Friday, February 29, 2008


Summer 2007

We have always wanted to go to Alaska and from what we read and heard, cruising is the best way to see it. So, we had such a great time on the Princess cruise last summer in Europe... we booked it for Alaska -- Inner Passage.
We arrived in Seattle a day ahead of time to see a bit of the city and be ready to get on the ship without any delays on the day of departure.
Seattle is a great city... It is a hidden gem and we loved it. We stayed downtown and walked down to the Market by the docks the next morning. The people are great and we made a mental note that we have to go back with the kids and spend more time there.
My parents came along with us for the cruise because they have always wanted to see Alaska, too. We board the ship and are so excited for the adventure that lies ahead...
The girls know the drill... and take their positions on our room's balcony as we leave the port... So much ahead for us... we are very excited...

Now, we found cruising to be amazing. You can book excursions at each port through the cruise ship or you can explore on your own. Since, we have never been to any of these places, we chose to book some shore excursions... most of which my parents joined us, which made it really fun.

Juneau -- summer dog sledding camp:

Now, if you are an animal lover like me, you may think that this is not fun for the dogs... But, we came to learn that the dogs absolutely LOVE it... you can see from this picture that they are rolling around or waiting to get going... They love to run and this is their workout for the winter races... The trainers treat them so well and truly love all the dogs:

Tracy Arm Fjord -- glacier cruising:
If you have never seen a glacier... please put it on your list! It is an unbelievable sight to see... really takes your breath away:

We were feeling very adventurous and decided to book the sea plane excursion to a crab feast at the George Inlet lodge. Now, our 6 year old daughter had such a brave face. But, as soon as we were all fastened in with our headphones on (in an 8 seater plane) and we started to taxi out into the choppy water for our takeoff... the waterworks began. It may have been a year or two too early for her because our 8 year old thought it was a blast. I have to say that I thought it was a little scary, too... Shhh! We kept her distracted for the 15-20 minute flight when we landed (on the water) at the lodge for the crab feast...
After our arrival with our pilot (Granny is happy to be on solid ground, can you tell?):

Here's our little plane... leaving... we are taking a bus back to the ship... (big sigh of relief from my youngest (and me)... ;-)

Copyright 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Summer 2006

Does it live up to the hype? Yes and No... Yes -- it is absolutely gorgeous... the buildings almost seem fake they are so ornamented and over the top. No -- because the rude Parisians really can ruin it for you... We actually had a sales lady (in a store that we were shopping at) make some odd noise and flick her finger at us when we asked her where something was... Now to be fair, we weren't speaking French, but even when you try the basics... it seems to offend them... And, this was a tourist spot we were at and many different languages were being spoken. I do have to say as a side note how amazed we were by how many people from other countries did speak English... Our driver in Holland spoke something like 4-5 languages. But, they do teach them this in school... Our kids are lucky if they learn Spanish in school... I did find that most Americans expected the locals to speak English, which is very presumptuous and arrogant in itself. A little tip -- try to learn at least the basics of the language in the country you are visiting... i.e., "hello," "goodbye," "thank you," "excuse me," you will find that most people you meet really do appreciate it. Not so much in Paris though... ;-)
The only analogy I can give you is this -- Paris is like a beautiful woman who is very conscious of her beauty and it defines her...
Whereas, a place like Bruge is like a beautiful woman who is unaware of how beautiful she is and carries on like everyone else...
Our port was Le Havre and the ride (by bus) into Paris was almost 3 hours... Our guide was from outside Paris and she was very sweet... she tried to explain the arrogance of the Parisians, but you have to see it to believe it... She also assured us that all Parisians are not this way and most French people do not have this attitude either... We only went to Paris, so we cannot confirm or deny this.
Now, the city itself is probably one of the prettiest I have ever seen... and they know this. They pride themselves on being the most beautiful city in the world. Now, I haven't been close to seeing every city in the world, but it is difficult to believe there is a prettier one out there... The food, the Louvre, the Eiffel tower, the shopping, the Arc de Triomphe, the museums... all of this is hard to argue with...

