June 25, 2016

Traveling With Baby - Don't Forget the Rum

Passport. Check.
Tickets. Check.
Suitcase. Check.

So obviously that scenario hasn't happened (or else I'd be in jail for child neglect!), but the addition of a little one to a traveling family makes the packing list and to-do list grow exponentially.

Before Baby Gypsy was born, I had no real comprehension of just how big an impact one tiny person can have, particularly on outings. Forget the overnight stays, preparing for a trip to the grocery store can often feel like outlining a battle plan!

Williamsburg, Va.
Or so it seemed during the first three months of Baby Gypsy's life. Practice makes perfect, though, and with some regional traveling under our belts, we've grown more confident in our abilities to prepare and actually enjoy ourselves while out and about. It may take as twice as long and three times as many bags, but I love having our little third wheel along for the ride.

Nevertheless, traveling with a baby is certainly very different than traveling as a couple, and I have a few humorous insights for those of my readers who aren't card carrying members of the baby club.*

If you pull out a microscope, you can see the top of Dixie's head.
Gone are the days when I could throw everything into a carry-on and travel the world. Ok, ok, so I've never actually traveled the world in one trip. And I only used a carry-on when the trip was less than a week... but you know what I mean! Our first overnight trip with Baby Gypsy to Jamestown and Yorktown (in the same stinkin' state!) resulted in a game of impromptu Tetris as we tried to finagle all our gear into one small Ford Focus. Dixie was relegated to a tiny 6 x 12 space behind the driver's seat on a weekend trip to the Northern Neck last month. And I mean 6 x 12 inches! Poor thing barely had room to breathe.

Each subsequent trip results in slightly less gear, but I have a feeling that I'll still end up over-packing for baby and under-packing for myself when we go to Germany later this summer!

GoogleMap Drive Time Estimates Can Kiss My Diaper-Swaddled Behind
Two hour drive to the Northern Neck? Make that three. Ten hour drive to New York? Yeah, we'll see you in time for Christmas. Babies get hungry often. And when babies get hungry, babies scream. And if babies scream, parents will do anything in their power to just make it stop!

I used to pride myself on my punctuality. Now I consider it a success to show up within an hour of my intended start time and bonus points if my socks actually match. If GoogleMaps wanted to irrevocably ingratiate themselves with parents worldwide, they'd add a feature showing drive time with an infant or kids. And it'd be even better if they could automatically recommend stopping points along the way. Bonus points if it's near a liquor store so mom and dad can get their double shots of scotch before hitting the highway again (I kid, I kid... don't drink and drive!).

In other words, getting to your destination can take quite a bit longer with a little one in tow!

I'm officially a bag & stroller lady. #SoFab
It's All About the Bags
Before Baby Gypsy, I was all about the handbags. Classic, cute, but functional was my bag of choice. Post Baby Gypsy, I'm not so much a handbag lady as I am just a straight up Bag Lady. You know the kind - cross body bag slung under the diaper bag over one shoulder with the Nikon DSLR camera bag over the other (had to upgrade the photography gear to capture every drool-dripping smile for posterity!), baby carrier hanging from one arm and pulling the suitcase with the other because HEAVEN HELP US IF I HAVE TO TAKE MORE THAN ONE TRIP FROM THE CAR TO THE HOTEL!

Cuteness is no longer factored into my purchasing criteria when shopping for a new bag. If it's stain-resistant, spit-up repelling, has a zillion super-functional pockets, separators, sorters, and features a built-in diaper changing caddy and deluxe bottle warmer holster, just take all my money right now and give me two of them.

Baby Soothing Should Be an Olympic Sport
I spent the entirety of our thirty minute tour of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, by the way) bouncing, swaying, and humming Baby Gypsy into distraction. I vaguely remember a few snippets of our tour guide's informative spiel, but primarily remember all the moments I spent keeping baby girl's hands off the historic eighteenth century pieces of furniture and original walls to avoid any disapproving looks and wondering what in the world I'd do if she were to spit-up all over the original green canvas flooring. Probably melt into a puddle of embarrassment.

Slow travel is better than no travel, right?!
Less Is More and More Is Suicide
Once upon a time, I saw many of London's big highlights in just 48 hours. I did the same thing in Paris only last year. The very idea of trying to do the same thing with an infant now is just laughable. In a world where nursing mothers have an impossible time trying to find privacy to feed their child, I have to factor in extra time to trek to and from the car every two hours or seek out an inconspicuous corner of a tourist attraction or stand miserably in a bathroom stall trying not to think about how many germs are floating around while my baby is eating - on top of the actual time it takes to actually tour the attraction. If I can manage seeing one major attraction or two minor ones in a day, then I've won the #TravelWithBaby lottery.

But you know what? In spite of all these adjustments, I wouldn't change my life for the world. Baby Gypsy makes our travel moments all the more sweet.

