Well, our adventure got a small extension. When we got to Barcelona airport bright and early on July 21st, we had no idea that a scheduled strike of the French air traffic controllers union was taking place that day. We were quickly informed that we would most certainly be missing our connecting flight in London to get us straight back to Atlanta. After about 3 hours of waiting in line, we boarded our flight and landed in London as we had planned. However, instead of boarding our flight to Atlanta, we stood in another line for a couple hours and then loaded ourselves onto a shuttle to get to a hotel. Despite the craziness of the day, it really wasn’t a big deal. The kids played while we waited in lines, and they even made some friends. Emily had a very long talk with a little boy from California about the trials and tribulations of first grade. We kept them busy with many a round of Ring Around the Rosy and periodic snacking. British Airways actually paid for two hotel rooms for us, and even covered a couple meals as well. After a long day of travel, I went down to the bar to get a beer, only to realize that I couldn’t remember what room we were in. After walking up and down the halls of three different floors, I finally gave up and went down to ask the front desk for my room number. It doesn’t look good when some haggard-looking, thirty-something woman with a beer in her hand can’t find her room.
The next day we all woke up early. Since our flight didn’t leave until 1:00pm, we decided we would take advantage of this unexpected overnight stay and try to see some of London. Brian headed to the airport to sort out our boarding passes and I followed with the girls after breakfast. On the shuttle back to the airport I got to talking with a woman standing near me. It turned out that she not only went to Indiana University, but was also a Theta and graduated 6 years behind me. I love it when random stuff like that happens. After we were all checked in for our flight, we hopped on the Heathrow Express to get down to Paddington Station in the heart of London. We walked a few blocks to Hyde Park, wandering through the Italian Gardens and finding a playground for the girls. Hyde Park is enormous. It was quite bizarre to be in downtown London and yet have vast sprawling meadows surrounding us. Right after we crossed the bridge over the Serpentine lake, Brian spotted a woman in a large golf cart who seemed to be giving out rides. Angeleta worked for a donation-based park service and wound up becoming our personal tour guide. She zipped us around Hyde Park, giving us fun facts on everything from monuments to ancient trees. We went to Kensington Palace, where Princess Diana lived, drove by the Prince Albert Memorial, and saw the Peter Pan Park, an awesome children’s play area built in memory of Princess Diana. We definitely caught quite a lucky break running into Angeleta and were able to see much more than we would have if we’d been hoofing it with the kids. Soon it was time to head back to catch our train. It started to rain, but helpful Angeleta sent us off with rain ponchos which kept us relatively dry. Our little jaunt into London was worth it. One silly thing I’ll note here are the signs. Instead of “Yield”, the sign said “Give Way”. The sign reminding you to watch your step when exiting the train said “Mind the Gap.” When we were leaving the train station, rather than “Exit” the signs read “Way Out”. When waiting to cross the street, large yellow letters on the road reminded us to “LOOK RIGHT”, and when we reached the median and were ready to cross the next lane of traffic the road said “LOOK LEFT”. Very thorough, the British, aren’t they? It was a fun little trip and definitely gave me some interest in going back to London for a real visit.
As we ran into Paddington Station, we watched the Heathrow Express roll away, having just barely missed it. We caught the next one fifteen minutes later, glancing at the clock periodically because we were starting to cut it a little close with our 1:00 flight. Soon we realized that the train was moving extremely slow for one labeled an “express”. EXTREMELY slow. I think Alison could have walked faster than this train was going. A voice came over the speaker with a rather ambiguous message about how we were stuck behind other trains, the conductor didn’t know why we were being delayed, and they hoped they would be able to complete the journey and get us to the airport. Uh, hope? You HOPE we’ll get there?!?!? Our impulsive trip into downtown London was beginning to seem like a very poor choice on our part. Within 15 minutes, they announced the reason for the delay. An apparently suicidal man was sitting on a bridge next to the tracks, so the trains were going by very slowly. Suddenly, travel delays and the possibility of missing a flight didn’t seem like such a big deal when compared to the sad situation that had led this man to a bridge. We saw him sitting there as our train passed him and don’t know what happened to him that day. It was quite sobering. Luckily, the kids did not see him or seem to understand what was going on.
We went on to catch our flight to Amsterdam. When we went to get our boarding passes for our Atlanta flight, there was a bit of a problem finding our tickets in the system. I figured we might be in for a mini-tour of downtown Amsterdam too, but it all got worked out. Our transatlantic flight left on time, the kids did fine. However, we landed in Atlanta to learn that none of our bags had made it with us, not even the car seats. A little disappointing, but I guess it meant we didn’t have to deal with all that luggage while juggling tired kids and picking up a rental car. We still don’t have our bags, but they’re supposed to be getting here today. Fingers crossed.
It’s nice to be home, but I definitely miss our life in Andorra. We’ve been busy getting things back to normal. It was a little strange to be driving again, going into mammoth shopping complexes, loading up a huge cart full of groceries. Alison and I caught a stomach bug the day after we got back, so that kind of sucked. Then yesterday our minivan was rear-ended while I was sitting at a stoplight. It’s been a bit of a dramatic return. Between the crazy travel changes, lost luggage, illness, car accident…I think maybe the universe was trying to tell us to stay in Europe.