It’s Saturday evening here at Atlantic College in Wales, and it’s incredibly difficult to believe that we’ve all been together for six days now. We’re leaving at 5:30 on Monday morning to begin the two-day drive from here to Innsbruck, Austria, and then we’ll be in Karlovac, Croatia on July 2.
Let’s start with the story of my journey here, as international flights are never without some excitement. Dustin drove me to Dulles on Sunday afternoon (THANKS DUSTIN!!!), and we were both astonished to see that traffic going into and around the airport terminal was not unlike what you generally see on 395 during rush hour. After finally getting to the United doors, I hugged Dustin and turned to see the chaos that was the United area, both in and outside the terminal. A long line of people were waiting on the sidewalk to check their bags at the curb; a mindblowingly long line of people were inside waiting for both domestic and international check in. The sheer volume of people meant that anyone just arriving needed about 10 minutes just to figure out where they were supposed to go – in other words, where the line actually began.
If you’re familiar with the Dulles terminal, just try to picture that literally the entire left half of it was filled with rows and rows of people waiting in line. There were THOUSANDS of us waiting around just for our international check-ins, and most of the people in line were at an added disadvantage of having arrived only about two hours early for their flights – mistake! I waited with a couple who’d been married the day before and were on their way to Italy for their honeymoon; it looked like pretty much everyone around me was going to miss their flight just because of the length of the line. I waited for over an hour – long enough to make it near what appeared to be the front – when finally a United employee came by asking people for their departure times. When I said 7:00, the woman went “oh wow, you’re early! You don’t need to be in this line! This is just for people who will miss their flights otherwise.” She then proceeded to lead me to a self check-in (which is apparently now possible on international flights), and I made it through security just in time to reach my gate with five minutes to spare before boarding.
The flight itself was uneventful other than the fact that I was surrounded by the members of the UVA rowing team who were en route to a competition just outside of London. I had a nice little chat with the guy behind me, who expressed hope that my experience with athletic spectating would be more interesting at UVA than at William & Mary. 🙂
We landed at Heathrow about seven hours later (quite a nice change from the 11 hours to Brazil), and I got through customs with the apparently standard British interrogation of “why are you here? how long are you staying? when are you coming back?”. Unfortunately, I met with defeat when I got to the baggage terminal… I had made it onto my flight, but my bag had not (despite the fact that we delayed leaving the gate specifically to let another luggage truck unload). This was no big deal as I had learned my lesson after our 2006 trip to Croatia when I didn’t have luggage for 48 hours; I had brought enough clothes and toiletries with me to last another day. I was also able to call Scott, our expedition leader, and get an address for where we’d be so that I could have the luggage sent on.
I spent the next two hours waiting in the terminal until our 10:30 meet-up time. I managed to find Danijel, the only other person on this trip from the US (and by from the US, I mean born in Bosnia and having lived in the US for the last 12 years), and we got to know each other a bit while waiting for Scott and Sion. It was awesome to finally meet everyone after two rounds of online video conferencing! We passed another hour at a coffee shop (I had coffee on the plane AND in the airport in a furious attempt to prevent feeling jet lag) before meeting up with Hannah from Canada and Daniela (Dani) from Portugal. The six of us piled into the van that we’ll be driving from here to Serbia and back and started the three-hour drive up to Cardiff and then on to Atlantic College. Along the way we stopped at a hotel to pick up Lib/Libby (from Cardiff), and finally we arrived at Atlantic College, where Will (from England) hopped aboard at the gate. The final member of the expedition, Martha (from France/Wales) arrived later in the evening.
I will devote a separate entry to how awesome each of these people is – we have a truly AMAZING group of nine assembled to go on this adventure together, and already everyone feels like long-lost family!