The Secretary, My Mom and a Baby

Secretary of State John Kerry visited Tbilisi on his way to the NATO Summit at the beginning of July. JR and I weren’t involved in the logistics of his visit, but it was really interesting to see just how much goes into every detail of planning a VIP visit at the Embassy and in the city.  Embassy employees were invited to a short meet-and-greet with him before he departed and we went to see him.  I had no idea I was such a huge John Kerry fan until I saw some of these pictures.

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My smile could not be any bigger. Clearly, I am smitten.

After a fun 4th of July weekend (that included my first trip to the Hard Rock Cafe in Tbilisi – we now have a Hard Rock here!), we only had to wait a few more days for my mom’s second visit to Georgia.  I already wrote about us ditching her immediately so we could enjoy a quick trip to London, but luckily she had 2 full weeks here so we were able to spend some quality time together.

We went out to dinner with friends and my mom – who is a pickier eater than me (and that’s really saying something) – shocked us all by trying quail.  One minute we’re chatting and the next I look over and she’s nibbling away on some grilled quail.  I was impressed!  She said it tasted pretty good, but I’m not quite ready to try it myself.

Most of her visit was spent as “Nana”, which is all she really wanted, although she also enjoyed some lazy afternoons at the pool.  On her last weekend, she helped me (okay to be fair she did most of the work) host a turkey dinner at our house for a few friends.  I ordered a turkey back in the fall before we had plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we spent both holidays with friends and didn’t need to prepare our huge bird.  I had no idea when we’d use it and this seemed like the perfect time, especially considering I’ve never cooked a turkey.  We had a minor crisis when we realized the “turkey bag” I thought I had was actually a cellophane bag and those are apparently not the same thing at all.  The bag burst and we thought our turkey was doomed, but my friend Elizabeth came to the rescue with an extra bag that was in fact designed for cooking a turkey, and we were able to enjoy a wonderful dinner!

My mom would have been content to spend all of her time in our little gated community just enjoying Abby’s company, but we made a last minute decision to drive to Kazbegi, home to Mount Kazbegi and the small village of Stepantsminda.  The drive took us just under 3 hours, which would have been a bit shorter but we had to stop many times for cows in the road.

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We checked into Rooms Hotel and had a picnic lunch on the patio, enjoying the perfect weather and gorgeous views.  JR and I wanted to see the famous Gergeti Trinity  Church, which sits high on a mountain overlooking the city (I never know the distinction between a hill and a mountain.  I’m from Ohio, so they all look like mountains to me).

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You can hike up to the church, or drive in your own car or pay a taxi or guide to take you.  Surely you can guess that I was not interested in the hiking option.  Instead, we hired a guide to ride in our car while JR drove us up the mountain. It was a really rough drive.  Our poor car and my poor stomach.  But the church and the views were absolutely worth it.

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We met up with my mom and Abby back at the hotel for some relaxation and dinner before heading in for a peaceful night of sleep.  Or so we thought.  Apparently, it was the opening night for a brand new club on the other side of the valley and the thumping base played ALL.NIGHT.LONG.  I’m not kidding, you could still hear it at 8am. We woke up a little grumpy but wanted to enjoy a few more hours at the hotel, so we had breakfast together and then spent over an hour at the indoor pool.  Abby’s attitude towards pool time is hit or miss (heartbreaking for this former Orrville Otter and my husband, a Black Oak Swim Club record holder) but she was totally into it!  She “swam” up and down the pool and jumped into our arms over and over again.  I was sad to check out and look forward to another visit, hopefully without the club music!

Before we knew it, it was time for my mom to head home.  Our goodbye was a little easier this time because we know we’ll see her again in about 11 weeks, when we head back to Ohio to await the arrival of baby #2 in December!

kazbegi

Back in business

I haven’t blogged in a LONG time.  I started a few posts and kept meaning to go back and finish them and well, I didn’t.  So I’ll just make a fresh start of things and do a little catching up here.

