We are strangers in a foreign land…

Day Thirty-Six – July 24th

We wake up to a swim in the pool and a short drive (about an hour) to Kobenhavn.  We are staying at the Admiral Hotel, a couple of hundred-years-old building tricked out in a nautical theme to resemble an ocean liner.  It’s pretty cool.  The parking Gods take care of us and we are good to go for the weekend.

First stop is lunch.  It is striking how empty the city is.  The only areas with people in them are the main tourist stops.  If you turn down any other street it is desolate.  I can’t figure out if the European economy is so bad that people are just hunkered down or if it is always this empty, but most of the places we have been that are off the tourist routes are deserted. 

Having said that, the tour boats are in port and the streets earmarked for out of towners are so crowded that it is hard to move.  All of the restaurants on the main canal are full.  People are wandering aimlessly and American accents are everywhere.  If I hear one more lady from Queens yelling at her husband, “Bernie, where’s the mermaid?   What? What? I can’t hear you! It’s on a rock?”

Vince is totally out of control.  He refuses lunch again this time taking all of us down with him.  We retreat to the hotel hoping some down time will cure all ills.  No dice.

He somehow manages to pull out Adele’s new hair weave from Legoland.  This goes from bad to worse as it sets her off into hysterics that turns into a fifteen minute sob session releasing a flood of tension.  Most of it a cumulative build up from the day to day, a much lesser amount from the hair weave.  The world is coming unglued rather quickly.

To change the pace we try to eat out again.  They say a definition of insanity is making really poor choices over and over again.  When we find a restaurant (recommended online by the NileProject.com – not good, don’t listen to them) for dinner Vince breaks down just long enough after we put in our order that it is too late to cancel.  Again I spend the meal out walking him around waiting for Adele and Teri to finish.  It is very, very frustrating.

To top off this crazy day, Adele loses her childhood nappy somewhere between dinner and home.  Teri runs back to the restaurant to see if it’s there but they do not have it.  When Teri gets back with the news that it has not been found and the news sinks in Adele simply crashes.  This is beyond painful for her.  It has been with her since birth.

It’s remarkable how fast disaster strikes.  Honestly, things spiral down so fast it is impossible to stop them.  I think that it is hard to see the nuance accumulating during the day to day because we are so distracted by the sensory overload and the newness of it all.  After all we are strangers in a foreign land.

You can easily forget that we left our other lives behind for a good long time.  Adele misses her friends and she is really flying solo somewhere between being a little kid with no responsibilities to being a young woman with them.  Vince is slowly figuring out he is not going to the blue room next year.  He is exploding with knowledge and aching for a friend to play cars with. 

Our belongings are all in storage.  Our houses have strange people in them.  We sold our cars.  We are now in constant motion.  Always moving.  Even when we hang out somewhere for a few days there are things to see and do and then things that must get done.  There is always activity.  Plus, we have not been out of each other sights for the entire trip.  

It has been a radical transition and we are clearly at a breaking point.  Something is going to have to give.

Day Thirty-Seven – July 25th

Kopenhavn is loud.  Our window is broken and it flapped open and closed all night long in the cold wind and rain.  I slept in the pull out with Vince again and he tosses and turns constantly.  It’s hot and stuffy in the hotel room and the mood is somber and grim.

Teri manages to get breakfast, coffee and bread.  We bundle up in what we have and head out to see some stuff.  The first stop is the playground in the Kings Garden.  It is rather small but Vince has fun playing in the sand.  Not much for Adele though. 

We cross over to the a castle with the crown jewels thinking Adele will like them but honestly the place is a bust.  The castle is filled with really old paintings of Danish monarchs (we bail after the first floor) and the jewels are lame.  The crowns are cool but not worth the price of admission.

We try an old fort.  Actually this is one of the oldest fortifications in Denmark and is still being used today.  The barracks are painted in orange hues and appear to be leaning to one side or another.  The main fortification is a dirt wall that we can walk on top of that surrounds an inner courtyard.  There are a few cannons standing guard from the olden days but that’s really about it plus it is very, very windy.   

For the first time I consider bailing.  I told you it happens in a heartbeat.  One minute you want to go to Norway, the next Malibu sounds very appealing.  We could go for a break and then head back out again.  We can recharge the batteries; get reconnected to the outside world.  It’s only a plane ride away.  Unfortunately I let this thought get away and actually float the idea in earshot of others.  Now we are all in a twist.

We sit over looking the main port where the cruise ships come and go.  They are huge!  I have no idea how many people are on these things but they appear to be floating cities.  Just the thought of staying on one gives me the willies.

