Egypt: The case of Mummy Vs. Mommy

“Mummies, mummies everywhere… where are all the kids?” – Krythya (my two and half year old)

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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

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Pool time

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!

 

 

 

Pyramids & The Sphinx, Giza
Pyramids & The Sphinx, Giza

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

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Our Guide Mohammed

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.

 

 

 

Aswan awaits

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Philae Temple

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 

Spice market finds

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!

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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Hatshepsut

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.

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Alabaster works

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.

 

 

Food Coma
Food Coma

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.

Play time
Play time with Intellikit

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!

Homeward bound
Homeward bound

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.

 

Follow Other Adventures by Krythya:

A trip to the Land of the Himalayas

MOROCCO: Tagines, Tantrums and everything in between

 

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[Video] Portugal with two naughty toddlers: A montage

For my friends who don’t have time to read anymore… I tried to tell our travel story through this video montage:

 

Survival Tips – (Check out air travel tips here: 11 Things I Do To Make Air Travel With Baby Easier)

1. Keep it simple (we just did Lisbon and Porto)

2. Book apartments/ Airbnb

3. Go with the flow don’t overplan

4. Take turns going out at night or call a babysitter

5. Plan for delays and downtime / chilling

6. Take the damn Strollers (they save lives!!!)

We could have…

  • Been to Sintra and the Southern Coast (but we preserved our sanity and didn’t pack in too much)
  • Spent an extra day in Porto (Didn’t realize how beautiful it was going to be!!)

Foodwise… (see a whole post on food options by continent here)

  • Kids ate cereal, omelettes, brioches/croissants, fruits (strawberries, grapes, bananas, oranges) for breakfast
  • Packed some nuts and dried fruits for snacks
  • They ate pasta, noodles, sausages, French Fries etc for lunch and dinner

Planning help:

  • Try Withlocals if you want a local experience while celebrating special occasions
  • Try to rent cars before hand to avoid paying an arm and a leg
  • Be prepared for the unexpected! We arrived in Lisbon when the Taxi strike was on – and Uber doesn’t have car seats for babies – so we were forced to take public transportation and walk longer distance (even when we didn’t want to). Enjoyed the sights and scenes and slowed it down to keep the kids happy and engaged!

MOST OF ALL… don’t worry about checking off every box and going to everything on the Lonely Planet guide! Have fun, soak it in, and do the best with the time and your kids situation. Neel and Arya were happiest just running around in an open square chasing birds! We slowed our plans to just let them knock themselves out!

An Anniversary Trip to Maldives with Mystery, Romance, Action, Comedy, and Horror

 

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I loved these matching family slippers at Anantara Dhigu 🙂

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…

cae3b0ba-841a-4c13-8d7e-77340b6c2057So… 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.

Romance

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The Spa at Dhigu

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!

Action

IMG_4866Although 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.

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The Swings in the Middle of the Sea

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.

Comedy

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Refreshments at the Pool

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

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Watching the Sunset from the Poolside Bar

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.

Horror

9f464b2b-80f4-4374-9aa4-d8b44b07454dSo… 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.

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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!).

5 Useful Tips for Mauritius and Seychelles With a Toddler

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.

We did a 10 day trip – 5 days in Mauritius, 4 in Seychelles (and one day of traveling). It was just Saurabh, Arya and I one the Mauritius leg, and a group of 16 family and friends (including 4 children) on the Seychelles leg. You can read my general tips about a beach trip in my blog What to Pack For A Beach Holiday With Baby. And air travel tips in by blog post 11 Things I Do To Make Air Travel With Baby Easier.

My tips for making it a hassle-free trip in both the countries for kids:

  1. Drive! In Both Mauritius and Seychelles, driving is safe, convenient, intuitive andIMG_3463 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.

 

  1. Get a Baby-Sitter: If you are adventure junkies like us and want to indulge in some IMG_3388diving, 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.

 

  1. Go Boutique: I prefer small boutique hotels over large commercial resorts, mostly IMG_3454because 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.

 

  1. Plan Ahead! Now I am all about spontaneity but I do believe one requires a bit ofIMG_3533 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.

 

  1. Choose Villas Where You Can! Since we were a large group in Seychelles we chose
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    The view from our villa in Seychelles

    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:

  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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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:

  1. 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.
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Saurabh and I during the hike
  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

How To Take Your Toddler Skiing

If you’ve been flowing my blog you know that my husband and I are avid snowboarders and make an annual trip to the Alps to ride. We’ve made the conscious decision to introduce our toddler to snow and snow sports early on, so we take her along for the ride. Last year she traveled with us to Val d’Isere and Courchevel in France, and this winter we took her for a weeklong trip to Zermatt. I will attempt to answer all questions I think one may have about take a toddler skiing. So here goes…

When (how early) Can I Take a Toddler Skiing?

IMG_4543Its complicated! I could write a separate blog post just answering this question to the detail it merits. But I will try to summarize here. If you (the parents) are regular skiers or boarders you can start sooner – but if you are not, I would not advise starting before the child is five or six.  The reason is that before they are six children really do not have the skills / ability / focus to train in a sport or another physical skill (like dancing). Plus, it is only around six that they are old enough to know that they are excited about something (like skiing) even though their parents don’t do it. Children below that age are more likely to enjoy things their parents also do – so if you are a dancer, they may want to learn to dance; if you play soccer/tennis they may want to join you on the field/court.

Now, if you practice snow sports, you can introduce your toddler to skiing as early as they start walking – BUT – they should not be forced or rushed into it. This is a lot easier when you live around snow and can hit the mountains every weekend. But if you are like us and get to be on the mountain for a maximum of 10 days every winter, its slightly more complicated. We took my toddler with us to the French Alps when she was 15 months old – at this point we just let her watch other kids ski, and experience snow. Being a tropical baby, walking around with one additional kilogram of clothing (10% of her bodyweight) was onerous enough for her. When we took her to Zermatt she was 2years and 5 months old. At this point, she enjoyed being in and around snow. During our 6 days of skiing there she was probably on skis for a total of 30-40 minutes. But I think that was enough for her at this stage.

How do I plan and prepare?

My earlier blog post on How to Take a Tropical Baby to the Alps will help you prepare for the right clothing. So, I will pick it up from there and add more.

How to pick the right resort?

IMG_4546If you are skiers and want quality time on the slopes, pick resorts that have reliable day care facilities, because trust me it is nearly impossible to take them with you. I prefer day care to personal child care because the child has access to more equipment and people to entertain themselves. If your child is about 3 years old or so, I would also look for resorts that have the half day ski school and half day day-care option. My research so far shows that French resorts are best at this sort of a service (Avoriaz, Val d’Isere, Tignes, Chamonix and Courchevel, all seem to have child care services that have a half day ski option. Aside from this use the regular filters like accessibility, budget, availability, etc. Try not to pick resorts that require too much travel time or connections from the airport.

Children under 6 are free to use the lifts at most resorts and can usually use the lifts at half price until 16. Children friendly non-skiing activities (such as an indoor pool) might also be of consideration for break days (when you are not skiing).

And the right accommodation?

Depends on what kind of a traveler you are. I usually prefer apartments or Airbnbs because they give me the flexibility of cooking and eating breakfast early, and allow me to cook dinner for my daughter who usually eats dinner at 5pm when no restaurants are open. But I will warn you that this means a little extra work for everyone – cleaning up after cooking can be tiresome after a long day on the slopes. If you are not up for that go with a Bed and Breakfast, Catered Chalet, or Hotel option.

