Madrid: Breakfast with the Locals

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Our first morning in Madrid, jet lagged and so very tired, we slept through the breakfast offered by our hotel. When we finally emerged from the bliss of sleep after a long day of traveling, we ventured out to find some food. Tucked away on a small side street several blocks from our hotel was a small cafe. We decided to give it a shot.

It was a Saturday morning, and customers were leisurely eating their food and reading the morning paper. I love how customers brought their dogs into the cafe! There was one woman who sat at a table by the window drinking her coffee and reading the paper the entire time we were there. Her little beagle was curled up contentedly at her feet. They made such a picturesque site with the morning light streaming in through the window!

It came time to order our food. My children were smart and went with the “classico”, which turned out to be toast with jam, a pretty safe choice. I was feeling a little adventurous, and decided to try the “espagnol”. I also tried to use what little Spanish I know to order orange juice as well. My husband amusedly smiled at my attempts. When I asked him what was so funny, I learned that in Spain juice is zumo, not jugo like in some other Spanish speaking countries. At least my orange juice came without any problems, so the waiter still understood me, even if I used the incorrect version of “juice”.

And then the “espagnol” came. This culinary concoction was toast with diced tomatoes and jamon on it. Jamon is a Spanish ham that is cured, or cooked with chemicals instead of with heat. I was optimistic. I like ham and tomatoes. It turns out however, that jamon on a jet lagged and slightly queasy stomach is not a really good idea. I bravely took about three bites before deciding that to continue to eat my “espagnol” was a very bad idea. I ended up eating a croissant; a buttery, flaky, and completely safe croissant. Indeed, from that morning on, a croissant became a staple in my breakfast for our entire trip.

So, my first experience with Spanish food wasn’t as successful as I would have liked. But the cafe was quaint. Everyone was energized for a day of site seeing. And that first foreign taste of Spain just made us more excited for the travel adventures to come.

Travel Theme: Trees

This week’s travel theme on Where’s My Backpack is all about trees in honor of Arbor Day. I grew up cold northern areas with lots of rainfall, and tall lush trees. Some areas were lowland deciduous forest. Some were filled with towering evergreens. Moving to a desert landscape was quite a shock. For one thing, you have to worry about irrigation. Irrigation? I’ve always lived in areas where the rain falls often enough you barely think about watering the grass.

DSC_0104 Now, I live not just in the desert, but in an area with citrus trees. Citrus trees are watered through an irrigation system where the area is flooded. It is almost magical to look out over a citrus grove and see a small lake where there were just pebbles before. Especially in the desert, where water is a symbol of wealth. When my husband and I first moved the desert, we noticed that every upscale place had fountains, as a symbol of their status and prosperity.

Also, the citrus trees have such interesting branches and shapes to them. A perfectly healthy tree might have a dark and gnarly branch reaching out from lush and green boughs. And in March, their fragrant blossoms fill the air for weeks with a delectable perfume. I love that day when I step outside and every breath holds invigorating scents.DSC_0108 On this particular day, not only was there irrigation, but rain as well. Hard downpours alternated with sprinkling drops, creating ripples on an otherwise serene reflective pool. I loved seeing two different sources of water interacting to create such a beautiful, peaceful picture.

DSC_0110Happy Arbor Day!

You might also enjoy Travel Theme: Freedom.

Toilet Training and Travel

DSC_0083 There are lots of situations that can be difficult and trying as a parent. My least favorite part of being a parent so far? Teaching our little ones to use the toilet, aka potty training. It is a relentless task requiring endless patience and perseverance. My days are planned around when I think my child will need to use the toilet, when they have already used the toilet, and most definitely around the time that they will do more than just pee. Constant vigilance is required, along with use of iPhone timers (most handy because it is portable and it’s not as easy to forget your phone when leaving the house) and a portable toilet that travels with you whenever you leave your house. And part of the frustration is, you never know how long it will be before your child decides that using the toilet, instead of a pull-up or underwear or the floor, is a better option after all! We are now on working with child number 3 on toilet training. And with summer looming on the horizon with travels a-plenty, I need this one to have reached some vital steps in her independent toilet use.

  1. She must want to use the toilet instead of a pull-up.
  2. She must be able to hold it until she actually is sitting on the toilet.
  3. She needs to be able to communicate to me when she needs to go, with enough time to find a toilet! That is definitely key.
  4. She cannot be afraid of using a variety of public bathrooms.
  5. She needs to be comfortable using a big toilet, instead of her little training toilet.