  • The holiday season in Tbilisi was wonderful.  We spent Thanksgiving with friends, enjoying a delicious turkey and all of our other favorites, including pumpkin pie (Abby ate her piece AND JR’s.  I knew better than to offer to share mine!).  They did an incredible job hosting 10 adults and 8 kids, and it reminded us of all of our Thanksgivings back in the States.
  • December flew by.  There were work parties, the Embassy kids’ party (see below for Abby’s pure joy at meeting Santa), and about 87 boxes from various retailers and family to sort through. We spent most of Christmas day in our pajamas, taking our time opening gifts and playing with Abby’s new toys, before having dinner with our friends and their kids.  Our favorite part of Christmas was giving Abby her play kitchen,  which we bought for $50 from the next door neighbors who were leaving for their onward assignment.  JR loved it because it was already put together.  With all the parts and screws, it probably would have taken him hours to build.
  • My mom came to visit!  She was here for about 10 days and we had the best time.  We  Skype with my family almost every night and it’s part of Abby’s evening routine to talk to Nana.  (Even when she plays with her toy phones and we ask who she’s talking to it’s inevitably “Nana” or “Papu.”) Abby was thrilled to spend time with her Nana, and Nana clearly felt the same way.  I had planned a lunch and trip to the spa for facials and massages, and when I was telling my mom the details, she started crying.  Not out of joy, mind you, rather she said “I’m just going to miss Abby.”  All because I wanted to spoil her for an afternoon!  She pulled it together, though, and we had a fun afternoon at the Radisson Blu spa.
  • We’re making plans for our first R&R, and although we could travel just about anywhere in the world, we’ve decided to visit Ohio. In March.  That’s what missing family (and Dairy Queen and Target) will do to a person!  The plan is for Abby and I to fly back a week before JR, so I have less than two months to panic about traveling alone with her.
  • JR and I each turned a year older.  Crazy that we met and started dating when I was 22!  Oh our youth.
  • That’s basically it. We’re boring.  But I’m determined to blog more frequently in 2016.  Until then, here are a bunch of pictures from the last few months.

 

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Swinging in Rike Park

 

sandbox
Playing in the big sandbox at QSI (the international school nearby)

 

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Abby was really excited to see Santa and Tovlis Papa, the Georgian Santa

 

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Showing off her shades and playing with stickers in her new tutu

 

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TbiliKids and Christmas market with Nana

 

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Sopo, Abby’s nanny, has been putting her hair in pigtails the past few days and I think it’s the cutest thing ever.

 

TbiliKids

On Saturday we took Abby to TbiliKids, a new play place near our house.  It’s a huge space with a small craft area, a food area, some games that require credits, and different play zones.  It had a big play structure (like you’d see in a McDonalds or Discovery Zone – is that still a thing?), an area to ride power wheels, and a little town with toys.   It’s open every day from 10am to 10pm, and I think next time we’ll try to go closer to the opening time.  It wasn’t terribly crowded when we arrived (around 3:30 on a Saturday), but it was much busier when we left and incredibly loud.  Why oh why would you play super loud music? It doesn’t work to drown out the sound of screaming children, it only intensifies all the noise!

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The cost is 10 Lari ($4.20) for unlimited play or 20 Lari for unlimited play plus 20 credits for the games.  For an extra 5 Lari ($2) per hour, you can have a personal nanny but I’m a bit skeptical about that.

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Overall Abby had a lot of fun and we will definitely go again!

The Trek to Tbilisi

I started to get anxiety about our travel to Georgia a few weeks before we actually left.  How would Abby do? How would the cat do?  Most importantly, how would I handle it all?  We do our best to be as prepared as possible, but you can only do so much, and we’re humans, so we make mistakes.

This was our first time flying with Annabelle, our cat, in the cabin with us.  Previously she has flown as excess checked baggage, but the airlines we were using this time did not allow that option.  She is not a great traveler, and we were quite concerned that she would howl and make noise the entire time.  We took her to the vet in Orrville for our required health certificate and asked for suggestions, and he recommended a mild sedative for her.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, kind vet.  Annabelle was calm and quiet from the time we left until we arrived at our house in Tbilisi.  A miracle!

passed out kitty
(Disclaimer – not a real photo of Annabelle)

My mom wanted to take us to the airport, but we had too many bags for one vehicle so we also hired a van to help transport our luggage.  This was our first time flying with Abby’s new convertible car seat (we purchased the Britax Boulevard Clicktight).  It is a beast, weighing in at almost 30lbs.   Since the new seat doesn’t click into our stroller like the infant seat did, we used a bungee cord to latch it to the stroller and we pushed it like that, while I wore Abby in my Beco.  This was the most convenient way for us to move through security, because they allow me to walk through without removing Abby, and they also didn’t require us to take our stroller/car seat contraption apart.

