|Yesterday, after my friend Derek made me breakfast in his fabulous Twin Peaks apartment (pictures are in the galleries), I spent the day flying home from San Francisco, adding to my experience as a jaded world traveler.|
From that experience I knew that it's good to check in online and print your boarding pass before you get to the airport. When I did that with United for my trip home, I was asked if I wanted to spend $64 to upgrade to Economy Plus seating. For an additional 25% of what I paid for my round trip tickets, I would get 5 extra inches of leg room on one segment of my trip home but no more elbow room (they still pack them in 9 across) and they'd still want an extra $5 to give me a box lunch! I declined. But checking in online did mean that when I got to the airport, I got to sail past all the hordes of people waiting to check in and had to wait behind only one other person to check a bag. Why more people don't check in online, I don't know.
Is this worth an extra $64?
The flight from SFO to ORD was uneventful. I had my snacks and my iPaq full of episodes of Brotherhood. On the way out to San Francisco I watched 4 episodes, and on the way back I watched 2 — I decided to nap some too on the way back.
We arrived on time at O'Hare, and I lucked out in that my United Express flight left from the C terminal, so instead of trekking over to the E terminal I had time to get some fries from McDonalds. I scarfed mine down before it was time to board, but the helpful gate agent announced over the PA that although food could be brought on board, beverages, of course, could not, nor could condiments such as salad dressings or ketchup, so "if you have ketchup, put it on before you board." A terrorist who heads to the onboard john with a fist full of condiment packets is obviously deadset on killing us all, but one who heads to the john with ketchup-soaked fries probably just wants to wash his hands.
Part of the irony about this is that by this time on Monday evening we all knew that in less than 24 hours the ban on dangerous liquids purchased in secure areas of airport terminals would be lifted. At 9pm on Monday the 25th, a packet of ketchup purchased at McDonald's in O'Hare's C terminal is a potentially deadly weapon, but at 8am on Tuesday the 26th it's not? And that's not even considering that TSA had no way to know whether I smuggled a packet onboard in my coat pocket, much as they can't seem to prevent Steven Levitt from endangering the lives of his fellow travelers by refusing to turn off his iPod when asked.
I got to Dayton safely and waited patiently in baggage claim only to discover, along with about 6 other happy travelers, that my checked bag had not made the trip with me. Waiting in line, I got to hear a disgruntled businessman in front of me harrass the poor woman at United's baggage counter about what he was supposed to do about getting contact lens solution at this hour (almost midnight) and whether United was going to reimburse him for his troubles. She truthfuly told him that they weren't going to do anything about that. Yay for corporate honesty. We've already taken your money, all the other airlines are as bad as us, so fuck you! Want to read more bad things about United? Check Michael Bluejay's rant or Untied.com.
When I got to the counter, I handed the woman my claim ticket, and she said, "What does your bag look like, Mr. Perkins?" Well, as I explained to her, my name's not Perkins. How did I get his claim ticket? It's what the agent in San Francisco gave me after accepting my bag. It never occurred to me to double-check her work. Apparently Mr. Perkins and my bag flew to Pittsburgh, but they'd ship my bag back to Dayton, assuming Mr. Perkins would part with it.
Today, I called United's baggage customer service number (800-221-6903) and waded through a bunch of options, only to have the friendly computer tell me they didn't have any information about my bag but that I could say "AGENT" if I wanted. So that's a new tip to add to my world traveler experience — if you call United, say "AGENT" right away, and don't bother talking to their computer. I got a nice friendly Indian woman who was able to report that my bag was in fact on its way to Dayton and would be arriving on flight 5806 at 1:25pm. They'll be kind enough to give it a ride home if it's willing to wait between 2 to 4 hours.
|I was up early today to get to the airport and through security in time for an 8:00 flight. I was surprised, having gone through the security check (X-ray machine for my luggage, metal detector for me) run by the Dutch, to learn that the United States runs its own such security at gates for American-bound flights, supplemented by personal interviews, and not just the "Did you pack your bags yourself" questions but also questions like "Do you have your WorldPerks frequent flier card?" I didn't have it, just the number, which the security agent actually didn't need, but he let me through anyway.
