O(h)man!

Beautiful beautiful Oman!

A mere 3 hour flight from Delhi (so the Calcutta flight was pretty much a test run), it’s a different feel of the middle-east, closer to Turkey than to the Dubai we’ve come to expect from this term.

S playing chef on the flight
S playing chef on the flight

We did 2 days in Muscat and 3 over the Wahiba Sands covering desert and beach.

Muscat is a flat city and at night the lights make it look beautiful. The Muthrah souk area, facing the waterfront, is a great place to spend time with kids. S ran around the steps the whole time that we enjoyed an outstanding meal and 5 layered fresh juice (yes all fresh, no sugar, no cream and utterly delicious. We drank 4 glasses!)

The Juice @ Fast Food and Juice Center, Mutrah Souk
The Juice @ Fast Food and Juice Center, Mutrah Souk

And the dates, oh the dates, the soft warm dates and the meat/kebabs/shwarma and the hummus and  the feta cheese, the Greek Salad tasted out of heaven… ok, so this is more a food post than kids post, sue me. Food for kids also was not a problem at all. S loved the kebabs and fish, they were full of flavor and low on chillies pretty much everywhere we went.

The funnest places for S were the Ras Al Hadd Turtle Reserve and the Desert Night Camp at Al Wasil. Though, we also did dolphin watching and snorkelling. The motor boats are not a big favorite with S. I forgot to carry the homeopathic coculocus, which usually helps with the motion sickness.

She’s turning out to be quite a wild life lover (my genes); despite being tired out, she stayed awake till 1030 pm for a night trip to the beach to see the the turtle hatchlings. Unfortunately, we got to see only a turtle pushing its way back to the sea, but that was the highlight of the trip for her; it’s a different matter that i had to carry the sleeping child all the way back on the beach (all the better to work of the kebabs, my dear).

The Desert Night Camp was incredible. She had her sand pit set out in a jiffy. The dunes were a new experience too. S and I climbed and ran down and clicked a beetle and slid down again. I was a tad worried about K and the sand, but he was absolutely comfortable in the camp and on the dunes. Not too much sand was flying around and he fell asleep after watching the sunset. The ride up the dune was a little too bumpy for the 14 wo, but went ok. I just had to hold his head to avoid too much shaking.

Play area @ Desert Night Camp
Play area @ Desert Night Camp

Tiwi Beach was the next stop. We found a lovely place for lunch – Wadi Shab Resort Hotel. The food was sad by the standards we had come to expect, but it had a play area, safe beach, beautiful bougainvilleas and a pool and shower (useful for a kid to change after the beach). The beach was a pebble one and a disappointment for S.

The last stop was the Bimmah Sinkhole, just a peep and we headed off. This was the place i wish we’d spent more time at. It’s a nice pool and S really wanted to swim in it.

K seemed mostly happily indifferent to location, as long as he was well fed and facing out in the sling (bf-ing with a feeding veil in public in Oman was not an issue). Though he stared around in wonder at the Desert Night Camp.

So while this was only part of Oman, the must dos with kiddos

1. Undoubtedly Ras Al Hadd. Aside from the turtles, it is kid friendly with a turtle museum, lovely beaches and good food.

2. For kids old enough, the Desert Night Camp. The dunes are small and easy to navigate, the sands not too windy and the camp, well, was actually luxurious and expensive. sigh! For younger kids, it has a play area and kids over 8 can also do the quad biking. There is also the facility to play cricket, badminton and a number of indoor games in the Rec Room. The food, i don’t even need to say this, is outstanding (assume default position unless mentioned otherwise).

3. For pool lover kids, the Bimmah Sinkhole would be a good visit. It’s a large pool, fairly safe under adult supervision. The park also has a few swings if the kids ever get out of the sink hole.

Top tips

Sling and pram. We carried both and am so glad we did. The walks were longish and it helped to have S in the pram, particularly in the Souk.

Do Not carry a sand pit set which takes up significant space – make do with tall paper glasses and spoons and forks. Elementary, I know, but somethings need to hit you in the shins ..

For bubs under 4 months, the ride up the dunes can be quite jerky. The head needs to be held firmly. Also, keep a light stole handy to over the face in case of sand flying.

The New Year is off to a good start…. next stop – Australia.

For more photos, watch out on FB.

Travelling with two!

I did it! Yes, its worth a celebration, what with his colic and her ‘being the older sibling’ issues. And without the new trend of distributing chocolates for the co passengers. Babies cry, parents’ lives have to go on and the co passengers, being adults themselves, have to be able to live that down with grace and without candy.

IMG_4499

We celebrated his first flight at 2 months with a cake in Calcutta. The city looks absolutely stunning between Christmas and New Year (the weather trumps the pujo decor).

