Summer 2018 Travel Gear Guide

 

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Baby Flyer starts a flight off right!

In just a couple weeks, we’re heading out on a 4 city, 12 day, family adventure to Europe!  We’ll be sightseeing through Lucerne, Switzerland on arrival, then Prague, Czechia, and on to Stockholm, Sweden, before finally one last night in Helsinki, Finland!  So….. what to bring??

Last summer we went to Europe as well, that time with an 18 month old.  When thinking this year’s trip through, we realized we needed to change up some of our gear.  We’ll be leaving some things home, and taking some new things to try.

Here’s some of the current packing list:

When you’re doing a trip with this many stops, and this many chances for things to get lost, damaged, or even just cost more to check, what suitcases you want to take is the first important question.

The we’re each planning bringing on a simple rolling suitcase that can either be checked, or boarded with, depending on the best option for the flight.  We’ve had several brands this size, but the Travelpro Crew 10 has stood up to the test the best, even when having other items tied on.  Do keep in mind, though, if you’re going to be doing a lot of intra-Europe flying, you may be asked to check a bag much over 20,” and weight limits may be enforced.

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A good companion bag to bring in the cabin, or to tuck in the seat in front is also key.  For a lower price point we like the matching duffel to the Travelpro crew series, or if you’re looking for something that can be a small rolling bag, the Briggs & Riley rolling cabin bag is lovely.

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Baby Flyer demonstrates how nicely the Briggs & Riley rolls.

What’s different this year is that Baby Flyer is two, and so she has her own ticket and her own baggage allowance.  Keeping with family tradition, she has her own (pink, of course) Maxlite Travelpro roller.  We decided to get her ‘real luggage’ instead of a kids-type bag, hoping that the quality and size will make it a long term purchase, while still being small enough for her to roll on her own when she’s in the mood.

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Knowing that she won’t be in the mood yet to roll her own suitcase all the time, we ordered a simple attaching strap so we can clip hers onto one of ours for longer walks.  This brand is universal, adjusts well, and fits most wheeled luggage models.

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Best travel car seat ever- light and durable – Cosco Senecra

This is also the first major trip where we’re going to bring her car seat to install on the flights.  We’ll update with how this goes, as well as some of the rules later, but keep in mind that not all airplane seats are compatible with car seats, especially in business or first class cabins.  Check with your airline to make sure.  Seats, even in economy, that are in bulkhead rows also may not work as they may have airbags in the seatbelts, and be narrower, so only some slim car seats will fit.  As a general rule, most basic economy seats have a 17″ width, so that’s a good dimension to follow when measuring your car seat to see if it will fit.

Since we’re planning on taking the car seat through the airport, we’re trying out a harness that attaches it to a carry on size roller bag.  It seems to work great, though takes a couple minutes to sort out at first.  We recommend also packing a light gate check bag in case you decide to check it plane side to keep it clean.

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This trip is also a first in that we’re leaving her well used traveller crib at home.  She’s just recently gotten big enough that she rolls into the edges at night and wakes up.  We’ve been experimenting with inflatable toddler beds like the Shrunks brand mattress.  It looks great, sets up fast, and is a cut above other basic air mattresses.  Baby Flyer really seems to like the idea and loved playing on it, but since she’s still in a crib at home, it’s just different enough that we’re not confident it’ll be worth it to drag around Europe.  We’re keeping it for when she’s a bit older for travel, sleepovers, etc.

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This bed really does seem to hold the air well, packs up small, and has separate air chambers for the inside and outside, so you can tuck blankets in.  It also fits a standard size crib sheet.

Instead, we checked with our Airbnb hosts, and at each location there’s either a crib already there, a kid’s bed on the ground, or enough extra mattresses that we can make her a safe place to sleep without having to bring anything with us.

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The Citi Mini Zip is a good option for a larger feeling stroller that packs away small.

We’re also not taking our own stroller this time around.  Last year we brought our City Mini Zip and backpack, but didn’t use it as much as we thought we would.  Baby Flyer likes to walk on her own, or be in a carrier.  If she was a better stroller kid we would likely bring it again, even though it’s nice to downsize our luggage.  Like the beds though, one of our Airbnbs has a stroller for us to use, and Stockholm has a convenient looking stroller rental option, so we’re more or less covered.

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Plus, we finally admitted that she was getting too big for our Ergo 360, and upgraded to the Tula toddler carrier.  It has a high weight limit – up to 60 (!!) pounds.  This was one thing we didn’t take last summer that we really wish we did, so this is us living and learning.

We also are trading in our usual over the shoulder bag for an all purpose backpack to take on the plane, that should be easier to take around the cities when we get there.

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A big trip is also a good time to pick up some smaller necessities.  Last summer we definitely wished we had some extra plugs, so we ordered a spare Targus Universal Adapter, and a bigger remote power bank since we lost one in an airport earlier this year.

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When the stars align… even for just a while…

With all these things set, and our departure date getting close, we’re down to enjoying planning things to do and see!  It’s the best feeling to be done with the nuts and bolts of a trip to get to the good stuff.  There’s really no such thing as being totally prepared for an international family trip, but a little early organization can get you so much closer.

Travel well,

~CET

Summer in Scandinavia Part 7 – Nakemiin, Hej Hej, and Goodbye

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Waiving bye-bye to Europe.  See you next time!

Summer in Scandinavia: Preview

Summer in Scandinavia Part 1: Gear Up and Go!

