The flight to Chicago was less than half an hour. Before he knew it, he was already in the O’Hare international airport, checking in his baggage once more.
“Where are you flying to, sir?” The lady at the check-in desk asked.
“Europe.” He replied.
“Oh that’s nice!” She exclaimed. “Where in Europe are you going? France? Spain?”
“Actually, I’m going to Kestovnia.” Adrian replied with a fake smile. The uniformed lady at the desk replied with her own fake smile.
“Oh… how nice.” She said. Obviously, she had no clue where Kestovnia was. Adrian’s baggage weighed less than fifty pounds, so there was no problem in paying extra for it. The suitcase disappeared down the conveyor belt soon after. Adrian walked around and explored the airport for a bit. He had three and a half hours before he had to be waiting at his gate to board the flight. What he really wanted was a cigarette, however. He had one left in his pack, but he had forgotten to take his lighter with him. It was in his luggage.
Adrian consequently walked around for half an hour, including standing outside where the pickup/drop-off point was for travelers, trying to gain courage to ask older travelers if he could borrow a lighter. He never got the courage, and broke down to buying a “Chicago” lighter at the gift shop. He finally walked across the airport for a third time and walked outside, lighting his cigarette. He knew he was addicted. There was no denying that he enjoyed every hit of the cigarette and that he was in heaven for those three minutes. There was no denying that his mind calmed down substantially and that he was able to sort the whole situation out from the strange nicotine buzz that he always received every time he smoked for the first time in three days.
He finally concentrated on his upcoming flight, and went through security. Once again, he emptied all his pockets and took off his shoes so he could pass through the security threshold. He showed the officer his passport, which had one stamp so far: it was his deportation recall stamp. Adrian thought it was a lovely sort of stamp to be the first on his passport. The officer almost gave him a deathly glare as he eyed the stamp on the first page of his passport.
“Go right ahead.” He said hostile like.
He took a long moving walkway down a straight passage, and finally reached his concourse. He found his gate and sat down on one of the seats. He waited for another half hour, and then started to get restless. He stood up and walked towards the line at the gate desk to ask about when his flight would start boarding. This line was also very long.
“Are you going to Düsseldorf?” One kid asked. He had long blonde hair and blue eyes. He also wore a very nice swatch. He seemed to be just barely younger than Adrian.
“No, I’m flying to Frankfurt, why?” He asked.
“I’m just sort of confused…” the kid said, “I still need to get a boarding pass, and I’m flying to Düsseldorf in about an hour and a half.” Adrian could barely pick up any accent.
“Are you from Düsseldorf?” Adrian asked.
“Yes, I live there. I was a foreign exchange student in Lincoln, Nebraska.”
A small blonde lady approached them and started to ask something in German. Adrian could barely understand what she was trying to say… the last thing he had learned in his German class was the traveling unit, and he had cheated his whole way through, since it was all online. The German kid started to talk to her in German, and Adrian decided to go to the McDonald’s and get some food, since he couldn’t follow the conversation.
By the time he was finished eating, the flight was ready to be boarded. He waited in line a third time, and finally he reached the front. The lady took his boarding pass and tore the stub off, and handed it to him. “Enjoy your flight to Frankfurt.” She said with a German accent, and smiled.
Adrian found his seat at 41H, and he sat next to two ladies, one was in her mid-thirties while the other was an elderly lady in her mid-eighties. After talking with the two, Adrian learned that the younger woman was on a business trip to Prague and Madrid for some art shows. He soon learned that she was a very skilled painter from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The older lady was flying to St. Petersburg for her church along with several others, who ranged from eighteen years old to eighty-two years old.
Adrian started off his flight by watching a movie, after the stewardesses had come around with drinks and dinner. It was one of those less popular comedies that Adrian had never heard about… and one and a half hours later when it had finished, Adrian felt as if he had wasted his time.
He then took out his music player and listened to an album by one of his favorite alternative rock bands. The rest of the flight consisted of watching another movie, then falling asleep to more music on his iPod. He woke up almost nearly an hour later to find the airplane flooded with sunlight. He wiped his eyes groggily, and felt like he had woken up at four in the morning.
The stewardesses were making another run around the isles of the airplane, serving breakfast. He opened the screen to his window, and bright light poured into his row. He had to cover his eyes for a while before he could get used to the morning sun.
“Where are we?” He asked one of the ladies.
“We’re flying over Germany right now.” The younger one answered.
“Wow, we’re already almost there.” He said, and as his eyes adjusted to the light, he caught his first glimpse of Europe. The clouds had parted for a couple seconds before they covered his view again. In these few seconds, Adrian could faintly see a spider web pattern of twisted green shapes of farmland and little tiny matchbox cars driving along the narrow dirt roads. The farmland looked very different to the farms he knew in the Midwest. Most of the farms followed a very strict grid pattern amongst the state highways.
