The Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is one of the few active volcano systems on earth. In fact isn’t just a volcano, it is a super-volcano capable of the most massive eruptions known to man. The last such eruption wiped out a chunk of North America about 170,000 years ago and while geologists predict the next one is at least 10,000 years away, whats 10,000 years in the Earth’s timescale! So I had been hankering to get to see the park before it exploded again.

The park is an earth lover’s delight. Despite having seen the beauty of South America with its awe-inspiring scale, Yellowstone turned out to be unique and amazing. The landscape is gorgeous with multi-coloured rocks, hydrothermal bodies, lodgepole pine trees and their very own big five of the wild life.

We spent 5 days in the park, divided between the south – heart of the geo thermal wonders: hot springs, geysers and the like, and the north which is good to spot some wildlife. Since were were three families with five kids between 1yo and 9yo, we splurged on the stay with 2 nights at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge in the South and the Grand Canyon Lodge in the North. Accommodation within the park closes almost 6-8 months in advance, so book early.

South Yellowstone: stunning landscapes and geysers

The Old Faithful Lodge is a short walk away from the namesake geyser, which is called so because it will explode every 45 mins, give or take 10. The next eruption time is put up near the visitor complex and we headed straight there after checking in. The Old Faithful is amazing to watch, starting off as a small bubbling fountain and rising to the sky. Staying close by offered us the chance to watch the eruption multiple times and at different times of the day.  Being on the side of the sun at sunrise and sunset offers a nice rainbow view on the opposite side. There is a boardwalk that takes one to watch a number of other smaller geysers in the area and is worth a visit, though little ones have to be constantly monitored not to end up in hot water.

A nice vantage point to watch the Old Faithful
A nice vantage point to watch the Old Faithful

The geyser eruption

There are a number of hot-springs and geysers in the area

Kabir enjoys playing with a stick, oblivious to the Old Faithful right in front of him!
Kabir enjoys playing with a stick, oblivious to the Old Faithful right in front of him!

The other big attraction in the region is The Grand Prismatic, a short drive away from the Old Faithful. While ariel views of the basin are breath-taking, even a walk on the walkway around is beautiful. The boardwalk is pram friendly, but if your toddler is anything like mine, one who wants to run around at freewill, he will need constant monitoring. The ground off the boardwalk may look solid, but is merely a thin crust at a lot of places, plus the water rivulets are boiling hot. It gets quite windy, so best to take off hats, stoles etc that might fly away. We saw many a wise men who had chosen not to pick up their hats that had flown off.

A view of the Grand Prismatic from eye level
A view of the Grand Prismatic from eye level
The kids walking along the boardwalk surrounding the Grand Prismatic
The kids walking along the boardwalk surrounding the Grand Prismatic

It’s top view looks like a colourful eye and is worth a hike up the close by hill. The park intends to open a proper viewing point by August 2017, but in June, Mohit had to hike up a narrow and steep trail. The best time to get there is between 11am and 2pm when the sun is high up and all the colours are at their brilliant most.

There are a lot of artist references in the naming of the attractions and for good reason, the landscape is unpredictably gorgeous and colourful. From the Artist’s Paint Pots to Yellowstone River to Mammoth Hot-springs.

The multi-layered steaming hot rocks at Mammoth hot-springs
The multi-layered steaming hot rocks at Mammoth hot-springs
The viewing point at the top of the Artist's Paint Pots
The viewing point at the top of the Artist’s Paint Pots
The Yellowstone River
The Yellowstone River

We ended our Day 3 with driving down to the Yellowstone Lake for a fabulous view a quiet dinner.

North Yellowstone: the wildlife

We moved to Canyon Lodge on the next day and from here on it was all about driving around to spot the wildlife. The Yellowstone big 5 comprise – the bison, bear, elk, bighorn sheep and wolves. Like any wildlife, they are best spotted in the early morning and evening hours.

We first drove out to the magnificent view of the Tower Falls, followed by some ice-cream and then drove around with a picnic lunch in search for the bears.

The gorgeous Tower Falls
The gorgeous Tower Falls

The trick here is to keep driving around with your eyes peeled till you find a bear or a bear jam. Yes, the long line of cars which have stopped on the side of the road because they spotted a bear. Sara was clearly better at spotting the animals than we were. We saw 2 bears, a coyote crossing the road, big-horn sheep from a long distance and an eagle nest.

