I got off the plane in Dresden starting to feel a little nervous about exactly what I was to do and where I was to go. I would have given a lot for a travel partner, just so it wasnít all me making all the decisions. I seem to remember this is somewhat how I felt when I was in Japan for the second time with Kelly, although Iíd had at least some experience already because of my school time in 1994. This, on the other hand, was totally new, and I was already feeling out of place.
It became quickly obvious that the airport in Dresden was brand-spanking new as it was shiny and clean. Itís also apparently going to one day be an international airport; there were passport and immigration control windows installed but they were all shut down. I guess the airport was rebuilt recently because of all the new business from the hi-tech companies coming in to the area. There were only a few people on the flight, so my luggage arrived in short order. I could hear a few Americans speaking with one another around the baggage claim. It wasnít really just me coming in I guess. I rolled my suitcase out of the baggage area and into the main lobby of the airport.
Itís not a huge airport, really, probably smaller than Austinís, but itís very cool looking. I noticed more manga for sale at a bookstore nearby! That must be really popular here. Several nice coffee shops and what looked like an arcade were nearby. The arcade, however, didnít seem to contain any actual games; they were all old blinking analog lights and push buttons. Iíll have to check those out on the way out of Dresden. I quickly located the Europcar rental booth and headed to it.
A man in front of me was also from Austin and working with the same company; they must get that a lot. The man behind the desk asked for my driversí license, and for some reason he didnít care one bit about my international one. Maybe you donít need it here? He assisted in getting the car ready, showed my where to pick up the car, and handed me the key. I then asked him for directions to my hotel, the Steigenberger ParkHotel, which Michel, the guy Iím working with from Austin, had given me a vague description of how to get to. He pulled out a map and drew on it, showing me how to go. That seemed easy enough. I walked out of the terminal, snapping some pictures as I went. I didnít feel like breaking out the SLR, so Iím glad I brought the A75. There is something to say for convenience over picture quality sometimes.
I headed across the walkway to the parking garage, and it really reminded me a lot of Austin Bergstrom outside. The weather was gorgeous Ė about 50 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. This was certainly not what I expected, which was cloudy, rainy, and cold as all get out. A nice surprise was definitely welcome to say the least. I followed the manís instructions on how to get to my rental car, and arrived at the row. I was in 108; apparently Germans write 1s like very vertical 7s. Iíve seen it more than once now. I noted the numbers on the ground and started counting up. I could see a very cool car up ahead and immediately dismissed it, but as I followed the row up, I realized the numbers were in fact going every two. 100, 102, 104, 106Ö Huh? This *canít* be my car, I thought. I looked around, there werenít any other 108s, and sure enough the number underneath it was 108. ButÖ itísÖ tooÖ cool. Disbelievingly I clicked the remote. The lights flashed and the doors unlocked. Holy CRAP. I really thought maybe they made a mistake. My car was a Peugeot 407, which, quite frankly, rocks. Itís swoopy and modern looking, and is actually much nicer than my Jetta at home! I loaded my stuff into the trunk, broke out the GPS, and got inside. Swan-kee. It doesnít have leather seats, but it has pretty much everything else, including an integrated information panel in the center of the dash that controls A/C, radio, trip counters, speed, etc. I started up to the sound of the modern diesel sputter, turned on the GPS, and pulled out of the space. At first, I took the wrong way down an aisle, but I simply went up the next. I followed the signs for the exit, and moved my way out of the parking garage. I was having some trouble with the stick shift as I couldnít seem to find the gears. Itís a very sloppy shifter, or maybe Iím just used to my SE-Rís sport short shifter since I drove it before I left. I realized the GPS still thought it was in the US, so it wasnít finding any satellites. I pulled over to the side of the road (there were three lanes) and turned on my blinkers. As I futzed with the GPS to get it to figure out where it was, a man pulled up behind me and flashed his lights. He sat there for a moment then finally pulled around me. What, do blinkers mean nothing here? Once the GPS was mapping, I set a waypoint, and pulled out onto the road, trying hard to remember the different rules Kevin had told me about.
