Category Archives: Travel

Irate 18th century feminist

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ClareSaysFlying home, we boarded a Lufthansa flight from Munich to DC. As the rest of the 300+ passengers boarded, I quickly installed the Cares Child Airplane Harness, this overpriced device is effective and also the only one approved by the FAA for use during flights.  Basically, it turns the airplane’s seat belt into a four point harness.  One of the flight attendants made his way over to us to explain that we could not use the device.   Despite my protests and proof that it met safety standards, he insisted.  Much arguing later, he conceded that she could wear it during the flight.  I began to take her out of her seat belt.  Eyes filling with tears, my two and half year old started to wail:

“No like Gentlemen.  Gentleman say I have no safety.  I need my safety.  Gentleman say no safety. I no like Gentleman”

She repeated this and repeated this to no avail.  She was right, in an accident, she would have been safer with the belt on.  Sadly, the “gentleman” did not care.

My sister, upon hearing this story, broke out laughing.  She declared that I am raising an irate 18th century feminist.  How did that happen?

Fly away with me: I <3 Virgin Air now

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Living where I do (Albania), coming from where I do (US), married to someone from where that person is (Chile), I spend a lot of time in airplanes and airports.  I have Gold Status on multiple airlines.  And, I have never, ever, enjoyed a safety video as much as I did this one.  I also, sadly, have never paid as much attention.  I now, officially, want to fly Virgin Air.  Hmm… vacation planning time!

She is two. What is your excuse?

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Photo: D Sharon Pruitt

Photo: D Sharon Pruitt

Yesterday I posted 10 tips for flying with a toddler.  Today, I want to make a confession: our last flight from Rome to Atlanta was a disaster.  It was actually a flight from Albania to Wisconsin, but the long-haul was the issue.  First, we were picked up to leave for the airport at 4am.  This, of course, violated tips 1 and 2; but with international flights, you often have no choice.

On the flight, Little Elephant simply was not happy.  We had the two seats next to the window and the aisle right behind.  At first, she did okay.  But unable to sleep, uninterested in toys and food, hating her car seat, the tantrum to end all tantrums started.  First, I was with her.  “Mommmy. Mommy.  No want airplane.” she screamed.  I reasoned.  I distracted.  I laughed. I tickled.  I offered food and toys.  No avail.  45 minutes with limited quiet periods.  Her father and I switched.  “Mommy. Mommy. Moooooooooooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmy”.  she wailed.  Her father reasoned. Begged.  Played. Tickled.  Sang songs.  Told jokes.  No avail.  Our little girl was unhappy.  She was overtired, over stimulated, and stressed.  She retaliated with all her force.

Poor thing.

I sat in the row behind her, praying to a God I don’t believe in for her to be able to sleep, to be able to calm down.

Tap. Tap.  The man kitty-corner pounded on my shoulder.  “Ma’am.  Your daughter is crying.” he complained.

“No shit!” I thought.  I said, “She is two. I’m sorry. She is tired.”

“So are we” retorted his equally sour wife.

I turned away.  Mortified. Furious.

Food arrived.  She ate ice cream and calmed down.

I told my husband on the rudeness.  I vacillated between wanting to smack them and wanting to disappear.  My husband demanded to know who said it.  He had the retort that I did not.  He wanted to ask “What should we do? Would you prefer I smother her or just slap her around a little?”  His sarcasm was searing.  His anger, palpable.  He did not feel the same shame I did.  He felt rage.

I never told him who said it.  Looking back, I wish I would have.  We were doing our best.  Honestly, our little one was doing her best too.  I live overseas and long-haul flights are a reality for us.  Usually they go well.  Sometimes they don’t.  She is two.  That is her excuse.

10 Tips for Long-Haul Flights with Toddlers

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KLM_T7_&_sunset_(8128788932)In her two years and two months, my daughter has flown to Kazakhstan, Thailand, Chile, Albania, and Italy. That includes over a dozen between continent, long-haul flights. At this point, I don’t consider myself an expert, but I sure do have a lot of experience with the two and under crowd on long-haul flights.
We have done it all: perfect trips where she cooed, played, and slept; terrible tantrums on board that only a two year old could throw; and more often, somewhere in the middle. While each kids is different and temperament honestly probably has more to do with success than actual parenting, here are my top ten tips for traveling with a toddler on long-haul flights.
10 Tips to Make Long-Haul Flights with a Toddler Bearable

