Mahabeleshwar

Alright – first things first – my driver (who will fully admit to this too), made a few boo-boos on this trip.  Firstly, he told us that it was only a 2-2.5hr drive, in actual fact, he should have added an hour to the total time.  It was a combination of his choice of road, coupled with the fact that the (extended) monsoon season here, has seemingly done real damage to the road surfaces – to the extent I was almost texting Col from the back seat and asking him to check the price of a flight to India for my lovely Chiro, Dr Jo.

Secondly, I’m not hugely thrilled at the fact that we ended up atop a mountain, surrounded by aggressive guys demanding money, on horses, so close to the car that their tails swept along the paint.  But anywhoo.  My friends driver tells us that this isn’t ‘normal’ practice at Table Land, maybe it was an ‘off moment’, but I know for sure, that I won’t be going back here.

Mahabeleshwar is a small town a couple hours from Houston, it’s pretty much famous for it’s strawberries, and, while it wasn’t strawberry season while I was in town – I was reliably informed it was only a matter of time before they’re flooding the shelves here in Pune.  They were right, strawberries have landed in Pune – and they’re tasty!  I’m excited, berries here are SO epically expensive, but, I digress.

Having done a little research before heading out the road, I had a short list of places that I wanted to visit.

First on my list? Was a boat trip around Venna Lake.  Venna Lake is one of the major tourist attractions of Mahabaleshwar, it is surrounded by trees on all sides and you can hop in a boat and take yourself on a tour.  There’s two options, you can either take yourself out on a paddle-boat tour, or you can have a guy come on the boat with you and row you around the lake.  You can take a full loop (30 minutes), or a half loop (15 minutes).   We took the 500r, dude doing the hard work, full loop around the lake (because I wanted to see the whole way around! LOL!) option.

Let’s just call a spade a spade, there’s very little by way of safety.  The boats are a little rickety, ours even had the occasional little leak and if you’re expecting life jackets – you’re in the wrong country – this is India, it’s all just a bit ‘thrown together’.  That said? I never once felt unsafe or like I was doomed!  The Boatman told us that the lake is 100 feet deep and this is the natural water that is supplied to Mahabalshwar as well as Panchgani and the lake was foggy and serene.

At the turning point, there’s a temple, you can’t disembark, or get out for a nosy, but you can get a decent enough picture as he’s rowing by.  You also pass-by a park up on the banks as you ‘sail by’, we didn’t pay it a visit, but it looked like a good park from the water.  Even Lewis enjoyed the trip around the lake, he was quiet, well behaved and our ‘guide’ even let him row the boat a little bit.  He was a happy boy. After we disembarked, we happened upon another item on my ‘to do’ list for Mahabeleshwar, strawberries and cream.  It’s a sickeningly sweet cup of syrupy strawberries, ice cream and a whipped, cool-whip-esque type whipped cream imposter – Lewis loved it.  From here, we went to Mapro garden – another jewel in Mahabeleshwar.  Where we took a beautiful walk around the gardens, snapping any number of photo ops as we went – Lewis and I both loved the various props and contraptions to climb in to for snaps. For lunch, we ate in the Mapro cafe, we ordered the (cheap) mocktails (they didn’t have diet coke) which were INCREDIBLY syrupy sweet, (but Lewis loved them, what kid wouldn’t? Basically we drove for hours and let our kid consume inordinate amounts of sugar) we ordered fries (which were delicious – though luke-warm at best), soup (none of us liked) and a pizza – which had way too much seasoning on it, but Col and I managed to eat it.  Reasonably priced, stupidly slow from some counters, and quick from others, it was a mix of hot and cold food by the time we all got to sit and eat.

After lunch, we took a walk through the Mapro shop – full of mapro products and goodies, from chocolate covered nuts, to syrups and gummy sweets – all at a 10% discount AND with taste testing to boot!  We picked up some delicious chocolate covered nuts, sweets for trick or treating, a jar of strawberry jam (couldn’t come and NOT get something strawberry-y) and a couple gifts for people for Christmas.

It was a lovely couple hours spent in a quiet, peaceful and beautiful place.  There was space for Lewis to run riot, you got to watch the farmers out back on the farm, tending to the premature strawberries, (and even the toilets were pretty clean!)  The views were incredible, the food was decent (and cheap) and the we absolutely lucked out on the weather, because it was cool, overcast and rained almost the entire way home.

We didn’t get everything that we wanted to do, done, in Mahabeleshwar and I could definitely see myself going back there in the (near) future (BRING ON THE STRAWBERRIES!) despite the intimidating beginning to the trip, and the drive alone was pretty to look at, if you’ve not yet gone for a visit, I think there’s enough to justify the trip – especially if you’re inclined towards horse riding.

Aga Khan Palace, Pune.

We drove past this place on our way to somewhere else, but you can’t see it from the road.  As we drove by, it was mentioned that Mahatma Ghandi was imprisoned here and it piqued my interest.

Aga Khan Palace, situated in the Yerwada area of Pune is one of the biggest landmarks of Indian history. Sultan Mohammed Shah, Aga Khan III, had the palace constructed in the year 1892. The aim behind the construction of the Aga Khan Palace was an act of charity by the sultan, to provide employment to the people of the nearby areas, who were drastically hit by famine – this majestic building is considered to be one of the greatest marvels of India.

