You’re Kidding, Right?
The night before we left, we spent a miserable evening at a hotel near SFO. Vanessa wouldn’t go the eff to sleep and at one point she woke the baby and they were both crying. I was packing for what seemed like the billionth time after giving Tim a hard time about his surprise addition to the suitcases: a pair of huge snow boots filled with beer. This was after I reluctantly put a favorite sweater in the “stay pile.” And after my weeks of careful planning for what would fit in those small suitcases! “But I always bring beer when I go to Europe,” he said in his defense.
SFO to Philadelphia
Vanessa turned into Hell Child when we woke her up early for our flight. It included a six AM full body tantrum and much bargaining on our part. I felt bad for the other hotel guests. And then, too, when we strapped her into her car seat on the flight to Philadelphia, she screamed bloody murder. I’m sure everyone around us was cursing their luck. A toddler and a baby, why God, why? But Vanessa settled down and slept two of the five hours. Things were looking up.
At the Philadelphia airport we had a two hour layover. There was a play area so we let her do some running around. Zara missed it because she was napping. I ate a soggy Cesaer salad. Anthony Bordain would have cried.
Philadelphia to Munich
Our flight to Munich wasn’t very full and we got seated with a bassinet. Zara slept in the bassinet during dinner, which felt luxurious but she looked horrified to find herself out of my arms when she woke up. After that she screamed whenever I tried to slip her sleeping self into it.
A low point was when the passenger behind me, a feeble non-English speaking elderly man, accidentally dropped his backpack filled with rocks on my shoulder. Eh, guess I don’t really need use of my shoulder on this trip. Actually, truthfully, I cried a little it hurt so bad.
Tim would say the low point was when water ended up in his lap, which was my fault. When he stood up, it looked like he peed his pants. The seat cushion was wet, too, which sucked for him.
Vanessa was pretty quiet and mellow on the seven hour flight but finally fell asleep a half an hour before we landed. If you’re keeping track, that’s 2.5 hours of sleep during a 16 hour time period, 12 hours of it in the air. Not nearly enough for her.
We did our best to deal with the situation. Instead of putting Zara in the carrier, we put Vanessa in it with Tim carrying her. She managed to sleep through the transition. But that left me carrying three bags and a squirmy, heavy baby in my arms.
As we were landing in Munich we could see snow covering the ground and the pilot mentioned it was 11 F. What he didn’t mention was that when we got off the plane we’d be outside waiting for a bus to bring us to the terminal.
Getting off the plane, Tim struggled with sleeping Vanessa and her huge ass car seat while I waited for the stroller. Some airline employees indicated I was to wait near the exit door. They were so bundled up I could hardly see their faces.
There I was, winning a Parent of the Year award, with my infant wearing only a long sleeve onsie and pants. I pulled out the one winter coat I had on me, mine, and awkwardly wrapped Zara in it.
Tim had gone ahead because who wants to stand around carrying a two year old and that huge ass car seat, blocking the way of people exiting the plane? Tim was also winning a Parent of the Year award in his short sleeve shirt with Vanessa wearing some loose PJs that slid up to her knees, exposing her calves to the cold. As I waited for the stroller, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, some strollers being dumped near the buses, far far away from where I was standing. I hurried over to get ours.
In order to get the stroller, I had to step off a curb and onto solid ice. Please don’t let me fall and drop this slippery coat-wrapped baby I prayed as I slung my heavy bags and Zara into my left hip so I could retrieve our McClaren from an icy snake nest of strollers.
I wrapped a heavy blanket around Vanessa as we skipped the first bus leaving to the terminal. It was packed with passengers and had no room for all our stuff, let alone us. The second bus had plenty of room but it sat there waiting for ten minutes or so with the doors wide open. I cringed in shame and cold as people looked at us from under their fuzzy hats.
As soon as we got our checked bags, I pulled out coats and hats and we bundled up before leaving the airport. Despite my best attempts at packing light we still have two suitcases, a soft duffle bag for all the winter wear, two backpacks, an extra carry-on bag and the two car seats. It is only just barely possible for us to move everything at the same time.
Outside the Munich Airport, taxis stood idling in the freezing temperatures. All the taxis had icicles hanging from their bumpers.
We took a long taxi ride to the Munich train station while Vanessa continued to sleep. Tim had wanted to take some sort of public transportation to the train station but I nixed that in a hurry. There is a limit to what I can handle, after all.
Driving into Munich was interesting. At the outskirts of town I thought it looked kind of sans-serif, all function and no beauty. As we got deeper into the city, though, I changed my mind. There were boulevards lined thickly with bare trees, large pretty buildings painted a pale butter yellow, and hints of the Christmas season all around.
The Train Station
The Munich train station, unfortunately for us, is mostly open to the cold. We had a couple of hours to kill before our train to Slovenia, so Tim found us a warm restaurant tucked away in the back. The downside was having to schlep all our luggage down the long hall to get to it and then that uncomfortable moment when you figure out how to tuck it away so it’s not quite so conspicuous.
