What can go wrong, CAN go wrong. We all read the stories of those perfect trips. For some, nothing “Ever” goes wrong. For us, we have finally reached our statistical threshold and experienced a worst-case travel scenario. This is a story of when a House Hunting Trip goes wrong. Successful but wrong, there is a difference.
Everyone has that one travel experience; where you haven’t even arrived at your destination and you are all ready to pack it in and go home. Some may have even done just that. So far, we have only ever cut our adventures short but for this last trip, abort wasn’t an option. It was a trip to Canada to find and solidify a family home for our upcoming relocation. Airline tickets were bought and paid for weeks in advance, hotel reservations were no longer refundable, and any changes to the itinerary would cost us precious funds. This is the worst trip we have ever undertaken.
Canceled Connecting Flight
When we left for the Dusseldorf International Airport, we were sure that the local strikes were going to play a part in delaying our flight. There have been disruptions in Frankfurt and Munich so far, and as the capital city of the state, we were concerned that we would be next. Living just 20 minutes away, everything looked good for the day so we made our way via local train.
Like seasoned travelers, we used the kiosk to check in and print our boarding passes, that was a failure of technology on this particular day. Without an explanation from the kiosk, no warning messages, it printed our passes from Dusseldorf to London, then nothing. Umm, we have a connecting flight to our destination in Canada. Where are the rest of our tickets?
We asked the customer service desk, she was of the opinion that the machines were not printing connecting flights today. What gives! We have been traveling Europe for some time now and this just isn’t an issue we have encountered before. Customer Service directed us to the agents at the baggage drop off desk. This next agent looked at our itinerary and stated that Air Canada at Heathrow in London would print us our tickets, and there was nothing she could do about it.
We’ve flown to Canada with other carriers and they have never had an issue printing our tickets, that’s how connecting flights work. Weird, but whatever. She printed luggage tags all the way to Ottawa and took our suitcases. We boarded our flight and all was well…until we landed.
Bells starting ringing when I noticed the couple beside me had their tickets printed – Dusseldorf to London to Calgary, with Air Canada. Something just doesn’t add up.
Upon exiting our aircraft, we proceeding to the departures hub at Heathrow to find the Air Canada service desk. Please, can we have our tickets printed? FLIGHT CANCELED!
She said there was a mechanical failure after the plane left and they had to turn around. By the time it was fixed, the crew would have been over their hours had they continued with the flight and so it was scrubbed. Instead of flying out at 5 pm, with a 5-hour layover at Heathrow, we were now pushed to a 9 am flight the next day.
When did the airlines know about this cancellation? Ans: 7 am that morning.
So you can see the issue here, we checked into Dusseldorf at 9:30 am. Both agents would have known about this cancellation if they had looking it up in the system.
With the final touches to our suitcases and wrangling the children, we planned for a strike in Germany messing with our day, not an aircraft mechanical failure in Ottawa stranding us in London.
Stranded at Heathrow, London
Air Canada provided us with a hotel room, fully equipt with a rickety shower and strange layout. Open the pullout couch, now you have to Circ du Soleil your way to the toilet.
They also provided shuttle tickets for transit to the hotel, as well as a coach to bring us back to the airport in the morning. Finally, we were also given vouchers for free crappy dinner and breakfast at the hotel. A nice little pamphlet explained our customer rights with regards to long stay delays and short notice cancellations within the EU; this was great as we were a little P.O’d that our plan had taken a turn.
After receiving our room, we began the task of calling all the connecting parts of our trip. Our hotel room at our destination needs to be contacted as we won’t be there; I called the hotel directly to keep the room. However, since I had booked with booking.com it was necessary to contact them and adjust my check-in date by one day.
We also contacted our relocation agent. And, most importantly, my mother! My dear sweet parents have offered to meet us in Ottawa, watch the children for a few days and return them tuckered out and ready to fly home. What, a vacation within a business trip with NO kids? Hells yes you can have them while we are searching!
By now, she is already halfway to us, during a snowstorm (because she is determined to get to her grandkids), and our flight lands at 11:30am the next day so they might as well keep going – except now I have to deal with mom guilt (you try explaining to two little ones why they can’t see their grandmother tonight after talking about it for weeks) and daughter guilt (maybe I should have asked her to wait a day or two to join us, just in case something delays us. I dislike that she had extended costs for me and mine.)
What about our luggage you ask? Nope. No luggage for us. Just the clothes on our backs and the carry-on items we brought with us.
