Archive for May, 2006

Amelia’s Top Ten

Amelia’s Top Ten Eurpoean Favorites

10. Flying first class

9. Sampling new cuisine

8. Sleeping in the suitcase

7. Riding forward in my car seat

6. Planning the trip

5. Bathing in the bidet

4. Meeting new friends

3. Seeing the sights

2. Dining at the cafes

1. Sucking on the bidet spout

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Humphrey Goes to Europe – Part 4 (The End)

Either the distances listed on our handy map of Italy are way off, or we’re doing something really wrong. It took about twice as long as expected to make it from Cinque Terre to Sienna, but at least it was a gorgeous drive. First we drove along the mountainous coast with it alternating tunnels and bridges. Then, we headed inland through the Tuscan countryside. For some reason, I was just awestruck by the Tuscan hills. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It seems that nature’s beauty is often characterized by dramatic features like mountains or oceans, but there is something peacefully amazing about these rolling hills filled with green grassy meadows, quaint little vineyards and ancient walled cities. I was unexpectedly taken aback by the entire region.

So on the way to Sienna, we noticed that we were going to pass right by Pisa and figured, we’d stop in to see the leaning tower. Pisa is a perfect Italian city for getting lost and driving in gradually narrowing concentric circles until you find the center of town. After a few laps, we found where all the tourists were and cozied into a mostly legal parking spot. We figured the tower couldn’t be too far off, so we walked into the walled area that looked most promising. We paused for a moment and tried to figure out where to go. Straight looked ok. Left would take us back out to the street. Right looked promising. Hmm, how about right? We started off, when it occurred to Beth to look behind us…where, of course, stood the tower not 100 meters away.

Tip #10 – Look behind you.

The tower was kind of neat. It looks just like the pictures and we took some cheesy touristy pictures ourselves. The stop probably wasn’t worth the time and effort. We had the worst restaurant meal either of us can remember for lunch and overall, Pisa was kind of dumpy, it really wasn’t a surprise that their tower is falling over.

We arrived in Sienna sometime late afternoon expecting the hotel to be easy to find. I had it all mapped out and it appeared to be right off a central town square. Well, it was right where it said on the map, but it took at least four laps around the city for us to find it. Don’t ask me how, but we drove right past the hotel on every lap and neither of us could spot it. Sienna is an old medieval city with some modern parts, but also with some very old parts with tiny streets cutting through the village and filled with tourists. On one of the laps, we wound up stuck in the middle of those little streets, desperately trying to find a way out without mowing down any tourists.

Tip #11 – If you’re visiting the Jolly Hotel in Sienna, follow the signs to the center of town and the soccer stadium, then pick up the signs for the Jolly Hotel, then look for a building with a lot of flags (it’s like the 3rd building in a row with a lot of flags) and the hotel sign is around the corner so you can’t read it until you’ve almost driven past it.

The hotel was nice but didn’t really have much Italian character. It was pretty much like being at a nice Hilton. It was actually kind of refreshing to have a little taste of “our world” again.

On the last night in Cinque Terre, we discovered a new trick:

Tip #12 – Around dinner time, put the baby in the stroller and walk until she falls asleep. Immediately dart into the first nice restaurant you can find and you stand an excellent change of enjoying a nice dinner.

We figured we try the same trick in Sienna. Our guidebook detailed a nice walking tour so we pushed Amelia around over the cobblestone streets hoping that she’s fall asleep so we could enjoy some of the famous Tuscan cuisine. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Having spent most of the day sleeping in the car, she wasn’t about to let us have a nice meal two nights in a row. We ate at McDonalds. Before the trip, I had steadfastly refused to eat American fast food in Italy, but it was actually quite refreshing to grab a hamburger…probably because we’d eaten so much pizza (the only take away food available in Italy) in the room already.

Once we left Cinque Terre, Amelia couldn’t have been better. She was right back to her normal playful, happy self. We’re thinking that there might have been something about the hotel room at the Hotel Villa Argentina. Beth thought the bathroom smelled a little musty, so maybe there was something in the air that bothered her. Whatever it was that made her so ornery, we’re glad it stayed there. The last few days of the trip couldn’t have been better and we left with a much better taste in our mouth for traveling with a baby.

We spent the last day of our trip driving around Tuscany visiting the medieval walled villages. We made it to San Gimigano, Monteriggioni and Colle di Vald’Elsa. Each of them was stunning. They are all walled cities that have survived mostly in their original state since the 1200’s. We were expected to visit them and see them in a museum-like state. We were shocked when we arrived in Monteriggioni to find that people still live there (with modern conveniences of course)! People actually still live in these 800 year old stone buildings, how amazing!