Our first flight was short and sweet, and we arrived in Detroit only a few minutes before boarding began for our flight to Amsterdam.   The seat arrangement was 2-4-2, and originally we were assigned 3 seats in the middle section.  There are rules about where a car seat can be on the plane, and I didn’t love the idea of how we would have to set up if we were in the middle section.  We switched so that we had the aisle seat of the middle section and then the aisle and window seats directly across from that.  We put Abby’s car seat next to the window and took turns sitting beside her, which actually worked out really well (during my time in the other seat I got to watch an entire movie!).   Abby did pretty well, but because her car seat is so big, we couldn’t position it rear-facing with a nice recline, and I think that contributed to her lack of sleep on that flight.

We arrived in Amsterdam about 7 hours later, landing at 5:30am local time (about 11:30pm EST).  Abby and I waited with all of our things while JR picked up our gate-checked stroller.  Or so we thought.  Apparently, our stroller didn’t make the flight.  This is the second time that has happened to us!  What is the point of gate-checking an item?  I was too tired to fully express my rage.  I calmly asked the attendant where we should go to file a claim, as I was certain our item wasn’t really missing, as much as it was just sitting in Detroit.  She was insistent that we could not file a claim in Amsterdam, we would absolutely have to take care of it with Delta/KLM in Tbilisi.  When I explained that there is no Delta/KLM at the Tbilisi airport, she was like, oh well, bummer for you, try there anyway!

Okay, so no stroller, nothing can be done at the moment, moving on.   I’m not sure we could have physically moved through the airport without assistance.  I asked her if she could call one of the golf carts over.  She said, oh sorry those cannot transport baggage.  She also said Abby and I couldn’t ride on them anyway because they can’t transport babies.  So basically those golf carts that always look like an ideal way to move through an airport are completely useless, in my humble opinion.

She brought us over the wee tiniest luggage cart we’d ever seen.  Sigh.  We loaded up and tried to locate their Baby Lounge in the airport, which I’d read about online.  It was pretty glorious.  It’s a separate large room with a long counter and sinks for changing babies, and then 8 sleeping pods.  Here are some photos:

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Amazingly, Abby went right to sleep in one of these cribs and slept for over 3 hours!  This was quite a feat considering that you could hear EVERY sound in this room, including one dad who was coughing like he had the Black Plague.   One minor complaint – the seating for adults leaves a bit to be desired.   You can see where a person could sit beside the crib, but I wanted to sleep, not sit.  JR and I contorted ourselves into some crazy different positions using our carry on bag and the floor to try to get a few hours of sleep.  I also seriously contemplated crawling in the crib.

Finally, it was time to leave Amsterdam and board our final flight to Tbilisi.  The flight took about 5 hours, and we were all exhausted.  Abby’s car seat did not fit in the seat rear-facing, so we flipped her around and she slept almost the entire time, which allowed us to sleep as well.  We landed in Tbilisi around 5:30pm local time (9:30am EST).  All of our luggage was there – hooray!

Of course, when we spoke to their lost and found to fill out a claim for our stroller, the employee was shocked that we didn’t handle it in Amsterdam.   He insisted the claim form should have been filed with KLM there.  I was displeased.

angry little girl

Thankfully, the Embassy driver was able to help us file our claim, and he and JR’s work sponsor took us to our TDY house where we feasted on homemade chicken noodle soup, salad and bread (thanks to our fantastic social sponsor Laura!) and promptly passed out.