It took 5 years and 1000 workers to build it, at a cost of Rs 12,00,000.  The palace is spread across an estate of 19 acres with a built area of 7 acres.  The gardens are beautiful and well tended to, though the building itself is in a state of disrepair – I have since visited the national war memorial and museum and the contrast between the two tourist attractions, is stark.  As we walked around the grounds there were any number of people there for photo sessions – maternity, family, ‘seniors’, or even ‘just because’ pictures were happening all around – and with good cause too, the place was very pretty indeed.

   

Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba Gandhi and his secretary Mahadev Desai were interned in the palace from 9 August 1942 to 6 May 1944, following the launch of Quit India Movement.  One of the major attractions of the Aga Khan Palace comprises of the samadhis (memorials) of Kasturba Gandhi (wife) and Mahadev Desai (long time aid).  Since both of them breathed their last breaths in here, Charles Correa got their samadhis built in the grounds of the palace itself.  Gandhi’s ashes are also interred at the Gandhi National Memorial of Pune.

The rooms that were used by the Gandhis, now serve as a museum to them. They are spartan and simple in taste. The museum inside the palace complex has a rich collection of pictures, depicting almost all the important incidents in the life of Mahatma Gandhi.  There are personal items of Gandhi’s on display like utensils, slippers, clothes, and letters as well as a number of statues – most notably one in the first, main room, of Gandhi and his wife, the palace also served as the venue for the famous movie ‘Gandhi’. Since 1980, the management of the museum, samadhis and campus of the Agakhan Palace is under the Gandhi Memorial Society.  Prince Karim El Husseni, Aga Khan IV, donated the palace to India in 1969, in the honor of Gandhi and his philosophy.

Opening hours of Aga Khan Palace:

Open all days 09:00 am to 05:30 pm

Entry fee for Visiting Aga Khan Palace:

The entry fees for Aga Khan Palace is mentioned below. We have listed the entry fees for Indians, the entry fees for foreigners, camera fees and other charges if applicable.

 Address: Pune Nagar Road, Kalyani Nagar, Pune, Maharashtra 411014
Telephone: 073857 46855
Approximate visit duration for : 1- 2 hours

On Saturdays, we sightsee!

So, Saturday’s have become our tourist days, we get up lazily, have breakfast, hop in the car – later than we tell the driver to expect us and off we go a-galavantin’.  Thus far, it’s been pretty local, but he’s encouraging us to go further afield over the coming weeks and months.

A couple weeks ago, we went to Pune Zoo – I had intended on doing a whole big post about the zoo itself.  A weekly ‘sight-seeing’ post of sorts.  However, this zoo wasn’t quite like every other zoo in the world I’ve been to, so I’m writing a half-assed, deflated, ‘meh’ post about it.  Partly to remind me of the ‘meh’ when people come to town and go ‘OMG HEY LETS GO TO THE ZOO’ and partly in case anyone new to Pune thinks it’s a Zoo, like we know Zoos to be.  It’s not terrible, it just wasn’t quite what we expected and left Lewis a little frustrated is all.

Alright – first things first, you want to go for a couple hour walk around a pretty, enclosed, mostly shaded area in Pune? Go here.  The paths are good for skate boards, scooters and bikes, it was largely cool enough for even us to go for a dander around, and it was a pretty enough walk.

HOWEVER.  If you’re expecting exotic zoo animals – you may want to re-think this place.  So.  They have elephants, but they were in a little tin hut down a hill that you can’t get to, when we visited.  I dunno if our visit was bad timing, or this is where they lived, but even with maximum zoom on my iPhone, it was too far and too dark to get a picture of them.

They have two tigers, and while it’s great for the tigers to have such a wide open enclosure to roam around in (bigger than any Western zoo we’ve been to) but it made it *incredibly* hard for us to see them – we heard one of them roar, but we didn’t get o see either of them much at all.

They have monkeys, but, again, the enclosure is huge (yay for the animals!) and they have little caves they can run around in – we got lucky and they wanted to come out and play, but, again, this doesn’t fall under the traditional ‘zoo’ definition, which is hard to explain to a three year old who wants to see elephants and tigers!

They have plenty of antelope, deer and buck to look at.  We liked looking at the crocs, the turtles and the snakes in the snake park section – there was definitely plenty around that section to look at and Lewis was fascinated.

I think my ‘meh’ came from the extra 30 minute walk around to get to the elephant enclosure with a tired kiddo desperate to see elephants and when we got there, they weren’t out to play and we had to walk back, I was peeved.  If they just continued the path a little bit beyond the elephants you wouldn’t need to turn back on yourself at all, so it was frustrating and resolved in Col carrying an exhausted Lewis back to the entrance.

I felt like the biggest attraction at the Pune Zoo? Was us white folk.  We were stopped every few feet and asked for pictures of Lewis.  People constantly wanting to touch him, and be in his space – this one is taking a lot of adjusting.  For the first few weeks we have asked him if he wanted his picture taken, but, I have gotten slowly more firm at just outright saying no thank you.

