So, I’m in Germany. Flensburg to be exact. It’s a small city (town?) just south of Denmark (or Dänemark according to my map here).
Why am I here? I’m on a business trip to help a client pass some tests on their new product. Interesting thing is, they have rules that state they cannot be open on Saturday or Sunday, but working a 16 hour shift for 5 days rightly counters the “lost productivity” argument. Although, I am unsure if anyone there actually does work 16 hours a day but I guess I will find that out next week. The best I’m able to do I think was the 14 hour day I did on Friday. By the end of it I was barely able to make coherent sentences and typing up a one page email took the better part of an hour.
So how did I get here? That’s a fun story that I have loads of time to tell. Let me divulge the great tale.
I found out I was heading out here on Monday morning and I was a great candidate for it since I was already planning a vacation to London and Paris following the time needed by the trip. The idea was that I could bump up my flight to London a week and a half and then take the rest of the trip to Flensburg on the client’s dime. I would then travel back to London to meet up with Jo and start our vacation.
Unfortunately, there was some bungling with Jo and I’s Visa cards as we both switched to Dividend cards and this caused Air Canada to be unable to charge the change fee and thus not issue my eTicket. This was fixed by an hour call to AC Customer Service a few hours before I was leaving to catch my flight. Of course, the self service check-in complained that I had unpaid fees and told me to see a CSR. The girl said that I had to line up and visit the Customer Service area to sort out the ticket cost as it was preventing my boarding pass from becoming valid.
After waiting for 10 minutes for someone to actually be at the Customer Service desk I was told that I really should be visiting Ticketing, which was hidden behind the desk… with a ten person line-up that seemed to be not moving very quickly. A half hour later I managed to talk to the first helpful AC employee of the day. He told me that because I switched Visa numbers on the phone that this song and dance was basically a security check to make sure it was not a fraud situation. He then issued me a real boarding pass and told me that my seat would be assigned at the gate. The last thing I wanted was to be on a 9 hour flight stuck between two people I don’t know and silently prayed for an aisle seat.
The London flight was rather busy and there wasn’t much seating at the gate even though I was almost 1.5 hours early. Sure enough, even more people showed up as the flight time approached. I was given the choice of a middle seat or an aisle seat and spent a few seconds not wondering about which to take, but rather why someone would actually think you would want to be stuck between two people???
The flight took off barely 15 minutes late, which I assume is early for Air Canada based on statements friends of mine have made in the past. Not 10 minutes into the flight an old guy a row back started snoring and I looked back at the girl sitting next to him. I caught her eye for a second and gave a sympathetic look as she rolled her eyes. I was pretty glad I wasn’t in her seat. I put on my headphones and watched an episode of 24 on my iPod. Man, Jack Bauer is a super hero.
The in-flight movies were Dreamgirls, The Red Violin, and Freedom Writers. I watched Dreamgirls with one eye open and tried to sleep a little. I didn’t want to zone out completely as dinner was coming up soon. For airline food, it sure tasted great to me. Maybe it was the fact that I hadn’t eaten in 7 hours. Yeah, that was probably it.
We hit a few bumpy spots and the captain had to suspend the meal service three times as it got to rough for his liking. Normally, I would be freaking out at this point but I guess having flown more in the past year than I had in my entire life has started to make me able to take it in stride.
The Red Violin started but I wanted to sleep. I dozed off with my iPod blasting out the some chillaxing tunes on random. I woke up a few times and looked at the window across the aisle which had become a view of complete darkness, as if we were floating through space without any stars. For some reason, its times like that when I remember that scene in Fight Club when the narrator imagines what a mid-air collision would be like. What can I say, I’m a worrier.
When the movie ended I realized that the seat headrest could be raised up. I tried to do this to mine and it was much more comfortable. I leaned forward to put my iPod in the pocket of the seat in front of me when I felt my headrest come with me. I guess mine wasn’t properly setup for the advanced functionality that the other chairs had. After fiddling with it unsuccessfully for a few minutes, I gave up and called the stewardess to help me. It took her about 4 minutes to figure it out so I didn’t feel quite so retarded.
