Tri-State Vacation, Part 1: 48 Hours to Mordor

I awoke from the comfort of my mattress at five o’clock in the morning on December 19th. It would be nearly fifty hours before I would find such comfort again.Fellowship LOTR JourneyOur flight was to leave Abu Dhabi late in the evening that Thursday. I was mere hours away from finishing my last day of work before a peaceful 3-week Christmas vacation but my mind tumbled with the restless thoughts of a traveler about to set out upon an arduous journey. We expected the trip to take just under 20 hours, but moments after arriving in the terminal that became very very doubtful.

Despite it being 11:30 pm, we found we were not the only ones heading home this holiday season. Lines, or queues as I’ve learned here, were wrapped around and around the nylon ropes, which snaked their way to the check-in counters. We hadn’t thought to check-in until arriving at the airport. This decision would prove bittersweet soon enough.

After 130 minutes of standing in line, the counter agent spewed out a string of apologies. She told us of fog and Egypt and delayed flights, as well as the cliché, “It’s the Holidays, you know.” We did know. And by the caboose of her excuse train we also knew that we did not have a spot on the flight for which we had paid. Instead, they had arranged for us a direct flight to Dulles Airport in Washington DC… the following morning. There would be no farewell to Abu Dhabi just yet.

Our faces were masks of angst and defeat as Felix, the ‘Frustration Alleviator’, stepped up to the counter. He recited a list of perks that would ease our woes. In reality, though our faces looked grim, our hearts were alight with excitement as he read from his list. We would receive:

  • Four (4) meal vouchers for airport concessions
  • One (1) free night at the Dusit Thani luxury downtown hotel
  • Complimentary breakfast brunch the next morning
  • Luxury chauffeur service to and from the hotel
  • 600 US dollars in flight vouchers
  • And Felix’s ball point pen… it was a nice pen.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe.

We left the airport and arrived at the hotel at nearly 3 AM and bid our driver a ‘good morning?’ What most excited us was the elevator, which overlooked the purple and gold adorned lobby as it shot upwards at lightning speeds towards our room on the 21st floor – light vertigo forced me to step back after the 8th. Much as Treebeard the Ent was surprised to find his beloved forest burned and flattened by Sauron the White Wizard, so too were we to find our room used upon entering. My fatigue led me to think the towels thrown about the bathroom were commonplace. What led me to think unmade beds were new hotel protocol? I do not know. Sense prevailed, so Janae and I descended back down to the lobby and back up again with a new key card and a new room. Vertigo set in doubly hard during our second ascension despite the lower floored room.

We awoke the “next” morning at 6 am, still fully dressed, and dusted off the early morning’s cobwebs with rich coffee and crispy chocolate chip waffles. Our spirits were high as we drove to the airport in a Nissan 30-seat van that had magically appeared in place of our Lexus chauffeur from the pervious evening – mattered not. We were up 30,000 frosty feet in no time at all and heading home. But the altitude was no substitute for comfort as we barely slept three of the fourteen hour flight to DC. We greeted our homeland drained and unsure of whether we would survive our layover. But just as salvation arose with the sun at Helm’s Deep, our spirits rose as we rounded the disembarkation gate to see a craft brewery.

It had been nearly four months since having a locally brewed beverage and no amount of exhaustion would keep us from one now. My wife ordered a lager and I chose a full-bodied Old Dominion Brewing Co. Oak Barrel Stoudt. They came in pints!!!

At this stage of our journey we were utterly defenseless, and our livers were abruptly assaulted by the small alcoholic army of one beer. A short time later we stumbled out of the restaurant toward the only cure we could think of… Starbucks Peppermint Mochas. The hot drinks woke us up but not for long, as we attempted to pass the last hour of our layover with the third installment of Lord of the Rings. This ended up being a compete disaster.

We watched five minutes before falling asleep upright. We thought we’d created a master plan of stimulation – mochas, Lord of the Rings, and a stiff fear of missing our flight. But in reality, those waning minutes before departing for Philly were filled with repeated heads nods as we drifted towards sleep, followed rudely by upward and awkward head jerks. We gave one final jerk of our heads and lumbered onto the plane with little help from Frodo. Who would’ve thought his journey towards Mordor would be so surprisingly tranquil?mordor

While not exactly a trip across Middle Earth, our forty-eight hour voyage included 3 airports, 2 continents, some delightful chocolate chip waffles, a roller coaster of an elevator ride, and the tastiest pint of beer by which I’ve ever been inebriated. All in all it was an eventful but successful trip back to Philadelphia.

The Garcias, my in-laws, met us at the airport and Janae and I threw our ring of luggage into the trunk of their Toyota Rav-4. In utter exhaustion, we collapsed onto the feathery eagle’s wing that was their back seat, as they eaglessoared into the orange blue glow of the fading horizon. Our trip was over, but unlike the elves’ end time departure for Valinor*, our vacation had just begun.

*a fictional location in J. R. R. Tolkien‘s legendarium, the realm of the Valar in Aman. It was also known as the Undying Lands. This latter name is somewhat misleading; the land itself, while blessed, did not cause mortals to live forever. However, only immortal beings were generally allowed to reside there; amongst the exceptions to this were the surviving bearers of the One RingBilbo and Frodo Baggins and also Samwise Gamgee.