It’s different if people ask me for pictures – which they do, and I feel like a freakin’ celebrity.  I mostly say yes, but only if I get to take one too.  Lewis (as you can see from the photo above) gets stared at.  A LOT.  This class of little kids were just fascinated by us every time our paths crossed.  It was draining.  My friend said that I’m probably giving them the one white-person picture they’ll get in their lifetime, and it doesn’t really do any harm.  But Lewis just gets overwhelmed and hides when people try and insert themselves in to his space, so we are getting actively more non-compliant, and in some cases maybe even verging on rude when people ask for his picture.

The weekend after the zoo, we went to the Shaniwar Wada Fort.  Now.  If you look at Trip Advisor – the list of things to do in Pune, and, India, both typically revolve around temples, dams and forts.  Shaniwar Wada was our first fort to visit, it’s in the centre of Pune itself – this was my first trip in to the actual city of Pune, so it was novel.

Shaniwar Wada was built in 1732, it was the seat of the Peshwas of the Maratha Empire until 1818, when the Peshwas lost control to the British East India Company after the Third Anglo-Maratha War.  Following the rise of the Maratha Empire, the palace became the center of Indian politics in the 18th century.

For almost 70 years, this fort remained home to the ruling Peshwas until the Maratha Army was defeated by John Malcolm of the British East India Company. In June 1818, then king Bajirao II, abdicated his throne to John Malcolm and went into political exile at Bithoor, near Kanpur in present-day Uttar Pradesh, India. After the British took over the region, fort became of residence of British officers for a decade until 1828 when a major fire broke within the fort. What caused this fire is still unknown but the entire fort was destroyed in it. The fire burnt for seven long days and after it was extinguished, only the huge walls and gates remained, everything else was destroyed. The fort was abandoned after the fire and no one has lived here ever since.”

Shaniwar Wada translates to “Saturday Building” since it was founded on that day. Around 1,000 people once lived in the fortress (though our driver told us 15,000 – slight exaggeration!!) Today, the site hosts important public speeches and events.

I believe the most important thing for kings when they built their forts in ancient times was that the fort should remain standing for centuries, as a sign of their power and rule over the region. They designed the walls to withstand any attack and keep the royal family and people of the kingdom safe…  Now after all the kings and queens are long gone, what remains is pretty much these strong and silent walls of several forts all over our country. There is no kings rule left anymore but these forts still remind people of the king who built them.” 

As I mentioned above, the common theme among all of our sight-seeing adventures, thus far (and probably forevermore) has been the white-girl effect.  The people are curious, but friendly and respectful – for the most part.  I have found the occasional man snapping pics of Lewis and I without permission – which, I guess, is only to be expected as I drive around the streets taking pictures of the people and the locale here, it’s just a little more uncomfortable when they’re in our personal space doing it.

Typically, it’s parents throwing their kids at us for snaps that they really aren’t convinced they want in the first place – but there’s always the one smiley kid who takes to me and wants to come walking along with me! LOL!

We’re knocking tourist places off our list brave and quickly here in Pune, we’ve also added Aga Kahn palace and Mahabeleshwar to our ‘done’ list over the last couple weeknds, and I’m trying to decide where we’re going to go this weekend, maybe some caves, or another fort!

‘Dipping my toe’ as a tourist in Pune!

While my first week here was largely defined by drowning in Amazon boxes, my second week? Well, there were yet more boxes.  What can I say?  I find it much easier to just Prime some chocolate chips, sprinkles and food colour to the door, from the comfort of my bed when I’m sick, than have to get up, face the world and have to go hunting.  Ok, so someone has to stay home to receive it, and, ok, their delivery dates haven’t yet been right a single time out of the 3498752304985723094785230 packages I’ve ordered – however, most of them come early and they are delivered *right here*, so I’ll cling to my Amazon obsession until I can cling no more.

Alright, that’s not *completely* accurate, Lewis is in school from 8.45am-11.15am, by the time I get back to the house it’s after 9am, shops don’t open til 10am and the types of shops I need to go to for international stuff, meats, baking supplies etc are a little further out, traffic here is simultaneously unpredictable, but terrible, I need to wait til Col’s home, or figure a longer time for Lewis to be in school before I can do much venturing out for a good hoke.

The power has just gone out – not the first time, not the last time.  It never lasts very long at all, but there’s no warning, it stays out for a few seconds, or minutes, and then it reboots and comes back up.  During those moments, I find myself, of course, scratching my head and wondering why my internet connection isn’t working.

Last Saturday, we had to wait in for deliveries (and to sort out the hire car).  Just like the US, they don’t group together all of your Amazon deliveries, so they turn up in dribs and drabs, multiple deliveries.  Sometimes they deliver one box, sometimes they deliver ten.  The days they tell you they’re delivering, aren’t always the days they deliver.  The tracking on your order says it’ll be here Saturday, and while nine times out of ten it comes early – which should be great, right?  It’s hard to plan your life when you don’t know whether your packages are coming today, tomorrow, or the day that it’s due to be delivered per the order info.

Anyways, we were waiting in, for packages, and for the car hire people to come by and pick up the car – our new car is officially legal – yay!  But once all the grown-up, boring admin was done, I got in to the car and asked Harish to show us something in the city.  He took us to Shinde Chhatri, the little fell asleep en route, so Col and I got to check it out by ourselves – just as well, cause he’d have run rings around that place.  There was a small fee to enter, and a slightly larger fee for foreigners, the sign made me giggle – not quite something you’d see in the very PC US of A.

