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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Getting to Germany…

Day 150 - 158


October 27 - November 4, 2010

So I arrived safely in Spain…I had 8 hours before a flight to Germany.  My original ticket brought me out of Jordan and into Spain but I would be traveling to Germany to see Martha and Yaya; one of many side trips I would be doing. I found a relatively good price to Frankfurt Hahn via Ryan Air.  I had the option of spending time in Spain before flying to Germany but because I was trying to see Yaya before she went back to Hawaii, I was on a schedule; it was also easier to fly right out since I was already there at the airport.

The biggest obstacle though was getting my bag under 15kg = 33 lbs.  Ryan Air is a budget airlines from the UK that is known to offer ridiculously low fares but obtaining a ticket requires you to purchase everything piecemeal. Check-in luggage sells for 15 ($20), web check-in is another €5, using a credit card to make payment, another €5…and the list goes on…I think you can save a great deal of money going through them but in exchange, you take on a great deal of stress…if your bag is not under 15kg, you will be charged for overweight luggage which comes out to about €5/kg.  In addition, you are able to take on ONLY one carry-on. Not a purse and a backpack, not even a book and a backpack! Everything must go into one piece of luggage not exceeding 10kg (22 lbs.) - though honestly I think the carry-on allowance is fairly generous.

Traveling around the world for a year, I am carrying my life on my back…I forgot who it was but someone equated me to a turtle! No denying, I am a packrat so I save all the brochures and receipts and free things I have collected along the way…not a good idea when you have to carry everything on your back.  So, in the 8 hour layover that I had in Madrid, I decided to reorganize my bag and throw out whatever I didn’t need to reduce my baggage weight. I won’t even tell you how difficult this was for me! I had to separate with things that I thought I would possibly use later: shampoo, salt and pepper, old receipts…but I did it. 

The other trick that I implemented was that I would wear as much clothes as I possibly could so that it would be on me and not in my bag.  I think I must have had about 5 shirts on - tank top, under shirt, long sleeve shirt, another tank top, blouse and a jacket tied around my waist…then two pairs of socks, my leggings, long johns, jeans…I also wore about 3 necklaces and maybe even my beanie hat.  Oh my goodness, was I hot?! But, to make the clearance and have all my things with me, I needed to do it. Thus is the sacrifice sometimes…I also wore my other heavier jacket (not mentioned above), with my binoculars, power convertor and some other things that were quite heavy but small in my pockets.  I’m glad that it was winter otherwise it would have been very questionable that something was wrong with me! My excuse, I decided - if I were asked - was that I was from Hawaii and I get cold easily!

The moment of truth came when I had to check-in…luckily I just made the clearance by 1 kg! I was so tired having had to wait for 8 hours and only having a short Amman - Madrid flight that I tried to get some rest on the plane.  It didn’t help that my flight to Frankfurt Hahn was only a little over 2 hours!

I would be getting in a little after 10:00PM and it was going to get busier! There was some confusion with where I was flying to and how I was getting myself to Bamberg which was the station near Martha’s town. With Martha’s help, I found a ticket to Bamberg that would leave early the following morning but because accommodations in the area is expensive, thought that I would just sleep at the airport; I figured this would be the most comfortable and affordable!  But because Frankfurt Hahn is a small airport and my train started from the main airport, I decided that I would make my way there.  Frankfurt Hahn is a ways away from the main airport (about an hour), so I needed to buy another shuttle ticket to the main airport. The shuttle ticket that I purchased was the last one for the evening and because my flight was delayed, I almost missed it!  The shuttle I had would travel first to the main airport and then eventually terminate at the main train station.

We arrived at the main airport about an hour later and I actually got off the bus and showed the driver my train ticket to see if I needed to get off there. . The driver looked at my ticket and said ‘not yet’'…so I got back on the bus. We drove another 20 minutes or so and then I was at the main train station. When I got there, the main bus station looked uh, closed?! It was a little after 12:30AM and I soon realized that I really should have gotten off at the airport (original plan) and not go to the main train station! Now I was stuck at the main train station which was a bit of a ways from the airport. If I wanted to go back to the main airport, the only way to go would be by taxi and it would cost me 20. I imagined the steel chairs that would have been my bed that night….

