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Trip Report BA With a Toddler - A Little Crazy, a Lot of Fun

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I am not well-known for my ability to be succinct; rather the opposite, in fact! So buckle up for a lengthy trip report... I will be posting it in sections, so feel free to skip around! I write trip reports with a lot of details as a way of remembering all the little things I'd otherwise forget in time.

Background: DH (Jeff, 35) and I (Tara, 30) took our son (Will, 14 months old) to Buenos Aires for a weeklong stay. Crazy? Maybe. Read on!

The Flights / BA with a 14 Month Old:

We live in Des Moines, Iowa, but flew out from Chicago. We drove to Chicago the night before the flight. It was about a 5 hour drive and was pretty uneventful. Will had a somewhat difficult time sleeping that night in a new place, in a new bed (we brought his pack and play with an upgraded foam mattress thingy), but otherwise it was fine. We’d used frequent flyer miles to fly first class Chicago-Miami-Buenos Aires and back. I’d thought that flying first class would make sense, because Will’s always been such a good/easy traveler, and because we’d have more perks that would be useful, like lounge access, lay-flat beds, and plenty of good food. Oh, and free alcohol. When flying internationally with a 14 month old, alcohol might well be more like a necessity than a perk. I kid. Mostly. (We actually drank very little to avoid dehydration.)

In retrospect, first class was maybe not the way to go, because we felt so self-conscious and so self-loathing at having the gall to bring a baby into first class. We lived in fear of him making even squealy, happy sounds, much less crying. But, that said, the perks were pretty helpful. The lounge access was great – they have a children’s room in the Miami AA lounge, which was handy. The little snacks, like fruit and cheese and crackers, came in handy to tide Will over between meals. The extra room in the seats meant he could climb on us a bit more freely, without having to worry about him touching other people’s seats or kicking the seat in front of him. The generous food onboard was another nicety. We’d thought that having lay-flat beds would be a huge perk because of the overnight flights MIA-EZE and EZE-MIA. I didn’t think Will would sleep the whole flight, but I assumed we’d get at least 2-4 hours of rest on the nearly 9 hour flights. Oh the naiveté.

From Chicago to Miami, he did great, but on the overnight down to BA, he didn’t sleep AT ALL. Not even a little. Instead, he wanted to climb all over us, squeal with excitement at all the new and exciting things to see, and talk to the flight attendants (who actually loved him and were so good with him that I’ll be writing recommendation letters to AA to praise their staff). Having a happy baby was a blessing. Having to work to entertain said happy baby for all 9 hours of the flight… ugh. We arrived in BA completely and absolutely wasted. Upon checking into our apartment, we slept for about 4 hours and then went out to dinner. The first day was wasted. That night, we assumed Will would be equally exhausted and would sleep through the night similarly to how he does back home. No dice. He’d sleep for a half-hour or so and wake up screaming, then sleep for another 30 minutes and scream again. By 10am, we’d gotten maybe 2 hours of sleep, MAX. He finally crashed and we set an alarm for 12:30, thinking it wasn’t ideal to get up so late and probably not leave the apartment until 1:30 or 2, but it was a bad situation we needed to make the best of. We slept right through the alarms and woke up in a panic… glanced at a clock and saw that we’d managed to sleep until 4:30pm. Will was still asleep and rather upset at being woken up, even then. We salvaged what we could of Day #2, but we were feeling completely depressed and disappointed in ourselves. Was this going to be the trip where we slept through the entire thing? Was Will going to keep us up all night, every night? Would we ever get out of the apartment and start enjoying ourselves?

Luckily, Will started doing better and we were able to walk a ton and be out of the apartment for the entire next day, but the whole trip was a struggle to get enough sleep at night and balance our desire to see things during the daytime with the fact that we had to come back to the apartment to allow Will his daytime naps. It was tough. We feel like we barely scratched the surface of BA and that we’d just hit our stride when it was time to come home.

