So our Tennessee vacation is the thing of the past. What left is a bunch of fond memories, hundreds of colorful pictures and of course stronger family bonds.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee.To be completely honest, I was quite nervous beforehand. Danya and I never traveled alone (without parents) with Arosha, let along with two small children. Plus there is Anюta’s eczema, my gluten-dairy-nut-soy-eggs-you-name-it diet, eating out multiple times a day with an infant for almost two weeks, cloth diapers which need laundry every other day, and 400-miles-a-day drives. Oh, and staying together in the same room with two little children, who go to bed at different times, was also on the list of things that made me anxious.

Our travelers.It all turned out better than expected! Apparently, our kids are born travelers! They handled long drives just fine — Arosha was either talking, listening to Russian rock music or sleeping; Anюta was either playing with her toys or sleeping. Rarely did they complain or cry. During long drives we made sure to stop every few hours, so that everyone can stretch, run around and get some rest.

Car travel. Stop in Great Smoky Mountains.Danya downloaded a whole bunch of audio books for Arosha to listen to in the car, but we listened to them very little on account of Anechka. Every time Danya turned on a story, usually read by a man, she was crying after a few minutes and did not calm down until the recordings were off. Interestingly enough, the exception to this was when the story was told by a woman. Anna had no issues with music and songs as well. She is a pretty sensitive child, so my theory is that she was getting scared of strange men that were suddenly talking and talking in our car.

Sleeping arrangements. Pillow barricades for Arosha.Cloth diapering on the road was a little annoying (when is it not), but totally manageable. We mostly stayed in Hilton branch hotels, and all of them had guest laundries. The only hotel that lacked both laundry and hot water in the room was the Skyland Lodge in Shenandoah National Park. There I had to hand wash diapers in ice cold water and then dry next to the radiator. We also had to finish drying some inserts on the dashboard of our car — luckily it was a very sunny day, so it only took an hour or so. I did not even try using disposables in fears to irritate Anna’s sensitive skin. By the way, she does #2 on the potty every morning pretty consistently, so I rarely have to deal with soiled diapers. Not that they disgust me — I think nothing my kids do at this age can — but it’s still nice to catch even a little break.

Drying cloth diapers.Anюta’s eczema was getting worse little by little throughout our trip. She had almost clean skin in the beginning, and was all covered in red itchy spots by the end. I am still not sure what causes it — probably food sensitivities — but at least I was able to rule out cat allergy, which is a huge relief. I think that she definitely has a reaction to bananas, but the rest is still questionable. I keep maintaining my diet to the best of my ability, although by the end of the trip I ate some gluten and other things which I try to avoid.

Double Tree restaurant.Both kids did great at restaurants. Arosha loves going out and we never have issues with him. He loves hamburgers and french fries, so he had his share of those, but majority of the time we ordered him healthy things like vegetables, grilled chicken, wild salmon, soups, hummus, rice and beans. He also developed a fondness of oatmeal for breakfast. He usually hates it at home, but brown sugar and raisins really made the difference it seems.

Shenandoah. Skyland Resort.Anюta was as easy in restaurants as a 7 months old baby could possible be. I started following a baby led weaning approach with her a few weeks prior to vacation, so she loves holding pieces of food and munching on them. For breakfast I was giving her apples, melons and even a piece of bacon ones (I know, not good). For lunches she was usually munching on steamed vegetables or grilled chicken — I realized though that I have to ask them to not season vegetables and it made my food more delicious. She does not swallow much — food is more for tasting and playing for now — so getting proper nutrition was not a concern.

Best toys.I also am happy about the fact that our children seem to really like and enjoy nature. Arosha loves being outside and he always can come up with some game to play — he pretends to be fishing, or sweeping, or building a fire and such. He found a great tree for climbing in the Big Meadow in Shenandoah and could not get enough! He hiked one and a half miles each way to two different waterfalls in the Smokies, he also had no issues with steep road uphill to Clingman’s Dome, although we had to stop for rest more than ones.

Anna playing with the grass.Anюtka also loved being close to nature. Sometimes, when I was taking her out of the car and she saw how beautiful it was outside, she laughed out loud out of sheer delight. I let her play with sticks, stones and the likes. She also really enjoyed playing with the water near Laurel Falls. I carried her around either in ergo or just in my hands since she prefers to be forward facing. We took our City Mini stroller, but have not used it a single time.

And of course it was so good to explore new things with Danya! We see each other a lot since he works from home twice a week, but on vacations its a different quality of together time. I love traveling with him, with our children. I will write more about the nuances of our trip, but for now let me just say again that I am very glad that it all went so well.
In: Family, Travel   Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Time: 15:06   Comments: 3 Comments   Post a Comment  
1
1
2
2
3
3

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tennessee Trip Highlights

Time really flies. It’s been more than a week since our vacation has ended and I, as usual, am having trouble figuring out which way to go about these posts. So I decided to just pick out some general categories about the whole trip and then split off location specific notes into separate posts.

Hotels


Throughout our trip we stayed at five different places. Four of those places were Hilton properties. We did not take advantage of our points for any of these since we’re saving them for our November trip, but we did get the full benefits of our Diamond VIP status.

