South Park Self

travelling pants

Surprising and unpleasant things about the last 26 hours of solid travelling:
  1. Lufthansa won't let you check in online. Apparently they work on a database system which is orthogonal to the entirety of the known universe, and you're screwed if you have connections on another airline.
  2. Despite the giant leg of the journey being two hours shorter and there being a lot more breaks from all the sitting, the CT-JHB-Europe journey is actually far more exhausting than a 12-hour one without the breaks.
  3. Frankfurt airport, which is a giant, rambling, incoherent monstrosity blessed with a profound lack of logic in its systems, an incessant stream of simultaneous arrivals and departures in the same traffic streams, and a shy and reticent approach to bathrooms which tucks small iterations into highly obscure corners at infrequent intervals.
  4. Germany. It wouldn't give me any money (and for sheer unadulterated terror, try facing an ATM screen which says "YOU HAVE EXCEEDED YOUR PERMITTED WITHDRAWAL LIMIT" which you've accessed in pursuit of drawing Euro, which you didn't bring any of with you, and which you will need in order to get from Brussels to Ghent. Fortunately Belgium is apparently happy to let me draw Euro to my heart's content). In a parallel process, Germany didn't recognise my cellphone, whereas Belgium has contentedly connected me to a network of some sort which is allowing the delivery (currently) only of spam SMSes, but hey.
  5. The Belgian public transport system, which is large and ubiquitous and probably goes absolutely anywhere you may want to, but is almost entirely opaque to outsiders.
  6. In fact, the ease of the two Scotland trips in terms of negotiating unfamiliar transport systems was horribly unrepresentative. I'd judge that it's probably going to take about two years of not moving much before the mere mention of overseas conferences no longer has me reflexively clinging to Cape Town by the teeth and fingernails.
  7. A sudden, unheralded and entirely horrible mouthful of coconut in an innocuous-appearing slab of cake and custard on the Jhb/Frankfurt leg. Also, attempting to watch Mirror, Mirror in a spirit of fairy-tale theoretical enquiry, and discovering that it's a bizarre agglomeration of stylisation, slapstick and lack of adequately defined reason for existence.
  8. The slightly disconcerting experience of trying to sit down in my seat for the Frankfurt/Brussels trip and almost falling over the giant, hairy, sandal-clad feet of the white-robe-wearing gentleman of undisclosed but passionate religious conviction who had stuck his feet through into my footspace from the seat behind. I suspect his knees were double-jointed, I wouldn't have thought that particular invasion was a physical possibility despite the obvious length of his legs.
  9. Discovering that my hotel doesn't have a tea-tray in my bedroom, which its Australian franchise cousins did, thereby blindsiding me nastily. I am too buggered to leave my room in search of tea, and the withdrawal headache is starting to mount. (Mental and psychic health dictates that I do not drink the corrosive fluid labelled "tea" on aircraft or in airports).
  10. Ghent's weather. Apparently when they say "heatwave" they mean it. I have brought almost entirely the wrong clothes.

Surprising and pleasant things about the last 26 hours of solid travelling:
  1. Despite three connections across three countries, my luggage arrived safely in Brussels in an obviously more calm and collected state than I did.
  2. Lovely mostly-English-speaking random Belgians who rescued me at most of the most radical onsets of confusion and doubt in my ham-fisted attempts to navigate the public transport system.
  3. Instant wireless connection to 5 days of free access and unlimited bandwidth in aforementioned hotel. I have almost forgiven them for the tea.

Unsurprising and unpleasant things about the last 26 hours of solid travelling: I am utterly buggered despite having napped for four hours immediately upon hitting my hotel (eventually, after missing the tram stop and having to walk back), and have while negotiating train steps with a heavy suitcase, managed to land the wretched thing solidly on my left baby toe, which is blue and swollen as a result. However, through my rather glazed and exhausted state Ghent seems to be pretty, and the countryside is lovely and green and given to outbreaks of aesthetically pleasing buildings in interesting brick. I have high hopes both of the conference tomorrow, and of acquiring sufficient sleep both to enjoy it, and to give something resembling a coherent paper. But, memo to self, chance to talk shop with colleagues notwithstanding, next year I say it with journal submissions rather than in person.
Congratulations on the arrival.

"Frankfurt airport, which is a giant, rambling, incoherent monstrosity blessed with a profound lack of logic in its systems"

That's big airports, mostly. Try Dubai International, or Changi Singapore. Actually, given that you're not a connoisseur, don't.

Yes, there is a heatwave extending across this part of the world. It's almost 30C in London! We're melting from the extreme heat!! Ahem.

PS: Pick up the hotel room phone, and call for tea. It should help. And put your feet up.

Edited at 2012-08-19 05:54 pm (UTC)
Actually, I rather like Schiphol, which is vaguely intuitive in all the right ways. Brussels puts the luggage reclaim at the opposite end of the concourse to the actual arrival, which is odd to me, but otherwise it's friendly and well-signposted and amenable to giving me money. I don't think it's mere Capetonian chauvenism which makes me think Cape Town Int is almost infinitely preferable to OR Tambo, which is longer than humanly possible and, on this iteration, filled with annoying salesmen trying to ask me searching and intrusive personal questions about my choice of moisturiser. (Hyperbole alert: "filled" = 1, but he was bloody annoying. My choice of moisturiser is my own damned business).

Heatwave, check. Ghent has been like soup. Walk anywhere for longer than about five minutes and your clothes stick to you. I am praying for snow before I hit London, your tubular contraptions are ungodly when it's hot.
My experience of Frankfurt airport in 2004 was of an irritating place with announcements every 5 minutes maximum* and absolutely no electrical outlets. Why did we want one? Laptop? I cannot recall, but there wasn't one.

Congratulations on making it through all of that! Very impressive! Did you cry at any point? Just reading about it makes we want to cry in fatigue and confusion.


* I have never experienced quite as frequent announcements elsewhere and that includes Dubai and Incheon (Seoul)
Frankfurt does tend to möbius announcements in a fetching variety of foreign tongues, but I find them reassuring. Incomprehensible, but reassuring.

I descended to tears for a few moments in the last fifteen minutes or so of my trip, which featured (a) trying to find Euro coins in a hurry for a grumpy tram conductor, in a wallet which appeared to have mutated all its contents to British currency in a fit of pique, and (b) missing the hotel stop because I was struggling with a giant suitcase through narrow aisles in a long tram because the door at which I'd carefully positioned myself suddenly, and for no adequately defined reason, wouldn't open. I had carefully apportioned the tether the end of which I was at to last exactly to the hotel, and a ten-minute unnecessary on-foot retracement slightly broke me. It was a brief lapse, however, and immediately consoled by the discovery that my hotel room has aircon.