Shinde Chhatri is a memorial dedicated to the 18th century military leader Mahadji Shinde who served as the commander-in-chief of the Maratha army under the Peshwas from 1760 – 1780.  It is one of the most significant landmarks in the city and is reminiscent of the Maratha rule. It is a hall that marks the spot of Mahadji Shinde’s cremation on 12 February 1794.

The major attraction of the Shinde Chhatri of Pune is its exquisite architecture, reflecting the style used in Rajasthan, India. The Anglo-Rajasthani style of construction exhibits a fine blending of two different cultures. The architectural grandeur of the building is appreciable with beautiful carvings and the building is the lively specimen of a structure constructed following the Vaastu Hara rules.  The memorial retains its architectural design and beauty till date.

The fine carvings and idols of saints on the steeple of the Shiva temple are made of yellow stone and the base and the sanctum sanctorum are constructed in black stone. The Chhatri (hall) not only has carvings and painting, but also houses a gallery in it. Coloured window-panes used for the windows are of English style.  The hall is beautifully adorned with paintings and photographs of members of Shinde family.

Chhatri means umbrella in Marathi. As a sign of respect to the great warrior, visitors are required to close their umbrellas inside the premises, even if it is raining.

This place was tranquil and serene.  It was calming and peaceful – and on the grounds we happened upon a Crossfit gym, complete with battle ropes out front.

It was a nice way to dip our toes in to the ‘Temple scene’ here in Pune.  If you go on the Trip Advisor website and look up ‘Things to do’, here in the city – you’ll find a long list of various temples, I’ve made a short list to get started on over the coming weeks and months.

Sunday was our first driver-free day since we got here, Harish very kindly worked the first Sunday we were in town so we could get our feet under us a little more quickly.  So we did some home-y things, hung pictures and sorted out some things around the apartment.  Monday was another big day, we went to the Police Commissioner’s office to sort out or foreigners registration – which took over three times as long as it did the first time Col did it (he had to do it again with an updated address).  Once the sweaty, waiting round with an impatient and crabby three-year-old in a crowded building was done, I hopped in to a car with a lovely lady called Ayesha, who works for the relocation company, Lexagent and off we went on a shopping spree – I mean, tour of the city.

Local bakery I need to try!

As we drove around, Ayesha pointed out places of interest, things I need to try, places to find everything from baked goods to jewellery and fabric.  We stopped off at a couple places and I came home with a trunk full of shopping.  Everything from the tall-sized squeegee and brush that I needed to find for Rani but I’ve been coming up empty on, to a kilo of cookies (in four different flavours) that we got at a stand in the biggest mall in town, Phoenix Mall.  I went to both Natures Basket and a three storey Dorabjees – two internationally inclined grocery stores (I’ve been to a smaller Dorabjees, but didn’t know this one existed!)

I had fun, I thought it would be like a red-bus-tour, when it actual fact, it was like a spin around the city with a BFF (though we didn’t selfie together – you can tell I’m off my game!)  Ayesha was fun, but also knowledgeable – she answered all my questions, she knew where to find what and even recommended a spa for me to try (I’d picked a couple out, but she said this one is better) and I definitely feel like I have a better feel for the city now that I’ve driven around it.

Thursday night I went to my first Schlumberger Spouses Association (SSA) event, here in Pune.  The group is in its infancy for sure, as it’s only recently that there has been a large influx of SLB transfers to the city, but the chapter has totally hit the ground running.  I also finally got together with the lovely Sylviane, my successor at the helm of SSA Houston when I stepped down as coordinator.

We went to a local restaurant called ‘Farzi’, which describes itself as an Indian Bistro – when we got there the maitre D informed us that they specialise in molecular gastronomy, well, my interest was piqued.

I’ve never been to a place like that before, somewhere that takes traditional dishes (for example, a Caesar salad) and adds a twist to it (butter chicken, instead of chicken).  Nor have I ever been somewhere were the tempura shrimp comes out with ‘bubble bath’ on top of it (foamed egg white), or where my cocktail requires pouring one liquid in to another to create a reaction.

It wasn’t just fun and quirky food – it was absolutely delicious.

Shina (the chapter coordinator) ordered an umber of small plates for us to share and try, I’m glad we put our trust in her, because they were all delicious (and mercifully not too spicy!)  Maryam ordered some lamb shanks to try too – holy crap, they were delicious! Served with garlic naan and in a tasty curry gravy-sauce, it was exceptional.

For dessert, I’d read a review that said I needed to try the Baileys lollipops (and, to be honest once I’d tried them I was unhappy that I hadn’t gotten a couple orders of them and hidden in the corner to eat them all by myself).  We also got a ‘chocolate dirt pile’ which was deliciously rich and luxuriously elegant at the same time.

From the staff, to the menu, from the food to the atmosphere – not to mention the company of twenty-odd SLB wives, this was a great first night out for me in Pune.

Friday after Lewis came home from school, we decided to check out the local indoor play area – coincidentally named the same as the place round the corner from us in Larne, ‘Funky Monkeys’ at a local mall called Nitesh Hub.

