Before we begin, a special shout out to Shannon from M/V Darwin who is a travel agent, does it for a living, and appears to enjoy it. I have been playing travel agent for the past two months, arranging our trip to Europe and it suuuuuuucccccckkkkkssss. Like big time. And I fully expect that because of my inexperience, our trip will be filled with missed connections, lost tickets and other calamities due solely to my incompetence as a pretend travel agent. Which is why it was no surprise that at 0610 on June 25th, I got a phone call from Amtrak telling us our train to Philly had been cancelled and would I please call so that they could arrange alternate trains for us.
This is going to be great.
Let me back up a bit. When last we left you, we had finished a year on our boat, bought a small house, enrolled AJ back into school and Jan found a job as a school nurse so that we could have the summers off to travel. Two of the three of us have been very busy over the past year working/in school. I, on the other hand, have been ‘keeping my options open,’ or ‘taking care of the home-front,’ or ‘unemployed and laying around the house,’ depending on who you were asking. We decided that for this summer we would head off to Europe. Jan and I lived there for three years while I was stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany1, loved it, and now that AJ is old enough to remember and appreciate the trip, we figured it would be a great time to go. We also had a series of young women from Germany and France live with us (a year at a time) over seven years and they were all back home and it would be an opportunity to see as many of them as we could (and sponge off every one of them).
Perfect. Europe it is. Big hand wave at the map and we figured out that we would do 10 days in Germany, 10 in France, five in Barcelona (Spain) and, since we were in Barcelona, catch a cruise out of Barcelona to see some of Italy/France. Four days in Helsinki, Finland2, three days in Iceland, because we are flying Iceland air on the way home and why not? The past two months have been spent combing the internet to find cheap plane and train tickets, buy admission to museums and other instruments of torture for AJ, and plot our journey through Europe by spending as little money as possible. We are, after all, on a fixed budget and I really don’t want to get a job.
Fast forward to last week when AJ and Jan finished up from school and started ‘hanging around with’ me3 and we went into getting ready to leave mode.
Only this was the exact opposite from what we did two years ago. What I mean is when we moved aboard our boat we had sold our house; the only things we had to worry about were on the boat with us. Each day we could move, or not, as we saw fit. We could stay as long or as short at any place as we wanted and needed no reservations or tickets. The ultimate in flexibility. With the downside of the fact that we were driving our house with all our worldly possessions from point A to point B and if something happened (like say hitting a rock or encountering a sharknado), it happened to our house. Very bad.
This trip, on the other hand, is for a much shorter period of time, we are keeping our house (so have to stop everything while we are gone) and have to compete with every other person who wants to visit these famous sites. So we need tickets. Or reservations. Plus we need to get there and not by our own personal conveyance (boat). Nope–we have to travel by plane, train or car, none of which we own or control. Our ultimate flexibility is gone, replaced with a spreadsheet in excruciating detail about what train or plane to catch and what event we are doing on a particular day. Miss a connection? That will have some serious ripple effects across the rest of the trip.
So it was with no small amount of irony that I fielded the phone call from Mr. Amtrak telling us that our train was cancelled. The train that was taking us from our house to Philadelphia where we were catching the cheapest flight I could find to Berlin. Where we were starting our trip. Awesome. The good news is that this isn’t our first rodeo; Jan is famous for being the one in our family plagued by the airlines losing her luggage, so this is a blip on the radar. We aren’t freaking out. Yet.
A quick call and a very long period of time on hold and I talk to a nice man named Jim (I can tell by his name he is very intelligent) who gets us on a 10:30 train to philly….we will leave an hour earlier than planned. No problem! Except we haven’t actually packed. Don’t get me wrong–we are ready to leave, but we have made the decision that each of us is only bringing along one bag that can fit in the overhead bins on the cheap airlines; the max weight is 22 lbs and the max size is about the size of an oversized shoe box.4 We have the clothes laid out, but we figured we had plenty of time in the morning so didn’t actually get to putting clothes into the bag. Which we do. Very quickly. We weigh our suitcases and each one of them, according to our SUPER accurate, fifteen year old bathroom scale, is 20 pounds. Well under the max weight. Which is good–we have heard that if you exceed the max weight, you have to check bags and that would be bad.
The plan for the day is to catch the
11:30 10:30 train from BWI airport to Philly 30th street station. Once there we drag our bags onto another train to the airport. Then checkin at Aer Lingus (Gaelic for ‘cheap overseas flight’) which is scheduled to depart at 5:30ish for Dublin, hour and a half layover then onto Berlin for a 10am (Germany time) arrival. Then drag bags and (now) exhausted and jet-lagged rear ends onto a bus to the main train station, then walk to our hotel. Finally, we need to stay awake to adjust to the new time zone.
Plan is on track. We drop Lucky off at our neighbor’s house (where he will remain for seven weeks and who has the best neighbors in the world? We do): He isn’t making this trip and is unhappy about THAT, let me tell you. Then we get a ride to the Baltimore Washington (BWI) airport train station, where we find our train is delayed; like 90 minutes. For those of you who have never been to the BWI train station, it sounds like an actual place with facilities, but those ‘facilities’ are under construction and we got the pleasure of sitting in the Maryland heat and humidity while waiting for our train. Which eventually arrives, fifteen minutes AFTER our originally scheduled train, and it is packed. We schlep our bags through six cars until we find a seat. We sprawl out and an hour and twenty minutes later we are in Philly.
We grab lunch at the train station in a little cajun cafe which was some of the best food I’ve had outside of New Orleans, then Lyft to the airport. Our driver gave us the nickel tour of the city and when we arrived at the international terminal, he dropped us off at the side that didn’t say Aer Lingus (Gaelic for ‘small plane’). So we again had to schlep our bags, this time to the correct terminal and just that quickly his tip vanished into thin air. We check in for the flight and are asked for our carry on bags so they can be weighed. No problem, say we, because we weighed them at home. First bag on the scale and it tips the needle at 24 pounds. Two pounds over. Our heart rates begin to accelerate. Second one? Also at 24 pounds and we are cursing our crappy bathroom scale. The third bag clocks in at 22.5 pounds and the guy gives us a break and waves us through!
Aer Lingus, loosely translated from Gaelic, means ‘too cheap for Air Conditioning.’ We get into our small seats with no legroom on an overcrowded plane and there is no A/C circulating through the cabin. It is smoking hot inside, and Jan is about to pass out. The only thing keeping her from tipping over into heat exhaustion is the screaming baby girl directly behind her. This can’t possibly get any better. Well–perhaps if we are hit by a screaming case of the trots–that would make this a remarkable flight! Next stop? Ireland and then Germany.
1 Well, Jan lived there for three years. I had the opportunity to do ‘extensive travel’ with a couple thousand of my closest friends and we headed off to Iraq for a 15 month whirlwind, mad-cap filled adventure.
2 Which, it turns out, is way the hell away from ANYTHING! Other than the north pole.
3 You could change ‘hanging out with’ to ‘annoying the crap out of’ if you wanted.
4 Seems a bit drastic that we are going to be gone seven weeks with only a carry on each, but we lived for a year wearing essentially two t-shirts and two shorts and a sandals/flip-flops. We can do this.