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Summer 2011: twelve straight weekends of fun
August 27, 2011. By Arnold Rapinan

It has been a fun and busy summer. For twelve weekends in a row (from the weekend of May 21 until August 6), we went somewhere or did something fun. We visited cool places in northern California, we drove to nearby cities of Nevada, experienced Skywalk at Grand Canyon, Arizona, and explored the southern and northern parts of Florida. Below are the highlights of our twelve straight weekends of fun.

Biking at Vasona Lake Park

Sunday, August 7, 2011. Family biking and picnic at Vasona Lake County Park

We met a family friend at Vasona Park for biking, picnic and for kids' play date. We put Christos into his bicycle trailer and we all biked around the park. We tried convincing the kids to do the paddle boat and kayaking, but failed - the playground and the sand seem more exciting for them. We decided to bike towards Oak Meadow, another park next door. On the way there, we found a picnic section where we enjoyed snacks: fruits, salami, cheese and wine (sodas for the kids). At Oak Meadow Park, the kids rode on a miniature train that runs through Vasona Park.

Summer Family BBQ

Saturday, August 6, 2011.  Summer family BBQ at home

One of my favorite things to do during summer is a family BBQ, especially when all family members are present. Specifically, I enjoy watching my kids, nieces and nephews playing together in the backyard; spending time and catching up with mom, brothers, sisters and everyone else; drinking beer and wine while enjoying good-old-fashion-chicken-and-beef BBQ; and just the fact that I'm surrounded with people I love.

Christos' First Flight

Sunday, July 31, 2011. Orlando to Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco (going home)

Our flight back from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco was at 7:30pm. So we had a full day to drive back from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale. We left Orlando at 10am with the plan that we will stop at cool places along the way. So we did. We had lunch at West Palm Beach, we stopped and checked out one of the Service Plazas located in the center of the Florida's Turnpike freeway (there were Service Plazas every 45 miles), and spent the rest of the day at Fort Lauderdale. We drove downtown, around town, and drove back to North Ocean Boulevard to shop for a few souvenirs. We checked in on time at the airport, everything was fine until the plane took off: Christos decided to have a tantrum for about 30 minutes (oh boy!!), then decided to sleep throughout the rest of the flight.

Daytona Beach

Saturday. July 30, 2011. Daytona Beach, FL

We visited Daytona International Speedway (home of Daytona 500 and NASCAR) and "the world's most famous Daytona Beach." The race track tour was pretty cool: we were able to see the drivers "meeting room", the "garage", the race track and pit stop section, Victory Lane, and Sprint Tower. Athena wanted to experience the "ride along" where a professional driver takes her on a real race car that goes up to 170mph, but she needed to be at least 14 years old. So she was disappointed. We then spent the rest of the day at the beach playing in the sand and water.

Animal Kingdom

Friday. July 29, 2011. Orlando, FL, Disney World's Animal Kingdom

Our second day pass in Disney World was spent at Animal Kingdom. It is by far better than the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park, Discovery Kingdom and Safari West. The Kilimanjaro Safaris itself is enough to make the entire experience at Animal Kingdom a memorable one. Luckily, the lines for the rides and attractions were pretty short: the maximum time we waited for any rides and shows was less than ten minutes. There were not many people - it must have been the July hot and humid weather. Christos, on the other hand, enjoyed the animals a lot more than the Epcot shows and rides.

Disney World Epcot

Thursday. July, 28, 2011. Orlando, FL, Disney World’s Epcot

Since we don't have a similar Epcot theme park in California, we decided to visit it. It is a cool place and different than all other Disney or other theme parks. Its theme is about earth, international culture, future, science and technology. It is also a huge park, twice as big as Disney's Animal Kingdom. A two day pass is needed to enjoy and explore all its attractions and rides. We elected one day, so we did not have a chance to explore all it has to offer. The "Illuminations: Reflections of Earth" show is not to be missed at Epcot.