If we could see though the trees we would be looking at the stand for the famous Little Mermaid statue but it doesn’t matter anyway as it is on loan to Beijing for the 2010 world expo.  We will catch it over there. I am told they have a fake one out there but we can’t see it from our vantage point.  To try and salvage things we attempt lunch.  It is so windy our menus blow away and the glasses on one of the tables next to us fall over and crash to the ground.  All of this drama and still Vince refuses to sit down.  We bail.

When we get back to our hotel to try lunch on the patio, Vince again refuses to (1) behave and (2) eat anything because he is “allergic” so I take him upstairs.  The broken window is still broken and on top of everything else happening in our wacky world at the moment we need to change rooms.  

The front desk actually pushes back.  Can you believe it? In complete disbelief I explain that a broken window six flights up with a very active four year old is a potential liability for the Admiral and they should surely reconsider.  They nod and smile politely and then completely blow me off.  Unbelievable.  Do not stay at the Admiral Hotel.  

I take a nap and watch the Tour end in Paris. It’s hard to believe they have been racing all of this time.  We sure have covered a lot of ground.  Vince plays with his Legos.  Teri and Adele search the streets again for the long lost nappy.   By days end we decide to check out and move on in the morning.  Kobenhavn is over priced, windy and cold.  Maybe we missed something or maybe all big cities pale in comparison to Paris…

Day Thirty-Eight – July 26th
We are up to our first sunny morning in Kobenhavn.  Vinny’s b-day is just a few days away so we do a morning shop for his presents.  It’s hard to be so young.  Everyday he wakes up and declares. “Today is my birthday.  Today we will have a party with all my friends and a Star Wars bouncy house and a cake with Legos on it!”  And we need to say “no, it is on the 31st and it will just be family this time” and he says, “NO!” again and repeats his earlier declaration.

To keep him occupied we wander around the corner and find ourselves on a main square with a huge statue that works as a launching pad for hot wheels cars.  Again the place is empty.  I keep checking the map and reconfirming we are in the center of everything just to make sure we are in the mainstream and it’s true we are in one of the main squares.   Must be the weak Euro.

“You can’t go to Kobenhavn with seeing Tivoli Gardens!” At least that is what the guidebooks say.  Personally, having spent the afternoon there, I would pass.  It costs a small fortune to get in, everyone that is not at Legoland is here, the ride lines are ridicules and the rides themselves are nowhere near worth the effort.  You need to be 140cm to ride them and our kids are not.  Vinny and Adele finally get to the carousel only to sit on tiny, little horses way in back on the inside.  I cannot even see them as they go around. 

Vince gets in trouble on the boat line and loses some more “privileges”.  This is our attempt to put some line of defense in place for the poor behavior.  It does not seem to be working, as he does not seem to really care that he loses them.   The two fun things we manage to do are (1) we have an overpriced lunch on a pirate ship and  (2) the kids ride some airplanes.  By 4:30 we are back at the car and heading back to pick up the camper.

We get as far as our new favorite hotel, the one we left two days ago, and we decide to return for a farewell stay.  We’re in the pool by 6:30p: a good swim cures all ails.  

Day Thirty-Nine – July 27th

Up to the wonderful buffet breakfast and another swim.  We use the morning and the Internet connection to take care of some logistics.  By noon we are in town getting cash and grabbing bagels for lunch.

The town of Odense is on our way back so we stop off to see Hans Christian Anderson's house and museum thinking it will be good for the kids.  It is pretty random.  For some reason they feel compelled to display the times in which he lived instead of his stories.  It is very odd and the kids could care less.  They came to see the Princess and the Pee not a timeline of world events spanning Han’s life.  We bolt.

From the moment we arrive at the Fiat dealer you can tell something is up.  No one really wants to talk to us and with good reason as the camper part was not the one they really needed and now they need another week get and install the right one.  Fiat has decided they will no longer cover the cost of our tiny rental car and the rental company, Euro car, is freaking out that we have not returned it.  Fiat Customer Service refuses to call me back.  Mc Rent, the people we got the camper from in Germany, refuse to take any responsibility and IdeaMerge, the company we paid up in Portland to be the middleman, is dealing with bad information from all parties involved. 

We check into the Scandic hotel in Horsens and try and have dinner but the stress levels are way too high.  It ends poorly, far from home, all alone.  

As I said earlier in the week, something needs to give.

Day Forty – July 28th
The Scandic is a great hotel chain here in Scandinavia.  They are really family-friendly with huge buffet breakfasts included in the price of admission, playrooms for the kids and separate beds for each child in the rooms.  The rooms are tight but well worth the cost plus they have free Wi-Fi for all.  We actually signed up for the frequent guest program!

