Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Grand Canyon

It was the crack of dawn, when we all piled into our rented mini-van and headed toward our next adventure: the Grand Canyon, known to the world as one of the largest and oldest dating back to about 2 billion years.

Even at first glance of the entryway, I knew the trip would be worthwhile. There were tons of trees, greenery, you know -- signs of life (finally, after hours of driving through the desert). Getting to the canyon was even better. There was such beauty there. A gradient of color among the rocks, tons of plants, and the vast sky above us. The sight of the humungous canyon below us... it was both exhilarating and anxiety-striking. I could tell little Holly felt the same way as I did, but to a heightened degree. That was probably the craziest thing in her little world. We stood there, soaking in as much as we could.

  Not every path was wheelchair accessible, but with the help of park maps, we found out which ones would work for us. You can find it on their website. However, I still required helped going up slight, rocky inclines. And I was limited on where the wheelchair could safely go and didn't get to go to some of the cooler spots like this place…

It was a chilly day so our warm-loving Boston was a bit upset and clung on for warmth wherever he could. I had forgotten to pack warm gear for him on this trip, so we put my long leopard socks on his chunky baby legs and wrapped him in a blanket like a leopard eskimo. Even my host brother was feeling the chill but forgot to bring a jacket for himself, so he walked around the park with a blanket from the car. We're just a stylin' family like that.
 Holly has taken an interest in photography since we do so much of it in our family, so we put her in charge of the camera for a while and she got some really fun candid photos. She took tons of a few little friends who were just hanging out in the area and random things in between.
We headed to the visitor's center for some warmth. We got to see, feel, touch replicated artifacts of the life there such as different types of animals and rocks. We learned the canyon was carved out by the Colorado River some millions ago and inhabited by native Americans throughout recent centuries.

I've always been in awe of the magnificence and mysteries of the world that God had created by us. Seeing the Grand Canyon further confirmed God's great power for having molded this earth to what it is to what we enjoy now in modern time. Amazing.
We crossed the famous Route 66 to get to the Grand Canyon. It was used tons for migration to the west from the Chicago to Santa Monica.
The Grand Canyon is definitely a worthwhile trip. Certainly a great summer activity with the family. I'm kind of sad we didn't get to camp there this time. Have you camped there and is it worth trying out sometime?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Weekend for Daddy

It was a special weekend in the Huntington household. We not only celebrated A.J.'s {near 30} birthday, but his first real, official {Yay, I'm part of the club} Father's Day. Special, right? Not to toot my own horn, but I married one very chill dude. For his special weekend, A.J. let me choose what we were going to do {talk about a 50/50 relationship}. Back when I was planning our #yearofdates I knew June would be a tricky month because of various summertime options (camping trips, AJ's 10 year class reunion, concerts, rodeos…I LOVE them all) AND especially WORLD CUP (we've been waiting for four years...and finally it's here!). Well, the stars aligned for everything to go just right for us and we had so much fun.

For lunch, we went to our favorite restaurant in Utah Valley, Tucanos for delicious Brazilian churrasco and pão de queijo (cheese bread) galore with our family {dad included}. Even little Holly joined in the fun and tried almost everything we put on her plate: ribeye steak, garlic sirloin, chicken heart, beef brisket, filet mignon wrapped in bacon... I hope Boston will be super open to trying new things like that one day. And because it's Father's Day weekend, there were added shrimp, salmon, barbeque chicken. So much food! The gluton in me wished my tummy could fit in more to get my money's worth. But it's OK, for a small lady who doesn't eat so much on a regular basis, you have to go into a churrascaria and conclude you're paying for the atmosphere, company, and quality of food, and your husband's appetite.

Afterwards, it was World Cup time. I wouldn't say I'm a huge football buff. My exposure to the sport began in 2006 when I was preparing to leave on my exchange to Brazil. My passion grew while I was on my exchange and constantly watching it with my host families. My realizations of the worldwide importance of this sport occurred during my travels. And being married to my husband who loves this sport beyond any other has sealed this football thing for me for time and all eternity. It was inevitable. I hope Boston jumps on the football bandwagon, too. It's kind of a big deal to us --like going to watch a World Cup game is on the bucketlist, kind of big. Boston got to watch part of the Italy vs. England World Cup game on Daddy's lap {gotta start them young}. We were torn as we love both countries. It could have gone either way. But I had a feeling Italy would take it, so that's how my bracket goes. They finished 2-1. Yes! *[The US beat Ghana 2-1 today. USA USA USA!!]*

