Where is our vacation?


The Blue Danube in Budapest, Hungary

Planning and Packing


You can never plan a vacation too far in advance. My brother made the airplane reservations to Europe for my daughter, five-year-old grandchild, and me five months in advance. Inspired by his foresight and planning, I waited until one and a half days before we left to pack. I needed to be sure that I would include the requisite amount of unnecessary clothing and forget the items I would truly need.

Day One and a Half


We left on a Sunday late in the afternoon. My husband and my daughter’s ITTASBYNK (I-think-they-are-serious-but-you-never-know) person of interest took us to the airport. Giddy with excitement, my daughter and I had our intimate moments with our sweethearts and headed toward the TSA officers to get intimate with them. The grandchild, however, burst into tears at the thought of leaving the two men behind.


Before we left, we repeatedly checked the weather reports in Chicago and discovered they were having weather: the wet, noisy kind, with the strobe lights. No delays were announced for our United Express plane leaving northeast Wisconsin, so we grabbed our suitcases along with our nonchalance and headed for the gate.


At the gate, we admired the few planes out on the tarmac, played time machine between the chairs, and gave Choco-chan the teddy bear rides on the rolling luggage. At boarding time, the United attendant announced a delay due to weather. Fifteen minutes after that, he announced another delay. After the weather cleared up, he said the plane arriving from Chicago had mechanical problems. If it didn’t arrive, we couldn’t leave.


When it became clear that we would miss our connecting flight to Frankfurt, I lost the non in my nonchalance and asked in a rather chalant way if we could book on a different connecting flight. The agent looked at his computer, clicked through screen after screen, squinted, sighed, and finally said there was nothing available, so we should check in Chicago. “Do they have different computers there?” I asked. He assumed I was asking this sincerely, tried to hide his surprise at my ignorance, and kindly answered, “No.”


In desperation, I called the United help desk (motto: We help desks, people not so much). The helpful deskperson also checked and rechecked, put me on hold, made me listen to terrible music, and said no flights were available, but I could try in Chicago, where all of United’s help is stored for safekeeping.


Soon after that, the plane from Chicago arrived problem-free, its mechanical problems solved mid-air. Apparently, every plane in Chicago had mechanical problems caused by the magnetic force field of Air Force One (motto: All your air space are belong to us). Our President, AKA O’Ba(t)ma(n), flew into Chicago for the NATO conference and disabled all other flights until his presidential Batmobile lifted off. I made a note to check his itinerary the next time I planned a trip.

Secret Service and Air Force One: Freeing air space one flight at a time.


At O’Hare airport, my grandchild and I stood in a long line of delayed passengers hoping to speak with a United representative and catch a glimpse of their magical computers and mythical help. My daughter, less prone to fantasy, went to talk to a Lufthansa agent because United had booked our flight to Frankfurt with them.


For months I had been telling the grandchild about our vacation in Europe, just a short flight from Wisconsin to Chicago, then the longer one from Chicago to Frankfurt, followed by another short flight to Budapest, each seamlessly connected with little layover time. As we stood in the terminal’s interminable line, my grandchild looked up, clinging to Choco-chan the bear but slowly losing faith in Grandma and her stories, and asked, “Is this vacation?”


My daughter stood in a shorter line and soon spoke to a Lufthansa agent. She used her nursing skills (“When you roll over, we are going to insert this. Just relax and it will be over soon. It will only hurt a little.”) and persuaded the agent to supply us with three tickets. We caught the last flight to Frankfurt, only four hours later than our original one.


In Frankfurt we went to the United desk, still believing that the airline that booked the flights could and would help us. We spent over an hour at the desk while the agent called on the phone, squinted at the computer, and talked to other agents. Finally, he looked at us and said in that United way they all have, “Why don’t you go over to Lufthansa and see what they can do.”


I took the grandchild and Choco-chan to an airport café while the nurse dealt with the displeased Lufthansa agent. Why, he asked, didn’t you go to the gate for the next Budapest flight and try to get standby again? You just missed a flight, he said, and there were available seats. After cursing United in German, he told her in English that he hated United and sent us to a gate to try standby again.


The grandchild held up remarkably well, but as we waited, now twenty hours since we had left the house, crawled into my lap and asked, “Where is our vacation?” I had to admit I didn’t know.

