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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Case of the missing underwear…Travel gone bad…happy endings in Moscow

I pulled an all-nighter…the first time in a while.  I had been on a mission for the last week or so to finish the book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert so that I could leave it for Stephanie.  I didn’t finish it in time when I was in Breedon on the Hill so I thought I will definitely finish the book while I’m in London and I’d see if maybe Gogz could take it with him when he went to visit the family in Breedon.  Well, I never got in touch with Gogz, and in the meantime, I got Maggie interested in the book so the new plan was to leave the book for Maggie who could then post it to Stephanie after she was done reading it.

So I stayed up all night and didn’t get any shut eye so that I may try and finish the book. Until the final minutes, I was reading the book!  I was getting worried that for only 20 pages or so, I’d have to take the book with me and then post it to Maggie so that she could post it to Steph.  At about 5:04AM, I finished the book! I then put away my laptop and all my other knickknacks spread out and thought my driver should be here any minute.

The house phone rang at 5:07AM and I told the driver that I’d be down in 5 minutes. He started arguing with me asking ‘didn’t you want me here at 5:10?’ I told him, ‘I need to hang up the phone now so that I can get ready.’ I didn’t really see the point in arguing when I could be packing my things and getting downstairs as soon as I could.  I really thought that maybe the driver left though…

 Had everything sorted together and then I had to go and retrieve my underwear.  What happened was the day before, Nama, Maggie’s new roommate, had done a load of laundry. She asked if we had anything to add to her load.  I threw in a top and my underwear.  She knew that I threw in the top but I didn’t make explicit to her that I was throwing in my underwear and I didn’t say ‘look! Here’s my underwear that I’m throwing in’ and instead just threw it in there.  I figured she knew that I did throw something else in because I passed her when I walked up to the machine.

Anyway, later that day I went out with my friends for dinner and came home about 4 hours later.  My first reaction when I walked in was that it was a bit warm inside. Maggie mentioned that it was the heater to help dry the clothes and she reminded me that I had one of my tops hanging.  I didn’t see my underwear but thought I’ll eventually find it hanging somewhere.  Nama came out to say good-bye and she gave me her email.  I also forgot to ask her about my underwear.

Shortly past midnight, I realized that I forgot to ask about my underwear and I didn’t see it anywhere in sight! I checked behind all the shirts, in the bathroom, in the hallway, in the kitchen…maybe she left it in the washing machine?  Couldn’t find it…then I thought, okay, since I’m leaving at 5AM and that’s a bit early, I’ll just ask them to send it to me…but that would cost money and it’s only underwear…but it’s one of my favorite ones!  One that I got from one of my employees as a secret Santa gift a couple of years ago...okay, I resolved since she has just gone to bed I’d try to get it back in the morning...that was the plan.

While reading my book, I was also trying to send mental messages to Nama to wake her up to maybe use the bathroom or something so I wouldn’t have to wake her up.  At 5:07AM the phone rang but that wasn’t loud enough to wake her up!  Grabbed my things and started placing them by the door, a little louder than I would have liked to be but was hoping that my shuffling would gently awake her.  Finally, before I stepped out, I went up to Nama’s door and knocked. Her bed is placed quite far from the door and I didn’t need her to get up from her bed to open the door so I knocked again, called out her name and opened her door. Right there next to the door was my hot pink underwear! How she didn’t realize it was not hers when she was hanging it on her heater goes unknown but I’m going to say she had herself a similar pair? Or maybe she wanted mine?  Whatever the reason, I found it quite easily! So I tried to tell her that I was taking my underwear then she said something to me but I wasn’t sure and I just repeated that I was taking my underwear and just quickly closed the door.  Mission Accomplished! Got my undies back, didn’t have to pay extra money to get them back and no one got hurt.

