The last couple days of travel were rough, but when you look at the view from our balcony, they were oh, so worth it.
Thursday, I worked a normal day, starting at 0830 with the morning hangout. At around noon, I went out for lunch (posted earlier), then got back to work. I worked until about 1730, when I switched to getting ready for travel.
I found time to wash my clothes, which had me walking around the hotel in nothing but a t-shirt and a towel with nothing under it, barefoot. I bet that would have surprised anyone who saw me.
Unfortunately, I was still pretty beat from being sick most of the week, and my pre-travel procrastination was rearing its evil head. I had planned to be up at 0100 Friday morning to shower and get breakfast. At 2100, I realized I probably wasn't going to be sleeping. I convinced myself that just meant I'd sleep more on the planes. While this was possibly true, I don't recommend going into 30 hours of travel on no sleep. By the time I reached the airport in Valencia, any cast member of The Walking Dead would have been well justified in shooting first and asking questions later.
I finally finished packing everything around 0030. I took a shower, shaved, dressed, and went out for breakfast. I dressed for travel with pants, t-shirt, huarachas, and a hoodie. I do not understand what possesses me to prepare for the possibility of being cold. My comfort zone is so much lower than anyone I've ever met that I'm beginning to believe if it is habitable by modern humans, I won't be cold. Anyway, yeah, I wore a hoodie.
The weather was odd. It wasn't exactly raining, but everything was wet, and water was coming down from the sky, and from the buildings. It was like a mist, except with giant drops of water. Not really enough to call rain, but still, everything stayed mostly soaked.
On the way to Daisy Duke's Express where I had planned breakfast, a homeless man tried to panhandle me for something to help him eat. I told him I couldn't help him with money, but that I was on my way to get food if he wanted to come. He seemed bemused by the proposition but joined me. This was how I became Greg for the next ninety minutes or so.
Harold had never been inside the restaurant. I don't think he was comfortable. In the end, the only thing I could get him to order was water, and that in itself was an achievement. I ended up ordering a gyro (excellent), and a breakfast sandwich (terrible), thinking maybe I could get him to eat the breakfast sandwich. It turns out that he doesn't eat cheese. Honestly, I don't blame him. This was toast, with two slices of american cheese, topped by a good fried egg, over medium, another slice of toast, two more slices of american cheese, and two smallish sausage patties. If the american cheese hadn't been there, I probably would have liked it, but the sea of half melted processed plastic was unappealing.
A man overheard my conversation with Harold, and heard me say that I had been in the Navy. This man was apparently a retired gunnery sergeant in the Marines. Now, I'm not saying he wasn't, but most Marines I've known are pretty clear on the difference between attention and parade rest.
I want to be clear. I was in the Navy from 1990 through 1995. I was not an ideal, or a typical member of the military. I memorized ranks and the chain of command in boot camp, then promptly forgot them. I really only ever cared about one thing, do I salute, and beyond that, never saw that rank much mattered. Add to it that it's been 20 years since I was discharged, and I can't remember a bloody thing about ranks and insignia.
Mr. Retired kept saying things like, "you'll know the significance of ...," which was inevitably followed by something I had no idea what it's significance was. Eventually, he tired of commiserating with me over our time in service, and left me (Greg) and Harold to our conversation. It was a few minutes later, when Mr. Retired was standing at a particularly rigid parade rest, something I'm quite used to seeing from Marines, and he declared to his brother, "I'm standing at attention. We don't talk at attention." I mentally shrugged my shoulders, and continued my breakfast.
Harold was an inquisitive sort, and asked me all sorts of questions as I ate. His memory wasn't quite what it once had been though, and some questions were asked repeatedly. He did ask my name once, but when he settled on Greg as my name 30 seconds later, I went with it.
Our conversation touched on politics, current events, and finally devolved around religion. I occasionally insisted on clarifying things, such as Darwin not being who suggested the big bang. Nor did he say man was descended from fish. I can be absurdly pedantic about incorrectly attributing things.
I finished breakfast, paid, then started back to the hotel. Before we parted ways, I gave Harold the rest of my cash from my wallet, $15.
I made it back to the hotel room at about 0245. I had an alarm set for 0300 because I had a taxi scheduled for 0330. I managed to nap for a bit, then at 0315, I checked out of the hotel and waited for my taxi who took me to the airport.
