Alara’s Big Announcement!

Alara would like to make an announcement… she is going to be a BIG SISTER!

Her LITTLE BROTHER is due to arrive February 28, 2016 and she is pretty excited to have a new traveling companion! She¬†always says “baby brother” and points to my belly.

Baby Travel Necessities

We are ready to travel in style with this Graco double stroller we got ridiculously cheap off Target clearance ($99) plus my 15% off registry coupon. It’s a sit and stand stroller, so there’s tons of different usage for it.

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Alara has been playing with this stroller since we bought it and set it up. She sits/stands on it and says “baby brother sits right here”. I think she might be a little confused on how he will be arriving since I left to go to the grocery store and she said “bye mommy, go find my baby brother!”

Other than that, we plan on using a lot of items that belonged to Alara such as the infant car seat and infant carrier.

Alara has also been very helpful in picking out things for his new room. Thanks to a friend’s inspiration (Thanks, Molly Babes!), Baby #2 will have a traveling themed nursery.

Travel Themed Baby Nursery

We want to have a little safari theme mixed in as well, perhaps some elephants, lions, giraffes, and zebras. Alara was nice enough to give her rocking zebra to her baby brother and we are excited to start planning his nursery.

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Probably my first purchase were these cute framed pictures that I found at a flea market. A part of the reason we love to travel in the first place is our heritage and international family. My husband is Turkish and my family is Portuguese. To say “I love you” in Portuguese is “Eu te amo” or simply “Te amo”. Therefore when I first saw these two signs I couldn’t resist! I think they are perfect. Not to mention $1 each.

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Hubby purchased a 3,000 piece (yes, 3,000) puzzle of a 1665 world map that I think would look great framed and hung above the crib. That’s if he ever finishes it before the baby is born ūüôā

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We saw this in Marshalls and thought it was a great purchase. I love this old map theme and this little storage box will be perfect to hold some diapers and other baby necessities on his dresser.

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We also saw this sign in Marshalls and thought it was adorably perfect. “Never Stop Exploring”. We truly hope so.

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Lastly, this onesie was a must need! Flight School… Happy Travels.

 

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Happy Travels, indeed.

 

P.S. Here is the website that originally led to our travel themed idea. http://www.buzzfeed.com/morganshanahan/ways-to-create-the-perfect-travel-inspired-nursery#.tynkXm4ml

 

Germany/Italy/Turkey (May 2015)

My brother in law was planning a road trip from Germany to Turkey to pick up my in laws and invited us for the trip. We thought this would be the perfect opportunity to go back and see more of continental Europe as well as visit family. Alara would also be turning two soon so we thought it would be nice to plan one last trip before being required to purchase her a ticket. ūüôā

Regensberg, Germany

We flew into Munich to stay with my BIL and his family outside of Regensburg. This time my in laws were not here to watch the kids so this vacation was much more family-friendly and Alara was quite the explorer this time around. We spent some time around the area, doing family activities such as an indoor water park and going back to the Dult (no beer tent this time!).

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The kids absolutely loved the Dult festival. Alara went on her first pony ride and loved it! She even cried when it was all done and we took her off the horse.

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There were also plenty of amusement park rides that the kids loved and Alara got to ride them with her older cousins.

Neuschwanstein Castle

We took a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle, which is also near the Hohenschwangau Castle, and offers lovely shopping, gift shops and restaurants in between.

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There is also a great view of the Alpsee lake, beautifully surrounded by mountains and you can dip your feet in.

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There are horse drawn carriage rides that you can take up the hill and see the castle.

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Neuschwanstein Castle was built for King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the late 1800s and was opened to the public immediately after his death.

Hohenschwangau Castle was King Ludwig II’s childhood residence and was built by his father, King Maximilian II of Bavaria.

Castle

On the way in and out of the area, there was this beautiful field with great views of Neuschwanstein, so of course we had to stop and take pictures.

Castle field

Innsbruck, Austria

We decided to take a few days and go on a mini road trip. Italy’s border is fairly close to where we were staying so we mapped our visit to include a stop at Innsbruck, stay in Venice, stop in Florence and end up in Rome before coming back home. Innsbruck is less than a 2 hour drive from Munich was worth every kilometer traveled. It’s a city in the middle of the Alps, known for its Imperial and modern architecture. It offers the most breathtaking views of snow covered mountains behind colorful buildings and a quaint downtown area.

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The Golden Roof in downtown Innsbruck is considered the city’s most famous symbol. The roof was covered with over 2,500 fire-gilded copper tiles for Emperor Maximilian I for his wedding to Bianca Maria Sforza. But don’t look too quick, you might miss it!

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One of the most noticeable landmarks in the city is the St. Anna’s Column, which is located in the busy center of¬†Maria-Theresien Street.

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Maria-Theresien Street is a pedestrian street filled with restaurants, shops and outdoor cafes. It is considered the main street in downtown Innsbruck and is a beautiful place to spend a couple hours.

