All in a Friday afternoon…

Lunch in Covent Garden with a friend
Dash into the National Portrait Gallery to avoid a random rain shower (had my choice between there and the National Gallery)
Explore some pop-up art in Trafalgar Square
Gaze at the view from Hungerford Bridge walking across the Thames
Savour some baked goodies at the Real Food Market behind the Southbank Centre
Before jumping back on the tube to go home
Central London really is wonderful (as are other parts but when it works, it really works. On a rare, warm September afternoon, it REALLY works!)

Tall ships!!

No need to travel far this past weekend, as our adventures were right on our doorstep! We went to the Tall Ships Festival in Greenwich on Sunday, taking in the amazing masted ships and also visiting on board the beautiful Cutty Sark.
We took two strollers and public transport on Sunday. It seemed like a good idea because I know Maritime Greenwich is a pain for parking and there is a DLR stop right there. And while it worked getting there, it was a major fail on the return, especially with strollers. There is a set of escalators that were for those passengers arriving in Greenwich and stairs and a lift for those leaving. Unfortunately, the lift is ridiculously small and the queue was massive so we decided to jump on a bus to head to North Greenwich where the O2 is and take the tube from there. So a trip that took about 25 minutes one way took over an hour on the return. And with a very tired Little Man, it wasn’t the best. But we’ve learned over the last two and a half years to carry distractions. Lately, it’s been sticker books and little vehicles like one of these or this. And of course one of his many friends
These distractions are also great to pull out at lunch. It’s amazing how long we can play with a sticker book with Little Man before he gets bored. And yes, we have resorted to a quick movie/show on the iPhone at times too. There are some times, we have learned, where the only way to keep him from having a massive meltdown is by distraction on the screen. Fortunately, he’s not obsessed by it and after about 15/20 minutes, we have a bit of a reset by him.
All in all, it was a fun day but I think lesson learned by the public transportation. Next time, we’ll drive.

The Maritime Greenwich area, even on a regular day (and not during the tall ship festival), is a great place for kids. I’ll write about it more in another post.

Here is a shot of one of the fall ships in the final parade heading out to sea and onto their next adventure. What a beautiful site!!

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Disneyland on a whim?

Disneyland last minute? Why not?! The weekend started Friday afternoon after spending the afternoon at the circus (Paulos Americano Circus) with a friend and her two and a half year old outside of London. Daddy decided to come with us, making a great Friday afternoon activity for the family. The circus was being held at a garden centre just off the A2, the direction of Dover, the departure point for ferries to Calais, France. My husband commented we should head to France for the night, and he was only half joking.
After the circus, we noticed the traffic heading back to London and it looked like it would be hours before we could actually get home. When people are standing on the motorway, out of their cars, you know it’s a bad traffic jam! So we looked at each other and I said, passports are in the car…we can buy nappies in France, let’s go!
A quick stop at my friend’s house to borrow some of her son’s clothes for Little Man, grab a couple of books and toys and nappies and away we went! We got one of the late ferries and figured we’d find a hotel along the way (we stayed at the Ibis in Senlis – we had to stop for petrol at the Total near that exit that had a card reader working after the station was shut and so was the logical place to stop at 3am. It also had a decent breakfast the next morning to kick start the day)
So how was the park? Amazing. We weren’t sure if there would be enough for Little Man to do since he is only two and a half. But I was amazed that there were actually loads for him, especially for just one day. We definitely didn’t cover everything and I’m sure had we spent more time prior to arriving to plan out our day we would have seen/done more but what we did was perfect for Little Man. Even the latest addition to our family, Mr Hulk, seemed to enjoy it, although for a three-month-old, every day is the same as long as he gets food, sleep and a clean nappy.

