Italy: Florence


First things first. After checking into our hotel, we needed food. Pizza at Food Il Cavallino fit the bill nicely! This place has pretty poor reviews online, but was recommended by our hotel and we stuck with the pizza that was recommended which was great. We conveniently arrived just before it started raining, so we were protected from the deluge. We hadn’t brought umbrellas, just ponchos, and our time in Florence was the only time we needed to use them. We ended up buying cheap (cheaply made, not cheaply bought) umbrellas during our stay here.


We stayed at Hotel Maxim in Florence, and it took us a bit to find it, but only because we must both be directionally challenged, because as we discovered, Florence is not that big. And Hotel Maxim is right smack in the center of it.

The hotel was nicer than Rome in that it felt very safe to be so central and SO convenient to be able to stop off midday to use the bathroom, but it was also smaller. There were twists and turns in the narrow hallways of this old building, but we were very happy there was an elevator! Breakfast wasn’t too shabby either, mom was happy with the tea here.


Our only scheduled plans for the day were to go to the Accademia Gallery in the afternoon to see the David. We definitely had to buy tickets for that ahead of time! We passed the Duomo on the way there, and were awed by this enormous church rising up in the middle of the city. I was also very excited that central Florence is pedestrian-only.


The David was more than I imagined he would be: he was huge! I was, like everyone before me I’m certain, in awe of the details. The veins in his stone arms, and the pupils in his eyes which I could really only see close up with the zoom on my camera, he was so tall!


Aside from the David, the Accademia is filled with unfinished works and students’ work, which are lovely all the same. I loved seeing the big wall of heads. The hall of musical instruments was a second favorite.


We left the Accademia and decided there was enough time before closing to climb the Bell Tower, just to the right of the Duomo if you are facing it. We ended up deciding that maybe we had enough time to climb the Duomo as well, and we liked the fact that it wasn’t crowded during this time of day, so we hurried to do both. We ended up climbing 877 steps total to do both.










Worth it.

Now’s a great time to talk about my camera bag! I purchased a bag for the trip because I was concerned both about storage and pick pockets. I ended up buying a Pacsafe, in a discontinued color that was more affordable. I love this bag.

It was comfortable, clearly not a backpack (which was important because several sites do not let you bring backpacks in anymore at the discretion of whoever is at the security gate that day – like at the Colosseum), and had a bunch of security features without being too heavy. Plus, the camera was still easy to get to. I was happy it had the pockets on the sides for waterbottles, which came in handy daily.



We ate at Il Teatro our first night, and after a bottle of wine, the Duomo lit up at night was even more awe-inspiring. The lights on the building were impressive. The crowds were completely gone, and we circled the building all the way around, taking in the detail.





Our next day started early with our scheduled booking at the Uffizi museum, famous for it’s collection of Italian paintings. I personally was most impressed with the building itself. Every ceiling was a work of art and unique.




From the Uffizi, we could get a great view of the famous Ponte Vecchio.


After our time in the Uffizi, we went back to the Duomo to see the Baptistry and go inside the church (we had only been able to go in the Dome itself the evening prior). The Baptistry exterior was under construction, but the inside was open and beautiful. The gold panels on the ceiling really impressed mom, who had to get a photo of each one.



It was a lot more crowded in Florence this day, so we waited a bit to get into the cathedral. We were behind a school line (awkwardly in the middle for a while), but once we got in it was easy enough to move forward ahead of them. The interior was just as awe-inspiring as outside, with huge arches and a wide expanse of just space. These buildings are really marvels of construction for their time (or any time).



The Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral has layers of churches and temples beneath it, which was fascinating. You can go underneath and see where they’re “peeled back” these layers. The information is a bit confusing to read, but we gathered from our Rick Steve’s info what we needed to understand what we were seeing.


We did a lot of shopping, since were done with most of our plans for the day after that! After finding some lunch (also to escape the rain) at Restaurante Paoli (so so but satisfying), we visited the Medici Chapel, which maybe wasn’t worth the money but dark and glorious in color. Famous for, including other things, the statue of Madonna and Child by Michelangelo.



We also wandered the city and walked through the flea market and did more shopping along the way. We bought jewelry, and I found things for the kids. We even got waffles to eat outside the Duomo, an excellent snack by default for location, and very tasty.


That night we ate outside at one of the many restaurants lining Piazza della Signoria by the Uffizi. We had another lovely night before our winery tour the next day! It was nice not to rush so much to get to everything we wanted to do as we had in Rome, but difficult as the scheduler to figure out what to do with our down time!


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Italy: Pompeii

Instead of taking an organized tour or bus from Rome, we opted on the “DIY” approach to visiting Pompeii from Rome. We got tickets to Naples on the first high speed train that morning, and then went around in circles a couple times before we found where we needed to purchase the local train tickets to Pompeii.

