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

Dubai: The Middle East You Might Not Expect

Hello from Dubai!

After a very successful, 28 hours of total travel time (drove BHM to ATL, fly to JFK to JED to DXB), we landed in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Sitting in my hotel room, I still cannot believe that I have been lucky enough to see so many parts of the world now including part of the Middle East. We made it before our bags (they arrived the following day) but that didn’t affect us. We got our rental car, got to our hotel and went straight to dinner. The luggage didn’t slow us down but the time zone hopping surely did. Sweet Teddy fell asleep in the middle of eating his bread and drinking his water (before his entree arrived). Luckily, our room has a washer and dryer so we were able to wash and dry everyone’s clothes overnight just in case.

A good night’s sleep later and we were ready to hit the snow! Yes, that’s what I said…we had tickets to Ski Dubai for their penguin encounter, located inside the beautiful Mall of the Emirates. We rented snow boots, jackets, pants and gloves. It was an amazing experience to be up close with a Gentoo penguin and then get to pet two King penguins. The smile on our son’s face couldn’t be wiped away! In addition to all the penguin fun, Ski Dubai has five downhill ski runs; including the only indoor black diamond!  Though the skiing was beyond our current adventure, we sure enjoyed the snow village with tubing, bob sledding, and a wonderful snow-covered playground.  They really thought of it all! Oh and an American Girl kiosk store, we could not pass without a little purchase…you know, for memories!

Our family is always game to try all the different foods when we travel so we jumped right in with Lebanese food (Al Halabi) for lunch. It’s funny as I’ve been asked many times what our children eat when we travel. Every culture has some sort of chicken and rice meal. We chose a “mixed grill,” aka chicken, lamb, beef with rice and fries. On our first day in a new country, we try not to overload anyone. So we walked around the Dubai Marina and it was early bedtimes for everyone.

We have one more day (at the beginning of our travels) before Cory starts work so we decided to see Old Dubai. We walked around Al Fahidi Historic District (formerly called Bastakiya) to see old stucco buildings, barjeels (which are wind towers that used to be used for air conditioning), Dubai Museum to see traditional Bedouin lifestyle, pearl diving gallery and the old fort. We also walked through the Old Souk; this is a market where all owners/workers are standing outside their shop hassling by putting scarves on you so you’d have to touch them, calling us funny names (Big Boss, Jack Sparrow, Angelina Jolie, etc.) to lure us into their shops. It was quite accosting!

Cory’s favorite part of traveling is trying all the new foods, so he found us Afghani and Persian food at Wakha Restaurant; it was similar to the Lebanese food but the rice had raisins and carrots in it. Teddy loved that! After a full day, we let the kids play in the hotel (aka jump on the beds) and we ate supper in the hotel to get an early bedtime again. In the first few days of a trip, we work hard to get everyone on the correct time zone as quickly as possible.

Well, we enjoyed having Cory with us for a few days; but, the reason we got to come (aka Cory’s work) began on Sunday as their work week is Sunday to Thursday. Off to work he went and I drove us to the Dubai Mall to enjoy the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. It’s wild that this too is inside the mall. You can just walk by and see the giant fish tank. It also has a super fun tunnel then you keep going to the ‘zoo’ part where they had blue macaws, two very large crocodiles, Humboldt penguins, a night creature section and more. We opted for the ‘Explorer Experience’ ticket which included a behind the scenes tour of their baby sea creatures and feeding some very aggressive fish (where we all got wet) and a glass bottom boat ride. My kids had never been to a Rainforest Cafe so that’s where we lunched to continue the animal day we were having. Cory got off work a bit early and joined us at the pool for the afternoon.

Monday rolled around and we drove to Ras al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary; it only took two different tries before we found the first (of two) viewing site. They have little huts with the description of the birds as well as a high-powered binocular. It’s an amazing wetland where twenty thousand more birds come for the winter. We saw grey and striated herons and a little egret to name a few. At the second viewing site, we saw lots and lots of flamingos. It was wild to watch flamingos in a wildlife sanctuary with skyscrapers in the background. We continued our Dubai adventures that day to the Madinat Jumeirah. It’s an Arabic resort with abra rides, a great view of the Burj Al Arab and fixed price souks. We took part in all of the above including a delicious Persian lunch at Anar where we all had a version of kebabs with a view of the river and the Burj Al Arab. It was a much needed peaceful, relaxing lunch after having to make too many u-turns trying to find the birds earlier that day. For another early bedtime for the kids, Cory joined us for supper in our hotel at The Observator on the 52nd floor. We watched skydivers land as well as a beautiful sunset. Then we called it a day!