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Overall, Innsbruck is one of the most beautiful old cities of Europe. I’m sure there was so much more to see and do there, but our main purpose of the road trip was to see Italy, so off we went!

Venice, Italy

Our next stop was in Venice, which was less than 4 hours away. Driving through Northen Italy was absolutely gorgeous with all the views of the Alps and green pastures, wineries and small villages. We got to Venice at night, just enough time to check in to a private room in a hostel in Mestre (main land Venice) and relax a little bit. Alara was pretty excited for her first hostel experience.

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We took a bus to downtown Venice the next morning, which Alara clearly really enjoyed.

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Venice (Venezia) is made up of 118 small islands, separated by canals and connected by pedestrian bridges. It is like a maze navigating through all the narrow walkways, alleyways, and bridges but so beautiful to take in.

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As you can imagine, there are no automobiles allowed. There is a parking lot at the main bus terminal where we got dropped off. Small boats, or gondolas, are used for commuting purposes.

Gondola

Venice is overall very beautiful, known for its picturesque canal waterways, architecture and artwork.

Piazza San Marco is the place to visit in Venice as its the principal public square of the city. It is noted that Napoleon called it “the drawing room of Europe”.¬†St Mark‚Äôs basilica¬†(Basilica di San Marco) is the city’s most famous church and¬†one of the best known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. The artwork outside of the basilica was just amazing.

A couple of other major landmarks in Piazza San Marco includes  Doge’s Palace, which once held political power; and Torre dell’Orologio, a clock tower built in the late 1400s.

The Grand Canal is a major commuting hub for water-traffic and is a beautiful sight.

Grand Canal

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One thing I wish I knew about Venice before visiting is how it is NOT stroller friendly at all! The walkways are extremely narrow and there are so many pedestrian bridges with many, many steps. Overall, carrying the stroller was a lot of work which left us all exhausted but we were glad we visited.

Florence, Italy

We stopped at Florence, since it is on the way from Venice to Rome. Florence is the capital city of the Tuscany region of Italy. It literally gave birth to the¬†Renaissance, a period of great culture change transitioning between the Medieval times to early modern Europe. Some popular names you may recognize from Florence include¬†Dante Alighieri, Giovanni Boccaccio, and Leonardo Da Vinci. We didn’t have too much time in Florence, so we went straight to the¬†Piazzale Michelangelo, which offers spectacular views and the replica of¬†Michelangelo’s statue of David.

We also visited the Florence Cathedral (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) and was overwelmed by both the architecture and artwork inside the church.

There were many beautiful paintings and stained glass windows inside the Cathedral, but the most impressive artwork was probably the paintings inside the dome completed by Federico Zuccari.

We then walked to the closest pedestrian bridge filled with painters and street vendors that offered amazing views of the Arno, a river that runs through the Tuscany region of Italy.

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We wish we had more time in Florence, but hopefully we’ll be back. We were really excited to visit Rome, so we grabbed an ice cream cone and were back on the road.

Ice cream

Rome, Italy

By the time we got to Rome, it was pretty late so we just checked in our “hotel” and relaxed before going to bed. I say “hotel” because while it had a hotel name under booking.com it really ended up being more of an AirBnB. The woman we rented it from was really nice, the apartment was really cute, was located a few blocks away from everything and the price was very reasonable.

We woke up the next morning and headed out to explore. We walked one block and saw some amazing Roman ruins.

I have to admit this day did not start the greatest. Alara was extremely overtired and just did not want to do anything. Poor baby.

Nonetheless, we managed to start walking to the Colosseum, which was the closest attraction to us. On our way, we visited the Italian Parliament Building (Palazzo di Montecitorio) and were so impressed with the overall architecture.

We continued walking and could see a glimpse of the Colosseum!

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This oval amphitheater was the largest one ever built, estimating to hold between 50,000 to 80,000 spectators. The Colosseum was used for¬†gladiatorial contests and other public spectacle events. We didn’t have time to go inside for a tour (the wait was about 2 hours, I’d recommend getting tickets in advance!) but we grabbed an ice cream cone and enjoyed the view.

We continued walking towards many other famous landmarks that were ultimately on the way to the Vatican. We saw the Pantheon, one of the best preserved Ancient Roman building which was dedicated to the worship of every god.

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We took a break and hung out at the Piazza Navona before continuing on our walking tour.

piazza navona

As we were entering the Vatican area, we first came across the¬†Castel Sant’Angelo, which was first used as a¬†mausoleum¬†by Roman Emperor Hadrian and later used by popes as a castle and fortress. This was also a popular feature in the book/movie Angels and Demons. ūüôā

We continued walking and could finally see the Vatican!

St Peters sq

We got to St. Peter’s square and were in awe of the overall beauty of everything as well as the history and significance of where we were standing. Unfortunately, we were not able to get a tour (again, 2 hour wait, get tickets in advance!) but we were pretty content with our surroundings.

Alara must have had an exhausting day because she finally fell asleep in her stroller which we has never done before!