But, when we are traveling with our girls -- the locals and their personalities define a place more than the beauty we see... Anyway, we did see some amazing architecture and historical sites and I am so glad we went... Would we go back to Paris? Maybe without the kids... maybe not...
Now, I would like to explore some of the towns outside of Paris someday, but it did drop down on our list of places we have to see after this visit...

Copyright 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bruge, Belgium

Summer 2006

This was probably my favorite city so far... It is absolutely gorgeous and the people are fabulous. We took a walking tour and it was so wonderful. This is the town center that I wanted to stay at forever...

We saw a few very old churches tucked away here and there and they let you take pictures inside at the one below... So, I had to play the ugly American and get a shot... Just think... if I didn't, you wouldn't be able to see it -- so there. ;-) I loved this church... it was tiny and lit up by the sunlight.

Then, we had to see the canal by boat/taxi. The 'taxi drivers' here are so cute and apparently it is a very coveted position... They like Bruge being small and quaint and we get the feeling they want to keep it that way... I am not sure if it will remain undiscovered when the new Colin Farrel movie comes out this year... That should be a great one -- at least I know the setting is amazing -- Colin Farrel is not too bad either...

If you do get a chance to visit Belgium... the chocolate is truly as amazing as they say... They are the only place allowed by law to use more cocoa in their chocolate (or so they told me) and you can really taste the difference... Chocolate stores are all over the place and well worth a visit to stock up. We had our bag on our slow walk back to our ride... we didn't want to leave...

Copyright 2008


Summer 2006

We had so much that we wanted to see in Holland that we hired a driver for the day... well worth it... He spoke English and was very patient with us... Our first stop was Amsterdam and the canals... My only regret is that we were so limited on time that we could not wait in the very long line to visit Anne Frank's house -- definitely will make the stop next time. We did take a tour of the canals on a river-taxi/bus...

There were little houseboats all along the canals... very cool. This is a tulip market... seriously... it was so stinkin' cute!

Now, Amsterdam is well known for its red-light district (not at all kid-friendly), legalized drugs and amazing museums... (at least that is what I hear...) Ohhh and apparently, tulips and windmills are a pretty big deal here, too ;-)
We did have a great lunch right in town with some of the best people-watching I have ever seen.

Now, we did have to explain the legalized drug situation to the girls (at least briefly and without too much detail) because we did have a lady sitting next to us at lunch that was having a very loud argument with her "invisible friend." It made me realize that with legalized drug use comes a whole bag of worms, too. It sounds great if you are backpacking through Europe after high school or college -- why wouldn't you stop here to check out the scene? But, we got the feeling that it may attract people with other issues, like those suffering from mental illness or other psychological problems as a safe haven. Now, it seems harmless enough as a tourist. But, it is the one stop on our trip that we were warned to keep our kids close to us -- and watch our wallets and/or purse. Now, they say pickpocketing is something you have to be careful of in many places throughout Europe -- like Venice for instance. But, I have never been told to keep my "kids close."

In retrospect, it may not be any different than all of the poor homeless people who line the streets in Washington, DC who are war veterans or suffer from mental illness. Who knows... I am not here to answer life's mysteries... maybe you can.
Back to the tulips and windmills...
Speaking of windmills... check this one out... It was built when? Look closely at the blue sign...

Next stop -- the Van Gogh museum. Van Gogh's work is organized chronologically into five periods, each representing a different phase of his life and work: The Netherlands, Paris, Arles, Saint-Remy and Auvers-sur-Oise. It was amazing. It is the largest collection of his work in the world.
Then, we were off the the beach to see where the locals summer. Apparently, this has become a favorite beach town for Germans, which our driver seemed a bit annoyed by... Gee, I can't imagine why... yikes! It was beautiful, of course. But, it was pretty chilly for a summer afternoon...

