Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Fat Man – when does it start?

One of the purest joys of childhood is having a vivid imagination, sprinkled with unbridled creativity and fantasy. I love watching the short one being taken to a land far away in her imagination as she plays with her toys. 

It does however, bring me to the point of that great unanswered question…when do you introduce the notion of Santa Claus?

At what age do they begin to understand that it is perfectly normal for some hirsute overweight stranger dressed in red and white to break into your house in the middle of the night and leave a whole bunch of stuff at the end of your bed, eat your food, drink your grog and then proceed to do the same in every house in the whole wide world, all before sun up?

I recently read some bah humbug claims by a Sydney academic saying parents "should not create a fantasy where children are not given any basis for knowing what's real and what's pretend". She went on to say that parents shouldn’t lie to their children about Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.  Whilst her press coverage was fortuitous for her (she has just published a book), it created much discussion and debate. Obviously it is a topic many feel very strongly about.

It brings me back to my first point – imagination and fantasy – rites of passage in any childhood.  Creativity is the byproduct of these notions.  Give a paintbrush to any child and they will create with no inhibitions.  Give that same brush to an adult and they are likely to say, ‘Oh, I’m not very good,’ ‘I can’t draw,’ or ‘I am not very artistic.’  What happens in between?  Where does that unbridled creativity go?

Sir Ken Robinson, world leader in creativity and education, once quoted Picasso as saying that "All children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up". Robinson believes kids do not grow into creativity, but grow out of it, or rather educated out of it.

Kids are risk-takers; they have little fear of getting things wrong; creativity is borne out of taking that risk and simply having a go. ‘If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never be able to come up with anything original.’

As overly cautious adults and politically correct educators, are we at risk of diminishing all that is the innocence of childhood?

Despite the notion of the modern day Santa being a Coca Cola marketing phenomenon dating back to 1931, I can’t help but feel compelled to do whatever it takes to create that little bit of fantasy in our home. Besides which, I remember when I was a child and discovered the truth about the Fat Man, I just never let on to my parents.  I didn’t want to spoil their fun!

Santa Claus as depicted originally in Coca Cola advertising

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On the Eve of Christmas Eve

Since returning from our European adventures, our time has been taken up with the lead up to Christmas.

With the jet lag now just a distant memory, we have wrangled our way through the maze of gift buying, put up our Christmas tree, sent the obligatory cards, done the Christmas baking and put on our annual Christmas get together for our close friends; traditions one and all and ones that we wouldn’t do without.

The short one putting on her special bauble

This time of year prompts me to stop and ponder all that we have achieved throughout 2010; the amazing growth and development that the short one has embraced; our loved ones who have endured pain and challenges; and those who have delighted in achievements and success.

Throughout it all, I always tried to take life as it was dealt - head on!

Rocking horse from Munich's Viktualienmarkt  

Angel from Ka De We, Berlin

Bauble from Amsterdam

Enjoy the small steps and take strength from the more challenging strides.  Your journey…your pathway…and remember above all, love the ones you are with, now and forever.

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and an enticing New Year full of promises of a path less travelled!

Put it all together...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

‘What the…’ Part Five

Prague is undisputedly one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe…famous for its unique architecture, cultural achievements and historical exploits – its sheer beauty is purely captivating, so much so that UNESCO saw fit to declare the city centre a World Heritage Site in 1992.

Prague is also well known for its stunningly beautiful astronomical clock, dating back to the fifteenth century. Next to the Charles Bridge, it is probably the most photographed attraction in Prague’s Old Town.

Prague Orloj (Astronomical Clock),
Old Town City Hall
Now this clock is just no ordinary clock – this clock has kept Czechs on time for hundreds of years, but not only that, it tells you about the revolutions of the sun, the moon and the stars.  It also depicts the zodiac and the calendar. Granted, you need to be an astrophysicist to decipher its many dials…but…

Prague also lays claim to being the cultural centre of Europe, home to many a classical genius and world class premieres from the likes of composers Dvorak, Mozart and Smetana – even Einstein did a professorial stint at the German University in Prague.

