March 29, 1999

The last time we flew Lufthansa was when we moved to Germany in 1989. Service has certainly deteriorated since then. Fortunately we arrived at Dulles sufficiently early to avoid a mob scene at check-in (about 10 minutes before a horde of students), and found seats adjacent to the gate entry. An hour before boarding standing people had jammed all the open areas. Maybe they knew that there was no boarding by seat number – the only announcement was for pre-boarding.

Two passengers were bought off before boarding, but Lufthansa later realized that they had issued assignments for three more seats than were available! Food choice was theoretically chicken or fish – maybe they thought there would be a big Lenten demand because only partway through the service fish was all that was available. Betty Lou's was bad and the first bottle of sparkling wine from which they served us was corked! [The food on the trip back was much better; evidently code-sharing by United and Lufthansa leads to United providing the provisions in the U.S. and Lufthansa in Germany.]

Since we had four hours before the connecting flight, we took a train into Frankfurt and checked out the area where we had lived. We had been back three years ago and we didn't notice many changes since then. (On that visit we had been distressed by the appearance of graffiti even in our rather upper-class neighborhood.) As we approached the Alte Oper (Old Opera) we were attracted by a colorful array of cars. A car club was displaying their exotic vehicles in the square, including a dozen shiny red Ferraris, a James Bondian Aston-Martin (the vintage, not the armament), and a Porsche Turbo Carrera.

We found that our local wine merchant had sold his shop to a young man (who noted how his renovations had improved the "dark" and "dirty" store). He certainly had broadened the stock – we had mainly bought inexpensive German wines by the liter; he even had a decent selection of American wines!

We stopped at the Metzgeri ("deli" and meat shop) next door and bought a "Frickadella," a kind of hamburger that tastes more like meat loaf, and some German (of course) potato salad. Later we had a "Thuringer Bratwurst" outside a department store downtown. I used to buy one after Berlitz class on the way back to work and have never found them, or at least that tasted like them, in the U.S.

On the trip back to the airport there was a surprise ticket inspection by the transit police. Most cities in Germany use the honor system, backed up by random checks. With typical German thoroughness, they have determined how many inspectors to hire such that their cost is paid for by the fines they levy and the loss of fares that cheaters would otherwise inflict on the system. I learned this from a friend who surveyed "self-service fare collection" practices in several European countries when I was working in the ground transportation area. He said the Swiss were very strict – repeat offenders could not only be sentenced to jail, but they could have their drivers’ license permanently revoked!

In the two years we lived there we only encountered a few inspections. Most were at fairly heavily-traveled times, when a squad of plain-clothes people would enter at a station from all entrances and check everyone before the next station. They were very convincingly disguised, both men and women of a range of ages and attire. We did see several cheaters caught in that time; I think the on-the-spot fine for first offenders was about $35 and of course their name went into the records; repeat offenders’ fines doubled each time. Everybody was legal this time, although it did seem a little cynical to target those who were obviously about to leave the city, if not the country.

Since we were already booked through to Nice, we casually headed towards the gate – and found that ours was only one of twenty gates being served by only three security checkpoints! With several hundred people ahead of us, we despaired of making it through in the half hour before departure. We then noticed that one line, a very short one, was reserved for first class passengers. However, no one seemed to be checking tickets; at least not before entry, so …

After we were all on board for the flight to Nice, we found that we needn’t have worried; we would have to wait an hour on the ground for our flight to be able to fit into the air traffic over France. In Nice there were six people already in line at the car rental counter, which was staffed by one person. Fortunately another soon arrived, so now we were third in line. Unfortunately, the first guy, who only had a three-day rental, somehow had many time-consuming complexities. When we finally arrived at the counter they apologized (not really) for only having an air-conditioned automatic transmission Laguna available. (Although we were guaranteed an intermediate upgrade at the compact price, there was no promise of amenities.)

At the Nice Grand Hotel Aston, we were given the same lovely room as last year, with a balcony overlooking the fountains in the Park Massena and a view to the sea on the right and of the old town and Chateau Hill in other directions, all illuminated to varying degrees at night. (It was only the day before we left that we were assured of a room here for the first night – a convention had taken over the hotel through Saturday and we were on the waiting list.) The weather was cloudy and cool when we arrived but has been brilliantly sunny and pleasant since. Yesterday morning the Nice semi-marathon was conveniently routed in front of our hotel.

As you may imagine, we've been enjoying great food and wine as well as seeing some more of the many sights that are still on our list. In two days we head to Aix to see some of the Provence interior.

Betty Lou has an addendum:

We know why the Riviera is known to the French as the Côte d'Azur. Both the sky and sea are such a brilliant blue that I'm sure that anyone who felt the tiniest bit gloomy from cloudy days or the winter doldrums would be ebullient after an hour or two in this sunshine.

I've been looking through the real estate ads – apartment rentals and sales, and even villas for sale – saying that we could certainly live in this city for several months of the year.

Tomorrow is one of my shopping mornings. I'll go to Alziari's and get my yearly dose of olive oil, saffron, and olive oil soap. I use the soap to wash everything from badly stained clothing to Riedel and Waterford wine glasses. This area and the weather have been so great that I'm ready for Princesshood and ready to stay forever.

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