Hey Look Ma, I Made It!

We made it to Cairo! The travel was not terrible but the jet lag has been tough. The kids are actually doing okay but JR and I are both struggling. Here’s a little recap of our trip.

We left Orrville at 11:30am on Wednesday. Once again we hired Ohio Connection to help transport all of our luggage. With a new family member, we are now allowed ten checked bags. Amazingly that wasn’t enough so we ended up with ELEVEN suitcases and paid out of pocket for the extra one. $200!. Even though we spent two days packing, weighing, and rearranging the bags, I still held my breath as each one went on the scale at the airport. The first two came in at 50.5. When the third went on and showed 51.4, the employee gave me a look and I pleaded with him, “Sir, we are moving to Egypt! Please!”. Thankfully he let it slide and the rest of the bags stayed closer to that 50 pound limit. We also checked two car seats, and had two strollers with us to gate check. Needless to say, we were a sight at the drop off.

In preparing for the trip, I decided that ready-to-feed disposable bottles would be the most convenient. More on that mistake later. At security, they told us they would either need to open each bottle (which basically makes them unusable) or I had to submit to a full pat down. There was no question of course. I told the lady if that was the worst thing to happen to me that day I’d be just fine. She was extremely thorough but it was still the best alternative.

We ate a quick lunch and then waited at the gate. It was a really short flight to DC, and the only problem we had was feeding Jake. It was time for him to eat but he wouldn’t take the bottle. He just kept crying and pushing it away. We had given him one of these bottles in a test run a few days before we left and didn’t have a problem, so I tried not to panic. He slept a little bit and by then we were in DC.

After walking a good distance and taking a shuttle, we found an empty gate to sit for a moment and try feeding him again. The big kids were happily entertained with sticker pads.  I pulled out a new bottle and tried to feed Jake again. And again, he refused. Now I was panicking. It was 5 hours since his last bottle, and he typically eats every 3 hours. We were preparing for a 8 hour flight ahead  and I had a screaming, hungry baby and no way to feed him. A million thoughts were running through my mind. I honestly wondered if he and I would have to stay back in DC for a night to get his regular bottles before we could leave. Knowing it was a long shot, I asked Justin to try to find an employee or store and ask if they sold bottles anywhere at Dulles. Amazingly, he came back a few minutes later with a bottle! Although it wasn’t our regular brand, Jake thankful gulped it down. Such a huge relief. I told him to go back to the store and buy more to get us through the trip. So PSA, Hudson News at Dulles Airport does sell baby bottles. They were only $2.99 each, which I think is kind of a steal because we would have been at their mercy and paid whatever to get them.

On the flight to Frankfurt Abby was in a window seat, JR in the middle, then William in the aisle seat. I sat across from him in a middle section of four seats with Jake beside me. He cried on and off the first hour, and I worried we were in for a rough flight. But after that he fell asleep and seriously didn’t make a peep until it was almost time to land.

Abby and William were excited to use the in-flight entertainment, but we couldn’t get their headphones to work with it. I asked a flight attendant who told me, quite pleased with herself, this was because they have weird sets that require headphones with two prongs. This is illogical. They are basically requiring you to use their cheapy headphones that they pass out at the beginning of each flight, individually wrapped in plastic. I’m no environmentalist usually but come on! Doesn’t it make more sense to allow people who have their own headphones (so, basically everyone) to use those? Rather than a system that prohibits it? Also annoying because their headphones didn’t fit the kids’ head very well. Okay end of rant.

The iPads worked for a while and we ate the food we packed. We have completely abandoned plane food. Someone please let me know if it improves some day. We packed an insulated lunch bag with yogurt, string cheese, pepperoni, grapes and apples. I also had some bread and Jif To Go and made sandwiches for us.

It wasn’t easy getting the kids to fall asleep. They couldn’t get comfortable, even with our 1st Class Kids Pillow, which inflates like a footrest to extend the seat so a kid can stretch out more. I wound up holding Abby as she fell asleep. JR moved William to the window seat and let him stretch across the middle. When he finally fell asleep, JR asked the woman behind us if he could sit in the empty seat beside her and she graciously agreed. We laid Abby down by William and managed a little sleep ourselves.

