Writing: on board ALVIA train 04087 from Madrid to Bilbao, 9:12am.
Yesterday… was a crazy day.
I normally tell you what time I wake up every morning. That wouldn’t be necessary here; I didn’t wake up, for the sole reason that I really didn’t sleep. The stress of July 28, losing my luggage somewhere in the Lisbon‐Barcelona‐Santiago triangle, as well as the huge disappointment of not seeing it in my hotel room later that night, brought my stress to levels I never realized before.
The only light I was able to see at the end of the tunnel was that I should get my lost luggage in the morning in Santiago, as I was informed, the day before, that it’s making its way to Santiago via a late evening flight. But still, as I said before: This is Spain. And I’m not saying it in a disgraceful way, as a few proud Spanish commentators attempted to imply; things work differently here, in a way that makes it very hard for polite Canadians to get along.
So, I didn’t really wake up; instead, I waited to 9:00am, which was the time when Spanair’s lost‐luggage control centre had their phones open. At 9:00am, I called.
Press 2 for English… yeah, I know.
Somebody answered, speaking very broken English.
– “Sorry, there is nobody here that speaks English.”
Oh well. But I pressed 2 for English!
– “Please call back in one hour or so.”
I stayed on the line, silent. Gazed at the bed, realizing that I am in absolutely no control of the situation. 20 seconds of silence, and I hung up the phone.
Staying up all night also involved developing some serious hunger. I didn’t know what to do—should I call back in an hour? Go have breakfast somewhere? Call my travel insurer to inform them about this incident and start the paperwork? On top of all of that, I knew there’s a flight I have to take at 2:00pm to Madrid.
But I was still sure that my luggage is simply waiting for me in Santiago airport.
I called again after ten minutes; call was answered by an English‐speaking person. Guess what—my luggage never really left Barcelona! It’s not in Santiago, and it’s scheduled to arrive to Santiago airport after I depart to Madrid.
So please, let us now do some psychological mathematics here. Take everything I wrote above: hunger; lack of sleep; not having anything to wear other than whatever I was wearing the day before; something in my missing luggage being critical for my journey to continue; flight to Madrid in a few hours; and my luggage will not be given back to me today.
I can recall very few occurrences in my last 32 years of living when I was so close to a nervous breakdown; the last time being about a year and a half ago, and before that—I don’t know, probably some time in high‐school. So there I was, sitting on my bed clueless. The increased stress made me nauseous; headed to the bathroom, stood by the sink, looking at the mirror. And down at the sink, and at the mirror again, waiting for the hurl to come—it didn’t.
It took me about five minutes of staring at myself at the mirror, before I decided that that’s it, I’m sick and tired of this. My plan was simple, and very clear: First, have breakfast, then go to the airport—4 hours before my planned departure time—and raise hell until I get my luggage or some other sort of commitment that my luggage will be returned to me today. In a sense, I crossed a mental barrier that I was hoping to never cross again since I left my home country eight years ago (over there, things aren’t much different than Spain).
Ate quickly at the hotel, checked‐out, and taxi to the airport. I was at the airport shortly after 10:00am, now looking for Spanair’s offices.
None found, but I found a small information desk with nobody in it.
– “Hello!”, I called. Somebody came, and explained to me that Spanair doesn’t maintain its own staff on the premises, unless they actually have flights going out of, or coming into, the airport; first Spanair flight for the day was scheduled to 12:00pm.
That didn’t set me back and I demanded further help. Then the lady at the information desk told me that there is actually an “operations office” upstairs. I thanked her and went away.
Upstairs there were the offices of a company named Newco, which, I believe, is a company which Spanish airlines outsource certain operations to. A man and a woman were there, working at their desks. I gave them a brief explanation of my situation.
Unlike people I was talking to on the phone, who seemed to just want to get rid of me, these two were actually very helpful. I stayed there for about an hour, during which we analyzed all possible routes for me to meet my luggage: either fly to Barcelona and collect it there before proceeding to Madrid, or just wait at the airport until the luggage arrives and then take a later flight to Madrid (arriving at around 7:00pm), or change the instructions so the luggage is sent to Madrid instead of Santiago.
A few possibilities, each having its own drawback. There was another possibility that appeared to be simpler, but it involved my luggage being handled by Iberia, which would now make me deal with two companies instead of one; I disqualified that one right on the spot.
