We had separate bookings for our flights to Germany and back, and from Germany to the U.S. and back, as that works out considerably less expensive than booking all the way from Cyprus to the U.S. and back. It also gives us the advantage of extra time in Germany to visit friends--just flying visits on the way out, but we'll have nine days in Germany on the way back home.
So Day 3 started with getting up at 5:30 to leave the house at 6:00, to get the train at 6:08. We got to the platform with all of our stuff at the same time the train did, but the rest of the day was characterized by hurry-up-and-wait. Four minutes to the airport train station in Düsseldorf, another 10 minutes or so walking through the train station and taking the Sky Train, and getting in line at the check-in counter...where once it was our turn, it took them over an hour to get us checked in. The system couldn't handle eight people and kept kicking everything out because it had been too long since it had started. We weren't very impressed. Also, we'd asked at the beginning whether to show the children's American or German passports and were told it didn't matter, so handed over the German ones, as the American ones of course have no residency permit in them. (For that matter, neither does mine, as my permanent residance visa is in my expired passport--it's still valid, I just didn't have it with me.) Once the attendant had nearly finished the check-in process, he discovered that the children don't have ESTA numbers...so had to go through it all again with the American passports after all. And then he was confused about why the children don't have visas in their U.S. passports...
Once that was finished, he told us to hurry to the gate, so the children and I started in the direction of security while Jörn headed in the opposite direction to take the booster seat to "special baggage" and met us at security. After half running through the airport to security, we had to wait in a long, slow line. Finished security, half ran to the gate, where we were told to wait at the entrance to go on the bus first with the children...and waited. Finally got on the plane...and then we REALLY waited. After quite some time, the captain announced that we'd be taking off late due to high winds in Amsterdam, but I was sure I hadn't heard the amount of time correctly, because it sounded like he said 45 minutes. However, after another long while, the announcement came that it wouldn't be 45 minutes after all, but an hour and 20 minutes.
In the end, I don't actually know when we took off, nor how long we were in the air. I just know that we'd boarded the plane not long after 8:00 and arrived in Amsterdam four hours later, although the flight is normally only 30 minutes. Amsterdam airport's average of 70 flights an hour had been reduced to 30 flights an hour, and the little city-hoppers were obviously lowest priority. Not being too optimistic about making our connection despite the planned two-hour layover and the hope that our connection would also be delayed, I sent a text to a friend in Cyprus asking her to send a Facebook message to Michaela, our friend in Minnesota, that we would probably be delayed. I didn't know if we'd have time in Amsterdam to contact anyone, so that way Michaela would at least be alerted to check the punctuality of our incoming flight.
Upon arrival in Amsterdam, we hurried off the plane in hopes of finding our transatlantic flight to be delayed...but it wasn't. Jörn got in line at the transfer desk for re-booking, while the children and I occupied ourselves in a rather nice waiting area that did claim to have "free public wi-fi", although I couldn't manage to get my computer to agree with that, and wasn't willing to pay €8.50 for 15 minutes. The children were actually amazing, considering that by this time we were pretty hungry (the flight attendants on the city-hopper had distributed all they had, which wasn't much, as they'd only expected us to be on the plane for 30 minutes, not four hours!) and that we had no idea what was happening next. For some reason, our Cypriot cell phone wouldn't make phone calls, but we were able to send texts, so I continued updating my friend Sue in Cyprus, and also texted friends of ours who live near Amsterdam.
While we were waiting, Marie tried out lots of ring tones on her new cell phone, which Helen enjoyed dancing to:
When they'd finished with us, they'd booked us onto the same flight 24 hours later and given us vouchers for a hotel, food, phone calls, and miles or money off KLM flights, all valid until August 2011! First of all, we went and had lunch, which we kept well within the limits of the vouchers by only drinking water, which was easy to do as they'd passed water bottles out to everyone various times while we were waiting. Then we went to the KLM service desk in the baggage claim area, intending to use the phone vouchers while we were there to call Sue in Cyprus and our friends near Amsterdam...but they didn't work with the phones within the baggage claim area. I could still text with Marie's cell phone, but still couldn't make phone calls. Sue hadn't heard back from Michaela, and by this time we were getting a little nervous that she might not see the messages before leaving for the airport. At the service desk we assigned a hotel (which included dinner and breakfast) and given seven "hotel kits". I'd hoped for at least a toothbrush and toothpaste, which they did include, as well as a great deal more:
The black bag at the top left contained: a t-shirt, deodarant, razor and shaving cream, hairbrush, toothbrush and toothpaste, moisturizing cream, laundry soap, and a pair of socks. It also had make-up remover, but I guess I'd already thrown that away before taking the photo. We didn't keep the razors, either, or much of the rest, but Katie was especially excited about the hairbrush and requested a photo of just that:
We used the t-shirts as nightshirts:
And as far as Helen was concerned, the most exciting thing about the hotel was the H's to be found all over the place:
Unfortunately, everything had taken so long that we no longer got to see our friends, although we were finally able to talk with Victor on the phone. He also was able to telephone Michaela, who had happily gotten Sue's message in time that we had missed our flight and would be coming 24 hours later, but as we didn't hear back from either Sue or Victor, we didn't know until arriving in Minneapolis that the messages had indeed gotten through!