Park Vista by Double Tree. Gatlinburg, Tennessee.All Hilton properties are great. Clean, big rooms, nice blankets, good breakfasts. I would rate them all at four out of five starts with the exception of one. The hotel where we spent six nights — the longest and most important part of our vacation was just superb and by far the best one of our trip. It was Park Vista by Double Tree (Hilton property) located right on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Our hotel. 15 stories atop a hill.Everything about it was great. The hotel itself was located on top of a mountain located right in the middle of a forest. We got upgraded to the top, fifteenth, floor. We had a balcony with a great view of Gatlinburg and the mountains that surround it.

View from the inside.This hotel had a very nice breakfast included with a chef that would cook hot to order meals. We also took advantage of the on property restaurant practically every day. Once we ate directly at it, but mostly we would order some dishes to go to bring up to our room and had our dinner while Anechka was tucked in for the night in the same room.

Other Hilton properties that we stayed at were located in Hershey, Pennsylvania — right near PA capital of Harrisburg, Chapel Hill, North Carolina — not far from NC capital of Raleigh, and the last one was located in Arlington, Virginia — right across the bridge from Washington, DC.

Skyland Resort at Shenandoah National Park.Our only non Hilton hotel was a lodge located right inside Shenandoah National Park. We did stay at the same lodge at the end of 2010. However because we had to reschedule our trip we ended up having to take the only left over room. It was located in a different part of the lodge (cabins are all over the property) and was somehow way below the standard that we are used to.

Double Tree at Gatlinburg.Floors we were not covered with carpet and cold. Beds were small, mattresses were old. Arosha kept falling off the bed throughout the night. Hot water would run out before one could take a quick shower. There were no laundry facilities and we couldn’t do without them because of Anna’s diapers (more on that later). And it smelled like … — well, it just smelled.

The only thing that it had going for it was the fact that it was located right in the woods and we had a nice porch where Arosha could play with leafs, sticks, stones and all other things he loves playing with. And the restaurant was nearby as opposed to the other cabins from which one had to climb atop a rather steep hill to get to it.

Arligngon, Virginia.Overall this contributed to us cutting our Shenandoah stay one night short. We ended up adding the night to our Tennessee stay which proved to be a very good move on our part.

Pools


The hotel in Tennessee had probably the best pool we’ve encountered during all our previous travels. It had a pair of shallow pools for kids, a hot tub, and an adult pool with a two story high slide leading right into it. Arosha loved it. I would put him between my legs, we would lie down on our backs and slide down right into the water. I have to admit that it was quite fun for me as well.

Pools at Gatlinburg Double Tree.There was another smaller slide leading into the kids pool, but it was a tube going through the wall. It was pretty dark inside and only on our last day I managed to talk Arosha into trying it. He had to go through it alone as I would not fit into it. So when he was ready to go in I told him that I’ll run down to the pool and catch him at the bottom.

The first time by the time I got there I saw a huge splash and Arosha managing to get above water on his own. Naturally he wanted to go again. On the second time by the time I got down to the pool I heard yelling coming through the tube:
– Ready??
– Ready.
– Ready???
– Ready!

Water slide.The next thing I see is Arosha flying through the tube with complete terror on his face. He splashes down into the pool, jump out with with complete ecstasy written all over his face. Again! Third time went very much like the previous run. Same “readies”, same terror, same happiness.

Alena also took Anna out to the pool. She also enjoyed it along. Alena would hold her in the water with her head above it and they would “swim” around the pool. One time Arosha and I talked Alena into trying the slide. We practically had to coerce her into it. Eventually she reluctantly agreed.

Another view of the slide.When she got up there I told Arosha — now listen to this! And then we heard multiple high pitched yells, screams and howls. She did end up liking it too. I’m glad we made her try.

Our other pool experience was rather sad. While we stayed in Arlington we decide to go to the pool. Arosha got all dressed, all prepared, totally happy. We all also got dressed for the pool. Then we couldn’t figure out which floor it was on. When we went down to the lobby to inquire where it is it turned out that this was the only hotel of our stay where there was no pool. It was a complete tragedy for poor Arosha. So much preparation and anticipation and such a fiasco. He was crushed. That will teach us a lesson for the future though.

Our Car


Our car has served us admirably. I’m really enjoying the “utility” part of our SUV. The cargo space easily fit a pair of large suitcases, a stroller and a good number of smaller bags and purses, while still allowing us to pull a cover over them.

Shenandoah fog and our car.The ride was comfortable and higher vantage point makes for a better trip — you can see more. Distronic made driving for 2,000 miles easier on me. Our car fully loaded with four people and a lot of cargo came out with a very respectable MPG of 26. That’s with mixed highway and city driving. We had to fill up only 4 times and that’s considering that we never waited for it to fall below 1/4th of the tank. Diesel rules.

One thing to note is that while I feel rather well driving Mercedes in and around New York it felt a bit awkward everywhere else. It attracts too much attention and really stands out. Something like Chevy Tahoe would feel somehow safer and more comfortable in that respect.

Another trail.However while before I never wanted anything to do with SUVs now I’m a big fan of an SUV as a family car. It is safe, heavy, stable and allowed us to easily park in all kinds of “off-road” ditches while in the parks.

