Thursday, June 28, 2012


"When I was very young and the urge to be somewhere else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch... now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job."- John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley

Well, I don't get that urge very much; after all, I spent 41 years in Ithaca and 13 in St. Augustine. But I am, in fact, 58, and as the school year limped to its end, the urge came over me really strongly.

"Miss Watson would say, 'Don't put your feet up there, Huckleberry' and 'Don't scrunch up like that, Huckleberry--set up straight,' and pretty soon she would say, 'Don't gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry--why don't you try to behave?' Then she told me all about the bad place [Hell], and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn't mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change. I warn't particular."-Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

That's it exactly. I've been in Korea for going on four years, as a teacher avoiding scrunching up and gapping and stretching, and I needed to go. Somewhere. I warn't particular.

Our school contracts allow for one free round-trip home (or elsewhere) each year. "Home" is a slippery concept for me; half the time I can't tell if I'm in exile or if I'm home already. I gave long thought to going back to Florida and to Ithaca--one day, I need to see if there's anything left there for me--but there are just so many of my personal ghosts in both places that I didn't have the heart this time around.

So I finally decided on Plan B: visit my good school friend Lauren in Copenhagen and my hashing friend Turtle (Samantha) in Germany. I hadn't been in Europe in 36 years (and actually on the continent in 44), and it was time to see if they'd changed anything. I'd never been to Scandinavia at all. I wanted to catch up with Lauren, as I have really missed our regular Sunday-morning coffees, and Turtle. I wanted to go hashing with some different packs. I wanted to be someplace besides here. And I wanted to follow my usual highly detailed travel plan:

Walk around and look at stuff.

I've never been big on museums and statues and such; I'd much rather get a feel for how people live in different places. What do they eat? What do they drink? How do they dress? What do they think about a long, pointless stream of rhetorical questions?

Here I am! No, over here!

It was a long and daunting trip: 24 hours door-to-door to get there, 26 to get back. Just writing about it is daunting enough. I am daunted. Heck, just sending all the photos from my phone to my laptop is going to be wearying. Anyway, I'm breaking up the story into four parts, There...; Danmark; Deutschland; and ...and back again. This is Part One.

Since I became an adult, I've been really scared of flying. I've only just realized that it is, in fact, mostly a story I've told myself. I don't know why I convinced myself of that; it was easier this time, somehow. No reason flights from Incheon to Beijing to Amsterdam to Copenhagen to Berlin to Nuremberg to Amsterdam to Guangzhou to Incheon should make me nervous, right? (After all, I was cool on the train rides from Nuremberg to Bamberg to Nuremberg to Bamberg to Munich to Nuremberg.) Gee, I've almost lost track. Heh.

Well, okay, I was nervous the whole time on every flight, especially on takeoffs and landings. But not scared. I even dozed off for as much as two or three minutes a couple of times.

I am totally adding China to my list of countries visited, even though I never stepped outside the airport. Of course, a Chinese airport is pretty much like any other airport, only with extra-long bureaucratic waits and very little guidance as to which line to stand in. The Beijing airport, or at least the part I was in, looks straight out of the 1950s. And China Southern airlines, my host for the long legs of my trip, needs to fix their in-flight map; I was amazed to see snow-capped mountains in June, but I have no idea if they were in western China, or Kyrgyzstan, on where. And a better selection of movies would have been nice; The Artist was okay the first time around. The second time, it was unspeakable.

Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam was very modern and fancy; that and Incheon are the nicest lufthavns I've seen. It's too bad I was so weary that I was stumbling about as I waited for the flight to Copenhagen...

...which, incidentally, is a lot farther north than I realized. As the KLM jet started its descent at 10:10 p.m., the sun was still up. Then we landed, I found Lauren, and she took me via subway to the apartment she shares with Carsten. We talked a bit, I went to bed, and when I woke up, disoriented, at 3:45 a.m., the sun was already up again.

Ha! Disoriented, get it? Not in Korea anymore? Ah, never mind.

On to Part Two when I've rested up from writing this one.