Friday, July 27, 2007

Flight to Switzerland

"I can not imagine all that is involved with moving a family to Switzerland!", I keep hearing.

You're right! You can't imagine!

I wish I could say "it all started with..." but that would be difficult to figure out where all this difficulty started, without going all the way back to when Stacy and I decided that this "would be a fun adventure." So I'll skip lots of details that I couldn't possibly cram in to 1.5 hours of typing, and start with the adventure of packing all the 62 million things we have into 24 pieces of luggage.

Our strategy of divvying up stuff takes one of eight paths:
  1. Stuff we won't need and was trashed at the old house
  2. Stuff we didn't want and was donated
  3. Stuff we needed, but not for two years, and was stored
  4. Stuff in my office, that I wouldn't need until I got to my new office in Switzerland, shipped from my office, by my company
  5. Stuff we needed, but not immediately, was shipped by sea
  6. Stuff we needed, and quickly, was shipped by air
  7. Stuff we needed upon arrival, but not during the flight, in checked luggage
  8. Stuff we needed on the flight, or while travelling, in carry-on baggage.
After many many hours of thankless calculation and preparation, Stacy decided that our journey would be accompanied by 24 bags. These are not the simple travel suitcases of years past. These were honkin' large huge suitcases. The airlines charge for overweight bags. We blew the weight limit on four of them, and paid the $200 for the privilege of not being able to pack light. We also paid the privilege of paying the sky cab $40 in handsome tips to put up with our mountain of luggage.

My mother visited us at the airport to send us off. The airport was surprisingly empty, and we zipped through security. We donated a bag of shampoo and toiletries to the TSA, who graciously accepted the donation. Apparently, that bag of shampoo was supposed to get put into a different piece of luggage, but somehow made it into the carry-ons.

At the gate, there was a helpful employee who insisted that the semi-mountain of carry-on luggage could be reduced, and gate-checked the luggage. This actually was a huge favor for us, and now Piet did not have to play the role of "beast of burden." I don't think Stacy was as thankful as I was.

On the flight, Joseph decided that he did not want a seatbelt, and fought gallantly against the oppression of being restrained. Joe is usually a very well-behaved child, but today, he would have none of it. We had one of those wonderful parenting experiences where everybody in earshot had a large dose of second-guessing our parenting skills. Originally, the seating was all along a long row of seats; four in the center section, two along the window, from left to right: Cecilia, Joey, Stacy, Josh, Then the two seats next to the window: Piet, Jake.

It probably was a mistake for Joey to sit between Cecilia and Stacy, since he is a daddy's boy after all. The fight for being seated didn't end until Joey ran out of energy to fight. Cecilia was quickly re-assigned to sit next to Jake, and Joe was to get the full attention of flying between Stacy and me. He managed to find several ways to escape from the belts, his most favorite being to slouch over, and slip out from under the seatbelt. This was remedied with my arm being planted firmly between his legs, as a sort of third strap, to keep him from sliding down to the floor. It was a pretty awful experience, and I wish the FDA would come out with some sort of "toddler chloroform" over the counter. We would be first in line to purchase that product.

The children were determined to not sleep on this flight. The flight departed out of Dulles at 8:05, and was to arrive in Munich at 10am the next morning, Munich time. I don't think the kids fell asleep until about 1 or 2:00 AM EDT. Jake got the most sleep. Stacy got a grand total of zero minutes of sleep. (If you thought she was grouchy before!)

We arrived in Munich on-time, and found our way to the Bern connection rather easily. There's nothing particularly interesting to note about that part of the trip.

The flight from Munich to Bern was in a Dash 8 the seatbelt saga was about to be replayed with Joey. I sat on the aisle, next to Joe, who was at the window. We were right inside the engine's mount and could clearly see the propeller. I waited until the last minute to hook up the seat belt. I got the straps long enough to get around him, but not too long as they wouldn't be any use; short enough to just get to him, and not fuss with the tightening.

"Look! Joey! A propeller! " The engines were starting up. I slipped the seatbelt around Joey's waist -- "click" Victory!

The flight was a lovely journey over mountains unlike which the children had never seen before. The in-flight snack was a bunch of cookies that Joey never ate, but found endless entertainment by stacking them into a tower.

We arrived in Bern, and there was no discussion between the Customs agent and me, but a mere hand-over of the passports, and we were on our way.

