February 25, 2016

Cousins in Tokyo- Part 1

Who would ever guess that the cheapest flight to anywhere in the world from Italy, was to Tokyo? Well, that is exactly what happened when my sister Pam was randomly searching airfares one night. Pam had just moved to Italy and was wanting to plan a trip somewhere while her husband was out of the country. Perfect!

Anxiously awaiting their arrival at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo.

Pam is a very brave soul to travel around the world alone with two small kids, but we were so happy she did! Reunited, and it feels so good.

It was a long 15 hour flight (not including the leg from Venice to Paris!), but the kids did great and did not even seem to struggle with adjusting to the time difference.

We did more of the Tokyo park, playgrounds and mall play area tour, rather than your typical sightseeing, due to the ages of the kids. And Japan has SO much to offer in that department! Here we are trying out massage chairs at the mall. Ahhhh....

And lunch at Pepper Lunch, our favorite! Even Benny, who is normally pretty picky, couldn't lap it up fast enough!

Making new friends. This little gal really took to Benny.

The poor thing just talked and talked to him in Japanese and he never answered back. The strong silent type?

Maybe the only place in the world with a toy sushi bar, as the norm?

Two sushi chef's in the making.

Clara had a "ball" too.

Japan certainly has play areas figured out!

Everyone approved of the taiyaki. It is a pancake-like batter in a fish mold, filled with custard. Yum!

More fun the next day at another play land. (The weather was pretty cool this trip, I was hoping to get them outside more.)

Ben loved the tricycle racing track.

And Ella tried her hand at roller skating. She took many hard falls but kept at it. I love that about her personality.

There was even a live fish pond. We happened in just as this guy caught one.

Eva dared to touch it, but pulled her hand back- FAST!

And our Japanese Costco for lunch!

Time for the train! Anticipation was high.

He felt like such a big shot and looks just like a pro.

Train buddies.

We exited the train station just in time to see these little characters pop out of the building and play a song. So Japanese. Then, after the song they disappeared back into the building.

At the Tokyo Toy Museum, we saw lots of original wooden toys, including this interesting ball pit. The balls really had some weight to them.

This was harder than it looks.

Benny, Eva and an ass.

A quick break to try out the limited edition Starbucks Sakura (cherry blossom) Frappuccino. No complaints!

Some of the most fun was had right in our backyard.

Sushi night! When in Tokyo....

They actually really liked it, except for when Benny ate the crunchy tail of the shrimp. He really slowed down after that.

Good morning!

Showa Park is always a good time on a beautiful day.

The kids were in heaven!

Eva is a great little babysitter and very attentive.

Love the Japanese roller slides.


Even Clara, loved the jumpy 'clouds'.

One of our favorite photo spots.

And, the Japanese garden.

After all of that playing, it was time for a treat. Pastries, anyone?

The kids loved this interactive screen, they could've stayed here for hours.

But this is what you get when it's time to go home. Poor Clara!

The visit was off to a great start, more  to come in Part 2.....

February 13, 2016

A few days in Phuket, Thailand

With the return of the cold (relatively!) and gray days of winter, we heard the beckoning call of Thailand, yet again. Our last visit to this beautiful and exotic country was close to a year ago, and we were anxious to return. Thailand is truly one of my favorite places on earth. Although this is an Asian country, it's still a full day of travel from Japan. The world is vast! 

Finally arrived and feeling good!

This trip, we decided to visit Phuket, near the southern tip of the country. (To avoid the pronunciation error that Ella kept making, it's pronounced Poo ket.)

We started day number one with a sunrise stroll on the beach. Off to a great start!

We had the beach to ourselves, too. This particular area is known as Surin Beach.

This was a very nice, small beach and not as crowded as some others.

There are always lots of stray dogs, though this one did have a collar.

Such beautiful colors!

And sadly, you can't escape the trash here, either.

