It's Friday morning wee hours time, and I'm a block away from the airport. Time to go to bed, and tomorrow the long trip to Frankfurt (and beyond) begins. I'll fill you in on all the details as soon as I can.
Well, a few hours later and it appears to be morning. Next update will be from Deutschland! Auf wiedersehen! ... Bis später!
At the airport, I met up with Annie. I just realized that I haven't seen her since Chateau d'Oex, way back in January. That's amazing, both simply because I can't believe that many months have passed since that adventure, but also specifically because it feels like I was just with Annie a few weeks ago. (I guess this misperception must be the result of my following Alf's journals.)
Oh, I should go back and fill in the early pre-journal details. Hmmm, should I go back and add in a September 14 entry at the beginning of this page? What are the rules here? There's no Journal Style Book, I guess.
Anyway, last night I left home late and drove around the Sound (Puget Sound, that is) to Sea-Tac. It was not a non-stop, however: At about 10:30, just after passing Port Orchard, I noticed a car parked on the shoulder with its flashers on. I sped past, but then noticed there was a Cute Young Blonde jumping up and down next to the car, waving plaintively. Needless to say, I quickly hit the brakes and screeched to a stop.
Lindsay (the CYB) said that she was having some trouble with her front end. She elaborated on this, with a fairly long explanation that included a history of the problem and the most recent developments. "I know a little bit about cars," she said. ("Plainly, more than I do," I thought.) She felt that her car could not continue as it was, or the front axle would fall off. Even if I did know something about cars, it was unlikely that I would have been able to reconstruct the front of her car on a dark freeway shoulder with no tools ... but I was able to provide her with a cell phone so she could call her dad. That seemed to take care of things, from her perspective.
Nothing else particularly noteworthy occurred while en route to the Radisson.
So ... back to the plane. The crew just completed lunch service. It was pretty good! Once of the choices was some kind of pesto pizza with (among other things) shrimp and corn. Well, that certainly sounded unusual, but the server said that it's really pretty good. In fact, they were out of them by the time they got to me. But that was fine, since I had already made a different choice ... which proved to be quite satisfying. It had an unusual corn component, too, with a few cold kernels sprinkled on the spinach salad. I wonder if Delta found a bargain on corn somewhere? (Note: This plethora of corn, it turned out, foreshadowed later events.)
My luggage is already having trouble. This flight is really full, and I didn't board as early as I should have. As a result, my carry-on rollaboard is in an overhead compartment far, far away. It contains cameras and lenses and a bazillion rolls of film, plus a couple changes of clothes. (Since I'm traveling with Annie, it's a good bet that our checked luggage will follow an itinerary different from ours.) I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to be able to retrieve this bag when we land, since I'll be going against the tide. Huh. (Actually, after stowing the bag far, far away, I managed to so some highly creative rearranging of one of the compartments right next to me, such that it would perfectly accommodate my bag ... but just then another guy showed up with his bag, and so I let him use my hard-won space. I hope all these good deeds are being toted up somewhere in the cosmos for when and if next-life rewards are meted out.)
Our movie on the Seattle-Cincinnati leg is "Big Momma's House." Unfortunately, I missed the first few minutes of it, when the basic "high concept" plot points were established. I kind of have a feeling that "plot" is not intended to be this film's main feature, however. Hey, at one point, it looked like one of the characters was shooting with a Rolleiflex TLR. Cool! (Coincidentally, the last time I saw one of those was in Chateau d'Oex, when some guy was using one to shoot Corkscrew Balloon III.)
The next 48 hours or so are going to be wildly disorienting. Annie and I change planes in Cincinnati for our flight to Frankfurt. We're scheduled to arrive at 9:40 Saturday morning. Stephani and Robin will be on the next Delta flight out of Cincinnati, and they should reach Frankfurt at 1:10 pm. By the way, did you know that the Cincinnati airport is in Kentucky?
