Monday, December 21, 2009

The first 96 hours

Friday, December 18, 2009 & Saturday, December 19, 2009

I couldn’t believe the day was finally here! We’d been planning this trip for nearly a year and it always seemed so far off but here it was. And I was barely ready! I took the day off from work and we weren’t scheduled to fly out until 9:05 p.m., so I figured I’d have plenty of time! But no, I still wasn’t completely packed and my house still needed to be cleaned up a bit more, at least presentable enough for our house/pet sitter Alex to stay. Thankfully I had asked Juliana, a young woman who has come to my house before and cleaned, to come over and help. So I spent the day doing my last minute packing and cleaning some of the house up and running last minute errands. As it got closer to the time we had to leave for the airport, I was stressed beyond belief and I could feel it because every now and then I could feel my heart suddenly race and I just couldn’t think straight. I made a mental note to myself that the next big trip I plan was not going to go like this!
My brother Andrew and his wife and daughter were flying out with us on the same flight, but they had to drive out from California. They had left just after noon and should have been into Phoenix around 5:30 or so. I say “should” because of course this couldn’t be an uneventful trip. It started with poor Andy and his drive to Phoenix. He had called me the first time around 3 p.m. or so, to say they were stuck in some traffic jam and not moving. He would keep me informed as they went along, but unfortunately, it didn’t get better. They were soon directed off the main highway and sent somewhere between Ehrenberg and Parker. It was also apparent to Andy that there was no way they were going to make the flight! In fact, it took them three hours to finally get back on the highway. We later learned there was a fatal accident on the highway which was the reason for the traffic jam and the reroute of traffic.

At 6:15 p.m., my friend Annie arrived to take us to the airport. We were out the door by 6:30 so we’d make it to the airport by 7:00. We got to the airport with no problems and just as Bill and I wheeled our luggage over to the check-in line at the British Airways counter, we were met by one of their employees who informed us that the flight would be delayed until 2 a.m. because there was a lot of snow in London, which delayed the incoming flight to Phoenix. I was not about to get stuck waiting at the airport until 2 a.m., so I hurried and called Annie and asked her if she could return to pick us up. Thankfully, she did and since we only live 25 minutes from the airport, it would be nice to just go home and wait it out. We were able to go ahead and check our luggage in so once we did that, we just went on home. Of course, as we were checking our luggage in, the British Airways employee then informed us that once we arrived in London, that there were no more flights that day to Amsterdam, meaning we’d be stuck overnight in London! On the other hand, this delay would turn out to be good news for Andy and his family because now they would be able to make the flight! I called him with the news and to say he was happy was an understatement!

My brother Ed came to our house around 11:30 p.m. and drove us back to the airport. By then, Andy and his family had made it into Phoenix and were already waiting at the airport. The five of us waited it out and finally, thankfully, we boarded the plane around 1:30 a.m., right on time for our 2:00 a.m. departure.

Passing time by taking pictures of Jack while we waited for our flight to depart.

Needless to say, I was exhausted, but still did not fall asleep on the plane right away. At 3:30 a.m., they were serving breakfast! I finally managed to sleep after that, although I am not sure for how long. When I got up, I decided to watch a movie and was thrilled that Slumdog Millionaire was playing. Unfortunately, I was only thrilled for about fifteen minutes into the movie, because that is when my TV decided to just turn off in the middle of the movie and reset! It continued to do this, so out of all the seats on this ginormous 747 jet, I get the bum TV. Thankfully I brought along my portable DVD player and watched the movie The Kite Runner. I had read the book last year and bought the movie about six months ago and finally had a chance to watch it. Excellent book and excellent movie. It’s probably the only movie I have ever seen where the story did not divert from the book.

About 7:00 p.m. London time, we finally arrived. It was a long taxi from the runway to the gate due to all of the snow but at least we were here. We got off the plane and had to make our way to the British Airways desk to find out where they were putting us up since we were stuck in London overnight. That turned out to be a line like Space Mountain at Disneyland. We waited in line for nearly two hours before we got our hotel, meal and transportation vouchers.

We also were able to check in for our flight to Amsterdam. The woman at the British Airways counter asked me where I’d like to sit so I just told her an aisle seat would be fine. She said she would put us in the exit row seats where there would be more leg room. She then glanced behind me at Bill, who was waiting for me. She then said, (think British accent voice) “this is an emergency exit row and I suppose your husband is quite capable, isn’t he?” Now while I know that she probably was asking this because he’d be responsible for opening the door in an emergency, the way she said it, in her British accent, sure sounded more like a come on! I wanted to reply, “why, yes he is!” but I didn’t. I just said yes, he’s in good enough physical condition to remove the emergency exit door if needed. Once that was done, it was time to wait in yet another line, this time to go through the U.K. Border. As we waited in line, I decided I should start documenting for my scrapbook, so I took a photo of the sign that said U.K. Border. The second the flash went off, some guy that works for that agency was running over yelling “Hey!” No pictures!” then stood over me while I deleted the photo! Great, that would have just topped off the night if I had been hauled off for photographing something I wasn’t supposed to be! We finally made it out of the airport and onto the shuttle that took us to our hotel about ten minutes from the airport. By this time, it was 10:30 p.m. and we got ourselves checked into the hotel, dropped our luggage into the room and headed downstairs for dinner. By 11:30, we were back in our room, took a well needed shower, then crashed.

