My First Journey “Across the Pond”

Sunday morning I woke up bright and early at 6am. That’s not normal for me. On weekends I try to sleep as long as possible. But I guess anticipation for my trip prevented that much needed sleep. I was going to be flying with Aer Lingus (an Irish airline) to Birmingham, England with a stop over in Dublin Ireland.

After some last minute packing (almost everything had been packed in Friday, it was just the stuff is needed in between) and an episode of Bering Sea Gold (don’t judge) David and I got on the road. We stopped for lunch at Lonestar in Belleville and then continued on to Pearson. At the airport we ran into my cousin who works security and we got to hang out with him while he was on his break before I had to go through security. I said goodbye to David and my cousin and it was nice having them see me off. I waved to them before going through the door to security.

Airport security used to really make me anxious, because I always get selected for the “random” extra security search. But when I do it every time and they never find anything because of course they’re not going to find anything because I’m a fine upstanding human, I am starting to be able to take it in stride. Once again I was selected. I just shrugged and rolled with it. I went to the gate on my boarding pass and realized that it didn’t match what was displayed on the screen, so I rolled with that as well. The gate that I moved to was far more interesting than the original gate. This one had a bar/lounge area beside it, and it was a good location for people watching.

My phone battery was dropping quickly so I made the decision to spend most of my time reading. When they made the announcement that we would be boarding soon, I gave David a quick call to thank him for this trip and to tell him how much I love him. I got ready to go and then the announcement came that we would have to wait due to a delay with unloading. A half an hour later we were finally able to start boarding. My seat was near the rear of the plane, so I got to be part of the first group of people called to board.

I had a window seat; I waited for someone to take the seat beside me, and I was pleasantly surprised when they announced that the plane filled and ready for take off and I still had an empty seat beside me. I wanted to do a little dance of joy. There were on-demand movies and TV shows as well as music and games available through the little TV’s on the back of the chairs. I set the tv on the empty seat beside me to the flight progress map and read my book until they brought out the snacks.

We were just past Newfoundland, and the cloud cover was spotty. The moon was full above and there were breaks in the clouds below, so every so often the moonlight would sparkle of the ocean. It looked magical, and I was a little sad that I had no one to share it with.

I watched The Force Awakens and ate dinner. I was pleasantly surprised that the food smelled good and tasted good too! I’ve heard horror stories of plane food. It was pasta with tomato sauce and cheese. With it there was a Greek salad with nice chunks of feta, and for dessert there was cut up strawberries with whipped cream and chocolate chips. When dinner was done we had tea.

Looking at the status map on the screen for the empty seat beside me, I realized that if I wanted to sleep I only had a good three hours left to the flight. I put on The Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson; he has such a soothing voice and that show usually makes me fall asleep whether or not I want to. Well, it didn’t make me fall asleep this time. I also tried a Morgan Freeman documentary and then some music… No dice.

The alerts about connecting flights didn’t help me sleep either. It’s cool that Aer Lingus has this feature in their entertainment system where you can see details about your connecting flights like what gate they will be at and whether or not they’re on time. That system shows me that my connection to Birmingham was on time for a 6:30am departure, but we were also due to land at 6:30 instead of 5:30 as planned. I asked the flight attendant about my connection and he said I was definitely not making that flight but that there was a connections booth for Aer Lingus and that they would help me and not to worry, they had several flights to Birmingham each day, and I wouldn’t be stranded.

Looking out my window I could still see dark sky, the moon and stars, but if I glanced across to the windows on the other side of the plane I saw the bright colors of dawn. As we flew more and more into daylight, the view out my window changed and the night sky became a band of dark blue across the horizon, with light blue sky above and white cloud below. The full moon sat in the middle of this band. I thought about getting out my camera but decided to just watch this magical moment instead. I watched the moon set through the band of night and then I turned my attention forward. In the distance a form began to take shape in the sea of clouds. A singular mountain peaked palely through. We’d made it to Ireland!

Before we landed the attendants gave everyone little boxes. Inside was a muffin, and orange juice for us to either eat on the plane or take with us. I ate mine on the plane.

As we made it through the clouds descending into Dublin I could see all sorts of farm land, and it wasn’t the tidy squares you see in Canada, some were triangular, some were other shapes and many properties were separated by rows of bushes. The roads all seemed to wind, and subdivisions looked like they had been made using the cloning tool in Photoshop.

One of the other flight attendants met me as I was getting off the plane and guided me to where to find the connections booth. Again I was reassured that it would be sorted out and that I’d be in Birmingham soon. I turned my phone on with minimal battery and texted Eva to let her know that I’d missed my connection and that I’d keep her posted once I knew what was going on.

The airport is bilingual, and the non-English language confused me: capital letters in the middle of words? Announcements were said in this language (Gaelic? Irish?) And then in English. I felt like I was in a different country. Much different from the experience of going from Canada to the US.

Another rep from the airline greeted me and gave me further directions to the connections booth, she was friendly and kind as well. At the connections booth there was quite a line up of people. There was a guy greeting all of us one by one; he checked the time of our connections determining whether or not we would be able to make them. If we couldn’t make our flights he got us to join the line.

Some people were pretty upset about missing their flights, but I really felt like they did what they could to be helpful. When I got up to the desk, the lady had a new ticket already printed for me and stapled to it was a voucher for food.

I went through customs and there was no line up. I didn’t even have time to think about being nervous. The lady asked me some questions and then told me my passport was invalid because I hadn’t signed it. My heart sank. Was she going to send me back to Ontario? She handed me her pen and let me sign it and then smiled at me it was now valid, and I was free to go.

As I walked away I realized I had given her misinformation. My sister did in fact not live in Birmingham, and I am in fact not an EA. I thought about going back and telling her the truth, but thought that might be seen as more suspicious so I just walked away.

I found a spot to charge my phone while I waited to find out what gate my next flight would be at. My flight was due to leave at 10:35. It was just after 7am but my body thought it was 2am. I started getting a bit of a headache so I went into one of the stores on a search for Advil. They didn’t have Advil, everything had different names, I couldn’t find ibuprophen or acetominophen even in the fine print. I got help from one of the ladies that worked there and when I went to the self checkout (because I had to) and I scanned the pills it beeped loudly and the screen changed to an alert that I needed to scan my boarding pass and get approval. It made me wonder about this stuff. I took it anyway.

I had a fancy latte and a croissant, and some chocolates for breakfast and tried not to explore too much because I’m going to have a 7 hour stop over at the same airport on the way home.

At just after 9, the giant status board showed that I could go to the gate. The gate was on the lower level and it wasn’t quite as lovely down there. It felt like the forgotten part of the airport. I found another spot to plug in my phone but there were no seats there, so I just leaned on the table. Just after ten they announced that we were boarding. I went to the gate expediting to see a plane, but instead there was a bus.

We all loaded onto the bus and waited. We were waiting on a passenger who was late. It was almost 10:30 when the bus got moving. The bus had been parked by the curb like it would have been in Ontario with us loading on the right side, but when we got going it cut over to the left side of the Roadway with luggage carts and other buses going the opposite direction on our right. It was confusing to my tired brain which had been awake for about 23 hours at that point. We drove around the airport, with big planes around us and other vehicles and out to what I would identify as a small planes parking lot.

We loaded onto the plane and then waited. I was surprised to see that the signage on the plane was bilingual, English and French. Because we were waiting for one guy we lost our spot in the queue for take off, and so we had to wait for another opening. There was no AC on the plane unless the engines were running and they didn’t start the engines until we were ready to taxi. It was hot. But the flight attendant was kind and informative about the wait. I had a water bottle in my carry on and when I asked her if I could get it she got my bag down for me no problem.

Once we were finally moving the flight was over almost as soon as it began. Under the clouds, Birmingham had an air of history. Old buildings, estates if not castles… I again felt that I was in a different country.

Prior to this trip, the only other country I had been to was the US. Canada and the US really don’t look too dissimilar. The buildings are all within pretty much the same age range, roads work the same way even if speed is measured differently, and road signs are different. Even from the air, Dublin and Birmingham are unfamiliar, older, greener than other airport towns I’ve flown in and out of.

We unloaded the plane and got into another bus. The bus took us to a dimly lit set of doors by some dumpsters. A security guard met us there and greeted us as we entered the airport. I was on auto pilot and just followed the crowd. I don’t know what snapped me back to my senses, but I realized the people around me all had their large checked luggage and I did not. I found an official looking person who seemed to work for the airport and they directed me to the baggage pickup area. It turned out I was supposed to turn left after entering the airport, but instead I’d turned right. My bag was the second one on the carousel and then I headed toward the signs for customs. I followed the signs to this hallway and then the signs stopped. I was kind of confused but at the end of the hallway I saw my sister and my nieces so I just went with it.

The car ride was confusing having been awake for around 27 hours at that point. I was in what to my mind was the driver’s seat, but none of the mirrors were set up for me to see anything and cars were coming at me from unpredictable places. I had to close my eyes.

Back at the house I was going to fall asleep in Zayah’s bedroom where I’ll be sleeping for the next three weeks, but everyone else was downstairs and I felt too far away. So I went back downstairs and napped on the love seat in the living room.

I had lots of cuddles and it was so wonderful to see this part of my family again.

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