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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Charleston Fun

Posted by eemilla on October 20, 2013

For every vacation (aside from oblications) we work out an itinerary which is often overly ambitious, and for Charleston I continued the tradition.  I scaled it back to allow for nap-times (which didn’t occur for the most part), but I still failed to get down to the Battery to spend more time than our trip a few years back.  We did, however, enjoy a quick stroll through Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art along with a stroll around King and Meeting Sts.

The Children’s Museum of the Low Country was the best value with all of the great things for LB to do; admission is $10 per person, and if your little one isn’t walking or is toddling I would wait as there is a huge castle exhibit and a boat that are difficult to navigate as an adult.  However, there is a huge water table and an area with blocks that a could be fun for a less mobile baby.

The South Carolina Aquarium was less enjoyable as it pretty small, but it charges the same admission as much larger and much better aquariums (Vancouver Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences).  The touch tanks were fun albeit crowded, and the boat play area was a crowd pleaser for the toddlers.

We also took the drive down to John’s Island for the Angel Oak Park.  It was a bit sad to see the beams supporting the tree (although it was more sad to see people ignoring the signs about not climbing on the tree), but I was quite happy to be able to get so close to such an awesome living thing.






Of course we loved being so close to the beach.   I took a morning run, and we had multiple beach days with sand castles and boogie boarding.

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Family vacation

Posted by eemilla on September 21, 2013

For the past few years I’ve been lobbying my maternal family to forgo the end of the year gift card exchange in favor of a family vacation, and last year everyone finally seemed to agree it was time to do something different.  Then interest dissipated for about four months so my honey and I planned a trip to Manhattan thinking we would not be taking a vacation with the extended family.  An almost collective itch to travel brought the idea back to the fore after our vacation had been booked for months.

My idea was to travel somewhere new or exciting or exotic which was in direct conflict with economic concerns and comfort levels that limited us to the Charleston area or the Savannah area.  As we’d just visited Savannah and Tybee Island last year and only I wanted to visit the Outer Banks, my honey and I were all for Charleston.  After spending hours searching for houses in both locations that met all of the various needs of everyone (pool, close to the beach, large kitchen, bath for every bedroom, enough bedrooms) the group decided the Charleston area had better large house options for the money.

Once we narrowed it down to the Charleston area we had to find a large enough house available and in our price range.  While the task sounds easy enough it required hours of searching between three or four members of our group.  My frustration was that there were multiple folks who were non-commital about if they would be joining us or how many people would be in their party.  Without having one person footing the entire bill another concern was the best way to distribute rooms without having to haggle over different pricing, and fortunately everyone acquitted themselves admirably.


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bar in need of an icemaker 2nd floor alcove laundry room
king sans daybed one of 2 jetted tubs walkin shower
king bed with day bed king with daybed bathrom king with shared bathroom shared bathroom twin room twin room bathroom
view of screened in pool from twin room balcony 2nd floor balcony with view of twin room balcony spiral staircase to rooftop rooftop

Including the couches in the living room there was enough room to sleep 20 adults based on double occupancy in each of the king beds, and there were enough areas for everyone to mingle or retreat as needed.  The crows nest or rooftop was a favorite place to escape the noise, and the patio chairs were comfortable even though a few were worse for the wear.  The second floor balcony was sparse without any furniture, and the balcony off the twin room was so small it seemed superfluous.  My honey and I didn’t want to have to spend the extra money to rent a house with a pool, but we were certainly sold on the benefit of having the pool to float around in especially after the ocean.  I believe the house came with two separate gaming consoles, and there was a nice flat screen over the fireplace in the great room.

