Well, I did it. I made it home. I suppose I can say that the curse has been lifted, because after three times in a row of missing my connecting flight and having to spend the night in a hotel, I finally made it home the day of my TransAtlantic flight. The night of Christmas Eve, to be exact.
That’s not to say that my trip was without incident. When I travel, something bizarre is always bound to happen.
To give you a better idea of my 24-hours of travel, here’s a brief portion of my travel log:
“It’s been a long day. First, I had difficulties falling asleep last night and had to wake up at 5:00 am on less than five hours of sleep. Hedi and I rushed to the train station in order not to miss my 5:35 am train to Lille, but it turned out that there wasn’t any train heading to Lille. Apparently there had been a planned grève ponctuel and no trains were coming or going to Lille on December 24. Very sweaty and starting to panick, we ended up at l’Escale of the Amiens train station where the most organized, efficient Frenchwoman I’ve ever met instructed us to take a train to Paris Nord (us being myself and a Lebanese girl also trying to get to the Belgian airport), from where we were supposed to catch a TGV to Brussels. Unfortunately, once we got to Paris, the men at l’Accueil had no idea what we were talking about, despite the fact that the woman had called ahead and given our names. Luckily, every time we explained our situation to the conductor and ticket inspector, they let us pass without an issue. (Perhaps it’s good and bad to travel on Christmas Eve!) We ended up sitting in the wagon-bar, where I ordered an espresso and a pain au chocolat. All good so far.
Upon arriving at the gare Bruxelles-Midi, we asked how to find the train to take us to the airport and buy a ticket. Once at the airport, I said good-bye to the Arab girl and went to the United check in, which took forever, as usual. The security was really intense: even before reaching the counter, they scanned my passport and asked all sorts of questions. Much worse than the grilling I had previously experienced in Lille when trying to board the Eurostar for London. At the check-in counter it was very straightforward. Baggage, passport, boarding passes, instructions, gates. Unfortunately, I had to pass through border control, and I definitely chose the wrong line. The woman checking the passports took her sweet time, holding everyone up for who knows what reason. Either super serious about border control or bitter about working on Christmas Eve. The Lebanese girl was in front of me, ironically, and I heard her arguing with the woman in French (I wonder whether she realized that I wasn’t French, as we spoke French to each other the whole time – she tutoyéd me, and nous avons fait la bise before parting). When it came my turn, the Belgian woman point-blank asked me for my residency card. Which, I might remind you, I don’t need to have my first year in France, since I have both the visa de long séjour and the vignette OFII. I pointed this out to the woman, but she mentioned some nonsense about how I couldn’t travel in and out of Belgium without a residency permit or something like that (her English wasn’t making much sense to me at this point). Oh well, I just hope that I can get back into Europe through Belgium on my way back in.
After Border control, I had to go through Security, which was a pretty intensely long line. Luckily I had plenty of time and found my gate. On my Transatlantic flight, I sat next to a Belgian woman who only spoke French, which made things sometimes difficult for her when asked what she wanted to eat, drink, etc. I asked for a halal meal, so it’s hard to compare the quality of the food with what the rest of the plane ate. I really enjoyed the main dish, some sort of beef in biryani rice. I was so tired that I slept a good deal on the TGV as well as on my two flights. I also took advantage of the touch screen on the international flight. Ha, I played maybe 2 hours worth of “in-flight trivia.” I dominated the Geopolitics category. How many of you can name the only country to have a square flag? (Hint: it’s Nepal). I also took advantage of the movie selection, finally watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and then an indie writer-themed love story called Ruby Sparks.
Like all other passengers, I had to fill out the customs declaration form. No to animal products, time spent on a farm, valuable merchandise, or more than $10,000 in cash on my person. At the Washington international Dulles airport, we had to pass through immigration and then take off our luggage (thank goodness it took less time than in NYC, I’m never traveling through JFK again if I can help it!). Then we had to re-check our luggage, deliver our customs form, and repass through Security. They are now starting to do a random sampling of “chemicals present on your hands” in addition to the full body scan, metal detector, and screening of luggage. My plane to Saint Louis was tiny. I’m happy to say that I slept for most of the flight. Unfortunately with my contacts on.”
It’s great to be back. Back with the two dogs and cat, my three brothers, my parents. Spending some quality time, eating, running, watching our cult family musical/play/movie, Les Misérables. Eating Creole shrimp gumbo. Exchanging gifts and IOUs. Drinking a lot of coffee.
Merry Christmas, everyone!