Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Day 7 Part 1: Journey to the (almost) top of the World

From the moment I booked my trip to Norway in the winter there’s been a goal to see the Northern Lights. I haven’t mentioned this up to this point because, well, the weather forecast to where I’ve been and going has been lackluster. In Oslo it has become cloudy every evening and the forecast in Hammerfest has been awesome only if one is cheering for clouds and snow. Then, this morning, the forecast opened up in Hammerfest, which is where I am going today, and tomorrow should be “mainly clear.” I don’t know what the difference between that and partly cloudy are but I’ll take it.

            Before I could get to Hammerfest the journey to get there has to take place and once again jetlag showed its face. I don’t know why it’s impacted me so greatly this trip but last night around 5PM I got extremely tired and I powered through it and stayed up until 7:30 but then I got what I’m calling reverse jetlag. I don’t know if that phrase exists but I’m going to use it and what it is, to put simply, is the body going from full stop to full tilt. All of a sudden I got this burst of energy which is exactly what I wanted four hours prior.

            Sleep was finally ascertained around nine and at 3AM I awoke. It’s been like clockwork (ha!) that I can sleep soundly for exactly six hours and then my body is ready to go and 15 minutes later I’m back asleep. Thankfully when I got back to sleep I slept until 5:45 and had to wait 45 minutes until the hotel breakfast opened which gave me time to pack.

            Breakfast was had and I’ve quickly fallen into a routine. I sit at the same table and get the same wonderful food in the same order each day and at the end of the meal I go to the coffee machine and get a creamy hot chocolate. Today, when I was finishing the creamy hot chocolate, I was moved to tears. Here’s the thing; things that mean things to me mean more and this is a trait that those with Asperger’s, I feel, will have more often than not. What do I mean by this? How much have I talked about the hotel building, or the street I’m on? Most travel writers will describe with great descriptors the atmosphere, the architecture, and the people but how often have I done this? It isn’t that I haven’t taken notice of it, it’s just that it isn’t a priority. For me, what’s more important, is the psychology of travel and the thoughts in invokes and while some may have the memory of the smell of the lobby, or the feeling of going outside into the all but lung freezing air each morning, but for myself I knew that one of the big takeaways I’m going to have is this cup of hot chocolate because with each sip it, for me, is a taste of victory.

            Wait, what? Victory? Yes, victory. Perhaps this is where I do give you a descriptor of my surroundings and it is through that cup of creamy hot chocolate. You see, if you haven’t read Finding Kansas (if you haven’t, you should) I talk about “Small Things.” One of the things the DSM-IV says about people on the autism spectrum is that, “those on the autism spectrum may have an inappropriate attachment to objects.” I’ve complained about that one word of, “inappropriate” for years because it makes sense to me because it is through objects, or in this case a drink, that my memories are webbed together. This morning, as I sipped the final sips that were left and contemplating the trip to Hammerfest I thought that I only have two more nights at that hotel in Oslo and every future time I taste any drink like that I will be back at that place, staring out the window at an awaking Oslo and watching the streetcars go by with people off to work, or school. I’ll remember that feeling of victory, which I haven’t described yet, which is that, sitting there at the table, I am so far away from home doing something I never thought was possible. Earlier on this trip I mentioned that I have always wanted to come to Norway since the Games in 94 in Lillehammer and here I am not just here but getting by better than I have in any previous trip.

            It’s an odd feeling, truly, to sit there and rue the days in the future knowing that the memories of these breakfasts will be so personal and so powerful, but that’s the difference between Asperger’s and not. The thing is I feel as if I fit in here. That’s a phrase that I don’t think I’ve used in any book chapter or blog post ever, but I had a conversation with the waitress at the pizza place I mentioned yesterday about what I'm writing about which is an oddity for me. A friend told me, and this conversation is almost 20 years old, that Norwegians are, “cold to outsiders and almost aloof to others” but I haven’t encountered this. Maybe it’s the “trick” I’ve learned to always be smiling.

