Arriving in Miami and looking back on the whole trip - Sunday, July 26, 2009

Arriving in Miami and looking back on the whole trip - Sunday, July 26, 2009

Alex woke up around 6:45 a.m. and I woke up around 7:30. We had breakfast, showered and were packed and in the car by 8:15 a.m. We had 668 miles ahead of us from Florence, SC to Miami. We should be arriving around 7:45 p.m.

I drove so Alex could work. Jake was texting back and forth with Mike P. They made arrangements to meet as soon as we arrive in Miami. We had a nice and pleasant drive. We got a few areas of bad weather, but all in all very enjoyable. We talked to Fab, and we'll see her this week as they will be in Miami. We finally arrived in Miami at about 9:00 p.m.

As I stated before, this is bittersweet.  We loved this family alone time.  We loved all the places we stopped in with some planned and unplanned.  Most especially, we got the opportunity to see alot of our friends along the way to make the trip memorable.  This is the gift we wanted for the kids and for them to get "it."  That "it" is far more than material things the experiences you have in life especially as one travels are the most important things.  To make it even more impactful, one should learn from those experiences.  I think we will plan a similar trip in the coming years as the kids get older.  We want to make sure they still want to travel with Mom and Dad until they are old and gray with their own families.  We can't wait to plan bigger family trips!  Much love to all and safe travels!

On the road again leaving NYC and stopping in Florence, South Carolina - Saturday, July 25, 2009

On the road again leaving NYC and stopping in Florence, South Carolina - Saturday, July 25, 2009

I woke up around 8:00 a.m. because Al went to the bathroom and woke me up. I got up and started getting everything ready. I cleaned a little and picked up the remaining things and Al went to get the car. We were in the car ready to leave by 10:30 a.m. I wanted to eat a cannoli so we went on a search for cannolis without chocolate chips then Al wanted glasses from  Chinatown, so we went to get them. I turned onto Spring Street and got stuck in major traffic. Then, Jake wanted to see Al's office building so we drove by and then we drove into Brooklyn to see the bridge and sights by day. Toasty took us out of NYC through Staten Island so we went on the Verrazano Bridge. I don't think I'd ever been on it, but have seen it many times.

Again, we got stuck in horrible traffic in New Jersey (it also happened when we came three years ago). Finally, I think we got on the road around 1 p.m. We stopped a few times for potty and meal breaks.  We drove until about 1:30 a.m. Although we weren't tired, we were afraid to get tired and not have anywhere to stop.  We slept at a Marriott Springhill Suites in Florence, SC. We all love the Springhill Suites because they are roomy, clean, relatively new and they provide full breakfast in the morning.  On the drive, we talked to a lot of people on the phone and communicated via text.

We were sleeping by 2:00 a.m.  At the start of the drive this morning, we had to travel 1,309 miles and it would take approximately 20 hours 39 minutes to do. When we arrived in Florence, we had traveled 632 miles in about 12 hours (including all the stops and traffic jam in NJ).  The bittersweetness is coming over us again.  It's sad to say bye to the experience, but I think we are ready to get home.

Central Park Zoo, Boathouse, and Times Square - Friday, July 24, 2009

Central Park Zoo, Boathouse, and Times Square - Friday, July 24, 2009

We woke up early and tried to get out by 9:30 a.m., but really didn't leave until 10:15 a.m. We took the bus super easily from Bleeker and LaFayette to Madison Ave & 58 ST. We walked to Central park and went to the zoo. Central Park Zoo is one of our favorite places to visit in New York City.  It is a small manageable zoo with animals that are exciting to watch.  We always go there every time we go to NYC.  They have penguins, polar bears, sea lions, reptiles, a large aviary with many birds, a red panda and a snow leopard.  We had a delightful morning just the kids and I. We also went to the Tisch Children's Zoo and had lunch there as usual.  They have a nice petting zoo and things for the children to climb and explore.

We walked through the park a bit. The kids climbed the rocks and we got balloons in the shape of swords. We walked to the Apple Store on 5th Ave and then went to FAO Schwartz. The kids were diasppointed with the selection of toys there. There were no electronics, mostly nice and educational toys, which they don't appreciate. They have a "make your own muppet" area. They wanted to make one, but I refused as it was  $130.00 for each muppet.

We walked more on 5th Avenue and went to the Disney store and the NBA store. The kids bought some team school supplies there, the girl that helped us was named "Toasty." That's one of our catch phrases for the trip. We even named our GPS woman Toasty, because she's toasted, and makes many mistakes. Another catchword is "Chaser" because Chaser had to chase us and save us while we were rowing on the Mystic River. "Satellite" is another. The kids were quoting Ti, because he calls ditsy people "satellites." They get a kick out of that one and its variations. They use it interchangeably with "remote," "Direct TV," and "Comcast."

Anyways, I digress. From the NBA store, we went on the bus back to the house to meet Daddy. The bus took us to Bleeker and Broadway and then Dad was waiting for us at the NYU sports center. We went to the house and the kids showed Al what they bought and we got ready.  Alex spoke to Hugo and we decided to meet at Central Park at the Loeb Boat House, which is a nice restaurant. We took forever to get there because we went to the wrong subway entrance. Then, we had to walk to the park and then to the restaurant.  In retrospect, we should have just taken the car.

The restaurant was gorgeous. It's amazing that I had never seen nor heard of this place. We've been to the lake where they race the remote controlled boats a million times and this is just steps away from there.  They have used this restaurant in many films such as "When Harry Met Sally."  Hugo was there already. We had drinks and hung out a bit. Then, we walked through the park awhile and then to 5th Ave. We took a cab to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant called John's Pizza in the theater district one block from Times Square.  Later, we walked through Times Square and had ice cream cones from a Mr. Softee truck.

Suddenly, we witnessed a bust of illegal purse vendors. These guys were carrying the handbags in huge bundles behind their backs and they all looked like Santa Claus. All of a sudden, some of them yelled something and all of them took off running with their bags on their backs. Their were about 50 of them. It was an impressive sight to see them all running and scampering about like rats. The police officers ran after them, but they didn't get caught. One undercover officer came back to the area with one sack he was able to get, but no guys.  I'm glad the kids saw that, because after doing the wrong thing and going with them to the secret rooms of Chinatown, they were able to see that it's dangerous to do illegal things and that the police are always after criminals.

We walked more on Times Square and went to the M & M store. We shopped there for awhile and then called it a night. We took a cab home and arrived around 12:30 a.m. I stayed awake packing until 3:30 a.m.  We are heading back home first thing in the morning.  It was a bittersweet feeling as we knew the trip was coming to an end, but we had the best along, family time anyone could ask for.

Museum of Natural History and Macy's - Thursday, July 23, 2009

Museum of Natural History and Macy's - Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dad went to work and I took the kids to the Museum of Natural History. We took a cab there and it cost me $22.00.  It was worth every penny because I didn't have to worry about anything. We spent the day at the Museum. We were going to leave, but the kids wanted to see a new film in the Planetarium named Journey to the Stars, so I bought tickets for the 4:30 p.m. showing and we hung out and waited for it to start. We took a guided tour that was really informative and worthwhile. I wish we would have started it earlier, but nevertheless, it was good and I will take advantage of it again in the future.

We made our way down to the line for the show. They took us by elevator in small groups to a waiting area, before letting us into the Planetarium. While in this area, a verbal fight broke out between two guys and a guy and his wife. It got loud and ugly. They exchanged pretty disgusting words in front of everyone. The husband told the two guys, who were holding umbrellas, that he was going to shove the umbrellas up their butts. It got uglier, then someone said they were going to call the police and the husband started yelling, "You want to call the police, here he is, I'm the police!" He took out his badge and flashed it to everyone. Meanwhile, the only people there trying to take control of the situation were the teenage employees. Finally, after about five to 10 minutes, about eight security guards came and then more came later. It would have made sense for them to take the four away and let everyone enjoy the show, however, they didn't do that. Instead, they chose to let the four into the show and then had security guards sitting all over inside the planetarium. I was very uncomfortable. The room was dark and I was afraid they were going to take advantage in the dark and retaliate or something. Basically, I didn't even hear what was happening in the movie. All I know is that I was dying to get out of there.  When it was over, we ran through to look at the giant whale and the ocean exhibit. Then we went to the gift shop and hung out a bit. By the time we finished it was closing time.

When we got outside it was pouring. We went out in the rain to try to get a cab, but it was impossible. There were hundreds of people scrambling to get cabs. After running around and getting soaked, Jake finally yelled to go into the subway. We ran in and then I tried to figure out how to get out. Alex was staying for dinner with his customer and colleagues. Nicki had to work and Hugo told us he would clean his apartment so we could go over. I had promised the kids I'd take them to Macy's to see the largest store in the world and also to see the wooden escalators. I figured out how to get there on the subway map and then got on the train. I had to keep verify that we were going in the right direction, because there was a fork in the line and I wasn't sure which way it would go. Thankfully, it went the right way and we went straight to 34th St. Herald Square. It was raining, but we were able to get across the street alright. We went up the escalators to the children's dept. When we arrived, the kids noticed a McDonalds right on the floor in the middle of the department. They were thrilled! The shrieks of happiness could be heard for miles. I let them order dinner and we sat and had dinner there.

