We recently returned from a week long cruise in the Baltic Sea. Cruising is by far the cheapest way to travel around here, especially if you hate long car rides and stale gas station food.
We hit up a number of interesting ports: Copenhagen, Stockholm, Estonia and St. Petersburg. It was routinely fattening, frequently confusing, and absolutely adventurous.
Notice that I didn't use words like relaxing, peaceful or healthy?
Our first port stop was Copenhagen, Denmark. I should have packed a few more umbrellas and a few less sun dresses. The weather was cold and wet.
We traveled with about 40 of our closest friends into the old city of Copenhagen. Unfortunately, I didn't pay particularly close attention when we disembarked and rode the subway into town. I tend to warp into "sheep mode" with very little prodding; I'm an excellent follower. We visited a few sites, I did a little window drooling, and by noon my little kids were wet and cold and hungry.
"How much more do we have to see?" I asked the Travelmeister as we completed our third bathroom break.
"You're funny," he said with zero humor. "We've barely even started."
"Do we get to take a taxi?" I asked, looking up at the ominous rain clouds then down at my sandal clad feet.
"Sweetheart," he said in his favorite patronizing tone, "Would you like to go back to the boat now?"
And there it was. Normally, I would jump at that kind of bait. All our friends were standing around with their children (and their rain ponchos) waiting for my reply.
The gauntlet had been thrown, what would I choose? Suck it up? Stop complaining? Get some chocolate and suffer in silence?
I looked at my wet little kids and back at my big strong die-hard traveling man.
"You know what? That's a fabulous idea. You all go on ahead, we're going back to the boat."
Then I took off in the wrong direction.
"Um, Honey?" he said, "I think you want to go the other way."
Carefully masking my silent terror at the thought of retracing our way back to the boat without an adult present, I jauntily stuck my nose in the air and waved my little hand in his direction without a second glance. Somehow I managed to find the subway.
We finally boarded the right train and the kids and I (Rex, June and Georgia) took seats in the front car. With three kids ages 6 and under we weren't necessarily the most reverent little group. The doors closed, the train took off, and 10 seconds later someone turned around and shot me a look.
"Shh," she said, "This is the Silent Car."
Bad time for my luck to fail us.
I shushed Rex and Junie down with a few well-placed threats about the Dutch Police, but Georgia (age 2 in August) was having none of it. Personally, I was impressed with the older kids' obedience and managed to quickly pacify the baby. We only had two stops before our exit so I breathed out and sat back.
The train stopped. And that's when the conductor opened the door right next to me.
"Dit is de rustige trein, je nodig hebt om uw kinderen stil. Begrijp je me je gek vrouw? Dit is de freaking rustige trein!"
I almost wet my pants.
In that moment I realized that Jason still had our train tickets and we were technically riding illegally; there was a real chance that my Dutch Police threat was going to pan out. I stared up into his terrifyingly stern face and finally said, "I have no idea what you just said."
"This is the Silent Car," he said. We stared at each other for a few seconds.
"Do you want us to leave?" I finally asked in my weakest, most terrified English.
"Be silent." He shut the door in my face and we were once again on our way.
I don't think my kids or I even breathed for the next four minutes (which were eternal, by the way).
As we exited the train a sweet lady from our car came up to me. "I think your kids were wonderful," she said. "He was a stupid conductor."
Either way, it was definitely a relief to leave dry land.
Annie Valentine is a wife, mother and columnist. Readers can contact her at email@example.com or visit her blog at regardingannie.wordpress.com.