Chasing the Expressionists, or, how I learned German, Part II: Traveling

“For one screaming minute my heart and the engines correspond as we attempt to prove again that the laws of aerodynamics are not the flimsy superstitions which, in my heart of hearts, I know they are… I happen to be convinced that only my own concentration (and that of my mother — who always seems to expect her children to die in a plan crash) keeps this bird aloft. I congratulate myself on every successful takeoff, but not too enthusiastically because it’s also part of my personal religion that the minute you grow overconfident and really relax about the flight, the plane crashes instantly. Constant vigilance, that’s my motto.” — Erica Jong, Fear of Flying

Salzburg at dusk... cold and snowy but elegantly picturesque

I’m very good at fooling myself into believing that I like to fly. When the sky is blue and the clouds are white puffs that slip by my portal at sporadic intervals, when check-in runs smoothly, and when i can see the Manhattan skyline shrink below me as the plane rises up, up, up, I start to think that this whole flying thing is actually enjoyable. Then the plane banks and wibbles, we hit a spot of turbulence, the seat belt signs comes back on, the flight attendants scurry to their seats, and I am quickly reminded why I hate flying. I don’t care if I’m more likely to die in a car accident than a plane crash. Give me a car any day.

I glared at the man in the seat next to me on my Frankfurt-bound flight. As soon as his dinner was cleared, he promptly dropped off in a deep slumber. He dreamed through an hour of North Atlantic turbulence while I sat with eyes blazing wide and back pitched forward ready to enter a protective fetal position. Any attempts at soothing, meditative thoughts were thwarted by a fear of falling 38,000 feet in a flaming ball of scrap metal. I wish I could be one of those people who falls asleep as soon as the plane reaches cruising altitude, and stays asleep until seat-backs and tray-tables have to be returned to their upright and locked position for landing. I’m lucky if I can eek out a 30 minute doze on a 7 hour overnight flight. I have to stay awake to help the pilot navigate the air.  Constant vigilance — Erica, that’s my motto too.

We left New York a day later than our projected itinerary predicted. A snowstorm on the East Cost shut down the city airports. This had been my third flight cancellation in as many weeks, and little did I know another awaited me at the end of this trip. So we arrived in Frankfurt at 6:30AM, a day late, hurried, and shattered. My mother had left her glasses on the airplane. I was sent back to retrieve them. 3 technicians and 3 air line attendants helped me rip apart our seats (and when i say “rip” i mean actually disassemble the seat like it was a lego set), but all we found were 3 pens and two old napkins. I was sent off the plane empty-handed.

the snowy, fairytale landscape sweeps past the car window

Now blind as well as tired, we went to the Hertz counter to retrieve our car before checking into the airport’s Sheraton. We intended to catch up on our shut-eye before driving the 540 kilometers to Salzburg, Austria, but again, our best laid plans went awry. We picked up our automatic volvo with the never lost and drove out of the parking lot and right past the hotel. As our heavy eyelids watched our beds slip past the car windows we agreed that, even though we hadn’t slept in 18 hours, we’d power through to Salzburg, stopping at every coffee house on the way if necessary.

The drive was a troubling combination of tedious and wondrous. Snow was everywhere around us — fields and forests covered in a thick powdered-sugar coat, flurries hung in the air, slush sat outside our car doors when we pulled into the parking lot of every rasthoff for our caffeine pick-me-up.  I was waiting for the conductor to cue the orchestra and for the Nutcracker Snowflakes to come dancing out from behind the tree line at any moment. In a dreamy fit, I turned to my pilot — “If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were in Ohio. But these trees tell you you’re in Germany — the trees are so German. They’re so upright and precise.”

The cars in front of us kicked salt onto our windshield and the sky was a bright gray —

some German trees

visibility was minimal. My mother was at the wheel. I had loaned her my glasses, a weak prescription I’ve had for the last 6 years and have been meaning to update. She squinted behind the frames and cursed the whippers that seemed to only move the salt streaks around the windshield, rather than clear them away.  Despite 4 espressos, I had turned into a narcoleptic navigator. Most stretches along the autobahn don’t have speed limits and the average german driver travels at about 130kmph. How we made it to Salzburg in one piece, I still wonder.

After a few days in Salzburg, we ventured back to Germany and  into Munich. We spent the first week meandering our way around Bavaria. From Munich we went north to Wurzburg, via Rothenberg ob der Tauber. Next stop was Tauberbischofsheim then further north into Saxony. A few days in Leipzig then onto Dresden, which was supposed to be our last stop before a return to Frankfurt and its airport.

Our flight back to New York was scheduled to depart on Wednesday, Feb. 24. It was Lufthansa flight 400. On Monday, February 22, the Lufthansa pilots went on strike. Flight LH400 for Wednesday was canceled and we were instantly handed 3 more days in Europe.

We toyed with the idea of driving all the way to Amsterdam, but some how we both ended up on antibiotics — me with a nasty sinus infection, my mother with a nastier upper-respiratory thing — and an 8 hour roadtrip seemed out of the question. Instead of a city of canals, we opted for a city with a Cathedral and eau du toilette. Koln (Cologne) became our final stop before wandering back to Frankfurt via the towns and castles along the Rhine.

In 14 days we racked up 2,000+ miles on our rented volvo. We visited 13 cities/towns, spent the nighst in 8 hotels (9 rooms), toured 11 museums and 4 palaces, and lit 8 candles in 7 churches (we’re really only Catholic when we’re travelers). All in all, I lost 3 pounds while my suitcase gained 8 pounds… all in museum catalogs. (stay tuned, Part III will justify the purchase of 10 museum catalogs and highlight the treasures found among the many galleries visited)

the general course of our journey through Germany


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