How to Travel by Plane with One Single Baby, One Year or Younger

I feel like I need to be EXTREMELY specific with the title of this blog post, because while we've successfully traveled a number of times with Elise, any recommendations I make are based strictly on our experience. Being that "our experience" only includes one child who has only just reached one year, you should probably take this with a grain of salt. Maybe a spoonful of grains, in fact. Nevertheless, I shall proceed, while acknowledging that whenever we have more than one child and we travel with said children, I'll probably need to blow this up and start over.

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Here we go!

CHOOSING FLIGHTS

If at all possible - logistically, financially, or otherwise - aim for a flight that coincides with nap time or bed time. Unless your baby will not sleep except in his or her bed at very specific times, getting her to sleep is by far the easiest way to "enjoy" the flight yourself. It often means very little sleep for you as the parent, but it also means that you're not wrangling a crying baby for 5+ hours, or however long you're traveling for. Given those two options, I personally prefer the former. I can sleep when I'm dead, and if my kid isn't screaming, I won't die of embarrassment as a result of the trip. 

If you aren't able to choose a flight around a regular sleeping time, Godspeed. You will likely still make it to your destination in one piece, and you will hopefully never see anyone who was on your flight ever again. Dignity by obscurity!

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TRAVEL REGULATIONS

For US domestic flights, many airlines do not require identification for your baby if you are traveling as a family. However, some do, so make sure to take a look at the airline's policy before you leave. To play it safe, bring a copy of your baby's birth certificate to ensure that you won't have any trouble.

If you're traveling internationally, your baby will need a passport. In addition, if you are traveling with your baby internationally and without your spouse, you might be questioned at the border since they're on the lookout for child abduction. Upon returning from France, the Icelandic border control guard let me through THAT TIME, but informed me that if I were to ever travel internationally with Elise and  without Chaz again, I should bring along a note from him saying that he had given his blessing. I assume that would have been true the other way around as well, if he had been traveling with Elise and without me. Otherwise, I SMELL THE PATRIARCHY.* Personally, I'm not sure forging a note would cause that much moral distress to someone who was already abducting a child, but evidently it makes all the difference. 

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* Please note the sarcasm. 

CAR SEATS

Trying to decide what to do about a car seat is tricky, and depends on what you will be doing upon arrival to your destination. My preferred method is to not bring one and travel entirely by train, but that isn't usually doable in the US. If a car seat is necessary, there are a few different methods you can use:

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  1. If you're renting a car, you can rent a car seat as well. Rental car companies usually have both infant and toddler car seats, and we've used this method successfully before. However, it's not the cheapest way, since you typically pay by day. 
  2. You can bring your own car seat. If you go this route, you can choose to either bring the seat on the plane (if your baby has his or her own seat, or if you're using it as one of your carry on items), check it when you check in, or gate check it. I know there is some concern about what happens to car seats in the cargo section of the plane and whether they get too abused to be safe, but I personally am not too worried about that after finding that my stroller did just fine in the belly of the beast.
  3. If you work out transportation from the airport to wherever you'll be staying, you can buy a cheap car seat on Amazon and ship it to your destination. This might work well if you plan on returning several times and have a place to store it when you're not using it. 

WHAT TO BRING ON THE PLANE

For starters, bring your spouse. It makes hauling all your stuff significantly easier. It also means that you can go to the bathroom at the airport (or on the plane) without strapping your baby to your back while simultaneously dragging your luggage and/or trying to get through security while everyone behind you in line wonders what the heck is taking you so long.

Glad we've got that covered. 

Spouse or no spouse, bring a stroller and a baby carrier. The stroller is great in the airport (after security), and the carrier is the BEST thing to have on the plane, especially if you've gotten your baby to sleep. Gate check the stroller so that you have it right away when you land, unless you don't. In the event that you don't, you still have your carrier, so it's not the end of the world.

Other things that I've found useful include toy/pacifier wipes for when toys (that your baby loves to stick in her mouth) inevitably fall on the ground, Purell wipes to somewhat mitigate the ingestion of germs that live on every single surface in the plane, snacks upon snacks upon snacks (since the airline will only give you pretzels if you're lucky), and an empty sippy cup. I like to fill up Elise's cup in the airport water fountain after security so that I don't have to depend on the flight attendant coming around with what must be the smallest imaginable bottle of water.

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I also like to bring a few toys and board books, since they don't take up too much space and will entertain Elise for at least a few minutes. For the toys, I'll often bring a pacifier clip so that I can attach them to Elise and reduce the number of times I have to think about how many germs they picked up from the surfaces around us. Her O-ball was a particular hit when we went to France.

Lastly, diapers and wipes are obviously necessary. However, I usually adjust my changing supplies containment method while flying so that everything I need is all in a gallon ziplock bag. I bring between five to seven diapers (depending on the length of the flight), which is more than generous, but keeps me well within my comfort zone. I also include my package of wipes, hand sanitizer, and several sandwich-size ziplock bags so that I can dispose of any particularly smelly diapers without offending the next bathroom visitor. Having it all stored inside a gallon bag means that I can just grab it from my carry-on backpack and hoist both it and my baby down the plane center aisle without whacking people in the face with a giant diaper bag. I also don't need to wrestle with it in the closet that doubles as the airplane loo.

Oh, and make sure you bring your own survival tools. Dark chocolate is an absolute MUST.

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GETTING YOUR BABY TO SLEEP

I mean...do whatever is necessary. You know your baby the best. For me, that looks  like strapping Elise into the baby carrier and going to stand in the back of the plane to rock until she conks out. If she's tired - and so far we've mostly worked out flights so that she is tired by the time we're on board - she'll go to sleep fairly quickly. The only downside of this method is that you may or may not be in the travel path of the flight attendants getting minuscule bottles of water for other passengers. Eventually they will get tired of you having to move every time they come back and will tell you stand in the corner, which is actually preferable to standing in front of the bathrooms, which is where they had originally told you to stand. This process will also likely be smoother on international flights with more space in the back and often times more merciful flight attendants.  

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FLYING

This section could more accurately be "how to avoid having your baby cry during takeoff and landing." The trick can be found on probably every single traveling-with-babies blog post on the internet. Feed that tiny human both on the ascent and descent, and the ears will not cause you issues. Nursing, pouches, water, juice boxes, and even pacifiers in case of snack-less dire straits will do the trick. 

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Crying at other times is most likely due to feeling uncomfortable, being overtired, needing food, or any of the other hosts of reasons babies cry when they are not on planes. If discomfort is the culprit, try changing the diaper. While it is possible to change a diaper in your lap or, if your child is big enough, while she stands between your knees, use your best judgement when it comes to the content of the diaper. In other words, if it's going to be rather pungent, proceed to the nearest plane bathroom and bring along your ziplock bags. I definitely dreaded changing in the bathroom the first time, and then I realized it wasn't that bad. It gets a bad rap, but as long as there is a changing table (and by golly, there SHOULD BE), it's not really that much different from changing your baby on a changing table at home without a changing pad. Speaking of which, make sure you bring a travel changing pad. If you don't, paper towels make an effective, albeit non-squishy alternative.

ARRIVING

Congratulations! You made it through the hardest part! Now you just have to collect your stuff and get off the plane. If you're in another country, you will have to go through customs and get your passport stamped, but since you're not a criminal and the reason for your visit is obviously vacation, that's no big deal. My only note of import: make sure to take a good look around you before you get off the plane to verify that you haven't left behind anything of value. Or anything at all, for that matter. This last step used to be something I barely considered, because I'd usually put away anything that I took out when I finished using it. With a baby, many more things ended up outside of my luggage and didn't get replaced immediately, so the risk of losing something increased significantly. 

BITS AND BOBS

Jet Lag: it's a beast, unless you've done the red-eye thing. If you did an overnight flight, three cheers for you! You should be just fine. If you didn't, well...just make it past the first two days or so, and you will survive. Just prepare yourself to be very tired and try to keep as "normal" a schedule as possible so that you adjust naturally.

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Useful Items: if you've gone somewhere international, don't bank on having high chairs in restaurants. Get yourself one of these before you go and you will be so so so so glad you did. If your baby is eating solid food, these will also turn you into the restaurant's favorite patron, since you're clearly not expecting the restaurant to clean up after your kid.

Ideal Age Range: this is probably a personal preference, but I really liked traveling around 9 months. It was nice to have an interested, yet non-walking baby who was eating enough food to sample things while abroad, but didn't want to do all the things herself. 12 months was much harder due to the walking/independence, but was still totally doable. Traveling at 5 months was also a little nerve-wracking, but only because we hadn't done it before. So my recommendation is around 9 months, but opinions are not fact. There you have it.

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Sleeping Arrangements: I have yet to travel with a pack and play, but I have transported a Dockatot and am happy to report that you CAN squish that into a large suitcase. However, there's no way I'm bringing something that large on a long haul trip, so at least while we were in France, I just co-slept. It was much easier than any other option. But! If you don't want to do that, hotels often have cribs or pack and plays, and if you're lucky, the family you're visiting on the other side of the country will have one available thanks to other, now-older grandchildren. Finally, if that hadn't been possible for us, this thing (or any of the similar ones) would have arrived on my doorstep faster than I could use the "Buy With One Click" button on Amazon. That button is dangerous.

Diapers/Wipes: While I do bring as many wipes as I can comfortably fit, I like to bring just as many diapers as I need for the first day or two and then buy more when I get there. This philosophy worked out particularly well in France, where it turns out that grocery store diapers were superior and significantly less expensive than Pampers. I wish I could get them here.

So there's all my advice! Go forth and explore the globe, fellow parents! Then come back and tell me what else I should have included. May your children be less wiggly for souvenir photos than ours.

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Euro Trip with a Baby, Part 3

Congratulations! You've made it to the last chapter of our seemingly everlasting narrative!

To conclude our time in Basel, we attempted to board an earlier train to Paris than the one for which we had a ticket. I repacked all of our many things, including the items we'd picked up as souvenirs along the way, and they somehow still managed to fit in our bags. I'm still not sure how that worked, because I'm pretty sure I left the US with no room to spare. 

