Marvelous Malta

While my mom was visiting, JR and I took a quick trip to Malta where we spent 5 glorious days lounging by sea, napping, and eating a lot of ice cream (mostly just me on the ice cream). Malta wasn’t really on our radar until some colleagues mentioned their upcoming trip and the short travel time. I found a good deal on tickets from Tbilisi and worked hard to convince JR that it was a necessity.

We stayed at a great hotel in Valletta, only a few minutes walk to the city walls. The Grand Hotel Excelsior was a bit dated on the decor, but the service and location were fabulous. Honestly, anytime I can order drinks and food from my lounge chair, I’m a happy camper. The proximity to the city center allowed us to walk there for most of our meals, and to enjoy the beautiful streets and views from almost every turn. The city is really hilly, one minute you are on a gradual decline, then you make a turn and have to walk up 100 steps to get to your next destination.

 

Anytime JR and I go on a trip, I have to remind him – constantly – that I can’t keep up with his pace. He could walk for days, uphill, downhill, carrying bags or children, sweating or freezing, it doesn’t phase him. Me? I like a casual stroll with my purse in 74 degree weather. In the shade. We signed up for a full day Game of Thrones tour and it was really great, minus the whole walking a lot in extreme heat thing. The tour guide, Malcolm, was an extra in several scenes in Season 1-3, so he had a ton of great inside info on the show and filming tvs and movies in general. Apparently Malta is really popular for filming. It was cool to see many of the places they filmed, not just because of the connection to the show, but the tour also took us around the island to see the ancient walled city of Mdina and other great spots. JR was delighted to learn they filmed Robin Williams’ Popeye there in 1980.

Valletta was full of shops, people, and outdoor cafes. We found a great spot for dinner one evening, complete with a nice little guy singing along to his guitar. Anytime someone is playing live music in front of me, preferably covers of my favorite songs, I’m content to sit and sing along. Even if the setting doesn’t really call for that, like on this particular night when no one else was singing and the guy was playing songs I didn’t know. After a few of those, he played Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis and I started humming along. When the song was over I whooped a little too loudly and JR shot me a look.  BUT THEN, he played Teenage Dirtbag and I just could not help myself. JR shrunk down in his seat and sipped his beer while I helped the guy out with my less than stellar vocals. Apologies to the rest of the restaurant patrons!

We loved our time in Malta but we were also happy to return home to the kids. Part of me looks back at my mom’s time here and I think, what did we even do while she was here? But then I can list off all the things she did with the kids – swimming, making crafts and Froot Loop necklaces, making popsicles, planting a small garden for Abby, throwing a princess party for the girls in the neighborhood, water balloon fights, face painting and more. To my momma (hopefully you still read these?) – we can’t thank you enough. We love you!!

 

 

 

La Dolce Vita: Wineries and San Gimignano

Thursday morning we had the free wine tour that came with booking our house on AirBnB. Truthfully I wasn’t looking forward to it all that much. I was tired from traveling the day before, and since we were taking the kids I had doubts on how much I’d enjoy a tasting while entertaining them. To my surprise, we had the BEST morning at Villa Calcinaia with Vincenzo, our trusty tour guide/property manager/fixer. I say fixer because anytime we texted Vincenzo during our stay, he did more than just give us a basic reply, he would send multiple texts to ensure our questions were answered. When we asked him if we could buy diapers at the Coop, he first texted yes, then texted the location in the store, and then sent a picture of the diapers in the store, just in case. Can’t beat that level of service!

We met at 10:30 and enjoyed learning more about the history of the winery and a tour of the grounds. According to Vincenzo they have been making wine there for over 30 generations and we learned that the main house even held American soldiers at some point during WWII. I also thought it was awesome that they had a few random soccer balls in the main yard which kept the kids busy. It was cool to see our rental house, and the others they maintain, from the estate. When it was time to head inside, rather than taking the main entrance, he let Abby knock and enter through the old wooden door so she could fulfill some more princess dreams.

Inside, after learning a bit more about the aging and bottling process, it was time for our tasting. Wow. I can’t say enough about the wines he shared with us, or the fantastic spread of their own olive oil and local cheese and meats from Fornica. I won’t say how many glasses I “tasted” but when he asked if we wanted to buy a case to ship home I responded a bit too enthusiastically. JR was left to shake his head and contemplate our credit card balance while I selected which bottles we just had to have. Since we were uncertain if the bottles could be shipped to Georgia, we had the case shipped to my mom’s in Orrville to be included in our next consumables shipment (which we are now counting down the days until it arrives!)

