Saturday, July 11, 2009

Getting here

Well, they're a little out of date, but here are the things I would have posted had I had internet over the past week:

Did you know that there is a legal limit on the number of pets that can be taken on an airplane? I didn’t. Neither did the person that booked our tickets, apparently. There was some warning in the computer system that she didn’t see when she confirmed our flights. We had almost finished checking our luggage on Friday when the attendant noticed that there was a warning that the plane was over limit on the number of pets on board, and that we couldn’t take the cats on that flight. Since we couldn’t very well leave the cats in the Madison airport by themselves, a fair amount of ticket shuffling and rearranging ensued.

At first, it didn’t look like we’d be able to make it out of Madison until Saturday, but after about an hour of travel agents and airline help lines, and some troubleshooting on the part of the Northwest representative, they figured out that pets were not, in fact, overbooked, and that the warning was there because of the way the travel agent had made the reservations. Fortunately, we’d showed up the full 2.5 hours before travel, and so we still had time to make the first part of the flight.

In hindsight, we’d have had no trouble at all making the first part of the flight. There was a noise in the wing, and so they needed to call a mechanic in. It was something that should take only a few minutes to fix, but the only mechanic was far off in some other part of the airport working on another plane. An hour went by. Then an hour and a half. The mechanic arrived, and we were assured that we should make our connection. The mechanic realized that he’d forgotten something that he needed to fix the wing, and had to go back and get it. Connections were shuffled again. Finally, the mechanic was able to fix the problem, and we were on our way, with a little under an hour to make our connection in Detroit.

After running through the Detroit airport, we got onto a flight to Frankfurt via Amsterdam, with a 4 hour layover. When we arrived in Amsterdam, we settled into the airport for the wait, and then heard our names being called from another gate that was just finishing boarding. Apparently, they’d switched us to an earlier flight out of Amsterdam, and didn’t tell us. So, after another run through another airport, we caught the plane to Frankfurt.

When we arrived, we went to the luggage carousel to pick up our bags. There were only a few people there, so most of our flight must have been making connections. The conveyor started, spit out 5 bags that were picked up by another couple, and stopped again. We waited a while longer. Luggage came through from another flight. Ours wasn’t there. An hour or so later, Branden had filed a report for lost luggage on all 4 of our checked bags. They don’t know where they are…the last time they were scanned, they were heading to Amsterdam. After that, they disappeared.

We were only allowed one carry-on apiece, since we have the cats with us. Branden had his laptops, and I had the camera. Everything else was in the checked luggage.

The airport has arranged to have the luggage sent to our hotel in Bretten, when and if it reappears. Since we ended up with three schedule changes and an airline change, it may take a while to surface, but we’re hoping that it will come soon.

It is much easier to get through the airport with no luggage. If not for the inconvenience of having no clothes, dictionary, electronics chargers, or toiletries, I’d recommend it as a good strategy for lightening the load at the end of a long trip. The same thing happened when I went to France earlier this month, and it was nice to have the bag delivered for me rather than having to lug it around. They also give you a little emergency toiletry kit, and it comes with a free t-shirt. Branden and I are thinking of starting a collection.

The shuttle company had lost our reservation, but the delay with the luggage delayed us enough that they were there just as we finished at the airport. An hour or so later, we were in Bretten.

Our apartment is an odd mix between an efficiency apartment and a hotel. There’s a tiny kitchen (two burners, a microwave, and a dorm fridge), and it’s less expensive than a hotel, but apparently they still come in once a week to change the sheets and such. There are no screens in the windows, but there are perforated sheet metal blinds that we’ll have to keep in whenever the cats are in the room and the windows are open, as there is a roof within jumping distance, and Artemis is nothing if not desperate to explore the outdoors, whether or not she can get back in. We’ve heard that it’s difficult to find short-term housing here, so we’ll probably end up staying in this apartment while we’re here.

Our checked luggage also contained the first-night kitty litter, and there was no way that we could leave the cats without a litter box any longer. They’d made it more than 24 hours already, and anything beyond that is really just pushing our luck, and might border on cruelty to animals. So, we figured out how to use the train system, and found a grocery store. It’s actually easier than I’d expected to identify things, considering that we can’t read any of the labels. Main things that we noticed: hot dogs come in jars like pickles, eggs come in boxes of either 6 or 10, not in dozens (and almost every box has several smashed eggs in it), and it is possible to buy soy milk in Germany. (Yay! I won’t have to go 6 months without milk!). Rhubarb flavored yogurt is apparently popular, and butter comes in large 500 g slabs instead of sticks. Ketchup can be had in curry, Cajun, and several other flavors, and takes up an entire short aisle in the store. If you’re a purist, you can buy McDonald’s brand ketchup (not kidding).

It was a little strange to become expatriates on the 4th of July, and to move somewhere where the 4th is nothing special. It was somewhat reassuring, then, to arrive in Bretten and discover that it is in the midst of it’s own little festival; a Renaissance fair called Peter & Paul (I have no idea why it’s called that). Our shuttle pulled up to the hotel amidst throngs of people dressed in medieval garments, donkeys being led down the street, and booths of artisans selling their work. Might as well step into a foreign time as well as a foreign country, right? At midnight, there was a large fireworks display that we missed because we didn’t know it was happening and were trying to get some sleep. I don’t know how fireworks fit into a medieval festival, but they do belong on the 4th of July, so we won’t quibble.

The clock tower has just rung 3:15 a.m., so I should return to my attempts to get some sleep. I had fallen asleep earlier, but am now awake again. The heat and the lone mosquito in the room (see no window screens, above) are not helping me to settle in for a good night’s sleep at 6 p.m. PST. Fortunately, tomorrow is the first day in over a week where we don’t need to spend the entire day packing, driving, or flying, and I’m planning to sleep in.

Update: Our luggage did arrive, and only two days behind us. We still don't know where it went in between, but it's here now, which is all that really matters.

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