We did not have internet or a phone at first, so I was unsure where to start hunting down our stroller.  Sunday morning, I sent my Mom a FB message (using JR’s work phone) with all of the information and asked her to look into it.  Amazingly, the stroller was found in Detroit and delivered to our door Monday afternoon.  Two takeaways from this trip – gate checking is not a guarantee that your item will arrive at your destination, and my mom can get things done for me even from thousands of miles away.  Thanks Mom!

And just like that

Our tour is over and we’re leaving Kosovo.   It’s been a wonderful two years.  We have made great friends, explored new places, and even expanded our family.  I really had no idea what to expect when we started this adventure, but this was a good tour for us and although there have been challenges, we will miss Kosovo and we are very thankful for our time here.

Some of my favorite pictures and memories from the last two years.

first weekDinner at Tiffany’s our first week in Pristina

albania 1Berat, Albania with Amy

 

rugovaRugova Gorge

singingKaraoke at Pacific Rim.  Don’t stop Believiiinnnnnnn’!!!

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santorini 3santorini
Santorini, Greece

paris vaux

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Paris, Vaux le Vicomte, and ringing in the New Year at the Sacre Coeur

first picWelcoming Abby to the world

lake ohridWine tasting at Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

shelbyI’m not sure I can call it a highlight, but I can’t skip over Shelby (and I have an update to share soon!)

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Our wonderful trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia with my parents

elephant Abby’s first Halloween

 

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Spending precious time with our families and Abby’s first Christmas

romania pic
And one last picture of our awesome road trip last month

Lamtumirë, Kosovo!

She’s 1!

Abigail Grace is one!   What a year we’ve had together.  Her favorite activities include trying to play with anything she isn’t supposed to, learning to walk, and eating (seriously, when we put food in front of her, her arm shoots out like something from the Hungry, Hungry Hippos game).  She’s not a fan of grass, but we’re working on that.  We love watching her grow, and she’s an excellent travel companion.  In her first year, she’s been on 3 transatlantic flights (and a total of 9 plane rides) and she’s visited 7 countries.

It’s still kind of amazing to me that I have a daughter and she is already a year old.  I wanted to be a mom for a very long time, and it’s everything I imagined it would be and more.   Abby brings so much joy (and exhaustion) to us and while I know it’s not everyone’s favorite, I really loved the newborn and infant stages.  This toddler thing has me a bit nervous, but I figure if she really starts to act up we’ll just ship her off to my mom’s house for a few weeks at a time.

A year in pictures!

baby 1
Still kind of in denial that I was THAT BIG at the end.  Also, it’s not talked about enough but not being allowed to eat all day while you are in labor is cruel.  An icee is not food.

 

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baby 5 baby 6 baby 7 baby 8baby 9baby 10baby 11baby 12baby 13baby 14baby 15baby 16baby 17

 

Not so much into sitting still for some birthday pictures this morning, but oh well.  Happy birthday, baby girl!

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Balkan Road Trip, Part III

In case you missed Part I or Part II.

Day 7:  Belgrade, Serbia

Our night in Timisoara was a bit rough because Abby had a bad cough which kept us up most of the night worrying about her.  Still, since we were already up and on the move, we were able to get on the road to Belgrade early and we arrived by 10:15am using Romania’s awesome highways, which was great after so many long drives.   Much of our drive was two-lane roads, often with lots of curves, so finding a nice highway in the Balkans was a treat!

When planning our trip, I had trouble finding a place in Belgrade that met all of our needs (walking distance to city center, parking, and suites) that stayed under budget.  I turned to Airbnb, which we used for our trip to Paris.  Immediately I found a perfect 2-bedroom apartment that was a ten minute walk to main areas we wanted to visit.  It was only $108 for two nights, so it was a great deal.   We met the owner’s mother outside the building to get the keys and information for our stay, and since Abby seemed up for it we went exploring.

We strolled along Knez Mihailova (the pedestrian street) and enjoyed the great weather.  I was totally surprised and excited to see a Vapiano’s restaurant right near our apartment.  We’ve been to Vapiano’s a few times in DC and I love their food, so we agreed to go there for dinner.  By the time dinner rolled around, Abby was over being out and about, so we just made a quick stop to order food to go.  We waited by the bar and I asked for a sweet white wine.  The bartender said, “would you like wine with bubbles?”  Splendid idea, kind sir.  Bring on the bubbly!

