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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Prologue: June 21st-22nd

For the first time, we used AirBerlin to fly from San Francisco to Dusseldorf, then a quick transfer to Zurich. I was warned against them previously by friends in Munich who said they were a small airline that nobody used. However, their bike policy was more than reasonable: pay an annual fee of 79EUR for the topbonus service card, and you get to bring your bike of up to 32kg for no charge. I was struck by the general competence of the customer service agent. We needed a ticket change for XiaoQin because she needed to return to work unexpectedly early, and he would get on the phone to Frankfurt and get information for us. Unfortunately, we had ordered the ticket using Orbitz, and Orbitz's customer service was much worse. Given the price difference ($50), we would have been better off ordering the tickets directly from AirBerlin.

The checkin process went smoothly and the flight transfer went with typical German efficiency. We were through the customs and transfer process within 20 minutes, and what I thought was a ridiculously short transfer time turned out to be enough. Arriving at the airport, we quickly found the airport shuttle for Hotel Flyaway, but it was too small to carry two giant bike cases, our carry on, and additional checked baggage. No problem, the shuttle drive negotiated with another shuttle bus driver who had a trailer attached to his bus and he drove us to our hotel immediately and with no hassle, even delivering our luggage for us.

While XiaoQin took a nap, Phil and I started putting together the bikes under the awning of the hotel restaurant while it rained ominously. If it kept going like this, our first day's plan would be wrecked. The bikes came together quickly enough, and soon we had empty bike cases and fully assembled bikes. While we were putting together the bikes, Phil observed that there was a bike shop across the street from the hotel, so even if we had any missing parts we were conveniently located as far as replacements were concerned!

We had a quick dinner, we took the airport shuttle to the airport for to acquire Swisscom SIM cards for our phones. Phil and Xiaoqin had N1s, which meant they could use the Easy BeFree plan with 4CHF per day of surfing, and unlimited calls for 3CHF. My blackberry, however, was not supported by Easy BeFree, so I ended up with the easy liberty uno. In retrospect, we weren't making too many phone calls with the phones, and we should have put everyone on the easy liberty uno plan, since one phone call a day cost 3CHF on the Easy BeFree plan, which was usually all the phone calls we would make that day on one phone.

We shopped for some groceries, including breakfast, because the Hotel Flyaway's breakfast was priced for Kings. Then we went to pick up the car. We had booked a Ford Focus, but Hertz was out of them so we ended up with a Mercedes A180, a small that that felt like an upscale version of my Honda Fit. XiaoQin was freaked out by how small the roads and parking spaces were, but we managed to get the car into Hotel FlyAway's garage.

Because of XiaoQin's flight plan changes, we had to rebook our return to Hotel Flyaway and change the return date of the car, all of which was accomplished with only minor hassles. We slept well that night, hoping for the rain to stop.

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