European Vacation
Here we go!
Aamir's Homepage European Vacation 31 Dec 03
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Sunday, 28 December 2003
I guess the best place to start is at the beginning, so here goes...

Andrea picked me up at 15.00 (3pm) on Sunday the 28th of December from my parents house and we were off. Once we got through the construction at the I-75 entrance we thought things would be easy; just a little 2-hour drive down to Jen's parent's house then leave the next day for Europe.

Unfortunately the travel imps decided to start early and give us a little preview of things to come. Traffic on I-75 was pretty heavy, but moving at the beginning. It kept slowing down, hovever, and it usually takes about 40-50 minutes to get to the Florida Turnpike from Gainesville. This time it took us over 2 hours. We did a quick calculation and realized we were averaging about 20mph for the trip so far.

At around 16.30 (4:30pm) I called Jen and told here that we still hadn't reached the Turnpike and that we'd be a little later for dinner. Her mom had passed along the message to "come hungry" and at this rate we'd be really hungry. While I discussed alternate ways of getting down there with Jen and her mom, Andrea made strange noises out of frustration with the traffic.

Eventually we got onto the Turnpike and things really picked up, especially our speed. We finally broke 60mph, and even got up to the speed limit (70mph) for the first time. We arrived hungry and I finally got to meet Jen's parents about whom I've heard so much about. We all sat and relaxed for a bit, then had a delicious dinner, followed by Michelle's (Jen's sister) favorite cookies for dessert.

Later that night Jen, her mom, Andrea, and I sat down to play the game. The game is a board game called Journey Through Europe, which is something Jen and her family played while growing up. It's actually a lot of fun once you get the hang of the rules. Of course, Jen managed to win, but we had a good time and it gave us a little practice with European geography.

After the game we decided to call it a night so we'd be well rested to start the trip, especially since we were planning on leaving by 09.00 for the airport the next morning.

Monday, 29 December 2003
I was excited about the trip and couldn't really sleep, so I was up and ready pretty early. Jen's mom put together a delicious breakfast for us to get us fueled up for the long day of travel ahead. After that we piled our stuff into the car and headed for the airport.

Once we got all checked in and turned over our checked bags we said our goodbyes to Jen's mom and headed for the security checkpoints so we could go to our gate. When we got to the front of the line, Jen asked if we needed to remove our shoes to go through. The guard looked at our shoes and replied that our shoes "look evil" and that we should take them off.
Evil shoes?

Then we settled in for the 2 hour wait for the flight to Atlanta (the first leg of our trip). At least we got to take turns exploring the airport stores. Jen and Andrea came back from their hunt for cheesy magazines and presented me with an issue of Maxim. By presented, I mean one of them wacked me on the head with it from behind.

I was very grateful for their thoughfulness, but with my typical bluntness I mentioned that I had already read the issue. Someday maybe I'll learn, but they were nice enough to overlook my stupidity and they headed off to see if the newsstand had anything else. They returned shortly with a copy of Men's Health, which served me in good stead later in the trip. Thanks Jen and Andrea!

We then settled back down to wait for the plane. I got back to my book while Jen and Andrea chatted for a bit. Then Andrea pulled out some cards and the ladies got comfortable on the floor to play a nice peaceful game of war. I haven't played that in a long time! At first it seemed that Jen had the upper hand with most of the Aces, but then after a couple of wars, Andrea started to take the lead. It was a see-saw battle for some time, but Andrea pulled off the come-from-behind win.

Eventually the time came for us to board our plane to Atlanta, a Boeing 767-300. We were seated in the apart for the short hop to Atlanta, but we were hoping for seats together for the long part of the flight (Atlanta to Paris). Those would have to be assigned at the Air France gate in Atlanta.

In Atlanta we landed in the second furthest gate from the main area in the A wing. Of course we were going to have to head all the way over to the T Terminal (complete other side of the airport) but at least we had a couple of hours in Atlanta so no big rush.

After checking in and getting our seats together we waited around for our flight to Paris. Once on the plane we were happy to see that we had gotten the first row of coach, right behind the empty business class section. That meant a bulkhead in front of us and extra legroom. Bonus!

We were disappointed that we couldn't watch TV for a while. Then, in pretty much the only helpful act by the Air France staff, one of the attendants showed us the screens that magically appear out of the armrests. Strangely enough, even with several movies and other things to watch, we all ended up watching an old Macgyver rerun. Oh yeah, there was a show about horses that made Andrea happy.

