Friday, May 23, 2014

Homeward Bound: Part 2

Finally, we landed in Washington D.C.

Stepping foot on American soil, or at least American concrete in the Dulles airport never felt so good.  I didn't care that we missed our flight out to Phoenix, or at least I didn't care as much as I thought I might.   All I wanted at that point was to stand in the U.S. Customs line with my American passport and my two sealed packages of documents to hand over to the smiling, non-military fatigue dressed man sitting in the booth near a beautiful American flag.  Handing over these documents would make my children American citizens and that was my primary goal at this point of the journey.

Thankfully, we did pass uneventfully through U.S. Customs.  The friendly man congratulated Kate and Max on becoming citizens and welcomed them to America.  Any time they, especially Max, see a person dressed in official police or military looking clothing there is a bit of apprehension that comes over their faces and I have to be honest that's probably how I looked on the Ukraine side, too.  Once here though, all fears were relieved and I just wanted to explain to the kids that it's okay to smile here...we kind of do that a lot as a culture.  But still I sensed a bit of fear from them as if to say "Are they really going to let me in AND let me stay?"  I wanted so badly in that moment (when I couldn't use Google Translate because cell phones are restricted in Customs) to tell them this is a done deal now.  They have parents, new last names, siblings, new passports, new birth certificates AND they are American citizens.  That's a whole lot of new.

Once through Customs we had to retrieve our luggage.  Unfortunately we actually chose the wrong Customs area in the Dulles airport.  I assumed that since we missed our connecting flight, we needed to board the bus to the area for those folks whose final destination was Washington, D.C.  My mistake.  We should have continued onto the other bus.  It only cost us another hour as we had to wait for our luggage to make it from one area of the airport to another.  The good news was that when I inquired about our bags at least they did locate them, meaning they had at least made it.  At that point, I wasn't expecting much and didn't even care if we never saw our bags again.  One less thing to worry about.

Through Customs with luggage we headed upstairs to locate the Lufthansa desk.  There were no more flights out to Phoenix that evening and because the delay was Lufthansa's responsibility we were given hotel and meal vouchers to cover our stay until we could get on a flight the following day.  With vouchers in hand we were instructed to proceed to the United desk to get our boarding passes for our flight the following day.  Not sure why, but at that point I wasn't into asking questions.  I just wanted to get my kids to a hotel where we could rest for a few hours before another day of travel.

At the United desk, I was asked why Lufthansa sent me there.  After further difficulties, I ended up with boarding passes in my hands and we followed our instructions to go downstairs to wait for the shuttle to the hotel.

It was pouring rain.

We waited...in the pouring rain.  I guess this is another reason saran wrapped suitcases are a blessing...the water just beaded right down the sides!  We spotted our shuttle, climbed in, and I felt relieved there was a nice clean bed awaiting us when we arrived at the Comfort Inn.

I thought it would be an "airport hotel", but twenty minutes later we finally arrived at our destination.  We carted our waterproof luggage into the hotel.  Three other guests followed, two of whom we would spend the next 2 hours with...just not in this hotel.

One of the men stepped up to the counter and handed his very own hotel voucher to Jeremy, the young man behind the desk.  Immediately a puzzled look came over Jeremy's face and as I stood there with the very same hotel voucher in hand, my heart sank as I realized the words that next flowed from Jeremy's mouth would surely apply to us as well: "I don't know why Lufthansa gave you these vouchers for this hotel.  It was never authorized and we have no vacancy."

Now what?  After a few phone calls to Lufthansa, we were told we would need to come back to the airport to be issued new hotel and meal vouchers.  Oh my.

So we, along with our two newest friends (the other passengers from our flight who were issued the same invalid hotel vouchers), loaded our luggage back onto the shuttle.  Back to the airport.

At the airport we waited to be issued new vouchers.  Thirty minutes later, we were loading our luggage onto a shuttle again, this time headed to the Lansdowne Resort.  The kids and I each slept for this next 20 minute ride.  By this time, it was 11:30pm.

I thought it strange that at this time in the evening the entire shuttle to the resort was full, meaning only one thing.  Checkin would require additional waiting.  Right again.

One of multiple lines to checkin at 11:30pm.  Goodness.

 Finally...checkin complete, meal vouchers in hand we were able to enjoy our first quality meal Stateside.

Free reign of the snack bar put a smile on everyone's face, but not necessarily nutrition in anyone's body.
Whatever.

"Dinner" in hand, we carted ourselves and our luggage to room 219.  Behind the door we found two beds, a shower with shower head mounted to the wall, pillows (real ones), a TV that worked which thrilled my son.  Yes, we found a little bit of heaven in that room.  Now if only we didn't have to get through the plastic wrap on our luggage to get our pajamas out.  It took 3 of us 15 minutes to get the plastic off one suitcase with no utensils.  Thankfully we only had to do this 2 times instead of 3 because the helpful folks in the Frankfurt Customs department had already removed it from one bag, the one we didn't need, but still I was thankful.

A real non-Skype phone call over the Verizon 3G network to Adam, Pringles bedside for Kate and watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse until 2:00am for Max.  The kids surely thought they hit the jackpot coming to America!  It was okay though, rules don't apply until you step foot in your actual hometown anyway.

Contentment.
Time for 3 solid hours of sleep...horizontally.  Beautiful.

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