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

Next Up: Turks & Caicos

I am so done with winter this year.  Completely, utterly done.  I’m so over winter that I made a rash decision to book three plane tickets to Turks and Caicos for early February.  That’s right, only three plane tickets.  Since Russ started a new job recently, he hasn’t accrued any vacation time and while I love him dearly, I can’t wait until July for our first vacation of the year.  What made me go from waffling about this decision to hitting the purchase tickets button on the Delta website this morning was the upcoming forecast.  There are two nights next week with projected lows in the single digits.  You would think that growing up near Syracuse, NY would have made me hardy and impervious to the cold.  However, you would be wrong.  I feel like I’ve already dealt with a full lifetime worth of snow and cold and I wouldn’t be sad if I lived somewhere without winter.

So, I’m taking the boys and we’re heading to one of the most kid friendly beaches in the world – Grace Bay Beach (ranked the #3 beach in the world on this list from CNN) ).  It’s calm, shallow, and so clear that I should be able to convince Finnegan that it’s not possible for any sharks to sneak up on him.

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We haven’t booked our accommodation yet, but I might splurge for the easy option of staying at Beaches – an all-inclusive resort that caters to kids.  Once we step foot on the resort, I know we won’t leave, which is my only hesitation in booking.  I hate going to a new place and not really exploring it.  But I made the mistake of showing Finnegan and Declan the website for Beaches, and they are completely sold.

The hotel has a waterpark with a Pirate Ship and Lazy River.

pirate ship beaches

lazy river beaches

There are options to dine, sail, have tea, learn about science, go on a bird watching tour, and participate in a parade with Sesame Street characters, and the kids can even bake cookies with Cookie Monster.

sesame street parade beaches

elmo catamaran beaches

elmo beaches

There are six pools and two kiddie pools, including one with a kid’s only swim up bar!

beaches pool2

beaches pool

swim up bar

And they have Finnegan and Declan’s two favorite types of restaurants – sushi and hibachi.

hibachi beaches

soy beaches

I’m a little nervous about watching both of them in the ocean, but the beach looks too beautiful to pass up.

beaches beach

The boys are too excited to back out now and I think a hotel that’s designed to entertain kids might mean more time to relax (or at least breathe) for me.

What do you think?  Does it sound like a good plan to forego a more authentic island experience in exchange for a hotel that offers endless options to keep the kids entertained?

Our 13 Favorite Travel Memories of 2013

travel makes you richer

It’s hard to believe that 2013 has come to an end and a new year has begun.  We had some great travel experiences over the last year and thought it would be good to highlight some of our favorite moments, especially since we never did get around to making holiday cards this year.

Finnegan

1.)    Having our own pool in Jamaica so he could swim anytime

2.)    Catching frogs in Sanibel

3.)    Chasing lizards in Honduras

Declan

4.)    Without hesitation, Declan’s first answer was swimming with dolphins (blog post still to come)

5.)    Watching the sharks and crocodiles at the National Aquarium in Baltimore

Jen

6.)    Swimming with dolphins.  So much fun for kids and grown-ups alike.

7.)    Spending the day on Inisheer riding bikes, having delicious coffee, and watching the kids play on the beach

8.)    Reading an entire book on our trip to Honduras.  It’s the first time this has happened since Finnegan was born.  I read Little Bee and thought it was a great vacation read (although maybe not the most settling choice when traveling to a country with the highest murder rate in the world)

9.)    Watching Finnegan’s face light up when he caught a sea star swimming in the ocean in Sanibel

Russ

10.)  Finally convincing my 77 year old father to join us on our trip to Ireland where he visited his parents’ hometown and met his wonderful Irish cousins for the first time.

11.)  Getting a chance to go for a run with an old friend and college teammate Dr. Donal O’Sullivan, PhD, while visiting Denver.

12.)  Camping with Finnegan at the Blue Moon Acres Farm to Camp Out

13.)  Admiring the beauty and sheer magnitude of the Cliffs of Moher (and I would have said our day on Inisheer if Jennifer didn’t already list it as one of her highlights)

And there are so many other little moments that we will remember and cherish for a long time to come, like Declan referring to our cottage in Sanibel as our Cottage Cheese.

What were your favorite memories from 2013 – travel or otherwise?

Spiders, Scorpians, and Snakes, Oh My!

“I loved the night hike,” were the first words out of Finnegan’s mouth early one morning at Pico Bonito.  Before he said good morning and before I even knew that he was awake he was still talking about the previous night.  We spent our first day at Pico Bonito doing a lot of hiking (well a lot of hiking for a four year old and two year old) and exploring the extensive grounds and national park.

The Lodge is located at the edge of Pico Bonito National Park within a former plantation.  There are a lot of fruit trees surrounding the lodge and we were especially thankful for the orange trees, which the boys snacked on between meals.  They also ate their weight in rambutans, which look like sea urchins, after the driver introduced them to this sweet and addictive fruit.  I couldn’t peel them so Russ was stuck opening every single one and I think he will be happy if he doesn’t see another rambutan for a very long time.   

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On our first morning at Pico Bonito, we met our guide Joel for a two-hour introductory hike.  We hiked to two separate swimming holes that were calm enough for the boys to swim in, an observation tower that I was too afraid to climb, and the beginning of the trails into Pico Bonito National Park.  The trails were hilly and steep at times, but well maintained and safe enough for Finnegan to hike on his own.  Honduras was more mountainous than I had expected so the hiking was tough, especially carrying Declan in a backpack.  We hiked for two hours and saw many birds, including two different kinds of toucans, a baby boa constrictor and a walking stick insect.  

