Saturday, December 29, 2012

Travel Log #2 On the road to Dresden

So in my last post we were arriving at the train station in Frankfurt to catch a train to Dresden. We were all exhausted, so I was grateful for the 6 hours of travel time to catch up on sleep. We got our tickets just as the train was pulling up, so we jumped on and searched for some seats. After a clumsy train trip the day before in which we had to put the kids and luggage on the train in several stages and then struggled to find a place to sit, we had ditched the umbrella stroller in favor of a sling. Despite our efforts to be more streamlined, this train was jam packed and completely chaotic. People shoved past the kids with little regard to their small size and everyone was yelling at each other in German in futile attempts to get to an empty seat.

Desperate, Robbie asked a railway worker if we had time to jump off and run down to another entrance rather than trying to fight our way through the crowded cars. He said, "Yes, of course," which is apparently German for "I dare you to try it, American idiots" because the moment we stepped off the train, the doors closed and off it went without us.

Emerson burst into tears, I started yelling at Robbie for his hare-brained idea to get off, Fionn repeatedly asked "We missed the train?" in his most anxious voice and Miren fell fast asleep in the sling. Basically we made a spectacle of ourselves all the way back down the platform to the information booth. Robbie and Fionn went to the desk to ask about the next train, leaving me with Emerson and Miren and all our luggage tucked against a wall. In a fit of exhaustion, and lacking any benches or seats within view, I plunked right down on the floor in the middle of our bags. Emerson sat down next to me, laid his head in my lap, and immediately fell fast asleep. A minute later, Robbie returned with Fionn, who sat down on the other side of me, laid his body across the duffel bag, and immediately fell asleep too.

So there we were, a heap of bags and sleeping children against a wall in the train station. I admit we looked pretty pathetic, but I was shocked when I realized that every single person walking by stared very openly at us...not with a look of pity or even amusement...but in complete horror. We have three noisy kids and two of them have bright white hair, so we are pretty used to being stared at. But crowds of people staring at us beat anything we have ever experienced. One man even walked by three of four times very slowly until I finally waved and he gave a funny smile and walked off.

We started giggling uncontrollably at the ridiculousness of the situation. Robbie suggested we put out a cup and collect spare change. A couple of policeman lingered nearby and I wondered if I was going to be arrested for the German version of child neglect. But it didn't matter how crazy we looked - we were trapped. When the kids are that tired, they cannot be moved, and even without all the luggage, we didn't have enough arms to carry three sleeping kids. We started debating whether to wake the kids for the next train in 20 minutes and risk screaming fits, or let them sleep for an hour and hope it would be enough rest to get on the 1pm train.

The decision was made for us when an older woman stopped and asked something in German. Robbie made it clear we were American and she laughed. "Of course you are American," she said, pointing to our sad pile. We tried to get out of her what was so offensive about our situation to German people - was it the idea of sitting on a dirty floor? Was it the public spectacle?

Her answer wasn't very helpful, "Germans would just never do this," she said dismissively. Then she began to tell us her life story in broken English. The many men she dated that brought her to America, her fallout with her grown son, the freedom she found after losing her husband, her ideas about the purpose of life. She explained that God had moved her to come talk to us and bring us a smile, so here she was. Finally, she wished us good luck and gave a warm farewell. We both laughed at some of the odd things she said, but our conversation was a reminder that sometimes the most interesting things happen in the midst of traveling disasters.

At that point, we had missed the first train and had to wait for the next one. When it finally came time to move the kids, I concocted a plan to buy them chocolate muffins and shove them in their faces the moment their eyes opened. I figured this would ease the pain of being woken up and abruptly moved.

I was wrong.

Emerson opened his eyes, dutifully stood up, and started walking. He didn't hear anything I said about the muffin because he wasn't actually awake. As we walked down the station, I glanced down and realized he was walking with his eyes closed, fast asleep again. Fionn didn't fare so well, unfortunately. He immediately started screaming and crying and had to be half-pushed, half-carried all the way to the platform. This time, we studied the maps of the different kinds of train cars and made a plan to dash to the family-friendly car right away. But when the train pulled up, our half-asleep, screaming crew moved so slowly that we ended up jumping onto the nearest car in desperation. Once again, we faced a wall of people and chaos.

After much haggling, we finally collapsed - all five of us - onto two open seats and fell fast asleep. Every once in a while, I would open my eyes and see a landscape of evergreen trees and quaint little towns fly by. I thought, "I should really be taking pictures and soaking this in." Then I would go back to sleep with my mouth wide open, vaguely aware that I was drooling in front of the entire train.


Several hours later, we woke up and got ready to jump off at Dresden central station. Our friend, Titus, came running down the platform to meet us and we exchanged grateful hugs. It was such a relief to see a friendly face and have someone who spoke German do the talking for us as we navigated picking up the car and checking into the hotel. Titus and Petra had chosen a beautiful hotel just a few blocks from their house, and they reserved an incredible suite for us on the top floor. I'm fairly certain they could have fit their entire wedding party into our suite alone.

Part of our suite.
View from the room.

After dropping off luggage and attempting to refresh ourselves, we met up with our friends and their extended family at a little Italian restaurant. Their son refused to speak English (I can't blame him - if I got a chance to move away from the US, I'd renounce my ties with it too), but regardless of the language barrier, the kids were happy to play with their old friend again.

The owner of the restaurant turned out to be an Italian man who lived in South Carolina for several years before marrying a German woman and moving to Dresden. When he found out we were American, he launched into an animated diatribe on the joys of shooting guns and southern hospitality. He also begged us not to move to Germany because he said people here were so uptight - with the exception of nude beaches.

"America is the best," he said confidently.

We didn't have the heart to tell him that the "shoot 'em up" kind of Americans were exactly the reason we would want to leave the country, so we just smiled and nodded politely.

Finally, we headed back to the hotel and successfully got the boys to sleep at a somewhat normal time. As we crawled into bed and passed out exhausted, I thought, "NOW we are back to normal. We can finally get this trip officially started after a good night's rest."

At which point, Miren made it clear that her snooze on the train was her bedtime and she had no intention of sleeping that night. At all.

I wanted to berate myself for thinking that it was a good idea to travel with three small children in the first place.Then I realized that even at home, Miren has bad nights like this. If I'm going to be permanently sleep-deprived, might as well do it in Germany.

Gute nacht!

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