Friday Food Review: Hua Soi – The Best Place for Lunch in Phuket

I love food. I especially love Thai food. I know that comes as a surprise to all of you. But food drives most of my days. Thinking about where we will eat for lunch or dinner is most often the highlight of my day. So for the next few Fridays, I am highlighting my favorite places to eat here in Phuket.  Be warned, you may not want to read this while hungry.

We have tried many places that make phenomenal Thai food here in our area of Phuket, but my favorite lunch place by far is Hua Soi in Chalong.

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Hua Soi is located in front of the Chalong Police Station, right near the Chalong Circle. It is a small place with 7 tables situated around a coffee bar. The owners, a husband and wife team, cook all the food and serve the food. There are a couple of other ladies that work at the coffee bar and help take the orders. It is a small family run restaurant and I love supporting the locals.

The dining area of Hua Soi.

The dining area of Hua Soi.

The menu at Hua Soi is only Thai food, and is not as extensive as some, but they have an “al a carte” menu that offers lunches (main dish plus rice) for 50 baht! All the other food is offered for less than 120 baht a plate. The coffee’s and fruit shakes are also fair priced at 40 baht.

Ok, now to the food… I am glad I just ate dinner because otherwise I would probably be drooling. I have tried many of their dishes and have not had a bad meal yet. Their Som Tam (papaya salad) is fresh and spicy.  The green, panang, and red curries are perfectly blended with meat that is cooked to perfection. The pad thai is the best I have ever had. My personal favorite though, is the chicken with cashew nuts. The flavor is slightly spicy, sweet, savory, and pretty much tastes like a piece of heaven in your mouth. I always have to resist the urge to lick my plate.

 

The Pad Thai.

The Pad Thai.

The Chicken and Cashew Nuts.

The Chicken and Cashew Nuts.

I always leave Hua Soi feeling full and satiated. I also leave happy because our bill is never over 350 baht (about $12). And then two days later I go back for more (seriously, we eat here about 3 times a week).

If you visit Phuket (or live here) make sure to eat at least once at Hua Soi. You can thank me later!

 

**I was not asked to write this review or given any free food in return for it (darn it!) and all the opinions are my own. If you try it and do not like it, you must lack taste buds I take no blame. Please see my page of Disclosures, Disclaimers, and Other Legal Stuff.

REVIEW: Sea Harmony Guesthouse

By: Chad M

It has been far too long since I have written anything for our blog. Jenny has been keeping it going full steam, with the occasional edit or hastily snapped picture being my only contributions. It has long been my intention to write more, to be a stronger part of the blogging process, but I have been remiss in my duties.

So it was when I noticed Jenny’s tired sigh squeal of delight as she sat down to write her blog once again (she keeps it going 3 times a week!), that I decided I should take another turn. Besides, it was going to be a review, and if there is one thing I truly enjoy doing, it is writing reviews of experiences we have enjoyed. And this one was particularly enjoyable as it was a place we stayed that we had to share and to recommend.

We have mentioned before that we enjoy finding unique places to stay on our trip. Or, more accurately, we try to find places that incorporate our sense of adventure and our desire to meet new people, tempered by our need for security and a comfortable place to bring our 2-year-old daughter; A daughter that is frequently exhibiting her growth with exhibitions of energy and excitement.

Babycinno for the toddler. No caffeine here!

Babycinno for the toddler. No caffeine here!

So, with that in mind we did some snooping online to find a place in Hua Hin, Thailand that would be a great balance and be affordable as well. We only needed the place for five or so days until we could find longer-term housing.

Fortunately for us, we stumbled on a place that not only met our needs, but was one of those places that easily surpassed our expectations in every way. The place, Sea Harmony, is one of those places you might find in more boutique parts of the world, like the Pacific Northwest, or perhaps somewhere on one of the coasts in Australia. By that I mean it is an eco-conscious affair, with a flair for design and taste, and a welcoming atmosphere.

