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Flying Over The Ocean and Doing Touristy Things in Germany

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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.

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About Baritone

  • Hilarious read, B-Tone! Nice to wake up to on a Sunday morning… wait, what time is it – strike that – afternoon

    I feel your transatlantic aviation pain. I fly the San Francisco-London route quite regularly to make visits home. A lot depends on who you fly with. If you’re flying United, American or some other US carrier, I fear for you. If you’re with Lufthansa you should be OK.

    The one thing American has going for it is the legroom, IMHO.

    ‘I guess I’ll take a few minutes and trim back my little black mustache as a kind of “arms across the waters” gesture.’

    LOL. Whatever you do, don’t mention the war

  • Doc,

    Glad you enjoyed my little tale.

    As it happens we are flying Continental all the way, all four flights. That’s probably not a good thing. Maybe I can take some pills that will put me in a coma for 5 or 6 hours. I wouldn’t want to be out for the entire trip. I might miss one of those haute cuisine meals they serve.

    A few years ago while my wife was talking to our son on the phone, she asked him if the Germans celebrated Memorial Day. There was a pause from my son’s end, and then he said “Think about it, mom. No, no they don’t celebrate Memorial Day over here.”

    From my son’s experience, he generally prefers the European carriers over the American lines. He feels everything is just a bit classier, the food more paletable, the in-flight service superior. I don’t know what Continental’s reputation is, but it was the cheapest flights we could get from one of those on-line travel services – the fare for two of us is just under $1100. round trip. Of course, we may have to ride in the luggage compartment – I hope it’s the one that’s pressurized. If not, I guess I can use some of my kleenex stash to periodically wipe the blood out of our ears, at least until our bodies explode.

    On our last trip we flew via Heathro. Not one of our more pleasant stopovers. I know they have or are building new terminals there, but when we arrived there, they didn’t even have a gate for us. We had to disembark down some of those roll around stairs and board one of their little shuttle trams to get to the terminal. I suppose, if the construction is complete that it is now more pleasant there than what we experienced.

    Oh, I’ll keep quiet about the war. It would be bad form, I think, to mention it – especially any reference to who won and all that.

    Kidding aside, Germany is quite a beautiful place to see. I’m hoping the weather is not too wintry while we’re there. The end of March is kind of a crap shoot regarding the weather in temperate climates. Both of our previous trips, as I mentioned were around the year end holidays. It was damn cold in Vienna. In Germany, the temperatures weren’t too oppressive, but we did have to slog through a good deal of snow most of the time. It would be nice to venture out there without coat, hat, scarf, gloves and boots,though.

    My son has a little car. He wants to drive us up to the North Sea, around Bremerhaven. Not sure how it will be in late March, but he says that it is a neat area to see.

    Frisco to London, that’s quite a trip, isn’t it? Is the weather in Frisco similar to London’s? It seems that I’ve heard that somewhere.

    My wife has an uncle in Oakland. He keeps inviting us to come out there and stay with him and his wife. I suppose, if we’re going to go, we had better do it soon. Her uncle is 85.

    My wife also has a niece living in Aix, France. Hmmm.


  • Let’s hope Mr. B. it’s not the same Continental pilot that slid of a runway here in the snow storm

  • Aww, he’s probably sobered up by now, don’t ya think?


  • Take heart, he probably won’t get a flight out till tomorrow, our airport’s just now opening back up.

  • Continental, eh? Never flown with them. I agree wholeheartedly with your son that the service and general ambience on European carriers is superior to the American ones.

    Based on the US airlines I have flown, I’d say United is about the best. Hawaiian isn’t far behind. I’ve yet to sample JetBlue or Virgin America, but by all accounts they put the big traditional airlines to shame, especially since the latter started charging for food and other amenities on domestic flights. My wife is flying Virgin up to Seattle in a couple of months, so I’ll get back to you with her verdict.

    San Francisco-London is a good old haul, yes. Ten hours going and eleven coming back (because you’re flying against the Jet Stream). I’ve never had to embark/disembark by stairs at Heathrow. Gatwick, yes.

    I can’t say I’ve found San Francisco’s climate to be all that similar to London’s. It doesn’t rain as much, its seasons are ass-backwards and it doesn’t get nearly as cold. BTW, no San Franciscan calls their city ‘Frisco’. It’s usually shortened to ‘San Fran’. Nevertheless, I would take your possibly-but-not-necessarily immortal uncle up on his offer as soon as possible. San Fran is a beautiful, interesting and culturally rich city. When I was younger I often dreamed that I might visit – little knowing that I would one day live two and a half hours away and could go there pretty much whenever I wanted!

