Another rough start

We thought Europe would be easier, but it didn’t start that way.  

Sue got the text message soon after our Tuesday 7AM Tahoe departure – our overnight OAK-GTW flight on British Air would be delayed 5 hours – probably long enough for us to miss our connection (booked separately), and thus our hotel, and thus our next day train from Malaga to Seville.  Looks like a stressful outbound journey.

IMG_5321The British are so polite… we got a voucher and plenty of apologies for the delay, but that won’t wipe the hassle of on-the-fly re-booking our route, nor the added expense of new last minute bookings… quadrupled for our family of 4.  We research flight, lodging and train options furiously at OAK, but avoid commitments in hope that either we can make a delayed connection or extract a concession from BA in Gatwick.  Fortunately the overnight fight was ⅓ full, so we got some sleep and were fresh for battle upon arrival.  

Our connecting Monarch Air flight departed 13 minutes before we landed.  First stop: BA desk – they have seats on a later Malaga flight but won’t reduce fare from their $4,000 rate.  Next stop: Monarch Air desk: no love… not their fault BA was late.  Next stop: EasyJet – tonight’s Malaga flight is full, but they can get us to Madrid… close enough.  +$350 for the last 4 seats and we’ll be in Spain tonight… phew.  

With our connecting flight redirected we must now swap our Malaga-Seville train for a Madrid-Seville train.  We see that there’s a Renfe train office at the Madrid airport and decide to tackle it face-to-face rather than online.  A preliminary search shows very thin availability for Madrid hotel rooms, but it’s a big city and we’ll find something… again easier to tackle locally.  Let’s just get to Madrid and figure it out.

The EasyJet flight departs late, but we get to Madrid OK at about 10:30PM CET.  Bajaras is a big airport… it takes 15 minutes to walk and tram to Terminal 4 where we have a Renfre office, Metro connections and maybe even an in-airport hotel.  At the Renfre office we learn they can’t swap our ticket because we booked via an agent (oops); and at the Info desk the first 6 hotels we check are all fully booked… turns out Madrid Real is playing Madrid Atletico tonight… maybe we should have slept in Gatwick.  Sue works the internet and manages to re-book the train tickets (+$160) and 2 hotel rooms (+$260).  We wolf down a McDonald’s midnight airport dinner (yuck), then don’t want to wait for a hotel shuttle or hassle with metro, so we take a taxi (+$25). Finally we arrive at our NH Barajas Airport hotel at 12:30AM Thursday, ~36 hours after our departure, tired, stressed, $800 poorer, but triumphant.

But we’re not done – the hotel’s desk clerk looks at us wide eyed and tells us they’re fully booked.  A polite debate ensues… we both get on the phone with Hotels.com.  In the end they’re able to book us at a sister hotel and I work Hotels.com for a voucher… they arrange the transport, and finally we find rooms, shower and crash at ~2AM.

6 hours later I awake pretty fresh.  One upside to all the travel drama – our circadian rhythms are already so whacked that I anticipate minimal jet lag… we’ve probably already set our internal clocks back 5 hours, and the Spaniards all stay up 4 hours later than “early to bed early to rise” Americans, so we should slip right in a the lazy local siesta schedule.  Things are clicking now – an efficient taxi whisks us through the morning traffic to Madrid’s big Atoche train station, we pass security without a hiccup and find a comfortable breakfast among the businesspeople and tourists before boarding our high speed train at 11AM.  It’s clear we snagged some of the last seats – I’m grateful.  Soon we’re flying South through Central Spain at 245km/h among the low hills, olive orchards and occasional castillos.  Andalucia here we come!

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