By Jim Platt, Arlington, WA
My wife and our dietician suggested I write about our adventure for those of you who may be apprehensive about traveling to foreign countries with children with PKU and other metabolic conditions which could be difficult to control.
I was awarded a four month contract in the country of Luxembourg and had about six days to prepare myself. My wife and two daughters, Janelle, age 10, non PKU, and Morgan, age 3, Classic PKU, would catch up in about six weeks.
During the six weeks, my wife did a lot of prep work to make the two and one half months as easy as possible. She got the electrical converter for the much needed bread machine, ordered food for about a six month stay, (there was a chance we could be extended), made several loafs of bread and vacuum sealed them, and got all the documents in order. (The documents included a letter from Morganís doctor stating that the white powdery substance that was in that trunk was not an illegal substance). When all was ready to be transported, she informed me that she had thirteen bags including carry-ons! So, because the car I had rented was a Volkswagen Polo, about the size of a small Golf, I decided I would need to take the train to pick them up.
The train service in Western Europe is excellent. I arrived at the Brussels Airport and waited for the girls to exit through Customs. When they did, it was unbelievable that my wife could transport two children and thirteen bags with very little help from the airline people. She later told me she would not do that again. This was the beginning of our first hurdle, getting the bags and the family on and off the train before the train leaves, and trying not to leave anyone behind.
From Brussels Airport we would make a stop at the Brussels Nord Station before transferring to the train to Luxembourg. The catch was that we would exit one train and take stairs down to the lobby and stairs back up to the next train. That doesn't sound too hard but with thirteen bags and two kids and 34 degrees C (about 90 degrees F), it was quite a challenge. We managed without leaving anything or anyone behind. Now about a two-hour ride to Luxembourg and we will be home, so we thought.
About 17 Kilometers from Luxembourg the train arrived at a small village, one of the scheduled stops. The conductor said something in French and everyone on our car offloaded. We thought that was strange, but didn't worry, we had made it this far without knowing French. Then, one of the train workers, who spoke very broken English, said that the last five cars were being disconnected, and that we would need to move our belongings up six cars if we were continuing to Luxembourg. Before he was done informing us, we were offloading all of our bags and running up six cars and trying to convince the jet-lagged children that they needed to hurry. We made it, but we were drenched in sweat. I look back and feel for the other passengers on the train, because we didn't smell very good.
After arriving at our residence hotel and recovering from the trip, my wife brought out Morgan's food so she could have something to eat. The bread, which was vacuum-sealed, looked like someone took a feather pillow and squeezed it from both ends. I would have to say that too much air was sucked out and the shape was not coming back. So number one priority was to make Morgan's favorite food, bread.
The next day, we set out to make the bread. Oops, no Metamucil. We decided to hit the largest grocery stores to get the much-needed ingredient. Searching two of the largest stores and the only thing we found for regularity was prunes. Perhaps it is considered a medicine? So, to the local pharmacy we went. After three pharmacies we finally found someone who could speak English and he went back behind the counter and brought out good old sugar-free orange Metamucil. We thanked him for his time and called our friend in the states to ship the magic ingredient to us. Meanwhile, Morgan ate pieces of bread.
About five days passed when the Metamucil arrived. While I was working, my wife began the process of making Morgan's bread. She measured all the ingredients precisely, plugged the converter in and turned the bread machine on and nothing happened. What happened? The darn machine just buzzed. Practically in tears, my wife took all the ingredients out and began to mix them by hand, in the same rhythm as the bread machine. She then filled the mini sink with hot water and covered the container, praying that the mixture would rise. Sure enough, it did.
She then added additional Wel-Plan Baking Mix to prevent sticking and formed the dough into mini baguettes to look like the bread we were eating. She cranked the heat in the room and covered the toaster oven pan with foil to let it rise again and once again prayed and sure enough it rose again. The toaster oven wasnít adequate to bake bread, but it worked. Morgan was once again happy. My wife learned from her mistakes but still to this day makes some of her bread by hand when she has time.
The next major challenge was trying to feed Morgan food from the grocery store, and finding ingredients we were use to. Fortunately, we lived close to Germany and an American Air Base so some of the grocery stores had sections of American foods which were hard to get. Most were more suitable for the rest of the family, but we found a few items for Morgan.
The biggest challenge was the language barrier. Because Luxembourg is located between France, Germany, and Belgium, and because they have their own language, "Luxembourgish," which translation dictionary do we use? We finally settled on German and French, and once we had that we were able to eat out and grocery shop without too much trouble.
Our family will always remember this trip, and we intend to take additional trips because of the educational experience for the children. But perhaps the most rewarding experience to all of us is that we learned to survive even with Morgan's condition. The challenges we experienced actually made the trip much more entertaining, not only for us but I am sure for the people who live there who watched us trying to survive.
If you are planning a trip to a foreign country, we would like to make the following suggestions before you start your journey:
If any of you wish to contact us about your concerns or suggestions feel free to e-mail us.
- Jim and Debbie Platt