Friday, December 16, 2011

I hate flying

I am pretty much not a fan of international travel, mostly because it has to be by plane. I hate flying.

5am Florence, Italy- I got to the airport at the crack of dawn and had to go through the line twice because my hand luggage was over the limit, which she said was 8 kilos but I couldn’t find anywhere that this was written down. I did the Ryanair shuffle, putting lots of stuff in my purse and my coat. (yeah I know, still in the plane, but rules are rules.) The second time through, I think because she hated my “let’s get through this together” smile as much as I did she then told me that she thought my bag, which has always met carry on rules  before, was too big. “They may tell you at the gate that it’s too large,” she said, implying with a look that I was foolish to take the chance. Extra bags mean extra money for the airline. For carrying the same piece of luggage in a different place on the plane. Maybe she gets a commission.

I forgot my sunglasses in the plastic bin at the security check because I was busy trying to remember my computer and coat and passport and didn’t notice that I didn’t have my glasses till I was out of the area. Not my fault totally, it was dark out yet people.

The lady at the gate frowned at my hand luggage, visually measuring it and finding it “piu grande.” I channeled my inner Italian and said it has been flying as cabin luggage for years and no one has questioned it. She rolled her eyes as she let it through,  probably mentally writing  the speech she will give when my piece of luggage causes the plane to crash. The funniest part was that they still took away all our hand luggage and stowed it below anyway, for free.

When I looked out the window next to my seat all I could see was prop (tiny plane) and decided this was good. When it inevitably fell off in mid-flight I wouldn’t feel a thing and for once I’d be the first to go.

The lady in the seat next to me closed her eyes and crossed herself as we took off. God must have talked to her because as soon as we were level she took out her 2012 calendar and started planning. Even that couldn’t comfort me as I got a National Geographic view of the Dolomites as we flew over, barely missing the peaks. Good news is I got to see snow up close and personal.

9am Munich, Germany- The passport check guy (not to be confused with the security check people) asked a bunch of seemingly innocent questions designed to get me to incriminate myself. Of what I don’t know. He was fascinated by the Italian spelling of Philadelphia, which has no ph’s, Filadelfia. He said weird, I said no, Italian. He gave me a piercing look, did something on his computer and let me go. I’m probably tagged for life as a flight risk, or at least someone with a crappy sense of humor.

The security check (handled by Lufthansa) was handled by two women who made me feel as if I had done something wrong, or was on the verge of doing something wrong, or simply had a bad thought that one time and this would stop me from getting on my plane. (In their defense [which I hate to do, but fair is fair] the problems in Belgium and Italy probably making everyone hypersensitive right now. Although neither incident happened in an airport, or on a plane, or even under a flight plan.) She asked me lots of questions about my luggage: who packed it, where was it after it was packed and who was with it? Apparently I should wait till the last moment to pack, or sleep with my suitcase until I leave. She finally  let me through, although her look said it was against her better judgment.

It’s been such a great morning, I can hardly wait for the transatlantic part to start. To celebrate I bought an outrageously expensive and therefore totally American coffee once they had me sequestered at the gate. What else could I do?

12 noon Somewhere over the Atlantic- A minor miracle as I was one of the first people in economy class to board. My cabin luggage was stowed directly above me and my seatmates were sleepers. My friend who used to work at a place that supplied parts for the Airbus A330 says they are the best planes in the air. I was seriously hoping that was the case as I watched the overhead luggage bins vibrate back and forth. Almost 10 hours in the air meant plenty of time for movies…something I haven’t seen since I left the States. (well in English, I don’t think watching a movie in Swedish counts cuz I don’t understand a single word they say)

Funny thing, each seat has its own screen on the seat back in front of it so each passenger can watch whatever they want whenever they want. Awesome. And to buy a pair of cheap ass ear buds (which they recommend on their announcements to “keep for use on future  flights with US Airways!“) it’s only 4 euros or 5 dollars. Lucky me I had my own on my ipod so I didn’t have to buy them. Waste of money.

I will admit to being incredibly tired and unable to sleep, so I watched three movies. I think that I changed a bit in the last year. Something happened that never, ever happens to me. I cried. Yes, watching a movie. I didn’t cry during Black Swan, but I seriously cried during My Life in Ruins, a cheesy comedy that shouldn’t make anyone cry. That story, my friends, will have to wait till another day, because I’m pretty sure that typing the things I was feeling at that moment would make me cry again. Not something I want to do at Gate C23 at the Philadelphia airport. The last movie I watched was something with penguins and Jim Carey…I have no idea why I watched it.

