Monday, May 12, 2008

April 8th - 9th - The Journey Across The Pond

As mentioned in my previous post, my next few blog entries will be about my honeymoon trip to Seaham UK, Rome and London. All names have been changed to protect the innocent or stupid, and all events are as real as my Swiss cheese brain can remember.

Prologue - The Planning...

One of the many things I love about girl is that she plans things really well. I mean she's examined every possible choice and option, and makes sure that her choices are top notch. So when she agreed to be our travel agent for our honeymoon, I wasn't worried at all. She's traveled overseas many times, and even lived in England for 10 months back in 2002 and 2003 teaching. She's not intimidated at all about being over there, I know she thinks of England as her second home. With websites bookmarked and EPL schedules figured out, we decided to make Seaham our first stop, then Rome and finally London, leaving the States on April 9th and returning on April 30th. This allowed us maximum time in each spot for our funds, and worked well with the footy schedule as Sunderland was playing at home on April 12th and West Ham was at home the weekend of the 26th. We also avoided Easter travels, which is a big deal over there. So back in August 2007, our trip was put together. It was a marvel of planning, done before fuel prices had gone through the roof and after I had changed my legal name to my birth name. Now, all we had to do was wait...

April 8th - Last Minute Planning

Vacations are tough at my work, but knowing I was going to be gone for 3 1/2 weeks made it even worse. My work tends to pile up a bit while I'm out, so it's waiting for me when I get back, so I fully expected to be buried upon my return. However, I'd spent weeks telling co-workers and other employees that I was going to be gone in the hopes that anyone would listen. I think they were really ready for me to be gone on the 8th, and as my last meeting concluded, I was finally free. Ok, not free from responsibility but free from the work world for almost a month. It felt so liberating, but as I was driving home, my list of things to do for the trip filled my head, and whatever freedom I'd felt was replaced with a fear of how to get everything done before leaving.

I don't normally like to pack until the day before anyway, it keeps me from forgetting day to day things I use a lot, plus I tend not to overpack. I had a mental list of things to include in my luggage, and so I spent my afternoon printing important emails and balancing my checkbook before I left. I wanted to make sure I had real cash to use on the trip, and not the bank's funds which you have to pay loads back to use. We had tickets to that night's Trail Blazers - Lakers game to attend, and so I hurried to get my computer stuff done.

Part of our planning was to pack on Tuesday night and stay up as late as possible so that we'd be sleepy on our flight to London. American flight from Portland to Dallas to London then up to Newcastle, it sounded so good. And the news had been pretty quiet since American had grounded numerous flights the previous week to check for safety issues. We were also heading to Heathrow's famous Terminal 5, which spent its first few days in existence not processing any checked luggage and soon after sent people in one direction and their luggage in the opposite way. There had also been a threat of a strike by British Airways that was averted right before we left, so we felt as though that the problems were done with. We went to the game without a care in the world.

The Trail Blazers played amazingly, and knocked off the Lakers in a close, well fought battle. We even bought some shirts to take with us on the trip to show some Blazer pride. Girl and I had a lot of hope and optimism about our Trail Blazers, and we basked in the glory of a win against one of our hated rivals. We hurried off to Winco to pick up some snacks and last minute snack items, and then home to finish packing. The buzz of the Trail Blazer's win filled my head, as I had dreamed of them getting a .500 record and us going on a once in a lifetime trip.

The packing took a few hours as we finished some last second laundry, and I tried to find some nice stuff to throw in with casual travel wear. Knowing there was 3 weeks between leaving and coming home, it was hard to make some clothes choices, but I knew we had a washer in London so it was a matter of picking lots of different things, and trying to make sure you could stretch it out for 2 weeks. I packed a few nice shirts, dress shoes, cameras, magazines, casual shoes, Timbers gear, and it actually all fit in my suitcase. It was now almost 2 AM on Wednesday, and it was time to de-stress for a bit before bed...

April 9th - The Day of Many Airports

We love Fark, it's a beautiful website full of news stories of the weird, cat pictures with misspellings, and other assorted news of the stupid. As I sat at my computer to decompress from the packing, girl was checking fark and reading various stories. I was getting a bit tired, but knew the longer I could hold out, the better my sleep would be on the plane. We had talked about various stories and trip questions, and the clock soon showed 3 AM. As girl clicked on the Fark headlines, she saw a story about American Airlines and more goofiness in the air. The story out of a Hawaiian newspaper said that flights were being cancelled on April 9th for more safety checks.

