Flying for Sheila and I is a relatively enjoyable experience, there is something really cool about getting on a plane and being someplace new in a few hours. Now flying overseas is a bit different, it’s not a few hours and generally involves layovers and many, many hours in a seat designed for hobbits. In this case it’s also a bit heartbreaking not taking the whole family, there is that little tiny aspect in the back of your mind where you know if the plane crashes your toast and will never see your kids again and you worry about who will take care of them. It’s a feeling I think every parent just needs to really bury deep and try to ignore. This trip we try to see as two wonderful things, one getting to explore a part of Eastern Europe which we both love and dream of doing more and two (the most important thing!!) is getting a new piece of our family puzzle. We set into this journey with a lot of happiness and a lot of optimism.
After the quiet airport dinner we felt great and ready to go, the flight was scheduled to leave at 7:00 PM with a 2 hour layover in Chicago, when the plane finally arrived in Minneapolis around 8:45 and we got boarded around 9:00 and in the air around 9:15 we thought we still had plenty of time to get to our connection in O’Hare. The plane to Chicago was a smaller and this was only its third flight, so it was decked out with the latest and greatest in aviation technology (i.e…looked like the old ones but smelled new) we upgraded our seats to economy plus in the 5th row which gives you an extra six inches of leg room. I would recommend this to anyone over 5’5” and for those of us over 6’ it’s almost a requirement. This leg was a breeze and a pretty short flight, we were kind of happy not to have that longer layover in Chicago. The flight attendant told us exactly where we needed to go to get to the Turkish Airlines terminal at O’Hare. In order to get to it we had to walk fairly quickly and find the tram, this meant leaving the secure zone and going through security again at the other terminal. I’ve been through lots of airports, but never O’Hare so we didn’t realize these facts. Once we found the tram it was just waiting for it to arrive, the recorded message said a tram would arrive every 8 minutes. OK 8 minutes, we can handle that, until the tram arrived and wouldn’t leave, something broke down and they were already down to one tram instead of two. It sat there and sat there minutes ticking by, we started to panic a little, boarding time for our flight was 10:20 and it was 10:30 already with a departure of 11:00 scheduled. We asked someone who appeared to work at the airport if there was another way to the terminal and he said nothing that wouldn’t take an hour.
Freaking out we started texting our friend Leah who was checking the flight schedule, it appeared the plane to Istanbul was running late, a small reprieve although oddly enough we couldn’t find a gate posting for that flight anywhere. Finally the tram starts running again, unfortunately for us the wrong way, it had to go to terminals 1 & 2 first, so 4 minutes later we are on the tram and heading to terminal 5. Thank goodness we checked everything but our back packs because we were running up the stairs and into the terminal hoping beyond all belief that security was not busy, which thankfully it was not. I don’t think I have ever actually gone through security so fast, they commended us on how well we knew the process…lol. Once in the main concourse we found our gate number and sprinted again to find the happy people at Turkish Air waiting anxiously for their last missing passengers. I did make the failed attempt to see if there was any first class upgrades. The last flight although short was wreaking havoc on Sheila's sinuses causing some major headaches, so I was hoping we could at least get her a first class seat so she could lie down, no such luck though and onto the plane we went.
Now this was one of the big planes, many rows of seats deep, 8 seats across from side to side and the tiniest aisles that even hobbits couldn’t fit through. We were the last on board, sweating and carrying what appeared, on this plane anyway huge backpacks which I had to constantly apologize to people for hitting them with as we were taking the walk of shame to the back of the airplane. We instantly knew we were not on an American airline as there was Turkish music playing and it was literally 90 degrees according to my phone. The seats on this flight were tiny compared to the last flight, but most importantly we were on and did not have to hassle with rebooking and staying in Chicago any longer. 10 minutes after boarding we were heading for Europe.
Thankfully once we were in the air it started to cool down. The sinus pressure came back for Sheila and I was starting to feel a little run down. My intention was to take some Nyquil and sleep through most of this flight but man I have a hard time sleeping sitting up and I think we were both wide awake from the rush of adrenaline of almost missing the flight. We decided to stay awake until the food service came, which was a surprisingly delicious meal of a chicken and pasta dish with red wine, a tiny salad, some type of quinoa looking thing with a tomato in it, bread and a desert that was kind of like cheesecake. Very tasty for airline food! Well-fed, now it was time to sleep until the turbulence started, this was the kind of turbulence that had the stewards put the carts away and buckle up and dinner to think about revisiting your lap. Not cool or fun, but the time it stopped we were about half way through the flight and finally both started to fall asleep, but it was that kind of sleep where you are sitting straight up and open your eyes every 10 minutes, look around and remember you’re on a plane still. All in all I think we both got maybe 3-4 hours of this restless sleep before they turned all the lights up and served breakfast. I wish I could remember what breakfast was, I do know I ate something relatively tasty and sat there in a daze for the final hour of this flight.
Coming into Istanbul it was cloudy and raining so we couldn’t see anything cool from the sky. The airport in Istanbul was not as big as I imagined or as nice, it’s not the worst but definitely not the best as far as airports go. We only had about an hour to be there so we people watched and reminisced about how you notice while travelling to overseas the changes you go through. Obviously in the US you hear plenty of English and on your flight out of country some accents and dual languages, in this case Turkish and English. Once in Istanbul you primarily hear foreign tongues with plenty of English mixed in and most of these airports have English signage so you can make you way around. Then usually you are going into a non-hub final destination where you are lucky to hear any English and most signs have none either. It’s like each step becomes more and more disorienting. This was true of our flight into Serbia. The last leg was also Turkish Air going into Belgrade, this flight is just a bit longer than the Minneapolis to Chicago, but instead of Turkish and English it has switched to Turkish and Serbian announcements.
Another quick meal of a turkey sandwich, salad, some type of crackers and cheese and a chocolate mousse were served. Not too bad, but honestly by this time we had been either in an airport or on an airplane for coming on 22 hours. Both Sheila and I were no longer feeling fresh and happy, we were both sick and incredibly tired. My cold had gone from in control and barely there to kicking my butt big time. It was time to get out of the airport. Passport control was a breeze, I learned after my trips to Ukraine and Russia that they sit in a dark booth, will not let you approach until called, will not speak to you in English even if they know it, will say some threatening sounding things to you before stamping your passport and then they give you back your passport and start glaring at the next person in line. It used to scare me, now I just want to get through and get my bags. Ours were the first on the belt and out we went through the green zone with nothing to declare. Going out the doors to the public area always make me feel like a celebrity, there are lots of smiling people there waiting for loved ones and many, many smiling cabbies and limo drivers looking for a fare. We fortunately we quickly found by Zoran the COCI coordinator for Serbia and very nice gentleman whom we will talk more about soon. For now we were just happy to be on the ground and heading for a place to sleep!