Adventures in England: Part 1
Okay, I had a nice, five day weekend in-between my "language course" and real classes, so I figured this was a good time to travel. Girlfriend Liz was in Bristol, England, and this seemed as good a time as any to go pay her a visit. She got me set up with a Youth Hostel in the neighborhood of her dorm, and I got myself set up with a plane ticket, via local student-travel agent Frank.
The way this is supposed to work in Germany is thus: you go to the travel agency, you tell them you'd like to buy a ticket to London. You and Frank work out the details, when you leave, when you arrive and so on. He prints out an itinerary on his computer, and he takes down your address.
A week goes by. An envelope arrives, with a bill, a form with all of Frank's info, and a nice form letter from Frank. You take the bill and the form with you to the bank, and you put your information on there. It now has: Frank's name, his account number in the bank, his bank's name, his bank's magic number, your name, your account number in the bank, your bank's name and magic number, the amount you need to pay, and why you're paying it.
You give this to the nice lady at the bank, and she gives you a carbon copy of the above mentioned form. You go home.
You wait. Someday, ticket arrives in mailbox, and you go on trip.
...unless you need the ticket quickly, in which case you're supposed to FAX Frank a copy of the carbon paper receipt that proves you really did wire him the money, then Frank mails you the ticket, and you go on trip.
Which, of course, is the part of all this that COMPLETELY slipped by me. So, Tuesday afternoon, I'm thinking, "Gee, I'm leaving tomorrow, and I don't have a ticket yet... that could be bad?" So I went to discuss this with the friendly neighborhood International Students Office. They helped me call Frank to find out that, in fact, it was my fault because I was supposed to have faxed Frank my receipt, and I didn't realize that.
Okay, so Frank is going to "Express mail" me the ticket, and it will be in my hands by 8 o'clock the next day. Except, me and the ladies of the friendly neighborhood International Students Office look up the train schedule on the web, and for me to get to Köln (Cologne) in time, I'd have to leave Mittweida by 11 that night. We called Frank back.
Somehow while I was at lunch, Frank determined (by Ouija-board, maybe?) that the only way for this to work would be for me to fly out from Munchen at 9pm, arriving in Heathrow at 10pm. I needed some time to think about it, and Frank said he had to know within half an hour.
This presented two problems. One, I had no way of contacting Elizabeth at this point in time. I had no address for her dorm, no phone number for her or her university, and substantial doubts that she had found a computer lab. She was supposed to be meeting me at the train station in Bristol (Bristol is three hours from London) when I was supposed to be getting in around 5pm. I was worried about how to let her know that things had changed. Problem Two was that I wasn't exactly confident about getting from London to Bristol at that time of night. I did a quick check on the web, and I could get on a train leaving London about the right time, but it would drop me off someplace called "Swindon" at the end of its nightly run, and I would pick up a train from there five hours later.
I wasn't relishing the thought of staying in the train station for five hours overnight, but without a way of contacting Liz, it was my only option. IF I could get ahold of Liz, though, I might be able to take a bus or taxi, that would get me into Bristol directly, and I wouldn't have to spend the night in the train station. I decided I'd tell Frank to book the tickets, and "Express Mail" 'em to me right away. So, Frank did.
I rushed over to the computer lab to send Liz a desperate email, telling her about the change in plans and trying to get a telephone number, address ... something so I could get in touch with her once I was there. Then I went home.
Waiting for me at home, is a note from "Overnight Express Courier Service" saying something like "We tried to deliver Package #xxxx, at 5pm, but no one was home. Call (xxxx)xxxxxxxx and schedule a later appointment." That made me mad. I immediately assumed that it was the ticket. That made me mad because I figured I had known that they could have gotten the tickets to me by 5pm, I would've stayed with the flight from Köln and not had to worry about this mess with the train and taxi and train station! I guess I can give Frank some credit for trying to present the worst-case scenario, but ... Grrr!
So, I go try to call the Courier company. First problem is that I have to find a phone that takes coins, because I don't have a long-distance phone card. Once I solved that problem, I fed in some money (too little, I found out quickly) and dialed.
I said, "Ah, you have a letter for me?" They said, "Is this Wehner?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Mittweida? Oh... I won't be there soon." I said, "Oh." And realized I was running out of money on the phone. I tried to put some more in. He said, "When would you like it?" And I ran out of money.
I put some more in (too much, this time) and dialed. I said, "Wehner again. Sorry." He said, "When do you want it?" I said, "Tomorrow. 8 o'clock." He said, "Morning?" I said, "8. Morning." He said, "No way. Too early. How about between 10 and 11?" I said, "Ten at the latest!" He said, "Hmmm... Is there someone else I can leave it with?" I said, "Okay." He said, "Its an apartment, right?" I said, "Yes." He said, "There should be someone I can leave it with?" I said, "Okay." He said, "Fine. Good. All clear."
