Legoland: The Art of the Brick Exhibit, by Nathan Sawaya

Family Travel Easter Island Art of the Brick Discovery TSX

Published on November 8th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

12 Legoland: The Art of the Brick Exhibit, by Nathan Sawaya

LEGO typically conjures up images of tiny blocks stacked together into fancy shapes that befuddle the imagination. Colored blocks? Check. Construction? Sure. Now, think bigger, think different- Life-size sculptures. A dinosaur. Or even The Mona Lisa. Sounds unlikely, right? But not for artist Nathan Sawaya who has recreated famous works of art and built some of his original pieces using LEGO blocks.  A LEGO obsession that supposedly should have ended in childhood, followed him all the way to college and beyond and can now be witnessed at Discovery’s Art of the Brick Exhibition in Times Square.
Engineering the Wow factor

Easter Island Art of the Brick Discovery TSX

A Moai warrior at Discovery’s “Art of the Brick”

Rodin's Thinker  Art of the Brick Discovery TSX

Rodin’s “The Thinker”


Growing up, my LEGO set was easily one of my favorites in my toy collection. Being able to create an object straight out of my imagination was one of the reasons I enjoyed setting up one block over the next—earnestly anticipating what the end product would look like. I love art in its various forms and its expressive nature has always been exhilarating. Now I understand how the doodling of a young child may not hold much meaning at first, but can translate into an amazing career choice, as was the case with Mr. Sawaya.

I had to go and visit the exhibition after hearing rave reviews from friends. From portraying a swimmer in action to giving a LEGO touch to The Great Sphinx, each and every construction is a special sight, and not out of the LEGO textbook. And if you are one who thinks that LEGO is just for kids, this exhibition aims to change your perception, whether you’re 8 or 80.

Not Quite Pixelated Pieces
The T-Rex lego sculpture is made up of 80,020 pieces, the Mona Lisa, 4,473 pieces, Easter Island’s Moai sculpture,75,450 pieces, Rodin’s Thinker, 4,332 pieces. Sawaya’s original creations include the “Blue Guy Sitting,” made of 21,054 pieces, a portrait of his partner Courtney, 4,125 pieces, and one of his most iconic constructions, “Yellow” with 11,014 pieces. He spent two-three weeks on each piece, and stuck them together with adhesive.

At first glance, these block constructions look like something out of a pixelated picture— all straight shapes and no smooth curves, with critics pointing out this fact. But, squint a little and the lines blur out.You’ll see the constructions coming alive and it’s only then that they really start making sense and developing new meaning. And that’s when you get it—these Lego pieces are so much more than just a collection of pixelated images. This is one man’s extraordinary medium of defining the world around him.

The exhibit will make you take a closer look at these ordinary blocks with fresher eyes.  It’s been years since I held a block, but now as I dust off my worn out LEGO set, half-forgotten on a shelf somewhere around the house, a flood of happy memories come rushing back- huddled over the LEGO set with friends, blocks strewn all over the carpet, giving final finishing touches to our custom-made race cars, all ready to race them down the hallway.

Yes, the element of play is contagious. Picasso once said, “it takes a long time to be a kid again.” Sounds like Mr. Sawaya has found his way there.

To get your tickets, visit this site.


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At Key Largo Chocolates, the Spotlight is on the Pie

Affordable Luxury Key Largo Chocolates Upper Florida Keys

Published on November 3rd, 2013 | by Charu Suri

8 At Key Largo Chocolates, the Spotlight is on the Pie

The plastic flamingos at the entrance of Key Largo Chocolates made it even more enticing for us to visit the store because, how much more “Florida” could one get?

Not a sliver of a shop like many Manhattan-style stores I’ve seen (think two-bedroom, not studio), Key Largo Chocolates was impressive on many levels because of its various offerings. From the popular key lime truffles, to the frozen key lime pie-on-a-stick, there is something here for every picky candy lover.

Co-founders Bob and Kristie Thomas are chatters, in the best sense. When requested, Kristie eagerly showed us the back kitchen where her employees were making truffles, with the seriousness of Cake Boss. She also took the time to show me just key limes went into making her famous chocolate-covered key lime truffles each day (the answer is, an entire plastic bin of them).

