The 4 Country-7 Airport- 2 Day- No Sleep ‘til Brooklyn Challenge

Ajaccio, Corisca

I made a terrible decision in the Ajaccio airport that I will regret for some time to come: the decision to not buy a slightly expensive, but by no means over-priced, bottle of Corsican olive oil. When we couchsurfed with Camille she made us a really simple dinner- pasta with olive oil. Except that Corsican olive oil is sweet as well as savory and earthy, I really can’t describe it you’ll just have to go there and taste it for yourself. The reason it tastes so good, and Camille told me not to tell anyone but I’m terrible with secrets, is because they wait for the olives to over ripen and fall, then scoop them up from the earth. Apparently most places pick their olives from the tree but the laid-back island lifestyle pays off here- be lazy about picking your olives- get amazing, drinkable olive oil. We liked the stuff so much that Luke and I planned to raid a grocery store on the way to drop me off at the airport (the lucky bastard got an extra day there). Unfortunately the stupid Tour de France, which was also responsible for my hangover, caused several street closures in Ajaccio that morning and so I had to get to the airport at 7am for a noon flight because all the roads were going to close. And if you think that people who wait for olive harvests to pick themselves open a grocery store before 10am you’re dead wrong. I had one last chance to buy some at the airport gift shop but figured I’d probably get ripped off and I’d just find some in New York. Editor’s note: after two months no Corsican olive oil has been procured in NYC, although I haven’t really been trying terribly hard.

Since I am an underemployed, underpaid graduate student I travel via the cheapest means possible. In order to get to Europe this summer that meant stopping in Belgium on the way in and three stops on the way home. And even before all that I had to get from Corisca to Berlin, and the thrifty way to do that was via Geneva- so over the course of two days I visited 7 airports, 4 countries, and had roughly 17 mishaps along the way…

Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva is a total crap city and you’re lucky I’m telling you that because you can save yourself a lot of Swiss Francs by skipping it. It might be the worst city I’ve been to, and I’ve been to some pretty weird ass places in Poland, ok? Sure it’s pretty, but it’s pretty in the way Brussels is pretty- only if you’re rich.

My plan for the four-hour layover was to get into the center city (only six minutes by train!), grab some food, and sit in a park. There was a machine at the airport that dispensed free tickets to get into the city, and at the time I thought that was a great deal. After getting the free ticket and leaving the airport I remembered that Switzerland is too good for the euro and I’d need to take out more money to do anything. So I paid probably $27 for 20francs and kicked myself immediately afterward but, like, $27 is cheaper than getting to Geneva from New York right? So I might as well see it while I’m here.

Unfortunately the prices in Geneva are totally off the freaking wall. I don’t know what those people are smoking but a Doner Kebab (3euro in Berlin, max $7 in NYC) was the equivalent of $18 NO JOKE. I should have taken the fact that I couldn’t afford food at Ali Baba’s near the train station as a hint that I should just turn back immediately. Instead I walked on an injured ankle half way across the city to get to the university, thinking there must be cheap food there right? Wrong. Grocery stores? Didn’t see a single one. I might have died in Geneva if I hadn’t found this reasonably priced Swiss Army Knife made out of chocolate. The fact that I took this photo before tearing into that thing really shows my commitment to this blog.

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Berlin, Germany

I arrived at Schoenfeld airport at 9pm seconds before an intense thunderstorm lit up the sky. I took the long way to Wedding, because I love riding through cities at night and because I hate leaving Berlin. Eventually I arrived back at the Barbie Dream House where the current occupant was nice enough to put me up for a night. I ate one last falafel and went to a grocery store to purchase a ridiculous amount of chocolate and gummy bears for souvenir gifting, the looks I got were quite priceless.

The next morning I had to get to Tegel, Berlin’s other airport, by 8am. I got four hours of  sleep the night before which meant that I first went to the wrong terminal and then the wrong gate, but hey at least I got the airport right. For someone so paranoid about missing flights, you’d think I’d be more on top of this stuff. A testament to how much my body did not want to leave the EU this time, or yet another example of how poorly I function with not enough sleep.

Munich, Germany

An object in motion stays in motion, so why sit at the airport when I could jump on a train during my four-hour layover in Munich? I hadn’t been to Bavaria since my 2007 traipse across Europe. My memory of the cold and dreary, but in a perfect way- city was marred by the neo-Nazi we accidentally couchsurfed with. So, with a 4 hour layover I was excited to give the city another glance. I scurried off the plane and straight to the S-bahn, a round-trip ticket was a little over 11euro. Yikes Dorothea, we’re not in Berlin anymore. I decided to try my debit card in the machine and if it worked I’d head to the city, if not I’d chill in the airport. My bank-card never works in European transit machines, except this time- so off to Munich it was.

I was half way to the city when the train stopped and the conductor screamed at us, or said something in German that sounded scary anyway. Everyone groaned and filed off the train and onto the completely packed buses that were waiting. I weighed my options and decided to kick around the random Munich suburb instead of taking the bus to the city and promptly turning around.

I asked someone why the train wasn’t running and they told me that it was because there was a World War Two bomb next to the tracks somewhere and they were in the process of digging it up. Really? It’s been in the ground for seventy years and they pick the middle of tourist season to exhume the thing? But I was determined to eat something Bavarian, so I went to the shack next to the train station and bought a somewhat decent beer (which says a lot because I’m disgusted by beer) and a pretzel.

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I sat down on someone’s front lawn and began to have a sad little picnic, until I heard some laughter and glasses clinking from behind the fence. I stood up and, of course, there was a Bier hall right next to me. I abandoned my pretzel and blindly picked something off the all-German menu, thankfully it turned out to be eggplant.

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Frankfurt, Germany

Ah Frankfurt, I hardly knew thee. But judging by the amount of men in business attire on the flight from Munich, that city couldn’t have been too much fun anyway. The layover was far too short to do any exploring but the airport had enough diversions, namely the Camel smoking lounge.

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It’s amazing that I’ve never seen one of these in the U.S. but here we are, a glass house of carcinogens sponsored by one of the largest tobacco companies in the world. Well done, Frankfurt.

I saw a woman run after a man who left his carry on in the smoking lounge and I wondered if the smokers’ sense of community with each other is heightened, considering that they’re ostracized from the rest of airport society, while being on display. I feel like this is what we’d do if we found a bunch of cavemen or something. My sociological self wanted to go inside but the self that wants to vomit after taking a drag prevented that from happening. I’ll never be as cool as C. Wright Mills.

Brooklyn, Center of the Universe

I’m always struck by how grimy JFK is when I fly home. It doesn’t matter where I’m coming from. In San Francisco they have a yoga room so people can stretch and relax before the flight; in Reykjavik they have enormous windows looking out onto a beautifully stark landscape; in Frankfurt they’ve got the bizarro smoking lounges. New York is too cool to need any of that. When you get to JFK you get the impression that New York doesn’t want you there, and that’s more than a little bit true. For whatever reason Bloomberg’s ravaging of New York for tourist dollars did not extend to the gateway of the city; probably so tourists can get an injection of “authentic NYC grit” before proceeding to their $400 a night hotel.

I took a cab to a friend’s apartment instead of my own- it’s the only way to cope with the end of a long vacation. We ate some hummus and listened to vinyls and the smell of frying bacon wafted up from a nearby deli. Yeah, definitely back in Brooklyn, time to sleep.

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