I am notorious amongst my friends and family for being terrible with directions. I'm just not one of those people who seems to be built with an internal SatNav, who can direct their way around pretty much anywhere, using street names, rivers and motorways. I call that; very impressive. I am the kind of person who will walk around in circles staring at a map, before realising ten minutes later, that it is upside down and what I thought was a bridge, is actually the central bus station. And if I'm not following the internal SatNavs to my destination (whilst thinking about what I might like to eat when I get there), I can only navigate my surroundings by remembering the weird and wonderful things which might catch my attention; like that pub we passed about five minutes ago on the corner, called "Darling, I'll call you later".
I'd booked my return ticket to Prague online in November. The others were flying into Prague from Manchester, and I was to meet them on the famously beautiful Charles Bridge, (or after a Google Maps search later - 'Karlův most' ) a day later. So not only would I be flying alone for the first time, but I would be navigating the Czech transport system on my tod too, unable to speak a word of Czech, (other than ahoj, which means hello - however this made me want to salute like a sailor each time I said it). Marvellous. There's got to be an easy route from the airport to the centre of Prague. Then getting to the river really couldn't be that hard - could it?
"Do you want me to come in and find the check-in desk with you?"
Mum was poking her head around the corner of my seat from the back of the car looking as anxious as I felt. She'd let me sit in the front next to my Step-Dad, Steve. My stomach was full of nervous butterflies, and so I was rather glad I could look out the front window for the entirety of the 40 minute journey to London Luton airport. We had zipped up the motorway, the green trees and fields of Hertfordshire flicking in and out of view to my left. The moonlight reflected off the wet tarmac in front of us, always keeping a couple of feet in front of the car. But as the high rise airport hotels came into view, and the rows of red brake lights flashed up ahead, I realised we'd pulled up at the drop off.
Part of me really wanted my Mum to hold my hand and find the check-in desk with me. But I was twenty-five, not five, so I declined.
"Thanks, but if I cant check in at Luton, I've got absolutely no hope in Prague..."
I gave both her and Steve a goodbye kiss on the cheek, and pulled up the handle on my little wheelie suitcase (upon which I'd tied a blue Liberty ribbon for easy recognition) and headed towards the arrivals entrance with an air of independence. It took me five minutes and three zebra crossings, whilst Mum was pointing and waving like a loony (and me waving and smiling back) before I realised I was in fact a departure not an arrival, and so made a hasty left turn to the other side of the terminal.
It wasn't half as exciting as the programme Airline you see on television, with people forgetting their passport, arriving in the nick of time, and thinking they can take their pet pythons through as hand luggage. I handed my passport to the lady behind the check-in desk, who flicked it open and peered down her nose, past wiry glasses and layers of orange foundation at the picture of me as a smirking sixteen year-old. She sniffed, glanced at my boarding pass and handed it all back to me.
"Is that it?" I asked, looking blankly at her.
"You can go through to the Security Checkpoint now." She replied, her voice singing, as she repeated the automated words spoken a thousand times. She busied herself with shuffling papers and cleared her throat - the sign for me to leave.
I found it wasn't difficult at all getting through security, despite having to remove my jewellery, boots, coat, cardigan and then get felt up by a butch female security officer, who really wouldn't listen when I told her I had metal plates which always beeped when passing through security. Upon reaching the departure lounge, I managed to buy a Marmite bagel and a strawberry smoothie from a kiosk just before my gate number lit up on the screen. I followed the crowds, ever so pleased with myself at how smooth things were running, and made my way to gate number 24. The passengers queuing up were mostly couples; arms around each other, kissing as if nobody could see, or they were large groups of rowdy men drinking lager at 7:00am on their way for a stag do, I presumed.
There was that couple who'd brought the 'priority boarding' online, who looked delighted at their sudden superiority above the rest of us as the stewardess announced that it was time for priority boarding. The female of the two was a small miserable-looking woman, who looked as if she hadn't washed her hair in a week and didn't seem at all excited to be jetting off to Prague with her beloved. I'd watched her moan at him continually for the last twenty minutes, and she was now elbowing him in the ribs, pushing him forward to the front of the queue.
I love that moment where you walk outside into the crisp, cold air onto the tarmac where the planes are parked. The blast of fresh air hits you hard and wakes up your mind from having waited your way all over the air conditioned airport for the last few hours. I took a few deep breaths, inhaling as much fresh air as possible into my lungs, as I marched out across the tarmac with the rest of the queue.
Before I knew it, I was pinned back against the soft leather seat, as our plane picked up speed. Hurtling down the runway, engines roaring, I felt it would take a monumental effort to get us off the ground. And then suddenly we lifted, leaving the twinkling lights and London behind.