Airport Adventure

For once, we are relaxed getting to the airport. It’s a funny thing; even when I used to fly nearly every week, I always got anxious from the point when I started packing to the point when I was sitting at the gate. Of course, back then, that was only a couple of hours, but it never went away. But today, we are a 20 minute shuttle bus ride from the airport, we woke up earlier than we needed to, we were already mostly packed from the night before, and we find ourselves getting on the shuttle an hour earlier than we planned. Our flight doesn’t leave until 11:30AM, but we prefer to allow as much time as possible for getting through security since Pat has been detained numerous times, his name confused with someone on the no-fly list. Although it’s usually a bigger problem clearing customs in the US than in departing from other countries, it still makes us nervous since we’ve missed flights as a result of how long it takes for immigration to figure out that my Pat is not whoever it is they’re looking for.

But, here we are today, at the airport before 8AM and hungry. First, we check in. I have checked in online already, so all we have to do is print boarding passes and drop our bags. There is no one in line at one of the kiosks, we walk right up and start entering information. However, I have to go through all the steps of checking in, including swiping each passport into the machine. This process takes a few minutes. As I struggle to figure out which direction to put a passport in, a man suddenly appears just over my left shoulder. Everything about his body language says I’m in his way and he would like me move faster. Having never had an American stranger stand so close to me, I am thrown by his behavior. Pat immediately perceives danger and steps closer to me as if he is going to end up punching this man. The man must sense he’s triggering hostility because he says in a New Jersey accent, “They really ask for a lot of information, huh?” as if he’s just trying to be friendly. Yet, he continues to look over my shoulder and stand too close. I stop what I’m doing and turn to look at him. Perhaps the realization that he is slowing me down causes him to step back or maybe I’ve unknowingly given him one of my looks, but he takes a step back. However, he continues to participate in the process verbally, counting out each boarding pass as it prints and trying to joke about how slow the machine is. We are happy to take our bags and move on quickly when all four boarding passes finally print.

There are only two people in front of us at the bag drop. I begin to suspect that most of Germany is still in Munich at Oktoberfest–I have never gotten checked in to an international flight so quickly. Barely past 8AM, we have completed the bag check process and are ready to approach security. Since it’s so early and we can’t remember what’s on the other side of security, but we have memories of being stuck in a secure area with no restaurants or even a restroom on some flight that might have been out of Frankfurt, we decide to have pretzels and coffee before we hit security. We sit where we can watch the volume of people heading towards security in case there is a sudden rush, but we are able to eat our pretzels uninterrupted. Pat even goes back for more food. When he returns with an ice cream bar, I raise my eyebrows at him, “Breakfast of champions?” He smiles and enjoys his ice cream guilt free.

We discover a classic Mercedes convertible on display in the airport. There is some drawing where you can win 100,000 Euro to spend at the Mercedes classic shop. It requires finding out how much a certain perfume costs in the Duty Free shop. We determine that the duty free shop is on the other side of security, so we go through the security check and then head for duty free. Now, checking the price on a bottle of perfume may seem like a harmless request, but Pat gets scent-triggered migraines if he’s exposed to heavy perfumes for too long. Interestingly, since giving up perfume for Pat 16 years ago, I have now developed a sensitivity to it as well. Although, I get more of an allergy response involving congestion and sneezing. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to sell perfume without the scent lingering in the air all around the displays. We scope the perimeter, trying to stay outside the danger zone. Then, I make a break through one of the aisles trying to quickly identify where the brand we’re looking for is located. When I find it, Pat surprises me by breaking through the perimeter and joining me as I try to figure out which one is the particular scent we’re looking for. We find it and then retreat quickly from the noxious odors to a safe, scent-free zone where we can fill out our entries in the drawing.

