sunny days, the boys
headed off to the basketball courts with some old friends to run around. Battery Park City is pretty throughout the year, but when the crowds start to thin in the winter time, it can be particularly peaceful.

Also in December, I always try to take my Global History classes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. School can be a little crazy right before the winter break, and it is nice to get
out of the building during the holiday season and to look at some of the wonderful museum pieces from the different time periods the kids need to know about.

In the Middle Ages, we found some nice items for the Christmas season -- my favorite somber wood carving of the Virgin & Child, and a little tiny crib for Jesus that people used to keep in their homes or castles!

This year, in the Egyptian Wing, one of my students found these hidden shelves with some items from the pharaohs' tombs. . On one shelf were the tiniest little animals carved out of beautifully colored stones. It is amazing how much time you can spend at the Met and still discover new things!
And of course, what holiday season would be complete without some kind of musical performance. The kids in my school chorus did a wonderful show, but the Downtown Community Center really outdid itself this year.
. .They combined all the after-school dance programs into one huge Nutcracker with many different dance pieces.

There were over 150 hand-made costumes and a full dress rehearsal the day of the performance. Yamini was lucky enough to be Clara in the opening scene, and she got to turn the pages of the big "Nutcracker" book on the stage!
Finally, on the last weekend before the vacation, we took Yamini to see
the Mark Morris version of the Nutcracker ("The Hard Nut") at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Our seats were awesome - obstructed view right over the orchestra pit - only a tiny bit obstructed, but we
could see the dancers so closely!!
The snowflake scene was just so beautiful -- male and female dancers leaping across the stage, as bits of snow flew up from their hands and sprinkled down on them while they danced. Pure joy!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Six Month Recap

It is now just after Thanksgiving, and we realized that we are sending out holiday cards that identify this blog . . .and we have not added anything to it in over six months!!
(Bad, bad bloggers . .)

So, for those of you checking in, here’s what we were up to in the second half of 2010:

-- Lots of Fun in NYC
Saw some musical performances (Jason Derulo,
Jakob Dylan, Avett Brothers), went to new
(and old favorite restaurants (Pulino's, Big Wong, Shake Shack), went to lots of museums, little league and Yankee games, and the US Open (Vamos Rafa!!).

-- More Fun in PA
Jumped on the trampoline, hung out with grandparents, aunts & uncles, and cousins Jackson, Darby & Flynn, went to lots of carnivals, ate lots of ice cream and other good food, nursed the occasional frog that showed up in our backyard.

-- Rites of Passage

Trevor & William graduated from
PS234 and moved on in September to two different middle schools. William is in Chelsea, Trevor in Chinatown and both are with old and new friends and doing very well.

Polly died peacefully in her sleep this November, after almost 15 wonderful years with our family. We were really sad and we miss her, but we are happy that she had such a good doggy life and was such a true and loyal member of our pack!

-- Summer Road Trip
We packed the whole crew in the car and made two stops at the Jersey Shore (Ventnor and Avon-by-the-Sea), then drove up to Maine for some picturesque views and good lobster, and back down through bucolic Berlin, NY on the way home. In each spot with stayed with close family and friends (thanks to all our hosts) and the kids had a blast.

-- Happy Holidays
Enjoyed Halloween in New York, Thanksgiving in PA and also celebrated some Indian (Hindu) Holidays like Ganesh Chaturthi (see the little elephant) with Yamini and the members of our NYC "Mixed Masala" group (some of whom have a “Desi” mom or dad, some of whom are also adoptees from India). For Christmas and New Years, we are off to Orlando with Matt’s parents, so we will be sure to post from sunny Florida!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Last Day in Japan!

Woke up, realized that we were the only Westerners getting a Japanese breakfast in the hotel, but decided not to ask about it because the Western style breakfast had
lots of fried things and some odd looking pastries. Boys decided they were happier with just rice and Yamini was okay with rice and miso soup.
Took the city bus from near the hotel to to the Kiyomizudera Temple. Bus lets you off at the bottom of a hill on a city street, then you walk up through a pretty little street with snack foods and souvenir shops. Then you get up to the temple complex which is at the top of the hill with a view over the city. It was crowded but so beautiful. We walked around to get the views from all the different terraces and it looked like the temple was floating on the cherry blossom trees.