Whatever you do – just make sure the accommodation is either located conveniently close to the lifts or to a shuttle bus stop that can get you to a lift. Carrying ski equipment, and tired cranky baby at the end of the day can be very tiring, and even though a half kilometer walk doesn’t sound like a lot, it can get very tiring (especially for us tropical people who are not as well acclimatized) on a mountain terrain.

What essential equipment should I carry?

19d622b1-0a6a-4a11-b128-345b7674f894Stroller: If your baby is under 3 I highly recommend a stroller – because even if you are confident your baby can walk it with you, toddlers do nap and at often inconvenient times (for parents), and a stroller can allow you the flexibility of being able to do your thing while she naps. But make sure it is one of those study all weather strollers, because umbrella strollers cannot wade through snow on the ground.

Skis: If you have or can buy a pair of skis – carry them, otherwise you can rent skis too. My take on this is that if you know the toddler will not ski a lot then renting for a whole day or week turns out to be expensive. I bought a cheap pair of skis for now (less than $50) that we carried with us on days we took Arya skiing. It fits in our snowboard bag with the rest of the stuff. Once they are old enough to go to ski school you can rent nice equipment from the school.

Accessories: We did not buy a helmet or goggles for Arya because we knew she was hardly skiing this time, and would mostly stay on the bunnies under our watchful eyes. We did however take a nice pair of sunglasses to prevent snow blindness. Other than this, we had a small waterproof backpack for snacks, water, and tissues.

What about food?

IMG_4523Carry a few snacks – my daughter loves peanuts and almonds which have a great calorie to space ratio (versus rice puffs or chips). I also took some instant noodles / instant mac ‘n’ cheese for emergencies. My daughter eats dinner early (between 5-6pm) and no restaurants are typically open by then, so we would come back to the apartment to make it in time for her dinner – that’s when the instant food was handy. When you are tired from a full day of skiing, you really won’t feel like cooking an elaborate meal.

Other than this – we picked up supplies for breakfast each day and had fresh bread delivered daily. We ate lunch on the slopes, and dinner at the village on most days.

And Child Care?

Make sure you have a booking for your child at the day care. Especially in peak season, the day cares may reach their maximum capacity with hordes of families coming in. There aren’t usually many options for day care facilities – so if you are not happy with what is available, your other option is go for a child care professional (nanny) you can pay by the hour. There are websites to help you connect with experienced and certified professionals.

How to Plan Your Days Once You are At the Resort.

IMG_4529The ski lift hours are typically 9am to 4pm so try to get as much time on the slopes as you can during that time. It is warmest on the slopes around 12:30 or 1pm. So, if you are planning to introduce the toddler to skiing and snow this is the best time. It is also when a lot of the crowd has moved indoors to the mountain restaurants to get lunch, so the bunny slopes are relatively less crowded. So, we either do early lunch, or late breakfast and get maximum time outdoor during the warm part of the day.

Partly because of jetlag, and partly because I wanted to get out of the door on time, I woke up at 5:30am every morning to fix breakfast, clean up, shower, give Arya breakfast, dress her, and put on all the ski clothing. Even so, we just about made it out by 8am. If you are tropical like me, it takes time to put on all that clothing!

If you love the Apres Ski scene, you can either haul the baby with you in the stroller – most places allow kids until 7pm at least – or you can put the toddler to sleep and have a babysitter watch them while you enjoy the village bars and restaurants. I was wiped out by 9pm on most days so we ended up back at the apartment and asleep at decent hours on almost every day.

There are moments when it gets tough…

I won’t lie to you – there are moments when you just feel overwhelmed – especially when you are used to the ski experience without a child – when you started Apres Ski at the top of the mountain and drank your way down to the bottom, skiing to every bar along the way – you definitely cannot do that with a small child in tow. Plus all the added work – dressing them, taking them to day care and back, planning your day around them – I had moments when I questioned if I should just bring Arya when she is 6 or 7. But then you look at the excitement on her face when she sees snow, and makes snow angels, and balances herself on skis for the first time, and you know why you want to keep doing this (to yourself).

 

Why We Travelled to Israel with Baby Despite All the Hassles…

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)

The VISA!!!

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Eager beavers

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.

The Politics

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

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My sister

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

 

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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

 

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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.”

Breaking Point

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Cocktails at the Imperial Cocktail Bar

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.

Bethlehem

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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.

Kibbutzing around

 

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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!?).

IMG_4234Off 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.

Nazareth

IMG_4419We 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.

Haifa

IMG_4377We 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 IMG_4414(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!).

IMG_4390The 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!

IMG_4395We 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.

IMG_4386The 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.

IMG_4222As for my learnings about baby-travel:

  1. As babies turn into toddlers we need to plan activities and attractions that they can participate in and enjoy – especially outdoor activities.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Instant food options if you have a space where you can cook: instant Dosa mix, instant Upma, pasta, noodles
  5. Pick up fresh fruits and vegetables from local markets – Arya loved cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, bananas, grapes, and many other fruits and veggies
  6. 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!)
  7. 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…

How To Take A Tropical Baby to the Alps!

Its been over six months since my last post – so, what happened, you ask?!  Toddler happened! My crawler suddenly turned into a walker and now a runner at 18 months. She also added at least 500 new words to her vocabulary across the three languages we speak. I was enjoying the energy of this new phase so much that I sort of got lost in it. But now that I have settled well into it, I am back! And I have a lot to write about! A train trip, a ski trip, a work trip, and a wedding trip… But in the spirit of starting with a bang, I thought I would start with the ski trip to the Alps.

Now, in case you missed my intro blog – we are avid snowboarders and do our best to make at least one trip to the mountain every year. This was our annual ski trip (I don’t know why we call it a ski trip even though both of us snow board), and we wanted Arya to get familiar with the cold and the snow for next year when she is old enough to start skiing (maybe – usually ski schools take kids in at 3, but some of them make exceptions). So, for the busy bees I have summarized my top takeaways first.  For those of you who want the play-by-play including the story about our car breaking down on New Years Eve please read on.

Preparing for the trip: In all honesty… it takes a village

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Prerna, Arya and I on the flight to Milan

Help/Baby-sitting: So, if you have been following my blogs you know that we are blessed with amazing families who have been supportive during our adventures. This time, we recruited my sister Radhika and Saurabh’s cousin Prerna to come along. Both in their twenties, I thought they would get along could help babysit Arya while we snow board. Plus they get to experience Europe by car in the winter. I cant say this enough – they were a huge help! When we took Arya to Europe she was 15 months old and in a transitional phase from being a baby to being a toddler – which for those of you who have toddlers know can be a tough phase. And Radhika and Prerna handled Arya very well. Now I can understand that you may not have the luxury to take a family member along – I also did a lot of research about day care facilities at the ski resorts most of them accept babies older than 1 year. Some even take 6 month olds. You need to make sure that the travel insurance you buy covers your baby and includes something called “Civil Responsibility Insurance” which in plain language means that if you baby breaks something expensive the insurance will cover it. Plus – I am told Swiss and French nannies are so good – there is no baby who does not like them!

Lodging: As always, I booked Airbnb/Chalets for the whole trip – which makes arranging food for baby much simpler. Also saves a lot of money if you are a big group at ski resorts where restaurant food is double the price in a city. You could easily spend EUR 100 per person per day on food alone if you eat all meals out (and no, that does not include Dom Perignon to go with your oysters, I am talking Beer, Burger and Fries)!

