Friday, October 27, 2006

To Dubrovnik And Out

I was standing at sea level and the old town of Dubrovnik was also standing at sea level, but about a mile and a half away. Why not walk over there? The map showed a spaghetti of streets joining and separating from each other, but it looked pretty straitforward.

Except that the street I was on started to go uphill. So I switched to a parallel one. Which also started going uphill. So I switched to a third... By the end of it all I was about 500 feet above sea level and looking down at the tallest tower of the highest old city wall.

So I worked my way down to approximately sea level and entered through the main gate. For once the layout of the old town was not cutesty random alleyways but rather one main 'street' with many smaller lanes going off at exact right angles. The architecture was kind of Venetian provincial, but not terribly dramatic. So it was clear that it was the much bigger and better than Disneyland walls themselves that were the big draw.

And, finally, at the end of the journey, I was in the middle of tourist bedlam, albeit a tourist bedlam on Monday in the off season. For here were all the people from the Carnival Cruise Line and all those other bohemoth ships waiting offshore. It wasn't quite surreal, it being the off season, but it was getting there. And I didn't quite know what to think of all these fat pasty tourists: On the one hand they were getting out and seeing some of the world, on the other hand, the very mass tourist enterprise that they were part of was preventing them from experiencing what the rest of the world was really like.

And it was clear that at least some of the Dubrovnikiaks who were serving them had developed certain attitude problems. Which meant that they didn't really get to see what most former Yugoslavians behaved like in the real world.

And when I found my way back to my room, I discovered that the nice lady I had met at the bus station was now trying to charge be $10 to take me back there in the morning. I got a little heated and told her that hadn't been the deal. So then she whimpered and asked for $5, etc., etc. Finally I told her I wasn't paying her for the room until I was physically back at the bus station. Since I was now going to sleep in their house, that made for a slight bit of discomfort.

But not really for me, because, first, I was just too tired at this point, and, second, I had to pack for tomorrow. Which I did.

The next morning she whimpered again, but I held firm, and soon I was deposited at the depot and her husband had the 20 Euro in his hand. I now checked my baggage until the afternoon, walked over to the bus stop, and took the easy way back to the old city.

Many more cruise tourists and others. I paid the $10 to get up on the wall, and then did a leisurely two mile stroll along the ramparts, looking out to the turquoise sea, down at the red-tiled rooftops, up at the slate grey and green mountains. Once again, it was hard to compete with the setting.

Then a few more hours wasting time down with the tourists, then the city bus back to the intercity depot, from whence departed the bus for the airport.

My clever idea for the return flight was to get a relatively cheap airfare to Dublin, and then a $400 one way ticket to Albuquerque from there, saving over $120 from the airport fees that London would have charged. Yes, I would get in at around 11 pm and have to wait around until 9 the next morning, but I figured that I could just stretch out and catch a little shuteye in the deserted departure area.

As the plane was about 10 minutes over the Adriatic Sea it suddenly occured to me that there was no way that the Delta ticket counter would be open at 11 pm, and that therefore there was no way I was going to be able to get into the departure area. Not only that, but, wow, do they squash a lot of people into a little space on those cheap European airlines. And if you want a cup of water it's 2 Euro.

So we landed in Dublin, my fears were confirmed, and I found myself at 11 pm calling all the hotels listed on their Phone A Hotel board. The best deal I could find was the Holiday Inn Express for $120. Either that or sit upright with all the other losers in the arrival hall all night.

They said they had a courtesy shuttle, so I went looking for the pickup point. Apparently it was out the back, off to the right a football field or so, and then out in the middle of a dark parking lot. And, oh yeah, it was in the forties, there was drenching rain, and a bitter wind, and I was dressed for Dubrovnik.

There was one other unfortunate traveler standing in the rain waiting, and off in the downpour we could see that a courtesy van was right ahead. It obviously saw us, and then took off. We just stood there getting soaked not believing it.