So, I decided to walk around and see if there was somewhere I could go like a 24-hour restaurant or something. About 200m away, I found a light on and found that it was a convenience store. I hadn’t eaten all day (in Madrid, I couldn’t bring myself to pay airport prices for crap food) so I went in. Things were still expensive though as the value of the dollar had been on a steady decline since my departure almost 6 months ago and everything priced in Euro just seemed extremely overpriced to me. I started talking to the guy working there, Nati, and found out that the convenience store doubled as an internet cafĂ©! Yeehaw!  Right around the corner, there were several computers set up.  Since I realized that I was now stuck here (I could go back to the airport to sleep but that would be too expensive especially when I could have gone there for free!)

The guys at the shop, especially Nati, were really nice to me and tried to help me set up my computer so that I could also access the internet there. They also tried to see if my train would be coming through the main station and if I could just get it from there or if I needed to purchase another ticket first thing in the morning so that I could go back to the  main airport and start my journey to Bamberg. According to what they found on the internet, it was a different train so they told me that I should take an early train back to the airport to ride my train there. In the meantime, I also called our mutual friend Jen to see if she had Martha’s phone number.  All this planning and coordinating but I didn’t have Martha’s number!

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I was soooo tired….remember, I only slept from 1AM-4:30AM in Amman, then a 4 hour flight to Madrid, then an 8 hour layover, then a 2 hour flight to Germany and now I was being tortured with nowhere to sleep!  So I tried to keep myself occupied and filled my time on the internet, which as you can imagine wasn’t too hard.  Nati was also kind enough to offer me coffee and some of his pizza dinner.  I am so lucky that the store was there and that Nati was nice enough to make my time there pleasant.

Before I knew it, it was 5AM and I was tipped that there was a 6AM train that went from the main station back to the airport. So I made my way down there early so that I knew where I would go and that I wouldn’t miss the train; I would only have 20 minutes between arriving on the first train and my actual train. When I went to inquire about the train though the staff there told me that I should just wait for my train to come down. He said that it was the same train so I needn’t worry and just get on when it arrives at 7:11AM. So, I ended up waiting for my train for another couple of hours, even falling asleep on the chairs, in the open station, with all my things.

I got on my train and everything was fine and dandy until an hour or so into the ride then I had a connection and needed to switch trains and platforms. I had 5 minutes so I thought it wouldn’t be too bad. WRONG! My train came in late and so when I finally got to the other platform, my train was already gone. I was freaking out because I didn’t know how I was going to let the girls know that I missed my train. I had no computer, no internet.  I decided then to switch on my US phone - I had only used it once before - to send a text message to Jen to see if she could let the girls know.  The police at the train station advised me that I could just get on the next train 15 minutes later so that’s what I did. 

It wasn’t too much further to Bamberg and an hour or so later I was there!  I really hoped they’d be there waiting because I still didn’t have a phone number! I walked out of my train and towards the exit and just then I saw the two sisters, and Martha’s cute little son Nate.  It was good to see all of them and of all places in Germany!  Martha and her family left Hawaii in the summer of ‘09 so it was more than a year since I saw them. And you always feel like the time that has passed is exaggerated when you see the little kids now much bigger.

After they met me, we drove around her town. You’d have heard of Bamberg if you watched the movie Valkyrie (produced by a friend’s husband….local boy from Hawaii!) because Tom Cruise’s character originally hails from this town.  It was a nice, quaint town, very representative of a European city though for some reason it felt more like Amsterdam to me…We enjoyed the town but more importantly, each other’s company.  It was nice to be able to hang out with old friends, especially from home…there’s just something to be said when you share a connection with someone from a place so dear to you.

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Yaya and I only spent 3 days together because she had to go back to Hawaii! I would have wanted to arrive sooner and spend more time with the sisters but I also knew that they had a lot of catching up to do. We tried to make the most of our time together and on Yaya’s last night even ventured out to a club!  Because it was on the eve of Halloween, there were many people dressed up in their costumes but it wasn’t just their costumes that made them interesting.


