Every year we go on a huge family vacation with my husband’s entire family. At this point there are 16 of us, in 3 different states on opposite ends of the country all trying to coordinate and agree on a common meeting point. The only non-negotiable sticking point for my sun worshipping in-laws is that it must be warm and sunny. This year the destination of choice was San Juan, Puerto Rico and the Intercontinental Hotel.
None of us had been to Puerto Rico before and we didn’t know what to expect. I think it’s safe to say we loved it. For New Yorkers there couldn’t be an easier trip – direct and under 4 hours. For everyone the lack of customs and immigration was a huge bonus after a couple of years of going to Mexico. The lack of people soliciting you the minute you get off the plane is incredibly refreshing. And, most importantly for this family – the food in Old San Juan was fantastic.
Here are my San Juan Stand Outs:
Intercontinental Hotel – Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that we had a snafu when checking in – our room wasn’t ready for a very, very long time and my daughter had a massive meltdown because of it. How did they rectify this? They gave us an enormous room upgrade – I mean HUGE. So, that made us feel better. But, what really won us over was the incredibly kind, attentive and accommodating staff. Professional and friendly without being unctuous. They made our stay exceptionally lovely. And the pool and beach are great too.
Food, activities and food click on! Continue reading
Of all the ways your life changes when you have kids none is more drastic than the way you travel. Gone are the days of a small carry-on with a book, an ipod and some trashy magazines. Suddenly your carry on is like Mary Poppins carpet bag – full of snacks (both salty and sweet), stickers, markers, DVD players, DVDs, coloring books, activity books and depending on the age of your kids, diapers, change of clothes, wipes, ear drops, maybe some pajamas and even a change of clothes for yourself (yes I learned the hard way that mishaps on the plane tend to land in my lap, or down the front of my shirt). Early on when my twin daughters were just babies we were like a small army going off to war as we marched down the jetway. Two strollers that we could fold in 5 second flat, two car seats unlatched and ready to load, and an industrial sized diaper bag that just barely fit in the overhead.
Luckily for me my daughters are long past the nightmare travel age. They wheel on their own small carry-on bags filled with but a few key possessions – a DS, an ipod, a treasured toy and a book. But, I remember well those days when every passenger on the plane eyed us with dread as we boarded and made our way down the aisle. You could see them secretly praying, please don’t sit near me, please, please.
This past Tuesday my two daughters and I went to the Metropolitan Opera House Tree Lighting and then on a special backstage tour of the theater. Growing up in New York City some of my most vivid and cherished memories of New York theater are linked to that incredibly beautiful theater. I still remember the first time I sat in the velvet chairs and watched the mammoth sparkling chandeliers rise up to the ceiling stories above as the lights dimmed and the music began. This was the first time my daughters had been inside the opera house being only seven and not yet ready to sit through and appreciate a full-length production of ballet, and certainly not opera.
Imagine your first time inside such an impressively huge and gorgeous theater as a sort of insider. We were led into the main orchestra seating where we heard about the history of the theater and watched the crew as they readied the stage for that night’s opera, Le Nozze di Figaro. I think the girls were more impressed by the size and scope of the sets seeing them in the bare light and with wings clearly visible than they would be with the usual trickery of stage lighting. We then went on to the actual workshops where the sets are constructed, touched up, painted and broken down. The girls got such a kick out of seeing the burned witch remains from Hansel and Gretel missing a toe and in need of repair as well as the giant chefs’ heads that needed spiffing up. From there we walked on to the actual stage. Now, here is where the full-fledged theater geek in me wanted to shake my daughters and try and get them to understand that they were standing on the very stage that Pavarotti had sung on, that Cynthia Gregory had danced on. But really they just thought the slanting floors of the sets and the fact that the paintbrushes were attached to poles to touch up the top of the sets were really cool. Me however? I was seriously elated and awestruck.
