I'm one of those people whose head is so far in the clouds when it comes to international transportation that a movie like "Flight Plan" (you've heard of it -- Jodie Foster, kidnap on the plane, ending didn't make a wink of sense) has totally altered what I expect of my cross-Atlantic 777. We're talking hopes of spiral staircases, two-story bars, and seats that actually recline more than 5º to ensure at least an hour of sleep during a red-eye flight. Not the case whatsoever. My 777 from Dallas/Fort Worth to Paris promised to be a deathtrap from the moment I sat down in my seat and an armrest broke on impact. Or maybe when the T.V. screen on the back of the seat in front of me fizzled out of commission before we'd flown over Oklahoma. Or maybe when the overhead compartment shifted downward after a bout of turbulence, popped open, and scared the living daylights out of the (previously sleeping) woman beside me.
But it's fine. A few highly unattainable expectations dashed, but that's what power outlets and Wi-Fi access are for, right? Not quite -- not when neither is available, even though both had been promised online.
Oh it's fine, American Airlines -- I have no problem taking notes on my summer school readings on a pad of paper like it's 1985.
But at least there was free wine. And I took advantage of that free wine.
As future-oriented as I tend to be, there is often a disconnect between the present and the immediate future if the latter is a big, big deal. (I consider a month in Europe a big deal, but that might just be me.) In the weeks leading up to my departure, friends and family would make passing comments like, "Oh, you must be so excited about your trip!" or "Are you getting nervous about your trip yet?" And as much as social norms would have me agree with enthusiasm, it wasn't really the case. It hadn't "hit" me that I was leaving the country -- not while planning, not while packing, not while losing a chunk of change while converting USD to Euro at the only Wells Fargo in Tempe who would do so.
No, it didn't truly "hit" me until I was eating airplane tortellini, drinking airplane cabernet sauvignon, and remembering just how much I hate taking notes on pads of paper that I sat back and enjoyed my first exciting, terrifying "aha!" moment of "Dear God, I'm flying to Paris right now."
Maybe it was the wine.
Maybe it was the surprisingly good tortellini.
But of course, I wouldn't know good tortellini unless I'm using frozen Trader Joe's meals as a benchmark.
I enjoyed a full hour of sleep that night, broken only by the man immediately across the aisle, whose impressive snores somehow made it through my (read: Ryan's) brand new Walmart earplugs. Because I should have expected that anything bought at Walmart would work as well as the packaging would have me believe.
And after an airplane croissant, airplane yogurt, and airplane coffee, I found myself standing at customs while staring out at a foggy, cold morning whose humidity rivaled even Tampa's in the summer (i.e., 94%; if you're reading this and would classify yourself as an Arizona native, yes, humidity really does exceed 20%).
Evolutionarily speaking, it would make a hell of a lot more sense if "aha!" moments were accompanied by a mental list of all the potential dangers, warnings, and considerations worth keeping in mind about, say, a trip abroad. My Tortellini Aha! moment comprised thoughts of only the most important elements of a trip to France, Amsterdam, and the U.K. -- namely, crêpes, stroopwafels, and the Harry Potter studio only seven miles from our St. Albans hotel to which I am bound and determined to walk if all else falls through.
It kinda slipped my mind that I should be thinking of train tickets, language barriers, and cultural boundaries that I probably could have foreseen with a few more Google searches.
In short, getting a roundtrip ticket to Reims (pronounced rance with the guttural "r" that took me three months to achieve) was a nightmare. I used every combination of Duolingo phrases to work out that no, I don't speak French, yes, I'm sorry that I don't speak French, yes, I'll admit that I'm an American, and yes, I need a train ticket to a place that I have a really hard time pronouncing, thanks.
Note: Do not trust Duolingo phrases. In my 24 hours in France, I haven't used "I am calm", "I am a cute little boy", "The red dress and the cat", or "I am holding wine and milk, friend" even once. I know, shocking. Shout-out to the free French Phrases app that taught me useful phrases like "Where is the toilet?", "How much does this cost?", "Do you speak English?", and "Please help me, I'm lost and don't know what I'm doing".
If I sound like I'm whining, I'm not. I might have been mentally whining yesterday, but now that my endeavors have proven successful (i.e., I'm writing this from a cozy bed in Reims that overlooks the Canal de l'Aisne à la Marne, and miraculously secured a return ticket for July 19th), I'm not really whining...just maybe grumbling a bit.
But there I was, sitting in the French airport with a ticket to Champagne-Ardelle and a connecting train to Reims, and realizing for the first time that I was hungry. It was these little things -- needing a train ticket, wanting to eat -- that got to me very quickly, as was proven while I stood staring at a glass display of baguette sandwiches filled with ingredients I couldn't understand except for the word "mayonnaise", which -- I'll have you believe -- is actually "mayonnaise" in French.
(Kidding, kidding -- I wasn't that ill-informed.)
I ended up with a baguette that was actually quite tasty in all its mysteriously filled glory, and to this moment have no clue what I was actually eating while pedaling to charge my phone (the Belgians are clever little cookies) and repeatedly telling every person who tried to engage me in conversation that I didn't have a clue what they were saying, and that I was holding wine and milk, friend.
There were many other mix-ups throughout the day, and my supposedly one-hour trip from Charles du Gaulle airport to my AirBnB in Reims took closer to five, but I'll leave that for another post. For now, I'm content to curl back up in this cozy bed and wait until the rain passes.