Iberia Airlines Plays Song About Death and Dying Before Takeoff

Earlier this week I had the distinct displeasure of flying from Copenhagen to Madrid with Iberia Airlines. While my trip ended up being fantastic, the flight itself was an unmitigated disaster.  The flight crew was unfriendly, rude and all around difficult to engage with. Which, fair enough, is disappointing but not all that uncommon in this day and age. But, ultimately I ended up being in for two distinct surprises that left me all around shocked.

The first was when I reached my seat, went to sit down and had to squeeze into it. I’m 193cm (6’3″) and long-legged so it’s always a bit of a challenge.  This time though? Utterly ridiculous. The space between each seat was so tight that even in the more spacious sections between the seats it was still tight enough to leave my normal sized water bottle self supported and securely stuck as shown in the photo below. I realize I’m a bit tall, but I’m not unreasonably tall…and this? Less than a water bottle’s worth of space from seat to seat? Pure tomfoolery. And for those of you who are tall and curious?  Yes, the stewardess managed to ram my knee with the drink cart with significant force, shrug it off, and go back to business without even a passing apology.

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But, the real icing on the cake came as we prepared for takeoff. In between the cabin crew’s safety talks music was playing over the cabin speakers.  A nice touch and one that ultimately should be soothing and relaxing.  So, knees getting bruised by the seat in front of me, I settled in and tried to enjoy the music. Then, something about the lyrics seemed off and caught my ear.

Christmas Eve and Buenos Aires Bound

Valley Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

After a refreshing nap we washed up and slowly de-frosted our bodies. Then it was time to undertake our next herculean undertaking. Dinner. As I mentioned in a previous post it was Christmas Eve which tends to be the day Argentinians focus most of their Christmas celebrations on.  As a result, we were somewhat concerned that most things would be closed. Unfortunately, not only were we right, but we had failed to prepare properly for it earlier in the day. We were completely without food, booze, or a clue as to who would be open and/or serving food.

El Chalten

The city of El Chalten (pictured in near entirety above) is pretty tiny. Luckily, it’s main business is tourism which meant that several of the local hotel restaurants were remaining open and serving Christmas dinner. Unfortunately for our backpacker budgets that also meant that they were running special Christmas dinner meals which started at about $30 and topped out at about $90 USD. Hoping to find something a bit more budget friendly we made our way up and down the town’s two main streets, fighting fierce winds and periodic rain before bumping into a Swiss woman.  She was traveling solo and in the midst of a similar search. We said hello, cracked a joke or two, complained about the weather and then invited her to join us. An invitation which she accepted eagerly.

Christmas Eve

Eventually we found our way to one of the town’s largest hostels which also harbored an attached restaurant.  While still fairly pricey, their dinner special looked good and was one of the cheapest in town. We quickly found a table in a corner and settled in for a flavorful meal washed down with wine, beer, and great company.  We’d conquered the mountain, survived the weather, had several memorable stories etched into our memories and found food and good companions on the road.

As we finished up our dinner and made our way back out into the wind-raked streets, we headed back towards our hostel.  En-route we found a small bar which was just starting to get going. Despite being exhausted from the day’s adventures and with bellies full of food pushing us towards a nap, we ordered another round and settled in to a booth where we continued to exchange stories and get to know the Swiss traveler better.

People often ask how I can travel on Christmas and typically assume that it must be a lonely thing to do. I chuckle as I’ve often found it to be the exact opposite. I’m not Christian so the holiday doesn’t have religious significance to me and a fairly similar sentiment seems to be shared by most of the other travelers on the road over the Christmas holiday.  So, for us it’s always about coming together, sharing food, stories, drink and companionship. I spent Christmas 2008 in Spain drinking champagne on the beach before partaking in a fantastic, vibrant, and lively hostel potluck which lasted late into the night.  I spent Christmas Eve 2009 having just arrived into a small Belizean port town after a 3 day 2 night sailing trip down their barrier reef. The evening was full of food, drink, live music and delightful conversation.  2010 was no different, as we sat in a vibrant room with three separate cultures represented. In many ways it’s like a driftwood masterpiece. We all come from different lives and backgrounds. Our route to that place and that time takes a wealth of forms, but when all of the pieces come together, the combination is perfect.

