How to Camp Without Your Baby

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Step 1: Leave your baby with your wonderful, doting parents.

Step 2: Enjoy.

So much simpler than camping with one’s baby/toddler. Pete and I were lucky enough to finally have a weekend away, just the two of us. We have both had weekends away separately, but this was our first overnight trip together, sans Little C. And it was so relaxing.

We spent two nights camping in Algonquin Park in early July. Since my previous camping posts seemed to be all about lessons in list form, I’m going to continue with that theme here. Here is what we learned this time around:

1) Algonquin Park is beautiful.
I was lucky enough to spend four summers living and working in Algonquin Park. Even though it can be really busy in tourist season, it’s still such a gorgeous place. It’s easy to forget that when you’ve been away. I did a lot of deep sighing on our trip.

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2) We are old.
I bumped into one of my old co-workers at our campground and while we were chatting, he asked me how long it had been since I worked there. Ten years. It’s been ten years. He replied “Whew, I shouldn’t have asked that. I’m getting old.” Me too, my friend.

3) Resist the urge to call the babysitters.
When Pete and I became parents, we swore that we wouldn’t talk incessantly about our baby when we were able to go on date nights. We wanted to stay connected as partners, not just as parents. An extension of this policy was that we wouldn’t call my parents to check on things while we were away. This was our time to reconnect and be together as a couple. This may not work for everyone, but it’s good for us.

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4) Enjoy the little things.
When you aren’t chasing a little person (or people) around, it’s a lot easier enjoy the serenity. You can really experience the smell of the white pines, the call of a loon, and the sound of the water lapping against your canoe. Try to take it all in.

Pete enjoying the serenity, and a roast beef sandwich.

Pete enjoying the serenity, and a roast beef sandwich.

5) Appreciate the trip for what it is.
This was something I learned about camping with a baby, and it applies here too. Even though Pete and I were on our own this time, we were still more exhausted than we were before we had C, and ended up asleep in our tent both nights before 10:00pm.

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We also really wanted to do an interior canoe trip, but my parents were nervous about this and asked that we camp in a campground instead. Fair enough. We will be able to go on a canoe trip someday. It turns out that this plan worked well for us anyway. We did some canoeing day trips and between my aching back and Pete’s bad shoulder, we weren’t able to paddle for more than a few hours anyway. See point #2.

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6) Document the experience.
Even if this amounts to taking a lot of photos, do it. As parents, we tend to document our children’s lives at the expense of our own. This is natural, of course, but I think it’s important to remember times like these. When life gets hectic again (for us, that will be around October 27th), being able to relive a relaxing time like this will be invaluable. Well, that and wine.

Split: Rain and Bed Bugs

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Split, Croatia, is a balmy, picturesque tourist haven in the summer months.

What Split looks like in summer, not that I would know.
Photo via Cunard

Unfortunately, Pete and I travelled there on our honeymoon in late October and got drenched.

We got a lot of use out of our raingear

We arrived at the tail-end of the tourist season.  Many museums and attractions were shutting down a few days later.  So we expected to have cooler temperatures.  The rain put a damper on our time in Split, but we enjoyed the town nonetheless.

Inside Diocletian’s Palace

The main attraction in the city is Diocletian’s Palace.  In the fourth century, Roman Emperor Diocletian built himself a very large and very fancy palace in Split.  Today, the site takes up a large part of downtown Split, with restaurants, shops, and apartments inside the walls of what was once a massive pleasure palace.

Via Wikipedia

Our first night in Split, we stayed in a little stucco hut that was in the old part of town, just outside of Diocletian’s Palace.  To get there, we had to wander around labyrinthine streets and alleys occupied by packs of feral cats.  Our hut had a bedroom, a kitchenette and a bathroom only separated from the living quarters by a shower curtain.  Romance.

