Saturday, January 20, 2007

Adventures with Kyrill

The circumstances of my return to Prague were somewhat peculiar. For the first time, I didn't fly into Prague itself, but to Frankfurt as that way I was able to get a flight with a low fee for changing the date (who knows exactly when I might want or need to return; planning months in advance is never easy). The idea was that I could take the train from Frankfurt.
Minor annoyances surfaced from the very start, like scraping my finger on something on the way to the airport. (In, naturally, one of those places that comes in contact with absolutely everything so that it has now been very thoroughly scraped and prodded.) Then, my itinerary claimed that Air Canada would feed me breakfast on the way to Toronto, but failed to mention that I would have to pay extra. (I suppose this wasn't important since my stomach unsettled itself shortly after takeoff. Not seriously, just enough that I was glad no one was sitting between me and the aisle.)
Next, the Toronto airport proved to be a very confusing and irritating place. In general, I think of Canada as a sensible place where things are done in a more reasonable manner than at home. This is evidently not entirely true. Never mind that I was only spending two hours on Canadian soil, I had to fill out a customs declaration and exit the passenger area. After much querying and wandering, I reached an X-ray machine, which had to be navigated before I could get on the shuttle to what was allegedly the terminal for my transatlantic flight. After about a mile on the shuttle, or perhaps more, I discovered that in fact I had to return to the first terminal. The information desk assured me that I could only reach the terminal I had left via the terminal I was in. This made no sense to me. Also, there was allegedly no hot food at my destination, so I sought it where I was. There was not much choice. I must say that I had been under the impression that a Reuben sandwich was supposed to have dressing and more than a little sauerkraft, and that it was a grilled sandwich, not merely a hot sandwich with lots of meat and a dash of cheese and sauerkraut. The only condiments on the tables were vinegar and relish. I made do with the relish. It was still a challenge to get through all that unmitigated meat.
On the next flight, I was unpleasantly surprised to find that apparently the only way to get a vegetarian entree for supper was to request it in advance. I realize that's how these things used to be done, but I thought that these days one only had to make advance requests in case of being vegan or having strange food allergies. After having eaten meat three days in a row, the thought of chicken or beef was fairly revolting. (On the positive side, my neighbor was very nice.)
Arrival in Frankfurt was uneventful. The pilot did mention that we might have turbulence on the descent due to wind, but there was none to speak of. We could have been dancing in the aisles without any difficulty. I prefer my turbulence to be a bit more noticeable, as these days flight crews will do anything to keep passengers strapped in and immobile. Gone are the days when airlines used to advertise that in their new 747s passengers could gather round a piano and engage in other ambulatory hijinks during the flight. I suppose that was only in first class, anyway.
Once I had obtained my luggage, I proceeded to buy my train ticket. The German government showed no interest in anything I might be bringing into the EU from my barbarous homeland; evidently they saw no need to staff the customs desk at 6:30 a.m., which was fine with me.
I settled down to wait for my train, which was scheduled to arrive at 8:01. At around 8:05, I noticed that the train was alleged to be delayed or not coming. Since the next train to Nürnberg would still work with my connection, I decided that they would have to accept my ticket since it was hardly my fault if the first train had not shown up.
The second train did not arrive either, nor did various other trains alleged to go from that platform. Passengers waiting on the platform began to look rather confused. It appeared to me that there must be some problem on that track, as a train had gone on a neighboring platform.
Eventually I grew bored and wandered upstairs, where I discovered that every train on the board was listed as late or cancelled. I could see no good reason for this, so I joined a line waiting to speak to the railway service people. When I inquired what had happened and what I should do, the information person gestured resignedly and said that I could get a train in two hours. I concluded that they were having some sort of arcane electrical problem affecting the switching, since she seemed to be gesturing toward the overhead lights. Breakfast seemed like a good idea since the in-flight breakfast was long past.
Every now and then a train came through, but of course none of these were going in the right direction. Around noon a suitable candidate finally showed up from Köln. It disgorged a surprising number of people and took on quite a few. I got a seat, but although it would have been very comfortable under normal conditions, it was not very agreeable when I had to be wedged in with all my baggage. I had the impression that the man in the window seat did not like being barricaded in, but he made no mention of it and merely looked disgruntled. Eventually the train reached Nürnberg.
When I got into the main hall to try and see whether the afternoon train to Prague was still scheduled, I discovered that the railroad situation was anything but resolved. There were more people milling around than can be found even in the Brno main station at the start of a holiday weekend (where the crowd is more concentrated than that in Prague). Before long, all the trains were simply removed from the board so as not to annoy us with stupid references to trains delayed more than 60 minutes.
It struck me that I would do well to find a hotel room before everyone else in the station had the same idea. Fortunately, at 3:30 this proved strangely easy and not especially expensive. By 4:00 I was asleep.
Around 8:30 I was awakened by the arrival of a noisy family, so I decided to investigate the television news in case it mentioned the railway trouble. Fortunately, the TV was much easier to turn on than the one in my apartment in Prague. In less than ten minutes I was watching the relocation of a giraffe somewhere in Africa. It looked very much like a kidnapping, although it was alleged to be a good thing. The narration focused on the difficulty of subduing the animal and how to keep its head under the phone lines (since the giraffe had a bag over its head, one could see why it was averse to being prompted to lower its head).
Eventually a short newscast about the weather came on, which enlightened me that a storm had knocked over many German trees and even twisted up some metal. Various deaths were reported and the Köln train station was shown to be in a state similar to what I had seen in the Nürnberg station. Rather than spending too much time on this gloomy news, the channel quickly turned to instructive features on the manufacture of Eistörtchen (a confection I had never previously heard of) and of heavy-duty nautical rope. After an hour and a half of TV, as well as a day of listening to other travelers calling home, I concluded that my ability to understand basic spoken German was much better than I had thought. All I needed was to stop inserting Czech words whenever I tried to speak the language, although I had discovered that Germans as well as Czechs say "jo," which was a surprise.
In the morning I failed to find any news at all on TV, but learned from the newspaper that Germany had been the subject of a hurricane named Kyrill. Since I had been under the impression that hurricanes were a warm-weather coastal phenomenon, this surprised me. I was also surprised by the number of newspapers that featured exactly the same layout under different titles. Apparently you had to get a newspaper from another region of Germany in order to get something slightly different. Or, of course, you could buy a tabloid. I decided that it was impossible to judge which paper had the best coverage and that I could wait to read about it all online.
And so, now that I have arrived in Prague without further incident, I will be looking at the broader picture, which you can do as well at:
Spiegel Online International (in English) and their meteorological preview (in German) as well as their latest (also in German)
The New York Times
Britain's The Sun discusses local deaths. Google did not bring up much else worth reading on the topic, which I thought was a poor showing.


Anonymous Jesse said...

Too bad there was no piano in the train--you could've sung laments about bad weather and hurricanes to Kurt Weill melodies. If there had been less people, you could've danced in the aisles, too.

January 28, 2007 12:25 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

You are discounting my weariness after much travel. But when I get back to the Bay Area I'm sure John will be able to dig up some Kurt Weill for me to perform. At least, his personal library has always been my Weill resource for things like presentations on Mahagonny.

January 28, 2007 3:33 PM  

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