It was nerve wracking and time consuming, yes, but we also get to spend the whole day wandering the city and visiting the areas we wanted to see. On the other hand, when we were done and exhausted, we still had to make our way back! We also didn’t have access to a great tour guide describing what we were seeing. However, we really did appreciate being without the big groups. We did it, but we were totally wiped out by the end.


When we first arrived, we struggled to get our bearings for a bit and missed some of the views when you first enter on that side of the city. We finally stopped to look around in the big open square which includes a lot of awesome structures around the sides including the forum, the marketplace (Macellum), and temples.





Building of Eumachia

Heading straight into the city from there, we pass beneath an arch gate, and stopped to get some food. Near there is also a bath house, the men’s side is restored and open. In the morning, the line was really long, so we were able to enter later in the afternoon, luckily between groups and got some great photos of this building without a lot of other people.




Aside from the modern restaurant, there are a lot of “fast food joints” in Pompeii. These counter tops with openings were places that served food all throughout the city.


At this point, we were still trying to listen to our Rick Steve’s tour, but having trouble finding the identifying areas to tell us where we were at. Soon, we started exploring any buildings that were open (there was a paper sign by the ticket office that I took a photo of which told us what was open that day), and following the map. If there was a match to our tours, then we listened.


House of the Tragic Poet

The stone walkway here was actually a pedestrian crossing, and the number of stones crossing the street indicated whether it was a one way or two way street. Wagon wheels would fit between the stones, and you could see those wheel ruts still clearly in some of the roads. It was pretty tough and uneven walking!


A few buildings we went in included the House of the Tragic Poet, House of the Faun, House of the Prince of Naples, Casa dell Ara Massima, Casa degli Amorini Dorati, Casa di Marco Lucrezio, Casa di Casca Longus. I couldn’t get enough of the paintings on the walls (restored, of course), and I loved the big courtyards in the homes of the rich. We also saw a lot of ruins of houses that were clearly of the poor — few small rooms, not restored, just open ruins.


House of the Faun



House of the Prince of Naples



Casa dell Ara Massima


Casa degli Amorini Dorati

The restored tile floor in the Casa degli Amorini Dorati was my favorite.


Throughout the city grew wild poppies!



The Central Baths, which were unfinished at the time of the eruption, weren’t open, but we could see the large open space through the gates.


The people of Pompeii had plumbing with lead pipes!


The Casa di Casca Longus, so named from this table of lions (a replica for certain; most of the genuine artifacts are in a museum in Naples which we did not visit)


There are even real vineyards, right within Pompeii!


The Amphitheatre was also closed, sadly!




We particularly liked seeing the graveyards at the ends of the city. The one we enjoyed most was the necropolis near the Porta Nocera (another entrance to get into Pompeii). The graves were fascinating, and beautifully landscaped amongst the ruins.




We reentered the city proper from here, setting out to see the last few sites on our list. There were a few sections and streets entirely closed off, and when taking detours we missed a few sites. We stopped at the restroom though and encountered the most awesome view of the city we had seen yet, with a clear line to the infamous Mount Vesuvius.




Our last stops were at the small theater and gladiator training grounds (and the larger theater too, but we couldn’t find a way in after circling around nearly 3 times!) before we found ourselves back by the forum and where we originally entered.



After going into the bathhouse, we made our way out, passing by the Basilica, also closed, but a final view of the awesome ruins of Pompeii.


It’s hard to believe, but this was a very brief overview of all the sites we saw! Pompeii was truly a city, and we walked the breadth of the city the entire day, and still felt like we had seen only the major sites. Given that at any time, many other buildings and houses could be open, you could return and have an entirely different experience.

I had debated seeing Pompeii over Herculaneum, and truly if we could’ve done them all, we would have, but this was a great choice. It was fun exploring the city, finding ourselves in some streets without any other tourists, and marking on the map the number of the photo I had taken so we could reference back to it later. So much history, so little time.

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Italy: Rome, Part 2

After lunch, we visited the Capuchin Crypt, with chapels filled with bones. We weren’t allowed to take photos, so we picked up some postcards. It was truly creepy to be amongst all the bones shaped into art.

Then we headed to see the Pantheon in the daylight and so we could also see the inside.





The Pantheon just appears right in the middle of the city, and is surrounded by all kinds of tourist attractions: musicians, gelato, and this little Pinocchio wood shop that was in every major city we visited and still managed to be super charming.




Inside, we listened to another Rick Steve’s tour. It was crowded, but not overwhelming. Spent some time sitting at the pews just looking around at all the history around us. I was very excited that the oculus on top was not obstructed under renovation the way it was the last time I was in Rome.





