Adventures in flying with two kids

Note: ¬†Yes, another traveling with children blog. Unfortunately, coping with travel is a large part of the Foreign Service, and writing about it is cheaper than therapy. So sorry, but not so sorry for more in-depth analysis of airline seating assignments. ūüôā

I can sum up our recent travels with these two pictures. Abby full of sass at the airport, and William succumbing to jet lag back in Tbilisi.

Our home leave departure from Tbilisi was pretty uneventful. We waited in a crazy long line at the airport and didn’t even have time for a restroom break before boarding our first flight to Amsterdam.

We had a 4+ hour layover there so we found a place for lunch and then made our way to this really fantastic play area. It had a huge plane complete with a cockpit that made noise. It was semi-enclosed so you could sit at one end of it and feel confident your kid couldn’t go anywhere. Abby enjoyed herself and I found a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream sandwich for myself. #winning

 

The flight from Amsterdam to Detroit was very long. We had the middle section with 4 seats together, so JR and I were each on the aisle with the kids in between us. It was a bit annoying when we wanted to switch our seats because we had to walk past several rows to the restrooms to cross over to the other side. I really can’t remember much about this flight except being annoyed that I accepted the meal because I didn’t eat any of it (airline food and I don’t see eye to eye) and then the food and tray table were in my way for a solid 30 minutes before they came around to clear them up.

JR’s flight was much better than the rest as there was a new beverage option on the KLM flight, Sweet Water 420. This was one of JR’s favorite beers years ago living in Tennessee so he was overly excited that he could drink good beer – FREE good beer – on the 9 hour flight.

We landed in Detroit and starting imagining the possibilities of where we might eat during our 4 hour layover. Before we could find a restaurant though, we had to deal with a very long wait for our stroller. Instead of being available right when we exited the plane, our stroller (and the stroller of a mom traveling solo who was furious and I felt terrible for her) was whisked off to some unknown part of the airport. We had to make our way through customs, passport control and baggage claim and we continued waiting for another 15-20 minutes until someone located the strollers. Finally, time to eat!

To our excitement, the airport offered a Longhorn, Chick Fil A and Max and Erma’s. Decisions decisions! We opted for Max and Erma’s and walked a very long way to find it. But it wasn’t there, because we went in the wrong direction. We were hungry at this point so we went to Gordon Biersch instead. This was an expensive mistake. They didn’t have the drink or sandwich I wanted and the food was subpar, but the meal still cost us an arm and a leg. Welcome to America! Thankfully, William was a doll and Abby slept through the entire layover.

 
Sometimes you feed your kid on the floor of an airport.

We boarded our last flight to Cleveland and it was so gloriously short I can’t even complain that William was pretty fussy for it. My mom and sister were waiting for us in Cleveland and we were all happy to be “home.”

Our six weeks of home leave flew by, and then it was time to fly back to Tbilisi. We started off with another quick flight from Cleveland to Detroit, and this time in Detroit we had learned our lesson and located the Max and Erma’s. The airport map showed there was a kid’s play place nearby – perfect! Abby was not impressed with Detroit’s version of a kid’s play area. They did have a tram that ran the length of the terminal and we enjoyed riding that back and forth for a while before it was time to board.

We had my preferred seating arrangement for this flight (the plane was set up as a 2-4-2) so each kid had a window seat and we took turns in the aisle seats beside them. This flight didn’t start out so well. My TV screen didn’t work – first time that has ever happened to me! I didn’t think it was a huge deal because I rarely get to watch something, but the screen wouldn’t go black which was really annoying when I tried to sleep. We switched seats while JR tried to sleep and during that time I actually watched 1.5 movies! I saw all of Deepwater Horizon (really good!) and more than half of the new Beauty and the Beast (so good, hope I can finish it someday!).

Also, JR happily ordered a Sweet Water 420 again that promptly exploded when he opened it since it was partly frozen. Not a great situation on a plane. He was not amused.

I really wanted Abby to sleep for most of the flight and she was fighting it hard. She threw an all out temper tantrum that in reality probably lasted just a few minutes but in that moment, with the plane dark and the majority of the people around us sleeping, it took hours off my life. I struggled with how to make her calm down and be quiet. In a moment of total frustration, I leaned down close to her and in my meanest Mom voice said “If you do not stop right now I will take you to the bathroom.”

