New York! New York!

 

So this past Christmas, Elek’s main present from me was a trip to New York. I already ran it by him, but to add to the fun of Christmas morning, I put #1 of 10 clues of a scavenger hunt in his stocking. He really enjoyed the activity as it took him from the freezer to his basketball to bike helmet to the back of the bathroom mirror. Well we just got back from our trip and we certainly made it worthwhile! I made a Google map with most everything we were going to do or try to do which you should be able to view here.  Elek really had no sense of New York other than movie stars and TV Shows. I think he really got a better understanding of the Big Apple in general. 

 

Tuesday

We flew in Tues. June 5th very early. We took the 6 AM direct flight from Memphis. Immediately we went to my friend Jenny’s to drop off our luggage. Our first order of business was to stroll through Central Park. We did for a bit on the north end and then ended up eating lunch at Sal & Carmine’s Pizza apparently established over 60 years ago. Their cash register reflected this fact. Next, we stopped by the Seinfeld diner where they always met to get coffee. Elek was very excited to have his picture made outside of it. We made a brief stop back at Jenny’s apartment and we knew it was time to get real so after a short rest Elek and I headed into midtown Manhattan.

One of Elek’s requests was to go to M&M World where he got his name printed on a cup full of M&Ms as we waited! I had no idea that was even an option. Our next stop was Madame Tussaud’s wax museum which was as creepy as it was fascinating! Some of the figures looked very life like while others not so much. This stop was so worth it! We scooted through Times Square during the day on our way to the Grand Central Terminal. I don’t recall if I have ever been there but I remember Grand Central Terminal from some flash mob videos I’ve seen. Another couple of things we stumbled across were Nintendo NY and the LEGO store both of which Elek had a good time seeing. In the LEGO store there was a large dragon whose body was part way out of the ceiling and wall which must have taken a team a huge amount of time to assemble! Lastly in this area we had to wander by Rockefeller Center with NBC Studios and Radio City Music Hall. 

I did some research with the help of Jenny for places to eat and the one we settled on Tues. evening was Kottu House, which is a Sri Lankan place that was just delicious! We got the classic chicken and deviled beef. Both were very flavorful, however, the beef was Elek’s favorite. The mild was spicy enough for us! For dessert we walked around the corner to an ice cream sandwich bar called Melt. They were so rich! On the way back to the apartment Elek saw a game of soccer and asked if he could play with multiple adults whose first language was not English and he had a blast! I’m so proud of him for asking to play! Needless to say Tues. was one heck of a full day!

 

Wednesday
We started off with breakfast at Absolute Bagels which was fresh, light and delicious! Then we headed on to midtown Manhattan to knock a few more things off our list including the Empire State Building up to the 86th floor. The view was amazing! Elek really got a kick out of it. I especially remember as a kid reading about it and how tall it was. It was a treat to go all the way up there and read about how quickly they built it! Next, we dropped by Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on the way to Green Acre Park which is a little pocket park that had a waterfall in it. It was really amazing that such a place could exist within New York City! From here we headed to eat lunch at Antico Noe, an authentic panini place and got the 2 and 24. Lastly for this part of the day we took the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The view was great and it was nice not to have to walk for a while. We headed back to Jenny’s to have our daily rest. 

We ended Wed. with dinner and a show at Ellen’s Stardust Diner. We ordered a burger with all the fixings, Manhattan with gran marnier (for me not Elek!), waffles, and a chocolate shake. The singing here was awesome! Like me at his age, Elek did not want to be the center of attention and was glad we weren’t celebrating his birthday at the time! After dinner we explored Times Square at night which I’ll always remember being amazed at how bright the screens are when it’s dark outside! It looks like daytime! 

 

Thursday
That brings us to our last full day, Thursday. We started our day at the Hungarian Pastry Shop. We ordered 2 pain au chocolate and a flaky apple thing all of which was very rich and sweet. We headed back to Manhattan where we heard a mariachi band on the subway to Wall Street, a quintessential New York experience. We walked to and saw the 911 memorial which was just incredible and moving. So many people’s names were carved into it. On the way to lunch we walked by and saw St. Peter’s Church as well as City Hall. We ended up at Prince Street Pizza where we ordered  Neapolitan and cheese pizza. Honestly and people may hate me for saying this, but Aldo’s was better than all of the pizza I had in New York! 