K was wonderfully curious about the whole experience, looking around at the lights, fascinated by the windows, amused by the diaper change in the plane. Diaper changes – so choose the seat closest to the loo, when travelling with two; the trips more than double, trust me!

I used the sling with him facing in, but he might well have enjoyed facing out. S was her usual self, it helped to have UNO cards and a card to prepare.

It might have been useful to carry both, the sling and the pram with two kids under 5; but since i was alone, the luggage and pram were impossible.

All in all, a good test run for Oman. Oh yes, we celebrated K’s being born 2 weeks early by making booking for New Years, since, you know 2.5 months is a good enough age to travel 🙂

Why travel with kids

S got through the school we liked for her! yay! It’s great to be in a city where there is actually a choice of pedagogy, board and schools and one does not to have to apply to 18 places to get into 1.

As we made the rounds and spoke to parents about schools, the alternate teaching method etc, I got thinking about what education is all about and why schools matter.. isn’t the world a school. Well it is, and travel is an awesome lesson. So this is why we travel with kids – its education.

1. Different people exist, and they have different points of view and sometimes good food and exotic surroundings can diffuse a debate into a discussion

2. Hostels teach independance – watching mom and dad do the dishes after dinner and not relying on ‘noor didi’ to come next morning can lead to interesting discussions about responsibility and cleaning up after yourself. Of course, it might be taxing to actually clean up after the toddler helping you ‘clean up’

3. We talk less about the mundane and have richer conversations about why one must have a bath at all; why do some people have chocolate colour cheeks when i don’t; why are you scared to jump into the river for a swim. Try answering them honestly. Just once.

4. Nothing will ever be perfect. No matter how much you plan. Not with a toddler and murphy ganging up on you. And then we learn to be flexible and not chase some random ideal evening sipping wine in front of the Eiffel Tower. We freeze because the jacket we thought was thick enough, wasn’t, because the airline left the pram in the rain and its unusable… and have fun anyway. Because its actually fun to run into a warm coffee shop and fun to run out every half hour when the Tower lights up to pretend you’re a twirling princess. And your definition of fun widens.

5. We actually have a budget. Discussing and agreeing on the cheapest dinner and cheapest transport option is far more real than an artificial pocket money limit which will be violated with puppy eyed begging.

6. Packing a backpack for 2 weeks is the best form of self reflection. What is really important to carry along with a toddler who will want to be carried.

Its education for us.

Brazil for toddlers

So is Brazil kid friendly? No. Brazil is a place you make babies, not take babies. Its a romantic country with the music and the mood, but certainly only the brave-hearted will venture there with a toddler in tow, or the ones who have husbands crazy enough to think it can be done.

First up – Food

The food all over South of South America is difficult. They are fond of their queijo breads which is just cheesy bread, that is the one thing you are guaranteed to get everywhere. So if you are not fine dining all the meals, be prepared to feed a toddler, cheesy bread, hamburger, fries and if you’re lucky, rice and beans (which works well for Indian children at least). We had a tough time with food on the go. The fast food places had just the above and the stadia dd not serve food. At all. The best case scenario is to raid the breakfast table wherever you are. By day 2 we were shamelessly packing boxes of fruit, bread sandwiches and cakes to take along for S for the day. The other option is to buy bread and ham and make your own sandwiches every morning supplemented by fruits on the go (juices are readily available) and generous amounts of chocolate milk.

Recommendations

1. Tupana Lodge in the Amazon Jungle had surprisingly good food. Home cooked meats, salads, and beans with rice – great for all of us. BUT no snacks.

2. Delirio Tropical (salad by the plate) in Rio – great selection of salads and meats along with soups – one good meal assured.

Airports

Again, nothing much to make them kid friendly. The best one was Brazilia and it did not have a play area. Rio, Salvador, Sao Paolo were quite tough, even with the food on offer was limited. Though all of them have elevators every where and are stroller friendly.

What To Do in the City

Sao Paolo – we had just about a day in the city this time, but the best thing to do is book a hotel with a pool. There isn’t much for children to do, unless a mall visit is exciting. You could always visit the zoo though, its not a big deal.

Salvador – ah now we are talking. Beach. That’s it, plan to stay within walking distance of the beach and you’re sorted. Take along some sand toys, beach balls and loads of sunscreen. Pelhorinho is an interesting area and one could spend an afternoon there walking along the cobbled streets admiring the shop windows. BUT, the cobbled hilly roads render a pram useless! We ended up carrying the pram and S separately.

