First night in Athens 

Greece has been a place I have always wanted to experience. When I got the chance this year, I jumped all over the opportunity.

It started out with 2 days in Athens. The first day doesn’t really count because it was img_2914really a blur of jet lag and acclimation.

We stayed in the Athenian Callirhoe Hotel near the ancient Acropolis. The first evening we ventured to the roof garden restaurant for dinner on top of our hotel. It may be one of those few moments in life where everything seems perfect. It was ridiculously romantic, except that my date (lil’ man) barely made it through dinner and returned to our room.
I had a drink and watched as the sun set and the lights made the Acropolis glow right outside our terrace.

The mushroom risotto was near perfect and live jazz played in the background as older couples danced. Exhausted from jet lag and feeling warm and fuzzy from ny cranberry vodka, I returned to my room feeling content. What an amazing first night.

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New York, 3 days, 1 kid

I have been to New York City several times, but it was usually for work or to visit a friend, and I had always avoided the tourist traps. One thing I’ve noticed as I travel with a child is that I tend to gravitate towards a lot more tourist destinations.

Being from Kansas, New York City is a very big awe-inspiring place. I was excited to see it through my sons eyes. It began with fighting the crowds in Time Square to get on a bus tour. I found it completely overwhelming with chaos and people. I found it interesting that my son did too, however Karl thrives off of the energy and loved every second of it. After 2 1/2 hours of touring the downtown loop, we walked through Hells Kitchen and found a small hole in the wall Italian restaurant. After a good dinner and a drink, we were exhausted and retreated back to our hotel for the night.

Day 1

The next morning we set out to explore the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  I had looked online before traveling to New York to see about getting passes to go into the crown of the Statue of Liberty. It was already booked three months out. I read that pedastool tickets were work first come first serve and could be bought at the ticket office. 

I quickly learned that standing in lines is just part of visiting New York City.  We waited in a long line to buy tickets to the Statue of Liberty and then another line to go through an airport-like security. Then we stood in another line to ride the ferry. The ferry was jam-packed and we couldn’t make it to the top level which was open air. Once we reached Liberty Island, we search aimlessly for the entrance into the Statue of Liberty. What I hadn’t understood it was that there is no entrance. Our tickets were only good for the grounds around the statue and tickets could no longer be purchased to enter inside for the pedastool. I heard many people asking how to enter as well so I knew I wasn’t the only one. It was a bit of a disappointment, because all we could do was walk around Statue of Liberty.

We did go to the information Center where we got the worksheet for the Junior Ranger program. We walked the grounds among the crowds of people answering the questions. My kiddo was sworn in and received his badge as a junior ranger.

We headed to Ellis Island. We were starving, so we decided to grab a bite to eat in the café. It was outrageously crowded so we decided to just grab cold food from the cooler instead of standing in line to order food. We were lucky enough to find a dirty table to sit at.

Ellis Island was very educational and we thoroughly enjoyed the museum. Parker asked lots of questions and I got goosebumps in the giant room where I knew my own ancestors had once stood as immigrants hoping to become American citizens. I got so much more out of this than visiting Lady Liberty.

We returned to the city and hurried to get ready for the theater show Stomp which I had pre-bought tickets for. This was by far the highlight of our trip. There was so much energy and fun in this. I’m not sure if I enjoyed the show more or watching the look and the smile on my son’s face. He was completely enthralled.


We finish the evening with A funky little restaurant in the East Village.  

Day 2

The third day we decided to go see the American Natural History Museum. It was an easy sell to my son, because he seen the movie Night at the Museum. Only after arriving and looking for the Genghis Khan exhibit, were we told that 90% of what is in the movie is fictional. It was a bit of a disappointment, but there was so much to see. We spent several hours wandering through the dinosaur skeletons and the history of the different cultures. You could easily spend more than one day here. Without seeing the entire museum, our feet were aching and it was time to leave. 

We walked around Central Park and pet some of the horses that were attached to carriages. Sweaty, hot, and a bit exhausted we decided to go to Ground Zero. It was tough to explain to my son what the significance of this place holds. I explained about the Twin Towers and how they had been destroyed when terrorists flew planes into them. This led to a deep conversation about evil and why someone would want to do this. 