  1. If at all possible, schedule a flight for the afternoon – preferably one where you won’t have to wake her from a nap to go to the airport. Flights that greatly disrupt sleep routines are a recipe for disaster.
  2. If you are able to get a flight leaving later in the day, make sure the morning is filled with activities to tire her out as opposed to last minute packing.
  3. Pack snacks and liquid. Yes, airlines on long-haul flights will feed you— but what about the in-between times? I have successfully transported cartons of milk through security check points. Don’t trust that your airline will actually have milk on board.
  4. Do not order the children’s meal or at least ask what is in it first. On Air France’s flight between Paris and Santiago (13 hours), our daughter was given only one meal. Adults were given two. Don’t airlines realize that kids eat more often than adults? Also, the meal itself was full of sugar and lacking in nutrition and protein. My daughter is not a picky eater; we do well with an adult meal for her.
  5. If your child is under two, she will not require an airplane seat. Obviously, this is the cheapest way to fly! I have done it. Long-haul flights with nowhere to place your child are hard. And tiring. If you can pay for a seat, do it. If not (and I totally understand the not), try and fly on an off day where it is more likely to get an empty seat on the flight for your child to stretch out in
  6. Bring a FAA approved car seat on the plane. Or don’t. Honestly, I go back on forth on this one. On the one hand, your child is much safer in an FAA approved car seat than in your lap. Also, if she sleeps, it will give you the chance to sleep. Most importantly, having the car seat with you will assure you have it at your destination and they airline doesn’t lose it. On the other hand, if your little one likes to move around and hates feeling trapped, she might resist. This resistance may turn into the worst tantrum you have ever experienced (it did for me). In this case, good luck.
  7. Bring toys. Crayons and paper have been a big hit for my daughter, but they only keep her attention for so long. Something new might keep her attention for a while. Toys that make noise will only annoy the person sitting next to you—and probably less so than loud sobs. The plane makes enough noise that people in front and behind you won’t hear. IPad games and puzzles may be a space saving way to entertain your little one. Don’t forget the lovey, blanket, or binkie that your little one can’t live with out– and don’t leave it on the plane.
  8. Bring extra clothes. Airplane temperatures are so unpredictable: one flight might feel like the arctic pole while the next is the Siberian desert. An uncomfortable toddler is going to be a fussy toddler. While you are at it, throw in a change for yourself as well! You never know when someone is going to spill their cranberry juice (or worse) in your lap.
  9. Figure out how you can transport all your luggage while carrying a screaming child. Log this under hope for the best and plan for the worst. If your kid is in a full out tantrum and you need to get to your next gate, can you do it? Employing either an umbrella stroller or ergo might do the trick—but make sure that the airport will actually give you your stroller. Note, Rome will not.
  10. Bring a sense of humility and perhaps a dozen sets of earplugs. Even the best kids and the best prepared parents can have a bad day. My daughter, usually an angel, has had flights that brought me to tears and our neighbors to riot. Do your best. Remember, this too shall pass.

Trip to Venice

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A while back, I promised an update on our trip to Venice. The truth is: I travel a lot and find myself rarely impressed with new cities. Its not that I don’t love visiting place, wandering through the corners of unknown places, breathing in the difference and the similarities,  and sampling the cuisine. But, most places, in this cosmopolitan world, don’t feel THAT different from other things I have seen before. Admittedly, it is fun seeing new places through the eyes of my husband and daughter, However, nothing leaves me speechless anymore. Except Venice did.

I think Venice did because it was fundamentally different that other places I have been.  The canals, taxi boats, and picture perfect touristy gondolas, spoke to me.  What the city touristy?  Yes.  Did we do lots of tourist things?  No.  We had a toddler.  We wandered.  We stopped for coffee and gelato.  We got ourselves lost.  We unlost ourselves.  We boat tall rain boots.  We giggled as we had to push our way around the city on raised walkways.  I admit, living in Venice would be hard and annoying; however, visiting for a few days and seeing the splendor of this sinking city was wonderful.  And, I walked around in awe of all the beauty and joy as my daughter learned the word “AGUA” and got to use it often.  Rain = agua.  Canals = agua.  Floors = agua.  Water at the coffee shops = agua.

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Loved the little canals where you could see real people living.

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Loved Venice at night with all the lights reflecting in the water.

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Love the paintings on the walls and was incredibly impressed at how much work it must take to maintain in this damp climate.

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Loved how everyone had their own boat.

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Loved the food.

 

Loved turning a corner just to be met with a water dead-end.

Loved turning a corner just to be met with a water dead-end.

Tirana’s Cablecar

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Mom and Dad in the cable car--- don't they look calm?

Mom and Dad in the cable car— don’t they look calm?