The lone bison
The lone bison
Spot the bear. They are tough to spot. This was a baby bear which looked more like a wolf from the distance
Spot the bear. They are tough to spot. This was a baby bear which looked more like a wolf from the distance

The elk and the eagle’s nest

The one where we spotted the bear and started a bear jam
The one where we spotted the bear and started a bear jam

Alas, no wolves though we did drive out to Lamar valley where one has the highest probability of spotting one. Elks and bison were far more easily spotted grazing around.

There were very many great nooks for a nice picnic lunch and we stopped by a stream to enjoy the view.

Our picnic by the stream
Our picnic spot by the stream
Tempted to dip our toes in the water
Tempted to dip our toes in the water

The landscape changes so dramatically between the north and the south of the park. Thick pine forests and snow cover most of the north. The region sees its fair share of forest fires and one can spot the burnt pine needles from a distance. But seeing the new shoots right among the burnt trees made me feel the power of the earth, its resilience – it will survive, we wont.

Normally I’m amazed by the vastness of the universe, this was one of the places I was moved by the power, beauty and resilience of the earth.

~~~

Things to keep in mind while in the Yellowstone National Park

Animals and safetyWhile driving around to spot the animals is a great idea, the par does advise one to stay 100 yards away from the big animals like bears and wolves and 25 yards way from all others including bison and elk. Keep children under safe watch

Preparing for the weather: though temperatures seem fine in the shade, the sun can get really warm in summers and sunscreen is a must. Keep an extra layer of clothing  – like a light jacket and tights in the bag for the evenings which get quite chilly. 

Food: we found the food option in the par very limiting. There was either the the visitor complex and its fast food area with the same burger type options everywhere or the sit down diner places where one had to wait 45 mins in line before being able to order. The other choice was cold sandwiches and salads from the souvenir shop. We did pick up fresh fruit everyday. Warm milk was another challenge, cold milk was available everywhere, but no heating mechanism was available outside or even in our rooms. 

 

 

Backpacking Mama nominated for the Liebster Award!

I was recently nominated for the Liebster Award by Lianna who blogs at from lianna with love. It’s delightful to be nominated by a fellow travel blogger!

She is probably the only person I know who has tasted food from 8 countries in one day. Her blog navigates travel and growing up as a 20 something with as much ease, all the while giving great travel advice in pieces like these : Tips for travelling with Pets and How to make do in NYC without a phone!

What exactly is the Liebster Award?

The Liebster Award is an online award given to bloggers by bloggers, helping each other promote their sites and connect! You can find a post detailing the official rules here (this is also where you’ll submit a link to your post when you’re done).

The basics are:

  • Display the award on your blog
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their site
  • Answer their questions about yourself (feel free to include photos!)
  • Write your own set of questions for your nominees

My answers to from lianna with love’s questions:

  • How many languages do you know?

I love languages and travel makes it so much more fun to learn them. I currently speak – English, Hindi, Bengali and Spanish; I can understand bits of Gujarati, Italian and French.

  • What’s your favorite method of travel (plane, boat, car, etc.)?

I travel with kids, lets get there sooner! Though, the slower the mode of transport,the more culture one gets to soak in .. so left to myself, i’d hike everywhere.

  • Who is your favorite person to travel with (or do you prefer to travel solo)?

Crazy as it may sound, i actually em enjoying travelling with the entire family. While it is quite tasking to manage two kids, we get to see a whole different side of the destination.

  • What is your most memorable travel experience?

Strangely, the most memorable travel experience has been the one where I cribbed everyday! It was our first trip to South America and we moved every single night covering Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. Half the trip was deathly cold, despite it being their summer time, we spent no more than $ 20 a night on accommodation and travelled like locals. It was the trip when we got stranded on a floating island in Bolivia and had to be rescued by a paddle boat, when our luggage was stolen by a local bus crossing into Bolivia from Peru and we had to chase in what was the slowest possible taxi in the country, when we witnessed the vastness of the continent, the awe inspiring Iguazu Falls, the quiet inducing Macchu Picchu, stood at the Magellan Strait that I had never thought of as real as I read about it in geography books years ago, hiked to the Torres Del Paine over the boulders thinking that was the path as indicated by LP. It was the trip of a lifetime!

  • How do you save money while traveling?