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Day 8:  Belgrade, Serbia

We set out early in the morning with plans to see Kalemegdan Park and the Belgrade Zoo.  I have a lot of feelings about our visit to the Zoo.  Although it’s located within a park, it’s also very much in the city center and portions of the zoo and animal enclosures back up directly to busy streets, which seemed very odd.  It’s not stroller-friendly, there were a ton of steps.  Most concerning were the actual enclosures for the animals – they all seemed too small and nothing like what the animal’s natural habitat would be.  I’m not anti-zoo at all, I love the zoos we’ve visited in Ohio (especially the Columbus Zoo!).   I just felt badly for most of the animals and at times, I also questioned the safety of the animals and visitors because sometimes it seemed like we were a bit too close for comfort.   It didn’t help that we passed by an exhibit with the gate keys still in the lock.  I won’t share many pictures because I think they are mostly sad, but here are a few.

bears hippos lion

By the time we left the zoo and the park, it was 10:30am and we’d already walked 7,600 steps (thank you, Fitbit).  We stopped for a quick lunch and then went off in search of Skadarilja, a small neighborhood with restaurants and bars.  I don’t know what the problem was, but we absolutely could not find this area.  We walked in a full circle TWICE (and these were big laps!) and would occasionally ask for directions, and still we missed it.  When we finally found it, I was so over walking and looking for it that I barely noticed it at all.  The neighborhood had a lot of nice shops and cool cobble stones but at this point Abby and I had enough of sightseeing for the day.  We stopped for a quick drink and then headed back to the apartment. The Fitbit said we hit 16,000 steps around 2pm, so that called for a nice, long nap.  For dinner, JR found a nice local restaurant, Zavicaj, right around the corner from our place.  It was perfect for the last night of our trip!

dinner

Day 9:  Pristina

We were on the road early and made it home by noon.  Back to reality!

A few random thoughts if you’re thinking about a similar trip.  A good stroller (we use the City Mini GT) and carrier (I love the Beco Gemini) are essential.   So many places are not stroller friendly, and it’s so much easier to wear her in the carrier, and we can take turns with it.  Some of our friends recommended the Totseat for a traveling high chair.  This thing is the best and has saved us on many occasions.  It’s easy to use, folds up small, weighs nothing, and is a life-saver when the restaurant doesn’t have a high chair.

Even with the long drives and weather issues, we had a wonderful trip.   It’s always fun for us to see new places, and we hope we can pass along the travel bug to Abby!

 

Balkan Road Trip, Part II

We left off here.

Day 4:  Brasov, Romania

After the unexpected cold and rain we experienced in Bucharest, I checked the weather forecast for Brasov and it looked like snow showers.  I thought surely that could not be right, it’s April for Pete’s sake!

And then we started driving.  Straight up snowstorm in the mountains.  It was supposed to be one of our shorter driving days, but it still took us over 3 hours to get to Brasov from Bucharest.  Also, did I mention that we switched out the snow tires for regular tires a week prior to our trip?

When we arrived in Brasov our GPS kept telling us to turn on streets we weren’t able to turn on, so finally we parked the car and JR walked to find Casa Albert.  We didn’t realize our hotel was located directly on the pedestrian street in the old town, which was mostly a great thing except the part where we had to unload and carry all of our luggage/stroller/pack n’ play.   We had lunch at the hotel’s restaurant and then drove about 35 minutes to Bran to see Bran Castle, alleged home of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration to Dracula.

 

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Really, all they know is that Vlad spent some time imprisoned at Bran Castle and they think the castle was described in the book Dracula.  Still it was a beautiful castle to see and the snow made things even prettier (and also very cold).  The decor inside wasn’t that impressive but the courtyard and views were great.

After our castle visit, we went back to our room so Abby could nap.  I sent JR out on a mission to find a place for dinner that was non-smoking and served pizza.   During the recon mission he would send me pictures of the few places he had found while I waited for Abby to wake up.  We wound up at Prato, very close to our hotel and one of the best choices we made our whole trip!  First, it was not crowded, no smoking, and we had great service.  They had a plastic highchair that worked perfectly for Abby (a rare find) and best of all, great food and wine.   A great end to the day.