Already eight and a half hours had passed on the flight. Adrian was surprised at how well he could pass the time during the flight… but the complimentary movie screen right in front of him was also extremely helpful.
The flight attendant started to make an announcement on the P.A. system. It was all in German… the only things that Adrian could understand were “Frankfurt” and “vierzig minuten.” Then he made the same announcement in English.
“Ladies and Gentlemen we hope you have enjoyed your flight. We are about forty minutes away from the Frankfurt Main airport and will be serving a light snack until then. The local German time right now is eight-fifty in the morning and the outside temperature is about twenty-five degrees Celsius and seventy-six degrees Fahrenheit. Please note that our plane is arriving about half an hour late so please make any necessary changes to your schedule if you are connecting to another flight.” For the remainder of the forty minutes, Adrian used his time by watching the beginning of another comedy, starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston.
Soon the plane started to make a gentle descending slope, and the seat belt sign went on. Adrian buckled his seat belt and as the plane flew lower and lower, he looked out the window and could see tiny houses lining several crooked streets down below. As the plane neared the runway of the Frankfurt airport, the ride got a little bumpy and Adrian grabbed the arm rests nervously. He did not trust planes at all. The landing was a bit bumpier than expected, and as the plane slowed down swiftly on the runway, the wheels made a very loud and deafening whirring sound. Finally the plane slowed down and stopped after taxiing for a bit, and everybody started to get up and retrieve their luggage from the overhead compartments.
“Is this your first time in Europe?” The old lady asked him.
“Yeah, it’s my first time out of the country.” Adrian said.
“Oh, well I hope you have a good experience!” She said happily.
“I definitely hope so.” Adrian said.
“Bye.” The younger woman said, and as they all walked out of the airplane into the airport, Adrian remembered that he should be checking his flight schedule. He forgot that the flight attendant had said the plane was arriving about half an hour late. Adrian took his next boarding pass out of his backpack, and as he looked at the time of his next flight to Munich, he gasped. His next flight was boarding at nine-thirty, at that very moment. He ran down the long passage of the airport until he reached the main section. He viewed the sign listing all the concourses, and found which way he should go. He continued to run as fast as he could while maneuvering around several people dragging suitcases and other sorts of luggage, and he finally reached a service desk near his gate.
“I’m supposed to be flying to Munich right now, is it still boarding?” He asked.
The woman typed something on her computer, and then shook her head. “Your flight just left, I’m sorry.” Adrian grunted in frustration.
“Well, I’m flying to Kestovnia, when is the next flight out of here?”
“I can get you on a flight first to Vienna, then Kestovnia. The flight leaves in about half an hour, and it is the next gate over.” The woman said, and she printed out two new boarding passes for Adrian.
“Thanks a lot.” He said, and walked to the gate where his flight would be boarding from. He sat in the waiting area amongst several German people. In fact, he was the only American in the entire gate. He did notice a couple men in their mid-twenties wearing Kestovnia soccer jerseys. He knew for sure that they were transferring through Vienna to fly to Nikolai. They were speaking a language that he didn’t even recognize, but figured it was the native language in the country. He closed his eyes for a bit, and before he knew it, the woman standing at the gate announced both in German and in English that the flight was now boarding.
The flight from Frankfurt to Vienna was about an hour and twenty minutes. Adrian slept the entire time as the deafening sound of the plane’s jets, the stewardess’ voices and the consistent chatter in German kept his subconscious company.
As the flight attendant made the announcement in English, Adrian slowly woke up. He didn’t hear the full announcement, but he swore that he heard the attendant say something about flights to Nikolai.
Adrian bore another hard landing onto the airstrip in the Vienna airport minutes later, and as they all stepped out of the plane down onto the tarmac, there were two passenger busses waiting for the passengers. He picked the bus on the left and stood inside, holding onto the pole while others packed onto the bus. The doors closed and the bus started to move towards the airport, while the other bus drove a different direction. Adrian wondered whether the choice between which bus made a difference. He took out his boarding pass that would get him to Nikolai, and it said that the plane would be leaving at 10:40. This caught his attention, and at first he thought he was going crazy. He looked at it again, and it still said 10:40. He checked his watch, and it read 10:30.
“Crap.” He said to himself. He hoped this gave him enough time to make it to the next flight to Nikolai. As soon as the bus reached the doors to the airport, he once again ran through the crowd to the nearest help desk.
“Where do I go for the next flight to Nikolai? It leaves in like, ten minutes.”
She typed something on the computer, exactly as the lady in Frankfurt had done when he asked her about the flight to Munich. Adrian feared for the worst. She, like the other woman, also shook her head.
“I’m sorry, your flight left ten minutes ago.”
