Tuesday, January 12, 2010

the rain in spain

Someday, it'll make a great story. Sunday night, we dropped Gray off at the airport. He was carrying a brand new backpack and wheeling a small suitcase. He was on his way to Alicante, a Spanish Mediteranean port city, where he'll be living with a host family and studying Spanish for six weeks, before spending some time traveling around Spain and France on his own.

In theory, he was supposed to catch a connecting flight from Madrid to Alicante, but it's wet and foggy enough that the airlines have been cancelling flight after flight and Gray's been stuck at the Madrid airport for almost 36 hours.

Gray calls me at work. He's tired and hungry. He doesn't have much money and he speaks only a few words of Spanish. I tell him that everything will be fine and I remember when I, a couple of years older than Gray is now, arrived at the train station in Milan on my way to somewhere else, just as all the railway workers went on strike.

I had no nowhere to stay and, in those days before cell phones, no way to tell anyone where I was. A one-eyed pigeon pecked viciously at the ground in front of me and, as I checked my pockets one more time for my passport, I realized that the only person I could really depend on was myself.

Someday, it'll make a great story and later, Gray calls me back. "I waited in the customer service line for three and a half hours," he says,"Coincidentally, you know what else would have taken me three and a half hours? Taking the train to Alicante."

Someday, it'll make a great story. He's already working on the first draft.

Do you have a nightmare of a travel tale to share?

eta: If you like reading about other people's misadventures, be sure to check out the comments. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll vow never to leave home again.

31 comments:

areyoukiddingme said...

Twice in relation to flights to/from Italy my flights were cancelled. One was cancelled a couple days before I was supposed to leave, and that was solved easily. Then, when my first leg flight arrived late, they cancelled me off of the rest of the flights. Then they double booked my seat in Brussels, which was upsetting to the people who were flying to Venice for a wedding. The other was when we arrived at the airport in Venice for our return flight (different trip) to find that Air France (or Air Chance, as they say, because there is a chance that the plane will actually leave the ground) had cancelled our flight.

But, my best story happened before the flight...I work in a crime lab, and had done some work on a case. The case was needed for court, and I finished it in early November and sent out a report. In December, about 2 days before I was to leave for my trip (after the cancelled flight was rebooked), I returned from lunch to hear that I had a visitor. The guy had been sitting and waiting for me for a long time, since we had taken an extended lunch. I went to see who it was, and as I approached, he said, "Are you {real name}?" I said yes. He said "Well, you are being served and you are required in court on December (whatever date - after I was leaving for Italy) to show cause why you should not be held in contempt." I was completely confused. As it turned out, I had sent the report on the case to the judge (as I was supposed to do) and he had never passed it on to the defense attorney. The defense attorney then asked the judge to have me held in contempt for not complying with his request for analysis. The judge, who HAD THE REPORT OF MY ANALYSIS, agreed. My supervisors had many a moment of hilarity telling me how nice I look in orange (the prison jumpsuit color), calling me DOC (Department of Corrections), and telling me that I needn't arrange for transport home from the airport when I came back, because the Marshalls would be there to arrest me.

areyoukiddingme said...

Also, good luck to Gray - I hope he enjoys his travels!

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, trying to buy a ticket out of Moscow in 1992. Not enough cash and maxed out my credit card - had to beg a fellow student for the balance. Trying to catch a bus downtown for a passport photo before the office closes. Running through frigid streets in February...... ah, good times. :-)

thordora said...

I loved travelling as a kid. It was all an adventure. Even the crappy parts. Mine all involved Canada and hitchhiking or Greyhounds sadly tho. :P

Rory said...