I was actually very surprised at how emotional this place made me. There are two memorials where the towers had stood. They are fountains that flow into the ground and the names of the victims are displayed in metal along the side. On the name of each victim, a rose is placed on the day of their birthday. Upon seeing the roses, I became a complete and utter emotional mess. I watched a man gently touch a name with a trembling hand and bawl. I could literally feel the tragedy in this place.


We moved from here to Battery Park. We watched some of the street artists, and then took a break under the shade tree enjoying a frozen lemonade. It was a nice reprieve from the heat and walking.

We decided to end our evening with dinner in Hells Kitchen. Instead of researching a restaurant, we decided to just walk along the street and read the menus until we found something we liked. After another amazing dinner and a few drinks, we headed back to our hotel for a restful sleep.

Day 3

Our intention for our last day in New York City was to make the most of it. Honestly, we were just exhausted. We got up early to eat breakfast and then to go play tourist, but we all began dragging our feet. We ended up just taking our time packing our bags and relaxing in the hotel. We decided before lunch to walk down Canal Street where we were told we could get cheap deals on souvenirs. I found it incredibly overwhelming with all the traffic, litter, and people. We walked through Chinatown and the smells physically turned our stomachs and crowds jostled us.

We walked to Katz Deli, one of the oldest delis in New York City. It was crazy busy, and they had to be making a killing at $20 per sandwich. After lunch, we decided it was too hot and we were too tired to do anymore touring. We went to the hotel and picked up our bags and headed for the airport. We hung out in the Admirals Club with free food, drinks, and wifi until it was time to catch our flight to Greece.

3 days is just not enough time in New York City. 

Back to Quito

We arrived back in Quito late. We decided to meet up with friends we had met along the 17264850_10210179870666798_6261762905422355019_nway for dinner. At the advice of a tour guide, we went to his favorite bar and pizza place.

It was a crazy cab ride to get there through small streets and insane drivers. We were dropped off in front of our restaurant. I instantly liked the place. It had a bar feel with tables scattered throughout for diners. We made our way to a back room and sat at a long table and benches. We ordered beer and pizza and enjoyed the rest of the night chatting and saying goodbye to all of our new acquired friends.

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We tried not to make it a late night because we wanted to see tour a little more of Quito the next morning before we caught our plane back to the U.S.

We found several others from our tour at breakfast and we all agreed to tour together. Most of us wanted to go to the same places. We decided to first go ride the gondola lift up the Pichincha Volcano. We piled into a cab and set out. We paid $8.50 each for a ticket to ride the Quito Teleferi17361636_10154151629046920_1389858891764917752_n.jpgco.
We had been warned that it was too cloudy to see anything, but we decided to try for it anyway. It is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, rising from 10,226 ft to 12,943 ft in 20 minutes. I was happy that we had a clear view of the city all the way up.

Once we disembarked, there was a large indoor shopping area. I instantly ordered a coffee. We were told that caffeine would help with the altitude sickness. Just a few minutes of walking around made me instantly aware of the altitude. My lungs felt like they were being squeezed and I felt dizzy.

17352169_10210372570363732_8474380398732351279_nWe decided to endulge in one of the tourist 17308794_10210390942223017_421669170831413609_n.jpgpictures and made a fun picture for a memory. Continuing the climb up the mountain was not even a consideration. The clouds moved in and I was having trouble catching my breath.

We headed back down the mountain on the gondola. We were happy to find that our taxi driver had patiently waited and we asked him to take us to what the locals refer to as “cupcake hill”.

El Panecillo is a 656 foot hill above the city. Again, the views are spectacular. On top of the hill sets a statue of the Madonna. We went inside and up to the observation deck.

There was a small brick road that lead up the hill to the statue. On the side of the road were local vendors selling souveniers. I negotiated for a alpaca scarf and a few trinkets to take home as gifts.

(I have no pictures of El Panecillo or the spectacular view because my phone was stolen. More about that in my next post).