Key Largo Chocolates Upper Florida Keys

The “key lime pie-on-a-stick” is not an item you’d regret purchasing. These are sourced from Kermit’s Key Lime Shop in Key West.

Key Largo Chocolates Upper Florida Keys

The sprinkles are “popular with kids” says Kristie

Key Largo Chocolates Upper Florida Keys

A lime-green toddler chair and free mini cones were a hit with Erika

Key Largo Chocolates Upper Florida Keys

The busy kitchen at the back of the store

The lime-green toddler chair was also a big hit with Erika, who slouched there with a freebie mini cone and refused to move. A store that takes special pains to put a toddler-friendly chair in the store is obviously thinking about kids, and I found out that the store also offers a Junior Chocolatier program, where kids are invited to learn more about candy-making in the kitchen. Adults receive a similar lesson but with a more grown-up name, A Night of Chocolate.

In the section devoted to ice-cream,  there are local and popular ice-cream flavors that will make you give up your weekly Ben & Jerry’s pint.

Linger awhile and savor cake balls in key lime, coconut, rum or brownie flavors. If you’re feeling charitable, send a wounded veteran one or half a pound of “Bob’s Chippers,” which are chocolate-covered potato chips specially-priced at $8.50. My favorite, the key-lime truffle, is a big hit with practically everyone who comes to the store. These are filled with ganache and are smooth and they feel local; the tropical versions like the coconut and rum are a bit more exotic, but always a pleasant treat after a tough day.

But, as my husband rightly asked me, what exactly does a rough day in the Florida Keys mean?

Key Largo Chocolates

100470 Overseas Highway

Key Largo, Florida 33037

Ph: 305-453-6613


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Scott Rossillo: Brooklyn’s Virtuosic Bagel Artist

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Published on October 28th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

7 Scott Rossillo: Brooklyn’s Virtuosic Bagel Artist

“This is not your regular bagel tour,” says Dom Gervasi of Made in Brooklyn Tours with a dramatic pause. “The world premier bagel artist is nuts!”

We’re just three of us who showed up for his walking tour on a fine day in Williamsburg, but we couldn’t wait to see what all the fuss was about a bagel. When you’re a New Yorker, you get jaded from talk of cream cheese.

Gervasi has chosen Pudge Knuckles, a coffee shop on Kent Avenue, as the walking tour’s starting place. Around us are skyscraper apartment buildings in mint condition, and the East River is a few hundred feet away. We walk towards the where we can get a view of the Williamsburg Bridge as he starts to impart some of his well-brushed history.

Made in Brooklyn Tours Bagel Tour

The Williamsburg Bridge at sunset

Made in Brooklyn Tours Bagel Tour

Quirky Brooklyn

Pudge Knuckles was started by a celebrity rock climber, Ivan Greene, and supermodel Hartje Andresen. The “roast your own coffee aspect is so Brooklyn,” says Gervasi, who noted everything from supper clubs and make your own furniture shops have a self-made quality to them here. From the Maker Movement, which was pivotal for Brooklyn’s artisanal crafts industry to what the borough is now, it’s all hats off to that “Do It Yourself” spirit.

A Brief History of Brooklyn

To get a sense of where this spirit comes from, it may be worth examining the burough’s history, albeit briefly. When the narrows were discovered in 1524, the Brooklyn Native Americans who were living here at the time moved someplace else. The fur trade (more specifically, pelts of fur) were what made this area so popular, and these were ferried on the Hudson. Even as early as 1638, Brooklyn started to create a ferry landing in front of Old Fulton street, which is where Brooklyn begins. Williamsburg and Brooklyn were actually cities at one point.

Today, Brooklyn takes that entrepreneurial self-made spirit to heart in its small business circle. For instance, the new Odd Fellows Ice Cream is made in small batches with locally-sourced milk, and is hormone-free. “The meat ice cream flavors are popular,” adds Gervasi, referring to the popular Chorizo Caramel Swirl.

