Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Day 11 - Barcelona and style!

I'm breaking this into two posts because, well, it's me, folks. Life is always an adventure and why have a simple plane ride home when you can have complications to make it interesting? So....

We had to be up at 5:00 this morning to be ready for disembarkation at 6:05. Since we’d sent the bags down the night before, we only had out carry-on bags.

Of course, before we left, we had one more task to complete. Because of the pressure changes at the altitudes we’d be reaching on the plane, I needed to have a blood thinner. And since it was so early in the morning and everyone was getting off the ship, the medical staff was busy with other matters. Steven stepped up and said, “I’ll be glad to poke my wife!” The shot is given in the belly and he didn’t even hurt me. I know he was nervous about it, but he did well. Only a tiny little bruise where he jabbed the needle. J

Easy time off and collected our bags with no trouble. We were in the “Silver 1” group for the airport and there was only one Silver 1 bus, so no confusion there. Xavi, a Princess Cruise liaison from Barcelona, rode the bus with us to make sure everyone got to the right gate once at the airport. And this is where the problems began.

The second night of the trip, Steven had gone down to complain about the automatic door that kept banging against our stateroom wall and asked if it could be fastened open. A man at the desk said yes. An hour later (now past midnight), Steven got dressed and went down to complain again. This time a young woman was at the desk and she was quite distressed to find out we’d had to made a second request. The matter was swiftly dealt with and the doors remained open for the rest of the trip.

On Thursday, when we got new flights home but had already been assigned the Silver 1 group, Steven went to the desk to ask if the flight change meant a different disembarking group. The same guy at the desk said no, nothing would change. Even after Steven asked him if he needed to see our new flight number, the guy said, “No. Flight numbers don’t matter. You’re good.”

Sculpture outside of Barcelona port - sunrise
Well, Saturday morning at the Barcelona airport we found out just how incompetent the front desk clerk is. Got to Terminal 1 with the rest of the Silver group only to discover we were supposed to be at Terminal 3 for our flight. This is where Xavi became our savior. Wish I'd taken a picture of him but I was so concerned with missing flights, I didn't. :(

Xavi took the others into the terminal and got them situated, then came back for us. We had to wait for a shuttle for Terminal 3. Good thing we had plenty of time. It was a little after seven in the morning and our flight didn’t leave until a quarter to noon. He stayed and rode the shuttle to Terminal 3 with us, not leaving until we were handed off to a wheelchair attendant in the proper terminal. I will be sending Princess an email pointing out the lazy employee and highlighting Xavi, you can be assured of that!

Wheelchair bound people are a class unto themselves, I’ve discovered. Many people tended to talk over my head to Steven as if I weren’t there. This was particularly true of customs agents in every country. Others give pitying looks, looks that say, “I’m glad that’s not me!” that they think I don’t see.  Some make polite conversation and ask me what I did (the Aircast is HUGE and you can’t not see it) – those people are fun because I get great reactions when I tell them I broke it coming down Mt. Vesuvius.

A few talk directly to me. My favorite was the ticket agent in Genoa for the tour bus we took. He not only talked to me, he stepped down off the curb so he’d be closer to my height. When we got back to the dock after our hike from the drop-off point, he made sure to come over to me and ask how the trip had been and if I’d enjoyed it. The narrow sidewalk was filled with those waiting for the next tour and, of course, the wheelchair takes up a bit of room. The road was busy and not safe so when, at the end of the conversation he asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you today?” Steven asked him if he could clear a path on the sidewalk.

He jumped right to it, walking in front of me and saying, “Scuse, coming through. Scuse, please step aside” all the way through the crowd. He was a cutie and if I were 20 years old and unmarried, I’d have had fun and done some flirting with him.

