New York State Capitol.Albany was the fifth and the final stop of our vacation. One of the reasons for the stop was to break up a long drive from Montreal to Brooklyn. Another reason to stop specifically at Albany was the fact that we have never actually properly visited the capital of our own state. We drove through it before, but have never explored the city or laid eyes on the capitol building and its surroundings.

Empire State Plaza.The ride down from Montreal was supposed to take about four hours, but it started with what I clearly remember about our last trip to Montreal — major road closures. This time they just completely closed one of the bridges that was supposed to take us across Saint Lawrence River. GPS was sending us in circles and all the detour signs would just abruptly end. Luckily I remembered that there was another bridge at the north end of Montreal. And even though that ended up being a pretty big detour for us we finally got out and were on our way.

Rest area stop.The rest of the drive was uneventful. Our phones came alive after we crossed into United States. We stopped at Duty Free on the boarder and bought a couple of souvenirs. We ate our lunch at some fast food place. And we took a short break on some rest area in some part of Adirondack Region where Alёna got talked into playing a little bit of soccer with Arosha.

Capitol view from another side.By the time we checked into our hotel, parked the car and unloaded the luggage it was 6 o’clock in the evening. The hotel was Hilton Albany and we chose it because of its proximity to the capitol complex. It was nice enough as Hiltons typically are. However we were unfortunate enough to have to eat dinner at a hotel restaurant. The fact that it was completely empty should’ve been a sign. The food was less than stellar to say the least.

Kids by one of the fountains.Anyhow, since we were staying for only a single night the rest of the day was the only time that we would have to explore the center. So we set out towards the capitol building. The walk was probably no more than 10 minutes long at Anna’s pace. The day was warm, the sky was blue, it was a nice end of the day.

Capitol.The capitol itself is non-typical looking. It doesn’t have a traditional dome, but instead looks more like some large castle. Sadly because we were visiting over a weekend the building itself was closed, so we were not able to see it inside. I guess we’ll have to come by some other time to get our stamps.

The Egg.Next to the capitol building there was a large open area — Empire State Plaza developed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller. It had large fountain pools which were empty at this time of the year. On its edges there was a good number or large monolithic buildings and there was an egg shaped concert hall which was called exactly that — The Egg.

Climbing assistance.Kids had a lot of fun running and climbing around, exploring empty fountains — basically expanding all the extra energy that got accumulated in their systems after a day of driving. Then we tried to go to some highly rated pub nearby, but there was a 30 minute wait for the table. Since we were very tired and hungry by then and there was nothing else open in a walking distance we decided to dine at our hotel, which turned out to be a mistake as I explained earlier.

Units.And to finish the day off we went for a swim in the pools — last pool of our vacation. That was actually the only time we ended up socializing with other people while sitting in a hot-tub. As a result Arosha ended up with a much longer pool time than he was originally promised.

Climbing.And when we got back to the room I attempted to push Arosha’s bed toward the wall as we often do to minimize his chances of falling off the bed during the night which he still does from time to time. However I did not anticipate that I would slip out out of my still wet rubber slippers during this maneuver. As a result I performed a major face plant into the bed after which one of my legs slammed into the floor. I still limp two and half weeks later.

Another view.On this positive note I will conclude the last day of our vacation. Our drive home was uneventful and we got home early enough to rest and then visit our parents for a nice dinner in the evening.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls. Both sides.We arrived at Niagara Falls, Canada via Rainbow Bridge. There was a long wait line of cars for passport check, and children were getting a little stir-crazy, but as always we survived with only minor damage to our nervous systems.

Our hotel. DoubleTree Fallsview Resort and Spa.We stayed at DoubleTree Fallsview Resort and Spa. It is the same exact hotel where we stayed with Daniel and his parents last time we visited this town. We got a nice room at high floor, albeit one level below the executive one.

Us in Niagara Falls.We were pretty hungry by the time we got there, so we decided to have a light lunch at the hotel’s restaurant. The restaurant was quiet and empty, and the lunch food that we ordered was not bad, with the exclusion of Caesar Salad. I think once I started making it at home, restaurant versions with their bottled dressings got much less satisfying.

On a ship to the falls.After lunch we headed for the falls. They were a relatively short walk away from our hotel. It was cold-ish outside, but bright and sunny. To our surprise, the boat ride underneath the falls was running, and Arosha REALLY wanted to go. What do good parents do when their five year old is bubbling with need to go into the cold mist of giant waterfalls? Of course they do exactly as he asks!

Red raincoats.Since it was so early in the season, the line was very short, and we had hardly spent any time waiting for the ride. Each one of us got a red disposable raincoat, which we put on right away. In fact, we put two of those on Anюta (one was smaller, one was bigger) to make sure she’ll stay dry. We all enjoyed this little adventure. When we were near a big waterfall, the mist turned into a full fledged pouring rain, but luckily, it did not last too long.

Inside the casino.After the ride, we walked along the waterfront, admiring the views and smelling first daffodils. For dinner we decided to go to the buffet in one of the casinos, but they were really strict and did not let us pass through the casino to the restaurant on the account of children. For me it was quite unusual after the family-friendly atmosphere in Las Vegas, but oh well.

Alёna and Arosha.We wondered around the shopping area attached to the casinos, and ended up going to the Chinese buffet. The food was very mediocre, but they had sushi, and Arosha stuffed himself up with them. There was also a pretty decent variety of vegetables (not so with meat), so I did not left the place hungry either.

Whirlpool on Niagara.We started the following day with the trip to the Niagara whirlpool. The day was nice and sunny again. There is a cable car running over the whirlpool in season, but it was not open yet. I am not sure if we would have taken a ride anyhow, since to me it seemed like a pretty scary endeavor.

Ride over whirlpool was closed for the season.When we were in Niagara Falls area last time, we visited the Butterfly Conservatory. I remember being very impressed by it, and we wanted to share this experience with the children. They’ve been to similar thing during our visit to the Museum of Natural History, but their butterfly exhibit was tiny compared to this conservatory.

Arosha hoping that a butterfly will land on his hand.Arosha and Anюta both liked the butterflies, although at some point Anna ran to us all excited holding a big butterfly in her hand. I honestly hope that she did not catch it, but picked up from the floor, but who knows.

At Butterfly Conservatory.We explained to her how we should never do such things and that she might have accidentally killed the poor insect. It made a lasting impression on her. She was not very upset, but to this day she remembers it now and again and tells us that she is sad because she killed a poor butterfly.

Алёна с бабочками.We went to the hotel after this, and had lunch at the local restaurant again. The kids were really excited at the prospect of going to the pool, so that’s exactly what we did. We spent a good chunk of time there, since there was a Jacuzzi to get warm after a cool pool.

Skylon tower.Our next objective was the Skylon tower. We walked around the observation deck for a little bit and enjoyed the falls views from high up. Originally we wanted to have dinner at their buffet, but it was only open for lunch on that particular day. There was a highly-rated revolving restaurant on the tower as well, but we decided to save the experience for the CN Tower in Toronto. Plus it was rather expensive, as one might expect from a place like that.

Conquering the fear of heights.Instead, we ended up going to a Brazilian steakhouse, and it was just so good! It was probably our best dinner of the whole vacation. It was not cheap either, but the children ate for free, so it was a very good deal for us, considering that Arosha ate more meat than I did, and Anюta was in a close lead to me.

SkyWheel.I have to say that normally Arosha is not a big fan of meat. He oftentimes refuses to eat meat that I cook at home, unless it’s in the form of meat pie or samsa or part of the soup. However, he loves shish-kebabs and good steaks in restaurants, and when we go to Brazilian places, he always surprises me with his appetite.

View of the waterfalls from the top of SkyWheel.Our last day at Niagara Falls was cloudy and grey. We started our adventures with the ride on the SkyWheel. For some reason, our children really enjoy Ferris Wheels, so we try to take a ride on one whenever the opportunity presents itself.

View from our window.After the ride we went to some arcade place. The most interesting thing there was an air hockey table. Danya and Arosha played a game, but Anюta was too small to hit the puck. To be quite honest, I get really bored with arcades after spending more than 5 minutes in such places. I think Danya feels the same, so we did not linger.

Clifton Hill.We walked around the city down the Clifton Hill street for a while. There are a lot of souvenir shops, different strange entertainment places, where the visitors are either being scared or are supposed to laugh. There are also some “museums”, most notably the Guinness World Records one, but they did not look interesting enough to spent our time and money on them.

Lunch at Niagara Brewery and dinner at Rainforest Cafe.We were not sure where to have lunch. We almost went to Friday’s, but the prices there are unjustifiably high. How weird is it, that they charge almost a third more than in our local TGIF? The Outback Steakhouse had the same issue. So we ended up going to the Niagara Brewing Company. I really enjoyed our lunch, and so did Danya. The children were not impressed with the food, but I am still glad we went there instead of some chain place.

Waterfall with a ship.After lunch, we walked by the falls again and headed to the hotel. My head was starting to ache, which unfortunately happens to me at least ones on vacation with kids. I am not sure if I just get overtired and my body protests in such a way, but this seems to be the trend. I think we went to the pools again, but I am not sure 100% if we did.

Brazilian.By dinnertime, my headache got worse, but the children were getting really hungry especially considering that they barely ate anything at lunch. We decided to head for the nearby Mexican restaurant with good reviews, but unfortunately it was closed.

