Christmas in Spain 2019 – Day 15 & 16: Madrid – Lisbon – Newark – Vancouver – Victoria

If you’re choosing to read this, you should probably get comfortable and grab a coffee or something as it’s a bit of a long one… Not as long as our journey home but pretty long…

Our trip home began at 6:45 am in Madrid with me trying to communicate with the guy at the front desk of the hostel that we would like a cab to the airport for 7:30am. He spoke absolutely no English and I speak very, very little Spanish. It would have been quite comical if I hadn’t been a bit grumpy due to almost total lack of sleep. If you book a room anywhere within 2km of Puerto del Sol on a weekend and expect to sleep, you’re probably dreaming. But this was brutal… Even with reasonably soundproof windows and ear plugs… I swear, there is something fundamentally off about drunk people in Madrid… The clapping… And the shouting… And the singing… Dear lord… the singing… Until 5am… I understand that many countries don’t subscribe to the “drink until you pass out in a puddle of your own vomit” approach that seems to characterize a serious night out in Canada… but as a traveller I’d be all for a bit more binge drinking in the bars in Madrid if it meant I could get a couple of hours of sleep after the drunks pass out… So I was definitely a bit grumpy at 6:45am and probably didn’t fully appreciate the humour of two middle-aged men trying to communicate with each other via translator apps on their phones… neither of which actually seemed capable of translating what we were saying into even a reasonable approximation of English or Spanish… Given the gibberish our phones produced, I’m actually genuinely surprised that the cab was waiting for us at 7:30 and knew we were going to the airport. But kudos to the front desk guy (I never did get his name) who was very helpful and cheerful and went out of his way to help out…

Our cab driver also spoke no English but understood we were going to the airport and we were able to communicate that we needed to go to Terminal 2 and we were soon on our way through the reasonably deserted streets of Madrid on a Saturday morning. I contemplated asking the driver to stop so we could get out and do some early morning yelling and clapping and singing in front of a couple of apartments but thought that would be overly petty… Our driver drove pretty sedately in the city but once we hit the highway section of the route, it was quite comical as he literally buckled up and stamped the accelerator like an extra in a episode of Fast and Furious… We were soon rocketing along at a stately 120km per hour… And made the thirty five minute trip to the airport in about 22 minutes… Which had us standing at the check-in counter about 15 minutes before they even opened up check-ins for our flight… Ugh…

The only reason we were standing in line to check-in was because of the way the Avion Rewards system books flights, which often ends up with us being unable to check-in online for segments of flights because the airline system thinks our tickets have been booked by a travel agent. In this case, it meant that we were able to check-in online for the Air Canada portion of our trip to Spain but not the TAP Air flights… On the way home it meant we could check in for our TAP Air Flights but not for the Air Canada flight… So standing in line to check-in we were… Thankfully the guy knew what he was doing and we were soon checked-in with our boarding passes printed for all our flights and our bags checked through all the way to Vancouver. You know how you don’t always appreciate things until afterwards… We really should have taken time to savour this guy’s great customer service skills…

We made our way through security with no issues and were soon in the departures area of the airport but had to wait until 30 minutes before our flight time to find out what gate we’d be leaving from… Because apparently they just shuffle entire airplanes around at the very last minute or something… We kind of wandered around the central departures area for a bit not wanting to end up at one end of the airport only to find out our gate was at the other. Given that we were all pretty sleepy and none of us was feeling particularly recovered from the cold/flu that laid us out for the last week, we were a pretty low energy group. I’m not saying we were grumpy… but some coffee would probably have been a good idea. Knowing it could be sometime before we had a chance to eat again, we grabbed a light breakfast from one of the restaurants nearby and settled in to wait for our gate to be posted. They had coffee at least so things perked up a little (if you didn’t catch that little pun you’re probably not enjoying this post nearly much as I’d hoped you would). We’d guessed right about not wandering too far and our gate ended up being pretty much right where we were waiting so we made our way there and joined the line… TAP boarded this flight in a way we’ve never seen before… anyone without bigger carry-on bags boarded first followed by the people with carry-onbags… Seemed to work pretty well but we ended up boarding much earlier than we would have liked but what can you do… the herd goes where directed…

Our flight from Madrid to Lisbon took just over an hour and the cabin crew was able to serve a light snack (a chocolate cookie concoction that was dense and hard enough to hijack the plane with) and drinks… Hear that Air Canada… A one hour flight and they served snacks!!! And drinks!!!

