Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Sunday, September 14, 2003 09:31:30|
Central Asia 2003: 1 - San Jose, Newark, Zurich, Rome
Other than the mad scramble at the office, Marilynn and I are more or less ready to go. This trip will be to Italy including Lampedusa Island, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Yugoslavia, Croatia and end up with a few days visiting friends in Zurich, Switzerland. I'm jumping the gun a little, as this is being written a couple of days before departure.
There have been some interesting twists in getting organized. First of all we were ticketed via Rome, but by the time 30 days before the trip arrived - the maximum time for mileage upgrades - the flights to and from Rome were overbooked by Continental. There was no possibility of an upgrade on miles. To get an upgrade I changed our destination to Zurich, but that meant finding a way to connect to our Lampedusa Island flight from Zurich, rather than from Rome.
The return flight from Belgrade was readily changed from Rome to Zurich, but to get to Lampedusa from Zurich we had to change to a later flight from Rome. Luckily we were able to get seats, as flights to Lampedusa are almost all full. The challenge may be that our tickets are for flights that we are not booked on for both Rome to Lampedusa and Belgrade to Zurich as the affected airlines have no representation in Costa Rica.
The other coming challenge will be accommodation on Lampedusa Island. After weeks of searching the web and other travel resources, I have been unable to locate a hotel with a vacancy. The only ones that responded were full, and most did not respond at all. All the booking agencies which represented hotels there were fully booked. We are going to arrive there after around 25 hours of travel with no idea of what we are going to do for a place to stay.
Re-entering "Fortress USA" on the way back could be interesting as well. Effective October 1, all visitors to the USA from countries for which visas have been waived, whether only changing planes or not, must have machine-readable passports. Canada's arrangement with the US is not the same as for other visa waiver countries; however the US embassy staff are telling the Canadian Embassy that everyone will need machine readable passports or a visa. It takes over a month to get an appointment to get a visa in Costa Rica, and as the Canadian Embassy cannot issue machine readable passports there is no way we can comply. Our passports can't be replaced anyhow - they include the visas we require for the countries that we will visit. This trip could be exciting right to the last plane change!
A final note: I am aware that many of you feel that I am quite mad to be venturing off to some of my wild destinations. Well, it turns out that you are quite correct. The last edition of the Traveler's Century Club newsletter defines this particular mental illness as Dromomania.
"In the accepted listing of psychiatric problems in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the vagabond neurosis is classified with the impulse disorders. Sufferers have an abnormal impulse to travel; they are prepared to spend beyond their means, sacrifice jobs, lovers and security in their lust for new experience. Dromomaniacs not only feel more alive when travelling, but no sooner are they home than they start planning their next trip. Fantasies about travel occupy much of their waking thoughts and some of their dreams." I think I'll be able to enjoy my mental illness much more now that I know what it is!
Thursday, September 11, 2003
We are off and flying. I've had some sort of flu bug since early June, and was feeling pretty horrible when we started out, but I'm certain that no decent dromomaniacs would allow mere illness to come between them and travel!
Carlos; our caretaker, drove us to the airport where it was not crowded and procedures were done very quickly - they even passed me over for special searches this time. The only glitch was a traffic accident on the highway from San Jose involving a school bus. The aircrew were caught in the long ensuing traffic jam, causing the flight to leave an hour late. There were some passengers in the same traffic tie up who were very grateful the aircrew were also detained!
The flight to Newark was smooth and comfortable, other than five intensely bumpy minutes shortly before landing. Our two and a half hour connection time there meant the delay caused us no inconvenience. The flight for Zurich left right on time and the business first seats were great - they lay back to almost horizontal to sleep. We were served a multi course gourmet meal that was the best I've had on a flight - it would have done any restaurant proud, and the service was excellent.
We arrived in Zurich a little ahead of schedule, Swiss customs were quick and efficient and Swissair got us checked in without problem. A difficulty arose when it turned out there were no exit rows, and it was a full flight. I couldn't get my long legs into the seat. The crew took the problem to heart and bumped both of us up to first class. The short flight arrived in Rome 10 minutes early, giving us 1hr 20 minutes instead of 1 hr 10 minutes to make our connection to Lampedusa Island.
So far things were going great, but then the "Italian bureaucracy" factor entered into it. Customs was chaotic, with hundreds of people milling about trying to figure out if there were any lines for the only 3 customs officers on duty. It seemed more like a mob scene, made worse by the inexplicable absences of the three "working" customs people one at a time. I never did figure out if weak bladders were epidemic in the department, or whether coffee breaks every 15 minutes were in the union contract, but it added to the chaos as people swung back and forth between the real or imagined lines. There was no shortage of customs agents around, two or three were watching the milling crowd with interest at any given moment.
When it had taken 25 minutes to inch forward about 3 feet I knew we were in big trouble. I went to one of the customs people whose job description likely read "spectator" and asked if there was any way we could get through in time to make our flight. None spoke more that a couple of words of English, and no Spanish, so the jist of the reply was "tough luck, nothing can be done". I enquired if there was a phone I could use to let the airline know we were there and see if they could do something. It turned out the only pay phones were on the other side of customs, and using the phones in passport control was quite out of the question.
I left Marilynn with the suitcases and walked back towards the gates where we got off the plane. There was an information desk there, so I asked if anything could be done to speed the process. Of course, there was nothing that could be done at all, and when I suggested either she or I use the phone at her elbow to call the airline counter she just about had apoplexy. Perhaps they don't work, and are only ornamental.
I finally went to the European Community line, where people are ushered through quickly. The customs agent in charge of that area had long periods of inactivity which seemed to be the high points of his day. I went over the whole song and dance with him, showing tickets and so on. Again, the answer was tough luck, get in the line - it is the only way. He even turned down the $100 bribe I offered him. Then I knew we were sunk! His helpful hint was, "protest, write a letter!"
An hour and half later we finally crawled through the line and got to the baggage claim area. Our last hope now was that the plane was late. We checked the TV monitor to see which carousel was to be for our flight - the baggage has arrived long before. Two were listed (3 & 4), and our baggage was not at either of them. We were headed for the lost baggage counter, which I imagine would really have been something, when Marilynn spotted our bags - at carousel 7. At any rate, we were delighted to be reunited with them, and headed off at top speed to the Air One counter in the next terminal, about a 10 minute fast walk..
We tried to ask someone if the flight had left, as the lines were long, but in all cases we were met with extreme rudeness, one woman going to far as to accuse Marilynn of being stupid because she was not in the right line. We finally gave up and joined a check in line, where we finally hit a fairly civilized fellow who said the flight had definitely left on time, but that there was another flight leaving at 5. We would, however, have to go back to the line-up at the counter where the employee had pointed out to Marilynn her opinion of her mental capacity.
As we waited in line a shift change took place, for which we were grateful, and the people coming on duty were much more helpful and a lot less snotty. The suggested 5 PM flight was checked, but it was found that it terminated in Palermo, Sicily and did not carry on to Lampedusa. We finally settled on a flight leaving at 8:55 AM the next morning. I left Marilynn with the baggage and walked about half a mile to a Hilton, which was the nearest hotel. When I asked if they had a room, the desk clerk said he didn't know, as the computer was down. After half an hour or so, with a lot of would be guests crowding the lobby, the computer came back to life. Another fifteen minutes of dealing with those who were there ahead of me got me to a point where I found they did indeed have a room, and would consent to rent it for the night. A walk back to the airport, where Marilynn was having fits over my disappearance, then a walk back to the hotel with baggage and here we are - dead tired but anxious to see what adventures tomorrow will bring!