After this we went back to the apartment for our daily nap. I looked up and read a lot of reviews of a ramen noodle bar called Ippudo, which apparently always has a line! We decided to go early and check it out. Amazingly we got in without a wait at 5:45 and ordered the Philly special (steak buns) and Akumadu Modern, a ramen bowl both of which were really tasty. We saved room for dessert at Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar where we ordered a S’more Concoction and a chocolate martini. The chocolate here was insane as it was in everything! We definitely have to take a break from sweets after this experience. 

 

Friday
It’s our last day in New York and our flight is later in the evening so we decided to head to Central Park. We ended up walking about half the length of it and stumbled across the Natural History museum which was very interesting. We saw the ocean exhibit as well as the exhibit for early evolution which was fascinating! I could spend a whole day in that museum. For lunch was made the hike to Zabar’s deli where Elek oddly got a California roll and I got a ham and cheese sandwich. It was pretty tasty and it was clear this was a go to spot for all ages. 

 

I have to say we REALLY REALLY lucked out with not having to wait in line the entire trip! The only exception was Ellen’s Stardust Diner but that line wasn’t bad. At this point in the trip we went back to the apartment to rest up and get ready to head to the airport. I mapped everything out using the app City Mapper. We walked to the metro and got on a train and off 2 stops later. We walked to a bus stop and waited about 15-20 minutes for a bus headed to the airport and it was PACKED. We squeezed onto the bus and proceeded to stand, cramped for about an hour and a half to get to the airport! I’m so glad we left with so much time to spare as we needed it! We left the apartment at 3 PM for a 7:49 PM flight and we got to the airport a little past 5. It was one of the most miserable rides I’ve ever been on. While it was a wonderful trip I’m very glad to be back home now. I truly hope it gave Elek some perspective for what New York is like. He said he never would live there and I would have to agree as I like my underdog city of Memphis, TN just fine!

Trip to Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands

 
Doug and I came with some meals ready to eat, snacks, and a fifth of rum I bought in Charlotte, NC at the duty free shop in the airport. 
 
Here are some of the many pictures we took: https://photos.app.goo.gl/cKwVYyH1fs5KhafN2
 
Tuesday Feb 13th we walked around Turtle Cove to get more familiar with the area. 
 
 

 
Interestingly this is supposedly their peak time and there aren’t very many people here. The most recent hurricane scared some people off, but in general this area isn’t very populated even during peak. Their resorts are much smaller than other more popular areas. 
 
Feb. 15th we went to find the plantation (but didn’t because Google maps was wrong and people kept pointing us all over the place) but we happened across the only brewery in the country (Turk’s Head Brewery) so we took a tour and sampled the beer. That’s pretty funny since I found this video by Caicos Girl prior to traveling to Provo! It was pretty good and my favorites were the “London Fog” porter and the “Gon-Ta-Nort” amber ale. I also bought some of their white rum for $16. In the grocery a fifth of rum is about $40 which is 4 times as much as in the U.S. typically. 
That night we went to the local fish fry which is every Thurs night. It was a lot of fun with live music and tons of booths set up with food, drinks, and trinkets. It rained on us a little bit. I got red snapper tacos which were really good. Later we got in the hot tub which is always fun. 😀
 
Friday we walked about 7 miles going to the Cheshire Plantation and back which is about the only historical thing to do on this island. It was underwhelming. We ate lunch again at Shark Bites and I got the blackened red snapper sandwich which was really good. I believe I’ve taken a nap every day. Friday evening we took a “jitney” from our place to the Saltmills Plaza, which had all kinds of expensive shops that we’re not really interested in. It turns out as you move from west to east on the north side of the island everything becomes more expensive and there are more all inclusive resorts.
 