Bergen, Norway

Summer 2006

Ahhh, Norway... This was a great stop. The people were so lovely and the sights were gorgeous. But, let me tell you... prices for everything here are outrageous! We stopped in a McDonalds to use the bathroom (really, we did not eat at a single McDonalds on our whole trip -- although it may be tempting sometimes with kids -- don't do it!) A Big Mac was 70 krona -- that's over $11! I even took a picture of it b/c I thought noone would believe me...

We ate lunch in town -- pizza and drinks and it was over $100. Now, the people here are so friendly and pleasant that it does take some of the sting out of it, but I don't know if I could spend more than a few days here or we might have to re-finance our mortgage ;-)
We took a ride on a tram to the top of Mount Floyen. It is about a 7-8 minute ride inside a tunnel and out at the top... so cool and the views of the town were amazing.

A view from a pier in town.

A quaint outdoor cafe by the outdoor daily markets...

They had the coolest town center where locals were playing games outside -- all big versions of traditional gameboard games.

Copyright 2008

Dublin & Edinburgh

Summer 2006

I have some Irish in my blood, so I have always wanted to explore Ireland... it seemed so mystical in theory and I have to say... it did not disappoint. Now, our only stop was Dublin and we want to go back to see the rest of the country. But, I think we laughed the hardest listening to an Irish guide describe the city and people... The Irish sure do know how to laugh and we enjoyed every minute there... We visited Dublin Castle and Trinity College and its library -- I love libraries... (A little side note -- the Folger Shakepeare Library in DC on Capitol Hill is my all-time favorite -- awesome!)
The girls loved the castles, which are impressive and make you wish you had read your history book a little closer... It's never too late ;-)

We did stop to pick up a couple of books on the history of Ireland, Scotland and England... I became fascinated by Mary, Queen of Scots... Now, that was a tough chic... Edinburgh was truly amazing... Old Town is just dripping with history and charm and New Town is contemporary and full of life. I loved this sculpture of Sir Walter Scott...

And, this drawing on the ground...

Now, Edinburgh Castle is crazy cool... The Lang Stairs - 70 steps providing access to the summit were built by French prisoners (now that's punishment) -- I would chuckle to myself about this later when we visit Paris and meet some of the rude French people (I should say Parisians because we are told outside of Paris the French can be very friendly... we'll have to test that someday ;-)... Edinburgh Castle is an ancient stronghold that dominates the sky-line of the city from its position atop Castle Rock and it is truly incredible.

From a distance...

Copyright 2008

First travels abroad

Summer 2006

We decided to make our first trip to Europe with the kids and take a cruise, so we could see as much as possible in a short period of time. This was a great decision. We chose Princess cruises and absolutely loved it. We flew on Virgin Atlantic from LAX to London/Heathrow... It was about a 9-10 hour flight and Virgin does a great job of making you comfortable and entertaining the kids (who had their own satellite tv and movies at their seat)... We will always fly them if at all possible...
We got to London at around 12noon local time and were feeling OK, although neither my husband nor I can sleep on a plane... major bummer. But, our girls can and they were bright eyed and bushy tailed... We took a cab from the airport to our hotel to find that our room wasn't ready... and we had booked 1 room for 4 people... a big no-no in Europe... I did make the reservations stating it was 2 adults and 2 children. Whatever.
We decided to go have lunch and come back later to see what they came up with...
Lunch was great and the locals are charming -- I don't know what it is, but I am just in love with the English... First of all, Ricky Gervais is one of my all-time favorite people (Extras and the Office are the absolute best)... Coldplay, the Beatles, Hugh Grant, James Blunt, Coupling vs. Friends (Coupling is smarter and usually funnier)... come on... Maybe it's the accent or maybe it is their dry sense of humor, but we love them and their country. Now, you can't really buy anything here or stay for too long b/c the British pound is beating the crap out of the US dollar and everything is pretty pricey... But, I don't care... I still love it...
When we returned to the hotel they had upgraded us to a suite... lovely... So, we went upstairs and crashed... I know --they tell you not to do this, but we could not keep our eyes open -- I don't care how much coffee (or tea) we drank. We fell asleep at about 3:00 pm, woke up for dinner (room service) and went right back to sleep... The girls are awesome travelers and entertained themselves the whole time while mommy and daddy slipped into a minor coma ;-) We did wake up the next day well rested and ready to head down to Southamption where the ship was set to sail. We took the train from London to Southamption -- very fun... and then we hired a driver at the train station to take us to the ship. Our driver's name was Phil and we loved him. We decided to take his number and call him when we returned to take us back to London.