Eventually, exhausted, the other American and I decided to leave the Norwegian and Swiss girl to their flirting and strike back towards the hostel. With the wind to our back and each gust extending our steps by a good foot, we made it about half way before coming upon an incredible sight. The wind had blown loose a powerline which was laying in the street. Undaunted by the wind and obvious danger two of the locals had pulled up a cherry picker with a bucket and were in the midst of repairing the power line.  This despite gusting winds that threatened to dump the guy in the bucket on his head, or yank loose one of the other power lines. Electrocution and decapitation risk aside, it made for quite the sight.  One that I was eager to get as far away from as quickly as possible.  Preferably before someone got crushed to death, cut in half, or electrocuted.

El Calafate Airport - Patagonia, Argentina

The following morning I crawled out of bed, said my goodbyes and headed to the bus station for an early bus back to the El Calafate Airport. My stay in Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia had been incredible. The people were delightful, the food delicious and the natural scenery some of the best I’ve ever experienced.

Eventually after running into a few issues with a LAN airways strike, and mis-communication, I paid my $4 airport special use tax, boarded a plane and was Buenos Aires bound.  Once there I’d spend two nights in the hostel I’d used during my previous visit before researching an overnight bus to the country’s far north to see the falls of Iguazu.

Oslo Norway – Vikings, Embassies and Old Friends

Viking Ship Museum - Oslo, Norway

The ride to the airport was uneventful. For 6 Euro, a shuttle service picked me up at my hostel proving the anxiety that I’d had over catching an early morning bus on a quiet Sunday unnecessary.

As the shuttle meandered its way through Dublin I noted how empty the streets were.  After a full weekend the city was finally at rest, recuperating and preparing for a new week.  The airport itself was fairly quiet, which was a relief.

The line to check my bag was short, as was the line through security, which left me ample time to find a bite of food before winding my way towards my gate.

The flight to Oslo was brief.  To be honest, I slept most of it – between jetlag and the late night I’d had the previous evening, I was in desperate need of a nap!

Rygge Airport is located some 40 km south of Oslo.  A small airport, we were the only plane present.  This was convenient given the size of the airport’s one runway, which we had to taxi back up after landing before we were able to get to the gates.

From there a bus shuttled us all to Oslo, where we went our separate ways.   After a quick pause to get my bearings, I set to the task of finding my way to Hildur’s place.  She’d given me an address and general directions, but getting oriented, judging landmarks, and weighing distances is never an easy thing when experiencing a new city/culture for the first time.

In short order I found the subway, figured out what ticket I needed and after a few missteps was headed in the right direction.  Before long I reached the National Theater stop and headed toward the surface.  Candidly, as the escalator dragged me towards the surface, I felt a bit like a groundhog leaving its hole.

Embassy Row - Oslo, Norway

I emerged in the middle of a beautiful greenbelt surrounded by old buildings that borrowed from French and German architecture – creating a unique mixture of the two. Then, with map in hand, I slowly spun about before guessing which direction I needed to go. Unfortunately, it ended up being up hill…toward a large palatial building in the midst of a giant park.  It was, as I would later learn, the royal residence.

The day was beautiful; warm with a few clouds in the sky.  Needless to say it was anything but what I’d expected.  In typical European form a lot of the locals were out enjoying the weather.  Most stripped down to swimming suits, sprawled out in the park, sunbathing, picnicking or barbecuing. It made for a welcome sight.

Feeling fairly confident that I was following my directions correctly, I wound through the park and up a side street before turning onto the street where I hoped to Hildur’s apartment.  To my surprise, I quickly realized I was walking down Ambassadorial Row.  Most of the buildings had unique architecture representing their home country and a diverse mixture of national flags flying from beautifully manicured front lawns.  Thrown into the mix were a few private residences, coffee shops, and B&Bs.

Ambassador's Row - Oslo, Norway

Before long I found the right address and tentatively made my way to the door. There I was stumped.  Unfortunately, while I had her number, I didn’t have a phone or her apartment number.  This was even more challenging because the buzzer had some 8+ last names, none of which I recognized.  Torn between randomly hitting the buzzer’s until I got the right one or backtracking and finding a phone – I made one attempt, then opted for the latter…Which came in the form of a small Korean convenience store where I borrowed the phone and picked up what turned out to be orange-flavored water.

