Archive for August, 2017

Goodbye Aruba

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 19th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

Eventually, our trip to Aruba had to come to an end. It was a great trip, and it was great to get away together. I don’t think it was our favorite island destination we’ve been to (that would probably go to our Puerto Rico trip or the Bahamas), but it was a great place. And, if you’re the sort that likes to just sit on the beach for a long time, Aruba’s beaches are awesome. Sadly, that’s not us.

I think this will be our last trip to an island for a while. Jen’s motion sickness keeps getting worse, so water activities are becoming bad choices as evidenced by this trip. So, maybe next time we’ll have to check out the Grand Canyon or New England or something.

I can’t end this on a negative note. We had a great trip to Aruba, and got to spend an entire week just the two of us. Thanks again to Grams for keeping the girls so we could do this.

Sun and aloe

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 18th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

We tend to focus more on active things than chilling on the beach, but we did spend a little bit of time on the beach in front of our resort. We also discovered that by staying in the area that caters more to Europeans, you get the occasional (to our right and our left) topless sunbather (not pictured).

Beach time

Most of Aruba is dedicated to the tourism industry, but they do have at least one product that they are known for exporting. Given that they get so much sun, that product is a logical choice - aloe. We went to the Aruba Aloe factory and got the tour. Here our guide shows us the inside of the aloe plant right next to rows of aloe on the aloe farm.

Aruba Aloe

Aloe farm

Aruba Aloe farm

We also got to tour the factory, though it wasn’t fully operating since it was the weekend.

Aruba Aloe factory

Aruba Aloe factory

They make lotions, creams, soaps, and more. And we managed to make it out of the place having only bought a couple of things, which I call a win.

Eating around Aruba

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 17th, 2017 by c-had – 1 Comment

We try not to eat out all the time when on vacation. Thankfully, with a kitchenette in our hotel room and a grocery store within walking distance, we managed to avoid restaurants for a couple meals a day. That said, we still ate out several times and had some excellent meals.

The night we arrived, we went to Yemanja Woodfired Grill in Oranjestad. It’s a nice restaurant with good food. It was a bit of a pain to get to since there were cruise ships in port creating a lot of traffic, but that was thankfully the only day cruise ships were in port during our trip. Not cheap, but nothing in Aruba seems to be cheap. I had the BBQ mahi-mahi and Jen had the grilled swordfish. Jen’s favorite part of the meal was the pesto risotto. This turned out to be our only meal we ate indoors - most restaurants had outdoor seating given the always perfect weather. We failed to get a picture at dinner (sorry).

A couple days later after our busted eco-tour, we decided to find some dinner near the hotel. Our concierge recommended we try Tulip, a restaurant offering traditional Aruban food down the street that seemed to be somehow associated with our hotel. We arrived and found the place deserted (we were actually the only patrons for part of our meal). I had the Keshi Yena, a traditional Aruban casserole with pulled chicken in tomato sauce with raisins and green olives, gratinated with Gouda cheese. It was different, but good. Jen had grouper, and learned that she’s not the biggest fan of grouper. We failed to get a picture at dinner again (sorry again).

Saturday for lunch we decided to skip the PB&J and try something different. There was a fish monger next to the grocery store called Daily Fish. In addition to buying fish to cook yourself, they would fry the seafood for you. It was much more reasonably priced than the other restaurants (around $10 per person), so we thought we’d try it. I had fried cod and Jen had the calamari, both with potato wedges and coleslaw. We also tried a coconut soda there for the first time, which Jen liked so much she started searching Amazon to see if she could get it in the states. The lunch certainly wasn’t fancy, but it was good and inexpensive, which was perfect for us.

Daily Fish

Saturday night we went to Madame Janette, a restaurant known for great food, and it did not disappoint. What’s in front of me may look like a potato, but it’s actually their Cordon Bleu Schnitzel. They took ham and dutch gouda, then wrapped it in their famous schnitzel. It was delicious, as was Jen’s gnocchi fungi e tartufi.

Madame Janette's

Despite being very full from an excellent meal, we still ordered dessert. It was delicious.

Dessert

We knew we had to try Dutch Pancakes at some point on our trip. So, on Sunday we ventured into Oranjestad again to wander around and get lunch at the Dutch Pancake House. I had a Dutch pancake (it covers the whole plate, thinner than American pancakes but thicker than a crepe) with fruit and whipped cream. Jen had poffertjes (kind of like silver dollar pancakes but puffier). They were delicious, as was the fresh squeezed orange juice.

Dutch Pancake House

Monday, we had reservations at The Flying Fishbone for a fancy dinner. However, we had just been on a long excursion (and eaten a late lunch). We also discovered that we were going to have a 40 minute cab ride to get to the restaurant. Neither of us was up for that. So, we cancelled and ate at our hotel’s Passions on the Beach. It’s a restaurant that is set up daily on the beach.

