Traveling around the world and living in “strange” and exciting places is a lot of fun but it can start to wear on you! I decided I was going to try to head back to the USA for a few weeks. I knew I would really miss all my new buddies down in Nis. They were more than friends … they had turned into family!!! Don’t worry… I am not leaving for good!! You couldn’t get that lucky!!!
My parents are building a new home, a friend is getting married and prices skyrocket after June 1st!!!! I wanted to keep it a little bit of surprise. I mentioned it on Facebook one day and my dear friend Suzanne messaged me! She asked me if I could wait till May 24th because she had “standby” tickets she could get me at a very discounted rate. I said “SURE!”. I love cheap things and don’t care if I have to fly around the world twice to get home for a few dollars less! 🙂 I have always purchased my tickets online. Expedia.com or Orbitz.com was always my route. It was quick, easy and I could do it in my underwear. I have always selected the first flight that pops up. It is always the cheapest but usually has HUGE layovers and rarely direct flights. I end up bitching and moaning for a month afterwards because it was such a pain.
She told me she had reserved a flight from Belgrade to Frankfurt, Germany for me at the local JAT AIR facility in Nis, Serbia. JAT is the largest airline in Serbia. It stands for Yugoslavian Airlines. Yugoslavia starts with a J in their language. :p It had been raining for a week and I ran down that night to pick up my ticket. I get to the place and its locked! I head home and get soaked to the core. The city streets in Nis have very poor drainage and the sidewalks are situated too close to the street. Cars and buses rush by and spray you. 😦 I decided I would get up early the next morning to pick up my ticket. My alarm goes off at 7AM and I quickly dress and run back down in the rain to the office. The gentleman at the desk was very friendly and asked me “why are you in Serbi?” hahahaha.. He told me the reservation price of E157 was expired because I didn’t pick it up the night before. I agreed on the price of E189. It left the next day, Wednseday .. May 24th at 11AM. I go home, pack up and lay down.
BUS FROM NIS TO BELGRADE….
I get up at 5:30 and rush around. Coffee was a must have. It would be the last Turkish coffee I would have till I returned. I shower, double-check my bags, ticket etc. Drink my coffee and see the time is really ticking! It is still raining and I have to be at the bus station at 6:30AM. I decide to walk because after 11 months, I still hate taking a cab! I just hate the hassle, language barrier and still have that fear of a “CROOKED” taxi you see in many foreign countries. I get there just in time to catch the bus. You can’t mess around in Serbia. The buses are always on time and depart exactly when they are supposed to. There were a lot of young kids on the bus and I had no clue there was a seating assignment on these things. I sit down and some old man comes over and starts speaking to me. I assume it has something to do with the seat. The ticket is written in cyrillic so I have zero clue where the seat number is located. I ask a young man if we have an assigned seat. He says “yeah but no one cares except this guy.” He tells me where my seat is and someone is in it. I sit down in the next row and this old man starts pointing again. UGHHHHHH!!! It is for his grandson. I hate to make a spectacle of the guy sitting in my seat so I sit in the next open seat. Thank GOD no one comes and complains about this one.
The ride from Nis to Belgrade only has one other stop in a little town called Aleksinac. It is about 30 min North of Nis. The total trip is 3.5 hours. The view from the bus is gorgeous. You are on this toll road or an autoput so the road is nice and smooth and you can cruise at a higher rate of speed. You pass lots of hills, forests, fields and one cool things it the amount of shepherds that still tend to their sheep and goats. The other unique thing is most fields are worked by HAND instead of tractors. My dad would fall over if he had to get out in his corn and soybeans with a hoe.. hahahaha..We arrive at 10:30AM and the rain has tailed off. My friend, Ana, was going to meet me there for a coffee and help me find a bus to the airport. I check the clock and decide its best if I just catch a cab! I get asked by about 5 guys if I needed a cab. I decline. I find this older guy that looks like an honest guy and ask “how much for a cab to the airport?” He tells me its 2000 dinars and that the bus is cheaper but it wont be there for a few minutes. I accept a ride and he grabs my bags. He is very cheerful and speaks English very well. I compliment him on his ability to communicate in English. He starts in on his life’s story. He loved Tito and told me “Life was PERFECT in the 60s, 70s, and 80’s!” He doesn’t trust ANY of the current political leaders and didn’t even care who won the election. He quizzes me as to why I have been in Serbia. I tell him about my volunteer work and about my desire to assist with baseball equipment. He said ” I HEARD ABOUT YOU IN THE PAPER!” hahahaha.. Thank God we arrived at the airport. He jumps out and gets my bags. I notice the counter says 1600 dinars but I go ahead and give him 2000. It is a decent tip in Serbia. That would equal about $5.
