Tag: adventure

Traveling with a Toddler – Athens, Greece: In-air Emergencies and The Acropolis

It turns out late January is an excellent time of year to visit Greece. Technically “off-season,” it’s still 60 degrees with sunny skies and greenery all around, just minus about 1/2 the tourists one usually encounters in peak season.

We flew Dulles–>Heathrow–>Athens with an itinerary we thought perfect for our almost 2 year old. An overnight transatlantic flight on British Airways followed by a shorter flight arriving early afternoon into Athens.

Don’t forget to download episodes of a favorite show in case of no internet access
Asleep on the floor while DaDa helps a stranger

We’ve flown together as a family of three on at least 4 occasions in these two short years. Our daughter is usually a good flyer, but I still have PTSD from our trip last summer to Italy when she screamed for 6.5 hours straight. I’m happy to say she was a delight on the way here. Entertained by Peppa Pig and endless crackers, she hardly fussed a bit. What we didn’t expect however, was the call for help on the plane.

“If you are a Doctor of Medicine, please press your call bell.” I half thought I’d dreamt the overhead call. Just over halfway through our flight, my two co-travelers were both sleeping, and I’d just closed my eyes. I jabbed Amir. He awoke startled, pressed the button, and we waited. About 5 seconds. A calm but concerned flight attendant arrived and told us a man up front was having a medical event and they were attaching the defibrillator. What I had assumed was a simple syncope or low blood sugar event was clearly more serious.

“My wife and I are both emergency medicine doctors, we can go.” We decided that he would go, and I would stay to watch our daughter. After thirty minutes, a different flight attendant came to update me. “The man is 82. He stopped breathing. Your husband will be tired when he returns.”

I knew then what the outcome was. We were only 4.5 hours into our flight, still an hour away from the nearest airport where you can safely land a 747. The story of what happened in between is not mine to tell. We were required to stay in the plane for 2 hours after landing to give statements to police. As such, we missed our connecting flight to Athens. The British Airways crew were so apologetic, but we felt it a small price to pay to delay our holiday a few hours to have the opportunity to put our training to use. If only the outcome could have been different.

Amazingly we all were asleep by 10pm Athens time and slept all night and into the morning until 10am. We’d missed the delicious hotel breakfast of fresh coffee, yogurt and fruit, but we were well-rested and ready.

If you have a baby or a toddler, and don’t have a CitiMini stroller, you must be missing out on how easy getting around can be. We’ve taken this thing to California, the Bahamas, Italy and now Greece. It’s survived the pummel of airport baggage handlers across the globe and can even tackle the crooked sidewalks of The Fan District back home in Richmond. If you plan to travel with young kids, don’t be afraid to travel with a good stroller. Strollers and car seats are free to check.

CitiMini is easy to carry in case you hit unexpected terrain

Whenever we arrive in a new place, we like to walk around first to get a feel for the location, people, safety and maneuverability.

Athens has an insane amount of graffiti. Most cities attempt to take down graffiti as soon as it goes up. There’s a threshold you cross where once there’s a certain amount it’s accepted, just part of the area. It’s peculiar to see the juxtaposition of 2500+ year old ruins with this century’s modern art.

Graffiti, mural and cityscape

From down in center city near our hotel, we walked up towards the Acropolis. The incline wasn’t as severe as it seemed when looking up from below.

Walk up to the Acropolis, looking back towards city center

We stopped along the way to refuel and taste some local sweets. We enjoyed coffee and pastries hand-piped full of Nutella.

Amir teaching the finer points of coffee and donuts

We stopped to say “hello” to a few of the numerous kitties who live just outside the Acropolis. They are quite friendly and appreciate the music of the street musicians.

Making friends

We reached the top of the hill and the Acropolis. You can purchase a 5 site pass for $30 euro which lasts 5 days and gives you access to the major historic sites. We also opted to hire a guide to walk with us and narrate the history.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Boba carriers are good for up to 45lbs, so our 30lb toddler can rest comfortably
Maybe too comfortably
Our guide Cuina, a native Athenian, was a wealth of knowledge

The views from here were amazing. You can see the whole city and even the Aegean Sea.

Throughout the millenia, the Acropolis has been rebuilt. Limestone is the older part on the bottom with marble more recent (400 BC)

They recently moved these statues into a museum we will see tomorrow. Replicas now sit where the originals once did.
Our guide was kind enough to take photos for us along the way

While our guide said the tour was 1 hour, at hour 2 our daughter was getting restless, and we still had more to see. We politely cut our tour short and carried on by ourselves.