 

Hiking in the Amazon

We readied ourselves in our rubber boots and life jackets once again and loaded into canoes. We set out to hike in the Amazon. I must be honest, this is what the entire trip was about to me. Despite the stifling heat, the breeze from moving up the river in the motorized canoe 17308782_10210349316102390_2971485119377380513_nfelt fantastic. We arrived at the Misicocha Private Natural Reserve. The government closely monitors it’s protected lands, so we had to have approval to hike.

We met under a hut at the top of a hill where there were giant spiders building elaborate webs for us. Several people grabbed walking sticks and we set out. We walked through the rainforest observing many species of trees (including my new favorite tree the walking pines), wild flowers, termite nests the size of cars, and various insects. 17361542_10210366819699969_4018232383304316734_n

We came to a gorge that had a suspension bridge strung across. Before I knew what was even happening my son took off across it. He is fearless. I set out after him when he was over halfway. The bridge bounces so much that only one person can be on it at one time. It was a little intimidating.

We continued to climb in elevation, trudging through mud and watching for insects and spiders. We stopped to try some ants that our guide told us tasted like lemon. I popped a s17362792_10211715205546021_7247668252483515258_nmall ant into my mouth. I couldn’t feel the ant, but had a sudden small burst of lemon flavor. I was relieved I couldn’t feel the ants little legs crawling.

We came to a larger gorge that had to be crossed by a basket chair on a zipline. Of course my fearless son was the first to volunteer to go across. Our guide sat him in the chair and u17308735_10210349315422373_6419910977450234425_nsed his walking stick to

place between the bars to keep him in. I can say I was more than a little nervous. Once again I followed him over to the other side. The ride was so fast it was over before I knew it.

About an hour and a half into our hike we reached our destination. We came upon an ancient kapok tree. It is believed to be 400 years old. At approximately 150 feet tall, it would have taken 20 people hand in hand to wrap around the tree it was so large. This is considered an sacred tree by the locals. I couldn’t even begin to take a picture what would clearly show17342841_10210350716537400_7770539619706682147_n how large this tree is. It was absolutely magnificent. It had massive vines hanging from so far above we could not see the starting point. My son decided to connect with his inner monkey and climbed the vines. I’m sure he felt like tarzan as he swung from the vines. I will admit, I was a little bit envious.

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After I laid my hands on the tree and honored it’s age and wisdom, we hiked back towards our rafts. Our clothes were thoroughly soaked through with sweat. I stopped to spray myself with bug spray at least twice in an effort to keep the various insects off of me. I felt like I was sweating it off as fast as I was applying it.

Back at the water we boarded balsa rafts. They were modeled after the rafts made by natives. We took off our boots and anything that wasn’t waterproof. We left them in a canoe with a few souls who weren’t quite as brave. Sitting on the raft, I was instantly wet. The water was cold and very silty. The water sloshed up through the individual logs. We pushed out into the current and began to float down stream. I was the first to jump. The water felt 17424849_10211715170265139_7830998117733676427_nexhilarating. The shock of cold after such a hot and humid hike took my breath. It quickly became comfortable and I held out my arms as my son jumped.

We held onto the raft letting our life jackets keep us afloat. I had asked previous to boarding the raft if I needed to worry about any of the weird parasites you see on those freaky medical shows called terrifying names like ‘Monsters Inside Us’. I was reassured that the urethra seeking parasites were further south, along with piranhas and other potential threats.

We were greeted back at the lodge with a fresh sampling of17264253_10210343014464853_7687460539118863904_n grilled food. Just like the locals, our food had been cooked inside of palm leaves. I was given a sampling of fresh trout, grub worms, and palm. Even though I was hesitant, I decided this would probably be my only opportunity (or half desire) to try the grubs. My son and I decided to do it together. We both popped a grub in our mouths. Surprisingly it tasted like bacon. I wasn’t able to eat the entire thing because I was expecting it to be crunchy (and to spare you further detail) it was not. I was told by others that the head was quite crunchy but I had purposely avoided that part.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Into the Andes

As we headed into the Andes Mountains, we stopp17342881_10210349681911535_8591327376380371571_n.jpged in a village called Papallacta. We were invited into the home of a local family of musicians. The man of the house gave us a demonstration of how he makes musical instruments. He made a pan flute out of bamboo and string, carefully cutting each piece to the right length for the right tune. Once he was done, his entire family came out and played for us.

