Monday, July 21, 2008

Visit to Deutschland

Last week I made my first business visit to Germany, or Deutschland in german, or Allemagne in french. Much of the three days was travel, and I got spend just one day in the town of Kronach, near Nuremberg (or Nurnburg). Still, there is shocking stuff to write home about.

First, Frankfurt airport was shockingly convoluted, and I wouldn't advise even a transit for the uninitiated and non-adventurous. We got off the plane somewhere out near the runway, and boarded a crowded bus, which took us to a terminal (I think terminal D). One would think it leads us to baggage claim and immigration, but that wasn't quite the case. What seemed to matter was the gate numbers. Some gate numbers lead you to immigration counters and others don't. My follow-on flight to Nuremberg was in terminal A, gate 4, and following the directions was quite a challenge. I had to go up an escalator, then through immigration counters, then take elevators down some 3 floors, cross a long underground walkway to get to terminal A, then take elevators up some 3 floors, pass security checks and then to the gate. The security check was too complex and weird - one friend told me he almost got a massage! The guy felt all over, and asked to see my passport that was in my pant pockets. Then he asked me to take off my belt, and put it back through the X-ray machine. And, my shoes on a different X-ray machine. Enough to confuse me, that I forgot to take my belt, and came back after almost reaching my gate. Interestingly, there was no immigration or customs form to fill out on the plane - they just stamped my passport on arrival and departure.

Then came the Euro shock - a small bottle of spring water was 2 Euros. I handed over a $20 bill and the cashier said it was 11 Euros (almost half in value!), and gave me back 9 Euros change.

Then came the language shock! The bottle read "Naturaliche Springwasser", which I thought would mean Natural Springwater, and there was no indication it was carbonated. Turned out it was carbonated sparkling water. Even at other times in restaurant and business office, I was served sparkling carbonated water. Later I learnt that we have to ask for "still" water to get normal spring water.

The drive from Nuremberg to the town of Kronach was pretty scenic. The weather was cloudy with light shower, so it was perfect for a pleasant drive. It kind of felt like typical Oregon weather and landscape. I don't know if it was an "auto bahn" highway, but cars were zooming at high speeds like 150km/hr. This is really the place to drive those german cars like BMW. The lanes are a bit narrow and trucks came a bit close to our side, and yet traffic was so fast.

Kronach was a small town, and looked pretty historic. Surprisingly, there was a Chinese restaurant in this town, and I had a good dinner with rice & vegetables. It was interesting to note the enterprising Chinese restaurant manager and his 6-year old kid spoke german very well, but not much english. We stayed at Hotel Sonne, which seemed to exist since 1800s. The rooms had pretty old furniture from the olden days, though it was pretty clean and cheap at 46 Euros (USD 75) per night. The restroom was extra small, though neatly designed - it was the size of a closet or bath tub area that had a shower stall, wash basin and a toilet seat fit in. There were other rooms smaller or bigger, so it really depends on what you get. There was phone connection but no Internet or WiFi, and the hotel manager didn't speak much English, which made it difficult to ask anything. But I had to ask for an adapter for my laptop, and he made a great effort to find me one, which spoke volumes of hospitality. There was a nice complimentary breakfast included as well.

The next day we finished our business in Kronach. The folks we visited spoke fluent English, and that made it a lot easier to get things done. In the evening, we headed to Nuremberg, where we stayed at the Sheraton. Great hotel, big change from previous night at Kronach, and not so expensive at 95 Euros (or USD 155), but there was a charge for Internet service like 12 Euros minimum, which I thought was too much. They also wouldn't lend me an adapter, but would only sell me one for 8 Euros, which was in stark contrast with the previous night country side hospitality.

We headed back to Nuremberg airport the next day, back to Frankfurt and back to the US.
Food on Lufthansa was just enough and barely met vegetarian expectations in quantity and quality - but, better than what United offered on my other trips. I slept all along, catching glimpses of Oregon Klamath area and Northern California towards the end of the trip.

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