Taking an Amtrak train

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Since moving to Northern Virginia, we have maintained our one car lifestyle. The big difference is that in South Korea, Tim had the car most of the time to get to work and Clarissa and I took public transportation. Here, Tim takes the bus to work and Clarissa and I keep the car during the day.

Clarissa and I went to Virginia Beach this week to visit my family. We didn’t want Tim to be stranded without a car all week so we took the train. It was pretty easy to go online and book tickets. The train is pretty cheap too. It only cost $138 total round trip for the two of us.

If you are taking the train from Alexandria, there is hardly any parking. There are a few spots you can pay for and two spots for 30 minute parking. The station does have a bathroom but there isn’t a screen to tell you where to go. You can sit inside or outside. A few minutes before the train arrives there will be an announcement on the loudspeaker that tells you the train number and where the train is going.

There are not assigned seats. You simply pay for a reserved seat in either business class or coach. Then when the train comes, you find an open seat and sit there. You are responsible for your luggage. But the conductor did carry mine up the steps for me. There are racks at the front of each car or above your seats to place your luggage or carry on. Once the train starts moving, the conductor will come by and scan your electronic ticket and put a piece of paper above your seat so that they know when you are supposed to get off the train.

Apparently there is something called a quiet car on an Amtrak train. Often it is the train right behind business class but it can be located anywhere on the train. If you choose to sit in the quiet car, you have to be quiet the whole time. No talking on your cell phone and no using electronic devices without headphones. I didn’t see any signs about this when we sat down but we were informed by another passenger that we were sitting in the quiet car and so we had a quieter trip than I anticipated. There are small blue signs on the ceiling as you enter and exit the car but I didn’t see them until later when I was actually looking for them.

There is a cafe car on the train that sells food. You can buy things like personal pan cheese pizza ($7), hotdogs ($3.50), chips ($2.50), candy ($3), and drinks. The prices are not awful but definitely more than you would pay at the grocery store. You are allowed to bring your own food and drink on the train but they cannot refrigerate or heat up food for you that is not bought in the cafe car.

There is also a restroom in each train car. They are a decent size and fairly clean as well. Our train starts in Boston and goes all the way to Norfolk. We got on in Alexandria so someone must clean the train as they go because I thought it was clean for our entire trip.

Not all of the train doors open at each stop. You have to listen to the announcement to figure out which car to go to. There is also an announcement at each stop that will tell you the current stop, the next stop, and how many minutes until you arrive at the next stop.

Will we ride Amtrak again? Absolutely. You can eat, chat, and go to the bathroom whenever you want and it doesn’t add time to your trip. We will just make sure we do not sit in the quiet car. Though I will say that Clarissa did very well. The same passenger that was upset with us in the beginning walked by as he exited the train and said, “Your daughter is very well behaved.”

What a PCS really looks like for a civilian

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Monday was our third move in four years. This is pretty normal for an active duty military family, but we are civilians. Some of the process is the same, but other things are very different, so I thought I would share some of our experiences.

In the military, they often tell you where you are going and how long you will be there. This can change, but at least you have an idea of how long you will be in a place before the military moves you again. The military will pay for you, your family, your personal belongings, and a vehicle to get to your next duty station. You are usually authorized a week or so in a hotel before you leave your current duty station and when you arrive at your next duty station.

Government civilian life is very different. First, if you land a federal job in the United States, it is usually permanent. So you can do that job (unless they decide your position is no longer necessary) as long as you want. Theoretically, you could do the same job or at least move up in the same organization your entire career in the same location. However, there are rules about moving overseas. Most jobs are two or three year contracts and you can extend after that for a total of five years overseas before you have to return to the United States. At which time, you must complete two years in the United States before returning overseas.

Generally, if you have a job overseas, the government will pay for your move, just like they would an active duty service member. You receive a document called “orders” that tells you what you are authorized. Generally, the government will pay for the employee, spouse, and dependents under age 21 to travel to the new duty station as well as to ship one personal vehicle, household goods, and unaccompanied baggage. You can even use nontemporary storage at the government’s expense. There are also allowances for hotels before you leave your home of record as well as temporary lodging in your new location. There is a transportation agreement so that if you leave this position before a full year, you have to repay the government for the cost of your move. They did change the rules recently so now you will be taxed on the move however.

The process that went the most smoothly was the first move from Norfolk to Daegu. I really think the reason is that the Human Resource people in charge of the move were in Korea and so they are used to dealing with this PCS (Permanent Change of Station- Move) process. Tim received a tentative offer and a list of things to do like paperwork and a drug test. Then about a month later, he received an official offer with a travel date about six weeks after that. I don’t remember how quickly the orders came, but we had plenty of time to get flights and movers scheduled. Other than it being my first overseas move and our first big move as a family of three, it wasn’t a mad dash to get everything done on time (unless you count the snow…).

The other two moves, from Daegu to Pyeongtaek and Pyeongtaek to Arlington have been more stressful. I really think that part of it is that Human Resources is in America and they don’t deal with PCS as often. They don’t understand that the government won’t book your flights or movers until you have orders and so you really do need them quickly if your start date is less than 30 days away. Either that or they don’t care. I’ve never met them in person, so I can’t speak to that.

A government PCS is really a lot of hurry up and wait. Tim has been applying and interviewing for jobs since June. For the job he starts next week, he interviewed around Thanksgiving. The tentative offer was at the end of February (on our four year anniversary of landing in Korea) and the official offer came April 4. At which point HR gave us two options for start dates, April 28 and May 12. We chose May 12.

When applying for a government job (usually through usajobs), there is a section that talks about relocation. Overseas jobs and some stateside jobs say that relocation can be authorized. Many jobs say relocation is not authorized, so if you want to take that job, you will need to move yourself there. Tim was only applying for jobs that said relocation was authorized.

We were told that when you move from overseas to a stateside job, the receiving agency is supposed to pay for certain moving expenses, like hotels when you arrive back in the United States. This job said relocation expenses were authorized so we weren’t worried about it. After accepting the offer, Tim immediately asked about how long it would take to receive orders and how long we would be authorized a hotel in the US. It took a week for HR to respond and say that they would not be paying for the move itself. So of the four weeks we had, one week was wasted.

Tim completed his full contract with this job overseas, so they owe us a pcs as described in our travel agreement. This means that Tim’s Korea job will pay for flights, shipping, household goods, and a personal vehicle back to our home of record which is Norfolk. They will also pay for hotels before we leave Korea. But that is where the money was supposed to stop. The gaining agency was supposed to pay for the PCS from Norfolk to Arlington as well as some hotel time in Arlington. Our Korea HR ladies were pretty confident that the new job would pay for this, as it is the common course of action.

Two weeks into the process, the new job said no. We still expect you to be here, but we’re not paying for anything. The posting says “may pay for relocation” so we’re not going to…Lesson learned. Before you accept a job offer, ask if they are paying for moving expenses. Just because it is listed in the job posting doesn’t mean they will actually pay for anything.

It got pretty stressful at the end of our time in Korea. Our lease was up on our Korean apartment on April 30 so we needed to move out before then, but we couldn’t schedule movers until we had the orders. The week before, Tim asked someone in HR about expediting his orders and the response was, “We process them in the order we receive them and it’s not fair to people who have travel dates before yours.” I was curious how many people were ten days out like we were.

April 30 was a Tuesday. Tim had unsigned orders the Friday before which let him tentatively schedule movers but the guy in charge wasn’t happy about it and wanted him to come back with the signed orders on Monday morning. He did have signed orders on Monday morning but they were incorrect because they said we were moving from Daegu to Arlington instead of Pyeongtaek to Arlington. But we were able to move out on time. The corrected orders came on Wednesday so we could book our flights. That gave Tim three days to run around on base getting all of the out processing done and sell the car. I had to take multiple taxis Friday to get all of the paperwork done for Mittens to fly with us (I will post more about that process next week).

