Saturday, December 21, 2013

Crossing the Atlantic

Yesterday seems like it was last week. The last 36 hours proved to be some of the most interesting in my travel experiences.

I was well prepared yesterday morning. I woke up two hours before my alarm and was very productive (read: I laid in bed reading social media until my alarm went off). I got up, wished my host family a Merry Christmas as they headed to work/school, and made some breakfast. I finished getting ready around nine.

Kick back and relax

According to my schedule, I didn't need to leave until 10 (and that would still give me an extra half an hour at the airport).

Naturally, I sat and thought of anything and everything I could have forgotten (I left my glasses, oops!). When ten o'clock arrived, I was heading out the door.

Bright-eyed and hopeful, I set off on my journey

Funny thing about Spain. If I'm running ahead of schedule, it will be running behind. It's inevitable. The train schedule said there should be a train every thirty minutes. I got to the station at 10:15 expecting a train at the originally scheduled to arrive 10:30. The schedule had changed. The train was now only coming every hour and would be there at 11:00. A friend told me that there was a Renfe strike. Awesome. Cold platform for 45 minutes (because there's no telling if that schedule's even right... it wasn't).

NOT cool, Renfe. Not cool.

When I finally got on a train, I was scheduled to arrive at the airport right on time. On my transfer between terminals, I met a family from Plano, Texas. It felt like a small world! I have family in Plano! We chatted briefly before I got off. 

I never realized that all my luggage coordinates. The backpack ties it together. 

Airport check-in was a breeze. Security was quick and painless. I thought everything was running smoothly after the train hiccup. Oh, how wrong/right/wrong/right/wrong/uhhhh I was.

Ready to board my nine hour flight. 

When I boarded the plane, I was excited to see that my seat was near the front (I couldn't remember what I had chosen, I booked in June!). As I sat down, I greeted my neighbor to my left, and we started chatting. She was an au pair in Bilbao for the past three months. We already had a lot in common and a shared sense of humor. It was looking great. Then, I realized that the screen in front of my seat was running Linux error codes. I thought maybe it was just rebooting. I left it alone for a while. 

Two hours later, I learned that I couldn't turn it off, use my call button, or even use the light. Seriously?? I couldn't even do Sudoku with the cabin lights off. I used the call button of my sleeping neighbor to my right. The flight attendant was baffled and found me a new seat. 

As luck would have it, I got an aisle seat. It was close to the back, so I asked if I needed to move my luggage. I was told just to move back to my seat before landing. Score! I still got to be one of the first people off the plane. I happily spent my flight watching movies and TV shows until about half an hour before landing. I used the last half an hour having a great conversation with the girl next to me (shout out to Melissa from Delaware!). 

I also had my first diet Coke in four months on the flight. It was a thing of beauty. 

Landing was smooth. However, we were 45 minutes late. Not only that, but the flights from Rome, London, and some other place in Europe were also late. Somehow, they all managed to arrive at the exact same time. Four transatlantic flights totaling nearly 1200 people all lined up for immigration, customs, baggage claim, baggage recheck, and security. It was a nightmare. 

Customs was easy. Too easy in my opinion. I was only asked what food I brought in. Nothing else. They later took up the forms. There weren't any dogs sniffing the bags like I heard about. The officers were really nice. The final one welcomed me back. That's my favorite part. 


At least half of the people in line were about to miss their flight or had already missed it by the time we got to the security line. 

It looked pretty bad. The line went around a bend to what I assumed would be the ticket check before security. The girl beside me was pretty distraught about missing her flight home. I offered her some gum and we chatted and made jokes about the line. People were stressed out. The line didn't seem to be moving, the sassy crowd control lady had no manners whatsoever (side note: I covered my mouth when I coughed, thank you, sassafras... I'd stop entirely if I could have... there was absolutely no need to speak to me like you did... the silly face I made was better than saying what I wanted to), and people were missing flights right and left. I still had an hour and a half, so there was hope for me. That is, until I got around the corner and saw that the line made three zigzags before getting to the checkpoint. After about fifteen slow minutes, I called my family to let them know I might not make it. The line looked to take at least two hours, maybe more. I knew the situation was out of my control, so I continued to make light-hearted remarks, jokes, and small talk with those around me. I'd rather be part of the solution than part of the problem. 

When we got closer to the checkpoint, we realized why it was taking so long. There were 1200 people with only two people scanning passports and checking tickets and only three security lines after that. The line picked up when they added three more passport checkers and two more security lines. 

After having my passport checked, I was directed to the first security line. I lost my line buddy (I hope you made it home yesterday, friend!!). However, as I was taking off my shoes in preparation, I sighed. That started a "can you believe we're stuck in this place" conversation with the lady behind me. She was returned from a short business trip to Rome. She suddenly remembered that she bought Italian limoncello liquor at duty free, but didn't check a bag. So, she was about to go through security with too much liquid. I told her I'd drink it before getting up there. She decided to do it! Not only that, but she had a second bottle and offered it to me. It was sealed, so I went for it (side note: we had discussed our reasons for travel... she knew that I was a licensed teacher and assumed correctly that I'm over 21). So, there we were, two strangers having drinks of 60 proof liquor in the security line. We had to do it quickly, so we were laughing and people were amused by us. We were the most fun people in that line, I have no doubts. I couldn't quite finish it off and threw the last few sips away. I gave her a magnet from Madrid as an "I'm sorry you had to chug your liquor/thanks for the free drink" gift. We got through security with no problems. I helped her grab her stuff (her flight was scheduled to take off immediately but lots were delayed because of the 1200 people trying to make it). As she was getting ready to run to her gate, she looked at me and asked if I wanted her neck pillow. I was really thrown off. What?? She said she was tired of hauling it around. She pointed to a trashcan and said she would throw it in there if I didn't want it. It was a nice memory foam neck pillow that cleared security, so I accepted her second expensive gift of the evening. As she hurried off, I said thanks and best of luck catching your flight: I believe in you!!!

Fun fact: that limoncello was 60 proof. I hadn't eaten in hours. That was a fun walk to the gate. I made it to there with just enough time to fill my water bottle and buy some Cheez-Its before boarding my flight to St Louis. 

The flight to STL was short and sweet. I slept for about half of it. I spent the other half of it talking to the high school kid sitting next to me. He reminded me of Carson hardcore. At the end of the flight, he said he appreciated that I was so great to travel with despite the fact that I felt like it was three in the morning. He also thanked the flight attendants and the pilots. I was so exhausted that I could barely keep my eyes open. 

I sleepily made my way to baggage claim where I met my parents. It was great to get a big hug from Suzy and Dad. I've never gone longer than a few weeks without seeing my parents. I would have cried, but I was too tired. 

My luggage came down the belt and was completely intact. Nothing was taken out, it didn't look like it was ever opened either. Everything made it there safely (except for the Coke Light that I neglected to check before the nightmare security line)! 

I slept on and off on the car ride home. My parents switched off driving. We made it home (five hours later) around 2:30. 

Becca and Matt were waiting upon our arrival to welcome me home! It was a wonderful surprise! We chatted for a while and then all agreed that we needed to sleep. 

This cutie hasn't stopped wagging her tail yet. 

Twelve or so hours later, here I am. What an adventure this has been. I'm so happy to be at home with my family for Christmas! America is just as wonderful as I remembered. 

I'll probably be missing for a few weeks on here. It's time for American adventures at home. I feel beyond blessed to be at my parents house in Arkansas right now. 

There's no place like home. 

Merry Christmas! ¡Feliz Navidad!


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