Some days are more successful than others but it’s really all in the eye of the beholder.  Today I drove to Old Dubai for some sightseeing only to be told it was closed.  Side note, our hotel concierge said it was in fact open so I’m going with there might’ve been a language barrier with me at their entrance.  Instead we drove to Zabeel Park which was a bigger hit with my kids anyway.  It’s an awesome technology themed park linked by a bridge and cables, mini train to tour the park, IMAX, boat ride on lake, mini golf, etc.  Now all that I listed was actually closed today.  But that didn’t bother the kids as there were many little play areas for them to explore.

Many times, you have to set aside what you had “scheduled” for that day and just roll with it. They thought it was a huge success!  We continued our play at the hotel for some hide and seek.  You may be thinking how in the world are they doing that in one room.  Well, during the 2005 financial crisis in UAE, a lot of buildings (meant for condos) went bankrupt.  So, Marriott and other hotels bought them up.  Our hotel room has a bigger kitchen than ours in Birmingham, a large dining/living room, big foyer, washer and dryer, 3 bedrooms and 3.5 baths.  There are lots of good hiding spots here!  We met Cory at The Beach Bar and Grill at The Mirage for supper.  It was a bit fancier than I was expecting but it’s probably why their surf and turf was so amazing! We also sat on a patio right on the beach…great view!

We have two more days (on this part of the trip) in Dubai and they were nice and warm.  So we had to take advantage of them by hitting the Atlantis Aquaventure and Umm Suqeim (Kite Beach).  I was a bit nervous to take the kids to a waterpark by myself but they did amazing.  They truly are the best playmates!  There were some slides adults couldn’t go on in one area and they stuck together just as I asked even making a new friend along the way.  Even though the kids were under the height requirement for the big rides, they played in multiple different areas with great slides as well as a lazy river that turned into rapids.  It was SO much fun!  The beach was a perfect refresher after a waterpark day.  We were able to park close, walk to the sand with hardly anyone there and just play.  We had breathtaking views of the Persian Gulf and (part of) the Dubai skyline including the Burj Al Arab.  We all took naps this afternoon as Cory had planned a special evening for us!

Our treat tonight was reservations at Serafina, a restaurant that faces the Burj Khalifa…aka the tallest building in the world.  Nightly, it has a laser light show that happens and the Dubai Fountain has multiple water shows.  We had a front row seat to watch the water show (occurring every 30 minutes) and the laser show (occurring every 45 minutes).  It brought tears to my eyes thinking of showing the kids the fountain in front of the Bellagio almost four years ago when we took our first long Go With Daddy trip.  These kids have grown up so and we have been able to experience so much with them as well.  What a blessing!

On our final morning in Dubai, the sweet staff at Counter Culture Cafe (where we have eaten breakfast every morning) gave Bea and Teddy ‘send off treats’ and said how much they’ll miss getting to see them each morning.  I don’t know about other hotel chains but Marriott takes the best care of us especially when Cory’s working.  They know it’s a mom with her two small children and they always go above and beyond.  I SO appreciate it!  Thank you, Marriott!

Next stop, Abu Dhabi!

King Penguins at Ski Dubai

“Mixed Grill” plate

Zabeel Park

Atlantis Aquaventure

Burj Khalifa

Sweet Home Chicago

Hello friends!

As we begin to embark on another fun adventure (I’ll tell you more about this shortly), I would be remiss if I didn’t share about our 2018 summer travels.  I say travels but what I mean is our “house swap” in Chicago.  Our former pastor at MissioDei grew up where we currently live in Birmingham.  After finding out his family was taking a sabbatical and wanted a place to rent for the month, we quickly offered our house.  Instead of rent, we asked if they would be up for swapping.  And that’s exactly what we did!

Let me go back and say that my husband and I lived in Chicago for 6.5 years; we also had our daughter there.  As you could imagine, we were thrilled to get the chance to come back for a whole month to enjoy all that Chicago has to offer especially in the summertime.  We had a lot of things we wanted to do but at the top of our list was hanging out with friends!  The best part is adding in kids now and watching them become friends.  

