Germany

Awake at 2am on Monday, “too excited” to go back to sleep. Get up at 3am. Have some breakfast, though arguably it’s a very late supper. Get picked up at 4am by a mulleted half-asleep driver; consequently I stay awake in case he doesn’t.

5.30am at Heathrow. Check in. Quick cup of tea. James Cracknell joins the queue at Departures not so far behind us. He’s carrying a suit, you know.

Fail to sleep on the flight, though I close my eyes for a bit and edge towards dropping off when an attendant waves a manky Lufthansa cheese and lettuce roll in my face. That, plus an orange juice, is breakfast.

On landing at Frankfurt airport we stop at a small breakfast bar in the terminal for a pre-meeting chat. More orange juice. I find a toilet, wherein is graffitied a swastika next to a star of David; I wonder which was scratched into the cubicle first. (They’re both alongside the usual multicultural, multilingual inscriptions and something about a Celtic v Rangers match.)

We get lucky with our taxi driver. No “knowledge” to speak of outside of Frankfurt, but a Pocket PC with GPS and navigation software does wonders. We arrive at our first meeting on time and decide to book him for our next journey an hour later.

Sadly, our next journey is to a location off his navigation software’s map (too new). We end up on a tour of sundry industrial estates asking for directions. We get the final set from a more knowledgable, local taxi driver.

The second meeting lasts all afternoon, as anticipated. Our hosts take us out for a meal in the evening. Posh place, very nice. Mushroom pasta thing, Italian food with a German feel to it.

After the meal we head for a taxi rank to return to our hotel, allegedly next to the airport. None of the taxi drivers have heard of it. Much discussion ensues between them. They ring up the hotel and ask for directions. These seem not to be too reassuring to them. Finally one agrees to take us.

Another dance around the less picturesque parts of town. More nipping off to ask locals for ideas. Finally we spot tiny green signs, virtually invisible and unreadable at night, and very few and far between, that eventually guide us to our hotel. I think it’s a brute-force search that gets lucky. The hotel’s nowhere near the airport.

It’s after 10:30, and reception is shut. We have to wait while the poor night porter finishes serving food and beer to the other patrons. I note a wireless network, no doubt charged-for and anyway useless as I haven’t brought my PowerBook.

We finally check in. Except they only have one room reserved for the two of us. Since we’ve printed out our confirmation of two rooms, the poor chap has no legs to stand on. Luckily he does have another room: a double double, as it turns out. I have that one.

I go straight to bed; a 20-hour day is quite long enough, thanks.

A reasonable night, followed by a relative lie-in: 6:30 start, 7:15 breakfast, 7:45 taxi (which turns up at 8), followed by airport tedium (my colleague flies elsewhere, I’m flying home). I use the Lufthansa fancy quick check-in system, which swipes your credit card but only to find out who you are.

Roger will be excited to learn that I fly back in an A300-600, and will probably be able to quote survivability statistics for my chosen seat, 35D.

It’s a bit of a bumpy approach and landing, probably related to the snow showers that seem to be peppering Europe right now. Tonight I will almost certainly dream about the surely-that’s-too-close appearance of another passenger jet off our port side as we circle in the stack above Heathrow.

It takes longer to taxi to the gate than to get from the gate to the taxi that brings me home. Today’s driver is awake.

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