June 2013 travel report — overview

While I realize that this website is by design a philosophical blog, I equally want to share some private experiences with those of you who are interested in hearing about my life as it is–rather than about what I think about life in general. So, I hope you’ll enjoy what I intend to become a short series of report blog entries giving you a chance to take a glimpse into what happened to me while traveling to Germany and, eventually and unexpectedly, to Switzerland on my family visiting vacation time in June 2013.

First, I feel the need to mention that the ticket I got was not a regular ticket but what is known as a Delta Airlines Buddy Pass. Briefly put, staff members of Delta Airlines have the opportunity to extend the perk of a “non-revenue” flight to family members and close friends. This then means, naturally, that air travel becomes much more affordable, but if you think there is no catch, well, there are a few–some or maybe even all of which I experienced. The major one maybe being that while you can make a flight reservation, a seat assignment will be given “at the gate”. And paying customers as well as buddies with higher priorities will be given seats preferentially, such that there is always the chance that you won’t actually get the flight you intend but that you have to come back to the airport for a flight at a later date with more empty seats or accept a different route altogether.

Still, with ticket prices for a round trip to Germany–JFK/Frankfurt/JFK to be precise–soaring beyond my financial means, I very gladly accepted this risk, and in the end it turned out to be the source of quite a few extra adventures you’ll get to read about. I would go as far as saying that without those, the travel report might turn out to be relatively boring and commonplace, so maybe sometimes it’s worth being inconvenienced for the sake of being disturbed in one’s routine to make some new and unexpected experiences. Naturally, I believe for that to succeed it is necessary to be open towards those situations. Imagining that I would have been angry or resentful about not making my return flight of choice, the subsequent events would certainly have played out differently…

OK, getting to the chase: I was staying in touch with my Delta Airlines friend to find and confirm a possible date to fly out, and on June 11 it finally became apparent that I should be able to make it for the flight on Thursday the 13th. It’s an overnight flight that arrives in Frankfurt on the morning of the next day. And given my vacation allowance, I decided to aim for the return flight on the 24th, which would give me ten full days of vacation and family time. So much for the plan! The flight from JFK to Germany worked out, although barely as I now believe, but the flight back was just a bit of a utopian idea, but more on that later.

Here is now, in as brief as possible terms, what happened throughout my trip as a kind of ticker list of news headlines and short summaries:

  • June 12, 2013, High Price by Dr. Carl Hart: while maybe not directly related to my vacation plans, I think it’s important to mention my getting and reading this book; it helped me by providing some more thoughts and ideas about why people do the things they do
  • June 13, 2013, my flight to Germany: barely (it seems) making my flight, but having a very long and totally awesome conversation with a stranger, Michael, who turns out to be an architect from New York also teaching at Columbia University
  • June 14, 2013, luggage delayed at JFK: not knowing all the conditions of Buddy Pass traveling I assumed I can check my bags and get them; turns out there is always a (pretty good) chance of that not happening and checked bags being delayed… So, if you’ll be flying as a Buddy, use hand luggage only! 😉
  • June 14, 2013, train trip to Koblenz: as I already knew that I would need some Euros, I had exchanged a bit of money and was able to get a train to Koblenz where I was picked up by a neighbor of my mom’s (who no longer has a car), and this and the next day were spent with “chilling out” in the beautiful and extremely sleepy Eifel and having a few really good conversations with my mom
  • June 16, 2013, picking up my bag: finally getting the information that my bag had arrived, my mom and I went to Frankfurt airport (yes, Buddies will not have their bags delivered!) followed by a very nice afternoon in Koblenz’s old town and a visit at the “Deutsches Eck” where Rhine and Mosel join; in the evening I met with some old friends which felt like a nice forecast for my high school reunion a week later
  • June 18, 2013, my brother Bernd comes for a quick visit: although one of the main reasons for my trip to Germany being to get to see my still fairly new-born nephew Vincent, I hadn’t gotten the chance yet; still my brother Bernd decided to visit my mom and me to “hang out” and have a little bit of good-old-times fun
  • June 19 and 20, 2013, staying at my dad’s: given that my parents are divorced there is always some scheduling required to see both my mom and dad; this time I decided to stay with him during “the middle” of my vacation with a sleep-over, and I had some very, very good conversations with my dad and his wife about emotions, needs, decisions, and why we as humans often seem to be too entrenched in our immediate thoughts, judgments, and subsequent emotional responses, leading us to easily miss the best opportunities in life
  • June 21, 2013, my oldest brother Markus arrives in town: a family visit would not be complete without seeing both my brothers, and I was and am very grateful and happy that Markus took the time to come to my mom’s place; in part also due to the fact that we both went to the same high school and the reunion was for all years and classes, and as with my dad, I had some good conversations again 🙂
  • June 22, 2013, the high school reunion day: the afternoon finally brought me to one of the two main reasons for my visit: seeing people from my past and, possibly, rekindle some contact; as it turned out, to my knowledge only 4 other students of my year made it, but I still had a totally awesome time at a “literary café” where three former students (not of my year though) read from their own literature works, two of which I bought and have been enjoying quite a bit already since
  • June 23, 2013, NOT seeing my nephew: for those of you who don’t know… My mom’s emotional situation can become fairly volatile at times, and after a night frequently interrupted by loud music playing on the stereo in my mom’s apartment and talking to both my brothers, the decision was made not to go see my nephew; instead I went to visit both my grandmothers’ graves with my mom
  • June 24, 2013, NOT flying back to JFK: initially it might have seemed like really bad luck, first missing out on my nephew then not getting on the flight, but then fate seemed to twist and turn and put me on top again… Had I not been bumped off the flight, I would not have seen my nephew, but after rebooking to fly out from Zurich the next day, I had enough time left to visit my brother Bernd and yet got to meet Vincent, yay!
  • June 24, 2013, late evening, meeting another stranger: now we come to the truly remarkable and exceptional part of the story… On my way from my brother’s place to Zurich the next day, I had to transfer trains at the airport in Frankfurt, and as I had a 4-hour overlay, I decided to wait at the airport terminal rather than the train track; there I made the acquaintance of a very, very lovely lady, Sharad, who was stranded, whom I tried to support in her efforts to rebook the flight she missed, and who ended up taking the same train, with us becoming friends along the way
  • June 25, 2013, NOT flying from Zurich either: looking back it seems as if fate wanted me to stay in Europe–maybe as a sign to miss a special someone’s birthday? Be that as it may, the train first had a one-hour delay while waiting for some cars being added from a different train coming from Berlin, and then another even longer additional delay when a technical malfunction prevented us from moving for another hour; given that I would not make my flight in time, Sharad suggested I join her and her family in Geneva for her son’s high school graduation ceremony
  • June 25 and 26, 2013, Geneva revisited: taking Sharad up on her offer, I ended up spending an incredibly wonderful day and a half with new found friends while also being given a tour around the lake and through the old town of Geneva–reminding me of an early childhood episode–, and, as you may have guessed, having yet more long and very interesting and memorable conversations; the time I got to spend there will hopefully remain as vivid in my mind as it is now! Thank you, Sharad and Satya, for everything!!
  • June 27, 2013, train to Zurich and flight to JFK: at last I was able to make it to an airport in time–though there wasn’t much buffer left–and, for the first time in my life, traveled business class; yet another (though quite small) adventure. Given that the checkin counter and the gates were very far away, I took the risk again of checking my bag, and “paid” for this decision with it being delayed once more…

So much for the overview! Details on some parts of my travels to follow, particularly on this last, unexpected journey 🙂 I hope you did and will enjoy these blog entries, even though they deviate a bit from the usual material.