The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Friday, January 19, 2007

In London! (Barely) Intact!

Sorry for the delay in updates, but I don't have WiFi in my room yet and this is the first I've made it down to the IT centre (<-----note the excessively British spelling of "centre." Yes, I really am here).

Wednesday/Thursday was the longest day of my life, and perhaps one of the most unpleasant. The only bright spot was when we were taking a cab from the train station to the college and I saw my first glimpses of the city in passing, but more on that later.

I rose around 8:00 on Wednesday morning to a blissful amount of power from our new generator, and enjoyed the devlish act of flipping a switch and being flooded with light.

I ate breakfast at IHOP with my family then made it to the airport around 10:30. I checked in without a hitch and my bags were way below the weight limit, which was a wonderful surprise. They later proved to be plenty heavy, regardless of what the airline said. More on that, too.

The was a slight wrinkle in my security passage as my father embarassingly wanted to photograph my every move and motion, which the security officer was not too keen on. However, I was soon on my way to one of Springfield's 4 or 5 gates. You gotta love the Springdale. I wouldn't fly out of anywhere else.

I met up with Tammy and Marie, my travel companions, and soon enough we were off to Atlanta. The flight was quite short and pleasant enough. We alighted at Atlanta and found our gate for the London flight easily. We had a bit of entertainment during our 2.5 hour layover as we spied the bagage throwers directly below us through the large picture windows, cramming our luggage into the metal pods to be transferred to the plane. Tammy noticed that one particularly good-looking young thrower seemed to be struggling with one of her very large and very overweight suitcases. This particular suitcase weighed 80 pounds, and the poor lad, who did not appear by any means to be a weakling, was having a terrible time trying to force her case in the top of the pod, over his head. We giggled as he huffed and puffed and pushed and shoved on that case, trying to no avail to get it into the pod. He called for backup and the two of them tried at it for a good 5 minutes, eventually forcing it in there. When it was finally in the pod we saw him nearly collapse as he sat down on the side wheel of the pod to catch his breath. We were equally breathless with laughter. It probably sounds cruel, but it was rather humorous, especially since he was so cute and obviously cocky. The best part was, all through our laughing and pointing, we assumed that no one outside could see in the windows because they appeared to be glazed. As we took off from Atlanta a few minutes later, we found that this was decidedly not the case. No wonder he seemed to keep looking up at us.

This is where things go terribly amiss.

I did not eat in the Atlanta airport because I did not feel hungry, and the day had been moving so fast that I didn’t really realize how much time had passed since I’d eaten breakfast. As soon as I sat down on the trans-atlantic flight I realized how hungry I was, and soon after take off my hunger and anxiety combined gave me a headache and an upset stomach. I was dead tired but unable to sleep, couldn’t read because of the headache, couldn’t eat because of the upset stomach (which made the stomach and the headache worse), couldn’t properly hear music or film dialogue because of the engines, and all in all was entirely miserable, physically and mentally.

This lasted approximately 7 hours.

After that, things got much, much worse. Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, we approached Gatwick airport. We began our descent and everything seemed to be fine first, until the winds started. It was like a high-profile rollercoaster gone terribly wrong. The plane shook and banged and lurched, the cabin pressure went up and down and up and down violently and almost constantly. There were high gusting winds at Gatwick, and we were feeling it extremely. We saw lights and started getting close to the ground, the plane still lurching violently, and I felt my hands begin to go numb from fear. We drew nearer and nearer, then, suddenly, the engines gunned again and we were thrusting up. The entire plane groaned (the passengers, that is; the fuselage was probably not happy either) and after a few moments the captain came on and told us that because of the gusty winds, etc, he had to abort landing and was going to come round for another try. We cruised for a good twenty minutes or so, the turbulence dying down since we were above it, but I was still desperate to get off the damn plane, as was everyone else. In the words of Tammy, “We’d better land this time. I can’t take it again. If we don’t land this time, I’m not going to make it.”

We started to descend for another try, and the turbulence picked up again. We were all feeling nauseated from fear and pressure change, and Tammy got out the airsick bag. She sat there with her eyes closed for a moment, then threw up in the bag. I didn’t feel too ill, but decided to get the bag out anyway. I rubbed her back to make her feel better, then, without warning, did a dry heave. I opened my bag and threw up in it a few times, giving up what tiny amount of airplane breakfast I had managed to choke down a few minutes earlier. I threw up much more than she did, and now she was rubbing my bag. Poor Marie wasn’t so lucky. She didn’t have a bag.

Half the plane was throwing up, including the guy behind us, and with every lurch in cabin pressure all the babies and small children (of which there were many) would scream. It was not fun. It was the sort of situation where I started promising all sorts of things to God if he let me live through this, and, praise Jesus, we were able to land on the second pass. As we coasted down the runway, the plane gave up a round of applause.

We stumbled off that wretched plane into Gatwick airport, wherein we immediately noticed differences from the American version. Most notably, the bathrooms were tiny. In America, an airport bathroom is enormous, with a dozen or more sinks and toilets, wide expanses of space, and automated everything. This bathroom was a three-stall gas-station size bathroom. In an airport. Amazing. We went to the bathroom first for several obvious reasons which I don’t need to explain here.

Then it was immigration time. At this point it was about 1:30 am for us, 7:30 or so local time, and we stood in a very long and twisty line waiting for our turn with the immigration officers. We all got through without any problem, but I was a little surprised, as I didn’t feel credible to answer any questions at that point, including “what is your name,” and certainly not “what city did you fly out from.”

There were many more trials to come, however, as we made our way to the baggage claim and proceeded to haul between 90-165lbs of luggage through a foreign country. The saga continues next entry…

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