We made it!

Happy to report that Abby and I landed safe and sound in Cleveland last Friday, following a mostly uneventful journey. She did AWESOME on our flights. We received so many comments and compliments on how quiet and well-behaved she was, which I’m choosing to believe is a direct reflection on our parenting, not the unlimited Kindle Fire and binky time she had while we traveled.

We started out early Friday morning with a 1:30am wake up. I didn’t wake Abby until our driver had arrived, and then I dressed her while JR installed the car seat and helped load the car. She was immediately excited about our travels and talked happily the whole way to the airport. We had two separate ticket reservations – Abby and I were traveling on my med-evac orders, while JR was booked under his own order because he was headed to a training course in DC. An added delight to all this travel nonsense is that we always struggle with being seated together. For the 4 hour flight to Munich, Abby and I had a middle and aisle seat, while he had a middle seat directly behind us.

We asked the man assigned to the window seat in my aisle if he’d be willing to take JR’s middle seat instead so we could be seated together (yes, we cringed while asking and felt terrible.  No one wants a middle seat.) To his credit, the man just nodded and switched with us. It actually worked out well as no one else was seated in that row, and he was able to have his window seat and extra space anyway. JR encouraged me to move back as well, where I took an aisle seat and slept almost the entire flight and he hung out with Abby. She fell asleep for about half the flight.


It was around 7am local time when we landed in Munich.  We found a small empty play area and hung out there for a while before making our way to a restaurant for breakfast. Our gate was in H, but we knew another play area was set up near G28, and since it was just a floor below us, we walked down there to let Abby play for over an hour. I think our layover was about 4.5 hours, and it really wasn’t bad at all. Our theory was to try and let Abby play and run off any excess energy in Munich so she could get the most sleep on the longer flight.

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As soon as we boarded the flight to DC, we set up our 1st Class Kid Travel Pillow. We heard about it through other foreign service folks who are more travel savvy than we are and decided to give it a try. JR inflated it himself (supposedly you can use the vents over your head, but we were still nervous the flight attendants might say we couldn’t use it, so I didn’t want to call attention to it). It only took him a few minutes and then we wedged the pillow on the floor in front of Abby’s seat, filling the gap so she could put her feet up. It was well past her regular nap time, so I encouraged her to put her head on the pillow and try to sleep. She was able to nap for about 2 hours while I watched Me Before You – the movie was fine but I felt like a fool sobbing at the end of it.  Maybe better watched in private. For $30, we think the pillow was worth it and helped her to sit and stretch out more comfortably.

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Abby really did not complain or cry at all during the long flight. Towards the end she was definitely acting tired and over it, but we all felt that way. I spoke to the flight attendants to ask if we could have anyone help us upon landing. Since JR was staying in DC, I would be on my own with Abby and all of our things, and I was particularly worried about collecting all of our bags (4 bags and one heavy-duty car seat) at baggage claim, along with our stroller and carry-on bags, and making it through customs and security by myself. They said not to worry, there would be porters available at baggage claim who could help. Mm hmm. Sure.

From the moment we got off the plane, it was a rough 2 hours. Almost immediately, a rude United employee was directing JR one way and Abby and I in the opposite direction, and he was very short with us and gave us less than a minute to say goodbye. Abby and I made our way to passport control and the line was crazy long. She was very patient, mostly in an exhausted daze, so she sat quietly in her stroller as we waited in line. I was super hot (my temperature is 10 degrees higher at all times while pregnant), and carrying the backpack and pushing the stroller, all I wanted was to sit down.

At the self-serve kiosk, you scan your passports and pose for a picture. I knew my picture wouldn’t be good, but I really outdid myself. When I handed the printed photo to the customs agent, he laughed and said “Oh that’s a keeper.” I was going to put the picture here but it’s literally too embarrassing to post publicly.

The next part was frustrating – I started asking if anyone could help me collect my bags and push them to the drop off point further down the hall. The employees smiled but looked at me like I was crazy. I walked up to a nice looking gentleman wearing a flourescent vest and asked if he could help me. He totally wanted to say no but I looked just stressed enough that he felt bad and grabbed a luggage cart while I pointed out our 4 bags. He pushed the cart and I pulled our 30lb car seat behind me and pushed the stroller with my one free arm and my stomach. Fun times!

