Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eight days in Germany

We got home to Cyprus yesterday, and people keep asking me about my sister's wedding and our time in Germany, since I didn't manage to blog anything else after Thanksgiving. I'm starting with the time in Germany, since those photos are quick and easy to sort, there not being many...

We left San Francisco on Sunday, December 5th, arriving in Amsterdam on Monday morning. The flight was slightly delayed, but still left us enough time to get our connection to Düsseldorf, if we didn't dawdle too much. However, after traipsing through what felt like the entire airport to get to the gate listed on the monitor, we discovered that our flight had been cancelled. One employee told us it was because of fog in Amsterdam (plenty of other flights were taking off, however), and another told us it was because of snow in Düsseldorf (but there wasn't that much and other flights were arriving), so we don't really know why, but in any case, the flight wasn't going. Our choices were to try to get on a much later flight, which was also possibly going to be cancelled and was already overbooked, or taking the train. We opted for the train--paid for by KLM, of course, but we had to schlepp our luggage ourselves.

Eight people, seven suitcases, two carseats, and nine carry-ons made it onto the first train without a problem, and switched to the second train in Utrecht without a problem. Both were very crowded and had no seats free, so Helen curled up in Elisabeth's car seat and Katie laid down on a suitcase and went to sleep:

These are the only photos we took after arriving in Europe...Our next train-change in Oberhausen also went well, and then we got off in Düsseldorf with a huge sigh of relief that we had almost arrived. We counted the children and the suitcases and started to head for the stairs when Jörn suddenly said, "Where's my back-pack?!" It was still on the ICE that was just pulling out of the station, on its way to Frankfurt. Which is why we didn't take any more photos--the camera was in the back-pack. As were the children's U.S. passports. (Their German passports and Jörn's and my passports were in my back-pack.) So instead of getting the next train to Eller, we went to report the lost bag. Finally took the local train to Eller, missed our stop, got off at the next one and took the train back one stop, and some six hours later than planned, arrived at the Es' house. One suitcase was packed for Cyprus, but the other six needed to be taken up to the fourth floor (fifth floor in American--Americans count the floors, Europeans count the flights of stairs). 69 steps. We had dinner with Johannes and Lisa (first floor, only 50 steps between their apartment and our rooms) and then collapsed into bed.

In my experience, the first night on jet-lag isn't generally too bad, because I'm so exhausted I just sleep. The problem this time was that Helen and Elisabeth had both slept during the they woke up around 1:30 and took turns being awake for the next seven hours. I think Katie joined them at some point, as well, but I'm a bit fuzzy on the details now. I just know that they were awake, and therefore, I was awake, but I sure didn't want to be.

Tuesday I was pretty much in zombie-mode, but we didn't have anything planned until the afternoon, so that was good. We all took the train to the C family's house in Angermund, where an hour or so later our friends Margaret and Phil picked up Elisabeth, Jörn, and me to go the 20-year celebration of Globe Europe in Hamminkeln. The original plan had been to borrow the Cs' car, but I was SO glad not to have to drive back that night. Jörn stayed in Hamminkeln for a conference, and Elisabeth and I returned to Angermund, where the children and I all spent the night.

At 11:00 Wednesday morning Jill woke us up and offered to get the children ready and let me sleep a bit more (as I'd been awake a lot with Helen and Elisabeth again), and I gladly accepted. What a wonderful friend! What a glorious 90 more minutes that I SLEPT!

In the afternoon I took Marie, Jacob, and Helen to the doctor, as they'd all been coughing non-stop and it seemed to be worse. Happily, they just had very active colds, and even happier, as we were about to leave the doctor's office I saw Inga, who had been my next-door neighbor for the three years I lived in Düsseldorf nearly 20 years ago. That was a cool surprise, although we could only talk for a minute or two, as she was on her way to an appointment.