As if sock wasn’t enough, I got nailed with some fresh bird poop in Colle di Vald’Elsa. Better my shirt than Amelia’s nearby head.

Amelia slept great in the car for most of the day and we didn’t want to push her too hard so we spent a lot of time just driving around the countryside. We eventually wound up on this tiny little gravel road between towns that should never have made it on any map. The poor Fiat. The nap schedule once again didn’t mesh well with a nice dinner, so it was another night of bad take out pizza (and gelato) in the hotel room.

I think the trip (and mostly Cinque Terre) just caught up with Amelia. There were some times where she’d get so tired, that she would just fall over in place….but then she wouldn’t want to miss anything, so she’d get right back up…then fall over again a couple minutes later.

We had to leave way too early to get to the airport in Rome the next morning. We made it there without incident, but we wound up on the wrong side of the airport at the general aviation terminal.

Tip #13 – When following signs for the Rome airport, follow the ones with the little yellow square around the airplane, that’s where you want to go.

More agent confusion at the Rome airport. Seems Delta struggles with infant tickets and even more with booking re-routed through another airline. We somehow had to wait in five separate lines at the airport, all with a fussy baby and full bladders (the bathrooms near our lines were locked!!). It was shaping up to be another one of those days. Fortunately though we made it on the plane and everything was great from there on in. Amelia did great on the plane and made friends with all our neighbors. We made it through our tight connection at JFK, got home, showered and crashed! Amelia is still recovering. She slept about 10 hours last night and she’s entering the fourth hour of her morning nap as I write this.

So overall, the trip was great. We’d do it again in a heartbeat. Traveling with a baby has its pros and cons. I’ve always said that there’s a big difference between travel and vacation. A trip to Europe usually falls into the travel category. Bringing the baby along pushes it a notch further away from vacation and closer to adventure travel. It’s too bad the conference was a bust, it would have been a great excuse to do it all over again with a 19 month old!

Baby travel tips to remember:

• We’re glad we got the car. It’s a lot easier to load and unload things in stages rather than hauling everything onto a train before the doors shut. It makes a world of difference being able to set your own schedule around naps and having the car as a napping grounds made a world of difference.
• Try to plan naps around driving time. Babies are a lot happier napping in the car seat than when being lugged around sightseeing.
• Try to research handicap accessibility of the sights you want to see and places you want to stay if traveling with a stroller.
• Don’t bother to pack a lot of toys. Just as the toy box is often more fascinating than the toy itself, the airplane safety information card is more fascinating than any plastic teething ring.
• Be prepared to make a lot of new friends. Everybody you meet will want to look at and play with the baby. It’s actually a nice way to get to know lots of people. Don’t be afraid to convert them into helpers as needed.
• Get translations for all your baby needs ahead of time. Also, know how to convert the baby’s weight to kilograms.
• The big stroller was nice to have along to load stuff into, but it was also a pain at times as well. The rental car seat was good and sturdy. I’m glad we got it instead of lugging ours along.
• When you get to the hotel, just go ahead and ask for extra towels. Between changings and feedings, you’re going to go through a few.

Traveler’s Reviews
• British Airlines – Probably the second favorite airline I’ve ever flown (next to Air New Zealand). In the bulkhead seat on their 777, there was plenty of room for us and a nice bassinette.
• Delta Airlines – Egh, just ok, about what you would expect from the major US airlines these days. They have a remarkable ability to confuse themselves. The bulkhead seat in their 767 was pretty cramped and the bassinette a little difficult. In our particular seat, we were right in front of the movie screen so anytime we got up to change Amelia, we felt like we were standing in everybody’s way.
• Kensington Close Hotel, London – Nice. Only complaint is that the nearest subway station is not handicap accessible so it is hard with a stroller.
• Grand Hotel Imperiale, Maltrasio Italy, Lake Como – Awesome. Aside from the crib mattress, everything here was just about perfect. We’d stay here again in a heartbeat.
• Hotel Ville Argentina, Riomaggiore Italy, Cinque Terre – Nice, but not the best for traveling with an infant (no crib and hard to get to). Great views come at the price of a hefty walk up the hill and no elevator. We’d probably stay somewhere in the town of Vernazza should we return to Cinque Terre, but we probably wouldn’t go back there with a baby.
• Jolly Hotel, Sienna Itally, Tuscany – Nice, basically a Hilton.

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Humphrey Goes to Europe – Part 3

Well the hotel manager laughed at me when I told him I went to Tom and Jerry’s, turns out all the locals think of it as a Mickey Mouse type establishment. The next night wasn’t much better, take away pannini’s (and gelato) from the bar next door. I just don’t think Amelia likes hotel rooms. She threw a fit every evening we were in Lake Como, but as soon as you get her out and about she’s happy as a lark. Now that we arrived in Cinque Terre, it’s the same thing, only mornings and evenings. It seems crazy, but it’s honestly like she knows she’s on vacation and doesn’t want to waste any time, she wants to be out exploring all day long.