I remembered Michel had said to drive straight down the road after turning right, and this matched what the guy at the rental place had told me. His directions, however, had me turning left onto the Highway 4, and I was a little confused, so I missed it. I realized after Iíd passed what happened, but then assumed Michelís directions were probably similar, so I continued on. Straight, then left, then itís somewhere on your right, Michel had told me. Okay. As I drove, I felt a little relief Ė the big plant where I was to work appeared on my left, and I recognized it instantly from both the pictures of it in Austin and the description from Michel as it being on the route to the hotel. Cool. Iím on the right track, I thought.
I continued down the road, and it suddenly made a sharp left into what I thought was part of the plant. That canít be good. I turned right, following another car, and this dead ended into what looked like a farm road. Trust Michel, I thought, trust Michel. I turned left again, following what little else was in the set of vague directions in my head. The map wasnít helping; it only showed major roads. This became a very tight road in the middle of houses, and I recalled something Rick (another guy I work with) had told me. ďTheyíll just park in the middle of the road, so watch out for that.Ē He wasnít kidding. Along the way, people were just parked in the lane, not even really trying to be close to the curb or anything. It was a slalom course, and everyone was doing so, but courteously, which was fortunate. I came to an intersection, and wasnít sure whether I was to stop or not. Was I on the main road? Did it curve? The signs didnít help, and I didnít see anything Kevin had told me about. I dove across this intersection, noting the light to my right and metal barricade. The GPS was mapping my movements, which was handy, since I could see, like a trail of breadcrumbs, where I was going. Unfortunately, I hadnít yet loaded the German maps, but if they were anything like the Japanese, or even the US maps I had available to me, they wouldnít be of much help.
I ended up dead ending into another road. This time I recognized the little ďbig line-small lineĒ sign that denotes the major street, meaning which one has right of way. It wasnít really a question at this intersection, as my street arrived at a 40 degree angle in the middle of a 90 degree curve on the main road. I waited my turn, and guessed I should turn left. Left I went. This started to go down a big hill, and a flag went up in my mind. I seemed to remember that Michel had said that Dresden downtown was below a big plateau, and the hotel was on that high point. Uh oh. I followed this road, trying to find somewhere to turn around. Crap crap crap. I never did find anything, but as I continued I ended up crossing 4 again. Ah HAH, now I knew where I was. I took the left turn onto the highway headed back north, since I thought I was south of where I needed to be.
An interesting tidbit of driving info Ė right before the light turns green, the yellow light comes on, as if it was a reverse succession of the red light. I actually like that, because it gets your attention, and you donít ever miss it. I drove north on the big highway, staying to the right. However, the next exit was Dresden Neurenburg or something, and it WASNíT ON THE MAP. Ackph. I decided to get off until I could figure out where I was. This, however, was a bad move since it forced me to go east. I drove for a bit, trying to find somewhere to stop and get my bearings. I ended up turning into the entrance to a plant, then sitting on the side of the road. I compared where I thought I was to the GPS and where I wanted to go. The GPS was remarkably helpful, since it showed me I was just south of the airport. Okay. I must be north of where I was trying to get to. I waited at the red light (no right turns on red), and the headed back west to the freeway. Right after Iíd pulled out, my GPS fell to the floor, twice, and I reached down to get it. When I came back up, a man passed me on the left , then swerved his car at me. I hadnít swerved or anything, but I was driving kind of slow. I guess I pissed him off somehow.
I got back on the freeway headed south, as I realized I was too far north. To my surprise, the next exit was the Dresder-Wilder Mann exit, which was the one the rental car guy had suggested to me. I exited and realized that it was the same place Iíd just come from! So I was in the right place, I was just headed the wrong way. I turned right and headed back up the hill Iíd just come from. Now, I thought, I am on the right track. I followed the road, curving past where Iíd turned before, and looked for the turn off the map showed and the pen markings confirmed.