In Frankfurt we barely had time to grab some pretzels and croissants, play in a small play area and then change diapers before boarding again for our third flight. The flight was full, and the best seats they could offer were four across in the middle and one single seat on the aisle in the next row back. I started out there, putting JR with all the kids. I immediately fell asleep and that hour was pretty much the highlight of my day. I woke up when Abby needed help trying to watch a movie and the headphone jack didn’t work well, so I switched seats with her. That little rockstar was perfectly content the rest of the flight sitting in a row by herself, watching a movie and enjoying some of the snacks I passed to her. William snuggled up in my cardigan and fell asleep again.

 

Three hours later we landed in Cairo! The airport was a flurry of activity and kind of a blur. I was just telling JR that one weird thing about this life is that you meet new people (in this case the employees who helped us at the airport as well as our social sponsor/my future coworker) when you would rather not be meeting anyone for the first time. After almost a full day of travel with 3 kids, I did not feel or look my best. So of course immediately after landing a man introduced himself to us and we realized he’s my new supervisor. Great to meet you sir, I promise I usually look a little less disheveled.

My big takeaways from this trip:

1. I pack too many toys/activities. William’s backpack was stuffed. Really, they only need iPads, headphones, and a few small new toys to occupy them. They both loved this Melissa and Doug sticker pad, as well as their Water Wow! books. For Abby, my mom sent her a surprise to open on the plane – a small Baby Born doll. William’s surprise was a $3 pack of plastic dinosaurs. That’s all they took out of their bags! I had also packed small play doh containers, crayons and coloring books, books, a magnetic block set, and other crap no one cared to touch.

Enjoying their surprise items.

2. A two hour layover sounds great but it is just barely enough time for us if we have to change gates and move through a big airport.

3. We took two strollers this time. I know my five year old should be able to walk and even carry or roll a bag at this point, but life is just easier when we can load everything on our stroller and push them. Jake and Abby were in the double and William was in my new favorite travel stroller, the Zoe XL1. It’s super lightweight, folds with one hand, pushes easily with one hand, great canopy and almost fully reclines.

Proof the kids carried their bags for a minute.

So we made it and we live in Egypt now. More to come!

 

We’re Back!

We made it back to Tbilisi last week and our return travel was light years better for everyone involved.  There were some struggles but overall, it was a much, much better experience.  Looks like my sister can still have her wedding in October!

There were many advantages to the return journey.  For one thing, we flew out of Cleveland at 6:15 p.m., as opposed to our Tbilisi departure which was originally scheduled for 5 a.m.  JR and I were able to sleep in and take our time closing up the suitcases, and then we enjoyed a nice Easter lunch with my family.  Abby even had a nap before we left for the airport.  We all started out in better moods, and much more rested.

The better moods were quickly changed when we checked in at the American Airlines counter for our first flight to Chicago.  The attendant told us our bags could not be checked all the way to Tbilisi, so we’d have to pick them up at baggage claim in Chicago and RE-CHECK them before boarding our flight to Istanbul.  This meant that instead of just going to our next gate in Chicago, we would have go to baggage claim and wait for our bags, then make our way to the Turkish counter, recheck our bags, go through security again, and then find our next gate.  JR repeatedly asked them why we had to do this but they just said that since American Airlines didn’t have an “agreement” with Turkish Airlines, we would have to get our luggage to Turkish ourselves.  JR didn’t think there’d be enough time in Chicago to do all this but we figured we’d deal with the problem as best we could when we landed.  And deal with it we did.

As soon as we landed in Chicago, we hustled to baggage claim.  JR paid for two luggage carts, and even then it was difficult for us to maneuver because I was pushing Abby in her stroller while JR had to push one cart with each hand.  The first thing we had to do was find a spot to open Every.Single.Bag and rearrange our items because the weight limit for American Airlines, which we had planned for, is 50 lbs, while Turkish Airlines only allows 44 lbs per bag.  Thankfully we had enough extra space in our last two bags that we didn’t have to throw away anything (I was really fearing for my 5 packages of bacon and 4 pounds of frozen cheese at this point, but they made the cut!).

Next we had to transport ourselves and said luggage from Terminal 2 to Terminal 5.  Easy peasy – we’ll take the tram!  Oh wait, you aren’t allowed to take a luggage cart on the tram.  After the first employee said it couldn’t be done, the next one said they’d make an exception for us and she also helped push one of the carts. Upon arriving at Terminal 5, we were greeted by a lengthy but not terribly long line at the Turkish counter.  At this point Abby was asking for water, she had finished her sippy cup and we didn’t have any bottled water with us.  There wasn’t a vending machine in sight.  Since we had a 2.5 hour layover, we assumed we’d have time to eat dinner and relax before boarding.  But like most things when traveling, we were wrong.