Details. Details... Awesome.

Details. Details… Awesome.

This might be because two charming individuals, a couple from Australia, run it with the attention to detail they have acquired from traveling the world themselves. Indy and Node, and their two dogs, Kasha and Pela, welcome guests into their place and treat them as if you were guests in their very home. This might be because they also stay on-site in one of the rooms, and make sure to attend to their guests’ needs as if they were family.

From the moment we arrived, and were treated to blue flower essence water, we knew we had found a place that we would forever appreciate.  The little details, whether it was the welcome arrangement of towels, bottles of water, and info pamphlet on the bed, or the way that Node personally informed us of the way the guesthouse operated, was a nice refresher after months of more impersonal stay along the way.

Each room is delightfully decorated.

Each room is delightfully decorated.

Inviting isn't it?

Inviting isn’t it?

Upon waking the second day, we found that we were mere meters from the beach, and in a fairly laid-back area slightly outside of Hua Hin called Khao Takiab. There were frequent taxis, convenience stores close by, and no lack of amenities to complain about.

The rest of our days there only furthered the first impressions. One of the most impressive parts is the extensive way that the owners of Sea Harmony have incorporated eco-friendly details into every aspect of their guesthouse. They have done extensive plumbing to incorporate greywater (non-sewage waste water) to hydrate their plants, utilized solar outlets for low-wattage appliances, and are even working on incorporating the hotel’s gardens produce into their meals.

No fish were harmed in the making of this pic.

No fish were harmed in the making of this pic.

And that brings me to the second aspect of what makes Sea Harmony such a great place to stay… the food and coffee.

Across the street from the guesthouse is the small café, where guests are treated to complimentary breakfasts (depending on the room rented) and perhaps the best coffee in all of SE Asia. Not only that, but they also have great prices, and a delightful atmosphere and very attentive staff. Of course usually Indy or Node can be found there as well, brewing the coffee and chatting with their customers, and offering helpful advice to all who visit. The strongest testament to their service is the fact that previous guests of the guesthouse return often to the coffee shop to visit. In fact we have been back almost every day since we left, to eat, or to grab a coffee and visit. We even bought a traditional coffee filter, that Indy took the time to carefully instruct as to the use, and coffee to go along with it.

Overall Sea Harmony Guesthouse is one of those places that is more than just a place to stay. It is a resting point for weary travelers, a waypoint for people on the road, and most importantly a second home for those who need it.

A well-deserved 5 thumbs up from Andthreetogo to Sea Harmony!

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Review: High Sierra AT 6

Backpacker on Wheels

High Sierra Wheeled Duffel Backpack review
(AT6 32”)

Side view of the backpack

Side view of the backpack

The backpacker mentality dictates that one shall never use a wheeled bag or else be considered a sell-out. To be honest the idea of giving up a backpack caused much consternation on our parts. We really wanted to keep to the core, with only what could fit upon our backs, with another smaller bag to carry on board.

Unfortunately, after considering how long our trip was, and with what we had to bring, and a stroller, plus items for the kid… well, it just wasn’t in the cards.

So we caved and started looking for something more practical. We really wanted something that would give us the best of all worlds. Lots of space, light to carry, durable wheels, and various carry handles. We dreamed of a bag that would have all of this, and then we heard of a couple that had the piece we really missed: Backpack straps.

Close up of the backpack straps

Close up of the backpack straps

After much searching, shopping and comparing we had almost given up. It seemed the bags available were incredibly expensive and almost experimental. None of them had hardly any reviews, were basically the price of 4 comparable bags without the backpack component.

Fortunately we stumbled upon the High Sierra Wheeled Duffel Backpack. A fantastic feat of engineering that was offered at an incredible price. The MSRP listed it at $380 (still a decent savings compared to other bags) but was usually offered on various retailers for less than $150. Even on Sierra’s own site they are currently offering it for a substantially cheaper price than the suggested retail.

