Tuesday, October 25, 2005

and I didn't even whine that much!

Okey dokey - now that I've gotten over my Post Traumatic Deutsche Bahn Stress Syndrome I can tell you about the GOOD parts of the Whiney Expat Bloggers in Germany 2005 Meet-Up. And there were many good parts.

I have to admit I didn't sleep all that well Friday night, being a bit nervous about meeting five people, perfect strangers really, who I'd only gotten to 'know' through their blogs. The fact that I also really didn't have a clue where I was going just added to the excitement. Sure, you can look at where Marburg is on the map, but do you really know what you're getting yourself into?

I dragged myself out of bed at 5:45 a.m. Saturday morning and got ready to go. My bus from Dullsville left shortly after 7:00 and I got to downtown Hannover around 7:30 with enough time for a visit to the facilities before my train to Marburg at 8:00. Can you believe they charge you €1.10 to pee at the train station? The nerve. Keeps the junkies out, I suppose.

I don't travel by train very often, so when we left Hannover exactly on time and arrived in Marburg the scheduled 2 1/2 hours later I wondered if people were exaggerating about how bad the Deutsch Bahn is. They weren't, but I didn't find that out until later.

After getting off the train in Marburg my next mission was to find the Cafe Fiona, our planned meeting place. Seeing that I have no sense of direction at all, I was pleased to actually manage this in under two minutes. It was right where Mr. Haddock had said it would be. Imagine that.

Taking a deep breath and gathering my wits about me, I opened the cafe door and started scanning the place for familiar faces. I spied Mr. and Mrs. Haddock right away and oh my goodness are they adorable! Very soft spoken and so pleasant and easy to get along with. I immediately felt at home with them.

Just after I sat down, J, who had been there for an hour or so, came back around the corner from 'washing his hands' and introduced himself. J is a big cuddly teddy bear of a man with a wonderful sense of humour and a heart of gold. If you read his blog you'll know that this is the kind of guy you want as your best friend. He doesn't take bad pictures either.(Which is why I'm directing you to his site because my pictures didn't come out all that well.)

Someone who I expected to be there but never showed up was ActualFactual. Turns out that something went Terribly Wrong (= The Curse of the Deutsche Bahn) and the poor chap didn't even make it out of the starting gates. I guess we'll have to wait another year to see his floppy Hugh Grant hair.

Last to arrive were Jen and Sparky, who had driven up (or down? darned if I know) from Darmstadt. These two lovebirds are cuteness personified. What a great couple. Jen was just as beautiful and warm and funny as I knew she would be. She kept us giggling the whole time with her stories. And Sparky? Never met a nicer German. Except for Mrs. Haddock, of course.

Our tour around Marburg was delightful and we took in a few of the sites - a beautiful church and the old castle on the hill. I loved the ups and downs of the streets and the quaint houses and shops.

Our restaurant lunch was a riot, with jokes and anecdotes flying back and forth. Here's a tip for ya: if you can't finish your meal, Sparky will finish it for you! Boy can that guy eat! He left the rest of us behind in the dust.

Since it was still early in the afternoon, the Haddock's graciously invited all of us back to their new house for a cup of tea and a chat. The house is lovely - bright and cheerful and still smelling of fresh wood. They said they would never build a house again, but seeing the way it turned out, I think it was worth it.

The Haddock's 7 year old daughter, Juniorette, arrived home a bit later from a day at the Frankfurt zoo and we were treated to an impromptu puppet show/dance routine. Besides being absolutely gorgeous, this little girl is also very talented, not showing any signs of stage fright.

More tea and more talking was on the agenda for the rest of the afternoon. Our conversations topics throughout the day were many and varied. Here's just a sampling:

- California - north vs south
- teaching English
- sex
- the advantages of cats and/or hamsters on cold winter nights
- fluffy sofas
- getting married in Vegas
- expensive passports
- bad German schools
- Valentine's Day suprises
- purse envy
- lousy customer service
- window washing duties
- Inspector Gadget
- correct procedure in the event of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Emergency

And the list goes on. Just let me assure you that no one was at a loss for words.

Soooo...a light dinner kindly prepared by Mrs. Haddock topped off our day, and Jen, Sparky, J and I headed back into town. Sparky dropped me off at the train station shortly afer 7 p.m. and the fun (Bad Part) began...


My train back to Hannover was scheduled to leave at 7:21 from platform 4. Usually there's an electronic sign telling you your train number and time of departure. This time all that was showing was a "Bitte Ansage beachten" which is German for "be prepared for really bad news, suckers."

