Crome Photography: Blog http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog en-us (C) Crome Photography bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) Mon, 19 May 2014 21:37:00 GMT Mon, 19 May 2014 21:37:00 GMT http://crome.zenfolio.com/img/s/v-5/u668436683-o440490012-50.jpg Crome Photography: Blog http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog 120 80 First Communion http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/5/first-communion Crome Photography Last Sunday, we were invited to join our friend's daughter's Holy Communion mass. It was a nice ceremony with 19 children participating in the third of the seven Catholic sacraments. Mass was especially nice, since the edges of the aisles were decorated with the names of the children that were celebrating their First Communion. Also, to watch the young girls and boys walk down towards the altar was incredibly sentimental.  Also, our friend's daughter was wearing her mother's own First Communion gown. Too bad the boys were limited to white dress shirts and ties! The girls are so much lovelier in their pretty dresses and veils.

Congratulations to the children who received their first holy communion on Sunday!

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/5/first-communion Mon, 19 May 2014 21:37:12 GMT
Neighborhood cuties http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/10/neighborhood-cuties Crome Photography I had the pleasure of grabbing a few shots of the wonderful children that Rome has made friends with this year at his bus stop. They're so precocious, amazing, and naturally photogenic, you can't help but have fun with all of them. Children are so spontaneous and mercurial in their moods that, as a photographer, it can be challenging to get that "perfect" shot. If you're a perfectionist, just forget it---kids won't always be as accommodating as their adult counterparts. When I look at other photography sites with family and children galleries, I'm usually half-amazed that they can get the money shot. The other part of me wonders what type of sorcery they used to convince the children to give them a decent smile. As a parent, I know that it's not easy to coax your child into giving you a shot that you'd be proud to show off to your friends and family. So, how do I deal with it? Just let the kids have fun and be themselves. You'll get some of the most unexpected and fantastic pictures that's guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Oh, and you can use some of the funny ones at their wedding reception as they get older. Crome Photography

This week, I had a blast with my friends, Jackie & Amy, who were absolutely awesome for allowing me some camera time with their children. They were all just a joy to work with, and I know I'd love to grab some shots of them again. Also, I'm glad the weather held up this afternoon and the other day---it's hard to get pictures in the rain! 

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/10/neighborhood-cuties Fri, 18 Oct 2013 03:07:12 GMT
Memorial Day Weekend 2013 http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/5/memorial-day-weekend-2013 Now that Rome's getting older, my husband and I decided to teach him why we celebrate different holidays throughout the year. Because we're celebrating Memorial Day this weekend, we took a short trip to Arlington National Cemetery to pay our respects to the graves of many of our nation's heroes who find their final resting place at the sanctuary. From our place, the drive is about half an hour and we took the scenic route by driving down George Washington Parkway so we can see the view of the Potomac River on the way there. Parking at the cemetery is pretty much non-existent, like all places around D.C., so we headed the back way through Fort Meyer Army base to park at the installation. What's nice about that perk is that there's tons of parking and it's adjacent to the cemetery. Also, it's not too far from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but some distance from the Visitor's Center. So, in case you want to find a specific grave, you can look online at their website to find the location, instead of walking all the way to the center to wait in line behind others who are doing the same. 

On our first visit to Arlington, we didn't walk all the way to President John F. Kennedy's grave, so I told Rome and my husband that we'd make the trek today, despite the crowds and cooler-than-average weather. The crowds weren't too bad, but it was nearly impossible to see the changing of the guards ceremony and there was a large biker gathering at one of the sections. President Kennedy's grave sits atop a grassy hill overlooking a lovely site of Washington D.C. with the Washington monument clearly visible in the backdrop. His brothers, Ted and Robert, are buried nearby, but we didn't have time to look for their graves. Rome had asked who was "sleeping under the tombstone with the fire," and I told him that one of our nation's most beloved presidents lies there with his wife and 2 infant children who died young (one was a stillbirth). Rome concluded that he was very important and we told him that he was and he would learn more about him later. 

President Kennedy's grave is surprisingly very simple, as well as the Eternal Flame that sits atop of the grave markers. However, its simplicity and design fits well with the grave's architecture. On the other side of the grave, a curved marble (or granite) stone surrounds it with a portion of Kennedy's speech during his inauguration in 1961. From where we parked, President Kennedy's grave site is a little bit of a walk and curves uphill, but it's not that bad of a hike if you've got proper walking shoes. 

Because it's Memorial Day weekend, the thousands of graves are decorated with small American flags that were placed by The Old Guard, which is the special Army unit in charge of the ceremonies and maintenance of the graves. Each year, about 1,300 soldiers from the unit walk among the 360,000 tombstones placing flags into the ground using their boots as measurement (30 cm from the headstone). When you consider the sheer size of the cemetery, I can understand why the commanding officer uses that many soldiers to place the flags during the Memorial Day weekend. The soldiers place a flag on the grave and salute it, giving them proper honors. One of my husband's former soldiers is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and we were able to pay a visit to his grave and pay our respects. 

So even though Memorial Day weekend is a weekend for a family getaway, BBQs, picnics, trips to the beach, parades, and an extra day off work (in some cases, 2), it's also a good time to reflect on why we have a national day of remembrance to celebrate. As a military family, we've had friends and known people who have passed away from conflicts in war, so this weekend is a poignant reminder that we shouldn't always take our freedom and liberty for granted. It's also a great weekend to show Rome where some of our heroes lie and how to pay our respect to them. 

 

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/5/memorial-day-weekend-2013 Sun, 26 May 2013 03:24:32 GMT
Sakuri Matsuri Festival 2013 http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/4/sakuri-matsuri-festival-2013 Last Saturday was the Sakura Matsuri Festival (Cherry Blossom Festival) in Washington D.C., so we decided to check out the largest Japanese festival in the U.S. I'm down for anything Japanese, but really, I was there for the food. Oh, the glorious food. Fortunately, my husband heard from the radio that this would be a large turnout and it was recommended to leave early, so we hit up the metro around 9am and found that it was already packed with locals and tourists alike. Our stop was at the Federal Triangle metro, which was perfect for travelgoers to the area; they were having the Sakura Matsuri Festival as well as the National Cherry Blossom parade to celebrate the end of the festivities. Most people, it seemed, were there for the parade rather than the Japanese festival. 

As with any other festival, a big part of the draw is the food. Sakura Matsuri had over 25 food vendors and had everything for even the pickiest of eaters. I found an awesome takoyaki stand and feasted on food I hadn't had since I was a kid. My husband loved the steamed pork buns, onigiri (rice balls), and the grilled yakitori, but if you weren't willing to sample any Japanese flavors, they did have a few American stands with funnel cakes and hot dogs. Honestly though, why eat that at a Japanese festival? 

Another wonderful aspect of festivals are the performances from local and visiting groups from Japan, since it gives everyone an insight to the unique and beautiful culture of the country. Nen Daiko, a local group from Fairfax, Viriginia gave a spectacular drum performance that had my kid asking for a drum set right after. The other crowd favorite was a large traditional drumming group from the University of Tokyo. We watched their performance, but I didn't get any shots, since it was really crowded and I had my hands full with...food (namely, grilled octopus legs). 