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Abby’s “I’m not impressed” face in Brasov.

Day 5:  Brasov, Romania

We started our day with a great breakast at our hotel, and then made our way to Peles Castle.  Peles is located an hour away, back towards Bucharest, and it would have made more sense to stop and see it while en route to Brasov, but it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so that didn’t work.  Although it wasn’t snowing when we arrived, there was plenty of snow and ice on the ground so we took our time making it up to the castle.  The trip was totally worth it because Peles is beautiful inside and out.

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We made a quick pit stop to feed Abby before visiting the castle.  She made friends with this older gentleman who decided to join us at our table.

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It was very crowded and took forever to buy tickets.  They offered a general exhibit ticket for 20 Ron (about $5) that allowed you to walk around by yourself on the ground floor only, or you could buy a 50 ron ticket ($12) and take a 75 minute guided tour of two floors.   We didn’t want to do the tour because it had already taken us a while to get there and buy our tickets, and we thought Abby might not have the patience for that.  We chose the general exhibit ticket and then spent an absurdly long time trying to find the entrance.  All the signs said “Enter here for English language tour” – which was not the ticket we purchased.  Finally, thanks to a very kind woman who spoke Romanian, we were informed that because it was so crowded that day, they weren’t allowing anyone to walk around on their own, and we would just be added to an English language tour.   A nice bonus for us considering we didn’t pay for that tour, but kind of unfair to all the other people who did pay full price.  The tour was informative, but long, and we still wound up leaving the castle before they moved on to the second floor.

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peles 3

Back in Brasov, we walked around the town some more and went inside the Black Church, built during the 14th and 15th centuries.

black church

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It was almost dinner time and JR asked what I wanted to do.  I directed him straight back to Prato!  I like what I like, what can I say?

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Abby was happy to be back at Prato too!

I raved about the wine again, and at the end of our meal JR asked our server for a bottle to take home.  My plan is to save it for a nice summer night once we’re settled in our new house in Tbilisi!

Day 6:  Timisoara, Romania

Timisoara was on our list mainly as a rest stop because the drive to Belgrade was too much for one day.  It was quite a long haul, but at a few points we were on this fancy new highway which was great.  I was driving while we were trying to find our hotel, and I turned right exactly like the GPS instructed me to when I was met almost immediately with flashing lights and a police car pulling me over.   Oops.  I told the nice policeman that it was the GPS’s fault that I was going the wrong way on a one-way and I showed him the proof, but according to him, I’m also expected to read the road signs.  He was really nice though and gave us corrected directions to our hotel without a ticket.

We stayed at the NH Timisoara and although we had booked a standard room since we were only staying one night, when we arrived we asked for a suite and they upgraded us for free!  The suite didn’t have a completely separate room for the baby but it was a good size and we were able to tuck her away in a separate corner/hallway so she could sleep.  As with most of our stops, the minibar is key when you spend your evenings in  your hotel room.  In the U.S. I wouldn’t dream of taking anything from the hotel minibar.  In my mind, a can of coke would be $7, plus a 25% service charge, plus a restocking fee of $3, all while there is a vending machine at the end of the hallway.  Over here the minibars are priced so well it makes me giddy.  Bring on the wine, bottled water, and snacks!

We ventured out again for dinner and thought we were heading to the main city center and square, but it turned out to be something like a ghost town.  We were on our way to a top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor, La Strada, but everything seemed closed, the streets were completely torn up for a construction project, and we joked that it looked like a scene from The Walking Dead.  To our surprise, the restaurant was open and the food was great.  The menu was much smaller than we were led to expect from the reviews, but we were happy with our meals.

To be continued.

Balkan Road Trip, Part I

JR and I had been talking about taking a long road trip ever since we arrived in Kosovo.  We are fortunate to have U.S. and local holidays off from work, and last week gave us a great opportunity for an extended trip that only used a few annual leave days.   We were considering a few options – one that included Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia; one that included those countries as well as Hungary; and one that took us in the opposite direction to tour Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia and Italy.   Ultimately, we decided on the first option.  We didn’t want to be overly ambitious with our driving plans because of the baby, and we felt that we would probably still get to Italy and Slovenia in the future, but we weren’t as sure about the other countries, so we didn’t want to miss out on this chance.