I think this is the biggest (ok, not true, Glasgow was the biggest), cleanest and absolutely the best indoor play area that we’ve ever taken Lewis to.  He and Col stayed there for just over an hour (when I got back Lewis was drenched in sweat) while I went out and around the rest of the mall for a look-see.  It’s an older mall, largely filled with Indian shops, not much for the Westerners, but I still managed to pick Lewis up a couple outfits for his upcoming Indian Nights night at school and whatever other ‘local dress’ days come up along the rest of the calendar year.  I did try on a couple things for myself, however, the Indian lines seemed to be more tailored towards those a little more flat chested than myself, so I’m gonna need a tailor!

Our second week was much busier than our first, we did a little more of the touristy check-some-local-things-out stuff.  Tried to find a little ‘normal’.  We seem to at least have our weekend routine down.  Saturday seems to be our big ‘tourist’ day, we get in the car and Harish takes us somewhere to visit (he’s already picked out this Saturday’s location, and the Saturday after that, too!) and Sunday is Harish’s day off, so it is our day at home.  We Skype family and friends, Lewis does creative play with things like his new easel or building vehicles with his magna tiles, there’s outdoor football with daddy and often a movie of some kind.

I’ve registered Lewis for Lego Club in the apartment building across the street, I have the name of a swim instructor for him in a local hotel, I’ve found a choir for me to try and a sports shop to go grab a punch bag from – I just need to call and arrange lessons and get my butt out the door and do things…but, I’m the queen of delay and procrastination right now – and I’m ok with that, I’ll shake it eventually, maybe staring at all the pink things on my calendar for a while will make me more inclined to actually go out and do it all!

To the lady on the Boston Harbour boat tour…

Dear stranger-lady on the Boston Harbour boat tour, 

My son was an out and out horror today. 

He was so epically, UNBELIEVABLY, naughty, that after our brief encounter on the tour boat, we made our way back to our hotel – where, I admit, the day momentarily picked up with games of hide and seek, milkshake (cause no where delivers margaritas to my hotel room) and a dance party to Fat Man Scoop, but, when bed time rolled around, he was just as bad as ever.

I don’t know what his deal is, or where I’ve gone wrong…he was such a good two year old, but three? Three is…well, it’s…it’s…something.  Someone told me a couple weeks ago that I was essentially a bad mother to my son, those words have rung in my ears every day since they were written to me, and make me question myself constantly.  

Especially today.

At some point, I sat with my son in my lap, carefully pinning his arms to his legs to avoid him hurting himself, or, from being on the receiving end of one more punch, kick, or elbow from this tiny ninja and waiting out the storm.  I had, against all odds, kept my cool and was trying to reason with him, shush him, calm him – I think I even offered him cookies at one point, bribery? Whatever it took.  Trying to explain my desire to keep him safe, trying to encourage some deep breathing, and assuring him that once he exorcised the shrieking, thrashing demon from inside of him and listened, with his listening ears, that I’d let him sit, nicely, on his bottom (not standing jumping on a chair next to an open window) and leave him be.

You see, the three year old demon, clearly did not want to obey regular human being rules today, the rules that strongly suggest that when you’re on a moving boat you don’t run like Ussain freaking Bolt, in circles, up and down flights of stairs and generally put yourself in dangerous situations, or, essentially run any which place your parents are not – thinking this careless and reckless behaviour is funny, it is not.  

Prior to the boat tour he had also not taken heed of those other tricky little regular human rules, y’know, like, 

• Thou shalt not run on the train platform.  Never.  NEVER run on the effing train platform.

• Thou shalt not drop hands and bolt from your parents in a busy tourist area for any insane person to kidnap, or car to smash in to – or, for that matter, in any public place.

• Thou also shalt not clobber thy parents with moves that have clearly come directly from Conor McGregors back pocket.

And here’s where the double standard lies for parents. Let your kid run away from you on the train platform and get smushed by a train? Or jump out the window of a moving boat? Terrible parent.  Neglectful.  Absent minded.  Tut tut.  Head shake.  Clearly an utter hot mess who deserves to be burned alive at the stake.

Shout (or use that STOP FUCKING RUNNING YOU’RE IN IMMINENT DANGER” yell that parents have), put your kid in time out, or make any threats about tech-time, toys, candy or grounding them til they’re 35? and you’re too heavy handed, too strict, that poor child.  Terrible parent. 

Anywhoo, I digress.  After enduring more punches than I have in the ring, I tagged daddy-C in to the fight and sat longingly gazing in to Boston harbour wishing the waves could open and swallow me up and praying his, inexplicable and monumental meltdown would pass quickly, then you appeared.  

“Mama, I’ve been there,” you said to me quietly over my shoulder as I bit my lip and fought back my second wave of tears of the day, “could I maybe try to help?” you asked.  “Perhaps I could play a game with him and distract him somehow?” You suggested, your voice filled with empathy and understanding.

“Sure” I said, defeated, go for it” 

“Hey buddy,” she said confidently, “would you like to play a game with me to distract you?” She asked him.  

He instantly stopped melting down, looked at her curiously, and nodded.  His wet-with-sweat hair was matted to his forehead and his crocodile-tear stained cheeks were hotter than the Red Sox logo.  But he was listening.

“Let’s distract you,” she continued, “because I’m not mama or daddy and you may even listen to me.  Can you play patty cake?” She enquired,

He nodded to the affirmative (even though he cannot) and she requested he put his hands up.  He stared at her as she demonstrated her expectations.  “I’ll just leave my hands here until you’re ready to do it too”, she said to him calmly.  

