Tag Archives: vacation

Oxford Mommy’s 36 Hours in New York City

New York has been one of my favourite cities for a long time, and I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to pass through for a weekend on our way to Princeton, NJ.  I did wonder, having never been there with the Baberoo before, how it would rate on the baby-friendliness scale. Of course, since we were there for only 36 hours, this review isn’t exhaustive ( I’d need a whole New York Mommy blog for that!) but we did discover some things about the city – or Manhattan, to be exact, since we didn’t have time to visit the other boroughs – that may be useful to parents travelling in from out of town.

First things first: transportation. We were travelling with our fold-up umbrella stroller (the Uppababy G-Luxe), which is a very light and fairly small.  After doing some research on the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) site, I figured using the bus seemed like a good option, and being so familiar with the buses in Oxford I figured it would be a similar experience. Not so. Apparently you need to fold up your stroller when you board a New York bus, which to me cancels out the convenience of not having to go underground and contend with subway stairs. The bus did get us places fairly quickly, although that was probably because it was early Saturday morning and there wasn’t much traffic.  It’s also good for sightseeing – on our ride up Madison Avenue from Midtown to Harlem we saw lots of great New York buildings. But if you’re carrying lots of bags or by yourself with a stroller you have to collapse when you board, the bus can be tricky.

NYC busSince we had to fold the stroller on the bus, we figured we would try the subway the next time we were going out. Not too many stations are equipped with elevators giving access to the platforms, but our hotel was near Grand Central Station, which is wheelchair accessible, as was our destination station. In theory that meant we didn’t have to fold up the stroller and take the Baberoo out. However, it’s not easy to actually locate the elevators that bring you down to platform level, and at our connecting station we absolutely could not find an elevator to get us off the platform, and we had to fold up the stroller and carry the Baberoo up the stairs. We then found the (very grotty) elevator down to our connecting train’s platform, but had to wait several minutes in a queue of strollers. Basically, the speed of a subway ride is compromised by the amount of time it takes to locate and wait for the elevator, so a trip that would have taken 20 minutes at most took us at least 45.

NYC Subway

Having tried the bus and the subway and having found both lacking in baby-friendliness, we bit the bullet and on our next trip we hailed a cab. Or rather, a very savvy New Yorker cousin of ours hailed it for us, and managed to snag it despite the fancy young woman in polka-dot skinnies and Louboutins also trying to flag it down (sorry, lady). The cab turned out to be a great option. It got us back to our hotel fast, and it was easy enough to pre-fold the stroller on the sidewalk before hailing the cab so the we didn’t have to do it on the fly while also trying to load bags and baby in. The Baberoo loved sitting on her daddy’s lap for the ride, and it took us right to the door of our hotel. No wonder so many New Yorkers are standing out in the street trying to get cabs. They really top the buses and the subway. But of course, they add a cost to your trip – our average cost was $16 per ride and we did it four times, so there goes half a week’s grocery money.

NYC Taxicab

The other option, of course, is to walk. We really enjoyed a 45-block walk from Harlem to the Upper East Side, going through parts of Central Park (although we had to go back to the sidewalk when it got too hilly). We also walked through Greenwich Village and Soho, and hoofed it to the bus station on our way out of the city. Some streets can be extremely crowded and annoying, so it helps to know which routes to take and some alternatives. (Tip: never try walking down 42nd Street in a hurry.) On the Upper East Side, in very chichi residential areas, we saw what seemed like hundreds of parents walking with their babies in strollers, and at least half of those strollers were Uppababy Vistas – which is the kind we have at home. The Vista is as big as a tank and can’t be folded up very easily, so I wondered how those parents travelled around the city. We came to the conclusion that people have more than one stroller – a big one for walks closer to home, and a fold-up one that they can bring on public transport. (In fact, we were approached on the street by a guy who wanted our opinion on a new stroller he was inventing that could roll down stairs! Only in New York!) Or maybe they drive cars. Or maybe they wear the baby in a carrier when they’re on the bus or subway. In any case, walking is a great option as long as you know your route and an alternative route, and the baby isn’t in dire need of food or a change.

Speaking of diaper changes: that was the most baby-unfriendly part of  our experience. There is almost nowhere to change a baby’s diaper. Even restaurants don’t necessarily have baby-changing facilities. We were lucky that we managed not to have to do any baby-changing in public restrooms, but that was because I scheduled in some nap times back at the hotel, and we also visited friends with a baby (it was a super-fun play date!) so we were able to change the Baberoo at their house. None of the restaurants we went to or cafés we visited had baby-changing facilities. It makes you wonder where anyone changes their baby’s diaper. Does everyone with a child under 3 have to go home every time their kid poops?

