They say that getting there is half the fun. Don't believe it. In my experience, getting there is the most tedious and stressful part of the vacation experience. Especially if "there" is on the other side of the planet.
We started by taking Access to the airport, and catching a flight to Dallas, where we had a four-hour layover before we caught our flight to Madrid. That was OK - it gave us time to feed Trooper and take him out, as well as get some dinner for ourselves. Since this was Texas, we of course went to a BBQ restaurant. Unfortunately, it wasn't that good.
At the Dallas airport, I noticed something that interested me:
I don't know if LAX has a chapel; if so, I've never seen it. Anyway, I went in to take a look:
A very nice interfaith space with a nice non-representational stained glass window. A supply of prayer shawls for Jewish visitors (no yarmulkes, though). And a collection of scriptures for various faiths:
...Christian and Jewish Bibles, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, etc. Very impressive
I was also intrigued by this walk-through sculpture in the middle of the waiting area:
And then we got on the plane for a ten hour flight to Madrid. Let me tell you, that's a LONG time to have to sit in an airplane seat. And then something happened to make it even longer.
While we were waiting at the Dallas airport, a gentleman in the next row of seats was being quite annoying by carrying on a cell phone conversation in a loud voice. What made it more than usually annoying was that he had the phone on speaker, so we were able to hear both sides of the conversation.
So when we got on the plane, we found this same guy sitting in Terry's seat! It turned out that a stewardess had mistakenly directed him to the wrong seat, but he was reluctant to move, because he had a portable oxygen tank (or, as I like to refer to it, designer air). Anyway, they found other seats for us, and all was well.
But a few hours into the flight, I began to notice a commotion a few rows behind me. I looked back, and found that the guy was having some trouble with his oxygen tank, and the flight crew was trying to fix it. Then, the pilot came on the intercom and asked if there were any doctors or nurses on the flight. Obviously, something was wrong.
Then, as we were flying over Maine, and just about to start crossing the Atlantic, the pilot came on the intercom and announced that we needed to make an emergency landing at JFK Airport in New York, because of this guy's problem. And to make things even better, we apparently couldn't land immediately, because the plane was too heavy for the runway! So we had to fly around for over an hour, burning fuel, until the plane was light enough to land.
Terry was angry. I wasn't happy, either, but being the conciliatory type that I am, I was making excuses for the guy. "Well, he's just trying to get home." (The guy was Spanish.) But Terry wasn't having any of it. "If he was too sick to fly, he shouldn't have gotten on the plane!" A guy in the row behind us agreed with Terry, which she appreciated.
So we landed, and various medical and airport personnel came on board, and eventually the man was taken off the plane, and we were on our way... three hours behind schedule.
The Madrid airport is immense, and its various terminals are widely separated. We had to take a long subway ride to get from where the plane landed to where we picked up our bags and left the airport. And there we got a shock.
When we were researching our trip, we found Spanish government websites that told us about the paperwork we needed to have to bring Trooper into the country. We also found that we would not be able to bring any dog food into the country, and the brand of food we were currently feeding him was not available in Europe. So we changed brands, and made arrangements with a distributor in Austria to have a supply of food shipped to the resort where we were staying the first week.
So we get to Spain, and what happens? We walk right out of the airport, and no one checks our bags, and no one asks to see Trooper's papers! We thought we were missing something, so Terry asked a guard what we needed to do about the dog. "Has he had his rabies shots?" Yes. "Does he have a microchip?" Yes. "No problem, go ahead."
All the time, trouble and expense we went to, in order to have everything right, and it turns out we could have brought in our own dog food, and not bothered to get Trooper's paperwork, and no one would have cared! But if we hadn't...
We had previously contacted the resort by phone, and the timeshare manager, a very nice lady by the name of Conchi Fernandez, told us that she wouldn't be there the day we arrived - it was her day off, and she's the only one there in the off season (apart from housekeeping and maintenance staff, of course). So she would leave our room key at the front desk of the Esmeralda hotel, another resort hotel in Calpe. So we picked up our rental car, fired up the GPS, plugged in the address of the hotel, and hit the road.
The scenery on the drive from Madrid to Calpe was not much to look at. Much of the drive took us through La Mancha (w) , which is not particularly scenic. But since we were driving through La Mancha, the obvious question arises: Did we see any windmills? Well... yes...
...but it wasn't quite the same.
Just imaging Don Quixote tilting at one of those! Actually, I did see a few of the more traditional windmills, but I never got a picture of one.
And now, courtesy of Google Maps, let's take a look at where we were:
Here's a closeup map of the Calpe area:
...and here's an even more closeup map of Calpe, showing the locations of the Esmerelda Hotel (B) and our resort, Imperial Park (C):
By the time we were approaching Valencia, it was already starting to get dark, and just about that time, my GPS program lost its GPS fix, and I couldn't get it back. It still had the address of the hotel, and was still displaying the route, but the indicator showing my current position was gone. Later in the week, I figured out how to restore a lost GPS fix, but at the time, I didn't know how to do it, and in any case, I was afraid of doing anything that might cause the program to lose the route it was displaying.
So there I was, driving down the freeway at 120 kph (about 75 mph), in an unfamiliar country, after dark. I had the map, and the route, but to figure out where I was, I had to rely on my ability to correlate what I saw on the map with what I saw in real life. It was harrowing, but I made it. I was never so relieved as when I saw the the Esmeralda Hotel there in front of me!
So we got our room key, and then had to find our way to Imperial Park. The GPS still wasn't working, but Conchi had left us a map, and I was able - with some difficulty - to follow that. What the map doesn't show is that the drive from downtown Calpe to Imperial Park is essentially vertical. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but not by much. Calpe is built up the side of a ridge, and Imperial Park is near the top of that ridge, looking down over the town and out to sea. Which makes for wonderful views, as we discovered the next day. But at night, with minimal or no street lighting, it's a challenge.
But we made it, got our bags in our room, and went back to the Esmerelda for dinner. It wasn't very good, but at that point, we would have eaten anything. And then we went back to our room and crashed. It had been a long, strange trip indeed.