Time To Go Home!
My alarm came screaming to life at 5:00AM this morning. I showered and packed last minute items into my suitcase, then left my hotel room for the last time. Passing through the hotel lobby I said farewell to the sleeping kitty and the motorbikes:
Our group met outside the van at 6:00AM. In preparation for the drive to Pisa International, Phil had piled our suitcases and photo bags into the vehicle until it was almost overflowing. Photographers do not travel light. We pulled out of the hotel driveway at 6:32, beginning the two-plus hour drive to Pisa airport. Our group had left before the hotel’s dining room opened for breakfast, so the wonderful people at the Casanova Hotel had prepared a little “grab & go” breakfast bag for each of us, which contained water, croissant, and a couple of baked goodies – what a nice touch.
It was a very winding and bumpy ride to the Pisa airport until we hit the Fi-Pi-Li (a major highway in Italy which services Firenze (Florence), Pisa and Livorno), but we arrived at Pisa International Airport at 8:45. We unloaded all the bags and Phil quickly returned the van to the rental place at the airport, then returned to check in as the rest of us were doing. We all received our boarding passes and checked our bags. Carmel, Ted and I had coffee and pastries at a busy little café, then went through airport Security. I set off the alarm when I passed through screening (what else is new?), so I was swabbed and checked over by Security.
British Airways Conflict… Redux
We found our boarding gate (#23) for flight BA0605 to London Heathrow, and all 6 of us sat down to wait for the boarding call. Our flight was called shortly, and we began to file on to the plane. As luck would have it, British Airways once again – you guessed it – forced me, along with Carmel, to check our precious camera bags containing all our photo gear, into the hold. As in my previous flight from London, while boarding and locating my seat on the flight I could see that plenty of the overhead bins were empty, and that other passengers were sneaking their large bags on board. As I said at the start of my Pisa adventure, I will NEVER, EVER, EVER fly British Airways again. Ever. Pre-COVID-19 I was a fairly frequent flyer; no other airline in the world has ever forced me to check my camera gear. Oh, British Airways, how do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways.
We boarded then pushed back right on time at 11:05AM. We didn’t get very far from the gate, though, when the plane stopped and we sat motionless for some time. Finally, the Captain came on the system to announce there was a problem with the weight distribution of cargo on the plane. The cargo had been loaded mostly at the rear of the plane and it was not safe to fly with a weight imbalance such as this. The plane returned to the gate. To make a long story short, ground crew had to remove all cargo and bags stored underneath the plane and redistribute it all evenly through the cargo holds. This delayed our flight departure by 2 hours.
As we were sitting there listening to the banging and clunking of cargo being redistributed in the hold under our feet, a Flight Attendant came on the P.A. system to announce my name and Carmel’s name, asking us to identify ourselves to the cabin crew. It turned out that, due to the weight distribution issue and the necessity to reload bags and cargo, our precious camera gear had been brought up from the hold and returned to safety in the cabin. HA! I had the last laugh on you, British Airways… I fart in your general direction. What a sense of victory and achievement Carmel and I revelled in!! 😊
We finally pushed back at 1:10PM, two hours late, and were on our way to London Heathrow. It had been a long, long time since I’d heard anyone applaud on a flight, but a round of clapping broke out when the Captain finally announced our departure clearance from Pisa International. My connecting Air Canada flight from London to Toronto did not depart until 6:00PM, so I had plenty of time; I didn’t miss my connection as did several people on our flight.
The flight back to London was mostly uneventful (which is quite alright, thanks). We landed at London Heathrow, Terminal 5 at about 2:45PM. We all made our way off the plane and on to the tarmac where a shuttle bus awaited to take us to the terminal. Our group passed through UK Border Control and met at the baggage carousel. Our bags came tumbling down before too long, and it was now time for each of us to go our separate ways. We said our goodbyes to each other and went off; it felt odd to be leaving this wonderful group of people I’d spent so much time with over the past week.
Carmel, Ted and I split off after leaving the baggage claim area, and I found where to catch the train and jump through the hoops of fire that would take me from Terminal 5 to Terminal 2 where Air Canada boards. After a couple of elevators and many moving sidewalks I found my Air Canada boarding gate, printed my boarding pass, checked my bags, then went through Security without a hitch.
I hadn’t eaten much yet today so I went for lunch at the Wondertree restaurant – talk about fast food delivery and service! I finished up and began to seek out the departure gate B39. As usual in Heathrow, it was a looooooooonng way to the gate. I found the gate, took a seat and awaited the boarding call.
When I checked in to my Air Canada flight online, I decided to treat myself for the flight home and upgraded my seat to Premium Economy at a reasonably decent discount. This was a wise move in retrospect, as it had a been a long, tumultuous day so far; I actually looked forward to sinking into those spacious, padded Premium Economy Air Canada seats.
Our flight was called and passengers began to board. I found my seat in Premium Economy (an aisle seat with no one in the 2 seats to the left of me – bonus!), and settled in. We pushed back and departed right on schedule (6:00PM) and were off.
It was an especially smooth flight with nothing out of the ordinary occurring (just as well). I had time to work on this journal and to think about the amazing things I had done, places I’d seen, and the lovely people I had met and shared so much with over the past eight days. I love long flights like this where I have a chance to reflect on a trip just past, and revel for a while in the golden memories.
We touched down in Toronto at about 9:00PM local time. I passed through Canadian Customs and retrieved my luggage without issue. I had pre-ordered a car to pick me up and whisk me home, and it was waiting for my flight’s arrival. It took about another 45 minutes into the city centre but I reached home at about 10:30PM, my head groggy from the events of the day. When I came in the door I was love-bombed by Ollie and Tulip, with Vince right behind them. All was well on the home front and, as great as it is to take a trip such as this, it’s also wonderful to come back to home base.
Thank you, Tuscany, London, Phil, and all my wonderful Light & Land tour-mates. It was an amazing adventure! 😊