Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An American in Germany / Part # 2 / Flight

GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
Our Transatlantic Flight to Europe

Our Plane Prepares for Flight
On the afternoon of our departure, I had successfully completed the first leg of my journey to Germany by making it to the parking lot of the Warwick High School!  In fact, everyone had arrived on time to catch the charter bus to the Philadelphia International Airport.  However, the bus was still MIA and it was the start of what would be a record breaking heat wave that would last the entire three weeks of our trip abroad.  Finally, to everyone's relief, the bus appeared... But not so fast!  The driver informed us that the air-conditioning on the bus was suddenly not working and with the temperature soaring into the upper nineties... we had a problem.  The bus driver immediately called for a replacement bus and a half hour later, it finally showed up... But not so fast!  The air-conditioning on the second bus had broken down as it pulled into the parking-lot!  Are you kidding me?  We were starting to get into panic mode because... Hey, we had a plane to catch!  Panic began to sweep through the crowd and frustrated parents began to consider forming a convoy of vehicles to drive everyone to Philadelphia so we could make our flight.  What a way to start our journey!

Up... Up... And... Away!
Everyone was debating plans of attack, when one of the bus drivers announced that the air-conditioning on the first bus might now be working... sort of... kind of... maybe a little?  Suitcases were grabbed and stored aft...  last minute hugs and goodbyes exchanged... And the bus finally began rolling out of the parking lot of Warwick High School!  Wagon Train Ho!  Lucky for us, we ran into very little traffic on the way and were deposited at the curb of the Lufthansa Gates an hour and a half later.  We grabbed our gear, headed into the huge airport, and let the check-in process begin!  We lucked out again as there was a short line and our luggage and tickets were processed in no time... Then we walked through metal detectors, passport checks, shoe inspections, etc... somehow, without incident!  Our luck was changing? We rushed about a mile and a half to our departure gate and set up camp, where we actually had about an hour to spare.  Good thing they want you to arrive so early on an international flight... You never know when you might have multiple coach bus air-conditioning system failures on your way!  We took turns using the facilities and even had a few minutes to explore some of the nearby "airport priced" stores!  Three bucks for a small bottle of Diet Coke?  Ok, I'll take two! 

  Will they Look this Happy 8 Hours Later?
Soon we were called to board the plane and I will admit that I was more than just a little nervous that I would fit in the sure to be cramped plane.  I'm a big guy and there are some small compact cars I have trouble getting into... so, I was very happy to comfortably fit in the seat with a little room to spare.  However, I never asked my co-passenger Cody, who was my seat partner next door, if he was comfortable... I just assumed he felt snug and secure next to me!  We taxied out onto the runway and waited our turn to take off.  It always amazes me that something so big and heavy can actually get off the ground and stay there for extended periods of time!  We watched the safety video and I couldn't help but notice how calm the animated passengers were as the oxygen devices dropped from the ceiling during the emergency loss of cabin pressure!  Computer generated people are brave! Within minutes, we were suddenly barreling down the runway as I was contemplating the validity of quantum physics, watching the world pass by ever so fast out the window.  The plane tilted back... a good sign... and within seconds, the fuselage was airborne... It worked!  On Comet... On Cupid... On Donner and Blitzen...  As we rose higher and higher, the buildings below continued to shrink in size.  We didn't level out for quite some time and the earth below became obscured by clouds and distance.

High Above the World
Many of our fellow passengers began to experiment with the available entertainment located in the back of the headrest in front of them.  Cody and I were located in the front seats between business class just in front of us and our economy class seats.  The positive side of having these seats was the fact that we had about an extra foot of leg room.  However, we only had one large flat screen in front of us, which we didn't think we had any control over.  It suddenly turned on, showing us the flight plan and our progress so far.  It was a giant GPS right in your face that gave you continuous updates every five seconds in two languages.  It was one of three in the front of the plane and appeared to be designed to broadcast information to the entire economy class cabin. We leveled out at a cruising speed of 600 mph at 33,000 feet and had seven hours and thirty-seven minutes until we reached our destination.  The flight was going to be a long one watching the movie screen sized GPS, as the little plane icon representing our position seemed not to be moving at all!  Thankfully, there were plenty of periodic distractions initiated by the stewardess action of dispensing drinks and later my very first experience with airline food.  The friendly crew of Lufthansa gave me my first taste of what I would encounter on the other side of the Atlantic.  They seemed so German?  "Lufthansa" was the first new German word I learned so far... It means airport!  Now I know four words!  I am such a good student!

