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Thursday, March 06, 2014

Vancouver in November 2013

Last November, we visited Vancouver BC for a short break because I had some work in downtown. We left on a Tuesday afternoon and reached the city by evening. We picked up our vacation rental keys from their office (EMR Vacations and they were superb) and got a detailed description on how to reach our accommodation. We stayed at a beautiful, luxury condo on the 19th floor with wonderful views of downtown. It also included a parking spot and was close to many attractions. 

We were going back to Vancouver after a span of 2.5 years. On Wednesday afternoon, we set off to the aquarium in Stanley Park. We loved this place in our previous trip and enjoyed ourselves even this time around. The jellyfish display was fantastic. The dolphin show was superb. All the other displays were very interesting. We also enjoyed the 4D movie. All of us really enjoyed the park and we stayed till they closed for the day. 

We then decided to go one of V's favorite restaurants - Rangoli, owned by the owner of Vij's. We placed our order and were surprised that there were no high chairs for children.  We had a very good meal and the kids began to get restless after a long day. I wanted to change 'baby I's' diaper and was shocked to learn that the restroom was not equipped with a changing station ! The staff din't even seem to care to apologize for it. I like their food but was not happy with their indifference; I will not be visiting this restaurant next time.

On Thursday, we went to the Science Center and the kids had a lot of fun. There were many displays and many age appropriate activities. Their food section seemed to have expanded compared to our last visit. V and R had a lot of fun with the keva blocks. 'Baby I' had a lot of fun running around in the toddler area. We returned to our rental place in the evening and after some rest, decided to go to a Thai place for dinner. This restaurant called Banana Leaf was superb and we loved the food. I had a dish called assam curry and it was very delicious. Another odd thing was this restaurant had no high chair either.  However, the staff were very friendly and won us over. 

On Friday, we packed up and checked out at 11am. We decided to stop in Surrey for lunch. We picked a place called Tasty Indian Bistro and reached there a little after noon. The food is by far the best Indian food I have ever eaten outside of India. Need I say more? The decor was very good, and I was happy  that they had high chairs. The staff were very friendly. It seems they are a new restaurant and I hope they maintain their quality. 

I was surprised to see so many Indian stores and bussiness in that area. They even had a Indian style open sabzi mandi with fresh vegetables. Unfortunately they are not allowed at border crossing and so I had to skip them. 

This was a nice break and we all had a good time. Vancouver is such a melting pot of different cultures and has so many options for authentic and delicious food. The weather on most days was gray with slight drizzle. We had occasional sun breaks and it was just like Seattle.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fort Worden State Park

After our wonderful experience at the earlier state park, we were very excited about our trip to Fort Worden in Aug 2013. My cousin, Su was staying with us for a short visit also joined us. Fort Worden is also in the Olympic Peninsula and we decided to go in the same ferry as last time. Alas, there was a long line for the ferry and we had to wait for more than 2 hours at the ferry terminal. We finally reached the park close to 8pm.
View of Seattle from the Bainbridge island ferry

The park was very big and had many buildings. We were staying at a duplex and was not what we were expecting. It was a 3 bedroom apartment on the 2nd floor. We entered to find a huge kitchen with a big dining area. There was a living room with sofa and 3 big bedrooms and a small extra room. There was 1 bath. The beds were very comfortable. The view from the balcony was of the parade ground. Althought the house was furnished, it felt like a typical barrack or army style accomodation. It was modest and not cosy. Because it was so big, it felt very drafty. A TV and a warm fireplace would have been a nice touch.

After a good nights sleep, we rose to find a very peaceful and quiet morning. We had breakfast included in our stay at one of the common areas and set off to find it. The Park was very nice with lots of things to see and do. We found the mess and had a simple breakfast. There were many museums to see, they all only accept cash. We found many students and they were there for a "camp" from the IAWW. It was nice to see all their activities and it sure seemed like a fun camp.

We enjoyed the park and its views. Then we visited the beach, which was very nice. We also stopped at their Marine Science Center which was the highlight of the trip. R loves marine life and he was very excited to see all the creatures he had read about or seen on TV. The museum was small but packed with many interesting creatures, including the fantastic Giant Pacific octopus. We were mesmerized by its display. There was also a big touch pond and the staff patiently explained all the critters on display - star fish, barnacles and so many others. Kudos to the wonderful staff (a family - we  saw grandmom, mom and a child) who explained everything and made our visit memorable.

