June 7, 2015: Returning to New York

Today is our big travel day. An enormous, all day, travel day. Oslo, Norway to Frankfort, New York. We have not had a day like this since late March.

We were up the middle of the morning to get everyone ready to go. We needed to be packed, the apartment cleaned up and out by around one. Our flight is early afternoon but the landlord needs us out of the apartment so that he has time to clean (and hopefully to fix the toilet seat) before the next people move in a few hours after we leave. So that was setting our time table more than anything else. The flight itself was not all that early and we would have been able to relax a bit more if that was our only time constraint.

We had been planning on using the metro station to get ourselves to the downtown train station which would take us back to the airport. Once he came to get the keys and to check on the apartment, though, our landlord offered to pack us into his car and drive us to the train station! What a life saver that was. Lugging all of that luggage (hence why it is called that) around the city is difficult, slow and very painful. There is no way to do that well. It is hard enough doing that in an airport or train station, but doing it onto subways and around city streets is very nearly impossible. This really made a huge difference for us. We were in the train station way ahead of schedule and able to relax, take our time and we were not in pain like we would have been had we been walking all over.

From the downtown train station we took the express back up to the airport which is a very nice ride through the open Norwegian countryside which is just lovely. Luciana and I sat together watching the luggage while Dominica and Liesl sat today in the normal seats. I read the train’s magazine (they had an English version available this time unlike the other direction a few days ago) which was interesting and I learned a bit about the king’s guard in Oslo.

While on the train, which has digital displays which show weather, news and flight inforamation, we learned that our flight had been pushed back by forty five minutes. So our “extra time at the airport” had grown again to more than three hours. Not a big deal but it is going to be a long stop there.

Once at the airport we were free to take some time to look for food as we were there well ahead of our flight. We had a lot of time to kill and, like most European airports, they do not send you to your gate until it is effectively boarding time so you can’t go to the gate and just camp out there waiting for your flight.

Our first stop was Duty Free. Dominica wanted to stock up on Kinder Surprise and a few other things to take back to America. So the girls and I sat on the floor and relaxed for a bit while Dominica did some shopping. She was successful and from there we went looking for a place to eat.

Like in Oslo proper, there was no “Norwegian” food available in the airport. Even travel guides that I was reading were recommending American chain restaurants as “the places to eat” in Oslo. So we ended up going to O’Leary’s, a Irish-ish chain out of Boston. It took at least half of an hour, maybe longer, for us to even get a seat and once we did it was absolutely tiny. We did not really fit and there was no room at all for our bags. I feel like airports really have not figured out how to do these things, everything is too cramped and the servie is not well organized for people needing to catch flights.

Dominica and I both got the fish and chips which was very good. Service was very slow, which we though was fine as we had so much time to kill. After we ate Dominica and the girls made a bathroom run. I had considered getting dessert while they were gone but it ended up taking me from well before they left and the entire time that they were gone, about forty minutes in total, just to get the check! Forty minutes, for a check, in an airport? That’s crazy. If you don’t have hours to kill you can’t even remotely consider eating in the Oslo airport. That’s a problem And who would guess that it would take hours to get to eat in an airport chain restaurant? There is no reasonable way to guage that experience.

We got out of O’Leary’s and it was time to stand and watch the departure board for them to tell us that it was time to go to our gate. Your gate is not official until that point. So you stand and watch the board and once your gate is listed, you go for it briskly. We did this and it was a good thing that we were on top of things.

Between the waiting zone and our gate, which was gate 50, was border control. This is tough to figure out because gate 49 is before border control and there is no line to get there. So when we were sent to gate 50 we found ourselves in an immense line waiting for the border control to process everyone’s passports as they attempted to leave the country. This is relatively problematic given that you are not supposed to go through this point (or even know that you should go through this point) until they tell you to which gate you are to head. But this would not have been a big deal since we were sent to the gate about an hour before departure – except for one small detail, when they told us to “go to the gate” we had an hour before the delayed departure. Once we were in the hour long border control line they suddenly moved the departure time back to the original time, which meant we went from “head to the hour long gate line” instructions to “last call to board” in just a few minutes!

This created quite a bit of panic, as you can imagine, since everyone in the hour long line was trying to get to a flight that was already announcing that they were about to stop boarding and close the doors. They literally gave only about five minutes to go from the main terminal, through border control with a line that was an hour long when we got there and easily ninety minutes long for the people who were not as fast, and to find your gate and board your plane! It was insane.

Several of us managed to flag down airport officials and try to explain that the flight had been moved up to an impossible time after we were already “in the process” of getting to the gate, long after it was too late to speed up the process. It took a bit of convincing to get someone at the airport to do something about it but finally they sent a runner to the airlines to let them know that the entire passenger list was trying to get to the plane and had no way to do so. They also told border control who opened up additional booths to rush people through. It still took most of an hour and no one was sure that Norwegian Air was going to keep the doors open for us.

