Saturday, March 22, 2008

It's a Go: Belgium in June/July

On Thursday evening, I sat in front of a glowing computer screen in our dark upstairs, the girls sleeping across the hall, John watching basketball downstairs, and stared at the "Book It Now" button on Wishing I had a crystal ball. Buying airline tickets is such a gamble.

Of course you want to find the lowest price, some airline offering an impossibly low introductory fare (which we did in 2004 with a $776/person roundtrip Dulles-Guangzhou on Northwest!). You can find some good fares, just not during high season, which is the only time we can go now that we are bound to the public school calendar. The more I searched, the more I realized that there was pretty much no way to find tickets under a thousand bucks a pop. Ouch. Owww-eeeeeeeee. But...John just accepted a promotion at work, which means he will go from a nine-month to a twelve-month contract starting this July. Who knows when we'll be able to get away for three weeks again? It's now or never, exchange rate be damned. Better to take a bit longer paying than kick ourselves for not going.

Interestingly, direct flights didn't necessarily cost more than flights with several stops. After our experiences at Heathrow in 2007, we decided we preferred a direct flight. It's not that there's anything wrong with Heathrow specifically, but killing time at an airport with two little kids is just not all that much fun for the kids or for mom & dad. Add to that the fact that transferring from plane to plane involves going through this long security line, where you are limited to one piece of hand baggage, period-end-of-discussion. Both times, we saw travelers pleading to carry a purse AND a laptop, only to be told that unless the laptop fit into the purse, the traveler was out of luck.

It came down to two flights: Continental from Newark to Brussels was the cheapest, but involves getting up to our New Jersey family, possibly hiring an airport limo, adding six driving hours to the travel time...we nixed it and ended up going with the obvious choice: a United/Lufthansa flight from Dulles to Brussels which is known as "the bus" because so many people going between the capital of the USA and the capital of the EU travel that way.

Booking through or DOUBLES the fare because you are also paying for the protections many travelers want, especially the option of canceling or changing the flight (that crystal ball again). John and I talked about it, and decided to book on and trade the security for the 50% discount.

The only question left...when should we push the Book Now button? We had hoped that the new open skies agreements would drive transatlantic carriers into a price war. Still, halfway through March, prices had gone up a little bit, and several travel sites were warning that prices would continue to go up because of fuel surcharges related to the high price of oil these days.

I padded downstairs, peeked in the den, told John what I'd found on, and we chatted briefly. I went back upstairs, looked at everything one more time, double and triple checked the dates and times of the flights, the rules and restrictions...

And I pushed the Book It Now button.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Point Pleasant, NJ

John's hometown is Point Pleasant, New Jersey (the boro, not the beach, if you must know). Before we ever met, I had been to Point Pleasant with high school friends. We enjoyed the low-key boardwalk, not nearly as urban as Sleazeside (oops--sorry--Seaside) Heights. Who could have known that I would end up walking down that boardwalk with my husband and two kids, years later?

Last weekend, John was inducted into his high school alumni hall of fame, so we went up for the big shindig, which was at Crystal Point, a highfalutin banquet facility overlooking the Manasquan River. We stayed at the Crystal Point Inn, and will definitely stay there again. It's quiet, nicely appointed, comfortable, and right around the corner from my in-laws. They have a couple of efficiencies, too. Since my parents were coming from Arizona for the festivities, we booked an efficiency (basically a suite with a full kitchen, for just over $100/night) and a double room next door so they could hang out in our living room but have their own place to chill out as well. I would DEFINITELY recommend this place, in or out of season. If you visit during the high season it is more expensive, obviously, but really not bad. Compared with the Amethyst Motel, it is a palace for the same price, just because it's not walking distance from the beach. Big whoop! And as the in-laws get older, it makes visits so much more pleasant when we have our own home base. We've heard that the owners have a variance to build condos, but that they won't be doing it until 2010, so for now we have our home away from home when visiting the Jersey relatives.

