Week 46: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

In a continuation of our Spanish adventure, I’m dedicating this week’s blog to the modes of transportation that I had to endure in order to a) get to Spain b) get around Spain c) get home from Spain:

Planes

I hate the airport. All airports. They’re chaotic, noisy, and there are people there who can strip-search you if they overhear you making a little joke about terrorists. The last time I was flying out of Toronto, I got into trouble because I had a small manicure kit in my purse, and it was confiscated by a very surly security guard. I really wanted to say, “What kind of dumbass terrorist would I have to be to think I could bring down a plane by brandishing a nail clipper?!”, but I didn’t. Strip-search fear, y’all. I guess the paranoia is understandable, given today’s international political climate, but things are still very extreme eg: having to put all your liquids (in no more than 100 ml. quantities) in a clear plastic bag so they can be viewed easily. I would dearly love to know what kind of bomb I could possibly make with shampoo, conditioner, and hand sanitizer. You’ve heard of dirty bombs? I guess this would be a “clean” bomb. It would spray all over you and make you more hygienic than you were before you got on the plane (which is good because planes are gross). Except I have no idea how something like that could be detonated. Mostly because I’m NOT A TERRORIST! And water? God forbid you might want to bring some water through security instead of paying $5 for a bottle once you get into the “duty-free area” (which in Canada, means you’re paying pretty much the same as you would in a convenience store). Personally, I think the easiest way to determine if someone has water or gel explosive (is that even a thing? I have no actual knowledge of bomb stuff) would be to just make the person drink it in front of you. I’m pretty sure that would separate the merely thirsty from the blood-thirsty. Who the hell would swallow something that could blow people up? In the line ahead of us, there was a poor young girl who was having her bag thoroughly searched. Finally, the security guard help up in triumph a small box. He opened it and produced a tiny brooch, which he immediately confiscated. Sorry, Grandma—the souvenir pin I got you in Canada was considered a lethal weapon. Here’s a $5 bottle of water instead.

So, in order to get to Spain, Ken, T, and I had to go through security. I immediately set off the scanner. The female security guard was unimpressed, and demanded that I take off my belt and my rings. I went through again, and it went off again. “It’s that bangle you’re wearing,” she sighed.
“It can’t be that,” I said. “It’s sterling silver. It’s from Tiffany’s.”
“Fine,” she rolled her eyes. “Try again.” The scanner went off again. “Gimme the bangle,” she sighed more heavily.
I gave her the bracelet and this time, sure enough, I made it through.
“I TOLD you it was the bangle,” she said smugly. “You might want to talk to Tiffany’s about that.”

In the meantime, however, T had also set off the scanner and was the lucky recipient of a full body scan. Which, three times in a row, showed that he had something adjacent to his right thigh that was causing a problem. He’d already emptied out his pockets, and they couldn’t figure out what it was. “Sometimes, if there’s something that’s just bigger than everything else, it’ll set off the alarm,” said the male security guard. Ken and I were initially all like “Hells yeah! That’s our son!”, but then the guard said to T, “But I’m going to have to pat you down. Come with me.” At which point, I got really upset at the whole ridiculous thing and said, “You can’t just take him away with you—he’s a minor!” (which is hilarious because he’s 6’1” and has a full beard), so they let Ken go with him. It all ended up OK though—according to Ken, the security guard gave him a few karate chop style pats to the groin area, then winked and said, “You’re good, buddy.” Hells yeah.

Once we were through security though, the real fun began. Our plane was delayed because of lightning, and Air Canada switched our gate 4 times. Without announcing it. Every so often, T would go up to the display board and say, “We’re back to Gate 79” or “They’ve changed us to 81 again.” It was a great distraction though—we never knew when we were going to have to run the length of the airport, dragging our luggage behind us, with all the other passengers on our plane trying to lap us—it should be a new Pan Am sport: The 500 meter Airport Dash. We finally got ONTO the plane well after midnight, but wait—we still couldn’t take off because one of the other passengers was drunk and the flight crew had to make him and his wife get off the plane on the grounds that “we don’t know how you’ll react in the air”, which I assumed to mean “we don’t want you puking up your guts in this sealed metal tube”. But how the hell do you even GET hammered at the airport? I had one glass of wine and it was $15 f*cking dollars! I can’t AFFORD to get hammered at the airport. I just hold out for the free wine on the plane and make Ken get another one that I can drink later. Of course, he gets all whiny like “But I want apple juice. I don’t even like wine,” so I wait until he’s asleep and order FOR him.

The flight itself was extremely turbulent, which made me realize I should NEVER have started re-watching Lost a few days before, and that kicking out that drunk guy was a REALLY good idea, but we finally arrived. Getting INTO a country is pretty easy—well, it is in Spain anyway. No one gave us a second look, and suddenly, we were on our way.

