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.


As we walk from the train stop to Oktoberfest, more and more people wearing lederhosen and drindl crowd the streets.  We pass a collection of port-a-potties and decide to stop.  At this point, I am envisioning a large collection of big white tents (like the kind people use for wedding receptions in the US) in a field with thousands of drunk people staggering around drunk.  Having not given a thought to restroom logistics, the fact that the Germans want to stop at a port-a-potty on the way there now makes me worry that there will be no restrooms at the fest itself.  This worry is reinforced when we pass a man urinating in the bushes just 20 yards from the port-a-potties.

When we arrive at the entrance to Oktoberfest, I am surprised to discover that it is much like arriving at the Ohio State Fair.  The grounds are smaller, the rides are bigger and more sophisticated, rivaling the rides at permanent amusement parks, and the crowd is far more dense (in terms of number of people per square foot of space; I have no evidence to compare IQ levels).  Another interesting difference is that the people look like the same people we’ve seen all over Germany rather than the bizarre part of the US population, usually kept hidden from view, that mysteriously gathers at the Ohio State Fair.  And of course, the fact that at least half of the attendees are wearing traditional lederhosen and drindl just to be wearing it and not because they are participating in some act makes the crowd seem more interesting as well.

When we get inside the entry, first we discover there is no fee to get in.  Second, we find there are plenty of places to spend money to make up for the free admittance.  Each brewery has their team of draft horses standing around waiting for me to pet them.  I’m not sure who called ahead to arrange this, but I appreciate it.  It’s been a lot of years since I spent time with horses; having the opportunity to scratch some giant heads makes my day.  As we walk away from the horses, we see a group of young men coming out of one of the beer tents.  Two of them are supporting a third who has clearly not paced himself well.  As we pass them, we understand the value of wearing lederhosen with suspenders.  This guy is wearing only lose jeans and they have slid down over his rear end, leaving him leaning against his friends with his bare butt hanging in the wind.  We all look and laugh, tipping off the guys friends that he needs a little help.  They pull up his jeans and make a joke in German.  Everyone laughs and we go on our way.  As I look around, I realize that no one else in the vicinity is staggering and I am surprised.

We slip inside a beer “tent” and are surprised it’s not a tent at all but a permanent building with massive beams supporting the roof and a wood floor.  We’re surprised and ask our friends about the buildings being permanent.  They tell us that no, the site of the fest is a park and that the “tents” go up about a week before the fest starts and are gone again within a week after.  We look at the structure again and are amazed at what it must take to erect this building in a week,–when we go to the restroom and discover a huge room of flush toilets, we are even more amazed.

The original plan for Oktoberfest was that we would have a reservation for three hours at one of the tents.  We would be served all we could eat and drink for those three hours and then we would have to give up the table.  However, Dieter and Giesala had friends tell them that a reservation wasn’t really needed and that we could show up at any time, so we did not have a reservation.  This worked well from the perspective that it allowed us to switch days on when we were going with the rain and cold weather, but not so well in that even on a Tuesday afternoon, the tents were packed and finding unreserved tables with open seats was not easy.  At the first beer tent, we were able to sit at a reserved table where the reservation didn’t start for several more hours.  We ordered a round of beers and sat sipping away.  I practiced my new beer holding technique–my wrist was already tired from the beer earlier in the day at the Haufbrauhaus.  We sit and watch people.  There are an overwhelming number of people to watch.

I watch the drindls and lederhosen, fascinated that while the basic look is always the same, they come in wide varieties.  Most interesting to me is the shoe choices of women wearing drindls.  I don’t know what the traditional show would be, but each woman seems to have made up her own mind without consulting tradition or fashion on what footwear choice works for her.  I see one woman in rubber Hunter boots with her drindl.  Another with 4 1/2 inch spike heels–the heels are literally spikes, made from metal.  There is everything in between, although ballet flats seem to be the most popular.