It never came. I ended up past that point, way past, and didnít see *anywhere* to turn left. I made a right and headed back through the town. Up and down this area I went, taking every possible turn looking for the roads to be even remotely in the configuration the map said they should be, and doggone it they just *WERENíT*. There were only street signs on the *small* roads, and none on the ďbigĒ ones! Not to mention the map only showed major streets, and what this map considered major was anyoneís guess. Needless to say, I was tearing my hair out in about 20 minutes. ďWhat is WRONG WITH THIS PLACE???Ē I screamed, now headed back up the road I came from in the first place.
As I approached the intersection Iíd gotten confused at with the light and metal fence, and realized I wasnít the only one who had become confused. There was a car with a mushed front end and a van with a blown tire that has been thrown into the fence. Apparently it wasnít very obvious who had right of way, and in the absence of stop signs, it was enough . It actually made me feel a little better to see the wreck, since it wasnít just me who was out of touch. I took a left and maneuvered around the wreck, headed to the bizarre circle intersection at the end. This intersection Iíd just gone through, and itís probably equivalent to a roundabout in London, but it only has one lane. Itís a loop with four intersecting roads arriving at each of four sides. To go to the other side, you enter traffic on the circle, loop around, and then go straight. Thereís no concept of right of way here, although you have to yield to people already in the loop. The worst part is, when one side gets going, it *keeps* going and suddenly the circle is loaded with traffic from only one road. Since no one else can get in, and no traffic is looping back around for a U turn (which come to think of it, I never thought of trying!) that entrance wins and suddenly youíre sitting twiddling your thumbs in frustration. I threw my Peugeot into the mix, diving haphazardly in front of an old-style Mini, thinking maybe straight across was the correct way to go. Maybe I just wasnít looking at the map right.
A minute later I found myself in farmland again, and decided I was definitely not the right way. What looked like a park was nearby, and had I not been completely annoyed, tired, and terribly hungry, I might have stopped to take some pictures. Not this time. I used the park as a u-turn zone and headed back down the only street Iíd located a name for, Dresdner. This was of course the street on the map, but it didnít remotely map in practice what the map said it was supposed to do! Another farm road lead me to a dead end, but was generally in the area of the hotel, I knew it had to be. I had to back up since there was no room to u-turn, and of course someone was coming down this teeny tiny road. They seemed courteous, allowing me to back up past them (uphill, mind you, in a standard transmission) but as soon as I passed the T-intersection they were waiting at, they dove in front of me, just as I was moving back forward to head the way they were coming. My frustration spiked; for some reason, no matter what bitty road I decided to drive down, someone ALWAYS was driving up behind me and honking or trying to maim me with their car.
Finally, I decided to ignore Rental Car Guyís directions and use instinct instead. Using the crappy-ass map, I headed back towards the freeway and the only other street that I was sure I knew was on the map. It was about halfway down the long hill, and as I approached it, HALLELUYAH there was a sign for the Steigenberger pointing in the direction I was planning on going. ďOh, FUCK YEAH!Ē I screamed in the car, no reservation whatsoever. I followed this road, which made a ďyou have right of way so you donít have to stopĒ 90 degree turn. That was unnerving. A slight right turn later I arrived at a large street I assumed was Meissner, a street on the map as well. The signs for the hotel had magically disappeared a while back however, and frustration was setting in again. My instinct made me turn left and I prayed the GPS knew was still mapping.
As luck would have it, about half a mile later, another sign showed the Steigenberger to the right, and when I took that turn, the hotel happily greeted me from the top of a very short hill. Waves of relief brushed over my jet lag and low blood sugar clouded mind, and I pulled into the small parking lot in front of the hotel. Inside, the Cheeriest German Man Ever had me fill out the paperwork and swipe my card for a deposit. He handed me a 14 pound keychain I swear was made out of pure lead, then showed me where the included breakfast was every morning. I was assigned a villa, which was in a building away from the main one. I thanked him and followed his directions with my Peugeot into the underground parking garage, then drove to the back where I could take the exit out.
