Twins on tour

Flying the friendly skies

We’re back from France! And I’m currently supervising the kids as they watch TV, and hoping that they can stay awake for another two hours, at which point they’ll have a very early night. It’s a bit like sitting in the living room with two unexploded grenades on the neighbouring sofa, so let’s hope that I can survive until the end of this blog post, at least…

(I’ve had two hours of sleep in the past 48 hours and have reached the stage where the room keeps tilting in a weird manner, so please excuse me if fail to stick to the point.)

I am extremely relieved to report that our trip home was considerably better than the utter misery of our journey three weeks ago. For starters, I didn’t drink myself into oblivion, or pop the emergency exit and hurtle out into the night, using my cardigan as a parachute (neither of which I did on the earlier journey either, obviously, but it was a close-run thing). Also, neither of the children have been taken into protective custody because of their parents losing the plot entirely, so I’m counting that as a big win.

It was an epic journey that began at 2.30am on New Zealand’s Saturday morning, and finally finished at 12ish today (Sunday afternoon). We drove for two hours from Pat and Richard’s rural idyl to Bordeaux airport, checked in our vast mountain of luggage, and discovered that, although Mum, the kids, and I were travelling as part of the same booking, and although Tristan’s booking was linked to our booking, the two airline ferrying us home didn’t actually take it upon themselves to book us a block of four seats (even though we’re 99% sure that our travel agent had told us that it was organised for the second leg of our trip). Instead, the kids and I were in the three seats by the window on each flight, Mum was a row in front of us, and Tristan would be several rows away. Of course, Tristan was in the only fluent French-speaker in our party and took care of all of the seat-related negotiations, but I’m pretty sure that he wasn’t just pretending that there were problems, while secretly organising with the check-in staff to put himself out of hearing range of the rest of us at every opportunity. Next time, if the four of us can’t sit together, we will ask for two pairs of seats, and divide and conquer the kids.

Following the tragic events at Nice the day before, we’d left a lot of time to get through the airport, mindful of the likelihood of increased security. In the end it wasn’t too significant: just a few fully armed soldiers patrolling the place. It was quite an eye-opener for my little Kiwi kids to see uniformed people with weapons (bearing in mind that, here in New Zealand, our police officers are unarmed), but I explained to them that the soldiers were very brave and important people who look after us and keep us safe (which is how I describe what police officers do as well), so they didn’t seem to find it too freaky.

After drinks at the airport and sad farewells to Nanna and Grandad, and a short and uneventful flight from Bordeaux to Paris, we had to scamper through the airport to make it to our next flight. While it’s a serious pain in the neck to have several hours between flights, it’s also pretty bloody annoying when you literally have no time at all and have to drag two exhausted small people, and you’re exhausted, and your 71 year old mother is pretty knackered too, and you don’t know where you’re going, and you wish that flying cars would just hurry up and become available for the mass-market. Hattie ratcheted up the excitement as we queued for passport control in Paris by announcing that she needed a wee, so she and I legged it after we’d been checked, and ran for what seemed like several kilometres until we found the bathrooms. Hattie was a proper big kid and successfully hung on, though, so that was a big help. And both kids were very keen on helping with things like pushing the trolleys, albeit it with more enthusiasm than skill at times.

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A weird thing happened on our flight from Paris to Hong Kong: we lost one of the kids’ shoes. They were wearing identical pairs, and I took them off at the start of the flight, joined each pair together by way of their velcro straps, and stowed them in the overhead luggage compartment, but when Tristan went to retrieve something from that very compartment half an hour later one shoe was gone. Vanished, disappeared, never seen again. Fortunately we’d borrowed some slippers for both kids from Joe’s future wife Ruby, so the kids shuffled around in them for the rest of the journey, and I’m sure that some Hong Kong plane cleaner’s kid is one pair of shoes richer tonight (because we left the lonely remaining shoe from that pair).

And while I’m on that topic: Joe broke the news during the drive home from Auckland Airport that Ruby was who he planned to marry, but that Hattie was planning to marry “all of the boys”. “Yes, 12 boys”, Hattie confirmed. We then realised that she doesn’t actually know 12 boys, but she was pleased to hear that she could also marry girls if she wanted. Joe wanted to throw Daddy’s name into Hattie’s marital hat, so we had to explain that this wasn’t allowed. This followed on from a long discussion about the ethical issues regarding squirrels taking berries: Hattie was concerned that it’s stealing, and stealing is wrong, but I think we all agreed eventually that squirrels may have a different perspective and live to a different moral code. And Joe grasps the fact that squirrels store nuts for the winter, but wanted to know how they stored them: did they have fridges? Or freezers? And without freezers, does this mean that they can’t eat ice cream? (I’m not exaggerating in the slightest regarding these discussions – I really do find myself down these proverbial rabbit holes, discussing the morals of woodland creatures with small people who believe that, if a topic is worth raising, it’s worth debating at length.)

