Planning and the flight

Trip Start Jan 01, 2007
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Trip End Feb 09, 2007


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Monday, January 1, 2007

I owe my audience an apology for taking so long to write about this trip.  Suffice it to say, as a preview, that it was absolutely fantastic!  It even exceeded my high expectations - by far.  So I will start with this segment:  the planning and arrival in Germany.
 
Those of you who have read my travel journals in the past remember that I taught English in the Czech Republic in 2005.  You can see my travel blogs from that period at www.komnatachista.blogspot.com.
 
Since that life-changing experience, I have had a couple more travel adventures, including a trip to Sacramento in May 2006, a dream-come-true adventure to a Tom Waits concert in Memphis in August 2006, and a whirlwind trip to Las Vegas in December 2006, all of which I will write about in future posts.
 
This time, however, I want to talk about my trip to Europe in early 2007.
 
When I was teaching in the Czech Republic I met a woman named Jana Hunter, who is one of the owners of the school where I was employed.  She was part of a fledgling photo club named 7,65 and invited me to meet them one fateful weekend at a country cottage that belongs to one of the other members.
 
The rest, as they say, is history.  Or at least history in the making.  I was part of  their photography exhibit at a local gallery in Liberec in December 2005, and I sent some photos to be in the next exhibit there in December 2006.  As a way to return the favors and hospitality the group showed me, I told them that I would try to find a place for the club to have an exhibit in Florida once I returned.
 
Long story short, the club is having a photography show at Progress Energy Art Gallery in New Port Richey where I work.  The opening party is April 6, 2007.  Check out the details at www.nprgallery.com.  Also, you can see the photos that will be on display and donate money to frame one of the pictures at www.ktolliver.com/765/SponsorAFrame.htm.
 
This is my personal invitation to you to come to the opening party.  Especially because five of the club members will be there!  They are coming to visit in order to help prepare the show, attend the opening party, and tour Florida.  So I am also playing the role of tour guide for the three weeks that they are here!  I hope all of you can make it to the party, or at least to see the show before it is over.  The photos really are beautiful!
 
We are also making a photo montage of the Liberec town hall as a highlight of the show, so please come to see it.  And if you can, please donate some money to the cause; we are a nonprofit gallery and all donations will be tax-deductible. 
 
But back to the story:
 
One of Jana's passions was traveling and conducting youth exchanges within the European Union (EU).  She has since become involved in doing the same in conjunction with EuroMed, an agency that associates European countries and countries around the Mediterranean, which we Americans would call the Middle East.
 
Jana, a talented photographer and extremely creative woman, wrote and acquired funding for an exchange program using photography.  The participants were people who conduct youth exchanges, not the kids themselves.  She let me in on her ideas from the beginning and asked if I would be an instructor for the program.  Would I?!?  Would I ever!!!
 
So this trip was planned around that program, which will be described in a blog in the near future.  For now, let me tell you about my planning stage and flight over.
 
My husband had been working hard during 2006 and traveling accordingly.  Fortunately he had the good sense to join one of those hotel point programs.  Even more fortunately for me, he volunteered to let me use the points for my plane ticket to Europe, and I only had to pay for taxes on the ticket! 
 
So, with my free ticket points, I naturally had to be a little at the mercy of the airlines and fly when they said I could. 
 
Since Jana's program was planned for the week of 11-17 January 2007 in the Czech Republic, I originally planned to fly on the 4th of January, land in Germany to visit my friends there for a few days, travel to the Czech Republic for the program, then spend 4 or 5 days in Ostrava visiting a friend, then a week in Liberec where I used to teach, then a few more days in Germany before returning home.  I had in mind about a month for this.
 
Well, blackout dates and all that other stuff kind of changed those plans.  I ended up having to extend the travel dates on both sides and planning my trip for nearly 6 weeks instead of a month.  But who was crying?
 
As you'll read in a future blog, my husband's company offered to send me to Vegas while he was on a job out there in the middle of December, just as I was overwhelmed with holiday arrangements and trip preparations.  So it threw me off one week, but I decided to manage somehow!  I'm not bragging, just telling you how hectic the month of December was for me. (ok, I'm bragging maybe a little...)
 
Some of you may remember my friends in Germany from previous posts, Hilde and Adi.  They are the couple that my husband and I rented our first apartment from when my husband was in the Army back when we were first married.  Our apartment was the third floor of their house and they always treated us like members of the family.  Maybe even better!
 
The village they live in is called Weipelsdorf, and most of its 150 or so houses are homes to relatives of Hilde in one way or another. 

Hilde's cousin Elmar owned and operated the local Gasthaus (pub) and also farmed a lot of land around there.  I used to look forward to hearing his tractor start each morning and then run to the window in time to wave at him putting along toward the fields in his green Bavarian hat.  He was such an institution in that place and everyone loved him.
 
