You know how trips go…. You get all excited a few days before the departure! I always try to pack and get my things in order a day before my trip, but I always end up forgetting something. This trip should have been perfect! I had an additional five days to prepare because a large snow storm hit Chicago the night before my flight was scheduled to leave. 😦 Chicago O’Hare had 330 cancelled flights and I wanted to avoid the mess so I totally changed courses. My original plan had me flying into Frankfurt, Germany and then taking a bus down to Banja Luka, Republika Srpska to see a lot of my Facebook buddies! They weren’t going to be happy , but I rescheduled my flight from Chicago to Istanbul to Belgrade!
My parents were kind enough to drop me off at the Mattoon train station before heading to church. My train departed at 9:30AM and arrived in Chicago at 1:00PM. You can’t beat Amtrak train service in the Midwest! My ride only cost me $18.00 which is a lot cheaper than driving with gas being around $4 a gallon.
Union Station disaster….
We arrive on schedule at Chicago Union Station. It is located in the heart of Chicago, Illinois. The station was unusually crowded for a Sunday afternoon. I had to find something to do for 3 hours while I waited on my Serbian pal, Milos, to get done with soccer practice. We were going to discuss a business ideas before I left.
I looked around for a place to stash my two suitcases. One thing I hate about traveling is lugging around tons of suitcases. I brought one large suitcase on wheels, one smaller sport bag, and my laptop bag. They had an advertisement for luggage lockers and I went to investigate. The price was $5 an hour for a large locker. There was a large crowd in the surrounding area and an elderly man at the machine. They always make things confusing. It was a digital screen that the old man was really struggling with. I watch him for a few moments and decide to offer my assistance. He said that he had bad eyesight and couldn’t get the touch screen to work. It was a pain in the rear to get the numbers entered correctly. You had to roll your fingers over this section before the locker would open. I guess this is for security reasons. What is to keep a terrorist or a nut case from leaving a bomb in there? I finally get to my locker and throw the big bag and smaller bag in it. I shut the door and head for the exit.
The station is one block from Sears Tower …. or Willis Tower as it is officially named….The Chicago River runs right past the station and it adds to the beauty of the city. I have lived in a few large cities, but Chicago has to be one of the best looking. I walk about six blocks down the street when I reach for my laptop bag. IT IS GONE!!! OMG!!! I shoved my passport, tickets, and other important info in one of the compartments on that bag!!!! I just about crumple to the ground in tears!!! WHAT WAS I GOING TO DO??? I can’t leave the US without a passport, I couldn’t even get a bus ticket without a photo I.D! I take off running for the train station. I remember I had laid the bag on the chair next to the locker. There is NO WAY that is still there!! Chicago had over 500 murders last year and has had a few bad years of high crime! That meant that my laptop was HISTORY along with my trip to Serbia! I bust into the station and dash down the stairs. There is a train police desk at the entrance of the ticket area, but I dart for the locker. What do you think I see sitting on that chair next to the locker?? MY LAPTOP!!!!!!!!!!! WOW!!!! This lobby is packed with people , but my lapt5op was safe and sound. I open it up and all of my things are right where I left them! WHEW!!!!!!! That is the closest I have ever been to having a heart attack! I realize how close I was to walking back to Greenup, IL! I tell myself that it is time to go to O’Hare. I can’t risk something else happening. I pull out my luggage and walk slowly down to the subway that will take me to O’Hare. Milos won’t be happy that I left, but I have to get my butt to Serbia before I lose something else.
Chicago O’Hare ..
Chicago O’Hare International Airport or ORD in airport abbreviations is a very easy airport to navigate. It is very big and does take you some time to get to the international terminal, but the layout is better than most similar sized airports I have been to. I get to the international terminal 6 hours before my flight leaves! -_- I find Turkish Airlines ticket counter and meet a beautiful young lady at the computer. She takes my passport and print out and asks me my seating preference. I tell her that I would like a window seat if possible. She told me about a seat that had both seats vacant. That sounded perfect!!! I would be sitting alone on this 11 hour flight to Istanbul, Turkey!! 🙂 You can’t beat that!! Nothing is worse than being crammed in a tiny seat with some loud, stinky, snoring human leaning over on you the whole time.
The TSA Security area
Everyone is always complaining about the TSA . They are the ones that are responsible for keeping the flights safe. You first go through a line that has one officer there. He takes your passport and scans it through a computer to see if you are on the NO FLY LIST. I am free and clear so I head to the next station. This is the baggage screening and body scan section. You must take off your shoes, belts, and all metal objects you have on you. You also have to remove your laptop and put it in a separate container. They go through the machine very slowly and when your stuff gets on the conveyor they ask you to walk through this metal detector and finally into this circular room. You must stand in one spot and hold your hands in the air while this large object goes around your entire body. That will see what you have under your clothes so I am pretty sure some pervert has a dream job! 🙂 You step out of this machine and a have to stand in front of a TSA official. They stare at you in this mean face to face stand off. He finally steps out of the way and allows me to get my things. If you make any strange manners, sweat, etc, they pull you to the side and frisk you. I put all my goodies back on and take my things to the gate that I will be flying out of in 5 more hours!
Turkish Airline waiting area
I have a lot of time to kill. I throw down my stuff and find a good seat in this empty waiting room. The one thing that really sucks about Chicago O’Hare is the lack of free internet. You have to pay $7 for unlimited 24 hour usage! WHAT A JOKE!!! Dulles International has free internet along with many others. I breakdown and pay it because I know that boredom will soon set in.
