Arrival

The Alarm going off at eleven PM felt incredibly rude and distinctly impossible and I flailed at its unfamiliar controls as I tried to get my brain wrapped around where we were and what was next.

We had been in bed for possibly three and a half hours and though Short Stack had been out cold for the majority of that, it had taken me a little while to mentally wind down and then a little longer to find peace with the bundle of knees and elbows that curled up against me in the strange bed. Little kids are notorious in their lack of bed sharing etiquette and my son, as it turns out, is no different. The mental image of sleeping with your child in your arms is just about guaranteed to turn the heart of any parent immediately into sentimental goo, but the reality of the experience is that, even in sleep, your average child possesses ten thousand times the energy of an espresso fueled chipmunk and it will need to be released in wild explosions of sleep gymnastics throughout the entire time.

They will sleep. You shall not.

Oddly enough, the next night, the same sleep deprived and lightly bruised parent will almost immediately sign up for the exact same punishment once they look down at the beautiful form of their own child curled up and alone in bed. Apparently, it’s not just our hearts that our kids can turn into goo. Our brains are fair game as well. The effect is something like Stockholm Syndrome and we willingly crawl right in, ready for another night’s micro-beating.

I fumbled about in the half light looking for pants, shirt and shoes, and eventually had myself dressed and fuzzily awake enough to consider the next step. We needed to get to the car. What I SHOULD have done was to get the car mostly packed up the night before so that, naturally, had not happened. I had realized this when the moment had arrived but it had been the exact moment that Short Stack was finally getting sleepy and we were on the downhill run to bedtime. Normally, I would have left him with my wife at that point and scooted off with the larger bags and been back to the room in five minutes. With a little kiddo in tow however, and no back up, I was tied to spot. Since he was too tired to go with me and there was no chance of me leaving him alone, even for the sprint to the vehicle, I found myself unable to “run out” and do anything. It was a slightly frustrating realization but one that would be a part of every moment of this trip. While we were here, I wasn’t letting Rocket Boy out of my sight, even for a moment. This is when I remembered the stroller.

It had seemed goofy to lug it in with us when we checked in and I had almost left it at the car. Actually, I had almost left it at home all together. My reasoning had been that Short Stack is a pretty good walker and we would be doing something that he loved. I had little fear that once we were surrounded by the objects of his adoration, he would, as my Grandfather liked to put it, turn into a Cream Puff.

Being labeled “Cream Puff” had been an epithet of my childhood to be avoided and it was the one he liked to use when you, as a young child, would wimp out on a long walk and ask to be put on his shoulders. As a kid, I had taken many a long stroll with him at the beach and to this day, I can remember the exchanges that took place after I started to whine about tired legs.

“Your not going to turn into a cream puff on me, are you?”

“No.” Plod, plod, plod. “Grumble grumble grumble”

“What’s that?”

“I’m just getting tired.”

“Cream Puff?”

“NO!”

…and I’d trudge on down the beach with renewed determination my little chin leading the way, at least for a little while longer. Some would see this as being too tough on a little kid, and I do remember complaining to my folks when I’d come home, more often than not sitting on his shoulders anyway, but I did get pretty darn good at keeping up for more of the walk than I expected. Looking back as an adult, I have a sneaking suspicion that his encouragement had more to do with saving his back and neck muscles than building any character and stamina on my part, but the effect was much the same. I’ve tried the same treatment on Short Stack but he tends to fight back with logic.

“My legs are shorter than yours, though.”

To which I’ve replied, “Yes but you weigh less.”

This argument worked well until at one point he realized that, yes, that was true, “But my feet are smaller”

This kid is way too good at logic arguments.

“Are you being a Cream Puff?”

“No. Just carry me”

Ah, the best of both worlds. And I go on with my Cream Puff on my shoulders. Who needs to go to a gym to work out? My gym finds me!