I’m totally fine with helping her pull her underwear up and down, especially if it needs to be done in a hurry. I’m totally fine with helping her wipe and wash hands. I am not okay with leaving a trail of little puddles as we travel, a sort of “we were here” sign. Believe me, I’ve experienced it before and don’t really want a repeat. The funny thing about toilet training is that even if you have done it before, it feels like the first time. Every child responds differently to a reward/punishment system. You have to figure out what will motivate your child to want to use the toilet. Our first daughter earned points for accomplishing different toileting tasks, along with points for staying clean and dry for a certain amount of time. Our second daughter hated cleaning up her messes. She was the easiest to train. She also much preferred the feeling of underwear to diapers, and was especially sensitive to feeling wet and dirty. Our third? Right now what seems to work is a verbal cue that “princesses always use the toilet”, with the additional bonus of a chocolate coin when she uses the toilet appropriately. She wants to be a princess, and something about the chocolate coins really works with her. We tried marshmallows and mini oreos, but they didn’t have the same effect. Right now, I need to be brave and plan mini outings with her only in underwear, so she can be ready when we are traveling about. With a baby in tow, I feel a bit chicken about taking this step. The more children you have with you, the more difficult it can be to respond quickly to a toilet emergency. However, if I don’t and she is not ready when we start our travels, she most likely will regress back to using pull-ups all the time, and then not caring about using the toilet at all. Coming back from a major regression can be more difficult than the initial training phase. With all that said, I like to think of toilet training as a multi-step process. Everyone has their own way of going about it. And there are lots of resources to help when you decide to take the plunge. This is what I personally have found to be helpful.

  1. Preparation. Before you even begin to set your child upon a toilet for the first time, it is helpful to give them an idea of what it is all about. Let them view you or older siblings using the toilet, with a verbal explanation of what is happening, before you ask them to do anything. I do like to say something like, “You are getting so big! Soon you will learn to use the toilet, too, just like so-and-so.” I incorporate stories about using the toilet into our reading time. The two books I use are “The Potty Book for Girls” and “My Big Girl Potty”. I find them useful to reference when actually beginning the training. I also like to set out little toilets in the bathrooms so that they are not such a surprise and mystery when it is time to actually use them.
  2. There are many different methods for the actual “potty training” process. My advice is to research different methods, and then pick one and stick with. Make your expectations clear from the beginning. Try to remain calm. Positive reinforcement is much more helpful to the process than negative repercussions. Breathe. Remember it is difficult for the little ones, and expect it to take much longer than you expect. I have heard tales of children who go from untrained to no accidents in a single day. They are like mythical stories about unicorns. I hope to see one someday. I hope you see one someday, too.
  3. Stay vigilant and keep going. Never assume that they are “done” needing your help, especially when traveling. We have a rule while traveling that everyone has to try the toilet when anyone needs to use it. It cuts down on the number of bathroom trips, and the number of emergency bathroom trips.

DSC_0074When we are actually traveling with a recently toilet trained child, I’ve discovered that having several items with you makes it less of a hassle. Preparation, if just for your sanity’s sake, is essential to enjoying your trip.

  1. Always have at least a change of underwear and a plastic bag.
  2. Use pull-ups at night, even if your child is a potty star. Especially when there is a major time difference, little bodies don’t adjust quickly to an opposite schedule.
  3. Be aware that if you are traveling to a different climate, this will affect the frequency of when they need to go. For example, if traveling from a cool and humid temperate climate to a hot, dry desert, they will need the toilet less frequently.
  4. My new go to piece of traveling equipment, waterproof underwear. Even when my child is doing a great job of using the toilet when they need to, the waterproof underwear lessens my stress level. Sure, they might have an accident and have wet underwear, but they won’t be leaving a puddle behind at the Natural History Museum.

What tips do you have for traveling with a toilet training toddler? Good luck everyone (including me)! Happy summer traveling!

The Best Jungle Cruise

Disneyland Hong Kong Castle

Disneyland Hong Kong Castle

After our recent trip to Disneyworld, I’ve been thinking about all our trips to Disney Parks. I fondly remember our trip to Disneyland in Hong Kong. It is a smaller park than the other Disney parks we’ve been to, although it has undergone an expansion since we were there in 2011. It is much less crowded than the other Disney parks. And, there is the added fun travel factor of hearing and seeing Chinese everywhere in the park.

