Have you ever had that trip? You know, the one where everything that could go wrong did? That was our recent trip to Frankfurt am Main.
It actually started several months earlier, when we were applying for new passports. These are, by the way, our third set of officially issued passports – simultaneously held, and no, we are not international criminals. To come to Germany, we needed an official dependent passport, which is different from our tourist passport, which we need to travel. However, we need to carry the official passport as well. It has the SOFA (status of forces agreement) stamp on it. Making my total haul for each trip six passports – I take the children’s, my husband is on his own. But I digress. For this next assignment, we need an additional round of passports (bringing our grand authorized total up to 15 if you were keeping count).
Armed with this knowledge, we head off to our local passport office to begin the process of requesting the new passport. Unfortunately, the office informed us that we were not eligible to receive this new variety of passport. Well, they added, my husband might be, since he is on orders, but dependents are definitely not eligible. You can however, get a second official dependent passport. So, we turned in all of our vital information and send off our applications.
When we visit our new hometown, our tour includes a stop at the passport office in the embassy, where we learn that we are absolutely in need of this additional passport. Once again, we submit applications for another new passport, without the original documentation (which is already in “the system” somewhere) and send it off. Hoping that it all links up somewhere.
Back in Germany:
We receive notification that our first requests were denied and our original documents are returned. Shortly thereafter, we receive word that passport request number two is approved. And sent to the passport office in Italy, where they are forwarded to me in Germany. Yay, passports in hand, we’re good to go!
We need a visa. So I send all of the passports off to Florida to be taken care of there.
We actually have to sign the paperwork and take it into the passport office ourselves.
My husband’s passport goes to Virginia, where he is temporarily assigned. Mine and the children’s make their way back to Germany. My husband takes his to the passport office in Virginia. It’s sent off. He waits.
I head back to my local passport office, only to learn that getting a visa will require a trip to Frankfurt (far) or Berlin (farther) to process. Oh, and my husband has to be there with me (he’s out of the country until July). Oh, and they only process visas on Wednesdays.
Which brings us to our ill-fated trip to Frankfurt. Because my husband has to be in Stuttgart for the week, he will meet us in Frankfurt. After he jumps out of an airplane.
The children and I are going to take the train. Our first train trip. Ever. We make all of our connections with no problem. The Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof is actually really lovely. We stop at the tourist information office for a map and they point us in the right direction. Everything looks good. We are really close to the hotel. Frankfurt looks like your average city – it’s nice. We head up Kaiser Strasse, then we turn left on Moselstrasse. Then I begin to worry.
It is wall to wall exotic shops, topless clubs and run-down buildings. There is an honest-to-goodness building with red-lights in the windows. And there’s our hotel, right in the middle of it. I’m thinking this may be a bad sign. (Now for those of you who are saying yeah, no kidding, you’re right near the bahnhof – please remember that I grew up in upstate New York, and the (non-functioning) train station is right in the middle of my quaint little town.)
Then, it gets worse.
We can’t check into our room until after 6pm. There is a call in to a repair person. They tell me something is broken. Ok. We’ll take a walk and get dinner. We leave our bags behind a folding screen, where we are assured that everything is totally secure. I take my binder anyway.
We decide to walk to the Italian Consulate first, so we know where it is in the morning. We continue down Moselstrasse. It gets worse. Shady looking people hover in large groups all along the street. There is a public urinal on the sidewalk. I’m beginning to get nervous. I never get nervous. Finally, we reach a residential area and I can breathe easily again. We find the embassy. We take a different route back to the hotel.
Amazingly, just a few blocks up and we are in the financial district. The disparity is alarming. Two blocks away from this decaying, seedy, just plain sad street, beautiful glass skyscrapers dominate the horizon, shining brightly in the early evening sun.
On one block, women prostitute themselves to survive, on another, you find the headquarters of the European Monetary Fund. It hurt my head and my heart to think about that.
We turn back down Kaiserstrasse, which is filled with restaurants, and choose to eat at Bella Romana – it was a highlight in this otherwise disastrous trip. The staff was kind, and the food was delicious. I would absolutely recommend stopping there.
