Saturday, April 07, 2012

coming home

[This post is entirely about the peculiarities of going from point A to point B on this planet. Be warned.]

Can you stand an obvious comment? Here’s one: travel (the part when you’re actually moving from one place to the next) is rarely predictable. It challenges you to find the best outcome under wavering circumstances. I accept and often even like the challenge. But sometimes, it just leaves me scratching my head.

I seem not to be able to do an online check in for my flights. A shame. It will be tight for me in the morning. I try through Delta – which has by far the most functional website from my flight team of partner airlines – nothing. It directs me to Alitalia (the airline that’s actually supplying the plane from Milan to Amsterdam), which in turn tells me I don’t exist or the flight doesn’t exist or both. I try through KLM, which is slightly more funky, but it does the same – directs me to Alitalia where it’s a no go.

So you would think that under those circumstances I’d want to get to the airport very very early. Something is smelling awfully fishy here. But that would mean giving up my free buffet breakfast in Milan. It would kill me to do that at this already over the top (for me) hotel. So instead, I go with the following plan: show up for breakfast at 7 (they start it then) gulp down everything in sight for five minutes and run to the city bus which leaves at 7:20. I know I timed it to be a twenty minute walk, but hey, I’m willing to run, just to sample a free breakfast.

Except that I get distracted by posting. So I’m late for breakfast (there at 7:08) and so I may as well give up on the 7:20 city bus. I’ll go for the 7:40. Not optimal, given that my flight is at 9:30, but it’s a 25 minute bus ride. I should be okay arriving at 8:10. Even though the flight/I /both do not exist.

I run through town tugging my carry-on -- which I am so hoping wont raise eyebrows as it has rather puffed out with tablecloths and cookies for my students (I promised) and what not. I’m also carrying a small backpack with essential reading matter and my computer, and I have my tiny purse and of course, my camera. And do not forget – I am carrying a huge plastic shopping bag with the Easter bread I bought yesterday. Ed suggested that if they make a fuss, I should just hand over the bread and cookies as a gift to the airline crew.

I could also make life easy on myself and send my carry-on through, but I don’t want to do that. I want to cajole Delta to put me on an earlier flight out of Minneapolis to Madison and they wont do that if I will have sent my bag through.

Despite my run, I pause for a photo of the Duomo because at 7:25 it actually looks nice. Just it and the pigeons and the security guards. And every once in a while, the metro will spit out a few Milanese people going to work.

I’m always shocked how few tourists there are at main sights early in the morning. You’d think they’d be excited to be here. Where are they?


So I make the 7:40 bus. Easily. And I am at the Alitalia counter at 8:15 and there, they even find me and they hand me my boarding passes and I am about to go and relax over a cup of espresso when I notice that the flight is not as it should be. It’s not 9:30 anymore, it’s 9! Whoa.... nearly missed that one! You’d think somewhere along the way someone would have let me know of the change.

But, alright, I pass on the coffee and I manage to make it on board with a lovely Italian gentleman helping me hoist fatso suitcase up into the baggage compartment, while I stuff my pack and the bread (sort of) under the seat in front of me.

I hold on to my tiny purse and the camera. And that’s a good thing, because we cross the Alps and the clouds are just barely covering their peaks and truly, these mountains are so magnificent that I think Ed and I should surely do a hike here except, of course, they’re rather steep and not for the faint at heart (me).


But so very photogenic.


Don’t you think?


Far more so than the canals of Holland. I wont impose photos of those on you.

In Amsterdam, one has to go through passport control. You’re leaving the European Union. Good bye EU. As always, you get your passport stamped. Thump! I wonder how long this ritual will continue... One used to like to collect these stamps. They made you feel well traveled. But right now, they have no meaning. You could spend 365 days hopping from one country to the next in Europe and no one will ask to see your passport, let alone stamp it. Your stamps reflect not the country you’re visiting but your entry port into Europe. Oh, the airfare through Amsterdam is best? Good. I’ll connect through there. Thump!

DSC06211 - Version 2

And while I am on the subject of passports, I have another idle question. I wonder why the new incarnation of the US passport (meaning, the one that appeared about four or five years ago) has, on the blank pages reserved for, what else, the port of entry thumps, quotes of famous American men? Okay, one woman, but the rest (seven) – all men. When I first saw that, I thought I was being one of those silly people who minds when their lot is underrepresented. I mentioned it then only to Ed, who grunted and went back to whatever he was doing. I shrugged it off. An oversight probably. Perhaps someone was using some book of quotes by famous men and didn't notice the "men" part of it and by the time it was brought to their attention, the pages were printed and we don’t want to waste tax dollars redoing the whole thing.

This year, I needed more pages for those inconsequential thumps and so I sent in my passport for ten new sheets, all equipped with new quotes from other famous Americans. Not one of the new quotes is by a woman. We have everyone from Ronald Reagan to Horace Greely and still, no one in the passport making bureaucracy thought that women have said anything worth quoting in an American passport. Perhaps I should write a letter to the president, or the presidential hopefuls: dear sirs, would you mind including in your platform that you’ll add women quotes in new editions of US passports? Maybe I should address Hillary Clinton as well. Surely she’d take on my cause.

Speaking of women, there were plenty of them thumping passports at the American entry port of Minneapolis. There was a commotion in line and as my immigration agent was preparing to thump my passport, I looked over to see what was happening. She didn't like that. Focus your attention here, or leave the line, she scolded me. I knew not to offend her further. (Had she said "America welcomes you," I might have suggested using that as a passport page quote, from her, but she didn't, so there you have it.)

On the upside, I have nothing but good words for all the Delta agents who made this trip smooth and easy for me and countless others and I especially want to hug the agent who put me on the earlier flight to Madison. You have all your luggage with you? -- she asks.
Oh yes! Yes indeed! Right here! Down to the Easter bread! 
Off you go then!

Ed comes to the airport, we do our usual greeting (one which we practice well during our countless Skype sessions when I'm away).
Miss me?
Of course!

I'm home.