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Hanging out in the Ski Village at Val d’Isere

Baby Safety: A lot of parents wonder if it is safe to take babies to high altitudes. The answer is that babies are as much prone to the different types of sicknesses associated with high altitudes as adults.  The difference is that they are unable to communicate when they experience symptoms like headaches, or dizziness. I recommend that all parents read about mountain sickness and its symptoms before planning a trip. Slow ascent and descent ensures that baby’s body does not experience a drastic change in conditions. We drove the entire trip – which ensured this slow transition. And we ensured that Arya largely stayed in the ski village which is the lowest altitude point in the area, and did not take her with us on the ski lifts that go to higher altitudes.  Mostly, she was under 2500 meters in altitude, which the relatively safer limit.

Clothing: Bottom line – babies and adults both need three essential layers to be fully protected and comfortable in the cold: an outer layer of down feather or similar material which is both warm and water proof, a middle layer of fleece or wool, and an inner layer of soft body-hugging thermal material. All of these layers are easily available in India

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Nope! Not Recommended!

through e-commerce sites. If you plan to take the baby on the snow, you also need wool socks and snow boots. If you don’t travel frequently to cold places I recommend only 1-2 items of each layer. I would buy a few additional items in the middle layer because while you are indoors you typically remove the top layer which leaves the middle layer most vulnerable to food spillage.

Food: Ah! The big F again… I have a separate blog on food while traveling. But in a nutshell – bring a couple of baby favorites from home and pick up basics like egg, bread, pasta, milk, cereal, rice at the local grocery stores. If you do not book an apartment and have to make do with a hotel room – I recommend carrying some packaged foods like cheese sticks, wheat puffs, and fruits for snacks, and order baby friendly side dishes (mashed potatoes, rice, veggies) in the restaurants.

Now – For Those of Your Who Want the Play-by-Play
We planned the trip about three months in advance and decided to land in Milan because it is a good shopping city (and the air tickets are relatively cheap). We have been to Milan a few times now and know the area around the Duomo like the back of our hands now (ok, maybe not that well), but it was new for Radhika and Prerna, and generally a fun city. We arrived at 6am at Malpensa Airport and realized that the car we had booked may not hold all people and luggage we were carrying: 4 large suitcases, a baby seat (mandatory in Italy), a stroller, two snowboards with helmets, four adults, and baby. So we decided to upgrade to a bigger SUV – which wasted about an hour and a half at the car rental place but was totally worth the wait. Arya ran around the airport lobby pointing out all the lights (new word in her vocabulary then) while the rest of us enjoyed our morning coffee. We reached the apartment, which was about half a km from the Duomo, at about 9am, settled all the luggage in and set out to be tourists!

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Radhika and Prerna took a tour of the Duomo while Saurabh, Arya, and I fed and chased pigeons in the square and enjoyed the food and wares at the sprawling Christmas market at Duomo square. It can get a little annoying for my co-travelers but I like to eat/taste everything available at these markets and street vendors. We enjoyed some warm mulled wine with baked goodies. By the afternoon the adrenaline and dopamine from the excitement of Milan were starting to wear off and the crankiness from being on the flight all night was creeping back. After a few friendly squabbles and snapping at each other we decided to go shopping our own ways. Saurabh watched Arya while the three girls shopped. Shopping bags in hand we went back to the apartment, enjoyed some warm coffee and got back in the car for our appointment to view the The Last Supper (you have to book in advance or you will pay arm and a leg to local tour guides for tickets!) All arted-out, we got back in the car and headed to the Armani bar. Saurabh and I had been here before but thought this would be a treat for Radhika and Prerna who were in Europe for the first time – and they loved it! Arya slept through most of it in her car seat that we parked next to us. We got a few stares when she woke up and started crying in the middle, but I ran out in the lobby with her and patted her back to sleep.

The next morning, we enjoyed the view from the balcony of our apartment with some coffee for some time, then packed our bags and left for the first ski resort – Val d’Isere via Turin. On the way to Turin, with all the Christmas songs on the radio I was starting to get super excited about Christmas. While Diwali is hands down my favorite time of the year – I think Christmas comes second – and in Europe it is just a hundred times better! So we decided to do Secret Santa – I set a limit of EUR 10 to make it fun andfair. We tried to play car games like “20 questions” and “Guess the movie” but they all got boring after the bit. Getting Arya to say funny things was definitely more fun! We got her to say “We are on a Holiday!!!” and “Santa Claus is coming… To Town!”

Two and a half hours later, we were in Turin. Turin (or Torino) is one of the largest cities in Northern Italy – and unofficially the food capital of Italy – this is where the first Eataly opened (it was closed the day we went)! We parked near Piazza Castello and explored the piazza and all the activity – including, guess what!, another Christmas market!! I love those! And perfect place to shop for Secret Santa! We decided to split up and meet back at the piazza in an hour and a half for lunch. We walked around some more towards where the restaurants were, had some coffee and beer, and changed Arya’s diaper. To keep it fair for everyone – Saurabh and I took turns changing the diaper when we were outdoors, and Radhika and Prerna took turns when we were away on the slopes.  I thought that was fair – but I had a few complainers…ahem (can’t please them all!).

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Blissfully Sleeping Through the Commotion

It took us another 4.5 hours from Turin to Val d’Isere – well we added one hour because we followed the GPS (despite Google Maps showing the correct route), that led us to a supposedly shorter route – only to find out that road was snowed in and hence closed! And wait – this wasn’t our only driving adventure! We get to Val d’Isere, get the keys to our apartment from the rental office, and head to the apartment – which was up a steep and icy slope. The car not only refused to go up, it actually slid back – I think the girls were a bit shaken up by all this. Saurabh and I have been in “car stuck in snow situation” a few times now so we were used to it. Saurabh (with this excellent driving skills) managed to park the car at a safe spot and carried all the stuff up the slope to the apartment – that was more exercise than some people in our group (I wont name names – you know who you are) get in a week!

All settled in the apartment, and Arya asleep, we decided that two of us would go out to fend for dinner (it was a bit late, so we were afraid most of the restaurants would be closed). We found a great smelling café/bakery that had pizza, chicken pastries, and other good stuff. Luckily we had picked up some groceries when we stopped at one of the convenience stores – so we were set for next morning.

Next day, I made some scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast for everyone and Radhika brought out the two staples of any desi group on holiday: bhujia, and hot sauce! I had to f

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Arya giving Mommy a foot massage while Radhika gives a shoulder massage – oh am I pampered?!

eed the girls before I prepared them for their first day alone with Arya. I even left them some pasta and bottled sauce in case they were unable to step out. But I told them they could go out if they wanted – they just had to put some clothes (umm three layers) on Arya to make sure she is warm. Saurabh and I headed to the slopes and had a great day there – enjoyed a couple of coffees during our breaks, and had a wholesome pasta lunch (with the most delish Bolognese sauce) at one of the mountain restaurants.  For those of you who want more details on skiing/snow boarding conditions at Val d’Isere – please write to me separately. Don’t want to bore the rest with that.

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As a ski resort – Val d’Isere is a quaint village but had a lot of character – and great crowd. It has mostly European cuisine (and some American food). We tried a French restaurant and a pub/bar food place for dinner. On Christmas night I cooked up what the girls said were the “best burgers they had ever had.” We bought some beer and Champagne to go with it. Saurabh and I were too tired from the riding all day and stayed in the apartment with Arya and a couple of beers all the three nights. Prerna and Radhika went out to the night club and the bars and said they were great.