After the dramatic game, we left baby under the care of AJ's parents and headed for our concert to see One Republic's Native Summer Tour with the Script -- seriously one of the best concerts I've ever been to. For one, the line up was great. American Authors opened up, then the Script, and finally, One Republic... It was like a walk down memory lane. We used to listen to these guys all the time during our college days. How perfect to hear them live and actually know all their songs (because concerts are so much better when you know the songs)! Their music was superb, their performance was upbeat, and their storytelling of each song coming to pass was so engaging. Those are the things that make a concert so much more meaningful and memorable for me. Getting to hear from the musicians on stage live was kind of like getting to know a bit of them. For example, I learned that Ryan Tedder wrote the song, "Something I need" when he woke up at 2AM after his 30th birthday freaking out, and looked over to his wife asleep next to him and realized she's all he needed to make it through and if he were to die once, it was well worth it to be with her. I thought of what he said for the rest of the show and just felt so lucky to be there, tears running down my face, our arms embraced, and my head on the shoulder of my sweetheart.

I'd like to dedicate this song to AJ because he makes this life worth living to me. He's got everything I could ever need or want. To the love of my life, the daddy of my precious boy, if we only live once, I wanna live with you… Happy Birthday and Father's Day! I hope you know how much we love you!

Friday, June 13, 2014

7 Things to do in Las Vegas

New York City was a blast and we were certainly glad we got to visit, but it was time to move onto our next destination: Las Vegas! I was excited to be on the West Coast again where things are a little slower paced. I loved it because my husband and baby were able to join us. Now I could relax a bit more with A.J. to help me coordinate activities and find our way around. Plus, being on the West Coast means more chances of wheelchair accessibility, and Vegas is definitely wheelchair accessible. I've never had to worry about that being an issue thus far (Thank goodness!).

We had much better luck with finding taxis that allowed all of us in one taxi. Right from the airport there were plenty of wheelchair accessible taxis that fit everyone and our suitcases, even at the wee hours of the night. Score! We got to the Stratosphere hotel and waited in a long line (I guess everyone else's flight got in at that same time too) to check-in. Our beds felt like the greatest gift the universe could give us at that moment, after a long and restless red-eye flight.

The next day, we were ready to continue our GO-cation. Here are some of the things we did.
1. We spent a whole day the Las Vegas Premium Outlet Mall - North, which as I was told, is the best outlet in Vegas.
My family was in shopping heaven. That was the first time I'd ever been with people I know on a real shopping spree and shopped until they dropped. They left every store we went into with something in hand. You see, in Brazil, everything imported is about triple the cost of suggest retail price. My mom got a pair of Nikes for $54 whereas in Brazil it would easily go above $150. Crazy! One of the workers there told me that most of their customers are foreigners so that explains why everyone shopping there was also on a shopping spree. I felt so left out leaving with one bag and one wallet for myself while the rest of my family left with tons of bags that barely fit into the cab.

2. Casino tours along the Strip -
There are so many casinos/hotels along the Strip, each with a theme of its own and tons of beautiful decorations to accompany them. We had a great day walking down them and exploring a bit. I have a feeling this ranked among the top 3 of my hostdad's favorite cities in America. The reason being that it's illegal to gamble in Brasil (very, very Catholic country), so this was a huge treat for him. My hostdad may or may not have spent hours on end at the machines and won $1400 (appalled that 30% was taken out for taxes).

3. Bellagio -
If there is one hotel you had to choose to visit, I would definitely say the Bellagio is that one. Just think of old-time classy meets smokes and machines. My mom and aunt were in awe with the intricate designs of the Bellagio from the tiles, to the blown-glass ceiling, to the exhibition room. We very much enjoyed their exhibition room that is changed every few months. This time, it was decorated with kites, beautiful flowers in the form of frogs, etc. I can't believe the amount of time and effort it must have taken to put together something so beautiful for the eyes. Little Boston kept leaning from one side of me to the other, while on my lap. This tricky little boy is becoming more mobile and wanted to crawl off of me to touch everything. After, we headed out to the water show which accompanied by "Singing in the Rain." Perfect.

