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!