Back to Africa!

Last year, we celebrated Thanksgiving in Roatan, Honduras swimming with dolphins and drinking strawberry margaritas. This year we plan to trade the turkey dinner for sundowners in the Kenyan bush with elephants, lions, and hyenas.

Russ lobbied hard for Iceland or the Corn Islands in Nicaragua and he almost won the marketing war by telling Finnegan and Declan that they would need a plethora of shots for a trip to Kenya. After I straightened out that “Fox News”- style-attack with the truth, the boys were still game for a safari. They do need a vaccine for yellow fever before we leave, but they were both willing to brave the needle in exchange for the chance to see a cheetah (Finnegan) and a warthog (Declan). Russ may be winning the tomato wars in our garden, but I won the vacation battle. Victory is sweet.

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Since Russ and I went to South Africa for our honeymoon, we were interested in seeing a different part of Africa on this trip. Our highest priorities were finding camps that would allow both boys to go out on the games drives and unique cultural experiences. We contacted Hippo Creek Safaris and they recommended either Kenya or Tanzania based on our interests and budget. Since the airfare to Nairobi was MUCH cheaper than the airfare to Kilimanjaro, the decision was fairly easy. November is an off-season month in Kenya and the rates for the camps and lodges are 40% lower than the peak season, which makes it a great time to travel.

We haven’t finalized our itinerary yet, but we know it will include a stay in two different safari camps – one in the Maasai Mara and another in a different part of the country, possibly the Lewa Conservancy. We will most likely stay at Elephant Pepper Camp in the Mara and their tents are exactly how I picture an African safari. Now I just need Finnegan to stop watching shows on National Geographic about ‘Africa’s Most Deadly Animals’ or ‘How I Survived a Lion Attack’ so I don’t start second guessing this whole trip.

elephant pepper camp

Many of the safari camps in Kenya are near Maasai or Samburu villages so the cultural experiences are very accessible and the safari guides are generally from these groups. During the game drives we will be able to learn more about the wildlife as well as their traditional customs and lifestyle. I’m hoping Finnegan and Declan will also have an opportunity to meet Maasai kids.

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My bucket list includes a stay at Giraffe Manor so I’m trying to squeeze in a one night stay. It’s outrageously expensive, but the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. What do you think – is it worth the splurge?

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Photo Credit: Giraffe Manor website

 

Celebrating Two Birthdays – Russ’ and Our Blog

Today marks the annual celebration of Russ’ birth as well as the first anniversary of our blog.  Sometimes it still feels a little strange to share so much information about our lives on the internet, but overall it has been a lot of fun to document our adventures. Since we don’t keep a journal, or scrapbook, or even take videos of the kids (until very recently), I’m hoping Finnegan and Declan will appreciate reading these stories someday about what they were like as young hellions boys.

Here is a summary of our first year of blogging by the numbers. They are very small numbers since we don’t have a lot of readers – YET, but we appreciate every follower and page view that we’ve had so far.  If you haven’t liked our Facebook page or signed up email updates, we would be extremely grateful if you did!

Total Views: 8,057

Highest Number of Views in a Single Day: 124

Views by Country (the details are hard to read, but you get the idea.  It’s amazing how people from all over the world can land on your blog):

Blog Views by Country_04Feb2014

Most Popular Posts:

  1. Krabi Trip Review
  2. Jen’s Bucket List (it’s not a competition, but it is a fact that my bucket list is way more popular than Russ’.)
  3. Trip Review: Banff & Jasper National Parks
  4. Faster than Usain Bolt
  5. In the Land of Giants: Redwoods Trip Review

Least Popular Posts:

  1. National Aquarium: Baltimore, MD (this post has only received four views and it was written by Russ.  He’s a much better writer than me so you should check it out.)
  2. Where the Wild Things Are: Sanibel Island, Florida (this is such a great destination with kids)
  3. Hotel Alternative: Family Friendly Farm Stays (I was just thinking about this post yesterday and the fact that I need to book a long weekend in Upstate NY at the Farm Sanctuary Bed & Breakfast near Watkins Glen)
  4. Extending the Unofficial End of Summer (there is not a lot of content in this post so I understand why it wasn’t very popular)
  5. Stockholm Sweden, Venice of the North

 

We hope that you enjoy reading our posts as much as we enjoy writing them, and will continue to follow our adventures in 2014.

