It was the second time that I'd ventured to the United Kingdom so I decided to take a different route than normal. The plan was simple. Meet up with my group in Birmingham, spend a month there and then go solo to London. I booked a cheap flight on Air Canada from Houston to Heathrow through Toronto, in hopes of watching the USA take on England at Wembley, which didn't happen. Instead, I took a quick coach ride up to Brum. I'd never flown Air Canada before so I didn't really have any expectations. As long as I could take my pills and fall asleep fast, everything was gonna be alright. That was not the case.
When I boarded I made my way to what was the very last seat in the back of the airplane, you know, the one where you can sit and chat with the stewards and stewardess' the whole flight. I would say I wasn't thrilled but for the price that I got the ticket I should have expected something like this. Determined to make the best, I quickly introduced myself to Paul the Steward and asked if I could have an early bag of peanuts before the plane took off.
As I was munching on my five unsalted peanuts a young girl came and sat down in the window seat next to me. She was about 5' 9" and had gorgeous blond hair down the back of her neck. Suddenly the trip began to look more bearable. She introduced herself as Ivana, a twenty-something that had been studying in Toronto and was on her way back to her native Czech Republic. Her English was a bit hard to understand, but at least she was pleasant.
As we took off I slid my headphones over my ears and waited for my Dramamine to kick in. After a short time of sleeping I felt a gentle touch on my arm and awoke to find Ivana staring at me. She had pulled a book out of her bag and was eager to show me some different pictures and facts about the Czech Republic.
The Middle (Where I'm Usually Asleep)
I feel I should tell you my routine before long flights. Basically, I deprive myself of sleep for at least 24-30 hours, sit down in my assigned seat and crash into slumber until I arrive. Theoretically, this approach should work perfectly but has only been executed to perfection once. So when I step onto an airplane I'm usually completely exhausted and excited.
So as Ivana opened her book and began to show me some of the beautiful sights from Prague and the surrounding countryside, I was less than amused. I could barely understand what she was saying to begin with. Even though the pictures were intriguing, I just wasn't in the mood for story time. After paying attention for way too long, our food came and was a welcome distraction. The next couple hours passed smoothly with little interruption but just as I began to doze off again I could hear Ivana's voice calling my name. I tried desperately to ignore it but I'm just not that rude of a person. As I looked over toward her I could tell she was staring intently out the little window. I leaned over to see just what she was so interested in.
Glaciers. Ice. Frozen Beauty.
I had always flown the southerly route from Newark to the UK and had never seen the vast expanse of ice and glaciers in the Northern Atlantic. I imagine what I was looking at was part of the edge of Greenland and, eventually, the area around Iceland. It was truly astounding and I couldn't stop looking out the little piece of glass that we were stuck behind.
The rest of the trip went rather quickly with just a handful of words spoken between Ivana and I but I can't help but think of what I would have missed if I would have kept pretending to sleep.
Once we got to Heathrow, I walked with Ivana into the main terminal where we talked for a little bit until she had to catch her connecting flight. We shared a quick hug and I wished her good luck and safety as she flew on. She smiled and strolled off quickly with her little picture book in hand.
I wish I had that kind of enthusiasm for where I'm from. She was so proud of the Czech Republic that she kept a piece of it with her in her carry-on, a little reminder of who she was.
I hope she remembers sitting next to some punk American kid and staring out a little window at ice as much as I remember her telling me stories about her homeland. Turns out that Ivana means "God is gracious" and that's exactly what I remember when I think about flying from Toronto to London.