We counted up the luggage, and had a 100% success rate on luggage delivery. That is an incredible feat, as I have the absolute worst luck with luggage that you could imagine. I could wax eloquently on the dozen stories of lost luggage, shredded luggage, returned luggage; but this is about our relocation, and I wouldn't want to bore you with that! :)

We got a ride to the Ambassador Hotel by a shuttle, which cost us $65 USD, (quite a bargain, considering how many bags we were talking about). The kids immediately took to the stairs in the hotel lobby, and within a few minutes there was an injury. Joe fell down one step and got a blood blister on his right thumb, which Stacy managed to repair with hugs and wiped tears.

We checked in at about 2 PM, and had to find something to do to keep us awake for the next 5 or 6 hours. I found the hotel pool and gym.

The gym and pool were greeted with the sign, "Der Fitnessraum und das Schwimmbad sind keine Nacktzone!" Well that's too bad. "The fitness room and swim (bath) are not naked zones!" I guess the reason that sign was erected was because there were some nakedness incidents in the past. I can only wonder and imagine!

The whole family went to the pool, which was unlike any other pool I had seen before. This indoor pool was designed to have just the perfect water level, to be the same level as the floor surrounding it. The pool, when calm, looks as if it is a part of the flooring in the room. The design is quite well done, and I'll have to get a picture so you can see what I'm describing.

This tired and exhausted family of six really enjoyed the swim. Joey clung to me, and didn't want to have anything to do with Mommy. Jake splashed the two younger kids, who cried with each drop. We were unprepared for the drying with an inappropriate number of towels. By 1510, we were ready to get out and start searching for food.

We got a map, and set out for the center-city. We probably should have gotten better directions. We had a goal of getting to the city center in-mind, but started really going the wrong way. We headed toward the Titanic building, and missed our turn there. We should have gone right and headed across the bridge. Instead we headed down another block, and tried to connect with the bridge across the river. Unfortunately, we discovered that the bridge was about 100' higher than the banks of the river, and we had to double back.

The already-tired kids were pretty irritated with this walking. We took a short break at the COOP store nearby, and got some drinks. We headed across the bridge (past the Swiss version of the IRS building), and stopped along the bridge to watch the swimmers below.

In Bern, the raging river, the Aare, is flowing extremely rapidly. But there are no really dangerous things in this river that we would expect in our American rivers, like... obscene amounts of pollution, logs, bridge abutments, etc. The locals all jump into the river up-stream, and float down at what looks to be 10 or 15 mph, until they exit before the dams. It all looks quite fun, I have to admit. We peered down from the bridge to the swimmers below.

Actually, swimmer would imply that they were paddling, which they weren't. They were merely floating along a very fast racing river, fed by glaciers, so it had that blue hue to it that we don't see in Virginia.

The famished family started now really begging to go back to the Hotel. Stacy, with no sleep yet, very irritated at my inept navigation (we weren't lost, just not around anything we could identify as food). We headed down Jubilee street (Don't remember the actual name of the street), which was guarded by soldiers and police, and wasn't available for your average citizen to drive without being first confronted by a guard. We didn't know what this was about, so we just looked like we knew where we were going, and weren't accosted by the local guards.

We walked to the entrance of the "Tierpark" (which means zoo), and found an excellent pedestrian bridge that crossed the river. From the bridge, swimmers leaped into the water, or observers watched the swimmers zip along underneath, headed downriver (to the bridge where we first viewed the swimmers).

We found a restaurant, the Schoenau, which was on a street named the same. It was an Italian restaurant which was empty. It was empty because we were early, not because the restaurant didn't get any business. We sat, and they spoke no English. It's a good thing I can speak German! I relayed the pickyness of the children, and ordered boring kid-sized spaghetti for Josh and Cecilia. Jake was brave and tried the Wienerschnitzel mit Pomme Fritte. Stacy stuck with the adult sized Spaghetti. I also had the Wienerschnitzel.

Jake, as I had predicted, liked -- maybe loved the Wienerschnitzel. Cecilia refused to try any. Stacy stole some of mine. Josh later tried Jake's and decided he wanted a plate of his own. Joey slept in the baby-stoller the whole time. We ran out of our ability to stay awake, and headed back to the hotel after 200 CHF of dinner.

I remember getting back to the hotel, but not much after that. I put my head on the pillow and fell asleep shortly thereafter.

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