Automobiles

We rented a car, and while the Enterprise rep was going over the details with us, he asked if we wanted a GPS for 6 Euros a day. Ken immediately said no, but I overrode him on the grounds that he regularly gets lost on the way to the cottage, and I wasn’t taking any chances in a foreign country of ending up on some unpaved back road (which happened anyway but that’s another story). The GPS was fantastic in terms of telling us how to get to places, but it had its quirks. First, it was programmed with an extremely posh female British accent. It was comforting and authoritative at first, but we soon realized that although its English was perfect, it couldn’t speak any Spanish, and pronounced the names of streets in a robotic, phonetical way that made no sense:

GPS: At the next roundabout, take the third exit to YO QUIERO TACO BELL! WHEE!
Me: I think that means Calle del Fernandes. Don’t quote me though. Just take the third exit.

Ken drove like a boss, up and down narrow cobble-stone streets and major highways. The car was a standard, which I was incapable of driving, having had an early, scarring experience trying to learn standard on my Dad’s Pinto (“First gear! FIRST GEAR! Ach, you’ve stalled it again!”), so Ken did all the driving. Our only problem was the second day, when we had to back up to get out of a parking space, and Ken realized that he didn’t know how to put the gearshift into Reverse. We tried all the regular, human ways of doing it, but ended up having to call Enterprise, after trying to translate the car’s Spanish user guide, and were told (after waiting for them to find someone who spoke English) that there was a ring on the gearshift that you had to pull up to make the car go backwards. Obviously.

Trains

I already talked about the train we took last week, so I won’t get into it too much again, except to say that the train station was even more chaotic than the airport. You know it’s a problem when there are information booths everywhere, and the line-ups at each one have at least 50 people in them. No one seemed to have a clue where to go, not even the Spanish people. We were finally able to ask an attendant where we should go to buy a ticket, because even THAT was not apparent, and he said what sounded like, “Go past the tropical garden.” But we were inside a train station, and it made no sense so we kept walking to the next information office, where I was required to take a number to be served. My number was B554. The counter was currently serving B778. I’ve never been good at math, but it didn’t seem that I would be getting served anytime soon judging by the number of people who were sitting on the floor since all the chairs were taken. In the meantime though, Ken and T had found machines where you could buy a ticket, and we finally found the place where they keep the trains, which meant another round of bag x-rays and body scanners. We tried to ask the female security guard which platform our train would be at, but she kept looking away from us, mumbling something, and pointing at her eye, which I interpreted as “I can’t see you. You’re not really here. Stop haunting me.”

After a great day in Toledo, we got back on the train and arrived at the Madrid train station. As we were taking the escalator down to the subway level, I suddenly saw a grove of huge palm trees up ahead. Tropical garden indeed.

Planes again

The Madrid airport is a bit quieter and smaller than Toronto, which is weird because Madrid is a much bigger city than Toronto. The biggest difference though was the presence of civilian guards carrying machine guns and questioning people. There was very limited seating, so Ken, T, and I found spots by a gate two down from Air Canada. When we realized the armed guards were confronting people and asking to see their passports, we realized that we were at the gate for somewhere in the Middle East, and I thought it would be better to just stand by the Canadian gate than sit down anywhere else. When I pointed this out to Ken, he accused me of “stereotyping” but I was like “Hey—I’m not the one with the machine gun and the paranoia.” Never a good combination.

It was supposed to be my lucky day–at least that’s what the security guard cheerfully told me as she pulled me aside for a pat-down: “You’ve been randomly selected–it’s your lucky day!” but things didn’t go very smoothly. After a series of bizarre delays—another plane was late so ours couldn’t leave Madrid on time, our luggage was taking a long time to load because of unspecified “issues”, the plane waiting to take off from our spot at the Toronto airport had a “missing passenger” and had to wait until he was found, the bridge which attaches the plane to the airport wasn’t working—I thought I was going to lose my mind. It was probably a 12 hour trip from beginning to end (mostly because Ken insisted that we get to the airport three hours ahead of time, two hours of which constituted trying to find a place to sit and then listening to a very large and overenthusiastic group of twenty-something “camp leaders” discussing their Spanish exploits–“Dude!” “Dude, really?” “Dude! No way!”– the majority of which had less to do with camping or children, and more to do with getting wasted and surfing–turns out they were heading back to British Columbia. They don’t call it the  California of the North for nothing, y’all).

The highlight of the return trip home, however, was when we went through customs and the young guy in the booth looked at our passports, then asked, “What’s the reason for you being here in Canada?” How do you even respond to that kind of stupidity? He’s looking AT my passport, which shows I’m a Canadian citizen, and it shows my address is in CANADA. Why the hell do you THINK I’m here?! But I just politely said, “We’re going home. We live here.” No strip-searches for this lady.

 

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