Brisbane: My Second Home

We made it to the warm part of our trip…Brisbane!  The best part though is getting to hug my Aussie family’s necks!  I love that my kids also love and get so excited to see them as well.

That’s what this leg of our trip is all about…visiting with people we don’t see every day.  We have been fortunate enough that we have seen them a couple times in the last four years.  Let me recap as to how I have an Aussie family.  Fifteen years ago, I interned just south of Brisbane and I was luckily enough to stay with the Schaers.  Now they’re family!  Sharon, the mom, Hans (the dad) and Kelsey (the youngest daughter) still live here.  The oldest daughter, Jess lives in Switzerland and we got to see her there a few years ago.  Now Kelsey has a family of her own…Shane (dad), Harlow (3.5) and Mia (newborn).

Cory is also in Brisbane but for work.  Somebody’s got to pay the bills, right?  Unfortunately, he’s still not feeling well!  However, his symptoms have changed (which it took a couple days to realize) it was due to the medicine the Sydney doctor prescribed.  Glad we figured that out!

Today we got to meet Baby Mia!  She is the newest member of my Aussie family at only two months old.  We are so pumped and Bea said she wanted to hold her for hours!  We had a relaxing day visiting and eating lunch on the coast.  The major cities in Australia are all located along the coast and Brisbane is no different.  During lunch, we laughed as Bea doesn’t love birds especially big ones including the ibis (aka bin chickens to Aussies).

We woke on Friday to Cory feeling much better!  Thank goodness!  Sharon off to work again so kids and I off to Kelsey’s to play again.  I made the kids nap today as we had a fun evening activity planned.  After work, we drove downtown to pick up Cory and go to Eats Street Market.  It’s an old dock area that the docking containers have been converted into food trucks.  There were all kinds of different ethnic foods available; this is right up Cory’s alley!  Plus, they had live music which we enjoyed especially the Geed Up.  It was such a cool Brisbane experience.  The kids did great having had a nap and enjoyed their evening….allowing us to enjoy our evening as well!

We had a leisurely Saturday morning with the kids enjoying some Aussie cartoons.  We met Kelsey and her family at Fun Fit Play, aka an indoor play area with a ninja warrior course and rock-climbing wall.  The kids got nice and sweaty!  Then take away lunch to have a picnic and play by the shore.  We even saw a sea turtle swimming at the end of the pier!  We had a bbq at Kelsey’s tonight and by bbq I mean, we grilled.  In Australia, anything on the grill is considered a bbq.  It was a lovely and somewhat late evening so we tossed kids into bed at the end of the day!

Unfortunately, Cory’s and my evening didn’t end here.  When we got back to Sharon’s, Cory could barely walk up the stairs.  We called the International SOS insurance number and they sent us to Mater Private Hospital.  Australia has public and private healthcare so we were fortunate enough to not wait in a long line since we were at a private hospital.  We walked straight in and they immediately did an ECG on Cory.  Within minutes, the nurse said the doctor thinks he knows what it is but we’re running some bloodwork to confirm.  Sure enough, this ER doctor got it quickly that Cory had pericarditis which is inflammation of the sack around your heart caused by a virus…by complete fluke!  Cory hadn’t even had any virus symptoms.  At this point, we were just so thankful there was a prognosis of some kind so the medical staff would know how to treat it.  The doctor wanted to do an echocardiogram to reaffirm it was only pericarditis and it would be easier if he was admitted.  That took a while but before day break, we got to a room to get a few hours of sleep.

Whew, we have never had anything like this happen on an international trip before but praise the Lord we were in Australia where they have top notch medical care.  And that we had our Aussie family here as we knew the kids were in good hands with Sharon so we didn’t have to worry about them at all!  As you could imagine, there were lots of prayers going up to Cory’s healing and thankfulness for everyone around us helping.

While Cory rested in the hospital, Sharon, the kids and I had a sleepover with Harlow which was just so fun!  They’re all at such fun ages to play together and I love that they all know and love each other!  Thanks to Kelsey for talking to Harlow about Bea and Teddy so often between our visits so they’re not strangers to Harlow.

Sharon took off on Monday to play with us and Kelsey brought the girls over to join the fun!  The Aussies love their morning (and afternoon) tea; so, first things first, we headed to the coffee shop for morning tea.  I love this tradition!  Plus, Australia has some of the best coffee in the world!  Long black for me, please.  We strolled to the park to enjoy the playground equipment as well as the small lake filled with ducks and an Eastern Water Dragon.  Teddy loves to find unexpected animals in nature!

Cory was dismissed from the hospital after a clear echocardiogram and sent home to rest.  Rest he did!  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him take it quite so easy.  I’m glad he’s taking care of himself!  The kids were so glad to see him.  Sweet Sharon fixed supper for us (as she has most nights which is so lovely especially when you’re on an extended vacation and no access to a kitchen).

On Tuesday, Cory rested while the kids and I plus Kelsey and her kids drove down the coast a bit to see Nana, Sharon’s mom.  She was so sweet to welcome us into her home for morning tea and let the kids play.  What a lovely time catching up with her!  It’s wild to think I’ve known everyone for fifteen years now.  We have all grown up a lot!

Cory had gotten stir crazy being in the house all day today so we went out for supper to *Chickpea.  It did not disappoint!  It’s a Lebanese restaurant in Coorparoo and they rivaled the food we had in the Middle East.  Yum!  Each night after we put the kids to bed is special adult time where we get to chat away without any interruptions.  Tonight, was no exception and I loved every minute of it!

The weather in Brisbane has been beautiful!  It was forecast to rain the majority of our visit but we didn’t get much so we took advantage of the warm weather and sat outside the next day for morning tea before heading to the park.  Andana and Co had amazing atmosphere but even better food including all the bakery items, aka works of art, we saw…and tasted some!  The kids were so great to allow us some relaxing time before Minnippi Parkland.  It’s a lovely park (with no sand….those are hard to find) with a few different play areas; the kids ran wild touching every piece of equipment.  Cory joined Kelsey, me and the kids for the day.  It was nice to have him along!  Sweet Kelsey cooked supper for us tonight to get us all together one more time as we head out the next morning.  It was such a sweet time with everyone that it’s never easy leaving.  Kelsey and I both ended up tearing up (as always) when we left as we don’t know the next time we’ll see each other.  I feel so fortunate to even know these people.  They were truly a God-send all those years ago to take care of me when I flew half-way around the world by myself.  As a a parent now, I know how truly grateful my family was knowing I was with the Schaer’s.

Sharon and I enjoyed another (way too long) night of chatting!  We called it after midnight as it was still a school night.  It sure was hard driving away the next morning.  Sharon has become such a special member of my whole family.  She and Kelsey even came to Cory’s and my wedding almost fourteen years ago.  SO special!

Since Cory hasn’t felt well this week, I’ve been driving which was been fun and I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with it.  I might have to focus a bit driving on the right when we return home!  Next stop, a new country for Go With Daddy!

Eats Street Market

Manly Beach

Mini ice cream cones with Sharon

Teddy entertaining Baby Mia

Sharon, Millie and Kelsey

Ski Bumming in 2022

This whole global pandemic thing really put a wrench in the Go With Daddy plans.  Our family went from spending an average of 10 weeks per year traveling the world taking advantage of the global travel required for my work and the travel reward points gained.  Helping our kids to experience the world and develop an appreciation of culture and the magnitude of our world has become our favorite pastime for sure and we’ve developed a bit of withdrawal symptoms in the last two years…but that ends now!

With vaccinations complete and the world welcoming back a bit of normalcy, we are hitting the road…literally as SKI BUMS!  Well, not in the literal “live in a van and work as a lifty” sort of way, but rather lets take my remote work on the road and homeschool the kids while getting in as many days skiing as is humanly possible sort of way.  We’ve packed up our Expedition for what will be our longest, albeit domestic adventure and here’s the how, where and why of our Ski Bums 2022 story!

The most exciting part of this story is the places we are going and the mountains we will be skiing!  We bought our whole family Ikon Passes thanks to the variety of mountains included and an awesome discount for kids.  Our first stop for 4 weeks is in Fraser, CO which is situated right next to Winter Park Resort and centrally located in the Rockies to give us easy access to Steamboat, Arapahoe Basin and Copper Mountain to name a few.  Our home will be a delightful 2 bedroom condo we found on VRBO.com!  Winter Park is known for having one of the best ski schools in the country and Millie and the kids are signed up for lessons where they’ll brush up their skills and get ready for skiing the whole mountain.  Then we are off to Jackson Hole for a week in the Tetons and the familiar comforts of a Marriott.  Our longest stop is in Salt Lake City where we are less than 40 minutes from incredible mountains like Deer Valley, Alta, Snowbird, Brighton and Solitude which offer some of the best snow in the west…some get an average of more than 500” of snow per season!!!  This time we ended up liking a little vintage home near downtown Salt Lake found on Airbnb.com…the ad said “Gig internet” and that may have been the deciding factor.  To round out our trip, we are staying slopeside at Big Sky Resort in Montana for 2 weeks of final fun shredding the pow…as the cool kids say.  That’s 13 weeks of powdery awesomeness where we are hoping to ski at least 4 days a week and we are honestly hoping the whole family builds the skills to ski just about anything on the mountain.