I am sitting there for a few moments when this guy comes up and asks if he can use the plug for electricity. He has a long pony tail and has a strange accent. I unplug my computer and start talking with him. He is an Iranian guy from Tehran. He has been living in the USA for a number of years. He married an American lady from South Carolina. Him and his other friend are heading back to Iran for the first time in a number of years. They start telling me about the differences between living in Iran and living in South Carolina. They really cracked me up when they started talking about the inconveniences of being named Mohamed and passing through the TSA security. They are supposed to have random screens, but he said if your name is Mohamed you always seem to always be selected for that random screen. I would blow up if this happened to me. We talk for a few hours about every imaginable topic.
The flight to Istanbul..
The airline staff starts the boarding announcement a little bit before 9PM. I am in the first section that is called to board. I take my seat in the aisle seat and pray that the window seat will remain unoccupied! They finally finish boarding and I have both seats to myself!!!! That is the best feeling ever! I switch over to the window seat and buckle up for take off. A few rows up from me I notice 6 really large guys with pony tails, tattoos, and overly tanned skin. They are Chippendale dancers from Las Vegas that are heading to Croatia for a show.
This flight is scheduled to take 11 hours. One nice thing about Turkish Air is that they give you a menu that shows you the different selections of food that you can choose. All of the meals on this flight are kosher meals due to the large amount of Muslims that fly on this airline. They pass out a little travel bag to each passenger that contains a headset for movies, lip gloss, tooth brush and some tooth paste. I was a nice surprise seeing how many airlines are charging for everything.
I start checking out the people in the surrounding seats. There is an African woman in front of me that is constantly being harassed by this Chinese businessman that is sitting in the row across from me. He is tapping her on the shoulder every few minutes to try to say something to her. I notice that he is wearing a very expensive Rolex watch. Every time the flight attendants go by he is ordering a beer or liquor beverage to drink. This causes him to be more obnoxious in his behavior. He is wanting her to come and sit in the empty seat beside him and she is just shaking her head. I feel like stepping in and saying something, but don’t feel like getting involved. He finally passes out a few hours into the flight.
Turkish Air has a built in tv and entertainment system built into the back of each seat. They are a must have for long flights. This one had a large number of newer movies, classic films, tv series, music stations, and video games to choose from. I end up watching 4 movies over the span of the 11 hour flight. It was nice to stretch my legs out over both seats and get a little bit of sleep on a flight. One of my previous flights to Australia had me crammed in between two people and that is not fun.
Istanbul International Airport…
The landing into Istanbul went very smooth. I notice a huge amount of mosques that litter the landscape of Istanbul! I wish I had been able to spend a day or two in that city! The airport in Istanbul was one of the worst experiences that I have had. I didn’t have to go through customs because I had a connecting flight. I am standing next to one of the Chippendale dancers and I start a casual conversation with him. He is telling me that they are in two groups. One of the groups is from Las Vegas and the other is a group of international dancers that travel the world preforming in many countries. We get through the security checkpoint and then it is off to find my terminal for Belgrade. The main lobby of this airport is filled with people and have very few signs or people to ask questions to. I see a sign that has the international terminals, but none of them have my Belgrade flight that is leaving in 30 minutes!!! I head down one of the directions and finally find someone to ask. He is friendly , but tells me I need to ask someone at a terminal. I find another guy and he tells me to check the tv screen. I tell him that I have done it three times and Belgrade isn’t listed and that my flight is leaving in 30 minutes! He looks it up on his computer and tells me that it is way at the other end of the terminal! I run down there as quick as I can. The gate he told me to stop at has Dubai written on the sign. I ask a few of the people around me where they are going and all of them say Belgrade. I can breathe a big sigh of relief. The flight is running 20 minuthyes behind schedule, but we soon start boarding. It is a small plane that must be boarded from the outside. They shuttle us over there and we file into the tiny plane. I end up sitting by a very nice Serbian lady was vacationing with her mother.
Arrival into Belgrade…….
We are finally beginning our decent into Nikola Tesla Airport. I get out of the airplane and can smell the Serbia that I left a few months prior. 🙂 I smoothly walk through customs. The lady was very nice and didn’t ask me anything at all. She stamps my passport and I walk down to get my luggage. I pick it up and head through the doors to the main entrance. There are 4 Serbian customs officers standing there. They are randomly stopping people. I stop one of them and ask the best place to exchange my money to Dinars. They tell me to go to the end of the terminal. I thank them and head over to the money exchange. The guy is surprised that I am from the US. He just returned from a trip to New York and had a great experience. I exchange a few hundred dollars and walk out to the bus station. The cab drives rush up and attempt to take you. I have never been trusting of taxi drivers in any country. I ignore them and walk to the city bus. I get on and the guy tells me it won’t head to Belgrade for 15 min. I sit back in my seat and relax. It is great to look out and see the old Yugo again. 🙂
We take off toward the bus station in the center of town. I ask the guy next to me if he speaks English. I ask him about hotels in the center. I never make reservations. 🙂 He tells me of a cheap little hostel across from the bus station. I get off the bus and head there. The lady speaks ZERO English and keeps speaking French. 🙂 She shows me the room and I nod my head. I lay down to sleep and ready to explore Belgrade in the morning!
Happy to be back on this side of the world in the country I fell in love with a few years prior!!!!!