Once packed, I fed Elise, changed her diaper, got her into all her outdoor gear, strapped her in the stroller, attached everything else to various parts of my body, and we left the hotel. Since Chaz was going to be checking out the next day, we left our key in the room so that he could return it (along with his own key) at that point. We arrived at the train station with plenty of time to spare, so we picked up a pretzel and some water to keep us well fed and hydrated on the train. 

When we got to the track, I figured it'd be best to confirm that getting on an earlier train was fine. Would it have been fine? Yes. Would it have been free? NO. The conductor informed me it would be an extra $131 (USD), and we suddenly had an extra four hours to kill with all of our luggage...over nap time. What a development. Back to the hotel we went. Suddenly leaving the key in the room seemed like a terrible idea, but when you're laden with a tiny human and bags hanging off of most of your appendages, the front desk people don't ask too many questions when you say you left your key in the room.

I had intended to go to the (utterly wonderful) Swiss grocery store once more in those four hours, but instead it turned into a nap fest. Elise decided sleeping with her feet on me was the most comfortable position.

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She got a good rest and then we washed, rinsed, and repeated the same process again for the second time. The silver lining here was that Rachael was now on the same train! Hip hip hooray!

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Three hours and sixteen minutes later we found ourselves back in Paris, ready to catch our flight home the next day. But since we WERE in Paris, we immediately knew we needed to make the most of our remaining couple of hours. 

To do:

  1. Eat crêpes. 
  2. Buy more Ladurée macarons.
  3. Take in the final sights.

Our train had arrived at 7:45 pm, so by the time we were setting out from the hotel it was 8:45. First stop: crêpes. Oh my goodness. We found the BEST crêpe place in le Marais, which is, in my humble opinion, the loveliest historic district in the city. It's also a safe place for two women and a baby to be walking around at night, so win-win. But the CRÉPES. If you're in Paris, you must go to La Droguerie. You must! Rachael and I each got two crêpes - one savory (for dinner, of course) and one sweet. 

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And look at the jolly Frenchman in the back! He was the crêpe master, and he gave us free cups of tasty mint tea and told me my French was good. I was flattered. However, he did first ask if I was American...

I shared my apple-filled crêpe with Elise, and she LOVED it. 

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Each time I offered it to her, she'd try to take a bigger bite, and once it was in her mouth she wouldn't let go. If the baby approves, you know you've got a good thing going. 

With filled bellies, we made our way back to the metro and raced toward Ladurée on the Champs-Élysées. They closed at 11 and we walked in at 10:59. The ladies at the counter begrudgingly filled our macaron order and rather smugly turned away the man that walked in at 11:00, but no amount of near-closing-time attitude could stifle our anticipation over the imminent macaron consumption. I'm happy to report that they exceeded our expectations. 

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With our final stop of the night complete, we felt like we'd hit everything we needed to and went back to the hotel feeling content and ready to head home in the morning. Our flight was at 11:30 am, so we decided we'd leave at 9:00 to give ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport. Please note: we each received an email informing us that there was a Nor'easter scheduled to hit Boston at the same time as our flight, and that we should be prepared for a delay. This email also mentioned that we could make one free change to our flight plans, but we figured we'd use that in case we got stuck in Reykjavik due to our Boston flight being canceled.

What we did not anticipate was leaving half an hour late and that it took roughly 1.5 hours to get from our hotel to the airport, thanks to rush hour traffic. If you're wondering how we still made our flight...great question. WE DIDN'T. 

Up until that point, I had never missed a flight in my life. I think if it had been any other flight, I would have been out the full airfare for rebooking my ticket, but guess what came in handy? The email! We cashed in on that one free flight change and voila! Rachael, Elise, and I now had a whole extra day in Paris. Considering chances were extremely high that our Reykjavik to Boston flight was going to be canceled anyway (and we later found out that it was), the missed flight was rather fortuitous. 

You've certainly heard the "when life hands you lemons" saying. I'm going to raise you one and say that when life hands you lemons, you occasionally get the chance to practice alchemy and not only make lemonade, but convert your yellow lemons to yellow gold and live it up to the hilt. We chose this opportunity to take that route and I'm pretty sure our spontaneous extra day was the very best. 

First, we found a hotel for the night. We picked the location carefully - le Marais! More crêpes for us! Our room had the most perfect window, and with the slightly warmer temperature and sunny day, we left it open to provide us with some fresh air. 

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We dropped off all of our stuff (another award to Rachael for seriously saving me when it came to hoisting Elise, the stroller, and my suitcase up several flights of stairs between the airport and the hotel), regrouped a bit, and then went in search of lunch. Elise made sure to practice some conducting before we set off. 

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We hit the road and discovered that the Rue de Rivoli is basically the affordable version of the Champs-Élysées. The result? A shopping excursion! We made a bee line for H&M thanks to the fact that while I was perfectly fine wearing the same pants and shirt again for an extra travel day, there are other articles of clothing that I was definitely NOT ok rewearing. Hence the need for a dependable, cheap store with all the...basics.

Along the way we stopped for lunch at a patisserie simply called "Paul." In spite of the simple name, our three-cheese flatbread pizza and chocolate cake were anything but simple, and we walked out feeling rather sprightly and well-fed. We also stumbled across a grand cathedral and used it both as an opportunity for prayers and photos. One of those things felt significantly more holy than the other.

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In retrospect, we should have stayed inside the cathedral and said more prayers, because shortly after departing we got caught in a heavy downpour. Perhaps that was God's casual smiting for taking a few too many photos. We ran the last couple of blocks toward H&M and shook off the few raindrops that hadn't already soaked into our clothes, which led to the discovery that Elise had made great use of the rain as a distraction for removing and disposing of her hat. It was gone forever, sadly, but H&M thwarted her dreams of remaining hatless as we left with a new one in hand. Or rather...on her head. 

After a couple more stops, I realized that if we had any hope of being able to sit down for dinner that night Elise would need a nap, so we made our way back to the hotel. Baby naps have their perks - time to search for the perfect dinner place! A quick Google inquiry for best (affordable) restaurants in le Marais led us to Le Colimaçon, and this is where our extra day went from simply lovely to totally awesome. It turned out to literally be the BEST MEAL. As in best meal I've ever eaten in my entire life, and possibly the best meal I hope to consume for the rest of my life. I knew Paris had good food, but this was above and beyond.

Because we were looking for restaurants in the neighborhood we were staying, we were able to walk. It had warmed up a bit over the course of the trip, so it might be more accurate to say we strolled. I mean, we did have a stroller, so we definitely strolled. The sights were perfectly Parisian, and for a brief moment I wondered if I'd accidentally walked onto the set of Roman Holiday. I then mentally reprimanded myself for that thought seeing as Roman Holiday is set in Rome. 

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It was far too late in the trip to blame jet lag. Baby sleep, perhaps? 

We arrived at the restaurant and were almost turned away because we hadn't made a reservation. At the last moment - the very last, since we had already walked out the door - the waitress ran after us and informed us that someone had reserved a table for six, but only four attended, so a table was available! 

It was a tiny dining room that felt friendly and intimate in a way that only the French can pull off. Elise must have inhaled the classiness of the place and translated it into feeling compliant, because she sat in my lap and chattered quietly while gnawing on a piece of bread as opposed to her normal decibel level for talking in quiet places. That level is off the charts and is typically reserved for church. In case you need proof, here's a shot of both of stuffing our faces with a shared piece of bread prior to the arrival of the main course.

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We didn't take any pictures of the actual food because it was too glorious to behold and might have broken our cameras. Also because we dug into it so fast that we didn't think to whip out any sort of photo-taking device, and once we'd started in there was no stopping us. My steak was perfectly cooked with a divine brown sauce of some sort, and I don't use the word divine lightly! Alongside the steak were vegetables and a small salad, paired with a delicious Merlot that the waitress had recommended. Elise particularly enjoyed the carrots dipped in the brown sauce, and would open her mouth for another bite each time she swallowed.

It was so good that we couldn't say no to dessert, so we followed it up with a chocolate mousse that was probably sent straight from the heavens on to our plates. Elise may or may not have sampled a tiny taste of that as well...the c'est la vie! mentality struck again. I didn't want her to miss out on the meal of a lifetime! 

We left the restaurant and walked back to the hotel vowing to return with our respective spouses in the future. If I say it out loud, it has to happen, right? In the words of the Terminator, I'LL BE BACK. 

So we never actually had more crêpes, but it didn't matter because we'd found something even better. We peaked at the very end, which is the ideal way to (un)plan a trip!

The next day we left 1.5 hours earlier than we'd left the previous day, picked an alternative way to get to the airport, and got to our flight with plenty of time to buy ourselves a final croissant and hot chocolate at the gate. The plane rides were uneventful, and Elise figured out a great way to both entertain herself and give me a workout: 

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We arrived home to a foot of snow, no power, a buried car, and several trees down in our driveway, but we were able to stay with my parents that night and power was restored the following morning. All was well, and best of all, we were reunited once again! We took a blurry selfie to commemorate the occasion. 

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And with that, our international adventures were ended. À bientôt, Paris! 

Euro Trip with a Baby, Part 2

Welcome back to the second installment of the Euro Baby Chronicles. I can promise a continuation of our lengthy recap that may or may not stretch into a THIRD post. I guess we'll find out after I type for awhile longer.

Where did we leave off? Oh yes. The passport was recovered, dinner was delicious, and we had turned in for the night. We had a nice comfy bed and a lovely view overlooking the street in a charming hotel, although it turned out that the other half of our traveling party had issues with their shower. Sad times! I think the hotel made up for it with their delicious breakfast offerings though. Elise sampled a croissant and I ate another two myself, coupled with yet another hot chocolate. When in Rome, you know? Or better said...when in Paris, you know?

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After enjoying her croissant, Elise spent a couple of extra minutes hanging out with Rachael while I went on a quick mission to buy some diapers from the nearby market. Turned out they were quasi-closed - they informed me I needed to leave after I walked through the very much unlocked door - but Elise clearly loved her quality time. 

