This year, a cruise of Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea with a few days in Germany beforehand. The cruise hits a bunch of countries I've been dying to see, especially Denmark, Sweden and Russia. And Berlin has also long been on my list, though we're there for only eight hours or so, so this will give us the briefest of tastes.
We left Monday on a United flight out of O'Hare at 2:45 PM, to arrive in Frankfurt at about 5:45 AM the next day. We were a bit delayed out of ORD by a paperwork snafu (Captain was on the PA telling us that the company had apparently lost 12,000 lbs. of something and they were trying to account for it. Not too big a deal on an 800,000 lb. airplane, but still something to be tracked down.) and touched down in Germany a little after 6:AM Tuesday. The 777 on the way over was very nice. We paid a bit extra for a couple inches more legroom, and we got a little row of two for ourselves near an exit. Nice. I have to wonder at their system that allows individual control of nearly 400 video screens, one for each seat. They all seemed to work fine, and you could choose from a bunch of movies and other options. Cool.
(Less cool is United's bungling of our reservation--made five months ago--on our return flight from Amsterdam. We again bought a little extra legroom and got our seats in a little row of two, only to find upon checking the reservation a day before we left that our seats were now widely separated. When we called to correct the problem, they said there was nothing to be done. A second call the next day took over 81 minutes and resulted in... the complete cancelation of our reservation. Both ways. The agent was clearly somewhere on the Indian subcontinent and our problem placed her quite out of her depth. A third call immediately afterward, this time to an American agent, reinstated our original reservation and seats on the outbound flight, but there was alas nothing to be done about the return flight ("Unfortunately, sir, I cannot make seats materialize where there are none." True enough.) She found seats together without the extra legroom further back in the airplane, and she waived the extra-legroom fee for both flights, but that was as much as could be done. She said there clearly had been a mistake by another agent, but that there were no remedies available since there were no more seats. Since there is absolutely nothing else we might have done to prevent this, it gives one little faith that I won't experience this every time: we booked well in advance; we paid extra to be in specific seats, and we checked our reservation before departing. The only thing we could do is check it again and again to catch the mistake immediately, but even then we have to assume there were still other seats available in our section when the mistake occurred; if not, we're in the same pickle. Anyway. Air travel sucks.)
We took a cab from the Frankfurt airport to the Manhattan Hotel right across the street from the main train station. The cab--a late model E-Class Mercedes--should have been the most mundane of things, but I'm frankly amazed at how solid and fabulous the Mercedes was. A frickin' cab ride! Even Susan was impressed. The hotel was nice enough. Oddly shaped--it seemed to be a couple buildings cobbled together and not originally intended as a hotel--there was no air conditioning and it had only a single, tiny lift. Also, virtually everybody at the front desk seemed to hate their lives. They were helpful enough, but it clearly pained them to be.
We had two days in Frankfurt. After a nap on day 1, we headed over to the train station to look around. It's a spectacular building and a fantastic place for people-watching. And there's lots of good portable food. I had a currywurst and Susan a cheese sandwich from Le Crobag (Crobac?). Very tasty. And from there we just walked around. There is a big shopping district that I had seen from my previous visits, and also a great historic square with old buildings on the perimeter.
One especially cool place we saw was Schweizer Strasse, just across the river on the South side from the financial section of town. Clearly an expensive part of town, there were a whole bunch of whimsical boutiques and great high-end shops. But strangely configured: we saw a lingerie shop that also sold coffee, and another antique-y shop that sold cured meats. Bizarre. Susan's favorite was TeeDeUm, a great little accessories place with a bunch of bulk wines and oils. You could buy one of a bunch of great little glass containers and fill it with the stuff of choice. There were outdoor cafes all through the area, and it felt like THE place to live in the city.
Thursday morning we caught our train at 8:15 AM from Frankfurt to Cologne, about a 90 minute trip. We were in second class, but there was plenty of room and the train was awesome. Whisper quiet and very fast and new and sparkly clean, this just seems like the perfect way to travel. There is food onboard and decent bathrooms and the scenery is fabulous. I'm amazed at how lazy 40-50 mph feels and how normal 200 mph feels.
How often I have sat in the Cologne train station having my lunch and watching the world go by, and it seems so odd now to come into that station on a train from somewhere else. We caught a cab for the short ride from the Hauptbahnhoff over to the Maritim and dropped off our bags. Then off for a foot tour. But it appears we stumbled upon a German holiday, Father's Day, and everything was closed. Well, everything except for the bars. We hit the train station for a currywurst and then headed out for a long walk. Father's Day seems to differ here from what we think of. Father's Day in the US is a chance for dad to man the grill and hang out with the family. In Germany, not so much: Father's Day is a chance for men to band together in large hordes of jovial drunkenness and rinse and repeat until someone has to cart you home in a wheelbarrow. There was a wine festival going on in the square across from the hotel (I saw this last year too) and between that and Father's Day there were tens of thousands of people out drinking themselves to oblivion. But everybody was having a good time and the mood was festive. Today should be called Hangover Day.
(A fantastic mall downtown FRA. Very expensive architecture.)
(Looking from the sixth floor down toward the street.)
(Dude's carrying a grill! The Germans love they sausages.)
(Fruit & veggie seller along Schweizer Strasse.)
(Not sure about these trees, but they're everywhere in FRA.)
(Part of the old city wall.)
Next up: Cologne with my Sweet Pea!
ADDENDUM: Susan reminded me that we saw a park in the financial section of Frankfurt that looked to have a large Occupy contingent camped out. As we walked around the town there were far more polizei than I would have expected, and a merchant told us later that this weekend is slated for a gigantic demonstration in Frankfurt against the banking industry and the police were pouring in from neighboring towns in the thousands. We see this morning (Sat.) that things there are tense and battle lines are drawn.