As an American student studying in London (for 3 years now), I spend at least 3/4 of the year in London, so I only get home to my family in the USA once or twice a year (and only for a month or so at a time). (I study at King's College London, specialising in Craniofacial Sciences, because my goal is to make a career as a research doctor in craniofacial deformities, inspired by my own experiences with a rare craniofacial disorder).
This summer, I did not get home until quite late (August 6), because I was doing a research project in the Craniofacial Development labs at Guy's Hospital Tower in London, on a grant I received for it, and produced experimental results on craniofacial gene expression in mouse embryos worthy of being submitted for publication in a scientific journal. I am still awaiting news from my professor whether my work will be publised in the journal "Gene Expression Patterns". What a productive, stimulating summer!
My project ended in early August, so I was scheduled to spend a (relatively) short summer break at home in Fort Wayne, IN
, with my family. So my schedule was as follows:
*Wed. August 9, 2006: Trip home to FWA
for summer from London
*Sun. September 17: Return trip to London
Wed. August 9: United 929 LHR
Bags: 1) Checked luggage: One big blue Samsonite hard suitcase
2) Carry-on luggage: Violin case, CPAP machine in black case, turquoise AEROFLOT shoulder bag loaded with books, and camera case.
After a LOT of packing and cleaning out my Hall of Residence room in central London, I stored most of my stuff in a professor's office in the Guy's Hospital Tower so I would not have to lug it all home. What I did decide to take home for my short 6-week summer holiday I put in my blue Samsonite case, and loaded my AEROFLOT bag with medical and other books, and also shlepped my CPAP machine in its big black case and my camera case.
The night before my early-morning (8am) flight out of LHR
, I stayed at the Holiday Inn Heathrow so I could get up at 4:45am, in time to check in at LHR
terminal 3 at 6:00am. I did not sleep very well that night because I did not get into my hotel until around midnight (lugging heavy bags out to LHR
on the Tube, then on a bus from T3
to the Holiday Inn).
Upon rising at 4:45am (to a gloomy, cloudy morning), I made it out of the hotel to my Hotel Hoppa Bus, which got me into LHR T3
just after 6:00am. The United check-in zone (G) in T3
was already packed, with a queue snaking out into the corridor. I queued up for the United self-check-in kiosk. I checked in at the kiosk and took the offer of a United Economy Plus upgrade, which put me in seat 20C on the UA
777. I checked in my heavy blue Samsonite suitcase at the counter and proceeded upstairs to the T3
departures area and breezed right through security, despite all I was carrying. I had to stop and rest several times while passing through the HUGE shopping mall that just happens to be a terminal, because the bags were straining my back. I purchased the Dale Brown novel, "Plan of Attack" (about a Russian nuclear attack on the USA), at a bookstore in the departures (er, shopping mall, I mean) area of T3
, because I had been wanting to read that novel. I was kind of surprised to see a Bentley automobile being displayed as a raffle prize in an airport terminal, of all places!
Not too long after, the boarding gate for my United flight (gate 13) was announced on the board, so I proceeded immediately down the interminable, 1960s-era, hospital-style, narrow corridors to the gate. I stopped at a non-tinted window to get a photo of my UA
777, N774UA, in the new colours, as the window gave a perfect view of the plane at the gate (right next to the window). (I will post that picture after it gets uploaded).
Upon reaching gate 13 and having my passport and boarding pass re-checked, I sat next to a guy, who asked me if I was a violinist (because I had my violin case with me). I showed him my violin--which was GREEN. His eyes popped upon seeing my violin! He asked what I was doing (and studying) in London and about my music and research (since I am a life-long pianist and a self-taught violinist, and a student studying and doing research in craniofacial deformities in London).
Soon it was time to board. I shlepped my violin case, CPAP machine, AEROFLOT bag, and camera bag, onto the 777 and took my Economy Plus seat (20C). My AEROFLOT bag went under the seat in front of me, while everything else went up into the voluminous, curvaceous overhead bin above me. It appeared to be a full flight, because the plane felt crowded and I could not see an empty seat anywhere around. We departed T3
gate 13 on time (8:00am) and taxied all the way out to the end of LHR
runway 27L. Although I was seated in an inside aisle seat, I could still see out the window a bit. With a roar, the huge Pratt & Whitney engines propelled the United 777 down runway 27L and into the air and through the thick clouds over London. We proceeded northwest to join the great circle route that would take us over the north of England, Iceland, the north Atlantic, across Greenland, down through eastern Canada, and southwesterly into Chicago about 7-8 hours later. Above the clouds, the sun shone brightly in a clear, sapphire-blue sky.
