Editor’s Note: There are sentiments in this post that appear to have been superseded by current events that originated in Amsterdam, where we flew out of; I have left it unaltered as a memory of what it felt like at the time – I also think it emphasizes even more just how sophisticated the latest attempt actually was
To hold you over until the meal comes
After touring the Mediterranean, returning to Barcelona felt almost like going home – it was familiar, we knew the layout. It also reinforced just how nice Barcelona and its quirks are.
There is something refreshing about walking into a restaurant at 12:30 on a Thursday afternoon and being presented with a breakfast menu. About watching the look of horror on the waiter’s face when you say “no wine, thanks,” then quickly fixing it by saying “I’ll have a beer, though.” Then the look of horror on my face when the “glass” of beer is a litre. A serious two-hander to drink.
There are some adjustments required for the average Vancouverite wandering through Barcelona. The first is getting out of the hotel at 8:00 to check out the coffee shop your guide recommended, only to discover it won’t be open for another 2 hours. Walking back to the hotel, for the breakfast there, Ling and I noticed that the only places that were open also advertised “tourists eat here!” Then there is the pedestrian mall beside Las Ramblas. As we were walking through it, on a Tuesday, our guide explained that although it was a pedestrian mall it was noisy because all these trucks were allowed to be here for the early morning loading and delivery to the restaurants. This was the 10:30 tour.
Based on this experience, and a definite laissé faire attitude in the city, we were a little worried about getting off the cruise ship at 7:30 and getting to the hotel. I had remembered to check that they ran a shuttle and that the shuttle ran regularly during the hours we needed, but had neglected to write down what those hours actually were. Imagine our surprise, then, when we walked out of the port and the first thing we saw was a man holding a sign that said “Mariott Regency Airport” – our hotel. We were so suspicious that we asked twice and read the address written on the side of the bus – it was just too easy.
Sure enough it was the right hotel, and not only that but at 8:00 in the morning they had a room for us, as long as we would take two beds instead of a single king (since we were getting up at 2:30 to head to the airport, that was no problem), and right after we had checked in a complimentary shuttle was available to drop us off at Placa Espanya, and ready to pick us up at 5:15 for delivery back to the hotel.
Wandering in and out of these ports over the last week and watching what it is like getting in and out of the cities has reinforced how well Vancouver has positioned themselves – I just hope they can execute. Think about the experience of a cruise passenger stopping in Vancouver – they get off the cruise ship in the middle of downtown, right on a transit hub. Anything you want to see is a walk or a quick bus away. No single port we stopped at on this trip can boast that. Not only that, but imagine a passenger ending their trip and in our situation – wanting to stay by the airport because of an incredibly early departure. In any other place, you book a hotel at least 10 miles from the airport, then look for a shuttle bus or taxi. Not Vancouver – in Vancouver the hotel is actually inside the airport (something I have not found anywhere else), and there is rapid transit that picks you up at the cruise terminal and drops you off at the front doors – you get off the ship, 30 minutes later deposit your baggage at the hotel, and 30 minutes later can be back downtown to explore. Rather than getting up at 2:30 to be at the airport by 3:30, you get up at 3:20 and can check in before you check out. Maybe even have a short nap before boarding. It really is amazing.
Speaking of checking in, that led to the one major hiccup of this departure. A 6:00 flight generally means you can start to check in at 3:00 (3:30 at the latest). We and, it appears, every other person on the plane, expected to check in three hours early here. Except the Barcelona airport doesn’t open until 4:00, and nothing as simple as several 6:00 flights is going to change that. The KLM staff arrived at 4:00 to find the entire plane lined up waiting to check in. I mean the entire plane, the lineup was incredible. People kept walking up to me and asking convoluted questions in Spanish, where all I could catch was ‘KLM’. I assumed they were asking if this was really the lineup for the plane, so would nod and say ’si, si’. By the time we were checking in people assumed I spoke Spanish and were trying to talk to me.
I ordered a beer – what’s this tiny thing?
When the staff arrived they set up, put the paper in the printers, turned everything on and then spoke a universal language. One that consists of tapping the same key on the keyboard repeatedly, while staring at the monitor with a horrified look, then looking at each other with wide, fearful eyes.