After finishing our beers (once again, I am unable to finish mine and I share with Pat), we start strolling through the park again.  We stop at some shooting galleries where Giesala and Jim try out the shooting skills.  The guns don’t shoot straight and it takes a while to adjust.  Once Jim gets the hang of it, he makes every shot, having been a sharp shooter in the military.  After spending something like 10 Euro on shooting, he wins a prize and allows Giesala to pick from the choices.  She selects a small teddy bear, which she decides should go to me and fastens him to the zipper of my rain jacket.  He bounces along as we continue our walk down the strip.

Eventually, we find ourselves in the Haufbrauhaus tent.  Here, the unreserved tables are jammed with people and the reserved tables are blocked off so they can’t be used even when no one with a reservation is there.  We wander around not sure of what to do.  Eventually, we find a table out in the beer garden.  It’s jammed up against the tables on either side so that when we sit down, we are literally using the people behind us as back rests.  No one whose been sitting there a while seems to notice.  The people already at the table we join are laughing and talking with the people at the next table over.  It seems like everyone knows each other with people switching tables frequently to visit with other people, but I think this is just the atmosphere of the fest.  We are surrounded by people from different parts of the country.  A guy with an odd long-haired wig on sits behind me.  He has a cart with what looks like karaoke machine in it sitting next to him.  Jim offers the guy 10 euro to sing.  The guy turns out to be a local personality there with a guy with a camera and they decide this will be a good bit.  They have Jim hand the guy 10 euro on camera and the guy sings.  Supposedly it will be on TV in Munich.  I find myself wondering what they are saying and hope that it’s not too embarrassing for Jim.

Before I can worry too much about the TV bit, a large group of Scottish guys in kilts arrives.  They greet the guy with the wig and walk around to join his table.  One of them immediately attaches himself to Pat’s mother and can’t seem to stop hugging her and telling her he loves her.  We end up in a conversation with him.  It’s a sort of odd transition, but we end up talking about Scotland and Pat’s own experience with wearing a kilt for a wedding.  This, of course, leads to discussion about what one wears under a kilt.  We learn that the Scots are traditionalists and the offer to prove it; Renate stops the one closest to her when his kilt is at about mid-thigh.  Back on the subject of Scotland, he tells us that we can have it–it rains too much for him.

It’s getting late in the day and Dieter wants to return to our country hotel in Wald.  We are trying to drink up so we can leave.  Pat and I are splitting a beer this time instead of me pretending I’m going to drink one myself.  I try to polish off the last bit of my half, but even half is a strain.  Pat takes an few extra sips for me and then works on helping Jim finish his beer.  I do some math and realize that I’ve had 1 1/4 beers since the first half beer at the Haufbrauhaus in Munich. But it’s 1.25 liters of beer, which is approximately 40 0z of beer or 3 1/2 US beers.  That’s a lot of beer!

We return to the train station at sunset.  We skipped the port-a-potty on the way, having all used the restroom at the tent.  But, it was a long walk from the Haufbrauhaus to the train station.  Pat needs a restroom now.  There are 7 minutes until our next train; Pat decided to risk it.  I will omit some of the more sordid details of the events of the rest of the evening, but Pat did not find a restroom, but did cause us to miss our train.  Having to wait 20 minutes for the next one with all of us having consumed much beer, that 20 minute wait led to much discomfort across the board.  Then there was the 30 minute train ride to to the park-and-ride and the discovery that the restroom there was closed.  Let me just conclude that we were pleased that the parking lot was surrounded by dense woods and there were very few people around by the time we arrived there.

When we returned to the hotel, we sit and allow Dieter to drink.  He had the least beer of all, having cut himself off early in the evening since he was driving.  The hotel is no longer serving dinner, but now we are hungry.  They fix us a spread of meats and cheeses that we enjoy with homemade bread.  Tired and full, we all retire as soon as the food is gone.

