My boarding pass fiasco aside, the next worst part about my Gulf Air experience was how tantalizingly beautiful the flight attendants were. I was so distraught I couldn’t eat, and tried to figure out how many calories were in my mini free peanuts. They were perfect: an army of prettier, more exotic Kim Kardashians with more clothing and less makeup, reminiscent of air travel’s gilded age. The lovely ladies who cheerily and flawlessly served us before unions, airline bankruptcy and equal education for women messed everything up. Nowadays I can barely get a an extra coffee creamer without being slapped with a $15 fee from a grumpy menopausal attendant.
After an otherwise pleasantly uneventful flight, Deirdre and I arrived at Bahrain International Airport a bit after 1:30 in the morning. Although it was the middle of the night and I couldn’t see anything beyond the the runways, the heat made it feel like it was smack dab in the middle of the day. As soon as we stepped onto the runway the thick hot air swallowed us. I was glad we deplaned onto the runway outside instead of the usual jet bridge so that my feet actually hit real Bahraini soil (ergh, concrete). According to the Official Anderson Rules of Having Been Somewhere, my time Bahrain doesn’t “count” per se, but I was still entitled to some bragging rights.
It was nearly 2 a.m., and Deirdre and I walked around BAH people watching and window shopping. Like any international airport there were lots of high-end shops, but we did most of our browsing at McDonalds. We admired the unfamiliar display from afar: items like the McArabia–grilled chicken served with lettuce, tomato, onions, and garlic mayonnaise all wrapped in pita bread. We updated our Facebook statuses to brag that we were in Bahrain (because so many people cared) and otherwise tried to stay out of trouble until our flight boarded at 4 a.m. I am pleased to report I did not leave my boarding pass in the restroom. While Deirdre was buying some medicine (she wasn’t feeling too hot) at the Duty Free store, we got a good laugh out of some of the souvenirs, including some I ❤ Bahrain coffee mugs with cartoon camels imprinted on them. But in the end, we balked at purchasing anything, because while we were certainly there, we hadn’t really been there. I regret my cheapskate decision not to buy anything. Bahrain is an even more random place to have traveled to than Nepal and India. I had never even heard of Bahrain a few weeks ago. Here was my chance to casually one-up everyone who went on vacation ever with a cool coffee mug and I didn’t seize it. I beat myself up over it. No matter, our next stop before our return to New York was a 4 and a half hour layover in Londontown. I figured I had to save room in my carry-on for all the tacky Kate Middleton tea cups and Olympic t-shirts I was about to drown myself in anyway. I reminded myself I had most definitely set foot in the Middle East. Amanda and Deirdre: 1 Everyone Else: 0
I really wanted to go into the city when we got to Heathrow, because London is a special place for both my and Deirdre’s families, albeit for very different reasons. I’ll start with mine. To say my mom is an Anglophile is a vast understatement. People Magazine’s royal coverage bores her, as it is too slow to make its way across the pond and quite frankly, too basic and watered-down. While she does know Kate Middleton’s preferred brands for perfume (Jo Malone), shoes (LK Bennett) and fascinators (Jane Corbett) her knowledge of the monarchy’s family tree would rival any proud Englishman’s. She went into a deep depression when Diana died (her recorded funeral remains on a VHS in our living room cabinet marked with a sharpie DIANA in all caps) and has actively celebrated the Queen’s silver, golden, and diamond jubilees both at home and abroad. My mom’s preferred soap and lotion brand, Royal Jelly, can only be bought at Boots, England’s Walgreens equivalent. This past summer while we were in Alaska my mom woke us up at 4 a.m. to watch Andy Murray be the first Briton to win Wimbledon in 75 years. It’s only a matter of time until we convert to the Anglican Church.
On a less psychotic stalker level, Deirdre actually lived in England for a few years as a child and has relatives around the UK and Ireland. This is significantly more legit, but at the end of the day, our obsession with all things Duchess Kate, Pippa and Prince Harry is pretty much equal. The highlight of our senior year of college was waking up at 3:30 a.m. and throwing a party in our sorority house to watch the Royal Wedding–replete with crumpets, Twining’s Tea and lots and lots of Cadbury chocolate that Deirdre’s mom personally sent us. Other than one of our hungover friends throwing up (it was Thirsty Thursday in College Park), it was perfect. If Parliament were to suddenly dissolve the monarchy and behead the Windsors, I’m not sure Dee and I would remain friends. We’d have nothing to talk about.
My parents had gone to London “on business” earlier that summer, so had some leftover English pounds, tube passes and maps that my dad organized for me in a large envelope. On the envelope, he had scribbled instructions on how to get from Heathrow Airport to Olympic Village and back in 4 hours and 15 minutes, timed out to perfection.
