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European travel journal: Day 1, Sunday, May 10, 2009

I squinted behind my sunglasses to look at the dark-haired girl who was squinting at me behind her sunglass as if to say, “I’m from the Internet. Are you from the Internet too?” And indeed she was. As with all Internet people she looked kind of like her photo, but in 3D and with sound. I enjoyed reading SassyDemon’s now private blog (so no linky) and after we wondered around a three-block radius of Union Station in Chicago we finally gave up trying to find Marshall’s diner on our own and let a cabbie find it for us. There was an apple and cheddar omelet and good conversation and an offer of complimentary soft-serve ice cream, though I turned the last part down.

After lunch, SassyDemon walked me to the Blue line stop and after my luggage handle got stuck in the turnstile and then pried out, I got on my train with two and half hours until my plane’s departure.

Then there was the shuttle.

You see, construction work was being done on the blue line on Sunday, which meant four stops were closed. Shut down. Not open. And since trains like to travel in straight lines on tracks and not willy nilly on the roads, the train stopped and we were guided to the surface for a special shuttle bus that would take us to the next stop.

It took 45 minutes. I’d estimated the entire train ride would take only 30 minutes.

I have paranoid traveler’s syndrome. I’ve been stricken with it from my youth. Symptoms include nausea, muscle tension and anxiety when I do not arrive at the airport two hours before my departure time. As our bus waited in a traffic jam I murmured to myself, “It will be fine. It will be fine. It will be fine.” As the bus kept going and going and going without me knowing how close to the station we were, I told myself that this was why I allow two hours to get to the airport. That way when I am freaking out on a shuttle bus in Chicago traffic I am only doing it because of my paranoid traveler’s syndrome and not because I’m actually going to miss my flight.

A short jaunt and two flights of stairs later, I had gotten a good weight-lifting workout with my suitcase and I was on the train platform. We zoomed into O’Hare airport with an hour an ten minutes until my flight’s departure time. International travelers have to check in at least 40 minutes before hand. This is another stimulus that provokes paranoid traveler’s syndrome, especially when you try checking in at a terminal that tells you it doesn’t check in international flights and you only have 30 minutes to find the right one and complete the task. Normally, I check in online beforehand, but my Internet was still on the fritz this morning and my printer had finally had a psychotic break, spewing gibberish and playing card suits, when I’d tried printing my itinerary for my mom.

Another flight of stairs later I found the right terminal and after I figured out how to swipe my passport I was onto security, where I was pulled aside and they stole my almond butter that I’d bought for DietGirl. Sorry, Shauna! Let it be known that flight security has kept us all safe from the terror of a creamy almond spread. I can still remember the way the screener shook her head as she found the jars, as if to say “These kids with their exotic condiment spreads.” I bet those screeners are munching on almond-y toast and having a good laugh right now. In retrospect, I should have foreseen that I would never get a buttery, gooey concoction through security, but I thought I would give it a shot. I should have also checked the Chicago Transit Authority’s web site and learned about the work on the blue line, but with a zillion details to remember and 5 guidebooks read, I never thought to check the subway schedule of a metro system outside of London or Paris.

As I waited at the gate to board the plane, I played a game of Spot the Brit. I randomly assigned stranger’s British citizenship as if their haircuts or jackets were speaking to me in a cockney accent. I boarded my flight with no trouble, except for the fact that my seat was in the dead middle of the row, which is what you get for checking in late. I probably shouldn’t use the word “dead” when referring to air flight either. The last time I was on a 777 with 9 seats across I was about 9 years old and flying to Disney World. This was back when they let people meet you at the gate. They probably let you travel with almond butter too.

There were little TV monitors on the back of every chair with several movie selections and a fancy map that showed where our plane was at the moment, as well as the airspeed and the temperature outside the cabin: -60 degrees Fahrenheit. Nobody open a window! The complimentary blankets won’t save us from the chill, or the suction. The map was rather addictive and without it I wouldn’t have known how close to Newfoundland we flew. I also wouldn’t have known when we were flying over a huge mass of water with no land in sight.

