Sunday, June 15, 2008

hey kids--
sorry to leave you all hanging with the travel journal and the pictures for a week. Things have been bizzy bizzy in catering/restaurant land, and when I'm not at work I've been spending a lot of time in Dormont with my dad.
Completely out of the blue, his fiance passed away last week. He's still not sure what happened---since he was not yet "official" family the hospital/coroner can't tell him anything. Even though she has practically lived at his house for the past three years, and even though she was more or less out of touch with her sons and ex husband. It was just all very sudden and the layers of ugliness keep getting deeper.
For example, my father also RETIRED last week. So now he has plenty of time to sit alone and think about what he might have been doing with her. It's just an awful situation.
All us kids have been doing our best to visit and call regularly, and I am giving up a wedding job (thanks to my awesome co workers!) to go with him on a trip to Cleveland he had planned to do with her. My sister and her wife flew down last weekend for a visit, and our aunt and her friend came up this weekend from North Carolina.
Late last night I was having a talk with my aunt and she said "I always think maybe this year I'll feel like an adult, but then something happens and I feel like a kid again." This is one of those instances. I just feel so powerless to do or say anything really helpful. I guess the best I can do is try to keep in touch and visit more and see if I can get him out of the house now and again. Sigh.
Anyway, I am staying home tonight from the New York Dolls show free at the Arts Festival to have a little time alone to do dishes and laundry and internet. Hopefully I'll at least get some more pictures up tonight.
Thanks for your patience, interweb!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

24 May pt2

After naptime, Caroline made a delicious Japanese style curry with potatoes and carrots and onions and beef over rice. So good! She's got goodie boxes in her living room with stuff from Japan and America that she can't get in Germany. We had beer and then some little hazelnut candies, and then we bundled up and into the car for a trip on the Autobahn. The fast driving was a little disconcerting at first, but we quickly got used to it. In no time we were at the seaside town of Timmendorf. Caroline let us through a beautiful constitutional park where the invalids who had come to the sea for the air and salt water would take their evening walks. There as a bathhouse with mineral baths and lots o beautiful trees and paths around a lovely pond. We saw ducks and baby ducks and bunnies and baby bunnies! We walked quickly past the commercial area and out the pier to the sea. It was super choppy and some brave souls were body boarding! It must have been so cold! Yikes! The wind was strong and there was a slight chill in the air,but the northern sum was still in the sky. It was lovely.
All along the beach are these little private cabanas called beach baskets. You can rent them by the day and they have a little awning and seats and places to store your drinks. Ingenious. We were flabbergasted that we haven't ever seen the likes in America. In the evening the price goes down or sometimes it's completely free, and folks gather them around in a circle for a late night beach party. It looked like great fun.
We walked along the beach for a bit and looked at all the seaside cottages. The Asian follies of a fellow named Mikado. Then as it got dark we walked back to the commercial area and had some coffee and waffles in Caroline's favorite Italian cafe. The outdoor cafes there have these amazing heaters which are basically just columns of flame surrounded by a screen. They're very effective and dramatic. We were the only ones sitting in the Italian cafe, but next door at the place nicknamed "cafe Important" (because it's the place to see and be seen) it was hoppin. A strolling musician was entertaining the crowds with "Take Me Home Country Roads"(this song will follow us through Scandinavia...eek!) and the Hamburg soccer team anthem. Hee hee. We sat and gabbed for a while, and then it was time to head back. We basically poured ourselves into the bed.
24 May
We slept dreamily and Caroline woke us at 9:30am so we could go to the town market. We had showers and then coffee and strawberries out in the glorious sunshine on their back patio. The girls got over their shyness pretty quickly and started showing off on the bikes and swings and engaging in multiple costume changes. It's amazing to listen to the German-English integration in the household--everyone seems to slip between the two constantly. We finished ur coffee and fruit and then headed into the town center with Caroline.
The Trave river runs through the town and on into Lubeck, where we'll go tomorrow. The town center is a mix of very old buildings and newer ones, houses and shops mixed. Caroline said that the newer buildings are where the bombs dropped. Interesting to see that visual documentation of history. All the houses right on the river here have amazing gardens with lilacs and wisteria and other colorful fragrant flowers everywhere. Their Saturday market was bustling (it's also election weekend so there were even more people out than normal, and lots of Mormons doing the rounds too!)
We saw a woman selling giant stalks of spargel(white asparagus), lots of delicious produce and plants, meats, cheeses, pastry, eggs, and honey. Kind of like a souped up version of our farmer's markets. Everyone brings their own bags, and lots of people were on bikes with shopping baskets attached. The Maypole is still standing in the town center. There's a definite mix of old and new. Cobblestone streets, the ancient church, and a T Mobile shop across the lane. We waled the winding path around town and looked at some gardens, and then stopped into the grocery store for milk and beer (which you can buy per bottle right off the shelf.) Across the way from the town center parking lot is the youth hostel with a skate park and trailer parking attached. So cool.
Got back to the good news that our bag has landed! But it won't be delivered until evening. At least it's safe. The woman on the phone told Karsten "they found your teeth!" Ha.
Caroline put out a traditional northern Germany nighttime spread (we were originally going to have it last evening when we came in, until our flight changed)of black bread with butter, ham, salami, mountain cheese, shrimps and picked herring. All delicious. We had beer and wine and then Karsetn made coffee and we had some little chocolate wrapped cakes. Now it's naptime! Later today we'll drive past the cottage of the father of the Mennonites, and then onto the beach at the Baltic sea. Tomorrow we'll take a drive into Lubeck to check out the Medieval town! But not the Thomas Mann Museum......
Off to a rocky start. We got to the airport at the proscribed 2 hours early, and we were rewarded with being bumped to an earlier flight which was supposed to ease our international connection to London where we would get our flight to Hamburg. The guy at the desk who did the switch said that Newark had some weather delays, so switching us to the 1:40pm flight from the 3:48pm flight would give us more time.

So we got our water and went to the gate to wait. After about 40 minutes we hear that our 1:40 flight has been delayed to 3pm. I go to the counter and the guy(who is the same guy that did the switch downstairs by the way--this will be important in a minute) says that we are still in better shape than if we had been on the 3:28, which is still delayed. So I sit back down and wait some more.

Then we hear that the 3:28 flight has been cleared for takeoff from Newark, while the "earlier" flight is still on the ground. The estimated arrival time for that flight is now 5pm. A whole herd of us rush the ticket counter. We're all demanding to be put on the late flight, which is now earlier, to make our international connections(besides us, there was a woman going to Frankfurt, a guy going to Amsterdam, and another guy going to London Midlands)

The guy refuses! Instead, they make us all "emergency bookings" to....Madrid. And from Madrid to Heathrow, and from Heathrow to Hamburg. The emergency booking leaves Newark at 10pm and gets us into Hamburg at 7:30pm the next day (our booked flight would have gotten us in to Hamburg at 11:30am) But, he says, you'll probably have more than enough time to make it, so I'll leave you booked on the London flight too.

And so. The "later" flight, on which we were originally booked, comes and goes. We certainly would have made our London connection had we been on it. Instead, we got on the "early" flight 20 minutes later, and then sat on the tarmac for another half hour. Our actual flight time was short, but then we had to circle the runway for about 10 minutes while we waited for landing clearance in Newark. Long story short, after sprinting to the gate, we missed the London flight by about 8 minutes. They held it for us and the 8 or so others trying to make the connection from Pittsburgh for as long as they could.

So, now it's 7:15pm and we're at the Continental service desk with a bunch of other folks. Our agent is really nice but has to stop working with us about every 5 minutes to answer the questions of the other agents at the desk. He does alto of messing around on the computer, cancels our Madrid reservations, and puts us on an 8:15pm flight to....PORTUGAL! This flight was due to get in at 8:15am with a 9:30am connection to Hamburg, getting us in to Germany at about 1:30 in the afternoon.

So, we run to the Lisbon gate and get boarding passes, and then find out that boarding is delayed until 8:50pm. We go back to the counter to see if we can get bumped back to the Madrid flight, but it has since sold out. So 9:15pm rolls around and we finally board, then taxi on the runway for about 15 minutes. We are finally airborn at 10pm.

Nice things I can say about our international flight: some guys were traveling together and rearranged their seats so that rebby and I could sit together. Dinner and breakfast were not horrible.

Complaints about our international flight: no leg room, no free booze, the inflight movies were AWFUL, and half the radio stations didn't come in. Also, the young man who had the window seat in our row started pounding screwdrivers about halfway into the flight and then had to get up to pee every 20 minutes.

I lost track of time thankfully, but when they started to bring breakfast around we asked one of the flight attendants if there was any chance of us actually making the connection now that we were almost an hour late, had to do immigration and re-enter through security before we could board. He rather cavalierly said "It's a small airport, you'll be fine" and then added that he would have the announcer ask people to wait for those of us with connections to get off. He also shook his head and kind of smiled and said "you know that doesn't really do any good, though." Thanks dude.

And actually thanks for NOTHING because not only did no one make the announcement, but we also had to circle the airport in Lisbon for 10 minutes before being cleared to land. No one helped us to the gate AND we had to ride a bus to the terminal, which meant that we didn't even get inside until 9:50am. Rebby got stopped at security about her Bolex and had to unpack it and have it swabbed, and we somehow ended up in the wrong passport line which make the security agent cranky (he stamped us anyway, thankfully.) We got through and made a mad dash for our gate. When we got there, there was a line of people and we were hopeful that the flight had been delayed. Nope---those people were going to Paris.

So, we set out to find someone who could direct us to the Continental desk. We found a friendly Lisbon airport security guy who directed us to the Ground Force transfer desk because he was pretty sure that they handled Continental too. Rebby sat me down wit the luggage and waited in line for about half an hour....only to find that there actually is a separate Continental desk at the other end of the airport. We got some super shaky directions and headed off, only to get incredibly lost and frustrated.

Luckily, I spotted a help phone and rebby dialed Continental. For the first time we were helped by a woman and she was soothing and helpful. The first thing she said was "I've been waiting for you! Didn't my colleague at the gate flag you down and escort you to your plane?" This sent rebby into a rage. The nice woman told her how to get to the Continental desk where she was waiting with our new boarding passes and free lunch ticket.

We followed her directions without getting lost, and when we spotted the desk it was CLOSED. I nearly lost it there, but just when I started to wail the woman opened up the window and gave us our new info. She also let me call my German friends to tell them that we would be arriving approximately 12 hours later than originally scheduled. Ugh.

We had to go to TAP (air Portugal) to get our boarding passes, but we were all set. The plane departs at 17:45, and it was roughly 11:30am. We got some time to kill. We hung outside on the wall for a while with palm trees all around. It was really lovely, and if we hadn't been so shell shocked it would have been nice to walk down to the beach or check out the city. Rebby took out her towel and took a nap on the wall for a while, and a friendly European lesbian came up to us and gave us an extra bottle of mineral water she had that she couldn't take on the plane. We had some great sandwiches on Portuguese rolls in the airport cafe, and rebby had a free beer which helped calm her down quite a bit. I had a real no HFCS coca cola! What an intro to European travel. I never imagined in a million years that my first passport stamp would be Portugal!

The wait passed eventually--it was long and involved a lot of change of locale for sitting and sleeping. Eventually I broke down and got some Euros out of the ATM and we had tiny strong coffees in the outdoor cafe. Walked around a little more and then we settled at our gate with about an hour to wait before take off. We had to go through security AGAIN, and rebby figured out that removing the Bolex from the bag and putting it in it's own bin would remove a lot of suspicion. After about 20 minutes I got hungry and went off in search of a roll. I passed the info board for our gate on the way, and happened to notice that it read "Madrid now flight Paris at 8pm." I booked over to the Departure board and found that our gate number had been changed sometime in the 7 hours we had been sitting there. Oh shit.

I collected rebby and we ran over to the new gate. I set her down with the luggage and took my remaining Euros and cashed them in on some pizzas and another beer and coke. We had our snack and finally were called to board the TAP/Lufthansa flight to Hamburg. Oh happy day!

This flight ruled so hard. We were in an exit row with an empty seat between us (I think the TAP agent took pity on us) We had a delicious dinner of roasted beef and pork in wine sauce with fresh vegetables, a salad, two rolls, crackers, Brie, butter, chocolate mousse, wine, beer, and delicious coffee in little red plastic coffee cups. It was amazing.

The TAP flight from Lisbon to Hamburg arrived nearly half an hour early! What a great experience after all the missed connections. We got into a practically deserted airport and went to baggage claim, not very hopeful. I went to the lost luggage office while rebby went to the carousel to see if by chance our bag beat us to Hamburg.

The woman at the Lufthansa desk laughed heartily when I told her about our Continental nightmare. She said that they had made no note at all about the bag, but that it would probably arrive in a day or two and they would taxi it to our friend's house. I gave her the address info and what was in the bag (salad dressing, marshmallows, pie crust mix and a flashlight. ;) and told her about the key chain with teeth on the outside. She gave me a couple of Lufthansa "sorry Continental fucked up your luggage" packets with t shirts, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo and the badly needed Q-Tips. Much love to Lufthansa!

Out through the doors and there was Karsten, with a "Sheryl and Becky" sign and a big grin and huge hug and kiss. I hadn't actually seen him in about 15 years, but he looked exactly the same, just as Caroline said he would. She had packed a bowl of fruit and snacks and water for us for the ride home, and we had a pleasant trip.

Their house is lovely and comfortable and we were set up in Julia (the youngest daughter's) room. We settled in a bit and then had some late night drinks and conversation around the big dining room table. I was so happy to finally see their place after all these years, and of course so relieved to finally be over the travel nightmare.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I heard you missed us, we're back!

as David Lee Roth would say.
Our trip was amazing, too short, riddled with intrigue, and an eye opener. All that and more, as Stiv Bators would say.

Of course, all thoughts of spending hours in an internet cafe uploading blogs and pictures went out the window in the glory that was Berlin. I kept a journal for most of the trip though, and will reconstruct it here. I had originally set up a travel blog at but I can't get any of the features to work right so it's not worth the trouble of typing in somewhere else. I'll just copy it all here.
The pictures, if I don't manage to get them all into blog entries, are being slowly uploaded to FLICKR. I can send individual ones to you if you ask.

Now, on with the show!