At the end, we arrived at the conclusion that my best bet is to reroute my luggage so it arrives to Madrid instead of Santiago; I would have to wait in Madrid for two hours after my arrival, because that’s when the flight from Barcelona was scheduled to arrive.
The lady made the necessary phone call, and I got some written documents outlining what we have done. Just as I was about to leave, I decided to go ahead and ask them if I can spend those couple of hours in Madrid airport waiting at Spanair’s VIP Lounge instead of at the arrival hall—a request that they were more than happy to approve. A phone call, and email was sent, a copy given to me and I was on my way out.
I had 3 hours to kill before my flight, so I caught up with things—blogging, some travel planning for a few days after the tour, reading the news… feeling normal again, you know. Flight was delayed by 20–30 minutes and I dozed off during most of it (about one hour), sitting next to a particularly attractive lady who was probably not very impressed with the way I smelled and looked at that time, after a sleepless night and no shower in the morning. Sorry my lady—everyone has their “moments”.
Arrived at Madrid’s airport and went straight to the VIP Lounge. Well, Spain is Spain after all so, somehow, the attendant there didn’t receive any notification about the arrangement that we had set in Santiago. Showed her the copy of the email, and she was OK with it—entered the VIP lounge.
Quite nice, those VIP lounges. I was never in any of those; I know that, with Air Canada (with whom I fly the most) you can pay $35–40 and get access to their lounges, as well as other lounges belonging to airlines that are a part of Star Alliance (Spanair being one of them). You can also buy an annual pass for a few hundreds of dollars. Had I flown a lot, I would definitely get myself one of those passes, it’s definitely worth it. Felt like a 5‐star hotel in there—free food, free drinks, comfortable sofas, lots of desks with Internet hook‐ups. Beats waiting at the departure / arrival hall, by far.
Time passed quickly as I blogged away; finished uploading my Santiago post just as the airplane from Barcelona was arriving. Packed quickly and followed the attendant’s instructions to go to Hall 6.
The way it works in Madrid’s HUGE airport is that there are multiple arrival halls. I know of at least 6 of them, each hall contains many baggage belts. Spanair typically uses arrival hall 6; went there, spoke to the luggage‐control representative who told me to go to hall 5 instead.
Now, something didn’t sound quite right. I am no professional flyer but what I do know is that once you’re in an “arrival hall” you can’t really go back. He told me that “it’s OK”, I refused to believe but decided to do whatever it is I need to do to get to my destination. Following his instructions, I actually left the arrival halls area; followed the signs to hall #5, tried to enter…
And you see, there comes another aspect in Spanish mentality that is so amazingly similar to Israeli mentality: people who provide service to you don’t really see things through. They won’t explain to you what you have to do in certain end‐cases; instead, what they do is give you a pointer, and assume that you will use your aggression to work yourself out of situations you might come across. When that guy told me it would “be OK”, he didn’t necessarily mean that moving from one arrival hall to the next is permitted; what he meant is basically “you should be OK finding your way into the hall if you REALLY want to”. Everything so informal, so lax, so “in the air”. This is exactly, exactly Israeli mentality; and if you were asking yourself why I don’t live there anymore, there’s your answer.
I quickly looked around me for some alternative plans, and I noticed a door marked “personnel only”. As I approached it, some guy with uniforms was making his way in, along with a couple. I didn’t ask permission to join them—I simply did. That’s basically sort‐of trespassing but THIS IS SPAIN. The four of us were walking towards the hall, and at some point we split as I found the luggage belt I was looking for.
The Man with Authority didn’t seem to like it and started barking at me in Spanish, then sent me to the luggage‐control booth at the hall. Went there.
– “I’m looking for a Spanair representative to talk about my luggage.”
– “Spanair—arrival hall 6”. Thus, sending me back to where I started.
See? There it is again. The guy was completely oblivious to the fact that the Spanair flight I was looking for was actually rerouted to this hall instead of the normal one. He didn’t even bother checking, or asking me. That was all he said and went back to his business.
I think that, by now, you realize what getting around in Spain is all about. It’s important that you understand that this is absolutely no mockery of southern‐European mentality; fact is, it works for them here. It is very different than what Americans / Canadians would expect; some might say it’s a better approach towards things, some might say it’s worse—but that’s how things work here, and when you come visit (and you should; Spain is a beautiful country) then be prepared to face some mental learning curve.
