Oh What a Journey!

For months leading up to our trip to Amsterdam and Paris, the common question I was asked most frequently was "So what are you doing with Natasha while you're gone?" I guess friends and family felt we were being overly ambitious to take a toddler on a 20 hr flight (including layovers/wait times) and then spend another day travelling by train to Amsterdam. They were not the only ones. My husband also was much opposed to the idea, but I was determined to see the Eiffel Tower and visit Paris, so I ignored everyone else and figured "How bad an it be??" My other thought was "What? Are we going to wait until she's 15 yrs old before we ever travel again?" Whenever anyone ever asks me if I regret anything, my answer is always "I wish we would have had the money to travel more before we had Natasha. So now that we do have the ability to travel I'm not going to prevent myself from visiting cool parts of the world just because I have a 2 yr old.

The first leg of the journey was well timed. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare and after a 20 mins wait to get through customs (and Owen's carry on being swabbed. No idea what was up with that?) We made it to our gate where Natasha spent the rest of the 2hr wait playing with a play structure. As luck would have it, our flight to Montreal departed at 12:40 and while I was holding Natasha for take off, she fell asleep for about 1.5 hrs. The rest of the flight was uneventful as she watched "The Backyardigans" on the tv. I was also happy, that even though Owen missed out on First/Executive class for bringing along his spouse, Total did pre-pay for our meal. I know, it's a small thing but it made me happy.

We made it into Montreal with 15 mins to spare to get to our Gate. Now if any part of the journey was going to be difficult, I figured this would be it. The flight was 6hrs, and even though it was overnight, I did not 'assume' like Owen did that she'd sleep most of it. Naptimes she is great. You put her in her crib at 1pm, she's asleep in 10 mins. For bedtime she lays up there and talks/babbles for 20-30 mins. Luckily she did not fuss much and eventually did fall asleep on Owen. Of course it was at this time that the guy in the window seat decided he had to go to the bathroom(he requested to move to free up the seat for us but the plane was 100% full). She had just fallen asleep so was not sleeping too deeply, but we somehow managed to get up without waking her and let him out. He was nice enough to spend some time at the back of the plane before returning to his seat. It was a only a brief sleep, but she was still tantrum free when she woke up for the rest of the flight to Paris.

We arrived in Paris around 8.30am the following morning, tired, but still having a day of travel left. We left the airport terminal and went down to the train terminals where we had a 3.5 hr wait for our first train to Brussels. This is where our "fun" and challenges of the trip began. By this time, I was exhausted (neither Owen nor I can sleep on planes so we'd been awake for about 24hrs by this time) and it was cold from the doors constantly opening and closing from other travellers using the trains. Well Owen was not cold but I was freezing, even with my jacket on.

We found our train/platform without any issues but 1 stop before Brussels we had to get off and change trains due to electrical problems with the one we were on. Luckily the women sitting across from me translated in English why everyone was leaving. So we disembark, walk across the platform and switch to the new train to Brussels. I'll also insert at this point that since finishing the flight portion of our trip we are now lugging around a Bugaboo Stroller (in the Bugaboo transport bag, which had wheels thank god), 1 over packed Jujube Prepared diaper bag, Owen's carry on, one HUGE ass suitcase, and then a small suitcase with Natasha's clothes. So each time we had to get on or off a train, we had to lug all this stuff with us. It's all self serve for loading/unloading.

Anyway, we arrive in Brussels, learn the first train to Amsterdam leaves in 30 mins and think "Great!". On the 2nd train to Brussels, Natasha did fall asleep on me. Owen and I were able to get my Beco carrier on me, and her in it (chest carry) without waking her, so now I'm lugging a 26lb toddler on me as well as 2 suitcases while Owen handled the carry ons and the stroller bag.

The train station in Brussels is like nothing I've seen before. There are 10 platforms, each of which, require you take the stairs up to them (or in our case an elevator) and each one has 2 different trains with 2 different destinations on either side of the platform. The trains themselves reminded me for some reason of Stephen King's Dark Tower series (Wastelands). They are super old looking and 90% of them are covered with Graffeti. Not only are the trains taking you, the tourist to Brussels and Amsterdam, they are also commuter trains for the general public. I just found it weird how "quickly" one could leave Paris and arrive in Amsterdam. I'd seen movies where ppl in England hop the train to spend the weekend in Paris, but the idea itself seemed completely out of the norm to me. Sure I can hop in my car and drive to the moutains, but this is just so different!

Now, it's in Brussels that everything falls apart. As we are waiting on the platform, exhuasted but happy that soon we will be on the last leg of our journey when an annoucement comes on, which we learn that our train will be 20 mins late due to "engine" trouble. While disappointing, we are still in good spirits, thinking, well that's fine, Natasha is still sleeping on me in the Beco, so she's good, even though we are practically falling asleep on our feet.

For those keeping wondering, we all got up at 7am on the 8th (wed.) and it's now 3.15pm on Thursday, so approximately 8am for our internal clocks. Natasha at this point has had approximately 3hrs of non-consecutive sleep when the norm for her is 3 hr naps daily plus 12hrs of sleep at night. So we pretty much knew if the train for Amsterdam did not show up before she woke up, we were in trouble for that leg of the journey. Oh fun!

After 20 mins another announcement was made that our train was still having "problems" and would be another 9 mins. I actually turned to Owen and that point and said "At this rate we are going to end up on the 4.15 Train". I was ready to burst so I went in search of a bathroom (I never did find one) and when I came back, the platform was empty. I asked Owen what had happened and he had no clue. :p In Paris, everything was announced in French, then English. In Brussels, they would announce in their official language, sometimes also french and occassionally English, but never all 3 with any consistency. French we could decipher, their language, not so much. :P

Anyway, Owen went and checked the times (tvs were in the long hallway that had exits to all the platforms) while I stayed with our baggage and came running up saying the next train (the 4.15) was on platform #20. We then proceeded to race to that platform and just made our train.

We became well loved a passengers during the 3 hr journey. /end sarcasm This train made 6 stops and really was more of a commuter train then one for travelling so there was no storage for our bags, which we crammed in to our seat area, taking up twice as much room. The other thing that endeared us to everyone was Natasha. In 3 hrs she had 5 tantrums. And not just your everyday lasts a few minutes tantrums. Full on red faced screeching at the top of her lungs for 10+ min tantrums. Fun eh? Poor little girl had had enough. She needed sleep (as did we all) and it was really tough to console her. Needless to say Owen and I got a few looks of judgement from other passengers. The thing is, we both knew she was over tired. No amount of holding, consoling was going to help. Not even her precious Cheddar Bunnies made her feel better. We just had to ride it out. So while we were so tired we pretty much blocked her out as she wailed, other ppl were not happy. :P Oh well. We would not have had to deal with such a full train or as many commuters had our 3.15 not had engine issues.

Thankfully, we arrived in Amsterdam at 7.30pm (1hr later then expected) and our B&B was a quick 10 min walk away. Well as quick as 10 mins can be when you are lugging a crap load of luggage. :p The only thing that really hit me while we were walking to our B&B was the amount of bike traffic! No wonder Morgan loves amsterdam, everyone cycles everywhere! Owen later on told me that everything is crammed in so close it much more efficient to cycle then take a car.

We found the B&B without issue, were greeted by the owners and made our way up narrow winding stairs (factoid: because of the crazy taxes, ppl build UP, creatig narrow apts/homes to avoid huge taxes, this results in super super narrow hallways and stairs) and I think all of us were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

Next: Amsterdam - The Bike mecca of the world :p
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