“Mummies, mummies everywhere… where are all the kids?” – Krythya (my two and half year old)
Events leading up to Egypt
Egypt, a country known for its rich history and culture is a popular destination for all ages. Hence it was a good choice for a ten day family vacation that included grandparents and young kids. However, our journey to get there had as many twists as did the Romans probably. At the time of booking the flights and accommodation (for which we used the services provided by Thomas Cook), it was visa on arrival for all of us travelling. A few weeks before our travel date the laws were changed requiring us to process Visas before arrival. The process itself was not cumbersome but it was double the cost. All was in order for Krythya’s first summer vacation from school. A few hours before our flight, my husband got called in for work the next day. You can imagine the disappointment, but we had to explain it to the toddler who had made plans to ride a camel with him (which by the way she did not end up doing, because her Dada would miss out).
Fortunately the flight journey was smooth, she enjoyed sitting in her own seat and was quite amused by the color changing stars on the ceiling of the flight (a feature in Emirates).
First stop Cairo
We arrived in the morning and got through immigration quite smoothly. We had a pre-arranged minibus for the one hour ride to our hotel in Giza – Le Meridian Giza. By the time we got settled into the hotel, it was time for lunch. And off to a great start we tried and approved (by the toddler as well) the best Falafel ever at Felfela Restaurant which was located right next to the hotel. What was supposed to be a rest day quickly turned into pool time for mom and daughter. Can’t blame her, the heated pool with the backdrop of the pyramids of Giza was just perfect. That evening we headed for the light and sound show at the Pyramids. Apart from the cold breeze K didn’t enjoy it as much, as it was too scary according to her. Grandparents on the other hand were totally immersed in it. Back at the hotel we witnessed a local wedding with music, lights and very pretty dresses… that made up!
The next morning was Pyramids and Sphinx by day and much more to K’s comfort. She enjoyed the rugged terrain as well as the effort to pronounce “Suphinx” correctly. We did not choose to visit the burial chambers inside the pyramids as the path was said to be very narrow and claustrophobic. We then visited a perfume store, by perfume store I mean all things smell. Utilization of these naturally extracted oils goes anywhere from perfumes, massage oils to even home cleaning liquids. It was K’s first taste of hibiscus tea, which is most commonly offered as a welcome drink. She also had a whiff of pure eucalyptus oil, which probably cleared her sinuses… Lol.
Next up on the agenda was the famous Egyptian museum. Unfortunately we were able to cover only the ground floor as the elevators were not in working condition. Another let down was the children section that was said to have Legos and other activities was closed. The last stop for the day was Khan-el-khalili bazaar, tonnes of stuff to shop but we were too beat to actually buy anything other than a few souvenirs and an adorable Cleopatra style knitted head gear for K, which she wore for the remainder of the trip and very much enjoyed the attention she got from strangers calling her Cleo.
Next stop Alexandria
The day trip to Alexandria was in a prearranged minibus with a tour guide. Unless you are a history buff, the temples are only as good as the guide. And since daddy dearest, our history expert wasn’t there we were quite glad to have a guide.
The Catacombs! Located 100 stairs below ground, home to the discovery of over 700 mummies, only my brother, myself and K were able and willing to pay a visit. It was definitely a very spooky experience especially because we were the only ones down there at the time! Other highlights were, the spectacular ocean views, Pompey’s pillar and the Bibliotheque (library). On our way back we had the local version of a Pizza for dinner, double the calories I’m sure, but it made up for all the walking and carrying. K also met some llamas, ostriches and other farm animals on the property.
Here we goooo
Arrived at Aswan by a short one hour flight – Nile Air and greeted by Egyptian summer. The hotel packed breakfast was the standard juice box and cheese sandwich, so the Indian snacks handed out by grandma came in very handy. After a drive by Aswan dam we hopped on a boat to Philae temple. As expected sang row row your boat all the way. Known for love and beauty, Goddess Isis’s temple was exactly that…Beautiful. There was an hour to spare before embarking the Nile cruise, where better to spend it than a spice market. Loaded up on dates, nuts and custom made spice rubs to take back home.
Cruising the Nile
Krythya’s first Cruise! I was glad she was as excited as I was. I’ve always loved cruises although this was my first river cruise – The Steigenberger Minerva. At first it was strange seeing land on both sides, but the contrasting landscapes were awe-inspiring. Sunrise over the sandy desert bank and sunset over the lush greens and palm trees. The plus side of a river cruise is there is no motion sickness. On the minus side the restaurant is very limited in terms of timing. On a regular cruise its usually food in abundance and availability round the clock. On this cruise however meal times are set, aside from which the restaurant remained closed. So we stocked up on snacks like dry fruits, nuts etc and bottled water while on shore. We chose rooms with a large window rather than a balcony as its safer with a toddler especially one who likes to climb any chance she gets!
Sunrise or Sunset?
She was one of three kids on board and the youngest. By the end of our 3 day cruise almost all of the crew knew her. Especially the pasta counter chef and the housekeeping staff who made the most creative towel animals we have ever seen. Places covered on the cruise were – Kom Ombo, where we visited a crocodile museum (which had mummified crocs as well), Edfu, where we took what looked like a 100 year old cab as opposed to the horse carriage as it was not advisable for the grandparents, and finally arrived in Luxor. One place covered on most other cruises that we missed out was Abu Simbel, as it was more important finding a cruise that suited the quality of rooms and food that I was looking for.
Temple of Horus
The croc is eating me!
Last stop Luxor
We visited the Karnak temple, to describe this temple is beyond words. Something I’ve wanted to see since the movie Mummy returns. The grandeur and process of building such high structures was impressive. With a sand crazy kiddo we spent time doing some digging and building ourselves.
A scene from Mummy Returns
While the family did some shopping at the papyrus factory, K was busy trying to make papyrus herself and spotting alphabets and their corresponding pictures in heliographic script. At which time I found a word that best described our passion – “Reisend” meaning travelling everywhere. The Luxor temple was close to the dock so we visited that toward the end of the day. The cruise remained docked at Luxor as the checkout was the following morning. However we missed going to any of the temples during late evening/night when they are lit-up.
