Some notes about our trip to Europe '07

In March 2007, Liam, Meaghan and I travelled to Prague and Florence. We went to Prague for IETF 68 (, and we went to Florence for fun.

=How we got there=

We travelled KLM from Ottawa to Prague, by train from Prague to Florence, by train from Florance to Milan, and by KLM back to Ottawa.

=Ottawa to Prague=

A bus picked us up at the Ottawa train station and took us to the Montreal airport. We left on March 16, 2007. We had two suitcases, and a backpack. Liam had his car seat and an umbrella stroller. We had an allowance of 4 suitcases. Our suitcases were from Canadian Tire, and were a set of 4, each one that fit into another. We had a set like that already, and we got another one. We took the two biggest ones (one blue and one red), and we packed one of the smaller ones into the bigger ones, since we anticipating perhaps bringing stuff home with us.

We brought diapers for about 5 days, giving us enough time to locate a source of diapers in Czech.

At the montreal airport they took our stuff, and we learnt that the plane was full, so Liam wouldn’t get his own seat.

At the gate, we learnt that the plane was not a 767, but instead, a 747-400. This is a bigger plane, faster. But not as new. They delayed boarding us — we learnt, perhaps not accurately, that the previous days’ flight had been cancelled, and since there were many people who needed to be rebooked, that this was why they had put a bigger plane in.

Once on the plane, we were told that we would have to wait another hour. WHY DID THEY BOARD US? How stupid. The reason: we can’t land in AMSterdam before 7am, and the 747 would get there too fast. Initially, we were seated behind a bulkhead, but Liam is too big for the baby crib that they can attach to the bulkhead. A woman with one child was next to us initially. She had a 4 and half year old. Another woman arrived, they had been double booked. I understand overselling the airplane, but I don’t understanding issuing two boarding passes. The second woman had a baby (infant) and a 5 year old girl. They agreed that they would take the seat next to us, and the other woman would move to another seat, since she didn’t need the bulkhead for the infant crib.

We found the accomodations on KLM to be distinctly below our expectations for KLM. Seats too small, plane too old, service not that great.

At Schiptol we had some time, and Meaghan had some left-over wine from dinner. We found our gate, found that there was a security screen at it, and that it wasn’t open yet, so we went back and ate expensive croissants. We also found Radia Perlman and Charlie Kaufmann sitting on the floor, waiting for the same connecting gate. (They are well known IETF types. Google them. I think they are a couple now! Oops. Maybe that’s a secret.)

The 100ml limit on “fluid” meant that Meaghan couldn’t bring her half-drunk bottle of wine with her. The bottle was 125ml, but it was only half full.

The Czech-air plane we got on was new. It had only made two flights before the one we were on. It was almost empty. When we arrived in Prague, our luggage arrived VERY quickly, but our gate-checked stroller and car seat took a long time to locate.

We had arranged with the hotel to have a car pick us up. That worked well. It was just charged to our room. On the way in to town the fellow turned on the radio. I wish I could remember what song was on, but like in the intro to Unbearable Lightness of Being it was a popular song, but with Czech lyrics.

I’ll talk about our time in Prague later. It was less than 10C that week, which was annoying. It had been 13-17C the week before.

=Prague to Florence=

We had booked tickets on the train from Praha to Firenze. This was an overnight train from Praha to Munchen, and then a train from Munchen (Munich) to Firenze the next day, via the Austrian Alps (i.e. through Innsbruck). The trip through the alps would be in daylight.

I booked on, which was relatively easy, but they were unable to get me a ticket price. It was 300EU for the three of us. I wish I had paid a bit more for first class from Munchen to Firenze.

There were three train stations listen for Praha. I picked one. The one I picked was not the main one. I hesistated to go to the main one. I wish that we had. The train actually started from there, and went to the smaller station (which had NOTHING).