There is one thing that Disneyland Hong Kong does better than all the other Disney parks we’ve been to. The Jungle Cruise. Disneyland California has the classic version. Disneyworld in Florida has an upgraded version with an ancient temple you travel through in addition to the classic elements. Disneyworld Hong Kong has an awesome surprise ending. Do you want to know what it is? Watch a video of it here.

Isn’t it an amazing end to the ride? We were not expecting it when we first rode the Jungle Cruise. You can feel the heat of the flames shooting out of the rock formations, and it is hot! The Jungle Cruise was our favorite thing in Hong Kong Disneyland.

There were a couple of other great surprises in store for us, too. During the parades, they will actually invite some of the children to dance in the parade with some of the characters. Our oldest daughter was able to dance in the luau section of the parade.

752She was a little nervous at the time, but so happy she did it afterwards! Where else do you get a chance to dance in a Disney parade? I think we might have to go back and do it again when she is older so she will actually remember the experience, instead of just seeing it in pictures. Since Hong Kong itself is a great destination, I don’t think I’ll have a hard time convincing the rest of the family that we need to go back.

In all the parts of Hong Kong we visited, people loved to take pictures with our kids, of our kids, sometimes they would just pick them up and hold them. This was especially true at Disneyland. Our youngest at the time had very blond hair. I remember waiting in the line for Winnie the Pooh, and people kept passing her down the line so they could all have turns to take pictures with her. A little unnerving, but thankfully everyone was really sweet to our children the entire time we were there.

726So, for an amazing Jungle Cruise experience, and a whole lot of other fun, take a day or two to visit Hong Kong Disneyland if you’re in the area.

Long Live the Doman Sun!

I always find it amazing how family jokes and memories grow until they sometimes have their own identity. A catchword or catchphrase will be created and become a key to unlock a treasure chest full of memories and experiences that each member of the family cherishes.

The first time our family went to Disneyworld our oldest daughter was two, and her younger sister was only six weeks old. My husband had a job interview in Orlando, so we decided to go to Disneyworld for just one day. It was a very cold, blustery January day, and the park was very empty. It’s a Small World never had a long line. We could almost just walk onto the ride. Because our two year old loved it, and because it was much warmer inside riding the ride, we rode it something like eight times that day.

Our two year old was a very advanced speaker for her age. After our trip to Disneyworld, we would hear her singing “It’s a Small World” to herself. We noticed something a little peculiar. Every time she got to the part about the golden sun, she would sing doman (sounds like doe-man, with a stress on the first syllable). She was very consistent.

The Golden Sun from It's a Small World Ride, Disneyworld, courtesy of themeparks.about.com

The Golden Sun from It’s a Small World Ride, Disneyworld, courtesy of
themeparks.about.com

After a while, we asked her why she was singing doman, instead of golden. She very seriously informed us that the sun was “doman colored”, not golden. We told her we had never heard of doman colored. What does it look like? She said it has a little bit of golden in it. It took us months to convince her that the song actually said golden sun. It was a little sad to see her finally accept that the line is “golden sun”.

Fast forward about five years, and our family recently returned to Disneyworld. Our children love to hear stories about themselves, and we love to tell them. So, while we were at Disneyworld we told the story of the doman colored sun. Now seven years old, she thought it was hilarious. And her five year old sister was tickled by the whole thing.

We returned home from Disneyworld, and one day I found our five-year old looking at the book “The Day the Crayons Quit”. In the book, yellow crayon and orange crayon are mad and not speaking to each other. They each think they are the color of the sun, and cite evidence of when they were used to color the sun as rational for their behavior. I came into the room, and she turned and looked at me. Then she said, “Mom, the yellow crayon and orange crayon are so silly.” At this point, I was expecting her to say something about how their fighting was silly, since we had been talking a lot lately about how people fight about lots of silly things. But no, she continues on very seriously with an exasperated air, “Don’t they know the sun is doman colored?”

And the doman sun lives on.