And finally a birthday shout out to Russ who is going to be spending the weekend prepping for a trial while the rest of us are soaking up the sun in Turks & Caicos.  At least he will be able to listen to the new Bruce album while he shovels out our driveway if we really do get 30 inches of snow this weekend.  Happy birthday honey and thanks for putting up with us!

Russ in Princeton

Sharing Our Love of Travel (& a Giveaway!)

Traveling with kids can be challenging at times.  Keeping them entertained on long flights, dealing with jet lag when you’re exhausted, or trying to explain to your child why he can’t have his customary cup of warm milk before bed when you’re staying in the middle of a rainforest can add stress to any trip.

So with all of these challenges, a natural question might be, “Why travel with your kids when they are so young and won’t remember the trip anyway?”  For us, the answer is simple.  We think travel will make them better humans.  Even at the ages of 2 and 4, Declan and Finnegan are gaining an appreciation for other cultures, languages, food, and geography.  They are learning how much they have in common with kids all over the world.  They are also learning to embrace – instead of fear – things that are different.  Their favorite food is sushi, they know people speak Spanish in Honduras, and they have a genuine interest in looking at maps and talking about what different countries are like.  The conversation always ends with the same question, “Can we go there someday?”

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Travel also helps us be better parents.  It’s a chance for us to completely disconnect and enjoy our boys without the day-to-day stress of balancing work, daycare, activities, and house work.  It refreshes us and awakens our inner child by offering new experiences or sensing the wonder and amazement through the eyes of our kids all over again.  We can’t imagine our lives being as rich and full without the opportunity to travel.  We look forward to creating many more memories with our kids as we continue to explore this amazing world.  Our love of traveling runs deep.

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This post was brought to you by Coupons.com, but all opinions are our own.  Check out the Valentine’s Day deals on Coupons.com and enter the giveaway by February 14th for a chance to win a dream vacation!  Read my fellow travel bloggers’ stories on how they share their love of travel and enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below.  One of our readers will win a $100 Amazon gift card sponsored by Coupons.com.

A Rafflecopter Giveaway

Other ‘Sharing the Love of Travel’ Posts:

Jetlagged Julia

Chasing the Donkey

Angela Travels

Wanderlustin’

A Southern Gypsy

Besudesu Abroad

Gallop Around the Globe

Jaclyn’s Jaunts

Our First Blog Award – The Liebster!

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Somehow another month has slipped away since our last blog post, but we have a lot to catch up on and I was happy to have the kick in the pants that I needed to get back on the blogging wagon.  After a whirlwind week spent in Europe for work and several shorter trips recently, I was excited to find that we were nominated by Life Unmapped for a  Liebster Award!  The Liebster is an award given to bloggers by bloggers. It is handed out to up-and-coming bloggers with 200 followers or fewer in order to bring attention to well deserving blogs that fly under the radar.  Thank you Life Unmapped for recognizing us!

Here are the rules for Liebster Nominations.

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link back up to his/her blog.
  2. Answer the 10 questions which are given to you by the nominator.
  3. Nominate other bloggers for the award who have less than 200 followers.
  4. Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer
  5. Let the nominees know that they have been nominated by going to their blog and notifying them.

Here are the questions given to us and our responses.

1). Where is the last place you traveled?

Jen: Belgium, Germany, and Netherlands last week for work

Russ: Sanibel Island, Florida

2). What is your earliest travel memory?

Jen: going to NYC with my family for the Statue of Liberty’s 100th year anniversary.  I won the trip by entering my mom’s name into a raffle at a restaurant during a rare dinner out.  Thank you Mr. Steak!

Russ: visiting West Virginia as a kid and going on a paddle boat ride with my dad and brother.  I was sitting on my dad’s lap and was bounced into the water as my dad was pedaling.  Thankfully he had quick reflexes and pulled me out quickly.

3). Do you prefer to travel with others or on your own?

Jen: definitely with others.  I spent a day in Stockholm by myself recently and I was happy to have the chance to see such a beautiful city, but I spent a lot of time wishing my entire family was there with me.

Russ: I’ve never actually traveled by myself so I’m also in the group camp.

4). What is your favorite food or drink you’ve found while traveling?

Jen: mango sticky rice in Thailand.

Russ: sushi at the fish market in Sydney

5). If you could only complete one item on your bucket list, what would it be?