But surely you had a change of clothes in case of lost luggage, just like you preach in most, if not all, of your travel tip articles? That is where anxiety took over and we didn’t pack a change of clothes for ourselves. We did have PJs for the kids since they were going to sleep on the plane, but none for me and the hubby. Oh, and good thing Baby Girl is potty training. We only had a handful of diapers in her backpack for night time, as the rest of the pack was in our checked bag #smrt
We decided to leave the stroller at home since my sister has a spare at her house that my mom could use and we didn’t want to deal with it. I did pack the baby carrier for the layover, however. Even though it is only 5 hours, I knew she would want to rest and we already knew Heathrow doesn’t give strollers back even if they were gate checked at the airport of origin. The London Underground can be rough going with a stroller.
We eventually found our way to the shuttle area, can’t read the signs to save our lives – mainly because they aren’t marked as well as we have been used to in Germany #spoiled but we managed to find our shuttle. What feels like an hour later (more like 20 minutes), we arrived at our hotel, ibis London Heathrow Airport Hotel.
We had to wait for our room to be ready as we are still before 3 pm standard check-in time. Queue a meltdown, or 5, for unknown reasons, and we get our hotel room assigned. The double bed is around the corner and the second bed is a pullout couch…awesome. Good thing the agent said we would be assigned to a Family room, or get two rooms. Can’t say I’m surprised though.
We headed downtown for a break and breath of fresh air – it took forever to get there from the hotel and cost us just over 25£ for a full day ticket for the family. Of course, we love visiting the Hard Rock Cafe, making the most of this travel delay and the kids enjoy the “Rock & Roll Restaurant”. The National Memorial is around the corner, then Buckingham Palace, so we took the opportunity to look around and explore during the summer months, instead of cold and dark December like the last time we visited.
The dinner that was served at the hotel was unacceptable, to say the least; dry Chicken kabobs, fries, cold rice and cake that looks less than appetizing. I feel better about having spent millions at the Hard Rock Cafe, even if it did come out of pocket.
Delayed Flight Is Delayed Some More
As far as the rumor mill goes, nothing spreads faster than a small group of frustrated passengers. All 60 of us arrive for breakfast before the sun has even risen, in order to catch the 6:30 am Coach back to the airport. No one knows anything, even the coach driver – “I just do what I’m told”. Turns out, the flight is delayed from 9:30 to 11:30 am, but that didn’t change the coach departure time. Nor did it change the quality of the breakfast being served at the hotel; cereal, pastries, and jellies. That will definitely get us through an 8-hour flight, hands down.
As with most Heathrow flights, we wait in the departure hub until 30 minutes before the flight boards in order to discover which gate we have been assigned to. Sitting around and trying not to spend money in the shops wasn’t going over so well, so we found a restaurant to have second breakfast – and this one had a “children eat free” program. Even better.
Ice Storm in Ottawa
Fast forward a few hours and we safely landed in Ottawa. The kids had been watching in-flight entertainment or napping for the last 7 hours and are ready for bed. But wait, it’s 1 pm.
When we finally cleared customs and pick up our bags, we turned the corner to see my family waiting for us at the doors. Not only are my parents there, as expected, but my sister, her husband, and their two children are there too. We were surprised to see anyone at the actual airport since we had made arrangements to meet at the hotel.
It took a few minutes to realize what was going on. “What a minute, we are in Ottawa! What are you doing here?” Everyone lives in Toronto and I am used to landing in Toronto. In my sleep-deprived state, I forgot which city we were in. We had about an hour to chat and hug before they had to leave; since Toronto is so far away they needed to leave immediately before hitting another leg of the storm or before it got too late for the kids. Welcome to Canada. It snows in April.
This is where things really start to suck. We packed the children’s suitcase into my parents’ car, said our goodbyes, the kids were good to go. An hour later we get a phone call that the highways are closed and they need to turn back around. My family is now stranded in Ottawa. At least we are together.
Hubby and I get our car to the hotel, brave the storm and walk over to the Rideau Center for dinner and a few trinkets for the kids and wait patiently for them to come back.
The hotel has a pool so my sister asked me to buy her family a set of swimsuits. We always pack swimsuits, even if we have no intention of using them – just in case. Anyhoo, we go to the pool and the water is ICE COLD. If I wanted to freeze, I would just walk outside. This is nuts! The kids love it, Hubby and my Brother in law are playing with the kids, I’m watching nicely from the comfort of the hot-tub. Poor kids; there is a seat in the hot tub but it blends in with the rest of the tiles – Munchkin walks across and slips in the hot tub before I can catch him. Full immersion, under the water. Remember this for later.
