Sunday, March 27, 2011

Travel post #3 - Ethiopia!

I've wanted to write this post for a very long time. Maybe not the actual writing of the post but the trip it's about. But how do you condense a lifetime of waiting and a cultural overload into one post? I'm sure others will do it eloquently and much better than I will but I'll put it out there just the same.

We left London in the evening to arrive in Addis Ababa early the next morning. The flight was fine, just not nearly as comfortable as the flight to London. Susan and Erik had a very nice, very large man at the end of their row and I gave up my window seat to the large man stuck in the middle seat. Trying for good karma and getting an uncomfortable night but oh well. Mostly I just wanted to take pictures of my first view of Africa from the plane before we landed but I had to stow my carryon overhead because it didn't fit. grr. It was a beautiful sight, you'll have to take my word for it. It was my first flight where one of the food choices was fish. Seems like an odd dish to serve, fish being so polarizing and well, smelly. I chose the beef :-)

Here's a satellite view of many of the stops on our trip...
We got to the airport and I expected a sign with the guest house name or our name or something but there was no one there for us. I think we came in a bit early? So, it was my first attempt at using the fancy global phone that Verizon provided for the trip. Despite their instructions on how to dial in country, I could not for the life of me figure it out. It was very frustrating! A very nice person at a booth nearby figured it out for me and I reached the guest house. They said someone would come right away. We stood around blinking and yawning, and completely forgot to exchange money at the airport.

Don't forget to change some money at the airport! You can probably get someone to drive you to a bank but we had difficulties with them accepting our bills even though they were newer than 2003 like we were told. Lesson learned, I'll be more put together next time.

We were driven to the guest house and dropped off. Unsure what to do, we just hung around the living room and talked to the people already staying there. I was so grateful to have people there who had their wits about them! Everyone staying there was so nice and helpful! One of the kids there to meet her new brothers even wrote out a bunch of Amharic words translated to English and gave us a copy. So sweet and thoughtful! She'll be a great sister to her brothers I'm sure.

Here's the guest house courtyard, living room and some views from the windows...

Finally we got our rooms and we dumped our luggage. Aggie and Z were our hosts and let us know we'd be going to the transition house to pick up Baby G and bring her back. huh? I was not prepared and felt like the worst mom ever, and I hadn't even started yet! Turns out the other agency using the guest house has the kids stay there. Whew. As much as I would have LOVED that, I didn't bring anything like diapers or food or anything. Sigh. So they took us to the transition house and dropped us off. Here's the transition house and courtyard...

Again, unsure what to do and no one really there to let us know, we headed into the room where there were kids playing. I saw my baby girl, in the corner on a brightly colored mat, drinking away from a bottle. I knew in an instant it was her (had some doubts seeing only a couple of pictures) and she is adorable. Just perfect. I'm not sure what the right words are to describe how amazing it was to finally meet her, get to hold her and play with her. I'll have more on that later when I feel more comfortable about introducing her whole self to the internet.
Aren't these feet just precious?
Thankfully, there on the couch was a couple from New York on their court visit too. They'd been there a week and had many tips for us. Their kids, 6 and 4-yr old siblings were a joy and we were happy to spend time with them during our visit. Happy, playful, polite and friendly even though they didn't speak much English. While we tried to stay awake, they let us know where to get good pizza (Island Breeze) and decent internet (Hilton). They shared their trip and how they spent most of the day at the transition house and evenings at the guest house. Turns out that's what we did too. I would have loved to see more of the country but hated to sacrifice any time with my girl.

We did head out one day to the National Museum with our driver Daniel. He took us to a shop for souvenirs and we ate at the Lucy Cafe, next to the museum. It might have been a tourist stop but I'd recommend it! Susan, Erik and Daniel ate traditional Ethiopian food and I tried the Indian food. They even had diet coke on the menu! (they were out, sadly for the diet coke drinkers in our group). One note to remember, if you're a big fan of diet coke, it is quite rare in Ethiopia. I'd recommend bringing it with you if you really need it.
One day we walked over to the Simien Hotel with another couple staying at the transition house. The buffet was traditional and very tasty (and they had wi-fi!). We also took a look at the rooms and it seems like a great candidate for lodging on the next trip. It was a 20 minute casual walk from the house and the rooms were nice and had a range of prices. We also had dinner at the Zebra Grill with a woman who's been staying in the country since December, waiting on her embassy date. It was great to meet her and her daughter! 

Friday was our court date. We hadn't arranged for the driver to take us, I guess I thought it was already arranged. The whole driver thing got me a bit confused. I'll definitely have a better handle on it for the next trip. I thought they would know when and where we were supposed to go places and they would arrange for it. At least that was my understanding. Honestly sometimes I feel like such a bumpkin! ugh. Anyway, we figured it out and met the lawyer and the other couples at the courthouse.
We filed into a big room with other adoptive parents as well as many birth families. When it was our turn we all went into the judge's room together. She confirmed all of our cases and we answered in unison to all of her questions. It was all pretty easy procedurally but nerve wracking emotionally. One couple was able to meet the birth mother after the court appearance. I can only imagine how emotional that must have been! None of us had our MOWA letters that day. Since then a few have come in, mine included! I am officially a mom!