To start with, the bag offers everything the pricier comparable duffel backpacks offer as well. It even comes in multiple sizes (we went with the AT6 32”) and colors. It can operate as a wheeled standing suitcase, with two rollerblade type wheels, and a sturdy retractable handle. Or it can be used as a duffel bag with a well-positioned center grip that is thick and strongly built. And of course, the best part is that there are two backpack straps hidden in the base of the pack, that actually allow it to be worn comfortably as a backpack.

The bag is extremely light when empty, coming in at only 11 pounds even with all of its features. It contains two separate chambers in the main pouch, divided by a zippered inner layer. Each one of these can be opened separately from the other from the outside as well, which is really convenient when packing for more than one person in a bag. These combined inner compartments can expand a few inches, during those times when extra space is required, by unzipping two different layers on the side of the bag. A third thin compartment rests along the outside of these two and gives a little more space for smaller items. All of these compartments are contained by two strong seatbelt like straps that can be cinched down to compress the space as tightly as needed.

Compression Straps

Compression Straps

Surprisingly, given the price and features, the quality of the bag is also very durable. The outer layer is made up of a sort of “duraweave” that is light, water resistant, and seemingly stainproof as well. So far none of our travels have even taken a slight toll on the bag, and it is holding up very well. To compare, our other cheaper duffel bag is looking like it went through a war zone, having experienced the same flights.

We really cannot recommend this bag enough. Usually we are hesitant to give anything 5 thumbs up but this bag is really phenomenal. Even if it didn’t have the backpack straps, it would be one of the best bags we have ever used. And the really surprising, and appreciated piece is that it comes at such a great price.

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Traveling With a Toddler: 5 Apps That Will Save Your Life

Okay…I admit that I exaggerated a bit in the title of this post. But, for anyone that has traveled with a toddler, it can seem like life or death sometimes (cue dramatic music). How much stress can one parent stand before we keel over, am I right?

Whether you go on a quick road trip, a 10 hour flight, or are trying to navigate through a new city, smart phones have made it a little easier for us. I want to share with you the five apps that have really helped us along our journey with Zoë so far.

ENDLESS ALPHABET

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I know, I know…this is coming from the first time mother that said she would never let her child look at any screens until said child was at least 2 years old…. Hahahahah. Yeah, well life has a way of changing our thoughts and ideas, and sometimes for the better. Although I try not to plug Zoë in let Zoë play video games or watch TV too much, this educational game has been a wonderful addition to our daughters entertainment, for those times that a screen is absolutely needed.

Endless Alphabet is a free app that teaches children how to spell words such as “xylophone” and “yodel” by mixing up the letters and making the child place the letters in the correct order like a puzzle. After the letters are placed correctly, there is a quick little explanation and cartoon showing what the word means. It’s cute and fun. I can honestly say that Zoë learned her alphabet and the phonics of the letters already because of this game (although I would love to say it was time and hard dedicated work on my part).

The game is updated periodically with new words and there is never any need to pay for anything. This game is a must have for you toddler parents out there, if you have a iPhone or iPad, download it here now! Unfortunately it is not out for androids just yet.

CURIOUS GEORGE: CURIOUS ABOUT SHAPES AND COLOR

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This app has been hours of fun and learning for Zoë so far (and hours of quiet time for me or time that I can be productive). This game is not free , but the $2.99 is well worth it. Zoë has learned not only shapes and colors, but how shapes interact with each other and make things. This is a wonderful learning game and I would highly recommend it!

Unfortunately, this game is only made for the iPad or iPhone as far as I can tell. You can check it out on iTunes here.

GOOGLE MAPS

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Okay, so this is not an app for toddlers. But when you have a toddler that is mid-tantrum, or tired, or hungry, you have to be able to find where you need to go easily, quickly and without error. Google Maps helps me with this. Google maps not only has driving directions, but also gives directions if you are walking or using public transportation. Not only that, but 99% of the time you can just enter the name of a business and you will be shown the way within a few seconds, you do not even have to know the address! This has made it easier to get where we need to go no matter what mood Zoë is in!