View from our window.We could not find anything good close to the hotel, and ended up going to the Rainforest Cafe, which we spotted during the day. It was pretty far from the hotel, but since we did not anticipate going there beforehand, we did not take Anna’s stroller. She did not mind walking by herself, but sometimes we carried her for better speed.

Crossing the street.The food in Cafe was nothing special, but the atmosphere was perfect for the children. We were sitting next to the gorillas, and our little ones were fascinated when they were moving and talking. Arosha also went to explore other parts of the restaurant to get a closer look at elephants and waterfalls, and Anюta followed him around like a little pup.

Niagara Falls.I was feeling quite nauseous, so I just ordered hummus and water. I think I would have been better off skipping dinner altogether, but I did not know that at the moment.

Rainforest Cafe.We went to the hotel afterwards, and Danya had to carry Anюta most of the way, since I felt too sick to do it. When we got to the hotel, he and Arosha took a car and drove to the Falls to see the night illumination. They only saw the white lights, since the colored illumination comes up fairly late.

On a ship.I felt even worse, but after throwing up a few times, I took tylenol for the headache and was able to fall asleep. I felt just fine the next day, to everyone’s relief.

Skylon Tower.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Toronto

Toronto skyline.Toronto, the capital of Ontario Province, was our third stop of a trip. Alёna has been to Toronto once before and I have visited it multiple times, but I wanted to take our kids to it for one reason in particular among others — it’s a home to the world’s third tallest tower — CN Tower. In fact it held the record of the world’s tallest tower for 34 years.

Streets of Toronto.Toronto is a very short drive away from Niagara Falls and so we had more than half a day available to us at the time when we were fully checked in into our hotel.

From the top.We stayed at DoubleTree Toronto Downtown where we ended up on a 3rd floor with pretty much no view of anything. We typically book the cheapest available room — this time it was a room with two double beds — and hope that our Diamond VIP status will raise us to a high executive floor. This was a rare time when this bet failed — double rooms only go as far as the 6th floor and the hotel was fully sold out. Oh, well.

CN Tower. I really need a shift lens.As I said earlier our main objective was a visit to CN Tower. CN Tower has a revolving restaurant at the top which is while quite expensive is worth a visit for the experience. The earliest dinner time is 4:30pm and that’s the time we made our reservation for. There was no point eating lunch, so we stuffed up on marinated olives and croutons that we bought several days earlier at a winery near Seneca Falls.

Dinner at 360 Restaurant.So as we were done with “lunch” we set out for a walk to CN Tower. The distance was a little bit more than a single mile, but our Anюta often prefers to walk on her own, so we had a good long (time-wise) walk ahead of us. To my delight though Toronto is a city where streetcar system is one option of public transportation. As last time in Lisbon I’ve taken way too many pictures of those trams.

Us at the stop. Not a stellar picture sadly.When we arrived to CN Tower we were able to skip all the lines because of our reservation to 360 Restaurant at the top. We have been sat at one of the tables by the window and Arosha couldn’t quite grasp the concept of not sitting on the heaters by the perimeter of the restaurant and his table getting away from him. I kept telling him that they are not spinning when he clearly saw that they are moving. After a short while he finally figured out that it was the table that was moving after all.

Admiring the view and Anna vs ice-cream.Anna on the other hand has managed to fall asleep in her stroller right at the last moment and was in a pretty bad mood when we had to wake her up and sit at the table. I think only a sight of french fries eventually calmed her down.

Lower level observation deck.Meanwhile Arosha was really admiring the view — quite a change from little Arosha who probably wouldn’t care at all. He still has a pretty serious case of fear of heights, but having glass windows separating him from the abyss seems to completely alleviate all his fears.

Glass floors.The dinner was, while good, quite expensive. I was charged 75 dollars (albeit Canadian1 ones) for a piece of steak, Alёna was charged $65 for her salmon and we split a steak for kids for $40. And again, we didn’t have to pay for the ride up the tower and the experience was definitely worth it. I think Arosha will have lasting memories of the place.

Toronto trams.After the dinner we walked down to the lower floor which has a portion of it made out of glass. And there is nothing below it but a far away ground on which the base of the tower stands on. I was wondering if Arosha’s fear of heights would prevent him from getting close to that, but again, glass seemed to do the trick as he was the first one to jump onto one of the glass panels.

Toronto trams.After the walk back to the hotel we did a mandatory visit to the hotel’s pools and that was the end of our first day there.

Toronto skyline from Polson Pier.On the second day I wanted to find a place to photograph the skyline of Toronto WITH CN Tower included, but somehow the city seems to totally lack any other observation decks, but the one on CT Tower itself. So instead we set out to drive onto one of the peninsulas that extend into Lake Ontario from the city itself. And we actually managed to find one such place relatively easy.

High Park.There is a place called Jennifer Kateryna Koval’s'kyj Park which is located on one such peninsula. While the place itself was quite dirty and small it gives one a great vantage point to photograph Toronto’s skyline from. The day was very clear without a single cloud in sight which makes for a pretty uninteresting composition, but I still think that Toronto’s skyline is very distinct thanks to CN Tower … ehm, towering … over everything.

Brewhouse.Since it was morning and we were done with planned things to do we decided to turn to TripAdvisor for … yes, advice. We ended up going to High Park which seems to be a large green park right inside the city à la Central Park. Kids played on the playground, Arosha managed to climb atop of a pretty high stump of a tree by himself as he always does and so on. And then we got hungry.

Lunch at Amsterdam Brewhouse in Toronto.We looked through the list of highly rated restaurants and spotted two breweries on it. After calling both of them and asking about the parking situation we set out to Amsterdam Brewhouse which was located right on the shore of the lake. And after a nice lunch we walked along the shore boardwalk for more excellent views of the tower which was not far away. And then a stroll through a train museum, another brewery upon entering which I was just handed a free glass of beer and we were spent.

Boardwalk by the shore.By the time we got back to our hotel it was pretty late and I was sad to find out that another famous place, city hall, which we left for the last because it was one block away from our hotel closes at 4:30pm and it was quite well past that. So we figured we’ll eat our dinner and even though we can’t get inside we’ll just walk to the front of it anyhow. We ate dinner at a nearby Korean restaurant and walked over to city hall as planned.

Rail museum.There is a big square in front of it and kids enjoyed climbing all over large letters that spelled out Toronto. And then I spotted that somebody walked out of the front door of city hall. I ran towards it with Arosha hoping that we can slip inside and so we did.

Toronto City Hall.The interesting thing to do is to point somebody’s attention to a diorama on the wall and ask them to guess what is made of. I’m guessing nobody gets it right. When you get closer you realize that the whole composition is made out of nails of different sizes. It’s actually pretty impressive looking.

Diorama made out of nails.And on that note our trip and exploration of Toronto was complete. The next day a long road and Montreal awaited us.

Climbing all over Toronto.

  1. Canadian dollar was worth 79 US cents at the time of our visit. []

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Montreal

Streets of Montreal.The drive to Montreal was the longest one we did on the same day during this trip — somewhere close to 340 miles. Actually, our GPS switched to kilometers as soon as we entered Canada, so we had to drive 550 kilometers that day! Sounds even scarier, doesn’t it?

To be completely honest, I was slightly dreading the drive. Luckily for me, I did not have to be at the wheel, but I was worried about the kids getting tired and bored and really whiny. Surprisingly, the day went relatively smoothly.

One of many islands on the river of Saint Lawrence.We drove for a few hours and then made a stop at one of the little towns in the Thousand Islands area. There was a visitor center, where a very nice lady had disappointing information in terms of us being there a few days prior to the start of the season: no boat rides after 12pm (it was already 2pm), fun castles we can ride to are closed, fancy restaurants are opening in a few days. Alas, it was slightly sad to be there on the verge of the beginning of the touristy activities, but we still spent around 2 hours over there. The kids ran around the playground by the visitor center, and then we went down to the river for a little walk, had lunch in a Greek Pizzeria and even did some shopping (got jeans for Danya and earrings for me).

Streets of Montreal.Afterwards, Danya took a scenic route which zig-zagged by the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, and we made a few stops for pictures. After that we just drove and drove and drove until we finally arrived to Montreal. Arosha was often asking about the remaining distance — I think the diminishing number of kilometers helped him to cope with the long ride.

When our GPS led us to the hotel’s address, we were surprised to see that there was no hotel to be found. Apparently, the street it is located on has an East and a West side, and GPS led us to the wrong one. We soon figured out where to go, although kids were even more anxious to get out of the car due to this delay.

On the way to the center.The rooms of the hotel, Doubltree by Hilton, are located on the first 10 floors of the 20+ story building. We got a spacious corner room at the 10th floor. There was no good view from the windows though — all we could see was a tall building undergoing contraction in front of our hotel. There was also some strange rubbery odor in the room, which especially bothered Danya, but considering that it had disappeared the next day, we assumed that it was probably some cleaning solution smell. Another thing was that the pool and gym were located on the 11th floor, so during the first evening we heard some loud bangs from dropping balls upstairs. Luckily, it did not bother children, and the gym closed at 11pm. We had no similar issues the following night, so all in all, I am quite happy with the room we got.

Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal.Since it was late, we decided to have dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, which turned out to be pretty good. We just ordered a soup and a few appetizers, and I was especially happy that kids ate steamed vegetables, which were delicious, even the asparagus, which none of us is a big fan of. We got lucky with a very pleasant waiter, who totally won Arosha’s heart. Arosha felt very comfortable chatting with him in Eglish, and even tried to teach him a few Russian words (privet, poka).

We had only one full day to spend in Montreal, so we did not make ambitious plans. The only thing we knew we wanted to do for sure (apart from going to the pool of course) was to visit the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. Danya and I have been there before, and I remember being very impressed by the gold and blue interior of the church.

Inside the Notre-Dame.The Basilica was a walking distance from our hotel (a little over a mile I think), so we just strolled there at Arosha’s pace. The day was rather cold, but still nice and sunny. We spent probably about 30-40 minutes inside the church. The children especially liked the lit candles. Arosha even insisted on lighting a candle in the memory of his great-great-grandfather Aaron (even though he was a bit confused and thought that Aaron was the one to fight in the World War II, while it was his great-grandfather Leonid/Levy). Daniel pointed out the fact that neither one these grandfathers belonged to the Christian church, but I don’t think it really matters. To be honest, I am not even sure that we lighted the right candle, but I strongly believe that in cases like that intent is much more important than following established traditions.

In front of the Science Museum.We also told Arosha a short and most probably imprecise version of the life of Jesus, and again he was quite fascinated by the story. I wish I knew the Bible better, but my knowledge is very limited.

Afterwards, we just walked around the city a for a little while. We were considering going to the Science Museum, but decided against it in favor of exploring Montreal a little bit more. Danya suggested to take a horse carriage ride, and the children were very excited about the idea, as was I to be honest. As my smart husband had pointed out to me, we finally got a reason (kids) to take one of those rides.

Carriage ride.We were a little short on cash, but the coach driver gave us a discount for a shorter ride. She drove us in a pink carriage for about 20 minutes, which was plenty to have all the fun it could be. I am glad we did it, and next time we visit Venice, we should have a reason to take a gondola ride as well.

After our first ever carriage ride.By the time we were finished, everyone was pretty hungry. We walked down the Saint-Paul Street, which had a great variety of restaurants. Danya used TripAdvisor to see their ratings, which is now always one of the factors when we’re weighting options for our dining choice. We ended up going to a well-rated French place and it really felt like we traveled outside of North America. We ordered a vegetable soup, fondue and crepes with ratatouille. Everything was very good.

After our very French crepe and fondue lunch.After lunch we went back to the church to take some more pictures, and then leisurely went to the hotel. We stopped at a little jewelry boutique and got me a modern-looking set of necklace and earrings and a pretty ring.

The children were very excited at the prospect of going to the pool, so as soon as we got back we changed into our bathing suits and headed up to have some water fun. I have to say that this place had the best pool of all the hotels we’ve been to on this trip — the pool itself was big with very warm salt water, the Jacuzzi was spacious, the restrooms and water fountain were close. There was even a sauna, but we did not use it. We ended up spending almost two hours there.

Lunch. Fondue!We were so wiped out by the end of the day, that we decided to have dinner out our local restaurant again. We got the same friendly waiter as the night before to everyone’s delight. The waiter asked if Arosha wanted to teach him any new words in Russian, and Arosha, after a 30 second deliberation, chose the word “spasibo”.

To sum up, even though we stayed in Montreal just one full day, it gave our vacation a pinch of extra flavor. French Canada for me feels very different from its British counterpart, and it’s exciting to submerge into less familiar waters ever so often.

Square in front of the basilica.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Finger Lakes

Taughannock Falls.We are back and we can declare that our Canadian road trip was a success. We ended up driving for a total of 1,416 miles throughout these 11 days with Toronto to Montreal drive of 340 miles being the longest single stretch.

That’s how we ended up spending two nights and a full day in Finger Lakes region of New York state — we wanted to break up the longest stretches of the road as much as possible to make it easier on the kids. Kids, which I must say, handled the road just fine. They didn’t do a lot of sleeping, although Anna did more of that than Arosha, but they were perfectly content with looking at the surrounding areas and holding conversations with us and between themselves.

Our hotel.We made it our policy long ago to avoid any devices in the car, so as such kids don’t even ask for them. By looking at the world around them they come up with a lot of different topics to discuss. For example we talked about the names of Finger Lakes, then we talked about their depth, their length, differences between seas, oceans and lakes, moved over to Great Lakes and eventually even have gotten as far as Lake Baikal.

We picked Finger Lakes as stop point because there really is not much else interesting in between Brooklyn and Niagara Falls — our first major destination. Another reason was that after having lived in New York for over 20 years I have had yet to visit those lakes and famous town of Ithaca. And we picked Seneca Falls to stay at simply based on hotel pricing, even though there was a large selection of Hilton chains in the region.

Winery.We drove out at about 3 o’clock on Thursday right after Arosha’s school ended. Kids ate a quick lunch, we packed the last of our things — well, mostly Alёna did — and were on our way. Arosha and Anюta were very excited. Anna kept exclaiming from time to time that she really wants to go on a vacation and Arosha was counting the days and really barely could wait. He, as the rest of us, was very worried about one of us getting sick which would cause us to cancel our trip.

In order to reach Seneca Falls we had to cover a little bit over 300 miles which makes it more than 5 hours of driving. Luckily because we left early we beat any major traffic around NYC which helped us get to our hotel earlier than I expected. Along the way we made a stop for dinner and Anna took a little nap. Arosha stayed awake the whole time and only fell asleep when we were 10-15 minutes away from our hotel.

Wine tasting.The next day kids woke up very early — too much excitement about going to the buffet for breakfast. I think Arosha doesn’t really like the food as much as he loves the processing of picking stuff out on his own. After breakfast they wanted to go swimming at the pool, but we wanted to do some exploring of the area first and convinced them to leave the pool for the second part of the day.

We didn’t really have much of a plan, except for the fact that we were on the top of the lake and Ithaca was at the bottom. So we figured we’ll just drive down to Ithaca by taking a scenic road along the shore of Cayuga Lake and figure out what we want to do on the way. The only sad thing was that the day turned to be quite gloomy and it was raining from time to time. But everything worked out in the end as it would just stop raining when we wanted to take a walk.

Taughannock Falls.On the way to the lake we stopped by a historical women’s rights site, looked at the museum and got a couple of stamps in our National Park passports. I think this time around Arosha has gotten noticeably older. He was much more excited by the “right” things to be excited about at each location. He was asking about the Finger Lakes, the Great Lakes and kept explaining to Anюta what our next stop was suppose to be when she would get confused.

Our first activity on the way down to Ithaca turned out to be wine tasting to our surprise. We kept driving and we were passing one winery after another. Eventually the signs convinced us that we should stop. It so happened that we stopped at Varick Winery & Vineyard — just a complete random choice on our part.

Hike on a trail at Taughannock Falls State Park.The kids spotted a box of gummy bears which we agreed to buy them and they also discovered a couple of rocking chairs on the porch of the winery. So while Alёna and I went through a bunch of wines which were served with various snacks that matches the wines kids entertained themselves by climbing and rocking on those chairs.

We ended up buying a bottle of white wine, a jar of garlic olives, a jar of soft cheese and were given a bag of croutons as a bonus. The kids also ended up running around the big green lawn in front of the winery thus expanding some of their extra energy.

Ithaca.And even though it was raining slightly the winery was located in a beautiful place on a shore of Cayuga Lake, the wine tasting went well, the day was shaping out quite nicely. We were all in a great mood.

The next thing we spotted on the way down was a sign pointing to falls overlook of some kind. So naturally we took that road and in a couple of minutes were parked inside Taughannock Falls State Park as it turned out. And a short walk from the parking lot there indeed was an overlook of a quite impressive waterfall. Because of the gray sky that I mentioned before the photographs didn’t come out well, but there was a nice trail running around the edge of the canyon that we took.

Little swimmers.Kids played with all kinds of sticks and cones and the whole setting was very serene — except for the loud kids of course. And the weather was kind enough to us to stop raining for the duration of our walk.

Eventually we made it to Ithaca. We stopped over for lunch at some Korean-Japanese place recommended by our trusty TripAdvisor. Arosha loves sushi and Anna liked the noodle soup that she got so kids ate quite a bit — our constant problem to deal with — they’ve gotten quite picky lately.

Pool.We walked around some central square, acquired some nice crystal necklace-earring set for Alёna and drove over to Cornell University campus. It was raining at that point, so we just drove around it, but decided not to stop and just go all the way back to the hotel instead for the long awaited pool time.

And that was our stop at Seneca Falls. A day well spent.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Niagara, Toronto, Montreal Road Trip

Canada 2016 road trip map.For this spring we decided to forgo the trip to a warm sandy beach in favor of a road trip in our own car to a cold Canada. Our kids haven’t been to Niagara Falls yet and I wanted them to see it. Another big factor is a matter of having to purchase four plane tickets which comes out to quite a bit of money for a type of vacation I enjoy the least — laying on the beach, doing nothing.

The total round trip ends up being 1,200 miles. One other option that we have considered was going to Great Smoky Mountains again, but it’s quite a bit farther away and we all have been there. I wanted our kids to explore something new and it’s always interesting to see those new to them things through their eyes.

We tried to beak the trip up into many parts so we wouldn’t have to drive for very long periods of time in a day. Our first stop of the trip is the Finger Lakes region of New York state. We’re going to spend 2 nights1 in a hotel in Seneca Falls and try to do a hike or two along one of the lakes. The drive there is 271 miles long and we hope to do it on the first eve of our vacation.

Our second stop is going to be Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. We plan to get there on Saturday, April 23rd. We are going to stay there for 3 nights2 at a resort that we’ve been to before. There is a lot to do and see at Niagara Falls — the falls themselves (although Maid of the Mist is not running yet for the season), butterfly observatory and horseshoe bend among other things.

Our next stop is Toronto, which is really close to Niagara. We’re going to spend 2 nights3 here. The main thing that we want to see is CN Tower and have a dinner at a spinning restaurant at the top. Hopefully nobody will get dizzy this time around, unlike it was in Berlin.

The drive from Toronto to Montreal is going to be the longest — 336 miles. We might stop at The Thousand Islands region for a break. Montreal itself has a lot of old cathedrals to explore and had a nice World Fair site if I remember correctly. We’ll spend 2 nights4 here.

And one our way back home we’ll spend 1 night5 in Albany, the capital of New York State. And even though we have driven through Albany before I have never seen the capitol building of the state that I’ve lived in for the past 20+ years.

On the final note on all of the hotels — they all have pools — an important thing to have when traveling with kids as we have established. Also the Canadian Dollar at the time of the writing was worth only 73¢ of US currency. Hooray for strong US dollar — it makes it cheaper to travel beyond the border. Should be a fun exploration road trip with kids. I only hope Canada has proper diesel for our car.

  1. Hampton Inn Seneca Falls — 2 nights for $258 with taxes. []
  2. DoubleTree Fallsview Resort — C$450 for 3 nights with all the taxes. []
  3. DoubleTree Toronto Downtown — C$504 for 2 nights with all the taxes. []
  4. Hilton Garden Inn Montreal Centre-Ville — C$427 for 2 nights with all taxes. []
  5. Hilton Albany — $172 for the night with taxes. []

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Montana & Wyoming National Parks

This is a vacation that we were planning to take for several years now and it’s finally booked. The main point of this trip is going to be Yellowstone National Park. While Alёna and I have been to Yellowstone before, my dad always wanted to visit it as well. It’s going to be an interesting destination for our kids too. I, on the other hand, wanted to visit Glacier National Park in Montana for a while now, so this trip is it.

This is the first road trip that all six of us are going on. Original plan was to fly up to Calgary and explore Banff National Park in addition to everything else, but it turned out that renting a car in Canada and returning it in U.S. is not easily achievable. So we decided to nix Canada and start from Great Falls in Montana instead. And we’ll finish in Jackson Hole of Wyoming.

As expected there are no direct flights1 to either of these locations, but we’ll save time on having to drive to any big destination such as Salt Lake City. We also have reserved a humongous SUV for this trip — Chevy Suburban2 or similar. Seven seats and plenty of luggage room. I wish we could fit into something smaller such as Tahoe, but we’ll probably have to take a look and see if it’s feasible at the rental place.

So on July 14th we arrive to Great Falls. We rent a car and drive north to East Glacier Park Village — a town on the edge of Glacier National Park. We’ll be staying here for 3 nights3 and we’ll explore different parts of the park from here. On July 17th we start our drive south, but in order to break up the trip we’ll spend one night4 in Helena — the capital of Montana.

On July 18th we arrive to Yellowstone. We’ll be staying here for 5 nights5 in a little town right on the edge of the park called West Yellowstone. There is a lot to explore, but kids can only take so much in a day, so we figure 5 days should be good. And we opted in for a regular hotel instead of a lodge because lodges typically don’t have pools. And kids love pools.

And on July 23rd we arrive to Grand Teton National Park — a really short drive from Yellowstone. It’s actually right to the south of it. We’ll be staying here for 2 nights6 at the same exact place that we stayed at with Eldar back during our 2009 trip. This was the most affordable place even though it’s a bit farther out than the rest of the lodging.

And our last night we are planning to spend in the town of Jackson itself to save ourselves a drive on the day of our flight back home.

  1. Delta from JFK — $593 per person and we need tickets for both of our kids now. []
  2. Alamo — $885 with all the taxes and fees included. []
  3. Glacier Park Lodge — $640 per room for 3 nights with all the taxes. []
  4. Hampton Inn Helena — $147 for the night. []
  5. Best Western Weston Inn — $1,108 for 5 nights with taxes per room. []
  6. Headwaters Lodge & Cabins at Flagg Ranch — $434 for 2 nights per room. []

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Page, Arizona

Horseshoe Bend.It’s been months now since our summer vacation, but here is the lost continuation. Page was the next destination of our big southwest road trip after Grand Canyon National Park. Out of all our stops this was the only place where Alёna and I haven’t been to previously. And I can easily say that it was my favorite part of the whole trip. So many interesting things to see and do.

Our Best Western.By the time we arrived we were quite hungry. Before going to our hotel and checking in we made a mistake of stopping at a nice Mexican place and eating our lunch. The food was great. As a side note — TripAdvisor app is great for finding good places to eat. We use it extensively during vacations, including this one.

Glen Canyon Dam.Our mistake at eating first and going to the hotel later was in us not realizing how long the line and the wait at the hotel will be.

Bridge by the dam.It all started with the Best Western that we had a reservation in closed for a massive renovation. They sent us to another Best Western across the street to check-in into the one which had massive construction going on.

Turbine with Arosha on it.The one across a street had a long line of people waiting to check-in as well. When our turn arrived they told us that they decided to place us in the hotel where we were in, which was fine with us, but we had to wait a couple of hours for our room to get ready.

Our hotel's pool.We decided to spend this time by visiting a nearby Glen Canyon Dam. It was only 10 or so minutes away and it turned out to be pretty interesting. The dam blocked off Colorado River which ended up flooding the whole Glen Canyon itself and forming Lake Powell — second largest man made lake in the country. The largest one was Mead Lake which was formed by Hover Dam near Las Vegas on the same Colorado River.

On the edge by Horseshoe Bend.The dam had a nice visitor center with several official NPS stamps. It also led visitors to a great view of the dam, the lake and the river below. There was also a turbine on display which Arosha promptly climbed into. At one point he managed to actually slide down into the center of it and started asking to pull him out. The problem was that it was too far for us to reach to pull him out. Luckily he managed to climb back out by himself.

Under the rocks.After we checked out the dam we returned to our hotel where we were given a room with a view of the whole valley below — the hotel was on a hill — including a view of the dam and the lake. The hotel also had a great pool with a hot-tub also overlooking the same valley.

Anna riding Alёna.Another side note — all the places that we visited were filled with Europeans. A lot of French and German people. We also met people from Belgium, Netherlands and other countries. At first we weren’t sure if French speaking people were Canadian or not, and god forbid you ask them that — but people from Netherlands told us that they can tell the accents apart and everyone is definitely French.

BBQ.As far as our dinner and lunches went — we visited a nice BBQ place with huge steam-train looking grills, pizza places, burger places and even managed to go into a sushi place.

Sushi place. Dinner.Even though we weren’t quite sure about eating raw fish in a desert it went without incidents and Arosha was very happy — he loves sushi. All places were found via TripAdvisor app.

By Horseshoe Bend.On our first full day we went to see the Horseshoe Bend. It’s a 1.5 mile round trip hike over a top of a somewhat steep hill. Arosha did really well. When he saw a bunch of people near the edge he knew where he needs to walk and did it without complaining of any kind unlike our Grand Canyon hikes were.

Climbing as always.I’ve seen this place on multiple pictures all over the internet, but I did not expect how big it would be in the real life. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The view was breathtaking.

Waiting for our Antelope Canyon tour to start.I held Arosha firmly by hand and we stood on the edge in amazement. The river was far below us and we could see white specks which were tour boats cruising on the river.

Antelope Canyon.After a short while Arosha spotted some rocks and some mini-cave under them which Anna and him proceeded to occupy. While I was trying to do some photography they were climbing and playing around while Alёna watched over them. Alёna, by the way, carried Anna everywhere.

Yoga inside Antelope Canyon.In the evening we had another special thing planned. Our second reason (Horseshoe Bend was first) why we wanted to visit Page was to see the famous Antelope Canyon. We decided not to plan anything in advance and just wing it. I was honestly thinking that we’ll probably skip it altogether because of our laziness. But we asked at the front desk at our hotel and they booked a tour for us.

Antelope Canyon.Both of the canyons are located on Navajo lands and the only way to see those canyons is to book a tour. Most popular time is usually during the middle of the day, but we decided to go in the evening at around 5. Even though the sun wouldn’t shine beautifully into the canyon we wanted to avoid the crowds and the mid-day heat. Overall it worked out well, although it wasn’t cheap.

Another mega climb.We were told to arrive to a certain location 30 minutes before the tour start. But I think we ended up leaving 30 minutes after the designated time. And somehow we were given the very last car. I guess that might be because we had little kids with us and they didn’t have any car seats. So instead of taking a normal route via highway our guide drove through the desert over some crazy hills.

Us by Antelope Canyon's entrance.The guide was not much of a guide. He just kept grabbing cameras from everybody and switching settings around. I gave him my camera just out of curiosity of what he would do. He cranked up contrast and screwed up the white-balance to make everything appear more warm. Of course that has no effect on RAW images, but I guess that’s beyond his area of expertise. Anyhow, I set everything back to the way it was and kindly declined any further adjustments.