When I was younger, I met a guy at a house party on New Year's Eve and we hit it off. He was only home for the holiday break and was going back out west to return to school in a few days. We kept in touch over the next couple of months and between us decided I should fly out to see him at Easter.
I should have seen it as a warning sign, but the day I was to fly out, we got a major snow storm in early April. My first flight still took off on time, but my connecting flight was canceled until the next day. I was stranded in a strange city on one of the first trips I took by myself. Finally got to my destination the next day, only to find out he wasn't really happy to see me any longer and I had picked up a stomach bug along the way. So I was stuck in a dorm room with someone who didn't want me there(he actually left to be with other "friends" at one point) and sick.
I stupidly stuck it out and never spoke to him again. I wish I had've done what I would do now and ditched him, found a hotel and toured the city on my own, but I was young and not so bright when it came to these things.
I was a travel agent in a former life, so I have lots to choose from, but this one sticks out as the worst trip.

The Nanny said...

Yup. I spent 2 weeks in Munich with a dear friend two years ago. My return trip (connecting flights from Munich to Brussels to London to NY to Texas) was h-e-l-l because it was just a few days after the London Heathrow liquid bombing scare.

I flew from Munich to Brussels with no problem. In Brussels, though, I stood in a ridiculously long security line, had to get full body scanned, and at the end of it, a woman gave me a small plastic bag for my passport and wallet and took EVERYTHING else away from me to check. (They were worried about security.)

SO. From Brussels to London, London to NY, and NY to Texas I only had a plastic bag with my passport and wallet. No book, no chapstick, and, most importantly, no contact solution. When I finally arrived in Dallas nearly 24 hours later (counting layovers), my eyes were red and bloodshot. Lovely!

(In Brussels, during the panic of invasive searches, I did call collect to my parents. It was 3 a.m. their time, and that three-minute phone call cost us $45.)

christina(apronstrings) said...

Poor guy. I hope it didn't get much worse and he got there.

Antropóloga said...

Oh I have a lot of my own, but I've mostly blocked them out, but this summer my in-laws had the worst time trying to fly to the US from Europe.

They flew from Sweden to Germany and then got on a flight to North Carolina (from where they planned to fly to South Carolina). They sat on the tarmac for hours and hours, and then the plane turned around. Try again tomorrow, they said. So they hang out in Germany for a day.

The next day they get on the plane to the US, fly for a few hours--and then turn around, fly back to Germany. By now the airline is fresh out of airplanes, they said. Maybe, they suggested, they could try to fly to the US in a few days? They'd have to wait in the airport the whole time to try to get on any available flights, but the airport is nice, right? I mean, maybe not for the stranded people traveling with demented elderly folks, or bands of small children. But in general.

After much angry phone-calling on the part of my husband, and his brother calling from Sweden, we got them on a flight the next day. All in all, they could have driven here faster. Their trip averaged 71 mph.

angie said...

I was trying to take a train from Roma to Venice, you know, waiting in one of those lines where you wait for two hours, then when it is your turn, BAM, the window closes and it says, "lunch" on the front. Finally, after many hours, I buy my ticket, go to find my train. It is suddenly an insanely quick turnaround until my train leaves. My calm demeanor changed and I couldn't sort of make heads or tails of anything. I finally find a conductor, show him my ticket, he points to a train, I get on. I have to mention that my Italian was passable, my Spanish was quite good at the time, so I could get by on the language, and I look like an Italian, so I tended to not get scammed, and didn't worry about it too much. I am sitting in this beautiful train, totally psyched to have made it. I have a budget of, gulp, $40/day. I mean, that is all I have. The well is dry after that. And when the train starts moving, the same conductor sees me, and approaches me. He says in Italian, "Miss, we seem to have a problem." He proceeds to tell me I have gotten on the superfast train, which will cost me $100 more than I paid, so I can settle it with him. Or policia will be waiting for me in Venice. My Italian basically breaks down at this point, and I start exasperatedly exclaiming, "But you told me this train!" Finally, I reach into my pocket where I have a small slip of paper. On this paper, my Italian friend has kindly written out a list of Italian cuss words. I hand it to him. And he laughs, as I pull out some of the last of my stupid money. Ah, well. I got there in no time in plush seating, and did get a good story out of it, but still...stronzo.

JamieD said...

