Wednesday, August 26, 2015

DE 1090 - there have been better flights

All of us who travel have war stories, particularly those involving planes. Here is another.

Joelle and Phillipe took us to Selestat train station and we said good bye. The credit card with the chip and signature worked perfectly and soon we had two train tickets to Saint-Louis. The train arrived on time and whizzed us down to the station near the airport. Marianne managed to spot the new location of the bus #11 that took us to the airport where eventually we boarded a Lufthansa plane that arrived on time at Frankfurt airport at area A of Terminal 1.

This airport is a monster place and if you stay in the terminal 1 areas A or B, it seems to work fine. Our Condor plane left from C4. I think it is enough to say that they appear to be demolishing area C. Poor Marianne did not appreciate all the walking and having to go through security again.

When we got to the gate I saw that we were to take the OAI plane that had brought us over from BWI. The boarding time came and went and we noticed a large group of Policemen getting off the plane. There was an announcement of a delay and two people were asked to report to the desk. Eventually we were loaded onto the plane about 45 minutes late and then we just sat and sat. Then the attendants came round with a stack of pages that look like they were photocopies and gave one to each passenger. Taking the paper was compulsory. English on one side, German on the other, the paper showed the instructions for passengers sitting in the emergency seat exits! I looked at the regular emergency instructions that are in every seat pocket and they were only in English. Eventually the plane took off 90 minutes late. Marianne and I were in the center section.

The flight across the Atlantic went fine but when the speed was only a bit over 400 knots so it seemed to take forever. I find the seats on this plane much too small. The food and drinks were ok and the attendants were courteous and helpful. One of them even talked to the mother of a rambunctious small boy who was babbling away loudly to tell her to get him to shut up. We expected to arrive at BWI about 2 hours late.

As we approached BWI airport we could see that a storm was approaching. I hoped we could get in before they closed the airport and we almost made it. We were over the airport fence and almost touching down when the pilot suddenly applied full power and took us up again. I suspect their wind-shear alarm went off because in the subsequent announcement they mentioned the poor weather and the possibility of wind-shear.

If you live in the western areas of Washington, the word Dulles denotes your airport. For everybody else in the area, the word Dulles denotes an airport out in the middle of nowhere that is a pain to get to and from. The pilot announced that we would be diverting to Dulles and a huge groan from the passengers emerged. The plane landed soon after and we parked well away from the terminals.

Obviously, the next question was how were they going to get a planeload of passengers to BWI. Some of the passengers would have been happy to get off at Dulles but most needed to get to BWI. Cell phones appeared and you could hear people making alternate arrangements. After an hour or so, Condor decided to refuel the plane and fly it to BWI. We sat on the plane as this was done but it all took another hour or so. Refueling a plane is potentially dangerous so we all had to sit in our seats and stairs were brought in to the doors of the plane in case we had to get off quickly.

Eventually we were ready to go but they couldn't get the engines started! After another hour they got them going and we took off and did a tour of northern Maryland where I finally managed to doze a little. In other countries there would have been applause when we finally touched down but I think we were all too drained to work up that kind of enthusiasm. Immigration at Baltimore does not have the passport reader technology so we all lined up. Fortunately our luggage appeared and soon we were on the bus to the long-term parking. We found the car and headed home arriving after 2 am. Our journey time was over 24 hours and we went to bed straight away.

When you think about it, we were lucky. The story could have ended differently at BWI and the pilot had the skill to perform what has to be a scary maneuver. For the most part, the pilot and attendants were diligent about keeping us updated and they came round with water etc.

Marianne said that she heard from another passenger that the initial delay was caused by some dogs that were being transported on the plane. We will never know what that was all about.

So, a crappy trip across the pond, but we made it home and that is the main thing. In certain ways the main problem was the combination of the delay and the 6 hour time difference. It made for a very long day.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The beer festival in Sainte-Croix-aux-Mines

We had noticed a sign above the street that there was to be some sort of beer festival on the weekend before we returned to the US. One of the exchange couples returned to their house on Friday while the other couple (who own the house we are staying in) were spending a weekend in New York City. Although he was still suffering from jet-lag, Phillipe came round to the house to give us our car keys and to arrange the timing of our departure to the airport on Monday.

Philippe told us that he was a member of a band that was playing at the beer festival and we would be his guests at the lunch the next day.

We duly turned up about 11:30 to find a crowd and some beer and food tents.

We went to one tent to buy a ticket and a couple of glasses. At another place we exchanged the ticket for this 750 ml bottle of beer. Note the alcohol level of 5.2%.

The beer was brewed specially for the event and Phillipe told us that 9000 bottles were made.

