We are in France! And my God, getting here was a mission, so thank goodness we are staying put for all of August.
I had tried not to get too stressed out about the flights (which is uncharacteristic of me – ordinarily I love any opportunity to worry about stuff), and my aim was to remain very ‘zen’ and remember that the journey was just 24 hours out of my life, and that any unpleasantness would rapidly fade from memory as soon as we could lie by the pool and relax. I was given great advice about travelling with babies from my wide, glamorous circle of international friends, and we paid particular attention to our choice of airline. We usually fly with Air New Zealand for long haul trips, but I’d heard awful things about their treatment of travelling families – tales of people boarding the plane and discovering that their promised bassinets hadn’t been supplied were enough to strike fear into my heart. Instead, we booked with Singapore Airlines… and then a twin father I knew told me that they were told, while boarding, that they didn’t have their bassinets. Eek!
So, we drove to Auckland airport on Tuesday morning with me psyched up for a bassinet battle. The drive itself was not comfortable: I was wedged in the back, between Hattie and Joe’s gigantic big kid car seats, because our friend Gavin had agreed to save us a small fortune by dropping us off.
Mum had flown up to Auckland the night before and met us at the airport. We checked in with no hassles at all and were able to take vast amounts of stuff: the babies’ car seats, big bags for Tristan and me (we had a 20kg allowance each), smaller bags for Hattie and Joe (their allowance was 10 kg each, which was ample – you can fit a LOT of baby clothes in for that weight, so one bag was all clothes, and the other one was all ‘stuff’), and a collapsible double stroller that we could take to the gate of the plane. This was a godsend, as it meant that the babies could have naps while we were in transit. It also meant that we didn’t have to carry the (increasingly heavy) babies, and could lug around our hand luggage instead. While it is fab that the babies had a check-in luggage allowance, it was a bit of a pain that they didn’t have a carry-on allowance: we three adults had 7kgs each, and we had to take a lot of stuff on board: multiple changes of clothes, nappies, food, toys… I cheated by also taking a huge handbag. We tested the capacity of our bags to the limit, and loaded up poor Mum like a pack horse.
The first flight, from Auckland to Singapore, was pretty easy. The babies had some good snoozes, and we’d been given three seats together, with two bassinets, so there was always a spare pair of hands, and plenty of room. And I even managed to watch a film! (This is 40, which was quite funny). Joe also watched a bit of TV:
His mind was officially blown by Elmo. Meanwhile, Hattie slept:
We had nearly five hours to kill in Singapore airport. Originally we’d intended to rent what is known as a ‘napping suite’, but this turned out to be pretty pointless: each ‘suite’ was a cubicle with a curtain for a door and no real privacy. We camped out on some comfortable chairs, and Tristan and I also took the babies for a long stroll around the awesome shops full of luxury goods that we can’t afford. Hattie and Joe fell asleep for a while, but not before attracting vast amounts of positive attention. Seriously, travelling with these two is like being in a famous rock band’s entourage. We’re there solely to bring them closer to Their People. Obviously, I experience this kind of thing fairly often with the two of them, but Tristan hadn’t hung out with them in public as much and was delighted to see all the smiles and nice comments that they/we attract. And travelling with twins certainly has some benefits that help to compensate for the basic challenges of travelling with twins: everybody urged us to queue-jump. Tristan HATES queuing, so this was awesome. We were even encouraged to side-step a huge queue of over 100 people at the passport control desks in Paris.
The Singapore to Paris leg started off well, with both babies falling asleep during take-off. We gingerly transferred them to their bassinets… and then the ‘fasten seatbelts’ sign came on because of a risk of turbulence, and we had to take the babies out again. This is the real downside of bassinets on planes: having to disturb a sleeping baby if there’s a risk of turbulence.
On this flight we had four seats for the three adults, plus the two bassinets, so one of the stewards suggested that Mum could move to a nearby empty seat and we could use the seatbelt extensions (which we were given to tether the babies to our seatbelts on our laps as required) and put the babies to bed on the empty seats: then, they wouldn’t need to be moved. We did this with Hattie and she slept well, but there wasn’t room for Joe. He ended up sleeping on Tristan. Later, he was back in his bassinets for a nap and was woken up by a man with a very loud sneeze who was sitting nearby. As the flight continued Joe had his sweet revenge on that man by yowling for hours and hours. Poor people sitting near us: they were all lovely about it, despite having very interrupted sleep. I think that Joe was beyond tired, and just couldn’t settle. Tristan even took advantage of the soundproof qualities of the plane’s loos at least twice, to enable Joe to get his displeasure out of his system temporarily. Meanwhile, Hattie had some good long naps, both on the seat and on me. Thank God for that, too: if she’d had a meltdown I fear that lives would have been lost.
Finally – FINALLY – we arrived in Paris, jumped the aforementioned passport queue, and transferred to the domestic terminal for our flight to Bordeaux. On the transfer train Hattie met her first handsome Frenchman, and fixed her with an unsmiling, unblinking stare, as though she expected to one day see his face on Crimewatch. He handled it by smiling charmingly at her. Later, as we strolled through to the domestic flight check-in desk, it seemed as though every single person wanted to smile at our children and congratulate us on our good fortune – it was lovely.
The wait for our flight to Bordeaux can be best described as interminable, but we finally boarded and discovered that we had been seated behind a row of archetypal loud American tourists. Their young son, in particular, had the face, voice, and demeanour that makes an otherwise liberal person reminisce about the days when his ilk were sent down the mines from preschool onwards. His incessant whining and terrible enunciation almost finished me off, and if we’d been forced to contend with both him and our own whining children I might have opted for the sweet release of death by biro-to-the-eyeball catastrophic brain injury, but fortune smiled on us: Hattie and Joe slept the entire way.
When we reaches Bordeaux the adventure wasn’t over: one of our bags was AWOL – the bag with all of the babies’ non-clothing items – and we still had a drive of nearly two hours before finally reaching Pat and Richard’s lovely house. And it took over half an hour for the combined intellectual might and physical strength of Tristan, Pat and Richard to load the two cars and install the car seats. These two very tired little troopers were extraordinarily patient:
We were all so happy to arrive at the house at last, nearly 40 hours after leaving home in Auckland. Pat has done her usual trick of getting everything brilliantly organised for us and making us feel very comfortable – and I can’t even describe how delighted she is to meet her grandchildren! The babies went to bed at 5pm and had a good night, with not really many more than the normal number of wake-ups. Tristan and I lasted until 8ish before going to bed as well.
I’m determined to try to post an update and photos on each day of our holiday. There are just too many cute photos to share!