Getting Ready

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January thru
May, 2002

Trip Preparations - Get Ready, Get Set, Go!

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Background and History 

Planning Sessions at Blimpies

Time to Pack and Go

The Long Flight to Brussels

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Background and History 

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DAVE: We had planned to go to Our Trip to BransonEurope (Amsterdam, Paris, and Normandy) in May 2001. But, due to declining economic conditions at work, we instead went to Dallas, New Orleans, and Branson Missouri instead (read our "Ozarks/Cajun" trip story). Jesse had done some decent research for that previous trip, and we had been in a quandary about rental cars versus trains, the high cost of three person hotel rooms, and the reputation that Amsterdam has for "smash and grab" crimes against tourists. But that was all set aside when we headed for mid-America instead. This year we found ourselves with good background info, lots of Travel Europe books, and pushpin maps on our family room corkboard.

Over the winter, we watched several movies about D-Day including "The Longest Day" and Tom Hanks in "Saving Private Ryan" that Jesse might write a essay about the soldier's experience. During those movies, it dawned upon me that Jesse should go to Normandy, before he is too old to appreciate it. We started again researching three plane tickets and European hotels and hit the same stumbling blocks; it is simply easiest to tour Europe as two people. Lyn was also feeling in continued poor health due to her Pheochromcytoma,  especially after her tests in late January did not find the little tumor. It was Lyn that suggested that she stay home and the trip be a Father / Son bonding experience. We agreed only if the trip also served as a "scouting mission" for another trip, one year later, with all three of us. When Lyn agreed, the die was cast.

Lyn: Jesse was taking college classes, his second semester (Algebra and Spanish), so it was logical to have them leave immediately after his finals (May 3rd) and return before the public schools let out for summer. We quickly decided that they should go for the two weeks in May ending on Memorial Day week-end. This way, Dave could fly home Saturday, and have an extra day to recover before returning to work and Jesse would arrive home just in time for his friends to start summer vacation with him.

Delta Air LinesI started working on Delta frequent flyer tickets, hoping for two first class tickets in and out of Paris. Ha, Ha, Ha! Paris tickets are scarce and go fast. Even though Dave is Platinum, the best we could do was Manchester or Brussels. Even then, to secure first class involved a crazy routing first to Cincinnati, then JFK, then onto Europe and following the same crazy path back. We finally chose Brussels, and with only those two going, could have no crazy "meet you there" itineraries that Dave is now famous for (read about our 1998 UK Trip). We, scheduled the tickets and waitlisted them on the more direct flights through Atlanta. Dave's platinum status would place us at the top of the waitlist (unless a million-miler was already there).

I also started looking up hotels and tourist sites on the web, spending about an hour each evening and  building up a large bookmark file on Netscape. Jesse helped a little, but was mostly worried about his college classes and playing with his friends. He definitely suffered from fourteen-itis, and Dave began to lose his temper about how I was doing most of the detail grinding research for a trip I wasn't even going on.

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Planning Sessions at Blimpies

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DAVE: We started our Saturday planning sessions at our nearby Blimpies. Jesse would get "home school" credit for research and planning time (just like for the previous cancelled trip), and he would be responsible for many decisions and most small details.

We found and started to re-read our Rick Steves "Europe through the Back Door" guide, bought a couple extra down at Barnes and Noble, and checked out all the European travel videos we could find at our three local libraries and the nearby Hollywood and Blockbuster video stores.

RailEurope

We found the website for "Rail Europe", the US distributor for Eurail train passes and (Ta-Da!) there was a train pass sale! It was almost written exactly for us. You could get two tickets, traveling together, for any 5-days to any 3 countries (BeNeLux is one country for Eurail), for $199 per person. Travel must start after April 15th, 2002 and finish by June 1st, 2002. Ok, where do I sign?. Actually, Lyn made several calls about it because of our general confusion and nervousness, but the tickets worked out perfectly! Now, where to go?

Lyn found a lot of websites for us to review, and made a lot of calls to French hotels and US travel companies. But first she found us a cheap provider of International long distance. (AT&T was charging highway robbery rates, and we may very well dump them over a telephone dispute).

We knew we would go to Paris, and to Normandy, so we (Lyn) started web research. Normandy had a Novotel and some downtown inns, that were a little pricey and only available on the week-end. The Paris Marriott hotels (Marriott, Renaissance, Courtyard) were completely ridiculous. I eventually wrote a letter complaining to Marriott about the pathetic situation because, each of the hotels wanted top-tier points, then to add double-charge penalty points due to being "in season". Only it wasn't in season. And the fact that I was platinum / double diamond / president's circle meant doodly-squat.

But the most insulting part was I went to the Marriott reservation page and the Renaissance Paris at La Defense near the Grande Arche had a "week-end special" for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights for about $100 (109 euros). For three nights they wanted either 600,000 points or $300, and that is frankly just ridiculous. Lousy frogs. So we made the reservation and decided to visit Paris during the middle week-end (May 17-19, 2002) and schedule from there.

We would go to Normandy during one week, and Bastogne and the Ardennes (and Holland and Germany) during the other. The Eurail pass gave us a great discount on Hertz cars allowing different city pick-up and drop off (but only within the same country). We eventually decided to include Luxembourg (to see Gen Patton's grave) and to skip Amsterdam until Lyn was with us. 

A Saturday Planning Session at Blimpies

A Saturday planning session at Blimpies

Lyn and Jesse planning at Blimpies

Lyn's "Red Folder" went with us everywhere.

Planning Session with NTN and Pizza

Planning the trip at the "Varsity Club"
while watching the Red Wings

Mr Victor and Angie, our Amigos!

Mr Victor and Angie, our two Amigos.

