Friday, June 8, 2007

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.

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