Travel Journal: Arrival in Europe

I’ve left the islands. And I’ve embarked on a new adventure. For the next month I will be traveling through Europe- Italy, France and Spain. When I was 16, I spent 7 weeks in France. I was in St. Brieuc, Brittany. I spent two days in Paris on my way home. And that’s all I’d done in Europe…until now.

I haven’t really had the opportunity or desire in the past. Europe, especially the places I’ve chosen, is so overdone. Who doesn’t know someone who throws out, “Oh well when I was in [fill in any large European city]…”? I prefer to sound pretentious in a less predictable way. “Was that so scary when you thought that guy on the bus was starring at you? That reminds me of that time in Kenya when my shoes were stolen and I had to outrun a bull elephant barefoot through molten lava.” Yeah…

However, it was actually cheaper to fly home from Africa with a ticket to Rome and then another from Barcelona home than it was to fly directly home from Africa. I gave in.

The trip started a little rough. I flew Ethiopian Airlines (which before you say anything, is a very reputable company and I’ve actually flown them on multiple occasions without incident). I had two large bags weighing 30 kilograms each (approx. 66lbs or 132lbs total). It was a tad over their weight limit and they charged me a pretty sum. The baggage handler whispered in my ear that they would reduce the price $20 if I didn’t insist on a receipt. I insisted.

I arrived in Addis Ababa on time and took a seat in one of their reclining chairs to wait out my 4-hour layover. In my lifetime I have spent about 48 hours in the Addis airport. In 2009, I spent two nights there. I have a love/hate relationship with it, without the love. It’s cold. There are no good restaurants. And the gates are behind Plexiglas walls that one must go through security to get to. Once at the gate, there is no exiting and there are no shops and not even a vending machine for water. There are bathrooms, thank God, but forget about getting water from the faucet unless you want to spend the remainder of your vacation as a parasite incubator.

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The Addis Airport

After several hours, I made my way to the gate. My flight was just making a pit stop in Rome and continuing on to Stockholm. I followed the inordinate number of blond heads to the correct gate and sat. Almost immediately, the departure sign flashed saying the flight was delayed for an hour. It would be leaving at 1am.

It was already 11:30 and I was pretty tired so I fell asleep leaning on my suitcase. I jerked awake, drool running down my chin and one arm completely asleep. It was 2am. I was still surrounded my blond heads speaking strange languages. And the departure sign still said the flight was leaving at 1am. I sat in a stupor, not understanding. I was thirsty. They’d made me dump out my water when I went through security. For 45 minutes I simply sat there, wrapped in my sweater and African shawl, trying unsuccessfully to fend off the cold that had already seeped into my bones. How quickly the body forgets the horrors of heat when faced with the frigid reality of the rest of the world.

2:45am. Airline employees wheel in carts of water and muffins. There is a mad rush to the front. People stagger away loaded down with water bottles, muffins stuffed into pockets. I barely made it before the water was finished.

3:00am. An Amharic announcement blares from the speakers and people rush toward the door. People are such sheep. I know those blondies do not understand Amharic! How do they know what that announcement said? Turns out it was for us, but that is totally beside the point! The line wound it’s way through the airport, down a ramp, down some stairs and finally to a shuttle. The shuttle drove us across the airfield to a rather large plane. I was in the last row, row 37. And I was the only one in my row. I had not chosen my seat, Ethiopian Airlines had. People always choose to sit in the front. I once heard that you are more likely to survive a plane crash if you’re in the back of the plane, so it is a little ironic that the front is our natural tendency. I walked through the front and it was packed. Every seat in every row was filled for the first 20 rows. I had my entire row to stretch out and sleep for the six-hour flight. Hahaha, suckers! I mean…no, that is what I mean. Hahahahaha.

We arrived in Rome 4 hours late, which was completely fine with me. I had no one waiting for me and check-in at my hostel wasn’t until 10am. With the original itinerary I was supposed to arrive at 5:30am and do something with about 160lbs of luggage (including my two carry-ons…yes, two. I am sneaky like that.) Instead I arrived at 9:30ish. Passport control was a breeze. Then came baggage claim. I found the carousel quickly enough. There were just a few bags circling around and people began arriving to claim them. Then there was only one maroon bag, circling again and again and again. Yet, people from my flight surrounded the carousel. We waited. And waited some more. Then a flight from Amsterdam arriving 45 minutes after ours was put on the board. I walked to baggage lost and found and gave the brightly-lipsticked woman my luggage tags. She told me I just needed to wait.

More people from my flight drifted over to lost and found, receiving the same answer. More people arrived surrounding the carousel…the people from Amsterdam. And then their luggage arrived…

I began to worry a bit. I’d arranged to have my luggage shipped from Rome that day. The pick-up was at 2pm at my hostel. Would they reschedule if my bags didn’t show up. Would I lose all the money I’d spent to ship and have to cart around 3 years of my life on the trains and buses and planes of Europe??!?! But as worry always is, it was in vain. Shortly after the Amsterdam luggage arrived, my flight’s bags began to show up. Mine came too, an hour after we had landed.

As I wheeled my luggage cart out of baggage claim, I cast one last disparaging glance at the SIM card shop inside the baggage area. As we waited, I and several other passengers wandered over to this little stand. This SIM card, called something like “Xpress”, was offering 1G of data and 500 minutes calling for one week costing 175€. I thought that was a little crazy since I could get 1G and 100 minutes in Tanzania for $0.69. It turns out I was correct, it was crazy. Leaving the confines of baggage claim I found TIM (Telecom Italia) and got a special tourist package of 4G, 100 international and domestic minutes for 35€. Good thing I’m awesome.

That was my arrival. Tomorrow I hope to tell you about Roma (isn’t it sooo obnoxious when people use the local name for the city!)…a story of blisters and fashion faux pas.

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