Friday, September 02, 2005

The Long and Winding Road….

Roughly three hours after we finally lay our heads down on our pillows – we are up and putting away the rickety pull-out bed for the last time. It is 3:00 AM Sunday morning on August 20th, but 7:00 PM Saturday night back at home. So we quickly log on to Skype to let the kids know that we will be on the way shortly and we’ll see them Sunday afternoon (which they have a little difficulty understanding at first). Just a little bit after 3:00 AM, Vile calls to make sure that we are all up; she would have made a great Den Mother back in America!

This is the start to the longest day we will have, even longer than the trip to Lithuania as we have a long lay-over in Warsaw. Not only that, but now we are mentally ready to be home. The trip is no over and all that remains is the travel to get back home. If you have never been away from home in awhile – this may be a little hard to comprehend – but when you are busy with your days and nights, you really don’t have time to think about what you might be missing. However, when you are stuck on a plane and in an airport for twenty hours, you have plenty of time to miss home!

We are packed and ready to head out the door when Vile and Edmundas arrive at 3:45 AM! The late night is gorgeous as we walk to the car! Looking up you can see layer upon layer of stars – the air is clean and crisp with just the hint of autumn. The streets are empty and deserted at this time – not like back home where we live in a constant state of 24 hour rush. While the back seat is crammed with the three of us in it – we don’t mind.

The trip to Vilnius is about 90 KMs or so – a little over an hour travel time. Just enough time to visit and wake up a bit and enjoy the country side as it speeds by. Moonlit and beautiful, it has a completely different look. As we pass through some small valleys we can see a thick fog covering the ground like a large blanket of cotton. Only the tops of the trees can be seen – beautiful and eerie at the same time – I wish I had the camera out.

Vile is turned towards us and she is asking how we enjoyed our trip. We recant our favorite parts and thank her for her company and help. We will miss her family the most that is for sure. We tell her of how stuffed we are and how pickled we feel – she laughs and pulls a bag from at her feet and produces a bottle of beer from it. She smiles and hands it to me; “Have a drink!” she smiles. I nod no; falling back on the old it’s too early excuse and discreetly slip the bottle into Lisa’s carry on bag. Maybe later, I tell her. Come to think of it – as of this writing, it is still in my fridge, nice and cold and ready to be had on a late summer Friday night (it is Labor week-end after all!).

We arrive at the airport just before 5:30 AM and unload. It is surprisingly busy this morning and we wonder how long we are going to have to wait. Thankfully there is no line at LOT yet and we are the first to check in. Lisa’s Dad is going to stay in Vilnius for a few days and soon Algis and Rima are at the airport to see us off and take Alberti back with them. Algis’s youngest daughter, Jurate, who was not in the country when we went to visit, was with her parents and upon seeing us, leapt into our arms. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the last time that we saw Jurate was three years ago and we gave her a pair of blue jeans –the first she ever had. She was so tickled by them, she stripped off the skirt she was wearing to try the jeans on and kept them on for the rest of that week-end. Now, three years later, she is a young woman very stylishly dressed and going to college! It was a very nice way to end the trip visiting with her, her English now three years more practiced. We wished we had more time to visit – but it was not to be as it was time to enter the gate and wait for our boarding call. So with teary eyes, long hugs and a heartfelt wave – we left Lithuania or at least the best part of Lithuania, our family, behind to start our long 20 hour journey back home.

Now inside the security of the departure gate we settle in for the long journey – the sun just beginning rise and fill the airport with soft, yellow light. Twenty minutes pass before we are instructed to proceed to the gate for boarding – after a short uneventful 90 minute flight – we are in Warsaw for at least the next five hours as we wait for the final leg of our flight home.
The Warsaw International Terminal is currently under construction – so that means we really have no where to go. The available terminal is small with only a few gates. Most of the chairs in the waiting area are taken by weary, sleeping passengers. The few cafes that are there are filled as well with people nursing their drinks or food to hold their seats as long as possible. The one very nice thing – they have wireless hotspots all through out the gates and terminals. This means we can check in with the kids, browse e-mail and hopefully help pass the time.

We first head to our gate – the plan being to camp out there, log onto to the internet check out Skype, our e-mail and the local news after which we will watch a movie on DVD. “Raising Helen” is the feature I’ve downloaded from Starz before we left. We luck out twice as we find a comfortable spot near the Hot Spot and an empty plug. Soon we are up and running with Lisa chatting with our oldest son Steven, still up and online, unable to sleep because he is stressing about his trumpet section that he is the leader of for his high school marching band. Steven is something of a perfectionist and the freshman in his section are not coming along like they should. However, he is working with them and they are finally beginning to get better – or at least we hope they are. Soon, Steven is signing off to head to bed and we are preparing for our movie. If you get a chance to rent “Raising Helen”, I would recommend it. While it is not Academy Award material, it is light, pass the time material.

