Friday, July 23, 2010

Really Long Travel Day, But Home!

Monday was the last day of my two month epic journey. It felt really good to be getting back to recognizable territory, and I had no idea that two months of travel would make me miss home so much. Traveling was wonderful, particularly at the beginning of my trip when I was full of energy, but by July I had worn down, and even the best of travel destinations I was willing to trade in for a home-cooked meal and some familiar faces.

The final piece of my journey was not going to be easy. Given Barcelona's status as a non-hub airport, and given the high airfares to Europe this summer, I needed to sacrifice convenience to get a flight within my budget. Tracking gyrating flight prices in April made me a little nervous, and when I saw Orbitz advertising Barcelona to Dublin to Boston to DC for a couple hundred dollars cheaper than the next closest option, I frantically clicked "Buy Now", purchasing the first flight of my journey. As a friend put it, "You're either brilliant or insane for booking the last leg of your trip first."

As I had managed to arrive in Barcelona as scheduled, the stars were aligned for me to arrive home on time! Let me provide you with the play-by-play commentary I wrote down during my 24 hour travel day:

06:05 Central Eastern Summer Time (UTC+2): I am woken up by Australians returning from a late night out in Barcelona. Bloody hell. At least I'm not going to miss my morning flight. Love them or hate them, the Australians definitely take the crown for heaviest partying nationality I encountered on my trip.

06:55 CEST: I check out of my hostel, strap on my money belt, and venture out vigilantly into the pickpocket infested streets of Barcelona.

07:55 CEST: I arrive at "El Prat" airport, well in time for checking into my 10:50 flight. There's no one yet staffing the Aer Lingus counter and a queue has formed.

08:20 CEST: T minus 2.5 hours to the flight, and still no agents available for check-in. When I had booked the flight, Aer Lingus was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, and I hope that there isn't a labor strike today that I didn't get the memo on.

08:25 CEST: I make friends with the family of 4 behind me in the queue, who are also transferring to the Boston flight in Dublin. They finish their day with a 90 minute drive to Maine, and have been on a 3 week cruise in the Mediterranean. They ask about my trip and I mention that I have been traveling around the world for two months. The father, slightly unimpressed, comments, "I did something like that once for a whole year...started in India." Once again my trip has been outclassed.

08:30 CEST: Some airline agents appear but no one is being checked in yet. The Maine guy speculates that it's their first day and they therefore need to be trained. Indeed it does appear that the delay is due to someone needing instruction.

08:45 CEST: Passengers finally start getting checked in, and I'm relieved that I will have time for a leisurely breakfast at the airport.

08:50 CEST: My discipline for getting to the airport early is rewarded with a window seat in the exit row for my first flight. As the New Zealanders say, sweet as!

08:55 CEST: I start my day off with a delicious jamon bocadillo, a fruit cup, and a big water.

09:20 CEST: I have some euros to burn and need a pick-me-up. I order a cappuccino.

10:15 CEST: Boarding for the Aer Lingus flight to Dublin commences by walking onto a bus and riding to an Airbus A320 in the middle of the tarmac. We are really out there.

10:20 CEST: My exit row window seat is blocked by two teenage Irish girls who don't seem to understand that seat "C" is on the aisle. I don't enforce my seat assignment and take the aisle seat, promising in my mind to be very passive-aggressive if either of the girls dares to use the restroom during the 2 hour 10 minute flight to Dublin.

10:50 CEST: Airborne for flight #1, on time.

12:05 CEST: I awaken from a nap. Pull my iPod out from my bag, as I'm in serious need to listen to some America-inspired music. Homesickness has hit a crescendo. I have a fair bit to choose from, such as "American Woman" by the Guess Who, "American Boy" by Estelle & Kanye West, and "American Idiot" by Green Day.

12:30 CEST: I move to "Born in the USA" by Springsteen.

12:40 CEST: Now listening to Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner". Realize why old people in the 60s hated hippies.

12:50 CEST: Pilot's announcement about impending arrival to Dublin. I feel the need to fire up some Irish music on the iPod, and switch to the Cranberries.

