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Part IV: Universal Orlando

Ever since our last visit to Universal Orlando, we were certain of two things: 1. that one day our kids would become proper potterheads and 2. we would be back to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with them.

We just didn’t expect it to happen so soon.

To be honest, during our last trip to Universal, we had sort of decided that it would be the last visit for a while. It was a fab time for us adults but we were touring with two kids who were visibly bored while interacting with the animatronic goblins at Gringotts bank(?!) and having lunch at Three Broomsticks(??!!). But understandably so because the magic of Diagon Alley isn’t immediately clear if one hasn’t read Harry Potter 1 through 7.

The kids couldn’t understand why their parents were fascinated by pointy wooden sticks and boring train stations so we ended up rushing through the park instead of soaking it in like one is supposed to. Okay, they did enjoy Honeydukes but I suspect it was mostly because of the candy.

Turns out that 2017 was the year that Truett and Kirsten got acquainted with Hogwarts and they loved it. I had planned to ease them in with books 1-3, then let them pick up on books 4-7 when they got a little older, like maybe 12? When Tru finished book 3, he made it clear that it was impossible for him to wait 2 more years before reading the next book and he presented a pretty good case. I remember having to wait an entire year for the next book to drop and it was excruciating; I couldn’t be this cruel to my kids so he has since devoured the entire series.

Kirsten got up to book 4 before deciding that her brain couldn’t handle this amount of darkness and it was a good call because I was 18 when book 4 dropped and I was terrified by the opening Frank Bryce scene with Voldemort + Nagini. This kid is so mature it makes me incredibly proud.

The point is, Truett and Kirsten have been suitably introduced to the magic and they were ready for a visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.


Universal Orlando is made up of 2 parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. There are some decent rides for older kids scattered around both parks but the headliners are clearly the Harry Potter sections (Hogsmeade in Universal Studios and Diagon Alley in Islands of Adventure).

As far as theming goes, both areas are amazing. The level of detail is staggering and there are enough easter eggs for any hardcore potterhead to go crazy over. Like meeting Stan Shunpike and the Knight Bus complete with interactive shrunken head was such a treat. The kids were so thrilled to have a hilarious conversation with the shrunken head even though Theo ran away once the head started talking back.

And what about the dragon on top of Gringott’s bank that breathes real fire periodically throughout the day? Let’s just say that it still takes my breath away.


First off, when you’re visiting Universal Orlando, you want to get the park-to-park pass that allows you to visit both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in the same day. That’s the only way to ride the Hogwarts Express, which is an actual train connecting both parks.

I’d recommend riding it in both directions because each experience is different, although if you only have time for one direction (haha!), do it from King’s Cross station at Universal Studios because that’s where you get to see platform 9 3/4.

The new addition since our last visit was the wand-activated side quests one could find at various corners marked with medallions on the pavement. One has to purchase a special interactive wand in order to perform spells at these designated areas but if you ask me, it is the one merch item in the whole park that is worth purchasing.

Some of the quests were straightforward, like using Wingardium Leviosa to levitate a quill or Silencio to make a bird stop chirping. Others were very elaborate and super fun, like one where you could activate a moving skeleton on a screen to mirror your movements.

Then there are the rides. There aren’t many rides at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter but it’s clear that a lot of thought has been put into creating an excellent experience for each ride. Escape from Gringotts is easily the best ride in all of Universal Orlando, combining a thrilling track roller coaster with insane 4D effects. The queue for this is consistently 2 hours long but for good reason (because it’s magnificent!!) and there’s a single rider queue if you don’t mind riding alone (no, we do not mind at all!).

And as if all of that is not enough, the thing to top it off was the Christmas fireworks light show that lit up Hogwarts castle every evening.

Right, I think that about covers it. I’ll wrap it all up with this video. :)


Part III: Legoland Florida

As usual, we saved the best for last and this next leg of the trip was all about the theme parks.

It was an easy flight in to Orlando from Buffalo airport and the kids were practically high from excitement the moment we landed; they were singing and dancing their way through TSA clearance, which I suppose is the best way one could clear TSA checks.


Another first for this trip was a visit to Legoland Florida. We had considered checking it out during the past few visits but it’s about an hour’s drive out from the main Disney/Universal cluster and it was always a “let’s do it next time” sort of situation.