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After three days there, we were to drive to Courchevel. But we decided to add Geneva to the itinerary for the girls. We left at around 8am and arrived a little before 11am. We parked in Old Town within a walking distance from St. Pierre Cathedral. We walked up to the highest point from where you could see Lake Geneva and Jet d’Eau. Radhika and Prerna went up to get a view of the city from the church tower while Saurabh, Arya, and I played outside with pebbles. We then descended to the main street parallel to the lake where all the expensive stores are. All of us admired in silence the most beautiful footwear in the world at the Louboutin window display – that’s it my pilgrimage was done – I could die now! Then we looked at the prices, looked at each other, laughed, and resumed walking across the lake to a Mexican restaurant Saurabh had found. Lunch was the most delicious burritos I have ever had (or maybe I was really hungry)! Arya snacked on corn chips, and looked out the window facing the street while the rest of us indulged in porky burrito goodness. The plan was to walk to Jet d’Eau after lunch but food coma got the better of us. We decided to head back to the car and head to Courchevel instead.

We arrived in Courchevel by 6pm, and got the keys to our beautiful condo.  This was perhaps the smallest condo I had stayed in terms of area but it definitely was one of the most well designed and utilized ones I had seen. The owner Svetlana was a sweet and helpful lady who gave us a tour of the apartment and explained all the equipment to us. She had even bought a folding tub to bathe Arya in – how thoughtful! – if you have tried to bathe a baby in a shower you know how difficult that is! We settled all the luggage in and Saurabh and I decided to go grocery shopping for dinner.  I decided to cook everyone dinner. Saurabh picked up some beer and cigars and I picked some salmon and flat noodles with some spices to cook up some Asian style mustard-wasabi salmon and chili noodles. Again, everyone relished the food, and with Arya asleep after some shenanigans we kicked back with some beers.

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Courchevel is one of the poshest ski resorts I have been to (others super posh ones are Lech in Austria and Zermatt in Switzerland). It is the regular haunt of rich Russian families. It is very family friendly with a bunch of non-skiing activities to keep everyone entertained. I have never seen anything quite like the Aquamotion Center there – an indoor water resort complete with a kiddie play area, water slides, indoor surfing, and salt water hammams. The town center also had a free kids play area, pony rides, a carousel, and candy and popcorn vendors. While it was more kids friendly, the snow conditions in the week of Christmas were less than ideal with mostly artificial snow on most of the open tracks.  This was the first time I rode down a mountain on icy tracks with bare ground on both sides of me. It was a bit scary when my board lost control a couple of times because of lack of traction and there were other people in the way. Regardless of the ski conditions – we did have fun with the apre’ ski scene – everything from quaint pubs to Michelin star restaurants.

On our second night there Saurabh decided to surprise me with a dinner date at the Michelin star restaurant at Le Chabichou Hotel.  Since we arrived slightly early we decided to get a drink at the bar. This was a truly old school bar with live jazz music and we were possibly the youngest people there – but I enjoyed the experience. With a number of delicious accompaniments served with our drinks – I think I was full before dinner even started! We decided to go with the chef’s four course menu at the restaurant (really 8 courses if you include the amuse bouche, the palette cleanser, the cheese course and the chocolate course!) – and it was divine! The chef had a modern take on some French classics, and it was a fine display of carefully chosen ingredients (ok, I was a fine dining critic for a day).

With holes the size of Russia in our pockets, but satisfied smiles from ear to ear we made our way back to the chalet – to find that Radhika and Prerna nearly passed out from exhaustion! Arya had apparently driven them up the wall with all her antics and refused to sleep despite it being way past her bedtime. She finally fell asleep minutes before we arrived. We love you girls! J

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Thats Arya on the pool noodles in the middle of the pool with Radhika

The next day, I decided to give snow boarding a skip and joined the girls at the Aquamotion center while Saurabh went on the mountains for a half-day. I checked myself into the spa (mommy needs pampering!) while Radhika and Prerna took Arya to the pool. After my treatment I went up to the café and watched the girls fight over holding Arya in the pool (even after last night’s drama!! – I guess the cuteness makes you forget the pain they put you through!).

Since it was New Years Eve, and nearly the end of the trip – Prerna and Radhika decided to treat us to a fun filled evening at home – they prepared the appetizers and ordered the main course from a restaurant, brought some good champagne and even thought up funny party games! Somewhere in the middle of all this we found out that our car had broken down. We had a 9pm flight from Milan next day so while we did have some time to figure everything out, we realized it was New Years Eve and panicked a little. While the towing company took the defunct car away, they didn’t have a replacement to send us, since it was New Years Eve and they were both short staffed and sold out.

Just as we were trying to sort this out, an old French man, who lived in the condo above us stopped by to say that he was sorry our car had broken down and would be happy to help us any way. This was the best hospitality I had seen in France! He helped us figure out that the closest big train station was Chambery from where we could get a train to Milan next day. He also called and helped us negotiate the lowest last moment price we could get with one of the local cab companies. He was truly a God-sent!

Unfortunately, this meant our New Years Party had to be cut short a little because we had to clean up the house and leave very early in the morning – pack all the suitcases, snowboards, and baby equipment too. Brightside: the girls got to see the fabulous Milan Centrale Station, and Saurabh got to eat his favorite type of food – greasy Chinese takeout – for lunch. Milan Centrale has a luggage check-in service which allowed us to leave all the luggage and explore the area around the station before we headed to the airport.

Overall – I think it was a great trip! And Radhika and Prerna made it that much better. I can’t wait for the next ski strip – she will be two years old this time, and we may even be able to try some skis on her!

Feel free to share your mountain and Europe experiences (and any other travel tips) in the comments below – I love the tips shared on my previous posts!

Dining Out With A Baby

Dinning out with a newborn is something new parents fear!!! Given a chance everyone would find a baby sitter and head out for a date night. But once in a while it’s a great idea to get your baby out into a new space and see how they react. I’m personally not a fan of taking a nanny along to parties and restaurants and here are some of my experiences dinning out.

My husband and I like to travel, eat out and be outdoors quite a bit. To make sure all this happens in a smooth manner we had to get our son Neel used to his car seat, stroller and high chair from the get go. I feel like this is a pre-requisite for having a happy meal with a baby.

Your first dinner date with your baby

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Family Dinner Date

If your baby is under 6 months and still on breast milk or formula make sure to feed your baby, change diaper, dress them in comfy sleep-suit and pick a time when your baby naps for a 3 hour stretch. Choose a dim-lit, quiet restaurant and the chances are that your baby will sleep through.

 

Don’t go to a new restaurant that just opened a week ago and has a 30 minute wait- make a reservation ahead of time!!! Firstly it will be packed and could intimidate your baby plus you don’t want to take a chance dining somewhere new and be disappointed at the end of your meal especially when you have made the effort to head out with a baby. Go to a tried and tested place that you feel comfortable. Preferably some place where the staff recognizes you.

Plan around Naptime

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Neel and Jay having lunch together

The first time we took Neel out for dinner was to Prego (an Italian restaurant at Westin, Hi-tech city); he was about 6 weeks old and by then he had a rough food and nap schedule. To make things quick- we ordered our drinks and food all at once. We spent about an hour and a half in total outdoors. Did we feel guilty? May be a little because we were taking a sleeping new born to a restaurant.  But guess what, he had no clue that we stepped out and he slept through the dinner . Also we picked a quiet, dim-lit restaurant that helped him sleep through.

