Sunday, 20 July 2014

Mind your manners, young man! (or A transatlantic bicycle ride)

The boxed bike in Horley. As wide as a car and almost as heavy ;-(
When I dragged the huge box containing le Velo to the oversize luggage counter at Heathrow Airport last October, I witnessed the impossible.  Some other cyclist also was bringing his bicycle to the same counter.  But his wasn't disassembled. It wasn't even in a bloody box!  He just pushed his bike to the counter, took off his pedals, twisted the handlebar, and deflated the tires. Then the bike was stuffed into an oversize plastic bag.  WOW.  After having lifted and pushed and kicked that bloody box for 3 days, all I could feel was envy.

But at least I learn from my mistakes.

At 2 pm I am at the Seabus terminal in North  Vancouver.  I rode down the hill from Grandma's house and the bike is packed with everything I will need for the next three weeks.  
On the Seabus.  A modes of transportation picture

Now I am going to ride this bike to Frankfurt !!! 

phone home unfortunately does not work because my WIND phone does NOT roam here AGAIN ! Great work WIND !
  But first I have to get to the Airport.

With my bike still fully assembled and saddle bags attached,  I approach the Air Transat counter to check where I can check in the bike.  That's when it starts.  They ask me to get the bike and put it onto the conveyor belt. Yes the conveyor belt that's wide enough for suitcases.  With saddlebags the bike weighs 34 kg. The  woman at my counter and the guy at the next counter and a guy in the background all give me meaningful looks. "The limit is 30 kg. Overweight!" they shout in unison.  And they don't mean a pay extra limit. If your bike weighs more than 30 kgs, it's not flying. Their looks are much less meaningful when I mention that I will take off the saddlebags which I will check in as my luggage. "They come off?"
 is the only thing they can thing of at first notice.  As an answer I lift off one of the panier bags and the bike weight drops to 28 kg.  Magic made in Germany!

Then it is time for Catch 22.  Since I am not allowed tools in my cabin luggage, I would have to put them into the saddle bags.  Since the bike is not disassembled yet, I still need the tools, so I can't check in the saddle bags yet.  So I ask whether - since I'm standing there already and they have my passport, they could give me a boarding pass already and I could then disassemble the bike and then check the saddle bags as luggage.

The helpful young man at the counter next to us says "Just check your saddle bags now", to which I reply "but I have to put the tools in the bags since they're not allowed in the cabin luggage".  After two more exchanges like this, he puts his hands in front of his face, looks at his fingers through his thick glasses instead of at me, who he is talking to in a very slow voice that says in a patronizing manner "I will explain to you what you must do ..".  
That's when I said it.  I still can't believe the words that came out of my mouth.  That is so unlike me.

"You don't have to talk slow to me; I'm not stupid."  And then quite a bit louder 

"Watch your manners, young man!

( I have become my grandfather .... , 

... but it also feels good having earned the wisdom to be able to say that ;-)

And it turned out that he was wrong anyway. He wanted me to leave without a boarding pass, do the bicycle, and then start the whole process again.  Nope, I got my boarding pass, and then did the bike and then put the tools into the already semi-check luggage.  I could see in their faces that this probably violated a dozen security and procedure rules, but I think they were all a bit wary of being the target of my vocal gunnery.

The rest is almost child's play.  The bicycle bag I received was actually a stroller bag, because it only covered half of my bike.  To finally get the proper bicycle bag I have to line up again as the chubby and very unoccupied Air Transat cashieress tells me. Some movement would do her good.  

Make sure you have all the proper tools with you, since neither the people at the specialized luggage counter that accepts bicycles all the time nor the airline counter have anything more complicated than packing tape, and if your handle bar is not turned lenghwise, your bike is not flying !  Now here comes the comic part:  The openings in the wall behind the 'Oversize luggage' receiving counter are too small, so that bicycles that MUST be checked in there, can't actually be passed to the luggage system from there. Two other bicycle owners were already waiting for one of those electric airport vehicles to carry the bikes to where ever they were being carried to.  And that vehicle finally arrived and took ONE of the three packaged bicycle away. Mine, because I had come there last, and mine was the font of the pile ;-)  Just as we were exchanging strange looks, two smiling short slender airport workers arrived (if all three of those characteristics were present, they really can only have be part of one ethnicity ;-) and each carried away one of the remaining bikes by hand, which was observed by the almost catatonic eyes of a bike owner and followed by her voice shouting "THAT IS Going to Frankfurt !!???!"

But if your're honest and visualize Vancouver's airport through the eyes of someone who is has been to a 'real' airport, you might have to admit that Vancouver's airport is like a Marx Brothers show !

Time to FLY

Then it's time for Welcome to Germany!

Where we provide smokers with smoking fish tanks even while they wait for their luggage !  Thank you Camel ;-)

but we don't put much importance on providing sufficient number of  women's washrooms 

Bike in a bag
My bike survived the trip intact. One of the other bikes from Vancouver arrived as Trash.

Another thing to mention:  Don't ask Germans for directions. They're hopeless!  Use Google Maps on your smart phone, or - if your phone does not roam in Germany like mine (#@$^%*&!) - pre-load maps of Germany on Google Maps on your cell phone and use the GPS to get around. People will happily send you in the opposite direction of where you want to go, as happens to me.

The sign contains the most important word in the German language:  Verboten !

Another thing I notice right away is how QUIET Germany is.  I had noticed this last year in Cologne, and it is hard not to notice it here. What can only be described as the suburbs of Frankfurt is almost entirely devoid of car traffic and is as quiet as nowhere in Vancouver.  I like it ;-)

Bathroom with rainforest shower ;-)

The hotel costs 55 Euros per night (<80 CDN), breakfast is included, and this is what the room looks like :

What one doesn't get are old wooden motel structures with slamming doors and noisy neighbours like in Vancouver.  OK, Waldorf doesn't rank as high in the tourist destination ranking as Vancouver, but then it is only 10 km from Frankfurt Airport.  Not a bad deal!

Today is Sunday. Don't expect a supermarket to be open in Germany on a Sunday.  Nothing but restaurants and gas stations will be open.  When I grew up here, gas station were not allowed to sell anything but gas. Fortunately that has changed, so I'm able to buy a sandwich and some salty pretzels for when jet lag will mercilessly wake me at 2 am or so.

But before then I want to get some 'real' food. Luck has it that there is a Thai place literally around the corner from the hotel.  And it has a more 'authentic' Thai menu than any Thai restaurant I've been to in Vancouver.  Lots of different fish/octopus/squid/prawn/etc dishes. Love it.

The dish I'm getting (the royal deluxe combo of seafood in pepper and garlic sauce) costs me 8 Euros (<12 CDN) and is absolutely delicious.  Another reason to remedy the fact I've never visited Thailand at some point in the near future. 
The glass of white wine is filled to the brim, tastes good, and costs me 2 Euros ;-)

At 6 pm I fall onto my bed and pass out.

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