Jen: a trip to the Galapagos with National Geographic.

Russ: seeing the Northern lights.

6). Do you have a favorite travel destination?

Jen: any place that I’ve never visited before!  Favorites trips so far include South Africa, Thailand, and Belize.

Russ:  Ireland.  I have family there so I feel a strong connection with the country.

7). What is your preferred method of travel (airplane, train, bus, car…)?

Jen: depends on the distance.  With kids, I don’t appreciate car travel as much I used to, but they are starting to reach an age (2 & 4) in which they can be entertained with movies on a long car ride.

Russ: train

8). What is the one thing you never leave home without?

Jen: this is a tough one.  I’m not really too attached to anything.  With two young kids in tow, I guess the one thing we try not to leave home without is snacks.  They can go from full to starving in a matter of seconds sometimes!

Russ: a good book to read

 9). What is your favorite travel film or book?

Jen: Travels with Charley (hence the name of our blog)

Russ: On the Road

 10). What are your three favorite blogs?

Jen: Beers & Beans (for their travel photography), Camels & Chocolate (travel writing), and I Suwanee (decorating & fashion blog)

Russ: I don’t read any blogs on a regular basis, but my favorite website is Let’s Run (http://www.letsrun.com).

And here are my nominees for the Liebster Award.  I apologize if any of you have more than 200 followers, but not everyone lists the number of followers on their home page!  We still think you all deserve the award and would love to hear your responses.

The Travel Clan

Greenley Coffee Break

Ty and Sloane

And here are their questions:

  1. Where was your first overseas vacation?
  2. What is the strangest thing you have eaten while traveling?
  3. Do you collect souvenirs? If so, what is it that you always pick up?
  4. What is your favorite place that you have visited?
  5. If you won trip (all-expenses paid), where would you go?
  6. What is your next planned trip?
  7. If you could sit next to one person on a plane, who would it be (dead or alive)?
  8. What is your dream job?
  9. What is your favorite book?
  10. What are your three favorite blogs?

Perfection at Pax House (Dingle, Ireland)

We had our best B&B experience ever in Dingle – so much so that it deserves its own post.  From the rooms and the view, to the incredible breakfasts and friendliness of the other guests, everything at Pax House exceeded our expectations.  John, the owner of the B&B, and his staff – especially Margaret – truly seemed to love what they do and made everyone feel at home.

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We stayed in a family room that included a patio and sliding glass doors with beautiful views of Dingle Bay.  There was a king-size bed and a single bed in the room and an enormous bathroom.  I wish I took pictures of our room because the house must have been renovated since many of the pictures on their website were taken.  The focus of this picture was obviously the chickens (hi, chickens!), but you can see the patio and some of the view:

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Okay, so a lot of B&B’s have beautiful rooms in a beautiful location – so what really made our visit to Pax House so special?  Two things:

1.)    Margaret & the Chickens

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In addition to Finnegan & Declan, there were two other boys staying in the B&B. Margaret told the boys if they were good for breakfast, she had a special surprise for them.  While we were eating, she prepared four buckets with scraps to feed the chickens and told the boys that the chickens at Pax House lay extra special eggs and they had a magic oven in the kitchen to cook these eggs.

First, Margaret had the boys feed the chickens:

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Then each boy retrieved their special egg from the hen house.  Finnegan could hardly contain his excitement at this point and I was worried his egg was not going to make it into the magic oven, but he held it together.

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Margaret brought all the boys inside, collected their eggs, and went into the kitchen to cook the eggs in the magic oven.  At this point, many of the other guests were intrigued and hung around to watch the reaction of the kids as well.  Margaret kept popping her head out of the kitchen to let them know that the eggs were almost ready.  After a few minutes, she emerged with a tray of eggs wrapped in paper towels and twine.

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And inside to the boys’ delight were chocolate Cadbury eggs!

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Finnegan said he was going to save his magic egg forever, but Declan had to eat his immediately.

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Forever for Finnegan really meant about an hour, which is still pretty good self-control for a chocolate-loving, not quite four year old little boy.

It was such a great way to start the morning each day!

2.)    Special Touches

As if Margaret and the magic eggs were not enough in the ‘special touches’ category, Pax House offers so many other things to take your stay from great to extraordinary.  For example, each night when we returned to our room after dinner, there was a teddy bear waiting on the bed for the boys with a warmed up lavender pouch inside.