Our tour guide and ride.The canyon itself was quite cool and dark at 5 o’clock. But it was still a very beautiful and unusual sight to see. I did manage to take several good shots by pressing the camera against the wall for stability to take multiple-exposure bursts. We also managed to take a good number of nice shots with our iPhones. Overall we were very happy that we decided to pay the money and do the tour. It was definitely a worthy place to see.

Lake Powell.On our second day we drove out to the beach on Lake Powell itself. We didn’t spend a lot of time there but it was nice to take a swim in this famous lake. The beach was kind of small and not very sandy, but all of us enjoyed the experience.

Our Anna.And in the evening of the same day we decided to repeat our hike to Horseshoe Bend to see the sunset. We didn’t quite make it. Our timing was less than perfect and toward the end of our hike poor Aroshka miss-stepped of a stone and face planted into hard rock. I felt horrible. I think I might’ve been rushing a bit too much to take some pictures before the sun went down and I should’ve paid more attention to him.

In the lake.When he calmed down we took some pictures and decided to climb a nearby mountain that he really wanted to scale as a consolation prize. By the time we were done it was quite dark outside. Some starts started to appear. I have an app on my phone that identifies each star and it turned out that the brightest spots were Venus and Jupiter. We decided to head back to the car before it has gotten pitch black, so I still didn’t have a chance to actually show Arosha a night sky. He won’t believe how many stars there actually are.

Horseshoe Bend at sunset.And that’s how we spent our days in Page. After page we set course north, to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.
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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Shenandoah Trip 2015

Pick your own farm.Это небольшое путешествие прямо перед началом учебного года Даня запланировал еще до нашей поездки по каньонам. Если честно, то после возвращения из июльского отпуска, я попросила его отменить Шенандоа — несмотря на то, что отпуск получился замечательным, я сильно устала от езды в машине с детьми (особенно, когда Анюту укачивало и рвало). Даня на отмену отпуска согласился, но всё равно очень хотел куда-нибудь поехать.

Corn maze.В результате, мы немного поменяли наш план, и вместо трёх полных дней в парке Шенандоа, мы провели там один полный день, но зато были полный день в Херши и пол дня в Вашингтоне. Ну, и еще мы сдвинули поездку на день вперёд, чтобы Ароша не пропустил первый день школы.

In a peach tree.Сразу хочу сказать, что сьездили мы очень хорошо, и что я, конечно, рада, что Даня меня не послушал и всё сразу не отменил. Недаром же говорят, что гораздо лучше вкладывать деньги не в вещи, а в различный опыт — например, семейные поездки.

Family units.Выехали мы из дома в четверг (3 сентября) вечером. Ароша, который считал дни до поездки уже недели две, вскочил с утра пораньше и был готов отправиться хоть сразу же. Ждать до конца Даниного рабочего дня ему было тяжело — думаю, в 5 лет время тянется как минимум в два раза медленнее, чем в 35, так что когда мы наконец-то вышли из дома и направились к машине, радости нашего сына не было предела.

Brewery beer selection.Чемодан я, кстати, паковала в тот же день, так как заранее с нашими маленькими пачкулями особо не соберешься. Вообще надо сказать, что я терпеть не могу собирать и разбирать чемоданы, хотя могу делать это довольно быстро — всё-таки наши многочисленные поездки меня закалили. Я всегда нервничаю, что что-нибудь забуду, но составлять списки не люблю.

Beer sampler and lunch.Выехали из дома мы где-то в 7 вечера, а прибыли на место около 10. Ароша и Анюта немного поспали по дороге, а также перекусили орехами (все) и хот догами (Даня и Анюта). Остановились мы как всегда в хилтоновком отеле — Hilton Garden Inn. Там были бассейн и завтрак — две вещи, которые облегчают жизнь в поедзках с маленькими детьми.

Bottling plant.Всю пятницу мы провели в Херши и его окрестностях. Сперва мы решили сьездить на ферму, которая находилась примерно в 3-4 милях от нашего отеля. Там мы собирали яблоки и персики. Когда я пишу “мы”, то на самом деле я имею ввиду Арошу. Он самолично заполнил довольно большой мешок (пол бушеля, или примерно 17.5 литров) этими фруктами. Причём, когда он собирал персики, то залез с мешком прямо на дерево — так ведь гораздо интереснее! Я боялась, что фрукты за время нашего путешествия испортятся, но яблоки остались такими же свеженькими, а персики просто дозрели. Правда, большинство яблок и персиков, собранных нашим сыном, оказались довольно мелкими, но на вкусовых качествах это не отразилось.

Pins of visitors at the brewery.Жарища в тот день была ого-го (30 с плюсом по цельсию), а у меня в придачу ко всему сильно болела голова, так что на ферме мы долго не задержались.

Hershey Chocolate World.Следующей нашей остановкой была местная пивоварня — Tröegs Independent Craft Brewery. Там мы купили пробник с шестью сортами пива, а так же иразных закусок типа картошки фри и маринованных овощей. Как мы и ожидали, больше всего нам понравилось пшеничное пиво (вайсбир), так что мы не стали мучиться и допивать невкусное пиво, а просто купиили по бокалу того, что нам понравилось (у них было даже два вида такого пива, оба хорошие).

Singing cows at the chocolate ride.По пивоварне можно было сделать небольшую эскурсию (с детьми без экскурсовода, ибо экскурсовод = пробовать пиво), что мы и сделали. Больше всего мне запомнилассь конвейерная лента с бутылками, в которые разливалось пиво, и то, сколько шума она создавала.

Our room at the Big Meadows Lodge.После обеда мы отправились в Hershey Chocolate World. Я даже не знаю как лучше охарактеризовать это место, так как это нечто большее, чем магазин, но и парком это не назовёшь. Там мы купили билеты на 3Д мультик — небольшую “детективную” историю, главными героями которой были (и кто бы мог подумать?!) шоколадки. Мне было скучновато, но Ароше, вроде, понравилось.

Big Meadows rooms.На выходе всем вручили по небольшой шоколадке — Даня свою отдал детям, а я решила сьесть, о чём потом немного пожалела. Когда-то я очень любила молочный шоколад, но за последние годы привыкла к чёрному (70% массы какао и выше), и молочный мне показался переслащённой гадостью. Но дети, конечно, были очень довольны.

Playground at Big Meadows Lodge.Еще мы сходили там в шоколадный “музей” — небольшую выставку, через которую надо ехать на специльаной машине, двигающейся по транспортёру, где немного рассказывается о производственном процессе на шоколадной фабрике. Анюте больше всего там понравились поющие игрушечные коровы. Ну, а в конце это экскурсии, все тоже получили по шоколадке, так что нам даже не пришлось покупать шоколад в магазине.

Bars.После “шоколадного мира” мы поехали в отель. Даня прилёг отдохнуть, а я пошла с детьми в бассейн. Вода там была очень тёплой, и в результате мы провели там около двух часов (в конце к нам присоединился Даня).

Dinner at Big Meadows Lodge.Поужинали мы пиццей, а бедная Анюта даже заснула по дороге в ресторан, так как днём она не спала.

Rocking chairs inside the lodge.На следующий день мы отправились в Шенандоа. Дети вели себя хорошо, и по дороге даже уснули, что оказалось весьма кстати, так как последние 20 миль мы ехали по жутко виляющему серпантину, и Анюту вполне могло укачать.

Lodge.На этот раз мы остановились в новом месте — в Big Meadows Lodge. Комната оказалась очень приличной, и даже можно было принять душ, в отличие от нашего предыдущего посещения, где и напор был очень слабый, и температура воды совсем низкой.

Looking out.Мы немного погуляли по территории гостиницы (дети провели пол часа на детской площадке) и пошли на ужин в местный ресторан. Еды было много — я даже отвыкла от таких огромных порций. После еды мы отлично провели вечер в большом гостиничном зале, который находится рядом с рестораном. Там были кресла-качалки, игры (шашки, конструктор) и пару книг для детей, а так же отличный вид на горы.

Tucked herself in after a long day.Так же там сидел мужчина лет 55, который играл на гитаре и довольно неплохо пел. Его пение создавало какой-то особый уют, и я получила море удовольствия слушая гитару и наблюдая за играющими детьми. Даня немного помогал Ароше играть в шашки, но вобщем-то, насколько я понимаю, Ароша уже довольно неплохо освоил эту игру.

Big Meadows.На следующий день после завтрака, на который мы убили 1.5 часа (минус мест без буфета с завтраком), мы отправились на прогулку по Big Meadows. Мы были на этом лугу поздней осенью и ранней весной, и выглядел он примерно одинаково — поле, покрытое бурой сухой травой — что, впрочем, тоже имело свою прелесть. На этот раз луг выглядел более красочно — было много зелёной травы и разноцветных цветов типа ромашки и репейника. Так же мы видели много бабочек, гусениц и прочих насекомых.

Caterpillar.Мы дошли до дерева, которое полюбилось Ароше в прошлый раз, потому что на него можно очень хорошо залазить. Там мы провели минут 40 (Ароша всё время лазил по дереву, время от времени прыгая с него), и отправились обратно.

