Travel log: Transition Day
5:00 PM EST After last minute preparations, packing and repacking carry-ons, and loading the car, we head to the airport a little later than expected. Through a tearful smile we say our goodbyes to Matt's mom and head to check in.
5:30 PM EST We barely oblige the check-in requirements. Luckily we purchased premium economy seating, so we were given some wiggle room with Condor Airlines. Who knew that carry-on luggage is so different on international flights? Ours were originally too heavy so we had to so some shifting around.
6:30PM EST We sit down to airport food at an American style diner with a couple good IPAs. Thanks to you, Goose Island, for helping us wash down the dry "Hawaiian" chicken sandwiches.
9:00PM EST We board our flight and so ensues Kailen's witching hour. We take off later than expected, adding to our frustration and inability to get her to go to sleep on our laps. Thankfully our aisle-mates don't seem to mind her crankiness. Good thing she's cute.
11:00PM EST We have been in the air for awhile now and Kailen finally succumbs to her sleepiness. The hum of the jetliner knocks her right out and she stays asleep for hours. For a toddler trying to find comfort on our laps, she sleeps soundly and well. We, on the other hand, manage to get hardly any rest at all.
12:00PM EST We are served second dinner - baked ziti with an appetizer of smoked salmon and a side of marinated prawns with capers, shredded zucchini, cheese, and grapes. Matt smiles ear to ear because dessert is caramel cheesecake and a Kit Kat. Man, European airline food is much more delicious than what we're accustomed to.
3:00AM EST+1 We are in the air for what seems like an eternity. My husband gleefully reminds me that we would just be touching down had we flown west coast to east coast USA. Still no sleep, and people are opening windows because the sun is rising. What freaking time is it anyway?
5:15AM EST/11:15 CSET We finally touch down in Frankfurt, Germany. We are pumped and get a second wind thinking about how much we've accomplished. We exit the plane straight onto the tarmac and hop on a bus. Did I mention we have a lot of carry-on items and a baby with us? The bus is hot. We sit here for awhile. The bus is really hot. Someone isn't wearing a lick of deodorant. It's so hot. It's quite possible no one is wearing deodorant, actually. I hope it isn't Matt. That'd be embarrassing.
11:45 CSET In a sweltering and cramped bus we are taken around the entirety of the Frankfurt airport, which is O'Hare on German steroids. I can't wait to get off this bus. We get inside, no AC quite yet. A lady in front of us is gracefully traveling with 3 children, two in a buggy. I turn to Matt and say "oh shit, where is the stroller?" She informs us she picked hers up on the tarmac. Crap, what do we do now?
12:00 CSET Frankfurt is a maze. We are shuffled around corners, through hallways, and up and down escalators. Finally we arrive at an area where we need to go through security again and show our passports. I'm afraid that we are about to leave the airport and will not be connected to our next flight. But we forgot the stroller, which means going through security now and then to baggage claim, where our stroller might be. But that will force us through security all over, again? What the what?
Now mind you, I haven't done this international transfer in a long time and neither has Matt. We have no idea what's going on here. But in our defense, neither does anyone else. The signage in the airport is lackluster so we perceive it as a chaotic mess. We are in a swirling sea of grumpy, tired people from all over the world. We decide not to go through security and try to find our gate so we can discuss our misplaced stroller with Condor Airlines. At this point we have walked about a mile with two large personal items, two heavy carry-ons , and a hangry baby that's using all her might to scream and wiggle out of our arms. We are all pretty frazzled.
We go through more of the labyrinth only to find ourselves subject to another security line. We wait in the terribly long line so that German police can review our passports. The assigned officer reviewing our documents is not, umm, "friendly." He is stern, maybe a little angry, but we can't tell. He's wearing a bulletproof vest and doesn't make eye contact. The officer in the adjacent line is light and bubbly, almost exuberant. Wrong line. Oh well. Our officer silently reviews our passports one by one, taking no notice of the state we're in. He's seen it all before, I'm sure. He finally, seemingly reluctantly, stamps our passports and grunts "GOOOOOOD." I guess we are supposed to move along? So we do. Danke? We compose ourselves and keep it moving.
12:30 CSET We continue chasing our tails all around the airport and finally find ourselves at another security checkpoint. This is where we have our luggage checked, again, cause that makes sense. They have a few different security rules than the US. This is all fine and we oblige. As you may know, traveling with a child requires a lot of liquids. We have Kailen's juice, water, teething medication, and Benadryl for her multiple allergies. We have to unpack and repack our carry-ons again, all the while Kailen is not pleased. Neither are we.
12:45 CSET Now are in the baggage claim area? How did we get here? I sit down to feed Baby Dictator while Matt goes to find the lost stroller. After about 30 minutes he returns saying that Condor Airlines checked it all the way to Florence. Are you kidding me? Now we just have to laugh. Okay, let's reset.
13:15 CSET We see a digital clock overhead. Oh yeah, we need change our clocks. We switch our watches and phones to 24-hour time. Another stiflingly hot transfer bus. More sweating. Why is no one else sweating and how are they all wearing jackets and long pants? We're sticking out like two and a half sweaty, flushed sore thumbs. We walk some more to finally find our terminal entrance. But wait... theres more! It's closed. It doesn't open for two more hours. Seriously? Sheer frustration and exhaustion are setting in.
Kailen is losing her mind now. We find her diaper is basically a marshmallow. We need to change her. Now where's the bathroom? We're way too tired for this. Again, lackluster signage becomes an issue. We knew it coming in since our friend Rick Steves warned us about this in his books. After passing the bathroom three times, it's closed for cleaning. We slowly saunter to the next one. We get inside the "baby room" and can't figure out how to use the soap dispenser or the paperless hand drying towel system pulley thing. It even takes us a few minutes to flush the toilet.
