September 29, 2013
Cattles, I tell you.
"Where are you going?" he says.
"Mainz," I say. (Main-z)
He quirks an eyebrow. "What are you doing in MAI-NZ?"
"Flying back on the 6th."
He flicks my passport back toward me. Not even a smile. Sheesh.
Anyway, the first thing I do upon officiallty reaching Germany is take a long, satisfying leak. Been drinking too much in-flight -- and yes, I did use the toilet somewhere over Ukraine. Then, after retrieving our bags, Mr Azmi leads the way. He spent almost a year in Germany 8 years ago. I'm already in 3 layers of clothes: a thin T-shirt, a form-fitting sweater, and a jacket. Because of this, I don't really feel the cold when we exit the airport to wait for a shuttle to Terminal 1. But. BREATH-SMOKES! It's just after sunrise, and 10C, and the air is crisp and fresh and absolutely awesome.
For EU4.90 each, we take the regional train to Mainz. The coaches are almost empty, and as the train speeds along its track, Mr Azmi regales us with stories of his time here. We pass empty fields dotted with cylindrical bales, houses with uniformly tall slate roofs, and the collection of Opel complexes (Opel has its own train station--that's how big it is). We reach Mainz southwest of the river Rhine after slightly over 30 minutes. The buildings look architecturally old (I eventually learn that Mainz is over 2000 years old) and here and there are ruins of the Roman Empire. At first glance, it looks like a quaint township. Also, crisp winds blow from everywhere and I finally feel the cold.
I come from a land where the sun is still deep within the bones of buildings even though it is already half a world away, so 10C is COLD. Heh.One of the first things I notice, other than the warm scents of fresh pastries, is the amount of broken bottles that littered the pavements, and a certain sense of...emptiness. Granted, it's only 9 on a Sunday morning. I can't help but compare the Mainz I see with Fremantle, Australia, though in truth, it's so much bigger. Buses and trams stop in front of the train station, but since everything is in German, and we don't really know where our hotels are, Mr Azmi asks if we should just walk.
Hells, yeah.Turns out, I'm well-prepared for travel. Seeing that every 20MB of internet bandwidth costs RM48, my data roaming is off. However, I have installed an offline GPS-based city map app, CityMaps2Go several months ago, and Word Lens, an app that translates texts in other languages into English (I know, right?) when I hover the phone-camera over them. Word Lens was installed over a year ago, but I recently purchased German & French translations. Anyway, we part ways as my hotel is way farther down the road.
Breakfast spread consists of cereal, museli, huge bowls of fresh yoghurt, cuts of unidentifiable meat, breads and croissants, fruits, and several choices of hot brew and juices. I go for the safest bet, which is yoghurt dumped with mixed fruits, bread, croissants with Nutella, and juice. No tastebud explosion, but breakfast is still good. Then, having so many hours to kill, I decide to explore Frankfurt. The receptionist lets me keep my luggage in their conference room, so I just carry the Crumpler backpack I borrowed from Kasha. It's still heavy, mind, with all the camera gear and other junks I've shoved inside.
It's almost eleven and Frankfurt reminds me of Perth in winter. The temperature is still cool (15C) but not that bad, but hey, I'm in 3 layers of clothes. The sky is a crisp blue, with minimal clouds. However, Frankfurt also feels entirely different from Perth, because the vibe of a huge city still there. People walk fast, and cars and taxis are everywhere.
I check my map, not knowing where to go, but it's not that helpful. Fine, I still don't quite know how to use it.
So what do I do? I walk a straight path from the station. And I just walk. And I snap photos. Surprisingly, the shops are all closed, leaving only restaurants and cafes open. Yeah, I kinda didn't know that in Germany, shops and malls are closed on Sundays (still not sure about public holidays). Like, what gives, right? Anyway, no chance to shop means more chance to not spend, which is always good. One of the malls has an observation deck on the 7th floor, so I make my way up, fist-bumping with a short German guy (my height) who has a bottle of whiskey in one hand.
"Garble garble garble Mr Jack Daniels garble garble," he says.
I nod. I assume he's praising the alcohol brand. We fist-bump again.
A city is a city is a city, right? Not quite. I've had the pleasure of getting a bird's-eye view of Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Penang, Bangkok, Jakarta, Perth and...oh, what the hey, Kota Bharu and Kota Kinabalu as well. Each city has its own character. Frankfurt has modern skyscrapers interspersed with huge cathedrals, and lined with railway tracks. The river Rhine runs along the city, and bridges of various sizes and shapes connect both banks.
Still. 7th floor is not high enough. I need to go higher. I activate data roaming long enough to check the the location of Main Tower (see the half-cylindrical building with the red-and-white rod sticking out? That's the tower). I wince as WhatsApp and email notifications come flooding in. THAT'S PRECIOUS BANDWIDTH, DAMNIT!
I take off my jacket as it's getting slightly warmer. Or, maybe my body has warmed up from all the walking. Before heading for the tower, I check out the mall next to the one I'm at, and I'm glad for the decision. Part of the glass roof is a funnel that arches up and widens toward one end.
The light that bathes the mall because of this is simply amazing. More inspired photos. Would have been better if the shops were open, but no matter.
I walk toward the general direction of the tower, craning my neck to make sure it's still within sight, and pass by a row of upscale brand stores. THANK GOD THEY'RE CLOSED! Further down the road, beyond a bend, is the entrance to the tower. EU8 to the observation deck.
Notice how I'm listing the price here? I almost never think about the cost of things, but with a 4.41 exchange rate where my RM5k is equivalent to EU1.3k, my expenditure counts! I even end up making a list on Evernote.
The view from the 55th floor is even more breathtaking, which causes my lungs to burn slightly because of the cold, crisp air.
Remember the train tracks and Rhine with its bridges I mentioned? There you go. You're welcome. I think it's over half-an-hour before I decide to come back down. Between snapping pictures, I just stand there, breathing in the fresh air, listening to people chatter in a language that's alien to me, and like I always do whenever I get to witness something this beautiful, I just...exist.
Masya-Allah. By the grace of Allah, I simply exist.
You see, for someone who's having an existential crisis, I get choked up by this reminder. It gladdens my heart that such beautiful things exist, and it saddens me knowing that there is so much more I haven't experienced, that there is so much more I will never get to experience.
So, for now, a little closer to the heavens, surrounded by strangers, I exist.
Then, after finally coming down back to the ground, I walk. My ultimate goal is the train station, but I'm not in a hurry. I cannot consider myself lost when I don't have a destination, so there is no fear, no agitation.
I walk along a path that cuts through a park dotted with sculptures. People are lying on the tall grass, in the sun. I mean, I'm so used to avoiding the sun that seeing this still fills me with wonder. I end up walking to the Alter Oper (opera house), where this lone guy is playing violin for an appreciative crowd. I snap a picture of him, but he turns away, so I just shrug and drop a EU1 coin into his collection box.
He calls me back to snap a proper picture of him playing. "Now you can take photo," he says, still playing the violin.
Somehow I make it back to the train station. Well, the GPS-activated map helps. I hop on a train back to Mainz, not knowing that it's Mainz-Kessel, which is on the wrong side of the riverbank from my destination, Mainz Hbf. Good thing I have a day-ticket, huh?
I consider it a small blessing, because not only do I manage to learn the train schedules and platforms, but I also get to find wonderful gifts for Arwen.
One down, seven more family members to go.
Once I reach Mainz (the correct station this time), I walk back to the hotel, get in my room to shower and pray, and transfer-and-edit the photos I've taken.
Then I make my way back to Frankfurt.
Yes, I do.