    Speaking of freeloading with relatives, I have a cousin who was living in the British Virgin Islands, but that was about thirty years ago and I’ve completely lost touch with her. Oh well.

    No, don’t mention the war, but it looks like you missed my little Fawlty Towers reference there!

  • STM


    My experience in Germany is that most people speak at least a bit of English. I believe it’s a compulsory subject at school.

    Certainly at airports, railway stations, hotels and bus stations, everyone speaks English pretty much – even the cops.

    I speak a bit of schoolboy German, which is probably a bit like your son’s – enough to get me by.

    However, whenever I’ve used it, people nearly always speak back to me in English.

    I don’t think you’ll have a problem mate.

    My father spoke fluent German, and nearly always ended up speaking English when he was with Germans, who probably preferred that he not mangle the language with his flat vowel pronunciation.

    Also, if you become worried about the exchange rate on your dollar with the Euro, remember: they get a lot less of them in their paypackets, which is one of the reasons why the Euro is worth more.

    As you’d know, when you are buying stuff over there, it can’t be compared on a one-for-one basis.

  • STM

    And mate, if you aren’t travelling business or first (and most of us aren’t!), get to the airport a bit early, make sure you are the first ones in the queue and ask for an exit-aisle seat – these are the ones that have all the leg room in front of them.

    You’d be surprised at how refreshed one can feel on a long-haul flight (and coming from right down at the arsehole end of the world, I’m an expert at this given that a flight to Europe involving two hubs can take up to 30 hours from Australia) sitting in these seats rather than stuck on one of the normal rows.

    Failing that, look at the seating plan and get two seats to yourselves towards the back of the aircraft – 747s have rows at the back where you get two seats on their own each side of the big centre row. These seats have a bit more personal room – and there’s a space between the window seat and the window. I’d advise you to get in early on that too, perhaps even ask the airline if you can choose your seats now.

    You can’t do that with the exit-aisle seats, however and you have to do it on the day. Frequent long-haul travellers sussed this one out eons ago. The trick also is not to tell them you have any medical problems.

    They like to put people there if possible who are strong enough to get out of the plane without drama should that be required.

    Good luck.

  • bliffle

    I fly SFO to CDG regularly and I walk the aisles constantly. Walk all the way from San Francisco (known around here as The City and nothing else) to Paris in 12 hours on Air France, taking meal breaks at good opportunities. The food is excellent and the wine flows freely. My agent makes the arrangements and it usually costs $1000 RT, which seems reasonable to me.

  • Doc,

    When I was a kid I think “Frisco” was what I heard on the tube. I guess I just never outgrew it. That’s probably how “Maverick” referred to it.

    My younger son flew on Jet Blue a few weeks ago into NYC. He rather liked it.

    I’m sorry to say that I only rarely watched Fawlty Towers, so, yes, the reference went right over my head and smashed into the wall behind me. I think it’ll be all right, though. A little smelling salts, a shot of good whisky perhaps. (I thought it proper to leave off the ‘e’.)


    I’m not really overly concerned about getting on in Germany. Actually, I expect my son will dote on us as much as he can, although he will have some rehearsals and performances during our stay. Of course, we will attend the performances, but I assume that we will be on our own during his rehearsals. We will be staying in the tiny little town of Neustralitz. I suppose the misses and I will be able to wander about there without getting lost or in too much trouble.

    Hey, I’m a pro, anyhow. On our last trip I drove from Ulm to Halle, and later from Halle to Munich on the autobahn with five of us and all our luggage in a Ford Focus wagon – and we’re all still alive and have use of all of our respective limbs!

    As to seating on the plane, I was able to choose our seats on-line. My wife likes the window, so I have placed us with her on the window and me on the aisle, leaving the middle seat empty. If the flights don’t fill up, we may get lucky, but probably not. I don’t remember what the equipment is for the two long flights, but I’m pretty sure neither are 747s. Does DC3 sound right?

    Once, some years ago my wife and I flew to New Orleans seated in the first row of the tourist section. A bulkhead was directly in front of us separating us riff raff from the moneyed gentry. It was great, though as we had plenty of leg room in front of us. So, I asked for the same seats on the return flight, but that plane was apparently laid out differently and we had virtually no legroom between our seats and the damn bulkhead. It was only about an hour’s flight from NO to Memphis, but it was damned uncomfortable in any case with our knees hard against the wall.

    I need to run upstairs and check our lottery tickets to see if I can upgrade us to 1st class.


  • Blif,

    The flights you describe sound a lot better than ours is likely to be. I’ll have to see if my wife’s niece wants some company.


  • Twelve hours, Bliff? SFO to LHR is ten, and it’s the same distance as Paris, give or take.

    I can only think it must be because Air France uses Boeing 777s for the trip, which are probably a mite slower than BA’s and Virgin’s 747s.