We found a table where we could watch Phillipe do his Bill Wyman act on the bass guitar. You can see him standing at the back of the band.

The band in action. The conductor beat on an anvil with some mallets.

If you were one of the officials you got to wear a straw hat with an orange ribbon.

We had a discussion about cell phone cameras versus regular digital cameras. As most of you know, cell phone cameras can produce wonderful results these days. However I reckon that the biggest advantage of a regular digital camera is that you can take pictures very quickly if necessary. I snapped this photo of Marianne in a couple of seconds. It would take me two seconds at least to turn on the phone.

I used my old small Canon A1200 for these photos. It produces a decent photo and slips easily into a pocket. However it does have some shutter lag compared to our bigger Lumix.

The band finished their performance about 12:30 and Phillipe invited us inside to a reserved place at long tables. He had some tickets that he gave to some volunteers who were bring the food out.

Lo and behold, an even bigger pork leg than the one I had in Bamberg. This was the only dish and everybody was given one this size.

This was the first time that the beer festival was held and the lady was amazed at the size of the pork leg. I asked her if she needed to order another one and she laughed.

I suspect they had been cooked in the special festival beer because it did not have the smoky taste of the Bamberg version. It was just as delicious but really filling. Phillipe bought a couple more bottles of beer so there was plenty to eat and drink.

We could have stayed for a dessert but we could not eat any more and we knew Phillipe was still jet-lagged and would like to go home for a nap.

The quilting tradition is strong in this area so there were quite a few quilts hanging on the walls.

We said goodbye to Phillipe and thanked him for hosting us at the festival. On our way home along the bicycle path, I noticed several people waiting in a line all facing away from the path. Why, I don't know. It will just be another sweet mystery of life.

After all the beer and food, I took a two hour nap.

We have really enjoyed our time here in Saint Croix. The house was very comfortable and we saw quite a number of new things even though we had spent several weeks a few miles away back in 2011. Phillipe told us that they had enjoyed our house and the places they had visited from Philly to Washington. Even Atlantic City! They particularly enjoyed meeting our friends Wendy and Rich, Christine and Amanda.


Our German house exchange friends took us to visit the nearby city of Bamberg.

The houses and apartment buildings look different from the French.

Pauline is the four year old daughter of our German friends. Like any other child, she enjoys a playground. They are teaching her some English as well as German.

Did you know its name was Gerald. Watch the video to get the joke.

Daughter and mother having fun.

Some sort of summer festival was about to begin, even with the threat of rain.

One of my favourite memories is riding in a dodgem at the Brisbane Show (the Ekka) back when Robin was very young. She was finally old enough to drive one herself and after a couple of minutes I glanced to one side to see her bearing down on me with a fiendish grin on her face as she broadsided me.

Side of a house.

Tables ready to be turned over.

Now that house is well and truly covered.

Bamberg's 'Little Venice'.

It was just about lunch time and the tables were filling.

We tried to find some space here but were too late.

We found a nice restaurant where we sat by an open window.

Christian had an onion filled with minced meat.

I ordered this pork leg that had been marinated in a special beer with a ham flavour called Rauchbier. It is a Bamberg specialty and is quite unusual.

Marianne and Beatrice each had a salad.

I could not eat it all but I made a valiant attempt. Little did I know that I was to eat another pork leg a few days later.

This bloke came up to our window and so I gave him some money.

Here is his website and from what I can make out he travels around promoting peace.

Sooooo, a photo of people going somewhere. The Germans don't do the long extended 'so' that is common in Austria.

Marianne wheeling Pauline's stroller. It rolls very easily and can be converted to be pulled behind a bicycle.

The old Rathaus or town hall. Bamberg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This article states that Bamberg was not bombed during WWII but apparently there was some bombing but not as much as most other German cities.

Everybody looked like they were going to have a good time even if it rained.

We climbed a hill to a square surrounded by impressive buildings. This was the State Library.

The square.

We walked around to the back entrance of the cathedral where we could take in the stroller.

It is a somber building with not much in the way of colour.

Tomb of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry II. The Wiki article is very long.

There is also a Pope buried here but I missed his tomb.

I liked the look of the shed.

I was intrigued by these triangular structures rising up to the scaffolding around one of the towers.

The Cathedral has four towers, two at the front and these two at the back.

The fun fair had started up and Pauline had a go on a trampoline swing affair. We were just in time because it started to rain.

We only had a limited time in Bamberg so there is still much more to see. I would like to go back sometime.

We really enjoyed the visit with our German friends. It was so interesting to see them in their house where we had stayed for five weeks three years before. When you live in a house for a few weeks, you tend to forget that other people own and live in the house.