Ireland – part 3, Galway & Dublin

After a sumptuous breakfast of waffles, freshly baked croissants, and smoked salmon, we set out for Connomarra National Park, a 2.5 hour drive from Corrofin. As we approached the area, our eyes were greeted by stunning lakes, and lush green mountains with waterfalls streaming down. Our first stop in the park was for lunch at the visitor center, after which Ariana played with her grandparents in the park while Ayaan joined Gaurav and I for another hike. As we walked up the mountain, we could see a spectacular view of the valley and lakes below. After the hike, we drove to the beautiful Kylemore abbey which was set against the backdrop of a lake. After strolling the grounds, we drove to Galway and checked in to our apartment. Gaurav brought dinner for the kids and grandparents, and then we enjoyed a date night out! Our first stop was at Cava Bodega where we enjoyed pinxtos and tapas with a carafe of Rioja. Next we headed to the popular pub, Tig Cioli where we each enjoyed a strong Irish Coffee. We learned that Tig Cioli was the first pub that ever opened in Galway and they’d listed the price of a pint for nearly every year since 1900! I’ve begun to really appreciate the pub culture in Ireland because it is extremely kid friendly with baby changing tables, kid menus and live music to drown out any tantrums :). The pubs have become what I look forward to for each meal, and possibly what I’ll miss the most about Ireland! This time though, we were kid free and we decided to make the most of the night. Our next stop was Tich Neachtain where we were able to hustle our way into a fantastic seat right by the live band. We started off with a black Jameson reserve which was fantastic and then proceeded to have several pints of Guinness and whisky flights interspersed with shots of Jameson. We stumbled home and woke up to a heavy hangover the next morning.

It was dada’s birthday so after breakfast at home, everyone enjoyed a treat of the famous Murphy’s ice cream. We walked to Eyre Square and then strolled the medieval streets of Galway taking in the live music at nearly every corner. We made our way to the Galway cathedral which was beautiful. Finally we enjoyed lunch at a pub near our home and then headed back for the kids nap. Ayaan and Ariana have been to over 50 playgrounds during this trip and we took them to another before dinner. It was one of the densest playgrounds we’d been to with a train in addition to the usual and the kids loved it. It was dada’s 73rd birthday and we celebrated with dinner at Buddha Bar. The kids enjoyed singing “happy birthday to Dada”, blowing out the candles and eating up the cake.

In the morning we drove 2.5 hours to Dublin and arrived at our apartment in the heart of Dublin near O’Connell St. Gaurav returned the car to the airport after 1600km of driving, while I picked up groceries and lunch. We spent the afternoon strolling through the historic streets of Dublin – Trinity college, Dublin Castle and St Patrick’s Cathedral. Ayaan wanted sweet corn chicken soup again so we found a nearby Chinese restaurant called M&L which worked out great, and also gave us the opportunity to walk down the touristy city center. After putting Ariana to sleep, Gaurav and I sneaked out to check out the night scene in Dublin. We stumbled upon the Quays bar with a live band that played many of our favorite Karaoke songs! We also visited the famous Temple Bar which is a huge indoor-outdoor pub with Irish local music. The Jameson Black Barrel became our go to drink for the night. Overall we really enjoyed Dublin’s vibe with its historic streets, canals and live music everywhere.

On the last day of our European adventure, we woke up to a sunny Dublin. We took the tram to St Stephens Green, a lovely local park with beautiful flowers, ponds and a playground, and neighborhood. The kids and parents enjoyed the short tram ride. We spent the morning strolling through the park with our coffee, and ate lunch at the mall next door. To celebrate the end of our 2.5 month journey through Europe, Gaurav and I had a special meal at Taste of Rustic, a new age Japanese restaurant in Dublin. After enjoying some Nigiri, we visited the Church bar, a unique experience since neither of us had previously had a drink at a converted church!

It’s been a wonderful journey and we’re thankful that Ayaan and Ariana did incredible, and the grandparents joined us for some of it. On to Bombay for the next phase of our journey!

