Heathrow is Now the Most Family Friendly European Airport . . . After Being the Least

srv007, Flickr

Rethink your travel plans families: if you’re adventuring with children, the best airport you can travel to, from and through in Europe is London Heathrow.

That’s a big deal if you consider the fact that only last year it was ranked as the worst.

The rankings come via Skyscanner, which did a study focusing on families with children under 4 years old and looked at travel from June to September 2013.Thirty five European family travel experts and travel bloggers judged 20 different airports based upon their baby-changing facilities, security levels and food options, as well as the general check-in process. We all know how a long line can affect a tired child.

According to Skift, here are the top 10 family-friendly airports across Europe:

1. London Heathrow
2. Zurich and Vienna
3. Dusseldorf
4. Madrid-Barajas
5. Munich and Frankfurt
6. London Gatwick
7. Moscow Sheremetyevo
8. Paris Charles de Gaulle
9. Oslo
10. Copenhagen

But not everyone loves a child-friendly space. Some airlines are even offering kid-free zones on-board for those trying to avoid the younger crowd. Ultimately, it all goes to show that traveling with children is becoming more and more the norm, whether you like it or not.

Galley Gossip: Taking Care Of Other People’s Kids In Flight

Long ago I was on a flight from Chicago to Boston via New York when a weary woman with an active baby sat next to me. Having much experience babysitting, I was used to babies and thought I might be called upon to smile, wave and cheer up a crying baby, but never did I think that the mother would abdicate her responsibilities to me, a complete stranger.

The mom began to feel airsick (or so she said) and told me she was unable to change her baby’s diaper because she was about to throw up and asked me to do it for her. Guess what? I did it. I just felt so badly for the woman and the baby having to sit in the mess and yes, especially for myself because I could not stand the fumes either.

After the dirty job was done, she thanked me profusely and then said she was exhausted and asked me to hold her baby while she grabbed a few winks. She woke up when the wheels touched the ground to find her baby finally fast asleep on my shoulder. I prayed that they were not on my connecting flight. Am I crazy or just a Good Samaritan? Cheers, Priscilla

I’m going with Good Samaritan. I’m also going to say Thank God for passengers like you. While I can’t say that sort of thing happens often, it does happen, and not everyone is as nice about it as you were. Your act of kindness proves you’re a compassionate human being.

That said I came a cross a child acting out in a seat while we were doing the beverage service not too long ago. I couldn’t help but wonder why the mother wasn’t doing anything to keep her child entertained during the flight. Instead the mother had her eyes closed and ignored the child. Later on in flight the little girl came to the back of the airplane and asked for a soda. I went over to the mother to make sure that was okay. The woman shrugged. Not the response I expected. That’s when I asked a strange question: ​”It this your child?” The woman sighed and said no.Turns out the mother of this hyper six year-old had booked a seat in first class, leaving a complete stranger to sit beside her child in coach. I felt badly for the woman and offered her an adult beverage on the house.

Years ago on a different flight, I felt something between my feet. On this particular day I was commuting, not working, just a regular passenger wearing jeans in coach. So I didn’t necessarily look like someone you could trust. When I glanced down at the floor I found an infant staring back at me. I picked up the baby and looked around the coach cabin for someone who might be missing a child. No one fit the bill. But behind me a woman slept with her head against the window.

I tapped her on the shoulder. “Is this yours?”

“Oh, uh, yeah,” she said. She thanked me and went back to sleep.

“There’s nothing like being a new ‘uncle’ on a plane to a kid you’ll never see again,” wrote Mitch Lacey after I posted a tweet asking if anyone had ever gotten stuck taking care of somebody else’s child on an airplane.

Sonya Hamasaki had a little fun when she found herself seated next to a nine year-old. “He read me dirty jokes from his iPod. I taught him to play Candy Crush saga.”

Hopefully this won’t be a problem for long with airlines like Scoot creating child-free zones and Etihad Airways offering in-flight nannies. Not that this is an excuse to shirk responsibilities as a parent. Still you might consider packing a pair of noise canceling headsets and a nose clip next time you fly in case this should happen again.