Summer in Scandinavia Part 2: Well Connected

Summer in Scandinavia Part 3: This Is The Way We Board The Plane

Summer in Scandinavia Part 4: Hello, Helsinki!

Summer in Scandinavia Part 5: Old Town, New Adventures

Summer in Scandinavia Part 6: Hygge With A Chance Of Downpour Part 1

Summer in Scandinavia Part 6: Hygge With A Chance Of Downpour Part 2

And now, the conclusion….

Our trip home was, admittedly, long.  We left early in the morning from the Copenhagen airport, which is relatively small and easy to navigate.  There are a couple lounge options for Oneworld flyers.  We stopped at the “Apartment” lounge, which was the best option at the time.  However, CET has been back to Denmark since and they now have an even better option near the British Airways gate, past passport control that’s worth a visit.

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Entrance to the non-Schengen (International) lounges.  There’s a business class and first class side.  First class for Emerald, Business for Sapphire

From Copenhagen, we connected back to Helsinki to catch our return award ticket to JFK.  This gave us a chance to spend a few hours in the premium first class Finnair lounge accessible from the international gates.  It’s always fun to check out the best lounge at a Oneworld airline’s ‘home’ airport.  This one is unmistakably Finnish, complete with a real sauna, right in the airport (yes co-ed and everything).

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We both took showers before the flight home, CET tried out the sauna as well.

There are also plenty of good food and drinks, as well as a nice kids’ are with all kinds of books, blocks, and other toys.  Baby Flyer had a good time making a mess, which in the Finnish tradition, we then cleaned up ourselves before heading to our flight.  This lounge, with or without littles, is worth a visit.  It’s less crowded (at our flight time anyway) and with a higher level of amenities than the Finnair Schengen lounge we went to on our way to Copenhagen, and even that one wasn’t too shabby.

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I don’t even know what half of this is, but I’m going to eat it.  Plus, their glassware game is on point.

The Helsinki airport is clean, lovely, and quiet in comparison to many others, so we were able to let Baby Flyer stretch her legs on the way to the gate.  She, of course, insisted on carrying her own passport.  If you’re so inclined, there’s also plenty of food and shopping options along the way.

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HEL Airport, middle of the travel day.  Blissful.

The boarding process was fairly orderly, and we pushed back on time for JFK.  With a few exceptions, flights from the US to Europe are overnights, with the return trips being in the day.  This is good and bad- you don’t feel like you’re up all night, but babies also don’t sleep for as much of it.  Plane time is play time, at least for awhile.

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Baby Flyer checks out her Junior Aviator Logbook.  Even though it’s an AA thing, all our Oneworld crews have happily signed it.

Finnair gave Baby Flyer an activity/coloring book, and another Moomins cloth/blanket for the flight.  We’d packed all kinds of toys and entertainment, so she made herself at home in front of our seats to play.  The food, drinks, and IFE were much the same as on the outbound, and we picked up a couple more of the Marimekko amenity kits to take home.

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Setting up shop on our Finnair a330.  Soft sole ‘airplane shoes‘ are a must at this stage when they’ll be climbing on you, as well as the floor and everything else for 8 hours.

We made it back to the US fine, but ran smack into a painfully long line at immigration/customs.  We have Global Entry, but Baby Flyer didn’t.  This meant we had to wait in the ‘regular line’ which was an hour long, even for the automated passport control.  This mistake won’t be made again, thanks to our Amex Platinum’s generous reimbursement program for Global Entry, all three of us are signed up now!

We did finally clear, and then had to pick up and re-check our bags to LAX.  That all finally completed, we had a brief stop back in the Flagship Lounge to recharge for a few minutes.  Really, the travel caught up with us when we boarded the flight home from JFK to LAX.  Thankfully, seeing this coming, we’d cashed in some AA miles and booked two business class seats on AA’s best domestic plane – the 321-T.  It’s business class is as good as many international routes, and features fully lie flat seats in a 2-2 configuration, which is perfect for two people and a lap infant.

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Feels like coming home.

We barely made it through the meal service before all three of us fell soundly asleep for the remainder of the five hour flight.  It was just what we needed to be in good shape to navigate LAX on landing, and get ourselves safely home.  What is nice about the return flights is that they land later in the day on the west coast, so even if you don’t sleep much on the flights, you can go home and get everyone to bed and beat the jetlag.

They say that travel with kids isn’t a ‘vacation,’ it’s a ‘trip.’  It’s a good way to put it.  You definitely have to plan more, improvise more, and have patience.  Overall, though, the memories are worth it, and sometimes it’s nice to slow down and just do simple things in another country- like watching street musicians, or hanging out at a playground.

This trip was definitely one we’ve since looked back on fondly, even though we definitely learned a thing or two about what works traveling with an 18 month old, and what doesn’t.  That’s all part of the adventure though, and as it turns out, we’re even going to try to do it all again, now with a 2.5 (!!!) year old.

Thanks for reading & Travel well.

~CET, CAR & Baby Flyer

Summer in Scandinavia Part 6 – Hygge With A Chance of Downpour, Part 2

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To catch you up:

Summer in Scandinavia: Preview

Summer in Scandinavia Part 1: Gear Up and Go!

Summer in Scandinavia Part 2: Well Connected

Summer in Scandinavia Part 3: This Is the Way We Board the Plane

Summer in Scandinavia Part 4: Hello, Helsinki!

