We were out on a grand adventure! We were exploring and discovering the world as a family! ...and I was exhausted and crying. The baby was hysterical. It was raining and dark. And...we were lost. This grand adventure sure came with a lot of unforeseen difficulties. I knew this in my head, like a woman pregnant with her first child knows that labour will be difficult. She knows that there will be unknown challenges and great pain, but yet she hopes and plans with confidence that she can do it, never imagining the precipice that she will be placed upon, pushed to the absolute extremity of her will and endurance.
Sometimes travel feels like that. I had no real idea what I was getting into. And just as the idea of an uncomplicated delivery of a sweet little baby who smiles and sleeps all night can be a tad unrealistic, so were my expectations of our trip. Yes, yes, if you've been following along, you'll know that I specialize in all things ridiculous and unrealistic, but to be fair, I didn't have a whole lot to go on. I had researched what I could, but there wasn't much information about other crazy people with 5 kids who had left everything familiar behind. Many blogs feature families of two kids, aged perfectly for travel; 8 and 10 - old enough to be a bit independent, and young enough to be flexible and delighted with the world. Just a couple of kids and carry-on luggage, no screaming babies or cuckoo clocks wedged into every available space in the car (yes, I really did this).
Did other travelers reach a personal precipice of extremity in frustration, exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed? Maybe not, maybe others take a nice two week holiday to an all inclusive resort once a year, not drag their family to who knows where across the other side of the planet.
But, notwithstanding the strain, the desire for adventure was still firmly there. The dream was alive. Just the realities of living that dream were sometimes hard to face.
I was staring out the window of our car, sobbing. I had reached the end of the day and the end of my energy. We had just come from our day in Dresden together, it had been wonderful to see the Frauenkirche, and to remember what had inspired us on our grand adventure, but after an entire day of child wrangling in a cold foreign city, I was DONE. We couldn't find our Airbnb, Bohan was screaming, but as it was freezing and raining and we were in the middle of no-where in the dark, there was no point stopping, better to just push on and get there and then settle him. The other kids were claiming starvation; a common phenomenon, but one in which I could not help at that moment because we had no ready-to-eat food with us and we hadn't passed any kind of shop in hours. It rained, Ross searched, cursed and drove in frustration, the kids whined, and I cried. I could not remember why we were there.
We finally found what we'd been looking for - a tiny little two room apartment on the upper story of a house in the Bohemian wilderness. Honestly, I can't remember why we hadn't booked something more practical, like a place with enough beds, near shops, on roads with street signs. It was probably cheap. Ross took the screaming baby inside and then shuffled the other children inside one at a time, through the rain and up the narrow stairs. I stayed in the car and cried. I had reached my limit in every way.
I know this is giving a rather dismal picture of international family travel, and truly, it was all kinds of miserable, but hindsight is a beautiful thing. I can look back and remember that two days on from that horrible moment of dejection was actually one of my favourite days in all of Germany. That night I was utterly spent, regretting everything, and wondering what on earth I was doing. But I cried my tears, gathered my resolve and went inside to face the work ahead of me. We had run out of sausages, a very desperate situation indeed! Food for a big family was often quite challenging on the road in Europe. We preferred to make our own at home because it was cheaper, but when we were on the move we had to get creative. Anyway, having run out of sausages, I found a bag of oats and a mango and I produced some rather delicious porridge for dinner. We settled everyone in for bed and Ross read us all 'The Hobbit' as we squished into our makeshift beds in the lounge-room.
It is true, I did not know how difficult it would all be, but I did not know how wonderful either. Just like birth was so much more intense and challenging than I could ever have known, so was the feeling of holding my precious child joyous beyond belief. I did not know how much I would love exploring the world with my family, and for the good times, it was worth it all.
The next day we went to church nearby. We met a family who kindly invited us back for dinner. Our lovely German friends from Werdau had arranged this, and so we were spoiled to a delicious dinner with some new friends in their beautiful home. We always enjoy talking and getting to know new people, and with the exception of the mortifying moment when the mother walked in on me in the bathroom while I was sitting on the loo...things went well. We admired their magazine style children's bedroom (complete with swing and pastel decor), ate some delicious sausages, and tried to help them feel less embarrassed about the whole bathroom intrusion.
We went home to our squishy apartment much more cheerily than the day before, read some more of The Hobbit, locked the doors of the bathroom each time it was used, and went to bed.
The next day we were headed back to Poland. On the way we ventured out to explore what would become one of our favourite Medieval Castles. Despite the cold and the drizzle, Burg Stolpen was unbelievable fun! It is a 13th Century fortress complete with torture chamber, historical exhibits and secret tunnels!
Our kids absolutely loved this place, there was so much to see!
We found treasure...
And general weird stuff...
But definitely the greatest hit were the secret tunnels, I mean, who doesn't love creeping around dark Medieval tunnels pretending to be chased by a troll?!
There is even a sad and creepy story about the ill fated Countess Vin Cosel who was imprisoned in Burg Stolpen for 49 years in the 18th Century! Maybe she walked in on someone on the loo...
The fortress overlooks the adorable town of Stolpen, and as we explored, we almost had the place to ourselves! It was a true gem!
After we were done exploring and all the kids were starving to death, we went into Stolpen in search of food. Unfortunately this turned out to be one of those occasions when the only options were small and overpriced. So in that adorable little German town, we parked our car, ushered everyone into the only restaurant nearby, and made the kids split a schnitzel each as we fed the baby some fries. The day had been, cold, rainy, expensive and absolutely wonderful!
We knew that soon enough everyone would be hungry again and there was a good chance that the crying baby would send me over the edge into tears again, but it no longer mattered so much, it was no longer the focus. Those harsh realities were not so dismal as they had previously seemed, because shining above all the challenges was the bright adventure that we had just experienced together. We had crept through tunnels, laughed and explored and looked out over the world from an ancient Medieval Castle. It was a dream come true, certainly an imperfect dream, splattered with all kinds of failings and imperfections, but the adventure and the joy had won out.
I need to remember this more in my life. I need to let the joyful adventures of my life shine brighter than the dark shadows that creep in and threaten to take over. Certainly sometimes they do, but as long as I can move on and keep seeking beautiful moments, to not give up but keep moving forward, keep trying no matter what, then the adventure, the hope and the joy will win.
If you would like to have your own fun adventure at Burg Stolpen, check out this website for some great information.