By the time we knew we were moving, the hotel at Camp Humphreys was full. It was really hard to find a pet friendly hotel near Camp Humphreys so we ended up staying at Osan for the rest of that week before we left. It was kind of fitting to end our time in Korea there because Tim was actually stationed on Osan Air Force Base from 2005-2007, so that is where his Korea dream began. Tim had his favorite Thai, Sawatdee, three days in a row before we left.

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Pictured is Tim standing where is old dorm room was when he lived on Osan.

Then we had to figure out how to get to the airport. There is a bus that will take you from Osan to Incheon, but it doesn’t allow pets. I tried hiring a pet taxi, but he wasn’t sure that he could fit the three of us, Mittens, our suitcases, and her crate into his van. Plus he didn’t have base access so we were going to have to take multiple taxis to the main gate to meet him anyway. So the day before we left, we found a friend with a van (who actually used to work with Tim in Daegu but is at Humphreys now) who took us from Osan to our hotel near the airport. It was a little tricky because hotel check out at Osan was at 11, but check in at Incheon wasn’t until 2 so we spent a while moving our six suitcases, three carry ons, the car seat, Mittens, and her big crate from where we were staying to the hotel lobby so that we could be in air conditioning while we waited for our friend to come.

I was glad that we went to a hotel near the airport the day before. We had a morning flight so we wanted to be closer. Plus I didn’t want Mittens in her crate longer than she needed to be since it was already a 14 hour flight. We arrived to our hotel with all of our stuff, and they didn’t have a record of our reservation. Thankfully I had my reservation email from hotels.com. The hotel was actually pretty bad. The air conditioning was not turned on in the hotel yet even though it was over 80 degrees “because it’s not summer yet.” So we were really hot and the beds were Korea hard.

The hotel advertised that they had a shuttle to the airport. That was only half correct. There is a bus stop across the street that will take you to Terminal 1 of the airport. So we had to get our six suitcases, three carry ons, Mittens, her crate, and the car seat across 6 lanes of traffic…Thankfully it was 6 AM so it wasn’t super busy and there was a median. But it wasn’t an easy experience.

Once on the bus, someone took interest and said he would help us. He helped us cart our luggage from this bus to the next bus stop that took us to the bus for Terminal 2. He then helped us bring it into the building and then we parted ways. We found out he was actually former Korean Air Force and was a pilot for an airline now. I was so thankful for him. I don’t know how we would have gotten everything there on our own. It took 3 luggage carts and Clarissa had a hard time pushing it.

I was really stressing about Mittens being rejected for the flight, but she was fine. At check in someone came to get her and put her on the plane. We were allowed in the priority line through security because of Clarissa. The flight itself was pretty uneventful, just really long.

Once we landed at Dulles, I was concerned about how we were going to get everything where we needed to go. But the immigration line was really short and they had Mittens ready for us when we got there. She seemed pretty terrified but she was in one piece. One of the managers was like, “Do you need a big luggage cart?” and told one of the workers to help us. He carted all of our luggage to the rental car shuttles and helped us get on the rental car bus.

By this point, Mittens was crying because he wanted out of her crate. The ladies on the bus thought she was funny. Tim went in to pick up the rental car and Clarissa and I stayed outside with all of our stuff. I was able to move Mittens from the massive hard crate she hates into the smaller carrier and she calmed down.

We went to my aunt’s house to pick up some mail and sim cards for our phones. Tim’s worked fine but mine didn’t. Clarissa wanted McDonald’s so I went in to order her a happy meal. Happy Meals have different options here than they do in Korea and I had been awake for almost 24 hours at that point. The lady spoke excellent English but had an accent so I really didn’t understand her and had to keep asking her to repeat herself so I could order Clarissa’s food. I was so embarrassed. Tim and I had Chickfila for lunch and then we headed to the hotel.

The first day was the hardest. We lasted until almost 6 PM and then were up before 1 AM on Tuesday morning. We headed to Denny’s for breakfast about 2 and then were at Walmart by 3. People aren’t as judgmental about bringing a little kid out in the middle of the night as you might think. At least I didn’t see any dirty looks and no one said anything, even if they were thinking it.

We looked at a house on Tuesday that we really liked but decided that the commute would be too far for Tim. Wednesday we bought a car. It was actually going to be difficult because we don’t have a permanent address yet, but since we used USAA for our loan, it was fine. We saw two houses Thursday and applied for one of them. The rental application is tricky though because online applications want a bunch of information that doesn’t work if you’ve spent the last four years overseas. First of all, Korea isn’t an option for location and I don’t know how they would follow up with my Korean landlord anyway.

There are a few areas that we have been to multiple times and decided that we like to hang out there. There is so much to see and do. Tim finally started to get answers from the new job about how to report. You can’t just walk in to the pentagon…We’ve been asking questions for weeks and now that we’re here they just decided to call him to answer some of his questions.

Clarissa’s first girls weekend 

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Recently a friend of mine was telling me about an appointment that she had in Seoul.  She would have to stay in a hotel overnight and her husband would not be able to go with her.  I thought it might be fun to have a girls trip.  So I invited myself and Clarissa to go with her.

We had to reschedule because William got sick.  But it worked out better because we added a day to the trip and ended up being there for the Thanksgiving price instead of normal price. Score.

We left a little later than expected Thursday.  But traffic wasn’t bad until we got to Seoul. The kids had so many snacks on the way that I was surprised that they were hungry when we got to Dragon Hill Lodge. We unpacked a little and then headed to Itaewon for dinner.

We ate at Vatos Tacos. The server asked if we wanted high chairs and I initially said no. But the chairs were bar stools, so we ended up needing them anyway. They brought out five massive hard tortillas and some salsa. Clarissa said she wanted chips, so I thought she would be happy with that. But she was hungry so we ordered french fries. William had a quesadilla, but they browned the top and Clarissa thought it was pizza, so she helped herself to that as well. I had the chimmichurro chicken tacos. It wasn’t listed as spicy, but I thought it was. I prefer hard tacos, so it wasn’t my favorite meal.

Then, we jumped on the subway to Insadong. Insadong is fun because once you round the corner and turn right, you get to a long line of carts selling artsy and Korean things. So it was a great place to find Christmas presents. Clarissa also found an apron she “needed” for making cookies.

I thought there was an ice cream shop on the way back to the subway. But I was wrong. So William got a donut at Dunkin Donuts and Clarissa was still adamant that she wanted ice cream. We headed back to Itaweon for Baskin Robins. On the way back to base, April stopped at Lush. They have some really cool bath things in there. She bought playdoh bath soap for the kids.

Friday morning was her appointment. We had breakfast at the buffet downstairs, which was excellent. It was only $10.95 for adults and the kids were free. I had never eaten at Greenstreet for breakfast, so I as plesantly surprised.

The kids and I headed to the playground while April went to her appointment. They had a great time. There are two playgrounds at the hotel. One is supposed to be for toddlers and the other for big kids. They ended up using both. I didn’t know that the dinosaurs could move. But during the course of our visit, they were hungry, ate grass, and moved to the little house so they could eat lunch at the table.

After a quick snack from the Shopette, we headed to Children’s Grand Park. Clarissa was very excited to see a “real” Tayo bus. We got to climb into and “drive” Gani and Lani. I may or may not have been more excited than she was to drive the bus…

Children’s Grand Park is huge! We passed a playground on the way to the zoo but convinced the kids that it would have to wait. The zoo was pretty good once you get over the size of the cages. I have never seen as many species of cat in one zoo in my life. They seriously had ten different cages for cats. The poor elephant lives by himself. But there are plenty of monkeys. The kids loved it. They even fed the deer. 

We wanted to go to the children’s museum next but it was already 4:00 and they close at 5 on the other side of the park. So we walked by Snow White’s Castle. It was a restaurant. We didn’t eat there because we heard “Let it go” while we were still outside and Clarissa had to dance.

Clarissa and William really wanted pizza and ice cream for dinner so we decided to leave then and go back to Itaewon to beat the dinner rush. We had to walk by that playground on the way out and ended up staying for another hour. The kids loved the playground but I really don’t recommend it for preschoolers. It would be great for elementary aged kids though. And it was an accessible playground so you could go up the play structure in a wheelchair, they had special swings, etc. At one point, Clarissa and William left the playground (we followed them) to wander around the park themselves. Clarissa kept telling me that she wanted to be “alone with William.”