After everyone's personal interviews, we got to wait in our own secured lounge and soon hear an announcement that boarding will begin shortly, families with small children first and then WorldBusiness travelers, which today, because of yesterday's travel glitch, includes me. People started to congregate near the door, and wait, and wait, and 20 minutes later, the next travel glitch: boarding is delayed while a technical problem with the plane is worked on. 20 minutes later and an announcement that it's not likely the problem can be fixed but another Airbus A330 is available. Finally another announcement that the new plane is in fact available but at another gate, to which we were escorted, en masse behind a roped off path through the terminal, with guards every ten feet whose job was presumably to ensure that we didn't pick up any nail clippers on the way to the new gate.
After another hour we finally boarded, and thus I retained my coveted business class seat, entitling me to luxuries such as a mimosa before takeoff. My seat had a remote-controlled leg/footrest and two lumbar controls that could be set to vibrate. A flight attendant took our orders for breakfast, and I went for the omelet with bacon. I get a big tray of fruit and yogurt and pastries and say, sorry, I'd ordered the omelet, only to be told that yes, but this was the first course and the omelet would come later, which it did, quite tastily. If that wasn't enough food, World Business Class travelers are invited to get up during the flight to help themselves to snacks in the galley. My seat mate got a big chocolate bar and ordered a glass of red wine, which, she said, goes with chocolate. I figured, why not, and followed suit. I guess Northwest still makes a profit (does it make a profit?) despite giving away shitloads of food and alcohol because most World Business Class passengers pay a thousand dollars extra for their tickets.
After the really pleasant flight across the Atlantic (this direction the interactive maps that didn't work so well back in tourist class on the flight over worked fine), it was back to travelers' hell. Of course you have to claim your checked luggage to haul it through Customs in case they want to look through it, and Northwest kindly unloaded our flight's bags onto two separate conveyor belts, making finding bags a fun game. Luckily after the 40 minutes or so it took to get my bags, the Customs agents didn't care to ask me many questions or to ask me to open my bags. I rechecked my bags and was directed by the friendly gate agent to the commuter terminal (by the way, this time I did take a picture of the cool tunnel between the terminals) where I could catch a 3:20 flight to Dayton, or so she said.
I got to the commuter terminal, waited in line, talked to the overworked gate agent, asked what time my flight would land in Dayton and was told 6:30. It doesn't take 3 hours to fly from Detroit to Dayton (well, actually it takes longer), but the 3:20 flight was full, something this gate agent couldn't tell me since she didn't even know there was a 3:20 flight, despite its being listed on the board above and behind her. I asked her if she could get me on the 3:20 flight, she said what flight, and I said turn around and look up. She played with the computer, said she didn't know what was wrong and that I'd just have to take the later flight, at which point I finally threw a hissy fit, asking to speak to her supervisor, who said she wasn't pleased with my attitude. I said sorry, but I wasn't going to wait in the airport for 3 hours just because her employee couldn't work the computer and that it wasn't my fault my plane was late, causing me to miss my flight. She said it wasn't her fault either, to which I said, true, as an individual it wasn't but that as a representative of Northwest it was. ("Not my fault"?! Whatever happened to "I'm very sorry for the inconvenience we've caused you"?) As it turned out, because of all of the problems with Northwest flights, the 3:20 flight was in fact full, but the supervisor placated me by giving me a meal voucher for lunch. As with yesterday a bit of wine (and whine?) helps one to care less about flight delays, a good thing because the later flight turned out also to be delayed, its pilots stuck in Cincinnati waiting for a late plane to fly to Detroit.
Another bright note though is Tonya, the sole flight attendant on the plane to Dayton after it finally took off. She not only apologized to all the tired passengers for the inconveniences we'd suffered but said that despite the flight's being only 30 minutes that she was going to serve rum and Cokes to all those who wanted one, and would we please hit our call buttons if we did. She had to laugh out loud at how quickly we hit our buttons.
Traveling with three bags requires a taxi. Yesterday I took the train from Lüneburg to Hamburg, and trekking through Hamburg Hauptbahnhof with two bags on my shoulder and one on wheels wasn't working, so I figured out how to balance the larger shoulder one on the rolling suitcase, which worked fine until the middle of the crosswalk to the hotel when it all tipped over. That's when I decided that today I'd taxi to the airport instead of going via S-Bahn.
It was only 20 €, well worth it, and everything seemed to be going fine. The first glitch, a slight one, was that I arrived at the terminal too early to check in. I'd come early because I had to check out at 11 and figured I'd check the bags for the flight and hang out for a while. However it turns out that 2 hours before the flight is not just the recommended arrival time but also the earliest at which one is allowed to check in. So I waited 40 minutes and then with the other earlybirds walked over to check in, at which point we discovered the second glitch. Our flight to Amsterdam was cancelled.
