European Vacation: Day 1 Flight and arrival

After months and months of planning, the day finally came when it was time to climb aboard that plane and fly off to Germany.

On Wednesday, I got up earlier than normal.  The night before, I was trying to copy files over to the server and make sure I had information moved to where people could find the source.  Unfortunately, it was taking forever to move files.  I gave up around 11:00 and went to bed with a set still rolling up to the server with two hours left to go.

I called in for my last meeting before vacation.  Hopefully, I was just going to listen and not have any work or assignments that needed to be done before noon.  I’m pretty sure I skated by unscathed.  I can’t say I was really listening that hard.

At 9:00, it was time to gather up Sascha and take her to the kennel.  She would be safe and well cared for there.  Virginia assured me Sasch would have more than enough attention.  Sascha is always glad to arrive and see everyone, but she never wants to stay.  It was all the attendant could do to drag the dog to the inside where the kennels are.  Sascha was doing her best to escape out of the front door.

Back at the house, we started to prepare for leaving the country.  We gathered up things.  The new trees needed to  be watered one last time. I prepared the yard so that Brad next door could mow the yard, if it were to actually start growing again.  If I guess that meant it would rain at the house first.

Around 12:15, the Black Cab Taxi showed up to take us to the airport.  It was going to be easier to get a ride.  Brian, the driver, was very entertaining.  He talked politics, getting around Chicago, and just in general covering any silences.  After getting around the construction, Brian was able to deliver us right to Terminal 1.

Once inside, we found we were right in front of the Lufthansa check-counter.  So our journey started with a few less steps.  We each had a bag to check and our carry-on bag.  We sailed on from check in to the security line.  Oh my gosh, the line was so long!  We got in line and it took maybe half an hour to get to the document check.

Then we got in line to be scanned.  It’s been years since I’ve flown anywhere.  I was all worried about what was in my carry-on bag.  We had tablets and a computer.  They used to make you turn on the computer and proved it worked.  I checked with the gentleman giving directions.  Tablets were not a problem.  We filled four trays with our stuff.  Almost forgot the belts.

I stepped into the scanner and lifted my arms.  It was like 3 seconds and I was told to step out again.  What was I worried about?  We gathered our stuff and moved off to seats so we could get dressed again.

Rich wanted coffee and headed over to one of the stands.  I sat back and took lots of deep breaths.  After watching people for five minutes, I forgot all about my stress for the scanning.  I should have remembered how much airports are to people watch.  I’m almost giggling by the time Rich came back.

Rich arrived with coffee in hand.  We gathered up the carry-on bags and moved down the terminal to our gate.  We had passed a sandwich shop on the way down and went back to grab some late lunch.  Two sandwiches and a couple of bottles of water later, we sat in front of the window to watch the planes come and go.

Pretty soon, the attendants began calling for boarding of the aircraft.  Business class and those requiring more time to board went on first.  Boarding then began from the front of the plane.  We were part of the second group called.  However, the line was still pretty long.  Shuffling along, we got our boarding passes checked and headed to the jet way.

The plane was nice and the seats weren’t bad.  We got to our row and found a gentleman in my seat.  He was Polish and having a hard time understanding the conversation.  He only said his seat was 25A.  I made my way back to an attendant.  It was just a misunderstanding and she was the best one to sort it out.

Yep, his connection from Frankfort to Krakow was in seat 25A.  She helped him move back down the aisle to his seat for this flight.  I settled in and found lots of room.  This flight was going to be good.  I didn’t have to touch elbows with Rich unless I wanted to.

The plane backed away from the gate and we were in line on the runway.  Pretty soon, we were heading up and away.  I was sitting just over the wing.  I turned to Rich and said in my best William Shatner impression, “I hope the flight was uneventful.”  The impression probably wasn’t that good.  If you don’t know Twilight Zone, it’d take too long to explain.

I watched The Avengers Age of Ultra until dinner.  Rich was making his way through the entire music catalog.  Dinner came and wasn’t too dried up.  Wine was served with dinner.  I wasn’t driving anyway so I had a little bit of wine.

I realized after dinner that my claustrophobia wasn’t bad at all.  I had gotten some pills to help with anxiety, but I didn’t need them.  It was probably all the room I had around me.  I was hemmed in and no one was trying to lie in my lap from the seat in front of me.  Premium Economy was worth the money.

As we sped on into the coming night, I found I couldn’t sleep.  The pillow was way to flat.  I just couldn’t find a good position to stretch out into.  So I was awake the entire 7 hours and 14 minutes.  It was going to be a long day.  If it helped at all, Rich said he didn’t sleep either.  How did that help me? I’d rather have slept!

We could follow the flight path of the place on informational screens on the TV.  We turned and went over Nova Scotia and the out over the ocean just below Greenland.  The next time I reviewed the information, we just south of Ireland and heading into Wales before the plane turned to the English Channel.

About 2 hours out from Frankfort, the lights in the cabin came on.  Breakfast was being served.  We got a roll, luncheon meats, cheeses, juice, and coffee.  It was a good German start to our day.  Not long after breakfast, they started to prepare for arrival.  The flight was almost over.

I looked over at Rich’s TV and he is watching the scenery below the plane.  Turns out, there was a camera mounted below the plane and you could watch on from the informational channel.  It was pretty cool to watch the small towns, rivers, and highways around you.  I wanted that until the plane landed on the runway.