Now let’s talk about how we are pulling this off.  First, the kids are 1st and 3rd grade and clearly need to continue their studies and thanks to my beautiful wife loving being a full-time Momma, she’s graciously taken on the burden of homeschooling the kids for the trip.  With a lot of help from the amazing teachers and staff at Edgewood Elementary (and a grandmother who taught school for 20+ years), Millie is well prepared to keep them on track.  We are also bringing along our 1 year old Golden Retriever named Tally.  He’s a great little traveler and we cannot wait to see how he takes to the snow!  My work is the other constant that needs to be addressed and candidly I’ve been a remote worker for most of my career.  Thanks to modern technology and an amazing employer who values work life balance, I will be able to continue my work wherever we go!  In the weeks ahead, I’ll document my mobile work setup…which includes a triple monitor, highly ergonomic environment with 4K cameras and studio quality audio powered by some pretty click Artificial Intelligence…stay tuned.  Sure, I’ll probably be up a bit earlier in the mornings and work a bit later in the evenings than normal, but my hope is to squeeze in 3 days a week on the mountain from the mountain open to lunch each day…and I am guessing the occasional conference call will be taking from the ski lift!  

Yes, this is a bit crazy and has taken A LOT of work to prepare for but it is worth it to us.  These adventures create some of the most memorable experiences for a family.  Not just in the big landmark sort of experience ways, but also and maybe more importantly in the small ways when we all are pulled out of our comfort zones and routines and truly connect.  That is the draw, the reason WHY we pour so much effort into making adventures like this happen.  We, as parents, want our kids to have a life full of experiences as they grow to adulthood in hopes that they are kinder, more compassionate and caring members of society based on their first hand knowledge of cultural differences.  I’d be lying though if I didn’t admit a bit of selfishness in this too.  I absolutely love to ski.  Not just the experience of gliding down the mountain with the cool breeze swirling through my beard, but equally as much it’s the beauty of the places you ski and the experience of being on the mountain.  When you slide off the lift and round the corner at the top of the slope and see the views that altitude provides, it’s hard not to lose your breath.  Skiing connects me with the outdoors, it challenges me physically and it rewards me with apres ski.  Experiencing that, over and over again for 3 straight months with my family is why we’ve embarked on this adventure to ski bum in 2022.  

If you want to follow along on the adventure with us, you have a couple of ways to stay connected: 

  1. You can sign up for email updates at the bottom of this page and you’ll get an email each time we post a new blog.
  2. We are also on Instagram and will be posting pictures of the adventures there pretty regularly.

Either way, wish us luck, safety and health in 2022 and we will be praying for the same for you!

The Bearded Big Guy,


From the Magic City to the Big Easy

Happy Fat Tuesday!

We recently took a long weekend to the Big Easy; and, boy, did we do it up right!  It all started with a super fun trip on the train…Amtrak to be exact.  Cory and I had ridden the Amtrak years before as our Christmas holiday transportation but it was a first for the kids.  The newly renovated train station in Birmingham along with an on-time train departure was a nice to start to the adventure.  The train takes longer than driving but you can move around and your seat is like having a seat in a first class plane ticket.  We travel with a backpack for each kid with activities, toys and books.  It couldn’t have gone smoother!

We hit the ground running, even though it was past our kids’ bedtime; but, we needed some dinner.  And we got a delicious one at an old pub called Pierre Maspero where we had delicious gator bites, crawfish etiouffe and classic N’awlins Cocktails.

As you may know, we have loyalties to Marriott for hotel stays (and Delta Airlines when flying).  We love a hotel stay on points…aka free!  Cory found us the most central location at the W hotel which had just been moved to the French Quarters.  As we walked out of our hotel the next morning, the sun had shown up; and, we soaked in a full day of uncharacteristically warm January weather.  I was in heaven!  We got started at Cafe Du Monde and right before the line got really long too.  Trick…go before 9am!  We enjoyed dark coffee with chicory and the most delicious beignets with powdered sugar all over our faces!  The warm sunshine talked us into changing our original itinerary and taking our carriage ride around the French Quarter and Marigny today.  This was our daughter’s request as she likes ‘fancy’ things and this was her fancy.  We were pulled behind a mule driven carriage because horses aren’t allowed in New Orleans.  It was a lovely start to the day learning history of the French Quarters and New Orleans!

As we continued on our day, it took us by the Mississippi River where we heard the steam whistle coming from the steam boat.  Not only was it beautiful music but it was live music being played by a gentleman we could see (and wave to) standing on the top fo the boat.  How fun is that!  After a lovely stroll, my husband needed (yes, he needed) some chargrilled oysters from Drago’s.  I didn’t mind either as they were amazing!  Even my son got in on the oyster action; he’s always up for trying new and different foods.  Before we left for NOLA, Cory made it known that he would be eating his way through the Big Easy.  And he (we all) did just that!  With full tummies, we visited the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium next.  What a cool, very different animal museum!  We are regular patrons to any and all animal establishments if my son is along for the trip.  He loved it the most as he isn’t afraid of any type of animal.  My daughter, on the other hand, hid behind the map the majority of the time as the creatures were a little too creepy for her.  The butterfly garden was a hit for everyone though as they each got to hold a butterfly.  We didn’t try their version of a tasty treat but you can eat a bug (masked with sweets) in the museum’s bakery if you feel so compelled.  I would say this is a must visit place especially with kids.

After working up our appetite, we needed a sweet treat and got that and more!  We hopped in Palace Cafe to spoil ourselves with a bananas foster and bread pudding.  Wow!  The plates were all but licked clean as no one wanted to leave a morsel of these decadent desserts.  While we were there, a three-piece jazz band was playing.  They came to our table and played a couple songs the kids would know and sing a long to as well.  Treats on treats!

After much needed naps, we were on to our next eatery.  Remember, I did say that would be the focus of our visit to New Orleans.  Cory used to travel to the city every couple of months so he has his favorites.  Cochon is always on the list and it didn’t disappoint!  It’s fresh farm food with a modern twist and extra delicious!

Our next day might have been a bit chilly but it is winter after all.  Luckily the sun was out for our walk to Arnaud’s for jazz brunch.  Arnaud’s is a famous, established New Orleans restaurant..and super fun and fancy!  Again, my daughter loves all things fancy so we dressed up for brunch.  Along with a four-course meal, we were serenaded by another jazz band trio.  This time it was a stand up bass player, a soprano saxophone player/singer and a banjo player.  Music also seems to be the name of the game in New Orleans and I love it!  We love a stroll after a meal so we took to the pavement to get to Audubon Aquarium of the Americas then a walk through Jackson Square and the French Market.  It was a lovely afternoon!

If you’re in New Orleans close to Mardi Gras, you must eat some king cake.  We had a sample at a local bakery and wouldn’t you know that Teddy got the piece with the baby in it!  If you’re unfamiliar with a king cake tradition, whomever gets the piece with the baby in it has to buy the king cake next year.  I guess we’ll let him slide since he’s only five!  After a little rest, we ate again!  I wasn’t kidding about eating our way through NOLA.  We took the famous street car to Commander’s Palace for one of the best meals I’ve ever had.  I say that because it is an old school establishment with amazing food, excellent service and for reasonable prices!  And they love having children in their restaurant; I must brag that our kiddos do well at fine dining restaurants; but, it helps when the staff is clearly happy to have children there too.  I would say this restaurant is a true ‘must eat’ on your first (and or all) visits.

Whew, what a packed-full time we had in NOLA!  To round out our trip, we drove to Slidell, Louisiana for a swamp boat tour with Cajun Encounters.  This is what my son was looking forward to the most!  Although, we didn’t see alligators, as they hibernate in the winter; we did see turtles sunning and egrets and blue herons perched.  We also found a family of raccoons and wild hogs that the guide fed.  They’re both surprisingly good swimmers; who knew!

The return train schedule didn’t work for us so we rented a car to get home.  One of my husband’s requests on our visit was to stop at a Rouse’s (aka local grocery store) to get cajun seasonings and a king cake to take home that you cannot get in Alabama.  It was a beautifully sunny day to drive home after a lovely weekend away with our adventure-loving family!

Here are also a few highlights we have done on past trips that we didn’t fit in this time as well as a great website for a family traveling to NOLA.
Buying muffalettas at Central Grocery and eating them by the river
Enjoying jazz music (fun for all ages) at Preservation Hall
Eating a po-boy https://www.neworleans.com/listing/domilises-restaurant-and-bar/32175/

Until our next adventure…

Amtrak to New Orleans

Beignets at Cafe Du Monde

Gentleman playing the steam whistle on top of the boat on the Mississippi River

Teddy with the king cake baby

Arnaud’s Jazz Brunch

Swamp Boat Tour

Country #19: New Zealand (the south island)

Our next stop is a new country for Go With Daddy…New Zealand!  But first some necessary preparations, aka wash all our clothes!  The Prins were gracious enough to let us stay at their apartment, while they’re away, to wash away.  We’re heading even further south which means colder weather but we’re trying to pack in only 2 suitcases which is hard when four people have three different layers of coats and boots for all… but we did it!  Luckily, we could drop off a suitcase and stroller at the Marriott as we’ll be back there for one night before flying home after a couple weeks.  Being able to utilize these extra conveniences are huge!