Kids


Our kids did great. We feared that 400 miles in one day was not doable without many problems. Our original plan was to split it into two days when we left Shenandoah one day early. Turned out it wasn’t a problem at all. We kept planning to stop at 200 miles, 300 miles, but they just kept doing well. Only towards the end a little amount of crying ensued from Anyuta. Arosha had zero issues at all.

On the trail to Laurel Falls.The totally love nature. We could not drag Arosha away from anywhere. Sticks and stones, rivers and puddles. Arosha’s kind of paradise. Anyuta also was very happy to sit on the ground and taste grass, flowers, sticks and just plain good old dirt.

Arosha did great on hikes. We did numerous long hikes on steep trails that were about 3 miles in length and he walked them on his own without any problems. Anna on the other hand refused to sit in her ergo for the most part and Alena had to carry her. I don’t know where she gets the strength and energy. Us driving our stroller around was totally pointless. We haven’t used it once.

Nature fun.Sleeping in one room was perfectly fine too. We thought that’d all have to go on Anna’s schedule and go to sleep at 8pm. However once Alena did put her to bed we could still sit around and do other stuff. Arosha could watch some cartoons or all of us would go through our pictures we took throughout the day. Or we would eat dinner using bathroom sinks as dinner tables. It all work out rather well.

Laundry


Now this was a first for us. Because Anyuta is allergic to disposable diapers we have to use washable cloth ones. And as a result we had to do laundry every other day. Shenandoah was the worst. No laundry facilities and the closest town was 30 minutes away. Hot water would run out. Alena did hand wash them in the cold water.

View from the window of our Gatlinburg hotel.We dried them everywhere. Radiators, tables, TVs and so on. The best place though goes to the dashboard of our car while the car was sitting in the sun and we were away on a walk of some kind. Other hotels did have laundry facilities, yet it was still quite annoying to say the least.

Food


Food was … boring. This country is full of steak houses with very little variety. By the end of the trip we could not look at steaks, burgers and potatoes. We did eat at a nice Mexican restaurant once and one Cuban hole in the wall place. While in Washington we ended up running into a completely random and cheap Chinese place that was in China Town which was well reviewed by New York Times as it turned out. By most evenings my appetite for any food was nowhere to be found so we mostly ate from the appetizer sections of the menus.

Bullfish Grill at Pigeon Forge, Tennesssee.One thing that worried us slightly was the fact that Anyuta would always cry before at any kind of a restaurant. But Alena figured out a perfect solution. She can sit very well in a high chair on her own. Alena would put a plate in front of her and would put all kinds of non-choke hazard vegetables on that plate — string beans, broccoli, slices of carrots and so on. Anyuta would reach out for them and taste them. That kept her occupied rather well and would could eat in peace.

Overall


Overall it was a really nice road trip. A great vacation with an exception of one nightmarish night in Shenandoah. I’ll explain in more detail later. Otherwise we got very lucky with the weather, spring was in full bloom and we’ve seen a lot of beautiful and interesting new places. It was fun for all four of us and it was not as hard as we thought it would be. It actually wasn’t all that hard at all. Our kids are great.
1
1

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Friday, January 3, 2014

AMG Pedal Covers

AMG pedal covers.One of the options that we didn’t get when we ordered our car was Sports Interior even though it could’ve been added for free. It included 3 things — AMG pedals, sports steering wheel and sports seats. The problem with the seats was that the middle part of the seat was made out of Dinamica — faux suede. It didn’t seem very durable.

Original covers.First mod on the new car — aluminum AMG pedal covers. Pedal covers are a gift from my parents for New Year. I’m afraid getting a sports steering wheel is going to be quite a bit more expensive, so we’re not going to go there. Plus I do enjoy the heated steering wheel during these cold days and as far as I know the two are not compatible.

Genuine MB parts.
In: Gadgets & Gear   Tags: , , , ,
Time: 13:00   Comments: 1 Comment   Post a Comment  
1
1

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Good Timing

Our M-Class braving the storm.It looks like we timed well our truck purchase. This winter is proving to be quite snowy already and there is no way I would’ve been able to get home yesterday if I was driving a rear-wheel-drive car. From many years of experience — if it’s snowing — you let the car sit. It is quite hard to get it around the block, forget about 60 mile commute.

Solid ice.I have claimed for years that there is zero need for me to have an all-wheel-drive car, but yesterday it sure felt nice to be in a car with a grip of 4MATIC — Mercedes-Benz implementation of all-wheel-drive. I think I do not want any other car without this option. Even little C-Class that we had for several days came with it and I felt really comfortable driving it in the snow.

Needs a wash.The car performed well all around. It felt like my personal little fortress — calm, warm, stable and rather well self-driving while stuck in traffic thanks to Distronic. So far I’m very happy. However at the moment our MB must be the dirtiest car in all of Brooklyn.
In: Gadgets & Gear   Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Time: 20:53   Comments: No Comments   Post a Comment  

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Sunday, December 8, 2013

C-Class in Manhattan

C-Class loaner.This is really two stories in one, yet both are about this weekend. First one starts with me not being able to make my music sound as it should on a high end Harman Kardon sound system in our new M-Class. Closer inspection revealed that the subwoofer in the rear of the car instead of playing low sounds makes everything around it vibrate. The outside fender of the car actually vibrates the most and creates the most noise.

