I’ve been getting some comments from people about how jealous they are of our travels, which leaves me with mixed feelings. On one hand, I know that we are truly, truly fortunate to be able to visit so many amazing places, and to go so often to Europe thanks to hubby’s work. There is no way we could afford to travel like this if his expenses weren’t already being comped, and I am thankful that the toddler and I have opportunities to tag along with him as often as we do. But before you start gagging, let me mention a few of the harsher realities of these trips.
For starters, I hate to fly. Planning any trip that involves air travel immediately instills in me a slight-to-moderate sense of panic. Hubby says if he had a choice, he’d rather fly solo with the toddler than with me any day. I’m ok once we get to where we’re going, but in the days and weeks beforehand, a certain level of anxiety is always in the background.
Throw in the fact that traveling with a toddler is, at best, a little tricky. At worst, it can be a complete nightmare. Depending on what country you’re in, people may or may not be helpful. This is the first big trip we’ve taken with our little guy since he’s started walking, and trying to convince him to sit on our laps for a eight- or nine-hour flight or train ride doesn’t always go over well. Plus, he’s not been spending any time in the stroller back home, so I’m sure he can’t really understand why he has to once again tolerate being strapped back in for hours at a time. It must feel like a demotion.
When it boils down to it, the whole reason we’re here is for hubby’s work. And he works HARD. Long hours are involved. When he’s doing a trade show like this, he takes off early in the morning and we don’t see him again until dinner. Maybe. If there’s a mix-and-mingle business function he needs to attend, he may not get back to the hotel until after we’re already in bed. We’re not a happy tourist family on vacation, strolling down cobbled streets hand-in-hand. Although we do get lucky and spend an occasional free day together, and we go to bed and wake up in the same room, the toddler and I are pretty much left to our own devices. When the weather’s bad, we may end up spending an entire day stuck in a small hotel room, trying to keep ourselves entertained with music videos and German or Italian-dubbed episodes of “Happy Days” and “Spongebob Squarepants.” If that doesn’t quickly make a person stir-crazy, I don’t know what will.
For better or for worse, we’ve been totally reliant on/at the mercy of public transportation in the European cities where we’ve been. While I really like the focus on pedestrian accessibility here, it is a little bit limiting. There are buses and trams and the like, but it can be a problem at times trying to maneuver a stroller on and off the things. Many require stairs; not a possibility with a stroller.
Out of all the cities in Italy, Milan is not somewhere I would choose to go of my own accord when there are other options like Rome, Florence and Venice so nearby. I would love, love, love to take the toddler on a daytrip or even an overnight to another city, but between lugging along his carseat for the cab ride to the train station, the stroller, a suitcase, a diaper bag, my purse, and the little man himself, I just don’t see how I can pull it off. There’s no way I can juggle that amount of schwack on my own.
And just because we are away from home, we’re still slave to the toddler’s schedule. This can quickly ruin your intentions of spending an entire afternoon strolling through the Louvre, taking a day-long bus tour through the Tuscan countryside, or whiling away an evening getting looped on the local wines at a charming little enoteca. When we’re figuring out what to do or see for the day, consistent meal times and a nap have to be factored in. So if we’ve taken the tram into the inner city here in Milan, for instance, I have to make sure that I’ve packed snacks, milk and a lunch, and that we get back to the hotel in time for a nap. Otherwise, the kid turns into a complete terror and will sit in his stroller screaming while hubby and I try to “enjoy” our own dinners later in the day.
Which brings me to food. Although hubby and I are fairly good at adapting to the local cuisines wherever we are, the toddler is something of a picky eater. Buying baby/toddler food in a foreign language can be a guessing game, although the photos on the packaging are helpful when it comes to figuring out the contents. Some of the offerings are things you would never in a million years see on U.S. shelves, though. I can’t imagine feeding a baby pureed lamb, trout, rabbit or horsemeat (I kid you not), but apparently, they do here. I basically follow the guideline that I don’t serve anything to the toddler that I wouldn’t want to eat myself, and I definitely am crossing those jars off the list.