Mad rush to the ticket counter and then a 40-minute wait while they figured out what to do with us. There was a group of Americans here for a family reunion, and they too were told, as I was, that they couldn't get home until tomorrow. One of the women turned out to have been from Dayton originally. We're flying to Amsterdam on a later flight today, and then we'll take an 8am flight tomorrow to Detroit. They go on to Denver, and I of course go home to Dayton.
After a nice lunch and some wine (The great thing about wine is that after a couple of glasses you don't care about flight delays) it was time finally to go through security, but then I still had an hour and a half to go. 2,50 € for a 0,5 l Coke. Perhaps the Zug wasn't that expensive after all.
The hotel KLM provided was of course at the airport (actually a 15-minute shuttle ride away). They also paid for dinner at the hotel, a rather sparse buffet, but I was hungry so I had some salad, soup and fish.
Then I took the shuttle back to the airport and caught a train to Amsterdam's central station, a quicker trip than the shuttle between airport and hotel actually. I'd been to Amsterdam before, but it was fun to walk around and see all the strange things to see. For example, some modern hippies sit on the sidewalk banging pots and sticks, apparently earning enough spare change from this music to pay for their "coffee house" habit.
|I decided again to take an earlier train. Checkout time at Maritim Hotels is 11am (one bad thing about them - checkout at the Best Western in Frankfurt was noon) so I got to the Bahnhof shortly thereafter. My train was at 12:55, but there was a train leaving at 11:45 going to Ausberg where I could get on a train that would have me to Lüneburg by 6, which would ensure me a bus ride home. My reserved trains would get me home by 7, probably in time for the last bus but not for sure (so long as the train was on time I could have gotten the 7:10 bus but the train I did take was 10 minutes late).
The train to Augsburg was pretty full, but I found a seat without too many problems, next to a smoker, of course. The train from Augsberg wasn't very full but had a lot of reserved seats. I found one next to an old man, this time not in smoking.
In Munich before getting on the train I'd bought two bottles of water and one ice tea, not wanting to pay an Bord prices. I was also in the mood for a pretzel and found some sliced in half and spread with some sort of cream cheese and chives. Very tasty later on the train.
About 20 minutes out of Augsberg, just after ticket checks and pretzels, we came to a very fast stop, not for long, but still it made me wonder what we were trying to avoid hitting. Or maybe it was to throw someone lacking a ticket off the train.
I finished writing and settled down for a nap when we pulled into Würzburg, where lots of people got on, including on person who had a reservation for my seat, damn it. I found another seat in the same car though, a reserved aisle seat which luckily belonged to a man who had taken the window seat behind it and therefore was ther to say that I could have his reserved seat. It was in the smoking section though.
In the book I'm reading, Der Vorleser, I've reached the part where Hanna is on trial. That reminds me that Iris, my German teacher here, used the word "der Prozess" to talk about general processses and not just to refer to courtroom trials. Last year during a presentation on the process of moving to Germany I'd been corrected, rather rudely, by a classmate who came from Poland when I used "Prozess" in that general way.
At Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe I overheard a couple who took a pair of reserved seats talking about how on IC trains if the people didn't take their reserved seats at the station it indicated the seats were then up for grabs. Sure enough a few minutes later, another couple came to claim the seats.
I completely forgot to study Konnektoren for this morning's test, having concentrated on Konjunktive I. I think I did great on the part about Der Vorleser though.
No one wanted to be in conversation class since everyone had travel plans and everyone knew that class ran long yesterday. I did my Referrat first, and people didn't seem too bored. The last person to go was a Spanish girl whom no one could understand.
On the way to Hannover a group of guys travelling together sat next to me. One sat on his bag in the aisle, and looked at me when I laughed at him. He moved to a seat in front of the other guys and spent the trip turned around looking at them to talk with them. The guy sitting right next to me stank and pulled out a leftover Currywurst sandwich to eat, reminding me of what Steffi said in government class the other day about Europeans having different standards than Americans do about what foods must be refrigerated.
Before Uelzen a women nearby moved, perhaps annoyed by their noise, and the rest moved to the two sets of facing seats. In Uelzen a bunch of cute soldiers got on, filling the rest of the empty seats.