Once we rechecked our bags, we had about 90 minutes left so we felt pretty good about the situation.  Until we saw the largest security line JR or I have ever seen.

line

I was a tad unhappy.  So much for our leisurely layover, at this point we were concerned we wouldn’t make the flight.  I felt especially bad for Abby.  We use the layovers for her to run around, stretch her legs and burn energy, and she was confined to her stroller almost the entire time.  She was not pleased.  By the time we collected our things from the security checkpoint, we heard the last call for our flight over the loudspeaker.  I told JR to run ahead so they wouldn’t close the doors on us.  We made it, but we were annoyed and frustrated. Running through airports is becoming a family tradition.

seinfeld

The great news is that the flight itself was pretty great.  We settled in to our seats and Abby started playing with the in-flight entertainment system.  We fed her while we waited for dinner service (huge thanks to my Mom who helped out by packing us peanut butter sandwiches, grapes, apples and cheese – this was way better than all the snack/junk food we packed ourselves).  We’ll always try to remember to bring fresh food with us from now on. Shortly after we ate, we laid her down between us and like magic, she fell asleep.

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She slept off and on this way for several hours (so did we), and then she started getting uncomfortable.  We could tell she needed to stretch out a bit more, so I moved to the window seat and JR took his Kindle and walked around/stood in the galley while Abby and I slept.  It was really  nice, I was able to stretch out some more and she was laying flat across the aisle and middle seats. We probably slept like this for almost 3 hours.  She rolled off onto the floor at one point, but she barely cried and was quickly asleep again. In fact, we woke her up when we had about 45 minutes remaining in the flight.  #MAJORWIN.  The overnight flight made a huge difference.

Our layover in Istanbul was just over 2 hours.  It’s a crowded airport with not enough seating.  Not my favorite.  Our time passed quickly enough and finally we were on our LAST flight home.  We landed in the pouring down rain and freezing cold, but all six bags, although wet, made it and we were safely at home about an hour later.

My general advice on flying with a two year old:  Don’t do it.  Okay that’s probably not fair, everything worked out fine in the end but definitely be prepared for a less than relaxing journey!

 

Never again

Picture this.  It was 11pm on a Wednesday night and JR and I were headed to bed.  We were leaving for our R&R back to the States on a 5:15 a.m. flight, so we had our alarms set for 2:30am, and motorpool scheduled to pick us up 45 minutes later.

JR received this text message:  We’re sorry, your flight from Tbilisi to Munich has been canceled.

pesci

Awesome way to start our R&R.

I called Lufthansa directly while he phoned the Embassy hoping to reach one of the ladies who handles travel arrangements.  While the Lufthansa guy was telling me we needed to wait until Friday to fly out, JR had much more luck with Khatuna from the Embassy’s office.  It took almost an hour and several phone calls, but she was able to reroute us on a flight to Warsaw at 5:50 a.m. and then a connection to Munich that would put us back on our original itinerary.  Huge thanks to the travel office for helping us in the middle of the night. An additional flight was not desirable, but manageable.  The catch?  One of us needed to be at the airport 3 hours prior to our departure to confirm and pick-up our tickets from the Lufthansa counter. Since the entire flight to Munich had been canceled we knew that others were probably trying to catch the Warsaw flight and we did not want to lose our new tickets.

At this point it was midnight.  We had the option of all 3 of us leaving our house at 2am and waiting much longer at the airport, or one of us could drive to the airport right then, pick up the tickets, and drive back home and (hopefully) get a bit more sleep. I drew the short straw, so I cranked up the Taylor Swift and made my way to the airport in search of the Lufthansa counter – which doesn’t exist. Because of course it doesn’t. I talked to security and waited in a back hallway for the “office” to open.  Once the staff did arrive I waited while they had a chit chat and a cup of coffee before they were able to assist.  I was fading fast when they printed the tickets, but I was in a great mood because we had managed to overcome this big hurdle and surely we’d have smooth travels ahead.

swift

Our flight to Warsaw was uneventful.  The last minute change somehow gave Abby and JR premium class seats, and he very kindly allowed me to sit a few rows back and sleep most of the flight while he dealt with Abby.   We were late leaving so we landed at 7:20 – the exact departure time of our next flight.  The airlines sent a representative to meet us and a few other passengers and they rushed us through customs, security and the airport to the waiting plane.  This time we all had premium class seats and once again, we foolishly thought the worst was behind us.  Who would have thought the Polish have the best customer service?