Alara sleeping

Overall, Rome was the most impressive city I had ever seen. There was so much history to take in, views of Roman ruins right in the middle of a very modern European capital with so much culture. I never thought I could say I would see Rome in a day, but in a sense that statement is also not really true. There is so much more to see and so, along with experiencing more of the food and wine, which we did not have the chance to. We will absolutely be coming back and spending an entire vacation in Italy, mostly Rome, alone.

We had a long drive back to Germany, which we drove through most of the night. We spent a few days hanging out with family before we packed up the car and started our 24-hour road trip (gasp!) to Turkey.

Tekirdag, Turkey

We drove through several countries to get to Turkey and it was quite an experience! We drove through Austria, Hungary, Serbia, and Bulgaria before reaching the Turkish border. Overall, driving through most of the countries was a breeze as they are EU countries and have open borders. However, Serbia is not part of the EU so we had to go through passport control entering and leaving that country, as well as entering Turkey, since again they are not part of the EU. One good thing about our ridiculously long road trip was that rest areas were very clean and most even had playgrounds for kids to play on.

Road Tip playground

We were pretty relieved when we finally reached the Turkish border!

Turkey arrival

A couple hours later we finally reached our in laws house in Tekirdag, Turkey just less than 2 hours away from Istanbul. We only had a few days in Turkey, so we mostly spent time with family but I¬†also got some quality shopping and coffee time with my sister in law since we had someone else to watch the kids. We also celebrated my sister in law’s birthday.

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We took a day and went to visit family who lived in a village area. It was nice to see a more simple lifestyle and enjoy sitting outside in a beautiful garden while catching up with family we haven’t seen since our Turkish wedding about 4 years before.

We also visited other family in the village who had cows. Alara got a kick out of them but was pretty hesitant to get too close.

village cow

So we enjoyed some Turkish tea and good conversations with family. The drive to and from the village offered some pretty great views of Tekirdag.

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Overall, Alara had a great time with her grandparents and being silly with her older cousins.

family silly

Unfortunately, our amazing trip was coming to an end. We drove to Istanbul and flew home.It was the longest flight Alara had ever been on, approximately 12 hours. She had a really hard time at one time fighting sleep. Luckily, she made friends with another little boy. They played in the airport and on the plane. The parents actually switched their seat to sit next to us on the plane, which was very nice of them. The two kept themselves entertained and Alara eventually fell asleep on the later part of the flight. Alara was quite the traveler this time around and I think she really enjoyed her trip. Thank you to my brother in law for a great European experience!

Daytona Beach, Florida (March 2015)

Surprise, Florida again! Back so soon, you ask? Well, besides surviving the Boston snowpocalypse of 2015 and being sick of weekly blizzards for over a month straight, I was ready to look at something other than the 6 feet of snow in my backyard. My aunt was staying in the Daytona Beach area for 3 weeks, so I felt like I had to be a good niece and visit her. Alara wanted to come too, of course. This was my first time flying alone with Alara so I was pretty nervous! Unfortunately, there are no direct flights to Daytona so I had to do my best to choose the cheapest one with a minimal layover. I also decided not to do a rental car since I was fully expecting to sit our bums on the beach all day long. I did some research and thought one taxi company offered child seats (per website and even lady on the phone confirmed) but apparently when I called to make the reservation, two different employees on the phone were convinced they do not have child seats. One star rating on Yelp later, I contacted the private car company my aunt used who said they offer child seats with taxi services, free of charge. That taxi lady ended up being a godsend, but I’ll get to her later.

Flying alone with Alara actually went better than expected! She was probably the most behaved she had ever been on an airplane. However, my briliiant planning of having a 38 minute layover with a slightly delayed first flight was not the smartest idea. I just barely caught my connecting flight while running through the Atlanta airport, air tram and all, with a stroller. We flew with Delta and with my experience, they are one of the least baby-friendly airlines. They do not give any additional allowances with a lap ticket besides the car seat and stroller. Even though I reserve our seats, they always move us to the back row of the airplane. You know, the least desirable one that is seated next to the restrooms and the seats don’t decline? Yeah, those. The only advantage to them doing that is we usually end up with an extra seat next to us. Other than that, I’m pretty sure they do that so babies don’t disturb other passengers on the flight, especially near first class.

We landed in Daytona and the taxi lady had texted me to make sure I knew where to meet her. It turns out that she ended up purchasing the car seat right before picking us up since the one the company offered was being used by someone else! She was a really sweet lady and we ended up using her a couple times on our trip.

We finally arrived at Daytona Beach and enjoyed the nice flat sand and shallow waters. But we had to watch out for cars driving on the beach! We are not exactly used to that while hanging out at the beach. It also turned out to be Bike Week, but surprisingly the motorcycles didn’t turn out to be as disturbing as I thought. Alara got a kick out of the sound the motorcycles made. The condo resort we stayed in also had a nice pool, so we got to split time between the beach and the pool. I think Alara preferred playing around at the beach and chasing the seagulls.

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We had dinner one night at the Top of Daytona restaurant, which had great food and amazing views of the beach.