Elmar would always invite my husband and me to sit at the "regulars table", the Stammtisch, in the Gasthaus and then proceed to bring up homemade liqueurs and other goodies from the cellar that weren't on the menu.  We always felt privileged, like VIP's, when we went there.
 
When I called Hilde a couple of days after Christmas to confirm my arrival date and time, she told me that Elmar had collapsed and died of an embolism on Christmas Eve.  It was a shocker.  He was only 56.  Now his wife, who has chronic illness, and 23-year-old son Georg are left to run the Gasthaus and farm.  I believe they plan to sell the farmland.  What a shame.  I wish I would win the lottery so that I could buy the land and build a house there.
 
Anyway, with Vegas under my belt, a full holiday schedule later, and 40 pounds of backpack and another suitcase that contained supplies to teach four workshops to my beloved Czech camera club, I boarded a plane on New Year's Day in Tampa, flew to Philadelphia and connected to Munich, Germany, where I landed the next day.
 
The flight was mostly uneventful, though I was hemmed into my window seat from Philly to Munich by an very tall basketball-player type on crutches.   Poor guy had a tough time of it every time I had to get to the bathroom!  He wasn't the friendliest, but I put it down as either being in pain or being on pain medication. 
 
I arrived in Munich and claimed my bags with no problem.  As usual, there was no real delay at customs, and I breezed through.  I found an ATM and got some Euros.  Travel tip:  use a cash machine in Europe.  They are as prevalent there as they are in the US and the exchange rate you get is much better than changing actual cash or using credit cards for purchases.  I've been doing this for several years now and have never had a problem.  It's much easier, too, than carting cash or travelers checks around.
 
Notably, exiting the Munich airport, I saw a very mean-looking BMW Z4 M on display.  BMW's headquarters is in Munich.  Since I became the proud owner of a Mini Cooper S in 2006, which is now made by BMW, I notice these things!
 
Now, if you've ever been to a German city, you'll remember that the local train system is known as the Strassenbahn (literally "street train"), or S-Bahn for short.  The subway is called U-Bahn for Untenbahn, or "under train."  As tired as I was, I still managed to find my way to the S-Bahn station and board a train for the main train station.
 
Across from me on the S-Bahn was a married couple who looked to be about early 40's.  They were on their way to Dubai from Canada, which was interesting because they looked and sounded to me as if they were from India.  The husband did all the talking with beautiful smiles from the wife for punctuation.  They (he) asked me what to see in Munich because they had an 8-hour layover and wanted to sightsee.  I dutifully quoted them sights from the guidebook I'd just read; it had been about 15 years since I was actually in Munich for anything besides transportation connections.
 
I made it to the main train station with no difficulty and managed to find my connection platform fairly easily.  But my energy was starting to drain fast.  It held out longer than I expected, though, and I am grateful for that.  Since I had a little time before the train boarded, I found a coffeeshop and enjoyed some good German coffee and did some people-watching for a while.  I practiced my German on the Asian barista.  We must have sounded very strange indeed!
 
Finally it was time to board the train.  It was an ICE (InterCity Express) train to Bamberg where Hilde and Adi awaited me.  ICE trains are great!  They bypass all the little bergs and dorfs and go straight to larger, selected cities on the train route.  This particular route, from Munich to Bamberg, is a new one, and the ride was only about 2 hours, compared to more than 4 on the regional train.
 
I had purchased my ticket online at www.bahn.de.  Purchasing tickets online is a new function for that web site since my last trip; you can print out your e-ticket just like for the airlines now.  And during the trip I found out that the conductor really does check your ticket printout against the credit card you used to purchase the ticket online.  Good thing I remembered to bring the correct card!
 
The ICE rolled into the familiar station at Bamberg, and I could see Hilde waiting from my window.  It's a real homecoming for me to arrive there and have her waiting!  I always get choked up.  Adi, of course, was parking the car.  I dragged my bags off the train and through the underground passageway.  Then I got to hug my German "mom and dad" again.  Ahhhh.... 
 
They loaded me and my gear into the Ford Focus and we set off to Weipelsdorf.  The weather was a little cold, and drizzly, but it was way too warm for snow.  It was mostly just wet roads at that point.  The winter this year was very mild, but it did snow eventually. 
 
Once home, as Hilde filled me in on the local gossip, Adi brewed up some of their famous German coffee and gave me some tasty desserts.  We watched TV for a while, but it wasn't long before I was nodding off. 

I stayed up as long as I could, then slept the sleep of the dead under those toasty goosedown comforters.
 
I stayed there 4 more days and saw and learned a lot about Bamberg, a city I thought I knew pretty well.  Stay tuned for the next chapter; you might learn something, too!
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