Through all this, I have developed a packhorse mentality and will take just about any load on my back and trudge for miles. This was indeed my plan for Florida too. When his little feet gave out, I could simply plunk him on my shoulders and he’d be fine. I could do that for three days… I foolishly though. During the initial packing phase for our adventure, I had seen of the stroller as being an unnecessary torture instrument that I could leave behind. Strollers are not made for men, (or woman for that matter) of any height. Though I am only six foot tall and thus, well within the average for a male of mixed European heritage, strollers make me hunch painfully with the rear wheels so close that I inevitably wind up kicking them as I stride along. Couple that with the evil, free castoring front wheels that will inevitably go off on their own unexpected expeditions, often into the inevitable trash can or unnoticed door frame, and you can see why this can quickly degrade into a litany of mumbled swears. Right now though, it was a lifesaver and awkward as it was, I was grateful that my wife had convinced me to bring the thing along. Though I was pretty sure that I could have done without it during the day, there was one flaw I hadn’t considered. For Short Stack to stay on my shoulders, he needed to be awake.

With as delicate a touch as possible, I lifted my sleeping boy from his bed, set him down in the red canvas of the seat and wrapped him up in the travel blanket his mother had thoughtfully provided in her dutiful packing the night before. He stirred briefly and then was back to dreamland in seconds. Tossing a flannel shirt over the sun shade like a bullet proof mosquito net, I hoped to keep him sheltered from the blinding hall lights just out side our room’s door.

I glanced at the clock next to our still warm bed as I gathered up the last of our belongings.

“Crap. We’ve gotta go!”

Wheeling him out before me and pulling the suitcase along after turned out to be a challenge as usual and our room’s pneumatic door tried its best to chew on us as I shoved us though and out into the hall and escaped to the elevators. Catching wheels and snagging shoulder straps, we managed to make the lobby. With all the jostling, he was starting to come around.

“What are we doing, Daddy? Is it time to go?”

“Yup! But it’s a long drive. Just go back to sleep, buddy”

I was really hoping that the dark car ride would do the trick for him and that he’d get the sleep he should, but that it wouldn’t have that same effect on me. Realizing how groggy I still was, this became more of a concern than it had been before. It’s a simple thing to say, “I’ll just drive though the night” It’s another thing entirely to do it. What I needed was coffee.

The same multi-talented young woman was still working behind the front desk when I wheeled our ungainly caravan through the lobby and she smiled brightly as I appeared in all my encumbered glory, cloaked, half sleeping child pushed before me. “Don’t worry,” she said in a whisper and waived a dismissive hand. “I’ll check you out myself. Enjoy the launch! It should be a good one.”

“Thanks! Um…” I paused and whispered back. “Coffee?”

In the end, they had no coffee and the nearest all night dad refueling depot would take us a good bit off our intended course. With time weighing me down more than the bags, I decided to opt for the syrupy gloop that passes for bottled ice tea that was available from our helpful host. I didn’t have time to fill out a comment card and I regretted that. She had been great and deserved, if not a promotion, then at least an assistant or four. I also might have mentioned to the hotel chain their need for coffee in the lobby.

By now, the transfer from the bed to the stroller had woken my boy up a bit and the lights in the hall and lobby hadn’t helped, though I had done my best to muffle both. My brief search for caffeine hadn’t helped either and by the time I was clicking him into the car seat, he was rubbing his eyes and yawing. He was up and he knew where we were going. It was rocket time! As I made ready to pull out and leave, there was none of his usual chatting coming from the back seat as he grappled with his sleep drunk body and attempted to take control. He’d start a sentence with a groggy, “Um… Daddy. Um…” and get no further than possibly, “Did we… um.” And leave it at that. Mentally, he was struggling to the surface but trying to get the machinery of his little brain going was rough. It was still clogged with the cotton batting of deep sleep and though it became quickly evident to me that there was no chance of him nodding off again, I stayed quiet too in the hopes that he’d nod off again. I punched our destination into the GPS that I had oh-so very thankfully borrowed from a friend before we flew out and pulled the car onto the highway.

At NASA, an hour away, the countdown was running…

It was actually running!

Both they and we were on schedule.

