Our method is to make a list of our next dream trip on the way home from the last one. This is not entirely as ridiculous as it sounds, for, as we age, we have to reassess what we are capable of doing. Our endurance is dropping exponentially as we age. That having been said, we were pleased at how well we made it up and down some grand staircases, achy in the joints but not puffing at all.
11-29-13 saw us on the road by 9 am, though our flight out of Baltimore was not until 8 pm. We like to get through to our city of departure as early as we can, while missing rush hours as best we can, so that any delays will not be fatal. So we had planned an afternoon at the NSA Cryptology Museum just a few miles from the airport [BWI]. Ron has always had a fascination with Cryptology [code-making, code-breaking] and since I am fascinated by him, I was happy to go along. It is a small museum, but very well done. The first exhibit shows the hand-drawn emblems the hobos used to mark on houses during the Depression. This appealed to the folklorist in me, as such a code would have been spread verbally among a special group, to be used by both literate and not.
Right after this, the Assistant Director of the NSA, John Inglis, who happened to be there that day, came up to us and engaged us in conversation. Director Inglis asked Ron was retired NSA. Ron was not, but we had a nice talk on the machines at the museum. Instead of a business card, Director Ingles gave Ron a NSA medallion as a keepsake. What a thrill.
The NSA is responsible for so much of the development of computers, from the room size machines needed during WWII to the miniatures of today. We especially enjoyed the exhibit on the Amerindian code-talkers of WWI [!] and II, as shown in the movie about the Navajo in “Windtalkers” with Nicholas Cage.
We bought Ron some books and a portfolio with the NSA emblem on it that he knew would fit his new mini-laptop. This is the origin of the Fictionary term “engineye” meaning someone who can look at something and tell its size, as opposed to engineer, who can hear stuff.
We went on the airport to find that all of the public parking was full and/or closed except for the $22 a day. We should have thought of this, it being the day after Thanksgiving, but we didn’t. Only a moment’s flummox, when we spotted a private lot Park ‘n’ Fly still open. They would park us valet style but we would have to leave the keys. We found this agreeable, and the crew there so helpful and efficient, that we were impressed with private enterprise vs. government services yet again. [Even though airports used to be private, they rarely are any more.]
And also let me gush about British Airways. They have the most comfortable fleet, gracious staff and standard luxuries of any we have flown. First checked bag is free; 2 meals are served on the 8 hour flight across the Atlantic; free booze is available; pretty good-sized seats and legroom; and they have individual TV screens in the seat-back ahead of you. They also give everybody a blanket, pillow, headphones and toothbrush. We watched lots of TV, slept some and arrived at Heathrow [London’s airport] at dawn 11-30-13. We had a grand second-breakfast of coffee, eggs and Cumberland sausage. [the best of British “bangers”]
Our flight was delayed—and delayed—and they finally told us that the windshield had a crack in it, right side, and had to be replaced. We joked that they had replaced the co-pilot, not the windshield [as in the old joke].
During the wait, I made my way to the Multifaith Room to thank God for our safe passage and blessings. The room is mostly set up for Muslims, with curtains to keep women and men apart, arrows toward Mecca and little rugs. But there was a chair there and I sat to pray. There was a Muslim man at his devotions and we studiously ignored each other. Surely, I prayed, there is but one God and we all strive to reach Him. The real question, which has haunted me lately, is when do we choose Christ? More importantly, when does He choose us? I prayed that all might be reconciled and understood at the End.
Take off at last. I watched as we ascended above 2 stately homes, one surrounded by a huge park with a serpentine lake. We flew over Windsor Castle, with its double bailey and mile-long avenue. We basically followed the Thames out over Hertford to Amsterdam. Europe proper was covered with clouds in amazing patterns, looking like plowed fields with hedgerows. [Mental Floss has a t-shirt that asks why hedgehogs can’t just share the hedges?]
I was too tired to think and my diary wonders, “what is the wind chill at minus 43 degrees F, while flying 400 +/- mph?” You do the math.
Another question was that, since I couldn’t see the curvature of the earth from 37,000 feet, why did people figure out the round earth from ships dipping below the horizon as they sailed away. Or did this give rise to the idea that they were falling off the edge?
Before I could rant anymore, although they are some more notes about cloud shapes I will spare you, we landed in Berlin. All went smoothly with customs and we were thrilled to get our passports stamped—not all countries do it anymore, even if you ask. We caught the airport bus, only to find it had no stowage for luggage and we wrestled to hold our rolling bags in the aisle all the way to town. We drove right past the Brandenburg Tor [gate] and Under den Linden [under the Linden Trees Ave.], which is completely under construction. We got off just off Alexanderplatz and walked to our hotel.
Ron picked us a wonderful place, spacious room with casement windows overlooking a tree full of ravens.
We got settled, and then went out in search of supper. We found a marvelous BBQ restaurant, serving bacon-wrapped turkey kebabs [Ron] and rotisserie chicken [me]. We ordered 2 kinds of slaw: white which is very vinegary, like kim-chi; and red, which is red cabbage with a sweeter dressing. They also served us herbed potatoes, boiled with rosemary and butter. All in wonderful ceramic-glazed tin dishes, which they probably think are American. They were playing 1960s American rock ‘n’ roll and had one of those Rosie the Riveter “We can do it” signs on the wall. No hard feeling for WWII, I guess. We were charmed by what we thought of as German tasting food! We taught our waitress to say, “Mighty fine” in the best Southern tradition.
Walking back to the hotel, we found a grocery and a drugstore, where we bought the necessities: Coke Light and cookies.