August 11

Frankfurt Airport | Trip to Europe

Finally, we found ourselves in Frankfurt airport. Going through the customs line didn’t take long. We were in the non-European Nationals line. Suddenly the responsibility of being in a German airport hit me as I saw the German language (and quite a bit of English) everywhere. We needed to get to the Budget rent-a-car counter. For a long time we floundered because we simply couldn’t figure out how to get to the third floor of the airport. There didn’t seem to be any elevators that went that far, and we had far too much luggage to manage the escalators. I went up the escalators on foot while Vicki stood by the suitcases, and managed to find the Budget car desk. As I stood in line, I was comforted by the sound of fairly good English coming from both of the tall, skinny German men behind the counter.

Nervous about leaving Vicki alone and getting separated, I left the line and went back for her. We went through a few mildly tense moments discussing how to get our stuff upstairs. Vicki said that she had observed a couple of people taking their luggage carts on the escalator. Sure enough, another person accomplished that feat while we watched.

Finally, we were at the Budget counter. Now I was nervous about whether the “mid-sized” car that I had reserved would hold three adults, total weight at least 600 pounds, and their luggage. I had serious doubts. I dickered with the skinny clerk with the day-old white shirt and the fairly good English. He sent me down four floors to examine the car, while Vicki waited some more. When I found my way to the basement, it was clear that we would need a bigger vehicle.

After 30 more minutes of negotiation, we made it to a gray Opal station wagon and stashed our baggage, including balancing my guitar precariously on top of the rest of the luggage. Then there was another trip back to the garage attendant. Neither Vicki nor I could figure out how to put the car into reverse. With the car started and backed out, now I was uncertain as to how to exit the parking garage, Vicki suggested that we observe the couple behind us. So I backed away from the ticket dispenser to allow the vehicle in question to pass us. The woman was driving, and she was even more totally clueless than I, seemingly not being able to get car to move more than a few inches at a time. But, lurching, coughing and spitting, this car eventually did pass and take a ticket to leave the parking lot.

Driving to Strasbourg, France

Once we were out in the sunlight and the squinting changed to vision again, I was able to discern the autobahn, A5. We were on our way south to Strasbourg, and it was only 11 a.m. (5 a.m. Marietta time.) Now, I had heard stories of how fast cars travel on the autobahn, but I was not prepared for what happened next. On these European superhighways, there is a speed limit on the right lane of about 55 mph, and trucks must stay in the right lane. There is NO speed limit in the left lane, and these drivers typically drive between 90 and 100 mph. So, one has a choice to putz along behind smelly trucks or be swept away into the onslaught of speeding traffic in the outside lane.

I finally opted for a moderate strategy. I would look out my side rear view mirror and when the way seemed clear, I would rip out into the left lane and pass several trucks. It wouldn’t be a few seconds to less than a minute when one to three streaking cars would come right up behind me, less than a car length away. This happened even at speeds of 70 to 75 mph. Then I would dart back over behind another heavy vehicle, while the marauding parade following me trimmed my left rear bumper as they roared past.

I had just settled into this slightly disconcerting routine when I spotted a wall of tail lights in front of me. We were dead in the water. For forty five minutes we observed the German family of dad, mom, and teenage son and daughter who were ahead of us getting in and out of their stopped car to peer ahead on the highway. As we crept forward again, the delay was apparently simply a construction vehicle which had been doing work and blocking both lanes of the autobahn.

Now we proceeded to Strasbourg in earnest. Vicki began what was to be her very successful career as navigator. We crossed the Rhine and drove into town, stopping at a tourist information center just at the edge of the city. Tom had given Vicki directions to his youth hostel, but the guide said that there were actually two locations for this hostel, one very near by and one across the city. By now it was three o’clock, we were hot and exhausted, but we drove to the first location. Inside, a young woman reluctantly spoke broken English with us, told us that Tom was not here, indicated a general direction on a wall map, and disappeared. We got back in the car again, not really looking at each other, for fear of betraying the frustration we felt.

By this time tempers definitely could have flared, but we were on our best behavior, and were to remain so during the entire trip. I got about half way to the new location and panicked. “How can I find this place without a map,” I complained. “That was really stupid of me not to get a map.” So, even though Vicki thought we were on the right track, I turned around and went back to the tourist station and bought a city map for one franc. Armed with this new resource and with Vicki navigating again, we walked into this youth hostel, and there in the public greeting area was our brother, surrounded by several other members of the class he was taking.

Tom's Tale of Woe

“I’ve never been so glad to see anyone in my life,” Tom said, giving hugs all around. It turned out that Tom had developed an extremely antagonistic relationship with his professor. Vicki and I listened to Tom tell his tale of woe over and over.

Later in our trip, when he would re-recite the story to a new acquaintance or relative we had met, I would jokingly interrupt him and say, “We’ve heard this story 10 times now, six times in English, three times in French, and twice in German.” And that was not an exaggeration.

Tom’s story went this way. When he first arrived in Europe, the “class” was doing much sight-seeing. They would walk everywhere, up and down steep hills, for miles and miles each day. Tom could hardly keep up. The first night, he was pale and week and had pains in his chest, so much so, that they were quite worried about him. By the third day, his feet were covered with blisters. Tom always had trouble with his feet anyway. However, dispite the physical rigours that he was learning to endure, Tom was quite pleased with what he was seeing and learning.

It was only later that he began to notice that the professor for the class was apparently treating him in a discriminatory manner. Once Tom made some comments in French, and the professor blurted “Speak in English so that everyone can understand you.” That really offended Tom, who expected a more advanced course where he could practice his French. Then, as Tom began to explore the paper he was to write, they really began to butt heads. Tom felt as though this professor would not accept the topics or approach that he was proposing. It got so bad that when Tom would suggest something, the professor would hit the table with the heel of his palm and shout, “No.” Whenever Tom would retell this tale to us, he would demonstrate this particular point by loudly hitting his own palm on whatever happened to be near. I got to imitating him, just to turn a serious situation into a funny one.

Another thing that worried Tom was that the professor was requiring a 20 page typewritten paper. When he asked the professor to show him examples of previous student papers, the professor pulled out five page handwritten papers. When Tom complained about this, the professor countered with the statement that these students had also taken a test.

Things went from bad to worse, and Tom ended up confronting the professor with his unfair expectations and behavior. One of the things Tom said was that he treated his own students with more respect than he was getting here. The professor replied that he liked the “old Tom” better. Tom sought to withdraw from the course, paying only for the travel, with which he was satisfied.

Renting our Lodgings in Strasbourg | Trip to Europe

Created by Jim Andris, September 4, 2000.