I parked, confused as to which spot to take, then looked around. He said there was an elevator, but I saw none. All I saw was an exit for the ďAugustusĒ villa, which was mine, through a very nondescript door. I took this anyway, fearing having to carry my heavy-ass bag up a flight of stairs. Another door stood in my way, but behind it was an elevator. Phew. I took this up one flight to the main level and stepped out. This was the main lobby of the villa, and I noticed my room number was on floor two (which is threeÖ it goes 0, 1, 2). I took the lift to my floor, went through the small access door and entered my room on the left, finally feeling a little more alive, albeit starving.
This entire process took TWENTY FOUR HOURS. I left my house at 8:30am Saturday and arrived at 3:30 PM Sunday Dresden time. This is seven hours ahead, so it was, in fact, 8:30 AM all over again. Itís easier to get to TOKYO than it is to get to Dresden. That makes no freakiní sense.
As I entered my room, I was immediately reminded of what Kevin had told me; it was a suite. Effectively a small apartment. It has a bedroom, big bathroom, separate toilet, living/dining room and a kitchen. The furniture and décor is very Scandinavian I think, and is quite 70ís modern. I actually kind of like it. It makes me feel like Iím living in Ikea. I put down my stuff and sat down on the couch for the first real rest Iíd had in probably a week. The TV was no help, however; *everything* is in German, outside of BBC News and CNN Europe. Enterprise was on, and TíPol was telling Archer that a religious group had taken control of the ship, only because Iíd seen the episode, and she mentioned a word that sounded like ďreligionĒ. I left this on and found myself slipping into sleep on the couch.
About two hours later I woke up, just as hungry as I was before, and now extremely sleepy. I really needed to go back out and find the way to the plant for the next morning, but BOY did I not feel like it. I finally kicked myself in the butt and decided I needed to find food. I picked up my SLR and headed to the basement of the lobby where the front desk guy enthusiastically had told me I could enable my paper parking ticket to be valid for the entire visit. I did so, then walked way to the back of the garage where my car was. The ticket worked like a champ, and I drove back out to Meissner. I turned right this time, in an effort to get a lay of the land. I didnít know what the speed limit was, but apparently I never hit it; people kept going around me. I think it was 50KmH, but even then people would pass me in the middle. I finally saw one of the public light rail trains that run on the same streets, and realized that they made it impossible to put lane markers. Thus, people were passing me on the train tracks. The train tracks veered in and out of the normal lane, and I just couldnít figure out where to drive! Plus, I kept missing shifts, and this made it difficult to drive anyway. At one point I was playing with the little ring that locks out reverse and I nearly plowed into someone behind me; reverse is by first gear. I then decided playing with it was probably a bad idea.
I continued down this road but it really didnít take me anywhere useful. I finally turned around by a big store which I realized must have been the ďHome DepotĒ of Germany. Everything was closed, however, so I couldnít go in anywhere. I went back down Meissner toward and then past the hotel, hoping to figure out where I would turn left to get back to the plant. After I passed a Maserati dealer I didnít recognize, I knew I must have missed it. Crap. I kept on driving, just for interest, but wondered what I was going to do about that. Since it was nighttime, I was a little nervous I might not be able to get back. I passed a Tex-Mex restaurant (as labeled) and vowed to try it before I leave. My experiences with Tex-Mex outside of Texas have not proved appetizing, however, so Iím not sure why this is in my plans really. A moment later, I saw a really breathtaking sight; the river was to my right and along it, up ahead, were some old-looking building that were beautifully lit and were reflecting off the surface of the water. I continued on, wondering if I could find somewhere to take a picture.