I waited a while and eventually a tinny voice announced that this train, coming out of Frankfurt, had been cancelled due to Personenschaden, which meant that some poor soul had seen fit to throw him/herself onto the tracks and end it all. Oh dear. Not good news at all.

The announcement had also indicated that there was a train at 7:38 p.m. to Kassel-Willemshöhe, but I didn't have a clue if that was even the right direction or if I'd be able to get another train from there back to Hannover.

The only people on the platform at that time were me and a really scary looking old lady who I thought might slice me up if I approached her. Luckily a tiny little foreign business man eventually sat down beside her so I went up to him and asked what I was supposed to do. Both of them said the train to Kassel was the right one.

As it got closer to the supposed departure time of the cancelled train, more and more people kept coming up the stairs to the platform with peeved looks on their faces. Among them was a Fantastically Attractive Businessman (FAB) in a pinstripe suit. We somehow got to talking and FAB said he had to go to Hildesheim, which is about half and hour south of Hannover, and didn't know what to do either. So I promised to watch his luggage while he went off to try to find someone official to ask. There was no one to ask. No one at all. I guess being the Evil Deutsche Bahn they lock the place up for the night at 6 p.m. or something.

So we were left to our own devices. FAB phoned his parents, who were supposed to pick him up in Hildesheim, and made them check the internet for connecting trains in Kassel. I did the same with Mr. M and lo and behold, there was a train going to Hannover just shortly after our arrival in Kassel. Problem solved. Phew.

While I was on the phone, FAB had somehow hooked up with two adorable university students, a couple, who needed to go to Berlin and were in the same predicament we were. We all eventually hopped the same 7:38 train and had a nice chat on the way, FAB even offering to give the students a good deal on the airline tickets to Sardinia he had bought but couldn't use since he had to work unexpectedly.

The train, a Regiobahn, was about the equivalent of taking the slow boat to China, stopping at every podunk town on the way, but we eventually got there. The conductor had told us that we need to have our tickets stamped in Kassel to allow us onto the connecting trains so we lined up, the students in front of me. The girl student started complaining to the cranky woman behind the counter about how it was the policy of the Deutsche Bahn to compensate passengers if their trip was delayed by over an hour and that she wanted a partial refund. This was the conversation they had:

Student: Look, we're going to get home really late, it's your fault and I think we deserve compensation.

Cranky: Oh yeah, every time some guy throws himself in front of the train, all the passengers who were inconvenienced get free rail passes for life.

Student: Ooooh, really? *eyes lighting up*

Cranky: Of course not. I was just being ironic. Now go away. Next please!

Anyway, I got lucky with my connection back to Hannover, managing to snag an Inter City Express train - Germany's answer to the Concorde. As I couldn't see a thing out the window as we hurtled through the darkness at breakneck speed, I just assumed we were going in the right direction and was overjoyed when I finally arrived at my destination.

Once in Hannover, I called Mr. M and told him I'd be taking the tram to the terminal station a few minutes away from our town where he said he'd pick me up. The cherry on the top of this whole thing was that when I tried to call him on my cell phone, a cheerful voice informed me that I only had 36 cents left on my pre-paid card - not enough to complete the call. Great. I rarely use the cell phone, but when it's on, it somehow manages to connect itself to the internet and use up all my minutes. Stupid thing. I did actually have some spare change with me and found a pay phone so all was well and Mr. M was where he said he'd be. Nice to know you can rely on something these days.


So that's the scoop. I really had a wonderful time and the day went much too quickly. Heck, next time (date TBA - some time in 2006) I'm going to want to stay three days! Geez - the people you meet on the internet...

Oh yes - Sandra asked why I had my passport with me. It's because the only official forms of identification in Germany are a national ID card or a passport, and foreigners, even permanent residents, are not eligible for an ID card. So if you get stopped by the police, you need to show your passport. It's a hassle sometimes, seeing how much time and money would go into replacing a lost or stolen travel document, but there's not much we can do about it.


At October 25, 2005 3:03 a.m., Anonymous lillian said...

Sounds like so much fun, I think we might have to do something like that here in Thailand !!!

At October 25, 2005 4:58 a.m., Blogger J said...

Great write up, Christina. It looks like everybody had a similar positive experience at the meet up, the sign of a success.

My mobile also likes to attempt to connect itself to the internet without my knowledge, so I have that function turned off. You might be able to do it in the 'connectivity' or 'security' part of your main menu.