12:15 Irish Summer Time (UTC+1): Arrival at Dublin airport.

12:20 IST: Disembark the plane via stairs and observe that summer has temporarily ended. It's overcast and 17 degrees C (63 degrees F). Am glad I am wearing long sleeves.

12:25 IST: The boarding area at Dublin Airport is one of the worst I've ever seen for what is not a small facility. I take a long walk to my connecting gate down a tight crowded hallway.

12:27 IST: I'm amused by the use of the Irish language on all the airport signage, as I thought everyone in Ireland spoke English. I've never visited Ireland (besides the airport of course), but am I wrong?

12:30 IST: I see that I will need to clear passport control, odd as I'm not leaving the airport and I traveled between EU nations.

12:36 IST: I officially enter Ireland and receive yet another stamp in the old passport. Very friendly Irish agent directs me to the Aer Lingus transfer desk.

12:40 IST: Receive my boarding pass for the Boston flight and instructed that I need to report for boarding in 5 minutes, despite scheduled departure not being until 14:00. Bah. Plans for lunch in Dublin airport are thwarted.

12:45 IST: Long trek towards my connecting gate.

12:50 IST: The airport quality has improved considerably beyond passport control, and I'm now passing lots of good restaurants and Guinness pubs. Dammit. I really want to catch my US flight, though.

12:55 IST: Finally reach my gate area, and see that I will actually need to clear US passport control to board my flight. Novel pre-clearing procedure -- I had only seen this in Canada before. Fill out my customs form and proceed.

13:02 IST: I officially leave Ireland after a 26 minute stay. DHS agent comments, "You've been to a lot of countries on this trip, haven't you?"

13:05 IST: "Entering the US" consists of gaining access to a cramped holding pen with people waiting around for the Boston departure. Walls are plastered with information about "The Irish in America", "Emigration from Ireland", "Contemporary Irish America", and "Ireland and America in the 21st Century", containing pithy statements of important knowledge such as, "Emigration from Ireland to the United States is a long established practice."

13:10 IST: I need some food and water, but all I see are a couple vending machines and a tiny cafe. I enter the latter, purchase a Danish and a bottle of water. Rings up to €4.59, and for the first time in my life I receive back the €0.01 coin. What a piece of rubbish.

13:30 IST: Receive notification from the gate agent that she apologizes for the brief boarding delay which is due to a "minor" technical issue. Update promised at 13:45.

14:00 IST: The "13:45 update" arrives 15 minutes late, and we have bad news. The flight is delayed and we won't receive another update until 14:45.

14:15 IST: I fire up the iPod again and turn on "Zombie" by the Cranberries, because I feel like one now.

14:20 IST: I need some American music again. iPod switches to John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads".

14:30 IST: The airline gods had been so friendly to me for the past two months. Had taken 20 flights and each was within an hour of being on time. And I hadn't lost my backpack despite needing to check it each time. My luck appears to have finally run out.

14:40 IST: I realize I now stand little change of making by 18:02 connecting JetBlue flight in Boston, and run through the scenarios in my head of what to do if I get marooned in Dublin.

15:00 IST: "14:45 update" arrives late to inform us that, in fact, they have no new information and will update at 15:15.

15:05 IST: I've reached my breaking point. In need of food, drink, and psychological relief I head back to the cafe, by now picked clean of almost all food items. To alleviate all 3 ailments I choose a bottle of Guinness, which appears to have been placed there for precisely this scenario. There probably hasn't been a run on these because you just don't get that full Guinness experience from a bottle.

15:10 IST: Guinness rings up at an outrageous €5.50 ($7.09). Feels even more extortionate considering it's brewed just down the road, it's served in a bottle without a widget, and I don't even get a glass to pour the beer in. In spite all this, the Guinness is still pretty refreshing.

15:15 IST: For once we receive an update on time. We're now promised a 16:30 departure with boarding commencing at 15:50. Relieved that at least I will end up in the US tonight.

15:20 IST: With my foreign currency balance dwindled to €2.26, I decide I need to clean out. I finish my Guinness in the cafe and hear a guy at the counter order a bag of chips for €1.40. I decide that's what I want and I jump back in the cafe queue, which is now quite long.