The first full day we were in the city was my son’s fourth birthday.  He’s all about animals so normally that would mean a trip to the zoo.  However, it was pouring that day so we hit the Field Museum instead to see all the “stuffed animals”.  I have been there many times but it’s always fun to see something again through my kids’ eyes.  The Field Museum has exhibits for all ages!  We book ended his special day with sweet rolls from Ann Sather (eat one million of them and you’ll thank me later) and Laschet’s Inn (delicious German restaurant across the street from our old house).  My taste buds were loving it!

Speaking of food, no trip to Chicago or blog post would be complete without some commentary on the food.  It’s a wonderful foodie town!  Clearly we’re all about family-friendly spots, so here are some of our other favorites:

  • Can you tell we enjoy eating out for breakfast?
  • Next door to the Field Museum is the Shedd Aquarium which we also enjoyed.  We purchased tickets ahead of time so we could quickly enter but don’t miss getting dolphin show tickets.  They put on a great one!  Another hot spot is the Adler Planetarium.  We didn’t have time to visit but it’s an excellent way to spend a day with a great iMax.

    If you’ve followed us at all, you know we visit a lot of zoos.  Well Chicago was no different and we enjoyed two different ones in this city!  Lincoln Park Zoo is a free zoo (pay for parking) in the heart of the city.  They have made some beautiful renovations especially for the polar bear and macaque monkey habitats.  There’s even an underwater viewing so you can watch the polar bear play in the water.  If you’ve never been the next best thing behind the animals is the amazing skyline view.  It doesn’t get much better than that!  

    A little outside the city is yet another zoo, Brookfield Zoo.  It is quite expansive with an amazing monkey house, polar and brown bears, bison and lots more.  Even though my kids are four and six, they still love to ride in the stroller.  We make our Baby Jogger Summit (single) work as a double as the second child sits in the foot rest. It’s a great workout pushing the two of them around! 

    If you have a daughter, you must go to the American Girl Doll Store.  It’s their flag ship store and will even amaze the adults by the sheer square footage of the store and detail of history in the dolls from a little girl’s understanding.  If you have a boy, then hop over to the LEGO Store next door.

    We took a couple different days to enjoy the water….Lake Michigan and Hamlin pool.  Sitting on the beach of Lake Michigan anywhere from Foster Ave to Oak Street Beach is such a fun experience as you can see the city skyline from the sand.  I also took the kids to the pool that we always frequented (it was a block from our house) when we lived there.  It has a “Sand Lot” feel to the scene.

    Other favorite neighborhood pastimes are all the amazing parks/playgrounds around the city.  They all offer something different.  Our favorites from this trip:

      Margaret Donahue Park – splash pad as well as playground equipment in Lincoln Park
      Park – on Simmons Dr (east of Lake Shore Drive) just north of Lawrence; I couldn’t find a name for it but was great before our day at Montrose Street Beach
      Coonley School Park – special to us as our house backed up to this school playground 
      Peterson Park – close to the house we stayed in during this visit 

    Another park I cannot forget to mention is Wrigley! We took the kids to their first Cubs baseball game…must do! I think Chicago has a lot of must do though!

    More adventures downtown Chicago included seeing the Crown and Buckingham Fountains and The Bean via a drive through Lower Wacker.  My husband and I used to have fun afternoon drives on Lower Wacker and Lake Shore Drive in his fast car.  They’re such fun staples to Chicago especially as we read about them regularly in a couple Chicago books that we have.  One day I took the kids and a friend of ours to Navy Pier to see Peter Pan The Musical and enjoy a ride on the Ferris Wheel (which I had never done).  

    One last summer pastime is strolling through one the many street festivals around the city.  We took the kids to Logan Square Street Festival and had a blast eating and shopping at the vendors.

    Chicago is one of our favorite cities in the world…and most familiar!  We are currently in a very unfamiliar city…Dubai.  We love to mix old and new experiences for us to fall in love with places even more and discover what makes another place amazing.  Here’s to discovering Dubai!

    Teddy about to blow out his candles in an Ann Sather sweet roll.

    Chicago skyline from Lincoln Park Zoo

    Bea touring Teddy around the American Girl Store

    Enjoying Margaret Donahue Park

    Go Cubs Go

    Peter Pan the Musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

    Down Under Again

    Hello from what feels like my second-home country!

