NYC digressions

*I think helping a neighbor’s son with his common college application essay may have prompted this post. Hmmmm…

Ahhh, the BIG apple! This infamous city has grown on me.

The first time I set foot in Manhattan in 2004 I wasn’t smitten. I found NYC to be overwhelming, smelly, crass, and packed to the seams with people, honking taxis, and obnoxious sounds. It kinda frightened me; it was sensory overload. I sat on the red double decker tour bus, amazed at the sights yet feeling incredibly small under the soaring buildings we passed. A vivid memory from the trip was a taxi ride. I recall jumping in a cab near Central Park during an intense thunderstorm one hot August afternoon. The welcome relief from the humid, wet air was short lived; the driver roared the car toward a massive puddle, and the water shot up like a tsunami to soak a dozen smartly dressed professionals waiting to cross the street. The driver deviously laughed as the people yelled obscenities at us. I sat back, silent, as I watched horns pop out of the driver’s temple. I was horrified.

Okay… I may have exaggerated one part. Regardless, it left a lasting impression.

In retrospect, I have realized something (call it self-reflection): I was young and naive and uncultured. No that doesn’t excuse the taxi driver’s actions…. New York City was nothing like my innocent Disney-esque hometown Orlando or any “biggish city” that I ;had ever been to. Heck, I was a naive young 20-something living in the middle of New Hampshire at the time! I had a bubble complex. I was unaccustomed to the “hard knock life” of big cities.

Since then, however, I’ve blossomed into a foodie, obsessed with farm to table cuisine and international dishes; I consider myaself an adventurer who longs to travel and embrace the change and tastes of unfamiliar places. I have since seen and experienced much more of the world. In short,  I now have an intense curiosity: I am a wanderlust.

Perhaps my 2004 NYC trip was the turning point?

Since then I’ve visited  other true big cities like London, Rome, Florence, and Barcelona. I’ve become more confident in foreign situations, like navigating large unfamiliar airports by myself in Japan (where they temporarily lost my bag), Spain (where I had to practice using my Mexican sounding Spanish to find out where to go), and South Korea (where I had to spend the night … and HAD to locate the next book in the Twilight series- in English of course).  I’ve learned how to deal with language barriers on public transit systems in Paris, Monte Carlo, and Naples; how to “fit in” at community mess halls in remote parts of Yukon, Canada; and the importance of not taking a nap as soon as you arrive on the other side of the earth. I’ve learned to embrace unusual travel activities such as Zorbing down a hill, jumping backwards off a waterfall into a dark New Zealand cave filled with glowworms, snorkeling with sting rays in the Caymans, ziplining in the rainforests of Belize, or landing on a glacier in Alaska. Additionally, I’ve learned to appreciate different varieties of food, customs, and appearances. Nothing beats a warm croissant from a Parisian bakery, or champagne with a splash of Kir from a French bistro, or the smell of fresh lavender in Provence, or hot chips with a splash of vinegar in a dark London pub, or figuring out how to eat noodle soup without a spoon in Japan, or  receiving shot of limoncello with a glass of free champagne courtesy a cute Italian restauranteur in Italy, or accidentally ordering a huge seafood meal with oysters and shrimp in Barcelona (btw, I hate seafood), or being reminded to take off your shoes before sitting on the floor at your table at a restaurant in Tokyo.  Ahh, but I digress…..

New York City, the international mecca in all her beautiful glory, overwhelmingly appeals to me now, and I can’t wait to see her soon.

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{Trip Report} Southern Caribbean Cruise

Warning: This trip report is rather long! It’s nearly 6400 words, in fact! I mostly detail my experiences in the ports of call rather than the cruise ship experience. I’ve cruised numerous times to the Caribbean and even to Alaska and the Mediterranean. I now have diamond status on Royal Caribbean, so for me, the ship is a means of transportation. It is not the destination. I do love food, so I will take note of that in my report. The purpose of trip reports, in my mind, is to help future travelers and to document the vacation experience so the memories are never forgotten. We traveled with our neighbors: Sal, Meow and their two little kiddos.

Day 1: PRECRUISE

The Sleep Inn of Buffalo, NY is where I laid my head the night prior to our trip. We had enough points to book two free flights to San Juan (a 400-odd dollar per ticket in savings), but we had to fly out of Buffalo, a two hour drive from home, at the crack of dawn. We like the Sleep Inn because they offer modernized rooms and an excellent sleep and park package (my opinion changed later… more on that at the end). My alarm went off at 3:45 a.m., announcing the beginning of our vacation. Xander popped up exclaiming, “See, I’m not cranky!” We had a quick breakfast, before meeting the shuttle. We texted our travel partners (who were flying out of a differ airport) with a pic of our exhausted, yet excited faces, and they returned the favor. Our uneventful Southwest flight took off at 6:15 and landed on time in San Juan, Puerto Rico at noon.