My mother loves to tell the story of riding in the Cablecar over Cerro San Cristobal in Chile in 1996, how my father and I bruised her hand and arm by holding on so hard.  How she tried and tried to explain to us that she had no magical powers and if the cable line broke, our holding on to her would not save us.  We both remember how she rocked the car making the fear all the stronger, like our grips!

That said, I blame my Grandmother who passed her irrational fear of heights to my father.  He then passed his irrational fear of heights to me. Thanks Dad!

The view from the bottom of the Cable car

The view from the bottom of the Cable car

I am trying not to pass my irrational fear of heights to Little Elephant, so we all took her up the cable car in Tirana, the Mt. Dajti Express.  In 15 minutes, this Austrian built cable car took us 1230 feet above sea level and about 2/3 of the way up the mountain.   The view is spectacular.  At the top, there is a very nice restaurant (we had pizza, pasta, and salad), a hotel, a play ground for kids, and some bunkers. For $7.00 USD roundtrip, it was quite a nice day.

The view from the top (and through a window-- sorry, should have gotten a better shot)

The view from the top (and through a window– sorry, should have gotten a better shot)

More on the bunkers another day.

Apple festival

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I spent the weekend in Korca, on the border of Macedonia and Albania. Highlights of the trip include an apple festival, Eco-trail in Dardha, amazing wedding dress stores (rentable), meals with course after course if amazing Albanian cuisine, and a beautiful hotel. However, in this picturesc corner of the county, I think my favorite thing was the traditional roofs! ( I think Little Elephants favorites were the apples and the way her stroller bounced on the cobblestone streets).

Little known secret

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I am about to let you in on a little known secret.  Or, at least, it was little known to me before last week.

Not all Venetian Carnival Masks are made in Venice! In fact, many are not even made in Italy.  They are made, to order, right here in Albania!

Fine. My secret was not life changing. Not was my trip to the mask factory in skoder.  However, it was really really fun.

See?

Of course, after this trip (1) I own a mask and (2) I really want to go to Venice.

Fun facts from Wikipedia:

  • The mascherari (or mask-makers) had their own statute dated 10 April 1436. They belonged to the fringe of painters and were helped in their task by sign-painters who drew faces onto plaster in a range of different shapes and paying extreme attention to detail.
  • Venetian masks can be made in leather, porcelain or with the original glass technique. The original masks were rather simple in design, decoration, and often had a symbolic and practical function. Nowadays, most of them are made with the application of gesso and gold leaf and are all hand-painted using natural feathers and gems to decorate.
  • There is very little evidence explaining the motive for the earliest mask wearing in Venice. One scholar argues that covering the face in public was a uniquely Venetian response to one of the most rigid class hierarchies in European history.
  • A law in 1339 forbade Venetians from wearing vulgar disguises and visiting nun’s convents while masked.
  • Today, approximately 3 million visitors come to Venice every year for Carnivals.

 

The real Kazakhstan

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Yurts, originally uploaded by The Voice Of Objective Truth.

I tend to complain that people only get to know the major cities of a place and not really see the history and the beauty (and the poverty) that lay outside of major cities. In Kazakhstan, I regret not having more photos from the country side, from the steppe, of traditional Kazakhstan. I didn’t get to travel enough and when I did, I rarely got to stop for pictures. To make up for this (a little) I am sharing a photo I found on flickr of the traditional houses (yurts).

A yurt is a portable, bent wood-framed dwelling structure traditionally used by Turkic nomads in the steppes of Central Asia. The structure comprises a crown or compression wheel (tüýnük) usually steam bent, supported by roof ribs which are bent down at the end where they meet the lattice wall (again steam bent). The top of the wall is prevented from spreading by means of a tension band which opposes the force of the roof ribs. The structure is usually covered by layers of fabric and sheep’s wool felt for insulation and weatherproofing.

The similar Mongolic nomadic structure the ger is often wrongly referred to by westerners as a yurt but differs in that the heavier roof wheel (toono) is supported on posts and the roof ribs are straight rather than bending down at the wall junction. The wall lattice of a ger is constructed of straight pieces as opposed to the yurt’s curved lattice .