Now, you would think with all of this incredible history and resources on the doorsteps of the Czechs that they wouldn’t have an issue scheduling the time for a daily concert in one of the most atmospheric venues in all of Prague, the Lobkowicz Palace, within the grounds of the Prague Castle…

Clearly that was not to be the case at all…

Midday concert

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Toddlers and Christmas parties

Travelling with toddlers has got nothing on travelling with toddlers to Christmas parties.

Up until today I wasn’t aware that one required a certain level of athleticism to attend the annual office Christmas party.  This year's party had to have made it into the top ten of the worst Christmas Parties of all time.

It started off so promising…

All kitted out in our finery, the short one wearing her self-proclaimed ‘pretty dress’, we all headed into the city to ‘Australia’s best steak restaurant’.  Commanding spectacular views along the waterfront, we were treated to a private function room, great wine, good company and scintillating conversation.

Following a scrumptious entrĂ©e, and eagerly awaiting the main, someone decided it was a good idea to take the short one from the confines of her high chair for a ‘cuggle'.  As a result of this spontaneous act, this person has been scarred for life and will probably either never eat steak again or at the very least never have children.

I have never, ever, ever, seen anything quite like it in my life.  If I was a proctologist or a gastroenterologist it may have constituted a normal day in the office, but in a fine restaurant, it beggars belief.

I suppose it was reminiscent of what may happen after one enjoys, so to speak, the after effects of an enema. I am not really sure, and to be honest, I don’t care to be that familiar with the symptomatology. But being somewhat responsible for whatever deems itself necessary to emit itself from the short one’s entrails, I sadly had the job of dealing with it.

Not unlike Europe, baby change facilities are hard to come by, so desperate times called for desperate measures.  I had no other choice but to put together a make shift change space on the floor of the ladies toilets. Not that I am an expert on all things digestive, but I did question the sheer volume of matter however, and how it was at all possible from such a small person.

Her ‘pretty dress’ was relegated to the ‘oh my God, you can never wear that again in your lifetime dress', as I frantically tore things out of the baby bag looking for a change of clothes.  At this point in time, the short one reached in and said, ‘Hat, mummy,’ as if that made all the difference.  

Standing there in nothing else but a nappy and a skewiff hat, smiling up at me, I just had to smile back through welling tears of desperation. Just then the piped music became obvious and the short one started dancing…I just shook my head and wondered at the complete obliviousness.

There was nothing else for it, we just had to go home.  After having consumed one glass of wine, I insisted on catching a taxi with the short one.  Daddy would follow in our car  after dinner.

A short while later, the short one and I arrived home safely with my steak in a take away container, to realise a small problem, well, two small problems actually:

  1. I have the parking ticket in my handbag and
  2. Daddy has the house keys…

It is at this point, forlornly standing in the front yard, in the pitch dark, drizzling rain, with an unhappy baby, that I think to myself...a certain level of athleticism is always a handy commodity…nothing is insurmountable…

Except... for our joint.

It’s OK. I am a mother and with that supposedly comes a range of mother talents. Immediately after giving birth we instantly become more resourceful and multiskilled; more capable and adept; in fact not unlike Bear Gryls.

After trying all possible cavities, I remember something that will allow us entry…it may also afford me a DIY hysterectomy, but it had to be done.

Finally, success enabled us entry and the short one into a bath, a change of clothes and bed, and me…

...well, I enjoyed a very nice medium-rare rib fillet, served with a red wine jus and a glass of sauvignon blanc!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dreaming of a White Christmas

During Team O’Connor’s recent time away, we decided that one day we would come back for a White Christmas. 

I have decided today why wait…let’s just go back now!

For some sado-masochistic reason, I have decided today would be a good day to do my Christmas baking.  If you lived in Europe, that would be a purely delightful thing to do; if you live in Queensland, Australia, you are clearly on the brink of the realm of self harm.

It is 34 degrees Celsius with around 70% humidity. Having an oven running flat out all day to add insult to injury just sounded like a good idea at the time…

I can only take solace in the fact that I endeavour to sweat out an equalising amount of calories as I am consuming in Christmas fare! Negative calorie foods…I wonder if Jenny Craig has thought of that?

Cranberry and pistachio shortbread anyone?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Emirates response #2

Waiting, waiting, waiting...

Thank you for your recent correspondence.

