Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Travel Gods Hate Me, Part II

So I'm back from my tour of Switzerland and Spain. This has to be the worst vacation I've ever taken. I couldn't wait to get back to New York. Every couple of years I get this urge to go to Europe, but when I actually get there, I think to myself, why the hell am I here? Europe can be so chintzy, and for everything you hear about New Yorkers being rude and unhelpful, I've heard and seen nothing but friendly New Yorkers willing to indulge tourists and answer questions like "Where's Manhattan?" when they're standing in Times Square or "Can I walk to the Statue of Liberty?" from a tourist wandering around the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Now I'm not a New York snob or anything, or much worse a Manhattan snob. I do leave Manhattan under great duress and venture out to even Queens or Brooklyn once in a while even though I sometimes act like you need a passport to get out there. But I am not ashamed to admit that I am an American snob. I'm sorry, but I really just don't enjoy Europe. However, luckily, nothing truly that bad happened to me while I was in Zurich or Madrid. I was a little worried about Madrid because I had heard so many stories about crimes against tourists, particularly Asian & elderly tourists (I never thought I'd be in the same target group as the elderly.) So I was all prepared to walk the streets with my bullet-proof vest and pepper spray in hand.

Well I didn't need any of those things. If anything, Madrid was kind of boring to me. I was most looking forward to the food, but I'm sorry, I've had better paella here in New York. The rest of Madrid was ok. I walked around a lot. I went to the Prado, saw Guernica, had lunch in Plaza Mayor and saw most of the city. It was HOT. I mean hot like you could fry an egg on the sidewalk hot. I dealt with this by drinking lots of horchata drinks, which I always thought was a Mexican drink because I always see it in the taquerias out in California. My hotel also stocked me up on the ultra-chic, Scandinavian VOSS water which is in a bottle shaped like time capsule.

So nothing that eventful happened to me in Madrid. It was on the trip back where the travel gods decided that I was relaxing too much. First of all, my flight from Madrid back to Zurich was at an ungodly hour of 6:25AM. On my last day in Madrid, I met up with a guy who I had met earlier and we went out for tapas, and he didn't keep me out all that late--just 1AM--but way too late for a 6:25AM flight. I felt like I was doing the walk of shame back to my hotel after a long night of partying, except this time I was in clothes that I had changed into only 6 hours earlier, and not 24 hours.

Anyhow, I went to bed at 2 and got up at 4 to head to the airport. As I got into the cab, I asked the hotel bellman in my limited Spanish because I know like two words of Spanish that I learned from Sesame Street to warn the cab driver that I was watching the meter, and I'm not gonna be ripped off like the other cab driver who picked me when I arrived in Spain. After my driver wasa sufficiently scared, I got into the cab and headed to the airport.

I can generously describe Madrid airport as "organized chaos." Otherwise, what a shithole excuse of an airport for a European capital. For my leg from Madrid to Zurich, I was flying a codeshare flight with SwissAir, but operated by SpanAir. As I was checking my bag, the first instance of travel god wrath happened. The SpanAir computer system wasn't working, and so they informed they couldn't check my bag all the way to the NYC, and I'd have to exit Customs in Zurich, get my bag and trek over to SwissAir for my connection. "Um," I asked, "Am I gonna have enough time to make my connection? I have about an hour...." His response was, "Uh, I don't know. I hope so." Great. I loved the confidence and helpfulness that I was hearing.

I just checked my bag and moved on. I got my receipts stamped for my VAT refund and then passed through security, forgetting that I had one of my VOSS bottles in my bag, but the security people never stopped me. Soon, I got to the gate and then shortly after I boarded. But wait, something weird was going on. I passed the business class section completely to my seat. WTF? I paid for business class! I go back to the Flight Attendant and explain that I was supposed to be in business class. Turns out the class code on my ticket was wrong, but after some lengthy screaming at the flight attendent and the so-called supervisor and totally embarrassing myself as some crazy belligerent American to the entire plane, I relegated myself to coach with some withering looks at all of the flight attendants on the plane.

This blog post has gone on long enough, and so I'll cut to my arrival in New York. I was able to complete the miracle baggage retrieval mission at Zurich Airport and hoofed it over to SwissAir in about 45 min, sweating like I had just run a marathon. Some other minor things happened on my Swiss air flight, like me not getting my first choice in entree nor my preferred window seat, which really are minor, but given how pissed off I was that day, they had been escalated to major grievances in my book, worthy of shutting down the airline. Anyway, I arrived in NY and after waiting for an hour at the carousel, my bag never appeared. I approach the SwissAir baggage desk and the woman informs me, my bag never made it on to the plane. Well, that's just great. Actually, in those instances I usually don't mind, at least when I'm coming home. Because then I get to have my bag delivered and I don't have to lug it home.

So I went home with no bag, getting weird looks from the Customs people as I exited like I was a terrorist who didn't need any luggage. I get on the subway back home from JFK which was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I was very pleasantly surprised how easy the subway from JFK back to Manhattan was. I got home, getting soaked in the pouring rain in the process and then just chilled at home.

The next day after work, I see my bag by my doorman's desk. Yay! I didn't buy much in Europe, but I did buy some nice leather things from Spain's own bastion of overpriced leather, Loewe (which was one of the main reasons for this trip) and a nice bottle of Spanish Rioja wine. I opened my suitcase on my living room floor and pawed through my things. Where the hell were my leather wallet & bottle of wine? OMG, someone stole them! This has never happened to me before. I could not believe it. I'm so pissed off at whoever with the sticky fingers decided to go shopping in my suitcase while it was trying to make its way home.

The travel gods really do hate me. I must have run over a backpacker in my past life.

Update: I've called SwissAir and it looks they'll compensate me for my stolen items. And United's gonna give me lots of miles for the clearly lack of sense in denying me business class. The Spanair people clearly didn't know who I am.


Jon said...

I enjoy Europe if I'm in a certain mood, and it's not for work.

One thing I find laughable is how many idiotic liberals (and I consider myself a liberal) were sytaing how they wanted to move to Europe if Bush was re-elected....and I was like, 'well, hope you like a dying infrastructure and racism like you have never experienced before'. Of course, that's just one aspect and I hae plenty of friends who are not like that at all in Europe....

I mean, I can't stand the Bush administration, and despite how ignorant and sheltered many Americans are, it's not really a bad place to live. I think there was a South Park episode which basically said the same thing....there's plenty wrong with the US, but we still have more freedom than most people, even those in first world countries.

tim said...

Wow, ever think of travelling to Asia? Anyway, I too didn't really think Spain was too exciting. The food was not even mediocre for me. I think it was just plain... well, plain. And I dined everywhere. Anyhoo, welcome back.