Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Spring Break trip Part 3: Stockholm, Sweden

I know my vacation posts are just dragging on and probably boring by now considering it has been almost a month, but for my own sake (remember I plan to print out this blog at some point!), I can't neglect posting about the last city we visited on our Eurotrip 2019... STOCKHOLM!

Even though I didn't have hight expectations, Stockholm really shocked me, it was way more interesting than I thought it would be and out of the places we visited, it was also the one with the most resemblance to American culture. 
Stockholm is an incredibly colorful city, with interesting architecture and very rich and diverse culture; we really enjoyed our time there and made some wonderful memories.
During our time in Stockholm, we spent a lot of time walking the city (by that point, I was a pro walking with my boot) and enjoyed the perfect weather we were blessed with... it was seriously perfect!
I wouldn't categorize Stockholm as an "exciting" city; on the contrary, I found it to be a really laid back and uneventful city, and I say this in the most loving of ways because we really enjoyed our "down time" after being on the go for so many days prior. Its layout is very interesting since it's an archipelago so it makes for great geography and just nice overall. 
Here are some of the highlights of Stockholm:
1. Gamla Stan: cobbled streets and colorful buildings make for one of the most iconic images of the city.  Definitely not to miss!

2. The food: Sweden isn't short on delicious tastes and culinary experiences that will certainly leave a mark!

3. Royal Castle and change of guard: I really enjoyed the art housed in the Royal Castle and seeing the change of guard was such an amazing experience!

4. Colorful architecture: All of the buildings in the city had something special to them.  There was a lot of construction and renovation work going on in the city, which shows how architecture and the city's landscape are always at the forefront

5. The ABBA Museum:  this is one of the most exciting museums I have visited. We aren't huge ABBA fans per se, but this interactive experience was one of the greatest highlights of our visit to Stockholm.  Definitely recommended. 

6. The beautiful nature and multiple parks: the city is riddled with parks and beautiful nature. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom so they made the city even more colorful!

7. Vasa Museum: this museum commemorates the "Vasa", which s a retired Swedish warship built between 1626 and 1628 and salvaged over 300 years later.  It is preserved in this museum and it's definitely very impressive. 

8. Swedish markets: we really enjoyed walking around the multiple Swedish markets all over the city and even shopped for some cute souvenirs. 

Even though we truly enjoyed our time in Stockholm, I'm not sure that it's a place I would go back to, simply because as beautiful as it is, it doesn't necessarily stand out like other cities.. It's a "one and done" kind of city for me, but it was definitely worth a visit!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Spring Break trip Part 2: Poland

In my life I have been very fortunate to be able to travel a lot; I have visited multiple countries, explored multiple cultures and met multiple people along the way...every trip has been a great experience...
However, nothing compares to visiting Poland for the first time...a trip that came a bit too late for my liking considering my best friend of 20+ years (and godmother to my oldest daughter) is originally from Poland; so I feel like I should have visited her native country a long time ago...
But God's timing is always the best timing and I am glad that I got to visit this beautiful country with my whole family instead of in my teenage years.. we made memories that we will forever cherish and every bit of our time there was magical in every sense of the word. 

Our first stop was Poland's capital city of Warsaw, which is a gem of a place made even better by the fact that Martyna was able to join us for this part of our trip.  
Warsaw is an amazingly eclectic city, the perfect mix between classic Europe and noteworthy modern architecture. Even though our walking pace was slower than usual (remember I broke my foot in Copenhagen a few days prior!), we were able to soak in the beauty of Warsaw and visited amazing buildings, incredible parks and delicious restaurants. 
Here are some of my favorites from Warsaw

After a couple of days in Warsaw, we headed to Zakopane, a resort town in southern Poland at the base of the Tatras Mountains, right on the border of Poland and Slovakia; this is the town where Martyna's parents live and where we spent our Easter holiday, soaking in some of Poland's most beautiful religious traditions among other things.  Martyna's parents own an exquisite rental apartment building and were the most wonderful hosts to us.  They showed us around town, took us out to the most famous regional restaurants and even drove us around town to see the favorite tourist spots. 
During our time in Zakopane we visited some of the most intricate churches I have ever seen, ate at the most delicious restaurants we have tried and even hiked (not me!) a mountain and saw snow in one of the most famous peaks of Europe.... it was an incredible trip in such a dreamy place!

