Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ain't nothin' gonna break my stride

Some of you know that I'm a fan of 80's pop music. Matthew Wilder's "Break my Stride" is currently one of my cell phone ring tones.

Some of you also know that Rachel and I had a crazy day(s) full of travel miscues on our way to Barcelona. Here's how it all went down.

10:30a Monday, September 6: Left the Heinrich's in Altamonte Springs, FL for the Orlando airport.
11:30a: Arrive and check our 49-pound suitcases (I'm pretty sure an extra pair of socks each would've thrown them completely overweight).
Noon: We didn't yet have assigned seats on our first flight to Washington-Dulles, and the plane was already full, so we were anxious to talk with the gate agent. She had other things on her agenda apparently and kept telling those of us without seats to wait to be called. It wasn't until they started boarding zone 2 that she finally called our names. First class-row 1. That'll do.
3:30p: Land at the Dulles airport and head to the gate for our transatlantic flight, Air Lingus to Madrid, scheduled for 5:30.
5:25p: Gate agent informs us that they will be boarding in approximately three minutes.
Two minutes later: Gate agent informs us that there is a problem with one of the plane's antenna. The replacement part would have to be flown in from Philadelphia. New estimated departure time? 8:00p...
Maybe we should have
gotten a moped...
5:40p: Now we would have been content waiting in the airport for everything to sort itself out, but we knew that we had a car showing up for us at the Barcelona airport at a scheduled time. At the rate things were going, we were going to miss our Madrid-Barcelona connection by over an hour (that's even IF the repair goes without a hitch). Trying to reach the car leasing office became our priority, but of course, it was the middle of the night in Spain at the moment, and the US office had already closed as well. So Rachel's dad was great enough to leave some messages and do some off-hours calling for us (Thanks again!) so that the car would be ready and waiting for us when we got to Barcelona. But we're getting ahead of ourselves!
6:00p: Having little faith in our mechanically-challenged Air Lingus flight, I decided to call United to see what other options we might have (I had noticed that there were a couple of flights to Frankfurt still to leave Dulles that evening). The customer service agent (who was fantastic by the way) let us know that if we missed our Madrid connection (which by now we already had) there were no available seats on any flights to Barcelona for the rest of that day (Tuesday by then, in Spain). Squatting on standby tickets in the Madrid airport didn't seem like a great way to spend the first day or two of a trip to Europe, so I brought up the flights to Frankfurt. A few minutes later we were booked to fly from Dulles to Frankfurt at 9:59 in the evening. Now, how to kill 4 hours in an airport?
6:10p: Before saying our final goodbyes to our failed first flight, I had to check with our Air Lingus agent to have our bags transferred to our other flight. Hurriedly, she said "Yes, no problem," though it was with a tone that sounded more like "wait, who let you leave my flight? If you think you're getting your bags back from me you're crazy!"
6:20p: We double-checked at a general United customer service counter on our way through the terminal, and (surprise) our bag re-rout had not been done. The agent here set us up and double-checked that the rest of our itinerary looked OK.
6:30-9:30: Another 20-something couple from our Air Lingus flight had made the same change to their itinerary and spent the wait with us at our new gate. Turned out we had seats together on our transatlantic flight as well. They were heading for Barcelona to meet a cruise ship.
9:15: While sitting at the gate for our Frankfurt flight, we hear a final call for our original Air Lingus flight.
9:59: Flight to Frankfurt departs.
11:10a, local time, Frankfurt, Germany, September 7 (5:10a EST): We had finally-at least-arrived on the appropriate continent.
1:00p: Board flight for Barcelona.
1:15p: Everyone onboard, captain announces that because of the strikes in France (which apparently included air traffic controllers) we were waiting to be assigned a timeslot to fly  over the country. He promised to have an update in one hour.
2:15p: The captain did, indeed, have an update on our wait for a air timeslot: we would be allowed to turn the engines on and taxi in approximately 25 minutes.
2:50p: Takeoff for Barcelona.
4:50p: Land in Barcelona, about six and a half hours after our originally scheduled flight (we still don't know what would have happened had we stuck to the original itinerary).
5:15p: The question on our minds over the last few hours was whether or not our luggage had followed us along all our detours. Thankfully, it had...our bags were two of the first on the conveyor belt.
5:20p: Called car lease agent who told us he would meet us outside in the shuttle bus pickup area in 15 minutes.
Our car!
(This was actually taken at Montserrat, not the airport.)
45 minutes later: Our brand-spankin new (only 22km on the odometer) Peugeot 308 station wagon (with panoramic sunroof) arrives. After some instructions and a few signatures, we're on our way to our hotel.
7:00p: Arrived at the gorgeous resort hotel Barcelo Montserrat. The drive was incident-free (thanks in LARGE part to the directions from the great people of Michelin guides!) but I'll have more to say about driving around Barcelona in a future post. The view out my window makes me wish I had brought my golf clubs, but I'm pretty sure three bags was enough for this trip. Montserrat, our next day's adventure, is in the distance.
View out our hotel room.
Montserrat is the mountain in the distance.
(Click here to see larger image)

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