The Last Hurrah

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Ehrenbreitstein by night

When we returned from our lovely excursion to Coburg cruise director Alex informed as that Scenic had conceded that the cruise was effectively aborted. At that stage he was out of options for doable day trips. We would (hurrah) be leaving the safe and comfortable confines of the Frankfurt industrial harbour and heading back the way we’d come, through the Rhine Gorge to Koblenz, where we would stay for the day before sailing to Mainz for New Year’s Eve. Scenic (ie Alex) would arrange for us to fly from Frankfurt airport (FRA) to our onward connections on 2nd January.

By this time, we were basically over it, going through the motions. We had a last wander around Koblenz and I took a picture of Kaizer Wilhelm I on his charger. On the opposite bank, Ehrenbreitstein looked wonderful lit up at night.

As we zipped down the Rhine Gorge I managed to get a nice photo of sunset behind a castle

Alex explained that there wouldn’t be any official fireworks like the ones we have in Sydney and all the major cities (such a waste of money) but there would be unofficial fireworks because, unlike in Australia, where fireworks were banned to the public decades ago, Germans did their own thing. Neither of us felt like going out on the 31st. The ship was tied up in Mainz and we saw a few practice efforts across the river from where the ship was moored. We ate dinner and went to bed. We heard the fireworks at 12 when others gathered on the sundeck to enjoy the display. After that, Peter spent most of his time on the toilet.

In the morning Pete was a mess but he insisted he didn’t need a doctor. He said he had food poisoning and that was possible – he’d opted for the fish last evening – barramundi in a seafood sauce. One off piece of shellfish is enough to do the damage. He curled up in bed and I left him to it. But I was worried. We were due to leave the boat early tomorrow morning, step one on the long journey home. The mind starts to work. What would happen if he was really sick? If he had to go to hospital? We had travel insurance but I would still have to make arrangements. I’d need to pack for both of us, get the bags off, find somewhere to stay etc etc. I decided at least I could buy him some Imodium and some electrolytes. Easier said than done. It was a public holiday and the shops were closed. Besides, you can only get drugs from an Apotheke in Germany. Fortunately, one apothecary was open for emergencies in Mainz. Alex called a taxi for me and off I went. It felt like the fellow was driving halfway to Frankfurt but what do you do? I don’t speak enough German, he spoke little English. I suspect I did a round of the suburbs but he took me to the apothecary and back to the ship – and earned himself a good fare.

I got Pete to take the Imodium and a glass of electrolyte but he couldn’t eat even a piece of toast. I’d hoped to get most of the packing done that afternoon but it wasn’t going to happen. I just had to hope he’d make the flight the next day. I set the alarm for 5am for bags out at 7:45. The Imodium had helped but Peter was exhausted. He packed his bag and took the chance for a last nap while I grabbed a quick breakfast. To my relief, we were off the ship and on our way to catch a Lufthansa flight to Budapest.

I might have mentioned before that I hate Frankfurt airport. Given my druthers I would never have gone back there. I’m delighted to inform you that FRA and Lufthansa performed up to, and maybe exceeded, my expectations.

First, 22 of us were taken by bus from the ship to the airport. Normally, one gets out of the bus at departures and trundles inside. Not here. The bus had to park in the airport’s back blocks, well away from the terminal entrance. No doubt realising that this was less than ideal, Scenic sent two guides to help us navigate our way from the bus to check-in. It was a considerable distance with us wheeling our suitcases or a luggage trolley over uneven pavements. Quite a few of us were in the elderly demographic and added to that, Peter was exhausted. Our guide led us through halls to (of course) the most distant one. There, we processed our bags.  We’d printed a boarding pass on the boat, and scanned that to get a luggage tag. Pete noticed it looked like the bags were going all the way to Brisbane and queried our guide, who rang Alex, who said the bags were supposed to be delivered to Budapest.

Frankfurt is a rabbit warren. We ended up in Hall A, terminal one but then we needed to know which gate. Hall A has gates in sections A,B,C,D, E, and Z. Yep, we were confused, too. Eventually, we got that sorted and went through security. It seems I stepped out of their Xray device before I should have and rather than put me through again, I was subjected to a thorough pat-down from an unsmiling female person. I even had to take my shoes off and put them through the belt. After that, they intercepted my carry-on bag and swabbed it for who-knows-what? Peter was asked about his shoes, too, but when he showed them he wasn’t wearing socks, they were happy. Go figure. I imagine if anyone had measured my blood pressure about that time I would have scored high.

