Day 39: Madrid to Munich to Victoria

Posted: August 26, 2014 in Getting Around, Travel
Tags: , ,

Amazing what a difference a day makes… On Saturday night we were all kept awake by the noise from the square below us and from other people in the rooms around ours, but on Sunday night the hotel and square were pretty quiet and we all slept reasonably well (although we’re all looking forward to our beds at home tonight).

We woke up around 7:45 and slowly started pulling ourselves out of bed and started getting ready. A few last minute changes to how things were packed and we were ready to go. By 9am we were heading downstairs to checkout and settle up the bill. While I went to pay, Marie and Caitlin went to the store next door to get some yogurt and juice (no such luck… the store doesn’t open until 9:30am). Speaking of that store, last night we were in one of Madrid’s large department stores (Corte D’Ingles or something like that) and were thinking of buying a multi-pack of small bottle of fortified wines to use up our allotment of alcohol we can bring back to Canada… Turns out it was the last one and there was a woman who was quite agitated about getting it… Eventually we decided we didn’t want it after all so Marie went looking around the store to see if the woman who also wanted it was still there… She was and was very grateful to Marie for tracking her down to give it to her. The funny thing is she was the owner of the store next to hotel… What are the chances of doing a good deed for someone and having them turn out to be one of about 10 (out of well over 1 million in the city) you’ve interacted with in the whole city… We recognized the woman by the bright red shirt with distinctive yellow lettering she was wearing – she didn’t recognize us when we went into her store but it’s all good.

Back to our trip back to Victoria. We shouldered our packs and hiked the short distance to Plaza del Sol then made our way to the platform for a train heading to Nuevos Ministerios where we could transfer to the C-1 train that would take us to the airport. When we got to Ministerios, we found the platform for the train with no trouble at all (very well signed with clear instructions how to get to the airport). We had about 20 minutes to wait for the train to arrive so Marie and Caitlin scarfed some train station pastries while we waited. The train arrived almost exactly as scheduled and we piled on for the short (20 minutes or so) ride to the airport. In all a very civilized and economical way to get to the Madrid airport – cost was 2.55 euros each person and in total took about an hour from the time we arrived at the train station to the time we arrived at the airport Terminal 4. They only caveat would be to check the schedule online if possible as we were lucky and timed the trains just right (blind luck) – otherwise we could have been waiting over 1/2 an hour for the C-1 to arrive at Nuevos Ministerios.

Once at the airport we found our way from the train platform to the departures level and ultimately the shuttle for the other terminals. One confusing thing they do (that other airports handled better) is alerting fliers to the fact the your flight is really there but departs from a different terminal. When we looked at the departures board, our flight wasn’t on it. We knew from our paperwork that we’d be flying out of Terminal 2 but the poor German women who was also looking at the board was a bit panicked that her flight didn’t seem to exist. We explained the situation to her and she followed to the right terminal and the check-in counters.

At the check-in counters, the normal chaos was well underway. Some people were checking in using the electronic kiosks (which seemed to only work for about 1 out of every 2 people). They had one person checking in the decent sized line of people who for one reason or another couldn’t check-in electronically… For us that was our problem. We were unable to check-in electronically either online or at the airport due to some glitch in communication between Air Canada and the Lufthansa who was operating the flight… It’s kind of a pain in the butt in an era where getting a guaranteed seat is a luxury you have to pay for… In our case we had to take what we were given with respect to seats (a process accompanied by much sighing from the woman helping us and a discussion with her supervisor that seemed to have a lot to do with us (based on the number of times Canada and Canadians occurred in their conversation). Finally we were given our boarding passes (we’re sitting together from Madrid to Munich, Caitlin and Marie are sitting together from Munich to Vancouver and we’re all over the plane for the flight from Vancouver to Victoria). Now that we had our boarding passes, we were free to head for our gate. Total time from hotel to check-in: just over 2 hours…