On the flights home, Will once again did not sleep at all. Unbelievable. The flight attendants on the EZE-MIA flight were incredulous. Will was more fussy on this flight back to Miami than he’d been on the Miami-BA flight at the beginning, so we spent a lot of our time standing up, holding him in the galley, chatting with the flight attendants, who loved him. As long as he was being held and getting attention, he was happy, and the flight attendants even asked us if they could hold him for awhile so we could take a short nap. I felt guilty allowing that, because my perspective was that we were the ones who decided it would be an okay idea to take a kid on a long flight, so we ought to be the ones to deal with him exclusively. But the staff were so kind and so nice and seemed to be genuinely interested in entertaining Will for awhile that we took them up on the offer and got 45 minutes of sleep on that flight, which helped immensely. Having had so little sleep himself, Will was substantially more fussy on the Miami-Chicago flight. On a 2.5 hour flight, he slept for awhile, then screamed for 15 minutes straight. He was inconsolable. We were mortified. We stood with him in the galley but passengers could still hear him, and there was nothing we could do to make him better. Then he slept more, only to wake up for one more screaming fit. Awful, awful experience.

In the end, we are still glad we took him to BA. It was either go to BA with him, or not go at all. And we got a really cool experience out of it, so even with the negatives, it was still worth it. But make no mistake: this was a trip, an epic journey. It was no vacation.

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    What We Did:

    We didn’t get to see and do nearly as much as we would have liked to have seen and done, because of having Will with us and the constraints of his schedule, but we really enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. We spent an inordinate amount of time in Recoleta; we didn’t get to walk around Palermo much; we would have liked to have spent more time strolling the side streets of San Telmo instead of sticking to only the feria area / Defensa; we didn’t make it to Puerto Madero at all. We didn’t visit any museums and our only views of the Casa Rosada and the Floris Generalis were from taxi windows. We were so sad to leave so soon. I think if we’d been able to get over the long flight and lost sleep sooner, we’d have been okay, but as it was, we would have been happy to have 3 extra days in BA. That said, here’s what we did:

    We walked and walked and walked all over Recoleta, window shopping. We had café cortados at several cafes, including La Biela (terrible coffee, tasty medialunas, great view and atmosphere). We took Will to the Zoo in Palermo – his first-ever visit to a zoo. He was somewhat intrigued by the giraffes and elephants, but mostly he just liked looking at the ducks, peacocks, and maras that roamed the grounds freely. We watched the families chatting and children playing at Vincente Lopez park, though Will was too young to join in on the playground himself.

    We shopped at least 5 times at the Disco on Quintana in Recoleta, and enjoyed browsing the products and stocking the apartment with breakfast provisions and snacks and drinks for Will. The pre-made ham and cheese sandwiches were actually pretty good and worked very well for snacks and for a dinner for Will when we left him with the babysitter to go out by ourselves. Grocery shopping in foreign countries is always one of our favorite experiences. We also enjoyed (of all things) having our laundry done at one of the many laundry services – we dropped off our clothes and got them back the next day, more perfectly folded than I could ever replicate at home. And if I knew enough Spanish, I could have requested them to pick up and drop off the laundry at our apartment for free (save the tip to the delivery person).

    We went to the Feria Recoleta, where I bought a lovely ceramic piece, and also to the San Telmo antiques fair, where I had neither enough time nor money. I could have spent several more hours there, and LOTS of money, if I had it. I love Art Nouveau, so I was in heaven. But alas, Will wasn’t about to let us stay more than the 2-3 hours we were there, and I couldn’t bring myself to blow our budget on anything in particular. From San Telmo, I brought home a nice antique tile and a tango CD. Seeing the crystal chandeliers in the shop windows made me start fantasizing about what sort of light fixtures I’d buy if I owned an apartment here, and looking at the Edwardian / Art Deco jewelry in shop windows made me lust dreadfully for the money to buy something old and platinum and diamond-encrusted. LOL.

    We enjoyed browsing in El Ateneo, the famous theater-cum-bookstore, and having drinks in the stage-cum-café. We shopped for leather goods at Lopez Taibo and Rossi y Carusso. My husband bought a beautiful pair of shoes from Lopez Taibo for only a bit more money than we’d normally spend on a pair of the Johnston & Murphy shoes he buys at home, while I merely DROOLED at all the beautiful handbags. I fell in love with several of them, particularly one styled like a Hermes Birkin with exotic leather, but alas, the ones I loved were anywhere from $500-$1500 USD, and I already have a nice handbag I love and carry daily, so I couldn’t justify that kind of expense.