Going to Berlin

We awake to The sound of frogs chirping at 6:00AM. I am momentarily confused and then remember that we’ve set the alarm on Pat’s phone because we are catching an morning train to Berlin today. I get up and find the phone and kill the frogs. Pat has an uncanny ability to remain untroubled by alarms–I’ve accidentally set mine on snooze from time to time and found him sleeping soundly with his head under a pillow for as long as a hour after the alarm started going off. I have an irresistible compulsion to get up when an alarm sounds–I figure it’s a good thing one of us does.

After breakfast, we take our luggage outside to wait for the cab we’ve ordered. When we step outside, a cab pulls up and a man walks up to it and gets in. It’s a few minutes early, but Pat says, I bet that’s our cab and then stands there staring. Visions of us standing there for 10 more minutes waiting for a cab that never shows and then having to wait 10 more for another on to arrive prompt me to suggest he go ask before the cab drives away. Sure enough, it is our cab. But, we are all going to the train station, so we will share.

We make it to the station with 45 minutes to spare. We sit on a bench on the track and wait for our train. I decide to use the restroom while we’re waiting. When I get there, I discover that the train station has pay toilets. They’ve upgraded from change operated door handles to a turnstile entry to the restrooms, but now they charge a euro to get in. Having no cash on me, I return to the platform and decide just to wait since the restrooms on the train are free.

The train pulls into the station 3 minutes before our departure time. We get on and find seats. We sit side-by-side with no seats across from us. We sit back and relax, me taking out my iPad and getting caught up on my blog while Pat stares out the window and points interesting sights out to me.

When we get to the next stop, we are displaced. A man has a reserved seat that I am currently occupying. I am somewhat irritated as there are plenty of open seats and I don’t quite understand why he doesn’t take one of them, but when we are displaced again at the next stop, I begin to understand the problem. Pat asks a woman how to tell if a seat is reserved and she explains that the lighted sign above each seat displays the names of the departure and arrival stations between which a seat is reserved. We quickly discover there aren’t two seats together with no reservation (since we have none). Pat spots two seats labeled “Schwerbehinderte” that face each other with a table in between. He explains that these are “handicapped” seats and that we can sit there unless someone who needs them gets on. We settle back down for the third time.

Pat looks around and notices that there are a half dozen “Schwerbehinderte” seats around us. He says, “wouldn’t it be our luck that an entire handicapped tour gets on the train at the next stop?” I almost laugh, but feel like he has just jinxed us and seriously contemplate the likelihood of that happening instead. But, we are not displaced again and we make it to Berlin around 3PM.
We take a taxi to our hotel where we are informed that they have upgraded our room for us. We don’t know why, but we’re not complaining. It’s an interesting hotel, the Gendarmes Nouveau, with hyper-modern decor and lighting throughout the lobby. When we get to the room, it’s a combination of mauve and gray, only still in the hyper-modern theme. I’ve never seen modern done in mauve and gray before–it feels vaguely middle eastern to us, but I don’t know why. Maybe just because our taxi driver was telling us about his flight from Iran on the way to the hotel and so the region is fresh in our minds. In any case, the room is quite nice, very quiet, and we can live with gray and mauve decor for two nights.

After freshening up, we head out. Pat wants to walk to Alexander Plaza, which is supposed to be the center of Berlin. We wander down the streets struck by the contrast with Freiburg. We feel like we’re in a different country. Here the streets are wide and asphalt with regular car traffic, although bikes are certainly prevalent as well. So much so that, on the way over, I noticed our taxi driver stopped on right turns to look up the sidewalk for approaching bikes before making turns. While I have been told before that Berlin is surprisingly new for a European capital and I know from history that it’s really more surprising that anything old is left standing than that most of the buildings are new, I’m unprepared for the architecture of the 60’s and 70’s. There are few buildings of interest and most of them are ancient survivors (or perhaps restored). The bleak and boring industrial look takes up the majority of the city skyline.

