The Art of Sleeping

The quantity of sleep that I got last night is actually something I consider an accomplishment. I’ll never be sure whether it was the right choice to forgo the cushioned couches in the noisy food court for the hard floor of the quiet chapel. It probably didn’t make too much of a difference, in the end, since I only went to sleep a little after 2:00 and had to check into my flight at 4:00.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. My flight didn’t leave til the next morning, so why be in a hurry to get to the airport? It wasn’t until I was setting my alarm that I realized my critical mistake.
As a result, I made it my personal mission to spend the maximum amount of transit time asleep as was possible. This involves, for me, the practice of never fully waking up. As other people rushed through the airport and pushed their way onto the plane, I floated dreamily along. 

I went straight to my gate and was delighted to find that the seats there did not have armrests. I caught almost an hour of sleep before my plane started boarding. I didn’t use earplugs because I didn’t want to get left behind, but the repetitive tune of some electronic advertising itself soon became white noise. 

On the plane, a baby or small child was throwing a tantrum. thank goodness for my earplugs. I swear I will never again travel without them. 

I was in the row before the exit row. Although this meant I couldn’t lean back in my seat, it actually worked out pretty well. There were meant to be three seats in a normal row, and I would have been in the center. However, the window seat was completely missing. Unlike being in an aisle seat with the mere illusion of more space, I could actually stretch as far as I wanted in that direction.

I was afraid I would miss the airplane food, but the smell woke me up just in time. It was decent. I’m not in a position to ever turn down free food… well, “free” with your purchase of a stupidly expensive seat on a mediocre aircraft. 

I was also awake just long enough to witness some atrocious airplane etiquette. The seat next to me was occupied by a very nice girl who I would guess to be approximately my age. I can call her nice because of how she handled the following situation, which I never could have put up with.

A few minutes after getting our food, the woman in the seat in front of her abruptly leans all the way back. Then, she removed a clip from her hair. It was stuck in her long, unkempt locks, and she pulled it out straight behind her seat. This lady’s disgusting hair was only a few inches from my neighbors face when she finally snapped the clip out and let it fall.

I was too shocked to react for a moment. I mean, I was stunned. Did that really just happen? I had to laugh. I offered sympathy to my seatmate. 

It wasn’t five minutes later that the women in that row played musical chairs and the hairmonster ended up in front of me. Again, snaps her seat back. I was a little resentful even of this, because my seat didn’t lean back at all as to not obstruct the exit row. Then, she flipped her hair up so it draped over the back of her seat and right in front of me.

Today I learned why they don’t let you take scissors on board a plane. That woman would have had quite the haircut.

I wasted no time in poking her arm aggressively until she would acknowledge me. I assumed that this must be like training a dog. I’ve never had a dog, but I’ve heard you have to correct them right away or they won’t connect their mistake to the reprimand and just be confused. I’ll do more research before I adopt. You know, dogs probably don’t deserve to be compared to her, but I don’t know anything about training goldfish.

I noticed the baby screaming again towards the end of the flight, but it had lost its voice almost completely. 

When we arrived in Frankfurt, I found out I was not connecting to a plane. I was connecting to a train, with a car operated by Lufthansa, my airline. This irritated me a little bit. When I booked online, I was given no indication that part of my journey would be on a train. Even when I was checked in, I was given a boarding pass for my connection that referred to it as a flight. It was on the airport departure boards. It left from “terminal T,” which I arrived in Frankfurt to discover is the platform in the adjoining train station.

I like trains. Clearly, I rely on them quite a bit. I had no problem with part of my journey today being by train. I have a problem with being charged for it. I’ve invested quite a bit of money into a Eurail Pass, and I would like to make that worthwhile. I’ve already paid for the train. Buying a ticket from the airline means I paid for it twice.

I roused myself from my sleepy state to try to get this money back. I was passed from one Lufthansa help desk to another, until finally I was told that they couldn’t help me at all. Since Polish Airlines owns my ticket (which doesn’t make sense to me, first of all, since I’m on Lufthansa flights) I needed to bring this up with them. This is only possible online, because they don’t operate at all in Frankfurt. 