We didn’t stay at the club too long, it was a bit much, and we had to get Yaya to the airport because she said her flight 5:00AM and Frankfurt main airport was 2 hours away.  So they drove and I passed out in the back seat.  We got there in good time only to find out that Yaya got her times mixed up and that the flight was actually at 9AM!  Fortunately they allowed her to check in and we decided to have breakfast at Mc'D’s while we waited for the Admiral’s Club Lounge to open at 7:30AM.  An exclusive (i.e. expensive) lounge membership that I purchased in 2010, I was excited to use it for the third time this year!  I expected to use it more often but the airports that I went through did not have a lounge so I was glad that I was able to take advantage of the membership and bring in my 3 friends and Nate!  It was sad to say good-bye to Yaya but at least I got to spend the 3 days with her and catch up; it was just what I needed!

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The other highlights of my time in Germany were Martha’s cooking and all the American stuff!  Martha reminds me a lot of our friend Jen (who coincidentally she says, is her inspiration) and how she likes to cook and cooks home-style recipes with lots of heart.  While I was there, she made a lot of local dishes that reminded me of home….just what I needed after traveling for 5 months - now the longest I have ever traveled continuously.  She also introduced me to Tocino which is this really flavorful Filipino bacon that I never knew existed and exactly what my body needed after 6 weeks in the Middle East with no pork!  I was really upset at all my Filipino workers for holding out on this vital information! I want to eat more when I go back to Hawaii now.  She even baked chocolate Reese’s peanut butter cookies for me since she knew I loved that combo! I had lost about 5-6 pounds so far and visiting Martha in Germany was not helping the figure!

Also because Martha’s husband Elijah is in the military, we went to the base almost everyday! I had access to familiar stuff that either I missed or ran out of and at prices I was familiar with.  I got to restock on some snacks that I missed (cheetos, fritos, nutter butter, reese’s peanut butter cups, etc…) and other things essentials like contact solution. One day Martha even drove us to the base an hour away to eat Taco Bell! It’s terrible but I really do miss Taco Bell and all that fake cheese! I know it’s not ironic but it was really nice to ‘go home’ in Germany.


One of the days there I also decided that I needed to purchase a new backpack because my Millet (French) bag which I purchased in 2001 was falling apart and was probably not going to make it with me till the end.  I loved my Millet and it knew my body so well that even if I was carrying 30 pounds, I could barley feel the weight on my back.  We went to an outdoor store nearby and I found a comparable bag. I really didn’t want to get it but I knew I should and didn’t really have a choice.  It was a bit easier too because in the end I got the bag for almost 30% off and cost me only about $150.  I also got to pick up some travel supplies like concentrated soap to wash anything from clothes, to dishes, to your hair! And this other hand soap in the form of thin sheets that with water would produce a nice lather. This would be convenient because most places I have traveled to, there was never any soap!

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Finally, I was even there to celebrate Halloween! I dressed up in my Syrian dress that one of the guests at Bdeiwi gifted to me and decided that I would be Jasmine from ‘Aladdin’. The dress was really long so I kept tripping.  It was also really thin and probably not the best thing to wear out on a cold autumn day but for free candy, I was going to do it! I trick-or-treated with Nate and their friend’s children on base.


It was a short but well needed visit with Martha, Elijah, Nate and Yaya.  When I left I left with a whole lot of stuff that I didn’t have when I got there, even after sending some things back with Yaya and mailing a box (flat rate through USPS) back.  Aside from the goodies I bought, Martha and Elijah also gave me a camelbak which is a small backpack with a water hydration system…basically there is a pouch that you fill up with liquid, usually water, and you can sip it through a tube.  Peter from my trip in Jordan had one and convinced me that I wanted one too!  They also gave me a really good (sharp) pocket knife, glued my shoes together and gave me an extra charger for my iphone case (which I lost in Jordan) and a new screen protector for my iphone.  Thanks guys!  So now I was set and ready to continue on my journey! Thank you Martha, Elijah, Nate and Yaya for a great time in Germany; mainly for welcoming me so warmly and feeding my face! I can’t wait to see you guys again soon! Tschouss!