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Day 23 - May 21, 2005 - Amsterdam, Netherlands to Philadelphia, US

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In an effort to keep my promise of joining everyone for breakfast, I woke up for my last day in Europe at 6:30 am.  The group was heading back to London together via the coach.  Sue and Cheryl, along with myself, were the only ones staying in Amsterdam.  They were staying to continue their travels into Eastern Europe, specifically Prague and Budapest, among other cities as well.  I simply was heading straight home from Amsterdam.  Still, to this day, I don't know why the leg from Amsterdam to London was not included in my tour package.  The tour was technically finished, so I didn't really miss anything.  However, at that point, I would have liked to spend one more day of traveling with everyone.
 
I made it to the breakfast hall at 7:00.  I ate with our group for the final time with Yoon, Kim, Yvonne, Freddy and Olivia.  I think a lot of my tour mates were surprised I actually woke up early and made it there.  My flight wasn't until noon, so they expected me to sleep in.  After all the sleep I lacked in the previous three weeks, the last morning was a challenge.  I couldn't miss out on seeing them off though.  I had plenty of time to sleep on the flight anyway.
 
It was difficult to judge when to start saying good byes.  I eventually just started saying them, but would soon realize that they came prematurely.  By the time people were boarding the coach out front, I had personally said good bye more than once for some people, and not at all for others.  I wish it could have been more organized.  To somewhat make up for it, I stepped up in the front of the coach after everyone boarded.  I wished them all luck in and thanked them all for making my trip better than I could ever expect.  I also encouraged them to keep in touch and let me know if they ever visited the Philadelphia/New York City area. 
 
I stood in front of our hostel with Sue and Cheryl and watched the coach turn the corner.  For me, seeing the coach turn that corner was the end of the trip.  There had been uneasy feelings about the tour's end as far back as Switzerland.  However, that was the defining moment.  The coach was gone, my tour mates were gone, and the only thing I had left to do was fly home.
 
It was a strange feeling once it was just the three of us.  It was difficult to comprehend that I would never again see most of the people I got to know so well in the last three weeks.  It was easy throughout the trip to lose perspective on where I was and what I was doing.  It eventually became second nature that those were the people in my life, and aimlessly wandering a strange continent was my life, at least for those three weeks.  However, as the coach drove away I was quickly reminded of reality.  For the first time in three weeks, I was not looking forward to seeing a new city or a new country.  I was looking forward to my home, my friends, my family, my bed, my job and my car.  I was inexplicably both excited and depressed that, in twelve hours, my entire European vacation would be nothing more than a memory.
 
I walked into the lobby with Sue and Cheryl.  I explained to them that I was going to try and get some sleep before leaving for the airport.  I didn't know if I would see them again, so I said good bye.  I went upstairs and got comfortable in my bed.  This time, my room was empty.  I still couldn't get used to the fact that Matt would not come barging in with a strange story about something he and Neil got into or Vince would not be coming in to get me to go to the bar for a drink.  I laid there for probably twenty minutes thinking of so many of those situations that became commonplace on the tour.  There was no way I was going to fall asleep.
 
I organized my suitcase and left my room.  I took a last look at our balcony and our "Fench doors."  Back in the lobby, I returned my key.  Sue and Cheryl were checking their email.  I again said good bye and I wished them luck in Eastern Europe.  Then I left.
 
My 24 hour tram ticket from the previous day was still valid, for a couple hours.  I caught a tram to Centraal Station.  I then transferred onto a train and ended up at Schiphol Airport.  I obtained my boarding pass and boarded the direct flight to Philadelphia.  We took off right on time, at 12:00 noon.

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As our flight ascended, we were almost immediately over the ocean.  A short time later, more land was visible.  I assumed it was either Scotland or Ireland.  An even shorter time later, the shore appeared.  I thought to myself that the beach I was looking at would be the last of Europe I would see (until I return, of course).  I even took a picture of the beach.  For the next six hours, it was nothing but the Atlantic.

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MY LAST VIEW OF EUROPE

The flight was eventless.  I couldn't stop thinking about everything I had done.  I ran it by, as chronologically as possible dozens of times.  From the time I met the kid from Still Remains on my flight to London all the way to taking the train into Schiphol was an endless loop of thoughts in my head.  I stared out the window and probably looked like a zombie to the woman sitting next to me.
 
I did briefly speak to the woman, probably mostly to break the monotony.  She was a Dutch woman, on her way to Philadelphia for business.  She elaborated about her previous work related travels.  She wished she had more time to see the places she visited.  I told her about my vacation.  I could tell that it was obvious to her how great of a time I had.  Usually, when I tell a story, I tend to avoid excessive detail, so my listener doesn't get bored, whoever he or she may be.  But that lady was the first person I ever talked to about my trip.  I didn't hold back, and I gave her a lengthy synopsis.  She seemed interested though, and I don't think she was bored.
 
Near the end of the flight, I realized we had reached North America.  I peered out to try and figure out where we were.  Unlike the overseas flights you hear about, my plane did not have the electronic map displaying the flight's progress, nor did the captain give any updates.  The shapes of the many peninsulas we were flying over did not resemble anything for me.  Soon, I saw what I thought was Sandy Hook, which is a peninsula just south of New York City, and essentially divides the Hudson Bay from the Atlantic.  I concluded that it could not be Sandy Hook, since we had more than an hour left.  Sure enough, about five minutes later, the captain announced that we were over Atlantic City and we would be landing in twenty minutes.  I think it sounds ridiculous to some people, but I contend that what I saw was indeed Sandy Hook.
 
We approached Philadelphia and began our descent.  We then continued through the clouds and the land once again was visible.  I tried to get a glimpse of Philadelphia's skyline, but I was on the opposite side of the plane.  I did have a good view down the Delaware River though.  I could see the Commodore Barry Bridge in the distance.  I looked for the dome of Old Main, a building where I went to school, at Widener University.  I was unable to locate it.  As we approached the runway, I waited for touchdown.  I quickly fibbed myself into thinking that I had about five seconds of vacation left.  Five seconds later, we were on the ground.

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OVER THE ATLANTIC

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THE DESCENT INTO PHILLY

I proceeded through customs and, after a long wait, I obtained my luggage.  Almost immediately after I set way for the exit, a uniformed police officer ordered me to the side.  He questioned where I was coming from and what I had with me.  The series of questions were an attempt to obtain an admission that I brought illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia from Amsterdam.  I looked over and saw another kid my age going through the same ageist profiling.  I have no problem with additional security to prevent terrorism.  However, once the officer knew I didn't have any bombs or guns on my person, I didn't understand the additional questioning and extensive search.  There was no probable cause to lead him into thinking I had anything illegal.  I was a 20 something year old male flying in from Amsterdam; nothing more and nothing less.  I wasn't rude or uncooperative, but I made it clear that I disapproved with the procedures and I felt my rights were violated.
 
I repacked my over packed suitcase and met Meaghan in the International Arrival building.  I gave her a long awaited hug and we made our way for the car.  An hour later, I was home and there was no more fibbing.  My trip had ended.