Sometimes a backstage tour can leave you feeling like the mystery has gone out of what you loved. Too many warts revealed or illusions shattered. Usually things don’t measure up in real life. The opposite was true after our tour of the Met. I have a brand new appreciation for the scope and magnitude of the artistry and hard labor that go into mounting each production and my daughters were so enthralled by the end (maybe due to my relentless cheerleading and prodding) that they have now decided they want to go to the new production of Hansel and Gretel and attend their first opera.
And, A GIVEAWAY!
IF you would like a chance to see this special holiday production of Hansel and Gretel, sung in English, at the Met leave a comment below. I have two orchestra seats to give away for 8:00pm on Monday, December 14th! The winner will be picked by Saturday December 12th.
For more information on the opera click here!
This is an original beccarama.com post.
For an entire month my family and I lived, traveled and ate our way through Italy. We picked herbs from our garden, painted watercolors during the hot afternoons, swam in the pristine lake, ate endless amounts of fresh pasta and gelato, and drove all over the country in a quest to open up our daughters’ eyes and minds as well as their taste buds. You’d think after an entire month away we would be ready to come home, but you’d be wrong.
However, they call it vacation for a reason right? It’s a break, a time away, and in the end real life beckons – and there is no more real life than life in New York City. With barely enough time to recover from jetlag both my daughters went off to day camp, worried about which swim group they’d be in and anxious about coming to camp mid-session. My husband went off to a new job, literally went off on the train to Washington DC to have his own orientation and new “real life.” And me? Well, after writing everyday for a month straight I took a week’s hiatus to get my home back in order. Plus, after writing in hotel rooms, basil scented gardens and in the sunroom of an Italian villa, I was not ready to go back to windowless back room at Cosi.
At first the alone time was actually nice. After being together as a family for 33 straight days and nights we all needed a break. But then the other stuff seeped in. We had sublet our apartment while we were gone and now I had to put everything back together again, and find all of the things we swore we’d stowed away in places where we’d never forget. Where were the checkbooks? The metrocards? The girls’ diaries? All of those camp clothes I’d put away so they’d be easy to get to upon our return? We put Old Mother Hubbard to shame with our bare cupboards and still, after going to the grocery store 3 times in one week I will reach for something – ketchup maybe? – and discover it’s not there because I forgot to put that on the list. Then came the emails about the new school year, the pending political decisions being made, gossip and a months worth of catalogs and snail mail piled up on the table too! (What I need on the shopping list is some wine!)
In the end of course it’s worth it. Nothing can compare to going away – far away – for a length of time. We were beyond lucky to have had the opportunity and I don’t know when we’ll have it again. But for once it would be nice if the vacation could spill over into our life at home. Maybe I’ll buy a pot of basil for our windowsill so at least I can close my eyes and inhale and pretend that outside my window is a field of sunflowers, instead of a pigeon family and the glow of my neighbor’s big screen TV.
This post has been nationally syndicated by McClatchy/Tribune. Look for it on the web!
Both of my daughters did not show up on my first sonogram. For 8 weeks I thought I was having a normal singleton pregnancy with all of the usual excitement and anticipation a first pregnancy brings. My husband missed that first sonogram so to be nice my doctor did another one at my next appointment. As we all stared at the throbbing lima bean on the screen the doctor pointed out the “head” and heart, and then she stopped. “Well, what’s that?” my husband asked pointing at another blob. “Um,” she said, “that’s another heart and another head. You’re having twins!” And as the blood drained from my face and my stomach fell to my toes my husband pumped his fist in the air and yelled, “Yeah, twins!” (He later said he did this to reassure me because he had never seen me look so frightened. I think it was a momentary celebration of feeling like he had super sperm)
Luckily I had another 5 or so months to get used the idea of having twins. Continue reading
Our last days in Italy were a combination of sight seeing and relaxation. We decided to fit in one last day trip, this time close by in Tarquinia. There is a wonderful small museum dedicated to the Etruscan civilization and then a necropolis with tombs to explore outside of the historical town. We drove to Tarquinia with heavy hearts knowing it was our last real day of discovery.