Relieved to have made it through customs in one piece, I was really bummed to see another long line and security checkpoint. Abby had fallen asleep in her stroller and I dreaded having to wake her. I accepted that I would be very slow moving through security. As I bent down to wake her up, the TSA guy reminded me that I needed to collapse the stroller. I knew this, it was just very difficult to manage while holding my toddler. I pushed it up on the conveyor with our other bags and turned to walk through the metal detector. They asked if Abby could walk through by herself, and bless her heart, she was crying and so tired but she did and waited for me to grab her again. She was crying for her stroller, so I hurriedly pulled it off and set it up for her. She nestled in and fell back asleep immediately. I was relieved and grateful that we’d made it through the parts I worried about the most, but at this point I was sweating, starving, and I really need to find a restroom.

Of course our gate was 10 miles away. Okay, maybe closer to a ten minute walk, but it felt like forever. I had about 20 minutes to order some food, eat a burger and fries quickly, use the restroom, and then it was time to board our last flight! There wasn’t a jetway so we walked outside and Abby surprised me by being happy to wake up. A very nice lady held her hand while I put the stroller on the luggage cart and we boarded the flight. She was quiet and sweet and before we knew it, we were landing in Ohio! So many of the passengers had a kind word about her and what a trooper she had been, and one brought our gate checked stroller right to me. A huge thank you to all of those who helped make our day of travel a bit brighter and bit easier just by being nice.

We made our way to baggage claim where my parents were waiting and it was the BEST feeling to see them! Abby slept on the car ride home but woke up ready to play and hang out as soon as we arrived at their house.  And I was more than happy to let their reunion continue while I immediately went to bed.




It’s always darkest before the dawn

Blogging is all fun and games when I’m talking about our travel adventures, parenting mishaps, and life overseas. Then there’s the deep stuff, the hard stuff that is uncomfortable to discuss. And actually, the truth is I’m not uncomfortable, it’s just that the topic is sensitive and awkward and you feel like you shouldn’t be open about it. So you keep it all in and for me, that doesn’t make me feel any better.

I have always, always wanted to be a mom and to have a big family, and I wanted to have my children close in age. We were both ready to have a second baby when Abby was around 8 months old. I realize this probably sounds crazy, but Abby was sort of a trick baby who slept well and was relatively easy to handle, and this was well before we had insight into what her toddler years would be like. Because we had home leave and a big move to Georgia on the horizon, we decided to hold off a few more months, but when Abby turned 1 we felt more than ready. And we were insanely happy when we learned I was pregnant just a few weeks later.

We were on vacation with my family and excitedly shared the news with them, and with JR’s family soon after. I feel a pang thinking about how unabashedly happy and naive we were then. In the weeks that followed, we had multiple ultrasounds in the U.S. and then in Tbilisi shortly after we arrived, a terribly long period of limbo that resulted in a miscarriage. Just two weeks after arriving in Tbilisi, I was med-evaced to London for a D&C.

It was hard and awkward un-telling our families. We were sad but optimistic – these things happen, miscarriages are common, this was a small hurdle. I repeated those words to myself and found myself quoting them when I shared the news with people. I have always struggled with anxiety but it really kicked up as I waited for my cycle to return so we could begin trying again. I found out I was pregnant again in early November. Although we both wanted to believe that our previous experience was just bad luck, I had trouble feeling confident about the pregnancy. I questioned everything – especially because I didn’t have any typical symptoms (which was quite the opposite of my first trimester with Abby). We wanted to avoid the frustration of uncertainty, so we waited until I was about 7 weeks pregnant before scheduling an ultrasound. I knew at that point we should have seen a heartbeat, and when the local Georgian doctor said he couldn’t find one, we were crushed.

The doctor said it could still be early and wanted us back a week later. Limbo again. I wished with every ounce of my being for a positive outcome, and in spite of JR’s insistence that the news would be positive, in my heart I didn’t believe it. The following week it was confirmed that I was having a miscarriage, and I made my way to London for my second D&C just before Christmas. It was awful timing with the holiday, but we did our best to focus on Abby and my mom’s visit.