Well, this time was finally the next time and now we’re like, we totally should have done it earlier.

Legoland is a dream come true for any Lego fan because there’s Lego everywhere: Lego castles, Lego dragons, Lego trees, Lego coasters, Lego farm animals, hands on Lego building stations, Lego robotics, basically anything one could want to see made of Lego can be found there.

Incidentally, this was Theo’s first proper experience of a theme park and this boy was in absolute heaven. It was full on wide eyed wonder at everything, like “YOU MEAN I SPENT 3 YEARS OF MY LIFE NOT KNOWING SUCH AN AWESOME PLACE EXISTS??!!! Is this made of Lego?? How about this? And this??? And I can ride as many times as I want??!! NO WAY!!! 

He was dragging us everywhere making us go on every single ride multiple times, it was like experiencing a theme park for the first time all over again and I loved it. :)

If you’ve been to Legoland Malaysia, most of the areas + rides are pretty similar. It’s a very toddler friendly park with a handful of big kid type thrill coasters. Which is to say that it was perfect for these two boys, who were having the time of their lives.

And unlike the insane crowds that can be found in Legoland Malaysia, the one in Florida was so quiet it was like having the whole park to ourselves. It was such a treat to basically walk on for every ride.

Usually, after every ride, they’ll be like “That was awesome, let’s do it again!!” and we’ll look at the queue and be like “Ummm, maybe later” which is code for “OH HELL NO.” But with a quiet park, they rode all the rides again and again and again and it’s totally an obnoxious first world problem but by the afternoon, the husband and I were having to rock, paper, scissors to see who would get to go on the spinning ride with the kids one more time.

By unanimous agreement, the best ride in the whole park was Lego Ninjago The Ride.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the kids have been crazy about Lego Ninjago, such that Theo has been telling me not to call him by his actual name. Instead, the only name that he will henceforth be responding to is Green Ninja. I told him that Green Ninja is a ridiculous name for a boy and I will not be calling him that. He was adamant, like “Yes mom, you are calling me Green Ninja.” And ok yes, as of this morning, I’m still calling him Green Ninja.

Back to the ride. This ride is amazing, it’s so much fun. You get to be one of the Lego Ninjago characters to go on an interactive mission to defeat bad guys via some advanced motion detection technology. The way to activate your powers was to wave your hands around wildly and you can be sure that there was some nerd level hand waving going down while we were riding.


Part II: Niagara Falls

From New York, we drove 8 hours up towards Niagara Falls where we spent the next 4 days.

Niagara Falls has been on my bucket list for a long time and I’m glad we finally did it because WOAH IT IS GORGEOUS.

We had initially planned to fly in to Buffalo airport but it was Thanksgiving weekend and the flight prices were out of control. It would have cost about $2,000 instead of the usual $450 to fly all 6 of us so we decided to make a road trip out of it. It only cost us $150 for a one-way minivan rental from La Guardia to Buffalo and as a bonus, we were able to make a nice stopover at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets for some shopping.

Pro tip: Instead of doing a one-way minivan rental from LGA to BUF for all 5 days (which would cost $800+), we split it into 2 separate rentals: a 1-day from LGA to BUF ($150), followed by 4 days in BUF ($330). This meant that we had to make a 20-minute pit stop in Buffalo Airport to do the paperwork but it was very painless and they let us keep the same car so we didn’t even need to swap it out.


You guys, Niagara Falls is unreal.

I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. I know it’s just water and rocks but when you put them together like that, it’s nothing short of magnificent. It’s like standing in a huge cloud of mist and you hear the thundering roar of rushing water and you look out and there are all these rainbows all around and it’s beautiful and terrifying all at the same time.

Every time the kids got too close to the edge, my heart would drop and I’d be like “3 steps back, guys!! Don’t make me have to go in after you, I’m not that good a swimmer.” They thought it was hilarious to see me this nervous so they took turns to get as close to the edge as possible and after a while, the only way to make them stop was to be all “You know what, going in after you would be futile anyway so hey, it’s been nice knowing you!!

And did they buy it? Not for a second.

It’s impossible to not visibly flinch when a piece of your heart is a small barricade away from plunging down the Niagara Falls.