This is a free app and you can check it out here.

WHATSAPP

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Again, this app is not really for toddlers, but this is app provides an awesome way to keep in contact with family and friends back home. This app lets you text for free from anywhere in the world. Not only can you text, but you can send video and pictures, too! My family gets at least three or four videos and pictures a week, keeping them abreast of how Zoë is growing, what she new words she has learned, and pretty much all around keeping them a part of her life (and of course mine too, but who wouldn’t rather see a cute two year olds dimples than mine?). There are a couple of the problems with the app, one is that the other party has to also have the app in order to get your texts. The other problem being that it is $0.99, but in comparison to the cost of one international text (usually 50 cents or more for one) this is a real steal. Check it out here.

SKYPE

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This app is along the same lines as WhatsApp, except that you can video chat or call with Skype. This is the way that we keep in touch with family and friends back home when we actually want to talk to them. It is free to sign up and you can use Skype on your smart phone or computer. Also, you have the choice to either make a completely free call to someone else that also has Skype, or you can pay a nominal fee and call peoples regular phones. Most people nowadays have smart phones (and if they don’t already, they should take the plunge) so the probability of your friends or family not being able to get Skype are slim. This app is an excellent way to keep in touch with those you left while you are on the road. Check out Skype here.

These are the apps we have used most so far, what apps have you found to be “life-savers”? I always welcome suggestions to add to our traveling arsenal!

Review: Hostel w/ Children – Travellers House

Travellers House – A Luxury Hostel Experience

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One of the challenges of traveling with a toddler is finding a place to stay. There are thousands of hotels, guesthouses, and sublets that accept children, but almost all of them are pricier and less “indie” than the backpacker favorite known as the hostel. Unfortunately most hostels aren’t as willing to let those under 18 stay as guests.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with staying at hostels, Wikipedia defines them as “… budget-oriented, sociable accommodation where guests can rent a bed, usually a bunk bed, in a dormitory and share a bathroom, lounge and sometimes a kitchen. Rooms can be mixed or single-sex, although private rooms may also be available. Hostels may include a hot meal in the price.”

Family Friendly?

Family Friendly?

To most travelers with children, especially those who are unfamiliar with the road, the idea of staying in a “dormitory,” or sharing a kitchen, bathroom, or anything for that matter, may sound like a disaster. The free meal may be tempting, but a hostel is generally considered a young persons game, and not one that lends itself to the traveling family’s needs.

Kids love parties yeah?

Kids love parties yeah?

However, we used to stay at hostels throughout the world, and had seen kids here and there, usually not in the dorm areas, but sharing private room, and shared bath, and generally being the star of the accommodations. Well, at least as long as they were well behaved…  And we loved hostels: the camaraderie, the chance to meet other travelers, the kitchen where we could cook our own meals, etc. Especially as this trip is not a vacation, and more a way of life… Every saved dollar, pound, or baht, is another day we can enjoy the adventure without worrying about the day those same finances run out…

So we began searching well in advance for accommodations in Lisbon that would host our small family. First we searched Airbnb (Our personal favorite!), but decided against renting something for the long-term, sight-unseen, until we had become somewhat familiar with the territory. Unfortunately we put off our purchase of a room until it was far too late, and ran out of most options. Fortunately we stumbled upon a hostel that not only accepted toddlers, but also one that redefined our expectation of what a hostel is meant to be.

Traveler’s House Hostel – Review

Common Area: Beanbags make everyone relax.

Common Area: Beanbags make everyone relax.

Words cannot describe how relieved we were to find this accommodation in the Baixa district of downtown Lisbon. The location is mere minutes (walking distance!) to the neighborhoods of Alfama, Bairro Alto, Chiado and Rossio, and as close to the major Metro stop of Baixa-Chiado. It is on the pedestrian only street of Rua Augusta, and as soon as you step outside the front door you are in the heart of the touristy, yet charming, hub of this fascinating city. Everything a weary traveler may need is within a stones throw and everything else is only a short walk away.