 

Handling an impromptu plan

There is always a possibility that you make sudden plans or the scheduled baby sitter doesn’t show up and you are forced to take your baby along with you. Yes this happened to us once and here’s the story-

It was our friend’s birthday and we were invited for dinner at home but plans changed as we decided to get a quick drink at MOB (a brew pub in Jubilee hills).  This was Neel’s first pub visit  Luckily it was a weekday and there was not much crowd. Neel sat in his car seat looked around the lights but every now and then asked for some attention. We rocked the car seat and he took a short nap. This was not the most baby friendly place but we managed to pull it off and it amuses us when we think about it.

Let your baby explore new textures and food 

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Neel loving the spread!

If your baby has started solids and is on a three or four meal schedule then its ok to occasionally let your baby try something new at a restaurant- like mashed potato or pumpkin sour or fruit smoothie etc.

 

Neel once crashed a Sunday brunch gossip session with my girls at N Grill (a European bar and grill in jubilee hills). Luckily all my friends were new moms and there was nothing to be embarrassed if Neel cried or threw a tantrum (which he did as he got zero attention- since mommy was busy gossiping). We needed up giving him a plate of pasta and mashed potatoes. He played with the food, made a mess, dirtied his clothes but at the end he was happy and so were we.

No high chair, No problem! 

When we were in Sri Lanka, we had breakfast in a small shack that didn’t have a high chair. So we used a plastic chair, tied a beach towel across and pulled it close to the table. A make do high chair of sorts! With time you just figure out ways to adapt to new scenarios.

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Improvised baby chair…

We also faced a situation when we couldn’t manage a make do high chair hence used a baby carrier throughout the dinner.

 

TIP- always carry a baby carrier while traveling.

Things to carry
For babies who have started solids- carry food for your (even if your baby has just had a meal). Take their favorite meal instead of trying something new. Babies would like to be a part of dinner table and it’s a great way to start this habit. (Don’t hesitate to ask the restaurant for a piece of tomato or a banana or a cup of yogurt. Most of restaurant stocks them and will be more than happy bring some for you)

Keep toys, rattle or anything that can distract your baby. Neel loves to play with a fork so that’s our go to toy if he starts to fuss. Really speaking you just have to make things work- if it helps give a banana peel or a dollop of mash potato or just about anything that can grab your babies attention for a bit.  But lets not get them hooked to ‘wheels on the bus’ while having dinner! 

Having a conversation making eye contact with the baby definitely helps.
Relax and be calm 

There is nothing to be embarrassed if your baby starts crying during your meal.  Carry your baby, walk around until he/she calms down and has got some attention from you. Pick a corner table if you would like some privacy.

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Ready for dinner and entertainment (fork provides both!)

Lately Neel is quite social and loves to get chatty with the neighboring table. And we are more than happy to let him say hi and tata.  Most people also like to see a happy smiling baby. (I guess a young couple on a first dinner may hate you for disturbing them 😉 so just be sure others are not overly disturbed.

Finally, I would like to add that babies like to see new places, explore colors, and see new people. Dining out is a way that allows babies to socialize; it also helps to set up some amount discipline in them. But do make sure not to disturb your baby’s routine and take them out for a fun brunch or whatever you think works best. I have always told my husband that the price you pay at a restaurant is not just for the food but for the experience and hope all of us can make some great memories dinning out with our little one

Author: Padma Kastutirangan

6 Tips For A Happy Baby at the Big Fat Indian Wedding

Helllllooo! Its been a while since I wrote – been busy with work, added work from nanny on leave, then nanny sick, and then managing to scram together wardrobe for a Big Fat Indian Wedding (that requires at least four glamorous outfits!) for Arya and myself, and also getting everything planned and ready for Arya’s first birthday party that’s coming soon! Phew!

Finally got my head above water for a couple of peaceful hours to write this.  Well – here it goes: I am going to first share some useful tips and then tell you about how the Hotel and the arrangements were conducive to baby.

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Arya enjoying the candle display

Weddings, particularly the Big Fat Indian Weddings, can be intimidating for your baby – so many new people to meet, larger than life venues, loud music, loud relatives, extravagant food, can all add up to an intense experience for the little one. Here are the few things I did to get baby through a wedding we recently attended:

 

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    Running down the lobby – nanny chasing her with a plate of food!

    What the F! (Food…silly!):  Ok, so everyone constantly worries about managing food for the baby so I am going to start here.  I took Ragi flour for porridge, and formula from home. The rest we managed at the venue. Since Arya is now over 11 months old she eats everything (and loves to try new things) so I fed her whatever we found at the wedding spread – fruits, idli, and yogurt (available at most Indian breakfast buffets), and ragi porridge made good breakfast. Rice and yogurt were the most reliable options at lunch – I let her sneak in a rice papad as a treat too. Also took this opportunity to introduce fish and chicken through small bites of baked fish and soft malai chicken kebabs. Tomato and mozzarella sandwiches served at tea-time made good for Arya’s dinner.  Again, I relaxed my food rules a little to give her foods I wouldn’t normally give her at home.  Now this may not work so well if the baby is between 6-10 months old – I think food-wise that is the most difficult age for both the babies and us because they are just learning to eat solids.  If the baby is in that age range I recommend carrying more eating options from home, such as processed baby cereals or packaged baby food.  Babies younger than 6 months are the easiest because they are mostly on breastmilk or formula anyway.

  2. Get Some Help!: While I usually don’t like to take the nanny on vacation, I highly recommend either taking your nanny or arranging a good babysitter if you are taking a baby to a wedding. This can really help you stick to the baby’s nap and sleep schedule – you can have the help watch the baby nap/sleep in the room while you get ready for the ceremonies, or attend the ceremonies. They can also help feed the baby so you don’t get food all over that expensive dress! It is also extremely helpful when you want to catch an extra hour of sleep in the morning because you were out dancing until late.
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    Daddy makes silly faces at her.

    Stick to schedule: Babies are creatures of habit and schedule (at least mine is!) so as much you can, try to stick to their eating, sleeping, and playing schedule. This will give the baby one less reason to be cranky and uncomfortable in the new place. Also worked out great for me because all the parties were in the evening after 8pm, and Arya goes to sleep like clockwork between 6:30-7pm, giving me ample time to get ready and enjoy the party. I tried to keep her awake for one of the events but by 8pm she was absolutely tired and cranky – I didn’t want to push the poor baby beyond her limit and sent her to the room to sleep.

  4.  Give her ample attention: I know we have a million relatives to hug and meet and catch up with at weddings but the baby still needs the parents’ attention to feel loved and safe. Take some time out to spend it alone talking to or playing with just the baby. I used to take her to breakfast alone, and feed her while I ate, and then take her to the hotel lawn to play with her for a while. Throughout the day I would find moments to take her away from the wedding madness and give her some uninterrupted mommy (or daddy) time. This really helps her feel safe and loved despite the overwhelming surroundings.
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    Meeting new grand-uncles at the wedding!

    Keep her comfortable: I wanted a daughter so I could dress her up with all the cute accessories and clothes I could find. But since having one, I have realized that fashion comes second – her comfort is primary.  I made a choice not to dress her in any Indian wear for the wedding because the fabrics and the designs did not seem comfortable for a baby to me. I stuck to dresses made from or lined with comfortable natural fabrics. I stuck a clip in her hair for like 15 minutes, and promptly removed it once she had been seen and photographed! Again, this eliminated one more reason for crankiness.

  6. Don’t force her to “like” everyone: babies self-select whom they will hang out with. I do not force Arya to go to a relative if I think she is not comfortable with them. She was instantly and perfectly comfortable with an uncle whom she had never met before, and absolutely refused to even acknowledge an aunt who claimed that all kids love her. Once I forced her to go to someone she wasn’t confortable with – she got extremely cranky and clingy when she came back to me. Encourage them to meet people but don’t force it.

