high-minded drivel

high-minded (adjective) - refined; cultured; particularly civilized. drivel (noun) - senseless talk; nonsense.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer Vacation Part I: Adventures In Flight (or, The Best Way To Get A Good Rest While Flying Is To Exhaust Yourself Ahead Of Time)

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my plans for this summer involved a trip to select countries in Europe to see Jen and engage in some eagerly anticipated R&R (Self-impRovement & GRowth as an individual).  I am now returned from the trip and, as you might expect, have many thoughts swirling in my mind about the experience and what to share here (that is, how to best take a fantastic trip and reduce it to some meaningless banter that will serve as cheap entertainment in keeping with the nature of this blog).  It seemed best to write about the experience in manageable chunks rather than trying to cram it all into one ungainly Voltron post, so this post will be the first in a series over the next few weeks, with each part of the series having its own theme, subject to the usual tangents and side notes.

But before we get too far, let me outline the basis for this trip, both so that you have some background and so that I can get focused.  First, the trip was a two-week venture that took me to Paris, London, some towns in Wales, back to London, and finally back to Paris.  For some time now I've had the desire to do some international traveling, but also a desire to not just be a tourist.  Rather, if I was going to travel, I wanted it to be in one of two contexts: 1) for the purpose of participating in some event or purposeful activity, or 2) to live in another country for an extended period of time so that I could truly become familiar with the way of life in the country.  Clearly, this trip fit into the first category, and it actually involved both an "event" and a "purposeful activity."  A "purposeful activity" could be something like a service trip, or it could mean visiting someone, which was the case in my scenario, as I was visiting Jen.  The "event" for my trip was a Bog Snorkeling Triathlon in Wales.  Just because.

In keeping with the idea of not being "just a tourist" (can you feel the self-importance and false superiority oozing out?), I decided some time ago that if I was going to visit a foreign country that it might as well be Wales.  Any country will have some interesting things to see, so how do you pick one over another?  Having some Welsh heritage that I've chosen to identify with, Wales became my travel destination of choice, and upon researching various annual events in Wales, I discovered the Bog Snorkeling Triathlon.  Actually, I had originally hoped to participate in the World Bog Snorkeling Championship, but given the dynamic of visiting Jen as well, the dates worked out better to participate in the Triathlon.  Thus, my vacation plans shifted from being simply "fun and games" to "really, rather challenging."

So, dates were finalized, tickets were purchased, and I was all set for a little European adventure.  Naturally, the next step was to get my proverbial underwear in a proverbial bunch about packing and making sure the travel logistics would come off without a hitch.  My anxiety over what to pack was mostly alleviated by remembering that I was only packing for two weeks, whereas Jen had to pack for the whole summer, making my two weeks seem pretty insignificant.  Furthermore, I could always fall back on my knowledge of movies to remind myself that all I truly needed for travel was a passport, some money, and a handgun.  In movies, whenever the secret agent or other Jason Bourne-type character is hastily packing a bag, these are the three standard items they pack.  A passport (several passports actually), a wad of cash, and a gun.  And I don't own a gun, so I really only had to worry about packing two things.

A passport is essential.  A Passepartout is just
For traveling from Paris to the UK, we decided to take trains, which also required tickets.  Tapping into my Phileas Fogg mentality, I scoured the timetables and train routes to come up with the most advantageous route and started purchasing tickets online.  Despite having given advance notice to both my bank and credit card company about imminent international purchases, I was initially prevented from buying the train tickets and was forced to assure both entities that no, I was not an international hacker threat, and yes, I (me, myself) really did want those tickets.  A minor setback.  We all have to rescue maidens from being burned on a pyre occasionally.

Finally, the day came for my flight, and I arrived at the Columbus airport three hours prior to my departure, per the recommendation of the airport and airlines.  My check-in lasted approximately 15 minutes, so then I had two hours and 45 minutes to get to my gate.  And let me tell you, I barely made it (before I was down to two hours and 40 minutes).  Although I didn't pack heavy for the trip (I did wuss out and decide to take some changes of underwear along with my passport and wad of cash), and had everything in one carry-on bag, the bag was pretty full.  After carrying my bag the length of the airport, walking with very upright posture and hoping that the weight of the bag brought out some sinew on my exposed forearms, I arrived at my gate and realized that my bag had wheels and an extendable handle.  This is typical behavior - making things way harder than they need to be, gritting my teeth and driving through something even when an easier way is painfully obvious.  Wearied from carrying my bag, I settled in for the wait and dove into chapter 1 of A Game Of Thrones.  As noted in my previous post, my selection of a fantasy novel was not in keeping with the principle of What Would Jason Bourne Do? And in fact, at that point even my act of reading while sitting in the airport terminal was not in keeping with being a true WWJBD? disciple.  Rather than reading, Bourne would be identifying all exits, analyzing the layout of the terminal, and assessing the structure of the chair he was sitting on.

I won't stand out, I won't stand out, I won't...
The Bourne types place a high value on being "invisible" to those around them.  They're not supposed to stand out.  Instead, they blend into the crowd, easily forgotten a moment after you see them.  Sitting in an airport terminal, it becomes clear that Jason Bourne would never just blend into the crowd.  While taking a break from reading, I looked around, purposefully trying to identify Bourne types.  The people I saw were wearing flip-flops, stumbled over themselves trying to carry their bags, and were either carrying a recently purchased Starbucks latte or 2-3 screaming kids.  Seriously, if some guy walked by with a casual-but-purposeful stride, wearing plain clothes and not looking bewildered, he would stand out.  Maybe this is why the baddies always manage to see Bourne and end up chasing him through the airport terminal, subway station, etc.

Eventually the flights got underway.  My connecting flight was through Atlanta, and I was flying with Air France.  After boarding, the airline stewardess informed the passengers that the flight was not going to be full, so we could move about as desired.  Initially I grabbed the first aisle seat I could find, eager to ensure that I wouldn't be riding "bitch" all the way across the Atlantic, but then I realized that the flight was so empty that I could claim a window seat without worry of having someone take one of the other two seats next to me, so I moved again.  This prompted a thought of "How many times can you move seats prior to takeoff before you start annoying people?"  Yes, in addition to making things way harder than they need to be, I'm also way too concerned with other's perceptions.

The rest of the flight went on without incident, aside from my struggles in trying to turn off the overhead light, nearly unscrewing it from its socket before realizing that I needed to use the Nintendo controller on the console in front of me (international flights are fancy!).  That and failing to raise the armrest the whole flight (I think my second move landed me in a seat with a non-operational armrest).  Oh, and pondering whether or not "sortie" meant the same thing as "exit."

Yep, the best way to get some shut-eye while crossing the ocean is to make sure you're mentally exhausted about 15 minutes underway.

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