I love to travel and even before the year with the Wienermobile, I tried to get out jetsetting every now and then. It may surprise you then, hell it even surprises me, that I have never been abroad. In college I was focused on graduating debt free, so study abroad just never seemed to be an option in my mind. Given that my mom has been living overseas for five years, you might think I would have been over to visit her. But again, I never seemed to have both the time or the money at the same time.
That is, until now! I’ll have to save the details of how the time came about, but in a Kelly-esque last minute change of plans, I booked my ticket to Istanbul, Turkey five days ago!
Five days ago it seemed like a really great plan. Four days ago it didn’t. Suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, there were riots all over Istanbul. Maybe I missed some of the build-up coverage, but it felt like in one day the city had gone from a destination promising rugs and coffee, to one on fire. When I checked in with my mom, although she tried to be reassuring, hearing “they just tear gassed my street and there are helicopters overhead… but don’t worry, everything is actually fine,” just wasn’t the comforting message I was going for.
But the women in my family are both courageous and delusional, plus – let’s be honest – I had already booked my flight so there really was no turning back now.
So with my bag already packed (you know, living out of a suitcase is kind of nice sometimes) I headed to O’hare to enter my first international terminal. Call me overdramatic, but they are certainly different than regular terminals. Each of the different airlines had a much different look to all of their patrons. The Middle Eastern airlines, for example, had families that were much more diverse than Swiss Air, which I was flying. It was fun just to take all of that in.
I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, playing the over-anxious traveler for the first time in a long while. Normally I have a more “meh, I’ll get there eventually,” than a rush-rush-rush attitude. With my extra time I headed to the airport bar. I love bars at the airport because everyone is interesting, going somewhere, off on adventure of some kind. The one in the international terminal was even better because there were just so many different languages to listen to! The downside: one glass of wine cost me $15! Oh well, it’s vacation, right?
I was pretty eager to board and see just who I would be sitting elbow-to-elbow with for the next 8.5 hours on our flight to Zurich, Switzerland. The plane was 2 seats in one aisle, 4 in the middle, and then 2 more seats. I held my breath as I counted across to find mine, hoping it wouldn’t be in the middle block of seats. Hurray! An aisle seat in the two person section! Relieved, I exhaled slightly and started looking back to see if anyone was already sitting by the window in my row.
An eager-faced girl pleasantly greeted me. Stella, an 11 year old (12 tomorrow she proudly exclaimed!) Greek girl from the Chicago suburbs was taking a solo trip to see her family in Athens, Greece for the summer. Hmm… an unaccompanied minor. I wasn’t sure what to make of the situation initially, but Stella ended up being just like me when I was that age, for better or worse!
She was a chatter, that’s for sure. But in a silly, anxious, wants to talk but not sure what to talk about, so she’ll say everything kind of way. The first thing she said was, “I’m glad you’re not a man or a boy because I would be nervous, but you seem nice!” Well – that’s the right foot to start out on.
She was adorable. Yes – she squirmed entirely too much for me and fidgeted a ton. Yes – she talked about everything that crossed her mind and her pedicure wasn’t exactly something I was dying to know about. But she could hold a conversation pretty well and something tells me she is probably going to be pretty great when she grows up. Plus she shared her snacks, and who doesn’t love that in an airplane, especially when they smell so tasty!
The flight itself was incredible. My mom had advised me to spend a little bit more to fly with an international carrier like Swiss or Turkish Airlines, opposed to United, because of the service. No kidding! The whole flight was a game of “what will they bring next?!”
I had texted a friend beforehand saying that all I wanted were outlets and warm towels. He had said I could at least count on Swiss chocolate. We were both right. There was an enormous selection of really good movies and TV programs, games, and music – all that were free! This already was a huge contrast from the U.S. carriers I’ve flown with.
I snuggled up with the blanket they provided, which was surprisingly cozy unlike those cheap red Delta blankets, and set into a movie. From then it was a mix of sleeping through the night and waking up for all the food they provided.
Used to a dixi-cup beverage and a palmful of pretzels, I found the spread that Swiss provided incredible. When they came by for drinks, out of curiosity, I asked how much wine was. Free! Oh, well then sure I’ll take some red wine! (I figured it balanced out the expensive wine from the airport bar.)
The food was equally impressive. Snack mix to start, followed by a chicken, rice and vegetable dinner, salad, and a brownie. In the morning they brought by a croissant and yogurt. Perhaps it is since I’m new to this whole international travel thing, but I thought the flight was divine.
Plus, the flight attendants were just adorable. Our aisle was attended to by this gorgeous Swiss flight attendant, who was charming both in his demeanor and also his ability to talk in so many different languages. I easily heard him speak in three – English, Italian and French.
The only hiccup in the flight was in the middle of the night, when I pulled a typical klutzo-Kelly move and while letting Stella up to use the restroom accidentally spilled the red wine. Miraculously, it didn’t stain my jeans at all! In that moment of horror all I could think was how embarrassed I was, trying to be cosmopolitan but failing in quite the fashion.
Stella woke me up in the morning (I forgive her, she was adorable in her enthusiasm) and we watched the plane come in over the Swiss mountains. Even the arrival was different than the states. Everything in the U.S. is laid out in a grid pattern, where as things were so loopy down on the ground in Switzerland. I looked at the hilltops, hoping to spot a yodeling blonde girl with braids, but that was one expectation that unfortunately wasn’t met.
When we parted ways in Zurich I found that navigating the Swiss airport was difficult not because of language barriers, everything had an English translation, but because it is set up much differently than U.S. airports. Luckily, all of the staff kept pointing me in the right direction and I eventually made it to my flight from Zurich to Istanbul, just as it was boarding.
And that’s where I am now – en route, in an aisle seat with ample leg room, having just enjoyed another tasty meal, waiting to touch base and get my first stamp in my virgin passport!
(Update: I have since landed and made it safe and sound to our apartment in Istanbul!)