The last day of our trip and probably the hottest. We visited Hatshepsut, one of the very few female pharaohs of Egypt. There was a fun train buggy ride as well. Then we witnessed how carvings are made from alabaster stones. K got a chance at grinding one (of course for a tip). As it was getting too hot we skipped the Valley of kings and headed back to the hotel for the last night – Steigenberger. The pool by the river was irresistible and so we spent the rest of the evening doing just that.
Next morning was our flight back home via Cairo. We had a long lay over with not much to do in the airport we decided to go to the nearest mall. On a Friday afternoon at prayer time not many stores were open so we spent our time devouring a traditional meal at Abou El Sid.
Things to know before you go
Since we planned to cover more than one city, layers of clothing was key. As it was the beginning of April which was the onset of summer but still pretty cold in Cairo and very warm in other parts of Egypt.
Comfortable walking shoes (as well as flip flops/crocs for kids). K would complain after a while that her feet were sweaty and switch to crocs.
Diapers. Even though K was potty trained by then, the availability and hygiene of restrooms sometimes made a diaper to use and throw the only way to go.
As far as strollers go, don’t bother. No stroller can take the sand and stone terrain of the ruins.
The baby carrier is a life saver, since there is a lot of walking we put it to good use whenever she got tired or simply decided it was “carry me” time.
Sunscreen is a must to avoid sunburn as most of the day is outdoors. Even on cooler days the sun was quite strong and hotter days even more so. Neutrogena kids roll on stick was super easy to carry and use even by herself (As we were in the phase of “I can do it myself”).
Hydration (or re-hydration) was something we were prepared for but did not face the need. Carrying ORS sachets is recommended.
A fly bat/squatter… nope not kidding. We are used to houseflies in India but there were quite a few in all the places we visited, could have been a seasonal thing but we did a lot of shoo-ing.
First cry Intellikit activity packs were easy to carry and keep her busy during downtime during travel or in the hotel room.
Tipping is quite high and almost expected everywhere (Min 5 USD per person). Not sure if it is correlated but the guides were very friendly, sometimes too friendly. K was given more than her fair share of ice creams and sugar cane juice by many of them.
Most common word – “Mesh” meaning All Ok. Which best describes our exploration of Egypt! A big shout out to my brother who was our sole luggage mule, Maama (uncle) on call, and basically Man of the trip!
Other places to see if time permits – A Nubian village, where one can witness the life and culture of the local people as well as real crocodiles! The Red Sea, (a 2 hour drive from Cairo) where the places of interest would be Sham El-Sheik or Hurghada or simply snorkeling in the sea itself.. We chose the Nile Cruise as those are date specific, so hope to get a taste of the seas whenever we visit Jordan.
After discussing most of the countries in the world everyone finally agreed on Morocco for our family reunion. The idea was for all four of my grandparents’ children to meet again after my wedding (6 years ago!). Of course, this had to include grandchildren (including myself) and their great granddaughter Krythya (my 22 month old daughter). We were a group of 12 (8 adults, 3 kids and a toddler) travelling from India and the US. US citizens didn’t need visas, we however did, although quite a simple process via a travel agent.
We chose to travel Etihad business owing to the age and health of those travelling, plus it was nearing the end of Krythya’s almost free airfare age. Needless to say, the lounge and flight had its comforts. Although it was way past Krythya’s bedtime the excitement of having family around kept her wide awake through the first leg of the journey to Abu Dhabi and during transit. We carried a few snacks as well as mini tetra packs of milk as she’s a dairy baby. I was only hoping the longer flight would be bed time and thankfully she slept through. Other air journey tips can be found here.
Our first destination, or base camp I should say, again chosen based on everyone’s flights. We got in by around 7am, all of us got through immigration quickly except for my grandfather who is an Antiguan citizen, as the officer wanted to make sure it was a real country! We picked up some croissants and sandwiches for breakfast at the airport and headed out. It was a good idea to pre-book a mini bus with an English-speaking driver to make our local travel easy. Although not mandatory we traveled with her car seat as its very convenient and safe for road trips. It took about an hour to reach our hotel Pestana Casablanca, located on the Atlantic coast, after which it still took another hour to get our rooms as we were early for check in. Krythya was however on schedule with her nap and didn’t mind the lobby sofa. Even if it’s a hotel, choosing places that are equipped with a kitchenette makes it convenient to prepare some quick meals etc. The staff were extremely friendly, even upgraded the baby’s room. Who doesn’t love some extra space?
Once everyone was checked in, and in our case napped and bathed we headed out to the Old Medina. The kids found a small garden to play in, with my grandfather and uncle watching over while the girls walked around. The tiny streets were lined with shoes, carpets, and endless artifacts. Soon it was time for dinner, we headed back to our hotel as it was conveniently located next to a mall with multiple food options. On our walk over, the kids rode camels on the beach while the toddler wanted to give it a bath. Also made a quick trip to the grocery for fruits, yogurt etc. With my rusty French I ended up getting sweet yogurt and mixed it with rice, yep you guessed it, Krythya spit it out. Only then did I realize it!
Day 2 was a bit more touristy. Started off with our travel standard baby breakfast which usually contains oatmeal, eggs and fruits. We visited the Hassan 2 Mosque which certainly lived up to expectation. Being the 5th largest mosque in the world you could pretty much see it wherever you went. It was beautiful weather for the long walk around or should I say run around for Krythya. For lunch we went to a sea side cafe where I found one of my favorites – paella and Krythya had her grandmas tomato rice…. Just kidding she loved the green olives and pita bread too. On our way to the next attraction our driver decided to stop at a government building as they had some local street artists there. Turns out it was not such a good idea as Krythya did not like the look and sound of them. Took us a while to convince her that the drum man was gone. By the time we had reached Mahkama du Pacha, the city courthouse it was Krythya’s nap time and she was tucked in to her seat and so my mom stayed back with her while we got to see some gorgeous architecture. Funnily enough the best part of the day was being stuck in Casablanca traffic with everyone singing wheels on the bus and learning mandarin from an 8-year-old.