Nikola Tesla International Airport…..
I enter through the main entrance at Nikola Tesla International Airport. It is my 4th time there and I feel like I know the place inside and out. It is a very small, clean and compact airport. Things are labeled in English and Serbian and I quickly find my way to the check in counter. Suzana was going to meet me at 2PM in front of our gate. I had no idea what she looked like and I was there 1.5 hours early. The lady at the counter was very kind. She took my ticket and passport and told me ” I hope you had an enjoyable stay in Serbia.” She then explains how to get to my departure gate. She tells me ” the upstairs is a mess because of reconstruction” I head up there and get in line for customs. I don’t know why I always get a bad feeling when I am in this line. It’s my turn and I approach a smiling younger man. He takes my passport and doesn’t ask me anything. He takes my police registration and stamps my passport. SO EASY!!!!!! I wish other countries would adopt this approach!!! I head to the little bar and drink my last Lav pivo. I had forgotten to go to the currency exchange downstairs and hoped there was another upstairs because I know you are unable to exchange Serbian Dinars in any other country. There is a little machine that you can exchange Euro, or Dollars in but nothing for Dinars!!! I can’t believe it! I have 5000 Dinars in my pocket and was going to use it in Germany for some food. If you ever go to the Tesla airport make sure you change your Dinars to Euro downstairs. You can’t go back through the gates!
The flight was to leave at 3PM. The waiting area at Tesla is very small and very few chairs. I sit down to see if internet is available. There is free wifi and I log on to try to find Suzana’s number. I find it and call her. She is going through customs and will be up in a minute. She arrives and is a very cheerful lady. We sit down and discuss the trip, life , etc! She has lived in New York since 1993 but her heart is still in Serbia. She was born in Republic of Srpska but grew up in Zrenjanin and Belgrade. The time comes to board the plane. I end up getting an aisle seat next to this friendly German salesman. He is very talkative and had some funny Serbian experiences to tell me about. He mentioned that Serbs were very friendly and generous. He also told me a story about some dumb American girl in Las Vegas. He was there for a business meeting and she asked him where he was from because his accent was strange. He told her that he was from Germany and she said “Cool. Did you drive here?” hahahahah.. He told me he wasn’t picking on Americans because there were many stupid Germans too. His friend supposedly booked a hotel for him in Belgrade Serbia. When he asked his buddy where he was staying he told him that he was staying at the Hampton Inn. The guy told him that he had been to Belgrade many times and there was NO Hampton INN in Belgrade. The friend looked at the reservation and said ” OH SHIT! I booked it in Belgrade, Ohio!!!” hahahahahah…
JAT isn’t a flashy airline but they have a friendly staff and even on this short 2 hour flight they provided sandwiches and a drink! That beats many other airlines. My ears always have the hardest time adjusting to pressure. I have tried gum, chewing on plastic, swallowing etc and nothing seems to work. We start our decent into Frankfurt International Airport and my ears go silent. Ughhh.. I really hate that. The plane stops and the flight crew tells everyone to sit and move because the medical staff must enter the plane. Three healthcare providers enter the plane and pass us quickly getting to the last row. There is a guy that is yellow and very unresponsive. I am glad I wasn’t sitting by him! 🙂 I don’t know what happened to him or if he is ok. We will just hope for the best.
Frankfurt International Airport…..
We depart the plane and get into Frankfurt International. It is a very large and busy hub for European transit. We have only one hour before our flight departs and we hurry to the customs line. They force everyone to go through customs even those in transit must wait in a long line. There are two lines: one for European Union passport holders and one for everyone else. Once again the gentleman at customs was remarkably friendly. He looked me over and flipped through my passport. He asked me where I had come from and I told him. He said “Serbia!!! Odd place for an American. Why were you there?” I tell him and lets me pass. We hurry to the security check. I take all of the metal from my pockets and put them in the trays. I walk through and start beeping. They take me to a little booth and start frisking me. The buttons on my shorts are causing the machine to go off but then he gets to my sandals. They are a pair of rip off FILA shoes I bought from a Chinese store in Nis. They cost me 300 dinars or $3.50. He asks me to take them off. I hand them to him and he runs his wand over them. They beep again.