Keri, a friend who used to live here, sent me a copy of the itinerary she and her husband used for their trip and I followed it pretty closely.   I spent more time researching hotels than I care to remember.  I’m a big planner, and a worrier, and I wanted to make sure we had rooms with plenty of space for the baby.   Although we enjoyed our trip to Lake Ohrid, neither of us wanted to spend our evenings whispering with Abby sleeping at the foot of our bed, so we wanted suites and we needed parking for our car.  We also aimed to spend no more than 6 hours in the car per day for Abby’s sake and for our sanity.

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Day 1:  Sofia, Bulgaria

We were up early Saturday morning and on the road to Sofia by 8am.  We used a combination of our GPS – which doesn’t always get it right and is easily confused, some printed maps, and my phone when I could get it to work – to help us get to our hotel.   Abby was pretty easy going about the drive.  After babbling to herself in the backseat for about 45 minutes, she took a nice, long nap.  When she woke up, we found a place to stop to feed her and change her.  JR walked into the restaurant first and I said “check the bathrooms for changing tables.”  Um, I’m not sure what fantasy world I was living in that made me ask that question, because I don’t recall ever seeing a changing table anywhere in the Balkans.  At this particular stop, we were able to find a nice area to change her, but overall, when we were on the road we changed most of her diapers on our laps in the backseat.  Which I don’t really recommend.

We made it to our hotel, Grand Hotel Sofia around 2pm.  Parking and check-in were super easy, and they helped us with all of our bags (it was kind of embarrassing how much stuff we had, especially since I had planned to pack lightly).   Although we were all ready for a nap, we decided to walk around instead, so we explored the area near our hotel and went in a few stores.  It was a pretty day to be out and about, and we went to a German restaurant for dinner (really we went there because JR wanted to try the beer).   It was a nice, short visit to Sofia but we enjoyed it!

sofia 1

Day 2:  Bucharest, Romania

It felt like a really lonnnnng drive to Bucharest.  Although we got an early start from Sofia, somehow we (okay, this may fall on my shoulders) didn’t realize that our directions had us crossing a river by ferry to get to Romania.  When we pulled up at the border crossing/ferry platform around 10:45 a.m., we were informed it didn’t open until noon.  Not ideal, but we didn’t really have any other options because no one spoke English well enough to help us figure out if there was another crossing that did not involve a ferry.  You know, like a bridge.  We found a small cafe and ordered lunch (thank you, sweet waitress who at least understood the word chicken) and waited it out.  We returned to the border crossing closer to 12, and we almost missed our ferry because they were in no rush to review our passports.  We just barely made the ferry, and decided to let Abby practice her driving skills.

ferry 2 ferry 3

Funny little story about the border crossing on the other side.  That guy was also taking his sweet old time with our passports so I was already a bit agitated when he came up to the window and said “Excuse me, but I am wondering why does your daughter have a different surname than you?”

I was immediately hot and ready to be all “Um, you have no idea what you are talking about” but before I could start talking, he showed JR the mistake.  Abby’s tourist passport has her last name spelled wrong by one letter.  First, seriously?!  How did that happen?  And how has no one, in SEVERAL border crossing/flights/checks noticed until now?  Thank you, Mr. Romanian Border Patrol Agent.  Luckily, once we showed him that her diplomatic passport matches our last name, he let us go without any other questions.  But we’ll need to get that fixed ASAP.

We continued on to Bucharest and by the time we arrived, we were completely over being in the car.  Especially Abby.   Luckily, we found our hotel easily and we were quickly impressed by the service at Epoque Hotel.   While we checked in, a bartender brought us glasses of champagne and the bellhop unloaded our car and took our luggage to our room.  My kind of place!  We had a one-bedroom suite with plenty of space for all of us, so we settled in and put Abby down for a nap before venturing out.

