Return travel day - Altmühl and Taubertal Radwegs - CycleBlaze

September 1, 2019

Return travel day

But did Benny the Bike make it home??

Today is travel day back to Minneapolis and eventually to home. My morning started with breakfast at my hotel. Normally I don’t like paying extra for breakfast since I think it ought to be included, but since it’s a Sunday and grocery stores are closed, I shelled out the few extra euros for breakfast. It was definitely worth the bit of extra price.  Several types of German rolls, fruit, veggies, cheese. Typical breakfast stuff. They also had croissants and baguette which is unusual to see in this area of Germany, or at least I’ve never encountered it here before. The one unusual thing they had was a waffle maker. The waffles were good. I ate two of them, one with Nutella, the other with applesauce. Since I repacked last night, I was able to head straight to the airport after breakfast. 

While checking out I told the lady at the counter that my room smelled lightly of cigarettes. She assured me that should never have happened because all rooms are non smoking. We debated why that may have happened and she wondered if house keeping had cleaned the room after having smoked or something. I was going to pay her for the shuttle bus to the airport and use up my change, but she insisted I get a bus pass for free in exchange for the bad smelling room (it wasn’t awful enough for me to drag my bags back down last night and complain, but it wasn’t great either.) Instead she took my change and turned it into larger denominations so I don’t have to haul all those coins around. Nice. If you need a hotel near the Frankfurt airport, both of my stays at Ibis by the airport have been super. Great staff. Clean rooms. Good breakfast buffet. Awesome about storing your bike box. Some people opt to ship their bikes there and they store them until you arrive according to one of the staff I talked to last night.  These are the smart people I think. 

I arrived at the airport around 10:20 which meant I had 5 hours until my flight. That we made it there safely is remarkable because the bus driver was total verrückt. A bus should not be driven that hard. I figured that should be more than enough time to find a box, pack it, and get to my gate. 

My friend Kurt had already called ahead to the airport to source a box since he speaks fluent German, which I do not. He had left me very thorough instructions on where to go, so once I arrived at the airport, I made my way to area C of terminal 1 to Gepäckaufbewahrung. It took me a bit to find. There are lots of signs, but there are also lots of places with signs and none of them are especially precise. The guy at Gepäckaufbewahrung sent me to another guy who was wrapping luggage. I stood there for a bit watching the process and decided this was clearly not going to help. I do not want my bike shrink wrapped. I want it in a box!  So I went back to Gepäckaufbewahrung (my phone now autocorrects to this word - if only condor adapted so quickly!) I informed the dude there that I didn’t want my bike shrink wrapped. I wanted a box. He told me to go back to that guy. He’s the one you have to pay for the box. So I went back over there pushing my poor bike along and already feeling somewhat annoyed. I told the guy that I wanted a bike box. He looked skeptical and made a phone call. His buddy said, no, he has no boxes that would fit a bike. So then he called another buddy who said the same thing. Sorry. Can’t help you. 

Now I’m a fairly patient person. My job has fostered patience in me over the years of teaching, but this was pushing my patience to the limit.  I debated what to do and decided to try calling the phone number Kurt had called earlier in the week. It took a bit before someone answered. I explained that I was looking for a box for my bike and that Kurt had called and been told they had them in various sizes. The guy told me to check the place I had already been. I informed him that they had told me they had no bike boxes. He said he was in terminal 2 and I could come over there and get a box so off I headed to terminal 2, after I asked around about how I would get there. To get to terminal 2 you have to take a tram. I recall having done this a couple years ago when I rode the Main/Rhein/Mosel Radwegs and flew Iceland air. It’s not a fun process because it involves 2 elevators and a tram. As I was going to get on a tram a grouchy German man yelled at me. Apparently he is in charge of who can and can’t use the tram and he very clearly informed me that I dare not get on that tram with a bicycle because either he would lose his job, or he would call the police on me. Seriously, dude?  Relax. It’s a bike, not a weapon. People take these on trams and trains all the time!  How am I supposed to get to terminal 2?  He told me I had a bike. Ride it over there. Look, buddy. I have no clue where terminal 2 is. I’m just trying to find a stupid box. 