At the airport, we went through customs as we’re leaving Australia and this time it was computerized.  We found this interesting that small children could go through here as it meant they went through on their own.  Bea and Teddy did great though!  We had given ourselves extra time so Cory wouldn’t be rushed as he’s just a little slower moving than normal right now.  It was a quick three-hour flight to Christchurch.  Upon landing, customs had to check my boots for seeds and stink bugs as they’re very particular about not bringing any outside contaminates into their country.  We stayed at the Sudima Hotel which was nice, clean and very close to the hotel.  We all went straight to bed as it was past midnight in NZ; we lost two hours in the time zone change.

Saturday morning we waked up to the no-work, family vacation portion of our trip and we were all so excited as it included a campervan for the next twelve days.  After a quick stop for breakfast and supplies, we had one last errand to buy a new boosters/car seats bag as the zippers (that were on the brink upon arriving in Australia) broke.  On each long trip we have taken, we have bought a bag of some sort.  Luckily, we found one that would fit both boosters with no problem; thanks Baby on the Move.

Now on to Willowbank Wildlife Park; I bet you couldn’t have guessed a zoo stop, huh?  It was a cool wildlife park and proudly showing the big five NZ animals.  The one most recognizable is the kiwi; it’s a nocturnal, flightless bird that we saw inside a darkened area to simulate night.  We were able to see a few kiwis rustling around in the bush and digging around with their long beaks, which have their nostril at the end.  The other four are: kea, who has a very loud call and sharp looking beak; tuatara, which is said to be the last living dinosaur; takahe and kaka.  They don’t include it in the top five but we (Teddy mostly) were excited to see a weka, another native, flightless NZ bird.  New Zealand has no native four-legged animals; they have all been imported.  Other highlights to this wildlife park included eels, capuchin monkeys, siamang gibbons, capybara and llamas.

We couldn’t stay all day as we needed to head north to Kaikoura for the night.  For supper, we stopped in a town that only had one restaurant open and it was takeaway food only.  Luckily, we could eat in the campervan then got settled in and put kids in pjs as it will be past bedtime when we arrive in Kaikoura.  We have a nice set up and much bigger than when we rented a campervan in Oz when the kids were 3 and 1.  We’ve gotten a bit wiser from that experience!  The kids will sleep above the cab and the adults in the back where a couch converts to a bed.  We also have a table (that could convert to a bed) so we do not have to take down any bedding each morning…upgrade!  After some windy, two-lane roads, we made it to Kaikoura to the *Pier Hotel where we parked for the night.

When we waked the next morning, we had an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean!  A quick stop at Why Not Cafe for a hearty brekky before it’s Whale Watching Kaikoura time.  Fortunately, we could go as the past few days had been cancelled due to rough water.  Unfortunately, the captain said it was a “very high seasick possibilities” day so Cory found us seasick medicine to take.  Bea and I both felt rough but no one got sick.  We were able to see two male sperm whales just hanging out on the top of the water (there are no females here in the winter as they go further north for warmer waters with their calfs).  The whales stay at the surface for about 15 minutes before they dive back into the deep for 45-60 minutes!  Again, seeing these massive, majestic creatures took my breath away and I cried.  Whales must be my favorite animal of all time!  Being in the wild, you never know what you’ll get to see but we also saw three fur seals swimming.  Each fur seal had one fin up soaking in the sun’s heat to warm their bodies.  Many albatross and other birds flew by us just above the water’s surface; so amazing to watch them glide by.  After this breathtaking experience, we came back to the Pier Hotel for lunch where I had the best seafood chowder.  Sorry New England, New Zealand has you beat!

We have twelve days to cover as much ground as possible on New Zealand’s South Island so on to the next town we drove!  The seasickness meds made us all drowsy so coffees were much needed this afternoon.  Since it’s winter, it gets dark early so we rolled into Blenheim at 6pm to complete darkness.  We checked into Blenheim Top 10 Holiday Park before a quick, delicious and very friend meal at Eat Thai.  Sweet Teddy had fallen asleep and that’s never the easiest waking someone that close to bedtime to have supper.

Even though we picked a larger campervan, the bathroom section is still pretty small with the toilet taking up the majority of the space.  So we utilize the holiday parks for showers.  Thank goodness we can each take a kid to speed up the process.  Another benefit of a holiday park is they usually have a playground which the kids took advantage of and enjoyed while we got ready to hit the road again.  Today is wine day…Cloud Bay to be specific!  This winery put NZ on the map for Sauvignon Blanc and our tasting did not disappoint!  It was a beautiful, sunny day so the kids played outside among the vines.  Due to NZ regulations, we could not tour the facility.  We continued wine day at The Vines Village for lunch where we also soaked in the sun while eating outside and the kids played on the playground.  Win, win for all!  We have driven past many vineyards and some even with sheep grazing amongst the vines!

We were told traveling from place to place will take longer in NZ and that is accurate.  The highways are two lanes and have many one-way bridges.  These bridges have signs showing who has the right of way or a stop light.  However, we found one with neither of these which was nerve racking especially since it was dark and we had to go around a corner.  Lots of honking was done then!  On our drives, it’s fun to hear the kids playing with their toys.  They each have a small, Skip Hop backpack of toys.  A good handful of the items come from the Family Dollar since you get a good price and don’t have to worry if you break or lose something.  I also love to hear their imaginations!  We mix in some movie time too.  This specific day seemed like the most desolate of roads we’ve been on, so we made sure to stock up on groceries before leaving town.  Unfortunately, it didn’t get any better before night fall.  The holiday park we planned to stay in was closed so we had to backtrack a bit in the little town of Charleston to Mitchell’s Gully Mine.  It used to be a huge mining town but is now almost non-existent.  We parked but couldn’t find anywhere to check in.  Then out of nowhere a gentleman, Valentine Mitchell, came out with his flashlight.  He confirmed we could park here then proceeded to show us the many glow worms on his property.  He had dug tunnels and the glow worms came to make homes here…so cool!

We waked to find Mr. Valentine waiting to show us around his gold mine.  He told us all about the history of NZ’s gold rush starting in the 1880s when his great grandfather immigrated from Scotland.  He was very proud of his heritage!  We strolled through the tunnels where the miners would have dug for gold; there were a lot of tunnels!  We saw a new bird which we found out was called a fantail.  His name perfectly describes him with his fan being as big as his body.

The drive south down the West Coast was beautiful as it was mostly along the coast of the Tasman Sea.  A quick cup of coffee at Rusty Cup Coffee (his set up was portable and energy efficient using propane and solar panels to power it all) before stopping to see Pancake Rocks.  They’re giant stacked rocks that no one can figure out how they got this way, as well as Blow Holes where we witnessed geysers produced by the forceful waves coming into the inlets.  We weren’t expecting to see geysers as it wasn’t high tide so that was a fun surprise!  Lunch was at Pancake Rocks Cafe for another yummy edition of fish and chips.  Driving on south we saw stunning views of very diverse landscape…giant fern leaves, palm trees and fur trees, mostly dry riverbeds (as they won’t fill completely until the snow melts in the springtime), one-lane bridges, cows and sheep, llamas, mountains and oceans!

Tonight’s stop is in Fox Glacier at Fox Glacier Top 10 Holiday Park which turned out to be the nicest holiday park we stayed at during our whole trip!  Every other night we have made sure to get a powered site for power and showers.  This one even had heated bathroom floors…bonus!  We grabbed dinner at Cook Saddle Cafe and Saloon then showers for all.

Happy Birthday to Cory from New Zealand!  We were all so excited for this day, especially the birthday boy, as we were getting to take a heli (the Aussies and Kiwis love to shorten words) ride to a glacier; however, the rain saw otherwise.  So, we soaked our sorrows in an amazing brekky (with birthday candles for Cory to blow out) and coffee from Cafe Neve then on to Wanaka.  Sweet Cory has done all the driving and I know it’s not easy.  It was a hard, full day of driving today as it poured, and the wind was quite strong!  We made a few stops along the way for lunch, to see Thundering Creek Falls (a magnificent waterfall right off the road), and not one, two but three amazing rainbows among the mountains and lake.

Upon arriving in Wanaka, we went straight to Rippon Vineyard (just before they closed) for a tasting and an amazing view of the vines and Lake Wanaka.  Tonight, we met a colleague of Cory’s (Simon), his son and their friends for supper at Lake Bar.  This colleague, among others, has been so hospitable and thoughtful especially with Cory’s medical issues.  They didn’t know they were joining us for birthday dinner and celebrating Cory made it even more fun!  Cory doesn’t have any colleagues in our hometown so it’s always a treat for the kids and I to meet people he works with.  It helped even more that tonight there were two kids the same ages as Bea and Teddy to play with.

Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park worked great for our evening’s accommodations too.  The next morning, Cory snuck off and booked us on a glacier helicopter ride!  Boy, were we all excited!  Wanaka Helicopters, a boutique, family business, provided an amazing experience with Pilot Pete (son of the owner) piloting our flight.  The kids and I had never been in a helicopter and they sat in the front seats giggling as we took off.  I, on the other hand, was teary eyed as we took off.  Did I forget to mention, it was just the five of us…our family of four and the pilot.  It was such an amazing feeling and could not believe I was getting to do this!  We flew over Lake Wanaka to Mount Aspiring (featured in Lord of the Rings) seeing beautiful snow-capped mountains.  New Zealand has some of the most breathtaking views including amazing waterfalls that we flew right beside and blue ice, which is highly compressed snow that free of any air inside.  We did not realize the best was yet to come; that would be when we landed the helicopter on a glacier!  Yes, that’s what I said and in one meter of snow.  The kids played and played in the snow; they were covered in snow when it was time to get back in the helicopter.  What a magical, unbelievable experience we had!  I sat up front on the way back and soaked in the landscaping beauty.  I’m still pinching myself!

