It’s been a long day. A very long day. The alarm didn’t burst into life at 5am, because I woke at 4am, and didn’t really fall asleep again. I had fragments of dreams, but then snapped back awake every few minutes – checking the clock each time. Eventually I wrestled the mobile phone from it’s charging cable on the bedside table, disabled the alarm, and snuck out of bed – creeping downstairs in the dark to have a shower, get dressed, and put on the clothes I had laid out so neatly the night before. I glanced in on the children as I passed their rooms – fast asleep with their mouths wide open, like they had landed that way from some altitute. My late father-in-law used to call it “the sleep of the just”.
By 6am I was being interrogated by a lovely middle-aged lady on the first of four trains, who couldn’t believe how much a return ticket to Heathrow Airport cost. She apologised as she processed it, and I explained that it was twice as much as either of us expected because it was Heathrow. It would almost have been cheaper to get a taxi. She busied herself for the remainder of her leg of the journey with giving a female passenger the inquisition about her grandchildren. I wonder where the line lies between “showing an interest”, and “being down-right nosy” – I don’t think she knew either.
At 7:30am I arrived at Heathrow Airport, checked my bag in, and passed anonymously through security. I tried to figure out while waiting in line what causes the staff to pick people out for full body scans. I walked up to the X-Ray machines with my belt, wallet, watch, and whatever else already in my hand to dump into a tray, and was about to step into the full body scanner, when the security guard waved me straight past. Maybe it has something to do with being prepared? I had after all pulled the laptop, kindle, and phone out of my bag and pockets without being asked – as I dumped them in a tray, the girl handling the trays asked “anything in your pockets?” – I did a quick hail mary, grinned, and said “I don’t think so!?” – she grinned back. Maybe they can just tell if people are being subversive? If there was a spectrum of people from “Hugo Agogo” (bad), through to “Dudley Do-right” (good), I would be off the end of the Dudley end of the scale.
Once in departures I found myself with a couple of hours to waste. I’m not entirely sure why they want you at the airport two hours before international flights, but they do – so I am. If that makes sense. I watched a TV show on the Kindle while sitting among the sea of people watching the departure boards. I wasn’t really watching the boards – more sitting, and gazing at Cameron Howe in the latest season of “Halt and Catch Fire”. She’s very distracting.
Finally the flight was called, and I joined the wrong queue. I’m good at that. A moment later I guessed my mistake, and fed back into the instantly immense line of impatient looking travellers. I couldn’t quite understand their rush – every seat on an aircraft is booked individually – it’s not like you’re going to miss out if you’re not first in the queue. The same thing happened when we reached Germany – everybody got up like their trousers were on fire as soon as the seatbelt signs switched off. Why? They couldn’t GO anywhere. They all stood in the walkway for ten minutes until the plane doors were unlocked. Idiots.
Actually – that’s another thing. Why can some people not seem to manage to sit down for an hour? The flight to Germany is an hour. For some reason – known only to themselves – a great number of passengers got up and ran for the toilets as soon as the plane had taken off. They had been on-board for no more than fifteen minutes. Idiocy. Absolute idiocy.
It goes without saying that I loved the flight. Although I had the Kindle with me, I spent the entire time looking out of the window, watching the clouds zip past, and taking photos. At one point a rather lovely air hostess tapped me on the shoulder to offer me sandwich or a cake (I chose cake), and then failed to understand me when I said “juice” for a drink.
Once landed in Frankfurt the bio-metric doo-dads in my passport worked perfectly, and I skipped through security without a question. Minutes later I was reunited with my bag, and trudged off in search of the railway platforms. Last time I visited Frankfurt I got a taxi from the airport to the city, and paid an arm and a leg for it. This time I decided to be rather more brave – and was saved by the ticket machines on the platform which could be switched to English.
Another half an hour, and I set out on foot through the middle of Frankfurt towards the hotel – or hostel, as it should probably be known. I’ve written about how I ended up booking into a hostel elsewhere, so won’t go back over that story. I will say though that the hostel experience is markedly different than a hotel. Sort of in a good way, but also in a bad way.
The check-in desk was manned by two guys in their early twenties wearing blue t-shirts emblazoned with the word “TEAM” across the back. They both seemed able to speak three or four languages fluently – I was immediately impressed with them. They also seemed to have the patience of a saint, dealing with people who couldn’t speak any of the languages they could.
While waiting in line for people ahead of me to check in, an overweight middle-european gentleman man strode straight past the queue, straight to the desk, and started arguing with the staff while they tried to process everybody else. I couldn’t understand a word of it, but it seemed to be about the cost of the rooms, or the number of beds in a room, or the number of rooms – something like that. He kept pointing at himself, shouting “One!”, then pointing and the ceiling, and shouting “Two!”. Somehow the saint behind the counter understood after the fourth repetition. We all waited. Then we waited some more. An American girl in front of me – that appeared to be with a group sitting in the foyer – turned to me and shrugged – we had been standing waiting for some time. We smiled at each other.