I was on my way to the tube station and for about 1.5 miles, it cost me £5 which is about $7.50.  But it was a mighty long 1.5 miles so I was happy to have paid someone to take me.   I got there about 10 minutes early and the gate to the tube station wasn’t open yet.  I was taking the first 5:29AM subway and thought I’d like to go early because although there were escalators, it was about 200m underground and I just wanted to sort myself waiting for the train on the platform rather than having to run into the train with my luggage.  If I missed the first train, I’d have to wait another 10-15 minutes or so for the next one. I was also trying to get to the airport early because I wanted to take advantage of my Admiral’s Club Membership that with 2 discounts, I paid $350 which I had to date, only used a whopping TWO times (both in Hawaii).  I wanted to be sure to have enough time to go to the lounge at Heathrow and so at least I could say that I used my membership THREE times. 

I got into Heathrow at 6:40AM with only £1.30 left on my Oyster train card!  Just a small amount of money left on my card which is what I had hoped to do but that was really cutting it close! I think if I left an hour later from the station, I would have traveled during ‘peak’ hours and I would not have had enough credit on my Oyster card.   Anyway, went to the British Airways counter to check-in but there weren’t any ‘traditional’ counters but instead, check-in was done through electronic pods of machines.  When I tried to check-in, it said that I couldn’t be checked in at this time due to an error.  Luckily I found a lady walking around who was quite nice. I panicked for a second as she entered all sorts of information into the computer; I thought maybe with all the changing of flights on my ticket, I somehow had messed up and had the wrong date! But it turned out that somehow, we just had different reservation numbers; not sure how that worked out?  Finally 10 minutes later, she said she was able to check me in and produced a boarding pass for me to check my luggage in. Stood in line and that took another 20 minutes or so. Having ‘status’ with American Airlines, never mind that it’s the lowest tier, I booked my travels with AA and its partner airlines for my round-the-world ticket because I thought I’d be able to use this ‘status’ to have priority check-in and other added perks.  While waiting in line with the minions, I thought, why am I standing here? I have status! When I asked a lady walking pass, she said that it was on the other end of the terminal. When I asked if it would cover my gold status with AA, she replied: ‘gold? Oh no’ in a very condescending way; I think I may have even heard her chuckle under her breath!  What?! My gold is not recognized here?!  I am going to follow up with AA and/or think twice next time I’m dropping thousands of dollars for an airplane ticket! So I stayed in line with ‘my’ people.

Prior to getting to the airport, I had already learned that the lounge was in Terminal 3 and I was departing from Terminal 5.  But I read that it was an easy 15 minute train ride to the next terminal.  I had estimated that after arriving at 6:40AM, I would start heading to the lounge by 7AM.  I was still standing in line at 7:05AM! I’m behind schedule I thought! Finally, I got my baggage checked-in and was ready to head into the gate area at 7:15AM.  I was about to go in through the security check point but I wanted to first verify with the guy standing there that I could go to the lounge from inside the terminal. He had no idea what I was talking about. I told him that I was certain that there is a lounge but it is at Terminal 3. ‘Oh, okay.’  Apparently he didn’t know anything about Terminal 3. He told me that I would need to take the shuttle train and pointed in a direction which seemed to be outside of the building.  Up until now, almost all the airports that I have been to, once you pass security, the terminals are connected; this didn’t appear to be the case here at Heathrow which I thought was completely absurd!  He asked me what time my flight was departing and I said 8:55AM. He looked at his watch and shook his head. He said that he didn’t think I would have enough time and that the security lines get pretty long.  Ah, I have time!  For $350 I have time! I was going to chance ‘em! 

I went to the terminal stop and saw that it would be another 10 minutes until the next train.  I knew that the train would take 15 minutes to go from one terminal to the next.  So just to get to the other terminal, it would take me close to 30 minutes.  That’s when I thought I didn’t have enough time and did not want to risk it. If only I had another hour! So at about 7:30AM I went back up to the security and what a mad house!  They had about 10 security check points but none of them seemed to be moving fast enough. Though they seemed to have some of the latest equipment in airport security!  The best was that there is a smaller conveyor belt under the big machine and this smaller conveyor belt returns the tubs (that you put your belongings in) in a very organized and timely manner.  You know when you go to airports especially big crazy ones: Chicago O’Hare, Narita, LAX, etc., someone has to physically come and give you the tub to put your things and half the time the slowdown is that you’re not getting a tub quick enough?  I was so impressed that I wanted to take a photo!  But I think doing anything out of the ordinary raises red flags to the security officials because they think you could be a terrorist.

