12 August 2007

Aug 10 - Homeward bound

When I decided I wasn't going to go back to sleep, I got up, took a shower and got everything in final shape for the trip.

I'd planned to get up at 1am and catch the 2am airport shuttle. However, I was all ready to go just before 1 so I decided to head down to the lobby. I figured if the shuttle was running late, I might catch it, if not, I could wait in the lobby as easily as my room.

I'd missed the 1am shuttle but there was a limo taking someone else to the airport in a few minutes so I tagged along.

Every other night, whenever we'd been out around 11pm, the streets were crawling with people...more people than were out and about in the daytime. However, at 1:30am, there weren't many. Although, that may also be the difference between downtown and the outskirts where the hotel and airport are. In any case, there wasn't much traffic and hardly any people...it took all of 8 minutes to get to the airport.

At the airport was the first time I had really been in Cairo unsheparded. And I wasn't really sure what I was supposed to do. I saw a Lufthansa office but it was closed. There was a security gate area with a sign that said "Passengers Only Beyond This Point"...but since I didn't actually have my tickets yet, I didn't think I could go there.

I wandered back and forth, assessing the situation and finally went to the information booth to ask when the Lufthansa place opened. He said 2:30. Since it was only a little after 1, I went to a bench outside the office and sat down to work puzzles until then.

By 2:30, there was still no sign of life. However, I'm familiar with time flowing a bit differently in other countries than it does in the U.S. so I decided to give it until 3. My flight didn't leave until 5:30 so I figured I had plenty of time.

By 3, there was still no sign of activity, so I went back to the information desk and he told me that I had to go through the security gate to get to the ticketing counters. Of course, by now the line to get through the gate is huge.

I had a couple of guys offer to help me bypass the line for 50 pounds baksheesh, but since I'd sold almost all my Egyptian money to Keith after checking out last night, I didn't have that much left. Besides, I figured I had plenty of time and the line was moving...it shouldn't take that long to get through it.

The gate was the model of inefficiency...there were 2 x-ray belts and one walk through scanner. Then, everyone gets wanded and patted down. The bags were going through the x-rayer a lot faster than the people were going through the scanner. Which meant there was a big pile of bags just kind of lumped inside and you had to pick through to find yours. It also left any individual bags "unguarded" for a lot longer than I was comfortable with. It made me nervous to know my laptop and other stuff was just sitting there.

But, at last I made it through the gate, picked up my bags and went to the Lufthansa counter to get my tickets. About the time she handed me my tickets and told me what gate to head to, I realized that I was missing my fanny pack...I'd missed picking it up in the crush at the security gate. I headed back there and found a man holding my fanny pack and looking for his other bags. I said, "Excuse, me, I think that's mine." He said he thought it was his wife's and she hadn't cleared the gate yet. Eventually, she got to where he could see her and asked if that was her's. She said, "No," so the guy handed it to me. Whew!

I went to the gate to wait for boarding. Actually, that's not quite true. When I checked in, the woman at the ticket counter gave me a pass to the lounge for first class passengers, so I actually waited there.

Cushy!!! I'd never been in one of the airline lounges before...comfy upholstered chairs and couches; free coffee, water and soda; free pastries; quiet surroundings. That's the way to travel!

I waited there about an hour then went to the actual gate for boarding.

The flight to Frankfurt was uneventful. The connection in Frankfurt was mostly uneventful. I'd flown through Frankfurt a number of times before and always remember it as a very nice, clean, easy to navigate airport. Not this time. The system at the gate for getting into the gate area and boarding was about as inefficient a system as I think I've ever seen. I wasn't really worried...I knew I'd get on the plane but it was a really screwy way to do it.

I got on the plane and found my seat then set about getting through the flight. It always used to be that I simply could not sleep sitting up. The first time I flew to Europe, I didn't even doze. The next time I flew to Europe, I decided that just had to stop so I took a sleeping pill as we left Chicago. That didn't help. I was so loopy-tired, I could hardly see straight but I still couldn't sleep. The time I flew to South Africa, I did sleep some on the plane between Amsterdam and Nairobi but by then I'd been awake for more than 24 hours and figure I just passed out. This trip, I have been able to sleep some on the flights...not enough to make them pass painlessly, but better than nothing. That's progress!

In Chicago, I cleared customs and immigration and went to catch my final plane of this trip, the one that would take me home. And I was certainly ready to be there! It had been a great trip and a wonderful experience to be in Cairo, but it takes a long time to get there and back.