Rio – back to the beach. Area 12 on Copacabana even has a children’s play area and some swings. If you plan to visit The Christ or Sugar Loaf, make the most of your toddler privileges. There are special queues for families with kids which practically cut down waiting time from hours to minutes. There’s also the Santa Teresa tram that runs through the old town – an enjoyable train ride for kids.

Bazilia – er..well the architecture is interesting, you gotta hand it to a city who thinks its an airplane 🙂 For toddlers – there is an evening by the grand fountains near the TV Tower. Its beautiful and has plenty of pigeons.

Amazon Jungle – never thought i’d visit there with a toddler, never. But turns out, it was quite an enjoyable time for S too. More than 1 boat expedition in a day can be too much though.

Public Transport

There is the bus network in most big cities, but the buses have a turnstile entry which makes it difficult to travel with strollers.

Taxis are readily available but very expensive.

Hiring your own car is a viable option, we did so in Brazilia. But you need to think through how much do you really need a car because parking spaces etc can be a pain in the other cities.

So if you do decide to travel to Brazil with a toddler, do it for something worth while like the world cup, otherwise its just a beachy holiday better enjoyed elsewhere.

Top Tips for Flying with Kids – across the ages

Picture1

Taking a flight with kids can make one question whether to take a vacation far away at all. Here are some tips on managing kids across the ages; Sara took her first flight at 6 weeks to Varanasi and longest one of around 12 hours en route LatAm.

1. For kids under one, the biggest worry is the take off and landing. The standard advice is to ensure the child is swallowing at both times. So delay feeding time to match take off/landing. This has the additional advantage of putting the younger children to sleep and giving you some peace in flight.  The alternates that work, depending on age, are the baby soother (0-3m, 6m if you’re OK with the habit), candy or water. Do stuff the ears with cotton for under 1 yo. If the years are already blocked, swallowing will help a bit. For older kids, get them to blow air out with nose and mouth (puffed up) closed. It blows the air out of the ears and helps release pressure. The technique is used often when dealing with pressure in scuba diving.

2. Choice of seats – for the under 6m olds, opt for the baby bassinet seats. One needs to tell the airline staff while checking in and then while boarding. In case there is a shortage, they give seats to the younger ones going by passport age. The downside to this is they disallow use during take off and landing which means you might need to wake up baby. For older kids, the best case scenario is to have 2 vacant seats next you you on which the child can lie down, so choose the 2 aisle seats (plus 1 middle for over 2 yo) at the back. Chances are the middle seats will be empty (make a request that they be given out last, at the check in counter). For shorter flights, window seats provide better entertainment; or pick aisle seats if you are likely to move out often. Oh! and don’t pick the last row, the armrest doesn’t go up and the vacant seats are a total waste, as we discovered once.

3. Board in the end. While they all invite families with kids to board first, children tend to get restless quickly and its difficult to settle them down for takeoff after 20 mins of ‘sit down quietly’, ‘don’t walk around now, people are boarding’ and ‘no, let the plane take off then i will give it to you’. In any case you will need to keep the bags under the seat in front of you, since they need to be pulled out every 10 mins for something or the other.

4. in-flight entertainment is most important, as much for you as for the co-passengers’ sanity :). Do keep an assortment of ‘doing things’ – sticker books, crayons (though monitoring is required to preserve the plane), story books, hot-wheels, puzzles, card games, magic slate work for us. Allow the crawlers and toddlers to roam around and explore the plane after take off. Sara is frequently sent off to count how many children/people with mustache/sleepers are there.  Do plan some calm activity that the child enjoys for meal time, you need her to sit while the cart moves around.

5. The hand-baggage holds diapers for 2 days(as per age), an extra set of clothes for the kiddo and self including a warm layer, a stole/shawl which can double up as a sheet and some biscuits and fruits in case the airline food is rejected. Wipes, lots of them, and some tissues. We usually carry an in-flight bag for S, which she puts together and has her socks, eye patch and some of the smaller toys she would like to play with.

6. Do request for the stroller to given to you at the gate and NOT with the baggage. Also, if there is likely to be rain in either city – departure or arrival, ask for the stroller to be wrapped in plastic. We landed in Paris with a stroller dripping water and completely non-usable for the day that we were there 🙁

7. For long haul/international flights, night flights work best for both, baby management and jet lag, since all of us sleep through. Return to India, though, always is worse in terms of jet lag and it takes about a week to recover especially for 12 hr differences. If you figure out a way to deal with that, do share – an awesome treat in return :). also, M will roll his eyes, but the homeopathic medicine Arnica 30 is good for a tired kid refusing to sleep. But of course, consult you doctor before giving any medicines. (yes yes, you can now tell i have worked too long for GSK)

8. Things NOT TO CARRY

* noisy toys – rattles, musical stuff, drums (don’t carry those even if they don’t make a noise!). They will turn out to be a bigger nuisance for you

* a separate drag able barbie/ben-ten suitcase the child will insist be carried as handbag since she will ‘manage’ it. Such cases are great for overnight stays or when checked in. As handbags, they are nightmares as the child will hardly drag it and you will have to carry it all along.

