Sunday, 30 June 2013

From Berlin to Vancouver, or, One of the Most Stressful Days of my Life

Leaving Berlin was perhaps more stressful than arriving there. For a couple of weeks prior to our leaving date, I’d noticed a faint moldy smell in the flat and a few small spots of mold on the walls. I’d emailed our landlord about it and he told us not to worry, but just to ensure that we kept airing the flat out for five minutes a day, which we did.

Friday, the day before our flights, was designated to finish cleaning the flat & packing our bags. Unfortunately Walter has a little episode every time we try to pack, and demands constant attention, so we weren’t really able to settle him until late afternoon. David began packing his bags and that was when he made the awful discovery – the whole wardrobe, and the wall behind it, was covered with a gross green mold. The more stuff we moved the more we found. It in our clothing, on our suitcases... it was awful. I spent the evening at the laundromat, washing most of David’s clothing as he was heading back to England & staying with friends, so didn’t want to bring a bunch of moldy clothes with him. We contacted our landlord right away who said not to worry... 

It had come through the wall and into the wardrobe, and then into our clothes... YUCK
It was 3am before I was able to say that the cleaning & packing was finished. I went to bed and was up by 8am the next morning to finish the organising and pack last minute things, like Walter’s diapers. At 8:45 our landlord arrived, but he had another man with him. At this point in time David & I were both feeling strongly suspicious. The other man was allegedly an “insurance inspector” and, as I’m sure you can guess, the mold problem was blamed on us and, after realising that we needed to resolve the issue or miss our flights, we ended up having to lose our damage deposit (I’d had an inkling this might happen when I booked the flat) and hand over a substantial, but not completely prohibitive, sum of additional euros.

I was, as you can probably understand, quite upset. In October I had found out that my job was at risk of redundancy, which meant that our ever-dwindling savings were possibly the only thing we would have to support us. David was heading back to England and although we knew that we’d see him at Christmas, we had no idea what would be happening after that. We’d hoped to spend our last day in Berlin enjoying time together as a family, and instead it was just full of mounting stress. By the time we got to the airport on Saturday morning I was struggling to keep it together. We had hoped to have a few hours together at the airport, but after I checked in with Walter we learned that David’s flight was cancelled. So we ran to the British Airways flight desk and got him on the first available flight, which happened to be leaving in fourty minutes. So much for family time.

I don’t remember being particularly stressed at the airport. I think I had reached my limit and ‘switched off’. And, thanks to the wonderful people at Air Berlin, we had a really enjoyable flight to New York. They’d given us a bassinet seat for the journey, so I didn’t have to keep Walter on my lap, and they even had a bag of baby essentials (diaper, toys, bottle etc) that kept Walter occupied. In fact he enjoyed the nine-hour flight so much that he spent most of it befriending the stewardesses and surrounding passengers instead of sleeping!

In New York things started falling apart. I’d requested assistance at the airport, since I had to transfer between airlines and check my bags again, and American Airlines had assured me that I would have all the help I’d need. Imagine my delight when I exited my flight and was told there there would be no help. I blessed the good angel that had put it into my head to buy Walter a baby hawk carrier, because we wouldn’t have made it through the airport without it. The staff at JFK were appallingly rude. I mean, I know that New Yorkers are stereotyped on being proud of their rudeness, but in most places that I’ve traveled people at least take pity on a mum struggling with a young baby. Not so there! It was a member of the Air Berlin staff who saw me struggling to wheel a loaded suitcase trolly and Walter’s stroller to the baggage drop and offered to help. I was grateful for the assistance but at the same time really pissed off that it took a fellow foreigner to step in and help me because none of the Americans working at the airport could be bothered. At every turn throughout the airport, whether checking in for our AA flight or going through security, we were harassed and scolded. It got so bad that I almost lost it at security, when they were berating me for not being fast enough (and meanwhile Walter was half-slipping out of the carrier because no one would hold him and there was no where to put him down safely while I struggled back into my shoes). I think it was the look on my face that got them to back off. 

I’d hoped to relax on our flight, but AA kept to their usual standards and we ended up crammed into a corner seat. Walter screamed his head off for a good ten minutes, because no one was doing much to answer my service call for a glass of water with which to mix his formula. If we hadn’t had both fallen asleep it would’ve been an unbearable six hours to Seattle, since we couldn’t even get out of our corner to stretch our legs or use the toilet. And even tho’ it was a six hour flight, we were only served a small beverage partway through (I know this is fairly standard now for domestic flights, but keep in mind that I was on the second leg of an international flight and hadn't had any chance to get food at the airport due to my connection).

My brave little trooper. Unless he was unbearably uncomfortable he didn't cry.
I knew better than to expect assistance from AA when I arrived in Seattle, so Walter and I struggled on the whole length of the airport. I’d not eaten in over 12 hours, my bags were heavy, and I was just in auto pilot. Fortunately I have an awesome brother who can always be counted on to keep a look-out, and just when I was ready to collapse he came racing towards us and the next things I knew I was surrounded by my family and the hell of the last 48 hours was at an end. Soon all my bags were collected, loaded into the car, and we were racing off towards Denny’s for an 11pm dinner before driving back to Canada. 

Walter remembered his Baba!

Meeting Uncle Johnny & Opa for the first time. Denny's -- it's where the magic happens.
As an aside, I must point out how happy I was to see that Denny's had taking their marketing one step too far. I'm pretty sure I heard Tolkien rolling over in his grave:
Is this like a Titus Andronicus pie?

Because Hobbits love heart attacks! We all ordered off the special Hobbit menu. I had Gandalf's Gobbler (ie a turkey sandwich). A part of me died.

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