We landed (obviously) and in another moment of stunning efficiency, they actually unloaded the plane using exits at the front AND back of the airplane. Which ended up doing absolutely nothing at all for us as we were pretty much smack dab in the middle of the plane and destined to end up last whichever way we went… But we had a two hour layover before our next flight so we were pretty nonchalant about things at this point and mostly ignored the people who somehow manage to find a way to turn getting off an airplane into an epic experience. Seriously people… Stand up… Grab your bag… Take a look around to make sure you haven’t left anything on the seat or forgotten a kid… Start walking… How hard can it be? But I digress… We exited the airplane and hopped on one of the buses waiting at the base of the stairs and waited for the last few stragglers to make their way off the plane.

We got dumped off the bus somewhere in the back lot of the airport (clearly the Lisbon – Newark route is not one of TAP’s premium routes) and made our way through Customs. We were directed to the Electronic Passports line and managed to get the cranky scanner (an actual electronic scanner… not a cranky person scanning passports) to read our passports and made our way through. At least Marie and I did… Caitlin’s passport seemed to give the scanner fits and even with the help of the assistant it wasn’t going to work… so we waited for her to make her way through the much longer line of people doing things the old fashioned way. At least she got a stamp for her passport though. I am not a fan of this new electronic kiosk approach where you don’t get a stamp in your passport… The stamp in the passport is the one tiny little reward you get for dealing with the bureaucratic BS of Customs and Immigration… well that and being allowed to enter or leave the country… but really it’s all about the stamp!

After customs we made our way to our departure gate and settled in to wait. Our pleasure at realizing that we wouldn’t have to go through security screening a second time was short-lived as we realized they’d set up a portable screening system right at the gate and were randomly selecting passengers for “enhanced screening” measures. I don’t know if this was a usual thing on US-bound flights from Lisbon or whether it was in response to the heightened tensions created by the US decision to assassinate an Iranian general the day before… Whatever the cause there were a lot of Portuguese police around, as well as a much more efficient and thorough cadre of security screeners than we usually encounter. It turned out that the random selection was done via a code printed on certain boarding passes – a code which was printed on Caitlin’s boarding pass… Something that would have greater significance later on today it turned out… In this case, it just meant she got shunted over to a screened off area where they looked through her bag a little more carefully and asked her a few questions… Caitlin is an experienced traveller and wasn’t harbouring any illicit tubes of toothpaste or anything so was able to rejoin us shortly. Apparently the security screeners made the woman next to her open the sealed bottle of water she’d just purchased and take a drink of it… Definitely not the usual level of security screening we’re used to.

We joined the herd… I mean queue… of people waiting to board and were soon making our way downstairs to board the bus that would take us to our plane. Which might actually have been in another city given the distance we had to drive to find the airplane… We quickly bid adieu to fresh air and blue skies and reluctantly trudged up the stairs for what turned out to be a very long, very unpleasant 8.5 hour flight to Newark. We really felt for the couple riding the bus with us who thought it was only a 5 hour flight… They were in for a very unpleasant surprise… I don’t know why it was an 8.5 hour flight from Lisbon to Newark (especially when it’s only 9 hours from Vancouver to London) – perhaps the jet engines were cleverly disguising the fact that it was actually a prop driven plane or maybe we’d boarded a dirigible instead of a modern jetliner… Whatever the cause, the Doherty family consensus was that we are not fans of the Airbus A330… They’re modern enough but the 2-4-2 seating arrangement is weird, they’re not particularly comfortable or spacious and they’re ridiculously fecking slow… Which became much more significant for Marie – who had been feeling nauseous since we woke up and by about 5.5 hours into this flight was definitely not feeling well despite the ginger Gravol she usually relies on to keep her from hurling up whatever she’s eaten in the last two days…

