Friday, August 15, 1997
Well, the day has finally arrived and I'm on my way! For the past few days, I've been trying to get my affairs in order so that my time away from home could be worry-free. It didn't really seem there was all that much that had to be handled, but it nevertheless took quite a bit of time. Of course, far too many hours were spent reconfiguring the notebook computer, just in order for it to feel fresh as a daisy for its trip.
In any event, my flight from Sea-Tac left more or less promptly, and it was trouble-free in every way. There was a somewhat surly ticket counter clerk who didn't want to check me in, simply because I'd been standing in the wrong line, but ultimately I boarded successfully and was whisked off by a well-experienced 727 to the Cincinnati airport (which happens to be in Kentucky). This first leg of the flight was pleasantly uneventful; the lunch was pretty good. (American and Delta tend to have the best airborne food, as far as I can tell, and after a few years of a strictly American diet, I was comfortable with the Delta option.)
I was surprised at how easy it is to move internationally ... at least so far. It was really no different from travelling within the United States: The only real difference is that a passport must be displayed, rather than a driver's license. Perhaps it will all become more difficult on the Swiss end.
Saturday, August 16
Saturday morning. ... It's hard to believe that it's still Friday night, not even midnight, back on the West Coast. If I were at home, I'd probably just be getting ready for bed. But I've already had sun for a couple of hours, and breakfast is over. Frankly, after all the traveling, it truly feels like we should be well into Saturday ... and we are!
The Delta 767 ER has an amazing computerized system that shows exactly where we are. The information is projected on the in-flight movie screen, and it makes our trip look just like those clips in the movies that show the airplane crossing the map ... as when the screen tracked the route of the refugee trail at the beginning of Casablanca, or when it showed Indiana Jones's travels in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Our path is updated onscreen on a live basis via the plane's computer system. Just before 9:00, we're traveling at a speed of 568 mph; our altitude is 37,000 feet; we have a tail wind of 27 mph. Our estimated landing time in Zurich is 9:21, right on schedule since our gate arrival is billed as 9:30. The image zooms in from a map of the entire world (which even shows which areas are in daylight and which are night) to a much closer shot of the towns and villages we're passing over. This would be a great thing for U.S. domestic flights: It might teach Americans some geography of their own country!
England was completely hidden to us, due to heavy cloud cover, but the countryside of France is clearly visible. We entered French airspace at about 8:21, and the ground revealed itself shortly thereafter. At 8:43 we passed directly over Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport. I couldn't spot the Eiffel Tower, but the view was pretty impressive nevertheless. It's amazing how much more compact the geography is here than in the U.S. The flight from Seattle to Cincinnati took hours and seemed even longer. Here, Paris is only about 20 minutes in from the coast, and Zurich is only about 40 minutes beyond Paris. This is efficient travel!
At 9:03, we're down to 31,500 feet ... at 9:05 it's 27,000 ... at 9:08 we're down to 22,000 and slowed to 421 mph. 9:11 finds us at 13,548 feet, 356 mph. Time to shut down the notebook!
The landing was extraordinarily smooth, and "customs" was breezy. A flash of the passport, a trip through the "nothing to declare" line, and I was on my way. There were various options to get into the city from the airport; I opted for the train. In 15 minutes, it got me to the Hauptbahnhof. From there, I took a quick taxi to our Zurich headquarters: the Hotel Baur au Lac.
As it turned out, Alf and the rest of his party had arrived at the hotel very shortly before I did, but since the rooms were not yet ready, they went out for a stroll. My timing was fortunate, as the hotel staff were able to place me in a room immediately upon my arrival. Then, within ten minutes of being escorted up, Alf was on the phone saying that he was back in the hotel and heading for his (now ready) room.
This hotel is absolutely gorgeous! Apparently, the management spent the last three years or so remodeling it, and it is absolutely deluxe in every way. The rooms are huge, and classically decorated. With twelve-foot high ceilings and very large windows (including windowed French doors leading out to a balcony), there is an extremely airy feel to the place. The bathrooms are marble throughout, and of course there are a couple of plush white robes in which to lounge about. My room is, beyond question, the nicest hotel room I have ever been in.
