I’m strapped to a seat at an altitude of 36,000 feet somewhere between Munich and Toronto on my return flight from Germany. What started out as a business trip to Germany became a pleasant week in Bavaria with my wife and son. They were not able to match my flights so our flight itineraries were different however our paths converged in the Munich airport and diverged there, on our return to the U.S.A.
The flight to Munich was pleasant enough if you ignore the Embraer 145 segment from Reagan National to Newark Airport and really the whole Newark airport experience. The Newark airport is nothing more than an annoying pothole on the east coast of the United States. I recommend avoiding it. The Embraer 145 is a small jet. I cannot stand up straight while on board so I hunch over like Igor in the movie “Young Frankenstein” as I make my way to my seat. All the seats on this Embraer 145 are both aisle seats and window seats due to the fuselage’s sewer pipe dimensions so it was easy to honor my traveler profile preference for the aisle.
From Newark I departed via United Airlines (Lufthansa code share) hoi polloi class and, as you can probably predict, experienced a top notch flight. Excellent, efficient service with flight attendants who seem to value, if not enjoy, their jobs. The food? Excellent. A new large Airbus something or other with comfy, clean seats albeit with veal pen-class legroom. I spent eight hours with my patellas flattened into the seat back in front of me. I’ve experienced this confined existence more times than I can remember so Lufthansa does not have a monopoly on this feature. My discomfort was assuaged by the excellent food, service, and the overall demeanor of the flight.
We regrouped in the Munich airport and then used the convenient, clean, and punctual train system to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. We arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon exhausted. It was a low-key, recovery night for the three of us.
The next day my son and I set out on what would become a 8.7 mile hike 3,000 feet up the Kramerspitze, a rigorous but pleasant and rewarding experience. (This was not the Appalachian foothills we are accustomed to in Georgia.) We both ran out of steam before we reached the peak. We did climb into the clouds which reduced our visibility and, not knowing how much further, we turned back retreating to St. Martins restaurant, a lovely place with bratwurst, beer, and a commanding view of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. This restaurant is only accessible on foot so, as you might expect, there were few Americans there.
For me, the next two days were a dizzying array of eye-blistering PowerPoint and military jargon while my wife and son were experiencing Germany and Austria. However, once my business was concluded, we spent time touring the area.
Thursday we visited Schwangau and Neuschwanstein Castle the same one that appears in the movie “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and the inspiration for Walt Disney’s princess castle. This was my second visit to the castle and my first tour. Five years ago, while I was a student at George C. Marshall European Center for Security Cooperation Studies, a.k.a. the Marshall Center - as an alum I am required to use the whole name at least once each I time I reference it - I visited the castle, in eighteen inches of snow, with a few classmates. While waiting our turn to go inside the castle, I lost my 20EUR admittance ticket somewhere in the snow. I chose to take refuge at the nearest gluhwein stand and wait for my colleagues to finish the tour. I stood in the snow under an umbrella drinking warm wine and watching swarms of people - each walking under their own umbrellas - on a wintry German day. A curious alternative spectacle to Ludwig II’s unfinished home.
This time I participated in the tour with my wife and son. A good event and exactly 35 minutes long. They say the castle was about 30% complete upon Ludwig’s death and so the tour is limited to the finished areas. What the tour reveals is amazing but nowhere near the whole castle. One is likely to see more of the Disney version at Disneyworld. Nevertheless, Neuschwanstein Castle is worth visiting. Maybe this will not surprise you but there is more to Ludwig II than meets the eye. For more information I refer you to the Wikipedia page. So that was our Thursday, a full day including transportation and a knowledgeable and fun Edelweiss employee-as-driver.
Actually the day wasn’t quite over as Thursday had one more surprise for us. After we returned to the Edelweiss we descended to Zuggy’s Base Camp - the Laurentian Abyss of the Alps - to see what all the fuss was about. It turns out Thursday night is karaoke night. We were hungry and decided to give it a go. Wings, beer, and some guy named Wayne singing “Candle in the Wind”. If you’ve ever experienced karaoke, you know the scene.
Friday was the obligatory trip to the top of the Alpspitze via the gondola. Chilly on top (9ºC) but an excellent location to enjoy the Summer Solstice. We consumed sausage, sauerkraut, and beer at 2048m, near the top of Germany. It is difficult to think of a better place to spend time.
Saturday wake-up at 0400, meeting the taxi at 0440 at the gate to the Edelweiss compound - many of the taxi drivers cannot come onto the compound and our early bird was one of them. So we somnambulated the half mile bag drag in the wee hours to meet our taxi. It reminded me of all my deployments.
Our goal was to catch the 0500 train from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to the Munich airport. We did and the train efficiently, quietly, and comfortably delivered us to the Munich airport at 0730. From here our itineraries diverged. Their flight left terminal 1 at 0955; my flight left terminal 2 at 1230. Time for breakfast and then a temporary good-bye, wishes for a safe flight, etc. We split up.
Their story was far different from mine and since I was not there I cannot sufficiently describe it. We were all supposed to arrive at Reagan National around dinner time. They arrived at Dulles on Sunday, a day later, at 10pm. I do not envy their experience but they will have an interesting story to tell once the airline muck is rinsed away and the story gets some age on it.
My trip home was aboard a Canada Air 787-9. I was assigned a middle seat, the bane of commercial airline travel. So, sans blue blazer (those days seems to be behind me), I swaggered to the end of the queue at the gate to try to negotiate a different seating position. It was here I was robbed by Dickens’ Fagin of thirty minutes of my life while I waited for the two customers in front of me to have their issue resolved.
I pleaded my case feeling naked without my blazer but was rewarded with a “maybe”. They took my name and said they would see what they could do. And they delivered. As we were boarding, I heard the ominous, if not promising, calling of my name “passenger Johnson” over the PA. This can proceed in a few direction. It could be that your request is honored or you could be led down four flights of darkened stairs to an even darker room where people speak in a language you do not understand and they nudge your luggage with a truncheon while inquiring with stern looks and raised eyebrows. Thankfully I was offered an aisle seat in row 46, the last row. So while I would board the plane in Munich I would buckle into my seat somewhere near Eitting. I jumped at the change to escape the middle seat so Eitting here I come.
The flight attendants seemed to feel sorry for me as I was always the last person served on this full flight. They plied me with free alcohol of which I eagerly accepted. My seat mates (46E,F) were a middle-aged Romanian couple whose grasp of the English language was worse than mine. Due to our mutual mono-lingualism we became fast friends communicating with hand gestures, smiles, smirks, and raised eyebrows.
The food was tasty and on par with my moveable feast a few days earlier on Lufthansa. The service was pleasant although not as good as what I encountered on Lufthansa. It seems Air Canada’s proximity to U.S. air carriers had possibly rubbed off on them? My meal included a Cafe Bronte Sweet Fruit and Oat Soft Cookie which was delicious and “crammed with sweet fruits and oats”. And I’d say that describes my week in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany with my family: crammed with sweet fruits and oats, and golden memories.