The Edinburgh Hostel is centrally located in the city, only a 20 minute walk from the Royal Mile. The building sits on a corner where buses run on both streets 24 hours a day. There are a few hotels close by, as well as restaurants and drinking establishments. The hostel is a favorite of groups of many ages. We saw a group of Girl Guides as well as middle-aged men who came from Britain to play in a soccer tournament. In the wee hours of the morning, we could easily see the street scene outside our open windows (no air conditioning), and it was easy to hear the group of young men coming back from the pub at 1 am on Monday morning. Our call to load the van was for 5:15 am. Several pilgrims just gave up on sleeping and headed to the reception area early. As we loaded the van we congratulated each other on our success of getting everyone gathered together downstairs, exactly on time.
We prayed one last time in the van for a safe journey home for all, and a quiet group of pilgrims set off for the airport. We had heard of new security procedures that were causing delays, and so we arrived extra early - even before the United check-in staff appeared. Finally the staff was ready to begin the check-in process, and we split into several small groups to answer questions and have our passports scanned on a tablet device. The device works only as long as the WiFi system is up and running. Ah, the joys and perils of technology! We breezed through the next step, and all managed to squeak through the security line after rearranging a few gifts here and there.
We had time for a bite to eat before boarding the plane to Newark and home. All the pilgrims were able to relax and read or people-watch. We took turns watching our for each other and our carry-on luggage. Our eyes were on the prize of a seat on the plane going across the Atlantic. We were going home! And maybe we could get some sleep on the plane!
We are happy to report that the flight to Newark was uneventful. When we landed in Newark we knew that we had a 5 hour wait until our flight to Baltimore. The pilgrims found a place to recharge cellphones and stretch out to read or play cards. We found places to buy food and drink. And we found the "Departures" board, which we checked from time to time, happily reporting our flight's "On Time" status. Finally we moved to the appointed gate in Terminal C, and then began a lengthy waiting game. Around 5:00 pm we first learned that the flight was overbooked, and United was offering a $300.00 voucher and a guaranteed seat on a later flight. We encouraged the youngest chaperone to jump at the opportunity, and she was even routed to National instead of BWI. A win-win!! One pilgrim down, and 13 left behind. We knew we'd see her on the other end.
Around 5:45pm the gate attendant announced there was a mechanic problem, and the plane was being repaired. At 6:30 pm two mentors went to customer service to see if there were any other options. We learned there were 10 seats on a flight to National, but then we received a call from a chaperone at the gate that another plane had been commandeered and we would be boarding in a half hour. We all gathered our belongings, ready to stand in line to board. By 7:30 pm we came to the conclusion that we were not going to get to Baltimore on either of the two planes that were being repaired in the area where we were waiting.
Two mentors gathered up the boarding passes and headed to customer service. We just missed an Amtrak connection, but snagged 13 seats on a 9:20 pm flight to National. Success! We rushed over to Terminal A (in a bus that runs between terminals, behind security), fed very hungry pilgrims a bite to eat, and contentedly sat in the waiting area for the plane to board. And sat. And waited. The flight to National was delayed, but finally the gate attendant called for passengers to line up, and we wearily got on a flight around 10:15pm. All of the pilgrims maintained their sunny attitudes and kept calm during the looong wait at Newark, and showed concern, but never any doubt that we'd eventually get home, safe and sound. We knew that some parents were waiting at BWI, and we were able to contact everyone about the change in plans. God was watching over us the whole time.
At long last the plane lifted off from Newark, and we touched down at National a short time later, happy to see our families that came to greet us and scoop us up to take us to our homes and beds. Our luggage did not arrive with the pilgrims, even though the chaperones had spent considerable time with customer service to try to make that happen. We found the youngest chaperone's suitcase waiting to be claimed at National, and delivered it to her.
The parents were very happy to see their exhausted and travel-weary sons and daughters. The chaperones were equally glad to rejoin their families. God was with us all the way.
The pilgrims dispersed, as pilgrims do. We carry with us images of preparing food for one another, a rocky beach on Iona where Columcille landed with his apostles, a rainy hike, and prayers said every day to relieve the suffering of others. We wonder how we can make a positive difference in the world, or help those in need or want. We marvel that for one whole week, we lived in a close-knit Christian community seeking God, looking for Jesus, and found comfort in tight quarters and time for prayer and reflection.We wonder how we can bring those feelings with us from Scotland to home. Each pilgrim will have to figure that out individually. The journey is worth it when you understand what you found, and strive to ensure the continuance of the witness of Christ. It was a most marvelous and blessed pilgrimage.