Show Your World – Nazca, Peru

This post is participating in the Show Your World event sponsored by Tiny Expats
HPIM0429My husband and I traveled to Peru as a graduation present to ourselves. I had wanted to see the Nazca lines since I first learned about them in high school. The Atacama desert is the driest non-polar desert in the world. As soon as we got off the bus here we could feel the heat in the dusty, hot desert wind. Nazca is a place that is removed from the rest of Peru, both by its remote location and the mystery surrounding the Nazca lines. Some people believe the Nazca lines were created by extra-terrestrial beings. It feels like a place from another time and another world. It is a place forgotten even by its own government. The lizard figure of the Nazca lines is actually cut in half by the Pan-American Highway. The Nazca lines are now protected by the U.N. as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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As well as flying over the Nazca lines, we took a tour of tombs out in the desert. These tombs are thousands of years old, and have been robbed of the precious materials that were originally enclosed within them. I remember getting out of the car, and seeing the ground literally covered in bones from grave robbers that took the gold and other items from the tomb, yet carelessly tossed the mummies out into the dry, desert sand.

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The mummies’ hair has been bleached to a much lighter color through exposure to the unrelenting desert sun. The people of Nazca are very poor. Yet they recognize the economic possibilities tourism provides. They independently have constructed canopies to cover and protect these tombs out in the middle of the desert. There is no official tourism office. The people of Nazca independently work as tour guides to provide a better living for their family.

HPIM0455Even their agriculture is reminiscent of the past. These aqueducts are still used by the local farmers. They were built over 2000 years ago. The stones were set together without mortar, so when earthquakes come to Nazca, the stones rattle and shift against each other, but the aqueducts remain intact. Going to Nazca felt like traveling 2000 years back in time, while simultaneously being in the company of believers in UFO’s and other paranormal activity.

Disneyworld: Why Do We Love It So Much?

“Our Family Vacation”

Our family went to a magical place

With princesses, pirates, and journeys through space

We had fun galore

And left wanting more

We made memories we’ll always embrace

IMG_4042We love Disneyworld! We love the rides, the shows, the resorts, and the magical feeling that permeates our Disneyworld vacations. Our love of Disneyworld has always seemed contradictory to our regular travel style and preferences. When we travel we don’t like tours, unless it is specific to one thing we want to see that day. We shy away from “packaged getaways”. We always try to learn at least a few phrases of the language from our destination countries. We like to learn about the culture, to be immersed in the culture, to be a tourist without seeming too touristy. In fact, a lot of places we travel I get mistaken for a native and spoken to in their native tongue. Greek in Greece. Italian in Italy. Spanish in Peru and Mexico. Hong Kong was the exception, because I don’t look the least bit like a Chinese woman. I tease my husband that we need to travel to more of the Nordic countries, because there is no way I would be mistaken for a Swede or a Norwegian. Two of our daughters might, in part because I have developed a fondness for Scandinavian children’s clothing. But even if I were decked out head to toe in designer Swedish clothing, I would still be an average sized brunette with curly hair and slightly olive skin. But we would still try to absorb the culture and experience of the everyday Scandinavian, regardless of how much we did or did not resemble one. That is part of the joy of traveling to new places.

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If we enjoy so much experiencing the cultures of the world, why we would love the fabricated world of Disney so much? And then, I suddenly understood. Disney has truly developed their own very specific culture, founded upon the wonder of childhood and magical stories that make people feel that childlike magic even as an adult. Disney attends to even the smallest details, so when you visit one of their parks, it is like walking into another country. It is a magical faraway land where wonder and mystery awaits, but that is simultaneously familiar and comfortable. The characters in the shows and parades are like old friends, familiar and dear to our hearts. Aeryn could not contain her excitement when we met Mickey Mouse. She still randomly tells me, “Mickey Mouse hugged Aeryn” as we go through out our days. Rapunzel told the older girls a secret when we met her. Abigial and Alyssa talk about the secret together, but not with me. You can tell they feel very important sharing a secret with Rapunzel.  When we travel to Disneyworld, we embrace the culture of Disney in the same way that we embrace the culture of any country that we visit.

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This Disneyworld vacation was especially memorable because we were joined by both sets of grandparents. Watching children experience the magic of Disney makes the entire experience more fun and rewarding. When my husband and I were first married without children, we went to Disneyland. The rides were fun, but we didn’t feel the same sense of wonder and magic as we do now, watching our children seeing their favorite characters come to life. I am so glad that the grandparents were able to have this experience with their grandchildren!

