Road Trip 2 Ukiah & Mendocino

IMG_6024

Over Memorial Day, we drove up north to Mendocino county – of wine country , red wood forests and rugged northern Californian coast fame. It’s about a 3 hour drive north from San Francisco which took longer with multiple pit stops. With a large group of friends it was bucket loads of fun.

As we were all driving up from various places in Bay Area we decided to meet up for lunch en-route at Quivira winery.

First Up – Lunch at Quivira Winery

IMG_6033

A boutique winery in Dry Creek area, the lunch stop here was perfect. We had asked them to reserve us tables under their olive trees which oomph-ed up a casual lunch. They have a huge vegetable garden, hens and a little pond with fishes and fountains that kept the kids entertained. We had idli’s for lunch while Varun ran about with his friends. A light breeze cooled us as we sat under those shaded trees, chatting about the rest of the trip and looked over the vast acres of vineyards around. The wines – Chardonnay and Rose were particularly good so much that we bought a few bottles for the weekend.

This was a fabulous start to a great weekend with friends.

IMG_5997

IMG_5991

IMG_5987

IMG_5982

IMG_5984

Home Base – Shambhala Ranch Inn

IMG_6069

Next we drove to Shambhala Ranch Inn – our home away from home for the weekend. It’s a rustic ranch overlooking a pond, sloping lawns and surrounded by mountains and trees in the distance. The drive from Ukiah to the ranch was as rural as it gets in California. Forested road winding up and down the mountains, an almost dry river bed with its stones gleaming in sunshine, open valleys and views and occasional houses with their horses or cows grazing in vicinity. The drive truly makes you leave the city with its routine behind. There is no cell phone reception in the area which helps unwind.

We drove past the Orr Hot Springs Resort and Montgomery Redwoods State National Preserve and finally reached the ranch late in the afternoon. Tara, the owner was around to let us in and we all settled in. Older kids explored, younger ones stayed put in the great room. We all gathered at the deck or in the kitchen with steaming cups of chai and pondered over dinner plans. Another Indian parents on Road Trip special – Theplas with Yogurt; Cheese dosas for older kids and khichadi for young ones.

Later that night we star-gazed, some saw shooting stars while being serenaded by crickets and bull frogs.

Varun was too excited to sleep though finally sometime later at night he crashed out of sheer exhaustion.

IMG_6090

IMG_6104

IMG_6124

IMG_6042

Green Pine Cone

Foxgloves

Montgomery Redwoods State Nature Preserve

The next day we all woke up late. Had a communal breakfast and explored the woods around the ranch. Little swallows and dragonflies flitted around. Blackberry was in bloom. It was peaceful.

Swallow

Blackberry flower

Later than afternoon we drove down to Montgomery Redwoods which is famous for its old growth and massive redwoods.

IMG_6170

IMG_6188

IMG_6201

IMG_6207

We hiked a bit to see a groove of majestic redwoods. Some of the trees were so massive that we could barely form a ring around its base. And of course it’s never possible to photograph them in entirety in a single image – they are towering. I always feel humbled in their presence.

It was cool, quiet and refreshing. Vipul and I headed back after the first grove of redwoods as it was time to nurse Vihaan but the rest of the gang continued up the trail. The trail is not wheelchair accessible and slopes steadily up. There are picnic tables very close to trail head and make for a nice spot for snack next to a stream.

Later that evening we used the outdoor grill to make burgers, corn on the cob and roasted marshmallows. A first for the older kids and many of us adults as well. It was hit.

IMG_6213

The ranch has a large meeting room space where we lounged at night. Kids played, we chatted over more bottles of wine till wee hours of morning. A couple of rounds of Settlers of Katan and other casual games were played for old times sake.

Drive to Mendocino Coast

IMG_6273

On Monday, after a late breakfast; it was time to pack up and leave the ranch. Our earlier plan was to drive to Ukiah and visit the Temple of Thousand Buddhas but at Tara’s advice we decided to drive to the coast.We planned to drive to Mendocino for lunch and then spend some time in the area (Fort Bragg’s, beaches etc ) before we headed  home.