I called the guy back that had told me to go to terminal 2 and explained to him what had happened and asked how I was supposed to get to terminal 2. He also suggested riding. I pointed out that if I rode over I would then need to get the bike and box back to terminal 1 and how did he suggest I go about accomplishing that?  Good point, he said. He suggested I try asking at the main airport info center. They directed me to FGS I believe?  To reach FGS I had to go down to baggage claim. Only problem?  There isn’t really a usable elevator to get down there since normally people don’t go from that area of the airport down to luggage claim. That meant either carry the bike and bags down the steps, or use the escalator. The escalator had some sort of pole in the way that I didn’t think I could get around, so down the stairs I went, carefully one step at a time. 

Once downstairs I’d already forgotten where they had said to go so I had to ask again. I was directed to carousel 11 where I found a little office hidden back in the corner. This is the place where people with damaged luggage and such go to find replacements apparently. After well over an hour of wandering around trying to find a box, I finally had arrived at a source for bike boxes. For €30. With no tape. And no hand hold places in the box. Since I’m used to having to pack the bike up to bring it back, I always carry a roll of packing tape. I also have a pocket knife and tool kit with because you never know. What people without that are supposed to do with this stupidly priced box, I’m not sure. Getting it back upstairs was not easy either. Have you ever tried carrying a folded up box around an airport while pushing a bike?  I have. It’s not fun. It’s actually quite challenging to do while pushing a bike and trying not to run into anyone. You really have to try it to fully understand what a special experience it is. 

Once upstairs I drug the box and pushed the bike until I was near the counter for bulky baggage check in. Once the box was packed I didn’t want to have to go far with a handleless box. Disassembling the bike was easy. I’ve done this 9 times before. Fitting it into the box was a completely different matter. The box was definitely long enough, but it was not quite wide enough. I had to do some very special maneuvering to get everything in while hoping that they didn’t crush the bike or damage anything during transit (I kind of don’t trust condor or airports right now, shocking though that may seem.) 

Once packed I slid the box over to the line for the counter. Last I saw the box, it was sitting by the counter waiting to be taken back with the other luggage. Whether they ever moved it from that spot, I don’t know. I didn’t wait around to find out because I wanted to make one more shopping stop. The chocolate selection at Lidl last night was pathetic and I wanted to stop at the grocery store downstairs and see if they had anything better. It will be a year before I can stock up again!

Next task, get on the plane. As I was looking at my ticket for the gate number, I discovered that I did not have a seat number. Instead I had the following: SBY. I’m not a terribly seasoned traveler, but I gathered that this meant standby and that did not sit well with me at all. I bought my ticket in February and it was condor WHO LEFT MY BIKE IN MINNEAPOLIS (if you haven’t read that story, you’d better go back to the start of the blog and get caught up.) I debated going back to the counter and talking to them about this, but decided I’d just head to the gate and talk to them there, talk being an incredibly restrained version of what I really wanted to do at that moment. 

To get to the gate, of course, you must pass through security. I had intentionally packed all of my liquids in with the bike with the intention of easily passing through security this time (last year I had two jars of jam with that were brand new sealed jars purchased the night before in the airport grocery store which they refused to allow through.) When I packed last night I put my camera bag in the bottom of my bag and packed all the other things on top including the things I had added to the bag today. Guess what? They wanted the camera out of the backpack which meant completely unpacking the entire bag, and I mean THE ENTIRE BAG. Once the bag was empty I tossed it in the stupid tray. The security lady asked me if I wanted to put the other things back in the bag now and I told her I saw no reason to do that and hold up the line any further and off I marched through security which promptly flagged me because there are zippers on the pockets of my pants. On the other end of security I got to repack my bag yet again. I’m getting pretty fast at packing now....