There was no point to my threat. Why was I going to take her to the bathroom? It’s small and doesn’t smell great. I don’t want to hang out in there. I realized how silly I sounded so I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes for a few moments to calm down and think of another solution. She saw my moment of weakness and pounced. She tapped my arm and tearfully asked “But, do you still love me?”. Straight to the heart, that one. I teared up, starting hugging and kissing her and assuring her I loved her no matter what and the whole thing was MY fault anyway. I then gave her more snacks and another show before trying the sleep thing again.

We had a 4 hour layover in Amsterdam and it was not pleasant. We’d been traveling for a long time already, with very little sleep, and our clocks thought it was about 1am. William slept pretty much the whole time and didn’t even wake up when I took him out of his stroller so we could board our last flight. And the last one was brutal because to be honest, Georgian Airways does not have wonderful service and it was 5 hours long and everyone was over it. But we made it, all of our bags made it, and after a short week and a half of dealing with jet lag we are all finally back to normal.

My tips:

  • Pack a few spare plastic bags to use as trash bags so you don’t have trash poking out of every seat back, and you don’t have to wait for the flight attendants to come around and collect it.
  • We’re still very happy with our 1st Class Kids Pillow. JR figured out how to use the overhead air to inflate it most of the way and then we place it in front of Abby’s seat for the long haul flights.
  • Less is more. I still cram Abby’s backpack full of activities and toys, but she rarely pulls out more than her blanket, baby doll, and headphones. The ipad is where it’s at for travel days. JR and I also each have a full backpack, plus William’s car seat, the carrier (love the Beco Gemini), and our double stroller that we gate check.
  • I wish I would have splurged on the Ready to Feed formula bottles. All of William’s bottles take up so much space, and then when we’re done we just put the dirty ones in the backpack again. With the RTF bottles, you can throw them away when you’re done. The catch is, the box of RTF bottles they sell at the store only comes with 1 nipple for 8 bottles (dumb). So you have to order extra nipples on Amazon in advance and I didn’t think far enough ahead on that one.
  • If you find yourself excited that your flight offers Sweet Water 420 beer, and the one you open is half frozen so it explodes all over you and your tray table, you can use a baby’s burp cloth to clean up the mess. And then put the smelly wet burp cloth in one of the aforementioned plastic bags for the duration of your travel.
  • Not all family restrooms are created equal. Amsterdam has these amazing family restrooms with a futuristic automated sliding door, a changing pad, seating area and sink, along with a toilet and sink that is kid-sized (there’s a regular size one in there as well). Meanwhile the Detroit “Family” restroom is just a larger-than-average bathroom that didn’t even have a changing table. Not helpful.
  • Don’t do it. I’m mostly kidding, but travel with two kids is hard! Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and remind yourself it has to end eventually.

Home Leave 2017

We just wrapped up six weeks in America visiting family and friends, vacationing, shopping, and eating everything in sight (okay maybe only I did that last part). Some of the highlights and a ton of pictures:

  • We arrived just in time for 4th of July festivities in my home town. I haven’t been home for our town’s parade and carnival for several years. It was really special to be back and to share all of the fun with Abby and William. At first Abby did not know what to think about the parade, but before long she was all over the place scooping up candy and yelling for more. Similarly, she started out a bit nervous about the carnival rides but once she started she didn’t want to stop riding!

 

    

 

  • Abby finally had her first haircut. You can’t really tell, but at least we can say we did it!

  • We went to roughly 37 doctor’s appointments. Both kids had their well child visits, both kids got sick (Abby with viral croup, William with a stomach virus and THEN viral croup) and two trips to a specialist to diagnose and treat William’s allergies. He’s allergic to eggs and potentially peanuts, so we’re now “treating” him by building up a tolerance to peanuts at home. Sort of like Wesley in the Princess Bride with iocane powder. So far so good.

  • I had so much fun visiting with my friends. We went to wineries, spas, out to dinner, cookouts, and more. I learned how to use Snapchat filters and how to Boomerang (still a work in progress). I listened to Body Like a Back Road, I’m the One and Despacito on repeat. JR started calling it the summer of Jenni which has a really nice ring to it.