My husband and I have a motto - anytime we find ourselves in a situation like that, when we want to get frustrated and angry, we keep reminding ourselves that someday it will make a great story.

About five years ago, we were driving to Denver from Oklahoma City to stay with friends for the New Year and do some skiing. We knew a winter storm was coming in, so we left early hoping to beat it. We didn't. We were on I-70 driving west and they highway patrol shut the interstate down at Colby, KS - about three hours from our destination. We went to Arby's, bought five roast beef sandwiches and got the last available hotel in the town. The next morning, we got back on I-70 and went east until we found an open highway going north. We went north to Nebraska until we hit I-80 going west. It took 14 hours and we were only able to stay with our friends for three days instead of the five we had planned.

It was snowing so bad and so cold, the snow was freezing on our windshield despite the defrost and the heat going full blast. Hubby would just stop the car in the middle of the highway and get out to scrape the windshield because we were the only idiots out there.

It was such a bad idea but my husband isn't a quitter.

serenity said...

The one that sticks out in my mind was when we flew to Italy a few years ago the day the baggage handlers allegedly went on strike. I say allegedly because most of the people on our plane got THEIR luggage, but we didn't.

We shopped in the train station mall in Rome for clothes. I bought a pair of pants which DID seem rather large for the size, but it was only apparent to me that I had shopped in the plus section when I put them on at our hotel. Woops.

Our luggage arrived to the Florence airport two days before we were supposed to go back home.

I've had cancelled flights and long stays at the airport, unexpected overnights, etc in my travel life. But I'll tell you something - I actually CRIED about not having our luggage in Italy.

It was a good lesson in packing a change of clothes and some toiletries in your carry on. Just in case.

xxx

Elizabeth said...

What a super fabulous thing he is doing with this gap year travel! Awesome!

I have many, many crazy travel stories - how to choose? Getting stranded by Greyhound at 3 a.m. in Tulsa, then picked up by a charter bus and sitting on the dirty sticky floor all the way to St. Louis....

Arriving in Bolivia for an internship only to have nobody there to meet me - an elderly porter helped me buy tokens for the public phones; I called the office 20x but only got the fax machine, since it was Saturday. I waited until the sky grew dark and they started shutting down the airport at 9:30 PM, then took a taxi to a guesthouse where I cried in bed all day Sunday. Monday morning I got hold of my host agency and learned that they had waited for me in the AM instead of PM... Then all was well. (At least I was already a fluent Spanish speaker so didn't have the language issue to worry about.)

Or the time I got on the wrong inter-city bus (again in Bolivia), only realizing it a half hour down the road. I jumped off - and then watched the bus roll away as I realized I'd left a bag full of clothes in the overhead rack...

Wishing 4 One said...

When my sister and I were teenagers we flew across country, alone to visit our Dad. My sister left her plane ticket in a shop we stopped in. Freaked out I ran back to the shop and her ticket was right where she left it. Those were the good old days.....

LawMommy said...

My worst travel horror story involves flying from Hanoi to Detroit (via Seoul and Chicago) with the heartbroken four year old girl who had just become my daughter, and the complete hysterical freak out she demonstrated for what had to have been 14 hours, most of which she and I spent huddled in a Korean Air bathroom while she screamed at me that she hated me and I wasn't her mother. That, however, is not a funny story, nor is it a particularly good story, even now.

But your story about Milan reminds me of another story....

SO...I was stuck in the Milan train station for several hours one Friday morning in March of 1993. I had arrived in Milan on a train from Nice, and was supposed to connect to a train to Munich in Milan.

There were supposed to be several trains to Munich that morning, and there were NONE.

There were quite a few trains to MONACO, though. And I kept saying, I don't WANT to go to Monaco, I just CAME from Monaco, I want to go to MUNICH.

Guess what the word for MUNICH is, in Italian? It's MONACO.

The word for MONACO, in Italian, is ALSO Monaco.

So...should you ever want to travel to Munich via Milan, or to Monaco, via Milan - it's very important to know which direction the train is headed.

leanne said...