Sunday, December 21, 2009

We had to be back up and ready by 5 a.m. to catch the shuttle back to the airport for our 7:25 a.m. flight to Amsterdam. Good thing we were in jet lag mode because both Bill and I were up around 3:30 so we didn’t have to worry about getting up in time! We made our way back downstairs and waited for the shuttle which we were told runs every half hour. Well, at 5:00 a.m., there was no shuttle to Terminal 5. On the other hand, in the next half hour, we saw a shuttle for Terminals 1 and 3 drive by about three times! My sister-in-law finally asked the driver when our shuttle was coming so he had to call one in!

Carrie and I in the lobby of the hotel in London, waiting for the shuttle.

Finally, around 6:00 the shuttle arrived to take us to the airport. We arrived and then made our way through the horrendously long line through security. At this point, I didn’t care because I knew it was just a 45 minute flight to Amsterdam and that is all I cared about. Once through security we grabbed a quick bite to eat then waited to board our plane. I was in a pretty good mood now anxious and happy to be on our way. I should have known it was too good to be true.
We were on the plane, the engines started up, and the pilot came on to tell us that we would begin our flight as soon as a couple of other planes made their way out of Heathrow. Fifteen minutes later, my happy bubble had burst. The pilot came on the PA system to say that due to the snow in Amsterdam, it might be another 45 minutes before we could take off because there was only one runway at Schiphol Airport that was open because they were working on clearing the snow off the others. Great, more waiting. And so we sat there, in the plane, just sitting on the tarmac. Waiting. And listening to the toddler behind us scream bloody murder. 45 minutes later, the pilot made his way to the front of the plane (not just a voice on the PA system this time) to say he had updated news, but it wasn’t good. At this point, Schiphol Airport had been completely closed because of the snow. He had no idea when we would be able to take off. I wanted to cry. I did not want to end up stranded in London another night! And so we sat in the plane, on the tarmac, to just wait until the pilot got updates from Schiphol. The crew served us drinks and food like we were in-flight! Then I napped, since I had nothing else to do. We sat on that tarmac for just over two hours before the pilot came back out to say he had good news. The airport had opened up again and we would be taking off in SEVEN minutes! I was soooo happy at this point. Before we knew it, we were in the air and on our way! It was a nice short flight, although there was some bad turbulence at one point that had me saying some prayers on our way down! But we made it and soon we were off to go wait for our luggage. And wait we did, because that took another 45 minutes before we collected it all. Thankfully, there was no luggage lost this trip (last trip on his return home, Bill’s luggage was lost for 3 weeks before he got it back!). While we waited, Carrie and I walked over to the glass wall that separated the luggage collection area from where people wait for passengers where we could see our family. I joked that it was like looking at animals at the zoo! I took some pictures of them.

We finally made our way out of the luggage collection area, to the other side where family awaited us. Lots of family. Family from both my father’s side of the family and my mother’s. You can imagine how many people this could be given that my father comes from a family of 9 kids and my mother from a family of 13! There were aunts, uncles and cousins there to greet us. Cousins I have never met before and they are in their 20’s now!
After we finally left Schiphol airport, we made our way to my cousin Theresa’s house where we would all be gathering for dinner. We had a rental car so it was my brother Ed and his wife and Bill and I in the car. Now imagine driving about 60 miles in the snow, with a manual transmission car! Ed was driving, and he hadn’t driven a manual transmission since about two cars ago (in other words, several years!) He did pretty good though as he followed the caravan of vehicles to Theresa’s house. Meanwhile, Joy, Bill and I all passed out in the car! Poor Ed, no one to keep him company while he made the drive! I did manage to take this photo before I passed out!

We made it safe and sound to Theresa’s house where more family awaited us. We had dinner, visited a bit then all parted ways. My cousin Wendy just lives around the corner from Theresa so it was a quick drive home (normally we’d walk, but we had too many pieces of luggage to take over there). We visited a bit more at Wendy’s house with her and her husband Erik, trying to stay awake a little later so we wouldn’t end up waking up at the crack of dawn. Bill passed out before us and I made my way up to bed about 11:30.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I was sound asleep until 4 a.m. when I woke up. Bill was awake too. (I later found out that both my brothers and their wives ended up waking at 4 a.m. as well!) We talked until about 4:50, when we decided we would try to sleep for another hour or so. When I woke up, I looked at my watch and it was 9:45! Guess we needed the sleep. The rest of the day we just sat around and talked and I got online for the first time since Friday. I was having Internet withdrawal, so I was a happy camper. Around 4:00 p.m., both Bill and I hit a wall and started to doze off! We decided to take a nap and made our way upstairs and passed out for about an hour. We then headed back to Theresa’s house for dinner, where we still are as I write this. We are now waiting for my nephew Geoff and his girlfriend Renee to arrive. My niece Carrie and cousin Christian drove to Amsterdam to pick them up. Unfortunately, their flight is also delayed. They were supposed to arrive at 6:45 p.m. and now the British Airways site has the flight coming in at 8:34 p.m. It’s going to be quite late before we see them since the drive back to Theresa’s house is at least an hour and fifteen minutes away and that is in good weather! So there you go, my first four days! Hope everyone is well! I’ll be keeping you posted on our further adventures!

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