Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Freaking England - Finally

Foreword- This is a compilation of all my trip so far. I just wanted to get something up so that people wouldn't be bored. I will add updates as required.

This has been one heck of a day. It has been long and tiring and really hopeless. The only good news is that my final flights have not yet been cancelled.

So I show up at the LZ for the first leg of my journey. I have to link up with a British PUMA to take me to the airport. They said everything was fine but then the flight kept getting delayed. I finally made it out at around 1700. So then it turns out that I was not re-manifested on the flight I missed yesterday so now I am on 100% “Space-Available” status and for only the second time since arriving in Iraq, my status as an American is actually a hindrance. The first time, the Iraqis wouldn’t allow me to run around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (which I have done 1000 times) because it is “Historic”. Meanwhile a crowd of Iraqis are playing soccer right behind it. Anyway, on topic. Because I am a non-UK national and I am not in the military and I am not injured and I am not an actual embassy staff, well basically I have the lowest priority of any person in the building.

Puma landing

View from above of part of the IZ

Best way to view RTE Irish

As far as the helo ride, let me tell you, American pilots are good, very good, and they can do what these guys did, but they generally don’t. The Americans fly darn low and fast, but these guys flew so close to the ground I kept thinking they were mowing the grass. And they bank all the time; we were never in straight and level flight (for the entire 5 minute flight that is). They absolutely smoked it all the way to BIAP. It was the best helicopter ride ever, other than the ones you get to rappel out of that is.

Over 180 Knots at 10 feet AGL

Well, fortunately I knew the dude and he sorted me out right away. 30 minutes later we were onboard the RAF C-130 bound for Basrah. Well the takeoff went well. We started climbing out and since I am a pilot I can tell everything going on by the sound and even without windows I have a pretty good idea which way we are turning. So I heard the wheels go up and then the plane started to descend. I wanted to go tell the pilot he was going the wrong direction if he wanted to gain altitude. Well then 2 seconds later the gear went back down and about 1 minute later we all of a sudden slammed into the runway. (C130s slam, they do not land). I am thinking that this is just freaking great, something broke and the flight is going to be cancelled. I am doomed and I haven’t yet left Baghdad. It turns out that a warning light came on and they just had to open and shut the rear door and then we took off again. There were no real issues.

C-130 J model (bigger and nicer)

6000 Celcius on a C-130

So we landed in Basrah. There is NOTHING here. This place is as barren as well a desert. They have nothing and a whole lot of it. So I go in to try to get on the flight to Brize Norton. Well, I would have been in the right place if I landed YESTERDAY, but apparently on this day, the charter flight originates from Al Udaid in Qatar. SO I am now sitting here at 2310 (the flight was supposed to leave an hour ago waiting on another C-130 to take me to Qatar where HOPEFULLY I will be able to get a flight. If all goes well I will arrive tomorrow morning in England at 1100 and I have a 1300 train to catch to Scotland. I am really starting to second guess my apparently bad decision to attend this wedding. But I did confirm my return tickets and I pushed it back a day so I can at least have 1 meal in London.

Well I was going to write more but I made the apparently bad decision to bring my POS Alienware computer. In the 15 minutes that I have had this thing turned on it has drained 80% of the battery and my lap is being cooked by the punishing heat that this thing is dumping on it. So much for watching this DVD I bought. I wouldn’t even make it thru the first 30 minutes. At least I would have some cooked meat to eat off my legs if I get hungry on this flight to Al Udaid.

Ok, about 1 AM, not sure. It is dark and I can’t read my watch. No Indiglow. I am in Qatar and a very unfortunate thing happened for everyone else which is very fortunate for me. The C-130 crew lost the manifest for the connecting flight. I was not on the manifest. So they lost it and had to manually input everyone. They just inputted anyone that was standing there. Then we moved into the huge waiting area to await the charter flight to the UK. Well it was delayed. There were hundreds of people there and I just couldn’t see how we would all fit without a 747 and I was under the impression that were getting an L 10-11 TriStar which in my opinion, couldn’t hold this many freaking people.

Well we waited and they finally called us to start boarding the busses to go to the plane. After a brief trip we round a corner and a big beautiful 747 loomed ahead with a boarding ramp to its door. I was so happy that I would be riding in style for a change. 747s are the coolest planes yet but I reserve judgment till I see an A380 in person. So we approach the 747 and then drive right past it and go to a DC-10. Not too bad, but really old and it has seats like Air Asia. Fortunately the plane can hold like 350 people and there were only 160 of us so I had my own row.

But there is a twist, we had to stop again in some city named Teeslop or Teespot in England before going to Brize Norton. Oh well, we are on the ground here for about an hour and then we go on. This DC-10 is cool, but they didn’t serve any booze. I could have used a nice nightcap before the rather long flight. It is now 11AM Baghdad time so I have been traveling for more than 19 hours and London still seems a world away. We are trapped on the plane while they refuel and unload some bags.

Most of the guys are British military (99.9%) on this plane. We are sitting at a civilian airport. In the States if a unit were returning from Iraq, people would pack the airports to greet them. I still remember getting off the plane at some airport in Maine and half the damn city was there with flags clapping and cheering. Some dude bought me my Taco Bell while I wasn’t looking and I had so many free beers I nearly missed my plane. It isn’t the same here. People will probably just look oddly at them and wonder why they are in the airport.

Oh yeah, they had VIP seating on this plane but the joke is on them. The seats are exactly the same and the same service (water or soda, Sir?) But the joke is that every seat up there is full whereas we each have our own rows now. They offloaded like 70 people at T-slop or whatever airport it is and now we are in the air headed towards London. I am excited now that end is in sight. I am also dreading the return flight but oh well. This is not an opportunity that comes along every day. So I will be landing at Brize Norton in about 20 minutes and then I have to take a bus to Heathrow. Once I get there who knows? Maybe I will take a cab to my hotel. Also, I am looking forward to the train ride. I have never ridden a train so this will be my first time. The last time I was going to ride a train was from Prague to Zagreb on a Eurail Pass but it was far too complicated so we just bought plane tickets. Time is valuable and I don’t want to waste it trying to decipher some foreign language at a train station. If you are used to it I bet it is easy but obviously I am not used to it.

Well anyway we are starting to descend so I have to put this POS away. Thankfully there is a plug near me and my adapter was just long enough to reach it.

This is going to be a huge post by the time it is all over but I hope you guys like it. I basically just keep continuing from where I left off. Today is the day after the wedding. Sunday I think, the 13th.

Anyway, I managed to link up with my sister in London. I made it just in time to pay the bill and leave. So what happened is that we landed at Brize and I had to wait to catch a bus to Oxford. That wasn’t too bad. Well I didn’t have any pounds so I was a bit worried but they dropped us right at the train station and fortunately the ATM there worked. So I got 200 pounds and bought a ticket to London-Paddington station downtown. It cost me nearly 40 dollars for a doggone 1 way ticket 45 miles away. What a joke. And it took 1 ½ hours. I always hear Europeans raving about how great their public transportation is, but so far I am not impressed. It is slow, crowded and expensive. I came to realize that so is everything else in the UK. (Expensive that is).

Well I arrive at Paddington and roll out to the street to catch a cab to the Sheraton. It was about a 10 minute cab ride and cost me nearly 15 bucks. Well, I got there and had just enough time to link up with the sis and grab a quick lunch and then we checked out and headed to the train station to get a ride to Scotland. We were going to go in First Class but it was 300 pounds, nearly 600 bucks for a 1 way trip. We opted for the 200$ economy round trip ticket that allows us to upgrade to First on the return for only about 40 dollars. So we take the cheap 4 ½ hour 200$ train to Scotland. It was cool. We stopped entirely too frequently but the scenery was amazing. My second train ride and I couldn’t be happier. That being said I am not a big fans of trains. Every time another train passes you it sounds like a mini-explosion. It shakes the whole damn train and it wakes you up.

We had checked our bags in before the trip to Edinburgh. When we get there we notice there is 1 more stop and we have no clue if we should get off the train. I said to her that we aren’t going anywhere without our bags. So we are desperately running around trying to make sure we are near a door so we can hop back on if we need to. Well we finally found our bags and the train left us standing there with no idea where to go. I had forgot to print out the number for the dude that we were supposed to meet when we got there. So I tried to pay a dude 5 pounds to let me use his wireless to check my hotmail, but it was broken so I couldn’t. Then we dragged our asses over to some store and begged some chick to let us use her internet at work but Hotmail was blocked on her computer. SO here we are with 1000LBS worth of luggage and nowhere to go. So I say we need to go to an internet café. So we grab a cab and go to one. I check my mail and got the number but we couldn’t figure out how to call it. It turns out he gave me the wrong number. So it was like 10PM so I decided screw this, we are going to the friggin Sheraton. I am not hauling this crap all over doggone Scotland looking for this dude. We booked in and got some good internet with a reliable phone and more importantly, room service. I did finally manage to link up my buddy later that night and we had some wine at his house, it was nice.

The next day was the wedding. We had to be at St. Giles Cathedral at 1330. Well it is the Edinburgh Festival now and it was soooo busy. We barely made it in time but it was an awesome wedding in such an old cathedral. I will just leave it at that, it was really really cool. I will post some pictures.

After the wedding we had to go to some hotel for the Wedding Breakfast and that was an adventure. There was a pro-Hezbollah rally right out the door. Hundred and hundreds were marching in protest of the Israeli actions to defend Israel. I was in my US military uniform and didn’t want to incite an international incident so we took an alternate route. I will post the pics about the protestors. I never thought in a million years I would see this in freaking Scotland!

So we had an awesome dinner (breakfast) and then we did some traditional Scottish dancing. It was very cool even if you can’t dance (like me). All you have to do really is hop around and enjoy all the hot chicks. I met a girl from South Africa that I am completely enamored of. I hope to stay in touch with her and I have plans for Africa in the future. She is a great girl and I really hope to see more of her. The problem is that she is the sister of the guy whose wedding I was attending so I had to be chill you know? Both her brothers are friends of mine and they are very uh protective of her. (And rightfully so)

So the evening ended with a remarkable final dance by the couple. At the end of the song they kissed each other and to make what was already a pseudo-magical night more so, at the moment they kissed, fireworks exploded in the background above the Edinburgh Castle. It was really spectacular. Today we went to the castle and walked around a bit. It was awesome. If you haven’t been, mark Edinburgh down as a “must see before you die” place. It was untouched in the World War and it has so much history. It is an ancient modern city if that makes any sense. It is vibrant, busy and modern but the structures are so old. It is so cool.

Now I am on the train headed back to London. (In First class this time and I can say that it is worth it to upgrade for 20 GBP but not 200 GBP) We are going to catch a tube to Heathrow and then we are on to the Sheraton at Heathrow. Yes, I only stay at Sheratons. I am a preferred member and get major upgrades and I have tons of points that I use for spas and free stuff. I am very happy with the SPG program. Anyway, we have about 1 hour left so I am going to play some 3D Pinball and listen to some Nelly Furtado. Also, it hasn’t rained on us, hopefully this doesn’t jinx us. Oh yeah, the train has power plugs for computers so I was able to catch up with my blog. And now I am listening to Shakira “Timor”, she is so nice to listen to.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad your ok.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006 at 12:42:00 PM GMT+4  
Blogger kanrei said...

Walt Walt Walt,
I must yell at you for a moment. When your last post talks about rockets landing near you, DO NOT GO DAYS WITHOUT AN UPDATE AGAIN!!!!

I am glad you had a great time in England. No pics of your sis? I feel let down now.
Welcome back

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 at 6:45:00 PM GMT+4  

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