Ahh, hello San Juan. It’s been 10 years since I’ve seen you last! And how I have missed you!

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St. Kitts Through My Lens

The tropical mountains of St. Kitts and Nevis are dramatic, lush and a brilliant emerald green. They remind me of the voluptuous mountains of Hawaii… or at least the photos I’ve seen of Hawaii.  Maybe next summer I’ll venture west to Hawaii to double check that comparison. Homes do not dot the steep mountains, but rather the towns are scattered at their feet. Large fluffy clouds hang in the sky, kissing the tops of the mountains and breaking up the vast blue Caribbean sky. If you are a lover of fruit, St. Kitts is your Eden. Avocados, mango, papaya, soursop, and breadfruit (Google these last two!) grow in abundance in people’s yards; additionally, you’ll also see plentiful almond trees and sugar cane. Men on street corners sell sugar cane sticks in a plastic bag for a small fee, and women market their colorful fruits from tables set up in the shaded alleys of “downtown” Basseterre. In case you were wondering, to enjoy sugar cane you must gnaw on it using your back molars. Then, suck on the sweet, sugarwater-like juices it releases. When the juice is completely released and swallowed, spit out the left over pulp. It’s like candy.

Overall, I witnessed poverty on the roads near Basseterre, yet received great welcome from the people of St. Kitts. As I watched my son play on the black-sand beach with some St. Kittitian children and as I sipped on a local Rum cocktail garnished with freshly grated nutmeg, I recalled why I love to travel.  It can best be summed up in this Mark Twain quote: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Oh, and if you ever visit St. Kitts, don’t be surprised if you end up having a diapered monkey put on your shoulder…………..

Here is what St. Kitts looked like through my lens.

The Virgin Islands Through My Lens

The Virgin Islands are simply breathtaking. To me, they are one of the most picturesque places in the Caribbean. St. Thomas, St. John, Jost Van Dyke, and other surrounding islands look like mountain tops, peeking out of the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Homes haphazardly cling to the steep cliffs and hills, often times looking like they are stacked on top of each other. Makes you wonder how tricky it must be to construct them. The water is clear, tropical fish are abundant, and you never know when a sea turtle may pop its head out of the water next to you. Without fail,  the “We should open a beach bar here” conversation takes place, as the beach bum, “shoes-optional” lifestyle always seems to attract me. The USVI and BVI are places I would not have a problem calling home.

Here’s what the Virgin Islands looked like through my lens last week.

Old San Juan through my lens

Old San Juan in Puerto Rico, or Viejo San Juan,  is characterized by its 16th and 17th century stone buildings and azure cobblestone streets;  its history is rich, as Ponce de Leon founded it and Christopher Columbus named it. In short, it is a mecca for history or architecture buffs.

I spent time in Old San Juan yesterday and the previous weekend walking the narrow streets, peering into courtyards and shop windows, marveling at the kaleidoscope of colors, and tasting local food and infamous cocktails from a handful of small cafes and restaurants. The Caribbean sun was fierce, the sky violently blue, and the humidity surged.  Gazing at the colorful kites on the emerald lawns of  the sea-front El Morro offered a diversion from the heat. I definitely needed more time in OSJ.

Here is what Old San Juan looked like through my lens.

{Trip Report} Long weekend in Vermont

{Trip Report} Long weekend in Vermont

We have officially been married 10 years. I give mad props to Nick for dealing with me. For our anniversary, we will be celebrating for a couple weeks. Why not, right?! The perfect gift for me will always be… a … Continue reading

Mills do DC

A couple weekends ago, we packed up the Jetta and headed 7 hours south to Washington DC for some sightseeing and a wedding. Nick dropped me off in Maryland at my childhood-friend Rebecca’s house and meanwhile he headed into DC with Xander for a Daddy/Son day and a half. Rebecca and I first met in 6th grade in Orlando and since graduation from college, we tend to meet up in touristy cities other than Orlando… our last get together was in New Zealand! Nice and early on Friday morning we headed to the National Cathedral. I marveled at the huge limestone building with its Gothic details and stained glass masterpieces. We spent a lot of time here and I, naturally, found everything photo-worthy.

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National Cathedral in DC, 6th largest in the world!

The amazing stained glass casts a colorful spray of color on the ceiling!

