Monday, January 12, 2009

Frankfurt: A warm greeting for all

Note: There's not a lot of images in this entry. If you want to enjoy a few pictures, click here for images of to go with the Nürnberg entry from last week.

My family was due to arrive around 7 AM at the Frankfurt Airport which meant I was waking up around 4 to get to the gate in time to meet them. As I furiously wrapped presents and told myself I was putting myself on the same jet-laggy schedule they would arrive on, my mom frantically called from a plane destined for London.

Apparently a late connection had caused my family's itinerary to blow up in their faces. Contact them if you would like the gory details of fighting airport personnel (or lack thereof) and finally securing tickets on three separate flights across the Atlantic. The punchline was a later arrival than expected and I was the only person who knew which gates everyone would be ejected from.

Normally the delay would be taken as welcome news. Everyone would be a little more rested up including me. I've done the bleary 6:30 AM walk through the Frankfurt airport twice, and I know it's not the way to start your day. But the problem was their arrival on December 23rd, Christmas Eve Eve. I had repeatedly been warned that Germany does not function after noon on the 24th and just about every business would be holed up until the 26 or maybe 27th. If we wanted a Christmas dinner, we needed to get supplies on the 23rd or go hungry.

Carolyn was first off the plane. I imagined a kind of Hollywood dash across the terminal and foot-sweeping hug as a reunion. Instead, barriers obstructed my position and a slightly jet lagged and stressed Carolyn didn't notice my sudden movement her way. I caught her in mid stride in an awkward side hug and kiss that might have stressed her out a little more than she already was. To be fair, the stress was warranted. The last she had seen of my family, they were still in a ticket line and my mom's cell phone had been shoved into her hands. She didn't know if I knew about the flight problems or if everyone else had even left the United States.

I filled her in and we were able to chat over airport coffee while waiting for everyone else to finally make it to the continent. You don't need to know all the details, but suffice it to say that seeing her, knowing I could reach out and hold her hand, was an exhilarating feeling. Not very long ago, there wasn't the benefit of online video chatting, there was just e-mail and phone calls. Not long before that, it was just the phone and it was super expensive. Not long before that, the best way to communicate across oceans was by letter. I recognize that technology has done incredible things to bring me close to my loved ones while I squint at fossils in Deutschland, but there is no replacement - and never will be - for having them right next to you.

The family arrived. Hugs went around and celebratory cheers that all the luggage and present had made it as well. Now it was off to the vacation.
The bleary travelers in the cavernous parking garage at Frankfurt International Airport. Me, Carolyn (my girlfriend) and Josh (my brother).

As I've stated before, cheap and easy train travel in Europe is a bit of an American myth. The trains are wonderful for people traveling alone, but when a family needs to get from A to B, the price of all those tickets becomes prohibitive. Thus the car survives. They're smaller here, and more fuel efficient, but they are still necessary for getting everyone around. My family opted to rent a car in Frankfurt for part of the trip and we went to pick it up from the day-glow "Sixt" booth. I was looking forward to driving on the legendary Autobahn. My mom found out I wasn't allowed to drive a compact mini-van, so she had arranged a stationwagon-ish vehicle for hauling five people and gear. But the plan was foiled. The only cars available were little mini-vans and my plans of taking to the autobahn at 200 km an hour were dashed before leaving the airport.

This also meant my dad would be the sole driver and - no offense, Pops - he isn't the most relaxed person when it comes to driving in unfamiliar territory. A note about the autobahn: I had been told that the reason the autobahn works - by "work" I mean there aren't that many lethal car accidents - is because you pick a lane and stick it. If you want to drive in any lane, it's accepted that you will go as slow as the guy ahead of you. Of course, on the left people barrel along in their BMWs as fast as they can move. Everyone in the middle and furthest right accepts their position and watches the person ahead. You don't pass. Like I said, this is what I was told. What actually happens is people jump all over the pace. You push the pedal to the floor and brake suddenly when you finally get inside the trunk of the guy ahead of you. It's a pretty stressful environment, as my dad found out. It's like an American highway except with more people moving at 220 km an hour. The one rule is that no one is allowed to pass on the right.

Smiling before he discovers the perils of the Autobahn.

We made it though. I babbled, explaining everything I could because I had new victims for all the factoids I've accumulated about German and will probably never get to trot out again. We were staying in the town of Remagen, a village south of Bonn, but our directions routed us through Bonn. Everyone was getting hungry, so I took the car of bleary, jet-laggers to an Italian restaurant near my house. There everyone learned a key word that would appear regularly for the next week and a half: Geschlossen. Closed.

Instead, all of the starving travelers got to experience döner, the German version of the kebab featuring meat, cabbage, onions and garlic sauce. I wanted to make sure they got to sample this Turkish/German hybrid before getting back to the states, but I didn't envision the first experience being at the grocery store next to my house. But everyone was fed. Now we needed to find where the heck we were staying. We also needed to hear the word "Geschlossen" a couple dozen more times...

1 comment:

Mama B said...

Nice summary. And you're just on Day One!