One Rick Steves video touted Brugge (Bruges), and had a great point about avoiding jet lag. "Jet Lag hates exercise", he said, while showing him renting a bicycle during his first day following the trans-Atlantic flight. We decided to do just that; fly into Brussels and train immediately to Brugge. We would find the hotel and then rent bicycles for a couple hour spin around the historic town. We would head from Brugge into Paris the next evening (Sunday, May 12) using the once a week Thalys evening train,  and then onto Normandy for week one. The plans came together, the days ticked away, and soon it was time to go.

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Time to Pack, Time to Go

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DAVE: We had a run of bad luck during the last days before departure. My last assignment was at the New Jersey shore and would end on Wednesday. I would fly home from Newark, be home around 11pm with a leisurely day Thursday to pack and a Friday departure at 10am (after a leisurely family breakfast). Hah!

When I booted my laptop in the hotel Sunday night, it would not run. The hard drive had been failing now and then and picked this day to crash. We needed the laptop for our Europe trip, to download the digital camera, to upload pictures to the web for Lyn to see, and to run the street mapping software. We all hit overdrive, working channels at work (for a replacement) and at home (to rent a one-month replacement). It took until Wednesday for the work machine to arrive (returning the "rental" on Thursday), with our Friday morning flight. Jesse had to learn the machine and then reinstall all our software in just one day. Also, we needed a new power adapter for our airplane cord. Of course, we would need PC power for the two ten hour flights over the ocean and also to run off the cigarette adapter in the car. Lyn had extra tips shipped overnight for the three possible PC's that we might use.

In the nick of time, work provided me a new Toshiba, which matched the new power tips and Jesse did the software install all day Thursday. after his finals ended on Wednesday. But we were still not comfortable with the new keyboard layout as we left for Brussels Friday morning. Sheesh!

Then on Wednesday night, extremely bad luck struck. My flight from New Jersey into Atlanta went fine, but then the outbound plane home was delayed, then delayed, then delayed, then finally cancelled. It was the last flight home (since the schedule contractions following Sept 11th), so my two choices were to spend the night in Atlanta (arrive home 9am Thur) or take a flight into Sarasota, arriving 1am, and rent a car to drive home from there. So I flew into Sarasota, arrived late, and rented a car for the two plus hour drive home. Dave beginning The Longest DayOf course, my luggage did not join me, but would be delivered first thing the next morning (sure). I finally arrived home after 3am, exhausted, and this ruined our plans for a relaxed Thursday. The only good thing was that the rental car would let Jesse and I drive ourselves to the airport Friday, which would allow Lyn to see us off at the driveway.

We ran errands Thursday, but my luggage didn't arrive! Of course, the digital camera, the GPS, my travel packs for medicines and miscellaneous (and the actual suitcase itself) were all needed for the trip. The luggage arrived at the airport later than expected, then sat before being put on a delivery shuttle. Finally, the shuttle had a  breakdown during its run, and had to wait for a replacement (during rush hour, of course). We called to check every couple hours, then the bag arrived promptly just after 6pm! We were too tired to pack, but had gone to the bank and chiropractor and had staged all the clothes and things. We went to bed at 1am, and set the alarm for 7am to pack and leave home at 10am for the 11:40am flight. So much for relaxing.

Long lines if you are not Delta medallion statusWe were up at 7:30, showered and dressed and started to pack. Then a weird thing happened. At 9am we were finished and suddenly had an hour to kill ("wanna go out for breakfast?"). We sat and talked, then left right on time at 10 am, stopped to buy more batteries (still not enough), then dropped off the rental car, and checked our luggage. The lines at the airport were crazy, except there was nobody in the Delta "medallion" line. Jesse started to understand the benefit of the elite frequent flyer status

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The Long Flight to Brussels

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DAVE: Our waitlist connection through Atlanta cleared (of course), but no first class seats were available for the flight into Atlanta. Which would you pick? Either fly coach to Atlanta with a one hour layover or fly first class and have five hours to kill? We figured to use our five hours to walk some and have a leisurely lunch.

Our first idea was to walk the entire airport and Jesse suggested we use the five hours to go from "A" concourse to "E" concourse doing somersaults down the train tunnel. We finally decided to take a Delta Atlanta "Crown Room" tour. We visited all six ATL crown rooms (First "A", then "T", then "B", ending at "E").   I was able to stand outside each and describe the rooms internal layout to Jesse from only looking at the door. I still can't decide if that is a good or bad thing. Also, the guy at the room in "A" actually recognized me from my Wednesday night ordeal. Oh well.

We had a snack at Chili's, and ended our crown room tour at the international concourse crown room("E"), and finally at the international "Business Class" crown room. We snacked at the BUFFET they keep in there (sheesh), then finally headed out to our gate.

Dave and Jesse fill out those first class seats to ATL

The flight into Atlanta

We visited all six crown rooms on layover

The Atlanta Crown Room Tour

Thats a LOT of people getting on that MD-11

The Nine hour flight in Business Class

A lot of people fit on an MD-11
Champagne? OK.  Now please return your 
video units to the locked position.

"Business Class" on an MD-11 includes the Lay-z-Boy style reclining seats. That makes a nine hour flight a lot easier to take. All announcements were made first in English, then French, and finally Dutch. Even the safety video with subtitles. Dinner was delicious (including the two snifters of Champaign), and our in-seat video units offered individual choice from six movies (two sets during the flight) and showed an interactive map of our flight progress. We each slept about an hour, then awoke for the juice, warm eggs and croissants. I finished downloading the digital pictures to the laptop and reviewed the mapping software. Soon enough, we stepped out into the Brussels airport to start our two week vacation in Europe!

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Original Web Upload May 2002
Last Update: March 18, 2008