May 18, 2012: The Awful Day

I woke up at six thirty this morning and everyone was asleep so I showered and got dressed.  At seven I went out for a walk in Brugge alone.  Dominica and the girls really needed their sleep.  It gave me a great opportunity to see the town while it was still completely asleep – which was completely awesome.  I had a great walk and took 82 photos while I was out.

I got back to the hotel and got Dominica up.  We got packed up and then took turns getting breakfast at the hotel.  I went down first and ate then Dominica went down and ate.  That way the girls could just stay in the hotel room.  The breakfast was awesome.  Local breads with spreads.  Sounds basic but in Europe that is a seriously awesome meal.  Both Dominica and I could not get over how great the peanut butter was too.

We left our bags at the hotel and set out to see Brugge for a bit but by this time the town was wall to wall people.  A totally different place than the one that I was in just two hours before.  Brugge is mostly a tourist town and almost no one actually stays in town but comes in via car or train to see it so it is empty (and closed) in the morning and at night and only comes to life during the day.  Living there must be tough as almost nothing is open outside of business hours.

We missed our early train departures that we should have taken and had to go for an early afternoon train.  We needed the sleep but now we are rushed and we had thought that we would get to see Brugge but because of the crowds we can’t.  Yesterday was a big European holiday and one that is centered on Brugge so the crowds here are insane today as Europeans widely have today off and this is a big tourist destination for history, food and religion.  Bad timing on our part.

So we had to forgo the canal tour that we so wanted to take because the lines were too long.  That really sucked.  We managed to buy a print of the town that we liked but that was all that we had time for.  Then we had to run to the train station so that we would have time to make it.  A lost morning in every way.  Very foolish – mostly on my part.  I should have woken everyone up and made us leave on the 8am or 9am train.

So we went to the Brugge train station and got ourselves some frietes (fries) for Liesl and a fish sandwich and waffles for Dominica and I.    Awesome again.

We got the train off to Brussels and our day continued.

Arriving in Brussels we were again disgusted by the train station and the surrounds.  We were depressed that we had a long time to kill in Brussels but decided to head out and try to see the city rather than just sitting in the train station.  This was the mistake of epic proportions.  Leaving Brugge too late this morning was bad and put us under inappropriate pressure but that was minor.  What happened in Brussels is that we misread our train notes and thought that we had a much longer layover than we did so we should have been just sitting on the platform instead of trying to kill time looking around town.  Epic fail.

The walk around time was a huge waste anyway.  We stepped out into the city and after having a horrible time even managing to cross the street we discovered that the city is a dirty, nasty cesspool.  Not a city that we want to see.  Totally nasty in every way.  We quickly decided that we had no desire to be out in this city so we just went right back to the train station to just sit and wait.

It was when we got back to the train station that we realized what had happened and we had missed our train by twenty or thirty minutes.  So we went and found out about a train leaving for Liege so we raced for it only to have it pulling away as we got to the platform.  That was two missed trains already.

So we went and got information about yet another train.  So we went and waiting on the platform for it.  Again, this one going to Liege.  Liege is, unfortunately, a much slower path than the direct train to Cologne that we had wanted to take.  But we have to do what we have to do at this point.

We waited and waited and, at the last minute, the signage on the platform went blank.  At the same time Liesl had a potty emergency so Dominica went running with her to take her to a restroom.  So Dominica was having an asthma attack when they got back to the platform and it was then, with one minute to go until the train arrived, that she noticed that the sign, that we had been watching all along, had suddenly gone blank just a minute before the train was set to arrive.

We asked locals on the platform and they said that we were on the right platform.  So we figured that the signs were just broken.  But no, the locals were confused too.  So when our train pulled up to another platform we were really, really fortunate that Dominica saw it and was able to read that suddenly the information that had been on our sign was suddenly on the sign way, way over there.  I ran down the platform, told the person who had told us that we were on the right platform that the sign across the way read Liege and all of us sprinted for the escalators.

Normally we take the lifts (elevators for the Americans) because of the stroller and kids.  No time for that now.  I scooped up Liesl and we bolted.  I had Luciana on my front, a 50+ lbs backpack on my back and Liesl under my arm.  It was a bit crazy.

This train we actually managed to make.  That was almost our third missed train.  But we were still very much stressed out and exhausted by the time that we were on it.

The trip to Liege was okay and pretty fast.  Liege looks pretty nice and their train station is beautiful.  Not Antwerp beautiful but a new, modern open air train station with great light.

