My four June Wednesday offerings will cover different aspects of my recent trip to Germany.
Despite this being my fifth European trip, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m hardly savvy when it comes to the ways of life overseas. In so many ways, I’m the modern version of “the innocent abroad,” with the capitalized version of those three words being the title of Mark Twain’s book published in 1869 that chronicled his travels abroad on the great ocean side-wheel steamer the “Quaker City.”
For my money — in my case, a very reasonable 1,700 clams for the Globus coach eight-day tour that included airfare, eight meals, all admission tickets to our visited sites and, of course, the tour guide — that’s the best way to see Europe. On this trip, for my travel group, which included my travel agent Lady Jane and me, that meant seeing Berlin, Potsdam, Dresden, Weimar, Nuremberg, Rothenburg, Augsburg and Munich.
However, with the joys of travel and the opportunities to learn about history by seeing a section of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, The Bridge of Spies and so many other sights, including our visit to Dachau and its concentration camp that brought to the fore for me the horrors of the Holocaust, there are also those European uncertainties and annoyances.
After a pretty grueling nine-hour flight from Columbus, where coach seating is so much more cramped than it used to be, we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris three hours before our Air France connector flight to Berlin, plenty of time to guarantee we wouldn’t miss that connector, right?
Well, when the gate that’s printed on the boarding pass changes with no clear English-translated announcement we ever heard, we accomplished that with relative ease! By the time we realized it had changed and hustled down to the new gate, the gate had closed, and our plane was taxiing.
The hypertension with which I’m afflicted became a far more pressing issue as I waited in the Air France customer service line with a cluster of equally angry folks with their own issues. Fortunately, there was one more flight to Berlin four hours later, and we were provided tickets.
We arrived in Berlin several hours later than the rest of our group but in time for a jet-lag night’s sleep and our first group activity the next morning. As soon as I arrived at the Crown Plaza Potsdamer and checked in, I was reminded of the same idiosyncrasies I’d remembered on previous trips to a variety of other European countries.
In the elevator, called the lift, once entering an exceedingly small elevator cab, I recalled the main floor is “0,” with the basement being “-1” and the second floor being “1” and the third floor “2” and so forth. Of course, in my country, we have no -1’s on our elevators!
In the room, a room card is needed to activate the lights, this so there will be none of that leaving the TV on and hanging that “Do not Disturb” when you leave the room to fool potential crooks that so many of us do in the States. Europeans value energy far more than most of us wasteful Americans!
Of course there’s no ice bucket because, well, Europeans feel that, unless you sprain your ankle, you simply don’t need ice. Hotel rooms are far smaller compared to home, and I was prepped for the exceedingly long way down to the floor when getting out of the tub after my shower since I recalled that oddity on previous European junkets. Also, the electrical outlets are not the same as in America, but I was at least savvy enough to have brought my conversion plug to charge my iPad and phone.
While the oddities within European hotels are evident, many more await once you leave the hotel. Of course most menus were in German; there were those unfamiliar street signage; and there’s always that money thing with the euros, which has a fluctuating rate to the dollar. Making gratuity conversations to the standard 20 percent in America takes some thought assuredly.
Without a doubt, the most annoying European custom of which I was reminded was paying for public restrooms, either 50 euro cents or 70 euro cents. All I can say is, if you’re headed overseas for the first time, you’ll be wise to watch your fluid intake because very few “comfort stations” are free!
Fortunately, even at 66, I found out on my German adventure that I’m not too old to weather the oddities and annoyances of life beyond my beloved American soil. Now, I realize as my life’s road shortens, my world will, sadly, shrink, but, thankfully, that’s further down the road.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.