For a house with a 20 person capacity, the refrigerator/freezer/icemaker was the feature that everyone agreed to be insufficient; it was a double door deal so there were narrow shelves which made it difficult to accommodate groceries.  Even after the ice maker was replaced it took about eight hours to make a tray or so of ice which left of us purchasing bags of ice for the sodas, iced tea, and blended adult drinks.  There is a nice wet bar with a wine cooler, and a stand alone ice maker would be perfect there.  The maintenance man said the freezer’s ice maker had repeatedly been an issue.  The large gas range was more eye candy than functional; all five burners had two temperatures: on and off (which for a gas stove is really irritating and unexpected).  We also had to have a towel rod and a door knob replaced on the first day, and although we mentioned the additional three of the five (in addition to the one that was replaced) atrium doors had alarmingly loose handles they were not replaced.

With so many cars it was difficult to juggle them as the two driveways were a car’s width, and the street was much too narrow to park on.  The golf cart created most of the tension as people wanted to pocket the key rather than leave it in the lockbox, but it was an even better feature than the pool as we could cart our gear to the beach rather than lug it the few blocks on foot (especially as any parent knows the kid will want to walk then insist on being carried whilst you juggle the beach bag and/or chairs).  The key to main house also had a lockbox which really came in handy as we had about fourteen adults sharing three keys.

The house was a few blocks from a public beach access point, but we were so far down on the Isle of Palms that the beach was never crowded even though we were there during the high season.

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Brooklyn Bridge and More Sights

Posted by eemilla on July 17, 2013

Our walk across the Brooklyn Bridge was the last thing we all did that I really enjoyed doing since we didn’t make it to MoMA, and The Empire State Building was a let down.  We had fine weather, and even though it was a Sunday and there were plenty of other people enjoying the views.  Originally I had wanted to rent bikes and ride across it from Manhattan to Brooklyn then back, but my husband wanted to ride the train into Brooklyn then walk back to Manhattan.  With the costs of the bikes approaching $100 for  a few hours (including a seat for LB), I conceded, and it was a lovely walk.  There were so many pedestrians that the bike lane was frequently overcome, and it was also the same day as the Five Borough tour which meant there were plenty of cyclists needing the use of the full lane.

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We followed up our walk across the bridge with a train ride to Washington Square Park; LB got out of the stroller and ran around and burned off some energy while we debated where to eat.


After striking out on lunch we returned to the apartment for nap time, and I laced on my running shoes to complete my first 5k route since high school.  I completed a couch to 5k training program, and I saved my first complete run for Central Park.  I really didn’t plan on any particular course; I just ran and followed the signs to the Reservoir, and I ended my course running a loop around it.  I felt really good to run a full 5k especially within one park without having to loop and repeat sections or run on concrete or pavement unless I wanted to.  I love green spaces!


We wrapped up our awesome day getting a photo of the Flatiron Building for my collection.  The area that we walked to from the Flatiron Building to the wretched John Dory Oyster Bar was the dodgiest I’d seen in New York.


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Posted by eemilla on July 16, 2013

We purchased the City Pass thinking that we’d be able to get our money’s worth out of it so it meant we had passes to Top of the Rock and The Empire State Building.  Of the two I prefer Top of the Rock, and maybe only because we saw The Empire State Building on our last day after a manhunt shut down the four closest subway lines forcing us to walk several blocks while trying to figure out if the whole system was down or just every train near us.  The subway shutdown and our late start ate so much of our time we had to decide between seeing the MoMA and The Empire State Building, and as I had never seen the latter it is were we went.

Both skyscrapers had unbelievable amounts of velvet ropes, and I cannot imagine waiting in all of those lines.  It took over two hours to visit each building as it was, and at the top of each it was really crowded making it difficult to enjoy the views.  Again I cannot imagine going during peak times.  We went on a sunny day to Top of the Rock so our views were better, but the pictures didn’t work that well being behind plexiglass.  The Empire State Building also had a lengthy exit line for both the elevators and the stairs to catch the larger elevator on a lower floor, and it just seemed to add insult to injury considering the observation decks were smaller than at Top of the Rock.  With the City Pass I don’t know how admission compares, but Top of the Rock seemed to be managed more professionally and to be more tourist friendly.