Given the number of trips we take in a year, we do have to save money, so here are the tricks

a. Plan 3m-6m in advance and keep an eye on the fares

b. Choose credit cards that have a good tie up with multiple airlines and accumulate and use points for flights and stay

c. Plan a budget for daily spends and balance that out between indulgent meals and frugal air bnb cooking

d. Find out about the free attractions for kids for each destination so we aren’t spending on making them happy or warding off a tantrum

  • What’s your favorite destination?

I absolutely love Africa, particularly the south. The sun shines brighter there, believe me! I’d go there in a heartbeat.

  • Least favorite destination?

None, really!

  • Three things you’ve learned from traveling?

Let it go! Don’t try to control everything about the trip or the day and i’ll have more fun

Pack once, then remove 30% of the items. We do just fine without them.

If I can manage to secure garbage bags from a neighbour in Germany, without knowing a word in the language, i’ll get by just fine in life.

  • What blogs do you read regularly?

I’m a blog flirt. I like reading different ones every week. Though mommygolightly and greatbong are places that I usually find interesting reads.

  • Where are you going next?

This new years, we are headed to Mauritius for a bit if the sea and then Almaty for a bit of the snow.

  • One interesting fact about yourself (travel related or not)?

I approach even the most dangerous animals as one would approach a baby! I have held a teen croc, an eagle, lion cubs with as much ease as my two kids… or maybe its the other way round!

My nominees for the Liebster Award are…

First Time Mommy – “I am a first time mommy, Anshu Bhojnagarwala, just like you. I stay in Mumbai with my husband, Rishi and adorable little toddler Aanya. Bringing up a child all alone is no mean feat which I am learning the hard way. In this blog, I share with you some sweet and some scary experiences of pregnancy and motherhood. Be a part of my journey, a journey of a mother! This could be your journey too.”

Wholesome Mama – “WholesomeMamma is a blog about Aloka’s personal journey parenting from an evolutionary or natural perspective and trusting her instincts to do what’s best for the kids over conventional ways.

I blog about breastfeeding, co sleeping, cloth diapering, babywearing, babyled weaning, nutrition, play, books and all such things that I have experienced with my boys aged 4 and 1.5 and love sharing my experiences.”

Mom-Bai – “A humourous blog about a Mom-Bai’s (Mumbai’s Mother-Maid) life with her preschooler: the madness that is mommy hood. This blog has no advice on how to handle children; only proof that the Mom-Bai needs a lot of advice!”

My Flock Of Four – “I am a working mom. I do daycare/school drop-offs and pick-ups, I cook, I clean, I run, do a lot of laundry and some how manage to be a very relaxed person and have somewhat of a social life. I often get the question, ‘how do you do all of that?’. This blog was started because of that question, and of course, my passions.”

I Pen Life – ” I am Reenu Jerath. I love to write, and through this blog I share with you the everyday life snippets that resonate with me.

My parents raised me to be a medical doctor – renowned and famous- like them. But soon they figured that I did not have the guts to cut open the frogs and mice. The closest I could get to the medical profession was to be a Healthcare Business Analyst. After spending years in the corporate landscape, I now pursue my long-time passion for writing.”


My 11 questions for my nominees:

  1. What is the first thing you do on waking up in the morning
  2. What is the craziest thing your child/children have told you
  3. Which is your dream holiday destination
  4. What worries you most about travelling with kids
  5. What is the strangest food you have eaten
  6. Pink, blue or black
  7. What are you currently reading
  8. What is your must have travel thing, when travelling with kids
  9. Mountains or beaches
  10. One interesting fact about yourself (travel or not)

Now it’s your turn to pass the award on to bloggers who you think deserve it!

Throwback Monday – Open Play Area

Every trip we plan, has a day or two on which we spend time outdoors in an open play area in the city. With the last few days of smog, I cant help but think of the unfettered fun times we have had in the free open play areas around the globe. The one above is from Amsterdam on our way back from Italy in June 2016. Everything was shut because it was a Sunday, and there was some football match. But the open play area, well, it was open.

Related Links

 

Some of the most fun open play spaces we have visited have been:

Melbourne, Australia: Ian Potter’s Children’s Garden.

Singapore: Jacob Ballas Garden in the botanical garden and by far the most fun, since it was a water play area – Children’s Garden at Gardens by The Bay

What is Throwback-Monday?

What better way to beat the Monday-morning-blues than to think about vacation. Believe me some weeks it’s just the memories of old vacations and plans of the next one that keep me going.

So here’s a way to beat ’em blues with posting a vacation photo every Monday, right here.

  • Post a photo of your vacation, with or without kids. Of course it should be suitable for public viewing.