I took the car to the dealer on Wednesday morning and after a service manager and a technician looked at it and admitted that that’s not even close to normal we went and tried the same MP3 file in another similarly configured M-Class. Sound was clean and crisp at much higher volumes too.

WTC 1.Long story short — they had no loaner car available on Wednesday, but they promised to come by my house, bring a loaner car and pick ours up at 10am on Friday. That’s exactly what they did. Of course for me there is a hassle of taking out kid car seats and moving them into another car, but as far as service goes at this point — nothing like Chrysler was — one of my main reasons of leaving American cars behind.

On Monday I’m going to find out what exactly the issue is and how long it will take them to fix it. Hopefully they’ll either install the speaker properly or replace it with a new one if the current one is blown. For the time being I’m stuck with a loaner C-Class. At first I didn’t really care, but it is anything but a family car. Tiny!

One of many sets of statues.Basically in order to get a Anechka’s rear-facing seat installed and to get it to fit we had to move the forward sit so close to the dashboard that Alena could not get in. After moving some things around and adjusting the seat we barely fit her into the car in rather an uncomfortable pose. Because of that on our way through Manhattan to a park on Palisades Parkway we decided to instead try to explore downtown Manhattan.

We got really luck and found a spot (with no meter even) within 2 blocks. Arosha has never walked around that part of Manhattan, but he always talks about the “highest skyscraper” around. So we took a good look at WTC 1 and walked through a nearby church and walked around a park by city-hall filled with all kinds of statues and had a nice lunch and a middle-eastern place — a good walk close to home essentially.

Enjoying art is his own way.So that was our Saturday. Hopefully our car gets fixed and we won’t have to use MB service anytime soon again. If we do, I’ll ask for something bigger than C-Class for a loaner. Otherwise it’s a pretty decent car with enough oomph in its engine. But it still did make me appreciate our choice even more — it’s noticeably more refined and definitely more roomy.
1
1

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Monday, December 2, 2013

2014 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC

Xenon headlights with LED strips in the bumper.This has been a long time in the making, but last Wednesday we picked up our custom factory ordered car — 2014 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC SUV. This is a lot of first for me — first non-american car, first SUV, first V6, first turbo engine, first diesel. All my previous cars were large American sedans with V8 motors in 5.7 and 5.8 litter sizes.

Big family car. No running boards.When Anyuta was about to arrive we decided to upgrade our family car. With a lot of SUVs out there we felt that our kids would be safer in a heavy SUV as well. When Arosha was our only child we put his car-seat into the middle spot of the rear seat — the safest place. But with two kids something had to change. So now they are sitting higher in a heavier car with a lot of state of the art safety features.

From the top. Just a standard roof.In addition to that we get all the utility of being able to transport a lot of kid gear with us, especially on long family trips. It already is nice to be able to load up Anyuta’s large stroller into the cargo area without having to take it apart. Then there is the utility of a diesel engine. The car has a driving range of over 700 miles on a single tank. The stated fuel economy is 20 MPG in the city and 28 MPG on highway. The engine also packs an amazing 455 pound of torque which makes this 5,000 pound truck feel much lighter than it really is.

Turbo diesel V6 engine with 455 pounds of torque.I’ve been keeping records of my expenses and MPG performance of our 300C since August. The car averaged out 21 MPG which is not bad at all for 5.7 V8. BlueTEC did 30 MPG on my drive to work today if the computer is to be trusted. Of course with mixed driving the number is going to be much lower, but I’m hoping it will not drop too low. For any kind of SUV those are impressive numbers. With my daily commute of 120 miles it really matters.

Diesel!After doing some initial research it was becoming clear that in order to get the car that we really wanted we needed to have it ordered from the factory. First of all BlueTEC (diesel) on its own was hard to find, but a car with options that we wanted and no options that we didn’t care about was not to be found. We found a place where we could do a test-drive of both version gasoline and diesel ones. Diesel definitely felt much more impressive and the MPG was really attractive to us, while the gas version fuel economy was lackluster to say the least.

Another side shot.I really wanted to do business with our local dealership for the convenience of being able to service the car near home and take advantage of loaners for the time that the car is in service. That was one of the most frustrating things for me with owning a Chrysler. Also having to do service every 10,000 miles was appealing as well.

The radar for Distronic is located in the star in the grill behind black glass. If a car has no Distronic the star is hollow.Initially we had a pretty bad experience with a sales rep. So bad that I didn’t want to go in there at all. However Alena insisted that we should try and to our surprise the rep that we talked before was no longer an employee — such good luck. Our new sales rep was great. She did everything we asked and gave us zero bullshit. That was a very pleasant yet somewhat unexpected experience.

From the rear.I did a LOT of research before placing an order. I knew what I could get price-wise realistically — a number that would make me happy. I was hoping to get the car for invoice which would be 7% under MSRP. I would’ve been really happy if it would be 7% and the registration fee of $388 included.

BlueTEC logo.I did not expect to get well under invoice without much bullshit, yet that’s exactly what happened. Not only that, but on the day when I was taking delivery of the car I managed to get another thousand knocked off the price, thus coming in at 10% under MSRP. That beat all my expectations. We also managed to get a pretty good finance APR of 2.29% after a little bit of negotiation. That also beat my expectations and almost half of what we had on our previous car. We are also planing to add a genuine MB extended warranty for about 30% under MSRP.