Summer in Scandinavia Part 5: Old City, New Adventures

Summer in Scandinavia Part 6: Hygge With A Chance Of Downpour Part 1

What’s a week in Scandinavia’s long summer days without a little rainstorm?  Both times we’ve been to Denmark in August we’ve had some rain, but this time around it was serious business.  The first full day we were wandering around town the skies decided to open up and absolutely dump rain on us as we made our way back to the condo.  Full on clothes-soaking, just have to give up and laugh, raining.  Some of our clothes never really did recover, but sometimes you just have to accept that there will be sacrifices to the travel Gods along the way.

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Baby Flyer stays dry in her Citi Mini Zip with Rain Cover

Thankfully, this wasn’t the case for the entire time, just light showers here and there the next day which didn’t stop us for getting out and around in the city.  However, Baby Flyer had her own plans.  Not only was she too proud to ride in the stroller most of the time, even though we’d thoughtfully gotten a nice rain cover for it, she also wanted to hold her own umbrella.

So, while all the (seemingly) well behaved Danish kids were quietly bundled up in their strollers, we were chasing our fiercely independent American child down the cobblestone sidewalks of central Copenhagen, in the rain, trying to get our umbrella back.

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Copenhagen, a portrait.

In retrospect, it was one of the cutest moments of the week, and we weren’t the only ones who felt this way.  We’re pretty sure Baby Flyer and her umbrella made it into quite a few people’s European vacation photos.

We took our time exploring the city, hitting some of the attractions, as well as a few old and new favorite restaurants and casual dining spots.  First, and most convenient was a stop by Torvehallerne in Norreport.  It’s a year-round market of kinds that includes shops selling vegetables, olive oils, deli meats, and wine, as well as some small restaurants and bars.  One of the most popular booths is definitely for smorrebrod, which is about as Danish as you can get.  It translates to ‘buttered bread,’ but is really a variety of open faced sandwiches with all manner of toppings that can stack up several inches.  One piece makes a perfect lunch, and a glass of wine to go with doesn’t hurt.

We also treated ourselves to a couple of nights out at some of the wonderful spots by our flat as well.  Just downstairs was a French restaurant called Honen & AEgget (roughly translated- chicken and egg!)  Along with a cozy atmosphere, the food was great, and the service was extremely friendly.  We went more than once.

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Our last night, we did things properly and had a true Danish meal out at Vaskt in Centrum.  This place is 100% scandi – cozy, just formal enough, farm to table, and homey yet decorative presentation.  Yes, we think we at the garnishes here too, but we regret nothing.

With all that food, we needed to get out and cycle it off.  This is Denmark, and really the only way to get around is by bike.  Plus, Baby Flyer was much more amenable to sitting in a kid’s seat on the bike than in her stroller.  There are various bike sharing systems in Copenhagen, but since we needed to rent the kids’ seat and helmet, we headed to Osterport to a rental shop.  In just a few minutes, we were on our way!  As a sidenote, it took us awhile to find the place- it’s actually down a ramp/stairs closer to the metro tracks.

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Baby Flyer LOVED it, and was inspired to try it on her own when she found a bike her own size in the courtyard of our flat.

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She is Danish now!

Now, as promised, we also spent a fair amount of time exploring the playgrounds around Copenhagen.  As a general rule, most of the larger playground designs that we commonly see in the US are designed by, or have their roots in, Danish companies.  They also are responsible for Legos, among other long lasting kid’s favorites.

What was funny, then, was that the playgrounds in Denmark don’t look a whole lot like ours, even our ‘good’ ones!  In Copenhagen, the parks are largely more natural- wood elements, terrain, bridges, and structures that in the US might make parents edgy – high ropes, BIG slides.

In short -they’re AWESOME!

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Playtime in Denmark- Sweater & Sneakers

The first one we stumbled on was just across the lakes from our flat.  A small, but imaginative local playground with ‘grass’ mounds, wooden planks, and a vaguely nautical theme.  It was off the beaten path a little, so we had it to ourselves most of the time.

We of course also spent some time at the iconic playground in the ‘King’s Garden‘ park in the center of town.  This playground was not only lots of fun, but really beautifully designed.

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It was nearly entirely made of wood structures.  Really, nothing overly ‘fancy’ but everything functional and inspiring to the imagination.

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It’s always interesting to go to some of the ‘local’ family spots on vacation to get a dose of everyday culture.  What we definitely kept seeing across Scandinavia was the independence of the kids (once they were out of their strollers).  Parents kept a watchful eye, but let their kids play more or less on their own.  This park was also perfect for that since most of the elements were simple and kids over 2 or 3 didn’t need assistance to get to anything.

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The King’s Garden itself was beautiful in Summer, especially after the rain.  The Danes both design, and use, their common spaces well.  On a nice summer weekend it can feel like the whole city is just out for a day in the park.  It’s not uncommon to see groups with elaborate picnics, complete with music and drinks.

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King’s Garden

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Bonus pic- Waterfront in Summer

All in all, we packed a lot into our four days in Copenhagen.  As always, you have to be flexible and keep your expectations simple when traveling with little ones, but the memories are worth it.

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Stopping to smell the flowers

Too soon, it was time to pack up again and say ‘see you next time’ to Denmark.  We had to start the long journey home to California.

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Baby Flyer at Christiansborg- historic city center and Parliament buildings.

Up next- All Good Things Must End – Hej Hej, Danmark – Kobenshavn Lufthavn to LAX”

~CET

Summer in Scandinavia Part 6- Hygge With a Chance of Downpour, Part 1

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A lovely break from exploring Copenhagen

The trip so far:

Preview

Part 1- Gear Up and Go!