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There was also one rainy day that we decided to get some ice cream and play some games.

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We were actually staying in two different resorts during our trip and had to transition to New Smyrna Beach about half way through our trip. Since there was a period of time between checking out of the first resort and checking in to the second, we decided to kill some time at the Orange Spring Carnival. There were vendors, activities, food, games and rides. Alara had a great time!

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New Smyrna is a much quieter and a little more residential than Daytona Beach, although they still allow cars to drive on the beach. We really liked it there and I could honestly see ourselves purchasing a condo here to come back and relax!

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One good thing about staying in a condo resort with a full kitchen is saving money on eating out. We got to enjoy classy, home-cooked meals like our fancy fish sticks, green beans, mac and cheese, topped with a glass of wine (apple juice for Alara) meal. ūüôā

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Overall, it was really great to enjoy some quality time with my aunt and get to enjoy the nice beach along with some nice weather. We were ready to head out, thankfully the nice taxi lady picked us up at 5am to catch our early flight. If anyone needs car ride services in the Daytona area, I would absolutely recommend her, just let me know. I also hope she gets some use out of that car seat she bought with us in mind. While Alara thoroughly enjoyed this trip, she as pretty exhausted and thankful to have the entire back row of the airplane. Thanks for something, Delta.

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Tampa, Florida (December 2014)

My in laws were vising during the fall/winter of 2014 for the holidays so we wanted to plan a trip to take a break from the cold New England weather. We thought it would be a good opportunity to visit family in Tampa since it had been a really long time since my in laws had seen them in Turkey. We only had enough vacation time to visit during a long weekend, so we booked our flight and were on our way.

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It was the first time Alara and I had met these family members, but they were extremely welcoming and were wonderful hosts. We instantly felt at home there and felt like I’ve known them for years. And Alara LOVED their dog, Hido!

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Since we only had a few days in Florida, we wanted to take advantage of the nice weather and visit a couple of theme parks while also spending some quality time with family.

Universal Studios

Since we had been to the original Universal Studios theme park, we decided to visit the Island of Adventures this time.

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While overall it was a fun theme park and we loved the Harry Potter ride, it was not worth going with a toddler even if she was free. The majority of the rides are either motion/simulator rides or thriller-type roller coasters. In my opinion, Universal Studios in general is geared towards much older kids or even teenagers and young adults. It was hard for us to go on rides since we had to take turns staying with Alara and the lines were pretty long, on average 40 min to an hour. Our biggest mistake was not going into the Dr. Seuss section first. That is pretty much the only toddler-friendly section of the park. By the time we got there, it was the last section of the park and we were just ready to leave since Alara didn’t take a nap and was pretty miserable by the end of the evening. Oh well, at least she met Wolverine and rode a Cheetah.

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My mother in law did go on the Incredible Hulk roller coaster which was pretty impressive since it was her first theme park ride ever!

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Siesta Beach

We decided to spend some time as a family and go to Siesta Key together, which is about an hour away from Tampa. This beach was really beautiful with such white, soft sand and gorgeous blue views of the Gulf of Mexico. Alara also loved the seagulls!

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Tarpon Springs/Clearwater/St. Petersberg

We thought it would be good to bring my in laws to see Disney World for their first time ever, but after our experience at Universal, I decided it would be best to stay local with Alara. I’ve never been to the Clearwater/St. Petersberg area so I thought it would be great to see it and spend some time with Sabiha. Our first stop was Tarpon Springs, which is a beautiful little seaport town (even though it’s technically a city) and has the highest percentage of Greek Americans than any other city in the US.

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They are also well known for their natural sea sponges. Overall, it was a great little place to walk around downtown and enjoy the salty fresh air.

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Our next stop was in Clearwater. I was very impressed with Clearwater Beach. Beautiful resorts, white sand, clear Gulf waters and plenty of activities and fun things to do with kids. There are many restaurants, shops and entertainers nearby at Pier 60 and the Beach Walk. There was also a pretty impressive playground area right near the beach that Alara loved. I would absolutely love to come back to Clearwater when it’s not winter and I’m sure Alara would agree!

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We got to St. Petersberg just around sundown and enjoyed walking around downtown. There are lots of great restaurants and seems like the city has a nice night life. With an average of 361 days of sunshine each year, how could it not be great?

We ended our night with a dinner at the Golden Corral. We always try to visit one when we travel down south and it was not a disappointment. Alara ate the most she did the whole time we were down here, so she must have loved it too!

It was so nice to get away from the chilly, winter weather and enjoy some sunshine while spending time with family. We would definitely love to come back to visit, I’m sure Alara will miss Hido soon enough!

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P.S. For a good 6 months or more, Alara called every dog (real or stuffed animal) Hido. The name really stuck with her!