What an amazing experience! There's so much more to it than a blog post. It was hard to take it all in and still live in the moment. I am counting the minutes until we get to go back!

Good: meeting and spending time with my daughter (duh), experiencing the culture and the people, meeting other adoptive families and their great kids

Bad: leaving my daughter (duh again), leaving creature comforts behind, no diet coke, watching the devastation in Japan on TV

And last but not least...Israel!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Travel post #2 - London

The first stop on the trip was London. My sister and brother-in-law had a few days in the city already before I got there. It was my first time visiting the UK and I was very excited! The overnight flight was good, with the new planes with video screens at each seat. I watched Easy A and read a bit before the Tylenol PM took over. I definitely recommend those new planes. All the selections on the video screen makes one almost forget the lack of leg room or arm rest availability. And flying overnight was so efficient! Here's a few of the places we saw on the first leg of this trip...
My first view of London, the last photo I got to take on any of the flights. Next time I will check in sooner to get a good window seat and have my camera ready.
I arrived around noon on Thursday. It seemed easiest to take the Express Train to the city but in hindsight, I'd recommend just getting on the Tube. It wouldn't have taken that much longer and the cost was significantly less. You have to transfer anyway so what difference does it make if you're on a subway or a train car. Not so much! I arrived early at the tube station where we were to meet. It was cold and I had a lot of luggage. So I took off on foot and found my way to the hotel. After checking in and trying in vain to contact Susan and Erik, I headed back to the station, where they were waiting. Oops. The rest of Thursday was walking around the city and having dinner at Santorini Taverna near the hotel. A late night Skype with mom and dad and we were done for the day.

Friday was our bus tour of Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath. Hard to imagine the Queen really lives here...

Next stop Stonehenge. We listened to the history on the audio tour. Interesting to hear what was assumed to be the purpose of all those stones. Really though, they just don't know. Maybe it was just an early WalMart and the aliens are out in space somewhere laughing at us. hmm.
Next we were back on the bus and then on to the Roman Baths in Bath. Those Romans sure knew how to pamper themselves. The aqueducts were pretty amazing when you consider how old they are.

Saturday we were back out on the streets of London. We stopped at Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards. Apparently everyone else in London did the same although we were told the crowd was small compared to what happens in the summer. Probably because it was SO.DAMN.COLD. My guess is that the gift shop was doing a brisk business because it was HEATED. Pretty cool to see anyway, even if we froze and were surrounded by the teeming masses.
A quick train ride out to Middle England brought us to Maidenhead. There we met up with my good friend Jon, who lives there. We had afternoon tea (and didn't get any photos) and then took his very cute dog Bono for a walk. We walked around the lake where the Olympic rowing will take place in 2012. I bet it will be exciting to be living there when the world descends on the quiet towns for the spectacle of the Olympics. We had dinner at the country pub Bel and the Dragon (and again didn't get any photos, sigh.) It was a fun day but too short!

Sunday morning we attended services at Westminster Abbey. I thought it would be crowded like the Basilica on Easter but we were among only about 20 people in the nave. Interesting! After services, Susan and Erik took off for Greenwich and I toured the Tower of London and took in the Tower Bridge Experience. Also, SO.DAMN.COLD.
We had plans later to meet Jon at the London Eye to ride the Duck Tour. Unfortunately, technology and timing let us down and although I waited on one side of the Eye and Jon was on the other, we never found each other. As it always seems to go with us, our time together was cut short and I never got to say goodbye in person. I watched the Eye go around and caught up with Susan and Erik after the tour.
Monday we checked out of the hotel, stored our luggage and took off for more sights. We climbed The Monument of the great fire of London 1666. It was quite narrow and quite tall. Susan loved it! :-)
A few more stops on the Tube and we were in Notting Hill. Seemed like a nice place to live, if you had the dough, that is. Didn't see Hugh Grant though.
Last stop was the British Museum. We saw every room and were in and out in four hours. Including lunch. Perhaps we didn't immerse ourselves as much as we could have but we saw every room!
Back at the hotel, we grabbed our luggage and took the Tube to the airport. Airport security is so different in each country I've come to realize. I got a pat down at Heathrow that was like a massage. She didn't leave anything to chance. All my body parts, the bra underwire, everything. And yet, we didn't have to remove our shoes. Apparently only Americans do that and other countries think it's odd. Fine by me!

London was a very cool place, I highly recommend visiting. It was bustling with big-city energy. Also, SO.DAMN.COLD. I am quite certain I was the only person in London in light blue fleece but I wasn't taking it off for anything! Had I only packed for London, I would have been more in style, black leather coat with a cute skirt, warm tights and boots like the locals. I had two desert countries to consider in my packing besides a suitcase full of stuff for the orphanage. I needed a sherpa.

