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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

In Transit at Frankfurt

When making long distance travel, the biggest hurdle is when there is overnight stay between the flights. Staying with a family is unnecessarily inconveniencing them and even though they are family, it is not my style to trouble them for pick-up from airport just for one night. Checking into the expensive hotels is the added expenditure, which is quite a waste if you do not enjoy the privilege of touring the place and the third option of spending the long night at the airport is draining off your energy with sleepless nights. Waiting in transit is no fun at all. I have tried all three and have not been happy with any of those options.

But, only once I remember, some few years ago, during my transit at Frankfurt, from Tenerife to Mumbai, it was a pleasant stay. There are thousands of hotels in Frankfurt and some at very reasonable rates, but when I am travelling alone, I am always scared to go to an unknown place in a strange city and that is why when my travel agent suggested that I stay with a family for a night with just € 60, I grabbed this opportunity.

I paid € 60 to my travel agent in Tenerife and I was told that the man in charge would come to pick me up from the airport. I arrived at Frankfurt airport at 5pm, not knowing whom to expect. One gentleman in late 60’s approached me and introduced himself as Mr. Advani. Most of my luggage was offloaded directly to Mumbai from Tenerife, so I had only a small hand-carry which he helped me carry to his car.

He drove me through the city, pointing out to important monuments on the street on route to his house. After an hour’s drive we reached his house where his wife gave me a warm welcome. They had a small apartment 3BHK and there were three more men in the room who were there to spend a night. Mrs. Advani offered me a cup of tea and asked me if I wanted to go for a drive with her to the supermarket. I went along, not wanting to sit with strangers in the room. On the way to the supermarket, I learnt that they had grown up children who had moved out and they were bored till they found this hospitality business of accommodating the transit passengers. Everyday, they had visitors from different parts of the world whom her hubby had to pick and drop them back to the airport and the woman cooked the meals for their guests. She also had a garment store in town which was not doing so well.

By the time, we returned from the supermarket, we were friends. I went to the kitchen with her and together we cooked meals. (not that she asked my help, but I cannot sit idle if somebody is busy) Unfortunately, she had no helper at home, so besides helping her with cooking, I also helped her wash dishes and set the table. She was quick and efficient and within one hour, the dinning table was set with proper meals of Dhal, Rice, one vegetable, salad and snacks. The men were deep in conversation, sharing jokes and anecdotes, and when we entered the room, they included us into their conversation. They had Indian channels on TV but nobody was watching that.

The time passed quickly for us and also for that old couple who would have been lonely otherwise, but they were happy to hear our rant and it made them feel alive having found an audience to share their stories. They didn’t miss their family or their children who had moved out to the sunnier sides, they were happy that they were doing something worthwhile for themselves; they were offering a safe haven to the lone travelers. It was only for one night for us, but for them tomorrow would be another day with different set of transit passengers.

Since I was the only women in the group, she offered me a private room, which I could lock from inside while the other men shared the next room. Early next morning, after a hot cup of tea, Mr. Advani dropped me back to the airport just one hour before my departure time.

It was the most memorable and safe one-night stay in transit at Frankfurt.

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