Top of the Rock Top of the Rock


Pho 32 saved my crappy mood after we left The Empire State Building.  The food was tasty and plentiful with fast and friendly service, and as an added bonus it was a good deal (less than $35 before tip for at least two beers and two entrees).

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Pho32 & Shabu on Urbanspoon

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A few more thoughts on our NYC dining experiences

Posted by eemilla on July 15, 2013

Living in the suburbs neither of us thought we would have to figure out the best way to change a diaper in a bathroom without a changing table, because every time it has happened before we’ve just gone to the car.  Riding the subway didn’t give us that option, but overall it was less terrible than I would’ve imagined it (not that I want to practice my skills anytime soon).  I believe the only changing tables we encountered were in the museums; I cannot think of a single restaurant we visited that had one.

Our second delivery was Polash Indian, and it was good and cheap (less than $40 before tip for the three of us) and greasy and filling.

Polash Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

AperiTIVO was were we grabbed some lunch after a morning of busy sightseeing.  The portions were good, and the pasta was delicious.  Our server was a bit overwhelmed as she seemed to be splitting the huge dining room and patio with one other server so it took a while to order and pay, but as we were outside under the bright red umbrellas LB was more distracted and thus cooperative.

eggplant parm seafood pasta spinach ravioli

Tivo Pizza Bar on Urbanspoon

On another day of sight seeing I wanted to go to a vegan sushi restaurant fairly close by, but it ended up not having any seating aside from barstools which wouldn’t work with a toddler so we ended up not wanting to put off lunch any longer and eating at Bravo’s Pizza, and it tasted just like the crappy pizza served in every single mall in America.

Bravo Pizza on Urbanspoon

Our worst experience was at John Dory Oyster Bar.  My honey has a love of oysters, and it was fairly close to some sight seeing that I wanted to do and a restaurant that I thought would be more suitable for vegetarian LB & me.  After one weak drink with enough ice for five more and a half dozen oysters, we were out $45 dollars.  The rolls that were ordered while LB and I walked downstairs for a diaper change (in a bathroom with plenty of space for a changing table or a counter but with neither) never appeared except briefly on the bill before they were removed at my husband’s request.

John Dory Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

After wasting almost an hour in John Dory’s LB was in no mood to find somewhere else and then sit and wait for food.  We treked back to the apartment only to discover that finding delivery food in Harlem on a Sunday night after 9:30 is harder than finding it our sleepy little mountain town.  The city that never sleeps my foot.

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Two Expensive Dinners

Posted by eemilla on July 13, 2013

For our nice dinner out my honey selected Candle Cafe, and we were on the westside.  Fortunately we didn’t really encounter any waits to be seated in any of the restaurants we dined at. With our toddler we have about an hour or so to eat in peace before LB is done being confined and quite.  The lighting is dim and evocative of the low light of a candle, and the tables are squeezed together.  Overall our food was enjoyable.  The one exception was LB’s pizza from the kid’s menu; it was over sauced, and the vegan cheese was wholly unappetizing.  The other downer of our meal was my dark and stormy which I only ordered after reading seeing their house made ginger ale; the drink was a hefty $13.75, and it tasted much too much like sour mix so that I hardly finished it.  I do concede that I made an amateur dining mistake as the waitress relayed that the bartender didn’t want to make this drink so I should’ve stuck with water.  Finally, it took too long for us to get our check and get out the door; otherwise our service was fine.  The appetizer, steamed dumplings, and the main courses, portobello steak and morel tofu, were good with fair portions and good execution.  Sadly, the negative details are sticking out more than the positive, so I cannot elaborate on what I enjoyed about our dinners.  We all three enjoyed the desserts, a chocolate peanut pie and three scoops of ice cream, but again I cannot recall the three flavors my honey selected.  Our before gratuity bill was over $100, which is what we expected for our nice dinner.
Candle Cafe West on Urbanspoon



