Some people say you learn something new every day. Me? I learn something new every trip. And then I tell you.
Train Travel. Traveling by train is not new to me. Figuring out how to entertain a 1 yr old and a 3 yr old for six hours on a train is new to me.
- Bring lots of food. Eating takes a while, some foods more than others (take note!). But change things up. I brought T-Rex’s juice but in a new container. We brought mama-and-daddy-only cookies and shared with the boys.
- Get a compartment. We were smart enough to reserve seats (normally for 2hrs or less, I don’t) for the whole journey. But the obviously single reservations agent gave us a table (a good idea) in a quiet zone car (a bad idea). Ask for a compartment (usually six seats). We snagged an open one on the way up to Hamburg but weren’t so lucky on the return. The boys can be their loud and crazy selves without me lowering my eyes in an attempt to dodge the meany pants stares of those around us.
- Be quick. I knew that train stops were fast. Two minutes usually. But we got a major warning on this trip. A man put two of his big suitcases on the train and stepped off to grab the rest of his luggage. In that time, the doors closed and off the train went, sans the man. This can be a major headache with two kids and lots of bags but do not leave the door or your children until you have everything (and everyone) on or off. Ask for help, though most people are kind enough to offer without me even asking.
Hotel. I am not a family bed, room sharing kind of mama. No judgment if you are, but I like my space. And I like some quiet after 8pm.
- Look for an extended stay or apartment hotel. This type of lodging has rooms (and often suites with a door to close – bonus!) with more space and usually a kitchenette. When Screech no longer insists that his milk be warm and waiting for him before his little feet hit the ground, I probably can do without the kitchenette (though it does save money to eat in). But what’s really in it for me is the privacy and break I need when boys are sleeping.
- If you can’t get what you want, improvise. I could not find a one- or two-bedroom apartment/hotel/thingie for the dates I wanted and the price I wanted. I finally did find an apartment hotel, but all three beds (Europeans are all about twin beds) were in the same room. My boys will not sleep if they can see all the partying (yeah right) their parents do. Knowing this, I brought along a black sheet and borrowed a duvet from T-Rex’s bed.
- White noise is your friend. I first tried this a few years ago on a trip to Ireland. I downloaded a white noise track, slipped it into a playlist on my ipod, and brought a small speaker in my suitcase. The skeptic in me was totally transformed as I saw not only how quickly T-Rex went to sleep, but how much better I slept as well.
Maps. I don’t have a smart phone. If you do, you are way more cool than I am, and you can pass go and collect $200.
- Customize. Did you know you can create a custom map using Google maps? Plot your hotel, a nearby grocery store, and two places to eat, saving each location to My Maps. As you read your guidebook or browse attractions online, type in the address, and save to my maps.
- Print in sections. Again, smarty pants smart phone users need not pay attention to this. I printed my map in sections for each day at a scale close enough to read the surrounding street names and public transportation stations. Then I only had to carry around one piece of paper each day.
Restaurants. Ordinarily, if we can get a kitchenette, we try to eat dinner in the room a few times during our stay to save money. But, there was no way I was going to cook and clean up with two little ones in a new place with hundreds of exciting safety hazards (wires, outlets, stoves, knives, etc) within arms reach.
- Add to the map. For every main attraction I wanted to visit, I plotted 1-3 restaurants nearby. Although we were going to eat picnic lunches every day, I wanted options.
- Some things are better left to chance. If I had more time, I might have researched the nearby restaurants a little more. I struck out on so many choices. The Mexican restaurant was nonexistent. The Irish Pub was a smokers hangout for 18 and up only. The quaint hole-in-the-wall fish sandwich joint served room temp, bacteria-harboring, bone-filled fare. As we walked away from that horrendous mess and seriously contemplated Burger King, Doc Sci noticed a restaurant with a beefy logo. Turns out, it was a decent, affordable hamburger cafe. Non-American hamburgers in Hamburg. Brilliant.