I can’t actually put into words just how excited I was for this trip. I had never been to the Western Hemisphere before and considering all the trips I’ve done to Europe, it was about time.
On the evening of 30 June, I boarded the full Lufthansa Flight 9545 to Frankfurt. Call me crazy but even though I had only 4 hours transit time, I was excited to be there just because it meant I’d be in Germany again. Since I was going to land at 6am, I had one goal – have a Bavarian breakfast (even though I wasn’t actually in Bavaria).
Frankfurt’s airport is far bigger than I expected, and getting through security was the most intense I’ve ever been through. It wasn’t bad, just long. I was selected for a random security check, along with 2 other girls who were traveling together with 2 guys around their age. I couldn’t tell where they were from and I wanted to ask, but didn’t really get the opportunity. We were told which line to go to, and I noticed that there was a body scanner ahead. The conveyor belt on which we had to put our bags was packed with the trays of other people’s bags, and we had to wait at least 20 minutes before there was space for us to put a tray for each of our bags on it. It was a weird sight because I couldn’t figure out where the owners of the other bags were. There was a pleasant local German officer telling us who she wanted to go first, and what to remove, like our shoes, electronic devices etc. I had to use 3 trays so that I could put my jacket and shoes in one, my hand luggage bag in another, and my handbag, passport and cellphone in the last.
Once my bags were sent through, I waited another minute or 2 before I was called to stand in the body scanner. When I came out of it, they asked me to look at the screen with them. My waist section lit up on the screen and I immediately realized that idiotic me forgot to remove my belt. Because of that, the security officer asked me to step into one of the booths where another officer asked me to remove my belt and then patted me down. They also asked me to remove my socks and fold my pants up a little so they could check my ankles and under my feet. That was just weird, but I let them do their job. It would be very stupid to be difficult in that kind of situation.
When I stood up after putting my socks back on, I went to the end of the conveyor belt where the other 2 girls were. An officer asked who the owner of one of the bags was, and one of the girls stepped forward. When she got to him, he ran something over all the zips before running it through some sort of scanner which sat a couple metres behind him. When he came back, he asked her to open each zip so that he could remove the contents. When he was happy with all her bags, he gave her the all clear and did the same with the other girl, and lastly, me.
The entire process took nearly 2 hours. I later found out that the thing he was running over the zips and into the scanner was actually to check for explosive residue.
Once I got my things and freshened up, I wandered around the terminal looking for a place to get coffee and some sort of pastry. One thing was for sure – I needed to have a beer and a pretzel, because what kind of Bavarian wannabe would I be if I didn’t have those for breakfast? It was a little too early (it wasn’t even 8am yet), and since I still had another 2 hours to kill, I decided to get coffee first, with a butter pretzel. I found a nice small cafe to get both from for about €6 in total, and found a quiet spot overlooking a bunch of Lufthansa jets at their respective gates. I could have sat there all day watching those planes and enjoying my breakfast; being in an airport is one of my favourite things, especially when I can watch planes go by, even if they’re on the ground.
As you can see from my picture above, I got the beer too. I was trying to gauge whether or not I was the only thirsty person at that part of the morning by wandering around the food court. As it turned out, I wasn’t, as there were actually a fair number of people having beer at one of the food stands. The food court was U-shaped, and this “bar” was in the middle of it with tables all around. I needed to order at the counter before finding a seat, so decided to go for a 0.5L draught of the Licher pilsner, a local bier from the Hesse region around Frankfurt. The earliest I had ever had a beer was at 9:30am (in Germany on my way to Oktoberfest at that), so this time at 8:45am, I beat my own record. As I write this, I smile with the same amount of happiness I had while having it. To me it was a small accomplishment and yet another regret I prevented from happening.
I went excitedly to the gate to board my next flight. There were several reasons for that – I was going directly to San Francisco (duh), my plane was an A380-800, the largest in Lufthansa’s fleet, and lastly, I was sitting upstairs. It really was the kind of flight I had wanted to do for as long as I’ve known about planes.