We were sorry to learn of the problems that you encountered when you travelled with Emirates.
The events you have described are receiving our attention and we will revert to you upon completion of our enquiries.
We will endeavour to respond to you within 30 days or sooner from the date of this acknowledgement if we are in a position to do so.
Please quote the above reference number in any future correspondence. 
Yours sincerely,
Customer Affairs Australia

While we are at it...we still have not had a response back from our Travel Insurance Company in regards to our claim against the company that went into liquidation...would be nice to have that finalised BEFORE the credit card is due!!!

Will keep you posted... 

Monday, December 13, 2010

'What the...' Part Four

Germany is increasing security at airports and railway stations in light of "concrete indications" of terrorist attacks being planned for the end of November. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said it followed a tip-off from another, unnamed country. He said the extra security would remain in place "until further notice".
"There are grounds for concern, but not for hysteria," Mr de Maiziere told a news conference in Berlin.
The federal police force has been ordered to step up checks at airports and train stations, he added. BBC News 17 November, 2010

These news reports and others of an increasingly alarming nature were splashed across our TVs and newspapers each day whilst we toured around Germany. A sad reflection of the times in which we lived…

Minister de Maiziere came out in the end and announced at a press conference that police security would be a very noticeable presence at German airports and major train stations.  After initially denying that there was any real threat to Germany, his reasoning behind coming clean and alerting the travelling community at this time was to allay some of the fears that would be engendered by having such a visible presence of a large number of heavily armed police.

Being one of those travellers: in Germany; travelling on trains from major stations; during the end of November; we were alert and somewhat a little alarmed!

Having the German constabulary being omnipresent did prove to be a constant reminder of the threat, whilst at the same time provided a small sense of comfort…

We were particularly reassured however, to see two officers travelling on our train from Frankfurt to Munich, no doubt just keeping an eye on things…

from behind firmly shut eyelids…


Saturday, December 11, 2010

To all Team O Followers

Rather rudely of me, I have until now largely ignored the blog's ever so slowly growing following.  Thanks for taking the time to become a follower; your support, in part, drives the continuation of the entries.

I hope you have been enjoying the posts and taken a little something away...

I endeavour to keep the updates coming - so take the plunge and join the Team!

What injects life and soul into a blog are the rambling musings of a blog writer peppered with erudite comments from the band of followers!

Friday, December 10, 2010

‘What the…’ Part Three

As previously observed, Dubai was a city of contrasts.  A city of excess, a tribute to all things OTT!

The Greatest OTT Award though, has to be bestowed upon …the humble bus stop.

Well, clearly not just any bus stop…but an air conditioned, self contained, automatic door, fully adorned with advertising bus stop.

If you have to wait for a bus in Dubai I suppose it can get a bit warm…not any more apparently!

Awful attempt at photo out of bus window
of some Dubai bus stops 

Dubai air conditioned bus shelters

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Response from Emirates

Received this email today from the Senior Sales Exec from Emirates via our delightful travel agent...

Thank you very much for the email and bringing this matter to my attention.  I am sorry that these clients did not receive the high standard of service that our clients expect from Emirates.  I will forward this email to our Customer Affairs manager for full investigation and response.

Should be interesting...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

‘What the…’ Part Two

Sticking with the canine emissions theme, I would like to share the next ‘What the’ moment.

Now, my German is rudimentary at best, but I suspect, like me, that won’t matter when you see this ad.

One afternoon, after a day’s sightseeing, we checked back into our hotel room in Berlin and as usual daddy and the short one collapsed in front of the idiot box.  While I ran around like a chook with my head cut off doing all the ‘domestics', I was somewhat taken aback when I thought I saw what indeed I did see…

Kackel Dackel  (links to YouTube video)

If you believe the blurb that accompanies this 'educational game', children will be taught how the digestive system works, as well as teaching them responsible pet ownership.  I am surprised they haven't added Gastroenterology and Veterinary Science 101!

Fun for all the family and something you will no doubt have at the top of your Christmas list…

Monday, December 6, 2010

'What the...' Part One

During our time away, we were privy to a number of ‘what the…’ moments, which I would like to inflict on my readers as well.

Starting with the first one today…

Anyone who has kids, ever been near a kid, thought about having kids, or been a kid themselves at some stage of their career would be familiar with the ubiquitous literary giant, Spot the Dog.

