Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Trip: One (Airport Poutine, Heathrow Bullshit Pt. 1, German Windows)

I scoured the Internet for airline deals over several weeks of late Fall, early-Winter 2011; I must have accumulated several days worth of database searching, in the meantime assimilating various airport codes into my passive consciousness. If only real-life granted you Boy Scout badges instead of merely internal back-slaps.

We flew first to Toronto, where the several hour lay-over lead us directly to a Richard Serra sculpture, which seemed like a good sign. In-between last-minute device-charging, I decided that money no longer meant anything, and bought some poutine at the food court. Lukewarm crinkle-cuts, woodstain-brown gravy with a metallic saltiness, and some shredded mozzarella that had mercifully melted.

I won't lie. I ate more of it than Amelia.

Richard Serra sculpture, "Tilted Spheres".
It was cool to see kids running around and through the sculpture, its affect on movement and space like a flow-controlling playground.

We boarded a larger plane to fly to London. I like larger planes better; they are less plane-like. I can almost pretend I'm in a large office, where everyone sits in uncomfortable chairs, breathes canned air, and constantly slurp down sodas and tiny bottles of liquor. It's like Halloween, but you don't even have to walk around.

We sat. And sat. And continued sitting. The "First Mate" was stranded in Montreal. Since we were flying the most polite airline in the most polite nation...of course we waited. For almost 3 hours. Before we'd even begun to taxi to the runway, we knew we were probably going to miss our next flight.

After swallowing that realization, I managed to eat an entire airline dinner, then watch 2/3rds of the Muppets movie (on an airplane, I try to be as child-like as possible, which adds to my sense of false security) before falling into a state-of-half-sleep (aided by multiple ibuprofens). Woke an hour before landing, and began counting the minutes before our next flight left. Oh...shit.

The MSG-infused poutine clawed away at my half-awake in-flight-brain. I felt like a fool for trying to game the airline algorithms, thinking I'd saved several hundred dollars by booking a round-trip London ticket, and tagging our Frankfurt flight on via a separate airline. Travel insurance? Nah, another bourgeois expense I wasn't about to float. Eat words, self.

Landing in Heathrow, on a sunny London day, was pretty cool. That ended in the mad rush from the plane, only to find a customs line roughly ~500 people long, with only 3 desks open. Oh yes---we checked a bag, meaning we had to go out, snag the bag, then re-check in for our flight. There were roughly 15 minutes in which to do this. The line crawled along, after which we got through, post-Customs officer declaring that what we were trying to do was impossible. We snagged the checked bag, booked down some downright ripe & shady tunnels to a tram, and made it to the European flight terminal, only to be about 20 minutes beyond our time limit. The flight had disappeared from the "Departures" screen. Double shit.

Joined another interminable line at the British Airways desk, where sunglassed-men kept opening the barrier to let people in front of us. I nearly had several aneurysms of anger. The agent we finally met with expressed more sympathy than customs, and found us $250 flights to Frankfurt in 90 minutes. We capitulated, defeated, in a foreign country, pouring with sweat from hauling ass, full of negative energy while we watched shouting matches volley back and forth at other counters.

We scampered through security, sat in the packed terminal and chewed granola bars and silently hoped that Lydia, our friend studying in Germany, would stay at the airport, instead of assume our deaths and make her way home. We had no coinage with which to call/e-mail, and of course there was no accessible wireless signal. C'mon, 21st century...your game is weak. (Though not as weak as mine for relying on devices.) By boarding time, my mind was blank, a dark, exhausted, blank slate that was trying not to think about money.

(Now would be the time to mention that because I, the genius, bought from two separate airlines, two separate fares, nothing was covered. All the money saved and more, gone as quick as an airplane flush. Lesson? Relinquish control of your best laid plans. Easier said than done.)

Amelia in-front of the Mainz Hauptbahnhof, upon our mid-afternoon arrival. Tried to regain bearings while being assaulted by train-station crowds, snack stands, spike-collared punks slamming beers and vaguely restraining jowl-y dogs, teenage chatter in another language, and cigarette smoke; all co-mingling in the communal spaces that America (regrettably) does without. No wonder our social strata are so calcified, like sedimentary rock layers, only touching at the edges.

We arrived, completely strung out on stress and no-sleep (though Amelia slept through take-off); it was a huge relief to see a familiar face in Lydia, reading and still awaiting our arrival (even going so far as to ask to see passenger lists!). Not only that---she had sugary drinks and cookies of some sort. We hopped the train back to Mainz, and made it via tram to her shared flat, where we rinsed off the debris of travel.

(aided by being able to crack open a huge window in the shower, the interplay of the cold breeze and hot water a bracingly awesome experience I need to replicate in my own home someday, replete with windows that open horizontally and vertically---these I want almost as much as a delicious Hefe and daily currywurst)

Dusk came and we wandered downhill towards the Altstadt, stopping in a little Döner shop, upon Lydia's recommendation. Extra was mind-blowingly tasty. At this point, the fatigue was lifting off me slightly, like leaving a heavy coat hanging from your finger instead of weighing down your shoulders. Listening to residents quietly enter, order, and take their food away (there were only 7 or 8 stools in the tiny joint) in another language was beginning to sink in. We had made it over.

The rest of the night was a bit of a blur, walking through beautiful plazas, around cafes and ice cream shops, a darkened camera & film store, bronze statues, winding & cobbled alleys where the buildings seem to lean in towards you. Eventually we made it to Eisgrub-Bräu, local brewery embedded into an old supporting city stone wall. The flavorful, spiced brews were served in ceramic mugs, and we sat looking upon the streets glistening with lamplight, sipping beer beneath small heated awnings on the shallow, wide porch.

Roaming the streets of Mainz at night, on roughly 2.5 hours of sleep in the past 40. I'm not sure what is so storybook about stone streets (they hurt your feet), narrow alleys (people still drive fast down them), and all the stone-work, statuettes, and aged-structures (acid rain eats 'em up)...but I dig it.

One of Lydia's kind roommates was out of town for the weekend, and lent us her bedroom. Rarely has crawling beneath a sheet felt so good. There's nothing quite like that first deep, post-journey sleep washing over me in overlapping, breath-slowing waves, like the air-cooled shower steam seeping into the crevices of my brain.

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