Luckily, the restaurant was welcoming and relaxed. We had an utterly delicious meal. Tim ordered white sausages that came in a large tureen of broth, with a fat salty soft pretzel on the side. I had a more traditional plate of eggs, potatoes and bacon. Vanessa surprised us with her hunger, scarfing down two of the three large sausages in the tureen. We were served a highly civilized pair of cappuccinos that came with glasses of water–why oh why don’t they do this in the U.S.? And Tim had a beer, of course.
While we were waiting, Tim took Vanessa out the back of the restaurant to see the snow that was blowing by. She hadn’t formally met snow before and she loved it. At least until she realized that it was her beloved snow that was causing her hands to freeze. Oh snow, you doubled-edged sword!
A Cold Version of Hell
Up until this point, things were going ok. We had some bumps in the road but had made the hardest part of the journey. I was pretty sure no one recognized us as the imbeciles from the airport.
Predictably, Zara, being hungry and exhausted, started to scream after breakfast. I was anxious to leave the restaurant ASAP. But that meant getting all our luggage and Vanessa out the door.
Vanessa has this unfortunate personality trait that causes her to fight riding in the stroller. When this occurs, Tim indulges her and carries her instead. But Tim can’t carry her and all the other stuff at the same time.
So we left the restaurant with our screaming baby, our uncooperative toddler and mountains of luggage. Vanessa started running off and I had to become the Mean Parent. As people watched her scream and fight, I forced her into the stroller. She was starting to unravel.
We made it to the train platforms amid throngs of people. Tim figured out which track we needed to be on and we once again transported our babies and stuff to where we guessed we should be. My experience with foreign trains is they aren’t particularly user-friendly to foreigners.
There was a biting wind and snow blew off the trains into our faces. A train was on track 14 and after a bit we loaded everybody/everything on it, but just in the little entryway. Tim wasn’t sure if it was the right spot or even if was the right train. He madly ran around trying to figure things out while I waited with the girls and luggage. Of course there were NO employees to be seen anywhere: it was way too cold to be outside, obviously.
A bunch of stressed and unfriendly people shoved by us as we waited for Tim. One guy said something in German to me while disdainfully gesturing at the stroller, as if I should get it out of his way. Yeah, sure, with the baby strapped to my chest, the three suitcases and two car seats and other miscellaneous bags, I’ll just get this stroller right out of your way, sir! Sorry about that!
Tim finally came back with the news that we were on the wrong train. A few people around us seemed to be saying, “Duh!” But it was the track listed on the marquee and the right time for our train, so we were utterly confused. We struggled off as someone told Tim he should look at the “Information” as if we were dumb.
It turns out our train was delayed by 20 minutes and that’s why the train going to Hamburg was in its spot. But that info was posted in small lettering, no English translation. Tim learned all this by talking to the youngest person he could find, correctly figuring they’d speak English.
Meanwhile, Vanessa had taken on the look of someone resigning themselves to freezing to death. Her glazed eyes stared vacantly out from her hood. She was silent and motionless, both ominous signs of you know Vanessa. I kept trying to tuck the blanket more tightly around her. And I started to have dark thoughts. Why am I doing this? I should never have agreed to the trip. No, don’t cry, that’ll just make things worse. Don’t cry.
At last, our train arrived and it was, for once, pretty clear which car we needed to get onto. We fought the crowds and got everything on board, stopping in another little entryway. Tim found our compartment, kicked some people out, and we settled into cozy seats. Vanessa had conked out in the stroller, either that or she froze to death, and Zara followed suit in the baby carrier.
The Train to Ljubljana
We took the six hour train ride through Germany and Austria as snow fell beautifully against the window. There was cold beer and hot tea, enough room on the seats for a nap, and at least half a day of not moving those heavy bags.
The scenery was as lovely as you could imagine, snow everywhere, adorable little alpine towns with their twinkling Christmas lights, frosty rivers rushing toward the sea. It was finally starting to feel like we were having fun.
Welcome to Slovenia!
The only trouble on the train ride was after we crossed into Slovenia. An older ticket master was unhappy to see the electronic ticket on Tim’s phone. This hadn’t been a problem the few other times our tickets had been checked. But we were in former Yugoslavia now and he didn’t even want to look at Tim’s phone. He angrily gestured for a paper ticket. “That’s ok in Austria,” he said in broken English, “but not Slovenia!” Vanessa, awake by now, sensed the tension and started crying. Luckily two things happened. A young ticket master, familiar with electronic tickets, brushed away the older man’s objections, saying, “It’s ok,” and we managed to find our paper tickets.
The last trouble was getting off in Ljubljana on a track far from the station. We needed to go under three tracks to get out. There were signs for elevators that you could reach by going downstairs. What is the point of elevators if you have to take stairs to reach them?
Due to Vanessa’s general uncooperation and an impending tantrum, we ended up having to leave some of our luggage out of sight while we got her down the stairs. I was torn between being haunted by that airport announcement admonishing you to never leave your bags unattended and hoping someone would steal them so we wouldn’t have to deal with them anymore.
Two more hauls with our luggage to and from a taxi got us to our hotel in the Old Town of Ljubljana. I have never been happier to see a bed. Now if we could only get the girls to sleep.