Well, that was easy!
Woke up this morning, had the usual: Aeropress coffee, steamed milk, and a frozen breakfast sandwich. (Hey, no time for the usual yoghurt and muesli, alas.) A friendly coworker agreed to pick me up on his way to work, so I rode in style: fancy Japanese import, Pet Shop Boys on the fancy sound system, and lots of talk about the new PSB releases (Further listening style CDs). Woo.
Work turned out to be another typical day: the latest rumors/insults from our New Benevolent Corporate Overlords, support calls that will essentially be unsolvable until I can convince the engineers that wrote the code that it just doesn't work under certain real-world conditions, and a faint soupçon of pigeon management (long story). I was happy to see Dan pull up in the afternoon, smiling and ready to slog it up to LAX, which is ordinarily about two hours' drive from San Diego.
And two hours' drive it was, with one pit stop somewhere in darkest Orange County that involved a Mexican day laborer wearing an "I HEART MORTGAGES" T-shirt coming out of the Mendocino Farms restaurant nestled inside of a Whole Foods almost entirely filled with White People Enjoying Quinoa (also Kale). Livin' the stereotypical L.A. dream, am I right?
I more-or-less enjoyed a beet-quinoa salad with more than one too many ingredients: it would have been fine with just those two things, but someone back at corporate HQ must have thought it needed additional value-adds. Tiny oranges? Sure, why not. And how about some unspecified seeds? Bring it. Eesh.
At LAX, Dan kicked me to the TBIT curb, we said our goodbyes, and I dragged my bags to Iberia. A Spanish couple mistook the exit lane for the business class line, and I tried to give them the spot in front of me, but they were too dang polite, so I got the first agent to tag my bag (priority - sadly there will be no frequent flyer status for me next year as I've flown next to nothing this year!) through to Basel. From there, it was about an hour through security, including a lengthy inspection of my chocolate sea salt Rx bars, which I guess do something unspeakable to the TSA scanners.
I had a perfunctory shower at the oneworld lounge, tried to shave my neck to clean up a little bit (pro tip: nearly impossible because they dont' have a way to stop up their sinks or keep the water running until it's hot), but was very impressed with the super friendly lounge staff, one of them who managed to come up with a full size can of shaving cream just for me (which I'll never use: when you're shaving about one square inch of skin once a week, it lasts decades - I still have some East German shaving cream I bought in Leipzig in 1988, for example). I enjoyed one glass of excellent California sparkling wine to celebrate my sabbatical, ate a little bit, and eventually made my way to the bus gate for the schlep out to the remote stands.
I had a window seat near the front of the plane, which was just fine: not a lot of room, but just enough to lean against the window to sleep. My seat mate was an older L.A. native who said she'd remembered when there were still houses just to the west of the airport; she was on her way to Nice with some friends, including a lovely Chinese American woman who had that peculiar habit of pronouncing every foreign place name as if she weren't speaking English. Impressive trick, but I dunno. Just because I can pronounce Strasbourg quasi-Frenchly, I'm not in a hurry to do so because I find it confuses people.
The flight went by quickly for me: I managed to sleep just enough, but started it off with a mini-bottle of cava and their vegan meal, which was an atrocious lentil patty on some cold white rice. Never again - the regular meals looked a LOT better. And what with it being Iberia, I was delighted to see Almodovar's All About My Mother on the seatback video, which I thoroughly enjoyed, although it was a little weird having it stuck on a subtitle with a few F-bombs during a lengthy turbulence announcement at one point.
We landed in Madrid bang on schedule, immigration wasn't a problem, finding the oneworld lounge was, and opening a second bottle of cava was a mistake as it pretty much doused me in sticky-sweet wine. Ah well, that's what the diaper changing room is for: to rinse out and look even more disheveled than your typical international traveler. I grabbed a few snacky snacks and steeled myself for the two hours' flight to Basel - I've flown Iberia economy before and it sucked, with worse seat pitch than even Spirit.