This is just one store that exemplifies the borough’s foodie obsession. Between talk of the Tootsie Roll, which was invented in Brooklyn, to The Bagel Store (the purpose of our walking tour), I realized that the borough may be more food-centric than Manhattan. While New York City has Zabar’s, Chelsea Market, and Dominique Ansel Bakery (the inventor of the cronut), Williamsburg has Mast Brothers, Odd Fellows Ice Cream and The Bagel Store among others. And let’s not forget that the world’s largest sugar refinery, the Domino refinery, was built by the Havemeyer family in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and rebuilt after a fire destroyed the building in 1882.

The “Willy Wonka” Bagel Store

We finished the walking tour at piece-de-resistance, The Bagel Store. When we entered, Scot Rossillo and his business partner, dressed in similar tie-dyed tee shirts, offered us a plate of pumpkin, “red boobies” (for Breast Cancer Awareness month), candy corn, and Bavarian pretzel bagels.

Made in Brooklyn Tours Bagel Tour

Tie-dyed Bagels at “The Bagel Store”

After hearing Rossillo speak, it was not hard to see his true passion for creating bagels. His worth ethic and inspiration came from watching his grandfather hand-cut onions and make items for his food cart. Today Rossillo dreams in food; he offered me a “bagel drink” which tasted of cinnamon. “It’s the liquid that becomes a bagel,” he explains as I take a taste of the drink and wince to figure out what the heck I am drinking.

The candy corn version tasted better than store-bought candy corn, and my favorite Bavarian pretzel was soft with good sized salt chunks on top. After discovering the joys of nutella cream cheese and a creamy pumpkin cream cheese that tasted better than the fruit, I knew the Rossillo was the real deal. “I am constantly innovating,” he explains, as I eye the brilliant tie-dye style bagels he shows me on his Facebook page.

After he enrolled in the French Culinary Institute’s International Bread Baking Arts program, Rossillo dabbled in other bagel ventures before he decided he was independent enough to venture on his own. After washing the bagels down with some local craft beer, I took home a bag of blood orange bagels that were as sticky as toffee but probably the most delicious I’ve eaten. Nothing tasted like food colorings either, in keeping with Rossillo’s commitment to no preservatives.

The Bagel Store is yet another reason why Brooklyn might be the East Coast’s food lab. With all due respects to Berkeley, CA.


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Get Spooked! Top Halloween Attractions in America

Featured Fright-Factory

Published on October 25th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

5 Get Spooked! Top Halloween Attractions in America

It’s the season for ghouls, larger-than-life pumpkin patches and some creaky stairs with lots of cobwebs. Here are spooky attractions from around the country.

Fright Factory

The Fright Factory in Philadelphia (photo from Flickriver)

The Fright Factory in Pennsylvania has dark, uneven floors, and encourages visitors to wear comfortable shoes. Many visitors are so frightened during their visit they’ve dropped items from their pockets like keys and cell phones, etc. (so leave them in the car). A Great Scare package is offered for those 17 and up. If this gets you squeamish, view videos of The Fright Factory on Youtube, see pics on Instagram and Facebook.

Thrillvania located just outside of Dallas, Texas offers four hair-raising attractions on four acres of land. With haunted legends for each attraction, you’ll be scared out of your socks if you are a believer in the supernatural, werewolves, witches and curses! Verdun Manor is filled with legends of werewolves and revenge, Cassandra’s Labyrinth of Terror chills, and Sam Hain’s Trail of Torment and Thorn Hall are other attractions. Each attraction has a complex legend connecting each to each other.

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios, Orlando, offers low-priced individual tickets to a theme park filled with horror and fright from Sept 20-Nov 2nd. Visit for a day or stay a while and enjoy as much as you can with the Frequent Fear Package. With eight Haunted Houses, three outrageous shows, bone chilling Street Experiences & rides there’s no shortage of things to do. This event draws hundreds and thousands of horror fans from all over the world, of all ages. Bring the entire family for moral support.