Aegean Sea
Only 22% remains of the Parthenon

The rest of the day was spent tasting local cocktails, exploring hidden side streets and fresh seafood.

The restaurant owner eats outside near the kitties and the birds

Amir providing a guided historical tour
Grape leaves and local beer
Grecotel Pallace Athena
Someone was too tired for seafood dinner. More for us.

Beginner’s Guide to Tubing the James River

In our lives, “tubing” has two distinct meanings… this and this:

Prior to moving to Richmond, I’d been river tubing just once. It involved finding a rental company, making reservations, and forking over a lot of cash. So, when I came to Richmond and learned people tube on their own, I was intrigued. Turns out, it’s not as difficult as you might think. Just use this simple guide to help plan your tubing adventure.

Buy yourself some tubes

While there are tons of options out there, we’ve had good luck with the Intex brand available on Amazon.com.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get something fun and reliable.  There are many options, including single, double and cooler tubs, or our new favorite, tubes that connect.

The other piece of equipment you should seriously consider is a life jacket.  Depending where you decide to tube and the level of the river, life jackets may be required. There are some great alternatives to the huge orange foam things from the 70s and 80s.

Also, if you don’t have tubes that connect, you’ll want to bring along a sturdy rope so you can tie your team together to float as a group.

Plan the Route

The route we enjoy most runs from Pony Pasture to Reedy Creek and is a 3 to 4 hour float that takes you down 2.5 miles of beautiful James River scenery. Float time will vary with the water level, so be sure to check it and plan accordingly.

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You’ll need at least two cars to execute the required drop-off and drive back.  First, plug Reedy Creek (4190 Riverside Dr, Richmond, VA 23225) into your GPS. Have both cars meet there.  Pile all of your tubes (deflated), coolers and friends into one car and lock the other one up safely. It will stay behind at Reedy Creek.

Next, enter Pony Pasture (7200 Riverside Dr, Richmond, VA 23225) into your GPS. When you get there, you can pull up to unload all your stuff and blow up your tubes, but you may have to parallel park in the neighborhood as the lot is often full. Don’t forget to lock your car!


A few important tips:

  • Stay to the right – the rapids tend to be on the left in the James.
  • Butts up! – lift your bottom up when going over rapids to help ensure you don’t get stuck.
  • Be careful when walking on the bottom. There are major, abrupt drop offs as there are rocks lining the bottom.
  • I REPEAT: The rapids past Reedy Creek are intense, dangerous and not fit for amateurs in innertubes. Don’t do it, or you may end up a Trauma patient in the ED with us!


Don’t Miss the Take Out

After floating underneath the train bridge in the photo above, you should start keeping a lookout for the Reedy Creek Take Out.  The James will fork temporarily, and it’s important you stay to the right if you want to end up anywhere near your car. There’s a sign you can’t miss that says “TAKE OUT” with a big arrow guiding you to the right. Don’t go left. Even an UberXL won’t be large enough to fit your whole crew plus all your gear if you miss it.

When you exit the water and walk up, you’ll see the Reedy Creek parking lot where you left your other car.  Time to deflate the tubes and pile everyone in this car to head back to Pony Pasture and grab the other car.

Capture the Fun

If you don’t have a waterproof camera or a GoPro, you can easily take pictures or videos with your SmartPhone with the help of a $10 Joto Waterproof phone case.


So that’s it.  Grab your tubes, +/- a life jacket, cooler and some friends, and get ready for an awesome afternoon on your schedule.


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Extreme Rental: Jeep Rubicon – Sedona, AZ

Originally posted on JPFreek.com

I always prefer the window seat. Mostly because I will hold my urine to the edge of kidney failure rather than try to cram my 6’5″ frame into an airplane toilet, and having to get up repeatedly to let my weaker-willed neighbors past makes my eye twitch. But there’s more to it than bladder control. I control the shade, and at my leisure I can peer out and down, unobstructed, over the great expanse below. 

windowJust a few weeks ago, I found myself in that prized position, looking down on the vast Senoran Desert, on my way to Phoenix, Arizona. From twenty-thousand feet, it’s a wasteland. Seemingly random outcrops of red stone rise and fall away, separated by endless miles of nothing at all, except every few minutes we’d drift over one of those mega-farms with the funny patchwork of circular fields. With nothing else to do but think of the bone-crushing pain being inflicted by the seat in front of me, I found myself wondering, “Just how could those first settlers have made it all the way out here in their Conestogas?” Gold or not, it looked impassable. 

