As holidays go, or indeed any other attempt to leave our house, it was rather uncharacteristically restful and stress-free getting away this morning. Was this an omen? A positive sign of things to come? I didn’t dare speak it aloud, of course, for fear of jinxing it, not that I’m superstitious at all. Something typically always goes wrong at some point, but maybe this time will be different. We’ll see how things pan out for the rest of the day. Anyone want to take bets?

I think it helped that we had a long journey but no set agenda or time to destination to worry about. I had around 6 hours of driving ahead of me today, and the tentative plan was to get on the road by around 10 am. In my mind, I had expected this to be closer to 11 am, so I was pleasantly surprised that the car was fully laden with luggage and family members, and I pulled out of the garage at 10:05 am. Winning already so early in the day? Hmmm. How long will that last?

I pointed the car due South and plugged the first waypoint into the satnav – the centre of Luxembourg. Our journey today would ultimately pass through a number of European countries, as we criss-crossed various borders. The exact order was to be Netherlands to Belgium to Netherlands to Belgium to Luxembourg to France to Germany. The first leg through to Luxembourg would take around two and a half hours.

We stopped at one of the many McDonald’s (alas, we know them all), in the bottom end of Limburg to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Then there was a further minor detour to pick up a few last-minute essentials from a supermarket. After all, there were still a few cubic millimetres of space in the car not yet crammed full of ‘stuff’, so that of course had to be remedied. We were thus finally on our way and in full-on holiday mode, complete with impromptu car games and all. Let the stress-free relaxation begin…or…!

By the time we were about twenty minutes outside of Luxembourg, it sort of dawned on us that we didn’t actually know where we were going to put the car for the duration. Luxembourg isn’t a tremendously big place, and there are only so many places of interest that we could take in for a couple of hours as a journey breaker. We figured that if we made our way to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, which is in the centre of where most of the touristy action is in the Old Town, we couldn’t go far wrong.

Of course, finding a place to park wasn’t quite that straightforward. From what little French we could figure out between us, it seemed that many of the car parks were either closed or simply full. In the end, we found our way to a multistorey car park near the main train station, albeit no longer walking distance from the cathedral (at least, not with Sandy’s dodgy knees and my dodgy back). Gare, where we parked, was another section of Luxembourg that was sort of city-centre’ish but just in a different quarter.

Despite having to pass numerous vacant slots in the car park due to the worryingly narrow parking space sizes, I did eventually render the car safely parked on the seventh floor. After spending almost ten minutes trying to gently coax Joey out of the car, we made our way out of the building and into the city of Luxembourg to see what we could see.

It wasn’t long into our meander through the cosmopolitan streets before it became clear there wasn’t much to retain our interest in this part of the city. Had we come here for some shopping, it would have been a different story. For us to be happy, Joey needed to be happy. For Joey to be happy, I needed to find a toy shop. Little else by way of sightseeing was ever going to capture his attention span. Alas, my maps app found nothing in the vicinity. Fortunately, the good folk of Luxembourg, and indeed anyone else visiting, benefit from the joys of a completely free public transport system. We hopped on a passing bus and within a few minutes were peeling out onto the pavement adjacent to the cathedral, joining hordes of other tourists already there visiting the city today.

Never ones to let the stunning European architecture of an awe-inspiring cathedral pass us by, we popped inside for a nose around. Between the stained-glass windows and vaulted gothic ceilings, the cathedral didn’t disappoint. And a happy bonus was that it was a 5-minute walk just a couple of streets away to a toy shop. Joey and I took our leave and headed over there, while Sandy and Jae milled around the cathedral a bit longer before crossing the road to enjoy the beautiful sun-drenched views of the river. Luxembourg is nothing if not picturesque, that’s for sure.

The juggling act for the afternoon was to try to get some sightseeing in but all the while accommodating for Joey and keeping him grounded. One might almost call it sight-seeing by stealth. I tried to take in the frenetic European city atmosphere as I led Joey around the streets, all the while trying to keep his interest with the promise of somewhere to spend his daily holiday allowance. We have this down to something of an art form nowadays. It often takes a lot of effort, but we apply a range of strategies to help avoid meltdowns and other such stressful eventualities. And when all else fails (often the case), then outright bribery is always another tool in the toolkit.

The car journey so far, and the busy hustle and bustle of navigating a major European city, had all started to take its toll on Joey. The warning signs that we were heading for a meltdown were all there. The jaunt into the toy shop, however, was enough to keep him grounded a little longer – enough to get him back to the car and safely into his bubble again.

