Central America – part 2, Guatemala and Belize

I forgot to mention in part 1, Belize is Anjali’s 50th country and Ariana’s 25th!!! The drive to the Camino Real hotel in Guatemala was just 1.5 hours and the immigration out of Belize and into Guatemala was annoying (since you had to do paperwork twice 100m from each other) but generally seamless. We had gotten papers for the car at the time of rental which made things easy. We arrived at our resort just in time for lunch, and were delighted to see the beautiful green-blue lake adjoining the resort. After some local Guatemalan shrimp and rice, we all jumped into the pool and hot tub. We also took a stroll to the Peten lake waterfront where the water was crystal clear and warm. The sunset was absolutely stunning over the lake. The kids were tired and had a late nap, and we had an overall relaxing evening ending with some time for me to read a book and drink some wine on the balcony.

Next morning we headed out to Tikal, the world famous 2000 year old Mayan ruins and the primary purpose of our trip to Guatemala. A quick 45 mins drive north from the resort, we arrived at the entrance of Tikal. It’s a massive area in the middle of the rainforest scattered with Mayan temples, and it reminded us a lot of our recent experience at the magnificent Angkor Wat. We walked what felt like a really long time through the forest to the first pyramid and ruins. A few 100m later, we reached the Gran Plaza – a breathtaking site with the most famous ruins and temples on each side. On one side stood the super famous Temple I or the Jaguar temple. Opposite stood Temple II that Ayaan and I climbed to get an amazing view of the on plaza. And the north and central Acropolis on the other sides, that all of us enjoyed climbing and exploring. Tikal is not super kid friendly with its climbs and long walks, but it worked out well for us since we didn’t have FOMO to see every single temple. Also luckily we got a ride back to the entrance. Tikal was a great experience, much like visiting Angkor Wat or Petra, though not as magical.

That evening we went down to the lake to feed the fish and turtles. Kids loved it as the fish jumped to get the food and a turtle came by to fill his tummy. We ventured to the island town of Flores, 45 mins away for dinner. Flores is a quaint, colorful, tiny island town in the middle of the lake. We really enjoyed our dinner overlooking the decorated boats on the lake and capped it off with ice cream for the kids.

Next morning was a travel day as we drove across the border back to Belize (crossing was just 15 mins), returned the car at Belize City, took the Belize express ferry to San Pedro (made famous by Madonna’s La Isla Bonita) and finally a smaller boat to our hotel called Portofino. We learned that Belize had just 340,000 people, a former British Colony 37 years old and is facing a referendum to remain independent or join Guatemala. What is super unique about Belize is that it’s a mix between being in Central America and the Caribbean. Portofino at Ambergris Caye is a boutique hotel with just 17 rooms and a private beach. It was a very different experience than our other beach stays, very relaxing with the pool, bar and beach right outside our room. On a different note, I find it amazing how the kids adapt to not having toys. For example Ayaan is obsessed with how they clean and fill the pool with a pipe at this resort.

We spent our last 3 days of our travels in our sabbatical relaxing at the beach (slightly disappointing with weeds although water is warm and a lovely color), the pool and spending our time with the kids. Ayaan and Ariana were fascinated that they cut the coconut from the tree, cut them and served them absolutely fresh. The food and cocktails were fantastic with freshly caught seafood and local rum. We ventured out to the town of San Pedro one of the evenings, walked around the tiny town and had some ceviche with local rum. We we’re so lucky to catch a double rainbow with Ariana wearing her “Chasing Rainbows” tee. The weather got really nice (“only perfect” as Ariana says), sunny and warm with a slight breeze. On our last day we went out to snorkel at Mexico Rock, a part of the Holchan preserve. Belize has the 2nd biggest barrier reef in the world after Australia. The snorkeling was one of the best we’ve done anywhere comparable to the Red Sea and Zanzibar. Our guide was fantastic and we saw eagle rays, barracudas, lobsters, sting rays, pink conch, rainbow fish, puffer fish etc. The kids were well behaved and enjoyed seeing the fish come up to the boat as we fed them. Overall an amazing way to end our travels in our sabbatical as we head back to SF via Houston tomorrow! Again super thankful for Ayaan and Ariana and grateful that we got to spend all this time with them.

