Sunday, March 04, 2007

Day 1 - Part 3

Melanie's mother gave her the number for Alois - her uncle, who was expected to pick us up at Dusseldorf airport. We quickly called the number and got his wife, who informed us Alois had already left....though she gave us his cellphone number. When we asked her if she could call him and just tell him we would be taking the train, she seemed strangly uncomittal, so we took it on ourselves to make the next call again. OOPS...the number appeared wrong. Melanie wondered if it was just her having missed a number from the conversation. So, after trying a couple times, both on the lovely pink phone (pic below) and my own cellphone, we called Alois' wife again. She re-read the number to Melanie, and did indicate that she had spoken to Alois herself, so at least he knew the change in plan. We tried to call him again so that we could firm up...still a wrong number.
Screw it, let's just go. We had our tickets exchanged for train tickets, and then pulled the handicap card (only with slight reluctance), and asked to get a ride back through the station to get our luggage. A nice gentleman soon pulled up in his extendicab-golf-cart, and we hitched a ride back from whence we came in the station. I'm almost certain I saw an eclipse at one point. Luggage retrieval was strangly uneventful, only hindered by my inability to figure out how the hell to get a cart off the rack. Helped by mute German worker (for all I know), and we tailed it out of there. First one elevator upstairs...then lined up for second elevator, watching people going up accidently, therefore tying up the device longer as they go back down again. We got on, and walked towards our next journey...another elevator.
This one would feel clastrophobic to Warwick Davies. I went up first with the luggage, scrunched up against the wall, and Melanie and Nathaniel joined me on the next trip. We then headed over to the train station.
The wait here was about an hour and a half. Melanie got Nathaniel settled down, while I went for a walk to find some food and experience my first German retailer to Dumb-Englishman experience. Didn't go that bad, though he did ask me something about the pizza I ordered. Perhaps it was, 'This is still a little cold, you want me to heat it up more for you?'. I had smiled, shrugged, took my pizza, paid my first Euros out and headed back to Melanie. Who informed me she couldn't finish the pizza as it was cold. So, I smiled, shrugged, then ate both slices.
Soon enough we boarded. Luckily this was no TTC train...a kindly stranger helped me lug our 4 suitcases onto the train, and the watchman helped Mel get Nathaniel onboard. We were off. Once we got past the fog, I began to have a shock. It's GREEN here. Rolling fields of green grass as far as the eye can see. Beautiful little Hamlets surrounded by turf a Football team would endorse. Nathaniel nodded off in Melanie's arms, and I took a shot at trying to catch up on a few myself...but didn't do so well.
There was a momentary panic at one station when they just stopped and sat for awile. We wondered if we had accidently taken the train with a layover involved, but decided to stay onboard and take a chance. The watchman soon confirmed our good judgement, after we began moving again. Then finally I saw the sign Dusseldorf-HBF appear alongside, and we debarked. The watchman helped once again.
I grabbed a cart from the rack (easily this time - though was surprised at the 1-Euro deposit required...they obviously value their carts more than Canada does), and we took the elevator downstairs to the terminal beneath.
Now the culmination of the days problems reached a head. You see, we had verbal confirmation that Alois knew we were taking a train, but had no idea where to meet. So we walked into this seemingly endless mall, and found a telephone. And I laughed out loud.
Pink Phone, Germany
OK, the Pink Phones are cool. Germany has them everywhere. In Canada, it would be a political statement. Melanie began making the calls again. Still wrong number. So, back to Alois's home again. Finally, after some rangling and pacing...we discovered he was at Dusseldorf Airport station, not HBF. There's TWO? That's ok, he's coming to meet us. About thirty tiring minutes of standing around later, I spot Alois (he's very tall), alongside Melanie's Oma walking away from our area looking around. I run after them, and the reunion finally occurs.
After some chatting about the whole adventure and to discover Melanie was forgetting a 1 in the phone number (Germans speak numbers different than English. They will say the smaller digit first, where we say the larger first. For example 21 is 1 and 20. This confused Melanie's tired brain (she is mostly fluent, but did move away form Germany at 8 years old, so she can be excused for not remembering all the vocabulary), we headed back to the trains to go to the Dusseldorf Airport station. We let 3 trains go by before we realized we should be on the other side of the sign, and then got onboard. 10 minutes later we were there.
Now, to find the car. Sounds like a simple task. But on this day? Nooooooo. 25 minutes were now spent walking all over the place trying to find this magical P8 area. elevator upstairs. Look around again...nope. Next elevator up. go outside and walk for 5 minutes...finally find P8. Next find the car. I am in astonishment at this point at the cars around us. Not a spec of rust anywhere. I'm seeing Jaguars mingling with Mercedes, VW's, the occasional Ford and various other brands...all brand new and healthy looking cars. You'd think it was a dealers lot. Alois finally let me know what sub-section he was looking for, and I spotted it in 4 seconds. We found the Honda (Natural Gas Powered) SUV, loaded Nathaniel and our luggage in, and got the hell out of there.
The drive back was impressive. It was pissing rain out, and Alois was driving between 120-150km/h at any given time, except in the pockets of construction where it slowed to 20-30. I finally got a bit of sleep, though woke myself up with my own snoring. The other thing I soon noticed was the windmills (though will write about those later).
We arrived in Rietberg after a couple hours, and it was only then that I discovered we weren't actually staying with Alois at first...we were at Jürgen (another uncle) and his wife Monica's house. Doorbells were run, and Vanessa (their daughter answered), and seemed oddly surprised by our presence. I was on complete auto-pilot at this point and nobody was telling me what all the rapid-German was about so I just unloaded the luggage, carseat, etc; and waved as Alois and Anna (Oma) drove away. We visited awhile downstairs with the family. Fresh baked goods and Pilsner were poured into me, and I found myself getting more and more tired (though happy). Jürgen speaks some English so we spoke a bit.
Finally I just looked at Melanie and indicated I had reached my absolute limit of exhaustion. We got upstairs to their son Jerome's suite of rooms (he was loaning it to us for the trip) and prepped for bed. It was only then that I discovered that they had for some reason not expected us for a few days...some lack of communication apparently between all the parties involved.
But we were all safe, and not being tossed out on our asses. Our destination had been reached, and I could finally get some rest. "I'm in Germany", I finally was allowing myself to intone. Then I passed out.
And FINALLY that's Day 1. Lots of stuff to write about on their other days, but those will be different in tone. We leave tomorrow morning for a more remote area of the country and may be outside the influence of the internet...but I will keep writing and will post when I can.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Day 1 - Part 2

