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.

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.

falling

 

 

La Vida Lopota

For Labor Day weekend, we joined some friends and their kids at Lopota Lake Resort in the Kakheti (read: wine) region of Georgia.  The drive took about 2.5 hours and despite some very windy roads, it was relatively easy. A friend tipped us off that we should specifically request ground floor rooms in the S building, which we reserved several weeks in advance. Alas, when we arrived those rooms were not available, but the L building, right next door, suited us just fine.  I do recommend the ground floor rooms because of their great patios and you get to avoid the stairs!

Although the weather had cooled a bit, we still took advantage of the multiple swimming pools right away. The food at dinner was decent, but a bit overpriced. The restaurant decorated their walls with¬†bottles of wine (full bottles, which is important to this story). ¬†JR asked the server for a glass of that specific type of wine and the server hesitated, saying “Oh. I will have to check if we have that.” ¬†We all looked around bewildered because there were dozens of bottles around us, including one within arms reach by ¬†JR’s head.¬†The server returned a few moments later to confirm¬†that unfortunately, they did not have that type of wine available.

britney

Oh well, he ordered a beer instead.

The next morning after breakfast the air was a bit cooler and we noticed that some of the other guests’ children were bundled up like it was full blown winter. ¬†I think it was maybe between 65-70 degrees? ¬†The weather did not keep us from a last dip in the pool! ¬†We only stayed one night so we didn’t explore all of the grounds, but there was plenty to do and we will definitely visit again next year.

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We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing at home. Our friends from down the street came over for a farewell dinner Рthey are headed back to the U.S. for a few months.  Abby and their daughter, K are best buds and I was really sad to say goodbye!

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One last hug!

On Monday, Abby helped me make cookies.  She was quite impatient waiting for them to  bake!

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We closed out the weekend with a sunset bike ride.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Рthe 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.

abby 1 abby 2 abby 3 abby 4 abby 5

 

 

Balkan Road Trip, Part I

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

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

map

 

Day 1:  Sofia, Bulgaria

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

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

sofia 1

Day 2:  Bucharest, Romania

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

ferry 2 ferry 3

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

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

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

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

bucharest 1 bucharest 2

Day 3:   Bucharest, Romania

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

I was all

brad pitt working out

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

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

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

To be continued.