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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