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Honduras

Finnegan was able to cover more ground than I expected, but tuckered out on the hike down from the second observation tower so Russ had to carry him most of the way down.  We finished sweaty with a pleasant burn in our legs and were ready to cool off in the pool.

The pool was too cold for me to actually swim, but the boys didn’t mind at all.  They enjoyed chasing lizards around the deck and playing on the steps of the pool.

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Despite all of the hiking and swimming, Finnegan wasn’t down with taking a nap so we decided to visit the butterfly farm and snake house that are short hike away from the main lodge.  Before leaving, we saw a very large tiger snake that crossed over the main walkway to the lodge.  It was over six feet long!  Here is his head peaking out of the bush where he went to hide.

Lodge at Pico Bonito

After dinner that night, we went on our third hike of the day with Joel.  It was a night hike that involved flashlights and lots of insects that had Finnegan giddy with excitement from start to finish.  It began to rain soon after we started the hike, but we soldiered on and were so happy that we did.  We saw some amazing wildlife and outlasted the rain, which eventually tapered off.  We saw a few red eyed tree frogs that seemed totally content in the rain, a large toad, a rabbit, sleeping lizards, an armadillo and an array of spiders. 

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The highlight for me was the net catching spider that spins a blue web or net, which it holds with several of its legs and waits for its prey to walk by.  The spider then closes the net very quickly to try and catch unsuspecting insects.  We saw him close the net a few times, but he came up empty handed.  This guy was my favorite jungle creature of the night. 

Honduras

Hands down the creepiest thing that we saw on our night hike was a cross between a scorpion and a spider.  It was like taking two of the most frightening creatures in the rainforest and mixing them together to make something even more horrifying.  There is definitely a horror film waiting to be made about this mutant.

Honduras Scorpian Spider

So what did we learn from our day in the rainforest?  If you want to have a great time and really impress a four-year old, all it takes is a walk through the jungle at night with a flashlight (and a professional guide with eagle eyes to point out all the wildlife surrounding you doesn’t hurt either).  Thank you Joel for the highlight of Finnegan’s stay at Pico Bonito!

Honduras, the next Costa Rica?

A few months ago Jennifer suggested traveling to Honduras over the week of Thanksgiving.  I was dubious.  My mother-in-law is an excellent cook and her Thanksgiving feasts are always good.  So traveling to Honduras would mean forgoing Thanksgiving.  But traveling outside the U.S. the week of Thanksgiving has its advantages, as most Americans prefer to spend time with family and do not  travel abroad.  In 2006 we flew to Australia on Black Friday and it was great.  San Francisco Airport was like a ghost town during our layover and on the plane to Sydney we had all the room we needed to stretch out and sleep as there were plenty of rows of empty seats.

Honduras did sound cool so I made Jennifer a deal: I would agree to go to Honduras (and give up Thanksgiving) if she would agree to wear a bikini I that bought for her.  She agreed and she booked very reasonable flights to Honduras.  (She since reneged and did not even pack the bikini).

Although booked two months before, the trip kind of snuck up on us as we have been very busy lately.  As a consequence, neither of us did much research prior to November (which is very rare for Jennifer who usually exhaustively researches most aspects of our trips long before we even book them).  But this time we did not book our accommodations until a few days before we left the US (the upside to this is that you can sometimes get a good deal by waiting).

I will admit I knew very little about Honduras before we began our trip.  In fact I don’t think I know anyone who has ever been to Honduras.  The day before our flight I happened to catch an NPR piece about the presidential election that was occurring the day after our arrival.  Featured prominently in the piece was the many problems in contemporary Honduras, including having the highest murder rate in the world, and significant gang activity and drug trafficking.  HIGHEST MURDER RATE IN THE WORLD?!  WTF?  The report went on to say that there were concerns that there could be rioting in the wake of the elections.  Awesome!

The next day we headed to the airport armed with this most disconcerting information.  While at the terminal waiting for our flight in Newark, I noticed that we were the only tourists headed to San Pedro Sula.  While the plane was full, everyone else on the flight seemed to either be from Honduras, returning home after visiting the U.S., or had family in Honduras whom they were visiting.  Upon seeing this I began to realize that Honduras is not yet a hot tourist destination.  But sometimes that is ok.  In 2005 we visited Belize, Honduras’ neighbor to the north.  Back then very few people were going to Belize, and things were cheap (a meal for two was $5 when we were there).  We had a great time in Belize and took pride in our adventurous spirit.  Now Belize is well-known and has received a lot of coverage for being an eco-tourist destination.  It was the same with Costa Rica thirty years ago, which we visited last year.

My hope when setting out to Honduras was to find the next Costa Rica or Belize.  Honduras has much to offer: great beaches, large swaths of protected rainforests, and it is fairly close to the U.S with direct flights out of Newark and other east coast cities.

Our first stop was at a rainforest lodge located in the northern part of Honduras near La Ceiba.  Upon landing in San Pedro Sula, I noticed the mountain ranges and lack of development.  We were met by our driver and soon departed for our three-hour van ride to the Pico Bonito lodge.  Compared to some places we have been the roads to the lodge were very good.  Three hours is a long trip, made longer with two kids who, by the middle of the ride, were very bored.  But we made it to Pico Bonito by late afternoon and our trip was finally beginning.  As soon as we pulled into the lodge, we forgot all about the NPR story, the murder rate and the elections.  We were ready to begin our adventure in the rainforest.

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