  

  • We did another great American road trip. JR and I rented a minivan, loaded it down, and drove down to Anna Maria Island, Florida. My mom and brother generously offered to fly the kids down, and my sister met us there as well. We rented a house a few blocks from the beach with its own pool and settled in for a week of fun and relaxation. Anna Maria was a perfect spot. Although the beaches were a bit crowded, the soft, white sand and clear waters made up for it. We had two golf carts that we drove all over the island, and if you ever go, you absolutely must visit The Donut Experiment. It was amazing!

 

  • After Florida, we slowly made our way to Knoxville, Tennessee to spend time with JR’s brother and his family. We made a very important but brief stop in Atlanta to meet Thatcher, the newest member of the T family! We were so sad to say goodbye to the T’s when they left Tbilisi, so it was a real treat to see them for a short visit and meet little Thatcher.
  • In Knoxville we spent most of our time watching Abby play with her cousin Katie, eating more good food, and we fit in a trip to the Knoxville Zoo (which insists on being called Zoo Knoxville which is weird). Highly, highly recommend this zoo – the animals, exhibits and staff were great. Abby rode a camel and fed a giraffe! The layout was really easy for walking around on a hot day with a stroller, and they had a nice splash pad play area included with admission. It was one of my favorite days during our trip.

                                                                                                                                           

 

  • We ended our road trip with 4 nights in Gatlinburg with JR’s whole family. 11 adults and 10 ¬†kids! Abby and William had so much fun with all of their cousins and we loved watching them play together.

 

  • Lessons learned after a road trip to Florida and back: It was a lot of driving time. I think we put over 2,500 miles on our rental car in 18 days. For comparison, we’ve lived in Georgia for two full years and we’ve put about 8,000 miles on our car. For the most part our kids did really well, but anytime a child is crying in the car even for a few minutes it feels like forever.
  • We made it back to Orrville just in time to finish up our consumables shopping (so much beer) and a few last trips to Dairy Queen.
  • Six weeks at home was really wonderful. We’re grateful to our friends and family for making time to see us and working around our crazy schedule. As much as we all loved our time in America, we are happy to be back in Tbilisi and settling in for two more years.

See you in Scotland, Part 3

Previous posts about our trip: Part 1 and Part 2.

Whitebridge

We set out Wednesday morning, waving goodbye to Oban and hoping beyond hope that we could avoid car sickness as we drove to our next AirBnB in Whitebridge. I spent a lot of time mapping out our drive and searching for the perfect place to stop that would allow Abby to eat and play before returning to the car. William is a rock star in the car at the moment so it was all about Abby. The first part of our drive was beautiful and easy, and we stopped for lunch in Fort William at a place called Crofter’s Pub. Then my mom and I took the kids to the Nevis Center (think a big community rec center) that had a huge indoor play space. Our girl was in heaven. JR initially balked at the idea of spending our limited vacation time at a play place, but he knew Abby needed to have fun too and frankly, she wasn’t all that impressed with the rainy Highlands so far.

JR explored Fort William while we¬†played and played. It was exhausting but exactly what we wanted for her before we drove the remaining hour to our cottage. Or so we thought. Shortly into our drive, our GPS told us to go left over Spean Bridge. Unfortunately, there was some type of accident so they had placed “Diversion” signs and had a few workers standing there telling us we could not go left. We didn’t have an alternate route planned, so we asked one of the men if staying right/straight would lead to Fort Augustus (we named this larger town because Whitebridge is so small) and he said “yep”. We didn’t have much choice so we stayed on the road. I looked down at GoogleMaps on my phone and started panicking. There appeared to be no other roads to turn left on anytime soon. I also knew, from hours of research and planning this trip, that based on the route we would take from Whitebridge to Edinburgh when we left in a few days, there may not be any other route for us.

The bottom left is Fort William, where we began. Spean Bridge is circled in blue, and that’s where we faced our detour. Instead of continuing about 40 minutes straight up to Whitebridge, we had to follow the route lined in red. It was a 2.5 hour detour. TWO AND A HALF EXTRA HOURS IN THE CAR WITH A BABY AND A TODDLER PRONE TO VOMITING. I was displeased.

Amazingly both kids did great in the car, and as we finally approached Whitebridge it started to sprinkle even though the sun was brightly shining. I turned to look out the window and saw this incredible double rainbow. I took it as a good sign that we were almost there!

We made it to our little cottage in the middle of nowhere, and I cannot say enough about this place. It was exactly what I pictured and hoped for when we planned our trip. The property was lovely and there was a creek perfect for throwing rocks just a few steps away.

