The Traveling Turtle or 1 Baby, 2 Months, and 7 Countries

Disclaimer: everything you read below is only our experience and our opinion.

I feel I should begin by saying that even before our Little Turtle was born, we kind of promised each other that as long as he turned out healthy, we would not stop traveling (and living) only because we have a baby.

This dialogue from the “Paris, Je T’Aime” movie is very close to my heart:

Vincent: Claire, make Gaspard a balloon, not a ball and chain.
Claire: Was I a ball and chain?
Vincent: Mon Petit Claire, You were not the ball and chain. You were the zeppelin.

Well, we got us a sweet little zeppelin (in my best Southern accent.) I tend to think that some of it is luck, and some of it is our decision.

After 8 weeks and 9 flights I came to the conclusion that traveling with a baby is not different from doing everything else with a baby. We only needed 4 things: my milk, diapers, patience, and flexibility.

There were only 2 times, I believe, when Turtle thew a fit: once in Maine, when his 5 cousins aged 7 to 14 were overly excited to meet him and he didn’t know what to make of it, and in the car somewhere in Europe when he was just tired of being in the carseat. The rest of the time, he ate (at every sight worth seeing, in every museum), slept in his carrier (we have a Boba Air and love it!), observed his surroundings, and made friends.

A side-note on the carrier: there was only one time we wished we had a stroller.  In Sri Lanka, it would have been nigh impossible to roll it, in Europe, there are cobblestones everywhere. There was never the question of folding/storing/hauling something, which we loved.

Some practical stuff:

In Bonn, we ended up in a bigger hotel room, because they saw we had a baby. I suspect it would have happened at other places, too, if we went to check-in together.

In the Dubai airport, we didn’t have to stand in a single line. In Amsterdam and somewhere in the US we were allowed to board first. KLM was fantastic: the staff was very friendly and thoughtful. They actually provided us with an infant life vest, an infant seatbelt, and a little bag of goodies (even though Turtle was a bit too young for it.) Delta was much less impressive, I’m sad to report.

We were given a bassinet on 2 flights, and an extra seat on 2 flights. We found the extra seat to be more convenient.

At one of the restaurants, the waiter picked up Ari and carried him around during our whole meal, so that we could relax and enjoy our food, which we did!

Not once did I catch anyone giving me the evil eye for nursing in public (I don’t go all-bare, but I don’t use one of those nursing tents either.)

Everywhere we went, people on public transportation were quick to give up their seats so that one of us could sit down. So very sweet.

So there are definite benefits 🙂 The drawbacks are few and far between, the main one being the slower pace: we had to stop to feed him, or he’d get tired of being in the carrier, or our arms/back would get tired. But it’s such a minor thing! We just travel differently now, that’s all.

A White Christmas and Tales of Leningrad

The chances of a white Christmas have gone up exponentially.  We are in Russia right now.  It’s been six years since I, Shon, have been here.  Jenia’s been gone a long time, too; nearly three years have elapsed since she’s been home.  But here we are.

When we got off the plane at Sheremetyevo and headed for our train Tuesday morning, we were greeted by frigid -21C weather.  If I remember right, that’s -6F.  You know what?  That makes for quite a shock when you’ve just come from Abu Dhabi.  Before long, we were whisked southeast to Ryazan, where the temperatures have remained a little less severe (but have still hovered just a few degrees above zero most every day).  The cold isn’t all that’s news here, of course.  In fact, that’s really not news at all.  It’s winter in Russia; what else would it be, if not mighty chilly?

This trip is about family.  To that end, we’ve been coddled and fed delicious home-cooked meals.  Borsch (we’ll leave off the puzzling letter “t” that often gets included in the English translation of that word), vareniki, mushroom soup, apple pie, and much more.  And it wouldn’t be Russia without a whole lot of tea drinking.  “Cheorniy ile zeloniy?”  I’m asked: black or green?  “Zeloniy, spacibo.”