Wanaka is an adorable lake and mountain town with boutiques and heaps of restaurants including Francesca’s Italian Restaurant where we ate for lunch.  I had an amazing mushroom, truffle oil pizza while Cory enjoyed a braised lamb pasta.  So yummy!  Back on the road and onto Queenstown now.  The kids and I fell asleep for the whole hour and a half drive…sorry Cory!  Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park was our pick of parks for the next few days while we enjoy the adventure sports capitol of the world.  Even in winter, Queenstown is more crowded than any place we’ve been in NZ.  Sometimes you need some downtime, so Cory gave me a little while he took the kids to the playground; then, we watched a movie and heated up leftovers.  These times are needed sometimes on long trips.

We woke to a day of mostly rain, so we took the morning to give the kids another break while Cory did the “not so fun” campervan duties.  I took the kids to (an indoor) Chipmunks Playland and Cafe and they had a blast!  We met Cory for lunch at a quaint little hole in the wall, Red Rock Bar and Cafe before a true Queenstown experience and NZ originated jetboat ride.  Shotover Jet has it down to a science as they pack in 28 people in a boat every fifteen minutes for their ride of a lifetime.  First, they outfit us with jackets to block some of the water, glasses to keep the water out of our eyes and life vests for safety.  I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was way better!  Cory and I bookended the kids in the back of the boat and heard Bea’s giggle and saw Teddy’s perma-grin the whole ride.  Our captain drove the boat 90 kph in only 10 inches (in some spots) of water zooming up and down river currents, through a canyon and almost missing many giant boulders.  We also did many 360s where I came off my seat every time while holding tight to Teddy.  Boy, what a rush!  Another bonus were the heated handrails, so no one was even cold.

Saturday morning we were up at 5:30am (which is way earlier than the 8am we’ve been getting up on this vacation).  Sweet Cory fixed us breakfast, as he always likes everyone to be well fed, before our 6:30am cab ride.  Today’s adventure with Real Journeys took us on three buses and two boats.  We had seven people (low numbers in the off-season) on a coach bus that took us to Manapouri.  However, we wouldn’t be in NZ if they didn’t stop for coffee on the way which consequently had a playground for the kids ten minutes of wiggles out.  Why not, right!  Once in Manapouri, we took our first boat ride in a relaxing catamaran on Lake Manapouri to our second bus which was a 20 km scenic ride full of vegetation (many beech trees and moss) and the beginning of all the waterfalls.  The main event was a three hour boat ride (yes, we did make it back!) touring Doubtful Sound.  It’s been a warm winter so far in NZ as it was only 8 degrees Celsius instead of typical negative temperatures.  Doubtful Sound is a cove of water ways viewing one amazing waterfall after another amazing water.  It started raining (actually storming) on us which normally would’ve been a bummer, but the rain emphasized the hundreds of waterfalls we saw!  Crazy wind made the waterfalls even cooler as some of the water from the falls don’t hit the lake before being swept back north.  Wild!  The boat captain got us up so close to some of the waterfalls that we could almost touch the water.  I have never seen anything like it!  The kids loved being so close, standing in the rain and wind.

After all the beauty, we still have two more buses and another boat ride to get back to Queenstown but Doubtful Sound’s beauty was worth the whole day of traveling.  It was a late evening with the kids getting to bed at 9pm but not before a delicious Indian dinner at Boliwood.

Sunday morning, we hit the road again to see the animals of NZ’s South Island.  However, we stopped at Macca’s first which we have done once on each of our international trips.  On our three-hour drive, we saw elk farms (who knew they farmed elk and deer), bungee jumping (I have no desire to try this) and lots and lots of sheep and cattle.  Our first animal destination was a hidden gem Cory found on Backpackers Guide Magazine to Matakae Scenic Reserve at Shag Point.  It’s a New Zealand Fur Seal colony and today it also had a full and stunning rainbow!  We were the only ones there watching the seals sleep, waddle into the water and stare back at us.  We got pretty close to one who seemed to be checking us out as much as we were him.  We love seeing animals; but, when they’re in the wild, it’s even cooler!

Tonight’s activity might be the kids’ favorite thing we did.  We drove on to Oamaru, checked into Harbour Tourist Park, right on the Pacific Ocean, before grabbing our premium seats for the Blue Penguin Colony viewing.  Around 300 of these adorable little (1 kilo) blue penguins come into their colony each night after swimming approximately 50 kilometers each day to fish.  They travel home in “rafts” to protect themselves then waddle up onto the rocks to their burrows.  This evening they had to navigate a couple of NZ fur seals in their way.  The seals aren’t predators, but they do make the penguins nervous.  Blue penguins are the neatest little creatures to see and hear; they have a very distinct sound!  As we left, we walked past many blue penguins (already out of the water) heading to their burrows.  I cannot believe we were so close to them!

The next morning, I waked to hear the blue penguins heading out to the ocean for the day…so amazing!!!  Breakfast was next at the cutest Tees Street Cafe; it had a super cool vibe, delicious food and even Corkcicles for sale behind the counter.  Since it was a beautiful sunny day, we took the kids to Friendly Bay Playground right off the ocean for the kids to play and us to enjoy the amazing views.  Oamaru is another adorable town with a cute boulevard of shops, coastal cafes, breweries and more.  We drove back into the mountains today to Mount Cook; and, even though a campervan isn’t the most comfortable to ride or sleep in, it sure is convenient.  We stopped on the side of the road to make sandwiches in our kitchen.  Close to our hotel (yes, tonight’s bed is in a hotel!) we stopped at Mt Cook Alpine Salmon shop for some fresh salmon sashimi.  They have salmon farms here as they can make the water so cold for the salmon from glacier and snow melt.  It’s so blue!  Now up the mountain to the Hermitage Hotel and the kids went straight to jumping on beds and wrestling with the extra space in a hotel room.  The first item on the agenda was for all to shower without having to wear flip flops; it felt grand!  Sometimes you need to experience a rustic lifestyle to appreciate the luxuries we think are normal.  Mount Cook Village is a small village, so we ate supper at one of the only places open that evening, The Chamois.

We waked the next morning to find six inches of snow on the ground!  Whoo hoo!!!  After a buffet breakfast in the hotel, we put on all the layers for a walk/hike to Tazman Glacier; however, the road was closed to get to the head of the trail due to possible avalanches.  So, we decided to try Kea Point walk instead.  It was quite a slushy hike but beautiful to see all the snow on the mountains.  The sun was bright and felt amazing, so it wasn’t that cold after we got going.  Since we brought three weighted layers for all the different temperature ranges, we had many layers to play with.  The kids had rain pants, which didn’t cover their ankles; so unfortunately, they got snow inside their boots from walking in the snow.  Even more unfortunate for Teddy was that he didn’t step lightly in the snow, so both his wool socks were soaking wet making his feet red and burning.  Oh mercy!  We hustled him back to the hotel to avoid frost bite.  After we dried out and grabbed a quick bite of lunch, we took required naps as we have an evening of stargazing scheduled.  The naps were so nice!  We had an amazing dinner of ceviche and salmon at Panorama Room.  The sky was cloudy, so the stargazing took place in the planetarium.  We heard a stargazing talk in the Middle East in February; so, it was nice to hear from the southern hemisphere (even if the presenter was subpar) and Bea connected things that were said at both presentations.  It was fun to hear her recount facts!

We waked early on our last morning in New Zealand to hit the road as we have an almost five-hour drive ahead of us to Christchurch…on NZ roads.  We left plenty of snow in Mt Cook but knew it’d probably be gone soon after we got out of the mountains.  Upon driving through Lake Tekapo, the snow started back up again; boy, was I glad we had time to drive a little slower for safety.  We stopped in Fairlie for coffee at the cutest, clean cafe called Eat.  It also had a fun, little play area for kids.

We arrived back where our New Zealand adventures began in Christchurch at the same shopping area for a quick bite to eat at a delicious Chinese restaurant, Tai Chi Restaurant, before heading home.  Our flight back to Sydney was on Emirates which is always a treat especially for the kids as they give great toys, stuffed animals, mini-backpacks, etc. on flights.

Back in Sydney, we head to our usual Marriott hotel for a quick sleep before our long flight home the next day.  It sure was an amazing adventure and it’s always bittersweet to head home!  We may be a little more excited than usual to get home after Cory’s medical issues.  Regardless, I’m so glad we added New Zealand to our trip as it was unbelievable to see!

Good morning, Kaikoura!

Sheep among the vines in the Marlborough region

Pancake Rocks

One of three beautiful rainbows that day

Rippon Vineyard with Lake Wanaka in the background

“Heli” ride to Mount Aspiring and landing on a glacier

Doubtful Sound in the Fiordlands

New Zealand fur seal (we were so close!)

Mount Cook

Snow Fun!

Sydney: Like a Local

Back to Australia’s East Coast, Sydney where we’ve seen quite a bit of rain since we arrived which is out of the ordinary for winter.  However, as I tell the kids, we won’t melt!  And we haven’t!  

We all slept in a bit as it had been a late night arriving back from Perth.  Cory hadn’t slept good so he went back to the doctor.  All still checked out ok; it is strange that he still has chest pain though.  This will be explained more in the next city we visit!