In Hannover I got a bratwurst at my usual stand and then had to pee, so instead of waiting to get on the train I paid 0,60 €. I guess taxes in Europe don't fund public restrooms.
The train from Hannover to München was ganz voll, but I finally found a seat in the very last row of the last car, again in smoking, right between two smokers. Lots of people got off at G?ttingen, the first station after Hannover, leaving me with the seat next to me empty, making the rest of the trip fairly comfortable, albeit intermittently smoky.
South of Hannover are modern windmills generating electricity from the air. It's lots hillier in this part of Germany, with lots of tunnels. Würzburg was pretty.
It was really nice that the Maritim hotel is only a block from the Bahnhof. The neighborhood is full of sex shops and theaters, but the hotel is nice, and the Bahnhof is convenient for subway connections.
I took the subway to what I thought would be close to the Englischer Garten. It was still light and very nice out. I got off at Odeonsplatz, and by the time I got to the Garten, street lights were on and it was dusk, but not yet very dark. I was a bit unsure about walking in the park after dark, but there were tons of people around, including at least one old lady with a walker by herself. I walked and walked but couldn't find the Chinescher Turm, where Fodor's recommended biergarten is, and was getting tired so I finally crossed the park and turned around. Leaving the park near where I'd entered I came across soldiers with raised rifles in front of a blocked off street and a big building behind barricades. That's right, the friendly local American consulate.
|I was tired, so I decided not to try to do anything in Frankfurt today. I got up at 9, went downstairs for the included breakfast (pretty good spread, similar to the hostel in Berlin except without a crowd and a nicer ambiance - I got a table overlooking the square), and then went back upstairs to lounge in bed and watch TV until 11:30, when I got up to pack and check out.
I thought briefly about walking to the train station since it was sunny and nice and then decided to be lazy and take the S-Bahn the three brief stops. It was very convenient this time. On Friday I walked under half the station getting to the S-Bahn platform and then got out on the wrong end at Konstablerwache. This time, by luck, not skill, I took all the right escalators and ended up right in the middle of the Bahnhof without much walking. I used one of the numerous and convenient terminals to look up trains, and it turned out that taking the IC from Frankfurt to Lüneburg would take exactly the same time as using an ICE to get to Hannover more quickly but then waiting on the same IC to go from Hannover to Lüneburg. So I have a nice window seat with few people around me and a train ride of four and a half hours, lots of stops but no connections.
Lots of people got on the train in Gießen, not entirely filling the train but being rather loud. I wonder if the train will become as full before Hannover as it was coming down on Friday. (As it turned out the seat beside me was empty the whole way.)
Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe was a pretty big station, with a big building and lots of people getting off and on.
Usually the conductor needs to see your ticket only after you first board and then remembers having seen your ticket. When a new conductor boards the train he or she announces "Personalwechsel" (personnel change) and everyone has to show tickets. Today the conductor who did that said "schönes Reisen" (roughly, have a nice trip) after seeing each person's ticket, a nicer touch than just "Danke."
4 minutes late getting into Nordheim, after an unexplained 4-minute pause in the middle of nowhere after Göttingen. By Alfel only 1 minute late though. Partly out of hunger but more out of curiousity I walked back through six or seven cars to the diner car to get lunch. The other cars were more full than mine. Lunch was okay but expensive -- little roasted würste, ein Brötchen and a 0,5L Coke, cold though, for 7 €.
A boy who boarded at Hannover played a computer game by Westwood Productions whose opening featured a picture of the Statue of Liberty against a red sky full of airships each marked with a Soviet hammer and sickle.
The busses were still running when I got to Lüneburg but the two that go by my WG weren't due to arrive for half an hour (just one bus per hour on Sundays). I could have walked home in that time but it was cold and wet and part of why I left Frankfurt at noon instead of later was to be able to take a bus from the Bahnhof.
I decided to go to Frankfurt rather on the spur of the moment. I want to go to München but am saving that for next weekend when I can leave earlier on Friday. This weekend I was going to go to a small village in the Lüneburger Heath to visit my language partner (a single working mother whom I've met exactly once) but she hadn't replied to my e-mail by Friday afternoon so I didn't know where to go or if she still wanted me.
I thought about going to Bremen, which is only an hour from Lüneburg, but it's north and thus probably also cold and rainy, and it's also smaller than Frankfurt. I could get to Frankfurt by 8pm, which was earlier than to Köln last week, so Frankfurt was it.