I had trouble sleeping that night.  At one point, when I was lying in bed trying to read, I noticed a little black speck running across the mattress.  We had bed bugs.  I didn’t know much about bed bugs at this point but I knew they were evil little bloodsuckers who were nearly impossible to eradicate.  I woke Pete up in a panic and showed him the bed bug I had squished.  There were little specks of blood.  Ew ew ew.

Via Wikipedia

We moved out the next morning and found a nicer (albeit teeny tiny) place to stay.  We did our best to de-infest our luggage before moving and hoped we hadn’t brought the bugs with us.  We did our first (of many) mattress checks in our new hotel.

Via howtodetectbedbugs.org

We spent the rest of our trip periodically worrying about the bed bugs.  When we arrived home, we left all of our luggage and clothes outside before going in.  Yes, all of our clothes.  Our neighbours got quite the show.

After consulting the internet we put nearly everything in the washing machine and dried all of our clothes at the hottest temperatures our poor, old dryer could muster.  We left a suitcase outside in our shed for the entire winter, hoping that the cold temperatures would kill any bugs we couldn’t launder to death.

Even though we avoided an infestation, we’re now completely bed bug phobic.  Check out this highly scientific map of bed bug presence in North America:

Via bedbugregistry.com
AHH! They’re everywhere!

We’re now completely paranoid whenever we go to hotels.  We do systematic bed bug checks.  I would suggest that you do the same, if, deep-down, I didn’t think that these checks are kind of futile.  They’re going to get to us eventually.

Despite this icky turn of events,  we do have some fond memories of Split and we would definitely go back, *in summer*.  The city is beautiful, historic, and charming.

Dubrovnik in October

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I’m continuing to blog about past travels because Pete is steadfast in his refusal to travel with a baby.  This is my method for dealing with my travel bug.

We went to Croatia on our honeymoon in October of 2010.  We chose Croatia because:

a) I wanted to go to Europe

b) we wanted to go somewhere warmish

c) we wanted to go somewhere neither of us had been before.

Croatia was an easy decision.  I had always wanted to see Dubrovnik, and Pete had been to neighbouring Slovenia and really liked it.  We had a winner!

Croatia was an easy decision. Look at the gorgeousness.

We travelled the last week of October because I was teaching college at the time, and that was my Reading Week.  We spent a week there, and saw as much of the country as we could in that very short time.

After a three-hour layover in Vienna where we ate some chewy airport strudel and attempted to nap, we landed in Dubrovnik.

Airport strudel is never a good choice

It was an absolutely gorgeous day.  We had left snow behind in Canada and arrived to temperatures in the mid-twenties.  Just warm enough for short sleeves without being too hot.  Heavenly.

T-shirt weather! In late October!

We had made arrangements to stay in private accommodations we found through our Lonely Planet guidebook.  Our host, Marija, was warm and friendly, and took us to her home on the side of the hill overlooking the walled city.  Her house was similar to a B&B, but we had a separate entrance and we had the use of her gardenside outdoor kitchen.  Note to self: our next house must have an outdoor kitchen.

That first day we wandered (in our jet-lagged stupor) around the city and enjoyed some beer on a patio, which was outside Dubrovnik’s city walls, overlooking the Adriatic.

Beer on a patio overlooking the Adriatic

As we soaked up the sun and the view, we saw a cruise ship* begin to pass.  We patio-dwellers were snapping photos of it while the cruisers were snapping photos of us.

The Costa Serena sailing toward Italy

The next day, Pete and I woke up to much colder temperatures, cloudy skies, and drizzle.  Not a big deal, except that this weather stuck around for the rest of the trip.  Bye bye t-shirts!  Thanks, sister, for lending me your rain pants!

Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main street

Despite the weather, we really enjoyed exploring Dubrovnik.  What really struck me about the city is that although it is a picture-perfect walled city, it is a living city.  Often, cities this beautiful are full of tourists but few residents, due to the cost of living, or to inconvenience (think Venice).  But Dubrovnik is a vibrant place.  Walking along the city walls, you can see into apartments and rooftop terraces.  There are schools, playgrounds and soccer fields for the children.