We were at the wrong end of the train, and had to run down the platform. I left the car seat on the first run, and went back for it, and then got on the train at the front, and walked to the back. We had a nice roomette – two bunks. Very nice train, very modern.

At Munchen, we arrived, detrained, and found washrooms and breakfast. We arrived early, before 6am, and our train left at 9am. Liam had fun. Later we saw a seen from the movie Bourne Supremacy — he walked right past a bar where Liam had been standing under a table. Had Liam been there when they filmed, he would have been in the scene! It’s nice to know that it wasn’t a fake set..

The train to Florence was full. It was hard to find a place for all our luggage. I hurt my arms and my back lifting it up to the overhead bins. I had to take painkillers and muscle relaxants for days. In my relaxed stupour, I must have turned my ankle one day on the cobble-stones, and not even realized it.

We left on Thursday March 22 at 8pm, arriving in Firenze at 5:30pm on Friday March 23. We took a cab the four blocks to our hotel, since we didn’t know how far it would be, and had too many bags. We had repacked my briefcase/laptop/etc. into our spare suitcase for this leg.

=Florence to Milan=

On March 29th, in the morning, we booked Trainitalia first class to Milan. We left at 9:30am. The day before, while booking the tickets, some gypsies nearly seperated Liam from us in the train station.

We had two seats (should have booked three) next in the first class car next to two Americans (a couple) from San Jose who were travelling. We went to Milan, exited the station (which was under significant construction), failed to find the washrooms, and took a bus to Malpensa airport.

The airport bus express dropped us at departures, and the hotel had a lot of difficulties with the idea that they would be picking us up from departures, rather than arrivals. I don’t recommend them.

From there, we took a hotel shuttle to our hotel and checked in. It was nearly 3pm by then, and Meaghan’s cousin had called us back only that morning to confirm that we should visit. The hotel was very much un-impressive (the Crowne-Plaza Hotel). We a shower, changed and took the hotel shuttle back to the airport, where we caught the airport express train back downtown.

The airport express train does not connect to the main inter-urban train station, but uses one of the two commuter rail stations. This is rather inconvenient for travellers who want to arrive/depart from Malpensa and see the rest of Italy by train. Malpensa is about 60km west of Milan.

From there, we took the subway to the east side of Milan, where Meaghan’s cousin picked us up. It was 5pm-ish by then, middle of the rush hour. We had dinner at her house with her husband and two kids, and then just before he went to work (he edits highlights from Italian soccer games for a sports news channel), he dropped us back at the subway. We took the subway back to the commuter station, learnt that after 9pm, it’s a bus to the airport, and waited for that.

The bus took us through the west side of Milan, along lots of boulevards and rows and rows of 5-storey apartments. (There is a word for that, but I forgot it). From the airport, we took the shuttle back to the hotel. We had some beer and wine at the bar (and milk), and we went to sleep.

=Milan to Ottawa=

Our flight from Milan/Malpensa left at 11am-ish. We didn’t want to be in a rush in the morning. We could have stayed downtown really. There was no advantage to being at the airport hotel. Had it been right at the airport, it would be made more sense.

We flew uneventfully to Amsterdam, had a bit of a rush across the airport (which included a stamp through passport control as we “left” Europe. I think that we entered it on the overnight train when we entered Germany).

We then got on another rather crowded airplane, again a 747. This time, we weren’t at the bulkhead, but we were in the middle, two seats on the left of the right-hand aisle. There was almost no space for me. Opening my laptop so that Liam could watch Thomas was a real challenge. He slept finally.

We deplaned, did customs and then had to wait two hours for the KLM bus from Montreal to Ottawa. We ate at a very bad restaurant at the Montreal airport. What idiot decided to mix restaurants (that don’t take kindly to luggage carts), into the space used by airlines to check people in?

KLM needs to stop running their own bus — instead use Voyageur/Greyhound, which run hourly buses, so that we don’t have to wait so long. Or make a deal with VIA please.

This entry was just about our travel. I didn’t mention anything we did.