Final dinner date

Here’s a view of the restaurant. Every afternoon at 4:30 they clear this area of all beach-goers and set up tables for dinner. The kitchen is a permanent building behind the tables.

Passions on the Beach

We sat down just before sunset, and got to watch the sun set on the beach as we waited for our food to arrive. It got a bit dark while we were actually eating, but it was still very nice. I had the grouper with scallops and shrimp, and Jen had the Mediterranean shrimp. It was good, though not great. It was also quite expensive, but at least we saved the money from that long cab ride.

Our table

Overall, we ate really well. Just be prepared to spend a lot on food if you’re planning a trip to Aruba.

Finally, a complete eco-tour

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 16th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

After the failure that was our first excursion into Aruba’s natural wonders, we debated about what to do. We’d been looking forward to that tour more than anything, and we felt like we were cheated out of the experience we wanted. We didn’t really want to spend more money on another tour (we’d already spent enough money on this vacation), but we really wanted to see more of the undeveloped part of Aruba. So, we eventually decided to book another one with a more reputable company (thanks to Courtney for recommending them). They had jeeps that actually worked (and were surprisingly comfortable, though Jen did have to hold the door closed up front since it didn’t latch). And we were glad to have the jeeps, since the terrain was pretty rough.

Jeep tour number 2

We drove the jeeps up a hill to see the view of the coastline.

View from on high

Our tour took us back the the Natural Bridge. It was pretty much the same as our first visit there.

Back at the Natural Bridge

We then went to another place nearby to explore a cave at the coast. Here’s Jen climbing down.

Cave exploring

We walked along some rocks toward our cave destination.

On a rock

Eventually, we came upon a cave with a pool of water, protected from the ocean by some rocks. Our guide Eduardo (next to me) told us to jump in. Many thought he was joking (it was about 10 feet down), but Jen and I were ready to go. Here I go.

Jump

Mid-air

Falling

Splash down

Then it was Jen’s turn to jump. She went for the cannonball approach.

Jen ready to jump

Cannonball

It was a very nice pool in a cave. We explored it for a while before climbing out to continue our tour.

In a cave

We then went to the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, where the Dutch used to process the gold before shipping it back to The Netherlands.

Gold mill

Gold mill ruins

Gold mill inside

We saw the Ayo Rock Formation, but did not go up to it. It gets really hot in the middle of the day as it is made of volcanic rock (like much of Aruba).

Ayo Rock Formation

We also visited Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park, which was inland a bit.

Fontein Cave

Fontein Cave contained lots of cave drawings from the Arawak Indians.

Cave drawings

This is what you look like in a dark cave when someone takes your picture with a flashlight.

In headlights

We then drove on to Baby Beach again, which was actually supposed to be part of this tour (unlike our previous one). While most of Baby Beach was very shallow, a small part of it was deep enough to snorkel (snorkel gear was provided on this tour). Jen tried snorkeling again at Baby Beach, and didn’t get seasick. Hurray!

Snorkeling

There were lots of fish there. Some of them were quite large.

Big fish

Black fish

A fish

This visit to Baby Beach was much more enjoyable than the first.

Baby Beach selfie

We then dried off and headed back to the ABC Tours facility where they provided lunch. They have a little restaurant on site which served the lunch that was included in the tour. It was quite good.

The tour was great. I’d highly recommend ABC Tours to anyone. We wish we’d decided to go with them originally. Our guides were great, the sites were good, the lunch was good, and most importantly, the jeep never broke down.

Our jeep

Sunset kayaking

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 15th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

After Jen getting seasick on our sailing adventure and having a busted eco-tour, we were excited to try a different excursion. This time, we went for a night kayak tour. We’ve done kayaking on previous trips and really enjoyed it. We were excited to do it in Aruba. Jen was a little worried about being on the sea again, but she took two Bonine and thought she’d be fine.

The tour was supposed to have other people, but they cancelled at the last minute. So, it was just us and our guides. We had a clear bottom kayak to see the marine life under the boat. Jen’s smiling at the beginning of the adventure.

Kayaking

We got started as the sun went down so we could see the sunset from the ocean.

Kayaking

Sunset from a kayak

Sunset behind Jen

Sunset

Kayaking

Our clear bottom kayak was equipped with underwater lights so we can see the fish after the sun goes down.

Lights

We didn’t see any larger or more colorful fish under the lights (like those we’d seen snorkeling a couple days before). I guess they had all gone to bed. We did see some little fish, though.

Little fish

Sadly, this was where things went wrong. Despite taking two Bonine, Jen got seasick. Our guide asked if everything was OK, and she told him the situation. So, we stopped paddling around and just headed straight back to the beach.

Once we got there, we sat in the parking lot while Jen recovered and our guides packed up the boats. We could see the lighthouse well from there.