Interior. MB-Tex wrapped dash with Satin Ash wood.When we were placing our order we knew exactly what options we wanted. Our choice for exterior color was white — easy to keep clean and really makes the car look like a million bucks. We did not want any running boards — they made it actually harder for me and Alena to get in and out of the car. All the cars on dealer lots had those. I did not want Parktronic — I can park my own car without paying extra $1,200. I did want xenon lights and I did want Distronic and none of the cars had that.

Keyless-GO and MB-Tex wrapped dash stitching.For interior we were going to go for Almond Beige, but after seeing it in person we felt that black looked much richer. We were also planning to go with standard wood, but instead asked to see a satin non shiny finished wood and opted in for that special option. We also got a special order option of leather wrapped dash — really makes the interior high-end and one option that a lot of people are simply not aware of. The car came out looking great.

Harman Kardon sound system and dash stitching.So here is a full list of options that we picked:
  • Polar White exterior — clean and simple
  • Black MB-Tex (synthetic leather) interior — more durable than real leather, feels like real leather
  • MB-Tex wrapped dash — dash covered and stitched with leather
  • Satin Ash Wood trim — real not shiny wood, texture of which can be felt with the hand
  • Premium 1 Package — navigation, music controller — USB, SD, iPod, Bluetooth, hands-free phone, satellite radio, 14 way power driver seat with memory, auto-folding mirrors and many other goodies
  • Lighting Package — bi-xenon self leveling, self adjusting headlights
  • Driver Assistance Package — one of the rarer things — includes Distronic Plus (active cruise control among other things), active blind spot assist (will not let you change lanes into another car), active lane keeping assist (will not let your run off the road)
  • Harman Kardon Sound — 830 watts 13 speak system specifically designed for M-Class
  • Heated Steering Wheel — will be nice during those cold winter mornings
  • Keyless-GO — no need to take out the keys to open or close the doors, or start the car
  • Tons of standard features including 4 matic — all wheel drive

COMAND. Radio, navigation, iPod, hard-drive, SD, USB and everything else.The hardest part was the wait. We placed our order on September 14th with an expected delivery date of mid-December. However the car got built earlier than we expected and was delivered to the dealership in a week. I couldn’t resist coming over to take a look at it the next day after I found out and took the delivery a day after — November 27th. The car had 8 miles on the clock.

In-dash computer with some miles we put on it.I was initially thinking of selling 300C to CarMax, but in the ended just traded it in for $150 less than CarMax would’ve been. We decided that we didn’t want the hassle of a private sale. Somebody could’ve had a great deal on that car, but none of my friends needed a car. The last time I looked at odometer before handing over the keys it showed 95,003. That car has served me well with only one hiccup through all those miles and years.

Interior from the other side.Since we got our new car right before the long weekend of Thanksgiving we have put over 300 miles on it. I love it. COMAND — the system that controls the car computers — is great. After reading through many complains about it I thought it would be bad. I don’t know what all those people are talking about. Of course nothing is perfect, but compared to everything I had before it’s pretty awesome.

Fresh off the truck. 8 miles on the clock.At this point I think I’m getting used to the new car and I just hope it will serve us reliably and will keep us happy for the years to come. For the time being I have an uncontrollable urge to drive. We are going to plan a nice road trip for our little family for April all the way to Tennessee. At least that’s the plan.
In: Gadgets & Gear   Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Time: 18:35   Comments: 2 Comments   Post a Comment  
1
1
2
2

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Car Trouble and Visiting Tanya

Arosha and Antosha. Arosha is 3 months older, but is taller than all kids of his age.A small update on recent events of our life — two pretty much separate stories. First one is the fact that Tanya — Alena’s friend from university days in Minsk — is in United States again. While the first time she was here for a tourist visit with us, this time she is here for work. We kept planning to visit her for several weeks now, but stuff kept getting in the way. This time around it was our car.

On Monday morning I got into our car to go to work. The car didn’t start from the first try, but did after a second try. When I got to work it did the same thing at a gas station near my office. In the evening I decided to leave earlier, in case it doesn’t start and it had no trouble at all. On Tuesday morning all was good as well. So thinking that it was some one time fluke I stayed late at work on that day and to my dismay the car would not start no matter what I tried at the end of the day.

Usually the most typical problem is a dead battery. But all the electronics seemed to work just fine. Lights were on, sound system played music well, but the engine would not even try to turn over. My dad had to come out and get me. We got home close to midnight. I spoke with Geoff and he very kindly suggested that I should leave my keys on his desk and he’ll try to sort things out in the morning, so I wouldn’t have to come out and not be able to get back again — I couldn’t ask my dad to make so many 140 miles long trips.

Antosha. He was much more willing to pose for me than Arosha was. I was unable to talk Arosha in standing still for 3 seconds.I was dreading having to deal with getting the car towed. But I guess luckily for me the car started in the morning when Geoff tried it, so he dropped it off at a local Chrysler dealership and it started having starting problems there, so at least they could start on troubleshooting the issue. Now here are two things — the car has 83,000 miles on the odometer. This was the very first time that it gave me any kind of trouble at all. When we bought the car we bought an extended warranty that runs out at 85,000 miles. I thought this extra warranty purchase was completely useless and kept thinking that warranty covering something was really a myth. I was glad to have been proven wrong.

