And the Adventure Begins!!

Friday August 15th

After months of planning and preparation for this trip of a lifetime, the big day is finally here.  Jim sails in at the last minute (no pun intended), calm as a cucumber, relieved of any bit of responsibility beyond lifting his wallet out of his pocket (yeah, okay, that’s a big one, but come on – who does he think shops, washes, folds, packs, plans for all of this fun and adventure?).  But here we are, about to embark on our trip, excited, anxious, and ever so grateful that my in-laws invited us!

After a late night of packing, I got up early this morning for a last minute manicure, pedicure and eyebrow waxing.  Jim drove me, which afforded us a last bit of alone time before the chaos of traveling with a family of 7.  It was nice tying up the loose ends before we head off on our trip.

I had a great time being pampered at the salon, then we left to go home and shower and pack toiletries.  Uh-oh. 

We hit the first of what will probably be many bumps in the road to Europe and home again.  I knew our bag limit was one per person, but apparently, elementary math is where my career as a brilliant mathematician went wrong.  I counted 5 bags, but did not include the toiletry bag in the number.  Normally, it’s something I keep handy to carry into a hotel wherever we go.  But  now that everyone who carries a bottle containing more than 3 ounces of liquid is potentially a terrorist – let alone the nail clippers and tiny scissors we carry in that bag – I can’t carry it on L  This bag is loaded with shampoos, conditioners, deodorants (why couldn’t we just be solid stick deodorant people???), and the 37 other over 3 ounce size bottles of liquid that will be required to keep a family of 5 from smelling like a sewer plant in the middle of a pig farm located in a landfill.  We start putting everything in plastic Ziploc bags and moving the toiletries around to bags that are not already dangerously close to the 50 pound weight limit.  Crisis averted, all is right with the world, and we have dodged the TSA bullet!

Dot and Russ bought lunch, so the kids ate cheese steaks while we finished the last minute stuff.  We had just started taking our bags out front when the white stretch limo pulled up.  2:30 – right on time!  We used Ocean Eleven West in Bellmawr, NJ – prompt, polite driver named Phil; beautiful, spotless car; and even for the 20 minute ride to the airport, the car was loaded with drinks and snacks.  While the men-folk loaded bags in, Eilis and Granuaile stood about to burst on the sidewalk, watching the car!  Eilis declared this was a Hollywood Celebrity car, and reminded us how she will someday drive a car like this all of the time.  I hope so, Eilis!  At one point, while the kids were standing on the sidewalk, Eilis yells out, “How much did this cost??”  A neighbor was walking by, and said back to her, “Never ask how much it cost.  Just get in and enjoy the ride!”  Definitely words to live by.

Despite being a little tightly packed in, with all the luggage, we had a nice, quick ride to the airport.  Eilis marveled at the changing lights on the ceiling of the car, and Granuaile marveled over the newly purchased booster seat.  In what seemed the blink of an eye, we were unloading the bags at the British Airways terminal.  The enchanted carriage ride was over, but the adventure was just beginning!

BRITISH AIRWAYS

We had to wait for the counter to open before we could check in, and then Jim made the process confusing.  I assumed we were checking all of our bags, retrieving them in London, then rechecking the one bag to Rome at Heathrow.  Jim, however, decided he wanted British Airways to handle the bag transfer of the one bag in London.  The British Airways employees didn’t seem to understand what was happening, and it took a while to get it all straightened out.  Russ and Dot ended up carrying on their bag to Rome, which would not have normally been a bad thing, but since British Airways neglected to mark that we needed a wheelchair for Dot, and then when we finally got the wheelchair, there was no attendant with it, having that bag to carry was tough.  You can rest assured, however, if there is a fly in the Skamarakas ointment, his name is Jim.  He gets what he wants done with our one bag to Rome, and we make our way to security.

Now that our act is somewhat together, we breeze through security, with the kids beyond excited that they get to kick their shoes off and go barefoot through the metal detectors.  I bought them each jogging suits to wear, and Eilis’ has so much gold glitter on it, I am sure she is going to set the machine off and dozens of armed TSA people will run over to conduct a body cavity search on a terrified 7 year old, but even Sparkly Eilis gets through without incident.

Oh, fly!  Another batch of ointment has appeared!

Yes, this is the part where we go to the currency exchange desk to exchange currency.  Jim has a pocket full of American cash, but he decides we are going to use our credit card – the one that has never seen the light of day and is loaded with available credit – to do our currency exchange.  We will need both British pounds and Euros for this trip, so Jim confidently goes up to the counter and asks them to give him money.  The young girl happily swipes our card, only to inform us that she cannot complete the transaction.  DENIED.  What?  How could that be?  This is a credit card that has NEVER been in my hot little hands, so there is no way we have exceeded our credit limit.  

The one thing Jim did not factor into the plan was the fact that when you do a currency exchange on your credit card, it goes through as a cash advance.  We have a very low cash advance limit on our cards, so when the girl tried to put through our exchange, it kept being declined due to the low cash advance limit.  Of course, it took a couple of calls to two different credit card companies to realize this is what was going on, but once we got it sorted out, Jim just took the money he had in his pocket and exchanged that for foreign currency.  We won’t need American money anyway, right?

I had not eaten lunch in the rush after my morning of pampering (and seriously, since when is eyebrow waxing pampering?), so I grabbed a slice of pizza and the kids got drinks and sat with me.  Granuaile began her sight seeing by visiting nearly every restroom in the international terminal at Philly International, but sometime after her 15th visit to the potty, it was time to board the plane.  YAY!

 I cannot say enough good things about British Airways.  I hear ya, my Irish brethren – up the Republic, money for plastic bullets (do they even still do that in Ireland??), etc. – but you just cannot beat British Airways for service, comfort, and holy cow, they feed you like your Italian grandmother feeds you!

The first thing we love about British Airways is the individual entertainment systems.  Everyone gets a TV, everyone gets headphones, and you get a pretty good selection of movies, cartoons, music, and video games.  It makes it easy to keep the whole gang happy.  Eilis watched Prince Caspian, while Granuaile enjoyed several hours of Horton Hears a Who.  Jim listened to music, and I caught a few sitcoms I don’t normally watch at home.  They also play some of the kids’ favorite Cartoon Network shows – and this is a big treat for my kids, because I don’t typically allow them to watch Cartoon Network.  That is definitely a Dad thing.

Then the food starts.  It seems like you are only in the air a few minutes when they are bringing you drinks and snacks.  This time is was salt and vinegar pretzel nuggets.  I saved my nuggets for later, but Granuaile opened her’s, ate half, and gave the other few to me, so I did eat them.  I like ’em. 

If you have ordered a special meal, they serve you first.  We ordered kids meals for each of the little kids, and Dot and I ordered diabetic meals.  I tend to order the diabetic meals on the rare occasions I am being fed on a plane.  If you order diabetic, you are more likely to get fruit as opposed to cake and cookies, and since I can’t eat the cake and cookies, and sometimes not too much of the meal itself, the fruit is at least something I know I can eat. 

On the journey over to London, the kids meal – which is ALWAYS huge – featured spaghetti and meatballs (the kids loved it, but what sadistic childless idiot thought that would a good choice of a meal for little kids??); a 5 Alive juice; a granola bar; a carton of milk; carrots and celery sticks.  They gave the kids a brightly colored set of silverware and pretty blue napkin.  Both girls had a great meal.

The diabetic meal consisted of some sort of chicken with mushrooms and other unidentifiable vegetables.  There was a sugar free cookie, an odd salad that also had chicken in it, and a bowl of blueberries and raspberries.  As a gastric bypass patient, there are some things I have difficulty eating.  Chicken happens to be one of those things that I have trouble with.  Often.  One place you do not want to be when you are having a chicken catastrophe is on an airplane.  Seated next to a toddler. 

So, I eat some of the salad, and I am really enjoying the mushrooms and vegetables when I decide to tempt fate and eat some chicken.  I avoided the cold chicken, figuring that would be dryer than the hot chicken.  It couldn’t have been.  I didn’t even eat that much of a bite of the chicken, but I felt it just “stick”.  It did not want to move down.  So I waited as long as I could, checking the line at the restroom periodically, and as soon as it looked like I could get in without waiting, I went and “disposed of” the chicken.  Puking is not fun normally, but it’s definitely not fun in an airplane bathroom.  Thank goodness, though, I didn’t have to wait too long for the room to be vacant!  Note to self – no chicken on an airplane.  Again.  Ever.

The regular meal, for those of you who are planning your next international flight based solely on their culinary delicacies, was a choice of chicken or salmon, with a salad, vegetables, and a nice cakey looking dessert type thing.

Now I know you’re worrying about me, not eating and all.  You just stop right there, because this is British Airways, and if your eyes are open, they want your mouth open too.  Not long after dinner, they bring pots of coffee and tea, so I enjoyed my sugar free cookie with a nice, hot cuppa.  Not a bad dinner after all 🙂

So a while before you land, just as you have found a spot you are comfortable enough to sleep in, guess what?  They want to feed you again!!  Around they come with snack packs for everyone.  The diabetic snack was yogurt, fresh berries, and a roll.  The kids meal had cereal and milk.  The normal meal consisted of a small cup of OJ, a croissant, butter and jelly.

And here we are, not even off the plane yet, and it’s Saturday!