WILLSBORO - For the Pierce family, it was the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime trip to an exotic land.
But while the family knew that there was tension, it wasn't until after their plane had taken off that things really started to get exciting in the country they were headed for.
The family, consisting of parents Kevin and Yvonne, siblings Derrick and Lucas, and Derrick's then soon-to-be fiance, Jennifer, did not know that the U.S. State Department had issued a travel warning to the country on the brink of revolution until they touched down in Cairo.
"We left on the evening of Jan. 27 and they issued the travel warning on the 28th, while we were in the air," said Lucas. "We didn't know anything until we got to Cairo and were told that we would have to stay in the airport overnight."
Pierce said that he slowly started to hear rumblings throughout the terminal that the situation in Egypt's capital city had escalated, as citizens of the country converged at Tahrir Square as they sought the resignation of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who did so Feb. 11.
"The airport was packed and nobody really knew what was going on," Pierce said. "We found out that we had arrived an hour after the first curfew had been declared in Cairo, so we were stuck."
Pierce said that while he and his family went searching for answers, food soon became as sparse as the explanations he was looking for.
"The food counter was ransacked," he said. "The snack shop in the terminal was so small that the food was gone pretty quickly."
To the hotel
Once the curfew was lifted at 7 a.m. on the morning on the morning of Jan. 28, the Pierces left the airport and headed to the hotel.
While they were told that they would be safe in the hotel, Lucas said that the family wondered about how safe things were during the drive.
"It was a 45-minute drive from the airport to our hotel, which was right next to Tahrir Square," Pierce said. "We saw five burning buildings, and I am talking 12- to 15-story huge buildings. There were incinerated cars lining the streets, the military was out with its tanks and you could hear the screams and chants from the car. The sky was filled with smoke."
Trapped in the hotel
Once at the hotel, the family was told to stay inside for the next two days.
"The hotel really could not hold everyone that was there, but we were advised not to go out and to stay there," Pierce said. "At night, you could hear everything. The chants, gunshots, screaming. The sky was lit up."
Pierce said that conditions worsened along with the increase in activity and dissonance.
"We wanted to go down to dinner one night, and on the way to the dining hall we were told to go back into our rooms and turn the lights off," Pierce said. "You couldn't drink the tap water there, so we had times in our room where we were without food or water."
Pierce said that when he did get to talk to any Egyptians, they were very pleasant and welcoming in the midst of political turmoil and revolution.
"I didn't ever see a lot of animosity towards tourists," he said. "I was able to talk to a few of the guides and the people at the hotel and, a lot of times, they would apologize for what was going on and that they were sorry that they had ruined our trip."
Pierce said that while they felt bad for the band of tourists, they were committed to the cause they were fighting for.
"They would all explain about what had happened to them and that they felt that they really needed change in their country," Pierce said. "It was pretty intense at points."
A way out
As the family grew more and more anxious, Pierce, who studied politics and government at college, started to use what he had learned to get in contact with the U.S. Embassy.
"I tried for two days, but it was impossible," he said. "No one could really tell us what to do, and it was frustrating."
Pierce said he then reached out to a contact that he had made both through last year's campaign trail and through his grandmother, New York state Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward.
"I made a call to Congressman (Chris) Gibson's office and he got back to me within an hour and worked on getting us a contact," Pierce said. "We were able to evacuated that Monday morning (Jan. 31) as part of the first day of evacuations. We were very fortunate."
When the Pierce family boarded the evacuation plane, they knew that they were going to one of three places: the island of Cyprus; Istanbul, Turkey; or Athens, Greece.
When they got off the plane, they found themselves in the latter.
"We were grappling with do we stay here or do we go straight home and call it a trip," said Pierce. "In the end, we decided to stay and try to make the best of it."
The Pierces returned to the United States on Feb. 8, with a story that very much fit the classic line about travel:
"We really need a vacation from this vacation," Pierce remarked, followed by a laugh.
Interested in the events
While Pierce said that most of the family was ready to get out of Egypt, he was trying to take as much of it in as he could.
"It was great to be there first hand for an event like this and to see everything that was going on," Pierce said. "I was able to take everything that I had learned and apply it to a real-life political situation. While my mom and Derrick were ready to leave, I found it all amazing. I would have loved to have been a reporter there throughout the events."