Kennedy Space Center

Wednesday. July 27, 2011. Kennedy Space Center, FL

Kennedy Space Center is a must see place to visit in Florida. It is where histories were made about flights to the outer space, moon and other planets. It is also a place where adults and children can enjoy. We went on-board space shuttle Explorer, explored all kinds of rocket ships, toured the entire facility including the space shuttle launch section. The visit to KSC was educational, inspiring, and we all had a blast especially Athena. As for Christos, we'll have to bring him back when he is older to understand, but he had a great time with us nonetheless.

Fort Lauderdale

Tuesday. July 26, 2011. Fort Lauderdale, FL

We did not expect much of Forth Lauderdale. We went there specifically to visit a lady friend we met at our Rio de Janeiro trip four years ago. The city turned out to be beautiful. In fact, we like it better than Miami and thought that it is beautiful than Miami Beach. The North Ocean Boulevard section is a lot of fun; the shops, restaurants, clear water and white sands were so inviting. At Fort Lauderdale, we met our friend and had lunch at Greek Island Taverna in North Ocean Boulevard. Sadly, it'll probably be the last time we will see her.

Key West

Monday. July 25, 2011. Key West, FL

I used to say, "I would like to drive to Key West one of these days." Now, I have. We left Miami Beach at 8am knowing it's going to be a full day of exploring. The 3.5 hour drive to Key West became a 5 hour drive (each way) as we stopped to places we thought were cool. The scenic drive to Key West was an adventure by itself as the Florida keys were surrounded by blue and green ocean. At Key West, we visited the tourist spots, shopped at downtown and explored the beaches. The only regret we had was that we did not stay overnight at Key West.

Air Boat Ride at Everglades

Sunday. July 24, 2011. Everglades National Park, FL

I have always wanted to try an air boat ride. So I thought it would be cool to try it at Everglades National Park where you can triple the adventure by riding the air boat to the Everglades swamp while looking for wild alligators and crocodiles. The experience did not disappoint: we saw wild alligators and crocodiles, the open-air ride was cool, fun and unforgettable as we all went as a family, including Christos. Athena was also able to hold a four feet baby alligator that I know she will never forget.

Miami Beach

Saturday. July 23, 2011. Miami Beach, FL.

Miami Beach is what we expected and more. It is a beautiful city with beautiful people. We were also lucky in choosing the right resort, Fountain Blue Hotel: it's a luxury resort with top notch service, eleven exotic swimming pools, easy access to the beach and great location. We could have easily stayed there for months. Miami Beach was our main hub in southern Florida. From there, we toured its nearby cities, did a day trip and came back to the resort. We enjoyed Miami Beach but disappointed with the beach as there were a lot of see weeds in the water.

Christos at the airport

Friday. July 22, 2011. Trip to Florida, Christos' first flight

Taking Christos to his first flight at the age of 1.5 years old was both exciting and worrisome. The flight to Florida was 5.5 hours and we did not know how Christos will behave. Surprisingly, he did very well. During the take off, he was playing while looking at the window. Halfway through the flight, he got to know all the stewardess and a few passengers as Christos walked back and forth along the aisle. We also hanged out at the back of the plane where all the drinks and snacks were stored and stewardess rested. This section kept Christos busy and tired. Toward the end, he slept until we exited out of the airplane. Flying back to San Francisco, on the other hand, was a different story...

Kayaking at Monterey Bay

Saturday. July 16, 2011. Kayaking at Monterey, CA

I have always wanted to kayak in the ocean, so we decided to try it at Monterey. Athena was excited, but I know I was a lot more excited than her. To ensure our safety and proper kayak tips and training, I scheduled a kayak tour with Adventures By The Sea. It turned out to be a good decision. The kayak tour guide was very knowledgeable, fun and enjoyed what she does. She showed us the "rope", took us along the water of Cannery Row, Breakwater Cove, Lovers Point and all the way to Fisherman's Wharf. Athena and I enjoyed the overall experience, scenery and wild animals such as sea otters, seals and pelicans. We are for sure going back again.

