Amtrak to Chicago

During July 4th weekend, we surprised kids with a trip to Chicago from Memphis in Amtrak.  I had packed ahead of time and we kept the suitcase in the car previous night.  I made sure that they didn’t nap on the day of our travel.  Closer to time, I told them to take shower and get ready in their best clothes as we will take them out for dessert to a very fancy restaurant.  As per our expectations, kids fell asleep in the car pretty soon and we drove to Memphis. 

When we reached Memphis downtown, kids woke up and kept saying that they have never seen this part of Tupelo.  Very interesting!  We had to finally tell them that we are in Memphis and not Tupelo.  We had pizza and then we went inside Amtrak.  My kids thought that we are just visiting the train.  They were ecstatic when they found out that we were going to take a trip in Amtrak.  Now they assumed that this trip must be like Polar Express train.  Finally, we told them that we are traveling overnight to Chicago.  I wish I could frame those two little faces!

We took sleeper car and it was very comfortable for us.  We were offered nice breakfast on the way to Chicago and dinner on the way back.  Traveling in the train was so painless and restful that I don’t want to fly to Chicago anymore.  I prefer to take Amtrak to Chicago.  We reached Chicago so rested that we were ready to start the day.  In Chicago, we visited Navy Pier and Field Museum.  We had a spectacular view of the July 4th fireworks from the apartment of Amit’s cousin, Dhanesh Gupta.  It was so much more comfortable to be in his apartment than on the ground with such a huge crowd!  Of course, no trip to Chicago is complete without Ghirardelli and Garrett Popcorn!

I will definitely recommend traveling in Amtrak to Chicago from Memphis!

Trip to Italy 2014

We have been blessed with a situation in our lives such that we have enough holidays and we homeschool, so we have chosen to spend our time and savings in travel!

This month, we visited Italy. On our way to Milan, we had a 5 hour layover at New York. We didn’t waste a minute. We went to Bay Ridge in Brooklyn and enjoyed Nino’s pizza and cupcakes from Little Cupcake shop. Amit and I lived in this area and both us were nostalgic.

In Italy, first, we went to my favorite and the most beautiful place in the whole wide world, Cabella Ligure. We had amazing meditation sessions and puja. The food is simple, delicious and nutritious. Cabella River is the most cleansing river that I know of. It was ice cold and I felt chicken-hearted but slowly I kept putting one toe and then the other and gradually, my feet was immersed in the ice-cold water of Cabella River. I have no idea of the time but I felt so cleansed and rejuvenated after every foot-soak. Also, I had a beautiful nap on the rocky banks of this river. Sleeping on the hard floor and being so close to Mother Earth healed my body of all pains and fatigue and filled it with energy, peace, gratitude and joy! It was wonderful to see both the boys making friends with kids from different nationalities. They were so happy and enjoyed so much. They enjoyed the food and sleeping in their sleeping bag on a hard floor. They enjoyed playing in the ice-cold river water, playing with rocks (a couple of rocks have made it to Tupelo) and sleeping on the grass for a nap. They were in complete bliss. Kabir still misses his friends and is sad that he forgot to take their addresses.

After this rejuvenating weekend, we traveled to Rome by train. We stayed in an apartment that was very comfortable and convenient. In Rome, we visited the Colosseum. We bought the tickets online and that was a great idea. With online reservations, we basically skipped the entire line and walked in right away! This is a great energy-saver with little kids. Kabir and I had read Roman history and were aware of the history of Colosseum. I had an image of the interiors of the Colosseum in my mind and that image wasn’t accurate. So, it was enlightening to see how it was in the inside for real! On our way to Colosseum we saw the Forum but we felt that kids will get too tired by the time we reach Colosseum so we skipped the Forum. Kabir was insisting on spending time at the Forum but we had to make a choice.

After visiting the Colosseum, we walked to San Pietro in Vincoli and saw my favorite statue of Moses by Michelangelo. The statue had the most amazing vibrations! One could see every muscle and nerve of Moses. One can see every lock of his beard. His eyes seem so real. Kabir and I had read about Michelangelo and how he carved statues from one block of marble. There is a legend about this statue that Michelangelo himself was awed after making the statue of Moses as it seemed so alive. He hit the statue on the knee with hammer imploring Moses to stand up or to speak to him. Shri Mataji has visited and spoken about this statue. Everything is just perfect with Moses’ left hand on Nabhi Chakra and right hand pointing towards the Heart Chakra. He is holding the Ten Commandments. Only one thing is inaccurate – he didn’t wear Roman slippers, he wore Egyptian chappals as rightly pointed out by Shri Mataji.

Next day was a very long and special day. We visited Raphael’s tomb and the statue of mother and child made by Raphael’s pupil in Pantheon. Raphael is a realized soul and so, the vibrations were really good. We enjoyed it. “Mother and Child” is a special theme that fills our heart with love, awe and gratitude.

