Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 1, 2016
Bumps in the road
Many TV travel shows extol the wonderful discoveries the world has to offer. But just like when we see the smiling folks in wedding pictures, we know there were some bumps in the road before those pictures were taken and more are likely in the future.
When daughter Katie and I headed off to Europe to meet Art, who had left a few weeks earlier, the first bump appeared pretty quickly. A delay in our flight from Toronto meant we missed our connection from Frankfurt to Luxembourg. So rather than Art arriving after us, he was at the Luxembourg airport to pick us up.
But our luggage didn't join us. Instead of coding our bags for Frankfurt, Germany, the clerk in Kansas City had coded them for Zurich, Switzerland. So our bags took a little vacation on their own. Fortunately, they arrived the next morning before we began a Google-Maps estimated seven-hour 810-kilometer trip to our friend’s vacation home east of Berlin, Germany.
That estimate assumed an average speed of about 120 kilometers or better than 70 miles per hour. On Germany’s Autobahns, which have no speed limits, that is possible. But because of traffic jams, our average was about 48 miles per hour. We arrived after 10 p.m. without any food for the next day. Art had scheduled a 10 a.m. tour for him and Katie of a bunker used by the German air force during World War II. They headed out with a breakfast of candy bars. I had only a cup of hot tea.
Our “adopted German daughter” Nadja arrived before Art and Katie returned and drove me to the grocery store. We all had been invited to a birthday party for Bärbel, our friend of 25 years, at 3 p.m., so we three downed some hastily-made sandwiches and then joined the party.
From that point, events progressed much as we might see in those travel shows. The party was fun and capped by a barbecue in the evening. We reconnected with Bärbel’s husband Güntor, her sons Thomas, Ulrich and Matthias, and other family members.
The next day, we three, Nadja, and her boyfriend Matze met with Matthias, his wife Arlette and their three children in their home in nearby Hangelsberg for an afternoon "tea."
On Monday, we traveled with Bärbel and Güntor to Slubice, Poland. It lies just over the German border and has shops which sell merchandise for a fraction of German prices. We went just to see the shops, but Katie and I did buy scarves and Art bought a birthday present for daughter Mariya.
Tuesday was something of a mixed bag. On the first day of summer, local musicians play music throughout Berlin. Other European cities do the same. Some performances are indoors, but most are outside and free. Art marked several promising locations on his phone that morning, but Google Maps picked the wrong location for the first one - right street, but wrong number. So nothing was going on when we arrived and a comparison of the street numbers meant we had quite a walk ahead of us.
Once we got to the right spot, a band of about 30 members was assembling. Katie and I made ourselves comfortable on the sidewalk and Art stood nearby. Soon a crowd had gathered and we all enjoyed the hour-long concert.
Another group was to follow, but Katie suggested we go to another location that was supposed to have a Latin-themed program. But when we arrived, a video crew was taping a show or commercial in the small park. We watched for a few minutes, but were soon drawn to the nearby street cafés. Katie and I had Alsatian tartes that were wonderful. Art had sirloin tips and noodles that he selected with some reservation because the dish was made with a mustard sauce. But he quickly proclaimed it was one of the best things he had ever eaten. After, Katie was picked up by Nadja to spend the night at her home in Berlin while we rode the train home.
The next day, we met at Berlin's east train station as had been planned. That worked well and then we rode the underground to a museum depicting the history of Berlin, complete with English labels. A bonus was an English tour of a Cold-War underground bunker. The narrow four-high cots reminded Katie and me of scenes in “The Hunger Games” movies.
As we went down to the bunker, one woman slipped on the steps, hurt her foot and had to go for medical attention. She commented that it was her very first day of her visit to Berlin - another example of how things can and do go wrong at times.
We had previously arranged to meet Nadja and Matze at an Asian buffet after her work. It proved to be the largest we had ever seen and was somewhat overwhelming as there were so many things to choose from. The next two and a half hours slipped by quickly as we leisurely ate and chatted. We called it a night around 10 p.m. as Nadja and Matze had to go to work the next day.
But another of those bumps was lurking. Art and I arrived at the train station just as the 10 p.m. train pulled out. We wished we had caught it as a check of the schedule indicated the next one was at 11 p.m.
It never came! No reason was ever given, but even if we had known why, the situation remained the same - we were 30 miles from where we had parked our car and had no way of using public transport to get there. We called Nadja and she, accompanied by Katie, took pity on us and drove us to our vehicle. They didn’t arrive back to her home until around 2 a.m.
So should these various hiccups discourage travel? Not at all. We met our German friends of 25 years as the result of another miscalculation in 1991. That led to an immeasurable enrichment to our lives. We have had guided tours by these friends, enjoyed family meals, acquired our "adopted" German daughter and son, have been alerted to attractions only locals are familiar with, had the opportunity to see how others view America, hosted several of these new friends in our home, learned local history - such as the fall of the Berlin Wall - from those who lived it and much more. None of those would have likely happened if everything had gone smoothly.
And this was not the only time a failed plan yielded unexpected dividends. Art became acquainted with the friend he stayed with in England earlier in his trip through another plan that went bust in 1983.
So while we certainly won’t head out on our next adventure hoping it goes badly, bumps in the road sometimes lead to the most rewarding outcomes. It is sort of the travel version of "what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger."
Left: in the parking lot near the Slubice market. From the left, Art, Bärbel, Güntor and Gloria; right: June 21 free street performance on Karl-Marx-Allee to mark the start of summer.