 

The next morning we set out for Fort William to take a boat cruise on Loch Ness. The tour was an hour long and made all the more enjoyable by Abby calling over the side of the boat, “Nessie, Nessie, where are you?!” I asked where Nessie could be and Abby wisely guessed the grocery store. ¬†Loch Ness was much larger than I imagined and very cool to see. Although we didn’t actually see Nessie, I’m confident she was lurking nearby.

  

We had lunch in town and then my mom took Abby to a small ceramics place to let her paint.

We dropped JR and Abby off at the cottage for naps while¬†my mom and I drove to Inverness with William.¬†Really she just wanted to try out driving, so we made a few loops through the city before returning home. I can’t say enough how beautiful it was just driving through the countryside. We were constantly stopping to take it all in.

  

Once we had the whole group together again my mom suggested we take a short drive to a nearby waterfall, the Falls of Foyers. I was led to believe we would park our car and voila, the waterfall would be right there. In reality there was bit more walking/hiking/stair climbing involved, which would not have been so bad except for the 17 pound baby strapped to my chest. Still, it was beautiful and well worth the effort!

 

The next day we drove around to the other side of Loch Ness to visit Urquhart Castle. The castle is set right beside the Loch and though mostly ruins now, we had fun exploring some of the towers and walls that remained.

Abby was still calling out for “Nessie” even at the castle. My mom and I made sure to get a picture for our local paper in Ohio, the Orrviews!

JR and I had a date night in Inverness and stopped in the small town of Dores on the way home to visit this little beach area. Once again, it started sprinkle just a bit but the sky remained clear and beautiful.

Back at the cottage Mom and Abby made use of her extra suitcase weight with craft time and a little kite flying.

The next morning we said goodbye to our little place and started the trek back to Edinburgh, stopping at Blair Castle along the way. We used our break to explore the grounds (we skipped the actual castle because we mostly wanted to be outside stretching our legs) which had deer, horses, a playground, a great little cafe, and tons of space to run around.

 

Back in Edinburgh, we were less than thrilled to realize our last apartment was up 3 sets of super steep, very warped stairs. JR deserves a medal because he carried most of the luggage up (and back down the next day) all by himself. The apartment was the most modern and maybe the largest we stayed in, and I wish we had more time there because it was set up really well for us. But it was our last night in Edinburgh so we set out quickly to walk around and eat dinner. The plan was to finish eating then take my mom and the kids back to the apartment, help them get settled, and then JR and I were going back out. I hadn’t had much time to myself during the trip so after dinner I asked if they wouldn’t mind doing that part without me and JR could just meet me at a bar later. Because my husband and mom are both really great people, they agreed and I set off on my own for a bit.

JR met me at The Dome and we had drinks before moving on to another place I’d read about called Voodoo Bar. Meh. It was trendy and youthful and I’m not really either of those things. As we were walking away, I saw another bar that was featuring live music. I LOVE live music and I love a good cover band, so I wanted to check it out. While we ordered our drinks the guy on stage began playing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and I was sold. We stayed there the rest of the evening and I pretended I was back at the Lodge Bar in Columbus. We sang along to “500 Miles”, “The Gambler”, ¬†and “Mr. Brightside.” I got a little too excited¬†when I heard him start singing “Almost Heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.” The crazy thing is the entire bar was singing along and going nuts for John Denver.¬†It was an unexpected and fantastic way to cap off our night.

The next morning my mom flew back to Ohio and we made our way back to Tbilisi. Abby would not sleep on the first flight and she was completely exhausted by the time we landed in Istanbul. She passed out in her stroller and I started worrying about how she’d do on her next flight home. I asked the gate agent if there were any empty seats and maybe we could switch so that Abby had a window seat (my logic is she has more space/can sleep better up against a window, but when we sit in a row of 3, William’s car seat has to be the window seat). The most amazing airline employee ever gave us two (TWO!) full rows to ourselves in the back of the plane.

If I were planning the same trip again, I would have either added one day at each spot, or removed Oban from our itinerary to save on some of the packing/unpacking all the time. But if the weather were nicer and we were able to go on our planned island boat tour, it could have been the highlight of our trip. Who knows? We would also love to visit other parts of the country because it seems like we barely scratched the surface of what Scotland has to offer. We had an incredible time, and one more huge thank you to my Mom for coming with us and helping us make so many great memories!

