Category Archives: Cities and Sites

Les grand-mères

Over the last two days, Parisian grandmas have criticized our dressing of Theo twice — once saying that he needed more protection from the sun (he was in a BabyBjorn and had a sun hat) and once saying that he needed socks on his feet (it was 81 degrees out in the park). AND THEN two American exchange students came up to us and started speaking French! We are sooo fitting in with the locals!

Theo can hang in the metro (which is a wonderful way to get around) and his stroller helped us skip part of the line to get into the Louvre. But just so we don’t paint too rosy a picture — he did scream all the way up the crammed elevator to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower.

Happy Mother’s Day

After our recent adventures having Theo, I definitely have a new appreciation for Mothers. The sacrifices they make day to day and in the long run to careers (although it shouldn’t have an impact it is obvious to anyone paying attention). I appreciate all the hard work and effort it goes into raising a child that for much of it’s life will challenge and annoy you when ever possible.

Seriously, some of the things mother’s have to go through blows my mind. While much of society and medicine has drastically improved, labor and delivery is still nothing short of shocking and barbaric. If all goes well it can be magic, so I hear, but it didn’t for us. During labor is still one of the highest risk chances of death for in any mother’s life. Considering it is such a common life event, one would think it would be one of the best understood and researched medical events, but conflicting advice with little to no research backing abounds. While sharing our delivery story with folks it was surprising how many people had rough experiences and still frequently are suffering side effects years and decades later.

Clearly, I hadn’t given enough credit on mother’s day (and every other day) to my own mom. Well we get to start working on improving that this year.

This year to celebrate Erin’s first mothers day, we went to Paris! We also brought my mom… Who has been looking to get back over to visit Paris again. So this mothers day will be spent out at cute cafes with a dinner.

On the last few weeks of Erin’s maternity leave we can spend some time celebrating being a mom with each of our mother’s as Erin’s mom will be joining us for the second leg of the trip in Amsterdam.

So cheers and happy mother’s day to every mom out there… Clearly, we wouldn’t be anywhere without you.

Bebe Goes to Paris

What we have learned so far:

— We packed more as carry-ons alone for this trip than we did in all our bags for our entire 5-month trip around the world. Had everything we needed, but we will have to work on getting the volume down. It was only possible because we had Gigi’s extra set of hands. +1 infant = +4 pieces of luggage?

— Airplane bassinets for the win — kiddo slept for 5 hours straight across the Atlantic.

— This website is awful, but the service was incredible — TaxiBabySeat picked us up at the airport holding a sign with my name on it and had an infant car seat in the cab to transfer us to our apartment. And when we forgot a piece of luggage at the airport (there were so many to remember!) our driver circled back to help us retrieve it. We reserved our beautiful Paris apartment on AirBnB, which allowed us to search for a place with a washer and dryer.

— Kiddo loves Paris, though he’s always been pretty good at restaurants, and the inside of his babybjorn travel crib looks the same as it does at home.

and of course bebe’s first passport photo is adorable.

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Aruba Advice

A couple of times now we have been asked something along the lines of, “You guys did your honeymoon in Aruba, right?  Where did you stay?  Do anything fun in specific?”

Now before giving any real advice, I want to preface this with a warning. This trip wasn’t our typical kind of travel. We were going for our honeymoon the primary goal was to do nothing and have no guilt about feeling that we should be doing something.

Quick Thoughts:

  • We liked it quite a bit if you are looking for a very relaxing and easy worry free vacation
  • Culture isn’t something Aruba has to offer so if you wanted to ‘see the sites’ or ruins, this is not your place. If you want very pretty beaches, it has you covered.
  • I normally think folks could really ‘do Aruba’ in 5 days, I just think a honeymoon is one of the once in a lifetime trips, so we wish we had been there longer than the nine days
  • We stayed at ‘Manchebo Beach Resort and Spa’ which was nice and but basic. The hotel wasn’t quite as nice as we were expecting, but the beach was secluded and lovely without the crowds, which is exactly what we wanted.

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American vs. European Style

There are two primary areas to stay the ‘European style’ side or the ‘American style’ side.