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While on this trip we saw several local bands play, and what I found the most fascinating is that the little ones are always included. This is a tradition passed from one generation to the next and they are included from the day they can hold an instrument.

From there, we went to our resort Termas de Papallacta. This area is famous for its thermal springs and has a magnificent view of the Antisana Volcano. It is the highest city in Ecuador at almost 11,000 feet above sea level. It’s well known for it’s thermal springs that are heated by the subterranean activity of the nearby volcano.

17202864_10210332757128426_7904056639254265890_nThis place was simply breathtaking. These heated pools were just feet from the front door of our cabanas. Lil’ Man couldn’t even wait until our bags were delivered to our room before he ventured in. These waters are known as healing waters due to the natural minerals. It definitely healed me of any stress I may have had.

I spent the little extra money and Karl and I went to the spa. Our tour manager volunteered to watch Lil’ Man while we treated ourselves. We found even more pools of different temperatures. After 30 minutes in the pools, we were taken to a sauna. We were supposed to spend 30 minutes in it, but it was so hot I cut out a little early. We were shown to a room with lounge chairs where we laid and relaxed until a masseuse came and retrieved us for a neck and back massage. I was pretty much jelly by the time the whole experience was over. Needless to say, I slept like a rock.

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Middle of the World

Driving out of Otavala, the landscape that passed outside my window reminded me of
Vietnam. Trash littered the streets, stray dogs ate out of shredded garbage bags, houses were dirty and shabby. It is evident that the country is poor.

We stopped roadside at an ice cream shop. It is 6th generation owned. The owner made homemade sorbet in a large copper bowl that sets on ice and salt. By spinning the copper bowl on the ice and salt, the raspberry and soursop juice poured into the bowl began to freeze. It was a very refreshing treat. Of course I had to try all of the flavors. We waited out a massive afternoon downpour eating the ice cream.

 

After we were done, we headed to the equator. La Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World) is the place of the monument marking the Equator. In reality, the equator is actually located 250 yards away.  This was only discovered a few years ago after GPS was invented.

 

 

 

This is definitely a tourist trip, but it’s pretty cool to be able to kiss your love from a different hemisphere, or balance an egg standing up on a nail. Lil’ Man was the egg expert.

We grabbed some lunch at one of the many restaurants and watched local dancers perform native dances. I finally got to try real Ecuadorian food. I ordered several different kinds of empanadas and potato soup for our table to share. I chased it with an Ecuadorian beer.

Probably my favorite part of this entire trip was the hotels we got to stay in. After our equator adventure, we headed to the village of Otavalo to Cabana del Lago. This is such a magical place right on a lake surrounded by mountains. We had our own cabin, complete with a fireplace.

There was lots of activities such as boating (though it was too cold), miniature golf, and even a pen with rabbits and guinea pigs that you could feed by hand. I was reassured they didn’t eat these (guinea pig is not an uncommon delicacy). Lil’ Man instantly made friends with a girl his age and they spent hours playing mini golf. A great deal of it was flooded due to all the rain but it didn’t slow them down. The hotel workers were quick to come to the rescue with pails to clear out as much water as possible.

We had a big buffet with Ecuadorian food for dinner.  We drank chocolate liquor and chatted over yucca chips until we retreated back to our cabins. The temperature had dropped considerably and I was a little afraid that our room would be cold. When
we entered I was happy to find that our fireplace was burning warm. There was an extra special touch in the bed. The hotel staff had not only started a fire, but also had placed a hot water bottle in my bed. At first I thought it was a little odd, but found myself cuddling with that most of the night listening to the frogs chirp outside and the fire crackle in the fireplace.
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Waterfalls and llamas

Today we drove down the old Pan-Am Highway. It’s essentially paved with cobblestone. It’s rough on the bladder after a few cups of strong Ecuadorian coffee. The rough ride was totally worth it. We went to Pegucha which is famous for waterfalls.

