Saturday, December 29, 2012

Travel Log #1 Planes, Trains...und Autos

Right before we left for our "big trip," someone said to me, "You'll have so much fun. And even when you're not having fun, those crazy moments will make good stories and memories later on." I laughed because I knew she was right, and I knew we'd have a lot of those kind of memories by the time the trip was done. If the first two days are any indication, this trip will be jam-packed with such colorful stories.

I should back up and explain that we are usually the dream of traveling to Europe kind of people, but we never thought it would happen anytime soon. When Robbie's work told him a couple of weeks ago that they would fly him to Amsterdam to work for a week, and it would fall just before Miren's 2nd birthday (i.e. the date when we'd have to start buying a plane ticket for her too), we decided it was now...or 18 years from now.

It just so happened our dear friends, who recently moved back to Germany, were getting married at the end of December, and we have many friends in Sweden we've been dying to see, so we figured "Traveling with three small children in Europe is hard work? Pffft, let's just make a whole month of it."

Christmas morning - note sleeping head in the corner.
So back to the story. We ended up finding cheap tickets out on Christmas day, so we added to the chaos of trying to work and prepare for Christmas by squeezing in packing and booking hotels. By the time everything was ready for the trip and for Santa Claus, Robbie and I were running on an average of three hours of sleep a night for about a week. Robbie ended up sleeping through the kids opening presents (his comatose figure in the background of all our Christmas photos will be one of those aforementioned funny memories) and Miren didn't even want to open presents because she tried to stay up all night with us cleaning and packing.

Rough night.

Our brilliant plan with the airplane ride was that we would eat dinner, let the kids watch a movie, and then they would drift off to sleep for 5 or 6 hours since it was a red eye flight. We would arrive in Frankfurt, Germany at 8amlocal time and just force ourselves to stay awake until nap time in order to adjust to the new time zone. Well, the kids decided to ignore the plan completely. They stayed awake for all but the last hour of the flight, then had to be dragged bleary-eyed through the airport to the train station.
Ready for take off.

Miren takes notes on the emergency plan.

Frankfurt train station.
I have to say that as the world's greatest overpacker, I was pretty darn proud of myself for fitting a month's worth of stuff for 5 people into a medium-sized suitcase, a backpacking backpack, a diaper bag, and a small duffel full of shoes. Still, hauling all that - plus three children - through an airport, up and down about 40 elevators, on and off a train, and then walking several blocks to the hotel was enough to wear us all out. So brilliant plan be damned, we collapsed onto the beds at the hotel and proceeded to sleep for several hours.

Around midnight German time, we found ourselves awake again and ready to eat and play. Except that we could do neither. We ate leftover cold pizza and dried cereal, then decided we should walk around town in the dark and hope we weren't mugged. This may sound like bad parenting, but when you face the prospect of being trapped with rambunctious kids in a hotel room for 7 hours - after already being trapped in an airplane with them for 8 hours - desperation overcomes sanity.

We packed the kids into their snowsuits and were walking out the door when we heard a terrible sound....rain. It began to pour rain and since Rick Steves told us to buy umbrellas in Europe rather than waste suitcase space on them (damn you Rick Steves), we were once again trapped. Robbie made a desperate trip to a convenience store and found giant jugs of juice that smelled like gas and cigarettes with every sip, and we settled into a long night of watching German soap operas and yelling at the kids to stop jumping up and down. I really, really hope no one was below us.

Finally, at 6am, we decided it was a decent hour for taking showers and getting ready for breakfast. As soon as the breakfast buffet opened in the hotel lobby at 7am, we descended in all our noisy, ravenous glory.

Sunrise from our hotel.

After eating, we decided to let the kids get their energy out and see a little bit of Frankfurt by taking a walk. It was unseasonably warm outside, so we left our coats behind and walked down to the river. It was a beautiful walk and I was starting to think we finally had this travel thing conquered...which of course is an invitation for disaster. Halfway through the walk, the wind started blowing and the temperature dropped dramatically. The kids went from bouncing along happily, to shivering and whining. People walked by bundled up in their thick coats and shot us glances that said very clearly, "Bad parents."

We snapped a few pics at the river, then rushed back to the warmth of the hotel. By the time we got there, it was time to pack up and walk back to the train station for our trip to see friends in Dresden. Our plan to arrive in Dresden refreshed and adjusted to the time change had backfired horribly. On the walk to the train station, it became painfully obvious that the kids now thought it was time for bed despite the fact that it was only 11am. Our schedule was so screwed up by now, we weren't on Michigan OR German time. 

I will stop at this point since our trip to Dresden deserves a post of its own, and since there was no sense of one day versus another at this point anyway. I'll end with a picture of our short stint in Frankfurt. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that in traveling, as in life, it's not about how much fun you have. It's about taking pictures so that you remember it as fun later on.

                                                                   Auf Wiedersehen!

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