I find it highly irritating when companies refuse to take responsibility. I’ve had several issues with this trip to Athens, like arriving in Greece 12 hours late, hat evidently no one is accountable for. Really, it’s not in the best interest of Lufthansa to work with a company that treats it’s clients this way. All of my flights, services, and issues arose while I was in the care of Lufthansa. They’re the ones who look bad.

After all this, I still had over an hour before my train. I went to a small coffee shop above the station and attempted to buy a bottle of water. It was almost €3. I have officially left Greece, the blissful oasis of hydration in this long and thirsty journey. Every restaurant in Greece gives you water when you sit down and then, unprompted, they refill it. I was magical. If you happened to be at the acropolis or a museum, there were public water fountains everywhere. Or, if you preferred, you could buy a bottle for €0.30. But those days are behind me now. I will remember them fondly.

I bought a tea instead, as it was cheaper, and didn’t take a sip of it. It was a small place, but I immediately passed out on the least conspicuous (although still quite obvious) couch. I didn’t awake until it was almost time for my train. A very animated German man had apparently just started his shift, and discovered my sleeping body when he came to investigate my apparently abandoned bag. I’m just thankful that I wasn’t in the middle of another bomb scare. How embarrassing would that be.

The girl behind the counter tried to quiet him, evidently being aware of my not-so-sneaky napping all along. I don’t think the guy had a quiet mode, though. He is probably one of those people born without an indoor voice. “OH, SLEEP, SLEEP!” he yelled at me reassuringly, when he had finally caught up with what was going on and stopped trying to start conversations with me in German. I rested just a few more minutes there before heading down to my platform.

The train was quite comfortable and I got another hour of sleep here. I actually prefer trains to planes, when the time is about the same. All of these naps, I hoped, were adding up.

I was excited to spend my afternoon on Cologne. The first order of business was to freshen up. After so many overnight trains, sleeping in airports, and just generally being on the go, I have this down to a science. Wash my face, put on deodorant, put on makeup, and I’m fresh as a daisy.

The second item to take care of was my luggage, and after I deposited that I would find some wifi so I could figure out how to get to the cathedral. I passed by the huge, floor to ceiling windows that make up the three story entrance to the station on my way to the luggage area. There, staring me right in the face, is the cathedral itself. The building is stunningI liked Cologne already. 

I ventured into the cathedral. It’s amazing outside and in. I was told there was a service about to start. Feeling quite lucky to have randomly stumbled upon a mass at 12:00 on a Thursday, I took a pew. It took me a while to realize that what I was attending wasn’t a mass. Since it was in German, I just assumed that the responses of the congregation just had a different rhythm and length. Eventually, though, I did figure out that it was some kind of prayer service. At this point I picked up the program I’d been given. If I’d looked at it in the beginning it would have been clear, but now I had no idea where we were. The whole thing lasted less than 30 minutes, after which I got up to look more closely at the elegant church.

Cologne didn’t seem too crowded at first, but it really was. It just sneaks up on you because it wasn’t your usual tourist population. The place was teeming with young teenagers. Or their grandparents. Maybe they weren’t all related, but there were just the two age groups and almost no one in between.

I noticed tents set up around and went to one labeled as information. Someone there told me that this week was a Christian youth conference. There would be live music later on and some other things over the weekend. 

It seemed more crowded every minute. I wonder if maybe the weekend was the main event, and people were arriving for that as it got later on the Thursday afternoon. I tried walking around but it the streets were so full it was hard to move. It had seemed like a sweet small town at first, but as you walked around it felt more like an outdoor shopping mall. Every street was shops. You had high end stores and discount footwear. It was odd. I did find a place that sold Cologne original cologne, which was interesting to smell. The scent that started it all?

I realized I needed to get some food, but I also needed to check wifi at some point before heading to Brussels. I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone, but unlike Greece, wifi isn’t at every restaurant here. I wandered around for a pretty long time before I decided to give up and go to McDonald’s. There was one in the train station and one a block away. I tried the one in the station first, but it was packed to the gills with the young Christians. I checked the Starbucks, but it was no better. When I got to the McDonald’s a block away, I decided I’d have to stick it out. Then, of course they tell me after I order my food, there is no wifi. Also, they charge for ketchup.

