Those Bodily Needs
A Clean-Bottomed Baby — However much you believe in cloth diapers (and we do), forget it. Please don’t spend your European vacation handwashing poopy diapers in hotel room sinks. Disposable diapers are expensive in Northern Europe, about twice as much as the same brands are here. A necessary expense. And you’ll get good at changing diapers in strange and awkward places. The secret to changing messy diapers on the road? Speed.
Travel Tip #8: While diapers are available in all supermarkets, diaper wipes are more problematic: they often smell strange or are only available in tiny, expensive quantities. Bring extras. Bring small packages of Kleenex, too. You’ll be glad you did.
Escargot, Baby? — If your baby eats solid food, bring some for the first day, or, rather, night. Your baby’s body (and your own) will still be living in another time zone and may get hungry at two-thirty A.M. Poor Annie had to make do with a stale rice cracker and tap water. The next day you can hit a supermarket, but be prepared for some strange discoveries. The Dutch begin feeding their kids bottled food at three months; puree of cabbage-tomato-green bean, non-iron fortified rice cereal. The French baby food is delicious but filled with sugar and salt. Ah, what the hell, it’s a vacation.
The Night Life — Can you take your infant to a fine Parisian restaurant? Well, we did. Suddenly, the formal waiter we remembered from three years ago, the one with the scornful upper lip, melted into cries of “Coo Coo! Coo Coo!” as he presented our smiling child with spoons, bread, and a tiny plate of her own.
Travel Tip #9: Sit near the door. If baby cries, take her outside IMMEDIATELY! And bring toys, food, whatever to keep her happy. Annie spent many an hour sitting on the floor under restaurant tables in five countries and was greeted with, for the most part, joy and pleasure by the restaurant staffs and patrons. Europeans tend to be more tolerant of babies. And after all, many of the other tables have small dogs sitting politely under them.
Madonna and Child — Perhaps the most challenging part of traveling with Baby is finding places to nurse. While I never saw a European woman nursing in public, I nursed when absolutely necessary, and the only people who looked twice were kind, grandmotherly types who smiled with approval and nostalgia. People all over the world understand that when baby has to eat, baby has to eat. I do admit to breast feeding in the Botticelli room of the Uffizi Palace in Florence...
Travel Tip #10: When you are out sightseeing and baby is hungry, try finding a four star hotel lobby or lounge. Nobody will stop you. Booths in dim restaurants work well. You can try public bathrooms, but many of them only provide “stoop” toilets. Under duress, even Venetian doorways on narrow streets can provide shelter. As in the United States, the key to it all is discretion and cultural sensitivity. Don’t just whip it out anywhere. And please skip nursing in the Notre Dame.
Pacing Yourself and Baby Too — Part of the joy of traveling with a baby is discovering a part of Europe you would have never seen pre-parenthood. To satisfy Annie’s need for rest and exercise, we took to finding parks in the middle of the day so that she could sit on the grass and practice her creeping. A highlight was the beautiful Jardin de Luxomburg in Paris. As in many European parks, trespassing on the well-groomed lawns is forbidden. There is, however, one lawn reserved for children under six and their parents. We spent a blissful afternoon watching the French bebes in their navy and white $80 outfits playing with their chic mothers. Annie, while less stylish, had a blast.
Travel Tip #11: GO SLOW! Build in relax time. Your baby couldn't care less about the Louvre or the remains of the Berlin Wall.
Open Arms, Smiling Faces — We’re home now, and Annie is still mastering The Art of the Crawl. As I write this, I realize that I don’t have answers to all the questions, but what parent ever does? What I do know is that the only real secret to traveling with a baby in Europe is flexibility. You may not see all the museums or Cathedrals, but you’ll have adventures nonetheless. We’ll never forget: bicycling in Holland with Annie balancing in a seat on the handlebars; Annie’s coos of delight at the flock of pigeons in front of Notre Dame; her smiles at the twenty Italian grandmothers surrounding her at the Piazza San Lorenzo in Florence screaming, “Che Bella!” “Ciao!” “Che Bella!”; her looks of wonder at a world so seemingly different from her North Oakland neighborhood.
Children are loved around the world but hold a special place in Europe. Traveling with Annie allowed us to transcend the role of tourists and opened the arms of even the most jaded European. The often too-formal French and Dutch approached us with smiles and questions, and the Italians stumbled over themselves in an attempt to get close. Traveling with Annie enabled us to see a different side of European culture that had always eluded us before; a world of well-dressed infants and doting grandparents, a world where babies hold the central role of attention wherever they go, a world where a row of newly washed stuffed animals hangs, pinned in ranking order of size, from a Venetian clothesline over a silent blue green canal.