Looking for Luggage in All the Wrong Places

We’d travelled across the world, through 5 airports, overcome every obstacle we’d faced, and now our luggage was in the wrong country. To top it off, this wasn’t the kind of trip where we could wait for our bags to arrive and make do with whatever we could find at the tourist shop and gas station. We were hiking across the country, and the gear we needed for the trip wasn’t in the country we were hiking across. Boots, clean clothes, water bottles, trekking poles, scotch…

Our luggage was supposed to arrive Sunday night. We weren’t optimistic, but we boarded the train from Newcastle to Carlisle to at least knowing we could get a decent meal, a shower and jump over into Scotland for a drink or two. We checked in, ate at the pub across the street from our hotel, threw some darts and had a pint, then headed out for Scotland. Frankly, Scotland was a bit of a bust. There’s no border patrol in that part of the country, so we didn’t get our passports stamped, and the only pub we could find was in a hotel in Gretna Greene, where we got under-poured and over-priced drinks. On the plus side, I’m complaining about drinks I had at a hotel bar in one of the oldest cities in Scotland…it could be worse.

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We caught the train back to Carlisle, grabbed dinner at The Turf – think the UK version of TGI Fridays – and walked back up the street to the hotel, fingers crossed for luggage. Our hunch was right. No luggage, no clean clothes, no gear. No scotch.

We’ll skip ahead past the part where the owner of the hotel was a bit of an ass, and where I learned that a cheese & onion pastie tastes pretty much like hot foot and armpit, right along to where we actually got to start our hike along the River Eden. We’d bought toothbrushes and deodorant at the pharmacy across the street, so I didn’t much care that I was setting off for my hike in four day old clothes and Chacos. I was hiking and I was determined to be happy.

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The first day’s hike was different than what we’d expected. The first few miles followed the river pretty closely and was full of the views and sounds of the river, pleasant and easy. The walk along the river turned into a walk through fields and farms. We saw sheep and cattle (a recurring theme), had a pint at The Stag Inn, and made our way on toward Newtown. We hiked through more fields and farms, enjoying the sites, amused by the sheep (REAL BRITISH SHEEP!!!), and hopeful that our bags would be waiting for us when we arrived at The Belted Will in Hallbankgate. We reached Newtown, only to realize that Brampton was a 3 mile hike along the highway. We would later learn that Hallbankgate was 6 miles from Brampton (for future reference, 6 miles is about 10 minutes by taxi). We arrived in Hallbankgate, got our room and learned that our luggage had still not found us.

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The family that owns The Belted Will is awesome. They allowed us to use their phones, phone chargers, offered to drive us wherever we needed, and were very accommodating to the two Americans in the middle of northern England without their luggage. I’ve promised to return on a future trip, carry on luggage in tow. We had a great dinner (mushroom stroganoff for me), had some great beers, and threw a few games of darts, all while trying to get the luggage situation sorted out with Air France. After getting nowhere with Air France the next morning, we made the decision to have Stephen (one of the owners of The Belted Will) drive us to our next destination, The Manor House in Haltwhistle, where we could then take a train into Hexham to buy some clothes and proper hiking boots. We got to Hexham and made our way back to the hotel, ready to have a taxi drive us back out to Gilsland, where we could rejoin the wall, determined to not lose another full day of hiking.

Imagine our surprise when we walked into the hotel and saw our luggage. Needless to say, a celebration was in order.

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The adventure begins…

Things started off great for our flight to Newcastle. We made it to the airport in plenty of time, changed our money, and grabbed a bite to eat since our flight had been delayed by 30 minutes or so. We were set on 10 and ready to go.

Our flight was then delayed again, and again, and then again. At some point as we walked by the desk for an update, the status moved from DELAYED to CANCELLED. And thus begins our adventure…

We quickly found out that all flights into JFK had been cancelled due to weather and airspace issues, and the only option for us was to fly from Nashville to Dallas to JFK to Paris and on to Newcastle. We thought we would have a 6 hour overnight layover in JFK (more on that later), but that we’d be landing in Newcastle at 11PM rather than 11AM, 12 hours later than we planned. No worries there. We made it to Dallas and on to JFK no problem, only to be delayed in getting our luggage and finding out how we could check our bags due to a mechanical issue with the luggage carousel – they had our bags, they just couldn’t get them onto the carousel because the door wouldn’t open.

It was almost midnight before we got our bags and got going. They say that New York is the city that never sleeps. The same cannot be said about JFK airport. Everything was closed, or almost everything. We managed to find one coffee stand, where I got a fruit cup and croissant, then headed over to the Air France terminal. Our plan was to sleep in the Air France terminal, wake up and catch our flight. We made ourselves cozy on the floor of the airport and dozed off for an uncomfortable few hours of sleep. Shortly after waking up around 4am, we realized there had been some sort of communication issue when our flight got changed around. We weren’t leaving at 6am after a layover in JFK. We were leaving at 6PM. We had a 19 hour layover.

I’ll skip the part where we schlepped our luggage to an IHOP in Brooklyn only to find out that we were there 45 minutes before they opened, and I’ll skip the part where we found out that our flight actually wasn’t on Air France as we were told when we got rebooked, but on American Airlines. Oh, and I’ll skip the part where we misread our boarding passes and thought we were supposed to be at gate 44, rather than gate 14, having to sprint through the terminal to barely make our gate (only to be delayed by an hour on the ground). As you can see, we hadn’t even left the country and we had our plates full of adventure. Double servings. With gravy, even.

The flight to Paris was smooth and easy and the Charles de Gaul airport was beautiful. We processed through security to wait for our flight to Newcastle. We waited and waited for an Air France employee, and by the time they finally showed up so we could check in, our flight was full – they’d oversold the flight and everyone had checked in but us. We were going to miss our flight to Newcastle. We went on standby, ready to sit on toilets or serve drinks if it meant getting on the plane. Other passengers began boarding and our mental head count started creeping up (as did our anxiety level). Finally all those people were on the plane, and they put the final boarding call up. We waited some more and then some more. They finally started processing tikets for us to get on the flight. And then the people whose seats we’d been given showed up. F WORD.

Somehow, someway we made the flight. What we have deduced is that the people who showed up after us were still missing a boarding pass, and since the Air France employee had already made some miracle happen getting us on the plane, she was none too eager to undo and then redo the process. Cool by me. Close the doors and let’s go.

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The flight to Newcastle was awesome. I wound up in first class – SCORE! – got to see the Eiffel Tower from the plane – DOUBLE SCORE – and we hit the ground in Newcastle ready to go. We breezed through the border patrol checkpoint and waited for our luggage. We waited, then waited some more, and then they turned the light off. That’s when we found out…

Our luggage never left Paris.