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Upon my return, we squashed all of us and our various suitcases, bags, and the recently-delivered stroller (!) into an Uber and sped across town to the Gare de l'Est train station to ride toward Colmar. Colmar is a tiny town in the Alsace region on the eastern border of France (wine country!), and if you want a visual, picture a village straight out of Beauty and the Beast and you'll be right on the money.

It was COLD. 

We also had all of our bags since we were going to end up in Basel, but Google had informed us that the bike shop next door would stow luggage for the day for a mere two Euro per item. Great news! The downside? The bike shop was closed for lunch, and would not reopen for two hours. The upside? The train station had a little restaurant. We camped out, drank some hot drinks, and waited until the bike shop employees had finished their afternoon lunch + siesta. After walking so many miles in the previous two days, I don't think any of us were sad about the forced break. 

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When the appointed hour came, we dropped off the luggage and made our way into town on foot. It was as charming as ever and as lovely as I had remembered from my first time there, albeit much chillier. We found a sandwich shop for lunch and then proceeded to walk around town, stopping in shops where we wanted to investigate items we'd seen in the window and taking all sorts of pictures of our surroundings along the way. 

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There were two places to note in particular: first, we found French Target. Monoprix has everything from diapers and wipes (thank goodness - I had just used up my very last one from home) to food to housewares to clothing, and all of it was adorable. Elise got a souvenir from here, because it's an unspoken yet widely acknowledged rule that you can't pass through Target/Monoprix and leave empty-handed.

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I should add that I found the French generic-brand diapers to be significantly superior to Pampers. I'm still working on trying to get a subscription service sent to my house directly from Monoprix.

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Second, we found an ice cream shop called Edelw'ice. 

Let's pause for a moment to really appreciate the greatness of that pun. 

I stood in the street and laughed out loud because hello, I'm a nerd. Had it not been so cold, I would have bought as much as I could from them just because I loved the name of the business so much. Here's a blurry photo taken so that I could revel in the punny glory for ages to come:

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After laughing so hard, we needed a snack, so we hit up a nearby chocolate and pastry shop for our pick me up. Elise was beyond delighted to be released from the constraints of her stroller, and she didn't hesitate to let the entire dining area know about her glee. 

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Fortunately, the window distracted her enough that we were able to make it through our tea and (yet more) croissants without shattering any porcelain dishware, and we left with full bellies and slightly damaged eardrums. Back to the bike shop we trudged to pick up our luggage and hop on the train to Basel!

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Oh, and we gave up on the stroller for that last leg. Elise got the Ergo treatment instead.

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The half hour train ride was quite uneventful as Elise fell asleep the moment we got on board. After a very active day, I think I may have appreciated her nap even more than she did. She was a total traveling champ on this trip and I was so very proud of her. Look at how happy she was, even when she was pooped!

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She did have mittens...but she would just take them off approximately five seconds after I put them on. Every. Single. Time. 

The vibe of the trip changed a little bit once we got to Basel due to the change of purpose. I mean...my purpose was still the same, but Julie was heading back home, and Rachael was there on a business trip. Do you know who else was there for business? CHAZ! We overlapped with him for a grand total of two nights (he worked during the day, of course), and in that span of time we took zero pictures of us all together. Evidently our priorities were elsewhere - his with work and mine with eating carbs and sugar.

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Basel is definitely a city, but it's a much smaller, quieter city than a giant one like Paris. The effect of that change was that every single thing is closed on Sunday, and we had arrived on a Saturday night. Nevertheless, Elise and I rallied on Sunday morning, got ready for the day, and eventually went exploring after her morning nap. 

As a quick aside - it is logistically difficult to shower while being single-handedly responsible for tending to a baby in a hotel room. We tried several methods over the course of the week, but this one was the most successful. I figure she already knows how to appreciate a good spa treatment.

Believe it or not, our 2.5 days of Basel exploits can be condensed into a few pictures and even fewer words: we came, we saw, and we ate. Success!

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We're actively working on raising the next generation of cathedral lovers. 

Chocolate was obviously an important factor for me, and being in the Land of Chocolate, I was determined to find the best hot chocolate place in the city and drink it. I'm happy to report that I did find it, and it was delectable. Really, you can't go wrong when you're at a place that's dedicated to hot chocolate drinks. 

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It came with a small piece of the actual chocolate used in the drink, a heaping pile of whipped cream ON THE SIDE, and a small glass of water to wash down the decadence. 

While it was amazing and absolutely worth the effort of seeking it out and drinking it while holding a squirmy child, I'm about to make a bold, entirely subjective claim: I liked the Musée d'Orsay's hot chocolate better. 

😬

Overall, the slower pace we took in Basel was a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of touristing, and when we weren't roaming the old town streets, we spent several hours in the hotel like this:

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There aren't very many things in life sweeter than a baby who cuddles in her sleep.

Well, I have once again used up more than enough blog post real estate for only a portion of our trip, so I'll continue to drag this out with a part three...

COMING SOON.

Euro Trip with a Baby, Part 1

As you may have surmised from the fact that I posted something here recently, we went to Europe and returned unscathed! The short version of it is that Elise was a champ at traveling, baby jet lag turned out to not even be a thing, really, and it was cold but not unbearable. Three cheers for that. But a single sentence does not a blog post make, so I shall recap IN FULL to appease the masses. Or myself. 

On February 28th, Elise turned 9 months old and I realized I had to get off my procrastinatastic butt and get packing before we left the house at 3pm for our flight. All I can say is praise the Lord for naps, or else we would have needed to buy all our things in another country. Every last thing. Naps happened, the suitcase and the backpack were stuffed, and a couple of spare items were tucked away into the front pocket of the Ergo since they wouldn't fit anywhere else. We hightailed it to the bus that transported us to the airport, and Elise, clad in her very best fleece pajamas, decided that the ride was the perfect time to practice her backwards swan dive. 

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We made it to the airport in plenty of time, lugged our luggage + Ergo + stroller through security, gate checked the stroller, and boarded the plane. We were in the aisle seat, and while the middle seat was empty, the lady in the window seat made it no secret that she was not thrilled to be sitting near a baby. Specifically, she texted someone and then placed her phone in very plain view on the seat between us to make sure I saw it: "On plane. Seated next to an infant." 

Off to a great start!

Fortunately, she need not have worried, and I not-so-secretly hope that she feels a tiny speck of remorse for the snarky text, because Elise barely made a peep and then fell asleep for the majority of that first leg. SO THERE.

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Other than that, there isn't much to report about flying, apart from the fact that Elise got a fair amount of sleep (for a plane ride) and I got none, but we both survived and were ready to go adventuring by the time we got to our hotel and washed ourselves up. Oh, except that our stroller was sent to Copenhagen instead of Paris. That was not fun, but we still had the Ergo. I resembled a pack horse with Elise on the front, my backpack on my back, and my suitcase in hand, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and while a vacation doesn't really count as a "desperate time," it was...laughable. As an added bonus, I probably burned more calories because of the extra portaging. 

I feel like I should add a quick note right here to inform you that the one thing I did NOT end up doing was using my real camera at any point during the trip, despite the fact that I toted both it and my extra lens around with us the whole time. As a result, the photo quality is entirely sub par. You've been warned.

Our first day in Paris was a short one, thanks to the time change. We arrived at 11:00, got settled and cleaned up by 2:00, and were out the door by 2:30 to meet our friends! The plan was to meet at Ladurée on the Champs-Élysées for a late lunch and some macarons, and then walk around the city until dinner. It turns out that Ladurée does everything confectionary well, and so instead of macarons, I opted for their French toast with rose chantilly cream and a raspberry coulis. 

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What does rose chantilly cream taste like, you ask? It tastes like you melted a rose, poured the melted liquid into some heavy cream, added a dash of confectioner's sugar, and whipped it until it gets into its proper form. Basically, it tastes exactly like how a rose smells. By itself, I don't know if I'd eat it off a spoon for a snack. (Am I the only one that does that with regular whipped cream? Don't answer that.) But with the French toast and the raspberry? HEAVENLY. If you go there, you must try it! I insist!

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Elise enjoyed the raspberries, and considering I can't handle the texture of raspberries myself, it was a win for both of us.

Once we finished up, we headed out into the cold to sightsee, but after a couple of metro rides, a long-ish time without milk, and a chilly wind, Elise decided she'd had enough. Our friends Rachael and Julie headed to a delicious dinner at a restaurant Chaz and I ate at on our honeymoon, while Elise and I went back to the hotel to warm up, consume Cheerios and veggie straws for supper, and hit the hay at 8:30. 

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Based on how long this is taking me, I'll probably need to split this thrilling account up into multiple posts. I can just hear you shouting for joy. 

On to day 2! Feeling entirely refreshed, we got ready in the morning and, after nearly flooding the bathroom thanks to an open shower and a parent focused on the baby rather than the water volume, set out to explore. On the itinerary for the day: Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, and the Musée d'Orsay, followed by dinner with another friend who lives in the city. All in all, it was ambitious, but we managed to do it! 

Notre Dame is always an experience. It's gorgeous, and this time we were lucky enough to be there during a service, so we listened to the chanted prayers and readings (in French, of course!) while walking around the perimeter with all the other tourists. It always amazes me that they're able to carry on with the service with so many people roaming around, but they do, and we were grateful for it. Elise must have been in awe, because she merely looked around and didn't take the opportunity to test the (presumably magnificent) acoustics. I was grateful.  

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After taking it all in, we headed to a nearby cafe and got some lunch before making our way to Sainte-Chapelle. The waiter was charmed with Elise, and by the end of the meal we'd made a new friend. Or at least, she had. 

Sainte-Chapelle had never been on my must-visit list in Paris, but it really should have been. Stained glass is always a sight to behold, but this was beyond comprehension. The closest thing by comparison would be what I imagine it would be like to stand inside a life-size kaleidoscope. Filtered light poured in from every direction, and it seemed like a fitting site for the relics of Christ, for which it was originally constructed. 