The conversation in the taxi was interesting and engaged as well. Apparently the flooding of the streets of New Orleans is solved by pumps. They aren't on all the time, so right after weather starts, there is some flooding, but usually within an hour or two, the flooding is gone. I guess it was my impatience that led to my aqueous adventures in the streets.
At the airport, I couldn't get the automated kiosk to work, so I waited for people to show up at the desk. When someone did, he grilled me about entry requirements for Spain. He said he was supposed to make sure I wasn't going to have any problems at JFK later. I ended up booking a plane ticket from Barcelona to Dublin in June for about $75 to use as proof of intent to depart. I wish I could tell the man that his fears were unfounded. No one asked me a single question about anything related to my stay, up to and include the customs people in the Valencia airport.
My first flight was New Orleans to John F Kennedy airport in New York. I had a couple hours layover at JFK, then took a 10 hour flight on Turkish Air to Istanbul. The layout of the seats in the economy section were 2, 4, 2. I was blessed with an inner seat in the 4. Fortunately, the other inner seat ended up being unoccupied after the industrious man next to it found a more comfortable arrangement for its occupant. That helped quite a bit.
In Istanbul, I ended up having a 5 hour layover. We landed right around 0600, having compressed an entire day, night cycle into 10 hours by flying into the sunrise. My body was not fooled. On landing, I went in search of my next gate. Unfortunately, the terminals in the Istanbul airport only show 1-2 hours of departures. As my plane was not scheduled to depart until 1055, it didn't even make it onto the board until 0840, and didn't have an assigned gate until 0855. I completely failed to navigate the Turkish internet sign in pages, and my phone was not aware networks existed, so I spent the time in a communications blackout. Finally, a gate was assigned and I began my trek to the gate.
The walk from gate 207 (where I had guessed my flight might end up) to gate 325 (where it actually ended up) was long, surprising, and educational. As I get tired and cranky, I start to get more stubborn. I refused to use the motorized walkways by that point, so I traveled every foot of the distance manually. Along the way, I passed kiosks, cafes, many travelers and gates, a mosque, and a couple acres of shopping mall. I'm not even joking. Literally dozens of shops, including Victoria's Secret, and a Hugo Boss outlet, and at least 3 full scale restaurants. I am not even kidding when I say I've seen entire outlet malls with a smaller footprint, and all of it was duty free.
My last flight was about 4 hours, wedged into the window seat of a 3 & 3 short haul plane. The sun was beating on the window the entire time, and I cooked my shoulder. I had already been traveling for 24 hours by the time I boarded, and I was cranky, miserable, and felt sick to my stomach for the whole flight. I drank a lot of water, and avoided all offers of food.
When we landed in Valencia, I started trying to connect to the internet. From the runway, I had 1 bar of "Free Airport Wifi". The process of signing in on that included, "watch this 20 second advertisement to get 30 minutes of free internet," which wouldn't play because I had no internet. I continued fighting with this and finally managed to view the ad just before showing my passport to customs in Spain. The man looked at my passport, stamped it, then waved me through. Zero hassle. Clearly, this man has not played Papers, Please. Inside, I waited for my bag, which was among the first to show up on the carousel, then headed for the exit. At the exit, there were two ways to go, one that said declarations, and the other that said nothing to declare. I shrugged, and walked through nothing to declare. I found my friend waiting for me right outside.
We headed to a kiosk where I purchased a new, local SIM card for local internet access, 1 GB of bandwidth for $15. My friend helped me set up the local service on my phone as well. This was when I learned my friend and his dad (visiting from the States) were planning to go to Gibraltar. I was game with only one condition. I had to either get a shower, or go to a beach. We chose beach, and I spent a few minutes swimming in the Mediterranean Sea before we tried to find our way to Gibraltar. Unfortunately, a confluence of events to which I added some frustration culminated in us going back to Chulilla for the day instead of driving across Spain to Gibraltar. I feel bad for my part, but I'm thankful for last night's rest, and for the chance to walk around Chulilla and get some groceries.
Now, I'm here in Chulilla (which I think is pronounced chew lee yah), and I feel like I won Christmas.