He pauses for a second, glances at me, glances back to the lady, and double hi-fives the stranger.
She began singing and clapping with him, explaining the process as she went along – and for maybe 30 whole seconds he was my happy little boy again, before he plopped off the chair he was calmly sitting on and made a bee-line for the stairs to the upper levels on the boat.
I wanted to cry.  I wanted to curl up in a ball, admit defeat and have my parenting pass withdrawn.  I wanted to offer my small child up to this, clearly superior-to-me parent, and say ‘Hey, go for it’.  He’s yours to fuck up now.
“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong”, my voice quivered at her.
“You’re going to be fine”, she replied, “you’re doing great, mama.”
“It doesn’t feel like it” I sighed.
“You gotta love an independent, strong-willed child.  It will serve him well when he’s older, but it’s so hard to endure right now.  Stick with it” she encouraged.
Turns out, she has two girls herself, 6 and 8 year olds and was one of the most genuine, least “other mother”-y type parents I’ve ever met.  She’s been there, done that, and enjoying a little nice-time before gearing up for puberty and the bitchy-ville wars that she’s soon to be staring down.
Ok, the rest of our day was blown to shit, our hundred dollar day passes to the kids museum, swan paddle boats and trolley tour, among other things were completely wasted.
Ok, I had to physically hold him in his bed to stop him climbing, jumping, running and causing mayhem and throwing things at bed time.
Ok so I wanted the ground to swallow me up from embarrassment, anger, frustration, resignation…but for an instant, this absolute stranger, sat in my space, reached out a little branch of calm and made me feel even just a teeny tiny little bit better about myself in that awful moment.
So, thank you, lady on the Bostonian boat tour, in the chaos I didn’t even catch your name, for agreeing with me that 3 years old, is a whole nother level of hell, than 2 was.  For taking a moment out of your sight-seeing trip, in blissful solitude all by yourself, away from your own children, to try and help better my day, even just for an instant and to give me some relief from the hellish demon that has seemingly all but replaced my loving and kind little boy.  For making me feel better about my defeated-feeling self, when all I really wanted to do was drink, eat chocolate, cry and disappear.
As I stepped off the boat behind Col, who was getting his glasses smacked off his face for the 38559295th time, I received a text from a friend, “I get that he’s an asshole kid right now.  But you fought hard to have that little asshole and you’ll fight hard to figure out what his damn problem is and set him straight.  Even if it’s emotionally exhausting and there are days that you just want to quit.”
Today? Today I want to quit.
And so, I’m going to bed, teary and deflated, I don’t want today to last even another second.  And considering Col and I both all but passed out on the bed the second we got back in to the hotel room, I don’t think a good sleep in the bank is a terribly bad plan.  Hopefully tomorrow is a better day, because I can’t take another one like today so soon on its heels, especially since tomorrow? We fly again. Lawwwwd in heaven, help me.
Today was a bad, bad day.  I’m praying that tomorrow is better.
He wasn’t all bad – see? This cute, adorable, sweaty-faced, sun-kissed smile? Yeah.  He was grinning because he went running around the sidewalk next to a busy bus pick-up/drop-off area at the airport like the Tasmanian devil.  Causing high blood pressure, severe heart palpitations and shrieking.  All the while yelling ‘Ha Ha! You can’t get meeeeee!’ at Colin and I – and he’s right, we typically *can’t* get him, unless we cut him off from different sides and swoop him up when he can’t see us coming.  He’s a slippy one.
Why do kids gotta be such little a-holes sometimes?  All we have tried to do on this trip is bring him fun places and do fun things.  Screw it, our next vacation will be spent at Presidential libraries, WWII ships and state capitols and he can just live with it.
Ugh! He’s lucky he’s cute.

Battleship Texas (15 things to do in Houston for under $15)

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“Commissioned in 1914 as the most powerful weapon in the world, the Battleship Texas is credited with the introduction and innovation of advances in gunnery, aviation and radar.  She is the last surviving Dreadnought as well as the only battleship in existence today that fought in both World War I and World War II… In 1948 the Battleship Texas became the first battleship memorial museum in the United States.”

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The USS Texas is our third adventure aboard a WWII ship, and, if I’m honest, I think the USS Kidd (Baton Rouge) and the USS Lexington (Corpus Christi) have her beaten.  That said, it was still a very enjoyable trip aboard.

Time and nature have taken a serious toll on this poor Dreadnought, she needs some serious repairs (and some kind of shield from the harsh Texas sunshine!), the deck is rotting and the wood is coming up in places, I believe they’ve submitted a request for a rather large sum of money to do some fixing.  It’s needed.

Open 10am – 5pm daily, and at $12 per person entrance fee for anyone over 12 years old, it could get expensive to take your whole family.  It makes me wonder what the entrance fee is used for, if not to improve and repair the ship?

Anyways, my mum and I went on board for a nosy, in April, and it was HOT.  Especially in those lower decks.  Top deck has any amount of weaponry on display – some of which you can even climb up on to and pretend to aim and shoot.  If, like me, you have limited upper body strength, it’ll make you wonder just how strong and fit the sailors of the War’s were – those suckers take a LOT of work to turn!

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You can climb pretty high up too, my mum was sad she couldn’t go all the way to the top, but she loved the climb and view from up in the rafters.

One deck below, they have a deck dedicated to the sailors lives, how they lived, ate, what they did in their spare time.