Part 2- Well Connected

Part 3- This Is The Way We Board The Plane

Part 4- Hello, Helsinki!

Part 5- Old Town, New Adventures

It’s always a thrilling experience to arrive and feel at home someplace 5,000 miles from home.  It’s one reason that returning to the same place years later, even with other destinations on offer, can be worth doing.  It’s even more pronounced when you return, with a baby for the first time.

Almost exactly 4 years earlier, we traveled to Europe for the first time together as a couple, and Copenhagen was one of the first stops.  Last time around we stayed a block from Tivoli Gardens in the Radisson Blu.  It’s located right in the business/tourist district.  We rented bikes from a shop around the corner, and toured the city (somewhat aimlessly, but with a plan).

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Nyhavn- Probably the most iconic shot of Denmark.  All roads lead here eventually…

The weather was unseasonably warm, and we enjoyed taking our (admittedly well worn, budget priced) bikes on the train to Dyrehaven, frequenting a quaint wine bar with friendly service, and staying out late (ish) to have ice cream sitting on the edge of the Nyhavn canal as the nightlife spilled out onto the streets around us from nearby bars and restaurants.

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Copenhagen is (price point aside) a thoroughly livable city, which is what we liked about it.  It has plenty of attractions, architecture, and culture all fit into a manageable footprint.  There’s no high-rise skyline- few buildings are over 15 or 20 stories at most, and these are the exception to the rule.  The old parts of the city are well preserved, while the new structures are clean-cut, and modern to the point of being a Scandi version of avant-garde.

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Rosenborg Slot

Everything is accessible by bike or train, and with the possible exception of unexpectedly wandering into Freetown Christiana, easy to navigate without ever really feeling lost.  This is also the reason, along with the family-friendly culture, that we decided to give it a repeat visit, now as parents.

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So, back to the current trip report!  We took the short flight direct from Helsinki on Finnair.  Through our Oneworld status, we had access to the Schengen area lounge.  It’s nice and ultra-modern, with plenty of food and drinks for free.  We grabbed a few seats, and Baby Flyer thoroughly enjoyed going up and down the few steps nearby.  In fact, she managed them by herself for the first time!  It’s the little memories….

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It doesn’t get more Finnish than this.

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Mmmm….. Buffet with a view!  I should also strongly point out the plugs in the background.  Yes, you need to bring power adapters!  Everywhere, especially in Airbnbs!  We have two of the Targus Universal Adapters, and they’ve served us well.  Keep in mind that one may not be enough, depending on how many things you need to plug in at any give time.

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There was a small kids’ area in a corner, but it was smaller than one might expect for a lounge of this size, but a nice thought anyway.  Baby Flyer was having too much fun hanging out with us to play in it anyway.

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Kids’ corner.

Our flight went by quickly, and the service was good.  As Oneworld elites, we could check bags for free, pre-select our seats, and were served free drinks even though we had purchased the lowest level fare.  One more reason to pay attention to who you fly, even for short hops abroad.  What looks like a cheaper fare with a competitor can come with some hefty fees you’re not used to having to think about.

All that fun in the lounge finally tired Baby Flyer out, and she spent the trip taking her nap.  Quite unlike her, the nap even continued through deplaning, and all the way to baggage.

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She knows how to wait patiently for checked baggage…

Our next destination was our Airbnb townhome on Oster Farimagsgade, in the city center, near the botanical gardens and lakes.  We bought tickets for the Metro, headed for the Norreport station, but ended up on the regular train by mistake.  As it turned out, all ended well, and this train was headed for that station also.  Thankfully, no one checked our tickets!  For the return trip, we had it sorted out.  Both the trains and the metro here are good options to get to town, depending on your final destination.  The main difference at the outset is that the metro doesn’t go through the central station, stopping at Christenhavn and Kongens Nytorv instead.

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Welcome home!

Our Airbnb was wonderful, quirky, and homey- everything you want in a stay in Denmark, right down to the little Danish flags everywhere.  This is standard, the Danes put their flag on everything!  Might have something to do with it being the oldest one still in use…. might be a viking thing, who knows.

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Sorry, no you can’t have your place back. We live here now.

The place was two stories, with a terrace and loft on the top floor.  It was modern but cozy, and fully furnished.  As per usual, the thing that took the most adjusting to for us Americans was the bathroom, as the shower water just drained right from the tile floor, and would flood much of the space if it ran long enough.  But once again, this is par for the course in many of the old buildings in this area.  We (mostly) got used to it.  Plus, it would be far from the last water-related incident we learned to deal with on this trip.

More to come….grab your umbrella…

~CET, CAR & Baby Flyer

 

Summer In Scandinavia Part 5- Old Town, New Adventures

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The trip so far:

Preview- Summer in Scandinavia

Part 1- Gear Up and Go!

Part 2- Well Connected

Part 3- This is the Way We Board the Plane (Board the Plane)

Part 4- Hello, Helsinki

Happy 2018!  When last we ‘spoke’ about this trip, we were packing it up to leave Helsinki, and head to Tallinn.  To do this, we hopped the number 9 tram down to the ferry terminal.  It stops right where you need it to- across from the large and rather impressive ferry/cruise building.  The terminal itself is even an attraction, with great views, as well as food and drink.

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Go home, Helsinki, you’re backwards.

They tell you to get there a bit early, and they really do board and leave promptly, so it’s a good idea to give yourself some time so there’s no rush.  Plus, it gives you a chance to take in the sea, and maybe a treat.

