And off we go. Well, not quite. We’ve got the flights, hotels, car and theme parks booked. We’ve got the cash. Friends and family are looking after the pets – one rabbit and two rats (rats make sweet pets by the way). Everything’s sorted. Packing is done. We’ve even bought some sweets from B&M for the trip. All that’s left to do is pack toiletries and set off.
So off we set, nice and early, on our way to Manchester. We’ve got a flight at about 9 or 10 – can’t quite remember when. So, setting off at 4 or 5-ish (yes, in the morning) will get us there with plenty of time to spare. We’ve checked in online, got everything sorted that way. Checked that our luggage gets transferred over in Amsterdam and there’s nothing further to do.
Unfortunately, a rather embarrassing incident totally gets rid of our time advantage. Whilst we still get to the airport in advance, it’s not too far in advance. We normally take a bit of time to have breakfast in the terminal after we’ve gone through check-in. It’s part of our holiday (even if it is hugely overpriced). Sadly, no time this time around. We do have time to go in Boots though and get some drinks.
Quick hint for people – when you’re going through the metal detectors in security, make sure to take off shoes, belts and watches, as well as remove keys etc. BEFORE you are going through them. Otherwise it just holds everyone up.
We make it to the plane okay for the trip with KLM to Amsterdam, then from there another KLM flight to Chicago. Whilst Delta are the main carriers, it seems KLM is a subsidiary airline. Which is fine – we flew with Delta themselves on the way back, and the flights to the states were SO much better.
But that’s enough of that. I’ve come armed with a book that I bought off Play.com for £2 – the second Dexter novel. It’s just a short trip from Manchester to Amsterdam so I read a fair bit of that (Dexter novels, by the way, are quite different to the TV series – they feature, largely, the same characters and similar situations, but other than that differ immensely in their plots). I also ask a stewardess if our luggage will be transferred to our next flight as we’ve got barely any time in Amsterdam – she checks and assures me they will, and also provides me with a map of the airport in Amsterdam (it’s KLM’s hub) with our arriving and departing gates highlighted. Nice service.
Get to Amsterdam, and our next flight is already boarding! How’s that for efficiency? Quick toilet stop and we’re running – well, not running, but certainly walking hurriedly and with intent – to our connection. Strange body scan thing later (I assume this is one of those things that supposedly takes a picture of you naked, for all the guards to laugh at) and we’re off again.
Airlines have come on leaps and bounds in recent years in terms of in-flight entertainment. Before you used to be stuck with whatever movies they put on, normally quite old, on the few small TVs stuck to the ceiling of the cabin. Now everyone’s got their own seat-back TV with remote. What’s more, there’s LOADS of movies, new and old, to choose from, as well as TV shows, networked games and more. I assume there’s just a HUGE hard drive serving the stuff as you can pause, rewind and fast-forward to your heart’s content. I decide to watch Tron: Legacy and Rango, as well as a few other bits and bobs.
I also get chatting to a man sitting next to me. He used to be a headteacher, but has since left and decided to study how the brain works. Apparently, if he and I were to drink water at the same time, a lot of his brain would be analysing how I drank the water and trying to, subconsciously, make him drink it in a similar fashion in order to fit in. He’s off to Chicago for a conference for a few days, hopefully managing to explore the city whilst he’s there.
I tell him about our trip. He says it sounds like what someone would do for a documentary / travel show and that we should have brought a camera crew.
Several hours later (despite all the gubbins you can do I still hate plane travel) and Chicago comes into view!
We land and get to security, armed with passports and ready to give the required fingerprints and photos. Still, it has to be done. But they’re very friendly about it. In fact, the Americans are very friendly about everything, something that you immediately notice. Maybe they’re not actually that friendly. Maybe we just think that as we compare them to us Brits.
Get luggage and try to find the car. I’ve been to Chicago before and always remember Chicago O’hare to be very confusing. This was about fifteen years ago and we get through with no problems.
Now for the car. We get there and there’s a pretty hefty queue. A sales assistant is helping people with “quick rental” machines – scan the code, your drivers licence etc. and you’re off.
Well, it would be quick, if our drivers licences were American and we wanted and extra driver and didn’t want the optional toll thingy and so on and so forth. But they’re very patient (so are we) and everything eventually gets sorted, giving us our nice car and a full tank of petrol (or gas/gasoline or whatever).
Now, we’ve booked our hotel, which for the life of me I can’t remember which it was. Could have been the Quality Inn… dunno. Either way, we didn’t know which areas of Chicago are good and which aren’t. We also don’t fancy having to drive into the city, so we’ve booked a cheap hotel near the airport. This way, we’ve got easy access to the main freeways for when we leave Chicago, it’s close by, and also has a shuttle service to use to go to and from the airport. This means we can take the shuttle to the airport, use the train to get into Chicago, come back on the train and take the shuttle back.
Check-in is done easily enough and the room is actually pretty nice. We unpack a few things (though we’re going to be living out of our cases for the next three weeks) and try to find somewhere to eat. We look in the phone book for places nearby and find what seems like a decent chinese restaurant. After programming this location into the GPS (I quickly become quite adept at this), off we go (forgot to mention that we’d started using the GPS – it took it a few minutes to find it’s bearings when we left the airport).
Driving in America is, to me, a bit like driving from new again. I know what everything does. I know the rules. But hell am I nervous. I’m not used to this car and I think I’m too close to the kerb. I’m also having to check constantly if I’m speeding or not. Not to mention the strange rules they have over there at traffic lights (if it’s clear you can go if you’re turning right, or something like that). We manage to find the chinese place and, unfortunately, it’s shut.
But wait! We’ve been to America before and grew addicted to Wendy’s and Friendly’s. And, in anticipation, I used Google Earth (again, gotta love that program) to find various Wendy’s and Friendly’s on our trip. And there just happens to be one close by.
So, another half-harrowing drive later (getting used to the car though) and we’re at Wendy’s where I just HAVE to have a three-quarter pound cheeseburger with bacon. The Americans know how to do burgers. And they’re so cheap as well! No wonder they have such a reputation! My girlfriend is healthier and has a salad (I also have salads a few times during the holiday – don’t worry, I ain’t fat yet!). But for dessert we have Frosties!
No, not the cereal. A Frosty, at Wendy’s, is essentially somewhere between a milkshake and an ice cream. It’s very smooth and creamy, nice a chocolatey and eaten with a spoon. Again, these are damn cheap.
We also quickly call at a supermarket, which Wendy’s is in the same car park as. This is, by comparison to other American supermarkets, quite small, but still easily half the size of our local Asda superstore. We get some bottles of drink for in the hotel and travelling. The car park is also quite open and has several ways in and out – again, compared to our local Asda superstore with petrol station, office complex, Comet, B&Q, Carpet place and McDonalds all sharing the same entrance and exit. At the till there is a strange little carrier bag holder on a wheel so the staff can just scan the item and put it in an already-open bag. When the bag is full, turn it slightly and there’s a brand new bag, already open for you.
After this, we retire back to the hotel to watch some daft American TV and get an early night. We sit there for a bit watching an episode of “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant!”, in which people give birth without even knowing they were up the duff (not live on air – it’s all recreations of their stories). The announcer at the end encouraged anyone who knew someone who was pregnant and didn’t know it (is it that common an occurrence) to ring in.
From here, it’s only a small step until he starts asking people to ring in if they’ve got a friend who’s pregnant and doesn’t know it.
An early night is required, as the next day we were set to go to the first of our theme parks, Six Flags Great America…