 

 

See you in Scotland, part 2

Catch up on the first part of our trip here.

Oban

Monday morning, JR and my mom went to pick up our rental car at the train station in Edinburgh while I stayed back at the apartment with the kids. It took way longer than any of us were expecting and I started to worry. With no way to contact them I wondered if they’d already been in an accident – perhaps forgetting to drive on the opposite side of the road. Finally, they pulled up and we began the extremely difficult task of fitting all of our luggage into the minivan. Here’s the thing, I tried to pack light, I really did. But we still had way too much stuff. Add in my mom’s suitcases¬†and we just did not have the space. Yes, suitcases, plural.¬†She could not fathom the kids not having Easter baskets in Scotland – the horror! and she also packed a million activities for her and Abby to do.

JR did a great job of driving us quickly out of the city and it didn’t feel like driving was much different (easy for me to say, sitting in the back). The kids took naps and we made plans to stop near Loch Lomond on our way to Oban. Everything was going great at this point. The scenery was beautiful, the roads were narrow but in great condition, and we were feeling good! Abby woke up shortly before our scheduled stop and she started complaining about being in her car seat. Not totally unusual for her, and we aren’t in the car for long periods of time in Georgia so I tried to reassure her that we’d be taking a break for lunch soon. We stopped at the Kilted Skirlie, which has nice views of the Loch and is also located next door to an aquarium. There was a small little carnival-like area set up¬†outside that had some rides, so Abby enjoyed that.

She wasn’t that hungry at lunch but I convinced¬†her to eat a few more bites of pasta with the promise of ice cream (two things I would come to regret). We stopped by the rides again briefly before we left and then we were back on the road. I figured¬†the kids would nap for most of the 2 hour drive to Oban. I was wrong.

About an hour in, Abby was awake and complaining that her stomach hurt. I didn’t think too much of it, honestly. I offered her my phone so she could watch a show in hopes of distracting her, and when that didn’t fully do the trick, I gave her a binky – a surefire way to make her happy. She was still telling me she wanted to be out of her car seat. A few minutes passed and my mom suggested we turn off the show in case watching it was making her feel worse, and we encouraged her to sing songs and look out the window. Suddenly, she was vomiting. A lot. She was sitting¬†behind the passenger seat, William was in the middle, and I was on the other side. I¬†leaned over him, resting my hand on her chest when she started throwing up. I sort of tried to catch it? I didn’t really know what to do, I think she has only vomited once before in her life and it was definitely not in the car. I told JR to pull over, but we were basically in the middle of nowhere on a very tiny road.

She continued to throw up as he pulled up beside a small B&B. My mom ran to the door and asked the owner if we could come inside to clean her up in a bathroom. The woman was super nice and wanted to help, but said she didn’t have any available bathrooms we could use since all the rooms had¬†guests, so she offered ¬†her kitchen area instead. Abby was very upset – a combination of being covered in puke and not feeling well – as JR carried her inside to start cleaning her up. My task was to find a change of clothes for her in the mess of suitcases crammed into the back of the van. I managed to yank out a pair of pajamas and a spare blanket. Meanwhile, my mom was trying to clean the car seat and throwing soiled clothes to the ground, including my jacket and Abby’s blanket (that Paw Patrol blanket was so disgusting I would have preferred to throw it in the trash, but Abby would have lost her mind). The car seat was a mess. Everything was a mess. I carried the pajamas inside and found Abby had calmed down and JR said she was just fine after he got her¬†dirty clothes off. The very nice lady had offered her a Capri Sun, a warm washcloth and a towel. She passed me a plastic bag for our dirty clothes, along with a bucket of soap and water and a rag to clean up the car and car seat.

We did the best we could in cleaning and decided to flip Abby’s car seat forward-facing for the rest of the day. I’m a big proponent¬†of rear-facing (read more here and here) but my heart was breaking for my poor girl and I would have done anything to try to make her feel better. (She’s rear-facing again now that we’re home and I hope to keep her that way until she outgrows the height and/or weight limits for her car seat). We still had an hour to drive and needless to say, I did not have the most positive outlook. She did throw up once more about 10 minutes down the road, but she managed to get almost all of it in a plastic bag so we had minimal mess that time. She then fell¬†asleep for the rest of the drive.