Big Meadows hike.Потом мы решили поехать на водопад. Дорога к водопаду занимает чуть больше киллометра в каждую сторону — сначала надо идти вниз, а на обратном пути карабкаться вверх. Денёк выдался очень приятным — не жарким и не холодным — и мы получили массу удовольствия, шагая к водопаду. По пути туда мы видели медведицу с тремя медвежатами (довольно близко, но нас разделял ручей), а Ароша нашёл водомерок, которые, по его мнению, ничуть не менее интересные, чем медведи. Еще они с Анютой катались на стволе поваленного дерева и вообще много бегали и радовались. Анюта, кстати, хотела идти сама — только иногда мы переносили её через особо сложные места, да Даня вёл её за руку по земляным ступенькам.

Butterfly.Сам водопад был неплохой, но возле него было ужасно много народа, поэтому долго мы там не задержались. Практически весь путь назад мне пришлось нести Анюту (она устала, плюс под горку идти тяжелее), а Ароша шёл с Даней и немного поднывал.

Under a tree. We have an early spring picture on the same exact spot.На обратном пути мы тоже встретиили медведя. На этот раз без медвежат. Мы начали на него смтореть, и каково же было наше удивление, когде медведь начал подниматься на тропинку. Надо заметить, что мы шли в довольно большой толпе людей, но так уж получилось, что медведь выходил именно на нас. Если честно, то я испугалась. Прямо перед Даней шла пожилая женщина, которая начала проворно шагать вперед, потом за ней отступали Даня с Арошей, потом я с Анютой в эрго, а метрах в двух от меня — медведь.

Decided to pose for pictures.К счастью, кто-то из толпы с другой стороны от медведя додумался громко похлопать в ладоши, и медведь решил убраться от людей подобру поздорову. Даня себя потом укорял, что не сделал фотографий, когда медведь был так близко, но он тоже испугался, особенно за детей. Всё-таки медведь — зверь сильный и быстрый, и вести себя рядом с ним надо очень осторожно.

Sitting in a tree.После водопада мы поужинали в баре нашей гостиницы очень вкусными бургерами, снова немного погуляли по территории и отправились спать.

Big Meadows.Изначально, мы планировали провести в Шенандоа еще один день, но решили уехать на день раньше и остановится на ночлег в Вашингтоне. Главной причиной было сократить дорогу домой в последний день. Плюс, в Шенандоа не было бассейна, а в Вашингтоне мы забронировали номер с бассейном, и Ароша был этому факту чрезвычайно рад.

Hike to waterfall.В понедельник утром мы отправились в Вашингтон. Для того, чтобы не терять времени на завтрак в ресторане, мы подкрепились печеньем и чаем. Пока я паковала чемодан, Ароша и Анюта играли на улице возле номера. Анюта первой увидела оленей (мы видели их на территории уже пару раз, но они были довольно далеко) и закричала “мама! аени! мама! аени!”. Я тоже вышла посмотреть, и увидела двух пятнистых оленят и маму олениху. Они довольно быстро убежали, но я всё равно была рада, что дети увидели их так близко.

By herself.До Вашингтона от Шенандоа ехать не очень далеко, но первые миль 20-30 дорога петляет по горам. Я немного волновалась за детей, и как оказалось, не зря. Где-то через 45 минут езды Анюта начала похныкивать и поплакивать. Видно, её укачивало. К счастью, плакать ей пришлось недолго — дорога быстро выровнялась, и нашей дочке стало получше.

Climbing everything.Я помню, как укачивало в детстве меня. Родители останавливались на обочине дороги, и мы устраивали 10-15 минутную прогулку по лесу. В Америке такой номер не пройдёт — вдоль шоссе не остановишься (хотя нам пришлось это два раза сделать, чтобы Ароша смог опустошить мочевой пузырь).

Playing at a spring.По пути мы остановились на ланч в Outback-е, и по приезду в Вашингтон решили навестить национальный собор. Мы с Даней там уже были, но дети его не видели. В собор мы поехали главным образом потому, что на улице стояла неимоверная жара, и бродить под палящим солнце по многочисленным мемориалам не было желания.

Dark Hollow Falls.В соборе нам пришлось заплатить за вход (плату ввели в начале прошлого года), что сразу напомнило мне о Ватикане. Мы немного побродили по собору, поглазели на его отделку яркие мозаичные окна. Даня в пару предложениях рассказал Ароше историю Иисуса Христа, и нашему сыну она очень понравилась (хотя за пару дней до того он нам сообщил, что не верит в Бога, а верит в обезьян).

At the falls.После церкви мы отправились в гостиницу. Там мы сразу отправились в бассейн, где провели почти час. Надо заметить, что никого кроме нас в бассейне не было. Потом мы пошли на ужин. Долго решали куда — на небольшом расстоянии от нас было довольно много неплохих ресторанов — и в результате пошли в средненькое китайское место, где мы ели во время нашего отпуска чуть больше года назад.

View from the top at Shenandoah.Что меня неприятно поразило в Вашингтоне — это бомжи. Когда я говорю, что на каждой улице вокруг нашей гостиницы их было по 2-3 чековека, я не преувеличиваю. А прямо на соседней с нами улице был небольшой парк, где они собрались большой группой из 10-15 человек. Соответственно, на улицах было много мусора, да и вообще было как-то неуютно.

Leaving Shenandoah.Примерно такой же опыт у нас когда-то был в Сиэтле. Причём надо заметить, что наша гостиница находилась не в каком-то плохом районе на окраинах города, а практически в центре. По причине запруженности улиц непривлекательными элементами, мы после ужина не пошли гулять по окрестностям, а сразу отправились в номер.

National Cathedral.На следующий день мы позавтракали и поехали домой. Дорога обошлась без приключений, и дома мы были где-то около трёх часов дня, чему я была рада, так как я волновалась о том, чтобы Ароша получил адекватный отдых перед началом первого учебного дня.

Inside the cathedral.
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Monday, September 14, 2015

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon.For the second part of our trip we drove out to Grand Canyon National Park. We were staying in Yavapai Lodge right inside the park. Alёna and I haven’t been to Grand Canyon since 2005 — 10 years. I was looking forward to seeing it again. When we finally did, even though it was still impressive I remembered well enough what to expect, so I wasn’t smitten as the first two times.

Rocks!And it’s really hard to figure out what Arosha is really feeling since he might look at a thing for 20 seconds and get distracted by some big rocks that he can jump around — which is what happened with us.

Yavapai Lodge.We had two full days at Grand Canyon and it seems that it was our least favorite part of the trip. The big lesson that we learned was that a hotel better has a pool. Otherwise there are large portions of the day when kids don’t have anything to do and they start whining from boredom.

Rim trail.We couldn’t do a lot of hiking either since it was very hot and there was very little shade around. So it was hard on the little ones.

Bright Angel trail down into the canyon.We did take a small portion of the trail down. And then we did a whole bunch of hiking around the rim. At some points Anna was driving us crazy with her stroller. She didn’t want to sit in it and she insisted on pushing it around herself. And she would bump into everything and we would practically be stuck at one place.

One of the many visitor centers.When we tried to put her into the stroller or one of us tried to just carry the stroller she would throw a massive feat. I was really close to throwing the damn stroller down the canyon on multiple occasions.

Love of the climbing.The lodge itself was nice and clean. But as I mentioned it had one downside — it didn’t have a pool.

One of visitors who doesn't seem to like his life much.It was surrounded by shallow woods — lots of spread out short trees. I was trying to do my exercise goals so I tried walking to the edge of the canyon through those woods. And even though it would probably take me about 15 minutes or so to get to the edge half way in all the directions started looking the same. So I decided to turn back while I still knew where “back” was.

Grand Canyon. Many many people.We ate our lunch and dinners at the lodges inside the park and at our local general store. And for breakfast we would buy something that didn’t need a lot of cooking — yogurts, cup noodles soups and stuff like that.

Evening hike.Overall it was nice, but we didn’t really get to experience the serenity that I was looking for and I remembered. I guess the main reason was the fact that we were visiting during the peak season as opposed to our previous trip in October and it was quite crowded everywhere.

Illusion of the edge.We did have nice quite hikes during the evenings when the crowds would subside.

Entering the park.And we also did get to see a new place on our way out to Page — Desert View Watchtower which was built at the begging of the last century. It was nice to climb up to the top, but all the windows had glass on them which typically ruins good pictures.

Desert View Tower.When we asked Arosha which place he liked the most from the vacation he starts listing everything and leaves out Grand Canyon, which is kind of funny.

View from the top of the tower.Anna though kept calling all further canyons that she saw “gan cayon”. We kept trying to convince her that we left Grand Canyon behind and she was looking at a different one, to which she would agree, but then would revert to “gan cayon” three minutes later.

The Rest


After Grand Canyon we traveled to a little town of Page with a lot of wonders and see. And later on we went to Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park and Las Vegas. But that part of the story is not ready yet.

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sedona

Grand Canyon.Well, it’s been more than two months since our mega vacation trhough the southwestern canyons has started and we haven’t posted a thing yet beside our large photo stream that was going throughout our trip. Overall everything went well. It was a bit harder in the beginning, but our schedule settled in pretty quickly and we enjoyed exploring the southwest.

Road to Sedona. Saguaro forests.The hard parts pretty much consisted of Anna throwing up on the plane, Arosha had an accident in bed during the first night from being overtired — it really hasn’t happened to him in years now, Anna throwing up in the car — we think it was from motion sickness and Arosha throwing up during the night — we have no idea why, but he was fine in the morning. All that happened pretty much in the first 2 days, but everything went well afterwards.