And now for the elements of this wedding trip that made my experience so much more comfortable:

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Arya absolutely loved the bathtub!

The Hotel:  As a mom, I absolutely LOVED the hotel we stayed at – Pullman Hotel, Delhi. The rooms were decently sized, clean, and well equipped; there was ample outdoor space for baby to play; and most of all – the service was amazing.  It’s the little things hotels do to make you comfortable that elevate the service levels from average to just plain brilliant. Each time the waiters saw me with the baby at breakfast they promptly brought the baby chair out. They put up with Arya throwing napkins and spoons on the floor with a smile, and get this – offered to baby sit her while I ate my breakfast. They said they have a baby sitting service that can take care of her while I eat if I would like that. I was absolutely floored by this offer (although I chose not to avail this service because I had a nanny with me). They were not fussy about the fact that I came to breakfast twice every morning – once with Arya at 8am, and again to enjoy a peaceful cup of morning coffee with Saurabh at 9:30am, while Arya was napping.  The room service and housekeeping staff were also quick to cater to all our requests for extra water, sheets, towels, and what not. Two thumbs up for the management and staff here!

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Enjoying the festivities with my partner in crime!

A caring partner: Last but definitely not the least – Saurabh was extra caring not just for Arya (filling the bath tub for her to splash in every evening) but for me too. He knew I hadn’t slept much the night before, and we had been out polishing off bottles of vino all afternoon with my favorite cousins – so he booked me into the spa at the hotel to catch a nap on the massage table… because there was no napping in the room with Arya there! The little things husbands do to make you happy! I am definitely getting a lot of the boys in trouble with this one, but hey hope this inspires them too. Mommies just need some wine and spa sometimes!

11 Things I Do To Make Air Travel With Baby Easier

So, taking flights, especially long ones, with baby is the most dreaded part about traveling. Being stuck in a confined space with your infant or toddler and a couple of hundred fellow passengers (judging you, hating on you, killing you with their looks) is daunting indeed. Here are 11 things I do to make traveling with baby a (slightly) more pleasant and comfortable experience.

 

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Riding in her Graco Click Connect Jogging stroller in Goa at 3 months old

Before the flight…

 

  1. Dress the baby in layers: most flights are cold so dressing warm works, but airports (and even some flights) can be warm and make your baby irritable. Dressing in layers works for us – remove and add clothing as necessary. My typical travel dress for baby is a full-length onesie (which also protects baby from floor dirt on airports) and a cardigan and cap that can go on top in case its cold.
  2. Strollers are usually free to check in: most airlines allow strollers to be checked-in for free and it does not count for hand baggage allowance. Some even allow car seats and other infant equipment. But some low cost airlines either have restrictions on the type of stroller or charge you extra for taking one. Most airlines also allow a gate check-in for strollers – which means you don’t have to check it in with luggage and can use it for the long airport walk. You will also get your stroller back at the gate when you land, and don’t have to walk all the way to baggage claim to get it. But again some airlines require you to check it in with the luggage. Read this very helpful post. As a rule, if it’s the first time I am taking the baby on that airline… I do this next one:
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    Grumpy Car-Seat-Sleeping Look 

    Check airline policy: just Google “<airline name> baby stroller policy” and you will find a page that leads you to the airline’s policy on baby equipment. Its great to know if you could even bring a car seat on board for free (if you plan to take one for that driving trip through Europe 🙂 ).

  4. Let baby run around in the airport: you are going to be mostly tied to your seat for the duration of the flight, so you might as well let the baby exhaust themselves by running (or crawling) around in the airport so they (like you) just want to rest on the flight
  5. Invest in a lounge pass: I mentioned in my Sri Lanka post, that if you travel more than 2-3 times a year its worth investing in a lounge pass that lets you use the business class lounge (even on an economy ticket). This way you get a slightly more private and cleaner space for the baby to crawl or run around in.

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During the flight…

  1. Upgrade to Business Class, Baby! (ok just kidding…!)
  1. (Ok Really) Put yourself in your baby’s (tiny) shoes: Poor baby can only express discomfort or annoyance by crying, so try to imagine yourself in her place and see what might make you uncomfortable, and try to eliminate or address that. For example, I have severe ear popping during take off and landing so I can only imagine what Arya goes through – so that brings me to this next one…
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    2 Months Old on a Flight to Delhi – Got restless so I put her on the seat and played with her.

    Be extra attentive to the baby during take off and landing: I know you may be in the middle of some riveting conversation with a fellow passenger but just take a pause and shift your attention entirely to the baby for the 10 minutes each of take off and landing. I was reading that some babies experience severe discomfort during this time. So feed them, have them eat a snack, suck your finger… anything that makes them suck and swallow – because this relieves ear pressure. If the baby is still restless… follow this next one.

  3. Engage them through talk, song, game, or book: When the airhostess is instructing you to sit with the seatbelt on but the baby just wont sit still – engage them with whatever works for getting their attention at home. If they are engaged in an activity they like, they will not be restless. I know this sounds easy but it takes serious effort – especially with babies older than 9-10 months who are very restless. But don’t give in – seek help from any willing fellow passengers if you need to.
  4. If they are small enough, put them in a sling: this has several advantages – both you and the baby can sleep comfortably without you worrying about the baby falling off while you sleep. They stay close to you and feel secure (especially babies below six-months old). Also, some airlines allow you to skip the uncomfortable infant seatbelt attachment if the baby is secure in a sling – one less thing to manage!
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    Catching a nap at the Marhaba Lounge at Dubai Airport

    Be extra prepared with food, medicine, and other supplies: so I am usually a light packer but when it comes to baby stuff it doesn’t hurt to carry a couple of extra servings of food (on long flights), and some basic medicines for an SOS situation. Some international airlines (I know Emirates does for sure) carry organic baby food, formula, allergen free blankets, and toys for infants on board. Its great for back up but personally I wouldn’t rely on it.

  6. Once the seatbelt sign is off let them loose: babies eight months or older have oodles of energy, and if you don’t let them spend it they will get cranky and annoyed. So once the seat belt sign is off let them get off your lap and walk or crawl between the seats a little bit. Especially if this is a long flight you can even bring them to the little open area near the toilets and pantry and let them explore a bit. I know, I know, you are concerned about all the germs on the floor – keep a keen watch on them to make sure they don’t put anything in their mouth, and keep some sanitizer to apply after they are done.

There – all of this helps make my flying experience better. There will always be the annoyed co-travelers. While I do sympathize with them, I refuse to leave them sorry notes or care packages on flights (which a lot of generous parents do) – I just think they are full-grown adults who can look after their comfort. I spend my energy ensuring it’s a comfortable experience for my baby and me.

Do you guys have any additional tips to share? Add them in the comments section please!