A little known fact amongst his worldwide loving fans is that, in the Netherlands, Spot suffers from a grossly misunderstood and rarely researched condition called sialorrhoea.

Well, I am assuming he does…it is the only explanation I can come up with for his Dutch moniker.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Our decision to fly Emirates in the end was influenced by a number of factors: their reputation – everyone you talk to who have flown with them rate them highly; their fares – they were one of the cheapest ones available; their destinations – they fly direct to Munich; and their bassinettes - one of the largest out of the major airlines, but in the end still not big enough!

From my experience, rightly or wrongly, an airline is mostly rated on their crew.  Having been through five flight sectors and five crews, I was very disappointed overall with the level of service on Emirates.  I suppose I am comparing them with my experiences on Singapore Air, who have set a high industry standard, but I thought Emirates didn’t even come close.  Aside from anything else, I am convinced their seats are far more cramped than any other international flight I have been on.

In general we found the cabin crews were particularly unfriendly and appeared to be just going through the motions.  Compared to the Singapore girls who are forever smiling and going out of their way to help, the Emirates crew were aloof, stand offish, elusive and noticeable by their absence!  On one of the sectors coming home, I reluctantly had to use the crew call button, as you just never saw anyone.  On both occasions my call light was turned off (I suspect remotely) hence resulting in complete ignore – until it was pressed again!

It has been my experience on long haul flights that the crew walk around constantly with trays of water to try and keep up people’s fluid intake – not so on Emirates.  Perhaps coming from a desert country, water is a rare commodity, but you just never saw anyone walking around offering drinks. In the end I had to ask for drinks a couple of times.  Once I was told that they were bringing the service around soon, so to wait.  One hour later I was still dying of thirst! 

Be warned that if you order child meals as opposed to baby food and even have them confirmed on all sectors (which I have in writing), it doesn’t mean that you will get them. Three different crews on three different flights told us that if you don’t have a seat, you are not entitled to a meal! Perhaps it is their contribution to the fight against obesity.  Or just another attempt to make your life travelling with infants just that little bit harder. After repeatedly insisting with them that the meals were ordered and confirmed by Emirates themselves, we were reluctantly given something for the short one to eat.  The meals were less than acceptable, however.  One child ‘meal’ included an orange juice, a packet of potato chips and a mars bar.  Needless to say the short one shared my meal.  Her breakfast tray had water, half a cut up apple, two chocolate bars, a packet of lollies, a packet of chips, a bread roll and an English breakfast fry up.  My cholesterol levels were going up just looking at it!  Whatever happened to cereal, yoghurt, fresh fruit, the fight against obesity??

Everywhere we went, the short one attracted spontaneous interactions and flash photography, not so with the Emirates crew.  She was flat out even being acknowledged.  Not that we were expecting special treatment, but it would have been nice if she was at the very least recognised as a person!

Trying to juggle three food trays on one tray table, within a space that wasn’t big enough to swing a teabag, the crew always insisted that they couldn’t take the short one’s tray back before delivering ours as they didn’t have enough room!

On one sector, one of the toilets was decommissioned early on in the leg.  Inconveniently, it happened to be the one with the change table.  Speaking with one of the flight attendants about other facilities, I was told to just change the short one’s nappy in our seat…the other passengers won’t mind! I don’t know about you, but if I was sitting back, enjoying a nice glass of Australian red with my lemon infused chicken breast served on a bed of Asian greens and watching the latest cinematic release, that I would mind if some sleep deprived crazed woman started wrestling with a toddler not one metre from me, while removing a nappy full of yesterday’s digested meals that would make anyone dry reach at the best of times!

The other thing that struck me was the inconsistency in the Emirates service.  Our flights home had child meals on order for the short one and were delivered without question.  Our flights over didn’t provide anyone with comfort packs, yet they were distributed to all on the way home.

The Emirates website declares…whether your child is up to 16 years old and flying alone, or sixteen months old and travelling in your lap, our young passengers receive the utmost care and attention.  Everyone else, you are on your own, clearly!

