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Published: January 18th 2010
It’s funny, but after five years of traveling, I’ve gone from loving airplane journeys to despising them. It occurred to me the other day that perhaps I’ve never loved flying per se, but have instead been enamored with airports. Particularly when I’m flying to Europe and can sit in a terminal, listening to the cacophony of languages being spoken. It’s like background music that suddenly relaxes me and reminds me of being in Europe itself.
That being said, I have decided that I hate the process of flying, and so I was dreading putting myself on a plane for seven hours to Frankfurt, the first leg of my trip to San Vigilio in northern Italy. I just had a bad feeling.
Maybe my negative thoughts attracted a bad flight to me or maybe it just happened, but either way, I was right to be worried. Because my flight was the first leg of a connection to India, there were a lot of non-business people traveling with me, which easily drives me nuts. It’s basically the difference between flying with amateur and professional travelers and my patience level for the former has slowly declined over five years.
The first characteristic of the amateur traveler is their lack of understanding of the boarding process. Planes always board families with children and those requiring assistance FIRST, followed by first/business class, and then usually by rows starting at the back of the plane (though I’ve been on flights that board from the front or have a general boarding call, and it’s just messy). But despite this, the amateur traveler will get up fifteen minutes before boarding, and crowd the gate, effectively blocking people who are actually being boarded and making the process more lengthy. Argh.
I have also seen amateur travelers in the past who simply fail to listen to the gate announcements and try to board whenever they see anyone head for the gate. These people are great. Particularly when the gate agent turns them away and then try with each subsequent grouping until they’re finally right about their boarding order. I need to find more patience because it drives me nuts!
Once you board, it’s no better. Despite countless announcements by the flight attendants to step into your row once you find it so that the people boarding behind you don’t have to stand there for ten minutes holding their hand luggage and waiting for you to get out every last thing you could possibly need during the flight, they still do it. Both amateur and professional travelers act as if they are the only person on the flight. “Oh, you couldn’t just slide by in the two inches of room I left in the aisle to get to your seat while I pulled out my books, snacks, pillow, eye mask, blanket, etc?” Um, no.
Finally, I reached my seat, which was mercifully an aisle seat - the only good thing to happen the whole flight. I was in the middle section of the plane, so there would be three people to my left, and two across the aisle. In my section of the plane, we had three crying babies. No joke. When one would let up, another would start. At one point, two of them were crying, alternating screams. I fully sympathize that it’s difficult to fly with young children, and expect in particular that takeoff and landings will involved some crying. However, I’ve been on lots of flights with lots of babies, and generally, the parents will at least try to calm the child down. I was on one flight a few years ago where the father walked up and down the aisle with his baby for hours, just to keep her quiet.
However, that did not happen on this flight. There was NO attempt to quiet the little ones, who cried for a solid six hours. I thought I would pull my ears off.
To make matters worse, there were two young children in the aisle behind me, whose mother basically pretended belonged to someone else. The little girl boarded the plane singing “Jingle bells jingle bells, jingle all the way” over and over again (yes, just those lines) and continued to sing them for thirty minutes straight without letting up. The little boy was sitting behind me and for four hours, kicked my seat, unhooked the tray and then slammed it back up, clicked the tray lock over and over again and when I leaned my seat back later in the flight, his mother had the nerve to ask me to put it up a bit. She was also one of those people who think that in order to get out of the row during the flight, you must grab and lean on the seat in front of you, before quickly releasing it and slamming it back into the person sitting in it - just another example of people thinking they're the only ones on the flight!
The two little ones squealed loudly during a bumpy take-off as if they were on a carnival ride, and then screamed about being hungry as the flight attendants started to come around with their drinks carts (why would you get on a plane with kids for a late dinner and not feed them first?). Then, when they finally came around with dinner, they started screaming that they weren’t hungry. And all screaming was done more than once, since their mother wasn't really paying much attention to them.
It finally occurred to me that the plane noise would be lessened if I watched one of the movies on my individual screen (also a plus). However, the guy sitting next to me (who was very patient and nice, considering he had a couple of winners on the other side of him), also happened to be a pretty big guy who was encroaching on my seat. His arm was resting on my armrest for most of the flight and when I thought to turn on the video, he was sleeping. Darn. Finally, he woke up though, and I started my movie.