And to all you other mamas and papas traveling with babies, I'd pour you a shot of rum, but I just finished the bottle. Cheers, my friend!

*Please note that the tone of this post has been inflated for sarcasm's sake because it's a way more humorous read that way. I hope I've not scared you off from having kids because it's seriously THE BEST thing that has ever happened to me. Ever. In fact I plan to punish reward myself with even more kids in the future! ;) 

Linking up with:
 LaurenVanIsabel, and Marcella.

June 17, 2016

10 Bewitching Photos of Bavaria

If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, it's no surprise to you that I am obsessed with all things German. From the depths of the Black Forest, to the euphoric partying in the streets after a World Cup win, and even their OCD fixation on recycling all the things, Germany is my European soulmate.

It's been 275 days since we were in Germany, and we still have 68 days until we return (yeah, yeah, I have a thing about countdowns...). So indulge me while I moon over these bewitching photos of Bavaria until I can see them in person once again!

The 1,000 year old town of Dinkelsbühl| 2015

The gardens of Würzburg Residenz (palace) | 2010

Chasing alpine waterfalls | 2010

Learning about Harburg Castle | 2012

Exploring the catwalks of Rothenburg o.d. Tauber | 2012

Wandering through Weißenburg | 2014

Secret gardens hidden behind the thick walls of Marienburg Fortress | 2010

Room with a view (Neuschwanstein) | 2010

Have you visited Bavaria?

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June 09, 2016

48 Hours in Paris

One of the biggest excuses Americans give for not traveling abroad is that they don't have enough time. But this excuse doesn't fly with me (pun totally intended). In 2014 I spent a whirlwind 48 hours in London and managed to see most of the top attractions during that short time. Last year, I did the same thing in Paris, plus I was in the throes of first trimester pregnancy sickness. It was a weekend long on walking and short on rest, but it was so worth it! And you know what I'm about to say... if I could do it, you can, too!

A Brief Account of 48 Hours in Paris

Day One
We took the early morning, high speed train from Stuttgart (Germany) to Paris, arriving at the Gare du Nord around 10am. From there it was a leisurely 10 minute walk to our no-nonsense hotel (with a quick stop at the deliciously gothic Eglise Saint-Laurent) where we dropped our baggage and prepared to see the sights!

The Rue Saint-Martin* was the most direct route from our hotel to our first destination: the Notre Dame. My first glimpse of the church stunned, standing proud and white against the gray skies. It was the first moment in Paris where I felt that familiar tingle - the one you get when you're finally standing in front of a place you've stalked in books, shows, and movies and you just can't believe you're actually there!

There was a long line to enter the Notre Dame, but the wait wasn't overbearing. Danny could've spent the rest of the day here, but unfortunately the rest of Paris beckoned! We dragged him away to walk along the River Seine and then deeper into Paris to the Panthéon.

Having left the Paris portion of our Europe trip for our friends to plan, I had never heard of the Parisian Panthéon (we saw the "real" one in Rome back in 2014), but I certainly had heard of the famous Frenchmen and women buried there: Dumas, Voltaire, Marie Curie, and Victor Hugo, to name just a few.

From the Panthéon we backtracked to the Louvre to snap a few pyramid pictures in the courtyard (the museum was closed) before going back to the hotel and hunting for a restaurant to appease the growling bellies of two pregnant women.

Day Two
Our second day dawned just as overcast and cool as the first, but we were counting on the Eiffel Tower to lighten our moods! The lines were insanely long (pre-book your tickets months in advance to cut down on some of the wait time), but we finally made it to the top by mid-morning. The views did not disappoint, despite the fog and clouds.

After a ridiculously overpriced lunch a few kilometers away from the tower, it was only natural to distract ourselves from our lightened wallets with a little walk in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Spring still hadn't quite sprung in Paris in early May, but the gardens were gorgeous nonetheless. A few weeks later and I'm sure the flowers would have been in bloom.

However, there were plenty of flowers in the Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides, a church dedicated to French military veterans located in the all-encompassing campus of Institution Nationale des Invalides (National Institute for Veterans). What most international tourists come to see at Les Invalides is the burial spot of Napoleon himself, the most celebrated non-Frenchman in all of France.

We had no time to tarry long at Napoleon's resting place, because we had to see the arch commemorating those who fought or died under him in the Napoleonic Wars. At the time of its construction, the Arc de Triomphe was the tallest triumphal arch in the world. While it's no longer the tallest, in my opinion that doesn't matter; it was the most beautiful sight in all of Paris. The sun was finally out, and the French flag danced beneath the arch while a commemorative ceremony for Victory in Europe Day (May 7th) played out. I could've stayed there all day watching the traffic flow around and down the Champs-Élysées from the Arch.

