Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bad Judgement in Aviation

Sometimes, I wonder how people get pilots licenses. The first minute is jerky, but it gets good when the passengers evacuate.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fribourg to Basel to Amsterdam

I have safely arrived at Amsterdam. I am currently working on about 3 or 4 hours sleep. I'm all messed up! I'm doing pretty well, though, all things considered.

The taxi ride from the airport to the hotel costs too much, and I didn't have enough spare change to contact the hotel. I started with 3.00€. I used the stupid pay phone, and ate up 3€ with about 90 seconds of phone time, including two wrong numbers to a law firm in Amsterdam. What a rip off. I tried to use the credit card, but the telephone didn't like any of the ones i presented. (didn't give it my Exxon Mobil card. :) )

The Stupid American Does Not Know How To Use Phones
If you're not familiar with phones in Europe, let me give you some advice. Learn how to interpret a phone number written down. The string of digits that somebody writes down is not necessarily the string of digits that you need to use to get to that destination. The Europeans are tricky and will assume you know when to leave off a country code, or when to add the secret "0" to the beginning of the number. I have not deciphered this secret code yet, so I can not share the secrets yet.

I do know that the number written on my itinerary for the hotel says: "31-206-075555" I do know that if you pick up a phone here in the airport, and dial those numbers, you don't get anything. I also know that if you leave off the '31', then you get this law firm, with a very nice lady who, after I called her back the second time, took the effort of finding the phone number of the hotel, and she gave it to me. 020 607 5555. Uh. But that's not the number on my itinerary. D'oh. The random extra zero gets me every time.

In 2003, I once had a Swede explain it to me (when i was in Sweden and suffered similarly) but it made about as much sense as describing colors to a blind person, I guess.

I looked around and decided that maybe the laptop would be the best attempt -- found a wireless for 10.-€ for a full day's. Now that I'm paying for a full day's, (and I got what I needed), I felt the need to "get my money's worth" and send some e-mail. The cell phone doesn't work here, either. I think I needed to ask for some sort of "super-secret-International calling code" for my phone.

Using the Internet, found a bus station route that costs 3.50€ instead.

I guess I should have done a little research about this last night, but last night I was reserved to use cash to pay for a taxi. I converted 150 dollars in traveller's checks to Euros and only got just over a hundred. With a trip to the airport and back at 45.00€ each, that doesn't leave much left! I know the company would reimburse me, but it's the principle of the thing. Now using Taxis in New York is much easier on the pocketbook. Taxis everywhere else seem to be way too much.

I got up earlier than I was supposed to. I set my alarm for 0600, but woke up at 0515 instead. Found myself lounging around the bedroom looking for ways to kill time. I had everything packed, and wasted time. Unfortunately, breakfast didn't get started until 0700, and my train out of Fribourg left at 0704. :( I really enjoyed the breakfasts there. The hotel was very cheap. I paid like 600 chf for a week there, including two meals. I think I will spend approximately the same at this hotel in Amsterdam for only two days. (!)

The guy who sat next to me on the train from Fribourg to Bern wore WAY too much cologne. I guess that's better than the WAY too much body odor that I was sporting earlier in the week, when I realized that all of the stores were closed, and I didn' t pack any. the train station from Fribourg to Bern was very busy. I don't have any idea what it is like going the other way.

I guess I'm going to have to get used to that train station, eh? I will most certainly be stopping in Villars sur glane, as the train is a direct route from Bern to Fribourg, without any intervening stops. I guess I'll have to get myself a nice little scooter. Maybe there is a bus that will connect me to a point close enough to my new office.

On the way to Bern, the train car I chose was a "quiet please" car, and it was more quiet in that train car, than it would be in the desert. The only noise I heard was the occasional shuffle of the newspapers around. No talking was permitted, and they even had a little diagram that asked you to not use your IPOD, as that would be considered too loud. The trains are very well protected against the noise, and they are amazingly quiet.

The train ride from Basel (north of Bern, right on the French border) was delightful. I switched trains in Bern, and spent a nice quiet ride looking at the scenery, and reading my book that the people from Network Relocation gave me.

The airport at Basel is considerably larger than the airport at Bern. The Bern airport is about the same size as Champaign-Urbana. Just big enough to start pretending to be a real airport, but bigger than an airport without any scheduled commercial services. The airport at Basel would be ... I guess on par with Norfolk or Richmond International.