I headed back to the train station yet again to find a coffee shop with wifi. I knew they have an aversion to ice here, but this place had never heard of iced tea. I probably wouldn’t have needed to order anything, the employees were so apathetic. I took a couch in the back of an alcove and looked up the directions I needed.

I’m not sure what lead to me falling asleep there. At this point, I’m only 50% sure that I haven’t developed narcolepsy. The hippie music might have done it, though. When I wake up, I set an alarm to go off before my train. I doze there for another hour or so before I leave Cologne. There were museums that had looked interesting, but I was too tired to fight the crowds. 

The train was very comfortable, and each seat had an electrical outlet. I needed one desperately, since I had saved the directions to get to my hostel on my iPad which had only 5% battery left. Of course, it was too good to be true. When the conductor came around to check tickets, he told me that it was a private train and my eurail pass wasn’t good for it. 

Fortunately, by this time my iPad had gotten some charge. We were most of the way there, and the ticket man didnt make me buy the new (very expensive) ticket. He told me to get off at the next station and catch the following train to Brussels, which arrived about five minutes after. No big deal.

The instructions for getting to the hostel after you arrive in the city are horrible. They seem okay until you get here, then you realize that they make no sense. As a result, I got to know the area around the train station better than I really would have liked to. It’s never a nice part of town. Hostels aren’t ever in a nice part of town, either. You just have to hope that none of it is too bad.

When I was finally checking in, another group of Americans were at the same time. They were five young men who had all been in the same fraternity in college. I asked them if they wanted to join up for dinner, and we decided to meet up after half an hour.

I went to my room to drop off my things and walked in on a young Muslim man engaged in prayers. I had no idea what to do in that situation. I wanted to be as respectful as possible, but I was afraid that if I left I’d look intolerant. If I stayed, I didn’t know whether I should cover my hair or wait til he was finished to start moving my things around. 

It all worked out find, of course. I set down my bags and he introduced himself after he finished. He is from Morocco but moved to Nice for work. In Nice, the discrimination against Arabic people had been to great for him so now he is moving to Brussels. He seems really nice, and I hope it works out for him here. His story makes me sad.

I went downstairs to meet my American friends. Even now, I still couldn’t tell you what any of their names are. They were really nice and funny, and we spent the better part of the evening together, but I was pretty tired by this point. Plus, they were thrilled to hear this, I kinda just felt like I was hanging out with my dad and his old frat buddies. Each guy reminded me of someone specific in my dad’s old friends. In my head, they’re young Rusty or Kevin. In real life, I’m sure they’re lovely. Whatever their names are.

One of the guys had a friend in town that was somewhere approximately a 20 minute walk away. This sounded manageable. It turned into nearly an hour. It was a lovely hour, though. We walked from one end of the city to the other at dusk, and Brussels is very beautiful.

When we finally arrived, I knew right away it would be too high energy for me. There was a square filled with young people and loud music. The boys were too hungry now to wait any longer for food, so we ducked into the nearest restaurant. 

It was a Chinese place, and one of the most expensive for quality that I’ve seen in Europe. Brussels is another city with perfectly safe tap water that forces you to pay for bottles at a restaurant. At this restaurant, they just charged you for tap water. Brussels is already killing my budget. It’s perhaps a good thing I’m not here for long. Unlike other weeks, when I can borrow against my future weekly budgets, this is the end. It’s my last week, and the last money I have to my name. When I run out, I’m up against zero. It’s a little more stressful like this.

After dinner the boys were all ready to go party, and I was ready for bed. I maybe should have asked a few more questions in the beginning about where we would be going and what we’d be doing. I found my way back across the city pretty successfully. I took an accidental detour and saw the cathedral at night, which was quite nice. Men here aren’t as aggressive as the Italians, but still “appreciative.” It was annoying but harmless, and I made it home safely. 


3 thoughts on “The Art of Sleeping

  1. When I was flying, we called it “boring Brussels”. I never really figured that city out. We stayed at the SAS hotel by the Grand Place. Every floor had a different theme and the bathrooms had heated floor tile. I’ve wanted heated floor tile ever since….insanely luxurious.

    I hope your blog is searchable so that Lufthansa gets a good shaming when anyone looks up Lufthansa customer service.

    • That’s why I mentioned their name so many times. I’m considering writing an angry letter.

      Thanks for suggesting Bruge! Great call 🙂

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