We walk past a museum that sparkles with gold leaf in the setting sun, a couple of old churches, and several parks with interesting sculptures that make the walk worthwhile. We go past the Fernsehturn tower, deciding to wait to go up it until the next day, and on to Alexander Plaza. We are both disappointed to find that the only thing interesting here is a fountain and the street performers. We are passed by a man dressed as a half-man, half-goat mythological creature, using stilts covered in fur to simulate goat legs. An electric rock band has found power somewhere and set up and started playing. Unfortunately, they are not so good. They compete with another band around the corner, all acoustic. In the middle of the square, a man plays the sax and, I swear, he sounds much like one would expect a new student of the sax to sound after about two weeks of lessons.

As much as we are tempted to hang out for a while and people watch, Pat notices that teenagers keep gawking at my camera and feels like we’re at risk of getting mugged. We decide to head towards the hotel and find a place for dinner. We approach a fine looking restaurant that advertises it’s been there for 100 years, but when we look through the windows, the men are all wearing jackets and no one is wearing jeans. We decide we’ll try it for lunch the next day instead. We find a more casual place a block later, but they have no indoor seats available. We opt to sit outside, although I am shivering before our entrees are served.

The food is good and hot (although not for long in the cold wind). We eat quickly, racing against heat transfer. We finish up and pay quickly when we are done eating–my lips have turned blue and I can’t stop shaking. It’s not really that cold, but I get cold easily and I am fighting a bug, which can’t help. We walk quickly to the hotel, taking the stairs to the fifth (or fourth if, you’re European) floor just to warm up. Inside, I get ready for bed quickly and snuggle under my personal comforter, but have to sneak under Pat’s to press my cold feet up against his legs to get warm. As soon as my feet thaw, I drift off into a deep sleep.

Hiking the Black Forest

I wake up at 6AM, surprisingly on schedule for having gotten so little sleep the night before. Pat, however, sleeps until I wake him at quarter to nine in spite of the fact that he fell asleep two hours before I did the night before. He jumps out of bed and throws on some clothes–we have purchased breakfast with our room and he doesn’t want to miss it.

The breakfast is a large buffet that offers foods that range from the same kind of fare at American hotels to a very German assortment of meats and cheeses. I opt for a small plate of fruit, a croissant, smoked salmon, and a small piece of cheese. I go back to make a waffle, but someone else is using both irons, so I eat corn flakes instead. After filling up, we return to the room with me thinking we’ll get ready to go to the Black Forest immediately.

Pat, however, has other plans. He lays back down “only for a minute” and falls sound asleep. I get out my iPad and read. This has happened every time we’ve gone to Europe together. Pat can’t get started before noon and I can’t stop until I collapse around 1PM. I resign myself to trying to stay awake all afternoon and let Pat sleep, slipping out to the terrace to read since it’s more pleasant than our room and I think the sunlight will help reset my biological clock.

I return to our room around noon and wake Pat up. We are not going to spend an entire day in bed. Pat says he feels like he’s fighting something and I feel bad for waking him, but he gets up anyway. We pack a single day-hike pack, filling the water bladder and stuffing it with an extra lens for my camera, his rain jacket, two pairs of reading glasses, and an assortment of maps–our loot from the tourist center yesterday.

We walk to the street car and purchase two tickets. The ticket machine is in German and I am grateful that he is the one figuring out how to buy the tickets. When we get on the street car, we stamp our tickets in a timestamp machine, i ask Pat what happens if we don’t stamp them and he tells me that there is a big fine for not having a ticket. As we come to the next stop, a blonde woman gets on wearing a T-shirt and cropped jeans and carrying a black messenger bag. She could be a college student, but she looks closer to our ages than to a 20-something. Continuing our conversation, I suggest to Pat that if he sticks to speaking English, we might get away with not stamping the ticket, but he seems quite nervous about this suggestion–apparently, Germans follow the rules. A minute later, the blonde woman approaches us, holding out an ID that shows she is “control” and asks to see our tickets. Pat gives me the “I told you so look” as she examines our properly stamped tickets.

