Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The story of our Vacation

So I am really late getting this posted, but here's the scoop on Max's first trip to England...

We left on Friday, April 3rd, out of National. We ended up checking our bags with the guys outside the airport which saved us about an hour and a half of waiting in line. The place was a mad house. We were very happy to get everything checked and to be heading towards the gate. We cleared security with no issues and found a place to sit and wait near the gate. There was an Einstein bagels right there so I was able to have a delicious pepperoni pizza bagel. Mmmm. And Max wanted to have some of it! So he had a few little bites of sauce and bagel and was a happy baby. He also had some of his baby food. It was a mad house. They have all those gates at the end of the airport but they loaded us and another flight out of gates in one corner. We were trying to get to the front to ask to board early because of the carseat but we couldn’t even get there. We finally managed to go around the outside and the counter guy said for us to go ahead, but the guy taking tickets was shunning us. I guess he thought we were cutting in line. The counter guy turned to him and said “they have a baby, they need to board now” and we were through and on our way. We needed to get the seat belt extender but other than that it was smooth sailing. Max was in the window and I was next to him and then Mark was next to me in the aisle seat. At least he was after we got someone else to trade with us (Mark was originally in the row in front of us). Max was pretty excited about looking out the window and liked having his car seat. We did our family self portrait and then away we went. Max did great. He wasn’t at all stressed out by taking off or landing. I nursed him a little and his ears were fine, and he was pretty happy to just look around and play with his toys.

We landed in Atlanta and had zero time to get to our gate. I had Max strapped to me in the sling, my purse, my backpack, two diaper bags, and Mark’s carry on. Mark had the car seat. And we were going as fast as we could to get to our gate. We just barely made it. They were waiting for us. They checked our passports and our boarding passes, and were able to change our seats so that Max was sitting next to us! What a nice bonus! J It turns out the flight was mostly empty. We had a window seat for Max, and then I was next to him, and then Mark was across the aisle. And he had 3 empty seats next to him in the middle of the plane! It was so fantastic!!! Max was again brilliant on take off, and settled in to his seat. He sat next to Mark for a little bit. He walked up and down the aisles. We had ordered a baby meal for Max and a child meal for me and then Mark had a regular meal. I guess because they were so empty we actually got an adult meal for me in addition to the child meal. So we had tons of food options. Plus the cookies (Max was a fan). Sadly the food choice for Max was the dreaded banana. Ew! But he ate it like it was delicious. He must have been disoriented from the flight. I was able to lay down across the seats and nurse Max and get him off to sleep. He slept for a good portion of the trip. I wasn’t quite so lucky, even tho I had tons of room. It was just too noisy for me to be able to fall asleep. I was reading my Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded book by John Scalzi. It is lovely for reading on a plane because each piece is just a couple of pages long and they are about various topics. Brilliant! We landed at Gatwick with no issues and found our luggage (AMAZING, esp considering the short time between when we landed in Atlanta and when we took off on the second flight) and found Auntie and Pauline waiting for us.

We loaded up the car and headed to Granny and Grandad’s house. I had my cheese sandwich, of course. Auntie is so good to me like that.

Max was pretty happy riding frontwards in the car (a first for him) and he was happy about the balloon that Auntie and Pauline brought to the airport for him. When we got to Granny and Grandad’s he went right in and was happy to see them. He was able to walk around and be free, which was a nice treat for him. We had a little snack there and stayed until Max started to look like he was fading (and Mark and I felt like we were fading too!). We headed to Auntie’s house. I fed Max and he went down for a nap and then Mark and I went down for a nap too. I made Auntie promise to wake me up after 2 hours, and she did, but it felt like just minutes had passed. But we got up and moved around. Our afternoon plans included going to see the photos that my family had done at a professional portrait place. The photos were amazing! I can’t wait to see the photos when they are ready. It was nice to see everyone again and to see all the great photos. After we were done with the photos it was time to head back to Auntie’s house to get ready for dinner. Garry and Louise took Granny and Grandad home and we went ahead to finish the dinner. And when I say we, I mean Auntie! We had a delicious (slimming world friendly) shepherd’s pie. Dessert was chocolate cake, warmed up, with vanilla ice cream. So delicious! Yum!It was really lovely to get to spend time with Louise and Garry and Alfie. Max and Alfie played together a little bit (mostly following each other around). They headed out to put Alfie to bed and we headed to the hotel to put ourselves to bed!