Mexico (August 2014)

With two working parents, it’s not always easy when the day care closes and you need to take time off of work. The day care was originally scheduled to close for two weeks (still paid, of course), so what better way to do with time off than to plan a vacation! We found a good deal to visit Playa del Carmen and neither of us had ever been before. When it comes to Caribbean vacations, I always find great deals on Cheapcaribbean.com¬†that includes flight and all-inclusive resorts. I usually compare those deals with other websites like Cheaptickets or Orbitz to make sure I’m getting the best deal. Prices can get a little expensive during spring break season, but you can find some really great deals during the off season like we did. This was probably the fourth trip I’ve planned on that website, including our honeymoon. What, so we’re cheap, that’s how we get to go on so many trips in the first place. ūüėČ

So we we booked our flight and resort on the website and booked our rental car separately. (P.S. I do not particularly recommend Dollar Value Rental and won’t be using them in the future). We flew into Cancun and drove to our resort in Playa del Carmen. Since we were renting a car, we brought our own car seat which our airline, Delta, let us either regular check or gate check it.

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Flying can get exhausting…

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As I said in an earlier post, I always like to make friends with passengers around me. This cute little old couple sitting next to us were so friendly and loved playing with Alara while she was awake. They did not mind it one bit when she was fussing to fall asleep.

Viva Wyndham Maya Resort – Playa del Carmen

We got to the resort, which was inside a gated community, and were overall very impressed. We opted to get a ocean view room, since we knew we would be spending some time in the room while Alara napped and it wasn’t that much extra since it was off season.

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I love staying in all-inclusive resorts… all you can eat food and drinks (admittedly not as fun traveling with a baby or toddler) and there are some great activities and entertainment on site. They usually try to get you to sit down with a representative to purchase some guided tours and excursions, but we like to explore on our own which comes out to be a lot cheaper. Nothing could be worst than the time we went to the Dominican Republic when I was 6 month pregnant and we took the local city bus downtown, walked around the streets alone and went to see the Carnival parade. Oddly enough, I felt totally comfortable and safe the entire time. Therefore, we were pretty comfortable with exploring Mexico by ourselves.

The resort had a great big pool and swim up bar which was awesome. Of course, the beach was a short walk and there are plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas for shade. One downside with this beach was the amount of sea weed. There was SO. MUCH. Every time we were at the beach there were a number of workers trying to rake and clean it up. It seems like it was never clean enough and you had to walk around both the workers and the pile of seaweed in front of the shore.

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One advantage of waking up early with a toddler on vacation is getting to enjoy the nice sunrise.

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Alara doesn’t seem too pleased with the seaweed here. Luckily, she loved the pool.

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She even loved the little foot shower (you know, where you rinse off when coming from the beach) and could spend hours just hogging up the shower and rinsing her feet. The weather was perfect and it was great to relax (as much as you can while with a toddler) and enjoy the tropical outdoors.

Alara loved all the food and desserts at the International buffet at the resort, but we were able to take advantage of two restaurants while we were there. We decided to choose the Italian and Mexican restaurant. Overall, the food was great but it is not easy dining with an antsy toddler. At the buffet, she was able to walk around a bit and make new friends, but we did not feel as comfortable in a fancier restaurant such as these. Luckily, at the Mexican restaurant we were able to eat outside in a gated area and were one of the only ones there. High five for that.

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And good food… and yummy mango margaritas.

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Alara even made some friends.

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Downtown Playa Del Carmen

One of the first stops we made was at a Wal-Mart. Our pediatrician recommended we bring toddler instant formula as opposed to drinking their milk, just to be safe. However, we packed light otherwise since we only brought carry on luggage. We decided to purchase the majority of diapers and wipes, etc. once we landed. Visiting a Mexican Wal-Mart was interesting but it had everything ours at home does and more. It had some great souvenirs that were much cheaper than downtown!

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Downtown Playa del Carmen is beautiful and full of life. And there was this cool statue by the beach.

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La Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) offered lots of cool shops and restaurants. Definitely a cool place to walk around. Alara enjoyed it.

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Chichen Itza

After packing some waters and snacks we purchased at Wal-Mart (and might have smuggled some from the breakfast buffet) we were off on our 3 hour drive to Chichen Itza. One thing to remember when making the drive to Chichen Itza is to have plenty of Pesos on hand. There are many (expensive!) tolls and the exchange rate they use with USD is ridiculous. They definitely punish Americans, or any tourist, for not being prepared. Same goes for gas stations on the highway, they will accept USD but the exchange rate will not be pretty.

We arrived at Chichen Itza and glad we were also prepared with hats and sunblock since being 3 hours inland in the middle of August was pretty hot. Alara was also thankful for the shade her stroller provided. There was some shade, particularly walking through the paths filled with vendors selling all sorts of souvenirs. We found that the souvenirs were pretty decently priced, but again, pay in Pesos because their exchange rate is not very friendly.

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There are many different parts to the Mayan city. Chichen Itza was a large pre-Columbian city built by the Mayan people. It was one of the largest Maya cities and is currently maintained by Mexico’s¬†National Institute of Anthropology and History.

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These columns are called the Temple of the Warriors. It was most likely used to hold large gatherings.

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Besides being in awe of the history of the ruins, we also noticed we were the only people there with a stroller. Alara is certainly quite the adventurer.