By coincidence, we arrived on the day when Zurich was having a massive "StreetParade" festival. Thousands of people, primarily twentysomethings, turned out to see and be seen. There was a lot of body painting, a lot of body piercing, and a lot of body uncovering. Blowing whistles also seemed to play an integral part in this festival, as did (to a lesser degree) long-range water rifles. There was some sort of Techno Rock theme to it all, and thumping music was constantly in the background. The primary focus, though, appeared to be walking through the streets of the city. Alf and I joined in, although we were relatively unpainted, unpierced and unbared.
We've gotten ourselves partially computer-enabled here: Our notebooks are handling the different electrical current with aplomb. The phone lines remain a bit dicey, however, so we're actually cut off from the Internet! The hotel staff is working on connecting an appropriate line for Alf's room, so perhaps relief will be forthcoming. Should the disconnection become too unbearable, the "Internet Corner" one block away has several well-wired terminals.
It's about 3:30 p.m. now, and it appears that Jean and the others have been napping. Back on the west coast, it's 6:30 a.m. ... almost time to get up! I do feel some fleeting bouts of sleepiness, but I'm going to try to simply make it through the day as if this is my real time zone. I figure if I can make it through today, I'll be set for the duration.
Later, we decided to go back out, with the rest of the troupe. This time, we found ourselves compressed into a very congested area. We waited around for quite a while, in anticipating of an alleged parade with music-toting trucks, but ultimately the claustrophobia of being surrounded so tightly by so many people convinced us to move along. Of course, just as we left, the parade actually DID start. Nevertheless, we continued onward to a quiet bar for some peaceful conversation and some Chardonnay.
Sandra and Ken, whom I'd never met before, are both totally charming, and it was wonderful getting a chance to meet them. I expect that we'll have some wonderful ballooning and other activities in the days to come. Of course, since Ken is a personal trainer and Sandra runs marathons, when I stand next to them my Darwinian survival prospects look extremely diminished. But that's not THEIR fault, I suppose.
After the Chardonnay we went (yet again!) out to watch the bizarre spectacle of StreetParade 97. This is plainly a major event in Zurich and in the lives of these young 'uns, and it was our obligation to observe and record. Ultimately, though, we shot more film than was truly warranted (including some risque videotaping by Alf that might later prove troublesome going through customs), and we decided we'd head back to the hotel and meet for dinner at 8:30.
By the time we had dinner, it was 9:00. We decided to have a relatively light fare, in the courtyard outside the hotel. The food was simply perfect. I had gravlax, in a nod to my Norwegian ancestry. Adorned with capers, asparagus and a garlic sauce, it made an exquisite meal. Alf had gazpacho followed by thin veal strips with a tuna sauce; Ken had some sliced roast beef that was just the correct shade of pink, and Jean and Sandra opted for a lovely grilled chicken breast with hoisin sauce. Everything was perfect. (I suspect that "perfect" is going to appear at least once in every paragraph I write here.)
After dinner, despite our lack of sleep, Alf and I convinced everyone to go to The Internet Corner, a place just a block down the street from our hotel. Inside, there were about a dozen terminals running Netscape. Alf pulled up the corkscrew-balloon.com web site, and we looked through some of the pages here. The Internet is truly amazing: Here we were, thousands of miles from home, and we were able simply to walk into a corner shop and look through Alf's photo albums. We left his page up on the computer when we left, so the next patron would have an interesting place to browse.
Alf and I outlasted the other members of our party at the Internet Corner, but ultimately we too decided to head back to the hotel. We stopped off in Rive Gauche, the bar downstairs at the Baur au Lac. We were the only people there: Although it was a gorgeous and elaborately appointed bar, constructed all in dark, rich wood, nobody else was taking advantage of the relaxing atmosphere. It was the bartender's belief that the bar's usual clientele had determined that StreetParade was a good reason NOT to come into the center of Zurich today.
After a Chardonnay nightcap, we headed upstairs. I climbed into bed and Morpheus had his way with me within about 1.3 seconds.
Next: Paul's Bern Journal covers ballooning around Bern!