Central America – part 1, Belize

After a long, long flight from Mumbai to Houston via Toronto, we spent a week getting over jet lag and spending time with Anjali’s sister Dhara. They were great hosts and it worked out well as we got to acclimatize back to America and celebrate the holidays together including New Years, Dhara’s Birthday and a quick trip to Austin to visit the Art of Ice Cream Experience. Reenergized we took off for our last international trip as part of our sabbatical – to Central America for 10 days. Belize was a short 2 hour flight from Houston and it was great to get back to warm tropical weather. We rented an SUV for the first 6 days as we discovered the rainforest, ruins and Tikal in Guatemala. As we drove to the Cahal Pech Resort in San Ignacio, a 1.5 hour drive, we knew we were in for an adventure with bumpy roads and horses “parked” on the side of the road instead of cars.

The resort was rustic and local right by the Cahal Pech ruins and perched on a hill overlooking the city and the rainforests. We got a nice little hut to ourselves with a view and a hammock, that the kids loved. Belize was surprisingly not super kid friendly as the resort didn’t have a kids menu or a crib. It’s a relatively new country and is still building the tourism infrastructure. Our adventure began the next morning as we drove to Mountain Pine Ridge forest reserve. I was glad we rented an SUV as the road was non-existent for a majority of the drive and not for the faint hearted. 1.5 hours later we made it to Rio on Pools, a collection of pools formed from the waterfall and rivers. We had the entire place to ourselves which was amazing (and a pattern for this trip) and Ayaan and I enjoyed wading through the pools and to the waterfall. Our next stop was the Rio Frio Cave a short drive away that was a unique experience with a river and beach within a cave that also featured stalactites. We were pretty tired and had lunch at the Gaia resort which had a stunning view over the river and waterfalls. Our last stop for the day after lunch was the Big Rock waterfall, which were nice but honestly too steep a climb with kids. Exhausted from the hikes and the drive, we chilled at the pool and hot tub with an early dinner and bedtime.

Next day, not deterred by the roads, we set off in the same direction again to visit the famous Caracol Mayan ruins. A very bumpy 2.5 hour drive later we got to the ruins and were delighted to only see a couple more cars. We were told that we’d need a military escort on the drive since it’s on the border, but it works out just fine without one. Caracol was luscious green and the ruins were there for us to explore on our own – pretty incredible for the fact it’s Belize’s most famous site. The kids really enjoyed running from temple to temple hearing Tucans and howler monkeys and occasionally climbing the almost 1500 year old “pyramids”. Definitely worth the drive. On our drive back, after the kids napped, we stopped at the Green Hills Butterfly farm. This was a wonderful experience as the kids got to see different butterflies, and learn about its journey from egg to caterpillar to pupa to a beautiful butterfly. The evening again was uneventful as we relaxed in the pool and had an early local dinner comprising of fish and chicken curry.

On our 3rd full day we decided to take the kids to the Belize zoo an hour away. It was an awesome morning as the kids got to watch animals and birds they’ve never seems before such as the tapir, tucan, jaguars, macaws, coatemundis, howler monkeys and several other. Ayaan’s favorite part though was pushing the baby cart we had rented. That afternoon the kids didn’t nap much so we visited an iguana hatchery at the San Ignacio Hotel. Ironically on our way to the hatchery, we saw a hug iguana trying to breakdown the bathroom window in the hut next door! The hatchery was an incredible experience as we got to hold the huge male iguanas and the kids got to pet and feed them. We all had a great time being one with the animals and birds all day.

Our last day in the area began with a quick visit to the Cahal Pech ruins next door. It was a pleasant surprise since it was compact but really nice and once again deserted. The kids were able to climb up the temples on their own and we got some great pictures. After a busy 4 days in Sa Ignacio, we set off for the drive across the border to Guatemala …

