Europe 2009 – The Long Road Home


I got up a little before my alarm to start getting ready. Not much to do but get dressed and make one last email check before heading across the street.

It’s a lot different this early in the morning. The traffic is not as crazy and not so many people waiting to cross the street. There were actually more people than I had expected this early.

When I get to the stairs going down to the station I can see the doors are closed at the bottom. I go down anyway and see the sign saying the station opens at five.

I wait and at 5am exactly they open the doors. I immediately head down and there is the train, but the doors are closed and even if I push the button on the door it won’t open. Then the train leaves the station.

So, the first train does leave at five. It just leaves empty. That has got to be the dumbest thing I’ve seen on this trip.

It doesn’t take too long before another train arrives and I get on. I’m only staying on it until the next stop so I don’t bother removing my backpack.

Once we arrive I have to climb and descend a series of stairs to get to the other line that will take me to the train station. It’s a short wait for the train and I’m on my way again.

Next stop is Gara de Nord (The North train station). Here I get off and now is when I really don’t know what to expect. The lady at the information desk gives me almost good directions to the bus stand. It takes a visit to another information kiosk to actually get the real location. Once there I find all the ticket kiosks closed and find out they don’t open until 7am. That is a little late for me, so I end up taking a taxi to the airport. It’s not too bad of a ride and I think it worked out to be $14 to get there.

I am early enough that the check-in windows for my flight aren’t open yet. So I hit a snack stand for a little breakfast. They have some premade omelets and sausages. It’s very similar to catering at a corporate show. I sit down and have a relaxed meal. I’m not in any hurry at this point.

They finally open check-in and I go get in line. There is a group of people talking in the next line. I gather from their conversation that they are a Christian group from somewhere in Texas. Probably near Houston because they mention I-45 a couple of times. I-45 ends right at Dallas so you don’t hear too many people mention it too much.

Once I get my boarding pass I’m off to the security checkpoint. One thing I do like about international traveling is not taking off my shoes. All we need now is for someone to try and sneak on and explosive shirt and pants and we will have to strip to our underwear to get on a plane.

The passport officer seemed to have some difficulty getting his scanner to read my passport. But he finally stamped it and sent me on my way. Of course I am at the very last gate. So it’s a long walk and then down some stairs to sit in an uncomfortable chair for about 30 minutes.

It seems I’m always getting on a bus to go to my plane in Eastern Europe. There are only a few gates here that are like that and I’m waiting at it. It’s not that bad. It’s just different from what I am used to.

They finally load us onto the bus and take us to the plane. I get my seat with no troubles and there is only one other person on my row of 3 chairs so we have some space. It’s an emergency exit row so I have to put my bag above me so I won’t have easy access to it. I can deal with it; I just like to have it near me.

I have a window seat so hopefully it won’t be too cloudy on the trip. It turns out the guy sitting with me is form Austin (he’s part of that group I heard talking at check-in). He lived in Arlington for a while so he knows where I’m going. We talk about our different adventures in Europe. He has spent some time there doing missionary work and has been to quite a few places. Not a bad way to see the world.

They serve us a breakfast of ham and eggs with a bunch of other little items. I will say one thing for British Airways; they know how to feed people on an airplane. They manage to do it fast and it’s good. I already ate in the airport but I’m a little hungry again. I think my metabolism has risen on this trip.

It’s just under a 4 hour flight to London. For the first time, for me, there is little to no cloud cover over the channel as we leave the mainland. I’ve never been able to see it as I’ve flown over in the past. And when we reach England it’s the same. It looks like we are going to approach Heathrow with London on the other side of the plane. But at some point the captain turns the plane and I can see everything. The Eye Ferris wheel, parliament, Big Ben (Hey look kids, Big Ben!). We just follow the Thames River and then finally turn away and begin to land.

I have to change terminals like last time in reverse. So I quickly find the transfer bus gate and make my way to Terminal 3. Ok, last time I had to wait in Terminal 5. I prefer that terminal. It is a lot more spacious and the duty free area is a little more separated. This place is just one big shopping center and people are just eating it up. I can’t believe all the people that think they are getting a deal on items just because it says duty free.

I make a quick pit stop and then find a place to sit. I manage to catch up on more of my journal. There is a Wifi hotspot that claims to let AT&T customers log on. But when I try it I always get an error that it can’t find my service provider, so no checking email or facebook today.

I’m a little hungry again (imagine that), but I don’t want to get on the plane and then have them serve me lunch again. So I just grab a few snacks and a bottle of water and go watch the board for the gate announcement.

Of course they put the flight at the farthest gate. Luckily the people mover belts are working. I’m still wondering if I shouldn’t stop and have a real meal. But I continue on.

When I reach the gate, the line is not too long to get into the bull pin. I get all checked in and find a seat. Just about the time I’m feeling comfortable I hear my name called on the loud speaker asking me to come to the desk. They want to move me for some reason. I didn’t get to choose my seat to begin with so I’m not too attached to it. My only concern is that I’m not on a bulkhead or exit row. He says no and even tells me the seat next to me is open. We’ll see.

Well, he was correct. I was in the center section with three seats and the middle seat was open. It’s not as good as having the whole row, but at least you’re not fighting for elbow space the whole flight. They asked everyone to close their windows so people could try and sleep if they wanted to. Of course, the woman on my row next to the window was the one person to leave her window open so she could read. She also used her overhead light, so I’m not sure why she also needed the window. After a few hours she finally stopped reading and closed it.

Lunch was better than I expected and very filling. The first movie was “Monsters VS Aliens” a cute movie and it had some funny moments. I got a few naps in (after the window got closed) but no real sleep. It’s probably a good thing, since we’ll land around 4:30 and it would be nice to be sleepy at home. Since I have to get up and go to work tomorrow morning. Not a lot of time to readjust.

We finally landed I go through all the passport and customs stations. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the shuttle to the parking lot. It was a good trip and I am happy to be heading home. But, there is a bigger part of me that almost wanted to miss the plane and just hop back on the train to some other destination. Now I just need to decide where my next adventure will be.

Author: Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing

Alan Stiebing has been traveling for over 20 years. He blogs and photographs his experiences and passions for and other digital and print outlets.

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