Then, we shopped.  We bought sports t-shirts, shorts, shirts, and shoes. I went through all the floors and really didn't find anything I liked for me. Hugo called to see if we were going, but we didn't go because it was getting too late. We stayed a few minutes more at Macy's and then took a cab to Tita's house. Nicki got back a few minutes later and then Alex shortly after.

I was able to watch Betty La Fea for the first time since Lake Mary on June 24th, one day shy of exactly one month.  I started packing and getting things ready for the trip back to Miami. The kids worked on puzzles with Nicki.   We went to bed relatively early.

Another Yankee game and Brooklyn - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Another Yankee game and Brooklyn - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

We tried to wake up early and go to the Bronx Zoo before the Yankees game, but it didn't happen. We would not have much time at the zoo, so we decided to skip it and go straight to the game. The passes Hugo got us were for the Yankees Legends Suite Club. This means we had 9th row tickets behind first base. When we arrived, they explained everything to us.  We could have anything we'd like to eat from the buffet in the restaurant in the higher floor, unlimited snacks, sodas and water from the snack bars below and you could request anything you wanted from the menu to be delivered to your seat outside.  We could not believe it.  We ate like pigs. My daughter said, "this is great and this is the best day of my life."  My son added, "I don't want this day to end. This is awesome."  We enjoyed the game and the experience thoroughly. The only problem was the heat.  It was sooooooo hot. We kept going inside to the lounge to cool off. It was a truly unique and wonderful experience.  Thank you Hugo and Hugo's former company!

After the game, we were going to go to the Brooklyn Bridge to walk across, but Hugo called and said he would go with us. So we went to shower and get ready. Hugo met us and we just drove over. By the time we got there it was dusk, so there wasn't much light. The bridge is beautiful and the views from the bridge and from the Promenade in Brooklyn are also the best views. This is the view you see alot in Woody Allen films.  We drove around the Brooklyn Heights area and then walked on the Promenade, took pictures and walked around the neighborhood. The homes are gorgeous. It's a beautiful area. As stated before, it's amazing that as many times as I've been to NYC, I still see new things and am still surprised by the awesome sights and places. I'm also surprised that I had never know about this.

We had dinner at Height's Cafe. We sat at a table outside. Alex kept returning the wine bottles until we settled on one. The dinner was fiasco-like as the service was terrible and food not so good. We talked about going to Hugo's building's roof or to Elva's roof, but Al was tired and since he had to go to work tomorrow, we dropped off Hugo and went home.

Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, and Mary Poppins on Broadway - Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, and Mary Poppins on Broadway - Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We tried to wake up earlier, but got out of the house around 11:00 a.m. We hung out with Nicki at the house a bit and then went to the TKTS booth by South Street Seaport to get the tickets for the Mary Poppins musical. We drove around the area a bit and bought gyros and steak sandwiches from a street vendor that were awesome. We parked near Battery Park and took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

We weren't able to go into the Statue of Liberty, because you have to buy tickets in advance. All the tickets were sold out for today. It was raining a lot and it was a little miserable to be out in the rain. We walked around the statue, took pictures and just hung out.  Later, we took another ferry to Ellis Island and went through the museum.
We went back to the apartment, took showers and got ready to go to Times Square. The kids were dying to go to Toys R' Us and ride the ferris wheel. We finally did it. Hugo also called to meet us to give us tickets for tomorrow's Yankees game. He gets free tickets through work and he got us four tickets. He couldn't come with us because he had to work.

Before Mary Poppins, we ate pizza and calzones at a deli in Times Square right below MTV. It was spectacular!!!!!! My daughter was thrilled the whole time and she didn't want it to end. She was really into it the entire show. Both of them loved it and Jake's favorite part was when Bert walks on the walls and on the ceiling. They did many amazing stunts and it was impressive. My son admitted he really liked it.  After the show, we took a cab home and went to sleep.

Chinatown and Yankee game - Monday, July 20, 2009

Chinatown and Yankee game - Monday, July 20, 2009

We slept in until late, we relaxed and took the morning off. We did nothing all morning! We left to Chinatown and shopped for purses in the "secret rooms." The shops have gotten more elaborate as now they hide rooms behind what you think is a very small space or they have several employees strategically placed down a block where they wave you down.  You follow each one until you get to a building, go up elevator, and go into these "secret rooms."  As we were doing this, I didn't think it was a good idea for the kids as it is almost covert-like.  However, the kids enjoyed the excitement of the "secret rooms." I bought about $100 worth of fake stuff. 

We walked all the way from Tita's house to Canal St & LaFayette. On the way back, the kids were whining and complaining and they didn't want to walk back. We finally made it back to the house, took showers and got ready for the Yankees game. We saw Nicki for a little while as we got ready. The kids had fun playing with her. Our friend Hugo, came to the house and we left from there to the game by car. It was easy to get there and we were excited as this season is the inaugural year of the new stadium.

The stadium is wonderful. It is beautiful and impressive. We had a nice time at the game. Jake loved it. He had front row seats on the top level. After the game, Hugo took us on a driving tour of the city. He pointed out different places of interest and also gave us ideas of new things to do while we are there. He introduced us to Brooklyn and the Promenade.  After so many years, we had no idea it was worth visiting.  We got home around midnight.

Morning in Mystic, ferry to Long Island, and first night in NYC - Sunday, July 19, 2009

Morning in Mystic, ferry to Long Island, and first night in NYC - Sunday, July 19, 2009

We woke up early and took a wrong turn on the way to Mystic, CT which turned out great. We went to a Submarine museum and actually went into a submarine. We drove through modern Mystic (not so modern), and then went to Historic Mystic Seaport. Al and I were surprised to learn that it was like a museum, we thought it was just shops, etc. In fact, it is a port city with buildings that were preserved and then integrated with new exhibits, etc. It was really nice. We rented a row boat and rowed on the Mystic River. The kids really enjoyed it. We kept losing control of the boat so "Chaser" had to come out and rescue us twice.  Dad was not too happy.

We left there around 3:00 p.m. so we could drive over to New London, CT for our 4:00 p.m. ferry to Long Island, NY. Jake was very excited about driving the car onto the ferry. We were on the ferry with 300 boy scouts ages 11-18. It was cool to see so many in their uniforms. Al, of course, interrogated them about badges, what they were doing, etc. and wants to put Jake in it as soon as we get back to Miami. I agree, it would be a good, non-typical Miami thing to do.

The ferry left late and took about 1 hour 15 minutes. It was super hot in the interior part of the boat. I was so hot that  I went up to the top deck and sat in the sun because at least there was a heavy wind blowing. We arrived in Orient Point port (Montauk port was not available with cars). We had to drive down to a fork in the island and then turn to go east to Montauk. We never made it to Montauk (to at least see it) because we drove through South Hampton, and East Hampton and then it got dark. It wasn't worth continuing to Montauk beause it would be too dark.

We drove around the towns as they have beautiful shops and cute restaurants. We got take out from a Mexican restaurant called La Fondita. It was delicious. We drove to a public beach, in the middle of a neighborhood with beautiful homes just like in the movie "Something's Gotta Give." Ana wanted to find a place that looked like that.  We flew a kite on the beach, the kids played Kadima, and I took beautiful photos. The sky was a gorgeous with layers of pink, orange, and blue...perfect! I took pictures of the homes on the beach (just like in the movies) and then got awesome shots of a plane flying right over the shore. It was a spectacular sight and a perfect evening.

We drove through Long Island to New York City (NYC). We arrived in NYC around midnight. We needed to arrive earlier because the girl that is staying at Tita's house (Nicki Borges, sister of Gabi and Manny's friend Javi) had to go to work at 5:00 a.m. It was embarrassing to arrive so late, but we couldn't help it with all of the traffic. At that time, we had to unload the car and take everything up. It was exhausting. However, it felt great to know we would have five whole days in one place and time to relax.

New Haven, Yale, The Ms, Louis' Lunch, Pepe's Pizza, Eli Whitney Museum, and the Tree house in Cheshire - Saturday, July 18, 2009

New Haven, Yale, The Ms, Louis' Lunch, Pepe's Pizza, Eli Whitney Museum, and the Tree house in Cheshire - Saturday, July 18, 2009

We drove from Groton, CT to New Haven, CT to the Yale University Campus to meet the Ms (Steven and Joyce). The first time we met the Ms was January 19, 1999 at about 6:00 a.m. to be exact. We met at South Miami Hospital. She was having her 2nd C-section and I was having my first. We started talking, we laughed a lot and then she calmed me down and explained everything that would happen.  She helped make me feel a lot better. They took her in to have Thomas and later I had Jake. During the hospital stay, Al was walking in the hall and ran into Steven coming out of their room. He also noticed the name on the door. Alex knew someone with the same, unique last name from his previous company. He asked Steven if he knew her. It turns out she was his sister. Since then, we have kept in touch on-and-off over the years. 

