My kids are amazing travelers and you will never convince me otherwise. They once happily played and slept their way through a nine-hour layover in London Heathrow. They moved from hotel to hotel when not one but two flights were canceled in a trip from Atlanta to Bahrain, resulting in a 48-hour trip instead of a 20 hour one. They excitedly get up at all hours of the night to go to various airports. They climb on planes, put on their headphones, and we barely hear a peep out of them again, whether it’s a four hour flight, or a 15-hour flight. They are amazing… but I have to admit, I was aprehensive when the Rugby Star proposed driving from Belgrade to England for Christmas with the in-laws. It sounded like a horrible idea. We don’t have a DVD player in the back of the car. You can’t get up and stretch (or go to the loo) whenever you want. We wouldn’t have internet so that limits music and videos options. You (and by you, I mean all people around three-feet tall) can’t lay down to sleep. And it was going to take two-and-a-half days. That’s a long time in the car.
But I said yes and The Rugby Star planned the trip- we would leave Belgrade at 6am on Sunday and be in Mansfield by mid-day Tuesday. We would stop in Munich, Germany, and Lille, France for the two nights of our travel. We were taking the Eurotunnel. I downloaded audiobooks and children’s CD’s on my phone. We got sticker books and snacks. But more than anything, we talked about how beautiful the drive was going to be and how we would stay in hotels for two nights and how much fun it would be. The girls were excited.
And the first day was great! The temperature gauge in the car read -6.0 C when we piled into the car, shivering and sleepy. The girls fell asleep almost as soon as we hit the freeway, which was just fine with us. As the sun finally began to rise, we were amazed to see the countryside covered in frost and ice. It was beautiful and magical- it looked like a light dusting of snow. The girls woke to a bit of a Winter Wonderland, and we couldn’t convince them that it wasn’t snow. Breakfast was ordered in a gas station bakery in Croatia and the ladies were tickled pink with their chocolate croissants. Back on the road, we found easy travel, beautiful scenery, and two little girls who were perfectly pleased looking out the window and singing Christmas carols with a little Pentatonix.
The plan was to be in Munich by about 4pm but it was closer to 6pm when we made it, after driving through some horizontal snow, which we found beautiful but The Rugby Star didn’t like much. The hotel was great, we had dinner, watched a little TV and fell asleep. I was pleased with the day but still a little worried- we still had a lot of time to drive.
Unfortunately, the Travel Curse that often strikes us when we fly apparently does not discriminate on the mode of travel. A few hours into the second day- a day that was going very well- the Check Engine light came on. Now, this has been happening since we got the car- the light comes on and suddenly we can’t accelerate anymore. Somehow we discovered a very simple solution- turn it off and turn it on again. We had the car checked a while ago and the mechanic said it might be the spark plugs, so he changed them all and it seemed to stop. Until we were in the middle of Germany.
The Rugby Star got us off the highway and into an adorable little village. We called the European AAA that we bought before leaving and, within an hour, a tow truck arrived. The girls ran around outside for a bit then played on their Leap Pad’s, but they were relatively unaffected by the wait. We were driven to a dealership/garage and kept our fingers crossed that it would not be a big deal and the car could be quickly fixed.
And two hours later, we were on our way! The dealership had a small play area with blocks, a toy car, a few stuffed animals and a marble-run type toy that kept us all amused. We thanked the mechanics, packed the girls up and hit the road… where we made it all of three miles before the check engine light came on again! We turned around in exactly the same spot we stopped earlier and drove back to the garage. After another hour or so, the bad news came- the car needed a part that would have to be ordered. We were staying in Germany.
They helped us find a hotel (in a vineyard!) for the night and drove us over. The room was huge and the kids were happy to watch Sofia the First, even if it was in German. The Rugby Star figured out how to change our Eurotunnel ticket and we fell into an annoyed but comfortable sleep. The next morning we walked around the vineyard, bought some wine and went back to the garage at 11am… and finally got out of there at almost 5pm. I will not bore you with the details, but suffice it to say, we spent a lot of money and still have the same problem… but the mechanics think they know why it’s happening. Their solution- turn the car off and on again whenever the engine light comes on.
I mean, really? Really?
The Rugby Star, my champion of champions, drove us straight through the night. We made it to the Eurotunnel- which is really just a giant subway for your car- with fifteen minutes to spare and then on to Mansfield. We made it safely to grandma’s house by 3:45am, a mere 12 hours after we had intended to be there.
And then, because the Travel Curse had taken hold, The Rugby Star, Sprout, Grandma and Grandpa all got sick. The Ladybug and I are the only two healthy folks around this joint. Sprout was so sick, she asked me to open most of her presents on Christmas morning and Grandma didn’t even make it downstairs to celebrate. The Rugby Star barely made it out of bed and needed a quiet rest later at his sisters.
The drive was an adventure and now that it’s over, I can look back and appreciate the time we spent together and the fact that my children are amazing. I am holding on to the happiness of being with my family and the much-needed break from school. It’s not the Christmas I visualized, but the best laid plans, right?
Happy holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and most importantly, peace on earth. I hope your holidays are going a little more smoothly than ours.