Sunday, October 22, 2006

Lapland Holiday

This essay describes a trip that we took to Lapland right before Christmas in 1999. The trip can still be booked in the U.K. at Lapland Santa Holidays. I don’t think this experience can be topped for generating lifetime Christmas memories.

Hanging Out in the Snow

Day 1, Tuesday, November 23, 1999 - I had a business dinner the night before, so I got home late. My wife had gotten the kids in bed at 7:30. We had to catch a train to the airport at 5:48 a.m. I woke up at 4:45, and checked the news on the Internet. I was mainly looking for updates to the Texas A&M bonfire disaster that had just been reported in the news. I messed around a little too long, and we barely got to the train station in time. I was still buying tickets from the machine when the train pulled up.

Our first flight was to London’s Heathrow airport, which is one of the worlds busiest. We all had a little sinus congestion, and the pressure changes in the cabin were very painful to our ears when we were descending. I felt like my head was going to explode. Once we arrived in London, the kids started to really act up. They had gotten up early, and were pretty tired. I got some foreign currency; both British Pounds and Finnish Marks. In two years most of Europe will have a single currency, which will make traveling much more convenient (and less expensive). Currently, I have small change from a dozen different countries.

We found a McDonalds in the airport and let the kids eat. There were half a dozen British girls at the next table, and my wife told me later that they made some snide remarks about the way my son was acting. This really irritated me, because in our travels it is possible that we are the only contact some of these people have had with Americans. I want to make a good impression, because some of these people have in their minds negative stereotypes of Americans. I want to represent the U.S. in a favorable manner, as I feel we did in Norway and Italy.

In the airport, we had to recheck our luggage, and found out that my son’s flight reservation was wrong. His ticket was correct, but they had him listed in the computer as a Ms. Louise Rapier. Once we got that straightened out, the woman at the desk asked, “So, you are going to Helsinki, Finland?” I told her that we were just connecting in Helsinki, and then she said she had only checked our bags to Helsinki, where I would have to pick them up and recheck them. She went on to say that I should have told her, so she could have checked them all the way. Well, it said right on the tickets where we were going, so it was her mistake. And, it was to delay us later on.

What hadn’t really sunk in was that we were in London, one of the world’s great cities. I let my wife rest, and I took the kids outside the airport. Since the traffic patterns in England are different that we were accustomed to, we had to really be careful when crossing the street. The first traffic you encounter will come from the right, which is the opposite of what you are used to.

When it was time for our flight, we went back inside and headed for the gate. My son started trying to fight with me, and at one point got mad and ran hard at me. I stood my ground, and he bounced off of me and landed on the floor. He was really mad, and started yelling at me. I was completely embarrassed, and upset with my son for acting up. So much for making a good impression with the people around us.

We flew British Air to Helsinki. I was very impressed. During the flight, all of the kids got to go into the cockpit and meet the pilots. We had never done that before. I took my daughter and my son in there, and we chatted with the pilots for a few minutes. I think I enjoyed it more than the kids did.

There were many other people on this flight that were headed to the same place we were going. Our final destination was Luosto, Finland, which is about 75 miles inside the Arctic Circle, and “home” of Santa Claus. It is also near the Russian border. At Helsinki, the entire group (all British) had to wait on us while we waited for our luggage to come off. I felt like, as the only Americans, we were really under a microscope. Causing the entire group to wait on us was not the kind of attention I was looking for.

We went into a restaurant, where I heard people speaking Finnish. This is a very unusual language; it reminded me of an alien language from Star Wars. We ate, and then transferred to a flight going to Rovaniemi, Finland. Rovaniemi lies directly on the border of the Arctic Circle. Sitting next to me on the plane was a man from Romania. He tried to say something to the stewardess, but she didn’t understand him. He switched to German, and I understood what he was saying, and translated. He was terrified of flying, and we were going through turbulence. I asked him if he was Russian, and he said no, Romanian. He said he could speak Russian, and asked me if I knew how to speak Russian. I told him “No, all I can do is count to 3, but I have a good friend from college that is Russian.” He apparently misunderstood me, because he then started speaking to me in Russian. I just smiled and nodded.