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They also had rubber ducks for the boys to play with in the bathtub and lots of special touches for the grown-ups as well.  You could order pre-dinner drinks and really great appetizers to enjoy on the balcony or your own patio, which isn’t typical for a lot of B&B’s.  John was happy to share his insights on things to do in the area and even make helpful suggestions for other parts of your Ireland itinerary.  John and his staff make it a point to learn everyone’s name so you really feel like you are part of their family.

The only slight downside to this B&B if you are staying with young kids is the 1km walk into town (without sidewalks for part of the way).  It was well worth this minor inconvenience to stay at Pax House – I would gladly make that trade again if we ever find ourselves back in Dingle (and I hope we do).

Seven Wonders of the New World

I mentioned yesterday that Petra was one of the Seven Wonders of the New World, but I wasn’t sure how the list was created or what the other six wonders included.  Since Wikipedia is always right, I did some research and learned that the list was actually assembled through a highly unscientific polling process.  However, any ‘top’ whatever list always includes a high degree of judgment so I’m not really sure how you could come up with a scientific list.

Here are the other six wonders of the new world and I’m disappointed to say that I’ve only been to one of them.  Lots more traveling to do!

1.)    Machu Picchu (Peru) – this is the one wonder that we have actually visited and I definitely agree with its inclusion on the list.  We went on a two-week trip to Peru in 2006 and loved the day that we spent at Machu Picchu (although my dad and Russ were having some GI issues so the train ride home was a rough experience for them).  In addition, to being a marvel of Incan architecture and engineering, the location in the mountains adds to the wonder and amazement.  The train ride to the site is a marvel of its own.

Machu Picchu_Russ 2006 Machu Picchu_2006

2.)    Taj Mahal (India)

Taj_Mahal_in_March_2004

3.)    Chichen Itza (Mexico) – located not too far from Cancun, I could have visited this site during a college spring break.  Part of our group did make the one hour side trip, but my priorities may have been questionable since I was not one of them.  I have since visited many other Mayan sites in Belize and Guatemala so this wonder is not as high on my list of places to see as some of the others.

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4.)    Christ the Redeemer (Brazil)

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5.)    Colosseum (Italy) – we have done surprising little travel in Europe, which we’re hoping to change over the next few years.  Italy and Spain are high on our list so I think this should be one of the easier places to cross off in the near future.

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6.)    Great Wall of China – I recently moved into a new role at work, which will likely require some travel to China.  If that opportunity arises, I’m hoping Russ and the boys will be able to join me at the end of one of the trips for some extra sightseeing.

Great_Wall_of_China_July_2006

How many of these ‘seven wonders’ have you visited?  What would be your first choice of the next one (or first one) to visit?

To Buy or Not to Buy: Trip Insurance

Since having kids not much has changed in terms of how or where we travel.  As mentioned previously, our itineraries have gotten a little less ambitious to allow time for naps and spontaneity.  However, one thing that has changed is buying trip insurance.  We never even considered purchasing trip insurance B.K. (before kids), but after canceling our first two trips with Finnegan and eating the cost of plane tickets to Florida and paying substantial change fees for a trip to Copenhagen, we’ve grown wiser.

The bottom line is that kids tend to get sick more often than adults – especially if they are in daycare or school – and no one wants to travel with a sick kid.  Of course, now that we started buying trip insurance, we haven’t actually had to use it yet.  Murphy’s Law – that’s a good enough reason in my mind to pay the small premium.

We haven’t done a lot of comparison shopping for insurance, but I’ve seen a few articles covering this topic recently.  Up to this point, we have always purchased our insurance directly from the airline website at the same time we bought our tickets.  It turns out this is probably not the smartest decision because this type of insurance typically has more restrictions compared to policies that are purchased directly through an insurance company.

A NY Times article from January and a recent blog post by Nomadic Matt both recommended using World Nomads to find a plan that’s best for you.  I like that you can pick and choose what coverage you buy.  Our family cares most about Trip Cancellation coverage since we have to buy three tickets (soon to be four) anytime we travel and the change fee for an international trip on United Airlines is $250/ticket and $150/ticket for a domestic flight.  We also tend to book a lot of our hotels through discount websites, which means we pre-pay for our stays a lot of times.  Given those factors, it’s an easy decision for our family to buy trip cancellation insurance.  Especially when this can happen to one my kids just by trying to walk past a staircase.

