After a full day of packing and running around Kansas City for last minute errands (an adjustment at the chiropractor, a trip to the bank, and a set of Ryan's fingerprints) Ryan and I headed to the airport. It was 12:30 in the afternoon.
We checked in with American Airlines and played a quick game of Bananagrams at Gate 77. We were very early, but figured an international flight deserved some waiting around. Security was no problem - even the cookie I stashed in my purse made it through. Then we decided to look around and guess who else might be flying to Delhi via Chicago.
One particular face stood out - a man who looked an awful lot like my best friend's dad. I asked Ryan, "Doesn't that guy look like Dr. Forbach?" "He does!" "That's so funny. But I just saw him this morning for my adjustment. He didn't say anything about being at the airport today." After some bizarre stalking and strategic waving, we decided to just call Jason to find out. "Hey! Is there any chance your dad is at the airport right now?" "Ummmm...no." "Because there's a guy here who totally looks like your dad." "That's so funny. Maybe he has a second family we don't know about and he's going to visit them this weekend." "No, dude. I really think it's your dad. Will you call him and ask if he's at the airport right now?" So he did. And it was. Dr. Forbach was not only flying to Chicago on the first leg of our flight, but he was assigned to the seat right behind Ryan.
I felt like we were flying with James Bond with his noise-canceling Bose headphones and his super-low-profile "pillow in a bag". Dr. Forbach even had a cool carry-on with a pocket for his water. I bought my plastic pink headphones at Target and wrestled with where to stash my water bottle all the way to India. The flight to Chicago was so fast I hardly remember it. I think we got beverage service and I vaguely recall sitting between Ryan and "the guy who read his newspaper the entire flight and never took his elbow off of the arm rest." We confirmed that Dr. Forbach was, in fact, teaching a class in Chicago that weekend - not visiting his second family. He was meeting up with an old college buddy for dinner and wished us well on our journey.
With a 2.5 hour lay-over in Chicago, we decided to by-pass the food court and treat ourselves to a sit-down dinner at Macaroni Grill. It was a condensed, airport version of Macaroni Grill, but the waitress still wrote her name upside down on the paper tablecloth and the bread tasted like heaven. We ordered a tomato-basil bruchetta appetizer and common sense told us both to order super-heavy pasta entrees. (Gotta carb-load for the intensity of sitting down for the next 16 hours!) After dinner we casually made our way to Gate K-19, dodging runners and beeping carts trying to catch their flights.
We found two seats in the waiting area next to a free plug in the ground for charging our laptop. I took pictures of the GINORMOUS airplane sitting outside our window and played a little Spider Solitaire while Ryan called our families to update them on our progress. Before we knew it, we were boarding. The jet-way was about 100 yards long and only heightened my excitement for the final boarding of this BEHEMOTH. I didn't take any pictures inside (wanted to act like I'd been on an airplane before) but it was truly gigantic. We were all the way in the back at Seats 39 A & B - window seats together on the left side of the plane. Across the aisle were 5 seats together and then another aisle and then another 2 seats against the opposite window. As we walked through the business class seats and their reclining chairs, I thought about the flights my family took to Paris and Hawaii - the joys of flying first class. While grateful and incredibly fortunate to have done so, I almost prefer not to know what I'm missing.
We found our seats and snuggled in for the 15 hour flight to Delhi. Ryan had the aisle seat which meant he had the annoying task of grabbing my pillow, my eye-mask, my medicine, my water-bottle (ugh! That water bottle!), my slippers, my lotion...not all at once of course...these were requests that spanned 15 hours of unbuckling his seatbelt, uncovering his lap from the pillows and blankets he had stacked there, worming his way around the arm-rest that didn't go up, and opening the bin with contents that MAY have shifted during flight. I will say it right now - I have the best husband in the world. He only made a dragon-breath noise ONE TIME and that was because the dude who was NOT assigned to the seat in front of Ryan decided it was better than his assigned seat, so he picked that seat to recline and sleep for the rest of the trip. Actually, we felt worse for the dude in front of me who thought, "sweet! two seats to myself!" but quickly found himself with a travel buddy.
We've flown over-seas before - most recently to Greece with my entire family - but that flight left me in tears. I didn't sleep, I wasn't comfortable, the movies sucked (Eight Below) and I just wanted it to be over. This flight was a dream compared to that one. Our seats had little TVs built in to the head-rests and we had a choice of 9 movies that just played on a loop, including Avatar - which is a really easy way to kill 3 hours! There were also TV shows like The Office and 30 Rock - and let me tell you - I can get behind some 30 Rock. I watched The Proposal and fell in love all over again with Ryan Reynold's abs. I also watched Sandra Bullock with new eyes as I thought about her Oscar win and dissolving marriage...and I frequently jabbed Ryan in the ribs, and pointed to the screen to sign "I WANT THAT DOG!"
The food was gross. Of course. It's airplane food. And it was even more disgusting knowing that First Class was probably dining on roasted duck and apple chutney. I ripped open my microwaved container of "do you want chicken or vegetarian" and attempted a few bites of the thing marked "yogurt" before calling it good. I wasn't even hungry. I had sleeping to do.
