Europe by Rail with Kids: Moments of Bickering and Panic

We were off on our big Europe by rail adventure. We hadn’t even made it to the check-in counter in Nashville, as far from Europe as you can be, and the kids were already fighting about who would lift which suitcase onto what train in Europe. “Because you never were much help last time” was one’s admonishment. Never mind that last time was, oh, seven years ago and the kid in question probably weighed less than 30 pounds, much less than her suitcase.

children pulling suitcases through a German train station
We will be hoisting a whole lot of suitcases onto a whole lot of trains the next three weeks. To be precise, a total of 22 trains, times 4 bags and 5 backpacks. Assuming we catch all the right trains the first time, the likelihood of which is rather low I think.

Just a few moments later, that same kid asks me, predictably: “do we have to go through security?”  She asks this Every. Single. Time. “Honey, where have you been the last 13 years” is what I want to ask, but I bite my tongue, lest there be further eruptions of temper. Instead, the conversation turns to scissors, also very predictably. “Uh-oh, I think we have scissors in our pencil case,” remembers daughter number two. You should know that we have never once made it through security without having to relinquish a pair of scissors. Or, the one time, some strange light-up bouncy ball that was whisked to an explosives-detection device by people in white suits.

The loss of a perfectly fine pair of scissors is then typically followed by plenty more bickering over who gets to sit next to whom. Which, with me not being much of a planner (and frankly having used up all my planning prowess the last week battling with train booking systems), might have been an entirely moot point this time around, because we had five different seats all over the plane, none of them next to each other. I didn’t take note of this until we were pulled aside during boarding and informed that they had been hard at work trying to match us up better. Which is always my point to Noisette who is driven crazy by my lack of planning – those of us who totally fail to plan anything are typically rescued by some kind soul. Which is not a bad way to avoid a lot of unnecessary work in life, if you ask me.

So we did get a group of three seats and a group of two out of the bargain, which immediately led to renewed bickering over who got to sit with the threesome, assuming Mom would be part of that group. I silently cursed the attendants’ zeal in this and wished for a separate seat on my own. Some of my kids are prone to air sickness and it is so much nicer to sit somewhere at the other end of the plane, completely oblivious of what might or might not be going on and whether there are enough barf bags nearby. Because I also hadn’t stocked up on Dramamine either. Which I had almost gotten away with, until Noisette asked me, as we pulled up to the terminal, whether I had any. “Yes,” I said, faking a confident air. It was a total lie. I figured it wasn’t such a bad lie considering that I was only a few hundred feet away from the first Hudson bookseller who I knew stocked Dramamine. They all do. You just may not get the CVS special price.

The night was uneventful. To my knowledge no one threw up. But the sound of it would have been drowned out anyway by the baby in the next row crying the entire flight.

My first moment of panic arrived at the baggage claim in Frankfurt. Three out of four bags had shown up, but the fourth one was missing. And there weren’t many people left waiting besides us.

Not that that’s unusual. We’ve had missing bags before. The last time also in Frankfurt, come to think of it. It took three days for it to be delivered. Which would be a bit of a problem this time with our itinerary, given that we’ll only be in any one place two days at a time. I could already see the comedy of our bag being shipped after us around Europe, arriving a day late every time.

But then a second panic attack welled up and drove out any thoughts of comedy. Did I even check the damn bag in? Usually, when we travel as a family, Noisette does all the checking in for us. While I try to break up fights between the kids, which invariably hit their apex whenever we get to a check-in line. So it was this time, as is witnessed above, and I honestly couldn’t recall whether I had actually checked in the bag in question or not amidst the much more pressing debate over the handling of future bags.

I remembered pocketing the little stickers for the bags. But were there three or four? I imagined the bag still standing in Nashville, unclaimed. Or, more likely, inside a giant press being smashed into a pulp, or whatever it is they do to suspicious bags. Of course it had to be the brand new suitcase I had just gotten from Amazon. On its virgin voyage. The one with the four wheels that rolls oh so nicely in whichever direction you are merely thinking of.

A frantic search in my backpack provided eventual relief. There were four stickers. Whew! And you know what? My biggest fear hadn’t been the loss of anything in my suitcase. I was wearing my good jeans and tennis shoes, after all. I live in those jeans and tennis shoes. No – my biggest fear by far was the inevitable confirmation of Noisette’s belief that I can’t travel by myself. Because I sit there immersed in my Kindle oblivious to the world around, prone to missing flights left and right. Never mind that I’ve never actually missed any flights in 20 years of marriage and what must amount to multiple circumnavigations of the world with four kids in tow. Noisette won’t let a little detail like that shake his fundamental belief in my ineptitude, so just imagine what leaving an entire bag behind would do to my reputation. I shudder to even contemplate it.

I had yet another moment of panic when I couldn’t find my money moments later. Now that would be a real problem. Nothing works without money. In Germany, that even includes taking a dump. We learned that when a subway-style barrier blocked us from getting the long-awaited relief after a night of sitting in an airplane seat, announcing in big bold letters that one Euro was needed to get through. The only consolation being that, in light of us also having no money to buy any food, the need for the toilet might subside considerably over time.

pay station at a German public toilet
The entrance to a German toilet. See how I even blurred the faces for privacy!

Luckily that concept wasn’t put to the test, because the missing wallet was eventually found in the wrong backpack compartment. Where I myself had put it. Something, I’m sure, that never happens to Noisette either.

I can’t wait for the real Europe trip to begin.

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