After admiring the tub return, I was finally through!  It took me a whole 30 minutes to get through security here!  It was a good thing that I went through when I did. Again, I realized I definitely would not have made it if I went to the lounge, especially if I had to do it twice!  Once to get into the security by the lounge at Terminal 3 and then again through the security at Terminal 5 to get to my gate!  The other strange thing here at Heathrow (though I’m not complaining!) was that there was no immigration to get out of the country as in most all countries that I have traveled to.  I suppose we don’t do it in the US either but for the amount of questioning they did when I entered the country, I would think they would want to know the exact date that I was leaving the country and be there to say good-bye!  But again, I think the US is the same to foreigners which is maybe even whom the British learned this process from! So after security clearance, I was completely done and had nothing else to worry about except to quickly run to the store to pick up something for my friend Eleanor who I would be staying with in Moscow.   It was 8:00AM and our flight would be boarding in about 30 minutes so I needed to be quick. 

I went to sit down because I didn’t know what gate I needed to go to.  I am not sure if this was just my flight or if this is how they run flights here at Heathrow but they don’t seem to determine gates until 50 minutes prior to departure time? As if they are waiting to see what gates will be available?   Or maybe it was just my flight and I got lucky?  Or maybe there are just too many flights but I’d think since all the flights fly out on a regular basis, they could somehow sort this out.  So I waited until 8:10AM to know where I would be going.  After I emerged from the store, I checked the board again and it read: ’flight delayed to 10:00AM.’ Are you SERIOUS?! I could have gone to the lounge!  Oh, I was so not happy!  So of course, I thought, do I have enough time to go to the lounge?!  Then I remembered the shuttle ride, the 30 minute security check point and thought if I had to go through security again, I would not make it.  If the staff at the Admiral’s Lounge was anything like the staff at Honolulu, they would have made sure I got to the lounge. I am going to write a letter to the Admiral’s Club to see if they did offer any kind of escort services from terminal to terminal because for $350 I need to get to as many lounges as I can!

Having not slept the night before, I was struggling to stay awake.  Of course, I wanted to get on the internet but there was no free wi-fi available.  Had I been at the lounge, I could have been on the internet for free! I ended up being able to connect through another service on my netbook but had to pay for the service at $0.19 a minute which is not cheap but I did it anyway.  Our gate information was finally announced at 9:10AM, a whole hour later!  I had been on the go since 4 hours earlier and still not really felt like I had made much progress. Finally made my way down to the gate and we waited around until about 9:30AM where we then loaded on to buses and driven to our airplane.  Why couldn’t they just put me on a flight that just asked me to walk 100m down the jet way straight to my seat?  I felt so punished! After we were dropped at our bus, we had to walk up stairs to get into our airplane!  Found my seat and as if it were some consolation prize, I was awarded a seat with no one next to me.  Even before takeoff, I was already knocked out only to be awaken an hour or so later when I could smell that breakfast was being served.  After breakfast, I went back to sleep.

Five hours later, I was in Russia!  A three hour time difference, with Moscow being 3 hours ahead of London, I was going the ‘easy’ way as far as jet lag was concerned; I wasn’t traveling against time.  I was looking forward to seeing my friend Eleanor who was now living and working in this big city and I had two other friends who were coming to meet up with me!   It was definitely going to be a fun trip and I was excited!  As a political science major (now many moons ago), things that I learned about communism and the Cold War were slowly coming back to me and I really couldn’t believe that I was now here in this great state!  I was here to view amazing architecture with my own eyes that earlier in my lifetime was considered forbidden territory to me as an American.  All of this happening on the day that I learn that Obama has decided to end the war in Iraq.  Although it was an unpleasant morning, and I was extremely tired, it was in fact a good day! 

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