Two benedryl later, I found myself curled in a fetal ball with my feet on an armrest and my head against the window. We only had 6 more hours to go! There were snack bags being passed around with Ruffles and Milano cookies. I rousted Ryan to let me out for a bathroom break and devoured the salty chips while standing in line. I saved the cookies for morning. I was clever enough to bring some very cozy slippers and felt increasingly proud of my outfit choice as the flight endured. My little pink dress and black leggings were both practical and adorable. They expanded with my bloated (in-flight) tummy and kept me warm when the temperature seemed to plummet. My slippers stayed on and flexed nicely as I propped my toes on the armrest in front of me. I was getting pretty good at this airplane stuff!
Another 3 hours of pretty good sleep and it was time for breakfast. Our choices were "eggs or vedge" and I have to tell you - I hesitated. What in the world is "vedge"? Why wouldn't she just say the whole word? And besides that, the contents of a vegetarian breakfast were too much for my airplane brain to register so I went with the eggs. It was omelet-ish. With cheese and potatoes and green pepper-looking slices. Not terrible. Again with the yogurt. Pass. Tiny little containers of water. Too frustrating. Soon a cart with orange juice and chai tea rolled by. Yes. Please! Thank you.
Only 1 hour to go. I took this time to gather all of the things I'd shoved in the seat-back pocket in front of me and clean up my floor space. I switched places with Ryan so I could pull my carry-on out of the bin and re-pack all of the crap I'd brought with me. I also got my toothbrush and toothpaste out and headed to the lavatory (which Ryan and I both agree is a dumb word). Nothing makes you feel less like you've just been on an airplane for 15 hours like brushing your teeth. I also slathered some Clinique lotion on my face and re-applied my eye-makeup. There! Done! Good as new.
We listened to a kid scream "Swiper! No Swiping!" at his Dora video as we made our way in to the Delhi airport. The TV screens in front of us tracked our journey with real-time updates and a tiny little airplane representing where we were on the map of the world. I watched the altitude drop and the ground speed go from 524 mph to 253 mph as we finally touched ground. I sort of wanted to cheer, but it clearly wasn't a cheering crowd. Remarkably, everyone was pretty much packed up and ready to go when the seatbelt sign turned off. We followed the crowd to the visa-check station. We got in a really fast line (behind the Dora kid and his dad). We found the restrooms and the thing that gave us back our luggage. We found the driver that was waiting for us with his little "Mr. Ryan Westhoff" sign. And then we went outside.
HOLY BALLS!!! It was 104 degrees!!!! At NIGHT!!!!! We followed our little driver to the parking lot as Ryan navigated our luggage trolley through the people and buses gathered in a clump outside. I was set on watching the driver's every move as he was pulling the carry-on that contained my passport. Ryan was busy fending off random dudes wanting to push his luggage cart. "No thank you" can only sound *so* polite when you have to use your elbows.
The driver loaded up our luggage and cranked the a/c as he handed us 4 bottles of water. Compliments of the Taj hotel. Sweet! I have seen it on the Amazing Race and I have heard people talk about the drivers in India, but there's really nothing like it. Cars weaving in and out of lanes. Horns honking - some short and friendly, some long and a bit more hostile. Every single car has a smashed bumper or a side-swiped door. We cleared the corner of a giant dump-truck with about 2 inches to spare and Ryan looked at me like "You're not gonna throw up, are you?" Ryan made conversation with the driver as I clutched the seat in front of me, hoping not to look too panicked. "Meesar Ree-on? You have nice flight?" "Meesar Ree-on? You have driver at home?" "Meesar Ree-on? You stay in Delhi for how long?" I once answered a question and it became clear that women don't do much of the talking in India.
The car ride was about 45 minutes. Our driver did his best to point out the "attractions" along the way, but it was dark and every building worth seeing was surrounded by a wall, topped with barbed wire. Our driver also told us funny stories about his son who is turning 13 tomorrow and wants his daddy to buy him a bike in "the big city" for his birthday. Ryan and I were happy to tip him enough to give his son a nice birthday.
The hotel was (and still is) amazing. We pulled up to the gates and there were three armed guards standing there with riffles and flashlights, checking under cars, under hoods and inside trunks for (what I can only assume were) bombs. They saluted us and we made our way up the drive to the marble entrance. It was gorgeous! Guys in gold turbins (I hope that's really what they're called and I haven't just offended anyone) and women in aqua saris greeted hotel guests through the metal detectors and the luggage screening process (all a bit blurry to be totally honest) and then we walked through a marble lobby that smelled like orchids. The elevator was all mirrors and marble and the hallways were lined in gorgeous wool rugs. Our luggage would be delivered to our room and our hotel ambassador gave a brief summary of the hotel amenities. I know she was talking, but all I could think about was taking a shower and crawling in to that cushy, clean, white bed.
And that's exactly what I did.
Ryan set up our magic jack (so we can receive local phone calls from home) and ordered some internet access for the laptop. We called our families (who were preparing for lunch) and told them we were safe and off to bed!
Day one was almost 22 hours of traveling. Count that on my list of things I get to check off this week.