There are certain events in life for which there is a definite before and after; events which change life significantly and once that change has happened it is difficult to remember what life was like before. The terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 is such an event in my mind. It is scary to think that there is a generation of people that have been born and are on the verge of adulthood who never knew a pre-9/11 life.
The attacks in New York happened on my 18th birthday. I remember being in school that day and getting ready for a big party that night. We had hired out a bar for the evening and there was some talk about whether or not to cancel. We decided it was best to go ahead as if we cancelled, the terrorists win. Life must go on.
We drank, talked and laughed. Some people cried. It was a surreal experience. We watched the news on the big screen and made predictions about what would happen next. It was an evening of contrasts; sadness and grief mixed with the carefree attitude of youth. I think this was the last time I felt comfortable around my social group at school as well. I'm not sure what happened, but I seemed to just drift away.
I have an interest in alternate history and often wonder how different the world would be had 9/11 not happened. It was the defining moment of a generation; a brutal loss of life and the loss of a way of life. Normal people going about their day not knowing it would be their last day.
New York is an amazing place. I have had the pleasure of visiting several times. I was there shortly after 9/11 and saw the memorial and debris still being cleared. There was then a gap of over fifteen years before I visited again last summer. The area around the former World Trade Centre is unrecognisable. The new tower is incredible; a modern wonder of the world and a fitting tribute to all those who lost their lives. The 9/11 memorial is an emotional, and raw, tribute to those same people. I have only cried in two museums; the Holocaust Memorial and the 9/11 Memorial.
My thoughts are with the families and friends of all those killed on 9/11.
To try and add some cheer to the day, I thought I would share the story of my birthday last year. Some of you will already know this, but it's still worth a reminder. As it was only last year, this is the first time the "memories" have shown on Facebook. I will share with you those memories from that day. Memories which chart my mental state changing from excitement, to confusion, to frustration, then anger and finally quiet acceptance. Enjoy.
So from the image above you can see that I was awake at 01:50 in the morning. I was in Malta with some family and had left the bar early to try and get some sleep at the hotel. I was not successful. My cab driver picked me up shortly after this status update and got me to the airport very quickly.
The plan had been to spend some time with family in Malta before flying to Romania to meet up with my girlfriend who was visiting her family. I would get there as early as possible so I could have the majority of my birthday with them. The plan was for a house party with food and lots of company.
I was still in good spirits when I arrived at Luqa airport. Costa was open so I could get a coffee and some breakfast. The airport was fairly quiet and it was a relaxing start to my journey. I made it through the airport with little hassle or stress. I had done a lot of travelling over the past few months and I'm now a pretty confident flyer. Or so I thought.
As I couldn't fly directly from Malta to Bucharest on this day, I was having to fly via Catania. There was only an hour or so between flights so it was not too much of a big deal. A quick hop over the Med to Sicily and then on to Romania. Simple.
I assume it was because of the short flight duration, but we never broke above cloud level. We spent almost the entire flight in the clouds. To say the flight was bumpy is a bit like saying water is wet. As I looked around, people were actually crossing themselves.
We landed in Catania and, I'm not the most patient person when I have to get somewhere and even more so when I'm lacking sleep, so I was getting increasingly angry that the other passengers did not realise I had another flight to catch, as well as having to clear passport control and retrieve my bags.
I finally managed to get off the flight and was surprised that there was no passport control. I waited to retrieve my bags and still had no idea what was to come.
I actually managed to get my bags collected pretty quickly and made my way to departures in good time. Catania airport is a small airport. The facilities were pretty basic but I did not pay too much attention to this. I was, instead, staring intently at the departure board and wondering why my flight was not showing despite later flights being there.
I stared at the departure board for about half an hour and there was no sign of my flight. I asked some people at the airport but they could not tell me anything either. I started to wonder if I was actually in Catania. I actually thought I may have boarded the wrong flight in Malta, or maybe made a mistake in booking the onward journey. No. Everything was correct. My journey details were correct. I was at the correct airport and the correct time.