Raphael’s tomb lies in the Pantheon behind glass.


We traveled then to Piazza Navona and popped in a couple churches on the way. We got a little lost finding it, which is funny to think on now since it’s a large piazza. The sun was beginning to set. The activity in the piazza was awesome to see along with the colors painted on the buildings surrounding it. I loved walking through the artists displays there. There were a lot of entertainers here.




It was still early for dinner, so we decided to walk through Campo de Fiori, which during the morning hours has a large market, and in the evening was a more simple square with some restaurants. We crossed over the Tiber and walked a couple streets through Trastevere (not much, since it was getting dark and we were looking forward to getting closer to the hotel before eating dinner).





We crossed back over to the Jewish Ghetto through Tiber Island, and saw a couple ruins, one of which was unidentified (at least from our vantage point). I still don’t know what exactly we were looking at here.


As we headed back closer to our hotel, we saw the Largo di Torre Argentina, which is closed to a site where Julius Caesar was killed. There was also a ton of cats, which it’s apparently well known for.


Finally, we saw the Vittorio Emmanuel monument, also known as the Altar of the Fatherland, lit by the setting sun.


We looked up some places to eat on our walk back, and decided on Trattoria Il Girasole Roma. Mom was very excited that they had a polenta special, but they unfortunately were out! They made up for it though with atmosphere. We really enjoyed the live piano music, the truly authentic, small restaurant atmosphere, and the food, of course.



My feet at the end of the day, covered in dust and dirt! I walked the entire trip, which mom’s pedometer says was 67 miles total, in Sketchers Go Walks, and they were amazing. I never had any pain in my feet, despite the endless walking. I felt like we crossed the entire city and back this day!


Coming up: Pompeii!

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Italy: Rome, Part 1

I’m sorry for the silence here. It’s been a busy several weeks! I have been working on backing up photos, processing photos from my vacation, and enjoying every possible moment outside that it’s not raining. I think it rained for 3 weeks straight!

At the end of May, my mom and I left for a vacation to Italy! Our itinerary included Rome, Pompeii, Florence, and Venice. We decided a few years ago that I would play tour guide for my mom in Italy (since I have been to Europe before, I felt moderately qualified), and we would go together to see a country that she has always wanted to see. We finally pulled the trigger early this year, and I spent a lot of time planning our route, hotels, and activities.


We landed in Rome, and finally made it to the hotel several hours after we anticipated arriving. Unfortunately, first impressions were not great. We struggled to get through customs. The crowds, line jumping near the front, general herding of people not in lines at all, and the lack of air conditioning was really not the way I would’ve liked to introduce my mom to Italy! But I had high expectations that our trip would get progressively better, and it did!

I have been to Rome before, and while I think you can’t really miss it if you’ve never been to Italy, I also think it’s more city than I prefer, and I’m not sure that I’d go again. Rome isn’t even that big, and the traffic is much better than it was when I visited 10 years ago, but it’s still just not for me. However, we did get to do some things that I wasn’t able to when I visited as a poor college student, so it was definitely an experience worth having again.


Our first evening in Rome post-flight, we traveled from our hotel relatively close to the train station to the Spanish Steps. We walked up a major road to the intersection of the Quattro Fontane (Four Fountains). I remember these being particularly exciting when I visited years ago because here we are, in a city with regular busy traffic, people working, etc., and then BAM here’s some ancient sculptures at a random intersection.




It was also pretty spectacular to view the Spanish Steps from above and make our way down.


Our dinner that night at Cucina & Vista boasted a view of the Spanish Steps, which was really a tiny window across the room. Regardless, it was nice to relax that evening indoors, and mom had the most tender gnocchi I have ever tasted.


Despite our exhaustion after dinner, I suggested we visit some of the sights at night, an activity I had missed out on last time since we had stayed outside the city. I really had a hard time navigating in Rome, but I got progressively better each day (I was a pro by the time we left, of course). We managed to find our way to the Temple of Hadrian and the Pantheon before calling it in for the night. We got back really late as I struggled to find the hotel at night from a different direction.





Oh the hotel. That was an experience on it’s own! We stayed at Hotel Saturnia, and our room had a separate entrance. The main entrance for the hotel was in a fairly wide alley, the size of a regular street but blocked to regular traffic. It wasn’t creepy, but it was different to have to go to the main entrance on a side street, get our ancient-looking key, and go back up around the corner, ring a bell, and enter 2 doors before entering our room. Stairs in Italy were a given, but the rest was new to us.

