Because we shipped our van to Germany at the beginning of June, we decided that it would be best to rent a car for the duration of our stay and to get us to the airport. We didn't want to have to worry about finding someone to transport us and all of our stuff. We needed to drop off the car at 9 and then our flight left out of DFW at about noon. We debated and debated how best to do this -- in the end we all stuck together. Which means that things looked like this:
At 9 a.m. we pulled into the rental car lot and unloaded all our stuff. This totaled out to: 5 people, 5 suitcases weighing 50 lbs. each, 3 car seats, 5 stuffed backpacks, 1 carry on suitcase, 1 large purse, 3 stuffed animals, and a hamburger pillow (yes I'll explain that one!). Chopper had to go track down 2 carts to carry it all (which I can't stop calling trolleys -- thank you Harry Potter!)
We cart all of our stuff to the shuttle and load it all and then wonder why they don't have shuttles that will just load the cart? Because when we got to the airport we had to find more carts . . . yeesh.
At the airport we tried to get our boarding passes and check our luaggage outside and couldn't do it. By the way -- this was at 10 a.m. It took us an hour to do all of the above. So they get a guy to load it all on one cart and take it inside where we stand in a line for Delta Special Services. A very slow line because it's everyone with special problems. Like ourselves.
Our original travel plans included a flight to Minneapolis with a 45 minute layover, then a flight to Amsterdam with a 2 hour layover and a flight to Nuremberg. Leaving DFW at noon and arriving at Nuremberg about 9 a.m. the next day. Well the first flight was delayed an hour (thank you Texas thunderstorm!) so we automatically missed our 2nd flight so they were trying to find all new travel arrangements. We waited in line and then stood at the counter while they found new flights for an HOUR AND A HALF. Thank goodness for Shivers the pirate. And quite frankly -- my children were amazing.
Ok finally get our flights and then get through security (not bad actually) and on to the plane.
Now I don't know if this is standard or new but Delta now has screens in the back of every headrest with a variety of complimentary movies and tv shows and music and free earbuds. Thanks to some blogger out there, I had brought over the ear headphones for all the kids and they worked with the screens so our first flight the kids ate snacks and watched movies. Another side note -- also thanks to a blogger I had bought 3 boxes for fishing tackle (small ones for about $3.00 each) and filled them with a variety of snacks. The kids loved it and it lasted the entire trip.
Another note -- because of what had happened with our flights, we had no seats together. Delta told us that we would be able to switch with other people and get them together but they wouldn't switch them for us at the gate. So we were one of the first ones on the plane (family needing extra time) and had everyone sit in their assigned seats and waited for others to get on the plane. By the time we were all switched around, every single one of my kids was crying because they were sitting by themselves with strangers. It was awful. And no amount of assurance that we were changing things helped. Other fliers were very understanding but I should have been smarter and been the LAST people on the plane. Then we could have boarded and asked people to switch in the moment and we would have saved a lot of tears.
In the end it was a pretty good flight -- William had some issues but Chopper was sitting next to him so I was happy!!
We flew to Detroit and had about an hour before boarding for Amsterdam. In Detroit they did our seat assignments at the gate so we didn't have the same issues as before. We boarded about 7, and got off the ground. They handed out pillows, blankets (thinnest blankets EVER - bring a jacket) and did drinks and pretzels. Then they did dinner -- surprisingly good and plentiful and even though none of my kids ate the main entree, they all ate sides (salad, roll, crackers and cheese, shrimp?!?!?!?!). Then we turned everything off and made them go to sleep. Abby put on an eye mask and fell asleep fast and maybe got 4-5 hours. William slept well too. Megan took longer but she and I both got some as well and Chopper pretty much none. He has a hard time sleeping while traveling. Ok another side note -- I LOVED the neck pillows, Chopper hated it, and the kids didn't use them because they're small enough to curl up sideways and lay down. So we maybe carried around 5 of those things for nothing. In the "morning" (8 a.m. Amsterdam time but it felt like 2 a.m. for us), the flight attendants handed out a breakfast (yogurt, croissant, cheese and juice) and we landed in Amsterdam.
I think this airport is a major hub for flights coming in from the U.S. and also for flights into and out of Europe. Everything was in English although all announcements and signs were made in Dutch as well and then often in French and German. It felt just like a U.S. airport except for the languages around us and going through customs. We didn't know we would go through customs in Amsterdam so were unprepared and had to dig for passports and Chopper's orders but it wasn't a big deal and we didn't even have to declare anything. Then we spent the ENTIRE day there. We had an 8 hour layover. We found a science exploration play place for the kids and Chopper napped for a bit while I watched them play. Then we found some lunch and waited in our terminal until it was time for our flight to go.
William spent a LOT of time looking out the windows at the planes and all the vehicles that are used for various purposes. It was literally all the entertainment he needed!
Our flight out to Nuremberg was small so we road a bus onto the tarmac and walked up the steps into the plane. Again we had issues with seating and William screamed his head off that he didn't want to sit next to me so Chopper switched after which we took off and William promptly fell asleep and slept through the flight, the landing, the retrieval of luggage, and woke up for the drive home. He is heavy to carry when he's sleeping!!!!
When we arrived in Nuremberg, that's when I felt that we were in a foreign country. It's a small airport so it's all in German and it took some doing to figure out where we needed to be. All of our luggage arrived (yay!) and we were able to find our sponsor and a bathroom and then get on the road to Grafenwoehr where we were staying. Our sponsor (someone at the base you are traveling to that helps with the whole process) wanted to take us to dinner but the girls fell asleep in the car and would NOT wake up so we stopped for our first meal in Germany at McDonalds and I'm not sorry. It had been about 30 hours of travel and all of us wanted easy food and beds.
Driving through the German countryside was beautiful. It is green and hilly and trees everywhere and then you see villages nestled in those trees with typical German architecture. We are staying in some furnished apartments that I think we were lucky to get into and we walked in to a clean and inviting place with 2 bedrooms so we could get the kids down and unpack without waking them. It was awesome!!!
I don't think we'll be doing a massive flight like this with the kids for another 3 years (William will be 7 -- Hallelujah!!!) but I learned some things.
Snacks are good. And so are books and things to entertain but really what kept them entertained the most was electronic devices either provided by the airline (the screens in the seats) or by us. The kids hated carrying their backpacks because they were heavy and it was a pain to get the and their stuff on and off planes. But I also carried jackets and a change of clothes for each kid. Jackets they needed on the plane when they cooled down. Change of clothes we didn't!! William miraculously had NO ACCIDENTS. Seriously -- that's a miracle. Megan did throw up once but we got a bag under her in time but we had the clothes and even though we didn't use them, I wouldn't change that.
People are helpful and compassionate when you're traveling with kids -- especially if their flexibility means that your kids travel better and are less annoying!!
Card games and books to read out loud are a necessity!! When we sat waiting in the airports I read aloud to the girls a fun book called Shivers, The Pirate Who's Afraid of EVERYTHING by Annabeth Bondor-Stone and Connor White and it was perfect -- funny, interesting, lots of pictures. Even William enjoyed sitting and listening. The Chicken Squad by Doreen Cronin is also good. And actually I could go on and on with early chapter books that we love. I've taught the girls to play UNO (finally) and it's been a lifesaver as we wait in lines for everything on base and it just fits in my purse. And for travel, it saves the batteries on the devices. I highly recommend coming prepared and then using devices for backup instead of the other way around.
Now this week we've been getting over jet lag and getting things taken care of on base. We haven't been out much into the town yet but I still am falling in love with the country and place. I'm going to do a blog post about my first impressions but the kids are asking for lunch right now and this has been a long post anyway.