While all this had been happening I was trying to contact the airline, Blue Air, on the phone but they would not pick up. I eventually got through to the company I booked the flights through. They were friendly but unable to explain why the flight was not showing. The departure time had now been and gone. The booking agent said they would investigate and call me back. I happened to be standing near a guy about my age speaking in Romanian. From what I could understand, he was talking to someone about the flight. When he finished on the call I asked him if he was waiting for the same flight as me. He was. He informed me the flight had been rescheduled for that evening. A few moments later I received a call back from the agent explaining the flight had been rescheduled for just after 21:00. I could tell there were several passengers waiting for this flight. It was not just myself and this other guy who had turned up expecting the flight to leave on time.
I decided to get some lunch.
Lunch was disgusting. Dry pizza that tasted how I imagine cardboard to taste. I was not impressed.
I had little to do in the airport. There are two levels at Catania airport. There are several car hire counters and just a couple of food counters serving the same rubbish as I posted above. There was a small pharmacy and a small cafe. I figured I would pace out my exploration of the airport.
Unfortunately there were no lockers in the airport. I had two large suitcases with me. Had there been lockers, I would have left my suitcases and took a cab somewhere interesting in Sicily. However, I did not have the patience to cart around two large suitcases. No. I would dig in and endure this. Fortunately, in one of the suitcases was a book I was saving to read on the flight from Catania to Bucharest. It is a book about the history of Sheffield Wednesday. It's a fascinating insight into the troubles the club has experienced over the past few decades. I've included an amazon link below. If you want to read the book, please purchase it using the link below, after all you did not spend your birthday alone in Catania. Did you?
After I finished my book, I decided to have an explore around the airport. Fifteen minutes later, exploration complete, I was feeling tired. I needed to keep moving though to stay awake. It was now well over 24 hours since I had last slept.
There was hardly anywhere new I could go. I was just wandering the same few meters of airport over and over. The seats were all metal with no padded seats I could find. I decided to try the small cafe and see if I could find coffee and something sweet to boost my energy a little. Just when I thought things could not get any more pathetic...
My birthday cake and coffee. Why and how did this chocolate torte taste even more like cardboard than the questionable excuse for pizza I had earlier? As for the coffee; double espresso in a polystyrene cup. Pure. Authentic. Italy.
The answer is we are both alone on our birthday and we both sing happy birthday to ourselves.
Eventually, after a long time in the airport I eventually got on the plane. When I had checked my luggage in I requested a window seat. My thinking was I would try and get a couple of hours sleep on the flight. By the time I boarded the plane, it was well after 21:00. I had been at the airport since approx 06:00 and awake since the previous morning. I just wanted to sleep.
My opinion of Blue Air was not fantastic at this point. Apparently, this was not a delayed flight but a rescheduled flight. As such, they would not pay compensation under EU law. A few points; (1) There were many passengers who turned up expecting the flight to leave in the morning. (2) I am notoriously bad at deleting emails. I save everything. I had no email, text or call to alert me this flight was delayed. (3) None of the other passengers I spoke to had been made aware. (4) The booking agent was not aware until they investigated off the back of my call. I don't generally care for bad language, but Blue Air can go fuck itself.
I took my window seat towards the rear of the plane to discover the seat was broken. It was in a state of permanent recline. Fortunately the seat in the middle was empty so I had some space. There was a larger lady sat in the aisle seat. To my horror, she called her friend from the row behind to sit in the middle seat. I just wanted to sleep.
I did not sleep. I did, however, get a couple of cool shots of the coast.
After what seemed an eternity I landed in Bucharest just after midnight on September 12th. After a good sleep I enjoyed the rest of my stay in Romania. My girlfriend and her family looked after me and bought me some really nice presents, including the cake in the picture below. In the end, it turned out ok. Blue Air refused to admit they were in the wrong. I gave up pursuing the complaint; I had already wasted time because of them. I wasn't willing to waste more for just a couple of hundred pounds. I can look back at it now and laugh. At the time it was horrible, but in the context of everything else that can happen it was no big deal.
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Critic. Writer. Thinker. Observer. Creator of nowwelive.com.