  
Before and after shots. Also these chickens showed up,¬†because why wouldn’t there be chickens to laugh at our predicament??


To the owners and staff of the Glengarry House B&B, thank you a million times over for helping us!

When we arrived in Oban, we were tired, smelly, and over it. I was also really cold because my jacket was in the bag of soiled clothes. While we love using AirBnBs, one downside is you can’t just waltz in like you would with a hotel. You need to link up with the owner to exchange the keys (although a few places we’ve used have key boxes which is much more convenient). Well, to connect with the owner you need to call or text them, and we didn’t have a SIM card for the UK. So we arrived at¬†our place and I’m running around like a crazy person, in and out of nearby stores, trying to pick up wifi so I can get in touch with the owner so we can get into the apartment. Not ideal. Some kind ladies let me just use their phone so I called the apartment owner and she showed up about 5 minutes later.

We were SO relieved, Abby especially, to be done with the car! And our apartment was really lovely and right in the center of town. Once we settled in a bit, we walked down to a restaurant called Piazza for dinner. It was delicious and had great views. Worn out from our exciting day of travel, we called it an early night and spent the rest of the evening relaxing in our apartment.

Our second day in Oban was supposed to be a highlight of the trip for JR and I – we had planned a full day boat tour of several nearby islands. Unfortunately, it was too rainy and windy and the tour was canceled. We were so disappointed! Although I can’t personally recommend it, if you are in the area I would definitely look into Staffa Tours. With no plans for the day, we set out walking along the water front for a while before finding the Oban Chocolate Company. Now that¬†was a trip highlight! We ordered the ultimate chocolate fondue and enjoyed every bite.

 

 

 

The weather didn’t look to be improving, so my mom took Abby to an indoor play place called GoBananas while William and I napped at home.


It doesn’t get any sweeter than this!

JR did his own little walking tour around town.


Pictures of the Oban Distillery, McCaig’s Tower and¬†looking out over Oban

Later we met up for drinks. Luckily no one was bothered by William hanging out with us.

Yep.

Back at the apartment, Abby helped my mom color Easter eggs.

We picked up dinner on our way home at Oban Fish and Chips (super quick and delicious Рhighly recommend!) and spent another evening relaxing at the apartment. Oban was a nice stop, but I think the weather and our troubles getting there prevented me from really loving it as much as I would have otherwise.

To be continued.

 

See you in Scotland!

That’s how we ended our last video chat session with my Mom before we both made our way to Scotland from Ohio and Georgia, respectively. Deciding on our second R&R plans was not an easy task. We’ve barely settled back into life here after our med-evac to Ohio, and we now have a 4-month old and a toddler. Not the most ideal time to take a vacation, but we charged ahead. Visiting Scotland was a bucket list trip for JR and I, particularly a road trip to see as much of the country as possible. We’re not out to win any parenting medals so we quickly realized the only way we could have the trip we wanted and¬†enjoy ourselves would be to bring someone else along – enter my wonderful mother!

We were able to spend 9 fun and busy days in Scotland last week all together and it really felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Possibly because I’d never again want to take a Scottish road trip with my two young children. It was challenging and often exhausting, but also full of laughter and great memories.

Edinburgh

We met my mom at the Edinburgh Airport Saturday morning. Abby was calling out “Nana, Nana” as I pushed the stroller through the airport. William, life of the party as always, was passed out. The kids did really, really well on both flights. Because we were flying Turkish and we connected in Istanbul, we were subject to the new electronics ban which prohibits any electronics larger than a smart phone in your carry-on bag. Our default entertainment plan while flying is to let Abby have free reign of the iPad or Kindle Fire, so we were less than thrilled to learn of the new policy. It all worked out fine, first because we loaded up our iPhones with some of her favorite shows and also because Turkish is quite kid-friendly and helpful, and they had in-flight entertainment available on both segments of our trip.


Snuggling on the plane

After a few hugs and hellos, we made our way to our driver and vehicle. We hired Sun Transfers and we had no complaints about the service we received picking us up (our return trip was another story). Although we were initially told our AirBnB would not be available for early check-in, the cleaning service advised us they were nearly finished with the apartment. That was great news and allowed us to unload our stuff before walking to¬†Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar for lunch. Everyone was in need of a nap so we made quick work of the food and then returned to our apartment. The location was fantastic, just a few blocks south of the Royal Mile, which was our first stop after naps.

