My first day in London was in fact, not a day at all, but the continuation of a three day long sprint to the city via every mode of transportation imaginable.
Thursday September 13, 2012
I waited anxiously, my bags packed, for the arrival of my visa. It still angers me how paying an additional fee suddenly made my visa ready for approval at the start of the next business day.
At 9:30 the postman arrived with both my visa and document originals and from then on it was a sprint. I've used it already but the most accurate way to describe my state of mind for the upcoming 4 days was anxious. Within the hour I was loading what I deemed by most desired possessions into a van and headed to join my parents and embark for the airport. Our goal was to make a BWI Space-A flight headed for the air-force base in Rammstein, Germany.
(Space-A: Military transport planes with a certain number of "space available" seats. This could be any variety of aircraft from commercial to military utility transport. You need to be related to active duty military personnel or a dependent/spouse of retired personnel. You are not a ticketed passenger and are not guaranteed a space on a flight, you have to show up, wait, and hope there is room.... But it is definitely an adventure!)
2:30 found us all pushing dollies of luggage through the comparatively empty international terminal at BWI. We waited for several hours, satiated by the ice cream and packaged snacks at the USO, only to find the plane filled 3 passengers ahead of us.
Even though I was disappointed about the flight I was actually excited to have one more night at home, one more night it my own bed, and one more night with my animals. My parents and I met my cousin in Baltimore and relaxed with pizza and beer.
Friday September 14, 2012
In retrospect, friday set the pace for the whole trip. The previous night my dad and I had discussed driving the 2 hours up to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware if they announced additional seats on their scheduled flight. The flight we were interested in had a manifested time of 1:10pm and by they had abruptly rescheduled it to 11:20am.
So with barely one eye open and the early signs of fatigue just starting to make themselves known, we drove to Dover with little anticipation of actually making the flight. When we got to the terminal we discovered that the flight had be rescheduled yet again, this time to 2:30pm. We had enough time to eat and even get in a few games of pool before they announced passengers. They announced the flight list and we made it, Filling the last 3 seats available!
We checked out bags and payed for in-flight snack and made our way to the waiting area. Just as my dad was running back through the doors they announced that 3 additional crew had just arrived.... meaning that we were bumped from the flight.
Again disappointed but this time I was filled with a surge of optimism. There was another flight scheduled to depart from Dover later that day, but it what I learned was typical fashion, it was cancelled without notice. With diminishing options for leaving that day we decided to try for a flight departing from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey (an additional 2 hours away). Listed online there were 19 available seats, upon our check in there were 53, before roll call there were 39.
I started to have doubts about making this flight as well, doubts which were confirmed by the filling terminal and subsequent drop of available seats to 20. We didn't make it onto the flight even thought they did eventually add additional passengers at the very end.
Again we planned to wait for the following flight and again we learned that it was cancelled without notice.
Traveling is stressful when it is planned, imagine having to go through all the procedures of flying back to back to back to back..... It does a number on you.
Back in the car again we debated if it was more prudent to drive the 5 hours back home to Maryland and embark from home the next day or to try and find a hotel in Delaware near the base and get an early start on the waiting list. All the while I am checking flight schedules for the morning through my phone and 1:15am flight pops up! Pushing the van we make it all the way back to Dover and into the terminal by 1:05am to find no seats available.
With fading eyes we spent the night in a Best Western near the base and attempted to get some rest so that we could try the whole raquette again the next day.
Saturday September 15, 2012
There is always something about hotels that wakes me up early in the morning. Maybe it's just the knowledge that if you are in one you need to wake and and do what you set out to do.
We had breakfast in what use to be Delaware's Governor's mansion (governor's cafe). I very rarely think these types of places quaint but this cafe was surprisingly unique, warm and inviting. The morning sun and hot pour over coffee were exactly what I needed.
Governor's Cafe - Dover, Delaware
We queued for the next flight at Dover and checked our bags, safely in the middle of the manifested list! I was next to go through the security check point when there was a halt. My dad was already through the check point and had to return. There was an issue with the plane and we were being delayed! Our flight was pushed back from 11am to 11:30pm.
