I'm about to upload some of my photos from the trip, but I thought I'd first post a little note to declare that I did indeed survive my 24-hour traveling day. I had thought that I'd fall asleep at some point of the day, but I was evidently excited/stressed/awake enough that it just didn't happen! I did make myself just close my eyes and let them rest for a couple hours here and there, so they wouldn't get too tired, but I was awake the entire time.
The day started at about 5:00 AM London time, midnight South Carolina time. I hopped up, got dressed in the clothes I'd set out for the day, finished packing up and tossing out the last few things, locked up my bags, and rolled out to the lift (elevator). The elevator was small enough that me and my bags took up just enough space that someone else and their big bags wouldn't fit in at the same time. Since I was up near the top of the building, at least four times the elevator doors opened and the person waiting for it decided to wait for the next time around.
I was outside and ready to load up a little after 5:30. I handed in my key to the appropriate person, and hauled my suitcases up the very long flight of steps that led from the courtyard to street level (I took a picture of the stairs earlier just to show y'all! There are a lot of them). We automatically formed a line towards the bus and the loading area for luggage. Just as I and a friend got to the front, the driver decided to switch over to the other side and load over there for a while. By the time I and my friend got the front again, the driver was ready to switch back to the first side. Then when we would have been next, the bus's luggage compartment was full, so we had to go to the next bus. But at least it meant that we were not on the same bus as the loud drunks who'd only just come in from being out on the town!
We successfully loaded our luggage into the second bus and got on. It was a smooth ride to the airport, and then it was time to find our luggage again and head inside to check in. I admit I was somewhat anxious about the weight of my suitcase, because I had no way of weighing it to insure it was under the weight limit. I still actually do not know how much it weighs, but why that is will come later in the story. Suffice it to say I loaded up my carry-on rolling suitcase with heavier items so that it actually weighed more than my big suitcase did, and handed my suitcase to be checked in while holding my breath. The personnel of the check-in desk did not say anything, so I can only suppose it was alright. I joined a few friends and their various amounts of carry-on luggage in the food court area, camping near the board that would eventually announce what gates we wanted. We took turns guarding luggage and grabbing something to eat, then began discussing how we all preferred being able to haunt our actual gate than the board that still had not announced it, what topic our research papers would be on, etc. Finally, the board announced my friends' gate, and we said goodbye as they grabbed their luggage and headed out. It was a few minutes later when my gate was announced, but I only minded a little bit. I bumped into some friends from later buses and later departure times, and so was able to say goodbye and the modern adieu of "I'll see you later...on FaceBook!"
There was a line to get into the waiting area of my gate, so I only had to wait some time after that before my 10:25 departure time arrived, and we were allowed on to the plane. I must admit I do not think I like being very far back in the plane, so I did not particularly appreciate being 34 rows back. I also was in the very middle seat of the plane, with two people on each side of me (in other words, I was in the middle of the bank of five seats). I must admit I do not particularly appreciate rather long flights, either. It begins to feel like you are stuck in a time warp of sorts, a twilight zone with limited leg room. I was thankful for the individual screens, and the ability to select your own entertainment from the options available. So I caught up on my modern movies, watching "Iron Man 2" in a somewhat disjointed manner (I missed the first 15 minutes the first time, then came back a few hours later to catch what I had missed), as well as Tina Fey and Steve Carrell's "Date Night," which wasn't as bad as it could have been and merited a few laughs. Then I found the treasure trove of two Monk episodes, one of which happened to be a favorite, so I watched both of those. I also saw the pilot episode for Human Target, which I'd heard about but never seen. It was just as amusing to people-watch and see what everyone else was watching as it was to watch something myself. I think just about everyone watched "Iron Man 2" at least once at some point, some people I am pretty sure watched it multiple times. There were also some "Office" fans in the bunch, and a few other TV shows I recognized. It took me about half of the flight to figure out what movie some people were watching, starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan and involving occasional expolosions and assassination attempts. I finally had the thought of going through the movie titles and seeing who was in what, and this led me to conclude that the mystery movie was "Ghost Writer." By this time, there was not enough time to actually watch the movie and see what it was about (not enough time left, such a very exciting thought!), so I was satisfied with finding its identity.
After we landed at the DFW (Dallas/Ft. Worth) airport, we had to make our way through customs and passport control. This went well enough, except that I had put down "stuffed animals" (remember those cute little elephants from Scotland?) as one of the souvenirs I was bringing back, and it had to be clarified that they were toys, not actual animals that were stuffed! Evidently the Parks and Wildlife authorities look over customs paperwork, and get rather ticked off if this isn't verified either way. Then I had the fun of grabbing my luggage and then rechecking it--I was again worried about the weight, only to find that "rechecking" your back only consisted of putting it in line to be put right back on the luggage belt. Then I had to find my correct gate and something to eat (though they had fed us on the plane, it was mainly small snacky things that I'm pretty sure had next to nil nutritional value), which I of course had more than enough time to do, with a four hour layover. Since my family is originally from Texas, I couldn't resist getting some small pieces of home in the form of postcards to bring back with me. Then there was the excitement of a sudden gate switch, because the original gate wasn't ready in time after the delayed departure of a previous flight. I met back up with some of my seatmates from the previous flight, who were also headed to Charleston. We had a nice small plane, the kind that only has space for a single flight attendant and no screens in sight. I was happy with my window seat, which was more than enough entertainment for most of the 3-hour flight, with the help of a P.G. Wodehouse book I'd procured in Charing Cross Road in the last few days.
Then I was back in South Carolina! I happily scrambled out of the plane, grabbed my valeted bag (nothing bigger than a purse was allowed onto the plane with you) off the tarmac, almost sprinting over to the door pointed out, happily hauling my suitcase up a long flight of stairs up into the airport, and then down the hall to where my family was waiting. It was the exact same hallway where precisely a month ago they had waved goodbye. How's that for coming full circle?
The only damper on the excitement of the reunion was the fact that my big suitcase failed to make an appearance. I blame the gate switch at DFW. As of yesterday my bag was located (they didn't say where), and it should arrive home sometime today. I must say that this is the second time this particular bag has arrived fashionably late, but I can't honestly hold that against it. I'm just ready for all of my stuff to be back home, the sooner the better.
I will now begin uploading pictures! I hope y'all enjoy them.