Anyway, the kids and I headed out for another day of adventuring and this time to Luna Park.  It’s an amusement park located by the Prins’ apartment so Brittany joined us!  We did it all; we rode the Ferris wheel where we could see the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House from a different view from our hotel room.  Along with the merry go round, we rode what I call the rock ‘n roller coaster as it was similar to a county fair ride I’ve been on before; boy, were there a lot of giggles on this ride.  Bumper cars were next and neither of my kiddos had ever ridden them!  They both had to ride with me which made it even better in my opinion so I could watch their excitement and see the smiles.  This whole park is like a carnival that doesn’t move so I felt much better about the rides as they don’t move to a different location weekly.  Finally, we all hopped in burlap sacks to slide down a big slide; Bea and I both went airborn!  Soon after this, we saw a giant gray cloud and almost immediately it started raining.  We hustled with Brittany to her apartment to rest and do some laundry.  All in all, it was a successful day in Sydney!

Teddy has been asking to visit the Sealife Aquarium so this following morning was the day!  It’s a fun aquarium where you walk straight through as it guides you up and down ramps to see all the different sea creatures.  Whew, this momma got her workout when I raced the kids up the ramps a couple times!  There were many hits of the aquarium including an octopus, dugong (similar looking to a manatee), sharks, scuba divers (diving with the sharks), sting rays and penguins.  It’s also in Darling Harbour which is a really cool area to just walk around.  

Tonight the Kyle and Brittany joined us for supper one last time as we won’t see them again before we head back to America.  We had such a great time just being with them not to mention they’re excellent traveler buddies!  Let’s do it again sometime!

Now the kids and I are heading up the coast to Brisbane to see my Aussie family; I cannot wait!!!

Luna Park

Sealife Aquarium

Farthest from Home: Perth

Hello from Australia’s West Coast!

After a five hour to flight from Sydney, we made it to Perth; the furthest major city from our hometown! The Prins also joined us in Perth; so while Cory and Kyle had to work, the girls and Teddy hit the road with me behind the wheel.  It’s been about a year and a half since I drove on the wrong side of the road.  Luckily we were heading out of Perth to Yanchep National Park which makes it easier to drive outside the city.  The park was amazing with sightings immediately upon arriving of galahs which are pink and grey cockatoos.  We took the Koala Board Walk to find many koalas sleeping and eating; some were extremely high up in the trees.  Usually where there’s koalas there are kangaroos and here was no different with gray kangaroos.  We found a mob of kangaroos just resting in the grass.  They watched us but we didn’t seem to bother their slumber!  Finally we took a tour of the Crystal Cave which has amazing crystals dating back 500,000 years old. The kids really got into hearing the guide explain about the stalagmites and stalactites too.

I safely drove us back to Perth to meet the working guys for a fancy supper recommended by Brittany (who always has the best restaurant recommendations) at Flour Factory where we all tried the octopus.  My son is the biggest fan!  Speaking of Teddy, his fifth birthday is the next day and per tradition at our house we place balloons in the bedroom of said birthday child.  So tonight all the adults blew up balloons before going to bed for the impending day of celebration.

As you would imagine, the birthday balloons were a hit by the birthday boy and his sister!  The rest of the day wasn’t quite what we had planned as my husband had waked in the night with symptoms of a possible heart issue.  Cory’s not an alarmist so I knew he was in pain when he said he needed to go to the ER.  Thank the good Lord our friends were with us so they could take the kids to King’s Park and I could be with Cory.  The staff at the Royal Perth Hospital were outstanding…efficient, thorough and friendly.  They ran a gammut of tests and concluded that he had no major heart issue but were unsure what was causing his pain.  With that he was released and we knew we needed a calm afternoon.  First things first was lunch as Cory hadn’t eaten any breakfast.  However, we waited too long to feed my lumberjack husband and after a coffee, he proceeded to pass out on me!  Again, thank God for friends around!  Luckily a little food was all he needed but what a crazy day and it was just 1pm!  After lunch, we drove to Caversham Wildlife Park for a leisurely afternoon.  It was an unexpected, super cool park where we started with the farm show seeing Australian cattle dogs work by rounding the sheep.  Then they sheered a sheep in one fell swoop!  They pull the sheep on their backs so they wouldn’t fight that you’re holding them.  It was crazy cool to see!  Then the birthday boy, lest we forget today was supposed to be about celebrating him, got picked to feed a five-week old baby lamb!  He was so pumped as his birthday wasn’t going quite like we planned but you wouldn’t have known by his sweet attitude.  We also saw bats, which is hard to do without it being a dark, nocturnal section of a zoo; they have quite big wing spans. Then we were able to take pictures with a wombat, blue-tongued lizard, Australian opossum, olive python and koala. My favorite part was getting even closer with their kangaroos and wallabies.  We hung out and fed these marsupials for a while and boy were they hungry. A few kangaroos would even hold your hand to get a better angle on their food. It was a super fun afternoon of enjoying Australian animals!   

On Saturday, we decided to give Teddy’s birthday a do-over calling it his “American birthday” since we’re a day ahead in Australia anyway and yesterday wasn’t exactly a celebration.  Thankfully Cory was also feeling better so off to Fremantle, a cool harbour town with a lot of old buildings, we drove to catch our ferry to Rottnest Island.  The ferry was the fastest ferry I’ve ever ridden plus the water was “sloppy” as the captain called it.  Oh mercy, that made for a rough 30 minutes.  For the way back, we found some Dramamine.  Back to the fun, Rottnest Island is a quokka preserve as they are critically endangered so we got bikes and hit the paths to find quokkas in the wild!  So you’re not supposed to pet the quokkas but they would eat leaves out of your hand.  Actually they’d pull it out of your hand!  It was crazy cool to be this close to these wild animals!  It was supposed to rain today and it surely did but not before we got a quick walk on the beach by the Indian Ocean.  We had an outstanding lunch at Thomson looking out over the ocean and watching it pour.  Teddy got another birthday dessert with candles, singing and all!  He was so sweet about all the craziness that had happened in the past couple of days.  We encountered one more Australian wildlife before heading back the mainland in the form of a huntsman spider.  He was about half the size of my iPhone and almost decided to jump in our souvenir bag.  Yikes!  

To round out our time in Perth, we chose to go to the Perth Mint to see where Australia used to make currency. The Mint now shows how gold is melted down and turned into bars as well as seeing the world’s heaviest gold coin at one ton.  They make collector’s coins here now too.  We all really enjoyed it including our funny and entertaining tour guide!  Grovesnor’s Hotel was our lunch spot for pub food before flying back to Sydney.  Luckily the tail wind makes it a shorter flight by more than an hour.  

Perth was a last minute addition to our Australia travels.  Regardless of our unexpected chaos, it is so awesome we got to experience a bit of Western Australia!  Back to the East Coast!

Kangaroos at Yanchep National Park

Caversham Wildlife Park

Quokka on Rottnest Island

Birthday Boy

One Ton piece of Gold at the Perth Mint

Sydney Again…Our Most Visited Go With Daddy Destination

Hello from Down Under!

June 11th finally came and we’re ready to head to the other side of the world. Well, we were until we hit a snag at the BHM airport. Yes, BHM is our home airport! For Australia, you need a visa to enter the country and somehow we had messed up our son’s name on the visa. Rookie mistake! Luckily you can do an eVisa now so we redid his visa and were back in business. Nothing like a hiccup before you even leave your hometown! After that we had three smooth flights to ATL – LAX – SYD. The best part for my daughter is that she was upgraded to sit in first class with her daddy on the long flight…lucky! We called it the “nicest date she’ll ever go on!” Cory said he wants to set the bar high for any future suiters.

Upon landing in Sydney, my son, Teddy said “eek, we’re here!”  We’re all really excited to be here! We are staying at the same hotel we have on previous visits so that makes it easier to get around as we already have our barrings. This time in Sydney we have friends who live here. Kyle and Brittany Prins moved here a year ago from Tennessee and it was so great to see them! Being with “locals” always give you the upper hand to see things you might not have known about otherwise. Our first night was no exception getting to view Vivid Sydney. It was an awesome light festival all over Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, Taronga Zoo, etc. We saw lights on the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, buildings, train station and sea turtle sculpture. So cool to see!

The next morning, Cory headed off to work while the kids and I went exploring. After our delicious breakfast in the Sydney Harbour Marriott lounge, we bought our Opal cards to hop on the train for Tumbalong Park. Brittany suggested we do this and she didn’t steer us wrong. It was an awesome park with an extensive playground (slide, spider climb, zip line, etc).  Plus we hit the right day with the kids participating in a yoga class by YogaBudz while we watched from adirondack chairs in the sun. Perfect! Our next stop of the day was probably my daughter’s favorite as it included dressing up. Chinese Garden of Friendship is an unexpected, serene garden in the middle of the city that has Chinese costumes you can rent while you walk around. They also had a scavenger hunt for the kids to search for the different Chinese year animals. It was a great place that we all enjoyed!

As the kids have gotten older, our naps have wained; however, they are still necessary sometimes especially trying to push through jet lag. After a short nap (which is always hard to get up from…such a catch 22), we joined Daddy and the Prins’ by their apartment (or compartment as the kids have been calling it) for a delicious supper at Kirribilli Woodfire Grill.

