30th December 2010
The Joy of Travelling by Air
The objective and the plan
The reason why Jenny and I decided to fly to Germany a couple of weeks ago was because it was the only sensible way of getting there on time for Cally’s funeral. We were very pleased that Tom decided to accompany us on this trip. It was also nice that we would see George who was travelling from Berlin to attend the funeral.
Our outward bound travelling plans were to depart from City of London Airport around 1400 hours on Thursday 16th December on a BA flight which was due to arrive at Frankfurt Airport around 1700 hours. We were due to be met there by a man who works for Nico and driven to The Krone Hotel in Lohr where Nico had reserved rooms for us.
Our homeward journey was planned for Saturday 18th December on a Lufthansa flight leaving Frankfurt at around 1300 and due to arrive at Heathrow around 1400. Nico’s driver was to take us from Lohr to Frankfurt where we had to check in by 1100 and a Sedlescombe taxi driver was due to pick us up from Heathrow and bring us home to Jacobs.
Finding out about airline schedules and booking seats on planes nowadays can best be done computer experts. We therefore turned to Emma for help. In a flash, she had booked our tickets and given them (or probably a series of magic numbers) to Tom so that he could make sure we got to the appropriate destinations.
Before leaving London, it was clear that we were living in luxury. Emma was our UK travel agent, Tom was our ticket-meister and baggage-meister, Nico was our German travel agent and George was available as an interpreter. The only thing Jenny and I had to do was to book our Sedlescombe taxi driver. Wonderful!
Our journey to Lohr
City of London Airport is the only nice airport I know. Tom met us there and, after having arranged for some of our luggage to be put in the hold and after a bite to eat, we boarded our plane. Unfortunately, there was thick cloud and, after take-off, we were unable to look down at the Thames which is usually a special feature of leaving City of London Airport.
After an hour or two, the loud speaker started to issue a series of announcements at intervals of about fifteen minutes. These all started with the words “This is your Captain speaking”. The series of announcements ran as follows:-
You may have noticed that we are going round in circles. There has been a heavy fall of snow and we are awaiting our turn to land.
We are still in a holding pattern and it may be up to half an hour before we can land.
We have made the decision to divert to Stuttgart. (I wondered if we were running out of fuel).
We have now landed in Stuttgart and are waiting for the snow to be cleared at Frankfurt.
Some passengers want to get out here instead of returning to Frankfurt. The head stewardess will go round to count the number of passengers who wish to do this. (We elected to get out but only if we could get our bags out of the hold).
We have decided not to go back to Frankfurt. All passengers will therefore have to exit the plane here in Stuttgart. Advice about how they proceed to their ultimate destinations will be available in the arrivals lounge. (We never saw anyone dishing out this advice).
During the above period of enforced indecision, Tom periodically telephoned Nico to tell him what was happening or not happening. This enabled Nico to tell his driver to return from Frankfurt Airport to Lohr and at some stage to tell us that he would come to Stuttgart to pick us up. This was very good of him. Stuttgart is a lot further away from Lohr than Frankfurt is. Also, Nico must have hoped for a quiet evening at home prior to the funeral on the following day.
At Stuttgart Airport we found a bar where we were able to buy sandwiches and drinks. Just outside this bar, there was a taxi rank which we watched while we awaited Nico’s arrival. There was not much snow at Stuttgart but it was very cold as I discovered when I went outside to have a puff on one of my cigars.
After an hour or two, Nico appeared. He was very cheerful and did seem pleased that we had travelled so far to be at his Mum’s funeral. On the way to Lohr, he drove very slowly which I guessed was because he thought we might be fearful about high speeds on snow-covered autobahns. My guess was quite wrong. The reason was that something horrid had gone wrong with the engine of his car and the accelerator was not functioning properly.
A rather touching thing happened on our journey from Stuttgart to Lohr. Nico has a loudspeaker in his car for receiving telephone calls and every half hour or so Christa rang up to check on our progress. She clearly had no intention of going to sleep before her husband was safely at home with her.
Before he had left Lohr, Nico had found out how we could get into the Hotel Krone in the middle of the night and find our bedrooms. This was a brilliant idea of his. Nico got us to Lohr and into our hotel at 0200 on Friday morning.
So ended our outward journey about six or seven hours after our planned time of arrival in Lohr.
Our return journey to England
The first stage of our journey home went smoothly and Nico’s driver got us to Frankfurt Airport in good time in spite of quite a lot of snow on the roads. As it was a Saturday when there are few flights into City of London Airport, our intended destination was Heathrow.
As there are always delays in recovering baggage in airports such as Heathrow, Tom decided that we should endeavour to carry our luggage with us in the plane. This involved packing one bag inside another which we thought would give us a fair chance of keeping our baggage with us.
Jenny thinks the above paragraph is a figment of my imagination brought on by “Reise fieber”. Tom has a memory like an elephant and will remember if he actually re-packed our bags.
Tom’s next move was to insert our tickets or ticket numbers into an automatic machine which spewed out our boarding cards. We wondered what to do next and consulted a uniformed official. He told us to join a queue and receive instructions when we eventually got to the front of it.
This seemed a rotten idea because the queue was over a hundred yards long and was barely moving. Tom looked at our boarding passes or otherwise discovered that we were due to depart through Gate 24. He then led us through “Emigration” where we and our luggage were duly searched. When we got to the departure lounge near gate 24, we found that some people were already standing in a queue preparatory to boarding the plane.