The seatback IFE screen offered a variety of movies, among which were "RV" and other movies which I cannot remember right now (but were in the August lineup of movies onboard United for the UK-USA route in the Hemispheres magazine). I flipped a bit through the video channels on the individual IFE screen. However, without ears, I cannot use headphones, so what good would IFE be? I decided to read (which I do all the time, anyway!). The meal service was the friendly but standard transatlantic coach-class US-carrier service. I had the usual meal of a salad, roll with butter, crackers with cheese, a brownie, and a dish of pasta entree (instead of the meat choice, which is hard for me to eat, with my mouth deformities). The Economy Plus section provides more legroom, so that was a bonus for me (although, being a veritable skeleton myself, I have little issue with coach class legroom). I had wanted to get a photo of the cabin, but early into the flight, most of the window shades went down, so the cabin was much too dark for photography.
Around 10:30am Chicago time, we descended into ORD
airspace and landed with a hard thump and the roar of reverse thrust on one of the ORD
runways close to Terminal 5 (I don't know which runway though). We parked at gate M11. Soon I joined the crowd deplaning, while lugging my 4 carryon bags. I breezed through immigration and customs and reclaimed my Samsonite. I rechecked my Samsonite suitcase through to FWA
(because I would catch my United Express connection to FWA
that evening). I proceeded out of ORD T5
and took the airport transit to T1. Since I was already checked in for FWA
, I proceeded straight through T1 security. There they thoroughly checked me over--even taking my CPAP machine out of its bag to hand-search it.
Since my UA
Express connection to FWA
was not scheduled to leave until 4:50pm, I had practically ALL DAY
to lay over at ORD
, so I spent hours just roaming the concourses of all three ORD
domestic terminals and shooting photos. My UA
777, N774UA, eventually came over from T5
to T1 to operate a flight to IAD
, so I got more photos of it--this time in the bright sun of Chicago.
I set my Fuji S5600 to Black & White to shoot some interior photos of the ORD
terminal complex, and spent hours roaming all three terminals and shooting both interior and exterior photos in B&W. I got some beautiful architectural photos of the interior and exterior of the modern, industrial-designed Terminal 1 (which is reminiscent of the grand rail terminals of the past), the International-style, 1960s interiors of the Rotunda and Terminal 3, and some of the exterior views of these, as well as both the old and new ATC towers.
Look for my B&W shots of ORD
's architecture, after I load them later!
As the afternoon wore on, I checked up on the departures board for my FWA
flight's status--and found it was delayed by over an hour-to almost 6:00pm, instead of 4:50pm. At that time, I did not know anything was amiss. So I would not get into FWA
until about 8:00pm Indiana time (instead of 6:31pm as scheduled). Other flights began to show up as "delayed" eventually. Still I was not aware of anything amiss. The gate agent at gate F6
announced that the plane was late getting in from Lincoln, NE. So I emailed my sister at home (using one of the email kiosks in the terminal) and made a pay-phone call to my mother at home (but only got the answering machine).
United Express 7118 (CRJ) ORD
Finally, at around 6:00pm, I went down the stairs from the gate to the ramp and walked a long way out to the United Express CRJ, lugging my bags along.
I took seat 2A. We departed ORD
and headed home to FWA
We landed at FWA
around 7:45pm (almost an hour and a half late), and by the time we got to gate 6 and I finally got to my mother and sister, it was 8:00pm. My mom and sister were very relieved to have me back (because despite my efforts to notify them, they had not gotten my email or phone call in time). After claiming my Samsonite, we drove home to Garrett, IN
, and got home around 9:00pm or so.
It was not until early the next morning that my family and I found out about the shocking news that terrorists were caught by the British authorities as they were proceeding to carry out a plan to board 10 US-bound planes at LHR
with liquid bomb-making materials. How did we find out? An older sister of mine frantically called Mom that morning at breakfast asking if I got home safely--and then told Mom about what had happened in London!
