Europe 2015: Day 1.0 – Flights and Oslo

For the first time since I was in college, I am back in Europe. I studied art at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and spent a little over a month of the summer between my third and fourth year of school studying in Florence, Italy (Firenze, Italia). I’d gotten a Eurrail pass, and planned to travel outside the country on the weekends, but the realities of recovering from the weekdays of school, plus other opportunities in Italy meant that I never was able to achieve that goal at the time. I made the goal for myself to get back to Europe and photograph the places I’d missed at the time.

It’s taken me a few years, but I’m finally doing just that.

For those who didn’t follow along with the creation of Geek Field Guide, the concept is that GFG travels the world documenting through photographs, writing, and other media the unique places that you may not be able to visit on your own. My business partner and I ran an Indiegogo campaign that funded enough to get us to Europe, but life got in the way for a bit, causing my partner to regretfully leave the company, and me to take time to deal with health issues, causing the project to be put on hold. Fortunately, things finally have turned around enough to where I can make this happen. My former business partner wasn’t able to join me this time around due to previous commitments, but a friend has offered to travel with me as a photo assistant as we visit some of the places that she wanted to see as part of a trip she’d already planned. This was a great opportunity for me, as it will allow me to talk to her local friends and experience the culture in a way that I wouldn’t be able to as a tourist alone.

First off, TSA Precheck is wonderful. Preparing for a major trip is stressful enough. Not having to worry about unpacking half your bag at the airport helps ratchet the stress down a bit.

Security complete, we had plenty of time before the flight, and relaxed until the flight.

Side note: I am 6’2″, and not skinny. The investment in getting seating with extra legroom was money well spent.

All in all, the flight went smooth, if long, and we arrived in London-Heathrow airport some blurry number of hours later. If changing time zones is this annoying, I have to imagine time travel is going to utterly suck if we ever figure that one out. Also disorienting? Riding the shuttle bus from one terminal to the other. As an American, it’s easy to get a bit anxious when the bus you’re crammed onto turns right into the left lane. Your brain screams, “WE’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY,” but you see everyone else is driving on the left, so it may actually be okay after all.

The main terminal of Heathrow is… an experience. I’ve seen high-end malls which… no, scratch that. Even in Los Angeles, I’ve not seen a mall as high-end as what Heathrow is like. Every big ticket brand is represented in some way. It’s like someone dialed capitalism to 11 there (it’s louder?) and just let the corporations go nuts.

Examples of rampant capitalism and touristic mentality:

4.5 kg, 80£ block of Toblerone chocolate (Warren Schultz)

4.5 kg, 80£ block of Toblerone chocolate (Warren Schultz)

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Europe 2015: Pre-travel

Nothing like a little travel before a long trip.

Several weeks ago, I found out about the Global Entry program run by U.S. Customs & Border Patrol. The idea of Global Entry is that it allows you to enter the country without a lot of the usual hassle, and also gets you entry into the TSA Precheck program, which expedites your security screening at the airport.

When you’re hauling around a ton of photo gear, not having to take every electronic device out of your bag for “enhanced” screening is a real time saver (and headache-preventer).

The timeline was going to be tight, as the way GE works is that you apply online ($100), wait for a security screening to be completed (a few weeks usually), and then you go to your closest interview station to get interviewed and fingerprinted. Because I found out about the program a bit late, it came down to the wire, and Charlotte (the closest location) didn’t have availability until late October, it meant going to the next-closest place with open slots to book… Washington, D.C.

I booked a room downtown through for pretty cheap for later that week (Friday). The plan was to drive up Thursday night with my travel partner, stay at the hotel, get up for our early appointments, and then cruise back down to N.C. as soon as we were done. (Getting me back to work for my last day in the office before the trip.)

Added excitement: I didn’t notice until Thursday night that it was the 10th of September. We’d be navigating D.C. traffic and security on 9/11. Joy.

Fortunately, traffic heading north wasn’t too bad. A few slowdowns here and there, but it wasn’t obscenely late when we arrived. (Just late, and dark.) Enough time to walk around downtown a little bit, but not as much as I would have liked. On the upside though, this reminded me just how reasonable a drive it is from Durham to D.C. (when traffic isn’t abysmal, of course), so I’ll be more likely to take trips up that way to get some better photos. And it did give me the opportunity to get this shot of the Washington Monument.

Washington Monument at night. Washington, D.C. (Warren Schultz)

Washington Monument at night. Washington, D.C. (Warren Schultz)Buy this photo

Since I’d been there last, security at the White House has been further increased. It was a bit sad to see the additional 8-foot perimeter fence outside the existing iron fence, complete with uniformed Secret Service officers in the gap between the two. You can no longer walk up to the fence and get a nice photo between the bars, which was a bit of a disappointment, so I’ll have to find a better vantage for the photo if I want to try again next time.

The White House at night. Washington, D.C. (Warren Schultz)

The White House at night. Washington, D.C. (Warren Schultz)Buy this photo

Early the next morning, we made good time across the city on foot and got to the CBP office for our interviews. A note: if you’re traveling for vacation, you’ll likely have fewer questions to answer. Since I was traveling for photography, they had a few more questions to ask, but nothing unreasonable, just due diligence. While my partner’s appointment was scheduled 45 minutes after mine, she was called to go because there was no one else there, so we were in and out in less than a half hour.

After the late night and early morning, a half hour nap at the hotel got my brain back in some semblance of order before the drive back. Once we hit the road, we were glad to see that we weren’t heading into the city, because the backup was huge, and getting worse by the minute. We saw a huge group of veteran motorcyclists with police escort heading towards the city, and that wasn’t helping the traffic situation either.

Once outside the city, things cleared significantly, and we were back in Durham in reasonable time.

As part of the Global Entry/TSA Precheck process, you are assigned an ID number. That gets put into your airline reservations on the travel/air carrier website, and your tickets will be printed with a TSA PRECHECK label, allowing you to go through the fast lane. If you haven’t experienced one of the “trial” Precheck events when flying, it means you empty your pockets of metallic items, and put everything through the scanner, without removing shoes or items from bags. By the time we were home, that number had been confirmed, and I plugged it in to the American Air website for both of us, and we were good to go.

Next stop, Europe.