Saturday, January 8, 2011

Transatlantic Travel

10:15 pm EST and we've been airborne for 5 hours, which means we're traveling at about 500 mph somewhere over the Atlantic northeast of Newfoundland with another 2,000 miles to go and 4 hours to touch down in Amsterdam. It's 70 degrees below zero outside. This A330 Airbus is a wide body jet with 2-4-2 seating, which means that there are about 250 people aboard. We'll land at 8:00 am local time dragging groggy bodies, still believing that it's only 2:00 am!
Each seat back has its own interactive TV screen, with an extractable armrest controller that allows the selection of perhaps 25 different movies in sevderal languages, an active map that keeps track of aircraft progress or lets you roam the planet. There are 6 different music channels, a number of video games, information in English, French, German, Chinese, and Japanese, and the ability to send email at $2.50 per message.
Even with all the selection, the man across the aisle is watching a different movie on the tiny screen of his Ipod. People are sprawled in an amazing variety of contorted positions, trying to fit tired bodies into small, cramped spaces.
Unlike domestic flights, transoceanic Delta flights offer a very nice dinner service with chicken, pasta, mixed vegetables, crackers, cheese, choice of red or white wine or beer, and a fudge brownie for dessert. An hour out, the lights brighten, and the flight attendants bring around breakfast of an egg mcmuffin and coffee.
It's a few minutes after 8:00 am when we land at Schiphol Airport, the sky is still totally dark, not even a pre-dawn glow. Amsterdam is about fifteen degrees farther north than Richmond, Virginia where the sun rose yesterday at 7:25 a.m. In Amsterdam the sun rose today at 8:45. Although the local clocks are reading 9:30 am now, it's still only 3:30 a.m. in Richmond, and without much sleep, today we'll be tired early! Our KLM flight leaves in an hour. Next stop: Oslo, Norway.

Oslo ...a five hour layover. The airplane flaps extend with a whine, signaling our final approach to the Oslo airport. On the ground the air temperature is 10 degrees, and as we float down toward the runway we can see that the undulating countryside is white. Smooth snow lies on the ground, blurring the boundaries between land and lake. Smooth snow lies on evergreens crowded shoulder to shoulder off into the distance, each branch bearing a load like white cotton, giving the appearance of a stylized Christmas card. Smooth snow spreads like cake icing over every roof, turning houses into models of Kincaid paintings, tendrils of smoke climbing into the still air. A ten foot deep layer of dense white frosty fog has settled in low lying hollows, sliding and curling around and over fields, trees, and houses, giving the whole scene an other-worldly feel.

It's just past noon when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky for the day and starts its descent toward another long night. At midday the angle of the sun makes it feel more like a late Richmond afternoon. Sunset here today is at 3:30 p.m. and it won't rise again tomorrow morning until 9:15.

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