Friday, October 23, 2009

Leaving the Rock (Thank God!)

When most Canadians think of a place called "The Rock", we tend to think of Newfoundland. For 10 million Britons, (who for some reason unknown to me, travel there annually) "The Rock" refers to Gibraltar, a little piece of land at the southern tip of Spain that they hang onto as a "British protectorate". A friend of mine has a friend who has been posted there for the past little while, so I thought it would be a good jumping off point for a foray into southwestern Spain. As it turned out, I was wrong. Getting to Spain through Gibraltar was a big mistake - next time I will fly directly to Madrid or Barcelona, or even to Lisbon if I want to "do Spain". Aside from the inflated cost of visiting any part of the United Kingdom, the last leg of our journey home left me bewildered as to how so many things could go wrong on one day. Now here I am tending to place the blame on the Brits, but I suppose one could just as easily find fault with the Arabs who flew planes into the World Trade Centre for making air travel for those of us who don't like our planes to crash into buildings such a hassle, or the Spanish GibAir agents who manned the gate at the Gibraltar airport for so badly bungling everything, but really, there is enough blame to go around for the whole human race for letting a lack of trust and insatiable greed make what should be pleasurable and relaxing (travel) into the complete pain that it has become. Here's what happened. We were booked on an EasyJet flight from Gibraltar to Gatwick, scheduled to leave at 11:40. Like good travellers, we arrived at the airport 2 hours prior to departure. Not a soul in sight. The GibAir/Easyjet agents finally arrived around 10:00 and started checking us in. Once we got through security, we sat in the boarding lounge for 2 hours, where the odd announcement was made about waiting for more coaches to arrive. We just assumed these were the coaches that would take us from the terminal to the airplane, as it was pouring rain and gusting outside. What we were never told, was that these were coaches to take us on a 2 hour bus ride to Malaga airport because our plane wasn't able to land due to bad weather. The pilot who eventually flew us home was the first to fill us in on anything. He said that Gibraltar airport is an old military airport with outdated equipment, a short runway, and a big rock making landing difficult when there is wind cand rain in the mix. So off we went, like lambs to the slaughter to reclaim our bags so they could be loaded onto the coaches. Then we got on the coaches, while the bus drivers and the gate agents chatted amongst themselves. When they were finally ready to leave, they made a 2 minute trip to the Gibraltar/Spain border, where we had to get off the bus, claim our bags, drag them across the border, through Spanish customs and security, and then load them and ourselves back on the bus. Off we went to Malaga. As much as this is a lovely drive along the coast, our bus was so loaded with people, and pulling a trailer full of luggage no less, that we didn't ever break the speed limit of 100 k/h as we slowly chugged our way along. When we finally arrived at the airport in Malaga, we were offloaded - again, no explanation, no assistance, we just followed the rest of the sheep into the airport, where we joined a line of at least 200 people being served by 2 Easyjet agents. It took us an hour to get checked in again, and then off we went to the gate, where there was yet another long line to get onto the plane, as the gate wasn't yet opened. We finally were boarded and the cabin crew and Captain began a series of apologies and explanations, but by this time we had been waiting to leave for 8 hours. Someone at Easyjet decided to offer complimentary bar service, but because no one usually buys their crap, they ran out of food long before everyone was served. Arriving at Gatwick, we were put into a holding pattern, and then when we landed put onto another bus, into the terminal where we lined up one more time to get through British customs and immigration. From there we took a taxi to the Hotel I thought I had booked, an airport Marriott, paid 90GPB (equivalent to 180CND), only to find out that we were at the wrong Marriott - apparently there are 3 at Heathrow. Off we went, only to join the end of another line up to check in. I am so looking forward to getting home. Canada may have Stephen Harper to contend with, but like Dorothy, I'm going to be clicking my heals, closing my eyes as I say "There's no place like home".

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