Part 3 of 3 of the “Here We Go” Saga
We would be flying business class on Lufthansa. After all the little mishaps of the day, it was a relief to finally board the flight to Frankfurt. The business class section was comfortable with fully reclining, ergonomic seating, room to stretch your legs and put up your feet, two pillows (wow!) and a blanket that actually covers the whole of a person. Greg’s very heavy camera bag was going to be a bear to get into an overhead compartment. His injured shoulder continued to challenge us. A kind gentleman spied me trying to lift it overhead, took it from me with a ‘here let me get that’ and stowed it neatly. And he was not a flight attendant, but he may have been another angel.
Greg fell into a sound sleep after the dinner service. I didn’t want to wake him when the cabin lights went on for the breakfast service. My spouse with his large frame was sprawled out blatantly across the ‘almost flattened’ reclined seat with a blanket partially thrown over his legs. I woke him. I hope he was grateful that I had a thought about his dignity.
After we disembarked, we joined the stream of people at the flughafen (that’s airport in German) for the very long walk through the terminal to the passport control. It was 5.40 am in this time zone. We had left Boston at 4.30 pm EST and flown six hours. It was not even midnight in the eastern United States. Working as a flight attendant in the 1970’s, I had acquired the ability to sleep standing-up however that skill was not working for me today. I was tired and my mind was racing. The year of preparation was culminating right now. I could not put down the adventure novel that I was living.
As we were passing near an informational board of flight schedules, a pretty exhaustive presentation in Frankfurt, the third largest airport in Europe, I went over to check our connecting flight. Juggling two hand-carried bags and my purse, I twisted my body around in such a way that I lost my balance and fell right there on the ultra-flat, smooth, charcoal grey airport flooring in the morning rush with a gaggle of people traversing back and forth. I lay there on the ground for a minute and Greg stood in silent shock. Only one woman stopped to see if I was all right. The rest of the throng had just walked around me as if I was a piece of litter. She helped me up. I was fine, nothing broken, nothing sprained. She held me by the elbow for a time. She may have been a medical professional; she was assessing to see if I was having a stroke or a confused senior moment. I assured her I was fine, just tired. Greg was concerned but still shocked and trying to figure how I had managed to fall on a flat clean surface. To me it was a manifestation of a weary mind attached to a body out of balance. I got a scolding. Not from the woman but from Greg. I had to be more careful. Yeah, OK. Let me just take nap – right now, right here. We still have to clear immigration and you don’t have a visa, remember?
Nervous about clearing the border control in Germany after our ordeal in Boston, we continued the mile long walk through the terminal bustling with morning rush. The enormous shops were open onto all the concourses without doors or barriers to contain them. They were lit too brightly and the merchandise appeared surrealistic at this hour. We reached the passport and border control hall and got in line to formally enter the European union. The immigration agent gave both our passports a thorough scrutiny and then stamped us through. Danke, guten tag and we were off to find the business lounge to get away from the throng.
The business class lounge in Frankfurt was enormous. Much like a busy, large cafeteria, it was very bright, with hundreds of seats, counters, tables and recharging stations. There were too many people moving too quickly to get breakfast and coffee inside of them before they flew off to business meetings and tech conferences and whatever else everyone does these days. I’m retired. I garden, read, and bake. I felt out of place dodging these young professional hipsters as I searched for my Earl Grey morning tea and a croissant. I was beyond recharging; I needed a new battery.
The very short connection to Kraków should have been rather easy. We passengers were crammed into shuttle buses and sped over the tarmac to the aircraft. We had to climb a stairway to the plane. Greg and I waited to be the last ones off the bus. No one would watch how clumsily we tread up those stairs with our bags. Because of Greg’s heavy camera bag and the extra carry-ons, we would make two trips up to the plane. I waited at the bottom of the stairs while Greg took one bag up and started to come down again for the other bag. The ground crew quickly got the idea and picked up the bag and one of mine and carried them up the stairs. The old folks were not going to delay this flight.
Arriving in Kraków, we had to play the comedy of bags again on leaving the airplane. We each went down the stairs with one bag, walked back up for the 2nd bag and brought it down while an entire shuttle bus of passengers, who had gotten off before us, waited and stared through the open doors. We were the last and had to try and fit among the crowd. Everyone had a kind of glazed remote look as they watched us and then made space as we boarded. The bus took off and we arrived at the terminal somewhat mortified.
Kraków is a small airport and the arrival area, under perpetual construction, may be one of the smallest rooms in the entire building. The departures lounge upstairs is really quite nice but not down here in arrivals. There was just one carousel and there were tarps and boards on the walls due to the on-going construction. This made the room seem even smaller. It quickly filled up with the arrival of our flight and the luggage starting coming immediately. In all my years of flying, I don’t remember that my bags were ever first on the carousel. Our seven bags began to appear at once in sequence through the plastic curtain. We were hoping they would be the last. Greg was already taking them off the belt – with his left arm before I could even get a luggage cart or two or three through the crush of people. As our luggage count increased, the waiting crowd shared some silent disbelief. We must have looked like a comedy to these reserved and frugal Eastern Europeans who had a minimum of possessions, and could not fathom why this odd, obviously foreign couple was possibly going to spend more than a week in their country. No one helped, some smirked, I think, and I felt the eyes on us as we arranged the pile of luggage on three small carts with geometric load design in mind.
The exit door was just one automatic sliding grey door being monitored by some camouflage-wearing security personnel. People were already moving through it with their one small piece of luggage. As the door slid open, I caught sight of the press of people waiting for the arrivals on the other side. How the heck were we going to do this? I could not see our driver. There were many cards with black-markered names being held up and waved out there but my name was not on any of them that I could see from this distance. (Cataract surgery a success! I could see beyond the door and actually read stuff from a distance). I left Greg with two of the three carts in the luggage recovery room and, as the confident Polish speaker (hah!), I wrestled my laden cart through the doors to try and find our driver. I pushed my luggage cart through the gauntlet of staring eyes and hand-markered signs and scanned hopefully for my name. And there, in the very back of the pack, I saw a small sign with ‘Nagiecka’. It was Dominik, the driver we had met two years ago. I could do a happy dance now. I held up my hand and he recognized me and quickly took the cart away as I explained that there were two more. Yes, he replied, I had warned him in the email. No problem, he said. Elegant and eloquent.
I turned around to see if I could spot Greg standing on the other side of the security door as it slid open. Yes, there he was; I waved, smiled and made my way back through the melee. I reached and grabbed for one of our laden carts and pulled it through the door as it slid open. I turned and saw Dominik disappearing through the outside door. We followed him outside into the wide cobbled area with taxi stands and parking lots and people and stone stairways on the left and right. Dominik was going to bring the van over from the parking
lot so we waited. It was a relief to be standing outside in the grey wet morning with the Polish sky above me and the language of my childhood streaming around me. Was I home? Here standing on the soil that my parents cherished and longed to return to all their lives, I felt a physical sigh run through me. Wondering again, what this new unchartered life would be like for us.