I decided to elegantly ignore him and went back to the belt showing the Barcelona flight’s information. Suddenly, a soft nice voice started talking to me… in English. A cute lady named Vicky, who happened to just have arrived from Lisbon, noticed that I’m having difficulty communicating with staff in English so she decided to tag along and help. An American currently living in Spain and fluent in Spanish. She received a serious, serious hug—not sure she was in favour of it though because I smelled awful with all the sweat and stuff—sorry Vicky.
We passed the time talking, until the belt next to us started to move. A Spanair lady came over and informed everybody about the change in belts.
Now that was game time. The belt is rolling; I had no fingernails left to chew upon, and we were both staring at the belt, waiting for a backpack.
A minute passed… another minute… and in situations like that, each such minute seems like forever as you see other people receiving their luggage and leaving happy.
Another minute passed…
And then it came.
Had I ever been going through a marriage ceremony in which I was the groom, I believe that the feelings I would have watching my beautiful (?) bride walking down the aisle would very similar to the feelings I had when I saw this backpack of mine laid on the belt approaching me way too slowly. I jumped at it, snatched it from the belt, hugged it and kissed it as if I just was reunited with a sibling I haven’t seen for 50 years.
Luggage is here and life returns to normal! A huge adrenaline shot and within a few seconds I wasn’t tired anymore. The Spanair lady on the premises took my details so she can close the luggage claim, and Vicky and I went on our way. She decided to show me my way to the metro, where we split our ways—myself underground and herself to Barcelona. Great to have met you Vicky, and thanks for the help!
Happy, so happy, I grabbed a metro map and boarded metro line #8, then change to #4 and then to #7—Cartagena station. 25 minutes after leaving the airport, I resurfaced onto the ground.
Welcome to Madrid.
Madrid (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madrid) is Spain’s capital, as well as the largest city. About 3.5 million people live here, and Madrid’s metro area is home to some 6 million people. After Paris and London, Madrid’s metro area is the most populous metro area in the European Union. Other than being Spain’s capital, Madrid is also the residence of the Spanish monarch.
By the city’s description in Wikipedia, it’s clear to me that I’ll have to visit Madrid again soon. There’s lots of great things to see & do around here; as I arrived at my hotel shortly after 7:00pm, I had absolutely no time to explore anything.
My BlackBerry’s GPS had some difficulties initializing itself so I stepped into a different hotel than mine, and asked for direction. The receptionist actually left his post and went out of the hotel to show me the way—very kind of him. Stepped into my hotel—AC Hotel at Avenide de America; made sure again that the weight on my back is actually my luggage; it was. Checked in and went into my fabulous room, unloaded my backpack onto the bed and took a deep breath.
I felt reborn. So good to be normal again.
Was hungry so I went outside for a bite. Things here appeared much, much more relaxed than the overwhelming aggression‐bound experiences I had before; restaurants were not open yet, so I decided to give some of those “cafe‐bars” another look. Couldn’t really find what I was looking for, and none of them had an English menu. I ended up going to a cafe right next to my hotel, featuring a mixture of middle‐eastern & Spanish food (a Bocadillio with kebab in it. Bizarre, huh) as well as one of the hottest lady waitresses I have ever seen (and you know I had my share in eating at restaurants). Concentrating at the menu was hard as it rarely has been.
Short pause: it’s 11:10am right now, still on the train to Bilbao. The train goes through amazingly picturesque scenery; this definitely is a country to rent a convertible car in and just drive through.
I seem to recall reading a commentator in Guy Fletcher’s forum mentioning something about mosquitoes at the venue in Madrid; I decided to not take any chances. After feeding myself to oblivion, went to a pharmacy and bought a repellent, just in case.
Back at the hotel, I had about an hour before having to leave for the concert, so I set my alarm clock and closed my eyes. Fell asleep within seconds.
Woke up at around 9:00pm thanks to Marcos calling me a two minutes or so before Eddie Vedder did. Quickly dressed and went outside, walking the 1.5km towards the venue.
Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Las_Ventas) is Spain’s largest bullring, and also considered the home of bullfighting in Spain. It is very pretty at the exterior, as well as in the interior; its construction ended in 1929, and bullfights has been going on in here since 1931, except for during the Spanish Civil War time between 1936–1939 when no bullfights took place; bad for the civilians, good for the bulls.