Should we miss our flight, Dad had also listed a series of excuses he found worthy enough to get rebooked by the airline without a fee. I never asked him how long he spent compiling this, but you can be your own judge:
1. We had a 4 hour and 15 minute layover so we decided to take a 15 minute train into town.
2. I don’t think the transportation system is adequately prepared for what’s going on here!
and if the first two fail, go in for the kill:
3. It’s a zoo!
Those aren’t the strongest of reasons, but I figured it wouldn’t get that far because I would just request change our flights to the later one, which would give us seven hours instead of four. I was so set on changing it because I owed Deirdre after such a crap vacation. London would be fun, and it would take all of four quick hours in the UK to make up the entire trip to her. Plus, I have always wanted to go to the Olympics. I figured maybe we could make it all the way to Wimbledon and catch a match (I had done some preliminary Googling to make sure some matches were going on). I wanted to make the most of this free trip to London, so had also looked up a later flight to New York that I was going to attempt to switch our tickets to once in Heathrow. I had spent hours browsing frequent flyer forums online to make sure this was at least sometimes possible. My backup backup plan was to go into London “accidentally” miss our flights and get rebooked on the later departure.
A wave of excitement came over me while the plane descended. As I looked out plane window and gazed at the Millenium Bridge, I mentally patted myself on the pack for my ingenuity. Snagging a cheap flight back from New Delhi that stopped in Bahrain and London and got me back to work in time was perhaps my greatest accomplishment. It was as close I could get to stealing something without having done it. I was happy. I thought this plan was gold, until of course, we landed at Heathrow and realized just how anal all of London was acting over these Olympic games. As soon we stepped off the plane we were going through security. I was patted down every time I took 3 steps. If Heathrow is always a mob scene, that day it was a madhouse Black Friday political protest. We took shuttle buses, escalators and moving walkways. We stood and waited in lines that I didn’t even know were for. It became very clear the Queen was not messing around.
It took us way longer than anticipated to get off the plane and to our connecting next gate. I decided the only way to make our side trip happen was to change our flight to a later one. I suddenly had zero confidence in my Paul Anderson sweet talking and “don’t worry it always works out” genes. Once we got to check-in for our flight, I inquired to the agent about this possibility, knowing that there were seats available on the next departure. I tried to sweet talk the agent, but she was not having it. She said we’d be flagged as terrorists if we missed our flight with our bags were already checked all the way to New York from India. I envisioned Deirdre and I, stuck in a dark closet in some back corner of Heathrow, being interrogated by overweight doughnut eating-British policeman with charming accents and bad teeth. The English tabloids would catch word of us, find out my name and plaster headlines involving bad puns on American Idiots and the second coming of Amanda Knox. If I let the trip get that far out of my hands, I could most certainly count on the scraps left of our friendship being thrown into the trash.
So that was that. I didn’t press the matter and did not suggest “missing” our flight. We hung out and spent my parents’ leftover pounds on tea and scones and commiserated inside the gloomy confines of Heathrow International. Do I regret it? Definitely. I’m still curious what would have happened had we just showed up 5 hours late for our flight to New York. I also would have called the week before the trip and paid the 200 bucks to formally change my flight. It’d still have been a steal. Heck, I’d spent more money on Starbucks and speeding tickets this year.
I didn’t even steal the safety card for my dad when we arrived at JFK. I’d never been so upset to be arriving on time. After my two earlier missteps for being cheap, Deirdre made the executive decision to not rough it back to the city on the subway. Instead, we treated ourselves to a cab from JFK back to Deirdre’s sister’s apartment. From there I bought an Amtrak ticket from Grand Central to Connecticut, and my friend Jess picked me up from the train station in New Haven. In the drive from New Haven to West Hartford, I recapped the entire trip to Jess in a short 45 minutes. Bet you wish you had that version.
Back in my apartment, I unpacked a little, caught up on all the news I had missed and otherwise tried to take it easy before work the next day. There was no time to recuperate or address my jet lag. I simply accepted the fact that I was not going to be able to fall asleep, so I allowed myself stayed up and just set 17 alarms to ensure I didn’t sleep past 4:30 p.m., when I had to be at work. Considering I had not slept past 6 a.m. the past 13 days, this was quite indulgent. I woke up early, 12:45 p.m., without issue. I still slept very well. I felt like crap and my digestive system continued to surprise me. As I gathered my purse and headed out the door, I became a bit sad that my real life would not match the excitement and adventure that had sustained me the last 13 days. On the brightside, I was tan and about 8 pounds lighter. I always told my parents they should run a suburban fat camp. I unlocked my car, put my purse on the passengers seat, shut the door and put the key in the ignition. My car wouldn’t start. I looked down at the cigarette lighter and saw I had left my GPS on and plugged in the entire time I was gone. Evidently this will steadily drain your entire car battery. I took out my phone, thought about calling a friend to pick me up for 3 seconds then called a cab instead. 25 minutes and fifty dollars later, I was at work and, on time nonetheless. However, given my frazzled and loopy state I am certain I would have been more useful and productive had I come to work intoxicated. No longer in the Himalayas, I was still fighting an uphill battle. The exhaustion is ignorant of borders and time zones. It always seems to find me.