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    What / Where We Ate:

    We ate 3 dinners out on our own while we left Will with a babysitter, ate in one night, and took Will out to 3 dinners with us. When he’d start getting squirmy during a lengthy meal, one of us would take him out to the street while the other ate, and then we’d switch.

    Empanadas at El Sanjuanino: We must have gone on an “off” night because the empanadas we got were cold. I’m sure we would have liked them more if they had been fresher and hotter. Cost: $22 USD. Steak at El Estrebe: Wonderful! We had a Caprese salad, puree de manzana for Will, bife de lomo, and a bottle of DV Catena Malbec. Cost: $98 USD, but fully half of that was on the wine. It would have been possible to have a wonderful meal there for much less. Oviedo: 2 starters and 2 entrees of various types of seafood + a shared dessert (we shared because we were pretty satisfied from the meal, but after tasting it, wished we’d ordered 2. It was a total knockout!) and a bottle of Pinot Noir recommended by the server. Everything we ate was absolutely delicious and beautifully prepared. Really a standout meal. (Will was with the babysitter.) Cost: $130 USD, of which $30 was wine. Il Due Resto Café: a really nice meal, marred only by an exceptionally chewy bife de chorizo for Jeff. Delicious otherwise though. Cost: I think this one was somewhere around $100 USD, but with a nice St. Felicien Cab.

    This next one gets its own paragraph … The 9-course tasting menu at Tomo I: OMG. OMG. OMG. We’ve dined at some really nice, Michelin-starred places, and have happily eaten our way through France and Italy. Tomo I’s tasting menu shot it into our Top 3 meals of our life. It was simply superb, just inceredible. Only 1 course was a little “less than” amazing, and that was probably more a matter of taste because the preparation was flawless. I can’t say enough good things about Tomo I. Really. The baby squid course will live in my memory forever. I think I enjoyed myself more here than at Alinea in Chicago, though when you get into that upper echelon of dining, it’s hard to decide what’s really “better” than anything else. The wine was an Alta Merlot by Angelica Zapata, with a complimentary glass of champagne provided for the opening courses. Cost: $330 USD. Expensive, yes. But a lot of that was the wine, because the tasting menu itself was 520 pesos each or about $240 USD for both of us. For the same dining experience – tasting menu and excellent wine – in the US, you’d be looking at a bill of $750-1000. Tomo I beat Eleven Madison Park and Gordon Ramsay in NYC by a long shot.

    We ordered delivery from BuenosAiresDelivery.com one night when Will was having a cranky day and we didn’t feel like going out to eat and dealing with keeping him happy during the meal. We had some good pasta and chicken from Anastasia in Recoleta. Another time, we ordered some empanadas from Cesare which were delicious. Actually this website proved most useful for those nights when we left Will with the babysitter and wanted something more substantial than a Disco ham and cheese sandwich for him. He got Cesare pizza, empanadas, etc., all of which were delivered promptly, were amazingly cheap, and smelled and tasted really good. We took advantage of Volta’s delivery service, too, but more on helado in a minute.

    Our last night’s dinner was at Puratierra in Belgrano. We were fortunate to even get to eat here at all. Our babysitter, who’d been so good with Will and had kept him twice for us before, cancelled on us ONE HOUR before she was due to show up. By email. The reservation at Puratierra was therefore cancelled, and I scrambled to try to find another sitter. Luckily my backup sitter was available on super-short notice (we paid her verrry well, of course, for dropping everything to come right over to keep Will) and we went to Puratierra anyway. 45 minutes late, and now with no reservation, but one wasn’t necessary anyhow. It was unfortunately a disappointment. The food was good, solid, but a bit disjointed and, we felt, overly ambitious. They tried complex flavor profiles that didn’t quite work for us. The bill, with a Luigi Bosca Reserva Cab, was about $125 USD. Jeff’s sweetbread appetizer was excellent, but every other course fell a bit short. In retrospect, we both agreed we should have gone back to Tomo I and not ordered the tasting menu or a very expensive wine, and we would have been much happier. It was nice to see a new area though, albeit at night and from a taxi’s windows, and the dining room at Puratierra is simply gorgeous – sleek, SEXY, sophisticated, just beautiful.