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Of course the most impressive part of Chichen Itza was the¬†Temple of Kukulcan, also referred to as¬†El Castillo, spanish for “the castle”. On the north side of the pyramid (not shown here), on the base of the pyramid are sculptured serpent heads. During the spring and autumn equinoxes, the late afternoon sun hits the corner of the pyramid and casts triangular shadows, creating an illusion of a serpent crawling down the pyramid. This illusion is demonstrated during the night show with artificial lighting, along with other fancy light shows reflected on the pyramid, but we opted not to stick around and pay for the night show.

Visiting Mexico was a lot of fun and an interesting experience. We loved getting some beach time, enjoying the entertainment the resort and city had to offer, and were really overwhelmed with the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. But as always, a part of us were looking forward to getting back home.

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Summer in New England (Summer ’14)

Summer has always been my favorite season. I am a huge fan of the beach and just being outdoor enjoying the sun. I am not, however, a fan of New England’s humidity… but that’s another story.

We spent the majority of the Summer of 2014 just enjoying local beaches, parks, zoos and activities. Here is a list of all my favorite things to do in New England that is kid-friendly (and budget-friendly, too!).

Beaches

Beach chairs, umbrella, sand toys, floaties/life vest, sunblock, food, drinks… check, check, check. I could spend all day at the beach and thankfully, Alara enjoys it too. Going to the beach with children is obviously different, as is going on vacation. You can’t just lay down and take a nap. You always have to be on your toes, looking out to make sure they don’t¬†wonder too far off or go too deep in the water or eat sand. Nevertheless, we enjoy walking around, chasing waves and playing with the sand. It also helps to go with another child/family to keep themselves entertained!

Here are some of our favorite beaches, in no particular order.

  • Revere Beach – America’s First Public Beach and offers a International Sand Sculpting Festival at the end of July (July 24-26 for 2015), Revere, MA,¬†freeRevere Beach 2 Revere Beach
  • Winthrop Beach – Winthrop, MA, freeWinthrop Beach
  • Nahant Beach – located near Lynn shore, MA¬†$5 parking
  • Plum Island – located near Newburyport, MA,¬†free
  • Gooseberry Island – Westport, MA, free
  • Weirs Beach – Laconia NH, free
  • Hampton Beach, NH, $2 per hour public parking
  • South Shore Beach – Little Compton, RI,¬†$12 weekday/$15 weekend

Playgrounds

We usually walk to the playground at the school near our house, but there are a few playgrounds that are worth a special drive on a nice summer day.

  • Piers Park (East Boston, MA) – This is an awesome playground on park that offers amazing views of the city skyline. There’s a sprinkler too that turns on at 11AM, which is nice to cool off on a hot summer day.Piers Park 2 Piers Park¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†(Summer 2015)
  • Nahant Beach Playground (Nahant, MA) – On Lynn Shore drive, right as you drive into Nahant on the rotary with Nahant Rd, there is a tiny parking lot (or park on any side street off Lynn Shore Drive in Lynn and enjoy the beautiful walk) that gives you access to a nice playground right on the beach. Beach and playground is a pretty cool combination.
  • Fort Taber Park (New Bedford, MA) – A historic American Civil War-era military fort which has beautiful views of the ocean and a nice playground for children to play.
  • Boston Common (Boston, MA) – The Tadpole Playground and the Frog Pond is a great area for kids to play. After cooling off at the shallow pool, be sure to take a few rides on the Carousel and enjoy walking around Boston.¬†Boston Common 2 Boston Common

Zoos

We’ve only been to a couple zoos in the area, but they are a great way to enjoy a nice summer day!

  • Southwick Zoo (Mendon, MA) – There are some great rides perfect for older children.¬†Southwick Zoo 2 Southwick Zoo
  • Buttonwood Park Zoo (New Bedford, MA) – There is also a nice playground right outside the zoo. Here she is sharing a snack with her friend Lucas in front of a bear.Buttonwood Park

Other Local Events

Germany (May 2014)

After surviving Alara’s first flight, we were ready to start our adventures in Germany!

We landed in Munich, but were staying right outside Regensburg, so we had about an hour drive to the house. We were staying with my BIL, his wife and 2 kids, my in-laws were also visiting from Turkey, and with my aunt and uncle visiting, it was a full house! My BIL and his family were great hosts, we immediately felt at home. We got to enjoy home-cooked family meals together, especially a Turkish breakfast every morning. I mean, just look at it!

Turkish breakfast

It was also great that Alara got to meet and play with her cousins and had quality time with her grandparents.

Alara ablas

My in-laws were more than willing to watch her and the kids while us adults went on day trips, so it was a win-win. While Alara spent most of the vacation having quality time playing out in the yard with her cousins and grandparents, she did have a bit of her own adventures.

Koln, Germany

We drove off to Koln (Cologne), which is about a 5 hour drive, to spend the weekend with cousins, aunts and uncles. It was a very nice family reunion.