Monthaversary 10 & 11: Mango baby takes a tumble

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Dear Little Elephant,

You are your own person, clearly full of ideas, opinions, and jokes that you want to tell us.  You are so communicative despite having no language.  You say “Mama” when talking about me.  Last week, you knew I was asleep upstairs and your Abue (Grandma) was walking you up and down the hall downstairs.  Each time you past the staircase you would point at it and say “MAMA”, demanding to be brought to me.  It was an argument, but you won and my nap lost.  You also say “Maaa Maaaa Maaaa Maaaa” when you want us to feed you more.  This is particularly true when you are getting to taste some new treat off the dinner table.  You say “Mamamamamamamaa” to refer to mangos in any form.  You say “Mama” to refer to Dada sometimes; although, you appear to also be learning both “Dada” and “Papa”.  You should have them in the next month.

Have I mentioned how much you love mangos? You discovered them while in Thailand and will eat them in any form.  You drink mango smoothies, either straight or with other fruits or vegetables (such as passion fruit, cucumber, carrot, berries, melon, watermelon and more).  You also eat them mushed or cut into small pieces.  Once, you father let you attack one whole!  He peeled it and held it in his hands. You threw your entire body, wide open mouth first, into the mango and took huge bites. You ate the whole thing yourself. You are a very happy mango baby.  Sticky too.

Studies say that children who grow up in bilingual households often speak later than their peers.  Studies also show that by kindergarten bilingual children have caught up to their peers in BOTH languages.  While our multi-language house and lifestyle might be slowing you down—your desire to communicate, I am sure, will speed things up.

These last two months have sadly taught you that the world is not as soft as you thought.   When you first started moving, Mama or Dada were always there to catch you.  Now that you are faster (and walking without our hands), you have clunked your head a few times. I know that everyone tells me that accidents happen and that toddlers fall.  I know that as soon as you were distracted or nursing, you would stop crying. I know that the tears were more fright than pain.  I know that you don’t remember any of this.  But, I do.  It kills me to watch the crocodile tears fall.  To wish I could have moved faster or been in a different place.  I have no idea what I am going to feel when you get an actual bruise!

There have been some other major changes.  We have left Kazakhstan.  Of course, to make things interesting, you got sick as the movers were packing up our stuff.  Dada called from T-Raz’s house, where you and he had taken refuge, to ask if I had a thermometer or meds.  Sadly, we had not set them aside and the movers had already packed that area.  The night before we had no idea you would be getting ill.  You spiked a fever over 103.  Boy did we worry.  And we tried to love the sick out of you.  And we tried to medicine the sick out of you.  And, in the end, the fever broke 5 days later just as we were about to board the plane.

Speaking of plane rides— you have been a rock star.  In the past two months you have flown from:

  • Thailand to Kazakhstan
  • Kazakhstan to Holland
  • Holland to USA
  • USA to Chile

Basically, you have crossed the entire globe.  On every single flight, you were complimented by the flight attendants for what a wonderful baby you are.  You slept. You played. You cooed at everyone in sight.  You rarely cried.  You nursed.  And, you let Mama get some sleep.  We joked after the flight to Chile, that it might have been my best night of sleep in months.

Leaving Kazakhstan, we had to say goodbye to a lot of people who love you.  Uncle Dennis refused to say goodbye.  Auntie Anya writes almost everyday and is planning to visit in July (See, Ann, it is official because it is on my blog), Uncle Jimi Jimi and T-Raz miss you too.  As does my office and our local friends.  I hope that many of them will stay a part of your life and continue to watch you grow.

On one side of your nose, you grew five tiny little white heads that formed a perfect pentagon.  I know! How could white heads be cute??? I am sure that in your teens, they will be the bane of your existence—along with pimples.  I am sorry for that.  I hope, for your sake, that it is a malady you only suffer in your teens.  Not in your 30s, like Mama, or in your 60s, like Grandpa.  Still, the pentagon was endearing.  Your Dada’s desire to rid you of it was less so.

The last two months, you have gotten to sample a HUGE variety of new food.  Much of this is thanks to some much needed spoiling by your grandparents.  While not all foods will be repeated for a while, the list includes: artichokes (a huge hit, a personal favorite of Mama, and very hard to eat with two tiny teeth), sugar, frozen yogurt, cheese, manjar, prickly pear, melon pear, cheese, pastel de choclo, many types of beans and much more!  Yum! You are a great eater despite being skinny and in the lower 1/3 of average baby weight for your age.

Playing, you pretend to answer the phone.  If people let you, you will take their cell phone away, hold it to your ear, and babble to your heart’s content.  You also are learning to throw things.  You have a good pitching arm, both left and right! Still, above things, you prefer people.  And above people, you prefer Mama.  And above all else, your Mama loves you.

Next month, my little researcher, you will be one year old.  I have loved every minute exploring the world with you and can’t wait for all that is to come.

Hugs and kisses forever and ever,

Mama