We then visited the Orca Museum across the street, which had many interesting facts and a display of a giant orca skeleton. There was a lot of information about how the oceans are getting polluted.

We spent a lot of time by the beach near the Marine Center and it was very relaxing. The kids had a lot of fun.

The next morning, we woke up to find the park full and buzzing with people. There were so many Indians everywhere, that we thought we were in India. Turns out it was the last day of camp and the parents were there to pick up their children. I even bumped into some friends while crossing the street. We decided to leave early and beat the crowd for the ferry to Seattle.

Overall, it was a very different experience from Fort Flagler. This park had a lot more to offer in terms of activities.We skipped exploring the bunkers as the ones in Fort Flagler seemed a lot more interesting and we also ran out of time. Overall, Fort Worden is a fantastic place to visit. I will visit again just for the Marine Center.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Toronto with Kids

My uncle and his family live in Toronto and I had visited them in 2006. I loved the city and always wanted to go back. V had not seen Niagara Falls and so everything came together this summer and we decided to visit my uncle for a week in late July. This was 'baby I's' first plane ride and we were nervous. We picked an afternoon flight and so that helped. The flight was almost 4.5 hours but that seemed much longer; partly because this flight was a 2x2 seat system, and because Air Canada had some different system, V was allotted a different seat on a different row and I was left with the kids. Bah ! The passengers next to me did not want to swap; long story short, I was with the kids. The flight arrived on time but was delayed on the tarmac, thankfully immigration was super quick and we were on our way to Mississauga in no time.

 It was great to spend one week with my uncle's family and the kids had a lot of fun. My uncle's pet dog, Happy, was everyone's favorite. We enjoyed some great home food and wonderful hospitality. Toronto has very good restaurants and we thoroughly enjoyed Indian food at its best. The city and suburbs are very family friendly with nice neighborhood parks and walking paths. The city is huge ! Getting from one place to another takes a lot of time and traffic is terrible. So, plan accordingly. The weather was also quite hot although there were rains on some days. I also found that the skin became excessively dry for all of us.

Our first stop was to the Ontario Science Center. We felt it was a bit dated (compared to the one in Vancouver). It could do with some more elevators; we had to wait forever (we had no choice because of stroller). There were a lot of nice exhibits and the museum is spread over many floors. There is a lot to see. 
We went to a planetarium show and the kids did great because they sat through it, but the show was very boring. I may be a bit biased because I have seen some pretty awesome shows elsewhere. We finally left when the museum closed and had to wait for my uncle outside the building, where there were many vendors selling candy/ice cream etc; beware they are very expensive. 

Toronto Skyline from the Restaurant
Next day, we went to one of my favorite places in Toronto - Center Island. My cousins also accompanied us and we took the ferry; the views of Toronto skyline were very good from the ferry and the island. We planned to spend a few hours at Centreville Amusement Park and then see the rest of the island after that. 
Roller Coaster
We had lunch by the water and the views were fantastic. The food was very average and over priced. There is also a lot of walking involved in the island, so be prepared. After lunch, we went to the amusement park and it was fantastic. It is park catered for little children, which meant R could go in almost all the rides. There were more than 25 rides and we burned through a lot of tickets. It was totally worth it, as we had a lot of fun. None of us wanted to leave, but it was time to catch the ferry in order to catch our train to reach home. 

We took it easy next couple of days and went to the neighborhood parks.

Niagara !
View from our Hotel Room
Next, we went to Niagara Falls and stayed over night at Marriott. We got a room on the 27th floor and the view was superb. The hotel was nice and spacious. We went to the falls in the evening and took a nice walk. It was a bit chilly and we needed a coat. This is a very touristy place and there are many restaurants to eat. The night view of the falls from our room was amazing. Next day, I encouraged V to do 'behind the falls' tour but we could not do it because of lack of time. I had seen it 6 years ago and really enjoyed it. We did the mandatory, 'maid of the mist' and it was a great experience. It was noon by the time we were on the ferry and it was extremely hot, so we enjoyed the water mist from the falls. 'Baby I' slept through the whole ferry ride. Because it was so hot, we cooled off with lunch and some ice cream. Then, it was nap time for the kids and we decided to head back to Toronto. 
View from where we ate lunch
Lights over Niagara from the room

Our last place to see, was Lego land. R loves legos and so we decided to visit that place. We found it to be very pricey and not worth visiting. The food at the cafe was terrible and the staff were very disinterested.
Lego models
There were plenty of legos and R spent some time building. The exhibits in the entrance were very nice. There was a train ride and no one told us that babies were not allowed. We took 'baby I' from the stroller and were ready to board the ride when the usher told us that only older children were allowed. Baby was not happy. There was a ride inside, for which there was a very long line. But it was nothing remarkable. Then we went to the 4D movie and even that was pretty average. This is once place, I will not visit again. 