Location, location, location.

Location, location, location.

The view from the balcony

The view from the balcony

But enough about the location… and on to the accommodations. Traveler’s House was one of the only hostels we could find that not only accepted children, but actually mentioned families on their website. The shared dorms are most likely not kid-friendly, but the private rooms most certainly are. Due to the fact that we booked the room late (only a few days before we arrived), we had to split our time between different rooms. For the first couple of days we stayed in a private room with shared bath, and for the last few days we moved to a private suite.

To be honest we were hesitant about the shared bath situation, but in the end we loved it, and even wished we didn’t have to move. Primarily as the suite was more expensive, and we really didn’t mind having to walk the short distance to the clean and plentiful restrooms/showers.

Zoë Approved!

Zoë Approved!

The room was impeccable, clean, and just large enough to host us and our luggage. They even, at no extra charge, had a portable crib setup for Z to use during our stay. Once we moved, the suite was about twice the size, and the bathroom was excellent as well.

As good as it looks

As good as it looks

Two small things I must mention as a small warning: You can’t eat or drink in the rooms (except water), and the shower floors are very slick. What this means is that with the child who wakes up hungry, and nibbles all day long, is that you must get up and get going as soon as possible, or else face the crankiness of a jet-lagged, and starving toddler… In a hostel… where screaming can be heard quite easily… And that during showers you must continually try to hang on to a soaped up squirming bundle of fun so as not to let them crash their head into the wall.

Those small annoyances challenges aside, the rooms are more than adequate, and even border on the side of being perfect. Especially compared to what you might find at any comparable price in any major hotel chain. And don’t forget they do offer a delicious breakfast (eggs, bacon, toast or Nutella crepes! With coffee, tea, juic etc.), starting at 8 and ending at 11… All the more incentive not to huddle in the room past tantrum the waking hour…

This bed is just right.

This bed is just right.

The best part of staying at hostel is the time spent getting to know your fellow travelers. To partake of the common room, and to take advantage of the knowledge of those who work, stay, or all but live, at the hostel.

Fortunately Lisbon Traveler’s House employs a great variety of well traveled folks, who are kind, talkative, and more than willing to chat in great detail about what to do and see around Lisbon and the rest of Portugal. Not only do they patiently recite the same instructions over and over again, when asked where the “authentic” Fado singers might be found, but they will willingly mark out a map, make telephone calls, or even accompany their guests to the spot.

On top of that they always have a social event, food tasting, walking tour available every night of the week, and rent out Segways for those who would rather do it alone. We recommend the chorizo and wine tasting! It is delicious!

Jørgen heating up the chorizo

Jørgen heating up the chorizo

The common area is warm, clean, and inviting. There is light music being played from the antique stereo, and never once did we feel uncomfortable using the computer area, or the TV room. Though no one ever did use the TV room, as it seemed most would rather socialize, or go out on the town to explore. And there is Wi-Fi provided throughout the building. So if you choose not to leave your room there is always enough internet for the anti-social exhausted traveler.

Overall this hostel is one that we would gladly stay at again. It isn’t the cheapest one available, but it accepts kids, has “luxury” accommodations at a more than reasonable rate (check the site for seasonal prices), and is excellent for families looking for a more personable and social stay than at a normal hotel.

5 Hearty thumbs up to this excellent stay!

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Review: The Unexpected Expected.

The Unexpected Expected – By CRM

There are two things that happened on the island of Curacao. Or rather there are two distinct things that happened concerning food. Food is a favorite subject on this blog, Jenny and I love to eat our way around the word, and we love to experience a place by sampling the local cuisine.

Having said that, I am sadly not as adventurous as Jenny in regards to food. I am a lover of fine foods, can appreciate and understand the delicate things, and I have expensive taste. However, sometimes I am as American as can be, and have a hard time with things that don’t fit the flavor profiles I have come to expect.

