HARD TO BELIEVE THAT IT'S OVER.....

Trip Start May 13, 2010
1
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Trip End Jul 05, 2010


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Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Monday, July 5, 2010

10 July 5 – Monday

            I was up about 07:00 today as I wanted to make sure I had enough time to get my main Pack loaded (and also closed – I really must learn to pack light!).  I went down for breakfast at about 07:50 and only Fatima and the Maid (who helps out at breakfast) were there at that time.  Shortly after two ladies from Florida arrived, so it was nice to have someone to visit with over breakfast.

             After breakfast I went upstairs and got my packs loaded and came back down to pay my room bill.  As I was leaving, I presented Fatima with my Germany 2010 Guidebook, as I figured that some of her guests might find it useful (especially as the RS tour groups frequently stay in the Hotel).  As I was saying "goodbye", Kurt came to the door of the kitchen.  That's the only time I’ve seen him during the entire visit!  I walked briskly to the station and arrived at about 09:20, and I was glad that I had bought my ticket a few days previously.  There was a couple waiting on the platform with a Canadian flag on their Backpack, so I had a visit with them.  It turned out they were from the Toronto area and were heading north on the same train.

             The train arrived precisely at 09:30 and the trip to Bingen was very short, perhaps 20 minutes.  The train stopped at Platform 201 and I had to transfer to Track 101 which was only a short walk across the Platform (about 50 meters or so).  The other train also arrived precisely on time – it was one of the older, red Regional trains.  It wasn’t equipped with the digital displays showing route and next stop (I’ve been finding the displays quite useful), but was a double-decker model and very comfortable.

             I asked some of the other passengers when we got close to the Frankfurt airport and they confirmed the stop when we arrived there.  This wasn’t the same rail station I remembered from my previous visit, and it didn’t occur to me until later that I had arrived in the regional station rather than the larger station for the long distance trains.  I went up two levels on the escalators but still couldn’t find the departures area.  Finally I spotted a woman wearing an official looking uniform and I asked her.  She said that I had to cross the street, look for Door #6 or #7 and then go upstairs one level for the departures.  When I reached that spot, there were a LOT of counters for different airlines, but Air Canada was nowhere in sight.  I asked a couple of airport “customer service” people but they had no idea and were useless.  Finally I asked a Polizei officer, who was sitting in a booth and he told me to look for counter #765 or 766, which was off on the far side (all of the airline booths are numbered).

             At the check-in desk, I stowed the harness on my large Pack behind the zippered panel to get it ready for air travel, and checked the weight which was about 23 kG.  The Boarding Pass indicated I was to depart from Gate “B”, but it didn’t say which of the “B” gates it would be?  Going through security, one of the Agents mentioned Gate B46 so that was some help.  Security was fairly straightforward, although I’d forgotten about my bottle of water so that went into the bin.  After security I also had to pass through an Immigration, where my Passport was stamped with the departure date.

            When I reached that Gate, there was a blue Air Canada plane on the ramp, so I assume that’s the one I’ll be using, rather than a Lufthansa code share.  Since it was about three hours until my flight, I walked back into the main part of the terminal and went to get some lunch. There were only a few restaurants, including a Thai place, but I wasn’t in the mood for Thai food (especially spicy food just prior to flight) so I finally just settled on McDonald’s.  After lunch I walked back to the Gate and spent some time updating my Diary and “people watching”.

             The time seemed to pass quickly and I didn’t have to wait long for boarding time.  I didn’t join the usual “herd of sheep” when the agents called for general boarding, as I already had an assigned seat and I wasn’t really too concerned about boarding right away.  The seating configuration on the Air Canada Airbus 330 was 2-4-2, and when I reached Seat #28H (aisle) there was no one in the other seat.  However, before I could store my luggage, a young lady arrived and sat in the window seat.  I remembered to take No Jet Lag pills before departure, but after using them for several flights I’m still not sure if they actually work.

             The plane departed right on time and I felt kind of sad to be leaving Europe, a place where I’ve had so many wonderful new experiences and visited so many places over the last eight weeks or so.  The entertainment system wasn’t enabled for a few minutes, but when it was finally turned on I started out the flight by watching a few movies, including Brooklyn’s Finest, Edge of Darkness and From Paris With Love.  The guy seated in front of me had to share a TV with his wife, as his monitor didn’t work at all.  As usual with Air Canada, the satellite mapping function was out of commission for the entire flight!

             It wasn’t too long before the meal was served.  I decided to break the “rule” on this flight and have a small bottle of Wine.  Unfortunately, the cheap plastic cups that the airlines uses tip too easily on the flimsy seat trays and I ended up spilling wine on one side of my pants as well as those of the girl in the next seat (fortunately she was wearing Blue Jeans, so the wine stain wasn’t too noticeable).  After I finished the meal I made a trip to the washroom and washed the pants as much as possible.   They actually cleaned up fairly well (thank goodness for Tilley quality).

             I wasn’t able to sleep at all, as the flight was taking place during normal “waking hours” for Europe so I just wasn’t tired.  At one point, the crew had to “re-boot” the goofy entertainment system, as the monitors were starting to fail one at a time.  The system was out of commission for half an hour or more, so I watched the end of The Bourne Supremacy on my IPod Touch.  I’ve experienced problems with the entertainment system and mapping function on several past Air Canada flights and I was hoping they’d sorted the problems by now, but I guess not.

             I didn’t speak to the girl in the next seat too much during the flight as she was trying to sleep, but when we were filling out the Customs forms we started chatting.  It turns out that she’s from a small town near Lucerne (what a coincidence – I was just there).   She’s coming to Canada to stay at a Ranch near Kamloops, which will be somewhat of a “working holiday” as a ranch hand.