We also got stuck going in and going out at the door to our floor. There was a trick to pulling and pushing while turning the key that we didn’t observe when they first showed us in, and a button we couldn’t see to get out. It wouldn’t have been pretty had there been a fire! Luckily we had our phones, and mine was on an international plan with T-Mobile, so there was no charge when I needed to use it to call the front desk to help us out.

The bathroom, and really the room itself, was bigger than any of the rest during our stay in Italy, and was remodeled, so it wasn’t bad sleeping or staying there aside from our experience coming and going. We had a nice breakfast in the morning before heading off to see the Colosseum. We had tickets to go inside, and that was also something I had missed out on during my last visit!

Walking to the Colosseum was really easy from our hotel, but disappointing that there was construction along the side of the road as we approached. The Colosseum itself though was relatively unobstructed and still an awe-inspiring sight.



Tour guides tried to get us to buy their services and street vendors were hawking selfie sticks. We may have been asked about 10,000 times but we never bought a selfie stick. We were a little concerned at first because we had bought entry tickets already and the line seemed very long, but even though the line looks long for ticket holders, it moved very fast.

We used Rick Steves’ Audio Guide for the Colosseum. We tried to use it for some other sites, but it was harder in the Forum and Pompeii when you can’t tell exactly what you’re looking at. For the Colosseum it was perfect!






After the Colosseum, we crossed over to Palantine Hill and the Roman Forum. It was hard to tell what we were looking at on Palantine Hill, but beautiful nonetheless. We enjoyed the shade for a bit and the endless supply of ancient ruins. We should’ve stopped for lunch and brought it in with us. We saw a number of people picnicking on the hill (not the Roman Forum section, which was much more crowded). We were really very hungry by the time we finished at the Roman Forum, and I was incredibly dusty and dirty foot to knee.







View of the Roman Forum from the top of Palantine Hill

We tried listening to Rick Steves in the Roman Forum, but the route or buildings had changed a bit and I gave up midway through, picking and choosing when I could tell what we were looking at.


One building we were able to enter was the Temple of Romulus.



We were able to see Caesar’s grave, the remains of the House of the Vestal Virgins, and a number of unidentified (by me) ruins.


This is the Temple of Castor and Pollux below.



For our late lunch, we weren’t willing to travel far! We stopped at Bar Pasticceria Ciardi, which seems to have a variety of atmospheres for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We felt like we had a good meal there despite the proximity to the touristy area (they say the farther you get from those areas, the better the food).

I really loved seeing all the ancient ruins: dust, hunger, heat and all. It felt so satisfying to come back to Rome, 10 years later, and visit some sites I had always wanted to get inside. I finally felt like I was really in Italy after the long travel the day before. Italy, we’re here!

Spanish Steps 3

Me, 10 years ago at the Spanish Steps.

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Niagara on the Lake Weekend Getaway Part 1

About a month ago, Brian and I were enjoying some time to ourselves away from the kiddos at Niagara on the Lake in Canada. We left Friday after dropping off the kids at daycare and drove straight there.

My last trip to Canada was with Brian to see the Falls in 2007, driving our way around the North East up to Maine to my cousin’s wedding. I’ve never actually been further into Canada than the Falls, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

NiagaraFalls (15)

As it turns out, the transition over into Canada was a bit anticlimactic and other than an accent change and some odd road signs (which we also get in the States), it didn’t feel too different. Well, we did have to get a currency exchange. Brian stopped at a bank and they were giving away cupcakes! So that was a big bonus.


Our first stop was actually for lunch, since we drove straight there we were starving (and had to use the restrooms). We stopped at a highly recommended pizza place to eat. Actually, most places we went came highly recommended, since Brian and I didn’t want to do any intensive planning. We went mostly to places Brian’s parents recommended, who visit Niagara on the Lake very frequently.

We stopped at Old Winery Restaurant and had the Arms and the Man pizza and split a salad, leaving full but not over done. Honestly, I could’ve eaten everything on that menu. We at outside, and it was such a beautiful day and perfect first stop.

Brian and I also stopped at a couple wineries before arriving at our Bed & Breakfast. First was Megalomaniac. Tasting used to be held in the cellar downstairs, but they recently opened up a brand new building built over top the cellars. The landscaping may have been a little rough, but the inside was an interesting mash up of elegant and rustic. (Like Restoration Hardware maybe?)




I loved the extra large glasses they served their red wine in and their logo etched in. We took home a bottle, but honestly the experience being in that big room without anyone else was a little echo-y. We were told that the weekends were actually much busier, and that was truth! There is also just a little less traffic in this part of the region, which is actually Jordan, rather than Niagara-on-the-Lake proper, where we spent most of the following day.


Our next stop was at Kacaba, where they wined (but not dined) us and we did some barrel tastings in the back. Brian was sold on the heavily oaked chardonnay, and we also loved the merlot. We bought a case for when the barrels are ready, and Brian’s parents may be picking that up for us, haha.