The 13th Gate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana offers an authentic Louisiana spiritually chilling affair. Louisiana has a rich history of voodoo, vampires, witches, and the undead. Offering 13 different themed indoor and outdoor areas, the hotel offers vacation packages for the whole family. Yes, it’s scary digs at their best. From crawling through a crematory oven and an old hearse to being lost in underground tunnels and even arriving unexpectedly on a rickety old bridge above hundreds of thousands of live snakes it is not a place for the faint of heart.

The Halloween Parade in The West Village offers nothing short of a jazzed-up, colorful Halloween Parade that’s the largest in the world. Come with your camera or latest iPhone to Instagram New York’s most artistic, creative and imaginative characters on October 31st at 7:00pm in Greenwich Village. One year I saw over 15 Lady Gagas and each one was drastically, creatively different. If you and your family enjoy dressing up, being creative and showing it off-this is the place to be.

Reported by Jay Dee


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Reducing the Cycle of Poverty: Wheels of Change in Namibia

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Published on October 21st, 2013 | by Charu Suri

8 Reducing the Cycle of Poverty: Wheels of Change in Namibia

According to Dan Austin, founder of adventure company Austin-Lehman adventures, “bikes are a dime a dozen to people living in the United States.” But for residents of Namibia who have long, winding dusty roads and no public transportation, they’re catnip.

To help me get the bigger picture, Austin starts at the very beginning. About four years ago, Austin had a fleet of high quality mountain bikes that were too good to toss, too well-worn to use on his tours. He looked at philanthropy opportunities and found Michael Linke’s Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN), a non-profit in Namibia dedicated to providing commuter-style bikes to locals for various purposes.

Austin put together a 40-foot shipping container crammed with bikes, and Linke picked a Namibian village to deliver the wheeled goods. Linke trained the locals and worked with the different shops to help them get going. Recognizing the great need for the twin combination of transportation and training in Namibia, Austin partnered with Linke to create Wheels of Change, to eliminate the cycle of poverty in Namibia.

Now Austin and Linke have started to teach the locals to offer bike tours, which are flourishing.

Namibia and Wheels of Change Austin-Lehman Adventures

Wheels of Change bike recipients in Namibia become entrepreneurs and improve their mechanical skills in the process

Namibia and Wheels of Change Austin-Lehman Adventures

“Often these (tours) are the first jobs they’ve ever had,” says Austin about the Namibian locals hungry for entrepreneurial skills. Some locals have sold all the repaired bikes in a month to others who have a growing need for them.

Wheels of Change International (WOC International) became an outcome of Wheels of Change, and this organization will address the needs of Africa and other cities in need. 100% of all profits are invested in the community, thereby making the entire process of change a cumulative one.

Namibians are very proud of their country, and want to preserve their culture, adds Austin, who says about 43% of the country’s land is protected. “Going to places like Sabi Sabi (in South Africa) is a bit of a joke,” he laughs, referring to the pampered lodges with lions. “Here, the safari is the real, raw deal.” Namibia also holds the record for the largest concentration of black rhino in Africa, which explains in part the recent boom in tourism.

If You Bike It, They Will Graduate

Namibia and Wheels of Change Austin-Lehman Adventures

Austin’s success with Wheels of Change has led to many successes in the region, including providing youngsters with the tools to start their own business, as well as helping kids finish high school simply because they have access to a bike to get to classes. “The school might be 7 km from the village,” says Austin, who notes that 30% of their bikes go towards home healthcare workers because these are also AIDS epidemic regions.

Wheels of Change is not the only organization focusing on two wheels to make a difference. World Bicycle Relief too looks at the bicycle as “an engine for economic and cultural development.” The organization has donated over 161, 000 bikes in African countries like Angola, Botswana, Kenya and Malawi, and its mission too is to provide mobility as a tool for education, market access, health and relief. But World Bicycle Relief, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, has over 100 worldwide employees, plus fundraisers. Wheels of Change has a leaner execution team.

Part of the team includes Bobcat lineman Andy Austin, a 22-year old Montana State University student, and Austin’s son. A psychology major, he is also the organization’s marketing and development head, and determined to make a difference. Austin remembers the look on the Namibians’ faces when they opened their first 40-foot-long 8-foot-high container of bikes.

