Wednesday, May 31, 2017

My First European Trip: The Interesting Adventures of A Consultant

Irv Arons

Recall that I had toured Europe in the fall of 1979, visiting the various contact lens companies that were based there, as well as interviewing notable doctors involved in their use, on an assignment to assess the contact lens companies in both the U.S. and Europe for a Japanese client interested in acquiring technology for starting a contact lens business in Japan.

This was my first trip to Europe and I kept a diary of my daily travels – the first and only time I have ever done so. It’s a good thing I did, because there were several interesting incidents that occurred that you might enjoy.

I flew from Boston to JFK, to pick up my flight to London. I arrived in London at 10 PM, and quickly realized a had made a big mistake. I had a fairly large piece of luggage (I would be gone for over a week.), and hadn’t taken my wheels! (This was the fall of 1979, before wheeled luggage was in general use.) I made it onto the subway and got into London from Heathrow and finally found my hotel, the Bristol. Except they didn’t have my reservation! Luckily they had one room left and I took it and went to sleep without supper, as the kitchen wasn’t open at that time of night.

The next morning, I met my ADL colleague from our London office, who would be my traveling companion (and translator). It turned out, the London office had made my hotel reservations at another hotel, and forgot to notify me. (Again, these were the days before email.) We then went on to the several meetings that we had arranged in the London area. I went to the final one that evening by myself – no problem – they speak Bloody English!

That evening my colleague had arranged for us to meet at a nearby pub for a dinner show. I was quite surprised to find that he and his girlfriend had brought along another girl, his girlfriend’s roommate, whose boyfriend was out of town. After the dinner and show, I got dropped off at my hotel (alone) because we had a busy next day – four interviews and then flying off to Paris.

After our interview in Paris, the next day, we flew on to Strasbourg and our drive to Freiberg for a contact lens conference. We drove through very beautiful farm land and took a local inland route to the Rhine river and across into Germany at a local crossing. The border guards stopped us, took our passports, and searched our luggage thoroughly. They were puzzled by my voltage converter (European to 110v for my electric shaver), but after about ten minutes, finally allowed us to proceed into Germany and we went on to Freiberg and the CL conference.

I spent the weekend on my own, as my colleague took the train to Frankfort to spend some time with friends, after buying me a ticket for my Sunday train ride. Since I speak no German (although understand a little based on my Jewish background), I somehow managed to survive the weekend since I knew the word for chicken (hundchen!).

When I got to the train station on Sunday morning, I couldn’t figure out which track the Frankfort train was on, but luckily, some English gentlemen saw my dilemma and helped me out. It turned out that they were the world famous Amadeus Quartet and also going to Frankfurt. I thoroughly enjoyed my train ride talking to them.

Arriving at the Frankfurt station, I met my ADL colleague and we took the train to our next stop, Aschaffenburg. We arrived early in the evening, and after dinner, went to a movie and I saw Moonraker in German and didn’t understand a word of it!

Following our nearly all day meeting in Aschaffenburg, we took a taxi to the Frankfurt airport for our flight back to London. After leaving my luggage to walk to the gate, I thought I heard my name over the loudspeaker, but since the announcement was in German, I wasn’t sure. Sure enough, when we arrived in London, I quickly discovered that my bag was still in Frankfort.

I didn’t panic too much, but since we were going out of London the following day for two days of meetings, I decided all I needed was a clean shirt and some deodorant to get me through until my bag showed up in London. I quickly went out to try and find a shirt and the only store open had a dress shirt that set me back 27 pounds (or about $50). Finally, about 8 PM that night I got a call that my luggage had made its way to London and would be delivered to my hotel room. You can be sure I got up early the next morning, before our trip out of town and returned that $50 shirt! (I kept the deodorant.)

After a few meetings in London, we took the train to Birmingham, had a couple of meetings there and on to Loughborough.

After several meetings, it was on to Hitchins and then Hempel Hempstead. (Yes, I did get to see quite a bit of England on that trip.)

The next day was my last in England and after several more meetings, I made my way via the subway to the airport and finally got on my flight back to the States.

After what I saw of the beauty of Europe, I made a promise that someday I would return. (And, my wife and I did. A few years later we took a sixteen day tour of eight countries - “If it was Tuesday, it must be Belgium!” As it turned out, we did travel through Belgium on our way from Paris to Amsterdam on a Tuesday.)

We have since gone back to Europe several times, particularly to Switzerland and to Spain, and even took a river boat trip down the great rivers of Europe, from Amsterdam to Vienna, passing through sixty-six locks along the way.


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