Viaje a Espagña — The Bad Parts

The Fabulous Wife and I are back from Spain, and despite evidence that people don’t want to hear about a trip unless they’ve been to the destination themselves, I’ll spend the next few posts going on and on about what we saw in Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo, and Segovia.

To make that feel less braggy, I’ll start by sharing the frustrations we encountered.

Number One was flying. It’s never fun, but this time we felt baited-and-switched into a worse experience than usual. We booked with Iberia, Spain’s national airline, and expected conditions comparable to other European national airlines. What we didn’t know is that Iberia subcontracts many long flights to Level, a cut-rate carrier. There were no amenities on the flight — not even the peanuts and drink you get on an hour-long Southwest hop. Level won’t lift a finger until you grease its palm; almost every encounter with a flight attendant once the bulkhead door closes involves your credit card.

Number Two was jet lag. The worst jet lag is a twelve-hour time difference, which reverses day and night. Going from California to Spain scores a nine on that twelve-point scale. We’ve heard it takes one day to overcome each hour of time difference. In the past we’ve been able to shake off eight- or nine-hour differences in fewer than eight or nine days. Not this trip. We needed the full nine days, and often felt like zombies our first week in Spain.

Frustration Number Three may have flowed from Number Two: around the third day, The Fabulous Wife caught a cold, perhaps because the fatigue from jet lag compromised her immune system. The cold didn’t stop her, but it was hugely annoying, especially when she developed a loud, hacking cough that wouldn’t quit. At home, we’re not together 24/7, but on a trip like this there’s no escaping each other. So when she woke up at 3 in the morning coughing uncontrollably, she didn’t just deprive herself of much-needed sleep, she deprived me, too. And then, inevitably, I caught the cold.

Frustration Number Four exacerbated Number Three: does everybody and their brother smoke in Spain, or merely everybody? We couldn’t walk more than ten paces without inhaling second-hand smoke, which triggered our coughs. The Fabulous Wife found data suggesting more than a third of Spaniards smoke. The problem is that in public they’re all outdoors, because smoking is prohibited indoors. At cafés and restaurants — of which there are three or four each block — the smokers sit at outside tables. Warning: do not dine al fresco in Spain unless you find second-hand smoke enhances the taste of your food.

Frustration Number Five was returning to the United States. We were the first passengers off the flight home—and walked smack into an endless line of people waiting to get through Customs. We spent more than an hour amid weary travelers quietly — and sometimes not-so-quietly — seething over the delay. As we approached the head of the line, I took a quick shot of all the poor souls behind us.

The line literally went as far as the eye could see.

But we weren’t finished. We were next segregated into two new lines: one for American passport holders, one for “visitors.” It looked like the visitors’ line was barely moving at all. We at least were sent to automated passport readers that took our photos. Then we were commanded to join yet another line so a Customs agent could compare the photo to our passport photo and faces.

We have no hard evidence, but we suspect Frustration Number Five is a Trump Administration innovation. They hate foreigners, they hate cosmopolitan Americans, they hate San Francisco, and they politicize every federal function. Why wouldn’t they use Customs and Border Protection to make entering the country from SFO miserable?

So that’s the schadenfreude post. I’ll break our better times into three-minute bites so they don’t put you off too much.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.