Friday was the last day of the Esperanto event in Raleigh. Tim taught the final lessons of his course and I had my final day at work for the next two weeks. We went out for a last walk in Raleigh before dinner. The weather was a bit brighter than it had been yesterday, but it still felt like it was threatening to rain at times.
We found a bar to have a drink to celebrate the fact that we were now officially on holiday. When Tim asked whether they had any snacks, they gave us a tub of pork rinds
On the walk back to the university, we had one last look at the state capitol.
I didn't know who this statue was of earlier in the week, but it turns out it's George Washington.
There was a closing ceremony at the venue that night, where all the students on the Esperanto courses were awarded diplomas, followed by a trip to the pub. We didn't stay out too late, because we knew we had an early start on Saturday for the first part of our journey towards the Grand Canyon.
We left the university at around 08.15 and walked into town to catch the airport bus. Our flight wasn't actually until midday, but I'd read some guidance somewhere which had said that it was advisable to get to the airport two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight, so we were aiming to get there by 10am. The buses that run to the airport from the centre of Raleigh only seem to be once per hour, so we'd decided to aim for a bus earlier than the one we actually needed so that if something went wrong and the bus didn't show up, we still had time to make alternative plans.
It turned out that I needn't have worried because the bus showed up really promptly at it's scheduled time of 08.41. Even better, when we got on board and asked the driver how much it cost to the airport, she said it was free Not sure why that was but it was a pleasant surprise. The journey all went really well and we were at the airport by the ridiculously early time of 09.15.
Given our experiences at Dublin airport last week I thought we might have had to queue for ages to check in our bags in Raleigh, but nothing could have been further from the truth. The entire process of checking in took less than five minutes and the check-in attendant didn't even seem to bother weighing our bags to see how heavy they were. We were through security within another five minutes, though that was a slightly confusing five minutes because the process seemed to be different to at European airports. They didn't want us to take anything out of our bags - neither electronics nor liquids - but they did want us to take our shoes off. Before we knew it, we were at the gate for our flight with 2.5 hours to spare!
We used the time to get a second breakfast in Raleigh airport; it was due to be a long day of travelling and we weren't sure when we were next going to get a proper meal. Initially when I planned this route, the intention was us to fly directly from Raleigh to Phoenix, Arizona and I'd planned a whole load of other details, like the pick-up time for our hire car, around that flight. But then at some point within the past couple of months, the airline contacted us to say that the flight time had changed to something was much later and wasn't going to get us into Arizona until after dark. That wasn't really convenient for us, because we would still have quite a drive once we left Phoenix to get to our ultimate destination. The airline gave us the option to re-book, so I switched us onto an indirect flight instead. The advantage was that we'd still arrive in Phoenix at more or less the time I'd originally planned, so wouldn't have to change our car hire arrangements. The disadvantage was that we had to fly via Chicago and only had around 45 minutes between flights, so it was possible that things could go wrong!
The airline we were flying with was called Southwest and it seems like quite an unusual airline. I initially got the impression that it must be the American version of Ryanair, because when I booked the tickets I realised that there were no allocated seats on the plane and everyone just chooses where to sit. But the system is actually a little bit more complicated that the general free-for-all that there used to be on Ryanair. At the point you check in for your flight, you are allocated to one of three boarding groups - A, B or C - with A being the most advantageous. Within your boarding group you are given a number from 1 - 60 and then when the flight is called for boarding, all the passengers have to line up in the correct boarding order to get on the plane.
It sounds rather complicated but it actually worked really well! There are signs at the gate indicating where you need to stand in the queue, depending on what your boarding number is. I'd paid slightly extra for a ticket where the Southwest app would automatically check us in as soon as check-in opened for our flights, and so we'd got quite a good boarding position for the first flight: A26 and 27. That meant we were some of the first to get on the plane and could choose seats relatively near the front. My hope was that that meant we would be able to get off as quickly as possible in Chicago and dash to our next plane.
Once we were on the plane it soon became clear that Southwest is a bit more upmarket than Ryanair. We got a free snack of pretzels...