We met them another time in Miami at one of Thomas' birthday parties, but really didn't keep in touch as they moved up to CT. Recently, Alex and his ex-colleague became friends on Facebook. Somehow our trip came up, and she recommended we meet them in CT. Of course, Alex loved the idea. He immediately friended Steven on Facebook and made all the arrangements. Thank God my kids don't have to rely on me to keep friendships alive. I would have been too shy to do all that Alex did. Anyway, the point is, he did and this is what happened:

We met on the steps of Center Church on the Green in the center of New Haven, CT near the Yale campus. They wanted to show us a cemetery that had a building over it (which turned it into a crypt). However, when we arrived there was a wedding going on. We stayed, eavesdropped a little and then watched the bride and groom exit and leave. We took lots of pictures.  We weren't able to see the crypt because they were having more weddings and it would be closed. We walked around Yale a bit more. We went to the Museum of Art and saw some great original works of art from Van Gogh and Monet. The kids enjoyed it.  We had a lite lunch at the birthplace of the hamburger called Louis' Lunch. The hamburgers are placed in between twp sliced breads (from a white-bread loaf) with no lettuce, no ketchup, and no onions.  It was as plain as can be, but delicious.  The inside is very small and has some old church pews as part of the seating area.  The place only accepts cash and if you ask for ketchup they tell you to go to Burger King.  Then, for the most popular dish in town, we drove to Pepe's Pizza for lunch, which is the typical, thin-crust, almost-burnt pizza, which is Al's favorite kind.

Afterwards, we all drove to the Eli Whitney Museum. The kids worked on crafts and the adults walked around, talked and laughed. We left and went back to Cheshire, CT where they live. Their house is absolutely spectacular. It is on two acres of land filled with trees. It's beautifully decorated and we had all heard about THE tree house. The kids were excited to see it.  It was perfect and built by Steven and his father-in-law.  They set up a table up there and we had dinner.  Steven grilled hamburgers and hotdogs for the kids and we had salad and wine in the tree house. We had such a wonderful day. It's funny, because the next day, Steven wrote on his facebook page, "From the moment we met at 11:00 am on the steps of the church until 9:00 pm in our tree house, we were all laughing and talking the whole time." It was a truly special day on many levels. The children got along very well and Jake wants to go back for his birthday one day as they are birthday brothers you know.

We drove back to the hotel. We arrived around 11:00 p.m. This time we did go to sleep quickly!

Whale watching off of Plymouth to the Rock to Newport, Rhode Island - Friday, July 17, 2009

Whale watching off of Plymouth to the Rock to Newport, Rhode Island - Friday, July 17, 2009

We wanted to go whale watching, but weren't sure we could wake up to do so. We would have to wake up by 8:30 a.m. I thought for sure we wouldn't make it because we haven't slept in several days. Miraculously, we all woke up and made it to the whale watching boat. We went out offshore for 1.5 hours to get to the feeding area. The whales are beautiful creatures. We saw about seven different whales, and they did give us a show. They were swimming and going up and out of the water, and they breached a few times, but not too much.  They also sprayed water and made noises. They were amazing and much larger than you would think.

We enjoyed it so much and my daughter was thrilled, but my son got tired of the same thing over and over again.  We had to go another 1.5 hours in after the "show," so the whole event lasted about 4 to 4.5 hours. It was a LOOOOONNNNGGG tour.  If I do it again, I'd do it from someplace closer, so they don't have to take us out so far. The guide told us that if you drive to the tip of Cape Cod, which is Provincetown, the whale watching tours are shorter.  After the whale watching, we went back to the hotel to check out and pack our stuff.

We drove around Plymouth and took the kids to see the Mayflower II and Plymouth Rock. They were impressed to see it as they have studied it in school.  In addition, we crossed the street to see the view of Plymouth Rock from up high and it was small.  The kids were amazed at how small it was and we explained that it is a piece of the original rock.  We drove a little more around Plymouth and then headed for Newport, Rhode Island.  I wish I would have planned better to stay there longer as this place is beautiful! They have a cute little town with lots of shops and restaurants, etc. They have a beautiful marina/harbor area and then they have the amazing, amazing mansions.  I remember coming here as a child, but I didn't remember how beautiful it was. We walked a little on both ends of the "1/2 mile Cliff Walk" behind all these mansions on a cliff overlooking the ocean. It was spectacular. It reminds me a little of Palm Beach, but these homes are directly on the ocean with this Cliff Walk trail behind them open to the public. There was a thunderstorm with lightning going on, so although there was very light rain, we were scared to be out there and cut the walk short. We did a good portion of it and want to go back one day to spend more time.
We continued on our drive to Mystic, Connecticut (CT). We actually stayed at a new Marriott in Groton, CT. The hotel was nice, but appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, as there was a lot of fog, hardly any street lights, and dark winding roads.  Again, I didn't sleep very well. I ended up watching "What Not to Wear" and a show about brides choosing their wedding dresses. Entertaining...yes...but I needed to sleep.

Daytripping to Nantucket island and Cape Cod Baseball - Thursday, July 16, 2009

Daytripping to Nantucket island and Cape Cod Baseball - Thursday, July 16, 2009

We woke up around 7:00 a.m. and drove to Hyannis for the high speed ferry to Nantucket. The ferry ride was uneventful as we were inside so really couldn't see anything on the way out of Hyannis nor into Nantucket. When we arrived in Nantucket, it was so beautiful. There are hundreds of little shops and boats. All types of boats (sailboats, yachts and regular boats). It's a very small and beautiful island. We were undecided about what to do and we thought of renting bikes, which is a very common thing to do there, but decided against it because we were afraid of the kids riding bike on the edge of the streets as there was lots of summer traffic.

We walked around and went through the shopping district. We even got to see the Whaling museum where we saw the history of whales, whale replicas, and the importance of whales to the area.  Then, we took a shuttle to Surfside beach. Alex read about this beach in the "500 things to do with your kids before they grow up," which has guided us on this trip.  They recommended this beach because of its beauty and also because it has a hamburger stand with awesome burgers. We arrived and immediately ordered lunch and then walked to the beach and had a picnic with our hamburgers, etc. It was beautiful. The summer has been extremely mild throughout the northeast. We've even had to take jackets and/or sweatshirts to some activities because of how cool it's been. This day was no exception. We were cold when we arrived in the morning and now at the beach with the wind, we were still very cold. We were too cold to go in the water, but my daughter wasn't as she was dying to go in. I changed her into her bathing suit and she went in the water. She had so much fun and was the brave one! 

We played Kadima or just sat and relaxed and enjoyed the moment. We left there and went back to the town as we thought we'd take a tour, but the tour guide did not want to take kids as it was really for adults.  However, he highly recommended for us to take the town shuttle to another town called Soskotchen via Poipus Road and we'd see most of the beautiful sites they see on the tour. He saved us about $100 and we thought it was great. We took the scenic shuttle over and took hundreds of photos of all the beauty. We got ice cream when we arrived, and walked around. We went through streets and streets of beautiful homes with roses growing on their facades. One of the houses had an outdoor dining table with beautiful candlescapes set up and it was located high on the hill overlooking the ocean.  It was straight out of a magazine. We saw some kids on a bridge over a road throwing water balloons at the cars as they went by. I hope my children don't ever do anything like that!

There is also something we've noticed while traveling through the Northeast:  beautiful and big dogs. We have seen many sheep dogs and other furry/large dogs that I can't remember the names of.  We went back to the town, shopped some more, walked around and took photos. We returned to Hyannis on the 7:00 p.m. ferry. When we were arriving in Hyannis, we noticed just beyond the parking lot that there was a baseball game going on.  This was another suggestion in the "500 things to do..." book. The author suggested seeing a Cape Cod league baseball game...and we did!

We caught it in the 6th inning. They have players from different universities playing together in this league who come from all over the country for the opportunity to play and spend a couple of months in Cape Cod. It was situated around a hilltop where we sat for most of the game.  The whole vibe was very pleasant and Americana.  It felt perfect in that it was the most typical and American thing to do.  We loved that we stumbled upon it and were able to experience.  As we look back, it is one of the top 5 experiences from this whole trip.  After the game, we drove back to Plymouth. We tried to go to sleep early, but it didn't work out. We were up until very late again.  By the way, we loved Hyannis and next time we'd like to stay there instead of Plymouth as it makes it easier with the ferries.

