Sunday, October 2, 2011

Madrid Mishap

To begin, something good. This is the view from the balcony at the house where I’m staying.  

I’m speechless, too.

I debated between titling this entry “Madrid Mishap” and “Misadventures in Madrid.” But you know, I think either one gets the point across: I had the worst flight experience of all time in Espana! 

*Note: I’m not looking for pity here. I mean, I’m in Monaco now, for Pete’s sake. The three panic attacks I swallowed during my layover pretty much vanished the moment I looked out of the plane and glimpsed rows of white yachts bouncing happily against each other in the turquoise waters of Southern France. So I’m prepared to laugh about yesterday’s craziness. Feel free to join me!*

Let me set the stage for this story by listing the three Spanish phrases I know (keep in mind they’re probably all spelled wrong, too—we’re going with phonetics here):

1. Donde esta el bano?

2. Senor Gutierrez esta muerto. (I know this is morbid. But it was a line from one of my roommate’s Spanish projects, and you know, it’s weird the stuff that sticks with you…)

3. No habla Espanol.

So that’s, you know…nothing. And for some reason I let American Airlines convince me that I would be “fine” taking a connecting flight out of the Madrid airport—which, by the way, looks like a futuristic metallic maze for humans. And did I mention that all of the signs are in Spanish?

All of the signs are in Spanish.

There’s a little bit of English scattered here and there, but mostly there were clear elevators that only went down, lots of one-way escalators, colored letters that were supposed to direct me to different terminals, and an underground metro that I had no idea how to use. Needless to say, I was terrified.

The airport. Pretty? Yes. Easy to get around? No.

I think it’s important to note that the only thing I had been told about the Madrid airport was “whatever you do, don’t take the metro.” So when I followed a herd a people through customs (which FYI, was run by a group of the most gorgeous Spanish policemen I have ever seen…like, if I didn’t know better I would have that I had handed my passport off to a male model…) and ended up in front of the metro, I thought: “Oh no…I’m doomed.”

And I was right. Because there were no “up” escalators to take me back up the five stories I had just descended. Which meant I had to take five flights of stairs, all the while hauling two overweight carryons on my back like some kind of sherpa.

You were right, dad. I should have brought the one on wheels.

Anyways, per the advice of another Spanish model security gaurd on the 5th floor, I descend back down the escalators, get on board the metro that I wasn’t supposed to ever take, and take a bus to another terminal that’s 10 minutes away from the one I’m at.

Of course the Spanish model security guard at that terminal ended up informing me that I should really have never left the first terminal to begin with! (Are you getting confused? Uh, I was too.) He then casually glances at his watch and lets me know I have 10 minutes before my plane boards. I panic. I run out of the terminal, catch another bus, run back into the first terminal, and head straight for another security guard. He is very helpful and gives me directions. Unfortunately, his directions are all in Spanish.

I smile and nod. I fight back tears. I run to another information desk. I am not kidding: the guy at this information desk starts talking to me in Russian. I stare blankly: “I’m…American,” I say, my eyebrows raised in total confusion.

“I thought I had you pegged for sure,” he says. I don’t know what this means. He asks me where I’m from in America. I resist the urge to clobber him in the face with the Louis Vuitton non-rolling-non-practical carryon still dangling off my back. Doesn’t he know I only had 10 minutes until my boarding time…10 minutes ago? He finally decides he will tell me the location of my gate: K86.

I have to go back through security. I forget to take my laptop out—two security guards yell at me in Spanish. I am sweating, I am panicked, I am relying on hand signals to decide what the heck the two security guards are trying to tell me to do. I make it through security, and race toward terminal K. I ask a female officer how far away my gate is. “You have a long way,” she says.

Uh, thanks for your help?

I speed walk and arrive at K86. It’s the wrong gate. Luckily, I spot my actual gate not too far from K86—or at least I think I spot it, but I can’t really be sure. Because, you know, the sign is in Spanish. I question whether or not the plane has already left. Can’t really be sure of that either, because the check-in guy at the desk is doing his best to ignore me. This could be because I am literally dripping sweat and look like a dehydrated camel. Who knows?

Whew. Still with me? I’m getting exhausted all over again just relaying this nightmare!

Finally, finally, I confirm that “Niza” is indeed Nice, and that I have found the correct flight. I’m still not 100% convinced that the tiny shuttle I step onto will actually take me to a plane, but at this point I don’t care. I will go wherever it takes me.

Or at least I think I will, until I see that the airplane it leads me to looks like this:

I’m sorry, am I just really spoiled and accustomed to big, Americanized planes? That plane looked like a toy to me. It flew like one, too. Sharp turns, tiny seats and a nosedive descent that I was convinced would plunge us straight into the ocean rather than glide gently onto the runway that stretched out over the water.

I walked off the plane shaking, and nodded silently at the stewardess as she thanked me for flying—at least I think that’s what she said, but you know. It was in Spanish.

Surprise surprise, when I finally made it to baggage claim, I found out that one of my suitcases got left behind in Madrid. At this point, I wasn’t actually surprised at all. After the way things had been going, I was almost giddy with excitement that two of them had managed to make it! So I greeted my new host family with a frazzled smile, a missing bag, and a mind as mixed up in Spanish, English and French as a Starbucks frappucino.

Here is the good news: I survived! And you know what? I am so much stronger for it. To all of you who have told me you’ve been praying for me: THANK YOU! I was praying audibly in the Madrid airport, and the calm I felt when I finally arrived in Nice despite everything that had happened confirmed in my spirit that some of you must have been praying for me, too.

I decided to go with “Madrid Mishap” because it’s not really fair to label my layover in Espana as a “misadventure.” The craziness is what makes the story—and as a storyteller, I can’t help but be grateful for that!

The moral of the story? There is never a mis in adventure; only missed adventures.

Tomorrow is my first day trip into Monaco. Stay tuned!


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Karley with a K. Todos los derechos reservados. © Maira Gall.