We walked through a small village where people were cooking on their front porches and stray dogs followed children around. This is the first place I realized the value of carrying wet wipes with me. In attempt to give my full bladder some relief I found a public restroom. It turns out that toilet paper is a precious commodity and very scarce in Ecuador.

We hiked up a steep path to the waterfall. Once again I felt the altitude reeking havoc on my
lungs. We couldn’t get super close to the waterfall, but we did get up to a nice view point.

A local was at the falls with two llamas. A girl asked if I would take a picture of her while she sat on the llama.  As she climbed onto the llama, and reared its head back and spit a green fat ball of phlegm right at me. I managed to dodge most of it and it hit my shoes. After I took her picture, I decided that the llama and I were going to have to be friends. I took a picture with him, but he wanted nothing to do with me.

Giving up on making a new friend, we headed to the market in Otavala. It is one of the largest in South America and run by the local Otavaleños. It covers several large blocks. I’ve never been very good at bartering, but it is expected here. We browsed various stalls for traditional goods such as hand-woven clothes and rugs, jewelry and more. I bought a watercolor painting from a woman who insisted that buying it would give her milk for her baby. She had a small baby wrapped around her. I loved the artwork. Lil’ man found a musical instrument for Lil’ Man. Since this was  my birthday trip,  Lil’ Man felt the need to buy me something. He got a few dollars from Karl and he felt like a rich kid. He quickly learned to ask “Cuantos?” which means how much. The locals seemed quite taken with him. I’m guess some of it had to do with his big blue eyes and big smile.

The heat became pretty intense so we stopped for a fresh coconut being sold from a vendor. We drank all the water then had the seller use her machete to chop it open so we could eat it.

Exploring Quito

Our first day in Ecuador started early with a buffet breakfast at our hotel. I had expected an Ecuadorian breakfast, but instead the buffet was filled with a western style breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries, etc.  If you want the Ecuadorian breakfast, you have to pay  extra for it. Seeing that it consisted largely of soups I stuck with coffee and a muffin.

After breakfast we waited in the Hilton Colon lobby for the other members of our tour group. One thing that stood out was the huge vases of the longstem roses everywhere. It turns out that roses are the second most exported product from Ecuador (oil being number one). They export 400 million roses her day.


We loaded the bus and took off for the Old Town section of Quito. Quito is the capital city of Ecuador is almost 3000 feet above sea level. It’s famed as the highest capital city in the world, and walking around I instantly felt the altitude.

Our first stop was Quito Cathedral. It’s the largest church in South America. This was also a made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. Quito has one of the most intact historical centers on the continent.


I was more interested in exploring the area around the Cathedral than paying the fee to go inside. There were great views of the city below. Also, there were many vendors selling coca leaves and candy. Even though it’s illegal to grow coca in Ecuador, they are brought in from Peru and sold. Of course I had to try out the candy, and will say that it is no joke! One piece of candy has the same effect as an energy drink on me. It definitely helped with the altitude.

All amped up on coca candy, we continued our tour of Quito. We went to the Inglesia de la Compania de Jesus (Church of the Society of Jesus). Even though pictures were forbidden inside (so you will buy the postcards), I managed to capture a few. The amount of gold in this church is excessive. Everything is covered in gold.

After getting our shiny fix we ventured through the Plaza de la Independence, the central public square of the city. I watched political groups protest, religious groups sing, and locals sitting on benches having conversations. We walked by lots of vendors peddling ice cream, sunglasses, coca leaves, and clothing for dogs.

As we were heading back to our bus an elderly woman bumped into one of our group members. After getting settled onto the bus our group member realized that the clumsy elderly lady had relieved her of her iPhone that was in a pocket in her backpack. I helped her track the phone and then wipe it with the Find My Iphone app. We were told that Iphones are not imported into Ecuador and can be sold for up to $1800.

I was happy to be heading out of the city.