There was an IC going from Lüneburg through Frankfurt with no connections, but taking an IC to Hannover where I could catch an ICE was faster, even waiting 40 minutes in the station. I thought about getting another bratwurst from my favorite stand but got a Döner instead, which turned out to be a good decision.
I couldn't get reserved seats this time, buying my ticket less than an hour before the first train (I couldn't get reserved sests for Sunday either though). It wasn't a problem on the train to Hannover, but the next train was so packed there were students sitting on the floor between cars. I kept walking and found one platz frei in a compartment with 5 other students.
(One was a cute blond guy studying from a notebook presumably labeled with his name, Hilmar Hoenes. Turns out from his conversation later with another boy next to him that he is in the navy, preferring it to the air force for his public service and education.)
Figured out how to get to Konstablerwache via the S-Bahn on my first try (more luck than skill). Found a cheap hotel (50 €) nearby with a shower and phone but no toilet or TV! Walked along the Zeil (the big shopping drag) from Konstablerwache to Hauptwache and back. Found the gay bar recommended by Fodor's as a starting point, and it's not bad, with Internet, tables, light, magazines and interesting people. (Adam is an interesting German combination of the Advocate and Playgirl (soft-porn) for gays.)
Fridays are a different schedule. First all the tracks meet together at 8:30 (ugh, especially since class isn't until 10:15 the other days) for weekly exams, proctored today by one professor who happens to teach the one class of the day, conversation, after the exam period. The grammar test wasn't too bad, at least I feel pretty confident about it. For the lit test I had to bullshit some, a skill I'm pretty good at in English but need to practice in German.
The conversation class is three and a half hours minus a twenty-minute break, but it's only once a week. It's all the tracks together, so the vocabulary is easy. The toughest part for me is understanding the non-American speakers. German in an American accent is easier for me to get than German in a Spanish accent. In this class I finally met the Russian student about whom the others had been gossiping, saying she loves to hear herself talk. It's true.
We were to have a followup orientation meeting but four students traveling to Poland whined enough to get it rescheduled. Their train was the same time as mine though since I met them at the station. The trip to Hannover was uneventful although the train was 10 minutes late. I still had time to get an authentic bratwurst which I washed down with a Coke.
The train to Köln was packed. That didn't matter since I had a reserved seat, but, as on the train to Hannover, someone was in my seat. I got a window seat though. One thing I hadn't seen before was the special contraption they have to wheel up to the door of the train to enable a person using a wheelchair to get on. Quite a big deal. I wonder how he'll get off, if he goes to a small station.
A woman came through the car to do a survey for Deutsche Bahn. After interviewing the man seated next to me, she turned to me. I tried to decline, auf Deutsch, but she said we could do the survey in English, so I acquiesced. However, when we got to my reason for traveling, she didn't understand "gay pride" and had no more questions after I explained Schwulenfest auf Deutsch.
Germans like to use their cellphones on the trains, and they don't mind being loud. "Bist du da?" yelled the businessman as his connection was broken near Hamm (Westfalen).
On the train I had time to read more closely the gay magazine "Männer Aktuell" I'd picked up in Berlin last week. One thing I noticed was an interview with 20-year-old German singer Alexander Klaws. Just like interviews in American gay mags like the Advocate or Out. "I like all my fans, but sorry, guys, I'm 'super-hetero.'" However there was an interview with gay singer Jimmy Sommerville, who is not only still alive but only 43. Who knew?
In Köln I made the mistake of taking the U-bahn from the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to Heumarkt, where my hotel is along with the main festivities this weekend. Not only did it require tranfering lines but I also got on going the wrong direction, requiring getting off and backtracking a bit. After I did get to the hotel and checked in, I walked over to the square where there were lots of people and stands (kind of like a big queer Oktoberfest), and as I walked along the streets through all the crowds I was almost to the Dom (cathedral), which is right by the Hauptbahnhof. It seemed farther on the map.
Today was our last day in Berlin, and so we had to have all our luggage packed, ready to store in one room while we went on our final outing, to the Schloss Charlottenburg. I also left my backpack in the room since it was rather full, inadvertantly leaving with only a 64MB CompactFlash card in my camera, which got full fairly quickly as I hadn't downloaded pictures yesterday to my computer. I spent some time at various points this morning reviewing and deleting some pictures to make room, but later, once we were finally in Lüneburg, I found no pictures at all on this card, something that's happened before when I've tried to delete pictures using the camera. Part of it is karma because I illicitly took some pictures at the Schloss despite strict rules against doing so.