6 Reasons I Take My Baby Traveling

We all know all the reasons why traveling brings so much pleasure for adults – but ever wonder what the advantages of taking your baby (infants and toddlers) traveling are? With some observation and introspection I came up with these 6 reasons:

  1. IMG_1920(Even tighter) Bonding with baby: I feel that traveling brings us closer because unlike home where I know all and the baby is in discovery mode, while traveling we are both in discovery mode and look at the world with the same sense of wonder. Feeling the same emotions at the same time, and spending undiluted quality time together (without jobs, chores, or even TV) helps us bond better.
  2. Shaping their minds with experiences: now some of you may argue that they wont remember the travels when they are that young – but they also don’t understand language yet we talk to them and read to them. I do believe travel experiences, even in their infant and toddler years help shape their perception of the world. Of course the subtle nuances of cultural diversity and globalization will be better perceived by your child once they are a bit older – but I am sure experiencing environments different from their own does help them widen their perspective on a broader level.
  3. IMG_1928Exposing them to diversity: whether its diversity of textures (beach sand, cane furniture, rocks), views (mountains, rivers, sea, beach, forest), people (dark, light, with curly hair, no hair), tastes (of Greek yogurt vs home yogurt), weather (moist and hot, dry and hot, rainy, snowy) and the list goes on. I believe exposing their senses to diverse experiences early on widens their imagination.
  4. Show and tell: would I rather show my child a zebra drawn in a book or take her to the Serengeti to show thousands of zebras during animal crossing? I rest my case.
  5. IMG_1981Cute babies as icebreakers: while locals may be jaded with thousands of (often annoying or obnoxious) tourists they often cannot resist being nice to the bundle of cuteness hanging next to your chest in that sling. So go ahead flaunt that baby to make friends!
  6. First in line privileges: this last one is totally selfish – but if you are traveling with an infant or toddler you immediately get shown to the front of line at airport check-in, at ticket windows, and more; and are even offered priority seating at (some) restaurants and events.

And honestly, writing about my travels with baby helps me. It reinforces that my life continues to be as awesome as it was before I had a baby, and happy travel memories help me get through some tough times like when baby is sick or cranky or refusing to eat!

What are your reasons?

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Greece Part 2: Mykonos, Athens, and a Haunted House

If you are reading this, hopefully you have read Part 1, so I will spare the background. This one is a wee bit long… but fun, I promise, so bear with me.

The ferry to Mykonos was fairly uneventful – other than – oh I left my phone in the Taxi. So let me start with a tip that’s useful for every time you step out of the house with baby. [Tip: If you are carrying a baby do not carry phone in your hand – put it right back in the purse or diaper bag after using it.  Because when you get up from the table or leave the taxi in a hurry your mindspace will be more occupied with the baby and you will not remember to pick up your phone. OK, but I really had no excuse for leaving the phone everywhere before Arya was born ;-)]

Luckily we had the Taxi driver’s number – we called him and he promptly came back to the port with it – just in time for the ferry to depart. Phew!

First Night in Mykonos – Mommy’s Night Out

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The balcony of our room

We arrived in Mykonos at around 5pm and were received by Marietta – the owner of our Hotel – Marietta’s. It was a quaint little place with only five rooms – of which we had three. It is the ancestral home of the owner, and located right by the Windmills. We hauled our luggage and stroller up two flights of stairs and settled in (annoying part was hauling the stroller up and down each time – but Saurabh and my Father-in-law managed). But the view from our balcony was worth a million bucks! Pristine blue waters, white houses with blue windows, and the windmills lining the back. This was not the most baby friendly room with its metal bed and sharp moldings on furniture (yes, that is how detailed your research needs to be with a baby) – but sometimes that is the price you pay for the view. One of us was always carefully watching Arya who had just discovered her mobility and was testing it in every which way!   [Tip: Consider the tradeoff of practicality and the location.  If I had to do it over I would probably still pick a great location over baby friendliness in Mykonos… it was only 2 nights!]

 

 

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Cocktails at one of the bars

We sheepishly requested my mother-in-law to watch Arya for the night so Saurabh and I could enjoy a night out in Mykonos, and yippee! She agreed (or I would haul poor sleeping Arya to restaurants and bars with me)! Excited by the prospect of real partying with great cocktails and grown up music (no Wheels on the Bus!) – I switched off from mommy-mode and pulled out the sexiest dress I fit into without the baby fat oozing, slapped on some makeup, gave my hair a blow dryer and hair spray lift, and set out to paint the town red with Saurabh. Except… everyone outside was wearing jackets and jeans because it was 13 degrees and drizzling. Adamant on making my night out count, I refused to go back to change. Three bars, two frozen legs, and only an hour and half later I was ready to go back and snuggle in my bed. [Tip: Ok… I wont even bother spelling this one out.  But lesson learned]

 

 

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Photo credit: Tripadvisor (I forgot to take a photo at Il forno di Gerasimo)

The next morning, Saurabh went on a coffee run while I played with Arya, who was awake way earlier than I was ready for her.  Some days I really wish babies came with a snooze button! We dragged our feet and performed her morning massage and bath rituals and set out for breakfast at an artisanal bakery – Il forno di Gerasimo. If you are breadaholic like me, bring your sponsor – because you die and go to bread heaven as soon as you enter the bakery. I wanted to pounce at every croissant, patty, and bun in sight (then I saw the love handles on top of the waist of my jeans…). Arya had some fresh orange juice and spinach bread for breakfast and Saurabh and I had our favorite – sausage rolls and coffee.

 

 

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Arya and I enjoying Paraga Beach

We were walking towards the taxi stands at the center of town to head to Paradise beach when we ran into Marietta, who suggested that we go to Paraga beach instead, which she said was more “family friendly” (read: fewer nude people). So we took two taxis and headed to the beach. Paraga beach was definitely a vision! The sun glistening against the beautiful blue water was so inviting – but I wasn’t going to fall for it this time. Arya and I enjoyed the view and the beach from the sun bed. We loitered there for a bit, had some coffee and Prosecco, and started to making our way towards the famous Nikola’s Tarverna, that everyone on Tripadvisor raved about. Nikola’s was awesome! Even the vegetarians loved the food there. And they are extremely baby friendly – have all the baby

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Arya in sling with Saurabh

equipment and will modify recipes to suit babies. Well fed and sun soaked, we headed back to Mykonos city for some street shopping. We walked around in our neighborhood with Little Venice and Old Port within walking distance, went in and out of art galleries and boutique shops. Saurabh and I took turns carrying Arya in the sling – which is better when you are in crowded areas – strollers are bit harder to maneuver through crowds. [Tip: I know I mentioned this at the end of my last post – keep talking to the baby about how beautiful everything is – I really do believe it calms them down. Each time I felt Arya was getting a bit restless I would start describing things around me and ask her if she liked them – I probably sounded insane to passers by – but it helped keep Arya calm.]

 

 

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Arya playing on our bed

We had a relaxed half day next day – I went for a walk through the farmers market while Saurabh massaged and bathed Arya. [Tip1: Daddies have their own method of massaging and bathing baby – let them do their thing. I feel like if I issue too many instructions Saurabh wouldn’t enjoy this chore as much… so what if their method involves “dunking baby in bucket like an Oreo in milk” in his words] [Tip2: It’s ok to spend some time alone on vacation – Saurabh doesn’t care much about farmer’s markets anyway – so why drag him through it?] When I came back I found them playing in the room. We walked to the restaurants at the Old Port for some breakfast with Arya in stroller. We had some breakfast while Arya slept in the stroller – perfectly timed that one. We took a long walk to the New Port from there passing street performers, vendors, and art galleries on the way. By the time we got back to the hotel it was time to pack up leave for the port for our ferry to Athens.

 

Athens and the Charming Neighborhood of Petralona

We docked in Athens at about 7pm, where we had taxis waiting for us (Thank God for that because it was raining and the taxi line was about a hundred people long). We made our way from the Piraeus port to the neighborhood of Petralona where I had booked a three-bedroom house on Airbnb.