Does that mean I won’t eat a lizard, river-weed, or rat? No, it does not mean that I won’t step outside of my comfort zone, but I may not be the most excited about doing it, and I may not order it more than once.

So it comes as no surprise that I we ended up doing what one tends to do while in a foreign place and ordering the sandwich with french fries way too often because at least you know you will leave with a full stomach. This is a two part review of the expected, the safe, and the familiar, and secondly of the unexpected, the strange, and the way the road turns.

RibsThe Rib Factory:

Who knew there could be such a place on oude caracasbaaiweg in Curaçao? An out of the way little joint with fresh veggies, delicious entrees, and a rather fine cocktail… It was two doors down from our house, which made it rather convenient, especially after a long day in the sun, and the food is offered to go if that is what you are looking for…

First off order their burger, ribs, sandwiches or anything else that we grew to enjoy and you won’t be disappointed. The samplings are well sized, and are not that pricey compared to what else you can find on this little Caribbean island.

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The menu isn’t diverse or challenging, and the choices are clear and plain. There are quesedilllas (which we didn’t end up trying), Nachos, which are mainly just cheese, chicken, and some light, fresh salsa on top of a bed of decent tortilla chips, fajitas (which looked quite good), and a few other options as well.

Unfortunately, as is the case in most places we’ve traveled outside the US, the vegetarian options are limited to salad. Which is nothing more than a bed of green lettuce, a slice of bell pepper, a tomato or two, and maybe an onion. Followed up with 1000 island dressing. The vegetarian way of life was one we gave up the first time we traveled… Quite simply because we were constantly given meat in our food even when we didn’t order it… and the other option of eating only lettuce or tomatoes all day sounded rather dull…

As for the ambiance, the rib shack looked like… well, a shack, from a distance, but up close it held a nice patio and a cool air-conditioned interior. Always nice on a typical 85 degree bay on the island.

I wouldn’t say that the familiar was a bad thing in this case. Fortunately it was probably one of the best food places we experienced on the island and one wouldn’t break the bank. The prices ran for 20-35 guilders an entrée ($12-20 US) and you definitely get your money’s worth.

Zoë would give this a 3 out of 5 and we agree!

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Jaanchies:

Then there are these times: the unexpected, the strange, and the unfamiliar. The twists in the road that take you unexpectedly to a place you probably wouldn’t have tried if you had made the choice but there you are, and there you find yourself enjoying the experience all the more for the unfamiliarity of it all.

Our place was Jaanchies.

We’d set out on our last day on the island, to drive to the far west point of the island (Westpunt), and have dinner at a place called Sol Food. Back in California it was the name of a most excellent Puerto Rican place not too far from our home in the town of San Rafael.

Since there were so many familiar names on the island (Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz… Spanish influence anyone?) we decided to check out this place about 45 minutes from our home and enjoy a well deserved delicious meal as our final hurrah before departure.

But as mentioned before, the road dictates the adventure, and this one plan was not to be: the place was closed. So we shrugged off our disappointment, the place looked so good, and drove around in circles debating which of the island food shacks to visit.

Fortunately there was a place that we had seen on the way in called Jaanchies, that had a dutch flag flying outside, and a kitschy décor that beckoned even from the outside.

As we walked in we were beckoned to a table, next to a living, open aviary that surrounded the open walls. Most places on the island try to keep the many birds from the eateries, but this one made a show of it. There were bird feeders occupying the branches, and more “ducks” (as Z likes to call any feathered creature), fluttering about than we had seen during our entire stay. The best part was that the birds stayed away from the tables and eating only out of their trays. Man living in harmony with nature you could say.

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Z loves the birds.

Anyhow, the owner of the restaurant appeared after a while and delivered the menu orally, as there was only what they prepared that day available. We were given no prices, just the option to have goat stew, conch, iguana, fried or grilled fish (who knows what kind), and a few other things that I can’t recall. The choices between French fries (NOT AGAIN), or beans and rice, were offered as a side.