Ferry Terminal Eckero Line Helsinki

Bon Voyage!

The ferry is the best way to cross over to Estonia, and takes cars as well as passengers.  We booked the Eckero Line with Direct Ferries, and it really is more of a small cruise ship than what we’d think of as a ‘ferry,’ complete with several bars, a cafeteria, concerts on board, and several decks of small private cabins.  This is more than enough for the just over 2 hour crossing.  There are several companies that make the crossing, so there’s some flexibility in the schedule.

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All aboard!

We elected to get a 4 person cabin each way for just a bit more than the basic ticket (around $40), and with a baby it was totally worth it.  The space was too small to really be comfortable for all the adults to be in at once, but Baby Flyer napped both ways and we took turns hanging out with her and relaxing with a snack and a ‘Long Drink‘ up on deck.

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Sleeping away the crossing.

On arrival in Tallinn, we checked into our next Airbnb, which was a 2 bedroom flat inside of the ‘Old Town.’  Old town, once the partially-walled medieval city, is now the hub of tourist activity and also of restaurants, shopping, and nightlife.  Our flat was on the edge of the Old Town, which was a good thing since this meant it was quiet at night.

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Our Airbnb host even left a crib for us, even though we brought our own.  If you travel with infants, be sure to see what baby/kid amenities are available if you decide to go with Airbnb/HomeAway/etc. properties.

Old Town is actually only a 15-20 minute walk from the ferry terminal.  If the weather’s good, and you don’t have a ton of bags, it’s entirely reasonable not to try and get a cab for the short drive.

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Estonia welcomes you!!

This part of Tallinn is all historic courtyards, narrow streets, and cobblestones.  It’s buzzing with pedestrians taking in the architecture in the day, and people out enjoying the cheap(er) food and drinks until late at night.  It’s common for the ferries to fill up with Finns on weekends headed out for some fun at a fraction of the prices of ‘true’ Scandinavia.

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View of Old Town from our top floor Airbnb.

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The old architecture has been beautifully preserved, yet the city is modern through and through.  The Old Town is divided into ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ areas, upper once upon a time having been home to the fortified castle and grounds, and the lower the sprawling town connecting it to the port.

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Heading up the hill from the lower part of town to the upper.

Though the streets are winding, it’s hard to get lost here for too long simply because it’s not a large area.  Eventually, you come back to where you started.

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Now….for the family travel review of this part of the trip-  First off, cobblestones are not pleasant with just about any stroller, and definitely not the smaller-wheeled travel models, our Citi Mini Zip included.  This was a place we were really wishing we’d brought her Ergo Baby carrier, especially because of the daytime crowds.

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A walk through the Torniade Valjak park, just outside the walls.

Still, we had some nice exploring time, and there’s plenty of green space within and just outside of the Old Town to let kids run around and play.

One thing we will say though, this was our favorite city of the trip for food!  It was easier to find and more relaxed than in Helsinki, and much much cheaper than in Copenhagen.  The service was family friendly, and everyone could find something they wanted.  Even picky Baby Flyer tried some new food and flavors.

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Quinoa and goat cheese with beets.  She hasn’t eaten this healthy before or since…

As simple as it is, I think some of our fondest memories of the city were of the restaurants close to our Airbnb that we stumbled upon by chance.  The first, Must Puudel, was our choice for dinner (twice).  It’s a fun (if a bit hipster) bar and restaurant tucked away off the beaten path, that included a hidden garden patio behind.  The menu had fresh, innovative dishes and very reasonably priced drinks.

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Yes, there are pea sprouts on everything.  This will not be the last garnish we knowingly ate on this trip.

As well as the good vibe inside, the cobblestone street out front was quiet- the perfect setting to let a restless and newly walking Baby Flyer stretch her legs while the rest of the crew finished up eating.  What’s better, it’s Estonia, and no one cares if you take your wine glass with you on baby duty.

 

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Taking an after (during) dinner walk in her new ‘See Kai Run’ shoes.

As luck would have it, just around the corner, we found a little cafe called Kohvik August, that we fell in love with as well.  They made great coffee and mate lattes, and had fun lunch specials, including the Estonian version of Aperol spritzers, just for a treat.

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Happy vacation!

While Old Town is fun, it turns out there’s more to Tallinn than that.  The next day we hopped the local transit to Kadriorg, an expansive park that includes both playgrounds and gardens, and the site of the historic palace grounds.

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The palace and the gardens really are beautiful in the summer.  The playground areas were decent, but not overwhelmingly modern or creative (just wait for the post on Copenhagen!!), and we’d had some rain in the morning so things were wet enough that Baby Flyer preferred to run around the other parts of the park instead.

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Through the secret passage!  Baby Flyer’s outfit by Ittikid

The park was our last attraction before gathering up our things again, and heading back to the boat.  All in all, Tallinn was a pleasant surprise in many ways.  I didn’t do too much research on it this time around, but it really wasn’t needed.  You can easily hit the highlights of Old Town in 48 hours, enjoy some good food and drinks, and return to your Scandi holiday satisfied at the diversion.

~CET

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Baby Flyer’s rating of Tallinn: Good times, much enjoyment. Would recommend – 10 out of 10!

Next up- “God Rejse og Velkommen,” or “Hygge With a Chance of Downpour.”  (Denmark…the next stop is Denmark.)

Summer in Scandinavia Part 3: This is the Way We Board The Plane…

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Here we go!

