Darker days ahead Ich bin ein Frankfurter

I've got tinnitus. I think I've had it for years, to be honest, but a recent period of ear and balance fail has made me more aware of it than usual. On Tuesday evening, then, I was particularly freaked out when Helen asked if I could hear a weird high pitched noise. Well, um, y'see... turns out that was her radiators kicking into gear. Perhaps I'm cured, but am spending a lot of time in the presence of high pitched noises by accident?

Perhaps not. But today, what's ringing in my ears is a line from my boss during a brief diversionary conversation about my impending time off.

"You do realise your holidays are hilarious, don't you?"

I choose to believe he meant that kindly, and in that spirit I have not been put off writing up chapter 11 of my 2016 "cross a border every month" resolution. So it is that I'm typing this in a moderately cramped hotel room in the early hours of a Thursday morning in that there Frankfurt, Germany.

Plainly I did not wake up on Wednesday in Germany. No, I woke up in north Surrey, at around 0245. My iPad, which I had deliberately left on playing - I can't use the term "tuned in" here, it feels wrong - "America Decides" on radio 4. At that time it seemed Hillary Rodham Clinton was still likely to become the USA's first female president. The coverage, combined with the incredibly frequent and interesting updates on FiveThirtyEight, led to me staying awake all the way until the likelihood of a Trump presidency was a percentage in the high 90s. Still, that helped me tick off the first item on my pre-flight checklist.

En route to the station I managed the second item, being unreasonably chipper despite a mix of terrible weather and my not being overly enamoured with the Donald's horrific personality, behaviour, policies, tactics, or haircut. But even despite that, "why are you so happy?" is pretty obvious: I've got the day off work, and am getting on a plane later.

Home by 0815, on goes the TV and I sleep through most of WWE Raw, which isn't that much of a shame. Does seem a bit bizarre that America just elected as their president a man who's in the WWE hall of fame, and has had a "fight" at Wrestlemania, mind. During my slumber I gave my devices some juice, then grabbed a shower and headed to work.

I was at Waterloo at 1130.

Not that I was actually working, but a longstanding colleague is leaving at the end of the week so there was a date with a leaving lunch to attend. As sad an occasion as it was, I was very tickled by the fact I'd happened to wear my "More Cowbell" hoodie to a pub where one of the choices of dark beer was called "Holy Cowbell". If I could have stayed there all day I wouldn't have needed to even speak to the barman, could've just pointed to my chest!

Actually I really wanted to stay there all day. The single beer went down really well and when I left I was totally in the mood to carry on drinking, but the list kept dictating my steps. A haircut and shave opposite the old office where the barber made me feel like an old friend, then home, packed, and out to actually go on holiday.

Left my flat at exactly 3.30pm. A bus to Kingston was very prompt, and despite being overtaken by the express bus to the airport I still made it - just as the driver was shutting the doors - and thought, hang on, if this sticks to the timetable I could be at terminal 5 by 4.30pm here. That would be excellent.

Traffic. Lots of traffic. Lots and lots of traffic. I was facing backwards, but could see reflections of blue flashing lights ahead of the bus. The roads were almost gridlocked and then we reached a crossroads, ahead of us being the correct route, blocked by a police van blocking the road. Everyone else was being shepherded through some diversions but we, er, were let through the blockade. I admit to briefly wondering if there was some armed situation going on and they were sacrificing public transport riders.

No. There wasn't. There was an accident and we were just going to wait until they'd cleared it up and we could go again. As it goes, that wasn't too long, but we were still 30+ minutes late after all the delays. Accident must've been bad; I saw two police vans, one ambulance, one fire engine, and one police car. Presumably more emergency vehicles had been in attendance beforehand too. Poor bastards.

So, Hatton Cross. Missed a T5 train by seconds and the next one wasn't for 10 minutes. Sigh. But, eventually, I was at the airport, 1h40m after stepping out from my flat. Pretty bad, but I'd given myself plenty of buffer time so there wasn't a huge concern. Others on the bus had been a bit more panicky.

Shiny card plus business class ticket means I was doubly eligible for the fast track security lanes, so I wandered down to the south gates and through. Shoved my stuff in trays, got through the x-ray, waited on the other side. A giant man in front of me stood motionless waiting for his stuff while people had to manoeuvre around him, and even when he did get his giant bag he didn't move the empties like most other people did. Then, another bag of his got sent down the "needs to be checked more" lane.

My bag had also been sent down there. The bloke looked up and said "you got a pump in there?" and I realised my stupid selfie-stick holster thing was in the side pocket. This happened on a previous trip and since then I've remembered to have it out, but not today. Never mind, my fault.