They both fell asleep on the subway back to Itaewon. April and I were pretty excited about this so that we could have a quiet dinner. But then we realized that all of the restaurants were on the second or third floor and required stairs while the kids were asleep in the strollers. Plus it was raining. We just decided to go back to Dragon Hill for dinner.

Clarissa woke up during the walk and remembered the promise of pizza and ice cream.  We ended up at Pizza Hut for dinner. By the time our pizza was ready, she decided that she just wanted ice cream but I told her she had to have at least one slice of pizza first. She remembers everything. So after her first slice of pizza she decided that she was ready for her ice cream, which she only ate half of.

Back in the room, I brought purple nail polish for Clarissa’s first girls weekend. I thought it would be fun to introduce her to something girly. She sat kind of patiently while I painted both of her hands. Then when she realized that she needed to be still even longer for her nails to dry, she demanded that I take the nail polish off. It was pretty for two minutes anyway. William woke up during the nail polish so they got to play a little while before bed.

On Saturday, the kids slept way later than I expected them to. But April and I really enjoyed sitting in bed chatting. We drove to Osan for lunch. I wanted to introduce her to Sawatdee, but there was construction and it had moved. It took a while to find it, but this guy passing out flyers for his Indian restaurant helped us find it. Clarissa and William enjoyed the fish tank. William loved the spring rolls. Clarissa was all about the rice. April and I enjoyed our yummy Thai dishes as well.

We then headed to the PX for some shopping. I found the baby gloves that I like for Clarissa and she insisted on a pink pair of mittens. April and I both found several clothing items we liked. Clarissa and William stayed in the cart together and did various things like hang shirts off the side for “Christmas” and “shoot the lights” with their clothes hangers. When April tried on her boots, Clarissa wanted to get out of the cart. She kept trying on adult boots and saying “I’m a cowboy.”

After our shopping adventure, they had earned a trip to the playplace. And we of course got ice cream before we headed home. Both kids fell asleep rather quickly on the car ride home so April and I enjoyed some girl time on the way back where there was random heavy traffic. Who knew Dajeon was popular at 8pm on a Saturday night?

Disney Sea and Dinosaurs 

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We thought Thursday would be the least crowded day to head to Disney Sea.  So we took two different trains to the resort.  Then,  there is a special Disney train that takes you the rest of the way (you do have to pay,  but it’s only 260 yen and you can even use your subway card).

We stayed up late Wednesday so we slept in on Thursday and didn’t arrive until lunchtime.  We ate in Mediterranean Harbor.  We ordered the tomato and mozzarella pizza for Clarissa,  chicken and olive pizza for me,  and Tim ordered both kinds of pasta.  I should not have ordered anything for Clarissa.  Though delicious,  she refused to try her pizza.  Three year olds… Also I was pleasantly surprised by the prices of the park food.  Everything was reasonably priced and tasted great.

Over lunch,  we planned our route. Clarissa did not seem cooperative but we decided to start walking and figured she would get excited as we passed things.

She did like the Ariel things in Mermaids Lagoon.  Not enough to ride anything.  But she did enjoy looking at the different rides and statues.

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In Arabia,  there was a camel statue that you could sit on to take pictures.  She wanted to do that.  But when you sit on the camel,  apparently it makes noises so she got scared.

Then we tried Sinbad’s Storybook ride.  It was pretty cool.  You ride a boat and go through some of the stories from the Arabian Nights.  Clarissa covered her eyes for the giant.  Tim was holding her and said she was shaking.  But at the end,  she said it was awesome and wanted to go on more rides.

In the Lost Delta,  there was a place to meet characters.  Clarissa wanted to meet Minnie Mouse.  The sign said it would take 40 minutes.  After we had been there a few minutes,  a cast member came by and changed the sign to 50 minutes.  Need to say,  we were all ready to meet Minnie.  They let you take one photo with your camera or you can buy their pictures.  Minnie hugged and kissed all three of us at the beginning and end.  Clarissa was thrilled.  I took a picture of it at the end and they scolded me because I already had my one picture,  even though it was the staged family picture and not the Minnie mouse is kissing my three year old picture.

After meeting Minnie,  we were on a mission to find Nemo.  We actually found Dory and Hank.  But the Nemo ride isn’t finished yet so we never found Nemo. There was a ride with Crush.  But the kind lady who worked there said it was just talking and all in Japanese so we didn’t bother.

We did however,  find Woody.  But the line for his ride was two hours.  So we just hung out in Toyville and looked at the character toys and statues.  Clarissa took pictures on both Bullseye and Ham.  Apparently,  we cut the line,  but I really didn’t notice there was one.  Oops.

On the way to dinner,  we passed by a show. The speaking was in Japanese so we kept walking.  But the songs were in English and Clarissa liked the costumes so Clarissa wanted to watch it.  We ended up finding a spot and watching the rest of it.

We at dinner in the Cape Cod Cook Off.  We tried their Halloween season special burger which was beef with pumpkin and bacon.  It was actually very good.

We weren’t thrilled with the souvioneers in the shops.  Clarissa was devastated that at the end of the day,  we had still not found Nemo.  But Tim saw Nemo toys at the toy store in Akihabara the night before so he thought we should take her there.  Day made.

She picked out a baby Dory toy.  We also found a used bookstore with an English section.  I didn’t find anything for me,  but Clarissa got three books.

All things considered,  it was a great day.  Tim would like to take Clarissa back to Disney Sea next spring when the Nemo ride opens. The Studio Ghibli museum tickets were sold out for our trip again this time so we may need to do a weekend in Tokyo next year for those two things.

We noticed that Disney Sea was geared towards older kids. Clarissa was afraid of some things.  Next year she may enjoy it more.  But the teens and adults love it.

Friday,  we headed to Ueno for the National Museum of Nature and Science.  There were six floors of exhibits.  Clarissa especially liked the animals and the dinosaur bones.  Those were all labeled in both English and Japanese.

Some of the other floors had interesting interactive exhibits.  Tim’s favorite was a heat sensor. We all had fun playing with that one.

There were video screens you could press for information in English.  The teaching videos were all in Japanese though.

I think most families would enjoy the museum.  The price is very reasonable.  620 yen for adults.  Everyone else is free.  The special exhibit was an additional 980 for adults and 600 for children so we skipped it.

After the museum,  we headed down the road to the Toshogu Shrine.  The rain was starting to pick up so we put on our raincoats.  I am glad we did because after I took the first picture,  it started pouring.

This shrine is the oldest in Tokyo,  built before the Edo period.  The architecture and design reminds me very much of the two castles we visited earlier this week,  especially Nijo jo in Kyoto.

There was one more electronics shop to check out in Shibuya.  Tim was unsuccessful in that area.  But his feet have been bothering him since the monkey park,  so when we passed an Adidas store,  we decided it was time for new sneakers.  Problem solved.

The best English bookstore is in Shinjuku,  so we decided to head there.  Kinokuniya actually had a great selection.  They had mostly hardback books so they were a little expensive.  Their kid’s section was awesome.

After our day of shopping and exploring,  we realized that we never ate lunch.  So we decided to splurge on Outback for dinner.  My steak was great.  Tim had some pasta.

Kyoto Day 2

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We decided to walk to the Kyoto Railway Museum this morning.  It was supposed to rain but we planned to arrive before the rain started.  We succeeded.

There were several school groups there this morning,  but we really enjoyed it.  There were several different trains to look at and explore.  The museum also had several hands on exhibits with buttons and levers.  Clarissa was able to pretend to drive several different trains.

Clarissa lasted longer than Tim though.  I think it is a great choice for families with young children.  Teenagers might get bored quickly.  The price was great.  Adults pay 1200 yen (about $12). Clarissa is 3 so we had to pay for her as well,  but only 200 yen ($2).