Revolutionary War battlegrounds and Plymouth - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Revolutionary War battlegrounds and Plymouth - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Happy Bastille Day!  We checked out of the Sheraton this morning. It was bittersweet as we loved the hotel and had a great time in Boston.  However, we also wanted to continue traveling and learning about new places. I would love to live in Boston. I don't know why I didn't feel that way when I had the opportunity to move here eight years ago. When we came for the look and see trip it was winter and we didn't really look in the city. We looked mostly in the suburbs. It was super depressing. I remember telling Al, I would move only if we could live in the city. Then we had the opportunity to go to Nice, France which we both preferred, so we discarded the idea of living in Boston. I wouldn't mind doing it now.

We drove out through Cambridge to Lexington-Concorde. Our friend Melanie (the one from we visited in Arlington, Virginia) grew up in Lexington. It's a beautiful place. We visited the Minutemen National Park and learned about the battles leading up to and at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. We saw an interesting movie at the center, which reenacted the battles and from the perspective of a colonist. Later, we drove on what used to be Bay Road, which was the battle road and went to North Bridge. There we heard a Park Ranger retell the story.   This was a very enjoyable and educational addition to our trip.

We had lunch/dinner at 4:30 p.m, at Neillio's Gourmet Kitchen Deli. We bought a turkey BLT, stuffing and cranberries, breaded chicken cutlet with mashed potatoes and mac-n-cheese. We drove off eating and happy we found the place.   We continued our drive to Melanie's dad's house in Plymouth, MA. We arrived and it was amazing. The drive up to the house on their driveway is about 1.5 miles long. It is a heavily wooded area and the house is very nice. It's a two story house plus an attic from what I could tell. It had an adorable swing hanging in the back porch and gorgeous view of the ocean. As you get closer to the edge of the yard, you realize there is a huge drop to the sand and water. This house and all the others in the area, sit on a cliff, about 200 feet from the ocean. It is very steep and the kids wanted to climb down!  It reminded me the mountain in New Zealand (actually volcano) that we did scree-running as it was scary.

Anyway, Melanie's dad buried an emergency key in their flower bed over one year ago. He told Al the location and said it shouldn't be too difficult. An hour later after speaking to Melanie, Melanie's mom and Dad and David, neither Alex nor I could find the key. Melanie's parents offered to bring us the key, but we refused as it would be a 2.5 hour trip for us or for them to get the key and get back. We thanked them for their gracious and generous gesture, but decided to just go to Plymouth and stay at a hotel as it was already getting dark. We looked for a hotel and found many "cheesy" hotels and motels, which I wouldn't stay at. On my GPS, I located a Hilton Garden Inn, with no availability and a Radisson across from the harbor about 1/2 block from Plymouth Rock. They had a room and we went. We ended up changing rooms three times that night. First, the room smelled like mold, so I started coughing. The second room overlooked an atrium with an indoor pool so the smell of chlorine was so strong I couldn't breathe. Finally, we found a third room with no unusual smells or allergens.
We went back to the hotel and did research to try to figure out what to do next. We went to bed around 3:00 a.m.

Boston Museums and Freedom Trail - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Boston Museums and Freedom Trail - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Again, the kids and I woke up and went to breakfast at the Dunkin Donuts in the Prudential Centre. We had the same meal as we are definitely creatures of habit. We couldn't decide what to do and we really didn't want to take another tour, but going on a trolley tour would allow us the flexibility to get on and off at points of interest. The children wanted to go to the Aquarium and Children's Museum so Al dropped us off at the Museum before he started work for the day.

We were there so long and they enjoyed it so much, we didn't have time for the Aquarium. In the afternoon, we took a cab back to the Boston Common Visitor Center for our walking tour of the Freedom Trail. We were the only four people on the tour. It was a nice and informative tour. Our guide was an older gentlemen who was soft-spoken and knowledgeable. He was very kind and patient with our overly excited children.  After the tour we had dinner at Mama Anna's restaurant in the Italian area of the city right by Paul Revere's house and then drove around Charlestown and to the Bunker Hill Monument.  We went to bed relatively early (around 11:30 p.m.) because we are all exhausted.

Duck tour through Boston - Monday, July 13, 2009

Duck tour through Boston - Monday, July 13, 2009

My daughter slept with me last night and spent the night kicking, punching, and just jumping all over the place. I did not get much sleep. Al had to stay in the hotel and work so I took the kids to the Prudential Centre (attached to our hotel) and had breakfast at Dunkin Donuts. I studied brochures, guidebooks and talked to the concierge and couldn't decide what tour(s) to take. We walked around a bit, and finally decided on the Duck Tour.

We got lunch at Shaw's (market) so we could take it on the tour with us since we'd be on the tour for a long time. We arrived at 1:00 p.m. as we were told for a 1:30 p.m.departure. We were third from the last row to board, but took the last row of seats. The two kids sat on one row and I sat across by myself. Once the tour guide came on, she closed the ladder and added a third seat in between the 2 rows. We had a lot of space! These are interesting vehicles and the kids loved it.

The vehicles used for these tours are modeled after vehicles from World War II (DUKWs). Due to many challenges facing by the armed services during World War II, it became apparent that troops needed vehicles that could carry men and supplies on land and water. In 1942 (within six months), the DUKW was designed. D is for designed in 1942, U is for utility amphibious cargo carrying vehicle, K is for front wheel drive and W is for double rear axle drive. I know it doesn't make sense...
They made about 21,000 DUKWs and women mostly made them since the men were off at war. When the war ended they sold the vehicles and that's how Duck Tours got them. Some are original, but the majority are modified reproductions. Each of the vehicles is painted and has a cute name. Ours was painted in Red Sox colors and was named "Red Sox Nathan." My son was happy about that. Our guide was Penny Wise and she was in a Navy Uniform. All the guides must wear costumes. She wears the Navy uniform in honor of her Dad and Grandad who served in the U.S. Navy.

The tour was informative, funny and very entertaining. We drove on Bolyston St. (we drove right over the finish line for the Boston Marathon). We passed in front of the Trinity Church, Beacon Hill and the State House in between the Public Garden and Boston Common (the oldest public park in the U.S.), and many more sites. Then we went to a deserted construction site where the ramp to enter the river is found. The kids were filled with anticipation and their faces were glowing with the excitement. We basically drove in and then the propeller kicked on. It was great! We cruised on the river for awhile.

While we were on the river, we saw many sailboats. The view was beautiful with the skyline in the distance and hundreds of sailboats in the river.  One of the sailboats almost crashed into us and did hit the wall of the bridge. It turns out this was one of the students from the nation's oldest boating program. Every summer, local school children (about 1600) participate in the program to learn to sail. They pay only $1.00 for the whole summer and go out every day and all day. The little sailor was fine. Our guide called for help and someone came out to help him immediately.

Our ride on the Charles River continued and it was wonderful. Then the kids got a great surprise as they were all going to take turns driving the DUCK. They both had turns and got their pictures taken while steering. We were on the river for 45 minutes or so, then we went to Charlestown, Quincy Market, and back on Tremont Street (where we saw the three mountains), and back to the stop. We bought the book, "Make Way for Ducklings" and the state book of Massachusetts at the DUCK gift cart. We had a stupendous time, and we were all glad we decided on this tour over the other ones!

We met Al at the hotel and went to the Public Garden to ride the Swan boats. We had a beautiful ride. It was very serene and the views from there were breath-taking. Boston is a gorgeous city. We walked around the park, took many pictures on the "world's smallest suspension bridge" and then took a cab back to the hotel. We picked up our car and drove to Cambridge, Harvard Square and around Harvard. We parked and explored the Harvard campus.  We walked around a long time and got to hang out with some of the students as they walked around us getting to their classes and dorms.
We had dinner in Cambridge and then went back to the hotel!

Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park - Sunday, July 12, 2009

Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park - Sunday, July 12, 2009
We woke up around 9:00 a.m. Al and the kids went to get breakfast and we ate in our room overlooking the awesome view. We are on the 20th floor.  Shortly after breakfast, Al and the kids left to buy Red Sox paraphernalia so they can wear it to the game. I stayed in the room to unwind and shower and get ready. We will be heading over to the Red Sox game very soon. It starts at 1:30 p.m. and it is now 11:00 a.m.

We took a cab to historic Fenway Park and went to the Stub Hub offices to get our tickets.  They were located in a small office building right near the stadium.  What an experience!  There were thousands of people on the streets right outside the stadium, which is really a closed off neighborhood.  When you scan your ticket, you are not entering the stadium.  You are entering the neighborhood.  We arrived at our seats and they were pretty horrible. We were in Grandstand 7 and had a beam right in the middle of our view. In addition, I had an overly large man sitting next to me (or on me) and he coughed a lot. I was a little grossed out. Needless to say, we were all a little disappointed, including Alissa. We tried to comfort ourselves with lots of food, but it didn't work. We decided to move.

We walked around looking for a spot or a place we could sneak in to get a better view. We found a place directly across from the field next to the Upper Deck bar. We stood there a long time, while Alex scoped out the bleachers. He noticed that there were a group of seats that remained empty the entire time. He decided to go down and try to sit in them. I stayed just in case he couldn't get them so we wouldn't lose our great spot. Finally, I went down and joined them and we weren't asked to move the whole game. Thank God it turned out well!!!! We were sitting very close to the lone red seat where Babe Ruth hit his first home run. Jake tells me that the Yankees and Red Sox hate each other because the Red Sox took Babe Ruth away from the Yankees...they didn't like that.