He looks at me and my heart sinks. I am a lover of the show “LOCKED UP ABROAD” and have seen many occasions of people getting thrown in a foreign prison for attempting to smuggle drugs through security. My mom has always said “one of these days we are going to get a call saying you are locked up in some far off prison and we are going to leave you there!” ahhahahaha… He runs the wand over them twice and picks at the bottoms. He then hands them to me and shrugs. WHEWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!! My bomb was safe!!! hahahahah.. I put them on and we rush down this long hallway. Frankfurt Airport is veryyyyyyyy customer friendly. There are people standing everywhere to answer your questions. We run to our departure gate only to find it has been delayed for one hour. We sit and eat some yummmmy goodies her mother made for her trip home.
We board the flight United plane and I find that my seat is between two larger men. They are friendly enough but sitting in the middle for me is a nightmare. I hate the arm rests because I hate to be a pig and use them but I hate not having them! I also suffer from ADHD and have to move a lot. hahahaha.. United is one of my favorite carriers to use on international flights. This was a newer plane and we each had our own tv with many on demand, new movies , tv shows, music stations, video games to play during the flight! This is ESSENTIAL on a long flight. The flight is scheduled to take 8.5 hours and we should arrive in Dulles Airport in Washington D.C at 9PM Eastern Standard Time. We take off and I quickly turn on the first of 4 movies!! 😉
The flight went quicker than I had imagined. I only got up one time to use the restroom. We had three meals and they were actually very filling. You always hear comedians making fun of how horrible airline food is. I have never thought it was that bad! You are on an airplane not a cruise ship! We had chicken, veggies, cookies, cake, beef stew, sandwich, chips, any soda, beer or juice you wanted and coffee. The flight crew was fine and always had a smile on their face. I bet they get sick of that!! 😉 We start the decent into Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. 🙂
USA, USA, USA……
This is the first time in 11 months that I had been standing on US soil. I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s hard to sit in one spot for 8 hours! I didn’t sleep once! We get off the plane and cruise through customs. I had to pick up my bags and had a feeling they had found my homemade rakija. I opened the bag and THERE IT WAS!! It was made by the owner of a hostel I stayed in and was put in an old whiskey bottle with no seal. They asked if I had anything to declare and I told them no. 😉 They are suppose to have such great security but they didn’t find this bottle.. hahahaha
36 Hours in Dulles Airport……..
Dulles is a very large airport. I heard that after 9-11 there are no international flights that fly directly into New York. I don’t know if this is true but D.C is a big hub. My first impression was good. The first person we spoke to was very helpful and friendly. We arrive at 9:45PM and my flight to Chicago Ohare was leaving at 10PM. There was zero chance of getting on that one. Suzane had a flight to New York at 6AM and the next available flight for me was 2PM the next day. We sit down by the United ticket counter and I pull out my laptop to email my mom and friends about my arrival. Suzane nodded off for a few hours! I was drained but couldn’t sleep! The airport died down about 1AM but was bumping again at 3AM. We sat and discussed some different subjects. She is very enjoyable to talk to. We talked about a joint Youtube idea that we think could pay off! We part ways at 5AM.
I have 9 hours to kill and decide to go clean up in the bathroom. One thing that sucks is you have to take your bags with you or they will be confiscated by security. I drag the damn thing to this bathroom. There is this creepy old guy hanging around by the urinal. I am always leery of airport restrooms.
They say lots of perverts hang out in there for a quickie.. ahahhaha.. One Republican senator did the same and was caught. I head to the furthest one and do my business. He is still there and I mutter ” FUCKING FREAK” under my breath. He heard me and heads to one of the stalls and closes the door. I have never understood a freaks obsession with bathrooms. The LAST place I want to be for longer than 5 minutes is a public bathroom. I have a very weak stomach and hate touching ANYTHING in them. This one was very clean and tidy but it’s still a BATHROOM! I hope he had his fun.. I go to the furthest sink and wash my grimy face, hair, hands, and feet. It is insane how dirty you can get sitting on a bus and plane for hours. hahahahaha…
The time is really dragging. I am dead tired, stinky, and getting bored with watching Youtube videos. I start watching all of the people rushing here and there.. You can tell that you are no longer in Serbia. I never want to insult my countrymen but in Serbia it is veryyyyy rare to see an extremely obese person! The short time I was in Dulles I noticed hundreds. The other thing that you notice in the USA is the extreme diversity. You see white, black, Asian, Arab, Jew, gay, lesbian, Hispanic, etc… I could count the amount of black people who I saw in Serbia on one hand. It also seemed that the laid back, slow, no stress Serbian way of being was LONG GONE!!! You noticed people rushing around, not giving two glances at each other.