Tuesday, 30 December 2003
We'll call this section Air France, the "Helpful" Skies

Thanks Jen for the very appropriate title. We were served breakfast on the plane and before landing they came and collected all our trays. Andrea realized that they had taken her nightguard with her tray and tried to get the atttention of one of the flight attendants. It's amazing how good they were at ignoring us. Even her help button didn't work. Eventually when one walked by she managed to get him to look at her and when she waved him over he stayed leaning on an empty seat and waved back, then resumed his chat with the stewardess.

When she finally got him to come over, he let her try to explain what was missing and where, but kept interrupting to say something to the stewardesses in french. Eventually, she managed to convey to some extent what the problem was and he said they'd try to find it once we were on the ground. We waited on the plane as everyone else debarked and explained that we had only an hour to get to our next plane. So he assures us that an 8am departure time (on the ticket) really means the'll start boarding at 8am, not when the plane will leave. Ha ha ha. He also assures us that they're searching the trays for the nightguard. So we wait around while the staff "looks" for it.

Despite their assurances that the time printed on the tickets was the boarding time for Air France and that "this is what he does for a living" we decide to leave contact info for Andrea's parents (ha ha ha, again) and make a break our next terminal. And it's a good thing we did, too. We were the last ones to run onto the plane and surprise, surprise, the plane leaves at the time printed on the tickets!

So our flight to Dusseldorf is uneventful and we head to the baggage claim and wait around for a while for our bags. Once all the bags are gone, an airline guy comes up to us and tells us that our bags are still in Paris. Never a dull moment... This is the first time in over 2 years I check a bag with the airlines and THIS happens. He assures us that the bags will be on the next flight arriving at 11.30 (WE arrived at 08.30).

We decided to use our time wisely so we hopped the monorail to the rail station office to check the schedules now that our original plans have been trashed. Jen lets us know that we can JUST pull it off if everything works out just as promised by the airline rep. (with our luck?) We hop back over to the airport and check out some of the shops while waiting for our luggage. Jen seemed pretty happy about the Espirit store, but wasn't really in the mood to do a lot of clothes shopping.

Lucky for us our bags are the first ones on the carousel, so we grab them and rush over to the monorail...just in time to see the doors close. We manage to catch a regional train to the Dusseldorf Hauptbahnhof (Hbf), where we visit the Reiseburo (travel office) to get an updated rail schedule since ours was outdated.

With a little help we manage to find a train that catches us up to our originally planned itenerary, getting us into Innsbruck at around 21.00 (9pm) that night. This plan involoved changing trains in Mannheim and Munich. Jen pointed out the cathedral towers in Cologne and we got a pretty neat view when we crossed the Rhine. We even managed to find some little mini-wursts at the on-train bistro. They only had Coke, but Jen informed us that the Coke in Europe is at least drinkable.

We get off the train in Innsbruck and holy construction in front. Jen doesn't recognize the area outside the Hbf (train station) and we end up spending a while hunting for the taxi stands. The signs weren't really that helpful either, but eventually we find the taxis and get CarrotTop as our driver (lots of BIG orange hair).

We finally get to the Penz Hotel, our new home away from home (at least for New Year's). I had to
book the first couple of nights before our trip because just about everything was booked well in advance. That left us with the Penz, which I think was much nicer than Andrea and Jen expected (and a tad pricier). They charged a little extra for having 3 people in a double, but whatever, it was warm! It took us a little time to
get the lights on. Turns out the key card has to be inserted in a slot by the door before any of the lights will come on. And when they came on were treated to a great looking room. The ladies noticed that the only mirror was in the bathroom, which was a little strange. Then Jen saw the feather comforters all ready for her to mummify herself in them later. Very happy Jen!

We get settled in and take a breather, then head out in search of some food. After a bit of hunting we finally decide on a gasthaus not too far away. Jen translates the menu for us so Andrea and I can get our food. She knew what she wanted before we even went in...wienerschnitzel mit pommes!!! That was a big reason for chosing the place we did. It was a nice little place and while it was a little late at night we were treated like family. In fact, it looked like the family showed up while we were there.

After dinner we headed back to the room and chatted for a bit about our plans for the next day. Then we settled in for some much needed rest and most importantly, sleep!

Aamir's Homepage European Vacation 31 Dec 03
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