In April I’m heading off to Samara, Russia, a city I never heard of. For two weeks, I will be teaching law to Russian university students –This is part of a program called “Senior Lawyers Abroad,” and I’m old enough, alas, to qualify as “Senior.” When I go to the movies they don’t even card me. I hope the students speak English.
In order to be in this program you have to attend an orientation session in Salzburg, Austria. I did that in January, with a stop in Vienna on the way. Now I know nothing about opera, but someone said that’s what you should do in Vienna, so we did. After checking our coats, we found our seats for what turned out to be an interminable performance of “Die Meistersinger,” and I confess we didn’t make it to the third act. At the coatroom, however, they only gave me one coat. I asked for my wife’s coat, and the answer was, “You only have one ticket.” I said, “You only gave me one ticket.” That didn’t cut any ice – “You should have asked for the second ticket” (holding it up for me to see that he still had it). After some further negotiation, I managed to liberate the second coat.
We took the train to Salzburg and stayed at the palace where they filmed “The Sound of Music” (which I liked better than the opera). We wandered through the streets of the old city, where nearly everything is named after Mozart, including the house where he was born. Then it was time to leave, and we waited for the shuttle to pick us up to take us to the Munich Airport (our return trip was from Munich to Zurich to Boston).
Except the van didn’t come on time, prompting several phone calls and, finally, a taxi driver showed up unannounced and said he would take us to the van, which was somewhere out on the highway. On the theory that anything would be better than standing outside a castle in cold, rainy weather, we got in the cab and made our way to a roadside gas station, somewhere in Germany, where a man was waving at us. Yes, the shuttle driver. He apologized, something about forgetting to check his list of pickups. Getting to his van was not easy – backing up a one way ramp, taking baggage down a steep incline, and then joining six very unhappy passengers who had been sitting there for quite a while and were looking at their watches. Planes may not leave on time, but they don’t wait for latecomers.
The rest of the ride was unpleasant, what with an unhappy group of fellow travelers, a “shortcut” on winding country roads through a snowstorm, and upon arrival a driver who didn’t take credit cards. So, leaving my wife and baggage as collateral, I went into the Munich airport looking for an ATM machine to get Euros, which is the currency of Germany and most other European countries.
After check-in and security, off I went to the duty free shop. Not that we needed anything, but I can’t resist so-called bargains, even though the wine in New Hampshire is probably just as good and no more expensive. Taking my purchases on board, we arrived at the Zurich airport and took the prescribed tram ride from one terminal to another (during which you hear the recorded sounds of a Swiss yodeler and Swiss cows), only to be greeted by an unhappy surprise – you have to go through security a second time, and you can’t take your duty-free purchases if they happen to be liquids.
I wasn’t about to give up my “bargains,” so back I went to terminal A, which involved several escalators and a return ride on the tram (more yodeling and cows). After numerous inquiries, I followed the signs to “Exit Zurich” and threw myself on the mercy of Swiss Air baggage personnel.
Unlike my experience with the opera coatroom attendant in Vienna, I found a sympathetic person who took me to a storage room, came up with a styrofoam container, wrapped my precious goods, and gave me a baggage claim. Then a woman from the airline came along and told me that the container wasn’t free – “Ten Swiss francs, please.” “But I don’t have any,” I said. “How about Euros?” “We’re not in the European Union,” came the reply, which is how one learns about international finance. At this point I wasn’t about to quit, and I saw a bank not far from where we stood. I swapped my Euros for Swiss francs, but when I got back the woman was gone and nobody wanted the money. So there I was, stuck with ten Swiss francs.
Up and down escalators, back on the tram to terminal E (the same yodeling and mooing), up the escalator to the departure gate, and still enough time to buy two beers – five Swiss francs each!