    Good point about the seats on long-haul flights. I usually go for a window, because I’m still wide-eyed and boyish enough to think that the view from 37,000 feet is pretty cool, but I’m getting too old for that shit.

    I’m fairly tall, so legroom is important. I flew with Virgin last time I went home, and was gratified to see that they’ve improved their legroom a bit, although the seats are still outrageously narrow – especially if you have the misfortune to be sat next to Captain Elbows. It’s like spending ten hours on the Victoria Line during rush hour.

  • Does DC3 sound right?

    B-Tone, if Continental is still using a DC-3 for that route, I’d get religion and start praying right now.

  • STM

    Bliff … 12-hour flight.

    Mate, you should be so lucky.

    I flew to Porto in August last year and it took me over 30 hours all up. On the way back, a broken engine and missed airport curfews turned the trip home from Lison into a four-day epic of marathon proportions.

    Even the West Coast of the US is about 16 hours away from Sydney, which is the price you pay I suppose for living in your little comfort-zone down the arse-end of the world.

    Most international flights go from Sydney and Perth, too, so if you live in the other capitals or in the bush you have to get there first and this is a big continent.

    But yes, I do what you do … walk up and down the aisles all the time.

    The Qantas Phantom … ghost who walks. Incessantly.

    The only time I slept on that trip was the leg from Frankfurt to Porto, ’cause I was so exhausted I just couldn’t stay awake.

    Aah, the wonders of modern travel.

  • ghost who walks

    That your Native American name, Stan?

  • STM

    Nah Doc,

    Just call me Two Dogs ….

  • STM


    It’s not the seats at the bulkhead that are the roomy ones (although some are, as you say).

    It’s the ones at the exit aisles (near the emergency escape exits) … they have nothing at all in front of them.

    It’s nearly as good as business class if, as Doc says, you don’t get some huge bloke sticking his elbows into you. With two of you, though, you should be pretty right. Worth thinking about next time mate.

  • STM

    DD: “British Virgin …”

    If they belong to an association, do they hold their annual meetings in a phone booth, Doc??

  • LOL.

    The association was wound up at the last AGM after the last two members got drunk and locked themselves in the phone booth.

    I’ve only flown the Australia-US West Coast route once nonstop, and it took about 14 and a half hours on Qantas. Wasn’t too bad, considering I’ve been on eight-hour and even four-hour flights that seemed to drag a lot more.

    First time to Oz we flew Hawaiian, connecting through Honolulu. Five hours LAX-HNL and another ten for the leg to Sydney. It was quite neat, since due to the quirks of the International Date Line and a six-hour layover on the way back, we were actually able to pull off the feat of standing on two of the world’s most famous beaches – Bondi and Waikiki – on the same day.

    Second time down, we spent a few days in Fiji before continuing on to Sydney. Ten hours LAX-Nadi and another five onward to Oz. The flight back was the only non-stopper.

    I think that’s why Qantas usually offers good package deals on South Pacific stopovers – they want you refreshed and not to be spending your first couple of days Down Under all jetlagged and grouchy from being stuffed inside an aluminium tube for what seems like an eternity.

    Inside Oz – yeah, it is bloody huge, but I think about the longest internal flight is five hours from Sydney to Perth, which really isn’t too bad. As you said, it’s getting anywhere else beyond the coasts which takes for freaking ever.

  • To all,

    Thanks for the comments and advice. By the way, I was just kidding about the DC3. I used to work for the now defunct TWA (Teenie Weenie Airlines, or as those who worked for them used to say: T-Dub) and did some single engine (Beechcraft) flying of my own for a time. Maybe I could find an airline still using the old TWA Super G Constellation or the even older Pan AM tri-motor.

    But all of you are obviously far more the veterans of long range flying than I. Your insights are well worth heeding.

    The bulk head incident was on board a couple of old DC9s if memory serves. It was a while ago. But I did fly on a DC3 when I was about 9 or 10 from Indy to Detroit, tricycle gear and all.

    A bit of unwelcome news we heard from our son earlier today (Sunday) is that there is a planned strike of all public transportation employees to begin tomorrow (Monday.) I don’t know if it’s just in Berlin or country wide. That has the potential of messing things up quite a bit. If it happens, I hope they settle it quickly. But history is not on the side of brevity in these matters, especially in much of Europe. Hell, we might wind up spending ten days at Tegel Airport. That could be a trifle tedious.

    “ghost who walks?” Good name for a rock band?

    Noting another turn of phrase, one mullah cimoc – apparently a muslim – writing in at times painfully broken English on another thread here at BC regarding the recent attack on the Israeli Yeshiva, complaining about the disregard for Palestinian deaths, but citing the usual great concern for Israeli victims saying there is “so much the big sad.”