Relaxing at home

Sunday. July 10, 2011. Relaxing at home, San Jose, CA

After a BBQ lunch with Penelope's family (a last minute get-together to re-celebrate Penelope's birthday), we decided to spent the rest of the evening at home and relaxed. As usual, the kids played in the backyard on their playset. Towards the end of the evening, I put the fire pit on - this always seem to make the moment fun and enjoyable especially during summer time. The kids BBQ 'ed marshmallows, mostly burnt and left uneaten, while I enjoyed the moment watching them, sipping a glass of white Zinfandel and surfing the net. This is one my favorite parts of summer: spending quality time with my kids outdoors.

Pacific Grove

Saturday. July 9, 2011. Pacific Grove, CA

We celebrated Penelope's birthday at Pacific Grove. We took the kids Surrey biking from Lovers Point all the way to Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf, played at the beach, visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium and had lunch at Archie's Diner. While at Pacific Grove, I found a place to rent a kayak for $30 each per day, and the best thing is that they will teach you if you have never done ocean kayaking before. I was convinced to try it and might consider it a new hobby should the experience turn out well. We had planned to go back the following weekend.

Safari West

Friday. July 8, 2011. Safari West, Santa Rosa, CA

OpSource took all of its employees for an all day outing at Safari West to celebrate the company's acquisition by Dimension Data, an NTT's business unit. The company shuttled us to Santa Rosa, provided drinks and lunch. The wildlife park is about 400 acres with over 400 exotic animals. At the park, we rode on a Safari Jeep that went around the hilly park where the exotic animals were roaming around. Safari West is a pretty cool place and I plan to take my family there sometime.

La Selva Beach

Monday. July 4, 2011. La Selva Beach, CA

We celebrated Fourth of July with Penelope's family at Aptos, CA. We BBQ 'ed and had lunch there. Towards the end of the day, we went to nearby La Selva Beach. We brought woods for the bonfire, snacks and drinks. We had planned to stay at the beach to watch random fireworks that visitors and local residents uncoordinatedly showed. It was a bit cold at the beach, but the bonfire that everybody enjoyed kept us warm. We drank red wine, enjoyed the company, the beach and the fireworks while the kids played.

Napa Valley

Saturday/Sunday. July 2/3, 2011. Napa and Calistoga, CA

We made a decision to visit the wine country while eating breakfast that Saturday morning. An hour later, we were on the road. It was totally spontaneous. While I was busy driving, Penelope was busy finding a hotel. Fortunately, after several calls, she found availability at Hilton Hotel at Napa. The hotel pool was perfect for 105 degrees weather that day, so we stayed at the pool for a couple of hours. Afterwards, we headed to Calistoga, window shopped at Lincoln Avenue, and had dinner there. We spent the next day visiting Castello Di Amorosa and V Sattui vineyards.

Sailing at SF bay

Sunday. June 26, 2011. Sailing at San Francisco bay, CA

San Francisco bay is one of the world's beautiful bays to sail. My friends and I rented a Catamaran sailboat and sailed around the bay - a get together we do at least once a year. We started at Berkeley Marina, passed by Alcatraz and Angel Island, then headed towards Tiburon and Saulito. We docked the boat at Sausalito and had our lunch at Le Garage Bistro (a French cuisine). We then sailed towards Golden Gate Bridge, turned around towards South Beach, passed Pier 39, passed Bay Bridge and went around the other side of the Bay Bridge. The weather was nice, the wind was strong, the company was great, and the beers, wines, and hors d'oeuvres were all consumed.

Seascape Beach and Resort

Saturday. June 25, 2011. Seascape Beach and Resort, Aptos, CA

We went to Seascape Beach to bike in the morning then spent the rest of the day at the beach. After stopping at Capitola for a quick morning beach walk, we headed back to the road. It was around 10am when we arrived at Seascape Beach: the morning's fresh ocean smell made me feel good to be there. So we biked around Seascape Beach, then we let the kids play at nearby park's playground. During lunch time, we ordered sandwiches at Village Host Pizza & Grill and took the food to the beach for a lunch picnic. After we ate, the kids played on the beach, tried building a sand castle, got wet, and played some more.