Copenhagen

We arrived into Copenhagen on a rainy evening so we checked into the AC hotel and dined at the hotel bar before calling it a night. The next morning, we took the subway to downtown and the kids were delighted to find a toy store where they could play and ‘test drive’ a large majority of the toys. We spent an unanticipated 45 minutes there since the kids have been deprived of their toys for two months now (save for a few favorites that we were able to squeeze into our suitcase). We then strolled to Nyhavn, a picturesque (albeit touristy) harbor with colored homes and restaurants lining the canal. We ate lunch at one of the restaurants overlooking the water and my burger was pretty good (most other places in Europe where I’ve tried a burger haven’t been able to match up to American / SF standards). We decided to take a canal cruise which was a good start to getting a ‘lay of the land’. We then walked to Christiania, which is meant to be a bohemian, eclectic neighborhood. It may have been the rain but we didn’t get what was special about the neighborhood. The rooftop bar at our hotel had just opened so we decided to dine there. The build-out was impressive and the ambiance hip and energetic. However the service left a lot to be desired. We enjoyed several rounds of Japanese-inspired cocktails that were fantastic but didn’t end up getting our entrees well past the kids bedtime, forcing us to leave somewhat hungry. Not entirely surprising for a restaurants first day but a disappointing experience nevertheless.

I was excited the next morning as my Cornell bestie, Bumjoo was flying in from London with her husband Adam to meet us. We spent the day at the Tivoli Gardens, a creative amusement park that was celebrating its 175th year, and from where Walt Disney reportedly got his inspiration. The park was unique in that it was also appealing to adults with nice restaurants and lounge chairs in the grass. It was a perfect way to catch up with Adam and Bumjoo while the kids were well entertained with a live show, trams, the famous carousel and driving cars and boats. Ayaan was thrilled to finally find cotton candy after searching for it through all of Europe. Luckily, by lunch time the kids were exhausted and napped instantly and soundly, allowing us to enjoy lunch with some local Carlsberg beer! We ended up spending the better part of the day at Tivoli and then retreating back to our hotel through another Pride parade (we experienced pride in Lisbon and Madrid as well!). Dinner was perfect at a nice Indian restaurant Rasoi near our hotel where the kids chowed down on butter chicken and saag paneer with rice.

We started the next morning by climbing to the top of the Round Tower, but not before stopping at a Lego store (LEGO is from Denmark) where the kids played and Ayaan bought a little Lego train. We noticed that all the toy stores in Copenhagen have created an experience for the kids, likely allowing them to survive (and thrive!) despite the proliferation of Amazon and other online retailers (Toys R Us couldn’t learned something from here by creating an experience and potentially preventing their downfall!). The kids did great climbing to the top of the Round Tower by themselves (it helped that there was a ramp nearly the entire way) from where we enjoyed a panoramic view of the city. After retreating back down, we headed to the Rossendberg castle and some gardens where the kids played in a unique park. We then met Bumjoo and Adam for lunch at the fresh food market and enjoyed some delicious fresh fish from sushi, sashimi, and a smorgasbord of seafood delights. We strolled to the nearby botanical gardens and a beer garden where they told the history of beer. Next we went to some food trucks in Christiania where we got another small bite with a round of drinks. The Copenhagen Iron Man was inspiring to watch! We bid goodbye to Bumjoo and Adam that evening and enjoyed dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant before retreating to our hotel. Onto Irelend tomorrow where we’ll meet with Gaurav’s parents!

Budapest

After spending the morning eating a nice breakfast and walking in the gardens surrounding the European Parliament in Brussels, we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Budapest, Hungary – a new country for everyone except me. I’d been there on a road trip from Prague for a day and really enjoyed it. The flight was short and kids napped and did well overall as Brussels airways was very kid friendly. One thing that’s not great about traveling with kids in Europe is that you don’t get the stroller at the gate when you arrive. Anyway our bags came quickly and we took a taxi (no uber here) to our amazingly situated apartment at Molnar utca. The one bed apartment was great with air-conditioning (90 degrees here too) although no crib. It’s great to see the kids adapt as we’ve gone from a 3 bed apartment to sleeping in suites and 1 bed apartments, to a single hotel room and finally to 4 of us on queen bed! That evening we walked along the Danube and ate lunch at a fantastic kid friendly Greek restaurant nearby. The server was extremely nice as he gave Ariana a toy horse and Ayaan some lights that made their night!