Nathaniel was a little troubled during take-off. This had nothing to do with air-preasure or was just the fact that I had to hold him tight to myself with his head looking over my shoulder. You see, he had plans of cruising the aisles on a grand adventure. However, airline rules, and general safety sense got in the way of that plane. He calmed down pretty much once we left the ground, which was a relief for my own ears, never mind the rest of the passengers. Once we reached a pleasing height for the captain, the seatbelt lights went dim and I was able to sit the little guy into the seat beside me. We had previously changed him into his pajamas in the airport, so we just stuck him in his little European style sleeping bag, gave him some juice and prayed for the antihystimines and children's gravol we provided him as a complimentary parenting service to do their magic trick. Poof, 10 minutes later he was asleep, and slept the entire 7 hour flight. Ah, the wonders of modern medicine.
Flying over the Atlantic was pretty much an interest free flight....though that's kind of what you want when flying 5000+ miles, so we didn't complain in the slightest. Anybody who wants an exciting flight hasn't watched the news in the last 30 years, or Lost for that matter. A couple small pockets of turbulence were hit, but the only result of that was a seatbelt light coming on, with ever-redundant no-smoking light blaring alongside. Food provided for dinner was good, added by the fact alcohol was part of the package. A couple plastic cups of red wine were consumed post haste (it's economy, alright?). In flight movies were 'The Queen' with Helen Mirren, which I did watch, followed shortly by Moonstruck, ironically (or not) at the time everybody would like to be going to sleep. I did catch a few minutes when it occured to me this featured a younger Nicholas Cage, though slept through a good portion. Sorry Mr. Jewison, not my favourite of your movies.
I wonder what they would have said if I asked if they had Snakes on a Plane as an inflight?
Other than my Cher induced catnap, I didn't get much sleep on the flight. Nathaniel has this thing about rolling around in his sleep, so either Melanie or I had to be there to catch him when he rolled off the seat. Frankly, I have the stronger endurance, so I let her sleep. I spent my time listening to one of the various radio stations provided on our earsets, or reading the biography of Pink Floyd by Nick Mason that I picked up. I actually opened the laptop at one point and tried blogging, but my brain was just too tired. I figured I'd get a few minutes in Frankfurt to snooze as we had an expected layover of 3 hours. Silly, silly man.
Breakfast was served, dawn began to rear it's head, and I realized we were over England. Surreal moment for me.
Soon enough we came to a landing at Frankfurt, and noticed right away how foggy it was outside. 'Hope that doesn't cause problems with our next flight', I remember thinking to myself in a sadly precognative moment.
My thoughts of spending some stress free time browsing some stores in the terminal were not meant to be. First we spent a few minutes locating a changing station so we could get Nathaniel out of very damp clothes and into free ones, and then we went from booth to booth trying to figure out the right ones to handle our collecting flight. Soon enough it was located, and when we asked how much time we had before we should start heading there the gruff attendant said, 'Go now, terminal is very long walk'. It was.
Finally, after seemingly travelling the surface of the planet 3 or 4 times, we found our flight number and inquired as the status. She looked sadly at us, and informed us the flight was cancelled. The weather between here and Dusseldorf was causing all kinds of havoc, and flights were so backed up that they were cancelling all non-international flights. The trains were running though, would we like to take that to Dusseldorf? Our baggage was here in Frankfurt, we could pick that up and just board a train. We had no specific issue with taking a train, however we worried about her family meeting us on the other side.
We now had an issue. While still at home, I asked asked Melanie if I should save all her family members numbers in my phone, just in case. She said no. Now, we had no numbers to call. So, Melanie had to wake her poor mother up back in Canada asking for phone numbers...and an interesting game of numbers began.
OK, there will have to be a part 3. I originally was just going to write the whole flight in a single paragraph, but it sort of took on a life of it's own. In the back of my head I'd like to get this all into a book along with pictures so that Nathaniel will have something to look at later on, besides being a cool experiment for me. So if I'm a little over-descriptive sometimes...bah.
I'm working on booking writing time tomorrow. Cheers!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Germany Trip - Day 1 - Part 1

