Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Illusions newly shattered

When I was offered the chance to attend Fujitsu-Siemens Computers "VISIT 2008" event in Augsburg a couple of months back, I jumped at it. Jollies like this are few and far between these days and my memory of such events in the past is uniformly good.

When I learned UK delegates were to be flown to Munich by private jet from Stansted my excitement leapt up a notch. Memories of our most excellent trip a few years ago to visit EMC's factory in Cork were uppermost in my mind: the 8-seater Gulfstream, the stretch limo, the feeling of ultimate luxury. So it was with great expectations that I set off from home just before 8am to ensure I arrived at the Inflite terminal in good time.

The bloom left the rose slightly when I drove past the gate guard on my arrival. "Make sure you don't leave any gaps when you park up," he advised. "We have to get 100 cars in here today."

Sure enough, for my second experience of private jet travel, it wasn't at all what I'd expected. Gone was the 8-seater executive jet; the leather; the gleaming, polished walnut. Gone were the dainty sandwiches with their crusts cut off, served on crested china plates, fresh coffee in china cups. In their place a 30-year-old Boeing 737-200, its seats configured in the worst charter airline style. I swear there wasn't more than nine inches between me and the seat back in front of me, occupied (as they always are) by a man incapable of sitting still for more than five minutes at a stretch. I couldn't even deploy my tray table without breathing in.

The meal, when it came, was the ubiquitous mystery chicken beloved of airlines the world over, served in plastic, along with a schizophrenic dessert that wasn't sure whether it was apple pie or apple crumble. I couldn't tell you what the coffee was like: I didn't dare try it. Having missed my chance of a pee at the airport after consuming a complementary coffee in the lounge, and with a tray table that wouldn't rest less than 25° from the horizontal, it was too risky on all counts.

Touching down at Munich I finally remembered the mantra of seasoned travellers - never pass up a chance for a pee - and leapt for the gents' as we were waiting at the baggage carousel. After an uneventful (but long!) transfer we arrived at the Hotel Dorint in Augsburg, about 70km NW of Munich.

My room - a slightly more upmarket version of hotel rooms the world over - was very pleasant. The hotel is in a cylindrical building of about 35 floors, only the bottom 11 of which are the hotel. The rooms, arranged radially around the central lifts, are wedge shaped, with a walk-in shower nearest the centre, widening into a well-appointed bathroom which then widens further into the main part of the room. Each room has a semilunar balcony which gives the building the appearance of a series of bubbles on a stick (I've since discovered the hotel is known locally as the "corn cob").

With a free bar starting at 7pm and a late arrival owing to traffic and a massive construction project on the autobahn out of Munich there was just time to phone home and confirm my safe arrival before heading downstairs and seeking out some fellow Northerners with whom to sample the local Bavarian ale.

1 comment:

Don said...

I took a trip in that same plane this summer. They offered no food except for six dollar sandwiches and two dollar tiny bags of pretzels. The guy in front of me maximized his comfort by reclining his seat as far as it would go. The little tv in the seat back was about six inches from my nose. It's good I had at least that much entertainment, because I couldn't reach my laptop on the floor under my feet, and even if I could there's no way I could have opened it in that amount of space. The flight was several hours long, and I was not impressed.