Sat. we booked a half day snorkeling adventure for Sun. morning. We went to the beach a couple times and swam. We ate lunch at the Naughty Gull which was pretty good but smaller than I hoped. It’s just a coffee shop with breakfast and sandwiches for lunch.
 
 
Things we learned about the islands:
 
It’s very safe, though not very pedestrian friendly (for walking long distances). 
People are nice, say hi and ask questions!
While the primary language is English, people also speak creole and some have Haitian or Jamaican accents. 
The money here is the USD $ and most places take major credit cards. 
Jitneys are the way to travel.
From west to east gets more expensive.
Everything is really expensive here due to the large import tax of between 25 and 45%!
Bring your own alcohol (limit 1 litre per person in customs)!
Bring your own non perishable food as you can.
Pack your own sunscreen and a collapsible cooler!
Bugs aren’t too bad because it’s usually so windy on the beach, however, you may want to bring a bottle of bug spray. 
Definitely check out the fish fry!
 

Asia Trip – Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai

Singapore

Day 1 – Got in at midnight, got a driver to take us to the hotel which was very tall and has a great view of the city! Went to bed at 1:30 AM and slept all the way through the night until my alarm at 8 AM. 

Day 2 – Had breakfast in the hotel (Cafe Swiss) which was delicious! They had a huge selection of traditional american, Indian, and Chinese foods. I had several dumplings and vegetable korma. They both were very tasty. They also had fresh juice so I got carrot juice.

Around 10 AM, we walked across the bay to the Gardens by the Bay. We paid for the tram and went to both the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. Both were really beautiful and unique. Next, we walked to Chinatown and ate the Hainanese chicken and rice and bok choy at Tian Tian in a food market. It was delicious with the spicy sauce and soy sauces. Sheetal and Janet both got a whole coconut for the juice and Kelli (my manager) and I got frozen mango drinks.

We walked back to the hotel to regroup. Margo and I went for a swim in the hotel’s pool. It gets dark here relatively early (around 6 PM). We met in the lobby to go to dinner and the “Sky Bar” at the Sands.

Day 3 – I went to the Arts and Science museum which had some altered reality exhibits, though it was mostly for younger children. We went to a restaurant with all kinds of odd Asian foods for lunch called Xiang Special. It was actually pretty good. It turns out also that there are a TON of malls here in Singapore. When I asked what they do for fun here, it was either night life or go shopping at the malls. It is very safe here and very clean as the punishments are really strict. Chewing gum is against the law as well.

We went to meet our colleagues in Singapore from FedEx and TNT, the company we acquired. We also visited a couple of customers as well.

 

Kong Kong

This is where work pretty much takes all of my time. Hong Kong was relatively small in area so they built their buildings up very high. I did have some time when we first got to Hong Kong to go to Sam’s Tailor to get a charcoal grey, custom, woolen cashmere suit made along with two shirts. I don’t have a picture in the suit yet. We also were able to go to the ladies’ market where they sold everything you can think of from belts to purses to figurines, fans, and wigs. Another interesting thing about the city was that all of their scaffolding was made of bamboo. It really makes since because it grows so fast and is so renewable.

During the weekend prior to going to our last stop, Shanghai, we took a tour and rode a cable car up a couple of mountains to see the giant Buddha and monastery. We also visited what used to be an old fishing village. They have since converted the fishing boats to boats to give tours in. They also mentioned they have over-fished the area for quite some time. The waterfront was beautiful, especially at night.

We had more meetings with different colleagues from FedEx and TNT as well as with customers.

 

Shanghai

The waterfront in Shanghai was also beautiful at night. Shanghai was different than Hong Kong in that they had plenty of land so it was kind of like a concrete jungle with vast expanses of buildings. It took forever to get anywhere. They have a population of about 24 million.

We visited an old temple and the old market in the old part of the city which was much nicer than the rest of it in my opinion. Another cool thing was the Oriental Pearl tower in Shanghai.