A view of the terminal
There has been something seemingly significant about how close to departure we have been at the appearance of every obstacle. I passed the time mostly in the USO lounge and reading Catch-22, I'll admit I couldn't have chosen a more appropriate book under the circumstances.
After all of the challenges we made it onto the plane, which ended up being a HUGE air force cargo plane, and into canvas jump seats. This has got to be one of the coolest ways to travel. You can see the guts of the plane and hear the engines so loudly that you have to wear ear plugs. There is a surge of adrenaline on that type of aircraft, it's size and purpose makes you feel as if you are traveling towards some rugged adventure.
Finally on the plane!
What was in my box lunch :-)
Air Force Plane I was in
There are no windows except two small port holes at the front and rear of the plane. The plane itself is open, you can see all it's contents and all it's passengers. Passengers in canvas seats line the sides and two mammoth cargo containers occupy the middle.
I'm sure this is the feeling people crave when they go traveling, like they are channeling Hemingway and facing some great unknown.
Sunday 16, 2012
If I thought nothing could top the insanity of friday, sunday proved me wrong utterly. After spending 7+ hours in the air (with maybe an hour of sleep strung together) we only lingered at the air force base in Rammstein Germany for a few hours. Long enough to stretch our legs, orient ourselves, and quickly get something to eat. We missed a possible connecting flight to Mildenhall England so we decided to drive.
The car we rented was a stick shift so only my dad could drive it, he would have to be wheel man the whole way there. Driving through Germany I was overcoming by just how beautiful it is. The care and detail given to things is astounding, specifically the agriculture cultivation is amazing. There are rows and rows of terraced crops and huge plots of solar panels, all coexisting with lush lanscapes.
Both my parents and I had gotten very little sleep, with the little acquired not being very deep, and were now engaged in a 7+ hour car trip across europe. What a ride ;-) So as you might imagine my dad began to get fatigued and we had to make frequent stops all across Germany. I had to switch to the front seat of the car just to keep him awake and alert. We began having more trouble when we hit Brussels. My dad was having more trouble staying awake and increasingly glazed looks.
On the road
My dad taking a break in Germany
Terraced agriculture in Germany
Getting a little crazy
You may not be able to see it but we reached 107mph in Germany..... very exciting
Sunset in Germany
The main impression I got of Brussels from the car was that of a tiny, empty, christmas village.
We made it all the way to France on the dregs of my dad's sanity. Running on fumes, both literally and metaphorically, we went through immegration at the port of Calais and tried to buy a ticket for the ferry. Because we couldn't find an attendant that spoke english we ended up leaving the secure area and driving away from the port! Panicing, we had to find a gas station, fill up, and reenter the port.
Ferry at the port of Calais
Waiting in line with our tickets
We made it on to the ferry and I ate my first "full english breakfast" while trying to find a hostel for my parents. I knew that by the time we got to London I wouldn't be able to sleep if I wanted to make it to registration on time so I just need to find somewhere my parents could sleep.
We disembarked from the ferry at the white cliffs of Dover, traveling from Dover Delaware to Dover UK. The next few hours were the most challenging yet. We had to yell, drink energy drinks, roll the windows down, get out and walk, all just to stay awake and get to London. This is not even going in to how terrifying it is to see headlights coming at you on the opposite side of the road. You feel like you are going to be hit!
I navigated us into London and to a hostel with available beds I had found online. I left my parents in the car and went to enquire about rooms. The place I had originally found did have a room but wasn't available to check in until 11am. I knew my parents wouldn't last that long so I went up and down the street enquiring at 2 other hostels and found them a room in one.
Monday 17, 2012
They were finally checked in and going to sleep at 7am and I was off to have a coffee and breakfast before registration. So I arrived to the London College of Fashion on 3 days with no sleep, travel-worn and hungry.... I bet I made quite the impression on the undergrads ;-)
Entrance to our campus at Oxford Circus