A couple of hours into the first long flight saw us trying to persuade the kids that, since it was 2am French time, they might like to think about going to sleep for a while (they’d had a two-hour afternoon nap, but that was 12 hours earlier). They both insisted, with increasing volume, that they weren’t tired. I insisted, with decreasing patience, that staying awake for the entire flight in order to watch Ice Age over and over again wasn’t actually an option. And then I remembered that Tristan is bloody awesome and that I don’t actually have to do everything myself: at his suggestion I swapped seats with him, he convinced both kids to go to sleep, and the rest of the journey passed smoothly. But I was hungry! Both of the main course options involved mushrooms, which are the Devil’s Fungus, so I had to ‘pull a Hattie’, which is where you refuse all real food and just graze incessantly on snacks. The Air France staff were very charming about it all, so that was nice. And they gave me extra bread and offered me extra cheese, but after three weeks of daily post-dinner cheese boards I think I’m a bit cheesed-out (and man, the French holiday diet is hard on the waistline when you take everybody’s advice to scoff cheese, bread, and pastries at every opportunity).

And speaking of Hattie and eating on the plane: although I keep leaving you hanging regarding a proper blog post about the kids’ eating habits, you’ve probably gathered by now that Hattie isn’t exactly a ‘three square meals a day’ kind of girl. I correctly predicted that she’d have zero interest in airplane food, and Joe, who is a far more adventurous eater (i.e., he’ll actually eat things other than carbs occasionally), also wasn’t a big fan of the plane options on the out-going journey. We therefore boarded the flights home laden with vast amounts of child-friendly snack foods and a small mountain of sandwiches. The kids ate quite a lot of it, but we also ended up throwing a lot of it away, owing to New Zealand’s extremely strict rules about not being able to bring food into the country. So that was a bit of a pain, but I know that it was inevitable, and if we’d packed even one biscuit fewer we would have ended up with two ravenous preschoolers raising hell for 24 hours straight. You just can’t win, so these days I try not to try.

We had a bit of time to saunter around between flight in Hong Kong, and from memory the only juvenile meltdown was caused by the discovery that works of art rendered on mini whiteboards don’t actually last forever.

The flight from Hong Kong to Auckland was pretty much a carbon copy of the earlier long flight, but much nicer because we were travelling with Air New Zealand (and they really are such a nice airline for long haul travel: the staff are lovely, and their online entertainment options are light years better than any other airline that I’ve used). My lovely triplet mum friend Stacey (who also has two singletons, because she’s amazing, and clearly far younger and more energetic than me) works as cabin crew and had tipped off her colleagues that we were on board, and they were so lovely: saying hello, apologising for not being able to give us any extra seats, bringing us spare pillows, noise-cancelling headphones, and lots of snacks and drinks. When you’re as knackered as I was, that kind of thing makes a big difference. Far nicer than the barely concealed snarls from the Cathay Pacific staff on our Auckland to Hong Kong flight three weeks earlier, anyway.

Once again Hattie and Joe were reluctant to accept that, when the lights go off on the plane, it’s officially time to snuggle down and go to sleep. Once again, their wonderful father stepped in and sorted them out, God bless him. My top tip when travelling with preschool-aged twins is to take Tristan with you.

