These posts may be a little behind realtime… this covers my Sunday/Monday journey.
Leg the First.
I manage not to forget anything vitally important, like my passport, or my wallet, or how to negotiate Sunday afternoon on the I-495 Beltway. (I don’t travel around up in “true” Northern Virginia as much as I used to.) I arrive in plenty of time at the airport, and board an enormous Boeing 777, a plane so big that an actual flight seems unlikely. Maybe we’ll just taxi onto a pontoon boat and have that count as a delay.
But no, the jet does in fact take to the sky, and during the next eight hours, I manage to catch about two or three hours of sleep divided up into numerous catnaps. These are unfortunately punctuated by short but ferocious bouts of severe turbulence that cause me to wonder whether the plane’s incredible size does anything to offset the turbulence, in which case I’m glad we’re on this one, or whether it exacerbates the problem, in which case I’m glad I’ve dutifully memorized the location of the nearest exit. During one of these episodes several of the passengers shout involuntarily, and everyone around them tries to look stoic. I usually cope by pretending I’m back on one of my parent’s powerboats, at nine or ten years old, holed up in the front cabin as we make our way back across choppy seas on the Potomac. It’s a lot less unpleasant than thinking about the seven miles of empty air beneath the bucking jumbo jet.
All histrionics aside, we finally arrive at Frankfurt safe and sound. The plane can’t be accommodated at an attached gate, so all the passengers disembark onto the tarmac and a bus takes us to the arrivals area. A very kind information desk attendant tells me that I can go through passport control upstairs, since my bags are (presumably) on their way to Berlin without my needing to clear customs. This makes me wish I had booked the earlier connecting flight, despite repeated warnings from friends that if I left less than a two-hour layover I was asking for trouble. Nevertheless, better safe than sorry I suppose — maybe it’s a slow time at Frankfurt on Monday at lunchtime.
I have plenty of time before my flight, so after about a half-hour of negotiating repeated passport control areas and the Escherian route to the A gates, I find a DeutscheBank ATM and finally get my hands on some real currency. I also find a stand selling warm focaccia sandwiches, which seems like a good way to reset my internal clock. Recent studies are indicating that resetting your eating cycle during intercontinental travel is as important as resynchronizing your sleep cycle.
I stop at a convenience market and pick up the cheapest thing I can find — a Kit-Kat bar — so I’ll have some change in my pocket for the Express X9 bus when I get to TXL this afternoon. All in all, I’m feeling pretty competent for someone who’s never been to the European continent before. I’ve been to the UK a few times, but the difficulty factor is considerably lower there, what with no language barrier. To be fair though, every single person I’ve come in contact with here has spoken passable (to excellent) English, and most of the important signage is bilingual. I therefore settle on a constant low-level undercurrent of guilt in every personal exchange, feeling I should be doing a better job in the native language. For now my attempts are limited to pronouncing proper names correctly (I hope), and concluding with a bashful “danke.”
Writing this narrative keeps me awake while I wait for the plane to Berlin, but my body is still fighting with the idea that I’ve been up all night and it’s 8:30 in the morning. I’m going to close up now and wait for boarding, and maybe a small nap.
Leg the Second.
This part of the journey was relatively simple, and after landing in Berlin, the only mistake I make is in exiting the airport early. I think I’m following the sings to “Zoll” (customs) but instead, I’m exiting to the ticket counters. Then it’s a short walk to the actual customs desk where I have to basically wait a half hour for my bag to go unclaimed and be ported over to this desk for storage. Thankfully, everyone is extremely polite and understanding, which tells me I’m not the first person to whom this has happened.
I finally reach the hotel and, although I really want to collapse at the end of what’s basically been a 24-hour day with practically no sleep, I need food more. So I requisition some help from a nice young desk clerk — who I swear, honey, is not a lovely young blonde named Heidi. Well, at least the “Heidi” part; at least, I didn’t ask her name. She directs me to the Savignyplatz just up the Knesebeckkstrasse from the hotel, and there I find an enormous grab bag of eateries of every conceivable national origin.
Leg the Third, unfortunately not a hollow one.
I settle on the Zwoelf Apostel (12 Apostles), where I have not only some wonderful thick bread with a superb cream of spinach soup with pine nuts, followed by their petto di pollo, chicken breast with a side of spicy ratatouille. Once a couple Berliner pilsners are figured in to round it out, I’m lucky to be able to roll back to the hotel, but this is all part of my plan for a sound sleep!
Tuesday I have a master plan to accomplish some sightseeing before I have to meet Max and Jeroen to head over to the fairgrounds.
Coming tomorrow-ish… Tuesday, In Which Our Intrepid Hero Gets His Dogs a-Barkin’ Along With a Metric Boatload of Digital Photography.