Saturday, December 24, 2016

Ending up 2016

The end of the year is fast approaching. When I look back it seems like it was a long year, but it passed so quickly. Since we got back to Florida it seems I have been running non-stop. 

First, there was Ibrahim to get settled in school. He's been changed to a different school, this time one that hopefully has a program suitable for him that will address his autism and ESOL issues. After a bit of a runaround, he finally started, but only a week before the Christmas break, so we won't know how things really go until he goes back after the holidays. 

Mom had a whole slew of doctor appointments, check-ups and tests scheduled for when I returned. Some of which had positive results, but unfortunately, there was the disappointing news from the cardiologist that an artery in her left leg has a blockage that needs to be cleared, so next week she is scheduled for surgery. I'm glad that I'm here to help my mother through this. It's a bit overwhelming and right in the middle of the holidays, but 'It is what it is" as my mother says - she's been through this quite a few times already and knows the routine.

Mom's cat died last week. Stump had been in my mother's life since he was born and lived over 20 years. He spent the first 20 years of his life hiding under my mother's bed, only coming out for my mom. The past year I managed to befriend him - bribing him with treats and kindness. He spent the last year of his life somewhat sociable! I think he might have had some dementia - maybe he forgot to be afraid. In the end he was just skin and bones. He will be missed, but we really aren't sad that he is gone. He lived a long life.  

Even though we've been pretty busy the last few weeks, we've taken some time to relax and enjoy the lovely Florida weather. December is almost always warm here. The other day we took some time to visit my father's grave. The cemetery is so peaceful, lots of huge moss covered oak trees line the lanes alongside the graves. My father died the day after Christmas 20 years ago, and this makes getting through the holidays difficult for my mother. 

Bay Pines Memorial Cemetery, St. Petersburg, Florida
We took some time to sit along the water and feed the birds at the park. 

The Point at Bay Pines Memorial Park
We head for the beach as often as we can to watch the sun set. I noticed that they added a few more benches at the beach we usually frequent. We are so blessed! 

Indian Shores, Florida

 I'm not so sure about New Year's resolutions.... it's difficult to plan that far into the future... one day at a time. 

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas to all of my friends, family and readers who celebrate. 

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Challenges of Traveling to/from Libya

When it was time to start planning our trip back to Florida there was so much planning to do. There were so many decisions and choices to make. The trip going to Libya had been difficult and there had been the unpleasant experience with the airline losing my bags. Even though the luggage wasfinally recovered (one bag after 18 days!) it was still a big hassle. I decided to fly a different airline - this time going via Tunis and Frankfurt on Lufthansa. It worked out being the cheapest flight too.

But how to get to Tunis? Which airline should we use to fly out of Tripoli? I had flown Libyan Airlines and Afriqiyah in the past, but had only heard of Libyan Wings. There are a few other airlines but these three seem to be most popular - but which was the most reliable? I wanted to be on time and I most definitely did not want to have lost luggage again. I decided to throw out some  polls on social media to see what people thought. The results were quite surprising. 

Facebook Group Poll

The poll on Facebook showed that the overwhelming majority found Libyan Wings the most reliable and there were some interesting comments that I will share here (without names).

"Libyan Wings by far!! I have now flown on all three, and ONLY Libyan Wings actually leaves on time, and you queue properly at check in and to board the plane, there is no pushing and shoving, their food is WAY better than any of the others - and the attitude of the staff is professional at all times!! The first time in a long time that I have actually felt I am on an actual airline able to compete at international level - will never fly Libyan Airlines or Afriqiyah again!!!"
"None. Libyans have no sense of timing they just go with their flow. Let their planes take off when they feel like it. true they r up against the odds. And make do with what they have. Which is an excellent quality. But even before the war and during gadaffi times their track record was lousy"
"I tried all of them. Wings is hardly ever late and are quick to sort any problems"
 "Afriqiyah flight times are better for me. Wings is prompt but at ridicolous hours for me"
"Currently Libyan Wings . Experience wise i will go with Libyan Airlines , but for time and punctuality Libyan wings have the priority."

 "Well , for starters ! Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), is Late As Always !"
"My last 3 experiences with them (Libyan Arab Airlines) I was delayed between 9 to 13 hours Afriquiya werent far behind"
"Have flown with them (Libyan Arab Airlines) a few times and never an issue. I guess it just depends, kind of like every other airline."