Good: seeing Jon, pomp & circumstance, so much history, Oyster Card, London Underground
Bad: Spotty wi-fi (drank many cups of Starbucks coffee), cars on the wrong side of the road, cold, cold and cold

This is just a snapshot of the snapshots, so to speak. The whole lot of the London pictures are here.

Next up...Ethiopia!

Travel post #1 - By the numbers

Rather than make one giant post about my trip, I'm trying to break it down into pieces. During this adoption process, I have done a lot of blog reading and always felt that people should write more about their travel experiences for those of us who will come along later. Then I went and came home. And realized it's so overwhelming it's hard to put into words without trivializing it or writing a book so long no one will read. And I haven't had time to breathe since I got home with work being so busy.

So, this weekend, I'm going to get it out there. All those things I wish someone had told me before I went and also just the fun stuff. Maybe it will be helpful for someone out there on their way as well.

I took an extended trip rather than just straight in to Ethiopia. I couldn't go so far across the world and not visit my good friends Jon and Susan, living so far away in England and Israel. It made for a whirlwind tour but I wouldn't have changed a thing (except the mixup at the London Eye, but that's a whole other story).

Here's a glimpse of the tour from the sky...

Trip by the numbers:

14 days
4 continents
5 countries
31.5 flight hours
15,419 flight miles
7,726 ft - highest elevation in Addis Ababa
-702 ft - lowest elevation in Tiberius, by the Sea of Galilee
1.6, 16.6, 3.55 - dollar exchange rates for Pounds, Birr and Shekels
2 wonderful travel companions in my sister and brother-in-law
2 long distance friends visited for too short of a time
and finally, most importantly...
1 beautiful baby girl

Some things I forgot, didn't know or remember about traveling to far off places:

1. Write down your itinerary in one place, a convenient place and keep it in the same place for the whole trip. Boarding passes, tickets, passport, ID. All in one place safe from pickpockets but easy to access at the airport.

2. Keep a small bag inside your carry-on that includes the most essential airplane needs so that if you have to stow your carry-on (grr) you can pull it out easily and place in the seat pocket.

3. Keep in that small bag: a pen, or even two (customs forms!), neck pillow (blow up one was very handy), eye shade, book, camera

4. Tylenol PM and as much overnight travel as possible. Saved me from most if not all jet lag.

5. Have a plan for communication. Make a list of all the phone numbers and figure out ahead of time how to call them. Is it 011+number? 01+country+number? Good to know ahead of time so when you just got off an overnight flight and are in a strange place and no one is there to greet you, you don't get frazzled. Not that I did or anything :-)

6. A phrase book or a list of common phrases in whichever language spoken where you will visit. I'd have this list with my itinerary next time so it's all in one place.

7. Did I mention the Tylenol PM yet?

I'm sure there are many things I have already forgotten that I was going to document. These are at least the ones that stood out the most. That darn pen, I always forget one and then I can't fill out the customs forms on the plane. Argh!

What did I miss? What was the one thing you wish you had known before you traveled?

Next up, London...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Home with great news!

After hitting three continents, five airports and an amazing number of wonderful experiences, I am home. It was indescribable, meeting Baby G for the first time. She's the cutest little thing ever! She seems happy, content and the nannies at the transition house are taking great care of all the kids. Court date went smoothly, even if we didn't get the MOWA letter, allowing the case to be passed and moved to the embassy. I'm happy to report that I just received an email from the agency that we got the letter today! Now we wait again for an embassy date anywhere from 6-12 weeks from now. A detailed travel post (or three) to come but for now I'm just getting settled back in to regular life.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bon Voyage!

This is it! In less than 8 hours I will be on a plane! Certainly I've forgotten something and also have more things than I need. Tomorrow I will arrive in London and meet up with my sister and her husband, who have been vacationing there since Saturday. I'm a little nervous about getting myself from the airport to the hotel on the train and tube but I managed the metro in Paris and the subway in New York so I'm assuming I'll be able to figure it out. I can't wait to meet up with my friend Jon, who lives outside of London. It will be fun to see 'middle England' and not just the tourist spots.

After a few days in London, I'm incredibly excited to fly to Addis Ababa to finally meet Baby G. Each picture I receive of her is cuter than the one before. I hope she likes the outfits and amazingly fuzzy soft bunny I will bring for her. More importantly, I hope she likes me! Not just a little nervous about that. I heard yesterday that they have brought her to the new foster home and I'm hoping it was a good transition for her. So many moves in her short life!

After the court date on March 11, I'll regretfully leave Baby G and head to Israel for a few days. I'm looking forward to seeing the country through the eyes of my good friend Susan, who lives there. We'll tour Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and hopefully swim in the ocean.

I may be blogging on the trip, if I can figure it out. In any case, travel posts to come soon. Have a great two weeks everyone! Baby G here I come!

(sorry for all of the !!! I've had too much coffee today...)