Kabir and Amit have been following a guidebook called “Rome with Kids”. Kabir is completely enjoying it and he decided to take us to a cafe recommended in the book, Cafe et Cafe. I have to say that I have a weakness for chocolate croissant. It’s the best chocolate croissant I ever had along with a nice cup of cappuccino.

Then we visited Roman farmers market at Campo di Fiori where I tried flower of zucchini on a pizza. I could have never imagined eating flower of zucchini. The best bakery in Rome that I have come across is here – Il Forno. I highly recommend it.

Along the day we visited fountain di Trevi and Spanish steps too. The thing that made that day special was Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. As per auntie Antoinette Wells’ diary we saw the circles on the floor representing chakras. We saw the Star of David. Then there was one point where the vibrations became so strong that we were just amazed. We found out we were in front of Altar of the Sacrament. This might be the spot where Shri Mataji had stood. As soon as we realized this we heard the song “Ave Maria”. So we sat down and had the most amazing meditation there! We were so happy and enjoyed every moment. This was one of those experiences that I’ll never forget in life.

Next day, we visited Vatican Museums. We got the tickets online and I highly recommend it as it really allows you to skip the long line. We got an audio guide for Kabir. This audio guide is meant for children 6- 12 yrs old. This audio guide was like a treasure hunt. Kabir had to find specific paintings and sculptures and then listen to the audio guide explain that particular painting or sculpture. I learnt so much too!! In between finding the painting, we pacified Arjun by letting him use the audio guide.

Kabir was so involved that we didn’t realize that we had spent about 4-5 hours there without any food.

My favorite paintings were Garden of Eden (can’t believe there are 240 animals in that painting), Adoration of Magi (3 Wise Men) and all the paintings with Mother Mary and Christ. The colors of the paintings by Rafael are so vibrant and seem to be speaking to us. In particular I felt in complete bliss to see Madonna di Foligno. This painting had Mother Mary and baby Christ and also John the Baptist who is a realized soul. It is so nice to see the Mother being adorned, recognized and revered. Thanks to Kabir’s audio guide we saw the lion in that painting. None of us could see it until Kabir told us. I loved a tapestry that had the full image of Christ and the eyes were so beautiful and powerful that it seems to be looking at me only.

It was nice to see in so many paintings how Christ puts His hand on Sahasrara at the top of the head giving realization and some of the disciples with both hands open – just the way Shri Mataji has taught us.

The only part that I felt too rushed was between Galleria delle carte Geografiche (gallery of geography maps) by Raphael until Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. There were so many people that we had to just keep moving constantly. We couldn’t read and spend little time. Just couldn’t see everything and I wish we could because I wanted to spend more time looking at the work of Raphael in particular.

Kabir and I had read the book about Michelangelo before we went to Italy. So we knew history of Sistine Chapel. It also helped us understand The Creation and The Last Judgement paintings. Words can’t describe them. Lower portion of the wall was painted like beautiful curtain but I didn’t realize this until we were about to leave the chapel. I thought it was a real curtain and so did my mother-in-law. We were told to keep moving and so we had to leave sooner than we wanted. Fortunately, Arjun dozed off in the Sistine chapel for an hour and so Amit found a quiet corner and spent an hour meditating in there without anyone disturbing him. How lucky!

This school year, Kabir and I read a book, Red Sails to Capri. Since then we have wanted to visit Blue Grotto in Capri. So, on the last free day in Rome, we got up early and watched a video of Shri Mataji going to Capri. Then we left for Naples as we planned to go to Capri too. At the train station in Naples, our taxi driver, Davide Tarantino informed us that Blue Grotto is closed. Mr. Tarantino became our friend and was very nice to us. He came to our rescue and took us to Pompeii and then Mt. Vesuvius.

I felt awe for the nature to see the ruins of Pompeii. We did get an audio guide but Amit and I had to listen and then explain it to Kabir as it wasn’t designed for kids.

The most humbling experience was to go to the crater of Mt. Vesuvius. I couldn’t have ever dreamed of it. It seems so impossible and yet I did! We did bring some lava rocks as souvenirs.

Then on the way back to the train station in Naples, our taxi driver, Mr. Davide heard the good news of his grandson being born. How auspicious!

The cutest part during this trip to Italy is to hear Arjun’s Italian. It’s basically English changed a little to sound Italian with Itialian accent. So ‘give me’ becomes ‘giviona meana’ with Italian accent. And, it keeps changing all the time. He knows just a few Italian words such as ciao, grazie mille and molto bene. In many pizza or bakery shops, both the kids have managed to charm them enough to get one or two for free.

Above all, I feel so blessed to have Amit as my husband. We are very thankful to Amit. He is the one who burns the midnight oil for several days and sometimes months to plan our trip in detail singlehandedly. All his family does is – enjoy! Thank you, Amit!