Our stopover in Luxembourg was all too brief, but it was never intended to be anything other than a means to break up the road trip with a bit of a diversion. To that end, it served its purpose nicely. After all, meeting up again, we made our way to a nearby bus stop and waited around 10 minutes for our bus to take us back towards the main train station. Like everything else here, the buses are clean and efficient. This is indeed a pleasant place to spend a lazy afternoon. Luxembourg had one last pleasant surprise for us. There was no charge to get out of the car park. Not being able to read the signs and instructions on the parking ticket machines, I can only guess that we either didn’t stay long enough to be charged or that perhaps the car park was free on Saturdays. Either way, I wasn’t complaining.

The satnav indicated the last leg of today’s journey down to Ringsheim was to take a little less than 3 hours. I did need to stop for fuel, which was another adventure. Working out how to operate the fuel pumps was a bit more of a challenge than anticipated. They weren’t behaving as expected, and I was unable to understand the messages on the screen. The upshot was that I had to pay inside first. I don’t think that was how it was supposed to work. I think there was just a problem with the machine accepting any of the cards I was trying to feed it.

By the time we rolled into Ringsheim, a stone’s throw from Rust, which is where the Europapark theme park resides, it was pushing 6 pm. Joey needed to be fed, so we pulled into a nearby Maccas. The plan was to check in and then go out for a meal as a family, but neither Sandy nor Joey was going to survive that ordeal. Instead, we decided to check in and get settled, and then Jae and I would head out to find a restaurant for the two of us to enjoy instead.

The staff at the front desk of the hotel were very nice, as have all the staff been with whom we have dealt to date. I had booked a 6-night stay at one of their brand new fully self-contained two-bedroom bungalows. The very pleasant lady behind the reception desk walked me through all the familiar steps of checking in, making payment, paying the local taxes (around €7 per day), and explaining the ins and outs of our accommodation. After I made payment, she then said there was good news and bad news. Oh, shit! Here it comes. I had been on such a high all day with very little going seriously wrong from the outset, but I feared this is where the free ride was going to grind to an abrupt halt. The good news is that we were being comped (gifted) a free breakfast for the whole family for one of the 6 days at our choice. That’s nice. The bad news is that none of the bungalows have sofas yet. “What? What do you mean, no sofas?” The website shows a rather comfy sofa. Indeed, we made our choice for this type of accommodation precisely because it was equipped with all the comforts of a small home – where we could relax and unwind at the end of each day vegging out…ON THE FREAKING SOFA! We still had the dining room table and chairs, and the unit was otherwise complete, so she explained. After the long journey, I just wanted to get into the unit and unpacked, so we nodded and smiled politely before making our way over.

The bungalow is indeed very nicely appointed. There’s a fully equipped kitchen, dining space, separate bathroom, and toilet, A/C, two nice bedrooms…and a completely empty lounge with a TV on the wall…but NO FREAKING SOFA to sit on to relax or enjoy the space. Doing my level best to ignore the smoke now venting from various orifices in my head, I calmly went back to the front desk and patiently waited for the nice lady to finish dealing with the man in front of me. I then mustered as much Englishness as I could. I said, with a customary British apology, that the absence of a sofa is actually a bit of an issue for us, and that a breakfast buffet for a day wasn’t really going to address this shortcoming. To her credit, she seemed almost prepared for this eventuality, and immediately acknowledged the problem. She said she would note it for the shift manager to tackle tomorrow. We agreed we weren’t going to resolve the matter here and now, but I made it clear there was going to be another necessary discussion tomorrow. It was all very amicable.

I worked hard to maintain a level head and suppress my inner rage. After all, we’re supposed to be on holiday, and I didn’t want to let something like this be its downfall. If only I could just chill out on a fucking sofa to mull over my next move! Breathe in… breathe out.

As previously agreed, Jae and I set out to find a restaurant for our evening meal. A few days ago, Sandy and I were looking at the restaurants around these parts, and we even booked a reservation for Monday night at one place we felt ticked all the boxes for us as a family. It’s a few minutes away in Rust, so I decided we’d check that out and see if it really would be suitable for the whole family.

Although the restaurant had a nice atmosphere, it did take a while for our orders to come through, and the menu choice wasn’t the reflection of what its website suggested after all. It was mostly pasta and pizza dishes. Jae went with the lasagne, and I plucked for the schnitzel. I really liked my meal, but it was a completely different story for Jae. Her lasagne turned out not to be very nice at all and for a range of reasons. Still, the prices were very reasonable, so it wasn’t a complete total loss.

We finished up, paid, and meandered through the picturesque and quaint little German town back to the car. After a bit of texting back and forth with Sandy, I was ordered to detour by way of another nearby Maccas to pick up a couple of burgers for Joey. Sandy had made do with some rolls she had prepared earlier.

All in all, I would have to say it was a very successful first day of the holiday. I just polished off this blog entry and can now unwind and chill out. Only, I can’t. There’s no fucking sofa!