It turns out that I had a narrow escape from London--having left LHR
only a matter of hours before the foiled plot to bomb LHR
Needless to say, Mom and the rest of my large family and friends were so thankful that I got home safely! Mom told me later, that on the night I arrived home at FWA
, while she was waiting at the airport for me to arrive, the delays piled up as flights started coming in late, and the airport had a very tense atmosphere about it. At that time, none of us knew what was happening then, but apparently, the news from London had reached the US aviation community by that evening (as I was coming home), causing a rise in the aviation alert levels.
6 WEEKS WITH FAMILY AND
Once I arrived home, I got busy meeting up and catching up with my large family (I have 9 brothers and sisters, who, like me, were adopted, and most of them have families of their own now) and my many friends at my former university (Indiana Univ.-Purdue Univ. Fort Wayne, IPFW), my church, and in the Fort Wayne, IN
, community, renewing old friendships and catching them up on what I have been doing in London. Here is what I was busy doing:
*A weekend in August, camping with my family at our local state park.
*Visiting my former university campus (IPFW) in Fort Wayne, seeing my old friends (former coworkers at the campus library, my former Biology professors, and others). Upon hearing that I may soon have my first scientific research article published, everyone at the university asked for a copy!
*A lunch date with the adoption caseworker who placed me with my family at age 3! We had not seen each other since my distant childhood!
*Lunch/dinner dates with other ladies who have known me throughout my life!
*Reconnecting with my church family and other friends
*Reconnecting with my large family
*Visiting my high-school alma mater (Canterbury School, Fort Wayne) and seeing some of my old teachers from long ago (the early 1990s)
*Visiting the Fort Wayne zoo and other places just with Mom
*Repacking and preparing for my return to London on Sept. 17
BACK TO LONDON
Sun. September 17: Back to London! (DL FWA
Delta Connection (ERJ-145) FWA
Bags: 1) Checked baggage: Big blue Samsonite
2) Violin case, camera bag, and an American Tourister carryon bag containing my AEROFLOT bag and CPAP machine (this really helped save my back, since these two were in my American Tourister carryon bag with wheels).
All too soon, it was time to head back to London to start my 3rd year of studies (this year will focus entirely on Craniofacial Development, including a major lab research project and thesis).
We went to church that morning, but had to leave church a bit early so we could get home, eat a simple, fast Sunday meal, and head out to the airport (FWA
). I was already packed up. After our fast Sunday meal, I headed out with Mom and my younger sister in her truck to the airport. We got out to FWA
around 1:45pm and I checked in my Samsonite suitcase at the counter.
I spent the last 30 minutes with my mom and younger sister (and during that time, an older brother and his daughter stopped into the airport to be with us) waiting to go to my gate. All too soon, it was time for me to go through security and to my gate (my flight to CVG
was being announced). It was hard to say good-bye to my mother and my family, as always! (I don't know when I'll see them next).
Going through FWA
security is normally a breeze, but this time--since the events at Heathrow a few weeks before--it became much more challenging and thorough. As I went through, I removed my shoes and passed everything through the x-ray machine. When I emerged from the other end, I found the TSA
agents nervously looking at my violin case! They opened it up, looked it over very hard, and lo and behold, discovered something I had totally forgotten about--a tiny bottle of violin rosin-dust cleaner lying in the accessory compartment of the case! Upon finding this "terrorist weapon" in my violin case, they disposed of it. Next, they took my American Tourist bag over to the explosives-detector machine, opened it up, and took my CPAP machine out and thoroughly wiped all over it with a residue-detector paper sheet. I was nervous, too! (It was getting close to 3:00pm, the scheduled departure time). Finally, they let me on through to my gate! I rushed up the escalator, breathlessly down the hall to gate 7, and (to my enormous relief) onto the plane--the last one on board, just before they shut the door! (My American Tourister was gate-checked).
(All the while I was held up in FWA
security, my family was watching nervously through the glass wall. When I called Mom at home tonight to let her know I got to London safely, she told me she watched me and my bags being searched very thoroughly, and she told me that nobody else in the line was being searched anywhere near that long! Am I such a suspicious-looking character? Â
Our ERJ-145 departed on time from FWA
(no, I did not miss the plane or make it late at all! Â
) after I took my seat, 1A. We taxied out to the midpoint of FWA
runway 5-23 (because the 23 end was under reconstruction, cutting the runway short) and took off from what remained of runway 23. The flight down to CVG
was a short, quick hop (only about a half-hour). We landed on CVG
runway 18R and taxied a long way to our gate. Instead of going to concourse C (the Comair ground-level concourse at CVG
) as I expected, we went to the A concourse and parked at A26. We deplaned right onto the ramp, where I picked up my American Tourister from the planeside bag trolley.