Once our wonderful time in Zakopane was over, we headed over to Krakow for a day. Krakow is the second largest city in Poland and it's famous for its well preserved medieval core and Jewish quarter. Krakow is also home to the Divine Mercy Sanctuary and the birthplace of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, one of the most special saints of the Catholic Church.  Visiting Krakow was the cherry on top of an already amazing trip and it's one place I'd like to visit again and again!
Here are some of my favorite shots from Krakow, which honestly don't do it was such a beautiful can't capture it all.. not even a fraction!

But the magic of the many churches, restaurants, mountains and touristic spots we visited in Poland could never compare to the magic of experiencing all of it with my best friend by my side.  I am so grateful that Martyna took the time to make the trip with us; she was the most wonderful host, guide, translator and company we could ask for and I will forever remember this trip and pray that we can do it again at some point in our lives. 
Thank you, Poland (and Martyna!) for a wonderful time!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Spring Break trip Part 1: Copenhagen, Denmark

To anyone that knows me it's no secret that I find traveling to be incredibly fascinating and fun; not only does it open my eyes to new horizons and different cultures but it also allows for some great family time filled with new experiences all around. 
As much as I like to revisit some of my favorite cities, this year we chose 3 new cities since we wanted to explore destinations we had never visited before...and what a great idea it was!
Our first stop was the city of Copenhagen... the beautiful capital of Denmark...
Copenhagen had been at the top of my list for a while; ever since Olivia completed a school project and got the idea in her mind that she must visit this city, it always remained in the back of my mind so we planned our itinerary around it.
I booked our flights with American Airlines (operated by FinnAir) and each round trip ticket from Miami to Copenhagen cost us $380 (which is an insanely good price for a transatlantic flight).. I subsequently booked other transfers inside Europe (both by plane and train) and spent an extra $1000 for the 5 of us.. (I will talk about this later!)... we really lucked out with air fares this time around. 

Weather wise I will say that this time we enjoyed the best forecast we've ever had in any of our previous trips so this might have had some effect in our perception of this city but I must say that Copenhagen is one of the most beautiful places we have seen.  Its colorful buildings and pristine streets are to die for.  It is a mix of modern and classic architecture in the best possible way and every corner houses some new fascinating spot that is not to miss. 
**On the 2nd day of our trip I fell down a set of stairs and fractured my foot; the injury threatened to put a damper on our plans and almost forced us to return home prematurely, but thanks to some nice Danish doctor and a successful visit to the ER of a random Copenhagen hospital, I was able to get a walking boot and finished our trip even if it meant walking at a slower pace!**
My favorite thing about Copenhagen is the amount of castles and palaces as well as the classic mysticism of the massive churches and museums found practically in every corner of the city.  Food and shopping are a bit pricey but we were able to enjoy ourselves and remain within our budget, even splurging in a nice canal tour and some souvenirs for our loved ones. 

Highlights of Copenhagen include:

Nyhavn: Copenhagen's waterfront, canal and entertainment district which stretches from Kongens Nytorv to the harbor front just south of the Royal Playhouse. One of the most colorful city icons visited by tons and tons of people every day. If you know nothing about Copenhagen, you are guaranteed to at least have seen this picture. 

Rosenborg Castle:  a beautiful renaissance castle originally built as a summerhouse in the year 1606 and a perfect example of Copenhagen's rich architecture. This castle is located on the grounds of "King's Gardens" and it’s surrounded by beautiful nature in an almost idyllic landscape.  

The Little Mermaid: they call her the "most famous woman"of Denmark and that she is!  This beautiful bronze statue depicts a mermaid becoming human and it's displayed on a rock by the waterside.  Although relatively small, it is one of the most popular photo spots for Copenhagen visitors so it was a must see on our itinerary. 

Aside from those 3, I was in awe of Copenhagen's overall beauty.  It is a city rich in nature, art, entertainment, food and much more. We are blessed to have been able to visit such beautiful place and will forever cherish the time spent there.. broken foot an all! :)

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Kindness matters....

