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3 July 2020 - Day 83 – On my way home

Last night while organizing for my flights, I pulled out the long sleeve polo to put in my backpack, should it be cold while flying or in the terminals. An extra pair of socks, skivvies, and another polo shirt, my netbook, the cameras, my journal, a subset of the toiletries, my reader and several cables. I’m going to wear/carry the lighter sports jacket, and wear the heavier shoes, just on the off chance I’m close to weight. I checked with Adrian, and he’ll pass along my unwanted soiled clothes.

With actual room in my suitcase, I was out for breakfast at 8:45. Joshua had gone all out, getting me a “full English breakfast” and even had the bacon “well done”, as opposed to the British habit of barely waving it over the flame. Two poached eggs on toast, beans, sausage, bacon, a dish of fresh fruit, coffee and juice, and even a couple of Maltese pastries: I was going to be sent off well fed. The Leeds couple were there, and we traded email addresses and Facebook handles, as then they headed into Valletta for their last day, hoping to conclude their souvenir and gift shopping early. I headed back to the room and cleaned my teeth and put the electric toothbrush into my bag and zipped it up.

Rolling out to reception, the taxi driver came in and collected my bag, leaving me with the slightly bulging backpack. I made sure I was settled, saying goodbye to Joshua and leave a note for Adrian. Out into the car, the 6-kilometer ride across #Valletta took all of 10 minutes, and I was dropped at the rather modern looking International Terminal.

About 3 hours before departure, I got into a very short queue at Lufthansa and was soon getting my first boarding pass. I had all the necessary paperwork needed, so the counter staff had me cleared in no time.

Even my bag was under their limit. I was told I wouldn’t have to get my luggage, it would be checked through, but I would need to see the United counter for a boarding pass in Frankfurt.

Up the escalator, Security was similarly a breeze; there might have been a dozen folks going through the 3 scanner lines.

Shoes and belt off, empty pockets; camera, phone, reader and netbook all out; I still set off the sensor and had to be wanded – it was my titanium implant or the studs in my slacks. Once I got all put back together, I headed into duty free. Unless it was Maltese or Sicilian, I figured I could get it in Frankfurt, with one less bag to keep track of, so all I grabbed was a polo shirt, which I really needed like I need another hole in my head. More padding for the camera?

Lufthansa flight 1277 was due to board from Gate 5, so I slowly wandered in that direction. Not hungry, all I bought were two liter bottles of water. Sitting in the waiting area for 90 minutes, I got on my reader and pushed through some of the backlog of emails, as the WiFi in the terminal was free and pretty good. We were called to start boarding at 11:50 (for a 12:40 departure) and I was onboard, seated and settled by 12:15 on a plane that was about two-thirds full. We pushed back early, and were lifting off the ground at 12:45.

Smooth flying, slightly better coach service as far as beverages and snacks, the skies were rather clear as we headed over the three bigger islands off the Italian peninsula and skirted around the French and Swiss Alps. #Frankfurt was mercifully not overly busy for such a major airport, so we were down on the ground before 3 and at the gate ready to unload at the scheduled arrival time of 15:20. It took probably 10 minutes to get into the terminal, at which point I found one of those Lufthansa ground staff to ask how I should get my boarding pass for my continuing flight to Newark. I showed her my boarding pass, with the luggage claim for EWR, so she confirmed I didn’t need to go to baggage claim.

However, I did need to visit the ticket counter in the next terminal over. We had arrived at Terminal 1, United was on Pier C going to Terminal 2. I decided to go there first, and get that critical boarding pass. Pier C didn’t have a general United desk that I could see, but I had a United Club pass I planned on using so I went there, explained my situation and the receptionist there was excellent and got it all handled. The UA75 departure was scheduled for 17:25, so I relaxed in the lounge for an hour, making a bloody Mary and eating a couple of finger sandwiches.

About 45 minutes before scheduled departure time, we were called to head to the gate, and I got out and walked through duty free, scanning the single malt scotches in case anything peaked my fancy, but I escaped unscathed.

When booking using miles, I’d upgraded to Premium Plus, so on the 767-600 I was in seat 23L, a window seat on the starboard side (north side). The extra leg room was welcome for an 8-hour 45-minute 6228km/3870-mile flight, so after pulling my netbook and reader out, the backpack went up above. Once we’d lifted off, I kicked off my shoes and when indicated, fired up the netbook after plugging it in so it stayed charged. My task was to organize the trip photos by date and destination. Working with my journal and my itinerary, I began merging the phone pictures with the camera pictures into folders by date. [And I made a note to make sure I changed the time zone settings in both once I could – the phone was already in airplane mode, but it and my cameras were both in the overhead in my bag.] Fortunately, there was plenty of floor and seat storage, as beverage service started quickly. My seatmate and I both got bloody Mary’s and a snack pack of hummus and pretzels. A dinner service followed, and I had beef tips. When my seatmate got up, I hustled and got my backpack, pulled out the phone and reset the time zone and shut it back down. I kept my camera and put the backpack in the overhead before he returned. (He spent the entire flight plugged into his headphones and laptop. Not any communication.) By the midway mark, I had the photos all in date folders with the night destinations indicated. That should make reviewing them and pushing to Google Albums a lot easier in the coming weeks.

