Monday, June 14, 2010

UK Travelogue, Part 1: Unplanned Adventure

DAY 1: Saturday, May 29

We had asked our friend Sarah to drive us to the airport, and when she arrived we discovered that she had brought our other friend Alyssa along as an added bonus. Along the way, Sarah kept us entertained with stories of her love life, always a topic of interest and entertainment.

The drive down seemed uneventful: massive dark clouds billowed on the horizon, but no actual rain hindered our progress. I was put in mind of the last time I had flown out of Miami, when a late-afternoon thunderstorm grounded our flight, making Lucy and I nearly miss our connecting flight to Madrid.

Well, that’s not what happened this time. What happened this time was that we arrived to discover that our flight had been canceled outright. When I asked why, “The plane never left Madrid,” came the dark reply from the Air Europa agent.

We stood in line at the check-in counter nonetheless in order to “reserve” our flights for the next night’s flight out (or so we understood at the time), all the while watching people arrive with the shining excitement of a new trip lighting their eyes, only to have their hopes almost immediately dashed as word spread back the line that the flight had been canceled. We witnessed a lot of disgruntled muttering, but only one truly spectacular freak-out. A young mother in a walking cast stomped up to the ticket counter, cutting in front of the line in order to harangue the young man behind the counter, who I am pleased to say sent her packing back to her place in line. She went, but she was not happy about it. I think at one point I actually did see smoke pouring out of her ears.

Once our turn came, the same airline employee - Diego - immediately led in to me with Spanish, only to be interrupted by my standard line used when I’m in Miami: “I speak English.” He was very shocked. He was also very professional and calm, although not extremely helpful as he knew nothing about why the flights were canceled OR anything about our return flight (which was already a problem, but perhaps more on that point later).

Once we'd gone through procedures with Diego, we were shunted off to the side with the group of crossed-armed AirEuropa passengers, now awaiting transport to our overnight hotel.

It was a this time that I found a hardened stick of a french fry in the bottom of my backpack, realizing that it had hitchhiked along from my previous San Diego trip.

I found a french fry in my bag from  my last trip!

In less than an hour, we found ourselves bundled into a van with hotel vouchers clutched in our sweaty palms, making our way through the buzzing Miami traffic toward the posh Hotel Intercontinental.

At the front desk, we were attended by an extremely white-skinned Hispanic man named Carlos, who loved our jokes and promised us a “really good room.” (Wonder what he says to people who don’t get “good” rooms. “Boy, do I have a stinker for you…”?) As Carlos worked behind the counter at his computer, I had time to scan the lobby of the Intercontinental, noting things that do not appear at any hotels where I generally stay: marble floors, fountains with giant modern sculptures featured in the center, light displays projected down onto the floor, greeters dressed in full-Brazilian garb in order to promote their current cultural festival (more on that later), bell hops in actual uniforms, and signs pointing the way to the Grand Ballroom. Also refreshing was the overly-helpful and going-the-extra-mile attitude of the staff. Generally the distinctive features of hotels where I normally stay would be is-it-white-or-is-it-yellow paint and a pervasive smell of mildew mixed with industrial-strength cleaner.

“So this is how the other half lives,” I remarked to Bethany. She scanned the room, patently unimpressed.

“It’s overrated,” she shrugged.

I nodded, considering. “Spit and polish.” I agreed. “It’s no substitute for a good life, and that’s something that we do have.”

She nodded. “So good.”

True to his word, Carlos did indeed set us up with a good room on the 11th floor, with a view overlooking both the pool and the ocean. This came in very handy the next day for an excellent round of people watching & mocking, but I get ahead of myself.

As light seemed to be draining quickly from the sky, we tossed our stuff onto the floor and dashed out to see what we could of the downtown Miami area before dark. (Say what Carlos would about the touristy areas of Miami being “very safe” and “full of cops,” it’s still, you know, Miami.)

We ambled down to the water and followed the sidewalk along its edge until curving into a park, then alongside a downtown thoroughfare toward the Bayside and Port of Miami area. We spotted what looked to be some good spots for jumping and plotted a trip back along the same route for the next day.

We made it back to the hotel just as darkness completely blanketed the city, with nothing to do but eat our complimentary hotel dinner before repairing to our room for the night.

Dinner turned out to be more entertaining than expected, since the hotel was in the midst of running a Brazilian festival. Not only were we favored to tasty, exotic cuisine, but we also were just in time to witness the tail end of the floor show, which featured tanned, shirtless Brazilian men exhibiting their break dancing and hand-to-hand combat skills. As Bethany had been hoping for just such a sight on her vacation (and not likely to see many tanned, shirtless men in the UK) she naturally was in alt.

At dinner, we sat together and quietly gossiped about our fellow stranded Air Europa passengers: which ones were European, which ones dressed that way for "other reasons, " which ones seemed the most/least disappointed about our plight,etc. Lingering over a cup of deaf, I waxed philosophical about life in general while Bethany nodded and smiled, as long-suffering with me as she generally is.

We also spotted again our friend with the walking cast, who had by this time become of intense interest to us. She stomped around in a way which must have been painful on her broken foot, frowning and bossing her docile husband, who did the lion's share of watching out for their little toddling son, whom we heard him address as "amigo."

Up in the room, Beef was quick to find Doctor Who reruns on BBC America, which was almost as exciting as actually being in London ourselves…. But not quite.

Delicious

3 comments:

  1. I might have had the same reaction as Mad Mommy!

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  2. You and Beef turn everything into an adventure. You set a good example of having a good attitude in the midst of disappointment. I'm not sure I could have been as patient and calm.

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  3. @Weeks, Oh you will hear SO much more about her in the days to come. And fortunately you are nothing like her, I am happy to say!

    @Susan, I really didn't take it as well as I make myself sound, as Bethany will readily tell you. In retrospect though, it wasn't so bad.

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