...and a free coffee too
The flight time to Chicago was around two hours. I had a window seat but the view wasn't very exciting; we flew over miles and miles of very flat countryside.
The announcements over the tannoy kept us entertained though. The pilot announced at one point that we were "scooting along at 600mph, which is good news because it would be a very boring drive to Chicago"
The airport we were flying to was called Chicago Midway and I think it's a minor airport, on the edge of the city. I was relieved to see that our first flight arrived on time and we were able to walk straight off it and towards the gate for our second flight. That flight was labelled as delayed but it turned out to only be a delay of around 10 minutes, which doesn't really count! We boarded the second plane and were just getting comfortable in our seats when Tim had a terrible realisation; he couldn't find his phone! He emptied out his pockets and his bag but it was nowhere to be seen We don't know what happened to it, whether he accidentally left it on the first flight or lost it somehow in Chicago Midway. We've made a lost property report to Southwest, so we'll have to see whether we get any news of it.
The flight from Chicago to Phoenix was around 3.5 hours. I think! It was quite a confusing day for time zones because in total we were going back three hours, from having been 5 hours behind the UK when we were in North Carolina to being 8 hours behind the UK when we were in Arizona. I think we lost an hour on the way to Chicago and another two between Chicago and Phoenix.
I'd got a window seat again but I'd accidentally chosen one by the wing, so views were limited at some points. Most of the countryside we flew over seemed very flat and agricultural though.
As we got closer to Arizona, the views became a bit more interesting...
...and as we were coming in to land in Phoenix there was some quite spectacular scenery with lakes...
The city itself looked huge and very built up.
Once the plane landed we made some enquiries about the whereabouts of Tim's phone, unfortunately without any success, and then went to retrieve our bags which seemed to have made the connection without any problems. Our next task was to pick up the hire car, which necessitated catching a shuttle bus to the off-airport rental car centre where it seems like all cars rented from Phoenix airport are kept.
The shuttles are frequent so we managed to jump straight on one. It was a more exciting journey than I expected. For a start, the wave of heat which hit us when we stepped out of the airport in Phoenix was incredible; it felt like the level of heat which comes out of a hairdryer. When I checked my phone I found that it was indeed a seriously hot day!
Secondly, there were cactuses absolutely everywhere! I think I saw more cactuses during the journey between the airport and the rental car centre than I have in the rest of my life put together
Picking up the rental car should have been straightforward but somehow it managed to take an hour. We had a to queue for quite a while, then it took a long time for us to be processed and when we finally got to the bay where we were supposed to pick up our car, we found there wasn't a car there so we had to go to the helpdesk. We did get a car in the end - a large black Toyota Camry with a Texas number plate. It's got good air-conditioning and a boot large enough for our two big suitcases, so that was good. Getting it to actually drive was a bit of a struggle initially though because it's an automatic! After a few circuits around the car park Tim managed to figure it out and then we were on our way towards our ultimate destination for today: Tusayan.
Tusayan is a small settlement, located near the southern entrance of Grand Canyon National Park. It's around 236 miles from Phoenix, so we had a drive of over three hours ahead of us. Luckily the roads were big and wide and our Sat Nav successfully identified that we were in Arizona Driving out of Phoenix was an interesting experience; it felt different to North Carolina. There were large billboards along the side of the road advertising things like accident lawyers. And at one point we got overtaken by a car with a "Trump 2024" bumper sticker.
We were starting to feel hungry so we pulled off the main road at one point to get something from McDonalds. The McDonalds turned out to be closed, but the stop wasn't wasted because we got to see some amazing cactuses!
Night started to fall as we got closer to Tusayan and we were treated to the most amazing sunset.
The photos don't really do justice to the colours but it really was spectacular.
We made it to Tusayan some time before 9pm. It felt like midnight to us based on North Carolina time. And goodness knows what time it was back home
We're staying in a hotel in Tusayan for three nights. It's quite expensive, but we're paying for the location of being so near the Grand Canyon. The room is bigger than we need, with two large beds. There's also a coffee machine in the room and free coffee in the hotel lobby downstairs
We didn't stay up long after arriving, because the intention was to try and make a very early start on Sunday.