“What the—how is that even possible? I literally ran here!” Adrian exclaimed.
“Sir, you should have been able to take a bus straight from your plane to the next that would fly to Nikolai.”
“I was supposed to take a bus to the next flight?” He asked.
“Sir, there were two busses waiting as you exited your last flight. One of them would have taken you to your next flight.” She repeated sternly. Adrian could not believe this. Everything bad that could happen on a trip was happening, just how he called it.
“Oh, sorry ma’am.” Adrian said. “I took the wrong bus. I didn’t understand the announcement that they had made.” She looked at him in disbelief, since she knew that there was an announcement also made in English.
“Would you like me to check for next flight to Nikolai?” She asked expressionless.
“Ja bitte.” Adrian said, proud of his use of German. She did some more typing on the computer for another minute.
“Your next flight to Nikolai leaves at eight-thirty.”
“I’m sorry…I don’t think I heard you correctly.” Adrian said, not believing his ears.
“Your next flight leaves tonight at eight-thirty sir.” She said, almost frowning. Adrian turned around and started to cuss to himself. He turned back to the woman.
“I’m sorry; you don’t have any other flights to Nikolai before that?” He asked doubtfully.
“Nein.” She said, almost sarcastically.
“I’ll take it then.” Adrian said sullenly. There was no way he was going to be trapped inside an airport for ten hours, but it ever so definitely seemed that way. He had called this happening in front of Jesse as well.
In Adrian’s wanderings around the airport, he rode the escalator down to the underground floor and found a hallway leading to a train station. This gained his curiosity, and as he turned the corner into the station, he found a sign that said: “S-bahn zum Wien Mitte/Train to city center.”
Adrian faced a difficult choice. He had the first choice of sitting around the airport for another nine and a half hours doing nothing but browsing the airport shops and eating disgusting airport food, or he could take the train to downtown Vienna and tour the city for six hours and risk being able to get back and possibly risk not making his next flight to Nikolai, and possibly not being able to fly until the next morning. Adrian thought for a moment, and he decided he wanted to take the train to the city and take the risk. He knew it would probably be his only opportunity to see a beautiful city such as Vienna, so he decided to live life while he could.
He walked through the station, searching for a kiosk to buy a train ticket, and finally found a place where he could buy the cheapest ticket possible. A ticket for the express train that went straight to the center of the city was thirty euros. A ticket for a train that would stop at multiple stops on the way was four euros. He decided to take the cheaper ticket.
Adrian had to admit—he was pretty scared. Looking around him on the train, he was surrounded by strangers that all spoke a different language, making him very grateful for the three years of German he took in high school. They all seemed to have concrete faces, no emotion at all. If they were all trying to block out communication from him and him alone, they were doing a professional job.
He wasn’t sure if he had enough street smarts to be able to make it around the city on his own, and be able to take the right train back to the airport in time for his flight. But the more he thought about it as he stepped onto the train and Vienna’s outside suburbs and villages passed him by outside the train window, he got more and more excited about the idea of touring a typical European city just by himself, even though his main purpose was to not be a tourist in the first place.
Finally the train reached its last stop, “Wien Mitte,” and Adrian got off. He stepped out onto the platform and followed where everybody else was walking. He followed the crowd around the corner and up a long escalator. He could see a bright light at the very top of the escalator, as if he was traveling up the stairway to heaven. As he reached the top, my first real glimpse of Vienna appeared.
The sight was so wonderful to see! The sun shone beautifully upon all the magnificently built structures, churches and other buildings. Out in the middle of the street, which I learned was called Landestraße, there was a great flower market separating the two directions of the road, where everybody stood, laughing and ogling at the beautiful bouquets of roses and tulips. Children ran around chasing each other, seeming very happy and content with themselves, and even the workers in the small kiosks selling frankfurters seemed happy about themselves. I could not believe my eyes. I was actually in Vienna! I wasn’t watching the magnificent city on a T.V. show or movie; I was actually seeing it with my naked eyes.
I didn’t know exactly how to take it in. My senses were going crazy, my adrenaline had completely replaced the blood in my veins, it was as if I was having a really good trip on some sort of euphoric hallucinogen, and the hallucinations weren’t going away.
I stood at the threshold of the European world and took pictures at everything I could possibly find. Everything was perfect, just like I had seen in pictures. And the cars… the cars were so tiny! At least most of them were. I saw many makes of cars that I had never even heard of before… Fiat, Skoda, Peugeot, Opel… then I saw others that I recognized such as Volkswagen and even a couple Fords, though they were still different cars from the Fords I’ve seen back in Silver City.
I continued to walk around, slowly making my way further and further away from the train station. I continued to take pictures as I walked down Landestraße, still gazing at the giant flower market and trying to keep my eyes off the hot European girls. If I had a choice… I would definitely take European girls over American. It seemed like that fantasy could come true.