[Photo credit: Heather Poole]

D.C. Metro Staff And Passengers Assist Birth Of ‘Metrobaby’

Metrobaby
Joshua Sherurcij

D.C. Metro staff and passengers had to come to the rescue when a woman started giving birth in L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station yesterday, the Washington Post reports.

Shavonnte Taylor, 23, was on her way to an appointment with her obstetrician when she started having contractions two weeks before her baby was due. She tried to continue her journey but the baby had different ideas.

Luckily Autumn Manka, a licensed emergency medical technician, was passing by. She lay Taylor down on the floor as more passengers, DC Metro staff, and two Metro Transit Police officers came to help. Within minutes the baby was born next to a broken escalator near the Seventh Street and Maryland Avenue exit.

Inevitably, the kid got his own hashtag, #metrobaby. Several Twitter users posted a snarky headline from today’s Express, while others suggested naming the baby L’Enfant. “L’Enfant” of course, is French for “the infant.”

His real name is Amir Mason. He weighs 8 pounds, 5 ounces and is doing fine.

Gifts From Slovenia And Italy

Slovenia
Sean McLachlan

When a trip is over, it’s always nice to open your suitcase and have a little bit of it still with you. I enjoy bringing gifts back to my wife and son so they can share my experiences. While on a recent trip to Slovenia and Italy, I kept an eye out for things they might like.

My trip started at a book festival in Gorizia, Italy. In between the book stalls of Italian publishers and the big tents where authors gave talks, I noticed several West African guys going around with backpacks full of used books for sale. They admitted they didn’t have work papers but they were still out pounding the pavement in the rain. This bit of entrepreneurship didn’t occur to the 12 percent of Italians who are unemployed. Or perhaps they couldn’t be bothered. The difference between people from the Third World and the First was never clearer.

One guy had a book on African cooking. Since my wife reads Italian and wants to learn how to cook African cuisine, I had found my first gift. I also picked up a couple of Italian cooking magazines in Venice. Selfish gifts? Oh yes. I’m looking forward to seeing some of these recipes on the dinner table!

In the unselfish gift category I got some Slovenian honey for my honey-loving honey. It’s a great choice as a gift because it tastes different in every region. I also brought back a bottle of Slovenian wine, another taste that varies from region to region.

Also popping out of my suitcase was a T-shirt for the kid. He loves it because there’s a “dragon” on it (actually it’s a griffin). A couple of refrigerator magnets made their way home too. You can never have too many refrigerator magnets, because you can never receive too many postcards and you need refrigerator magnets to hold them all.

Looking for more gift ideas? Check out our posts on gifts from Estonia and gifts from Japan and Greece. And drop by the comments section to share what you like to bring home!

A Kid Friendly Midwest Getaway: See The Freaks At Circus World In Baraboo

circus worldFive years ago, when my wife and I had our first child, our lives as travelers changed. We still hit the road just as often as before, but now we find ourselves seeking out zoos and playgrounds and children’s museums and a host of other kid friendly attractions that we never would have visited during our childless years. Most of the time, I acquiesce to the child-centric activities more or less kicking and screaming, and although I enjoy watching my kids have fun, 3- and 5-year-old boys aren’t exactly well known for showing gratitude and appreciation, so I sometimes wonder if the kid stuff is worth it.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, we treated our boys to the one kid-focused activity we’ve never tried before: a circus. These days, many of the larger traveling circuses perform in large arenas, which hold little appeal for me. I wanted to bring my kids to an old-school circus performed under a big top, and I found what I was looking for at Circus World, in Baraboo, Wisconsin, about three hours northwest of Chicago, and just 10 minutes from the tourist trap insanity of the Wisconsin Dells.