They go back into the pool and play some more. I take Baby Girl upstairs for a shower…then hubby runs in, and jumps into bed with Munchkin. What is going on? Apparently, due to a nasty combination of the extreme cold and jet lag, Munchkin appears to have had a small seizure and was showing signs of hypothermia. We get him warmed up, he feels a little better and goes to sleep shortly after we feel it is safe to do so. Holy Smokes what a day.
House Hunting Appointments
Finally, the day has come to actually do what we came to Ottawa to do; Check out some rentals! I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of it all, but we didn’t have that many houses to check out. Over breakfast, we all check the weather predictions and they seem to be in our favour; my parents are going to take the kids shortly after lunch and bring them back on Friday – plenty of time to catch our flight on Saturday evening.
Two hours later, as we kill time before our first showing at 10 am (because jet lagged kids wake up at 4 am, don’t you know), my Dad checks his weather app again and it has dramatically changed! They are calling for more storms on Thursday and Friday. Even if this is half true, we can not risk the kids being delayed for the flight. We make the hard choice to not send them to my parents for the week. Everyone is devastated.
I have no car seats! We rented a car for just the two of us since we weren’t keeping the kids. Now, we need car seats. And how are we going to run around the city looking at houses with two kids that just want to go to Toronto?! We leave them in the hotel with my parents to race back to the airport and rent car seats – but there is a felled tree on the road not 5 minutes from the Rental Returns and we are stuck in traffic for a good 10 minutes. Grab the seats, throw them in the car and get to our first appointment 20 minutes late – a wonderful first impression, I have to say. Check out some houses, check in with my parents… they need to leave town by 1 pm. We still have two houses left.
Ok, don’t nap the kids! We go back into the city, grab the kids, say quick goodbyes and take the kids’ things back from my parents’ hotel room. We take them to the 3rd house, trying to find food along the way without being late for this appointment too, and they both pass out before getting there. There goes half the problem – just take turns touring the house, not that big of a deal. And we will feed them when they wake.
After having scheduled 9 listings and 5 selling before we even arrived, we were rushed to pick a house and put in an application before it went…we decided on a house by 3 pm and they already received an application that morning. NOOOO!!!!
We pleaded with their agent to take a look at us anyway, and they were very impressed with the application. I mean, I don’t work (outside the home, or for money) but he has a reliable income and it’s hard to beat that. It took a few days, and some technical engineering on our parts, considering we didn’t have a printer, or scanner with us, but we made it work. Two long days of back and forth, sending documents and requesting referral information.
Now, this is only Wednesday. We still have 3 days left to go on this trip. We finish the day with the Canadian Museum of Nature, which is pretty amazing, I have to add. The kids are just finished. The jetlag isn’t curing itself, despite us trying everything we can think of, and that has worked in the past. They just aren’t feeling well and it is messing up their sleep cycle even more.
Remember a few days ago when Munchkin went underwater in the hottub…yeah, Thursday morning he woke up with bright red cheeks and a rash all over his torso. I ran to the pharmacy to get Benedryl and hoped it was just something he touched, or in the sheets. We kept an eye on him but it quickly got worst.
He slept for 3 hours, and his face just got redder and more swollen. It looked like he received a few punches while he was sleeping. I called Telehealth, the “Nurse over the phone”, and waited about 10 minutes for someone to pick up. She asked dozens of questions and finally recommended we visit the hospital. Since she isn’t a doctor, she can’t make a diagnosis, but she can suggest over the counter treatments or to seek further medical care and in her professional opinion, the Tylenol and Benedryl were not going to cut it.
From my few Google searches (because being a Google Doctor is the best way to drive any parent insane) armed with a little information on childhood illness from reading way too many baby books, he could have an allergic reaction, Measles (while he is up to date on all of his vaccinations, there is still a 3% chance that he can contract Measles, and another small percentage that the vaccination didn’t take – only an immunization test could tell), Fifths disease – also known as Slapped Cheek, or Scarlet Fever. Oh, the wheels are turning!
Just before dinner, Hubby took Munchkin to the Children’s’ Hospital – we may not be familiar with the city or have a family doctor yet but everyone knows that CHEO has the best pediatricians and we weren’t taking any chances. CHEO, however, has a rule that only up to 2 parents/guardians and the sick child are allowed in the waiting room. Siblings are not welcome…so I stayed in the hotel with Baby Girl.
They spent 3 hours waiting, and about 10 minutes in the Doctors office. He has Scarlet Fever. He was exposed to the virus between 12 hours and 3 days before the rash appeared, and it is the Strep Throat virus manifesting itself in a rash instead of a sore throat. They gave him his first round of medicine and we were given a prescription for the rest.