Our hotel at Sedona.The flight went OK. Anna even took a nap. Having two large suite cases, two car seats and a stroller appeared to be challenging beforehand. But we basically had to just get it to a cab, from the cab to checked baggage and from there into our rental car. And vice versa on the way back. Not too bad at all. Costco seats are pretty crappy, but they are also very light. They served us just fine throughout the trip.

Arizona capitol building in Phoenix.As far as the car rentals go — it’s always a rip off and always ends up being much more expensive than you expect. To begin with our rental company Sixt didn’t have any cars that we reserved that would work for us. So they pawned us off to Payless which agreed to honor the same price. But then adding a different driver, adding an extra hour (our flight was leaving later in the day) and so on added up to a hefty sum.

Sedona from the top.Adding a second driver was not really needed. Alёna drove for all of 30 minutes or so during the trip. I thought that should would enjoy the open roads, but she was afraid to drive at 75MPH speed limit, and was a nervous wreak. Also our VW Passat seemed all kinds of wobbly. I was hoping for a Chrysler 300, but that wasn’t available either. VW was really bland and unexciting in every way possible but it did get us where we needed to go without any issues.

Looking up at Montezuma Castle.On our first day we started with a short stop at Arizona capitol complex at Phoenix. This time we actually managed to get inside for the first time ever — our 3rd trip there — and got ourselves an official capitol stamp. Otherwise it wasn’t anything special inside. And it was very very hot outside in the sun. Our kids expired very quickly and we decided to proceed.

To Sedona


Entering Sedona.Our main objective for the day was to reach Sedona. But since everyone was really hungry after the flight we decided to get a bite before heading out of Phoenix. We couldn’t really find any place to eat for some while. I guess the main highway runs through shady parts of town and nothing looked appealing. Kids were getting really tired by the time we ran upon some nice Greek place. Of course after we did eat every next exit had plenty of eateries.

Montezuma Castle.Also on our way to Sedona we made a stop by Montezuma Castle. The light was much better this time around for a better photograph and there was plenty of shade for a nice hike. What interested Arosha the most though was a lizard that he spotted. Lizards, you see, are much more exciting than some 900 year old building in a side of a cliff.

Sedona cliffs.Along the way we were driving through mountains covered by saguaro cacti. Very unusual landscape. By the time we started approaching Sedona landscape becomes even more unusual in a different way. Gray mountains turned into red cliffs of peculiar shapes. Sun was setting and everything looked very beautiful.

Arosha at one of the many souvenir shops in Sedona.We were all pretty tired by the time we arrived, but when the kids discovered a pool at our hotel they got second wind. We spent the rest of the evening swimming and chilling out in cool waters of the hotel pool on a hot day. Later in the evening Arosha and I picked up some Mexican food at a nearby place while Alёna put Anna to sleep. That was the end of our day.

View of Sedona from the local airport.In the morning we drove up to the local airport which is located above the mountains and has a spectacular view of the town down below. Sedona really is a beautiful place and if you’re going to be driving through from Phoenix to Grand Canyon it really is worth it to make a small detour to see it.
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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Shenandoah Road Trip

Map of our planned Shenandoah Trip.We have planned a short road trip for ourselves — Alёna, myself and our kids — for the first days of September. We decided to visit Shenandoah National Park. Again. We’ve been there two times already.

Our first one was at the beginning of November of 2010 with tiny Arosha and my parents. While there was beautiful autumn happening down below the mountains the trees up on top — inside the park itself — had been long asleep. Not a single leaf.

Our second trip to Shenandoah was in May of 2014 during our grand Tennessee vacation with kids. And again — while everything was blooming down below the nature in the park had not awoken yet. Everything looked exactly like it did in November.

So we figured it’s time we saw this park in a different light. We also decided to try another place for our stay. We stayed twice at the Skyland Resort, but we wanted to try Big Meadow Lodge1. So we picked out the days when there was vacancy specifically in that lodge.

The whole trip is going to take five days and will have a very simple plan. We’ll leave on the night before Saturday. Spend that night at Hershey2, Pennsylvania and probably visit an amusement park there. We’ll spend three full days in Shenandoah and we’ll spend the last day on getting home with a possible stop in Washington, DC.

Update: We ended up spending 2 nights in Hershey, 2 nights in Shenandoah and 1 night in Washington.

  1. Big Meadow Lodge — $184 per night for a room with two queen beds to the total of $846 with taxes included. Not cheap. []
  2. Hilton Garden Inn Hershey — $142 for the night for a room with two queen beds. []

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Summer Southwest Road Trip

Grand Canyon Road TripAfter a lot, really a lot, of thinking and picking through our choices we have settled on the route of our next road trip. And now it’s all booked. The centerpiece of our trip is going to be Grand Canyon — probably the most beautiful place on earth that I’ve been to. We’re going to visit some other natural wonders that southwest of this country has to offer.

The road trip will start in Phoenix and will end in Las Vegas. Only four of us will go — Arosha, Anna, Alena and I. We haven’t flown anywhere with Arosha without parents yet, and this time we’ll go with both kids. We’ll have to bring a lot of stuff (like two car seats) and we’re hoping we’ll be able to manage it all. We do have a lot of stops in our plan, but the drives themselves are relatively short and should be easy enough on the kids.

The plan is simple. We fly1 out to Phoenix early in the morning of Friday, July 10th and we will be back home on the late night of July 21st flying back from Las Vegas. Right upon our arrival to Phoenix we rent a car and go an a mandatory tour of the capitol. Without spending the night we drive out to Sedona2 where we are staying for 1 night.

After Sedona we drive to Grand Canyon National Park itself. We’ll spend 3 nights3 on the southern rim staying right inside the park. I only hope that the canyon doesn’t make Arosha experience his fear of heights. He was never afraid of any mountains or anything in nature, but who knows.

After the southern rim we go to Page, Arizona where we spend another 3 nights4 on the eastern end of the canyon. While Alena and I have been to all the other places of our road trip, this will be one new location for all of us. We want to see the famous Horseshoe Bend and take a hike through Antelope Canyon.

The next destination of our trip takes us to another gorgeous place — Bryce Canyon. Bryce Canyon has a very unique look due to the natural structures called hoodoos. We’ll spend 2 nights5 at Bryce and we’ll take off to our final destination of Las Vegas through a scenic road that runs right through Zion National Park.

And our final 2 nights6 we will spend in Las Vegas which has been becoming a family destination for a long time now. There are a lot of things to see for kids there such as a pirate show at Treasure Island, or a volcano eruption at Mirage. It would be great to go to some Cirque du Soleil show, but Anna is way to little to be able to sit through something like that, so not this time.

Overall our nature loving kids should have a lot of new impressions on this trip and we’ll be seeing all the old places anew through their eyes. Should be a fun one.

  1. Delta flight, non stop from JFK at $334 per person. Anna flies for free in Alёna’s lap. Total price for the flight is $1,002. []
  2. Hampton Inn Sedona, $204 total with taxes included. []
  3. Yavapai Lodge, $548 for 3 nights plus tax. []
  4. Best Western at Lake Powell, $767 total with tax for 3 nights. Not cheap at all. []
  5. Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel, $445 total for 2 nights. []
  6. Elara by Hilton Grand Vacations, $260 total for 2 nights. []

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Friday, July 25, 2014

State Capitals and Washington

Washington, DC. View from WWII memorial towards Lincoln Memorial.As a side trip(s) or objective of our Tennessee vacation was to visit some of the state capitals and their respective capitols and a capital of our country. Arosha hasn’t been to Washington, DC yet and we thought that it would be fun for him to see some of the National Monuments that our capital has an abundance of.

Harrisburg, PA.Our first state capital stop was on the very first full day of our vacation. We stopped at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We’ve visited this capitol complex back in 2010 during our first trip to Shenandoah. Arosha too was there. Only he was only 3 months old. Also this time we were able to get inside and it’s as impressive there as it is on the outside. Probably one of the best looking capitol complexes that we have seen.

Dome in Harrisburg.Also while Brooklyn was still asleep spring was all over the place in Harrisburg. It was a very pleasant stop of our trip. We also got a proper state capital stamp inside the capitol building. And Aroshka clearly seems to be afraid of heights in certain places. When we were on a balcony of senate assembly he really wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.

Inside Pennsylvania Capitol.On our way home — after Great Smoky Mountains we made a pair of stops in two other capitals that we haven’t been to before. The first one was in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was a nice looking capitol and pretty nice people inside. We also got a stamp there.

North Carolina Capitol.The thing that stands out the most for me about this capitol is the fact that it burned down to the ground some time ago because of an accident that happened while they were fireproofing it. Doesn’t get any more ironic than this.

NC senate.Another stop was in Richmond, Virginia. Now even though the capitol building was unusual the thing that stands out the most about this experience is an extremely rude elderly woman in charge of tours. We’ve been to numerous numerous capitols and have never seen anything remotely like this.

Historic room.She was rude to the point that she made Alena cry. Sadly I haven’t noticed it at the time or I would’ve raised an issue and would’ve demanded to speak to her boss. Anyhow. We didn’t see the inside of this place.

By the capitol building.Outside it had a nice park with a lot of statues. We walked around, kids ran around and played in the grass. We spent a decent amount of time here and if it would’be be for a crazy lady it would’ve been a nice experience overall. Alas.

