Monday, June 18, 2012

Planes, trains, and ... well, just planes and trains

One morning toward the end of our British vacation, Biscuit asked which had been my favorite day.

I said, "Yesterday. And that would have been my answer any day you asked." In other words, each day had been my favorite as it occurred, and none had completely outshone all the others. For me, this is one of the factors that comprise an ideal holiday, and it endured from the first day right up until the last leg of our return trip.

We started our journey home from St. Ives in Cornwall.* After a lovely Italian dinner, we walked up to our B&B to retrieve our luggage, and met our cab coming up the hill. This was working out swimmingly. Until we realized that we were locked out of the house, and that our host was nowhere to be found.

Crappy phone picture of the town of St. Ives, from what we thought was the beginning of the coastal trail.

No worries. After only about forty frantic attempts, I figured out how to dial an international call from my cell, located our apologetic innkeeper, and within minutes we were back on track. The cab driver was back to get us right away, and we were off to the St. Ives train depot. An easy fifteen minute ride on the spur line had us in St. Erth, and an hour later we were boarding the night train to London.

Photos of Cornerways B&B, St Ives
One might think this an unfortunate picture of the landlord, but it's one of the least barking expressions I've seen on him. He was a lovely chap, and reminded me a bit of Gene Wilder, with a bit of Marty Feldman thrown in. This photo of Cornerways B&B is courtesy of TripAdvisor.

I love the night train! If I could ride it from my house to Europe, I totally would. A cozy sleeper compartment and the motion and sounds of the train provided one of the most restful nights of the trip. While I was roused a few times when the train stopped or started, I always slipped right back into a warm and fuzzy sleep. A wakeup knock from the breakfast-bearing porter lets one know when it's time to rise, dress, and make ready to alight. (Some time on the night train leads one to speak thusly.)

The walk from the night train terminus to the Heathrow Express is less than 100 feet, and another fifteen minute train ride plus one inter-terminal shuttle gets us to Terminal 4 to check in for our 9:30 am flight home. A nine hour plane ride is definitely an acquired taste, but as long as there are free movies, occasional drinks service, and the seats are not too horrible, it's endurable. This flight was endurable. We left about ten minutes late, but made up that and more, so we touched down at the World's Busiest Airport a full quarter hour ahead of schedule.

Crappy phone picture of the St. Erth train depot. This track is for the spur to St. Ives. The grownup tracks are behind us here.

We had a two hour layover scheduled in Atlanta, and with the extra time we cleared customs and security with over an hour to spare. The first time we checked the monitors as we headed to Terminal D, we noticed that our flight had been delayed from 4:05 to 4:15. No biggie. We heard there had been weather here and there.

By the time we settled in at Gate 39, 4:15 had slipped to 5:30, and it was now Gate 27. Oops, Gate 25 at 6:30. Anyone for Gate 31 at 8:30? After five gate changes (culminating back at D39), an alleged departure time of 9:30, and about a dozen gate agents,** they finally told us at 8:30 that our flight was cancelled, and that no one was going anywhere but to a hotel that night.

At this point, it had been around 30 hours since Biscuit and I had strolled up the hill to catch our cab, and almost two weeks since we had slept in our own bed. This was not how we wanted to end our trip. So we politely but firmly worked our way through two gate agents, one customer service rep and one redcoat to get added to the already overbooked Last Plane Out. It ended up costing the airline a few hundred extra Delta Dollars, but we were fortunate that enough people volunteered to stay an extra night in the A-T-L that we could snag the last two seats on the regional commuter jet.

Da plane! Especially crappy phone picture of the plane that carried us across the Atlantic. The thing I like about the 767-400 is that there are only two seats in the outside rows. And if you're willing to part with some money, you can not only avoid sitting in the middle, you can actually sit next to your traveling companion.

Mine was literally the last seat on the plane -- the non-reclining aisle seat in the back next to the loo. The poor unfortunate crammed into the window seat next to me was an actual professional American football player -- the Atlanta Falcons center headed home to spend the weekend with his family. We looked like two gorillas in a Barbie Dream Car, but neither of us even cared. We kicked up all the armrests, folded ourselves up like paper cranes, and tried not to breathe for the hour and a half trip home. We touched down about 10:30 local time, meaning we spent more time getting home from Atlanta than it took to get there from London.

Oh, I guess I did drive home from the airport, so there was one automobile. It was a given that our bags wouldn't arrive until late the next night, but after wearing the same couple of outfits for two weeks, we really didn't miss them. All we really wanted were the cookies and jam that were stuffed in Biscuit's suitcase. It's good to be home, but it sure was nice to be there.

* I know I'm skipping over a wee bit of the trip. Hopefully I will make it back to the good stuff later.

** I realized toward the end that the gate agents were playing musical chairs, with no one wanting to be the person who had to tell us we weren't going to fly. They would stroll in, check the monitors, make a face, and then either get our gate changed or wander off themselves, to be replaced a few minutes later by the next poor schlub.