Here is where the adventure begins, and, as expected, it has been rather eventful so far. The week before I left–especially the last few days– when I began to realize that all the familiar people and places I kept passing would be an ocean away for nine months was a bit nerve wracking, and between packing, last minute errands, and saying goodbyes I had a pretty hectic week.
When Saturday the 8th arrived, I was working on not too much sleep and the effects of a fairly large number of mental to-do lists. I took off from Knoxville with two baggage-checked suitcases, a carryon roller-case, and a backpack. The flight to Washington was uneventful, as was the Washington airport itself. I had a several hour layover before flying to London, so I took the time to drink a venti chai tea and locate my gate. The flight was boring, but I caught a bit of sleep and watched, a bit bemused, on the map as the plane I was in flew over Northern Ireland to get to London where I would be getting a flight right back to Belfast.
The real fun began once I got off the plane in London. United Airlines had provided instructions on how I was to be getting to my next flight, which basically said I needed to get to a “flight connections center” then proceed through customs and get over to my gate. Simple enough, and I had about 3 hours to complete my task. However, the real story was that I had to walk across the airport to wait in an extremely long line for the connection center, which turned out to be a line for a bus to the center itself. After a few minutes on the bus, I arrived at the back of yet another line, which then fed into the line for security. Because London Heathrow has terminals in spearate buildings, and I had taken a bus to get to my connecting flight, I was no longer behind security, and therefore had to stand in line to have my bags checked again. Except not only did I have to go through security again, but London only allows a single carry-on, which meant I had to spend a moment cramming contents of my backpack, followed by the backpack itself into my carry-on sized suitcase. A little over two hours in, I managed to get to my terminal, which serviced UK flights and, therefore, was the effective UK border. So, all the while getting closer to my flight time, I again queued up, this time for passport/visa checks. By the time the phrase, “next please,” was directed at me, I had three minutes left to talk to the woman from customs and make it to my terminal. After getting a rather quick stamp from the, thankfully, understanding woman, I literally sprinted to my gate. By this point I was a no show and the crew had called to have my baggage removed form the plane. Thankfully, they were able to cancel the removal and allow me to board, and literally had cut it to the minute on my way to the gate.
The flight to Belfast was only an hour, so before long I had my luggage on a trolley and was wheeling my way towards my friend Catherine (Cat). The two of us were due to leave Belfast later that afternoon for Paris, where we would meet up with Coralie (Coco), so after a quick stop at her home in Belfast so I could avoid taking my two larger cases all the way to France, her father left us off at the other Belfast airport, Belfast international. Cat and I ate a quick bite in an airport cafeteria, which was both my first taste of Irish food (fried sodabread and “real” bacon) and my first opportunity to spend foriegn currency. Of course, the whole while Cat and I went on about our summers, friends from Maryville, etc, which was fantastic. Our flight was called and we headed off to Paris, where we would meet Coco the following day.
Of course… it wasn’t as easy as hopping off a plane and seeing a friendly face like meeting Cat in Ireland. I’ve not studied any French, and Cat had forgotten most of hers, and despite that many people suggested English is like a second language to the French, we found ourselves outside of the airport with some shoddy directions to the hostel we’d be staying in. Getting their involved figuring out the metro system (we missed one stop because the door had not, in fact been opening by themselves, but by people pressing a button we didn’t notice), then arriving at a station that turned out to be a good 20 minute walk from our hostel (there was a closer station, but we didn’t know that.) Although dragging our cases across a good bit of cobble stone was slightly annoying, we ran into a beautiful fountain in a large square along the way (I have pictures, which will be added soon.) We arrived at our hostel in the lat evening, just after dark, went out to eat, then literally collapsed with the understanding that we would be up around seven thirty to meet Coco at the Louvre around 9:00.
At 8:30 we woke up (Cat had switched off her alarm the second it went off and I slept through the whole affair). After rescheduling with Coco, who was running a bit late and didn’t mind in the least, we ate breakfast, had a great chat with the Belgian couple who had shared our room in the hostel, and once again ventured into the metro, this time in search of the Louvre. I am going to end this chapter here, with Cat and myself running across a courtyard towards Coralie, right before what we dubbed “Coco tours” took over and we did a whirlwind tour of the main sights of paris, spent a couple of nights with her brothers in Paris, and then went to Anger, a smaller city north of Paris, which has the distiction of Coco’s hometown.
Posted from UK:
posted Monday September 2007