4. View from Stratosphere Tower & Rides -
Our room passes gave us access to the top of the Stratosphere to see all of Las Vegas from the tower. We got a full view of Vegas from the top and even gawked at people going on rides from the to of the tower. It was kind of scary watching as people bungee jumped off the tower. The only thing separating us from them was a thin layer of glass so we were able to see what they were doing as well as the thrill and anxiety on their faces as well. Wow! It was here that I learned my hostdad is deathly afraid of heights. How this info slipped me, I'm not sure, but I was certainly fine with not going on the rides. I love roller coasters as much as the next kid, but the thought of teeter-tottering off the Stratosphere makes me want to pee on my pants. In other words, I'm just supportive like that.

5. Top of the World Restaurant -
We made reservations earlier in the day to the restaurant at the top of the Stratosphere called Top of the World for some fine dining experience. From there we were able to see the full view of Las Vegas at night, while our dining table circulated around the tower.  It was quite an experience to see different aspects of Vegas from our dining table. Head over to the link above to check out the dinner menu. We ordered the soup of the day which was a light creamy lemon curry, Grass fed Australian Wagyu Skirt Steak with Asian Chimichurri, Prime Creekstone Farm New York Steak with Peppercorn Sauce, Roasted California Mary's Farm Free Range Chicken Breast, and additional sides. All of our mains deserve a #yum. It was all sooooo good and all sooooo pricey. I kept having to tell myself {and A.J.}, this doesn't happen too often so don't freak out when the bill comes! And wow was that one hefty bill….

www.diaryofatravelingwheelchair.com6. The Gold & Silver Pawn Shop -
Apparently my host dad and brother watch the show, "Pawn Stars" all the time back home and really wanted to see the shop for themselves. They were appalled when I told them I had never heard of the show before (I'm so lame, I know ). They insisted that the interesting about the show is not so much the antiquities but rather the stories about them. So we went and they got to see a huge pawn shop and I think that really made their trip. Well just call me grant-wisher :)

7. Buffets -
Something else Vegas is known for besides the hotels and casinos are the buffets. There are tons of them and they're so cheap! You can easily find one for less than $10/person. Brazilians aren't really into those, or at least not my family, so we didn't go to any. But certainly check it out when you're in town!

Our family had a great time in Vegas as there was something for everyone to do. I want to thank my sweetheart, A.J. for being such a wonderful, patient, and fun tour-guide and chauffeur to us. He really made it so great for all of us because he is a Vegas baby. However, my throat really started to hurt from all of the translating. It was like I was talking twice the amount as I normally do on a daily basis. I could never hack it as a professional translator. I'm not sure how they do it. Super people. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to my host brother and aunt as we moved on to California.

Have you ever been to Vegas? What do you recommend doing there? I could definitely use a few suggestions if you have any, so fire away!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My Love Hate Relationship with New York City

I've been living a wonderful dream these last two weeks and have been enjoying every single minute of it, to the point where I return to my hotel, feeling completely fulfilled, thankful, and too exhausted to write at the end of each day. The reason being that after 7 years, I was reunited with my host family from Brazil, Telma, Adel, Marcelo, and Tia Eliane (that's not the whole crew) and together, we embarked on a 14-day journey to visit 7 cities in the U.S. (lots of logistical planning involved ahead of time). It all began in New York City with many kisses, embraces, and happy tears -- truly a reunion to remember. Everyone was anxious, nervous, tired after long flights, but most of all, excited -- excited to be with each other again, excited to explore America, excited to experience the hustle and bustle the Big Apple. I've been to the City several times before -- each time feeling super stoked about finding new things to do in this melting pot, but each time leaving with some uncertainty and anxiety about returning. I've decided I have a love hate relationship with NYC and I'll share a little bit of why that is.


l. Statue of Liberty -
This is the symbol of freedom and opportunity to the whole world, so of course I had to take my host family there. We got on a ferry from Jersey's Liberty State Park and floated along the Hudson on windy day (I sweat it's always windy there) to see Ellis Island and Lady Liberty. We made it to only the pedestal museum because the tickets to get up to Lady Liberty's crown was sold out about 2 months in advance. My family was still super glad they got to see her for themselves and learn a little bit more. My dad was so fascinated by the making of her and how the French got her over here. There is pretty cool info at the museum with videos, moldings, etc. And Lady Liberty herself, well, she's magnificent. She's one of the few exceptions to the staring rule because she's absolutely beautiful and one simply can't get enough of her in one glance, literally. The ferry and pedestal are wheelchair accessible, unfortunately the crown is not. It's still worth it to have a look at what you can.