 

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Our most charming backyard sitting area

This was possibly my best Airbnb experience! The host Clio was the most charming lady who warmly welcomed each one of us with warm hugs and kisses on each cheek – now (for those of you who are in traditional Indian families) imagine my Father-in-law getting kissed by some strange lady in front of all of us – awk-warrd!. These cultural mismatch situations always crack me up! Clio had so thoughtfully made us a huge bowl of Greek salad, a jug of fresh orange juice, and some spinach and cheese pie. She even stocked the pantry with milk, eggs, bread, butter, and jams so we wouldn’t have to run to the grocery store in the morning. What a sweetheart! No hotel can ever match the warmth and welcome of an actual person letting you in their home (and their lives)… So thank you – Brain, Joe, and Nathan for founding Airbnb! Clio gave us a grand tour of her house, which was decorated with artifacts and paintings collected over decades. We promised to keep the children careful around her precious crockery and curios. Arya was just happy to have a huge space to crawl in after that restrictive room in Mykonos. I think Clio and Arya were instantly in love with each other – each time Clio spoke to her Arya chirped as though she found a long lost friend! [Tip: I think Airbnb’s work better with babies. See if there is an option to get one instead of a hotel. Having a kitchen and free space for the baby to crawl/run around in definitely makes is more comfortable for both parents and babies.]

 

 

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Orange tree lined streets of Petralona

Clio gave us a tour of that enchanted neighborhood – it’s like time had come to a halt there. Tavern and restaurant owners, who all knew and greeted Clio as we walked by, sat in front of their establishments – smoking and chatting. The most charming part was an open-air movie theatre on the next block from us – it was like from those 60’s Hollywood movies. The owner knew Clio and let us in for a peak. It was a big screen in front a lawn with wrought iron chair chairs and bougainvillea lined walls. There was a French movie playing in the background – I felt as though I had been transported to another decade! After the tour Clio left for the night, and we explored the house and neighborhood on our own.

 

 

I could have sworn that house was haunted!

 

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Creepy dolls

Ok, I will tell you more about Athens later – but I could have sworn that house we stayed in was haunted. So – I am the last one to believe in ghosts – but when things are this creepy even I get creeped out! I could write five more pages about all the things that made the house appear haunted at night. But I will list the top three. First, when we went up from the ground floor to the first there was painting of a woman in the landing between staircases that seemed to creepily follow you. And all of us independently noticed that. Second, right as you arrive at the first floor you see these creepy old dolls (one with a broken arm) sitting in a rocking chair. My mother-in-law put them in the closet for the duration of our stay. Third, for our first two nights, Arya was super restless as soon as we entered the bedroom. Each night she would randomly wake up in the middle of the night and cry uncontrollably while looking at the painting in front of our bed. And I don’t know if it was to scare me even more, but Saurabh pointed out that Arya cried at the same time as when the cats in the streets start meowing. Ok, I am creeped out just writing about this… I don’t even want to think about it. But while we were there it was scary and funny all at once – funny because grown-ups were afraid to go down alone to get water from the kitchen at night, and we traveled around the house in twos! ☺

 

Now… About Athens

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Odeum of Herodes Atticus

So I don’t want to ruin Athens for those of you haven’t been there yet – but I was a bit underwhelmed by the sightseeing. Possibly because Saurabh and I had gone to Jordan less than two years ago, and thought the ruins, and the architecture was a lot more impressive there. We were within walking distance from the Acropolis and the Museum. We spent pretty much all of the first day sightseeing. Since we had a fully equipped kitchen at our disposal we decided to eat in – which was a relief especially for Saurabh’s parents because their traditional Indian palates were tired of eating bland food for the last week. We cooked up some Maggi noodles that we had packed.   

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Our delicious breakfast!

On the second day, after a breakfast with a view of the Acropolis, Saurabh and I decided to explore Athens on foot. We enjoyed the day walking through the National Gardens to the neighborhood of Kolonaki – which is supposedly (according to the all-knowing Wikipedia) like Soho in New York. The National Gardens, of course, was a relaxing walk through tree lines streets and trails – reminded of lazy Sunday afternoon in Central Park in New York. Kolonaki was just as charming as I had imagined it to be – we stopped at cute little bakeries to taste their wares and finally settled on the Chef and the Dog for lunch.  They had an incredible menu of modern fusion hotdogs.  I got a lobster roll, and Saurabh got a wasabi dressed Japanese hot dog. Both of us were immensely satisfied with us lunch. [Tip: if you know you are going to travel a lot I would invest in a heavy duty stroller.  We bought the Graco Click-Connect Jogging Stroller and it has survived a lot of terrains – beach, pebbles, cobble-stones, and what not.  Its large wheels help absorb shocks and keep the baby stable and safe. I also use it to jog in KBR Park]

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Arya and I at A for Athens

After some quick shopping in the streets and we Googled “bars with a view in Athens” on the phone, and the first one that shows up is a bar called “A for Athens”. Google maps said we were just 1.5Kms from the bar. So we decided to go for it – walked through the narrow streets to the neighborhood of Monastiraki. The bar staff looked at us all weird because – who brings a sleeping baby to a loud bar?! But here is my take – why care about what random people you will most likely never meet again, think?  You know best what makes your baby uncomfortable and you wont do it.  Luckily for us, Arya can sleep through a rock concert once she is asleep (just not to the sound of other babies). We parked the stroller next to our table and enjoyed the fabulous view of the Acropolis and the Monastiraki Square with some cocktails. [Tip: I know this is the age of Helicopter Parenting, and we strive to do everything that is right for the baby everyday. But I think we have to cut ourselves some slack every now and then and do the little things that make us happy too. I think that can only help us sustain a great relationship with our babies in the long term]

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Arya at the kids area in the business class lounge

The next day was our last in Athens, and we had to leave for our flight at noon. Clio was back to check us out and help us to the cabs. Clio and Arya enjoyed their last moments together.  In our Airbnb review Clio wrote more about Arya than she did about us – calling her a “joie de vivre.” It was Mothers Day so Saurabh used his miles to upgrade me to business class as a gift! Arya and I enjoyed the style and comfort of the Emirates hospitality on journey back to Hyderabad, India.

To Summarize My Learnings from the Trip to Greece…

  1. Traveling in a group helps – even if it is in-laws. You have the option to have other people watch the baby for a bit when you need it. But even if you don’t have that option – don’t fret – just tackle all baby chores as a team. Or if you are a single mom traveling alone with baby – reduce the chores as much as possible – not massaging or bathing the baby for one day won’t affect their health or future athletic career!
  2. You become more confident as the trip goes on.  While I was nervously unpacking on my day 1 in Santorini wondering what clothing and gadgets I will need that day, I was a pro by the time we go to Athens – knew exactly what was needed for each day. So, give yourself some time to figure it out.
  3. If daddies are not regularly bathing or changing babies at home, make them practice a few times so that they are up for it during vacation. And, I will say it again, let them do it their way. Don’t issue too many instructions.
  4. Do a little of research about where you are staying and consider the pro and cons of the features offered by the accommodations. Keep a good mix of features that make you happy and those that make baby happy. If you can find both in one (like our Airbnb) then Bob’s your uncle.
  5. Most of all: cheesy and cliche as it sounds – stay positive. Tell yourself loudly that you can do this (if you need that affirmation) or just talk out loud about how much fun you are having and baby will latch-on to that sentiment too.

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So, my dear mommies (and daddies and anyone else reading)…

Tell me about your travels with your baby. Do you have any tips for me before I plan my next vacation?

Well… I have the next one planned already – I am off to Sri Lanka in two days. Look forward to telling you all about it!