The Schloss was built as the residence of the Electress Sophia Charlotte, whose husband Freidrich I after her death was crowned first king in Prussia. He and later their grandson greatly expanded the palace, trying to compete with the emperor in Vienna and with the kings of France. The palace was heavily damaged during World War II, but unlike its counterpart in former East Berlin was saved from a push to demolish it, instead undergoing renovations that continue to this day. The Berlin state lottery contributes part of its earnings to cultural organizations including the foundation restoring the Schloss. The foundation spends money buying on the art market pieces formerly belonging to or similar to those owned by the royal family, for example a few years ago purchasing for $1.5 million a silver mirror that had made its way to America.
After the palace tour, we had a little time to walk in the huge park along the Spree River behind the palace, and then we went to lunch at another Italian restaurant. Then it was off to collect our bags and take the U-Bahn to the Zoologisher Garten station, where we caught an ICE train to Hannover, riding first class because of some scheduling/overbooking problem. First class seats have individual seat-back entertainment too, similar to that on Northwest, but with fewer selections and technological gizmos. In Hannover we switched to a local train headed for Hamburg, back down to second class, which is a bit more crowded and has no footrests or TVs.
In Lüneburg our group finally broke up, each of us being met by buddies who brought us to our living quarters. I have a room in a Wohngemeinshaft (WG), which is a shared student apartment. My room's on the first floor, and my building's a block from the edge of campus, so I'm pretty lucky. Some of the other students are farther from campus or have fourth floor attic rooms. My WG has four women (five normally, but I'm staying in one woman's room while she travels this summer) and one man. Weibke, one of the women, was there to show me around and explain the rules. The first and most important rules had to do with recycling; garbage is sorted not just into trash and recyclables, as is sometimes done in America, but into five different groups! Other rules are that roommates share in cleaning common areas of the apartment, rotating by week, and in washing dishes, each taking a turn in washing all the dishes.
It was only about 9PM when I was left to my own devices. I had snacks and water in my backpack, a good thing because stores in Lüneburg close by 8 at the latest (I found out later that some other students either didn't eat til the next day or were offered leftover moldy bread; one guy did have a roommate who cooked for him). I did venture out to explore a little, but I came home fairly quickly, feeling cold since I didn't have a jacket. I'd expected summer, but right now in Lüneburg it's more like late fall in Ohio, cold, gray and rainy.
Although the plane landed in Amsterdam at about 6AM, I hadn't slept any because to me that was just midnight. Around 11PM EDT or 5AM in Amsterdam (and Germany, the same time zone) the flight attendants served a light breakfast, I suppose to trick our bodies into accepting it was morning, something mine wasn't inclined to do, despite seeing the daylight.
The Dutch immigration officials seemed very laid back compared to American ones. The guy who stamped my passport didn't even ask me anything. Getting through customs last December on St. Croix was much more of a hassle, and that was for an American citizen traveling from one American territory to another.
My layover in Amsterdam was two and a half hours, and while I was too jittery to sleep, I didn't feel like hassling trying to go the city and back. Instead I spent my first Euros, 1,75 € for a 75cl bottle of Evian, marked in both Dutch and French, I suppose for both Belgium and the Netherlands. Sitting at the gate for Berlin wasn't boring though. I eavesdropped as best I could on some German businessmen, and I watched a cute American kid who sat across from me and flexed his arms lifting his backpack up and down with his wrists.
The flight to Berlin was crowded but I was so tired I did manage to sleep a bit. At Tegel I was surprised to find that the baggage claim for my gate and its neighboring gate was right next to where we disembarked, very convenient. I thought about hassling with my luggage on a bus and the U-Bahn but splurged on a taxi (15,90 € instead of 2 €). The taxi drove past Kaiserdamm 82, however, and had to do a U-turn. I hadn't realized until then that addresses in Germany work differently than in America. Kaiserdamm 81 and 82 are next door to each other, not across the street from one another.
It was just as well that I had used a cab because I would have been pissed to have walked from the U-Bahn stop to Hotel Pension Gribnitz, the offices for which are on the 4th floor (5th floor American-style; Europeans don't count the ground floor), only to find that our group was staying in apartments around the corner from the U-Bahn. The man who answered the intercom, even though I'd said I was with the Lüneburg USAC group, had me come all the way upstairs with my luggage, then told me where we were staying and led the way back downstairs without even offering to carry a bag. I'd been warned not to have more luggage than I could manage on my own, but this was the first sign of the different expectations Germans and Americans have for customer service.
