When me and my wife went to Sweden in April 2017 we had no idea we wouldn’t be coming back for more than six years. However, due to various circumstances, Covid being one of them, we haven’t been able to go back until now. Last time we had no plan whatsoever on having children and now we have a small boy, and this would be his first trip to his fatherland. We’ve gone on plenty of short trips since Tantan was born but this would be his first long flight as well as his first time in a different country; we had no idea how well he could handle it. We prepared as well as we could, bringing snacks and books and toys for entertainment, diapers in order to avoid accidents on the plane, a portable car seat for the taxi and so on and so on. However, I think in the back of both our minds we were a little bit afraid he would spend all 13 hours of the flight crying and/or vomiting. It turns out however, that our son is a born traveler; he spent the flight sleeping or quietly watching cartoons on the in-flight TV. Step one, get to Europe: success.

A good friend of mine, Jean, who left Taiwan more than a year ago lives near Strasbourg in north east France, so although the main goal of the trip was to go back to Sweden, we figured it would be a good chance to visit him before heading north. Another friend, Alex and his family drove up from Switzerland while Yini’s friend Naomi and her boyfriend came down from Belgium and we all gathered in Jeans house. It was really great to see all our friends again and we had a lot of fun sitting and chatting at the dinner table. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side so we spent three days sightseeing in the cold and rain (a few glimpses of sun here and there). Tantan wasn’t particularly keen on walking around in the rain looking at old buildings, so I had to carry him for much of the time but that was sort of expected and it worked out pretty well in the end.

So fun to meet up friends

Except for hanging out in Jeans house and visiting Strasbourg, we also went to a couple of other places in the area. First up was Fort Schoenenbourg, a big bunker complex which was part of the Maginot line defending France against the Germans during WWII. The main reason to go there is that it’s indoors so we could get out of the rain. I of course enjoyed it because of my love for bunkers, and there were plenty of machines inside to keep Tantan excited.

The day after visiting the bunker the weather was slightly better so we went to Colmar and the nearby small town of Riquewihr. Both were very picturesque and pleasant to stroll around in. They are also on something called the Alsace Wine Route, a sort of pilgrimage route for people who enjoy good wine and picturesque views. Neither me nor Yini drink a lot of wine but we had to try one glass, just for the thing of it. I have to admit, sitting in the sun by a small square, drinking a glass of Muscat is a excellent way to spend a couple of hours.

Jean Yini and Tantan in Riquewihr

Tantan enjoyed exploring a bit on his own

On our last day in France Jean had to work so me, Yini and Tantan went on our own to Mont Saint Odile where there is an old monastery on top of a cliff. The monastery itself is nice but the thing I liked the most is the short but beautiful hiking trail that goes along the base of the cliff then downhill trough the forest to a small, supposedly holy spring.

I had gotten it into my head that it would be a good idea to take the train from France to Sweden. I thought so for a couple of reasons. First, I think taking a train is much more enjoyable than flying since you can look out the window at the passing landscape. Second, we’ve taken the train in Taiwan a few times and Tantan always enjoyed it. Third, it’s a lot more convenient than flying and for shortish distances it’s almost equally fast. Fourth and last, it’s much more environmentally friendly than flying. Hamburg, not far from Denmark, is home to the world’s largest model railway, which I thought could be fun for Tantan. I figured we could take the train to Hamburg, stay one night so we could visit the model railway, then continue to Sweden the next day. I booked a train from Karlsruhe (just north of the border) to Hamburg that would arrive with plenty of time left before the model railway closed, I pre-booked tickets for the model railway to avoid long lines, and my mom helped us book a nice hotel in the city center. I also booked a train to Sweden for the following day which did have several transfers but I thought we could handle it. As far as I was concerned it was a pretty good plan.

Things did not go according to plan. Our train to Hamburg got stuck for nearly four hours in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and by the time that we finally got there it was far too late to visit the model railway. The next day started with a bottle of water leaking out in my bag. As if that wasn’t enough, the transfers did not go as smoothly as I had hoped. After several hours Tantan simply got too tired and hungry and started crying and screaming so Yini had to take care of him while I manhandled our overly heavy luggage from a train to a bus to another train. The whole thing was just too much for all of us.

Thanks to Yini it wasn’t all bad all the time, but I think we will have to wait a few years before taking another long train journey.

I had intended to make a single post about or trip to France and Sweden but it’s becoming too long. The rest is coming in part two.