  • The focus of the blog should be the photo. You could write a bit about it, or not.
  • It need not be a professional photo, but who needs to be a professional. With a great phone camera and some imagination, the stage is yours.
  • Link back here so that your readers can see all the other great Throwback Monday posts.

12 Hours In A Houseboat, With Kids

So our much awaited whole family trip to Italy got converted into half the family meeting in Kerala. Its a long story which deserves another post, but let me just say, if you have issues dealing with ambiguity, spend a month in Italy and be cured.

Kerala, although it was a really short trip, delivered beautifully on the ‘God’s Own Country’ experience. The backwaters are truly amazing and unlike any other water holiday experience (barring the Amazon, of course. South America has tuned down the rest of the world for me.). The highlight for us was the 1 night stay in the houseboat in Kumarkom, and here’s how it was with 2 feisty and active kids confined to a boat.

We were amazed at how close the water was, and i was worried about how big the windows were! img_8788

Admiring self(ie)

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And then we wanted to throwing everything that we could find including didi’s toy phone, into the water. Till didi dear had a brilliant idea and gave him bits of paper to throw instead.

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And when she sees paper, cards have to be made.

And then we took a break and admired the scenery outside.

When resting was done in about 5 minutes, we ran up and down the lone corridor.

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Everyone was made to exercise.

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And then we made salad

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and served everyone aboard

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and steered the boat

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and made our own steering wheel

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and monkeyed around

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and finally, crashed. Phew!

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What type are you? Hotel or Hostel

The summer vacation is almost here, and while you plan that holiday and make the bookings, check what kind of accommodation suits your type among Hotel, Hostel and everything in between. Just for the heck of it!

hotel-hostel-b-b-stars-round-buttons-set-travel-icons-man-sleeping-bed-black-signs-isolated-white-51024072

1.When travelling, how much do you interact with the locals

  1. I love chatting up, even with complete strangers. It’s interesting how they live their lives
  2. Most of my chats are with the cab driver. About the weather or the matches etc
  3. Most of my chats are initiated by the friendly local restaurant owner or in shops
  4. I travel to get away from people. Don’t rub them in my face again

2. On a longish trip, how would you prefer to travel between cities 

  1. Get a bla bla cab. What’s a journey without new friends
  2. Fly. I like to see the sights I came to see and soak in being  tourist
  3. Drive or take the train. The stops at the smaller towns in between are so enriching
  4. Walk. Hike. Explore.

3. Who do you travel with

  1. The more the merrier. Do you want to come too?
  2. Spouse and kids. Managing just these people is quite the challenge on vacation
  3. Spouse and kids and friends and their kids
  4. Solo. It’s a getaway, from everything

4. How many bags do you usually have

  1. Let’s see- 2 suitcases, 1 backpack per traveler, 2 camera bags, 1 purse, 1 bag of home cooked food
  2. 2 matching suitcases and hold-alls. Burberry.
  3. 1 suitcase,1 rucksack, 1-2 backpacks, 1 camera bag
  4. 1 rucksack. What more?

5. How long is your average vacation

  1. 3 – 4 weeks. Less than that and you might as well just stay at home
  2. About a week, including flying time
  3. 2-3 weeks. Let’s explore nicely
  4. Months. Or days. I like to just get away

6. How much of the language do you prep before you go

  1. I can say the important phrases – let’s party, where is the best place to eat etc
  2. Most people understand a bit of English, I’ll ask for translations for anything else or Google.
  3. I make it a point to learn a bit of the language. It’s the best way to get a feel of the place
  4. Nature has one language – awestruck silence.

7. What do you typically shop for on a holiday

  1. Gifts for friends and family
  2. The camera lens I have been looking for, or those really cute pair of designer shoes
  3. Flags, local crafts, something that will remind me of the place
  4. A t-shirt or any other essential I might have run out of

8. The one trip you wish you had taken before the big 30

  1. The big gang vacation in South East Asia
  2. A honeymoon in the Bahamas. Oh well, the second one maybe
  3. Backpack across Europe
  4. A solo trek in South America

9. The one to-do you wouldn’t miss in a city (or close to it)

  1. The impromptu baking class
  2. The modern art exhibition
  3. The the sport event
  4. The natural sanctuary walk through

10. 50% of your meals on a holiday are

  1. Cooked myself or by the hosts