I Never Want to Fly U.S. Airways Again

There are times when flying with my family that I end up feeling that airlines intentionally make it more difficult for families to travel in order to discourage them from doing so. Our family’s trip last week to Florida and home was definitely one of those times.

We made it to the airport two hours before our scheduled flight. We were flying on a domestic flight, so this early arrival should have provided plenty of time to check in, make it through security, and have time to at least buy food to take on the plane with us. Neither my husband or I had the opportunity to eat breakfast before we left. We were counting on being able to eat at the airport. Does that seem like un unrealistic expectation? I didn’t think so.

For this particular trip we were planning on using public transportation that did not require car seats. We were ecstatic! For anyone who has gone through the process of lugging car seats and/or booster seats (especially 4 of them) through the airport and then gone through the lengthy process of checking them in, covering them plastic, and getting them on their way to baggage knows the joy of being able to skip this ordeal. We were able to get all of our children, luggage and ourselves from the parking lot to the ticketing area in record time. We thought again, that we would have plenty of time to take care of everything and make it to our plane. We did not anticipate the rather lengthy and slow moving line at ticketing. It was a Sunday morning, so we expected a little bit of a line, but nothing like what awaited us.

Upon approaching the line, trying to figure out exactly where we needed to go next, we were pointed to the self automated kiosks to check in for our flight. This filled us with a little bit of trepidation. The line was long and there are two scenarios where checking in at a kiosk has never, never, did I say never?!? worked. The first is when checking in car seats, which thankfully we did not have to do this time. The second is when flying with an infant in lap, which we were doing. Despite our protests that it would not work, the airline workers shunted us into the very long, seemingly never-ending line. Why did we not insist on speaking with an agent? I’m not sure, but we should have. Sometimes trying to be polite, accommodating travelers works against us.

As we neared the end of the long check-in line, almost an hour and one bathroom emergency later, the agent informed us that they wanted to check our stroller with our luggage. Apparently, even though for years strollers have been gate checked with no problems, now carrying strollers up and down the stairs is resulting in injuries to the workers, and so they are changing their policy for any stroller weighing over 20 pounds. Our double stroller is one of the lighter ones out there, and I think it is  under 20 pounds, but since I had a baby carrier with me, and I wanted to hurry along the process as much as possible, I agreed to check our stroller with our luggage. I also want to be a good and helpful traveler. I think this might be the wrong track to take when dealing with airline check-in, as it only seems to backfire. I don’t like to be impolite, even in stressful situations. It might work better to be politely assertive. I am going to have to work on this balance.

We finally reached the kiosks! The moment of truth had arrived. Would we be successful in checking in? Would we finally receive our boarding passes? (FYI – if you thinking checking in online works with an infant in lap ticket, it doesn’t. We’ve tried that, too). After trying to check in using our name, flight number, frequent flier number and credit card, we still had no boarding passes. After some valiant effort on our part trying to get the attention of one of the airline workers, we were finally escorted to a new line with an actual ticket agent at the end of it. When our turn came, we tried to politely explain the situation. Now, I understand that it would probably be emotionally tiring to be empathic with all of the passengers you check in during the course of a work day. However, you could at least be efficient at your job! Even though all members of our family were standing right in front of her (minus our baby who was in his baby carrier, but still visible to the ticket agent), and despite the fact that she had all of our i.d.’s in front of her, it took her something like six tries to even count the number of boarding passes we required to get on the airplane. Then it took several more tries to make sure she had all of them printed out. This would have just been a minor convenience, except for the fact that we had maybe half an hour by this time to get through security and make our plane. Remember how we were at the airport two hours early?

Well, she finally printed our boarding passes. It took her a few more minutes to check our bag, which thankfully went smoothly. Then, it came time to check our stroller. Having just checked our bag, you would think this would go smoothly. No, not really. As we were walking away, having been assured everything was ready to go, we hear our check-in woman saying, “Did I check that stroller, through to Seattle?” Seattle is the opposite direction of our actual destination. The other gate agent said something like, “I don’t know. Where is it supposed to go?” You would think at this point that one of them would go to actually check where the stroller was tagged to. But they just stood there, looking at each other with a blank look on their faces, as the stroller moved farther and farther down the conveyor belt into the black hole from which we hoped it would eventually emerge unscathed at our destination. They kept asking each other about the stroller, but neither could be bothered to make sure it was going to the correct place. It was like a bad skit on Saturday Night Live. The kind where you know that the outcome is not going to be a good one for the owner of said stroller. My husband and I looked at each other horrified, as we literally ran to security. If there had been time, we would have stopped and sorted out the destiny of our red double stroller before heading to the gate. But alas, there was no time. We commented to each other that it did not look good for our stroller. But having to choose between making our flight and addressing the stroller issue, we chose making our flight.