Jenny chose the goat stew, and I chose the fried fish. I went for safe, as I simply couldn’t be persuaded to be adventurous only a day before 24 hours of flights (see Jenny’s upcoming post tomorrow!).

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Goat Stew

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Fried Fishes

The food was good, nothing too spectacular, but good. And it came on a metal tray with the sides beside it. Z ate a lot of the food, she usually abstains from meat, and we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food. It wasn’t spectacular, but once again, this island doesn’t do spectacular food. Or at least we never found it… This might be due to the fact that the island imports everything… except goats… and sun…

Finally they brought us out each a half of a Neapolitan ice cream sandwich (odd choice), drizzled in strawberry sauce.

Overall the ambiance was great, the service lackluster (it took 45 minutes for our food…) and the food generally interesting. I wish I could say I had tried the Iguana or the Conch, but the adventurer in me was a little less brave that day. I think Z would agree when we give this place 2.5 out of 5 thumbs. It was better than most of the places on the island, butfelt it could have done it all just a bit better with a little more effort. Especially with such an interesting locale…

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Until next time… Eat well.

Chad

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Review: The OGIO Doppler Toiletry Kit

A Well Fitted Bag:

Welcome to our second product review. This is a short take on an essential item. As mentioned in the previous post we will be using the “Baby Thumbs”™ system to rate our products. 5 thumbs up being something we found to be excellent in all areas and 1 being something we would urge against purchasing.

The OGIO Doppler Toiletry Kit: Small, fitting, and tightly built.

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When we were going through our baggage from previous journeys, one of the things we pulled out was our old REI bathroom bags. Despite being washed, cleaned, and scrubbed, they were entirely the worse for wear.  And my other half let it be known just how much she despised these hanging bags, and left no question that we would not be purchasing the same ones again. They were unwieldy, hard to clean, and bulky. They were made well, but that was not enough to save them from the garage sale pile.

As usual, I insisted on purchasing new ones as soon as possible, despite the fact that there were much more important things to be doing, and that our trip was still several months away. As I have said before, I love to shop, research, research, shop, agonize over the purchase, research, research, and then, with much consternation, purchase… And then occasionally return after agonizing I made the wrong decision.

We went to REI once again, but decided that even the lightweight bags were far too bulky. In my opinion the perfect toiletry bag is compact, lies as flat as can be, has a hangar, and several individual pockets to sort the necessary items. I also deemed it necessary that it be a solidly constructed bag that has a well constructed zipper. It is funny how much thought can go into such a small item. But this is one that is useful to  store on a carry on, readily available wherever one may be. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have pulled these bags out to freshen up after a long bus, boat, train, or plane ride. And if you are a contact wearing individual like myself you will know that it is especially convenient if you can easily remove them when sleeping during long legs of the journey.

These sorts of bags can range in price from 10-50 dollars and there are really only a handful of styles to choose from. The OGIO bag that we finally settled on was the only one that seemed to fit the bill when it came to our desired amenities. It has 5 small pockets in the front and two main compartments laying behind them. Up top, below the attached hanger, are two horizontal compartments that lie flat but still have adequate room. For example I was able to put my contact solution and case in the sealed upper compartment with plenty of room left over. In total on a recent trip I was able to carry the following items without any bulge whatsoever: Hair Brush, Comb, Deodorant stick, Hair product, Contacts/Solution, Glasses in case, Toothbrush, Toothpaste and a complete set of soaps and shampoo.

It really was impressive just how nicely it compartmentalized everything without bulging out.  

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The main reason that the bag keeps it’s shape, even when loaded, is that it has a nice, solid outer shell that doesn’t flex but a little. It will give only slightly, and hold a decent amount of stuff, but not so much that it will be a hindrance to pack by growing beyond it’s original shape.

