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Monday, November 17, 2008

Travel Troubles: On Foot and in the Air

My travel record is legendary among those who have worked with me or known me over the years. I've been trapped in New York City by Nor'easters; found by a couple of hurricanes and a few tropical storms; had airplanes land at airports that were not on my itinerary; and rented cars that were nearly out of gas. I've had the typical lost luggage, misplaced hotel reservations and flight delays and cancellations.

My contention is that if you travel enough, these things are bound to happen. With the condition of the airline system in the U.S., more people will be discovering that travel is less fun everyday. Recently, I was on a USAir flight with a colleague from Charlotte to Philadelphia that was delayed about 30 minutes. We had a tight connection in Philadelphia to make a flight to Syracuse for a business meeting. After sprinting from the B Terminal to the C Terminal and then taking the shuttle to the F Terminal, we made it to the gate 12 minutes before the Syracuse flight's departure time. Just in time to watch the plane being pushed back. The friendly gate attendant from USAir then decided to lecture us that we needed to be at the gate at least 10 minutes before the departure time. After I pointed out that both my watch and the clock on the wall said it was 12 minutes before the scheduled flight time she just shrugged. I asked and she confirmed that our flight was indeed oversold, so it did not matter that USAir had caused us to be late in arriving in Philadelphia in the first place.

That brings me to my recent European adventures. Our trip involved trains, planes, automobiles and buses, so there was plenty of opportunity for "fun." If you don't count dealing with Rome taxi drivers, there were just two mishaps, confined to the start and end of the trip.

Issue one had to do with the most basic form of transportation: walking. When we arrived on the first day in Bamberg I decided to change footwear into a brand new pair of Merrell casual shoes I had purchased for the trip. We walked from our room at Brauerei Fassla directly across the street to Brauerei Spezial. A total distance from our room to our table of no more than 50 yards. As you can see from this photo, the Merrells just could not handle the stress! I was in shock when my foot started to feel a chill and I looked down to see my toes sticking out. The upper had separated from the sole. I had to haul the shoes around Europe for the next 15 days to get them back to Charlotte to return them.

After visiting Brhea, we planned to leave Rome's Ciampino airport on the morning of Nov. 11 on a Ryan Air flight to Frankfurt Hahn. There we would rent a car for a leisurely drive in German wine country before arriving at the Frankfurt Main Airport for our flight home the next day. That was before a Ryan Air flight arriving the day before encountered a flock of birds on its approach to Rome.

The Ryan Air pilot declared an emergency as one of the engines smoked. The hard landing caused one of the landing gear to break. A couple of the crew and six passengers were slightly injured using the emergency slides, but a real tragedy was avoided. However, the next day when we arrived at the airport the plane was still blocking the runway. The airport was clogged with people and no one was giving out much information. There was no one at any of the Ryan Air counters. No one had a clue when the airport might try to move the plane so the airport could reopen. We decided our best bet was to keep moving and try another form of transportation. (I found out later that police had to be called to the airport because angry passengers finally had enough of the delays with no clear information. For it's part, Ryan Air emailed me around 12:15 p.m. to say that my 9:20 a.m. flight had been cancelled. By then Sandy and I were already set to board a train in Rome.)

The 14 hour train trip from Rome to Frankfurt included changes in Milan and Basel, Switzerland. At the first stop we purchased some food and a small bottle of Veneto Merlot and two cans of Splugen Lager. This beer is a Carlsberg product that fit the mood of a 14 hour train ride -- most of it in the dark -- perfectly. The beer was fairly flat and had little hop character, but I was still glad to be able to get to Frankfurt in time for the flight home. Thankfully, the train on last leg of the trip in Germany had Franziskaner Weissbier available, so I made that my last brew in Europe.

All in all, it was a fun trip to Europe. Even with the shoe incident and train journey with Splugen.

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