On the drive to the coast, all kids piled into one car. The kids valued their time with their friends as much as we did with ours. While it made for a quiet drive to the coast, it felt weird to not have our chatterbox with us in our car. Another parenting first for us.

IMG_6268

IMG_6264

The coastal scenery here is breathtaking. Rugged cliffs, blue pacific water, little kayaks bobbing in coves.The beaches at the confluence of river meeting the sea were particularly tempting. But the coast was windy and we decided to skip the beach.

Drive Thru Anderson Valley and back home

IMG_6289

Luckily after lunch, Varun missed us ( warmed my heart!) and decided to come back in our car. He wanted to go to the beach but he was exhausted and slept all the way to San Francisco. He had too much fun over the weekend.

IMG_6295

On the drive home, we drove by more magnificent Redwoods on Route – 128 and through Anderson Valley – another excellent area for wines.

We were all tired by the end of the trip. And equally refreshed. Something that only those who do road trips with close friends will understand. Blessed and grateful for Memorial day weekend!!

Magic Of Maui

December in Maui

We were in Maui for a week in December.

After Dubai and before starting our life in San Francisco.

Hawaii has always been our milestone destination. For our fifth anniversary we were in Oahu ( after Australia) and our first baby moon we were in Kauai. It made sense to continue with our Hawaii theme for our 10th anniversary as well as second baby moon (if a vacation with an active 3-year-old when you are at fag-end of second trimester can be called as any kind of “moon”).

Maui has always been an elusive destination for us. We have planned to visit many times before Varun. We almost had purchased tickets but something or the other was always in the way. This time we wanted to visit Maui as we started our second phase in US.

I wasn’t sure how I would fare the long flight from India to US. I wanted to see if I could manage another 5+ hours flight so we booked our tickets fairly late minute.

Where We Stayed 

December in Maui

Since we had “researched” the island earlier, we knew where we wanted to stay. It was either Lahaina in West Maui or Wailea in South Maui. Both have excellent sunset views, calm crescent beaches and luxury resorts catering to every whim you would have. We didn’t really plan to do much of sight-seeing anyways so we didn’t really care to be in center of things.

December in Maui

Based on the deals that we saw at that time, Four Seasons, Maui was booked. And boy was it a fantastic choice or what. Luxurious expansive rooms, water views, top-notch service and little details that make your stay memorable. Its expected at a resort like this. What really blew me away was their kid friendliness.

December in Maui

Little robe for Varun? Check

One Planet Lotion/Shampoo/ Bath wash for kids and babies? Check

Complimentary Pool/Beach toys ? Check

Complimentary kid friendly books, video rentals? Check

Kids for All Season – A complimentary play area with activities (gecko hunting, swimming, beach combing etc) and toys for kids including meals and snacks ? Check

The last one was so loved by Varun. Between that and the beach he couldn’t decide where he wanted to go.

But it was not overrun with kids. There was a separate adults only area with swim up bar and infinity pool , up and away from the chaos of kid and family pool.

December in Maui

December in Maui

We enjoyed that as well thanks to the babysitting service that we could avail from Four Seasons concierge. The baby sitters are carefully shortlisted and checked so you can actually enjoy your vacation without worrying about your kid not being in safe hands.

We met so many families by the pool who return here every year around the same time every year from various cities in US to enjoy the warmth and hospitality of Four Seasons. They have formed friendships over their vacation and are excited to see them. I think that speaks the most about the resort.

If you have a child and are looking for a chilled out resort in Maui, really look no further than Four Seasons. I would go again in a heartbeat.

What did we do?

There is literally a ton of activities to do in Maui. Shortlisting ones to do given the limited time you have on the island is a challenge. We didn’t plan to do much other than drive to Hana and Snorkel. Rest was pool and beach time.