Now if you know Marie at all, you will know two things about her. One – she is very prone to motion sickness – on planes, in cars, on boats. And two – when she isn’t feeling well she bounces her legs up and down really, really fast… I swear the pilots on this flight were sitting up at the front of the plane looking at each other and asking themselves “what’s with the vibration alert from the back of the plane?” It was Marie. Bouncing her legs up and down trying not to puke. Despite adding several thousand miles worth of wear and tear to the floor of the airplane, it didn’t work and Marie ended up adding Lisbon – Newark to the list of flights she’s puked on… To her credit it was an amazingly stealthy puke right as we were landing (this is the second time Marie has lost her lunch right as the plane is landing). Caitlin and I felt very bad for her… But we were also sort of wondering if we could sit someplace else on the next flight because holy crap that leg bouncing thing is annoying… Caitlin was also very grateful that Marie had chosen her own lap to puke over this time instead of over Caitlin’s lap like the last time…

So that’s us as we land in Newark. There’s Marie, more than a little green around the gills, clutching a shopping bag half full of puke in a sleepy-Gravol induced walking coma. There’s Caitlin who has been squished into a middle seat beside her leg-bouncing mom for the past 8.5 hours without any sleep to speak of and who hates flying at the best of times. And there’s me who really doesn’t like flying all that much and who’s been worrying about Marie for the past three hours while trying to get a bit of sleep because it had been a very long night… Definitely not your well-rested, happy fliers… And we’ve just arrived in Newark Airport… If there is a hell on earth, it is Newark Airport… And we had just arrived…

If I remember correctly, we landed about 20 minutes late leaving us with about a 2 hour and 20 minute layover in Newark. It wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. And yet it was, somehow, the longest, most unpleasant two hours you can imagine…

We piled off the plane. We were at the back so it took some time… time Marie spent wishing (not entirely silently) that the people in front of us would hurry the hell up so she get off the bloody airplane. Marie is normally pretty chill about getting off the airplane and usually feels some degree of patience and understanding for the fecking useless people who can’t just stand up, grab their bags and get going… This time she was too out of it to say much but there were a lot of dirty looks shot at people who probably have no idea how close they came to death that day… Eventually we made our way into the jetway with the rest of the bedraggled souls. There were no TAP or Star Alliance staff anywhere to be seen. Thankfully there was a garbage can so Marie could deposit the shopping bag full of puke she’d been clutching for the past 30+ minutes. That garbage can was pretty much the only positive part of the time we spent in Newark…

From the jetway we made our way into a walkway heading for Customs. In many airports they have those fancy moving walkways or pretty pictures on the walls of the various concourses and walkways. Not Newark. The only pictures I recall seeing were of the “See Something Say Something” variety with the odd sign warning that it was an offence to try and avoid going through customs. There were no moving walkways or pretty much anything resembling a passenger convenience. We shuffled along as fast as we could (remember that Marie is feeling pretty lousy and is mightily doped up from the Gravol she’d taken) with the rest of the damned and eventually emerged into Customs Hell…

