Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Off to Valencia

Well, it’s been more that a while since I had a travel experience worth writing about - almost exactly a year to the day to be precise. But here we are, once again on the other side of the globe, reporting from an exotic locale and on the verge of a grand adventure.

The planning for this trip involved lots of postulating, planning, thinking and more postulating. It began as a trip to Ireland and ended as a voyage to Spain. Instead of lots of hotels, it was crafted to rely on apartments. Domestic connecting flights were replaced by high speed rail and while all of it was done on- line, it still required talking to actual people and exchanging lots of email. In other words, a complex web of commitments, times and locations that required everything to come together precisely. With that in mind we headed to The Sunport on Monday the 2nd and grabbed a quick flight to Dallas. Part one came off without a hitch and despite a gut wrenching ride on the intra-terminal Skylink we found ourselves enjoying a nice lunch at Au Bon Pain with plenty of time to spare. This was our first time on American in Business Class, so we were kind of excited to see how it compared to the old love of my life, United. Overall I’d say there is no reason to change favorite airlines other than better flights and times because American came up short in a variety of areas. The food was odd, especially in lieu of a recent article in the Times extolling the great lengths airlines are going to in order to keep their big ticket fliers happy, using celebrity chefs and offering fancy nouvelle cuisine. We found the food strange, my meal being a combination of chile and curry that resulted in a very spicy chicken breast (still on the bone) that I can’t imagine anyone who didn’t like their mouth incinerated would take a fancy too. My Lovely Wife’s ravioli was more like a brown gravy stew than a pasta dish, failing to be good at either. A very strange stab at being interesting that left me wondering what we will eat on the return trip.

We had a bit of a start when it became obvious that there was no entertainment device on the back of the seats in front of us, another unusual thing for a premium cabin. That fear turned out to be unjustified – they have removed all the traditional screens and now offer a Samsung Galaxy tablet computer, preloaded with movies. Not a bad idea aside from the power cords that don’t stay plugged in and a case that doesn’t stay upright. Couple those with no access to Flight Tracker , and once again we have an idea that didn’t quite make it to good. At the end of the flight it was entertaining to watch the attendants ask each passenger two or three times if they had handed in their device and power cable since one seemed to be missing. I will say that the complementary Bose headphones were a pleasant surprise. I didn’t even need to worry about mine running out of juice.

American has not yet upgraded to lie flat seats, instead opting for a version that has tons of adjustment buttons, none of which quite get you where you want to be. I ended up trying to sleep on my side which sort of worked apart from a flight attendant waking me up by using a coat hanger to close my window shade (even tho it was night outside) and another getting into an argument with a passenger who wasn’t supposed to be hiking around my cabin. I took a break from trying to sleep and spent some time looking out the window just in time to see New York City pass below us. I watched until we passed Orient Point before curling up again and trying to nod off. In order to prevent my legs from free-falling off of the reclined seat, I used my toes to grab onto the edge of the magazine shelf which led me to strange dreams of sitting in trees and peeling bananas with my feet.

It was rainy in Madrid when we arrived so we didn’t get to see a lot of the countryside until we were down low. Barajas Airport is very interesting in its modern Euro design and in the amount of escalators and corridors we had transverse before reaching Customs, where no one seemed to care about our intentions at all. A quick stamp and we were in a taxi on our way to Puerta de Atocha station for our connection to Valencia. We had a nice conversation with the driver, a fellow from Segovia who wanted to hear me speak Chinese. The next three hours were spent drinking coffee and people watching in the station before boarding the train for an on time departure. Traveling by rail at 300KPH is such a nice thing to do, far better than trying to catch another flight. The countryside rolled by, in and out of rain showers, until we reached Valencia just before 4 pm. After another nice cab driver who graciously made a phone call to our landlord when we couldn’t find our apartment building , we were standing on a balcony looking out over the Barrio Carmen in the old city.

Trips of this duration always leave you feeling like none of it ever happened. Staying up for 24 hours is never good on your thought processes and then trying to stay awake for another 4 just piles on the mental confusion. We killed those last 4 wandering up and down the narrow streets, taking in all the sights along with a short meal of tapas, wine and frozen yogurt. Enough for tonight, tomorrow we begin browsing in earnest.











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