Little known fact; even though we are Canadian citizens, with valid Ontario Drivers Licences, we are not entitled to an OHIP card (Ontario Health Insurance Plan, aka Provincial Insurance aka “free” doctors visits). Once a Canadian has left the country for over 6 months, or permanently left the Province, any health card is no longer valid, even if the card has not expired. We haven’t paid into the system, after all. To use it would be considered insurance fraud. And since Canada isn’t a two-tiered Health Insurance kind of country, most if not all hospitals do not charge third party insurance providers for care. We will be given a statement and the bill will be charged to the Credit Card that we provided during intake, and then we can settle the issue with our own Private Insurance. This lasts until the day we permanently return to Canada and reapply for a new Health Card.
Friday morning arrives and guesses who else has a rash on their torso… the baby! Horray, another trip to the doctor! Oh what fun this vacation is turning out to be.
Bytown Museum – Break For the Kids
Right next to the Rideau Canal, its a cute little museum about ByTown and the early history of Ottawa. Looking for other ideas of what to do with the kids, the cashier suggested the Children’s Museum inside the Canadian Museum of History, just across the water in Gatineau. Perfect, I love that museum and haven’t visited since the big changes, and my favorite restaurant is in Gatineau – St Hubert!
The walk seemed a lot closer when I was younger, and not dragging two whining children and jackets we no longer need. Canada is the only place I know where you can freeze in the morning and catch a sunburn in the afternoon.
The restaurant was great, Baby Girl fell asleep as soon as we put her in the carrier after lunch and we managed to make it to the Children’s Museum in one piece. We toured for an hour, had to leave early so we could walk all the way back to the hotel and get the car in time for check-in at the airport.
Flying back to Dusseldorf
We knew we were going to be plenty early, but we wanted to eat dinner at the airport and most things on the other side of security close at 9 pm so waiting too long to arrive wasn’t in our best interest.
The flight was great, we left and landed back in London without incident, things were looking good.
Now that the kids are on antibiotics, the doctors say they are safe to fly and be around children again. Like most illnesses, they are usually only contagious before the first symptoms.
The last straw
We didn’t get a chance to do pre-check-in for the London to Dusseldorf hopper. There was just too much going on and we simply forgot about it. On the plus side, we were told by several agents that children will automatically be placed with their parents when the system does its random seat assignment – which is done before it opens up for pre-check in seat selection. This turned out to be false.
Not only were we not sitting together, we weren’t even in the same quadrant of the plane as each other. My baby was sitting in row 5, while I was in row 10, and hubby in 19 with the munchkin… 5 seats apart. We asked Customer Service to help, they said to ask the gate agent. At the gate, the same guy says to ask the crew… did you seriously just ask me to ask you later, then pass the buck again?
Oh but don’t worry. The plane can’t take off until you are together. It’s the law!
No one will help me, but families board first so we go to the plane in hopes of getting the crew to help. But what do we find instead… VOMIT! All over the catwalk! And how did we find it? When Munchkin FELL INTO IT!
That’s right, he FELL INTO VOMIT! All down his legs and his shirt sleeve. WHO PUKES ON THE CATWALK AND DOESN’T REPORT! We told 3 employees about the incident, as my son is crying and my husband is fuming mad trying to clean him up with wet wipes. Not one called someone to clean it up. One crew member offered us more wet wipes.
My son is covered in someone else’s bodily fluids. He is also immunocompromised at the moment and taking antibiotics. We strip him down to his undies, wrap my sweater around his waist and he gets to sit that way on a full plane, for 55 minutes. Then, he has to walk through the airport, passed customs and wait at luggage pickup before he can get dressed.
Why didn’t I have a change of clothes in their bags? Because I don’t learn from my mistakes, clearly!
Once everything is said and done, we take a taxi home. A whopping 35euro instead of a 10euro train ride, I wasn’t interested in fighting the Sunday schedule at 4 pm with arms full of luggage and no stroller. I am paying for convenience at this point. I’m just done.
Did I mention? Our camera broke just before leaving home. The camera that we bought with our wedding money, that has been on every vacation since, that we wanted to photograph this journey to our new home with, that camera.
Yup, another $500 to spend in the next few weeks to replace it. We brought Munchkins camera that he got for Christmas, but somehow the battery died the second time we used it so we only have iPhone pictures from this week. Good thing we are moving here cause I’m not so sure my long range photos of the Parliament from Gatineau will cut it on Instagram… or maybe they will serve as a reminder that sometimes vacations just suck and the fact that no one died is enough to celebrate. Let’s go with that before anything else happens.