I spent the next 4 hours roaming the A and B concourses before going to my gate for the CVG
Sun. Sept. 17th: DL
While waiting to board at gate B6
, an older couple from West Virginia saw my violin case and asked me if I was a violinist. I showed them my green violin--and their eyes popped! They asked me what I was going to London for--was I going to do a concert there? I told them about my medical studies in London. When it was time to board, there were a bunch of TSA
agents manning tables at the gate, searching everyone's carryon bags thoroughly during the boarding process. My bags were once again opened up and thoroughly searched. Once the TSA
agents saw my green violin, their eyes popped and they expressed their delighted surprise at my violin. These guys were pretty friendly and nice about going through our bags. I boarded the DL
767--this one was in the new "Deltaflot" colours--and found my seat (27A). Although the plane seemed pretty full, I had no seatmate, so I had 27A and B to myself. We departed our gate at CVG
on time (around 8:00pm) and soon departed CVG
runway 27 into a dark sky and headed northeast to join the Great Circle route over Canada and the north Atlantic to the British Isles. In our 767, we had the standard bulkhead projector screen for the movie (X-Men III).
The meal service for this flight was dinner and a light breakfast. For dinner there was a small salad with ranch dressing, crackers with cheese, a bread roll with butter, a fudge brownie, and farfalle pasta with mushrooms. I also had ginger ale (my staple drink on flights) and mineral water. For the light breakfast there was a banana, a hot soft roll with butter and jam, and orange juice. I did not eat the granola bar, because it was too hard for me to chew.
As always, I was unable to sleep in my seat, despite leaning against the window. At best, my sleep was fitful and light. In the morning I woke up with dried-out eyes, just like I used to experience when waking up in the recovery room after each of my frequent surgeries (tired, groggy, dry-eyed, etc.).
Upon making landfall over England, we circled several times before approaching LGW
. The morning sky (Monday, Sept. 18) was mostly clear and sunny. At around 8:30am we landed on LGW
runway 26L and taxied a long way toward the North Terminal. We had to wait in the remote stands for a while because our gate was still occupied (we had arrived earlier than the 9:00am scheduled arrival time). While taxying and waiting, I saw a variety of aircraft--Air Zimbabwe 762, some charter carriers, and best of all, a classic DC-10 in the new NW
colours! (Unfortunately, I was unable to take any photos at LGW
, because the other planes were moving past us quickly). We arrived and deplaned at gate 49. I proceeded quickly with my bags to immigration; as a very fast walker, I beat most of my fellow passengers to passport control! Upon checking my passport (and seeing my UK Entry Clearance student visa), the friendly lady at passport control asked me what I was studying (and I told her), and with a cheerful smile, she wished me an enjoyable time here in London!
Our bags came quickly to the baggage reclaim carousel, and once retrieving my Samsonite, I proceeded fast through the green HM
Customs channel (as I always do) out to arrivals. There, a friend of mine--a pastor from the American Church in London where I attend--greeted me and picked me up and we rode back into central London by Southern train and Tube. I made it to my residence hall (International Hall, on Brunswick Square, near Russell Square tube) and was able to check into my new room pretty quickly.
Instead of relaxing and sleeping and catching up with my jet lag, I spent all day (Mon. Sept. 18) walking all the way down to my King's College London campus (Guy's Hospital), taking care of my enrolment already and meeting my friends there!
As I said earlier, I will provide my photos of the UA
777 (N774UA) and the B&W photos of the ORD
terminals later in this thread, once I get them uploaded!
Now I'm back in London, eager to embark on my 3rd year of my adventure at King's College London! This year, I will be totally focused on Craniofacial Development research, participating in an intense research project in the craniofacial labs on floor 27 of Guy's Hospital Tower and writing my thesis (and hopefully, maybe, a 2nd research paper for publication!). This is right up my alley, due to my personal experience with a rare craniofacial disorder.
Although I miss everyone at home (family and friends), and everyone misses me, I am happy to be back in London, embarking on my adventure (and living out another exciting chapter in the saga of my eventful life). My 3+ years in London will become yet another exciting chapter in my upcoming autobiography; keep your eyes peeled! Â
[Edited 2006-09-20 02:10:10]
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made... (Psalm 139:14)