When I first found out I’d be going to the Netherlands, I promised myself not to return to Beirut until the program was over. After all, I wanted to enjoy the full European experience, and that includes being in Europe while the holidays are in their full swing.
Another factor that was considered was the distance and time it would take to journey from Maastricht to Beirut. While a lot of the people I’ve met here have traveled back to their homes at every chance they’ve gotten, mine is a very convenient five hours by plane away (excluding the travel time to Amsterdam or Brussels).
But after getting here, things started falling in place and slowly, I began to realize I could not possibly stay away for so long. Tickets were promptly booked, dates were set. I was going home for Christmas!
In my head, I started to plan all of the things I’d do, the people I’d see, the food I’d eat, and the relaxation that would take place for two amazing but short weeks. But first I had to get through term papers and exams- thankfully ones which are long past us.
But in my frantic rush to get my gift shopping done, sit for the exams, panicking about the Belgian public transport system going on strike just one day before I was set to leave, saying goodbye to everyone, and packing, led to me forgetting to do one very important thing, one which would haunt me for the rest of my journey: sleep.
I mean, can I be blamed? Just the day before, I had an exam that ran from 5 to 8 pm, after which my course mates decided to grab a drink and celebrate the end of yet another period. I had to join in, though later excusing myself to pack, which alone took about two to three hours. Not that I had anything to take back, I just wasn’t happy with the way stuff when in the first time around.
On the day of my trip, and after a full day of lunching and gossiping spent with Lina and Samar, I had to head to the flat under the rain to finalize everything, lock up and leave to Brussels from where I’d take a plane to Rome, then to Beirut. But that’s not all, the last train leaving from Maastricht to Brussels was at 10:18 pm , while my flight was out at 6 in the morning.
Keeping in mind that something might go wrong and trains might be delayed, I decided to be on the 9:18 train, arriving at almost 11-ish at the airport.
And so it began, the long way home.
From a bus to the central station, to a train from Maastricht to Liege, then another from Liege to Brussels North, then a third from Brussels North to the airport, I tried to keep myself busy by reading Ken Follet’s amazing Fall of Giants and occasionally conversing with random strangers in English and French.
Though that part of the journey went quite well, I was still worried. I’ve been on far too many flights in my 21 years (20 at that time) to know that delays and other problems happen when you least want them too. I was worried about being on my own with a load of stuff, in an airport I had never been to, in the dead of the night. I was worried that I’d accidentally set the iPod to a very high volume, missing out on important announcements. I was worried I wouldn’t know what to do with myself during a six hour wait. All rational fears for someone who is just getting used to solo travelling.
The airport, much to my dismay, was completely abandoned. Not a single check-in counter of any of the aviation companies was working, and the only few living souls there were either weary and far-too early travelers like me or airport staff. At least Starbucks was open, so I quickly claimed a seat, ordered a coffee, and got back to my book.
Finally, and what seemed like an eternity later, the counters opened, and I was once again on my way, going through all the motions that I had gotten used to by now, before finally getting on that flight to Rome and trying to sneak in a few winks of sleep and hoping that the last leg of the journey would not be as tiring.
Unfortunately, the security checks in the airport seemed to have another idea in mind, which was not funny, considering that I only had an hour and a half before the final flight. As most of the travelling I do is in warmer weather, having to take off the coat, scarf, and boots was a complete hassle- and I was already feeling completely dishevelment, when I was supposed to look nice for the people that were meeting me at the airport in Beirut- my family.
When I finally got to the terminal, I began to relax slightly. Just three more hours left and the prevalent language, for the very first time in months, was Arabic- Lebanese Arabic. I ended up striking up a conversation with a girl and two guys, around my age, who were travelling back from the US for the holidays. I think they were surprised to know that I’m a graduate student because I’m certain I didn’t look that way on that particular day.
I’d like to say I slept all the way from Rome to Beirut or that I did something constructive but I didn’t. The excitement was building up, preventing me from focusing on anything for more than 10 minutes. And when the plane flew over the coast, passing places like AUB, and my grandparents’ house (one which I’ve always been able to spot from the plane), my heart was doing somersaults and my smile was outstretched beyond normal proportions.
Passing passport control and getting my suitcase were a breeze, and before I could begin to grasp all the events, I was engulfed by the three people I love the most in this world, my hair sticking out in all different places, unable to hold my tears back, as I was surrounded by the very familiar.
One 20 minute car ride later and I was finally home, trying not to think that two weeks later, I would have to go through the reverse.