* tubes – of creams, edibles, tooth-paste. Bottles work better. Tubes leak more.

* bottles that leak even a teeny tiny bit. The pressure makes the leaks worse and everything in the bag is rendered useless.

9. Check for a play area at the airport if you have time to pass. The physical activity before allows for more peacetime in flight.

10. Talk junior through the whole process before-hand. They understand more than they let on. So telling them in advance about the flight, what will be allowed, what won’t, can sometime help more than you imagined.

Happy flying!

UPDATE 2015:

11. For bottle feeding, pre load the appropriate scoops of formula in the bottles to avoid having to take out the box etc etc while the baby cries loudly for milk. Also, since water in the thermos also cools off during long flights; carry 1 thermos of boiling hot water and 1 of normal water. Mix the two in the beginning, and used the warm water later (it will get to warm soon from the flight AC).

12. Carry no spill sippy cups for yourself and the kids, so you can all enjoy hot and cold beverages in peace.

Top Travel Tips with kids- 2.5 – 3 year olds

Its probably the toughest of the toddler years to plan travel in – the dreaded terrible twos. The good news is, it can be managed and enjoyed. If it gives you some confidence, we have traveled with Sara to Singapore (2.3 yrs) and Brazil (2.8 yrs) and she loved it, as did we.

SO here are some of the top tips to have a great vacation, toddler in tow..

1. Be prepared to give in to a tantrum or 7 over a period of 2 weeks. Schedules get messed up with travel, you don’t get to sleep or eat or play as you/your toddler are used to and crabbiness does make an appearance. A 2 yo knows what she wants and is not familiar with the concept of public embarrassment!So if you see a tantrum coming, plan to head it off in advance with some distraction (gems and gummy bears work for us) or just give in.

2. Snacking – stock up on favored munchies like chocos, chocolate milk, biscuits, nuts and raisins and the occasional gummy bear and lolly pop (prefer the chocolate ones to the sugar candy which will ruin the day with more hunger pangs and too much energy). Hunger causes more tantrums than any other trigger and its tough to get the right foods at the right time every-time, particularly if you’re jet lagged. So keep favorite munchies close at hand.

3. Stroller – the one thing you think is not needed and most missed. Yes she like to run around all day and yes she can well walk when she wants but holidays are different. Besides it  helps to have a place to dump extra food, shopping bags, your bag (its tiring to carry that on a long day). If you haven’t already, invest in a light-weight stroller (airlines allow no more than 10 kgs). If you are likely to travel a lot to Europe, get one with large wheels which goes well on the cobble stones, our small wheeled Chicco barely survives.

4. Plan a toddler friendly activity at least every alternate day. Whether its swimming, beach, play area or similar, do something that she will enjoy whole-heartedly and feel satisfied about. She’s on holiday too 🙂

5. DO NOT go near a water body, if you dont plan to allow the child in. They’re in love with water at this age. Whether its the swimming pool or the beach or the river, they HAVE TO go in (Sara actually jumped into the Amazon river). So if you dont plan to get into the sea, do not go to the beach, you’re sure to have a very disgruntled child otherwise.

6. Choose at least 2-3 days in a hotel/hostel where you will be able to leave a sleeping child and go out to dinner – in the same hotel or a little further. The kiddo is likely tired from the day and will sleep early and its your holiday too, so get some alone time.  HOWEVER, do choose a place that will take the responsibility seriously. like proper childminder services or where the room entrance is visible from your dinner table.

7. Carry some of the child’s comfort objects like a favorite teddy or pillow or similar to help with sleeping routine. We had just taken S off the bottle (yes yes very late and all that) so sleep time was a bit of a challenge, but getting her own cot in the room and special pillow and blankets, which most hotels will provide, helped.

8. Plan your days with a light schedule, you won’t be able to leave for at least 2 hours after waking; and without the afternoon naps, the day will end sooner. So the city has much more to offer than one can cover? so what, at least you’re in the city 🙂

9. Use the hotel breakfast well. We blatantly carried some empty boxes around and packed fruits, boiled eggs, bread butter sandwiches from the breakfast spread, since S insisted on eating at odd times.

10. Lastly, relax. its just a holiday, if you don’t change clothes twice, eat more candy than usual, don’t party every night it wont really matter. A relaxed face makes for better photos 🙂