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14 September 2013

Do NOT plan to fly internationally again until there is world peace.

When Jeri and I flew out of deGaulle airport in Paris, I decided that it had to be the worst airport I had ever had the displeasure to go through.  I nearly didn't make our flight, though we had allotted plenty of time, because of all the security checks and the very long concourses we had to go down, with not a moving walkway in sight.

When we left out of Moscow, it came in a close second to Paris, just because it was so disorganized and its security checks were ridiculous.

But that was before I had to fly out of Frankfurt. 

I must say that I am writing this from the comfort of home, where, like the pain of childbirth, the memories are already beginning to fade a bit and in writing the report here, I may be mixing up the Istanbul airport and the Frankfurt airport and may be leaving out some details.

The hotel had packed a bag for us filled with more food than anyone could ever eat at one breakfast.  There were two sandwiches, each on a hard roll about 6" long, there was an apple, a container of cut fruit, yogurt, and a bottle of water.  We had just finished dinner a few hours before and I knew there was no way I could eat it all.  I just ate the cut fruit and the yogurt and carried the bag with me onto the bus.

We had pouring rain and lightning when we got on the bus at 3 a.m. I found that at that hour, you can finally have a clear road without bumper to bumper traffic in Istanbul and we were at the airport in about 20 minutes.  Ibi got us through the first check point, where they checked your boarding pass and passport and x-rayed your luggage for the first time.  Then we were on our own.  We had to go check in at the Lufthansa desk and we were dragging our luggage across the airport when I realized that my lunch bag, which I had hung on the handle of my suitcase, had twisted around and I was leaving a trail of food behind me.  I took it off the handle of my suitcase and carried it separately.

We got into a long queue and then were pulled out because we wouldn't make the plane to Frankfurt in time.  They put us in an express line and while we were moving, Walt realized that everything had fallen oput of his food bag, the fruit container had come open and there was cut fruit all over the floor.  But the attendants were rushing us into the express line.  We left the cut food there, Walt shoved the rest back in the damn bag and we got in line.  An attendant tapped him on the shoulder and handed him an apple.

Checked in, and our luggage on its way to the plane, we next had to go to Passport Clearance.  This was off to the left and we began making the long treck down there, dragging our carry-on luggage and those damn food bags.  We were almost there when we met Bob and Linda (with whom we had already had our big farewell) coming back from there, reporting that that particular passport clearance station was closed so we would have to walk to the other end of the airport to the other clearance station.

I finally was so fed up with the damn food bag I just put it on the floor, since there  was no trash bin in sight, and walked off and left it.  I hope I didn't cause an international incident again.  Midway to the passport clearance station (which we could already see had a very, very long line), we passed an area for boarding for disabled persons.  It had only four people in it, all members of a team of disabled players in uniform, in wheel chairs and on crutches.  Walt, desperate, said something he'd never said before: "Can I get a wheelchair for my wife?  She is having trouble walking."  Not one to ignore a directing suggestion, I tried to look more pathetic than I felt--but not much more.  Behind us were Linda and Bob, leaning on his own cane.  Linda whispered to him "I know you hate this but try to look old and crippled."  We were all waved through instantly, our passports checked, and we had bypassed the long line.

It was then the long, long schlep to the gate. Our passports were checked again before we could enter the waiting area, and as we started to make our way over to Mike and Char, a woman called me aside and directed me to business class.  I looked confused and she said that if I sat there, they could load me early.  Hey.  Being a gimp has its advantages.  When they loaded the plane through the very long walkway, I was halfway down when a guy ran up to me, with a wheelchair and indicated he would take me the rest of the way.  I felt embarrassed, but got into the chair and was at the plane in seconds.  It wasn't that I was putting it on.  The walking difficulty wasn't all that bad and I'd been hobbling around on the cane for 2 weeks, so it was kinda sorta legitimate. I figured I'd let them wait on me.

We arrived in Frankfurt and were told to get our passports out because we would be checked as we came off the plane (just in case someone switched places with us between the time they checked our passports getting on the plane!).  As I struggled down the steps to the ground, they looked at my cane and waved me away--apparently they trusted my disabled state enough that I didn't need to be checked (they obviously never read Ken Follet books).