Road trip! We had an early start to beat the traffic for our 3-hour journey to Marrakesh. The timing worked out well to include Krythya’s nap. It was no short of an adventure from the minute we reached. We chose to stay at a Villa – Paix et Palmiers, which was not an easy job to locate. A beautiful rustic French style villa with a pool and lush gardens all around. Krythya was fascinated seeing oranges on trees. It was lunch time, and everyone were quite hungry, the villa only served breakfast, so my uncle ventured out to get some food. Behold it was a feast in the parlour/dining room which was on the other end of the swimming pool. We had the local version of roti and chicken, couscous salad and pizza. After lunch, we realized the gate to the parlour had locked on closing with the key outside, turning it through the grill wasn’t working. At a distance we could see a gardener who couldn’t hear us calling out (my aunt suggested he was a ghost haha). To make things worse my little cousin got her head stuck in the grill, which luckily wasn’t difficult to get out of, but she started to cry. Finally, one of the house maids came out and showed us how to open the lock. Enough adventure for one trip, right?
It was time to explore Marrakesh, we headed out to Jemaa el-Fnaa, the market place. It was quite entertaining for kids and adults alike. Horse carriages, snake shows, pottery, what’s not to like. Krythya got herself a pet camel (no not a real one….), while my grandfather got his shoes polished.
Day 4 started with lazy breakfast by the pool, as the day was slightly warmer. The weather in general was much cooler than expected. Always a good idea to pack in layers, and fleece jackets helped. Today we drove to see a Berber village in the Atlas Mountains. For lunch it was Tagines, a local delicacy of cooking in a clay pot. The restaurant overlooked a stream with hanging bridges, Krythya spent all her time on it and we took turns outside with her. Then we visited a facility where we witnessed the making of Argan oil. Argan peanut butter yumm! Tonight was going to be a late one, once we were back at the villa we made sure Krythya was fed and dressed in warm comfy clothes and made our way to Chez Ali. I would say it’s an elaborate version of Jaipur’s Chokhi Dhani. As expected Krythya fell asleep on our way, it was a stroller kind of night. There were beautiful warm and cosy tents set up for tables. Tagines for dinner again, the vegetarians had couscous and carrots. For entertainment were folk dancers making the rounds and the main show Ali baba and the forty thieves was set outdoor. Sure shot way of waking up a baby, fire forty gunshots… and she was up. She did enjoy her first belly dancing show that followed
Next morning was time to say goodbye to Marrakesh, the beautiful Villa and the very hospitable owners. On our way back to Casablanca we stopped at a resto-gas station for a quick bite. There was a children’s park as well, so we spent more time than planned for. Krythya made conversation with kids that were speaking French so it was quite amusing to watch. We arrived in the evening only to spend time together as some family was set to leave that night. The kids got very emotional as they didn’t want to leave Krythya. This bonding was really what the trip was meant for.
The last leg of our trip was a one-hour drive to the capital city of Rabat. If you’re looking for roman ruins and nature walks The Chellah is the right place to be. Krythya got to see some large vultures and their nests too. At which point she referenced the baby bird from her book ‘Are you my mother’. For lunch, any guesses? Yep Tagines! But this time in Dar Naji a highly recommended restaurant for its beautiful and comfortable seating especially with a toddler who likes to be on the move and of course amazing food. Then we went on to see the Hassan tower, where we got creative with picture taking and had some very hygienically squeezed sugar cane juice. One last stop before heading back was Kasbah of the Udayas. As majestic as the name suggests but not very stroller friendly. Krythya did enjoy the mini doors and cobblestone paths like a she was in a story book. On our way back was a beautiful seaside drive that put all of us down for a nap.
That night we were packed and ready to leave the next morning. The driver agreed to drop us off at the airport although that wasn’t in the original plan. Overall this was one of the friendliest places I have visited. And a truly memorable one for all ages!
Useful Tips from our Trip
Using a travel friendly car seat is both safe and convenient for road trips.
Planning the day with Krythya’s nap schedule in mind helped avoid a tired and cranky baby.
Choosing places to stay either villa or hotel that provide a kitchenette makes cooking small meals to pack and go convenient. Carrying dry items like rice and pasta would suffice.
We found that involving Krythya in the plan of places we were going to visit got her very excited and interested in anything we did. Also helps them learn and make memories.
Always have flexibility in plans. As sometimes just having time and space to run around in a garden makes the holiday so much more fun.
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I know what you are thinking… Why take your baby on your romantic getaway? Well, there is room for romance, action, comedy, and horror on every holiday when you bring your toddler along – and we would have nothing less on our Anniversary Trip to Maldives
This was our second trip to the Maldives – we were there in 2010 when we celebrated our first anniversary, and there we were celebrating our 9thin 2018. This trip, with Arya in tow, was obviously a very different experience. Saurabh chose the Anantara Dhigu Resort because it is extremely kid friendly, and located only a 35-min boat ride away from Male Airport.
The Mystery Begins…
So… This was supposed to be a surprise anniversary trip for me – but I must have been a cat in my previous life, because curiosity literally kills me, and I can’t help myself from extracting every secret out of Saurabh through third degree interrogation techniques (as he claims they are). He had booked the trip with this “Luxury Surfing” company called Tropic Surf which arranges for packages with surfing, accommodation, and food (if you choose that option). This was an absolutely brilliant move by Mr. Marda because I think the experience and service through Tropic Surf is really unique! They have a special welcome crew, seamless check-in process, and special concierge service for bookings made through them.
Since this was an anniversary trip, there had to be an element of romance 🙂 This is where the resort’s excellent kids club came handy. We were able to get some alone time while Arya played with the 12 or so other kids who were checked into the kids club. This allowed us to go surfing and paddle boarding when we wanted to, and also had a chance to visit the sister resort Anantara Veli (which does not allow kids). With Arya safely deposited at the kids club we indulged in an extra drink (or two) at the picturesque bars at Veli. The baby-sitters were extremely flexible with timing and Tropic Surf team made sure that we had hassle free cancellations of babysitting service on the day our surf lesson got cancelled due to bad weather.
We had already done all the romantic stuff like sunset dinner on private island, and picnic at private lagoon on our previous Maldives holiday so we kept this one simple. But if you have not done that once – I highly recommend the sunset private dining experience!
Although Maldives is supposed to be known for a relaxing holiday we are not ones to sit still. We had pre-booked 4 days of surf lessons (two of which got cancelled due to bad weather), but the ones we did get to do were amazing. Tropic Surf team has its own unique method for teaching which I think is quite effective! We managed to get a few really good waves. The only down side to surfing in Maldives as beginners is the reef break – we had a couple of small scrapes from waiting too long to dismount and getting dragged on the reef – nothing serious though.