“All the women were wearing traditional long dresses,” says Andy Austin in an interview with his Montana school newspaper. “We spent the whole first day teaching these people how to ride a bike, and it was an absolute blast. The looks on their faces when they first started riding were priceless.”

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter whether a large non-profit or just two people in the world decide to send bikes to this part of the world: the recipients don’t care how the bikes get there, as long as they get there.

Austin-Lehman provides tours to Namibia, and encourages locals to give bike trips using the same bikes they donate to Wheels of Change.


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At the Pierre Hotel, a Harvest Beer-inspired Cocktail Menu

Affordable Luxury A New Day The Pierre Hotel Two E Bar Harvest Inspired Beer Menu

Published on October 18th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

2 At the Pierre Hotel, a Harvest Beer-inspired Cocktail Menu

It might have been the influence of Oktoberfest but the Pierre’s Two E Bar, a Taj property in New York City, has a seasonal cocktail menu, but inspired by that most bourgeois of drinks, beer.

If you’re thinking Budweiser, think again. Lead mixologist Sachin Hasan is not one for concocting something commonplace. Like an illusionist, he aims to surprise by a fine and often outside–the-bottle excess.

Hasan loves to experiment with flavors from around the world. The Black Friar’s Pint, for instance, is made two bottles of Guinness sautéed in a saucepan with ten cardamom pods. “Cook it for 30 minutes and you’re done,” says Sachin, who notes he has a beer-inspired cocktail for just about everyone. Cooking the Guinness also pares down the alcohol content, he says. It also features Bulldog gin for a stronger finish, as well as Spanish Sherry, agave nectar and egg whites.

A New Day The Pierre Hotel Two E Bar Harvest Inspired Beer Menu

“A New Day” made with Tanqueray 10 Gin, Lemon Juice, Pomegranate-Lemongrass-Cardamom Syrup & Laguanitas IPA-Ginger Beer Foam

Black Frairs Pint The Pierre Hotel Two E Bar Harvest Inspired Beer Menu

“Black Friar’s Pint” made with Bulldog Gin, Spanish Sherry, Guinness Reduction, Agave Nectar & Egg White

The Fig & Tan, a rich combination of Guinness reduction infused with figs and cloves paired with velvety notes of Mount Gay Black Barrel rum is another crowd pleaser, and hardly beer-like in taste (if you’re a fan of something a bit spicy, you’ll love this). The Non-Tartle offers a tangy concoction of 12 year-old Glenfiddich, lime & lemon juice, simple syrup, dried lemon verbena & Erdinger beer foam.

And like coffee foam, the taste can be extra delicious if the nitrogen-created beer foam, which often serves as an extra oomph to the palate, dances with various other flavors. Hasan is all about democracy when it comes to making his drinks, and doesn’t really differentiate between beers and wines because they’re versatile enough to be creative.

The drinks retail for $16, and are surprising but never too over-the-top in their tastes despite ingredients like Maggi Seasoning and Worcestershire Sauce. Cheers!


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Exploring Kiku, the Art of the Japanese Garden in New York

Affordable Luxury Kiku Exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden

Published on October 13th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

5 Exploring Kiku, the Art of the Japanese Garden in New York

To be honest, I was not expecting much from the KIKU: The art of the Japanese Garden Exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden.

I went on a dreary Sunday with my family because I knew the Botanical Garden had a solarium, which meant we could duck beneath a glass ceiling and brush shoulders with lanky palm trees in the worst case scenario.

Kiku Exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden

A particularly full and voluptuous chrysanthemum at KIKU

Kiku Exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden

Flatter-than-pancakes lilypads at the Botanical Garden-

Kiku Exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden

Kiku Exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden

A slice of Paris in New York: the jewel-like koi pond

But I ended up falling in love with what Wikipedia calls a “subshrub”: the chrysanthemum. Originating in China in the 15th century, the chrysanthemum was initially cultivated as an herb. In fact, its disk florets were often boiled and used in teas, and sometimes eaten as a delicacy. In many ways, the chrysanthemum was more bourgeois than imperial, so it took me a bit by surprise to find out that when it was introduced to Japan in the 8th century A.D., the Emperor adopted the flower as his official seal.