 

The pictures are here

Beaufort, SC 2017 – Elek to Camp Kanuga

This year Elek and I are planning minimal vacations due to the amount we spent last year and also the number of expenses I have for my house, getting a newer car, etc. Therefore this year we came down to visit my dad again in Beaufort, SC days before Elek’s first overnight camp at Camp Kanuga. He’s excited, and probably a little bit nervous, though he knows a couple of people that will be at camp. I’ve packed the car to the gills because of all the stuff required for camp. We drove down to Beaufort in one day Fri. June 2nd, which is a pretty long drive, 10 hours total.

We have seen more wildlife than usual down here. We saw a bunch of dolphins (some pretty close!), many large sea turtles which were breath taking, horseshoe crabs, regular crabs, sting rays, and a toad fish. Elek and my dad caught a good sized redfish Sat. June 3rd which my dad cleaned and we ate for lunch. It was very fresh and tasty! We ate dinner at a small seafood place called Sea Eagle Market, which was pretty good.

For some unknown reason I have started running down here, which I hate. I even ran in the rain Wed. morning. It’s been nice getting more exercise.

Sunday we took a long boat ride to a beach and played on the beach for a couple hours. For dinner, we went to Papaya, which has very decent Thai food and sushi. My dad got the Pad Thai which was on point and Elek and I split 4 sushi rolls: (Maki Combo for 1) Salmon roll, California roll, and spicy tuna roll plus the Spider roll which was delicious!

Tues. we took an early boat ride around a golf course that is close to here and Elek and my dad fished a little. Elek caught a small trout which we threw back. Next, we went to the YMCA so my dad could go to his exercise class and Elek and I swam for about an hour. It was fun and Elek and I bonded while racing in the pool. We originally planned to go to a baseball game in Charleston this night, but rain prevented that so we stayed in, ate a flounder Elek and my dad caught the day before, and watched Spaceballs which my dad and Kay had not seen before.

Wed. is the day before we drive to Camp Kanuga! After running in the rain, it held off long enough for us to eat some great pizza at The Upper Crust and walk around downtown Beaufort to pick out a present for Elek’s mom’s birthday. This was critical since he would have zero time at camp to do so. We thought about going to see a movie, but decided against it and played basketball for a while. Today we’re taking it very easy in preparation for the drive tomorrow. I, personally, am dreading driving about 9.5 hours in one day (then 3 hours the following day), but hopefully I’ll be able to stay and catch up with Wayne in Nashville. Wed. night we went to The Foolish Frog for dinner. Elek ordered the crawfish, I ordered a Greek salad and oysters bienville. My dad got a half rack of ribs and all of it was delicious. So nice to have so much seafood.

My dad gave me Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which I read throughout the trip. It was obviously a pretty crazy book! I have seen the movie but never read the book. It also reminded me of the nod in the movie Rango, which Elek and I recently watched.

Thurs. we took our time getting ready for the 4.5 hour trek to Camp Kanuga. We said our goodbyes and left around 10:45 AM. The drive was really pretty on the North Carolina side with all of the mountains as I’m not used to driving in that type of terrain. We arrived at camp excited, but also nervous at about 3:15 where we waited in line about 20 minutes. We unloaded and I walked Elek to his cabin. John and Henry (two kids from Memphis that Elek knows) were already settled in. Elek got to choose his bunk. Saying goodbye was bittersweet and filled with emotion. Elek’s eyes teared up and so did mine. I love that kid. I truly hope he has a blast. We’ve gotten two pictures thus far from the camp which makes me feel a little better.

I left teary eyed in the rain at 4, which seemed so appropriate at the time. I drove 5 hours to Nashville where I stayed with Wayne, my high school friend, at his house. We stayed up to watch the disappointing total destruction of the Nashville Predators in game 5 of the Stanley Cup. (6-0) In the morning we went to Monell’s which was absolutely delicious and absolutely too much food. I said my goodbyes there and headed the 3 hours to Memphis. I was so relieved to be home! Now I have to deal with all the repairs with my house (roof, chimney, dormers), redoing the kitchen floor, and trying to find a 2016 Prius Two.

