Letting some of it trickle out while trying to soak it all in

Sunday, November 30, 2014

How to (and how not to) move a family of 4.5 from Alaska to France

I defended my dissertation on Monday August 4th. Back to the lab for three days to finish up some final experiments before our flight to Frankfurt on Thursday.

Ingrid and Henry say goodbye to their Alaska cousins.

Bikes and caribou antlers. Next time I will break down the bikes before the morning of the flight. Thanks to the Dixons for buying our car a month in advance and then letting us keep using it!

The Giannis helped us get our stuff to the airport, graciously waiting while I ductaped the bike boxes stuffed with bikes and strollers.

It's around 8 hours from Alaska to Germany, over the north coast of Greenland.

On Friday, ten time zones from home, we napped in Frankfurt for a few hours before the flight to Paris.

German ice cream is my favorite.

Since Ingrid and Henry each got a free checked bag and we filled them with extra necessities (think Playmobil nativity set and both the French and English versions of Le Petit Prince). It wasn't until I saw the pile in the Paris baggage claim that I started to wonder about getting everything from the airport to the train station with two kids and a pregnant Rachel.

Two hours of box and bag dragging later a friendly ticket-lady told me there weren't any seats on the train to Rennes. "But don't worry monsieur, there is a departure in an hour and a half that leaves from the Montparnasse station across town. You can just take that train." Crestfallen, we dragged our belongings to the nearest hotel (much faster with some help from a good samaritan from Ukraine) and collapsed for the night.

Much revived, we went back to the station to catch the train Saturday afternoon. 

"They don't announce the train platform until 15 minutes before departure. If you are in a hurry, don't take the elevator," our new ticket-lady told us. Against her advice, we tried to take the elevator. After waiting for 13 minutes as the forsaken machine erratically opened and closed, we cut our losses and I chucked the bike boxes and suitcases down the escalator. On the platform I tucked Henry under my arm like a pigskin and and sprinted seven TGV car lengths. We stuffed the stuff into the train as the whistle blew.

In the end it was good that we hadn't gotten tickets on the Friday night train because there is no way all of our stuff would have fit.

It is just over two hours from Paris to Rennes.

It is nice to be a child.

Two of the three van taxis in Rennes happened to be at the train station when we arrived and we filled them both up to the hilt. My colleague Jean-Raynald offered to let us stay at his place in Rennes. He had mailed the keys to Alaska because he and his family were away on vacation the day of our arrival. We found the house, unpacked the taxes, and I cried a little bit.

Ingrid made her self at home.

Hanging out in the back yard with Jean-Raynald after he got home.

"Ingrid, I love your scarf. Where did you get that?"
"I found it on the sidewalk."

"Riding on the bus is just like taking an airplane, only you are a little bit lower."

So here is our list of things to do differently when moving a family of 4.5 from Alaska to France:
  • Gorilla tape the bike boxes and put an extra piece of cardboard in the bottom for those times when you might need to drag them 5-20 km.
  • When changing continents, pack at least one day in advance.
  • Buy your train tickets before you get to the station.
  • Listen to the ticket lady. The elevator smells of tin and urine anyway.
  • Take two fewer bags.
  • Don't bring two bikes, a bike trailer, and a stroller.

And here is the list of things to do the same:
  • Take your family with you on your adventures.
  • Let the kids help.
  • Don't buy your train tickets before you get to the station (if it is going to sell out it won't have room for your stuff).
  • Trust strangers.
  • Speak the language (at least a little bit).
  • Dance in the train station.

All in all we feel incredibly blessed that the trip went as smoothly as it did. Ingrid and Henry were so well behaved they earned ice cream for the rest of our time here so come and stay with us so you can have some too.


  1. I admit that your family's chronology (chronicle?) now makes more sense in my mind-- I was wondering during the birth story how you came to know so many people with French-appearing names in Alaska, but now this makes sense. Glad everyone made it to their destinations!

  2. Looks like it was quite the adventure. We are glad that everyone plus bikes all made it safely!

    Ash has been telling me we need to come visit you in France. I first I wasn't sure, but now that there is ice cream on the table....When would be a good time for you?

  3. Ben, you are such a great storyteller! That sounds harrowing to say the least...can't wait to follow in your wake with my fam...though ours will only be a short visit, so no problem with the 'two fewer bags'!