So, let’s see, where did we leave off…Lake Como. The following day we had planned to take the ferry around the lake and stop off in a couple of the little towns along the way. Not knowing if we’d be toting along a little devil or an little angel, we decided it might be a better idea to drive just in case things took a turn for the worse. After somehow managing to get lost in Como again, we made our way along a long twisty road along the shore of the lake to Bellagio…only to find that it’s impossible to park there. After 3 laps around the entire town, we settled for a spot just up the mountain, over the river and through the woods. Bellagio is a really neat town with lots of little tucked away streets and alleys. On the way back, we wanted to stop for lunch in one of the quaint little villages along the lake, but Amelia slept the whole time. Not wanting to wake her, we just kept driving, right past our hotel and up the other side of the lake until she awoke and we found our quaint little restaurant. The pizza we had was great, but we got the distinct feeling that they didn’t want us eating there. It’s been a common theme here in Italy, it’s almost as if the restaurateurs are afraid that having a baby in the restaurant will diminish the ambiance.
Later that afternoon, the sun finally poked out. Beth had been wanting to get some time in by the pool, so I volunteered to take Amelia and go explore an old castle in the next town up. Again, not five minutes into the car ride, she was out like a light. No problem, I’m flexible, change of plans, we’ll go on a little drive and scout out a place for dinner. We’d seen signs for the “panoramic trattoria” earlier, so I figured I’d try to track it down. I found it easily and it looks like a great place to spend a relaxing evening, enjoying the panoramic view, some wine, good company, and great Italian food…the evening looked promising! Having only killed about 10 minutes of my planned hour and a half excursion, I kept driving…there was another sign for a restaurant further up the hill, why not check that out as well. The road kept winding, up and up and up the hill until there was barely a road at all. We were out in a nature preserve along with hikers and adventurous bikers. The road kept going and there were other cars, so why not keep exploring? It got to the point where the road was narrow, even for the euro-skittle. One side was sheer rock, the other side, certain death….and there were cars coming the other way. I got to be a master of backing up, folding in the rearview and squeezing past the other euro-skittles (and even some euro-suvs). We finally made it to the summit of a 1000 meter mountain that had views half way into Switzerland. Amelia woke just in time to enjoy the view and take a couple pictures. We were going to be a little late, but I didn’t think Beth would mind the extra time to herself. I didn’t want to linger too long though, lest Beth start to worry. When I put Amelia back into the Fiat to head down she started to fuss a little bit…no worries, the car ride should settle her down…not this time….blood curling screams….the whole way down….45 minutes down narrow, impossible to drive mountain roads. I stopped 5 times to try to sooth her, change her, feed her, the works…nothing worked, she just wanted to scream (to be fair, I was petrified of those roads too). You’d be amazing how hard you can push a rental Fiat on those roads. By the time we got to the bottom, there was something burning, clutch, brakes, I don’t know, but something isn’t the way it was when I picked up the car. The good news is that with the skills I picked up in the Fiat, I’ll be ready for the Indy Circuit next year.

The next day we made our way over to the town of Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre. The area is just as beautiful as I remember it. Five little fishing villages dotted along the sea, all connected by hiking trails through the wilderness. Gorgeous, peaceful little towns where the locals hang their clothes out to dry in the sea breeze and spend the evenings gathered on the street. Since I was last here in 1999, things seem to have gotten a bit more touristy with large groups of senior citizens and their walking sticks competing for space with the 13 year olds on a field trip…but the charm remains.

One of the charms of Cinque Terre is the hillside views and another is the colorful old buildings. Of course, colorful old buildings with hillside views don’t have elevators, and the best room for tourists seeking a view with 700 pounds of luggage is up on the third floor (that’s European 3rd floor, which is the American 4th floor). A little exercise never hurt anybody and at least there wasn’t any agent confusion at this hotel…well, maybe a little confusion. You see, most people who come to Cinque Terre simply find accommodations when they arrive. Lots of the villagers have extra rooms for rent and half the fun is finding a neat little place to stay and maybe getting to know one of the locals. Traveling with an infant, we thought it would be a better idea to line up all of our accommodations ahead of time to be sure we had a crib for Amelia. Well, the request for a crib definitely made it through, but I think something was lost in translation. Their idea of a crib, is a pullout bed because it “is lower to the (tile) floor”….I guess that means Amelia would only have a concussion rather than coma should she roll out. Not ideal, but we’ll find a way to make things work. The first night we decided to let Amelia sleep in bed with us. You never know just how much you like to roll in your sleep until you risk suffocating an infant with each turn. We also never knew how much Amelia likes to roll in her sleep. So basically, Beth and I lay stiff as a board all night while Amelia bounced back and forth between us….not a good night’s sleep for any. The next night, we had to do something different. Enter the suitcase crib. That’s right, the 750 pounds of luggage paid off!!!!!!! Beth’s suitcase was just big enough to make a little crib out of. Pad it up with some extra towels and blankets, drop her in, shut the lid and get some rest! (We didn’t really shut the lid.) In addition to sleeping in the suitcase, there’s no bathtub here…but…there is….a bidet! A perfectly sized little butt-washer / baby bather!