The street car takes us to the end of the line where we transfer to a bus on the same tickets. The bus takes us to the cable car, which will take us to the top of the mountain. I suggest that we hike up instead, but it’s over a 1200 meter rise in elevation and Pat isn’t feeling up to that kind of climb. A woman with two small daughters rides up with us. She tells us they were there the day before and have returned to retrieve a forgotten teddy bear. She was forced to pay for the cable car a second time, which hasn’t made her happy, but her ire is directed at the cable car operate, not her daughter. They talk softly and laugh often. Upon discovering that I speak only English, the girls practice their English a little on me–they start learning English and French in the first grade. One girl asks me, “What is your name?” in perfectly clear English. I reply with, “My name is Dianne” and we both giggle as if we’ve told a joke. I giggle because I think we sound like every language book I’ve ever used and not at all like a real conversation. I’m not sure why she giggles, but maybe I am the first person she’s talked to who can only communicate in English (as far as she knows) and she’s delighted that her English worked.

As we rise towards the top of the mountain, we go from lovely views of the valley up into a massive cloud of fog and rain. I’m not sure which gods I’ve offended, but it seems a continual theme that whenever I get to a great view point, there is fog. When Pat and I were here last, several years ago now, we spent a day hiking to the Feldsberg (the highest point in the Black Forest) after reading that the morning fog clears in the afternoon. The fog didn’t clear and we could barely see each other if we got more than a few feet apart. We also went to the Zutgsptiz, the highest point in Germany, on a cable car and had a similar experience. You’d think I would learn.

When we arrive at the top, we’re hungry. Realizing we have only a leftover bag of peanuts for a snack, we decide to get lunch at the restaurant. We gorge on lentils with a wiener and snitzel. Of course we each have a pilsner to wash it down. Pat orders a piece of cheese cake to top it off. I have a few bites, but it’s not as good as his Mother’s cheese cake–it took me a few times to get used to the less sweet version of cheese cake German’s make, but now it’s a favorite.

After filling our stomachs, we head for the trail. We have only 2 1/2 hours left until the last cable car goes back down the mountain, and Pat wants to do an out-and-back. I tend to think we might as well just walk all the way down, but I keep this to myself since Pat does better making these kinds of decisions on the fly than in advance. We set the alarm on his iPhone for about ten minutes before half our time will be up, so we can decide then.

The forest is different than Pat remembers it from his many childhood trips here. There are many deciduous trees and he remembers only pines. When we get lower, there are more pines, but they are younger and less dense than he remembers. It’s beautiful none-the-less and we see few people on this Tuesday afternoon. We hike slowly down a broad path, trying to preserve our knees. The forest is quiet, and so are we. Just as Pat comments that there are no critters, a huge woodpecker appears from behind a tree. I get out my telephoto lens, but as typical, it disappears again before I can get a shot. If we were in the states, I would say it was a Pileated Woodpecker, but it looks different and I don’t know the birds here.

We walk on, the trees clear briefly and we look down into a pasture full of reddish brown creatures that I am sure are cows. Pat thinks they are deer, but the long lens on my camera proves my eyes are better than his. We wonder if there are deer here–we have seen no signs of them.

As we continue down the mountain, the path gets narrower, steeper, and rockier. My left knee reminds me that I am 44 and I’ve asked a lot of my knees over the decades. We take smaller steps, careful of the rocks, trying to step lightly on now painful knees. I don’t like hiking as much when my knees are shooting sharp pains up my legs with every step, but it still beats laying around. I think again that we would have been better off hiking up than down, but I don’t say anything.