A lass in front of me was having pretty much everything in all her bags swabbed and re-checked, which was taking some time. The giant kept hanging around in the way of everyone else while I sat back well out of the way until it was time for my bag to be checked. Quickly explained the kit, demonstrated it, got a new swab and away I went. So much for fast track, but in the end I was spitefully glad I'd made the giant bloke hang around more as punishment for his obliviousness or rudeness or both.

I wanted a cloth for my glasses so went to Boots; no luck. Then I went to some sunglasses-selling duty free stores; also no luck. Ah screw it, let's go to the lounge.

The FIRST CLASS lounge. Woohoo! Somewhat surprisingly, I'd never been in the T5 first class lounge before. When you fly bona fide first class, you're allowed in the Concorde Room which is another level of fancy above, and on the few occasions I've done that I haven't seen the point in checking out the nominally "first class" lounge. On the other hand, when flying business class or in posession of a BA silver (or oneworld equivalent) you're allowed into the "Galleries Club" lounge. Basically "Galleries First" is for gold card (or oneworld equivalent) holders and as of a couple of days after my Helsinki trip, I have such a card for the first time since before T5 opened.

Ooh, it's quite nice. There's self-pour champagne - regular and rose - and loads of nice comfy chairs with big cushions and space around and charging sockets (plugs and USB) and some weird Samsung wireless charging stands which afaik nothing I own can use.

It's quite crowded and quite dark, so all I get are some grainy shit photos from where I'm sat. I nip round to the "refectory" where there is a lot of food choice. Quality doesn't seem immediately to be better than in the business class lounge, rather there are just more choices - hot food (chilli, rice, roast veg), sandwiches, cold salad-y stuff, cakes, fruit, etc. On my second run I discover the best bit: pickled onions. This elevates the lounge to my favourite lounge on earth immediately. Sydney Qantas first class lounge? Get pickling.

Tasted less noisy than they look.

I get another champagne, and a beer - you know how this goes - and wait for my phone to tell me which gate the flight is leaving from. I don't explore as much of the lounge as I'd like because I'm solo, and time is short. On my way out, once I'm told I'll be leaving from A18, I see signs to both a "champagne bar" and a "Gold bar", the latter making me think of heists.

The Heathrow map says gate A18 is a ~10 minute walk from where I am. It's more like 10 seconds, being literally the closest gate to the lounge. You virtually fall into it as you descend the escalator. Of course, no-one is moving and nothing is happening so I head off in search for a cleaning cloth for my glasses. Sunglasses Hut obliges, with a chatty lass managing to convince me to buy the 50p more expensive version that comes with some special cleaning fluid.

Back to the gate and boarding starts almost immediately I arrive, a full 25 minutes before scheduled departure time. I get on 5th or 6th and plonk myself into seat 1A. I count my chickens for 15 minutes until finally someone else sits in row 1, but on the other side of the aisle. I am still largely isolated, which is great.

I did wonder if I'd get a vaguely special or personalised greeting, either for being a gold card holder in general or because my card is newly minted, but nothing was forthcoming. Apparently this used to be much more of a thing a few years ago; it's not like I'm bothered by its absence, but would be tickled by its presence. Who doesn't like their ego stroked? Later on, when getting off, I get a "Mr Foreman" and notice no-one else in business is getting their name said, so maybe that was the extent of it. Works for me.

The guy talking over the tannoy manages to sound like both MC Miker G and DJ Sven, who wrote Holiday Rap back in the day. Almost like it was a fake "comedy" Dutch accent. He says we're a very full flight and he, plus the cabin crew around me, are sternly telling people to follow the rules with their bags: if they're tagged, they go under the seat, otherwise go up top. There's plenty of room but people just want to shove it in empty lockers up front, and then ask if they can sit in row 2. The lead cabin crew woman is very firm: no you can't, this is business class, hop it back to row 14 you.

A hot towel arrives and is collected. We taxi for ages, eventually taking off at 1955. There is ample time for bad photos through an awkward window. We go past a Concorde slowly but I can't get a single shot, even a bad one, in which you can make it out.

Hangar 18?

Looked OK on my phone. On a bigger screen, looks like a shot from a military drone VGA camera or summat.

They announce that once the captain turns the signs off, club europe passengers will get a light meal and euro traveller passengers will get a snack. Lo and behold, within seconds of the beep the cabin crew are saying HELLO MR FOREMAN WOULD YOU LIKE SOME FOOD IT'S CHICKEN HERE IT IS. Well OK then! And yes, I'd like some champagne please.

The chicken is surprisingly lovely. The sour cream is a bit meh. The cous cous is also very nice, but the leaves are terrible, so bad they almost ruin the whole thing. The tiny dessert is laughable, but nice for what it is. Champagne is champagne, and I get another one after being asked "is that one dead?".