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Elise WAS a little more enthusiastic about fussing here, but she quickly gave into slumber and all was quiet shortly thereafter. 

Since the Musée d'Orsay was less than a mile away, we continued our trek on foot. Rachael, a dear friend and also Elise's godmother, should have won an award for the day, because she did some baby-wearing! Elise should probably be counting her lucky stars/many blessings to have someone so invested in both her spiritual formation and also her Paris-touring comfort. 

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And while I'm thinking of it, I'll offer a piece of unsolicited advice. Everyone *always* loves unsolicited advice. Here goes: when hunting for friends, always choose someone who loves your babies as much as they love you. You can't go wrong. And your children will know they're loved by a village, which seems like a pretty important thing to me. More love = happier kids, right?

That's enough advice for one post.

We ended the sightseeing portion of our day with a pass through the Musée d'Orsay. I actually prefer the Musée d'Orsay to the Louvre, and yes, I realize how pretentious that sounds when said out loud. Or even read in your head. But I've said it, and it remains true. The Musée d'Orsay is smaller than the Louvre, so it's much more manageable in a single visit.

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While the Louvre has a plethora of famous older paintings (among other things), the Musée d'Orsay holds the largest collection of artwork from the impressionist and post-impressionist era, including paintings by Monet and Van Gogh. I particularly enjoyed/was amused by Monet's "Les Dindons," which is quite literally a portrait of turkeys on his patron's lawn. What's not to love? Elise also seemed to enjoy her jaunt around the museum.

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Oh, see that stroller? It is not ours. It belongs to the museum, and in order to use it, I had to leave them with my passport until we returned it. PLEASE TAKE NOTE OF THAT IMPORTANT DETAIL.

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While the art at the museum was gorgeous and probably worth discussing at length, what I really want to discuss is the hot chocolate I had at the museum cafe. It was hands down the best hot chocolate I have had to date, not only on this trip, but ever in my life. And that's saying a lot, because just on the trip I think I drank hot chocolate nearly every day. I mean, if you can't tell by my inability to put it down for a photo, just look at Elise's longing expression:

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Did I allow to her to have just a little bit of the whipped cream? Yes. Yes I did. Question my parenting choices all you want. We were in France. C'est la vie.

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We finished up our time at the museum with taking photos by one of the two large clocks on the fifth floor. These couple of minutes resulted in some of my favorite photos from the trip, so it was well worth taking our turn in the informal line of tourists who also wanted to take the same photo. 

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We returned the borrowed stroller in exchange for my passport and made the 40-minute trek back to our hotel for the night. Upon arrival at the hotel, the man at the front desk asked for my passport to check in, which is standard practice, and as I reached for it in its spot in the Ergo pocket, I realized it wasn't there. Not only was it not there, but I knew I had last seen it at the counter when I returned the stroller and had no memory of actually taking it. In addition, the museum was now closed, and our train to our next destination was scheduled to leave before the museum would open the following morning. Cue a solid 15 minutes of me trying to get ahold of anyone who might know someone able to enter a closed museum after hours to retrieve a passport within another locked area of the building in garbled French...chances were SLIM.

At the last moment, which was one of despair placated in the form of an exquisite chocolate-enshrouded more-chocolate mousse purchased at the patisserie next door, I reached into my coat pocket and unexpectedly withdrew the "missing" passport. I think it was actually miraculous.

I ended the night with a very tasty dinner with a friend I hadn't seen in a couple of years (hi, Sarah!), snapped a picture of the Louvre's pyramids under the moonlight on the way back, and went to bed feeling fat and happy. Although not too fat, because I'd walked over 19,000 steps that day. I'm sure that balanced out all the chocolate.

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I think that's quite enough for a single blog post. Tales of Colmar, Basel, and a return to Paris still need to be recounted, so if you haven't already keeled over in boredom, STAY TUNED.

How to Take a Baby Passport Photo

A few years ago - three years and a couple of months, to be exact - I needed a new passport thanks to my last name changing from Griffin to Woodstock. Aside: changing your name is wretched. And we're back.

I assumed that the way to get a passport photo was the normal way: you go to CVS, they take your photo, they print it, and you go on your merry way. So I did that, and I kid you not, it was quite literally the absolute worst photo of me I had ever (and still have ever) seen of myself in my entire life. Perhaps I should have just swallowed my pride and dealt with having a photo that reminded me more of a cow than myself on my ID for the next ten years of my traveling escapades, but I refused and decided then and there that I would take my own photos from thenceforth. I did, and I'm rather happy with how it eventually turned out.

However, taking a photo of oneself looking straight at the camera with enough of a smize to not look like a serial killer getting a mug shot done is one thing. Taking a similar photo of a baby is another one entirely. But in the interest of preserving Elise's self esteem for the next five years, I decided it was worth the sacrifice. 

The US photo requirements are many:

  • Your head must face the camera directly with your full face in view.
  • You must have a neutral facial expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open.
  • You must take a photo in clothing normally worn on a daily basis.
  • It must have a plain white or off-white background.
  • It must be a 2x2 inch square photo, with the head centered and between 25 and 35 mm from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.
  • You may not wear glasses, a hat, or any other head covering.
  • There may be no shadows.
  • You must be able to see both ears.

No big deal, right? It's not like kids move or look away from a camera or open their mouths all the time or anything. We got this.

First, I selected Elise's outfit with great care, despite the "normal clothing" requirement. She's somewhat hairless, after all, so I decided her shirt needed to be pink. I also decided that while she does/will wear it every day until her ear infection is gone, the Amoxicillin stain from the morning's dose should probably not be present. 

Next, I needed a plain white background with natural/bright light. Enter our cheap Ikea flat sheet and a rocking chair pulled next to the window.

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Though the room started to look like a pauper's version of Netherfield after the Bingleys returned to London, it did the job. 

I then needed a way to restrain Elise in the proper position in the chair without making her upset. I ask you...what are Bumbo seats for if not for that purpose?

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The only remaining necessary element was the baby, of course. I got her situated and gave her a ball to keep her hands occupied (and therefore out of the frame).

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After that, it was just a simple matter of getting the right photo. We started off strong.

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Maybe a little too much zoom. And movement. 

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Aha. I realized I needed to add a song and dance to keep her looking my direction.

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Gah, the thumb! She just thinks it's so delicious. Who needs a passport photo anyway?

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Ok, cute. But she moved again and made it blurry, and remember how you can't have an open mouth? Come on. And I'm not even going to address the snotty nose.

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Acceptable. And yet...the mug shot just wasn't doing it for me. Shouldn't the US border officials be able to surmise that she's not a baby criminal mastermind? I need them to be able to judge her character in five seconds or less, because obviously her passport photo is a reflection of my parenting abilities.

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AND THERE IT IS. Crop a little on either side, bump up the brightness, and we are in business. It only took me 53 shots, but we got it.

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Now, all I have to do is assemble her birth certificate, social security card, our marriage license, a printout of our airline tickets, and her baptism certificate, and both Chaz and I need to show up in person at the National Passport Center at our appointed time (which must be conveniently between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm Monday through Friday). The government, man. They like to make this so easy on us. 

But hey! Europe, we're coming your way, one official document checklist item at a time!

It's Happening

So my trip to London was a dream that I was hoping would come true maybe one day down the line. It's still a dream! I hope to do it! But just a few weeks after that idea came to mind, another opportunity fell at my feet. Chaz is going to Basel, Switzerland for work in March, and at the very same time airfares dropped to crazy low prices and suddenly...I'm going too. 

However. The way it worked out means that I'm traveling two days before him by myself. With a 9-month old. Overnight.

I'M PSYCHED.

The cheapest way to get to Basel (I've found) is actually to fly through Paris and then take a train. That route also makes the tail end of the voyage somewhat leisurely, since trains don't have to be pressurized and it's quite simple to get up and walk around. It's a lovely train ride and I'm quite looking forward to it. But in this case, I'm also arriving two days early AND I have a couple of reward hotel nights that I'm ready to burn, so now I'm going to hang out in Paris for two days with a baby. This baby enjoys bread. Paris is the bread capital of the world. Ergo...baby's first croissant is going to be in Paris. I like to think that this is a wonderful opportunity to create some fun facts for her later in life. She's going to kill at at Two Truths and a Lie when she's all grown up.

 Here's an unrelated blurry picture of her eating a crocheted carrot, because it's cute.

Here's an unrelated blurry picture of her eating a crocheted carrot, because it's cute.

The best part about this trip is that two of my favorite coworkers are ALSO arriving in Paris early, so we're all ready to live it up and eat as much bread, cheese, and chocolate as we can handle while running around the streets of Paris. 

I may be just a little bit insane to attempt this type of trip, but when life hands you that kind of opportunity, you don't turn it down. And this time, I won't have to take a million bad selfies.

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My Favorite (Plane) Travel Hacks

Have you ever read such a clickbait title? You must be so roped in! That's what clickbait titles do, right?

But for real, I've been spending a good amount of time each night planning a trip that may or may not end up happening because I'm a travel nerd and it makes me happy. As a result, I've been thinking quite a bit about the various tricks I've used over the years, and it's time to consolidate them all into one place. I also may be suffering from mom brain because I can't remember if I've already written this exact same post before. Oh well! 

Will this be useful to anyone else? WHO KNOWS. At least I'll have it for my own reference, I guess. You know...in case I forget how to get from point A to point B without a guide.

Here we go.

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1) Don't check bags.

Unless you absolutely have to, checking bags is a waste of time and money. Most airlines have a pretty reasonable suitcase size allowance for the carry on bags, and if you use a backpack as your "personal item," you've got yourself a lot of space to work with. If you pack smart and compact, you can totally make that work. Exceptions to this rule are allowed if you're traveling for a long time or you need to bring something crazy like an evening gown, but otherwise...no. Honestly, this is probably not a "travel hack." It's just common sense.

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2) Traveling alone? Play the plane seat lottery.