The flight over was nice, I spilled my orange juice all over myself, and the bulk of it ended up in the seat-back pocket -- which was surprisingly water proof! The orange juice sat in the pocket and slowly leaked out the corners. I felt awful about the mess. It happened as I was reading a duty free magazine (Boy that's boredom), and knocked over my orange juice with the magazine.The flight attendant was very nice about it.

For snack, Swiss Air served a very nice sandwich consisting of a pickle, some mayo, and some swiss cheese. I know my wife wouldn't like it, but I sure liked it. And it was surprisingly filling.

The announcements for landing -- this is weird -- I can't remember if it was English or German. I'm getting that comfortable with German again, and now I'm spending most of my time thinking in German, instead of thinking in English. I knew it wouldn't take me long to re-adjust. I was just surprised it would take only a week. there are a lot of words I don't remember. Like the word for "spill", and the word for "slap", take, become, include, guess. I bought two full sized dictionaries, I figured my wife might need one every now and then.

At the Duty Free airport, I purchased some chocolate. I realized that the chocolates I really wanted were all chock-full of nuts. So I put a lot of them back. I searched for some nut-free chocolates, and then I realized that nearly all of the chocolates have nuts in them. The M&Ms seemed safe, but there's not much point in buying those in Switzerland.

I had to do a very detailed search to find some that didn't have any nuts at all. I found some finally. I got a value pack, too, which had a variety of them, so hopefully the family enjoy the different flavors. I guess it's a good thing that these people like their nuts in their chocolate! It will make that bakery next door not so terribly tragic about the amount of chocolate I would otherwise be destined to eat.

All right my bus is coming, I'd better go now.

Directions from Bus station to my Hotel

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Day Four -- A Very Busy Day

I awoke at 0730 to the breakfast at the hotel. I received a note from the hotel management that I was to meet the relocation coordinators at 10:30. I lounged around my hotel room for a few hours, waiting for the appropriate time. For the first time, I turned on the TV, and watched some of the local programming.

The first 25 channels or so were all French. the next 15 or so were German. I didn't have much of a hard time figuring out the German TV, and the French had enough going on for me to figure out what was being said, although not every word was understood. I watched Cartoon Network, and enjoyed seeing the cartoons in French. There was one cartoon where they went back in time, and met George Washington, who spoke perfect French, and if not for the white curly hair, he would have looked like Napoleon. He sure sounded like Napoleon.

I was expecting to meet Michael, but was met by a lovely English woman named Claire, who was Robert's wife. We set out to the car, where I met Heidi, a local Swiss German from Bern, who was to be the relocation consultant who drove.

They had a busy agenda for me, and at the beginning of the day, I was quite gung-ho about living in Villars-Sur-Glane, or Moncor, or Fribourg; a comfortable bike from home to work. However, the International school is in Bern, 25 km away. I might be comfortable, but the kids and wife would be forced to commute.

We visited two apartments in the neighborhood around the place of work. One was a very nice apartment that had lots of space, and was located on the third floor. It had no stairs, which would suck on grocery time. It had a nice big basement room to store bikes. It had a laundry room, but also a schedule attached to the laundry room.

This is actually quite normal in Europe. Say for instance, you have 6 families living in an apartment building. Family 1 gets Monday, family 2 gets Tuesday, etc. You don't get to just waltz downstairs and use the laundry room if it's not your day. (Unless you arrange it with your neighbor). The clothes dryers were weird, but seemed to be kinda cool. of a your normal machine, where you insert clothes (and maybe money), turn it on, spins around, dry clothes come out. Instead of that, there is a big room with clothes lines. you hang up your clothes, and turn on the heater, which blows hot dry air onto the clothes. I guess this is more energy efficient.

We went to a second apartment that was on the 1st floor. It had a very small elevator, and much more convenient stairs. The apartment hadn't been occupied for a year. It had a large living room with a wonderful view of the valley, and the Alps in the distance. It would be a perfectly nice apartment.

We travelled to Bern, to see another apartment. This apartment we were visiting is owned by an American couple, who are going back to the states for a few years. The apartment is on the north-western side of Bern, and not very far from the International School of Bern. Not far from the glider-port, either. in fact, I think I may have seen the neighborhood from the air, when I was flying on Saturday.

