European Thrills as a Family of Three
Exploring endless parks in London, wandering cobbled lanes in Nice, breathing in canal life and falling leaves in Amsterdam - sounds dreamy, right?
We thought so too when we were expecting our baby and planned this trip to happen when she would be six months old. We figured she'd still be nursing, just beginning to explore solid foods, that she'd nap when and where she needed, and that either way we'd all get a breather from our normal daily life. Sure there were less dreamy moments, but overall it did happen as expected.
As is often the case for me, trips sound great and easy in the planning phase. I'm quick to say yes, to agree to the details, and I'm eager for the adventure to arrive. But when it does arrive, when I'm a couple weeks out from departure and the onslaught of required preparations fall in my lap, I start to panic. A little tension at first, horrible worry on some days, short tempered on most - why did I say yes to this plan? Then at last, I'm at the airport, and there is simply no more I can do. What's forgotten is forgotten and we'll figure that out; what got done at home is done and the rest will still be there when we return.
The flight over was ok. Shockingly, the issue was not the baby, but rather a cranky airline crew and a restroom mis-adventure for a fellow passenger (I'll spare you the details but it was unpleasant for all). Then we were there in the thick of London transport. A quick train ride into the city and a Tube ride to the hotel later, we found ourselves incredibly lucky to have early check-in available.
After shifts of daytime rest and finding food, we reached bedtime desperate for real sleep. Our baby had other plans, and so the most difficult part of the trip ensued on that first night. People, jet lag is real. Finally near 1 am she accepted sleep in her crib, and we were all able to wake several hours later, refreshed enough.
Pretty quickly we found a rhythm to our days. An included breakfast at the hotel; walking and nursing and stroller naps in rotation; a sandwich to go here, a bottle of water there, perhaps a sweet treat; the outside of tourist attractions we happened to stumble upon. It wasn't fine dining and it wasn't a circuit of London's most historic sites, but it was perfect for our little family. We found that just being there is what we wanted and what mattered.
We did take the train for a day trip to Oxford where we connected with a college friend. We varied our walking routes each day, exploring new corners, thrilled when one day we scored dumplings in Chinatown for lunch. Souvenirs? A little wooden caterpillar toy and two Peppa Pig board books, deviations from the paintings and bowls and scarves we previously would have eyed.
Nice was much the same, but warmer and we walked by the ocean every day. We climbed the old fort, ate extraordinary quantities of bread, took a train day trip to Monaco (wow! the yachts!). Our camera took a fall from a high shelf, damaged and out of commission. By this time, a week or so in, we were adjusted to the time zone and could navigate hotel crib placement quite well. We found ourselves creating breaks, retreating to the hotel room to refuel with milk for baby and diet cokes and digestive cookies for mom and dad. Like I said, this was not a fine dining trip, but there was so much satisfaction anyway.
After what felt like the longest bus ride from the hotel to the airport with a baby who was NOT having it, we had a comfortable flight and found ourselves in Amsterdam. The trick there, of course, is to learn the crosswalks. Just outside our hotel the crosswalk led you across a bike path, traffic, tram tracks, and another bike path. If you don't pay attention in this city, you will get smashed. Really though, it's an incredible example of varied transportation, and there's something lovely about everyone participating in the biking culture.
Here, again, we walked and slept and ate. I visited Amsterdam years ago in the summer; while I appreciated some of the charms, I remember most distinctly overheating on a canal cruise tour and my roommate being terribly ill. Now I know that fall is the best time to visit - the falling leaves, the perfect temperatures, the beautiful parks - I experienced the charms in a new way.
We wrapped up our trip here in Amsterdam. Two weeks was a nice amount of time for this adventure - we had walked and seen and explored a lot - but we were ready to get home. That's not to say we were excited about the eight hour transatlantic flight with our almost seven month old. Much like other parts of the trip, the flight home met our expectations. It was long and it was tricky to entertain our little one; luckily, we had bulkhead seats and could allow her to play on the floor.
There's no doubt we would do this trip all over again. There were plenty of moments when we were more exhausted than refreshed. We felt the limitations and occasional boredom of this new kind of travel with a baby instead of as a couple. We also felt gratitude for the excuse to incorporate rest into our days and for the opportunity to spend so much time in different places, surrounded by different people, than we do in our normal day to day. In the end, we certainly experienced the notion that travel with kids is an adventure not vacation - this small change in language can actually make a huge difference.
There have been other big trips since this time, each of them teaching their own lessons. This one was an excellent way to start!