Sunday, January 10, 2010

January 10, 2010: Catching up, part one: the journey here

To start with, the runway lights in Larnaka were working, so we left as scheduled on the 28th of December. Not quite two weeks ago, but it sure feels like a lot longer ago! We left our house at 12:40 in the morning--Joern dropped us off at the airport, less than 10 minutes away, then drove back home, parked our car, and loaded our luggage into our friend Richard's car. Richard dropped Joern and our luggage (three full suitcases, and one with two collapsible ones inside) off at the airport, and we were on our way. Lukas talked all the way to Prague, and in fact, all of the children except for Helen stayed awake for the flight to Prague, changing planes there, and the flight to Frankfurt.

In Frankfurt we arrived in Terminal 1, collected our luggage, and headed straight for Terminal 2 (the children finding the "sky train"--not what it's called in Frankfurt, but that's what it's called in Duesseldorf and I can't remember what Frankfurt calls it--extremely exciting, we less so, with the luggage), as that's where our flight to San Francisco was leaving from. We started there by going to the information desk to ask if there was a children's play area--yes, back in Terminal 1. But the lady told us that we actually could check in, even though it was still more than five hours until our flight.

I've heard plenty of positive raving about Frankfurt Airport, but I'm not impressed with the sign-posting. We did eventually find the United Airlines counters and got in line. Halfway through the line it occurred to me that this would be a good time to brush teeth, before our toothpaste was checked for the next flight, so the girls and I headed for the restrooms--which were hard to find and very far away. When we finally got back, the others had just gotten to the front of the line, but the entire area was being cleared because of a bomb threat. We watched from maybe 20 meters away while an area right next to where we had been standing was marked off by the police with orange and white tape, but couldn't really see what was going on. I commented that if there WAS a bomb, we really weren't far enough away, but in the meantime, sent Joern and the boys to brush their teeth.

They got back just as the bomb threat was lifted, so we started to get back in line, but then got to go to the very front. We checked in and started to head for Terminal 1 for the play area, when Lukas asked where his backpack was. Good question. We couldn't find it where the line had been, Joern was sure he hadn't had it with him in the restroom, so we went to the information desk to ask about lost-and-found. The guy there looked rather bored until Joern started the description, then he raised his eyebrows and said, "Child's backpack? I have to make a phone call." I joked to Joern that maybe Lukas's backpack had been the cause of the bomb scare.

Well, a couple of phone calls later, it was confirmed that Lukas's backpack had been removed by the police and taken to the place where they explode potential bombs, but that they had been able to determine that it wasn't a bomb before they needed to explode it, so it was now waiting in lost-and-found. Oops.

Following bad directions and the very occasional sign, we did eventually find the lost-and-found department, filled out a bunch of forms and paid four Euros to recover Lukas's backpack (which contained a change of clothes, a lion, and a bear), and then started looking for the famed grocery store.

More rare signs (but along a very long corridor with interesting ads for a car rental company that went through the whole history of the world) and a long walk later, we found the grocery store, where we bought Broetchen (bread rolls, but one canNOT call the delicious, German bread rolls by the uninspiring term of "bread rolls"!! After nearly a year in Cyprus, we really missed those!!), cheese, cold cuts, grapes, and water. I didn't quite understand why this grocery store is so famous--it wasn't very big and it was of course very over-priced, but I suppose just the fact that it IS a grocery store, which is open on Sundays and holidays, is exciting? They even had fresh fruit.

We found a place to sit and eat lunch, and then finally, after counting the carry-ons, headed back to Terminal 1 and the play area. It consisted of slides and a big ball pool, with benches and a food court all around. Helen was asleep (in the stroller) by this time, so I laid down on a bench and had an hour's nap myself. Then we headed back to Terminal 2 for our flight to San Francisco.

Czech Air, by the way, was friendly and comfortable, and on EACH of the two flights the children received activity packs and I was asked if I needed anything for the baby and offered extra bread for her. They also gave me a "baby belt"--an extra seatbelt which connects to mine to put around the baby. A flight attendant friend once told me that it doesn't do much to protect a baby, the main point is to keep the baby from flying up in the air during turbulence and landing on another passenger and injuring him or her. I don't particularly care if I have one or not, but the point is that they did acknowledge the baby.

On our flight to San Francisco, however, which was 11 hours, the children were not given anything at all for entertainment, we could hardly see the movie screens which mostly had stupid and/or inappropriate things showing anyway, we certainly didn't have more leg-room than on the smaller plane, and I think possibly less, the flight attendant looked put out when I asked for an extra bag of pretzels for Helen, and both Joern's and my seats were broken. (His wouldn't recline, mine wouldn't stay up.) And my headphones broke. It wasn't the first time that I rolled my eyes at the announcement, "We realize that you have a choice of airlines and thank you for flying with United." If we were able to make a choice based on something other than price, we would NOT choose United.

Also, no baby belt, and no directions on how to hold the baby. Again, not that I cared, but on dozens of flights with babies (dozens? maybe even scores...), I have been given nearly as many different instructions: "use the baby belt"; "no baby belts as they're banned"; "use the sling/front pack/any baby carrier"; "please take the baby out of the carrier"; "hold the baby facing you"; "hold the baby facing out"; even "hold the baby diagonally"!! I've been given conflicting instructions on two different flights the same day with the same airline. But this was my first flight in which they didn't even say hi to the baby.

That Helen fussed and screamed for several hours wasn't United's fault, though. Katie and Lukas slept almost the entire flight, and Marie and Jacob entertained themselves with the movies and with reading, and Joern relaxed or even slept, but I spent a good portion of the flight fighting with Helen. I walked up and down the aisles with her, looked out windows, sang, etc. She did spend about five minutes scribbling on a magazine, and the pretzels kept her entertained for another five minutes, but that was about it. She wouldn't look at books and she wouldn't play patty-cake and she wouldn't even nurse. When she did finally fall asleep, so did I, but the head rests weren't anywhere near as adjustable as Czech Air's were, so I kept waking up with my neck hurting.

While waiting for our luggage in San Francisco, a sniffer dog found us and we were asked to turn in the three ham-and-cheese sandwiches we had brought from the airplane. I asked if we couldn't please eat them right away, as Katie and Lukas had literally had nothing to eat the entire flight, and the man hemmed and hawed and finally said that he wasn't really allowed to let us, but yes, we could keep them, but had to eat them completely--no, we would not be allowed to just throw them away if we didn't finish them, and it would be a 300-dollar fine if we didn't. We turned in one, and Lukas and Katie each ate one. Then we had to go through the red line, because we'd been "caught", and all of our luggage had to be x-rayed. The lady there looked very sorry, looked at five sleepy children and two exhausted parents and a huge pile of luggage and really, really looked like she wanted to wave us through, asked what the dog had found, questioned us about whether we had anything else (no), and finally apologetically said that she was very sorry, but we had to put everything through the x-ray.

My mother was waiting when we came out, she called my dad and my sister who then came from my sister's house (ten minutes away), and we piled into the cars and went to my sister's. We spent longer there than we had intended, eventually having sandwiches for dinner so that we wouldn't have to stop on the way to my parents' house (2 1/2 hours away), and then headed north, arriving at my parents' house at about 11:00 p.m. on December 28th--9:00 a.m of the 29th in Cyprus, so over 32 hours after leaving home. People like to wish that there were more hours in a day, but our December 28th had 34 hours, and it was NOT fun!!

But we made it, and the sequals will have to wait, as I now have to go finish getting children ready, as we're going up to Tahoe to play in the snow and cross-country ski. :-)

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