Oh, and the shuttle bus to the airport was a bit of an adventure, too. The first one that came stopped, filled up, and left again--it only holds eight passengers, and there must have been dozens waiting just for this one hotel! While waiting for the next one, someone standing nearby spoke with us and said that she works at that hotel and would make sure we got on the next one, so when it arrived, she pushed forward and told the driver to let us on first. Another man who was waiting got pretty upset, saying that he'd been waiting for three buses and it wasn't fair, and called us "Asis" in German ("asocials"--in other words, the low-life of society) for having so many children. As we crowded into the bus (so much for only eight seats...I quickly got into the back row with Elisabeth in the sling and Marie, Helen, and Lukas all sat down with me, so that was five of us on a bench for three--we've fit our whole family in less space in other countries!), I counted heads and couldn't see Katie, so called up to Jörn, two rows ahead of me, "Where's Katie?" I expected an annoyed, "Stop panicking--she's right here!" but instead got, "I don't know--where is she?" The door was already closed, but out the window we saw Katie standing there calmly, not having noticed we were gone, and we shouted to the driver who opened the door again and let Katie in--allowing us to hear our fellow German strandee shout in German a sarastic, "Great father!"
Despite being finally the day of our transatlantic flight, this was our least eventful day, which we were more than happy to have! The flight left only a little late and arrived on time and nothing at all dramatic happened. We'd been given three seats in one row and one each in four other rows. Marie traded hers with a man who was going to be some 10 rows away from his wife and baby daughter, and she was quite happy to have a seat on her own, and with trading around, we managed to get three seats together behind the three seats we already had together. People don't mind at all trading when they realize that the alternative is sitting next to an unaccompanied two-year-old!
We had a couple of exciting surprises waiting for us in Minneapolis. First of all, Michaela and her children were there, and everybody laughed as she and I both called out at the same time, "They're here!" Michaela's friend Deanna was also there, to help drive us home--and to lend us her eight-passenger van for the time we're here! She has eight children herself and they spent 10 years on the mission field. It was amazing being welcomed like that, especially my someone we'd never even met. In addition to all of that, there was snow! After what felt like years of summer (really only about six or seven months...), snow was VERY welcome.
Our first night in the U.S. wasn't too bad. The older children had all gone to bed late enough that they actually slept all night, and Helen and Elisabeth were only awake for about two hours in the night, and Katie less than that. Actually, I think I'd be over jet-lag already now if it weren't for the little girls partying each night, but over-all, we're feeling considerably less sleep-deprived than usual.
After church on Sunday, we went to the home of an Indian couple from the church who had invited us to lunch and for Jörn to teach on prayer. It was a nice afternoon, with only one slightly dramatic incident, when Lukas and the piano collided. He claimed he was sitting still eating his lunch when he fell over against the piano...which was further away than Lukas is tall. In any case, we managed to create a butterfly bandage to hold the edges of the wound together and opted out of visiting the hospital. Which reminds me, I wanted to add steri-strips and/or butterfly bandages to my shopping list.
And now we're up to yesterday, Monday! We went back to David and Pramilla's house to meet with some more intecessors who were eager to hear more from Jörn, taking Lukas, Helen, Elisabeth, and Michaela's son Jeremy. I didn't want Lukas going out to play in the snow while we weren't home, with the hole in his forehead, and Jeremy came with us to keep Lukas company, which was much appreciated. We had lunch there again, and the big people had an enjoyable, lazy afternoon at home while the smaller people went in and out, playing in the snow.
This morning we all went out in the snow, although we took so long to find Helen's shoes that the older children were coming back in by the time Jörn, Michaela, the three little girls, and I were, going out.
I didn't actually end up playing IN the snow because of Elisabeth in the sling, but I did get to swing!
Katie and Helen also had fun at the playground:
The pink snowsuit that Elisabeth is wearing is a hand-me-down from a friend who is originally from Minnesota (and whose daughters are now 15 and 17), so I'm wondering if this is where the snowsuit was from in the first place. :-) (Leigh, if you read this, do you want to comment?)
I also had fun watching a squirrel:
And Helen was thrilled to find some more H's on the way home:
Once we were home, Helen added some more H's to her collection:
And now, although my computer thinks it's 12:25 a.m. on November 17th, it's only 4:25 p.m. on the 16th here, and I'm turning off the computer to enjoy the rest of the time we have with Michaela and her family! Tomorrow the adventure continues, as we head for California.