With my luck on this flight though, my headphones, when fully plugged in, only had audio in one ear. I was already starting to feel less than 100%, so I couldn’t listen to it that way, and realized that they worked properly if I slightly unplugged them and held them against the connection. I had to watch the whole movie that way, holding the plug and trying not to touch the leg of the guy in the seat next to me. So for that reason, I only watched the one movie and spent the rest of the time reading and trying not to pull my hair out.
The woman in front of me had reclined her seat as far back as it could go, so she was basically lying in my lap. I could kind of get comfortable if I put my knees up on the back of her seat (and I was careful not to jostle her, because I think it’s rude to constantly bump people - don’t get me started again on people who grab your seat for leverage every time they get up out of the row behind you). But the whole flight, she just kept slamming her head back into the seat, as if to get comfortable, and thus slamming the seat into my knees. It occurred to me that it was a good thing that I don’t have a bad temper, because I would have gotten up and punched somebody. I certainly wanted to, and just kept telling myself that I wouldn’t be on the plane forever. It was horrible.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep a wink, and combined with the stress of the flight, I managed to bring on a nasty, nasty migraine. As soon as it started, I took some medicine, but it ended up lasting for two days. Thank you, Lufthansa flight 403. I really wanted to send them a letter afterwards that said, "Dear Lufthansa, you suck." They packed us in like cattle, and then the flight attendants did nothing to quiet the crying babies or the screaming kids. Awesome.
I finally arrived in Frankfurt, and as I stepped off the plane, I rushed to put as much distance between me and my nasty fellow passengers as possible. As I stepped into the terminal, I had the strangest feeling of coming home. Europe can do that to me. I love America, and I’m very patriotic, but I do long for Europe when I am away for too long.
I got through passport control and picked up my bags pretty quickly, and then trucked out to grab a taxi to Bad Homburg, which is where I was staying overnight. The hotel was the Maritim Kurhaushotel, and as we drove into Bad Homburg, I found myself wishing I had been able to get more sleep on the plane so that I could have wandered around the town a bit to take pictures - it was beautiful! But instead, I checked in (they only had smoking rooms left, and I wanted to say, “does it have a bed in it? Yes? So who cares whether it’s a smoking room?”) and headed upstairs to grab some sleep.
The bed’s two pillows together were thinner than a balled up sweater would have been, but as anyone who’s been on a long flight knows, the most comfortable bed ever is the first one you climb into after getting off the plane. I took some more Excedrin and climbed into bed, sleeping until three when I woke up starving and still miraine-y. I scarfed down a Mars bar and fell back to sleep until I had to be up around four thirty.
That evening, we were having dinner with one of our attorneys, whose office is in Bad Homburg, but her apartment is technically in Frankfurt. She picked us up at the hotel, with a light snow falling. It had occurred to me earlier in the day that although I’ve been in Germany five or six times, I’ve never been here when there is snow on the ground. It was very pretty and peaceful - I love snow, particularly when I’m not responsible for shoveling it!
We went first to her new apartment to get the tour and it was a lovely penthouse, with a huge terrace that wrapped around the entire floor. After chatting for a while, we made our way down the street to a little cozy restaurant. The waiter tucked us into a corner, where we had a great view of the brick archways throughout the rest of the restaurant. It was the type of place where you knew that the food would be good and hearty as soon as you sat down.
I ordered a garden salad and potato soup, pleased to see that my grasp of German food items was better than I expected (though we did require some translation from our hostess). I still wasn’t feeling that well, so it wasn’t great that I could taste anchovy in the Caesar dressing, but there also seemed to be a vinaigrette at the bottom of the salad, which was delicious. The potato soup was also good, with a bit of curry in it, which I hoped would help my migraine disappear. For dessert, I had a trio of ice cream (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry) with a generous helping of whipped cream, which was delicious. I hoped the meal plus a good night’s sleep would put an end to my headache, though I knew I didn't have long to sleep because we were leaving the hotel at 5:30am the next morning to catch our flight to Innsbruck!
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