Getting to Germany

Having driven to the Atlanta airport, checked our luggage and picked up our boarding passes, we head for the MARTA station. We pause to do a time check and debate whether we’re better off spending the 3 hours until our plane starts boarding in the airport or going downtown for lunch. We want to allow plenty of time, figuring security will be tighter since it is the tenth anniversary of 9-11. I say, “Let’s go downtown–it will be more of an adventure than sitting in the airport.” Pat agrees.

Once we settle onto the MARTA train, we start calculating how long we will need to get back, get our carry-on bags out of our car and get in the security line. We have allowed ourselves 30 minutes of travel time in each direction and still have an hour and a half to get lunch. We get off at the Peachtree station since it’s an area I’m familiar with. I forgot that it’s a Sunday and the Atlanta downtown is not exactly hopping. We head towards the Olympic park once we find ourselves back above ground. It’s a beautiful day and the walk more welcome since we are about to take a 9+ hour flight.

We find a Googie’s hamburger place in the middle of the park. I order a coke float with my burger and we sit outside. There are plenty of people in the park. Some are playing a sport I can’t identify because they are downhill and all we can see is the top halves of people moving around a field. I assume it’s soccer. After relaxing in the shade of a giant old tree while we finished our meal, we head back towards the MARTA station. The walk is now uphill, the sun is higher, and the temperature is rapidly rising. Pat starts sweating through his shirt and then worrying about being all sweaty getting on the plane which probably makes him sweat even more. The platform is surprisingly warm considering how far underground we are. I think back to how long the escalator was and wonder if we are now so close to the center of the earth that the temperature is higher. 🙂 Pat, in the meantime, moves us to the center of the platform between two giant fans that circulate the air. He stands with his arms spread, trying to get his shirt to dry.

Back at the Atlanta airport, we are surprised that security does not seem any worse than usual. We get through the line in 15 minutes and neither of us is randomly scanned in the new “naked” scanners. When we amble up to the gate 45 minutes before our flight, they are all ready boarding all passengers. The boarding process for long flights is different than the short domestic hops–people take their time and settle in gradually. Yet, the entire airbus is full and everyone is ready to go well before our take off time.

The man sitting next to me (I took the middle seat) starts up a conversation. He tells me he’s on a business trip and I ask who he works for. It turns out he and I work for the same company! I wonder aloud how many people on this flight are our colleagues and what the odds are that we would end up sitting next to each other. He also was part of a smaller company acquired by our now mutual corporation. We swap stories of integration and he tells me that everything will settle down and seem normal in three more years. I was really hoping it would only be one more year.

As the plane reaches altitude and the movies become available, he reaches for his ear buds and I reach for my iPad. We do not talk again in the 9 hours that we sit next to each other until we are arriving in Frankfurt and he points out the location of the office he’s going to on the flight map. That’s OK. We’re unlikely to ever see each other again anyway.

The flight goes smoothly, although my knees start twitching when I get tired and it is impossible to get comfortable. I long for the days when I used to fly business class, but it’s hard to justify paying 4x the price for an already expensive ticket when the trip is only 9 hours. I nod off in fits and starts and wake again every 10 minutes. I think I managed to collectively get a couple hours of sleep, but I feel like I was up all night when the flight crew turns the lights back on and starts serving breakfast. Having lost 6 hours between dinner and breakfast, I’m not really sure I’m hungry, but I eat anyway.

When we deplane, there are no restrooms between the plane and immigration. The line is endless and moving slowly. We wait for over half an hour crossing our legs and trying not to think of water. A man is escorted away just before we are called to a desk. This often happens to Pat–he apparently has the same name as someone on the no-fly list. Having been detained 4 times now, we cross our fingers that this won’t be the fifth. Luck smiles on us and the agent stamps our passports. We find a restroom and our luggage and look for the train.

We take a bus to terminal 1 to get to the train. But, having done very little planning for this trip, we have to wait in another long, slow line to get our train passes. On most our trips, I take care of these arrangements, usually in advance. But here, Pat takes the lead since this is his birth country and German is his first language. I am reminded of a man who recently told me I need to learn how to follow; it doesn’t come naturally to me. I would like to think I am a natural leader, but I suspect I’m really just a control freak. While the ticket agent speaks fluent English, Pat’s command of German gets us 4 days of train travel in first class at a reduced rate, saving us about $550 Euros. Not bad for just letting him do the talking.

I have ridden the train in Germany before, but it’s more impressive to me this trip having taken the train from Portland to Glacier National Park back in the states since then. First, German trains are on time. Second, they run as efficiently as subways, often having only 3 minutes between arrival and departure. Finally, they are so quiet and smooth that you have to remind yourself you’re on a train. The first class car is an extra bonus–after being so cramped on the plane, it’s nice to lay back and stretch our of legs fully. I am always amazed at how tired sitting on a plane makes me feel.

In spite of being re-routed once on the way to Freidberg due to weather, we arrive only 10 minutes late. We find a cab and get to our hotel only to learn that our room won’t be ready for 2 1/2 more hours–it’s only 12:30PM. We check our bags and drag our tired selves around this ancient black forest town for an hour. Then we sit outside in a square by the farmer’s market and eat. Oh do we eat! I allowed Pat to order for me and he has chosen two dishes that we share. One is a “fine” bratwurst with fries and the other is some kind of dumpling stuffed with vegetables neatly ground and mixed with cheese. Both are good, but the brat particularly hits the spot today–maybe because it goes so well with the pilsner we drink?

We sit in the shadow of an enormous church that was razed to the ground during World War II and has since been reconstructed, stone by stone. They are still working on it or working on it again; scaffolding shrouds the main steeple. The courtyard below is full of vendor’s tents–it’s an open farmer’s market that apparently opens every morning and shuts down every afternoon. By the time we are done with our entrees, the tents are disappearing.

We sit a while longer, ordering meringues for dessert. They are served with ice cream, whipped cream, and carmel sauce. I resign myself to gaining weight this trip and relish the dessert. We are surrounded by locals and tourists alike. One table over, a group of Americans discuss their plans while failing at keeping their young children entertained, resulting in crying and whining. I wonder if German children expect to be entertained all the time, but none are around to watch.

We wander around the town some more, struck by the stone streets and the old architecture laden with flowers. Nearly every building has flower boxes at every window. We attempt to walk to the river, but get ourselves mixed up. At 3PM, we stop in a coffee shop to use the restroom, get directions, and buy a bottle of water. We head back to the hotel more than ready for a nap.