My wife and I are beginning to put things together for a trip to Germany in what is just over a week from now. We have flown overseas a couple of times; the first time to Vienna the week prior to the millenium and then to Germany a couple of years ago, also around the Christmas/New Year holidays.
We're making this trip to visit our older son, whom we haven't seen in over a year. On both of our previous trips we were accompanied by our younger son, who, while not fluent in German as is his brother, still has a basic understanding of it and can converse enough to help us get to where we're going or whatever. This time, however, he cannot make the trip for a variety of reasons — something to do with his life. (Jeeze! Any excuse just to leave poor old mom and dad in the lurch.)
I am, consequently, a bit more apprehensive about this trip as neither my wife nor I have any knowledge of the language. I have tried listening to a German language learning program and have a phrase book, but I haven't managed to get much beyond "Wo ist der toiletten?"
Our older son reassures us that he will be there, "Johann on the spot," when we arrive, and won't let us out of his sight during the ten or so days we'll be spending in Deutschland. Yeah, right.
My wife and I are "getting on in years." both of us having eclipsed the 60-year threshold. By today's standards that's not really old, I guess, but neither is it young. As I've recounted here in previous articles and comments, almost ad nauseam, I have creaky, arthritic knees, and I am now sporting a painfully sore lower back. Add to that the fact that I'm a veritable tub of guts weighing in at over 250 pounds of flaming love! (That would sound better in kilos, wouldn't it? What — 114 kilos or so?) Consequently, according to my ortho guy, I'm putting something like a thousand pounds of pressure on my knees and back with every step I take. Great! My wife has a number of ailments big and small, that I won't go into in respect of her privacy, but suffice to say, we are neither one of us in the pinnacle of health.
Our son, now in his late twenties is small and lithe — he runs. Crap! He runs! I was once told by a kindly drill sergeant during my stint in the "U.S. of army" that if my life depended on my ability to run, I would likely wind up as hamburger. Food for thought. My son weighs in at around 130 pounds. That's pounds, not kilos! I haven't tipped the scale at 130 pounds since I was in the fourth grade. Well, my first born, and his younger brother – also a runner – tend to leave their mother and I in the dust say, on the way to catching a bus or train. They're young and just doesn't understand. We can no longer move like the wind. Now, we only pass it.
A sign of my aging mind: I am packing stupid things like packets of ketchup and mustard, sugar, artificial sweetener, coffee creamer and so on. I even have some mayo and pickle relish — all stolen from area eateries. I've pretty much gone completely wacko. Give me another year or two, and I'll be taking an entire suitcase loaded with toilet paper. For now, I'm going to settle for a dozen or so of those little travel packets of Kleenex. I suppose I'll throw in a few hundred sanitary wipes and a gallon or so of Purel.
Of course, we will be accompanied by a veritable traveling pharmacy — pills, salves, tonics, solutions of every description and purpose. Can't go doody? I'll have something to grease the chute. Can't stop going doody? I'll have something else to slam the chute shut. I suppose we could get busted for running drugs, but that's a chance we'll have to take.
The part of the trip I dread the most are the two trans-Atlantic flights. We will be flying to Newark and then on to Berlin. The Newark flight I can handle. But once they wedge us into our seats in the tourist section of the plane to (and from) Berlin, we will be more or less screwed. All of my claustrophobic tendencies will come screaming to the surface. Should I be forced to sit in a middle seat, I just might explode. I can't even handle a window seat. The aisle is the place for me. There, I can sort of stretch one leg straight out, at least when there's no food or drink cart being wheeled up and down the aisle, and I have one side of me not rubbing up against another body or the wall of the plane. Comparatively, on the aisle, the air is fresh and clean! The world is brimming with possibilities! I can get up without forcing anyone else to get up first, and just step out into the aisle and actually walk! It may be for only three or four steps in either direction, but it's better than being trapped in what the arilines laughingly refer to as seats. Tourist or economy class seating tends to be less "roomy" than your average casket.
The stewards and stewardesses do their best to keep everyone busy, mainly eating and drinking. And then, there is the occasional hot towelette to wipe the flop sweat off of the passengers' faces.
I intend to take a number of things with me on the plane to keep me amused — at least one book, a magazine or two, perhaps a recorded book, and of course my little iPod-like device for "gittin' down wif my toons." Maybe a book of crosswords. Unfortunately, I don't do Sudoku and I'm not a video game kind of guy. I'll probably also have a variety of snacky food just to see if I can actually gain weight during the flight — say a bucket of KFC (extra crispy) with a pint of gizzards? Or how about a few cans of sardines? No, that would be too ironic. Then, of course there will presumably be the "in-flight movies." I hope they've finally stopped showing Will Smith's Wild, Wild West, and the Rob Schneider film festival.
When we arrive, our son will not let us rest. He will insist that we keep going despite our exhaustion, so that we will overcome any jet lag quickly. Of course, if we stroke out, or our hearts explode, jet lag won't really be a problem.
A couple of years ago on our last trip, we spent only a part of one day – New Year's Day as it happens – in Berlin. Our son lives in a small town an hour or so north of Berlin, so I assume that we will be able to take in more of the sights there. Believe it or not, when we were last in Berlin we stopped at two – not one, but two – different Dunkin Donuts shops. (Oh, yeah, Dunkin Donuts are BIG in Berlin!)
We did manage to have a really great dinner at a restaurant called "Bangin." (Yeah, that's what I thought too, but no, it's just a restaurant. Probably something lost in translation.) I don't have any idea where it is, somewhere requiring a rather long subway ride from the center of the city, but it was well worth the time. I hope we find our way back there. As anyone reading this may have gathered, I like food. I was raised on it.
I think we will also go hang around the American Embassy which I believe is nearly on top of the Brandenburg Gate and see if we can get arrested or something. (Quiz: Do you know what's on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate? Don't over-think it. Answer: Brandenburg! Ha, ha. Isn't that great? Who'da thought?)
Well, I guess I'll take a few minutes and trim back my little black mustache as a kind of "arms across the waters" gesture. Then, I'll practice going stir crazy.