The museum was right inside the city wall’s entrance and we thought we would do that first, before lunch, and then head over to the tombs. Surrounding a courtyard, the small stone museum is full of ancient sarcophagus, often of entire families, and pottery and weapons from the Etruscan Era. This was a great museum with the girls, full of interesting items they could relate to like the dolls and pottery, and also impressive and tactile with the carved sarcophagi all around. Plus, we did the whole museum in about 35 minutes. We went to a fabulous lunch right across the street and then headed out of the town to the necropolis. Continue reading
With only a couple of days left we realized that there are still some restaurants that the owner’s of our villa recommended. I don’t know if I mentioned the amazing book that they left us filled with notes on towns worth visiting, cards from the best restaurants all over, maps of cities and parking tips and directions all over Umbria, Tuscany and Lazio. This book has been our bible while we’ve been here. It’s given us ideas, helped us plan itineraries and always shown us the best places to eat! (They also left an incredible array of tour books, history books and cooking magazines. Everything we could need to research and prepare for our various journeys this past month)
So, with bible in hand we decided to pick out a restaurant on the other side of Lake Bolsena that we hadn’t yet explored. We chose a restaurant called Purgatorio and plugged in the non-address into the GPS as best we could since there was no real street or number being right on the lake – somewhere. The drive around the western edge of Lake Bolsena was very different than the Eastern side. We worked our way through lush vegetation, tall grasses and tilled fields as well as vineyards and waving olive trees. We finally arrived at the restaurant perched off a dirt road not 20 feet from the water’s edge. If this was purgatory than all those sinners out there should be relieved. Continue reading
The last couple of days have been a paradigm of summer laziness. We’ve done nothing but hang out at the pool, eat, drink, read and for the girls, paint in the garden. This is it, our final week in Italy and so we seem to living it as low key as possible. Plus, the girls have basically boycotted getting into the car. They are so over any sort of excursions and sightseeing, though we may have to rouse them a couple more times just to feel like we’ve covered every inch of this slice of Italy.
None of us really want to leave. The girls have gone through bouts of homesickness, but both of them have said they would rather stay here. Even the lure of camp isn’t enough to pull them out of their Italian daze. And why should it? Camp right now is the great unknown; they don’t know their bus color, their fellow campers or if they will pass the all important deep water test. I can see the anxiety starting to build. Hopefully they will be so jetlagged when we get back to New York that sleep won’t be a huge issue the night before the first day of camp. (wishful thinking I’m sure.) Continue reading
Our last day in Paris was just as chock full as the first three. We had to check out our apartment early because the next family was arriving by 10. Actually, they arrived while we were still there, and poor them we made them wait outside until we were ready and the owner had arrived. We decided to check our two small suitcases at Gare Montparnasse the main train station nearby and the site of the Air France airport bus that seemed like the best solution for us to get back to the airport.
We took a different street than usual and found the block we had been searching for all along – there was the small artisinal cheese shop, the fruit stand, the wine store that seemed to be desperately lacking on our walks. We bought four different kinds of cheese for later on. Finally the cool weather was beneficial! We also discovered an eyeglass store and since the girls’ are in need of a new pair of glasses since they don’t have spare pairs this seemed like the perfect chance to get both a souvenir and something practical. They picked out adorable frames and with the VAT refund we managed to come out ahead of buying them at home. Though the dollar is so bad this is barely the case. Continue reading
Our first full day in Paris was an experiment in family travel – specifically how to squeeze in what the adults want to do yet placate the kids. We hit a pretty good balance. We started out on the Metro with our 3-day passes and headed for the Louvre. Unfortunately the weather was unseasonably cool and threatening rain but better too cool than too hot I think. Besides, a legitimate reason to shop in Paris is always a good thing.
We walked down the Rue de Rivoli and entered the Louvre through the courtyard towards the pyramid. The girls immediately spotted the Ferris wheel in the Tuileries and that became the perfect bribe to get them to stay in the Louvre long enough to feel like we’d taken in some substantial art viewing. We descended through the pyramid into the Louvre with barely any line and got our serious cool multimedia audio/video tours. Continue reading