San Diego and San Francisco, California – 2016

San Diego

Elek and I arrived at the airport and went to baggage claim where we met Jim, Elaine, and Allison. This is the first time I have met Allison, my biological half-sister. She seems very put together and is very sweet. Elek and I went by Jim’s mom’s house and I met Jim’s brother, Craig. We spent a little time with Craig and Jim’s mom, Ruth and I took a tour of Jim’s childhood home, which reminded me of my Grandmother’s home. Elek and I were exhausted so we went to bed pretty soon.

The next morning we started packing for Campland. Check in was at 1 PM. We got one jet ski working, however, the other one was pretty much dead. Once we got to Campland Elek and I almost immediately took the jet ski out which was one of Elek’s favorite parts! Later we set up camp and the sleeping arrangements were a little tight but definitely doable. Elek and I shared a tent with Allison’s boyfriend, Chris. One really cool thing we saw each night was the fireworks from Sea World across the bay.

By the third night we were ready to go, though we got to do a lot of cool things there like rent a boat for half a day, ride our bikes around the place, eat some good food, etc. We played a lot of frisbee, football, and badminton.

After we left we went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner and my other sister Emily spent some quality time with us. What was really cool is that my sisters had a DVD of Dr. Horrible’s Sing A-Long Blog and we watched it the last night we were there. I’m a big fan of that.

It made me feel good that my sisters referred to me as their brother even though I’m their biological half brother.

Jim dropped Elek and me off at the airport where we took Virgin Airlines to San Francisco.

San Francisco

Monday Elek and I arrived in San Francisco and Nick picked us, Ben, and Luz up from the airport. We went back to Nick’s place and ordered Indian food which was delicious as usual. Elek is a fan.

Tuesday we walked through China Town and the Cable Car museum, which was awesome as it showed exactly how the cable cars work. We managed to go up to the 31st floor of the Westin in Union Square. A new Apple store was near by so we stopped in to take a look. We walked through Embarcadero, stopped in the Ferry building, and walked by the AT&T park. We took an Uber home and rested. That night we went to an awesome Thai restaurant called Hawker Fare which was very flavorful and spicy. We ate some ice cream afterward to counteract the spice.

Wednesday we ate breakfast and headed to an Afghan restaurant called Kamdesh to meet a highschool friend Mahendra. The food was spicy and very tasty. It’s the first time I’ve eaten that type of food. Next, we went to the Pacific Pinball Museum which was amazing! We spent an hour in there but could have easily spent 3 or more. We were planning on going to tour Berkeley but we were so tired we went back to Nick’s place and took a nap. Wed. night we went over to Jeremy Brown’s place in Castro, ate pizza, Elek played Portal 2, and we had some drinks.

Thursday morning we took the car to Twin Peaks which had a phenomenal view of the city! Afterward we found a parking place in Haight-Ashbury and wandered the streets where we got some good Cuban food at Cha Cha Cha. Next, we took a short walk through Golden Gate Park where normal park activities were occurring. We then drove down the twisty Lombard Street, which was cool to see again, another great view of the city!

Thursday night was a 21+ night. Luz was kind enough to watch Elek that night. We started out at Trick Dog who had a menu of presidential related drinks. Their drinks were pretty good. We met Chantelle there and then headed to dinner at El Techo. There was a wait so we went to a cash only bar, Doc’s Clock, across the street which reminded me of the P&H in Memphis. It also had a Ghostbuster’s pinball game. I think it was rigged and ate balls so fast. At El Techo we got a little bit of everything, but the carnitas were amazing! The restaurant is actually on the roof of a 4 story building so the view was really cool, especially at sunset. Once we finished dinner, we headed to another cash only bar called Make Out Room which had a pretty good DJ there. People were dancing and it seemed like it had a neat atmosphere. Chantelle had to get up for work in the morning so she left in an Uber and we made one last stop on the way home at Mission Bar. There are so many unique spots in San Francisco all within walking distance of each other! This was just one small part of the city.

Friday Nick took us to the airport where Elek and I barely made it on our plane because it was overbooked by 40 people. We finally made it home at about 11:30 PM Fri night and crashed. Overall it was a great trip!

