The lead up to this trip was hectic. I had taken on a contract external to my blog and full-time parenting role – the first time I had done so since having two kids, so planning our two week tour to the Netherlands got deferred until that was over.
Then we found a house in our neighbourhood that we could just barely afford but I wanted to leave our duplex for a variety of pressing reasons; so, we staged our duplex for sale and engaged in that stressful and long-winded dance of buying and selling real estate.
Thus, planning the trip got deferred again! At this point, my husband took up a bunch of the more intricate planning, which was extremely helpful.
Once the real estate piece was firmed up, we exchanged ideas, he kept planning, and I packed up our duplex, setting aside what was likely necessary for the trip, such as our camping gear.
Then we moved.
Two weeks later we got on a plane to Amsterdam! Once everything was checked in at the airport in Calgary, I truly felt relieved.
And we’re off
We got to the airport early because of the bikes, trailer, gear, and kids — plus, we didn’t know how long it would take to get there due to rush-hour traffic. We drove about 15-30 kph the whole length of the busy 100 kph highway, so it was good we left when we did. That said, we had ample time and checked in with no line-ups.
The Air Transat staff were patient helping us with our massive load and were kind with the kids. This was our second major trip with them with the kids and bikes in tow (last summer we went to Montréal) and I would highly recommend them to travel with.
Check-in staff allowed us to clip together our three fairly lightweight 20 L dry bags (containing our tent, sleeping bags, mats, etc.) and then put them all in one giant plastic bag so that we managed to stay within our pre-paid quota of four checked bags (these dry bags plus three panniers). The stroller (a double WIKE Softie) flew for free, as per airline child luggage policies.
Packing, bags, and fees
For international travel, I highly recommend pre-paying for all legs of your journey for luggage and bikes if you have a lesser valued currency like our Canadian dollar because you are then paying in your own currency, plus you are assured a spot for your bike on the plane). This also applies for domestic travel: pay for your luggage ahead of time if you are travelling to a busier airport with higher fees and/or provincial taxes. For example, we would have saved a few bucks if we had pre-paid for our bags and bike last summer as the Montréal airport has higher fees than Calgary and Québec has TVQ/QST whereas Alberta only has PST.
Packing was pretty straightforward. We had three panniers, with an extra empty pannier inside one of them, plus three 20 L dry bags. My touring bike, racks, and basket was packed into a Ground Effect Tardis bag along with all of our tools for the trip in my Porcelain Rocket frame bag. The two kids’ bikes were in one Tardis bag, along with the FollowMe Tandem and WIKE bicycle tow bar (I could not find a spot on the frame of the WIKE nor inside it where the bar could be stowed without protruding and I always figure trim packaged are best when travelling, not ones with awkward protrusions that can get caught on stuff). Last year we packed the Bike Friday Haul-a-Day in a Tardis, too, but this year we chose a far easier option of using 7 mm vapour barrier/poly sheet (which I highly recommend). And, of course, we each had a carry on backpack – awesome lightweight frameless ones from MEC that easily stowed away for the rest of our trip, and I had a fanny pack with our passports.
The waiting game and flight
The International wing at the Calgary Airport is pretty lacking in food choices (FYI) so the kids had fast food for the first time ever and I had it for the first time since I can last remember. A&W makes a good, albeit salty, burger. I was impressed by all their compostable packaging (unlike the airplane fare). We thought the play area was also pretty terrible, but the kids did not so that’s all that counts! They ripped around climbing and jumping and had the place to themselves. Meanwhile, the airport was starting to smell like campfire.
We brushed teeth and went pee.
We boarded the plane just shy of 19h30 so we left the ground a little late. It was eerily smokey in Calgary from the forest fire blazing in the north end of the province, much like it was for a large portion of August the last two summers. I never thought I would say that I am looking forward to the cleaner air in Europe.
The plane was maybe half full so my husband had the middle three seats to himself and the girls and I were cozied up in the three against the window. I wanted them to go to sleep shortly after getting on the plane but the on board entertainment and excitement, along with the bright LED lights hindered my intentions. We started getting ready for bed and then they announced that they were serving dinner, it must have been around 21h Calgary time and seemed a bit silly to me. I would have preferred a full breakfast instead of the light snack of marble cake they served 01h45 Calgary-time prior to landing. Anyway, the girls eventually drifted off to sleep around 22h/22h30 and got a solid 4.5 hours in.