The Kiku Exhibit is regal, sumptuous and a display of dazzling architecture and order.

Flowers cascade in boat-like formations. Giant, Gulliver-like chrysanthemums in various colors were all over the exhibit; there were formations the size of flotillas and all grown from a single stem (all 140 flowers grown from a single stem!), and some colors like a deep, rich Wimbledon-like purple I had never seen before.

As one would expect from the Japanese, the arrangement of the chrysanthemums was systematic and beautifully spaced. Architectural symmetry echoed everywhere.

When we finished the exhibit we went outside to see the koi pond studded with white and blue lotus flowers, and the velvety black waters sparkled against the shiny solarium, despite the overcast. I felt as though I was in Paris.

The pop up restaurant offers Japanese-style cuisine and sake, in case you want to top off your experience in authentic culinary fashion. And we were so tempted to get an annual membership (a family membership is just $100) so you can visit any number of times throughout the year (parking is gratis with a membership; otherwise it is $15 each time).

For more information, visit this site.


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Sailing in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Affordable Luxury John Pennekamp State Park Key Largo

Published on October 11th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

10 Sailing in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Two new parents, a toddler and a glass-bottom boat.

That was how the first morning of our Florida Keys vacation began, in Key Largo. Setting sail to get a closer peek at the third largest coral reef in the world is not a bad way to start a vacation. Although it is hurricane season, there are no ominous clouds; a clean sheet of pale cloudless blue smiles at us.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo is popular among the diving and snorkeling crowd. The first undersea park in the United States boasts a pale white sunken algae-coated statue of Jesus Christ with outstretched arms, and is extremely popular with divers. Unlike the Belize version (that statue of Christ is accessible only by deep-sea divers), the Key Largo version welcomes snorkelers and is an aquatic landmark that everyone—including the Lonely Planet Guidebook– seems to know about.

John Pennekamp State Park Key Largo

John Pennekamp State Park Key Largo

The “Spirit of Pennekamp”

John Pennekamp State Park Key Largo

John Pennekamp State Park Key Largo

Mangroves flank a narrow creek

John Pennekamp State Park Key Largo

Our skipper gives us the scoop

We opted for a glass-bottom boat simply because it is the more prudent thing to do when you have a 15 month-old baby. Snorkeling would have been beyond gorgeous, but my toddler gets strawberry pink when exposed to more than a few continuous minutes of sunshine, aloe or no aloe.

The docent at the front desk seemed to agree.

“The snorkeling trips are at least four hours long,” he said, cautiously eyeing Erika, who was fascinated by some brightly-colored floaties in the store. “You may just want to stick with the boat.”

But any trip that gives you some insight into the breadth of John Pennekamp State Park is a good idea; like the sunken statue of Christ with peaceful outstretched arms, the Park is a protective figure. This is the only living coral reef in the country, after all. During our two-hour glass-bottom boat ride, Spirit of Pennekamp, into the middle of the ocean, I saw rare brain coral, sparkling violet wrasse swimming past us like brightly-clad chorus girls, richly-tinted parrot fish, and ribbons of polyps and coral branches.

We took the trip at 9:15 am, and there were only two other people signed up for the excursion, so we pretty much had the entire boat to ourselves. Sailing past brown, red and white mangroves (I couldn’t tell which was which), we quickly switched from a small creek-like view to full-blown ocean, when the boat picked up speed. When we were out in the middle of the ocean, we saw over sized pelicans sitting resolutely on poles, seagulls swooping up and down and birds plunging into the ocean like yo-yos.

Key Largo Christ StatueSnorkeler Katherine Wieland examines the Christ of the Abyss statue in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo, Fla. This nine-foot-tall, 4,000 pound replica of a similar statue, located in the waters off the coast of Italy is submerged in 25 feet of water at Key Largo Dry Rocks. Photo by Stephen Frink/Florida Keys News Bureau

john Pennekamp State Park Beach Key Largo Florida Keys

A beach at John Pennekamp State Park

john Pennekamp State Park Beach Key Largo Florida Keys

John Pennekamp Coral Reef STate Park Baby Erika

It was hard not to feel excited as we felt the salt breeze on our skin. Erika loved the glass-bottom boat ride and kept pointing to the various colored fishes we saw: Blue! Green! Yellow! I felt as though I was reading her a book by Dr. Seuss.