Basketball court within Dubrovnik’s city walls

Dubrovnik’s vitality is all the more stunning considering how badly it was shelled during the civil war.

A photo displaying the damage Dubrovnik suffered during the civil war

I won’t linger too long on the topic of the civil war here, because it has been well covered elsewhere, but Pete and I did visit museums detailing the impact of the war.  I highly recommend War Photo Limited, a war photography museum in the old city.  It is curated by a former photojournalist and it is excellent.  It is a difficult museum to visit, but it is moving and will leave you impressed by the strength and resilience of the Croatian people.

View of the harbour from the city walls

After taking in the museums and historical sites, we spent time wandering around the city.  Although it was a cool evening, the city is absolutely breathtaking at night.  We got lost more than a few times in the labyrinthine alleys of the old town.

Our honeymoon was off to a lovely start.

Happy travels, everyone.

* I later realized that this ship was the Costa Serena, the sister ship of the ill-fated and now infamous Costa Concordia.

A Cabin in the Woods…With a Five-Month-Old…In February

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Last February, Pete convinced me to go on a cross-country ski excursion to a cabin in Quebec.  I say “convinced me” because I wasn’t ready, with a five-month-old, for a trip like that.  But looking back, I think it’s something I could do (with an older baby, of course) and I’m ready to share some of the lessons I learned on that adventure.

The cabin in Quebec’s Reserve faunique Papineau Labelle

Some backstory: Pete’s friends live in Ottawa, which is about a six-hour drive from us.  His friends, who had two little ones at the time, aged almost-four and eighteen months, had done this trip before and had made it an annual event.  Pete was really looking forward to seeing them and getting away for a long weekend.

Cross-country skiing across a lake in Quebec

The long drive to Ottawa was followed, a few days later, by another long drive to the park in Quebec, which was then followed by a long cross-country ski into the cabin.  It was only accessible by ski or snowmobile.  The park delivered some of our luggage by snowmobile (and a park warden stopped by once a day to check on us) but we towed some of our gear, and kids, by chariot.

The cabin was on a beautiful lake, and it was fairly remote.

C being towed behind Pete while cross-country skiing.

There was no hydro or running water.  We had water filters and propane for lights, so we weren’t roughing it too much.  There were wood stoves for heat.  And although I had to run out to the outhouse in the middle of the night (in February, in Quebec, brrr…) I will admit that I’ve never seen such beautiful stars as I did on those nights.

A beautiful February night

We stayed for two nights, and here are some of the lessons I learned:

1) Don’t push yourself.  This is a good, general parenting rule.  I’ve learned not to push myself too much.  Sometimes I try to do too much, and I always pay the price.  For new parents, it can be hard to accept your new limits, especially if you were very active or very social.  It can be hard to accept that you can’t travel as much or be as spontaneous as you once were.  But things change so quickly with little ones and soon you’ll be able to do more of those things again.

Snuggling in the cabin

2) Travel once your baby is eating solid food.  This is just a personal rule I’m going to follow myself, and it’s related to point number one.  I found it stressful to be the sole source of food for my baby on a trip like this.  I wasn’t ready for it.  I find, now that C eats snacks, that it is so easy to keep her happy and full in a pinch.

Pete filtering lake water while C sleeps in her baby carrier

3) Follow your own schedule.  As a new parent, I found routines comforting, and C depended on them.  Even at five months, our baby had a fairly regular routine.  By travelling with others, we really upset that routine and that meant that our baby (who was exclusively breastfed at the time) went too long without eating, and that stressed both me and her out.

All in all, I would say the trip was a success.  We all survived, Pete got to visit with some great friends, and we all learned to properly appreciate indoor plumbing.