Throughout all of this, I was in close communication with my OB in Ohio. I asked her what was wrong with me, she said most likely nothing and we were just experiencing really awful luck since we were getting pregnant, just not staying pregnant. I believed the bad luck explanation for the first miscarriage, but to have two in a row seemed like more than bad luck – it was particularly cruel and painful. She and the doctor who handled my procedures in London agreed that we should continue trying, and if anything else happened it would be time to move on to a specialist.

In February I had another positive pregnancy test and I didn’t even want to tell JR. The emotional ups and downs were so draining, and I thought maybe I could spare him the roller coaster somehow. Per my OB, I went in for multiple blood tests right away and within in a week, it was pretty obvious that I was experiencing a chemical pregnancy (a very early miscarriage). As soon as we realized what was happening, I asked my OB for a referral to a reproductive endocrinologist (RE). This step was really scary for me – I felt like I was admitting defeat, admitting something was wrong with me physically and a viable pregnancy wasn’t going to happen without medical help. At the same time I didn’t feel like we had a moment to waste. I didn’t want to miss out on a window of opportunity to see an RE and hopefully have tests done during our R&R in Ohio.

I was able to see an RE the first week I was home in early March. He was straightforward – borderline abrasive. He said there were some standard tests I could and should do (karotyping my chromosomes, basic blood tests, and a sonohystogram to check my uterus) and thankfully he was able to schedule me for all of those things that same day. I’m especially grateful for that as one of my biggest worries was being limited by our time and availability in the U.S. and leaving without any real answers. But most importantly, he told me he didn’t think the tests would reveal anything. He said I was experiencing secondary infertility and recurrent miscarriage and most likely it would remain unexplained. He said that we could and should continue trying on our own and we had around a 70% chance of getting the magic combination that would result in a viable pregnancy, but the only thing he could do for me medically would be in-vitro fertilization with pre-implantation genetic screening (IVF with PGS).

I was blown away. First, just hearing the word “infertility” hurt. I’d been pregnant 3 times in 10 months. Then, what I had hoped was some small-ish medical problem that could be fixed now sounded like a full-blown worst case scenario. When and how would we accomplish IVF living overseas? How much would it cost and how would we pay for it (he estimated $17,000 for one attempt and our insurance offers no IVF coverage). The alternative was to keep getting pregnant and having losses, which was taking a huge emotional toll on both of us. I wondered why this was happening and what was wrong with me. I also struggled with immense guilt that I was so focused on my sadness over not having a second child, that I was missing out on wonderful, every day life with our amazing daughter.

On our last morning in Ohio, I once again found myself staring at a faint pink line on a pregnancy test. I don’t think I felt any excitement, honestly I felt kind of numb. When we were back in Tbilisi, I contacted the med unit and my RE’s office to let them know. The RE recommended that I have the same initial blood tests as before (HCG count and progesterone) and to start progesterone supplements immediately. The med unit here was very accommodating and encouraging, and I dutifully took the progesterone every night. The wait for my first ultrasound was awful. JR and I talked in terms of “well if I’m pregnant” never feeling confident in saying it affirmatively. Every day, I feared it would end or worse, it was already over and my body didn’t know it yet. I didn’t feel pregnant at all, I felt dejected and worried and sad.

Finally, when I was 7 weeks along, we went back to the doctor for my first ultrasound. Earlier that day, I  had lunch with our good friends here and their daughter put a flower sticker on my hand. I told her it was my good luck charm, and when I laid down on the table, I closed my eyes with tears streaming down and gave JR my hand. He was rubbing the sticker and I kept my eyes closed while he looked up at the screen. The ultrasound doctor spoke in Georgian to the doctor who accompanied me from the med unit, and waiting for the translation was unbearable. I finally opened my eyes and looked at our doctor who smiled at me and said “there’s a heartbeat.”