Next, we head to the gate. Oddly, we must clear security a second time before we can enter the gate area. Discovering that there are plenty of shops between the first security checkpoint and the second, but none in the gate area, we decide to eat a real breakfast at a restaurant across from the gate. But having had my fill of fatty foods, I opt for yogurt and muesli instead of a more American breakfast. When we finish eating, I spot a spa across from the restaurant and suggest we get chair massages while we’re waiting. Pat counts out the last of our Euros and decides it’s the perfect way to use up what we have left. We each get a 10 minute chair massage, which does wonders for my aching neck.

Now we are fed and relaxed. We go through the second security checkpoint (where they are suddenly concerned about the battery charger for my camera battery) and then sit at the gate. We discover there is a restroom in the gate area and Pat decides to go use it. While I wait for him, a woman comes over and tells everyone sitting in the gate area that it’s a secure area and we must leave. Given that we’ve passed through security 2x already, I’m not sure why we need to leave, but she allows me to stand and wait for Pat to return, so I don’t argue. A few minutes later, several gate agents set up in front of the seating area and tell us we can now go through a line to get checked into the seating area. An agent looks at each person’s passport and ticket before we can enter. I count the number of times I have now shown someone my passport: 1) Swiping it into machine, 2) Agent to get into line at bag drop, 3) Agent who checked our bags, 4) Security downstairs, 5) Security upstairs, 6) Agent to get to seating area. Six passport checks just to get a seat at the gate. When they finally start boarding the plane, they check our passports a 7th time. Given that they don’t seem to be scanning our passports to get any data from them, I find myself wondering if this repeated checking is due to an inherent distrust of others’ ability to adequately look at a passport or just a desire to be annoying. In any case, I’m pretty sure that everyone on the plane is carrying a passport. It may not be a legal passport, but everyone’s got one!

Fortunately, given how relaxed the overall experience of getting to the airport has been today, I take the passport thing in stride and maintain a sense of calm. After all, we’re about to spend 8 hours on a plane, so there is no point in getting worked up. We “upgraded” to comfort seats on this plane. It’s not really an upgrade, the seats just have more leg room and recline further. But, it makes all the difference as we settle in and stretch out. We test the recline as we wait for take off. We exchange giddy smiles as we think back to the cramped seats we flew over in. Then, we return the seats to upright and prepare for take off.

Returning to Frankfurt

At long last, our trip is winding down.  We meet Pat’s parents for breakfast one last time before returning to the hotel in Karlsruhe to pack.  We will spend tonight in Frankfurt at an airport hotel and then fly home the next morning.  It’s a funny thing for me.  As much as I like travel, a two week vacation always seems like a little too much.  During dinner with Dieter and Gisela one night earlier in the week, Gisela suggested dividing our vacation into two parts:  one for sight seeing and one for relaxing at a spa.  I think this is an excellent suggestion.  But, there will be no spa time this trip.

After we pack, we walk down to the lobby to meet Pat’s parents one last time.  They will walk us to the S-bahn stop that will take us to the Karlsruhe train station on their way into Karlsruhe.  They are riding their bikes, so they will leave us at the stop.  We get to the stop ahead of schedule and tell Jim and Renate our final goodbyes before our train arrives.  They take off and tell us they will wave when our train passes them.  We hop on the train and watch out the window for Jim and Renate.  They are far ahead of our train and we stop before we catch up.  Then, we start talking about what we’re going to do in Frankfurt and momentarily forget to look for Jim and Renate.  We are relieved to find them still ahead of the train and we stand in the door where we can wave at them as the train goes by.  We pass them just a block before the train turns, so we don’t see them again at our next stop.

We arrive at the Karlsruhe train station just a few minutes before the 10:00AM train.  We rush to try to catch it, but we can’t tell which platform to go to.  By the time we figure it out and find the correct escalator, the train is at the station.  Several steps ahead of Pat, I get in front of a group of people getting on the escalator while he stands back and lets them go ahead.  When I get to the top of the escalator, the whistle is blowing indicating the doors are about to close, I am torn between trying to get on the train and hold it for Pat and waiting for him.  My fear that I will end up on the train alone makes me hesitate and I watch as the doors close just as Pat gets off the escalator.  We try pushing the buttons to open the doors, but no luck.  A man and his son come running up the escalator moments later and repeat the process, only they go a step further and argue with a conductor to let them on the train.  The doors remain shut.  Ironically, the train remains at the station for a couple more minutes with all doors closed tight before finally departing.