Adios India

After a wonderful time in SE Asia, we spent our final 3 weeks in India before we head back to America. As we expected the final few weeks in India were quite hectic – from friends and family visiting, a couple of short trips (including Goa), trying new restaurants, spending time with family and trying to figure out next steps (which also meant we were on quite a few calls at night). The weather got much nicer and cooler, although a bit smokier. Traffic got much worse as the holidays approached and NRIs poured in. And the holiday mood set in with Christmas lights and festivities everywhere. Ayaan and Ariana wrapped up school with a Christmas party and boat trip, and as we’ve become accustomed to they learnt the festive songs of “we wish you a merry Christmas”, “jingle bells” and “rudolf”. Their best moments were the CCI Christmas party with cotton candy and rides, and Kidzania where Ayaan loved being a delivery boy and pilot, and Ariana a policewoman and firewoman. Ayaan’s became a fast rider of his bike, albeit still with training wheels. And Ariana is the cutest monster who is still having potty training accidents. We gave up on any effort of getting a nanny and that made our life much happier and easier. I’ve spent a lot of time reading (more than a dozen books) with highlights including Elon Musk’s biography and The Art of Thinking Clearly. Anjali and I once again barely got any time together, all of it mostly sitting in traffic.

My sister Sonil and nephew Siddharth visited us in Mumbai for a few days and it was great so spend time together as a family. We even went on a one night getaway to nearby Lonavala. We stayed at a nice Airbnb called Raheja Cascades, and spent a lot of time hanging out, playing Monopoly cards, chilling in the pool, eating local Maharastrian home cooked food and sitting by the bonfire. Anjali and Ariana decided to stay back in Mumbai and spend time with her family. Our friend Vaishnavi from SF also visited us and we had a fantastic meal at Masque, a unique 10 course experience from the chef trained at Noma and French Laundry. Thank you to friends and family for visiting. Lastly we celebrated an early Birthday for my mom, since we are leaving a few days before, at Bombay Canteen, now rated the #1 restaurant in India run by Cornell MMH alum, that made Anjali smile. Being with family on special occasions is such a joy.

Our highlight of our almost 2.5 month India stay has been seeing the kids and especially Ayaan completely transform into an Indian little boy, including the Indian head nod, doing puja, picking up the phone and opening the door, enjoying the local food and speaking many Hindi word, phrases and singing songs. Having them experience the Indian culture through all the festivals over the 4 months has been magical. The other highlight is how close the kids and once again especially Ayaan have gotten to their grandparents. He is going to miss them incredibly and is already looking forward to them visiting. Big thanks to our parents for hosting us, bearing with us and taking care of the kids. We’ll definitely miss India, and feel so fortunate and thankful to have been able to do this. Memories for life!

Goa

Gaurav and I managed to squeeze in a little getaway without the kids before we leave India. I hadn’t been to Goa in nearly 15 years save for our wedding which was such a whirlwind. Gaurav hadn’t really experienced the real Goa in his younger years because of a bike accident on his second day in Goa. So, we were excited to head (back) to one of India’s biggest party places! And a party it was! By the end of our first day there, we’d each consumed 10 drinks…We landed in time for a late lunch and headed to the famous ‘Souza Lobo’ for some Goan prawn curry and calamari recheados washed down with local beer. After checking in to the Le Meridien, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool enjoying bloodies. After getting dressed for the evening, we headed to the hotels rooftop where Gaurav was thrilled to get his favorite ‘double apple shisha’ which we paired with rose. We watched the sun set into the Arabian Sea with the beats of a local DJ, also known locally as a ‘sundowner’. Next up, Gaurav wanted to experience a traditional beach shack which Goa is famous for, so we headed to Brittos which has many memories for me. While it’s become more ‘upscale’ than I remember it, it still had a similar vibe and we enjoyed dipping our toes into the sand as we ate some spiced calamari cooked with onions and peppers and drank some local port wine (Goa has strong Portuguese influences since it has once ruled by them). It was karaoke night and we decided to sing a fairly off-beat rendition of ‘wonder wall’ before we escaped from Brittos and walked down the beach passing tens of other beach shacks, each playing their own dance music. We stopped by ‘Titos’, a club that is another Goan institution. It was early but we got a couple of drinks and heard some old EDM favorites from the 90’s before heading to Fiesta for dinner. A romantic candle-lit restaurant, Fiesta didn’t disappoint. We then hopped into a taxi to Cohiba where we spent the rest of the night. I loved the 10-person live band and we joined in the dancing as we continued to imbibe fresh fruit mojitos.