So why would I change my mind so quickly to move to Bern, which increases my grumpy drive? I figure that one man's quiet misery is much less awful than 1 wife's misery and four children's misery. Sacrifices must be made!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Third day in Fribourg


I am rudely rousted from my deep slumber. I was too busy staying up late last night Blogging, and I didn't even finish writing up day 2's events in Switzerland.


The thing I didn't consider when I chose this hotel, situated right next to the Cathedral, is that if you stay over the weekend, you're bound to be awoken by church bells.


The bell rang forever. I pulled the extra pillow over my ears, trying to muffle the noise. Man, those Catholics are really excited about the announcement of their mass. I managed to sleep through the incessant bonging. Christianity is trying to call back its heathen son. My response is increasing the number of pillows heaped over my ears.

Noon. I can't believe I slept until noon. Half my exploration time is wasted now.

I opened my e-mail to find the list of places that Stacy wanted me to visit. Check out the neighborhoods. I mapped them all out in Google Maps. Google Maps has a new feature where you can put multiple destinations. I had figured out my whole strategy. From east of the river (where they speak German), to Villars sur Glane.

I didn't have any way of printing out the document, so I decided to go downstairs and try to print from there. Printer broken. I mistakenly closed the tab with my itinerary. Google Maps didn't remember my trip. I was angry and hungry, so I just set out without any plans. On my way out, I asked the concierge if there was any way for me to rent a bike for the day. That would be the most effective way for me to see the whole town without an expensive taxi ride.

I walked down the street to where all the restaurants and shops are, and found that, as everybody had warned me, EVERYTHING is closed on Sunday. I went to a restaurant, the attendant spoke no English, no German. She asked a friend, a customer to help her out, and I got a broken German response that there was no food on Sundays, just coffee. Tummy say foood. So I moved on.

I eventually found a nice Falafel joint that was always closed on Fridays, but thankfully, open on Sunday. It had several local families eating their lunch, and I had to grab the only standing table outside. I had a Falafel Sandwich, and my French conversational skills to order my Falafel would impress the entire cast of Cirque du Soleil.

Me: "Falafel San-WEE; Cola laEET"
Him: (something unintelligible)
(I think he's asking me about the sauce to put on it)

Me: "Oui"
Him: (something unintelligible) (I think he's telling me the amount.)
Me: (handing over the money, thankfully listed on the cash register)
Him: (something unintelligible) (I think he's thanking me or telloing me to have a nice day.)
Me: Merci

I wandered the streets pretty aimlessly. I found some interesting street signs. This one, pictured to the right, tells you that women and children are mercilessly run over by speeding motorbikes. They are run over so thoughtlessly, that tire tracks are sure to run right over both child and mother. Horrible. The evidence that they are motorbikes and not cars is the single tire tread mark.

I assure you, men are safe there, and I managed to get out of this dangerous area alive to bring you this tale.

I believe I bumped into one of the places that Stacy wanted me to look at. But the bad news is that I could only get this location to come up once on the Google map search. I think I typed in the information incorrectly.

After a very long and thirsty walk around town, my need for liquid replenishment was nearing emergency levels. I started to think about drinking from the public fountains while none of the locals were looking. If it's not proper, I wouldn't want them to think badly about the badly dressed American. I watched several people walk by the fountains. Some would put their hands in the water to cool off. None drank. I feel silly to ask somebody and get that crazy look of "Are you insane? (nobody/everybody) drinks out of those fountains! Did you think the water looked (disgusting/safe)? That would be (perfectly normal/absurd) to drink that water!"

The green lushness of Fribourg started to turn into the appearance of a desert. Even the bars were closed. A beer would be nice. I walked past the Cardinal beer factory. I couldn't smell the hops. Maybe that's good. I walked past a Thai grocery store. I didn't think how odd that was, I only noticed its non-thirst-quenching-cause-its-closed status.

I started to walk more slowly. Must. Drink. I was wandering so slowly that Dr. Stephen Hawking passes me in his wheelchair. Ok, maybe it wasn't really him, but it sure did look like it from behind. I didn't get a good look at the front because he approached and passed me more quietly than a whisper. I usually walk pretty quickly, and I was rather surprised by the velocity of this electric wheelchair.

I made my way back to the train station and found myself buying the biggest water bottle I could find. I rushed the conversation with the lady (Lucy) who insisted on speaking French with me. Yet again, my incredible French speaking skills saved the day: I figured out she was asking me if I needed a bag or not. Actually, I cheated and played sociologist. I watched the guy in front of me in line. I carefully imitated each of his expressions and moves. Yes! Water! I chugged.

