BY Zofi GEMELLI
Some of us were lucky enough to go away over the break. Europe-bound, I was one of those people.The wonder of e-mail has allowed me to write this while sitting and enjoying a typical German day: rain, rain and more rain. Yes, I am abroad. I am in Cologne Germany as I write this.
I sat at Pearson International Airport not too long ago and thought about what to write for this issue of the Courier. I could write about the smell inside of planes, always a bit stale, or I could explore the wonders of airplane mechanics. But I just don’t know enough about how the big birds actually work. (Definitely a future story idea there, though.)
I thought it would be cool to go through a list of how I prepare for long air trips and the ‘joys’ of living in a foreign country for more than a week.
First thing I did, after purchasing my ticket and jumping for joy, was head over to a currency exchange place, not to buy money yet, but to figure out how to calculate the exchange rate from Canadian dollar to the Deutschmark. (It’s important if you want to be prepared to do the math with every purchase.)
I then packed a small pocket calculator for assistance.
Next step was to make my lists. Three of them: the “to bring” list, the “to do” list and the all so important “SCHOOL” list. I wanted to leave with a clear conscience, knowing that I did everything that I was supposed to do before heading out.
Each list has an important roll in the pre-take off days. I was able to just tick off all of the clothing, toiletries and CDs that I wanted to bring as I packed them. Other items always jump in and out during the process, but that also depends on how much space is left in the luggage.
Very important tip here: if you plan on buying a lot of souvenirs, wine, kitsch or other items while you are travelling make sure that you leave space in your luggage for those things. A good idea would be to pack your suitcase and bring a dufflebag for the extras.
You are usually allowed two pieces of luggage plus a carry-on but I would suggest asking the airline or travel agent for the guidelines of your particular trip.
For those of you who are afraid of flying or just want to sleep for the entire flight it is a good idea to talk to a doctor or pharmacist about a pill. There are also some mild anti-anxiety medications out there that may help calm a nervous flyer.
I did go to my doctor to get a prescription for a sleeping pill to take on the plane, but in the end I didn’t use the pills. Having them gave me the choice, though.
On another recent flight I mentioned to the flight attendant that I was nervous and she told me that she would bring me up to the cockpit to see what flying is all about.
I was lucky enough to be asked to stay there for the entire flight, including landing. Besides being a lot of fun it has helped me to understand what is happening when we hit a bit of turbulence or when we turn. I am still a little nervous but having that birds eye view did help and I would suggest you ask to be taken up to the cockpit if you have any worries.
Knowing that I would be visiting Germany I enrolled in a German language night school course. I also bought a few good language books to help me out and to bring along on my journey.
Now that I am here I can say that it was completely worth the time and the money. I have been able to get by in most shops. I know the numbers as they are being called and how Germans greet each other. It has been a great help.
I also went to a book store and looked at various travel guides for this country and Cologne. I found out things like where the American Express office is so that exchanging travelers cheques would be easier. I looked at some miniature maps and got an idea of how the city was set up and how far the airport was from where I was going, important if you plan to take a taxi from there. (Also important to have some cash for that too.)
It is a good idea to have a map ready for your arrival, but I was unable to locate a detailed one of Cologne until I got there.
A couple of days before leaving I did get travelers cheques and a very small amount of cash in Deutschmarks so that I could buy something during my stop-over at the Frankfurt airport. I sat at a nice cafe and relaxed for the two and half hours before heading off to Cologne.
There is one downside to travelers cheques: the exchange rate is usually bad. I would have done better if I had bought Deutschmarks in Canada and secured them to my body with one of those wallet belts. I lost about 15 cents on the dollar, which adds up. I was unaware that it would be such a loss until I got here.
For the plane ride I brought a light snack, Craisons to be exact. They are yummy, not messy and pretty portable in their Ziplock package.
I packed my Discman and about 20 CDs in one of those funky travel cases, a few magazines, a book, paper and a few pens.
I always have mints on me, but it is a good idea to, stock up on them or gum for when your ears pop during take off and landing.
Now that I am here I am already beginning to prepare for the ride home. Flying home from Europe always takes longer than going there.
For my flight home I am planning on bringing a few pretzels as my snack, they are as available here as bagels are in Canada: a shop on every street corner. I have my Discman and CDs ready with new batteries, plenty of reading material, including the guide to Cologne that I purchased in English, just so I can feel a little nostalgic on the way home.
And most importantly: tissues. The wisest of travelers will agree that sometimes leaving a certain place moves you.
I have enjoyed every moment of my visit so far and I am pretty certain that this city has made it into my heart.