The next morning, we enjoyed a lavish breakfast consisting of made to order dosas, parathas and other delicious Indian staples. We then headed over to the W (a large wedding block forced us out the previous night but they made up for it by upgrading us to a fantastic 2-bedroom villa overlooking the beach). Check in consisted of two bottles of beer and a buggy ride to our villa. We headed straight to the pool and then, still relatively hungover, decided it was time for a short nap. When hunger called, we made way to a late lunch at Olive, a hip restaurant set on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The Goan chorizo and mozzarella po-boy and calamari 3-ways including a Japanese-inpired sesame-panko crusted version were delightful. We caught an ‘auto’ back to the hotel and lounged at the hammock in our villa for a bit. We later strolled down to the beautiful Rock pool for the sundowner. This venue is a scene due to its beautiful setting over a cliff with a DJ, shisha and over-the-top service. The best from all over Goa apparently flock to the W rock pool for sunset and we were able to snag one of the best spots. What a great experience it was! The sky exploded into a myriad of colors as the sun journeyed down into the sea.

Once it was dark, we headed over to a Rudy’s, a bar and grill that a friend of mine had opened just a few days before. I’d forgotten that it’s not quite to easy / safe to walk in india after dark and the narrow alley made me queasy. I was relived when we arrived! We enjoyed some delicious home-made Beef tacos, prawns and chicken wings with bourbon cocktails for Gaurav and margheritas for me. Next up, we had reservations at Gun Powder which had just been ranked the top 20 restaurant in India. The Andhra prawn curry and stir fried okra with flaky parathas and appams did not disappoint! We ended the night back at the lobby bar of the W, fairly exhausted!

Another fantastic breakfast greeted us the next morning. We then climbed to chapora fort which offered stunning vistas of the W and the Arabian Sea. We ended with a walk on the beach before retreating to our villa. We hit the rock pool when it opened and after a couple of beers, we ended our stay with lunch back at Olive! Thank you to the grandparents for caring for the kids while we got some couple time together.

Phuket, Thailand

After a couple of hectic weeks in South East Asia, we spent the next and our last week in the region on the relaxing island of Phuket. We arrived by a 2 hour Air Asia flight and were picked up by the hotel and transferred to the Naka Island, Luxury Collection by a speed boat, a tiny island off the coast of Phuket. Ayaan loved the experience including ringing the gong on reaching the island and sitting in his favorite buggy. The check in experience was great as they took us straight to our room which was very helpful since Ariana was sleeping. We were upgraded to a beautiful villa overlooking the bay and islands with a private pool, a private hut and an outdoor soaking tub. Over the next 3 days we spent many hours lounging in our villa and ordered room service several times. The main pool was fantastic as well with a large area for kids to run around. The beach had soft white sand and the water was shallow, and the kids and I spent several hours digging muddy puddles to splash in. Our agenda over the 3 days was essentially non-existent as we spent the mornings in the pool and beach after a great breakfast, chilled in our private pool and hut while the kids napped, and took the kids for ice cream and to the game room in the evening. Ayaan attended a cooking class in which he enjoyed making chocolate sticks with sprinkles. He was very amused when he found a frog in the soaking tub one of the days! We got a babysitter one night and had dinner at the upscale My Grill restaurant onsite. The only downside really were the mosquitoes and bugs, and Ariana often asked “will you scratch my owie?”. It was a great relaxing 3 days for all of us as we all got a major tan.

After a wonderful 3 night stay at Naka Island, we took a boat and taxi to our final hotel of the trip – the Le Meriden located close to the busy and touristy Patong. We were ready for some action after a relaxing stay at Naka Island. The Le Meredien is a large hotel with 500+ rooms and some of the best and largest pools we’ve seen. It has one of the most magnificent beaches with calm, warm water, white sandy beaches surrounded by lush green tropical forests. The kids enjoyed the kids club with both an indoor and outdoor area. The staff was nice to provide a baby potty, stepping stool and a bottle warmer. Anjali loved the fact that they had live music everywhere and the balcony in our room was located right above where the live shows were every night which was great entertainment as the kids slept. On our second night we got a babysitter at night and explored the infamous Patong district, especially Bangla road and it’s branching Sois. We spent the evening listening to some of favorites from the 90s played by a rock band and capped off the night with some hookah.