Even now, so many months later, I can remember every feeling of that day. I held it together decently well until JR and I were alone in front of the hospital, on a small, busy street in the middle of Tbilisi, waiting for our ride, and then I burst into tears. And that’s how almost every appointment has been since then. I’ve had four more ultrasounds, including two in London, and each time I hold my breath and brace to hear the worst. Hearing that heartbeat – one of the sweetest sounds in the world – I feel this weight lift off of me that I’m not even sure I realized was holding me down. This pregnancy has not been easy, not because of any major physical symptoms but because the anxiety and fear have robbed me of enjoying most of it, but we are grateful and counting down the days until we can meet our new baby.

Three Airplanes

That’s what we keep telling Abby about our upcoming trip to Ohio – that we’ll take 3 airplanes and then we’ll see Nana and Papu waiting for us at the airport. She repeats it back and when I ask, she promises to sleep on the plane. Likely story.

We are inching closer and closer to our departure date and I’m feeling those familiar pangs of anxiety about a full day of travel. There’s no way around it, it’s not easy to travel to or from Tbilisi. I dream of a day in the future when there is a direct flight to the U.S. For now, we’ll leave our house at 2:30am and travel for about 26 hours to make it home. We have terrible luck when it comes to these long hauls (missed flights, lost strollers, canceled flights) so I’m preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

One of the most daunting things, besides packing for 3 months, is all the paperwork and procedures that go into having a baby while posted overseas. The State Department has this very useful Pregnancy Guide. It’s 37 pages long, with a ton of information and links to help you understand the process of med-evacing, receiving per diem, adding a new baby to your travel orders, and obtaining the baby’s passport and visa. The passport and visa keep me up at night – so many steps that we need to take right away while we’re in the newborn haze of limited sleep. I created my own checklist of everything we need to do with references to the guide and other documents we used with Abby. So much to worry about it, but it will all get done eventually.

When I’m not worrying about leaving or packing, we’ve been enjoying the cooler weather around here and our last few weeks with our friends. We’ve also been embracing fall around our house with some baking. Abby loves to help in the kitchen, so we made some of Justin’s Aunt Diane’s famous pumpkin bread and my family’s pumpkin cookies.

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Waiting for things to bake is the hardest part

Bounce house fun

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Sopo (Abby’s amazing nanny) has been outdoing herself lately with Abby’s hair. I’m going to need a few tutorials before we leave so I can keep this up.

Now we are in the final countdown – time to say goodbye to friends and prepare for the land of Target, Dairy Queen, and traffic laws!

Tbilisi Zoo

Last weekend we met up with our friends and their kids to visit the Tbilisi Zoo.  We could not have picked a better day for it, the weather was perfect.

You may recall hearing about the terrible flooding in Tbilisi last summer, and the awful stories about what happened to the zoo.  (WARNING: graphic pictures) Around 300 animals were killed and many were wandering the streets after the flood destroyed many of their enclosures. One of the animals that escaped, Beggi the Hippo, became world famous when she was found wandering the flooded city streets.


People help a hippopotamus escape from a flooded zoo in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sunday, June 14, 2015. Tigers, lions, a hippopotamus and other animals have escaped from the zoo in Georgiaís capital after heavy flooding destroyed their enclosures, prompting authorities to warn residents in Tbilisi to stay inside Sunday. (AP Photo/Tinatin Kiguradze)


This was our first visit and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  We knew it would be quite different from zoos in the U.S. and our expectations were low given that the flood was just over a year ago, but we were pleasantly surprised by what we saw.

We can happily report that Beggi the Hippo seems to be doing well. Her current enclosure leaves a bit to be desired, but there is evidence of progress all over the zoo. They are working on the existing enclosures and also building a brand new zoo at a new location. Zoo experts from the U.S. were recently in town to provide training on animal care and exhibit design.

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We purposefully arrived just before the gates opened which allowed us to walk around pretty much by ourselves for at least an hour. With no crowds, we could let the kids run ahead and scope out the animals first, but we had to stay on guard a bit because many of the enclosures had basic fencing and we didn’t want to lose any little fingers to a hungry lemur or monkey.

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With safety standards and enclosures not quite up to American standards, you can get really close to the big animals. Realllly close. Abby threw a fit when JR stopped her from trying to pet the rhinoceros and his donkey friends.