And in the evening, the four younger children and I took Jill's car to Oberhausen to have dinner with Barbara and stay the night there, while Marie and Jacob stayed with the C family overnight. Barbara's daughter, Andrea, is staying with us in Cyprus at the moment, volunteering in a rest home, and it was fun talking on the phone with her from her house while she was in our house. :-)

Thursday morning Barbara kept Lukas, Katie, and Helen while I went to a doctor's appointment. (I haven't been too impressed with the gynocologists here in Cyprus...) There had been a lot of snow in the night and the streets weren't yet cleared, so I was going very slowly to begin with, and then when I braked ever so gently and still nearly rear-ended the car in front of me in the left-turn lane (there was happily nobody in the lane for going straight, and I managed to steer that way and miss the car by about half a meter), I slowed down even more and was half an hour late to my appointment. Then I rushed (streets were clear by this time!) back to Barbara's, threw our stuff and the children into the car, and drove back to Mülheim for the children's dental appointment, arriving nearly an hour late. (Marie and Jacob should have been there, too, but I figured that with their coughing, there wasn't much point, and the offer of the car was too good to pass up, but meant I could only take four children with me.) Katie had one tiny cavity on a loose baby tooth and Helen had no cavities, which was a relief, but Lukas had six. This was why I'd made sure to take them to the dentist while in Germany--last year I took him to a dentist here, who said that there wasn't any point in doing anything about cavities on baby teeth, and the one filling she put in fell out a few days later. And then she charged more than our German health insurance was willing to reimburse, too, so I wasn't too happy. I made this appointment way back in August--and this dentist is SO good, I didn't even have my choice of appointments in December! Anyway, Dr. K filled three of the cavities but said that the other three teeth really had to come out and referred us to an oral surgeon and said to say she had sent us and explain that we were only in Germany for a few more days. Of course, the other office had already closed for the day, but on Friday I was able to make an appointment for Monday.

Early Thursday afternoon we got back to the Cs' house and hung out for awhile, then went to Margaret and Phil's for half an hour or so before getting the train back to Eller, leaving Elisabeth's car seat at their house. (The car seat is the one we'd gotten for Marie and had used until we moved to Cyprus, but as we had more than one seat in that category--rear-facing for an infant and then front-facing until about age three--we left it with Phil and Margaret for their grandchildren. On our way to the U.S. in November we "borrowed" back our car seat, but have left it in Germany again.)

Back at the Es' house we were excited to have a letter from the Deutsche Bahn that Jörn's bag had been turned in and was waiting at Frankfurt main train station! I talked with Jörn on the phone that evening and we discussed possibilities of recovering it. Birgit, another friend at the conference in Hamminkeln, ended up offering to pick it up on Monday, as she would be nearby, and ship it to us with overnight express, as that seemed the safest (and least expensive way) to get it. She did do that, and it worked, and we were glad to be able to tell her that on the phone the next Tuesday evening just before her flight left from Franfurt for Lima, Peru.

Friday morning our friend Hildburg visited for a couple of hours, then in the afternoon we set out by train to Mülheim yet again, where the three younger children and I went to Mutter-Kind-Kreis ("mother-child-circle--a playgroup for children from birth to six years, that I attended for the eight years we lived in Mülheim) and the three older children went to Jungschar (a sort of junior youth group, ages six to 12.) The boys went to a gym and played soccer and the girls dressed up and modeled--which bored Marie to pieces, but at least she ended up being assigned the job of photographer. After that, our friend Benita and another lady gave us a ride to Peggy's house, where we had a wonderfully relaxed evening and spent the night. That was also the first night that I got to sleep almost all night--Helen was only awake once, and only for maybe 20 minutes or so.

Saturday morning back to Eller, where Jörn had arrived only about half an hour earlier, to await my brother-in-law, Lars, and his wife. We hadn't seen them in nearly two years, since just before we left Germany, because they were snowed in the day they were supposed to come see us when we were in Germany in February. Lisa took a few photos, so here's one:
Not the greatest photo, but at least we have one. Lars is on the couch with Marie and Jacob, and Claudia is on the far right.

Sunday another early train to go to our church in Unterrath (Unterrath, Eller, and Angermund are all neighborhoods within Düsseldorf, while Oberhausen and Mülheim are separate cities.) It was the children's Christmas program that day, but Jörn was given the chance to speak for a few minutes and show some photos, and we of course hung out afterwards for as long as there were people around. Then we went out to lunch with three other families before going back to Eller.