The restaurants we visited, while not having any baby-changing facilities, were very welcoming of babies. Our first one was B.Cafe, where we had brunch with the taxicab-hailing cousin. They provided a high chair and stowed our stroller away so that we could get through the restaurant (it would have been impossible to get through with the stroller because of tightly-packed tables). My burger was good and the fries were excellent. The Baberoo didn’t appreciate the stack of pancakes we ordered her, but she did enjoy my burger bun. She was flirting with the staff and with the other patrons at nearby tables and got a whole bunch of compliments, too. In fact, all over town New Yorkers just couldn’t stop gushing about how cute she was, which made us feel pretty chuffed (but also confused: if they love babies so much, how come they don’t make it easier for parents to bring their little ones around the city?)

B.Cafe burger

The next place we ate out, again for brunch, was Eastwood, on the Lower East Side, with some friends who are in the know about the best new places to eat. It has a lovely vibe and a fabulous Scottish-Israeli menu. My fish tacos were great and the Baberoo enjoyed her scrambled eggs. Service was fantastic and really quick, which is always useful when you have a hungry little one clamouring for food. There were no high chairs so she had to sit on my lap, but there was a lot of floor space for the stroller, which she started snoozing in as soon as she finished her meal. I would definitely go back to Eastwood to try some of their other delicious-sounding fare.

Eastwood

We found some fun things for the Baberoo to do while we were visiting the city; one was a simple but really enjoyable trip to the park for a swing ride. There are lots of public parks in New York – the one we visited was Seward Park on the Lower East Side – and the ones we saw were pretty well kept up and quite clean. And only in a New York park can you also spot a contingent of older ladies doing outdoor aerobics to Chinese music.

We also visited a great bookstore, McNally Jackson. They have a fantastic children’s section, with a toy theatre kids can play in, and a great selection of old and new classics. The children’s section is in the basement so you do have to fold up your stroller to get down there, but it’s worth it.

As for where to stay in New York: there are many hotels, from reasonably-priced to over-the-top expensive, but since we only stayed in one of them all I can’t tell you what others might be like. But I can highly recommend the one we chose – the Library Hotel in Midtown. It was excellent in every respect and it went beyond my expectations for baby-friendliness. They provided a very good travel crib, there was ample space in the room to create a baby-changing station, and they had high chairs and great service in the breakfast room, which also served as a 24-hour Reading Room and quiet space (the Library Hotel’s rooms are based on the Dewey Decimal System, each room having a different subject; our bedroom was the Classic Literature room). The hotel’s public bathrooms didn’t have any changing facilities so after we checked out of our room and then suddenly needed to do a diaper change we were a little stuck – but then the staff recommended that we use one of the benches up in their rooftop Poetry Garden, which worked out just fine and was probably the best view the Baberoo will ever have while getting her diaper changed. The Library Hotel isn’t cheap, but it was our anniversary weekend and I decided to splurge, and was it ever worth it.

Library Hotel Reading room

Our trip to New York was over in a flash, but we still managed to cram in a whole bunch of activities and it was a lovely stay. It’s not the most baby-friendly city in terms of baby-changing facilities and transportation (and now I understand why lots of Manhattanites move to Brooklyn when they have kids), but boy, do New Yorkers know how to compliment babies. If you’re travelling there, I recommend using cabs for convenience and factoring the cost into your budget. Having a great, well-located hotel helps too. I can hardly wait to go back when the Baberoo is out of diapers; I suspect that will be loads easier and she’ll be able to appreciate more of the great things about the city.

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Oxford Mommy’s Guide to Ottawa, Part 1

We’re on holiday in Ottawa with the Baberoo for nearly three weeks, and besides visiting with all our relatives and friends we’ve also been trying to get around town as much as possible. Since I can’t review any Oxford locations at the moment, I figured I could still write a quick guide to Ottawa. I grew up here and visit about once a year, but I’ve never done it with a baby carriage before, and I was in for a few surprises!

These are shorter reviews with fewer pictures (and sometimes none, since I forgot my camera once or twice!), so I’m not employing my full rating system here, but I hope they’re helpful to parents living in or visiting the city.