I am starving and need a boost of caffeine. There is a little coffee stand a few meters away. I didn’t want to take my big bag so I glanced around and make a dash for the coffee booth. I buy one large coffee and a cinnamon roll. It was $7.50!!!! DAMN!!! I also made a fool of myself. I told her “HVALA” or thanks in Serbian. 🙂 It is very difficult to adjust to English again. I am not saying I speak Serbian because I DON’T but I am used to not understanding anything and using basic Serb words!
You’re supposed to arrive at the departure gate an hour before a domestic flight so I head down there at 12PM. I cannot say it enough…. DULLES AIRPORT STAFF ARE AMAZING!!! They actually have employees standing all over the place to answer your questions. I walk up to a guy and out of habit say “IZVINI” .. or SORRY in English.. ahhahaha.. He looks at me and I ask him how to get to my gate. He tells me and HVALA comes out!!! DAMN!!!! Will this ever end??? I get to the gate and with this being Memorial Day weekend there are many people waiting at the gate. I am on standby again thanks to Suzane and her dear sister. I go up to checkin and the lady tells me that I am #20 on the standby list. Standby is a great money-saving method of travel. Employees of the airline are allowed to get on any flight for very cheap as long as there is an extra seat. She said there is no way I will be on this flight. I ask her when the next one departs. She tells me that there is one at 5:30PM and the last one is at 10:30. I go to the information desk and stand in line for 20 minutes. The guy tells me that the next two flights to Chicago are overbooked and I won’t be able to get on either of them. OMG!!!!!!! I arrived in Washington D.C on one of the busiest travel days of the year. I am tired, dirty, have bad breath, hungry, scared and frustrated. I don’t know what to do! They said another flight was leaving at 8AM but it looked full for a standby too. He jokingly said ” it looks like your best bet for a seat will be on Tuesday!” hahahaha… I was checked into other ticket prices from D.C to St Louis, Indianapolis, Midway etc and they were all going to cost an arm and a leg. One open seat on a the St Louis flight the next day was $500!!!! :(… I grab a bite to eat and about collapse. I open Facebook and start ranting and raving about this HORRID trip. One of my buddies, an airline pilot that lives in Moscow, sent me a message. He said that he could purchase me a ticket with his Skymiles if I used Delta!!!! I couldn’t believe it!!! What great friends I have! He found an open seat on the 7AM flight. It was to fly from D.C to Minneapolis to Chicago Midway. I quickly accept and he books it. I walk over to the Delta gates at 10PM and have the whole place to myself. It is almost totally deserted. I find this older African-American gentleman walking toward me with a Delta jacket on. I stop him to ask him about picking up my ticket . I wanted to make sure I had ZERO problems because I wanted the HELL OUT OF THERE!! He was so kind. He was going home but said he would open up again to get my ticket for me. He walked me back down the long terminal and printed my ticket. He also told me I would need a blanket and pillow. He opened about 40 doors to find them. I felt horrible and told him not to worry about it. He told me to be quiet. hahahahah.. He found them and I thanked him for his kindness. It’s great to run into people who do their job with a smile on their face. I find a plug-in for my laptop and sit and talk with my Iraqi buddy for a few hours. I am looking like a zombie and can barely keep my eyes open. It is 2 AM and I decide to lay down. I am alone in this big terminal . I lay down and am out instantly. At 3:30AM.. there is a this HUGE machine that is cleaning the floors. It wakes me up and I decide to get up and go to the gate. I felt refreshed but still stinky and dirty. I go to the bathroom to freshen up. I take my socks off and throw them in the trash. These sandals hurt my feet without socks but they were rotten. 🙂 There are two guys waiting on our flight. They ask me where I am going because the gate says something different. One of them speaks ZERO English and the other guy was just trying to help him find the right gate. A few hours later it is boarding time. I notice the non-English speaker looking nervous. I walk up to him and motion for him to show me his ticket. It took some wild hand signals but I have become an expert at that. :). He got out his passport and I noticed he tried to cover it. It had Arabic writing and I can just image what some jerks would do if they saw it. I smiled and looked at his seat and boarding letter. It was B. I took his arm and brought him toward the gate and told the guy that he didn’t speak English and it was his turn to board. The guy was very thankful and smiled. It made my day to help someone. I can’t imagine coming to the USA if you didn’t speak English because most of us speak only one language. It is easy for me to travel the world because everyone else speaks English. I board the plane and sit back and fall into a deep sleep!!