At October 25, 2005 5:11 a.m., Anonymous Haddock said...

I agree the meeting was a sucess and everyone had a good time. Just such a shame that the curse of the Deutsche Bahn had to strike again.
Excellant write up! :)

At October 25, 2005 8:49 a.m., Blogger Sandra said...

Sounds fun, but what an ordeal with the transportation, and nobody available to help you sort it all out.

At October 25, 2005 8:59 a.m., Blogger Elemmaciltur said...

Hehehe, what an adventure.

Didn't you take a photo of FAB?? *cheeky grins*

At October 25, 2005 9:23 a.m., Blogger traveller one said...

Aha! I thought you missed it completely! So glad to hear that you made it there and had fun. I know how hard (scary!!)it is to go off on your own in a strange coountry- but YOU DID IT!

At October 25, 2005 9:59 a.m., Blogger christina said...

lillian - It really was fun and not that difficult to organize.

J - I think everyone had a good time. I barely use that phone so I don't really know how it works but we tried to change the settings and I think it's OK now.

Sandra - that's pretty much par for the course with the Deutsche Bahn - hardly ever on time and lousy customer service.

elemm - If my phone could take pictures, I would have! He had a girlfriend though. :-)

traveller one - You're right, it did sound that way in my other post. I edited a bit to make it more clear.

At October 25, 2005 12:11 p.m., Blogger SwissTwist said...

So glad to hear you all had a good time, I've been following the stories across the blogs. Now I regret even more not being able to make it, as it turns out I'm STILL waiting on my app at the German Embassy for a visa!
Your description of J is exactly how I imagine him, now I owe the "big cuddly teddy bear of a man" an email.

Great write up!

At October 25, 2005 1:00 p.m., Blogger christina said...

swisstwist - So sorry you and hubby couldn't be there - I never thought about you needing a visa to come to Germany. What a drag. Next time for sure!

At October 25, 2005 2:18 p.m., Anonymous mar said...

Glad to hear you had a good time! thanks for sharing.It sounds like a super meeting. Bloggers have more fun!

At October 25, 2005 6:36 p.m., Blogger PapaScott said...

I was kinda sorta intending to come, but I never told anyone, Marburg is rather far from here anyway, and then I penciled it in on the wrong weekend. It turned out I was sick anyway, and I'm happy to have missed the DB's bad train day.

But if there's ever another one, I'll see if I can make it. Maybe you can come to Hamburg... :-)

At October 25, 2005 7:16 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Hi Scott! Yeah, Hamburg IS a long way from Marburg. There'll definitely be another meet-up sometime next year so we'll see where we all end up then.

At October 26, 2005 7:35 p.m., Blogger Sparky said...

Hi Christina,

Thanks for the nice write-up, so we don't have to do the work :).

Jen is a little bit out of it, she has to study SO hard for her upcoming German test on Friday. So not much blogging to be expected from her.

Anyway, we loved you all. You and J are so nice, we speculated on both of you being serial killers in secret. Nobopdy can be THAT sweet and mean it ;).

Sorry for the bad train ride home and connect soon!

- Sparky

At October 26, 2005 8:43 p.m., Blogger Mrs. Darling said...

Oh my I am so jealous! It all soudn slike somuch fun except the transportation part!

Wow what a blast this must have been!

At October 26, 2005 9:50 p.m., Blogger Prairie Girl said...

What a wonderful reportage!

I am 1 hour west of Hannover but I am not so brave as to ever have considered travelling DB by myself.

But your visit together sounds so nice (and sooo English-Language ;-)

At October 26, 2005 11:30 p.m., Blogger christina said...

mrs. darling - it was a fun adventure and different from the normal ho-hum routine.

Hi prairie girl - I'm a very timid person myself, but DB is not as scary as it sounds! If you're here next year you'll have to join us. It was REALLY (really!) nice to speak English to someone other than my kids or the internet for a change.

At October 27, 2005 6:12 a.m., Blogger Crystal said...

Your write-up is very good indeed, and I'm happy it turned out well for everyone. It's always exciting to meet new people.

At October 30, 2005 1:08 a.m., Blogger cncz said...

Very interesting!
In France I had to carry around my passport all the time too because people just "assume" I have "paperwork issues" because of the headscarf. Then they see my US passport and are confused. Very fun.
The cool thing is that my poor beat up passport gets a rest now because my Swiss permit is a little booklet thingie.
Usually in France tho, they accept a photocopy of your ID page of the passport, in Germany do you have to show the real thing?


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