There were 3 floors of exhibits in the main building,  two sections of trains outside,  and two additional smaller buildings.  I enjoyed the ability to go under a train to see what the motor and suspension looks like from below.


The third floor had a great view of the shinkansen train (bullet train)  if you paid attention to the schedule when they were to pass by.


The second floor also had a play area for kids to build train tracks on their own with several small trains as well. There was also a model train set up  for kids to crawl under so that they were eye level with the trains.

We thought about visiting the Kyoto Aquarium as well since it was right next to the railway museum.  But it didn’t get great reviews and was expensive for the size.  It was 2000 yen ($20) for adults.  So we decided to skip it.

We walked to the mall for lunch and then headed across the street to the train station.  We wanted to see Nijo jo (castle).  Honestly,  we were not impressed.  The Osaka castle was more ornate and easier to get to.  Nijo jo was a much larger complex and right off the subway.  However,  it was gravel everywhere which was hard to navigate with a stroller.  Parts also had large steps without ramps so we would take turns going up to take pictures.


We were all tired and cranky and it was starting to rain,  so we decided to head back early.  This time,  we got off at a different train station because Tim wanted to see what we could find on the way back to the hotel.

We had a very relaxing afternoon in the room.  I was able to finish reading my Kindle book so I need to work on a review for that because it was a very encouraging read for me.

We decided to take it easy and eat dinner across the street at Royal Host.  We got Clarissa in to bed pretty close to the normal time this morning.  But I will say that a two year old on vacation was way easier than a three year old on vacation…

Tomorrow we head up to Tokyo by Shinkansen (bullet train).

Just monkeyin’ around in Kyoto 

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It always takes me a few days to get into a groove with the conversion rate.  In Korea,  7,000 won is about $7.  But 7,000 yen is about $70! But three days in,  I have a better idea of what I am actually paying.

We woke up at a better time today which meant we had a better schedule.  Our first destination was Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama.  We had to take three different trains to get there, but it was so worth it! The third train was a single electronic trolley car that went through the countryside. It reminded me of a Studio Ghibli movie.

We arrived at Arashiyama and walked down a street of cute little shops that I decided I needed to check out on the way back.  There was a great pedestrian bridge that led to a mountain and I was thrilled.  This was the side of Japan I had been dying to see last Christmas.  Traditional houses,  boats, countryside.

We followed the signs to the monkey park where it said to park bikes and strollers.  Then we walked up some steps to a shrine and were a little confused. The entrance to the monkey park was off to the left.  Adults pay 1,100 yen (like $11) but 3 year olds and under are free.

The sign said it was a twenty minutes hike to the monkey park.  It was mostly uphill and some of the path was paved.  It wasn’t dangerous,  but Clarissa definitely didn’t walk the entire trail.  I was impressed though because she walked at least half of it.  On this hike,  we decided that we do need to bite the bullet and buy an ergo or something because I know I want to do the Great Wall of China next year and we can’t bring a stroller there either.  It would have made the trip easier to wear Clarissa on my back.

But it was so worth it when we got to the top!  There were a few monkeys hanging out.  Then we went inside a cabin that has cages on the windows. You can pay 100 yen (about $1)  for a small bag of peanuts,  apples,  or bananas to feed the monkeys.

Clarissa had a great time!  We ended up doing all three different foods.  Clarissa was able to feed 4 different monkeys,  including a baby monkey.

Since it is on top of  a mountain,  you can look out and see most of Kyoto from up there.

 

I pretty much carried Clarissa the whole way down the mountain.  We ran into a few families with small children and I kept encouraging the moms that it was worth it to go all the way up there.

After our hike,  we went back in to town for some shopping.  I found some fun placemats with a cat that looks like Mittens.  We had awesome sushi for lunch.  We had ice cream too.  Clarissa and I chose vanilla,  but Tim went with green tea.

We took a few trains to Yassaka Jinja Shrine.  Along the street, we bought a small geisha doll for Clarissa and a magnet for me.  We also found Kanji (Japanese)  signature stamps for all three of our names.

The shrine was clean and not super crowded but not spectacular. It was also not very stroller friendly.  There were several sets of steps and no ramps.

Tim was more excited to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine because of the many gates it has.  This shrine was massive and has gates that go all the way up the mountain.  It had a few ramps for the bottom buildings but there was not a place to park the stroller to go up the mountain to see all of the gates.  Clarissa loved the wolf statues though.

It was supposed to rain so we headed to the new Aeon mall which is right across from Kyoto station.  We ate yummy Indian curry and Naan for dinner. Then Clarissa and I went to check out the Steam Locomotive Cafe which had Thomas and some other Japanese model trains set up.  They sold drinks and hamburgers as well as train merchandise. Tim visited a few electronics stores but wasn’t impressed.

Tonight was the first time we made it back early enough to catch the hotel shuttle home.  It was packed!  But it is nice to have Clarissa in bed before 10 for a change.  I think we will have a more cooperative girl tomorrow.  Hopefully the weather man is wrong and it won’t rain the entire day.

Our day in Osaka 

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We slept later than I thought we would this morning.  Tim’s normal weekend alarm went off at 9 AM to wake us all up.

It took a few extra minutes in the morning at the train station because I needed another pass.  But the rapid train to Osaka only took about 30 minutes.

Our first attraction was Osaka jo (Osaka castle).  When we arrived near the park,  it was packed.  There were long lines for something (we eventually figured out they were all there to see Nissy,  a Japanese pop star).  We decided to have a quick sit down lunch.  We ordered from a kiosk and it was very good.

Then,  we headed to the Castle.  The outside was quite ornate.  There was a mote around it and a park with beautiful trees.  We started later than we wanted to today so we gave Clarissa the choice of going inside the castle,  or going to the aquarium later.  She chose the aquarium.  There were plenty of steps,  so getting inside with the stroller wasn’t going to be easy anyway.  (You do have to pay to go inside the castle.)


Our next stop was Den Den town,  an electronics area.  Tim had a list of places he wanted to check out.  He did find something on his wishlist,  a psp go.  They have been discontinued so they are harder to find.  Clarissa found a Japanese fish toy she really likes.  I was excited about the prospect of retro toy stores.  But they were Japanese toys and not the 80s toys I remember.

We had some Burger King for dinner and then headed out to Osaka Aquarium. (Adults pay 2,300 yen which is about $23, 3 year olds and under get in free.)  The aquarium was really nice.

Clarissa especially loved the Finding Dory area.

There was even a fish tank with the same fish as the dentist office in the first movie.

The best part of the aquarium was the touch tank.  I got to touch sting rays and sharks!  Clarissa touched the shark but was afraid of the sting ray because they were so big.  I was surprised because the rays were very smooth,  but the shark felt quite rough.

After the aquarium,  Clarissa lost it because she wanted to “keep touching things”  and didn’t want the shark to miss her.  She was upset until we passed a soft serve ice cream shop on the way back to the subway.  Tim thought it was the best soft serve he had ever tasted. Clarissa and  I enjoyed it as well.

It was another late night of missing the shuttle.  But we decided to walk back today since we knew where to go.

Learning curve on our travel day 

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When we were looking at flights from Busan to Osaka,  the price was great but there weren’t a ton of time options.  We basically had to choose between 8 AM or 5 PM.  The airport is a 90 minute drive,  so we chose the 5 PM flight. 

A friend drove us to the bus station about noon.  We went to buy tickets for the next bus to Gimhae airport.  It was leaving in 2 minutes.  But we made it. 

The bus wasn’t even halfway full,  so Clarissa and I moved to a different row so that she didn’t have to sit in my lap the entire bus ride. 

She did very well on the bus. She played with her tablet and looked out the window.  I was actually able to read a book on my Kindle that I started on our trip to Suwon in May.  

We arrived to the airport about 2 PM.  We checked in for our flight and then went upstairs to have some bibimbap for lunch.  After lunch,  we headed to security. 

