My illustrious travel career boasted of destinations like Wolf Laurel, NC and Moncks Corner, SC. Once in high school I had even traveled as far as Lincoln, NE, but most of my childhood comings and goings were in the Southeast, within a day’s drive from home, and experienced from the backseat of a giant black Ford. They were great trips, all memorable in one way or another, even if not particularly glamorous.
Given my OCD nature, planning for my maiden European voyage sent my natural bent towards list-making into hyperdrive! And there were questions, lots of lots of questions. As my team met each week to get to know each other and to plan the details of the trip, each session began with 1) prayer, and 2) my unending barrage of questions.
Apparently I was quite anxious about many, many things: What kind of clothes do I need to pack? Is Poland a politically safe nation? Do I need special immunizations? Can we drink the water? How do I call home? What kind of electricity do they use? Is there a place where I can run? Where should I keep my passport? What kind of money will we use? What is the difference between an adapter and a converter? How heavy can my suitcase be? And on, and on, and on! My team leader later admitted that he wasn’t entirely certain I would be able to make the trip. In fact, the day we left, he asked me repeatedly, “Are you all right? Are you sure that you’re OK?” In retrospect, I can understand his concern.
Then came the packing. Have mercy, the packing! I started a week in advance. Good thing, too. I carefully made stacks of all the clothes, toiletries, and of course, books that seemed essential. After placing like items in two-gallon ziplocks and smushing out all the air, I loaded up the suitcase, went through a ridiculously awkward procedure to determine the weight, and…..oh no! Fifteen pounds too heavy! Thus the culling process began. Items were removed. Bags were resealed. Awkward weighing process was repeated. Now it was only twelve pounds over! And so it went. For days. Finally, on the night before our departure, the bag tipped the scales at a comfortable 47 pounds. Which I could only pray was accurate.
My first international flight was a wonderful experience. The seats were comfortable and larger than I expected. While my mission teammates were several rows over, my travel companions for the eight-hour flight were both thoughtful and friendly. There were movies and games on the individual video system for each seat. We were treated to warm cloths to wash up before dinner. Now, I’ve heard numerous horror stories about airline food. We were given a small, tasty beef stew and rice meal with adorable plates and utensils that I was tempted to keep as a souvenir. Then dessert. And warm cookies two hours later. And a light breakfast croissant shortly before we landed. It was like a kindergarten teacher’s idea of perfection – Give them a blanket and a chocolate chip cookie, and everyone will take a nap!
We arrived in Amsterdam just as the sun peeked over the horizon. My first European sunrise! It was simply lovely. We had a layover of several hours, so there was an opportunity to explore the airport. Let me just say, I am impressed that children in the Netherlands ever learn to read and write. It seems to me that Dutch uses a maximum number of letters for incredibly simple words. I was thankful for the English subtitles or I would still be standing there, trying to figure out some of the signage. Two other sights worthy of note include a giant mound of chocolate. Had there not been a connecting flight to catch, I could still be standing there as well, nose pressed to the glass, eyes begging for even the tiniest sample. Additionally, since this was Amsterdam, there was a shop (or ten) where wooden shoes of all styles, colors, and even of rowboat-sized dimensions were available. Just for the record, those are never going to fit in your carry-on. I tried!
(Just Kidding…but not about the chocolate).