Considering I have only made ONE entry so far this year, it is probably safe to say that 2019 has not been good to my blog. My failed blogger abilities for 2019 can possibly be attributed to multiple factors, including but not limited to, lack of time, lack of motivation, increasing work and school demands and so on...
But here I am.. back at it.. and I want to break my blogging silence by writing about my new favorite word: KINDNESS!
Last year I posted numerous entries about bullying and other unfortunate things that happened at school; I wrote about how the teachers and the school reacted to my mounting concerns and I also brushed on the subject of parenting bullies and mean children. 
Following my initial post about bullying, Gaby received an anonymous note that read "I hate you"; needless to say we were incredibly distraught and even though it was horrible, I decided on a different approach: self defense! I spoke to Gaby about the importance of standing up for herself and we researched ways of self assertion...this seems to have worked better than making complaints to school staff and even to other parents...but still more change is needed. 
Recently a fellow mom posted THIS article, which very clearly states the difference between rude, mean and bullying and I found it to be very insightful (read it if you have a chance!). The article made me think of the undeniable repercussions of not correcting our children in time; repercussions that are incredibly disturbing considering we are shaping the adults of the future...
Which.. speaking of adults...that's where kindness is most needed as evidenced by what happened to my 67 year old dad recently.  See, my dad is a college professor, one of the "good" ones that really gives it all for his students.... A few weeks ago he happened to trip and fall while walking around campus; he ended up on the floor and unable to stand from said fall.  He was appalled to see dozens of people (all adults) who walked by him and completely ignored him; not one person offered to lend a hand or help him stand, no one even asked if he was ok.  My dad very eloquently told me how people were more focused on dodging him or simply just looking at their phones while he (an elder) just sat there, hopelessly waiting for a kind gesture from a stranger... this breaks my heart in a different level... I was speechless to hear this and it still angers me... My dad was eventually able to stand up and wasn't badly hurt, but that isn't the point of the story...
I have been pondering about what can be done to shift our "unkind" culture to something kind and positive.  How can we make sure our kids don't become those adults that would walk past an elderly man on the floor without even seeming concerned?
The answer is simple.. Be Kind. Do Kind. Because kindness matters more than we know; our kids are watching, our kids are listening, our kids are imitating us and we have more control than we like to admit. 

Pretty soon our school will be launching a "Kindness Campaign", one that focuses on random acts of kindness intended to teach our kids that kindness matters and that being kind to each other can turn our lives around.  This campaign is also aimed at strengthening our kind values, beginning a culture shift and making kindness a core value that should never be overlooked.  I am lucky to be surrounded by so many people who care about this and I hope we can make a big difference in our children's lives and our own. 

Kindness Matters!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

If you want to "give it", you gotta be willing to "take it"

In this day and age where almost everyone has access to the internet and is connected through some form of social media, it is so easy to have opinions and post them online. Not only do we have an insurmountable amount of content and information, but we also live in a tense political climate where opinions are so polarized it's scary sometimes.  It's easy to hide behind a keyboard, post links to opinion articles or simply reshare passive aggressive memes that may or may not be intended to offend or trigger people who think different than we do. 
When I scroll through my FB feed I get to experience a whole range of emotions that go from contentment, to agreement, to frustration, to pity and sometimes even anger. It sounds dumb to admit that some posts even put me in a bad mood even when they seem to be so insignificant but I'm not one to lie about my feelings, so there.. I said it.. For what it's worth, we live in an era where many of us connect through social media so that's why it matters...
As much as I try to bite my tongue and stay away from politically charged posts, sometimes it's difficult to avoid commenting on things I agree or disagree with. I have friends from all walks of life, some of us are very like minded and some are not but I have always been fine with differing opinions and diverse thinking because that's what keeps things interesting and I'd like to believe that my friends and I value feelings and affection more than our political, social or ideal views. I don't feel the need to prove to anyone the kind of person or friend that I am and I also don't fear losing friends over being myself...or at least I know I shouldn't. 
But this post isn't about politics or how to handle friendships with people on the other side of the fence, this is more about my opinion on the importance of not hiding behind a keyboard and understanding that while posting opinions isn't wrong, people must always know that everything we write has consequences and most likely will elicit a reaction from someone... so if you want to "give it", you gotta be willing to "take it". 
Yesterday, one of my FB "friends" reshared an excerpt from Glenn Close's acceptance speech at the Golden Globes this past Sunday.  The exact excerpt that was shared goes as follows:

"I’m thinking of my mom who really sublimated herself to my father her whole life. And in her 80s she said to me, "I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything."And it was so not right. And I feel like what I've learned from this whole experience is, women, we’re nurturers, that’s what’s expected of us. We have our children, we have our husbands if we're lucky enough, and our partners. But we have to find personal fulfillment. We have to follow our dreams. We have to say, "I can do that, and I should be allowed to do that."

I happened to have watched the award ceremony and heard this very same speech, and while I clearly understand the intention of it (which is great, btw!), I took issue with the fact that she implied that having a family and a successful marriage wasn't "fulfilling". Had she used the term "professional fulfillment", or something along those lines, her speech would have been on point for me, but somehow the fact that she passive aggressively took a jab at women that "sublimate" themselves to their husbands, didn't sit well with me. I personally find that having a happy home life is extremely fulfilling but I also understand that it might not feel like it's "enough" for other women, however I don't feel like Glenn Close needed to put others down in order to validate her feelings...
And so when this "friend" posted the excerpt, I commented on her post with "...because having a family and a successful marriage isn't "fulfilling""....(end of quote).. a few minutes went by and I thought my comment could have come off as "rude" or could easily be misconstrued, so I decided to go back to add to it and explain what I meant (as stated above)... To my surprise (and within minutes of my comment), this person had unfriended me on FB.. (shocker!...not!)... So there it was.. a girl who I had been "friends" with for 10 years (we met through a pregnancy board when we were both pregnant in 2008), a person who I cried with when she lost a baby, who I prayed for when her son has been sick, who I have shared endless photos and stories with through FB for more than a decade, decided that because my comment didn't sit well with her, the easiest way to "dispose" of whatever relationship we had was to click "unfriend". Granted, we were only "cyber friends" but you get the point...  While I wholeheartedly believe that she is free to friend or unfriend whoever she wishes, I find it incredibly childish and intolerant on her part that instead of engaging in some sort of healthy debate or insightful conversation, she just decided to cut me off.  I will admit that I wouldn't have noticed this at all had I not attempted to elaborate on my initial comment, which I planned on doing out of respect for her and for anyone who read my differing opinion.. but oh well...the irony!
But again, this post isn't even about what this girl did or didn't do, but about an illustration of what happens when people hide behind a screen or a keyboard. I am using this incident to demonstrate that those that claim to be the most tolerant and accepting are usually the ones that get easily "butt hurt" when someone doesn't think like they do or simply disagree on a belief.  It happens to me all the time with this blog; I post something and people disagree.. it's ok.. the world doesn't end because of that.. 
I will, however, give credit to all of the people who genuinely stand by what they believe and are mature enough to have friendly debates that get started by a simple meme or a link shared on social media; I value those people more than I can ever say and I appreciate the fact that we share mutual respect and are able to see past our difference in ideals and opinions.  We have deeper friendships because of that and I am glad that we can continue to stimulate each other through intelligent conversations (you all know who you are!)...
So, to the girl that unfriended me because you didn't like my comment on your post "I'm sorry"... "I'm sorry that what I said bothered you so much that you couldn't stand keeping me on your friend list", "I'm sorry that you're looking to surround yourself only with people who think like you", "I'm sorry that a person who doesn't think exactly like you do isn't worth your time", "I'm sorry that whatever relationship we had was dependent on me biting my tongue or giving your post a fake applause", "I'm sorry I didn't agree entirely with Glenn Close's speech" , "I'm sorry that I wasted 10 years thinking that we were connected somehow" but most of all "I'm sorry that our world has come to this...."
People.. own your opinions! Embrace diversity!..keep giving it.... and TAKING it!