Then 2 days before leaving, we went to the local Guruvayoor temple for a ceremony; where baby is given the first rice in the presence of Guruvayoorappan.

Overall, this was a great trip and we had a lot of fun. Toronto is a very kid friendly city. But with 2 kids, there is a lot of planning to do to see any place. We skipped CN Towers because my experience last time was terrible (long wait). And after a point, all towers seem the same. We have our very own space needle here and also been to a nice tower in Macau. So, we skipped CN Tower.Till next time, Toronto.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Weekend at Fort Flagler State Park

We had not done any traveling after 'baby I' was born. Managing a toddler and a baby kept us very busy and vacation was not on the list. But a weekend getaway seemed like a good start. I had made a reservation at one of the vacation houses at Fort Flagler many months in advance during the July 4th weekend.

All of us were really looking forward to the trip. We took a ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge island around noon and we drove on via scenic Washington state. We stopped at a quaint little store just a few miles before the park to pick up some milk and fruits. I even found yummy naan and fresh baked bread ! We reached the park around 3pm. The park is on marrowstone island and at a strategic position. Upon entering the park, we were greeted by fantastic views of Puget Sound. Our Vacation house was called 'Engineers House' and was towards the end of the row of vacation houses and retreat centers.

The Engineer's House was very quaint and charming. It was built during WW1 and was maintained in very good condition. There was a fully equipped kitchen, a large living room overlooking the bluff, 2 bedrooms - 1 with a queen bed (with a TV) and a smaller one with a bunk bed, a large bathroom and a nice porch overlooking the Bluff. There was also a small fenced backyard. Linen was provided. Perfect ! The only thing missing was a BBQ grill.
The Kitchen

We unwound and then strolled at the park, it was very scenic. A different ship or boat made its appearance every few minutes and kept R completely thrilled. It seems all ships to Seattle need to pass through this tiny inlet (6 miles wide) and was hence a strategic point for the army.

The Large Bathroom
We spent the next day exploring some of the bunkers and also took one of the guided tours provided by volunteers. Then we went to the beach and the kids had a lot of fun. The sand was soft and the views were great. I took a small stroll along the beach and reached the tip where a light house was situated. Some people were 'fly fishing' and many dogs were on a stroll.

Next day morning, we left to Seattle after breakfast. The trip was wonderful ! The highlights for me were the superb house ( I already booked to stay for next year); the views of the water and ships, wildlife, scenic views and lots of open space.

Fort Flager is considered to be a part of the 'triangle of fire'. Three forts were built in strategic points to guard anybody entering the water of puget sound. Next stop, Fort Worden.

One of the bunkers

The Lighthouse

View from the Ferry
P.S. I started to write this post many months ago but never published it. Over the next few weeks, I will write about all our travels this year.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Macau with Toddler

This had been sitting as a draft for almost 5 months. 

The next day, we had a quick breakfast and packed our bags to check out of the hotel in HK. We left a couple of suitcases at my aunts house, as we did not want to lug it around to Macau. We took a double decker bus, which stopped  conveniently just outside the hotel. R loved the bus ride and we reached the Macau ferry ride in a few minutes. The octopus card for the transportation was very convenient ! We purchased the ferry tickets and tried to find an elevator for the stroller and gave up as there were no signs for it. After we reached the gate and were assigned seats, one of the officers there, helped us by taking us to a service elevator. The staff were very helpful and helped us board the ferry. The seats were very comfortable and quite different from the ferry in Seattle. The ferry ride was very bumpy and the sea outside was very choppy. I was very nervous and pretty sure I would throw up any minute. Even V and R looked a little uncomfortable. Thankfully, the ride became smooth after about 10 minutes. We reached Macau in an hour and immigration was super easy. We exchanged some currency to the local MOP and boarded the free shuttle bus to the venetian hotel.