Then we walked down the hill (with a stop for some ice cream) and walked to another temple - Sanjusangen-do. The kids were like, “Oh, no, another Temple!” but when we went inside they changed their minds. There is one huge central figure of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Kannon. Then, on either side are 1,000 other
golden kannon statues and other deities guarding them. The 1,001 statues are made out of cypress but painted gold, so they look really cool. Yamini and I liked that the guardians were all inspired by Buddhist gods that were similar to HIndu gods, so they all had Indian names too. In front of the central buddha, there was a shrine and you could buy candles to burn. They had these big white candles and you could write your wishes on them with a black marker, so everyone in our family wrote a wish on one of the candles. It was really cool. You were not allowed to take pictures there, but I downloaded a picture from the web. . .

Next we made our way back to Kyoto station, so we could get some lunch to eat on the train to a baseball game in Nagoya. We went to the basement of the Isetan dept. store and kids got (no surprise) chicken and Matt and Amy got their favorite “sushi chunks over rice with other stuff bowls.” We discovered we had a favorite pastry place in the train station where kids got sugared donuts and Amy had a “cherry blossom” muffin. Train ride was short, then Matt tried to lead us on a walk to the Nagoya Dome which turned out to be nearly a 30 minute cab ride away. Amy nearly had a heart attack when she read “13:00” as the time (instead of 15:00) on
the Japanese tickets and thought we were 2 hours late, but it turned out that was just the time the stadium opened.
About baseball in a dome with astroturf: boring. About baseball in a stadium with enthusiastic Japanese fans: fun. So the fun crowd made up for the boring environment we cheered with the other Hanshin Tiger fans when Kenji Jojima hit a 7th inning home run to tie the game against the Nagoya Dragons. We still don’t know if they won though, b/c we had to leave to catch a train back to Kyoto. Got back in time for a late dinner which turned out to be Sukiyaki. You cook meat in a sizzling pan with some soy-based broth, add some tofu and vegetables, and then you eat the sliced cooked meat in a little bowl with raw scrambled egg. (Yamini and Amy tried theirs with the egg - boys did not.)

On our last morning, we took a walk around the hotel neighborhood for an hour just to get some fresh air before a LONG day of travel. Shinkansen train to Tokyo, then Airport Express Train to Narita, then a 3 hour wait in the airport for our 13+ hour flight back to NYC. Spent our last Yen in the airport stores and now we’re on our way home!

Final Impression from Amy & Matt - while there are definitely more places we want to see, we will come back to Japan. Matt thought it was not as expensive as he was told. Amy could have spent at least 2 weeks in and around Kyoto. Yamini still wants to ride the roller coaster near the Tokyo Dome. Will says Japan was “nice” and “baguette-full.”
Trevor says he had fun, and “Go Tigers!”

Thanks for reading our blog! We’ll write more when we have some more “adventures.”

Friday, April 2, 2010

Kyoto - A Castle & 2 Temples

Had breakfast in the hotel. They set it up in a downstairs room at tables. Breakfast included many different styles of tofu, so the kids ate rice and some smoked salmon. Walked from the hotel to the Nijo castle, which was home to the Tokugawa Shogun in the 1600-1700s. Very cool b/c it has the "nightengale" floors that sqeak on purpose when you walk on them so ninja assassins could not sneak up and murder the castle dwellers. T & W got some samurai sword souvenirs.
Started to walk t
owards the Temple of the Golden Pavillion, but ended up in a cab b/c it was too far out. The gold floors of the temple (viewed from outside . .you can't go in) are dazzling. It shined so bright, it hurt our eyes! Gardens were pretty. Lots of places to give coins to buddhas.

Advice to adults traveling with kids - give kids lots of treats when you take them to historic sights. They had ice cream before the temple and then we stopped at some Euro style cafe afterwards, where Trevor & Yamini had waffles with whipped creme.