Our goal is to get some sleep on the Cincinnati-Frankfurt segment, so we'll be able to see a little bit of Germany through open eyes on Saturday. We will not have a chance for much sleep Saturday night, because we head out early Sunday morning for our day-long transfer to Oslo. I got a note from Alf last night that said we had to get up at 5:00 Sunday morning. Annie's understanding, however, is that we have to get up at 3:00 for a 4:00 departure. Well, if we're getting up at 3:00 in Germany, that means it's ... 6:00 Saturday evening in Seattle, the time zone that Annie and I will still practically be living in. What a time to be getting up! (This is so disquieting that all my sentences are ending with prepositions!) I'm already tired from staying up until 2 am last night, we don't hit Frankfurt for another twelve hours. Our next real sleep will be in Oslo Sunday night ... a very long time from now. ... Or will we still be on the ferry to Oslo Sunday night, and sleeping while afloat? I don't know!
Well, that's all the news for now. More later!
Our plane landed a little early, and Mike and the crew were there to meet us. After a three-hour drive to Eisenach, we had lunch at a fine German restaurant and proceeded to check into our special "crew-approved" hotel accommodations. Personally, I'm feeling the effects of the long trip, and I'm going to try to take a short nap before meeting Alf and Watcharee for dinner. Robin and Stephani, who were on a later flight out of Cincinnati, should be here at about 4:00 ... that might be a good time to set on the alarm clock.
If you're reading this, it means I've successfully negotiated the various power connection, phone connection, local German dialing and Internet protocol issues. (Is this thing on?)
A nap was just the thing! And luckily, I just hit the snooze button when 4:00 rolled around, because Stephani and Robin didn't arrive until almost 6:00 ... just a few minutes after I woke up. We're all here now, and we're about to head off to meet Alf and Watcharee for dinner in town.
This journal is going to be dropping into silence again pretty soon. After dinner, we have to go to bed so we can get up and be on the road by 5:00 am ... and then we'll be on the road for 500km until we reach the BOAT, which we will be on for the next 12 hours. I don't expect there will be connection possibilities throughout that time period, so there may be no communication from our little group until ... I don't know ... Monday?
Anyway, gotta run!
Dinner was good! We went into Eisenach and descended into a cellar restaurant across the street from a Martin Lutheresque church. (You will recall that this area was Martin's old stomping ground.) Alf and Watcharee were finishing up their corkscrew duties, but within a few minutes they were able to join us. At last, our group was together: Alf, Watcharee, Stephani, Robin, Annie and me, plus Mike and an amazingly large balloon crew. We all had dinner; for most of us it was the salmon followed by a lovely apple streudel with ice cream.
After dinner, it was back to the crew hotel. Stephani, Robin, Annie and I had been up for quite a while: It was Saturday night in Germany, but our last night's sleep had ended Friday morning in the U.S. Although we benefitted from varying amounts of airplane sleep (my personal amount varied toward the low end), we were pretty much running on afterburners.
Exacerbating the sleep issue was our upcoming schedule: We had to be on the road by 4:30 am, in order to drive to Kiel on the north coast. Nevertheless, upon our return to the crew hotel, Robin and I stayed up in the lobby for another hour, until about 11:00. I slept off and on until just before 3:00, and then I decided I might as well get up and start organizing for our departure.
Oh, here's what I found to be the most interesting aspect of our Eisenach hotel: They have an advanced key-card setup where your card not only lets you into your room ... when you plug it into a slot in the wall of your room, it also switches on the electricity and keeps track of your phone charges. By inserting your card in a lobby vending machine, you can charge it up with Deutsche Marks for phone use; when you get to your room, you stick the card in a slot by the door and the lights come on. (One advantage of this system is, you always know exactly where you've put your key card.)
With the card in the wall, your phone is also activated for outgoing calls. When you place a call, the display on the digital clock in the room's desk switches from hours and minutes of the day to Marks remaining in your phone prepayment. It's quite cool. Mike had charged my card up with 40 Marks' worth of calls so my notebook could talk, through a Frankfurt CompuServe POP, to various Internet servers back home.
As I was saying, we started Sunday very early. After getting up at 3:00 am and packing (hmmm ... that would be 9:00 pm back home), I went down to the hotel dining room. Mike, Annie and a couple of the crew guys were already there having a little continental breakfast and quite a lot of coffee. It was impressive that breakfast was already set out for us by 4:00, and everything was quite fresh and tasty. (I suppose the poor folks who didn't get around to eating breakfast until hours later ... 6:00 or so ... were not able to experience this special freshness. The fools!
