Summer In Scandinavia Part 4: Hello, Helsinki

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Tervetuola!

The adventure so far:

Preview

Part 1- Gear up and Go!

Part 2- Well Connected

Part 3- This Is How We Board the Plane (Board the Plane)

We arrived in Helsinki on time and intact, though a little tired.  Thankfully, Helsinki is a strikingly welcoming place to get around as a family.  From the comfortable changing stations in all the restrooms, to the free ‘strollers’ to use in the airport, it really shows that they value accessibility for parents.  On top of this, even though it’s the largest airport in the country, the Helsinki-Vantaa airport felt largely empty.  There were no crowds, no big lines at customs.  We were through and waiting for baggage in a matter of minutes.

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Finnair checked our stroller through to baggage, but the airport had free kiddie carts.

From there, we followed the signs to the train to the city.  Helsinki has a new-ish direct high speed train that takes you downtown in about 25 minutes.  It too was clean, accessible, and quiet.  We enjoyed the trip through so many green fields and trees!  So nice after leaving from Los Angeles in the summer.

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Once we got to the central station, we got on the local train out to the neighborhood where our Airbnb was.  Again, easy and clean.  We’d looked up the stations and trains before going (you can never be too prepared) so we made it with minimal confusion.  I use this system across the world.  Though in northern Europe, you can just about count on signage in English, or locals who can answer your questions, it’s good to have an idea of what stops, what direction, and if applicable what color line you’re looking for.  This kind of down to the details research has saved me, especially in places like Shanghai or Tokyo, where the language barrier is worse.

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The enclosed porch of our flat.  The perfect place to relax between sightseeing.

Our condo was in Ruoholahti, which isn’t quite the center of town, but also isn’t far.  Helsinki isn’t a big place in general, so between walking, biking, and the easy on/off trams around the city, we felt plenty in the middle of it all.  We rented a three bedroom flat that was spacious and homey.  Our hosts were very nice and accommodating.  By American standards European Airbnbs are usually a mix as they tend to go heavy on the location, and light on a few amenities most of us are used to.  Dishwashers are rare in the smaller units, as are clothes dryers.  However, it was a MUCH better deal for us than a hotel.  Hotels are expensive, lack the ability to do your own cooking, and don’t have separate rooms to put the baby to bed in.  For stays longer than a night or two, it’s a great option.

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We settled in and took a much needed nap, and then headed out to explore the city for a bit.  It was high summer, some of the nicest weather they’d had yet in the season, and still the city was very easy to get around and lacked big crowds at the major attractions.  So, so nice when you’re bringing the baby around.  At times we could even let her walk down the sidewalks next to us without worrying she would run into anyone.

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She LOVED it, and even got used to how to get to the train station, and what train to get on.  This kid was made for this town!

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We got dinner at- you guessed it- Vapiano our first night.  Why break with tradition.  As advertised, it was good quality and affordable.  I will say we actually had a harder time than expected finding restaurants in this city.  Between their limited hours, and menus it was hard to agree on, we did a bit of wandering around.  If we go back, that’s one thing I would research more.

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The next day, more rested, we set out to enjoy the nature in and around Helsinki of which there’s plenty.  We headed up the shore from our flat to check out the open air museum, which is an island park that has quite a number of traditional buildings on display amidst the forest.  Again, it was very quiet and no crowds.

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The ‘museum’ was free to wander around.  Tickets were only required for guided tours and events.  The island also has a bathhouse, as well as several beach areas.  We took a loop trail through, but we had more things to do in the day, so we didn’t spend hours.

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This walk also takes you past one of the most advertised (as much as anything is in Helsinki) attractions.  The Sebelius Monument is one of the iconic sights in the city.  You can walk around and through it, which makes for some fun pictures.

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Before going, we’d looked up what to do as a family in Helsinki, and came across a fun and unique museum called the “Childrens’ Town.”  It’s indoors, in the city center, and best of all- Free!  We made a point to check it out, and it was a hit!  It consists of two floors of the building and has a bunch of different exhibits, all of which are play-with-able.  There’s a farmyard, a boat, a puppet show, a store, a classroom, and more.

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The exhibits highlight Finnish society and history, in a playful kid-friendly way.  The upper floors of the City Museum have adult exhibits that we also had a walk though.  What was particularly striking about taking Baby Flyer here was how clean and safe it was.  This was due to the design, but also simply to how conscientious and respectful the other patrons were.  Parents were attentive, and were meticulous in tidying up after their kids were done playing.  The museum didn’t need a big staff, and was therefore able to be free, likely in part due to this.  It was so refreshing!

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I’ll also take the time to say that while the city didn’t have all that many people in it (which isn’t just our perception, the entire country has only about 5 million people-less than the population of LA County alone) there were plenty of other babies and kids around.  There were a fair share of strollers on the sidewalks, and yes, both here and especially in Copenhagen we did see some babies napping in their strollers outside shops and restaurants while their parents were inside.