The entire airport’s computers were down – it was now 4:15 and we were supposed to be boarding in less than 90 minutes, with only a 2 1/2 hour stopover in Amsterdam.
By 4:30 they had the computers up and working in spurts. They would check a couple of people in, then you would see the look on their faces, everything would stop, then they would brighten a bit and you would hear “Air France!
Fortunately we were near the front (which was why I kept getting Spanish questions), so we got checked in fairly quickly. Of course a group is only as quick as its slowest member – the plane took off 75 minutes late.
On the plane the lady beside us, after boarding, shook her head and said “this is so Spanish – no organization, no urgency,” waived down a flight attendant, said she was going to Copenhagen, and was there any chance of making the connection. The flight attendant looked at the boarding pass and told her they would let her know when they were closer.
15 minutes before landing she came by and said “your flight is going out of gate C5 – you are going to have to run. Lets move you to the first seat in the plane” and they took her up to business class (she told us she had expected this, and put the dress she had bought for tomorrow’s wedding in the carryon, since she knew her luggage would never get to Denmark with her). We had planned a 2 1/2 hour layover and were more confident. I actually didn’t like the 2 1/2 hours when I booked it – based on past experience I don’t like anything less then 3. Listening to the way they announce late passengers in Amsterdam, I was happy I had ensured I wasn’t going to be one of them. Rather than the polite hints you hear elsewhere, if you are late in Amsterdam they announce to the whole airport “Will Mr and Mrs. Smith please report to gate E9, you are delaying your flight. If you do not show up soon we will unload your luggage from the plane.” That certainly gets the point across.
During the flight into Amsterdam we had noticed that our boarding passes for the flight to Seattle were listed with a boarding time of 9:11, with a departure time of 10:50 – I was sure that had to be a misprint, I have never seen a boarding time that starts an hour and forty minutes prior to departure – it had to be an error stemming from the computer issue (and I was trying to completely ignore any latent symbolism in what was an odd boarding time from any standpoint).
We got to the gate in Amsterdam and discovered there was no misprint. It was 9:30, the line had formed, and people were being checked through. This was because, inside the secure area of the airport, after we had already cleared security in Barcelona, and after we had cleared customs in Amsterdam, the Americans were running their own security checkpoint – a more complete checkpoint than I have seen at the entrance to any other airport I have ever been, let alone a boarding gate. Every single person was taken to an individual desk (there were about 10 at the gate) and personally interviewed by a security guard about where they had been, what they were doing, and what they were bringing. It was basically a personal interview with the old “did anyone else pack your bags, did someone give you something to carry for them” questions we used to get at checkin. Some people were at the desks a lot longer than others. We then had to rescan our boarding passes, clear ourselves with immigration because our passes were flagged because we didn’t have a connecting flight back out of the country, then pass our carryon through another x-ray and ourselves through another metal detector.
I have never seen this before – passing a second set of full security, only at our gate, after already having passed the initial boarding security. Fortunately after Egypt I’m an old hand at this. I’m pretty sure I picked my bag up out the other side before it had a chance to even touch the belt. We finally got on the plane 15 minutes before departure – the boarding process at the gate took us an hour.
We are now sitting on the plane, watching dinner (lunch? breakfast? I have no idea, and after Barcelona even the red wine doesn’t give me a hint) get delivered. Apparently we are ahead of schedule, and I am hoping that in Seattle we can arrange an earlier shuttle.
Now, if you will excuse me, my body is telling me it is 13:30, I have been up since 2:30, and it is finally time to get a bit of sleep. My watch is telling me it is 4:30 AM in Vancouver, and that also means sleep.
Update: Apparently the Danish lady knew what she was talking about. When we go to SeaTac, my bag was one of the first out, and we thought this was great, for once we would be one of the first people out of the airport! Twenty minutes later when the belt stopped rolling, we realized we were in trouble because we still had only one bag. We asked an attendant who consulted a list and said, “yup, it’s still in Amsterdam”. That’s 2 for 2 on recent trips. To give Northwest credit, though, the bag was waiting for us at our front door in Vancouver the next morning!
Last day of the trip, does she look ready to go home?