There was supposed to be a separate line for Canadian (and other friendly nations) passport holders but that turned out to be just a ruse… We all joined the same line… It was very big… There was NFL football being shown on massive TV screens… The incredibly huge guy a couple families in front of us was losing his mind every time something happened on the screens… Dude caught a football… time to scream and shout… Dude didn’t catch a football… more screaming and shouting… Dude thought about catching a football… grunts and yells… We shuffled our way through the seemingly endless line… Eventually coming to a woman whose job description seemed to be to yell at people and tell them which of the open Customs agents they should “go lineup” in front of… I am not exaggerating when I say the Customs agents were located not more than 15 feet from said hired yeller and could easily have signalled they were ready for the next damned soul by raising their hand… Because Caitlin had travelled to England before joining us she was doing her own thing through Customs and made her way to the agent she’d been directed to (that is a polite way of summarizing an exchange that went something like “How many in your party? Just me. Just you? Yes. Just me. Okay. Go lineup over there”) Marie and I were up next. We got yelled at too. I swear I heard Marie growl at the woman as we went by. Marie might have been almost too sick to walk but there is no way poor customer service gets past her…

It turned out that we were not actually going through Customs yet. We were just passing our passports and declaration cards to a Customs Agent who a) did not look at either document and b) asked exactly one question – “Do y’all have any food to declare?” before directing us around the corner to the banks of electronic kiosks where we actually did the whole customs thing… That’s right folks… We stood in line for almost 40 minutes for absolutely no fecking reason at all… Welcome to America y’all…

We did the electronic customs thing (which also makes the paper declaration we’d been told to fill out on the plane completely and utterly useless) and collected our receipts and shuffled off to the next level of hell. But not before being growled at by yet another customs agent at the end of the electronic kiosks as we walked by with our receipts clearly visible… “Do you have a receipt? Where is your receipt?” Seriously people. If your customs agent can’t see the receipt being shown directly to him as we walk by because we’ve seen and heard him yelling at the previous 200 people who walked by, print the fecking things on neon green paper or something. Or buy the poor guy some glasses…. After the third tier of being yelled at, we shuffled out of the Customs area where we were informed by a massive signboard that we would need to collect our checked bags from carousel 2… Of course we need to collect our checked bags… Because… America…

By this point we were down to approximately one hour and 10 minutes of layover time before our next flight and still had not seen a TAP employee or a Star Alliance staffer anywhere… You might recall from earlier posts that Star Alliance supposedly has a special team of people to help passengers of Star Alliance airlines navigate Newark when they’re on tight connections. I call BS. That team doesn’t exist. Either that or they were in their cubicle somewhere watching that fecking football game… Whatever they were doing, it most certainly wasn’t helping passengers make their tight connections.

We collected our checked bags from the carousel, thought about grabbing a baggage cart because Marie was having a bit of trouble lugging her pack in the state she was in… It would have cost $6USD… To use a luggage cart… Again… welcome to Newark…

After picking up our bags we lugged them to yet another line. Where we did absolutely nothing at all with them. We did not put our bags through a screener of any kind. They were not searched. Or checked. Or even glanced at by anyone in a uniform… We just lugged them past yet another Customs agent who, you guessed it, yelled at people for their receipts. I believe he yelled at you about your receipt as he collected it from you. Because… Newark…

We particularly appreciated the efficiency of 4 lines of people hauling their massive checked bags being funnelled to a single lane so the guy could yell at you and collect your electronic customs receipt. And the entire flight crew from Lufthansa cutting in front of everyone because you know… Newark… By this point, Caitlin had reached a state that went something like “I don’t care anymore, just do what you need to do to me and I will submit…” Marie had descended further into her Gravol induced haze and had basically resorted to grunts and growls instead of words and I had reached a point of frustration with the inanity and stupidity of the processes we’d just been through that I was pretty much reduced to growling and grunting at people as well…

From the second pointless lineup we made our way… wait for it… to the entrance of Newark airport. Yup. We were now entirely out of the secure area of the airport with approximately one hour to make our next connection and no Star Alliance staff anywhere to be seen. Thankfully there was an Airport employee – who a) actually smiled and b) told us we needed to get on the train and make our way to Terminal 1… So we shuffled up the steps to the SkyTrain, stepped gingerly around the well dressed middle-aged woman crying gently and apologizing for the puddle of puke at her feet (thankfully her son came to collect her while she was tearfully apologizing to everyone for “there being something in the air”) and climbed onto the SkyTrain for the 5 minute trip to the next level of hell… I mean terminal…