Much to my surprise, I checked my email while I was waiting in line to board the plane and saw that Iberia had emailed me ten minutes before boarding with a seat change notification... to 1A. Cool. So, my flight to "Switzerland" turned out to be pretty cush - a big-ass BarcaLounger of a seat with a full meal (some kind of meat stuffed with apricots and olives, like the Reconquista had never happened) and even some garbage white wine (at least I finally got to taste Airen, which is as bland as I'd expected).
Basel airport was tiny, it only took a few seconds to pass through passport control, and I sat down and waited for my backpack to show up, which it never did... on the main luggage carousel. Instead, it showed up with oversized luggage for some reason, which happens more often than I wish it did, because I always think they'll have lost my bag shortly before I find it. I removed its protective $5 IKEA bag, folded it carefully, set it behind me on the seat, and repacked everything from my carry-on duffel into my backpack proper. (I do it this way because neither my picnic knife nor my hiking poles are allowed in the airplane cabin - so I have to check them along with the backpack itself, which is slightly too big as well). I then hoisted it up, decided to take the French exit, and then set about wandering the airport grounds for an hour until my bus to Mulhouse station was set to arrive.
Turns out there's a perfunctory "customs post" in the middle of the airport, which is really just an empty desk with a poster warning against knockoff designer handbags. That was fun to walk through twice. Over in Switzerland, people were better dressed and obviously flush with cash. France was smoking a lot. Suddenly, my Flixbus app popped up with a notification that my bus was over an hour late. Not cool, I'll miss my train connection to Strasbourg, so I remember what I read on the Internets and start walking to the far end of the outermost parking lot to get to the street that leads to the train station. Surprise, they've put up a new security fence, so that totally isn't going to work, although I can see the PED XING sign just through a gate that is sadly locked.
All the way back to the airport to catch the bus, which is running on a totally mystifying schedule (again, we are obviously Not In Switzerland here) that as it turns out gets you to the train station just in time to miss the train unless you're fit enough to walk-run your way to the platform, which I am. More annoyingly, shortly after the bus leaves the airport, I realize that I've left my IKEA bag sitting on the bench next to baggage claim, which is sad because it had my favorite baggage tag on it (an ancient REI plastic business card pocket with a Draplin Design Company bright-orange sticker on the other side). As an aside, I wind up emailing the friendly folks at the airport, but no one ever finds the bag and it's gone for good. I suppose they just assumed it was trash because who would leave an empty Ikea bag at baggage claim? Trashy people, that's who.
I hop the train without buying a ticket, making sure to board in front of a conductor. I ask him in my impeccably bad French about buying a ticket; he smiles and says something about it not being a problem and then something about "that way" and that's more French than I can handle in one go. So I sit down and wait for him to come back, which he doesn't before Mulhouse station, so now I've earned enough euros to buy another IKEA bag at some point. Yay.
Mulhouse station is dullsville. The bar has already closed for the evening, so there's zero chance of me getting a picon biere or whatever before my train leaves in an hour. I amuse myself by wandering around slowly and cursing at the ubiquitous French smoking nonchalantly pretty much everywhere, somehow at perfectly spaced intervals guaranteeing full smoke coverage at all parts of the station. Sadly, they've tweaked the materials used in French cigarettes so much over the past quarter century that there's zero chance of it smelling like my student days, when I was foolish enough to smoke Gitanes. C'est la vie and shit.
The train comes, I plop down into my cramped first class seat, and head to the bar car for a celebratory glass of Bordeaux and a baggie of mini saucissons secs. Mmm tasty. It's not far to Strasbourg, I alight and dash the few blocks to the Ibis Petite France, check in, and somehow get to sleep despite being directly above a streetcar and next door to North African Immigrant iPhone Ringtone Party, which at least wasn't yet augmented by Bad European Reggaeton, which started up the next morning, but I digress.
Ibis being Ibis, the room was perfect for me: enough room to dump the backpack on the floor, a totally clean and functional shower, and nothing else. I cleaned up, drank some melatonin fruit punch courtesy of Pfizer, and zonked out, happy to be on the road.