Saturday, February 13, 2010

February 13, 2010: Germany, part eight: the last few days and the trip home

Everything went as planned on Monday (February 8th), and we were pleased to be given a ride back to the train station, as we would have had to take a bus at 7:30 to make all the connections to get the very last train from Wesel back to Hamminkeln, arriving at 10:11. It was good reconnecting with the R family--ever since we moved to Mülheim, and then their children changed schools and Aileen started working (in the school library, which works wonderfully as far as hours are concerned AND she loves her job), our visits with each other have been far too few and far between, yet I don't feel like we're "strangers" to each other when we finally do get together again. It was a very good ending to our time in our "home area" of Germany.

The next morning I managed to get everything packed in good time, although I was pretty sure we had too much. At 22 Euros per extra kilogram, checking extra luggage was NOT an option, but we figured we were okay as long as they didn't weigh the carry-ons, and I knew exactly what I could take out of which suitcases if necessary. Our second train was over 15 minutes late, making our connection in Köln VERY close, but we made it, and once we got to the airport in Frankfurt, had no problem finding our bus stop. Although we'd just missed a bus, and they go every half hour, it wasn't too bad waiting, either, as our particular bus stop was right outside the doors, so we waited inside. That day was by far the coldest day of our whole trip. There was no more snow where we'd been staying and I'd already thought that that would be our first day without seeing snow anywhere (the day before we hadn't seen any until nearly to Ratingen), but it was snowing quite a bit in Frankfurt and did the whole time we were there.

Christin met us at the bus stop at her end (less than 20 minutes from the airport) and we walked to their house, where we spent awhile just warming up. That evening we were able to visit with Peter and Christin, and after the children had gone to bed, played two games of Settlers of Catan. We slept very well, Katie and Helen with us in their HUGE bed, Jacob on a mat on the floor, and Marie and Lukas on a sofa-bed, while Peter and Christin themselves slept in the living room. We didn't get up the next morning until long after they had left for work.

Around 10:00 a friend of Jörn's, Arndt, arrived, and at 11:30, as we were just about to brave the cold and head for the playground, our friend Annika (whom we met in South Africa, but she's from Hanover and now lives not far from Frankfurt) arrived, so we all went to the playground together. We were fairly well-frozen by the time we left after not much more than half an hour, and all had lunch, for which Peter (who works only a couple of blocks away) joined us. After lunch Arndt left, and Annika played Settlers of Catan with Marie, Jacob, and Lukas (and Jörn, who ended up taking over for Lukas), while I played Go Fish and Memory with Katie, and Helen slept.

Annika was able to stay until 5:30-ish, just after Christin got home, and our friends Jill and Alan arrived at about 6:00 for dinner, by which time Peter had also arrived home. More good conversation (and good food!), and then to bed for the last time this trip.

Packing was easy the next morning--just the one suitcase we'd used for the two days. I weighed everything again and hoped that the airport scales would be set a bit lower. Another friend of Jörn's, Bernd, came for a few hours, and Peter came home for lunch again, and Christin made it home in time to see us off to the airport in two taxis. Interestingly, although in our experience Düsseldorf, Ratingen, and Mülheim all have taxi vans that will easily hold a family of seven AND their luggage, Frankfurt doesn't have any, or at least the taxi company we called didn't, nor did they have proper children's seats (despite us having requested them on the phone the day before), AND they tried to claim that no taxis do. I've only taken a taxi four times that I can remember in all my years in Germany, the first time nine years ago, and every single taxi had two children's seats, and in fact, one of them had integrated seats with five-point harnesses. But maybe that's only the law in NRW, not in Hessen. At least my taxi driver was apologetic and quite friendly, also helping to load and unload the luggage, which earned him a tip--the other driver got his fee to the cent, and not a cent more. (Not the U.S.: one does not HAVE to tip, as a tip truly is based on the service rendered.)

We had a short moment of concern when we arrived at the airport and the displays were all blank, but it turned out that the monitors were out of order, not that all flights had been cancelled! Checking in went well. Czech Airlines has a limit of one bag and 20 kilos per passenger, as well as one bag up to 10 kilos for an infant without a seat, but unlike some other airlines, allows the weight to be shared around a group, as long as no one bag weighs more than 32 kilos, so we could take up to 7 bags, up to 130 kilos. Starting with our heaviest suitcase, which was 26 kilos, we started with the weighing in, and after the sixth bag were up to "only" 119 kilos. We then had to choose between two "carry-ons"--one filled with clothes, weighing about six kilos, one filled with books, weighing 14. I put on the 14 kilo one, hoping that maybe, maybe, it was actually only 11, but the airport scale agreed that it was 14, bringing our total to 133 kilos, three kilos over, definitely not worth 66 Euros!! I was all ready to switch for the lighter one (or take out three kilos of books), but the man said that was no problem. :-)

Going through security was uncomplicated, but at our gate there was a sign saying that our flight was leaving from a different gate. At that other one, however, they knew nothing about it. Eventually, it was determined that our flight was late and that they didn't yet know which gate. We ate up the Walker's shortbread that Jill and Alan had given us (exactly 21 pieces--three for each person, no fighting, and yes, Helen knew that three were for her, too) and wandered around a bit, and finally got on the plane, which left well over an hour late...and arrived in Prague close to two hours late.

Once we got to the monitors in Prague to find out if there was any hope of getting our next flight, it was exactly 9:55 p.m., the time our flight was scheduled to leave, and the status was "gate closed". So we stopped hurrying and got into the transfer line, wondering if we'd get to stay in Prague long enough to actually see something more than the airport. Almost immediately, however, an airport employee asked if there was anybody there for Larnaka, and then told us to hurry--they were holding the plane for us. Passport control, security again, and then onto the plane, where everybody else had already been waiting for half an hour or more...we made it.

Once in Larnaca, we first had to go through passport control, of course, where the officer barely glanced at the six German passports, then started flipping through my U.S. passport, finally arriving at the single-use re-entry visa, and said, "What is this?" I'd completely forgotten that I was supposed to be nervous about whether they would let me back into Cyprus, but we explained that yes, we live in Cyprus, but that I don't have a yellow slip yet because Nikosia lost my file, so that's why I have this visa. He rolled his eyes as if that wasn't unusual--didn't seem to think WE were being strange--and then said that he'd never seen that kind of visa in an American passport before. But he let me in!

And our luggage, obviously having been the very last to be put loaded in Prague, was the very first out in Larnaca, so not much waiting. As I started to text Richard that we had arrived, he called to say that "they" (turned out to be Richard and his sailing friend, Tim--he'd only e-mailed that he'd come with two cars, but hadn't said which of his many friends he was going to talk into going to the airport at 3:00 a.m.) were waiting right out front.

We slept in seven different beds in the last six and a half weeks, all of them comfortable, but oh, falling into my OWN bed, on my OWN pillow, at 3:40 a.m. was the most wonderful, comfortable feeling imaginable! I also very much enjoyed being able to reach for the switch on my reading light automatically, as well as waking up in the morning proper and seeing my wall of photos, and getting to walk to the kitchen in my nightgown, and knowing that I didn't have to go anywhere. I still love to travel, but it's fascinating to me how much more I love home with the passing of the years. And now it's the next day and I'm quite tired and heading to my very own bed again. :-)

No comments:

Post a Comment