Today was a long, hard day of travel. I woke up at 4:15 AM before my 4:30 alarm. I started rousting Shannon at 4:30. We were the last ones down to the lobby, as became our pattern as the trip wore on, but we were there before the 5 AM roll call.

The Germans had prepared sack breakfasts for us since the hotel breakfast would not be open before we had to leave. We each grabbed a sack and took a short walk out to the bus, where Sergei loaded our bags into the cargo space.

The sack breakfasts were humorous. What did Thomas and/or Luther Tours tell the hotel we needed, presuming the hotel prepared them? Each sack had 3 sandwiches. One that was a single slice of salami on a kaiser roll. One that was a seed bun with 2 slices of cheese. One that was chopped up carrots and maybe pesto? It was hard to tell. I ate my cheese sandwich and my salami sandwich. They also included a treat called a Knopper. Shannon and I split one and saved one to give to give as a present to our house/dog sitter. The sacks also contained at least one apple and one tomato each. Also a mineralwasser and an Apfelschorle. It was way too much to get through in the hour or so drive from Wittenberg to Berlin. The bus dumped us off at the bus parking at the Berlin airport, and we tried to enter the facility as a group, but once inside, chaos reigned.

We had to wait forever in the check-in line. Some people managed to check in online and got to jump in front of everyone, but also spent forever up at the counter, and annoyed everyone. On 4 separate occasions we were screened and scanned, as though they did not trust their own process. Finally nearly everyone made it over to the gate.

The flight from Berlin to Newark, NJ was supposed to take 8 hours 55 minutes, but ended up being more like 8:20. We took off at 9:50 and landed about 12:30, something like that. We time traveled for 6 hours heading West. As has become a tradition of mine when returning from international travel, Shannon and I said the Pledge of Allegiance as we were landing.

We arrived in Terminal B in Newark, had to pass through customs, and they barely cared. A couple simple questions about the value of souvenirs we brought back, and they waved us through. We had to pick up our checked bags, and then immediately re-check them, with no due diligence or scrutiny applied to them at all, just grab at point A, drop back off at point B. Then we had to go to Terminal C for our flight to St. Louis.

The boarding passes said gate 86, but it had changed to gate 74, and gate 109, at some point during the flight. Our gate actually changed numerous times and we ended up walking back and forth repeatedly. At some point we encountered a gentleman from our group and he stuck with us. Ultimately, we ended up leaving from Gate C 103. This all happened during a brutal 8 hour layover in Newark. All of the waiting areas were small, but they had tables with charging stations. Unfortunately, the chairs were bolted to the floor, and were an uncomfortable fit.

Our flight was delayed taking off nearly an hour, between all the gate changes, and sitting in line to take off. Shannon and I were both aisle seats on the last row, which is a terrible row to be in. Most of our group was in rows 32 and 34. Fortunately for me, many seats were open and the flight attendants moved me up to a row that only had one person, so I was able to spread out a bit. I wish they had let Shannon move up too, because there was definitely space for her to do so.

When we landed in STL, we picked up our baggage at carousel 6, then left through door 18. I called for the shuttle over to the Pear Tree hotel, and we were picked up shortly. They had an entire bus for us, which was quite nice. We were the only ones on there. We checked in at the hotel, turned the air conditioner down to a reasonable human temperature, and both took showers.

I have an Uber scheduled to pick us up at 7 AM tomorrow out front to take us to the train station. I hope we’ll be up in time to eat the hotel breakfast.

For whatever her faults may be, it feels good to be back in America, and particularly back in STL, because we’re so close to being home. One hopefully relaxing train ride, and we’re there. Eager to see the dogs, dole out some souvenirs, and generally get back to normal life.