3 days in London

When I realized I would be heading back to London for a quick 3 day trip, I somehow convinced JR that I should take Abby along. I’m so glad I did, because I don’t know when we would have an opportunity like that again and it was pretty cool traveling with just her on a girls’ trip to London. Well, cool and a touch exhausting. It’s hard to be set up for success for any trip when you have to wake up at 2am and leave for the airport by 2:45. Abby popped right out of bed (the idea of going to bed with her clothes on just thrilled her) but had a harder time than expected saying goodbye to her Dad. She perked up during the car ride and our first flight, but tiredness set in once we arrived at the Istanbul airport for our layover.


All smiles on the first flight

If you fly out of Tbilisi and connect anywhere, you have to go through security again. It’s a huge hassle and particularly awful in Istanbul, where the security line was backed up as far as the eye could see. There wasn’t even a line to join, as the spot where we were backed up was just a mass of people trying to get ahead of each other. It was hot, we only had an hour to catch our next plane, and Abby was already over it. Splendid. Luckily, I made eyes with an employee (I told JR that during this trip I really perfected a look of exhaustion and desperation coupled with kindness) and we were ushered ahead, skipping the ENTIRE line. Victory! I convinced Abby to take a nap during the second flight, and then had to cajole her along at Heathrow because it was a lot of walking. I debated bringing the stroller but figured it would be unnecessary and man, was I wrong. I hoped we could get into our room right when we arrived, but we were still too early and early-check in wasn’t an option. After a quick lunch I went to my favorite burger place that I insist on visiting each time I’m in London and then took her to get pasta. When we returned to the hotel the room was finally ready. Abby gets really excited about hotel rooms. Her face was priceless when we walked into the super simple room, she couldn’t wait to pick a side of the bed, pull things out of the backpack, and of course, jump on the bed.

Over the next few days we enjoyed the Big Bus Tour, the London Eye, and several great playgrounds. I like the hop on, hop off bus tour because you can see a lot at once, and it’s also a nice transportation option to get to the different sights and parts of the city. For the London Eye, if you enter the ticket office, go directly to your right and use the self-service kiosk to save time, as the ticket line was quite long when we arrived. I considered paying more for a Fast Track ticket, but opted for a standard which was still expensive. Fortunately, the line moves quickly and we probably waited a total of 20 minutes, and we were kept moving almost the whole time.

Jubilee Playground is located directly behind the London Eye and I would say it was perfect for kids 4 and up looking to let off some steam. There was another small playground just a few minutes’ walk from Buckingham Palace, located in St. James Park. It had restrooms for children, picnic tables, and a small food vendor outside, and would entertain toddlers and more. The best playground in my opinion was located in Hyde Park, the Diana Memorial Playground – and is perfect for all ages. We absolutely loved this place and would have stayed much longer, but Abby had woken up around 5am that day and was in need of a nap. All of the playgrounds were fenced in and well-maintained.


Jubilee Playground


Playground at St. James Park


Diana Memorial Playground – our favorite!

On the way to dinner one night, I saw Hamleys Toy Store up ahead and made a critical parenting error.

Me: Abby, we’re about to walk past a super expensive toy store. We can go inside and look, but we can’t buy anything. Do you want to look or should we just skip it?
Abby: Let’s go!
Me: Okay, we can, but remember, we really cannot buy anything in this store, okay?
Abby: Mm hmm.

60 seconds later…


Of course I didn’t let her buy this! How would I even get it home? Plus it probably cost 200 pounds.

But then she saw this bear (wearing a purple dress and a crown) and gave me puppy dog eyes and I couldn’t say no. I’m weak.

We had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe, and she was very entertained by the animals and sounds of the faux rainforest. Dinner was expensive and not particularly tasty, but she enjoyed herself.

From her point of view, the highlights were drinking hot chocolate, the playgrounds, ICE CREAM!, and staying in a hotel together. When we went to bed that first night she gave me her biggest smile and said “This is just like having a sleepover, Mom!”.

We were both happy to get home to JR and William, but I loved the one-on-one time with my sweet girl.

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.