Friday, April 26, 2013

The Joys of Travel

They were nice enough to organize a surprise!

  Jumping on a plane to travel is always exciting. Hopping on a plane to head home after months away is an even better feeling. There was one big catch, however: I had to travel 27 hours (door to door), and through four different countries to reach my destination. They didn't  say it would be easy. 

  After a surprise goodbye dinner at V & Bruno's Tuesday night (they pulled a fast one on me!), I didn't get to bed til close to 2am. With my alarm set for 5, it was going to be a quick night's sleep. 

The First Leg: Brussels
  The drive to the Brussels airport from Dunkerque is always an unknown. Without traffic you can make the drive in an hour and a half. But weekday mornings are a crap shoot. Sometimes the traffic is smooth and easy. But more often than not, it's a nightmare getting through the Belgian capital. It's famous for its 'accordian-like' qualities. Stop and go once you hit the outer limits of the city, and continuing onto the Ring that circles that city you must take to reach the airport.

V & Lily.
   Wednesday morning, it took us two and a half hours. So I was behind schedule from the get-go.

  It was a sign of things to come. 

  As I checked in for my flight, I plopped my gigantic bags onto the conveyor belt to be weighed; both were over. Oops. But I guess that's what happens when you've accumulated two year's worth of stuff. 

  I was flying Aer Lingus, a first for me. But I have to give them the thumbs up -- waived one baggage fee (out of two), gave me a free coffee on board when I had no cash left (free coffee should be a no-brainer, but not for the Irish airline), and they let me move to exit row, without paying! The flight wasn't full, and they were empty, so why not?

Camped out here for hours in Dublin.
The Second Leg: Dublin 
  I had a four-hour layover in Dublin. Since I had never been to Dublin, or Ireland before, I had been contemplating using that time to get out of the airport and see something in the city.

  With a long day ahead of me, I didn't want the hassle. I didn't feel like dragging myself into the city on a cold, dreary day, so I decided to wait it out in the airport. Luckily there was free WiFi and a nice restaurant area. So I grabbed a little lunch, and the time passed fairly quickly.

  One thing that made me smile was the flight attendant saying 'cheerio!' to me as I left the plane. I didn't know they actually said that! So I have that story to relay about Dublin. 

  I always take my chances with airplane seating at the gate. I've found that the folks at the gate are more willing to work with you and the seats with extra legroom there. At the initial check in desk they always seem to be motivated by getting you to pay for any, and everything possible. Whereas at the gate, they take your situation into consideration, and if there's an available exit row or bulk head, they'll give it to you more often than not. Maybe I shouldn't be giving away all my secrets!

The spread at my au revoir dinner. Thanks V!
  I lucked out  and got an exit row, and we were off!

  For maybe the first time ever, I was asleep before my plane even took off. I remember thinking to myself, 'just make it to the meal service, then sleep.' But before I knew it, my head was bobbing around like only it can do on a plane.  

  A family with three (loud) young children seated across the aisle made sleep longer than short spurts impossible. So I was groggy and in and out for several hours. After awaking from a slumber, I'm always afraid to look at my watch because I don't want to be bummed out when a measly two hours (out of the eight) have passed. 

  The groggy feeling I always have on trans-Atlantic flights is one of being absolutely unproductive. Once the drowsiness sets in, it doesn't matter what movies I have to watch, books to read, blogs to write, I never feel like doing anything outside of resting my tired eyes.

  Of course, the flight to Chicago was long. But it was relatively uneventful. Then the real fun began.

The Sprint Leg: Chicago
  I was one of the first people off the plane. So I made a mad dash through the long corridors to get to customs as fast as I could. I rounded the corner to get in line, only to see hundreds of people already waiting in line. It was going to be a long wait.

The rest of the crew.
  The connection to my last flight home to Portland was in two hours. 45 minutes later, I was still standing in the customs line.

  I those 45 minutes, I still needed to get through customs, grab my two enormous bags, turn in my immigration card, re-check my bags, get a boarding pass for my flight to Portland (they couldn't give me one for my last connection in either Brussels or Dublin), go through security (for the third time that day), and finally get to the gate and board.

  I've never missed a connecting flight. Ever. (Knocking on wood for future travels) But it was going to be a close one!

  Usually, my layovers in Chicago, or wherever in the US, are fairly easy-going. I have time to grab some food, fill up my water bottle, get cleaned up a little bit, and maybe wander the concourse to loosen up my travel-weary legs. Not this time around. 

  By the time I made it through customs and dropped my bags, I had 30 minutes to get my boarding pass, get through security, and get to the gate and on the plane. I was cutting it a little too close for my liking. 

My fancy wine & cheese spread.
  After encountering blase United employee after blase United employee, I was starting to get a little annoyed. They were clearly undermanned (but still in no rush it seemed) because there were many people in the same boat as I was. And lines to get boarding passes and other information weren't moving very quickly. 

  Of course no one moves with the sense of urgency you're expecting them to when you're afraid of missing your flight.

  I got my boarding pass, got through security as quickly as I could, and headed out to find my gate. I know the Chicago airport fairly well, and as I glanced at my watch, I realized I was going to start running. The long underpass from Concourse B to C was my sprint zone. 20 pounds of backpack strapped to my back, made it a little awkward, so hopefully no one was judging my form.

  By the time I got to the end of the corridor and the base of the stairs/escalators, I was breathing hard. One last run up the stairs and I'd almost be there. The sprint up the stairs put me into a full on sweat. Exactly how I wanted to be for my four-hour flight to home. Didn't know I'd also be getting a workout in that day!

Always nice to come home to this. And yes, the sun's been out!
  On top of already needing to wash my face and brush my teeth, now I desperately needed a shower. I arrived at the last gate in the concourse, my gate, with 10 minutes to spare. 

  I gave my exit row strategy another go, to no avail this time around. Minus points for you, United!

The Final Leg: Portland
  I found my seat (in the last row of the plane), and settled in. My ankles were swollen, my contacts were suction-cupped to my eyeballs, I was sweaty, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. I couldn't help but smile anyway. And I still had five more hours to go to Portland! 

  But I was on my way home.


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