Sep 28, 2012

It Started With a Train to Germany

 We began our trip in Germany, in the Southern region known as Bavaria. Germany was all green rolling hills, picturesque hamlets, medieval towers, castles, pretzels, sausages, jagged alps, lederhosen, and that one particular old-timey font. It was quite enchanting.

Day 1: Here we are at the Amsterdam South Station, waiting for our train. 
Not surprisingly, only Mia's camera survived the entire trip. 

Awww, how cute. We hadn't even started fighting about directions yet. 

 Our first train: the high-speed to Berlin. 

On the train. We took three trains that day, and traveled for over 9 hours. I'm a big fan of train travel: free wi-fi, free bathrooms, everyone can move around, and someone else does the driving. Win-win. 

We stayed with a friend's mom in a small village close to Nuremberg. She offered us tickets to her neighborhood pool the next day, as well as the use of her car (always nice to stay with a mom). So she went to work, and we went swimming. All was going great so far, but that's not the way we roll on vacation, so Mia was good enough to slip and fall in the kiddie pool, knocking out half of a front tooth. When an ambulance pulled up with the sirens blaring, thanks to the pool staff who called for them, I was like, this is more like it. Because when we have minor medical issues, we like to call in the first responders whenever possible-- it's so much more ridiculous that way. So Mia got to take her first-ever ambulance ride, through the Bavarian countryside, while the EMT on board continuously checked Mia's vitals and valiantly pretended like it wasn't the most pointless thing ever. Really, it was a superb performance. 
EMT report: "This is entirely unnecessary." 

So, we arrive at a Dentist office, unknowingly right before they closed for the day. And amazingly enough, they did not think it could be fixed right then, but we were welcome to come back a few days later when they didn't have other things to do. Mark had followed the ambulance in the car, and as we went to leave, we realized that we had no idea where we were, how we got there, or how to get back to the place we were staying.  And our phones, which we had been relying on for GPS, were not working for reasons we hadn't figured out yet. We told the dentist that we were lost, helpless, stupid Americans, which he heartily agreed with but offered to help us anyway. And to his credit, he drove out to our little village, while we followed him.  If it weren't for him, we would probably still be driving around the German countryside to this day. Thankfully, we made it back without further incident, and Mia got to spend the rest of our trip with half of a front tooth. And that, my friends, is the proper way to start out a Bardsley vacation. 

After the tooth incident, it was time to get started with the boring-the-pants-off-of-the-kids segment of the vacation. We drove to Rothenberg, which is this perfectly preserved medieval town, complete with an intact city wall, a torture museum, and kitschy tourist shops. Actually, it's really cool. Seriously, we were totally smitten. Not the kids though. They want it to be known that they were utterly disinterested and not at all enjoying themselves, no matter how it much may have appeared that they enjoyed anything, especially the torture museum and the Night Watchman Tour. They assure you, those were the best worst.

See, what's not to love? 
It's a little bundle of German adorableness. 

Old city gate:

At the torture museum: 
All in favor of bringing back the pillory, say Aye.

Getting serious about sausage:

I discovered that my phone camera had a cartoon mode. So that made for a fun 10 minutes. 

In our cartoon universe, my kids love going to castles and museums.

On the train to Munich, showing off the tooth (hole). 

We made it to Munich, and quickly found our way to a fountain because we were positively melting...

We climbed a church tower...

We ate monstrous pretzels in the English Garden...

And then we literally ran through town for an hour trying to get to our rental car office before closing time. But thanks to a faulty map (provided by the Tourist Information office) and construction on the main Metro line through the city... well, let's just say if it was the Amazing Race, we would have been eliminated, and there would have been some choice footage of a female adult having a pretty decent meltdown. I admit, I'm having a hard time letting this go because not only do I live in a major European city where I use public transport all the time, but I've used the Metro in Paris and the Tube in London with very few problems. But Munich screwed me over. Well played, Munich Public Transportation. Well played. 
This is right after all the drama. See that look on my face? It's my "I'm going to frigging kill someone" look. And I don't use frigging lightly. Which leads to me to my Vacation Tip #1: if you ever want your kids to start behaving really well, just start freaking out yourself. It's amazing how quickly they will go from whining and complaining to cheerful and helpful. You're welcome.

OK, it's time to fly through some of these pictures. Next up, we went to Neuschwanstein Castle, rode a Gondola, went on a Toboggan course, and did Legoland. Legoland is still the kid's favorite part of the entire trip, despite the fact that it poured for 3 hours straight. 

Last day in Germany: On our way to the Frankfurt Airport, we stopped off in Ulm,
to climb the highest church tower in the world.
At the top. 