Here are some of the highlights:

1. Looking at the falls

I’ve always been a city girl but this made me question everything I knew about myself. I loved standing next to the falls and looking out at the rushing water. We couldn’t get enough of it.

We looked at it from the top of Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Terrapin Point, from the boat at the bottom of the falls, from behind the falls, and I still can’t decide which view I liked best. They were all spectacular.

2. Niagara-on-the-Lake

I love me some small town charm and Niagara-on-the-Lake is as charming as they come. We spent a whole day browsing quaint bookstores and looking at trinkets and having coffee, it was delightful.

3. Hiking

Again, I’m not really the hiking sort and unless you count the one time I walked around Coney Island, I don’t think I’ve gone on a proper hike in my life. I certainly didn’t think I’d enjoy it this much.

The weather was beautiful and we kind of just took a leisurely walk into some woods for a bit to hang out with some dogs and squirrels and ducks. It was an excellent way to spend an afternoon.


4 days turned out to be the perfect amount of time to spend at Niagara Falls and those turned out to be some of my favourite memories of the trip; we could take things slow and I woke up to the best mornings ever.


6 days in New York

It’s been over a month since we got back from the trip but it has taken me a while to finally sort through the obnoxious amount of photos so yeah, this is the time where we’re gonna talk about it.

Right off the bat, I’ll tell you that New York with 4 kids was challenging. I’ll always have love for the city, but when you’re hoisting 4 jet-lagged kids around everywhere, NYC isn’t the easiest place to navigate.

And I knew this, so when I was putting the itinerary together, we had already planned for a laid back touring style but even then, these guys were seriously slowing down our travel game. I think we eventually managed to cover like half of what we intended to, but it still made for a very enjoyable trip with some pretty rad moments.


We spent 6 days in New York and these are some of the highlights:

1. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

One of the things we really wanted to do was go for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We were prepared that it was going to be crazy (6 million people along the sidewalks level of crazy), but it was Thanksgiving, and we were in New York City, and we had to at least try. So try we did.

The plan was to reach Columbus Circle by 6.30am to stake out a front-row spot along the curb, so we set our alarms for 5am. Amazingly, everyone was up at 5 on the dot (yay jet lag!!), but we had to put on 17 articles of clothing per child (x4 kids) and re-clothe them after enforced toilet breaks (because it was going to be a 4 hour wait at least) so despite our best efforts at making all the kids hustle, we only managed to leave the room at 6.45. Columbus Circle was buzzing with crowds by the time we got there.

If we get to do this again, everyone’s getting up at 4.

We didn’t get to be as close to the action as we wanted and it was way too cold to be sitting by the sidewalk for so many hours, but the vibe was so full of happy it made the long wait worth it.

2. Parks + Playgrounds

These kids have not met a park/playground they didn’t like so we spent a lot of time exploring playgrounds around the city.

It might seem like a waste of time to hang out at playgrounds when we were in New York City, where there’s so much else to do, but as we discovered, NYC has some of the best playgrounds.

Their favourites in order of preference was heckscher playground, brooklyn bridge park, and east river state park.

3. Christmas markets

This was mostly for me. I love Christmas markets so I dragged everyone along with me to the markets at Bryant Park and Union Square. And it was lovely. We had hot chocolate and chocolate truffles and cookies and churros and pork buns and hot dogs and cheesesteaks under the lights and chilly wintery air.

4. American Museum of Natural History

We had planned to visit more museums but after dropping rest from the itinerary, the only one we managed to spend time at was the one at the top of the list, the American Museum of Natural History.

Why? Two words: Dinosaur bones.

I can totally understand their fascination with dinosaurs because it’s quite something to be up close with all these magnificent fossils. We spent half a day there and only managed to cover a fraction of the exhibits so I guess this means we’ve got to come back again to explore the rest of it.

5. Ice skating

Ice skating in New York is a special kind of dreamy. Maybe it’s the view of the city in the background, or too many rewatches of Serendipity or just something in the air, but it’s probably my favourite place in the world to go ice skating.

// And a couple more photos to round this up.


Bangkok without the kids!

So after four years of not traveling without the kids, we finally decided to go for a no-kids getaway to Bangkok for 4 days.

Before we get to how the trip was (pretty great!), let me tell you about getting to the trip. Remember that time when we left all the kids at my mom’s house and went for Coldplay? It’s when I discovered that my threshold for not seeing the kids is like half a day max. Anything more than 6 hours makes me all antsy and twitchy.

I think it’s because I’m spoiled after being a stay home mom for so many years, having access to all the baby cuddles anytime I want. Like when I’m having a rough day, I can just stop and go hug my babies until I feel better. Anxiety coming on? Closing my eyes and inhaling some of that delicious baby smell makes it go away. My default stress coping mechanism is a rabid munching of chubby baby rolls, it always works.

This condition makes traveling without babies such a dilemma. I mean, I want to do it – I know that I’ll enjoy it when I’m there – but my baby withdrawal symptoms are severe. My brain is all “Just go! You need a break, no, you deserve a break so just take it, the babies will be ok.” but then my everything else will be like “84 hours without baby kisses and thigh roll munches? The babies will be fine but you won’t.” Underneath all the bravado, I’m just a huge pile of mushy baby-needing mess.

The night before we left, I was putting the kids to bed and smothering them with extra kisses to make up for my mom guilt when the realisation of my impending departure started to sink in for Finn and Theo. Truett and Kirsten were very cool, like “Have fun, mom! We’ll miss you so much!!“, but then the two boys were like “Wait, what?? You’re going to Bangkok tomorrow morning??? I did not agree to this!! Can I go to Bangkok too? I like Bangkok I will go wherever you go…

Both of them started tearing up with great big sad tears. “Please mommy please please please can I go??

I almost went online to buy 2 more tickets for the flight right then because I have no resolve. Just look at this face.

And this face.

Okay wait, I actually did go online with every intention of buying 2 more tickets but I discovered that the price for the extra 2 seats were 3 times what I paid for our original tickets so ummm, that’s a hard no. What am I, some kind of oil tycoon? They will just have to learn to deal with disappointment like us normal humans, with giant hugs and sobby whispers of “I’ll miss you so much!


Bangkok was excellent for a quick getaway. We went shopping, we ate Thai food, we went for massages, we sat in coffeeshops to read. I had time to finish two books while we were there: Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody and Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, both of which I enjoyed thoroughly. We took walks around the city like two people who didn’t have five kids. **Here’s where I should put up some pictures but we took a total of zero selfies. Sorry, zero points for blogging effort.

It’s a strange feeling to not be in mom mode for four whole days. There’s the silence, which I didn’t realise how much I had missed. We were on the plane and I turned to the husband to start a conversation only to see him enjoying this rare moment of silence with such bliss that I decided to enjoy some of it myself. Over the four days, we had fun conversations, but we also had long, glorious extended periods of silence and it was really nice.

There was also a constant sense that I forgot something. I’d be walking along Chatuchak market and there would be a flash of panic, thinking that I left something behind because why is my life so easy right now? Then I’d see a frazzled mom holding on to a sweaty, squirmy, screamy baby and realise that why yes, I did leave something behind and it’s called responsibilities.

Most importantly, we could only have done this with the help of my in-laws and my mom who had to watch the five babies, so thanks dad and mom and mom!


Hokkaido 2017

As much as we loved Tokyo, I think the real star this trip was Hokkaido.

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To be honest, I wasn’t sure about Hokkaido at first because I always thought of it as a destination for elderly people and skiiers, of which I was neither. I’m a classic city girl who will take the bright lights and big cities any day. Besides, who brings a baby to Hokkaido in the dead of winter where it’s -5 degrees out on a warm day?

Turns out, me, that’s who.

And we loved it. I found Hokkaido to be breathtakingly beautiful, with her powdery slopes and laid back charm. In fact, we loved our time there so much that we’re in the midst of planning next year’s trip back, possibly with all 5 kids.


Our introduction to Hokkaido was exciting. So we knew that it was going to be cold and we were layered up all ready for the subzero temp. What we weren’t prepared for was a full on blizzard that welcomed us the moment we arrived in Sapporo.