Tip #6 – The suitcase crib and bidet bath should be in the arsenal of any traveling parents.

Amelia isn’t the only one to have had a unique experience on this trip. We spent the first evening we were here meandering around town, just exploring and soaking it all in. For dinner, we found this little hole in the wall selling pizza by the slice. A couple other Americans had just finished their pizza and said it was great, so we gave it a shot. We each grabbed a couple slices, I bought some fruit and drinks from the market next door and we settled in for a nice little picnic. Of course the neighbors were all about and we had a great time chatting and showing off Amelia….

Tip #7 – If you want to get to know people wherever you’re traveling, bring a baby.

…About half way through my first slice the owner of the restaurant walked past and I thought tapped my on the shoulder…but he didn’t make any kind of social indication…then if felt suspiciously like Amelia had spit up on my shoulder…but, no, she was with Beth…bird poop?…nope…wait, what is that lying next to me, but a wet sock from above. Yes, my unique Italian experience was being pelting with a wet sock from three stories above.

Tip #8 – Don’t sit under the clothesline

And, right on to

Tip #9 – Italian baby food isn’t always readymade

To keep down the amount of luggage, we decided we would just buy diapers and baby food on the trip. We could have probably just gone by the pictures, but we found a nice lady to translate the baby food labels for us. “Verdure miste” means vegetable mix…sounds good, she needs her veggies, so we stocked up. But, somewhere on the label, there must be another word that roughly translates to “thick, pasty glob”. We think we’re supposed to add water… at least, that’s what we’ve been doing and Amelia is eating it…but her stomach has also been bothering her too???

The poor thing has had a bit of a rough go of it lately. First of all, she’s teething like crazy, she’ll probably have a full set of teeth by the time we get back. She’s still getting over her head cold. Something she’s eating is bothering her stomach, we have no idea if it’s the new baby food, or all the new foods (and gelato) that Beth is eating. Speaking of which, Amelia has started to wean herself making our plan of a relying on the most convenient food source a bit more difficult. She’s at the stage were she wants to start exploring everything, but she’s frustrated that she can’t quite crawl yet. On top of all that, she’s seven time zones away and being dragged around all over the place. The last few days have been rough with her, and who can blame her. The odd thing is that when we’re out and about, she’s great! Seems she loves to explore, meet new people, see new things. But, as soon as we get back to the hotel room, she just throws a fit. There’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity. Overall this trip as been great, but there’s been a couple times lately where we’ve felt like we’re on the wrong side of the line.

Speaking of crossing the line, the big thing to do in Cinque Terre is hike between the five villages. Yesterday was a beautiful day. Amelia had a great morning nap. We decided to try a hike. We picked the hike so we could see the two remaining villages we had yet to visit. On the way there, we heard from two people that it was the most difficult of the four segments. Not being ones to admit stupidity, we pressed on. It was a great hike, amazing scenery, fresh air, good weather, and friendly people all along the trail. Amelia even had a blast…for the first half. About half way through, she had a bit of a meltdown on the side of the mountain. There was a while where we definitely thought we were on the wrong side of the line. But then it ended and Amelia actually fell asleep in her front pack (don’t ask me how she doesn’t have a kink in her neck). We finished the hike and were glad we did (we need to burn off all that gelato somehow). We spent the afternoon on the pier in Vernazza, having lunch, shopping and taking it all in.

This morning, we’re off to Sienna for the final part of our trip in Tuscany. I think we’re just about ready to come home. Overall, this trip has been great. The places we’ve visited have been spectacular and having Amelia along made it feel complete. But, it’s also been hard and anything but relaxing. We’ve talked some about whether or not we would do it again and the answer is definitely yes. But traveling with a 7 month old is not for the faint of heart. The one thing we knew going in was that this trip would be an adventure, for better or worse. It has definitely been an adventure, for both better and worse.