Because of the ice and snow, the plane stops out near the runway and you walk to the terminal. Since the weather was below freezing, I got everyone’s coat out. My daughter’s was soaking wet. I had put water bottles in with the coats, and they had leaked. I had to carry my son, so my wife wrapped my daughter up and carried her inside. There were a couple of inches of snow on the ground, and someone had built a 12 foot tall snowman right outside the entrance. People were taking pictures, and I had to let my son down so he could touch it.

Once we got our luggage, we transferred to a bus which took us to Luosto. It was about 9 p.m. Finnish time (10 p.m. German time). It was past bedtime for the kids, but we still had to take a 90 minute bus ride. I assumed the kids could rest, but they sang Christmas songs and watched Christmas videos on the bus. On the way, I could see quite a bit, and the scenery was beautiful. There were fir trees everywhere covered with snow. There were numerous log cabins on the way, also. When we got to Luosto, we were given a short orientation around the resort, and then outfitted with ski suits and boots. By this time, it was almost midnight, but we couldn’t resist playing in the snow. I pulled the kids around in a couple of sleds that were outside our cabin.

Finally, close to midnight, we went to our cabin. For future reference, the cabins were operated by Scandic Hotels. Our cabin was a nice, big log cabin with a fireplace. There was also a bathroom, sauna, and TV. The beds were built out of the wall and were very comfortable. The kids were asleep within 5 minutes of lying down.

Day 2, Wednesday - I woke up early and walked outside. It was snowing, but not like snow I had ever seen. This snow stung my face. I looked at it as it fell on my coat, and it looked like tiny needles. Today on our agenda, we were supposed to look for Santa. We had lots of winter activities scheduled during the day. But first, we walked up to the hotel restaurant and had breakfast. The restaurant was a huge building made of logs. The floors were also made of wood. We had an English breakfast, which was O.K. but not great. They had scrambled eggs available, which had absolutely no flavor. They also had sausage, bacon, assorted cold meats, fruits, breads, Danishes, and cereals.

Getting Ready to Ski

During the day, we went sledding, skiing, snowmobiling, and took sleigh rides behind huskies and then later, reindeer. I shot a little video, but in the cold my battery didn’t last long. We were so far north, that it started getting dark about 2 in the afternoon. Once, when everyone else was sledding, my son and I were playing in the snow. The bus was parked up the hill from us, and I had walked away from my son. I heard a noise, and looked up to see the bus rolling down the hill, in the direction of my son. I was about equally close to my son and the bus, and I made a run for my son. The bus driver saw the bus rolling and chased it down. The bus driver said his heart was beating a hundred beats a minute. I am sure mine was beating faster than that.

Later on, my wife and my daughter were going for a husky ride. The driver walked away after they had sat down, and the dogs took off. The driver and another man both jumped on the back of the sled, and the dogs dragged them for about twenty feet before they could stop it. I told my wife later that if they hadn’t gotten the dogs stopped, they were probably in for quite a long ride.

Taking a Sleigh Ride

During the day, we saw several of Santa’s “elves.” They would play with the kids, and give hints as to where Santa could be found. As we were getting ready for a reindeer sleigh ride, someone shouted “Look in the forest!” There was Santa on a sleigh being pulled by reindeer. He was a couple of hundred yards away, traveling away from us. The kids were yelling, but he waved and went on.

Before the ride, my son kept petting the reindeer and saying “Nice horse.” After the ride, we went into what looked like an Indian teepee and had a ceremony welcoming us to Lapland. (Lapland is the northern part of Norway, Sweden, and Finland.) We all gathered around a fire, and two Laps danced around the fire and then smudged black paint on our foreheads.