United we stand, Lufthansa we fly


Thirty minutes before the flight to Budapest was scheduled to leave, the agent arrived. My nurse daughter went up to the desk, smiled, completed her procedure, and returned with three seats confirmed on the flight.


We got to my brother’s apartment close to midnight, took showers, and collapsed.


We find our vacation


The next morning, my brother went in to work. Soon after, the three of us uncollapsed, ate breakfast, and unpacked. From the apartment balcony we could see the Danube River, so I put on Johann Strauss’ The Blue Danube and we waltzed around the living room. We gave the five-year-old a point-and-shoot camera to use and headed out to take some pictures.


I have been to Budapest before, but it was the first time for my daughter. While we stood by the Danube admiring the buildings and bridges and snapping pictures, my grandchild squealed, “Pigeons!” and proceeded to take five or six thousand pictures of them.


That’s my grandchild in the upper left-hand corner of each picture.


When it started raining, we returned to the apartment and got umbrellas. Then we headed outside again. After twenty minutes, one of us was hungry, one of us was cold, and one of us needed to use the bathroom. Our vacation had begun.


For dinner, we took a subway to a different part of the city. Before getting off at Opera station, the grandchild looked at us and asked, “Is this real life?” We all laughed and said yes.


Budapest subway station.


As we walked up the steps to street level, the little one then asked me, “Are we in Paris now?”


“Not yet,” I said, “we leave for Paris tomorrow.”


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Next installment: Paris

51 thoughts on “Where is our vacation?

  1. “Do they have different computers there?” Ha! Love it. I’m going to use that one. I missed your wit! Welcome back to the blog.

    I’ve actually had pretty good luck with United desk agents…. but only after I learned that you have to go to a different gate — one that’s not too busy — that is in no way affected by your particular delays (so there;s not a huge line of displaced passengers waiting there). When we did that, we were re-routed nicely.

    Of course, we still spent the night sleeping on the floor in the Denver airport.

    • Thanks for the good advice, Anne. Chicago often causes trouble to me or those I know who travel. I’ve slept in that terminal before and it wasn’t much fun. Tons of people were stranded and they quickly ran out of cots and blankets.

      • “Maybe I need to pray for some really, really bad experiences to improve my writing. I’ve tried everything else.”

        Please, my dear ys, could you refrain from making me laugh out loud?

        I’ve barely had my morning caffeine, and am not yet awake enough for laughing. Apparently you have no concern for my un-awaken-ness, and have no problem summoning forth my laughter. Please, I beg of you, save all the really good stuff for later in the day, when I am better able to control my mirth. At least, by then, I will have had time to make myself prepared for possible spontaneous laughter ahead. I can choose to look away, rather than be confronted, head-on, and bruise my funny bone.

        Your words delight me. Often. I’m not sure which is more fun; the unexpected laughter, or the (ir)reverant appreciation. Both are quite delicious.

        Your comment explains a lot. Life has suddenly become clear. All those experiences in my life were all intended to make me a better writer.

        Ohhhhhh, now I get it. Thank you. 🙂

  2. I, too, was missing you and had visited your blog yesterday, wondering if my RSS feed was working correctly. Beautiful pictures and an engaging travel tale. I can hardly wait to hear your take on the “dog box.” Is that anything like the door at church marked “child storage”?

      • I’m sure you’ll more than likely share a good story about the dog box … I had the same thought … “but MY dog wouldn’t fit; he’s much too hefty for that little tiny box” … love it when you throw in those little bits of quirky tidbits.

  3. According to the rumors I’ve heard, what you experienced is part of an attempt to make international travel as close as possible to the experience of visiting Disneyland. Having been impressed by that American giant, everyone wants to be like them.

  4. Woo-hooooo!!! Welcome home, I’ve missed you!

    Aaah, isn’t modern air travel grand? Maddening as it can be, I still think it is a marvel….halfway around the planet in a day? Beats the heck out of autos, trains or boats.

    I sympathise with your trials and tribulations; however, I have a slightly different perspective on the joys of delays and reroutes, as I am a retired (or as I like to put it, “retarded”) customer service agent, albeit I served an airline other than United. I spent years on the other side of that desk, and recall very well how much fun I had when “W” decided to bring Air Force One through our house not once, but twice in the same day. This, when there was a perfectly good and very secure Air Force base within 30 miles, which could have been used without disrupting commercial service at one of the busiest airports in the country. (But that’s a whole ‘nother rant.)