If the only good seats that are available are the ones that come with an extra charge, just don't pick a seat at the time of fare purchase. This is a bit of a gamble, but oftentimes if you get a seat assignment when you arrive at the airport, all the other passengers will have gone through the seat selection process already and filled up the bad seats. Since you have a fully paid ticket and the bad seats are full, they'll stick you in an open seat, INCLUDING the extra space, extra legroom, bulkhead, etc. options. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's awesome. And having done this a number of times, I'd say it is successful more frequently than getting stuck in the middle.

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3) Or pick a seat in the back row.

Most people avoid the back row because of some assumptions: people keep walking past you, seats don't recline, and the bathrooms are in the back. I am here to tell you that all of these assumptions are pretty much false on bigger planes. For almost all transatlantic flights I've taken, the bathrooms have been in the middle, the seats DO recline, and the only people walking past are the flight attendants. That's not a bad thing - it's much easier to ask for extra water when you're right next to the spot where it's stored. The other advantage? Everyone else doesn't want to sit there, so most of the time, I end up with at least one (if not two) empty seats to myself. It's like a pauper's version of first class. Practically luxurious! And especially grand when sporting a 5-month pregnant belly. I can tell you that from personal experience.

4) Bring water.

While you can ask for a million tiny bottles of water, it's MUCH easier to a) not get up to ask for it and b) have a large bottle. Either bring an empty water bottle with you and fill it up at the water fountain once past security (so it doesn't get confiscated), or buy yourself a nice big one at the overpriced Hudson News stand in the terminal.

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5) Hunt for the best airfares.

This probably also goes without saying, but unless it's absolutely required or you're traveling last minute, don't purchase a plane ticket immediately. Fares fluctuate often, so use the tools available to help yourself get a better deal. Sites like Airfarewatchdog and Scott's Cheap Flights are especially good if you want to get email alerts for low deals. If you have flexible dates, use a fare calendar (JetBlue has a really awesome one, and Google Flights is not far behind). However, my personal favorite trick is to buy departing and returning tickets separately, rather than round trip. I'll usually compare the round trip to the separate options, and sometimes they're the same. But often, unless I'm going super budget (hey there, Wow Airlines), separate legs = better prices.

 Living my best life...in Economy.

Living my best life...in Economy.

6) Window seats are your friend.

This one is 100% personal preference. But if I'm going to sleep on a plane - and almost all international flights from Boston are overnight - a window seat is where it's at. Just give me a neck pillow (worn sideways so my head doesn't fall forward), a probably-gross plane blanket, and maybe a stuffed up jacket, and I'm as happy as an overtired clam squished into a slightly-too-small shell for the next six hours. Which, for being on a plane, is to say I'm a pretty contented clam.

7) BYOP(harmecy)

After experiencing a variety of ailments while flying over the years, I've collected a small assemblage of over the counter drugs that are always with me on a trip. Headache? Would you prefer Advil or Tylenol? Stomach upset? I've got both ginger pills for nausea and Gas-X for...other discomforts. Runny nose? Here's the Sudafed. Heartburn thanks to pregnancy? Let me give you some Tums. Oh, and after traveling with a baby, you'd better believe that I now include Purell, regular wipes, pacifier wipes, and baby Tylenol to round out the stockpile. Travel with me and you will be fit as a fiddle from take off to landing.

 

I think that's it! If this is all redundant information, I apologize. At least I don't claim to be a travel writer. Happy travels!

Grand Plans

I had this idea recently that it would be very fun to take a group trip to London. Babies included, of course. It would be great to get a group of friends together, hop on a plane to a European location that is literally closer than the other side of the US, and gallivant around the city together, taking babies' schedules into account. This seems like a reasonable idea to me because several of my friends have babies around the same age, so it's the perfect opportunity. Most of them are still considered lap infants and would therefore be free on flights.

Behold...

This idea first came about due to a dream. I had a lovely morning dream between Elise's 5:00 nursing session and her 7:30 wake up that some friends and I (plus family) were hanging out in London. It was so lovely that I immediately texted my friend around 8:00 and told her we should do it. I laughed at myself until I forgot all about it later that afternoon.

However, later in the week the idea leapt back into my (let's be honest...probably delusional) brain over lunch, and I turned an unlikely scenario into searching for air fares. 

PEOPLE. YOU CAN GET FROM BOSTON TO LONDON FOR $99 (per direction).

Just consider it. YOU TOO could take a crooked selfie in front of the gates of Buckingham Palace.

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Suddenly, my idea no longer seemed impossible, and I am convinced that I need to do it. I'd be happy with a family trip, a girls' trip, an extended family trip, a solo trip, ANY KIND OF TRIP. But trust me when I say it'd be more fun to go as a group. I've done the solo London touring thing and while great, it's more exciting to share the experience. Plus I know Elise can conquer a 6-hour flight, so we've got that covered.

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So please, someone, sign up to come with me to England. It would be merry, I'm sure. Perhaps if we're feeling especially adventurous and the baby/babies is/are feeling particularly compliant, we could even take the train to Paris for a day. Let's hear it for the Eurostar. WHO'S IN? I've been bitten by the international travel bug and I will not be restrained. BYOB(aby).

And this time, I promise not to get stuck in traffic 45 minutes before the plane is supposed to leave. It wasn't my best moment.

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A Trip in Review: NYC with a Baby

Now that we're back from NYC, I figured I'd put together a summary of our trip because I'm sure everyone else is just DYING to hear about how it went. Could you get any more excited? I think not.

We went back and forth for a couple of days when deciding if Elise and I should go or not. Our last vacation with her (at one month) included rather a lot of fussing and sickness, as you may recall, so we were a little hesitant to risk that again, this time with fewer helping hands available. But Elise was a full month older, was sleeping better through the night, and was not coming down with any form of sickness, so we decided it was worth a try. And so off we went! 

We planned to head down Tuesday afternoon and return Saturday afternoon. Chaz was working on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning, so I planned two days worth of activities I could do by myself with a baby, and a family excursion to the Statue of Liberty. I knew I wasn't going to be able to do my typical traveling-solo style mad dash touring, but I also wasn't entirely limited to two-hour journeys only because I had a) the wrap (making yet another appearance on ye olde blog) and b) the necessary devices/body parts for diapering and feeding a small human. That essentially meant that I could do one major thing per day. 

But first - the travel! A couple of important points:

Packing: my usual rule of thumb is PACK LIGHT. Not in this case. My new rule was PACK COMPACT. In other words, pack more than you probably need so that you are prepared for anything. I packed a whole package of diapers (sticking them all in the zip pocket of the suitcase lid), two outfits per day for Elise (since I didn't want to end up having too few clothes thanks to spit up/poop/various other body fluids), and tools for evaluating sickness (in case she came down with something like she did on the last trip). We also brought her Dockatot, since she sleeps really well in it and we also wouldn't have to bring something bulkier like a Pack & Play. Between all of her stuff, the Dockatot, Chaz's work clothes, and both of our regular clothes, we had a lot of stuff, but I fit it all into one suitcase and one backpack, which doubled as our diaper bag for the days. 

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Suitcase Layer 1

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Suitcase Layer 2

Did we overpack? 100% yes. Did we have everything we needed? Well...Elise did. I should have packed one more pair of shorts for me, because I was NOT planning on sweating as much as I did thanks to excessive walking + over-80-degree weather. But apart from that, we had everything we could possibly have required. And when it comes to taking care of a baby in an unfamiliar place, being over prepared is better than being under prepared, and we'll be even more on top of things the next time we travel. 

Traveling: We took the train from South Station in Boston to Penn Station in NYC, and it was the perfect way to go with a baby. It was easy to get up and walk around if needed, there was no change in air pressure due to elevation, and there was no airport security with liquid restrictions. I call that a win. Plus, Elise loved looking out the window when she wasn't eating or sleeping. Added bonus: there was a changing table in a fairly large bathroom. 

Hotel: King-sized bed. Insert the praise hands emoji here, please. I'm slowing becoming convinced that we need one of those at home too, because HOLY SPACE. Amazing. 

Alright! That's how we got to New York. Here's what we did:

Day 1: Levain Bakery! I won't recap that whole trip again since it was already done here, so instead I'll give you a slideshow:

 Setting off for the day...at noon. #morningnap

Setting off for the day...at noon. #morningnap

 Post-cookie-purchase rest in the park (to eat said cookie).

Post-cookie-purchase rest in the park (to eat said cookie).

 The Cookie.

The Cookie.

 What a smirk.

What a smirk.

When we got back to the hotel, Elise took her afternoon nap, and then when Chaz returned from working, we walked to a nearby Mexican restaurant for dinner. It was delicious, and Elise had the courtesy to fall asleep on the way there and wake up just as we were finishing. That was a one-time deal. Future meals were not quite so easy.

Day 2: Brooklyn Bridge (viewing) plus Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory! Yet again we set off in the late morning after Elise's morning nap, although we started the whole day an hour earlier and so were out of the hotel by 11. I took a second stab at navigating the subway and ultimately decided that nearly every other city in the world has a better labeled, better mapped, easier to navigate metro system than New York. It's possible to get around, but only if you have a pretty good idea of the layout of the city in your head. And definitely don't count on there being a subway map once you've gone beyond the entrance to the station. Once you're past the fare collection, you're toast until you actually get on the train. Nevertheless, we persisted and eventually found our way to Brooklyn. 

When we got there, we took yet another selfie on a park bench. 

You'd think we could come up with a better pose, but I was feeling more overheated than creative and so it's the best I've got. My original plan was to walk over the bridge, but the heat persuaded me to cut my losses and instead just satisfy myself with eating ice cream while taking pictures of the bridge. In the end, I'm not actually sure that counts as a loss, because...ice cream.

 Elise spent much time munching on her wrap.

Elise spent much time munching on her wrap.

 This was taken shortly before it started melting ALL over my hand.

This was taken shortly before it started melting ALL over my hand.

We called it a day, headed back to the hotel, and yet again, Elise took her afternoon nap. When Chaz got back from work we decided against going out again for dinner and instead got pizza and brought it back to the hotel. Elise approved and got ready for bed early.