….Board the plane, board the plane.

The story so far:

Preview: Summer in Scandinavia

Part 1: Gear Up and Go!

Part 2: Well Connected

After our early morning and hop to Boston, it was nice to make it to our final stop before Europe.  We don’t routinely find ourselves going through JFK, so spending a little time there was a nice change.  Plus, we were traveling internationally and so CET’s American Executive Platinum status got us into the Flagship Lounge half of the Admiral’s Club.

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Busy afternoon at the JFK Flagship Lounge

We had a couple hours before our flight, since it was an overnight (as most transatlantic flights tend to be) and so had time to have a meal at the buffet, and let Baby Flyer roam around.

This lounge has been recently re-done, and they did a good job.  However, during peak times even this expanded space is full to capacity.  We ended up grabbing a couple chairs along one of the walls, but almost every seat was taken.

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Full buffett

The food consists of a full hot bar, as well as snacks and desserts.  The drinks are self-serve, and included a wine/champagne bar, as well as a station with a refreshing ‘signature cocktail.’

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Baby Flyer loves some lounge time, and especially enjoyed looking at the planes outside while walking along the wall of windows that makes up one side of the lounge.

At about 45 minutes out, we headed to our gate.  They hadn’t started boarding yet, but it was good we were there on the early side as they needed to re-check our passports (standard procedure).  Since we were in business class, we boarded early.  Baby Flyer LOVED getting to walk down the jetbridge on her own two feet, and holding her own passport!

The plane was one of Finnair’s a330 workhorses.  It has two classes- business and economy, and while the seats were lie-flat and functional, could use some updating.  Finnair has been doing just that through their fleet, including newly purchased a350 long haul aircraft that look amazing inside.

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AY a330 Business Class

We sat in 1A and 1C, which was a window seat and aisle at the front of the cabin.  The interior is laid out in a 1-2-2 or 1-2-1 layout, depending on the row.  This gives good options to both individual travelers and couples.  One thing the service lacked was any kind of mattress pad, which would have been a welcome addition since the seats were on the hard side for sleeping.

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Baby Flyer shows us how to fasten our seatbelts

Finnair does its best to be quintessentially scandi with their decor, including brightly patterned marimekko pillows and blankets, as well as amenity kits.  Their signature pre-departure drink was sparkling wine and blueberry juice, served in ice patterned glasses.

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Inspecting the amenity kit

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Signature drinks before takeoff

The IFE was solid, and included a lot of things you don’t find on AA or Qatar, or probably anything outside of Scandinavian TV, including plenty of nature specials and outdoor adventure documentaries.  Ice.  So very much walking around on ice.

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Rocking out!

I always enjoy checking out new airlines.  Even though Finnair isn’t a true luxury airline like Qatar or Cathay Pacific, it’s a solid choice with pleasant service and a good reputation.  What’s even better about them is that they’re a way to get to Europe that can both avoid the huge award fees that British Airways and Iberia tack on, and can let you skip the chaos of connecting in Heathrow.

The key to award travel to Europe is to just get to Europe, pretty much anywhere in Europe, and then connect from there to where you actually want to go.  Bonus if you actually want to go to the destination, like we did with Helsinki.

The flight itself was long, and not too long at once.  It was an overnight but only 8 hours including taxi, take off, landing, and meal service.  This is the downside of flying East Coast to Europe- even the longest flight only provides for about 4 hours sleep if you’re lucky.  We took off and watched the sunset out of the windows before settling in.

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We’d brought her plenty of pack-able toys, and she was entertained for a few minutes here and there by watching the IFE, or listening to the ‘Finnish Kids’ song station through our Bose.  She also played at our feet for awhile, and set up a fort of sorts in the bulkhead.  They handed out Moomins themed towel/blankets to the kids, and she enjoyed ‘going ny-ny’ on hers.

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Everything is Moomins

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Making a fort

Traveling with a lap infant, especially a lap toddler, is infinitely better the more space you have.  She eventually fell asleep, first on CET (much to CAR’s delight), and then moved over after awhile.  We didn’t sleep much at all, but she did, and woke up grinning and happy on final descent.  We should all be so lucky.

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Someone got to sleep at least

Overall, it was a comfortable way to get the three of us to Europe, especially since we could handle some lost sleep since we didn’t have immediate plans for the day once we got there.

Travel well,

~CET

Up Next- Helsinki!

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Hyvää päivää!!

Summer in Scandinavia Part 2- Well Connected

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Heading down the jetbridge, logbook in hand.

The story so far:

Summer in Scandinavia-Trip Preview

Summer in Scandinavia Part 1- Gear Up and Go

Note: The topic of this post is usually the kind of thing I would ramble on about over at Cruising Altitude, and help people with at Altitude Consulting, but since it’s pretty integral to how we ended up in Europe this summer, we’ll include it here too.  Thanks for reading!

So, here’s the thing about award tickets- they can be hard to find, especially in first and business classes. Everyone agrees on this point. Another thing about them is that availability changes over time. Another another thing is that when you have elite status with your chosen airline, there’s a surprising amount of flexibility to shift things around up until the time you start your trip.

Let me put this in context….

When planning an international trip using miles and points, the hardest thing to do is to ‘cross the ocean’ – meaning the flight that takes you to whatever other continent you’re trying to go to. In our case, the general destination was ‘Europe.’ Since Finnair had availability, that ended up meaning Helsinki (which I was thrilled about, honestly).

