Sunday, May 20, 2007

Big Trip: 48 hours in Transit

Our friend Ola is Polish and is home visiting her family for 3 months. She invited her friends to visit her in Poland and Steph, Rob, Maddy, and Mike accepted. Later, Benjamin and I decided to go, too. We're flying to Europe at a reduced rate by the generosity of Mimi's Delta Friends & Family passes. That means we fly standby. Unfortunately it turns out that flying this way is a bit tougher and more expensive than it was when we last did it. And since Delta's partners don't accept these passes anymore, we couldn't fly into Poland directly. So we decided to fly standby to London, where we'd meet up with our friends and take a paid flight from London to Krakow. Flying standby brings the stress of uncertainty. We were planning to leave Friday morning from Seattle, giving us about 4 chances to make it to London on time for our flight to Krakow. When I checked the seat availability on those flights Wednesday night though, it didn't look good. Thursday was a whirlwind of appointments and driving to Tacoma and back to deliver the puggy to my mom's house. Thursday, 4:30pm I checked seat availability for Friday again and it had gotten even worse. It was negative. Benjamin and I decided that, although not yet packed, we had to get ourselves to the airport for a 10:30pm flight to Atlanta. It was our best chance. Thursday, 5:00pm Thus began a mad packing frenzy. Though we got out of the house an hour and 45 minutes later than we hoped, we miraculously made it onto the 10:30pm flight. It was a pleasant and uneventful ride to Atlanta. Friday, 3:00am (6:00am in Atlanta) I didn't sleep on the flight and Benjamin barely did, so when we got to Atlanta around 6am local time on Friday (3am in Seattle) with 11 hours to go until the first flight to London, we called a few hotels to ask about day rates. We decided to fork out the cash for some sleep and a shower, and chose the Westin since we knew the beds are good. Friday, 1:00pm (4:00pm in Atlanta) 6 hours of sleep and 2 showers later, we returned to the Atlanta airport and easily made it onto the flight to London. Hallelujah! We remained awake the entire flight again, and watched over 7 hours worth of new releases on Delta's new on-demand video screens in coach class (thank god for that). In addition to the movies, Benjamin also whipped out his Nintendo DS and Nintendogs, on which he created a virtual version of our dog Maple to keep us company. Yes, we missed our dog already. Friday, 11:00pm (7:00am in London) We arrived at London Gatwick airport around 7am local time on Saturday (11pm Friday in Seattle). After an hour in customs, we "queued up" in line to buy tickets on the Gatwick Express train to London. You see, Gatwick is 30 minutes south of London by express train, whereas Stansted is an hour north of London by express train. Our flight to Krakow was leaving from Stansted, but not until 6pm. Saturday, 1:00am (9:00am in London) We took the train into London successfully and found a place to pay to leave our roller bags for a few hours. Photo titled Sweat tea and the morning paper Then we had breakfast at Baker & Spice near Victoria Station. While at Baker & Spice, we saw a fancy pet store across the street called Mungo & Maud. Photo titled Tasty treats for British doggies We went in and looked for something nice for Maple, but wooey it was expensive (so we passed)! From there we walked to the famous Harrod's department store and explored the third floor (can you guess? electronics!). Saturday, 5:00am (1:00pm in London) After lunch at Harrod's, and starting to wind down in energy, we headed back to Victoria station and caught the Standsted Express train to our next airport. At the Stansted airport we arrived 3 hours early for our flight on RyanAir to Krakow. You would think this would be enough time, right? Well... Saturday, 7:00am (3:00pm in London) We tried to check in for our flight, but it was too early. We had to wait an unknown amount of time for that line to open, and in Europe you can only take one carry-on bag so we had to wait to check bags before we could go through security. While waiting, we found Rob & Steph, who had taken a bus from Heathrow, and we all took a break to eat "dinner" at a Pret in the airport. When we returned, the line had finally opened, but it was very, very long. We queued up. We waited at least an hour in line. Time was ticking by and we were not yet through security and there was no sign of Maddy and Mike. We tried to call them, but couldn't figure out how to dial internationally. Saturday, 9:00am (5:00pm in London) We finally make it through the check-in line (they have no computers, and the line was so slow we thought they might be hand-carving custom boarding passes in wood). Now on to security. The line to show your passport is minuscule. Sweet. And then we see the real security queue. Crap. We now proceed to wait another 45 minutes in line and in the meantime we get separated from Rob & Steph in different security lines. But on the plus side, Maddy and Mike arrive! They had to take a £200 cab ride (that's $400!) from Heathrow to Gatwick to get to the airport on time (by the skins of their teeth). Saturday, 9:45am (5:45pm in London) We run to gate 49. Yes, that's a long way. Down a corridor, up an escalator, around a corner, down some stairs, down another very long corridor, and so on. Final boarding call. We make it on the plane. Rob & Steph are shocked. Plane doors closing in 5 minutes. Where are Maddy & Mike? Still in security? What will we do if they don't make it? At the last second, Maddy & Mike arrive, sweaty, onto the plane. The doors close. In a few minutes, we take off. Phew! I pass out in exhaustion and sleep for the 2 hours to Krakow. Saturday, 1:30pm (9:30pm in Krakow) We arrive in Krakow tired, but happy to be there. We head off to baggage claim (brief wait in customs) to reclaim our forcibly checked baggage. All is well. My new, green roller bag arrives safe and sound. We all have our luggage. Except Maddy. And then the belt stops going. No bag. Hmm. Maddy, Mike, Benjamin, and I head to the lost baggage office to investigate while Rob & Steph go to get our rental car. No bag. No idea where the bag is. Ola's brother arrives and helps out by providing the address where we will be staying and so on. Maddy is without clothing. On we go. Saturday, 2:30pm (10:30pm in Krakow) Ola's brother returns to his dorm in Krakow, handing over his Polish cell phone in case we get lost. The Seattlites pile into a 7-passenger Kia mini-van and Rob takes the helm. We find the first of many Polish techno radio stations and head off into the night. It's dark and there is lots of construction on the freeways. Rob observes that the construction guide signs are made of concrete and steel, unlike our plastic cones back home, and they're placed close to the road edge. It's an adventure. We stop for water and food at a gas station, whose power is being flipped on an off repeatedly as they search for what's tripping the circuit. Benjamin pays cash (that's in złotch) for all of us. Saturday, 5:00pm (2:00am in Rzeszów) We arrive in Rzeszów (pronounced Jeshov) on what we think is the street where Ola lives, but we can't find her house. Our directions are approximate and conflict with Google maps. The house is new and doesn't have an address yet. We're searching the pitch black night for a yellow house with a Polish flag and lights on in a long stretch of road. No luck. After several calls to Ola, we return to the last major intersection and Ola comes to meet us and guides us back to her house. It turns out we were a km or two shy of the house. After a brief hello and being shown to our rooms, we all fall quietly into our beds to sleep the sleep of the dead.

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