For our second expensive meal, I don’t recall if my honey had picked out the restaurant or we were looking for something else when we decided to eat at Cilantro.  This was a much better dining out experience than the previous night as all of the food was great and the service was fast, and yes the drinks were expensive but absolutely fabulous too.  LB ordered a quesadilla of the kids menu, and I ordered the mushroom quesadilla off the appetizer menu.  We also had an order of guacamole and chips to between the three of us, and I left full.  My honey had a steak.  The room was loud and bright, and the seats were comfortable.  The tables were somewhat closer than I prefer, but definitely not uncomfortably close.  Our bill (before tip) was one margarita away from breaching the $100 mark, but after two I was toasty (and quite happy to be catching a train back to the apartment).
Cilantro on Urbanspoon

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Natural History Museum

Posted by eemilla on July 8, 2013

Unfortunately, we didn’t learn our lesson in Savannah about double checking for the pass before leaving the rental so we traveled down to 81st from 132nd St only to realize the passes were not with us.  Rather than use four train fares we decided my honey would go back while LB & I killed time in Central Park.  While watching the ducks and geese swim, I also spied a huge pile of puke or poop on the bench that LB really wanted to sit on.  Fortunately this was one of our few gross experiences in NYC.  I chased LB around while she burned off some energy, and I somewhat searched for a playground without wanting to venture too far from the Natural History Museum entrance.  When my honey returned with the City Passes we began our exploration of our second (and ultimately last museum) of the trip.

Our first floor tour began with the dioramas, and I wasn’t a big fan.  Once we moved on to the ancient civilization artifacts I began to enjoy it more.   We then covered lots of the same ground as we were lost in search of a restroom to change LB’s diaper which was déjà vu of the Met from earlier in the week.  Post diaper change, LB decided to take a nap in the stroller, and I felt both guilty and vindicated as my itinerary was based on her napping in the stroller; however, she didn’t look terribly comfortable, and she ended up taking a second nap that afternoon so the sleep must have been fairly poor.

The dinosaurs were really cool, and I hope we can return with an older and awake LB.  I also enjoyed the stones and gems much more than I expected too even though some of the large stones were underwhelming.  I was surprised at how different sulfur can look (the photos we tried to take didn’t really turn out).  We ended our visit at the butterfly conservatory after haggling with the attendant to allow us to trade our pass to the planetarium to admission to the butterflies.  While I would have loved to view the planetarium, we agreed that it wouldn’t be LB’s cup of tea plus we were all fairly hungry.

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My honey landed on Raku II for our lunch spot, and it was one of the first restaurants that I’d been in that didn’t have a changing table for my wee one.  Trying to change a toddler’s diaper in a closet of a public bathroom is something I don’t want to do ever again, and I didn’t even catch a poopy diaper as we took turns changing them.  I guess with space at a premium it makes sense not to have a place to change the kid, but at many of the restaurants there was plenty of room just no thought. Raku II was a closet sized bathroom which was in proportion to the size of the restaurant.  The menu had plenty of vegetarian options, although I failed to write down what I ordered I do recall being pleased with the taste and price and portion.  Plus the staff made LB a makeshift sippy cup out of a storage container (she positively refuses to ever drink of her own sippy cup in every single restaurant in favor of drinking from my cup).
Raku - It's Japanese II! on Urbanspoon

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Bronx Zoo

Posted by eemilla on July 7, 2013

Our apartment was so far north that we had a forty minute train ride to get to the Bronx Zoo or Chinatown or some other southern point, but the ride to and from the Bronx Zoo maybe seemed longer because we had to ride a local train rather than an express train.  Regardless of the length of your ride, the fare is still only $2.50, and we were glad to find that LB didn’t cost anything.  I still cannot figure out why we didn’t purchase the seven day unlimited ride card as I think we ended up spending about $130 whereas each card (we would have had to purchase two since you cannot use the unlimited card more frequently than every 18 minutes) cost about $30.