It was Christmas 2004. My husband and I planned to drive from WI to the grandmothers in OH and KY so that they could see their grandson, who was then 6 months old. There had been a snow storm in IN and OH, but we expected that the highways would have been cleared by the time we passed through. We were sadly mistaken. While the first half of our trip went smoothly, we eventually encountered sections of the highway that hadn't been plowed yet, including some off-ramps. We were stuck on the highway, at times going nowhere. Diaper changes and feedings and sleep were a disaster (while napping in the car seat was acceptable to our son, he was irate about having to "go to bed" for the night in one); one time we needed to do a diaper change and we found an off-ramp that was cleared. But then traffic stopped. We were stuck on the off-ramp... and long enough that I attempted a diaper change in the car on the off-ramp (and the only way to do so was with the door open). Also, my MIL had lost power so she had no heat. So when we finally got to Columbus, OH, we had to find a hotel. At whatever God-awful time it was in the morning... 3am? And we had to stay in the hotel for a couple of nights before my MIL got her power back. But we would visit her during the day. I still remember one of my son's naps at her place -- he in his snowsuit cuddling on me on the couch near the fire we kept going in the fireplace.

Still... worst trip ever. Let us never speak of this again :)

myskytimes said...

Oh, I love this post and all the stories! I hope Gray will be laughing about it pretty soon. I have a ton of travel-nightmares, so I just pick a few...

- Being on a 24h busride to new dehli... I needed to go pee in the middle of nowhere, middle of the night. I come back to the bus 3 minutes later and my seat has been sold to someone else. While I argued, the conductor unloaded my backpack from the roof and the bus honked for departure. I was left in the dark with my ex and my bag as the bus left without us - 16 hours before our flight.

- Being on a tiny dodgy boat in Thailand during a terrible storm. After a while the ticket-man comes through and hands out plastic-bags. I joke around and show him how to puke in there and he tell me the bag is for our wallet and passport as we might have to swim a little. (We arrived there dry and safe... but still, c'mon)

- Being arrested in Indonesia, taken to the station, interrogated and searched for 16 hours. They found my tampons - and thought they were nosebleed-stoppers. They found my condoms and when the policeman unwrapped it, he asked me to explain what was wrong with that funky chewing-gum.

Ah, I would change to be back in those situations anytime if that means being on the road again... :)

Jayme said...

We planned a big family trip to Orlando, loaded up the five kids and all the assorted paraphernalia and started driving... 11 hours into the 12 hour drive, our transmission goes. We were only an hour from our hotel. We ended up having to get that replaced and also had to rent a mini van for the 10 days we were there.

Anonymous said...

this isn't my story, but i heard this one just a couple of days ago from a friend of a friend.

he and his wife and three kids were visiting the in-laws just recently on the east coast. the weather was frigid, so they'd been inside with three crazy, cabin-feverish kids for a week. they show up at the airport on sunday -- to find that their reservation was for saturday. so they spent $2000 on last-minute one-way fares back to their home. the flight was horribly delayed. once they were finally on, their youngest kid started barfing upon takeoff and barfed every 30 minutes for the rest of the flight.

and another one -- my colleague was flying back to san francisco from europe this past weekend. they were four hours from landing when he knocked a full bottle of water on himself while he was sleeping (so he didn't see it happen). he woke up with his pants completely drenched and had to sit in soaked pants for four hours and then walk off the plane looking as if he had wet himself.

Anonymous said...

On my way back from France, the taxi left before I could walk around to the trunk and retrieve my suitcase. By the time I got the taxi company on the phone, I had to choose between missing the flight and paying for another ticket or leaving without my bag and having it mailed to me. Try going through customs, twice, after an extended stay in a foreign country, with no baggage what-so-ever. Good times. I received my bag 6 months later in questionable condition and at great cost. My luggage doesn't go in the trunk anymore.

Anonymous said...