This would seem unbelievable in America, and has in fact, gotten some expats in trouble with CPS unwittingly.  However, these cities are very safe, and kidnapping is almost unheard of.  It’s estimated there have been about 3 reported kidnappings in Copenhagen in the last 30 years or so, and if the story is true, some of those were mistaken acts by thieves just trying to take property without realizing they’d managed to take a snoozing baby as well.

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Comfy enough in her Mini Zip, but she wasn’t about to let us leave her in it to go off and have a coffee.

We weren’t quite that brave, and Baby Flyer wasn’t feeling the stroller napping too often on this trip anyway.  She much preferred to be out of the stroller and exploring on her own two feet.

We visited two more of the main attractions on our visit- the Fortress at Suomenlinna, and the Helsinki Zoo.  The former we’d looked up before going, and had put on the list, while the latter seemed to be the place every local we managed to get to actually talk to us (the Finns are notorious for being a bit shy and reserved, a trait that Baby Flyer spent the entire four days trying to cure them of through forced games of peek-a-boo and other antics, at times much to their discomfort) suggested we go.  This was true from the first locals we met on the flight over, to our hosts, to waitstaff.

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Suomenlinna is a world heritage site situated on an island near the city center, and ferries run all day and are reasonably priced.  You can get a simple round trip, or an island hopper ticket that lets you stop at a few more of the smaller islands in the harbor to explore.  Suomenlinna itself is a large site with both relics of the old fortifications, and more modern buildings and restaurants and cafes.  There’s plenty of nature, and a playground that Baby Flyer thoroughly enjoyed.  Even better, just getting there on the boat was a cause for absolute joy.

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We spent a few hours walking around and taking in the sights.  As always is the case when traveling with toddlers, sometimes the best parts are impromptu.  In this case, Baby Flyer’s favorite part was the flocks of wild geese wandering around that were quite tame, yet not aggressive.  We had to console her for quite awhile when it was time to say bye bye to the birds to head back to the mainland.  Luckily for her, these were far from the last birds she’d get to commune with on our trip.

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Posing with ‘her friends.’

The next day we did a little shopping and sightseeing, and then caught yet another boat- yes, in Helsinki, everything is boats- to the Zoo.  Now, I think that you can learn a lot about the entire Finnish culture just from a quick walk through the Helsinki Zoo.  I mean this in a good way, hear me out.

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This is the middle of the Zoo.  Yes, really.

The culture, to an outsider, in many ways revolves around respect.  Respect for other people’s interests and boundaries, and respect for the world and nature.  You see this everywhere- people are reserved, almost unnervingly so to the common American, but they’re not pushy, they don’t assume, and public spaces are clean and safe.  Likewise, their parks dominate the city, and tend toward the more natural, less manicured.

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Baby Flyer takes control of the situation, and the map.  Radish dress by Ittikid, baby Keen sandals.

So now the Zoo.  It likewise was beautiful and unlike any Zoo I’ve been to.  There was as much open, non-cage and enclosure space as there was areas where the animals were kept.  What’s more, the animals in most cases had so much space that they weren’t visible to us much at all.  It was a statement that the wants of the animals were as important as our desire to see them.  It’s not to say we didn’t see some, but more often than not….we just had to take their word for it that there was something in the enclosure.

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This is a sculpture of an animal.  Good enough.

None of this bothered Baby Flyer in the least, though we adults did get a pretty good laugh out of it. Since the Zoo takes up a small island of its own, there’s also beautiful views to be had as you wander around.  Even more importantly, there were…. more birds for Baby Flyer.

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LET ME LOVE YOU!!

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So yes, there were some animals after all.  Przewalski’s Horses- some of the only surviving truly ‘wild’ breeds of horse.  Or as Baby Flyer calls them – “A Neeee!”

After walking around most all of the major exhibits, and stopping for some ice cream, we headed back to the ferry to the City.  We got dinner on one of the main shopping streets on the way back, and enjoyed some of the truly amazingly high quality street performers that seemed iconic of the city.  A far cry from the ‘guy with a keyboard’ or ‘bucket drummer duo’ we used to happen upon in the Boston subway now and then.

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I’ll have you know that you haven’t lived until you’ve seen that sax player drop and do 20 push-ups in the street as the tuba performs a truly amazing ‘Eye of the Tiger’ solo.  These guys alone are worth the trip.  Click here for a short clip of them playing.

Summer in Helsinki means mild temps, and long evenings as the light doesn’t really fade out until close to 11pm.  It’s a perfect time to go and enjoy this modern-yet-historic city.  This year Finland celebrated 100 years of independence, which in comparison to its neighbors isn’t much at all.  Over the land’s history there has been plenty of influence in from cultures far older, and the country’s largest city reflects this- Swedish and Danish design elements, wide soviet-style street plans and squares, all with native Soumi sensibility.  They’re low on cars, big on education, lake houses and saunas, and everything is nature.