15:30 IST: Still standing in the cafe queue, chatting with the American in front of me. Turns out he lives in Appleton, WI and went to college at UW-Madison. A Badger connection! He also knows someone in my incoming Darden school class -- when I meet Veneet in a couple weeks I should tell him I ran into his college buddy Taej at the Dublin airport!

15:35 IST: Taej and I order the final two bags of chips. I drop my residual €0.86 in the tip jar as the poor cafe lady looks exhausted.

15:40 IST: Have entered airport hell. The United States on Irish soil is pretty terrible.

15:55 IST: We finally start boarding for the Boston flight.

16:00 IST: A lot of ads for the New York PD covering the interior of the jetbridge to board the aircraft.

16:50 IST: The captain apologizes to us for the lengthy delay, which he attributes to a supply truck barging into the original aircraft. As the damage couldn't be repaired the solution was to bring us a new plane. I don't see how this qualifies as "minor".

16:55 IST: Aer Lingus flight 137 bound for Boston has taken off!

17:20 IST: I've locked in the window seat in a favorable 2-4-2 configuration, but my seatmate has now entered the "demilitarized zone" by laying full claim to the armrest and digging his elbow into my side. I once again promise some passive-aggressive fury if he needs anything from me on this flight.

18:00 IST: First movie I select from my in-seat screen is "The Last Station", a new movie about the end of Tolstoy's life. It's confusing.

19:40 IST: First film ends. Still 3.5 hours to go before we land.

19:55 IST: Shift to TV, and start watching an episode of HBO's "Entourage". Hadn't seen it in months -- great show!

20:00 IST: These shows are all preceded by several minutes of advertising for Irish restaurants located in midtown Manhattan. I didn't realize there were so many. Too bad we're landing in the wrong city.

20:15 IST: Halfway through a hilarious "Entourage" episode guest starring Matt Damon. Are there any women actually named "Sloan"? This has always bothered me about the show...

20:30 IST: Show over, time for a bathroom break. Still 2.5 hours, ugh.

21:30 IST: Watch episodes of "Frasier" and "Family Guy", then fall asleep for another nap.

22:15 IST: Awakened by in-flight meal service. Devour a cheese scone.

22:45 IST: An episode of "30 Rock".

18:30 Eastern Daylight Time (UTC-4): We arrive at the gate in Boston! Technically, however, I've already been in the US for 10 hours.

18:40 EDT: Am thankful that my backpack is one of the first bags to pop out of the luggage carousel, and that I won't be greeted by an interminable line at passport control.

18:45 EDT: Stuck in the bowels of Logan Airport, again at the Aer Lingus transfer desk.

19:00 EDT: Thankfully Aer Lingus has rebooked me on a later JetBlue flight scheduled to depart at 20:20. Switch terminals and check in seamlessly to my third flight. That was easy.

19:10 EDT: Sit down in food court for a quick meal so I'm not starving when I arrive at home. Order my first burrito in two months. It's huge! I need to get re-acclimated with American portion sizes.

19:30 EDT: 20:20 flight has already been delayed to 20:40. Call my mom to let her know -- this day just won't end.

20:20 EDT: We have a plane on the ground here but no crew, which is still airborne on a flight from New York. Boarding has been delayed until 21:00.

20:30 EDT: I'm getting really tired -- it's already 02:30 Barcelona time, and I slept 4 hours last night.

21:45 EDT: JetBlue flight to Dulles airport finally taking off. My re-booking onto the later flight has forced me into a middle seat, but I really don't care. So tired.

23:05 EDT: We land in Washington! So close to ending my day.

23:25 EDT: My backpack pops out yet again...22 for 22 on my trip! Somehow Murphy's Law hasn't struck yet again -- it's not as if today's 3.5 hour delay crippled me.

23:30 EDT: My mom is at the airport almost immediately to pick me up. Greets me with a big hug.

0:05 EDT: 24 hours after waking up, I've finally reached my mom's house. Home sweet home! My mom wants to tell me about everything that's happened over the last two months, and I need to shoo her away so I can sleep.

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