    Helado: We sampled from Volta, Freddo, Persicco, and Arkakao. Of these, Persicco was our hands-down favorite. Volta had good flavors, but it was too sweet for our tastes. Freddo was decent, but kind of like the Baskin Robbins of BA. Solid but nothing to write home about. Persicco had rather snooty service and the portions were tiny and expensive, but the helado was out-of-this-world good, especially the crèma de coco (coconut), mousse de maracuya (passionfruit), durazno y naranja (peach and orange) and chocolate amargo (intense, dark chocolate). Arkakao was good, but we still preferred Persicco. The pistachio was quite good, but verrrry intensely nutty, like peanut butter only with pistachios. Some may love it for precisely this reason, but I liked the pistachio ice creams I’ve had at Berthillon in Paris and in gelato places in Italy better. Speaking of Berthillon: it’s still #1 in my book, but the fact remains that BA has some fantastic helado and there really isn’t much to complain about when it’s all quite a bit better than I’ve ever had in the US! It’s splitting hairs when you get into those upper ranks of any sort of food.

    Other foods: I tried a choripan at the Feria Recoleta. Can’t say I’d want another one from that particular vendor, at least. Really good flavor, I’ll say that, but SO gristle-y and chewy that my jaw was aching at the end, and I had to discreetly remove some from my mouth into a napkin because it just wasn’t chewable. Dulce de leche: we bought La Salamandra from Disco. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of the stuff. I love caramel, but I guess not caramel made from sweetened condensed milk. Havanna Alfajores: Same thing. They’re okay, but I didn’t love them. BA has some of the best fruit juices and yogurts, though. I wish the US had more like that. We had Hugo juice that had peach nectar mixed with water and a little skim milk, which was delicious, and apple-pear juice and plum juice – all wonderful. The Greigo yogurt from La Serenissma was so freaking good, especially the strawberry flavor. Being able to get freshly-pressed orange juice at cafes and at the ferias was so nice, and delicious. Having so many passionfruit-flavored things available was also nice. (Why don’t Americans like passionfruit more? You almost never see passionfruit flavored things in the states.) Pain au chocolates and croissants aux amandes from L’Epi, lunch at Tea Connection, coffee from La Biela, the Martinez chains, and random other small cafes. I won’t say we ate as well in BA as we do in Paris. For me, Paris is the alpha and omega foodie destination. But BA is definitely a place where a foodie can be quite happy.

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    The Apartment:

    I have to write a review of our apartment, offered by apartmentsinba.com (not apartmentsba), because I wasn’t able to find that many reviews of them online and I want to help future people who may wonder about them. I had no problems at all with the apartment agency – the people were friendly and helpful and totally above board. You gave a $1000 credit card authorization as the security/damage deposit, so no need for cash there, which was nice. You don’t have to pay anything to secure the reservation – they use a cc authorization to hold the reservation, and then you pay in USD cash when you arrive or, alternatively, with a credit card for a 10% higher fee.

    As for the apartment itself, the location couldn’t be beat. It was at 1965 Callao, apt 4G. On Callao just between Alvear and Posadas. Perfect location. A little street noise, yes, but not too bad, though YMMV with regard to how much street noise is problematic. Callao is pretty quiet after midnight anyhow, so if you went to bed early and woke up before 8am, it’d be no biggie at all. Unfortunately, Will’s schedule was later than that, so we did notice some that bothered us a bit, but again, it wasn’t bad, and this is an apartment where both bedrooms face the street. The master bedroom had those metal blackout binds that lower with the press of a button, and this helped somewhat. The apartment was huge, thoughtfully furnished with everything you could possibly need (dishes, iron and ironing board, VOIP phone for free international calls, hairdryer, etc.), and had “good bones” … incredibly high ceilings, nice lighting, inlaid hardwoods, floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves, an old wrought-iron elevator, etc. It was an apartment I would like to own myself, for sure, but I kept thinking about how much better I could make it if I owned it.