In Munich, we found a small play area for Abby and spent over an hour there letting her burn off some energy.  It was relaxed and we were feeling good. We took our time walking to the gate for our next flight, and on the way we heard our names called over the loudspeaker.  I was confused because we had more than 40 minutes until take off, but we picked up the pace and walked up to the gate agent.  She kindly informed us that JR was not booked on the flight.  Abby and I had tickets, but during all the changes earlier the previous night/that morning, somehow JR was added to a Lufthansa flight leaving several hours later.

I was panicked.  That’s actually an understatement, I was internally freaking out.  For weeks now we’d been operating under the new plan with all of us flying together to DC.  To have this sprung on me moments before we were supposed to board was not okay. As JR calmly explained the mix up to the gate agent, I was going through our carry-on bags and separating our things in case we couldn’t fix it.  After what felt like forever (but was probably only 5-10 minutes) they acted like he would be able to go with us, but the other employees were insisting that Abby and  I  board immediately or we would miss the plane.

I pushed Abby as slowly as I could, but before long we were at the end of the jet way and the flight attendants were asking us to board.  I told them I was waiting for my husband.  Again, this wait felt like forever because I truly didn’t know if he was going to be allowed on the plane.   I’m not sure I’ve ever been so relieved to see his face as I was when he finally appeared.

Now came the hard part.  The 9 hour flight with an almost two year old.  We settled in and hoped for the best, and to her credit, she did really well until about the last 2 hours.  But that last two hours was really awful.  We tried every trick we knew to get her to sleep or at least calm down. She was exhausted (at this point she had probably slept for a total of 3-4 hours the whole day, and it was still Tbilisi time for us, so about 10pm and well past her bedtime).  She was screaming and crying and really could not be consoled.  She would snuggle up and close her eyes, but less than a minute later she’d be at it again because she couldn’t get comfortable. She kept saying “night night, night night” and I felt like the worst mother ever, because my poor kid just wanted to be in bed sleeping.  Although I had though it to myself several times, this was the first point where JR and I actually said aloud to each other “never again.”  We are never, ever doing this again. (Note that my sister is getting married in Ohio in October, so never again means we’ll have to find a way to cancel or relocate her wedding).

We finally landed, and bless the kind people who sat around us and told us what a great kid she was and how she did so well on the plane.  Seriously, I was so tired and stressed and just plain sad in that moment that their nice words nearly made me cry.

DC was the final stop for JR, and I started to mentally prepare myself for doing the final leg of our journey solo.  I thought we’d have more time together, but quite quickly after we left the plane we had to head in opposite directions.  We said a quick goodbye and then Abby and I made our way to customs.  I had to take her out of her stroller for her passport picture, which she hated.  Then we waited at baggage claim for our 3 checked bags.  When I had pictured this part of our trip I thought JR would still be with us, but since he wasn’t I had to make do and I gave Abby my iPhone to watch videos while I waited on our bags and loaded them on a luggage cart.

Pushing the luggage cart and stroller simultaneously was no easy feat, but we managed.  We rechecked our bags and made our way through security and then to our gate. We only had about 20 minutes before boarding so we used that time to buy some water and stretch our legs.  The plane was outside on the tarmac and as I took Abby out of her stroller, another passenger offered to help me.  I think he meant help with my bags, but at that moment Abby tried to take off while I collapsed her stroller so I asked him to grab her hand so she didn’t run under the plane.  He held on to her while I put the stroller on the luggage cart and I thanked him profusely.  Meanwhile, JR was in another part of the airport waiting for his luggage that never arrived.  He had work meetings the next day, so as soon as he made it to his hotel he had to run out and buy a shirt, tie and pants.

The flight to Cleveland was only 50 minutes.  50 minutes!  We can do this, I thought.  Then we sat on the plane for an hour waiting for fuel.  Never again, I said to myself for the 100th time that day.

It was snowing and freezing when we touched down in Cleveland, but I didn’t care.  It was great to see my parents waiting for us.  Abby fell asleep in her car seat on the ride home, and barely woke up when we changed her and put her to bed. My mom and brother took the monitor so I could sleep as much as possible, and I actually felt well rested the next morning.  Once I showered and ate breakfast, I settled on the couch and watched Abby light up as she played with my parents.  She kept running to them and hugging them, calling for them anytime they left the room.  All I heard all day was “Nana!!  Papu!!” And pretty quickly I thought, yeah, we’ll do this again.

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