Friday, October 26, 2018

Getting there is (Not) Half the Fun

My wife Anita and I have been back from Europe for a few weeks. We have finally caught up with the many errands that pile up during one’s absence, so I can now begin to tell you about some of the more “interesting” things that happened during our 4-week journey to Belgium, Paris, Switzerland and Rome.

I use the word “interesting” both in its general positive meaning , and also in the sense of the old Chinese curse wishing someone “an interesting life:”

As one gets older, international travel becomes more challenging, especially for those of us who refuse to throw in the towel, and who continue to travel independently rather than joining guided groups or going on cruises. We still rent cars and brave European traffic, we run around foreign railroad stations and airports for local connections, we take local subways and buses. We do it all, because we value authenticity. We also have friends and relatives in several of the countries to which we go. We are not just tourists.

However, international travel isn’t getting any easier.

The surprises and inconveniences keep coming at you, fast and furious:

For one thing, the security thing seems to be getting more cumbersome every year. The Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) bureaucracy is out of control.

This time, our return was a two-stop flight: From Rome to Sacramento, connecting in Dublin and in Los Angeles. This was the best deal I could find. It required us to fly Aer Lingus and United. We had to go through security and passport control THREE times!

One major problem is that regulations are haphazard, and they change incessantly.

For example, we are accustomed to using the priority security line, to being exempt from having to take off our shoes (due to advanced age), and to not having to take our iPads out of our carry-ons. But this time, we were not permitted to use the priority security line or to leave our iPads inside our carry-ons. As to taking off our shoes, the TSA guy told me it was up to me! I kid you not.

It is hard to say where reaching the correct terminal and clearing security was more nightmarish - in Rome or in Los Angeles. Both airports are unbelievably crowded and disorganized. In Rome, there was not really a security check line; it was more like a crowd. In Los Angeles (one of the worst airports anywhere), we had to connect from Terminal 2 to Terminal 7 - through traffic that reminded me of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Also, the signage is really bad.

When we landed at LAX, there was another surprise:

We had gotten used to the rigamarole at customs and passport control when entering the US: They take a photo of you, you print it, and then you hand it in to a TSA person.

We also knew from past experience that even though your baggage is checked all the way to your final destination, you must take it off the carousel at your port of entry into the US (in this case, LA), go through customs there, and put it back on the conveyor belt for the final leg of your trip.

But this time, upon deplaning, we found ourselves in the middle of duty-free perfume shops. No baggage retrieval, no passport control, no custom clearance in sight. What the f...?! I asked myself. What happens now? I was finally informed that we had to proceed to our next flight. Our baggage would follow. All that other stuff had already been taken care of in Dublin. How the hell was I supposed to know this?

And by the way, the connection in Dublin was surreal. Connecting from one terminal to another required a walk across the tarmac AND interminable hallways, a shuttle ride and a couple of escalator rides up down.

In sum, that old Greyhound slogan “Getting there is half the fun “ is entirely false. Getting there is a pain. You reserve seats several months ahead of time, and - surprise - you find out later that you and your partner aren’t even sitting next to each other.
This time, our seats on the 12-hour transatlantic flight were “10A” and “10C.” I thought, “here we go again; they have separated us, even though I reserved the seats four months ago.” As it turned out, “A” and “C” ARE adjacent seats after all. Does this make any sense? Where did “B” go?

And then there is the flight itself. Restless Legs Syndrome and many unintelligible announcements by the pilots and the flight attendants keep you awake. Anita walks up and down the aisle all day (on the return flight) or all night (when flying out) to minimize her pain. I get to watch four or five movies in a row. Sleeping is out of the question.

Okay, call me an old crank. I’ll give you this: While Greyhound is definitely wrong (getting there is NOT half the fun), once you ARE THERE, it’s still a blast. Next time I’ll write about some of the wonderful and amazing things we saw and did in Paris, Brussels, Zurich, Rome and elsewhere.

© Tom Kando 2018;All Rights Reserved

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