The cathedral was conceived as "a national house of prayer for all people"

breath-taking stained glass windows lined the walls of the cathedral

Rebecca & I check out the observation tower

I met up with Nick and Xander that evening in Alexandria… ready for the wedding festivities to begin. The first night we attended the wedding rehearsal dinner in Old town Alexandria and the second day we spent as DC tourists onboard a Duck Boat with our St. Louis friends Ward & Fabienne. It provided us with a good overview of DC (I’ve been twice to DC but Nick has never been). And Xander just loved being on a bus & later a boat! The captain even let Xander take the wheel for a little while while on the water! We had lunch at Capitol City Brewing but found it to be a horrible choice…. service and food sucked! And that evening we headed up to Mt. Vernon for Katie and David’s wedding celebration! IT WAS BEAUTIFUL! The place smelled like lavender, the servers were dressed in period costumes and the food was amazing! The Bellinis and bacon wrapped breadstick apps were a bit hit with me! Oh and so was the beef tenderloin! Yum! In short, it was a fab visit to DC! And we wish Katie & David many years of happiness together! The rest of the pictures from the weekend can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/leighuf/sets/72157625063407602/with/5037295095/

Washington Monument

Capitol Building

Xander driving the Duck boat on the Potomac River

Ward & Nick at Capitol City Brewing

The wedding was held at the Mt. Vernon Inn.

The tables were named after St. Louis neighborhoods!!

toasting Katie & David with Beer & rootBeer

the girls & the bride

Every Mom Needs Time AWAY

Why? So she can stay up late (like 4am) and sleep in past 7:30am the next morning. So she can wear pretty clothes and high heels without fear of getting snot, playdough, paint etc. on them. So she can splurge on things like expensive makeup and fancy food and vodka. So she can go see  the sights of a cosmopolitan city without wondering if there’s a Chuck E Cheese nearby! So she can go see an awesome chick flick (Eat, Pray, Love) instead of a cartoon. And more so she can spend uninterrupted time with her good friend Meghan! 🙂

a weekend away in Toronto isn't complete without this amazing view!

our reflection in a building

Wondering if I should adapt this as my new life motto? 🙂

Meghan & I glammed up & ready for a night on the town!

Girls Nights & Girls Weekends RULE

Xander visits Niagara Falls

I haven’t updated this site in a long time… so here we go!

Niagara Falls 2010

Niagara Falls 1980-something (Me, my bro Gwyn & my mom)

Over Father’s Day weekend, Nick and I took Xander to Niagara, Canada to see “the big waterall.” We opted to visit the Canadian side of Niagara which is far better than the USA side (better views and more things to do). A trip to Niagara Falls wouldn’t be complete without a up close and personal view of the falls on-board the Maid of the Mist! This boat tour dates back to the 1800s and is the only boat tour available to visiting tourists. It starts near the Rainbow bridge, continues past the American Falls/Bridal Veil Falls until entering the soaking mist of the powerful Horseshoe Falls. It’s quite the experience for $14.95 per person (Xander was free!).

We hoped on the 7pm boat tour and were handed disposable blue ponchos (much better than the wet moldy yellow raincoats that were used in the 1980s when I first visited Niagara). These things don’t offer much protection since they are lightweight and loosely fitted. Well, they aren’t fitted at all! They are like wearing a big plastic shower curtain! And the wind created from the power of the falls causes them to blow up like Marilyn Monroe’s dress in The Seven Year Itch!

2010 ponchos: its a trashbag, no its a shopping bag, no its a plastic shower curtain!

1980-something ponchos: cold & moldy

We positioned ourselves on top of the Maid of the Mist so Xander could get a clear view of the waterfalls and rainbows that were created in the mist. He was in heaven! He loves being on a boat!  When we entered the Horseshoe Falls it began to POUR on us! “Is it raining?!” Xander asked us. And I kept telling him “No, it’s the waterfall getting us wet!” After a few minutes (or was it seconds?) standing in this monsoon, we decided to go downstairs for cover. I was a bit concerned about ruining the expensive camera I was clutching under the shower curtain! We enjoyed the Horseshoe falls MUCH BETTER from below deck where we were protected from the falls’ wet wrath. Xander was a little bit dazed and confused but he had a grand time visiting Niagara!

enjoying the ride, the falls and the rainbows

soaked and a little confused

We’re Baaaack!

All good things must come to an end… we’re back in St. Louis after an eventful 2 week vacation to Florida & Mexico. We had a wonderful time visiting with family and friends and basking in the warm temperatures (well, at least the temps in Orlando and Mexico were favorable. Not so much in Largo!). And we ended our vacation with a short cruise to Cozumel and Costa Maya via the Grandeur of the Seas! We already miss the warm sun (there’s snow on the ground here in St. Louis–boo!) so I thought I’d post a couple photos of this divine sun! Ahh, I’m ready for spring and summer! More pics to come soon. I’m off to do some laundry. Back to reality!

warm sun above our cruiseship

Sunrise in Cozumel, Mexico

Early morning sky onboard the Granduer of the Seas

The sun peeking through in Costa Maya