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The deck below that, is the engine room deck, where you can get a real good look at the innards of this beautiful ship though, embarrassingly, neither of us went to that deck, we were both too hot and the ship was quite busy.  We opted to go back on shore and get some water!

My mum, who has never been on board a ship like this before, was very impressed and said it was worth every penny to visit.  We had good fun poking around, I’ll be excited to see her after her (hopefully soon) restoration.

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Brazos Bend State Park (15 things to do in Houston for under $15)

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Alright, so, my parents came to town a few weeks ago, and they wanted to do EVERYTHING that this great city had to offer.  I tried telling them that we couldn’t quite fit EVERYTHING into a small two-week window, I would, however, give it my best shot.

This has inevitably resulted in me putting together a series of blog posts about various things to do here in Houston.  Some I’ve done before (and perhaps just not blogged about), and some that are new for me to share with y’all.

I made a very specific itinerary, each day was packed full of something to do, and we even managed to try a few ‘new places’, that neither Col, nor I, had ever been to before.  One such place, was the state park, Brazos Bend.

Having heard good things about this place, most notably from my bird watching friend Adrienne, I was excited to take my parents to the ‘alligator park’.

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After a false-start in one of the smaller loop trails, we came back to the entrance of the park and went to the 40 acre lake – read the information sheet that you get when you arrive, we didn’t, the best place to see gators, is right here, at one of the first trails you pass when you come in – and we were not disappointed.

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We saw close to a dozen or more alligators, ranging from about a foot long itty bitty little gators, to some pretty large, fully grown gators.  Passing a couple, within only a few feet.  It was simply amazing.

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The loop around the lake isn’t all that long, but there is enough to keep you busy and interested, from fish and ducks, to the most beautiful selection of birds.  We spent our afternoon watching cardinals, and, what I was told at the park, a rare American Bitten (or three) catching their lunch.

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As this is a park, you can always bring your bikes along with you.  We brought a picnic of sandwiches, drinks and snacks to enjoy under the shade of the trees.  If the weather is right, this place is a glorious spot to spend a day.  If the weather is ‘Texas summer’, then you can easily get cooked to a crisp, eaten by mosquitoes and dehydrated.

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Bring water (lots if its a hot day), sun cream, bug spray, a hat, comfortable shoes, your favorite camera (you will see a LOT that you want to shoot).

The park is open daily (gates lock at 10pm) the office is open Sunday – Thursday 8am – 4.30pm and Fri/Sat 8am – 9.30pm.  Entry fees are (as of April 2015) $7 Adult, children under 12 are free.

My brother arrives in just over six weeks, Brazos Bend state park has been put on his itinerary too, as long as it’s not too hot.  But it’s definitely an amazing place, even for someone (like me!) who isn’t a big outdoors-y person, who hates the sunshine and heat, and isn’t very active.  If I can go, walk and enjoy it – anyone can!

Things to do in Texas: Texas State Railroad (Fall Foliage Brunch Train)

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It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, we went home to the UK for a few weeks, I’ve been under the weather (before and since), and Lewis is keeping me on my toes.  But, we recently embarked on a fun activity here in Texas, that I wanted to share with y’all, in case you are interested in doing the Polar Express train before Christmas.

Col and I have been married for five years as of October, the traditional gift is wood, and, after having bought him his record player (affectionately named ‘Maggie’), I wanted to find something for us to do together, to mark the occasion.  As many of you know, we love our little getaways, a weekend here, an overnight there, we love exploring Texas and think, as a state, it has so much to offer.  To get to the train ride took exactly three hours from Houston (though, on our way TO the train, it took five hours, an hour in traffic, an hour stopped for lunch, plus the three hour journey – yawn!)

We went up the day before, spent the afternoon in the hotel pool (the Hampton inn and suites, if you’re interested, was excellent, and we’d go back without question and, while I’m at it, grab a delicious pizza in a restaurant called ‘Switch’).

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For those of you who say that Texas doesn’t have a ‘fall’ season, you’re wrong.  I just saw it, out the window of a hundred year old steam train as we traveled across East Texas ‘Pineywoods’ forest country.  You pay $55 per person, you board the train at one of two Victorian-style train depots at either Palestine (where we boarded), or Rusk.

They ask you to be there almost an hour early, to pick up your tickets from the ticket desk – don’t groan – that gives you plenty of time to watch the steam engine come out of her little shed, down the track and connect to the carriages, and to take pictures of the train, the depot and the surroundings, it’s very picturesque.

Once on board, we found the table with our family name place card, took a seat, and enjoyed a delicious platter of fresh fruit, fruit dip, orange juice, apple juice, water and coffee, as we waited for the train to disembark the station.

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The journey through the trees was glorious, the sun shone, the trees were a multitude of colours, and the atmosphere onboard, was excited anticipation.  The family carriage, was filled with both adults and kids alike, I was amazed to find linen table cloths, real glasses and cutlery on the tables and fully uniformed staff ready to wait on us hand and foot.  It was a real experience, we even traveled through a rainbow – which was pretty darn cool!

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As we approached our one and only stop at Rusk, Texas, they brought us slices of quiche (bacon or veggie), with a side salad and some dressing (in hindsight I should have ordered a third portion because Lewis decided he loved it and ate a chunk of mine and Col’s!)