Again I was overzealous in my itinerary so I had planned for us to picnic at the zoo then return to the apartment around 4, but we ended up getting to see a large portion of the zoo (sadly the monkey house wasn’t even open) in the few hours we were there.  LB loved the gorillas and the giraffes, but sadly there was a meltdown at the lions although I didn’t see any baby lions (one of LB’s favorite books is Little Lions).  The butterfly conservatory was not worth the extra admission as it pales in comparison to the one at the Natural History Museum and of course the one in Key West; we purchased the total experience pass so we didn’t have to pay extra admission to any of the paid exhibits of which we hoped to do a few (butterfly, bug carousel, monorail, children’s zoo, jungle world).  Looking back it looks like we didn’t get our money’s worth on that one either because we ran out of time.  While I’m not certain the gorilla forest is worth the $5 additional admission, it was really cool to see the gorillas so close.  We were hoping that going during the middle of the week we might have a less crowded experience, but neither of us expected the hundreds of school field trips we encountered.  I guess that was another silly mistake on our part.

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Mooncake Foods

Posted by eemilla on June 30, 2013

After pushing LB too hard to stay at the Met we beat a hasty retreat back to the apartment to finish off the leftover pizza and allow nap time to commence.  For dinner we wanted to try to eat something that we couldn’t eat at home, and I was hoping to track down another bahn xeo like at the Slanted Door.  Alas I am inept at searching restaurant menus online so I wasn’t able to locate a single restaurant in all of Manhattan that had one on the menu, and I wouldn’t impose to request one from a stranger.  I settled on Mooncake Foods Hell’s Kitchen location, and we were rewarded with great, cheap food and awesome service plus $9 pitchers of Sapporo.

LB and I shared the cold jicama rolls and pea shoot dumplings and a cold noodle salad while my honey had a really spicy sandwich.  The salad was okay, but the appetizers were delicious.  All of the portions were generous.  The restaurant appeared to be mostly delivery, and there may have been seven to ten tables with about the same at the bar.  Only one other table was set the whole time we were there, but the delivery orders kept going out.  The servers took good care of us, and they were sweet to LB.  It was so awesome to be able to enjoy the cheap beer because we didn’t need a designated driver; three cheers to the wonder of MTA!
Mooncake Foods on Urbanspoon

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Metropolitan Museum of Art

Posted by eemilla on June 30, 2013

As my main goal with the this vacation was to satisfy my desire to see the complete Met, I wanted to start with it.  Even though it was my main attraction I didn’t actually think about what I wanted to see in any great detail so we ended up looking at a several sections that while I enjoyed them they would not have been my priority.  Yet another vacation lesson learned.  On the bright side I rushed back another day as soon as LB was napping to try and get my fill.  I am thankful that the Met has a suggested donation policy which enabled me to return for my second visit as the first was cut short.  Another lesson learned is that nap time has to be honored, and a nap in the strolled doesn’t cut it.

The front entrance had some major construction so there were plastic tents and fences blocking a good photo, and once we got inside we wasted plenty of time by purchasing tickets only to realize that we had forgotten to purchase a City Pass so we had to get a refund then go purchase the City Pass (this meant three separate lines).  In hindsight the City Pass didn’t end up being a good deal for us anyway as we were not able to squeeze in enough of the attractions.  There were so many awesome paintings and statues and artifacts, and we took tons of photos; the Temple of Dendur was closed as was part of the Chinese art collection.  Some of the paintings were from the 1500s, and they looked so fresh and vibrant.  I would post photos (not that they would do justice), but the Met’s photo policy prohibits publishing them.  Although it was the only section I really remember about our first visit, we toured the Egyptian collection followed by the Ancient Greek and Roman sections.  By that time LB was ready to run around so we took advantage of a playground a block away.  We decided to return and cram in what we could which ended up being a sculpture gallery, the African collection, and European furniture before returning to Harlem for lunch and nap time.

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