The flight to San Francisco marked the first of many things:
- As I mentioned before, I sat upstairs
- I was going back in time
- The seat next to me was empty for this and every other flight for the rest of my trip
- I enjoyed the food so much that I actually took a photo of it
- I had a local German beer on the plane
- I flew passed Iceland and over Greenland
- I went beyond the Arctic Circle
- I saw Canada’s Northern Territories
I really did not expect the last 3 things to happen and I realized it when I saw the flight path. Last year around this time, I couldn’t decide whether to go to Norway or Canada, and going beyond the Arctic Circle was one of my motivations behind visiting Norway. It was the perfect moment of serendipity and I still can’t get over the fact that I was actually that far north. Thank you, Coriolis Effect.
My seat was rather specious so it made the flight even more enjoyable. There was a sort of ‘shelf’ between my seat and the window which I could open to put my stuff in, so I basically had enough room to keep whatever I wanted to with me without having it on top of me, and I could lie in almost any way I wanted to. Yeah I know, obviously Business or First Class would have been better, but this was damn good economy class. There were actually several seats available in Premium Economy and the flight attendant offered them to whoever was sitting upstairs, but I was so happy in my spot that I opted to stay put.
I barely slept on the flight, especially as we approached Iceland. Because we were technically going back in time, it was daylight for the entire flight. It was rather bizarre. The vastness of Canada’s Northern Territories also fascinated me; I couldn’t get enough of it.
When I finally reached San Francisco, we had to loop passed Millbrae and Burlingame in order to approach from the south side of the runway. It added another 25 minutes to the flight time which I wasn’t impressed with because I was eager to get off the plane and meet my friend Natalie.
I didn’t know that the runway in San Francisco is pretty much on the water, so the approach was a little nerve-wrecking. It was as though we were going to land on the water and only seconds before we touched down could I see the actual runway.
I connected to the airport’s free WiFi as soon as I entered the terminal so that I could inform Natalie that I had arrived. She knew already because she could see the plane land from her house in San Bruno which actually overlooks SFO. From past experience she knew that it would be a while before I got out of the terminal, but she was shocked that border control was so quick and that I was at the baggage claim within 30 minutes of leaving the plane. The border control officer only asked how much money I was carrying and checked the address at which I was staying before asking how I know Natalie. He was happy when I said I had met her at my cousin’s wedding and they had done a Contiki trip together. Funny how our worlds collided.
Baggage claim was a pain in the ass because there was confusion as to which carousel contained the bags of which flight, and I found myself having to go back and forth between carousels 4 and 5 with some other passengers from my flight because whoever was announcing it couldn’t make up his mind. For a second I thought “Nice first impression of America”, but I quickly dismissed it because that kind of thing can happen in any airport, and the Americans I know are intelligent, not those “cash me ousside” types.
Natalie was on her way and constantly in touch with me because people who are fetching passengers are not allowed to wait in the terminal. It was a little surreal for me because I hadn’t seen her in over 2 years and we had always chatted with 9-10 hours between us, and now we were literally about to meet each other in person again. Her husband, Alfredo, had gone to get food for us, since I landed at lunch time, and Natalie was annoyed that they might get delayed to meet me. “Don’t worry we’re not gonna leave you hanging”, she assured me.
From swearing at the size of the plane to trying to impress me with a clean car to checking on my physical condition, I knew I was going to be spending time with the right friend.
When I eventually got out of the terminal, I couldn’t see them, but only a minute or 2 passed before Alfredo popped out of the crowd. They were both practically running. We had a bit of a walk back to the car and once we left the airport, we were at Natalie’s place in barely 10 minutes.
We ate some really good pizza and chatted for a while before I showered and took a 2 hour nap (an hour long than was recommended). The jet lag was going to take some getting used to.
Day 1 of 9 in San Francisco had begun.