At the Terminal, you’re directed to follow either the Blue Line or the Green Line if you’re making a connecting flight. But there is absolutely no indication of any kind as to which line you need to be in… so you need to join the only line there, wait to make your way to the front of that line where, you guessed it, yet another employee yells at you and tells you that you need to follow the other line. Of course we do… So we follow the line and eventually find an Air Canada check-in counter and baggage drop. You know all the complaints you hear about Air Canada. I think most of them come from the Newark airport… And probably have to do with the guy working the counter when we stepped up… All we needed to do was drop our checked bags off. To be totally honest at this point we’d stopped caring if they even made it to Vancouver… we just wanted to drop the bags we’d been schlepping from one end of Newark Airport to the other for no apparent reason other than… you know… America…

Could we just drop our bags? Please… Of course not. We needed to produce boarding passes – which he inexplicably decided he needed to reprint – until the one person with functioning brain cells told him to just take the bags and let us go or we were going to miss our flight… But he still needed our passports. And wanted to make small talk… And to check various things on his computer… Until that other employee basically told him to knock it off and let us get going… Thank you to that anonymous Air Canada employee who apparently paid attention during the customer service training seminars. The other 5 Air Canada staffers basically sat around doing absolutely nothing at all… except basically telling a passenger whose flight had arrived late to f-off as it wasn’t her – or Air Canada’s – problem… ahhhh… Newark… ahhh… Air Canada…

After dropping our checked bags we hustled around the corner where we ran headlong into a TSA boarding pass check point. These people didn’t yell at us. We might even have cried a little at being treated with a modicum of dignity and respect… Until Caitlin’s boarding pass set off all kinds of internal alarms which required the guy checking our boarding passes to call a supervisor over who clicked and clacked away on the keyboard, muttered something about “never seen this before,” clicked a few more buttons and then pronounced – “you all need new boarding passes…” At which point I (I swear I did it as patiently and gently as I could) pointed out that we only had 25 minutes before our flight left… Her response was chilling. She said “unless you want Caitlin to be submitted to a level of invasive security screening that will take much longer than 25 minutes you need a new boarding pass for her…” Yeah. Remember that code printed on Caitlin’s boarding pass that had her flagged for random extra screening in Lisbon… Yeah… that one… Apparently it’s not a good code to have on your boarding pass when you go through TSA screening in an American airport… Apparently it involves a very thorough search of your body… The woman didn’t exactly say strip search but it was sort of hinted at… We left Marie slumped against a wall while Caitlin and I rushed back to Bob, the utterly useless check-in counter staffer – to reprint her boarding pass…

We might as well have asked him to rewire a nuclear missile. I swear you could see the circuits in his brain seize up… Thankfully the same woman who’d got things moving earlier was still there and she kicked into high gear and printed boarding passes for all of us in record time. She even thought to record our luggage claim numbers on the new boarding passes… Some people are just good at their jobs… Some people clearly aren’t… With Caitlin’s new “don’t get strip searched boarding passes” grasped firmly in hand, we hightailed it back to the TSA checkpoint, collected Marie – who may have dozed off a little while leaning against the wall – and hustled through the checkpoint… Of course, despite Marie having been standing directly in front of them this entire time, the TSA staff had to check her boarding pass and passport again… Because… Newark… As we rounded the corner we came up to a line of about 20 people waiting to have their bags checked… Crap… We waited for about 2 minutes, saw the line was moving at a snail’s pace if it was moving at all and decided to risk it all…