Speaking of tea, this afternoon we visited Jenia’s 90 (almost 91) year-old grandmother.  She is an animated 5’1″ or so, a little stooped, quite slender, with a ready smile and a characterful face.  Naturally, we settled down to tea and sweets before long.  While the ladies were visiting, I probed the apartment with the camera.

Apartment

Conversation

The apartment and its decor speak about Babushka Anya’s life.  Sitting atop an old inkwell on the desk there is an icon which she had with her at all times, even through the Soviet years.  Hanging on the wall there is a gilt-framed painting which once, prior to WWII, belonged to a German household.  It came back from Germany with her when she returned from WWII.  The painter bears a name that must not be famous; one of her grandsons tried googling it recently for her and got no hits.  Above one of the doors is a pair of antlers from a saigak, a souvenir from her son’s time in Kazakhstan.

Desk

Painting

Somehow, the topic of her wartime experience was raised.  At only 19, she was pressed into service in Leningrad.  Just a girl, she was placed in charge of a pharmacy in a mobile medical detachment which sat just behind the front lines.  As a pharmacist, she mixed and prepared medications.  Her equipment included a vat that had been taken from the Germans.  “It was non-stop work,” she said.  “When there was fighting, the wounded didn’t stop coming.  We went without sleep for days.”  In fact, she and the other paramedics were so exhausted that they took naps while traveling–by foot.  “We would walk like this, one on each side, arm-in-arm,” she said.  “And we’d say, ‘I’m sleeping now,’ and the others would carry us along as we slumped.  Then we’d wake up, and the next one would go.”

Paramedics

Babushka Anya shakes her head, and says, “I can’t even imagine how we did it now.”

Among her army decorations is the equivalent of the Purple Heart–for she was wounded more than once.  One of those times was when a German airplane spotted the three medical tents, even the one that she was in, which had been set up with one side against a high river bank, making it much harder to spot (and probably saving her life).  The plane was audible long before anyone could see it.  Finally, alarms were sounded and the tents were emptied, doctors helping patients out and to other locations.  Anya had a wounded man she was helping, but they couldn’t make it out of the tent in time.  She huddled by the exit behind a stack of crated supplies, but couldn’t feel at ease about it.  There were stretchers leaned against that side of the tent which was next to the bank.  She and her injured patient lay length-wise there, seeking cover.  And it was a good thing, too, for the German plane accurately strafed all of the tents.  The one that she lay in was destroyed.  The stack of boxes she’d sheltered behind at first was annihilated.  The supporting tent poles were shot to pieces and the canvas collapsed around them.  The patient siezed her in his grip as he was struck.  When all was quiet, she was grimy, wounded by shrapnel, but alive–and her fellows on the ground were thrilled when she rose alive.

“There were so many times when I couldn’t understand why I lived,” she said.  “It had to be the grace of God.”

Anya met her future husband on the frontlines–he worked in a neighboring medical squadron.  Their story is a great romance that lasted the entire war, even as he was shipped East to fight the Japanese in Mongolia, and she went to Germany.  One of the photos she showed us, of her wearing an immaculate uniform, stretched out on the grass before a lake in Austria, bore the legend, “To George, to remember.”

In Austria

The immaculate uniform was something that she was always careful to keep on hand.  She kept her white collar and cuffs clean, and always wore them.  “I was an example that the officers used for others,” she said.  “There was no reason not to be neat.”  This is one of the reasons she doesn’t like WWII movies.  “They’re unrealistic,” she says.  “Everyone’s always dirty, and that’s not how it was.”

My perceptions of the war having been partly shaped by viewing films like “Enemy at the Gates,” which depicts Russian troops being ordered into battle despite having ranks mostly unarmed, I asked her about weaponry.

“The first two years there was no shortage of weapons,” she said.  “Then they started to get old and fall apart.”  But salvation was arriving.  “The Americans had sat back and watched to see who was going to win–the Germans or the Russians–and when they saw that we were, they decided to help us.  So they gave us Studebakers, which helped a lot.”  Before the arrival of the American trucks, everything was moved about by horses.  The pharmacy that Anya ran included a two-wheeled cart that she was responsible for pulling or pushing when the squadron moved.  Besides the influx of American equipment which made life much easier, heavy artillery began arriving, and that made a big difference in the war effort.