But there was still more to see during our last few hours in Paris! We took the metro, which we found to be very easy to navigate, to Montmartre** and the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Montmartre, which means mountain of the martyr (referring to Saint Denis), affords sweeping views of Paris and is best known for its nightlife and for the Sacré-Cœur. Our friends' guidebook touted the basilica as the best place to view the sunset. We arrived in time to take a quick turn around the church itself before watching some street performers and the sun's descending performance.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica on Montmartre
Thoroughly exhausted by this point, we returned to our hotel room for a few hours of shut-eye before catching our 7am train back to Germany the next day.

And that, my friends, is how you do 48 hours in Paris.

What places would you rank as "must-see" for a 48 hour trip to Paris?

Want more about Paris? Fellow blogger, friend, and self-confessed Francophile Christy Swags of What Up, Swags?! lived in Paris for four years and has tons of Parisian inside scoop to dish out!

*We were not very comfortable on the Saint-Martin, the Boulevard des Strasbourg, or the general area around our hotel. Even in the middle of the day, there were a lot of prostitutes and loiterers on the streets. One of our companions asked sarcastically if we were in Paris or downtown Detroit. While I've never been to Detroit, I can only say that that area of Paris certainly evoked comparisons to the stereotypes of seedy downtown areas.

**This was possibly the most unpleasant part of our visit to Paris as we had to go through what could only be called a gauntlet of young men harassing us to buy souvenir trinkets. One went so far as to grab my friend E and try to force a bracelet on her arm. When she refused, he followed her up the steps shouting at her, and even when she and her husband broke into a run up the steps, he continued to follow until the crowd closed around them, preventing him from going further.

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June 01, 2016

Travel & Terrorism

Washington (CNN) - The State Department is warning Americans about the risk of potential terrorist attacks throughout Europe as law enforcement waits on heightened alert for possible ISIS-inspired attacks... (Read more here)


I'd be lying if I said that I'm not nervous about our upcoming trip to Germany this summer.

Since our last visit in September 2015, there have been two major terrorist attacks in Europe, one in Paris and one in Brussels, in addition to the New Years Eve sexual assaults perpetuated on victims all across the continent. While the media toes the line of political correctness and Europeans unhappy with immigration policies are ostracized by the vociferous left, the fact remains that the landscape of European demographics is rapidly changing, bringing a host of concerns and worries for residents and visitors alike.

I'm of the opinion that we should not live in fear. My mind tells me that I'm more likely to be injured in a car accident during my 70 mile round-trip commutes to work than during my annual 14-21 days in Europe. My faith tells me that my life has already been mapped out, which is both a reassuring and at times uncomfortable thought. And my resolve tells me that staying home and giving up travel is letting the terrorists "win."

But I'm also not naive. Traveling to Europe in 2016 will incur risks that have increased since prior visits, especially when using public transit and frequenting high profile tourism locations. And this time, I have a little daughter to think about, too.

So how has the rise of terrorism affected my travel?

For one, it's forced me to have a more heightened awareness when I travel, not just abroad but also within the continental U.S. Skimming through social media while in the train or airport terminal is curtailed so that I can be more aware of my surroundings. Question everything, trust no one. I don't ignore anything that makes me feel uncomfortable. The San Bernadino terrorists may well have been apprehended before they killed all those people if their neighbors had followed their gut suspicions and reported them. I hope I'm never in a situation where I suspect I'm near an individual plotting death and destruction, but if I am, I hope that I'm brave enough to take my suspicions to the authorities. Better safe than sorry.

Secondly, it has demoted a few places on my travel bucket list - at least for now. It's one thing to travel to a place with an elevated risk for an attack in tourist areas (such as Europe); it's another to travel to a country experiencing civil unrest, with a population sympathetic to terrorist activities, or one where active conflict is likely to escalate at any moment. So while there are many wonderful things to see and experience in a place like Turkey, any plan to visit is on indefinite hold. I'll err on the side of caution.

All photos from our May 2015 trip to Paris.
Ultimately, the increased terrorist activity has cemented my opinions on border control, homeland security, immigration reforms, etc. These are all topics I tend to shy away from discussing in the travel blogging community as my convictions generally fall afoul of the majority dialogue, and it's hard to state an opinion without being labeled a nationalist, fascist, or racist - all epitaphs called into play when someone wants to disagree without actually using logical arguments. I want to be proven wrong, but unfortunately the more full-scale attacks and day-to-day assaults and harassment that occur, the more my opinions seem to be proven correct. And these attacks aren't limited to Europe; there have been equally devastating and more horrifically-scaled attacks in Pakistan, Turkey, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and the list goes on and on.

Yet, while my love for travel may be somewhat dampened by the threat of terrorism, it hasn't been extinguished, and I would encourage you not to let terrorists win. Travel on, my fellow wanderlusters, but do so with open eyes and listening ears.

How has the threat of terrorism affected your travel (if at all)?

Linking up with Lauren, Van, Isabel, and Marcella.

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