Soon after, we landed in Phoenix, a quilt of strip malls sewn together with massive highways. I was there for a conference, but arrived a day early to explore with my wife. We settled into our hotel and quickly planned a trip to Sedona, just a few hours north, and set off early the next morning with our GPS aimed for Barlow Adventures

 We arrived around ten, and our hearts sunk to find half-day rentals start at 8 AM or 1 PM. They were kind enough to squeeze us in anyway, and with just a glance at my insurance card handed over the keys to Jenny. Oh Jenny. A red four-door Rubicon with the hips of a belly dancer and treads of an M1 Abrams. To my wife’s mixed dismay and delight, I fell immediately in love. 

The folks at Barlow gave us a quick, but thorough, tutorial of the best trails to suit our style – an easy climb to get acquainted, culminating in stunning views, followed by a technical crawl down into a valley full of history. With that, we put the top down, turned the radio up and got rolling.

Immediately, with a blue sky above us and red rocks all around, we felt we could conquer the world, just my wife, Jenny and I. Within a mile or two, we made it to the first trailhead and checked our notes. “When you pass the gate, put her in 4-HI and reset the odometer.” Done and done. 


Schnebly Hills Trail is a winding, bumpy fire road up the side of what I can only assume was Schnebly Hill. Jenny plowed over everything in her path. The only thing limiting our progress was that we kept stopping to take photos because the scenery just kept getting better. Massive, imposing rock formations surrounded us with hardly another human in sight. Cacti, iron woods and the hot sun above us – it was the setting of every spaghetti western. At first, I tentatively wove my way along, afraid to test the limits of the $25 tire and glass coverage we’d added. But my lack of experience with off-road driving and the sharpest, most punishing rocks proved no match for Jenny’s sheer brawn. We made it to the top, where we went on foot to explore the “Merry-go-round,” a rocky outcrop boasting a jaw-dropping panorama of the entire valley. We sat down for a few minutes to soak in the sun and bask in the diem we were thoroughly carpé-ing. 

If the way up was a learning experience, the way down was an educatioAmirn in fun. A downhill slalom, probably at higher speeds than Barlow would have liked, with a Pearl Jam soundtrack provided by Jenny’s Sirius XM radio, Schnebly Hill melted away. At the bottom, once again on pavement, we consulted the maps provided to us to navigate our way to the next trail. 

Soldier’s Pass was an entirely different beast altogether. This time our notes said, “4Lo, nice and slow.” I dropped Jenny into low gear and flipped the sway bar disconnect switch, allowing the axles to move more freely. Free is good. Let’s go. 

11149437_10100612306839057_5446780083734526773_n (1)The first thing we came across was a sign telling us if we couldn’t make it down the first boulder crawl, not to bother with the rest of the trail. Needless to say, Jenny took it all in stride, and again more than compensated for my lack of having any idea what I was doing. We rumbled down the flight of rocks, coming to rest on a trail just a few inches wider than our Wrangler. For the next hour, Jenny took us back in time. We clambered up and down some gravity-defying inclines on our way to an enormous gaping sink hole exposing a few million years of sedimentary layering. On the way back we visited the Seven Sacred Pools, from where General Crook marshaled his campaign against the last of the Apache. Jenny never missed a step. From start to finish, all I had to do was point her in the direction we wanted to go, and our girl’s 285hp took care of the rest. Sadly, with our first two trails down, we were nearing the end of our four hour escapade. We turned back towards Barlow and, with heavy hearts, turned over the keys.

Needless to say, getting back into our rental car was rather disappointing. If it hadn’t been for the unbelievably good taco truck we found on the way back, I may actually have shed a tear to leave Jenny behind. The next day at our conference was even less exciting, but the last drops of adrenaline still had me feeling like Superman. I finally understood why people buy those burly, lifted, totally unnecessary vehicles – because they must turn even the most blasé commute into an experience

On the flight home, I thought again of the rugged pioneers who trekked across a continent in rickety wagons with every one of their earthly possessions in tow. I imagine they’d be pretty annoyed to know how easily some guy from the East Coast can do it now but undoubtedly proud that they paved the way. I tried to look out the window to catch one more glimpse of the great cactus strewn expanse where roads are once again optional, but I was stuck in an aisle seat. I didn’t care. We’d had an unforgettable adventure. And, more importantly, I was in an exit row.