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Humphrey Goes to Europe – Part 2


Alternate Title 1: Trains, Planes and Automobiles
Alternate Title 2: I See London, I See France, I See (something in Italy that rhymes with France…”very fashionable pants”?)

We successively navigated the train, the plane and most impressively the automobile out of London, over France and to Lake Como, Italy yesterday. Somehow all 550 pounds of luggage fit into the “euro-skittle” car we’re driving. I’m proud to say that we’ve driven three places so far, and only been severely lost once.

Somehow agent confusion continues to reign. It took an hour to check in with British Air because Beth’s ticket was made in the name of “Elizabeth With Infant”. AutoEurope struggled to find our rental car for reasons unknown. I don’t know if agent confusion is more or less frustrating when you can’t understand what the agent is saying. Waiting 20 minutes for the car to arrive in a hot parking garage with a wet, tired, over-stimulated, hungry baby isn’t the most relaxing experience, and it’s even more frustrating when the company won’t even show you how to install the car seat said baby is waiting to get into. The baby safety standards in Italy are a bit more lax than in the States. Theoretically, the car seat can be installed rear-facing, but due to time constraints related to parental sanity, Amelia now has the honor of riding in a forward facing seat. As an added bonus, she’s up high enough to see the world go by…I don’t know if we’ll ever get her back into her boring, rear-facing, middle of the car, (actually safe) seat back home.

I always thought of the “euro-skittle” Fiat as an object to mock, but it’s actually a fun little car with a surprising amount of cargo space (enough for 600 pounds plus a stroller that in its own right is big enough to seat four). We’ve got a “you’re about to hit something” warning beep, a plastic door bumper to avoid door dings and a dash board that lists your current radio station by both number and name.

Speaking of safety standards:

Tip #5 – European hotel cribs were probably built by the craftsmen who couldn’t get on at the church site 400 years ago.

The crib here certainly doesn’t have 2 3/8 in slats, nor does the mattress fit snuggly against the sides. Fortunately Amelia is big and old enough that these don’t present deadly concerns, but she is just big enough to get stuck. This morning we heard her wake with some lovely coos like she always does. Sounds that rival chirping birds enjoying the morning sun. As we roused ourselves, her sounds slowly changed from chipping birds to panicked hyenas.

…snip….75 minutes later

Sorry for the phrase “panicked hyenas”, not my best literary work. But, you see, I was rushed by a repeat of the panicked hyenas sound. Panicked hyenas happens when our new roller finds a way to wedge her arm between the mattress and the side of the crib. The result is a very unhappy baby twisted at a 45 degree-ish angle trying desperately to roll her way out of an unpleasant situation. The first time I saw it, I thought for sure that she dislocated her shoulder. Maybe I should have checked on our foreign health insurance coverage before we left!

Ever since the second installment of panicked hyenas, this day has taken a turn for the worse. It started off lovely. We slept in for a while (after the first installment), had a surprisingly great breakfast at the hotel and meandering our way over to downtown Como (without getting lost). We spent the morning at the town market and walking down to the lake. We had plans for an evening dinner on the patio of a Trattoria with a well rested and fun loving baby. Now it’s raining and our panicked hyena refuses to go down for her nap. Looks like it may be evening of updating the blog and maybe room service.

I knocked the hotel crib, but so far, the Grand Hotel Imperiale in Maltrasio has been superb. On this trip, they get 5 stars in my book just for avoiding agent confusion. It’s a lovely resort with character, right next to the lake in a small, out of the way town (but still close to everything). The people are all friendly and helpful, the rooms are nice and the price is right.

Lake Como is absolutely amazing; one of the most beautiful places I have even been. A deep blue lake surrounding by the start of the Alps…

…snip….

Ok, new baby hazard. Hotel cribs don’t have bumper pads. Her efforts to achieve panicked hyena thwarted by strategically placed blankets and towels, Amelia has found a way to roll up the protective embankment and slam her head into the wooden sides. It’s looking more and more like room service and TV tonight. (Another thing I love about this hotel, room service isn’t outrageously priced, just a couple dollar delivery charge over regular menu price!)

Anyway, back to Lake Como, absolutely stunning. Beth and I want to buy a villa here. It’s the best of both worlds; you’ve got the water all around with just a short drive to the Swiss Alps for skiing. The towns are built right into the sides of the hills and you really feel like you’re living life when you drive down the streets (a lot like the way you feel alive when skydiving). The weather here is just absolutely perfect, even the rain now is nice. Maybe we’ll get a place somewhere in between the two that George Clooney owns.