If you're into shopping for cute things or handmade Japanese crafts, there's a handful of stands for the "kawaii" (cute) lover in you. I'm not particularly interested in the larger dolls, but I did grab a handful of small vinyl figures for my brother and myself, plus Rome managed to bamboozle us into buying him a plushie. There were tons of anime-related plushies from popular characters like Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, and Dragon Ball Z. My kryptonite comes in the form of Japanese stationery and they had an actual "kawaii" stand selling nothing but stationery! Talk about a shopper's delight for me; I was able to grab sets from Kamio, Q-Lia, San-X, and, of course, Sanrio. That was my particular highlight. 

Sakura Matsuri also featured performances from J-Pop artists from Japan, and crowds gathered to watch Magverry perform on the stage. I'm not really into J-Pop, but it was pretty cool to listen to Japanese rock music while I mingled around the various stands. I missed the cosplay anime fashion show, which was supposed to take place later that afternoon, but I saw enough young people dressed as their favorite anime character or carefully wrapped in beautiful Japanese kimonos. Popular cosplayers were dressed as various Naruto characters and I did see a handful of Lolita-goth costumes that I imagine would be popular in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

 

This year's Sakura Matsuri festival was a huge success and we're definitely going back next year. If you do plan to go, the cost is $5 per person while children 12 and under are free. Because they shut down Pennsylvania Ave. between the White House and the FBI Headquarters, it's advised to take the Metro or another form of public transportation rather than drive. I wouldn't recommend driving through D.C. during large festivities, because roads are often blocked off and parking is next to non-existent. Also, make sure you bring a fat wallet and an empty stomach---you're going to need both if you plan on doing any shopping or feasting on the excellent food. 

 

See you at next year's festival!

 

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/4/sakuri-matsuri-festival-2013 Tue, 16 Apr 2013 02:16:12 GMT
Spring is here http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/4/spring-is-here After a few brief months of cold weather, Spring has finally arrived in the Northern Virginia area! My favorite blossoms are out---the cherry blossoms. Although, I didn't make it to the peak blossoming of the Japanese cherry trees down at the Tidal Basin in D.C., I promised myself that I'd go next year with Rome. This year, they reached their peak April 9 and it was uncommonly hot that day (in the lower 90's), so I skipped out and figured they'd have other blossoms in our immediate area.

 

Fortunately, they did, and I was able to grab a few shots of the pink (and varying colors) of the blooms at the nearby Mount Vernon Estate the other day. Because I grew up in Japan, seeing these blossoms strikes a chord in my heart and it reminds me of my childhood. Not to sound mushy or anything, but I really, really, really adore cherry blossoms.

 

The best time to visit the cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin area of Washington D.C. varies each year, due to the weather, so it's best to check the http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/ website in order to determine when you should visit. I know thousands of locals and tourists alike descend in the area to see the blooms, but another alternative would be to see the blossoms at other sites, such as the Botanical Garden or those around the Washington Monument. Also, take advantage of other festivals and activities that are offered around the same time. There's just loads to do when the blossoms come out.

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/4/spring-is-here Sat, 13 Apr 2013 02:25:59 GMT
I miss you, Columbia, South Carolina http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/3/downtown-columbia-sc The weather here in Virginia makes me miss the warm, sultry, and year-round hot weather of Columbia, South Carolina, where we lived for three years. I didn't think I'd miss the place as much as I do now, but the cooler Virginian weather is making me crave one of my favorite cities in the country. I don't think I ever did an in-depth review of the place, now that I think of it. It's sort of difficult to, considering that there's so many wonderful aspects and places around Columbia, I don't think one piddly little blog post could describe what I love about the city. Anyway, I'll just start with downtown Columbia.

 

Home to the University of South Carolina, you'll find a whole lot of downtown digs that cater to college students, such as bars, clubs, and coffee shops, but you'll also find some unique clothing and candy shops and restaurants with owners so friendly, it feels as though you've known them your entire lives. That's basically what I love about Columbia---it's genuine sense of friendliness and warmth. When we first moved to the city, I couldn't figure out why the city's motto was "famously hot," but after surviving our first summer, I found out it had to do more with the weather than its Civil War history with General Sherman. A brief history tidbit: General Sherman was the Union soldier who burned a handful of cities in the South during the American Civil War (1861-1865). South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union, which prompted other states to secede and start the Civil War (among other things). Still, the burning of Columbia is controversial with some saying that the fire wasn't intentional, but others in the area, especially Southerners say otherwise. Anyway, I still think that their city's motto has something to do with the weather, Civil War history be damned. 

Ever heard of Hootie and the Blowfish? A musical band with a string of hits popular around the 90's? Songs like "Only Wanna Be with You" and "Time" are some of the hits that come to mind when I think of the band. The band was formed when its members were attending the University of South Carolina back in the mid 80's. Once in awhile, Darius Rucker, their lead singer, will head back to Columbia and play at the State Fair or at impromptu sessions at some of the bars. If you walk around the Five Points area of downtown Columbia, you'll run into a neat little homage that includes a sculpture for the band.

 

Some of the great points of downtown Columbia summarized:

  • It's very walkable and you'll find a number of restaurants, bars, and shops within a short walking distance in the Five Points district.
  • Visit the Horseshoe area of the University of South Carolina, which is home to some quiet parks and is shaded by majestic oak trees.
  • There's a number of preserved historic homes in the general vicinity.
  • Art galleries and museums will keep you and your family occupied.
  • Richland Public County Library is a fantastic place to read books and stay cool during the hotter months (anywhere between May through October).

 

 

Once I find my external hard drive holding the stash of memories from Columbia, I'll put up more posts and pictures from Columbia. 

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/3/downtown-columbia-sc Sun, 17 Mar 2013 01:19:55 GMT
World of Coca Cola http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/1/world-of-coca-cola You simply can't go to Atlanta and not visit the World of Coca-Cola, the museum strictly devoted to all things related to the Coca-Cola Company. In case you didn't know, Atlanta's the home of its headquarters and you can actually get a peek at some of their newest products (or taste them). Naturally, Coca-Cola isn't going to share their top secret recipe for coke, but there's a cool little exhibit that sort of teases the visitors into thinking that they'll get to learn what makes coke so great of a soda pop. As an avid Sprite drinker, heading to the World of Coca-Cola was a real treat. You'll see why.

The World of Coca-Cola's right beside the Georgia Aquarium, which makes it convenient for visitors to head over to two fantastic places without worrying about distance, driving, parking, and all the little annoying urban headaches tourists usually have to go through. Prices are much cheaper than the aquarium and a bonus is that they offer free admission to active duty service members, retirees, and reservists of the U.S. Armed Forces. 'Course, dependents aren't free, but we still managed to save $16 off from one additional member. Kids ages 3-12 aren't free, but those 2 and under are. 

There's a number of things to see and do inside the WOCC, but one of my favorite things to see inside the place was the amount of unique and beautiful art works devoted to Coca-cola. While my husband and Rome wandered around the different sections of the building, I spent a huge amount of time looking at the various art media displayed on the walls. They even have a large area devoted to letters written from fans all over the world and I read a few that were amazingly touching and sweet. A lot of people don't realize that the Coca-Cola company donates millions of dollars to various global communities through the Coca-Cola Foundation which supports education, recycling, water stewardship, and promoting a healthy lifestyle. When you buy their products, you help support their charities. Reading through some of the letters displayed, it's obvious that the company has made a remarkable difference in many people's lives. 