Day 3: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island! Moral of the story - we should have packed a lunch. But regardless, it was still fun. Chaz finished up what he needed to do for work in the hotel room, and we got out of there, breaking our record by 1.25 hours and leaving at 9:45. We took the subway down to Battery Park, then hopped on the ferry that would take us to both Liberty Island and then Ellis Island.  

Elise was very enthused/interested in the whole thing.

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We saw the statue and thought about climbing up, but again, it was very hot and we decided we were fine with taking pictures...from down below. 

And so after a quick feeding, we hopped back on the boat and headed over to Ellis Island. 

Ellis Island was is an interesting museum at this point, made more interesting that my then-17-year-old great grandmother went through it when she came over from Norway in 1913. Look! Here's her ship!

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After seeing the sights in the museum, we went outside to the Wall of Honor and found her name...

...then hopped back on the boat and sailed/motored back to Manhattan. 

We were all pretty tuckered out but made it to a restaurant for dinner, but Elise had had enough and made sure that only one of us could eat at a time. But the burger was good! And bed followed shortly after our return to the hotel.

Saturday was spent visiting friends (but we didn't take any pictures, sadly) and then traveling back home by train. The longer we're away from home, it seems, the more Elise wants to be home, so she was delighted when we walked in the door. And so here we are, back at our regular routine, until the next time we decide to hit the road!

NYC Eats: Levain Bakery

We're currently in NYC. Chaz needed to travel here for work, so Elise and I decided to come along for the ride! We'll save the "Here's how we traveled with a baby!" post for another time, since not EVERY post on this here blog should be baby-focused. Instead, we'll turn our gaze toward my other great love: cookies. Though I don't have extensive familiarity with NYC (having only been here twice and only walking around at night), I have lots and lots of experience with cookies, and while I wouldn't use the term connoisseur, per se, perhaps we can consider me something close to it. In other words...I freaking love chocolate chip cookies and will seek them out if I get an opportunity.

That opportunity came knocking on this trip. When we arrived at the hotel yesterday, I spent our initial couple of hours soothing an overstimulated, travel-weary baby into slumber while Chaz went out and got us some chicken tenders for a quick dinner. While he was out, he took it upon himself to look up some things for Elise and me to do during the day, since he would be working. What he found was a bakery with a claim to the world's greatest chocolate chip cookie. Since he knows me well, he sent me the link, and I immediately added it to our agenda for the next day. Truth be told...it was the ONLY item on the agenda for the next day.

Well, today was "the next day," so after Elise took her morning nap, we set out on a mission to try the world's greatest chocolate chip cookie. Things started well. I put Elise in the wrap (looking at you with allllllll the heart eyes, Solly Baby wrap!) and stuck the diaper backpack on my back, so I probably looked like a turtle with a shell on both sides. What a sight. Speaking of...we happened to find a turtle on our excursion:

Moving on.

I could either take a bus, walk + subway, or just walk for 45 minutes. I went with the last option, because a) walking is good for me and b) I didn't feel like figuring out the bus system. Since the walking + subway option was going to take me as long as just walking, I figured that if I needed to change a diaper midway there, it'd be easier to do it on foot rather than on a train.

Off we went! We hit up Starbucks for a late breakfast, and then made our way west...until five blocks later, when I'd already developed a blister and it had started to rain. Not the most auspicious start.

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We bought some bandaids, prayed that the rain would stay a sprinkle and not convert itself to a downpour, stopped to take a photo of some lovely flowers, and found the nearest subway station.

40 minutes later we had emerged from the subway and found the bakery. From a visual standpoint, it wasn't much to look at, but I had high expectations. 

 My most sincere apologies for the lack of an artsy picture.

My most sincere apologies for the lack of an artsy picture.

We went in, evaluated the choices, and selected two cookies: chocolate chip (obviously) and chocolate chocolate chip. At $4 a cookie, I wasn't getting any more than that. Off we went with our cookies to Central Park, and since around 2.5 hours had passed since both of us had eaten, I found a spot where both of us could snack. 

So! My entire tale boils down to this moment. If you're still reading, I applaud you. HOW WERE THE COOKIES, you ask? They were decent. But I would not say that I keeled over in ecstasy because I'd just encountered the worlds greatest chocolate chip cookie. In fact - and I'm about to make a very bold, very daring, highly suspect claim here - I actually think my homemade cookies are better. Shoot me.

I liked the chocolate cookie better than the chocolate chip cookie. And that's for two reasons. First, the bakery includes walnuts in their chocolate chip cookies, and while that's probably a feature for some people, it's a bug for me. I'm a bigger fan of a walnut-free chocolate chip cookie, because there are no distractions from the cookie dough plus chocolate flavor. Second, and more importantly, I was expecting the dough to have more of a substantial flavor. They were good - don't get me wrong - but if you're claiming to have the world's greatest chocolate chip cookie, I want a dough that is a little more complex rather than just a sweet base that suspends the chocolate chips.  That said, they did a couple things very well: 

1) It's hard to get a giant cookie to have a just-right crispy outside with a soft inside, and this cookie delivered. 

2) The chocolate was still nice and gooey even though the cookie wasn't just-out-of-the-oven warm. I'm not sure how they did that, but it was great!

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And so, with both of our stomachs full, we traipsed back to hotel just in time for Elise's afternoon nap. This time, it had stopped raining and the blister was remedied with the bandaid, so we walked. 

And in case you want my chocolate chip cookie recipe, here you go:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup salted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the brown and white sugar with the butter. (Cold butter will yield higher-rise cookies, but I always end up nearly melting mine because I'm impatient and I want it to mix easily.)
  3. When the mixture is smooth, add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each egg addition. Then add the vanilla and almond extract.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix with a fork. 
  5. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in three installments, mixing after each batch. I'm pretty sure three installments are unnecessary flavor-wise, but it makes it easier on your arm while stirring.
  6. When fully mixed, add the chocolate chips and stir to disperse them evenly in the dough.
  7. Drop the cookies by rounded teaspoonful on to an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 9 to 11 minutes.
  8. Take the cookies out of the oven when the bottoms/edges look browned but the middle still looks nice and gooey. Let the cookies sit on the top of your stove for 10 minutes or so while you watch a show or something so that they continue to set.
  9. Eat all the cookies. ALL OF THEM. Or if you don't want four dozen cookies in a single sitting, put them in an airtight container and eat them over the course of the next three days.

For fear of someone disagreeing with a "world's greatest" cookie, I make no claims in that regard. I just happen to like them the best.

This post is for my own benefit...

Last time I was in Budapest (May 2016), I was with a lovely group of people from work and to make a long story short, we found a great restaurant. The three folks with me all got Caesar salads, but I wasn't feeling lunch food and opted for French toast instead. It turned out to be the best food decision I've ever made, and to this day it remains my number one location for French toast in the world. Problem: I had taken no pictures, I hadn't noted the name of the restaurant, and I only had a vague recollection of the location ("It's somewhere diagonally away from the Parliament building..."). Not the most useful.

I returned to Budapest this week - for work again! - and I was determined to relocate said restaurant. After a solid 15-20 unsuccessful minutes searching Google maps for "cafe" in the general diagonal direction away from the Parliament building, I finally took a wild chance and Googled "French toast in Budapest Hungary," figuring my chances were slim to none for finding anything useful. LO AND BEHOLD, I found this website, which led me to the actual cafe's website. I scheduled it into my Saturday plans immediately, and it may have been the highlight of the Budapest part of the trip...again. Honestly, who could turn down French toast with cinnamon butter and a berry sauce?

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Ok, I admit...that picture is not the MOST appetizing, but it's because I took it really fast so that I could devour it immediately. Does this help?

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I suppose not. Partially eaten food never looks the most appetizing. You'll just have to take my word for it, I guess. Anyway, this post serves as a way for me to remember where to get French toast in Budapest whenever I'm here next. Or whenever I decide to make a very expensive spontaneous decision to fly to Europe for brunch.

Going Abroad: What Not to Do

Well, hello there! Long time no...write! It's not like life hasn't been going on. Since the last time I posted, Holy Week happened, we took a trip to Ireland, and just this past week we got to go to Budapest for work. It's been a very long time since Chaz and I have been able to travel for work together, so this was a novelty. As an added bonus, three other co-workers were on the trip, so we had a grand time checking out the city outside of our work responsibilities.

I learned a few things from this trip, which I will pass along to you so that you can avoid making the same mistakes I did.

1) If you must choose between forgetting your hairbrush and forgetting your razor, DEFINITELY FORGET THE HAIRBRUSH. I forgot both, and while I was totally fine finger-combing my hair and then throwing it into some sort of up-do every day, I could.not.handle. the hairy legs situation. We found a grocery store on Day 2 and solved that with some disposable ones.

 One of two possible hair solutions, plus one solution for forgetting about hairy legs.

One of two possible hair solutions, plus one solution for forgetting about hairy legs.

2) If you plan to carry a camera plus an extra lens around with you when walking around a city, plan to bring a bag big enough to fit everything. I didn't, so I bought one. It has an owl on it, and we joked that it will be a family heirloom because it's better suited to a child's life than an adult's.

 Go ahead. Tell me he's not cute.

Go ahead. Tell me he's not cute.

3) Sneakers are your friend. I don't own any, but I think it's time to invest. My Converse shoes would start chafing my pinky toes around miles 4 or 5, so while they weren't the worst ever, they weren't the best either.

 Or...forget the shoes and take a taxi.

Or...forget the shoes and take a taxi.

4) Always, always, always carry Advil! This was a dumb oversight on my part, since I normally do have Advil with me at all times, but I got a headache around 3pm on one of our work days and was stuck without it. I ended up having to skip the first half of a nice group dinner because I had to lie down for an hour. On the plus side, when I did walk to the restaurant, it was magically dusky outside and lent itself to some lovely photo ops. 

5) Never forego an opportunity for ice cream. We didn't make this mistake. We ate the ice cream and have zero regrets.

6) Captain Obvious here, but...milk the trip for all it's worth. Otherwise, we could have spent the entire trip doing this:

 Screen blurred for privacy, of course!