So I reset the time zone on the camera and put the netbook and camera in the seat pouch in front of me. Being in the last seat in the Premium section, the seat didn’t recline a lot, but I was able to catch an hour nap before I decided to do some reading. Another beverage service, followed by a snack service (burritos) happened, and when dude got up again, my shoes went back on, and I put the netbook and camera in my backpack and took a pitstop. He had hung out in the galley, so I didn’t get to disturb him.

Due into #Newark International just after 8pm local time, we were early, and were at the gate by 20:15. Dude and all the business and first-class passengers did the OJ Simpson mad dash off, practically running for Immigration and Baggage Claim/Customs. I followed the crowd, keeping up, and entered a huge room filled with kiosks and a queue of perhaps 100 people. Scanning the passport and answering questions, I got my two slips and proceeded to Baggage Claim. Luggage was just beginning to arrive at the carousel, and mine was about the hundredth piece off. Rolling to Customs, I handed them my slip, indicated nothing to declare, and was out into the arrivals area.

Just after 9pm and dusk, that was one of the fastest I’d ever cleared from an overseas flight. I had a reservation for the night at the Marriott at the airport, so I walked from the International Terminal across the loop to the hotel. A prepaid room, I was processed through check-in and sent up to the eighth floor.

I unloaded a bunch of stuff from my backpack and washed my face. Back down to the lobby, I found the concierge desk, and asked if they could get me a driver for about an hour, to take me into Newark to take pictures of the two cathedrals. So the driver needed to stay with me the whole time. She made a call, and said a green sedan would pull up in about 5 minutes. I would pay cash.

Out front, the forest green Lexus pulled up, and I asked if I could sit up front, to which he said sure. I explained my mission to visit the Catholic and Episcopal cathedrals in downtown Newark to Mark, my driver. Heading first to the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, I learned he was a graduate student at Rutgers-Newark, driving only on weekends for Lyft. We came up Clifton Avenue and turned on 6th Avenue, where he proposed to let me off. I asked him to pull down beyond Ridge Street, as I was going to see if I could get the shot I wanted, and didn’t want his brake lights creating a red glow.

Out walking 6th avenue, I had several shots that I think came out okay, as the church is lighted by extremely bright white lights, except the crowns of the towers. Interestingly, these two bell towers in front are set at 45° angles to the front and sides, and there are spotlights pointing towards the front from the transepts, which took some juggling. Probably 10-minutes, and I was heading up the street to get back into the car.

Mark asked me whether a pro-cathedral was a cathedral. I explained that a pro-cathedral was a location used by a diocese to base diocesan functions while a cathedral is either being built or repaired; he asked if I knew about St Patrick’s. It is a pro-cathedral on the Rutgers campus, and not far from the Episcopal cathedral. While he headed to St Patrick’s, I checked online to find out it had been the episcopal seat for the Roman Catholics from 1853 to 1954.

So I was excited to add another (former) cathedral to my trip. Unfortunately, the only real lighting for the church came from a single light inside the front tower’s stained-glass window, and some street lighting. But I’ll definitely return.

Then on to Trinity and St Philip’s Cathedral, which was pretty much just a block away. Similarly, there wasn’t much in the way of lighting, so for this church as well as St Patrick’s I was looking for places to set the camera to reduce shake vibrations.

I knew there are a few more Orthodox cathedrals in neighboring towns, so a return to Newark is inevitable, but I was still stoked to have 3 more today.

Mike took me back to the Marriott, and I settled up with him in cash – I had found my US bills and moved around the Euros while on the plane. Thanking him, I came inside, thanked the concierge again and prepared to head upstairs. The concierge wanted to chat, asking what my fascination was with cathedrals, and I explained my obsession, about my photobook #CathedralsToTheGloryOfGod and my 12-week itinerary which would end tomorrow. She took a half-dozen business cards, promising to sharing them should the occasion arrive.

So the new pictures had to be downloaded, and the journal updated from when I’d been on the flight over the Atlantic. And I had to craft a blog and upload. My body finally started crashing, so I called for a wake-up call at 9. Pulling out my mini-kit from the backpack, I brushed my teeth the old way, washed my face and just crawled into bed once the blog went live. I never touched the roller.

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