Know When to Fold 'EmCHAPTER 29: IN WHICH WE HEED A COUNTRY SINGER
Around the World, Days 29-30: Krakow to Warsaw and beyond. As our time in Krakow wound down, we began making plans for Sofia, Bulgaria to be our next stop, having already decided that our city-hopping ways were contributing to our continued failure to completely recover good health. Then on Tuesday night, as we were about to make payment on an apartment in Sofia, we began to hear strains of Kenny Rogers. I was still hacking through the night and Ken's cough had roared back with a vengeance, and yet the gambler's words grew stronger until they were loud and clear.
So, sick and tired of being sick and tired, we decided it was time to fold on this trip. We coughed up a sizeable change fee (finally something productive!) to LOT Polish Airline and revised our destination from Sofia to London, where we had many more return flights to the U.S. to choose from.
In keeping with what appeared to be the theme of this trip, the return trip offered up some memorable moments. Upon our arrival at the Krakow airport (really just a prefab aluminum building for domestic flights), our flight to Warsaw was listed as “Check-In Suspended.” Hmmm. Apparently since the noon flight threatened to disrupt the security agents’ lunch, screening did not open until 10 minutes before the flight was to depart. Interestingly, all of the agents had large handguns strapped to their legs, so we certainly didn't complain about their lack of timeliness.
With a comfortable two-hour layover, we had lunch in Warsaw and left for Heathrow on time. In London, all went smoothly until we rode the Heathrow Express to Terminal 5, the alleged location of the Hilton hotel where we had reservations for the night to await our flight back to the States the next morning. After a futile search for the hotel within the terminal (found other hotels there), we located a hotel information desk. The very courteous agent informed us that the hotel was not at the terminal but “off-site” and that there was a convenient Hotel Hoppa bus just outside the door that would take us there for only $15. What she failed to say and, in her defense probably did not know, was that our wait for this multi-hotel shuttle would require 45 minutes of standing in the below-ground transportation area sucking up diesel fumes from the dozens of buses that came through going to other hotels and transporting airline crews before the H57 bus to the Hilton finally showed up. A brief 20-minute ride later and we were in a rural area at the speciously named "Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5.”
On Thursday morning, we avoided the Hotel Hoppa and took a taxi back to Heathrow (fool me once, and all that), dutifully making our way to Gate 25 to board our Delta flight to JFK in New York. With all the passengers checked in, there still was no aircraft, so we were crammed into yet another airport bus and transported more than 20 minutes on a circuitous route to finally arrive at the other side of the same terminal we had just left, boarding by airstairs from the tarmac. The bus trip lasted so long, passengers were speculating about whether we were being taken to Gatwick, or maybe Edinburgh.
The shining star of this return story was the flight to New York because we were able to score an upgrade to business class seats and enjoyed all the perks that went along with it, particularly the lie-flat seats, which allowed us to catch some sleep on the 8-hour flight. Upon our arrival at JFK, we went through passport control and customs, then were channeled out of the secure area directly into a line for a security screening before going to the gate for our connecting flight to Atlanta.
More than an hour late, our 757 at last climbed into the storm. Though the pilot pushed up to its maximum altitude of 42,000 feet, we were still buffeted by high winds for most of the trip, giving those late flight attendants a free pass on serving beverages.
But the story has a happy ending. Our faithful, friendly limo driver Faisal was still there at the Atlanta airport waiting for us when we arrived an hour late, the same guy who had delivered us to the airport a month ago. And we arrived home, finding all was well—except us, of course. But we've scheduled appointments with some doctors that speak English and are very hopeful they can get us all fixed up so we can hit the road again.