One of the best things about the visit goes to their special tasting section. If you've got kids, prepare for a massive sugar rush, especially if you let them get their hands on the disposable cups near the fountain drinks. The area is known as Coca-Cola Freestyle, which has these stylish computerized fountains that pour over 100+ products into your cup. Head over to the other section where you can taste over 60 different Coca-cola products found all over the world. I'd have to say the best one was the Smart Apple drink from China. It's a sparkling apple-flavored soda that's highly addictive. Good thing I can't get my hands on that here or else my fridge would be stocked with nothing but Smart Apple bottles. We let Rome have a taste of a few non-caffeinated drinks (Sprite and lime products), but that didn't prevent him from becoming hyper minutes later.  

 

Also included in the tour is a look at how they bottle their products, a trip to the secret vault, and Coke Hands, which is an interactive and neat display you can walk through. Right by the exit, you'll hit the Coca-Cola store, which is a fun place to browse and marvel at some of their hard-to-find products. I snagged a couple of magnets (which I collect), pencils, and other small stationery products. I'm not sure if you can just stop by the store without purchasing a ticket, but it might be possible, since you can enter the gift store from outdoors.

 

Be prepared to spend at least 2 hours inside of the World of Coca-Cola and don't forget to grab your free souvenir coke bottle before you head out. If only they sold the Smart Apple products from China, I'd probably buy that stuff in bulk!  

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) Georgia travel vacation http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/1/world-of-coca-cola Wed, 23 Jan 2013 01:59:12 GMT
Georgia Aquarium http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/1/georgia-aquarium One of Atlanta's highlights is their impressive Georgia Aquarium, located on 225 Baker Street NW, which is smack dab in the middle of downtown and right beside the Centennial Olympic Park. One of the reasons we chose our hotel was its proximity to the aquarium, which was right across the street from us and visible from our window view. The aquarium wasn't built the last time my husband and I were in Atlanta, but my brother-in-law had raved about it on a business trip the previous year. Housing over 120,000 animals and 8.5 million gallons of water, it's currently the largest aquarium in the world. Impressive, indeed.

'Course, the main reason why I wanted to visit the aquarium was to take a peek at their Beluga whale exhibit. There's a large tank filled with a handful of these gentle white creatures with plenty of spunk and personality. Their curiosity is often piqued by the hundreds of visitors who come to watch them each day, and I swear, I think they put on a little show by flipping around and coming close to children who press their faces up on the glass (which Rome did, despite my warnings). They're incredibly social creatures and, despite their numbers being nearly threatened, I hope that they flourish once again. 

The aquarium also offers a dolphin show, which we missed unfortunately, and a really cool underwater moving exhibit. Filled with some of the ocean's more formidable predators, like sharks, it's enough to impress even its most youngest visitors (and older ones too). Rome enjoyed it so much, he dragged his dad and I through it three times. It's longer than some of the other moving underwater tanks I've been to, but with its spectacular display of marine life, it's hard to get tired of it.

Since Rome absolutely loves visiting aquariums, it's definitely a treat to bring him to Atlanta to see the exhibits. He was particularly fascinated with the lionfish and its unique look. Unfortunately, I told him that we probably couldn't acquire one for a pet, since we don't have an aquarium at home, and I'm betting lionfish aren't exactly on display at your local pet store. I also had to convince him that they were venomous when threatened, so I'm not to keen on having something that's markedly harmful at my house. Better to see it at the aquarium or on tv, I gather. 

I can't really say when it would be the best time to visit the Georgia Aquarium, but I would recommend it during all the seasons. While we were admiring the animals, I heard a couple say that it gets 100x more crowded during the summer months when the kids are out in full swing for summer vacation. Luckily, it wasn't too bad when we went, but I can only imagine what it'd be like in the height of summer. Think Disney World in July. Well, maybe not that bad, but you get the picture. Pricing is a little on the high side ($35 for adults, $28 for children), but they offer 20% discount for military members and their families. Also, prices differ slightly, depending on which season you plan your visit, so just be aware that peak season rates may be applied. 

 

Overall, it's an enjoyable experience for the entire family, and certainly plan on spending a few hours inside, especially if you want to catch the dolphin shows. It's the perfect place to hang out to beat the summer heat in Atlanta.

 

 

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) travel vacation http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/1/georgia-aquarium Sun, 13 Jan 2013 03:02:41 GMT
Welcome to the ATL http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/12/ATLANTA Earlier this summer, we took a little trip from Columbia to Atlanta, also known as 'Hotlanta' to its residents, and spent the weekend checking out some of the city's favorite hot spots. Atlanta in the summer is, taking note of its nickname, unbearably hot and humid so it's recommended that tourists spend some time visiting their museums and various indoor attractions (which I'll get to in a later post). As one of the largest cities in the South, you can expect congestion at the major highway and its arteries at any time during the day, but more so on the weekends. However, it's not really that bad through downtown, especially around Peachtree Street and other parts closer to some of the tourist areas. 

We checked in at the Hilton Garden Inn located on Baker street at the Luckie Marietta district of Atlanta. We specifically chose it due to its proximity to the Georgia Aquarium and other nearby attractions. The contemporary hotel has a wonderful and pleasant staff, but I really liked the convenience of its location; across the street there's a cheap souvenir and deli, around the corner you'll find two great mom n' pop style eateries, and the Centennial Olympic Park is across the hotel (just blocks away) to help walk off some of that good food you'll definitely gorge on. Although the hotel has two on-site restaurants (Legal Sea Foods and The City View), they're kinda pricey, but most definitely worth a try. Also, the view from our hotel room was definitely worth the extra $$$ for splurging a little for comfort and convenience. We had a great view of downtown and part of the Centennial Park, plus we could see all the tourists heading towards the Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca Cola Museum across the street. Talk about people-gazing from your hotel room.

Rome looks out from the hallway window, overlooking the side of the hotel

If you're looking to see some architectural digs from the pre-Civil War era, you'll be a little bit disappointed in Atlanta, since the city's antebellum history was all but destroyed during the war. Unlike other cities such as Savannah and Charleston, which retain their Southern Belle charm, Atlanta's metropolitan is certainly more progressive and modern, with looming sky scrapers and large corporation buildings lining its skyline. You'll find the headquarters of Coca Cola, Delta Airlines, The Home Depot, CNN, AT&T, and UPS just to name a few. CNN was the only headquarters that I can recall that allows tours through its building. Coca Cola and some of the others aren't accessible to the general public.

 

What I do love about the city is its diversity and its major attractions, namely Six Flags Over Georgia, but we didn't take our son to the amusement park on our visit. He wasn't quite 4 yet and it was way too hot and muggy to drag a kid through a crowded park during the summer. We did take him to other places which will come at a later post.

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) travel vacation http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/12/ATLANTA Wed, 05 Dec 2012 04:26:29 GMT
Traveling to Virginia http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/10/traveling-to-virginia Dames Point Bridge, Jacksonville Fla. Because we were between duty stations, our traveling adventures took us from South Carolina, down to Florida for a spell, then up the trek to Virginia, our final destination. Considering that I didn't have much room in the car to maneuver my SLR camera, let alone drag it out the camera bag for "quick shots," I had to rely on my cell phone, which is much easier to grab from my purse or on the dashboard of the car. I don't normally take most of my shots via cell phone, save for Instagram-worthy pictures, but during this travel, my phone's SD card was almost filled to capacity. I had stored a lot of anonymous pictures that I didn't mind sharing with the general public.

