Sunday, 14 February 2010

Travelling Skills

Madrid  Airport

Madrid Airport...

I was wondering if there are people who are just not suitable for travelling, and if I may be one of them. The other day I was at the movies watching 'Up In The Air' and I quite liked it, and not just because of handsome womanizer George Clooney. Traveling comprises of two parts: Firstly 'being somewhere else than home', which is fine; secondly 'getting there', which is not. Watching the movie I thought that it would be so cool if one could thoroughly enjoy the moving about part of travelling as well. I could picture myself, stylish, assertive, and well organized; jetting around the world, oozing sophistication. Well, today I was thrown back into my real world of travelling.

When I was on the first leg of my flight to Fuerteventura with a pit stop at Madrid I was dreaming myself into George Clooney world – did I pack efficiently? Well, it was alright given that I am planning to have some sport and fun and not just business; my suitcase is perfect, good size and swivel wheels.

Handbag a good size, practical with pockets for everything I need including iPhone and netbook, and shoes easy enough to take off and put on again to be quick and efficient at security. Only hiccup is that I am not a frequent traveler and hence not used to my luggage. At about 4:32 AM this morning I had the shock of a lifetime. I think I have never broken into sweat like this before. I wanted to SMS dear hubby that I made it to the airport and couldn’t find the bloody iPhone which had slipped into the wrong pocket when the taxi picked me up at the hotel - so much for slimline devices!

Realising that the precious device is representing a lifetime of contacts which have no place in my brain anymore I jotted down the most essential numbers on a sheet of paper, which I hopefully will find if needed. Thus relieved I scrutinized the departure board for my check-in information only to find this particular bit missing. Some 15 minutes later it eventually disclosed the information and joyfully equipped with the letter ‘F’ I made my way to the location. Given that I had seen the info flashing up on the board just there and then and that I was close to the point already, I should be one of the first in the queue – so I thought in joining about a mile of people zigzagging their way to the counter. I have no idea how all these people got the news so early. True travelers seem to have the gift of divination.

However, check-in and security went well, and I was soon sitting at the airplane dreaming myself into Clooney-world again. So first rule of travel coolness is to avoid check-ins. Queuing is utterly un-cool. Self check-in is cool! However, due to every numbnut being able to print boarding passes at home, there is a queue at the baggage drop off point as well. Hence no check-in luggage at all is paradigm for efficient travelling.

Now I am sitting at Madrid Airport – which I really loathe – well, at least I am sitting. See, the 'Up In The Air' flair only comes to full shine if you are travelling business class… I am bench; hard wooden bench, and that is where display boards come to play their role in harassing travelers. Their main purpose is to guide people to the correct destination. These days however they have become mean devices which make people wait right in front of them, far away from any coffee place or shop. Only in the last minute they reveal the destination to make people hectically rush to reach their gate. I am pretty sure that there are people sitting behind the security cameras and placing bets.

If one just wouldn’t have different hopes: The boarding pass is already in place since check-in, no passport control since it’s a transfer, plenty of time – one is German after all and always is working a lot of safety transfer time into stop-overs – so what can possibly go wrong?

The expectation is a 2 1/2 hour break during which first thing a visit to the loo is to be executed – brilliant, Madrid has plenty of such facilities – and then a sophisticated cappuccino with possibly a nice little piece of cake is to be consumed, while looking very important using the computer or the iPhone, followed by a stroll through the oh so expensive shops, looking as if one can afford them.

Now, Madrid Airport terminal 4 is about a mile long. It needs something like 20 minutes to get from one end to the other. The board of course only is telling me that I am in the correct terminal, but gives no information whatsoever about WHERE TO within the bloody thing I have to go. So off to the loo, and then a bee line to the next coffee shop. Bloody hell, only coffee late; I hate late. The guy is a decent chap, though and telling me that half way down the hall is a cappuccino joint. On arrival the first half hour is gone, and I am not really feeling at ease. It would be just lovely to know how far I have to go to get to the right gate, the board around the corner however tells me nothing new. It is small so I can’t read it from the coffee shop and me the un-cool traveler is quickly gulping down a hot Cappuccino – eventually a hot one – and a cake, burning my tongue while the rest of sophistication goes down the drain. Repeated board consultation doesn’t bring any news and so goes the first hour of my break.

Maybe I should find an information stand. Later it would turn out that there are two, but of course I am choosing the one furthest away.

There I am told that only an hour before the flight – not the boarding, which is half an hour before – they will know the gate, that it is confirmed now, and this time my letter is ‘J’ the place where I just came from. On reaching the spot I feel nicely worked through, the coat is keeping me warmer than expected and the so reasonably packed bag is starting to feel like a suitcase – while the board still refuses to confirm. Hoping that the guy who told me the gate knows his job I am settling into a chair to write it all down, not without getting up every 5 minutes or so, taking bag, coat and computer with me to check the darn board. Eventually! Confirmation! And a number to go with the ‘J’ which tells me that I am in the right spot. Now I can relax – for 25 minutes of the total 150.

This whole thing sort of spoils the cool look.

Madrid  Airport

... and from the other end!

I walked this bloody hall twice, got rather hot in the meantime and now am looking so disheveled that nobody would ever consider me an example for a cool traveler. That teaches me another lesson: Sophistication needs money. To pull off the Clooney travel style one needs to have access to VIP lounges where everything is taken care of.

Now I am on my second leg and a few thousand feet high up in the air. I am sweating with a vigorously coughing baby right behind me, so be prepared that in a couple of weeks time or so I will be moaning about a cold. See, babies don’t travel business class - only babes do, and handsome guys like George Clooney. I really need to publish this book that I am writing – and you, for crying out loud: Go and buy it! I need to get rich!


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