This is going to be an interesting write, and maybe a more memorable read because I'm attempting to write this while being up for more than 24 hours, but wow, 24 hours! It's odd to think I woke up in my own bed and now I'm in Norway of all places.
The day did start in Saint Louis and I've found a sure-fire way to have a conversation on a plane. All one has to do is to have a passport because others can't help it and have to ask, "Where are you going?" This has happened each trip and the conversation this go round was rather thought provoking as the man to my right has a Godson with Asperger's and is well versed in it. I talked about this project/book that I've written/writing and the places I've been and this man has lived all around the world and has relatives that came from Japan. This is where things got interesting because he asked me what I thought of Tokyo and before I could answer he gave my answer for me by saying, "it's international travel without the whole international part. It's so big and so impersonal and eye contact doesn't happen so it was probably a safe place for you, wasn't it?" I sat there staring unable to really say anything of consequence but my mind was racing thinking two things; the first was, "dude, you should write my book" and secondly, "if this man has perfectly described what my findings were then there is merit to it and others, I hope, will find it of interest." That conversation seems like a year ago and of course there was the post I wrote in Atlanta but one I got on the place that was headed to Paris things got interesting as I had to deal with the curious story regarding seat 26L
I don't offer advice all that often but here is a top travel tip; if you are flying on Air France and the plane is a 777 DO NOY CHOOSE SEAT 26L. Sure, it's got the much coveted title of "exit row" and I thought I was getting another awesome seat like I had on my way home from Tokyo with unlimited leg room and enough arm room to almost do a full wing span test. Oh... How... I... Was... Wrong! The seat itself was barely wider than my body and my head? My head had to be cocked at a 45 degree angle because the bulkhead and natural curvature of the fuselage gave no room for my body at all. Even if I were 5"5 and 140lbs I still think that seat would be a tight fit and that was before the person in the middle seat showed up. The prospect of eight hours of getting a contortionist experience was not one I was looking forward to.
What to do what to do? I knew I had to say something which me saying anything at all is a rarity, but if you could've seen my posture you'd have said something to, and probably would've laughed which I think the flight attendant, as I made excessive amounts of eye contact to convey the, "hey, does this look the least bit comfortable?" look and I was prepared for a debate as I've had some flight attendants that were more rigid than I, but this Air France flight attendant came right over and initially spoke French which I just gave a blank stare back and then she went right into English and said it was an all but sold out flight but they were keeping one seat open so I could move once the doors were closed and sure enough, right before we taxied, I moved. Granted, I was now in the middle of a four-wide middle seat but that was light years ahead of what surely would've been years of therapy to fix the strains and muscle pulls I was bound to have.
The flight was smooth and we landed in Paris where my connection time was 110 minutes. That sounds like a lot, right? Ha! I dare you to find an airport that takes longer to navigate that Charles De Gaulle airport. My dad and I, headed to Madagascar in 2006, had 2 hours and that was cutting it close so take away ten minutes and things could get dicey. And, as luck would have it, the jet bridge was either, "broken or the man who mans it is off of work" said the man over the intercom. There would be a delay of an unknown amount of time. This time proved only to be 5 minutes but those precious minutes and seconds could come back to haunt me.
Next up after walking through the labyrinth was another round of security. Safety is paramount but we just came off a plane... Anyway, once that hurdle was cleared my worst case scenario came true; it was shuttle bus time.
Why is that airport so nasty to navigate? The reason is because you've got to queue up in the terminal and way to get on a shuttle that does a full lap of the property and it never fails that the gate (they call them gates, I'd call them terminals) you need will be the one that would be the first one reached if the bus were going the other way. With the clock ticking each stop sign was a thorn, and when we'd get to a gate and we stopped to let people on or off I wanted to say, "hurry hurry hurry!"
We finally got to terminal G, I mean gate G which is the back 40 of the airport. I walked in and now it was time for a passport check. This too, seemed odd, because I never actually left the airport, but I'll take another stamp in the passport! When that was cleared I walked into what I thought was the gate area but it was more of a staging area. I saw on the terminal, "Oslo 9:45" and beside it the gate section was blank. I look around the room and there were no actual gates. I went to the help desk to inquire (again, I don't ask for help frequently) and I was told that at exactly 20 minute before departure the gate will be displayed and the gates were actually the way I came in from except on the other side of the rope. She also warned me that no announcements would be made and to be punctual. This was like the Birmingham episode all over again and I couldn't fathom as to the reason announcements aren't made. Go to any US airport and you'll quickly tire of, "We are preboarding... 1st class... Sky... Zone 1... Zone 2... Final call... Final call... This time we mean it; final call!" okay, I can see how a lack of announcements could make things tamer.
The gate shown was G30 and I proceeded that way but at G30 the sign said Oslo but there was nary a soul there. Others that got there quickly turned and went to G28. Why did they go there? I didn't know, but an actual announcement was made and more people went to G28 so I went to and as I stood in line I kept trying to sneak a peek at someone else's boarding pass to confirm that I was in the right area and sure enough I was.
Sitting on the plane that would take me to Oslo I saw a bird in the air. Yes, I know that's a common occurrence but what this bird was doing was so profound to me as it was flying against the win making no ground nor losing any ground. It was fighting to make progress but none was made. If I didn't see that as a metaphor for my social life I'd probably have laughed, but there was something tragically true in what that bird was attempting. After 30 seconds you'd have thought the bird would try a different tactic be it changing altitude or maybe not attacking the wind head on and yet there was the bird exerting every ounce of energy it had because that bird, for some reason, needed to go the way the wind was coming from and not another degree different.
A few minutes passed and I began to think that this bird was actually some sort of drone because surely no creature would put up such a ferocious fight to a hopeless cause then it finally happened; the bird went into a dive and leveled out about a foot off the ground and finally zoomed off on whatever task it had it's little bird heart set out for. It was just one change, that's all that was needed, and yet that bird insisted on doing it the way it wanted to knowing full well that it wasn't going to work. This story could be used in so many examples in my life in that when I know I want to try it or attempt it one way I wish you the best of luck trying to change my approach.
After 18 hours I set foot on Norwegian soil and it was odd when I left baggage claim because there was no passport check and if there had been I somehow wandered through it without being stopped. Sure, I'm sad that I don't get a stamp but it's in that moment of interview with a passport control agent that I'm sure my life is going to come to an end as I'm confident alarms are going to be set off and men in odd uniforms are going to come out of a secret door to take me away to be interrogated for things I'm oblivious to. Catastrophic thinking? Um, yes, yes it is.
I learned from my Tokyo experience that I needed to at least have some idea of how to get from the airport to the hotel as just like Tokyo the airport here in Oslo is a good distance from the city. I did a minimal amount of research but I learned there's a train called Flytoget that would take me from the airport to just half a mile from my hotel. Before I left Saint Louis I downloaded the app but they didn't take AMEX so I didn't think much of it. Thankfully I kept that app as the ticket kiosk was closed at the airport so I went into the app after I connected to the free wifi (I say free because the only airport I know of in the world that charges for it is my home airport in Saint Louis) and within seconds I had my ticket. It was that easy and I'm glad my minimal amounts of planning came through.
To add to the department of preparing I had looked at the map many times on how to get to my hotel as well as writing a small map for myself. It was rather easy; leave train station, go two blocks south, then keep walking west until the hotel is reached. I did this and walking into the hotel, as with the other two trips, is one of elation as if this steep mountain had been conquered. I walked into my room after I checked in, sat down, and thought, "if this day is any indication this trip as a whole is going to be a memorable one!"