Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Roxi and I have arrived in the Netherlands! We've actually been here for about a day now, but until this evening, we didn't have the internet in our apartment. Now that we're here and online, I thought I'd get the ball rolling by telling the story of our travels.

Roxi's post-doctoral fellowship is at the University of Twente near Enschede, The Netherlands. Our journey really began on Saturday evening when we finally decided we had packed enough in our storage POD. We left Lafayette for Houston to stay with my parents until our flight from Bush Intercontinental Airport on Monday afternoon. We were both very tired of packing for the past few weeks and we brought Roxi's cat Jupiter so we were all glad to have a day and a half to relax before our flight. And I'm glad we did because our trip was not without troubles.

We chose not to fly into Amsterdam because we got a cheaper flight into Dusseldorf, Germany which seemed to be about the same distance from Enschede. Either way, we knew from the outset that we would have to take a train from our flight destination as there is no major airport servicing Enschede. We also knew that the Enschede train station was a few miles from campus so a taxi would be required to get us to our final destination. So to summarize, our trip could have been the model for John Hughes' comback and sequel to the underrated Trains, Planes & Automobiles.

Every trip of this nature has a few snafus along the way, and ours came early and often. To start things off, in Houston Roxi's suitcase was very overweight (even after she had taken a lot of stuff out and left it in Houston with Jack and Mary) and was going to cost $500 to travel with us. Thankfully the extremely nice lady at the baggage counter informed us that we were each allowed two checked bags and so gave us two empty shipping boxes for Roxi to transfer some of her things into. So we ended up checking to suitcases and two boxes and paying nothing extra for the trouble! Potential crisis #1 averted!

Jupiter surveys the Departures entrance at the Houston airport.

The next poossible trouble started when the TSA guy said that Jupiter had to be taken out of her cat carrier to go through security! She was so good when Roxi carried her through the metal detector though. She was happy to get right back in the carrier case on the other side because she was so scared. Potential crisis #2 averted!

There was some delay in our leaving Houston as our flight eventually departed at around 5:30 or so...about 45 minutes late. We figured that most of that time would be made up in the air. Once on the plane we were all pretty uncomfortable but we managed. It was a little warm during dinner and Jupiter was fidgeting a lot so Roxi put her case on the floor (we had an empty seat next to us where we kept her case when it wasn't on one of our laps). Roxi and I were talking for only a few minutes when a man across the aisle said "Your cat got out." It took a second to register but sure enough, I turned to look down the aisle behind me and Jupiter was cautiously walking two seats behind us. The adrenaline must have kicked in because I'm usually afraid she might scratch me, but I quickly reached back and grabbed one of her back legs before she could duck behind a seat and got her close enough to me to pick her up from around her body and get her safely back into Roxi's arms. The whole thing only took a few seconds but it seemed like it took a lot longer and Roxi and I had to calm ourselves down quite a bit. We couldn't help but think about the trouble that could have happened! Potential crisis #3 averted!

Jupiter rests in the Frankfurt airport.

We figured out how Jupiter managed to get free from her carrier and made sure it wouldn't happen again. The rest of the flight was fairly uneventful but neither of us slept very much. Jupiter got a little sleep but she really didn't like to be in the carrier and fidgeted off and on for the rest of the flight. Roxi got several scratches and a bad bite when she was trying to pet and comfort Jupiter. We ended up landing in Frankfurt a little late but with enough time to make it to the connection if the gates were close to each other. Unfortunately they were not. Not only did we have to take a bus from the plane to the terminal, we had to walk a long way to get to the connecting flight terminal and go through security again. Of course they wanted Jupiter taken out of the carrier and Roxi was very worried about getting scratched or bitten again. But she managed with minimal pain and Jupiter again got right back into the carrier. After security we had way too far to walk and make it to our connection on time, so we rescheduled on the next flight to Dusseldorf about two and a half hours later. The ticket agent even gave us an unsolicited meal voucher for 20 Euros! Potential crisis #4 averted!

