You know how sometimes, when people travel overseas, they return home and ‘delight’ their friends and family with unending tales of all they saw and did and how good it all was? I’m going to take the opposite approach and make you feel good about the fact that you did not venture overseas last week.
What happens when you take an infant and a preschooler to Germany in the middle of November to visit your mother? Well, unless you’re the kind of person who would be absolutely content to shell out a substantial sum of money in order to sit in a small-town apartment for a week (aka ‘do nothing’), odds are you’re going to have a few disasters on your hands.
Having traveled with one kid before, we scaled down our expectations and desires appropriately for this trip. We knew we probably wouldn’t sleep, see many museums or other tourist attractions, or be out late at night. We expected/hoped we’d be able to explore a little bit, have some delicious food and perhaps buy some Christmas gifts. It seemed possible.
But we were hopelessly misguided, apparently. We were in Germany for 6 days and 5 nights. During our stay we visited one museum for about 30 minutes, entered one cathedral and ate 4 restaurant meals, 3 of which were pretty awful. And thanks to an ‘all-time-high’ dollar to euro conversion rate, we avoided shopping like the plague.
Thus we returned exhausted, empty-handed and vowing to stay home for the rest of our lives. In the spirit of Dave Letterman, I offer you my top five list of ‘minor disasters’ encountered in Deutschland in order of occurrence.
1. Has anyone seen my mother: Due to conflicting sets of directions to our apartment outside of Freiburg, we decided to stop at the Tourist Information Office for help. My mom hopped out while we four stayed in the (running) car. Because Germany is not the most customer service oriented place, I was fully prepared to wait up to ten minutes for her return. But ten minutes turned into twenty and twenty into nearly thirty minutes. Sleeping children woke up and morphed into screaming children who had not eaten for several hours. It was also getting dark. Finally, fearing the worst, we pulled into a nearby alley and parked the car, deciding to wait a few more minutes before going to look for her. At last we spotted her walking toward the car. Before I could even utter a very annoyed ‘where have you BEEN,’ she started crying. Apparently she hadn’t made note of any landmarks and had gotten lost in the maze of streets by the building exit. She’d spent the last twenty minutes trying to find us without a cell phone or even knowing what kind of car we were driving. We continued on our journey with great merriment.
2. No dinner for you: It was after 5pm and dark by the time we reached our apartment in St Maergen. We had skipped lunch in an effort to avoid waking sleeping children, and were starving as a result. Once the owner had given us the key and showed us around, I immediately asked her if the tiny village had a grocery store or a restaurant. None of us had the mental or physical fortitude to endure any more time in the car, ruling out a jaunt down the mountain to Freiburg. Frau Bachmann gave us the names of the three restaurants and told us how to get there. They were all within walking distance, so we headed out into the snow in search of sustenance. The first restaurant we passed was closed. Frau Bachmann had thought it closed at 6pm and it was about 5.45pm at this point. Perhaps they had closed a little early? Next we found a tiny grocery store (think a 400 square feet convenience store). It closed at 6pm so we decided to grab a few provisions (yogurt, milk, cereal) for breakfast. We walked another block until we reached the restaurant she had identified as ‘the best.’ It was decidedly dark on the outside, but I assumed we were just at the wrong entrance and started walking around the building. I conferred with a local resident who confirmed there was only one entrance. After some deliberation she volunteered, ‘I think it is closed on Monday.’ Upon hearing this, Jason ran back to the grocery store to pick up some more provisions, while the rest of us, cold and hungry, continued on to the last restaurant. Naturally, it was also closed. Apparently Frau Bachmann had forgotten that one cannot get a restaurant meal in St Maergen on Mondays. As we walked away, Jason joined us to say the grocery store owner was more interested in closing his store for the night than making a little bit more money. Utterly crestfallen, we walked back to the apartment. On our way back we passed a drugstore where we were able to supplement our meager dinner of yogurt and muesli with canned soup, tiny bottles of red wine and a box of spaghetti with a packet of sauce. Yummy in my tummy indeed.
3. The Freiburg Collision: In a fancy but crowded food-court type place, Jason collided with a German woman and coffee was spilled all over both of them. Instead of exchanging apologies and parting ways, the woman demanded Jason’s address so she could send her dry cleaning bill to him. When she learned he was a tourist from the USA she insisted he give her 20 Euros ($30) on the spot. German hospitality….it’s legendary.
4. Buildings…what buildings: We decided to take a day trip to Basel, Switzerland since it’s only an hour from our apartment. En route to Basel, we planned to swing by the ‘Vitra Campus’ which has several buildings designed by architectural superstars. (Naturally the architect in the family was especially keen to see said buildings.) I dutifully checked the website for opening hours and directions to stave off any unpleasant surprises. Even so we arrived there at 10.15am and were informed that the buildings can only be viewed as part of a two-hour tour that starts at 12.00pm or 2.00pm. Furthermore, the ticket agent ‘kindly’ pointed out that the tour is not suitable for children. And so we drove on….perhaps we will just look at the pictures on the website.
5. Tempted by a train: By the time we finally made it to Basel on that fateful day, it was time to find a place to eat lunch….my least favorite thing to do. ‘What do you want?’ ‘I don’t know, what do you want to eat?’ ‘I don’t care.’ ‘It doesn’t matter to me.’ Terrific. The babe was starving so time was of the essence, even if it was still on the early side for the rest of Basel. Walking down a cobblestone alley, we spotted a cute restaurant. Jason crossed the alley with the little man to check out the menu, while my mom and I stayed on the sidewalk with the stroller and its ravenous occupant. While we waited, I checked out the surrounding area, seeing if there were any other restaurants to consider; observing the window displays of the Charles Vogele clothing store. Suddenly I hear Jason say ‘where is he?’, referring to the preschooler. Three words no mother wants to hear. I morphed into a frantic-but-hopeful-state within nanoseconds, scanning the immediate area, fully expecting to see his little blonde head. When I didn’t, I shifted into a molasses-paced dream-like state. Not comprehending, not sure what to do, surroundings blurring together….All I could think was ‘I didn’t have any premonition, any inkling that something bad was going to happen today.’ Finally I saw Jason emerging from the tram-line carrying a crying blonde boy. Apparently he desired a closer, unsupervised view of the passing tram while Jason was studying the menu and my mom and I were looking around. To quote the three year old, ‘I wanna go home.’ Me too, kid.