Next, one of the guides said that one of the elves knew where Santa was. So, we went on a wild sled ride in the woods looking for him. We ended up at one of Santa’s post offices deep in the woods. But, Santa was not there. My son was really ticked off. The guide said that one of the elves had played a trick on us. My son said “Stupid elf.”

That night, we ate back in the hotel restaurant. There were a lot of children’s programs going on at the front of the restaurant, and I sat alone in a separate part next to a window. Outside, I had a view of a frozen lake ringed with snow covered fir trees. The lights were turned down, and someone was playing “Silent Night” on the piano. The atmosphere, and the view I had outside were incredible. I will never forget the feeling I had as long as I live, even when I am old and senile. At this moment, I felt like the investment we had made on this trip had paid off. I sat there and reviewed the day’s events in my mind. Every scene during the day appeared to be perfect for a Christmas postcard. We had done all sorts of things during the day that until then we had only dreamed about. In reviewing the day’s events, it also occurred to me that we had not seen a single wild animal. Not even a bird. I found that odd, but I guess it is just too cold this time of year.

After the children’s program was winding down, my son came over and sat by me. We were looking out the window, and suddenly there was Santa again on his sleigh. All of the kids started yelling, and within 30 seconds there were around 20 people crowded around my table for a better view. My son and I had the best seats in the house. When Santa got to the end of the lake, he turned and came back toward us. This time, his sleigh actually flew in the air. While all the kids were yelling “Look, he’s flying”, my son said “I see a rope.” Fortunately, he didn’t say this again, and none of the other kids heard him. I explained to my son that Santa didn’t need a rope to fly. Unfortunately, my daughter was a little late getting back to the window and didn’t get to see Santa fly.

After all the excitement, I went to the information desk to ask some questions. There was a young Finnish woman and a British woman at the desk. After I started talking to them, the British woman asked “Are you from Texas?” I said yes; at this point, during short conversations I have given up explaining that I am from Oklahoma but have lived in Texas for 11 years. The British woman said “You have a beautiful voice. I just knew you had to be from Texas. I just love your accent.” I always feel a little awkward when someone pays me a compliment, but I just smiled and said “Thank you.” The Finnish woman wanted to know exactly where we were from, and how we liked living in Germany, and where all we had traveled. She went on to tell me that we were the first Americans to ever come on this tour. She asked how we found out about it, and I told her that we had seen it advertised on the Internet before we ever came to Germany. I joked with my wife that they were flirting with me, but she just rolled her eyes and laughed.

We walked back to the cabin, and played outside in the snow. We all made snow angels, and then my wife just laid down in the snow while I played with the kids. I showed them how to eat snow. I told them that it was O.K. to eat snow here, because the air was so clean. I also told them to make sure the snow was clean, and to never, ever, eat yellow snow, especially when there were dogs around. After going back in the cabin and getting settled down, the kids were soon asleep.

Day 3, Thursday - I got up about 6:30 and decided to build a fire. It had been cold the morning before, and I wanted to warm the place up before everyone woke up. The wood was a little damp, and I was trying to get the fire built without turning on the lights. I had stuffed newspaper in the fireplace, and I had some small pieces of wood in there to get it going. When I was trying to light the fire, I burned my finger. I went into the bathroom to run cold water on it, and while I was in there, the smoke alarm started going off. The person who had come by for housekeeping had closed the damper (I had opened it the day before when I was thinking about starting a fire). The whole place was full of smoke, so I ran into the room, hands soaking wet, opened the mantle, and started trying to dismantle the smoke alarm in the dark. The ceiling was 12 feet high, so I climbed up on the top bunk (which was my bed) and stretched out and jerked the battery out of the alarm. By this time, though, my wife and my son were awake. My daughter was so tired that she slept through the whole thing.

My son started asking for M&M’s as soon as he woke up. I said no, and he started screaming and throwing a fit. He was about to wake my daughter up, so I decided to just go ahead and give him some to shut him up. He immediately settled down, so I didn’t regret doing it, but I don’t like to do this because it may lead him to believe he can get his way by throwing a fit.

On the way to breakfast, it was again snowing hard. My wife said “Happy Thanksgiving“. I hadn’t even realized that it was Thanksgiving. I probably would not have realized all day if she hadn’t said something. I hadn’t thought about it one time the day before, so I probably would not have realized at all during our trip. It occurred to me that this would probably be my first Thanksgiving ever without turkey. I can’t remember a Thanksgiving without turkey and the Dallas Cowboys playing football in the afternoon. Texas and Texas A&M would also be playing football the next day. My wife and I talked about this game, and how emotional it would probably be. Because of the bonfire disaster, many, many people had gone back to College Station. I expected a huge crowd for the game, but I thought it would be a solemn event. We talked about the difficulty of the 12 families going about Thanksgiving preparations after having just lost a child the previous week.

After breakfast, we left to do more of the things we had been doing yesterday. We had heard that today would be the day we would find Santa. We started out riding snowmobiles, which the British called skidoos. In addition to their accents, they pronounce several words completely differently from us. Vitamin comes out “veetamin” and schedule comes out “schedule” (no “k” sound). Anyway, my wife really liked the snowmobiles, and kept riding over and over on the track. The track went up a hill into the woods, made a circle, and then came back. I rode with my son, and stopped once to take a picture. I again thought how the entire scene in every direction looked like a Christmas postcard.

Later, we rode through the forest in a one horse open sleigh. We had lunch in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. My son and I built our first snowman together in front of the house while my wife and my daughter were cross-country skiing. I think we did a really good job with the snowman, and when I went to help my daughter with her skis, my son stayed and worked on the snowman. He had eyes made of bark, a smile made up a short fir branch, and a nose made out of a sharp stick. With my son sitting there by himself, it looked like he had done the whole thing on his own. People were coming over to look in amazement that this little boy could make such a nice snowman. When I went back over there, there were several people complimenting him on his nice snowman.

After lunch, another elf told us that they knew where Santa was. So, we left in sleighs pulled by snowmobiles. We covered ourselves in reindeer rugs. The ride was nice, but the exhaust from the snowmobiles made it difficult to breath. We rode deep into the forest, where we came upon a log cabin in front of a mountain. I can’t even describe the scenery; it was just magnificent. There was a reindeer tied up outside. We walked up on the porch, and through a window we could see three elves making toys.

Santa in His Workshop

I walked around the side of the cabin, and saw Santa sitting in a chair by a fireplace. I told the kids that I thought Santa might be inside. All of the families were split up and taken inside. While we waited, we had snowball fights with the snowmobile drivers. My daughter and my son really liked this. When it was our turn to go in, we walked inside the room where Santa was. The kids were just awestruck. They had both written letters to Santa, and he had their letters. He told them that they had come further than anyone to see him, and that he was so happy to see them. He said that he had never seen them awake before, only when they were sleeping on Christmas Eve. He talked to them for a while, and gave them both a present. Both the kids just stood there with wide eyes. After we left Santa, we got to go into the room where the elves were working. They spoke “elf language” to the kids. After watching them for a few minutes, we once again boarded the snowmobile sleighs and headed back to the bus. I thought that the whole experience felt like being part of a Christmas movie.

We let the kids open their presents in the bus, because several other children had been allowed to open theirs. One of the things my daughter had asked for was a “Jane Barbie”, as in Jane from Disney’s Tarzan. This is what she received, and her eyes really lit up when she opened it. My son had been saying constantly that he hoped Santa got him a Power Ranger - the strawberry (red) one. So, my son got a red Power Ranger with a motorcycle. He was also very pleased. My daughter mentioned that she thought Santa would have a much bigger house and workshop. We had to explain to her that we had been told that was only one of Santa’s smaller workshops. His main house and workshop is at the North Pole, which was further North than we were.

My daughter had made a friend on the trip, so we let them sit together on the bus. The girl was 2 years older than my daughter, but not much bigger. From the back, her hair looked a lot like my daughter’s. Her parents were from London, and we spoke with them at length later in the trip.

After we got back to our cabin, I wrestled on the bed with the kids for about an hour. We had also done this the night before; I never seem to be able to wear them out. When the time came, my wife took my daughter to the restaurant early for more children’s programs. My son and I were going to wait until later to go. We stayed in the cabin and watched Finnish cartoons on the TV and wrestled on the bed. After supper, we all once again played in the snow for a little while, before getting the kids to bed early.

Day 4, Friday - I woke up wondering whether the Cowboys had won, and how the Texas A&M game would go. I would not know until Sunday. Today, we had many options. We could have gone skating, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, ice fishing, make an excursion to an amethyst mine, or visit Santa Park in Rovaniemi. We chose Santa Park. During the 90 minute bus ride back to Rovaniemi, I remained awestruck with the scenery. This place was a real wilderness. I would like to return in the summer and go hiking.

We arrived at Santa Park, which is a theme park built in an underground cavern. There were several rides for the kids with Christmas themes. There was a roller coaster, and then a train ride through a Christmas fantasyland. My son really liked the train ride, but my daughter was partial to the roller coaster. There was also a reindeer carousel, and a helicopter ride that you propelled with pedals. We pedaled around the park on an elevated track; my wife with my daughter and my son with me. This was quite a workout on the legs. We stayed there about 3 hours, before leaving and going to the Arctic Circle Shopping Center, which was a small mall.

While my wife shopped, I let the kids play in a little playground inside the mall. There were six kids there playing, but I was the only parent there watching their kids. I guess most of these parents are more trusting than I am. My daughter played with her friend from London. They could have probably played for hours. Once, while my son was climbing the ladder on the slide, a Finnish boy came along and pushed him off the slide. The boy was 2-3 years older than my son, and a full head taller. I ended up having to pull my son off of him, because I thought he was going to hurt him. My son thought I was going to be mad at him, but I told him that it is O.K. to take up for yourself.

From there, we went back to the Rovaniemi airport. We had a couple of hours until our flight, and we visited with the parents of my daughter’s new friend. The mother asked if we would meet them for dinner at the Rainbow Cafe in London the next evening, and we said O.K. She said she would call the place we were staying and set up a time. We exchanged addresses and phone numbers. She asked whether we had relatives in England, and I told her that on my Mother’s side our family tree went back to England. She asked the name and what part of England. I told her “Shirley”, but I didn’t know what part of England they had been from. She turned to her husband and said “Oh, of course. They were from the north. There is a wrestler, ‘Big Daddy Shirley’ that comes from there.” My wife told me later that this certainly had to be a relative of mine.

The flight back was a charter flight. The plane was only about 25% full, so there were plenty of seats. We let my daughter sit by her friend in front of us. This turned out to be a mistake. Her parents slept in the back of the plane. The little girl pestered the stewardesses every time they came down the aisle, and they were really getting irritated. I think they thought we were her parents and should control her. She also kept getting out of her seat and running up and down the aisle. My daughter tried to do this too, but we stopped her. During the flight, the movie was the new version of “Miracle on 34th Street.” The kids were also allowed to go back into the cockpit and visit the pilots.

Once at the airport (London’s Gatwick this time) we collected our luggage and caught a cab. Our luggage was wet, so we thought something had leaked inside. Instead, it turned out to be raining hard outside. It was only a five minute ride to the Bed and Breakfast where we were staying. It was in a London suburb called Horley. I sat in the front seat. Since it was a British car, I sat in the position that a driver in an American car normally occupies. I told the cab driver that this was the first time I had sat in this position in a car and not been driving. He made some small talk with us, but I had a really tough time understanding his accent. I think he was Indian, but his British accent was very strong. When we got there, we quickly got settled in and started planning the next day’s activities in London.

We had never stayed at a Bed and Breakfast before. It is basically a room in someone’s house. It gives you more of a chance to meet local people as well as other travelers. My son was acting up, so we told him that we thought a policeman lived there. Who knows, maybe one did. And my son has a healthy respect for policemen. Anyway, that really calmed him down. Every time he started acting up, all we had to do was say “Listen. Is that the policeman I hear?” He would calm down immediately.

Day 5, Saturday - During the night I had dreams of Finland, and then we awoke to a cloudless sky. I wondered if the Aggies had won their football game. We had a big English breakfast, which was very good. We loaded up the backpack, and walked about 10 minutes to the train station. My wife and I didn’t wear heavy coats, because it didn’t feel too cool and we assumed it would warm up. Gatwick airport is actually about 30 miles south of London, so we would have to ride the train into downtown London. When I was buying the tickets, the man at the window asked how old the kids were. When I told him my daughter was five, he told me that if she was under five she could ride for free and then he winked at me. I repeated to him that my daughter was five, so he charged me for her ticket.

On the way, I studied the English countryside. I don’t know about the rest of it, but I found the 30 mile ride into London a little boring compared to some of the places we have been. After we arrived at the station, we went upstairs to eat. We ate at KFC for the first time in probably 8 months. Halfway through lunch, my son told me he needed to go to the bathroom. I asked him if he could hold it, and he said no. So we found the bathroom, and it was filthy. I don’t understand why men’s bathrooms so often look like pigpens. My appetite for lunch was ruined.

We booked tickets right outside the station on a London bus tour. These tours are hop on, hop off, and good for 24 hours. They also have several different routes available. Once again, I was asked about my daughter’s age when I was buying the tickets. After I said she was 5, the man told me that my daughter would ride free if she was under 5. He then raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders as if to say “I have got no problem if you tell me she is under 5.” I repeated that she was 5, and he charged for the ticket. I left thinking that these guys either thought Americans were either really honest or really stupid.

The kids insisted that we ride in the top of the double-decker bus. The top was open, and my wife and I were freezing. Instead of warming up as we had anticipated, it actually got cooler during the day. We had a number of sights to choose from on our tour. We were interested in the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and the London Dungeon. My wife also wanted to go into Harrods if we had time. The British Museum is renowned as one of the world’s greatest museums. It contains the Rosetta Stone, as well as extensive Egyptian and Assyrian collections. The Natural History Museum has huge dinosaur and insect exhibits, which we thought the kids would like. We weren’t sure they would enjoy the wax museum, and besides there is another branch in Amsterdam that we are planning to visit soon.

The London Dungeon is supposed to be one of the most popular attractions in London. It is a medieval horror museum that has a show called “The Jack the Ripper Experience.” We had decided that we could not go with the kids, but when they heard us talking about it, they begged to go. It was the most convenient sight to see; we would not have to change buses. So, against my better judgment we got out and waited for a half hour in line. Here is an advertisement for the London Dungeon that I pulled off the Internet:

Peer through corroded railings in a dank, dark, musty-smelling maze of gloomy arches and eerie nooks, with the railway rumbling overhead. You'll see medieval torture scenes and hear the screams as the rack tightens. The location, artifacts, atmosphere and basic idea of presenting the grizzliest moments of British history are successful and most people enjoy their visit. A recent addition is the Jack the Ripper experience, which has provoked protests for its glorification of a murderer. Still, the coach parties pile through, and the shop does a roaring trade. The Dungeon is least busy Monday to Wednesday mornings.

There was a family from California behind us in line. When we got to the front of the line, we entered a narrow dark passage where scary music was being played. My son got scared and wanted me to pick him up. My daughter got scared and wanted to leave. I tried to tell her she could close her eyes, but she started crying and wanted to leave. So, after wasting half an hour standing in line, we left. The California couple said that they were afraid the kids were looking a little scared as we got closer to entering the place. My son kept telling my daughter that he was mad at her, but I reminded him that he got scared too. I told my daughter that it was O.K. to be scared, and I should have used better judgment in the first place. I should have never even considered taking them in there.

So, we hopped on another bus and continued to see the sights. We saw Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace (where Princess Diana had lived), St. Paul’s Cathedral, Piccadilly Circus, the Tower of London, London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, the Parliament Building, Notting Hill, and Harrods, the most famous department store in the world.

We got off the bus at the Natural History Museum, and spent a couple of hours in there. The kids spent a lot of time in the insect exhibit, which was really “hands-on” and aimed at children. There was also a rain forest exhibit which the kids liked. After the rain forest, we visited the extensive dinosaur exhibit. My daughter really liked this, but my son rushed us through it. He was ready to leave. Overall, we really rushed through London, but we will go back next summer. There is enough to do in London to keep a person busy for at least a week. Riding through on the bus really allowed us to see a lot, but sometimes I felt like I was just watching a movie of London instead of experiencing London.

So, we left and hailed a cab on the street. On the way to the train station, we passed Harrods again, and they were really lit up for Christmas. (Harrods is owned by the father of the man Princess Diana was engaged to when they were both killed). We took a 10 minute ride back to the train station, and rode back out to where we were staying. After leaving the train station, and on our way back to the Bed and Breakfast, we stopped in a restaurant and ate Chinese food. Then, we went into a supermarket and stocked up on goodies for the kids for the flight out the next day.

Day 6, Sunday - At breakfast, the owner told us that the couple from London had called yesterday after we left to try and set up a time to get together. Oh, well, they should have called early. My original plan for today was to either explore the suburb we were staying in, or ride back into London for the day and then leave on a 3:00 p.m. flight. But, the suburb didn’t look too interesting, and we didn’t have time to go back into London. I knew there was a flight leaving at 11:40, so we were going to try and make that one. We caught a cab at 10:00 and headed for the airport. The cab driver told me that we should visit Scotland in the summer. He said it isn’t very crowded, and the scenery is fantastic. That sounds like a good trip next summer.

When we got to the airport, I talked to the woman at the ticket counter and got us put on standby for the next flight. The airport had the moving walkways (like a flat escalator) that zip you along. While we were walking on one of these, a woman in front of us fell and got stuck in the belt. People with their luggage and luggage carts started piling into her. There was literally no place to go, so I turned around and yelled to the people behind me to walk backwards quickly. I grabbed my son and we attempted to back up. Fortunately, this gave someone enough time to hit the emergency stop and get the woman out.

We went through security, and my wife realized about 10 minutes later that she left her purse there. This almost gave me a heart attack, but they still had it when she went back. My wife went in some stores looking for some English language magazines, and the kids sat down and played. There were a number of computer terminals set up where you could browse the Internet for about $0.16 a minute. So, I browsed the Internet while my wife shopped. I found out that both the Cowboys and Aggies had won. The crowd at the A&M game had been well over 80,000, making it the largest crowd ever to watch a football game in the state of Texas. I also checked stock prices, and looked to see if anything newsworthy had happened in the last five days.

We found out at the gate that there was room on the early flight for us. My son slept almost all the way home. The only negative was that we realized my daughter had taken her coat off in the airport and left it there. But, this was a small price to pay.

In summary, this was the trip of a lifetime. I love to visit wild and exotic locations, and they don’t get much more wild and exotic than the Arctic. The scenery was really indescribable, and the kids had more fun than on any other vacation we have been on. Our London visit was too brief, but we will go back soon. Our next vacation will be two weeks in April. We are still trying to decide where to go, but some of the possibilities are: Turkey; Spain, Portugal, and Morocco; or Austria and Switzerland.

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