When we finished our lovely meal, it was approaching 6:30 so we headed back to the hotel. The room was still not ready. We were told we could wait in the breakfast room, and help ourselves to coffee – with no charge, but it was going to be at least another hour before it was ready.
Finally around 7:15, the room was ready. We went up, and whatever repairs they made, the floor was freshly mopped. That is the only positive thing I can say about this hotel. There was no fan, there was no AC, the beds lined the hall like a prison room. The TV was broken, the lights flickered, it was a dive. I would have changed hotels, but as my husband was still en route, it wasn’t really an option.
That night, although we were exhausted, the noise outside made it difficult to sleep. With no fans we had to leave the windows and curtains wide open. The red lights in the window across the street did not in fact act as a soothing night light. By 11pm I gave up on fresh air and shut the windows and shades. It helped. A little.
But the best was yet to come.
When we woke in the morning, we were greeted by a swarm of half dead cockroaches. It wasn’t a repair they performed the evening before, it was a fumigation.
We didn’t stay for breakfast.
Before we headed to the Italian Consulate, we reserved a room at the Wyndham Grand Hotel and Resort. We walked over to their hotel – only a few blocks in the other direction, dropped off our bags (receiving a proper ticket this time) and had a lovely breakfast. It was like walking into heaven after the night before.
(While we were booked for two nights at the City Hotel West, because of the unsanitary conditions we left after one night. They are still refusing to refund any of our money for this disastrous stay. I would recommend avoiding this hotel – and anything else on Moselstrasse if you do head to Frankfurt.)
But we still had to get to our appointment. We arrived early, but the office opened about 15 minutes late. My husband had to leave at 10 to make his next appointment (back in Stuttgart) on time. We finished up at 10:30. He arrived with 10 minutes to spare.
And did I mention that they accidentally processed the wrong passports and had to start again? Yes, they did.
The children and I had to return at 3:00pm to pick up the visas. No problem. We’ll go to lunch, pick up the visas, and check into our new hotel room.
The children and I took this opportunity to explore old-town Frankfurt. We decided to have lunch there on the square. It was scenic, picturesque, balmy, just lovely. Then the food came. As I was cutting my son’s schnitzel, I dumped the entire plate on my lap. He’d already added the ketchup. Of course. French fries fell out of my scarf for the rest of the meal.
I finally started to eat my lunch, and the fire trucks came. At least six assorted fire trucks, including a ladder truck pull to a stop right in front of our table. Sirens blaring, lights flashing, firemen pouring from every door. This is never a comforting situation, but it is even less so when you are surrounded by really old timber-framed buildings – on every side.
Fortunately, it proved to be a false alarm. The Frankfurt fire department is wonderfully responsive, in case you were wondering.
After that excitement, we finished our lunch and headed back to the Italian Consulate.
When we entered the office, someone new was handling the paperwork. He made a few adjustments and then handed me passport number 1.
Then, he noticed something on visa application number 2.
“What type of visa are you applying for?”
To which I answer, “I don’t know, why? Doesn’t it say on there?”
“Well”, he tells me, “you have the paperwork for visa A, but what it says here sounds like visa B. What is your status in Italy? Do you have anyone you can call to clarify? If we give you visa A and you require visa B, you won’t be able to change it.”
We first arrived in the consulate half an hour before they opened. We finally left 45 minutes after they closed for the day. Without our passports. We’d have to wait and go back in the morning.
Before we caught our train. On the other side of town.
I didn’t sleep too well that night. Our room was perfect, but I was anxious about resolving this issue in the remaining hours I had in Frankfurt – because we were moving in two weeks.
After another wonderful breakfast, we headed back to the consulate. The staff recognized us.
We finally spoke with all of the right people, and established a new course of action. Our visa needed to be cancelled and we needed to begin the process over again. In Washington DC.
We finally left the consulate, with our passports, without a visa, and without the processing fee.
And soon, thankfully, we left Frankfurt am Main – hopefully for good.
It wouldn’t be a good bad travel story without a transportation complication. Our ICE train was delayed because of a problem with a bridge, which caused major delays throughout the region. We had a connection in 44 minutes. We arrived 45 minutes late to the first station.
We made our connection. Just barely.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, we did get our visas. Eventually.