Captain’s log. Star date, umm… July 28? No, that’s not “star datey” enough. Um, Star date 7.18.2016. No… too obvious. Star date 6102.81.7. That’s good enough for me. Every so often, you run into a scenario which is a bit annoying to deal with, totally destroys a trip before it has even begun, and really puts a damper on the entire thing luckily, this didn’t happen for me, although I certainly know people who would cringe at what I’ve been trough in the last few days.
I suppose that it all starts with the delays in Denver. Like any dutiful traveler, I was at the airport at least two hours early. I’ve packed light, only 17.5 pounds (Sorry United, I couldn’t do it in the carryon regulation 17), and though I have packed for an entire month of travel, I have everything that I need. Security is breezy and painless, but when I get to the gate - a text message - your plane has been delayed 20 minutes. Now, 20 minutes isn’t so bad at all. We still have time to connect in Washington DC (Dulles Airport) for our flight to Munich, and then on to Stockholm. Of course, it’s not that simple. There’s weather in DC, so they’re holding incoming flights on the ground until they can get the back log cleared up. So, 1hr, 16min minus 20min leaves me with just under an hour to make my connection. Plenty of time.
It wasn’t mean to be. 20 minutes, stretched into 40, then a whole hour, then two hours. At this point, we’ve missed our flight to Munich. And so have three other people on the flight from Denver. I never did meet any of them, though I had hoped to at some point - maybe we could bond over the ordeal that we were about to experience. Just by our luck, however, our flight to Munich was delayed 40 minutes. So, maybe we could make it.
We didn’t. And it gets worse. We weren’t the only people to miss connections - in fact, because of the huge mass of cancelations that day, the lines for United customer service were out the doors. Literally. When we touched down in Dulles, we ran for our flight, to find out that not only had we missed it, but there were no gate agents to help us re-book, after about 40 minutes of searching, we found the customer service line. Paul and I (David) decided to split up in hopes of at least one of us reaching the front of the line, he would take the gargantuan customer service line, and I would go off in search of greener pastures (that is, a shorter line somewhere else).
Luckily, I found a better deal. By using my membership with the United Clubs, I was able to gain access to a shorter line, in fact, I was almost the only person in line behind a group of 20 traveling, first class, Germans who had missed their flight to Munich, and an airplane buyer with DHL who was purchasing 747s from Iceland Air, when he found himself embroiled in the storm. The four customer service agents tasked with dealing with the German group were frazzled.
Most of the seats had been rebooked, and the group didn’t want to split up, making it a nightmare. In time, another customer service agent showed up to help out me and the DHL guy. Anna (the customer service agent) was brilliant, finding both Paul and I seats on the flight out the next day to Frankfurt, and securing us a discounted rate at a nearby hotel. And thus, our fiasco was sorted. When I went back to get Paul, I found that he had moved a good 10 feet in the normal line. That is, while I was sipping apple juice and eating cheese in line for a good 40 minutes, Paul had been stuck in the same place. I suspect he has some stories to share.
As we were taking an Uber to the hotel to stay the night, something occurred to me. In a brief conversation before we had left Denver, Paul was lamenting about how he had been unable to secure Taco Bell before our one month trip (and his six month study abroad program), had had said “Maybe, we’ll have time to stop in DC for Taco Bell.” When we checked in at 1:30AM that morning, we asked the lady at the checkin counter what was open nearby. Of course, the only things were a Taco Bell and an IHOP just a small distance away. Unfortunately, when we got to the Taco Bell, it was closed, and we had to settle for IHOP. Don’t worry though, Paul will get his fix.
In fact, Paul got his fix the next morning, when, unable to decide what to do for Breakfast, thought of nothing better than to go to Taco Bell.
*Paul and his Taco Bell*
With three hours left to kill, we decided to visit the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, VA where they keep the Enola Gay, the Space Shuttle Discovery, and an SR-71 Blackbird among other amazing craft. After spending a few hours messing around, we traveled back to the airport, only to find that our travel woes had not yet ceased.
Paul thought this was funny....
Arriving at the airport, we decided to check in with United, as they were the ones who had issued out tickets. After waiting in line for a while, the checkin agent redirected us to the Lufthansa counter, as they were the ones who our flight was through. Now, this wouldn’t have been so bad, except for the fact that when we went to the Lufthansa counter, they couldn’t find out tickets either. At that point, I’m starting to get a bit worried - what if we hadn’t really been rebooked? But this is where Frank, another amazing United customer service rep comes into our story. After returning to the United service desk, Frank was able to help us deal with the whole mess, he wrote down some numbers on our tickets, which the Lufthansa people were able to decipher and finally turn into a ticket. We were headed to Frankfurt.