A little delayed, but it has been honestly difficult to find enough time to sit down and do any serious writing without a child, spouse or somebody else vying for my attention. All is quiet at the exact moment...naps are being taken by everyone but myself, so I figured I would get us much in as possible. What I have been doing is taking point form notes of the many experiences we've shared so far, and will be expanding on them all as we go.
The Nortons in Pearson Airport, Toronto
Melanie's father Stefan picked us up at our house at 1pm. Everything was packed and ready to go. We loaded up his car, and sped off to the airport (quite literally, actually...he's a bit of speed demon). Luckily I have an eagle eye for details, otherwise we would not have known which terminal to pull into. Since the terminal status had been in limbo when Melanie ordered the tickets, they had not posted it on the paper. The only way to know for sure was a sign on the 401...which at 140km/h goes by really fast. I spotted the blur that looked like our carrier and off we went. Screeching to a halt, we unloaded the car, said our farewells and headed into the terminal looked for Luftansa airlines.
We deliberately came a little earlier than necessary so that we could request bulkhead seating. Always anticipate a fully loaded flight and gain as much ground as you can when tagging a 21 month old in tow. We lined up at the Luftansa Economy class window, and were soon informed that they were not in fact going to be taking us on the first part of our flight. Air Canada would be taking those duties...taking us the seven hours to Frankfurt, where we would then take a connecting flight with Luftansa to Dusseldorf.
So, we dutifully lined back up at the Air Canada desk (luckily in the same terminal only a couple rows over), and checked the three million pounds of luggage Melanie had dutifully packed for us...only taking on two carry-on filled with Nathaniel's necessaries and other essentials in case the rest of our luggage ends up in Siberia or somewhere else that we are, in fact not in.
With a couple hours to go, we made our way through security, luckily catching the security people at a quiet time so they were very patient with us as we emptied our pockets of anything that may set the detector off (Note, some candy wrappers do have metal in them). Wisked through that and soon enough found ourselves in a huge walkway with the moving sidewalk. They do not allow strollers on it though, so Melanie and Nathaniel had to walk normally. I split it 50/50, first just standing then remembering Henry Rollins (a fav speaker of mine) taking people out if they get in his way on those things so guiltily I picked up the pace.
The restaurant selection at that point was to try something new we had a quick bite at the Bacardi Kiosk Restaurant. We then browsed around the duty free shop where I drooled over a limited reserve bottle of 30 year old Glenfiddich. $535.00!!! I have a pic of it, but can't take it off my camera phone.
Soon enough, our flight was announced for boarding and we chatted with the flight attendants, who informed us the flight was underbooked, so they moved us to a row all our own...lots of room for Nathaniel to stretch out and sleep.
I'll end there for now...part 2 coming soon....the interesting stuff happens next.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


