Saturday, February 25, 2012

Willkommen zu Aachen

Well, I made it! One extremely long, extremely exhausting, lets's-never-do-that-again-alone-if-we-can-help-it trip. I honestly feel like that was a marathon or climbing Mount Everest or anything similarly hard and awful. Except there was no one with a giant ribbon or medal to give to me when I finished. Just a nice German man who held the door for me at my hotel. My route was St. Louis to New York (JFK) to Paris to Köln to Aachen. But first things first.

My flight from STL was at 11:45. I spent Departure Eve (aka Wednesday night) at Harrah's casino in St. Louis, which was a combination winner of price and location to the airport, so I wouldn't have to wake-up so early (which turned out to be a life-saver, I can't imagine leaving my house at 6 in the morning and proceeding with the trip...shudder). Instead of getting a nice king-bed room to relax and sleep in, they messed up my booking, and I got a two double-beds room. Oh well, it was still nice, and I took a nice long bath in the gigantic tub. Although I was tempted to play all those $35,283 penny slots, it turns out I had absolutely no change with me. So I didn't waste a single dime gambling. It was more fun walking around and people watching anyway.

D-Day (aka Thursday), I had my last American sausage biscuit at Mickey D's (little did I know how soon I would eat you again!) and headed to the airport. Everything went really smoothly and I checked in in about 5 minutes time. My suitcase was out of my hands so quickly, I didn't even get to say goodbye to it, or take a picture, or even register the fact that I might never see it again. (PS, this was what I dragged all the way through Aachen.. You can see more of it here). -->

So I still had about 2 hours left to kill. Not-so-luckily for me, the weather was a balmy 60 degrees. I was wearing a cardigan, corduroy jacket, and my winter coat so that I didn't have to pack as much. Lets just say I carried the coat, the jacket got tied to my backpack, and I took the cardigan off at most times. Security, although the line was really short, wasn't so easy. I took up about 5 baskets with my coats, scarf, belt, phone, wallet, suitcase keys, sunglasses, kindle, and laptop + the carry-on camera bag and Osprey backpack (that thing is a beast and weighed probably 30 pounds).

 The flight to JFK in NYC was uneventful, but really pretty! It felt almost surreal, like I was Queen Frostine and I lived in a world of cotton balls. Or maybe that was just the airplane drinks..

JFK was a gigantic place. Not for nothing is it America's biggest city's biggest airport. When I walked off the plane, there were just hordes of people everywhere, which was a gigantic change from STL. I stopped for a while at on of the bar-style tables where they have iPads for your convenient usage. It was pretty awesome. Sort of like a cafe, but just tables filled with iPads (and free of charge, which I appreciated once I found the 2-Euro-per-15-minute-computers in Paris, boo!). There was a pigeon walking around in the airport too! Just one lonely bird, surrounded by throngs of people. The flight from New York to Paris was expectedly long. And airplane food is just as bad as it's cracked up to be. My pasta dish was worse than those $0.72 banquet meals at Walmart. They did come around about a million times with drinks though, which although nice, just made everybody have to pee that much more. The Dramamine I packed did NOT make me drowsy whatsoever, and I couldn't fall asleep (because it was 7:00pm local time) so I decided to have a glass of wine with it (package warning: avoid alcoholic drinks with this medicine as it increases drowsiness). So, WHAM, I fell into a self-induced half coma, wherein I was still  awake. I'll give the drug some credit, it did it's best to put me to sleep, but dude, my body was like hell-to-the-no I'm not falling asleep. So I just sort of laid there like a dead carcass and half assessed how much feeling would be left in my legs when I finally landed. 7ish hours later, we landed in the most foggy, desolate, ugly place possible, Paris.
This was my first and only view of the most romantic city on Earth. I had a 5 hour layover here, which was uneventful, cold, and really boring. My backpack weighed 1830236 lbs, so I didn't feel like doing any shopping, or even standing in line to eat something, so I just parked in an uncomfortable green chair staring wistfully at the duty-free cheese, and to tried to sleep. Note: the main Paris airport is huge and awesome looking, but my terminal was this little off site place where nothing happened.

When my gate was finally announced 20 minutes prior to departure, I hurried off to walk outside onto the tarmac to find a bus sitting there. Remembering my trip to Chicago in which the return train trip was cancelled and we were put on a bus, I was thinking OH DEAR GOD PLEASE NOT A BUS ALL THE WAY TO KöLN. But the bus shuttled us off even further into no-man's-land tarmac and we got on this beast of a prop plane.
 My flight from Paris to Köln was filled with this one really loud, obnoxious German family that kept yelling from the front of the plane to the back, but luckily I had my own seat next to the window.I couldn't sleep over the din of the children screaming and the noise of the wind through my (I swear it was cracked) window. By the time I got to the Köln airport, I felt like I was never going to make it, and due to the lack of sleep or lack of food or something, I was kind of twitching like a crack addict which was embarrassing. The Köln airport was basically like no-man's land. There was hardly anyone there. I followed the signs to the trains, and got on a train to the actual train station. That was an ordeal in itself, because I didn't have any 5 or 10 Euro bills, so I had to go buy something, come back and buy a ticket, then get on the wrong train where I couldn't lift my suitcase up the steps due to the weak arms and twitching (a nice German man helped me) and  my ticket wasn't even checked. (Insert deep breath here). I finally made it to the Köln train station where I trekked to the opposite end to find the information desk, and was informed that a speed train was leaving in six minutes. So I raced (or whatever you call hobbling with weak arms dragging my suitcase and camera bag and million pound backpack with all my layers of clothing and sweating) all the way back to the other end. I took the escalator up to the platforms only to find out I was on the wrong side of the tracks. So I went back down and came up on the right side, boarded the train that was already there, and sat down in the first seat available. Turns out that seat was first class and cost 18 more Euro than second class. But a stampede of elephants was not going to make me pick up my bags and move, so I gladly handed over the money and made it to Aachen. Praise Jesus, my hotel was right across the street from the exit of the train station, so I walked over to it, dragging my baggage across the cobblestone street while the wheels rattled like they were about to die. Here's a picture of my hotel (I didn't take this though).
 The door was locked when I got to it, so I followed the sign around the corner to another hotel to get the key from the receptionist there. He was a nice English speaking German man who gave me a map to the city and held the door open for me and my luggage.

 It also turns out that the first floor in Germany really means the second floor, as it goes Ground, 1, 2, 3...etc.

After a grueling 20 hour trip, I had no desire to brave the local German cafes and instead opted for the only thing I could remember how to say, "McChicken".

 For breakfast this morning, I ate in the little breakfast nook where they had a buffet of bread, cheeses, fruit, cereal, and weird eggs in cups that I didn't understand, so I didn't eat those. A lady offered me the choice of Kaffee oder Tee, so I had a nice cup of hot tea as well as some freshly squeezed orange juice. All in all, it definitely feels like I'm in Europe.Wilkommen zu Aachen!

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