<%-- Page Title--%> Straight Talk <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 136 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

January 2, 2004

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"I'm bored, are we there yet?"

Nadia Kabir Barb

When you have children, travelling never consists ofimpulsive "let's pack our bags and go wherever our fancy takes us". It is more like -- book somewhere months in advance and make sure it is child-friendly i.e. when your children are walking around the restaurants, people look indulgently at them as opposed to throwing the parents filthy looks implying that they have obviously failed to instil good manners into their offspring!

All aspects of the holiday have to be planned with military precision. I have developed a mental checklist (put it on paper and I am guaranteed to lose it within minutes) where I go through every item I need to pack. This may include items such as books to read, colouring pencils and paper to ward off cries of "I'm bored, are we there yet?" Pinky Bear has to go in the hand luggage (my youngest daughter's favourite teddy bear--God forbid if we should leave without it. When we went to Bangladesh in the summer we spent ages being dragged around Westecs and Aarong looking for clothes for Pinky Bear!). One must always carry enough food to feed an army or so my husband accuses me of. But from my experience, the minute we start on our journey the children are absolutely starving (despite just having had lunch or some substantial meal) or dying of thirst within the first half an hour of commencing our journey and manage to develop an appetite of the likes never seen at the dining table at home.

This Christmas we decided to go to Belgium to visit my brother and his family. It was definitely child-friendly as he has three children of his own! It was decided that we would not fly or take the train but go in the car and go via the Channel Tunnel. This in a way makes life easier as you can put everything in the boot of the car and just drive. There is no hassle of having excess baggage or missing your flight --if you get there late you just take the next available shuttle or if you happen to be early you have the option of taking an earlier train. The only drawback (for me) is that you do have to travel under the English Channel. I had always refused point blank to travel on the Euro Star (a high speed passenger service train) or the Euro Shuttle (which carries vehicles). The crossing is 50 km long, out of which 39 km are undersea. The average depth is 40 m underneath the seabed. The thought of travelling under the sea was terrifying to say the least. Having watched too many disaster movies, my imagination ran riot envisaging leaks in the tunnel to the tunnel collapsing on our head. However, after my brother moved to Belgium, I relented as it made life much easier than flying with three children and now I can just about relax for the 35 minute crossing.

The journey this time round was exceptionally smooth (last time they cancelled the train due to an Anthrax scare, got stuck in traffic and my daughter was sick!) we did not encounter any traffic jams, there were no major mishaps and we did not get lost. I mention this because we have a policy of distribution of labour--my husband drives and I read the map. However when one is bereft of any sense of direction, it can make map reading quite a challenge. When questions such as "is it this exit?" are suddenly thrust upon me with the exit about to whiz past us it can be a little disconcerting. But despite the, "yes, this turning, no not this one, aaah I don't know" we arrived at our final destination more than a bit dishevelled but in relatively good spirits. The children disappeared within minutes with their cousins and the adults were left to catch up on the latest in each otherís lives.

On our second day there, my husband and I decided to take the children into Brussels as my brother had a meeting and my sister-in-law had to take the children to the dentist. As soon as we got to the city centre, the children of course were starving so we went into the nearest restaurant we could see. As it was snowing outside they did not have to put up much of a case for having an early lunch as we were frozen to the bone and more than happy to take them into the rather warm and inviting restaurant. Having decided what our order was we called the waiter. One Salad Nicoise, two steaks--well done--and two Crab Sandwiches. Soon the waiter appeared with two sandwiches that looked suspiciously like ham sandwiches! We politely told him that we had asked for "crab" sandwiches to which he looked surprised and said he thought we had said "club" sandwiches! The mix up having been dealt with, we waited for the rest of the food. The steak soon arrived and to my daughterís chagrin, not only was it unappetising to look at, it was also pink through and through. So for the second time we had to call the waiter over and ask him "if he could please get the meat cooked!" Then they forgot to give the sauce that was to accompany the steak. By this stage I felt like I was in the comedy "Fawlty Towers" and couldn't wait to get back into the freezing snow outside. The rest of the day was spent wandering around absorbing the Christmas lights and atmosphere and finally heading back to my brother's house.

The rest of our stay was relaxing and mellow with much time spent chatting into the small hours of the morning and eating more than is recommended for any human being. Once our goodbyes were made and hugs and kisses exchanged, it was time to head home. Travelling home to London took us even less time then our journey to Belgium and the passengers on the way back were a little more subdued, exhausted by the enjoyment of the past few days and asleep for most of the journey. Mental check lists were forgotten and even the English Channel could not dispel my feeling of general wellbeing.



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