    After taking my first overseas journey alone over 13 years ago here and having been in Asian countries the past few weeks, Australia feels like coming back home.  We had a good flight after I figured out sitting between the kids worked best!  After that they slept 6 out of 8 hours!

    We arrived in Sydney on Sunday morning and after easy customs and baggage, we ubered to Marriott Circular Quay around 1pm. Graber a nice lunch at The Fortune of War (oldest pub in Sydney) promptly followed by much needed naps was our afternoon activites.  For dinner, we went to a former colleagues’ house; Dean and Nancy’s along with Ella and Baby Abby.  Talk about feeling at home, we had an evening catching up with friends while the kids played.  We threw the kids in bed at 8:30pm.  That’s what I call a really great night!

    On Monday we didn’t wake til 9:30am; I think you call that a play date hang over!  Obviously, they needed sleep as the kids slept for 13 hours!  We missed breakfast in the lounge so we walked to Pancakes on the Rocks.  We ate there on our last trip to Sydney and it was just as yummy!  Today’s agenda includes the Targona Zoo.  The best part is you take a ferry and gondola ride to get there.  We saw reptiles, chimpanzees, giraffes, silverback gorillas (an 8 week old), Sumatran tiger, wombat, kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and bats.  We had supper at Gowings Bar and Grill which ended up being much nicer than we might have been dressed for but quite delicious!

    Tuesday morning we woke in a hustle to eat breakfast and get to the airport.  We headed to Brisbane today to see the Schaer’s.  This is the family I lived with when I studied abroad here.  We rented a car (mostly for the car seats) and drove to Kelsey’s (youngest daughter) house; I told the kids to say only two words while I drove…stay left!  On the way, Teddy fell asleep so he sat in the car park while we hugged necks upon arrival.  I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough when I saw Kelsey to hug her!  Her daughter Harlow had just waked so we got to give everyone hugs including her husband, Shane.  Unfortunately, he had to leave town for work this week.  The kids got on so well and played all afternoon.  Sharon, the mom, joined us for supper and Bea ran the fastest to give her a hug when she arrived.  Teddy and I were close behind.  We had the best evening just chatting and catching up!
    Wednesday was the most relaxed day with a trip to the park after breakfast.  Again, there is usually different equipment at overseas playgrounds and the kids soaked it in.  After lunch at home, I showered my crew and we rested before more family came for supper.  Melinda, Sharon’s sister, joined us tonight.  Sharon also spent the night and took off the next day to play with us too.

    We went into the city on Thursday for some fun and Joan (or Nana as I call her), Sharon’s mom, joined us!  We rode the CityCat ferry to SouthBank.  It is an amazing boardwalk area with playgrounds, coffee shops, restaurants, pool/beach area and more.  We hit the coffee shops first while the kids played at the playground.  One of my favorite things about Australia is the coffee.  I wasn’t a big coffee drinker until I came years ago but their coffee is just so delicious!  I drink a long black; it’s a pretty strong coffee!  I enjoyed a delicious fish and chips lunch while we watched it pour!  It didn’t rain long so the kids were able to play on the playground equipment.  There were lots of ropes to climb and they both did an amazing job!  We grabbed ice creams next and Teddy picked a popsicle.  Of course it was too cold for him (it always is) so Sharon cut up it up and fed it to him…spoiled!  The kids wanted to put their feet in the “ocean” water so I said don’t go past your knees.  Well you know the rest of the story… as Bea danced, she accidentally sat in the water up to her chest.  Then Teddy got his bottom wet too somehow.  It was hilarious!  Back to the car via the ferry and home where Hans, Kelsey’s dad, was waiting on us.  He joined us for a bit while we had dinner at Wynnum Boat Club.  It really has been so nice for the family to take the time to come see us especially since we were only here for a few days.  After a fun, full day, I threw the kids into bed so I could have a little longer to chat with Sharon before she went home and Kelsey before we had to go to bed.  Truly an amazing three days getting to visit with everyone!

    Friday morning, unfortunately, came around and we had to fly back to Sydney.   It was so fun watching my kiddos play with Harlow.  Leaving is always hard; and, of course, I teared up as I feel so unbelievably grateful to have met them and still have remained so close.  It’s also so fun to be adults now with Kelsey (and Jess, the daughter who lives in Switzerland) and see how they’ve grown up and turned into beautiful people.  Kelsey was delightful to watch as a momma too; Harlow is one lucky little girl!  I drove back to the airport for an easy flight back.  However sweet Teddy hadn’t napped the past couple of days and just melted as soon as we landed, screamed and wanted to be held.  To make things a bit more challenging, you cannot get your stroller until baggage claim here.  He finally fell asleep when we got in the taxi.  Thankfully, Cory met us for supper at Four Frogs…yummy crepes!