2. Empire State Building -
The second tallest building in NYC after the World Trade Center. I love the view of NYC from the 86th floor observatory. You can see just about everything - high rises, central park, the Statue of Liberty, the rivers, bridges, and ant-sized people. It really makes me feel like I'm on top of the world. It's really hard to take a picture of yourself up there when you're trying to get the tip of the building in too. We died laughing when my host dad tried to get a picture of me and the top of the Empire, but just kept cutting me out of the shot because he couldn't get both me and the tip in. Thanks, Dad. haha. I also love that it's wheelchair accessible, although the lines to get from place to place in a wheelchair is a little confusing if unguided. I've gone to the Empire State on separate visits once at night and once during the day, and each offers a different view. During the day, you're able to see buildings and landmarks more clearly, however, at night you get to see the busy nightlife and lights of NYC. Both are exceptional.

3. Times Square -
Wow! What a busy, busy place ALWAYS with people of all sorts, traffic jams, large stores like M&M World and Disney, and advertisements and huge telemonitors everywhere. We're pretty small town people so this kind of fast paced stuff is crazy and exciting. My family really liked the far-out costumes and street performers.

4. Broadway -
I LOVE Broadway. I could spend forever just watching a show a day and be completely content in New York. I was a bit concerned with which shows I could take my family to that didn't require too much English knowledge. I was thrilled when they chose Mamma Mia, which included music from their time and an already produced film they could watch beforehand to get the story. I called Telecharge for wheelchair accessible tickets and got really well-placed and well-priced tickets. The show was phenomenal to the point where my host mom cried during the show because she thought it was so good and my host dad still doesn't believe it was all live performance (there's no convincing him). It was that good. We were singing the songs for the rest of the trip. Such a memorable experience.

Sam from the cast of Mamma

5. Central Park -
We had a really nice walk and did some shopping along the way to Central Park. However, when we made it there, we didn't actually go in because everyone was starving and we had to stop for dinner. But I do love Central Park because it's one of the best places in NYC to relax with your family, exercise, walk around forever, or people watch. You get to see a bit of the multicultural aspect of NYC. We even thought of taking a carriage ride around the park, but will save that for next time.

6. Madame Toussauds Wax Museum -
This was my first time visiting one of these museums and wouldn't have even thought of it had it not been for my host mom who loves all things art. I reluctantly went along because most celebrities don't interest me and seeing wax models of them didn't sound very thrilling. Surprisingly, it was cool. I impressed by how close to real they looked and there were tons of them including political and religious figures such as JFK, Obama as well as the Pope and Dalai Lama. So yes, it was cool and worth a look.
"All you need is Love" - The Beatles
With the Obamas
Obsessed with Marvel!

7. 9/11 Memorial -
I remember this day so well, back to where I was and what I was doing when it happened. It makes me sad thinking of all the lives that were lost then. However, the Memorial offers a place of serenity to reflect of the good that came from everyone around the world uniting and the strength that saw us all through. We didn't head here this time, but tickets are free. The new museum just opened up this year. Check here for ticket details.

8. NY Skyline and Battery Park -

Signs of a big city, certainly different from our small town.

9. Shopping -
I'm not a huge shopper but shopping in New York? Yes, please! If anything, there is plenty of eye candy. Fifth Avenue is packed with chic style inspirations and is home to a HUGE H&M, Lego store and some great deals. I heard that black Friday here is shopping heaven. One day...
One cool shopping place we went to this trip was B&H Photo to find a specific camera my host brother wanted that was sold only in select stores. This was a crazy large and packed electronics store like I've never seen before.  There is a system there where you wait in line at one section of the store, let your helper know what you want, he finds it in the system places the order, you pay for it and get a receipt, and then you wait in another line to pick it up. Another fascinating fact is that all employees were sporting Jewish yamakas, vests, and side curls, and some spoke Portuguese which was very helpful to my parents. So cool! It's quite an interesting system and definitely a sight.

10. Dining -
There are so many "best of" places here so you can hit up the restaurants you see on t.v. But there's also a long wait list for those as well. Because my family wasn't too familiar with those and we didn't have reservations, we hit up some other local places. You know, BK, McD's...just kidding. We ate out quite a bit and really enjoyed our dining experience here.