The outer construction is solid, with a strong oversized zipper that gives it a quality feel. The interior is thin polyester, mesh, and nylon. The liner material is thin, and cheap, but it is easy to clean and suits its purpose. I don’t really see the need for anything higher quality as I don’t anticipate stretching those compartments out too much.

The only negative aspect of this bag is that it lacks a mirror. Many of the other, even cheaper, bags come with one. I would have preferred one, but J preferred the extra compartment where one would have been.

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In summary this is a quality bag, and one that is perfect for our needs. Both of us got the same one, and are pleased with our purchase. The most appealing part of the bag, and the final compelling feature is the excellent price. It is currently $18 on Amazon. A steal at that price, and one I can gladly give 4 out of 5 thumbs up. If you are looking for a simple, roomy, durable toiletry bag we highly recommend it!

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Review: The Perfect Fit – The North Face Sprout

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One of the things I have felt is important to this blog is a review section. It seems that there are many reviews of various travel items, but none tailored to the traveling family. That is where we come in. This component of the blog will be focused on sharing our finds, whether they be places to stay, essential items, or other tips for traveling with a child. We hope to have this setup so it will be easily searchable and not part of our more conversational main page. Expect a subsection that will be a link away from the main page soon. Our review rating will be a special “thumbs up” from our daughter Zoë. We will be using a 1 to 5 thumbs rating system to grade items.

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Having said that, here is my first stab at reviewing a product that we spent some time searching for: The Toddler’s Backpack.

Image We are backpackers. Sort of. By saying that I mean that we carried a backpack, not a suitcase, on our travels before baby. That isn’t to say we are bare-bones, fly by the seat of our pants, tight budgeted travelers. Far from it. We love our creature comforts. But we also have always tried to do things less western, and more minimalistic. We almost gave up our trusty old backpacks for this trip. Figured that it was time to convert to a roller bag. But once we had the dusty old sacks down from the attic we knew… We knew that we were going to rough it once more.

 So as good parents do, we decided Zoë would share in our… idealism. I set out with a zeal, as I usually do when it comes time to buy something, and researched all I could find about children’s backpacks. Sadly, to my shopping disappointment, I found there wasn’t much out there. Most bags were designed for kids who were about to head to school. Not for not-quite-two-year-old-toddlers about to traipse the globe. This category sadly doesn’t exist. The only bags we could find were cartoon covered, cheaply manufactured, one pouch affairs, that were not much better than a plastic shopping bag.

It was only after yet-another trip to browse REI, (did I mention I love shopping? Jenny does not share my passion), that we stumbled upon an ideal candidate. Not only was it made by The North Face, and the perfect size, but it sported a fashionable pink plaid that is all the rage with the toddler set. To see the various options and colors check out The North Face’s website.

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One of the first things you notice when opening the bag is that it is of quality construction. From the water resistant zippers, to the durable mesh that lines the dual bottle holders on the sides, the bag is built to be used.

The other nice thing is that it has two separate compartments. A smaller one in the front and a larger one in the back. The larger of the two also has a mesh inner pocket, perfect for stowing art supplies, snacks, or whatever else you want the little one to have access to.

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The back padding is nice and firm, yet soft and plush. The straps are padded as well and it is built similarly to other adult day packs.  Even though we don’t expect our little one to carry all of her own luggage, we do think it is nice for her to keep some of the things she will want on planes, buses, daytrips, etc.. Also I want her to share the feeling of responsibility, and to be able to carry a bag the same as we do, so she feels more a part of the experience. Already she gladly puts it on and runs around the house with it whenever we put our own on.

Overall the bag is a perfect size for a little one of maybe 2-4 years old. It has ample storage space for light items, and is comfortable for a child to wear. Also the quality of the design won’t leave you disappointed. This being our first review we are glad to give the bag 5 out of 5 thumbs! If we change our minds after traveling we will update the post with our updated impressions. See the gallery below for more pics.

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