Another round of phone calls reconfirms that the camper will not be ready until very late Friday and probably Monday.  It’s Wednesday and we need to move on from Denmark.  The Danes are nice enough but they pale in comparison to the Dutch.  Plus circumstance has clouded our impressions. 

Not knowing what else to do we turn back to managing necessities and head out to do laundry.  A very talkative Danish guy, probably in his mid-sixties, that is determined to help us with both the coin machines and our camper predicament, runs the Laundromat.  He goes on and on about the inner workings of the coin operated washers, spinners and dryers.  I have no idea what he is talking about most of the time but we do manage to get the clothes washed with much less hassle than usual. 

About half way through the process I leave Teri and the kids to fend for themselves and go down to re-rent the tiny car for a few more days.  The rental car guy is the first nice people I encounter in this crazy fiasco.  He gives us a three-day rate on the car and is willing to help us get a station wagon up in Arhus if we end up needing one.  At some point during our conversations he point out that Fiat is paying $78 US per day for our car.  My head is about to explode.  We are paying around $150 per day for the camper and the Fiat guys are only willing to pay half that for our replacement car?  A car that does not even fit our luggage?  And they are pocketing the balance?

This is unacceptable.  It is time to go to work.   Teri takes the kids back to the indoor play park we discovered last week and I head off on another round of phone calls to bring this debacle to resolution.

After much internally debate amongst the family, we decide begrudgingly that our best bet at this point is to get our money back on the camper and move on with a rental car and hotels.  The sheer cost of it all is becoming an issue.  Right now we are paying for a camper in the shop plus the tiny rental car (Fiat has stopped coverage after day five and refused to discuss any more financial support) and on top of that we have all of our hotel bills. 

I start calling.  After four hours of negotiating and countless rounds of calls to Mc Rent in Frankfurt and the corporate office I think in Berlin, IdeaMerge in Portland, Oregeon and a satellite office in Barcelona, Spain, the Fiat Camper Assistance people in Italy and back and forth the Teri we end up with the following:  if the camper is not fixed by close of business Friday we walk away and our money is refunded.  If it is fixed, Mc Rent pays for the car rentals and hotels for the time the camper is in the shop plus they will add on a free week at the end of the trip.  

Under the circumstances it is the best we do.  Teri and the kids come back for a quick dinner and then we are off to sleep after another hectic and stressful day.

The crazy thing is that I am not sure which way I want the outcome on Friday to fall.  It is a tough call at the moment.  The fates will play their hand in time…
Day Forty-One - July 29th
It is still raining.  It has been raining for days.  Rain, rain, rain. 

The weather is appropriate for our outing today.  It is “bog man” day!  In certain parts of the world they have discovered really old bodies buried in bogs.  The chemical make up of the peat somehow preserves the bodies almost as they were when they died.  The skin, hair, teeth, even the fingernails are all recognizable and fully preserved.  Lucky for us, one of best of these 2,000 year-old bog men is right up the road.

The museum is tucked away down a random tree-lined single lane road in the middle of nowhere.  It is a great exhibit.  They have all kinds of history and detail on bogs and the bog men (and women) and myths and stories and stuff on archeologists, all of it right up Adele’s alley.  She eats it all up with wide eyes of wonder. 

For lunch we head down the road to Arhus, the second largest city in Denmark behind Kobenhavn, for shopping and lunch.  It is a very manageable city and we end up getting a picnic to eat on a park bench and Cold Stone Creamery ice cream for dessert.  How weird to see Cold Stone so far from home. 

By mid-afternoon we are back at the Scandic for a nap.  At 5p or so it’s up for dinner and then we go back down again, this time for the night.  Everyone is exhausted and the anticipation of tomorrow is weighting on us all.

Day Forty-Two - July 30th

We have another great buffet breakfast before I make the call. 

At 9:30a I get Allen at the repair shop. “Your camper will be ready at 2p.”

Done.  We have our answer.  And the mood lifts immediately. 

This may be the thing that we are looking for when I say something has to give.  This experience has given us a renewed sense of purpose and appreciation for what we have in our HOW and for the camping experience in general. 

What was becoming a challenge - the tight quarters, three-minute showers and endless prep and clean - is now considered a blessing.  There is the freedom that the HOW provides and the general ease of our mobility.  The HOW and camping sort of  set a definition of a compact and efficient family unit.  This may sound crazy but it provides all of us boundaries, limits and sets of responsibilities.  In a very base way it helps manage our own expectations: of ourselves, each other and the daily ebb and flow of the TATW.  It’s a tether in a sea of change.

We all need these things.  No wonder the mood lifted so quickly.  It is good to know and once again be reminded that what comes down also comes up.  

So, with the sun shining we once again drive onward, due north towards Norway…