We had a lovely time at the game, even though it was a bit warm. We ate Italian sausage, hot dogs, kettle korn popcorn, and lemonade.  We walked back to the hotel. It was a nice walk, and there were so many people doing the same it was actually entertaining. Mike Lowell was stuck in traffic and we walked alongside his car most of the way.

We went back to the hotel to change rooms and clothes. They changed us to a better room with two beds and on the 15th floor.   We tried to go to ride the swans at the Public Garden, but it was closed already. We decided to have dinner at Legal Seafood and headed down to the wharf for dinner and sightseeing. We couldn't find parking near the restaurant so we parked by Quincy market and walked and enjoyed the scenery. The tall ships were in Boston for the Harborfest. It's funny as they've been following us around the whole trip.  They were in Charleston and Norfolk and now in Boston.

Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield to Boston, MA - Saturday, July 11, 2009

Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield to Boston, MA - Saturday, July 11, 2009

Last night, we had made it just in time to see the fireworks from our room. They were spectacular. We all enjoyed watching them from the comfort of our room. Al picked up dinner and we had a super nice dinner overlooking the falls and in the comfort of our room. The price of our room on the door was supposed to be $1299.00 per night, regardless of the time of year. We got a great price and we believe an upgrade due to Al's status with Marriott, because we paid less than 20% of the listed price.  Thanks Marriott! WE loved our experience!

We packed as much as possible and got everything ready to facilitate an early departure on Saturday morning. We woke up around 7:30 a.m. and were crossing the border around 8:30 a.m. The encounter with border patrol was very uneventful. It was the easiest crossover we've had.  We got on the road, traveled on I-90 and I-91 to Springfield, MA. The drive was supposed to take about six hours, but tt took longer because we stopped a million times. One person always had to pee, eat, or do something.  We finally made it to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

It wasn't as large as you would expect, but just the right size.  They had lots of memorabilia with interactive games and activities for children and adults.  They had an area where you could jump up and grab the ball at different heights. Another area had basketball hoops (from the different eras) at different heights and you could attempt to dunk the ball. Also, there were areas to play basketball with other people. You could play virtually and see yourself on a television screen, and also do a commentary on radio and television and hear and see yourself.  It was great! We did the whole thing in about 1.5 hours, which was a perfect afternoon.

We had dinner at Pizzeria Uno right behind it and saw a bunch of kids playing Lacrosse on the lawn of a hotel. It looked like they were part of a tournament and reminded us when our son participated in basketball tournaments. The kids got to make their own pizzas at Pizzeria Uno and they enjoyed it very much.

We drove off on our 1.5 hour drive to Boston. We arrived around 9:00 p.m. We are staying at The Sheraton Boston hotel right in the Back Bay area. The hotel is amazing and it is next to the Prudential Center which has a shopping center. The area is very nice and centrally located. There are many things to do right in the area. 
We will have a very nice stay here!

Day trip to Toronto - Friday, July 10, 2009

Day trip to Toronto - Friday, July 10, 2009

It will be hard to top yesterday's experience, however, we at least hope to try. We can't wait to see Toronto! We'll be there shortly as it is only about 45 minutes from Niagara Falls. The last time I did this exact trip (Niagara Falls and Toronto), I was around 10- or 11-years-old. I came with my parents and brother, my aunt and uncle and my cousin Gabi (he was less than 1 year old).

Toronto is a very large city and very similar to New York City. There are many people from different nationalities living there.  Since we had only about eight hours to spend there, we decided to do a city tour on a double decker bus and a harbor cruise. The tour was informative and entertaining. We saw some of the major sites. The city is very cosmopolitan. There are many museums, including a shoe museum that seems interesting. In addition, there is the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Casa Loma among many others.

Casa Loma is a beautiful castle. Several films have scenes shot within the castle. The original owner was Sir Henry Pellatt he was a very wealthy man because he owned the power company. He wanted to build a castle because he traveled to Europe and thought the European castles were gorgeous. He hired an architect that had never visited a castle to design it from photographs. The castle had running water and electricity, unlike the European castles. Although he was very wealthy, he was also very generous and continued to pay all his employees that went to fight in WW1 for several years. This coupled with the Great Depression made him lose a lot of money and go into debt. In addition, there was a Canadian law that allowed the government to take over any profitable business without paying for it. So they took advantage of this law and took the power company from him without paying him a cent. He ended up living in the basement of his chaffeur's apartment building. He had been knighted in previous years, so the queen paid for his funeral. He had one of the largest funerals ever in Toronto.

We went through some of the nicer and trendy neighborhoods. We learned many facts. Toronto was originally called York, after York, England. People started refering to it as Little York (after New York) and residents didn't like it, so they named it Toronto after the Toronto Isalnds located across the harbor. Toronto was their original Iroquis name. One of the neighborhoods just north of the original town didn't want to pay taxes to York so they established their seperate town called Yorkville. It's one of the trendiest areas of the city. There are many nice designer shops there.

We went by some of the stadiums, the Skydome (also known as the Rogers Centre) and Air Canada Centre. The Toronto Raptors (basketball) and the Toronto Mapleleaves (hockey) play at the Air Canada Centre. The Blue Jays (baseball) and the Buffalo Bills (football) play at the Roger's Centre.

Apparently, Toronto's theatrical performances rival those of New York, according to our tour guide and server from the Skylon Tower last night. We would have loved to take the kids to see The Sound of Music, but there was no time. We have to rush back to the states to catch a Boston RedSox game on Sunday. We have our priorities straight!!!!

We got off the next stop and went to the Hockey Hall of Fame, which was located in a mall. We didn't go in because we wouldn't have enough time to finish the rest of the tour. Upon the completion of the tour, we went to the harbor area and browsed around in the shopping centers and outer areas.

We went on the second part of our tour, the Harbor portion. We took some fabulous photographs of the Toronto skyline, including the CN tower and the boats.  It was a nice finish to the visit. We were hesitant about the cruise because we were all tired and wanted to go back to the hotel. Al really wanted to do it, so we stayed and we are glad we did. Alissa was clowning around as usual making everyone laugh as she pretended she was modeling and posing for photographs.  The trip was nice, we are all glad we went to Toronto. It would have been nice to have more time there. At least we know we'd like to come back another time.

We are now driving back to our hotel in Niagara Falls to catch the 10:00 p.m. fireworks display over the falls from our hotel room window. Can't wait as I'm sure they'll be spectacular!!!  We've had a fabulous time in Canada and we will definitely come again soon!

15th Year Anniversary at Niagra Falls - Thursday, July 9, 2009

15th Year Anniversary at Niagra Falls - Thursday, July 9, 2009

We celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary in Niagra Falls!  We had an awesome day!!!! We woke up earlier and wasted no time sleeping.  Al went to pick up breakfast for all of us, and we had breakfast in the room looking at the lake spill over into the Falls. He picked up bagel and croissant sandwiches from Tim Horton's. It was yummy. The best coffee I've tasted in a long time.

We got ready, packed everything up and got ready for our move to Marriott. We walked to Murray St. by the large casino hotel. We walked around that area of the town. We took many photos and then walked back to the Center to do the tour behind the Falls. It was incredible as you walk through tunnels and experience the falls from the back view. There are moments when the water is raging so much that you get soaked. Jake got upset with us, because we were using his camera instead of ours and his was going to get damaged. Regardless, we took many photos and had a great time.

We left there and took the cable car up and went to check out of the Radisson. We packed the car with all the stuff and drove around for a bit because the Marriott room wasn't ready. We drove around the Clifton Hill area and then decided we wanted to drive over to the American side to see the falls from there. The view from Rainbow bridge was incredible. We decided we'd do the walk across later in the day and take pictures. It took forever to clear the border patrol. There were so many people and we got the patrol person to give us tourist information. We asked for passport stamps, but she said we could get them inside upon our return. We made a u-turn and went right back to Canada. We went to the Marriott and checked in. It is FABULOUS!!!!! We got a family suite with a view of the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. It has two queen beds and a second area seperated by french doors with a sofa bed and a second tv with a picture window with the gorgeous Falls view. WE LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the hotel. WE don't even want to go out...we just want to stay and enjoy the luxuries and the view.

After we checked in, we had luch at the Visitor's center and took the 2-car bus to Maid of the Mist to see the falls up close. We had a great time. We got wet, but it wasn't horrible as you get more wet walking down the sidewalk earlier in the day. The kids enjoyed the boat ride, although Jake thought we should have gotten closer. After that we took the people mover again to the White Water Walk. It was nice, you walk on a boardwalk next to the ranging river. The setting is picturesque with all the trees and boulders.