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Still unsure whether trip insurance makes sense for you?  Here is another article from Outside magazine with some additional thoughts on the subject.

Kerguelen Islands

Today I’d like to suggest a must-visit destination.  Imagine a French island paradise, undiscovered by the masses.  I’m not talking about any place in the French Rivera, but rather the Kerguelen Islands.  While most people have never heard of the place, after this blog post, it will soon be on the radar and included on every ‘up and coming’ travel destination list.

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Image Credit: Faivre Thierry

A small archipelago located in the southern Indian Ocean, the Kerguelen Islands are the best kept-secret in exotic travel circles.   Known as the “Desolation Islands,” the Kerguelen Islands are a bit off the beaten path.  In fact, the closest civilization is over 2,000 miles away.  And, getting there is a bit tricky.  There is no airstrip on the islands, and the only way to get to there is by boat.   But that is part of their allure.  To get there you’ll have to catch a ride on a fishing boat leaving from Reunion, a small island located off the coast of Madagascar.  After departing Reunion it is a short six-day boat trip to the Kerguelen Islands.  It should be noted that the surrounding seas around the Kerguelen Islands are generally rough, so six days on the open Indian Ocean is not for the faint of heart.

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But once you get there, the windswept islands will win you over.  France claims the islands as a territory and there is certain je ne sais quoi about the place.  While the climate is described as raw and chilly, it is often above freezing.  The islands have no native population, but there is a year-round population of French scientists, researchers and other nerds who like to party.  While the islands are primarily a scientific center, there is also a satellite, and a French missile defense system and it is rumored that a Hard Rock Café or Sandals may spring up soon.  Accommodations are sparse so book early (or consider packing a tent).

waterfall by Faivre Thierry

Image Credit: Faivre Thierry

Heart-of-the-Kerguelen-Islands

If I come home to find my wife searching for ‘seasick prevention for kids’ or ‘recommended immunizations for Kerguelen Islands,’ I will know that she didn’t check the calendar.

Ash Wednesday in Jamaica

One of the things I enjoy doing while traveling is going to church, specifically to Roman Catholic mass.  How different peoples worship is a significant window into their culture.  What I find particularly interesting about Catholic mass is that although the structure of the mass is essentially the same all over the world, there are still noticeable differences depending on where you celebrate mass.   In the world there are differences in the architecture of the churches, the homilies given by the priests, and in the people attending mass.  In Ireland I was impressed by the efficiency of the mass because they had to conduct six masses in about four hours (and I was told all of the masses were packed).  In Grenada the church was completely open on both sides and you could see the ocean.      

One of my favorite churches was the Basilica Cathedral de Arequipa in Peru, which was beautiful (those Spanish Conquistador’s knew how to build churches as all of the churches in Peru were remarkable).  And even though the mass was entirely in Spanish, I knew what was being said because the mass is the same, notwithstanding the language.

arequipa_abr-may_2012_313 Arequipa

And since I am naming some of my favorite churches, I must mention Saint Patrick’s in Aurora, NY where Jen and I were married; sitting on Cayuga Lake, the longest of the Finger Lakes , it provided an extraordinary spot for a wedding.   

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Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, which is an important day in the Catholic faith.  I inquired with the staff if there was a Catholic church close by and was told there was one twenty minutes away in Savannah la Mar.  Without any more prompting the staff arranged for a driver to pick me up and drive me to the church so that I could attend Ash Wednesday services.  As promised, a driver picked me up at the appointed time and brought me to Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church.  The church was modest both outside and inside, but what won me over were the parishioners.  Being the only white parishioner I guess it was easy to tell I was not a member of the parish.  But that didn’t matter as I felt very welcome from the start when a deacon made sure to give me a hymnal when he saw I did not have one.  The priest was an American (getting station in Jamaica is not a bad gig) whom I thought was quite good and very much in touch with his parish.  What really impressed me though about this church was how well everyone sang!  In a lot of churches in the US, the singing is pretty bad and is not a large part of the mass.  Without any musical accompaniment, these people sang every song and refrain and did so with gusto.  Since this was a weekday mass I know it was toned down and there probably only twenty-five people at the mass.  I spied a piano and a drum set in the corner of the church, which I am sure are put to good use at a full Sunday mass and I imagine the singing is even more impressive. 

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