Thankfully we made it, as we believe everyone else did, but it was very stressful and completely unprofessional how it was handled. While the Oslo Airport is very clean and attractive it turned out to be run just horribly between the restaurant being too slow to really use, being able to be proactive and getting to your gate early, making changing to boarding after it is too late for people to change their plans, not communicating well, etc. Everything in the airport was handled very poorly. We were very unimpressed.

Once on the plane things went far better. Dominica sat on one side of the plane and the girls and I sat in the middle of the plane with a whole center aisle of three seats to ourselves. I sat in the middle with Luciana on my right and Liesl on my left. Luciana was pretty grumpy and complained until we were at the end of the runway. We were worried that it was going to be a long flight with her being unhappy the entire way but, true to form, the moment that the engines revved up she grabbed my arm, put her head on it and was fast asleep before we even made it to the end of the runway!

Luciana slept the entire flight, waking up only about twenty minutes before langing in New York. Liesl was awake pretty much the entire flight and busied herself watching shows, colouring or just playing. They both did just great and were no problem at all. Dominica napped a little and watched some shows. I did not sleep but did manage to make it through three movies including Horrible Bosses and Horrible Bosses 2, neither of which had I ever seen before. I also watched a really weird movie called The Watch which was okay. It passed the time and the flight went by very quickly. Before we really new it we were landing at JFK in Brooklyn.

Getting through customers was not too bad although the lines were pretty long. We got our luggage and got out of the airport. We discovered that we really missed Europe the moment that we were outside and dealing with the never ending mess that is JFK and many US airports. The air train was down to maintenance and all of the signage telling us how to get to the rental car areas was incorrect. The airport had people stationed to help you get on the right buses to get where you needed to go but none of them were labeled and they were all lounging about hanging out with each other as if they were off duty and not helping people to get to the right places and when they did help they were often wrong. We missed the first bus completely, never knowing that we were supposed to get on it as the bus and the signs were both mislabeled and the directing staff were busy talking about the love lives of other employees and acting like they were airport patrons instead of employees. When the second bus came and we had already lost half an hour of our night we were told to wait in one place because the bus would come to us. Of course, it did not and had we not ignore the guides and ran into traffic to get on the bus we would have been left behind again.

As it was the bus was full far beyond capacity. Dominica and the girls sat far in the back and I could not see them. I stood in the front, literally standing with my back to the front windsheld, holding onto some of the luggage as there was nowhere to set it down and watching the rest of the luggage from afar as best as I could. The whole situation was ridiculous. I could not put my arms down and had no where to stand and no safety at all.

At one of the stops some useless “can’t be bothered to do their job” guide, just like the other ones who hadn’t been working, kept telling people to cram onto the overfull bus, even when the bus driver kept telling them that they were over capacity and no one could come on, and the guide kept screaming at me to move back and not to stand in the front even though it was clear that there wasn’t the slightest place for me to go – not even enough space for me to take a step. The bus driver kept telling them that we were full and that I had nowhere to go. It was riduculous.

Finally the bus dropped us off at Federal Circle which, we were told, had the rental cars but nothing was really labeled and we were really just guessing at what to do. Luckily we found the shuttle bus for Enterprise after waiting on an unlabeled circle for a while. It was getting quite late and we were getting pretty worried that we were not going to be able to get to our rental car.

Once Enterprise got us, though, everything went smoothly. The shuttle driver was super friendly and helpful. He drove us right over and the staff met us outside, helped us with luggage, found a place to put it so that we were not pulling and carrying it all over while dealing with the rental. This was probably the best rental car experience that I have ever had. Everyone at Enterprise at JFK was super friendly and helpful. They really went out of their way to make it a simple and pleasant experience.

We ended up with a Chrysler 200 which was a really good choice. Big enough to fit everything and was comfortable to drive. I was pretty happy when I learned that that was the car that we were getting. We got it all loaded up, which was still extremely full but easier to deal with than things had been in our Corsa back in Spain, and we were off! Finally done with planes for several weeks (I will be flying out to California in about three weeks and then off to Panama in a month so the break is not a huge one.)

It feels strange to be back in the United States. Everything is in English, dollars and miles. And everyone drives so slowly. And the cars are so big and the roads so rough.

We were pretty tired for the long drive through Brooklyn, then Queens and up through Westchester Country and on to the New York State Thruway. It is anything but a trivial drive to go from JFK up to Dominica’s parents’ house. At least four or five hours which isn’t terrible except that we have been going all day and to our internal clocks it was many hours later than the local time would indicate. So it felt like we were driving all through the night after having had a very long day.

It was one or two in the morning when we pulled into Frankfort. We were completely exhausted and ready to go straight to bed. Francesca and the Grice kids had arrived early in the day so were all unpacked, set up and long asleep. We have the little upstairs bedroom with the three little beds in it (two twin beds and one kid’s bed that is even smaller than a twin.) Dominica took her usual bed to herself. Liesl got the kid’s bed since she has been sleeping with me the last several days. Luciana and I took the other twin bed. We were all off to sleep as quickly as could be.

Our first cycle of our European adventure is now over and we are back in America for a little over a month. We will be all over New York, Texas and California whie we are here. We will be back “on the road” on July 25th when we head down to Panama.