We took the people mover again to Rainbow Bridge. We walked across to the US side. Our passports were stamped with the US stamp. We took a trolley around the park to the Cave of the Winds tour. WOW! WOW! WOW! This was incredible. It was the highlight of the day and possibly the trip. They have you put on their shoes and a raincoat. You can get as wet as you want beause it depends on how close you get to the falls. Basically, the tour consists of a series of steps and a boardwalk built around the two American Falls. We all got soaked! We got super close and took pictures as long as possible. There is a section where you can stand right under the Bridal Veil Falls and they call it the Hurricane deck. It truly feels like you are in the middle of a hurricane. The water came down with such force and it feels like it will take you away. I didn't do it as I did not want my daughter to do it as I really thought it would knock her down. My son, the brave one, went right under the falls and stood there getting wet.  He said it was an incredible experience and it made him feel truly part of the falls.

After that experience, we thought nothing could compare as it was amazing.  We took the trolley back to Canada and got our passports stamped. We had reservations for dinner at the Skylon Tower. We had to change them for 9 p.m. so that we could go shower and change.   We left the hotel around 9 p.m., drove in our own car to the tower and then went up together in the yellow elevator. The kids have been dying to do this and it was fun and the view was beautiful.

We arrived at the revolving dining room and sat right by the window. It was still daylight so we got to see the view both during the day and at night. I didn't think I could be impressed by the view, but again I was happily surprised. The restaurant was very pretty, the ambiance was pleasant and the view was perfect. We had a lovely dinner. I ordered a shiraz from the Niagara region, which was good. I had rack of lamb, Alex had a chicken entree with shrimp and french onion soup. The kids wanted $18.00 chicken fingers, but they were good, and they included fries, veggies and dessert. They were happy.

We had a beautiful anniversary day and evening. After dinner we went up to the observation deck. The view was even more breath-taking than from the restaurant,  We left because it was freezing up there, and none of us were dressed for it.  Al had convinced the kids to give us foot massages as part of our anniversary gift. The kids couldn't wait to go back to the hotel to do this.

They did a great job. Al fell asleep and I was comatose. My son wanted to put the beds together (as part of our tradition), Al said no, but when we fell asleep, he moved them. When we woke up the beds were together. I slept with my head toward the foot of the bed, so I could look at the falls everytime I woke up. Actually, I never woke up until morning. I was hoping to see them at sunrise, but was too tired!

Driving to Niagara Falls (Canada side) - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Driving to Niagara Falls (Canada side) - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I woke up around 8:30 am, earlier than usual.  We are driving to Niagara Falls today. It's about a seven hour drive. We want to leave super early so we can take advantage of the daylight. I wish we would have more initiative to leave earlier in the day. We waste a lot of time getting out in the morning. I know we need to rest, but we should try to fix our schedule so we are up early and go to bed early.

The drive was wonderful. We had great weather and the views were breathtaking. We even saw windmills that provide wind power for the area. We went through small roads. I prefer them to the big highways...the truck drivers can be really unforgiving and aggressive on the big highways. I feel much safer on the smaller roads...they are still highways just more calm. Many times they run right through towns so you have a chance to see how people live.

The kids and I had lunch at Wendy's while Alex took a call in the car. I was freaked out because there was a Wendy's employee sitting at a table, looking very nervous...crying and acting strangely. He kept standing up, walking around, going outside and coming in again. I was terrified that maybe he was fired or was a disgruntled employee and might do something "crazy" and we'd be caught in the middle. I had to act cool and stayed until the kids finished lunch. I barely ate because I was so nervous...and left as quickly as possible. He went outside when we went out and walked in the same direction as our car, but then kept walking. Thank God!!!!

One good thing that happened was they gave us lunch for free. There was a problem with the credit card machine, so they didn't charge the lunch. I offered to pay with cash and they wouldn't accept it. They just gave it to us. That was nice!

We kept driving and arrived at the border patrol around 4:30 pm. The officer interrogated me and tried to catch me in a lie. He asked where we were from, I said Miami, FL. He asked about the paper license plate, we explained we had recently bought the car. Then he said, "your driving from California, that's a long way."  I said, "No, we're driving from Florida."  He looked at the kids and I asked if he wanted me to open the window, he said no. He asked if we had weapons, guns or pepper spray? I said no.  Technically, we don't have weapons. We bought an ax and baseball bat, because on one of those days with a lot of driving, I had a lot of time to think and came to the conclusion that we should have some kind of "weapon" to use for protection in case the car broke down and we were alone and vulnerable.

We bought the stuff in a Walmart by Atlantic Beach, near New Bern. Jake drove us crazy asking why we were buying those things, so we had to explain. We were afraid he'd volunteer the information to the border officer. We didn't say anything, because technically, the items aren't necessarily weapons. They can be used for a variety of activities. The officer asked if the kids were having a hard time on such a long trip, I laughed and said they are fine.  We are the ones that are losing our minds with their fighting. I guess he commiserated and told us to go through. He'd searched almost all the cars before us. He didn't search our car, which was cool.

We drove another 20 minutes to our hotel. We were staying at the Radisson with a view of the Falls. When we checked in, we were told, the Falls views were sold out, but they gave us a huge suite with partial view of the lake. They also don't have availability to extend the stay one more day until Saturday morning. We put our stuff in and left to explore. Alex went back to the hotel to get me a jacket and the kids and I waited across the street at the Marriott. I asked if they had rooms available...they didn't have for tonight, but they have availability for tomorrow and Friday night. Alex came back and we reserved the room. They told us we could check in early in the morning if someone checked out early.

We went down to the Falls via the cable car and got information at the visitor's center. We had dinner at Elements overlooking the horseshoe falls. The view was very pretty, yet the food was just ok. Everything was a little salty. Alex and I had french onion soup and sirloin steak with veggies and potato. After dinner we went to see Fury. It's an interactive movie about the formation of the Falls. You have to wear raincoats because its very turbulent and it snows, rains and water splashes all over.  That was a fun experience. The kids loved it!!!!

Afterwards we went to see the fireworks. It was raining so we started seeing them from the Visitor's Center, then we went out under a walkway in the front and saw them better. We took the cable car up again and went to the Marriott. We asked to see an example of the view,so they showed us a room. The view is fantastic!!!!! Can't wait to move tomorrow.

Later we went back to our room, everyone bathed and got ready for bed. There was a bad incident with the Hershey bars. The kids fought over the chocolate. Alex and I wished each other Happy Anniversary at midnight and then we went to bed around 1:00 a.m.

Happy 15th Anniversary!  It's hard to believe it's been 15 years already! It's been great!

Amish, Probecito, and what a pig! - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Amish life, pobrecito, and what a pig!

We woke up around 10:00 am and had breakfast at the hotel. We drove from Harrisburg to Lancaster, the town where the Pennsylvania Deutsch or Amish have a large community. We got a little lost because on occassion the GPS gets a little "confused" or "slow" and then everything gets messed up. We drove through historic's very nice, very artsy!

One of the memorable stories or catch phrase of the trip stems from this: we were stopped at a light, there was a gentleman with a bag of grapes standing at the corner, waiting to cross. Suddenly all the grapes fall out of his bag. We felt so bad for him...I even wanted to give him some fruit we had with us. When I saw what happened I said, "Pobrecito" and genuinely felt bad for him. Almost simultaneously, he swipes up the grapes from the ground and sticks a handful in his mouth.  "What a pig!!!" was the next comment I said. My family just found that so hilarious, that I said pobrecito, and 2 seconds later, called him a pig. He was a pig!!!!! He didn't even attempt to brush off the dirt from the grapes he picked up. In addition, he didn't just put one tiny grape in his mouth. He stuffed a whole handful in his mouth. I can't live that down...its almost as if I had been the pig. They can't stop laughing and repeating the story. (pobrecito means poor thing)

Although the kids have been fighting a lot on this trip, they are having a good time and we are having many memorable moments.  Once we arrived in Lancaster, we went to Abe's Buggy Rides, Al bought the most expensive and longest tour available. It was $40 per adult and $24 for kids. It was a 5-mile tour with one stop. The tour itself was just ok. I thought it was pricey for what we got. Our tour guide/driver wasn't very forthcoming with information. We had to interrogate him and had to request to see things even though they were listed as part of the tour. Later, I saw another tour on a brochure that seemed better. The brochure states they stop at three non-commercial farms so you can see "true Amish life on a farm" and other interesting things. The lesson here is, we should have done more research before jumping on the first buggy tour we saw.

Even though we had to extract information from our driver, we had read enough to know what to expect so we asked him about it and he showed things we requested. That was good because we were still able to see things we were interested in seeing. He just didn't have the initiative to do it on his own. It's funny because on our way back we saw a group that had been waiting for a buggy with us, walking around on foot with no buggy nearby. Later, we learned that two of the family members had a severe allergic reaction to the horse and had to get off and walk. Our horse's name was Dolly. Our driver didn't tell us his name, but he told us he is a Mennonite. He told us about the differences in the two religions. The Mennonites aren't as strict as the Amish. After the tour we bought a book that explains the Amish religion.