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All smiles at LAX

However, our home airport is LAX, and there wasn’t any real available routing that would get us from there to JFK where the Finnair flight would pick up, even though on one award you can fly up to 3 segments. I initially just booked the JFK-HEL and back, and then laid in wait to see what better I could do.

Eventually, I sussed out a couple of tickets I could add on from Chicago to Newark (admittedly not JFK, but close enough that American would consider it a ‘connection’) and added that on. LAX to Chicago happened to be much cheaper than LAX to JFK, easier to upgrade, and we didn’t mind the chance to kick off the trip in the Windy City anyway. I still wasn’t happy with the specter of the Newark to JFK hassle, but I let it be for awhile.

After a few months of periodically checking in to see if by any miracle two award seats in the right class got ‘released’ by American’s all mysterious and powerful revenue management program direct from Chicago to JFK (there was one flight that would work, so I wasn’t too hopeful) I finally saw the next best thing, which was a pair of seats going Chicago, to Boston, and then on into JFK.  The first flight had two in First, and the second I’d have to downgrade myself to economy to let CAR and Baby Flyer take the one remaining premium seat.

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Everything we took to the airport for 10 days in Europe….

So in short, our options were to trade the bus, train and bus, or expensive Uber for one more flight and a layover in Boston.  It only took a few minutes of consideration before calling up to make the change.  Two factors played heavily here- if we flew the two flights, we could check our bags all the way through to Helsinki since it was all one award, and it meant we could actually leave the car seat at home entirely.  We didn’t really anticipate getting in any cars in Europe, and this across town taxi ride in NYC was the only time we were sure we’d need it.

A very helpful agent got our award switched over in just a few minutes- the flexibility and the service are great perks of keeping my Oneworld/American status.  As an Executive Platinum, I could also stand by for the upgrade on that second flight in case a seat cleared up.

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“Paying it forward- ‘hidden’ drink chit”

Our day started early out of ORD, but since it was the start of the adventure everyone was in a good mood.  We got there in time for a few minutes and breakfast at the Admiral’s Club.  Since we were flying internationally with Oneworld status, we got a couple free premium drink vouchers.  These can be used for the full bar menu, or also the bottled juices and smoothies.  We didn’t use them all, so we left one behind to ‘pay it forward’ to some other traveler later in the day.

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Baby Flyer knows how to make the most of an early travel day.

The flight went quickly, and Baby Flyer dozed for most of it.  Once in Boston, we headed again to the Admiral’s club (more drink coupons, more paying it forward), and then tried to go to the new British Airways lounge in the international terminal.  I won’t go on here at length about the rules since I’ve already done so over at Cruising Altitude, but in short clear rules need to be set out for this place.  When we were there, according to the website, it was open.  When we got there it was indeed open, but apparently only for Japan Airlines customers.  This however, wasn’t stated anywhere, and caused us to loose about 40 minutes our layover hiking over and back.

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Cruising BOS airport in her new City Mini Zip.  The adjustable footrest is a nice touch.

Putting that behind us, we ended up enjoying the rest of our Boston time at the Club taking turns showering, and watching Baby Flyer in the kids’ room.  A good time was had by all, and soon it was time to head out to JFK!

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Layover playtime (and keeping track of the time)

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She doesn’t mind layovers…

When I’d switched to this flight, I’d then checked in on the tickets online and got a nice extra surprise- AA is currently running one of their 321-T planes on the short hop between Boston and JFK, and so we’d unsuspectingly landed great seats on American’s nicest domestic plane.  Even my “economy” seat put me into what was actually business class, and so we both had lie flats with plenty of room.  Baby Flyer in particular was impressed, and pretty pleased with herself and I’m pretty sure CAR wouldn’t have minded a longer flight to finish her movie in comfort.

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AA’s 321-T Flagship 1st

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Checking out the digs…

We touched down on time into JFK, and headed out once again to the Admiral’s Club.  This time, however, we had access to the International Flagship Lounge for a few hours before our Helsinki flight, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

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My ‘business class’ seat was no slouch either.

And that, will be a good start for the next chapter.

~CET

Up Next: Part 3- This is the way we board the plane, (board the plane)

 

Summer In Scandinavia Part 1- Gear Up & Go!

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In case you missed it, be sure to read the preview post about this trip here: Summer in Scandinavia Preview

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Our flight up to Chicago from LAX- Baby Flyer’s first 787 Dreamliner flight.  (She slept through most of it)

We had a good (if a little tiring after a late arrival and short night) day in the Windy City.  We made the most of our time- we took the train into the city from our airport hotel, and walked the few short blocks from Washington station to Michigan Ave.  We hadn’t been up in time for breakfast at the hotel, so we stopped off at Le Pain Quotidien for some brunch.  Baby Flyer hasn’t been feeling restaurant high chairs lately, so luckily they had a booth for us, and we all managed to eat a good meal.  Next up, we crossed the street to Maggie C. Daily park.

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We visited here last time we were in the city, and Baby Flyer wasn’t walking yet, so she couldn’t do much exploring on her own.  It was also November, so the park was cold and quiet.  This time, it was a different experience.  We both thought she would be entertained for a while since the park has so many different sections and attractions.  

However, this was one of those moments that encapsulates family travel with young kiddos.  This time around the park was full of kids, mostly older than she was, and she wasn’t really enjoying the vibe.  We played on the swings for a bit, and climbed up and down some grass mounds, and then decided to move on. 