We were taken to buses which drove us all over the airport to a door which we could enter, under police scrutiny.  There we learned that our flight would be leaving from Concourse Z and a sign directed us toward "A, B, C, Z"  But first we had to go through another security check point.   I was hauled out for wanding.  The woman asked me to take off my shoes and she took them away to be x-rayed.  She wanded my feet and then did a thorough pat-down by hand -- neck, shoulders, breasts, and between the legs.  I thought the least she could have done was to ask me out on a date.  Walt was meanwhile trying to gather up all of my stuff and put the computer back in the bag.  Finally we were through that check point and I figured we were home free.  Still with plenty of time to get to the gate for our plane.

The first thing we passed was one of those smoking rooms that I wanted to photograph when we were in Frankfurt last year.  We had so much time before our plane left that I figured I could take the time to get the camera out and photograph it this time.

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As I was putting the camera away someone came out of the room in a cloud of cigarette smoke.  It must be difficult to have such an addiction!  I can't imagine what it was going to be like to sit next to that man on the airplane.

About this time, Walt spied one of those carts that take people all over airports and asked if we could get on, but we were told that Concourse Z was too far away.  We went up an escalator wondering where we were going next and met a shuttle train that would take us to our next stop.  The current train was just closing and a guy begged to be let on because "his plane was leaving in 5 minutes."  The guard refused, saying that the next train would be along in 3 minutes and this guy was going to miss his flight anyway.

When we got to the A, B, C, Z stop we kept following Z signs.  At first I complained about those rugged Germans who couldn't be bothered with moving walkways, but they did finally appear and we rode 3 of them.   That got us to Concourse Z, but before we could get to our gate, we had to go through x-ray again.  There was another long line and another x-ray point. A woman noticed my cane and expressed sadness that I had to go through this again, but there was no express line, so I had to go along with everyone else.

When we finally cleared that check point, I told Walt that if we had to go through one more checkpoint, I was going to give up and just move to Frankfurt. We finally got to the gate which was filled with people, but there were two disabled seats, which the very abled woman sitting next to them would not let me sit in.  We managed to find two other seats and Walt, who had been carrying his hotel lunch bag all this time, decided to eat the yogurt, which was now warm and liquid, so he could drink it, and throw the rest away. 

Eventually we got on the plane, with another passport check before we boarded and the 10 hour last leg of our journey finally began.   I wasn't able to sleep much, but the others did.  I think I've taken this picture many times before on many other planes!

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When we deplaned in San Francisco, it was so nice to be back in a country where we could actually drink from the water fountain.  We got to the passport check point and were standing in the very long line of switchbacks when a guard pulled me out of line and directed me to the express line behind just 3 other people. The cane worked again. I wasn't going to say no. And then it was over.  We were in San Francisco and just had to collect our bags, which were among the very last to be loaded off the plane.  We were convinced that the luggage had not made the transfer in Frankfurt, but everything did eventually arrive.

On the ride home, we decided to go over the new Bay Bridge, which had opened while we were gone.  We didn't expect traffic on a Saturday afternoon, but all too soon it almost felt like we were back in Istanbul again.

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It took so long to get from the airport to the bridge that both Char and Mike were asleep and we had to wake them up to look at it.

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Char invited us in to take a nap at their house before our drive to Davis, but we were eager to get home.  It was weird to realize that this long day had begun in Istanbul, had taken us through Frankfurt and we were now back in Davis at 5 p.m., to discover that our internet connection was out and I couldn't do anything about it until Monday.

I called my mother to let her know we had arrived home and it took only 5 minutes for all the concerns about her that I had managed to shed while we were away to come back again, when she told me she had received no letters from me (I wrote every day and Atria confirmed delivery of the emails) and had seen no photos (my friend Peggy told me about watching some of the photos I sent to her to show my mother).  But that was to deal with tomorrow.  I sat in the recliner with a large glass of ice water by my side, Polly in my lap, and the TV on.  I was asleep in minutes and didn't wake up until nearly midnight. I didn't even hear Walt go out for (and bring back!) Chinese food for dinner.



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New San Francisco Bay Bridge, with the old one still standing.


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