I take a load off with Ronald McDonald in the Dusseldorf airport.

We regrouped and went to a very quiet and secluded area of the terminal to let Jupiter out of the carrier on her leash. She explored a little but mostly huddled underneath my coat on one of the chairs. We tried to give her food and water but she wouldn't take any. She got a nice break from the carrier and got to stretch her legs for a good 45 minutes. She gladly went back into her carrier so that Roxi and I could get some lunch before our next flight. We got a good meal at the same cafe we sat at on our trip to Sweden a year and a half ago. We even had enough left on our voucher to leave a nice tip for our waitress! Our short flight to Dusseldorf was uneventful and I finally got some sleep. By this time Jupiter had given up trying to fight and was content to stick her head out of the carrier when Roxi opened it just to see what was going on. After a minute she would pull her head back in an go back to sleep. In Dusseldorf, we were happy to find that all of our luggage arrived including the two shipping boxes! We went to a good place and distributed the things from the shipping boxes into our two suitcases. Then it was off to the train station. The timing couldn't have worked out better! We got tickets to Enschede with only one train transfer at Dortmund, Germany as opposed to the possible two or three we were expecting if we had arrived on our originally scheduled flight. Our bags were large and heavy but we managed to get on an almost empty train car and had a leisurely hour to our transfer station. We only had about ten minutes to make the change in Dortmund and we were worried about dragging our baggage all the way across the train station. We made as mad a dash as we could with our very heavy bags and cat in tow. Of course there was an escalator from our arrival platform into the station but not vice versa so I heaved the bags one by one up the stairs. Thankfully our train was already on the platform and we had several minutes to spare before departure. Potential crisis #5 averted!

Roxi and Jupiter are cold while waiting for our train in Dusseldorf.

With a two hour train ride left for Enschede and travel weariness fully set in, Roxi decided to sleep while I stayed awake listening to my iPod. Of course I made sure to pay attention to the sign announcing the next stop as the train made many on the way to Enschede from Dortmund. I don't know how long into the trip we were, when everyone got off the train. I just figured it was a popular stop but someone else got on and then immediately started heading off. He noticed Roxi and I and waved us off the train. I was confused but realized that since train stops don't last long, we better get ourselves off at once! I told Roxi that we had to get off the train right now. She woke from a dead sleep more confused than I already was but I have to hand it to her, she moved more quickly than I would have if awoken from a sound sleep. At that time a conductor had made his way to our end of the platform and informed us that the train split at that stop and only the front cars continue to Enschede! He went on to tell us that we had plenty of time to walk up the platform and find seats before the front cars left. Just to be safe, we got on the very first car and got ourselves comfortable, but we were ready to move again if we had to! Potential crisis #6 averted!

After my rude awakening, there was no more sleeping for Roxi, so we just rode and paid attention to the stops. Jupiter got out of her carrier and sat on the seat next to Roxi, but she continued to hide underneath by bundled up coat. We were all definitely ready to be done traveling. Finally we left Germany and entered the Netherlands. Two stops later, we were at Enschede. It was cold and rainy but we were prepared. We made our way around the station until we found a taxi which took us to the after-hours apartment check-in on campus. Roxi went into the office while I stayed with the cab driver and talked about Enschede. Roxi returned a few minutes later with keys to our apartment! Potential crisis #7 averted!

We arrived at our new apartment a few minutes later and let Jupiter out of her carrier once and for all. She was very curious about the place, but really wanted to explore the stairwell outside of our door. As for Roxi and I, we are getting settled in and should feel like we are in a few days. All-in-all things are going pretty well here. Now that we have internet in our apartment we feel like we're connected to everyone back home!


Katie Lady said...

Most excellent! Glad y'all made it safely, albeit with some excitement.

Can't wait to hear more about the place! I expect regular blog posts from now to live vicariously through you, dontchaknow.

astrogalaxy said...

Jupiter is CUTE!
Nice blog too.