European

The European is a lot less crowded, has the nicest beaches, but the buildings are older and not fancy. Not taken the best care of from the places we walked through. The rooms often have mini kitchenettes so you can make food or snacks, which is nice. Many of the hotels offer rooms with full kitchens, and you see people there that cook their meals and don’t eat out much. On the European side, only a handful of restaurants are nearby. The hotel you are in likely has one or two, and each hotel along the beach has one or two. Every hotel offers all-inclusive, but it is easy and fun to walk to eat at different hotels during the trip. If you want night life or ‘better’ restaurants, you need to go to the American side.

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American

The American side, has all the night life, the fancy modern hotels with jacuzzi, crazy showers, flat screen TVs, casinos, and more. The beach is OK, but not as good. There are more docks here so if you are scuba, snorkeling, or day tripping by boat most of the launch points are in this area. The pools over on the American side were much nicer if you like spending time in and around the pool this is the place to be. All the night clubs, dancing, and all the restaurants are in walking distance of this area. There are lots of fun restaurants and places to eat.

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The Food

It is all good, but nothing is outstanding. The prices and the selections in restaurants are hilariously the same. As in the fish special from place to place on a given night is the same. Every place will have a chicken, beef, and seafood house specialty. Mostly that is the same too. It is pretty funny when you can start predicting specials before they even tell you. Erin and I are convinced they have the same french fry supplier for the entire Island. The fries are delicious but taste exactly the same everywhere where you go, Amazing! That being said it is still fun to go out, and everyone is friendly. Restaurants seemed to specialize more with drinks, live music, romantic atmosphere, spectacular views. Erin and I had a very lovely dinner in a little hut out on the beach during sunset, which someone bought us as a wedding gift.

Activities

The dancing was OK but nothing great, but Clubs on Caribbean islands always seem to be a bit hit or miss. The strip has the Senior Frogs, and 2 or 3 other dance clubs all on the same block, if you want to dance at all. Walking the ‘strip’ on the American side was always fun. Ice cream parlors, snacks, and other souvenir shops line the strip.

It is super windy, everywhere. So don’t plan on beach volleyball. You will see lots of kits surfing, wind surfing, and it makes for great waves to play in as they break around you. We really didn’t take advantage of many activities so not a lot to say here, we read books on the beach and lazily search for the best burgers and tacos.

Final Thoughts

Erin and I prefer the European style based on quite resort and calmer beach. It was easy enough to mix it up some of the nights, every other or so, heading to the American side. We would bus or cab to the American side and enjoy the night life. If you want to do the Euro style, just budget some time or money for getting cabs. It is about 5-10 minutes away, and the bus is cheap if you are willing to wait for it.

Overall Aruba was a great place for a honeymoon and because of the weather it is awesome for an island during hurricane season. If I were just hitting an easy beach vacation out of that, I would probably do Jamacia, Mexico, Virgin Islands, or DR over Aruba. For our trip and planning around our wedding, Aruba was perfect.

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“Like diving in a fish tank.”

Actually, it was diving in a fish tank.

Look, a shark.
Look, a shark.

Yesterday morning, we went diving in a shark tank, for the second time. Really. It probably says something that we both found the concept of strapping on some compressed air and fins and jumping into tank occupied by three female ragged-tooth sharks to be less stressful than our impending return to the “real world.”

We are a bit sad to be letting this cat out of the bag (this was one of the few activities that was still available for booking during the infamously crowded Christmas-to-New Years week in Cape Town), but if you are certified diver visiting Cape Town, you really should look into the diving at the Two Oceans Aquarium. It is substantially cheaper than the caged shark dives down on the coast and with substantially less time spent in transit, both in buses and on boats, and you aren’t in a cage. Though it is also true that they are not feeding the sharks while you are in the tank.

The sharks at the aquarium are fed once a week, on Sundays. So the sharks are really full in the beginning of the week and less full as the week goes on. The sharks are also surrounded by some of their favorite prey, yellowtails, so if they do get hungry they will go for a yellowtail fish way before they think about going after one of the divers. And yes, sometimes the sharks do get hungry or bored or annoyed and take a nip out of one of the yellowtails, they have even killed and eaten a few. The ones with small wounds from the nips are called “survivors” and yes, they keep swimming around in the tank. During our second dive, one of the sharks reversed swimming direction and got annoyed at one of the yellowtails in its path and took a quick bite — clearly just a warning. The sharks spend 2-3 years in the tank before being re-released to the wild.