Wow, we're talking about airport bathrooms and most of you don't even know us.
There is a reason we're telling you, though. If there is one thing we have learned today it is this: "You don't know what you don't know." Complacency is real and it is dangerous. New experiences can combat it quite well. Traveling will get you out of your comfort zone, make your mind sharp, and though it is hard at first, it's worth it. Think of the first week back in the gym after an extended hiatus. It is genuinely horrible, but in the end you're stronger.
13:30 CSET Back to the longest day. Where's the food? We stumble upon Hausmann's, a German restaurant serving local bier and sausage. The food is delicious even though we didn't exactly know what we've ordered. The local IPAs are certainly satisfying. Uber exhaustion sets in post meal. One coffee can't fend off the heavy eyelids. We order a second. What day is it? We head to the gate.
15:15 CSET Good lord, another bus!? I sit down to write while Matt chases Kailen around. He's trying to get a Coca-cola out of the vending machine but can't figure it out. He comes back laughing about it all. I smile. I'm not the only one struggling today, I suppose. I pull out my pen and paper and jot down my observations, the day's events and my reflections on it all. I've already learned a good deal about another culture, and in turn myself, and we haven't even made it to Florence yet. I decide this is going to be a good template for my daily journal (I'll save that discussion for another time).
16:00 CSET We load a bus to our plane. Ok, this heat is ridiculous. Why are we seriously the only ones sweating? Everyone is dressed fashionably with their heels, nice pants, and jackets while we're a trifecta of hot mess. Is this how the rest of the world identifies Americans?
16:15 CSET We board the plane. We all three fall asleep before takeoff. We're almost there!
17:15 CSET We wake up to the sound of the captain speaking instructions in German. We open our eyes and there are the Alps! We're over Italy! We get a 3rd (or 4th or 5th, who knows) wind and we're ready to go. The mountainous terrain turns into beautiful rolling hills and farmland. It looks oddly familiar from the sky. We fly around the city center of Florence and see the Arno and the Duomo for the first time in real life! We quietly freak out. We're not at all tired anymore.
17:35 CSET We land and depart from the plane. We are greeted by a comfortable heat, a slight breeze, and rolling green hillsides that are uncanny. I can see the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains of Southwest Virginia. Am I home? Is this Roanoke? What country am I in? How ironic, I think to myself. We are all smiles as we grab our checked bags and head outside. The week before I decided to arrange a car for us at the airport so that we didn't have to deal with lugging a car seat and finding an English speaking taxi driver without precise directions after 20+ hours of travel and no rest. BEST IDEA EVER.
18:15 CSET Around every turn we "ooh" and "aah." Kai does the same. Occasionally we give each other strange looks as we realize that we're here. This is real life. Side note: Italians are wild drivers. Somewhere in between the ride from the airport to our Airbnb, I turn to Matt "CRAP! Did you pick up the pack and play?!" Nope. This is a crucial piece of luggage. I guess it's just par for the course. We decided to figure it out tomorrow. We can't think about that right now.
19:00 CSET We are welcomed by Marco, our Airbnb host. He helps us with our bags, quickly gives us a tour of our bright and colorful flat, gives us a rundown of all the basics, hooks us up to the wifi, and presents us with pasta, red sauce, bread, jam, and milk for the morning. Wow, our place couldn't be better suited for us! We are ecstatic. How did we get so lucky?
20:00 CSET Undaunted by the fatigue and filled with adrenaline we head out to look for food. Not even two blocks away we stumble upon a restaurant, Cotta A Puntino Pizzeria Osteria, with lit seating on the street. The ambiance is perfect. Crap, we should have learned more Italian. The thin margherita pizze, lorenzo pizze, and bruschetta are completely affordable and out-of-this-world delicious. Apparently, everyone orders entire pizzas to themselves here. Love it. We "accidentally" order a liter of red wine and it turns out it to be only 8 euro. Are we in heaven?
22:00 CSET It's late and we all need to bathe. There is no bathtub and Kailen really hates showers. We fill up the bottom of the shower and create a makeshift tub for her. Look at us, making it work. This will do for now until she gets used to our new setup. After much convincing we get her out of her shower-bath and dry her off. I turn around to go get her a diaper and come back to find her trying to climb into the bidet. Crap. Crap. Crap. Literally and figuratively. Back in the shower-bath she goes.
22:30 CSET I open my bag to get my toothbrush. Are you freaking kidding me??! My nail polish broke and exploded all over our new pack. I do my best to clean it up. Whatever, I'll worry about it tomorrow.
23:30 We pass out from utter exhaustion. Best night of sleep ever. What a day.
WE ARE HOME!
Final thoughts and words of wisdom learned from Transition Day:
- Basic things like signage should never be expected. You're a grown up and will have to figure it out yourself.
- Don't expect AC and don't complain about it. You'll look like a spoiled fool.
- Pleasantries can be a cultural thing. Don't get bogged down or hung up on someone's "lack of politeness." Chances are they weren't being rude, just efficient.
- Expect to be delayed. Plan for it. Expect it to be harder than you expected. Plan for that too.
- Reiteration: "You don't know what you don't know." Expect nothing less or more.
- Every travel experience has issues, whether that be a broken bottle of nail polish, a delayed flight or lost luggage. It's all par for the course. Live. Learn. Repeat.
- Life is all about improvising. Just fake it 'til you make it.
In 2 months, I'm sure we will look back at our travel logs and roll our eyes at our expectations and naivety. Some people are accustomed to things being a certain way. We sure are but we're working on it. To the average traveler and global citizen, normal will seem out of place and out of place will become the norm.
Ciao for now!
P.S. How do you use this bidet thing, anyway?