We find ourselves at a junction that doesn’t match anything on our map and has no signs. We debate which way to go. A man on a mountain bike appears from the path above us and Pat asks him for directions. We follow his advice and walk on. A few minutes later, our alarm goes off. Pat looks up the hill we have been working our way down, the grade seems daunting, and suggests we continue down instead of going back up. I agree, since that was my plan anyway, but I’m glad he thinks it’s his idea. We walk on as the trees grow thicker and the forest darker. Pat wonders if we will make it back before dark. I realize that we didn’t take anything out of my pack and put it in his when we left mine behind–the first aid kit, the emergency blankets, the flashlight are all back in our hotel room. If we were confident that we are on the right path, we wouldn’t have these worries, but we are not.

We continue down the trail, reaching another confusing junction. The problem with tourist trail maps is that they don’t have all the trails on them. I don’t know why people think you don’t need that information–it’s hard to locate yourself on a map if you can’t recognize the drawing compared to the situation. I suppose this is life, however, you never really know exactly where you are, but you keep moving forward in the hope that it’s the right direction. Another cyclist appears as we ponder the signs at this junction. He comes up behind us, pondering as well. I say, “Do you know where you are?” to him. Pat laughs because I have spoken to the man in English without warning. But the man answers, he thinks he does. Pat consults with him and we head down one of the trails.

The sound of hammering reaches us from the valley below and we think we must be getting close to civilization. We reach a dirt road that runs along a stream, with banks covered in purple flowers. They are so fragrant, the air drips with their sweetness. We pause to check the time; it’s nearly 6PM. We wonder what time the last bus stops at the cable car station. The trail cuts to the left from the road and winds through a pasture surrounded by electric fences containing goats. We pass by, watching the goats, especially a baby. They are preoccupied with eating and barely notice us except one, who follows us along the fence as if he thinks we might be good for a hand out.

The trail goes back into the woods, down another steep incline, and then comes out to a paved road. It is a country highway and we cross it at a blind curve, hurrying so as to avoid surprising any drivers. Then, it returns to woods. We are going slowly again, now. In spite of feeling time pressure, our knees will not tolerate a fast pace as long as we are headed downhill. When the path looks clear, we take turns turning around and walking backwards, stretching our calves and resting our knees. Walking backwards, however, is not easy, so we give up when the trail becomes rocky again. Eventually, we can see the cable car. We wind our way through an open field and one more wooded area to the parking lot, relieved that we made it, but still not sure of the bus.

We walk to the bus stop and read the signs. There is no where to buy a ticket and the signs are somewhat confusing, besides being in German. I decide that the sign indicates a bus will come in 7 minutes. Pat has to be convinced that the numbers are times–apparently the words only make the sign more confusing. We sit and wait, the cable car station is completely shut down, looking as if it’s been boarded up for the season, although I know the wooden shutters will open again tomorrow. The bus arrives in just 2 minutes, ending our worry, but it’s going the opposite direction. The driver tells Pat we can get on now and she will turn around in a few stops. So we board and ride. I’m glad we did because the views from the mountain road of the setting sun are fantastic.

When we stop at the turn around point, the driver turns off the bus and we sit for a few minutes. I notice a ticket machine on the bus and Pat goes to purchase tickets for us. He’s unable to decipher which tickets to buy and another man, having just gotten on the bus, comes over and helps him. Germans do not understand why my husband speaks German with no accent but doesn’t know how to do things like buy bus tickets. This man is patient, however. Now that we are legal again, we sit back down and enjoy the views once more as the bus takes us back towards town. We are tired and ready for our next meal.









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.






Traveling on the Tenth Anniversary of 9-11

It’s just after 10AM and we are packed and ready to leave for our two week vacation in Germany. We are flying out of Atlanta because the flight schedule to leave from Chattanooga will not get us home in one day. We have a plan for today: we will drive to the Atlanta airport, check two of our bags, leave our carry ons in the trunk, and take the MARTA downtown for a few hours before our flight. We divide our bags between us and head out the door looking somewhat like pack mules.