The sharks swim at a pretty constant altitude, so we had to be careful to stay very low to the ground while swimming. But it’s still harder to to keep your eyes on your sixes while swimming and at one point, the dive master turned to me, pointed urgently and mimed for me to get on my knees. I let out my breath and promptly rested on my knees just in time to look up and watch a shark pass six inches from the top of my head.

As one of our safari guides would have put it, it was “gettin jiggy time” at the aquarium, so also during our second dive, we were spawned on by a female yellowtail — which really messed with the visibility for a bit — its kind of like swimming through caviar.

Reasons Erin loves this dive:

  1. No boat involved. (I get seasick.)
  2. We got to pet the sea turtle.
  3. It’s at a short depth, so you aren’t going to accidentally kill yourself (at least not with inert gas — you do have to be careful during descent and ascent not to hit a shark on the head).
  4. It was the first dive where even as I was descending I said through my regulator, “holy freaking s***” — there is just so much cool stuff in such a small space — there’s a shark, there’s a ray, there’s a turtle…
  5. It is a great value. If you plan to visit the aquarium one day and dive on a different day, then you actually save money buying the aquarium membership which drops the price of the dive from 700 Rand to 500 Rand (less than $50). You obviously also save money with the membership if you do the dive twice. However, the dive price does include aquarium entry the day of the dive and participating in the dive allows you to skip the entry line, so if you plan to dive only once and visit the aquarium on the same day, then you are better off without the membership. At less than $50, (or even at $70) this is one of the cheapest dives you can get anywhere — refresher dives in swimming pools in the US often cost nearly twice this.

“I’m a free spirit.”

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“Kobi’s Bar: This stilted bar next to Coconut Grove Beach Resort has a great beachfront location, cheap beers, music at w/ends, often supplemented by live performances on Fri. or Sat.” — Brandt Travel Guide to Ghana

I was excited. We were staying at Coconut Grove Beach Resort, (actually in their sister budget accommodation in the Village). And so, armed as I was with the Brandt-country-specific travel guide, I was ready to head towards Kobi’s bar. But no one knew where it was, and Dan was rolling his eyes. See, things are hard in (most of) Africa, so just because something is in a guide book, that doesn’t mean that it still exists, or that if it does, you will ever find it. And Dan and I had already spent quite a lot of time on Ghana’s coast searching for things highlighted in the book, often spending the equivalent of tens of US dollars in cabs searching an area, only to find a closed or empty bar or restaurant. But Coconut Grove Beach Resort is fairly isolated, and so I figured that, surely, we could find Kobi’s. We walked back and forth across the beach in front of the resort for about an hour before we gave up.

But as we walked back towards the resort’s restaurant for dinner, we heard the drumming. We asked the resort security guards about the music. Though none of them knew the place as “Kobi’s bar” they all knew where the drumming was coming from and could point us up the road to the house, which was set a bit back from the beach (hence our earlier unsuccessful efforts). “Do they serve food there?” “Maybe sometimes.” — We have found this to be a typical response in Africa, and not because people are dodging the question, but because that is actually the answer. They may not usually have food, or even have a kitchen, but anything is possible. So, we resigned ourselves to our overpriced resort dinner for the evening, but afterward, we headed up to what we knew as Kobi’s bar. We met the manager of the bar and the famous Kobi. (Though that is not actually his name, but as is so common in Ghana, one of the possible (though unusual) shortened versions of his name, Kwabena, which he shares with roughly 14% of the male population because children are named based on the day of the week on which they are born. And yet, as you will notice, neither of these names are the name painted on the front of his sign.)

Kobi's bar, or umm, Akumapa Theater.
Kobi’s Bar, or, umm, Akumapa Theatre.

Kobi teaches a bunch of local kids to drum and dance. They practice a lot. They’d be more than happy to put on a performance for us the next day. “Do you serve food here?” “No, but I own a drum store down at Stumble Inn, (the next lodging down the beach from ours) and we could probably work something out.” This was followed by a discussion of the food that we had most enjoyed in Ghana so far, and their favorite dishes. And so, trying to nail down a price, I suggested about what Dan and I had spent on dinner at our fancy, overpriced resort that evening, but made it clear that I wanted to feed the four of us with it — they said that should be fine. The price was 80 cedis — a bit less than $26.