Next morning we ate breakfast at the apartment and then strolled along the Danube to the magnificent Chain Bridge, crossing it to the Historic buda side. The funicular was closed for maintenance (reminded us of our hillevator!) so we took the open air tram up to the Buda castle. The kids of course enjoyed yet another new form of transportation. The view from the castle of the Pest side is breathtaking, but there’s not much else at the castle. Our next team stop was the Fisherman’s Bastion and Mattheaus’ church which are incredible pieces of architecture in white stone with a great view of the Hungarian parliament and chain bridge. We ate some local Hungarian food at a nearby restaurant before retreating back to our apartment to have a nap. We decided to relax that evening so we took the kids to the nearby park, bought some groceries and a bottle of wine and Anjali cooked us a nice meal.

Next morning we walked across the bridge to the Gellert thermal baths that were 10 mins away. It’s a must-do Hungarian Experience to go spend the day at the baths with its mix of different temperature indoor thermal pools in a historic building, an out door pool, bath and a restaurant. We spent most of the day here as relaxed, drank some Hungarian sparkling wine and the kids enjoyed their pool. A bonus was a live orchestra playing while we chilled poolside. That night Anjali and I celebrated the close of our home by getting a babysitter and dining at the Buddha Bar restaurant. We were very happy with the result although the process had been quite stressful.

We spent our last full day in Budapest, walking the streets. We first visited the Great synagogue, the largest in Europe. We found a great park after that where the kids enjoyed “the swing and the slide” as Ariana says. We then walked down the posh Andrassy Ave to the Heroes square, and it was clear why Budapest is sometimes called the Paris of the East. The Heroes square is situated in the main park that also houses the zoo and the most famous baths. We lost our way a bit as we exited the park in search of Doner kebabs, but eventually caught a bus back to the center – quite stressful with kids. We did eventually get some Doner kebabs that the kids munched down. We were all tired and headed back to the apartment where the kids napped while Anjali and I took turns to get a much needed Thai massage next door. The evening was predictable as we visited the children’s park again and ate some yummy Italian food accompanied with decent a Hungarian red wine. We ended the night by going to one of the open air bars on top of a boat with the kids overlooking the lit up monuments along the Danube river.

On our last morning before catching our flight to Copenhagen, we strolled down to the European Parliament building while stopping for a ride on the Budapest eye overlooking the skyline. Our stay in Budapest was pleasant and quite different that the other places we’d been to! We now traveled for 2 months and to 10 countries.

Belgium

A short 1.5-hour flight from Munich brought us to Brussels. The kids we’re fairly tired by the time we reached our hotel because they were too excited to be on an airline after nearly two months, and skipped their afternoon nap. We walked around in Schuman, the neighborhood where our hotel was located and enjoyed some frites with mayo at the famous Maison Antoine which were delicious! We then enjoyed dinner at an outdoor cafe in the square with some local beer and decided to call it a night.

The next morning, we took the train to Brugge which had he kids thrilled, singing chugga chugga choo choo” and enjoying the sights of numerous cows along the way. The walk from the Brugge station to the Belfry tower and main square was beautiful with ornate small houses lining quaint cobblestone streets. We enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of mussels with garlic, shrimp scampi and frites washed down with leffe blonde. We then strolled to the chocolate museum where we enjoyed some delicious samples, sculptures made of chocolate and learned about the origins and history of this treat! Later, the kids napped while Gaurav enjoyed a drink in the square and I climbed up the Belftry tower for views of the city and canal. While beautiful and quaint, Brugge attracts heavy crowds of tourists which detracts from some of its charm.

The next day, the forecast was rainy so we decided to stay in Brussels. Our first stop was the Royal Palace which was grand. The kids loved the interactive science exhibit at the end where they danced with their illuminated shadows! Next we walked to Grand Place, the city’s main square which is lined on all sides with exquisite buildings. It was absolutely stunning! Soon, the rain forced us into an indoor gallery mall where I enjoyed a massage and Gaurav enjoyed some Belgian chocolate tastings while Ayaan napped. After a brief rest at the hotel, we were excited to dine at Tai Hon, a Taiwanese restaurant that I found in a blog where we had a reservation. The kids devoured the entire platter of appetizers before either of us could get a bite in, and we knew we had a win! The entrees were delightful too and we made a reservation to return in a couple of days.