These days, most of Babushka Anya’s fellow soldiers have passed away.  “It used to be there were people I could talk to about it, that understood, and knew what it was like.  But now there’s noone to talk to.”  Her face darkened as she thought about this.  “When Georgiy [her husband, who was a military pediatrician before and after the war, and a GP by necessity during it] was alive, he never drank vodka.  But on Victory Day, he would ask me, ‘Anichka, can I have fifty grams?’ Then he would raise it and address her, saying, ‘Dear Senior Lieutenant, to our victory.'” Remembering this, her face warmed and happiness tugged gently at the corners of her mouth.  Georgiy, tragically, lost his life in an ice-fishing accident when he was 70.

Our tea long-since finished, Jenia’s grandmother apologized suddenly.  “I hope I haven’t bored you,” she said.

Hands

“Not at all,” we both assured her.

“I’ve never been through it, and,” I added with a grin, “I hope to never go through it, so hearing your stories is very interesting.”

“Thank God you haven’t,” she said with an earnest chuckle, “And hope you never will.”

Table set

We made to help her clean the table–the cups and saucers, the utensils, and so forth–but she stopped us.  “I have nothing to do,” she said.  “Leave them.  Then I will have something to keep me busy.”

Fam

Besides the stories that the decor tells, the apartment itself, in size (which is one room, other than the kitchen and bath), color, and appointments, tells what Russian living is often like.  The kitchen is large by local standards, but the stove is tiny, and the counterspace extremely limited.

Fridge

Kitchen

Stove

After a bit more small talk, we took our leave, out of the cozy apartment, and into the cold.  Outside, we made our way along the road, slick with packed, icy snow.  The danger of slipping and falling is ever-present in this country, where only a few sidewalks are ever cleared of snowfall, and driveways seem to never be.

Pathways

And so, with Christmas right around the corner, we expect a white one, and we will be happily celebrating it with the company of family.

Burj, Beach, and Birthday

Shon celebrated his birthday on Sunday with the traditional carrot cake, a new book by J.K. Rowling, and a bunch of friends.  On Saturday, however, we went to Dubai, so that he could receive the first part of his present: a tour to the tallest building in the world – Burj Khalifa.

If you have seen “Mission Impossible 4,” you know this building.  If you haven’t you should.

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The Burj (it means “tower”) is 852 meters tall. The observation deck is almost half-way up, and is, you guessed it, the highest observation deck in the world!

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Us on the deck

The view is great if you ignore the ever-present haze:

ImageDubai Mall, yes, exactly, the largest shopping center in the world (by total territory) is the huge building from the road to the water.

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See the haze I keep talking about?

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us looking all cute

ImageAnd then we went to the beach! I have to say, the beach itself is not as beautiful as the Gulf of Mexico beaches, but the water… the water is simply phenomenal here! It is turquoise even when you are in it, it is very, very clear, and delightfully warm. We should invest in some goggles, though, because it is very salty (which makes it quite a bit easier to swim.)

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Shon loves it!

It was only at the end of the day that I truly realized I was in Dubai: the sun just set into the Arabian Gulf, we could see Burj Khalifa in the distance, and Burj Al Arab (the sail-looking building) right next to us. And then, the evening call to prayer came from several of the nearby mosques. It was simply beautiful.

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The Great Move: Complete. Thursday List of First Impressions

I lost track of how long I’ve been here. Almost a week, it seems. My trip was strangely smooth and easy: no delays, no lost bags, I even arrived an hour early. It was great, no, great to see Shon again and hard to stay decent in a public place after a month-long separation.

Now I am here, with and even the worst jet lag ever cannot stand in my way of enjoying it!  My first impressions, like all first impressions, I believe, are mixed and a bit confused. Here we go:

1. It does not look like a desert.

I knew Al Ain was an oasis, but I still expected something like Arizona and was relieved to find it so different. Palm trees, some other trees that look like weeping willows, even grass sometimes. It’s not lush by any means, but it’s not all dry and brown. It really is beautiful in its own way.

