Romanian Honeymoon, September & October 2017
Day 1, Chicago to Zurich – September 26
It had been a few years between my last flight of any kind and the absurdly long 24 hour trip we were taking to Romania, so I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect with regard to how the security line and check in was going to work. It didn’t help that we were also going to Chicago O’Hare’s bustling international terminal instead of the one we usually went to, which neither my husband or I had been to before, but we managed to figure everything out okay and the process was relatively easy-going. And I do mean relatively: it was still security at O’Hare, which is a crapshoot even when you aren’t trying to leave the country.
Lesson #1: Ditch the Passport Cover
Okay, I still love passport covers and even ordered myself a new one recently, but they’re best for when you need to keep it on your person or in a bag so your passport doesn’t get beat up. We had a few occasions where security didn’t mind double checking while it was still in the cover, but for checking in to your flight? Nope. They do not like those things. Do yourself a favor and take it out before you get to the desk, or at any time when you think you might be asked to remove it.
Passport cover snafu aside, security and check in was fairly painless. There’s this weird moment when you go to check in (that’s really not that different from, like, checking in to a flight normally) where you start to wonder if your passport is acceptable, if you booked something wrong, if suddenly the flight you were going to take doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a stressful five minutes and there are too many people and the reality of the international-ness of the flight starts to settle in about the time you start looking at all the different people and all the different passports around you. It was exciting and a little terrifying, both of which wore off during the long, long line through the TSA checkpoint.
The International Terminal at Chicago O’Hare, once you get past the 45 minutes of security screening, is a bizarre experience, one that was replicated a bit at the airport in Bucharest when we landed. You’re no longer in an airport, but in a shopping mall. I had a hell of a time finding food (which was weirdly void of the usual fast food offerings, though I didn’t turn my nose up at the falafel I ended up ordering) and an even worse time trying to find a bathroom amid all the perfume shops, the Michael Kors store, and so on. As someone who never really understood the point of duty free shopping until going abroad, it was a bit overwhelming right from the get go.
We survived, though, and didn’t have to camp out too long at our gate. Ultimately I’m really glad we left so much time to go through security because it did take forever and we did have to have one of our bags searched because my dumb ass put a set of stoneware coasters in my carry-on as a gift, so go figure. I have an absolute talent for getting searched at security every time I travel. It’s almost impressive.
Chicago to Zurich, by way of Swiss Airlines
Boarding planes is a stressful experience in the first place, but boarding a friggin’ gigantic superduper deluxe liner (technical term, obviously) to go to another country on the literal other side of the world is something else. I immediately felt a little overwhelmed by going past so many people and noticing that the plane just kept going, that there were more seats, more of everything, but after we settled into the flight it really wasn’t so bad. I did have a nice awkward moment with one of the flight attendants when I explained it was my first international flight and did I need to know anything and did we need to collect our bags in Zurich (some international flights will make you collect your bags between connections, luckily ours did not) and she immediately asked if I was going to Israel, which caused me to blink a minute, but she was very helpful and didn’t seem phased at all by the fact that I seemed to have no idea what I was doing.
Anyway, the flight was really not so bad at all. We had a few moments of turbulence here and there, but mostly I was surprised at how quickly it was going by. I found I wasn’t really interested in a lot of the things I’d brought to keep me busy once we discovered how great the on-board movie selection was, and though I wanted deep in my core to fall asleep, I’m not the kind of person who can sleep on public transportation, so that was kind of a futile effort. Not to mention the fact that holy shit on international flights they feed you all the damn time?!
Lesson #2: If you don’t use it at home, you don’t need it for the flight.
I am the kind of person who travels with books, coloring books, maybe my Nintendo DS, all just to keep me busy. You know how much of it I used during the actual flight? ZILCH. I played games on my phone, just like I do at home, listened to music, stared out the window, and watched a lot of movies and an entire season of The Big Bang Theory and also just hung out with my husband. Rather than cluttering up your bag, treat the trip like a day on the couch and bring what you’d need for that.
We were barely in the air for, like, fifteen minutes (okay, maybe longer) before they brought the first snacks around (these amazing olive oil crackers, by the way, I sometimes dream about them at night. I would fly Swiss again just to eat those crackers.) And it didn’t take long to get our dinners, either. It was weird trying to hold on to some concept of time while you’re catapulting across the ocean at a billion miles an hour into another time zone, but the meals actually did a great job of helping us adjust to the time change, even if I felt like they were trying to feed us to death—seriously, we had like four snack breaks, many, many offers of water, two full meals, desserts, you name it. It was like being trapped in a ten course fixed menu restaurant you can’t escape.
A huge highlight was also being served a breakfast of fresh(ish) croissants while flying over freakin’ Paris before dawn—after hours and hours and hours of flying through blackness and night and nothingness and seeing that the little seatback video says we’re over the UK but there’s nothing to look at getting to see the lights of Paris out the window really made us feel like we were arriving in Europe. Honestly, while I still hope to visit Paris, it was enough of a “first visit” for me. I mean, just look at this view:
The rest of the flight was relatively uneventful as we eventually touched down in Zurich at something like six in the morning and were greeted by freakishly efficient bathrooms and trams and a lot of people speaking very sternly to us in German (which I have been told is just how people speak German, but it was still a little stressful since that is Very Much A Language I Do Not Speak) and we had to pass the time for about five hours before getting to board our next flight. We figured out how to use European plugs, failed to connect to the wi-fi, discovered the wonders of European Fanta, and watched a billion people go by with suitcases much smaller than ours, which really began to hammer in the fact that yes, everything is bigger in America. (I have since purchased a slightly smaller carry-on for my next flight.)
We had made it, we arrived in Europe, and now it was time for the hard part: staying awake and waiting.
Piece of cake, right?