The Longest Day of the Year

June 21, 2008 in Belgium, Europe, Travelogue

< ![CDATA[  We woke up early in Bruges, Belgium, quickly packed our gear and downed our “breakfast cookies;” another new adventure in international food. The verdict: they’re pretty good... especially the chocolate chip ones! It was a quick three mile ride to the train station where we made a spectacle of ourselves, with our five bikes and huge load of gear, waiting for Daddy to procure the tickets for parents, kids, and bikes in preparation for our first train ride of the trip. After the impossibility of train travel in Britain with the trail-a-bikes we were a little worried about the whole thing working out. We felt much better with tickets in hand and tickets tied to bikes. We were really going to get to go. The slightly uncomfortable part... no one at the ticket counter or on the platform could say for sure if the bikes would fit on the train, “every train is different!” Or, if we’d all get to go together. The process of getting from ticket counter to track 4 was an adventure in and of itself. It involved an escalator... all of those years wedging baby strollers on mall escalators paid off as Tony and I pushed our two, BIG, LOADED bikes up and Meg took pictures from the top. The train rolled in, right on time, and the train master stepped off. The moment of truth. He was a thin, tight lipped, slightly weasely looking man with close set eyes and a patch of hair growing under his lower lip... almost a soul patch, but he clearly had no soul. He adjusted his hat, looked at our bikes and held up two fingers. “Two bikes. No more. Impossible. Front carriage.” That appeared to be the extent of his english. We sprinted our bikes for the front carriage while he walked the length of the train, toward the back. I wish you could have seen us. The kids were like the flying monkeys in <i>The Wizard of Oz</i> tearing bags off of bikes and pitching them into the train compartment. Tony was disassembling his trail-a-bike with lightning speed and loading his bike, then the trailer, then Gabe’s bike onto the train. I was scrambling through his handle bar bag trying to separate the train tickets and passports and money into two piles: for those who would be on the train and those who would be left to figure it out. Meg was standing, a bit dazed, wondering which group she’d be in. Two bikes and their respective bags in. There was still space. We stole a furtive glance at the train master, he was 50 yards down the platform and coming our way, without a hint of hurry. “Ya think we can get someone else on?” I asked my sweating husband. “Yep. Give me Meg.” We stripped her bike in record time and stashed it on the train: train master: forty yards and counting... still space: Hannah’s bike disappeared into the belly of the whale... twenty yards and counting: frowning, but not hurrying... the kids whirred around my bike, stashing bags and before that train master reached the door all five bikes and two trailers, twenty one bags, violin, and guitar were all in the train. We got a frown, hole punches on our tickets and the whistle sounded. We made it. All of us. In spite of the train master. I’ll spare you the details of reversing the process and getting all of the above OFF the train in Leige. Needless to say, we’d had a family meeting between Bruges and Leige and we were a little better organized boarding the second train. We were helped along by the lovely french station master in Leige, with whom I had a nice conversation about our family size, trip plans, and American politics, to Meg’s amazement: she’d never heard me really speak French. He says that Canadians are hardier than Americans and that since I’m Canadian, he likes us better. How funny. The second train was far smaller and yet there was no problem loading us and our gear. Everyone was as jolly as could be and even the bystanders were ferrying bags for us: “Jaune et rouge... seulment les jaunes et rouges!” “Yellow and red! Just the yellows and reds!” To our great amazement we passed through three countries and heard four languages in one day. We cycled out of Aachen, Germany, where our train terminated, back into the Netherlands to camp. We arrived hot and sweaty and ready for our supper of paella and a cool shower, both of which were perfect. It truly was the longest day of the year.]]>