Still smiling, mid flight

All in all, Dubai was an interesting place, the airport was something to see, the Emirates ground crew were efficient, and most importantly we got home safely; it was just the ‘face’ of the airline that sadly let them down.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Toddlers and Jetlag

I equate the feeling of jetlag to being held under a pool of water for extended periods of time, while still being able to breath; everything is just a little bit blurry and things, like your brain for instance, are slow to respond, to, what was I talking about?

Oh yes, the properties of resistance under water make things just that little bit harder. It probably takes a normal adult about 3-4 days to start to feel human again.  If you have a toddler in the same house as you, also suffering from jetlag, you would not be considered normal… and I would estimate that you will never recover, until perhaps one or more of you relocates.

Water has long been used as a preferred tool of torture.  Lack of sleep, also.  Put them together and you are in some cruel parallel universe.  It’s one thing struggling with your own time clock issues, but when you have to deal with another’s it makes it twice as hard – especially when those out of sync clocks are out of sync.

What was just a few days ago a charming and endearing quality has now turned into sheer torment.  If I hear the short one announce from her cot ‘guten morgen’ at some ungodly hour again, I think I will scream.  Oh, hang on, I already have, repeatedly.  The neighbours are probably wondering what in God’s name is going on in our place at 2 o’clock in the morning.  I can assure them, it’s not a fun time being had by all!

My rudimentary research into this topic revealed the encouraging words that toddlers and babies acclimatise to changes in time zones a lot better than adults and a lot quicker.  In fact, one piece of priceless advice went so far as to say that they get over it very quickly, taking only a day, usually. Clearly these researchers haven’t met our torturous toddler.

They also suggest that flying in a westerly direction is much easier to cope with.  Oh, OK, next time I’ll just ask the airline pilot if he wouldn’t mind altering his flight path somewhat. I mean, only slightly, like turning around and flying the other way altogether!

Another ever-helpful site suggested changing the sleep pattern prior to coming home.  Useful information, last week!

If I hit on anything that remotely resembles a cure for this insidious condition, I’ll let you know, but at this rate the best I can come up with is leaving home. 

Now, where did I leave that suitcase?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Travelling tots tips

From our experience, when travelling to Europe, there is a whole different approach to baby shopping!  General baby supplies are mostly available at larger grocery stores but these are not always easily found in the centre of major cities.  Pharmacies (apotheke) do not as a rule sell nappies etc – they sell medicines and drugs only. Conversely, ‘drug stores’, such as Rossmores and DM, do generally stock some baby supplies, but not medicines or drugs!  One DM store that we went into was next door to our hotel in Berlin.  Being a drug store, it stocked mostly toiletries, perfumes, cosmetics, vitamins etc.  It did have a small baby section with a limited selection of nappies, but what impressed us was right in the middle of the baby section was a change table and complimentary nappies and wipes!

The range of nappies was quite surprising.  Clearly Australia has a huge market for disposable nappies.  Every store we tried overseas only stocked two brands of nappies (usually some sort of generic one, as well as another more recognisable brand, usually Pampers).  The size range was mostly limited to two, new born and other. The sizes covered a huge weight range, unlike Australia where there is different size for every milestone; crawlers, toddlers, walkers, juniors, teenagers, middle age, geriatric.  You will also quickly notice that they are gender neutral, not like the ever stereotyped pink and blue boxes we get at home!  I have to say though, the three different types we tried were nowhere near as good as our ever-popular Huggies!  

Back to that burning issue of where to sit on the plane...from our recent experiences we have had a change of tune. Despite the short one being too big for the bassinettes on the planes, these bulkhead seats afford you much more legroom and I think, are a better option.  

The armrests do not lift so you can’t stretch out much, but the reality is you can’t anyway if your flight is full.  Standard seats (non-bulkhead) give you absolutely no legroom and the added benefit of moveable armrests gives you no relief in this regard, unless of course your legs sprout from your armpits.  When the seat in front is reclined you literally are pinned in with nowhere to move.  During the two flight sectors that we were in standard seats, the short one found it very difficult to get comfortable (and as a result so did we!)  The challenge here is she is just under the 2 year old age cut off where babies can still sit on your lap to fly, but she is too big for the bassinette and too big to comfortably nurse.

Short one decorating daddy in-flight

Still, we take comfort in the knowledge that the next time we fly (in 6 months time), she will have to have her own seat.  No option!