The next morning, we took a train to Gent, a beautiful university town with a river running through the old town. We stopped for lunch at a pizzeria and then made our away to the old town. A ‘bubble man’ in one of the squares had the kids entertained for a while! Next we saw the church and the castle and once the kids napped, we stopped at a riverfront bar for a glass or rose. A few more cafes and drinks later, we made our way back to Brussels and enjoyed sushi at a restaurant near our hotel. Gent was a charming town without the crowds of Brugge which made it very desirable.

Our last day in Brussels was fairly relaxing with no real agenda. We strolled to Parc du Cinquantenaire where we found a large park and sand pit for the kids. We walked past Autoworld, a museum of vintage cars, to a beautiful fountain where we caught a rainbow! We then took the train to the Notre Damn du Sablon, a spendid church and then walked to the famous Mannekin Pis which was somewhat underwhelming. We enjoyed a local lunch and then it was Gaurav’s turn to get a massage while I did a bit of shopping while the kids napped. We returned to Tai Hon for another memorable dinner! We’re off to Budapest tomorrow.

Venice

After 5 days in Tuscany (including Florence), we drove 3.5 hours to the Venice area. We arrived at our agriturismo in the scorching heat of the afternoon and decided to make it a rest day. We bought some groceries and Anjali cooked us a nice dinner that we accompanied with our Chianti Classico from Antinori. We could see the kids really enjoy munching down on pizza, broccolis and chicken nuggets in a safe environment, rather than another dinner in a restaurant. They also really enjoyed playing with the baby tractors, swing, trampoline, slides and toy house, all while pushing their stroller around. We traveled fairly light so we took this time to do some laundry and Anjali and I got to spend some time together alone after the kids slept early. Oh and we finally got to wash our car which got pretty disgusting after 6 weeks!

The next morning we woke up late and the kids enjoyed mamas breakfast and the outdoors. We parked the car in a lot and took the bus into the main city of Venice with its grand canals. It was convenient and after seeing the long line for the parking at the entrance of the city (of course no cars inside), it was definitely the right decision. It was my first time in Venice and it is as unique as you would imagine it to be. With over 100 islands, 400 bridges, and buildings up against the canal, it’s majestic and romantic. However the heat along with the heavy tourists really take away from it. The other thing we realized is that it’s probably one of the worst places to visit with young kids since people aren’t super nice (since it’s crowded and touristy), it’s extremely hot and humid, not very stroller friendly as most bridges have stairs, and lastly and most importantly not too safe with toddlers running around as there’s water everywhere!

We, however, made the best of our time there taking the vaporetto (water bus), walking in Realto and in the San Marco square. The kids were fascinated with the gondolas and with canals everywhere and no cars. We found a nice air conditioned restaurant where for once we allowed the kids to enjoy ice cream for lunch since it was too hot. We made our way back to the agriturismo via vaporetto-bus-car and took a well deserved nap in the afternoon. Italy 🇮🇹 has been great overall and we’ll definitely be back (thought probably not again to Venice, once is sufficient). Off to a new country tomorrow!

Lyon: An unexpected experience

After bidding farewell to Dayton (the dog) in Rauzan, we left on our longest drive of the trip – a five hour drive to Lyon. We always planned Lyon as a stopover rather than a destination, but with the double whammy weekend of Bastille Day and the World Cup Final with France playing we knew it’ll be fun. We checked into our Airbnb and were quite disappointed since it was small, the washer didn’t work and most importantly it wasn’t safe for the kids with a spiral staircase and a loft. Since it was a holiday weekend we decided to drive around Lyon which worked out great since parking was free everywhere. That evening we walked along the Rhone river, across the walking bridge, and spent some time in the slides and water park along the river. Lyon was beautiful with two rivers, several bridges and a mix of historic and modern architecture. Also more chill than Paris with friendlier people more tolerant of children which was a great change after the Bordeaux wine region. Our favorite part of the evening was sitting on one of the boat rooftops overlooking the city while drinking some cider. One month into our trip we were craving some non-European food and we came across an amazing Sichuan restaurant called Bon Voyage, that compared well with our favorite Z&Y in SF. We slept that night with the sounds of fireworks celebrating Bastille day.