Screen blurred for privacy, of course!

And the work is important! That's why we were there, after all! But it was wonderful to take some time to explore. 

And there you have it! 

On Being a Woman and Traveling Alone

Fact: I am female and I travel a lot by myself. Almost all of this travel is work-related, but on most trips, I have a fair bit of time to explore on my own. In some cases, that time is between when I finish working in the afternoon and going to bed that night; in other cases, my flight home is either late night and I have the entire day to explore; and in still other cases, I've built in a little extra time if it's a place I've really wanted to see. Regardless of how long I'm going to be in a place though, the fact remains that I'm female and I'm traveling by myself. As a result, I've heard from a few people that doing that themselves would make them nervous. So I'm here today to give you all my traveling advice!

DON'T BE AFRAID. JUST GO...

Culture Observations: Maybe it's because my family had traveled internationally several times when I was small, but the landing-in-a-new-culture aspect of traveling has never put me off. That's the interesting part! You get the privilege of learning how day to day life operates in different patterns than your own. And that's not a bad thing. If you can come at it with interest rather than apprehension, you're starting off on a good foot. 

Flexibility: For me, traveling alone is sometimes preferable to traveling with either Chaz or a group of friends or coworkers, particularly if I want to see a lot of things in one day. I like the ability to set my own pace, and I know my own stamina, so I just go until...I stop. For me, that usually means I end up walking several miles in a day, which is not the ideal sightseeing experience for everyone. Regardless of how you like the travel, the beautiful thing is that you can do whatever the heeeeeeeck you want.

 I freaking love my clogs. They are comfortable and convenient. Do not judge. FUNCTION. OVER. FASHION.

I freaking love my clogs. They are comfortable and convenient. Do not judge. FUNCTION. OVER. FASHION.

Pictures: Take a lot! One of the downsides of traveling alone is just that there isn't anyone else there to experience all the cool things with. Taking tons of pictures helps with that, because then it's like having a report to take back home. I also usually take a few selfies, which I sort of hate, but I also like having a picture or two of myself in places rather than just pictures of things. 

Packing: PACK LIGHT. Unless you are leaving your stuff in a hotel, you're going to be hauling it around and no one is going to help you. I can tell you from experience that bringing a rolling suitcase with you around the streets of a big city is not fun, even for an hour or two. Don't do it. My best packing/traveling experience was when I got everything into a backpack. I was able to walk around London for the whole day without bumping into people and getting in everyone's way.

 There's four days' worth of clothes on my back right there, plus a computer and two pairs of shoes. 

There's four days' worth of clothes on my back right there, plus a computer and two pairs of shoes. 

 Lug this thing around the streets of Oslo and you'll want to leave it in the middle of the street too. Even if it's only with you because you're heading to the airport.

Lug this thing around the streets of Oslo and you'll want to leave it in the middle of the street too. Even if it's only with you because you're heading to the airport.

Feeling Comfortable: I honestly think that some guidebooks (hey there, Rick Steves...) will scare you into believing that every person around you is just waiting to steal your luggage, your money, and your passport. I don't buy it. Wear your backpack on the front of your body and you will look like a nervous tourist who isn't having fun. Wear your backpack like a normal person and you will look...normal. You will blend in, and no one will give you a second glance. Do you feel comfortable walking on the streets in Boston? Great. You'll be fine in London too. But of course, as with anywhere, just be aware of your surroundings, because it's always safer when you're paying attention. Which brings me to part 2...

...BUT DON'T BE STUPID.

Common Sense: As mentioned above, be aware of your surroundings. I like to stick to places where I know there will be lots of people so that I don't find myself in a dark alley all alone. Not that that's likely. I try to avoid dark alleys no matter where I am! Which is sort of the point: if you wouldn't do something at home, don't do it abroad. 

Wandering After Dark: This is debatable. I once walked three miles after dark in a town outside of London to get from my hotel to the grocery store and back again. I turned out fine, but I was on edge the entire time and I decided not to do it again. Had it been daylight, I probably would have thought nothing of it, but the fact that it was very dark made it freaky. Learn from my mistakes! Take the cab.

 Public transportation: the cheap traveler's best option. Also the dirtiest.

Public transportation: the cheap traveler's best option. Also the dirtiest.

Pack Carefully: Packing light is really great, but it's easy to steal any form of external luggage. If I'm walking around with any sort of bag, my wallet, passport, and phone are not in it. They are instead in an internal pocket of my zipped-up jacket (or if it's hot...somewhere else not in a bag). That way, if my whole bag gets stolen, I still have money, identification, and a communication device.

Let Someone Know Where You're Going: This is actually an idea from a friend (hi, Sarah!) that I hadn't thought of, but it's a good one! In her words, "I always make friends with the hotel desk person, and then if I'm going out I'll casually mention what time I'm going to be back. They probably won't pay attention, but it can't hurt, right?" Right. 

 I left the client-site and saw a fort in Puerto Rico during the day time with people around. Safe or not safe? Pop quiz!

I left the client-site and saw a fort in Puerto Rico during the day time with people around. Safe or not safe? Pop quiz!

Trust Your Gut: Intuition is a useful thing, I've found. Something smells fishy? Walk away. Seriously. Fish smell terrible... (insert courtesy laugh here). But for real, just pay attention. Don't do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: HAVE FUN!

That's really all it boils down to, after all. Go be adventurous and discover the world, because it has a lot to offer. Then come back and show me all your photos over a glass of wine and some chocolate, because coming home is pretty great too.

 Mostly my face, with a side of Buckingham Palace. Also: the same jacket was worn for each of the above dastardly self portraits. Apparently I have a security blanket.

Mostly my face, with a side of Buckingham Palace. Also: the same jacket was worn for each of the above dastardly self portraits. Apparently I have a security blanket.

And as a parting gift, a word to the wise: DO NOT get stuck in traffic on the way to the airport unless you want to have a heart attack.

What We've Been Up To...

Well, we flew to Washington...which unfortunately turned into an experiment on blog abandonment. Instead of blogging, I've done a lot of the following:

A) Eating. Pretty sure I'm going to be a few pounds heavier upon my return to MA. There's just so much good food! Teriyaki restaurants, pizza places, burger joints, fro yo...you name it, and we've eaten it and enjoyed every last darn bite.

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B) Shopping. We waited to get Christmas gifts for the family members out here until we arrived since we didn't want to haul it all in our suitcases, and since there are many family members, we've been in more malls than you can count.

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C) Exploring. Washington is the coolest, I tell you. Do you want to see water? Ok...look out the back door. Mountains? Yep...look out the same door. We decided that view wasn't quite enough, so we went on a drive through a mountain pass on a day when there wasn't a massive snowstorm, and it was well worth it. 

D) Beer-tasting. Ok...this is admittedly not me. But I appreciate it in spirit. Does that count? One day I hope I grow to like it, but not this trip. 

E) Coffee-shopping. There are SO MANY COFFEE SHOPS(!) out here! Why is this not a thing in Boston? They're comforting and friendly and they have tasty things. Who wouldn't like that type of thing?

 I started laughing after the second picture...

I started laughing after the second picture...

F) Crafting. Sorta. We painted pottery, because the town we're in had a place that coupled pottery painting with a coffee shop. Brilliant.

G) STAR WARS.

So far...that's it. Considering we still have three days though, I'm sure there will be more to come!

Hazard Lights Required at All Times

GUYS. Driving in Puerto Rico is NO JOKE. 

This trip was a bit of a surprise, so I had about a week to figure out all travel arrangements. Since it's a four-day trip instead of the usual two or three, I realized pretty fast that I'd need a car to get around. Public transportation wasn't an option, and I'd be taking far too many taxi rides for that to be a financially viable option. And thus...a car.

Economy rental cars are my friend on business trips. This time, I have one of these guys:

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SORTA. It's not actually that new, and it's not actually that clean. It also makes a funny buzzing noise that only economy rental cars can make when it's going faster than 10mph. Best of all, it has Eco mode, which basically means that its pickup is nonexistent.

All of that would be fine if I was driving around the back roads of any rural area. Who needs pickup when no one is on the road? No one, that's who. But in Puerto Rico? Let's just say that I don't have a picture of the traffic because I didn't trust myself to have my attention removed from the road even at a full stop.

I once naively thought Boston drivers were aggressive. My eyes have since been opened. Behold: some actual thoughts from my driving experience here:

"That stick-your-nose-into-oncoming-traffic-to-turn-left move I hate at home? Time to try it out!"

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?"

"I've literally used every trick in the book that I learned from driving in Boston!" 

"I'mgonnadieI'mgonnadieI'mgonnadieI'mgonnadieI'mgonnadie...."

"Seriously, what on EARTH makes you think that your 18-wheeler is going to fit between my bumper and the car three inches in front of me?!"

"I see that two-foot spot in the next lane and I CLAIM IT AS MY OWN."

If I make it out of this place without a dent in my rental car's bumper, will someone give me an award?

One Weekend in Maine

Deer Isle is a rather substantial island up in Maine. It's a beautiful island, not least because my friend Diana lives there and between that and the surrounding natural beauty, it's spectacular. 

I went to visit Diana this past weekend, and it happily coincided with her baby shower. 

It was the type of visit that just puts live back into perspective, because time passes slowly and the camaraderie fills up your soul to the brim. Well, time passed slowly until the shower, which involved a warm bustle of activity and was followed by homemade pizza, which may have been the best I've ever had. 

Lately (or always?) I've felt like I'm juggling a lot of things, and not quite keeping all of them in motion. I remember feeling like this in college - school work, practicing, friendship, faith - but it hasn't really been something I'd felt for awhile. The newer version of juggling is work, music, marriage, friendship, and faith, and lately it's the friendship ball that's been dropped. This weekend represented a much-needed reset. I haven't figured it all out yet, but I'm very grateful for Diana's wisdom on the matter. "I think of it as a new phase, really. Friendship looks different now that life has changed, but it's no less valuable." 

As usual, she's right. I just need to figure out how this new phase works before it changes again! 

Strategic Seating

Hey, we've made it to the last of the three London posts! Hurrah!