After the buggy tour, we drove to Bird-in-Hand bakeshop. It was cute and I found the state magnets the kids want to collect. We even found a magnetic map to put them on, but they were out of them, I gave them my number so they can call me when it comes in. We bought 14 magnets for all the states we've been to already. We are still missing the states we have yet to see and the Canadian provinces. I didn't buy them ahead of time, because I thought it would be funner to buy them as we actually visited the places. Alex and the kids agreed. Prices for everything are very low. Postcards were only .25, the magnets were only .98 each, the baked good were extremely inexpensive as well.

We left the Amish country around 4pm. We drove to Hershey, PA. Although we would have loved to take the kids to Hershey Park and they were really looking forward to it, we did not take them. (I thought we'd cave in, but we stuck to it). They have been fighting a lot and we kept reminding them they'd lose the trip to Hershey Park unless they were nicer to eachother...they never even tried...not even when we were there right in front of the park...they just kept fighting. I think it kills Alex and I more than it does them, that we didn't take them, but we had to. They are having a wonderful experience, but it's hard for us to see them be mean  to eachother. On the flip side, they can also be very loving...but those moments are few and far between.

We did go to Hershey World.  It is basically a huge gift shop with a movie about the history of the company and a ride that goes through the process of how chocolate is made. They loved the ride. We went on it 3 times. We had dinner there. Alex and I had chili in a bread bowl...we eat that often on this trip. The kids each bought a shirt and a huge Hershey chocolate bar. They also did a chocolate works activity where they "work" at a conveyor belt and fill containers with kisses and then seal the container. They had a lot of fun.

We also drove to downtown Hershey to the Museum and the factory. There is a super sweet smell of chocolate right around the factory area. The town has Hershey kisses lamp posts. It's a very pretty is well-kept and clean. I was impressed with how beautiful it is.

We went back to the hotel, we arrived around 10ish. Alex and I were anxious because we still didn't know where we'd be going tomorrow.
Alex and I watched the Michael Jackson memorial service and planned the next few days of the trip. We decided to go to Niagara Falls for our anniversary and leave on July 11th, straight to Boston for the RedSox game at 1:30 pm on Sunday. On Saturday, we hope to stop in Cooperstown for the Baseball Hall of Fame and in Springfield for the Basketball Hall of Fame. I'd love to go to Lake Placid and do something in the Adirondack Mountains, but I don't know if it will be possible. It's funny... we have 33 days for this trip...a lot more time than many people would have...and we still don't have enough time to see everything we want. We gave up on attempting to go to Nova Scotia. If we do that we'll spend too much time trying to get there. Maybe next time...

We went to bed after 2:00 am.

Gettysburg to Harrisburg, PA - Monday, July 6, 2009

Gettysburg to Harrisburg, PA - Monday, July 6, 2009

Tomorrow, will be two weeks that we left and yesterday was 3 weeks to the day we will arrive in Miami. We aren't halfway done yet!!!! WOW! This is exhausting. The kids are driving us crazy. Alissa is behaving like a little nut who is completely out of control. She is defiant and just nutty. When we got to the hotel she laid on the bed and said "Mom, watch me make snow angels" and then proceeded to move her arms to make a snow angel on the sheets at speed of 20 mph minimum. It was so funny. She spills at least one thing everyday, if not more, and especially in the car. She is obsessed with the Washington Nationals. She holds the baseball cards she got at the game (in the program) and doesn't let them go. Earlier today she told me she wants to play baseball for the Nationals team. Although yesterday she couldn't remember their name. She asked me at east 15 times what the name of the team was.

Everytime we arrive anywhere, we are noticed...either because we are super loud, obnoxious or just too much.  Today, we left Arlington, VA around 11:00 am. and drove to Pennsylvania.

We stopped for lunch at Moe's on the way, and continued to Gettysburg.

  Gettysburg, is another place that is so evocative.

Quoting Alex, "Our fore-fathers rocked. They had amazing vision." To think that these people before us did so much and gave up their lives so that we could have better lives is amazing.   Yet it's also very disappointing to know that we are driving this country into the ground because some of the leaders we've had have not known how to make good decisions and do things in the best interest of all its people.

Our fore-fathers and veterans gave so freely yet due to selfishness and greed in more recent times, our citizens are now struggling and suffering.

 The battlefield was impressive. It covers a huge area. We did the auto tour, got off a million times for pictures and then went to the museum and store. I lost the kids in the store at least 3 times. I was looking for books to read to them so they could learn the story, I bought several picture books and coloring books about the Civil War, the generals, the Gettysburg Address and an explanation of the Gettysburg Address.  In addition we bought a postcard and a magnet of Pennsylvania. We decided we are going to start a states magnet collection so we can display our travels year-round. We also bought the movie Gettysburg so we can watch it together and learn more.

We arrived in Harrisburg, Pa (our next "home base' destination) around 8 pm. We are staying at a Residence Inn.  It looks fairly new, very clean and is very comfortable.  The neighborhood is nice and there are several restaurants close by.  We have a kitchenette and breakfast is included with the room so expenses should be kept manageable.  We decided to run to Target and pick up some necessary items. I bought a scale because the eating is out of control, even though we were going to eat super healthy and exercise on this trip. I have gained a few pounds. I will be on a diet as of July 10th!!!!!!!!!! I bought some things to cook because we have a tiny kitchen in the unit. We had pasta with chicken and shrimp.We were starving so we ate a million things as we waited for dinner. Tomorrow we will probably go to Lancaster.

Until tomorrow...

Washington Nationals baseball game at Nationals Park and drive-by the White House - Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday, July 5, 2009

This visit with our friends and the city have gotten me thinking a lot.  Dad made breakfast in the morning and the adults ate in the screened patio while the children played in the yard. It was beautiful as the yard is full of huge oak trees. This whole trip seems out of a novel. The scenes are perfect. First, we have the little towns with their epicenters of quaint stores and restaurants. Then, we have farms and fields of beautifully growing crops and animals. Now in the city, you have the best of both worlds. You have the hustle and bustle of the big city yet, also the tranquil setting of suburbia. The picture perfect house, with the beautiful yard, the happy, healthy, well-rounded's a dream come true.

One of the B-N kids woke up sick and she had a fever.  The rest of the B-N girls stayed home selling lemonade from a Lemonade Stand and the rest of us went to Nationals Park to see the Washington Nationals play the Atlanta Braves. The game was very exciting. They kids had many enjoyable moments and their favorite was the mascots (which are all past presidents) running a race on the field.  However, the most memorable moment, was when the kids ran the bases on the field after the game! They really enjoyed that.
We went on a short sight seeing trip because A wanted to see the White House. We drove down Pennysylvania Avenue and saw the mall, the Smithsonian, several museums and the White House with the snipers on the roof, which really got her attention.   After, we went back to the house and M  made a delicious dinner of pasta, sauteed varieties of squash with garlic in olive oil. She added a bit of milk, salt, pepper, fresh basil, and freshly grated parmesan cheese. It was spectacular. We had wine and fruit as we laughed and talked about the the last few days.  We have had the best time!

We took the children out to light the sparklers M bought them for 4th of July, but we never got to use them. They had great fun with that and then they ran around catching fireflies.  It was a perfect evening and a wonderful ending to a perfect visit to Arlington, VA.

Arlington, Rock Creek, and firework lookout from Iwo Jima Memorial - Saturday, July 4, 2009

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July!  We are excited again to be back near our nation's capital.  This time, we are staying in Virginia and we know it's going to be a great day.

We had a very good night sleep at the B-N home. They bought their house three years ago and have added quite a few new rooms to it. They just finished construction and the house is amazing!!! They invited us to stay with them and it was a very generous offer. We took them up on the offer so we could spend time together and it would give us a break from staying at hotels. We have the entire basement to ourselves. It's above ground so they made a guest room, large playroom, a sitting area and a bathroom. It's very comfortable and private.  It also has doors that lead out to the backyard.  The house sits on a hill with a view of the woods.  

We went to bed a little after midnight last night, yet the children all woke up relatively early. By 8:15 a.m., Alissa had managed to try to wake me up at least 5 or 6 times. Dad went out to run with D, so she had carteblanche to try to wake me up. Slowly, the B-N kids eventually made it down and the kids all played and watched T.V. in the playroom.
When D and Dad returned, most of the girls drove to the Farmer's market by the courthouse in Arlington. It was great and it made me feel guilty that I don't take advantage and go to the Farmer's Market in Pinecrest. I made myself a promise that I would start going upon my return to Miami.  It wasn't very large, but they had beautiful and delicious fruits, vegetables, orchids, flowers, breads, desserts, etc.  I like spending time with M because I am reminded that we should be more "green," should eat more fruits and veggies and less sugar and junk.  Also, she cooks well and usually makes delicious meals. I still make the eggplant parmigiana that she made us at their former house over 8 years ago!