Now it’s the weekend, whoo hoo! Today we were going whale watching to see humpback whales on their northern migration. We didn’t have to go out more than about a mile from the harbour to see a handful of whales. How awesome is that! I have only seen whales once before (also off the Australian coast) and it still blows my mind to see creatures so large and beautiful.  We decided to get off the boat at Darling Harbour to have lunch at Din Tai Fung for amazing chicken and pork dumplings, fried rice with beef, etc!  Kids loved it too!  I love that they’re so adventurous to try new foods when we travel.  The afternoon took us on a stroll through Hyde Park, past St Mary’s Cathedral where we saw a very fancy wedding in progress (Bea loves to see international weddings) and on through the Royal Botanic Gardens.  What a relaxing afternoon!  Teddy even spotted a Kookaburra in a tree which he named Flyer.  After a full day, we did baths and ate supper in the lounge at the hotel.  Sweet Teddy fell asleep at the table, mid-sentence at 6pm.  Bea wasn’t far behind at 6:50pm.  Jet lag is real!

Happy Father’s Day to Cory!  Thankfully I came prepared with cards as they don’t celebrate Father’s Day in Australia until September.  We sure are blessed to have the best one out there!  And we love getting to “go with daddy!”  During the first few days upon arriving on a trip, especially when there’s a 15 hour difference, we take it easy. This Sunday morning we did just that then ventured out with our friends for lunch and the National Maritime Museum.  It’s also free to walk through the main exhibit hall! The Maritime currently has a really cool 3-D, bird documentary about the migration of birds.  It totally kept the kids’ attention!  The Maritime museum sits on Darling Harbour so we sat by the water to enjoy dessert and a few rounds of Uno.  

All good weekends must come to an end; however, it doesn’t mean the three of us cannot keep exploring.  Today’s adventure was a train ride to the Powerhouse Museum as it’s supposed to rain.  Powerhouse was full of interactive experiences for the kids.  We saw all kinds of transportation through the years including locomotives, cars, motorcycles and inside of a space craft.  There was lots to touch which is always fun for a kid!  They also enjoyed The Wiggles exhibit.  The Wiggles are an Australian group whose members have changed over years but kids still love it!  Remember how I said it was going to rain?  Well, while we were grabbing a meat pie for lunch, the bottom fell out.  It was a counter service restaurant but luckily we were standing under an awning!  We did get quite wet walking to the train but we didn’t melt.  Our train departed from Central Station which is a huge station where you can even travel to other cities.  It took me a minute to find which platform to go to out of 25 options!  We made it back to the hotel to dry out part of the way but then head to the indoor pool to get some wiggles (no pun intended) before showers and supper in our hotel.  Another 7pm bedtime, this time parents included, is getting us on the right time zone. 

Thankfully for our adventures today the rain stopped by the time we left on a ferry.  Brittany met us there to go to the Taronga Zoo.  We have been to the this zoo before but never have we seen so much in one day.  Brittany was the best tour guide knowing when all the shows where and where we we should go to maximize our time.  Again, it’s so fun to travel to a destination where you have friends!  Our first stop of the day was to see koalas, of course.  I don’t think it would ever get old even if I got to see them daily.  Reptile house was next before the seal show; and, boy, did they put on a show!  We saw a new fur seal being trained, veteran seals do flips and make a lot of noise; it was awesome!  Next off to see a momma and baby elephant being bathed.  The zoo has a few babies as the tiger family has three tigers cubs.  That’s always Bea’s favorite is seeing the baby animals.  On to the Australian animals…kangaroos, wallabies, emus, cassowary, platypus and wombat.  We also saw the best view of Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge from the spider talk we sat in on.  I learned a lot about Australian spiders and there are definitely ones that you shouldn’t mess with like the red back spider (similar to our black widows in the states), funnel-web spider (most venomous spider in Australia) and the infamous huntsman (who is huge but actually quite harmless).  Teddy ate this talk up hearing about all the spiders!  We saw a binturong and little penguins before we needed to catch the last ferry back across the harbour.  Cory and Kyle (he is also a colleague of Cory’s which makes it even more fun as we came to Sydney for the guys to work on a project together) met us for dinner in The Rocks for a relaxing evening of dining al fresco at Caminetto.

On all long trips, laundry is inevitable so this is how I spent hump day.  Having friends in town, they let us do laundry at their house which makes for a much more pleasant experience than sitting in a laundromat entertaining children.  Tonight we flew out to Perth but not before we entered the airport through the VIP lounge which means the security line is virtually nothing.  Traveling with my husband sure spoils us!  SYD to PER is a five hour flight so we settled in and all slept the whole way.  

Now for more adventuring in Western Australia!

Delta One

Vivid Sydney


Ferry fun

Funnel-web spider at Taronga Zoo

Emirati Excellence Again

As my daughter said when we arrived back in Dubai, “it’s nice to be home!”

India was such a change from our normal life that Dubai felt like coming home especially since we stayed at the same hotel, Dubai Marriott Harbour.  Our room is on the 40th floor (of 52) this time so we have an more expansive view from our balcony….and the room is even bigger than our last one (3 beds, 4.5 baths)!  Wouldn’t you know the kids picked to sleep in the queen bed together!  We chose to stay in the same location for two main reasons: having laundry in the room and the best service we’ve had in a while!

The weather has been warmer than we anticipated (no one was complaining) so we went to the Jumeirah Beach (while somebody had to work…sorry Cory) on our first day back in Dubai.  The kids have radar eyes for a park so we enjoyed the playground before the beach.  It was a sunny, relaxing day and much needed for everyone after we had hit the touristing hard in India.

We had one last morning of culture touring the Jumeirah Mosque.  The kids’ favorite part was trying the Arabic tea, donuts, pancakes (with cream cheese) and dates.  They got restless at the mosque so we got our wiggles out at the pool afterward.  Our main goal of the day though was being prepared for dinner with friends so everyone took good afternoon naps.  We met two of Cory’s colleagues and their families at Sammach where we sat on the patio viewing the Dubai Fountain water show and Burj Khalifa light show.  You can never see this too many times!  It was a lovely evening of sweet hospitality and delightful conversation with co-workers that Cory has enjoyed working with for years…and now we all got to know them and their wonderful families!

On Cory’s last day at work, I decided we needed a non-culture day so off to Legoland Dubai we went!  We parked right up front as the park was all but empty.  We didn’t stand in line for anything!  We have found very small crowds all over Dubai which was unexpected due to it being their busy season but I love it!  The only part that I did not like were the height restrictions on rides.  I’m all for safety and unfortunately, my daughter met the age requirement but missed the height requirement by five centimeters to ride anything by herself.  We looked for rides we could all do together.  Bea’s favorite was driving her own Lego car and boat.  My favorite part was walking through “mini land” aka real buildings and scenes all made out of Legos; here are a few examples of what we saw…Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, Mall of the Emirates, Ski Dubai (with skiers inside the building), Dubai Fountain (with it’s own water show), Dubai Museum, etc.  They also had India’s Taj Mahal, Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque, Egyptian pyramids and many other famous skyscrapers.  Amazing to see and read how many legos and hours it took to build them all!  Before leaving, we went inside the “factory” to see how Legos are made; I love a factory tour of any kind!

Wednesday morning we woke up to Cory being on vacation with us!  We try to plan downtime for the whole family while on our trips and this one had a little sprinkled throughout our month away.  We visited the Gold Souk this morning to find some gifts before our big event of the day.  You may have already seen it on Instagram… Dubai Camel Racing at Al Marmoom.  It was a free activity where we watched the camels race from every angle.  We viewed the paddock and the start of the races from an elevated cross bridge, the eight kilometer race from our vehicle driving beside the camels and the finish line from the grand stands.  At the finish line, the owners and their teams gather their camels as there are no jockeys riding the camels.  Also, they served food at the race track and it was free too.  This event was a highlight of our time in Dubai!

Thursday starts the last leg of our journey as we drive north to the Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert in Ras Al Khaimah.  It has been really fun seeing camels on the side of the road!  We jumped into the resort activities with a camel caravan for our family of four.  Bea rode with her daddy on Jafron or better known as “the singer”; I’ve never heard a camel talk quite so much!  It was a beautiful view of the desert just before sunset as we rode through the sand dunes.  The kids also found more animals in the barn…bunnies, Shetland ponies, horses and a couple of resort cats.  They’re getting their animal fix until we can get back home to our dog and cat.  The resort also has bikes to ride and even one with training wheels for Bea.  Riding bikes around the property was a huge hit while we were there as well as a daily swim in the private pool we had at our villa!

On Friday, Bea celebrated (we’ve never done this before) her half-birthday and she was so excited!  The celebration began during breakfast at Kaheela when the staff brought her a chocolate muffin with a candle to blow out while singing happy birthday to her.  She was too cute telling everyone about her half-birthday.  Why not, right!  The fun didn’t end in the morning; she was celebrated all day including at the evening’s bbq.  I’ll tell more about this shortly.

The kids requested we take them to “Kids Camp” (aka Ritz Kids) so we obliged.  I bet they needed a little time away to just play like I need ‘me’ time too.  While they played, Cory and I enjoyed an early Valentine’s treat with a Rainforest walk and a massage at the spa.  The rainforest walk was so different than any other spa experience I’ve had as you went through different stations of showers and steam rooms.  It was quite invigorating even though I expected putting ice on my arms and legs to be colder than it was.  We biked to collect the kids before going to the big pool.  It was a beautifully warm day so a perfect day for the pool!  Tonight, we enjoyed a BBQ with a full buffet of delicious Middle Eastern cuisine and a belly dancer for entertainment.  To top the evening off, the staff including the belly dancer sang happy birthday to Bea again bringing a yummy chocolate dessert with a candle in it.  She was definitely living her best life today!

