Getting to Legoland for Molly’s birthday, dammit

It was Molly’s birthday on Monday 11 August, two days after we arrived in Germany. We had had big plans to take her to Legoland Denmark for her birthday but then the car yadda yadda. Here’s the timeline on how we got a little girl to Legoland anyway:

Wednesday 6 August – Stockholm

We got the news the car was terminal, started working on Plan B to get out of Sweden.

Thursday 7 August, 11pm – Stockholm

After a day sight-seeing in Stockholm, Joe books our train ticket to Germany. We were looking for something over the weekend, preferably with sleeping cars. But it’s August, there’s not much availability for last minute bookings for four people. Eventually after swearing at his iPad for half an hour Joe tells me, “Right, I’ve got us booked all the way, 300 Euro.”

“Well done, love.”

“We leave tomorrow morning, about 9.”

We pack.

Friday 8 August – Stockholm to Hamburg-ish

The daughter of our hosts in Stockholm, who is Molly’s age, had been away on a summer camp, and had been expecting to see us when she got back on Sunday. Then we were going to go out and do something nice for Molly’s birthday on Monday. Instead we booked the only train we could get on and had to bolt without seeing her. I did feel like a bit of an asshole, so now that we are settled I am looking to book our next trip back to Stockholm to see them again, and with a proper, planned departure date too!

We caught:

  • 9am – a local train into Stockholm central
  • 10am – an Inter City train to Copenhagen, arriving around 3pm.
  • 4pm – an Inter City train to Hamburg, arriving around 10pm via a ferry. The kids quite liked the idea of the train de-coupling and the individual carriages getting on the ferry. Plus it was a chance to stretch our legs and admire the hundreds of wind turbines in the sea between Denmark and Germany.
  • 10:30pm – a train to Cologne, arriving around 3am.

Saturday 9 August – Hamburg-ish to Kraichgau

  • 4am – a train to Frankfurt. Jack and I were hungry at Cologne so we went to McDonalds which was, like most McDonalds around the world at 3am, (a) still open and (b) heaving with people coming out of clubs. Jack asked me if the girls in striped blue tops, white pillbox hats and mini skirts were really sailors. Maybe, if we’d still been in Hamburg.
  • 6am – a train to Karlsruhe
  • 7am – picked up by our host, J, at Karlsruhe station.
  • 8am – the most enormous breakfast you’ve ever seen.

Later on that day we had a giant family football match and a BBQ dinner.

You’re wondering how the kids got on with such a gruelling train ride? Six trains over 21 hours, with around 10 bags between us and no sleeper cars? Well I developed a new strategy for such ventures. See, with the flight to Europe I told the kids in advance just how long everything would be, and how yes, it would be a bit tough but yadda yadda. I thought I would manage their expectations, because that’s what I do at work with adults.

With kids, this just means they complain about the present AND the future, so you get DOUBLE-complaining and for longer! “Aaaawwww we aren’t even there yet, and then we STILL have to…” etc.

So with this train ride, I just told them back in Stockholm: “We’re going to Germany tomorrow on the train. There will be a couple of times we have to change trains.”

Oh my gosh, that totally worked. So sure, when we got to 3am at Cologne and we had to wake them up to change trains, they complained. But they weren’t complaining about that change 12 hours beforehand in Copenhagen. So there you go: Ignorance is my new travel policy for children.

Sunday 10 August – Kraichgau

Getting the lay of the land, I worked out we were less than 2 hours’ drive from Legoland in Germany. I didn’t even know there was a Legoland in Germany until a couple of months ago. There’s one in Malaysia too. Jusayin’. Our hosts were happy to come along with us too, so Sunday night we had a nice dinner and cake for Molly, and we told her we were off to Legoland the following day, her actual birthday.

Monday 11 August – Legoland Germany, Günzburg

The park is pretty good, actually. It’s open till about 8pm in summer, they have the bits grown-ups like (the model Lego cities, eg Venice, Lucerne), the bits kids like (roller coasters) and a well-stocked gift shop. It was very wet when we first arrived, but the rain didn’t last and if anything it meant there weren’t big crowds, nor big queues for the rides.

Probably my favourite models there were:

  • In the Star Wars area, a model of the Cantina back on Tatooine, complete with the band playing their nifty little jazz number;
  • A giant model of the Allianz Arena (Legoland is in Bavaria, after all) with literally thousands of lego people inside it;
  • Venice (because it’s so pretty); and
  • In the Berlin model, in front of the Brandenburg gate, a welcome home party for the German national football team parading the World Cup which they had won literally only 4 weeks before we were in Legoland. That’s up-to-date!

We stayed till nearly closing and stopped for burgers on the way home. Molly also got a lego set from the gift shop and all in all, her birthday was very much rescued.

Pictures!