Freedom Writers started up while I was partially asleep so I had no idea what movie it was. I didn’t plug in for the audio because I was still trying to sleep. Watching a movie without audio and trying to figure out the story is a very interesting exercise. It also highlights how much work an actor’s body has to do beyond just speaking the lines. If you can’t sell yourself without words, you have no business being in movies.
Near the end of the movie, the sun started to rise and light filled the cabin through a few of the windows that hadn’t been closed during the night. I decided to pretend I was just tired from a sleepless night and that it was 8am in the morning. I wasn’t far off… it was 2am Vancouver time and really 10am London time.
I should underline the fact here that I have never flown to Europe. I actually have never left North America before in my life. I’m sure that this added a little to my stress level as I walking not only through an airport I had never seen, but I was in a country I had only seen on TV and on a continent I knew only through maps and pictures.
I was kind of surprised by the lax security entering the UK. The passport officer didn’t ask me a single question. Actually, he barely made eye contact and seemed really uninterested in me. This was a total flip on the US/Canadian boarder where you can’t cut yourself shaving without having a notarized explanation of where and when you shaved and a doctors note verifying the event and the extent of the cut in case you were storing explosives or drugs under the skin in your face.
I collected my bags from the reclaiming area and headed out for Terminal 1. I was in Terminal 3. The walk was not that pleasant after I passed the sign saying, “We apologize for the lack of air conditioning in the tunnel. Maintenance is currently being done.” It was so stuffy and humid that I decided to power walk through it just so I could breathe again.
Upon arriving at the British Airways check-in, I realized I had made a large tactical error. While I had poured over every line of the carry-on baggage rules for AC, I hadn’t done anything for British Airways. Apparently, all flights on BA through or arriving in the UK are allowed only one piece of carry on luggage. Thankfully, my luggage was a double backpack which had one main pack and a day pack that can be reattached to the main pack. After stuffing my laptop bag with all the stuff I had to have in case my luggage got lost I checked in and went through security.
I was a little paranoid about the luggage since my workmate Sergei had told me that British Airways was number 1 when it came to lost luggage. He mentioned that they had lost his luggage on his flight to Geneva… both ways! As a precaution he told me to take pictures of my luggage so I can show the CSRs if something got lost to speed up its recovery.
After a quick snack at Burger King (note: Not Jack In The Box… I have standards Chris Whitehead…), I waited for the gate information for my flight to show up. With only 20 minutes before departure, the gate finally came up. The flight wasn’t very full and we were on board in less than 10 minutes. The captain said that while we were all set to go, high winds were causing large delays in Hamburg and that we could be delayed for 40 minutes. It turned out to only be a 15 minute wait and we were in the air.
I dozed off without any aid as I was running on fumes by this point.
Landing in Hamburg was one of the worst landing experiences I’ve ever had. The approach was incredibly bumpy and the wings tilted wildly. Touchdown felt like we were almost twisting around in a circle. When we slowed down I took a deep breath and relaxed. I really do dislike flying.
I walked out into Hamburg Airport and realized, yes, I am in Germany. Everyone fell into that stereotypical “German” look and there was much “bier” being consumed. First take, I like Germany.
The passport agent again surprised me with their lack of interest. I guess the sheer number of people coming and going takes a toll on security. You can only care about so much.
I hailed a cab to take me to the train station. My train was scheduled for 7:20 pm and it was already 6:45 pm. I hoped I could get there in time as the next train was one and a half hours later.
The cab driver got me to sie Bahnhof at 7pm and once I was in the station I realized how badly I was out of my element. All the signs were 100% German with the exception of the word Ticket. The problem being, the machines that had the Fahrkarten (tickets) displayed a touch screen with options all in German. The idea of buying a ticket in a language I can’t understand with the potential that it would say “Transfer trains at ” was quite a risk and the sun was already setting. I gave up the chance at making my train to get in line at the information desk.