Next morning we took the all day cruise to Ko Phi Phi islands on the Blu Anda catamaran, since we figured it would be safer with the kids. In our almost 6 month journey this was our first all day tour/trip, so Anjali and I were both nervous. The kids did amazingly well and the tour was very well organized – we highly recommend it. We spent the day cruising the stunning blue-green waters on the catamaran stopping for snorkeling at the Monkey beach first. The sand was incredibly white and soft and the water was crystal clear with colorful coral and diverse fish. It was my first time snorkeling after LASIK and it made the recovery worth it! We then stopped at Phi Phi Don for a Thai lunch overlooking another stunning shallow beach overlooking the limestone cliffs. After lunch we cruised to Phi Phi Le for another snorkeling adventure at Tonsai bay which was cut short a bit with some rain. We ended our adventure with a sail around Phi Phi Le including a visit to Maya Bay (made famous by the “The Beach”). Maya bay beach was closed for environmental recovery but the sight itself was stunning. The kids napped on our sail back to the pier and in the minibus ride back to the hotel. We were exhausted after the day trip but decided to go for a nice family Thai dinner downstairs Including some yummy Tom Kha.

We spent our last day chilling on the beach and in the pool, hanging in the kids club, and Anjali and I had a chance to get a beach massage each! The kids have definitely gotten more of a handful during this SE Asia leg partly because of their age and partly because they’ve lost some discipline. But did we have a blast? – “Ummm Yess” as Ariana says. Off to Bombay for a final 3 weeks before we head back west to America and say goodbye to Asia. Thailand we’ll miss you, especially the Pad See Ew!

Vietnam

I’ve always dreamt of Halong Bay and we finally arrived at Hanoi from Siem Reap, after visiting another dream destination. Our flight was late and we reached the MK premier boutique hotel around 1030pm and were happy to find that it was located smack in the middle of the French quarter. Hanoi is extremely crowded and chaotic swarming with bikes, scooters and cyclos and people drive on the sidewalks too! We had a day before we departed for our cruise the next morning, so we decided to explore Hanoi. We took a taxi to the Tran Quoc pagoda which was interesting and located in the one of the few lakes in Hanoi. We then walked with the double stroller to the Ho Chi Minh Masauleum area, struggling along the way with the stroller and kids through the busy streets. We were pretty exhausted after the little excursion in the heat in the morning and took a taxi to a recommended restaurant Quan an Ngon which was quite nice with an extensive menu and and a large area. Kids and Anjali had a good nap while I read and we were ready for the evening after a Iced Vietnamese coffee at the rooftop of our hotel where we watched the sunset. The kids were then super excited to sit in a “cyclo” that took us to the main lake area. Anjali and Ayaan went to visit the famous Ngoc Son pagoda in the middle of the lake, and unfortunately someone swiped Anjali’s iPhone from her bag – understandably she was upset but happy that everything else was ok. When we reunited we took the kids for the famous water puppet show that they absolutely loved with its water buffaloes, boats and live music. We had a fantastic dinner at Duong 2 and had our first taste of amazing Vietnamese food 24 hours after arriving. Anjali put the kids to sleep while I went for a walk in the Friday night market that was packed with people (it was also a Vietnam soccer game that they won against Malaysia) and smoked some hookah at the Hookah room.

Next morning we woke up excited and anxiously waited for our 2 hour ride to the cruise at Halong Bay. Ayaan was very excited since he hadn’t stayed on a boat before. We were picked up at 9am in a luxury 6 seater minibus and the kids were entertained playing with the many gadgets in the minibus for the ride. We had a quick pit stop to see how pearls were extracted from oysters and also got our first view of the magnificent Halong Bay with its thousands of limestone islands – the myth goes that a dragon spat out these islands. We arrived at the cruise lounge where we were greeted with a smile, wet towels, a welcome drink and appetizers. After much research we had decided to go on the newer 3 days 2 nights Au Co cruise from Bhaya cruises instead of the more popular Paradise cruises. It was an absolutely awesome luxury experience and the only improvement we could think of was to have more live music. The boarding was seamless and as we sat for a 5 course set meal lunch we realized there were just 23 guests on board. We were also delighted since we were given an extra room that was much appreciated with our two monsters. The lunch was delicious as we sailed through the limestone islands offering a heavenly view. Our first stop on the cruise that afternoon was to visit the Tieng Ong cave with stalactites and stalagmites. The kids enjoyed the little trek and particularly had fun with the dogs that lived in the cave. After some brief rest on the cruise, our second stop was to visit the 200 person Cua Van floating village in a row boat. This was a particularly serene and relaxing experience, so much so that Ariana fell asleep in my lap on the boat! We spent the evening back on the boat where Anjali went to the hot tub at the back of the boat and then we all went up to the bar to enjoy a happy hour drink while they held a master chef competition. Dinner was another fantastic 5 course set meal and the kids happily munched on their specially prepared dinners. I spent a few hours reading on the balcony and enjoying the moonlight over the islands, as the rest of them slept like babies.