The fruit basket in our room had the most interesting fruit.  It was crisp and mild tasting, with a similar texture to a cucumber. Does anyone know the name of this fruit?

It is very hard to find rooms in Asia that sleep a family of four. I loved how this hotel had a trundle bed, rather than the typical sofa bed. Brilliant, and so much more comfortable!

Off to a different hotel at the Karon Beach area.

We got this beautiful handmade flower bracelet upon check-in, along with a cool, scented washcloth and fruit drink. I will really miss that about Asia!

We received another in our room with the turn down service in the evening. So intricate and beautiful!

Also, a gorgeous fruit bowl and small plate of Thai treats. I love the abundance of fruit in tropical locales, so different from Japan where produce is outrageously expensive.

After a quick drink with a fabulous view, we headed to the small town in search of a phone charger. Yes, I had forgotten to pack mine, a first, actually!

Our hotel property was enormous, so they had this shuttle to take you to the front gates. The girls loved this!

Ever since we left Bangkok, last April, Matt has been dreaming of his Thai fried chicken. We came across this street vendor on our walk, so we purchased, of course.

Watch out Chick-fil-a, this chicken was incredible, a huge thumbs up from the whole family!

This is a very typical view of the streets.

I love passing the fruit stands. Oh, to have this variety readily available year round.

We had planned to take a boat trip to Phang Nga Bay, which is a beautiful cove that also includes the famous James Bond Island, but the winds were too strong so all the trips were canceled. Oh well, next time.

We loved the peacocks roaming around our hotel grounds.

And our evening strolls along the beach were among my favorite moments on this trip.

A quick beach selfie with my favorite gals.

The lighting is just so beautiful at dusk.

We enjoyed the town at night, too. This area was about 30 minutes from Patong Beach, the overly touristy and crazy busy beach, and we liked the pace and energy here.

So much food, so little time.

Phuket is surrounded by ocean on one side and beautiful mountains on the other. It is truly a paradise. This area was also hit very badly in the 2004 tsunami, but I did not see any lingering evidence.

I love the Thai long tail boats.

And back at the hotel, lots of swimming took place. Ella said that this water slide was her dream come true because it went through a cave and exited through a waterfall. Fun times!

They loved the fruit-on-a-stick, that the attendant brought around, too.

Our hotel had a large deck with these swings on them, which made for such a quiet and relaxing place to sit. I absolutely loved this!

Thai food is probably my absolute favorite, and so we headed in to town for lunch to get my fix.

Pad Thai....yummy. It was everything I had dreamt of and then some. The peanut and lime combination is just out of this world!

Eva ordered the chicken fried rice, a great staple.

Ella ordered the shrimp won tons and loved every bite. And, Matt ordered a pork noodle dish.

But the best part? Mango sticky rice, oh how I've missed you!

With my Thai food craving satiated, I popped in to the massage parlor next door for a foot massage. ($7 for one hour!) A full-body Thai massage can be equal parts excruciating and heavenly, it involves yoga, stretching and pressure points (also the masseuse walking on your back at times!) but the foot massage was wonderful and relaxing. I sat in one of these big chairs and dozed.

My chair was by the large front window, so I watched the street traffic come an go.

At the end, they served a warm mango tea. Perfect!

You always pass shrines such as this in Thailand. The colors of Thailand are just exquisite.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, the girls befriended a nice Australian girl. I must say, we've met many Aussies on our travels through Asia, and they are very warm and friendly people, in general. 

One last sunset before heading back to Japan.

The sky was very dramatic with the cloud cover.

And one last Thai street food favorite to end a fabulous trip. The Thai banana pancake! She rolls dough very thin,

slices a banana on top,

folds the dough over the banana into a square pocket and continues to fry everything for a minute or so,

then tops with sweetened condensed milk. This is a little slice of heaven!

As is, Thailand, in general! I really love everything about this country; the food, the people and the tropical beauty from the jungle to the beaches. I hope to return many more times!