The guy I spoke to was very helpful and got me a ticket to Flensburg with no transfers. Yet, I was still nervous about how to get there… I found my platform and saw a train pull up. The list of destinations on the computer screen showed Flensburg in big letters so I walked on. I looked at my ticket and wondered if it was assigned seating. I assumed no, but I saw a 2.K1 on it so I decided to get into the car marked 2. I really hoped I was doing this right.
The train left promptly which was something my German teacher in high school beat into our heads: “Trains and buses don’t wait for you!” I had taken a map of the stops and kept checking it every time we stopped to make sure I was still heading in the right direction. There were a few tense moments when a stop was named that I couldn’t find on the map, but some of the smaller ones were in a smaller font and were hard to read.
I called the office at 10:30pm my time (2:30pm Vancouver time) and said I was still in transit to the hotel. They said I had a conference call at 11pm my time so if I could join once I get there they would appreciate it.
The view from the train was very worrisome. It was pitch black in every town we went through and I wondered if I could even find my way to the hotel. Would I be able to get a cab? The platforms at each stop seemed vacant and it was like there was nothing more than a sidewalk near the tracks. I crossed my fingers for a larger stop…
Everyone got off at Flensburg and I decided to just follow the crowd. My heart leaped for joy when I saw the line of cabs after walking through a tunnel and up some stairs. I jumped in and said, “Prodomo Hotel Flensburg bitte.” Thank god for some basic German. It really did come in handy.
I got into the hotel and I was bagged and felt miserable. The sheer mental and physical exhaustion took its toll and I almost fell asleep that minute. Unfortunately, I still had to make a conference call to discuss my day on Friday. What I was told was to get some sleep but to expect to work until 10pm the next day as they would be closed on Saturday and Sunday. Great.
I slept like a baby.
The breakfast buffet was perfect. Cereal, orange juice, toast, scrambled eggs. Probably one of the better breakfasts I’ve had in a hotel before. I made my way to our client via taxi as it was over 3.8km away. The cab driver asked where I was going and I gave him the address. He asked, “The car salesplace?” I looked at him funny and said no… I had another sigh of relief when I saw my intended destination standing out like a sore thumb… flanked by car dealerships. The huge white building brought to mind images of the Microsoft campus in Redmond.
I was expecting some more security from them than at the airport and I got it. They asked for serial numbers of my phone, ipod, laptop and were happy that I did not have a camera with me. Oh the joys of corporate espionage. My contact came and met me and walked me to his lab. They all looked rather busy, probably 20-30 of them in his lab alone. There was lots of space and tons of test equipment. Very impressive but rather noisy.
I finally got myself an internet connection and synced my email. It was sooooo nice to have a connection again. After sorting through the piles of email (roughly 20 were detailed ones for me with instructions… low by Denis’ standards I know) I finally got to work testing the phone. I think I spent 10 hours testing and 1.5 hours on a conference call to New Jersey. I left the lab at 10pm as it was shutdown time. Had to try and upload my data from the hotel.
The hotel is unfortunately only supported via T-Mobile which charges 2E for 15 minutes, 8 for an hour, 13.99E for 3 hours, and 18E for 24 hours. The downside is that the time starts counting down when you buy it. You can’t bank time you don’t use! I bought 15 minutes and sent home the logs. I got a few back and forth emails and loaded up a bunch of websites before I lost the connection. I always forget how much my life is online and when I lose that connection, I feel like I have been put on mute and can no longer communicate.
Since calling home is so expensive, most of my communication has been through SMS. I’m really glad that I implemented and tested the SMS and got to see it working so well. Feels like a job well done.
Jo just wrote to say that our house deal has gone through and she FINALLY got one of the keys to the place. I wish I could be there to help get it ready, but I’m sure I’ll be paying my dues when we get back in Richmond.
I think the hardest part of my trip has been that I haven’t been away from Jo for more than a single day since we got married. I love you babe. I’ll see you in London! Man, can’t wait to be able to order food in English again too… although, saying “Eine grosse bier bitte” has a better ring than, “A pint of lager please.”