Washington in Raleigh.To Washington, DC itself we dedicated a full day. Thus we spent two nights there. We originally were looking to stop at a hotel right in Washington itself as we did many times in the past, but the prices were quite high and those hotels only had valet parking (which we hate) available, which was priced at $40 a night or so.

Virginia Capitol in Richmond.So we figured we’ll just stay somewhere close, but outside and will spend the money for parking when we go to visit destinations instead of overpaying for the hotel itself. Either way we would have to take the car since you can’t walk too far with two little kids.

Capitol grounds in VA.We picked a hotel right outside the city in Arlington, Virginia. It literally was 3 minutes away from Washington itself. In fact when looking for our hotel we missed an exit off the highway (they actually changed the roads a bit, so our GPS was confused) and ended up crossing the bridge over Potomac river right into Washington.

First of many fountains we saw during our hike in DC.By the end of this day we were quite tired as we drove all the way from Chapel Hill with two long stops at capitals I wrote about above.

Einstein climbing.On the next day we ate our breakfast and were on our way to tour the capital. Remembering how hard it is to get into the capitol we didn’t even try it. Instead we decided to visit open famous monuments such as Lincoln Memorial.

Vietnam War Memorial.We didn’t have much trouble finding parking, although we did make a couple of large circles trying to find a spot as close to Lincoln Memorial as possible. In the end we parked some where closer towards the middle of the National Mall and settled in for a longer walk. And a long walk it was.

Inside of Lincoln Memorial.We started with a visit to a famous statue of Albert Einstein done by sculptor Robert Berks. Even though Arosha doesn’t yet know who Einstein is he liked the statue because it is very climbable. He was all over it. Next we set course to Lincoln Memorial. Arosha was impressed by a giant statue, stairs, columns. We also walked through Korean War Memorial and Vietnam War Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial. The sun is too bright.Then we set course towards the middle of the mall again and on our way made a detour to see a new Marin Luther King Jr. Memorial. I haven’t seen it yet and it’s an impressive sculpture.

Korean War Memorial.We also got a whole bunch of National Park stamps for our passports. Arosha had many new additions and I got a few new ones too. And then we walked back to our car through World War II memorial.

MLK Memorial.We were quite tired after this gigantic circles and were yet again impressed by Arosha’s stamina. This is the point where we decided to buy him a hot-dog which he really wanted since the moment we parked near a street hot-dog vendor cart.

World War II Memorial.The funny thing is that when later when we asked him what was his favorite part about Washington he would reply — a hot-dog. Naturally.

Us at WWII Memorial. Lincoln Memorial in the background.We all were ready for lunch. At first we found some Greek place via Yelp, but then while we were circling in search for a parking spot we somehow got away from that place and ended up in Chinatown. We parked in the first spot we saw and went to eat our lunch in to a place right next to where our car was.

Our dinner in China Town.The place was called Chinatown Express. It was very cheap, but the food was made right there (we saw a cook spinning the noodles out) and it was really fresh and delicious.

US Capitol Building in Washington.We spent the day with a nice walk around the Capitol Building. Originally we planned to visit Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, but we were so tired that we decided to leave it for the next time.

Spring in Harrisburg.We just went back to the hotel and rested. In the hotel we actually made an attempt to visit a pool which resulted in a parental epic fail, but I wrote about that before. Overall it was a great day. Arosha was excited about visiting Washington all throughout the trip and hopefully he’ll retain some of the memories of that day.

Dome of Pennsylvania Capitol.

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Shenandoah

Shenandoah National Park.Our vacation started on Wednesday evening. Just as planned we left home after Danya finished his work. I think it was a good thing that we left when we did — even though we did not drive all that many miles, but finishing packing and getting out of the house alone saved us good two hours for the next day. Nothing is fast with two little ones.

Shenandoah.After a 3 hour drive we arrived to Hershey, PA at around 11pm. Our hotel, Hampton Inn, was located on Chocolate Avenue, which really amused Arosha. There really is nothing much I can say about our stay there — we just spent the night, ate breakfast and moved on.

There is an amusement park in Hershey, but they were still closed for the season. The only memorable thing for me are the lampposts on Chocolate Avenue — they were made in the form of Hershey kisses.

Skyland Resort.We stopped at Harrisburg for a tour of the state Capitol, ate a pretty decent lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s and then proceeded to Shenandoah.

In Shenandoah we checked in and went to get some dinner at the local restaurant, which had two sections — the main dining area, which was very busy at the time, and the bar. We decided to eat at the bar, even though their menu was much more limited. I ordered a salad, which was pretty much the only thing that I could eat with my diet. Big mistake, as it turned out.

Big Meadow.It was close to Anюta’s bed time, so I gobbled the unappetizing plate of wilted greens, droopy tomatoes and weathered onions. My head was starting to hurt and I felt tired overall. I left the boys to finish their meals and ran to the room to feed Anechka and put her to bed.

Danya and Arosha decided to take their equally horrible tasting meals to go and joined us shortly. By that time not only I had a horrible headache, but felt nauseous. I think I yelled at poor Arosha for being his overly active self and had to run to the bathroom to throw up.

Big Meadow fog.Long story short, I was throwing up half the night. This summoned an anxiety attack in Danya and his stomach went all crazy on him. To make things worse, Arosha kept falling off the high bed he was sleeping on (and he had no such issues in the hotel bed the night before). The only thing that made it all better in my eyes was that is was happening to me and not the children. I could not imagine how much worse it would have been if this was happening to one of them.

Climbing tree.To prevent Arosha from falling down again — he fell 3 times before we did something — Danya moved his bed to the wall and went to sleep on the other edge. This worked well for Arosha and not so well for his dad since our little unit kept trying to push Danya off in his sleep. The next evening Danya put two beds together so that Arosha will at least have the whole bed to move around.

When we got up on Friday morning, I was all better and so was Danya, although this incident brought a bout of evening anxiety feelings for him. Too bad it had to happen.

Under the tree, while Arosha is climbing.There was a small and expensive breakfast buffet in the hotel, which was not included in the price of the room. We decided that it was not worth it and got some oatmeal and yogurts instead and went to see the park right after.

When we were driving from Hershey, we saw nature waking up — lots of trees with fresh green leaves, lots of trees and bushes in bloom. This was not the case higher up in the mountains though. We’ve been to Shenandoah in November before, and I have to say that at the end of April everything looked about the same if not worse.

Luray Caverns.We’ve decided to go to the Big Meadow since it was the most memorable place from our last trip. Before our vacation I was imagining it all covered in mountain flowers. Ha-ha, so silly. There was not even a single green grass spear. Oh well. It was still a nice experience. We started walking towards trees in the horizon and walked into the cloud of fog. The weather was grey and grim, but at least it was not raining. Yet.

Arosha found a big tree with a lot of brunches at the bottom and he kept climbing up and down. He had so much fun! Danya also climbed up and down ones. Anюta just sat under the tree and played with dry grass and pine cones and stones and pretty much everything that she could find.

Donation pool.After a while we headed back to the car and kind of got lost. The fog was everywhere and the Big Meadow was … well … BIG! I did not take us too long to find our car, but it still felt like a little adventure. I have to confess thought that if Danya was not there it would have taken me much longer to find the way out.

Just as we got into the car it started raining, so all other hikes had to be canceled. We decided to drive down to Luray and visit the famous caverns instead.

Car and carriage museum.The drive was OK. It kept raining on and off, the children were asleep. When we arrived to our destination and Danya got out of the car to get something from the trunk it started pouring really bad. My poor husband jumped into the trunk to stay dry. I think he spent around 15 minutes there. Don’t think it was too comfortable, but it beats walking around in wet clothes.

Luray.When the rain got a little lighter we ran to the entrance and bought tickets for the tour. Unfortunately in order to see caverns one has to get a tour, there is no such thing as just walking at your own pace. The tour duration was a bit over an hour and I was a little anxious as to how children will handle it.

Caverns.The caverns themselves were nice. I’ve been to similar caverns twice — ones in Crimea, Ukraine and ones in Carlsbad, New Mexico. All of them are quite impressive, and even though the novelty wears off, it was still interesting to see all the rock formations. The unique thing about Luray Cavers was The Great Stalacpipe Organ. It was interesting to listen to it and I hope that the vibrations will not harm ancient stalactites in any way.

Arosha seemed to like the caverns too, although he got tired of the tour by the end. At some point he was asking Danya to take a picture of each and every rock that entered his field of vision. It was cute and a little annoying at the same time. Anюtka was not too impressed with the caves, but she did not throw any bad fits, which is already good.

Big Meadow in fog.We finished our Luray trip with the tour of the automobile museum. Danya found it to be relatively interesting and Arosha wanted to be done with it as soon as possible.

Skyline Drive. Shenandoah National Park.We drove back to the lodge and ate dinner at the local restaurant. It was much better this time. Danya and I have decided that it would be better to leave one day early — it was not one factor, but everything together: cold weather, lack of laundromat and hot water, horrible beds. Luckily, lodge’s stuff did not give us any hard time at all. So next morning after another round of yogurt and oatmeal we left for Tennessee.

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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.

DoubleTree 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.
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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 DoubleTree. 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 DoubleTree (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.

DoubleTree 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 DoubleTree.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.
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