Next morning we decided to check out a day early out of our Airbnb and move into the Marriott close by. Anjali has exceptional benefits at Marriott and SPG that have significantly helped with the rates, upgrades and free breakfast! Our second day in Lyon was incredible. We started off by grabbing breakfast at a local coffee shop and their cinnamon brioche, soft boiled eggs and flat white was just what you would expect in Lyon. We then drove to the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere, a Sacre Coure like cathedral on top of the hill overlooking Lyon and it’s two rivers. We went for the view but the cathedral was a piece of art with paintings and sculptures to match the best of what we’ve seen – by far the best cathedral so far on our trip.

Next we went to the local park – Parc de la Tete d’Or to see the botanical gardens. This park was a complete surprise. In addition to the indoor and outdoor sprawling botanical gardens, it had some amazing kids activities. It was a free zoo with giraffes, zebras, bears, crocodiles, flamingos and other animals enclosed right the in the middle of the park – something I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world. In addition they had a children’s area where Ayaan enjoyed earning his first reward by “fishing” for 9 ducks. Ayaan is so caring that he gave one of his three airplanes he won to Ariana. Ayaan also enjoyed sitting on a baby “horse carriage” with me pulling the horse carriage for 10 mins through the track and tunnels (tiring!). Ariana enjoyed going to the carousel all by herself for the first time! She’s a little bold monsta (as she says).

I was particularly excited about the evening – it was the world cup soccer final and France was playing Croatia – and we were in Lyon, what luck! We drove from the Marriott and found parking very close to the main square where 20,000 fans were gathered to watch the game. It starts pouring in Lyon around 430pm everyday so by the time we walked around the square we were completely drenched. But the atmosphere was amazing. We got lucky to get into a bar with screens everywhere and French fans in full spirit. Ayaan slept through the game but Ariana was participating in the cheering and dancing as France beat Croatia 4-2 to win the World Cup. It was an incredible scene on the streets and we were so fortunate to have witnessed it! On our drive back to the hotel we accidentally joined the motorcade of cars with fans screaming, sitting on top of cars and honking loudly. Anjali of course joined the action by sitting on the window. Overall Lyon was a special experience and we are sure to be back!

First stop: Porto

Portugal is our first stop on our journey! It’s Ayaan’s 14th country and Ariana’s 10th; it’s also the first time for us. We made it here via EWR and two tiring flights and as expected it was where we got over our jet lag – luckily no more of that for 2.5 months. No better way to spend Father’s Day but to kick of our trip with the two little wanderers.

After checking in to the Sheraton Porto and a nice long siesta, we spent the evening on the Port wine side of the Duoro river. Nothing better than some Tawny and Ruby with some grilled octopus and spaghetti carbonara after a long day. A further treat was watching Brazil play in the square (The Portuguese are big fans since Brazil was a colony).

Our 2nd day started at 2pm (thank you jet lag) with a walk in the art district and the historical part of town including many churches and Ayaan’s favorite spot – the train station that has amazing tile murals. In fact the architecture is stunning in Porto with tile covered edifices and the 6 bridges across the river. Our favorite stop of the day was a truffle and port cave experience that we stumbled upon in a little alley in the historic district called Chocolataria Equador .

We spent the evening taking a boat ride, hanging out in the square watching musicians, walking over the famous bridge and drinking some port wine while the kids had a late nap. We met a lovely couple from the States who’d now made Burma their home and enjoyed sharing our life and travel experiences. Our last stop for the night was a children’s park with the most fantastic view that was extremely crowded for 10pm!

On Tuesday, June 18th we leased a white Peugeot 308 – the leasing experience was fantastic and I drove away with a brand new car with all coverage for the next 55 days. Our first trip in the car was a day trip to Duoro Valley – our first wine region of this trip. We visited one winery called Quinto do Vallado and it included a short tour of the Portuguese barrels where Port wine is stored and an elaborate tasting in a cave including white, red and port wines. Our final stop was at the stunning Six Senses where we enjoyed a lunch of Portuguese rice with chicken while appreciating the magnificent view. We finished our Porto experience with a stroll on the beach and grilled octopus and prawns with rice paired with a Tawny port at 5 Oceanos. Onto Lisbon tomorrow and looking forward to reuniting with Anjali’s family! – Gaurav