Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Sister's Arrival

My sister has been here for four days and everything is great, except for the weather.

She was set to arrive at 8:02am Wednesday. I hardly slept the night before because I was afraid of missing the alarm and being late to retrieve her. I woke up bright and early at 5:30 just to give myself enough time to get lost or do something else wrong.

It was very dark and also raining. I typed 'Dusseldorf Airport' into Blanche, the GPS, and set off around 6:30am. Driving in inky blackness during a storm was very disorienting. I don't think the roads here are well-lit. Street lamps aren't as bright and reflectors are also absent. I was doing my very best to keep Greta between the lines.

This was not my first time driving to Dusseldorf alone. I did this a few weeks ago when I had to meet my husband at IKEA, but this was my first time going back to the Dusseldorf airport since our arrival. I was very jet-lagged during our drive to Geilenkirchen that day so I don't remember much about getting off the plane and into the car.

Everything seemed correct during the first few minutes of the drive and then I ended up in the Netherlands. I thought this was a little strange since I didn't remember driving through Holland in order to get to Dusseldorf. I checked Blanche to make sure I was en route to the Dusseldorf airport and it seemed like I was still on the right path. Because of our close proximity to the Netherlands, sometimes my driving begins in Germany, goes through the Netherlands, and ends up back in Germany. I thought this might be one of those times.

I was making quicker progress than I'd expected and was looking forward to getting to the airport at least 20 minutes in advance of my sister's flight landing. Suddenly traffic came to a complete standstill. I'm assuming I hit rush hour traffic somewhere and it was terrible. It caused me to lose 25 minutes. I didn't go into a panic just yet since I knew that even if I arrived at the airport when the plane was scheduled to land, I'd still have time to spare since she would be going through customs.

As soon as the traffic cleared, I saw that I was very close to my destination. I began seeing little airplanes on the information panels I was passing and I thought, "Wow! Despite that setback, I'm still going to make it! This is great!"

As I approached the airport, I had an odd feeling about how small it seemed compared to what I remembered from my own arrival here. But I pressed forward. Blanche directed me to the 'Arrivals' parking lot where exactly four cars were parked. I was almost in full panic-mode at this point. I parked the car and strode semi-confidently into the lobby. It was as desolate and empty as an old Western outlaw town after a gunfight.

An employee walked past me and gruffly said, "Morgen," as he went outside for a smoke break.

I greeted him and then decided to follow him to ask if I was in the correct place.

"Entshuldigung, sprechen sie English?" I asked.
"A little," he said.
"Ok. Thank you. Is this the Dusseldorf International Airport?"
"Oh I see. How far away is the Dusseldorf International Airport?"
He gestured in the direction behind me and impatiently replied, "It's at least 25 minutes away. You're not even close."
I retrieved the address from my phone and asked, "Is this the correct address?"
He brusquely replied, "I don't know the address."

With that, I was dismissed. I thanked him and apologized because I wasn't sure if he was already having a bad day or if I'd just contributed to it. Frazzled, I returned to Greta. When I originally put my destination in the GPS, I only searched for airports nearby. I did not use a specific address. I realized that Blanche was taking me to the nearest 'Dusseldorf' airport to our house, instead of the one an hour away. I was currently sitting in my car at the Dusseldorf-Monchengladbach regional airport.

I quickly redirected Blanche to the Dusseldorf International airport, which was now making an appearance on the list of optional destinations. The man was correct. My estimated arrival time was 25 minutes later, which would make the time 8:40am. My sister was probably going to think I'd forgotten her.

It was still raining but the early morning darkness had subsided. I put the pedal to the floor on the Autobahn and resolved to get to the airport without any more blunders.

I was so relieved when I saw the airport looming ahead. It was obviously much larger than the regional airport. Blanche lost her bearings when the time came for me to park. There were so many options. I had no idea which areas were for short-term parking. Running out of time, I pulled into a garage and pressed a button. I thought a ticket would pop out but a German voice blared out of the box instead. I said, "Oh! I'm sorry! Is this for short-term parking?"
"No!" he barked. "Parking garage FULL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

I backed Greta down the ramp and took a right. I came upon a regular parking lot and decided to try my luck there. I received a ticket and was able to park and then I hurriedly made my way to the lobby. Reading the signs as I walked in, it dawned on me that I did not know my sister's terminal. My plan, now that I'd managed to get myself inside the airport, was to find the nearest information desk and ask them to locate my sister since I couldn't do it myself.

I was run-walking down the corridor and suddenly there she was. Somehow, after all of my ignorant mistakes, I had chosen the correct door! I almost broke out into a run.

"Hi!! Where have you been?" she asked. "I thought you had gotten into a car accident or something!"
"No, no. Nothing like that. But I did go to the wrong airport."

She shook her head, as if she had anticipated something like this might happen, and then we hugged and were joyfully reunited!

The weather has been absolutely abysmal since she's been here. The sun hasn't peeked through for any duration longer than a few minutes and it is raining constantly. It is also extremely windy and very cold. The bright side to all of this is that we had dinner in Maastricht yesterday evening (nice tapas restaurant) and when we stepped outside, it was snowing!

I saw snow for the first time last Christmas in Minnesota but this was my sister's first experience with snowflakes. It was really great to see her react the same way I did.

"OH MY GOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!! Is that.... is it really..... I can't believe it!!!! Is this............. snow?!?!"

The snow turned back to rain as we were driving home, and nothing more happened over night, but the weather is still dreadful. We are braving it today to go to Belgium for a Christmas beer festival!

In 4 days, my sister will visit 3 countries! And who knows? Maybe we'll even have a chance to build a snowman.

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