Planes, trains and automobiles

Trip Start Sep 07, 2009
Trip End Nov 17, 2009

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Where I stayed

Flag of United States  , Florida
Wednesday, October 7, 2009

07/10/2009 - Today we drove from Key West back to Miami, where we were due to spend one night before catching a flight onto Chicago the next day. The drive was about 160 miles and took roughly 4 hours, including stopping off for lunch at Doc's Diner on Key Largo. Once in Miami, we dropped our car back to Alamo (they didn't seem that bothered about the scratch!). We caught their free shuttle bus to the airport where we then caught another shuttle to our hotel,The Sofitel.

We were a bit disappointed with the Sofitel. It was basically a typical airport hotel, which did nothing to calm my nerves about flying. Our room overlooked the runway and there were low planes going over the whole time. We felt a bit claustrophobic as we were in the middle of nowhere and couldn't really walk to any shops or amenities.

08/10/2009 - After a broken nights sleep, we caught the shuttle bus back to the airport to catch our flight. We checked in our luggage and made our way to the boarding gate. Over the last few days my nerves about flying had been building and at the airport the pressure built up even more. Despite taking sedatives, I suddenly broke down and announced to Jim that I couldn't get on the plane! Jim tried to get the airline (American) to unload our luggage, but it was too late and they refused. I felt awful, helpless and such an idiot. A made a few teary video calls to my family whilst we tried to work out what we were going to do. This was definitely the lowest point of our trip so far, and I felt so guilty as it was all my fault.

Stuck at the airport, we began to investigate other modes of transport to get us to Chicago, 1500 miles away. The next Amtrak train available wouldn't be leaving until the next day and would take 24 hours to get to Washington, where we would have a 9 hour stop over, before catching a train onto Chicago, which would take another 17 hours. Not only would taking the train mean that we would arrive in Chicago 3 nights later, but it would also cost us around $600. Not an option.

That left us with the Greyhound bus. The next bus was leaving at 5.30am and would take 36 hours, after a 2 hour stopover at midnight in Atlanta, to reach Chicago at 3pm the day after. We decided this was our only option, and went about booking another airport hotel to spend the night in. We also contacted our hotel in Chicago to tell them we would be arriving a couple of days late and, fortunately, they were able to delay our reservation.

Now our only problem was our luggage! Miami baggage services informed us that we would have to contact American Airlines 90 minutes after the 3 hour flight had landed and request that our luggage be sent back on the next flight to Miami that evening. The only other alternative would be to meet our luggage in Chicago 2 days later, but this wasn't' really an option, because all my medication was in the luggage! Doh! 

Eventually after spending 6 hours at the airport, we caught yet another shuttle bus to our new airport hotel. Once we arrived, we rang AA and arranged for our luggage to be sent back to Miami. It would be landing at 11pm.

Knowing that the next morning we would be catching the Greyhound at 5.30am and having no food services aboard the bus, we stocked up at the only shop nearby, a 24hr garage. The food we bought for the 36hr trip was revolting, but we had no choice!

We had barely settled in back at the hotel, when it was time to return back to the airport by shuttle bus to collect our luggage. Fortunately, it was waiting for us when we got there. It seemed strange to think that it had travelled 3000 miles to Chicago and back, and we had barely left the airport. Not a good feeling! We caught yet another shuttle bus back to the hotel and finally got into bed about 12pm, knowing that we were have to be up again at 3.30am...

09/10/2009 - 4.00am the next morning we asked the hotel shuttle bus driver to take us to the Greyhound bus depot, near the airport. He was Cuban and didn't speak a word of English, but he nodded when we showed him the address, implying that he would drop us there. Unfortunately, he dropped us off at the airport departures! We weren't able to communicate the mistake to him and he cheerfully waved us off. It was now around 4.30am and the airport was dead. We finally found a cab driver, but he refused to take us to the bus station. On top of this we were beginning to get a bit anxious about catching the bus as we had heard a few scary stories. Everybody drives in America, and with flights being relatively cheap, supposedly it is only the real down-and-outs that catch the bus (apparently a lot of the stops are outside local jails, so that released convicts have a way to get to home!). We were at our wits ends and I realised I would have no option but to bite the bullet and fly.
Without hesitation, Jim found out when the next flight was to Chicago, and booked us on a flight at 8.30am. Fortunately the lady put us on standby for the 7.30am, so we would only have to wait a few hours if places became available. Meanwhile, I dosed up and watched the TV in the waiting area like a zombie - I remember CNN was on and Obama had just been announced has having received the Nobel Peace Prize. We were exhausted and it all seemed a bit surreal.

Finally, our flight was called and we were given our boarding passes. Unfortunately, as we had been on standby, our seats were not together and both of us were seated in the middle of a three, but at this point we were beyond caring and just wanted to be as far away from Miami Airport as possible. The flight was awful and I hated every minute of it. My fear only seems to get worse the more I fly, but the relief when we touched down in a wet and windy Chicago three hours later was incredible and it felt amazing. It was about 10am and we realised that we hadn't even had time to contact our hotel and that they weren't expecting us until the next day! Fortunately, we telephoned them and they were able to bring our reservation forward and could also provide us with an early check-in. We couldn't wait to get there and go to sleep!

We jumped on the train to the hotel. The weather couldn't have been more different to Miami, but it felt weirdly comforting being wet and windy and reminded us of home. We arrived at the hotel (fortunately our nicest hotel yet!) and jumped straight into bed, only waking a few hours later to grab some dinner, before returning back to bed for some more sleep. We slept with smiles on our faces as we were so excited and relieved to finally be in Chicago.

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