At the Farmer's Market I sampled a fresh Corn Zucchini Torte from Willow Restaurant at 4301 North Fairfax Dr. in Arlington.  The torte was delicious. I would love to make it when I return to Miami. I am including the recipe because I don't want to lose it:

Fresh Corn Zucchini Torte

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3 ears corn (kernels off cob)
1 cup whole milk
1 shallot finely diced
1 lg Max tyson zucchini (shredded on grater)
6 leaves fresh basil chiffonade
4 tbsp melted butter
2 large eggs poly face

Directions:  Cook Corn in milk over low heat until tender. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. Mix the corn milk mixture with the grated zucchini, butter, eggs. Stir by hand the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Scoop into buttered 4 oz. ramekins. Bake 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Serve with sauteed cherry tomatoes.

Sweet Orange Cherry Tomatoes

1 pint sweet orange cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup Endless summer basil
4 cloves slice blanched garlic
3 tbsp EVOO
kosher salt
black pepper to taste

Directions:  Cut the tomatoes in half. heat a saute pan until moderately hot, add the oil and garlic, brown slightly, add the tomatoes saute quickly, toss with basil, season with salt and pepper.

This is a fabulous dish. I hope my children like it when I make it. We returned from the market and D had whipped up homemade waffles.  We had them with fruit, whipped cream and/or syrup. After breakfast, the kids played in the yard for a bit and the adults hung out.

For the afternoon, we decided to go to Rock Creek Park to hike and see the waterfall. The children had a wonderful time hiking and rock-climbing. The park has a Virginia side and a Maryland side. We went on the Virginia side. We also saw people climbing the rocks and kayaking down below in the river.

We were starving when we left. We had lunch at Amoo's Kabob in McLean, VA.  This was a Persian restaurant and the entrees were delicious. All of us were thrilled with our selection. The chicken and fillet were both very good. I think the rice with raspberries was my favorite. We ate so much we were ready for naps when we left. Unfortunately, there was no time for napping. We quickly got our things together and left for the Iwo Jima Memorial where we were planning to see the fireworks. We drove around for a long time looking for parking. We finally parked in a garage about 10 blocks away.

We met friends of the B-Ns there. We found a great spot on a hill with a view of DC and the Washington Monument. The children had a fabulous time, as did the adults. We talked, walked through Arlington Cemetery, snacked, played catch with rackets with suction cups, caught fireflies, and Dad led the kids in a game of Simon Says. The folks behind us were also very entertaining. We had a funny commentary going on throughout the fireworks display. It was a memorable night. When we got back to the house three of the five kids were sleeping. We took advantage and got ready for bed early. Again, Happy 4th!!!!

Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown Battlefield, Virginia - Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009

We woke up a bit late and took a long time to get ready and leave. We finally got on the road to Williamsburg around 11:00 AM. We decided to stop along the way and do the area in chronological order and went to the Jamestown settlement first.   When Dad and I came to Williamsburg 14 years ago, we never made it to Jamestown. We enjoyed the museum very much as they had clear fiberglass planks on the floor of the building where you could see the original foundation from the settlement circa 1600s. We walked through the museum and saw many artifacts, such as earthenware, utensils for cooking and eating, tools, locks, keys, etc.  We even saw remnants of a leather shoe.

The settlement was in a gorgeous location by the river with scenic views.  Then the settlers arrived, they were told to decide wisely on the place for the settlement. It had to be safe from Spanish attacks, a good place to farm and be able to provide all necessities for living. We had lunch there on the river.  The highlight was chili in a bread bowl.  We also got to see a statue of Pocahontas as this is where she was from.

After Jameston, we went to Colonial Williamsburg.  We didn't have much time there, but we did walk around for a little while, saw the shopping district, the historical area, the palace and some of the houses and other buildings.   After, we stopped at Yorktown Battlefield, the site of the last battle of the Revolutionary War.

Driving on these small country roads is very nice. You get to see farms, barns, animals, fields of crops and many corn fields. Every now and then, we would pull over to take a picture of houses on a hillside and one had a groundhog or prairie dog peeking from its hole.  We took pictures of it just before it snuck back into his hole.  As we were running late, we were a bit embarrassed because we were staying with the B-Ns tonight and we are super late.  It's 8:18 p.m. and we are still 77 miles away (about 1 hour 30 minutes to go).  We are anxious to get to Arlington, Virginia and visit with our friends.

NOTE:  Before we left, Dad made a playlist and some of the most memorable songs from this trip are: I Got a Feeling (Tonight's gonna be a good, good night) by Black-Eyed Peas, The Climb by Miley Cyrus, Pink songs, other Black Eyed peas songs, Lady Gaga's Poker Face, and Right Round by FloRida.

Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Chesapeake Bay, Virginia - Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thursday, July 2, 2009

We checked into the Townplace Suites by Marriott on Cleveland Street.  We then went with our friends (the Ws) to Norfolk, VA. Its a downtown area with nice buildings and a waterfront scene. It's similar to the Bayfront area in Miami. We had lunch at Granby's Deli across from C's office.  After, we walked around a bit and went to an Arcade. It's a place where artists have small studios and exhibit their art for all to enjoy. C met us there for a bit and then went back to work.

During this time, there was a Harborfest on the Elizabeth River and they were setting up for it. We saw the large ornate ships that came in for the event and they appeared to be the same ones that were in Charleston that we saw on the way to Fort Sumter.  We walked around and then watched the kids run though the fountain and get soaked.  Then we walked to the Nauticus Museum and the impressive Battleship Wisconsin docked there. We saw jellyfish swimming right off the bridge by the entrance of the museum.

On the way back to W's house, we went to Chesapeake Bay and crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. It was amazing and is the largest estuary in the U.S.  Dad had been looking forward to seeing it for a few days.

Note:  There was a toll when we arrived at the bridge. Dad was shocked to hear that the toll was $12.00. He kept asking the woman, "Are you sure?" She was annoyed by Dad's response to the cost of the toll. Then to annoy her further, he asked if he had to pay another $12.00 on the way back. She was horrified.  Alex was even more horrified as he claimed that it was going to cost $24.00 to cross this bridge. " In the end, he thought it was work the $24 although it is very pricey when you just want to go across and back within 15 minutes.
We went back to W's house as they were having a BBQ in our honor (at least I think it was).  It was great as they invite some family and neighbor friends.  There were lots of kids for our kids, so they had a great time.  C grilled and A made the corn and cole slaw. Everything was delicious and the company was fantastic. We had a wonderful time. A neighbor made Mojitos and we had great conversation as  the girls put on a "show" and the boys played football. When it was time to say goodbye, the boys exchanged email addresses and wanted to keep in touch.

While talking, A and I discovered that she knew L and V from St. Theresa. They also told us to try to go to Charlottesville and Monticello (the home of Thomas Jefferson). They also encouraged us to take a scenic drive through the mountains in West Virginia. We mentioned that we weren't sure if we'd stop in Williamsburg. They thought it would be great to stop and see it.

As we said our goodbyes, we thank them for their hospitality and generosity. Hasta la proxima we said along with a big hug for all.  These trips are extra special when you get to visit family or friends.  This was a highlight of the trip.

Outer Banks, Kill Devil Hills, Wright Brothers, and Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

We woke up the earliest ever and we were on the road by 8:00 a,m. We drove on highway 17 to highway 64 to the Outer Banks. We frist drove to Kill Devil Hills and this is where the Wright Brothers National Memorial is and the site of their first attempts and successes at flying. We stood in the field where their first flight took off. It was remarkable and well worth the visit. One of the best places we've been to so far on this trip.  

After three hours there, we drove to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park. There were enormous, impressive sand dunes. It was a beautiful drive.  We drove south to the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. The wooden beach homes are reminiscent of the homes on Cape Cod. There are simliar homes all along the east coast of Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina. These homes are bigger and more beautiful than any others. The drive was very beautiful. We arrived at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and attempted to buy tickets to climb the 244 steps in the 93 degree temperature inside the structure. We were informed we wouldn't be able to buy tickets because there had been a medical emergency inside and they weren't allowing anyone else in. We waited a bit and then just went through the museum, read about and saw pictures of the $2 million relocation of the lighthouse to this new spot. They had to move it because there was a lot of erosion and the land was wearing away. After waiting about 30 minutes, we decided to leave. We think the emergency was that an older woman either fell and hit her head or it got too hot and she felt sick.

Then, we drove to the beach and the kids played on the shore. They ran around jumping in and out and over the waves. They enjoyed it very much.  We even collected some seashells and then went to play, run, and roll down the sand dunes. We had take-out dinner from the Atlantic Coast Cafe on 25150 NC Highway 12 in Waves, NC.  Check out the link to their web site.  They are only open from April to October.  They had great gourmet burgers and were fast.  There were two large families eating inside and they all seemed to be having a great time.  We drove out of Cape Hatteras National Park and then back through the Outer Banks and up to Virginia. We stayed in Virginia Beach and will soon visit with the Ws.