Not content with just one stop, we dropped the kids and grandparents back at the house and then went into town to check out Enoteca Falorni. Reviews said this place was underneath the Coop grocery store and you could sample over 100 wines. What’s so interesting is that they had it set up as a completely self service wine tasting. Wines were organized together by type around the huge room, and placed in these automatic dispensers. You gave the cashier your credit card and she handed you a card back that you placed inside the dispenser, then you pick your wine, then you pick your size – a tasting, half a glass, or full glass. It automatically puts that amount on your card, and you return to do it all over again after you finish your first selection. Genius! While convenient and new-fangled, it lacked the personal service touch we’d received at every other stop during our trip.

Friday morning we drove to San Gimignano. It was about an hour, which was pretty much the max amount of time I was willing to travel with the kids during the trip. While we loved our trip to Scotland last year, we spent a lot of time on the road and I didn’t want to repeat that. San Gimignano is another “must-see” for its city walls, medieval towers and churches. We had a lovely afternoon exploring the town, chasing the kids around, and yes, more fantastic gelato.

  

That night JR and I enjoyed our last date night in Greve, first stopping at Santa Margherita winery for a tasting. We had the best server, Isaac, who picked perfect samples for each of us. It turns out Isaac is from Michigan but married an Italian girl and ended up in Tuscany. The appetizer he brought out was way too crazy for me – dried squid ink with an anchovy on top and then a dollop of cream of pea sauce, no thanks! I was worried about weight and how much we were allowed to pack in our suitcases so we only purchased two bottles, but there were several kinds I wanted. We had reservations at Gallo Nero for dinner where I ate the best steak of my life. It was so good. JR ordered tortellini which he said was perfectly fine, but he gave me sad puppy dog eyes every time I took a bite of my amazing steak.

Saturday was our last full day in Italy. I can’t remember what did that morning. After lunch, my mom stayed with the kids while we returned to two previous spots so JR could enjoy them –  Castello Verrazanno and Vicchio Maggio. We even convinced JR’s dad to take a sip of wine!

It only made sense to have our final meal at La Cantina back in Greve. It was bitter sweet – we were all ready to go home and return to normal routines, but you also never want a vacation to end.

I don’t want to do a whole separate post about our travel home, so just a couple quick things. The Florence Airport is the actual WORST. It’s very tiny, which okay, whatever, we knew that going in, so we ate before passing through security at the only real restaurant available. We had over 3 hours to wait, far too long for an airport of this size, but we would have paid a hefty fee to turn in our rental car late so we tried to make due. My biggest complaint is the complete lack of facilities for changing diapers. No where, in the entire airport, do they have either a changing table or a bathroom counter with space to change a baby. COME ON MAN. I was so heated about the whole thing that I wanted to change William’s dirty diaper in front of everyone, but I realized that wouldn’t really address the problem. What I need to do is write a strongly worded letter to their management, have it translated into Italian, and take the time to follow up. It’s not going to happen so I’ll just vent here instead.

The flight to Munich was a breeze, and we find Munich to be very manageable because there are plenty of food options and multiple play spaces. Munich is less maneagable when the airline forgets/misplaces, for the UMPTEENTH time, your gate-checked stroller. Apparently this happens regularly (and not only to us!) so the Lufthansa rep directed us to a service area where they had a loaner stroller we could use during the layover. Good to know for when that inevitably happens again.

We’ve been home for a few weeks now and jumped right back into work, school events and endless discussions with friends about children’s sleep patterns and attitude issues. Not quite as fun as Italy, but close.

Finally, a few of my very favorite pictures from this amazing trip.

 

 

La Dolce Vita: Rome and Pistoia

For several months, we planned for JR and his Dad to spend two days in Rome during our trip. My mom and sister wanted to take a day trip there as well, and I said I was happy to stay home with both kids for a day. Turns out, I lied. As I mentioned, the house had some quirks (a medieval fireplace you could walk into) that made it difficult to turn your back on William for even a second, and it was very hard to entertain both of them in the house for an extended period of time. Like for more than ten minutes. It was cooler outside than we expected, so my visions of playing outside with them all day faded too. A change in plans was necessary, so as of Sunday night it was decided that everyone would travel to Rome on Monday except for William and I.