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Blisters, running stitches and the nicest inn keeper in Austria, III

After what I judged to be an adequate amount of swearing and cursing, I reluctantly left the small glass enclosure and stepped back out into the misty rain. An older gentleman was waking by at that moment and I stopped him and politely asked if he could help me with the persnickety ATM. “Do you have a Volksbank account?” he asked with an incredulous eye. I said that I didn’t and he brightened visibly with the aura of someone who knows the answer to someone else’s vexing question. “Oh! Well, it won’t work for you then. You need an account at the bank first.” Great. An ATM that only works for this particular bank’s customers. What else could go wrong? With strained patience I asked if he knew of any other ATM’s in the area. He thought of for a moment and then replied that he believed there was one in Landeck. “Yes, I’m familiar with that one. It’s out of order though.” He thought again. “In the next town back down the main road. Just go the other way from Landeck. It’s not far. There will be one there, I’m sure.”

Not seeing a lot of choice, I thanked him and then jogged off into the drizzle, took a right on to the main road and kept on running. It was about three miles to the next village and then about another mile or so into the village until I found the ATM. The building that it was attached to was being renovated and was covered in scaffolding. This did not inspire me much. I pulled out my card and walked up to it. The screen… was dark. No power was being fed to it at all. Doom, having obviously been following me for the last few miles, finally walked up and made it’s self known. What the hell now? As I looked around the town, I watched happy couples scooting along under umbrellas and disappearing into eateries and pubs. There I stood, soaked, bone weary, and in the wrong town even. My reserves were getting really low, as was my morale. I schlepped off back toward Landeck, this time loping more than trotting. I could feel the blisters forming in my soaked sneakers as my cheap cotton socks betrayed me.

The rain stated to let up as I approached the inn. I wasn’t sure what the next plan of attack was but I didn’t have any money so staying here was out of the question. “Back on the train.”, I supposed. I hoped that there _was_ a next train. It was getting late, after all. I opened the door and my sweaty, rain soaked skin went cold and I could feel the blood drain from my face. Sitting at a table were Action Girl and Irene, just finishing up a big dinner with beer and dessert. They were obviously expecting me to return with money for the bill, not to mention rooms for the night. Ooooooh, Crap! The two of them looked at me, smiling and a bit fuzzily through the consumed beer. The Hostess came over to me and stopped short. She was obviously caught off guard by my appearance. I had been gone a good long while now and I was thoroughly soaked and wiped out.

“What happened?”, She asked, “Did you find the ATM?” I said that i did, but it was broken so I had to try the Volksbank one. She interrupted and said that it wouldn’t work for my card. I told her that I found that out, so I ran to the next village. “Wait,” she added. “You ran?”.
“Yes”
“Don’t you have a car?”
“No”

Her eyes boggled as she began to figure out just how far I had run my little foreign butt around her home town… in the rain. “So… Did you find the ATM there in the next town?” I was obviously uncomfortable and I explained that it wasn’t functioning either. She chewed her lip for a second and then told me to wait here. This was not going to be pretty. I was sure of it. The ladies looked rather aghast as well and the meaning of my failed run and their now eaten meal sank in. A short moment later, the man who was obviously both the owner and the cook emerged form the kitchen, still wearing his apron. He didn’t speak english so the hostess explained to him what had transpired. As she was telling him the story, I could see that he looked rather upset, then as she continued, gesturing up and down the road in the directions I had run, his face became more resigned. I was soaked, bone weary, starved and more embarrassed than I had ever been before. I must have looked every inch of that list because he wiped his hands on his apron, walked behind the bar and took out the largest beer glass I have ever seen outside of a novelty shop. After filling it to the rim, he slid it across the dark stained bar right in front of me. I was somewhere between thanking him and refusing it, but he held both his hands out, palms toward me and made a pushing motion. I thanked him with my best “Danke” and took a long, LONG drink.

After disappearing into the kitchen for a few minutes, he reappeared with a gigantic plate of food and a replacement victory-cup sized glass of beer, placed it in front of me and again made the universal sign of “Yah, yah. It’s for you.” I thanked him again and again and dove into the best wiener schnitzel I’d ever had. Shortly after, he came over to our table and sat down. Pulling out a scrap of paper and a pen, he wrote down an address. He called over the Hostess and she relayed his instructions. “You stay here tonight and when you leave and get to an ATM that works, you mail him the money for your bill.” I couldn’t believe it. This was faith in action. He didn’t know us from Adam, we weren’t even his countrymen but he was willing to not merely trust us with paying for the meal but also two rooms.