Before you get to immigration,  there is a really cute character statue.  Clarissa loved it so we decided to take her picture with it.  About 10 feet after the statue,  there are signs that say no photography.  But we didn’t notice those until security yelled at us,  confiscated Tim’s phone,  and deleted said picture.  Oops. (He did get his phone back) 

We had Dunkin Donuts while we waited for our flight.  Clarissa started to get antsy so we walked the length of the terminal,  stopping to look at every plane or bus out the window. 

The actual flight was uneventful.  They fed us a sandwich for dinner which was unexpected since the flight is only about an hour. 

Clarissa dropped her new Nemo cup on the way to customs and it broke.  I tried to ask the immigration guy about a trash can and showed him the cup that was leaking orange juice.  But I don’t think he understood me because he handed me a roll of toilet paper. 

We eventually found a trash can after we retrieved our bags,  went through customs,  and exchanged our money.  At this point it was about 7 PM so we grabbed subway (and French fries for Clarissa)  for the train ride to the hotel.  Clarissa finished her French fries long before Tim came back with our train tickets.  We decided on the 2 day Kansai thru pass since we will heads back to Osaka tomorrow. 

We then boarded an express train Kyoto.  It takes a little over an hour.  The Shinkansen office was still open so we bought our tickets to Tokyo for Wednesday. 

Then we headed outside.  Our hotel has a shuttle that goes to Kyoto station.  But the website wasn’t specific about where exactly it was.  So in our search, we got to see the Kyoto Tower.  

The fountain also had a light show with music playing.  Clarissa loved it! 

We couldn’t figure out where the shuttle bus would be so we looked at a big map on the wall of a building.  A kind Japanese girl called the hotel and found out that the last shuttle bus was already back at the hotel. 

So about 10 PM,  we took a taxi to the hotel.  The driver was nice.  The suitcases fit in the trunk but the stroller had to sit up front near the driver.  

The hotel is really nice.  When we got to our room,  I realized that I lost my 2 day train ticket.  It was in my pocket,  which wasn’t a problem until I took a picture of Kyoto tower and put my phone in my pocket.  It probably fell out when I took my phone back out of my pocket.  Hopefully someone finds it so they can ride the train for free tomorrow! 

Clarissa didn’t get to bed until 11:30, so it will be interesting to see if she still wakes up early tomorrow.  I don’t want to sleep too late though,  or we won’t have enough time for everything on our list for Osaka. 

…And we’re back

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When we were with Tim’s friend on Saturday, we aquired subway cards that are similar to our Daegu Toppass in that they can do any train or bus and you can recharge them easily in a subway station. The difference is that in Daegu, there is a flat rate to ride a train or bus and in in Tokyo, you pay based on how far you travel.

With our new pasmo passes, we decided that we would be adventurous and check out some different train lines and go out of the city a little bit.

We only went one town over to Mitaka, but still. We took the JR Yamonote line to the JR chuo line to the metro Marunochi line. Then, we got off at the train and took a bus to the Tokyo Edo Open Air Museum.

We had to walk through a park to get there. It was a nice park with trees and grass and families playing. There was even a big train. It was behind a fence though, so Clarissa was disappointed that she couldn’t get super close to it.

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I was really excited to see what the houses and buildings looked like in Japan in the past. Unfortunately, when we got there, it was closed. We planned the trip to go home on December 28 because we read that a lot of things close for New Years the last 2-3 days of the year. Apparently, this museum closed on December 26. Oops.

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All was not lost though. We walked back to the train station instead of taking the bus so that we could see what a normal (not in the big city) neighborhood would look like in Japan. There were houses and duplexes. A few villas, but not tall apartment buildings like in the big city. We did see a shrine on the way. I think most neighborhoods have their own shrine.

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Also, I thought it was funny that they had 7-11 in Japan, but most of them had this sign…

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We took the train back to Nakano, which is supposed to be the most crowded neighborhood in Tokyo. Tim’s friend told us about a shopping area there that Tim should check out for video game, anime, and gundam model stuff. So we headed to Nakano Broadway, as it was on the same train line.

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We were hungry so we went to Lotteria for lunch. They have them in Korea too, but the sandwich choices were way different. I got a teryaki burger with egg and Tim got the Kobe burger. Clarissa, of course, ate french fries. We ended up sitting next to a mom and her little girl. Clarissa made a new friend. They had a great time playing together, even though they didn’t speak English and we don’t speak Japanese. The little girl was three.

Then we headed to Mandrake. There were several different stores in the four story shopping mall. Tim found a Gundam model he has been looking for for a long time. Clarissa found a Ponyo doll. We also bought a Totoro puzzle to do together. It was a very successful trip.

We thought we would head back to Shibuya for dinner. We went to Shibuya Hikarie becasue it is supposed to have several shops and places to eat. It did. But most were overpriced. We decided on a Chinese restaraunt, but the service was terrible, and they wouldn’t let us order a bowl of rice for Clarissa. So we left. The trip wasn’t a total waste though because the views from the 11th floor were pretty cool.

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We went back to Shinagawa and ended up at Royal Host. It was actually a nice little restaraunt. They had a special menu for kids and brought Clarissa a bib with a bee that she actually wanted to wear. Tim ordered pancakes, french toast, and sausage. I ordered a steak burger with fries. Clarissa wanted fries, but surprised me and actually ate some of my burger after she finished her fries.

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The cool thing about the pasmo card is that you can return it and get a refund of the cost of the card (500 yen, about $5) and whatever amount you have left on the card. So we returned our cards on our walk back to the hotel.

We headed home on Monday. We took the airport limosine bus back to the airport and were pleasantly surprised that there was a special line for families. Most people had to wait in a long line, but we only had to wait about five minutes before it was our turn.

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They also asked us if we wanted to use their stroller while we were in the airport. The check-in girl was confused because we were headed back to Busan on our American passport. She wasn’t familiar with the special visa that we have. Tim had been warned to bring his letter of employment, and that was exactly what we needed to get through.

The flight went well. Clarissa enjoyed watching part of the Minions movie as well as some Mickey Mouse. They let her pick out a present again. This time she chose an airplane.
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The food was great, yet again. Japan Airlines really feeds you well.

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The flight attendants were very nice and even walked by to tell us we could see Mt Fuji out the airplane window. Tim got a couple of really cool shots.

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We got through immigration in Busan without a problem. We were able to catch the next bus back to Daegu. That was totally a God thing because we only had to wait 20 minutes and ended up with the last two seats on the bus.

This travel day was all about the food

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We had a very long travel day for our two hour flight.

We were ready to leave the house by 9. I wanted to be sure that we had time to take the bus if there wasn’t a taxi available. I don’t know why the AAFES taxis have such small trunks.  One suitcase fit in the trunk.  The other suitcase squished in the backseat with the three of us.  The stroller sat up front.

Because of the taxi,  we had about an hour to kill at Dondaegu express bus terminal.  Clarissa had a great time going up and down the stairs and trying to open all of the lockers.

I forgot that the bus terminals usually only have squatties.  I didn’t really want to attempt that with my two year old audience.  so we waited for the handicapped bathroom.  I was glad that I packed toilet paper for our trip because there wasn’t any available.

The bus was really nice.  We had more legroom than on KTX.  It was about 10,000 won ($9 USD) to take a bus directly to Gimhae Airport in Busan. It only took about 70 minutes.  Clarissa enjoyed looking out the window.

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The airport wasn’t as big as I expected.  The check in line was long.  But,  in classic Korean fashion,  they opened a new line just for families of small children so we didn’t wait long.

There were only two food court options.  We decided on bulgogi bibimbap and some spring rolls.  The spring rolls were ready first.  Clarissa confiscated them.  She immediately said “mine”  and dragged them in front of her.  I was thrilled because she rarely gets excited about adult food.  She actually ate several of them and was reluctant to share.

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The bibimbap was delicious.  There were a few appetizers that I didn’t recognize.  The hollow sand dollar looking thing was actually pretty tasty.  The yellow rectangles ended up being eggs.

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Our flight from Busan to Tokyo was from 2-4 in the afternoon so I wasn’t really expecting a meal on the plane.  They served a traditional Japanese lunch with shrimp,  egg,  mushrooms,  and rice.  Our favorite part was probably the rice cakes.  They were two different flavors,  each with a fruity filling in the middle.  I bet you can guess which part of the meal Clarissa actually ate.