The first morning on the cruise started early and we barely got time to grab breakfast, before we sailed off on the tender boat to the Cat Ba island and national park. While other guests biked, we took the buggy through the stunning landscape and to the town to Viet Ha. Along the way we stopped at a little farm where Ariana enjoyed playing with the hundreds of butterflies of all colors. We got back to the boat with enough time to have a dip in the hot tub and then sit for another 5 course set lunch that was delicious. The final outing that afternoon was to the emerald waters and a white sandy beach of Ho Ba Hahm. This was the highlight of our Vietnam experience as the tiny beach was deserted, the sand powdery and the emerald water calm and warm with an amazing view. The kids were in love and we achieved a proud parent moment where Ayaan and Ariana could float independently in the sea albeit with their floats. Ayaan also took turns to go out on a kayak and he also helped row with his oar! Once again the evening started with drinks on the top deck at happy hour while we watched the sunset and Ayaan then visited the engine room and captains deck with Anjali. Over the course of 2 days Ayaan visited the captain half a dozen times and also blew the fog horn. Our final dinner on the cruise was a live music filled bbq buffet dinner on the top deck which again was amazing. On our final morning we woke up late, had a relaxing breakfast and chilled on the decks taking in for the last time breath taking views of Ha Long bay!

Our ride back from Halong Bay to Hanoi was less relaxing as the kids decided to throw their tantrums as they were sleepy but didn’t sleep. We arrived at the O’gallery Majestic hotel and the kids finally napped, while I dropped off laundry and read some more. We figured the kids would enjoy another cyclo ride, so we took them on an hour long ride through the French quarter after a bite at the hotel lobby restaurant. On our last day in Hanoi, we had debated leaving town to visit the beautiful Ninh Binh district to see “Halong Bay on land” but decided against it after our nightmarish drive back the previous day. We figured we would have a day for the kids for a change. So after breakfast we took a taxi to the kid friendly Thong Nhat Park. The kids absolutely loved this park since it had not only slides and swings, but also rides in trains, cars and even a carousel. We also walked along the calm lake, and overall it was a good change from the otherwise crowded and not super safe for kids (traffic wise) city of Hanoi. We grabbed lunch at Ngon Villa and this was our favorite meal in Vietnam. They had an all you can eat menu (not buffet) for $18 and every item on it was delicious. One of the highlights of our SE Asian journey has been that the kids have loved the food and eat really well at every meal. That evening after a nap we had a dip on the tiny rooftop pool that Ayaan enjoyed because it had one very strong jet that created a downstream effect. We wanted to eat a nice meal to end our Vietnam trip, so we walked 10 minutes to the famous Grandmas restaurant that was fantastic as well. Ariana particularly enjoyed the restaurant with the “two ladies playing the music”. On our final morning in Hanoi, we walked over to the historic Citadel and the kids were delighted to find a stage for a water puppet show set up there. Halong Bay was definitely the highlight of our Vietnam trip, and Hanoi was just too crowded to enjoy with the kids although the food was amazing! On to a couple of weeks in Thailand!

Jordan #50 – part 2

On our 3rd morning in Jordan, we woke up to a panoramic view of the red stone mountains of Petra and spent an hour gazing at the amazing site. We then drove 1.5 hours south to the Wadi Rum desert or “the valley of the moon”. It’s really more like Mars as was portrayed in the Martian. Wadi Rum was the unexpected highlight of our trip to Jordan. We had high hopes but the experience that entire day took us to a different planet.