On a clear day (and there are too many too count here), you’ll see endangered sea turtles, which are making a comeback in Florida, and more fish than you’ll have bargained for. As I was on the deck watching Erika enjoy herself and enjoying the salty breeze, I realized that this was possibly the best spot in the world to practice fishing.

Bryan, our skipper, agrees. “This is the best place in the world to hook and cook,” he chuckles, adding that you’re not allowed to fish in the park itself. But Key Largo and Islamorada are perhaps the best spots in the world for grouper. There is a sense of great relaxation here, and no one seems to be in any great hurry. A far cry from schizophrenic cab drivers, elbow-shoving subway riders and steely skyscrapers.

John Pennekamp State Park is a great idea for any naturalist and lover of the outdoors. Glass-bottom boat tours are $24 per person.



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Things to Do With the Family on Your Day Off

Affordable Luxury Mushrooms at a Wales Food Festival

Published on October 8th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

7 Things to Do With the Family on Your Day Off

When the weekend rolls around, it’s cause for minor celebration. This is the time we reserve purely for family: tweets, Intagram, writing deadlines are not permissible excuses (but Instagramming that red velvet pancake is totally within bounds).

Since we live in the Tri-State area, there’s no shortage of activities we can do with baby Erika. The American Museum of Natural History, parks and botanical gardens, mini golf are all fair game as far as family activities go.  Of late, since Erika has been such a travel bug and is naturally curious (our walks make her hone her rapidly growing vocabulary: Flower! Leaf! Bug! Rose! Tree! are all exclamation points; there’s nothing she doesn’t get excited about).

I know that sometimes, it’s not always easy to think of new places to take the children – especially when you have a day off yourself and want to spend some time doing something you all want to do. Here are a few suggestions that have worked for us.

Global Food Festivals

Mushrooms at a Wales Food Festival


Wild mushrooms at a Welsh Food Festival

Most of us would love the chance to nosh a fresh, crisp taco and savor a farm-made blueberry pie. For the simple reason that food is universal, and unites us all (including kids), food festivals are an ideal way to spend time with the family.

We’ve taken her to food festivals on Hawai’i, The Big Island, and now want to expand her mind to see how the rest of the world celebrates the art of street food (fine dining  doesn’t have too much meaning for a toddler, or for young kids in general). Give them a mariachi band, streamers, and a sense of festivity and color and they’ll eat up the scene. Most tourism boards have a section on food festivals, from Jordan, Mexico to Wales (some great ideas are here , on the Visit Wales site).

The Zoo

Giraffe at the Bronx Zoo What to do with your family on day off

A baby giraffe at the Bronx Zoo (photo via Flickr)

Zoos are, of late, a slightly controversial topic as there are an increasing number of people who believe that keeping animals captive isn’t necessarily the right thing to do. What people don’t always realize is that zoos are there, for one, to help remind us that we need to keep our animal cousins in mind and also they help to conserve and breed species that might otherwise go extinct. Zoos still play an important role.

If you’re considering a day out, you should definitely be considering going to the zoo, because not only are you supporting all the above mentioned causes, but you’re supporting your kids’ education by teaching them about things they didn’t know.


The natural beauty of the world begs to be seen and what better way to see it that at a leisurely pace relying on nothing but your body to carry you. Hiking is a liberating experience if you find the right place, as unlike driving at speed in a car, you’ve got all the time in the world to drink in your surroundings.

Ideally you want to choose somewhere that is suitable for your kids and when you have landed on a location, choose a route that can be taken by the weakest walker in your group. You don’t want to end up carrying tired children along a mountain path.