Alara Travels

Koln is a very beautiful city with so much history. It was one of the most major trade routes between east and west in Europe during the Middle Ages. During World War II, it was one of the most heavily-bombed city in Germany, but had a very successful postwar rebuilding period. The Koln Dom, or Cologne Cathedral, is probably the most beautiful and detailed Cathedrals I have ever seen. It is considered one of Germany’s most famous landmarks.

Koln dome Koln dome me fatih

Near the Roman Museum, you can see a reconstruction on an ancient street during the Roman empire.

Koln road roman empire

While Alara was spending some more quality time with grandparents, her great aunt and great uncle, we got to enjoy some great German beer by the Rhein River.

Koln beer

Koln was a very impressive city with with beautiful architecture and scenery everywhere.

Koln

Amsterdam, Netherlands

I never thought I would be visiting Amsterdam with a toddler in tow, but there we were. Amsterdam is the capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Koln, Germany. This is where I realized how small Continental Europe really is. Here in the U.S., we can drive a few hours and be in a different state, not thinking it’s a big deal. In Europe, you can drive a couple hours between such beautiful cities and countries like Koln, Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris and it’s a big deal for us Americans. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit all of these beautiful cities, but maybe next time.

Amsterdam is, of course, another beautiful city rich with so much history hosting notorious¬†people such as Anne Frank and Vincent van Gogh. We only spent a day, a few hours really, in this amazing city. I completely recommend spending more time here, a weekend at least. I know we will be back here for sure. I would love to visit the Anne Frank Museum and Van Gogh Musuem, spend time in the Vondelpark and maybe even the Red Light District (just to get a couple drinks at a bar, I swear). ūüėČ

On this particular day, we walked around Dam Square where we saw the Royal Palace and Alara loved all the pigeons. No, she really loved the pigeons. She was screaming at them all excited, it was really cute. The Royal Palace was first used as Amsterdam’s City Hall in the 1600s but was then used as a palace in the early 1800s, and was once referred to as the eighth wonder of the world.

NEW Amsterdam

Alara Amsterdam

At Dam Square, you will also see the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and the National Monument. The National Monument on Dam Square is a WWII monument and a ceremony is held every year to commemorate the casualties of the war.

NEW 1 Amsterdam

After seeing Dam Square, we walked through Nieuwendijk street and enjoyed some shopping.

NEW 2 Amerstdam

There was an awesome candy store on that street where Alara (ok, and all of us) enjoyed some candy and ice cream.

Amerstam ice cream

When we got to the end of the shopping street, we were next to Centraal Station, which is a major national railway hub. I personally got a kick of all the bicycles that were parked there. Bicyclists are huge in Amsterdam as it is so easy to get around the city on bike.

Amersterdam bikes

NEW 3 Amsterdam

We ended the day with a nice family dinner at a restaurant right along the canal. I’m starting to notice a trend on my posts… family dinners to end a perfect vacation day. ūüôā

Amerstam family reunion

Frankfurt, Germany

We said our goodbyes to our family in Koln and were off on our way back to Regensburg, Germany. On the way there, we decided to break down the long ride and stop in Frankfurt, which is directly on the way. Frankfurt is a very large and beautiful city, I found it to be much more modern than other Germany cities. Frankfurt is known for its business and education, and is even considered the largest financial center in Continental Europe.

We saw the Dom St. Bartholomaus (Cathedral of St. Bartholomew) and walked by the very beautiful Rhine River waterfront.

FrankfurtFrankfurt 2

We walked around the Zeil, which is a pedestrian walkway and offers some great shopping, restaurants, cafes and even live street performers¬†if you’re lucky!

Frankfurt 5

We went inside a major shopping center, MyZeil, which had the coolest architectural design I’ve ever seen. Just check out these photos¬†courtesy of Architonic.

Frankfurt 3

MyZeil also had a Dunkin Donuts! Germany apparently has several Dunkin Donuts, but this was the only one we came across, so I was pretty excited.

Frankfurt 4
We arrived back in Regensburg and it was time for the adults to have fun. Alara had a great time hanging out with her cousins and grandparents.

Here are some other places we enjoyed sans-toddler.

Regensburg, Germany

We went to downtown Regensburg and admired the Dom St. Peter (Regensburg Cathedral) which has beautiful Gothic architecture and is the burial place of many important bishops.

Regensberg dome

Regensburg burials

The downtown area is very beautiful and has a lot of character.

Regensberg downtown

We sat outside and enjoyed a few German beers and latte macchiatos. Okay, not together. I opted for a machiatos since it was pretty cold that day and I needed to warm up.

Regens 2

We also admired some traditional Bavarian clothes. When I first saw this store, I wondered where people would wear these type of clothes. Then I discovered the Regensburger Dult.

Regens

Regensburger Dult

This is a popular fair with Bavarian music and culture, food and drinks, and carnival-like attractions. It happens twice a year, in May and August-September.

