Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Bubble, Revisited

Last time out I mentioned the Travel Bubble, this hermetically sealed chain of events which moves you through a series of intricate processes to deliver Traveler A to Place B with a minimum of impact on either the traveler or the outside world. And indeed the service industry at the far end of the portal seeks to sustain that process, such that our travelers, whether they be in Hamburg or Seattle, are operating is a swaddled wrapping and kept apart from the rest of the population.

However, you still are in another place, far from home, and things are different there.

We hit this on the Hamburg trip. There were some of us who had never been abroad, or never been the Germany before. And I had a number of "ah-hah" moments when I encountered something that I found out on one of my previous trips, and had forgotten to tell the others. So since we are sending a large swath of the company to Cologne for GamesCom in a few weeks, I thought it best to note a few of them here.

- First thing no one tells you - you turn the lights in your room with your room key. There's a slot above the light switch that the key fits into. You can put any card in there, but I find it is easier to use your room card. This is the first thing that many American travelers, weary from a 10 hour flight, trip over. As one of our group admitted later "My room is smarter than I am".

 - Tying the lights to your room card saves electricity, but the TV will be on when you come in. Go figure.

- Yes, you're going to be confused by the taps in the shower. Don't worry, it happens to everyone. No, there's no universal methodology. 

- Oh yeah, the first floor of a building is the Ground Floor. What Americans call the second floor is the First Floor. No, they didn't move the lobby in the time that it took you to go up to your room and back.

- And when traveling 9 time zones away from your home, don't do the math to figure out what time it is back home. Just don't. It will depress the hell out of you and just make you more tired.

- Germans find the American fascination with refrigeration amusing and a little bit creepy. If you want ice with your coke, you need to ask for it, and they might bring you a bowl, much like sugar. Want iced tea? Good luck with that. One of our number succeeded in his quest only by hitting a Starbucks, ordering a hot tea, and cooling it down with ice (provided in a separate cup).

- The German Hotel breakfast is a thing of beauty. Whereas American Continental Breakfasts are a table with coffee and donuts, on the REAL Continent it is a spread of hot sausages, eggs, cold meats, cheeses, breads, rolls, and other sundries. I have yet to find a hotel breakfast in Germany that did not have smoked salmon. For a business traveler, always have a good breakfast, because you don't know when lunch and dinner are going to happen.

- Germany also has great bread - heavy, stoneground bread. Bakeries are important features.

- Try to get some street food. Curry wurst is a big thing - a grilled sausage, chopped up, with a thick, mildly spicy curry sauce. Imagine pork and beans without the beans. Also worth hunting down: doner kebab - the Turkish version of the Greek gyro in the states.

- Yes, that's mayo that comes with your fries. Just deal with it, OK?

- And then there is dinner. Make time for it. The Germans have a reputation for efficiency, and that efficiency exists so you can get to dinner and spend four hours at it. Socialize.

- Finally, the Delta Airlines cabin may be cashless, but in general the Germans don't do credit or debit cards to the extent the Americans do. Bring Euros for the small meals, taxis, and sundries.

More later,