    Now two more days to explore before we fly home.  We scheduled a tour to the Blue Mountains so we had an early start with our first stop at Featherdale Wildlife Park.  We pet wallabies, Victor the koala and kangaroos.  Teddy insisted we see snakes and also saw echidnas, wombats and more.  It was a quaint little zoo that was very well maintained.  On to see the Three Sisters and ride the Scenic Railways.  We rode a cable car down into the rain forest for a lovely walk about and the steepest incline railway in the world back up.  A few more lookouts to see included Boar’s Head and Leura Cascades before naps while we drove back to the city to see the Sydney Olympic Park.  We ended with a Rivercat back to Circular Quay.  It was so windy but superneat to ride under the Harbour Bridge!  The restaurant Munich Brauhaus was a lively ending to our day before tossing everyone in bed for the night.

    On our last day, everyone slept in a bit.  When this happens, you know you’ve had the best time but that it’s probably good timing to head home.  We walked through the Paddy’s Markets, stopped by Harry’s Cafe de Wheels then made our way to the Sydney Fish Market.  It had all kinds of seafood including octopus which Teddy wanted to eat.  Seating was tight so we joined some lovely Italians and enjoyed our meat pie with mushy peas and sausage roll (from Harry’s), yellowfin tuna and octopus.

    As we ate, we reminisced about our adventure and why we love to travel!  Experiencing new places and exploring the great big world we live in is the best!  What a blessing it is to “go with Daddy!”

    Until next time…

    Taronga Zoo with Sydney skyline

    Her new pose at SouthBank

    Sharon and Teddy

    “Beach” at Southbank

    Kelsey and Millie

    We love Harlow!

    Featherdale Wildlife Park

    Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains

    Staying warm riding the Rivercat

    Sydney Fish Market

    Ready for the flight; bye Australia!

    The Land of Elephants

    Hello from Thailand!

    We made it to Phuket and were quickly shuttled to the Marriott Vacation Club.  Being a vacation club, we have a two bedroom, two bath condo plus washer and dryer!  The last is the best news for me!

    Monday morning started off right with a delicious breakfast buffet (Cory ate Thai stir fry!) followed by our first elephant adventure!  We booked a private tour through American Express Travel with a guide, driver, and private van.  First stop, all four of us rode Ton Tao; the kids even rode on his head!  This was as amazing as you can imagine…unlike anything else I’ve ever done!  During our ride, we saw trees that produce a white sap-like substance we later learned was rubber; there were rows and rows of these trees here and all over Phuket.  Next a 3.5 year old black elephant put on a show for us!  He played the harmonica, hula hopped around his trunk and gave kisses on our cheeks!  The later being Teddy’s favorite!  As we drove to the next activity, our observant Bea commented on the Thai houses saying “they use different materials to make theirs.”  Yes, many of their homes have tin roofs, no doors and dirt floors…different from home but no less a home.  Before we enjoyed our river ride on a bamboo raft, I accidentally sprayed Deet directly into my eye!  What a mess that was!  What was a lovely rafting experience for Cory and the kids was less than comfortable for me.  I tried to flush my eye out with water but it wasn’t enough (more on that later).  Lunch was delicious though with traditional Thai food.  Swimming at a waterfall was next where Cory had fun using his GoPro!  It was a full day of adventure so the kids slept on the way back to the hotel.  After cleaning up, we ate at Ginja where I had yummy prawns with chili sauce.

    The next morning, I waked up to a swollen, red eye, so I called the UAB Travel Clinic who said to flush my eye for a solid 15 minutes.  Cory got bottled water (since you cannot drink the faucet water here) and used four 1.5L bottles to flush my eye.  That was the ticket!  No matter if you cannot flush you eye out immediately, do it as soon as you can.  That made all the difference in the world!  I was almost back to my normal self and definitely ready to enjoy breakfast after that.  Today was a beach/pool day.  Cory took the kids to the water while I enjoyed a 30 minute (only US$10) massage on the beach.  That was delightful!  You could hear the waves crashing.  Because of that Cory and the kiddos didn’t stay too long as the waves were pretty forceful.  So to the pool the kids and I go while Cory headed off for his massage.  The pools are super fun with elephant and turtle statues everywhere and slides!  Tonight we went to the famous FantaSea dinner show (1 hr away).  We didn’t realize it wasn’t just a show but a whole theme park with carnival games, vendors, animals to see and ride, etc.  We saw white tigers and even pet a 3 month old baby tiger.  It was super fun but we got rather nervous when we realized the show didn’t start til 9pm!  The best part of the show were the very elaborate costumes and Thai dancing!