Then we arrived at our Bed and Breakfast at Among the Vines to drop off our things. Among the Vines is nestled next to Di Profio Winery, so it was very peaceful location near a vineyard. We stayed in their beautiful main suite, which has an attached bathroom with separate sinks, shower and tub.


Di Profio is most known locally for their white blend, the Kitchen Zinc. We had a bottled opened right there that we enjoyed on their upstairs balcony, a more private location with one table. It was lovely to look out over the vineyards from that spot.





It was a very relaxing first day. In fact, I hadn’t yet truly broken out my big girl camera and took most of the photos with my phone. The next day is a different story, but what a lovely transition into a short weekend vacation for us!

That evening, we actually walked into the little downtown area, Jordan Village. I was looking forward to their mussels. We just don’t really get fresh mussels by us, so I was excited I would be able to have them in Canada!

We ate at the Jordan House Tavern, shared the mussels (I think I made Brian a fan), and I had the mac and cheese. Really tasty home cooking. And I even loved that we could walk there (albeit on an occasionally busy road without sidewalks). It was still a nice walk, but I wouldn’t do it in the dark (at least, not without a flashlight!)

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Vacation’s End, Day 4

Our last day was supposed to be relaxed, but started a little stressful since the monorails were down. We waited a half hour for the boat which we thankfully didn’t have to fold u  our stroller and take kids out of when it was time to ride.

About an hour after our original plan to arrive, we got to Magic Kingdom. We all had some Starbucks to recover, and then we headed into Adventureland to meet Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates.



Then, Brian and grandparents took Jameson up to visit the Swiss Family tree house (there were a lot of stairs, so Coraline, Tyler and I hung out waiting).


Then we rode the magic carpet ride, which is just like the Dumbo ride and Dino ride from Animal Kingdom but still fun!

Jameson continued to insist on riding the “helecoaster” ride which was the rollercoaster from the day prior, but Brian and I had to ride Splash Mountain first. Have I mentioned Brian had never been to Disney before? We definitely couldn’t leave without riding that classic ride. After we rode it and Jameson watched with Uncle Tyler, Jameson bravely told us he wanted to ride it with us, and that our hair was all wet! I was so excited that we got to ride in front.




Uncle Tyler and Meemaw and Grandpa went to visit his apartment then while we went into fast pass the Barnstormer and ride the carousel one last time and have lunch at Pinocchio Haus, known for their flat breads.


We rode Barnstormer twice, one each with Jameson, before heading back to the room aka “house” as Jameson called it and swam in all three water areas: the Splash pad, beach pool, and all day swim and fountain pool. Coraline just loved it, smiling and occasionally laughing while splashing the water and kicking feet. Jameson even braved an underwater dip, just once. He was so cold! The day was overcast in the 80s but not sweltering like the day before, so we didn’t spend much time in the pull.


Loves water

Water slide

The rest of the gang arrived for some last minute shopping before dinner at Crystal Palace back in Magic Kingdom, and we got to meet Piglet, Eeyore, and Pooh and Tigger again.








A great finale! We even got a photo in front of the castle, despite a very squirmy tired Jameson. The sky was just beautiful. If you catch the photo with the guy in the cape in it, that is because Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween was going on. We didn’t participate (too young for our tired kiddos) but it looked fun!




Brian and I went to the Epcot food and wine festival for a couple hours after bedtime which was wonderful despite the brief rain shower. Meemaw and Grandpa watched some sleeping children and Uncle Tyler dropped us around back at one of the hotels, which was great so we could bypass waiting for monorails. It was so fun to be able to spend some time together alone! Within 15 minutes, we each had a little drink sampler in hand, and we walked away after our 2 hours there thinking that we definitely would need to return.

Date night

It was such a great vacation, and I think that we could’ve spent more time there and not been too overwhelmed actually. Everyone did wonderful.

The return flight home wasn’t too bad. Jameson got a little Disney airplane as a surprise after we boarded which he liked, and watched movies on the iPad again. This time he sat in the center, because we were in the very back of the plane and there was no window anyway. Coraline fell asleep for about half the trip which was great, but I was feeling a little claustrophobic this time. We were relieved to return home, and even though we would’ve had fun with more days in Disney, we were happy to have all day Sunday to recover (and do laundry).

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Epcot, Day 3

Thursday we hoped to sleep in a bit since breakfast wasn’t until 8:15 right in our hotel, but Coraline and then Jameson both woke at 6:30. Oh well! We were so thankful Coraline actually slept through the night with minimal pats on the back.





