Better Late than Never!
After finally creating the blog-site and testing it by uploading one of Mia’s stories about snowboarding, it is time for me to describe the Grand European Adventure (GEA) with associated tiny New York side-track! So, here goes …
Dec 19th, 2013 – The Journey Commences
Thursday morning and Mark, Mia, Keenan and I are packed and waiting for our cab to the airport. Sadly, the cab is 40 minutes late so our leisurely trip to the airport becomes a stressful start to the trip. On top of that, my boot soles disintegrate inside the terminal and then we get stuck behind the family from Hell at the luggage drop-off counter. Who knew that one family could have so many pieces of luggage including boxes of cherries? Who knew that they would complain and make a fuss when told they were 120kg over their allowance and would have to pay extra?
Finally, we were aboard TG 476 to Bangkok. We settled in for our 10h flight, reading, watching movies, snoozing and generally filling in time. The kids were great with minimal complaints so all-in-all it was as pleasant a flight as could be hoped.
We arrived at Suvarnabumi International Airport, sailed through immigration and customs and got our shuttle to the Novotel airport hotel nearby. We checked in to two rooms – Mia and I shared one, Mark and Keenan the other. We headed to the pool for a quick dip but the chilly Bangkok winter (OK, it was 27C) and the chillier water soon sent us back to our rooms. We had a quick dinner then headed to bed hoping to sleep to get over the four hour time change.
Dec 20th, 2013 – Onward to Germany
Mia and I awoke at 3am, grrrr. We tried to sleep more and Mia suggested breakfast at 3.30am but I said we would wait for Mark and Keenan. At 6.30am we knocked on their door to find them asleep. They had had a perfect night’s sleep with no jet-lag at all. We had breakfast and lounged around in the hotel for a while before heading back to the airport for our flight to Frankfurt. Due to an oversight by our travel agent we had to pay departure tax and that required local currency and a separate office visit. Thai bureaucracy is not one of their best features. Finally we were aboard our 12h 15min flight to Frankfurt, departing 1pm and arriving 7.15pm plus 6 hour time difference. Again the kids were great. Mia slept for a few hours and Keenan fell asleep about three hours from landing and was still asleep after we arrived at the terminal so I had to carry him off the plane. Walking from the plane to immigration, Mia finally lost it and the frustration of many hours cooped up in a plane all came out in a crying, whingeing full-on tantrum. Perfect timing as we juggled hand luggage and a sleepy Keenan.
Even a friendly immigration lady asking Mia if she wanted to stamp her own passport didn’t brighten the mood. Nevertheless we got through the formalities and were met by a pre-ordered limousine driver who whisked us off to our car. A very wise decision given the state of everyone’s nerves! We got to the Holiday Inn Express hotel in downtown Frankfurt, near the train station, and settled in. It wasn’t luxurious but it did the job. Again, we had separate rooms, this time Keenan was in with me. We had a connecting door this time so it was easy to keep in touch. Once again, Mark and Keenan slept well and Mia and I didn’t. Mia obviously missed out on the sleep anywhere, anytime gene from Mark.
Dec 21st, 2013 – Tuebingen, we have arrived!
Due to issues around rental car availability at Stuttgart train station we had a bit of a complicated morning. We marched off to Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof with all of our luggage – 4 suitcases plus carry-on between us. We got the ICE train to Stuttgart which took about an hour and a half. We had a compartment on the train “just like in Harry Potter”. When we got to Stuttgart, we were met again by a driver who took us to Stuttgart airport to collect our rental car. As we were being joined later in the week by Krichelle and then Donna, we rented a people-mover – a seven seater Ford Galaxy. So, I had the joy of driving this monster (and a manual at that) on the wrong side of the road in a foreign city. Fortunately Mark’s fine use of the navigation system got us onto the B27 south and we were on our way to Tuebingen, our final destination and the site of Mark’s sabbatical. We arrived about 1pm to be met by Herr Winfried Epple, our landlord for our stay. He was a charming man who spoke good English and he showed us around our apartment, explaining how to use all the gadgets and where to find stuff in general.
He left us in peace and we unpacked a bit of our stuff with Mia and Keenan sharing one bedroom, and in fact sharing one (double) bed.
Then it was time to do some grocery shopping at the nearby Rewe supermarket where we discovered two important things – their hot chocolate is delicious, 5 stars from Mia; and my rusty German is crap. Still, we managed to get our groceries and get back home without loss of limbs, children or (much) dignity. We checked out the old town briefly in the afternoon but soon it was time for an early dinner and rest. Christmas and Mummy were on approach and preparations needed to be made.
Dec 22nd, 2013 – Christmas is in the air!
Today we decided to go into Stuttgart to check out the Christmas Markets. We drove out of Tuebingen and back onto the B27 and headed north. Before long we got a warning light on the dashboard – Motorstoerung! My German didn’t include that word and Mark’s symbolic parsing of the manual didn’t help. As we were approaching Stuttgart airport again, we diverted in there and went to the Europcar depot to ask. The guy looked at it and said “Kaputt!”. We hurriedly negotiated a new car but they only had a regular sedan – fine for us the next day or two but we needed the people mover once Krichelle and Donna arrived for our road-trip to Paris. The woman at the desk said she would scour the country to find us one by Boxing Day. Fingers crossed! So, in our new mid-sized automatic Volvo sedan we set off to Stuttgart.
We parked under the Art Gallery which was near the centre of the city, and emerged into a drizzly grey and cold day. We immediately took action and went to the art gallery cafe for lunch.