Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Great Sea Voyage: Barcelona to Abu Dhabi

So, my friends, I promised you a new trip, and I apologize for making you wait. We got back just in time to step back into our normal Pensacola routines and then to whirl into the celebrations of Christmas. I like to plan, I like to execute, and I like to give myself time to process. It’s time to begin.

We chose this trip three years ago. We loved the destinations, and we loved the idea of this journey, especially going through the Suez Canal. We love the idea of visiting new places, and we loved the opportunity to revisit some old favorites, especially Wadi Rum, in Jordan, where we lived in another life.

The trip itself took three weeks. We went early to Barcelona. I had been to Barcelona for an international quilt show years ago and loved it; I’ve been so eager for AdventureMan to experience the aliveness of Barcelona. We chose to go a few days early to enjoy the city.

We were traveling with Oceania, a line we haven’t sailed with before. People handle air reservations differently; we choose to let the cruise line set up the travel so that if there are changes (and in the last three years we saw lots of changes) the cruise line is ultimately responsible for getting us where we need to go.

It’s tough giving up our autonomy. This time, it was a struggle, and we finally paid extra for “custom” reservations when they kept offering us bizarre routes we didn’t want to take. At one point, we had reservations that were direct, and we liked, and then they changed, again, because of an airline time change, and we found the new ones unacceptable. At some point, we gave up. We accepted a bizarre routing and the fact that we were responsible for getting ourselves to Atlanta and back, not such a big deal, except for when things change. Right?

This is how we were routed to Barcelona: (Pensacola) – Atlanta – Detroit – Paris – Barcelona.

And here are the bags I took, except at the last minute I took everything out of the backpack and put it in a duffel, not much bigger but the space was more flexible.

We decided to go minimal and to carry everything with us. It caused a lot of agonizing, but in the end, I had everything I needed. It was enough. I think carry-on is a great idea, except it is such a hassle, I like the luxury of checking a bag and carrying a purse and a book. Having had bags go missing so many times in my life (they always caught up with us – eventually), we opted for this illusion of control.

Our first travel day was, in almost every way, a breeze. Our son picked us up on his way to work and dropped us at the airport, giving us time for a leisurely breakfast after an uneventful check-in. The flight schedule was eccentric, even convoluted, but every flight left on time and came in minutes early. Our last two flights of the day were with Air France and were delightful.

Getting to Barcelona took almost two days. We flew from Pensacola to Atlanta on our dime and picked up our cruise-related reservations in Atlanta. We checked in and had time for lunch at PF Changs. Out of Atlanta, we flew to Detroit – I’d never been to Detroit before. I had never seen a Great Lake in person. I was blown away by the vastness of Lake Erie and Lake Superior – so HUGE. I thought of Detroit and its terrible water problem and crumbling infrastructure, surrounded by water, and it seemed so infinitely sad. 

Our flight out of Detroit was an Air France flight – we love Air France. Once we board an Air France, the vacation begins – they take such good of their passengers. 

We had a late dinner on board; Air France does a really cool thing. They serve an appetizer course, an entree, a dessert, and drinks. They also have an express meal which is just the appetizer, bread (with French butter, better than butter I have had anywhere else), and desserts, and the dessert course features really tiny tastes. We chose the express, and then curled up and went to sleep.

I usually sleep badly on planes, but on this flight, it was all grown-ups and somehow it was mostly very quiet. I remember vaguely hearing a bell once when the air got a little turbulent, but it only awakened me slightly and I went back to sleep. My quick breakfast was yogurt and fruit and coffee, and boom, we were at Charles de Gaulle.

Big difference from prior times. While we love Air France, we always dreaded the bag drag through CdG. In years past, there were crowds pushing and snaking for hours, people pushing in line, people crying that they were going to miss their flight – it was a kind of purgatory for travelers. This time, however, it was streamlined, a piece of cake. We had a close connection, which we made with time to spare. 

On the flight to Barcelona, we had a snack meal, and AdventureMan had wine, I had coffee. I asked for more, and Sophia, our flight attendant said “Oh, you like my coffee?” and I said “yes!” because it was really good. Then AdventureMan said “And I really like this wine” and she brought him a small bottle of white wine to take with him, then turned to me and said “And which wine would you like? White? Red?” and I chose a red Bordeaux, the start of our cabin collection since we don’t buy the ships drink package, but pay as we go.

We found the Oceania representative waiting outside the immigration door, and very shortly, she had us taken to our hotel with Ingrid and Juanita, who had also been on our flight. We heard Ingrid speaking harshly to Juanita, and Ingrid caught our exchanged glance and said “Oh I’m just bossy. Juanita is 92 and I have to keep her organized.”

While Juanita was toting two large bags, she might have a hearing problem and might need Ingrid’s explanations and organizing. I was amazed at how strong Juanita was.

This is a longer trip than we usually take, with a variety of temperatures. I have a small carry-on suitcase and a small duffel. They were not stuffed. Our airports are huge, however, and when you have to tote two bags from gate to gate, even take trains or underground trams and still walk a long way, those bags can get heavy. I told AdventureMan that it is different when we go West and wear jeans and casual clothes all the time and no one cares, a cruise ship is a different situation. If our future is carry-on, we will need to go on shorter cruises.

The upside is you just whiz through customs – no waiting around at the baggage carousel. So I like the carry-on idea, I just don’t like the reality of toting bags.

The limousine driver was kind and helpful and gave us lots of good information on the way to our hotel, the Hotel Barcelona Almanac.

December 23, 2022 - Posted by | Travel, Family Issues, Adventure, Customer Service, Geography / Maps, Experiment, Quality of Life Issues, Air France | , , , ,

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