We had a buffet style character breakfast at 1900 Park Fare and for to meet Pooh, Tigger, May Poppins,Alice and the Mad Hatter. Jameson was definitely not sure what to make of the ladies who could speak to him and concerned about the Mad Hatter who was hilarious.





We headed out then to Epcot where it proceeded to downpour when we arrived, so we stopped first in Spaceship Earth the ride in the big Epcot ball.

Jameson observed but wasn’t thrilled about anything in particular on it but the video they release to you at the end is pretty funny. By the time it was over, it was sunny out and we got some Starbucks and headed to The Land and Sea buildings. Jameson enjoyed our boat rides and the Nemo ride. He told us the fish swimming with the manatee were baby fish and he was the big fish (a mellow, apparently shy manatee)


Coraline screamed through the Nemo ride, unusual for her, because she was exhausted, and then slept through the rest of our visit to the sea. She’s a heavy baby to carry around for extended periods like that! We then did the Imagination ride and happened to catch Chip and Dale with minimal line which was exciting since they were not part of the characters we were expecting to see.



Chipmunk cheeks!



We had lunch at the quick service in Living with the Land and then used our fast passes to ride Soarin’ while Meemaw, grandpa and Tyler saw Duffy, Mickey Mouses teddy bear character. Jameson didn’t smile for his picture with Duffy, but the little Duffy teddy bear Meemaw bought him quickly became a hit and went through quite an adventure on his first day with us.

Jameson and Coraline were beat and Coraline slept for a couple hours in the stroller after lunch like that; it had become the most hot and humid day for us yet.


While Meemaw and Grandpa rode Soarin’ in turn, Brian and I took the tired kids to World Showcase and Brian got to have some beers during the soft launch of the Food and Wine festival (which officially started the following day). Jameson started falling asleep a bit with the fan in his hand but perked up with some lemonade that caused a big accident later that day. After meeting up with everyone, we rounded World Showcase and woke Coraline up to eat before doing some quick shopping before dinner sans kids, just Meemaw and I, while the boys and Coraline rode the Mexico boat ride, which Coraline loved.




We ate at the Biergarten which was phenomenal. Coralne was a champ eating puffs for most of dinner. The boys got pints of beer which were huge, and I enjoyed a Dr looosin Riesling which was excellent. Everything from food to entertainment was wonderful here. Duffy had at this point an incident with milk and urine from the prior accident, poor thing.




We ended our evening at Test Track but on our way there lost Duffy. Luckily we “found” him again and at least he was clean this time. We managed to hold on to this one and the bonus Meemaw bought just in case. Coraline was exhausted and crying when we came out after dark but fell sleep for the entire ride back which was wonderful.

The days, while exhausting, were so much fun. We couldn’t believe the next day was our last for this trip!

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Magic-al Kingdom, Day 2


Wednesday, we started our day at the Polynesian Resort eating at O’Hana for a family style character breakfast with Lilo, Stitch, Pluto and Mickey.


Coraline was all ready to go in her Minnie Mouse outfit I had been saving for the occasion! She did much better that night, needing only a little back patting for settling. She seemed to have broken through her tooth thankfully!



Jameson wasn’t sure about Stitch in particular (he hasn’t seen the movie), but he loved seeing Mickey again and getting to meet Pluto the doggy.



The rain held off again even after a foreboding forecast again and we enjoyed the cooler weather and clouds in Fantasyland all morning. We rode all the rides on my list, beginning with walking through the castle to the merry-go-round.



Jameson came off that ride running to Brian and Uncle Tyler yelling “I rode on a horse!”. We ended up riding that one a couple times.

Carousel at Disney


Since everyone was doing so well, after lunch at Be Our Guest (where we were guinea pigs for a new reservation system during the lunch hours), we decided to stay in the park instead of going back to the hotel for a break.


Coraline got the hang of napping on the go, loving walking with me holding her against my chest and even passed out in the stroller for a while. I exclusively nursed her all week with just a little bit of solid food (we weren’t good about feeding her proper dinners but that’s okay), which was a great experience. She was very good nursing and really enjoyed playing and eating puffs during her times in the high chairs.


Other favorite rides included the Barnstormer Coaster (he sat in front with dad!) and the Speedway Cars all of which he rode twice. We used fast pass for Buzz Lightyear in Tomorrowland, Peter Pan, and the Barnstormer.

Coraline loved watching all the kids rides like Under the sea and Monsters Inc Laugh Floor (I think she even giggled). She was pretty out of it during the Philharmagic show but Jameson really paid attention and commented that Donald Duck fell at the end.


Exhausted Jameson wanted to ride the cars again!


We saw the big Celebrate a Dream Come True parade in the afternoon and the tail end of the Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! Street Party parade as well. We had ice cream during the big parade, though Jameson was exhausted by then and pretty antsy. It was Pirates Week so Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates came by in his float along with Captain Hook, his crew and more pirates!







