by Melinda Gallo

Big blue skies, snow, and smoke

This morning we took off on a flight to Munich. I was kept up all night by the strong winds and hoping that they'd die down before we got on our plane. No luck. We all sat on the plane as it moved in every direction as if we were experiencing turbulence except we weren't even moving.

We arrived to the Munich airport and could see snow all around. It was a beautiful sight and I wished I had taken a picture.

We waited for our luggage at the baggage claim where there were only three of us from our plane. We walked through the amazingly modern and clean airport outside and it was only 11AM. We knew we would be going to a little town north of Munich and weren't sure we'd find food near the hotel.

We decided to eat at the airport where Dave had a beer and a hamburger and I had a sausage and sauerkraut sandwich. The first thing I learned to say in German was, "stilles wasser" (still water). When you ask for water, they only give you bubbly water.

After our quick lunch, we went and got a few pastries and stilles wasser for us to take back with us to the hotel.

We had no idea where the hotel was or how to get there, so we decided to take a taxi. We were surprised by the large number of taxis waiting at the airport. Not 50 or 60, but hundreds of them parked waiting to pick up passengers.

"Guten tag," I said to the taxi driver and handed him the note with the hotel's address on it. Of course, I smiled. The international sign that I'm hoping you understand me and please don't hate me if I don't understand you. The only German I know is "bitte" (please), "danke" (thanks), and now "stilles wasser." I'm hoping to pick up a few more words/phrases as pointing and smiling seem to be accepted, but make me feel a bit lost. Of course, being with Dave is fun since at least we can laugh at ourselves for not understanding anything.

After we checked into the hotel, we took a quick nap, and asked the reception how to get to the restaurant where we were supposed to meet our group. She looked at us and said that it was too far to walk. We'd have to walk about 1KM through the park (and snow) in the dark. That didn't sound like my idea of a good time, so we called a taxi. The taxi came and as we got in, I told her the name of the restaurant, "Pegasus." The taxi fare was about 12 Euros even though the drive was about 3 minutes in all.

We arrived at the restaurant and of course didn't recognize anyone. I asked a waiter for the table that was reserved for "4D." He pointed to a table of four and I realized that he didn't understand me. Dave and I stood there looking at each other and then decided to just wait.

Luckily, I recognized a French guy that I used to work with in Paris who was there attending the same conference. He spoke German and took us under his wing. We ended up being about 50 people in all.

I also saw another American developer with whom I used to work with in Paris. He's now living in Munich. He told us that when Germans go out, they sit at the same table and just keep drinking beers. He said that they don't go around to the other tables to socialize that they just remained where they were. We didn't mind since we weren't about to go and talk to all the people we didn't know.

We did notice one thing that we hadn't experienced in a long time. Smoke. It was everywhere. Half of our table smoked. And when I say smoked, I mean chain smoking! We stayed at the restaurant/bar for about 4 hours and when we got outside to the cold air, I had to empty my lungs from all the smoke. I breathed in so deep and out so much that I felt faint.

We had to open our windows in our room even though it was freezing outside because of how much we smelled of smoke.

We were so exhausted after our 5AM wake-up this morning, traveling, and listening to German for hours on end that we went straight to bed. We loved the individual duvets that were on the king-sized bed. No fighting over the covers!

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