Monday started even earlier, as all eight of us had an 8:30 eye appointment in Kaiserswerth (yet another neighborhood of Düsseldorf). That took a train, a tram, a bus, and another tram, because there had been an accident on the tram tracks and we had to take a bus to pass by. After the eye doctor appointment we had breakfast in a bakery (a treat!) and then took the tram to Duisburg to go to the Christmas market (a German tradition that I did think was pretty cool the first 10 or so years I lived in Germany, but don't miss--but the children did, and that was the only chance we saw). From there the train to Mülheim, where Jörn and Lukas headed for the appointment with the oral surgeon, and the other children and I went for Poffertjes. (Little Dutch pancakes that, in Germany, are only to be had at the Christmas market, and ARE something I missed!) A lady walking by gave me four free tickets for the children's rides, so Katie and Helen went in a little car that beeped, and I gave the other two tickets to two other children. On the way to our tram, we were delighted to run into Andrea Z. and her son Jan, but as they and we were both in a hurry, we only talked for a minute. That was long enough to miss our tram, however, and the next one ten minutes later meant that we missed our bus to Ratingen (another city) by about five minutes...and the next one was 45 minutes later.

So...although I thought I'd left more than enough time to get to Elisabeth's six-month check-up, we ended up getting there 15 minutes late. (And only made it then because when the bus arrived, I told Marie and Jacob to take Helen and Katie and catch up with us, and I took Elisabeth and ran. This is Germany, where punctuality is everything.) I not only got a big lecture for being late and a stern request to be on time the next day with Katie and Helen (they had refused to schedule all three check-ups on the same day, although I made the appointments in September, because they said that would be too stressful for the children), I also didn't get to see "our" pediatrician. Still, Elisabeth was labeled healthy, etc., and received her second set of vaccinations.

A bus back to Kaiserswerth where I had to pick up a prescription, then we spontaneously took the bus to Rahm (in Duisburg) rather than wait longer for the tram to the main train station, which meant we had to wait even longer for the train to Eller. Jörn and Lukas had gotten back before us and Lukas was sleeping off the effects of the tooth extractions.

Tuesday morning we all set off again, this time arriving at the pediatrician's office 45 minutes early. Jörn and Lukas didn't go with us, as at the oral surgeon's the day before, Jörn had made an appointment for Lukas with an orthodontist for Tuesday morning. (If she's successful in convincing the health insurance that it's necessary--and one look at Lukas's x-rays should be convincing enough--Lukas will be getting a Zahnspange in six weeks or so. I'm not exactly sure what to call that in English. The idea is the same as braces, but it's not fixed on the teeth, so it makes me think of the word "retainer", but it's actually for moving teeth around, not just keeping them where they are.) Katie and Helen were both pronounced healthy (and also had vaccinations...I keep having mixed feelings about them, but keep getting them, just a lot more spread out than the usual schedule) and we very much enjoyed seeing our regular pediatrician, Dr. A. We've always liked him, and then when years ago he told us that he'd be happy to testify on our behalf if we ever had any trouble with homeschooling, we liked him even more. So it was pretty cool when after he asked us why we're in Cyprus and what my husband is doing, he told us that he is also a Christian, and prayed God's blessings on our ways!

In the afternoon Marie helped Lisa bake a cake and then took care of Elisabeth while Helen slept and Jörn took the other three children out to play in the snow, while I packed. Just after lunch, Jörn's back-pack arrived, with everything in it, which was also exciting.

Wednesday was our earliest day yet, rolling out of bed at 5:30 a.m., but everything went very smoothly. We'd taken the suitcases down to the ground floor the night before, so it was just a matter of waking up the children, getting dressed (I made the five younger ones sleep in the clothes for Wednesday or in nothing to speed things up...), and stumbling downstairs. Johannes helped get everything to the train station, which meant that we took an earlier train than planned, and had just over 20 minutes to wait in Düsseldorf for the ICE to Frankfurt. No more changes, and better yet, Lufthansa has a check-in counter right at the airport train station! So we didn't even have to lug our luggage to the airport terminal. The one irritation is that we had tried to check in on-line, but it wouldn't let us because we're a group with more than six people and fewer than 10. So we were given seven individual seats in seven different rows. Once we got to the gate we asked again about having some switched, and the lady there was rather embarrassed about her colleague not having managed to get us even two together. She did get us two sets of two, and two middle seats that were at least in the same row, as well as one other seat by itself. Jacob and Lukas were in a weird mood of brotherliness and wanted to be together, and Jörn and Helen took the other two, while Katie and I took the two middle ones in the same row. The seat next to Katie ended up being empty, though, as did one of the seats next to Lukas and Jacob, so all of us did a lot of moving around for the whole flight, with nine seats to choose from.

Anyway, a smooth, punctual flight to Larnaka, Immigration didn't bat an eye at my lack of visa (and I sure didn't ask any questions!!), all of our luggage came immediately, and Richard F. and Tim P. soon arrived to take us home. Where we are VERY glad to be!! :-)

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