The arrival in Europe - finally!
After the dramas of last year's accident, then the volcanic ash clouds halting all air traffic to Europe back in April, I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever make it to Europe.
But make it I did, landing in the early dawn of 7th May, at Frankfurt. I must admit I was a little surprised at how little Customs and Immigration checking took place, as we straggled through to the outside world. One surly Politzi stamped my passport without a word, and that was it, totally.
Time to get organised, so off to an ATM to get some Euros then to Maccas for brekky (yuk! but the only cafe open at 6.00am) and to set up internet access. It's a shame it's not free, like in all Maccas in Australia. Oh, well, when in Rome (or Europe) ..... put up with it! That sorted, I booked a hotel in the city (so I thought), as the bike wasn't to arrive until the next day, there being insufficient cargo room for it on my flight, so I needed accommodation for the night.
Jumped onto the train to the city, missed the city stop by two stations as I had no idea what the city station was called, went back to the right one and emerged back up to street level. A quick look around showed that I was all of about 70 metres from the ADAC (automobile club) office where I had to buy insurance for the bike. How lucky was that? I thought. Fortunately, I was sitting down when he dropped the bombshell - motorcycle rates jumped from €22 to €105 per month at the end of 2009!!!! Of course, cars remained at €22! Definitely discrimination, I reckon. But, one must have it (liability insurance only) to ride in Europe, so no option there.
Dawdled around and finally went to another Maccas to check my email again, just filling in time before going to the hotel, as I didn't want to be carrying my gear (what little I had with me) around the city all day. Found the hotel after a very pleasant little stroll along some lovely winding streets filled with leafy trees enjoying the weak spring sunshine.
Uh, oh! No booking. Apparently it didn't go through for some reason, so after checking with the internet hotel people that I hadn't paid already, I just booked in as normal. "I'll just lay down for a few minutes, as my back is complaining a bit", I thought, at 10.45am, planning to walk around the city during the afternoon. Yeah right! I struggled awake about 10.30pm! Must have needed it, though. So went for a wander through the surrounding streets and came upon the Zeil, a famous shopping street/mall, of great width, lovely trees, seating placed judiciously, but undergoing upgrades in some places, which spoiled the stunning ambience. And not a person in sight at that late hour of night!
Ended up having a wonderful Turkish meal of yiros meat, salads and bread, and a nice cup of tea - over the road from the hotel. Back to bed again for more sleep, till 6.30am. Wow, I must have been really tired!
Went wandering at 6.30am and found a breakfast cafe at the edge of the Zeil, which was now a hubbub of activity, as there was a street market in process of being set up at the end of the mall. After breakfast, I strolled through the market, thoroughly enjoying all the wonderful smells of sausage, salami, cheese, fresh bread, fruit and vegetables, fish etc etc. I managed to restrain myself to 2 apples.
Back to the hotel to jump onto the internet to check the status of the air waybill, to see if the bike had arrived as expected. Yes!!! It was there, in Frankfurt, having arrived at 6.05am. WooHoo! Packed all my gear, checked out, then I wandered along the Zeil, playing tourist, taking photos.
You don't really want to know where his left hand is!!
Underground, onto the train and back to the airport, where I caught a taxi (€22.50, gulp!) to the cargo area, although it was about 7km to get there. The office, up several flights of stairs, looked closed. Oh, hell, what was I to do now, as the taxi had already gone? A worker came by, and using my nil amount of German and his teensy amount of English, we worked things out and he took me to a guy in an office, who then redirected me to another office at the other end of the building. At last, I collected the necessary documentation and set off for the Customs office about 100 metres away.
Once there it was a matter of chuck the bundle of documents on the window ledge with those of all the truckies present and wait for them to be collected, appraised and then someone calls you to the window. More questions from the non-smiling man - passport required, International Driving Permit (or licence, whichever you prefer) and ADAC insurance papers required. He indicated that I'd have to complete a long yellow form, and carry my copy with me at all times, then told me to disappear for 15 minutes. Coffee time.
I went to the workers canteen (wonderful!!) a short distance away and tried to get a coffee. Nope, one must use an identity-type card to access the coffee machine! Sheeeesh! Settled for a carton of milk (no card required for that), paid the cashier and walked back to Customs to wait, and wait. Eventually, he called me over, said everything was in order, handed over the bundle of papers - minus the yellow one, never completed for some reason - and wished me a pleasant holiday in Europe, after asking yet again where I was going, with an envious little smile when I told him.
Back to yet another office in the same building, where I forked over €15.83, received a number cube, and was sent off for a long walk to the other end of the loading docks. I waited and waited and waited. Finally, a forklift came trundling out, with an aircraft container held aloft. It was my bike!
It was fairly interesting standing back (I wasn't allowed into the secure area) watching them as they decided how to get the bike out of the container. It wasn't on a pallet, just on the centre stand, tied down by about 6 or 8 straps, with some bits of timber under the back wheel. The forklift was called into play again, a strap went round the centre stand (gulp!) and they gently pulled it slowly to the edge of the container. I feared for it, and had raced over to hold the front while it was being pulled, in case it fell.
Finally it was out, on the dock, so I wheeled it away to a quiet area to reconnect the battery. And wasn't that a schmozzle! Why do they make things so hard to do? There has to be a simple way to do it, surely. It's just that I don't know the secret. That damn little nut that has to be lifted up to take the end of the bolt holding the negative leads just wasn't gonna catch, no way known. Can you imagine how frustrating, and needless to say, embarrassing, it was standing there fiddling unsuccessfully with the battery connection for about 20 minutes, with all the workers no doubt sniggering and smirking about the dumb female non-mechanic? Yaaaark!
But I wasn't gonna let it beat me, dammit! One steel nail file to the rescue, which proceeded to get very bent where it was jammed in at a 90° angle to hold the nut up. Yeehaa, it finally caught and was screwed up tightly. Stupidly, the positive side went together with no problems at all, first pop.
A final check (yes the bike ran!) and the gear which had been stripped off to get to the battery was reloaded. On went my riding gear. Check everything again, all done.
I was outta there at 2.30pm - on the road in Europe, at last!