That night my sister became incredibly sick. In the morning she said there was no way she could go. My mom didn’t want to go without her, so she drove JR and his Dad to Florence so they could catch their train to Rome, and then she returned to Greve for the day with me and the kids. A lifesaver was the Play Doh Drill n’ Fill dentist kit that both kids loved -thank you Mom! We spent some time at the playground in town and tried a new restaurant for dinner, Trattoria d’i Borgo. Once again, we enjoyed delicious food and great service. The weather was cool but not too chilly so we sat outside and relaxed as much as one can when dining with small children.

While we were having a low-key day, JR and his dad did a Walks of Italy tour of the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill. Their tour guide was excellent and they both highly recommend it. For lodgings while in Rome they stayed in a hotel near Piazza Navona, which is right where we stayed when we took our family trip in 2015. JR sent me several pictures from our favorite spots and I was pretty jealous to miss out.


This picture is notable for a few reasons. JR’s dad doesn’t drink – at all. He posed with this glass of wine sitting at our favorite spot in front of the Pantheon so JR could freak out his siblings!

Thankfully my sister woke up feeling better on Tuesday, so we loaded up the kids and drove to Pistoia, about an hour away, to check out their zoo. The drive was kind of boring because it was a fair amount of highway driving, but William slept the whole way so I would have gladly kept going. The zoo was fantastic. It was medium-sized, nicely laid out and had an awesome playground. When we visited the lion enclosure, the female lion was resting right near the glass and the male lion was pacing angrily beside her. He kept jumping up and growling at the glass, and I had some serious questions about Italian zoo safety standards compared to American ones. I didn’t want to test my suspicions, so I kept us moving along.  Later in the reptile house, they had an alligator in a raised enclosure with an open top that I definitely could have reached in to touch. Apparently two small illustrated signs showing a hand being bitten was supposed to be sufficient to prevent any incidents.

  

I was pretty tired when we returned to Greve that afternoon, but realized it was already Tuesday and we hadn’t been to a winery yet. My sister and I set off to remedy that while my Mom took care of the kids. First we stopped at Vicchio Maggio. The women working there were super fun, the place has a fantastic view, and the wine was awesome. One of my favorite stops.  They offered a separate tour of their nearby winery, but we were quite content with tasting. We also did a quick stop at Castello Verrazzano.  Just like the first place, they offered a full tour at their winery nearby, but we opted for the tasting only. Eating fresh bread dipped in olive oil while sampling wines and taking in the scenery was basically my vision for this trip.

On our way back we planned to stop at Coop, the small grocery store in town. We arrived during their afternoon break (closed every day 1-4pm!!) so we were forced to eat gelato nearby while we waited. In the store we bought food to make dinner at home, and Jamie prepared rosemary chicken, green beans and smashed potatoes while I ran back into town to pick up JR and his Dad (they’d taken the train back from Rome to Florence and then a bus to Greve).

We enjoyed dinner together while they filled us in our their trip. They were able to take a guided tour to the Necropolis beneath St. Peter’s Basilica where the Apostle Peter and over a 100 Popes are buried. This Scavi (Excavation in Italian) tour is open to the public but is extremely difficult to get because the few spots available per day fill up quickly (JR had to book it 6 months in advance! http://www.scavi.va/content/scavi/en/ufficio-scavi.html). JR and his Dad said this was an amazing tour and a highlight of their trip.  JR has tried to book the tour on previous trips to Rome and we were unable to when we visited in 2015. He said the wait was well worth it.

You might think we spent Wednesday reunited as a big group, but my mom and sister still wanted to see Rome. And since JR and his Dad were back, there was no reason for Abby and ME not to join them! We set off Wednesday morning for a girls’ trip.  Arriving in Florence in morning rush hour and attempting to park to get to the train station was not ideal. At one point my mom said “I just keep going straight here”, but I pointed out the various signs and flashing red lights that clearly meant do not enter. She shrugged and said “that’s the way I went on Monday”. We are waiting for a few traffic tickets to arrive in the mail any day now.