  2. Fine dining. I like to try all the Michelin starred restaurants
  3. Street food or local cuisine
  4. All of it is local food

Ta-da!

Mostly 1s: The Social Traveller

Social traveller

Travel for you is a social outing. Time best spent with people you love or will grow to like a lot.

Best places to stay – get hosted by a local family either known to you or through good old couch-surfing

Mostly 2s: The Luxury Traveller

Luxury Traveller

Travel means experiencing the best the world has to offer. Relaxing and letting your senses soak in luxury is your thing.

Best places to stay – boutique hotels or even the regular 5 star. Check with me on how to get better deals.

Mostly 3s: The Backpack Traveller

backpack-travel

Travel is a process of learning and growing for you. It’s to build a richer picture of the planet, understand different cultures and live different lives.

Best places to stay – a cosy hostel is perfect. It allows for interactions with fellow travellers and a place to retreat, when you want to just be.

Mostly 4s: The Solo Traveller

Solo traveller

Travel is as much a journey inward as outward, for you. It’s the time to get away from the mayhem and chaos into quiet and peace

Best places to stay – camping. Or even a hostel that has good guidance on treks around, will work well.

What type did you turn out to be? Post the link of FB, if it was right 🙂

 

Travel Fears

travel-fears-page

Excited as we are about our holidays, there are fears that strike deep every time we are getting ready for one. Here they are

  1. We wont get up in time! The flights are invariably at odd hours of the night/morning and we have at least 3 alarms set at 5 minutes apart. But with kids, its even crazier. I fear they will be cranky, will need to poop, wont want to go…..
  2. We’ll keep everyone awake on the flight! With 2 kids, that can really happen. I keep homeopathic and allopathic medicines to put them to sleep, should they be over excited.
  3. We won’t have enough food/clothes/entertainment for the kids to get through the  flight! It’s such a tough trade off between packing only whats’s necessary in the in flight bag vs making sure we are packed for every eventuality. sigh!
  4. We’ll leave the camera..somewhere! It’s now the 5th thing to be managed – 2 kids, 2 bags and the camera bag. One of these is likely to get left behind – in the flight, the restaurant, the taxi …
  5. We’ll have a poop situation in a restaurant with no changing tray! Where does one change a baby? certainly not near the table laden with food
  6. The kids will get sick! I hope not. I hope not. I hope not.
  7. I won’t have the net connection when there’s a really cool moment to share on social media! Yeah. Blush.
  8. It will be too hot or too cold to wear all the clothes I packed! For ourselves, I can do with less, but with the kids, what if it rains? what if its too sunny? what if they get their only pair of jeans dirty?
  9. FOMO! – fear of missing out on the next episodes of The Game of Thrones or whatever it is that I am watching then.

That’s what gets me sweating about travel. What are your travel fears?

Why travel with kids

S got through the school we liked for her! yay! It’s great to be in a city where there is actually a choice of pedagogy, board and schools and one does not to have to apply to 18 places to get into 1.

As we made the rounds and spoke to parents about schools, the alternate teaching method etc, I got thinking about what education is all about and why schools matter.. isn’t the world a school. Well it is, and travel is an awesome lesson. So this is why we travel with kids – its education.

1. Different people exist, and they have different points of view and sometimes good food and exotic surroundings can diffuse a debate into a discussion

2. Hostels teach independance – watching mom and dad do the dishes after dinner and not relying on ‘noor didi’ to come next morning can lead to interesting discussions about responsibility and cleaning up after yourself. Of course, it might be taxing to actually clean up after the toddler helping you ‘clean up’

3. We talk less about the mundane and have richer conversations about why one must have a bath at all; why do some people have chocolate colour cheeks when i don’t; why are you scared to jump into the river for a swim. Try answering them honestly. Just once.

4. Nothing will ever be perfect. No matter how much you plan. Not with a toddler and murphy ganging up on you. And then we learn to be flexible and not chase some random ideal evening sipping wine in front of the Eiffel Tower. We freeze because the jacket we thought was thick enough, wasn’t, because the airline left the pram in the rain and its unusable… and have fun anyway. Because its actually fun to run into a warm coffee shop and fun to run out every half hour when the Tower lights up to pretend you’re a twirling princess. And your definition of fun widens.

5. We actually have a budget. Discussing and agreeing on the cheapest dinner and cheapest transport option is far more real than an artificial pocket money limit which will be violated with puppy eyed begging.

6. Packing a backpack for 2 weeks is the best form of self reflection. What is really important to carry along with a toddler who will want to be carried.

Its education for us.