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Japan has the most efficient immigration process I have ever seen.  We only waited in line about five minutes.  They asked a couple of questions,  fingerprinted us (of course mine don’t scan correctly in any country),  took our picture and sent us on our way.  At first,  we could not find the baggage claim for our flight. I eventually saw our flight number third on a list and assumed it was because our bags were not out yet.

I knew we would still have another bus ride before the hotel so Clarissa and I ran laps around the baggage claim.  Yes.  I am THAT mom.  After about fifteen minutes or so,  our flight came off the list and Tim went to ask the baggage information people about it.  Our suitcases and stroller were ready for us on a cart.  Oops. Like I said,  marvelously efficient.

We exchanged our money and then went to find the limousine bus to our hotel.  Apparently it comes once per hour and we had missed the last one by 5 minutes.  The taxi from the airport to our hotel would be about an hour and cost 25,000 yen which is like $250. The bus for the three of us was 6,000 yen which is closer to $50. So we waited.  Grabbed some snacks at the convenience store because there wasn’t another option.

The bus ride was very pleasant. The seats were comfortable. I think we would have enjoyed it more during the day. It was dark and we were tired. But we did get to see some neat lights around Tokyo during our 90 minute bus ride.

When we checked in to the hotel, they gave Clarissa a present. Really it was a bag of toiletries for kids. She got a kid sized toothbrush, slippers, and a washcloth. All have bears. She was thrilled!

She decided to wear her new slippers to dinner. They will probably still fit her when we move back to the US in 2018. They fell off about every three steps that she ran. It took a while to get to dinner.

There are four restaurants at our hotel. We had been warned about prices in Tokyo, but there was definitely some sticker shock while looking at the menus.

We decided on the Bamboo Lounge near the lobby. It was the cheapest. They seated us near the Christmas tree fountain.

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I ordered an “American sandwich” with french fries for Clarissa. I was gluten-free the ten years before we moved to Korea, so I have never really been big into sandwiches. But this was the best sandwich I have ever eaten. No offense to anyone who has ever made me a sandwich… It had chunks of chicken breast, bacon, lettuce, and tomato. There was also a sauce of some kind. It looked like ketchup and mayonnaise but tasted way better. Clarissa ate most of the fries, but they were good too.

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Tim got a raw tuna rice bowl. It came with miso soup.

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He also got green tea. They make it way different in Japan than Korean. The green tea started as a mound of green ice cubes. Then the server added cold milk. Finally there was a liquid green tea sugar.

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By the time we returned to the room it was about 9:30. We were definitely ready for some sleep after our long day.

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International Travel with a toddler

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We just moved to Daegu, South Korea. Before beginning our travel adventure, I researched traveling with a toddler. There are several websites and blogs out there, but I thought I would throw my experience into the mix.

Due to the fact that we were moving and not just going on a trip, we had a ton of stuff. We were allowed six checked bags and six carry ons. We ended up with five suitcases, a pack and play, five small carry ons, a toddler car seat, and a stroller.

What to pack in your carry on

We had five carry ons, but they weren’t all for the baby. Two were for my husband.

The first carry ons was the diaper bag.

  • Diapers and wipes

Clarissa usually uses cloth diapers, but two months of diaper laundry during hotel life seemed too daunting when I didn’t know what my laundry situation would be. I knew we would be traveling for about thirty hours. I packed twenty diapers just to be safe, but only ended up using about ten. One blog that I read recommended overnight diapers for the fourteen hour flight, so I did that. But it really was a waste. I ended up changing her diaper every 2-3 hours on the plane anyway and now I am out of overnight diapers!

I packed a small pack of wipes as well. We used the wipes for diaper changes, washing her hands before meals, and washing her face after meals.

  • Clothes

She wore a long sleeve shirt, long pants, socks, and shoes onto the plane. I packed three extra shirts, three pants, socks, and a pair of footed pajamas for the trip. I only used two of the extra outfits. Clarissa never got sick during travel. But she definitely got messy while eating or trying to drink from my cup on the plane since she didn’t really want to use a bib. Choose your battles right?

  • Blankets

I packed a soft blanket for her to snuggle with and a receiving blanket for if it was cold. She never used either one.

  • Pacifiers

I had five pacifiers in my house, so I packed them all. Clarissa really hasn’t used a pacifier since our trip to Connecticut last summer. But I thought I would bring them for the take off and landing of the plane. She played with the pacifiers, but wouldn’t really put them in her mouth. She didn’t seem to have a problem with her ears anyway.

The second carry on was my bookbag.

I had a few things for me in there; my tablet, cell phone, a couple of books, and some pens. I also had some things to keep Clarissa occupied.

  • Small toys

I had a ziploc bag of small toys for Clarissa to play with. I packed a few toy cars, finger puppets, a couple of plastic animals that would fit in her hand, and a pair of sunglasses for her. She played with a few toys on the shorter flights, but didn’t really play with them on the long flight.

  • Books

Clarissa’s favorite book right now is a touch and feel book about puppies. We read that on one of the shorter flights. I brought five other paperback picture books, but we didn’t read them at all.

On the first flight, I treated myself to a magazine. She pretty much confiscated that until she fell asleep.

  • Notebook, pen, and stickers

Clarissa likes to write with a pen. She definitely spent some time on my lap writing in a notebook. She also had fun putting stickers on the page. Then, she tried taking them off the page and putting them on me and her daddy.

  • Tablet

Tim locked down a tablet for Clarissa with parental controls. He put a couple of movies on it for her. She sat on my lap and watched a few minutes of a couple different movies. She also spent some time watching the movies provided by the plane. She didn’t really like the headphones though.

The third carry on was snacks. I used this bag for snacks for all three of us.

Clarissa ate a lot on the plane. She ate two fruit pouches, a jar of chicken and vegetable baby food, almonds, craisins, and cookies on the plane. She also nursed three different times. She wasn’t thrilled with drinking from her sippy cup when mommy and daddy were drinking from clear plastic cups.

What we did

Clarissa is under two, so technically, she could have been a lap infant. But the government paid for her to have her own seat, so I didn’t complain. We decided to go ahead and buy a toddler car seat that was FAA approved for the plane. We don’t plan to own a car in South Korea but thought it would be a good way to contain Clarissa for a fourteen hour flight. We can also use this car seat when we come back to the United States to visit as she will need a car seat on those visits.

We bought a cart and bungee cord to wheel the car seat through the airport. We are so happy that we did. Our original flight was delayed due to weather so we were rerouted a different day to a different city. We had to switch airlines and had a ten hour layover so they wouldn’t let us through security and we ended up in Time Square. I don’t think we would have made it without this cart!

Security in our home airport was the hardest. I packed jarred food for Clarissa and some food pouches that were above the 3.4 ounce liquid limit. I wasn’t sure if they would make it through but decided to try because they let you follow different rules when you are traveling with a baby. They did let me keep everything, but they did a very thorough pat down and wanded my hands. The security lady said I could have had more items if I wanted to, but the problem was the size. So if you don’t want the pat down, just keep the pouches to 3.2 ounces or smaller. They didn’t care that the jarred food was more than that because the jars were clear. JFK and both Korean airports didn’t care as much about my items, though I may have fed her the larger pouches by that point so I wouldn’t have to do that again.

Our first flight was only about an hour. I buckled Clarissa into her car seat. She was seated on the aisle so that she could see everything going on around her. She definitely enjoyed kicking the seat in front of her until the plane took off. It didn’t really matter what I tried. She read her puppy book, read some of my magazine, but ultimately kept kicking. Then, she fell asleep once we took off.

During our long layover, I fed her a few times. I also let her run up and down the terminal for about an hour. Our flight didn’t leave until 12:50am, so I was hoping she would sleep well on the flight. I nursed her in the terminal as well. We tried a cover, but Clarissa didn’t like it. So we were as much in the corner as we could be. At that point, it was after 11pm and most of the people in the terminal were asleep anyway. I figured that feeding my baby and keeping her happy was more important than making sure the cover concealed everything.