We parked under the central market and walked to the train station. It was a quick 1 hour and 20 minute fast-train to Rome. When we arrived we purchased tickets for one of the Big Bus tours. This wasn’t my preferred way to see the city, but we only had one day and Abby was thrilled about being on a double-decker bus.  We stayed on board for a few stops before getting off at Castel Sant’Angelo. We walked in the opposite direction to Piazza Navona. It was really cool to return to a place I’d visited with Abby just a few years ago. We made it a point to have gelato at the same place we had our very first gelato back in 2015. We kept a slow pace and walked to see the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. Both of those sights were closed during my last visit and I was glad to finally see  them, especially the fountain. It’s even larger than I expected and we took some fun pictures.


2015 and 2018 – she looks a little different, but I’m wearing the same jacket!

   

We met up with the bus tour a few stops later and enjoyed the ride while Abby slept. She really crashed hard, and was showing no signs of waking up even when we were ready to get off again. This led to me carrying her down the street towards the Vatican, a stop my mom didn’t want to miss. Abby stayed asleep in my arms at a cafe while they went ahead to look around.


What else am I supposed to do when she’s passed out on my lap?

By then it was almost 5pm. We were hungry, tired, and realizing we had a bit of a journey ahead. The bus tour only runs until about 6pm, so when we tried to board for a return trip to the train station, we were met with a large group of tourists with the same plans. No one wanted to make a nice, polite line, so you had to fend for yourself to actually get on one of the buses. My quick-thinking sister, who was carrying Abby at the time, reenacted the lifeboat scene from Titanic and began yelling “I have a child!” like Billy Zane.

This worked splendidly and we were all able to follow her on to the bus. Finally we made it to the train station, and unwisely purchased tickets for a train departing 20 minutes later. Because of course, immediately after the tickets printed Abby said she needed a bathroom break.

The next 20 minutes were hilarious. My mom and Abby went off in search of a bathroom while my sister and I stood in line to buy dinner for everyone. She bought us some sandwiches from a deli, and then while she waited in line at McDonalds (judge away) for my Mom and Abby, I was trying to figure out which platform we needed to be on. The cashier at McDonalds told Jamie they only had plain cheeseburgers, not hamburgers, and she looked at me to ask what to do since my Mom hates cheese. My watch told me we had 7 minutes left so I yelled “take the hamburgers!” We all met up and asked an employee for help finding out platform. When he pointed it out to us, he kind of shrugged and said you only have 5 minutes. I grabbed the food bags, told my sister to pick up Abby, and we started to run McCallister-family style hauling butt through this train station. With barely a minute to spare we made it and we laughed so hard on the way home about what close call we’d had.

Of course the comedy wasn’t over because we still had to drive home, and we truly could not make our way out of the train station area in Florence. Every other road is restricted from use, or one way, so we just zig-zagged back and forth, up and down these tiny streets making zero progress. At one point we turned a corner and we were staring at the Duomo. While beautiful at night, there was no doubt we were not supposed to be there. I have to give credit to my Mom because she stayed completely relaxed the whole time, convinced it would work out fine, while my sister and I were getting more and more frustrated. As she expected, we eventually figured it out and we made it back to the villa just fine. While this whole trip was memorable, a highlight will be spending a day in Rome with them.


Super sure we were NOT supposed to be driving there. Also realizing me posting this blog might make it harder for my Mom to deny any involvement when the traffic citations show up!

 

La Dolce Vita: Florence and Siena

So as I mentioned, our travel day on Thursday was pretty exhausting. In a real bonehead move on my part, I asked JR to reserve tickets to the Accademia Gallery to see the David at 8:45am Friday morning. In my defense, my internet research said to make reservations in advance and that first thing in the morning was the way to go.  What I failed to really consider was that we’d be traveling most of the day Thursday, probably not sleep well that night, and that our rental house was a 45 minute drive from Florence. And that doesn’t even take parking into account, which we realized would be a big issue. I convinced everyone that it was well worth it to call the 60 euro reservation a loss and plan to sleep in.

We woke up Friday morning with zero plans, but after slowly making breakfast and getting ready, I figured it still made sense to head to Florence and enjoy the nice weather while we had it. After the fiasco the previous day, I refused to drive anywhere until we had phones with data on them. We made a quick stop in town for SIM cards before driving to Florence. Our AirBnB host recommended parking at a hotel that was a 15 minute walk from the main sights, and to our surprise, driving there and parking was quite easy. We stopped for lunch at a fantastic sandwich place, I’ Girone De’ Ghiotti, right off the main walking street. I spent a good amount of time researching and planning for our day in Florence so that we could make the most of our time and eat well, and this place did not disappoint! Just around the corner we made our first (of many) stops for gelato at Perche no!  It was fantastic of course and it was the first gelato experience for JR’s dad, William and my mom.