    I like to believe that I was of the “old school”, back when the Customer Service part of the job description meant something. When my duties were reduced to those of a glorified kiosk attendant and the company offered an early retirement buyout, I took it. I hope you weren’t too “chalant” with the agent; too often, those who most need it (i.e. frontline agents) are not provided with accurate information regarding the cause of delays, or authority that would help them provide on-the-spot solutions. Yes, sometimes the help is stored elsewhere for safekeeping, especially now that airlines are managed from the wallet instead of the heart. Whew. (OK…….easing down from my soapbox here….)

    Anyway, I’m thirilled that you’re back, and can’t wait to hear about your adventures!

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective. In my conversation on the phone with the United agent, I mentioned that I was not upset with him. I think he was in the Philippines staring at the same screens that the agent in our regional airport stared at.

      I’ve considered writing a letter to President Obama explaining that using busy commercial airports affects potentially thousands of people. Smaller airports and/or military airports seem so much easier for everyone. It might mean longer drives for the motorcade but at least not so many people would be left stranded.

  5. I’m dead impressed with your five year old! Clearly he/she has the concept of a vacation down pat. Yes, real life is waiting and being uncomfortable just for the opportunity to have something magical happen!

  6. You’re back! You’re back! I am so, so happy you’re back! Love your story, can’t wait to see more pictures. (Is it me, or are some of your pictures not showing up?) EEEEE! Hi, Yearstricken! Okay. I think I can calm down now!

    • Hi Courtenay, I’m glad to be back. And thanks for mentioning about the pictures. I restored them and now they are showing up. I’m relishing the thought of getting caught up reading your blog.

      • Something similar happened on BB a few weeks ago when I put up a slideshow and photographs in the same post. I know you’d do the same for me because you’re nice like that!

        Gosh, I really am enjoying reading about your trip. The photographs are super-fab, by the way. : )

        One more time— YS! I am SO GLAD you’re BACK!

  7. Whew! I have just arrived home after a whirlwind vacation to Budapest….through this post! I could feel your grandchild’s wonder, dismay, curiousity and exhaustion. What a challenge from someone who does not understand AirForce One.I am looking forward to my trip to Paris via your next post. Thank you!

    • My grandchild voiced my own feelings and frustrations but was such a trooper through the whole in transit part of the vacation. We shared so many great moments together.

  8. For almost ten years we took groups of 45 retirement age folk on historic tours that included flights like your United experience. When someone asks me to do another tour, I tell them if I do, my husband will divorce me.

  9. I think maybe my most favorite part of this post, for me, would be the photos taken by your grandchild … love the “that’s her in the upper left corner of the photo” … too adorable, and cute … is it just me, or are those pigeons surprisingly similar in stature to the ones we have here in Texas? Perhaps they are related … distant cousins?

  10. Of course we’ve all said during some traumatic experience or other, “Years from now we’ll look back on this and laugh.” My dear YS, for you it doesn’t take years—and you share the laughs. Good to read you again!

  11. Clearly we’ve all missed not only your presence but your take on what’s happened in your absence.

    I’ll add my Hurray for travel and its travails–so far every time there’s been plenty of glorious Good to mitigate the crummy parts of the trip (including but far from limited to flight-related adventures).

    Budapest is a superb place to start the journey. I do so hope to return there before another 16 years have passed!


    • I hope you have a chance to return to Budapest. I imagine there have been significant changes since you were there last. It’s a lovely city. If the government could put more money into repairing all of the beautiful old buildings, it would be stunning.

  12. You have no idea how much I’ve been looking forward to getting back to your blog. I’m waaay behind, but that’s okay. I refuse to let a few bad days deny me the pleasure of viewing your vacation posts. I can feel me beginning to surface again, and I can hardly wait to start munching away at all the deliciousness. Without wanting this to sound too odd, is it weird that I kept thinking about your vacation when I was down in the pit? It was like I kept arguing with myself to hurry up and find my way out of the darkness, because there was GOOD STUFF out there just waiting for me, if I could just find my way back. I feel like I’m just about there … back to that place where I can appreciate every word, photo, giggle, and juicy moment (and even the not-quite-so-juicy moments). Sorry I’ve been absent from your travels, but I’ll be hopping on board soon. I’ve really and truly been looking forward to the trip. I’ve missed you.

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