This morning’s flight takes off without a hitch. It makes me wonder if American Airlines really part of USAir. And the flight crew? Really nice and friendly. I’m very confused. We land in Chicago where I fill my three hour layover with eating (again) and walking around aimlessly as I’ll be sitting for quite some time. As I haven’t slept much for many nights, I’m looking forward to getting on that Berlin bound plane and, hopefully, passing out.
After standing in line at the Air Berlin gate counter because, for some reason, they made most everyone get new boarding passes, I finally board and take my window seat. I’m in a two seat row and the seat next to me seems to be empty. Could it be that the travel gods are really being this kind? Perhaps they understand just how stressful these last two weeks have been. The flight attendant announces that we’re fully boarded and I nearly get my things out of my bag to spread-out in my luxurious two-seat row when I man coming from the restroom area drops his water bottle onto the seat. Darn, too good to be true.
I reset my watch to Berlin time (trust me, it helps with jet-lag if you immediately change and accept the new time zone and don’t use that whole, “It’s 4:00am my time”), take out my eye-shades and ear-plugs, pop a Melatonin and, before very long, I’m snoozing at 30,000 feet. I barely notice that anyone is sitting next to me.
While I’ve fairly successfully tuned out the screaming baby who is loud enough to hear clearly through my ear-plugs, I can’t ignore the, “Oh my God, it’s beautiful,” comment I hear at 2:00am. I take off my eye-shades, put on my glasses and look out the window. It should be pitch-black outside, but instead I see glowing on the horizon which seems to shift eerily, like the ebb and flow of the ocean. It’s the Northern Lights! The two people in front of me are staring outside and excitedly commenting, and I nudge the man next to me to let him know what we’re seeing. I even give up my seat for a few minutes so he can look. We’re all enthralled watching as they continue for about forty-five minutes. I look on the map on the TV display screen in front of me and notice that we’re just off the coast of Canada, close to Newfoundland. It’s another full-circle moment (note the location of the first Drop Me Anywhere trip). After a bit, the lights fade and the only excitement are those of us in our two rows helping the girl seated behind me try to find her glasses which she’s dropped.
Now that I’m up, I decide to watch a movie on the screen in the seat-back in front of me. My choice is Frozen, as I may just be the only person left in America (wait, I’m not there anymore) who hasn’t seen it. Yes, I used to work for Disney. I’d definitely give it four icicles, though I can’t understand why every child wanted to dress up like Elsa for Halloween when clearly Anna was the star.
I pass out for a little more sleep time before breakfast is served. I decide to start on another movie and choose an oldie but a goodie in Julie & Julia. I’d forgotten how much I liked this movie and I could totally relate to these two women, as I’ve described Drop Me Anywhere as Julie & Julia meets Eat, Pray, Love as told by Carrie Bradshaw. I land in Berlin inspired. If Julia Child can publish her first book at forty-nine and make her television debut at age fifty, oh, and also work for the OSS; and if Julie Powell can start a blog cataloging her attempts to cook Julia Child’s recipes, write the book and sell the movie rights, I can do this (I hope)!
We land just after 7:00am and it’s pitch-black outside. I put on my shoes, tuck away my eye-shades and ear-plugs, gather my pillow, two jackets, carry-on and backpack, and water bottle which falls out of my backpack as I bend over to pick up the jacket I drop. I look like I’m doing an impression of all Three Stooges. My Travel Ninja skills seem to have been left in America and I walk down the stairway with my head hung in shame. I soon step on the bus that takes us into the airport terminal.
Once inside, I stand in the long line for immigration. They’ve given us no blue customs forms which are usually distributed when flying to a foreign country. Apparently, Germany has eliminated this paperwork. I step up to the lady behind the glass at immigration looking confident. Channeling my inner Obi-Wan Kenobi, I use the Jedi Mind Trick to say, “You don’t need to see her return ticket.” It works! She hands me back my passport and, with a smile and a “Danke,” I’m off to claim my luggage.
After a twenty minute wait with many tired and cranky children flying back to see their grandparents for the holidays, I grab my bag and walk out the door. I’ve heard from the girl in front of me on the plane that I can get to my hotel via a fifteen-minute bus ride and one stop on the train. With this continuing trip being sponsored by the sale of my personal items as well as my savings account, I’m interested in any chance to save some money so I decide this is a better option than a taxi. It’s also a chance to show you, my Virtual Travel Buddies that foreign public transportation isn’t normally as scary as you may think.
I meet many really nice people who direct me to the correct bus, the stop to catch the train, the right train, and the train stop. While speaking to the man on the train, I tell him about my project and that it involves a volunteer opportunity. I ask if he has a favorite charity as, perhaps, I can find a volunteer opportunity there. He tells me that he doesn’t work in that business. I explain that it’s not a business opportunity I’m looking for, but a charity or something similar. He goes on to say that he doesn’t work in travel so he doesn’t know. Hmmmm, his English seems good but I think something is getting lost in translation.
I depart the train at the first stop and find more nice people to point me in the direction of my hotel. I walk down cobblestone streets making a racket as my luggage bounces along behind me. I’ve dragged my luggage around for some time now and am glad when I see the sign for Berlin Plaza Hotel across the street. It’s 9:00am when I arrive and I’m informed that I cannot check-in until 12:00. I have my doubts that the hotel is full and really feel that they’re just sticklers for rules. Regardless, I smile and politely ask to store my bags so I can find someplace to eat.
I walk two doors down to find Carisma Bakery where I sit for a couple of hours writing while having a very civilized hot tea, yogurt, muesli and fruit. I feel some very unhealthy food coming my way at the Christmas markets and decide to pace myself.
At 11:40 I take the chance and head back over to the hotel and speaking with the “charming” (the term is used loosely) man at the desk who issues my key, opens the luggage storeroom and points me to my room, to sleep, per chance to dream.
Tonight, I head to the Christmas market to partake in the all-important Glüwein, which you have voted for and I must therefore drink as it’s my duty.