Well, I can say one thing. International travel is not for the weak in body nor the weak in spirit, for there must be this enthusiastic drive that pushes you to graciously put up with the long flights; long queues; missing bags; pushy crowds on buses, trams, trains and on the streets; missed buses, trams, or trains; sore feet; aching muscles; lack of proper and satisfying sleep; new sights, sounds, tastes and smells, that are not always the most pleasant; the heightened need to always keep an awareness about your surroundings and level of security; and, of course, the necessity to encounter, interact, and speak to various types of people you thought you'd never experience coming into contact with, not even once in your life, ALL for the glimpse of a little piece of history or to simply see something you've seen before in a book, like the flickering lights of the Eiffel Tower in the night sky. By the way, I can't imagine a closed-minded, racist or prejudice person who desires international travel. If you're one of those type people, just stay home and visit remote parts of the Ozarks or Appalacian Mountains where homogeny still reigns...or perhaps some parts of Eastern Europe may have what you're looking for; otherwise, you're not going to like these parts of Western Europe. And that's because you're going to come into contact with people who view things like politeness, hygeine, POVs, food preparation, and etc., etc., a lot differently than you do. Also, you'll have contact with those who have unpleasant and unrealistic views and attitudes about Americans...some which are good and some which are not so good. For example, that we're all rich (as the tour bus driver said to me). LOL. I also heard a woman (in English) proclaim to her group of Dutch friends, that ALL Americans were snobs. I am American, I was within ear shot, and she spoke it, with distain, in English, so I think it was meant for me to hear. I simply made more of an effort to smile at this woman and appear friendly throughout our journey, in hopes of changing her opinion. But if I didn't, so be it.
When we left Delft yesterday it was cool and rainy. Unlike the day before, it wasn't off and on but constant. Simon noted the dreary rain matched our tearful moods upon my departure. So true. I did not want to go. There was so much more to see and explore. Two weeks is hardly enough time.
Upon arrival to Schiphol Airport, Simon and the driver helped me get my luggage to the NWA baggage line. From there I went to the Customs line to get my passport stamped for the final time. It was there in line that I said my final goodbye to Simon, thanking him for his help in making this best vacation I've ever taken. And giving him the traditional Dutch kiss on one cheek, the other, and then the other.
From that line I walked to another looooonger line to check in for the flight (with mostly snobby Americans : ) I coudn't resist.). I can say that the need for a 2-hour check-in is not overexaggerated. Every minute of it was needed. The check-in process is very intense and slow, for you're asked both imposing and typical questions about your visit...such as where did you go, who did you visit, what did you buy, who was in the room when you packed, where did you pack, what time did you pack, did anyone else even touch your bags, etc., etc., that goes on until they're satisfied with your answers. At security, I was among the unlucky (for the first time in my extensive flying history) who was chosen to be taken to side and thoroughly frisked from my feet and up. But it went rather quickly. I had forgotten to take off my passport holder and put it in the bucket. Perhaps it was the metal from in that made the buzzer go off.
From there we waited for only a few minutes before boarding our plane. The sight of the plane was so wonderful for an already exhausted woman like me. The plane was larger, spacier, and more comfortable than the one I had come to The Netherlands on. A lot more. So I looked forward to a 9-hour flight home to Memphis. Another 2-hour wait and then a 30-minute flight on in to Little Rock.
Though my butt was bored on the plane, I wasn't. So much to keep me entertained. When I wasn't listening to my iPod (and of all things, my Dutch lessons) or reading the "Lady and the Unicorn" (a gift from Simon), I used the interactive remote and monitor. There was a really good choice of movies to chose from...old and new. I watched a little of "Rush Hour" (I can never see that too many times. I love Chris Tucker) and a little of "Pirates of the Caribbean 3 and the new Fantastic 4 (in honor of my brother). But I watched in entirety the "Waitress" and "Mr. Brooks." I listened to good music, played a couple of games, and watched the interactive flight pattern map to see live as we crossed Great Britain, the Atlantic Ocean, New York, and so and so, looking finally as we were 20 minutes away from Memphis. I slept very little, if at all.
The flight was great and so was the service. I gotta hand it to NWA. They had such a negative image throughout this summer--I dreaded for a while that they were my airlines. But they were so on point with everything and were ALMOST perfect (just a small little incident, I'll describe later). The food was even good. Quite tasty and timely. It was a very enjoyable ride into the States.
Once we were in Memphis we had to go through another Customs check, this time filling out the I-94 immigration form (asking some of the same questions asked in The Netherlands). Another long line. Then from the Custom's Officer, oral questions about the nature of your visit and lots of questions about if you were bringing in foods and what types of foods. (No meats or cheeses were allowed). I got my stamp and moved on to the next line.
I must say having only been a domestic traveller previously, I was caught off guard by the intensity of Customs (the armed officers and dogs, etc.). It definitely seems to be an excellent deterrent for terrorists and even those trying to sneak a joint back into the states. Who would be foolish enough to try either. I can't imagine anything getting past these people. Thank God for them. Though it was a headache and intimidating, it's needed.
Once in Memphis, we had to claim our own bags and then re-check them. I got my first bag immediately, then waited for over 20 minutes before giving up on my 2nd bag. An officer sent me through to a NWA representative. I showed her the baggage claim tickets I got in Amsterdam, but she said I wasn't even on her list. Anyway, I was assured that my bag would be found and to contact a rep there in Little Rock for a lost baggage claim form. After the benefit of smooth sailing all the way through, this was not a big deal. If anything on this trip, I've learned patience and that I am not the center of the universe (Europeans love teaching this to Americans). (And, of course, I never had this attitude to begin with). But, anyway, what's the use of getting excited or stressed about a lost bag. It would turn up somewhere.
Oooh-oooh...and the very short flight from Memphis to Little Rock was a little bit bumpy. Lightening filled the air, as a thunderstorm appeared to be entering (or departing) as we were leaving. It was a nice-sized plane (unlike the small, tight one from Little Rock to Detroit), but with all the turbulance, we were quite small as we were tossed about. A few scary moments that quickly shut down all of the noise and chatter from passengers for a time. You could hear a pin drop.
When I arrived in Little Rock, I must admit it felt good to be home. The familiarity, I guess. I decided to go to baggage claim first rather than the ticket counter. I'm glad I did because I didn't have to wait long before BOTH of my checked bags came down the belt. Yea!!! NWA!
Due to a misunderstanding about when to pick me up with my mom, I advised her by cell phone that she could stay home and I took a taxi back to my house. I was just dead tired and had no desire to wait for the 25 to 30 minutes for her to arrive at the airport.
When I arrived home, I made a couple of telephone calls and then drove straight to Wendy's. It was so good to have a true American cheeseburger. Mmmm...mmmm...good. It was even weird driving a car after two-weeks of not having done so. (I did notice I was a little more agressive--the influence of those crazy European drivers, I suppose).
So, now it's time to unpack and get back into the groove of things here. I have enjoyed myself immensely. It's an experience I will never, ever, forget. In the end, I can't help but think, was it all worth it? The answer would have to be a definite "yes" or I would have no heart or warm blood flowing through my veins. I must say, in agreement with those who go back and do it time and time again, that YES, it is all worth it. I am NOT among the visitors to Europe who say it was a bore and they'll never go back to see all that old stuff again (I've heard this view too). For I will surely go back again.
And to those still interested, I will post my lost days in Paris...Eventually...maybe tonight.