Our family raced to security, which thankfully was efficient, pleasant, and not crowded at all. If it had been otherwise, we would have missed our flight. As we passed a restaurant I looked longingly at the food that we did not have time to buy. As a nursing mom, I am more hungry than I was when I was pregnant. Missing breakfast was not a good idea. Plus, not eating makes me less patient and more grumpy. This is not a good combination for traveling, especially when trying to help my hungry children be more patient and less grumpy. Our flight had almost finished boarding when we reached the gate. We hurried to our seats and got settled just minutes before the door was closed. Thankfully, we made the flight.

For over four hours, as we soared above the land to our destination, we pondered the fate of our stroller. Was it on the plane, deep in the belly where all checked luggage journeys with us? Was it on a different plane to a different destination? Would we ever see our stroller again?

At our destination, we hurried to baggage claim. Our checked luggage came through the ordeal without any difficulty. Our stroller…..we waited and waited. We checked the oversize luggage area. We checked a different oversize luggage area. Finally we realized that our stroller was gone, never to be found again.

We spoke with the baggage claims department. They at least were polite and tried to be helpful while we were at the airport. They submitted a claim for us, but since we were never given a luggage tag at our departure point, they had nothing to go on but the description of our stroller. We never heard from them again. And we never saw our stroller again.

At this point, we did not put our blind faith in the efficiency of U.S. Airways to find our stroller and get it to us. Amazon.com made it possible to order a new stroller, which arrived at our hotel in less than 48 hours. We were able to use my baby carrier and the generosity of grandparents willing to carry small children from place to place to transport all our children during our site seeing until the new stroller arrived. Thank goodness for helpful grandparents! We don’t always have them with us in our travels.

Upon check in on our return journey, the ticket agent asked us to check our stroller with our luggage. I just said, “No, we’re not doing that” in a very firm tone. They didn’t argue with me. My husband says I can be scary sometimes. I think this is rather funny since I am 5’4″ and not a very large person. Apparently it was helpful in this situation. Thank goodness we did gate check our stroller this time. When we got off the plane, our 5 year old was fast asleep. Our baby had to go in the stroller because our baby carrier was covered in apple juice. Riding in a wet carrier would surely have elicited screaming from our very tired, but not yet sleeping baby. Our 2 year old was too tired to walk and insisted on being carried. I am grateful on trips like these that our 7 year old is a night owl, and can generally be counted on to move under her own power through the airport even late at night. But even with our stroller, it was not comfortable to transport all our children and belongings back to the car. Without our stroller? It would have been a scene of screaming, crying, cacophonous sounds that would have made everyone’s travels terrible, including our own.

U.S. Airways is the least family friendly airline we have experienced. Their policies and corporate culture penalize families for traveling, and do nothing to make it a pleasant experience. We will go out of our way to avoid them in the future. Thank goodness we are flying British Airways when we travel to Spain.

Hong Kong: A High Flying Box of Terror

852Shrouded in mists on a mountain top on Lantau Island sits the Tian Tian Buddha. The largest outdoor seated Buddha in the world exudes a sense of peaceful welcome, even while towering over the surrounding valleys and mountains. One of the ways to reach Ngong Ping Village and see the Tian Tian Buddha is to risk crossing Lantau Island in a cable car, a box of glass and metal suspended only be a series of cables gracefully arcing over water and land.

The Ngong Ping cable car was not my first experience with a cable car. About a year previously we had ridden the Sandia Peak Tramway outside of Albuquerque. I read that it was one of the longest cable cars in the world, and was so excited to ride to the top of the mountain. I’m usually not that scared of heights. Flying in planes doesn’t bother me; hiking near steep mountain drop-offs doesn’t usually bother me. So, I was unprepared for the terror that I would feel as our cable car soared out over jagged rocks, slowly moving up the side of the Sandia Peak. While my then almost two year old exhilarated in the ride up the side of the mountain, I sat crouched down on the floor of the cable car trying not to envision the precariousness of a single cable holding up the cable car with a drop below onto jagged rocks that would almost certainly mean instant death if something went wrong. Meanwhile, my delighted little girl giggled and said, “Pick me up, mama! Pick me up!” So, I alternated between holding her up and cringing in terror.