Lighthouse

They gave us some fruit, iced tea, and water as post-paddling refreshment. After 20 minutes or so, the stuff was packed and Jen was feeling up to driving back to our hotel.

Our guides were great. I’d definitely recommend a kayak tour with Clear Kayak Aruba, though I’d probably choose one of their day tours in a different area to see more life under the water. That of course assumes that you don’t have major problems with motion sickness. For us, I think this’ll be our last kayak tour. I don’t think our next anniversary trip will involve any boats.

Exploring Aruba’s natural beauty

Posted in Celebrations on August 14th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

In previous trips, really enjoyed going on eco-tours, where you get to see some of the natural beauty. There are a bunch of them (often called jeep tours) in Aruba, which will show you some of the undeveloped parts of Aruba. Many of these are run by the larger tourist companies, but we decided to go with a local woman who was recommended to us - Madi. She seemed to provide a much more personal, local experience than the big companies, though reviews said that her trips were occasionally unreliable. We decided to risk it. After some difficult communication, we managed to book the tour.

We almost got a private tour, but she managed to find another group (two moms and three kids) to join us. She and her husband picked all of us up in a van that we drove to the entrance to Arikok National Park. That other group did have a special request - to be dropped off at Baby Beach instead of their hotel, which Madi agreed to. She told us it would be out of the way, but she’d take us to a couple extra places after dropping them off.

At the natonal park

We then switched into her jeep to drive into the park and to the Natural Pool. Well, that was the plan at least.

Broken down jeep

Yes, the jeep was in very poor condition, and refused to work. It struggled to start, took us a few feet, then died. We waited in it as they tried to fix it. Eventually, our guide told us the Natural Pool was actually closed for swimming (she’d just found out), so she’d take us to a different, less known, natural pool. Given the non-working jeep, this seemed like a good course of action.

The van that brought us there had left, but thankfully it came back to pick us back up. Then we went back the way we had come. Much of this was on the road (we did not go off-road into the national park), but we did eventually go off-road. This van was not made for going off-road, and Jen’s back ended up sore for days.

Rescue ride

We then went to the Natural Bridge. It was a very cool place, though sadly not as cool as it used to be. It collapsed in 2005, but it’s still a lovely area. A lot of people just stand on the rocks by the parking lot, but Jen and I were more adventurous. First, we climbed down to the sand behind the bridge.

Natural Bridge

Waves

Then we climbed up the rocks on the far side of the fallen bridge.

Climbed up

Here’s the bridge from the far side. You can also see a picture of what it used to look like before falling down on the side of the building.

Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge selfie

On the other side of the Natural Bridge was a place that the waves crashed to create a mist called a Blow Hole by our guide.

Blow hole

At this point, despite the vehicle difficulties, we were in a positive mood about this tour. Our guide kept telling us how great the hidden spots would be, especially including this unknown natural pool. As we drove away from the Natural Bridge, we stopped briefly at a small inlet where the waves crashed in that had a rock that looked like a fish face.

Sadly, that was basically the end of the tour. We drove and drove for about an hour, gradually starting to wonder where these great places were. Then we arrived at Baby Beach to drop off the other folks. There was a lot of arguing (mostly in Papiamento, the native language, which the other guests spoke). I never fully understood why we didn’t visit any of the other places we were supposed to. Danger was mentioned at some point, and a lot of discussion about how Baby Beach was too far away and we never should have come that far. I asked about the extra things after dropping off the others she’d told us about, but she said that it was too late and this would be the last stop of the tour.

We ended up spending a little time at Baby Beach, since we were already there. It’s a very nice beach at the end of the island that is protected by a reef. The water’s only a couple feet deep most places, and incredibly clear.

Baby Beach

Baby Beach selfie

Then, we had a 45 minute drive back to our hotel. On the drive back, Madi sat in the back facing me like a tour guide for a little while (though there was not enough room for this, which made it very awkward) trying to make us feel better about the tour. When it became evident that this wasn’t working, she moved to the back row, lay down, and went to sleep.

Sadly, I cannot recommend anyone take her tour. Perhaps you’d have better luck with her, and perhaps you’d enjoy her cooky nature more than we did, but I think there are much better options out there.

Oh, and if you’re keeping track, this is now one sailing excursion where Jen got seasick, and one completely busted jeep tour. Will our record improve? You’ll have to wait to find out.

Sailing the Black Pearl

Posted in Celebrations on August 13th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

Our first big excursion in Aruba was a sailboat cruise. We did this in the Bahamas and it was great, so we found one that sounded similar in Aruba. This time we chose to try a sunset cruise instead of one in the day time. There were lots of sailing excursions in Aruba, but most were party boats. We looked for something more calm and relaxing, and found the Black Pearl.

Black Pearl

Yes, it looks a bit like a pirate ship, but note the blue cushioned lounge seats. This was sailing in comfort.