 

My husband and I finally left Jacksonville on our wedding anniversary, which was fun and memorable in its own way, considering that we were on the move and making our way to Norfolk, Virginia to spend a few days with family members. Since Jacksonville's in the northeast portion of Florida, crossing into Georgia just takes a little under half an hour, and we made our way past the Dames Point Bridge (pictured above) to say goodbye. I guess driving back and forth from South Carolina and Florida (usually a 5 hr. trip) frequently over the past 3 years made me take seeing the bridge for granted, but I was a little nostalgic as we finally crossed it and made our way to Interstate 95, which would take us all the way up to Northern Virginia.

 

Even though I feel like I'm a seasoned out-of-State driver familiar with long hours of driving, the initial drive to our first stop, Norfolk, Virginia seemed exhausting and tiring. My husband and I split the hours driving one vehicle (the other had to be picked up in Norfolk), but I ended up with a huge headache the closer we reached North Carolina's border. Our first stop was Lumberton, North Carolina; a sleepy interstate town, Lumberton didn't really have much in terms of sightseeing or tourism, but it offered us a brief respite from our travels and a warm bed to sleep in at a local hotel. It was comforting to hear the soft Southern drawl of the front desk clerk and I, of course, took note of the famed Southern hospitality in the Carolinas. 

 

The rest of the drive into Virginia, after crossing the border from North Carolina, was unassuming, but I began to admire the change of scenery and its foliage. Florida and Georgia, and much of South Carolina, seem indistinguishable with the pine trees, but heading into North Carolina and Virginia, I noticed the varied changes in the trees off the side of the highway. I began to see beautiful oak, cypress, and maple trees with the colors of the fall season starting to change their leaves. Gorgeous. Fortunately for us, our son is a pro when it comes to road trips and we didn't have any issues with him during our travel. However, as any couple with small children knows, the trip takes longer due to frequent stops and rest breaks. Nor worries though, we made the drive up to Virginia in good time and in one piece. We hit Norfolk in the afternoon and made our way to my husband's aunt's house where we would be staying for a few days. My second trip to Norfolk, Virginia proved to be much more memorable than the first, it seems. More on that later!

 

**Pictures taken from my cell phone camera**

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) travel http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/10/traveling-to-virginia Wed, 31 Oct 2012 02:37:48 GMT
Filipino Pride Day 2012 http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/10/filipino-pride2012 Normally, I'd try to make my posts as chronologically accurate as possible, but my other shots from Atlanta are tucked away inside a desktop that's sitting in storage somewhere up north. Posts and pictures from Atlanta will have to come much later. For the meantime, I'll showcase some of the highlights from my hometown's Filipino Pride Day Festival 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida. It's Jacksonville's 3rd annual Filipino cultural festival honoring the diverse and unique heritage of its Filipino residents and I'm really glad my husband and I went along with his family to enjoy the festivities. As a Filipino-American, I'm down for anything that represents the country my family is from.

Held downtown at the Jacksonville Landing, Filipino Pride Day involves a lot of stands filled with vendors from all aspects of the city's Filipino community; there's representatives for healthcare, banks, insurance, sports, and my personal favorite---food. You can never go wrong with food, especially Filipino food. By the fountain, a stage was set up where the performers could show off their musical skills, such as the three girls from the picture above. I didn't catch their group's name, but I loved how they belted out a few pop songs a capella and accompanied with a Ukulele at times. Amazing young girls with a lot of promise and talent. In my opinion, the best part of their performance was singing a Katy Perry song with some beat box effects. These girls were just awesome. Maybe we'll see them on a talent show one of these days. 

As I've mentioned earlier, my favorite thing about festivals of any kind is FOOD. Yes, glorious food. With over 30 different vendors, I think they had about 10 (give or take) selling Filipino food; mostly favorites such as BBQ, lumpia, pansit, and lechon. The stand we picked offered a good number of delicious selections, which I admit, I had gorged myself silly on, but it was worth every penny. Part of the proceeds of that vendor's profits were going to the Philippines to help fund a new medical care facility in Cavite, so although the $10 platter was a little too much, it was going to a good cause. 

 

Since my husband and I don't live here at home, it's very rare that we get to experience a large Filipino cultural event like the one held in Jax. Our son was more interested in the two large bouncy houses and the water fountain, which he immersed himself in, despite our warnings not to go anywhere near the thing, but that's okay. What's important was that we were there to have fun with our family and run into a lot of familiar faces from our school days. It's funny seeing people's reactions when they see you and say, "Oh my God, I hadn't seen you since we graduated high school!" 

 

Oh, and did I mention that tons of people support the festival? It's wonderful to see that the Filipino Pride Day isn't just some inclusive event for Filipinos, but for everyone in Jacksonville's community. While waiting in line for a delicious halo-halo dessert, I met a young woman who recently moved to Florida from New York. She wasn't from Jacksonville, but had drove up from Naples, Florida to attend the event with her Filipino parents. She'd only been living in Florida for a week, but she gushed that she absolutely loved it down here and she'd rather be in Florida instead of California, the Mecca of most Filipino transplants in the U.S. Looking at her, I remembered a time when I used to loathe living in Jax., not because I was young and itching to get away from "home," but because I always felt that there wasn't anything much the city could offer. Obviously, I was wrong. Now that I'm older and have lived away from home all these years, I've learned to appreciate the little nuances that make Jacksonville unique and, surprisingly, culturally diverse. I know deep down that my husband and I would probably never settle back down here, but I know that we'll always be back to visit our family members who remain in the city. 

 

So, here's to a successful Filipino Pride Day 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida! I'm sure it'll be even more successful in the coming years and I hope we can make it back to visit one again. I'm certainly looking forward to it. 

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) Florida Jacksonville http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/10/filipino-pride2012 Sat, 06 Oct 2012 22:44:15 GMT
USS Yorktown (CV-10) http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/9/uss-yorktown1 For nautical and military buffs, a stop at the USS Yorktown (CV-10) museum in Mount Pleasant is a must see, as tours aboard Naval vessels are hard to come by for civilians. At 888 feet, the aircraft carrier is tiny by modern day standards, but it doesn't make it any less impressive. As a naval veteran and Navy brat, I'm always partial to sites and places connected to the Navy and couldn't resist dragging my husband and child to visit this awesome aircraft carrier perched on the waterfront of Charleston Harbor. Like most extensive tours, a good pair of walking shoes and comfortable clothes are needed. Ladies, if you plan to visit, think about wearing shorts or pants, as the strong harbor breezes are more likely to show off your unmentionables to the public.

Inside the hangar deck, you'll find rows of aircraft used during different war periods, particularly during WWII, but you'll also find large weapons used to shoot down enemy planes and defend the Yorktown. What our son especially enjoyed was a chance to climb into an open cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat and pretend to shoot down imaginary planes as he played with all the buttons on the console. Also, you'll find other planes such as the N-2 Stearman Kaydet, SBD Dauntless, TBM Avenger, and others preserved in the hangar bay. Walking through the interior, you can watch a short film on the aircraft carrier, view memorabilia from WWII, and visit the Medal of Honor Museum, also located on the hangar level. If you go up one deck, you can also check out their control room with the sonar equipment, but since the room is cloaked in a red light, it's sort of hard to take good pictures (unless you use flash, which I didn't).