British Airways does this thing where you can't select a seat on the plane until you check in, which can only happen 24 hours before the flight departs. I sorta missed that boat (plane?) and reserved a seat closer to 12 hours before the flight departed, and since everyone else was more on top of things than I was, only the bad seats were left. Cue being stuck in the middle seat for 6.5 hours across the Atlantic.

I was smarter for the trip home. This time I actually remembered that I needed to check in early, and I was delighted to learn that my default seat selection was a window. However, there were a number of seats left, so I looked around to see if there was anything better.

That's when I noticed that the last row on the plane was empty. 

At that point I remembered a previous British Air flight where I'd been assigned the back seat. It actually hadn't been bad. The window had been too far forward compared to the seat to actually be functional, but there had been a lot more space between me and the seat in front of me, and there were only two seats per row instead of the regular three due to the shape of the tail of the plane.

So I decided to gamble. I picked the very back row, noting that the aisle seat next to the one I'd selected was still empty. I figured there'd be an infinitesimal chance that it would remain empty and that just maaaaaybe I'd have extra space.

For the first time ever, I got lucky and my gamble actually paid off. Not only was the seat next to me empty, but the entire back row save one seat was empty. In addition, the seats in front of me were empty except for the aisle seat:

The result? It was the most comfortable I could have been unless I had been bumped up to first class. The flight was so relaxing! I actually got to sleep, because there was enough room to stretch out. Another benefit was that I could put my seat all the way back, since there wasn't another row of seats behind me. I could put my knees up on the back of the seat in front of me without disturbing anyone else, since there was no one there. You might even say it was luxurious.

I'm sure the flight attendants, who were all British, thought I was rather improper for having my feet up on the seat. It probably didn't help that I had put on the sweatshirt I'd bought near the Tower of London. It basically screams, I'M A TOURIST! so I made sure I took it off before I went through customs.

Though I love it...it will not be worn in London, ever. US equivalent? The "I ♥ New York" sweatshirts, no doubt.

Regardless, the point of this post is that while the back of the plane tends to be bumpier in turbulence and automatically ensures that you'll be the last person off, it has serious benefits. I'm not sure a small plane would have the added "seat can lean all the way back" feature in the back row, but for large planes? Hoooooo boy, it's awesome. You should probably try it next time you fly and tell me all about it.

ACV Abroad

Apple cider vinegar, if you haven't already heard from all the numerous sources proclaiming its usefulness, is a wonder-substance. It can help with acne; it can apparently make your hair shinier (I've never tried that...); and most importantly, it can help to you avoid getting sick or, if you're already there, it can help you get better faster. These facts are nothing earth-shattering. Type "apple cider vinegar" into a Pinterest search bar and you'll be scrolling infinitely.

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My family has always used apple cider vinegar when we have a cold. My parents would always just add it to water, but as kids that offended our tongue's sensibilities, and so we added it to apple juice. Ideally, you don't want to take it with anything with sugar, since that counteracts the benefits of the vinegar, but it helped nonetheless. We'd find ourselves better in no time!

And so, whilst in England and finding myself coming down with cold-like symptoms, I knew I needed to find some. I took to Google and searched for the nearest grocery store. It was 0.8 miles, and despite my only available transportation method being my own two feet, I headed out.

I picked up some apple juice boxes (with no added sugar!), a bottle of apple cider vinegar, and of course some "dinner" of a small baguette, a block of extra-sharp cheddar, and a Lindt chocolate bar for dessert. I also threw in some cough drops for good measure, since instant gratification is sometimes useful.

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After heading back to the hotel, I realized I was a little short on necessary supplies - a cup, for example. And so...here is how to consume your apple cider vinegar as if you were in the woods.

Step 1: Open your juice box, drink a little so it doesn't spill, and then rip open the top:

Step 2: Once you have your juice box opened, pour some amount of ACV directly into the hold you created, ignoring the fact that it feels like you're spiking your juice:

Step 3: Drink up!

When I woke up the next morning, I felt great! It worked its magic, but I did it again the next night with my remaining juice, since I didn't want to waste the bottle of vinegar. Curse those small liquid limit TSA regulations.

There you have it: how to stay healthy in a foreignish country.

London at a (Shallow) Glance

I have three individual posts about London for this week, so if you don't like to read about traveling...either brace yourself or just don't read. Maybe - just maybe - I'll try to intersperse them with other things, but I can't promise anything!

Since almost all of my traveling these days is business travel, any time that I have for sight-seeing is extremely limited. As a result, I've developed what I think could be most accurately called "walk-by tourism." In other words, I make a dent on the surface of the city, covering as many things as possible in the shortest amount of time. I did a similar thing back when I traveled to Norway in May. On this trip, I finished working on Thursday evening and then got dinner in a charming little pub called the Rose and Crown. Chaz said that it was a must-do on my trip, because he ate there any time he traveled to the same location.

On Friday, I woke up very early so that I could make my way into London. My flight wasn't until 7:15 that evening, so by the time I finally made it into the city at 10:30, I had approximately 5 or 5.5 hours until I needed to start making my way to the airport. Naturally, I decided to cram as many things as were humanly possible into those five hours, and I think I succeeded!  In total, I walked almost exactly 5 miles. Here's the pictorial evidence:

Stop 1: Victoria and Albert Museum

This was the only stop where I actually spent a significant amount of time. It's a beautiful museum and it's free, which is always a plus! It's full of magnificent artwork, including sculptures, which are my favorite. This time they also had an exhibit about fashion through the ages, and they had examples of dresses from each decade starting in the 70s and going back to about 1750. After about an hour and a half, I started walking. First, I walked through Harrods, because when in London...

It was far too luxurious for my taste, so I stopped at H&M immediately after that. Who needs Prada when you can get a dress for $15? 

I also passed one of these guys on the way:

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After Harrods/H&M, I continued on to Buckingham Palace:

I made a special note to include the collection of mysterious royal music stands in the photo.

After that, I hopped on the tube and made my way to St. Paul's Cathedral. I had every intention of going inside to look around, but after entering the foyer and discovering that it cost £18, I decided to be satisfied with the view I could get from the line and then a perusal of the outside, which is also impressive.

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Can you tell that I like that angle...?

At this point, it was 2:30 and I had covered all the things that I definitely wanted to get into my trip. But I still had an hour and a half, so I found a nearby map of London and plotted my continuing route: cross the Thames by way of the Millennium Bridge (you know...the one you see the dementors fly over in Harry Potter 5, 6, 7, or maybe 8), walk along the river and pass the Globe Theater, walk until finding the Tower Bridge (the big fancy one), and pass by the Tower of London. And so that's what I did, along with some additional things I stumbled across along the way:

 From the other side of the Millennium Bridge.

From the other side of the Millennium Bridge.

 A bad picture of the Globe.

A bad picture of the Globe.

 The London Bridge, which was not actually falling down.

The London Bridge, which was not actually falling down.

 The remains of Winchester Palace, a 12th century palace for bishops and their guests.

The remains of Winchester Palace, a 12th century palace for bishops and their guests.

 A cheesy selfie with the Tower Bridge...

A cheesy selfie with the Tower Bridge...

 The Tower of London (where I'll spend much more time if I get to go again).

The Tower of London (where I'll spend much more time if I get to go again).

After that, I bought myself a sweatshirt and headed back to the airport with rather sore feet.

To summarize:

1) It is entirely possible to see a lot of a city in five hours if you're willing to go quickly. Now I feel like if I go back, I can check out a couple of things in greater depth and not feel like I'll miss out on the other major attractions.

2) You don't have to spend a lot of money to get a good overview of London. My most expensive purchase (other than the sweatshirt...) was a £17.50 travelcard pass that let me go on any bus or tube for the entire day. That saved me a lot, since I took the train from all the way outside the city in the beginning of the day, between areas of the city in the middle of the day, and all the way back out to the airport at the end.

3) London has a lot of really cool stuff! 

And there you have it.

Travel Hazards

I had every intention of blogging both on Tuesday and Wednesday. Really, I did! But traveling thwarted the very best of my intentions, and now here we are on Thursday, finally catching up.

I did indeed manage to fit everything into my backpack. I'm rather proud of that feat. However, this trip represents the closest I have ever come to missing a flight. I left with what I thought was plenty of time, but what happened was this:

What you're beholding in this photo is me at an absolutely complete stop on the road 35 minutes prior to when I was supposed to be done boarding the plane. It had been like this for the last hour, and I was freaking out. Calmly. Because I don't externally panic. But you'd better believe I was panicked on the inside.

It was at this point that I canceled my off-site parking reservation, because I realized I'd never make it in time if I had to stop, park my car, hop on a shuttle, and dive right back into the fray. The man on the other end of the phone said, "Well, no problem, I can cancel it for you...I just hope the garage at the airport isn't full!" I almost laughed, because it's never been full when I parked before.

Guess what. It was full. I believe the actual words that went through my head were, "WHAT IN SEVEN HELLS?!?" and yes, my mind both bolded and italicized all of it. Convinced the universe was conspiring against me, I drove in regardless, where they were valet parking everyone that was required to park. I'm just hoping that I don't have an even more than ordinary exorbitant fee when I get back to Logan, since it was unavoidable.

After literally running all the way to the terminal, I stood in line while the world's slowest TSA agent took a full minute to check everyone's ticket and ID ahead of mine. At long last, they called any remaining passengers on my flight forward to the front of the line (which meant going ahead of the one single person left before me), and I made it on to the flight as the very last passenger boarding before they shut the door. 

I have never been quite as relieved as I was when I was finally settled into my seat.

Everything after the mad dash/slow crawl to the flight has been marvelous. I'm currently outside of London in a small town called Chertsey, and I'm internally narrating this blog post in an involuntary British accent that I'm incapable of muting. Now that the business part of the trip is finished, I'll be heading into the city tomorrow to explore. More on that later, provided I get to the airport prior to my plane departing! In the meantime, I'm curling up with a lovely bar of chocolate, the likes of which accompany me on every business trip if I can help it.