Pete cooking our dinner over the campfire

Ten Things I Love About Havana

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I think Pete and I have been doing a good job of keeping up with our lives and interests while figuring out this parenting business.  But do you know what I haven’t been doing lately?  Travelling.  And I probably won’t be doing much of it for a while.  Pete is completely averse to travelling with a baby.  In the meantime, I’ve decided to cope with my travel fever by blogging about some of our trips.

Pete and I fell in love with Havana when we went there two and a half years ago. I had been to Cuba before, but never to Havana.  Big mistake.  Havana is magical.

Great Theatre of Havana

Here are some reasons why:

1) The people.  I know this may seem cliche, but I really mean it.  Cubans are friendly, warm and welcoming people.  And when they are sure no one is listening, they’ll tell you what they *really* think of the brothers Castro.

2) Cheap, delicious pizza.  Cuba is not known for its food.  But in Havana, we found a little pizza place (which was someone’s house with a little window open to the street) where we could buy yummy little personal pizzas for the equivalent of thirty cents Canadian.  I think that was the moment Pete fell for Havana.

Mmm…so affordable.

3) Safety.  I’ve never felt as safe in a large city as I did in Havana.

Typical Havana scene

4) Old Havana.  It’s simply gorgeous.  But of course, if you only see Old Havana, the very well-preserved and tourist-friendly portion of the city, you’re really missing out.

Cathedral of Havana

5) Cristobal Colon Cemetery.  When we toured the cemetery, we were the only ones there, which made it seem even more peaceful and serene (or creepy, according to Pete).

Colon Cemetery

6) Revolution Museum.  The museum is housed in the former Presidential Palace, which was stormed by the revolutionaries who ousted President Batista and installed Fidel Castro.  It’s hard to describe the Revolution Museum in a quick blurb, but I’ll try.  The museum will leave you in no doubt that the former regime of Fulgencio Batista was terribly corrupt and brutal (his jewel encrusted gun sums it up nicely), but the museum’s efforts to convince you that the current government has fostered nothing but happiness and prosperity are unconvincing, to put it diplomatically.

Also, just in case you aren’t aware, the Cuban government is not a big fan of Ronald Reagan.

The Revolution Museum has a “Wall of Cretins”

7) Mob history.  Before we went to Cuba, Pete gave me a book called Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost it to the Revolution.  It details the role of the mob in Havana before the Revolution.  I highly recommend it.  If you’re interested in the mafia, in the Cuban Revolution, or are a fan of The Godfather (especially Part II), you’ll love it.

8) The Russian Embassy.  How menacing is this building?  In a completely over-the-top, Cold-War sort of way, of course.  We had a view of the embassy from our hotel and Pete thought it looked like an angry Transformer.

Some Cubans think the Russian embassy looks like a syringe. I can see it.

9) Cheap pizza.  Pete insisted that I put this in here twice.  That’s how much he enjoyed the delicious, homemade, 30 cent pizza.

10) Tie! Revolution Square and  La Cabana Fortress.  Sorry about the tie, but it became necessary when I was forced to mention the pizza twice.  Revolution Square, with its giant statue of national hero Jose Marti and famous portrait of Che Guevara, can’t be missed.

The 18th century La Cabana Fortress is the largest fortress complex in the Americas.  It boasts a beautiful view of the city and a lot of interesting exhibits, including one focusing on Che Guevara’s place in the fort’s history.  He oversaw tribunals and executions during the Revolution.

Every night at 9:00 pm, there is a ceremony re-enacting the old tradition of firing a cannon to signal the closing of the city walls.

View from the fortress

Honourable Mention: Pete wanted me to mention that we took a cab into the city centre one day and when the cab driver opened up the glove compartment, there was a half-empty mickey of rum inside.  It’s the little (slightly terrifying) things that remind you that you’re not in Canada anymore.  Pete apologizes for the lack of photographic evidence.  He wasn’t quite quick enough with the camera.

* I apologize for the lack of proper accents in this post.  My keyboard is not cooperating.