Up on the flight deck, the Yorktown keeps a number of more modern aircraft, such as the F-4J Phantom and the F-18 Hornet, but it's most likely due to their size and its relation to always being parked on the flight decks of aircraft carriers. For those afraid of heights, I'd suggest staying away from the edge of the deck, as it's pretty easy to get vertigo or topple over the edge due to its short barriers. What I do like about the Yorktown is that they are handicap accessible and those needing assistance to reach other parts of the ship can use the designated elevators to check out different parts of the museum. I enjoyed walking around and checking out the airplanes and helicopters, but the view from above the flight deck overlooking the Ravenel Bridge and the Charleston Harbor were spectacular. After your walking tour, you can head back down to the hangar bay and grab a bite to eat at their snack bar for light snacks or head one deck below to the CPO Galley for a hot meal for $8.50. 

Sitting beside on the opposite pier of the USS Yorktown, you'll find the USS Laffey (DD-724), an Allen M. Sumner class destroyer commissioned in 1944. Considering its age and the battles it had gone through (22 Japanese bombers and Kamikaze pilots tried to take her down), it's amazing to see that she's very well preserved. Just behind the USS Laffey, you can visit the USS Clagmore, a Balao-class submarine that served 30 years during the Cold War. It wasn't used during WWII, because it had been commissioned after the war had ended.

 

While walking around USS Yorktown, I was left wondering if they did ghost tours at night, but I was told by one of the guides that they didn't and special permission would be needed for overnight stays on the ship. Charleston has enough ghost tours in the historical district, but it would be fantastic if the Yorktown provided a bit of nightly fun for paranormal lovers. If you do plan to visit the museum, it's open daily from 9 - 6:30pm and there are discounts for military members. Adult tickets are $18, Senior citizens and military members are $15, children ages 6-11 are $11, and free for 6 and under.

 

For more info visit their website: http://www.patriotspoint.org/

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) Charleston South Carolina http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/9/uss-yorktown1 Fri, 21 Sep 2012 03:17:49 GMT
Charleston's Toast Restaurant http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/9/charlestons-toast-rest Walking around Charleston trying to decide what to eat is a foodie's dream and nightmare; there's so many great establishments to choose from and that's where you'll run into problems. After parking in a garage and walking up and down the popular Meeting Street, my husband and I just couldn't decide on where to have dinner. There's so many unique individual restaurants, you're stuck trying to figure out which menu has the best entrees at the most reasonable prices. Of course, Charleston has its fair share of upscale eateries, complete with patrons dressed to the nines, but we were looking for something more casual and kid friendly, as usual.

 

Located on Meeting Street between Market and Cumberland Streets, you'll find Toast Restaurant, a homegrown establishment that proudly displays the NY Times clipping of its rave reviews. It's not very showy, in fact, but rather unpretentious with its simple green awning and chalkboard listing the specials of the day. When we walked in, we were warmly greeted by our host and given an explanation of some of Toast's signature dishes. What I really liked about the place was the staff's friendliness and their "it seems we've been friends for a long time" kind of attitude. I don't know if it's just Charleston, but after living in South Carolina nearly 3 years, I can attest to the state's well-deserved raves on Southern Hospitality. Charleston, it seems, just takes it to a whole new level. In a good way.

Perusing through Toast's menu, you'll find a number of Lowcountry favorites (shrimp and grits, old fashioned oat meal, and eggs Benedict Charleston style) and other items to make your mouth water, such as panko encrusted crab cakes, fried green tomatoes, and blackened catfish. For my starter, I just kept it simple with a light tuna salad on greens and ordered their crab cake sammie for dinner. My husband chose to get their grilled smoked pork chops, but skipped the appetizer. Our son had the homestyle mac n' cheese from their children's menu. I didn't get a good shot of my entree, but I can tell you it was as tasty as it sounds. The blue crab cake was pan seared and placed on kaiser rolls smothered with a peppery remoulade. Delish. Toast certainly knew how to impress me on a first "date," it seemed.


After stuffing ourselves silly with dinner, I'm surprised my husband and I both had enough room to try Toast's delectable desserts. Placed in a refrigerated turn-style, you can drool over the sweets placed on display. They had enough desserts to put cavities into all your teeth, and if you've got a sweet tooth like my husband, you'd probably want to order a slice of every pie they had on the shelf. I, for one, don't have much of a sweet tooth, but it didn't stop me from grabbing one of their red velvet cupcakes with toasted walnuts on top. It's creamy, light, and sweet enough to satisfy your sweet cravings. Perfect ending to a wonderful dinner. Absolutely no complaints at Toast's that night.

 

Although we didn't come for lunch or breakfast, Toast is known for having one of the best breakfast places in town and offering bottomless Mimosa's for $10 that lasts all day. Now, I don't think anyone would want to sit in a restaurant all day sipping on Mimosa's, but if you happen to visit Charleston with a group of friends, then scoot on over to Toast's for their hospitality, food, and all around feel-good ambiance.

 

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) South Carolina food restaurant http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/9/charlestons-toast-rest Wed, 05 Sep 2012 23:00:00 GMT
The Boardwalk Inn, Charleston South Carolina http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/9/the-boardwalkinn Just a short drive away from the historical district of Charleston you'll find The Boardwalk Inn, which is part of the award-winning Wild Dunes Resort, and an AAA Four Diamond rated hotel. Sounds fancy, no? Before we booked it, I was expecting a snooty staff catering to an upper middle to upper class clientele who walked around sipping cocktails and flashing their fancy luggage around. Actually, I was wrong; the staff was absolutely Charleston-esque hospitable and friendly and we were given the same amount of treatment as the other guests checking in. For the record, yes, I was right about most of the patrons I found at the property---they were rich AND walking around sipping delectable alcoholic beverages. Many by the pool seemed to be indulging themselves with the sweet tea Southerners favor in the South. Anyway, our hostess had us sit down at a large mahogany desk while she checked us into our room and handed me a thick notebook explaining the myriad of features found at the resort. I just thumbed through it all the while itching to head to the city to look for a good place to eat. Oh, so much to do with so little time. We were only there for 2 nights, but it's a quick weekend trip away from home.

The Boardwalk Inn is one of the many different types of properties found at the Wild Dunes Resort, which includes beach houses and condos for rent, along with regular hotel-type accommodations. We stayed at their hotel, so you'll find standard to deluxe rooms with excellent amenities. Downstairs, the lobby includes a lovely little reception area, well, two if you count the larger one near the fireplace. Pictured above is the waiting area you find right when you enter the building. There's also a dining room which offers lunch and dinner, but we never had a chance to check it out, because everyone knows that Charleston is known for having some of the best places to eat in the South. We definitely weren't planning on passing it up!

We were given the standard room that faced the front of the hotel, much to my disappointment. I was hoping to get a room that faced the dunes by the beach, but I was happy with what we were offered. I did like the large walk out patio / balcony that overlooked the grounds out front and I could see the resort patrons casually jogging or walking around the immense property. As for the room, I have no complaints; it's large with two queen-sized beds and had ample room for a rambunctious young boy with a tendency to jump on the mattress until his legs give out. What I didn't like about the beds were the three large cushion-type pillows that just didn't have a comfortable texture to them. They felt like those huge decorative pillows found on fancy couches and felt like them too. However, the 2 pillows underneath were comfy enough. The rest of the room was standard: small fridge, microwave, flat screen TV with premium channels, a writing desk, and wi-fi throughout the property.