The weather has cleared and warmed up again. It’s cool this morning, but promising to get into the upper eighties. We are preoccupied with our plans and have not given much more than a passing thought to the significance of this day. But as we cruise down the highway around Chattanooga, we pass under a high overpass with a group of people on it unfurling a huge American flag and waving. I wave back as we pass under the enormous flag, and am instantly returned to ten years ago.

I was at my desk on 9-11, thankfully on a reprieve from the constant travel that I did at that time of my career. My phone rang and a colleague in NJ excitedly informed me that a plane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. At first, I waited for the punchline, assuming it was a joke. He didn’t yet know that it was an attack; it was just a crazy event for the next half hour until he called me back and told me that a second plane had crashed into the other tower.

I went down the hall to talk to my boss. He was getting updates and it was clear now that this was, in fact, the first attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. In that moment, the sense of security I’d never known I had was shattered. Many of us gathered in the halls, talking quietly of people we knew who worked in the area. More news came in and we heard of the two other planes, one still in the air. Most of us decided to go work from home the rest of the day–it felt safer not to be in a building that once (decades ago) employed over 18,000 people.

When I got home, I turned on the TV and watched the news. I was on the phone with more friends and colleagues in the NY area, each of us recounting the stories we had learned of missing loved ones. For me, it seemed close to home even though it was a distant event. I was happy that all travel was suspended for two weeks–no one seemed to want to have a meeting in light of the tragedy. I had no desire to go get on a plane.

When I flew into Newark two weeks later, the airport seemed like a ghost town. I met with customers that day who had regular meetings in the trade center prior to 9-11. Two of them recounted their 9-11 stories. One missed being on the 11th floor of the first building when it was hit only because he’d stopped to get a cup of coffee. The other was in the street when the first tower collapsed, diving behind a dumpster with a woman he’d never met before and running for shelter in an abandoned building, barely escaping unharmed. They still didn’t know if the people they were on their way to meet had survived. I never learned the outcome.

I add these stories to my collection from people who had relatives in the city that day–one of my colleague’s daughters had a terrifying day just trying to leave the city to get to the safety of her parents’ home. Photos of one of our customer sites across the street from the destruction were forwarded around. An entire wall is missing from a data center that houses the equipment we make. Those of us who know the people that work there are stunned by these photos. These stories make what might just seem like something in the news feel next door. I am reminded of a person I once met who was sent to Grenada (or was it Panama?) in the military. He described walking through a suburban neighborhood while under attack. I imagine war in a whole new way when I hear his descriptions. I try to imagine where I would hide while soldiers go through my quiet suburban neighborhood shooting at one another.

These are the images that come to mind as we cruise along the highway. I think about what it would be like to live somewhere where personal safety is a foremost concern on a daily basis. In the ten years since 9-11, we have collectively forgotten the fear that the attack created and been more annoyed by ridiculous security rules in the airports that are hard to connect to increased security than worried about repeat attacks. I suppose that’s a good thing. After all, what would being afraid accomplish? At the same time, prior to 9-11, no one would have thought that a terrorist would crash a hijacked plane. Since that day, I’ve swapped many stories of “what we would do” with fellow travelers, each of us feeling personal responsibility for the safety of each flight in a way we never considered before.

I received a news alert from the Wall Street Journal that plans for car bombings on 9-11 were discovered and foiled. I feel oddly reassured by this news, I suppose the fact that they were found out and prevented is reassuring, but it always makes me wonder what else is going on that they haven’t found out about yet? I think the majority of the relief is purely selfish–the attacks were about car bombs and not planes and, after all, it’s a plane I’m getting on.

I feel like I should pause for a moment and honor the dead, the injured, and the chronically ill that resulted from 9-11. Yet, in some respects, do I honor them by flying on this day? Does the fact that I feel confident enough to get on a long, international flight say that we recovered well? It is impossible to know what the people most horribly affected by the attack would say, but since I am going to Germany today regardless, I choose to think they would be pleased. I say a silent thank you to the men and women who responded to the attack and an apology to those who did not survive. Then, I tuck away my fears and focus on the road ahead.