Follow by Email

Friday, February 28, 2014

Packing and travel

Early morning at Heathrow

It was a long journey to get to Greece and really tested the kids (and, we'll be honest, the parents). Because we have traveled domestically quite a bit with L1 and L2, I thought that the journey would be trying, but that we could handle it without too much trouble. Especially when L1 was young and we flew on planes, passengers getting off the flight would comment on how wonderful a traveler L1 was: they didn’t know he was there, or he was making friends with passengers around him. No one made those comments to us this time around, although several people commiserated with us about the difficulties of traveling with children.  

The flight to Greece was considerably longer and more complicated than any of our domestic flights ever were, and the dynamics between the boys were different than when only L1 flew with us. The kids fought for room in the window seat. They had meltdowns because they were overtired. For the final leg of the flight to Greece from London, I held a screaming L2 while the flight attendant took a very long time to check our passports and boarding tickets, carried him still screaming onto the plane, still screaming while other passengers boarded. L2 had barely slept the previous two nights and was simply past what he could bear.  He finally settled down and eventually went to sleep, and I will never see those people on the plane again.

On packing: My goal for this trip was to pack light. What that really means is being able to comfortably carry your belongings with you. We did not achieve that goal, and here are some of the mistakes we made. Jim pointed out that I should have had a bigger rolling bag, which would have solved many of our packing problems. I believe that a person will always pack to the capacity of whatever their* luggage will hold, and so packing light means restricting the space you have. But Jim was right. Since I wasn’t using my rolling bag as a carry-on, it could have been bigger without compromising the ability to comfortably carry it. The second mistake we made was to give each child their own backpack to carry their teddy bear and toys. What were we thinking? Of course the kids did not actually wear their backpacks for more than the walk from Grandma Jenna’s house to the car for the ride to the airport on the very first day. After that, J and I juggled our luggage (K: rolling bag, diaper backpack, computer bag; J: large frame backpack, computer bag) plus stroller, two kids and their backpacks, and stray hats (which the kids also rarely wore). The added conundrum of packing light is that with two kids you need more stuff but can comfortable carry less because you also have to also be able to carry the children. I’m already making a mental list of the things we can leave behind so that we don’t have to carry them home.

* For correct S/V agreement, I know “their” should be “his” or “her”, but see Grammar Girl for an argument in favor of the informal use of “their” in this situation.

A rare example of L2 wearing his backpack.

Asleep on the plane (finally)!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A day in Athens

Because the ferry schedule didn’t work out to take us to the island of Andros, we decided to spend the day in Athens. We took the bus there, and, not sure where to get off, we rode to the end of the line. This fortuitously put us just north of the National Archaeological Museum. Looking for a café to stop at for a morning snack, we happened to walk by the museum and took the opportunity to go in. Even though I hadn’t done my homework to really know what I was looking at, I thoroughly enjoyed my walk through room after room of statues and artifacts, from Neolithic Cyclades to Roman era and Egyptian artifacts.
Mask of Agamemnon, Grave Circle A, Mycenae, 1550-1500 BC

Poseidon, 125 BC

Greek funerary statues, Delos, 300BC

National Archaeological Museum

The Parthenon

We walked another mile or so south through Athens from the museum to the Acropolis and Parthenon (that most famous building atop the Acropolis). The Acropolis is awesome. I don’t think it is possible to take a bad picture because everything from the buildings to the view is spectacular. As a place for which I had high expectations and had long wanted to see, the Acropolis did not disappoint. We also saw glimpses of the Agora (marketplace or gathering place) and Roman Agora on our walk up the hill to the Acropolis. Another day, perhaps, we can more fully explore the Agora.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Acropolis

L1 and J walking up the Acropolis to the Parthenon 
Accomplished: mostly figured out the bus and metro; saw the National Archaeological Museum, the Acropolis, and Parthenon.

The reality of sightseeing with small kids is that you see a lot less of the inside of museums, and a lot more of parks and places to eat.  We arrived at the Archaeological Museum right around L2’s nap time when he was more in the mood to alternately screech or cry than to docilely be carried through rooms of fragile artifacts. We made it through one room before J took the kids outside and left me in peace to wander the galleries. I had about 45 minutes to myself to make a quick walk through. A person could spend days there, but those 45 minutes were precious to me.  Luckily, it was a beautiful day outside, there was a large, treed, open plaza in front of the museum, and the kids were much happier chasing pigeons than they would have been trailing behind us in the museum. Before we left the area, I changed L2’s diaper and nursed him on a bench outside the museum.  Traveling with kids, you get used to doing what you need to in public places.

L2 outside the museum
The family on a crowded street in central Athens

Our walk through Athens involved carrying the kids, often on our shoulders. L1 refused to walk most of the way – something we will have to work on since we can’t carry both of them all the time.  L2 eventually fell asleep in J’s arms while we walked; we found a shady wall by a church and he finished his nap there among the throngs of people out in central Athens on a Saturday. We trekked up the hill to the Acropolis and the kids made it to the top with a promise of a snack. Later that night, L1 said his favorite part of the day was eating fruit snacks at the Parthenon. It was late afternoon by that time, but the kids made it through a ride on the metro to the suburban railway to the bus and most of the walk home before L1 had a meltdown. That was actually a pretty good day for traveling with the kids.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Phoenix to Houston to London to Athens to Rafina, Greece

First toes in the Aegean Sea.

We are in Greece! It was a long travel process; more on that later.

For now, our days are settling into a rhythm: I take the kids after breakfast while J heads to the lower patio to work. He joins us for lunch. After lunch, L2 takes a nap, L1 watches PBS kids (via vpn), I have a little free time, and J works or naps. In the afternoons, we all take a walk, sometimes to the grocery store or bakery, sometimes to the beach. Then we are home for dinner, after which L2 goes to bed. We read or watch a movie, L1 falls asleep during the movie, and  J and I follow in fairly quick succession. Our weekends will be for touristy activities. This coming weekend we plan to take a ferry to the island of Andros, which is the closest of the Cyclades. 

View of the Aegean Sea from our rented house.

Boys sitting on the front patio. The rocks here are as fun to play with as the rocks at home.

Chapel on a hilltop overlooking the port of Rafina.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Getting ready for Greece
We leave for Greece next week.  

Things completed:
Passports for everyone.
Itinerary of less than 90 days in Schengen countries (includes Greece and most European countries) so that we don’t need a visa.
Purchased plane tickets that avoid going through Chicago.
Have a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
Have another credit card with a chip, which is commonly used in European countries.
Ordered raincoat for L1.
Have electrical converters.
Found a place to rent in Greece and paid first month’s rent.
Have phone # of caretaker we will call to get into house in Greece.
Learning Greek via Rosetta Stone.
Have ride to the airport.
Booked hotel near Heathrow for one night in London before final leg of flight to Greece.
Got a Kindle version of a travel guide for Greece.

Things to do:
Reduce amount packed.
Back up computer.
Buy things for traveling first aid kit.
Call credit card to alert of our travel plans.
Copy important papers.
Practice key phrases in Greek: "Where is the taxi?" "How much does this cost?" and "Where is the toilet?"

The things-to-do list is shorter than things-completed. We are almost set! I'm feeling excited, and a little nervous. I hope the kids will sleep through the flights and that we will be able to entertain them when they are not sleeping. We connect through Houston, and then have a 10-hour flight to London. We stay one night in London and have an early flight of about 3.5 hours to Athens. Our home base in Greece is the port city of Rafina. The weather forecast calls for highs of about 60 degrees F (or 15 degrees C as I need to get used to thinking). Yay!