Monday, March 30, 2015

2015: No resolutions...just decisions

Wow, it has been a long time since I last created a blog entry. The last time was back in August 2014 - back when we spent our summer vacation in Maui. So much has happened since. I've traveled back on business to New York at the end of September, and fortunately, after a year-long of crazy back to back business trips to the East coast (from New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Washington DC, North Carolina, Pennsylvania), my business trips slowed down by the end of 2014. 

But that didn't mean the Franciscos were free from the daily hustle and bustle. Our kids were ever so busy with football (Ethan), Cross Country (Madison), Piano lessons (Caitlin and Madison), and Flag Football and Soccer (Evan), church choir for Ethan and Madison.We were non-stop. But there was no reason to complain. It was everything we thought it would be for having been blessed with a large family.

Despite our hectic schedule, we managed to squeeze in a few trips in between, a weekend in San Diego after the Thanksgiving holiday, and a mini-vacation to San Francisco and Napa Valley just before we rang in the New Year 2015.

When I turned "40 something" in November, I can still vividly remember sitting with the family in our dining room. The topic? Vacations! There was that itch to do something different or revisit a place we've been wanting to see again. One thing was for certain - we wanted to mix things up a bit, and, this time, we wanted go to back to Europe. One plan was a definite return to Paris - a place Nancy and I visited back in 2007. The other was to visit London. We knew that it was just a matter of time, when all the stars were aligned, that we'd find an irresistible deal. In 2015, we made a decision, not a resolution - a trip to Europe had to happen.

What's the Dealio?
It was on a Monday in January, I was going about my early
work day (for those who didn't know, I work East Coast hours - meaning, I start my days at 4:30am or 5:00am). I checked my emails and joined a few very early morning conference calls. I took a little break and noticed a Valentine 2-day sale that Emirates Airline had posted from New York's JFK to Milan (must travel between Feb 2015 and May 2015) !!!! What?!?!? So I read, and re-read the offer. It was not a mistake fare. It was a sale. I texted and called Nancy at work and I told her that we just had to book this special. By the time, I called Nancy, I had everything quite laid out in my mind. I had to "sell" the idea to my wife. Why? Well, first, the deal was from NY, meaning, we still had to get our airfares from LA to NY. Second, should we bring the 4 kids, or would this be just a Nancy and Jason vacation since we were approaching our 15th year wedding anniversary? Lastly, when will we travel, and will Nancy be able to take the time off.

Buy now and plan later

When deals like such are posted, and they're just way too good, I'm a believer that you should trust your instincts, go with your guts, pull out your credit card, and let it go, let it go. To answer all of the above roadblocks....the roundtrip flight from LAX-NY, I simply used my airline miles (so that was a no-brainer...close to free). We decided to bring Ethan and Madison (they're old enough to appreciate Europe), and we chose to travel around their Spring Break (end of March). As far as Nancy's work schedule, she seemed to always find a way to work that out, and we decided not to worry about it. So after an hour of contemplating, I found myself booking our trip to Milan!!!

I texted and talked to a few people, and one of them heeded to my call. I called Emily, and I jokingly said, pack your bags. She said, where are we going? I told her Milan, gave her a few details about the deal. Within an hour, she called to tell me that they booked 4 tickets for her family!!!! HA!!!! All of a sudden, we became a traveling party of 8! Europe here we come!

Let the planning begin
It took quite a few phone calls, text messages, FaceTime chats before we all decided on a plan. We had just under 2 months to plan our vacation. We had to decide where else besides Milan. So we picked a handful of places to visit, and narrowed it down to 4.  We also began endless days and nights of finding the right accommodations. While hotels would be convenient, European hotels weren't as flexible with the # of guests per room. For a family of 4, some hotels only allowed 2 per room, others charged $100 Euro per extra guest. In some cases, a family of 4 needed 2 rooms, which just didn't make sense. Therefore, we all decided to rent an apartment in all our destinations. I searched VRBO and AirBNB websites, and needed to make sure that the apartments were able to accommodate 8 of us - that wasn't easy. We required at least 2 bathrooms. Lastly, free Wi-Fi!!!  After 3 weeks of searching (looking at websites, pictures, prices, and reviews), I managed to book all our apartment stays in Europe...again, that was not easy. I was just glad that it got done!

Planning our itinerary....but

It was at the end of February when we finally booked everything. This then gave us a month to fully plan our itinerary, right? NOT!!! By the end of February, I started to travel back to East Coast again. Not just 1 trip, but it was 3 trips. I went one week, then came back home for a week, then went back another week. It was lather, rinse, repeat!!! People were beginning to tease me that I should just move back East. There were times when I drove around, or took a bus, or the train,  that I didn't even require the use of a map or GPS anymore. Scary, but true. There were times when tourists asked me questions about directions, and I was able to point them to the right way. Scarier....but still true.

Pack, pack, pack

Before leaving for Milan, I needed to be back in the East Coast for 1 more week of business trip. There was no way for me to fly back to California after my business which meant I had to pack for NJ and NY, plus Europe!!!! HELP!!!. Our trip coincided with my class and the flight from NY to Milan was scheduled on the
night of my last day at work. Nancy and the kids flew in one day earlier which allowed them to spend the day in NY. After class, I headed straight to meet them, and we were able to catch Vanessa Hudgens in Gigi, a new show on Broadway. Directly after the show, Emily, Ben, along with their kids, Janelle and Andrew, flew in from
the Bay Area. They arrived at their hotel close to midnight. It was a rainy evening in NYC. We were all starved and we were thankful that Patzeria Perfect Pizza on West 46th Street was still open and served us 12 different slices of their pizzas. We all ate to our heart's content, but I knew that I had to head back to the hotel for I still had one more day of class, and not to mention, a test! So help me, God! Thankfully, I passed my exam....vacation, here I come!

Few more hours in NY...think fast
Directly after leaving work, I headed for Newark Airport and dropped off my car rental. I then took a train from the airport to NY Penn Station (which was about a 20 minute train ride in to the city). Once I was at Penn Station, I was one subway train ride away from the hotel where Nancy and the kids were staying. It was a chop, chop, chop moment.
They were already checked out of the hotel. I was hungry...surprise, surprise. I told them to just meet me at Au Bon Pain inside the Port Authority. Ethan mentioned he needed a haircut. We still had 4 hours to kill before making our way to JFK. So, think fast, Jason. Think fast. 

I wanted to eat soup dumplings so badly in this cold NY afternoon. So, I suggested we go to Chinatown to Joe's Shanghai, and not too far from Joe's was a row of little asian barber shops and salons. After a couple train ride switches, we found ourselves in Chinatown where Nancy and I had taho, or sweet tofu. Soon after, my craving for soup dumplings were fulfilled. After devouring our late lunch, we left Joe's and took a left on a little alley way and found Yi-Fa, a barber shop. We went here last year for Father's day. Why? Well, Ethan also needed a haircut back then and on a dare, I told him to go to Yi Fa since Justin Timberlake's picture was posted outside. Look like JT got his haircut here at one point. That's why we ended here again, we were familiar with the place so E and I got our haircut. HA!!!

New York City. Friday. Rush hour.
It was the perfect recipe to make sure that we'll be late for our flight. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 10:20pm, and we wanted to be there by 7pm. We had a car service that was waiting for us and we left our hotel at 6pm, and as expected, bumper to bumper traffic. We padded enough time allowing for all the traffic, and by 7pm, we made it to JFK. Check in at the airport was a breeze, security checkpoint uneventful, and by 8pm, we met up with Emily, Ben and family. So there you go, that's the pre-Europe backstory...stay tuned for Day 1...MILANO!!!










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