September 9, 2009: Arriving in Europe

My flight on Aer Lingus from New York’s JFK airport to Dublin, Ireland went really well.  We had an eight mile per hour tailwind and completed the Atlantic crossing in just five and a half hours.  It went by really quickly.  I barely noticed it at all.  I had a nice Irish lady sitting beside me and we chatted for a while helping to pass the time – she had been in New Jersey visiting her grandkids.  Aer Lingus has free television (like Father Ted and Fawlty Towers) as well as movies that you can watch.  So I took advantage of that and watched the shows mentioned and an episode of Hannah Montana as well as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past which was pretty good.  I also watched Wolverine:XMen Origins or something like that.  It was not too bad but way too heavily.  I was not expecting such a serious drama from a comic book movie.  I’m not into XMen at all so the back story was not very important to me so having this heavy drama for a story I don’t particularly like wasn’t the best choice.

I did not manage to sleep at all on the flight over to Dublin.  The sun starting coming up about halfway there which is weird as it had just gone down before we left New York.  Ireland is five hours ahead of New York and once I reach Amsterdam I will be six hours ahead.Morning at Dublin Airport

It was eight in the morning, local time, when we touched down in Dublin.  What a quick trip.  We can, apparently, fly from New York to Dublin in about the same time that it takes for Dominica and I to drive to dad’s house!  That does not take into account the drive time to JFK or the wait time before the flight, of course, but it does indicate that doing a three day weekend in Ireland is really quite doable as long as we are living in the New York area.  If we flew to Shannon rather than Dublin that would cut a bit of additional time off as well as it is on the west coast of Ireland rather than the east coast.  Dublin is more useful for jumping off to Amsterdam, like I am doing, but for visiting Ireland Shannon might be far better.

Overall I was very happy with my Aer Lingus flight and I am absolutely planning on use them again, and often, for our excursions to Europe.  Their prices are by far the best that I have ever seen and we were really afraid that that would mean that flying with them would be really uncomfortable but that was not the case at all.  At least not on this flight.   I have three more flights to go with them this week so I will get a fair amount of experience with them all at once.

It was a stunningly beautiful morning in Ireland as we flew over.  Clear and crisp and bright sunlight spilling everywhere.  I even got to see a castle or large manor estate as we flew over the island.  I got to see the Dublin Ferry taking commuters over to Wales or England too.

Since I am transferring in Dublin getting there early did not do too much for me.  It left me with three hours to kill before the next flight for Amsterdam takes off.  This is where the exhaustion started to hit.  Three hours with no sleep and nothing to do will make you very, very sleepy.

While at the Dublin Airport I got to see the Guiness Store. Andy would be excited. I took a picture for him that is available on the Flickr stream. I was depressed to discover that there was a Starbucks at the airport. You can’t even escape them in Europe.

I had mistakenly not requested a vegetarian meal for the flight last night (I did not know that we were getting a meal at all so I had no idea) so I did not have much to eat.  I hadn’t eaten too much at all yesterday just to make sure that I could handle all of the traveling today – the flights are just the beginning of my journey.  So I was pretty much starved.  I got myself my first cash in Euros at the Dublin Airport – this is my first time ever having Euros at all actually – and once I had cash I hit the little coffee cart in the terminal where I was awaiting my next leg.I Can Has Euros

I decided to avoid caffeine.  I don’t want to make myself even more exhausted later on when I might really need the energy plus I have a really bad cold developing and that did not seem like the right approach.  Liesl has had a cold for two days and I caught it yesterday.  I could feel it coming on throughout the day and it finally turned into something last night on the flight over.  So now I am traveling with a cold 🙁

I got myself a fruit smoothie and a tuna salad and cucumber sandwich.  It was tasty.  Quite good for airport food.  I sat for a while longer and decided that I needed something more so I got an orange juice and an apple turnover.

