Friday, April 27, 2012

Ooh la la! Indeed

The thought of international travel alone with two children under the age of three causes me some anxiety. But there is apparently something magical about airports and planes with Gabriela and Lililan. They seriously morph into little angels with no desire other than to behave and do as I ask.

And this is why I am pleased to announce that we will be selling our home and moving into an airplane.

Just kidding. I think.

The trip over was quite smooth, except for the last 30 minutes or so.

It was our first time ever flying out of Peoria, and I love that airport now. Cedar Rapids and Moline are fine, but the free parking (right up close!) may have won my heart. Combine that with security personnel who did not open every little pouch of Plum Organics Baby Food (best snacks EVER as far as my kids are concerned...sucking pureed fruits and veggies from a pouch = great happiness) to test them for explosives, and I may never fly from anywhere else again! Not that I'm against airports preventing people from boarding with explosives, but I do take issue with opening sealed food pouches which then must be eaten OR REFRIGERATED. (Which is what has happened on previous flights!)

The girls were amazing on both the flight to Dallas and then to Paris. They each had a snack on our first flight and then took their afternoon naps. Once in Dallas, we made a mad dash for the children's play area for an hour before making our way to our gate.

Gabs has been especially pumped about this trip. She is finally old enough to be able to look forward to future events and she completely understood the whole concept of flying this time. Sitting on the plane, she kept telling me she wanted to "voa no ceu!" (fly in the sky). Earlier in the week, when I was telling her about all the fun things we were going to do on this trip, she nodded and agreed it would be a good time. And then she excitedly added, "E Bobbi vai ao vaso na aviao!" (And Bobbi is going to use the toilet on a plane!") So we made sure we did plenty of that too. I think I lost count after a dozen potty trips in the air. As a side note, Mamae does not share her enthusiasm for airplane lavatories.

Our flight to Paris was not without some excitement, lucky none that involved my offspring. An older gentleman starting having heart-attack symptoms a few hours into the flight. When the flight crew asked for any doctor on board to come to the back of the plane, I glanced at the map and noticed we were on the edge of the North America continent, about to begin the journey over the Atlantic. I knew at that point we would probably be landing soon.  Who decides to fly over the ocean for several hours with a possibly seriously ill passenger and no place to land?!?

The plane made a U-turn and after a while, we landed in Stephenville, Newfoundland, Canada where we were met by an ambulance and the gentleman was taken off the plane.  He seemed to be doing alright, and I overheard the doctor say he suspected his problems were actually related to dehydration.  I made a little tent over the girls with blankets, so the lights coming on wouldn't awake them.  Everyone who passed by during our 2+ hour stop got a kick out of them snoozing away through the whole ordeal - which all went down just a few rows behind us. 

Turns out, it's a little tricky landing a commercial airliner at a random airport.  We were going to land at an American Airlines-affiliated location, but they had freezing rain and ice.  So we re-routed elsewhere.  After the detour and an impending second take-off, we were going to need more fuel to make it to Paris.  After a fuel tanker finally arrived sometime about 2 am local time at an airport which was not open at the time, the captain had to figure out a way to pay the guy.  It was apparently a complicated situation involving AA corporate and someone reading off credit card numbers to the captain to relay to people on the ground.  All in all, we were 4 hours late arriving in Paris.  Which actually was great for my little people, since they got a solid 8 hours of sleep between supper and breakfast.  I, on the other hand, did not.  But as any mother will tell you, it is much better for mama to miss sleep than babies to lack sleep!

I knew all along that the trickiest part of the trip would be from baggage claim to the hotel in Paris.  Eric would be tied up at his conference, so I would have to drag my sleep-deprived self, two children, two backpacks, two rolling carry-ons, two carseats, a stroller, and 1 large checked bag all the way through the airport to our hotel - which was located within a different terminal from where we were arriving.  Luckily, I had a plan: LUGGAGE CART!  And was happily greeted by may happy rows of carts at the baggage claim.  It was still a little awkward, since I had to push the very over loaded cart, with Lilian attached to my body, manage Gabriela, and still drag an item or two behind me...but the seas of people parted and we managed just fine.

Unfortunately, our trip to the other terminal required getting on the train, there was no walkway.  And luggage carts are not allowed.  UGH! 

There was neither time nor space to be photographing my solution, so I will try to describe it as best I can:
I put Lilian in her carseat and had it strapped to one of the rolling carry-ons (thank you Travelling Toddler strap!). 
I had my backpack on and made Gabriela carry hers on her back.
I used a luggage strap to attach the second rolling carry-on (with 2nd carseat attached) to the large checked bag.
Then I laid the folded stroller over the top of the train I just created.
I pushed Lilian's set-up with one hand in front of me and pulled the long train (of suitcases, carseat, and stroller) behind me with the other hand, and had Gabs grab hold to a piece of something somewhere, so she wouldn't be lost in the shuffle.

We made it into the elevator and down to the platform with some ease, although graceful it was not!

The train was sitting there when we arrived, so I chose a less-crowded car and started to enter it.


And then I am pretty sure I uttered something people often refer to as French.

I still had my long train of luggage to drag on, which wasn't going to fit straight in, and I needed to locate my eldest child to make sure her body wasn't about to be crushed by slamming train doors. As I half debated stepping back off and waiting for the next train, I imagined Lilian sitting in her carseat getting stuck inside and me standing helpless on the platform as the train sped away.  At that moment, a guy from inside the train quickly pulled Gabriela from the doorway inside the car.  Both kids on the train, I was definitely committed now.  So I nearly knocked down a couple folks as I, ever so not gracefully, pulled and twisted and shoved and got the rest of our belongings inside with us.  I also found out that the doors will, indeed, re-open when they hit a solid object.