Bea and Teddy waked us Saturday morning to see two Arabian oryx from our back patio!  We all sat on the patio couch together and watched them graze…so cool!  Today’s activity was to see more nature…Jebel Jais Mountains to be exact.  We had a driver take us up the mountain and set up a picnic for us to enjoy while we soaked in the mountains, houses built into the mountains, goats and a few people zip lining on the world’s longest zip line at 2.8 kilometers.  Our picnic was an expansive spread of hummus, chicken swarma, pita bread, tabooleh, all sorts of mezzeh, champagne and more.  This was a perfect activity on our last full day as reminisced about our trip and told our favorites things from each stop.  It was a magical time for our family!

Upon arriving back to the Ritz Carlton, we were upgraded to a tent villa.  The first villa was lovely but we were super excited to experience the tent villa too.  The kids immediately jumped into the pool; I think they’ve been in the pool each day we’ve been in Ras Al Khaimah.  Tonight, Cory had planned for us to go to the star gazing experience and it was way better than I expected.  We learned history and stories of the sky which Bea was able to regurgitate stories about the constellations later on at dinner.  It’s always interesting to know what they soaked in.  We also looked at Mars, galaxies, and constellations through a very high tech telescope.  Luckily the kids had naps in the car on the way home from the mountain so we could have a late dinner at Farmhouse.  I’m so glad we didn’t miss this as the combination of the delicious meat and amazing service couldn’t be beat!

One more day of adventuring and it began in the barn.  They groomed ponies then rode horses.  The dynamic of my kids is so interesting as they challenge and encourage each other in different ways.  When it comes to animals, Teddy takes the lead.  Bea was nervous at first; she derives some of her bravery from him!  I love watching this!  After some Kids Camp time and swimming, we packed in one more adventure before heading to the airport.  We went to the falcon show where we learned falcons are the fastest animals of all, about the art of falconry and how people, especially the Bedouin, used them for hunting.  The Bedouin “borrowed” the falcons on their migration south but released them before summer to fly back north as it’s too hot in the UAE for them.  Such an interesting concept!

All packed up and on our way to the airport, we stopped for supper.  Zahra Al Quds deserves a shout out as I would say it was the best tabuli, garlic sauce and mixed grill plate we had!  Who knew I loved Palestinian food so much!

Then back to reality (well after 36 hours of travel), the comforts of home, our family and friends and our pets!  It is always with such mixed emotions upon returning home.  What a joy to have the blessing of both a safe, warm, well taken care of (thanks Will!!!) home and the chance to go see the world!  Thanks again, Cory for letting us “Go With Daddy!”

Jumeirah Mosque
Legoland Dubai
Camel racing
Pool at our Tent Villa
Falcon Show


India: A Whole New World

Well, India truly felt like another world!

Immediately upon arriving in India, I could tell it was more chaotic than anywhere else I’ve visited. It didn’t help that we were hustling to find our driver that would take us to the train station as we were continuing on to Agra. We didn’t leave much wiggle room to get there and traffic in New Delhi is like no other! Luckily, a porter carried our bags (hard case suitcase on his head and carrying our bag with booster seats in it) and guided us to the train. Whew, we made it! Cory reserved a first class sleeper room for us. Bea and Teddy were so excited! We changed them into pjs, fixed their bed and put them to sleep. It’s only a few hours ride but the train left at 10:30pm so it was already way past their bedtime. We made it to Agra at 1:30am and our driver, Ajit was waiting on us. He drove us to the ITC Mughal where they checked our car for bombs at the gate. We had a nice size room with a couch for each kid to sleep on.

The next morning came quickly and we ate breakfast at the hotel as fast as we could to maximize our full day in Agra. Side note, I had forgotten that namaste came from here where they bow with their hands together when they say it. Ajit was our driver again and we also had a guide, Kumlesh. My first view of India in the daylight was when we drove out of the hotel gates and boy was it eye opening. I’m also glad I wasn’t driving as there are no rules to the road. People just go as they please. We saw macaques, cows/ox and dogs all just roaming before we got going good. Our first stop of the day was to the Agra Fort, an unexpected really cool place to see! It is where the king, queen, concubines and military lived until 1638 when the capitol of the Mughal Dynasty moved to Delhi. Teddy’s favorite part was hearing that the first mote held crocodiles and the second mote held tigers, leopards and hyenas for protection. There were four gates in total to help ward off enemies. Beautiful Roman brick (much smaller than what we have today) were on the walkways, especially going up the inclines as it helped the elephants keep their grip. The area in which the king held court and addressed the crowds had hooks above; these were for large fans that were manually waved by men holding the rope. An early version of air conditioning! Our guide was all about taking our picture for us but so were the Indians with us. Some asked and some just took pictures. By the time we got to our next stop, we just said no to everyone and it had gotten out of hand at the Fort. Back to the fort, the king built two houses for his daughters beside the vineyard in the middle of the concubine quarters. The fort was built by Akbar (grandfather of King Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal but more on that to come); construction began in 1565-1573. It still had beautiful carvings in the columns, in-lay designs in the sandstone and colorful paintings on the walls and ceilings. The queen had two elaborate bathing places…one for summer and one for winter. They really did live like kings and queens even back then!

On to the Taj Mahal, we toured the area around the Taj building as it was originally like a motel for travelers. You can see rooms cut out where you would have put your bed roll down for the night. Walking through the north gate to see the Taj Mahal was a magical moment! I still cannot believe I have now seen something so beautiful and yet so old! It was completed in 1648 after 22 years of construction. Our sweet tour guide took a family picture, adult picture and kids picture from every single angle of the Taj! Whew, the kids were done with pictures well before they needed to be based on the volume. Shoe covers were required to walk inside the Taj Mahal to see the burial of Shah Jahan and his wife. If you’re unfamiliar, the Taj Mahal was built for Nur Jahan (his 3rd wife) after she died giving birth to their 14th child (of only 7 survived). She asked three things of him before she died: to always remember her, never marry again and take care of their children. Well, he didn’t leave any space plain; every inch of the mausoleum was beautifully designed with in-lay in the marble…floor to ceiling.

Teddy’s highlight of the Taj Mahal was seeing all the macaques in the gardens. They were everywhere! We also walked right by an ox (and did so with cows too) on the street just exiting the Taj Mahal! Even though we did not see any tigers on our visit to India, I think Teddy got his animal fix.

We were taken to New Riao Restaurant for lunch where we sat in the garden eating delicious Afghani and Tikka chicken listening to a sitar player, watching two little boys dancing (I’m not sure why they weren’t in school) and another little boy playing the drums for our entertainment.

Our final stop of the day was to the Itmad-ud-Daulah or “Baby” Taj as it’s called…even though it was built before the Taj Mahal. It is another mausoleum built for Nur Jahan’s grandparents. Like the Taj, it is another marble building with beautiful in-lay designs and paintings everywhere. We watched a lovely sunset here until the kids got restless! They had had enough culture for one day!

We all slept in after such a packed day of touring the previous day. It was a leisure morning as we were heading back to New Delhi via the train. We requested a porter again which is almost necessary as they not only help with your luggage but make sure you get to the right place navigating the crowded train station (by the way, none of this is inside and they only have stairs). Like the streets of Agra, the train station is also a very sad place filled with such poverty. It’s a different world when you leave the confines of your hotel! I’m not sure many non-Indian people take the train based on the spectacle that we were at the station. To us, it’s all about the experience and we did it! We’ve seen cows (even one on the train platform and I have no idea how he got up there!), pigs, dogs, lots of trash, people living in their tent houses and people just sitting everywhere. I’m so glad we took the train but it wasn’t for the faint of heart. Definitely an experience to remember but not necessary to replicate.

Porters hopped on the train when we arrived in New Delhi and our guy proceeded to carry our Pelican suitcase and boosters bag on his head…in the rain. Our driver was waiting to take us to the ITC Maurya. After seeing our hotel, I bet it’s rare they pick up guests from the train station. We later learned this is the ‘dignitaries’ hotel where even a couple of our presidents have stayed here. It took a while as traffic was nuts! We made it and again we had to be checked for bombs as well as our bags go through security screening and us through scanners like the airport.

While in India, we planned two packed days and this Friday was another one of them. Again, we had a driver and a guide, Greesh to show us New Delhi. The first comical thing he said, which we had also heard in Agra, was driving in India you need three things: a good horn, good brakes and good luck! I believe it; it’s doesn’t even seem like controlled chaos but somehow it works. We drove by a number of places to see from the outside as our guide took into consideration we had two small children, places we had seen in Agra and the crazy traffic due to the Republic Day Parade happening the next day. We saw the Red Fort, the streets of Old Delhi (similar to what we saw in Agra) which were very narrow with one building actually touching another they were so close and Jama Masjid (one of the largest mosques in India). Our first stop was to Gandhi Smriti, the site where Ghandi lived the last 144 days of his life before he was shot during prayer service. It was a hard place to describe to small children but we did our best to reiterate his passion for his country and non-violence. The garden here was very tranquil but my son’s favorite part was again seeing macaques just hanging out at the entrance. My favorite part of the day was going into a small Hindu Temple; it wasn’t a tourist destination so they requested no photos. We took off our shoes (our kids’ favorite part), saw the colorful designs and were given a blessing by our guide. He is Hindu and had purchased two aum necklaces that he touched to the alter, bowed his head and gave to for peace and prosperity for our family. It was so neat that he shared that with us! Cory’s favorite stop of the day was Qutub Minar, a tower built in 1199 after the victory over Delhi’s last Hindu kingdom of power as well as an iron pillar built in the 4th century. How are these things still standing after all these years? India really does have amazing history!