I’m glad to be out of London and into Italy. London is fine, but I’m not a huge fan. It’s like New York, but without the skyscrapers. Since I’ve already mentioned Amelia, you know that she and Beth managed to navigate their way around London without great peril. I have no idea how she did it, but Beth managed two days of bus riding without realizing that there were maps and guides to bus routes at every bus stop! After fish and chips, we didn’t really know what else we should be eating in England so we branched out a bit and tried both Thai and Lebanese cuisine for the first time. Both were great.

Here’s why I like Italy better than London:
• I feel like I’m in a different country. They talk a different language and the only American store I’ve seen has been McDonald’s.
• Driving on crazy yet beautiful roads beats packing into the subway hands down.
• There’s a gelato (Italian ice cream) stand every 100 ft. It’s like there’s an ordinance or something mandating the availability of gelato. In London, we only found ice cream at the grocery store, and it was like $7 for a pint. Here, they even have a few Gelatoriam / Bars for the men right next to the shopping areas for the women. Brilliant!!! Ice cream and beer under one roof. Surely this is the land from which I descend!

Amelia had a milestone that would have warranted its own blog entry back home. The last night we were in London, she reached up while seated in her bath and grabbed at the handicap rail. She held onto it and pulled herself up to a standing position all on her own. She had a blast with it, doing it again and again. If we didn’t have to check out of the hotel, I think she’d still be there doing pull-ups. My personal prediction is that she’s also going to make her first crawling step before we leave Rome. She’s trying and trying now, she just needs to figure out how to move those knees.

A negative milestone, she also has her first real head cold. It’s not too bad, but you can tell it’s bothering her, especially since she hates having her nose wiped. Overall, she’s been a great baby throughout the trip, but the cold has made her a bit cantankerous. It’s a good thing we have a full pediatric medicine supply among the 650 pounds.

The little one finally wore herself out and fell asleep. It’s 20:15 so it looks like we’re in for the night. Tomorrow we’ll probably take a ferry around the like and visit some of the other towns. Chow! (That’s Italo-American for “time to go order dinner).

…snip…

23:06

Room service didn’t have much that looked good to Beth so I went out for take away pizza (and gelato of course). Of all the names, I found take out at Tom and Jerry’s Pizzeria. It was actually quite good, I don’t think they know that their name is also a cartoon. Just as we finished eating, the little one decided to wake up. Turns out we could have gone out after all.

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Humphrey Goes to Europe – Part 1

Well the moment of our insanity has arrived; we are officially the crazy parents dragging a 7 month old around Europe. We knew that this trip would be memorable (for better or worse), but we had no idea the memories would start even before we left.

Beth is quite the planner. She always likes to have her ducks in a row. Before a vacation, this means lots of advanced planning and packing. Pre-baby, packing for a trip of this magnitude would have been a 2-3 week affair. Now, post-baby, I’m proud to say that she’s relaxed quite a bit…in fact, packing for this trip was a quick 2-3 day job. We planned to leave for the airport around 4:30 and I’m proud to say that we finished all of our final to-do lists around 2:00. With 2.5 hours to spare, we figured we’d relax, maybe read the paper and give Beth some time to enjoy her first Mother’s Day. I even felt like I had time to run out and buy another guidebook for our trip.

Wrong. Just as I moozied back into the house around 3:00, guidebook in hand, Beth screamed to me in panic. My heart stopped. All I could think was that something happened to Amelia. I started to fly up the stairs….then….I realized I was holding Amelia…nothing to worry about there…there must be a burglar in the house! I scaled the stairs in a single bound to find Beth on the phone….is she dialing 911? No, she’s talking to a recorded message from Delta Airlines, our flight to Atlanta has been cancelled, and we’re re-scheduled to leave tomorrow afternoon (when I’m supposed to be at my conference).

Knowing that I booked one of the latest flights I could find, the outlook wasn’t good. I got on the phone with Delta, ready to use my patent pending f-bomb anti-hold device (email me for details on how you too can avoid being stuck in telephone hold purgatory, only 3 easy payments of $19.99), when to my surprise, they actually answered. Agent Sherri was quite helpful, but she told me my only option was to drive down to Atlanta to catch my connection (4 hour drive + 1 hour time change = 5 hour commute. Check in 2 hours before a 10:00 international flight means we need to be in the car now!). So, that was a possibility, but:

Tip #1 – Don’t trust the Delta agent.

Since I expected to be on hold, I fired up the computer and checked Orbitz for any other flights that night. Turns out there was a flight on American/British that left around 5:50. After much finagling and half an hour on the phone, Sherri booked us on the 5:50 through Chicago. (3:30, plus 20 minute drive, plus 2 hour check in…we still need to be in the car now).