From Liege we got stuck on the slow moving milk train to Aachen.  The trip was, according to our lists, supposed to take thirteen minutes.  So we were really confused when it look well over an hour!  Who knows how many trains we missed in the interim while stuck on the ancient, slow moving milk train (so named as it stops in every little town everywhere.)

Once in Aachen our stress level went down a bit.  Aachen was our first stop in Germany and that meant moving to incredible safety and resources. Instead of ancient trains from the 1950s we had only new, modern top notch trains and no more incorrect track information.

In Aachen we caught the train to Cologne.  This part went okay but the problem that we ran into on DB was that the stops were so fast that we did not have time to do anything except grab the children and jump.  Someone even held the door open to keep the train from leaving to help us to get off.  When we got out of the train in Cologne we no more stepped off of the train when Dominica said “Where is your jacket?” but it was long gone.  There was no time to turn around.  So my new Old Navy fleece that I liked so much that is in the one vacation picture of me thus far… is gone forever.  That was my only jacket for this trip although at this point things are going to be a bit warmer than they were in the northern countries and today really highlights that we are carrying too much stuff so replacing it is definitely not a good idea.  But losing it after the awful day that we have been having did not help our stress levels at all.

From Cologne we caught the DB train to Koblenz which we suspected was going to be really quick but, in reality, took hours.  We had no idea.  We are moving so much more slowly than we had anticipated.  This was really stressful because the hotel locks up at eight and, in theory, we might not be able to get in!  So in addition to everything else, we are concerned that we might miss our hotel for the night.

To make us even more stressed, the awful Android phone that we are stuck using is regularly losing Internet connectivity so we are not able to keep in contact with people, reach the hotel and check train schedules.  So we were out of contact much of the day today.  Not good.  We did finally reach the hotel and tell them that we were running very late and they said that they would stay for us.  Hopefully they have a good idea of just how late we will be.

Once in Koblenz we got off of DB and switched to the local Middle Rhein railroad which took us the last few stops, about twenty minutes.  Boy were we happy to be getting closer to Boppard.  Today has just been so long.

We got off the train in Boppard and a nice woman at the platform carried Liesl’s stroller all the way down the very long stairs as there was no lift at the station.  We had to walk from there to the hotel but it did not look like it would be far.

It was not far to the hotel but that didn’t matter since we missed our turn and walked way too far.  It started to rain and by the time that  we figured out what we had done our phone was dead so that we were getting no maps (which is why we had no idea where the turn was in the first place) and we were soaked.  We went to the police station but no one was there.  Luckily we passed a nice couple on the street who gave us directions.

We got to the hotel and it took a little bit before we were able to rouse anyone which really scared us as at this point it was really, really late and we were really worried that we were not going to get into the hotel tonight and I was under a lot of pressure as I was needed for work and I had not been online for the entire day.  I had been on Blackberry constantly all day (since my work Blackberry was still working the whole day) so it seemed like I was in the office and working and I had not missed any emails all day but it is Friday night and I am needed for the deployments and to help with the preparations for the disaster recovery test that we will be performing tomorrow.

We got into the hotel and they were so nice.  They got us right into our hotel room, set us up with WiFi so that I could get right to work and left all of the check in stuff until tomorrow.

After a really long, awful day it was a huge relief to be in a gorgeous little village on the Rhine that is full of nice, helpful people, feels as safe as anywhere on earth, is clean and easy to get around and into our cute little hotel with an awesome room with plenty of space including a perfect alcove for Liesl to sleep in and hang out in.  We will have a pack and play for Luciana in the morning too.  The hotel is in a perfect spot, too, being located right off of the pedestrian downtown area so that we can go from the hotel to pretty much anywhere in town that we would care about without needing to walk on sidewalks even.  The Rhine itself is only a few hundred feet away and “downtown” is even closer.  There is a grocery on the corner.  Pubs, restaurants, ice cream places, bakeries, pharmacies, ATM, other hotels and all kinds of shops all in a five minute walk.

I got set up and worked for several hours until three in the morning.  Dominica and Luciana snugged on a trundle bed tonight.  Luciana had another rough night as she just can’t sleep without having a pack and play.  We are hopeful that that will be fixed tomorrow.

Late in the evening, after I was all set at work, I went out for a quick walk through town in the hopes of finding us food.  One of the downsides of a small European village like this is that everything except for the bars is closed very early on.  There were plenty of places to get beer and wine but I found no restaurants.  I did not try the waterfront, however.  There was an ice cream (eiscafe) open but I did not think that hauling ice cream back to the hotel for the girls late at night made sense.

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