Europe Summer 2016 – Katie’s Journey to Leipzig

Katie and JT journeyed to RoboCup 2016 along different paths.  This post is written by Katie about her trip from Austin, TX to Leipzig, Germany.

After leaving the RoboCup lab shortly after midnight, JT and I headed home. I still had to pack, so I did not get to sleep until just after 4am.

I woke up at 6am and we left our apartment at 6:30am. The American Airlines check-in area at AUS was very busy when I arrived, and even the Priority lane was crowded. I got my three bags – including one overweight bag – checked for free as an AA Executive Platinum. I zipped through TSA Pre and reached the gate area shortly before boarding began.

I boarded quickly since I needed to stow the robot heads bag. Then I worked on my laptop until the boarding door closed.

Egg strata breakfast in AA First from AUS to ORD
During taxi, the first class flight attendant came around and took drink and meal orders. Breakfast was a choice of egg strata or a waffle. I opted for the eggs, which were good! The main dish – egg strata with potatoes and sausage – was served with a fruit dish including a strawberry, kiwi piece, and pineapple piece and a fluffy warm biscuit.

I was pleased with the level of service on this flight. A departure drink was served, meals were served quickly, many drink orders were taken, and the flight attendant was generally friendly. This was an example of great AA domestic first!

My flight from Austin arrived just four gates down from my departure gate for the flight to Dusseldorf. I had a five hour layover though, so I walked around the airport to get my daily steps in before heading to the Admiral’s Club.

Champagne at the ORD Admiral’s Club

The Admiral’s Club was not too crowded so I was able to get a shaded window seat. I enjoyed some champagne and got some work done.

8J on an AA 767-300 retrofit

I had used one of the System Wide Upgrades I earned by reaching AA Executive Platinum to upgrade to business for my flight from Chicago to Dusseldorf. I had seat 8J, which was in the last row of business.  I actually really liked this seat!

Amenity kit in AA international business class

Each seat has a package comforter, full-size pillow, and amenity kit when I boarded.

Four choices for dinner and two for breakfast.

I was served a welcome champagne shortly after boarding. A few minutes later I was provided a menu. During taxi the flight attendants came through the cabin and took dinner orders. Despite the cabin being close to full (about 4 open seats), nothing ran out!

Flight attendants distributed and set-up tablets for those in business class.

The cabin had no in-seat entertainment, but tablets were distributed shortly after take-off. The Bose noise canceling headphones were great – comfortable and actually good at canceling noise. The entertainment options were more limited on the tablet than they would be on most flights (i.e. only one option for most television shows, instead of multiple), but there was still a wide variety of options.

Plenty of table space at these seats.

I found the seat to be rather comfortable and spacious although it was not completely configurable. The amount the foot rest would tilt seemed dependent on the tilt of the back.

Cold nuts and drinks.

Warm towels were distributed before drinks and nuts. Next white table clothes were brought out.

The first course was served on a tray with another white table cloth. This tray had a bread plate with butter, a crisp salad, and a fresh tasting but difficult to cut flaky tomato tart.

The salmon tasted strange, but overall the meal was good!

I chose blackened salmon with broccoli, Creole rice, and corn for my entrée. The corn and broccoli were really tasty and well cooked, but the rice was rather spicy and the salmon tasted strange. Nonetheless, it was still good.

No AA ice cream sundaes on this flight, but the ice cream was enough for me.

For dessert there was a choice of heath bar crunch ice cream, raspberry tart, or cheese plate. I chose the ice cream and savored it slowly.

I struggled valiantly to put away my tray table after dinner. It took me about 20 minutes of fiddling with it before I figured out how it folded away.  Sure, I could have asked for help – but I was too proud.

I slept nicely on the lie flat bed until being woken for breakfast before landing as asked. I wish the comforter had been longer – as it would not cover both my arms and legs – but at least it was very warm and soft. The pillow was full-size and fluffy. I slept much better on my back than my side, but this was mostly due to the comforter not being wide enough to cover me while sleeping on my side.

American breakfast on American.

Breakfast was a choice of a fruit bowl with yogurt and granola or eggs. I opted for the eggs, which were somewhat disappointing. The eggs were hard and the potatoes were overcooked. But the small fruit bowl and biscuit were both good. The fruit bowl even had mango in it!

Collection of the in-flight entertainment tablets and headphones began about 1.5 hours before landing. I had finished using mine, but this seemed to irritate some other passengers.

I found myself just wanting to relax and soak up the experience for the last hour. The product was pretty sweet, although I’m sure the tablet entertainment is a killer for some.