The calm waters near the resort are also excellent for paddle boarding. So calm in fact that we took Arya with us. Paddle boards are free to rent if you book surf lessons through Tropic Surf. The resort gave us an infant life jacket for her and the Tropic Surf instructor showed her how to hold on to the ropes and sit. We could see turtles and small fish as we paddled through.
We also rented the glass bottom kayak on one of the days. Arya enjoyed sitting in the middle and looking at the reef and fish below while Saurabh and I paddled through the calm waters. We even spotted her a nurse shark below. We kayaked to the neighboring Picnic Island where they had these beautiful swings in the middle of the sea that made for amazing Instagram material.
Diving in Maldives is also phenomenal – we stayed at the Banyan Tree last time we were there which had a phenomenal house reef. If diving is topmost on the agenda I recommend choosing a resort where you can simply start from the house reef! We skipped diving this time around because it would require a half hour boat trip at least, an we already had too many other non-child-friendly activities planned.
Life is generally full of comedy with Arya around. She just makes it extra special sometimes. When we were not doing anything we were sitting at the pool bar and sipping (pitchers of) Sangria, while Arya goofed around with the kids at the pool. Particularly hilarious was her interest in three blonde Russian brothers between the ages of 4 and 8. She tried to individually impress and befriend each of them – the whole effort was made especially comical by the fact that none of them spoke English – so she tried all her vocabulary in the three languages that
she speaks (English, Hindi, and Telugu). Failing which, she also tried to befriend them by sharing everything she had (her pool floats, her beverages, the cashew nuts she had requested from the bar tender). Her final attempt – she tried to impress their mom (a 6-foot tall blonde who was only mildly amused by the chattiness of this 3-foot nothing creature).
Arya finally gave up on the kids and started befriending all the old people in the resort by telling them she was 65 years old. So… that worked! And we were suddenly getting life advice from retired CEOs and fund managers whom Arya had broken the ice with for us.
So… What can be scary about the Maldives? Sharing your bathroom with reptiles and crabs!!! Most of these new-age Maldives resorts have outdoor bathrooms. While they are very romantic and exotic and all… they can be a bit scary if you are a toddler. On the first day Arya spotted the chameleons in the bathroom and squeamishly ask me what they are. Now, typically I believe in telling the truth, but a chameleon sounds like a scary animal even in my head – so I told her they are squirrels (because squirrels are cute). She even pointed out that those were some weird looking squirrels and I had to improvise and say that’s what squirrels in Maldives look like. So, every time we went to the bathroom we would acknowledge the “squirrels,” birds and stray crabs (if any) with “Hi squirrel! Hi crab! Hi Birdie!” before going about our business.
All in all – I would say, while it is not a typical family destination, Maldives can be fun for kids who love the beach. Of course – do your research and pick a resort that caters to kids (not all of them do!). Anantara Dhigu has small perks (like free lunch buffet for kids by the pool, and kids eat free at dinner and breakfast buffet policy) that makes it good value for money (well… relatively!).
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I now realize I am running about 3 trips behind on blogging. So I made this one short and to the point – particularly since Mauritius and Seychelles are both islands with a limited set possible itineraries and all of them have been listed on the interwebs.
My tips for making it a hassle-free trip in both the countries for kids:
Drive! In Both Mauritius and Seychelles, driving is safe, convenient, intuitive and cheap, and parking is amply and freely available even near tourist destinations. Plus – we were smack in the middle of potty-training when we went to Mauritius and Seychelles, and I refused to let that slide. So we stopped at the side of the road for bathroom break at our leisure. Being able to drive also gave us a lot of flexibility to sightsee at our own time and pace. We rented a bright orange Mini Cooper Convertible in Mauritius to make extra fun to enjoy the sights.
Get a Baby-Sitter: If you are adventure junkies like us and want to indulge in some diving, surfing (while in season), or other sports where kids are not allowed, or simply want to get some time for R&R, I highly recommend choosing a resort that has a well-reviewed nanny service. We chose Angsana Balaclava which provides a great nanny service which is also not too expensive. I know some parents are not comfortable leaving their children with strangers – but this is not someone you got off craigslist! It is someone the resort recommends and takes responsibility for. I always book for an extra hour before just so I can also personally evaluate the babysitter and offer them tips. Our babysitter at Angsana was actually a sweet Mauritian Indian Aunty who also spoke Hindi and was a pro at handling kids– so it worked out quite well.
Go Boutique: I prefer small boutique hotels over large commercial resorts, mostly because in my experience, the service is more personal. Angsana is a small enough resort (not a huge one like the Hiltons / Club Meds). By the end of our 5 day stay, the staff knew our daughter well – what she likes to eat, play, etc. They knew our preferences and made sure they catered to our needs in the best way possible. There is, however, a tradeoff – I am told the bigger resorts have more activities options, and company for kids. It is hard to imagine my 20-month old would have been eligible for any group activities – maybe I will re-evaluate when she is older.
Plan Ahead! Now I am all about spontaneity but I do believe one requires a bit of planning to make the most of a vacation (especially when you are in a large group). While it was just the three of us in Mauritius – we were a group of 16 family and friends in Seychelles. I do think we could have seen and done a lot more in Seychelles had we planned ahead a little bit for that leg of our trip. Even simple things like finding a restaurant that will seat 16 together can be difficult for a group that size. We had a couple of situations where we were looking for suitable places to eat with 3 hungry and cranky toddlers in tow.
Choose Villas Where You Can! Since we were a large group in Seychelles we chose
villas instead of hotels. This gives kids the ability to be themselves (and be rowdy sometimes) without the adults having to apologize to fellow guests. We chose pool villas so the kids could swim to their hearts content. The villa we chose in Seychelles was a 6 BR villa located at the highest point on the island. You could literally see 80% of the island from the villa – simply breathtaking! The only downside of the villa was – because the two grandmoms had a kitchen available, they spent a significant amount of time there cooking for the four kids (I wish they could worry less and enjoy the trip more!).