Glad that I packed lots of snacks, I ate a granola bar for breakfast. We landed a little bit early in spite of our late start.
Next stage, getting our things and customs. And proper coffee or at least another one. Then we scuttle over and down to the train station and hop on a train to Arnhem. At some point we will assemble bikes, likely on the train or in Arnhem, although we may assemble the Haul-a-Day at the airport so that we can roll it and use it as a sort of dolly.
We made it! Customs was straightforward. We were travelling on our Canadian passports since that is where we were travelling from/to; the girls and my husband all have Dutch citizenship, too, but their passports are expired and I don’t have one.
We waited for what felt like forever for our bikes but they arrived safely; there were two oversized cargo areas in the luggage pick-up zone and we only intermittently checked the quieter second one which is, of course, where they ended up coming out. We loaded up two dollies with stuff and with nothing to declare, we headed through to the meeting area. The girls and I turned around and my husband wasn’t there; he had to rearrange his load of bikes to fit through the gates! Then we rolled a little further and were in the train station, as it should be everywhere.
Train station at Schiphol
Pee break! My eldest got really mad at the public toilets at the train station as they wouldn’t let her pee in peace. The “eye”, as we call it, kept flushing the toilet on her because we were all three in a stall and there was too much movement! Poor girl but her reaction was hilarious and she was very good humoured and dramatic about it.
On to the train. We helped one mum get her stroller over the bollards to the escalator ramp down to her platform as her elevator was not working. We kept our fingers crossed that our elevator was working and with much relief, we were in luck.
We had to ditch he dollies at this point and rely on the WIKE to carry the gear and arm strength to carry the bikes. The Tardis bags have uncomfortable shoulder straps so my husband slung one on each side and with his height could just clear the ground. I slid and awkwardly carried the folded up Haul-a-Day. We all managed to fit onto this giant elevator, somehow. The girls pushed the WIKE full of gear.
Then we waited a little bit for our train, maybe 10 minutes. The longer haul trains don’t have the ideal bike set-up; the smaller Sprinter trains seem more appropriate (but we won’t test that theory until Day 8) with a half-car devoted to bikes and no steps to get on, just roll on. But we made it. The train with the bike door stopped directly in front of us! What luck! We put the WIKE in the bike space in the alcove at the top of one of the stairs and then to the left is a little room with flip-up seats and we got the bikes in there, too, but had to ask two people to get up (because it wasn’t obvious enough!). One of us would sit with the gear while the other went up to the upper level (double decker style) to sit with the girls and take in the views. Our train ride was a little over an hour.
We arrived in Arnhem at their central station and were possibly the furthest from the elevator possible. So, we slowly rolled and shuffled over. This elevator couldn’t fit us all, so we took turns. Then we shuffled over to the fare gates and squeezed out of the disabled entrance/exit. And we found what seemed like a quiet corner to assemble the bikes.
Assembling the bikes in a relatively quiet, but not totally quiet place was a bit stressful, I have to admit. At one point when we were half-way done two security guards came over and asked what we were doing and stated that this isn’t a bike shop. They let us be after we told them what we were doing, but it amped up the pressure for me and we couldn’t help but think that it was extremely advantageous to be white and relatively clean looking at that moment.
Then we rolled into Arnhem and it was beautiful. It turned out to be one of my favourite cities of the entire trip. It lacked the canals of western Dutch towns and cities, but it was charming, the terrain was varied and rolling, and the greenery was lush. We rode up to the Stayokay Arnhem hostel on the edge of town, through a lovely park with swans and other birds, arrived at our hostel and felt pretty lucky.
I was delirious at this point though. With all the travel, not enough food, and jet lag. I needed food stat. Luckily there was a restaurant on site as we had not got food and fuel en route to the hostel like we had planned to. Dinner hit the spot. The girls loved the playground on site. We got to bed around 10 pm and we had to wake them up at 9 am so that we wouldn’t miss the included breakfast. My husband and I both had a long rest with a good chunk of sleep, too. It felt great.
And it was felt glorious to breath fresh air.