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We ended up walking up the waterfront toward Navy Pier, which we hadn’t done before, and made our way to the canal where the boat tours leave from.  At this point Baby Flyer needed a nap soon (and some air conditioning) so we bought tickets for the next river and lake tour.  There are several tour companies that offer similar trips, for around the same prices.  We didn’t have any trouble just getting a ticket a few minutes beforehand on the fly, which was nice.  Most offer some form of an architectural tour, and a lake tour.  The one we took, though not branded ‘architectural’ still hit the highlights of Chicago’s skyline, and given that it was a hot day, it was nice to get out on the lake. 

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We’ve always been curious about these on our Chicago trips, but never quite coughed up the time/money/planning to go.  This time it was a great option.  Baby Flyer LOVES boats, which is good, because we had a lot of them planned throughout the trip.  She had a great time looking around on deck for the first half of the tour, and then we took her downstairs for a nap for the second half.  True, you can’t see nearly as much from below, but the air conditioning was great, as was not having a cranky baby for the rest of the day. 

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From there, we headed back toward the train station, and stumbled upon the world traveler’s best friend when you need a good but easy dinner in a different city- Vapiano!  Vapiano has locations throughout Europe, and the US.  It’s a counter-order, first come first serve for tables place, which rescues the wandering traveler without a reservation.  Plus the food is really quite good, and especially abroad- reasonably priced!  

Now, we’d like to be able to say that Baby Flyer sat nicely in her high chair and let us have a relaxing meal, but that would be a large departure from the truth, which is also why Vapiano is a good choice.  It’s just a little less formal, so if say…your kid wants to spend the whole dinner being helped to climb up and down the stairs from the bathroom while you each take turns quickly eating a slice of pizza, you won’t be all that ashamed. 

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“The Vapiano card” – you order from different stations and scan your card as you go, then check out on the way out the door.  Nice when baby is tired and you don’t want to wait around for the check.

After we’d had dinner, and Baby Flyer climbed the stairs at least 40 times, we took the train back to our hotel for the night and got organized.  For this trip, we worked hard to lower our ‘luggage footprint’ since we’d have several transitions between cities, including 8 flights, a round trip ferry, and many trains and trams.  

Before, we’d been traveling with a pack-n-play when we needed a bed, and either our britax b-agile, or our summer infant 3D umbrella stroller.  These are fine for simple trips, but for this one we swapped them out for a Phil & Ted’s Traveler crib, and a Baby Jogger Citi Mini Zip with a carrying backpack.  What a DIFFERENCE!!! 

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The Phil and Ted’s bed is SO light- 8 lbs, y’all!! It sits easily on a rolling suitcase, and has a carry strap as well.  The mattress is like a thermarest camping pad, so it rolls up small.  It sets up in just a few minutes, and Baby Flyer seems to sleep in it as well as she ever did in the pack-n-play.  It’s best if you can put it on carpet though, for a little extra softness. 

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As for the City Mini Zip, we agonized over a travel stroller for quite awhile, and we’re down to the Citi Mini Tour, or going all out on the Babyzen YoYo.  The Mini Tour definitely is the lightest, with the easiest fold, but it seemed like Baby Flyer was a little cramped in it, and she’s not a huge kid for her age.  As per the dimensions, she shouldn’t be, but it is generally a smaller stroller (which is the point).  The YoYo is quite nice, which it well should be for the huge price tag.  When push came to shove, we didn’t feel like we liked it $300+ more than other options, and we didn’t have luck finding one used in time for the trip.  Besides, there’s a certain arrogance on the part of a company to try and sell you a $400 stroller- and not include he seat!  Yes, that’s right- the frame is $400, and if you want your kid to be able to sit in it, that’ll be another $100.  

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The City Mini Zip when folded- reasonably light, around 17 lbs.

We ended up with the Citi Zip because CAR stumbled upon it at Home Goods, of all places.  It was new & heavily discounted.  It folds down nicely, though not as tiny as the City Tour.  In the backpack though, it was comfortable to carry, even decently long distances.  We didn’t try to carry it on the planes, but on the bigger ones with space, it would have fit sideways in the bins.

*Spoiler alert here- we took the stroller on a weekend trip to Seattle and loved it, but after bouncing it over cobblestones in Europe, we didn’t think it fared as well.  Overall, it worked fine for our purposes, but it didn’t seem to take ‘off-roading’ easily.  More on this later.*

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In the end, we got all our luggage down to one carry on size roller, one cabin bag, the bed and stroller backpack, one mid size roller, plus a diaper bag.  It was an amount we could wheel and carry fairly easily, even on 20 min walks to and from train stations.  Once the bigger items were checked, we were going pretty light in the airports.  

What was also different for this trip is that we made the decision to not bring our trusty Cosco travel car seat.  It’s light as car seats go, but bulky, and we just couldn’t justify the hassle since we weren’t planning any rental cars in Europe.  It did mean that we didn’t have the option to take a taxi or Uber (though we heard that in a pinch many European taxis may have a car seat of some kind stashed in the trunk).

We did a mix of checking and gate checking the stroller, and Finnair checked both it and the bed for free as ‘baby items’ even though Baby Flyer didn’t have her own seat.  Baby Flyer wasn’t a big fan of any stroller- travel or otherwise- then, so much of the time it was nice to get rid of it at check in and carry her to the lounge and plane. 

And the nitty gritty of all that, is coming up.

~CET, CAR & Baby Flyer

Up next- Summer In Scandinavia Part 2: Well Connected