Some tips:
– Bring some snacks in for your child. There are loads of signs saying no outside food, but we found it so helpful to have snacks for Little Man on hand throughout the day.
– If you have a stroller, bring it. All rides have stroller parking and it was invaluable when Little Man needed a break from walking. They do hire out strollers, which looked great and stable. I saw loads of kids conked out in them throughout the day.
– Wear comfy shoes. This may seem obvious, but we both ended up buying flip flops there (great souvenir!) because our shoes just weren’t the right ones to walk around in all day long
– You really can buy everything there. They definitely mark everything up, but they when you’re in a pinch, you can get it. In the baby change rooms, they had nappies (€1 per nappy), a selection of baby food and sun cream for sale in the baby changing rooms. And if you have any nappy blow outs (we had about three with Mr Hulk), there certainly isn’t a shortage of clothing.
– The food we saw wasn’t amazing but you can find some healthy options. We found a great grain salad for Little Man, and I also saw fruit salad and single pieces of fruit you could buy.
– They have a Fast Pass system for the popular rides. Head to those first, swipe your admission ticket to get a time to return and ride the ride without waiting in the queue. We didn’t use them because they’re mostly for the bigger kid rides, but it seems like a brilliant idea
– If your kid needs a run around without you worrying about them running off (I know….sounds odd for a big amusement park), there is a playground in the Fantasyland area. It’s actually pretty good – split into a 3-6 and then 6-12 section, the 3-6 section had a little pirate ship with ropes, ladders and a slide, along with a few wall activities too. This was great after all the queuing we did.
– Split up tasks. When one of us was queuing for a ride with Little Man, the other was hanging out with Little B (lots of rides we came across don’t allow under ones) and scouted out the next move or food or souvenirs. This seemed to save time in the long run as most rides took about 45 minutes, including the queue.
– It’s a Small World was actually brilliant. I think Little Man loved that the most and both me and Daddy admitted it went too quickly. I know, that song is one of the worst songs to get caught in your head, but it was perfect and we probably would have ridden it again if Little Man wasn’t as exhausted as he was
– The character parade was really cool but I’m glad we didn’t wake up Little Man for it. For me and Daddy, it was fun to spot the Disney characters from all generations
– Leave before your child hits their limit. I think this was the best thing we did. We ended the day with a very happy and exhausted little boy knowing if we had stayed any longer, we would have had to battle him for something (listening, sitting, staying near us, etc) and we would have gotten cross and too stressed. Instead, we called it quits at a sensible time and left. We still managed about 8 hours there and have so many great memories (and photos) of our children’s first time in a Disney establishment.

We were originally set to take a late ferry back that night, but decided to spend he night in Paris and had a very relaxing day wandering around the Jardin Des Tuileries and the Louvre before having a leisurely lunch and then heading to the ferry.
Disney – we will be back, either in Paris, or in Florida and/or LA.

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First major travel hiccup…

We’ve recently taken our first airplane trip as a family of four. Yep, I’m now mum to two boys – currently aged two and a half and also three months. Life as we know it has changed for good but it’s such a wonderful change. A bit challenging at times, but when is life not?
We also took our first trip as a family of four about six weeks ago. Something that actually tested our parental patience differently than expected for the flight out but I’m amazed and proud of how well we handled it.
We decided to join Daddy on a work trip to Switzerland for a few days, leaving on a Sunday and returning Wednesday evening. Three full days in the Swiss sun was going to be great.
Until the extreme thunderstorms in and around Europe delayed our evening flight indefinitely, ultimately cancelling our outbound flight. This was a moment I was pleased by having two adults travelling – I stayed with the boy’s while Daddy went in search of a ticket counter to change our tickets. We had the feeling our flight would be cancelled, so before it actually was (seeing it be delayed from 7pm to 8.30pm to 10.30pm first), he got us rebooked on the next day’s flight and we headed to the hotel in the airport.
Airports are a great place for overly tired and excited boys who love planes. Little Man loved watching them land and take off and kept pointing them out to everyone. Fortunately, no meltdowns either! Distraction is a brilliant thing.

