Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ryan Air to Germany: Ich bin ein Berliner (I know, I know)

I have reached Berlin. 

Germany. The home of 1/2 my people. I honestly didn't think I'd feel a swell of family pride or patriotism or something, but when I stepped off the plane...wait, let me back up the story.

This morning, I awoke to a fire alarm at 7am. Since my room had a back door to the parking lot, I didn't leave immediately, even though the fire alarm was going off for a few minutes. If I needed to leave, I'd be outside in one step, but I did get dressed for cold Irish weather. When my jacket was on, the fire alarm stopped and I was super awake, even though I didn't have to leave the hotel for a few hours. Overall, I was happy to be awake in another fantastic hotel and used the time wisely. Namely, I surfed the internet while TV in English was on in the background.

When the time came, I drove by the ostrich (rolled down my window and said goodbye. He/She either gave me the evil eye or nodded goodbye). At the Dublin airport, I put fuel in the Juke and returned the car to Avis. At that exact moment, a shuttle bus pulled up to take me to the terminal. Travelling Ju Ju! Love it. I took a seat and 5 minutes later, when the shuttle bus was full, we took off and I was sitting next to an Irish woman who now lives in Toronto. We had a good ol' chat about traveling. "Oh, you're right to do it while you're young." I get that a lot, which is fantastic (thank you Smarsh for coloring my hair, it helps). When people find out how old I am they aren't so much shocked as wondering why I'm not married. They don't say it directly, but they'll skirt around it. "Oh, ya know, in your mid-thirties circumstances do change. You could have a family, blah blah" you get it. It's fun.

I talked to more people in Ireland than anywhere else. Though, to be fair, I did speak to a high percentage of people I ran into i Copenhagen/Malmo being that I was only there a day each and made friends with people on the bus both days. But Ireland, oh, Ireland. The people are so friendly and ready for a chat. On my first day there, the shuttle bus driver was having a chin wag with a passenger from Florida who said, "In Florida, we get all the rain we need in five minutes." The Irish driver said in response, "In Ireland we get rain every five minutes." 

Every B&B proprietor, hotel receptionist, restaurateur, person on the street and that lovely lady at the Post office in the middle of NOWHERE were so friendly. The only other place like it is Australia. I had such a great time.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, so Terminal 1. Said goodbye and happy travels to the Irish Canadians and checked into my Ryan Air flight. 

Having lived in Australia for 6 and 1/2 years, I have watched A LOT of British TV and learned that Ryan Air is the cheap-o airline for Europe. I would equate it to Southwest but with a worse/punchlinier reputation. It's like the Fresno of airlines. I was a little nervous about flying with them because of this, but the timing and the price were perfect. Checked in, went through security no problems. I was in a pharmacy in the airport with cough syrup in my hand (yeah, I'm sick again. Just a cough, I hope) when an alarm went off. Beeoooobeeep "Attention Please. Attention Please. We are responding to an alarm activation. Please evacuate this area immediately and follow the directions of airport staff." My first thought was, "Shit" and then "Oh damn, my flight's going to be delayed" and then "I really need this cough syrup". So, everyone in the pharmacy steps into the hallway outside it, which is under construction. We all look at each other while the alarm recording keeps playing. We have no idea where to go. The good news is that NO ONE panicked. No one really gave two craps. After three more run throughs of the same announcement, a "staff member" said, "If you're on a Ryan Air flight, come this way." And she ambled off in a direction towards some gates. The alarm tone/recording stopped after a few more minutes and people kept just walking in that direction. The woman was gone. I couldn't spot her. I wasn't sure what was happening. Were we still evacuating? We were just going to the gates? A mile later, I get to another wing of the airport, actually where my gate was, but there was no pharmacy there, so I had to walk all the way back to the other wing, buy the cough medicine and return (another mile) back for my gate.

Everything went smoothly.

The first "cheap" thing about Ryan air that I noticed were the clientele. I'm going to exaggerate for effect here, be warned. Imagine toothless, skinny redneck families from the deep south (only they're from Ireland or Germany). These are people who you KNOW stood in line for their government check to pay for this flight. The next cheap thing was that we had to walk to the plane and climb up a ladder to get there...ok stairs, but you get it. Other things I noticed: There were no seat back pockets, the Mormon style short sleeved white shirt with black pants "uniforms" were probably bought by the employees at the Walmart equivalent. But honestly, that's it. It was an inexpensive flight that I slept the whole way on and had more leg room than the Aer Lingus flight I'd taken to get there. The complaints people have of Ryan Air come when they don't follow the "rules" and there are a lot of them. This is one time when you want to read the fine print. If you don't print or bring an electronic copy of your boarding pass, they'll charge you to print it out. If you don't check in online prior to getting to the airport, they'll charge you for it. If your carry-on luggage is too big, they'll charge you 50 Euro. If you arrive late, they leave without you. There's more, but you get the point. I followed the rules, paid for my luggage beforehand and my seat and was happy. No complaints.

I arrived in Germany! We landed and taxied for a long time, then parked and walked down the stairs to German soil (pavement) and something happened inside me. Minutes before, I had been asleep on the plane or awake but feeling lousy, coughing, etc. But now, I stood up tall and looked around. This is the land of my ancestors. Not Berlin specifically, but Germany. My mother's parents grew up here. My mother's father's family (Rosenbaum) got the family name here in the year 1440 from a dude who had the best "Rose Tree" on the block. I'm pretty damned excited to be here. This is history. Not the history of someone else that I've been seeing in France, Spain, Italy, Etc. This is MY history. And at the end of this trip to Germany, I'll be spending a few days with MY German relatives. Awesome!

So, through customs (got a passport stamp. YES). Got my bag right away, some cash for a taxi and then a taxi. Now, this guy did not speak English at all and I do not speak German AT ALL. I showed him the address of my hotel and we got on the freeway at breakneck speeds. The meter was FLYING. 10 Euro, 20 Euro, 30 Euro and then he took an exit and we were in traffic. The meter stopped. It's mostly distance based, which is great. We were in some rush hour "normal" traffic for a few minutes and then we were in traffic that was NOT at all normal. My driver got out of the car to see what was going on. Other drivers got out of their cars. 1/2 a block ahead of us a police car drove by with his lights on. Then another. Then an ambulance. Then another. All with their lights on. Some with their sirens. Then another police car. The taxi driver got back in and said, "Ah, Berlin." I asked him if the hotel was close and through some trial and error, I found out that it was "ein kilometre". I can walk that, even sick. His directions were in German, so I paid the man 40 Euro and got out. I walked to the front of the traffic jam where a cop was holding everybody back. I crossed the street in front of the cars and then it was clear to me that this was a MASSSSSSIVE motorcade. Police cars drove by, then a crazy formation of police motorcycles and THEN unmarked black cars with somebody special inside. I saw one car with at least one, but it felt like more, woman wearing a black Hijab or Burka - eyes only is what I saw. Then a few more police cars and it was over. 

It's never a good sign when your cab driver LEAVES THE TAXI

I asked at the Best Western for directions to my hotel (the budget Ibis) and the lovely receptionist told me I was very close. It was around the corner! When I checked in, my reception guy said that the King of Jordan is in town and that dignitaries are staying at the Intercontinental nearby. Ooooh, fancy!

As if this day couldn't get any better, I dropped off my bags in my room (small, like a dormitory, but who cares) and went out to find dinner and bottles of water. Across the street from my hotel is a grocery store! Brilliant! (Also, it's super near a train station). 

Massive win today. I'm on the last leg of my European journey and loving it! Can't wait to see what Germany brings.

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