I made use of my child-free flight time by only sleeping a little bit, because I had this weird thing going on whereby I got a terrible crick in my neck if I so much as shut my eyes for more than a couple of minutes, regardless of how I repositioned my head. So I gave up and watched a bewildering range of films: The Dressmaker (a fairly ridiculous melodrama, extremely odd and dark, and probably not the one to watch if your experiences of childhood bullying have ever seen you sent away to a strict boarding school, only to return to your country town 25 years later and exact your revenge); Magic Mike XXL (I saw this with twin mum friends when it first came out, while under the influence of a lot of wine, and the plot made more sense this time, while sober, even though I couldn’t shake thoughts like “How short-changed would you feel if you went to a strippers’ convention and ended up on stage with the old gorilla-looking guy with the mullet?”, and “What did the women who get sprayed with whipped cream during the candy man routine do for the rest of the evening? That stuff would have ended up reeking in the heat, and I’m sure they didn’t pack a change of clothing…”, and “Is there honestly a woman alive who would find it even slightly erotic to be manhandled by a po-faced Channing Tatum in front of a few hundred screaming women? It all seems so humourless, and that Mike fella didn’t half fancy himself.”); He’s Just Not That Into You (which took over two hours and used a number of fairly indistinct characters to share one extremely straightforward message: don’t go out with or marry people who aren’t nice to you); and The Other Woman (which was actually quite funny, despite its terrible critical reception). As you may have gathered, when I’m flying and sleep-deprived I can only stomach light entertainment.

We arrived in Auckland, discarded our uneaten food, declared our uneaten chocolate (none of which will be eaten by me unless I inhale it all tonight – which could happen, let’s be honest – as I’m returning to my best sugar-free life from tomorrow), discovered that Pauline, our au pair, had experienced an inexplicable alarm failure and was only just leaving to collect us as we were queuing at passport control, had a quick cafe visit while we waited, farewelled Gogga (who had a three-hour wait for her flight closer to home), tracked down Pauline, and then came home. And I spent a couple of hours unpacking, because God knows that’s always awesome fun when you’re exhausted. Meanwhile, Hattie and Joe were reunited with their toys and acted like it was Christmas morning. And yay, we’ve got to the end of this blog post and I’ve only had to weather a couple of meltdowns!

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4 thoughts on “Flying the friendly skies

  1. We’ve done Air NZ, Emirates, Qantas and Virgin with Thomas (making the most of the superior adult : child ratio before we dare have another) and Emirates are hands down the winner, can’t recommend them highly enough. Air NZ have been devastatingly erratic as I do love them as a general rule. Certainly better than Qantas and Virgin, anyway! Glad you had an easier trip back, amazing the difference dad can make!

    1. If we could fly on Emirates from NZ without having to go via Australia I’d happily use them – we’ve only flown with them once, on a trip from the UK to South Africa, but they were great. My experiences of Virgin have also been good, but that was UK Virgin – the Australian version might be a different kettle of fish! And I’ve only ever had one bad experience with Air NZ, thankfully! Good on you guys for getting lots of travel done with Thomas – definitely one of those things that make me envy parents of one child! 🙂

  2. Hi, we are about to go to France from NZ with out 2 1/2 year old twins girls and 5 and 8 year old boys (6 weeks in a campervan)… Any recommendations of where to go/what to do… Or other tips??!!! Thanks

    1. Hi Julie! Oh, you will have a wonderful time! The flights will likely be a struggle, if your kids are anything like mine, but the best advice I can give on that front is to make them understand that, when all the lights are turned off after dinner on each flight, it’s night time and all of the headphones are put away, and everybody goes to sleep!

      I haven’t actually done a huge amount of travel in France – my in-laws live in the Dordogne region, in southwest France, so we tend to stick close to there. It’s beautiful: full of gorgeous towns and villages, and lots of good camp sites from what I saw (that’s a popular holiday choice for the French, though, so you might need to make some bookings). In that region there seems to be a habit of importing sand to make riverside beaches and having holiday camp sites there, which is cool. Two that I know of near where we stayed were Aubeterre and Saint-Aulaye.

      The other part of France that I’ve been to a few times is the Alps, which are absolutely stunning in the summer! Really lovely, pretty alpine villages, and nice and warm and sunny too (and they often seem to have lovely village swimming pools). Being in the mountains in the summer is amazing, and with kids the ages of your crew I’m sure that you could find lots of fun outdoor activities to do.

      Tristan reckons that it’s worth seeking out the most beautiful villages – google ‘plus beaux villages de France’ to find a list. Aubeterre will be on the list, as will Monplazier, one of the villages that we visited (check a few blog posts before this one).

      Also be aware that the French pretty much take their holidays throughout August, so you might need to make some bookings (although being in a camper van is a great idea in terms of flexibility). Also, if you do head to the Alps (and I really hope you do – I loved it so much when we did that in 2004), check that you won’t coincide with any Tour de France mountain stages, just because the areas that it visits go completely mental and it’s probably too busy to be fun with little kids.

      Have an amazing trip! 🙂

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