Although we are to have private rooms in Lüneburg, in Berlin we were set up four people to a room, two keys per room. Not having flown on the group flight, I was the first to arrive. I took a shower and soon afterwards was surprised by people arriving, people who turned out to be June session students who were going on the Berlin tour. They were tired from having gotten up early to travel from Lüneburg but were not jet-lagged so they went off to explore, and I took a 4-hour nap before dinner.
Our Leiterin while in Berlin was Iris (pronounced auf deutsch like "ear-rhys") Heine, who is one of the German as a foreign language professors at Lüneburg. She's 36 and seems to deal pretty well with a bunch of college students, some of whom are used to Germany and want to head off in a million directions and others of whom don't have any idea what is going on. This evening, we went to eat dinner at an Italian restaurant down the street from the apartments. Our budget is 20 € per person for each meal, excluding alcohol which we must buy on our own, and that pays for quite a lot of food.
After dinner we took the U-Bahn and a double-decker bus to the Reichstag. Also part of our pre-paid tour package is a daily public transportation ticket, which costs around 5 € and is good for U-Bahn, S-Bahn and busses until 3AM the day after it's validated. Going to the Reichstag in the evening was good because it wasn't crowded, atlhough there were a fair number of people there. The security to enter the building was high, with X-ray machines and a series of double glass doors controlled by the guards. We were allowed only on the roof terrace, the interior of the dome there being closed for renovations. Up there we did what all the people there, German and otherwise, did, which is to take tons of photos.
Afterwards I headed out with a group of girls who were going to the Irish Pub to meet Donovan, one of my roommates, who'd already seen the Reichstag and had gone there to watch the England vs. Slovakia football game (part of the European football championships, apparently held every four years). I'd surrendered my room key earlier, since I was napping and others were exploring, and I wanted to be sure to be able to get back in easily, and also I still had enough energy to do some more exploring. We walked, going through the Brandenburg Gate, along the Unter des Lindens and down Friedrichstrasse for a bit, until we realized we were lost, waited while one of the girls who had a German cell phone called for directions, and finally took the U-Bahn and S-Bahn til we got to the right place, arriving in time to see the English score two goals and to get our pictures taken with a happy and drunken Englishman, after which the group decided to leave the Irish Pub and walk/U-Bahn some more back to an outdoor bar on Friederichstrasse which had a big screen TV. There I had some German beer that wasn't half bad, perhaps because it was laced with some kind of syrup.
|Starting with this entry, I'll be posting about my trip to Germany. Because I don't have reliable Internet access, I'm writing these entries on my laptop as I have time and then will post them when I can. I'm going to post them on the days they are about, not on the days I actually get connected.
I've traveled countless times before, on business and for pleasure and even once to Europe, although that wasn't quite the same as this trip. I don't remember the first business trip I took, so I can only assume that it wasn't very traumatic. Of course, while there are downsides to business travel there are upsides as well, such as expense accounts that cover phone calls from the plane, luxury hotels, drinks before, during and after meetings, etc.
Today in Detroit I had a brief layover, and so I pulled out my iPaq 3955 and stuck my SanDisk SD WiFi card in it to see if there was WiFi in the terminal. There was, but the provider wanted $7 for 24 hours of access. Now, if I were a businessman on an expense account, I might not think twice about that, but I'm a college student, albeit a privileged one, and so I did think twice. If they had wanted $1 for an hour's access, I probably would have gone for it. I guess they count on there being many more business people than students flying.
Technology does eventually makes its way down to the masses, however. The plane to Amsterdam featured individual seatback entertainment, an LCD screen with a remote control in the armrest, allowing each traveler to choose among channels offering movies, news, TV shows, music and flight information. Not quite bug-free though. When I first tried to access mine, it crashed, displaying a Linux boot screen. After it was up again, I tried one of the neatest features, a map showing the plane's position and various flight statistics; it froze when I tried to use the zoom feature on the map. However, two other pretty nifty features did work. One was a jukebox allowing you to select songs from many types of music, and another was a pretty good selection of movies which you could pause, rewind and fast forward. Some had soundtracks in multiple languages. I watched part of House of Sand and Fog in German, making me realize how limited my realtime German skills are. Of course improving them is what this trip is all about.