What to see and do with toddlers in Mauritius:
The Zoo (Officially called Casela Adventure Park): Although I am fundamentally against the idea of zoos (because I believe they are cruel) I have had to soften my stance since I had a kid. I still think its cruel to trap wild animals like lions in cages, and surroundings that feel nothing like their natural habitats. Which is why the zoo in Mauritius was perhaps one the of least offensive ones I have seen. About 80% of their animals are from the African continent and hence are not completely out of their element. Plus the zoo does not have small entrapped areas but large spaces to house the animals whom you can view through a vehicle that drives through the area or a view platforms. It somehow felt more humane. Also, Arya had a great time at the zoo walking side by side with giant turtles and ostriches.
The Curious Corner at Chamarel: This was a totally unexpected stop for us following a somewhat underwhelming viewing of the seven-colored earth at Chamarel (underwhelming only because I sort of expected it to be bigger after all that build-up of standing in a queue of cars to purchase a ticket and then driving 7km on a windy road). This is a museum/experience house that plays on optical illusions to create surreal imagery. This was a fun 1-hour indoor activity with a toddler – although I think Saurabh and I were more excited about the photos than her.
Get a lot of Beach Time! Needless to say Mauritius has amazing pristine beaches – plan to spend at least an hour a day at the beach – kids love the sun and the sand, and parents can enjoy local food and culture at some of the beaches. My favorites were Trou-aux-Biches, Mont Choisy and Grand Baei in the north of Mauritius – the waters are relatively calm and shallow, which means kids can swim and play without fear. Arya also loved the fresh juices and coconut water at all the beaches.
There is a lot more to do if you have slightly older children (6 years and older), who can go hiking, ziplining, ocean-walking, kite surfing etc. But we took it easy and stuck to what our toddler could comfortably enjoy. Read my blog post on taking babies Swimming here How to Introduce Baby to Swimming.
As for Seychelles: it is not particularly a place marketed to kids – but kids can have fun if they enjoy the sun and the beach. I could not find any activities specifically for kids but the four children in our group (ranging from 8 months old to 5 years old) had a great time frolicking around the pool in the two villas that we rented, and loved chilling at the beach. Mostly they were happy playing with each other.
Activities for Adults:
Diving: both Mauritius and Seychelles have amazing dive sites and great options for diving. We went in off season (for diving) in Mauritius and still saw quite a lot of life. Had to dive through a bit of a surface current in North Mauritius but its all good when you get close to the bottom. The visibility is amazing even in supposedly off-season waters.
Diving in Seychelles was simply breath-taking! We went diving first in the marine reserve where the density of marine life is some of the best I have seen in my life. Small and playful schools of fish make the experience absolutely unique and awe-inspiring. We also went diving to a wreck which was a fun exercise in practicing our diving skills.
Hiking: both Mauritius and Seychelles have amazing options for hiking. In Seychelles one of the most well recommended hiking trails began at our villa. We considered bringing our daughter on the hike in the sling but made the wise call to leave her with the grandparents at the last minute. It was a short but tough hike with steep and slippery steps.
Food and Drink: If you enjoy eating and drinking – both these places will deliver. Mauritius has a combination of local food joints that bring French and Indian flavors together, and international restaurants that leverage the fresh seafood to cater to all palates. The best food we ate was at an evening local market in Seychelles where they had fresh catch barbequing in a parking lot, and drinks made from local rum to go with it.
Overall, I think Mauritius is more kid and family friendly with more structured places and activities for kids. Seychelles is actually perfect for either romantic getaways or short group trips where kids have company to entertain each other.
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I am drowning in work but I am up at 2am writing this blog – because I want to share both how amazing our trip to Israel was and the lessons we learned about traveling with a toddler (skip to the end if you have no time, and just want the lessons). We almost threw in the towel on the second day and were very close to deciding NEVER to travel with our toddler again. And then she got cute on us (suckers! Yes)
So here is how is happened – we planned this trip a couple of months in advance to celebrate Papa’s 60th birthday in Israel together as a family. This trip got challenging way before we even got there! So APPARENTLY, if you are taking a minor child to Israel and you apply for a Visa you need to submit their birth certificate and it needs to be apostilled by the Ministry of External Affairs. Plus both parents need to show up at the embassy in Delhi for an in-person interview. I wont bore you with the details of all the hassles and expenses we went through during the submission process but let me just say – having traveled to nearly 60 countries, this was my most grueling and expensive Visa application process yet.
Then, just a few days before our trip, Trump announced the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, spurring several threats of violence all over the middle-east. I am not even going to get into the politics of it here – but lets just say we seriously considered cancelling the trip. I decided to write to a few friends/acquaintances in Israel who all confirmed that it was life as usual in Israel a few days after the announcement. I even wrote to the Indian Embassy in Israel who confirmed the same, and made a note of Sushma Swaraj’s personal and professional twitter handle… just in case we need it.
The (Over the Top) Security
Next stop – Mumbai Airport, from where we were going to take the El Al direct flight to Ben Gurion Airport. This is the most amount of questioning I have gone through IN MY LIFE. They asked us totally random questions like why would you choose Israel for a holiday!? Saurabh, Arya and I cleared the questioning, my parents cleared it too, but my sister was stuck there for a good 15 minutes while all of us wondered what was going on. They passed her passport around from one security official to the other, making all of us nervous. Finally, when she was cleared she told us it was because they suspected she was an Israeli citizen with a fake Indian passport trying to smuggle a baby (Arya). Because clearly Saurabh and I look like the baby-selling type. Gah… I knew I should have dressed better! Lol
Finally… We were there!
We arrived in Ben Gurion at 3:20am on December 24 after an 8 hour flight which was thankfully uneventful. By 5am, we had cleared immigration and exited the airport with our rental car. We arrived in Jerusalem, our first destination, by 5:30am. I tried my luck calling the apartment owner to see if they would let us in but they confirmed that we not have the apartment before 1pm. Of course there was nothing else for us to do but to head to Old City and start the sightseeing. We parked in a lot outside Jaffa Gate and headed straight to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was a beautiful walk as the night sky went from black to dark purple to pasty orange at dawn. It was like we owned the place – other a few occasional runners – no people, no open shops or cafes – just a few friendly cats, early birds, and us. Finally a few cafes started to open – we sat at a Turkish café to have some coffee and juice before finally entering the church.