Sunday morning didn’t go quite like we had planned. Max was sick overnight again and was having some breathing problems. The same thing that happened to him in March. So we went to Auntie’s house and called the insurance company (they said to just get medical help and they would cover the cost) and then called Auntie’s doctor and then waited to be told to go to the Accident and Emergency part of the hospital. We ate breakfast while we were waiting and got Max off to sleep for a little nap. When we went to the hospital we had to wait for a little bit, but then it was our turn and they gave Max a nebulizer treatment and gave us a prescription for some meds. Max was back to his normal self after the treatment, which is always nice to see. We went and filled the prescription and did a little food shopping while we were waiting. We got the meds and then headed home to start dosing Max up. It was so good to see that he was already so much better after the first treatment. We headed back to Auntie’s to have our delicious roast dinner. It was super tasty. Lots of veggies and stuffing shapped into a snowman. And more chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert. I am very lucky to have had so much good food! After we finished our big meal we decided that such a beautiful day deserved a walk, so we walked up to Beverly Park. Max got to go on the baby swing, so he was very happy. He was wearing the Wallaby I knitted for him, so I was happy. And while walking around the park (which is very beautiful) we were able to mock all the signs posted by dog owners, talking about how their dog makes sure he isn't sullying the beauty of the park. I agree that scooping poop is a key part of dog ownership if your dog poops in a park, but the sheer volume of signs was more of a distraction from the natural beauty of our surroundings. We saw the ponds with the ducks and regretted not bringing bread, but Max was too young to really appreciate such an activity anyway, so we'll just have to do that in the future. And Auntie told Mark her Abi story about the ponds and how Garry used to go across part of the pond/waterfall area on the rocks. Abi apparently asked if Daddy had been scared, and when asked why, she said "because of the dinosaurs!" After a brisk walk Max was ready to take a little nap in the buggy. The cozy toes attachment to the buggy definitely did the trick and kept him cozy and warm. It was a beautiful walk and lovely weather and nice to just have the time to take a leisurely walk. Also nice that Max was doing so much better with his breathing.

Monday morning we got up and headed over to Auntie’s again. Max was doing much better. So we went into West Wickham to run some errands. I needed to fix my bank account stuff since my bank was bought out by another bank and they sent the wrong kind of ATM card with the wrong name. Sigh. Turns out we needed to set up an appointment to do that, but we were able to exchange money with no fees, so that was a good thing. We also went into the baby shop where Auntie used to work. Max was pretty excited about the toys and Auntie picked out one that speaks (in an English accent, of course) to be Max’s birthday present from Granny and Grandad. We had a little look in the Clarks shop but the shoes I wanted for Max were not available in his size. In the afternoon we went to Granny and Grandads. Max had a great time playing and it was nice for me to have lots of time to talk to my grandparents. Max and Mark took a bit of a nap in the afternoon. Auntie came to get us around 430 and we headed home to have bangers and mash for dinner. It was delicious!!

On Tuesday I had breakfast at the hotel with Max, and then we got ourselves ready and headed to London. It was a short walk to the tram station and then a short ride to East Croydon and then a 10-15 minute ride into Victoria. It was about an hour from the time we left our hotel room until the time we were standing outside Victoria. So easy! We walked up past Buckingham Palace and through the gardens and down the Mall. We took a zillion pictures. We got some great photos of Max in daffodils that reached to his shoulders. And we saw the new memorial to the Queen Mother (unveiled in Feb 2009!). We walked past the end of Downing Street (the day before the big security breach), and down to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. After a bunch of touristy photos we went into Westminster Abbey. It was amazing. We listened to the guide phone thing as much as possible and saw many fantastic things. Mark was really amazed at all the famous people buried there and at the age of the building and the other items inside. We saw the coronation chair. We saw the tomb of Elizabeth I. We saw a door from 1050. We saw the little RAF area. We saw the Chaucer stone. We saw the Handel stone. We saw all of poet’s corner. There was just so much to see. And then we got to the nave and that is just an awe inspiring sight. You aren’t allowed to take photos so we bought the guidebook and were happy with the outside photos (including one of me outside St Margaret’s). Then we got some food at a sketchy pub (jacket potato with beans and cheese for me with a Guinness and a meal we later called Chicken Gastritis for Mark). Then it was time to head for home. On the way into the hotel I saw the menu for the adjoining Beefeater restaurant and the dessert page was mocking me. So we went over and I had a delicious brownie sundae. And then it was definitely time for bed!!!

Wednesday we got up and Auntie picked us up. Instead of going to her house we went to pick up Abi. It was nice to see Claire for a moment as well. And we headed to Bromley. We had our traditional breakfast at Debenhams and then did some shopping. We were also able to meet up with Pauline. My big purchase was the little suit for Max to wear at Michael and Sheena’s wedding in September. It is a little white shirt and a black pinstriped vest and pants. Totally adorable and in the next size up from what he wears now. We tried the little vest on him and it was a little big and totally totally adorable. J Not that I am biased or anything. I struck out in my attempt to buy a new suit at Marks, but ah well. We got a cake for Granny’s birthday and some new Clarks for Max (in the next size up and the next size after that as well – just to be sure he is covered for the next year!). And then it was time to grab some lunch and head off for our next sight seeing adventure.