The two flight attendants serving the business cabin on this flight were effective and friendly enough. They were not great, but certainly acceptable. I did find it strange how useless the purser seemed. His main job duty during the flight seemed to be gazing out at the business class cabin.  He also made some strange remarks over the intercom at the beginning of the flight commanding that it was not allowed to stand anywhere in the plane, including the aisles, galleys, and near the bathrooms.  It’s healthy for people to walk around and stand, so it seems to be rather poor if this is actually American’s policy.

Interestingly, 8A – the mirror to my 8J seat – was a pilot rest area. Curtains folded out from the overhead compartments to create a rest cubbie.

I was sad to see the flight end, but happy to see an early arrival into Dusseldorf. Once in Dusseldorf I cleared immigration, walked inside the secure area from Terminal A to B, got my boarding pass from the transfer desk, and found my gate. I had time, so I wandered over to Terminal C to see if I could find the AirBerlin lounge, but it was outside of immigration, so I decided to stay within the EU.

Boarding the little turboprop at Dusseldorf.

My flight to Nuremberg ended up departing 70 minutes past schedule at 10:10am. The plane was not very full, so I opted to sit in 8A instead of 11A in order to get my own row. The head bag had to be gate checked since the Dash 8 Q400 has really small – pretty much useless – overhead compartments.

Raisin roll on the short AirBerlin flight.

The flight attendants served raisin rolls and a small selection of sodas and juices on the short 45 minute flight.  We both departed and arrived using stairs and buses.  As we deplaned, the flight attendant offered a chocolate heart to each passenger!

I was surprised to see that all three of my checked bags appeared first on the baggage belt.  This is a OneWorld elite benefit, but we’ve found it usually doesn’t actually happen.

At this point I started the most dreaded part of the trip – trying to maneuver two backpacks and three robot bags (including one at 54 pounds) on three train legs and then a 15 minute walk to NH Leipzig Messe.

No room for anyone but me.

I had consulted the Bahn app, and noticed that the U-bahn ride from Nuremberg Airport to Nuremberg Hbf was not included in the ticket price.  I bought a 3euro ticket and made my way relatively easily to the U-bahn station.  Once on the U-bahn, I felt really guilty taking up an entire four seat section with my massive amount of luggage, but I really couldn’t condense it any more.

Once at Nuremburg Hbf, I almost fell backwards on the escalator when a bag toppled over.  The guy behind me – who to his credit did prepare to catch me – tried hard not to laugh out loud at me.

This pile of luggage made a quick track change impossible, delaying me by two hours.

I made my way to track 6, as that’s where the Bahn app claimed the ICE train to Leipzig Hbf would be departing.  I had about 20 minutes to departure, so I awkwardly made my way up the escalator to the track.  As I’m sitting at the track, I see that no one else really seems to be waiting for the train anymore.  I check the app and see that the track has changed – but with my massive amount of bags I fail to reach the new track in time.

I enjoyed views such as this at the Nuremberg Hbf much longer than expected.

I lug all of my bags to the Bahn help desk, and admit that I missed my train due to not seeing the track change.  The agent validates my ticket for a later train and gives me a new itinerary for no charge – but the new train leaves two hours later.  I gather my energy in the office and then lug all of my bags back up to track 6 where I sit until the train arrives.

I take my bags onto the train in two steps and leave all of my bags except for my small backpack in a luggage area.  Then I finally find an open window seat about one car away.

The train ride was rather uneventful.  Despite being seated in a ‘quiet’ car, the guy across from me listened to very loud music from his headphones and children ran up and down the car.  I wouldn’t say it was actually any quieter than a normal ICE car.

After riding for about 3.5 hours, the ICE train reached Leipzig Hbf.  I uploaded all of my bags and made my way past the RoboCup Welcome tables (where I said hi to the volunteers) to the S-bahn.  I took the SX5 one stop to Leipzig Messe, and then started the worst part of this journey – dragging the robots to the hotel.  Parts of the walk went over rail lines, across gravel parts, and over cobblestone – all of which were not easy with heavy and awkward bags.  But I did it!

NH Leipzig Messe hotel room
I feel somewhat bad that the guys on my team are splitting rooms like this.  But apparently the beds can be pulled apart.

I quickly checked in, and was assigned a room next to Josh who had arrived about 30 minutes before me.  I quickly unpacked and then Josh and I went to explore the surrounding area.

Leipzig Messe is a pretty RoboCup venue.

We walked over to the venue (where we saw the fields in the glass arena but nothing else) and then checked out all of the stores nearby.  Nothing was open on a Sunday evening, so we defaulted to having KFC for dinner.  Not what I wanted to eat for my first dinner in Germany on this trip, but it satisfied my hunger.

After dinner I worked for a bit before getting to bed to try and get on a German schedule!

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