Oh noes! It's carbonated water! I wasn't expecting it, didn't even notice the explosive "PFIPP" when I opened the bottle, and nearly exhaled the carbonated water out my nose; which would have been even more painful than chugging water seltzer when not expecting it.

The water replenished me quickly, and I headed back to my hotel room for some rest.

Check out the picture to the right, detailing my walking around, and the sights along the way.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Second Day in Switzerland


I was roused from my deep slumber with the most annoying noise ever.


My stupid laptop! Apparently, I managed to fall asleep without plugging in my laptop. I darted over and plugged it in to my make-shift universal plug to stop the noise. 2:21 AM. Dangit. I'm wide awake now. I immediately went back to bed and stared at the ceiling for a while.

I eventually got back to sleep, but was awoken at about 0430 by a bar-fight that broke out below my hotel room. Or maybe it was just an argument. Since I don't know French, maybe it was just a heated discussion about the best football team. I wished I knew French so I could hear what they were arguing about. The volume made me regret that my window was wide open. I tried to get back to sleep, but it didn't happen.

I showered and got dressed, and started catching up on e-mail. It was just past bed-time for the US, so I just missed Stacy. I decided to do some mundane work for the flying club -- getting all of the flights for the past 6 months inserted into the flight log database. That should have gotten me to sleep for sure, but -- No.

It was 6:30, and tummy started telling me that it's time for food. I wandered around downstairs to find that nothing's open yet. I returned to my room to pout. At 0700, promptly I went to the complimentary breakfast.

Oh was this wonderful! I never have had Frosted Flakes that were so tasty. It's not that the Frosted Flakes were especially delicious, but because i put the only sort of white liquid that was available, and it wasn't the typical soy milk that I'm used to. I was confronted with a blast of sweet creaminess, the soft delicious taste of full cream. A typical European thing is to also have cold-cuts for breakfast. I was rather suspicious about the four different varieties of things from which my kids would surely flee in terror. With each of these strange meats, I was same with the same fatty deliciousness that I experienced with the dairy cream on the Frosted Flakes.

I tried some of the local cheeses for breakfast (another European thing), and found myself really enjoying the croissant. I experimented with one of the small yogurts, enticed by the beautiful peach on the packaging. As I savored each spoon-full, I read through the ingredients, only to be horrified that there were hazelnuts in this yogurt. Hazelnuts?!? Barbarians!

I enjoyed the very strong coffee, and prepared for my journey to Bern. I did not eat much more than a usual, but I was certainly satisfied.

Yesterday, as you know, I flew into Bern Flughafen. So now I am quite familiar with the procedure for how to use the trains to get to the airport. I am also familiar that the Belp Bahnhof is not directly next to the Belp Flughafen (The train station, and airport, respectively). Upon arrival at Belp Bahnhof, I realized that the bus schedule showed the next bus arriving 45 minutes from my arrival. I look at the map, decide it can't be that bad of a walk, and head off on foot.

As I'm walking, I was wishing I had a bike. I was "turbo-walking" as I usually do, and passed some slow natives strolling the sidewalks. I stopped at a grocery store to buy a liter bottle of water. The fellow at the cash register was speaking to me, but not in a language that I understood. (more on this in a moment).

I found my way to the glider operation, and followed somebody onto the airport grounds. I immediately found the duty officers, and promptly introduced myself, (In German). Their ears perked up when I noted that I was a flight instructor in America, and relocating to Fribourg, and I was immediately introduced to the club president, Ed.

Ed bragged that he didn't speak English, so we continued our conversation in German. He has a very thick Swiss accent, but he managed to use only Hochdeutsch when speaking with me. I think I comprehended about 70% of what he was talking about. This isn't bad, especially considering that I have not spoken German for more than 3 sentences at a time for almost 17 years. (ya, really). Also not bad considering that I never knew any German airspace or aviation terms when I was originally learning German.

After explaining to me the recent changes in the airspace around the airport, and how the glider operation now had to contact the control tower for landing and takeoff permissions, I asked to see an airspace map of Switzerland. Given that there are so many chunks of airspace that are un-flyable by gliders, I remarked that the airspace looked like "Swiss Cheese"

He did not get the joke. Maybe it was my delivery. Maybe the Swiss are tired of all the cheese jokes (and along with it, all the jokes about trains running on time, pocket knives and watches). Maybe they don't call it Swiss Cheese. I don't know. But I'm making a mental note that the Swiss don't get Swiss Cheese jokes. I will certainly reserve the pocket knife jokes for maximum comedic effect, i.e. when some fellow Americans are around.

