Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Usual Hectic Travel Day to Start Our European Adventure

    *Landing in Europe, Day 1 in Paris
The following are beauty posts inspired from my visit to Vienna, Austria:

 Our original flight at Ronald Reagan National Airport was delayed. Knowing this would make us miss ALL of our connections, we asked to be rescheduled to another flight cutting out the first stop and getting us to Oslo, Norway in time for our last flight to Paris. We booked extremely cheap airfare, but it had a million connections: MCI-DCA-EWR-ARN-OSL-CDG (Kansas City-DC-Newark-Stockholm-Oslo-Paris.) United Airlines was able to get us rescheduled after hours after our original flight had taken off. We had spent almost a day at DCA getting this resolved. There was also a storm that was so strong, right next to the customer service agent desk was flooding due to leaking in the skylight. We were all concerned a tornado warning would be issued. When the agent was finally able to get his 'on-the-phone, in another state' superiors to approve the change and reschedule, it was night. United booked us at a Marriott hotel at Dulles Airport as the new reservation would be the next morning-from a different airport. We also received food vouchers so we ate a meal at an Italian sit down restaurant in the airport.

     After a good nights rest, we took the free shuttle to Dulles. We had to go to customer service to get our new boarding passes. We were told at check in that we were now all four spread out around the plane and no seat was near each other.  After explaining why this would not work for us, we were once again rescheduled for an afternoon flight going directly to Paris. We kept a positive attitude as in the end, this was easier travel, straight to Paris. Luckily we hadn't actually checked out of our hotel, we just left, so we were able to take the free shuttle back to the hotel and went back to our room instead of waiting at the airport.

     The next morning went pretty flawlessly. We arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and retrieved our luggage almost too easily. We found the car rental agency easily as well.  There were no customers at the Avis desk so we walked right up. After showing Brian's EU driver's license, his passport and credit card, we were handed keys and the parking space number our car was parked at. Maybe 10 minutes. I couldn't believe how smooth it went. Brian was the only driver because European cars come standard with a manual transmission and I can only drive an automatic. In no time at all we were off for the 'Great King European Vacation' (referencing the National Lampoon's European Vacation movie), in an Opel Mokka X. I had never heard of Opel before this.  
We were not sure what type of SUV we were going to get when we booked the reservation and we were a little worried our luggage would not fit. We had brought two 90L Patagonia Blackhole Duffel Bags for the adults and a similar wheeled duffel from Kohl's for Briella. Aubrey's suitcase had broken on the first flight to DCA so Southwest Airlines had replaced it with their only option, an even bigger, typical suitcase. Plus, I had a garment bag full of dresses and heels, a purse for me, a thirty-one weekend bag that included my large travel bible aka zippered binder, which houses our entire itinerary, my trusty travel pillow and blanket and each of the other three had their own backpack, plus the camera bag (which is basically a backpack) and tripod! Oh, and a carseat!
*This was insane. If I was able to do it over again, I definitely would have limited it to two suitcases; adults and kids sharing plus one personal bag each. I will say we did have almost an entire duffel bag of medical supplies since we were going to be gone an extended period of time. We packed 2 months worth of PediaSure and diapers as well. Briella literally came off thickener for her beverages only weeks before the trip, so we made sure to have the PediaSure with us as it is a thicker drink. It ended up working out, as the medical supplies were used, we gained room for the souvenirs.*
 We played several games of Tetris to get everything to fit, but the doors shut completely, barely enough room for our bodies. The kids feet were sitting on things, a large Patagonia bag between them, as well as my passenger seat foot space being completely filled. The three of us girls sat criss-cross apple sauce pretty much the entire trip! At this point we were excited to just get on the road, we were not staying in Paris until the last week of the trip. We were driving straight through to Riquewihr, France.

     Next thing we know we are driving ourselves on a Parisian Highway! I feel like there was no prep time, just got off a plane and on the road in a foreign country. Like, Oh crap, we are really doing this! We have only ever used public transportation or Uber in Europe. I was expecting some completely different driving experience, but it was just like driving in the US. Even though we were in the same boring comfy travel clothes we had been travelling in for days, we had to stop at the Eiffel Tower before leaving town to celebrate Aubrey's 12th Birthday! She had spent her 8th birthday at the Eiffel Tower as well, so of course we needed to recreate photos and celebrate with another carousel ride under the Eiffel Tower. Then, Nutella crepes and jambon baguette sandwiches, while enjoying the Trocadero, which has my favorite view of the Eiffel Tower. We then walked through a park we had never been to before, Trocadero Gardens. There wasn't anyone there but us, and it was magical. I enjoyed seeing my babies sitting on a bench next to a beautiful Parisian light pole with the Iron Lady in the background, while eating crepes. It was a perfect side stop. The point of this trip is to collect memories like these.
     On the way out of Paris, we drove through the city passing amazing landmarks having normal conversation like "oh, there's Notre Dame. Do you kids remember lighting a candle there for Grandma? The Seine looks pretty today....There is the street our apartment was on..There's Mom's favorite- the Tuileries Garden and the Louvre on the left." How spoiled these children are!
Recreating her 8th Birthday photo

     We programmed our TomTom GPS before the trip with directions to each of the towns we would be staying at; this week, Riquewihr, France. We had to download each country's map to the TomTom ahead of time.

     I don't remember much of the 6 hour drive to Riquewihr. The girls and I slept pretty much all the way there. I have no idea where, but somewhere along N4 we stopped to get gas for the first time. What a task that was! EU pumps are completely different. Since our car rental check-in went so quick, we learned nothing about the car. We had no idea if the car took petrol or diesel. Most cars take diesel in Europe. We searched for a users manual with no luck. Brian asked the cashier inside and he also did not know. We asked an English couple that pulled up on the other pump, if they knew. They were very willing to help. At the end of it, we decided just to guess. I guess we were right as we continued to using petrol the rest of the trip. So word of advice, before you leave your European car rental agency, be sure to ask!

     Pretty frightening talking about it now, but apparently Brian was also extremely jet lagged as well and had trouble keeping his eyes open while driving. It was pretty much the same highway for the majority of the time. He did ask me to wake up and keep him awake, but I could not wake up. He pulled over at a rest stop and tried to sleep. We had a certain window of time we could check in to our home in Riquewihr and were already cutting it close with the stop in Paris. I think we stopped for half an hour or so to sleep, but he couldn't get comfortable and he ended up getting back on the road. I finally was able to stay awake near Strasbourg, home of the European Parliament. I was excited as we were now in the Alsace region of France. Alsace is a historical region in northeastern France on the Rhine River plain. It borders Germany and Switzerland and is known for their villages that look straight out of a storybook. They are actual fairy tale towns! Belle's hometown village in Beauty and the Beast was inspired by two neighboring villages in Alsace, Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé. Once I discovered these gorgeous and colorful medieval villages, I knew I had to schedule them into the trip and why not the week of Aubrey's birthday?! Let's go play Disney Princesses for a week! 

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