We disembarked for our forty-five minute pit-stop, watched the engine disconnect, and pass the carriages to reconnect.  In Rusk there are bathrooms (though the lines were seriously long, I’d say just go on board the train whilst no one is on board!), the men’s bathroom had a koala care station – which is definitely worth noting for those with little ones, as many restaurants, even ‘big name’ restaurants don’t have facilities in even the Women’s toilets, let alone the men’s.

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There is a gift shop for you to peruse and some nice grounds if you’d like a wander around.  When we got back on the train, there was a platter of crackers, cheese and tomato/cucumber waiting for us and about half-way back to the Palestine depot, they brought out a selection of muffins and cinnamon rolls.  Informing us that we could ‘pick two’ (and then offered us a cinnamon roll separate), Col had the blueberry muffin and the mini lemon and poppy seed muffin, I chose the banana nut muffin and a mini lemon and poppy seed and we picked up a cinnamon roll to share.  What we actually ate, on the other hand, was half the cinnamon roll, Lewis and I shared the mini muffin and Col had his mini muffin – so much food! (We bagged the two larger muffins to take home with us on our journey home).

The thing that surprised me on this journey, other than the food being really tasty (for some reason I always expect those type of things to be quite Ming), was the service, the servers on the train were exceptional – better than many of the restaurants I’ve been in lately.  They were friendly and warm, interested (mostly in Lewis, obviously!) but not imposing, efficient and generous (one lady even gave me some diet coke and offered more if/when I fancied it).  They definitely added to the whole experience and were full of smiles the whole time.

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We both loved this experience, it was romantic, fun, different and we got to see a part of Texas that, previously, had been uncharted for us, and the train was pretty damn cool – I won some serious wifey points to boot.

Their 2015 calendar includes a romantic Valentine’s night dinner and an Easter train ride – both of which sound fun.  If Lewis was a little older, we’d take him on the Polar Express Christmas train ride for sure!

Y’all should check this train out, really – it’s worth it!!

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Five museums for five bucks in Houston, Part III: Houston Fire Museum

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This ain’t our first rodeo (or, fire museum), in fact, we’ve been to at least TWO other fire museums on our various travels, in much smaller cities than Houston.  We have put off going to the Houston Fire Museum (Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 4pm Adults $5, children $3) a number of times, just to make sure we left enough time for this place – but we really didn’t have to do that at all.

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What a disappointment.  We barely spent thirty minutes here.  UGH! For such a major city in the USA, we expected something a little more grand than a two-room museum with only two engines to look at.  My ‘147 Fun Things to Do in Houston’ book says that this place has a large collection of artifacts to look at, either the author has a poor definition of large, or they never visited this museum.  It was a poor reflection of Fire memorabilia, and we both left deflated.

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It was the first, paid Fire House in Houston, the Fire House itself is small, so they built an extension (also small) and they have a room set aside for kids parties (of which there seemed to be a hundred under one roof today, there were kids everywhere and it was louuuuud!)

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There really wasn’t a lot to look at, upstairs, the AC unit was leaking on the floor as a result of some storm damage.  There were a few glass cases up there, with some memorabilia throughout the decades which was interesting to look at, but we really expected more.

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This is the first $5 museum where I felt like I got short changed.  I don’t think it was quite worth the entrance fee.  They had some cool T-shirts and kitsch on sale, but unfortunately, I can’t recommend the Houston Fire Museum as something to do on a rainy afternoon in H-town, as it just doesn’t have the substance!

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Five museums for five bucks in Houston, Part II: Railway museum (Rosenberg)

We FINALLY got back to working on this segment, and investigating the wonderful, rich culture that Houston has to offer – and for only five bucks!  This museum was visited almost six months ago (shame on me for taking this long to share it with you!) and, considering that Houston’s Railroad museum is currently ‘under construction’, this is the closest alternative available to you.

I had planned on visiting a few museums towards the end of my pregnancy, but when Lewis came a few weeks early, that flew right out the window!  Having little to do this weekend other than prep the house for visitors arriving, I decided that it was time.  Time to bring Lewis on his first McMaster mini-adventure.

A quick chat with Col later, and we were on our way to Rosenberg, a quirky, small town about twenty minutes south of here, to visit the Railway museum.  We took just over an hour in here, and that was probably a stretch.  We weren’t hugely bowled over by this museum (in my mind, I guess, I compare it to the free Railroad museum that we went to in Memphis, TN) but it was a nice place to spend an hour.

The components of the museum are:

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My hubby is interested in trains, railroads and all things train-y, (yes, I may have made up a word), we like checking out railroad museums, and, while watching the 8 minute dull-as-watching-paint-dry movie surrounding the purpose of the museum and its history, you can see there’s a lot more they could show in this place, a lot more history that they could delve in to – I get that it’s a non-profit museum and can only do so much, but it was a bit disappointing as far as adult interest and education goes, but the kids certainly seemed to enjoy it.
They have a room for kids parties, that seemed wholly unimpressive – or, in any way connected to the museum (it’s a room with folding table and chairs, next door to a play room) – quite disappointing, it would be way cooler to have an empty train car with the tables and chairs and make it a real experience.
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Once you go outside, there’s a few great photo-ops, even our little six week old son enjoyed it ;). Definitely worth the $5 entrance fee!
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