4pm Philadelphia, PA - I could blame my emotional state on new batch of security and passport checks I had to endure here, but truthfully it’s been such a long day that I’m pretty numb to the whole thing. I think I could be cool with just about anything except someone trying to wrestle my bags out of my hand for “further inspection.” Gotta draw the line somewhere, and that’s my somewhere. I gave the little Agricultural Products sniffing dog a dirty look and it bypassed my bags completely. Good to know I can intimidate a miniature daschund wearing a uniform. That’s right, wearing a little jacket with just enough room for the words “Agricultural Products Agent.” Must be why they chose a daschund. Looooong body.

Here’s hoping that the last leg of the flight is uneventful, and that my parents show up to get me. I was unable to remind them as they are “at the cabin.”

8pm Minneapolis,MN - I made it. I have no energy to write more than that. It’s all that matters. My parents got me at the airport and we drove home without incident. Life is good.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Packing my suitcases (again)

I know that I started late (for me) but I have officially begun packing for the trip back to Minnesota. This time it's a little tricky.

I want to bring as few things back to Minnesota with me as possible because I want the room in my suitcases to bring back to Italy all the things I already know I can live without but would rather live with. Like some of my kitchen stuff. Like more of my clothes. Family pictures. A few treasured books (just a few, they weigh a ton.)

I toyed with the idea of putting one of my suitcases inside my big suitcase. But the one that fits inside is a good one with good wheels, which we all know means it weighs too much. I wouldn't be able to bring much else along for the ride, and there are a few things that I absolutely have to bring with me. I'll be there for almost two months and I'm getting married. There are things a girl needs.

Aside from a few clothes, some essential paperwork and a couple of presents for the family I have to bring wine and olive oil. The wine because this is Italy...the land of wine. It would be like going to Napa Valley and not bringing a bottle of wine back. Many would ask why you even went. Were you even in Napa Valley? Probably not, or you would have brought back a bottle of wine. So I'll have to bring a bottle with me. I'll even share.

The olive oil is something else. That is purely personal and I might get a little tetchy if someone wants to share. Because I will be in Minnesota for almost two months. In the year I have lived here I think I've become addicted to olive oil. It makes me happy. It makes everything taste better. And I can't afford the good stuff in the States.

So I will bring two suitcases with me, one checked and one cabin. I just have to figure out how to pack my nearly empty checked bag so that nothing bounces around too much. I need those giant bags of air that retailers use to fill the empty space in boxes with. Then again, they might blow up as the pressure in the plane changes, causing panic amongst all and pretty much  ruining the trip for everyone. And my wine and olive oil will still bounce around my suitcase. I'll come up with a better plan. I hope.

I'm pretty sure I can do this in two re-packs or less, which may in fact be a personal best for me. Now coming back to Italy, that's gonna be a little harder. It will take a couple of weeks, a sturdy scale and some creativity. And a really big purse.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Getting married: Ladies and gentlemen, we have a groom.

I know, the basic premise is that if there is a wedding there must naturally be a bride and a groom...or two brides or two grooms.  A marriage requires two people, and until two days ago I was the only one with a ticket to Minnesota. Since this is where the wedding is being held it was definitely a priority to get Leif a ticket to Minnesota, post haste.

We have been working to get the necessary block of funds together to get him a ticket. Through the generosity of several people we were finally able to book his flight on Monday. Thank you to them for making this possible.

The process of booking a flight online should qualify as premarital counseling. If two people can huddle over the same computer for hours, first finding the cheapest (yet not longest) flight on the planet and then get it booked before 1) they change the price or 2) it becomes unavailable, without slapping each others hands away from the keyboard or something more extreme then they can manage just about any obstacle that comes their way. I'd like to think with grace and style, but honestly I'm happy with surviving the bumps. I don't care what it looks like anymore.

It was difficult. We had to try a bunch of different combinations of arrival and departure dates to find the cheapest ones. You'd think that checking the +/- 3 days button would work, but trust me, it does't always find what you're looking for. We found what we wanted, then had the frustration of watching the website claim that every ticket we tried to book was unavailable. Which was an out and out lie as it was right there on the screen just a few minutes earlier as available. Just for fun (I'm sure) after a couple of tries it told us that the price had changed for this ticket, leading us to believe that the ticket was available if we wanted to pay the extra money. To which we said "Yeah, sure, of course!" Well, actually we hit a button that said we would like to continue with this booking, but we did it with great enthusiasm. Then it told us the flight was unavailable. See how much fun this is?