Baraboo is ground zero for circus enthusiasts. It was here on May 19, 1884, that the five Ringling Brothers – Al, Otto, Alfred, Charles and John – staged their first circus act. There were 21 performers, a small tent, a hyena and three horses in the act. Tickets cost 15 to 35 cents and they soon took their act on the road, pulling into small towns all across the country with their hand-carved circus wagons, advertising strong men, bearded women, ferocious animals and the like.

Circus World is both museum and circus, and before the circus started, we took some time to check out the museum, which tells the story of how the Ringlings turned their little circus into a global juggernaut. The Ringlings were the offspring of August Rungeling, who emigrated from Germany to Milwaukee in 1848. He changed his name to Ringling, married and had 11 children, three of whom died in infancy. The five brothers got into the circus act, with Al, the oldest, serving as the ringleader. He married a snake handler from Iowa and could balance a huge plow on his chin unsupported.

In 1918, the brothers bought out Barnum & Bailey, their chief rival, and the business evolved into a national railway show. They got rich and used some of their money to build lavish homes and other buildings, including the gorgeous Al Ringling Cinema, which still stands today in downtown Baraboo. (The museum doesn’t mention the fact that just one Ringling heir still lives in the Baraboo area today, and he’s in prison for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy.)

A stroll through the museum’s collection of old circus posters and the even more interesting hall of circus wagons gives one an idea of how un-politically correct circuses were back in the day. Any sort of deformity could be turned into an attraction – a short-armed man was called “Seal Boy,” and various posters advertised bearded ladies, East Indian dwarves, “Giraffe-necked” women from Burma, sword swallowers, an Egyptian Giant and a “Man Without a Stomach,” among many others.

In the pre-television era, going to a circus was a common form of entertainment, especially for people who lived in smaller towns. Popular circus acts became household names across the nation. For example, some 40 million Americans saw a gorilla from the Belgian Congo named Gargantua the Great.

After watching a magic show, we scored front row seats under the big top, and settled in to watch the show. The first act was a woman in her 50s or 60s who was dressed up like a pop star in oversized white sunglasses, a gray wig and a revealing, open-backed shimmery, sequined costume. She brought out “the world’s only performing Persian cat” and a slew of “Afghan dogs” that performed a variety of jumps, tricks and dances. It all seemed preposterous to me, but my sons, who were devouring an industrial size portion of cotton candy, were transfixed.

The dogs were eventually replaced by a comically effeminate Columbia contortionist wearing eye makeup and a three-sizes-too-tight gymnast costume. I had to avert my eyes as he contorted his body one way and other, looking as though he was about to break a limb at any moment and resisted the urge to leave altogether when he actually fit his entire body inside a small, clear box.

The next performer was a comically buffoonish character who did a slapstick routine revolving around his supposed inability to jump on a trampoline. I thought it was ridiculous, but when I looked over at my sons, they were roaring and squealing in delight. I don’t think I have ever seen them so happy.

Next, we were introduced to Spirit, the “world’s smallest performing show pony,” as the PA system blasted the ludicrous “My Little Pony” theme song and an older woman in a garish Hungarian folk costume led Spirit around in circles.

The final act of the afternoon was easily the most preposterous. A woman wearing a feathered Indian headdress and a far-too revealing sequined costume brought out a host of little monkeys on leashes and proceeded to coax them into jumping from platform to platform, 20 feet up in the air. Her male counterpart was a Greek looking man with a unibrow who looked like Pete Sampras might if he lives to be 110. When the monkeys dawdled, he whacked them on the asses to get them to jump, and after they’d done their standard jump a few times he said, “Now we’re going to see if they can jump 12 feet. We hope they can make it!” I was rooting for the monkeys to go on strike, but it didn’t happen.

The monkeys made it and while the whole farce seemed exploitative and just plain dumb to me, I couldn’t deny how much my sons had enjoyed the spectacle. On the way out, we filed past a guy holding a huge snake, asking $10 for a photo, and my 5-year-old son, Leo, was uncharacteristically grateful.

“Dad,” he said. “Thank you so much for taking me to the circus!”