Coraline just loved her foam fan, watching and trying to touch it.



Surprisingly, Jameson did well at dinner contained in a high chair, and even Coraline, having a good number of naps, did well. It was our calmest meal yet at Tony’s (the Lady and the Tramp restaurant right on Main Street).

Grandpa had to work and was a little bummed he didn’t get to hang out with us all day but he made it for dinner.

Jameson, Meemaw and daddy took the boat back to the hotel, and I stayed back to ride the monorail with Coraline so I could get some photos of them leaving and some great shots of our hotel, the Grand Floridian.



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Meeting Mickey Mouse, Day 1

We started our very first family vacation by sending Jameson away to Aunt Melissa’s overnight so we could pack the days before; it took us all day (literally) and I’m so glad we were able to do that.

The final packing and getting ready in the morning was also stressful, right up until we were in the car… Actually, right up until the plane landed in Orlando. Jameson did wonderful on the plane. He wanted his headphones on as “earmuffs” like he wears to protect him from loud noises most frequently on the lawn mower with daddy. He also wanted to hold daddy’s hand for about an hour after take off. He wasn’t completely frightened, but certainly not relaxed either. He LOVED watching the Lion King on my iPad.

Champion flyer held daddy's hand at take off and landing! First flight

Coraline had a restless sleep the night before we were supposed to leave, which we speculated due to teething or gas, which didn’t bode well for our trip. Nothing better than a screaming baby in a hotel room all together, or a plane even just for two hours! We were pretty concerned about how the trip was going to go right up to and through the first full day there.

Coraline was a bit more trouble in the plane than Jameson; we were thankful that another passenger moved so we could all sit together so occasionally I could give her to daddy if I needed to get something. She didn’t want to sleep at all. She didn’t cry the entire time or even more than five minutes at a time, but she was restless and cried on and off the entire 2 hour flight.

We made sure to feed both Jameson and Coraline food for take off and landing to get that swallowing motion and protect their ears, which thankfully worked fine. Coraline finally passed out LITERALLY as we were landing, puff crumbs on her face and all.

Passed out with puffs on her face literally as we were landing. First plane ride

We were so worried about the rain then the following day because when we arrived Monday evening, not only was it pouring rain, but the forecast had changed and was now showing rain all day Tuesday and Wednesday too! I was swallowing my disappointment and trying to remember that Jameson wouldn’t care a bit, even if it would make the while trip more difficult and less fun for the adults.



As it turns out, Tuesday was a great day with very little rain. We were so excited to have Uncle Tyler there as “tour guide” and Meemaw and Grandpa as an extra set of hands.

After a rough start with Coraline who had a pretty difficult night, we started my itinerary at Kilimanjaro Safari in Animal Kingdom, and the light almost drizzle and (relatively) cooler weather made it perfect for active animals.





We saw rhinoceros right up next to our truck, and a baby giraffe moved toward us through the tall grass as I imagine would occur in the wild. Jameson was thrilled the truck went through some shallow standing water like a pond.




Coraline even fell asleep in Meemaw’s arms holding her tight like a swaddle though we were jostled and bounced around in the truck.


We did the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail nearby afterwards to see a few more animals close up.



Then headed to breakfast with Jameson’s first character experience! He was tired from getting up with Coraline around 6, but was great meeting the characters. He met Daffy first, then Donald and Mickey. I thought he might be afraid, but he quickly got over fear and was just a little shy but happy to give hugs to a couple of the characters.



Mickey was great with Coraline, coming over to give her some extra attention and pose. We got to see Daffy then again, and he even gave her a hug on his own! Last we saw Goofy just before leaving our table to move on to see a show.




Coraline finally fell asleep in her stroller and my parents wheeled off with her for a bit so Jameson, Brian and I could see the Festival of the Lion King, and then we even got to leave Jameson behind and ride Everest. It was great to be able to ride an adult ride with Brian! I screamed like a little girl.

After some time playing in the playground at the Boneyard while Brian and I rode Everest, we went to see Nemo the Musical, which Coraline and Jameson both were fascinated with. Jameson exclaimed over the shark he saw later. Coraline watched the entire show, enjoying the beautiful colors and music.


We headed back into Dino Land and Jameson got to ride the Triceratops Spin then with myself, Meemaw, and Uncle Tyler which was cute.

Disney ride with Meemaw!


Then Jameson finally got to relax (however a toddler actually relaxes) with some frozen lemonade while Coraline napped and Brian and I rode a couple more adult rides including Primeval Whirl and Dinosaur.

