What a crazy month for travel! As I continue to watch the news and see/hear about the airport closures in Europe now followed by closures/delays in the States, I feel rather fortunate that our delay occurred at the beginning of the month.
We left the States on November 30 fully expecting to arrive in Kyiv the next day. We had one extra suitcase (limited now to only one checked bag each even on trans-oceanic flights) as we dealt with tickets/seats/luggage at the airport in Salisbury. We knew that we were going to have to collect all of our luggage at Heathrow, go through customs, catch a bus to Gatwick airport and go through security. Again. Dreading that London part, but willing to go through it for the money saved in booking those flights. What a surprise to us when the folks in Salisbury said that they could actually tag our checked luggage all the way to Kyiv! (Doubting on our part, but appreciated the gesture!)
Upon arrival at Heathrow all passengers leaving the airport were required to claim their luggage. Ugh. Just as we had feared. But, lo and behold, our luggage didn’t arrive with us. (Of course, we knew that SOMETHING had been done in Salisbury, but we just weren’t sure what!) We made a lost-luggage claim and went in search of the bus to Gatwick.
We couldn’t understand why the woman at the baggage claim said that Gatwick was closed for the day, so no need to hurry. We asked why and she shrugged her shoulders. Maybe wethah, she added in her British accent.
We bought our bus tickets, boarded with only our carry-on bags, and rode in comfort to Gatwick. Snow was falling now and everything looked so bright and clean. Riding through the countryside was like riding through a postcard. Had my camera been working properly I might have tried to take some shots along the way.
Upon arrival to Gatwick, we were a little surprised to see so many passengers in lines. What’s up with that? We followed the directional signs to information but we were pointed to another long queue that had formed at a desk that was serving multiple airlines. Apparently Ukraine Air doesn’t have their own ticket counter at Gatwick. We finally made our way to the front of a line only to be handed a piece of paper with a phone number in Kyiv typed on it. What? No flights and no help.
Thankfully we travel with AmEx and figured we’d get a room at the connecting hotel. Right. We and how many other travelers? No rooms available and not even a chair in the lobby or coffee shop were vacant. So, now what?
We found another long line that seemed to be the right place to find a room SOMEWHERE in the immediate area at least for one night. We didn’t like the looks on the faces of the people who were walking away from the counter, but we continued to stand there. Where else were we to go? (Can’t tell you how thankful we were for the gift of macadamia nuts that were in our carry-on! Wished we had had room for the cookies as well!)
Finally it was our turn. The kind gentleman was so pleasant as he said that there were no rooms in Gatwick. Our choices: London. Or Brighton. The price per night made the decision for us — to Brighton we would go.
After purchasing train tickets to the south, we waited and waited for the train to Brighton. Apparently the snow was affecting the rail lines as well, so the trains were way off-schedule. At least they were running, we thought. Hoards of people were shoving into the train lines, but not many seemed to be looking for Brighton. We met some other travelers waiting in the line, and we agreed to pray for each other to make it to our destinations.
Finally we squeezed our way into the train headed for Brighton. While we waited, I guess, others were being directed to Brighton as well. Jim found one seat that he held for me as I struggled to make my way past now over-sized passengers due to the heavy coats being worn. I felt a little underdressed for the weather, but what’s new? I slid past a few suitcases and plopped into the one available seat.
We arrived in Brighton and learned that our hotel would be about a 20-minute walk. Downhill, it turned out, and we were thankful that we were not dealing with our checked luggage as well! God is good! We knew we would be coming back UP the hill the next morning.
We checked in at our inn by the sea, and purchased internet service in our room. We paid for 24 hours though we knew we would only need it for the evening. Heh. Positive thinking. Gatwick was scheduled to open at 6 a.m. and we knew we needed to be there early in case of complications with our tickets.
Fortunately a friend was online and we asked him to call the number given us and be sure that we had seats on the next flight out. (Thanks again, Artyom!) We began to relax knowing that there was nothing else we could do…we might as well enjoy ourselves. We went downstairs and ordered coffee and tea and began to map out our plan. We needed a few toiletries, but once again we were thankful that the airlines had provided toothbrushes and toothpaste while airborne. Nice to have!
So what do you do when you find yourself suddenly stranded? Sightsee and eat out! Brighton seemed to have one main street, and then several side areas with quaint shops and pubs. We decided to have Italian — good food and close to the hotel. Without coats, we didn’t want to venture too far after the sun went down.
Lasagne for two: served piping hot in the dish straight from the oven. We helped ourselves to truly delicious lasgne accompanied by garlic bread. Just the comfort food we needed. Hot and filling.
Back to the hotel after dinner. We checked online and noticed that Gatwick was still scheduled to open the next morning. We debated the best time to get up, shower and trek back to the train station and then switched on the TV to catch local news. We learned that the snow was continuing to fall and that some train services were being cancelled. Oh, great. What would happen if we couldn’t get back to Gatwick?
Jim woke up several times through the night to check the airport status, and finally, at about 4:00, the airport was declared closed for the day. Ah, roll over instead of rolling out. We had a whole day to ourselves. Nothing on the agenda.
Well, except that we both needed coats! We had noticed an outdoorsy type store when we were walking to the hotel the previous afternoon, so we made a beeline to that location. And what a great guy the manager was! We didn’t find one for Jim, but I was able to purchase a coat on sale, no less! And to top it off, the manager gave me an extra discount because we were stranded with no luggage. We also bought hats and gloves. NOW, we could enjoy the day.
And we laughed out loud when we saw the name of this store: White Stuff. White stuff has taken on some new meanings over the past couple of months. Most recently, people are referring to snow. But while Stateside, when someone said “white stuff,” it meant that a burp cloth was needed because white stuff was being spit up by our new grandson. We all knew the drill!
Thursday noon we enjoyed eggs benedict at a sweet little French restaurant across the street from our Italian eatery from the night before. So civilized having a “spot a tea” and some steaming hot coffee. I think I could live on brunch alone.
What a beautiful time of the year to be stranded…the Christmas decorations adorned many buildings and the gently falling snow again looked picture perfect.
Thankful for internet service, we purchased another 24-hour block, and continued to monitor Gatwick and the trains. All train service to and from Brighton had been suspended for the day. Promises of Gatwick reopening the next day seemed hopeful, but we weren’t too sure that we would get there.
Following a pizza dinner at a window table overlooking snow-covered streets we marveled at the goodness shown to us. A warm hotel. Internet. A coat. No checked luggage to drag alongside us. And a little respite between the States and ‘hitting the ground running’ in Kyiv.
The next day was spent standing in line at Gatwick. We got to know several of our neighbors-in-line, and shared the last of the macadamia nuts. We felt confident that we would be in Kyiv that day, but not so confident that anyone would be at the airport upon arrival. We arrived at 2 a.m. and took a taxi to our flat. Worth even THAT price to get back quickly to our own flat. Our own bed. Our own coffeepot. And our own ministry.
(As usual, click on the pictures for an enlarged version.)