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I think we all agreed we were glad we’d been able to make the trip, and wouldn’t mind coming back.   As a parting thought, we also got a new appreciation for a good gin & tonic!  Having a cocktail with lunch (and or dinner) on vacation is a fun treat, and the one of choice featured local Napue gin, and cranberries for color.  It was so good, we grabbed a bottle to take home from duty free on our return flight!

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Last day in the city.

After our 4 days, it was sadly time to move on to our next port of call- literally- We had a boat to catch!

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Nakemiin, Helsinki…. off to Tallinn, Estonia!

~CET, CAR & Baby Flyer

Weekend Trip to Whidbey- Day 1

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Since the holidays are just around the corner, and we’re planning our yearly trip up to Whidbey Island to visit family, it seemed like a good time to finish up this trip report from earlier in the year.  We always enjoy going up north, and American’s new non-stop flights have made it even easier for us lately.  Thanks for reading!

Last weekend we took a last minute trip to Whidbey Island to visit family.  Whidbey is a beautiful and mostly quiet island north of Seattle.  We try to go a few times a year to visit, CET’s Mom, and Madeline’s 96 year old Great Grandmother.

It took us longer than we expected to get to LAX, so we ended up taking the bus to the satellite terminal where our flight was leaving out of and going to the smaller Admirals Club instead of going to the main club in Terminal 4.  The satellite club is small but has the same food offerings as the main club.  A variety of trail mixes, cheese and crackers, hummus, fresh vegetables, olives, angel hair pasta with capers and tomatoes, and mini brownies and a couple kinds of cookies.  It gave Baby Flyer a place to push around her Trunki before our flight.

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Baby Flyer’s outfit by TEA (click for 25% discount), baby moccasins by FRESHLY PICKED 

We were on a regional jet to Seattle.  Before boarding we found out we were upgraded thanks to CET’s Executive Platinum status.  Using Expert Flyer, we knew it looked good for both of us to get moved up, so we linked our tickets so our upgrade was based on her status and I used two of her 500-mile upgrade vouchers (about a $60 value if you don’t have enough available).  We opted to sit together in the bulkhead and were pleasantly surprised with how much leg room there was.  It felt quite spacious.  Baby Flyer stood and welcomed our fellow passengers onto the plane.  She loved it!

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Welcome to our flight to Sea-Tac International Airport.  Our flying time today will be approximately 2 hours, and 45 minutes.  I’ll be your Baby Flyer ambassador for the day…

Much to our surprise, we were served a full meal.  This regional jet didn’t have any way to heat entrees so we had the choice between a cobb chicken salad (with the chicken on the side, perfect for vegetarians!) or a curry chicken wrap.  We were served a small slice of caramel cheesecake for dessert.  Neither of us were expecting a meal, so we probably didn’t need to eat so much for lunch in the Admirals Club beforehand.  Live and learn.  Neither of us finished our entrees but we enjoyed a few bites.  I’m a vegetarian and I had the salad and CET had the wrap.

Since Baby Flyer hadn’t napped yet, and she usually starts her nap between 12 and 12:45, she slept most of our flight up, which gave us time to kick back and relax ourselves.

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We flew out of LAX around 2pm on Friday and flew back on the around 8pm on Monday.  Leaving LAX at 2pm meant we arrived in Seattle in time for rush hour.  Instead of sitting on the freeway in traffic, we opted to visit the Centurion Lounge in the Seattle airport and have some dinner before heading to the rental car center.

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For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Centurion Lounges, they are an airport lounge provided by American Express for cardholders.  The lounges offer regionally inspired food, drink, and comfortable seating.  Some of the bigger clubs even offer spa services (15 minute massages, manicures, and facials) and have a kids’ play room.  Currently, they are in Dallas (DFW), Houston (IAH), Las Vegas (LAS), New York (LGA), Miami (MIA), Seattle (SEA), and San Francisco(SFO).  It seems like they are constantly working on expanding the network, and we’ve heard talk that in the near future there will be one in LAX.  We have the American Express Platinum Card and try and take advantage of all of its benefits.  At some point we will put together a post outlining the card’s benefits for any who’re curious.

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The Centurion in Seattle just opened a new area with lots of additional tables and chairs as well as a full bar.  Prior to this, they served beer and wine and it was served by the waitstaff.  Baby Flyer appreciated the new expansion and spent time against, pushing her Trunki throughout the club.  She made friends with all the waitstaff and loved the attention.

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We left the club around 7 and headed to the rental car center.  By the time we were on the road, traffic was still slow in some areas but was basically moving.  We made the 8:30 ferry to Whidbey and soon after we were settling in for the day.

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Up next- Some island time.

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