But this is what I want to draw your attention to.
  This is the view of the market square from the top of the tower. The quaint little pedestrian-only, no cars allowed, market square that just 30 minutes earlier we had been driving around on. Yes, it was the classic GPS snafu in which we ignored our better instincts and instead followed the directions from the pleasant computer voice with the British accent. The best part was when we were in the middle of arguing over how to indiscreetly make our exit, and a little old German lady knocked on my window, so I nonchalantly rolled down the window, and said "Yes?" She was quite nice, and at her urging we just drove right through an outdoor cafe (yes, right in between the tables), and out of the square. We found a place to park, and walked right back through the square as if we'd never been there before.
Then we bribed the kids to pose for this picture.

We finished the drive to the airport, the kids fought the entire way, and we hastily grabbed dinner from a gas station. But there are no pictures of any of that, so we can pretend none of it ever happened. 

Next up: We fly to Norway.

Sep 22, 2012

We Took 3 Kids Backpacking Through Europe for a Month

And nobody died.

Since neither of us went on the typical European backpacking trip in college, we thought it would be a blast to go 15 years later with our three kids, so we could enjoy more tantrums and less promiscuity and recreational drug use. And by backpacking, I mean that we all wore backpacks, and we were in Europe. However, we did hand-wash our clothes in our hotel rooms, so that college backpacker stench? Nailed it.

Here's the low down:
26 days
3 countries: Germany, Norway, and Portugal
5 backpacks
4 changes of clothes per person
13 different places of lodging, including:
1 friends' mom's house
1 motel
1 Gasthof
4 hotels
2 apartments
2 rooms in a private home
1 villa
and 2 pensaos
We traveled by:
3 airplanes
13 trains
2 rental cars
11 buses
5 metros
5 trams
2 funiculars
1 trolley
1 horse-drawn carriage
1 gondola
9 boats
4 rented bikes and a bike seat
1 taxi
1 toboggan course
and 1 ambulance
We ate at:
grocery stores
train stations
beach shacks
train cars
1 Burger King
1 McDonald's
1 7-11
1 mall food court
and 1 gas station
We went to:
4 castles
1 amusement park
3 towers
1 aquarium
5 museums
1 sculpture park
3 UNESCO world heritage sites
4 beaches
1 glacier
1 fjord
1 fort
and 1 tiny church

We took:
1 gazillion pictures (exact count)

Here is one of them:
Bergen, Norway

In fact, because Mark takes twice as many pictures as I do, and because we eventually refused to turn around and smile every 3 feet, this became the quintessential picture of the trip-- Mark's view of the rest of us walking away from him. We have so many pictures like this, I had to make a collage.
No, we're not stopping. Just take the freaking picture.

This was a trip of epic family togetherness. There was not much time that we were ever separated. For almost 4 weeks. It was in Germany about 5 days in when it dawned on us that it was going to be a LONG trip. I believe I captured that moment here:
Wait, how many more days? 

We eventually adjusted, somewhere in Norway. Either that or we went crazy. I don't know, you decide.
4 thumbs up for travel-induced hysteria!

Not that everything was smooth sailing after that. This picture was taken in Portugal, where I'm simultaneously dragging Nate behind me, yelling at Mia, and giving Sam the evil-eye with the back of my head. It's called multi-tasking.
Such sweet memories
As I was researching the trip, I noticed the term "slow traveling" come up quite a bit on travel websites and forums. I don't know anything about slow traveling, but I do now know quite a bit about the speed of traveling with children, which is exactly the opposite of whatever speed you want to be going. Everything will take three times as long as you think it's going to, especially when you have three starving, tired kids and you're at a restaurant waiting for your food to arrive. There will be a lot of stopping--so many impromptu stops at fountains, playgrounds, and any potential climbing structure. But you'll be speed walking through museums, and frantically sprinting through train stations to catch that last departure. "Just give me 5 minutes in this Visitor's Center, and I'll buy you ice cream," will be your bribe of choice. You will either be dragging a kid behind you, or running to grab the one who is walking in the tram tracks. Did you want to read that historic marker? Too bad, but you'll have plenty of time to read the graffiti in the bathrooms while you wait for another kid to go potty. I'd love to think of a term to describe this speed of travel. Bi-polar speed? Fartlek traveling? Whatever the case, it's an endearing, maddening pace of travel. 

So with all the varied pacing, and the family togetherness, and the adjusting, and trying to keep everyone alive and happy, or at the very least unhappy but not murdered, there is a certain amount of acceptance that you will be a spectacle most, if not all of the time. At one point, I was trying to get a very bored Sam to dance in the middle of a crowded plaza, and he refused. "Mom, people with think I'm an idiot!" So I started in on Nate, but he wasn't game either. "But Mom, people will know we're idiots!" Oh, don't worry kids, we're not fooling anyone. 
OK, everyone, just act normal.
We were gone long enough and were endlessly together enough that by the end, we had healed some old wounds, and created some new ones, had some good days and bad ones, had some fun,  had some non-fun, and mostly did a lot of laundry in hotel sinks. All against the backdrop of some incredible places. And in the next post I'll tell you all about it, with all those gazillions of pictures. In the meantime, here's one of my favorites:
We going in there?
P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney?