The tips studied, the bags packed, and the potential disruptions successfully avoided, at last we departed for Berlin. We left late afternoon from the East Coast. After a stop in Atlanta, natch (when you live in the southeast, you always stop in ATL), we got down to business. Our next stop was Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, then, finally, Berlin mid-afternoon the following day.
What a contrast between the 40-minute puddle-jumper from Columbia to Atlanta and the massive Air France winged beast taking us to Paris! This was my first time on Air France. The flight attendants were impeccably dressed, hair and makeup to perfection in the European style - barely there but perfect (the makeup, not the uniforms!). They all appeared to be multilingual. It was delightful listening to them chatter among themselves in French, then assist passengers in a variety of other languages. Air France even had a charming short film communicating our safety instructions via the small video screens embedded in the back of each head rest.
I must admit I slept very little during the seven or so hours of trans-Atlantic flight time. Some things that surprised me:
- How uncomfortable the seats were. It was like trying to sleep on a cheap sleeper sofa, the kind with the metal bar right across your back placed strategically to be as uncomfortable as possible. It was plenty dark, and relatively quiet. But those seats!
- Our route was projected on the video screen, so we could track our progress if we chose. If one assumes it was accurate, we basically hugged the coastline of North America until it was just a short hop over to the British Isles, then over to Paris. We weren't that far from land relatively speaking until that little bit between northeastern Canada and England. I guess I thought we would fly a straight shot from Atlanta to Paris, not up to New York, Newfoundland, and so
forth. People tell me due to the curvature of the earth the route we took is more efficient. I couldn't help but think of the ancient mariners who kept the shoreline in sight as long as possible.
- My goodness, they feed you on these long flights! And we were in economy! Meals and snacks were plentiful. By the time the last one was served not long before we landed, I seriously was thinking, 'enough, already!'.
We arrived on time in Paris, where we got our first-ever passport stamps - yay! No lines, very simple. If only all of our air travel interactions were so easy. . . Next (and final, thank goodness!) stop: Berlin.
We were greeted by a wonderful sight at Berlin airport: the smiling faces of my daughter and son-in-law. Somehow we had arranged to arrive within an hour of each other, even though they traveled separately from us as well as each other. So we piled into a cab together and headed to our hotel. I was not prepared for the insanity of a Berlin cab ride. Screeching brakes, rude gestures, loud exclamations - what an exciting welcome!
Much of Europe was experiencing a heatwave during our trip. Berlin was warm and sunny. We were too excited to sleep off the jet lag. So we hit the town on foot. Our daughter and son-in-law had been to Berlin the previous year on one of his gigs; in fact, they had stayed at the same hotel we were at this time. So they knew the area pretty well. We walked around the corner and hit the first cafe we found for a surprisingly cold stein of German pilsner. Another travel myth busted: the beer is not warm over there!
We continued our stroll and found a delightful restaurant in a park and had Swiss-style bratwurst, sauerkraut, and the German version of mac-n-cheese for dinner. Our best surprise was discovering one can stroll the town with an adult beverage in hand, purchased very reasonably from one of the many corner convenience stores. Berlin must believe in that adage about having only one chance to make a great first impression.
More on Berlin in the next post!