I was introduced to the other Ex-pat in the club, Sandra, a Canadian who has been living in Bern for 19 years. I spoke, and Sandra spoke, and Ed remarked, "Well, they sound exactly alike!" making fun of mine and Sandra's North American accents. To be honest, Sandra had vastly superior German speaking skills, especially when speaking the local dialect.

I was warned that Swiss German was difficult to understand. "Yeah, yeah" I always thought. "It'll be like listening to somebody with a really thick Scottish or Texan accent. I'll be able to manage."


It is really not fair to describe Swiss German as German at all. I'm not sure why they call it German. Here is the scenario: I'm talking with one of the natives about any random subject. My comprehension rate is hovering somewhere between 80 and 90%. The conversation now includes a third person, a local, who does not yet know about my American-ness, or my unable-to-understand-Swytszedootch-ness. The local with whom I'm speaking, turns his head to speak to the third party who just joined the conversation. He begins making German-like sounds. My comprehension level drops to 3 or 4% immediately.

I really was not prepared for this. I was warned, but I doubted. Now I believe. If you don't know German, the only way I can describe it is like this: Pretend you are watching a bunch of kids playing guns in the back yard. They are re-enacting WWII, just like all the war movies they've seen. The kids who play the German side make German-like noises. A native German speaker would come into this observation, and realize the children were making German-like sounds, but they had no meaning, and were nothing more than gibberish.

Never before have I been faced with such simultaneous disappointment and triumph at my German speaking skills. I fared terribly when listening in on the locals talking to each other, and I think I did a really good job in the one-on-one conversations. I also realized that I should have read the sailplane terms in German pages first.

Today had a special flight operation going on. Annually, they get a bunch of kids glider flights for a modest fee, hoping to rope them into a new hobby. So this meant that there were lots of 14 and 15 year olds who were using up the gliders and instructors. So I ended up waiting all day to fly. In the time that I waited, I talked to a lot of the people in the club, which is as important a part in the gliding experience, as manipulating stick and rudder.

I met Ruth, who was a relocation consultant, located in the city of Basel. She spoke English to me the whole time (and I didn't mind people speaking to me in German). She gave me lots of advice that would normally be charged at a hundred Francs per hour. I asked her lots of questions, and she gave me lots of stories about subjects that I would never expect. I asked her questions like, "What are these signs on all the buildings, with a big capital "T" diagram?" She had no idea what I was talking about. (See picture to the right. Do you know?!)

I finally got to fly with Kurt, and we went to 1000 meters (about 3000') in the Duo Discus. Flying the Discus is quite easy, I had no problems staying behind the towplane. The bank is a little slower than the ASK that I'm used to, but I didn't seem to have much problem. This Duo Discus was equipped with a FLARM -- a device used to make sailplane-to-sailplane collisions alerted in the cockpit. There was also a Cambridge navigation device.

We flew over the very large hill near the airport. The glider group has this special airspace carved out for them, called "Lima Bravo", which allows them great freedom to roam within the class uh.. I guess it's class "D" airspace next to the airport. It's quite convenient, because the hill is just about the altitude where a glider pilot is reminded that it's time for him to go home. Once the trees start to brush up on the underside of the aircraft's fuselage, they know it's time to make their way to the pattern. In such a circumstance, it is important to call the airport first and get permission to land.

The terrain around the area can not accurately be described by Google Maps, so I will ask you to take a look at an oblique view of the area with Google Earth. (click to get a better view). the landing area, quite small, shown in red. The takeoff runway is quite long in purple. The approximate ground track for our aerotow is shown as the long purple line. The yellow line is the ground track for the landing that Kurt did.

I recorded a video while Kurt did the landing, but it is too big, and this inferior operating system of Windows makes it very hard to convert into a different, less huge format. Currently, the video is 152 megs, and Youtube only allows 100 megs maximum.

The flight was very late in the day, but quite enjoyable. In order to solo here, I'll have to get my license set up with the Swiss FAA (called BAZL), and I'll have to get really comfortable with the procedures at this airport.