Next time we fly?


Have you completely lost your mind? 

Monday, November 29, 2010

The ultimate travelling tot packing list

No doubt travelling with toddlers and what is considered a ‘must have’ to take is completely dependent on the child and the destination.  My best advice would be to do as much research beforehand as you can. Forearmed is forewarned!

Things we took which turned out to be indispensable:

  • Robust pram – with cobble stones and stairs ours copped a caning so it is better to spend a little more in the hope that it will last.  Our extremely light and compact pram (Quinny Zapp) came with a travel bag which was great for check in, extra protection and ease of carrying when not in use.
  • Ergo Baby sling carrier – the toddler carrier we bought was terrific.  It could be worn on the front, hip or back and the short one loved it.  Around Amsterdam, prams were almost impossible, with little or no footpaths, cobble stones, canals, bikes and pedestrians, it was just a formula for disaster.
  • Sandwich and snack boxes – some sort of plastic ware to contain food for lunches and snacks throughout the day.  We took a couple of slices of bread, fruit and yoghurt from the hotel  breakfast buffet each day and made a sandwich for the short one’s day of sightseeing.
  • Refillable toddler drink bottles – one for milk and another for water
  • Toddler/baby cutlery – at least one plastic spoon, fork and knife and a small plate
  • Washing liquid – for hand washing clothes
  • Dish washing detergent and a few chux wipes – for washing bottles, cutlery and dishes and the inevitable spill
  • Individual popper sized UHT milk – we found ‘fresh’ milk, particularly from Germany, curdled in the baby bottle by the end of the day, despite the cool temperatures. Not all hotel rooms have mini bar fridges.
  • Mini library books, stickers, pencils, scrap books – these were very popular, but not as popular as the hotel room telephone – just make sure you disconnect it first to avoid expensive international phone calls!
  • Mobile phones – purchase pre-paid SIM cards once overseas. This works really well if you are mostly in the one country. Even out of the country of origin the rates aren’t too bad. International roaming rates are very expensive if using your SIM from home.
  • Skype account – when you have access to free wireless, you can phone home for very little.
  • Netbook – small laptop to access email, internet, blog updates, downloading photos each night!  It was also used for watching Playschool ad nauseum!
  • Travel insurance – non-negotiable!  And as we discovered, invaluable.
  • Nappies – take as many as you can manage. We found the quality and variety available in Europe is sadly lacking.  We had many leak quite badly!
  • A good backpack – pay a little more for an ergonomic and practical one.  Ours had a chest and stomach strap as well as a back brace – it was very comfortable and could comfortably manage quite a bit of weight.
  • Basic first aid kit – panadol for the short one, as well as the taller ones; bandaids; all purpose first aid cream; nail clippers.
  • Guide books – we took one, including a pocket map, for each of the cities we were visiting – they were invaluable.
  • Fold up 'green' shopping bag – many grocery stores either don’t have plastic bags or you have to pay extra for them.
  • Baby toiletries – bath soap, body cream (the cold is very drying on the skin), lip balm, nappy rash cream, wipes
  • Baby sleeping bags – (Grobag or similar) We took a lightweight and a medium weight bag.  They were very useful for maintaining that ‘going to bed’ routine.  They even worked on the plane and train!
  • A comfort toy or three – just don’t leave it on the first plane that you take to leave the country! Fortunately the short one has never mentioned ‘Babs’ again and was quick to take on ‘Mima’ and ‘Big Ted’ from Play School as her new sleeping buddies! The back-ups came in handy in the end!
  • A travel change pack – small zip lock bag with everything needed for a couple of changes. Include a change mat, couple of nappies, small pack of wipes, nappy bags. It made for a quick and convenient pack to take when out and about.
  • Power point adapters – Euro for Europe obviously, British for UAE – for all those chargers that you need eg mobiles, laptop, camera batteries etc
  • Playschool, Playschool, Playschool...on the iPhones and the laptop...they were an absolute Godsend!  When the short one started to get fractious while going through museums or exhibits, Playschool came into its own as in-pram entertainment!