That’s right. I stepped out of line and approached the TSA staffer directing traffic (that’s Newark Airport code for yelling at people). I swear she was actually going to shoot me. I blurted out that we only had about 20 minutes to make our connection and was there anything she could do to help… She looked at me. Said “there’s nothing I can do… but maybe the rest of the people in line will let you in before them… you can ask…” So our fate was now in the hands of 15 people who’d been enduring the same hell on earth that is Newark airport… We were well and truly fecked it seemed… But thankfully they were a generous lot – that or they took one look of the shambling mess that was Marie and feared being exposed to whatever it was she had… In any case, they all quickly agreed to let us go ahead and made space for us at the front of the line. They even handed us trays and did what they could to help us get through the process as quickly as possible. It was a beautiful moment. We had a chance of making our flight. Our faith in humanity was restored…

Until Joe “I’m going to make you take every bit of food out of your bag” the TSA Agent did just that… made us take all the food out of our bags (we have never had to do that in any airport on any of our travels ever) and did the full and complete “I don’t care if you’re stressed and going to miss your flight I’m going to check each and every one of these here Pringles cause you know… Newark…” He made Marie unclip her visibly empty water bottle from her backpack… something she was completely physically unable to do given her Gravol-induced drowsiness (if you’ve never taken sleepy-Gravol, you can’t really appreciate its narcotic properties) and having spent the last 8 hours trying her very best not to puke. Not to mention burning a billion calories doing that bloody leg bouncing things she does… Watching her fumble repeatedly with the little carabiner that clipped it to her pack he made absolutely no effort whatsoever to help… Probably because he was too busy worrying about whether our Doritos needed extra scrutiny or something… Marie may have growled at him too while she continued to fumble with the carabiner… I can’t really say what was happening with much accuracy as I was busy being patted down and wanded by two more TSA staffers because a piece of paper in my pants pocket had triggered some sort of alarm in the full body scanner… I’m not exaggerating here… The only thing in my pocket was a crumpled receipt from breakfast… Maybe it was special metal impregnated receipt paper or something… Thankfully the guy working the X-Ray scanner was a much more charitable human being than his buddy Joe “I’m still a bit concerned about these Pringles” and he opted not to do any further searching or scanning of our bags after they’d been run through the scanner… so we quickly gathered up our Pringles and other assorted electronics and shoes and belts and boarding passes and tried to get away before Joe decided the Pringles were an unacceptable security risk after all and called us back… Caitlin was the only one functioning on all cylinders at this point and was pretty much responsible for making sure that we didn’t leave anything behind (like the iPad I completely forgot about until a woman came rushing off the plane while we were at the gate in a panic because she’d left her iPad behind at security which made me start groping through my bag in a panic to find mine) as we tried to simultaneously put our shoes back on, repack our backpacks, do up our belts and dash from security screening to our gate.

We caught a break at this point as our gate was literally the first one past security and as we came dashing (or in Marie’s case shambling sort of quickly) around the corner towards the gate, they shouted “What’s your last name?” We replied… and then everything came to a complete and crashing halt as the useless guy from the Air Canada check-in counter somehow managed to transfer his entire consciousness – all three brain cells worth – to the Air Canada staffer clicking keys on the computer behind her desk…

She started mumbling something about “they’ve been taken off the flight” and “we have late passenger processes for a reason” and “this isn’t supposed to be how it works” and assorted other extremely helpful and encouraging phrases… If Marie had been one bit more coherent I’m sure she’d have reached over the counter and throttled her with a keyboard cable. As it was I may have become a bit testy and might have commented to another staffer that we had not arrived late because of a delayed flight but had arrived at the gate late despite a two hour layover because Star Alliance, Newark Airport and Air Canada collectively constitute the most frustrating accumulation of useless processes and genuinely unhelpful people in the entire fecking universe… She wisely stepped in and helped the other woman figure out how to get us on the plane before things got