Around 4:30 or so we headed out. Annie and Mike went in one of the Previas, driven by the infamous Dan the Dent Man. They would pick up Alf and Watcharee at the corkscrew hotel. Stephani, Robin and I rode in the other Previa, which was driven by crew member Michael.
We had agreed to meet at a "petrol stop" just outside of Eisenach. Our van arrived first, so we went inside and looked at the interesting products available in the shop. Among other things, there were illuminated fuzzy dice and a combination package of an energy drink and a condom (available in both the Big Ben and the Billy Boy brands). When the other van joined us, we began our journey north.
Since it was very early on a Sunday morning, traffic was very light at first. We were counting on this: It seemed that most of the roads in this part of Germany were under construction, so lanes had been remarked and often both directions of travel were confined to the lanes that would normally handle only one. Bottlenecks abounded, and warning signs were posted everywhere. With a high vehicle population in transit, this would lead to congestion and delays ... and we had places to go and things to see. Our early departure, we hoped, would facilitate our arrival in Kiel, 500 kilometers away, by noon.
We were going to Kiel to board a ferry that would take us to Oslo. It was set to sail at 2:00, and if we missed it, our plans would be seriously compromised.
Everything was going quite well for the first couple of hours. As Robin and I compared predictions on when the sun might come up (and speculated on whether we'd be able to notice, because of all the low-lying clouds), Stephani caught some extra sleep, stretched out in the back seat with her head over the right rear tire.
Did I say right rear tire? What was that noise?? All of a sudden we heard the sounds and felt the feel of steel rolling in direct contact with pavement. As you know, basic automotive design calls for steel and pavement to be separated by air-filled rubber; somehow, we had fallen out of compliance with that specification. It was quite jarring when this happened, traveling as we were at a conservative autobahn rate of about 75 miles an hour. Driver Michael was expert in his handling of the situation, however: We did not fly off the road, we did not roll over and explode in a ball of flames, we were not decapitated or delimbed. Indeed, we were simply brought to a very smooth stop in the road.
We would have actually preferred being off the road a bit, since there were occasional other vehicles driving past at a conservative autobahn rate of about 75 miles an hour ... and some of them were going at a less conservative rate of about 95 miles an hour ... but we were in one of the ubiquitous, previously mentioned construction areas when this happened, and the narrowed lanes offered no shoulder.
Stopped at the side of the road, we sprang into action. Michael began removing the spare tire from underneath the van, Robin set up a warning marker, and I started snapping photos of them both doing all the actual work. Stephani contemplated how much warmer Florida is, relative to the side of a German highway in pre-dawn hours.
Ahead of us, Mike and Dan immediately noticed that we had dropped out of formation, and they expressed their concern over the radios with which the Bombard vans are equipped. (What are you idiots stopping for? We have a boat to catch!) Upon learning of our near-death experience, however, they came running back to help.
After about half an hour, our shredded tire had been replaced with a slightly balding spare one (but who am I to talk, being slightly balding myself?), and we were once again on our way.
The remainder of our drive was uneventful. We made one rest stop shortly after our little "tire issue," and despite our unexpected delay, we arrived at the Kiel ferry right on time, at noon.
Our ferry was the Color Line's ship the Prinsesse Ragnhild. Holy cow, this was some boat! We would be on it for nineteen and half hours, as we plied the waves from Kiel to Oslo, and we quickly began to wish that the trip was longer! Upon boarding, we were greeted by a special hostess who showed us our cabins. We would be located near the back of the ship: Although there are several hundred cabins on board, only a few have been specially super-sized for added pampering.
Prinsesse Ragnhild was built in Kiel for the Oslo-Kiel service of Norwegian company Jahre Line. She was completed in 1981 at 15000grt in size, 896 berths. She later had additional cabins added to the top deck, increasing to 16000grt and 1006 berths. The company was relaunched as Color Line, with a new livery, in 1991. In 1992 she was radically rebuilt with a new centre section and extra decks, becoming 38500grt with 1876 berths, and was barely recognisable as the earlier ship.
On 7th July 1999 she suffered an engine room fire on passage Kiel-Oslo. All passengers were successfully evacuated, although one died later from a heart attack. The crew remained on board, and the fire was extinguished. [Yikes! I didn't find out about this until a few weeks after we were on the ship!]