I was not so clear. I had spent way too much money on this phone call, and I hadn't really gotten what I'd wanted. I wasn't sure how hard he was going to try to get it to me by 10am the next day, and I wasn't too sure that he was going to get it to me at all. Grrrr...
The group of us were meeting for dinner that night, and just before meeting up with them, I rushed back into the lab to check my email once more. I had _one_ email from Liz. It was from her at Bristol, but she obviously hadn't gotten my emails concerning the change of situation. I was being rushed by the group, so I wrote a quick note back, warning her about the new plans. While I was at dinner, she wrote and gave me her phone number, address and we synched up on plans.
After dinner, I called her from another payphone, with a card I'd bought from Brian. We synched up plans, and I realized how stupid it had been of me not to find out if there was an airport in Bristol. D'OH! There is, of course.
So, I went to bed.
The next morning, I got up, shaved, brushed my teeth, and ate breakfast. Then I went downstairs and sat down. Right on the front stairs. I took a few books with me, I figured I had a long wait. I figured there was NO way anybody was going to fail to deliver the ticket this time.
I had info on trains to Munich. The last one I could get that still got me into the airport on time left Mittweida at 11:47am. I had to have the ticket by then. I wanted to go on the one at 10:00am, because Anne, one of my friends from the language course was going to Munich on that train, and it would make the trip more interesting. Plus, she had a lot of luggage, and I would have liked to have helped her carry it. I would have liked help carrying my luggage when I came here, so I figured I'd help.
That wasn't to be. I was waiting on the steps of my building from quarter to 8am, until 11:22, when the ticket finally arrived. I paused long enough to make sure it was, in fact, the right ticket, then started running toward the train station. Encumbered with my backpack, though, running didn't last very long. I arrived at the train station with 8 minutes to go, and bought a ticket to Munich for 70DM. I didn't even want to worry about tickets back... I just wanted to GO.
The only interesting thing about the train ride to Munich, was that I started getting curious about half-way through the ride as to how I was going to get to the airport from the train station. Looking in the little booklett they give you on the train, which has some basic connection information, I saw that there was a sub-way connection to the airport that would get me there about an hour before my flight departed. That looked a little late to me, so I was getting worried.
Then I noticed that from Freising, which is one stop before Munich on the line, there was a bus connection that got me into the airport two hours before my flight left. I wasn't too sure about Freising, though. I had been to Munich before, and I felt reasonably comfortable (hah!) with the train system there. I had never been to Freising, and I wasn't too sure how to handle getting a bus.
Well, I decided it was worth an hour's gamble... I got off in Freising, bought a packet of gum to make sure I had change for the bus, then found the bus depot. Finding the route to the airport was pretty easy, actually, because it was well marked, with a neat little plane icon. The bus was strange, though. There was a poster inside which said I was flying out of Terminal D. First bus stop was Terminal A. Nobody got off. Second was Terminal B. One person got off. Third was marked "Central Area," and everybody besides me (INCLUDING the bus DRIVER) got off, and a whole new bus load of people got on. I wasn't too sure, but I hadn't seen Terminal D yet.
I wasn't sure what to do exactly, but I figured that if I got off here, I might be walking a long way, and if I waited to see what happened next, I might maybe end up at Terminal B. If the worst happened, and I wound up back in Freising, it was not a long bus ride, and I could just ride back up and get off at "Central Area" next time.
Well, the bus driver came back out eventually (maybe he went to the bathroom?) and we got going and ... the next stop was Terminal D.
I got off the bus, and found my way to the ticket counter (it was not very well labelled, though... there was no way to distinguish one airline from another) and the lady started asking me in German whether I wanted an aisle or window. I was trying to remember how to answer, when she says, "Is English better?" I said it was. She apologized, and said, "I just assumed with the last name..." I thought that was funny.
Anywho, I found the gate okay, and went to buy a Coke and a candy bar, because I was already very hungry and figured I wouldn't be eating much soon. Then, when I was buying my candy bar, I heard the announcement for a flight to "Blah-Blah" leaving from my gate, so I thought it sounded like it could be "Lon-Don," so I ran back to the gate and got in line to board...
Then I noticed it was an hour and a half before my flight was supposed to board. Then I noticed the sign above the gate was flashing "Ham-burg" not "Lon-Don". Sheepily, I got out of line and sat down to eat my chocolate bar.