We first stopped at the visitor center where we booked a 4 hour 4×4 tour through the desert. Our driver Najeh met us as we finished another average local meal at the village and drove us into the desert. The experience reminded us of our Tanzanian safari. As we drove through the amazing red soft sand and gazed at the amazing Martian mountains, Anjali and I were in awe of the magnitude and the beauty. The weather was fantastic as well since October is a one of the best times to visit. The tour took us to a sand dune we climbed, the little bridge and Um fourth bridge, Lawrence’s house and spring and the khazala canyon. We ended the tour a bit early, so we decided to experience the Bedouin lifestyle and took off on a camel ride in the middle of the desert!

Around 430pm exhausted we drove in search of our camp – The Space Village luxury camp. We were originally planning to stay at the Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp but we found out a week ago that they couldn’t honor our booking since their email, website and Facebook page were hacked 5 months ago! We had trouble finding the Space Village camp and had a scare when our car got stuck in the sand and I had to push it out while Anjali guided us back to the road – thank god we didn’t have the kids with us. Once we got to the camp, it was fantastic and pure luxury glamping. It’s just 6 months old, spanking new with 30 tents with very nice hospitality. Right outside the tents is a large sand dune which is also one of the most popular spots to view the sunset. We climbed up the dune and sat while watching one of the most beautiful sunsets we’d seen. We then ran down the large sand dune to the camp where Arabic tea and shisha (or hubbly bubbly awaited us). The dinner was very local and fantastic with a rice and chicken stew cooked underground for hours. We had a great nights sleep on the very comfortable beds only disturbed by Anjali waking me up at 4am to see a sky full of stars, like we had never seen before. You really couldn’t ask for more in a days experience!

Next morning we departed Wadi Rum after a nice breakfast and drove for 4 straight hours to the Dead Sea. We got stopped a second time on the trip for a random ID check, but besides that the drive was seamless and breathtakingly beautiful just before and at the Dead Sea. Dead Sea is really a salt lake that is 400m below sea level, the lowest point on Earth. We arrived at the Marriott right at lunch time and devoured on some Italian food and wine. The Marriott is located right on the Dead Sea with a private beach and 5 pools. After relaxing for a bit we went down to the private beach for a dip in the Dead Sea. The water is 10 times saltier than a sea and it’s super easy to float almost like if you were on the moon. The salt can burn your eyes and nose though. We also put some famous Dead Sea mud on our bodies. The pool and spa was inviting after and we watched the sunset from there. After some shisha we spent our last night having a nice dinner and watching belly dancing. We spent our last morning floating in the Dead Sea and chilling in the pool before taking the red eye to Mumbai to see the kids and family. Jordan was amazing! Thank you to the grandparents again and looking forward to seeing the kids.

Mauritius

We landed onto the island of Mauritius, and after a seamless car rental experience, we were driving through lush green mountains to arrive at the Westin Turtle Bay. We were upgraded to a lovely room with a large balcony, where we knew we’d spend many evenings! Our room was also close to the resort pool which had a large kids play area. Overall, we found the service at the resort to be impeccable, and extremely kid-friendly which significantly enhanced our experience. Every request was met with a smile, and the staff went above and beyond to make our stay special.

On the second day, we went out on a glass bottom boat and the kids enjoyed experiencing the coral reef and fish, and were well behaved. On the third day, we drove to Cassela, where the kids got an African Safari experience, witnessing impala, giraffes, zebra, lions, and little lion cubs. A few days were spent relaxing at the resort, on the beach and in the pool, and enjoying several bottles of French wine that we purchased at a local wine store. We also went out on a pedal boat that the kids enjoyed a lot. The primary language of the Mauritians is French and the population is largely Indian, living in the African continent which made for an interesting mix of cultures. Africa is Ayaan and Ariana’s fifth continent and Mauritius Ayaan’s 25th country!

Every evening, we enjoyed live music at the beachfront and then dined in one of the resorts restaurants or ordered room service in our sprawling balcony, complete with day beds, and a swing. On the fifth day we drove to the south side of the island where we saw the black river gorge national park and some beautiful Hindu temples. Our favorite was the unplanned stop to Chamarel rhumerie where we enjoyed a tour of the process of rum making and a tasting of 7 rums followed by a sumptuous lunch in their gardens. Ayaan’s tummy was upset so he didn’t eat much and slept in his stroller during lunch. One of the memories of the trip was watching Ayaan and Ariana interact and play with each other with sand toys on the beach and swim in the pool together with their puddle jumpers. Ayaan remains very caring and protective of his little sister if he suspects that she is unsafe.