The flight was largely uneventful. Because of the stand-by nature of our tickets, we were both stuck with our middle seats, mine in the very back of the plane (Row 54 out of 56), and Paul in his (Row 36, that bastard (It’s ok, he gets his comeuppance)). I sat next to a delightful two year old (who wouldn’t stop kicking me), and a lady named Amy, who was working in the vape business, and was traveling to Norway to look after he recently deceased father’s startup company making tubes tor oil wells. She, similar to me, was an ovopescaflexitarian (A throughly made up word meaning somebody who eats eggs and fish, but no meat except for when they want to). When we arrived in Frankfurt, everything seemed like it was on the up and up.
It was then, after breezing through immigration, that we found out that we were flying standby on our flight to Stockholm. Luckily for me, I was able to get a seat on the flight that we had originally been booked on. Paul, on the other had, I had to leave behind. We were suitably worried at that point that he wasn’t even going to make it to Stockholm for our flight out to Thessaloniki the next morning, and there was a plan involving him flying to Brussels, waiting 8 hours and then flying to Thessaloniki in an overnight re-routing. When his name came up 6th on the standby priority list for the next flight, things looked pretty grim.
Meanwhile, I had landed in Stockholm and was taking in the sights and sounds of the first European city on our trip. After making the 20 minute trek to our Hostel (I figured out the T-Bana later, and this saved my butt) I couldn’t check in, because it seemed like nobody was around. So, I went out, decided I might have a spot of lunch, and come back later. Because I wasn’t in the mood to do anything particularly fancy, I stepped at a Pressburyan, and grabbed a wrap (chicken, goat cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes) and an “Exotic” flavored Fanta, a flavor I desperately wished they would sell in the US. I’m not sure what’s in it - but it’s fruity and tropical. Very fun. It was about then that Paul texted me - he had found a seat on the next flight out (somehow, bless his soul) - and would be joining me in Stockholm for the evening. After a few more hours of twiddling my thumbs, I met up with Paul and checked in at the Hostel, where we met Bryce (a charming man from North Carolina), and a few groups - five loud guys from Belgium (who ended up waking us up at 11PM) and another group of three quieter girls from Frankfurt who seemed nice.
As it was now 2PM, we only had a few hours to see the city before we set off for Thessaloniki the next morning. I, of course, was coming back at the end of my trip - and would be spending two more days there, while it was Paul’s only guaranteed chance to take in the sights. On a recommendation from Bryce, we took in the Vassamuseet, a museum based around a Swedish ship (The Vassa) that had sunk in Stockhom’s harbor in the 1600s.
We then went in search of coffee (as the Jet Lag was catching up with us, remember, at this point we’ve been awake for roughly 36 hours). We didn’t find coffee. What we did find was a rain storm, which basically turned Paul into a popsicle, and myself into a wet dog. We took shelter under a stand of trees (which didn’t really provide much actual protection), and waited it out - Paul dancing in the rain like a monkey on cocaine trying to keep warm, and myself, just sitting there shivering. I probably should have bought an umbrella. Lesson learned.
When the rainstorm subsided, we again set off in search of coffee - showing up at two places on Google Maps that no longer existed, and finally ending up in a Grill shack, where some tourist kid had purchased a 2Kg Toblerone bar, and the rest of the family was chowing down on generic grill-shack food. Paul got a Bratwurst - and I went out on a limb and ordered what appeared to be a french hot dog (hot dog wrapped up in a half a roll, very very good). It turns out, I can’t speak Swedish, and I ended up with 4 sausages, sauerkraut, mozzarella, and curry sauce stuffed into a calzone that was cut in half (Picture below). A highlight of Stockholm for that quick journey, and a crazy dish, It was fully worth it.
We never did find coffee (though Paul got a red bull from a 7-11), and so, when we returned to the Hostel at 6PM, we almost immediately crashed. It wasn’t really a bad thing to succumb to the jet lag, because we were waking up at 2AM the next morning to get to the airport - but as I write this, the jury is still out on how well we are going to fare.
In conclusion, our trip has begun, and though it was a bit rocky getting going, we were bound to have some trouble on such a long trip - and if this is the worst of it - then I’ll be a happy man. Stockholm is a beautiful city, with people who are friendly and helpful, and even speak English. It’s remarkable to walk the streets (and see the people playing Pokemon), and I got that test of Europe that I had been longing for all year. There’s something about visiting European cities - maybe it’s the smell, maybe it’s just the vibe - but you really don’t come close to it in the States, and that’s what I love.
While I was sad to see Stockholm go, and I wasn’t really able to accomplish much, I will be back later in the trip and I have scoped out a bunch of stuff that I want to do.
David Chan, Signing off.