Next temple was Ryoangi, which is famous for its Zen rock garden. Matt was starting to balk at the admission prices for everything, and when we walked in and saw the rock garden, the kids were like, "We paid for this?" But actually, once we sat down on the benches and looked at the garden for a while, we all really liked it! Trevor and Amy were wondering if monks brag to each other about how many chants they can do in a certain amount of time or how many rocks they rake in a day. :)

We tried waiting for a bus that would take
us back to the Kyoto train station where we had to pick up some tickets and wanted to check out the stores. We ended up in a taxi after two buses came by that were not going in our direction. The train station is really cool because it has a shopping mall, a movie theater, a hotel, and an observation deck above it. We went up to the roof, walked through the Isetan department store, and the boys did a race down the roof

Got back to the hotel with some time to relax before dinner. Tonight's dinner was Shabu-Shabu beef, a sort of make your own veggie omlette thing, more sushi, pork, noodles, rice, fruit, tea, etc. There was definitely enough food for 10 of us! (But that's also b/c William eats enough for half a small child!) Tomorrow is our last day in Japan for activities and Sunday will basically be an all-day travel day, so check in one last time tomorrow and thanks for following our blog! P.S. this video is for 12 year olds and younger.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tokyo to Kyoto

On Wednesday night, while Amy was downloading the pictures from her camera, Matt decided to do some laundry. We were thinking maybe he was going to rinse out some socks and underwear in the sink, but to our surprise he put all the dirty clothes into the bathtub and soaked them. When Amy walked into the bathroom, she found sopping wet jeans, t-shirts, and other items hanging all over. So, Thursday morning was spent with Matt trying first to blow-dry, then to iron dry all of our clothes. While he did this and Amy packed, the kids played hide and seek in a 300 square foot room, which takes some creativity. Trevor wrapped himself in a robe and stood like a statue in the corner, thinking nobody would see him. Will tried to hide in a drawer and almost had a suitcase and a dresser fall on him.

We checked our bags in the hotel lobby and decided to see one more Tokyo site before we took the Shinkansen (rapid) Train to Kyoto. We went to the Asakusa neighbohood to see the Senso-ji Temple, the oldest Buddhist Temple in Tokyo. It has these huge hanging lanterns and a little street leads up to it that sells all these Japanese snacks and souvenirs. We got some little crackers that looked like mini rice crispie treats. By this time, we were very good at taking the Tokyo subway, and could even purchase tickets by pushing the buttons in Japanese!

On the way back to pick up our bags, we stopped at the Mitsukoshi department store food hall and got lunch to eat on the train. Boys got the usual baguette and chicken yakitori, Yamini got a strawberry and banana sandwich with whipped cream, and Matt and Amy had sushi and some Japanese sausages. We love these food halls.
Waiting for the train was very civilized. The train pulls into the station, and all these ladies get on to clean it. 5 minutes before departure, they get off, everyone takes their assigned seats and the train leaves on time. Lots of leg room and big windows to see the view that goes whizzing by. In under three hours we were in Kyoto. It was 6pm and raining, and Amy was wishing she had reserved the luxury hotel right above the train station so we could just be there already.
Instead, we got the lady in the tourist office to write down the Ryokan address in Japanese so we could give it to a taxi driver. We got to the hotel which seems to be in a nice neighborhood and checked out our tatami room. We miss our fancy Toto toilet from the Tokyo hotel, but this is a very cool experience.

Amy was also worried about whether the boys would eat anything in the hotel-provided dinner, but when they carried in our HUGE trays of food, we saw steak, and we knew it would be okay. There was steak to cook yourself, a hot pot with broth & seafood, sushi, miso soup, japanese pickles, rice, fruit for dessert and a couple weird un-identifiable items. When dinner was over, they came and laid out our futon beds for sleeping and took away the table and we were ready for bed!
One other cool thing is how everyone is so exciting about the Cherry Blossoms and how they bring Spring. We saw all these beautiful cherry blossomed themed desserts in the food halls, and in the Kyoto Tourist Office, they even had a Cherry Blossom viewing chart, which Amy thinks indicates buds versus blooms!