If you thought I’d next talk about arriving at the gate, then you haven’t flown through Frankfurt recently. The next stop is passport control. Why they can’t do that when they search you, I’m not sure. It would seem more efficient. Maybe they’re separate entities. The passport control line also took awhile to get through and while in line some lady behind me kept pushing against my backpack and trying to nose past me. At one point I turned around and told her “bitte nicht!” And gestured politely to stay back. I don’t think she spoke German because she kept trying to nose past. 

By the time I arrived at the gate it was less than an hour to departure and I still didn’t have an assigned seat. That meant standing in another line. Keep in mind I’ve now been at the airport for over 4 hours and was just arriving at the gate. I’ve never seen such long lines at the counter for a flight. I’m still not sure why so many people were waiting to talk to someone at the counter. The people behind me also didn’t have assigned seats. Once I reached the counter I told the guy that I needed a seat. He said wait 30 minutes. I said we start boarding in 30 minutes. He said we have to wait to see if people decide to upgrade their seat, but he was sure I’d make the flight. I asked him if he was absolutely positive and then I started telling him my lost bicycle story and that I did NOT want my bike to land in Minneapolis without me. He indicated that he was quite surprised condor would do such a thing as leave a bike at its origin. Yes, it happens. And it’s a very bad thing. As I was talking he printed something out. Then he ripped it up and printed something else out and ripped up my boarding pass and handed me a new one. Seat 15k. Closer to the front of the plane. That’s ok. I get off sooner. 

While waiting to board I ended up next to the family that was in front of me going through security and pass control. We struck up a conversation and I learned that they live not terribly far away and right on a bike path that I ride from time to time. She said they had been on the first flight condor made from Minneapolis to Frankfurt. Big celebration. Cheer leaders, feee food, party atmosphere. I told her I thought things had gone a bit downhill since then. We had plenty of time to converse because condor was in no hurry to start boarding. We actually ended up boarding 35 minutes late and departed around 20 minutes late. I kept waiting for my row to be called for boarding. Finally I just got in line and was one of the last people to board. My seat is in the next to last row of an area marked premium economy. I have no idea what benefits that brings, but it appears the guy at the counter upgraded my ticket. Extra points to him. I didn’t know condor had helpful employees. Maybe they can put him in charge of customer service. They clearly need an upgrade there in personnel. 

What happens at the other end, that I have to wait 9 hours to find out. Ich bin gespannt und auch beunruhigt. Will the bike be there?  Did I pack the box carefully enough?  Will there be anything left of the box??? Will I be awake and aware enough to care?

The plane ride was actually quite enjoyable. I’m not normally a conversation with stranger type of guy, but it turned out my seat partner, a gentleman in his 50’s perhaps, is a journalist from Hamburg. We ended up conversing for quite a bit of the flight on topics ranging from cycle touring (we’ve ridden several of the same routes and he had ridden the Altmühl with his children when they were younger), to politics, education, music, literature, history, current day affairs, etc. when you have 9 hours you can cover a lot of ground. His wife was across the aisle from us and works as a translator. 

Things moved very quickly through US customs and passport control. The greatest relief was to glimpse my bike box through the oversized baggage area and know it had arrived safely. I had to wait a bit for them to pass it through, but it appears all came through ok. I’ll unpack it tomorrow on my day off. My friends Kurt and Monika kindly delivered the bike and I back to the house and have been well rewarded with German bread. 

I will likely write up a quick review of each Radweg and then maybe add some maps to each journal entry for the ride that day so watch for that. As for a review of condor and the US TSA, I think by now you’re all probably pretty clear on my opinion of both. A huge thank you to everyone who helped along the way with this trip: my mom, Kim with baggage handling (I met some of her employees tonight and told them to say hello to her from me - they were familiar with the previous event), Kurt for his efforts to help find a bike box (you can find them at Frankfurt airport, but hardy anyone knows where they are - go down to baggage carousel 11 to FGS), and everyone who sent along their thoughts and prayers for the bike. 

All in all I did enjoy the part that involved cycling. I got to eat my favorite pastries and lots of Italian Eis. The Radwegs were almost entirely peaceful and scenic, minus that one hill, and even though it was short and a day shorter than it should have been, it was still enough vacation to come home feeling at least slightly refreshed.

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