I became violently ill (projectile vomiting) on a flight a few months ago. I was making a connection in Chicago, so when we landed, they had an ambulance waiting to take me to the emergency room. I was released and cleared to fly 5 hours later when they couldn't find a thing wrong with me after performing 15,000 dollars worth of tests. Being in an emergency room, in a strange city, without a friend in the world and sick as a dog reminded me of those early days as a young-ish traveler when I realized that we are truly, truly alone. For better and for worse. And how liberating and scary that was.

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Amelie said...

Poor Gray. That's a proper welcome to Spain.

I blogged my Greyhound story a long time ago. Lately I've been lucky (knock on wood), but many friends and colleagues have been stuck in and around airports for hours this winter.

Kelly said...

I live in Massachusetts and last year decided to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. There was a delay that caused me to miss the contecting flight in Atlanta. The only way to get to New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras was to La Guardia in New York, sleep in the baggage claim area ( the terminal area closes) and catch a flight to New Orleans in the morning.

The only thing worse was the return flight, I finally made it home via Denver and Ohio. Oh it wasn't pretty but I wouldn't have changed a thing....

Furrow said...

One time my flight was delayed an hour. And then there was that one reckless van drive from the airport to the hotel. And the poopy diaper I had to change on the seat in a crowded plane. That's all I got. I'm pretty lucky, most times.

I envy you all your stories. I hope the rest of Gray's trip is memorable for better reasons.

Jacinta said...

After the first few paragraphs, I was about to leave a too late comment suggesting the train as it is so close!

Grey is going to have the most fabulous time and I am very envious!

moplans said...

My aunt lives in Alicante!
That's too bad he didn't think to take the train
hope he is having fun now!

Delenn said...

Remember when Northwest and some other airlines got in big trouble and got sued over a snowstorm in Detroit where they left people on the tarmack for hours and the airports were running out of basic necessities (like water and toilet paper)? I was there--8 months pregnant--trying to come back to MA. We were on the tarmack...I saw people doing things that you wouldn't believe...luckily, we were able to get out of the airport and back with relatives--where we were snowbound and stuck for another two days...

red pen mama said...

My new husband and I landed in Rome on September 10, 2001. We had been married for exactly nine days.

You can see where this is going.

Thank goodness he was fluent in Italian.

rpm

asuckerforgerberas said...

Me and the girls who I shared my Gap Year with had a moto/expression/mantra...'Its an Experience!' - it covered most eventualities :)

Jen said...

I'd never been on a plane before and for some reason, my parents decided it would be a great idea for me to fly cross-country from my small home town in California to New York, which involved two puddle jumpers as well as a jumbo jet. Alone, age 16. A very sheltered 16 at that. With about $30 and no credit card. The trip there was flawless. The way back, not so much. I was stuck in Dulles, my flight to LAX delayed due to mechanical problems. I didn't know I could ask them to put me on another flight and they didn't offer. 5 hours later, my plane got fixed and we're in the air. I arrived in LAX at 10pm, my connecting flight long gone. I cannot reach my mother to let her know (this was before cell-phones), as she was already on route to the little airfield the next town over. The airline told me that they didn't have any more flights out that night and I could take the first flight in the morning. No, they didn't offer a room. They expected me to sleep the night in the airport. I didn't have any money to get a room, I didn't know a soul in LA, and my family was all five hours away.

I think I must have thrown a fit. I was scared out of my gourd, completely out of my element. Strangely enough, when I'd made a big enough scene, they found me the last seat on a different airline on the last flight that night to the podunk town I was flying to. I barely made that flight and spent the whole flight with my nose close to the air vent, as someone had tossed cookies on the plane at some previous point and it smelled sickeningly of vomit.

It was several more years before I would consider flying again.

Anonymous said...

My Aunt is head of hispanic studies at Manchester University (UK) and has lots of contacts there. We are half Spanish. If Gray should need anything or run into difficulty, just say and I'll make contact. Travelling is wonderful and a fantastic growing up experience. I envy him and miss those days. Every problem will be a victory for him. Kudos to him for his guts.
Alex