Botanical Gardens

Kiku Japanese Chrysanthemum Exhibit at the BRonx Botanical Gardens


A chrysanthemum from KIKU, the Japanese floral exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens

This past weekend, we took the toddler to the New York Botanical Gardens, and it was a huge aha moment for Erika because she’s only seen lawn flowers. The Japanese KIKU exhibit pays homage to the chrysanthemum, and she has begun to understand that flowers can come in so many species. If hikes are not your thing, the gardens could be.

If you have any good ideas for family days out,  please drop your suggestions in the comments section below.


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Bay Harbor Key Largo: a Hidden Gem in the Upper Florida Keys

Featured Bay Harbour Lodge Key Largo

Published on October 4th, 2013 | by Charu Suri

3 Bay Harbor Key Largo: a Hidden Gem in the Upper Florida Keys

The drive from Miami to Key Largo was as smooth as the second movement of a Mozart symphony. While Matt and I were not jet lagged, the baby was sound asleep, even after walking what seemed like three miles inside the Miami International Terminal to get our rental car (far, far away in another galaxy). Once we pulled out of the parking lot in our stylish Mini Cooper, which I commented looked like the “MAC version of a car” (think over-sized speedometers, hip interiors and stylish knobs), we zoomed on US-1 towards Key Largo.

For now, I had to be content with a velvety black horizon, my imagination, as well as a cup of late night Starbucks coffee. After about an hour, we arrived in a town that looked exactly as I had imagined a seaside town would look like: spacious, plenty of docks, stores selling key lime pie and hotels and motels with garish neon lights.

Bay Harbor Lodge Key Largo

Traveling in a Mini Cooper is like getting into the MAC version of a car

Bay Harbor Lodge Key Largo

The view from our Waterfront Cottage at Bay Harbor

Bay Harbor Lodge Key Largo

Each room has its own patio, outdoor seating area complete with parasol

Bay Harbor Key Largo was where we were booked for two nights, and I was excited because I did not want anything too cookie cutter. This smelt and felt like a bed and breakfast-style lodge, at least that’s what I gathered from speaking to the concierge over the telephone. Florida’s quirky neon signs made Bay Harbor easy to spot.  We pulled into the driveway and gratefully plunged into our thick, cozy bed.

Our waterfront cottage had a separate entrance, and filled with wicker chairs, summery prints and a cozy bed. The cottage is perhaps the best type to book if you’re traveling with a family because it features its own sitting area, a glass coffee table, as well as a separate bedroom as well as kitchen area for those who want to prepare your fresh foods and salads (there was a generous fruit basket waiting for me in my room—the mango had summer’s juiciness in it).

Bay Harbor Lodge Key Largo

Erika enjoys her garden and the bougainvillea life

Bay Harbor Lodge Key Largo

You can dangle your legs off the pier as though you own the place

Bay Harbor Lodge Key Largo

Rooms are spacious and flowery

Free breakfast scones at Bay Harbor Lodge Key Largo

Free breakfast scones and coffee made for a truly Bed & Breakfast type experience

In the morning, we woke up to a uncluttered view of our own private wooden pier and a shady Coconut Grove, complete with vacant deck chairs. Florida during the off-season is appealing, and we hogged the beach that morning as though were lodge Czars.

Fresh-baked scones and coffee make for a beautiful morning perk. While it is not a typical bed and breakfast (there’s no seated dining area), it’s remarkably close, and the caring staff will wander around the property to make you feel at home. Other perks are the kayaks and paddleboats available to residents, absolutely gratis. You just need to sign a form at the Reception, and off you go to kayak into the sunset! Paddleboating with Erika was a huge ball of fun…she loved being out in the middle of the ocean and laughed every swooping pelican she saw.

Bar Harbor is exactly what an affordable luxury stay should be. Cottage rates start from $195 during off-peak season and increase during the holidays, but you receive a delicious breakfast, gratis coffee, a spacious room with kitchenette, free kayaks and boats and a gorgeous beach all to yourself.

If that’s the style of off-season in the Upper Keys, I’ll take it.

Bay Harbor Lodge
97702 Overseas Highway
Key Largo, FL 33037
1-800-385-0986/ 305-852-5695


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