    The things that bothered me most were maintenance and cleanliness issues. The walls needed some patching; the bathroom faucet leaked terribly; the glass shower door’s seal was shot and let the floor flood (luckily there was a drain in the middle of the bathroom floor); the grout was stained brown and black (ew); and the hardwood floors, which looked so pretty and gleaming, were actually surprisingly dirty. Will walked around barefoot because he slips too much with socks on, and his feet would turn black within a few minutes of walking around. Our socks got similarly gross. Had we been planning on a longer stay, I would have either complained to the agency to get someone to come clean the apartment better, or I would have bought some supplies and cleaned it myself, as I once did for a very-well-reviewed VRBO apartment we rented in Paris.

    In short: if I had it to do over again, I’d probably go with BAhabitat or apartmentsba instead, because I feel like we would have had a cleaner apartment and they would have been able to provide us a crib so we didn’t have to bring our own pack and play for Will – which was a pain to bring with us. But we booked this trip only 2.5 months in advance, and all the apartments I really liked from those agencies were already taken. I did LOVE the location of this apartment, though, so I don’t know… maybe I’d choose it again if only they’d take better care of it.

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    The People

    Wow. The Portenos we encountered were generally kind, warm, and welcoming. With perhaps a couple of exceptions at Persicco, where I felt I was in France instead (though that’s not really fair to France, where knowing a fair amount of French has made us have very, very good experiences there, encountering much warmth and very little rudeness). It’s just that they had that attitude of doing me a favor for allowing me to experience the deliciousness they were privileged to offer.) Some Portenos were not so warm, but not cold either, just normal. But we encountered more warmth and kindness and generosity from the people of Buenos Aires than in just about any other place we’ve visited.

    I thought Scarlett might have been exaggerating just a teeny bit when she said Portenos would actually approach Will to touch and kiss him. When I was pregnant, I was told strangers would touch my belly, and I never received a single belly-touch. Jeff and I aren’t scary-looking and don’t scowl or anything, but we’ve never been ones to be approached by strangers very often. You can imagine where this is going: Portenos loved Will! Loved him! I can’t even tell you how often people smiled at us, at him; how often they – in Spanish or English – told us how beautiful he is; how often they touched his head, leg, or cheeks. He got a few kisses here and there, too. Some examples: we were having coffee in a typical café with tightly-packed tables. An older gentleman came up to the cash register to pay, and I tried to move Will in his stroller, closer to the table to allow the man a bit more room to stand by the counter. He turned to us and said something in rapid-fire Spanish, then figured out we didn’t understand, and started speaking in English, telling us not to worry about Will being in the way, that little children are never in the way, that having his own grandchildren has been the best thing ever, that children are so precious and Will is so beautiful, and is he our only child? So kind and such a nice interaction.

    A lady in the grocery store stopped and put down her basket to kneel and talk to Will. In the airport, we were helped to skip the customs line and get priority treatment because we had a baby with us. People everywhere – everywhere – made silly faces, or played peek-a-boo with him, or literally squealed when they saw him. Will started getting wiggly and tired of being in his stroller when we were in line to pay for something once, so we bent down and picked him up, which brought him into view of the cashier for the first time, whose face completely changed in an instant to a delighted smile. She came out from behind the counter to talk to him, touch his head, and kiss his cheek. The airport security lady bent down to play with him while we were getting our luggage off the conveyer belt. It really made the ice-cold, humorless US customs agents and TSA workers look even more like automatons once we returned home. In Lopez Taibo, a beautiful man (Porteno of course) said, in Spanish, how much Will looked like us, and how perfect he was – and then found someone to translate for us.

    So yes, Portenos love children, and Will got TONS of attention. While Portenos look very European and have plenty of natural blondes in their midst, I didn’t ever see another baby there with hair as shock-white-blond as Will’s so he attracted even more attention for that. It got ruffled and patted and exclaimed upon a lot. Each day, there was a little act of grace, of kindness, to us. A little surprise interaction that made our day. Even people who weren’t particularly warm to us –like a somewhat chilly waiter at the café in El Ateneo – brought smiles and a special little plate of cookies for Will. Unasked, waiters brought straws and water for him, extra napkins or plates, etc.