I feel that the language barrier -- me not knowing their local dialect, is really going to be a burden.

They have some different procedures in their club. At the beginning of the day's operations, they have a 5 minute meeting in their clubhouse -- mandatory. At lunchtime, they have another mandatory lunch meeting. At the close of operations, they have a final meeting to ensure that all items are wrapped up. Of course, the meeting was all in the local dialect, so I had no idea what they were saying. I think I picked up 7 or 8 words in the whole briefing. :(

Here's the slide show of my flying for that day (Make sure to click on it)

Friday, June 8, 2007

Walk in Fribourg

Here's a Google Maps picture of my journey this afternoon. The first walk was in orange, the second in blue. The Orange trip goes counter-clockwise, the blue, clockwise.

All of the pictures I took on my walk are available on this link in my Picasa folder.
Click on the slideshow to go to a full-screen slide-show, with slower advancing pictures, and readable captions.

First Day in Switzerland

I arrived in Berne/Belp, after an uneventful journey. The flight only included various quantities of restless shifting in my seat.

For the first leg of my journey, I flew from Dulles to Brussels, sitting adjacent to a 19 year old Brussels native, who was living in Connecticut. She was visiting relatives in the US, and was looking forward to returning to her home-town after three months abroad. The food onboard was your typical international selection in coach -- Pasta or Beef. (I chose beef). Marie, sitting next to me turned her nose up at the delicious Asian ginger salad dressing, and made a small butter and lettuce sandwich with the dinner roll and the remains of her salad.

Upon my arrival in Brussels, I quickly realized that I did not review my itinerary carefully enough, and found myself with only 30 minutes to go from one side of the airport to the other. This connection was going to be a tight one. Thankfully, the flight out of Dulles was an on-time departure. My connecting flight with British Airways to Berne/Belp was a very long walk from where I landed. There was no time for me to ask if I needed to go through customs or not, (I hope I don't!), and I ran to gate B95.

This was not your typical airport gate --It was a gate with a bus; there was no plane to be seen. Oh sure, there were the handsome 777s, and gargantuan 747s for the other gates, but mine was aircraft-absent. By the time I arrived, the bus had 3 passengers on-board. The flight attendant posted at the gate was clearly waiting for me, and asked for me by name (this is never a good sign). One more late straggler got on the bus, and we drove to the plane.

This plane was quite the puddle jumper. Although it had two pilots, and one flight attendant, the passengers only slightly outnumbered the crew by two. The low population of passengers were all contained on this shuttle bus, and we were on our way. I wondered if my luggage made it, but never checked. (Do you see a foreshadowing event?)

An hour and half through the air over the French countryside, with only a small glimpse of any mountains was interrupted only by a delightful European breakfast on-board. Some nutty-looking bread (it could have been sunflower seeds, it could have been walnuts. I wasn't going to try), runny strawberry yogurt, a roll of poppy-seed bread, and coffee. Delicious.

We landed in Belp, and as we taxiied, I looked about for the gliders that were also stationed there. I could see them in the distance. This was by far the smallest customs/passport control I have ever seen. The five of us went to the passport control, there was no discussion -- I handed him my passport, he stamped it, I was on my way. The passport control included the red and green zone, but there was nobody in attendance. I guess that means green.

There was a token luggage carousel, but it was not running. I asked for my bag, and waited for the luggage-claim lady to come help me. What was impressive about this whole exchange is that for the first time -- IN MY LIFE -- I have ever gotten the opportunity to use German to a native-German speaker in his country. And I think I fared pretty well. The conversation went something like this:

Airport Personnel: "Is there something you need?" clearly sensing that I'm waiting around for no other good reason.
Me: "Yes, I need my hand-briefcase" (Not remembering what the word for luggage was).
Me: "Yes, I have bag number one", pointing to my laptop bag, "number two" pointing to my emergency supply bag, the just-in-case-my-luggage-is-lost-again bag, that my wife was so thoughtful to pack. "And number three, I don't know where it is. It is possible that this bag still waits in Brussels."
AP: huh?> "Wait here, I will get somebody"

A very nice airport representative comes and welcomes me into her office. We start speaking English, but I can tell that she's not comfortable with it. Well that's fine, I'm not comfortable with German yet. Well, let me rephrase that, I can say whatever I want, but usually "I can not understand the words commin' outta yo mouth!"

