Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
Despite the excitement and thrill of travel, there are some days that are just putrid. They usually start, as today did, at an ungodly early hour to get up and out to begin the long journey. Today’s trip was ostensibly meant to be a one hour flight between London and Zurich followed by a quick connecting train to Freiburg over the German border.
But of course, every flight begins with a trip to the airport. Money goes a long way to making this less arduous but for those of us on a budget, there’s just no quick and easy way to get to Heathrow from South London other than a tube ride longer than the actual flight it is delivering you to.
As mentioned previously, I’d changed my itinerary, cutting out flights at the end of my trip which allowed me to include this one in my round the world ticket. I was told that all I needed to do now was pay a small change fee at the British Airways counter at the airport before the flight. I’d allowed plenty of time for this and made my way straight to the counter as soon as I got to Terminal 5. The queue was long. Apparently an ash cloud over Argentina meant there were plane loads of passengers needing to re-route their journeys. I waited patiently for close to an hour before I was at risk of missing my own flight. I got the attention of an attendant who rushed me through to the next available customer service representative…
… who told me it was now too late as check-in for that flight had closed. He consoled me with the fact that I wouldn’t have been able to get on that flight anyway because although my itinerary had been changed, no one had actually ticketed it and I really should be speaking to Qantas anyway. My already flat mood was taking a dive. Luckily, he was prepared to help me which he proceeded to do by leaving me at the counter for another hour wondering if he’d forgotten about me altogether.
Meanwhile, time was quickly ticking on the precision pickup plans I’d made at the other end with my friend Titia who has limited mobile communication. I frantically sent frenzied emails hoping she was able to check them before heading off for the day but still unable to set up alternative arrangements not knowing whether I’d be able to get on another flight or not. Considering I only had a couple of days with Titia, if I wasn’t able to get a flight today, it seemed like there was little point in going at all. My master plan was disintegrating as quickly as my independent spirit and I’m afraid to say, I felt very suddenly very alone and wanted nothing more than to call the whole thing off, check into an airport hotel and wallow for a few days.
But I didn’t. The customer service guy, who may or may not have taken a lunch break since I last saw him, eventually returned with a promise that he could get me on another flight in a couple of hours. He reissued my ticket for this and all my remaining flights and sent me on my way. With my spare time, I perched myself in a cafe and re-strategised my connecting trains and with fingers crossed sent a new plan of action to Titia knowing that as soon as I boarded the plane, I wouldn’t be able to communicate with her until I was looking at her.
My luck started to improve when the person allocated the seat next to me didn’t materialise saving me from the dreaded middle seat. I squiggled over to the window seat and in an emergency exit row too! Double bonus. For now, there was nothing more I could do, it was in the hands of fate so I enjoyed the ride and the spectacular scenery as we made our descent into Zurich.
Off the flight and straight to my next queue ride for train tickets. I thought I’d left enough time but it was quickly ticking. By the time I got to the top of the queue, I had only a few minutes to make my train but the lady at the counter confused me by ticketing a different route involving less changes but taking much longer. I made a split second decision to go with my researched route figuring that it was my best chance to rendezvous with Titia assuming she’d gotten my emails.
I ran, yes actually ran, for the train and jumped on, the doors almost catching my bag as they closed. I stayed on for a few stops, made my first change and then settled in for a longer stretch as beautiful scenery unfolded all around. My next change was like Swiss clockwork, taking me over the border with German efficiency.
So that part of my plan had worked, now how the hell was I supposed to find Titia? I got out my phone with a UK only SIM that didn’t work and started scanning for Wifi signals. Not usually a fan of Starbucks, I could almost have drunk one of their coffees in gratitude when I detected their signal. Luckily I didn’t have to, I could just lurk out the front and log in. Even more luckily, there was an email from Titia with somewhat complicated instructions that I wasn’t sure I could follow. I decided they were the kind of directions that would make sense once I was standing in the places described (or so I hoped) so dutifully headed toward what appeared to be the overhead bridge that would lead me to a tram which would take me to a stop where I was to change for another tram that would take me somewhere else to get a bus etc… If I found it, this would be my greatest navigational triumph.
At the top of the stairs, I saw the tram tracks. On the other side of the tracks… I saw Titia calling out to me!!! Her timing was uncanny considering a few seconds either way and we would totally have missed each other. I can’t tell you how utterly alleviated I was. I would have been glad to see her anyway but after the day I’d had so far, I hugged her twice as hard! She had with her her two children, Henrik (8) and Clara (4). When we last met, it was in Boston, USA where Titia and her husband, Peer, were living with a then 4 year old Henrik. Clara was still on the inside about to break free so this was the first time I had the pleasure of meeting her.
Titia and I worked together at Elsevier in London. She was then and is now like no one else I know and like all my favourite people, is relentlessly authentic. Dutch by nationality but raised and educated throughout Europe, she’s also spent several years in the USA making her a woman of the world yet she has no pretensions about her. On the contrary, Titia is very down to earth and there is never a question of what is on her mind, often to hilarious effect! We worked in the same department and were drawn together initially by our mutual despise for the less than useless colleague that stunk up the space between us. Titia moved on but we’ve stayed in touch and I’ve had the good fortune to visit her is several of the homes she made around the world.
Our reunion ended my struggle and lightened my load. Titia, Henrik (so big now!) and Clara led me back to their beautiful home in an apartment on the top floor of a building with breathtaking views over the encroaching Black Forest. Just spectacular inside and out. Sadly, Peer is away in Stuttgart for work but the 4 of us enjoyed a simple dinner of minestrone soup followed by a classic German dessert “Heisse Liebe” (hot love!) made with warm raspberries and ice-cream – delicious!!!
Titia put the children to bed then we stayed up drinking wine and chatting the night away. It was so good to catch up on the last four years. We could have kept on talking but eventually called it a night. Titia retired to her room and I to mine… in the attic!!! So cool!!! Ordinarily Peers office at one end and the children’s play area at the other, I’m absolutely spoiled to have it all to myself for the next few days. I can’t wait for morning to wake to views of the Black Forest all around me!