Disney World and Universal Studios

I finally got to take Elek to Disney World and Universal Studios. It turns out we picked a great time to go, after holiday crowds and after the cheer leading competition in the winter. We went to Disney World from Jan. 1 – Jan. 4. The crowds were there, but not enormous and the weather was pretty cooperative. On average it was in the mid 60’s each day. It sprinkled a couple of days, but we had rain jackets. I think I was over-prepared. I had a small first aid kit, disposable ponchos, two pairs of tennis shoes each, blister bandages, some stuff to reduce friction, among other things. I barely used these things at all.

We stayed in the All-Star Movies resort in the Mighty Ducks building. It was nice enough since we weren’t there that often. Buses went back and forth to each of the Disney kingdoms about every 20 minutes which made it convenient. We typically would go in the morning, come back after lunch to rest up and then head back out around 5 for dinner and the evening. I highly recommend staying “on campus”, though I would probably opt for the Art of Animation resort next time.

We purchased both a meal plan and the photo package. If your child doesn’t care about the characters (mine doesn’t) then don’t get the photo package. Also while the meal plan saves you some money, it reduces the number of options you can get in each place. If I did it again I probably wouldn’t have gotten the meal plan. We didn’t have either of these at Universal Studios.

Disney’s Magic Kingdom

We got to the Magic Kingdom around 3:30 PM Jan. 1 since Delta changed our flight to get in at 2 something instead of 10:00 AM. Spend most of your time in the Magic Kingdom. The highlights there were Peter Pan’s Flight, Pirates of the Caribbean, Thunder Mountain, and the people mover in Tomorrowland. We also went on the Jungle Cruise which was full of puns, the Liberty Square Riverboat, Stitch’s Great Escape, the Haunted Mansion (which I remember), Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor, Swiss Family Treehouse, Tomorrowland Speedway, and Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress. Elek’s favorite there was the Barnstormer, which is a smaller roller coaster. Every night there is a massive fireworks display and we witnessed several parades with all kinds of characters. Once you learn how to use the fast passes they’re a really good idea and a huge time saver. We ate at Tony’s (Lady and the Tramp), which was pretty good.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

We came here Jan. 3rd and saw the Indiana Jones stunt show, Muppet*Vision 3D, went on the Great Movie Ride, and went on Star Tours a couple of times which was my favorite there. That night we ate at the Sci-Fi Diner which was really cool and I highly recommend it!

Disney’s Epcot

Elek and I went on Mission Space first. We did the low intensity which was nothing so we thought we would try the high intensity. Well Elek almost lost his breakfast as it was really intense! The other rides we rode were Journey Into Imagination With Figment, Spaceship Earth, and Test Track. Unfortunately Soarin’ was closed for refurbishment. Elek absolutely loved the Disney Phineas and Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure where it was like a mystery/scavenger hunt around the different countries in Epcot. The firework show here was amazing! We ate at Teppan Edo in Japan and it was really good. I got the sake flight which only reaffirmed the fact that I like dry sake.

We then took an Uber to our other resort which was called Cabana Bay. It was retro and very cool! They had a large (heated) pool, water slide, and hot tub.

Universal Islands of Adventure
Elek really enjoyed the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade, the Flight of the Hippogriff, and the Jurassic Park Discovery Center. We of course had to buy a “magic” wand and perform the spells at shop windows throughout Hogsmeade. I think this was Elek’s favorite part. Keep in mind in order to ride the train you will have to get park-to-park with your tickets. Elek played one of those basketball fair games and made two out of three shots so he won a Jurrasic Park basketball! We ate outside of the park at Yard House for dinner which has a massive selection of beers on tap and food. I got the short rib tacos and they were amazing.

Universal Studios
This was our last day and the Harry Potter world was incredible! There were many more spells to perform. The dragon above Gringotts breathes fire every so often. We rode on the E.T. Adventure and Elek rode the Woody Woodpecker roller coaster about 20 times. We both tried some butterbeer ice cream which was really good. I think by this time we were both pretty tired and ready to come home. I was disappointed that the back to the future ride wasn’t still there, but I did manage to get a picture of the car.