A drive unto Haleakala summit was out of question as was some of the other activities we would typically have indulged in on such a vacation – hiking, learning to surf or even scuba diving.

Luckily, Varun didn’t mind the drive to Hana. He actually loves waterfalls and was excited to visit one after the another. He didn’t snorkel but we took turns snorkeling by the Molokini crater. The reef is alive and teeming with colorful fishes. Very vibrant and reminiscent of our scuba diving experience in Cairns.

By the day, Varun played in the pool with other kids or played in the sand digging our feet in on the beach.

December in Maui

December in Maui

Or chasing birds

December in Maui

December in Maui

Afternoons were either in the kids for All Season or napping.

December in Maui

December in Maui

Evenings were spent watching pink sunsets along the beach or the board walk.

December in Maui

Tiki torch lighting ceremony and Hula dancing at the resort was followed by dinner.

December in Maui

A movie or books reading time for Varun and then bedtime.

December in Maui

Sometimes its an adrenaline packed vacation that you remember for ever. Like our time in Costa Rica. Other times its relaxing vacation that makes wonderful memories. Varun talks about waterfalls and beach from Hawaii. He remembers how we had to get back from Hana before it got very dark.   And the beautiful pictures of Varun and Vipul are something I will cherish forever.

I got to chill out, enjoy a massage and sleep in before the fast pace of life took over again. I would so not trade our time in Maui for anything.

They say Hawaii spoils you forever. The greenery, the laid back pace of life, coffee, soft sand, waterfalls, seafood, naps in middle of day and the Aloha spirit. We have visited three island so far and I agree, we are spoilt. Can’t wait to go back again – this time with two kids in tow!

Dubai Dolphinarium

Dolphin and Seal Show at Dubai Dolphinarium

Before I sign off on Dubai posts, I have to write about the place where Varun laughed and squealed the most – Dubai Dolphinarium.

We had spent the earlier part of the day at Ski Dubai so this was a befitting part 2 of the focussed day. The Dolphinarium is in Children’s City – a little bit further from Dubai Mall. Mostly we saw locals, kids celebrating birthdays and other little kids with their parents on vacation.Varun has a small blue toy dolphin that he loves. He used to play with it in India and I think it’s probably lost somewhere in the move. So when he saw pictures of the Dolphins in various brochures his eyes went wide as he literally yelled “Look, mama, Dolphins”!

The show is in an indoor air-conditioned auditorium. It is about 90 minutes long and has a musical and magic tricks ( they call it illusions) part which IMO was totally unnecessary and boring for kids. It was hard to keep kids engaged during that part despite the beautiful acrobatics.

Dolphin and Seal Show at Dubai Dolphinarium

Varun kept asking me when the dolphins and seals would arrive. Finally when they did, he was jumping up and down in his seat, clapping and cheering like I have never seen before.

Dolphin and Seal Show at Dubai Dolphinarium

Dolphin and Seal Show at Dubai Dolphinarium

Dolphin and Seal Show at Dubai Dolphinarium

Dolphin and Seal Show at Dubai Dolphinarium

Dolphin and Seal Show at Dubai Dolphinarium

Dolphin and Seal Show at Dubai Dolphinarium

Dolphin and Seal Show at Dubai Dolphinarium

If you do have little kids, do take them here. The Children’s City has other kid friendly things to do like slides, park, planetarium, nature and space center etc. Its worth heading out that way even if you have seen Dolphin shows else-where. Keep in mind transportation back after the dolphin show is a bit iffy and you have to wait for a cab to show up. 

We headed from here to see the musical fountains. I think we saw them thrice all in all. As we stayed fairly close to the Dubai mall it was one free indulgence which we loved.

A very kid friendly, safe and cosmopolitan city, we truly loved Dubai. We hope to visit again when the kids are older and we can do some crazy adventure the emirate has to offer: Zorbing, Indoor Sky diving, Hot Air Balloon Ride over the desert, just to name a few!