We caught the bus and went to Downe, where Charles Darwin’s Downe House is located. I have wanted to go there for years but it was never open at the right time of year or we didn’t have time or there was rain. This ended up being a beautiful day and a nice walk up to the house. We got our little palm pilot based guides and decided to divide and conquer. Max had fallen asleep in his buggy, so Mark did the downstairs with Max while I did upstairs and then we traded and I pushed Max around while I looked at the rooms. The upstairs is more of a traditional museum with information about Darwin’s travels and research. They have a little area that is decorated like his room on the HMS Beagle with a video version of Darwin working at the desk. The main level of the house is decorated like things were when Darwin lived there. So you can see his study, the billiard room, the dining room, and the sitting room. Some of the furniture is the exact furniture that was Darwin’s, and some of it is reproduction. It was very interesting to see the crowded sitting room and the piles of books and the knitting contraption. Towards the end of my tour of the downstairs rooms Max woke up. So he was ready to walk around a little bit in the gardens. I put his reins on him and he was pretty happy to walk around and look at things. The gardens were not in full bloom, of course, but it was still nice to look around. We went into the green house and saw the carnivorous plants. In addition to the venus flytraps we saw a bunch of pitcher plants. And then we looked at the time and realized we had about 15 minutes to make it back to the bus stop. The bus only runs every hour! So we hoofed it down the hill and had enough time to call Auntie to ask her to pick us up at the bus stop near her and we got on the bus. 10 minutes later we were at her stop! It was so close! Dinner that night was chicken curry for Auntie and Mark and a jacket potato with beans and cheese. We were all delighted! After dinner it was back to the hotel to sleep.

Thursday was our last full day in England and it was a bit of a shock to get up and realize it was our last full day there. In the morning we went to Polhill. Because what trip to England would be complete without going there? We met up with Sam and Dennis and Tommy. We had a little snack and then went to look at the fish. Max seemed pretty interested in the fish, although he seemed to enjoy the little fish in the small aquariums around the outside of the walls more than the giant koi. We did a little more food shopping including a delightful little piece of stilton that Auntie and I enjoyed in the evening. Mmmm. Lunch was fish and chips from the local fish and chips shop eaten at Granny and Grandad’s house. MMMMMMM. Max had mushy peas and seemed to like them just fine. My food was super delicious. After we recovered from our eating extravaganza we had birthday cake to celebrate Granny’s February birthday. Max and Mark took another nap. And we just generally had a nice time hanging out and chatting. Max played with pretty much everything he could get his hands on and had a wonderful time. When Auntie came to get us we managed to get a few photos of Granny and Grandad with Max. I was, as you can imagine, delighted to get those photos. It was so important to me to have a chance to see them together. We headed back to Auntie’s house for a snack-like dinner, and then it was time to go back to the hotel to pack.

Friday we were up super early and finished getting ready. Auntie packed us some sandwiches to eat after we cleared security. We were there 3 hours before our flight and we were at our gate more than 2 hours before our flight. We made it through in super fast time. My metal knitting needles were taken from me (bizarre, since I had them in my carryon bag on the way TO England), but everything else went well. Other than Mark’s fingers almost falling off from having to carry the car seat a million miles to our gate.

The flight back was much more full than the flight to the UK. There was another family next to us with twin 3 year old boys and a 12 week old little baby boy, but the kids were well behaved. Max did fine again. He ate (again, more banana tainted food) and he slept and he played. He walked around a little. I was able to watch Marley and Me (and I cried and cried) and Frost/Nixon (fantastic, esp when I figured out Frost seemed familiar because it was the guy who played Tony Blair in The Queen). I was also able to read more of my Scalzi book, which is always a lovely thing for me. We got to Cincinnati without major issue. We cleared passport control, we cleared customs, we cleared agriculture, we rechecked our bags, we cleared TSA (although we had extra screening due to Max’s baby food), and then we were in the airport. We went to Gold Star Chili since my boss told me it was mandatory (and she is from Cincinnati so she should know what is good eats… After a little snack we headed over to our departure terminal and waited there until it was time to board our plane. There was a little play area near our gate so Max got to play there until it was time to go. He seemed to enjoy the little Wendy House. It had a door and windows with shutters. Lots of things to open and close.

Sadly his mood went downhill after we finally got on the plan. It had been a long day. And the plane was HOT and crowded. He didn’t want to be in his seat. He couldn’t get down and walk around. He was tired. He was grumpy. And then the airport closed with us on the tarmac. There were some big storms, and it had been determined that the winds were stronger than our plane could handle. Before we could drive around to the other side of the airport to use a different runway the weather had gotten worse and the whole airport was shut. We didn’t know how long it was going to be shut. Luckily it was just a little while and then it was finally time for us to go. It is a fairly short flight (maybe 90 minutes?) and then right as we were flying over Rosslyn Max fell asleep! So we landed and let everyone else get off the plane. I got the sling ready and took of Max’s shoes. We slipped him into the sling and then loaded me up with all the bags. Mark got the car seat and we got off the plane, walked across the tarmac, and into the airport. We found our luggage and Mark took a cab to my office to get the van out of the parking lot. He came back and got me and Max and the luggage. Max woke up only as we put him into the van’s carseat. It was good to be off the plane. And when we got home Max was able to run around and open the kitchen cabinets and generally be a menace. He was happy to be home!

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