So the dealer called me and told me it was a starter and the car would be ready on Thursday morning. My dad drove me to work again and when we got to the dealership we saw a bunch of mechanics hovering over my car with manuals — never a good sign. They replaced the starter, the car didn’t start. The suggested they get me a rental car (also covered by warranty) which I had not choice, but to agree too. It’s never cool to give up your car for a car that’s worth less than half of yours — bare-bone Jeep Compas. You just get too used to little niceties. Anyhow, since I’m not in Norwalk until Monday they agreed to let me keep the car until then.

Long story short, they ended up replacing the starter, the fuse box and some transmission sensors which finally fixed the problem. All that got resolved only at the end of Monday, which caused me a lot of stress. But all in all, I did have a temporary car, the warranty covered it all and I have my car back in a working order. Hopefully it will stay this way.

This way the only way to photograph Arosha -- but capturing him. This didn't last long either.Back to Tanya now. This time we decided not to let this car issue stop us from visiting her. We installed our “Costa-Rica” child seat into our Jeep and using Google Maps on iPhone as navigation successfully arrived to the hotel where Tanya was staying with her mom and her 2 and a half (approximately) year old son.

It was a nice visit. We talked a lot about different topics — work, travel, kids, kids, kids. We went out to a local Outback restaurant for lunch, helped with some grocery shopping — Tanya doesn’t have a driver’s license which makes things very hard for them there, even though the company that hired her would cover a rental.

Aroshka played a lot with Antoshka. With went for a nice walk around a lake and they would run around and picked up all kinds of sticks, cones and other stuff. Arosha kept pulling Antosha by his hand in all different directions and Antosha on one hand wanted to play with Arosha, but on the other hand seemed to be kind of afraid of him. So when Arosha would run away on his own Antosha would say — let’s play together. When Arosha would come back Antosha would run back towards his mom and stick with her. All in all I think they had a good time as did we. We will definitely do this more. Tanya is in US until the end of the year I believe.

This would be me.We are planning to invite Tanya for a weekend to stay with us as they are very much bored in New Jersey with no car. While big cities have robust public transportation systems for the most part, in rural America you can not do anything without a car. So there you go. This concludes my update for the past week.

P.S. Sadly I somehow managed not to take a single sharp picture of Tanya. I was running around with my manual lens and I think I lost some fast focusing skill since I haven’t used it in a couple of months.
In: Life In General   Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Time: 13:22   Comments: 3 Comments   Post a Comment  
1
1
2
2
3
3

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Day Trip To Pisa

Leaning Tower of Pisa.When we were planning our trip we couldn’t make up our mind whether we should rent a car and drive or if we should stick to trains as it has worked so well for us in Japan. After thinking and thinking we decided to go ahead and get the driver’s license anyhow and possibly try to rent a car for a single day, but traveling by trains seemed like an easier and less stressful thing to deal with and that’s what we did1. We ended up not visiting any small towns, but it was the right decision for the first trip.

Tuscany.We moved from city to city by rail via bullet trains. We used public transpiration around those cities and that was definitely the right thing to do. Even though city centers are quite busy and streets are tiny that wasn’t the scary part of driving. The scary part was the fact that there are some no driving zones even though roads lead there and tourists tend to drive into those parts and get fined. Plus who wants to deal with looking for parking on vacation?

The streets of Pisa.But having a European driver’s license in hand we figured that visiting Pisa would be a great time to try renting a car for a day. We were staying in Florence for 3 nights and Pisa is only 60 miles away. We weren’t quite sure if we’ll want to spend the day outside of Florence or if we’ll want to spend that day in Florence itself. However several things tipped the scale towards a drive to Pisa.

The streets of Pisa.First we arrived to Florence pretty early on Sunday. Somehow we budgeted the whole day for the train ride, but since the ride wasn’t all that long we ended up going to downtown area on that very day and saw a good portion of what we wanted to see — Duomo. We also did our climb to the top and took a good set of pictures. Our second objective in Florence was Uffizi Gallery and it was closed on Monday — we had Tuesday for that. Third is the fact that Pisa Tower is a very famous place and being so close to it and not seeing it would not make sense. And fourth was simply the fact that we wanted to get some out-of-the-country car renting experience under our belt.

In our Fiat on our way to Pisa.Before the trip I looked for car rental places, but all of them were near the central train station close to downtown or the airport. Neither one seemed exactly convenient, but I made a reservation near the train station, thinking that we’ll be spending time in the center of the city anyhow. On Monday morning we couldn’t really decide whether we still should do it. Driving out of the center is one thing, but not knowing where to drive is a whole other matter. Instead we went down to the reception desk of our hotel and asked if there were any rental places around. Turned out that Eurocar Rental was 5 minute walk away.

Our Fiat Panda.That’s where we went. Slowly moving guy, by American standards at least, said that they did have cars and their rates were very comparable to the rates that we got online for downtown rental. We also decided to include a GPS unit and all possible insurances that they were offering in addition to the mandatory theft insurance — none of my credit cards were offering insurance to cars rented in Italy and neither did my own car policy. The total for the day came out to $127. There were no hidden fees that and no problems whatsoever.