My hair no doubt a mess, my entire body more than a little sweaty, and my teeth in dire need of a good brushing after our 21-hour journey from home to Paris, I spent the next two stops trying to ignore the combination of pity and disgust coming from the French passengers around me with their scarves, fancy boots, and perfectly arranged hair. 

At our stop, someone grabbed Gabriela's hand to lead her off and as I was maneuvering all our other stuff off, a middle-aged man grabbed the luggage train to try to help me.  And it would have been a great help.  Except he did not understand the finer intricacies of moving 150+ pounds of stuff with a suitcase on wheels.  He attempted to get the whole thing to rise up on the suitcase's wheels by yanking on the handle with the sort of force required when moving 150 pounds of stuff.

Problem was, suitcases (as I have learned from lots of travel with heavy loads) need a gentle touch.  They are not made to withstand the sort of abusive weights I make them carry.  You must speak nicely to them and never. ever. yank.

Or else you end up holding the handle of the suitcase in your hand.  And only the handle.

He felt badly, but obviously had other more pressing personal matters to attend to in the airport (like catching a plane or something.)  So I took the no-longer-attached-to-my-suitcase handle from him, assured him we were fine, and sent him on his way.

We eventually made it into the hotel lobby thanks to Gabriela's ability to push the stroller along for me (without even being able to see over the top!) and the kind assistance of a young Frenchman who helped us along the last 300 feet of the journey.

As I wheeled into the hotel lobby, Lilian lost it.  For the first time on the trip, Lilian decided she was tired, hungry, and in need of a diaper change.  And was none too happy about it.  She wailed as I left my heap of stuff, including kids behind me and walked to the reception desk.  Where the two Ibis employees surveyed the situation, turn around, and walked away. 

I think my French was getting better by the minute, as I am pretty sure I muttered some under my breath.

I waited over 5 minutes before they returned.  It was a long 5-minutes with Lilian crying, Gabriela petting her and saying, "It's okay, Yay-Yay, you're okay", and I tried to pretend that I didn't know the two short little curly-headed blond people 15 feet behind me.

No luggage cart, no bellhop, no one willing to help me haul my little motley crew to the elevator across the lobby, we hobbled along on our own.  Upon the reaching the 8th floor, I tossed everything out of the elevator and walked down the hall with the girls and a few of our bags.  My plan was to put the girls safely in the room and run back down the hall to grab the rest of our stuff.

What I didn't consider was that Lilian, who was still crying, would really freak out when I locked her in a strange place and walked away during the height of her distress.  Which would cause great distress for her sister.  Who would open up the door for her poor little begging sister.

As I came back around the corner with our bags approximately 14.3 seconds after I had shut the hotel door behind me, I was met by a member of the housekeeping staff exiting a room.  Her eyes got big at the sight in the hallway:

-Lilian running wildly down the hall in the opposite direction (which happened to be towards an open stairway)screaming, "MAMAAAAAAEEEE, MAMAAAAAAEEE" while bumping into walls in her tired, teary-eyed stupor.

-Gabriela running towards me yelling, "MAMAE, LILIAN SAIU!!!  NO YAY-YAY!  MAMAE!!!" (Mommy, Lilian got out! No Lilian! Mommy!"

-Me running down the hall dragging suitcases and carseats and yelling to Lilian that I am coming and to stop and not go to the stairs.

The poor little lady's shocked expression summed up my feelings exactly as she exclaimed, "OOH LA LA!"


Shelley said...

Oh my. Glad you made it thru.

Amanda said...

ROFLOL!!!!!!!!!! I pictured you with my minds eye the entire trip!!!!!!!!!!!!! So glad you made it safe and so glad that I thought to check your blog tonight so that I could get myself a good chuckle. I don’t mean to laugh at your pain but ooh la la that was hilarious!!!!!!!!!

Christy Anderson said...

Despite it all, you managed to keep your sense of humor. You are my hero! I hope the rest of your trip is fabulous. You deserve it!!

Anonymous said...

In 1941 the United States obtained rights to construct an air force base in the St. George’s Bay area of Newfoundland. The U.S. 76th Congress approved the 99 year lease and in April, 1941, construction began.
The air force base was originally referred to as Stephenville Air Base; however, it was renamed Ernest Harmon Air Force Base in June 23, 1948, in honour of Captain Ernest Emery Harmon. Harmon was a U.S. Army Corps ace who was killed in an air crash in 1933.
On September 1, 1943, the Newfoundland Base Command transferred control of the Harmon Field to the North Atlantic Wing, Air Transport Command. The base became a part of the Northeast Air Command in October, 1950. Then in April of 1957, the Strategic Air Command assumed control.
The mandate of the base was to maintain a tanker alert force and its capability to meet and refuel Strategic Air Command jet bombers on route to targets. The KC-97 was employed in this task. The base was also used as a refuelling stop for transatlantic military flights. In addition, Harmon supported three Air Defence Command units.
In 1957, the Canadian Department of Transportation constructed an air terminal building to accommodate Trans Canada Airlines. 1966 saw the closure of the U.S. Air Force Base in Stephenville. The airport is now owned and operated by a local airport authority.
Stephenville Airport was officially designated as an alternate in the Trans Oceanic Plane Stop (TOPS) program on July 23, 1970. On April 1, 1990, the airport was further designated for alternate use, fuelling only, by international scheduled air transport and for international general aviation regular use.
In recent years, Stephenville has become a favourite technical stop for international flights on route to Europe.

Rachel said...

Good job! This reminds me of my last trip home. And while I didn't fly there, we did drive over to visit family in Burlington, Iowa. Small world! I stumbled upon your blog and you live in the same town as my extended family!

Rod said...

Merry Xmas to all this beautiful family.

Anonymous said...

More updates please! Your blog is such a beautiful record of your wonderful family.