We stopped twice to snorkel on our sailing adventure. Jen enjoyed it for a bit…

Snorkeling

Fish

Fish

Fish

Sadly, Jen’s enjoyment didn’t last. She had taken a Dramamine before the trip, but she still got seasick while snorkeling. Our hosts kindly gave her a couple Bonine to help. Then, at our second stop, we skipped out on some of the snorkeling and swam over to a beach in front of a giant expensive house to sit on solid ground for a while. It was very helpful, and was a beautiful spot to sit as well.

Solid ground

Sun getting low

The stop helped Jen a lot. As did the food when we got back on the boat. They gave us cheese sandwiches, and then grilled cheese sandwiches as well. These were made with Dutch Gouda (widely found throughout Aruba due to their relationship with The Netherlands), and were quite yummy. After the rest and food, it wasn’t long before Jen was smiling again.

We're on a boat

The ride back afforded lots of beautiful views of the sunset.

Sunset approaches

Sunset

Sunset

Aruba sunset

And one more pic after we were back on dry land.

Sunset

The cruise was excellent. We didn’t go as far away as our Bahamian cruise (our Aruban cruise just went up the coast a bit), but it was still fun. Even Jen said she enjoyed it, despite her seasickness. I’d highly recommend sailing on the Black Pearl if you’re going to be in Aruba. And they even make a video of the experience!

Aruba

Posted in Celebrations on August 12th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

For our 15th anniversary, Jen and I wanted to take a big trip somewhere. Our previous trips have included Jamaica, Bermuda, and the Bahamas. Given then infinite wisdom of the Beach Boys, we knew we had to complete the first verse of the song Kokomo. So, we booked our trip for Aruba.

I love ARUBA

This was a trip for just the two of us for an entire week. The girls stayed with Grams (thanks Grams!) and had a great time. The girls actually said they wished we’d stayed for longer, as Grams spoils them more than we do :)

We stayed at the Amsterdam Manor resort on Eagle Beach. The big high-rise American hotels are mostly on Palm Beach, while Eagle Beach has much fewer people, making it much quieter.

Amsterdam Manor

We arrived at our hotel before check in time, so we hung out on the beach in front of the hotel until we could get in. It’s a very nice beach, and despite being much less crowded than Palm Beach, still had plenty of vendors offering jet skis, tube rides, and parasailing.

Waiting to check in

Our hotel room had a kitchenette and was within walking distance of a grocery store, meaning we didn’t have to eat out every meal. This was nice, since eating out is very expensive in Aruba. So, we usually had cereal for breakfast and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, knocking out two of our daily meals. We then ate out for the third meal.

We ended up going all over the island. To do so, we took a lot of taxis. We also took the bus a couple of times, when the location we were headed to was on a bus line. In the end, we saved money by not renting a car, but we still spent a lot on transportation. Some people may not need this as much if they just stay at the hotel, but that’s not really our style.

As you can probably guess, we did a lot of stuff while in Aruba. I’ll post about all the things we went and did in the coming days.

Daddy date

Posted in Leah on August 11th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

Molly had an event at karate a couple Fridays ago, so Leah and I had a date night. She chose Cheeburger Cheeburger, and an Oreo Shake to share.

Sweet date

We then went roller skating to complete our date. We’ve been roller skating together a lot, but always during an afternoon session. This was our first evening session, and it was very different. Crowded with teenagers and rap music (afternoon sessions are less crowded, lots of kids, and mostly pop music). It was still fun, but I don’t think we’ll be back in the evening any time soon.

Camp drop-off excursion

Posted in Family outings on August 4th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

Now that Molly has told you all about camp, I thought I’d tell you about the day we dropped her off. We drove Molly to Camp Manidokan (which is a Methodist camp in Knoxville, Maryland, right where Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia meet). It’s about an hour drive from our house (assuming you don’t hit too much traffic).

All four of us went to drop Molly off. Leah really wished she could go to camp too. We had hoped she’d be able to go to their mini-camp this year (that’s the only session she’s old enough to attend), but it fell while we were at Callaway Gardens. But she’s determined to go next year and already trying to recruit friends to join her.

After sign-in, Molly was quick to hit the pool for her swim test.

Camp swim test

Then we hung around for a while in order to say hello to all the families of all Molly’s friends. Leah fit right in with the campers during that time.

Art table

Go fish

Finally, we left Molly for a week at camp. We decided rather than head home, we’d drive over to historic Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia to look around and get some dinner. We had a lovely meal (and ice cream) at the Cannonball Deli. Then we wandered around a bit.

Dinner

Ice cream

We walked across the bridge from West Virginia to Maryland (and back), just like Molly does on a hike with camp.

Bridge

It was a fun outing, though parking in Harper’s Ferry was difficult and there was traffic headed back to Maryland. Between the busy day and the long drive home, we were all tired.

Pooped