    I’m not commenting of the subject matter here, but rather just noting my intrigued response to the phrase. It says a lot.

    Oh, and Jet (how appropriate!) I just realized, you guys got slammed, didn’t you? Over here in Indy they warned us that we were going to be clobbered with 7 to 10 inches of snow, but as it has happened virtually everytime so far this season, the storm shifted its track just enough to only side swipe the city. Officially, at the Indy airport they only recorded one and a quarter inches. We got about 3 inches at our house which is about 7 miles southeast of the airport.

    These storms are so fickle and unpredictable. It seems that most of our local weather forecasters fucking LOVE the damn snow. I’m not a fan. I suppose if I partook of some winter sport I might have a more positive outlook on accumulated snow, but I don’t. For me, it just means I have to slog around people’s yards trying to measure the circumferences of their houses all the while trying to avoid winding up with my ass or my face in the snow.

    How much snow did Columbus get? I heard a bunch.
    Actually, if the pilot you mentioned was flying in and out of Columbus, I doubt that he would be changing over to an overseas route anytime soon. I suppose he could be on an Indy/Newark route, though. Well, if nobody died while sliding off the runway, I guess he did his job.

    How about that plane trying to land IN GERMANY a few days ago with 150 mile an hour cross winds? Those people almost bought the farm. I’d buy that pilot a drink by god!


  • STM

    Baritone: “But I did fly on a DC3 when I was about 9 or 10 from Indy to Detroit.”

    Bloody hell, Baritone, that must have been a long time ago. No doubt it would have been the height of modern technology then 🙂

    I’ve flown on one too … about 20 years ago for work on a special champagne tourist flight over Sydney Harbour at night. Nice having an aisle-window seat all to yourself tough!

    I think it’s still operating, that Sydney harbour joyflight, as a DC3 used to fly over my old joint a couple of years back and rattle the window panes.

  • When I lived across from Greater Pittsburgh International Airport there was a whole fleet of DC3s that were fitted out as luxury carriers that shuttled people around the tristate area well into the ninties, and who knows they may still be there…

  • Tome to think of it they had 3 Constelations that were fitted out as private business planes-the ones with three tails and 4 props.

    god I feel old

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Hilarious read, B-tone.

    Too bad I missed the party. I was in J-lem most of yesterday volunteering with a police unit that keeps an eye out for terrorists and when I got home after sixteen hours away from home on combined office and patrol duty, I only had time and energy to tend my own article. All I could say to myself last night while typing my comment to you was “shit, I’m tired! My feet are killing me!” Even after a good night’s sleep, they still hurt.

    As for mullah climoc, leaving aside the content of his comments for a moment and concentrating on his seemingly odd phrasing, I’ll note this for you. He is an Arab of one nationality or another, and speaks Arabic. Arabic and Hebrew have similar word structures and similar ways to put together a sentence.

    What you are seeing in his phrasing is the way a Semitic sentence (whether Hebrew, Aramaic or Arabic) works. If I wanted to indicate that something was very sad, I’d use words in Hebrew that, when translated directly to English, would come out almost exactly to what he wrote “so much the big sad”.

    If it comes to traveling, I just cannot be bothered with bringing so much food as you. The only time we brought comfort food with us on a plane flight was when we brought packages of M&M’s and Oreos with us on our last flight from the States coming to Israel. Both M&M’s and Oreos are fantastically expensive here. Drugs do follow us everywhere, though; we’re both on medicines for various fun conditions. But we’re younger than you and our kids still live at home. One may wind up in the army, and that will leave us in the lurch in a lot of ways, but the other will probably take a course down the line to be a cook….

    Neither of us suffer from claustrophobia, and I could give a damn about in-flight movies and the like. I just sleep though the shit, or write in a notebook trying to budget what money we have (or more accurately don’t have) or play an ancient game of electronic solitaire or black-jack. We’re talking about thirteen hours from Chicago or Toronto to Tel Aviv, or vice versa…..

    But I agree with you. Aisle seats are best. an outstretched leg accidentally tripping a stewardess can provide lots of entertainment….

  • Ruvy, B-Tone, I doubt that ‘Mullah Cimoc’ is an Arab or located anywhere near Palestine.

    Just run his last name backwards…

    Whoever it is, he’s clearly very clever and may even have some knowledge of Arabic.

    I have my suspicions as to his identity, but had better keep them to myself, at least for now!

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Shit, B-tone, I shoulda thought of that!!

  • Hmmm,

    You guys obviously have a better handle on the Arab language thingy than I do. Maybe it is a reversal – comic – cimoc. Oh, well.

    I still like the turn of phrase.