We obviously thanked him profusely and then staggered (some more shakily than others) up to our allotted apartments. All I can recall after getting to the room was having a quick shower and falling into a duvet that must have been two feet thick. To say I slept soundly is an epic understatement. I was the last one up in the morning and with head lightly pounding from the vat of beer the night before, I headed down stairs to thank our host again. Irene was there grinning happily. “Guess what?” she squeaked. “They accept Swiss Franks and I had enough left over from Zurich to pay the bill for us all!” After a brief inner battle, I decided to go with “Happily Relieved” rather than “AAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!”

A few minutes later were were whistling along on the train on out way to Germany. I will never forget that very large act of kindness and I hope I can get back to the inn at Landeck some day. If I can, I’d like to thank him for his kindness one more time and enjoy his cooking guilt free. Next time though, I’ll bring some Euros with me. The ATM’s there are not to be trusted.

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Blisters, running stitches and the nicest inn keeper in Austria, II

We walked in the front door and were immediately greeted by a smiling young woman standing behind the bar. The techno music playing quietly on the radio contrasted mightily with the dirndl she was wearing and the dark stained, chunky pine seats and tables. Action Girl and Irene wandered over to a table and I asked if she spoke English. I really didn’t know much German at this point in my life and the hostess spoke hesitant english. I asked if they took credit cards, and naturally, they didn’t.

(On a side note, this is something that I have found maddeningly common in both Germany and Austria. No one, short of big hotels and tourist trap restaurants, seems to be happy when you pull out the plastic. As soon as… THE SECOND!… you cross into France or Switzerland, everyone will take your Visa or MC card. Even the street vendors have these wonderful little contraptions that look like cell phones with a slot down the side to swipe a card. Why these aren’t commonplace in the Germanic countries, let alone the U.S., I have no idea.)

I wasn’t surprised in the least that my credit card wasn’t going to cut it so I asked about an ATM. Was there one near by? She told me that there was, just down the street in the village. I thanked her, dumped my pack and told the ladies that I’d be right back. I stepped out the door and started heading into the village. Walking was striking me as being painfully slow and since Action Girl and I had been running lately, I felt up to a short jog. I picked up the pace and trotted along the road. And trotted… And trotted. The village, it turned out, was a fair bit down the road. Now, I know that distances always feel longer when you don’t know the route, but this was really a bit of a haul. I finally reached the town center after what I would guess was about two to two and a half miles. The problem that next confronted me was that the bank was not obvious to the passer by. I looked for a few minutes and feeling that time was not on my side, switched my tactic to finding someone who could help me find the ATM.

Everything was closed. It was after five now and there was not an open shop or a pedestrian to be found. Then I saw it. Miraculously, the apothecary was still open! I stepped in and fulling expecting to have to resort to hand gestures and pantomiming to get the help I needed, asked the white clad pharmacist if he spoke English. He replied with a “Ja”, rather than a “Yes”, but I was hopeful. I slowed down my speech a bit and asked where the ATM was. The man immediately brightened and said “Oh, well den, whatcha wanna do is goo over to da square and maka left at da fountain. It’s in front of a blue buildin’. Ya can’t missit!” I stopped cold. That was not the accent that I was prepared for. The sensation was the auditory version of taking a drink of coffee when you expect it to be milk. “Umm. Where are you from originally?” I asked, interest peaked. “Oh, I’m from Grand Forks. Dat’s in North Dakota, ya know.”

I thanked him and headed out the door, brain reeling just a bit. After a minute or two I found the ATM. It was out of service. Naturally. I decided to pop back in to visit my friendly countryman at the apothecary and inquire about any other ATM’s. Yes, there was one just down the road. As it turned out, back toward the railway station. Did I know where that was? Actually, yes I did. “Well, it’s past the rail way station and den it’s just a little past it. Dare’s a road off to de right an dat’ll lead to a lil’ bunch of buildings and dare’s an ATM dare, I think.”