Twitter Poll
The poll on Twitter had similar results with Libyan Wings coming in first and Libyan Airlines and Afriqiyah both similarly low. The difference here was in the comments, with some being rather political.
"you need safety fly Libyan airlines ,have good maintenance ,don't compromise safety with commercial interests next Afriqiyah"
"well, remeber??wings owner is a former ALQAEDA member, &thy uses yr money to bombs&kill innocent ppl in #benghazi :)"
 "Libyan wings it's company was made to wash belhaj money it's illegal company"
 "So far, acqs. say Libya Wings is the most reliable/decent service/good planes. Pity abt the owner."

With the results of the survey in mind, I decided to give Libyan Wings a try. Of the three airlines, only Libyan Wings allows you to book your tickets online. The only problem is that you cannot pay online, you have to go to one of their offices to do that. Still, this was helpful and booking the tickets took only a few minutes. I only booked one way flights because honestly, who knows what will happen in Libya. You really cannot plan very far in advance. I'll worry about the return tickets when the time comes.

We arrived at the airport three hours before the flight. Mitiga Airport is a very small airport. Built in 1923 by the Italians, it has been mostly used as a military base over the years - by the Italians, Germans, British, Americans and Libyans. It now serves as Tripoli's international airport since 2013 when Tripoli International Airport was destroyed during clashes. There isn't much to do there while you wait but there is a small counter where you can purchase coffee and snacks. Internet is available for a fee. We waited until they called our flight. While waiting friends and family were calling to see if we were OK and to say that Tripoli was 'maglooba' - upside-down. Fighting had broken out between militias and no one really knew what was happening. 

We were called to go through security and were funneled into another waiting area. We waited and waited.... and while we waited, we could hear the sound of explosions in the distance. The airport and airline staff were running back and forth, checking on things outside, all the while they maintained a very professional attitude. Finally, over an hour after our flight was supposed to have departed we were all told to move back inside. We thought that maybe the flight was being cancelled, but they assured us that they only wanted us to go through security one more time. So back in we went. They checked everyone's passports, tickets, and x-rayed our bags while we walked through the metal detector. A short while later we boarded the bus to take us out to the plane, got on board and left Libya a short time later. 

We were late, but the staff were pleasant. Normally, when I travel through the airport in Tripoli there is pushing and shoving and even occasionally a fist fight! There was none of that this time - maybe everyone was too worried about the fighting going on outside the airport to do any fighting of their own inside. 

The flight was nice. The plane was new and comfortable. The staff were professional at all times and it was obvious they were well trained. Even though the flight was less than an hour long we were given a meal; bread, cheese, chicken, salad, cake and juice. I would definitely recommend Libyan Wings.

We arrived in Tunis and our luggage arrived with us. We had a long wait until our flight to Germany. I sent the kids to buy Internet time which that turned out to be a rip-off. First, the machine swallowed our money without giving us a card so the kids had to find someone to give us our money back (which they didn't want to do initially), then when we finally had the card, the connection kept dropping and was mostly useless. We ended up getting free Internet at the airport cafe's wifi while we ate dinner. 

Lufthansa checked our bags through to our final destination... I looked at the bags as they went away on the conveyor belt and said a small prayer that we would see them again. The flight was fine. We were full from our meal at the airport, but had another meal on the fight. We had a five hour wait in Germany. The airport was comfortable, there was free Internet and shops to look around, but the bathrooms could have been better. There were long lines to use the bathrooms and they weren't very clean. I finally gave up and found a wheelchair accessible bathroom and that was much better. If we were there longer I think I would have spent some money to go use the VIP lounge, but it wasn't really necessary.

Our flight to Florida boarded and took off on time. Lufthansa kept feeding us! Snacks, a meal, more snacks, another meal. Germans must love to eat. There was Internet on board (for a fee) and a place where you could charge your phone. Lots of movies, music and games and of course the flight map. It was a ten and a half hour flight. We were really happy to see the end. Lufthansa was much better than our past experiences with British Airways. I think in the future we will use Lufthansa.

How much longer? We are almost there! I can even see Seminole! 
Going through customs was a breeze. All of our luggage arrived and out we went to wait for my daughter Sara to pick us up. We had left on Thursday evening and arrived on Friday afternoon. It was a long trip, but we made it.  

The sun was setting as we drove through rush hour traffic from the airport.
Here we are....... Home Sweet Home!
Home! - now to get through jetlag.

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