Many thanks if you happened to read my last post about our journey from Athens back home and prayed for our safety! I write now from the comfort of our bed and a body and brain still on Eastern European Time. We saw five airports in 34 hours (yes, there are more direct ways, but we have more time than money, no shame in our layover game!) and it was pretty emotional for both of us.
I. Leaving Greece
Leaving our hotel in Athens was very emotional. Not only were we anxious about a long trip, but neither of us were really ready to go. Our taxi driver took us to Attiki Odos – the highway – for one last time to the airport. We checked our bags, grabbed some dinner, and I ran to duty free to get important things! I picked out a box of kourambiedes, which are delicious almond cookies covered in powdered sugar, and my absolute favorite chocolate, Leónidas. I went back and forth about buying some honey because I wasn’t sure the security gods wouldn’t confiscate it as I went through each airport, but I learned later that duty free liquids are exempt from that stupid 100 mL rule! Good to know!
I thought I had bought everything I wanted to, but about 10 minutes before we were to start boarding, I remembered I had some unfinished business. I absolutely love stuffed bears and I wanted to get one! Thankfully, I found one on a keychain to join Travel Bear!
Ready as we’re going to be. At the gate, we boarded a bus to be driven to our plane. Old school! I cherished every moment we were still in Athens, even on the tarmac on a bus. Check out how we boarded the plane!
I settled into my window seat and looked outside wistfully. I am hard-pressed to think of a time I’ve felt more moved on a return trip. Adonis was saying leaving for him was tough because he wasn’t sure when we would be able to return to Greece. I touched the window, as though I could pet Athens. He was right. God only knows when or if we will be able to return. We prayed together and thanked Him for a wonderful time.
II. Stop #1 – Barcelona
After an uneventful flight, we landed at 0:45 CET. We deplaned and navigated our way to baggage claim. Now the fun begins – how do we get to our next plane? I checked the departure board and noticed the plane we were just on was going right back to Athens. I sighed.
The signs in Barcelona El Prat were in 3 languages – the last language was Spanish, the second was English, and I THOUGHT the first was Portuguese, which in retrospect, was really stupid. Give me a break. It was late! After a while, it dawned on me that we were in CATALONIA and that language had to be CATALAN! Duh! We were definitely clueless as to where to go once we had our bags. My Spanish is decent and we asked someone where we needed to go, but only after we had been in a few círculos. Heh.
“DOES THIS PLACE HAVE ANY DECENT COFFEE?”
I had been preparing myself while still in the US for Adonis’ grumpiness when we left Greece. I had not been prepared for it to set in quite so quickly. “Dude. Spain has coffee.” We were both tired and exchanged words that likely won’t make it into any healthy marriage Hall of Fame, but the coffee was good! We passed some time by talking to my parents and Lil One. What I thought would be the trickiest of our layovers was passing fairly quickly.
We checked in our bags, found some breakfast, and by 5:45 AM, we took the LONGEST. WALK. EVER. To our gate. Seriously, it was insanely long and there was no way to shorten it. I know we were tired but Dios Mío. El Prat needs to tighten up. Adonis noticed that unlike in American airports, there was no option to sit near the gate without sitting at a business, like a bar or cafe. Pagar o estar de pie (pay or stand up), says the airport authority. We didn’t make it onto the plane until about 6:15.
III. Stop #2 – Madrid
As I’m sure you can imagine, the flight from Barcelona to Madrid was short and packed with commuters. It was a bit bumpy, but I managed to sneak in about 15 minutes of much needed sleep. Lucky Adonis was sleeping as soon as we were in the air and didn’t awaken until we landed.
Since we were leaving the Schengen area, we had to go through customs after collecting our things in baggage claim. After receiving my second of two Madrid stamps, we boarded the shuttle to our terminal, where we would wait about 3 hours before the longest flight of our journey. We got some coffee and snacks and I ventured to do something I never had – taken a shower at the airport! They were not scary at all, I am pleased to say, and I was happy to no longer be sticky. I felt as fresh as I could for having gotten 15 minutes of sleep in 30 hours.