 
Lunch at I’ Gerone De’ Ghiotti

    
Gelato stop and walking with a monkey on my back.


We saw the Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signora, the Duomo, the San Lorenzo Market and Ponte Vecchio. In between the sightseeing, we found time to stop for wine, espresso, and the Disney store. You know, typical Italian things. My mom and sister took Abby in and returned with a princess outfit complete with shoes and a crown. Our girl was truly in her element there.

It was a wonderful day but quite long, and poor William was overtired and couldn’t fall asleep on the way back to Greve. Everyone wanted to go out to dinner but we didn’t want to risk the inevitable meltdown, so JR stayed behind while the rest of us went to La Cantina, a wonderful local restaurant in Greve. We loved this place from the moment we walked in the door. Alessandro, the owner/manager/concierge/I don’t know what, greeted us with fist bumps and a smile. As we sat down the servers brought over glasses of prosecco. And since neither my mom nor JR’s Dad drink, my sister and I were treated to two glasses each! They had a large menu and delicious food, and treated us to dessert wine and a plate of sweets when we were finished. When we left, we assured Alessandro that we’d return (and we certainly kept that promise).

That night, part of a sweet little annual tradition between Abby and my mom, they colored Easter eggs together. My mom packed all the supplies, just like she did last year in Scotland!

Greve has a big market in their square on Saturday mornings so we started the next day there. Lunch was at Antica Macelleria Falorni, the oldest butcher shop in Greve, founded in 1806. William fell asleep in the stroller, so my mom took Abby to a playground while the rest of us enjoyed an early afternoon wine stop. Many of the restaurants we visited included a 2 euro “cover charge” for water, bread, and basically just for sitting down. So stopping for wine usually included a light snack – no complaints from me.

We all met at the playground and enjoyed some downtime watching the kids play.

I started looking up dinner options and was surprised to discover that many recommended restaurants closed between lunch and dinner, and that meant they didn’t reopen until 6:30/7pm, or later in some cases. Not ideal for our kids who usually eat dinner at 5:45 pm. Or me, let’s be honest. And so that’s how we justified returning to La Cantina for the second night in a row.

On Sunday we spent the morning exploring the property around our house.

We ate lunch at home and then drove about an hour to Siena, one of the most famous cities in Tuscany. The drive was beautiful and easy – it helped that William slept the whole way. We parked at Il Campo and there were clear signs for it including some that updated with the number of free parking spots on each level. It was just a ten minute walk to the main square, Piazza del Campo.

Siena was beautiful and Piazza del Campo was unforgettable. It was a bit windy, but otherwise I could have spent hours people watching and wandering the streets. Twice a year Piazza del Campo is transformed into a horse track where the 17 neighborhoods of Siena challenge each other in a famous horse race called “Palio.”

 

We stopped for gelato at Grom (highly rated but just okay to me, I quickly became a gelato expert). On our way to the Duomo, Abby passed out in the stroller. We kept William moving with the promise of blueberries, and it was so funny watching him wobble down the streets. JR, his dad, my sister and I did a quick visit inside the cathedral. It was really impressive and well worth it.

We returned to Piazza del Campo and I had the genius idea that JR and I should climb the 400 steps up the Torre del Mange, a tower over looking the square. I regretted the idea around the 50th step, but we made it to the top!


400 steps! 

I had hoped we could spend more time in the town, but the weather was cooling quickly. Abby was still sound asleep in the stroller and we knew William was more than ready for a nap, so we made our way back to Greve. Huge thanks to my sister for wearing William (no small feat since he’s over 25lbs now) while Abby hogged the stroller. And thanks to all three of our traveling companions for staying with the kids so JR and I could enjoy a date night that evening!

To be continued.

 

La Dolce Vita

Alternate title: 10 days of wine and gelato.

We just returned from a pretty amazing trip to Italy. JR’s Dad visited us in Tbilisi for 5 days beforehand, and we enjoyed showing him our favorite spots around town. JR also took him on an overnight trip to Kazbegi and a quick trip to Gori.