-- Fast forward to the end of the trip and we dock back in Southampton after the cruise is over. We meet Phil at the dock and have a great drive back to London. He was a wealth of information and very entertaining.
We have a lot of time before our flight at 3pm, so we decide to stop at Harrod's before heading to the airport. Phil tells us about a "bomb scare" at Heathrow this morning and the flights will most likely be delayed. We don't think much of it... as you always have delays these days for one reason or another. So, we had lunch and shopped leisurely at Harrod's.
Well, we get to Heathrow and it is absolute chaos. Police with machine guns are very present and we go to check-in. This was the day that they caught a group of people who were planning to bring liquid explosives on a plane and blow it up over the Atlantic (or so we find out later -- noone is telling us much of anything -- maybe to avoid the hysteria that could follow). At the time, we were not aware of how serious this delay would be until we got to the check-in counter and the rep told us that we had to check EVERYTHING... our girls gameboys, my cell phone, books, magazines, crayons... literally everything. I take a deep breath and start packing everything up. The girls are surprisingly OK with all of this. My husband and I are remaining calm, but feel a little uneasy.
So, we are allowed 1 plastic bag with essentials and 1 magazine or 1 book (I tested this when I tried to bring 3 magazines on and they made me throw 2 of them away -- I guess I should have believed them). Now, this is more commonplace today when you fly, but this was the very first day they started this new procedure and people were upset... mostly the adults... the children were fine.
So, we take our place in the 1st of many security lines and see what is lying ahead. Police with machine guns in hand... endless lines for security... people very upset that they have to throw everything away they didn't pack... hours and hours of waiting. Still, the girls are cool about the whole thing...
We waited about 5 hours to board our plane... another 6 hours sitting on the plane when the pilot came on and said we may have to cancel the flight because the US is not allowing any planes to land. A hotel room might not be so bad right now...
30 minutes later we are given the go ahead and we take off... Hold your breath... and off we go... 10 hours later we land at LAX and have to go through another security line where each passengers luggage is hand searched -- Yes, hand searched... 3 hours later... we are heading home after a 24 hour travel day with little sleep... and, the girls are still OK... Mommy and Daddy are just glad to be home after the most uneasy day of travel they have ever experienced...
Will we go back again??? YES!!!

Copyright 2008

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Spring of 2005, 2006 & 2007

Hawaii is really heaven on earth... It is so beautiful and relaxing (I am sure you have either experienced it or heard... make the trip if you haven't already... you will not regret it... great for kids, too).
We have been to Maui a few times with the girls and have always stayed at the Napili Kai Resort on the West Shore. If you have children, you want to check this place out... we love it...
We have always had the debate though -- should we stay at the world-renowned, Grand Waliea or at the family-friendly, Napili Kai Resort? Napili Kai always wins... But, we always trek down to Grand Waliea for a spa day... don't miss the spa there! You will thank me after your visit... ;-)
We have always traveled to Hawaii with my parents, which is so fun... We would get rooms right next to each other.... each with its own kitchen and have our own family time and time with them.
They have the coolest rock path right along the water to the beach, which is the way the girls always wanted to go, esp. with Granny & Grandpa.

One year we left the girls with Granny and Grandpa and did the bike ride down the volcano... absolutely incredible and awe-inspiring... But, it is not kid-friendly (at least not for small kids)... You pass through clouds to get up to the top (by van) and it is so cold... then, you head down the mountain and suddenly have to start shedding your layers like a snake as it warms up. The van follows you down to the bottom... and you stop for lunch. You have to do it at least once -- if at all possible.

