Sunday, May 8, 2011

And We're Back in Atlanta!

It's now Sunday, May 8, and we're officially back (meaning, we've unpacked).  As a final story, I have to relate some of our adventures on the trip.

Because it was significantly cheaper, we flew back via London.  Our first flight took off about 20 minutes late (we had an hour and a half layover), but we were told that everything would be just fine.  Off the plane, we went through immigration and another security screening (with lines both times, of course).  And with 15 minutes before our flight boarding closed, I checked the gates board.  And, yes, we had to change concourses.  Our new concourse had a recommended time of 15 minutes travel time to get there. 

So we set off (bear in mind that each person's backpack weighed 25-30 pounds) and got to the train.  Off the train, up the elevator (nearly getting off one floor too early), and a rush to...the line to board.  Phew.

We had a nice, uneventful flight across the Atlantic.  About a quarter of the passengers were Indian; I asked the stewardess whether this was a connecting flight for them from India, and she said yes -- these poor guys had been traveling a lot more hours than we had -- no wonder they were sacked out! 

Three of my favorite passengers
James with his pouch from British Airways
Later on in the flight, she came and spoke with me:  the kids had been so wonderful, she would like to extend them an invitation to visit with the pilots in the cockpit.  Would that be okay with me?  Well -- of course it would! 

The cockpit with our pilot

Jeremy the pilot wannabe

After a quick visit with the pilots, we went to immigration.  I'd filled out my forms very carefully, since we'd been warned that any mistakes would require the entire form to be discarded and rewritten.  And I loathe forms.  Anything to declare?  Nope.  Bringing in soil?  Nope.  Seeds?  Nope.  Fruits/veg or other fresh produce?  No -- of course not!  I know that this isn't allowed...

As we were standing in line, Jeremy showed the signs of needing sustenance, so I said, "Would you rather have a cracker or an orange?  Who's carrying the oranges? Oranges."  I told the kids that I didn't want to bring up the oranges with the immigration officer, but that we would stop by the USDA booth (I couldn't face filling in the form again).  Everyone understood, agreed, and that was settled.

A few minutes later, James tapped me on the arm, and said in his piping little-boy voice,"Mummy, will they make us get rid of our lemons?"  Right. Next. To. The. Immigration. Officer.  (Bear in mind that it was 2 in the morning on our body clocks).  "Shhhhhhh!"  I'm sure people thought we were smuggling something in. 

Our turn.  Gulp.  The officer smiled at me, had each kid identify him/herself as she called out the name.  Phew.  We're clear.  But no: "Ma'am, do you have any fresh fruits or vegetables with you?" (She was just going down the checklist).  "Well, actually -- I was a dodo and brought in these oranges.  I know it was completely stupid, but I was thinking snacks for the sorry."  I was poised for the frown and the inevitable command to redo the paperwork. 

Fortune smiled.  Or at least, the immigration officer did.  She just noted "Oranges" on my form, put a big "A" on the top, and told me to go through the USDA station. 

I explained to the kids what was happening on our way to get the luggage from the conveyor belt.  James said loudly, "Can't we just throw them in a trash can?"  (Innocent question, but I felt like a criminal, so I shushed him and explained why one can't just throw them away.)

And secretly, I was a bit pleased that we'd be going through the USDA line, because it's often a shorter line than the "nothing to declare" line.  We collected the luggage, and -- foiled!  The gods of customs have changed the process and everyone has to go through the line.  Which wrapped around the entire luggage return area. Tick. Tick. Tick.  I could sense the remaining minutes of kids' good humor lapsing.  We got channeled into the USDA line.  Tick. Tick. Tick.  At the head of the line, Ashley asked out loud, "Can't we just throw them in a trash can?"  I nearly jumped out of my skin.  Looking furtively around and shushing her vigorously, I whispered fiercely that one can not just throw them into the municipal system.

The USDA agents were in truth very nice and explained (again, since I'd just told them) why we have to get rid of them.  They x-rayed all our bags.  And then we were standing next to another traveler -- who was on the receiving end of the Spanish Inquisition.  He appeared to have been trying to smuggle in something other than oranges for personal snacks, although I wasn't listening too closely.  I was trying to figure out if they were going to get mad about the nuts that I'd forgotten to mention...

And -- hurray!  I showed them my passport, and they made a note of it (I'm probably somewhere in the rolls of notorious citrus smugglers).  We're free!

Two and a half hours after the flight landed, we hugged Michael at the top of the receiving stairs. 

Now we're home.  Well, at one of our homes.  We all feel very torn, because now we have two homes.  So it's bittersweet -- we're happy to be here, but we miss all of our friends and our lovely town. 

We can't wait to get back together with all of you in the upcoming weeks.  And thank you for following our Italy adventure!



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