The following evening, we arrived at the bar promptly at 6 PM. (OK, it was more like 6:15 PM, and still we were so early that they didn’t know what to do with us. — Africa time is a thing.) And so, we sat for a bit sharing a beer. (We were told to be mindful of how much beer we drank because there was a lot of food to eat for dinner). A girl, maybe eight years old, plopped down in the chair next to us. “I’m a free spirit.” “Oh wow,” I said. I thought this was an impressive declaration for an eight-year-old, and it had me wondering if I, too, was a free spirit. But then we learned that all of these kids are Free Spirits. They are all involved in a foundation that helps support the drum school, their care and transportation, and occasionally helps some of them travel overseas to perform — several of them had been to Poland and most of them are traveling to the US in March.

Then Kobi showed us their “kitchen” — an incomplete building where the bar manger was bent over three small coal fires. Kobi explained that with the amount of money we had suggested, they had decided that they would just feed the whole school and cook it themselves — and so (due in no small part to the ingenuity and grit of Kobi and his manager) for what we spent at one dinner at a fancy resort, we provided dinner for the four of us adults and 13 kids. And the dinner was no basic affair. There were multiple courses including a soup (which, as we’ve mentioned, is eaten with one’s hands), fried and baked plantains and cassava, red beans, and both fried fish and chicken. But before dinner, there was the show — kids having a ball drumming and dancing for their audience of two — though several local kids came by to see what all the excitement was about. At the end of their last song the girl dancers grabbed us and dragged us onstage, and proceeded to try to teach me to dance.

“No. Put your hand here. No, there. OK. OK, now move your other hand like this…ummm, no, looser, yeah, looser…umm ok.” (Shakes head in resignation of imperfect white girl hand moving.) “OK, now move your bodyMOVE YOUR BODY…” (Actually turns and walks off,) proving, empirically, that white girls cannot dance, and that they may in fact be a lost cause.

The Show:

And Dinner:

  

Seeking the Lion’s Head, Cape Town, South Africa OMG

So as we were planning our trip, a tweet from @gingerale, whom I follow, popped up.
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The tweet linked to a photo posted by @EarthPix
An amazing shot at the top of Lion's head
An amazing shot at the top of Lion’s head
It was an amazing photo, and inspiring to me, as I was thinking about our upcoming travel. Since I knew we had South Africa on our list, I decided I needed to learn about this hike and plan a visit. In fact I replied to the tweet saying, I needed to do visit, and added it to my travel checklist.
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Well it only 160 days later and mission accomplished. I am nothing if I am not good at completing todo items 😉
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Standing on the same rock from the original photo
 Oddly enough, finding the original photo so I could link back to my inspiration was a bit hard as @EarthPixs has since removed the photo. Luckily, nothing is ever really gone on the internet and a few google searches turned up the photo. However, I still don’t know who exactly to credit for the photo, so I will still just refer to the no longer working @EarthPixs post.
Anyways, it is an amazing hike. It’s actually more what I would call rock scrambling. There is a nice standard trail for about 3/4’s of the hike, then it splits to the easy route or the chains and ladders route. Both routes are reasonably difficult and will require climbing with your hands and feet. The chains and ladders is more popular, but was very crowded so we only use it on the way up, opting for the less popular ‘recommended’ route on the way down. Some of the ladders are just metal hand holds bolted into rock. Others are legit ladders secured into the rock face. There are still many places you will be ‘scrambling’ up with hands and feet together over slightly challenging terrain. Besides a few overcrowded moments where we were are forced to stand with a crown by a cliff face, this is my favorite kind of hike, a mix of walking / climbing.
a partial pano from the top
a partial pano from the top
The spiral climb is amazing because you get to see the view from all sides of the mountain. It still has nothing on the 360 degree panorama you are treated to if you reach the peak. I was really happy to have to chance to experience this ‘todo’ item. It took us 3h40min because of crowds and a picnic lunch in the shade of a cave on the way down. Going our normal speed without crowds it would likely still take 2h30min.

Finally the beach you see below our feet is Camp’s Bay Beach, which was so beautiful that we had to make it our next stop. Down the mountain and straight for the sand. The view of Lion’s head, which we had just summitted, from just outside out beach umbrella was impressive.

If you ever have a chance visiting Cape Town for Lion’s Head hike, I highly recommended it. Just might want to visit during a less crowded time than Christmas and New Years, as everything is packed even the trails.