A few rings and a quick conversation later, I was back on my way down Ambassadorial Row.   This time, with the right last name in hand I was quickly buzzed in and made my way up the winding staircase.  Reaching the top I re-connected with Hildur, an old college friend who I’d met a few years earlier while she studied as ASU.  We quickly caught up before striking out for a quick bite to eat and tour of the immediate area.

She explained, to my surprise, that one of the cheaper local foods was Sushi of all things and promised we’d try it at some point during my stay.  For the sake of convenience and price, however, we made a quick pause at McDonalds before heading to the park where I met up with one of her best friends/roommates and another mutual friend who was visiting from the west coast.

We spent an hour or so relaxing in the sun, enjoying the park, catching up, and getting to know each other before heading back to the apartment for a beer and to watch the evening’s world cup match.

After the game it was nap time.  Still fighting jet lag, I crashed out for an hour or two before waking up in time for a delicious home cooked meal.  Shortly after dinner Hildur’s boyfriend Sten got in. He had volunteered to give me a grand tour of Oslo the following morning.  We all spent the rest of the evening catching up, getting acquainted and sharing stories before turning in early – the following day promised to be a full one.

With the sun still up, I crawled into bed, pulled the covers over my head and slipped into delightful dreams of new adventures and far off lands.  It was 1 am.

Scandinavia Bound – Packing and Trip Prep

Hello friends!

As I gear up and prepare to start my next adventure later today, I’ve assembled a few tips and tricks for those of you who may be considering making a similar trip.  I’ll be spending the next 18 days traveling through Norway, Denmark and Germany, with a brief overnight stop in Dublin.

As i’ll be taking the trip between June 25th and July 13th daylight is not an issue (the equinox was on the 21st).  Temperature, however, will be. I’ll be leaving 110+ degree temperatures for the 50s and 60s which are the status quo this time of the year in central Norway.

I’ve recorded and included my latest packing video above. My key considerations have been layers, technology, and dealing with the high probability that I’ll end up drenched a few times.  The video is self explanatory, but if you have any questions on specifics, please don’t hesitate to ask!  I’ll be shooting photos/video on my Canon G11 and my Vixia HF200. Both of which I’ve been really happy with.

Transportation

When I initially purchased my ticket, I had tentatively planned to visit Central Europe. As a result I picked an airport schedule that allowed me to fly into Dublin, Ireland (RyanAir’s main hub/cheapest airport in Europe, Madrid being the 2nd), and fly out of Nuremberg, Germany.  As I watched for airfare specials, it quickly became apparent that there’s some sort of pricing tiff going on between RyanAir and Central European airports, which drove me to choose a 5 Euro ticket (total cost, 25 Euro w/ 1 checked bag/taxes/fees) from Dublin to Oslo, Norway.  Combined with the recent economic woes which have crippled the Euro/Euro area countries, it seemed like there probably wouldn’t be a better  or cheaper time to visit Scandinavia, which is notorious for its high prices.

By the time I worked in my 1 day layover in Dublin, timezone changes, and travel time I have about 15 days of actual travel time.  Which, while longer than some trips, really only gives me 5 days per country.  This forced me to scrap my initial plans of doing Sweden, in addition to Norway, Denmark and Germany as it just didn’t make sense from a travel time cost.  Unfortunately, I only realized that I wouldn’t be able to do Sweden AFTER purchasing a 4 country, 8 day Eurail pass.  In retrospect, a 3 country, 8 day pass would have been a far better choice.  That said, the price difference was fairly negligible (some $70) compared to what the cost would have been for 8 individual train trips, which removed some of the sting from the mistake.  The final price for the pass was $390 which wile a decent expense, is far cheaper than the $80-$170 price on most medium-long leg train tickets in Scandinavia and Germany.  In addition to the base $390 fee, there will be several smaller reservation fees to reserve my actual seat, but these fees should be small.