The day was perfect, even with the humidity since the sun mostly stayed behind the clouds. We ate dinner at Kona Cafe in the Polynesian Resort which was pretty rough after a long day with exhausted children, though the food was great. We had a wonderful service experience there when Grandpa’s food was delayed. Meemaw took Coraline out to walk during dinner but she was pretty beside herself.

We were concerned that the entire trip was going to be rough on Coraline, but thankfully she settled pretty quickly after her second tooth broke through the following day. Magic Kingdom here we come!

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Final Day: Big Basin & Santa Cruz, Day 5

We debated about stopping at one final winery in the morning before leaving for Big Basin, but since the drive was so long (2-1/2 hours), we opted not to. Instead, we had a final omelet breakfast, spent an hour packing our “souvenirs” (yes, an hour, which you will see why at the end!), and then were on our way.

Why Big Basin? I did quite a bit of research on the redwood forests nearby; and while I really did want to go further inland to see the true giants, we didn’t have the time. Big Basin was my compromise to seeing more of the trees without taking too much time out of the trip.

The drive to Big Basin was a heart pounding affair along raised highways and heavy traffic back around San Francisco, followed up by the windiest, hilliest, most nauseating mountain road I have ever been on.

Was it worth it?

Well, the trees were bigger than Muir Woods. They were a touch less picturesque (though that could also be from the time of day), but they were obviously older and in more of a traditional wooded park.

They were also much wider than Muir. I have always wanted to hug one of these trees.

We did the Redwood Loop Walk, an educational short walk by the main park entrance.

With no further plans for our final day, we decided to head into Santa Cruz so I could see and walk in the Pacific Ocean. Luckily, like our journey to Muir Woods, the way out was less nauseating than the way in.

We stopped at Parish Publick House for lunch (thanks to another successful Yelp search), where I had the best Shepherds Pie I have ever had outside of Ireland (and maybe including). Brian had the Irish Dip, a special sandwich like a French dip with an Irish cheese and Jameson dipping sauce.

They had an extensive beer list, and Brian was excited to try Deschutes Hop Henge and Black Butte, both of which he enjoyed. For myself, I enjoyed the casual atmosphere, pool playing in the back, and the simple wildflowers placed in Lagunitas mason jar glasses on the tables. The rustic flooring was charming.

Santa Cruz was beautiful on the nearly cloudless day. We walked down the pier though and the wind made it pretty chilly. The pier is long, and midway through, there is a staircase down a level, and there are sea lions, basking in the sunlight! I had to take a video as another sea lion swam up and greeted the others.


At the very end of the pier, I looked out at the ocean and then straight down, and I saw this:

More sea lions, lying across a single plank of wood all along the end.

We walked back and walked along the sand up to the amusement park along the boardwalk.

(Proof I was really there)

We didn’t ride any rides, though it was a crowded and happy amusement park; I did get some ice cream though.

The sun was starting to go down, so we drove up to the lighthouse for a final sightsee before making our way to the airport and home.

I was pleasantly surprised to capture some surfers, hopping over the fencing for us tourists, ignoring or maybe just taking to heart the warnings about being cautious, as this place has seen many surfer’s deaths.

Then it was time to turn our backs to Santa Cruz and toward the airport.We did one final stop when we got gas. We didn’t get out of the car, but I had fun seeing the google maps “placemarker” and their street sign.

We were taking the red eye out of San Francisco, so we had plenty of time to eat dinner and have another Buena Vista Irish Coffee before our flight.

We arrived home early Tuesday morning, and I worked from home that day, unfortunately. Meanwhile, Brian unpacked our souvenirs.

All of that made it home successfully on the airplane, no breakage. 6 mason jars, 6 wine glasses, and if I’m counting correctly that is 7 bottles of beer and 9 bottles of wine (one of which had been opened and re-corked without spilling).

Brian was the master of that packing, and the key was packing a suitcase within a suitcase on the way there, surrounded by bubble wrap. Glasses were carried on, alcohol was checked in. The handheld weight meter that Brian’s parents loaned us was a help too. We hit the exact limit on both checked bags.

Mastermind, I tell you.

And there you have it, the end of our 5 day long trip that felt more like 7 or 8 and somehow left us feeling rejuvenated despite the exhausting walking and travel. Thanks, California, it was fun!


P.S. If you were wondering in all this how many times we called to check on Jameson, the answer is really just once. And we were told he was singing “ee ii ee ii oh”, seeing family at a bridal shower, and keeping his grandparents busy. If it wouldn’t get me in trouble, I would say that I didn’t miss him much at all, simply because I was confident that he was having a blast without us.

Though I also know that the last Monday and Tuesday at daycare, he asked for mommy and daddy a lot throughout that day. So maybe he missed us too.

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