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In addition to the animals, the zoo had a few small areas with carnival-like rides and attractions.  Tickets were cheap – just 1 Lari each, and most rides cost 1 or 2 Lari. The kids had a great time on the little flying airplanes, the trampoline and the tea cups.

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Our group enjoyed the Tbilisi Zoo and we hope to go again soon!

A highlight of our weekend was the Tennessee Volunteers beating Florida after 11 long years.  Although neither Abby nor I stayed up to watch the game, we made sure she showed her spirit during the day!  Go Vols!

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La Vida Lopota

For Labor Day weekend, we joined some friends and their kids at Lopota Lake Resort in the Kakheti (read: wine) region of Georgia.  The drive took about 2.5 hours and despite some very windy roads, it was relatively easy. A friend tipped us off that we should specifically request ground floor rooms in the S building, which we reserved several weeks in advance. Alas, when we arrived those rooms were not available, but the L building, right next door, suited us just fine.  I do recommend the ground floor rooms because of their great patios and you get to avoid the stairs!

Although the weather had cooled a bit, we still took advantage of the multiple swimming pools right away. The food at dinner was decent, but a bit overpriced. The restaurant decorated their walls with bottles of wine (full bottles, which is important to this story).  JR asked the server for a glass of that specific type of wine and the server hesitated, saying “Oh. I will have to check if we have that.”  We all looked around bewildered because there were dozens of bottles around us, including one within arms reach by  JR’s head. The server returned a few moments later to confirm that unfortunately, they did not have that type of wine available.


Oh well, he ordered a beer instead.

The next morning after breakfast the air was a bit cooler and we noticed that some of the other guests’ children were bundled up like it was full blown winter.  I think it was maybe between 65-70 degrees?  The weather did not keep us from a last dip in the pool!  We only stayed one night so we didn’t explore all of the grounds, but there was plenty to do and we will definitely visit again next year.

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We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing at home. Our friends from down the street came over for a farewell dinner – they are headed back to the U.S. for a few months.  Abby and their daughter, K are best buds and I was really sad to say goodbye!

One last hug!

On Monday, Abby helped me make cookies.  She was quite impatient waiting for them to  bake!

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We closed out the weekend with a sunset bike ride.

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No really, what do you do?


JR has been with USAID for over 4 years now (and recently received a promotion!), yet I’m pretty sure our friends and families still don’t know what he does. Which is normal, my sister is a chemical processing engineer (I think?) and she’s explained it to me a few times and I’m just like, oh mm hmm, I see! When really I do not. At all. I’m also at a different job with an agency I’d never heard of before I applied, so it stands to reason that no one has a clue what I do either.

JR is a Contracting and Agreement Officer for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID is an Executive Agency tasked with promoting democracy, economic growth, and peace and stability in developing countries around the world (I stole that directly from their website. Citing my sources and all that jazz). He’s part of the USG’s Diplomatic Corps, otherwise known as the Foreign Service, which USAID’s website explains as:

Through their dedication, technical skills, and creativity, Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) drive American foreign policy towards its objectives of global peace, stability, and prosperity. USAID FSOs are responsible for developing and managing foreign assistance programs that encompass   economic growth and trade, agriculture and the environment, education and training, democracy and governance, stabilization and conflict mitigation, global health, and humanitarian assistance.  USAID FSOs work in close partnership with the governments and people of more than 100 countries in five regions of the world, with private voluntary organizations, universities, private businesses, trade and professional associations, other donor governments, faith-based organizations, and other US government agencies. They assess country needs, prepare strategic plans, design and evaluate programs, oversee budgets and contracts, and report on results.

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Specifically, JR has the legal authority to solicit, negotiate, award, and possibly terminate any agreement that USAID enters into in a given country. In order to do his job he has what’s called a warrant that allows him to obligate money on behalf of the U.S. government. Since the U.S. government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world (by far), the process of obligating money on its behalf is heavily regulated. Another way to look at it is that he’s a “business advisor” for the government and ensures compliance with federal contracting laws.

