Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas, its about giving….. and SURPRISES!!!

So when i left the USA i was up to 88 on my 90 day VISA so there was no way i could stay in the USA any longer otherwise the men in long black coats with sunglasses would come looking for me! So i HAD to go back to the UK. I was led to believe that one had to be back in the UK for no less than 30 days before being able to enter the USA again, however this later turned out to not be true and worked to my advantage!
Id had countless offers of places to stay, visit and be for Christmas and just want to say thanks to everyone for those.One of those offers was from Mark (Gunzinger) Kami, Beth and Kim also wished i could spend Christmas at the Gunzinger house in Virginia however it wasn't to be.
The prospect of going back to an empty house and spending Christmas alone was not one i was looking forward to at all. However i didn't see any other option, that is until i found out i did NOT have to be in the UK for 30 days before i could re enter the USA! As long as i had a valid return ticket and had not outstayed my welcome on a previous VISA i was able to re enter whenever i want.
My dad is going to Spain for two weeks over Christmas and New Year so i couldn't drive up there and stay with him (Sorry Kami i know i told you i was going to my dads for Christmas but i hope you’ll forgive the little white lies i told you!) and having moved down to the south of England  18 months ago i knew no one around where i live apart from the next door neighbour and didn't really want to spend Christmas day with an old camp transvestite!
On the Monday morning i looked up the price of flights to Washington DC, WOW cheap, VERY cheap indeed. I e mailed Mark and asked him if the offer of Christmas dinner was still open. “Sure” he replied “ we would love to see you for Christmas” he said i e mailed back and said “great but, Kami, Kim, Beth and Beverly (Marks mom whom id met a few years earlier) could not know a thing about it as this was payback for surprising me in Omaha! Mark was into it and i started to look round for flights. On the previous Saturday Heathrow and the south of England had been hit by terrible snow and ice and Heathrow was closed on the Sunday and Monday with no flights coming in and out for two days! I live 6 miles from Heathrow and that would have been an ideal place to fly out of however there was no way i wanted to risk booking something and then it not leaving!
Manchester airport in the north of England is about 20 miles from where i used to live in Huddersfield, they are used to snow and as it happens there wasn't as much snow “up north” as there had been “down south” , the airport had no problems at all and had been running as normal the last few days I looked at flights from Manchester as it was worth the 4 hour drive north to make sure i would get to Washington before 3:30 (there was a reason for this!) it worked out if i left Manchester at 6am, flew to Paris and then got a flight to Washington DC at 10:30am i would be in DC for 1pm! perfect! i checked the weather in Paris and it was showing sun, sun sun, (but cold) for the rest of the week ( this was Tuesday when i actually booked the flight)
Christmas Eve, Friday, 3:45am
Its now Christmas Eve and I'm sat in the departure lounge waiting for the flight to Paris which is at the moment showing on time! Its been just my luck that the last 2 days the flight has been delayed a couple of hours, but that couple of hours means i would have missed my connection in Paris so I'm sat here praying that today's flight leaves on time! I drove up to Manchester very late last night to find out the two flights into Paris last night had been cancelled due to snow on the runway!!
So, Mark and the family are all going to see some huge Ice sculptures at 3:30pm today just outside DC, the y have a timed ticket to enter the  display and Mark picked me one up as well. If all goes to plan then i should arrive in DC at 1pm,  clear security, customs, pick up a rental car and drive over to the  North Harbour area where they are seeing the display! So hopefully I'll be there before they get there to surprise them all!! I cant wait to see the looks on their faces as I've spoke to Kami a couple of times over the last week just to say hi and to congratulate her on her masters degree and i asked what she was doing Christmas eve and she was telling me about the ice display they were going to see, little did she know i knew already, hehe sorry Kami. (remember me telling you Christmas is nice as its about surprises as well as giving?)
Update 5:00am
The flights still on time while I'm adding this sentence, hopefully the nesx sentence will be written while I'm in Paris! If i get there late and am unable to get to the ice display then I'm gonna drive over to the house and knock on the door, anyone know where i can borrow a Santa outfit with a  huge beard as a disguise:) lol I've thought of lots of ways of surprising them but even if i just walk through the door i think its gonna surprise them all in a big way!! i warned you id get you back for Omaha!! Don't mess with the best!!
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Update 6:00am
They've just started to board the flight!! looks like all is well, unless were held on the runway!
De icing the plane getting it ready!              Boarding on a cold wintery morning
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Update 7:00am
I spoke to soon, we were due to leave at 6:15am, been sat here on the plane for 30 minutes and they've just announced we missed our flight slot and have been given another but not until 8:00am!
Update: 8:00am
We were given a new slot of 7:45am and are in the air!! taking into account the 1 hour flight time and the one hour ahead time difference we should arrive in Paris at 9:45  and hopefully in time for the 10:30 flight to Washington!
Update 10:40am
So we arrived in Paris at 9:35, took us a good ten minutes to taxi to a place where we had to get off the plane onto a shuttle bus, this then took us a good 5 to 10 minutes to the terminal.
In the UK my UK mobile phone shows the houses of parliament as the background image automatically, it changes to a national landmark in every country this is the image as i turned it on the runway after arriving in Paris.(see the time, 9:36 but Paris is one hour ahead of the UK, i took this as i was putting my laptop back in my bag and putting my belt back on.
The Arc de Triumph           The conditions at Charles De Gaulle airport
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I ran inside like a madman and looked at the TV screens for the Washington flight, i couldn't see it, ARRGGGHHH!!,  then turned to my left and saw another bank of screens on the adjacent wall. “Washington Dulles, AF028  10:30 Gate E73  ON TIME” i looked at my watch it was 10:05am i looked up to the signs that said Gates 56 to 79 and ran like crazy up the stairs, got to the top only to find i had to take a train!! and one had just this second left! I saw a sign on the doors that said  “trains every 2 minutes” you have no idea how long that 2 minutes felt, i seemed like i could have flown to Washington and back by the time that train pulled up!
I  jumped on the train and looked at my watch at least 3 or 4 times, I was already checked in and had my boarding pass, they had checked me and my baggage right through to Washington ifrom Manchester so surely Air France would know i had arrived and was on my way ? The guy sat next to me on the train was flying to Cincinnati and his flight was the same time too but he had 4 less gates to run that  did!  As i got off the train i followed the signs for gate 73 only to find SECUIRTY!!  i had to go through security again even though i was airside and had cleared it in Manchester. Fortunately there were only 3 or 4 people in front of me, i removed my shoes, my watch my belt everything that i thought would make the metal detector go off! i threw it all in the tray and handed the assistant my boarding pass.
You know when you go to a gig and they scan your ticket and you see the check mark come up on the machine and you hear a positive beep, i didn't i, saw a cross and heard a buzz!!  I looked at my watch, 10:21am!! She looked at the boarding pass for what seemed like ten minutes, she looked at my passport then back to my boarding pass, pulled a confused look on her face and handed them back to me, once at the other side i threw on my jacket, slipped on my shoes, grabbed everything  i could and Ran Like Hell towards the big Gate 73 sign! The gates started at 56 and i ran like crazy as they counted up, 58, 59, 60, i even ran on the moving walkways thinking they were moving so would speed me up a few seconds rather than running on the motionless floor!
I've never been so happy to see an airport gate in my life! and one with about 25 people still lined up and boarding my flight! I sat for a minute (hey i haven't been running for the last 6 weeks!!) put my laptop and camera in my bag, tied the laces on my shoes, put my belt back in the loops on my jeans, put my watch back on and made my way to the desk. The assistant scanned my boarding pass again and this time the words “Invalid Document” came up!! He tried it again, same thing. He looked into his computer and pulled up my info, there was a bit of info missing like date of birth, expiry date of passport and a couple of other things, he filled them in scanned my passport and that was it, or so i though! it then popped up in HUGE red letters on the screen “NO ESTA” In the UK when anyone travels to the USA they now have to fill in an online electronic travel document called an “ESTA” this has to be done or you cant travel and from the beginning of last month it now costs us $14 to do this! I did this two days ago and had made a  note or the ESTA number that it gives you, i gave the guy the number and it wouldn't accept it in the Computer! By this time i was the last one left at the desk and everyone else had boarded the flight through the other desks. He was confused and  had no idea what was wrong and called his colleague over, she looked at the screen and saw instantly that when he had scanned in my passport, next to my name wasn't a number but a line of jumbled characters! she scanned in my passport again and up popped my passport number,  a big green check and a beep that I've never thought sounded so good came up on the screen!
I walked down the catwalk to the plane before the guy in the green security jacked started to close the doors behind me! That's it I'm on my way!!
Looking back after going through to the plane   My plane
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I took my seat and the captain came over the speaker to say we’d be moving back in 40 minutes, he said there was only one runway open and 45 planes in front of us to take off first! it didn't take a mathematician to figure out that we may be moving back in 40 minutes but there was no way we would be up in the air in that time!
Update 12:30pm
Its now 12:30pm as I'm sat on the flight to Washington and finally in the air!! we did start to move back after about 30 minutes as he said, but we then sat on the runway for another 90 minutes waiting for countless flights ahead of us to take off!
I have no idea if my bag has made it to the plane, I'm guessing it has but to be honest i don't care, i have!! and i can buy some new clothes  when i arrive if it hasn't!  I'm gonna have to see what time we arrive, how long immigration and customs takes and how long it takes to pick up my rental car before i decide the best way to spring my surprise!!
To be continued…………..


  1. Hahaha that was so tense and exciting to read!! Glad you're going to spend Christmas with friends and hope you have an amazing time!!

    Could not stop laughing about the bit about the transvestite!!! Stitch, too funny!! Poor Nigel!!

    Merry Christmas anyway darling :)

  2. Blimey - what a saga, Si! Calls to mind Lloyd Christmas's sprint through the airport at the start of Dumb & Dumber, with elements of Planes, Trains and Automobiles... (two of my favourite films). Looking forward to the next installment mate. Your airmiles must be pretty healthy now! :)

  3. Glad you are with friends at Xmas Si. Love to hear an addition to your 2010 travels.

    Happy Xmas and all the best in 2011 Si!


  4. Yikes! When you make a plan you don't mess about!! Can't wait to read the rest, but it reminds that JG and the missus may have not made it out when they were supposed to leave either! What a crazy winter it's been...

    Julie :)

  5. Si-I've been on the boards for over 10 years and typically been more of a lurker. I missed a few chances to meet you over the years but glad I did (though briefly) in NY.

    Thanks again for the blog as it made to entire US tour that much more fun. I'm sorry we didnt get to chat longer but glad to have met you. I wish you safe ongoing travels (wish I got to join you!) and hope to see you (and others from this board) again one day!


  6. Si, that read like a thriller. Great story and glad you got to spend a Happy Xmas.

    Marco in Toronto.