To see my tribute to Flo, go here

See about helping Flo's Haitian artist friends at Jakmel Ekspresyon

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

More Berlin planning; oh, and there was a New Orleans trip

To continue on the current official focus of this blog, I have indeed booked an apartment in Berlin; it may be small but it looks like a good deal, centrally located. Now I just need to do a planning about how I'll spend my days. I'm studying the geography and wondering whether to get transit passes. There are some passes that combine transit and Museum Island museums; since I'll be walking distance from the island, I don't think I'd use both features of the pass on the same day. I think I'll buy four single tickets at a special deal, using one to get in from the airport. I can see on what days it will be worthwhile to use passes. Also I got a phone message from United about a schedule change in my flight; maybe because it was finally booked on the phone (and the initial misspelling of my name limited what could be done online) they couldn't just send me an e-mail. The change was a Frankfurt-Berlin flight going 10 minutes earlier, but I think my connecting time is still adequate (at 1 hr. 40, getting to be less than I'd like with passport control and security, but there are other flights if I miss the connection). I also see that my Frankfurt-Brussels flight has been made a full-size jet with new seat types, rather than a regional jet. Then just as I was starting this post, I see that I got an e-mail from United where the last segment, Chicago-Kansas City, was listed both with the regional jet flight I had, and an overlapping mainline jet flight departing a half-hour later. The United site confirmed that I'd been changed to the later flight.

There are some practical things to report on my New Orleans trip. I booked myself on Delta with a $59 ($80 with taxes) one-way fare. I didn't like the thought of paying $25 to check a bag, although I got some advice that I might as well do that to avoid hassle, when I got such a good fare. A flight that would have given me the long layover that I preferred in Atlanta was removed from the schedule, and I was changed to one with a tight connection. At first (in the advance seat selection) I lucked into an exit row, then I was removed from it and the only seat to choose was the middle seat in the bulkhead row behind the rear galley. I would have checked the bag if I'd been stuck there, but as time got close I was able to select a better seat. I took my bag to the gate area, and they announced that the flight was so full that it could be a problem to find overhead storage space (my main worry) and anyone who wished could get the bag tagged for free; I went for that. The incoming flight was late, and I observed the "gate lice" phenomenon making it hard for disembarking passengers to get out through the people crowding the gate to board.

An extra privilege of gate-checking my bag was that I was invited to preboard as I left it at the end of the jetway. This was also the first flight on which I used onboard wi-fi, posting Facebook updates from the air. Then the arrival in Atlanta was a little late; I had to get from my high B gate to the central underpass, where a train was ready, so I took it where I might have opted to walk one concourse over, to the A concourse and a gate at the end. I boarded after all groups were called, and likely would have had a problem finding room for my bag. So I saved the bag check fee, and the wait at New Orleans baggage claim was no big deal, since I was waiting for people on later flights. I rented a cart for all the bags that would accumulate.

When I arranged the trip, I worried about the three flights coming in close together working out, given what the weather can be in February. Margaret, the woman I mentioned in my previous post, was due to arrive shortly after I claimed my bags. I went the width of the terminal and up the elevator to meet her at the Southwest concourse. She'd made a new friend, as she often does, on the flight. We added her bags to the cart and had her wait with it while I met my parents, coming from Vermont connecting through JFK, at the JetBlue concourse. They had a nice meeting, and waited while Margaret and I located the shuttle (not well signed, in the garage across from the terminal) to the Alamo lot. I had a good rental deal for a mid-size car, and we got an Impala, larger than what they usually put in that category. I had a GPS and got to our host Jim's house in Algiers on the West Bank.

Just some impressions about the trip in general: I didn't see a whole lot of evidence of Hurricane Katrina; Algiers had wind damage but not flooding. The group had lunch with a curator at the Art Museum; while my parents went with Jim, who had a toll tag to get through an automated lane of the bridge over the Mississippi, Margaret and I faced a long delay to pay the $1 toll, and then they were restricting driving around the museum because they were filming the Natalee Holloway story there. We got the lunch and looked around the museum; then I did the first of some walking tours from Frommer's that I'd downloaded to the iPod, along part of Esplanade Ave. With Margaret it works well to point out a few places and then sit down, a nice way of taking it easy (good weather all the time). On later days we did some more of this in the French Quarter, both with the craziness of Bourbon St., and on Royal St. also getting crowded as they were building up for a pre-official (and raunchy) Mardi Gras parade. That Saturday we parked on the Algiers side of the ferry, free to pedestrians but they charged $10 for parking. On Sunday, my father got the gallery that has works of his to open and show those works. We walked the Garden District a little before our return flight.

One can expect good meals in New Orleans, and we had a great variety. On the Algiers side, we had Belgian, Vietnamese, and Dim Sum; in the latter we were confronted with a constant array of carts and many dishes. During the weekend we were joined by my mother's friends Lisa and Paul from Atlanta; we ate at the Palm Court in the Quarter as the parade went by, and there were jazz performers. We had a nice Sunday brunch at Café Degas on Esplanade; Monday lunch at Pascal's Manale, an old-time neighborhood oyster place. We put something together at Jim's house on Monday night before my father's birthday (with an early flight departure) Tuesday, including a Mardi Gras King Cake. Margaret and I went on our own to Domenica, an Italian restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel, where I had an interesting pasta with chestnut sauce. Before our flight departure, we stopped at Martin's Wine Cellar, a wine store with good food served at the counter; we got good sandwiches.

So we returned the car and got to the airport. One wouldn't know it to look at her, but Margaret is entitled to disability assistance; as I joined her with her wheelchair assistance, we got smoothly through security and to the gate. We were going together on Southwest to St. Louis, then connecting to different flights. We preboarded on their open-seating flight and took a row in front. I took the middle seat but was very glad through the flight to have Margaret next to me holding hands, head on shoulder. She re-entered my life at a difficult time, and we have taken the title of boyfriend and girlfriend.