Here’s a very generic example: If USAID had funding for a new education program, such as sending students to the U.S. for master’s degrees in economics, they would need an implementing partner to manage the program. First, they would announce that they have this program and that U.S. or local organizations can bid on it if they wish to be chosen to run it. Then USAID would review all the bids, make sure everything is compliant with legal regulations, and then select the best implementing partner/bid for that particular program. Someone at USAID also has to oversee the implementing partner to ensure they are managing the program correctly and make any necessary adjustments to the contract/agreement. This all includes a lot of paperwork. JR has the legal responsibility for all of those components.

So that’s JR’s job in a nutshell. Makes perfect sense, right?

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We will spend most of his career overseas, although we may be posted to DC at some point for a 2 or 3 year tour.

My job is Program Coordinator for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) in Tbilisi. If you are like me and had never heard of DTRA, you might be surprised to learn that DTRA is a pretty large agency just outside of D.C. with almost 2,000 employees. Here’s a snapshot of the main objectives of DTRA:  http://www.dtra.mil/About/WhoWeAre.aspx.

In Georgia, DTRA supports Embassy objectives including Euro-Atlantic integration, international cooperation, and peace and security measures.  One of the biggest areas of work is the Cooperative Biological Engagement Program. Basically, the U.S. has a strong interest in ensuring that Georgia understands best practices in biosafety and security, is prepared to handle infectious diseases or outbreaks, and enhancing international research partnerships. You can read more here:  http://georgia.usembassy.gov/embassy_offices_andotheragencies2/defense-threat-reduction-office.html

Like my job title says, I coordinate. We have visitors and contractors from the U.S. and they need assistance scheduling meetings with Georgian officials and people within the Embassy. I also attend the meetings and report back to our office on what is happening and any action that we need to take to facilitate things. One of my first tasks was the opening of a boat basin in Batumi, funded by DTRA. It was a large-scale project so we had high-level Embassy representatives attending and I was responsible for contact with the front office of the Embassy, coordinating the schedule, and writing up the speech and press information for the event. I’m learning new things all of the time and I really enjoy the work.

My position is specifically for EFMs (eligible family members – typically, spouses or partners of foreign service officers). At any given post, I can apply for all of the EFM positions that seem to fit my interests and background. It’s unlikely I’ll be hired as a divorce attorney, but I hope I can continue to find interesting work while we live overseas.

So… that’s what we do.

Mtatsminda Park

We took Abby to a small amusement park that overlooks the city called Mtatsminda.  The drive took about 30 minutes from our place and parking was frustrating because we didn’t know exactly where the entrance was located or where we should go, just that it was by the park.  You can park at the bottom of the mountain and take the funicular up which would probably have been a more convenient option in hindsight.  We skipped it thinking it would just delay our arrival and I wasn’t sure how much Abby would care about the funicular, but we’ll definitely try that route next time.

The park was larger than expected, and it was hot so I became quickly annoyed when we couldn’t figure out where to buy tickets for the rides.  After walking around for a bit, JR came through in the knick of time by locating a ticket booth where you purchase a card and can put as much/little Lari as you want on it.  We also stumbled upon a map of the park at that point, which also included ride prices – very helpful!  They ranged from about 1-5 Lari.  Abby is still a bit small for many of the rides there, but we found a few that she really enjoyed.  The flying bumblebees and the carousel were big hits. She did not understand why she had to exit after the ride was over and it took a lot of explanation (and crying) for Abby to agree to exit the rides. I think JR took her on those bees at least 3 times.

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They also had a few smaller arcade-style rides including cars that move and play music which she enjoyed.  Her favorite by far was the trampoline though. It was just a small kids trampoline with the netting around it, and I have no idea how much they charged us or how long you are supposed to “ride”, but she jumped forever.  She loved it.

We took a break for ice cream and this was probably the highlight for all of us.  Abby’s eyes were so wide when she grabbed the cone, and she made us laugh while she made a mess eating every single bit of that ice cream. It had cooled down a little by this point and we really enjoyed the people-watching and the view of the city.  We did encounter some trouble during our bathroom break.  The restrooms near the kid area had Turkish toilets.  Not my favorite thing under any circumstance, but particularly less so with a newly-potty trained toddler.  We improvised and lived to tell about it (note – apparently there are regular toilets in the cafe near the funicular.  Clearly, the funicular would have solved many of our problems.)

We had a really nice afternoon and we definitely plan on going back!

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