Sunday, August 24, 2014

Astana

We're 3 days in and things are starting to move along at rocket speed.  Alex has been assessed at school and we've bought a first tranche of uniforms. She even has a special school logo backpack she has to use (sorry, mom). Zoltan managed to snag a spot in the detsky sad where we wanted him to go. Terry has a local phone. Technically I have a work phone but it isn't the phone number I was told it was, and nobody knows what it is. Also, it doesn't make outgoing calls or texts.  In case we haven't mentioned it yet, Terry got his teleworking finally approved so it is really going to happen. September will be a big month for everyone, as the kids to back to school and he starts working after 2 weeks on leave.

On the work front, as they say, "everything is awesome". My portfolio rocks, I have already started meeting people and racking up quite a business card stack - now i understand why the embassy printed me a bunch before I even arrived.  My colleagues are wonderful. taking time out of their hectic schedules to explain things to me, give background and relevant info.  The local employee who works on my portfolio is as wonderful as everyone said she is, and as a bonus she gardens so can give us tips for next summer.

Our apartment is huge and not perfectly laid out, so it remains for our stuff to arrive and for us to figure out how to arrange things. Zoltan's room may need to double as consumables storage, and the office will need to be co-located in our bedroom. On the plus side, the bathtub is the size of a jacuzzi and we have three lovely balconies for when the weather is nice. The apartment building takes up an entire city block (like a big hollow square) and the inner courtyard contains not one but two sets of playground equipment. We can walk to a bunch of tourist sites as well as a huge shopping mall that contains a grocery store.  Next week I will try my hand at walking to work.  I also hope to have some photos up soon ... got to get Mr. Photographer working!

Friday, August 22, 2014

The cloud, then the rainbow

(the cloud) When I went to double check that the hotel in DC had confirmed a reservation with a taxi to the airport, the gentleman at the counter confirmed that no reservation had ever been made. Grrr. But he did what he could, and a taxi almost big enough showed up only 15 minutes later than our reservation time. With the help of bungee cord, the "almost" became "just enough."  No traffic meant we made it to Dulles with plenty of time.

(the rainbow) Pretty much everything that has happened after we got to the airport was wonderful.  The whole check-in online thing has really streamlined the time spent in line at the airport. The kid are big enough and motivated enough that they are quite helpful - they each pushed a 360 spinny suitcase and Terry and I were able to manage the rest of the luggage.  TSA Precheck was the most glorious perk of official travel I have experienced in a while. No need to remove ANYTHING from any bags ... except that I forgot a bottle of milk from Zoltan's breakfast and they did have to screen that, but it wasn't too much of a wait.

The flight was uneventful. As usual, the kids did not sleep ... well Zoltan did pass out on a makeshift bed on the floor under his and my seats but a tiny spot of turbulence meant we had to get him up and buckled and that was the end of that. The inflight entertainment options were plentiful and the kids never asked for the tablet. The kids' TV shows were largely shows they like and the movie options included Frozen AND Lego Movie AND Cars AND Cars 2. We could have stayed on that plane all day.  One glitch was that we didn't request kids' meals 24 hours in advance, but as we knew that we bought a sandwich in the airport before the flight and cobbled together snacks and the roll that always accompanies airline meals into a decent enough meal. The flight attendants very kindly asked if we needed anything more and did in the end bring us applesauce for each kid.

At the airport we quickly got our bags and equally quickly found the place to leave the bags overnight.  Off to the hotel!

This is where I rave about the Frankfurt Marriott hotel. The gave us early check in (9:00am - super early!) AND late checkout (3:00pm - kids can nap before the red-eye!) AND adjoining rooms. The month and more we spent living in hotels last summer did wonders for Terry's status with Marriott so we got executive floor access, including the club room. This means breakfast, a "happy hour" with enough food to fill our bellies, and water whenever we want it. Score!  We ended up eating lunch in the hotel restaurant too and although European prices are still heart-attack worthy, the food is at least delicious. I am still thinking of the tomato and buffalo mozzarella starter we had. The staff has been so amazingly helpful and gracious. When I asked if one dessert had milk in it, the employee I asked checked with the kitchen, came back to say sorry it does, and then told me that if we would still be guests of the hotel tomorrow night the chef would make something special for Alex.  They gave the kids sweets and again were sensitive of Alex, handing her bags of gummy bears along with the chocolate candy for Zoltan.  I can't say enough good things about this hotel and look forward to staying here again when we PCS.