The flight to Amsterdam was uneventful.  I had an aisle seat, like I did last night, and this time no one directly beside me so it was quite comfortable.  Last night my camera had not fit into the overhead compartment so I had had to fly with it on the floor by my feet but it fit on this leg so that was convenient.  Nothing to watch here so I attempted to rest as much as possible.  I dozed off just a tiny bit and might have gotten twenty minutes of a nap at best.  Not much but it will help get me through the day.

I had been nervous that getting to Amsterdam and dealing with figuring out the train situation and everything else would be complex and difficult since I know no Dutch.  This was not the case at all.Buildings in Amsterdam from Train

The first thing that I realized as I stepped off of the plane into Holland is that everything, and I mean everything, is in English.  And I don’t just mean that they include English everywhere in addition to the Dutch but that English is the primary language and most signs have the same thing, but small, in Dutch below the English.  But somethings are English only.  Weird.  I had heard that speaking only English wouldn’t be a problem in Holland but this I was not expecting.

Once I was through customs, I know have Irish and Dutch stamps in my passport book, it was time to figure out the train situation.  From the US I had thought that I was going to need to take a train from the airport, Schiphol, to the city center and from there catch the train out to Osnabruck, but this was not the case.  It is actually easier to get a train directly from Schiphol to Osnabruck!  DB (German Road) Railway comes right into the airport.  It could not possibly be easier.

It was so easy, in fact, that it was actually easier dealing with getting an international transfer railway ticket in a foreign country where I don’t speak the local language at all than it is getting tickets on any American railway system of which I know including Amtrak, Metro North, NY Subway, NJ Transit, etc.  Just walk up to the counter and say, I would like a ticket to Osnaburck.  First or second class?  What’s the difference?  Internet access and thirty Euros.  I’ll take second then.  Yeah, that’s what everyone does.  Okay, so track three?  Yup.  Thanks.

That was it.  Had I already known to just get second class it would have reduced the entire conversation to “Osnabruck please.”  “Here you go, thanks.”

The timing was perfect.  I went down to the platform, which was right in the middle of the airport, and waited just about ten minutes before boarding the DB for Berlin.  The ride takes about four hours on high speed rail as there are numerous stops along the way.  But it was comfortable and relaxing.  It gave me a really good chance to see the entire east to west cross-section of the Netherlands.  What an amazing beautiful country!  Small and yet packed full of interesting stuff.  Very verdant and agricultural while remaining highly populated.  Just gorgeous.  I got to see several major cities along the way including Outer Amstel (the south side of Amsterdam) then out to Amersfoort and Apeldoorn.  That stretch was very much urban although there was an amazing amount of trees, parks, fields, etc.  Tons of little neighbourhoods through which we passed were just adorable and I could totally see living here.

The main impression that I got in The Netherlands was that it was a bit of a blending between what we experienced in England in 2007 and what we are used to in the US.  It actually felt a little less “exotic” than England does.  At least to me having grown up in the aftermath of the New Netherlands colony in New York and coming from a partially Dutch background.  So maybe others would not see it as much of a “comfort” location as I do but most Americans would certainly find it to be only mildly exotic and foreign in comparison to most foreign destinations.

I really wish that I had time to get off of the train and explore this beautiful country.  Not on this trip, though, I am afraid.  I will have to save it for another time.  But from the looks of what I am seeing I think that Dominica and Liesl will be very interested in spending a season living in The Netherlands – most likely in a smaller city and away from Amsterdam itself.  Dominica is not a fan of huge cities and there is so much awesome stuff in these smaller towns that there is no reason to limit The Netherlands to its large coastal cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

The train went on through Deventer which was one of the most gorgeous looking towns that I have ever seen.  It sits on a river and, at least near the train line, it is just full of parks and paths and great buildings.  Just amazing.  I tried grabbing some pics from the train but it does not do it the least bit of justice.  I was on the right side of the train so my view was southbound.  Just amazing though.  I definitely want to come back and explore that town.Deventer, The Netherlands

After Apeldoorn the views definitely became much more rural.  Nothing in Holland or The Netherlands is as rural as what we call rural in America but the cityscapes fell away to villages and cute country homes.  We traveled through a series of small villages and tiny cities before making the crossing into Lower Saxony in Germany at the town of Bad Bentheim.  Here we had to stop for twenty minutes while the police inspected the train and the Dutch crew was replaced with a German one.  Then it was on through Germany.

