Full Flights and Half Floors

by Eli Hodapp

sweden

It’s strange how routine these seemingly massive international trips are becoming for me. I didn’t even bother packing my bag until the morning I left, and I’ve long since needed to do the whole panic shopping the night before to pick up toiletries or other random junk that I somehow couldn’t leave home without. I’ve streamlined all that to ridiculous levels, and oddly enough only recently discovered just how big of a rip off the travel sized toiletries actually are. Most mini shampoos and soaps sell for a buck or two a piece, or you can buy a kit of clear plastic 3oz bottles for the same price. I’ve got a whole set of everything I use that I just top off before I go anywhere from the much bigger (and cheaper) bottles of shampoo and whatever other shower stuff I require. That feels more substantial than it probably should.

Outbound travel was largely uneventful, aside from a minor SNAFU regarding which terminal I was actually flying out of. O’Hare is segregated between two distinct terminal buildings. The first of which is the “main” airport that everyone likely mentally associates to O’Hare. The second is this Alcatraz-style concrete island presumably totally segregated to give it that friendly prison feel that I always look forward to experiencing re-entering the country. Turns out that Lufthansa flies out of Terminal 1, which was an incredibly nice change of pace as there’s amenities such as “clean bathrooms” and “food that isn’t McDonalds.”

I did my typical ask about any kind of paid upgrade thing, since I’ve seriously lucked out on that before and the only thing available was a first class upgrade for a cool $7,200. So, I stuck with my original booking being relegated to steerage with the rest of the proles who don’t have nearly ten large to drop on a seat that reclines ever-so-slightly-more. I got an aisle seat which was great, but ended up sitting next to a toddler which (initially) wasn’t so great. She was this little girl who really liked this (presumably) German cartoon revolving around some kind of pig.

Aside from random kicks and elbows here and there, she wasn’t too bad. Her mother did a great job of keeping her entertained, and it was pretty cute how she was very obviously mimicking a lot of the stuff I was doing from how I was sitting to the order I was eating my food in when the meal service came. This almost made me feel bad about the severe sense of dread that overcame me when I saw who I was sitting next to, but, hey, it’s not like I can just start giving toddlers the benefit of the doubt left and right. That seems like a really good way to get burnt.

Düsseldorf is a weird airport. First off, there was no passport inspection. I mean, like, none. I was totally prepared for the typical line of questioning regarding where I was coming from, where I was going to, what I was doing here, and that whole song and dance. Instead, I was met with what seemed like annoyance for me having my passport open to the photo page instead of just a blank page the customs agent could stamp. German efficiency, I guess, but that was definitely the first time I’ve crossed a border without so much as vague eye contact.

The gate arrangement is also crazy. My connecting flight was at gate A91, which is like some Being John Malkovitch-style half gate. I walked up and down the terminal trying to find it, as the gate numbers were very deliberately skipping A91. I eventually asked someone, who I wasn’t entirely sure at the time if they even understood me, who responded something confusing along the lines of “go outside and take the stairs.” Now, the way US airports work, as anyone who has travelled to or from one is well aware is that there’s very harsh security checkpoints and very obvious zones of no return.

This whole “go outside and down the stairs” thing looked exactly like leaving O’Hare, down the set of stairs to the baggage claim that you can’t get back up in to without going through the whole ticketing and security thing again. After asking a second person, who told me a similar thing, I decided surely two people can’t be purposefully misleading me and decided to try it. Turns out A91 is on the lower basement-like level of the airport, looking out directly on to the tarmac, with no jetways to speak of.

Things got weirder from there are we were crowded on to a bus and driven so far out that it was like we were boarding a plane in a corn field in the next county over. This next flight was a code share with Scandinavian Airlines, on a plane that was so tiny and ghetto it didn’t even deserve a real gate. I sat in the very last row, which only made things that much more exciting as every bump or dip the plane experienced was amplified like sitting in the bumpy back seat of a bus. By then I was so exhausted that my body was basically shutting down, so it didn’t make much difference, except for the fact that the uneven ride kept waking me up.

Arriving in Copenhagen was simple, and the one side benefit of being in the absolute back of the plane was that by the time I got off, went to the bathroom, and made it to the baggage claim my suitcase was already there. So, I made my way to the airport trains and bought a ticket to Malmö. Money here is crazy, as it’s something like 6.63 SEK to 1 USD, so any mental math is cumbersome trying to figure out how much anything costs. The ticket was around $15.00, and the woman who sold it to me was intensely annoyed that I was paying with an American magnetic-style credit card. When she returned it to me she thrusted it out the window and it fell on the floor, which served as a catalyst to me finding this crazy Asian coin with a hole in it. A pretty solid ground score, for sure.

The train was super quick, and I actually ran into another guy going to the Nordic Game Conference on it. We combined our lack of certainty regarding where we were going into one vaguely certain decision that we were on the right train. Once we started talking about being vaguely lost, locals piped up and helped us out- And if there’s one thing I seriously love about Scandinavian countries it’s just how ridiculously friendly everyone seems to be to obviously lost foreigners.

My hotel ended up being super close to the Malmö train station, so I didn’t need to screw around with any other transit to get there. I finally got in at around 1:00 in the afternoon, at which point the girl at the front desk explained that my room wouldn’t be ready until at least 5:00 PM. I needed to sleep bad and explained this wouldn’t do. Thankfully, a manager wandered by and was able to give me some kind of room change, I’m not sure if I accidentally got upgraded or not, but my room is super nice.

The theme of this trip so far seems to have confusing half floors. First Düsseldorf and now this hotel. I’m in room 625, which, per the American way of doing things simply means you get in the elevator, hit the button for the sixth floor, and walk to room 25. That’s not the case here. In this hotel, you take one very small obviously retrofitted elevator in the center of a huge spiral staircase up two floors, get off, go down half a flight of stairs to a half floor, take another elevator, and then hit the button for rooms 621 to 625. It feels like I’m going up further, but I really can’t tell. From there, I go down a small flight up stairs, through a curvy hall, up another small flight of stairs, and I get to my room.

If you had a gun to my head I couldn’t draw a map of where I am in relation to the front doors of this hotel.

I crashed for a few hours, woke up, took a quick shower, and headed to this dinner with other people who would be speaking at the conference. Everyone there was super friendly, and I ended up running into not one but three Americans, all of which were originally from the Chicago area- One even as close as Wheaton. Small world. We talked about the Boston bombings, and how interesting it is how the USA has this infallible untouchable image that makes things like that happening there unbelievable even when compared to the bombings which (apparently) happen quite often even here in Sweden.

I had some food, a few glasses of wine, and decided I’d bounce as I really just wasn’t feeling the whole thing being so jet lagged. I got back to my hotel, took off my pants, climbed in to bed, and almost immediately received a text message from my friend Audra from Amsterdam who wanted me to come grab a drink with her and her friends. So, what the hell, ten minutes later I was drinking a Guinness at this nearby Irish pub. We stayed there for a while, caught up with what was going on in everyone’s lives since we last spoke, and then called it a night.

Against my better judgement, I stopped to get kebab on the way back to my hotel, and managed to successfully order and pay with the guy speaking zero English and me speaking zero… Whatever language he was speaking, presumably Swedish. I scarfed my kebab, which flawlessly hit the spot, and slept for a few hours, only to wake up at about 3:00 AM local time trying to figure out what to do next… And, the answer to that, logically, is call Lufthansa and get my return flight switched from Chicago to Nashville.

I can’t wait.