Waiting in the Barcelona airport
But back to the trip home. Because of my foot, I have to fly business class or better in order to keep it elevated on the flights. Besides, I think I mentioned this cast is HUGE? It won’t fit in the legroom space allotted for coach. Silver lining! But it also means we couldn’t get a direct flight home. Out of Barcelona, back to Rome, THEN to Toronto.

Alitalia for the entire trip, this time. The short hop (an hour and a half), didn’t have a place to put my foot up, but I had plenty of room to stretch it out as needed. Wore the cast the entire flight, adjusting the air in it as the pressure in the cabin changed. No big deal. Landed, was last on the plane, was last off the plane. Our next flight left at 3:15 PM and wheelchair services kept assuring me we’d get to the gate on time.

You know those stereotypical scenes of three Italian men all talking at the same time, gesturing wildly and speaking at full volume as if to drown out the other speakers? Where it seems nothing is getting done and that the three of them will soon come to blows? Yeah. I sat there and watched it happen as three of them tried to get the several of us in wheelchairs to the appropriate gates on time. We sat for a long time and I was convinced we were going to miss our connection because they couldn’t get their act together.

Finally, at 3:10, a young man was assigned to us to take us to the gate. He knows he has to hurry and I swear, he drove me through that airport like he was driving in Rome. Watch out pedestrians! Steven had to hustle to keep up with him. Swerving right around an old man who stopped in the middle of the atrium, left around a loose child, threading the needle through an existing line – I held on and grinned all the way. Wheee!

Got to the gate and they hadn’t even started boarding yet. Whew. He left me there and Steven and I watched as they loaded the plane. Okay. We’re getting the routine now. We’re good. We wait.

But as we’re waiting, we realize, this gate is at ground level. There is no plane outside. They’re putting people on shuttles and taking them out to the plane where they have to walk up the stairs to board. It’s okay, I can manage the stairs, but it’s going to take me some time. There is another woman, however, also in a wheelchair, who is quite old and frail who cannot make the stairs.

Off on another adventure! After the last shuttle leaves, we’re loaded onto a mini-shuttle and taken out to the plane. I’m looking at the steps and thinking, “Okay, I can do this” but the driver goes around to the other side. There’s a lift there. You know, the kind that you see lifting the shipping containers? Just a big X when it’s all the way up? The kind that shakes and rattles and you hold your breath that it won’t collapse? Yeah, that kind.

So we ride up like it’s the gantry of a rocket ship and walk across the open space to the door of the plane (which the attendant had to knock on for them to open. Cracked Steven up that we were knocking on the door of the plane!). We go in, turn left, and enter first class.

The set-up for our 7-course dinner
Oh, my. I’m not sure I can ever go back to coach. Not for long flights (this one was 9 hrs, 50 min.). Not only do they feed us an entire seven course meal on real plates with real silverware, we were offered several different wines, limoncello, amaretto (which I had) and, for our lunch, a seven course meal. I kept the menu we were presented. By the time they got to dessert over an hour later, I was stuffed and waved it away. A vanilla cake of some sort.

And then the seats. They recline so you are almost prone. Like a bed. And you get a decent pillow and a down comforter. Yes, a down comforter – or microfiber that feels like down. The lights are turned down, the shades are pulled and you can sleep. Really sleep. I managed two sessions, one short and one of an hour and a half. Steven slept straight for nearly two hours. It was only 7:00 PM Rome time, but we’d gotten up early, had several adventures and eaten a 7-course meal, so it wasn’t hard to be tired.

And when you couldn’t sleep? A real set of headphones (not earbuds) and a decent high-def screen with a wide menu of choices. I particularly liked the outside camera for take-off and landing. Haven’t ever seen those from the pilot’s point of view before. A little unnerving to see the land coming up so quickly and the runway still so far away!

Hot towels at frequent intervals, a traveling bag of toiletries for both of us – yeah, I could get used to traveling like this. I took off my cast, put up my feet and allowed myself to be pampered. What a wonderful flight home!

Play safe - part two, the Toronto airport, coming soon.


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