Homeward bound (part 1: Saturday, May 9- traveling in a pandemic)
We arrived at Arlanda plenty early- found the one line for all flights (under the banner marked "SAS" despite the fact that we were traveling on Lufthansa. We waited. And waited... trying to stay about 2 meters distance from others). Our massive pile of luggage: 8 checked bags, 4 musical instruments, 4 carry ons. We pushed our carts forward bit by bit. Then were jammed into a small space close to others for the actual check in (I didn't manage any photos). So much for keeping our distance.
We had 4 bags that we could check for free, but had to pay ~$100 for each additional bag. Should have paid online but got sent to the SAS service counter to pay- but they had to call United to get the luggage fee paid. Time passed. They started to press the United folks, saying we didn't have much time until departure. None of us like to be late to an airport, but Stephen in particular stresses- are we going to miss our flight? No, we'll be fine... (thinking internally, I hope). We get the fee paid, take the receipt, drop the bags (he doesn't even ask for the receipt). Work our way past security- our bags are packed with odd things like skateboard batteries. We unload everything, reload past security. Find our gate through the empty airport. Flight to Frankfurt is fairly busy- one of the few flights that day out of Arlanda, so I think it is what people are using to get elsewhere in Europe.
We arrive in Frankfurt- offload onto a bus, detour around a fairly silent airport. Work our way into the terminal, follow signs to the Z terminal. Stop in customs- passports stamped for nearly the first time in our trip. The airport was odd... more large infrastructure sitting empty, unused. Lots of parked planes (with a backdrop of construction cranes- do airports continue to invest?). Marked off seats in an area with no people.
[I wrote the part below on Monday, May 11th... a bit of time has elapsed]
Flight starts to descend through wild clouds and spotty snowstorms, empty baseball fields visible across the region. A county park bereft of any cars or boats in the lake. Turbulence tosses the plane. Elizabeth remarks she might be getting sick. We get out the vomit bags just in case. Stephen stares out the window, plane wings/flaps fluctuating wildly. Later he asks if this is normal. We skitter onto the runway, past the quiet port authority, stop near an IKEA.
We pull into the terminal. The plane was met by 8 cop cars on one side, 3 on the other, an ambulance. We waited to get off as our man in distress was taken off. Passengers interviewed by port authority officers. I felt so sad.
2 luggage carts filled to the top, we navigate towards customs control. Any food? 8 bars of chocolate, granola bars. Cardamom rolls (of course). Not much else despite our mountain of luggage. They send about half our bags through the scanner; don't make us put the last 4 bags on for some reason.
We walk out into a deserted airport- stop to check internet using the wifi. Our phones are running a Swedish cell service- expensive in the US. Find instructions to our car, instructions from Newark to State College. Walk out to find parking, turn left to find our car.
Our key works- the car beeps, opens. Stuff our luggage in- not much spare room. Our realtor and her husband have driven our car and theirs over from State College- they left instructions with a note indicating that the check engine light had come on that morning, along with a note that "TRAC off" and "check AWD." The wind lifts the instructions and sends them flying. Stephen grabs them, stuffs them in the car somewhere. They disappear into the mess by the time we realize that my phone has "forgotten" the directions. We are driving by this point but not knowing where to go- oops. I stop at a gas station while Chris turns his Swedish cell service on, generates instructions.
We start driving west. Cars feel weird (I've not driven much in 9 months). Our car is packed, visibility non-existent out the back window. New York & New Jersey drivers pass about 50 mph faster than we're driving. I feel like I did when I first had a kid in the car: I want a sign that says "back off, new driver." We navigate out, get on I-80 west. Chris turns off the cell service, tries to figure out how to transition our phones to a new google cell service (new SIM cards in the car thanks to the heroic efforts of friends + realtor to gather all the parts into one place).
Wind gusts blow the car sideways. The signs indicate potential snow squalls, white out conditions. We thought we'd left the snow in Sweden. Great day for the all wheel drive to maybe be functioning, or maybe not. I drive on. Chris puts the album on that is in the car: Lovelock to Winnemucca by our friend Justin Wells. We sing along, driving west. The kids fall asleep. At this point, they are seriously seasoned travelers. Despite the gustiness, the drive was fairly straightforward... it felt so odd to exit off I-80 towards Bellefonte, then navigate in the fading light towards our rental house.
Spring is later here than in Sweden-the trees still showing their branch structure, not yet leafed out. We'll apparently redo spring this year (we did fall 3 times last year). It felt good to stop driving, the rental house where we thought it would be.
Part 2 coming soon.