Once we made it to the gate and everyone started to disembark, we gathered out stuff and headed to the door.  Inside the terminal, we were at the end of one long arm that seemed to be miles from the main terminal.  As we hiked through the urban jungle of shops, terminal entrances and ads, we began to think we had landed in another world.

I noticed the people in front of us were the same ones from the plane.  I figured since they were German, they had done this trip before.  I set my sights on following them without letting them know that I was using their trail to keep from getting lost.  It worked.  We found our way to baggage claim without much trouble.

I had realized on the plane that I didn’t have Uncle Max and Aunt Uschi’s address written down and with me.  Darn!  Now what.  As we waited for the baggage to be offloaded and sent down to us, I started trying to send email or find a way to contact them.  I didn’t have a cell number either.  No luck with raising anyone.

We got our bags and headed to the car rental.   There I found out I had scheduled pick up in downtown and not at the airport.  Another hit to the planning.  This location only had one automatic in stock.  We agreed to accept that one.  I had heard of a Skoda, but I didn’t know why.  I would have taken the manual transmission, but it was going to be a little difficult to get used to in a short amount of time.

Down in the garage, we were supposed to meet the tech who would help us put the navigation into English.  It was a nice car, just a little bigger than I had planned.  Oops!  Another hit to the planning.

Rich managed to get the navigation, or navi as they call it here, to English.  We were working on getting at least the town name into the navi when the tech appeared.  She barely spoke English, but was helpful.  She couldn’t believe we didn’t have a proper address.  She didn’t think a town name alone would get us there.  She couldn’t understand us when we gave her the town name, but Rich was able to show her on the map and she plugged it in.  It was to leave the safety of the garage and hit the autobahn.

I got out of the garage without banging up the car or anyone else’s car.  At the first light, the car motor stopped.  I threw it into Park and started it up again.  What the heck was this?  We got around the corner and stopped at the next light when the car died again.  I pulled into a business driveway to figure it out.

Rich remembered reading that Europe was looking at using this method to control pollution and gas consumption.  Sure enough, I took my foot off the gas and the car started right up again.  That was cool.  It would have been nice for the guy at the desk to mention it though.

Back out to the street, I turned to find the on ramp.  We were on the autobahn before you knew it.  The cars were speeding along and I was trying to stay out of the way.  Reading the mph in kpm wasn’t tough.  I just did what they told me.  I only had a couple of cars blow by me so that I couldn’t tell what color they were.

I drove along pretty well.  The Skoda handled well and felt great to drive.  This was fun.  After an hour and a half, we reached our turn off.  We got onto the secondary road and headed for the center of Ramstein.  Once we reached there, we had some decisions to make.

I parked in the grocery store lot to try and figure out where to go next.  Rich went in for coffee thinking he could pay with his credit card.  That didn’t work.  A very nice lady paid for the coffee.  Once outside, his eyes got big as he walked up to the side of the car.  “What did you do?”  I didn’t understand.  When I got out, I saw the long scrape and white paint along the rocker panel from the front to the back.  “Not me,” I cried.

We saw that we had to move the car.  The grocery lot was private.  The gravel lot next door looked to be public.  I moved the car and we determined to walk to the city center to find a bank and see what our next steps were.  Along the way we figured we would stop and ask people where Uncle Max and Aunt Uschi lived.  How would that sound?  Wo ist Tante Uschi?

At the bank, we used the ATM to get Euros.  Rich was still drinking his coffee.  I thought maybe my Uncle and Aunt were in the phonebook, if there was such a thing.  I went back into the bank to ask for a phonebook.  Sure enough, they were listed.  The day was saved!  Back at the car, we put in the address and found we were less than a quarter of a mile away from the house.

We found the house with no problems.  It was nice beautiful.  We rang the bell and Aunt Uschi opened the door.  Mission accomplished on arriving in one piece to the right place.

After talking for a bit, Aunt Uschi took us to Mark’s house, where we would be staying.  It was time to take a shower and relax for a bit.  Rich lay down for a bit.  I figured I would keep moving until the evening.  Then we drove back to my Aunt and Uncle’s house.

Aunt Uschi took us into the air base, where my Uncle Max and Mark worked.  First stop was to check in with Mark at the Apple Store.  He had a customer so we had to wait for a few minutes.  I got a hug and Rich got introduced for the first time.  Then it was off to find Uncle Max.  He found us first.  We walked around the PX and the mall surrounding it.

We stopped off for lattes and coffee.  The entire time, we are talking and getting acquainted with each other again.  Uschi is one of my favorite aunts.  Then it was time to drive around the base and see the sites.  The place had really grown over the years.

Back at the house, Uncle Max had gotten home and settled in.  Rich got a beer and they proceeded to talk and grill up dinner.  Rain started to come down a bit, but the grilling was getting done.  We sat down to grilled bacon-wrapped pork, bacon on a stick, and chicken kebabs.  It was a feast!  Mark came in from work and we ate up all we could get.

After hanging out and talking for a while, it was finally time to call it a night.  It was 11 o’clock and I was exhausted.  Unfortunately, it was still pretty warm and humid.  That was unusual for Germany at this time of the year.  Mark set up fans for us since there is no air conditioning in Germany.  It just not supposed to be that hot.

It was a great first day into Germany and with my family.

Shatner seat on the plane.  Watch out for gremlins.
Shatner seat on the plane. Watch out for gremlins.
Sunrise as we fly over Wales and England.
Sunrise as we fly over Wales and England.
Camera view from the bottom of the plane.  That's Germany down there.
Camera view from the bottom of the plane. That’s Germany down there.