“Ok,” I thought, “I’m up to this. I can do that.” I started off back toward the rail station and the inn. As I was running back, it started to drizzle. Great. As the rain started collecting on my clothes, I wondered why the hostess didn’t tell me about the second ATM in the first place? After all, it sounded closer. As I jogged past the inn, I was tempted to pop in and explain where I was going and why but I decided not to waste the time it would take. I’m also the kind of person who, when he’s on a mission, doesn’t deviate until it’s done. So, past it, I ran and on down the road. I saw the turn, crossed the river and easily found the bank. It was big, yellow and had a big sign reading “Volksbank”. “People’s Bank”, I thought. “That sounds nice.” My card went into the slot, I punched in my pin and then… It spat it back out. We repeated this about eight times.

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“You can’t be serious”…

Blisters, running stitches and the nicest inn keeper in Austria.

So after twenty posts, I see what seems to get peoples attention the most is the Prague/Munich train of doom story. So, in the blatant self interest of driving eyeballs to my blog… I give unto you…

Blisters, running stitches and the nicest inn keeper in Austria.

This was a different trip than the one we did with The Doctor. This time it was a trip mainly to Austria and Germany (go figure) with Action Girl and her cousin Irene. This was a momentous trip for Irene. She had just entered college a little while ago and she had never done any traveling. What made this a really brave thing for her to do is that not only is Irene handicapped, but that she would be flying into Zurich all alone and spend one day there, solo. When I say that she’s handicapped, I don’t mean that she’s in a wheelchair. She can walk fine on her own, though with a bit of a stilted gait but baggage would be difficult. Her back has some problems and she’d need to pack light. Having said all of her limitations, youth, inexperience, and physical issues; I would also add that she is a singularly capable and fearless individual. Like I said, it was very brave of her to go, but it surprised no one who knew her.

So, we fly into Zurich the day after Irene does and met up with her. She already spied out a place for breakfast and enjoyed Zurich as much as you can when looking at it trough eight hours of jet lag. After an initial relaxation period of a few hours, we all hop on a train at the Hauptbahnhoff and are on our way. We leave Zurich behind and head to Austria. The place we are ultimately going is in Germany but this corner of Europe is crowded with country’s. Actually, it’s best to just refer to it by its geographical name, the Tyrol. Home of giant alpenhorns, edelweiss and men in leiderhosen shouting “Riiiiiicolaaaaa” at each other from high peaks.

Now, I have long ago stopped changing money or buying traveler’s checks when moving around in Europe. Money changing always seems to bite you in the shorts, although with the dollar in a death spiral, it’s probably a good idea to change all you can right now. As for traveler’s checks, forget them. No one wants to touch them and you spend you time getting frustrated trying to use them up. The way to go is the debit card. Or at least it was. Now, I believe banks are getting savvy about charging you extra (imagine!) for using your ATM card in a foreign ATM, but in the beginning, it wasn’t yet on the list of the 10,000 user fees that banks use to syphon your account dry. Action Girl and I were used to traveling this way and we explained this to Irene before she left for Switzerland.

We traveled through idillic looking countryside and watched rolling hills get steeper and craggier until they turned into towering Alps. It was spring time and the weather was warmish but no warm enough to melt the snow on the lower slopes of the mountains. We kicked around the idea of stopping since it was getting on toward the late afternoon. It was off season still and the weather was starting to deteriorate and with the thought that we might arrive at our destination in Germany too late to find a place to say, we considered taking it slow and spending a soon to be rainy night at some little town along the way and continue on to our Bavarian destination in the morning. The next station was the small Austrian village of Landeck.

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It was small, pretty, and best of all, we could see a guest house and restaurant just a short walk from the train platform. Taking the rumbling in all our stomachs into account, it seemed like a good idea. We left the train, and headed to the inn. Action Girl and I were back in our element; backpacking through Europe. Free wheeling it! No solid plans! We’d show Irene how it was done. Now all I needed to do was get my hands on some Euros, and I’d be all set to fill my jet lagged, empty belly with schnitzel and beer and then head off to our duvet clad bed. Ahhhh!

That’s all. Just some cash and everything would be all right. No problem.

Right?

Riiiiight…

More tomorrow.

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