A quick rundown of things to do in Point Pleasant...
  • visit the boardwalk along the Atlantic seashore, duh! Play Skee-Ball, put the kiddies on the little rides (in season only), eat some great pizza or seafood, visit the Aquarium, find seashells in the sand (off season, the beach is season you have to pay admission to get onto the privately owned beach access, which I have NEVER agreed should even be legal...). You should know that there's a loyalty issue in terms of whether you go to Jenkinsons or Martells. If you're not a local (which means you are a "Benny") then just go wherever you feel like it, but because of family connections, we have to either go to Jenkinsons or lie and say we did. Oh - and the lemonade is to die for, especially in summer!
  • take a walk in the formerly rundown but quickly quaintifying downtown of Point Pleasant Beach. Just west of the NJ Transit station, the downtown is home to some great little boutiques, beachy gift shops, antique stores, and Rudy's Restaurant Supply, where you don't have to be a restaurant owner to get great prices on some awesome cooking stuff!
  • Go to Muellers Bakery in Bay Head, where John's Oma used to work with Mrs. Mueller (pronounced "Muller"). John swears by the crumb cake. I like the apple fritters and the girls like the frosted sugar cookies. We always stop into Muellers on the way out of town for great coffee and baked goodies for the trip home. I first went there when I babysat for two kids in the summer of '86...I remember the family rented a 10-bedroom house across the street from the beach, and I was so impressed that I got my own room! I turned 16 that summer, during the 2 weeks I was a "summer girl." Nice memories--so weird to think that E & B probably have their own kids by now--they were 2 and 5 then!
  • Restaurants: Far and away the best is Red's Lobster Pot, but you need a reservation and it's a small place. My parents tried the Marina Grille, which used to be Peterson's, and said it was the best salmon they'd ever had. It's right across Route 70 from the Crystal Point Inn. We also ate at Harpoon Willy's on Saturday night, which sounds like an all-you-can-eat-fryathon, but it's actually got a FANTASTIC menu including several different choices of raw oysters, and some tantalizing specials. I had a lobster and fennel salad that arrived with an entire claw's worth of lobster meat on top. Yum--love seafood. The girls tried raw oysters too--JieJie not so much, but MeiMei gobbled down two of them.
  • BREAKFAST--you must go to Breakfast At The Cove in Brielle!!! We call it "the Brielle Omelet place" because the menu is enormous and there are over 100 different omelets you can try! They also do all kinds of things with french toast, waffles, pancakes, potato pancakes, you name it. We love to go there with John's dad when we visit. My mother-in-law sleeps in, so for the girls, it's special time with gramps. I like the Bird of Paradise, which is a croissant done french-toast style with loads of fresh fruit on top. The girls get the Mickey Mouse pancakes, with pumpkin batter if they have it (which they usually do).

That's all for now, but if you are ever interested in doing the Jersey Shore with kids, one of the best family boardwalks by far is the one in Point Pleasant. Wildwood (near Atlantic City) is also very nice, especially the wide, wide beaches, but that's way far south. You can take the train from Point Pleasant into New York City if the beach is too quiet for ya :)


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

6,000 Hits!

It's become a tradition to post some kind of multimedia file every time we reach another 1,000 hits, and I'm really excited about this podcast:

WMRA-FM's Virginia Insight presents Bio Rhythms

Program description:
What happens to your inner clock when you cross too many times zones too often?
How do frequent changes in schedule, like rotating shift work, affect your health?
Biologist Gene D. Block has been studying those questions for more than three decades. In this podcast, he explains the latest research. This program was originally broadcast on January 31, 2007.

For anyone who has ever wondered if there are ways to mitigate the worst effects of jet lag, take heart! Dr. Block has some great practical tips you can put to use on your very next trip. I also recommend the advice available at, though I have to say that I tried the medication on our 2002 China trip and didn't see where my adjustment was any easier than John's--and he didn't take the medication!

will post on last week's NJ trip later this week...lots to share!

You can search FTJ for past posts, e.g. China info...