Things we could have done without:
  • The number of activities/games – each and every day presented itself with so many new and exciting experiences that many went untouched, but I think I would still take them anyway, just in case! The activity packs that children get on the planes are not always age appropriate.
  • Disposable bibs – ended up using the couple of cloth ones that I took and washing them each day – I found the disposables that we did use weren’t very big nor absorbent
  • Money/passport pouch - daddy had the best coat that had more hidden pockets in it that we couldn't even get into.  We didn't even end up using the pouch at all.

Things that would have been handy:
  • Small plastic bags for rubbish – particularly on the plane

Sunday, November 28, 2010

At the movies

Few people realise the benefits of a long haul when travelling with toddlers.  Onboard, on demand entertainment has long been a feature of air travel.  New release movies help the passenger while away the endless hours.  Passengers, if interested, are able to ensure they are up to date with any number of silver screen offerings, all in one sitting.
That is of course, unless you are with child, and herein lies the have a whole 15 – 16 hours to see at least one 1 ½ hour movie.
Being that I haven’t seen a new release movie since the short one was a new release, it was a novelty for me – even the collection of rewind movies (old favourites) were all new to me, I was spoiled for choice!  So I was thrilled to see 2 whole movies – Angela Jolie’s new movie, ‘Salt’ and the older new release, ‘Letters to Juliet’.
And the good thing is, watching movies with noise cancelling headphones, you can’t hear travelling toddlers!
What did you say?

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Our stopover in Dubai included a City of Merchants tour around this fascinating city.  Much of the development of this city has been since 1980.  Driving around, you are immediately hit with an overwhelming sense of consumerism, opulence, multiculturalism, excess and immediacy.

City skyline including Burj Dubai, tallest building in world at 828m
Bigger is better, hence why the tallest building in the world calls this place home.  Whilst modern Dubai is still in its infancy, there is a feeling of great urgency to get this place built. The rate of development is astounding, as is the variety of architectural styles.  Old mixes with the new, rich with poor, Muslim with Christian, traditional spice and gold souks with the biggest and most modern shopping centres in the world, desert sands with rolling grass fields.  This is a place of contrasts.

Burj al Arab hotel
One thing that struck me about this place was the concept of citizenship.  Only the true indigenous of Dubai can claim to be citizens.  Everyone else is considered an ex-pat.  To live in the Emirate you must be eligible for a visa, and for that you must be employed.  As soon as you are out of work, or retire, you must leave the Emirate and live elsewhere.  Amazingly, our guide, who was born in Dubai and lived there all his life, is not considered a citizen and assumes the nationality of his parents.  He renews his contract with Emirates airlines every three years.  When he is no longer able to renew his contract or chooses to retire he will have to leave his home and immigrate elsewhere. I suppose this is the compromise you take for living tax free.

Bedouin camp
Only 19% of the population are considered citizens.  True citizens are well looked after by the government.  They receive a very nice house for free, many in the wealthier Jumeirah beach area, as well as many other social services. The government consider citizens as the heart of the Emirate; ex-pats the blood.

Merchant houses
Ninety-six percent of income for the Emirate is generated through tourism, whilst the other 4% mostly comes from oil.  This place appears to have been designed with that statistic in mind.  It is geared to the tourist dollar with more hotels per square kilometre than you would care to mention, as well as a plethora of tour companies, amusement parks, museums and shopping malls.

Spice souks

A city of contrasts indeed...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The long journey home...

The day had arrived for us to start our long journey home.  With the luggage re-sorted and aircraft ready, we made our way back to Munich’s Franz Josef Strauss Airport for our Emirates flight back to Dubai.
Security was in overdrive here as well, and it was a little more comforting to see that most of them were upright at least.
The first leg of our flight from Munich to Dubai was just over 5 hours long.  We were designated bassinette seats again but chose to stick with them this time due to the leg room and ability for the short one to stand in front of the seats and move around, all be it limited.  Fortunately daddy’s request of the check in staff to flag us as ‘smelly’ ensured the third seat on our row remained empty, leaving the short one with a seat of her own.  Unbelievably, she fell asleep immediately after take off and we were even able to watch a movie!
Dubai airport proved to be family friendly yet again, with express passport control and complimentary airport strollers making life all that much easier.
Finally arriving in Dubai around midnight, after a couple of delays, our transfer had us arriving back at the Novotel after 1am – remarkably the short one was still standing and even somewhat convivial, more than we can say about German security!