Initially, it seemed quite likely that our plane would depart punctually. However, after hanging around for a couple of hours, our flight was cancelled because Heathrow and other English airports were snow-bound. We then debated various possibilities such as:-
1. Return to Lohr. Rejected as a backwards movement.
2. Stay the night in a hotel in Frankurt and fly to London next day. Rejected as time-wasting. (Just as well as it turned out. British airports remained shut on Sunday).
3. Hire a self-drive car and drive in a westerly direction. This stupid idea was mine. Fortunately, we could not find any self-drive cars available for hire.
4. Board a train and travel West. This was eventually our unanimous decision but a lot had to be done to implement it.
Because we had been through “Emigration”, this left us in limbo and we therefore had to go back through “Immigration”. This involved quite a bit of walking but fortunately we did not have to join any long queues and it was not too troublesome.
The queues started again when we wanted to make enquiries about train timetables and then buy our tickets. We tried to do this at automatic machines. These helped towards a decision that we should first take a train to Cologne and then take a second train to Brussels or Paris. So far so good, but the rotten machines refused to accept our credit cards by way of payment for tickets.
By this time, I had walked about five times further than I had done since my back operation and found a much-needed chair for a rest. Tom was temporarily away investigating the possibilities of self-drive cars and Jenny joined a different queue leading to some girls who were providing a human alternative to the automatic machines.
The target of Jenny’s queue was a bit like a post office. When Jenny was nearer the front of the queue, the girl she was approaching put up a notice saying something like “This position is now closed”. However, Jenny persisted and emerged poorer by £616 but happier because she had bought three tickets to Cologne and on from there by a connecting train to Paris.
Our two train journeys were pretty comfortable, the only anxious moment being when we were told we had to change platforms fairly quickly to catch the second train. During these journeys, the mobile telephones were hard at work. Tom had to ring his home to announce his delayed return. Jenny had to do likewise to Jacobs. She had spoken earlier to the Sedlescombe taxi driver when he had got as far as Reigate through snow-bound roads on his way to Heathrow.
While we were on the train, there were also several telephone conversations with George who was back in Berlin. When he knew we were going to Paris, he booked beds for us at the station hotel across the road from the Gare du Nord.
Our arrival at this hotel was around 2300 on the Saturday. At the reception desk, we heard other travellers being told “Sorry. We are fully booked”. This made us even more grateful to George for booking our rooms. We were so tired when we got into our room that Jenny disregarded the fact that our bed had the appearance of having had a previous occupant. She just got into bed and fell asleep.
After a very nice breakfast on the Sunday morning, Tom walked across to the Gare du Nord to buy tickets for our journey back to Blighty. Tom was booked on a mid-morning train to St.Pancras and we were booked on the first train to stop at Ashford which was due to leave the Gare du Nord at 1500.
Jenny and I had a delicious lunch at the Brasserie next door to our hotel and walked across to the Gare du Nord in good time to catch our train. We then encountered another long queue of travellers. All trains were running late due to snow falls accentuated by a broken down train in the platform from which we were due to depart.
An official told us that we should go to the back of a stationary queue about a hundred and fifty yards long. Jenny obeyed this instruction but I made friends with four English people who were travelling to Ashford and whom we had met over breakfast in our hotel. They were near the front of the queue and it was not long before other people in the queue seemed to accept that I was part of their party.
After about an hour my new-found friends said I should go and check up on Jenny. When I did this, Jenny was trying to check up on me and we missed each other. We both then turned back and met each other this time. I then managed to persuade Jenny to join my friends near the front of the queue.
Not long after that, our queue started moving into a separate part of the station near the departure platform. There were some chairs available at this point and we sat down on them and let the new queue pass us until it came to a standstill.
After about half an hour an announcement was made we were to board the train. We got out of our chairs and forced our way to the front of the new queue with Jenny now acting as chief queue-buster. We then boarded the train.
When the train departed, we were able to start guessing our possible time of arrival at Ashford. I used Jenny’s mobile to telephone our Sedlescombe taxi driver and asked if he could meet us at Ashford. He declined on the grounds of snow-bound roads and said we should be able to pick up a taxi at Ashford. He must have felt guilty about this piece of mis-information because, when I later asked him how much we owed for his abortive journey towards Heathrow, he said there was no need to pay him.
We then telephoned Paul with a cry for help. He said of course he would pick us up at Ashford. Our train was eventually quite late in arriving at Ashford and Paul had to make the best part of two journeys to Ashford before we finally met him there.
There was quite a lot of snow on the roads but Paul drove carefully and had no difficulty in getting us to Jacobs. When we came to the level crossing near Rye station, the gates were down and we had to wait while two trains passed in opposite directions. The TGV (or Trains de Grand Vitesse) may have difficulty in operating when snow falls but the great British service between Doleham Halt and Rye never lets its customers down.
Paul delivered us home at Jacobs at 2000 on the Sunday evening which was 28 hours after our scheduled arrival time.
This ends my narrative about the pleasure of travelling by air. Thank Goodness that we had three sons and a daughter-in-law to help us on our way!
Posted by: David | January 02, 2011 at 01:34 PM
This was posted by Paul, from our computer. I tried to post it myself, but failed. I might say it spent 20 hours in limbo.
Posted by: Mum | January 02, 2011 at 12:14 PM