 

We were in Scotland, so we expected a lot of rain, but we really lucked out, especially that first day. It was sunny and beautiful. ¬†We walked along the Royal Mile, visiting shops, watching street performers, listening to bagpipe players, and of course JR stopped for his first pint in Scotland. It started to get a bit late and we needed dinner, so we made our way back towards our apartment with plans to find either a quick place to eat or carry out. There was a Pizza Express nearby and it looked very family/kid friendly, so we decided to eat in. Probably a mistake. William woke up from his nap and was just not having all the noise, they brought Abby a huge glass of milk that she promptly spilled everywhere, and it took forever for them to take our order. It was also pretty expensive for a meal that I’d call just decent, but pizza and pasta are about the only two things Abby is sure to eat for dinner right now so it worked for us.

 

We spent the next morning at the Edinburgh Castle. We took a wrong turn as we walked towards it and wound up having to climb what felt like hundreds of steps, but the views were worth it.

 

  

William was asleep in his carrier and my mom went off chasing after Abby while JR and I did the free guided tour. The tour just walks around the outside of the main buildings and only lasted about 45 minutes, but it was informative. JR wanted to visit longer, so my mom and I took the kids to the Princes Street Garden to find a playground. The walk there was so nice, although the hill was a bit steep, but it weaved back and forth through these bright yellow flowers. The park and playground were the perfect end to our morning.

 

In the afternoon we visited the National Museum of Scotland. It was fantastic for kids – so much to see and do, Abby really loved it.

We went to the Whiski Rooms for dinner, and while they did a double take when we tried to enter with our huge double stroller, we found section in the back that could fit all of us and our stuff, and we enjoyed possibly my favorite meal of the trip! My fish and chips was delicious and JR sampled haggis for the first (and last) time. Let me save you the Googling: Haggis is¬†a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock and cooked in a sheep’s stomach. All together now: Yum!

To be continued.

Travel is fun, they say

The good news is we survived the return to trip to Tbilisi and it went about as well as we could have hoped. The bad news is that jet lag with a 7 week old and a 2.5 year old is THE WORST. Thankfully it only took about a week for us to fix our sleep schedules but it was a very rough 7 days.

We flew out of Akron Canton, which is a small regional airport about 40 minutes from Orrville. Because we flew into Cleveland when we arrived, this was considered a cost-construct trip (since we wanted to fly in and out of two different airports, we were responsible for any difference in price – in this case it was $25 per ticket which was worth it to us). Akron Canton is closer, and it’s much more convenient because it’s just so small. I also liked the flight schedules better. The downside is that when you cost construct a ticket, you lose some of the benefits you might otherwise have received. In this case, we could have had a day room at the Hilton hotel in Munich during our 9 hour layover as part of our trip. I didn’t know if we were making a huge mistake by foregoing that option. We could have paid out-of-pocket for it but I heard the business lounge was really nice (and we did receive passes to that). Also, the Hilton is kind of a haul through the airport and the day room hours are 9am to 6pm. We were scheduled to land around 1pm and leave at 10pm, so I didn’t know how useful it would actually be.

We left for the airport at 2:30pm on Tuesday, January 24. As I mentioned in my last post, we received William’s diplomatic passport and visa to Georgia via FedEx at 10:30am that same morning. We like to live dangerously like that (no, actually we don’t, but the whole process is the biggest pain and it took 67 emails to get someone from the Georgian Embassy to help us out). We hired a van from HMC Car and Limousine to transport our luggage and JR¬†while my mom drove me and the kids. Our final count was 8 checked bags, 1 convertible car seat (checked), 1 infant car seat (carried on), 1 double stroller (gate checked before each flight), 3 carry-on backpacks, and 1 diaper bag. It looks overwhelming but I felt like we had considerably less to carry after we checked in. Using backpacks was a game changer.

I’m also really happy with our double stroller. We used the Britax B Agile Double. It’s super easy to push, both seats fully recline for the kids to lay down, and we fit through every door we encountered. It also folds easily and quickly.

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Checking in at Akron Canton was super smooth and easy. There was only one other person in the entire security line. We were able to take our time and not feel so rushed which is how we usually feel during check in and security.¬†It may have been my imagination, but all the employees were even friendlier than at other airports. I think this is how VIPs¬†must feel while traveling. Maybe that’s why we enjoy this airport so much?

