An Eventful Start (Day One: Part I)
Trip Start Aug 16, 2012
24Trip End Oct 01, 2012
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After saying my goodbyes at the airport, I was finally off to Europe! The flight was fairly good - albeit long. Seven or eight hours into the flight was when it was starting to get uncomfortable. I couldn't sleep at all, even though I was planning on doing so. Near the end of it, I was feeling a bit nauseous and needless to say made sure there was the paper bag nearby just in case. However, once we landed, by stomach settled down. Perhaps I was relieved that I had made it safely to England! On the descent, I saw glimpses of the English countryside - rolling green hills and farms; just how I imagined.
I was feeling good walking from the arrivals area to customs. This was just the very start of an incredible adventure that I'm very fortunate to be on. However, my heart sank once I reached customs. After a close to ten hour flight, the last thing I wanted to see was the enormous line-up waiting to get through customs. It seemed like the longest line ever, and it took roughly 45 minutes for me to finally reach the counter.
The customs officer, a middle-aged blonde lady, seemed nice but once we started talking, I had a feeling something was wrong. As I was answering her questions, she kept writing down what I said with a concerned look on her face. She asked for evidence of my travels (itineraries, train tickets, receipts, bank statements, etc.) and I didn't have any physical copies on me. The only things I had were loaded on my Ipod Touch which didn't work since there was no Wifi (though thinking back, I could have shown her my itinerary, which was an Excel file that could have been accessed, however I guess I wasn't thinking clearly after the long journey). This is where my laptop may have come in handy as I had more proof of my travels on there.
Suddenly, she hands me a slip of paper. I read it, and it saw the word Detained with a check beside it. She took my passport and Eurail pass and led me to a holding pen in the middle of the customs area. She asked for my parents' phone numbers and said she was going to try to contact them. By now everyone from my flight had long left and I was worried about my checked-in backpack on the carousel. I was hoping that it would still be there once I made it through. I waited in that pen for what seemed like a long time (probably around 30-40 minutes) as she talked to a group of officers in a back room overlooking the area. I could see inside as the walls were glass, and the other officers kept looking over at me from time to time.
Two border security agents, a young man and woman, arrived and brought me upstairs to look for my backpack. When we got to the carousels, there was nothing left. I started to worry, but the agents didn't seem alarmed. They walked me over to the pile of leftover baggage, but I didn't see it there either. As we were walking away, a man overheard us, and asked if the bag had been in a plastic bag (which it had been). I said yes, and he quickly brought my backpack out from the back room! The plastic bag was torn, but the backpack was fine. I grabbed it and the agents took me to a table where they told me they would have to search through all my stuff. One by one, they started taking every single item out of my bags. We chatted about my travels and they were very pleasant and understanding the whole time. I guess they were used to doing this regularly, while I was a little shaken by the whole ordeal.
After going through my things and putting it all back, they brought me back downstairs for further questioning. The customs officer would be back shortly and I was again put back into the holding pen. A short while later, the two agents came back saying that the officer couldn't reach my parents and said I was free to go. I was so relieved - also because I knew my parents were worried enough as it was without having to receive a call from UK Border. One of the agents asked how I was getting to London and then gave me directions to the Gatwick train station. I thanked them and said goodbye. I couldn't have been happier walking towards the station; I was finally free to explore Europe!