I sit down in my seat and notice the guy next to me is dressed very nicely. I immediately feel uncomfortable because I am in my 3 day old t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. I know I smell and try to move as little as possible. I glance over and see him holding a blanket over his nose and mouth. I am extremely embarrassed. The people next to me are looking at him and the flight attendant walks past and glances at him too. I feel about 2 inches tall. I finally lose it. I turn to him and say ” Do I really smell that bad??” He said “NOOOOO!!! It’s this little fucking kid behind you! Her mother will not cover her mouth and she is coughing all over my seat!” OMG!!! What a jerk!! He continues this ridiculous scene for the entire flight. There were a few times when I thought he was going to have a heart attack. She coughed loudly one time and he jumped up and said “JESUS CHRIST!” ahhahahaha.. I was so happy to get away from that asshole! The sad thing was the flight crew didn’t know why he was holding his nose. I know they were thinking it was because of me! 😛
We arrive into Minnesota at 8AM because of the time difference.. That stuff really gets to you!!! Serbia is 7 hours ahead of Chicago and every time you stop somewhere the time is different.. 🙂 I get out and head for the Delta gate for Chicago Midway. Minnesota has always been my favorite state. I have been a diehard Minnesota Twins fan for years. I have three Minnesota Twins tattoos on my arms. It was good to see all the Twin t-shirts and such in the airport. I didn’t have a lot of time so I ran to the gate. There was a group of mentally disabled guys that would be riding with us. I felt very sad for the guy that was in charge of them. You could tell everyone was staring and talking about these poor guys. One of them would keep sitting in a different chair and would stop if someone was in it and stare at them. 🙂 Kinda creepy….
I had the row of seats to myself in the back of the plane. The pilot told us we would be preparing for landing and I could see the beautiful city of Chicago. I really missed it!!! You don’t realize how much you miss something till you are away for long periods of time. Looking into the city of Chicago was so different from Serbia. When you fly into Belgrade the first thing you notice is the ugly orange roofs. Chicago is filled with color and large buildings. I lived for a few years at 64th and Trip. It is 2 blocks from Midway!!! Midway is the smaller of the two international airports in Chicago and I have always been amazed at how rude people are! 🙂 It is nothing like the others! I know the layout so I no longer need to ask for help, THANK GOD! It is a long walk to the Orange line railway system. That is the color coded Chicago train transit system. My bags were put on the United flight so I had to get to O’Hare and try to locate my bags before 4PM when my train departed for Mattoon, IL. I arrive at O’Hare and surprisingly my suitcase is very close to the entrance. The lady is kind and very helpful. I still have 4 hours to kill before my train but decide to go to back to the train station and wait because I have to carry my big bag. There is a family from New York trying to figure out how to get to Midway. I overhear them and tell them I am going that way and will guide them. I love to help out a stranger. I wish more people would do it. They didn’t know about the train passes and I help them buy 4 of them. The train is packed and they are not able to stand close to me. We get close and I wave my arms to instruct them to get out. We stop and get out and they thank me for taking the time to assist them. Hopefully it gave them a good first impression of Illinois.
Train to Mattoon…
I sit in Union Station McDonald’s for an hour watching people. The double 1/4 pounder was just as good as the one I ate a year ago! They don’t sell them at the Serbian McDonald’s. The train station is swarming with weirdos, dirt bags, criminals and freaks. It’s funny to just sit and watch some of these clowns. They might be saying the same thing about me. hahahaha.. I always buy a first class ticket on Amtrak. It is the largest passenger train company in the USA. There is only a $15 difference in price and you have a large seat and can be seated first. It’s the ONLY way to travel! The train ride to Mattoon, IL takes 3 hours. I fall asleep and arrive in Mattoon about 30 minutes late. I am soooo excited when I see the Mattoon station. Mattoon is about 30 minutes from my parents hometown of Greenup, IL. I look out the window and see my mother and father standing there waiting. It was a great feeling to see them again!!! Mom had lost a lot of weight and my father had lost 30 lbs!!!!! THANK GOD I AM HOME!!!!! I spent a total of 50 hours in transit from Nis to Mattoon!!!!! UGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
Thanks for reading my long trip home!! Never make the mistakes I do!!! Planning a trip in advance is so much wiser!! 🙂 The biggest tip I can give you is DO NOT TRAVEL STANDBY ON MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND!!!!