We saw many casinos on the way and some of them looked very impressive. We finally reached the hotel and the friendly staff immediately assisted us with the baggage. When you are traveling with a toddler, this is so helpful ! We checked-in and were given a suite in the 27th floor. Our room was identical to the suite at the venetian in Vegas, except that the shower was not as good as the one on Vegas. Even the hotel was quite similar, all the murals were a poor imitation and did not match the real splendor of Vegas. We grabbed something to eat in the food court and took a stroll along the canal. The Zee TV awards were being held on the next day at the Cotai arena and we went to the arena in hopes of seeing some Bollywood stars. We saw some  TV celebrities and many enthusiastic fans. R had lots of fun running around everywhere in the huge, empty lobbies of the hotel. Finally we were tired of running behind him and decided to have dinner. While we walked towards our suite, I spotted a group of bodyguards and 2 people inside. On closer notice, lo and behold, it was Shahid Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor !! OMG !! I could not believe it. V and R had already gone past them,and I quickly went upto them and asked for a photograph. One of the bodyguards sternly replied that they were running late for practice. Immediately, Shahid told me that it was ok and I could take a picture with them. Then I gave the camera to the bodyguard and went near them. Ranbir then told me to come and stand between the 2 of them. Wow ! Both of them were so sweet and humble, I was completely star struck ! V and R managed to come back and sneak into the picture frame just in time. We thanked them for the photo and they went away. I stood stunned for sometime and could not believe that I met them.

We had a nice dinner at a Portuguese restaurant and celebrated our wedding anniversary. After dinner, we walked back to the shops for a stroll and met the legendary, Jeetendra. After that, R played a lot and we had a good time chasing after him. Finally, all of us were exhausted and decided to call it a day. Thankfully starbucks was on the way to the suite and we picked up some chocolate milk for R. They had some difference flavors of tea and coffee that I had not seen in Seattle.

Next day, we woke up early, as we had a sightseeing tour booked from the hotel which was leaving at 9am. We ordered room service breakfast and it was delicious. We set off on the tour and saw many sights of Macau and its portuguese history. We went to A-Ma temple, ruins of St Pauls, Senado Square, Macau tower, St Dominic's church and the Taipa Houses Museum. All the places were very interesting and we stopped to eat some famous 'egg tarts' from a bakery in Senado Sqaure. As it was the Chinese new year 2 days later, every place had a special decoration for the celebration. Not to forget the many dragons everywhere to commemorate the year of the dragon. We enjoyed the city and tour immensely.

We came back to the hotel by 1pm and went to a Japanese restaurant along the canal and had an excellent meal. We went back to the room and decided to take a dip in the swimming pool. There was a very nice Jacuzzi, which was an excellent way to relax after the busy morning.  Refreshed, we all went back to the room and R feel asleep after all the excitement. The Zee TV show was starting in a couple of hours and I went down to see the red carpet event. There were many stars and finally SRK showed up, causing a lot of excitement. Then I went back to the room to help R get dressed and told them about the red carpet.

The show did not start on time and in fact even the entry was not ready. I was quite annoyed by this and complained to the staff. The staff told me they were helpless as the main stars had not yet arrived. Finally an hour later, we could enter the theater and waited for some more time before SRK finally started the show.  He was entertaining but looked older in real life. There was a lot of teasing of Vidya Balan and her weight, which I thought was in very bad taste. Shahid's dance was superb and Ranbir's was very entertaining. R had woken up and was a little restless. Since the show started late, it went on way past 11pm and R was very cranky by now. Finally we had to leave and missed the last two awards.

The next day, we got ready and checked out of the hotel. We boarded a different ferry and left to HK. This ride was worse the earlier one and was choppy throughout. I was so happy when my feet touched the ground. We went to my aunt's house for a late lunch and then left to the airport. They had a very convenient check in system at the train station, where we could check in the bags and then board the train to the airport. We flew EVA for the first time and had a very roomy seat on the upper deck. They even had storage bins in the side by the seat. The toys they gave were very interesting and even I wanted to play with them.  I was pleasantly surprised at the excellent service, food etc.