And another shout out to my mom for her mad shopping skillz.  The Hungry Hungry Hippo travel game has already earned back whatever she paid for it, and Alex has already done half the templates included in her magnetic mosaics toy. We should have guessed that Zoltan would be absorbed with anything vehicles and not bothered packing anything else, but the tape road was a big hit in the hotel room.

One important lesson we learned is that when we let the kids pack themselves, we need to double check. I added a ton of extra clothes for Zoltan but we trusted Alex to follow directions and in the end she will be sharing socks with Zoltan and/or me until UAB arrives.  And we should have had her pack a bit more pants and a bit less shorts, that is our fault though. Thanks to the insight of one of my A-100 colleagues who suggested flying with a bag of the little detergent packs we are ready for laundry, which will be needed as we don't have a ton of clothes in general. The laundry packs already saved us in the hotel last week, as we got to fly with all clean clothes.

Also, the two travel nights' bedtime went like this:  We give hugs and kisses to the kids, then retreat to our hotel room while Alex reads a story to Zoltan in their hotel room.  It's pretty adorable.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The pack out

It all started so auspiciously. The pre packout inspection was the most thorough I've seen, he was detailed, wanted to see absolutely everything and wrote down what was going where and how.  High hopes.

I even got a phone call early enough on the Friday before packout that I hadn't thought to call them yet. Confirmed the team would arrive between 8:30am-10:30am.

The team arrived well within the timeframe. There were three guys. My heart sank a bit but I cheered remembering a recent blog post I read of the packout power of three (apologies to the poster, I now can't find it amid all the packout blogging going around these days).

One guy started packing the downstairs UAB (90% of our air freight was piled in the study), one was in the kitchen working on UAB stuff there, and one guy started going through the kids' rooms packing whatever needed packing there.

Things started to go south rather quickly. Knowing the weather forecast, Terry and I each encouraged different team members to start on the outside stuff right after doing UAB because Monday would be clear but Tuesday rainy. Being ignored by people who are supposed to work for you doesn't really lead to good relations. By 5pm Monday we knew there was no way we'd finish in 2 days.  And, because the movers never touched the stuff outside, Terry and I had to drag it all back into the house or shed because the deluge that would become our Tuesday was already starting.

Tuesday was rainy as predicted, and the movers brought a 4th person. Things moved a bit faster but by mid-morning we'd added a third day and I had cancelled or rescheduled all my consultations for Wednesday.  To say I was annoyed would be an understatement. We'll come back to this.  By 5pm all the HHE was out of the house (thank you Mother Nature for the brief interlude in your deluge so the movers could actually move the boxes out of the house, we thought they would have to wait until Wednesday.)  The movers wanted to quit for the day.  The team lead said he was sure we could probably be finished on time Wednesday. I said "probably" wasn't enough reassurance, they needed to stay a bit longer. A bit after 6pm we all went home.

Boy, was I glad I made them stay Tuesday when 4pm Wednesday rolled around and they weren't done!

Why was I so annoyed at the extension of packout? Let's compare:  Philly 1200 sq. ft. rowhome, 5 movers. St. Petersburg only HHE/UAB, no storage, 4 movers. So how anyone could expect 3 movers to pack out a 4 bedroom home full of stuff, furniture and tools is beyond me. What was the purpose of that detailed prepackout survey if it was so entirely useless? We had a full day on Wednesday.  This means the move took 50% longer than expected. I don't think it unfair to say usually if someone is wrong by 50% we question that person's opinions/skills/expertise.

I know my husband's answer to the problem for next time: own less stuff. There is a tiny chance I will try out such a possibility before our next packout.