We had taken a bus to Susukino from Chitose airport, dropping off at the bus stop 2 streets away from our hotel, the Mercure Sapporo. Normally, that would be an easy walk (even with the suitcases, kids and baby) but with the blizzard, it felt like we were getting punched in the face with a block of ice, then being mercilessly pelted with a torrent of snowballs. To make things worse, the road was icy and slippery so we had to take delicate geisha steps to keep from falling.

For a moment, we just stood at the side of the road looking at all the luggage and the kids and the baby and the snowstorm and the icy road and started laughing because it was nuts. Should we wait it out? Should we make a dash for it? How were we going to get across in the blizzard with all of this stuff??

There was only one thing to do, which was to gather our resolve together with our belongings/offspring and make the impossible trek towards the hotel in the snow. It took a while but we managed to make it across the first street unscathed; so far so good. At the second crossing, we were halfway across doing our unglamorous geisha shuffle when the pedestrian traffic light turned red. In an effort to hustle, Truett slipped and fell spectacularly on his bottom in the middle of the road. He tried getting up, took one step, and slipped again on the ice. The cars were getting ready to move and my son was flailing in the middle of the road like one of them three stooges. So there I was, with a baby in my arms trying to hold up traffic by gesturing to the drivers not to run over my child while the husband tried to help Tru to safety.


But I really like these kids, they just took it all in stride. Truett’s pants were covered in icy slush but he just got right back up again and even helped with the suitcases without complaining. I think they’re a large part of the reason why we do the crazy things we do.


After that exciting first night in Hokkaido, the rest of our time turned out to be excellent. If Tokyo is the flamboyant, party-it-up fashionista, Hokkaido is the suburban mom who wore sensible shoes. I do like me a good party but I feel like Hokkaido and I could really get along.

Over the two days we were in Sapporo, we enjoyed delicious kaisendon and crabs at Noji fish market, shopped a bit at Odori, explored the Shiroi Koibito chocolate factory (so gorgeous!!), and had a lovely time at Sapporo beer garden. It was all exactly my kind of charming.

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From Sapporo, we hopped on a train to Otaru for a night before heading on to Niseko where we spent the last 4 days.

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Niseko is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. The kids took one look at all the soft, powdery snow and thought they were in heaven. And they were probably right, it was pretty close.

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They had such a grand time building an ice fort, making so many snowballs, rolling around in the snow, and even managed to pick up snowboarding. Yes, snowboarding!!

Okay, back up a little. Snowboarding is one of those skills I never thought I’d be able to learn because a) it’s hard! and b) no, seriously, it’s ridiculously hard. I took lessons that one time at Mt Buller and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve tried to learn. It’s like the physical equivalent of learning Mandarin.

But it is also very cool. Every time I’d see snowboarders blitzing down the mountain on their boards, I’d stop and ogle, I can’t help it. It’s the kind of life skill that makes you instantly more awesome.

So since we had 4 days up in the mountains, this was the perfect opportunity to finally master snowboarding. We arranged for lessons with a private instructor, rented the gear, suited up and got ready to level up our awesome. Within 2 hours, Truett and Kirsten were already cruising down the beginner slope like it was nothing. Especially Kirsten, who was a natural at it. Every time she got on her board, it was like BEAST MODE activated. Even the Japanese instructor was all “you’re a monster girl!!” approvingly when she nailed it. She made it look so easy it was annoying.

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Meanwhile, I took several days to finally get the hang of it. I fell so many times and so badly that my body was covered in huge bruises. By day 3, everywhere hurt so much. Like one time, I picked up too much speed and panicked so I went in for a toe brake and fell so hard I flipped over 3 times before ending up with my face in the snow. I don’t know what a concussion feels like but it was the only time I thought I got one so I just lay there with so much pain everywhere, afraid to even move. It’s discouraging to try so hard and fail so many times. I contemplated giving up because this is too hard and maybe I’m never going to learn this at the advanced age of 35, but if there’s one thing I have, it’s determination. Also, there’s a lot of pressure now that my kids are zipping down the mountain without breaking a sweat, I’m going to have to learn this one way or another. I checked to make sure nothing was broken, took a deep breath, got up and tried again.

It’s funny, when you’re learning something, it’s hard until suddenly, it’s not. After 3 days of bad falls, I got it. I could come down the mountain without falling, I could heel brake, I could toe brake, I could do the turns, it was like my body finally understood how this works.

