Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Spoonfuls of sugar

You can read the first post about our trip to Germany HERE.

August 2, 2011 - Arrival in Germany
Frankfurt am Main / Hofheim / Laufdorf

We have arrived. The plane pulled in at 10:10 a.m. into Frankfurt am Main, one of the busiest international airports in Europe. We de-planed quickly and proceeded to have our passports stamped, and then followed all of the signs to Baggage Claims. John noticed that most signs were in both German and English. “I think I’m going to be just fine,” he announced. He was relieved, as he speaks no German, that language will not prove to be a barrier.

We met my Aunt Doris and Uncle Herbert shortly after rolling our baggage out Gate 5. When we saw their tiny Peugot 206 SW, we were somewhat concerned whether our full-size suitcases and carry-on luggage would fit, but with a little tilting, turning and stacking, we were on our way to our next destination, Hofheim. 

Left to right: Judy, Aunt Doris, John

Interestingly, most German towns and Länder (states) have a unique coat of arms. Below is the one for Hofheim.

Hofheim, a picturesque little suburb of Frankfurt with rolling hills and twisting streets, is where my aunt and uncle have two lovely friends named Angela and Harald. Technically speaking, Angela is my aunt's cousin. She and Harald are a lively, healthy couple in their 80s who became friends with my father on his previous three trips to Germany in 2003, 2006 and 2008. They were excited to meet us, and welcomed us with a handshake and a hug at the same time. For me it was immediate immersion in the German language. Angela speaks Hochdeutsch (High German), which is the typical German spoken and written in school, but Harald speaks a strong local dialect of German, which for the most part I was able to decipher. 

Left to right: Harald, Angela

We spent the better part of the afternoon with the couple, enjoying their hospitality and Angela’s marvelous culinary skills. To our surprise, Harald gifted us with an album filled with photos of my father's visits with them. Since my father passed away just this past July 6th, we found this to be an incredible kindness. 

Left to right: Angela, Aunt Doris, Harald, Dad
Harald, who is an avid photographer, mentioned that the last photo in the album is a recent one and that he was sure we would recognize it. Amusingly, he caught our plane in flight as it was approaching the airport in Frankfurt, which is about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) south of Hofheim. Apparently his house is right beneath the flight path of trans-Atlantic flights like ours!

We ate a light afternoon Mittagessen (noon meal) that is typical for Germans, consisting of homemade soup and flavorful hard rolls. 

Left to right: Aunt Doris, Harald, Judy, John

Later it was time for Kaffeeklatsch (coffee break), when we sampled Angela’s marvelous home-baked treats, consisting of Berliner (jelly-filled doughnuts), Kaffeekuchen mit Kirschen (coffee cake with cherries), a Schokoladensahnenrolle (cream-filled chocolate roll), and delicate, chewy Florentine (also known as lace cookies) made with almonds, sugar and honey that melt in your mouth before you can swallow each bite.

Left to right: Judy, John, Angela. The Florentine cookies are in the center of the table.
We enjoyed very much our tour of their home, which was built in the early 1900s. I was surprised to hear that Angela and Harald maintain the beautiful landscaping pretty much themselves. Harald, who is a masterful wood worker, has made much of the cabinetry throughout the house. His tools are organized in a workroom that would be the envy of any professional. I suspect that much of the energy that Harald enjoys is the result of the fact that he swims 26 laps of a pool three or four times a week—an indoor pool, I might add, that he built with his own two hands.

On our way to my aunt and uncle's home in Laufdorf (which translates literally as "running village"), my Uncle Herbert stopped in front of an interesting restaurant featuring a nautical theme, which he was certain would interest John, a former U.S. Navy officer. At this point John and I were so sleepy from both food and our flight, that I am not sure either of us could tell you whether the restaurant was under construction or completed, but the photo below suggests the former.

After our visit, John and I weren’t sure we would have room for supper, but around 9:00 p.m. we did manage to squeeze it in. In Germany it is typical to eat a heavier meal around noon (similar to an American dinner, but smaller), and a smaller meal in the evening called Abendessen (larger than a typical American lunch). An afternoon coffee break with a slice of Kuchen (cake) is also common. We aren’t quite sure at this point how to enter what we eat into our WeightWatchers® log, but we figure that if we watch our portion sizes, we should be okay.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Leaving for Germany

This past August my husband and I journeyed to Germany, a trip that was 32 years in the planning. We visited for a month, staying with relatives from my father's side of the family. For the first two weeks, we resided with my uncle and aunt in south central Germany, while the remainder of our visit was in northern Germany with my cousin and his wife. Please feel free to join us as I re-live our travels in this and continuing posts.