Whatever piece and quiet we had was replaced with mad typings of URLs trying to confirm our flight. At this point, the American web site had our flight as on time but we didn't want to chance it. So we kept checking and checking...and checking by phone, by web, then by phone again. The panic set in about 3:35 AM when magically the American site had us booked through Dallas, but no way to get there from Portland as our flight was cancelled. I felt bad for girl because she had done so much planning for the trip, and it was a masterpiece of simplicity now in rubble with someone's decision to cancel flights. We knew that our schedule was fairly tight getting to Seaham with things planned for us there, so she got on the phone and waited...and waited...and waited.....

45 minutes later, she was talking with a woman at American. The hold times were crazy there, and this was before most travelers had any idea what was going on. After much discussion and planning, there was an alternative to get us to London - go to San Francisco on Alaska then fly to JFK in New York, but we would have to get to the airport now for a 6:45 AM flight. So instead of napping for a few hours, we were waking girl's mom to drive us to the airport, grabbing luggage, saying hasty goodbyes to our cats, and hoping we didn't forget anything.

We pulled into the airport a little after 5 AM, and it was off to the American counter. We wanted to confirm the reservations, and check our bags in. The queue was full of early morning travelers, who were now learning the information we found out about only a few hours earlier. Panicked folks were typing in laptops, talking on phones, doing anything to get out of Portland, but there wasn't much success for many. While waiting in line, we talked to a guy from KPAM radio about getting out of town, telling him we were on our honeymoon trying to get to London. I'm not sure if he talked to us because of girl's Trail Blazer shirt or if we looked frazzled more than most, but it was a fun chat way too early.

It took us about 45 minutes to get to the counter, and our reservations were there but we needed to go to the Alaska counter to check in. So a quick run over to the Alaska counter to wait in another queue, which only lasted about 20 minutes until we were talking to a woman. She got us checked in, our bags tagged for London, and got our minds at ease for about 30 seconds until she uttered the words..."Oh, my, you've been flagged for extra security. If you leave now, you can probably make your flight!!"

We've never moved so fast ever, getting my bag to TSA and then heading to security. We were moved to the extra special line, and we got put into large air chambers which took x-rays and puffed air to check us out. To add more to it, we had to give our backpacks to a TSA person who opened every pocket and compartment to check for substances. He did fail to tell us that we couldn't touch our stuff as we moved from station to station, which led to him rather tersely telling us to leave our stuff alone as he'd move it from station to station. I know some people are trying to do their jobs, but being yelled at and poked and prodded didn't make me feel any safer flying, but rather annoyed at being singled out especially since our change in itinerary wasn't our fault. We left security at 6:35 and ran to our gate in time to hear the Alaska person say "We are boarding our final group to San Francisco..." If we'd had been more than a couple of more minutes off, we would have been stuck in Portland.

As I sat down in the flight, whatever had happened previously didn't matter, because I felt the worst was behind us for now. Ok, I'm the eternal optimist, but I felt that we had dodged a bullet. The next thing I remember was being told to put my seat in an upright position as we were landing in San Francisco. I guess I snored a bit on the plane, but at least we were on schedule. As we landed in San Francisco, we breezed through security check there (a nice security gal there grew up in Portland, so she wished us a great trip) and got to chat with a Warriors fan who was happy we'd beat the Lakers the previous night. He was stuck in San Francisco trying to get to his destination on American, and we told him of our story, which led him to go find his phone. We checked in to our flight to New York, chowed some breakfast and then hopped aboard our next flight.

I do recall more of the flight to San Francisco, as the lunch wasn't that bad and the sun was going down as we landed in New York. We were concerned about having to change terminals in New York, but found out our London flight was only a few gates away, so we could transfer easily. However our seats were on the middle of the middle section, so we wanted to see if we could move to another area. The American employee checked us in, and we were able to get the two seats closest to the aisle in the middle section, with an open seat next to me. It wasn't perfect, but we were on the plane.

I also learned a lot about duty free goods, as I tried to buy some cigarettes for our Seaham hosts. Honestly, the goods may be cheap, but the rules behind them were so confusing that I wasn't sure what I could and couldn't buy. It could have been the fast talking guy at the duty free shop, but I wasn't able to buy anything. I know I wasn't on top of my game at all being sleep deprived and eating mostly airplane food for a day, but as we got on our plane to London, I felt a sense of relief that we were finally going to make it. I pulled the blanket over my shoulders and nodded off.

Next Installment - Adventures in Terminal 5 and Customs, and Pies in Newcastle

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