Lake Tahoe

Saturday/Sunday. June 18/19, 2011. Lake Tahoe, NV

We celebrated Father's Day weekend at Lake Tahoe. The plan was 1) for me to do parasailing, 2) rent a speed boat and take the family around the lake, and 3) do the gondola ride with the kids. We did the Gondola ride on Saturday afternoon: it is always fun for all ages, especially for kids. On Sunday, we went to Tahoe Shores, a place to rent boat and do parasailing. Unfortunately, the day turned out to be too windy and no parasailing was allowed. They were also discouraging us not to take the kids on the boat due to strong wind. So we ended up doing paddle boats instead.

Picnic at Angel Island

Sunday. June 12, 2011. Family picnic at Angel Island State Park, CA

While waiting for our Ferry to Angel Island, Athena and I went on a Rocket Boat ride at Pier 39. The speed boat went around the bay, on a high speed, with crazy maneuvers (zigzag, quick stop and sharp u-turn). It was a lot of fun. After the the ride, we departed for Angel Island via Red and Blue Ferry. An hour after, we arrived at Angel Island: we took our picnic spot, setup the table, and enjoyed our home made chicken and tuna sandwiches with Greek salad. We spent the rest of the day there playing on the beach, lounging at the picnic area, and walking around the park.

San Jose Greek Festival

Saturday/Sunday. June 4/5, 2011. Greek Festival, San Jose, CA

It was Athena's third year dancing at the San Jose's Greek Festival. Her group did two types of Greek dance that they practiced throughout the year. For us, it was always the highlights of the festival. Due to the rain, however, we wanted to leave as soon as the dance program was over. But we were not going to leave without getting some Greek food. Dissapointedly, the food was expensive and not as delicious as the previous years - it must have been the rain...The Greek pastries, on the other hand, never fail. I ended up with four orders of large Loukoumades.

Shopping at Las Vegas

Sunday. May 29, 2011. Las Vegas, NV

After day trips to Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon West in the previous days, we decided to spend our third day in Las Vegas. Like most tourists do, we walked around the strip, shopped around and checked out the hotels and casinos. We visited the new City Center and explored its high rise condominiums and residential hotels. From City Center, we went shopping at the Las Vegas Premium Outlets where Penelope managed to purchase a few more items. We ended the day with Athena playing and swimming at Rio's outdoor pool.

HooverDam

Saturday. May 28, 2011. Hoover Dam, Boulder City, NV

Our previous visits to Hoover Dam have always been short. This time, we decided to spent a full day and tour the facility. We started at the new suspension bridge situated above Hoover Dam. From the bridge, you have a beautiful view of the dam and its surroundings. We walked across the bridge just because it was there. We then took the Hoover Dam tour for the first time. The tour was educational, interesting, but it is one of those tours that you only do once. After the plant tour, we drove to the Arizona side of the dam and stopped at a few look out points.

Skywalk at Grand Canyon West

Friday. May 27, 2011. Skywalk, Grand Canyon West, AZ

From Las Vegas, we drove 2.5 hours to Grand Canyon West. We were in for a good treat: the Grand Canyon West has good look out points where you can enjoy its beauty. Additionally, we were excited to see Skywalk. It is a u-shaped observation deck with clear glass floor and shoulders. It hangs 70+ feet over the canyon's rim, and sits 4,000 feet above the Colorado River. So when you walk in Skywalk, it gives you the sense of "walking the sky." Skywalk is a place that everyone of all ages should see and experience. If you plan to visit it, here's my top ten tips.

Lick Observatory

Saturday. May 21, 2011. James Lick Observatory, Mount Hamilton, CA

Athena always reminds us to take her to James Lick Observatory when she notices it from the freeway. So for the very first time, we took her there. She was amazed of the beautiful scenic view of the valley from Mt. Hamilton and how big the telescopes were at Lick Observatory. She was happy and thankful that we visited. She also enjoyed the presentation of different planets, galaxies, and the universe. She liked them so much that two posters of our solar systems are now hanging in her room.