For the full Tbilisi experience, he had the pleasure of a 2:45 am airport pick up with us. A giant 16-person mini bus picked us up (the only available vehicle that could accommodate us and all of our stuff) and dropped us at the airport. As we shuffled to the Lufthansa check-in, I realized we were missing one car seat. JR quickly called the driver, who kindly returned to the airport to drop it off. Major crisis narrowly averted.

Our flight to Munich was uneventful. We were scheduled to have a layover of just under 5 hours, but it turned into more than 6. That’s a little long for my taste. I went back and forth over which stroller to take on this trip and even though my Britax B Agile Double is like a best friend to me, I was worried about trunk space and narrow Italian streets, so we took our City Mini Single GT. We still wanted William to be in his car seat on the flight, and it’s a giant beast of a seat so we borrowed our friend’s car seat cart for the airport transits. This thing is amazing! It was very easy to wheel around, even with Abby riding in it.  Best of all, she fell asleep in it for HOURS at the airport. We propped her up at an angle near the gate and let her sleep. Since we don’t take a car seat on the plane for her anymore, we checked her car seat in this great new travel bag I bought (I actually also just bought her a new car seat all together. I’m really keeping this industry in business – and JR displeased.) Highly recommend both of those items if you travel frequently!

 

My mom met us in Munich which was a surprise for Abby. We loved the new play area near Gate K9, it was perfect for both kids and had seating for adults. After getting as much energy out as we could, it was finally time to board the flight to Florence. It was delightfully short, and the airport is super tiny so we were on our way to our rental car in no time. My mom stayed back at the airport to wait for my sister to arrive and that’s when things started to derail.

JR’s Dad stayed with the kids while we picked up our car and tried to install both car seats. Car seat installation is the bane of my existence. Once that travesty ended, I drew the short stick and got to sit in the middle seat between the two car seats. Sit is not entirely accurate, as I was more wedged in between them and couldn’t put my shoulders back. Oh well, it was only going to be a 45 minute drive to our rental. Or so we thought.

Neither of us had a data plan for Italy, so we were relying completely on my Google Maps print out. Mistake! All it took was one missed exit and we were totally off track. It was super difficult to turn around and make our way back to the original mistake, so we kept getting further and further mixed up. That’s when Abby started complaining about her stomach, and did I mention William had already been crying the whole time? The kids were hungry and cranky. I thought William might have needed a diaper change, so JR pulled off on a side road and literally changed him on the hood of the car. #parentsoftheyear

After TWO HOURS of driving, we finally arrived at our rental in Greve in Chianti. It was a little more rustic than I expected, although to be fair the pictures we saw were accurate. It was also super super cold outside the day, and possibly colder inside this house. And I saw death traps everywhere for the kids. I rushed JR and his dad back out the door to find the closest grocery store so we could make dinner. And then I was alone with two hungry, cranky kids for the longest 45 minutes ever.

Eventually they came back, my mom and my sister arrived in their own rental car, and we all sat down for dinner and a glass of wine. We toasted to our arrival and the excitement of being together in Italy, and all was well.

To be continued.

 

CLOs in KL

A few weeks ago I traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a week long Community Liason Office (CLO) training. It was my first trip to Asia, and the first job training I’ve had in a very long time, certainly the first since JR joined the Foreign Service. There were 19 other CLOs and the whole week was wonderful. The group leading the training did a fantastic job of keeping things interesting, and I have a ton of great new ideas (now I just need to find the time to implement them) for Tbilisi. I also feel like I made 19 new friends!

It was a long journey to KL, with two interesting things that happened just before we landed. With no warning or preamble, a voice on the intercom announced  “Carrying drugs into Malaysia is a federal crime and punishable by death.” Alrighty then. Images of Brokedown Palace flashed through my mind as I imagined a lifelong prison sentence in a foreign country, with no Kate Beckinsale to keep me company.

A few minutes later, another unexpected announcement: “In accordance with local laws, the flight attendants will now walk through the cabin spraying insecticide.” Um, okay? I covered my face and hoped for the best.

Once I reached my destination, it was pretty smooth sailing. The days were packed with training and then some scheduled evening events, and when we didn’t have something organized as a whole group, smaller groups broke off and made plans for dinner, shopping and sight seeing. I had a great time and enjoyed the chance to do something new and different. Here are some pictures from the trip.

Although it was only a week away from post and I met so many amazing people, it was probably the longest I’ve been away from my family. Traveling solo was fun but I was ready to go home!

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. 🙂

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.