Central Pisa.One funny moment or maybe a silly moment for us was that we decided to boast how cheap the gas is for us in the U.S. and how we can easily afford to drive big, V8 powered cars to which the guy gave us a sobering reply: “Our medicine is free. My kids will go to college for free.” And something else along these lines. In his words it’s nice to be middle class in Italy, but if you want to be rich you have much more chances of making it in U.S. I personally will take my chances. All other countries are fun, but there is no place like home and New York is it.

Our Panda.Now that was a long introduction. At this point we finally got into our Fiat Panda which sported a 1.2 litter engine at the most, but which was unexpectedly roomy. The car came with a manual transmission. Luckily for me I had a pretty lengthy manual transmission experiment running during my younger days, so I had no problems driving a stick. All the traffic was also no big deal after New York. And with the help from our GPS unit we were soon speeding away from Florence and on our way to Pisa via autostrada A11.

Pisa.Weather-wise the day was less than stellar, no put intended. It was the only day when it actually rained throughout all of our trip. But it worked out OK for us. It only rained while we were driving and when we arrived to our destination the rain stopped. Rain was one of the reasons why we took a big highway straight to Pisa instead of small back roads. Another reason was the fact that we sill weren’t too sure of our navigational abilities, so we took the surest route. We hoped that on our way back we’ll take some smaller road and hopefully will get to stop in some small towns. Alas, that’s not how it worked out.

Parking meter and street signs.It took us an hour to get to Pisa. We spotted the tower from quite a bit away and soon after easily found parking fairly close to the central district of the city. There was a ton of elaborate signs explaining the parking rules, but in the end it came out to operating a very similar in use parking machine that New York City is covered in. We dropped the coins in, it spat a printed ticket out that goes behind the windshield. The restricted traffic zone was also very clearly marked, so I don’t think there really was a danger of us crossing into it accidentally.

Restricted traffic zone.We left our car and went on a hiking tour around Pisa. The town itself was somewhat of a cross between Florence and Rome architecture-wise, although the number of tourist was noticeably smaller than that of the other two cities. And beside the tower and central cathedral there really wasn’t much to do as far as our itinerary went. Even though the city itself has numerous other historic churches we decided to limit our whole Italian trip to the most famous locations in order to avoid a complete mess of memories at the end of our vacation.

Central Cathedral and Tower of Pisa.The famous tower itself is indeed a sight to behold. I knew the tower was leaning, I didn’t realize how much. It really stands at freakishly steep angle. In fact the angle was so freakish that we decided to forgo the climbing to the top tour — our only such omission during the whole trip. We took a good number of pictures, although I ran into another problem here. While all the normal towers on my pictures were falling down because of wide-angle distortion, this one was actually coming out straight. Quite ironic. As a result I don’t really have any pictures that I’m proud of from this particular place.

Mediterranean Sea coast.We walked about around the central area, took some more pictures of the main cathedral and headed back to our car. Our next objective was try to head up north along the coast of Mediterranean Sea as far as the day (sun) would allow. We actually wanted to get all the way to Manarola for its picturesque views and it was only 60 miles away, but there just wasn’t enough time. The sun was getting close to horizon by the time we were only half way there. So we stopped in one of the coastal resort towns — Marina di Pietrasanta — and took a nice walk along some pier and watched the sun set over the water. The town itself was virtually deserted, but it probably is bustling with activity during the summer months.

View from the pier.At this point we got back into our car and headed back to Firenze. Since it was dark out already we ended up not stopping or taking detours towards any of the small towns, even though we took a different road back. When we were getting closer to Florence I went into some panic mode — I know, so unusual — thinking that we won’t find the rental place, our hotel or any gas stations to fill the car up at. I really wanted to return the car this day and not have to wait until morning and worry about this chore the next day.

Resort town of Marina di Pietrasanta.“Strangely enough” there was no problem finding anything, although gas bill came out quite high even on 1.2 litter engine. We turned the car in and were back at our hotel room at around 7pm. Now I could truly relax and reflect on the experience of this fun and unique day. We decided not to take a bus to the center of the city and went to local restaurant for dinner on a recommendation of our hotel staff. We walked through the modern yet quite neighborhood of residential Florence, ate our dinner and drank our wine at Mi Amor restaurant, and were asleep soon after getting back to our cozy room of our Hilton Garden Inn.

  1. We did the math and buying a pass like we did in Japan didn’t make financial sense. In Japan the reservations were included in the price of the pass. In Italy reservations are mandatory and are not included in the price. []

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Saturday, December 15, 2012

2013 Nissan Altima SV

2013 Nissan Altima SV.Last Saturday we did an important thing — my parents bought and picked up a new car — 2013 Nissan Altima SV — to replace their beloved Sonata that drowned in the flood caused by Hurricane Sandy.

It was a hard loss for them to deal with. My mom did her share of crying and my dad spent weeks worrying and wondering why he had parked the car where he did. He understood that nobody expected such major floods to happen, but he kept replaying the scenario — what if he only parked it 2 blocks in other directions.

Nissan Altima.Either way, we can now happily put it all behind and hopefully they can enjoy their new car. Geico came through for them and did what they were supposed to. In fact it was a pleasure dealing with a company that handled everything professionally and didn’t give us any hard time about anything.