We hustled aboard the plane, endured the accusatory stares of all the other passengers and found our seats. Marie flung herself into the window seat, started bouncing her legs up and down rapidly and tried to go to sleep. Caitlin reluctantly took the middle seat… not going to lie, I totally pulled rank on her and claimed the aisle seat… The flight crew buttoned up the cabin and prepared for departure. And absolutely nothing else happened… we sat. And sat. Until the pilot came on to inform us that they were waiting for two carts of luggage to be released by the TSA and that we’d be waiting a bit more while they all figured out their respective paperwork. Even in her nearly comatose state, Marie perked up when the captain came over the PA… he had one of those super reassuring, “I could land this here plane in a hurricane” voices and you could see her visibly relaxing as he spoke… Which meant less leg bouncing so Caitlin and I sort of hoped he’d keep talking a bit longer… We ended up departing about 40 minutes late (which gave two more couples a chance to board late – I can’t imagine what their experience might have been like)… At this point we were all too exhausted and drained by our journey through the various levels of hell that constitute Newark airport to really care much about anything – except Marie who kept perking up like a prairie dog every time the pilot came over the PA – and were just grateful to be sitting in a seat on an airplane that might fly to Vancouver eventually.

All kidding and hyperbole aside, Newark Airport is a hellacious place. It’s not horrible (it’s still bad but not awful, hell on earth bad) traveling through if you’ve pre-cleared US Customs (as we did on our way to Spain) but it’s downright brutal if you’re coming from Europe (and presumably other destinations) with connecting flights. Had we stopped to take a pee along the way, we would have missed our flight. If we had been any less experienced navigating airports we would have missed our flight. If Marie has stopped in a bathroom to wash the taste of puke out of her mouth or wash her face, we’d have missed our flight… There are no staff to help. The vaunted Star Alliance transfer team is clearly little more than marketing hype. The Customs and TSA staff are – for the most part – surly and uncommunicative at best and downright abusive at worst. The signage is a joke. And the processes and routines to manage luggage and customers, etc. have not factored efficiency or effectiveness or passenger comfort in at all. It will be a frosty Friday in hell before we ever consider flying through Newark again…

I’ve bashed a lot of people in this post so it’s only fair that I point out that the Air Canada cabin crew on the flight from Newark to Vancouver were absolutely first rate. They were helpful, responsive, genuinely friendly and very, very good at their jobs. Marie managed to sleep for a bit of the flight and didn’t end up puking at all this time so that was awesome. she even stopped bouncing her legs up and down at times… Caitlin never did manage to get comfortable or get much sleep (even after she swapped with me for the aisle seat). I was able to doze a bit here and there. As far as flights go – especially at the end of a long and trying day of travel – this one was pretty darn good. Kudos to you Air Canada.

We landed in Vancouver Airport around 9:30 and made our way through baggage claim and customs without incident. We did, though, all remark on how nice the Vancouver Airport is in comparison to other Airports (yeah Newark, I’m talking about you and your dingy off-white walls and crappy signage and miserable customer service). We found our way to the Skytrain station, waited a couple of minutes and boarded the train for the short (5 minutes or so) trip to Bridgeport Station where we disembarked, shouldered our packs and made the 5 minute trudge to the nearby Hampton Inn where we’d reserved a room for the night… mainly because they include a buffet breakfast and are very close to the sky train station…

The night manager checked us in, handed us our keys and we trudged to the elevator and rode up to our room where we quite literally dumped our bags on the floor and climbed into bed… We were all asleep in five minutes. We’d left our hotel in Madrid at 7:30am Madrid time and 20+ hours later were sound asleep in our beds in Vancouver. It had not been our best day of travel ever (I’m understating here for dramatic effect… it was probably the worst day of travel we’ve ever had) and the cold/flu we’ve been fighting didn’t make things any better. But we landed… and given what happened to those poor people on that plane in Iran, that is definitely something to be grateful for…