Birthday girl on the ride that gives you a view all around the park and beyond:

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And on a slightly more high-octane ride: IMAG0501

Berlin, Brandenberg gate. If you look closely, you will see the Nationalmannschaft on a little stage:

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How clever is this? The Allianz Arena (home of Bayern Munich), outside and in:

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In the model cities there is everything from Lucerne in Switzerland:

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To the ice planet Hoth:

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To Venice – so convincing you would almost think it was a photo of the real thing:

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A bit further to the right

It felt exactly like expecting a baby, being told early on that it’s going to be a boy, decorating the nursery, getting little boys’ clothes, and then two days before you have the baby the doctor says actually, it’s a little girl.

How shall I put this? It’s probably easier just to come out and say it:

WE HAVE DECIDED TO LIVE IN GERMANY.

We arrived in Germany on 9 August on the back of the bad car experience and after a 21-hour train journey. We stopped here for a while because we have friends to stay with and it was closer to Strasbourg than Sweden. Obviously. So from here we could make trips into France to start getting things sorted over there.

Our friends here (well, family of a friend) live in a small village near a town called Eppingen. If you’re not so up with your Germany geography, we are about an hour north-west of Stuttgart, and about an hour an a bit from the French border. If you are up with your Germany geography, we are in the Kraichgau area of Baden-Württemberg.

So, this “family of a friend” have brought us completely into their lives. Yes, there’s been just the helpful stuff, like giving us a roof, WiFi, helping us buy another car (checked out by a mate who is a mechanic) and sharing the most enormous breakfasts with us. But they have shown us around their region, slotted us into family members’ birthday parties, gone on bike rides, adopted Joe into training with the local football team, given us the opportunity to help around the house … Joe said at one point, “This place is great, you could really live here.” And then we smiled and planned our first trip to France.

We started doing trips to Strasbourg from 15 August, and went there four times over the course of two weeks – initially just for a day, then for some longer stays, that sort of thing. We were looking for an apartment and it was tough going – not impossible, but let’s be honest, if you are a real estate agent and you have a couple from the other side of the world and she has some income from NZ sort of but no they don’t have French jobs but apparently they have some savings in NZ in their funny dollars whatever that means … and then you have a normal French couple with French jobs, who are you going to pick?

On the job front, we had called into a few places, left some CVs, they were all very polite but you got the feeling that the companies had not yet woken up from their summer slumber.

I wasn’t too upset about the lack of progress, I figured we just needed to be patient – that it might take a month or even two to get something.

But until you have an address, you cannot open a bank account, you can’t send the children to school, you can’t register or insure a car, and then you are eating into your savings by staying in hotels or hostels until you get your own place. I was starting to get worried about exactly where we would be sleeping the following week, “Do we need to book a week here in Strasbourg on Air BnB somewhere? Should we book longer?” etc.

If we absolutely HAD to live in Strasbourg, I think we could have done it. But it would have been the sort of situation where you have some pretty miserable days until you do get settled.

So on 29 August we came back from a trip to Strasbourg, back to our German family here in Kraichgau and we realised we felt like we had come home. We had already had offers to stay at someone’s apartment nearby, and offers to help fix one of us up with a job.

As I said, if we HAD to live in Strasbourg, we might have done it. But if you are only here for 12 months, why spend one or two of them being miserable when someone is standing there offering you everything you want, just a bit further to the right than you’d planned?

Joe and I went for a walk around the village at about 11pm that night to talk about it. We didn’t really talk about pros and cons so much, we just went with our longing to put a stake in the ground and start living.

How the children took it

Well, it was strange for me too. You’ve put so much preparation into going to France, mainly learning French, and then you turn it upside down and decide to stay somewhere where you speak about 50 words of the language. It felt exactly like expecting a baby, being told early on that it’s going to be a boy, decorating the nursery, getting little boys’ clothes, and then two days before you have the baby the doctor says actually, it’s a little girl.

“But I’ve painted the nursery blue!”

“But I’ve learned French!”

So yes, the children were initially pretty… well, not “upset” in the sense of tears and crying, but more that their own little planning and understanding had been “upset” by this decision. We sold it to them in the same terms that we had sold it to ourselves:

  • We could start living now. Open a bank account, go to school, register the car.
  • We could still visit all the sights and people we had planned to – Sweden, Britain, Paris; it doesn’t matter if you live this side of the French-German border or the other side.
  • We would be immersed in another language

And there were two unexpected bonuses for me. One, we had talked about having to live in a city. Now we are living in a gorgeous historic village, something I would not have thought possible when we started our early planning. And the second one is, we had always talked about the old friends we would visit. Now we have some new friends, people I had never met before we arrived at their breakfast table one morning, people who we have so much in common with and people who I now realise I want to share this year with. Fast forward to our Strasbourg Christmas: so there we are, the four of us, at home, cooking our dinner, opening our presents, and then? Instead we will be sharing that and much more with an amazing family, and their wider families.

I know that I will no longer qualify for the medal that says “Congratulations, you toughed it out and did it on your own!” But this way our own little family will be so much happier, so on balance I can live without that particular prize.

Tchuß!

Here are some snaps from our area:

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And the writing should have been on the wall here – this was Molly’s birthday, only our second day in Germany, and this was her gift from our hosts:

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