We have also taken the helicopter ride (without the kids) -- We highly recommend it... You can take your kids, but our girls wanted to stay back at the resort with Granny & Grandpa that day. A shot from the helicopter:

And, we have gone on the whale-watching dinner cruise with Granny & Grandpa and the girls... so much fun and you are almost guaranteed to see whales... we have on both time we have done it (very kid-friendly, but can be a bit rocky if you have a sensitive stomach)!

The beach at Napili Kai is perfect for kids... nice little calm bay with mild waves and lots of shallow water... Not too crowded either. This pic is from our oceanfront room... When they say oceanfront, they mean it... You can also spend less and get rooms that are further back, which we have done in the past... You do have to book almost a year ahead of time to get oceanfront -- well, worth it.

Now, my brothers (both single) came with us last year and Napili Kai may not have been their first pick... But, they made the best of it and hung out with their family -- probably more than they wanted to... But, our girls were happy...
We even went snorkeling (you can walk to a great snorkeling beach from Napili Kai) with Uncle Mike and saw a huge puffer fish... awesome!

Granny, Grandpa, Uncle Ryan and Uncle Mike outside Napili Kai.

Florida -- Disney

Spring or summer of 2004-2006

Disney World seems to be the place to go with small children (have you heard?). We live in southern CA, so our girls have known the Disney experience since they were very little ones. Disney World is such a strange and fabulous place. Strange because of the masses that pack into this place on any given day (many seeming to leave their manners and common courtesy at home) and fabulous because it is the "happiest place on earth," naturally.
One of my fondest memories was when my youngest was crying for some reason and within seconds a Disney staff person was showering her with stickers and candy and told her, "We don't allow any tears at the happiest place on earth."
We have been there many times because my husband's late father lived in Melbourne and we would always stop at Disney for a few days after our family visit. (More about Melbourne later...)
We have stayed at the Floridian and the Animal Kingdom Lodge... Our favorite was definitely the Animal Kingdom Lodge -- make sure to get a room with a view, so you can wake up with the giraffes, if you are lucky (see the pic above from our room)... The Floridian was nice basically because of the boat shuttle service to the Magic Kingdom...
With two girls, we spent most of our time at the Magic Kingdom... If your daughter like princesses (and who doesn't)... make sure you make reservations (in advance) for the lunch at the castle... All of the princesses will come by your table during your meal and sign autographs and take pictures. This saved us so much time finding every princess in the park (which we have done before)...
Also, we bought Disney t-shirts and had all the characters we met sign them with a permanent marker. Now, make sure you bring your own sharpie (they do not sell them or have any in the parks)... and your child cannot wear the t-shirt... you have to just bring it with you... This was the best -- they absolutely LOVE their signed shirts... much better than their autograph book that just sits on their book shelf.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Calendar of travel...

We are going to start from the beginning, which will bring us back a few years... So, let's get an idea of where it all began to the present and we will highlight each place one by one after the overview...

Las Vegas
Northern Europe (England, Ireland, Holland, Norway, France)

Alaska and Victoria, BC
Italy (Florence, Tuscany, Venice)

2008 (planned trips):
NW Arkansas
Mediterranean (Italy, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Malta)


Welcome to "exploring the world with two kids..."
We are a family of four and love to travel. We thought it was time to share our love of the world and offer some helpful tips for parents out there who are always told by well meaning friends and family, "Why travel now? You should wait until your kids are old enough to remember it."

Well, we are here to tell you -- "Don't wait! Take your kids now -- you will be amazed by what they will remember and what glorious memories you can make with your 6 year old in Paris, your 4 year old in Maui or your 7 year old in Florida... What are you waiting for?"

We have two girls who are 7 and 9... We have taken them with us everywhere we go -- since they were babies. They are wonderful travelers and we started traveling abroad with them a couple of years ago...

We wanted to share some of our experiences... maybe offer some tips on where to stay, what to see, what to eat (very important with small children), how to get there and much more...

We are just getting started... So, get ready... and away we go ;-)