This will be the first of many blog entries from our trip to Germany. Yes, yes...I gave little to no notice lately that I'll be over here on the blog - the reason for that is due to my need to practically kill myself over work. As we got closer and closer to the date I began working more and more hours. My health got worse and worse as I went and I was a zombie more often that not. Trying to fit in the few minutes necessary to think of something amusing to write about didn't fit.
Now I have my break...sort of...
We are currently staying with Melanie's uncle and Aunt and their family...getting our own little headquarters in their attic. Luckily they have high speed internet here, so I'm able to get my writing in, and catch up on the months of writing that has been bouncing around in my brain - sadly neglected. It needs to wait at least another day though.
I have recently discovered that I have to be up early (7:30am GMT+1) as we are heading to another town to visit Melanie's Oma and other relatives...after which we will be driving back in Oma's car; which she kindly allowed us to borrow while we are here. So, I need to grab a few winks (something I'm slowly catching up on) before this occurs.
So, short synopsis, which I will expand on. At YYZ Toronto at 2pm. Flight at 5:10pm. Uneventful flight on Air Canada to Frankford for 7 hours. Walk through airport (50000 miles long). Discover connecting flight to Dusseldorf has been canceled due to a little bit of fog. Mad scramble to call people waiting on other end for us. Get train trip to Dusseldorf-hbf station. VERY impressed by lack of snow and abundance of green grass. Cannot find people waiting for us. Mad call scramble again. They are at Dusseldorf Airport station. They grab metro to meet us. Finally connect. Take metro back to Dusseldorf Air. Mad scramble to find car. Very impressed and amused by cars in parking lot (55% Mercedes, 35% VW, rest Volvo and Jaguars. No winter beaters to be found. Impressed by German driving. Small roads, 150km/hour in driving rain. Somehow able to sleep a few minutes. No, I was not driving at the time. Got to destination. Discovered they were not expected us for almost a week (still can't figure that one out). Good family, took us in anyway. Even fed us. Found myself addicted to German baked-goods and Pilsner Beer. Sleep necessary and welcome.
OK, that was day one in it's minute form...I will write the rest in obscene length over the next few days. Until then, Gutten-nacht!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Hearty equipment

Starting am 10pm tonight, I began a 24 heart monitoring session. When they informed me about this test, I was told it was fairly indiscreet, and I'd be able to do everything normally. Well, this was based on the assumption that the device I had to wear was indiscreet itself - which I have discovered to not be so. I'm wearing this thing that looks like the old medical scanners in the original Star Trek - right up to the neck strap that Dr. Bones had to carry the thing on; it was so damned big. This cassette based machine records at a very slow pace and will pick up all the interesting variances (hopefully not that many) that my ticker is producing. Now I just have to figure out how to sleep with this thing on – should be an interesting night.

In less than three weeks, I go for my stress test - which I am not looking forward to at all. The appointment is booked for four hours, and I cannot see how I'm going to survive being on a treadmill for an extensive period of time. There's a reason I switched from running to walking in my late teens...and that was a long time ago…long before bad knees and ankles decreased my mobility further. Oh well. I'm sure it will all just fine and this is all some melodrama. Better to be sure though. As long as the preventative tests don't kill me first.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Beware the crack spiders!

Ok, this is the funniest thing I've seen in awhile. But then again, perhaps I'm just easily amused. Remembering all of the old Hinterland Who's Who shorts from my youth adds to its glory.

The Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on Spider Webs