My first venture out with the Baberoo was to the Ottawa Farmers’ Market at Brewer Park on a Sunday morning.  (I also went to the Main Farmers’ Market Ottawa on a Saturday morning and we went to the Marché Vieux Hull on a Thursday.) The markets are a favourite of parents with strollers and there are lots of babies everywhere. The one at Brewer Park is right near a playground and community garden, and there’s also a pool and community centre nearby so you may be able to use the baby-changing facilities there. Brewer Park is also the biggest market, with over 100 vendors.  I had a sausage on a bun and a lemonade while I was there, both very enjoyable. I’d highly recommend all of the Farmers’ Markets as a lovely place to go in Ottawa.

It doesn’t feel like a trip back home until I’ve been to the Byward Market, so we headed out there as soon as we could and had lunch at an old favourite, the Blue Cactus Bar and Grill. I was nonplussed to see that they’ve changed their menu to become more contemporary, so some of my favourite classic Tex-Mex dishes were gone. I got a trio of mini tacos (shrimp, Szechuan beef, and curry chicken) which were fine, but in retrospect I’d rather have had a chimichanga like the one my husband ordered. I did, however, enjoy my massive virgin daiquiri. The menu has various things you can order to eat one-handed if you are holding a baby, and the baby-changing facilities are fine, and presentably clean.

Chimichanga

Our next outing was lunch at the Urban Pear in the Glebe (151 2nd Avenue, Unit C). We’d been before but hadn’t returned for a while, and I’m happy to say that the food was still fabulous and we also received great service. I ordered the fried chicken on waffles and it was yummy, although a bit salty (I mentioned this to our server and got a fantastic and immediate response from the kitchen). My husband’s burger was well-flavoured and cooked to his specifications. The menu doesn’t have many items that can be eaten one-handed with a baby in your arms, but we took turns holding the Baberoo. The toilets, while very pretty, don’t have baby-changing facilities, but there would be ample room for changing on the floor if you had a mat.

Another Glebe location we tried was Za Za Za (915 Bank Street, K1S 3W5), at which we enjoyed wood-fired pizzas with unique combinations of toppings. Mine was the Lover’s Leap – one of the less wacky combinations, with mozzarella, black olives, pepperoni, tomato, and hot Italian sausage – and it had a perfectly-charred crust as I would expect from any good thin-crust pizza. If you’re up for a crazier pizza, try the Scary Roommate, which boasts both Kraft Dinner and hot dogs as toppings. We had a great time and I’d go back to try other combinations. The pizza was already cut into slices, which made it as baby-friendly as it was going to get, but there were no baby-changing facilities and the bathrooms were too small to consider a floor change.

Za Za Za pizza

We wanted to visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization for the last time before it becomes the Museum of Canadian History, so we headed over to Gatineau and started off with lunch at the museum’s own Bistro Boréal (100 Laurier Street, Gatineau). I had the duck club sandwich, which was pleasingly un-fatty, and my husband chose the bison burger, which he said was very good. We sat out on the terrace with the sleeping Baberoo and watched the people go by. There were a few items on the menu that would have been fine to eat one-handed. There are no bathrooms within the restaurant since the museum’s bathrooms are right near the entrance; these have baby-changing facilities, as do the bathrooms on all floors of the museum.

Duck club sandwich

We used the facilities and they were clean and fresh, with ample space for a baby carriage. I also received many friendly looks from both patrons and staff while I was breastfeeding the Baberoo on one of the many benches available in the non-exhibit areas. As for the museum itself, I really enjoyed the ‘Double Take: Portraits of Intriguing Canadians’ exhibition, which reminded me what a diverse and interesting country I come from.

CMC baby changing

I’ve also had some good advice about baby-changing facilities from a friend who has seen his two nephews through babyhood and who has tried out many a place in downtown Ottawa.  Apparently the best baby-changing facilities are at 240 Sparks, where they are built in rather than a pull-down table. He also recommends the facilities at the Château Laurier. The same friend suggested the baby-changing facilities at Fifth Avenue Court when we were in the Glebe, and they turned out to be great. I’m sure they are little-known; hardly anyone goes into the inside of Fifth Avenue Court since all the shops also have entrances from the street, but there are good bathrooms if you need one and the baby-changing table is clean and seems very little-travelled.

Fifth Avenue Court baby changing

Part 2 to follow after we explore some more venues this week!

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