We are nearly through the movie when a large, Polish security officer approaches us. He says something to us but we cannot hear him as the movie is blaring in our head phones. After removing our headsets we realize that he is asking where we are headed. “Chicago” we reply. He proceeds to inform us that we have plenty of time before the flight is to leave and we must vacant the gate as they are going to close it. We quickly pack and leave, not wanting to seem suspicious or cause an International incident (I guess I have the look of a terrorist as I almost always get picked out of the line for a spot check!).

As soon as we leave, they are cleaning the gate and checking everywhere in an apparent security sweep; luckily there is a table at the café directly across from the gate. We grab the first table we can and order some tea, Coke, and two of the biggest, most delicious croissants (covered and filled with sweet chocolate) that I have every tasted. We spend the better part of the next hour noshing until they re-open the gate.

Once inside – with only an hour or so more to wait – we strategically place ourselves in seating next to the departure gate. Just in time to as a crowd starts to gather. By the time the gate is to open for passengers, the area is packed with people. There is a large group of kids – some type of club – that has gathered and is getting louder by the second. This flight will be long, I can just tell. There are a lot of kids now – not just the group I just mentioned – but babies too. It seems as if we just landed ourselves on the next flight to Disneyland! The bad part about this – it is Noon only in Warsaw and these kids have only been up for a few hours as opposed to the nine hours that we have been going at it (on less than three hours of sleep). We take a deep breath and tell ourselves that we are on the way home and soon it will be over. That is until the gate person picks up the microphone and announces that the flight will be delayed and it will be another twenty minutes until he knows what time. Well, twenty minutes turns to thirty minutes which turns to two hours and the whole time we have been standing at the gate, not wanting to lose our choice spot for getting on the plane. Even though we are roughly in the back of the plane – overhead space is a premium – so we want to get on early to grab a spot so that we have leg room.

The gate is getting somewhat chaotic by now – people cannot hear the announcements, the passengers that are flying standby are getting nervous and a woman traveling with two small children has just realized that they are not seated together!

The poor gate person looks ready to collapse as he is bombarded with the same questions in three or four different languages and by some very rude people, as if he had anything to do with the delay.

Three hours late we are finally allowed to board. We are told that this will not make us too late into Chicago, but in all honesty, we did not care – we were on the way home.

OK – if you ever want to experience hell on earth sit on a plane with about 6 inches of leg room for 10.5 hours, in front of a row of soon to be teenagers who do not know how to sit still or shut the hell up. Oh yeah, throw in a young man sitting next to your wife that takes out the barf bag before he even sits down – yup, that is my hell alright.

Top this off with flying back in time – so these kids DO NOT SLEEP OR GET TIRED because the freaking sun is streaming into the fuselage. Thank God for the in-flight movie: “Madagascar” a kids flick – it shuts the little bastards up for at least two hours. As that is playing I settle into my own movie on my laptop: “Kill Bill Vol 2” for some old fashioned, stylized violence to wear away the next two hours.

With the movies done – we find ourselves with three of the ten hours left. So we settle in to try and snooze. Poor Lisa, just as she dozes off another rug-rat, apparently without adult supervision, bounces the back of her seat startling her awake. After a few dirty looks they begin to settle down. Now begins my game. I start to watch a DVD – Star Trek – but I’m not really. What I am doing is watching the kids behind me out of the corner of my eye – waiting for them to fall asleep so that I can get up and spill something on them waking them up. Purely Machiavellian, I know – but it would be oh so satisfying if I could get it to work!! Can you almost hear me “Mwahahaha”ing?

Luckily for the kids – we are starting our descent into Chicago before they can fall asleep. But their effort to sleep has actually paid off for Lisa as she is afforded a couple of hours to snooze in and out.

We land uneventfully – about an hour or so late. Debarking is actually pretty easy and quick, although with a plane full of kids – it is a mess. I don’t envy the clean-up crew as they have quite a job before them. Why is it that people think they can trash a plane – I don’t get it?

Customs is equally easy as we are US Citizens and get to go to a different line. The customs agent is fast and friendly and soon we are waiting for our luggage – which is a bit longer, but at this point we don’t care. Our friend Bob is already outside the terminal waiting for us – so we know all we have to do is shoot out the door and into our waiting truck, where a brief hour or so trip south and we are home!

Home sweet home!! Nikki, our youngest, has the house decorated with streamers and signs. The dogs are sprinting out to meet us with Kaycee looking mighty pregnant for a dog who is not supposed to be….

But wait, that is another series in this Blog.

For now – we are home from Lithuania and happy in the arms of our family. But a part of us misses Lithuania and looks forward to returning, next time with the kids in tow!

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