Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Traveling with child

Airlines are sociopathic institutions.  "Infant in arms" is a known thing, yet getting on the same page as the airline in advance is nigh near impossible.

In this case, even though we booked flights a month in advance on a major domestic carrier, we couldn't get assigned seats until we reached the departure gate.

On the first flight, this wasn't really an issue. Flying out of a tiny airport does have some perks, and one of those turned out to be uncrowded early boarding with baby and all accoutrements.  Not so in Atlanta for our connection.

The scheduled layover was about an hour, and with a 15 minute delay on landing for fog, plus deplaning from the rear, plus changing concourses in the busiest airport in the States...we got on our connection, in the midst of the fourth boarding group, and we took the seat assignments that the machine at the top of the jetway spat at us as we swept by in a sweaty rush.

I should interject here - perhaps as a  little foreshadowing or co-shadowing - the baby rocked this travel day. No screaming, no tantrums, no airplane poopy diapers...the best criticism we could work up between us is that his 1 hour nap could have been better as a 2 hour nap.

Regarding traveling with kids against a time zone shift...it's not for the faint of heart. Some of you may know about the trip to San Francisco we had scheduled for october 2011 that got unscheduled due to some family illness ...that trip was going to dislocate our precious cargo by 3 hours from his standard sleep routine, and the thought had me anxious.  Today's trip just set us off an hour. The jury is still out. 
We picked a hotel on the Riverwalk, based mostly on location and traveler reviews, but it also turned out to be pretty affordable.  And! When we checked in, they gave us punchcards for several unadvertised freebies: daily hot breakfast (kind of standard, I guess, but still! ), free wifi (no codes - you just connect!), and 3 freaking free drinks at a daily happy hour! I was not prepared.

the nighttime view from our balcony
"with limited service" - LOL


Breakfast in the hotel lobby, and then a first exploration of the Riverwalk in a drizzly rain.

Lunch at Iron Cactus on the Riverwalk.  We had to dodge around a guy out front selling time shares, but the food inside was pretty good.  Jude was not cool. I had a Margarita, fried shrimp tacos; mi esposa had marinated tilapia tacos, and we shared some guac mashed up table side.

In what became a welcome hallmark of this trip, we had a nice nap afternoon nap back at the hotel. And have I mentioned the cheerleaders?  Our hotel turned out to be ground zero for a cheerleader convention, and I don't mean a "Playboy Girls of the SEC kind of cheerleader, but a "12 year olds dolled up like Jon Benet by their parents to compete for trophies" kind of cheerleader.  Our room was second from the top floor, with only a rooftop terrace and lounge area above us - perfect for late night tumbling sessions...

the swimwear competition involves bottle juggling
The indoor pool at this hotel was a beautiful room with floor to ceiling, wall to wall windows facing out over the city from the 9th floor, and on our first attempt to go for a swim with Jr, we were greeted with the scene of 40+ cheerleaders, sans chaperone, enjoying the facility.  We came back later.  The kid loves "swimming".

That night we ventured out of tourist central (the riverwalk) to the King William neighborhood to this Belgian place:

View Larger Map

I think we were seeking an experience to remind us of the Hopleaf back in Chicago.  We had a great time, and the staff there really went to lengths to make us comfortable.  Another party with a baby had just preceded us and claimed their only high chair, but one of the waiters ran across the street for a loaner from the latin bar...very cool.  We shared Crevette Franca (so called "Belgian Style" fried shrimp), a fromage plate, Saison and Kwak beers.

low light = romantic.  just ignore the messy kid

We moved on to moules and frite in a "Basque " sauce with chorizo and herbs. I had an Omed Belgian blonde, then cappuccino and waffle for dessert...awesome. Jude rocked it.


Not a great night's sleep but decent. Breakfast downstairs, and then a drive out to the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch (link opens to music).  It's a drive through safari park where animals of all sorts come right up to the car and give you some facetime. Jude loved it.  He loved the poop out of it.

Back on the riverwalk for lunch at Boudro's. This is a tourist spot, but with a good reputation.  We got patio seating by the river and got caught in the rain. The prickly pear Margarita and steak sandwich were nice (if a little wet!); Mom had ropa vieja.

After a good, long nap we cleaned up and went to the Tower of the Americas for dinner at the Chart House. Long ago in the time before baby, we had dined a couple of times at the location in Boston and found it to be great "for a chain." Dinner went verrrrrrry long.  At least the view was nice.

notice the lack of food or booze, 1 hour in


We got up and out early and decided to look for breakfast outside the hotel. Sunday mornings can be tough, but we found a local bagel place and had a quick meal. The weather was finally more cooperative, so we committed to walking as much as possible for the day. We headed over to El Mercado to get our fill of souvenir shopping, and the we found our way back to King William for a look-around and lunch at Rosario's (music). There, We started with some chorizo queso flameado (in Chicago they called thie "fundido") and then dove into tacos. Mine were filled with pork chunks simmered in chilies, and nothing else. The big surprise at lunch - Jude fell asleep in the stroller on the way and slept through the whole meal! We had to keep reminding each other that it wasn't necessary to shovel food down as fast as possible.

On the walk back we stopped to give the baby lunch in a hotel courtyard, but not just any hotel...this one happened to be the Marriott where Mexico, Canada, and the USA signed NAFTA! Jude didn't seem impressed.
a helpful reminder that Canada and Mexico are part of North America

Back on the riverwalk I made the family stop for an afternoon libation in the patio seating of the Westin's bar. It would have been awesome but for the steady stream of smokers coming from inside to stand by our seats and spew their nastiness at us. It always makes me want to follow them back to their seats and fart a big nasty at their table and say "see?!?!"

A short swim and a long nap and then back out for dinner. The riverwalk was crowded (holiday weekend?) and Mom didn't like the look of the first place I had in mind, so we doubled back to a swank, romantic spot at the Omni. Las Canarias (named for the Canary Islands origins of the first European settlers in the area) was fancy. They had a 12 page wine list with maybe 5 reds available by the glass ...I had a Margarita. We shared a caprese salad, she had veggie ravioli and I enjoyed a salmon and pork belly dish. Jude rocked it.

Facing an early flight on Monday, we mostly packed tonight. I got 3/4 of everything we brought into my suitcase - I'm interested to see the drama around the other 1/4 in the morning.


Travel day - up at 5:30, on the road by 6:15... Dropping the rental car and getting to the airport wasn't too bad. But once again, security required Amber to go through a pat down to prove the baby milk we were caring was, in fact, baby milk and not b.b.b.b.bomb making material. At the gate, the friendly agents informed us and 100 of our newest, closest friends that our plane was actually on the property but parked somewhere else and would need to be "towed" around to our gate. We left 40 minutes late. The best news of the trip home was that Jude got his own seat and slept the whole way from San Antonio to Atlanta. That was awesome.

"Travel?  I could tell you some stories!"

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