I made sure to put on a new, overnight diaper before we got on the plane. We decided to put her car seat by the window, me in the middle, and Tim on the aisle. She did really well for the first hour or so. She stayed in her car seat and watched some of a movie on the back of the seat in front of her. She didn’t really like the headphones so she just watched the picture. I fed her some of the jarred food and she also had some cookies. She didn’t fall asleep even though she was clearly exhausted because the lights were on and the flight attendants were walking around giving drinks.

Then she started to get fussy so I took her out of the car seat. She spent a lot of time playing while sitting and standing in the area in front of her and my seat. The flight attendants then presented her with a gift. A little bag with a coloring book and colored pencils. She didn’t really color much. But she enjoyed taking the colored pencils in and out of that box.

After becoming fussy again (because it was now about 3am), I changed her diaper and decided to nurse her since she normally nurses to sleep at night. I didn’t worry about a cover since the flight attendants were beginning to serve dinner and I was sitting in the middle of the row anyway. By the time she was finished nursing, the lights in the cabin had been turned out. She of course, nursed to sleep. Every attempt that I had to put her in her car seat ended with her screaming. So I gave up and let her sleep on me.

She did actually sleep for about 6 or 7 hours. The problem was that she was sleeping on me so I couldn’t really sleep. Every time I moved to get comfortable, she started to cry. In the middle of her sleep she did get fussy so I changed her diaper again and then she slept another few hours until they turned the lights back on and started serving breakfast.

For the next couple of hours, she didn’t want to go back in her car seat. She spent a lot of time on the floor. She enjoyed playing with her car seat and eating snacks. She nursed again. Clarissa also spent an hour or two sitting on my lap. She watched about twenty minutes of a movie on her tablet. She also wrote in a notebook and played with stickers. She watched a movie on my lap as well.

I made her go back to the car seat for the landing, but she wasn’t happy about it. She did fall asleep during that time in the car seat.

When we arrived in Korea, we had to go through immigration. Tim waited in line while I chased Clarissa around the area. Her favorite thing was the moving sidewalks. The only problem was that she didn’t understand that they only moved in one direction. So she would get halfway and try to turn around and run the opposite direction. So I would pick her up, explain that we had to go this way, and then get off and come back on the other sidewalk. She would kick and scream. Thankfully most people thought she was adorable and didn’t seem too irritated with us. Eventually a man saw us with the baby and opened a new line just for us. I think that irritated everyone though! He called over everyone else with a baby too.

Clarissa did well in the airports. Even when she was really fussy on a flight, she was excited to be looking around once we got inside the airport. She enjoyed looking at people and investigating things in the airports.

We’re here (week one)

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We stayed up really late packing on Sunday night and woke up at 330am so we would be ready for our 430 cab. We were tired, but excited to finally be leaving.

While we were trying to check in outside, we discovered that our 7am flight to Dallas was delayed until noon. This was a problem because our flight to Seoul was supposed to leave at 10:30. So we had to go inside and wait in line for an hour to see how the three of us could get to Korea. It took about an hour until they had tickets for all three of us. We were now leaving the next day.

So we booked a new hotel with shuttle service to and from the airport. Tim called his new boss to tell him we would now be arriving Thursday morning instead of Tuesday evening. Clarissa and I went back to bed.

We got to practice our new pedestrian lifestyle by walking to Chick-fil-A and Target. We squeezed in one more dinner with my best friend.

Our new hotel had a shower instead of a bathtub. I thought that would be great practice for Korea. Wrong! The shower was really slippery and it freaked Clarissa out.

We were thankful for a later flight so that we could sleep in. We had one last visit with my parents and then headed to the airport. Thankfully there were no delays going to JFK.

Clarissa was excited to be in her new car seat on the plane. The man sitting in front of us was not because she kept kicking his seat. Once the plane took off she fell asleep .

JFK was interesting. We were switching airlines so we had to go to a different terminal. The problem was that we had a ten hour layover, so they wouldn’t let us go through security yet. So we made the most of it and took the train into the city.

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I have always wanted to go to Time Square, so we went there and met up with my middle school best friend for dinner. We had five carry on bags, a stroller, and a car seat to lug around the city. Poor Tim was in shorts! But we had a great time.

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When we got back to the airport, the security line was crazy long. But we had three hours so we weren’t worried. The guy for the first class line saw us with the baby and told us to come in his line. Our wait time went from two hours to twenty minutes. Thank you Jesus!

Clarissa really enjoyed our time in that terminal. She spent an hour running around, looking at people, pointing to all of the other children in the airport. There were even a few dogs for her to get excited about.

Our flight out of JFK left about 1am. Clarissa did amazingly well. She only cried a few times, and not for very long. She did enjoy some snacks and watched a movie. She slept several hours (on me of course, who needs a carseat?!). She refused her pacifier but didn’t seem to have any problems with her ears.

clarissa carseat

In Seoul, we had to go through immigration and customs. We didn’t have a long time and were getting nervous that we would miss our flight. The line was really long. Again, someone saw Clarissa and opened up a new line just for us. God really gave us favor as we traveled with a toddler!

Clarissa had a great time running around the terminal in Seoul. She didn’t quite understand that the moving sidewalks only went in one direction. She would get bored halfway and turn around to go the other way. So I would pick her up, as she kicked and screamed, and carry her the rest of the way and then we would get on the other one to go the opposite direction. Thankfully everyone thought she was cute and didn’t seem irritated about the noise.

Clarissa was fussy on the last flight. She was probably sick of being confined to a carseat. But once we landed, she was excited. We met Tim’s sponsor and his supervisor at the airport. They brought us to our hotel.

I have to admit that I was feeling a little overwhelmed when we got to the hotel room. I was definitely exhausted after 30 hours of travel. The room was a little disappointing. Before we had Clarissa, this set up would have been great. It took me a while to figure it out, but after listening to some worship music and organizing, I felt much better.

The view from outside our hotel window

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Tim and I decided to nap with Clarissa. We figured that we would nap for a bit, then go out to lunch. We were surprised when Tim’s alarm went off at 8pm and we were still asleep!

The view from our window at night

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The jet lag hasn’t been awful. It has definitely been the hardest on Clarissa. But she has napped once or twice a day and is still sleeping about 6-8 hours at night. She is getting up for the day between 3:30-5am right now, which is way different than at home. Usually she gets up between 8:30-10! So we’ll see what our schedule becomes later.

Because we were up so early, we went for a walk and had breakfast. It was neat to see things early before they got busy. We tried a few new things for breakfast. We had some kimbap (the cooked Korean version of sushi) and tried some drinking yogurt.

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Tim went in to work on Friday for in-processing. Clarissa and I napped twice. We also spent some time running in the hallway, looking out the window, and playing with water in the bathroom.

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On Friday evening, Tim’s sponsor took us on a walking tour of the area. Our hotel is in Daegu City Center, so we really are in an excellent location. We saw several stores and the subway. We bought cases for our new phones. They are awesome at putting screen protectors on phones. They use steam and some tools. Perfection. No bubbles or anything. We had dolsot bibimbap for dinner.

Tim’s sponsor really is a blessing. I feel like they are a good fit for each other. Their personalities really gel and they have a lot in common. I think they will enjoy working together. The funny thing is that his name is Shannon. So we could both end up having a best friend named Shannon!

Saturday, we took the subway to visit Home Plus, which reminds me of Walmart. We got to explore a bit on our own. We look out of place with a stroller. I have only seen one other mom with a stroller in Korea. Most moms wear their babies in a carrier. I think we need to invest in a good carrier because this area isn’t really stroller friendly. The elevators are difficult to find and there are stairs everywhere.

People love to look at Clarissa. I expected that. She is a beautiful baby. Her blue eyes and light brown hair are definitely not normal here. Everyone “oohs” and “aws” over her. What I wasn’t prepared for, was that people would want to touch her. The smile at her in her stroller and then start stroking her hair or her hand.