We would be travelling economy class for the short flight. Normally, that would be fine but with that wonderful advisor, hindsight, I would have paid for upgrades to business class. As it was, we sat at the boarding gate with the other hoard of passengers while Pete dozed on my shoulder. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. When boarding was called we had to walk down ten flights of stairs to the tarmac where we were crammed into a bus and driven to the plane at a hard stand to climb the rear stairs. This was all taking a toll on Peter.

At Budapest we would be met by a Scenic representative who would take us to the hotel after we had collected our bags and gone through customs. When our bags didn’t appear we approached the Lufthansa lost luggage counter where we were told the bags were at the airport waiting to go on the flight to Doha tomorrow. No, they wouldn’t deliver them to the Marriott. If we wanted them, we’d have to come back and collect them ourselves, which was not an option. We didn’t really have much choice. Just as well we pack spare undies in our carry-on. Meanwhile, the twenty other guests were waiting for us. They were all very understanding – not our fault.

Scenic clearly has an arrangement with the Marriott but I can’t help but think it’s all about appearance, not substance. We didn’t get a keycard (fault in the system) when we checked in so somebody came with us to get us into the room, saying the card would be delivered shortly. While Peter went straight to bed, I tried to find out what was on the menu for room service. There was no hotel directory in the room. However, I could use my smart phone to read the QR code for a link to a website which would show me the menu. Great idea, guys. But some people don’t have smart phones. I do, but I didn’t have roaming switched on. I could use the hotel’s internet, of course. I just needed to log in using the usual room number plus guest name. Then they asked me to PAY for use of the internet. I couldn’t believe it. I tried to use the room telephone to ring reception but it didn’t work. I still didn’t have a key card. I went down to the lobby and found the nice young man who had let us into the room. Oh sorry, didn’t you get your cards? He created a key card for me and I asked him if the Marriott REALLY charged guests to use the internet. No, of course not, madam, there’s an access code. He handed me a slip of paper which should have been in the room. While I was at it I told him about the phone and asked about toothbrushes which we’d mentioned when we checked in without luggage.

Back in the room, I broke out the Irish whisky in the mini-bar.

After a few hours’ sleep, Pete felt a bit better and we ventured down to the hotel restaurant to eat. He ordered a bowl of soup, of which he managed to eat about half. It was better than nothing. I ate half of a very nice burger and some fries, with a glass of local sav blanc. The next morning, we discovered the bathroom sink didn’t drain properly. We paid the bill (which we’ll reclaim from Scenic – the mini-bar was free) and joined four other people in a cramped taxi to the airport. From here on, we’d be in business class.

Since we didn’t have any luggage, check-in was simple – but we did check that our suitcases were on the flight. Qatar shares a little lounge at Budapest with a number of other airlines. It was fairly spartan but at least we weren’t packed into a boarding gate. When we did go down to the gate, after some ten minutes, we were told, “Boarding will be delayed for half an hour. Thank you for understanding.” No explanations.

The available seating (not much) was promptly snared by other people. We found seats in a nearby eating area so we noticed when it was clear boarding had restarted and we could find our seats on the plane. Peter pointed out to the flight’s purser that we should have been told what had caused the delay and she agreed, assuring him it would be on her flight report. Once again, Pete slept for most of the four hour flight to Doha. I dozed myself. All the dramas and interrupted sleep were taking a toll on me, too.

The business class bus

I was surprised to learn we would be landing at a hard stand at Doha. I had images of another one of those crowded buses like the ones at Frankfurt, with too many people surrounded by their carry-ons as the bus does the rounds of the airport, ending at a mountain of stairs to get into the main terminal building. I was a little bit right. We did get driven around the airport. But we were in a business class bus and we were dropped at the transit entrance. So much more civilized. Having done this before, we passed through security and arrived at the lounge with a minimum of fuss. Two more legs to go – Doha to Brisbane, an overnight stay at our friends house, then I’d drive the three hours back home to Hervey Bay, where we’d both fall into bed.

That was the plan, anyway.

Peter was starting to feel a bit better. He got a bit of sleep on the plane. When we reached our friends’ place he managed a piece of toast with vegemite. By then, I felt a bit squeamish. I hadn’t eaten much on the flight. The starter at dinner was enough and I didn’t like the main I’d ordered. Breakfast didn’t appeal. A few hours later I had the same symptoms Peter had had. Maybe he’d contracted a virus. Or maybe I’d had my own bout of food poisoning. Either way, as Peter said at the time, he knew exactly how I felt.

So, Peter had to drive home. What with jet lag and illness, it took us (quite) a few days to recover. Right now, I can’t see me going on another long haul flight.

By the way, if you’ve happened upon this page by accident and you’d like to read more about the tour, go to the tour page where you’ll find the rest of our adventures.


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