A little while later I went under what I think was 4 again and turned right. This took me across a bridge over the river from which, I decided, was the perfect vantage point to take a picture of those buildings. I drove around a little, getting somewhat mixed up again, and found somewhere on the street next to it to park. It was very dark, near a river, and I really didnít feel safe, what with carrying a horrible expensive camera and other hardware. It was in my backpack though and wasnít visible, plus being on the bridge really didnít allow anyone to get close to you without being blatantly obvious. I briskly strutted my way in the cold night air to the center of the bridge where I took out the EOS and snapped some long exposures, using the wall as a tripod. As quickly as Iíd come, once Iíd taken what I wanted, I reversed course and huffed it back to the car, passing another man who was taking pictures with a little point and shoot. The camera was diligently trying to flash to lighten the exposure, but Iíd imagine his flash wouldnít reach the quarter-mile-away buildings. I was very pleased to have had my SLR.
Back in the car I realized I wasnít quite sure how to get back Uh oh. Then it hit me. GPS! It was off, but I could set it to track the hotel, where Iíd set a waypoint, and that should be enough. Sure enough it pointed in the right direction. I headed back across the bridge, but at the intersection I was sure I needed to turn left, I wasnít sure how to do it. There were big concrete barriers preventing people from getting left as the trains ran right there, but they ended just before the intersection. While I *could* have turned left it was a very broad intersection, and because of the incredible spaghetti of train tracks going every which way, there was not a lane marking to be found. I decided, in my lack of knowing what a no left turn sign looks like, Iíd just have to go straight and double back. This was harder than it seemed; the road didnít really allow it. Three rights make a left, though, and after nearly running a red light (since there were about six visible lights at that intersection and half of them were green) I ended up back on a street going the way I wanted. At one point I ended up having to make a right turn from a street which is betwen two different streetlights, but doesnít have one of its own. I may have completely broken about ten laws at that point, but nobody seemed to stop me, so hopefully it was okay. I got back on the road I was trying to get on in the first place, though, and knew I was headed in the right direction. I passed Burger King, and in my fatigue almost stopped to get food, just for something fast and I could eat at the hotel. I decided against it and continued along Meissner past the Maserati dealer. I used to GPS to find the road Iíd come from originally and remembered what it looked like for the morning.
A moment later I was at the hotel and went back to my little apartment. Here, I ordered room service, which consisted of chicken wings and chicken cordon bleu on gnocchi, plus a four euro bottle of sparkling water. Sheesh. The wings barely cost that! After I ordered, however, I realized I didnít know if you were supposed to tip! I checked the phrasebook, and fortunately they had this information Ė usually the service charge is included, but you can ďovertipĒ if you wish. Cool. The food finally arrived, and I signed for it. I chowed down in front of my laptop, watching the first two episodes of 24 from the second season Iíd compressed before I left. The gnocchi had been frozen I think, and was badly freezer burnt, so it was gross. I was so hungry though I didnít really care, and I scarfed down the wings, cordon bleu, and some of the pasta. I let my food settle, then headed down through the courtyard of the hotel to the lobby of the hotel, laptop in tow, to use the internet access.
I found a quiet spot near the pool, and as I sat down I was instantly reminded by something I saw that I was in fact in Europe. There were *naked people* out at the pool. A man, his wife, I guess, and a couple of other people were getting in and out of the outside portion of the heated pool, which runs through a tunnel into the solarium inside pool. My mind was shot for a second, but at this point, it didnít surprise me much. I turned on the computer. Crud, I forgot, you need to get access from the lobby. I was hoping my hotspot account would work, since it was Tmobile, but no such luck. The man at the front desk sold me a wireless Internet access card for 9.5 euros. This would allow me 5 hours of access, and only in the lobby of the hotel. Ah well, at least it was something. Of course I noticed it also has a data limit, which really kind of stinks considering how much data Iíd like to send.
I returned to my quiet spot and hooked up. This worked fine despite the full moons outside. <rim shot> I connected my Skype phone service and called my parents to tell them I had arrived. The service works great, by the way, even calling to a land line overseas. I checked email, then shut down and headed back to the room, where I pretty much passed out instantly, knowing I had to get up at 6:30 to go to work.