While it’s somewhat frustrating to just miss the train, we really hadn’t planned to make that train anyway.  So, it’s not such a big deal to us that we have to wait an hour for the next train to Frankfurt.  We return to the terminal and find a coffee shop and an outdoor seat.  On our way, we pass a couple in the middle of a fight.  They are young.  The girl is furious.  She is screaming at the man who stands there looking like he is visibly shrinking.  She screams louder, pushing on his chest and then kicking one of their large suitcases until it falls over.  Then, she exits stage right.  The man picks up the luggage and rolls it after her, looking like he’s still shrinking.

After relaxing with a cup of coffee, Pat and I successfully board the 11AM train.  We make it to the Frankfurt airport without further incident.  However, now we must wait for our hotel shuttle so we can drop our luggage off.  The bus shows up eventually and takes us to the far side of the airport.  It takes a good 25 minutes to get there and I joke that it would be a more direct route if we could just take one of the airport runways instead.  When we get to the hotel, it’s long before check-in time, but they have a room ready and allow us to check in early.  After dropping off our things, we take the next shuttle back to the airport where we take the train into the center of downtown Frankfurt.

There is a farmers market set up in the plaza outside the S-bahn stop.  We walk slowly past all the tents selling goods ranging from German meats to household decorations.  One of the tents sells local honey.  In this case, the honey is really local–they have brought the hive along.  The honey combs spin inside a large glass jar and the honey runs out a spout at the bottom.  Bees come and go as they please–we have been seeing bees since getting off the escalator coming out of the train stop, now we know why.  Pat wonders out loud what kind of insurance and legal agreements would be required to bring a bee hive to a crowded public plaza in the US.  No one seems to be the least bit worried about the presence of the bees here.

Hungry, we decide to find a place to eat.  We pick an outdoor table that appears to be out of range for the bees, although one or two seem to have followed us.  It’s a cloudy day, but the sun keeps threatening to pop through at any moment.  I am fascinated by a group of clouds with a hole it in that allows sunlight to stream through above a tall building.  I keep waiting for the beams to shine down on the building, but the clouds, sun, and building never quite align for me.

Pat and I finish eating and then walk around a bit.  We find the opera house and an interesting fountain full of bathing women sculptures.  A class of young children is lined up on one side of the fountain and a teacher attempts to get them all looking in the same direction at the same time as she takes pictures.  We sit for a moment and look at our map.  I would like to make it down to the river.  We plan a route and start to walk.  Like in Karlsruhe, we find ourselves going from a clean, safe area of town to a sleazy and rather frightening section in the matter of a block.  We abandon hope of finding the river and head towards a busier street where the environment feels safer.  Pat has experienced a complete loss of energy.  I am also tired and not all that enthusiastic about re-exploring Frankfurt.  We decide to call it a day and head back to the hotel.  Taking the train back to the airport and the shuttle back to the hotel seems like an easy way to get back to the hotel, but we end up just missing the shuttle and having to wait a half hour for the next one.  When the shuttle arrives, we collapse into seats.

Returning to the hotel, we discover it’s happy hour.  We have a beer in the bar and then decide to go to bed early.  On the way down the hall, we notice the Coke machine for the first time.  What catches our attention is the button for “Bier” at the bottom of the choices.  I can’t remember ever seeing beer in a vending machine before–I thought there was an age limit on alcohol now, I wonder how they check IDs?

We get ourselves as ready for our trip home tomorrow as we can and then fall into bed.  We watch the season premier of Two and a Half Men on my iPad, which is just short enough that I manage to stay awake for the whole thing.  Then, I fall to sleep thinking about how good it’s going to feel to sleep in my own bed tomorrow night.