Thankfully, the journey to our gate was not as obnoxious as it had been in Barcelona.
After boarding, we settled into our seats. I immediately prepared myself to sleep by spraying some aromatherapy spray on a pillow. Then I did something I have not done since 2005, incidentally on another New York bound flight.
I used the lavatory.
This might not seem so noteworthy, but that was exactly the THIRD time I’d been in 23 years, and I am not that infrequent of a flyer. When I was 10 I used it on a flight for the first time and I couldn’t figure out how to open the door to exit, just as the flight was getting pretty turbulent. I had to yell for help and it’s haunted me since. Notably, this was my first time in the lavatory since I started running and it just reminded me of a portable toilet. Nonetheless, I used it and got the hell out of there as others were still boarding.
Listos para Nueva York.
IV. Stop #3 – New York City
The pilot had announced that he expected the second half of the ride to be moderately turbulent. The second. HALF. I thought to myself, hopefully I can sleep through the drama. Eat up and then take some Advil pm and knock out until ‘Murka. I also wanted to make sure I was able to buy something from the duty free magazine that I had seen on the flight to Madrid two weeks prior. How to sleep and shop?! Traveler’s dilemma!
As we were in flight, I had to go to the bathroom again, but as it were, my practice run made me feel more confident so I did so without fear. I closed the door behind me and then I heard a ding. My inner 10 year old panicked, but the 33 year old quickly did her business and got the hell out of there. I realized later that it was just the ding of someone calling for the flight attendant, not the *sit your ass down y’all!* ding of impending bumpiness. I think I’m not scared of the lavatory anymore! ✔️
I asked the flight attendant to wake me as the duty free cart was coming around, and she did. Indeed, the second half of the flight was bumpy as promised, but I found myself clenching less and less. Big planes matter, as does experience – I think this being my 8th plane ride in 2018 (so blessed!) is helping to put me at ease. I whipped out my credit card and got a lovely set of earrings. I can’t say I wasn’t happy to land safely, but nor was I in a rush to get off the plane.
After landing at JFK, we had to make our way to customs, where I was pleasantly surprised. I had been feeling so sad to leave Greece that I wasn’t expecting to be happy to be back in the US, but as soon as I saw the big “Welcome to the United States” sign leading into passport control, I broke into a big smile. As messed up as home can be, it’s mine, and I appreciate it even when my sleep is limited, apparently. The joy was quickly muted once we got into a miserably long line, and I can say this was the most unsavory part of our long trip. We got our things and guess what! My Greek cough syrup made it back!
One thing that struck me was how prepared I was to speak Spanish although we had made it home. It took me awhile adjust to feel average and not like an outsider for speaking English, especially since I was surrounded by Spanish speakers at JFK. The only difference was that from what I saw, the Spanish speakers were mostly customers and not staff as it had been for the last day of my life. I love the tapestry of America – seeing different last names on employee tags, recognizing the different heritages, yet all equally American. E pluribus unum, y’all.
We splurged and went to the lounge because the area by our terminal was SO. LOUD and we wanted a bit of respite during our last layover. Let me tell you something – Delta has great cookies at JFK. And chairs comfy enough for a tired girl to crash until her husband wakes her up.
V. Home! Orlando
Well. I don’t have much to say about this flight. I sat down. I slept. My husband woke me up when we landed. Good job, Delta.
We got our luggage quickly and made our way outside, where The Big One and The Beard (her boo) were waiting outside for us, despite our having landed a bit early. She rocks. We had a quick ride home and debriefed them as much as possible on what had been the trip of a lifetime.
34 hours after we began, this happened.
Bear was thrilled to see Travel Bear and his new friend, Nikos. Petros, our fish, was delighted to see us, I must say. Splashing about like a mad fish, craving a snack like his Mom. My very thoughtful father had stopped by the apartment and left us Publix subs and the best pound cake in the world.
Our trip was truly blessed, from start to finish. While I am eager to get back to Greece, I want to always be thankful for the opportunity I had to go, even one time. I have more about which to write, including meeting family and a race report!
God is good.