    After a very late night, we had to hustle for our tour the next day as we all slept in but luckily we had the same guide on a private tour again.  Staying on the north end of the island, we had an hour drive to our first stop at Karon Lookout.  It has a beautiful, long beach and was the area hit hardest by the 2004 tsunami.  13 years later, they’re still trying to rebuild.  More elephant trekking; you cannot do too much of this!  More culture was next at Big Buddha, a 48 meter tall marble statue built 10 years ago and still under construction due to it being completely funded through charitable donations.  It was BIG and very impressive to see!  Lunch sent us to a tourist destination but it was surprisingly delicious.  Thanks In Sea!  It also turned out to be a great photo shoot stop for Chinese tourists…with Bea as the star of the photos.  Teddy wasn’t up for smiling for their pictures…quite a funny scene.  Being a Buddhist country, Wat Chalong Temple was on our itinerary for its cultural and architectural significance.  It has numerous buildings that told of Buddha’s history, praying temple and even had of one of his bones on display.  Today was filled with lots of Thai culture and our final two stops included a Cashew Factory and a Gem Factory.  They were very proud of each!  We ended our day with some pool time, movie time and general chilling for the whole family.

    Our next day here was all about relaxation.  We all played at the pool before we had arranged for a babysitter for the kids while we had a couple’s massage at Sala Spa.  It’s the rainy season here but this afternoon was the only time it rained during our whole week…which was perfect!  We hit a local (not touristy at all) restaurant, JJ’s Bar and Grill for supper tonight and boy was it good!  The Thai people are so hospitable!  The owner made sure we didn’t wait a second for anything!  Likewise, the Marriott staff has done nothing but ooh and goo over the kids too.  The Thai people are some of the most friendly people you could ever meet and we’ve had a blast getting to know them!

    This trip was really our first time to do organized tours as a family on trips like this and today’s was the pinnacle of great experiences!  On this trip, we had the pleasure of meeting a professional travel writer and photographer, Kelsey (from KY aka RovingFox) and loved chatting with her about her adventures!  This excursion took us to the mainland of Thailand for a final elephant trek….and elephant bathing!  It hasn’t gotten old to ride an elephant but bathing was the icing on the cake!  Bea was so brave and even rode an elephant out of the water all by herself!  Another delicious Thai meal awaited us at the camp before heading back to our hotel.  The kids napped in the car so we headed to the pool when we got back.  Thankfully we did as we realized there were lots of activities happening this evening for Loy Krathong…a Thai festival celebrating renewal and connection of life to the water.  Our awesome hotel staff prepared games, a pageant, Muay Thai demonstration, and a ceremony to put our krathongs (beautiful floral floats lit with candles and incense…and sent off with a strand of hair and fingernail clipping for good luck) into water.  Who knew we’d get to be apart of such a special celebration for the Thai people!

    On our last day, we rented a car and drove down into Phuket Town.  We laughed when we realized the car had no heater; it’s unnecessary here!  We found some open air markets to shop in and haggle!  I love doing this!  Lunch was at Kopit’am…a delicious find from Google!  I drove us back to our hotel so I would get a little practice before I do it with just me and the kiddos next week in Brisbane.  Because each destination on this trip they have driven on the other side, it didn’t feel that foreign to either of us.  This last evening in Phuket, we packed up and showered in prep for our 9 hour, overnight flight to Sydney…which is nutty that this flight is longer than our flights to Europe!

    I still cannot believe I get to go back to Australia for the third time!

    Feeding elephants

    Elephant tricks

    Pool at JW Marriott


    Karon Lookout

    Mary drinking from the water hose!

    Big Buddha

    Wat Chalong Temple 

    Sala Spa

    Fishing with the babysitter

    Riding bareback

    Hats the elephant trek guides made them

    Loy Krathong

    Old Phuket Town