    So if you’re thinking of bringing kids to BA, know this: the flights may be hell. They may be terrible. They are long. But once you are in BA, you will be amazed at the reception your children get, and you, for merely having had your children. If only US cities were so welcoming, gracious, and understanding towards parents and kids!

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    Miscellaneous:

    The weather was so perfect for our stay. 70-77 degree highs with a nice breeze; cooler at night. Blue skies every day, birds chirping, flowers blooming. I wish I’d gotten to see the jacarandas at their peak, but the few I saw were beautiful, though sparse. It only rained briefly, on one day, while we visited the Recoleta Cemetary, and even that was sort of apropos.

    Speaking of Recoleta Cemetery: I forgot to mention it in the “things we did” section above. It has to be one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. Some of the tombs are immaculately kept. Some even had fresh flowers inside them. There was a funeral going on while we were there. Other tombs have been left to decay. Broken glass, vines crawling inside… it’s beautiful in a decay-is-beautiful sort of way, but also sad. Clearly these people were wealthy and/or important enough to have a tomb in Recoleta Cemetery, but either there was no provision made for its perpetual upkeep, or there simply aren’t any family members who want or can afford to maintain the tombs. Beautiful, beautiful place though.

    Conclusion:

    What more can I say? It was difficult, a little crazy, tiring beyond words, thrilling, wonderful, amazing, worthwhile, and educational. We’re so happy to have gone (and - barely - lived to tell the tale!).

    Thanks to everyone on Fodors and TA – AVRooster, Sandra, TravelbugA2, MichelleMarie, drdawggy, Scarlett, Marnie, Ricardo, sockhopper, veritas, and ALL THE OTHER posters I know I am forgetting but to whom I am immensely grateful – for helping us to create a memorable trip.

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    Oh one more thing (ha)...

    Prices and Paying in USD:

    BA isn't exactly a cheap destination anymore. Some things, like taxi rides - even after the recent hike, leather goods, and wine are still incredible values. Some restaurants, like Tomo I, though expensive, are also a great value because you'd pay so much more in the US for the same quality. But, some restaurants are comparable with US prices for similar quality, and groceries are quite expensive, at least in the Disco store in Recoleta.

    We think that a big part of this is where we were staying - in the nicest part of Recoleta. I'm sure there are much more affordable stores and things in Palermo Soho, etc. But as it was, we'd pass shop windows full of beautiful shoes, handbags, bedding, home decor items, etc. I could have filled 5 suitcases with all the beautiful things I loved, but I simply couldn't afford any of it. I saw a pair of leather baby sandals I would have liked to have gotten for Will, but they were $50 US.

    As for paying in pesos vs USD, we didn't find USD to be all that useful. Most places wouldn't accept USD, and of those that did, they offered pretty bad rates - 4.00 (what the heck?), 4.15, 4.20, and 4.30. When the official rate was hovering around 4.28 and the blue market rate was anywhere from 4.6 to 4.8, you can see why we often just paid in pesos or with a credit card that offered no foreign exchange fee.

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    Hmm. I take back what I said about alfajores. We brought some home and I just tried the Havanna meringue-covered variety. Those are delicious! I then opened a chocolate covered one to give it a second chance, and I still hated it. The chocolate tastes smoky or something, but the meringue version is divine. YMMV.

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    Great report. I am wondering how on earth you wrote it with Will around!

    Your trip down brings back so many bad memories of our first really long plane trip with our son. He was very good but he just did not sleep. Coming from South America and going to Europe is often a 24 hr door to door operation. He was awake for all of it except the last hour in the taxi to Granny's. He went out like a light and could not be woken. Instead of a hug, Granny got snores and drools. Baby + jetlag = Babylag.

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    Thank you for the nice comments! I LOL'd at Huentetu's comment about how I was able to write it with Will around... Wouldn't you know it? He slept for 21 of the first 24 hours at home! Guess he was just a wee bit tired, eh? (Hmm. Maybe he should have slept on the plane!!!!)

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