Fine Lufthansa Airline Cuisine
The stewardess crew soon delivered our evening meal with amazing precision and efficiency.  It was surprisingly delicious with sauteed chicken, fresh vegetables, a cute little salad, and even a bite-size brownie dessert!  The best part of dinner was the fact that I could watch our plane icon not move on the large GPS screen in front of me while I ate!  Awesome!  I was expecting our plane to make an immediate turn east shortly after takeoff and to fly a straight line toward our destination city of Frankfurt, Germany.  Instead, our plane appeared to be flying north over New England, Eastern Quebec, and Newfoundland before finally heading out over the Atlantic Ocean toward the southern tip of Greenland.  Seemed like the long scenic route but Cody and I concluded it may have something to do with the trade winds or to stay over land as long as possible just in case something went wrong and they suddenly needed to land.  Hey let's change the subject!  
 Sunset Somewhere near Greenland
The sun began to sink in the sky just below the level of clouds when the stewardess crew asked everyone to shut their window blinds.  Within minutes, the lights dimmed low and Big Brother switched off the giant GPS in front of us.  Time to get some sleep?  Maybe... I would be happy with some rest.  I closed my eyes and the hum of the jet engine just outside provided some white noise to help me relax and rest my eyes.  With everything quiet, it was time to stretch my legs and try to go to the bathroom at 33,000 feet in the air.  I got up, rediscovered my balance and made my way toward the back of the dark plane without disturbing anyone.  There were six bathrooms with three on each side of the plane and a hallway connecting the two sides together.  I took a few minutes to stand in the hallway in the middle of the plane to stretch my legs and just stand upright for a few precious minutes.  I am prone to leg cramps that can be very painful and difficult to stretch out.  Luckily, it was never an issue, as I took a break every few hours throughout the flight to stand in my little found oasis of space by the bathrooms.  Within a few short hours, the lights of the cabin flickered on again. Pulling up the window blind revealed the sun breaking just above the horizon to start a new day... Wow, that was the shortest night in history!

Sunrise Somewhere over the Atlantic
Along with the lights, our gigantic GPS monitor turned on again...  Hey, the plane moved a few inches!  We were now more than halfway!  Awesome!  We were served another meal that resembled breakfast and were treated to hot towels (wipes) that none of us were quite sure what to do with... We wiped our faces and hands watching the other more seasoned flyers.  I guess we just had a transatlantic morning shower at 33,000 feet.  That was easy!  Six hours in, I was ready to start the countdown to landing.  I tried reading and working on my laptop computer but after finding both unproductive, I just decided to surrender and close my eyes to rest.  With an hour or so to go, the plane began to turn and then dip slightly downward toward earth.  As we broke through the clouds, time passed more quickly as we surveyed the landscape slowly coming into view.  We were now over Europe and watched the slow descent of the altitude gauge on the GPS monitor with interest... We were approaching the finish line.  Soon the endless runways of the largest airport in Europe came into view and the mammoth plane gently lowered itself back on the earth's surface and reversed its powerful thrust to eventually slow the plane.  We drove quite a distance and came to a stop on the runway far from the terminal, where we exited down to an awaiting bus that would transport us to our connecting flight's gate.

Setting Foot on German Soil / Concrete
We went through customs and I got my passport stamped for the first time ever!  Now it was time to head to our new gate.  The last thing any of us wanted to do at this point was to get on another plane but the flight was less than an hour and after our eight hour ordeal... we were now hardcore seasoned transatlantic travelers; it was nothing!  Frankfurt Airport was a little uncomfortable as the people were all business and mostly expressionless.  Frankfurt is the city of Germany's financial center and everyone looked like they were late for a board meeting and the market was down.  Our connecting flight was quick and smooth but fatigue was taking hold of many of us and we were anxious to reach our final destination.  We then navigated our way to baggage claim and slowly retrieved our luggage which appeared sporadically on the luggage carousel.  In contrast to the serious atmosphere of the Frankfurt Airport, Munich seemed much more friendly and relaxed.  The final step to complete; a bus ride to our final destination.  We eventually found our Bavarian bus driver holding a sign that said "Warwick" and loaded our baggage one last time... and the air conditioning worked!  We pulled out of the busy airport and headed out onto the foreign roadways of Germany toward our final destination city of Altötting.  Almost home!

Flying over Munich Area of Bavaria
Please stayed tuned for the next installment of our adventure!


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