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The only issue with the airport was that is was so hot. Britain doesn’t do hot weather well and the airport showed for it – the air conditioning just couldn’t keep up. Fortunately, we were able to keep hydrated and found the massive cooling vents to stand in front while we were waiting for the agent to take us out of the terminal.
Into the hotel, which was thankfully very air conditioned, and a bit of rest before doing it all over again in the morning. Kudos to Daddy who decided not to get us on the 6am flight but on a more sensible 9.20am flight.
We had decided to keep our bags checked through because that way we’d have less to haul to the hotel and back, especially since our stroller was part of that checked bags. (We travel through the airport with just a sling because of ease and timing of waiting for strollers at the gate. Now that Little Man is walking more and more, we have a Trunki for him which he can ride on. What usually happens, though, is we sling him and carry the Trunki.)
Arrival into Switzerland was a breeze and we were waiting for our bags, of which the stroller never arrived. Crap. A now very tired two year old, a hungry two month old, one sling and a couple of suitcases and the prospect of being stroller free for three days. Not cool.
This is where my pride for us as parents comes in because we didn’t lose our cool. We decided to have lunch at a restaurant in the airport where you can watch the planes while one of us dealt with the airline to figure out what to do with the missing stroller.
We ultimately decided to hire a car instead of endure the trains to get to our destination because we knew Little Man would at least sleep on the car on our way. We also were on the hunt for a new stroller, which the airline said would reimburse us because of our hassles and unknown location of our existing stroller.

And lucky we were as we found a replacement we wanted and even better, it was 50% off due to it being a display model! Score!!
We finally made it to the hotel, only about 20 hours after we expected to, but the rest of the trip went brilliantly and it was a great few days away in gorgeous Swiss sun.

Stats for the travel:
Country visited: Switzerland
Age at travel: Little Man – 2 y 4 mo, Mr Hulk – 2 mo
Modes of transportation: airplane and car
Time away: three nights, four full days
Place of stay: hotel

It’s been a while…

It’s been just over five months since I’ve been on a plane (and since I’ve written something on here…). I can’t leave the country because the United Kingdom Borders Agency has my passport. I haven’t done anything wrong, I’m just in the midst of applying for my Indefinite Leave to Remain, UK’s version of being a permanent resident. A few people have pointed me to the David Sedaris article in the New Yorker from April about when he lost his passport with his ILR stamp in it. And yes, it is precious to get and a pain if you lose it.
So that means I’m not getting on a plane any time soon. It’s been ok, though, because I’m deep into my next stage in life – the Working Mom stage. So the last five and a half months have been more involved with settling back into work (with a promotion!) and Little Man into nursery and still making time for my family and friends too.
I am loving my new job, my husband is amazing, Little Man is a happy and blossoming little boy and summer has now come and gone here in London.
But seriously, back to the name of this blog. We can’t join my husband any time soon, and it’s annoying because he’s been to Tokyo, Singapore, back to the US, Malaysia, Dubai, India…places I’d love to take Little Man to…and some places I’d love to see too!
I’m not sure how many people actually read this, but thank you to all of you who do. It’s not going away, but it won’t have lots of far flung distance travel experiences in it for a while. At least, until I get my passport…but we’ve taken some day trips and also road trips around the island of England, Scotland and Wales. So I’ll hopefully be able to provide some tips and tricks for travelling with a now-18-month old in a car for more than an hour.
And if any of you have some great tips, please send them my way. We thought Little Man loved his new car seat and while he likes it better than his bucket, he still has a shout if the stars aren’t aligned perfectly. And 14/15/16/17/18-month-old lungs are louder than his 6-month or even 12-month old ones. Maybe it’s because they’re facing forward now…
So hopefully I’ll be back soon with some great road trips for you. But in the meantime, I’d love to hear how you entertain/distract your little toddlers while driving long distances (and they don’t want to sleep).