Then a couple of minutes later it came back. Apparently it had just picked up a Lufthansa flight crew, and regulations said... But then the Lufthansa captain, in his generous Teutonic spirit, allowed the driver to go back and pick us up.

I got to the super modern hotel, gritted my teeth while I paid them the money, and went up to my luxurious room. In which I immediately conked out and awoke 7 hours later.

Now back to the airport. Where the flight was over an hour late. Then on to the plane, where I had the minor surprise of being put in a Business Class seat. There was the annoying little point of pointlessly stopping in Shannon for over two hours, but the rest of the seven hour flight was enjoyably passed.

But by the time we got to New York we were two hours behind schedule. Which should have been all right, since I had a three hour layover. But then it took Delta over forty minutes to unload the baggage, which we then had to wheel through Customs and give back to Delta for forwarding.

And my cheap ticket actually went forward on Continental. Which was in another terminal. And JFK is a dirty, grimy, chaotic mess. So I now had to find my way, in the rain, out of Terminal 3 and over to Terminal 4, which was neither easy nor straightforward.

Okay. I got to Terminal 4. And there in the midst of hundreds of airline ticket booths was one lonely Continental one. You see, Continental only has 5 flights a day out of JFK. And mine to Houston was the last one. I ran up and asked the smarmy guy at the desk what gate my flight left from.

He answered smarmily that the flight was already closed. I said, there's still 27 minutes. He said it closed 30 minutes before, and anyway it wasn't HIS fault that Delta was incompetent. I stood there partially fuming and partially trying to figure out a way around this. Then another lady from a Dubai flight came up, with baggage, with the same problem. He was giving her the same line when I said, Aha!, My baggage is already checked. And, See, I already have a boarding card.

So he lazily dials his superior and gets permission for me, and then smarmily says, Well, you have 18 minutes, and it's a long way, so I don't think you'll make it.

Not make it? I had no choice. Not only didn't I want to spend $200 on a New York hotel, only to have to endlessly hassle new flights tomorrow, but I was tired and I wanted to go home. I started running.

Across the giant terminal to the escalator. Then along the ridiculous length of the terminal, at least three city blocks. Running, running, running. Oh, and now the security check.

Not too many people in line. I rushed to unload about five pockets full of crap and untie my shoes. I piled it all into one tray, stuck the tray in front of everyone else's, and walked through the detector hoping against hope that no one would notice my suspicious behavior. Then I feverishly tried to simultaneously stuff things in my pockets and put my shoes back on.

Now more running. Of course the plane was at the last gate, and now there were at least three more city blocks to run. Part of me was looking down at it all, and noting how ridiculous it was for me to have to be doing this. But I HAD to.

I got there 6 minutes ahead of departure time. Nonetheless they closed the door behind me and immediately started taxiing. And then sat there for 30 minutes waiting for clearance.

I kind of collapsed in the seat, even though I wasn't terribly out of breath. The relevant point to me was that, although one can overtax the system when one is 25, and the system recovers, at some point I'm going to do something stupid like this and keel over.

Of course, even though it was 4 pm in New York, I was still living at 11 pm Croatian time. And by the time I had gotten to Houston and waited around for a couple of hours I wasn't any better rested. So by the time I finally got on the Albuquerque flight I was pretty much a zombie.

Which was too bad, because it looked like an interesting couple were sitting next to me. No matter. I conked out.

So I'm in the rest room at the ABQ airport, and the guy who had been sitting next to me said, Boy, you were really conked out. And we talk a little. And I ask him where in ABQ he lives, and he says, he's just here for the conference. And I say, What conference? And he says, the biology teachers conference.

So The next morning at 9 am I'm on the phone to the exhibits person for the NABT, and I arrange to buy a discounted booth, and then we're feverishly loading t-shirts into boxes and driving into town, and by 4 pm we're in back in business.

And my round the world escap(e)ade is in the rear view mirror.

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