Wednesday, January 10, 2007

We've arrived--and the stroller did too!

Ta-da! Through the miracle of airline travel and internet communications, I am writing to you from the desk in the Antwerp apartment. Lots to tell, so I'll begin at the beginning.

Monday 1/8/07 was departure day, but we weren't leaving until 4:30pm so we had a full day to finish cleaning our house, pack the last few odds and ends, and tire the girls out so they'd be likely to sleep on the flight.

I tried one last time to email the ebay seller of the BeBeLove stroller we bought. He had become strangely uncommunicative ever since my PayPal payment went through, and did not provide me with a UPS tracking number. About 10am, a beautiful brown truck pulled up to the front of our house and the driver brought a package to our door and rang the doorbell. I ran down to the door, wanting to thank him for the speedy delivery, but he was down the street before I could stop him. I looked on the porch floor and saw...JieJie's LeapPad backpack box. Argh again!

The rest of the day passed uneventfully and then at 3:24 pm, a FEDEX truck pulled up (hunh??) and finally, there was our beautiful stroller, packed flat in a box. I practically kissed the delivery man (I think I told him I loved him) and I noticed that the seller paid the difference to have it shipped 2-Day. He's going to get good ebay feedback for that! The stroller was easy to assemble, just pop the wheels on and snap the canopy on, then I had to pump up the tires and voila, The School Bus.

The JMU van driver came at 4:30pm and took us to Dulles Airport, British Airways desk. I had already checked in online at home and printed out boarding passes so we went to the FastBag check-in. I had printed out a sheet of address labels with our Antwerp address on them, so when it came time to tag the six suitcases and two car seats, instead of having to write it all down, we just stuck labels on the tags and we were finished in no time. Top that, Heloise.

Flight was delayed to 11pm, so good thing we'd brought some toys for the girls. We also took lots of long walks/runs up and down the long corridor of our departure hallway. We had dinner, a few snacks, and I gave the girls some Airborne Jr. in disposable toddler cups we brought. They liked the taste. Ruby was messing with the cup, biting the spout, and the top came off, spilling about half of the grape-flavored stuff all over her. SUPER MOM MOMENT: I'd thought ahead to bring a change of clothes for them both--AND a band-aid for the small boo-boo JieJie got on her finger. You have to understand, I'm not usually this prepared. Perhaps the knowledge that this would end up in the blogosphere motivated me...

Anyway, then it was time to get on the plane. The girls were SO good (had no idea what to expect, was prepared for the worst). They liked the personal video screens at each seat, though they didn't really watch anything. They also liked the meals. We requested kids' meals and they were kid-friendly but not unhealthy. After eating, the girls and John fell asleep for several hours. I can't sleep on airplanes because I need to be able to curl up, but I watched a couple of movies instead, Little Miss Sunshine (hilarious, I want to see it again because I missed the end) and The Queen with Helen Mirren (she was good but the material itself was the quality of script more often associated with Lifetime Movie Network).

JET LAG BEGINS...Got into Heathrow late morning London time, which was barely dawn as far as our bodies were concerned. The girls slept through breakfast, but we took it with us into the terminal and they ate it in a cafe overlooking the runways. They were good about walking - I wasn't sure whether the stroller was checked through or not since we gate-checked it at Dulles.

NOTE TO AIRLINES: Come up with some kind of precise terminology to clarify the word "destination" for multi-leg flights. Perhaps "immediate" and "ultimate"? It's confusing to say something will be ready for you at your "destination"...which one?

Flight from Heathrow was delayed due to scary straight-line winds that pushed the plane sideways as we taxied for takeoff. Inside I'm thinking, one wing-tip touches the ground and I'm toast. Meanwhile MeiMei is sitting next to me cheering "Wheeeee!" and laughing. JieJie had her first window seat and was really interested in seeing all there is to see. She said "are we still on our planet?" so we talked about the atmosphere and all that.

Landed in Brussels/Bruxelles an hour later--the flight was so short, they practically threw the snack to us as though it were feeding time at the zoo...why bother? Not complaining, mind you.

Claimed our luggage, and all six suitcases arrived intact. I figured the stroller and car seats would come through a separate door or something, but no such luck. We inquired at British Airways lost luggage--thank goodness we kept the receipts with the numbers on them--and they were able to tell us that those three items were sent on a later flight. It suddenly occurred to me that if the stroller got lost, it would've been in our possession for a total of eight hours. John filled out the forms so BA could deliver our things directly to Antwerp (pre-printed labels came in handy again) and we put the girls on top of suitcases on the luggage carts. They rode out through customs (I swear, smugglers should just travel with cute kids...we were waved through with no questions) and we all met Mr. K, an efficient, amiable man with twinkly eyes who assists with the university's Antwerp program. He's American but has also lived for a long time in London before coming here.

Mr. K drove us to the apartment and it's really great--small but well laid-out and very cozy. John and Mr. K went to dinner and I stayed with the girls, unpacking and waiting for takeout. At that point, the thought of asking them to behave in a restaurant seemed downright inhumane. The takeout was great - a wonderful Greek salad for me and macaroni and cheese in a cream-of-chicken type cheese sauce with little bits of ham mixed in. They ate dinner and we all fell asleep by 9pm.

JET LAG CONTINUED: MeiMei was the only one who slept thru the night, so she's already on local time. The rest of us were up from 1-3am and then slept til 9:30ish. I think we're caught up now, more or less, but I still have momentary dizzy spells here and there.

Today, Mr. K came with the truck to take us on a big grocery shop at Match, a nice store in walking distance. It was good to have access to a truck for the first grocery trip. From now on we will be limited to what we can carry in a rolling cart, and we don't have all that much storage space for much more anyway. It's good - we'll eat things that are fresher. Stroller and car seats arrived mid-afternoon and, despite the rain, we went out for a late afternoon walk. It was such a tease...I want to explore every nook and cranny of what I saw today. and the stroller was worth the angst--it handles the cobblestones so well, the girls were singing and their voices didn't even shake!

Dinner was salmon, broccoli and potatoes and we scarfed it down. JieJie had been bouncing off the walls (not good in an apartment building) so we knew she was tired and she fell asleep right after dinner in about a minute. MeiMei stayed up a bit but not for long.

So now you're caught up.

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