Jerusalem over Christmas
What we experienced next was surreal. It was a special Christmas prayer at the Church of Holy Sepulchre – which is where Jesus is said to have been crucified and resurrected. The priests conducted special prayers, chanted in unison, and performed holy rituals. It was a feeling both eerie and surreal at once as nuns moaned in statue like poses in all corners of the church as the rituals went on. Finally, (someone who seemed to be) the head-priest arrived in grand black and golden robes, followed by a procession of similarly dressed priests and then devout followers who chanted prayers as well. There was something about the whole experience that made even non-Christians like my family feel a sense of awe and spiritual connection with the Divine.
By the time we were done it was daylight, and more shops and cafes were starting to open. We walked through most of the Christian Quarter and Armenian Quarter, visiting various interesting sites like Tower of David, Western Wall, Mount of Olives, Damascus Gate, and many more. The most memorable one was the Temple Mount – which allows only a limited number of visitors. We stood in line for almost an hour and a half before being let in. Arya napped through the entire time we were in line, and the rest of us chatted away about everything under the sun. We were ushered in after a through security check – I had to leave the Holy candles I bought for my Christian nanny in the lockers before security check. It was a short walk through a wooden footbridge that led us to the main Temple grounds. At this point I was feeling like I should have spent that $10 on an audio guide – but then again, between an antsy, sick, and hungry Arya and all the walking I wasn’t sure I would actually have the time or focus to listen to it. There was a huge mosque right in front of the main Temple. We were offered entry into the mosque by (who seemed like) local guides – ONLY if we were Muslim. We said we weren’t and he promptly moved on to visually identifying other potential Muslims. It was a sunny but windy day and I was feeling bad for my little one who was running a fever and had a cold – so we didn’t spend as much time as the place warranted, and made our way through the winding exit roads back to the wailing wall. While the stroller was a lifesaver at this point, it did require a lot of carrying up and down stairs – we took turns but mostly it was my husband lugging it. A sling would have worked better here but my daughter does not like the sling anymore and likes the freedom of movement a stroller provides.
Yad Vashem and Tel Aviv
The next day (Christmas day) we planned to go to Tel Aviv and stop at Yad Vashem on the way. Since children are not allowed inside the Yad Vashem papa and Saurabh decided to sit it out in the café with Arya while mom, sister and I went in. The hour we spent inside was a truly reflective one. Mom kept telling me how little she actually knew about the struggles and perseverance of the Jewish people before that visit, and how the mass killings are just a reminder of how cruel humans can become as a race if we leave the powerful and the evil to their devices. We reunited with the rest of the party in the café and reflected on our experience over some coffee and snacks before heading to Tel Aviv.
Being now used to the (somewhat over the top) Christmas vibe in Europe and the US, where I have spent nearly half of the Christmases in my life, I was a little taken aback by the lack of anything Christmasy at all in Tel Aviv. We started at the Jaffa Old Port where Arya had fun with the feisty waves hitting the walls and the friendly cats and birds playing with her. We then headed for lunch at what was touted as the best falafel place in the world – HaKosem. And it delivered! The place hardly has seating for 30, and most people order for eating on the go. We were lucky enough to find a table for 6. After about 15 minutes in line, we ordered what at the time seemed like food for 20 but it took us only 10 minutes to wolf it all down. The food was absolutely fresh and delicious. Arya kept nibbling at a pita bread and picked on some salad from the salad plate.
Defining Pasta (Toddler Tantrums!)
We then walked over to Sarona market – which is essentially a high end food and gourmet market. The market is full of (slightly overpriced but) delicious open food kiosks and gourmet cooking shops. While the rest of them roamed around the market – I thought I would buy lunch for Arya who hadn’t eaten much at the falafel place. I ordered a pasta – which she was very excited about – but when it came she refused to believe that it was, in fact, pasta. You see – I had ordered spaghetti in pink sauce. Spaghetti, to Arya is not pasta, its noodles. She had her heart set on pasta now so there is no way we could re-package this as noodles and convince her to eat it now. So we had to order another $20 plate of pasta – penne this time, in white sauce. Raise your hand if you’ve been in a similar food situation with your toddler – I can see about 95% of you raising your hand!
Anyway, after a long day we headed to the beach – where we could not stand for more than 15 minutes because it was windy and cold. We hung out at a diner close to the beach where we got some coffee, beer and milk (for Arya). The waitress gave Arya some toys to stay entertained – truly a God sent because she was beginning to get very cranky and saying she wanted to “go home.”
We then headed to the Imperial Cocktail Bar which is supposed to have divine cocktails. They wouldn’t let Arya into the bar, so Saurabh and I took turns sitting in the hotel lobby with her while the others had cocktails. They were nice enough to serve us cocktails in the lobby though! We took a bunch of non-believers like my parents and converted them – papa, a straight up whiskey drinker was not much of a cocktails guy but absolutely loved the cocktails served at the bar and went for seconds! The drive back was a fun one as papa – now buzzed was telling us some funny stories from his youth. But Arya was tired and super cranky by the time we got home, and I somehow knew that the night was going to tough. She woke up crying at least 3 times in the night – I got kicked, punched and hit in the face several times as she was trying to move around and find comfort. One of the times she was crying I knew she was thirsty (her lips were extremely dry and she was coughing) but she refused to drink water. It took half an hour of trying to comfort her, distract her, and convince her but ultimately what worked was giving her a timeout until she calmed down and had some water. She slept within 5 mins after drinking water.
Needless to say – we both woke up extremely tired and cranky next morning! Saurabh and I knew we had to change something – we couldn’t have another jam-packed day of touristy stuff and ignore her needs. We had planned to go to Bethlehem in the morning, but decided that we would go to the “Biblical Zoo” in the evening instead of the regular stuff we had planned.
The next day morning we took a taxi to the entrance to Bethlehem and hired a shady local taxi to take us inside Bethlehem. He charged us roughly $115 for a return trip to the Church of Nativity, and a tourist guide who would take us inside the church. This seemed like a lot at first considering we were only 3Km from the church. But seemed sort of worth it when the tourist guide pulled some strings (and bribed some priests) to let us in to the front of the line. It felt wrong to cut the line, but given the paucity of time and patience we decided to roll with it. I bought a few candles, burned, and then extinguished them in the holy water to “bless” the candles and bring them back for my nanny who is a devout Christian.