I needed a shower. There was no way around it. Even by European standards, I stunk. I got Beth in motion and hopped in for a quick rinse down. For some reason, Beth insisted that Amelia needed a bath too. So, she woke her up from a sound sleep, and shoved her in the shower with me! Poor thing has never had a shower before, and shoving her in straight from a nap probably wasn’t the nicest thing we could have done. Fortunately, our baby is a champ and took it all in stride.

We’re off in the car trying our best to get a speeding ticket. We couldn’t get in touch with Beth’s parents to pick us up earlier than scheduled, so we pulled up to their driveway, horn-a-blaring. They dropped us off at the airport around 4:15 so we could hurry up and wait in line. As Sherri instructed, we were to go Delta, then over to American (carrying 400 pounds of luggage and a still shower-traumatized baby). After confusing every agent at those two counters and angering everybody in the long lines behind us, we finally made it to the gate with 10 minutes to spare. Our first piece of good news, we’re sitting (together!!) in the front row bulkhead seat.

Tip #2 – Traveling with a baby rules! Well, actually it kinda sucks, but at least everybody bends over backwards to help you out. A positive attitude and a cute baby can get you a long way. I think I might start renting Amelia out at the ticket counters.

So we made it. A nice short flight to Chicago with plenty of time to make our connection. Ahh, we can relax. Nope. Not so fast.

Tip #3 – Avoid really short flights with a baby.

You’re supposed to feed a baby both while ascending and descending in a plane to help equalize the pressure in her ears. Well, on the hour-long flight to Chicago, you basically ascend and then immediately descend. Amelia’s quite the little eater, but I’d challenge anybody to try to eat for an hour straight. The ear pain started somewhere around 30 minutes into the flight. Needless to say, our fellow passengers who ohh’d and ahh’d over her on the way in were surely singing a different tune!

We tried everything to help her little ears. We finally gave her a cracker (remember, the baby chokers from the Deli). Gumming a cracker to death seemed to provide some temporary relief, but true to form, the cracker prematurely disappeared into Amelia’s mouth. For a brief moment, we enjoyed the silence of her obstructed airway. But after a quick baby Heimlich shot the cracker to the floor, it was full on bloody murder screaming for the rest of the flight.

Despite another eternal wait at the ticketing counter, we had plenty of time to grab some dinner and decompress at the terminal. British Air even upgraded us to “preferred coach” class (see Tip #2). I’ve gotta say, BA has some pretty plush accommodations up front. We negotiated with some of our neighbors (see Tip #2) and managed to sit together in a seat with a baby bassinette. In some sort of bizarre nesting ritual induced by her earlier trauma, Beth decided to gather blankets and pillows. At last count, she had 7 of each. To this day, nobody knows why. Aside from the jerk behind Beth that stole her overhead bin (literally, Beth opened the bin, reached down to grab her bag and this guy reached over her head and shoved his bag in), it was smooth, peaceful sailing (well, flying really) over the Atlantic.

Upon arrival, we grabbed our 450 pounds of luggage (yes, it’s growing as the story goes on) and headed for customs. Cute baby magic prevailed again and we were escorted right to the front of the line. We somehow navigated our now 500 pounds of luggage through a quick maze of subways.

Tip #4 – Subways aren’t all stroller / rolling luggage friendly. Our hotel is right next to a station, so it’s supposed to be convenient, but unfortunately it’s only accessible by stairs. :-(

Ahh, finally time to relax. Wrong. Turns out the room at the Kensington Close isn’t ready yet. Once the room is ready, it turns out we have duplicate reservations resulting in another case of agent confusion (it seems to be contagious at this point). By European standards, the room is actually quite nice and large.

After a quick unpacking, it’s time to head off to my conference to set up the booth. Beth wanted to explore, so we all went together. Turns out, the Kensington ‘Close’ is really an hour long subway ride away (through some non-handicap accessible stations). We arrived to more agent confusion; my conference registration was lost. And, Beth and Amelia aren’t allowed to come in to help me set up (not unexpected, but a bummer still). No matter, turns out our crate hasn’t arrived anyway. My only supplies are a table cloth, a power adapter, 5 brochures and 3 business cards. (Fortunately, the crate arrived the next morning before the show actually started, but as it turns out, it’s not a great show so I probably could have gotten by with my 3 business cards!)

Another hour on the subway. Back to the hotel. Dinner. Shower. And FINALLY BED! Not so fast. Amelia’s been through a lot over the last 24 hours, woken from a nap, thrown in the shower, busted her ear drums, choked, used as a pawn for preferential treatment and carted half way around the world. She chose the middle of the night to let us (and the rest of the hotel) know that she was just not happy with the way she’d been treated. I can’t say I blame her, I felt like screaming for 45 minutes myself!