It wasn’t too long before my stomach started to growl, so I first decided to buy some ice cream and ate it as I walked along a long sidewalk, seemingly tunnel-like as the full, tall trees encircled around. Later on, as I made my way back around the block back to Landestraße, I decided to take advantage of one of those kiosks on the sidewalk and I bought myself a true frankfurter. I know Jesse would definitely be jealous right now… he loves German food. Wait until he finds out what happens when someone misses their flight! (Twice.)
As I hung around the street where I had first gotten out of the train station, smoking a cigarette (they were unfortunately very expensive in Vienna,) an Indian woman approached me.
“Excuse me, do you speak English?” She had asked me. I said that I did. She asked me if I could help her get back to the train station.
“The train station is right down that hallway over there and down the stairs. Once down in the basement turn left and take the passage down a bit until you see more signs for the train station.” I told her. She seemed very confused at first, but then understood once I explained everything.
I continued walking the opposite direction and soon I came across a massive park. There were huge trees looming over the concrete walkways and benches. The green grass and fresh air just beckoned for me to come nearer. So I did.
I came across a large pond along the walkway, and sitting down by the large trunk of a tree, I watched and observed a German boy throw woodchips at ducks into the water, showing off to his girlfriend. They spoke in German the entire time, and I only understood minimal parts of the conversation. I spent a lot of my time in Vienna merely observing others about my age—I wanted to learn how to act and talk like they did. Something about immersing myself into a culture and becoming like them seemed very appealing for some reason.
As I walked more around the park, I found a nice-looking bench that begged me to sit down on and have a smoke or two. I sat down for about fifteen minutes, gazing at the beautiful scenery of the park, of the trees, a giant fountain in the center of a circular patio that joined three or four paths in one point. Minutes later, an old German lady sat down on the opposite side of the bench, and as I sat and smoked, the old lady hacked manly balls of spit on the ground. It was a bit weird. I wasn’t sure if she was chewing tobacco, or if she was just disgusted with my presence. Suddenly, she turned to me and started yelling something in German, and I backed up, wide-eyed. What the eff was she saying? She just kept yelling something, I wasn’t sure if she was yelling at me or if she was just some crazy homeless woman who yells things to herself. I decided to leave, and as I walked away I looked at others sitting on different benches to see if they noticed, or even cared… but nobody seemed to notice. I found it all a bit humorous.
For the next two hours, I lay in the center of a large lawn soaking in the sun and writing this journal, as joggers passed by on either side of the green on the dirt paths, as other couples cuddled with each other on the grass somewhere else. At the very opposite end of the green was a very stunning brick palace-like building garnished with a giant flower garden in front and several statues and fountains on the veranda. I later learned that this building was some sort of museum in memory of the famous composer Strauss. I also learned that if I was to be in Vienna that coming night, I would have witnessed a live orchestra play Strauss outside on the veranda where several tables and chairs were being set up.
Later on, I had checked my watch and it read four o’clock. I decided that I should make my way back to the train station and eventually the airport. I didn’t know how long it would take me to find the right ticket, let alone the actual time of the train ride back to the airport.
Finally, I was walking along Landestraße once more, and feeling thirsty, I bought a Fanta from one of the kiosks near Wien Mitte. I was disappointed to find that this sort of Fanta was much too bitter for my taste.
I found myself standing back in the train station. When I stood at the kiosk where tickets were sold, I viewed the screen and had absolutely no clue which ticket I should buy. It was in English, but I still didn’t know which one was the right ticket. I asked a German couple and they told me exactly how to find the right ticket, but by the time I got my Euros out of my wallet, the screen had already reset and I couldn’t find how to ring the ticket up again. I asked several others, but nobody knew. Or nobody understood me.
I started to dread the fact that I would never get back to the airport. Of course, out of any city in Europe, the first one I would want to get stuck in was definitely Vienna. Well, I guess it wasn’t really a matter of actually getting back to the airport, but it was a matter of proving my street smarts, proving that I could actually take care of myself and that I could handle anything.
Finally, a couple Italians helped me out and I got my ticket back to the airport for about four Euros once again. I went to the underground and waited for my train, asking around to make sure that I was taking the right train. Based on the nods and positive words of approval, I figured that I was on the right track. Later on after about a half hour on the train, I knew I was on the right track because I had recognized some buildings passing by.
As soon as I reached the airport again, I rejoiced happily. I was extremely proud of myself for ceasing the day by leaving the airport and touring Vienna on my own with just my backpack. I knew that for sure this whole trip back to Kestovnia would be a great blessing in my life. Even missing my flight, allowing me to do what I did, that was a grand opportunity. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and from then on when I got back to the airport, I knew I would be having many, many more just like it.
July 14th, 2011