We woke up the next morning around 8:30 to Caitlin having a shower (when Caitlin is hungry and there’s a buffet breakfast, things like letting her parents sleep a little longer don’t matter). We’d all slept very well… Hampton Inn gets two enthusiastic thumbs up for the quality of their beds… Caitlin pronounced hers the best hotel bed she’s ever slept on… But then she’d been sleeping on sofa beds for most of this trip so her judgment might be a little off… But they were very comfortable beds. And there had been no drunken clapping… or singing… After quickly getting ready we all shuffled downstairs to dig into the buffet breakfast. But not before Marie opened her bag to discover a official note from the TSA saying they’d opened her bag for further inspection… They’d even re-packed it better than Marie had to begin with… I can’t tell whether it’s reassuring or annoying that even with less than 25 minutes to go before flight time the TSA decided to submit Marie’s (and presumably others’) bag to enhanced scrutiny… even if it meant delaying an entire plane full of people for 40 minutes and potentially causing cascading delays on their connecting flights, etc. I also can’t help thinking that having to collect your checked bags in Newark, then lugging them through the unsecured parts of the airport only to have to recheck them again creates the need for this extra screening. If they’d just left the checked bags in the secure system from Madrid to Vancouver (as has happened on many multi-leg flights we’ve made that don’t include a layover at a US aiport) it would eliminate a lot of opportunities for tampering with bags and the resultant need to re-inspect those bags… But we just fly on the planes and I’m sure better minds than ours have put a lot of thought into these processes… Hopefully they’re better at their jobs than the unhelpful staffers we encountered at Newark…

Anyways, back to the Hampton Inn’s Breakfast… It will never win any culinary awards. It probably won’t ever win any awards for crappy hotel breakfasts either but there was juice and coffee and stuff that looked like sausages and eggs and pancakes and that was really all that mattered. We had a couple of plates each… While eating breakfast, we made arrangements for a later checkout and learned that BC Ferries had cancelled all sailings between 11am and 2pm due to adverse weather. We had planned to be on the 1pm sailing… of course our ferry was cancelled… We made our way back up to the room, redistributed some of the things we’d purchased and then sort of relaxed a bit until it was time to say goodbye to Caitlin and make our way to the ferry terminal.

We (Marie and I) arrived at the terminal around 2:30 hoping to get on the 3pm sailing. Didn’t happen. We ended up standing outside in the wind (remember the adverse weather that canceled the sailings… yeah… that’s what we stood outside in) for about an hour before they let us to buy tickets for the 4pm sailing. It was a bumpy ride but we arrived more or less on time at about 5:50 and hustled off the boat to get to the front of the line for the transit bus back to Victoria. We stood outside in more of that adverse weather for about 20 minutes before the driver let everyone board and we crammed ourselves in like sardines for the one hour trip into Victoria. We ended up standing the whole way because someone (talking about you here Marie) decided she didn’t want to sit on the upper deck because it sways too much…

The trip back home was pretty uneventful (it’s a one hour bus ride… not eventful is sort of to be expected) and we walked through the door of our place sometime after 7pm. Marie drove down to pick Bear up from Vicki’s place (thanks again for taking such great care of him while we were away Vicki) and Marie and I did our very best to stay up for a little while longer to try and reset our internal clocks… We failed miserably and were in bed and sound asleep by 8:30pm…

The cold and flu and jet lag won out and we’d spend the next week struggling to get back on our feet… In fact, I’m writing this just over a week after we got back and we’re still not anywhere near 100%. Caitlin has been working days and doing classes at night since she got back and is still fighting this stupid cold/flu while Marie and I have been back to work (mostly) but not running any marathons…

We had a great time in Spain despite feeling pretty under the weather for a large portion of it and, with all the downtime, got to spend some really great quality time together as a family. But we’ve all decided that the next time we travel at Christmas we will stay someplace closer (no more than 5-6 hours of air travel), we will go someplace warmer (Marie is pretty adamant about this one), we will book our tickets well in advance so we can fly direct (no more milk runs) and, under no circumstances, will we transit through Newark (or pretty much anywhere in the US if we can avoid it).

If you’ve been following the blog, thanks for reading!!

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