There are tons of baby-food fruit options and sweets, but I can’t locate any toddler-appropriate vegetables to save my life. Fave American standbys like mac and cheese are nowhere to be found. Instead, we’re left to try blends like ham with pasta and hope for the best. We’re also attempting to expand the toddler’s culinary horizons by offering him tastes from our own plates. This usually has not gone well, with the exception of tiramisu. He has decidedly refused many (what we consider yummy) bites with a grimace, and pretty much subsisted on breadsticks, crackers and cheese since we’ve been in Italy. Thank goodness you can find yogurt, applesauce and bananas everywhere, otherwise we’d really be in trouble.
Also, we must always remember to request hotel staff to empty the minibar fridge in our room so we can use it for milk, and we’ve become really adept at washing bottles and spoons in hotel sinks.
So there you go. Does that mean I would rather stay home and forego these adventurous excursions because they’re a little trickier with a little man along for the ride? Of course not. Does that mean you should be jealous? Eh, that’s your call.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, here’s the food report for the past few days. We’re quickly becoming regulars at Il Pavone. With the exception of the site of the tuna/Caprese salad fiasco, we’ve eaten there every night since we’ve been here. As hubby says, when he’s coming off a long day of work and he’s tired and starving, he doesn’t want to guess whether a restaurant will be good or not. He wants to go somewhere he can count on getting a large beer and a solid dinner. I don’t disagree at all, and Il Pavone’s menu is big enough to offer plenty of options. I’m going to try to make it through the whole week without ordering the same thing twice. So far, so good.
Two nights ago, I had a simple and delicious risotto with asparagus and topped it off with a ramekin of tiramisu for dessert (which the toddler decided he liked and ate half of). I also realized that I have unintentionally ordered vegetarian dishes every night since we’ve been here. Not that I have anything against the meat, and I will probably order some at some point; the veggie pastas have just appealed to me the most.
Last night, hubby had the delicious fusilli della casa I ordered on our first visit (which may be my favorite so far); I ordered a tortellini pomodoro with a side of steamed spinach. Hubby’s work pal got an insanely good-looking lobster linguine concoction and a huge calzone. That guy can EAT. Everything went down very well. I’ve taken to all but drenching my food with the olive oil they serve on each table as a condiment. I swear, the stuff is so good, I could just stick a straw in the bottle and drink it.
Online, I found an Americans in Milan club, similar to the one I’d latched onto in Cologne, and yesterday was the group’s monthly coffee get-together. I got directions and the toddler and I navigated our way there without too much problem. I’m sorry to say, it wasn’t a good experience. It wasn’t really an American group, but more of a welcome-newcomers-to-Milan thing for women of all nationalities. Which was fine. However, the women there were a much older, ladies-who-lunch-type crowd, all dressed up in their finery (thank goodness I’d worn a skirt), many wearing hats and scarves. Not really my scene. The toddler, ready to burst out of his stroller after a 45-minute tram ride/walk, ran riot through the whole gathering, effectively curtailing any plans I had of relaxing over a coffee and a chat with the ex-pats. I was lucky to get a few words in edgewise with anyone before I was off and chasing him again.
At one point, I was simultaneously trying to talk with a very kind Asian woman; hold my purse, a sippy cup and the diaper bag; and bounce the squirming toddler in my arms. Whining and wanting to get down, the strong little bugger suddenly bucked hard. I lost my grip on him and barely caught him by the leg before he plunged to the hardwood. It completely scared the shit out of both of us.
So there I am, weighed down with bags and a screaming toddler hanging upside down from my hand about six inches above the floor. In front of an entire room of snooty women, who immediately started gasping and disapprovingly clicking their tongues in a judgmental manner. The wonderful Asian lady was the only one who even attempted to help me. I lowered the toddler to the floor as gingerly as I could, picked him up firmly and hauled ass out of there. I was hyperventilating and sobbing by the time I got onto the street and, with shaking hands, had to call hubby at the show to talk me down from the ledge. For the rest of the day, I was freaked out about how close I came to breaking his poor little neck. I can’t even think about it now without wanting to vomit.
All’s well that ends well, I suppose. I don’t imagine any of those ladies will be emailing to invite me out for coffee again anytime soon, though.