Day 2 – Beth & Amelia vs. London Public Transit

One of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done is leave Beth & Amelia alone to navigate London on their own. Beth still gets confused driving around our neighborhood, so I was a bit concerned that I’d return to the hotel only to learn that they wound up in Amsterdam. I kissed them goodbye, told Amelia she was in charge and left for another hour on the subway followed by the conference doldrums.

Beth made a great choice for the day. A sightseeing tour on a double-decker bus; a guided tour of London that allows you to get on and off as you please at all the sites. Sounds like a great idea, the buses are easy to spot and they just make a big circle. The concierge even said that you can take strollers onboard! She paid a few “L’s” for the ticket and off they went. They saw all the sights. Stopped at Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard, went to a great toy store and even took a few pictures along the way.

It was a good day until the end. Turns out, you can take a stroller on the bus, but it has to be folded up…so much for Amelia napping. They also don’t tell you that the buses stop running at 18:00 (that’s 6:00 pm for all you Yanks). So with a tired and hungry baby in her arms, Beth waited patiently in the rain for a bus that never came. Or more precisely, a bus that drove right past her without stopping. She finally flagged down a cab with a driver that wouldn’t even help her get the stroller, bag, baby and other paraphernalia into the car (so much for Tip #2).

We met back at the hotel around 7. We let Amelia nap for an hour while we griped about our days before heading out for dinner. Turns out we’re in a ritzy area with a lot of restaurants that are either, too fancy, too small for a stroller, or don’t allow kids. Since I steadfastly refuse to eat at a McDonald’s or Pizza Hut in Europe, finding a restaurant was a bit more work than we would have liked. We finally found a good corner pub where we capped the night off with some great fish and chips and a good beer.

Day 3 – The ITEC conference is very lame this year. We’ve got a crappy booth location so we get almost no traffic. I literally almost fell asleep in my chair this morning. It’s been so slow, I’ve had time to write this 4 page blog entry and I’m still bored. Heading back to the subway/hotel soon, I hope I’ll see Beth and Amelia there!

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Dental School

 

These are teeth.

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Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

If you’ve been following the Humphrey Chronicles, you know that Amelia just hasn’t been inclined to roll. It never seemed to bother her much, but Mom and Dad (stupidly) just couldn’t wait for it to happen. Well Tuesday, she really figured things out for the first time. Now, it’s like she’s discoved a whole new world. All she wants to do is roll. Put her down and she wants to roll. Changing a diaper, what better time to roll than when you can get poop everywhere?

Amelia isn’t the only thing that’s been rolling. The video camera has also been busy shooting footage lately. Thanks mostly to Beth learning how to operate it….well, she’s still learning as you will see….have some funny footage of her devouring her juice from a sippy cup and playing in her crib instead of napping.

We also have a sequence capturing the night time routine we’ve been doing with Amelia since she was two months old.

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Campaign stop at Babies R Us

Went to Babies R Us today to pick up a few things and help Rachel and Shannon with their registry. Turns out it was the first step in the “I Love Daddy 2006″ campaign. Amelia distinctly said “da”. I can feel a comeback already!

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Cinco De Bumpo

Last night we decided to go out for some dinner with friends and family. Unbeknownst to us, it was Cinco De Mayo and we picked a semi-Mexican restaurant to eat at (well Chilli’s isn’t really Mexican but they do have good margaritas, so it kind of counts). We all had a great time, Amelia felt like one of the gang and we even had a margarita or two ourselves. We were sat in a small room along with a batchorette party and a separate bunch of rowdy male friends. They were definitely living it up, but other than the noise, they were pleasant company. By the time we got ready to leave, Amelia had had enough, and was starting to get a bit fussy. She’d been a trooper all night, so on the way out I decided to give her a ride on my shoulders (a new favorite). As I stood up, Amelia caught the eyes of the bachelorette party and we heard a few oos and ahhs amongst the revelry. Since the bachelorette party had the eyes of the guys, they all turned to look at Amelia too. After I took about two steps towards the door, there was a quick hush, followed by an audible gasp…then, a loud round of cheers…the crowd went wild! Of course, I was oblivious and figured I just missed some inside joke. That is, until two steps later when the waitress stopped to tell me I just rammed Amelia’s head into a cardboard sign dangling from the ceiling (thus the hush and gasp). Not to worry though, MY little girl just took it in stride and kept on smiling, not a whimper, not a frown, she just wanted to keep riding! I’ll cheer for that too!

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36 inches to change the world

Our stubborn non-roller has now turned into a rolling machine! That’s right, we had 4 confirmed rollings this morning, followed by the first confirmed back to front roll, followed by a triple combination roll covering a distance of 36 inches (the baby equilivant of a triple lutz, half axel spiral)! So much for finding her where we leave her.

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