After 6 nights, we departed for the St Regis which had a spectacular location next to the Le Morne mountain. The south side of the island is lush and green and stunningly beautiful. On our way to the resort we stopped at the seven colored earths, a geological formation which was beautiful. The kids also met with some very old tortoises that had been transported from the island of Seychelles when the tortoise population in Mauritius was dwindling. The St Regis lived up to its expectations after a somewhat rocky start. The kids were overjoyed as they were welcomed with gifts including new sand toys. We loved the food and cocktails and in particular the multi course a la carte breakfast with home made croissants, dim sum, cheese and charcuterie washed down with mimosas. The live saxophone musician in the evenings was extremely talented and a perfect compliment to the sunsets. The pan Asian and Japanese restaurants were fantastic. After our experience at both resorts with well built kids clubs and activities including treasure hunts, we were convinced that Mauritius is by far the most child friendly country that we’ve ever visited. Merci Mauritius – we had a fantastic time!

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.

Tuscany

Tuscany was the only place in our entire trip that Gaurav and I had been to together, but had always wanted to return, and so we decided to repeat! A short drive from Florence, and we entered the beautiful town of San Gimignano. The heat was oppressive though, and the kids weren’t cooperating. Surprisingly and much to our dismay, Ayaan has developed somewhat of an aversion to pizza which made meal time challenging. And then, when we asked Ayaan to stop being on the phone once lunch was served, he uttered the dreaded bad word. And for that moment, the heat combined with the tantrum made me wonder whether coming to Tuscany (and the entire trip in general) was a good idea. We retreated to our agriturismo and after an unsuccessful attempt at getting the kids to nap, spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool overlooking the sprawling vineyards. The kids eventually had a late nap and Gaurav and I decided to leverage the opportunity to enjoy dinner without the kids at a beautiful restaurant back in the town of San Gimignano. We tried the pici – a simple spaghetti with garlic and the dessert Ive long craved since I left Italy – a chocolate panna cotta…that first bite, and it made me feel for that moment, that coming back to Tuscany (and the trip in general) was all worth it!

The next morning, we were off to a better start. We drove to Chianti for our appointment at Antinori, extremely excited to be visiting the ‘alma mater’ of one of our favorites – Tignanello. The winery was exceptionally stunning – founded back in the 14th century, it underwent a 100 million upgrade in 2012. From the wine making process and equipment to the tasting rooms and experience and of course, the wines itself, we were blown away! Following the tour and tasting, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch overlooking the vineyards and left several bottles of wine later.

Our next stop was Amorelli where a very friendly server talked us through a wine, olive oil and balsamic tasting paired with cheese, prosciutto and olives. We were surprised to learn that balsamic was the most expensive item on their menu (the best, and what Italians consider only real balsamic) is made only from grapes and aged for 10-36 years. Wow! That evening, in anticipation of Ariana’s second birthday, we went to a toy store to buy her gifts. We were pleased to find a wonderful kids play area above, complete with bouncy houses, water play, slides, ball houses and much more! The kids spent a fantastic hour there playing with each other and local kids. It’s fascinating to see that kids don’t really need to speak the same language to have a blast.

The next morning, Ariana opened her gifts and was thrilled with her new walking/talking (albeit in Italian) doggie and baby stroller. We then drove to Montalcino because we love Brunellos! We started at Altesino and then headed to Barbi for lunch where the kids enjoyed playing outdoors with their new toys. Our last stop was Banfi where I was excited to see the association with Cornell’s Hotel School #hotelieforlife. That evening, Gaurav had reserved a table at a wonderful terrace overlooking he vineyards to celebrate Ariana’s birthday. We started off by allowing her to open her bubbles and entertain herself until the food arrived. After a dinner of chicken and French fries, she devoured a panna cotta while we all sang to her. Later that evening, the kids enjoyed coconut gelato in the square before calling it a night. happy Birthday Ariana – we love you!

Being a part of Ariana’s exponential growth over the past six weeks has been particularly gratifying for us. Traveling with kids isn’t always easy but, for us, it’s been so worth it!