            So all those thoughts came at breakfast and it was now 7AM. My plane’s scheduled departure time was 12:20 and it’s just an eight minute walk to the train terminal with trains leaving every ten minutes with a 19 minute ride to the airport. I know those times are rather exact and that’s the way they’re advertised here and things to operate to the minute and aren’t rounded. I love that! Anyway, I figured I’d go to airport early because I don’t know what security and the like would be so I went to my room and got my bag and, on my phone, went to the flytoget app to buy a train ticket and that’s when I got the message, “card declined.”

            Declined? I instantly feared some sort of nefarious event such as identity theft and I was sure my bank account had been wiped clean. I quickly went to my bank app and found, thankfully, I was not taken to the cleaners, but why then was it declined? Another travel tip for you, and this obvious, if you’re going to travel overseas it’s best to let your bank know you’re going. In the previous two trips I just used my AMEX card and had never used my bank card so all sorts of red flags probably went off when a debit came from Norway of all places. I hope this gets rectified before I leave; I’m not in any danger of running out of cash but that is a lifeline that has been taken away should something awry occur.

            What all of this meant was that I needed to go to the terminal to buy a ticket which I didn’t know how this was done (flytoget and NSB are two different companies with two different sections of the station) so I was glad to get there early. I feared it’d be difficult and I worried it would be card only and few places take AMEX but thankfully, at the self-service kiosk, they do take AMEX (but the app won’t accept it. I don’t understand this) so ticket purchased and I hoped on the train.

            At the airport I now had to figure out how to check my bag and I didn’t fully know if I got a bag checked for free or not. I tried using the SAS APP and tried reading their website but I didn’t know what class of ticket I had so if they did charge I hope they took AMEX.

            I looked desperately for a check-in place for SAS but the only thing I could find was a bar code self-scanner that people were using and their bags were whisked away on a conveyor belt. I tried to scan my boarding pass but that didn’t make any sense because what tag would go on the bag? Other people had the tag so where were they getting them? I wasn’t going to ask for help so I looked around some more and found another self-service kiosk where one could scan their boarding pass. This was a concept I didn’t understand because I’m used to the structured lines of using a self-service kiosk to print out a boarding pass if one doesn’t already have it on their phone then going to the desk where the airline rep checks for authentic identification but here there was no personal interaction at all.

            I printed my baggage sticker and then it took me longer than I’d like to tell you on getting the sticker off the paper (it works better when one pulls from the side it’s stuck to. Not one of my shining moments… 10 minutes later) but when I finally did I attempted to loop it around the handle and instead of being loose fitting and readable I made it tightly wound and I just hoped things work off a barcode and not the actual letters. I would find this out as I went back to the conveyor belt, took the scanner, and green lights went off everywhere and off my back went and I could only hope my back found its way with me to Hammerfest.

            Going through security was an oddity as well as there is no TSA, no credential check, all that’s needed is a boarding pass. That’s fine that it is that way but, as with the baggage process, I’m accustomed to the numerous ID checks but that’s not the case here. One thing is the same is having your bag checked at security as mine was and my heart sank. What did I do wrong? Did I have liquids? Did someone plant something in my bag? I was sure my life was coming to an end and an extended stay in a Norwegian prison cell was coming up.

            The security man held my back up and said, “Who’s bag is this?” and I didn’t want to say it was mine because he was using English and that could only mean bad things. Why could it only mean that? Because I’m a catastrophic thinker and logic isn’t needed to come to these conclusions. I slowly lifted my hand and he motioned me to come to the other side of the counter. Now he spoke Norwegian and I gave him the blank stare and he then said, “English?” and I said yes to which now I prepped for the news that would end my life as I knew it. He said, “Your bag…” and there was a lull and I was screaming in my head silently “spit it out… Come on… If my life is going to be drastically changed don’t leave me hanging…” and he then once again said, “your bag…” and finally the second half of the sentence came, “your bag has been randomly chosen for a check. Is this okay?”

            Crisis averted and my bag passed the explosives test and I walked to my gate and I awaited the upcoming trip to the frigid north.

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