Cleared security with few issues (the canned sardines in Marie’s pack caused them to open her pack and do a more thorough search but otherwise it was all routine) and found the gate with no trouble and had enough time to grab something to drink and a muffin before it was time to board the plane. This flight was on an Airbus A321 and appeared to be a very new place. It’s very open in the cabin compartment (lives up to its Airbus moniker) and is quite spacious in terms of head room and seats/leg room. Although the seats are a bit hard, I found it to be the most comfortable plane of all this trip. They fed us a decent lunch of chicken with a bit of tomato sauce and pasta and were reasonably free with the drinks… The only downside was the flight was a bit bumpy and you definitely feel the movement a bit more in the back of the plane than near the wing where we’ve been trying to sit for all our other flights.

We landed right on schedule at 2:45 and were scheduled to depart again at 3:20 so we needed to hustle to our next flight… But not to worry – it was delayed until 4:00 pm which left us time to hit the duty free to pick up some cigars (very expensive butI  got some hand-rolled Domincans and another bottle of port – a 10 year old Tawny this time – for those nights when I feel like playing a cultured sort of guy for a couple of hours…). When we got to the gate around 3:20 an announcement was made to say that no further information would be provided about our flight (which was quite visibly missing a plane at this point) until 4pm (our adjusted departure time)… Hmmm… At least it gave me time to get a couple of posts up on the blog…

At 4pm they came over the P.A. to say that the plane would be ready for boarding at around 4:45pm and would depart at approximately 5:15pm… Guess it could have been worse… although we are going to miss our connecting flight in Vancouver as we will be arriving right around the time it’s supposed to depart.

Boarding the plane turned out to be a fun experience as Caitlin went ahead of both of us and went through with no trouble but when Marie tried to board the plane, they quite brusquely I might add told her to go to the other gate person (no explanation just grabbed her passport and boarding pass and said “you go here”. This then happened to me when I tried to board. The woman did explain (in response to my question of what exactly the problem was) mentioned something about our tickets being group tickets… Which was strange given that I bought my ticket with cash while Caitlin and Marie booked their tickets (on a separate booking number) with RBC rewards points… They took a fair bit of time to sort the issue out (it seemed to be that the woman – remember she of the many sighs – had mixed up the names and passport numbers when she checked us in at Madrid. Eventually we had to get Caitlin to come back (she wisely waited for us at the top of the boarding tube) because there was something wrong with her boarding pass as well (but somehow they missed it when they checked her in). So now Caitlin is heading backwards through the boarding queue (by this time there’s virtually no one left to board as everyone else is on the place)… Where one the staff (other than the one who told her to come back) snaps at her for going out of the boarding area and snatches up her boarding pass… Lufthansa definitely needs to work on their customer service – pleases and thank-you’s and I’m sorries go along ways when your plane is delayed by almost 2 hours and your colleagues screwed up…

It was eventually resolved (and the woman who finally fixed the problem was decently apologetic and polite)… When we boarded the plane (dead last) there was another issue as the cabin crew were looking for the guy in 25D to move back to 39F to allow a dad to sit together with his wife and two young kids… Unfortunately I was the guy in 25D and we were hoping to change with someone so Marie and Caitlin and I could sit together… Unfortunately neither of the two guys flying solo who could have moved wanted to give up their aisle seats so I’m stuck in the 39th row sandwiched between a guy who is bundled up in a heavy jacket (which along with his stringy hair, swarthy skin and general air of oddness makes him look disturbingly like the guy most likely to release a weaponized form of anthrax into the plane’s air system) and a heavyset Iranian dude (got his life story after I figured I’d strike up a conversation with him even though he’s part of the reason I’m sitting between two dudes instead of beside my hot wife) who has a habit of getting up every half hour or so and then literally thumping back down in his seat (I’d hate to be the guy behind him). He also likes to pull the blanket up right over his head (it’s actually quite disconcerting as you’re constantly wondering what exactly he’s doing under there… and it sort of makes him look like one of the hobbits or someone who died…) and he sighs a lot. I see Marie and Caitlin occasionally when they go to the bathroom or get up to walk around… I was happy to give the dad my seat in 25D (which was a pretty sweet aisle seat in a separate section of the plane) but kind of miffed that the other two dudes weren’t interested at all… The cabin crew has been very apologetic that they couldn’t get Marie and Caitlin and I together and have been very appreciative that I gave up my seat for the other guy… Although I’d appreciate it if they didn’t show their appreciation by pouring heavy on the drinks – that gin and tonic almost put me under the table…