Now, the bathroom was large and roomy. Heck, I think I liked the bathroom more than the room, but the toilet was located in a small area off to the left with the large tub / shower on the right. There were individual bathrobes and slippers for use, but I don't think we even touched those. The bath amenities were a step up from the usual ones I've used at other hotels. I can't recall the brand of their soaps, but I fell in love with the oatmeal bath bar and lotions, I considered ringing housekeeping to bring back more. Also, the towels are so luxuriously plush and soft, it kinda makes you wonder if they use some kind of premium fabric softener to clean them. It reminded me of our towels at home, because I'm a nut when it comes to using softeners to keep our clothes and other washable items nice and fluffy.

Because this was a resort, I sort of feel bad for NOT using most of their amenities. Rather, I think my husband and I should've booked a hotel closer to the historical district of Charleston, but since the Boardwalk Inn was running a special the weekend we went, we decided to take that offer. This resort is just yards from a private beach, offers tennis and golf lessons to patrons, swimming excursions, fine dining, eco-tours, para-sailing, and a number of other family-friendly recreational activities for all ages to enjoy. Because we stayed only 2 nights, I don't think we spent enough time at the resort, which we didn't, and chose to spend most of our time exploring other parts of Charleston. The Boardwalk Inn would be perfect for families looking to get away from the city and enjoy activities at a private resort, namely golfing and tennis. Also, since I do absolutely adore the city of Charleston, I will say that if you get a chance to visit, you must spend at least 3 - 4 days exploring the city. A day or two simply isn't enough to enjoy all that this gorgeous jewel of the South can offer.

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) South Carolina hotel vacations http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/9/the-boardwalkinn Mon, 03 Sep 2012 04:27:30 GMT
You're 4, Little Man! http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/8/youre-4-LM Today, my special little guy turned 4. You know, people often tell you to "enjoy them when they're little, because they grow up so fast," and you know what? They are absolutely right. It's been 4 years already? Geez. Where did all the time go? I mean, I can still recall the day I first laid eyes on Rome, after having his daddy proudly ask me if I would like to meet our son. Now, my special man is 4 and full of zest, spunk, and enough energy to drain both his daddy and I in an hour. Well, maybe not an hour, but sometimes it feels that way. My husband often tells me it's another way to tell we're just getting older and our bodies can't handle one little kid.

I've never been really big on parties or social gatherings, but last week we celebrated Rome's 4th birthday a little early with close friends and family. When he gets older, we'll certainly be able to invite his classmates and friends to celebrate with him, but we'll leave that up to Rome. This year, we decided to hold a small gathering and order food, cake, and other treats for everyone to enjoy while Rome had fun being around everyone. As the resident "mom-tographer," I was on hand to snap shots of everyone and enjoy our family's efforts to make sure our son had a wonderful and memorable birthday. 'Course, I made sure I had enough time to make it back to the counter where all the food was sitting and grab a plate (or two) to eat.

Today, I'm proud to see my little guy grow into a healthy boy who's sweet, lovable, and such a character, there's nothing I wouldn't change with him. The best part of watching him grow up is being there every step of the way with my camera. The funny thing about being an avid photographer is that people often expect that if you have children, they automatically know how to pose in front of the lens. I've found that some do, but my son usually likes to act up when I'm about to hit the shutter release button. I've had him cross his eyes, pucker up his face, and stick his tongue out, but that's one thing I love about Rome---he never ceases to give me something to take a picture of.

It's just another fun aspect of being a parent. Well, a parent with a camera always at hand.

Happy birthday, my darling and dearest Rome. You'll always be mommy's number one man and I'm looking forward to another 365 days of pure awesomeness.

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) family http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/8/youre-4-LM Fri, 31 Aug 2012 05:00:23 GMT
Locklear's Lowcountry Grill http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/8/locklears-1 In June, we traveled back to our favorite city in South Carolina, Charleston, and decided to look for a place that served local Lowcountry cuisine. Since we've been to the city a number of times, we were familiar with a few areas, particularly around Mt. Pleasant, and were lucky enough to find a restaurant with traditional local food that satisfied our palates as well as our checkbook. Because of Charleston's seafaring ports and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, you're almost guaranteed to find the freshest seafood dishes which include shrimps, crabs, crayfish, and fish. Showcasing some of the city's culinary supremacy in seafood and Lowcountry cuisine, Locklear's Lowcountry Grill in the Mt. Pleasant area is a fine place to start in the city. The menu consists of seafood, sandwiches, pastas, soups, and a good sized menu for children. What I did like about the restaurant was that it was low-key without all the fuss and snobbery associated with more upscale places I've been to. True to the Southern hospitality often found throughout South Carolina, their waitstaff and hostess were incredibly friendly and accommodating, which is what I love and miss most about the region.

No visit to Charleston would be complete without having a bowl of their she-crab soup, a delightfully rich, milky, and creamy bisque filled with bits of potatoes and fresh Atlantic blue crab meat. Both my husband and I ordered a small cup to start as an appetizer and we didn't leave a lick of soup left in the cup once we were done. It was that good. The soup is very flavorful and tastes so fresh, you would think that the chef had hauled the day's fresh crab catch into his kitchen to prepare it. Also, if you're ever in the Lowcountry area, the she-crab soup is a must and one of the region's signature dishes. More often than not, you'll find most Lowcountry restaurants in the Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia regions offering a bowl of the soup.

For my entree, I ordered the Rockville shrimps and hominy, which was absolutely heavenly---it was one of THE best shrimp and grits variation I have ever tasted in the South and, let me tell you, they know their shrimp and grits here. Medium sized chunks of shrimp were sautéed in a slightly spicy Cajun-type sauce which was drenched over Old Mill Hominy grits and served with a side of corn fritters and tomato jam. The tomato jam paired with the corn fritters is ridiculously delicious. If I wasn't so intent in finishing the shrimp and grits, I probably would've asked for more. The flavors just explode in your mouth and, if you don't pace yourself, you're going to get full very fast and easily (which is what happened in my case). For those who haven't had grits, it's coarsely ground corn kernels that have slightly thick consistency, depending on how much liquid is used. Grits to Southerners is like rice to Asians; it's common in the area and they sure as hell know how to prepare it.

 

Another great aspect of the restaurant is that it's located in an area with easy access to a number of tourist hot spots and just minutes away from the historical district of Charleston. Also, the Mt. Pleasant area is right around the corner from the Isle of Palms, an area known for its sand dunes, pricey beach houses, and beaches, of course. Locklear's is in a plaza that's off one of the main roads in Mt. Pleasant and close to the area hotels, so I think it's fairly easy to find. You'll also find a few other restaurants, notably seafood, that offer Lowcountry cuisine, but I think that Locklear's is definitely worth a visit. It's not busy, even during the peak of lunch hour and, as I've mentioned earlier, the staff is super friendly and attentive. Our son loved looking at the fish in the tank by the hostess' stand and I was worried that he'd be a bother to the patrons eating by the table nearby, but the people were just delighted with Rome and didn't mind that he was oogling the tank.