Another short pause: 11:20am and the views through the train’s window are wonderful—small towns laid upon the slopes of the mountains. Brilliant.
The bullring also once served as a tennis court (Davis Cup, 2008), and concerts take place here every now and then. AC/DC recorded their DVD here in 1996: “AC/DC: No Bull”.
I arrived at the venue about 10 minutes before the concert’s scheduled start. My seat: front row, dead centre—even the usher was impressed. Good to be back “home” after a few days of exile in Spain’s bullrings.
Daniel & Jacqueline, from Switzerland, whom I had met a few times before during this tour, were there and I was very happy to see them. They decided to conclude their share of the Get Lucky tour in Madrid; we caught up for a bit, and they reiterated their invitation to visit them in Switzerland—an invitation that I’m sure won’t have to wait long to be fulfilled. Always great to meet nice people such as them.
Mikel Camps was there as well, seated two seats to my left; Marcos, whom I met in Murcia along with Julio, was there too. A whole happy bunch of Spanish and non‐Spanish people looking forward for the concert to start in this beautiful venue.
No mosquitoes whatsoever (at least at the front rows); weather? Heavenly. A bit warm, but the wind was there to help create a perfect setting for a concert. What an upgrade comparing to previous nights!
Time passed quickly and the concert started at around 9:45pm, fifteen minutes later than the posted time.
After a short exile to the back of Spain’s bullrings and arenas, it seems like the timing of me coming back to the front couldn’t be better as we had a splendid concert in Madrid, in all aspects: Sound was great; band played great; everyone seemed to be in a good mood; the audience? very vocal, very supportive—even if there was chatter and noise, it was at the very back. The front rows were all into the music for two hours straight as the band once again kicked collective ass.
A bit of a “cooler” Border Reiver but things got much better during What It Is and Sailing to Philadelphia, played very well along with impressive outro solos in both. At some point, I believe it was during the Sailing to Philadelphia outro, I actually said “wow” out loud.
Prairie Wedding won the Coyote vs. Prairie Wedding battle, and no setlist changes besides that. Perhaps it’s just about time for me to accept the fact that neither So Far from the Clyde nor Before Gas & TV are going to be played during this tour—some people told me that I should have realized that a long time ago; but I always have hopes.
Romeo and Juliet initiated a massive cheer, which was then translated to a band‐accompanied “oe‐oe‐oe‐oo” bit, followed by Sultans of Swing for which the cheers started rumbling as soon as Danny Cummings hit that cymbal for the second time (out of four) before the first Dm was struck. People around me were singing, dancing and whatnot during this song; scores of people from the back rows made phantom appearances at the front, in attempts to take photos before being sent back by security.
Done with Bonaparte…
… And then Marbletown followed shortly after; I was happy to realize that we’re back to the roots with a somewhat quiet jam‐session.
Loud, massive Telegraph Road and before long the Running of the Bulls ensued. I had to take two steps forward; some fucking idiotic moron, who spent most of the show wandering around the front row annoying everybody with his professional camera taking shots all over the place, made a run to a “picture‐friendly” location—left of the centre (what I would call the “Anti‐Tray Strategy”), and on his way there he didn’t mind the fact that he has hit me and a few others. He gave me a look, to which I replied with a very heartily “fuck you”. I’m sure he understood.
The usual encore…
… And the band waved goodbye at the ecstatic crowd.
Show was over a few minutes before 12:00am, and I left the arena after catching up with Mikel, Jacqueline and Daniel for one last time.
Took a few shots of this impressive venue from outside:
And here’s a statue of a famous Spanish matador who was killed during a bullfight:
Pretty venue, isn’t it:
Marcos was kind enough to drive me back to the hotel as we finalized the arrangements for the ride to Gredos on Saturday.
Arrived at the hotel and immediately left again as I realized I was hungry. Went back to that cafe‐bar by the hotel; that amazingly lovely lady‐waitress was still there and was happy to communicate my request to the kitchen, in Spanish of course. Big juicy kebab sandwich taken back to the hotel and demolished within five minutes.
So, that was quite a day, wasn’t it. It started with me being on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and ended with the triumph of watching a fantastic concert from the front row. Life is an adventure, it seems, and you can’t really foresee neither the ups nor the downs.
Signing‐off this post as the train approaches Bilbao. I can’t believe that we’re facing the last two shows in the tour.