Return to the States — Cow Tales

The morning began at…well, it never really began at all. Rather, the previous day continued. I was not allowed by my fellow Calvin students to get any sleep, so I was up until our shuttle arrived at 3:15 AM.

Can I blame my friends for being excited to return home after four long but enjoyable months? Of course not. However, I was expecting a little bit more quietude, as we’d had a large dinner at Menza and then many people went out afterwards.

Before I start on the log of what happened on the trip home, let me talk a little about the Menza meal. According to some research that I had done earlier on in the semester, Menza is one of the best places to eat in Budapest. Unfortunately, the prices aren’t really what a college student is looking to spend, so I figured I’d never go. I was greatly pleased when Professor Feenstra said that our final dinner in Budapest would be as a group at Menza.

Now, both Kelly and I had a look at Menza’s menu, and there are certainly a huge number of Hungarian dishes that would be a great way to see off Budapest. Feenstra posted in our group message board that she’d picked a set menu of “her favorites,” so this left Kelly and I wondering exactly what that meant. Somehow, we thought that her “favorites” would be much more Americanized than ours. We were hoping for langos soup with any of the many Hungarian main dishes and turogomboc for dessert. However, what we predicted was that Feenstra would stick with very American foods; we determined that she would choose the pumpkin soup (not as traditionally Hungarian, as it is lacking many spices), a hamburger, and the chocolate cake.

Well, we got two out of the three correct.

Needless to say, although we were very enthused by being treated to a meal for which we did not have to pay, we were very disappointed. Why would we spend our last meal in Hungary eating American food? We started with a pumpkin soup, then had some chicken and vegetables, and finished with the chocolate cake (which wasn’t anything special, to be honest).

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[Sorry for the cake being sideways. WordPress doesn’t want to upload it right.]

I also ordered a “cherry pie” hot drink which contained whole sour cherries, vanilla, cinnamon, and some cherry extracts. It was quite good!

*****

Anyway, we packed up and said goodbye to Budapest, my stomach just a little upset since I hadn’t slept for so long. The shuttle took us to the airport without problems, and I guided everyone through the airport as best I could – having used it so often by myself and having slept there numerous times, I was familiar with the “rhythm” of the place.

It wasn’t until our check-in gate opened that things started to turn sour – fast. A few members of our group started to go up and check the weight of their bags only to be told that they could only bring one carry-on. Every single person in our group had brought two, including me. That means that 18 people were each going to have to pay 75 euro a piece to check an additional bag.

Now, I’m torn in this situation. The website for KLM does say that you are allowed to have two bags, but it is very specific on what you can carry – a carry-on bag of certain dimensions and then an accessory, particularly a laptop or laptop bag. In all honesty, most of the people who had to pay to check a bag deserved to do so – their second carry-on was way too big, and they should have known that from reading the website. However, some people should have been able to make it through (and some people made it through who shouldn’t have), so the whole system was running unfairly at the moment.

When I saw what was happening, I was like, “Nope. Not me.” So I grabbed my laptop bag, slung it over my shoulder, and twirled it behind me before wheeling up my carry-on and checked bag. My checked bag was a snitch overweight (I had to take out two folders and move them to my carry-on, no problem), and she asked how many carry-ons I had, no doubt knowing that I was from this large group of students who were each trying to get two carry-ons through.

“I have a carry-on,” I said, lifting it up to her, “and I have a laptop bag.”

“Can I see it?” she said. I spun it around quickly, much in the manner of a small purse (no matter that it was packed with 10 kg of stuff). She had no problems with it.

It’s all attitude people, I swear. That and actually following the rules on the website – laptop bag. Not additional rolling carry-on. Not hiking backpack. Laptop bag.

Anyway, they also started kicking us out of line because we were supposed to be checking in on the automated machines. Unfortunately, they kept rejecting our tickets and shutting down the system. Finally, though, we got them to check us in at the desk.

Budapest to Amsterdam was 1 hour and 50 minutes of flying time, and it was no problem. Then, we headed through security again and boarded the daunting 9-hour flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

The flight was long, and sleep was impossible with my headphones and the person in front of me reclining her chair back so that I didn’t have room to sleep on the table. At that point, I had been awake for more than 24 hours. As the flight waited at the gate for us to get off, we were all standing in a small cluster of seats talking until the line began to move. Some were worried about whether they would have things seized by Customs. John Michael pointed out that only things like meat, cheese, or other things that could bring new diseases or creatures into a place are the things that cause problems usually. Turning to Kelly, I said, “Oh no! I forgot to go get my cow out of the overhead bin! Do you think Customs will be okay with my cow?”

John Michael said, “Just put a blanket over him. No one will notice.”

“You have a cow?” Kelly said sarcastically.

“He’s my little brother. Don’t judge.”

It wasn’t the sarcastic comments that were funny, it was the five or six people who suddenly exclaimed either “You have a brother?” or “There’s a cow in the overhead bin?”

Seriously, people? It was a joke.

Anyway, Customs afterward was a breeze, and overall no major problems occurred. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Once we arrived in Grand Rapids, we gathered together for a group hug and some final words for each other. Some were crying, many were smiling, and we all went together into the main hall where a horde of expectant parents were waiting anxiously.

The reunions were nothing if not joyous.

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Only a hop, skip, and jump later, my super-awesome Hungary roommate Kelly was willing to drive me to Campus Safety to pick up my car keys and my apartment key for the night. After just a little difficulty getting into the room (locks, you know, are very complex machines which require years of arduous training to master), I finally settled down on a futon and frantically scanned my bags, believing for a few hours that my driver’s license had been stolen at the airport.

Thank goodness I’m just horrendous when it comes to looking for obvious things.

I also gave my good old Fordzilla a happy pat on the steering wheel, gently coasting her around the parking lot to warm her up after four months without me. Together, Fordzi and I went to McDonalds (where, in America, the fries only cost $.89). Dinner in my belly and 36 hours of sleeplessness weighing heavy on my mind, I finally gave up and curled up in a frigid room to sleep before the long drive back home.

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