And it was exhilarating. I can’t quite describe the feeling of boarding down a mountain on soft, powdery snow. It’s everything I imagined it to be, even better.

**The kids made this video on their own – they took most of the pictures/videos themselves and stitched them together. :)


Tokyo 2017

For this trip, we spent 4 days in Tokyo city and 3 days in Disney Tokyo, followed by a week in Hokkaido.

As with all our trips, the itinerary was planned with a little something for everyone. The understanding is that we would all get to do something we enjoyed and when it was time for someone else’s favorite activity, we would all partake in the fun together even if it didn’t seem all that appealing to us. This basically means that no one gets to complain when mommy is shopping for boring things because I just spent 4 hours watching you guys play with toys.

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And since we had baby Hayley along, we ditched the usual commando style touring and took things nice and slow because there was no way I could cover 15-20km a day lugging this chubby chubbs around.

We would visit an attraction, have a coffee break, snack break, playground break, another snack break, have lunch, check out the next attraction, have more snacks, head for dinner.

Did I mention the snacks?? Tokyo is the land of anyhowly-choose-also-nice-snacks. I didn’t meet a snack I did not like in Tokyo. Also, the food. Sadly, there will be no photos of the food because they all ended up inside my mouth before the husband could even whip out his phone. All I can tell you is that and lo, it was very good.

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While there’s a lot to do in Tokyo, it’s also a beautiful place to just sit by the river and have a cheese tart + coffee. On our first day out and about, we even brought a kindle along hoping to get in some reading time but that’s just crazy talk because with 2 kids and a baby, ain’t nobody got time for that.


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As for the places we visited, here are some of the highlights.

//We stumbled upon the “It’s A Sony” exhibition at the Sony building in Ginza while trying to shop for a camera and it turned out to be a brilliant detour. For an 80’s kid, this was a surprisingly fun stroll down memory lane looking at all the Sony products we grew up with. The husband was so thrilled to show the kids his first dreamcast, the playstations, the classic walkman, and even the short-lived minidisc player.

The kids were mostly incredulous, like “You mean this thing only plays music? And it only stores 12 songs at one time? WHY????

Urgh, kids these days.

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//Another gem was the children’s museum in Yotsuya Sanchome, two stops from Shinjuku. It was a real hit with the kids, even baby Hayley. Calling it a museum is a bit of a misnomer because it was less of a stuffy museum with see-no-touch kind of exhibits and more of a super fun play area stocked with some really beautifully crafted old school toys.

Baby Hayley had such a great time at the infant play area.

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This is baby Hayley’s idea of playing with toys, also known as how many items I can fit into my mouth at one time? I looked around and all the babies were all doing the same thing – busy gnawing on all the toys (while all the moms were frantically wiping everything down with antibacterial wet tissues).

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Babies are so adorable, it doesn’t matter if the toys can beam laser and speak 27 languages, all they care about is how this tastes when I stuff it in my mouth.

Mmmm, this one’s got leftover pumpkin with a hint of fennel…nom nom nom…oooh is that chocolate?? Let’s eat it!!!

The highlight for Truett and Kirsten was this magic show by a very enthusiastic grandfatherly Japanese uncle who reminded me a lot of my dad. His eyes had a twinkle to them and it seemed like he was having more fun than all of the kids combined, which made it such a joy to watch. I think when the kids are all grown up, I’m definitely taking up a gig hosting a magic show or story time with kids.

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//10 minutes from the children’s museum was a fire museum, so we stopped by for a visit as well. It was ok, a more typical museum exhibit viewing sort of experience.

Although the fire engines were pretty cool, and they had a great time simulating a rescue mission in a stationary helicopter.

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//For food and shopping, we spent some time at the usual favourites like Shinjuku, Shibuya, Tsukiji Market, and Ginza. Oh, Daikanyama and Nakameguro were really nice too, in a trendy, hipster sort of way.


The best part about traveling is that every time we visit a city, we get to know her a little more. With some places, you’re all like, “umm ok thanks for the memories, it’s been nice knowing you.” But then once in a while, you find a place that you can be really good friends with.

Which is to say that Japan, I think we’ll be seeing you again soon. :)