A few years ago, we went home to Denmark for the annual Christmas celebration. We normally spend every alternate year with my family and the other years with my wife’s family. Despite having the option to be back in Denmark within 3-4 hours of leaving our house, by plane, we opted for the traditional method of traveling – over land. Yes, you read it right, a road trip. We decided to cross the ocean using the old land-bridges (ferries), thereby supporting a dying industry, and spent the next 48 hours in a confined area.
I still remember and cherish the road trips I did with my parents, when I was younger of course, driving to far away lands like Spain and Italy. It took us 2-3 days to get to the caravan park in those countries. We had such much fun driving. There were some challenging times of course when my sister and I were bored shitless. But, that’s part of the experience.
Anyway, when we did the Griswold Christmas Vacation trip to Denmark when we had two very young kids. They were so young that we were still referring to their age in months. Our daughter was 19 months old and our son was 5 months old. On top of that, we had (and still do) two rather large dogs. Keeping that in mind, we had just installed a roofbox on the SUV, so we were ready to rock n’ roll … or perhaps just roll.
– did I mention that my wife was still breastfeeding our son?
The best purchase parents can make, for such an adventure, is a portable (in-car) DVD player. This can save your sanity. Just make sure to bring a large enough selection of movies and of course movies that the kids will enjoy watching. Another benefit is that that my wife and I now know “Sound of Music” scene-by-scene, without watching it. We even know the various characters and of course ALL the songs. It has been discussed if we should tempt our faith at X-factor this year! At least we’d make the outtakes.
Off we went, waiving goodbye to the house on haunted hill, with the question hanging over our heads “Did we lock all the doors and windows, and set the alarm?”.
We left early in the morning, catching the first ferry across to Wales and then headed towards Harwich. All in all, the journey across England took about 7 hours. We had plenty of stops along the way to feed kids, us and the dogs. We had to let the dogs out too, as doing their thing in the car was NOT an option. It was enough having to change the odd diaper on the driver’s seat in freezing winds. One thing was certain, you learn to change diapers really fast.
To be honest, we were both very impressed with the facilities across England. All the stops had kid friendly activities and restaurants, and most of them were next to a field, which was ideal for the dogs. At one of these stops, I went to the local field to let the dogs run. They did their business and I let them back into the boot. Suddenly, while getting into the car myself, I noticed a very strong smell of pooh. Not human or dog pooh, but manure. I checked my shoes and I was horrified to discover that the farmer had covered his field with manure. Now the car was being filled with a strong mist of cow/pig pooh. The problem is that there was nothing we could do about it except driving with the windows rolled down for a few hundred miles. At the next stop we (I) cleaned the dogs and the car. That also gave the rest of the family a chance to defrost, since it was in the middle of winter and we had been driving with windows rolled down in Arctic conditions.
We finally made it to the next land bridge and were happy to find our cabin. The dogs slept in the car for 7 hours with no accidents, and we made our way towards Denmark; through Holland (Netherlands), Germany and then through Denmark. My wife didn’t have her license back then, so I did all the driving. The last 100 miles were by far the hardest for me, and to make the journey even more exciting, the kids were extremely tired. Tired kids = screaming/crying kids clinging to their mum.
Upon arrival, we met up with my entire family for dinner and coffee. All of us were wrecked, so we only stayed for a couple of hours before heading to my grandma’s house. She had kindly vacated her house so we could stay there. I guess she didn’t know we were bringing the dogs 🙂
It has to be said that our Bernese is a real lady. She didn’t do no.2 for the entire journey, which made me wonder when it would happen. Just as we arrived at my parents place, she jumped out of the car and ran quickly into the house. She was happy to be free again and busy sniffing the house. Suddenly she arched her back and did a huge pile on my parent’s persian carpet! Welcome to Denmark.
The next morning, we woke up to a snow covered landscape. It had been snowing all night, so the snow covered everything and muffled all sounds. Snow covered landscapes are beautiful. So, I took the dogs for a long walk. They loved it. The labrador was digging tunnels under the snow and the Bernese was doing frog jumps to move in the snow. She doesn’t like to get wet and dirty.
Later that morning, we went back over to my parent’s place. They were delighted to spend time with their grand kids. My sister’s kids asked our daughter if she wanted to try the sled, and she said yes. I wrapped her in her snow gear, which made her look like a sea star. She couldn’t bend her arms. I put her gently into the snow. She looked around and down and to her horror she couldn’t see her feet. She looked at me in despair and let out a loud scream (similar to the scream from “The Body Snatchers”). For an instant, she thought her feet were gone. I lifted her up again so she could see her feet again, and she was delighted. The journey in the sled was not as much fun as she expected. Well, it was her first sled ride, so as she got snow in her face, she didn’t know whether to cry or laugh – so, she did both!
The next two weeks was spent mainly with family and friends. That’s what Christmas is all about. We ate and drank every day, as if we hadn’t eaten for days. I probably gained 5kg in two weeks. I was grateful I didn’t have to squeeze my arse into a flight seat. The vacation had ended and we were forced to pack the family winnebago and head towards Ireland. We said our goodbyes and the grand parents wept a bit. For some reason they think the kids will forget them, just because we don’t see them every day.
The journey home was fairly uneventful. We got to see (and hear) “Sound of Music” a few times.
On the way home, we decided to stop in a little German village, something ending on “stadt” and in the middle of nowhere. My wife had this weird fantasy that the food would be amazing. I guess it has to do with her summers in southern Germany when she was a teenager. We had lunch in a local hotel, fish n’ chips and headed towards the ferry again.
Finally we made it to England. We “only” had a 9 hours left before the ferry would depart. At this point, we were just following the traffic on the motorway. Suddenly, the mobile beeped. We had received a text message. It was an SMS from the ferry company where they kindly informed us that the ferry we were scheduled to sail with, had been cancelled. They said we could take the one earlier or the one the following morning. Determined not to spend another night in a cramped hotel, I floored the pedal.
From Birmingham to Hollyhead, the old banger of an SUV clocked 180mph. The beautiful landscape flew by like a washed out painting and the kids’ faces were feeling the pressure of G-force, being pushed into their seats. My wife’s lactating breasts were also suffering. Breast milk squirted out on the wind screen, much to the amusement of the kids. Soon after, we slammed through the sound-barrier, or perhaps we just dropped the exhaust pipe. Either way, the parachute was not going to be used until we arrived at the destination. The SatNav was frantically trying to keep up, but failed miserably, and started to name cities we passed miles back.
Time was working against us, but by some miracle we didn’t get stopped by a daring country cop. Either that, or their old John Deer tractor wouldn’t catch the silver bullet.
We made it to the ferry, just as they were starting to board. Going 60mph again was like parking, so the guys at the port looked angrily at me as they attempted to get me to slow down. I hit the breaks hard and tires squeaked on the iron floor. I felt a bump, and discovered that the dogs were forced against the dog guard and the kids were clinging on to the back of the front seats. 2 hours later we were home.
On behalf of my family, I would like to apologize to people living between Birmingham and Hollyhead (Wales) for driving like a maniac. The car has never been the same and neither have I. I’ve now bought a scooter and rule the bus lanes.