I selected the movie “Taken” from the selections, which is a film about two girls traveling alone to Paris who are kidnapped and sold into sex slavery by a cute boy they met at the airport. I didn’t think there was anything that could make Paul Blart: Mall Cop look like a good selection, but that plot point did. Mental note: Do not share a cab with any cute guys at the Paris train station!

The flight attendants were really ace, handing out snacks and sodas and chicken meals with tasty oatmeal brownies quickly and efficiently. As I sat with the pillow behind my lower back, a father lifted up his ginger-haired baby up long enough for her to grin and wave at the rest of coach before bringing her back down. Her body popped up again a moment later, like the creatures in the Whack-a-Mole game, but far cuter and adorable. It was the cutest thing ever.

At customs, the agent commented on my picture and said I’d lost “a fair amount of weight.” Then he asked if I was travelling alone and my paranoid traveler’s syndrome kicked in again, as if the customs agent was going to follow me to my hotel and sell me into an Albanian prostitution ring.

I tried to sleep on the plane but only dozed off for 30 minutes. Now I shall try to stay awake for the rest of the day to sync my body with local time. I’ll have to drink lots of tea, I suppose. It is sunny and brisk here in London. It’s just like America, but different! Now I’m off to hop on and hop off a big red bus.

Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away
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victoria • May 11, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Yay! You’re making the right decision to tough it out the first day and go to be d on local time – the rest of your trip will be the better for it.


melman • May 11, 2009 at 3:07 pm

I’m so impressed that you’re doing this! A solo trip to Europe has been on my life list for a while. Maybe I’ll follow in your footsteps.


jennywenny • May 11, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Ha! Have fun, I hope the travellers anxiety will wear off. Check out kew gardens if the weather is nice!


Dana • May 11, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Keep us updated….and have a good time!


Kristin • May 11, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Have fun in London! It’s one of my favorite places in the world. Except for Bath and other parts of England, of course. I even have a blog about my trips to England (most recently in March) (link is in my running blog if you ever want to check it out). The hop on/off bus tour is a great way to start (although I have fallen asleep on it several times after just flying in :). Have a great trip.


Amy • May 11, 2009 at 3:51 pm

I loved ‘Taken’ but I saw it in a theater close to my home, and had my husband to protect me from any potential abductors.

I hope you have a good prostitution-free trip!


Karen • May 11, 2009 at 4:08 pm

I am so thrilled for you, have a wonderful time!


Becca • May 11, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Have fun!!!

I too, share your travel anxieties. My dad always leaves 2 hours to get there plus time for a breakdown or flat tire. And it’s a family tradition/joke at his expense as you are pulling out of the driveway to chant: “got your tickets, passport and money? You can buy everything else…”


Robin • May 11, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Thanks so much for blogging your trip! I’m looking forward to being along for the ride!


Lydia • May 11, 2009 at 9:26 pm

I remember the first time I was in London — I stayed in the High Street Kensington area. Have fun! Try to see a show if you can!


Tanya • May 11, 2009 at 10:05 pm

That sounds like a really good movie–if you didn’t see it on your way to a solo trip that includes Paris!

When we went on our honeymoon (a Mediterranean cruise), we stayed overnight in Venice and woke up too late the next day to see much of Venice at all. Now we’ll have to go back someday. :o) Preferably not in November!


Julie • May 12, 2009 at 1:12 am

Oh my gosh I’m so jealous! I hope you are having a great time! You are very brave to go all by yourself.


Ashley • May 12, 2009 at 3:04 am

I’m really excited about reading your travel journal! It’s already awesome!