Our daughter is currently in kindergarten so the school requested we withdraw her from school while we were away and just reenroll her when we return. In the meantime, her sweet, thoughtful teacher suggested we video chat at some point during the trip. Tonight was the night! She got to talk to each classmate and her teacher. When it was all done, she said “it was epic!” That evening we also had a late dinner reservation. When traveling to new places, my husband always wants to try the local food. We enjoyed Kahwa Tea (origin from Kashmir) earlier that day and tonight we were heading to Bukhara. Their menu was the spitting image of a restaurant in Bangalore he had eaten in a few years ago and hadn’t stopping raving about it since. The only issue is that they only allow children under ten after 9:30pm. So, after great naps (they’re few and far between these days), we enjoyed unbelievably, delicious Indian cuisine. Cory even talked his way into the kitchen to see their tandoor (aka ovens) and talk to the head chef; he was stoked! It was a late night but totally worth it!

Saturday, January 26 was India’s 70th Republic Day Parade and we had tickets to go! The concierge from the hotel had sent staff to stand in line to get us seated tickets and we couldn’t have been more pumped! We had a driver get us as close as he could to the parade. Funny enough, if the kids waved and smiled from the back seat, then the police let us go through barriers that we shouldn’t have gotten through! After we started walking, we went through four different security scanners, each separating us men and women so we had to split up. Whew, it was wild getting to our “seats” which was a section with seats being first come first serve. Luckily we found a couple seats and the kids sat in our laps; it was packed! The president and prime minister of India both were in the parade along with the president of South Africa. Because of him, the parade was also commentated in English which was a huge bonus for us! The parade was quite different than any other parade I’ve ever seen consisting of lots of military and their bands marching, tanks, missiles, helicopters (tossing out flower pedals as they flew by), airplane fly overs and lots of floats with Gandhi on them. Bea said her favorite was the float with Gandhi on the front where the people of India were fighting for their freedom; Teddy, of course, liked a float with an animal on it. We also saw military riding camels; that for sure is a first for us!

Today, we were also scheduled to fly back to Dubai so we left the parade a little early for that reason and to not get stuck in the mass exodus of people when it was officially over. There were a lot of people at this parade! We packed up our bags, had a lovely lunch on the rooftop of our hotel where we watched two eagles soaring over us and soaked in the beautiful sunshine. India is definitely the most different place I’ve ever been (China was in the lead until now)!

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Dubai, here we come again!

First Class on the Train

Agra Fort

Taj Mahal

Ox outside the Taj Mahal

Qutub Minar


Republic Day Parade

Abu Dhabi: Deeper into the Desert

The adventure continues in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain…

After Cory finished work for the week, we drove to Abu Dhabi and jumped right into sightseeing.  I must share first that we told the kids we would have a late night and everyone needed to nap on the short drive from Dubai.  We gave them sleep masks to help and they slept like champs!  

Tonight we had a Desert Safari scheduled with “dune bashing” to begin the fun!  If you’re not familiar, basically you ride in a Land Cruiser (with a roll cage) and drive wildly over the sand dunes sliding and bouncing all around.  There was so much giggling coming from our vehicle.  Luckily, we had the kids’ booster seats too as the driver did it up right for us!  Our ride continued to a camel farm where we saw lots of camels including a couple of calves…and one male doing a funny dance to impress the ladies. Then all four of us got to ride camels in a camel caravan; girls on one camel and boys on the other.  Well, I’ve gotten on and ridden a camel before but never when the camel was in a seated position.  It was not what I call a smooth transition; you better hold on!  We were now at a desert camp where we also got to sand sled.  If you’ve never done this before, the hardest part is carrying the sled up the hill.  The kids each tried it then momma and daddy were done.  We tried one of everything at the camp; Bea and I got henna tattoos while Cory took Teddy to hold a falcon.  We sat on Persian rugs and pillows for a delicious mixed grill supper while we watched the entertainment.  First came the belly dancer and Bea joined her to learn some moves.  Last was a Tanoura dancer; I wasn’t familiar with this but what I saw was quite impressive.  He twirled the entire time (roughly 6-7 minutes solid) while twirling his skirt(s) around him or twirling them around his head as well.  I still cannot figure out how he didn’t fall over!  We capped the evening off with some star gazing.  What a relaxing time!  It was late when we got back to the hotel so we dumped kids in the bed.  Baths will have to wait until the morning.   

We started our Saturday off with another delicious buffet breakfast and friendly Marriott staff at Kuzbara.  Today was all about riding the Big Bus around Abu Dhabi to see the sights and figure out where we want to explore further the next day.  We’ve said this before; but, if you’ve never visited a city and only have a short time somewhere, we always take a day for a hop on hop off bus ride.  We were able to snag front row seats up top and see the beauty of Abu Dhabi.  The kids can only sit so long so we hopped off for lunch at the WTC Mall.  Many of their good eateries are in malls because it’s where everyone escapes the heat in the summer.  Their temperatures here can swell to 120 degrees…plus humidity!  

The kids had been so good on the bus that we treated them to kunafa and a playground.  Hazim, a colleague of Cory’s, told us about Al Aqussa…the best sweet place in the UAE.  We can confirm he was correct; they were delicious!  We also tried a few other sweets with cheese or cream filling like a danish.  Yum!  Cory found a non-sand (they’re hard to find outside the US) playground that we took the kids to and what a treat this turned about to be as well!  Bea and Teddy were welcomed onto this neighborhood playground by local kids and had the best time playing with them.  It was so fun that Teddy cried when we said it was time to go.  The children were so friendly and complimentary of us all; afterwards, we talked about how we want to always make sure to do the same when we’re at home to anyone who is an outsider.  They were a delight!

After early bedtimes and the kids getting over 12 hours of sleep, we were ready for another fun day!  Our first stop was Sheikh Zayed Heritage Center to see some UAE history as well as the Sheikh’s favorite personal items and gifts from dignitaries he had received over the years.  We saw two stuffed lions, a stuffed leopard and a zebra skin, a few of his favorite cars and more.  We also tried Arabic coffee which tasted like a mix of coffee and herbal tea.  The men managing the center invited Teddy to sit with them.  Next we drove on to the Emirates Heritage Village which is a replicated village from years past.  The kids’ favorite spot was helping a craftsman work his loom.  One more stop for the day was visiting the Qasr Al Hosn (fort) which is set up as a museum now showing the way life was for the Sheikhs and their families over the years.  Cory loved seeing this museum’s blend of analog pictures married with incredible digital projected murals all in a clean, minimalist space.

Tonight, we were most excited to tour the Grand Mosque; it was only built in 2007 and is what I would imagine the European cathedrals might have looked like in their early days.  It was pristine with in-lay flooring, huge chandeliers, gold-topped columns, the  largest Persian rug ever crafted, fifty-two minerettes (domes) and marble as far as the eye could see!  We all wore long sleeves and pants and Bea and I wore scarfs over our heads out of respect.  We came at night so we could see the sunset and to hear the 5:58pm “call for prayer.”  This wasn’t the first time we had heard the call for prayer but definitely the most picturesque.  The call for prayer was announced on our flights to the Middle East and again from loud speakers around Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  The evening was magical!   

Since yesterday we did mostly adult touristy things; today was all about the kids.  We drove to Al Ain on a beautifully paved highway with manicured trees and flowers all along the way.  Cory’s favorite part of this was the speed limit…160 k/hr (aka 100 mph)!  We first drove up to 4000 feet above sea level to the Jebel Hafeet Mountain to see the city, golden dunes, jagged rocks that looked almost Martian and the crazy green oasis below.  Oh and it had a playground for the kids at the top; perfect!  Next the Al Ain Zoo was even better than expected.  Not only do they have an amazingly expansive zoo but also a safari!  On the safari, we fed carrots to a giraffe out of the top of our Nissan Patrol.  We saw Arabian oryx, zebras, wildebeests including a two month old baby wildebeest, tortoises, simotaur bucks, impalas and two one-week old baby impalas.  We also fed elands out the side window and we drove no more than 10 feet away from three (very large) rhinos!  That’s when I rolled up my window!  Next, we took a golf cart tour around the zoo to see hyenas, hippos swimming, sand gazelles, chimpanzees, baboons, macaques, a reptile house full of slithering things, meerkats, white lioness and her sons (one had climbed in a tree to get a stick to play with) and cheetahs.  I mean this zoo had it all!  I cannot wait to take them on a safari in Africa one day…in a few years.   

After we got kids down for bed, we repacked (it’s a common theme when you hop around to different cities) into one suitcase so we could travel light for our next destination to India!  Since we’re staying at the same hotel in Dubai as before, they allowed us to leave the rest of our belongings with them.  That was a huge help!

Now, on to New Delhi and Agra, India! 

Also, feel free to follow us on Instagram @gowithdaddy

Sweet kiddos wearing masks to sleep in the car

Sand sledding

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Qasr Al Hosn (fort where Sheikhs and their families lived)

Al Ain Zoo and Safari