             The flight took exactly 9-hours from liftoff to touchdown (I know because I timed it on a Stopwatch).  It felt a bit strange and unfamiliar to be back in Canada after such a long absence, but also somewhat “comforting” in a way.  The trip through Immigration and Customs was routine, and of course I had to stop at the Cashier to pay the Duty & GST on my new Camera (one never escapes the Taxman, even on holidays).  It took a while for my Pack to arrive on the Carousel, but it eventually showed up and I re-checked it for the flight to Kelowna.

             The young lady from Lucerne had to catch a connecting flight to Kamloops, so she was heading for departure Terminal “A” as well and we walked together.  My flight to Kelowna was delayed by 15-20 minutes, as the plane had a “flat tire”.  They eventually just found another plane and started boarding.  Arrival in Kelowna also felt very strange, and when I walked down the ramp into the arrivals area, there was no one waiting for me (kind of a lonely feeling), as my Son was still in transit and would be a few minutes late.

             While I was waiting for my ride, I visited with a German family that had also been on the flight from Frankfurt (I had spoken with them in Calgary also).  They were from Berlin and were going to spend a few days in Kelowna before renting a Motorhome and touring Banff and Lake Louise.  Their Son had been attending high school in Kelowna for the last eight months, so he would be returning with them.  As soon as the Son and his sister got together, she painted the Germany colours on his face, as Germany will be playing Spain in the World Cup the following night (unfortunately they lost).

                My ride finally arrived and the trip back to Vernon was quite pleasant, as it was a beautiful sunny evening.  Apparently, I arrived home at a good time, as the weather in the area has been cold and rainy for the last month or so.  Perhaps I brought the sunshine back from Germany?   My dog “Lou” was extremely happy to see me, and I got a fantastic welcome (it didn’t take him long to remember how to “bug” me for treats).  It’s hard to believe that it’s over!

10 July 6 - Tuesday

REFLECTIONS…..

             Despite the jet lag, I didn’t feel too bad on my first morning back at home.  It was nice to be in familiar surroundings, sleeping in my own bed and not living out of a Backpack.  Despite that I was still a bit melancholy about the fact that my most ambitious and fantastic adventure is now over.  I suspect my Backpack will “sit” for a few weeks until I get time to go through it and get things ready for the next adventure.  I’ll be busy getting back to normal and my first priority will be processing photos and getting them posted on my website.

             At this point it’s somewhat difficult to offer many reflections on this trip.  I covered a fairly extensive geographic area in the five countries I visited this time, saw so many new places, learned so much and met so many people that it all seems like a “blur” at this point.  I suspect that it’s going to take some time to form any impressions of this trip and put my thoughts into some sort of cohesive order.

             I was asked many times on this trip (and on past trips), “what’s your favourite country”?  That’s always difficult to answer, as find all of the countries I visit on every trip to be interesting in their own unique way.

             I’ll update this if I can think of an appropriate way to summarize this trip.  However, a few initial thoughts……

 Italy:  I always enjoy getting back to Italy every year, and it’s the country I probably feel most “at home” in.  However, another traveler I was chatting with had a good description for Italy, one that I tend to agree with.  He said “Italy is a country of contrasts – one can be frustrated beyond words and having a miserable time one minute, and be having the most wonderful meal or travel experience the next minute”.  Things are rarely boring in Italy!

  GREECE:  This was my first time visiting Greece, so I didn’t have any idea what to expect, other than what I’ve seen on Travels in Europe.  I found the people to very friendly and hospitable, and the rugged beauty of the country is incredible (especially in the Pelopponese).  However, as a person with pets at home, I did find it a bit upsetting to see so many dogs and cats without a good home and some in very poor condition.

  SWITZERLAND:  Although I’ve been in Switzerland before, I’ve never visited the eastern part of the country so that part was an entirely new experience.  The scenery is incredibly beautiful (especially on the Bernina Express journey), but unfortunately I wasn’t able to enjoy as much of it as I had hoped due to the heavy rains that occurred during that part of my trip.  I’ll definitely be planning a return visit to the Appenzell region on one of my future holidays and hopefully the weather will be better.  On this trip I really noticed how expensive Switzerland can be, and the locals were complaining about the prices as well.  Dinner for one along with a glass of Wine and some Coffee was often above SF$40.

  FRANCE:  Although was in France on my trip last year and on past occasions, the Alsace region was a new area and I really enjoyed my stay in Colmar.  I most definitely agree with Rick Steves that using Colmar for a home base and taking day trips to Strasbourg and other places in the area is the best way to enjoy that part of France.  While I enjoyed my visit to Strasbourg, I found it very large and crowded and I was much more comfortable staying in Colmar.  It would have been nice to have more time to have toured local Wineries, but that will be a good excuse for returning.

  GERMANY:  Germany is always an interesting place to visit, as each of the regions is somewhat unique.  I found the atmosphere in the Black Forest area to be subtly different than that of Munich or other places in Germany.  The local residents told me that the language is also different, and that someone from Hamburg will speak slightly differently than someone from Munich.  Of course, the Swiss German is very different, especially in the Appenzell region.  It seems that Italy is not the only place to have different dialects.

  OTHER THOUGHTS:  I struggled with the language more on this trip than I have in the past, especially in Germany and Switzerland.  I’ll have to work on that prior to the next trip and be sure to pack my RS German / French / Italian Phrasebook!   For the most part, the trip went very smoothly and exactly according to my well planned Itinerary (which took almost a year to complete).  Whether the lack of problems was due to good planning or luck (or a combination of the two), I’m not quite sure?

As usual, I’ve already started to put together a few ideas for my next adventure in Europe!
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