As far as the new car goes, my cousin, Arsen did all the hard work. He did a lot of research on a good replacement, spoke with multiple Nissan dealers when my parents decided that Altima was the best option, and found a great price for them. He also arranged all the financing and made sure that there are no extra hidden fees that dealers love to throw in. If it wouldn’t be for his help I would have to go through all that myself and even though I can do that it always gives me tons of stress. So I’m grateful to him for his help as much as my parents are.

2013 Nissan Altima SV.The new car is more expensive than the “old” Sonata was, but it it’s a higher class car. It has a new body for 2013 and this time my parents decided to get a navigation system, which I think is a great decision. I never understood how useful a built in system can be until I actually ended up with one in my own car. We also corrected a mistake we made with the last purchase — no more low profile tires and sports suspension. My parents prefer the car to feel softer and don’t really care much about it’s cornering abilities.

Anyhow, the new Altima is great. I hope they enjoy it for many more years to come. By the way, they also picked a non-silver color this time. I think it looks much better and richer than boring silver that every other car seems to be painted in.
1
1

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Sunday, October 23, 2011

2012 Hyundai Sonata SE

Hyundai Sonata SE.Yesterday was a big day. My parents have been talking about replacing their old 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix with over 130,000 miles with something new. They wanted something reliable, but didn’t want anything fancy — they just need to get from point A to point B in relative comfort and don’t want to worry about parts falling off like the Pontiac started having a tendency to do.

Hyundai seemed like a good candidate from the start. The company has been working on their reputation lately and we ourselves considered Genesis when we were looking for a new car. They give good warranty, make good quality reliable cars that are inexpensive which overall results in good value for the money.

Hyundai Sonata SE.That’s how our Saturday started. We went to a local dealership to look and test drive 3 models — Elantra, Sonata and Tucson. What nobody of us expected was coming back home in a new car. I originally though that Elantra would be a good fit for them. During the test drive my dad started saying that the engine feels too week. Coming from my dad that really means something. He doesn’t care about HP, but when the car doesn’t pull — it doesn’t pull. So 1.8 litter 4 cylinder engine was no good. It also felt somewhat cheap inside.

Steering wheel.Next up was Sonata. A bigger 2.4 litter engine was what my dad wanted. He was happy with it. It felt nicer inside and it was quite a bit bigger too. The low end model — GLS — lacked certain features like auto-headlights, power seats and it had steel wheels with plastic hubcaps. My dad liked having auto-headlights and wanted good wheels instead, but they figured they can live without it. Then it turned out that they only had black and red cars in stock in that configuration which ended up being a deal breaker for them. They wanted something light and neutral.

At this point they were offered a step up SE model which they had in light silver color. This car came with sports suspension, 18 inch low profile wheels — which my parents weren’t very happy about, but it also had auto-headlights, fog lights, key-less start button, power seats and a bunch of small niceties like that. It also came with a built-in bluetooth phone system which I’m happy about, since my dad never could talk in the car and we sometimes worried that he wasn’t answering. We hooked up his phone to it already.

Interior.We never got to testing anything else. The rest of the day we were working on the price. I think we got a good deal which I’m even more sure of after doing the research online. It’s not as stellar as deals used to be in 2008 when everything was falling apart, but by today’s standards they came away with a very nice car for a good amount of money. We also ended up redoing my dad’s insurance with a different company which came out a little bit more for full coverage than my dad was paying for liability alone. Geico rules.

The old car ended up getting donated. My parents felt very sad letting it go. They also felt extremely nervous ending up with a new purchase, but I remember that I went through the same very thing. I didn’t want to leave my new car outside alone. But it will pass. I wish them many years of enjoyment of their new purchase. Let the new car bring them only happiness.

Sonata.
In: Family, Gadgets & Gear   Tags: , , , , , , ,
Time: 16:28   Comments: 4 Comments   Post a Comment  
1
1
2
2
3
3
4
4

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Snow Digging

Buried in ice.Not all is good about the snow. On Thursday I had to drive to work and naturally the car was buried in hard ice. The just run huge trucks down the strips with massive snow plows and all the snow ends up on the cars. Then everything freezes over through out the night and in the morning you have a fun exercise.

Solid ice.It took me over an hour to get all the ice out of the way. It was frozen solid and luckily I was able to borrow a real sharp metal shovel to get the job done. A regular snow shovel would do nothing.
In: Life In General   Tags: , , ,
Time: 16:51   Comments: No Comments   Post a Comment  

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Anniversary

Happy birthday, 300!I got an e-mail this morning.
Dear 300:

“Happy Anniversary” from your friends at Fullerton Chrysler Jeep Dodge!

I hope you and Daniel are getting along well and that Daniel is taking good care of you. If you have any bumps and scratches, aches or pains, just come in and see us.
Hard to believe it’s been a year already. Time really flies. I don’t want to jinx it, but it’s been really good to us with more than 20,000 miles on the odometer.
In: Gadgets & Gear   Tags: , ,
Time: 12:20   Comments: No Comments   Post a Comment  

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Car Sticker

The sticker from our 300C.When we took delivery of our car the sales guy folded down the sticker and gave it to me. This is my first new car and so is the sticker. I wanted to scan it in for a while now and here it is.
In: Life In General   Tags: , , ,
Time: 17:38   Comments: No Comments   Post a Comment  

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin