The request for such an early wake-up call didn’t seem out-of-the ordinary to the front desk clerk – and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is probably the norm for people travelling back to North America – and our group couldn’t possibly have been the first group travelling back to North America that he would have seen.
A three a.m. wake-up call meant that it was hardly worth going to bed – and in fact, many didn’t. The front desk clerk had asked that we bring as many bags as possible downstairs the evening before – to minimize the disruption to other guests. Unfortunately, not everyone understood the part about “minimize disruption” and several got themselves a late-night visit from the chaperone crew.
What with all the packing and luggage moving, I only wound up getting a couple of hours sleep myself before the phone rang. So, it was time to get up, and for the last time (on this trip) squeeze into the tiny shower stall, and head out to face the chill of the early morning.
The early morning is very peaceful in Venice. There was virtually no-one out and about (except for our group). The water in the canal was still; the morning air was crisp. All in all, it was a good time to be out in the fresh air. Nearly the entire group made it to the muster on the street – there were a couple of students that had inadvertently knocked their phones off the hook and consequently didn’t get the wake-up call. But Mr. Williams managed to roust them out of bed and get them hurriedly packed to join the group.
With the entire group together, we started the drudge back to the bus; up and over the bridges with the entire load. But this time, it was the middle of the night and the crowds were absent. That didn’t make the job any easier though.
The bus was there waiting for us and the luggage was quickly loaded. Now was the first of the “good-byes”. Flavio has been with us throughout our time in Italy. I can still look back and see him striding through the crowd at the Rome airport … coming up and introducing himself before leading us out to the first of the waiting buses. Flavio’s job was over, after getting us on the bus, he was taking the train down to Rome to spend a bit of time with his own family before starting with his next tour group.
The bus driver took us to the Marco Polo airport; we unloaded the bags and headed into the terminal building. The poor Lufthansa agent – here it is, nearly the end of her midnight shift and in walk over 40 passengers with connecting flights to the United States and everyone with at least two bags to check. Only at 0500 did the day shift start to come in and start to alleviate some of the backlog. I was never worried that we wouldn’t make the flight; I just felt sorry for the agent who had the misfortune to be on duty when we showed up at the end of her shift.
So now, the process reversed itself. Back through security and I was FINALLY able to get a cup of coffee. Then, everyone meandered over to the departure gate, we boarded the flight to Frankfurt – and we were on our way home.
A long flight home
The flight from Frankfurt to Detroit seemed to take an eternity. The prevailing wind is from the west and we were flying “uphill” into it. The lack of sleep from the previous evening, combined with the flight all began to take its toll. Whenever I went up to go to the lavatory, I saw most of the other members of our group fast asleep.
Landing in Detroit brought one last notable thing – the pilot bounced the A340 on landing and we ballooned back up into the air about 10 metres before coming back to the runway. Over the course of the trip, I got to know who amongst us suffered from motion sickness – and this last little bounce wouldn’t have done any of them any good.
The lineups at Immigration at Detroit were staggering. One of the “crowd control” officers said that it was just a matter of bad timing – that 10 minutes before we arrived, there was no-one there at all. Many of the people in line in front of me were from China – and processing each one seemed to take forever (5 to 7 minutes each). Eventually, they invited people to come over to the “U.S. Citizen” lines – since those queues had all dissipated. For those of us with Canadian passports, processing was very prompt (30 – 45 seconds). After retrieving the luggage, we were all waved through Customs and re-assembled near one of the exit doors. Mrs. Williams went to find the bus for the drive home.
We loaded our things onto the bus one last time – Marcus was the driver. He had some troubles (at the beginning) getting the right settings for the cabin temperature – but had everything working well in fairly short order.
It was a long drive back – we stopped in Birch Run for a bite to eat. Strangely, no one wanted to do any shopping. We got back on the bus. I drifted in and out of sleep. I remember passing by West Branch … the next thing I saw was the Mackinac Bridge.
On the bus
As we got closer, we started offering the cell phones for people to arrange their rides home from the school. We got to Canadian customs and were waved through after the officer looked at the list of names. A couple of right turns, north on Carmen’s Way, left on Second Line and right on Goulais – we’re back.
On behalf of the students, Mr. Cole presented Mrs. Williams with a token of appreciation