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Brian "Gadget" Lewis
Begins: Sep 14, 2017
Date: Mon, Sep 11th, 2017
Daily Distance: 0
Entry Visits: 271
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A Lucky Travel Day
Our mutual hiking partner Lucky hiked the Camino Frances with Milky and I. So perhaps it's appropriate that I have an early "Lucky" entry (I hope, however to have many days that feel 'lucky'!). This is even before the start of the hike, just about getting from home to Madrid.
I should also say that this is going to be a pretty boring entry, so feel free to skip; in part I'm typing this up to get used to using a folding Bluetooth keyboard again - - - type at my normal speed and it drops characters, and auto-correct gets involved, it's going to be a little frustrating at first.
Flying across our continent and then a major ocean comprising 9 different time zones - - - this is always somewhat grueling. One thing I tried this time however turned out to be very positive: flying "premium economy". This type of flight sits in between the outrageously priced business class, and the "herd up the cattle and shove 'em in" economy class of flight (and never mind the emerging even more severely restricted sub-economy class or whatever they're calling that). Premium economy is something I think the various carriers are still figuring out, and so what you get varies by the carrier. There was no premium economy option for the domestic versions of my flight - - - I flew first to Chicago, and flying home in October I'll stop in Dallas/Fort Worth. But my Iberia airlines flight from Chicago to Madrid was premium economy, and while my recollection is that it wasn't THAT much more expensive than economy class, I found it worth it, with a couple of glitches. Let me tell you the glitches first.
I printed my boarding passes the day before, and there was no boarding group on my Iberia boarding pass. Premium economy gets priority boarding, which helps if you're not checking baggage (I did not). So I had to talk to someone to get that sorted out, but it was fine. Less seats in the premium economy area helps that too, I think. There is a place to charge electronics, and apart from having to use my smartphone as a flashlight and bend over awkwardly, it seemed great, accepting USB or a U.S. type power plug, or a European power plug. All fine, but it never worked, no power provided, and ditto for someone in a neighboring seat. Finally, I had no option to do seat selection, and of the 8 seats per full row on the airplane, I had the only middle seat. I think that two of these three issues were because I booked this Iberian airlines flight via American Airlines, a code share, but still, not such a "premium" experience there. But my seat mates were a quite old and charming Spanish woman and her daughter, who opted to sit together, netting me an aisle seat. Not as big a deal anyway, as these seats are a bit wider, with wider arm rests, so you're not sitting with your elbows tight against your body for hours or infringing on your neighbors space. And they fed us, dinner and then breakfast. And the seats recline farther. Other amenities were nice too but less important as I mostly wanted to sleep.
Sadly, the charming old woman clearly had dementia issues, as she must have asked her daughter 15 times on the flight if they hadn't maybe lost her luggage (the daughter was an inspiration in patience and enduring love). They also talked through most of the time I was hoping to sleep, so I got a lot of time to read!
Anyway, I'll consider premium economy again in future. My only other experience was bidding on an upgrade with Iceland Air and 'winning' an upgrade on a stretch. Iceland Air puts you in mostly normal economy seats but, critically, they block off the middle seat when it's a set of three.
I guess the lucky part of my trip was that everything worked out. Getting to the airport was easy and fast - - - at about 4:30 AM, you're sort of making your own luck there. I have TSA-pre, but the security line seemed to be moving fast for everyone. My only problem at the security line was that I got to the scanner so fast I hadn't had time to empty my pockets along the way!
Landing in Madrid, it also helped that I tend to walk fast, and with just a backpack, I walk up escalators rather than just stand on them, so when unblocked this tends to put me ahead of the pack. That and planning my bathroom breaks on the plane. Well, and premium economy helped there too.
So when I got to the place where they divide passengers into "European passports, non-European passports" I expected to wade into a wall of other foreign riff-raff, but nope - - - empty, no waiting at all. I was even able to chat in a friendly way with the customs guy in Spanish, something that sometimes takes a little time before my brain recalibrates to (especially when jetlagged). So things are just going extremely well.
Also helping is that I had some euros in my pocket from my last trip, and I know more or less how the Madrid metro (subway) system works. So a beeline to the subway area, buy a 10-ride ticket for 15.20 euros, walk down the stairs where there's just one other couple waiting and the reader board says the next train is in 1 minute. And when I get on, the train is empty as the airport is the end of that subway line. How easy is that?
Subway station is maybe a 10 minute walk from my hotel and on the same street, so I find myself at a hotel with checkin supposed to be at noon and I'm there at 8:40 am. And again I open up my mouth and functional Spanish seems to come out, the friendly guy there tells me that I might have to wait a half hour or 45 minutes. I connect to their internet and I wait 10 minutes. Just wow - - - if I were the type to buy a lottery ticket, this would be the day to do so (and the lottery is a big thing in Spain, FWIW).
The room is pretty small, it's a marginally 3-star European hotel for which I'm not paying a lot. But it has everything I need, critically to include a decent wifi signal in the room, an inner door to the bedroom area to keep hallway noise out, a "do not disturb sign" to hang on the outer door, solid rolladen (external thick aluminum slats that lock down in a solid wall on the outside of a window) to make it dark and keep out a lot of the heat of the sun as well, and - - air conditioning! High in Madrid is 85 degrees today and my fourth floor room faces West, so this is significant.
Slept a solid 8 hours and apart from my body clock being way off from local norm, things are going great. I love going to history and archeology and some other types of museums and my wife is not such a fan, so I reckon I'll wallow in a museum visit or two tomorrow. But mostly I'm here to get over the worst of travel fatigue and jet lag.
In a way it would have made more sense to fly to Lisbon, as I start hiking in Lisbon. But we'll end our hike in Santiago (in Spain) and it turns out to be easier to get to Madrid from Santiago than it is to Lisbon, and one generally will save money in booking long flights as round trips. That plus I figured it would be more comfortable to get over jet lag initially in a country where I can speak the language.
Okay, that's enough and more than enough text typed to remember the issues with this keyboard. Next up: to find out how to turn off <insert swear words here> auto correct, ideally just when I'm using the Bluetooth keyboard.
Gadget's Trail Journal
The Camino de Santiago is the name of any of the pilgrimage routes to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many take up this route as a form of spiritual path or retreat, for their spiritual growth.
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