One night, we had sliders, salads, and a variety of appetizers at the Stonerose Lounge at the Shops at Columbus Circle, right kiddy corner from Central Park. That was an interesting experience because it really was a lounge, dimmer lights, bar, and scantily clad dressed waitresses, but families were there (this must be normal?). The food was good, but definitely priced according to its upper end location.

We had dinner at Bill's Bar & Burger off of Fifth Ave and absolutely loved the food. Burgers, fiesta nachos, steak salad, Chicago dog, Esplanade milkshake -- all were a treat for the palate. Also a large variety of vine and beer.

Another great place we went to was the Heartland Brewery and Rotisserie right outside of the Empire State Building (The entryway for wheelchairs is right from the Empire lobby). They offer such great variety of salads, burgers, steak, buffalo chicken wings, fried calamari, must I go on? It's just filled with delicious food! Plus, a large selection of beer, which my host dad really appreciated.

1. Taxis -

NYC lived up to its fame of being an extremely expensive city. With 5 suitcases, 5 people and 1 wheelchair, we had to take 2 taxis to get to our hotel in Seacaucus, NJ and within just a few minutes, $200 plus tip vanished right before our eyes. I would certainly check out New York Port Authority-bound buses from your hotel, staying in a central location, or renting a car if you're traveling with a bunch of people and suitcases (I believe renting a car and paying parking fees might be worth while if you have lots of things, but you'll be risking driving with crazy New Yorkers and have to find parking in limited space). We used this Wheelchair Dispatch for accessible taxis that aren't supposed to charge more for their service because you're in a wheelchair, however, cab drivers were sometimes quite rude and unpleasant. On our last day, we had the hardest time flagging down a taxi to get to the airport and almost missed our flight. Let's just say although NYC is the city of risks and opportunities, don't chance catching a cab to the airport in New York traffic.

2. Lack of Storage Space -

On our last day in NYC, we ran into a situation where we had already checked out of our hotel and needed a place to store our belongings until our late flight because we wanted to keep exploring. It was harder for us in this case to leave our belongings at the hotel because of the wheelchair taking lots of taxi space and not wanting to back-track into NJ. We were super limited in storage options around Manhattan (so lame). After asking around Port Authority and the Grand Central Station and finding out there were no options, we found out about this place, Schwartz Travel & Storage just a few blocks away where we could store our suitcases while we were out and about. This place didn't seem too reliable because of its appearance, but they have a good system down, the staff was friendly, and its located in a convenience spot, plus, the price isn't shabby either ~$10 cash no credit card. I would definitely use them again. If you're traveling somewhere via Amtrak, there is storage space you can rent from at Penn Station where we've used and they're reliable as well.

3. Inaccessible Metro -

One summer, soon after my accident, I visited New York with some friends and decided to take the metro. We got on easily at one stop and but when we got off at another, we searched and searched for an elevator to find that there wasn't one. What happened to ADA? Well…grandfather clause and it's unfortunate that one of the most popular cities in the U.S. haven't address this issue yet. So you have to do some research on what options of metro stops you can use if in a wheelchair on the MTA website and plan accordingly.

4. Too Busy -

It goes with saying that New York City is a busy city. There are tons of movement year round because it is the icon of the U.S. I love visiting, but would not like to live here. As much as I love seeing what's going on in Times Square, it's also rough for someone in a wheelchair because people are too involved in what they're doing that they don't watch out and often run into me (I know, and I'm the one in the wheelchair) or fall on me. Not a pleasant thing. It's also hard to get help sometimes because people are on the go most of the time. It's a little intense for a small-town girl like me.

**For international visitors: I recommend getting a burn phone or an unlocked phone with a U.S. sim card to communicate easier. We ran into lots of issues here where the Brazilian phone service provider didn't work here in the States and we relied heavily on Wifi, but that wasn't always available or an option when we need it. That limited what we could do independently of each other because we didn't have a way of contact. I will definitely do that next time.

As you can see, there are many things I love about NYC and only a few things to complain about. It's a fun city to visit not to live, at least not for me. Needless to say, we had an amazing time in New York City. I think it totally fulfilled my host family's grand image of the city and there was definitely more we would have liked to do. But there should always be things to come back for, right? I can't wait til next time. Maybe a late night show with Jimmy Fallon or a Yankees game?