 

Locklear's is also a very kid-friendly restaurant, which is always something my husband and I typically take into account when we travel and look for places to eat. The interior is painted with bright yellow paint and has ample seating space. Outside, you'll find plenty of outdoor seating, but since Locklear's located beside a main thoroughfare, it may be a little noisy with the passing traffic. As for pricing, I found Locklear's to be fairly moderate with dishes averaging between $8 - $12, with items on the kid's menu about half of that.

 

Verdict for Locklear's? A resounding YES. Also, you've just got to try their shrimp and grits.

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) South Carolina food restaurant http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/8/locklears-1 Wed, 29 Aug 2012 03:33:15 GMT
Boom Shaka Laka http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/8/boom-shaka-1 My best friend, Claire, had mentioned eating at Boom Shaka Laka at the Beaches are of Jacksonville, Florida months ago. Raving about their fantastic breakfast menu, I wanted to check it out with my brothers the last time we were all home together, but I remember they were closed the morning we went. After our return from Puerto Rico, we stayed in town for a few days before heading back up to South Carolina and I suggested we try the restaurant Claire had mentioned before. It's located down Atlantic Boulevard just a mile or so from the beach and near a few old plazas. One thing I noticed was that it was tucked away in the corner and a little hard to find, unless you know what you're looking for. The interior is also quite funky; there are bright and cheerful hues, surf boards hanging on the wall, and some really cool hand-painted art hanging from the boards on the ceiling. I was digging the ambiance of the place.

Because we didn't make it to Boom Shaka Laka for breakfast, we were given the lunch menu and I glanced at their items briefly while trying to hide my disappointment about not eating there earlier. I don't live at home, so I never find out about different mom-and-pop restaurants unless I'm actively looking for something specific or if a friend mentions it. Also, judging from its menu items, Boom Shaka Laka offered "home cooked" Hawaiian meals, plus some Filipino favorites such as adobo, which isn't surprising since the owner is from Hawaii (and exposed to the island's large Filipino population). However, one of the things I noticed on the menu was that there weren't enough Hawaiian dishes to classify the restaurant as strictly Hawaiian or Polynesian. Spam, of course, is on the menu, but it was only offered during breakfast.

 

My husband and I both ordered their teriyaki chicken with rice, macaroni salad, and a Hawaiian roll. To be honest, it wasn't anything impressive; the food was good enough, but it was missing that "wow" factor. Many mom-and-pop joints I've sampled normally had something outstanding in their dishes, but Boom Shaka Laka's was a bit on the normal-to-bland side. Still, the food was filling and the waitress was more than happy to offer us extra rolls and salad, if we wanted. For the kids, there's a small selection of the usual kid-friendly favorites: mac n' cheese, corn dogs, hot dogs, fries, etc. Also, we remained the only people in the restaurant the entire time we ate during lunch.

 

Sadly, I just found out that Boom Shaka Laka is no longer in business; they closed up shop around June, so we probably were one of their last customers before they shut their doors permanently. Hopefully, they'll re-open one day at another (and better) location in the future and I'll be writing a positive review of the place. Perhaps, it's just another casualty of the recession.

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) food restaurant http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/8/boom-shaka-1 Mon, 20 Aug 2012 00:16:44 GMT
Hasta Luego, San Juan! http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/8/hasta-luegoSJ Spending 6 wonderful nights in San Juan was definitely a memorable highlight for the Summer of 2012, being next to my husband's deployment homecoming, and I can't sing enough praises about the people of San Juan and Puerto Rico. To be honest, I didn't know what to expect from our stay, save for the fact that I was going to be eating a whole lot of good food, and I really enjoyed not having to go with a strict family itinerary. If we were a large brood, it'd probably be best to do so, but I found that talking to the locals, the knowledgeable hotel concierge, and other tourists provided a great way to find things to do in the city that isn't mentioned in travel brochures or books. We really loved exploring and enjoying the sights with our young son, and I did originally have reservations about taking a 3-year old to Puerto Rico, but I changed my mind soon after. Our son, it seems, has become something of a connoisseur of hotels and absolutely loves to travel. I'm betting he'll never outgrow that love when he does get older.

 

Pictured above is Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, San Juan's main hub for arriving and departing flights. Most tourists, coming from Canada and the U.S. will probably make a stop at this airport to catch a different connecting flight to the other islands in the Caribbean and another reason why the airport seems a little busy for its size. Prior to choosing Puerto Rico for a vacation, we were considering taking our vacation at Cancun, Mexico, Aruba, Costa Rica, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Budget-wise, Mexico and Costa Rica would have been much easier on our wallet, but we also figured in the flight time and things to do. San Juan had an excellent blend of things to do for adults looking into relaxation and fun for children. As an avid photographer, there were endless things to capture on camera in Puerto Rico and I still haven't been able to go through all the shots I took during our stay. Even though I now own a smartphone, I still cringe a little when I see people taking "family" photographs in front of world renowned monuments with their cell phone. "Different strokes for different folks," is what the saying goes, and if all you brought with you on your vacation is your phone, then so be it. Because most people I saw quickly reached for their phones during photo-ops, I nearly wanted to clap when I saw someone use an actual camera (disposable, high end SLR's, point-and-shoots, etc.). Personally, I prefer the photos off my cameras, although my cell phone virtually rivals one of my point-and-shoots.

Above is a picture from our seating area about Jet Blue Airline's cabin. Since the flight is just a quick 2 hours away from Jacksonville, Florida, we're placed in one of their mid-sized jets, which is comfortable and roomy enough for the quick trip back home. I don't recall seeing a first-class or business section, but it could be the first few rows up front. It's our first time riding on Jet Blue, but I enjoyed the experience (and prices) so we'll definitely book flights with them in the future. Depending on the season, a roundtrip flight from Jacksonville to San Juan can cost as low as $130 USD for 1 adult. Not bad, but since we travel as a family, we prefer to book vacation packages, which can net some incredible discounts if you have the right coupons, codes, or catch them during a promotional period. We got lucky and were able to combine a discount with coupons, so we saved a good 35% off our trip. I love great deals.

 

What's my final verdict on Puerto Rico? It's an astounding YES, of course, and my husband and I are planning to go back someday. Would we take our son with us? Perhaps when he's a little older and I can't say for sure if he's going to remember his memories in San Juan from the age of 3. He may be able to, along with the thousands of pictures I took, but it'll be fun to take him back to re-experience the sights and sounds he may have forgotten while he was young. Maybe we'll head back and catch one of the cruise ships and sail into the various Caribbean islands littered around the area or just explore another part of Puerto Rico.

Until then, we'll definitely see you later, Puerto Rico!

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) Puerto Rico San Juan vacation http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/8/hasta-luegoSJ Wed, 15 Aug 2012 15:15:48 GMT
Miro Restaurant & Jazz Club http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/8/miro-restnjazz I had been eyeballing Miro restaurant ever since we made it to our hotel, and with its location directly across the street from us, we finally decided to give it a try the night before our last day in San Juan. Ensconced between a few other cheaper eateries (Starbucks, a Mexican, Italian, Turkish, and a burger joint), most people would overlook this restaurant because of their prices, which is far from being cheap. Compared to the others, Miro is slightly more expensive and isn't open 7 days of the week. Although it's closed on Mondays, Miro offers lunch and dinner with live bands playing Spanish and Jazz music on Thursday and Friday nights. Labeling itself as a Spanish and seafood restaurant, I was curious to see what their menu had to offer.

