We went. We saw. We returned.
And I have finally had enough sleep to process everything that happened in our weeklong trip to Bulgaria. Originally, I had intended to blog day-by-day about our trip; however our hotel was having internet issues and by Tuesday I knew it would be better to wait until I returned home and had some time to reflect before writing.
What follows will undoubtedly be the longest posting on this blog to date. It also reflects an edited version of events. After Jude comes home I may or may not choose to go into some more things in detail. I have not decided yet. I think to do so at this time may put her adoption at risk.
That said, on the whole, my Mum, my Dad, and I had a wonderful time. And here is a breakdown Day-by-Day:
Day 1: Saturday November 30, 2013
I got up at around 6 AM after being up until about midnight the night before doing last minute packing and cleaning. Was super-nervous and excited all at once and barely slept. My eldest cat, Pippen, knew something was up and wouldn’t leave me alone the entire morning. My parents picked me up at 10:20 and after picking up our friend who was taking the minivan for the week and picking us up from Logan the next weekend we were on our way to Massachusetts.
I tried to sleep in the minivan, but couldn’t. I was too excited. We arrived at Logan just before 2:00PM for our 5:55 PM flight. Unfortunately the British Airways desk didn’t open for check-in until 3:00 so we ended up waiting around for about an hour. But when they did open, check in was fast and simple.
Security. I have always dreaded airport security. When I was 11 I had orthopedic surgery on my spine and I always set off every metal detector known to mankind. Airport security post September 11 has always been less than a good time. That said, I am most grateful to the new full body scanners (it’s been about 8 years since I last flew anywhere, so this is a new technology for me). I got in the “medical” line and 30 seconds later I was done. SWEET. Not sure what the big deal was a few years back regarding these, but I think they are awesome.
After security my nerves had finally settled down enough so I felt I could venture into the realm of eating something. I was actually feeling pretty cool and relaxed realizing that the day had FINALLY come. And then I saw this commercial:
Thought it was pretty funny at the time. Little did I know…(you’ll see).
Boarding for my flight started early. Seats looked pretty cool for peasant-class. And we actually got underway 10 minutes early.
We had a beautiful flight over the eastern seaboard. I saw Boston, Portland, Halifax, and then, oh then, 15 glorious minutes over our beloved Prince Edward Island. We could see pretty much everything east of Summerside. It was hard to believe but it was just 4.5 months ago that we were on our camping adventure there. We never imagined, that we would have the chance to see it again this year.
British Airways serves great food on board, but by this time it was a balmy –80 degrees F outside my window and the cold air was making for a terrifically bumpy ride. I ate the food, because I didn’t know when I would be eating again.
I also wasn’t sleeping. And I should have been sleeping. It was such a rough ride that it was all I could do to keep myself from panicking. Especially once we were south of Greenland and Iceland and that lovely little fasten your seatbelt light came flashing on again.
I didn’t sleep a single minute of that flight.
Day 2: Sunday December 1, 2013
After what seemed like forever we reached the coast of Ireland. Now the flight had only lasted about 6 hours but we had gone through 5 time zones during that time so we were approaching London at 5:00 AM.
British Airways not only gives you great food, but they give you a lot of food. 3 hours after dinner, I had breakfast. I ate that food too.
We landed in London and I heard that it is a busy airport. Well…not at 5AM on a Saturday. It was essentially deserted. We found our connecting terminal once we were off the plane. Proceeded through security (again, yes). I set off the metal detector and got hand-wanded. My Mum got subjected to random bag check, then we went down the elevator through the hall to the train to the new terminal through more halls and up escalators to our new terminal.
Total time: 59 minutes
Just as Starbucks was opening.
Mum and I took this opportunity to freshen up in the bathroom (baby wipes do wonders) and we hung around Starbucks as we waited for our connection to be assigned a gate. Then we found out that the gate was right across from Starbucks, so everything worked out perfectly.
We boarded our flight for Sofia, and that flight left on time. But again, the weather at 35,000 feet was –80 degrees and the flight over the Alps was just as bumpy (if not more so) that the flight over the North Atlantic.
Then British Airways brought out Breakfast for this flight. Which would have been great if I was hungry, but seeing as I was nauseated, the smell of eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, and coffee just about sent me running for the airsickness bag. Bumps or not, I needed to force myself to take a nap. I only managed to doze for about an hour. And I woke up feeling just about as green and pukey as when I started. But I held it together.
We landed in Sofia and I managed to feel a bit better after washing my face with cold water in the airport bathroom.
When you get off the plane: Here is how it goes. You get off the plane. You go downstairs through passport control. Passport control asks you the purpose of your visit. You tell them “I am adopting a child”. Dude does a double-take (apparently not a very common answer?) then he looks at you like you are a lunatic says have a nice visit and stamps you through. You then walk 100 feet and get your luggage. Then (assuming you belong to the 99% of us who did not bring 10,000 euros or more in cash with) you sail through the totally abandoned “nothing to declare” section of customs and out into the airport. Takes 15 minutes. No forms to fill out. No fuss.
When we got out into the arrivals section of the airport we were instantly greeted with our excellent translator Gergana. Then we got into our car and immediately set out for the 2-hour drive to the town of Hisarya where we would be spending most of our week.
Now I probably wouldn’t drive in Sofia. It is a bit crazy. Turn signals seem to have gone out of style there, but as soon as we were out of the city, it didn’t look at all intimidating. Just like driving here in the US. Same side of the road, same side of the car. And for those of us used to driving in snow and ice…no problem. Most of the signs are in English and Bulgarian, and even the GPS feature on my low-end Nokia phone by T-mobile was working over there. But for those that want or need to rent a car and drive themselves, it is most certainly do-able.
I didn’t sleep much on the way out to Hisarya either. I should have. I know this. I was still too nauseous and trying to so the mind-over-matter (matter in this case being vomit) thing. Plus I knew that shortly before reaching Hisarya we would actually pass through the village where Jude is living with her foster family. I was dying to see this place, as I (ultimately correctly) assumed that we would not be able to go there during our stay in Hisarya.
At 3:46 PM local time we passed through that village and I was so close. Just miles and less than a day away from seeing her. All I wanted to do at that point was find my bed and go to sleep.
Then the driver got lost finding the hotel.
We could see the hotel. We just couldn’t figure out how to get through the park to get there. It was during this miniature adventure that I got to get my first glances at Hisarya and see the utter dichotomy of the town. Part falling down post-communism and part up-and-coming resort center. Quite interesting. It was also during this mini-adventure that any qualms I had about the Bulgarian people were put to rest. EVERYONE, absolutely everyone, is helpful and friendly especially when your driver is lost and cannot find the hotel.
45 minutes later, we figured out how to get there. And we finally checked into the C Comfort Hotel on Balkan Street in Hisarya (I definitely recommend)
Although I was still nauseated I took one for the team and dropped my luggage in the room and went to dinner with everyone else and did manage down a little bit of chicken and some potato.
But at 7:00 PM, some 37 hours after I started and with only about 2 hours worth of napping in-between. I FINALLY went to bed.
Day 3: Monday December 2, 2013
So I got up that morning without really knowing what the plan was. We hadn’t been able to get in touch with Jude’s social worker before then, so we didn’t know when or where we were meeting her. Gergana, again Superhero that she is, figured it all out during Breakfast including walking directions so after we exchanged our currency at a bank (do your currency exchange at a bank, with a translator, NOT at the airport) we walked to the Social Services office in Hisarya.
Now, this was by pure coincidence. I had no idea where this office was when I booked my hotel, but I did end up booking a hotel within walking distance and I must say that nothing can beat the convience of being within walking distance of where you need to be. Even in the winter. Even after you read what happens to me on Tuesday.
Just after 10:00 AM I walked into that Social Services office and I SAW HER. In person. A dozen other people in that waiting area, and I knew it was her.
She, of course, had no idea who I was and ignored me completely.
We were then led down the hall where the majority of the visits for the rest of the week would take place.
To prepare other parents the room I was in was very small, and very warm. The thermostat was set to 30 Celsius. Which is about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Very warm. Dress appropriately. I did not, and was pretty uncomfortable most of the week.
I had the opportunity on this visit to meet both of Jude’s foster parents and I will never be able to say enough great things about these people. From what I know of them, they are just wonderful. Jude clearly adores them and I marvel at how much she has developed under their care.
2 hours went by much too quickly. At least for me. Jude was ready to get the heck out of that room by the end.
After the visit we went to lunch and then back to the hotel room, where we pretty much slept the rest of the day still trying to compensate for lack of sleep and time zone change. We woke up briefly around 9PM and ate cold leftovers and went back down around 11.
Day 4: Tuesday December 3, 2013
We had a visit schedule set by this day. Daily visits from 9AM-Noon. This was mainly due to the fact that Jude naps in the afternoon and she and her foster mother have to rely on the bus for transportation back to their village.
I was excited for this day. My jitters were over and I (thought) knew what to expect. I just wasn’t a fan of the hot, small, crowded, visit room. Neither was Jude.
If it weren’t for Jude’s foster mother, things wouldn’t have gone as well as they did. Later on in the morning, Jude actually approached me and kissed me right on the lips.
Best moment of my life right there.
The concerning part is that I could actually see Jude getting more and more ill as the visit wore on. The previous day she had just had a clear runny nose. When the visit started this day she had started with the same but as the morning got later the snot became more plentiful and greener and Jude got crankier and crankier (not that I blame her at all).
I was very thankful when we were permitted to leave a few minutes early and take the long route and walk them to the bus station.
Although I cannot show them until after she comes home, these are some of the best photos we have of Jude. The joy on her face when she is outdoors is just amazing. She would take our hands when walking, she would approach us and it became quickly apparent to us that we wanted to be outdoors as much as possible, given the improving weather over the course of the week. (It was mid 40s this day and was going to warm up into the upper 50s).
It was also on this day that I discovered Jude’s love of colored pencils. I had brought a number of things for her, but hadn’t anticipated that a child so young would be so enthralled with colored pencils so I set out to buy some for her, and without much effort at all was able to do so.
We had Bulgarian pizza for lunch and stopped by a supermarket to buy a bunch of midnight snacks (no vending machine at hotel, and we supposed that fruit was better for us anyway). It was on the walk back carrying bags of groceries that I made the mistake that will cost me the rest of this winter.
Bulgarian sidewalks are an unholy mess. Maine’s sidewalks suck, don’t get me wrong, but the sidewalks in Hisarya Bulgaria are made of tile and are extremely uneven.
They also have these curbs. Not curbs in the American sense where they are a predicable 3-6” drop. No, these curbs mean business. They could be 3” or they could be 3’. They are also unmarked and come out of nowhere (Like a stopped Chevy in the middle of the rotary). Late Tuesday afternoon I fell off one in the 2-foot neighborhood variety and hurt my left ankle. I thought I had twisted it as I could walk on it. I learned yesterday that the aircast and I shall be BFFs for the next 6-8 weeks. Good Job, me.
I spent Tuesday evening limping around Hisarya and convincing my parents that the restaurant that was the closest walk was actually the one I REALLY wanted to go to, all the while reassuring everyone that my ankle was “fine.” (It really didn’t hurt as bad as I still think it should have for what I ultimately did to it). Bed early with the bottle of water I had put in the mini-bar freezer and lots of ibuprofen.
Day 5: Wednesday December 4, 2013
OK. I was pumped for this day’s visit. Was going to get it right. Pep talk in the Bathroom (showering from a seated position…that foot just looks worse than it actually is). Breakfast with everyone (translator staying in our same hotel), yes I can do this. Translator saves me yet again by inventing excuse to get us outside. We need to get Jude’s Visa photos done. And it is a really far walk. Ankle be damned. If it gets me out of that hot little room I am in for it.
And so is Jude. It is obvious that for the first part of the visit in which we are in said small hot little room that she is growing to hate it just as much as I am. Just I hate it secretly. She is far more expressive of her hate. I wonder if it is me? But am reassured, that when I take her to play tag in the hall or peek-a-boo in the bathroom…she doesn’t act the same way. She is happy and having a good time. Translator sees it too, and since I am limping and it will take a while to walk there…time to go!
Jude is coughing today, but the weather is nicer and the sun is warm. So we start off by walking and when she grows tired and put her in the stroller that Amazing foster-mom brought and push it along the sidewalk. She loves the ride and I enjoy the fact I now have a pseudo crutch. This stands out as one of the favorite parts of the whole week for me. Just a peaceful walk. Everyone happy and calm.
Taking her actual photo is far more interesting and comical. After about a dozen tries, poor foster-mom ends up getting 2 expression out of Jude: Terrified and Confused. I opted for Confused for the final photo although the devil on my shoulder was telling me “Terrified, go for ‘Terrified’ and then bring it back for her High School Graduation”
As we are waiting to see results of Terrified vs. Confused I get my first lesson in bringing Jude into an actual store. This Photo studio has an entire glass case of pens, markers, and of course colored pencils. Jude’s favorite word is “DIE”. Which has nothing to do with one’s state of being alive. It means “I want it NOW” and is used much in the same way an American 2-year old would use the word “MINE.”
This is where I break out my new Mommy skills and quickly learn the Bulgarian word for “No” (which is “Ne”, by the way). No, she didn’t hate me after that. She just walked over to my cell phone and started playing with that instead.
On the way back, Jude fell asleep in the stroller. This sent up a red flag for foster-mom. She seemed really surprised. It was the only English she said to me the entire time there “Sleep?” Me: “Yup”. File that away for future reference, Britt, that usually means that you have a fever in your future.
So after walking about 4 miles, my ankle was ANGRY. I still was feeling very little pain, but the swelling and bruising was a sight to behold.
There wasn’t much more to be done, except that Hisarya Bulgaria is said to be well know for it’s healing mineral waters. The hotel we were staying at had an indoor pool in the basement. We made it back to the hotel at 2 that day and I had some paperwork to go over with the translator at 6, so we decided to try out the magical water. Couldn’t hurt. Might help.
It actually did help a little. Not so much with the bruising, but the swimming helped a little with the swelling and quite a bit with stiffness I didn’t realize I had in it. But it was a nice afternoon. We were alone in the pool area, so it was nice to talk out some things with both of my parents and get a perspective on things.
After paperwork at 6PM we (per usual) went out to a very interesting place (I guess it was kind of a Disco) with our translator. I think this was the night that we all realized that everyone was on the same page with some things that were going on, no one was just saying it out loud. And once we did talk about it everyone was less stressed, even though we still were at a loss on how to address the issues. This was the night my parents and I came to the conclusion that Celine Dion, Michael Bolton, and Richard Marx really are THAT popular in Bulgaria right now. I wish I hadn’t tossed some of my CDs from Middle School. I would be very IN right now.
This also began the night that people from the US forgot that I wasn’t in the US, so they would get out of work and call me or text me. And I would be sleeping, because it was midnight. Ugh. But I couldn’t shut off my phone because it was also my alarm clock and what if my sister called because it was truly an emergency…
Day 6: Thursday December 6, 2013
This day was the Warmest we were in Bulgaria. It was nearly 60 degrees out and Sunny in the little town of Hisarya. When I woke up I was under the impression from the day before that due to the success of the outdoor portion of the previous day’s visit and the weather that most of this day’s visit would be outside too. Our hotel abutted a park so a part of me hoped to me able to convince the powers to let us conduct the visit there.
Alas, no. When we arrived, I knew something was up. Jude had a fever. Cough about the same, green snot. But thankfully, at the end of the visit today there would be a Dr.’s appt. The visit would be completely inside.
I felt the visit went pretty well, despite how sick she was. She took a nap snuggled next to me, colored a bit with me and my mum, played a bit with blocks and puzzles and then just kind hung out quietly with all three of us (Myself, my mum, and Dad). After the visit we did get to walk with her and her foster mother to the doctor’s office.
This was our last full day in Hisarya, and I was a bit preoccupied with Jude being sick so we did a bit of everything that afternoon including walking all the way around the Roman ruins in the town. They are pretty impressive. And I was satisfied as this is really, really, old stuff that we had all wanted to see while we were in Europe (they are said to date back to the 4th century). We also did a little bit of swimming again, because, you don’t see an indoor pool everyday where I come from…
We went to dinner at everyone’s favorite restaurant, and I stayed up late packing everything into a bag that I wanted to leave for Jude; including presents I had brought from Maine for her foster parents. All the while a little bit worried to see how she was feeling the next day.
Day 7: Friday December 6, 2013
Was nervous again when I got up and didn’t eat much for Breakfast. It was very strange. Part of me didn’t want the visits to ever end, and another part of me wanted them just to be over with so we could hurry back and get her for good and be on with our lives. The walk to the social services office that morning just felt very surreal.
When we got there she wasn’t feeling much better although they said that the doctor had started her on antibiotics. She was acting like she felt a bit better than the day previously. It was again on this day that she started approaching me again like she had on Tuesday. Sitting in my lap, Giving kisses (I care not if it is a virus she gives me…I can be sick at home by myself), smiling at me…
I wonder what she thinks of me. Am I just this funny lady that they made her play with all week? There is the potential right now that I might be able to Skype with her a few times between now and pick up trip, but I wonder if that, and the photos left behind will be enough to spark a memory of this trip or if come this Spring we will be starting from scratch again?
I feel bad that she was sick almost the whole trip. I know it would have been better for her to stay home and rest. I am glad that on Thursday we were able to take things down a notch and let her rest a bit at the visit.
For the last few moments of trip 1 I walked her and her foster mother to the bus station and I watch them board their bus home. She was smiling and happy. That’s all I could ask for, and it was a great memory to have for the next few months.
I walked back to my hotel. Quietly. Then I cried for a few minutes, threw my luggage together, because this trip wasn’t over yet.
We left Hisarya just before Noon. On our way out of town I was able to grab some photos as we were passing through the small village where Jude lives. It is meager. But they are happy and I know she will be in excellent hands until this process is over and I can come back and pick her up this spring, in this same village. I couldn’t ask for anything more than that and I realize how incredibly lucky I am compared with all the anxious parents who leave their little ones behind in institutions. I will not worry about whether or not she is loved, or fed, or warm. I know she is.
We made it to Sofia just before 2:00, where after over a year and a half of hearing her name through 2 different agencies I met the fabulous Violeta.
We were in Sofia, with Violeta, because Hisarya didn’t have a notary (and for other reasons). Once we got Jude’s paperwork notarized confirming that we are continuing with her adoption we had mid afternoon coffee and a meeting in a café with Violeta and with Gergana. I will get to see Violeta when we come back in a few months but sadly, not our friend Gergana as she is pursuing her PhD and moving to Italy next month. After saying goodbye to Violeta for now, we had to say goodbye to Gergana for good and we made our way to the hotel.
We had briefly (ever so briefly) checked into the Budapest Hotel earlier in the afternoon, but now we were able to come back and actually see it. Or nap in it. Which is what we pretty much ended up doing. Napped, ate dinner in the restaurant in the basement, then messed around on the internet and went to bed.
Day 8: Saturday December 7, 2013
We slept in. First day sleeping in the entire trip and went down for breakfast at 10. Our flight home was at 2:30, and we new we had to check out of the Budapest at Noon anyway so we figured that was perfect. The morning was very relaxed. Breakfast was very good. Checkout was easy. The hotel called the taxi to the airport for us.
And if you are like most normal people on the planet the rest of your journey home probably would have looked something like the trip to Bulgaria did for me.
But my life is anything but dull.
And nothing after this effects Jude’s adoption, so this part isn’t edited. And I promise you. It is all true. I couldn’t have made it up.
We got to the airport and proceeded to the British Airways counter. The lady there said, “There is a problem with the airplane.” And directed us to the ticket counter.
I don’t know about anybody else. But I am not too comfortable ever flying on an airplane that has “a problem.” Ever.
So I go to the ticket counter. Where I meet Dude (Dude and Lady are important recurring characters). Dude is very dull. Very flat. He tells me the “problem” is that the plane hasn’t left London yet (my brain suddenly starts doing math really fast right now) but they have closed the gate and are ready to take off. He informs me my connection is 3 hours, so I “should be fine.” After taking 59 minutes to do Heathrow when it was deserted the weekend prior, I am less confident than he, but am willing to go on an adventure, so when he sends me back to Lady at check in, I comply.
Flight 891 is delayed officially at this point 1 hour and 50 minutes. Leaving me a connection time of 1 hour 25 minutes to make my Flight #239 to Boston. I might get there but my luggage won’t. I actually tell my parents to say goodbye to the luggage. My Mum actually says “Bye, luggage.” And away it disappears on the conveyor belt.
Bulgarian TSA: (You’ll find out why I know this so well): Downstairs you go through passport control. Keep your passport out. You are going to need it. You are going to go up an escalator. This is security. It is like American Security, Everything out, shoes off, liquids in bag etc. Except: They want you to take your passport and put in on top of your coat in the bucket. Don’t freak. You will get it back. You can even see it the whole time if you pay attention. You walk through the metal detector. If you are me, you set it off (50% of the time, odd). They pat you down. Have a nice day. Shoes on, repack your carry-on. Keep your passport out…you are going through passport control again. This is where they stamp. Once you pass through this you are now in the airport terminal.
The English-language speaker in the Sofia Airport has a bit of thick accent when enunciating her numbers. It is unfortunate, so visually check that you are at the right gate by checking on the screen. And recheck if you think that she is changing it on you. Ask the Dude (who has now moved suspiciously up from downstairs, like they are anticipating problems when every other gate is bereft of a living soul). Sofia airport has free wifi, so even if you don’t have cell service in Bulgaria, bring your smartphone and access the internet. You might need it. Especially to google “What is going on at London Heathrow” (You get a better answer than “technical problems with the plane”)
So we are sitting at the gate it is about 3:30 and tardy plane from London arrives (yeah). Which in my simple mind I think, great, clean it, put some gas in it, and let’s go. Wrong. Almost instantly the 4:10 departure time delays a further 2 hours to 6:10.
So I go ask, the Dude. And 2 things happen. I point to the now 6:10 departure time and am like “What’s up with that?” To which he goes “Oh, that’s wrong, just ignore it” (and my heart goes, “OK, phew, that was close”) and Dude adds “the captain might cancel the flight” (internally I go “Oh fuck.”). But on the outside I stayed VERY calm and went: “What do I do?”
Face must have gotten all red and somewhat pitiful at this moment because he looked somewhat concerned and said “Don’t worry, It will be OK, let’s see what the captain wants to do.” I went OK and sat down.
And I did sit down and I was very patient. After about 10 minutes. Blond Woman came out and started talking. But it wasn’t in English. Internally: Not Good.
But I didn’t freak. Somewhere out of my left ear I heard a British accent say “I wonder if they will explain it in English.” To which Blond Woman immediately stopped and said in perfect English that yes should would explain it in English in just a minute. Quick decision: On British Airways flights: something goes amiss; hang with the British people to get stuff explained in English. You’ll find them.
So in English: We had a delay. There were technical problems in London. But if we were willing to board the flight and sit on the Tarmac we had a better chance of getting an earlier departure time and the flight not being cancelled (pilot didn’t want to cancel the flight, but might have to under European Union regulations). Needless to say, we all got on the plane rather willingly.
But only after I googled. It was all of London and it was all flights. Including another Bulgaria Air flight trying to leave Sofia at the same time. And the technical issue appeared to be with Air Traffic Control. No the actual airplane. So I got on the plane with the full expectation that it likely wasn’t going anywhere. But it was worth a shot. I got a soda and a Twix bar. But not a flight to London. 90 minutes later after a delay to 6:20 then another delay to 6:56, our flight was officially cancelled.
We all got off the plane.
We were then first separated into groups depending on what language we spoke. Blond Woman. British People. And it turns out 2 other single travellers trying to get to Boston (not necessarily to London). You make friends fast when something goes wrong. Our flights would be rebooked depending on priority. As we had international connecting flights, we were among top priority. We then got sorted again into Lady’s group. It was like a tour. At every stop she would check our names to make sure everyone was there.
If this happens to you, and it is British Airways, and they tell you it will be OK. Relax. IT WILL BE OK.
Lady took us through Passport Control. They looked confused. Didn’t ask me purpose of my visit this time. Then she took us to the luggage carousel. So I was wrong, we did see our luggage again. Hello Luggage. Then we walked into the terminal just like we had done a week before, only there was no Gergana this time, there was a long walk back to where I had been earlier that afternoon to the ticket counter, then a back stairway up into the British Airways office at the Sofia Airport (a place most people are likely never to see)
So it turns out. There were no more flights out of Sofia to anywhere that night. 7:00 on a Saturday night and Sofia Airport is essentially done for the day. New lesson: MORNING FLIGHTS people. Seriously, I don’t care if you are a morning person or not. When it hits you that you are in Bulgaria for another night and there is no alternative it is an unhappy moment. But British Airways will fix it. Since I didn’t want to make the same mistake again, and since the next British Airways flight out of Sofia was the 2:20 PM flight the next day; and since I brought up on my phone that it wasn’t looking good for London air traffic control I asked to leave Sofia as early as possible via anyplace except Heathrow and my two traveling friends made the same choice.
So all 5 of us were rebooked for the 6:30 AM flight leaving Sofia on Lufthansa Airlines.
That means we would need to be at the airport at 4:30, but the airport was obviously in the process of closing for the night (it was now almost 8:00). What do we do? Blond Woman had hotel rooms and dinner with transport to and from the airport for everyone at their expense and the minibar at the hotel was free.
So I come downstairs. I think my parents were a little worried at that point, that something was wrong (just time consuming) and after about 10 minutes we were on a mini-bus to the Novotel in Sofia.
The Novotel is exceptional. I would have never been able to afford to stay there on my own budget, but WOW. If you ever find yourself there, it is one of the closest hotels to the airport and you will not be disappointed.
Dinner and a Lemon tart for Dessert, I was finally smiling. Then down in super cozy bed for a 4-hour nap.
Day 9: Sunday December 8, 2013
4 hours went by way too quickly. I woke up at 2:45 and started getting ready for our second attempt to try and leave Bulgaria. Downstairs at 4:15 where the hotel had Coffee and Granola bars for us and we were in a taxi at 4:30
We proceeded to the Lufthansa desk to check our luggage. British Airways had advised us the night before that carry-on rules for the 2 airlines were different. (They are vastly different). We had spent a lot of time repacking the night before as British Airways allowed us 2 carry-ons and Lufthansa only allowed us 1. As it was our 1 exceeded size and weight for Lufthansa, but there was nothing we could do. British Airways had given us stickers for our carry-ons and had advised me in the office to leave them on, in hopes that they may make exception. I had heard that Lufthansa is very strict with baggage requirements. But I only explained once at check in what had happened and that we had done our very best to comply and Guess What? We were left alone. No one questioned us either in Sofia or Frankfurt. And my bag at least was quite obviously oversized (though not overweight).
Through Bulgarian TSA again. To our gate. And guess what? A delay. This time 20 minutes. The stress begins. It occurs to me that I simply cannot do yesterday over again. I can hear over the loudspeaker that our friends that had to get to London and chose the Bulgaria Air flight also have a delay. I feel for them too. 20 minutes go by, then 25, then 30. Finally they begin boarding. And we get on the plane. Where after boarding is complete we sit on the Tarmac, reminiscent the previous day for 15 more minutes. I can actually feel the 3-hour connection in Frankfurt getting shorter and shorter. Finally, we push back, then we start moving. Then, finally, nearly 17 hours later than we should have we lift-off from Sofia.
The flight itself goes very smoothly. Until we land. When we land something feels very bumpy. VERY bumpy. This plane doesn’t go very far after we land. And Lufthansa doesn’t say much. Just that we have a delay.
A delay? After we land?
Then the people bring the stairs on wheels and start disembarking us from the front and rear of the plane. And I turn to my Dad and am like. Is this normal? And he (of course) goes: Yes.
And I suppose it is. But when we get outside the plane I realize we aren’t that far off the main runway and are nowhere near the main terminal. We are near what looks like a maintenance building for Lufthansa and they are loading us onto a bus.
Then I see the flat/low tire on the landing gear.
That is likely not exactly normal.
Takes about 5-10 minutes on that bus and we are loaded into the main terminal.
When we get inside there is a board that tells us where to go. We came in B terminal. We need to go to Z terminal. We have less than 2 hours.
In layman’s terms: Run.
So we go.
Remember my ankle? It was doing OK until now. Here is where I killed whatever was left of it. If you have never been to the Frankfurt Airport it is roughly the size of Disney World. Like all of Disney World put together. It is like a Disney World for Lufthansa. Complete with moving sidewalks and clever tricks like routing you through a gift shop to get to your gate).
So first we run to Passport control before security, which ends up being fast for us as we are Americans going to America. Then we ended up in the peasant line for TSA. HUGE line. Speaking of Disney World they employ the same method for line management except the “the wait from this point is aprox X minutes sign” which would have been really handy”. They also have this video that plays on a loop about this couple that meets in the TSA line then goes on their first date in the airport. They both look like supermodels. I wonder if their relationship worked out after that? They should make a sequel because Travelocity tells me there is at least a 60% chance I will be going through Frankfurt again in the spring.
So I get to TSA. The only different thing about German TSA is they don’t make you take your shoes off. They probably couldn’t tolerate the smell of bad feet anymore; maybe that’s why all the perfume stores. They also have cubicles for the pat down.
So just an FYI at this point. We had 30+ minutes to get to our gate after security and I had to pee. Our gate was Z69. Gate Z69 is located in Munich (I think). Peeing was a bad idea. There weren’t enough moving sidewalks. It is quite literally the furthest gate from security. We made it (after peeing) with like 5 minutes to spare until boarding started.
I was feeling the burn at about gate Z55 and had burned off all the Bulgarian cheese I ate by gate Z66 (Where all of Germany was headed to Chicago)
So by the time I got to gate Z69 I actually came the closest to being sick that I was on the whole trip. Pain, nausea, stress, getting on another plane, and seeing how small the plane was and seeing how much of us were supposed to fit in it did me in. But I didn’t get sick and I talked myself into getting onto the plane.
And we took off on time.
And I watched Man of Steel
And I ate an entire meal VERY SLOWLY
And then I watch Despicable Me 2.
Then I napped for an hour
Then I watched Sleepy Hollow.
We were over Maine at this point. Maine. Maine. Maine. Literally 39,000 feet down and an hour’s drive west and I would have been home.
We started our decent. I could feel it. And the well-behaved German toddler sitting in front of me obviously felt it too. Her stomach, not made of iron like mine, rejected her chicken curry and I am forever haunted by the smell. I warned my co-workers that curry smells are banned from the workspace until further notice. They are complying.
I am done at this point. I want to be home. I know I am going home. But I want to be home. I look at Mum. The feeling is obviously mutual.
Touchdown Logan. 2:00 PM, 30 minutes late.
It takes a long time to deplane. It looks like a frat party happened in there. One of the members of The USA team on the plane is still actively upchucking in a Ziplock baggie. There is mystery goo seeping down one of the walls in business class. I do not envy the poor people that have to clean that up.
I do not look forward to making this trip in 5 months with a toddler in tow.
We exit the plane and find a bathroom. Germophobe that I am didn’t risk using the toilet so my bladder now feels like it may rupture. Thankfully there is a toilet before immigration. We confidently all get in the US citizens line.
Immigration is actually fairly fast. We make it up to the Customs officer in about 5 minutes. Super sweet guy, who is the only person on the planet who has been able to answer this nagging question for me:
When I come back with Jude next time, which line do I get in? He says, US citizens line. As she is completing the last step to citizenship, and will be a full citizen on exiting that line. So, everyone gets in the US citizens line next time (at least at Logan).
Then we go to Luggage Claim.
Hello Luggage. It is all there.
We give the man our customs forms upon exiting the luggage claim. Here I see the German toddler happily skipping along with a (not a mystery to me) stain on her shirt.
Exit to arrivals. Our friend meets us with our minivan within minutes at the curb. Time check: 2:45 PM.
I arrive home at 6:30 PM. In bed, asleep, by 6:45.
Trip 1 was great. Jude was great. I read a ton of blogs. Adoption books. Facebook posts. Nothing in the world could have prepared me enough for actually living it. I did 3 years of 12-hour night shifts at a hospital and I have never been so tired in all of my life. Never. Ever. I didn’t speak a word of Bulgarian when I left over a week ago. I am now fairly confident that I will have no difficulty with the language barrier with my child. Even on my own, with no translator.
Adoptive Parents Bring for your Child: A Photo Book, A blanket (Jude preferred this above the stuffed toy), a small toy, and a recordable book. These were indispensable to us on this trip.
Bring for yourself: Whatever it takes to make you sleep on the plane. You are going to need it. Your smartphone (even if you can’t use it for cell service many places have wi-fi even in the town we were in and it can be used to communicate via Facebook IM or e-mail.)