Friday, January 7, 2011

The Long, LONG Journey Home

So it took me 27 hours to get home. Twenty-seven of the longest hours of my life, I think. I spent the night before my departure in Indianapolis, so that Kate (who also lives in Indy) could take me to the airport the next morning. After frantically rushing around my parents' house, trying to gather everything I needed and cram it into my suitcase (again just squeaking under the 50lb limit), I said goodbye to Dad and Allison and the dogs, and Mom and I drove to Kate's house. Kate took us for a lovely dinner at Adobo Grill, a downtown restaurant that is probably best classified as "gourmet Mexican." We had some fabulous guacamole (prepared tableside!), and some really excellent salsa to start off our meal, and then I had "lomito con mole negro Oaxaquena," which is pork tenderloin in a super delicious mole sauce. After dinner I drove up to Chateau de Ville (friend central, remember) to say goodbye to all my amigos, then back to Kate's and in bed by midnight.

We left for the airport around 9am, because I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to get through holiday airport traffic, security, etc before my 11:50 flight. I should have remembered that it never takes more than 10 minutes to get through security at Indianapolis and slept for another hour. Especially because my flight was also delayed by about an hour as well. But whatever. I got out of Indy with no other problems, and arrived at JFK, pleased that my 4 hour layover was now looking more like 3 hours. But of course there was still plenty of snow on the ground in NYC, and plenty of issues at JFK. It was no longer packed with stranded travelers, as it had been in the previous few days, but still only about 70% of the flights were getting out on schedule. And of course Murphy's Law of Travel found me once again. After 3 gate changes and an hour and a half delay, I finally got on my plane for Brussels, only to sit on the tarmac for another 2 hours while we waited. And waited. First we waited for a ground crew to push us off from the gate. Then we waited for permission to taxi to the runway. Then we waited in line to take off. And this was only the beginning of what would become 9+ hours in my own personal hell.

First of all, I can never sleep on a long flight. I have no idea why this is. I can generally sleep on short flights, like when I was flying back and forth to Minnesota all summer to teach, but for some bizarre reason, a transatlantic flight induces in me an insomnia that is incurable, apparently even after 2 Ativan and a glass of wine, which would normally put me into a near-comatose state for at least 8-10 hours. Infrequent dozing is really the best I can hope for in these situations. But, having already tried to induce said comatose state, I am now on this unending flight, unbelievably tired and cranky and craving sleep, and I find myself surrounded by not one, not two, but THREE crying babies in my direct vicinity. And we all know that the only creatures on Earth who hate a transatlantic flight more than I do are crying babies. All the Ativan in the world can't help me now. And of course it was not long before the crying babies became shrieking babies. And if one got going, eventually the other two joined in. It was like a crying baby conspiracy. Conspiracy to commit murder. By making me kill myself. Add to this the fact that immediately next to me is the most disgusting, kissy-face honeymoon couple in the world, ever. I, like most people, am not a fan of PDA. Like, hold hands, peck on the cheek, that's fine, whatever. But I had to sit there and listen to these two MAKE OUT for most of the flight. I mean, I understand, you love each other. You're thrilled to be spending the rest of your lives together. But that means you have the rest of your lives to make out. So it is not necessary to subject me to 9 hours of your slobbery face-sucking noises. I mean, we're on an airplane, who DOES that?!

Although I was unsure I would ever get off that plane, let alone with my sanity intact, I did finally escape. Just in time to experience more holiday travel joy. I was able to walk through passport control without much questioning, thanks to my newly stamped and legit status as a French resident, and I was hoping to be able to spot and retrieve my suitcase with relative ease and get the bleep out of the Brussels airport. No such luck. Despite the fact that in the arrivals hall at BRU there are 3 or 4 luggage carousels, all functional, as far as I could see, they decided to offload the luggage for the SIX recently arrived flights onto one carousel. So not only were there a few HUNDRED people crowded around said carousel, my flight from JFK was also the last to be unloaded. So I waited another two hours for that nonsense to work itself out, realizing as I heaved my suitcase off the carousel that TSA America had not only been through my bag, but they had also seen fit to break my luggage lock to do so. Isn't this why we pay extra for luggage locks that say "TSA Approved?" So they can get into your bags without breaking the locks? And of course I didn't have anything to hide from TSA, but no one likes the thought of a stranger going through your belongings without your supervision, especially if there are dirty sous-vetements involved, haha.

But I digress. I got out of the airport, took a train to Brussels Central station, where I could change trains to the one that would take me back to Quievrain. Of course this train only comes once an hour, and of course I looked at the weekend/holiday train schedule instead of the weekday schedule I should have been looking at, so I missed the first train (which I had waited for for 50 minutes on the wrong platform), and then had to wait another hour for the next train. At least at this point I could finally smoke, although that involved lugging my suitcase up and down several flights of stairs and being harassed by 5 or 6 different homeless people outside the station (Do you have a euro? No. Do you have 50 centimes? No. Do you have any food? No. Do you have a cigarette? Yes. Oh, Thank yo- oh it's menthol? Nevermind.), so I only smoked twice. Finally got on the right train, got to Quievrain, walked back through town into France, got on the bus, got off at the end of my street. All of this took probably another 3 hours. Then I remembered that my house keys were with my friend Shelby, because my friends who were staying in town had been watching the house while my roomies and I were gone. So since no one else was back from vacation yet, I took all my luggage and walked another ten or so minutes to Shelby's, got my keys, and walked back. I am now absolutely ready to collapse into my bed and not get up for at least 2 days.

So I get into the house, wrestle my suitcase up the spiral staircase, get into my room and throw everything down. No one has been in the house for about two weeks, so of course all of the heat was off and it was cold. I crank up my radiator as high as it will go, put on some sweats and throw an extra blanket on the bed, figuring I can sleep while the house warms up, and then I can worry about eating, etc. I wake up an hour or so later because I am so cold I cannot sleep. So cold I cannot sleep, despite 3 blankets and all my layers. The heat in the house is not working. After some frantic and fruitless texting to my various roomies to try to solve the problem, I go on a hunt throughout the house to find whatever controls the gas to see if it has been shut off for some reason. I finally locate the control box in the kitchen, and I push the power button. The heat kicks on. But when I take my finger off the button, it stops. So I push the button again, and the heat kicks on. I stop pushing, it turns off. I play this game for about ten minutes, trying various combinations of button pushing, button holding, etc. No luck. So I start looking for some tape. No duct tape to be found in the house (in fact, I don't think I've seen duct tape anywhere in France), and the best I can come up with is a roll of Scotch (du Scotch, as we say in France). So I use about half the roll to tape the power button down in the "on" position. This works for about ten minutes, until the pressure of the button pushing back stretches out the tape and the heat turns off again. Thoroughly frustrated at this point, teeth all a-chatter from the cold, I punch the control box (probably not a good idea), pull off the tape, and give the power button one more excessively forceful push. And for whatever reason, this time it stays on. Hooray! Finally I can get some (toasty-warm) sleep.

I slept for about 16 hours, I think, and it was some of the best sleep of my life. The house was empty and quiet, and I was physically and mentally exhausted. I woke up about 4pm the next day (Dec 31), to a text from my friend Shelby: "Hey! Let's go to Brussels for New Years!" And so the adventures continue...

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