35 minutes after take off and we're starting our descent. The captain does his typical spiel of "a quick update from the flight deck, it's a pleasant evening in Frankfurt, 3 degrees Celsius and raining" without a hint of irony or humour. This is my kind of captain.

The magazine has a perfectly pitched "here's what hipster means" guide to hotels

Late on, I realise my ears have felt fine the whole time, which is excellent news. We land exactly on schedule at 10pm local time, and the memory of the rough bus ride to get to Heathrow is distant. I'm travelling without checked in luggage and am in row 1 so this should be a fast trip through the airport, onto a nice efficient German train and at my hotel in the blink of an eye.

Well, or not.

The photo above is from my seat on a bus. We've landed at a remote stand, meaning muggins here is second or third onto a bus which I will be last to get off once we reach the terminal. Up a slow escalator and through some Oyster-esque passport gates which are much harder to use than the Heathrow ones.

I'm chatting to Helen by now and have changed into my international hat, the one she (since Helsinki) lends me to regale her with photos of its travels, basically a vicarious proxy. I'm already overdoing it - hat waiting to deplane, hat on a bus, hat in an empty baggage reclaim hall - and it's time to stop. It's actually time to buy some Coke Zero, and then get some cash out - I had €20 already, but wanted to prove my Supercard still works.

Following the signs to the S-Bahn station, I find myself outside at a bus stop. Oh. The S-Bahn goes from another terminal. I know Frankfurt airport is big but the ride between terminals is not quick, instead it's reminiscent of Heathrow or Perth's international/domestic shimmy.

More signs to the S-Bahn. I stop to buy a ticket from a machine which needs its touch screen controls recalibrated because it's frustrating as hell. I thought I'd be able to buy a 24hr ticket but no, it's just "today" of which there's not much left, so instead I just buy a single and head down to the platform.

There's lots of people there. The signs aren't saying much, definitely not saying there's a train any time soon. But there's no staff telling people to leave and no announcements. I'm complaining to Helen about how long this has already taken, and listening to a podcast. On the local transport website I manage to get Google to translate something for me - apparently there may not be any trains, and there may be a bus service replacing buses. Um, OK then.

To my left a man looks furtive and like he's found something out, and he starts to fuck off up the escalator in a hurry and lots of other people follow him. I choose to do the same, and join a long convoy of people walking a long way to a totally different train station, the one for long distance trains rather than regional ones. I'm angry I need a new ticket, but when a machine tells me it would cost the same as the one I've already got I choose not to buy one.

It also told me there's a 2317 train, and it's 2316. It lies. Well, sort of. There is a 2317, but it comes in late and isn't going to Frankfurt centre. It's a big fancy long distance ICE train with first class and everything. Kinda want to ride it.

So there's actually an S-Bahn train coming in at 2332. 92 bloody minutes after we landed and I'm still at the goddamn airport. I'm annoyed, but totally faux annoyed; this is pretty damn funny to experience such fail.

The display says which "zones" of the platform the train will stop next to, so I wander away from F and G to B and C. The train comes in and stops next to F and G, so loads of us have to jog along the platform. More wry smiles. Onboard, two angry looking men come through checking tickets and mine gets a very long, drawn out stare before a nod. Gimme a break, Germany.

Eventually I'm at the hauptbahnhof. I've read that there'll be loads of shady types hanging around but think, how bad can it be on a cold rainy night approaching midnight? Well, not too bad, but not empty by a long shot. There are special Deutsche Bahn police wandering around and I leave by the south exit, attempting to use the force to reach my hotel.

I've consulted a map, and tried to commit it to memory, being unwilling to wander along the streets staring at a map on my phone. Things look as I expect until I get an uneasy feeling on a left turn and give up; Google maps tells me I'm 0.1 miles from my hotel, but should've turned right. Then I make a total pig's ear of actually traversing the local platz and probably spend 0.5 miles walking the 0.1

At reception, the man tells me there are no rooms. There is confusion, he soon understands that I've actually already got a reservation and haven't just wandered in off the street. Without asking for a credit card or any form of ID, he hands me a piece of paper with my name on it. I presume, being midnight, I'm the last of the reserved folk to turn up today.

Me and another guy have a polite-off about who's getting in the lift first - I win - and then I'm here, in my room, 8 hours after I left my flat. The wifi seems to work well and BBC World is talking about precisely fuck all except the Trump thing. Oh, and some cricket. But mostly Trump. It takes me about an hour to write all this shit, at the end of which - i.e., right now - I decide I'm going to hit the minibar while contemplating what Thursday might bring before hitting the sack. Guten nacht.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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