Because our 3-year old isn't a huge fan of dark and semi-claustrophobia-inducing interiors, which is what Miro's first level reminded me of, we asked our server if we could sit upstairs on their open veranda. The main floor includes a bar with booths and tables lit with tea lights to create a rather somber and, to me, a slightly Gothic atmosphere. It may have been the dark wood used to build the structure that made it seem so bleak inside, but I prefer eating at a place where I can see my food and relax comfortably. Fortunately, the 2nd floor of Miro's restaurant has enough room on their patio area to sit a family of 3 and you don't have to worry about the live acoustic band downstairs drowning out your dinner conversation. Also, the 2nd floor contains unique black and white murals of some of Jazz's greats and you can enjoy the view of the streets below. I know I sound pretty critical of Miro's interior, but it certainly doesn't reflect what I think about their restaurant or food as a whole.


Looking through the menu, Miro offers a small combination of Spanish and seafood cuisine that seem a little fancier with Spanish-sounding names. Luckily, there are English descriptions on the bottom of each entree and I didn't have to worry too much about pronunciation, as Spanish seems to roll easily off my tongue, despite never having taken Spanish classes or speaking it myself. For our appetizer, we ordered cod fritters that our son absolutely loved and allowed him to eat that as his dinner. They also offer a basket of toast with some olive oil dip to munch on while you wait for your food. My husband ordered seafood ravioli stuffed with lobster and drenched with pesto sauce. Although it looked rather simple and slightly unappealing with its mismatched color combination, the dish was pretty tasteful. I did find that they were slightly stingy with the lobster meat, but the pesto sauce more than made up for it.

For my entree, I decided I wanted some red meat for dinner and went with their Churrasco steak with chimichurri accompanied with Maposteao risotto. The steak was ordered just right; medium rare with enough juices to keep the insides tender and moist (but not entirely too bloody). Combined with the creamy risotto, I was surprised to find that the dish was, well, pretty damned good. Across from me, my husband was salivating and offering to finish whatever I couldn't handle, but I was more than happy to share. It doesn't look like much in the picture above, but the steak is really very filling. Also, eating anything with rice will make you full quite easily. If I could change one thing about my dish, I probably would have suggested that they go ahead and spread the chimichurri sauce over the meat as soon as it comes off the grill. Because I was given a small amount of sauce on the side dish, I didn't think it tasted well with meat that had already cooled after coming off the grill.

 

Despite its rather odd and dark interior on the first floor, I would still recommend Miro restaurant to anyone looking for a taste of seafood or Spanish cuisine in San Juan. Miro is a little more pricier than other eateries in the area, but they do have a good selection of meats as well as seafood dishes for even the pickiest of eaters. Unfortunately, I can't say that Miro's is entirely kid-friendly, due to the lack of a menu for children, but it does have a jazz bar and parties tend to gather until the wee hours of the morning and I doubt children are a common sight at the restaurant past 10pm. However, because they also serve lunch, I would hope that they offer a small selection aimed towards patrons with little ones in the future. As I've mentioned before, if you do travel somewhere that doesn't cater to entire families (especially those with little children), you can usually get away with ordering something off the appetizer menu or asking the waiter if the chef can split a bigger meal in two, so that you can still portion out smaller meals for your children. If they don't, ask for a spare plate to share your food. I've found that most establishments don't mind, save for buffet places, and you don't have to worry about ordering extra food for your children. Adults shouldn't always have all the fun.

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) Puerto Rico San Juan food restaurant vacation http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/8/miro-restnjazz Sat, 11 Aug 2012 19:03:00 GMT
Yerba Buena Restaurant http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/8/yerba-buena One night in Puerto Rico, we finally decided to try one of the more hip places to eat for dinner. Dinner was a little later than usual to avoid the crowds, but most places on the Condado strip were packed like sardines and trying to find a restaurant with seats available was becoming more than a challenge. Fortunately, we ran into Yerba Buena, a Cuban and Caribbean place known for their wicked Mojitos. Luckily, most of the people were sitting at the bars, but with the open-air seating and the warm breezes coming in from the ocean, our waiter gave us the coolest seats in the house: a gliding / swinging table that faced the streets.

We ordered appetizers that included ceviche and fried minced shrimp with dough, which was filling enough, so I only had a few bites to save my appetite for the main course. My husband ordered a beefsteak plate with rice while I had their minced meat Havana style (pictured above) which came with some shaved yuca croutons that were so good, I actually asked for more (after pilfering my husband's portions). My meat had a fried egg on top, which reminded me of breakfast, but the combination with the spiciness of the meat was perfect. My meat tasted like a Latin version of a meatloaf, but there's something in meat that just makes it stand out among other meatloaves I've had before. For our son, we ordered the chicken chunks on their appetizer menu and he was happy with that, even though we still had to cut everything up in bite-sized pieces. There isn't really anything tailored for children, but you can choose any of the meats on their appetizer section. Moreover, the staff at Yerba Buena will be more than happy to make a kid-friendly portion for your child, if you need it. Combined with excellent service and good food, I'd be more than happy to pay their slightly expensive prices.

 

Like most of the restaurants in San Juan, Yerba Buena's drinks were fresh and made to order; juices for children tasted like they were squeezed from the fruits in the backyard and some were a little too tart without sugar. Unlike the heavily pasteurized and modified drinks we have in the U.S., the ones we ordered at the restaurant were delicious and healthy. Our waiter told me that it's better to drink things that are fresh, rather than something that was heavily processed in a factory. After all, it's cheaper and sometimes more beneficial to your health. If only I could remember that as a mantra when we headed back to the States. Unless I wanted to squeeze a lemon and make fresh lemonade myself, I wasn't going to get anything as close to the freshly-squeezed taste most places offered with their drinks.

 

Since we were enjoying ourselves for dinner, we also opted to try some of their alcoholic beverages; the famed Mojitos, namely, and we weren't leaving Puerto Rico without guzzling one. The Mojitos at Yerba Buena were true to its namesake; their drinks were made with the actual spearmint, or Yerba Buena mint, that are found in Cuba and the surrounding area. Unlike other places were I've had Mojitos (sadly, before I had my kid), I don't remember them tasting quite as good as the ones at the restaurant. Our server told me that Mojitos originated from Cuba, so as a native Cubano, he knows what it takes to make a real good Mojito. The bartender was also from Cuba, or so he says, but I think that Yerba Buena found a way to perfect their version.

 

Yerba Buena is a fantastic restaurant to try for their Cuban and Caribbean infused food, but it's also an ideal spot to watch scores of beautiful people wandering the streets of Condado at night. Like other places we've eaten at, there is absolutely no rush to eat your food and if you want to keep the table all night, by all means, do. After dinner, you can order a cup of their excellent, but strong coffee and check out their desserts menu. Because we succeeded in stuffing ourselves silly, we couldn't try any of their sweets. As for prices, Yerba Buena is a little on the steep side, with our bill easily topping over $90 USD, but the food and service is well worth it. Our son loved the gliding table we sat at, and enjoyed his food, although it was getting close to his bedtime. It was actually pretty rare to see families out late with little children, but we made an exception for him because we were all on vacation. Overall, I would highly recommend this Cuban joint in the Condado strip.

 

]]>
bchai22@gmail.com (Crome Photography) Puerto Rico San Juan food restaurant vacation http://crome.zenfolio.com/blog/2012/8/yerba-buena Mon, 06 Aug 2012 03:37:36 GMT