We’ve been flying for 8 hours of our scheduled 10 and they’re just turning the lights back on (I think I slept for 15 minutes for one stretch and maybe 45 minutes for the other) and getting ready to serve us our dinner. At least the food’s been decent on this trip and they’ve been good about coming around with snacks and water or juice to keep everyone hydrated…

Apparently they’re trying to rebook our flight from Vancouver to Victoria and will let us know what they’re able to do but one way or another we’re going to be getting home a bit later than we expected (we hope)… If it wasn’t for Ladybug, we could care less if they screwed up all our flights and took a week to sort it out… But we miss her and Caitlin and Marie are really excited to see her so getting home sooner rather than later would be a nice thing… Not to mention that when we land my watch is going to be telling me that it’s 7pm while my body will be telling me that it’s 4am…

We arrived at Vancouver International Airport around 7pm… right about the time our flight was scheduled to leave. We cleared customs without any hassles… No wonder you here so many stories of people exceeding their customs limits and getting away with it. I suspect that a lot of the customs screening is going on behind the scenes with sniffer dogs and x-ray machines and whatnot because we have not been subject to any kind of detailed inspection or questioning on any of the trips we’ve done. I think the last time we went through a detailed customs inspection was in 1996 when Marie and I traveled to Mexico – we got pulled out of the line up and they searched our bags carefully when we arrived in Mexico City.

After clearing customs we were told to head to the Air Canada counter to see about getting on a different plane to Victoria. The Air Canada staffed took our passports and now useless boarding passes and clicked and clacked away at her machine before concluding that we were not booked onto any flights for tonight and all the flights were full so too bad so sad go see Lufthansa and see what they can do about putting us up for the night in Vancouver… So downstairs we go to the Lufthansa counter where the woman clicks and clacks for a few minutes and says, wait a minute “you’re booked on the 11:45pm flight to Victoria tonight.” So she gives us a $45 meal voucher (enough for a decent meal at White Spot so not a bad gesture) and sends us back to Air Canada to check in and drop off our bags (which had to be picked up by us before clearing customs). How in the world Lufthansa can know we’re booked on an Air Canada flight but Air Canada doesn’t know that is beyond me…

With Lufthansa’s less than stellar customer service and a bunch of clerical screwups on this flight, we’re seriously considering them dropping them down a few rungs on our preferred airline list – like after Wizz Air and that no-name airline we saw in Rome a couple of years ago that painted their name over another airline’s name…

We grabbed a bite to eat at the Whitespot courtesy of Lufthansa and tried to play some cards but we’re all so tired we kept forgetting whose turn it was. After that we had to go back through security and were making jokes about what they would take issue with in our carry-ons after they’ve made it through a whacking great lot of European airports in the last 7 days… The tin of soap raised some suspicions and I got randomly selected for a body scan and Marie got randomly selected to have her bag and contents swabbed but other than that it was smooth sailing.

It’s now 11:20pm and we’re sitting in the gate area waiting to board our flight. We could have moved up to a flight that’s just about to leave but our luggage would still be on the later flight so we’re taking our chances (and given that a plane that was supposed to fly to Victoria is still sitting on the tarmac with maintenance people swarming all over it it’s actually a bit of a chance) with the flight we’re scheduled to take… I’ll post this up for now and finish the story tomorrow along with some final observations of the trip, etc.

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