A key benefit of being retired is that one can pick up and take off and travel if one is so inclined. It’s a right we exercise fairly often even though when we retired from the Foreign Service we swore we were putting down roots in Reston, and never getting on another airplane. Tired of travelling, we said. Turns out it must be in our blood. We can’t quit. We still have a lot of places we want to see.
But travelling is getting to be less enjoyable in some respects. Getting to and returning from vacations is now much more of a hassle. Flying in particular is less comfortable than it once was. Security concerns and regulations have made just getting to one’s aircraft complicated, time consuming and, yes, annoying at times. And, the processes vary by airport. Just when you think you know the drill, they change it and add new wrinkles.
The other day we returned from a trip to Europe departing from Amsterdam. What a nightmare! After an hour in endless lines, we were treated to a second inspection of our passports, this one by a machine which was giving both passengers and border officials fits. Amsterdam made our US departure port, Philadelphia, and its TSA operation seem like a piece of cake.
Then there are the planes and airline “services.” We flew to Europe this time on British Airways and back on its partner, American Airlines. It was our first time on BA, hopefully our last. I’ve never seen so many seats crammed into a Boeing 747 plane. I’m about 6 feet tall and now weigh about 185 and my economy aisle seat was tight. The guy in the seat next to me was barreled chested and sitting straight up he was 2-3 inches into my seat space. My knees touched the seat in front of me. The 7-hour flight was uncomfortable for me, worse for him. He ended up standing for half the flight. No way I could sleep on the overnight trip. More insulting, I had to pay $55 extra to reserve my economy seat in advance! Free snacks-none. Free drinks — only one: water. I think United is bad, but BA squeezes even more out of passengers. The trip back across the pond on American was marginally better — 1 or 2 inches more legroom, free pretzels and juice.
However, the time in Europe on a river cruise down the Rhine from Basel, Switzerland to Strasbourg, Mainz, Heidelberg, Koblenz, Cologne, and Amsterdam was fascinating and enchanting. Even the weather, forecasted to be generally atrocious, cooperated. Cool, cloudy at times, but it did not interfere with our enjoyment of the castles, cathedrals and colorful, attractive little towns along the way. The Rhine is a journey through history — fortifications and monuments from the Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, the Heidelberg of Mark Twain, the Gutenberg Museum, the great gothic Cathedral of Cologne (the only structure left standing after the Allied bombing of the city), the ruins of the Bridge at Remagen (site of a major victory by the U.S. Army late in WWII), and more.
Something that struck me in particular was the sense that we were seeing the lifeblood of the German and European economy in the boat traffic on the Rhine itself and in the constant railroad activity — passenger and freight trains — along both sides of the river and on the bridges over it. Someday, I hope the United States will once again invest in our railroads.
The time in Europe was educational and enjoyable. But it is nice to be back home in Reston looking forward to a great annual event: the opening of the new season of the Reston Farmers Market Saturday, April 21, our earliest opening yet. With five new farmer-vendors, the Market should be better than ever. Go to: www.restonfarmersmarket.com to get all the details. We’ll see you there!