Annie and Mike had starboard cabins, mine was on the port side, and Robin and Stephani had the Henrik Ibsen Suite in the back. Each of these cabins had a well-stocked complimentary minibar (to accompany the fresh fruit basket), plus chairs and sofas and large windows and ... well, let's just say that these cabins were really, really nice. Take a look at my cabin: Very spacious, with a whole "living room" area and two large picture windows. Stephani and Robin's Ibsen Suite had a little balcony/porch/walkway outside sliding doors, with windows looking aft.
Alf and Watcharee stayed in a stateroom at the bow of the ship, labeled "owner." It was perhaps even a bit nicer than our excellent cabins. This is a HUGE ship: The corridors on either side that run the length of the ship appear to stretch on forever. Vertically, looking down in the central elevator atrium shows the ship's great depth. Our cabins are all on Level Eight; dining is on Level Four; far below us the Previas wait for Oslo.
We went to one of the dining rooms for a luncheon buffet and our first chance to sample pickled herring. Actually, the variety of food was quite extensive. I discovered too late that there were Indian curry choices ... something that doesn't exist in my little home county. (I keep meaning to meet up with Annie in Seattle for some Indian dinner, but we mainly seem to get together in Europe!)
After lunch we explored the ship a bit. This ship is so big, it's just amazing. On Level 3 there is a huge tax-free supermarket, with groceries, wines, clothing, perfumes, jewelry, electronics, and trolls. Level 4 has four or five restaurants and the lower half of the Starlight Nightclub. I never did make it to the Casino, although I had really hoped to lose a few bucks there playing blackjack. Oh well.
At 5:00, Stephani and Robin threw a party in the Ibsen Suite. We all carted in the contents from our several minibars, and some of us watched the Olympics on television while the rest of us stood around and chatted. During the party, we sailed under the 10-week-old Øresund Bridge (*), which links Sweden and Denmark.
Denmark, Sweden linked by bridge
MALMOE, Sweden, July 2, 2000 (AP) - What 7,000 years of nature divided, the king of Sweden and the queen of Denmark reunited Saturday.
Melting glaciers slowly created the Oresund Strait between Sweden and Denmark, but a 10-mile bridge and tunnel combination, which includes an artificial island, has made it possible again to drive between Copenhagen and Malmo, Sweden.
Queen Margrethe of Denmark and Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf oversaw a three-hour ceremony officially opening the link to motorized traffic just before midnight Saturday.
The equipment we brought with us to Scandinavia will return to France via the Øresund bridge.
(*) Years later, on December 18, 2003, reader Torben J. of Ringkøbing, Denmark wrote to tell us that we were mistaken:
The bridge you are showing on your website is not the Øresunds bridge, but Storebæltsbroen (The Great Belt Bridge). And this is the one that the ferry passes from Kiel to Oslo.
We thank Torben J. for straightening us out. Even though it turns out we were mistaken, though, we remain pleased at having been able to enjoy the excitement of sailing under "the Øresunds bridge." We thought we did, and so our thrill was genuine at the time!
After the Ibsen Suite party, some of us checked out the upper (outside) deck of the Prinsesse Ragnhild. By this point, it was getting rather windy and chilly. While I still felt fairly comfortable in my short-sleeved shirt, others bundled up a bit more. Some crew boots watched the passing waters on the port side, while other crew boots slid along the starboard deck.
We met for dinner in the more formal of the ship's restaurants. (This still meant jeans for a few of us, however.) The food was good! Mine and Annie's started with shrimp: The little fellows were swimming in a sea of butter, lost in an escargot dish. At the end, coffee with Bailey's. (The initial combining of these ingredients created a rather startling sludge, but everything cleared nicely.) In between was some excellent lamb ... which I neglected to photograph, perhaps because I was distracted by Stephani's quiet sobbing over the poor little creature that was senselessly killed to create the dish.
The evening's entertainment, in the Starlight Lounge, was a group called ... "Waterloo"! Yes, you guessed it: Abba impersonators! We were all delighted by our good fortune in having landed on board during one of their rare Prinsesse Ragnhild appearances. The balloon crew in particular were extremely excited.
I shot lots of photos of Waterloo, although in the darkened nightclub it was a little tricky to get unblurred shots. Alf's camera, with its "steady cam" feature, fared better. I'm including some shots from each ... plus some MPEG movies that Alf shot. It was a great show, and the crew were the stars of the audience.