We woke up early in Clevedon, England, in the home of our good friends, David and Sarah. The weather has been unsettled the past few days, mixing fierce winds and leave-stripping downpours with small slivers of wavering sunlight. Throughout the night our fleeting dreams have been punctuated by the rattling of the bedroom window in its wooden frame. The gale freshens, driving dark clouds up the Bristol channel. In dawn's cold gray light, the horse chestnut tree outside our window writhes in the hard punches of the wind, waving a last English farewell. It is the penultimate day of July and the weather gods can think of nothing original; we are seen off by a true British cliché.
The mood of the Euro 2008 expedition team matches the weather: dour and sour. The excitement and optimism of departure are absent, overshadowed by the knowledge that we are leaving our home and friends behind. No longer will we sojourn in these dripping emerald isles. After nine years of life in the UK, the reality of exile hits hard. It is difficult to look optimistically forward when saddled with a sense of loss.
Our Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt lifts off the runway on schedule. The half-full airliner burrows up through the clouds like a mole scrabbling toward green spring dandelions. The clouds outside the window grow brighter, then flare to a stunning brilliance. The last dank layer falls away and we emerge, blinking, into the sunlight. So long Bristol with your capricious climate. We are bound for the sunny south (I feel certain that I will eventually rue this optimistic elation).
The flight attendants distribute lunch once we reach cruising altitude. It comes in a sealed, industrially hardened, plastic pouch. I am not the only one having a problem opening my meal: up and down the aisle, prosperous Teutonic burghers wrestle to open a seam in these kevlar-reinforced lunch packets. Ravening hunger ultimately gives me the strength I need to work a sharpened fingernail through the plastic.
And now a treat, the first meal on German soil. My packet contains four food items plus a small bottle of mineral water. The first is a plastic-wrapped “Biffi,” a sausage stick that might be a close cousin of pepperoni. It resembles a thin cigarillo, but goes down a treat. Less appealing is the “Fitnessbrot” ― a double-layered pressed cake made up of four varieties of grain mixed with linseed and sunflower oils. It has the taste and consistency of slightly damp dog kibble. No Biffi, that's for certain.
Two dessert entrees round out the pack: “La Tortina,” a small sponge cake flavored with cream and lemon, and a “Corny,” which the label describes as a “choco-banana” bar. Well, I declare the meal a success, and best of all, it and the glass of wine that followed, were free. EasyJet could learn a few lessons from Lufthansa. At the very least, they could make sure everyone had a complimentary Biffi...
Frankfurt airport was astonishingly large. For some reason I had expected a provincial, Bristol-sized airport, but it was immense. The bus to the terminal rolled past acres of airliners, hailing from all parts of the globe: Thailand, China, India, Algeria, the US, as well as the tailfin draped in the obligatory red, white, and British Air blue.
Customs were handled swiftly and efficiently, and our bags were practically waiting for us when we reached the huge (22 conveyors) baggage hall. All of our luggage made the trip with us (a bit of a shock), so we headed for the train station, which, with commendable forethought and planning, adjoins the airport.
Our train takes three-and-a-half hours to travel from Frankfurt to Munich. The cars are maintained in beautiful condition: gleaming chrome railings and spotless glass doors. The blue fabric on the seats is immaculate. The train leaves on time and blasts south through farm country at around 150 kilometers per hour. Informational displays at each end of the car monitor the speed and provide helpful (if I read German) snippets of data.
Outside we pass through the German breadbasket, crops of hay, corn, sunflowers, hops staked up on tall poles and vineyards, rows converging on distant horizons. Small towns border the railway line, whitewashed houses with red tile roofs. I have never seen so many steep roofs ― they must angle up at 75 degrees from the horizontal. I suppose that the idea is to allow the snow to fall off, or perhaps the Germans hang Biffis from the rafters to cure.
Despite the pleasant trip, none of us our sorry to dismount from our steel steed. We stroll through the cavernous Munich train station, under a large fluorescent red Coca Cola sign, and then out into greater Munich train station neighborhood. Train stations seem to attract seaminess, and Munich is no exception to the rule. Strip clubs, poker palaces, stores selling cut rate Turkish suitcases, and McDonalds ― a sure sign of downmarket neighborhood ― hug the sidewalks leading away from the station. Our hotel, the Hotel Munich Inn (not to be confused with the Hotel Munich, the Munich Inn, or the world renowned Hotel Inn), fits right into its surroundings. A blond Fraulein manned the front desk, in a tiny corridor leading off the street. It reminded me of the front booth of your typical, dodgy, internet cafe. I had expected something a bit more high end, but those places are probably all a taxi ride away.
We paid, and were subsequently directed to the “new” wing of the hotel (a separate door up the street). The rooms had recently been refurbished, but it didn't really help. Four white single beds were aligned in a row beneath large plate glass windows that overlooked the night-life beginning to swarm on the taxi-choked street below. The windows were open to admit the cool (26C) night air into the flat. There is no air conditioner, and the noise blasting up from the street rattled the light fixtures. We will have to shut the windows to let the girls sleep. I foresaw a long, sweaty, sleepless night ahead.