She had me fill out the paperwork for lost luggage. If there is anybody who is familiar with this procedure, it is me. I seem to have angered the luggage gods long ago, and they spite me at every opportunity. 1999, Oslo Luggage MIA. 2000- Lost luggage in Newark; 2003, Dulles; luggage lost and showed up a week later. 2004, Luggage lost, and I had to drive to the airport to fetch it. Jan 15, 2007 - lost luggage in JFK, Jan 21, 2007, lost luggage in JFK -- AGAIN, this time it was missing in action for three days.

After my loss of luggage in Newark, I decided to paint "the skunk stripe", a hideously yellow stripe of ownership. Nobody would ever wish to steal this ugly-ass bag, or would ever wish to be even seen with it. Even the thieves who decorate their car with neon-green windshield wipers would say, "No way, man I'm not stealing that ugly ass bag."

That bag has fallen the fate of too many journeys and too many hands. It fell apart and began to leak items out of the holes (lost something on the way back from Toronto because of this). The bag was replaced by new luggage that my wife purchased. No yellow stripe this time. See where it has gotten me?

Anyway, I was having a very nice conversation with the lady at the airport, and she showed me to the bus that took me to the train station, Belp Bahnhof. The bus fare was 3.90CHF. Here I am, at the train station, realizing that I didn't prepare myself nearly as well as I should have. But my lack of preparation was not due to a lack of foresight, it was pretty much on purpose. It was sort of a sociology experiment on myself, I wanted to see how well I could 'figure it out' for myself without asking for help.

My cell phone will not get a signal here. Apparently, I didn't ask for the super-secret decoder chip, when I was in the US. Oh well, at least the NOC won't be calling me. Unfortunately, this means no email from the cell phone.

I discovered the train map, and the schedule, and which lines I needed to take. I managed to purchase my ticket, only using German. I read the sign that says, "Don't cross the train tracks, you fool!" or something to that effect, and found the underground steps to the other train track, which would take me to Bern. To get to Fribourg from Belp, one must take the S3 or S33 line from Belp to Bern. (this is shown as green on the map). Then, switch to the S1 or S11 line to Fribourg. To me, the Bern train station is huge, but not as big as the Tokyo train station, Nihonbashi.

At this point, I'm really tired, and kind of stinky, too. I get on board and relax. I wasn't really able to tell the difference between first class rail pass and second pass rail class, and sat in the wrong section of course. The train conductor informed me, in French, (and somehow I knew what he was saying), and I moved to the smaller, more cramped seats of second class. Mental note. First class seats are red and blue, the second class seats are teal with black speckles.

I sat next to a Francophone who was doing a crossword puzzle (in French) (that must be hard), and a very androgynous, uh, guy I think, doing a crossword puzzle.

Upon arrival, to Fribourg, I decided that I did not want to replay Chris Curtis's Taxi in Fribourg escapade. Chris arrived, tired and cranky from a journey over the Atlantic, and grabbed the first taxi. "I know where that is!" the driver exclaimed excitedly. The taxi pulls forward 100 feet, and stops again. "That will be 12 francs please!"

I wasn't encumbered by luggage, so I set out on my journey to find the hotel by my wits alone. Again, I wasn't as prepared as I should be. I have seen the Hotel de la Rose (The pink hotel?) on a map, but I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have. I pulled the itinerary, and found the street address for the Hotel. Rue de Morat is right next to the Cathedral. And if it's 1 Rue de Morat, then this means it's at the beginning or the end of this not-so-long street. I turned left out of the station, and headed down the street.

The hotel was not hard to find, and I checked in. I made it to my room and showered immediately. It was pretty humid, and I had that "yuck I've been wearing these clothes on a plane" feeling. I did not use any hot water, and that shower/bath felt SOOOO good.

I checked my email, and my wife had already logged in. It was 6:44 back home, so I'm amazed that she was on-line. We used Google Chat to talk over the plans for the day. I was supposed to rendezvous with the other Verisign Ex-pats to view the International School of Bern. (you mean I have to go back to Bern now? )

We were supposed to meet at noon, but I didn't have any such luck. I tried to call Stacy, but got some French operator speaking very quickly, and I hung up. I don't remember what happened after that, and I awoke 2 hours later feeling much refreshed.

Since I've blown my only appointment for the day, I set out to see what this town looked like. I got dressed in my smelly I've been in the airplane too long clothes, and set out to see the city. I brought along my camera, and shot everything along the way.