Raimi • May 12, 2009 at 3:51 am

indeed this is a nice read. Hope you get to enjoy Europe and taste those yummy crepes. I’m so proud to see you made it happen, you really lost a lot!


dg • May 12, 2009 at 4:21 am

Ooooh very very exciting! :) Hope this good weather keeps up for you!

I feel like such a goose for not realising you were only taking carry-on luggage; I’d have warned you about the almond butter as liquid thing. Thank you so much though, for kindly offering to transport the precious TJ’s stuff over here… I owe ya bigtime.

Tally ho!


Nathalie • May 12, 2009 at 6:17 am

I look forward to reading about your European Adventures :) have a great trip. Are you coming to Luxembourg for a day or two maybe? I’d happily show you around if you like :)


Lirpa • May 12, 2009 at 7:17 am

Thank you so much for blogging while you’re travelling! I love travel journals! I love travelling too, but on my current budget, i’m more likely to travel vicariously through others. I went on one trip/vacation solo several years ago, right after my divorce, and it was exciting and liberating and scary all at the same time. I drove across the country by myself, then flew to Hawaii, then took a cruise from Hawaii to Canada. The cruise turned out to be a mistake on my own. Kinda dull when you’re stuck in the middle of the ocean with no company. And of course i was too paranoid to make friends with strangers for safety reasons. Europe would have been much better, i’m sure, with all the sites and sounds and smells and tastes! Hope you have a fun and safe trip!


Cathleen • May 12, 2009 at 8:54 am

You got a complimentary BLANKET? And a pillow TOO? What sort of upscale airline are you flying? (From one who almost froze to death on a flight from west coast to east.)

Looking forward to hearing about London now that you’re actually THERE.


debby • May 12, 2009 at 10:03 am

Ooh, thanks for sharing, PQ! This is so fun.

I have paranoid traveler’s syndrome too. I just didn’t know the name of it. Wait til you get older, and you can add hot flashes to the list of symptoms that come with it!


Sandra • May 12, 2009 at 11:29 am

Hey – welcome to the UK! I commute into central London for work but live on the outskirts – sometimes known as Essex.

Enjoy your European adventure. I am glad you finally got to do it.


QueenB • May 12, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I am so glad you are blogging your trip! I love London (I took my own solo tour when I was 20 yeras old) and can’t wait to see it through your eyes. Thanks so much for sharing. Be safe and have a blast!


psychsarah • May 12, 2009 at 2:09 pm

My first day in London, my husband and I were walking around and when I saw the red double-decker buses, the first thing out of my mouth was “it looks like a movie”. He teased me incessantly, but then we decided it was the quote of the day, and chose one for each day of our trip. My favourite was “vivisection is scientific fraud”. It was written in graffiti on an overpass on the highway from London to Stonehenge. I thought wow, these Brits even have cultured graffiti!! Sorry-random ramblings about my trip-I kind of wish I was back there right now… Glad you’re on your way. Have a great time!!


Nancy V. • May 12, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Stupid security confisc-haters!! Last month when we went on our cruise, we got our deodorants confiscated, some hot sauce we had brought back, all our sunblock, and last but not least, my beautiful jamaican wooden mask becaue ‘there might be tiny bugs in it that would eat your whole house!’ Grr!


Jackie • May 12, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Your first few sentences are hilarious. I read them out loud to my daughters and we got a kick out of them.

You managed to fly to Europe with only carry on luggage? You are amazing. I always take way too much when I go.


nazilam • May 13, 2009 at 7:19 pm

I’m so thinking you flew American Airlines — the oatmeal brownie and the movies clued me in.


Sue • May 13, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Re almond butter: I flew the same day as the shoe bomber guy and trust me – obey the security rules. It makes it easier on everyone. The guidelines are there for a reason. I’d rather someone loses some silly souvenier than explode mid flight. It seems laughable/annoying until an incident happens while you are in transit. Then it becomes a little too real.

It seems like overkill, but it isn’t.

If you brought it in packed luggage you would have gotten through with it.


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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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