Our 3 day halt was very memorable indeed.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hong Kong with toddler

We decided to take a short vacation in HKG as our flight had a layover there. We took a flight from Blr to Mumbai via Jet airways. The travel to Mumbai was uneventful as R was fast asleep. We landed in the domestic airport which I was seeing after 6 years and it seemed to have become a little more organized. We boarded the shuttle bus with little delay and R was thrilled to ride in a bus. The ride was a little over 25 minutes and the we were dropped off at the crowded international terminal entrance. There were so many people standing outside the airport, it seemed like atleast a dozen people were coming to see off 1-2 people. It was a bit of a struggle to navigate the stroller through the crowd, I am considering getting a horn or a whistle for the stroller next time around, a slight adaptation for Indian roads. We reached our gate and got some milk for R while he went to sleep, it was almost midnight. When the boarding began, we were shocked to see that we had to take a big flight of stairs. How could we do that with a sleeping toddler in a stroller? When I complained to the flight staff, all I got was a sheepish grin. Argh ! Anyway, we managed to go get to our seats and luckily, R was in deep sleep. I noticed several people wearing jackets with 'Shaimak' and could not see any famous faces. Then suddenly out of the blue, Shaimak came from the business class to talk to his troupe members. Wow !
He passed us a couple of times and I could not get up because I was holding a sleeping baby. I pleaded V to take a picture with Shaimak and he refused. Finally by the time he was ready, Shaimak was nowhere to be seen. Sigh !

We reached HKG and completed the immigration in a jiffy. It was so nice to get a visa on arrival with so few countries doing it for an Indian passport holder. We picked up a octopus card for us and took a taxi to our hotel in Taikoo. The city looked so nice and well planned. We checked into EAST hotel and got a fabulous room with a harbor view. The hotel was very nicely located near the MTR (metro) and the city plaza. After a quick shower, we went to the city plaza to grab lunch. We could not find an elevator to take the stroller and had to make do with the escalator. Then began the hunt for vegetarian food and the food court had nothing. Many of the staff there did not know english also making it more challenging. We found McDonalds for R and we finally found Pizza Hut. We had big plans for that evening but finally just took a nap. Later that night, we visited my aunt who lived down the road and got some pointers on food and travel. V found a supermarket in the city plaza basement where he got fresh fruits and drinking water.

Next day, we were still jetlagged and woke up late. By now, we found the elevator and could navigate the stroller more conveniently. We found an Indian place in the basement food court of city plaza, called ' curry in a hurry' which had awesome food. We had a good brunch and set off in the MTR towards the giant buddha called Ngong Ping 360. The attraction was easy to find and the although there was long line, it moved very fast.We took the crystal cabin cable car at around 3:00pm and had fantastic views. All of us enjoyed the ride and it got chilly on top. After a quick walk in the village, we went towards the big buddha. We parked the stroller in the bottom of the steps, and walked the 200 some steps. We were impressed when R also walked the flight of stairs by himself. After taking blessings, we came down to the Po Lin monestery and had a veggie snack. The snack was simple and delicious. The monestery was very beautiful and we felt at peace. This was a toddler friendly attraction and R loved to run around in the open spaces everywhere. He was also very happy to see many friendly dogs roaming freely everywhere. We picked up some souvenirs and passed by the Bodhi tree, it seemed to be made from plastic ! We boarded the cable car and when we reached the base it was almost 6:30pm.  R fell asleep in the MTR train and we decided to go and see the star ferry as it was too foggy to go the 'peak'.

From the central station on the MTR, we found an exit towards the ferry. It was a bit of a walk and was thankfully stroller friendly. We found the ferry towards kowloon and boarded it. The ferry crosses the south china sea from Hong Kong to Kowloon and is about 15 minutes long. We got a wonderful view of HK skyline. After reaching Kowloon, we walked for an hour and saw all the famous designer stores. There were lines to get into stores like Chanel. I wonder if there was a sale going on. After sometime, we walked into a mall for dinner and there was no elevator to the basement, where the food court was situated. As usual I did not find anything vegetarian and had to make do with some sweet soup. V had some nice dumplings while R continued to sleep. We took the ferry back to HK and I spotted a subway. I was happy to see it and had a sandwich. We then headed back to hotel via the MTR on the island line.

It was a good day and we were happy to have managed to see two attractions. I will be happy to see more elevators in the malls and signs for them. Next time, I better learn some Cantonese to at least ask for veggie options in food. Next stop, Macau.