I’ve booked two other major legs ahead of time.  These are a ferry trip from Stavanger to Bergen in Norway and a budget flight from Bergen to Copenhagen, Denmark.  While I prefer to travel on a more flexible schedule, research indicated that Stavanger and Bergen are only connected by Rail through a round about route which loops back through Oslo adding 6+ hours on to any tentative trip.  A ferry ride provides the opportunity to travel through the Fjords by boat, while traveling straight north along the coast directly to Bergen.  Additionally, by booking online through Flaggruten, a Norwegian ferry company, I was able to knock the price from 750 NOK, to 250 NOK or $38.50 USD. A hard price/special to beat.

The second challenge was getting from Bergen to Copenhagen, without having to re-trace ground through Oslo and Sweden.  What would have been a 10-15 hour train ride ends up being a mere 1 hour direct flight.  By experimenting with different budget airports, airlines and destinations, I was able to find a flight for 693 NOK which is about $107 USD.  This cut hours and hours of travel time out of my schedule, was reasonable, and allowed me to spend an extra day exploring the cities I wanted to spend time in. I found the ticket through Wideroe, which seems to be the best priced discount Scandinavia airline (they also have an amazing all you can fly pass – similar to a Eurail pass).  Unlike a number of their competitors Wideroe offers a youth (under 25) ticket, which knocked the price down substantially.  By choosing a flexible departure time, and booking a youth ticket I was able to save $50-100+ off the price of the next cheapest competitor.

The rest of my travel and transport will be done via my Eurail pass or local day tour groups.

For now, I’ve gotta run.  My flight and a new part of the world awaits!

Dublin Part I

Packing always seems like a monumental task. The lighter you try and pack, the greater the fear of overlooking something major. As I prepared to leave, I set to the task of packing Friday evening. With a 12:15PM departure time, I knew I had a small emergency buffer if I overlooked something, but that things would no doubt be rushed.

As I set to laying everything out in the living room, it quickly turned into what looked like a war zone. Bags scattered around, clothing piled up, random electronics covering the floor.

By 11:00PM it was time to record a few quick videos. As I laid everything out, I couldn’t help but feel as though something was missing. Something important…and then it dawned on me. I’d forgotten to pick up a replacement day pack. Slightly panicked, I realized much to my relief that the Super Walmart down the street was open 24 hours. Dad in tow we struck out at 11:30 in search of a suitable daypack.

20 Minutes later I had an Outdoor Products daypack in hand for $15. The outdoor products bags have been fantastic. I use their $30 backpack as my main travel bag, and so far the $15 daypack is great. Durable, well designed and amazingly priced.

On the way back to the house, Dad and I realized that we’d left my Capital One credit card in the car with Mom, who was off celebrating one of her girlfriends birthdays down the road. Slightly stressed, we tried calling several times, only to find that her phone was off.

By the time we got back to the house and finished packing, the total weight of both of my bags came to 25 pounds. I’d missed the 15 pound mark I was aiming for. I was slightly dissappointed with myself but still well under the 20kilo ceiling I’d set for myself. I had plenty of extra room. My daypack weighed just under 10 pounds, while my main pack weighed about 15 pounds.

Videos recorded, bags packed, I turned in. I had a big day full of extended travel ahead of me.

The following morning we rose early, got hold of Mom, and had a quick breakfast after picking up the all important credit card. We ate, conversed, enjoyed each other’s company and then set off to the airport.

I arrived, made it through security without issue, and before long found myself on a flight bound for Atlanta. The first leg was tight, packed in next to a very strange 6’9″ gentleman with a 6’3″ Israeli in between us…it was a long, sandwiched flight.

My layover in Atlanta went by quickly and luckily the gate associate was able to change my seat from 43G to 15B – giving me a bulkhead seat at the front of the aircraft. Relieved that I wouldn’t be sandwiched for the flight to Ireland I settled in and waited.

The flight itself was good. Only 7 hours due to the jetstream, I wasn’t able to sleep, but did manage to watch a movie on my netbook, in between chats with the woman I ended up sitting next to. Originally from Ireland, she was on her way back to visit family with her two children and husband, after moving to the US 7 years previous. The netbook was a lifesaver and a fun social tool. At various points I shared a video with her and another Chilean gentleman while waiting in Phoenix.

I arrived in Dublin at 10:30AM after a long sleepless night, hopped on a bus and made the 40 minute bus ride into Dublin proper.

More to come soon…for now, I’m off to relax and explore Trinity College.