It is a narrow path into the actual place where Christ was born, which is marked by a hole in the ground, surrounded by an ornate star. Again, the whole experience definitely felt unique and surreal as a crowd of quiet and reverent visitors made their way through the narrow tunnels and walkways. But as we left the church and came back to Manger Square where we started, it was definitely a glimpse into the reality of Palestine. A visibly poor cousin of Jerusalem, one could smell the poverty and desperation of the people of Palestine. The little kids trying to sell us trinkets and snacks at “tourist” rates seemed all too familiar (to us as Indians).
After a round of piping hot falafels we headed back to the security point to re-enter Israel. We passed several graffiti laden streets and alleys on the way there, and finally walked through a smelly walkway to the checkpoint.
A Close Call
What happened next was – well – funny and potentially scary at the same time. As we laid all our bags and jackets on the x-ray machine tried to pass through the security check, the machine started running backwards and throwing all our bags back to the ground. A man emerged saying one of those bags has a weapon. We all looked at others around us with contempt – like – what were you thinking bringing a weapon! And then he points to Saurabh’s backpack and said there is a knife in there. At this point I am in shock. My sister and Saurabh are both doing face palms as they realized the “surprise” gift they had bought me was still in his backpack. It was a gourmet sushi knife. Saurabh took out the knife, still in its packaging, and reasoned with the woman sitting behind the glass that this was a gift for his wife. She was convinced – and let us go. Phew! Now I know most of you are thinking this is not a big deal – but you had to be there. This is a shady place with several heavily armed people – who half the time one couldn’t tell if they were soldiers or fighters. You did NOT want to raise any suspicions here.
To the Zoo
After grabbing lunch on the go we headed to what was called the “biblical” zoo – although there were more than two of quite a few animals, there was also an arc with a museum and exhibit. The zoo is spread over a huge area, and we decided to cover most of the ground in the super slow zoo train, and walked on the wooden walkway overlooking animal habitats. Arya was super excited about all the animals and absolutely loved the place. We definitely would not have this on the itinerary if we weren’t traveling with a baby. But it was a fun day.
I took Mom and Papa to the Mahane Yehuda market to buy some nuts and dried fruits they wanted to take home, while Arya, Saurabh and Radhika chilled in the apartment. After putting Arya to sleep, Saurabh, Mom, Radhika, and I headed back to Mahane Yehuda at 9pm, when it had turned into a complete party street, with blaring music. Although Radhika would have loved to go out dancing after, we were pretty tired and decided to still head back a decent hour.
Masada and Dead Sea
We checked out from the hotel next morning and headed to Masada. The drive along the shore of the Dead Sea was a picturesque one. We arrived around 9:30 at the Tourist center where the cable car rides begin at about 10am. Saurabh, Radhika and I wanted to hike while mom and papa would take the cable car. Arya had fallen asleep in the car but woke up right as we were about to leave for the trek. At this point, I tried to explain to her that she would come in the cable car with her grandparents but she refused and wanted to come with us. Saurabh said if it is less than an hour he will carry Arya up. I asked him at least 7 times if he was sure!? Arya rode on his shoulders the entire way up – it wasn’t a very difficult hike but it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either – especially with a baby on your shoulders. I don’t know how he did it!
The view from the top was phenomenal! There is barely much left in ways of ruins of the fort – also I think after my trip to Jordan I have been underwhelmed by most ruins (yes, Greece as well) – but the historical significance and the view make the trek totally worthwhile.
We took the cable car back and headed to Ein Gedi to access the Dead Sea. After briefly looking for the alleged free public beach for about 15 minutes, we gave up and decided to go into a very over-priced and badly-serviced Ein Gedi Spa. The changing rooms weren’t exactly very clean and food was pathetic and way too overpriced. But for the lack of options and paucity of time we decided to roll with it. Since I had already been into the Dead Sea in Jordan I decided to sit it out with Arya while the others enjoyed their dip in the Dead Sea. Arya was definitely intrigued and wanted to go into the water – sand and water are two of her favorite play things – so it took a lot of effort to keep her out of the stinging Dead Sea water. But there is no way anyone can stay for over 15 minutes in that water. Everybody showered and had lunch and we left for the village of Amrim in the north in the Sea of Galilee where we would be spending the next two days.
We spent the next two days at a much slower pace than the last four. There was only grocery store and two working restaurants in our small community of Amrim where we stayed at the most idyllic log cabin – Eretz Hagalil. A cozy and well equipped cottage was just what we needed to relax as a family after a hectic last 4 days. The little private play ground with swings, a see-saw, and a slide made this an instant hit with Arya. A huge Jacuzzi tub in one of the bathrooms was just the cherry on top. There was even an outdoor table tennis set up for the adults. The cottage managers had even left us some baked snacks, chocolates, and local wine to make it the warmest welcome one could expect.
We decided on spending time in Amrim there because Papa was excited about Israeli farming techniques and wanted to visit some farms. So, the next day I called the Harduf Organic Farm that came highly recommended by Timeout Tel-Aviv. It turns out, the farm was located inside a unique Kibbutz that habilitates hundreds of people with mental illnesses and disabilities. Moshe, one of the managers of the farm, was the sweetest (though busiest) man ever. He asked us to come at 1pm for a tour. We had a heavy breakfast that we cooked up at the cottage, and headed to the Jezreel Winery which was pretty close to the Harduf Community. It is a small winery that was closed for the winter but the staff organized a quick private tour and tasting for us. Arya was entertained at the farm by all the horses in the stable, the donkeys and the friendly cats. We bought a bottle of their Rose’ and picnicked at the benches in the garden outside. Arya was entertained by the two friendly cats with whom she shared her popcorn (I don’t even know if we should be giving popcorn to cats!?).