She was finally served, and checked into the hotel. As she turned from the desk her boyfriend (I’m guessing) burst past me and started accusing everybody of pushing past her – including me. He was the stereotypical American college kid (sorry for tarring so many with the same brush – I’m sure every country has the same group of kids), paid to go wandering around Europe by wealthy parents, and eager to mouth off about anything if given the chance.
Something in me snapped.
“Excuse me – I’m just standing here, patiently waiting – I didn’t realise you were in the queue because you were sitting over there – of course you can go first”
“I’m not in front of you – she was – and that guy over there pushed in!”
You could see the girl (that had completed check-in) getting visibly upset – this was obviously normal behavior for him. I began to wonder how many fights he causes – but then something occurred to me. He only started throwing the accusations once she returned to him. In front of her he was loud, abusive, and strong – when separated from her, he was nobody. Some people are strange.
“But that guy pushed in” (he was nearly shouting now).
I turned around to face him.
“Forget it – you’re checked in – calm down!” – I grinned. He suddenly changed personality entirely, and grinned back before picking up his bag and wandering off after his friends. I noticed that everything on his back was brand new. New rucksack. New tent (never used), new sleeping bag (never used), all manner of gadgets and tools – new out of their packets. You can make your own assumptions about that.
I think the people behind me in the check-in queue breathed a sigh of relief when they saw how quickly I checked in. I had a booking, I paid by card, a receipt was printed, and I was in. Done. Inside a minute.
Wandering through the hotel (remembering it’s a hostel), I wondered what horrors I might discover, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Yes, the hallways are a little tatty, and the doors and stair-wells are very “functional”, but the room is actually very nice. Very light, spartan, plug sockets next to the bed, spotlessly clean, en-suite bathroom where everything works. I suppose I shouldn’t really have been surprised, but I was. There is even free WiFi, and it’s pretty fast.
After unpacking my bags, I opened the window to let some fresh air in, and took a look at Google Maps to figure out where I might eat dinner. It was still only late afternoon, but even if no restaurants were open yet, I reasoned I might find somewhere to eat dinner later. While googling, I discovered the Australian sports bar I ate at during my last visit has ceased to exist – or at least it has moved. It’s a shame – it was a great place. I may have to go in search of it later in the week to find out if the internet is lying to me.
Ten minutes after leaving the hotel I found myself wandering along an adjacent road, reading restaurant names as I passed them. A German restaurant I had been looking at on the internet appeared to be Thai, which threw me somewhat. I’ll wander back tomorrow night to have a look at their menu. Knowing I was half-way to a nearby supermarket, I carried on anyway.
I had all the intentions of bringing the food I bought at the supermarket back to my room, and pigging out spectacularly. That’s not what happened though, because fate waded in and changed my sails at the last moment. While wandering along the street behind two backpackers who were laughing about something salacious (you could tell, even though they didn’t speak English), I had to dodge my way around some railings to reach a crossing that would take me back towards the hotel. As I did so I looked sideways, and realised I was walking past a wonderful Turkish restaurant. The menu looked amazing, the entire place was spotless, and the waiting staff were infectiously enthusiastic. They didn’t have to twist my arm much to make me stay for dinner – being absolutely honest, the conversation pretty much went something like “Would you like a table?”, “Yes please”.
In the interests of accuracy, the first person I didn’t speak to spoke no English, so he shouted across the restaurant to summon a lovely young Turkish girl. She asked me if I would like a table, and I could hardly say no at that point, because they had already gone to all that trouble (stop laughing – I’m not that easily swayed, honest – well – maybe a bit).
You know that whole “sliding doors” thing – about chance? I witnessed that this evening. The restaurant was wonderful, the staff were wonderful, and the food was amazing. After finishing eating I was fishing around in my pocket to find my wallet when the waitress silently appeared with a steaming glass of Turkish tea, and a smile.
I’ve never drunk Turkish tea before. I think I’m a fan. While sipping it I noticed an elderly man amble into the restaurant and sit with the newspaper and a glass of tea. I wondered if he was a regular, or perhaps even the owner. He poured three measures of sugar into his tea, and captured any serving staff that passed in conversation. Everybody seemed to know him.
I know I promised to eat German food during this visit, but the truth is that Frankfurt is an international city – it’s filled with international restaurants at every street corner, but very few German restaurants. I will return to the one in the adjacent street later in the week, but if tonight proved anything, it was that the path less traveled is just as powerful as it’s reputation suggests – as long as you keep your eyes open, and notice the whacking great restaurant on the street corner you were about to walk straight past.