Wiedersehen Germany

Checking back in to the Holiday Inn Munich was a little like coming home – staff warmly welcomed us back. The short one was also keen to show off her newly acquired bilingual skills by announcing to all who cared to listen and even those who didn't, "Guten morgen" - regardless of the time of day! 
In our absence, they had set up the foyer area as a German Beer Hall, a mini Hofbrauhaus!  Celebrating their new beer on tap, the Hofbrau, we were able to enjoy a somewhat simulated beer hall experience with 2 Hofbraus and 1 glass of milk. (The milk was served in a Chivas glass no less!)

For our last day in Germany, we ventured out into the cold (3 degrees) and made our way back to the Viktualienmarkt.  Sitting alfresco, overlooking the Christmas markets, drinking hot chocolate and watching the first snow fall of the season, I realise that while my insides were being nicely warmed by the chocolate, I had long lost all feeling in my hands, feet and face.  As romantic as it was, al fresco is perhaps not as practical in the northern hemisphere!

Fast train to Munich

With a 4am start, we were well positioned for a long day on the train!
Our 7am train from Centraal Station, had us loitering around for nearly an hour waiting on our platform  announcement.  Amsterdam Centraal Station is probably not the sort of place you want to loiter around, mind!  Not unlike Prague, the station is very unappealing, cold and full of undesirables, particularly those sheltering from the cold after a big night!
Our train from Amsterdam to Munich had a changeover in Frankfurt.  This was our opportunity to try out the ICE – the super fast Inter City Express.  The ICE, whilst comfortable and modern, was nowhere near as good as our other trains in terms of child friendly space.  It did however,  get up to speeds of 302 km per hour!
It was clearly evident at Frankfurt and Munich stations that security measures had been ramped up considerably in light of the latest security advices on terrorism threats in Germany.  Police were a very visible presence, all sporting extra large machine guns.  Despite being confronting, it did present one with a sense of increased confidence – particularly the two police officers travelling on our train, who snored most of the way.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Amstel Dam

Our last day in Amsterdam meant that today we would check out from where this beautiful city got its name.
At its heart is Dam Square, which marks the site of the original 13th century dam of the Amstel River.  While Dam Square is reportedly the heart of Amsterdam, it did little for me.  The vibrancy, soul, ambience and vibe experienced in Prague’s central square were largely missing here.

Walking south down Rokinstraat we headed for the banks of the Amstel.  Along the way we stumbled across Rembrandtplein, a former butter market, now a Winter Wonderland with Christmas markets, ice rinks and Christmas stalls.  It was here that we spied a beautiful carousel, complete with ‘horseys’ of course, daddy and three euros part company and the short one delightedly enjoys her first amusement ride! 

Daddy enjoyed it too, for the record.

Amsterdam Coffee Shops

Maybe the older I get, the less tolerant I become, but honestly, some people just never fail to amaze me!
Amsterdam conjures up many associations; pushbikes, canals, Red Light District, magic mushrooms and ‘coffee shops’.  Whilst Amsterdamers are quite liberal in their attitudes towards soft drugs and the oldest profession in the world, many visitors to this beautiful city take this as an invitation to flout the regulations, all the while causing great offence, not only to the locals, but also to their fellow visitors, those with half a clue!
Whilst smoking cannabis is acceptable in certain ‘coffee shops', in general it is not acceptable outside of these establishments.  Try telling that to the few tourists who think that translates to carte blanche and that it’s cool to walk around sucking on a joint!
Yesterday, we were absolutely amazed at the stupidity and ignorance of one of these tourists who thought it was acceptable to smoke hashish on our canal cruise, inside the enclosed cabin! When the unmistakable aroma hit the olfactory system of the cruise captain, he went on the hunt for the culprit, announcing to all passengers that if he found out who it was they would be subjected to a traditional ‘Dutch kick up the ass’ whilst unceremoniously being removed from said vessel.
Here’s a tip...if you want to partake in some recreational smoking activity, head to any one of the many ‘coffee shops’.  They are usually unmistakable – all you need do is walk past, and if you are still standing once past the doorway, you are probably guaranteed it is somewhere where you could get yourself a nice latte.