The hotel was right beside a huge park that had a small carnival and vendors lined up for Easter celebrations.  We made our way to the Old Town and unfortunately, we weren’t all that impressed.  Instead of old buildings, churches and shops, it was mostly pubs and bars.  And massage parlors.   It was kind of underwhelming and definitely not our scene with the baby in tow.  We found a small burger restaurant that was almost empty and sat down for dinner.  As soon as we ordered, the tables started to fill up and everyone began smoking.  Bleck.  I know it’s just the way things go over here, but I still hate it and we try to avoid it whenever possible.  We moved to a bar table closer to the door and took turns walking around with Abby outside until our food arrived, and then ate our burgers and fries (which were delicious!) quickly before heading in for the night.

bucharest 1 bucharest 2

Day 3:   Bucharest, Romania

We were hoping to do some sightseeing, but when we woke up it was pouring rain and cold outside.  Still, we were in a new city and we thought we should power through so we bundled up, grabbed our umbrellas and went outside.  And then promptly turned back around.  Nope, too cold and gross out.   We were both feeling a bit bummed because it seemed like we’d be stuck in the hotel room all day and that was not what we had in mind.  JR suggested that we order room service (not something we do frequently, and always feels like a treat!) and THEN he said I should go down to the spa for a massage while Abby took her afternoon nap.

I was all

brad pitt working out

as I raced down to the spa for a fantastic body scrub and massage.   It was so relaxing and the perfect way to spend a rainy day!

The “Day of Jenni” (as we later named it) continued with dinner.  I was just in the mood for a classic American meal, complete with a cocktail and dessert.  It took some convincing, but JR agreed to have dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe.  I had a strawberry mojito, bbq pulled pork sandwich, mac n’ cheese, AND a hot fudge brownie sundae.  JR thinks we should experience the local cuisine everywhere we go but sometimes I need a little slice of home.  Fantastic day in my book!

One more quick plug for our hotel there – we picked the room rate that included breakfast, and it was a great choice.  They had a buffet with fresh fruits, breads and croissants and pancakes, and made-to-order omelettes.  Highly recommend!

To be continued.

10 months old!

This little bug is now 10 months old.

abby bootsabby 3

I’m solo with her this week while JR attends a conference in DC.  I love the extra one-on-one time, but it’s also tiring!  She keeps me on my toes, or hands and knees, really, because she loves to chase me crawling around the living room.

Last week we tried (tried being the key word here) to use a babysitter in the evening.  I had to be at a work event at 5:30, and JR had to be somewhere for about an hour at the same time.  Our nanny, Vjosa, wasn’t able to stay late, so we asked our back up sitter (L) to come over.  We haven’t used L in months, because we’re boring and we don’t go anywhere.  I stopped at home quickly to go over things with L and see Abby for a few minutes.  L was already there with Vjosa and Abby was not having it AT ALL.  In fact she didn’t even want me, she only wanted Vjosa.  Of course, Vjosa had to leave and so did I, and it was hard to say goodbye because she was pretty worked up and crying.  I ran into JR outside of our place as he was headed in and I warned him it was not good in there.   He said, well there isn’t anything we can do because we both have to leave, I said I understood but I just felt bad about it.

About 10 minutes later, on my way to my meeting, JR texted me.

“I stayed. Paid L and she just left. I couldn’t leave her.”

So, yeah.  If you’re keeping score at home, it’s Abby -197, Parents – 0.

Other than scaring off babysitters, she’s been so much fun lately.  Her favorite (and only) word is Dada, and she can give kisses, hugs, and high fives.  We’re working on blowing kisses.  She loves to Skype with her grandparents, aunts and uncles.   It’s so cute to see her face light up when she hears the Skype call starting.

Here are some of my favorite recent pictures.

Studying the menu carefully at Pinocchio.  She decided on puffs, cheerios, steak and veggies.

pinocchio 2 abby pinocchio

 

Valentine’s Day outfit and enjoying some snacks.

valentine's dayabby eating

 

Being silly, and with Vjosa, who we will miss dearly.

abby 1 abby 2

Sorry for so many blurry pictures – she rarely sits still, and I’m a terrible photographer!