When I heard about the Ngong Ping Cable Car, I wanted to ride it. Why, you may ask? I think I’m addicted to new and unique  experiences, especially if they are travel related. If it’s the longest, biggest, highest or most beautiful I want to give it a try. Terror settled in my stomach as I remembered riding the Sandia Peak Tramway, but how could I resist soaring over Lantau Island on my way to see the Tian Tian Buddha? Even if I was terrified the entire time? When I expressed concern about being scared, my sweet little girl smiled at me and said, “Don’t worry, Mama. I’ll help you and protect you.” At that point I knew that even if I was afraid, I would face my demons and ride that cable car. Especially when I could simultaneously teach my little girl about facing fears. And give her the chance to let her kind little heart shine in helping me overcome mine.

844The wait to ride the cable car was actually rather long. I think we stood in line for an hour and a half. That was somewhat unexpected, and the long wait made me more nervous. Finally, it was our turn to board. The Ngong Ping cable car sailed gently out of the station and out over the South China Sea. Maybe it was the bravery and kindness of my sweet little girl, maybe it was the more horizontal journey that reminded me of clouds blowing gently through the sky, or maybe the length of the ride gave me time to work through my fear, but the ride was actually very enjoyable. We passed over water and mountains. Ancient foot trails along the ridges of the mountains were visible below us. The water sparkled when the sun managed to peak out from behind the clouds. Our family had a relaxing (eventually) time together talking and singing as we sailed through the sky. I almost wish I had been brave enough to ride one of the cars with a glass bottom. If we ever go back, I think I’ll give it a try.

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Hong Kong: A Story of Jet Lag and an Australian Steakhouse

ry=480Jet lag. Twelve hours of time difference. Exactly opposite of what we were used to. Adults have a hard enough time with jet lag. We can rationalize to ourselves why we feel so out of sync with our surroundings, and force ourselves to stay up as long as needed at our new destination in order to quickly acclimatize to our new destination. For a three year old and 18 month old, a rational explanation of why they need to either stay up or go to sleep NOW doesn’t work under normal bed time circumstances, let alone when day and night are so perfectly backwards to what they are used to.

The first few nights in Hong Kong, our girls would wake up around 2 in the morning, wide awake. We would combat this by giving them a snack, some Benadryl, and let them watch one movie. After the movie they would go back to sleep until a more normal waking time.

About the 3rd or 4th night we had gone to bed, and everyone woke up around 11pm. My husband was our late night food scavenger. On previous nights he would come back to the hotel bearing chocolate milk and Pocky. (We all loved Pocky after this trip.) On this particular night, he came back and asked if we all wanted to go to a steakhouse. Under normal circumstances, our restaurant of choice is more often a thai restaurant, or one that is very kid friendly, like California Pizza Kitchen. However, these were not normal circumstances, and isn’t that part of the fun of traveling?

So, we set out with our two small children at 11:30pm to go to Wooloomooloo Steakhouse in Tsim Sha Tsui. When we arrived it was mostly empty. The staff was very accommodating and friendly, although surprised to see us at that late hour. They did look very confused when we asked for a high chair. They didn’t have any, and in British English, at least in Hong Kong, it is called a baby chair or baby seat. But the Chinese people in Hong Kong seemed to love children. The whole time we were there they would ask to hold them, or take pictures with them. One of our girls was very blond at the time, and they were somewhat awed by the color of her hair. A pile of cushions was brought over to the table for our children to sit on.

By the time we ordered and our food arrived, which was very good, the restaurant was mostly empty. Besides our family, there was one group of Japanese businessmen who were drinking and dancing to the live band playing. The band members were all Chinese, and they were singing American songs. It seems like we hear American songs all over the world when we travel, even in very out of the way places. Picture the situation. Our very American family with two little girls at an Australian Steakhouse in Hong Kong in the middle of the night, with Japanese businessmen dancing to a Chinese cover band singing American songs. Do you know what made the surreal experience even more surreal? They started singing “Play That Funky Music”.

Sometimes the most memorable travel experiences are hidden in the most mundane of tasks, like dealing with jet lag or feeding your family. I guess the trick is to be in the moment, and find enjoyment in the new and different.