There’s a small children’s play area so we hung out there and let Abby play until it was time to board our first flight to Chicago.

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It was a small plane with a 2-2 seat set up and our seats were not across from each other, JR was one row up. It wasn’t a big deal since the flight was so short and both kids did great.

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We had an almost 4 hour layover in Chicago. We took our time walking to our gate and stopped for dinner at Chili’s. The area we were in wasn’t very crowded so we let Abby run as much as she wanted in hopes of tiring her out. Before boarding we changed her into PJs and hoped for the best.

chicago

On this flight we had the window and aisle seat of one row and the window and aisle of the row directly behind it. I sat with William in his car seat and JR was with Abby in front of us. He inflated her 1st Class Kids Travel Pillow  (watching JR try to quickly and discreetly blow up the pillow is always amusing).

blowing

As soon as lift-off we encouraged Abby to lay down and sleep. She tried and tried, and she would fall asleep for a little bit and then wake up. She was very tired (it was probably 11pm/12am at this point) and quickly became frustrated and upset. I asked her if there was anything I could get her or do for her to help her sleep and her reply of “I want Nana” about broke my heart. The plane was not full, so JR moved a few rows back and we let Abby spread out across the two seats to hopefully sleep better. I continued to sit in the row behind her with William, who to our amazement, slept almost the entire flight. He woke up about half way through for a bottle and diaper change, then went right back in his car seat and back to sleep.

Once both kids were asleep I decided to try the unthinkable and watch a movie. I only used one headphone so I could listen for them and kept leaning forward to check on Abby. Once when I started to look up all I could see were her two little feet in her pjs sticking out in the aisle from the floor. She had rolled right off the seat and was less than thrilled to find herself on the ground. Oops. I settled her again, and moved her pillow more to the center of the two seats to hopefully act as a barrier and keep her from falling again. She rolled off only once more so I suppose it was a limited success.

After landing in Munich we walked straight to the Lufthansa Business Lounge. We ate some breakfast there and then found a place to sit down and relax. We took turns showering- this was my first time showering in an airport and it was really nice. The bathrooms are spacious and clean, and they provided shampoo, razor, shaving cream, shower cap, towels, and a hair dryer. We knew we were going to take advantage of this so JR and I had each packed a full change of clothes in our backpacks. I felt like a brand new person after that shower! We let Abby play on the iPad while William alternated between eating and sleeping. The lounge was right beside a small kids play area so JR took her out there to play a few times.

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Overall, I’m glad we went with the lounge passes instead of the hotel room. It helped that the lounge was empty for most of the day and we were able to create our own little area to camp out.

The final flight was a little rough – we were all over it and in desperate need of our beds and our own space. Thank goodness for Daniel Tiger, a binky and a snack cup to carry us to our final destination.

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JR and I were so relieved to finally touch down in Tbilisi. Abby kept saying “are we in Georgia? ¬†What’s Georgia?” As we waited for our luggage at baggage claim, the poor girl had her first accident in months. She was really upset so I tried to calm her down and rush her off the bathroom to change clothes while JR handled the bag collection and kept an eye on William. Once she was all cleaned up, we met up with our motorpool drivers and made our way to the cars (it took two vehicles to haul all of us and our stuff).

Let me tell you, installing two car seats at 6am after 30 some hours of travel, in the cold, is not fun. As I buckled William in I could smell a dirty diaper but I thought the best thing was to just ignore it and hurry home. Just as the cars started moving, Abby said she had to pee. Again. Awesome. The entrance to the airport (you cannot go back in through the area we came out of) was on the other side of the entire building. Did I mention it was 6am and cold? And that our baby had a dirty diaper? I did what anyone would do – I took her to the side of the parking lot and held her off the ground so she could go. I can only imagine what our drivers were thinking.

Finally we were in the cars on the way home. Abby sang every single song she knows at least twice. We pulled up and let her run into the house first and she was so, so excited. “My kitchen!” “My baby” “My flashlight”. Every toy delighted her. I wonder how much of all of this her little mind really understands, but she was definitely happy to be home. And so were we – we all slept for about six hours.

That six hours felt great but wasn’t nearly enough. ¬†The next several days were our toughest to date, but everyone is back to normal now and we are so glad to be home!

 

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.

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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.

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