2. The sky is not blue.

It’s hard to say where I got this notion, but I expected what Shon calls the American West sky here: big, blue, with scorching sun. The sun is scorching all right, but you don’t see it – or much else – because of the haze. Several people said it is caused by the wind above the desert. To give you an idea, Shon has been driving to school for a week now, and it was not until yesterday that he saw dunes nearby.

3. It’s a Noah’s Ark, a Tower of Babel.

The mix of languages, accents, and nationalities is phenomenal. I love it.

4. There is a mix of American, European, and local products/brands everywhere.

You go to a mall and see Bath and Body Works next to Marks and Spencer next to an abaya store.  In the grocery stores, I see brands I’ve completely forgotten about since I left Russia. It makes sense, but I didn’t think about it before coming.

5. I like everyone we met so far.

In Cuthbert, it took us about a year to meet people of our age and make friends. Here, we already know several couples.

6. The mosques are so very beautiful.

I keep waiting for the weather to get just a little more tolerable and life a little more normal to start venturing out to take pictures.  The call to prayer is beautiful, too, I think.

7. I haven’t seen any high-rises in Al Ain.

Most houses seem to have 2-3 floors, which means the city is spread out and feels open. I don’t really feel I live in a city until we go out and it doesn’t take an hour to get somewhere.

8. The British influence is very noticeable.

The first thing that comes to mind is “ground floor” instead of “first floor,” but there’s more than that.

9. Life is rather difficult without a stove and a blender.

But that will soon change.

This is all I have to say right now.  My rather slow washing machine seems to be done. Housework awaits!

 

Food Friday

While my darling husband is living the life of leisure and counting fils, I’m working like a beaver (said with a lovely Maine accent, in imitation of Shon’s late Grandma) and spending money left and right. Well, not really. I am, indeed, working my online job 6 hours a day, which feels like a rather long time to spend staring at a laptop. Most of the $$, however, is going towards bills.

But this week I decided I needed a nice break, too, so here I am, writing from the beaches of the Gulf – of Mexico. The city (haha) of Cuthbert, fondly referred to by some as the armpit of Georgia, is conveniently located 3 hours away from Panama City Beach. This is close enough for a day trip, but this year has been really hectic, and we haven’t gone a single time.

Knowing that a) we are hoping to not have to live in South GA again and b) Shon doesn’t care if he never sees a beach again, I figured this might be
my last chance to see the white sands in the next two decades, and drove 3 hours this morning for a day of self-loving. Beach is extremely important to my kinesthetic self: I get giddy from feeling the sand under my feet and between my fingers, being surrounded by the water, smelling the air, and tasting the salty waves. It’s a religious experience, too, but I cannot explain why.

 

By now you are wondering what this has to do with food 🙂 well, a trip to PCB is not complete without a lunch at Raggae J’s. Both Mom and Dear Cousin Erika can testify to the deliciousness of their Mahi-Mahi sandwich with sweet potato fries, as well as the irresistibility of the Key Lime pie.

If you ever make it here, make sure to try some!

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Food Friday: A Speedy Dinner

This dinner is one of my all-time favorite things to make because a) it’s delicious; b) it takes 15 minutes from start to finish.

I give you Salmon with Spicy Mustard + Asparagus.

ImageYou will need:

  • Salmon fillets
  • Brown or spicy mustard (about half a Tbsp per fillet)
  • Brown sugar
  • Fresh asparagus

You will:

  • Preheat oven on broil setting, with the rack as high as possible.
  • Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet.
  • Wash asparagus, break off the ends, arrange of half of the baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Pat salmon dry with paper towels, place on the other half of the baking sheet, skin down.  Spread mustard on top of the fillets (be generous), and sprinkle brown sugar on top.
  • Bake for 3 minutes, remove from oven, toss the asparagus. Bake for 3 more minutes.
  • Enjoy!

P.S. Bonus tip: if you add a couple of marshmallows to your brown sugar container, they will prevent it from becoming rock-hard!