Being the internet savvy people that we are we changed the dates slightly, found something for the same money as we had before, and before anything could change we put all the info in and hit Book. We sort of held our breath as we watched the little dots make their circle telling us that the computer was thinking about our request and would give us an answer when it was damn well ready to. And a miracle happened, right there in our kitchen. He has a ticket to Minnesota on January 10.

I'm thinking of asking at the marriage license offices if we can use this experience as premarital counseling and get the $60 knocked off the price of the license. I don't have much hope, but it's worth a shot. So if you had any doubts before, you can put them away now. He's coming. I'll be there. Happiness will abound.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Can a person be allergic to a country?

This is a completely serious question. Every time we go to Sweden I get what seems to be a cold. Sneezing, wheezing, endless running nose. I'd like to blame it on Ryanair (because even though it's super cheap, I feel less like a customer and more like a piece of luggage) but I can't. We don't always fly with them. I don't think I can handle being allergic to a country I will be visiting at least once a year for the rest of my life.

Some people might say it's the stress of living in a third language, one which I have absolutely no instincts for yet. If I look confused here in Florence people switch to English, when I look confused in Sweden they rephrase the question in ever simpler terms (I assume), eventually giving up and concluding (maybe rightly so) that I'm not all there. Who can blame them? I look so Swedish.

This time I guess I can blame it on 1) the recirculated air on the plane, 2) 4 days of public transportation in Stockholm and 3) the vent in our romantic room on the ship which blew hot dry air directly into my berth (I love talking like a sailor) all night long.

Sadly, this time the cold/allergy/whatever has stayed with me. The last two days it has reached epic proportions. I couldn't breath when I laid down, my head hurt, my left ear ached, and my left eyeball throbbed. All in all a very unpleasant experience. I bought some cough drops at the supermarket in an attempt to clear my head up, at least long enough to fall asleep. They are called Monk's so I mistakenly assumed they would be Christian in their treatment of me and my cold. Leif also put some orange juice in our basket that had vitamins added.

I popped one of the drops in my mouth as soon as we got home. It did wonders for my nose. Leif poured me a glass of juice as I reached the end of the drop. I don't know which thing to blame, the drops or the juice, but halfway through the glass I started to feel like throwing up and the feeling didn't leave me until the next morning. If it was the cough drops their treatment of me was very unchristian-like. If it was the juice,well, that's just wrong. It's orange juice, the healthiest thing on the planet practically.

I'm remembering now that in the States those drops with liquid centers tended to make me feel a little queasy. I'm also remembering that I have been told that sometimes Italian products are stronger than their counterparts in the US. So whether it's the cough drops or the vitamin enriched juice I don't know, but I won't be trying either one again. Ever. It's just not worth it.

I made myself some chicken noodle soup yesterday. It must have been entertaining to watch. I propped myself up against the counter and tried not to sneeze directly onto anything. When standing got to be too much I sat on the love seat in the kitchen. I didn't lay down because I was afraid I would fall asleep and burn the house down. I know, I said I couldn't fall asleep but experience has taught me that just when you think something can't happen, it will. Leif said it was good. I couldn't tell you because I couldn't actually taste anything at that point. But I'm a firm believer in the power of chicken noodle soup so I made it and I ate it.

I hear some of you in the back asking "Why not just go to the pharmacy and get something?" Good question. My answer to you is that I was barely functioning in English, Any attempts to describe my symptoms or to ask for a product similar to something in the States would probably have reduced me to tears and given the pharmacist a good laugh for the next week. Neither of these scenarios would result in my feeling better.

Luckily this morning I woke up feeling a whole lot better. I was starting to get a little frustrated. Somewhere in my early years I got the idea that being sick was a personal failure. There's nothing worse than feeling like crap and beating yourself up mentally for not being able to will yourself better. So I'll continue to take naps. I can do this without guilt now as the rains of November have finally arrived and I won't see sunshine and feel like I should be out there enjoying it (a very Minnesotan reaction to the sun, any time of the year).

outside seating with heaters
and fur chair covers-
how awesome is that?
Because I have tons of pictures from my trip I will now share pictures totally unrelated to this post, but I hate to waste perfectly good travel pictures on myself. Here are two places we went to for coffee during our visit to Stockholm.

the tree is growing inside the building