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Thursday, April 03, 2008

My Trip: Part One (Over the Pond)

As many of you are aware, or at least some of you are aware, I took a trip to England over spring break. This is a cross between an academic trip and a trip to visit my girlfriend, who happens to be a native (a term I find rather humorous). I said I would talk a bit about my trip, and so I shall, because that's what bloggers do I suppose (well, maybe only some bloggers).
There are going to be quite a few gaps in the pictures, since I didn't catch everything. There's a logical reason for this: I was a little preoccupied with my lovely girlfriend. You'll simply have to forgive me for those gaps.
The trip started from SFO (San Francisco International Airport). If you can't tell, that's in San Francisco, in California. Yeah. Hopefully that's blatantly obvious (here I'm sticking my tongue out of course). Now, one thing I have to say about airline travel is that there has never been a single case where I showed up early and barely made it to my flight. Nor has there been a case when I showed up semi-early (within that 1.5 to 2 hour time frame) and barely made it. In fact, I have to either be one of the luckiest individuals when it comes to airline travel or all that hubbub about long lines, delays, etc. is all a load of cods wallop. I'm leaning towards the former, since that makes me feel special.
So I showed up at SFO an hour and forty-five minutes early, stood in the extremely short little US Airways line to have my bag checked and make sure I knew that the bag was going to follow me to my final destination and proceeded to security. Security has changed in America, but it didn't surprise me because I had flown to Oregon last year and had seen the changes. I knew to take off my shoes, take my laptop out of the bag, take all the metal off, etc. Well, one thing I forgot was to take my wallet out, thinking that there couldn't possibly be any metal in there. Except...there was something metal in there and I have no freaking clue what it is.
So, after the machine beeped once, twice, and a third time, the security people corralled me into a clear glass box with a locked door at the end, in much the same way that cattle on corralled to the slaughtering run. The feeling at that moment was a pinch of surprise--because, after all, I had done nothing wrong--and nervous anticipation at what evil act was to follow. Okay, so anticipation is the wrong word. I think fear would be more appropriate, since the thought of having my innards examined via some large man with a surgical glove had crossed my mind.
I waited for a few minutes before a man came, unlocked the door, and led me to a little waiting area. There I emptied my pockets and found myself violated, to a certain degree, by a man with surgical cloves. There's nothing comfortable about a grown man feeling searching every inch of you but your most delicate bits with prying fingers. It was...interesting. Then I had to go through the humiliating experience of presenting my legs and arms in different manners so he could scan them with his magical plastic gizmo that randomly beeps when exposed to belly buttons, or at least to his belly button. I'm sure he was relieved to find that my rear didn't beep, as was I. So he checked my wallet and lo and behold, it beeped. What the hell is metal in my wallet? I don't know. He doesn't know. And neither do the people at the x-ray machine that looked at it. It just beeped.
So, having finally secured my belongings and told I could continue on my way, I headed into SFO to look for my departure gate and waited. Then I waited some more. And some more. I managed to get through security, even after being frisked and delayed, in about forty minutes, so I had about an hour to waste. The result was this picture:That's SFO airport. Or a part of it at least. Then there was this picture of me being tired and utterly bored:
Alright, so I got on my flight and spend the next five hours or so flying through the air over brown landscape in a slightly comfortable chair until I landed here:
That is Charlotte, North Carolina. Well, that's the airport at least. It looks exciting doesn't it? There's a little luggage car zooming by in the background, and some yellow car thing next to a plane nearby. Oh so exciting, eh?
Yeah, not. So, I had to get off my plane that landed in Charlotte to get on another plane that flew up to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. No, it's not exciting. It's sort of irritating really, but it came with the cheap ticket, so I dealt with it. At least I got fed. Once my plane from Charlotte took off, albeit LATE, we headed off to Philadelphia. Apparently Philly's international airport gets a lot of traffic because when we got there we spent about thirty minutes going in circles, which confused a vast majority of the passengers who probably thought the plane was either possessed or crashing in a spiral very slowly. I think the plane was possessed, but the logical explanation is that Philly is just busy.
So we landed and I had the exciting opportunity to spend about twenty minutes walking from my arrival gate all the way to my departure gate, which was conveniently on the complete opposite side of the airport. Philly's international airport isn't small by the way. It's actually rather big and my feet and butt hurt after walking so much. Then when I got to my gate I found out I had to have my passport inspected to make sure I could legally get on the plane. I went over the the little desk with the flashy lights and nifty signs and TVs and handed my passport and ticket to the gentleman at the counter. He looked at the passport and said "this looks nothing like you" to which I said "my hair is different". He responded with a glare and "well, okay, I trust you", handed me my passport, and stamped the ticket. The thing that gets me is that I'm still not sure if he was serious. Was he joking with me? I really hope so. Unlike some passport people he actually seemed to have a cute sense of humor. But it scared the crud out of me. The picture doesn't look like me, and that's the problem. It's a terrible picture. I didn't do it myself. I had the passport people do it for me, so you'd think they'd take proper photos, but the photo they took is terrible. My driver's license looks more like me and it's really old!
By the way, I don't have a photo for the Philly airport because it was dark and I saw no point in taking one.
Anyway, so I got on my flight only to find that the seats for international flights via US Airways are terrible. Now, before you all think I hate the airline I have to preface this by saying that the service was great, they didn't lose my luggage, and I was generally pretty happy. I would say a lot of my dislike for the international flight has to do with the fact that I don't like sitting in ONE position more than a couple hours unless it's incredibly comfortable (such as snuggle with my girlfriend, which is probably the closest thing to being in blissful comfort ever). So, I spent a good long seven hours sitting in that terrible seat. Why exactly are the seats for international flights, which are typically longer than domestic flights, worse than the seats in domestic flights? I mean, it seems like it would make more sense to have nicer seats for a longer flight, and crummy seats for a shorter flight, right? I don't know. The logic is a little baffling.
In any case, at least the international flight was on time. We landed safe and sound, climbed off the plane, some of us groggy, some of us excited (like me), and followed the instructions as we headed for immigration and customs. There's something to be said about titling something immigration and customs. First, why couldn't they call it the "English Welcoming Committee"? I'm serious. Shouldn't the first thing you get when you arrive in a foreign country be a little bit of a welcome? Something like "British Immigration and Customs" sounds formal and somewhat frightening.
So, I headed for immigration and customs with my shoulder bag in tow. There I queued, or got in line for us Americans, and waited my turn. When I was waved over by a young gentleman I learned a valuable lesson: passport people hate themselves, their jobs, or their bosses, or a combination of all of the above, because they are all grumpy, not nice, and generally unfriendly. The conversation went something like this:
"Why are you visiting England?"
"To visit my girlfriend."
"Where is she from?"
"England."
"Where did you meet?"
"Online."
"Where does she live?"
"Rotherham."
"And you're staying in the Brecon Hotel?"
"Yes."
"The whole time?"
"Yes."
"Why aren't you staying with her?"
"She lives with her mother." (secretly I was thinking "yeah, and it's our first time meeting in person...maybe we'd like to be a little NORMAL in how we treat this relationship and not shack up the first freaking time we meet")
"What is your occupation?"
"I'm a student."
"Where?"
"UC Santa Cruz."
"When are you departing?"
"The 29th."
"Of?"
"This month."
"March?"
"Yes." (of course I thought of saying "No, August, I thought I'd stay a while")
"Do you have your reservation?"
"What? No I don't. I didn't check in for the flight back yet."
"When do you have to be back?"
"The 31st."
Then there was a short moment of silence as he stared at my passport as if staring would make magical information pop out of it, stuff that wasn't already there. Then he looked at me and said "Okay."
Now, that conversation probably would have been fine if he had mixed in some nice conversation, but he spoke to me as if he just knew I was going to commit a crime, because us Americans are known for going to foreign countries and breaking the law all the time. Yup. So, after that little conversation I came to the conclusion that either the passport people have to be that cold and emotionless, or they just hate life so much that they pass it off to people passing through their lines.
In any case, I made it through without being searched, caressed, violated, or anything else equally as uncomfortable, collected my bags in the Manchester International Airport and spent about ten minutes trying to find a cash machine that would give me some currency, since I didn't travel with any on purpose. So on the main floor there was a cash machine, and it was broken. So I asked where another one was, and they said it was on the second floor. Since I had to go there anyway, I went. Well that one was broken. So I wandered around and finally asked someone else where a cash machine was and was finally directed to one.
Cash in pocket I walked down a long blue tunnel feeling somewhat like I was traversing an alien tube to greet a primitive mankind some ten thousand years ago, which would result in my demanding to have statues, cave paintings, carvings, and other artistic things like pyramids to be built on my behalf. After all, who wouldn't want to have such cool stuff built after them? Yeah, exactly. At the other end of the tunnel was the train station, where I bought my ticket, went down to the platform for my train and sat in the cold for fifty minutes until my train arrived to take me to Sheffield.
And so that's how I got to England from little old San Francisco. Fascinating no? Stay tuned for more trip infoness!