August 1, 2011
Des Moines, Iowa to Frankfurt am Main, Germany

5:30 p.m. CST
John’s friend, John C., picked us up at 1:00 today, taking us to the airport in Des Moines. We took United Flight 6048, a United Express Economy flight that involved sitting in an airplane too small to accommodate carry-on luggage. Nervously, I watched my carry-on suitcase slide down the conveyor rollers from the boarding ramp to the plane, hoping that the suitcase containing my laptop would not crash to the ground. Later, though we were told that you could take only a handbag or small backpack with you to put under your seat, I noticed that other people who were nervous about their laptops pulled them out of their carry-on luggage and put them on their laps. I don’t blame them, and think I will do the same on the return journey.

We landed what felt like a half hour later in Chicago (but was really longer), and proceeded to our gate, where we were told that we still had about 20 minutes before our flight would begin boarding. We were invited to take advantage of the Red Carpet hospitality room, which is available to passengers like us who are flying Business Class. That is where I am writing now. It is so much more quiet here than at the gate, where many people waiting to board cannot even find a place to sit. Refreshments, other than alcohol, are free of charge. John and I had a cup of cool, refreshing water, shared a cup of dried fruits and nuts, and ate some fresh baby carrots. Nice! We took the time to leave David a voice mail message saying good bye, and to call John’s mom to let her know that we arrived okay in Chicago.

We just heard the loudspeaker announcement, letting us know that our flight is getting ready to board, so I will resume this narrative later.

10:00 p.m. CST
It is now 7:00 a.m. in Germany, but we are only about three hours into Flight 940 aboard a Boeing 747-400. I am taking the time to jot down a few impressions before I try to get some shuteye, since it will be about another five hours before we land in Germany, where it will be 10:00 a.m.

This is the first time that John and I have ever flown Business Class, and let me say that I would not hesitate to fly this way again on a trans-Atlantic or any lengthy flight. The seats themselves are a miracle—fully cushioned, wide, and adjustable. You can actually lay the seat down flat for sleeping and are provided with a pillow, blanket, bed socks and eye mask to keep out the light. Many of the passengers are already reclining after a wonderful dinner consisting of a center cut of smoked salmon loin, seasonal mixed baby greens, herbed Boursin® rotisserie chicken with a pomegranate glaze, along with stir-fried sugar snap peas and carrots, and a whole grain roll. Delicious! The steward welcomed us by name, and service is really excellent.

There are three columns of seats in Business Class, which occupies part of the upper tier of seating in the plane. You know those windows that you see close to the top of a Boeing 747? Well, that’s where we are. The Economy Class passengers are actually seated below us. When we boarded the plane, we entered one door of the plane, and Economy Class passengers entered another. From left to right, the first two passengers face the rear of the plane, the ones in the middle column (four seats across) face the nose of the plane, and the two far right seats face the tail. 

Each passenger has a personal viewing screen where you can watch a movie or select a television program, check out information about the plane’s itinerary, or listen to music. When the pilot makes an announcement, programming pauses, but beyond that you have uninterrupted time to spend with your personal entertainment system. I browsed through the various categories, but in the end decided that sleep would be more productive than seeking audiovisual leisure, since we will be spending an entire day with my Uncle Herbert and Aunt Doris before we can go to bed seven hours later than we would normally dive beneath the covers.

2:30 a.m. CST
I woke up about a quarter of an hour ago, feeling a bit gritty-eyed but otherwise okay. I guess I’m excited about getting our first day in Germany started. I can hear the stewards and stewardesses clinking silverware, plates and drinking glasses in preparation for breakfast; in fact, some people have already been served while I take a few minutes to freshen up in the bathroom, washing my face, brushing my teeth and reapplying makeup. One of the items we were provided, when we boarded the plane, was a zipper pouch filled with personal care items, including a toothbrush and toothpaste. Breakfast, like dinner just a few hours ago, is excellent, consisting of a plate filled with fresh fruits, orange juice and a tasty croissant.

The plane will land in about 90 minutes, so we’re getting excited. John is more tired than I am, since he slept for only an hour and 15 minutes.

© 2011 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.