Sling vs stroller at the airport

We decided to get a lightweight travel stroller before our most recent trip to the US. We’ve loved travelling with our everyday ones, but thought a lightweight one would be better with getting in and out of taxis, around towns and all over. One test we had was to see what it was like taking it through security to the gate instead of checking it all the way through, like we’ve done in the past.
I thought I’d summarise it up with a list (albeit short) of pros and cons. It’s a very short list but I think it covers most things.

Pros

  • Save your back by not slinging
    Somewhere to hang/put bags
  • Easy to take straight to gate
  • If you’re travelling alone, seems a lifesaver when you don’t have those extra pair of hands
  • Cons

  • If your baby is sleeping when you go through security, he’s got to come out of the stroller (and risk being woken) so it can be x-rayed
  • You’re typically the last person off the gangway (waiting for them to get the strollers from the hold)
  • One extra thing to have at the plane and deal with when there’s a sleepy/hungry/antsy baby
  • My final verdict – check the stroller in and use a sling. You have two hands with a little one in a sling and won’t be the last person off the plane.

    But that’s just my opinion.
    Do you have any other pros or cons on using a stroller at the airport?

    San Antonio Children’s Museum

    In our last trip to the US, we had a few days in San Antonio to kill. My husband and I have been there before during a roadtrip through Texas and the American West where we visited the Alamo. With me and Little Man on our own because my husband had work to do, we decided to go exploring in the city.
    Museums are great, but what Little Man needs these days is a place to wander around and expend some energy. And a hotel lobby is only so good for that. I decided that wherever we travel, we’ll go explore the zoos, aquariums and children’s museums (any or all of the above). San Antonio had both the zoo and the children’s museum (and the aquarium, somewhat, if you count Seaworld).
    We had three days, so it only made sense to explore all three. And boy was it fun! Most cities have a children’s museum where it is a hands on place with lots of rooms that have different activities and focus areas. Since Little Man is still only truly mobile on his hands and knees, unless he’s holding onto a wall or cart or hands, we aim straight for the toddler or soft play area. Some museums have these areas blocked off so it’s only for toddlers and babies less than 36 months, some have just an area but it’s not segregated as much.
    The San Antonio Children’s Museum has a small-ish area that is walled off and you must be under 36 months and accompanied by an adult to go in. It’s not monitored, but it is the honour system there – and most of the activities aren’t really exciting for those who are a bit older. Little Man loved the different areas in the little TotSpot in this children’s museum. It has the perfect amount of activities and space for several babies/toddlers to play in and amuse themselves with. There was this jumbo Lite-Brite wall which was the perfect combination of pulling things out to pile them up and then trying to put back. It was this meter-square board with 1-inch diameter holes drilled in it spaced about 3-4 inches apart sitting in front of a light box. Then, there were lots of clear plastic dowels in several colours you could fit into the holes. And presto – a blue dowel that looked ok off the wall all of a sudden lit up when stuck into a hole! And imagine having twenty of these coloured dowels to take out (and mummy putting back in). A Little Man’s delight! There was also a great soft play area – undulating soft ramps and big mats that babies could crawl around and the more mobile ones could play on and not have any worries of banging into anything. They were situated in a corner of the room, against some cool mirrors with a ballet barre right at cruising height. Once Little Man discovered the mirrors, he was sorted.

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    The other favourite area was a big tube filled with water and some bobbing plastic fish that had continuous bubbles floating up. At the base, the were four buttons, each a different colour that when lite, would colour the column in that colour. Well, bubbles and buttons are some of Little Man’s favourite things too, so he spent lots of time playing with that area too.
    The whole museum took up two floors and it must have been situated in an old woolworth’s or something with massive windows along the front but lots of space for kids to run around and be entertained on a rainy (or, as it’s Texas, super hot) day.
    Is is situated right across from the Alamo and next to the Riverwalk, so if you are in San Antonio without a car (or don’t want to drive for a while), it’s perfect.