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6 comments:

  1. "my feet and butt hurt after walking so much."

    I SO didn't want to know that. And I care about your feet and butt.

    The blue tunnel is sad. :( I was crying so much on the way back it was just a haze of blueness. And some guy nearly ran me over with a trolley. Yeah, use the walkway ya MORON, not the tiny space with the tearful woman in it. Grr. Argh.

    Ahem.

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  2. Positive moments to begin your trip abroad *Yikes*LOL* Security & customs do have a way of presenting the all calm & cool porker faces. My mom went through something similar with her walker when she went on a cruise :o)

    Glad to hear you made it & looking forward to more of the trip story!

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  3. Sounds like you had fun :) Thanks for letting me do a guest post while you were gone, btw :D

    ~Chris

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  4. No, thank you, Chris. I really appreciate it!

    And yes, I had a lovely time across the pond. I'm quite fond of England, to be honest. I really like it there. I think maybe I'd live there one day, but by the time I could do that, I don't know if that would be possible. I really like a lot of the culture. I know, it's not drastically different than the U.S., but still, Rotherham is sort of quaint and cute. It has a sort of "small ocean town" feel to it, even though it's not by the ocean.

    Anywho.

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  5. You know.. some of us are still waiting on "Part Two" of your trip over the pond.. More pictures!

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  6. I'm waiting too! :(

    And you must be the first person to call Rotherham 'cute'. *Shudder*

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