We should have researched the banking situation before we got here. I like Discover for banking and credit card because of the interest rates and rewards. They don’t really take Discover here so getting cash from an ATM has not been possible. Most places want cash. But the bank they want us to use for our housing allowance will be great once the debit cards arrive. In the meantime, we found some creative solutions.

I had wanted to start checking out churches this morning but Clarissa is coughing so I don’t think they would let her stay in a nursery. Her nap times have been anywhere from 9am-1pm so that really doesn’t help either. Hopefully next week we will be in a better groove for that.

We are going to hang out with Tim’s sponsor again this afternoon and also get more permanent subway cards. Hopefully we will also start the apartment hunting process in the next week or so. I will go to base tomorrow to get my ID. I have to attend a spouse orientation on Wednesday.

Ways you can be praying for us

Housing

Hopefully we can meet with the realtor soon. Shannon’s wife is friends with the realtor and she said that there wasn’t anything available right now. That’s what she said when they were apartment hunting a few months ago and they did find something eventually. I am hoping that, like everything else, things will move quickly once people see Clarissa.

We have been to South Korea before, but never to Daegu. So this area is new to us. We don’t know where everything is yet to know which area we would like to live in. So you can pray for God to open up the right place for us to live. I would love to have good neighbors to be friends with as well.

Hotel Life

I never thought I would say this, but eating out does get old. First world problems, I know. They emptied out the minibar so we could use it like a refrigerator. But it’s really small and we don’t have a microwave. So we have to eat out a lot. The room is large enough, but it is one room. So today, I am typing from the (very nice) bathroom so that Clarissa will fall asleep in the crib.

Like most bathrooms in Korea, there isn’t a bathtub. The shower is huge and very nice, but Clarissa is terrified of it. We did buy a large container to use as a tub. So hopefully she will get used to that.

Clarissa

I don’t think she completely caught my cold, but she is a little sick. She has been coughing a bit the last couple of days. I can tell she isn’t quite herself.

She does seem to sleep well in her crib. Her schedule is still just out of whack. Fourteen hours is a big difference! Especially for her.

Church

There are six English speaking churches in Daegu and several Korean churches as well. I don’t really know where to start. You can be praying for wisdom in where to look and that we would know when we have the right fit.

Our Norfolk House

Our garage pipe burst again with the last snow storm! It is being handled by the property management company. Two families looked at the house this week, but we still don’t have a renter.

 

Flying solo with an infant

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Clarissa and I flew to Connecticut without Tim in July. She was eleven months old. Flying alone with a young child wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Either God was just really gracious to me, or people do genuinely go out of their way to help you if you are flying alone with an infant (when does she become classified as a toddler?)

Anyway, these are my tips for a good trip.

1. Only pack what you need.

In our case, we were going for a five day trip to visit family. My goal was to just do carry on luggage so I would not have to pay the baggage fees.

I didn’t even want to try cloth diapers on this trip. First of all, it would take up a lot of room. Secondly, I wasn’t sure how someone else would feel about washing my diapers in their washing machine. So, I just packed a few disposables for the plane ride. I knew I could buy diapers when I landed.

According to tsa rules, you can bring milk and jarred baby food in your carry on luggage. For most people, it might be easier to buy baby food with your diapers. But in my house, we have food allergies. It is harder than you think to buy gluten-free baby food with meat that also has no onion. So I packed Clarissa’s gluten-free puffs, two bottles of pumped milk, and a jar of pureed chicken for each night of the trip. I knew I would be able to supplement with fruits and vegetables at my aunt’s house.

I packed one outfit and pajamas per day for Clarissa with one additional outfit. I also brought her bathing suit, a swim diaper, four bibs, and two wash cloths. I packed a pair of socks for each day too, but we only used the socks on the plane. For myself, I wore jeans on the plane, packed a pair of jean shorts, a skirt, a shirt for each day, a sleep shirt, sleep shorts, pants for lounging around the house, socks, and underwear.

I also brought Clarissa three books, a teddy bear, and a pacifier. Everything fit into a small duffel bag and a bookbag, which made my life easier.

2. Logistics of travel with a baby

Most airlines will let you check a car seat for free. You can either send it with the normal luggage or check it at the gate. My family had a car seat available for me to use, so I didn’t worry about this.

However, my stroller made life so much easier. I read that you could check umbrella strollers at the gate, so that is what I brought. It worked well because I could push Clarissa, hang the duffel over the handles in the back, and wear the bookbag.

I did see other moms with normal strollers. If I had to do it over, I think I would have used my normal stroller to gate check. It is easier to maneuver than my umbrella stroller. I could have also put the duffel in the bottom rack. I was at a slightly awkward angle while pushing the umbrella stroller with the duffel hanging over the back.

3. Tickets
If your child is under two years old, they can fly for free. They do need a ticket though. They are called a lap infant.

The airline will tell you that the safest thing is to pay full price and buckle your child into a car seat in their own seat. However, I am of the opinion that if the plane crashes we are all in trouble. The likelihood of that happening is very small. So Clarissa was definitely a lap infant.

No one asked to see her birth certificate. They just wanted her ticket. Also, it may have been coincidence, but I was unable to do online check in. My theory is that it was because Clarissa needed a special ticket.

4. Keeping baby happy

Clarissa is a very social baby so she was content to people watch a good portion of our trip.

I made sure to change her diaper before getting on the plane, once we landed in Philadelphia, before boarding in Philadelphia, and once we arrived in New Haven.

We read some books while we were waiting. I also let her crawl and climb a bit. She had a bottle and some puffs in the airport in Philadelphia.

I was concerned about her ears on the flight. But I gave her a pacifier during take off and landing. She did not have any problems. She even took a nap on the second flight.

Clarissa’s first travel adventure

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At my baby shower last summer, someone had a word that Clarissa would be an adventurer. Other than observing her be curious and into everything, we did not really test that until last week. Last week, Clarissa and I took a plane to meet my parents and introduce Clarissa to all of my dad’s extended family in Connecticut. I was looking forward to seeing the family, as I have not been up there in five years. But I was honestly dreading flying by myself with Clarissa, especially when the airline switched us to an earlier flight. We had to wake up four hours earlier than normal.

Clarissa did amazingly well. She was not thrilled to be up that early at first. But, by the time we arrived at the airport, she was fine. She was looking around during check in. She looked at all of the machines as we went through security. The first plane ride was actually pretty exciting for her. Thankfully the man next to us liked kids, because she kept trying to touch him and give him her pacifier! She took out all of the magazines in the seatpocket in front of us and he tried reading them to her. She enjoyed looking at the pictures!

She had fun people watching in the Philadelphia airport.

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Once we got on the plane to New Haven, she fell asleep. I actually forgot what it was like to have her sleep on me for hours at a time. She used to do it all the time, but now she does most of her sleeping in her crib. It was a nice change for me.

She had a great time meeting her great aunts and uncles, as well as all of her cousins. Unfortunately, she would not let them hold her if my mom was in the room. Clarissa was all about Grandma. She even wanted her over me most of the time.

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Thankfully my parents left a few hours before we did, so everyone did get a chance to hold her.

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Clarissa enjoyed playing with Matthew. One of her favorite things was seeing the dogs at Bill and Danielle’s house.

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Photo credit : Dana Comstock

She also played with Faith in her first baby pool.

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But she liked the big pool better. Loved it!

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It was a great first vacation for Clarissa. She got to experience new things. I learned that she loves watermelon. She also likes Blueberry muffins (they have a gluten-free bakery there) and potato chips. The plane rides didn’t bother her a bit.

She even slept well. I was concerned because it was a new place with lots of people around. She also slept in a pack and play for the first time. The first night was a little rough, but after that she slept better than she does at home. She took two or three naps every day! And slept well at night. What?! I am thankful because it seems that our trip shifted her schedule an hour or two. Makes our daily routine more manageable.

I had a good trip too. It was strange for me to see everyone all grown up and married with their own houses. But I am glad I went.

Clarissa is such a good traveller. I guess we need to start planning the next trip…