It was not long before the famous windmills were visible.  Northern Germany has become world famous for its electric generating windmills. They have become the new symbol of the country.

Lower Saxony was definitely less heavily populated than Holland was and the architecture changed towards a more rural feel and, I think, closer yet towards what would feel natural to Americans.  The countryside is definitely very familiar feeling but once in Germany the use of English dropped off significantly and the feel of being in a non-English speaking country started to exist.

We went through Salzbergen and the Rheine – the first real city inside of Germany.  Once we went east of Rheine we were actually traveling through the Teutoburger Wald (Teutoburg Forest) which Osnabruck lies directly in the middle of.

Arriving in Osnaburck I was greeted to an amazing central train station loaded with shops and food.  I stepped outside in the fresh German air and sat down in the plaza to figure out how to get out to the hotel.  The train station is just east of downtown and my hotel is quite a bit to the west of town – still in the city but far from downtown.  I took a picture, Twittered my status – which I have been doing all day as well as uploading camera pics to Flickr – and then decided to just get a taxi to take me to the hotel.  I was really, really exhausted and did not need to get lost trying to walk across the city with all of my luggage.Osnabruck Trainstation

The taxi ride was quick and relatively cheap.  I got to see downtown Osnabruck in a flash.  I was amazed at the roads full of BMWs and Mercedes Benz.  People really all do drive these here!

We arrived at the hotel and I got checked in.  Pheww.  Finally the travel is over.  Now I can relax in Germany.  I got up to the room, took some quick pictures and jumped into the shower.  Boy did I need that!  I was feeling pretty gross after all of that time on planes, trains and automobiles.

I wanted to keep tonight simple so I just went down to the bar and ate there right in the lobby.  They have some vegetarian (but not vegan) items on the menu which makes it easy.  I got the cheese spatzle which is a lot like the baked macaroni and cheese on which I grew up.  Having had my mother cook spatzle as a kid as well really made this just a delicious comfort food for me.  It really was good.  I enjoyed it very much.  I also got a bowl of tomato soup which seemed to go with the spatzle really well.  I also got a local beer – which comes in a half liter size.  Very good as well.Cheese Spatzle

One things that I love about Europe is that people are so outgoing and friendly.  The other guy sitting at the bar started a conversation with me and we chatted for at least half an hour or longer.  He is a German from Schleswig-Holstein near the Danish border.  This was his first time down to Osnabrucker Land as well.  He was not here to see the Kalfriese, as the battle is known here, but just to explore the history in downtown including the famed signing place of the treaty that ended the Thirty Years War.

After dinner I went back up to the room and got my Internet access enabled.  That is not cheap but I can make telephone calls through it which easily makes it cheaper than using my mobile for anything here.  My mobile Internet access is unlimited but calls are a dollar a minute!

I got my VoIP phone set up and called Dominica. It was about eight thirty here but only two thirty back home.  She and Liesl were just on the road up to Frankfort to visit her parents for the week.  We talked for about half an hour.  Liesl got upset being able to hear my voice in the car while they were driving.  I talked to her a bit and I could hear her trying to talk back to me.  Boy do I miss my little baby 🙁  I really wish that my family could have come over here with me.  This is going to be a very lonely trip.

After the call I set up my CPAP and did some uploads to Flickr so that people would have something to look at until I have a chance to point this entry.  I have been trying to upload pictures throughout the day from the mobile phone but only every so often does one actually get posted and I can’t verify that easily until I am back to my laptop so you get what you get during the day.My Hotel Room in Osnabruck

I went to bed really early by local standard.  Probably around nine although I was losing track of time by then.  I am really looking forward to some sleep tonight although I am concerned that my cold may prevent me from being able to sleep.  Needing to have a CPAP in order to sleep is very difficult when your sinuses get stuffed up.

I have set up a “set” for Germany 2009 on Flickr that you can check out to see how things are going here in Osnabruck this week.

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