29 June 2009

Journey Across the Pond: Day One

Our satellite is busted, my iPod is plugged in my head, and John Denver is wooing me with "Leaving on a Jet Plane." Do I need another reason to sit down at my laptop to begin the chronicles of our trip to Ireland? Here goes nothing...

10 June 2009 --"The Waiting Game"

Michael waiting at the gate in Chicago for the flight to Dublin.

The few times I have flown in my life, I have not once left a vehicle at the Atlanta airport. It's an added expense, and I always fear coming back to a broken windshield or siphoned gas tank. To avoid the stress, Michael and I asked our friend Jeremy to drive us to the airport. He and his wife, Sara (a fellow pharmacy grad and study buddy of Michael's), live about 5 minutes from our house. Jeremy did have an engagement in Athens to get to after dropping us off, but that didn't keep him from doing us the favor. We asked my mom to pick us up once we landed back in the states. She agreed.

Jeremy picked us up right on time--11:30am. Our flight to Chicago was after 2:00, and we wanted to make sure we got to Atlanta with time to spare. Even though the drive wasn't nearly as long as we anticipated, the time spent conversing with a close friend before departing the country was just what we needed. Michael and I both had travel anxiety butterflies all morning and were looking to any distraction to calm the flutter. Jeremy's stories about his chemistry lab and a new student named Jenna Jameson worked for us.

When we arrived curbside, hugs were exchanged and luggage was removed from the trunk. I inhaled the Georgia air, knowing I wouldn't miss how heavy it felt. We dragged our things behind us, checked in electronically, checked our suitcase, weaved through security, and reached our terminal...with almost 2 hours before our boarding time. We were THAT early.

We scoped out the restaurants on our end of the airport, Concourse T. There weren't any that appealed to our tastes. A backlit map of the concourses showed where all good eats were located, giving us hope. There was an Atlanta Bread Company venue in Concourse A. So we followed signs and rode escalators toward our destination.

The only problem was, not a sign along the way told us that once we rode the final escalator into Concourse A that we would be beyond the security checkpoint.


Two security guards sitting at their post in the entrance to the concourse saw the expressions on our faces, knowing exactly what we were wondering: "How did we end up here?" They shook their heads. It was obvious they had seen this happen to travelers before.

"There's no way back down," the male security guard said to us. "If you want to get back to your terminal, you'll have to go back through security checks."

Crappity crap.

At least time was on our side, and the Atlanta Bread Company was in sight. We ordered a couple of paninis with Cokes and enjoyed a relaxing lunch, despite the mass of humanity swarming around us. We even had enough time left after lunch to go up to the 2nd floor of the main lobby where the USO offices are located. A few dozen men and women in uniform were scattered about, resting on army bags or chatting with their families on their cell phones. Michael and I propped ourselves on a railing and hooked ourselves up to our iPods. We made fun of each other's music choices when they were laughable and gave a thumb's up when they were commendable. Finally, it was time to put ourselves in line for the security check--for the second time.

Since we had killed so much time, we didn't have to wait long to board the connector flight to Chicago. It wasn't until we got on the plane that the real wait time began.

Our aircraft stayed at the terminal because it began pouring. So we sat for about a half hour. I know full well that planes fly in rain, or even storms, all the time. But I was relieved when we had to wait for the rain to let up.

And it did. So we taxied toward the runway, already late to our next destination. We hadn't even made it halfway to the strip when it began raining again. This time, though, it came down in sheets. You couldn't see across the runway.

And again, we sat. The rain didn't last as long this time, but we still had to wait for clearance and take a number for the runway. We were 10th.

Thankfully, the flight was only an hour and a half with minimal turbulence. Chicago air traffic controllers weren't expecting our arrival to be as late as it was. We were supposed to arrive at 4:40, and we got there at 6:00. Our boarding time for our flight to Dublin was to begin around 7:00. There wasn't an open terminal for us, so we had to sit--and wait--again. It was another half hour, watching as about a dozen airplanes rolled in past us to their terminals, dumping out happy passengers while our patience wore thin and our butts grew numb.

The flight attendants, all the while, asked passengers whose final destination was Chicago to stay on the plane until those with connectors could deplane. We were informed gate numbers for all connecting flights, though those connecting to Bombay and Boston had missed out. They were to report to the desk to get an apology from the airlines and a hopefully, another flight.

I was glad we hadn't missed our flight, but I still felt like knocking passengers out of my way and running toward gate K4. A couple who sat behind us actually did run, which I got a good chuckle watching them book it with all of their carry-on items in tow.

After powerwalking to the gate, we were stunned to see that the flight to Dublin was, in fact, late. They were still refueling and stocking the two meals (times 200 mouths) and weren't ready to receive passengers. As much as I hate being late--to anything--I felt much better. Waiting one more time wasn't going to kill us. We had a seven and a half hour red-eye to Ireland ahead of us. All I needed at that point was a meal to look forward to and a Coke to hold me over until I got it.

Our seats aboard the 767 weren't comfortable, but they were in the emergency exit row, giving us lots of leg room. The first bonus all day! If only the seats reclined just a little further and had a place to prop your feet.

The movie shown, "Last Chance Harvey" with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, was disappointing. Dinner, on the other hand, was surprisingly tasty. A reheated dinner of chicken breast chunks in BBQ sauce may not sound appetizing, but I'm always hungry and ate everything that came with it: side salad, dinner roll, and green beans. Well, I take that back. I didn't eat my dessert. It was an individually-wrapped oatmeal raisin cookie. I will eat oatmeal cookies, and I will eat raisins, but I absolutely refuse to eat the two together. Don't ask. My reasons are complicated.

We flew away from the setting sun across Canada, toward the northern Atlantic. I got up for a bathroom/face-washing break before "turning in." I peeked out the flight attendants' window beside the lavatory while waiting my turn to see what I could. You could tell we were over a large body of water, most likely Lake Huron or even Georgian Bay. The water was midnight blue and the sky a dark, velvety purple. Just between where the sky met the earth beyond the body of water was a perfect streak of pink where the sun cast its final bit of light. It looked as if someone had drawn that pink line to define the edges of Earth and space because the lack thereof would leave them lost. Simply amazing.

I didn't feel tired after returning to my seat (probably because of all of the Coke I had been drinking all day), but I knew it was necessary to get some Z's. Once we landed in Dublin the next morning, we would be picking up a rental car and driving straight to Belfast. Sleep never has come easy for me, so I brought Tylenol PM and a neck pillow to help speed up the process. Michael is just the opposite. He thinks about sleep and is out in less than 60 seconds. When we were first dating, if wasn't with me or working at the farm in Athens, he was most likely sleeping. Sure enough, Michael conked out in no time next to me on the plane. Even after a dose of the sleep aid and constantly repositioning myself looking for comfort, I had trouble even dozing. Out of the seven and a half hours on the plane, I probably slept a total of 2 hours. And they weren't consecutive.

Surprisingly, Michael did have to shake me off his shoulder to let me know breakfast was being served. A croissant with grapes, yogurt, and a cup of hot tea hit the spot. We were about to land in Ireland, and I needed all the energy I could pack into my five-foot-four frame. Our plan was to keep moving until the sun set that night in the country of 40 shades of green, and that wouldn't be until 11:00pm that night. It looked like I would need another Coke.

Funny thing is, I have a one-Coke-per week rule. I was definitely in violation of my own rule the entire vacation.

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