Part 5: Going home
14 May 2014
It is the night before I leave Athens. Yiayia came over to the hotel this evening, and we had dinner in the cafe downstairs. I have just come back from walking her home. She gave me a big hug and kiss good-bye. “Take care of yourself,” she admonished me in her accented English. I assured her that I will, and hugged her once more for good measure. With my new job, I don’t know when I will get to see her again. Ah well, such is life. Now it is time to pack, for I certainly won’t have time tomorrow morning; the taxi is picking me up at 4 a.m.
With two young children, the parents decided that it would be easier to not attempt to make the journey home in one day. Instead, arrangements were made to spend the night at a hotel in London. This meant that we didn’t have to be at the airport until later in the day, so we still ate breakfast with the grandparents and then they accompanied us back to the hotel to keep us company while we waited for the taxi to the airport.
We stayed at the hotel at the Gatwick airport, all four of us in one room. The trans-Atlantic flight was uneventful, and I was very glad to arrive home to my cat and my bed.
Once more, we stayed overnight in London, but this time Mom found a cheaper hotel away from the airport. In the coming years, we would stay here four more times.
Since we spent a week in London this year, Mom made arrangements for us to fly from Athens to Heathrow. From there, we took the train to Paddington Station, located only a couple of blocks from our hotel. Since our flight home was out of Gatwick, we had to take the bus to Victoria Station, which has train service to that airport.
With the discontinuation of the Pittsburgh-London route, we had to find a new way to get to Greece this year. This also meant that, coming home, we would be making the trip in one day. Neither my sister or I were too excited to get up at three o’ clock in the morning on the day of departure. I remember the taxi ride to the airport as a blur of light and sound, and I remember being surprised at how busy the city was at that hour.
I only stayed in Athens for a few days this year, and then went to Switzerland to visit with a college friend and her family. I took advantage of the fact that my flight from Athens didn’t leave until the afternoon to have a good visit with Yiayia that morning, and actually took the Metro to the airport rather than shell out for a cab.
Of course, my friend and her father drove me to the airport for my flight home. Riding anywhere with a good friend is a great experience, and I relished the opportunity to spend just a little more time with her, since I didn’t know when I would see her again.
15 May 2014
Miraculously, I wake up when my phone alarm goes off at 3:30. Two minutes later, the wake up call from the front desk comes through.
The taxi is already waiting downstairs. Most of the other cars we see during the drive are other taxis, likely also headed for the airport. In a very short time, we have pulled up to the Departure door.
Inside, I find that things have caught up with the US: You now check in at an electronic kiosk to get your boarding pass, then proceed to the counter to drop off any checked luggage. Something else new: I only have to check in for the first flight, and I only get one boarding pass.
At this hour, very few shops in the airport are open. A large poster proclaims that the McDonald’s upstairs is open 24 hours. Thankfully, I have a box breakfast from the hotel, so I am spared trying to choke down fast food so early in the morning.
Once I’ve finished breakfast, I head to the gate, figuring it is better to be early. In fact, I am so early that they haven’t even opened the security checkpoint.
I’ve never really had trouble going through airport security. By the time I was a senior in high school, I had figured out several tricks to make it easier, such as not carrying too much in my pockets and not wearing a belt. Much to my mother’s dismay, I often wear a baseball hat. Since I have to take this off to go through security, it becomes a lovely little hold-all for the contents of my pockets. This trip, I must have accidentally brushed against the metal detector, because a guard guided me off to the side and went over me with a wand. No big deal, and soon I was collecting my bag and on my way.
It’s a good thing I’m one of the first people through the checkpoint once it opens, because they have questions about my hormones, since the bottle of gel is over the required three-ounce size. Fortunately, I did my homework before leaving the States. “It is my medicine,” I tell the guard when she asks me to show her the bottle. “I have a letter from my doctor.” I haven’t needed it so far this trip, but this time she wants to see it. Not even a minute later, she wishes me a pleasant trip and sends me on my way.
At the gate, there is an announcement that our departure will be delayed, but that they will board on schedule. Once on board, the captain takes over the intercom and explains that there is an air-traffic control strike at Paris. I have to laugh, because for a number of years my family encountered strikes at the Athens airport. It seems fitting somehow that now I have to deal with one at Paris. Ah well, at least I’m not in danger of missing my flight to Pittsburgh.
Thinking back, I don’t recall ever having any problems with layovers on the return trip, although some of those connections were a bit tight. Really, the worst layover happened on the way to Athens just after I graduated high school.
It sounded like a nice, easy route: Pittsburgh to Atlanta to Athens. Mother Nature had other ideas, however. A tropical storm shut down the Atlanta airport while we were en route, and by the time our plane was allowed to land the flight to Athens had left without us. Somehow, Dad managed to find seats for the four of us on another flight that left that night. When Mom asked where we were headed, he calmly replied, “Tel Aviv. We’ll catch a flight to Athens from there.”
The flight to Tel Aviv was quiet and relaxing; the layover at Tel Aviv, not so much. As you might imagine, there are rather strict security measures at that airport, both for incoming and outgoing passengers. We were met at the end of the jetway by two security guards who quickly hustled us off to go through these procedures. I am not kidding: There was a security guard there for each of us. They went through our bags, asked us questions, and then hustled us to the gate where our flight to Athens was waiting. It was definitely one of the more bizarre moments in my years of travel.
The transatlantic flight is uneventful. I spend time reading, watching a few movies, and writing another chapter of my latest fanfiction piece. As we approach the States, the usual customs forms are handed out. I have to help the two college students sitting next to me with theirs, since this is their first trip out of the country.
Even though it’s overcast and raining, the pilot lands with little trouble. Customs takes little time, and I’m standing at the baggage claim, watching for my duffel. Just as I pull it off, I feel a hand on my shoulder and turn to find Mom smiling at me. She gives me a quick hug. “Come on,” she tells me. “The car is this way.”
And I am home.