For me Christmas is all about the morning on the 25th of December, I have an image from my childhood that I wake up early in the morning, and there is sunlight outside (means I woke up really late) and I can see the world through the drawing of the frost on the window. Actually when I was a kid I remember I could not see anything because those patterns covered most of the window. And there should be a smell of a Christmas tree and snow outside and nice food in the fridge. Also there should be a special Christmas spirit around everything.
Well, at at least that’s the theory, it’s easiest to get all those components back home, that’s where they actually come from, so I usually go home for Christmas.
And of course no trip back home can be complete without some adventure on the way.
First of all, to get home from UK requires some preparation. Getting hold of a ticket to Lithuania during Christmas time sounds really a lot easier than it looks, but being an experienced traveler I had the ticket bought quite a while in advance, which is not ideal because then you have fixed dates for the journey, but at least you are not spending a fortune just to go home. Just as an example, my friend Martin from an adjacent course tried to find a ticket to Lithuania somewhere a month before the actual trip and he could not get anything ever approximate to his desired dates (he gave up on the price quite a while before that).
So the preparation is done. The plane tickets are bought, the train tickets to get to the airport are bought as well. And now all one needs is to actually start the journey.
That is not as easy as it stands of course. What time do you chose for example? I thought to avoid queues or possible train delays I would allow 3 hours before my flight. The flight was scheduled at 17.10, so I was planning to leave Southampton Central at 12.11. And this time I was not there alone. Everyone would always come to see me off back home, but in UK the start of any trip would be very … well, quiet and concentrated. This time my girlfriend came to see me off. And it was nice because I could feel that I am not alone in the world and that someone will be waiting for me to come back here. Of course it made the first hour of the journey physically unbearable – don’t really like partings.
But at least I was on my way now. I like traveling by trains, especially if they are as empty as this one was. That means that you can chose your seat and change it if you fancy another one more. You can get up and walk if your legs are sore (I am 1.88 meters long, so it is an issue in coaches). Another lucky feature of this train – it was a direct to Gatwick Airport, which meant that you did not have to fight with the crowds at Clapham Junction to get to a connecting train, which leaves in some 7 minutes. And I was finally at the airport. Yay, means half of the job was well done!
Already at the airport, I was trying to find the zone, where to check-in my luggage. Usually it is quite straightforward – you look at the board with flight times, find your flight and go to the zone shown there. But … how should I put this … there was no flight at 17.10. I thought, maybe it was a mistake, they could not have canceled my flight without any notice whatsoever, could they? Trying to stay calm I went to the information desk, there a nice gentleman said that the flight is still there and the zone is D, he could not understand why it is not on the board, but just said to go and check-in… well, apparently he had some good psychology training because I really started to believe it was just some silly mistake of someone’s and they will soon fix it. But if I go through the security, I will not be able to check it anyway, so let’s just drop the entire matter. Or at least that is what I thought.
The guy also said that the check-in will open 2 hours before the flight departure. Which made sense when I came to an empty desk. So I decided to make a lap around the airport to push some time, because apparently I had plenty. The lap appeared to be quite short, so 10 minutes later I was at the same desk and it was still unmanned. Well I find it quite silly to stand it the middle of a vast empty space all by myself, so I found a nice corner with a comfortable rail I could lean on and started waiting.
2 guys came to the same desk and by a few words I overheard they were Lithuanians as well. They found the vast space intimidating as well and went off for the welcoming lap. Another 2 guys – the same thing. And then a girl in a red skirt came along. She was Lithuanian as well and apparently did not find the vastness of the empty hall intimidating, so she just stood there. Knowing that check-in is really fast I was not worried that there will be a huge queue there, even if there was, it was not a problem anyway. Therefore I was reluctant to leave my quite comfortable position. The first guys came back from the lap 10 few minutes later and now there was someone waiting, but it was just one person, – nah, not good yet and went for another short walk. The 2nd pair of the guys was less intimidated by the space the first time round and they joined the girl, when they came back from their lap. Soon the 1st pair came back as well. Now it was 3 people. That was good. I have waited for another girl to join and only then went to the queue. Now it was a small crowd and I was somewhat comfortable there – as comfortable as one can feel waiting at a check-in queue. The fact of the queue had no effect whatsoever on the 2 hour before departure fact. The desk opened with the precision of an expensive watch. Which meant that even I stood in the queue for 40 minutes. Just during 5 of those long and boring minutes the desk was actually operational.
To surprise the queue for the security check was almost non-existent. When I was flying last time it took about 40 minutes to pass it and there it was really boring. But now all process took less than 15 minutes and I was a happy man after it.
But as soon as I entered the secure area, I had something waiting for me. There was one and a half hours left before my flight would have left, so there was no real point in checking the gate information on the screens, but I still did – always do. The same thing happened again – there was no such thing as 17.10 flight, neither to Vilnius, nor to anywhere else. This time I was a bit worried – the check-in went fine, so I should still make it for the flight, but why was it not on the screen? So I went to find an information desk again. There a somewhat bored lady who was solving sudoku printed using size 20 font could not really understand what I was after – yes there is a flight with this number, it leaves at 18.15 (not 17.10), it was meant to leave at 5pm … ? – blank look. I gave up, just asked when it was going to make it to Vilnius and went away. I sent a message home ahead of me saying that I will be late for 1 hour and could they please check the timetable there as well. The timetable there said 18.15 as well, so it seemed like an organised conspiracy. All I could hope for it to be a well organised conspiracy and that the flight would reach home.
After lunch at McDonalds I had the pleasure of a few long hours of waiting before my flight actually left ground at 18.30. During the waiting I started to write a very long email to my girlfriend, Dayah, describing the whole process of getting to this point. I don’t know how she managed to read it, because I had way too much spare time and it became far too long for any email.
When I got on the plane I actually forgot all my worries and all that exhaustive waiting after I saw… well, that’s next time.
Part 2: Christmas 2007 Part 2 – flight