Dult 2

When we first walked in, it mostly looked like a carnival, but almost everyone was dressed up in their best Bavarian attire. There’s vendors selling local arts, crafts and food. There’s pony rides and amusement park rides with music blasting. You see candy, cookies and stuffed animals for sale. As you walk further, you see a few beer tents. We went inside a beer tent that had live Bavarian music. We ordered a few beers and enjoyed the music.

Dult beer 2

Dult beer

The place started to fill up quick since night was approaching and we offered some locals our seats since there was room at our table and we would be leaving soon. We talked and joked with the locals, who all spoke really good English. They actually said they enjoy this festival way better than Oktoberfest!

Dult girls 2

This is definitely a must-see festival!

Munich, Germany

Munich is the capital of Bavaria, a federal state of Germany and home to the well-known festival known as Oktoberfest. The New Town Hall, or the¬†Neus Rathaus, is breathtakingly beautiful with its gothic architecture. It is currently used by the government for city council, the mayor’s office and part of the administration.

Munich dome

Nearby the New Town Hall (south-east) is St. Peter’s Church, which is a Roman Catholic and is the oldest church in the area. Near St. Peter’s Church is the Old Town Hall and was used as such until 1874.

Munich

Just west of the New Town Hall is a great, big shopping area known as Marienplatz and is pedestrian accessible only. You’ll find lots of people and street entertainment around here. Along the shopping area is the Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, or the Frauenkirche, a cathedral church considered a famous landmark.

Dachau Concentration Camp

Visiting a concentration camp is a surreal experience. It still amazes me that something as horrible as this ever happened in history, let alone¬†only 70 years ago. Our grandparents’ generation was alive during this time to witness these horrible events. The Dachau Concentration Camp was the first to open in Germany in March 1933, was used in operation the longest until April 1945, and was originally intended to hold political prisoners. The purpose of the camp eventually included forced labor, Jew prisoners, many criminals and foreign nationals where Germany invaded or occupied. The gates to the camp says the words “Arbeit macht frei”, which means “Work will make you free”.¬†This Nazi propaganda was used to describe these camps as labor camps, when of course work was used as a form of torture. To this day, it is customary to leave the gates open as a reminder that these gates are to stay open for good.

Dachau gate

While all 34 barracks were destroyed upon liberation, one was reconstructed to display how the interior was arranged. What you don’t see is how confined these barracks once were. The concentration camp was initially planned to hold 6,000 prisoners, but when the camp was liberated by American troops, over 30,000 people were imprisoned there.

Dachau camps

Dachau bunks

Dachau toilet

There were also prison cells, where the more pronounced war prisoners were kept.

Dachau prison

I was originally expecting to be overcome with emotion when we were planning this visit. However, it was more a numbing feeling than anything else. The whole time I just empathized with the people who ever step foot in this camp before it was turned into a museum.

Nuremberg, Germany

Nuremberg was probably one of my favorite cities in Germany. It had such beautiful and classic Bavarian-type scenery, along with medieval architecture and just a modern touch. Nuremberg is referred to the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire. During the Nazi-Germany era, this city became the location for the Nazi rallies and conventions, but was later severely damaged by bombings during the war. The war crime trials against the Nazis were later held in Nuremberg, partially due to the symbolic value of bringing the Nazi party down where they once rallied together.

The Old Town is separated by the Pegnitz River, which offers beautiful water views along with the impressive medieval buildings and houses.

Nuremburg landscape

The Nuremberg Castle is a beautiful, historic building consisting of three sections: the Imperial Castle, the Burgraves of Nuremberg and municipal buildings of the Imperial City. Nuremberg became an Imperial Free City during the 13th century and this castle was one of the most important palaces of the Old Holy Roman Empire.

The St. Lorenz is a beautiful, medieval church completed around 1400 and dedicated to Saint Lawrence.

St Lorenz

The¬†Schoner Brunnen literally translates to beautiful fountain, which it is. It’s located in the main market near the town hall and was built in the late 1300s.

Nuremburg gold fountain

Praque, Czech Republic

We had time for just about one long-haul day trip. Prague is a little less than 3 hours drive away from where we were staying and was one of our top choices to visit. It was totally worth it. Prague was absolutely the most beautiful city I had ever seen, hands down. It’s fairy tale type architecture and scenery was just amazing.

Prague houses

We spent most of our time in the Old Town, which is a medieval settlement and hosts many ancient buildings and churches. When you step into the Old Town Square, you really feel like you are stepping back in time to the 10th-12th century. But don’t worry, the surrounding musicians, street performers and vendors remind you of the current time and brings you back to reality. In the middle of the Old Town Square is the Jan Hus statue

Jan Hus statueJan Hus statue

Prague center

Walking out of the Old Town, we crossed a bridge, Manesuv most, which offered breathtaking views of the Prague Castle. This bridge also had great views of the city in general and had many different vendors selling arts, crafts, and souvenirs.

Prague bridge 2

Prague bridge

Prague was by far the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. Well, that was before visiting Rome, but that’s a story for another day. ūüôā

Overall, we had an amazing time with family and friends. Even though we were there for almost 2 weeks, it felt like a short trip. We will definitely be back, that’s for sure!