Off to Papa’s favorite part of the trip – the farm. We arrived at the farm at 1pm, and Moshe gave the warmest welcome with some delicious herb tea and dates (way to make his way to my Mom’s heart – anyone who offers her tea in the afternoon is an instant favorite). While we sat next to the barn and sipped on tea (and Arya indulged in a mooing competition with the cows), Moshe explained the history, purpose, and functioning of the Kibbutz to us – it was entirely centered around the idea of two thirds of the population taking care of the third that needed assistance and rehabilitation through meaningful work and integration. What a beautiful way of life. The farm was completely organic and still used the best of Israeli farming techniques. We walked through the farm and sampled the delicious vegetables and fruits along the way. We asked a lot of questions as a group, and were equally intriguing to Moshe who was surprised to see a random Indian family show up at his farm. At the end of the trip Moshe took us to the vegetarian organic restaurant at the kibbutz where a Hungarian lady cooked us the most delicious vegetarian meal I’ve ever had. Papa, who is an otherwise picky eater, also loved the meal, and observed that they would never have the opportunity to experience something like that through the organized tours they usually take to travel abroad.
We headed back to the cottage and picked the most delicious falafels for dinner. The next morning we woke up lazily, cooked and ate some breakfast, and checked out of our lovely cottage. Next stop – Nazareth. Took us about an hour to get there from Amirim. By now we were all churched out and didn’t want to spend too much time in the city. We headed straight to the main attraction – the Church of Annunciation, were lucky enough to find a parking spot in a narrow lane, not 200 meters from the church. We spent about an hour at the church – mostly admiring all the artwork on the outside of the church – the mosaics of Jesus and Mary from all the Christian countries around the world. On the way out I bought some rosary beads for my Christian nanny before making our way to the last leg of our trip.
We decided to spend time in relatively quieter Haifa instead of Tel-Aviv. Again, I decided on this mainly because I knew we have a baby who sleeps early and we wouldn’t be painting the town red partying anyway. Maybe Radhika, who was the one more excited about night life in our group would have preferred Tel Aviv. But my parents were happy with the choice of Haifa as well. We had the most spacious and well furnished apartment, with the best view we could imagine. Located on the nearly the highest point in the city on Mount Carmel, you could enjoy the lovely breeze and a view of the Mediterranean Sea. The host was the most fabulous one, he gave us a lot of helpful tips and recommendations for the next 2 days. The recommended that we spend that evening in the German Quarter of the city which would be rife with celebrations that evening. And so we did! We arrived just in time before the main street (Ben Gurion Avenue) was filled with people. We found a parking spot in one of the side lanes and walked up and down the street – sitting down for beer and vin chaud at a couple of bars. By the end of the night, we had eaten enough small snacks and weren’t really in the mood for a sit down dinner. We enjoyed some live street music and shawarmas and headed back to the apartment to rest.
We spent the next morning at Bahai Gardens – which, while it was beautiful, was not the most stroller friendly place. After coming down just a few stories to the middle of the garden, we decided to head to the beach for lunch. We drove about 15 minutes down to Dado beach that came highly recommended for sea side restaurants. Arya predictably loved this spot. We chased flocks of birds and played in the sand while waiting for the food to arrive. It was difficult to keep my water baby out of the chilly cold Mediterranean waters – so we let her play in the sand with the waves for a bit – her clothes and boots were wet but I let her be because I knew we would head back to the apartment after this and I could change her.
We headed back to rest at the apartment – Papa was coming down with a fever at this point. Mom cooked up something at home for him, while I put Arya to bed early (she was tired from all the activity that day) and headed out with Saurabh and Radhika to check out some bars in our neighbourhood. We enjoyed a huge cheese platter and some curated wines at a small wine bar – we were the first ones there at 7:30pm! And then headed to a bar that came highly recommended for dancing – although as I suspected, there was no dancing at 9pm! By 10:30pm Mom called saying Arya had woken up, and we had to hurry back home (such is life with a toddler!).
The next day was December 31st, and Papa’s birthday. Papa was still under the weather and decided to rest while the rest of us drove to Acre, where the fort we went to see was great, but the highlight was the best Falafel meal ever! With like twenty different plates of pickles at our table, it was a meal for every vegetarian foodie out there! Mom absolutely loved it! We shopped for vegetables and other ingredients for the dinner and cake we were going to cook that night to celebrate Papa’s birthday, at the old style local market. Vegetables were ridiculously cheap there as compared to the grocery stores so Mom went to town with the veggie shopping!
We were back to the apartment by 2pm where we found Papa still sleeping (probably enjoying the peace that comes with Arya being away!). After some R&R we began the dinner preparations. Saurabh was busy with the baking, I made my famous guacamole, and mom cooked up some Indian food (Papa’s favourite!). We decorated a cake table with some candles and celebrated with the most delicious Whiskey & Pecan cake that Saurabh had baked. Arya was asleep by 8pm as usual, and I had promised myself I would stay awake until midnight this New Years Eve! But, like every other New Years Eve, I was cosily sleeping in bed by 10pm.
The next day, we packed up from our apartment, and loaded the car. I had planned for a stopover at Caesarea on our way to Ben Gurion (for the flight back to Mumbai). But we got rained in and decided to spend time at a mall instead. The Children’s Place had a 70% off sale where I bought stuff for Arya and mom bought a nice jacket for Papa. We made it to the airport with four hours to spare because people had told us that the security procedures on the way out of Israel can be rather time consuming. We did not experience any delays at security and made it right through to the boarding area in less than twenty minutes.
Overall, it was a great trip with some amazing memories and stories. We got to spend some quality time with my parents who are often busy with work or household chores when we visit them at home, and experienced a truly unique country together.
As for my learnings about baby-travel:
As babies turn into toddlers we need to plan activities and attractions that they can participate in and enjoy – especially outdoor activities.
We cannot overwhelm them with a jam-packed itinerary and no down time on holidays. You could do it when they are little babies just hanging on to you in a sling, but as they grow up their needs evolve.
Packing list reduces significantly when they are potty trained and not using bottles to feed! I use some of that space to pack some instant foods.
Instant food options if you have a space where you can cook: instant Dosa mix, instant Upma, pasta, noodles
Pick up fresh fruits and vegetables from local markets – Arya loved cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, bananas, grapes, and many other fruits and veggies
Introduce local foods! Arya LOVED the warm and fresh pita breads in Israel. We would give her one to nibble at, and she would eat one whole pita during car rides. (Hummus was not such a big hit though!)
For toddler parents: I always take a few minutes at the end of the day to recount the highlights of the day. This helps build memories that they can take home. Arya still recalls the amusing scene when the ostrich was biting the rhinoceros’s bum at the zoo!
Signing off now! Until the next adventure…
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