"b1bob's unusual trip to Madrid" Madrid by b1bob
Madrid Travel Guide: 5,306 reviews and 10,727 photos
GETTING THERE IS HALF THE BATTLE
I am the first person at George Mason University to complete study abroad programmes in French and Spanish. In the summer of 1989, I studied French in Nice. The following summer, I studied Spanish in Madrid. Both trips were fun and eventful. I learned more from both of those study abroad trips than I did the whole 4 years on the Fairfax, Virginia campus. They say getting there is half the battle. The trip to Nice was a pillow fight, but the trip to Madrid was the Battle of Cold Harbor.
I want you to picture this to get the full flavour. It was Saturday 30 June 1990 and my parents said goodbye to me for what they thought would be the last time in 50 days (the month in Madrid plus two more weeks in other countries on a Eurailpass). The following Monday, they were also off to Europe with a group of students and teachers from Lee-Davis High School. Mama and Daddy helped chaperone a student trip abroad.
On the way to Madrid, a rare series of events came together which made me, at one point, consider very strongly forgetting about the whole trip to Madrid. I took the Groome Transport shuttle to Washington National Airport, reported in, and checked my luggage with plenty of time to spare. Right as I was on deck to be tended, the computer systems went down. My travel agent provided my ticket, but not my boarding pass. I was a prime candidate to be bumped in case of overbooking.
Sure enough, that's what they did. They bumped me from TWA 700, Washington National to Kennedy Airport. I looked at catching another plane of another airline to New York, but its arrival in New York was too close to the departure of TWA 904 bound for Madrid. If I had taken the gamble and missed my plane in New York, TWA would not be responsible for putting me up. I figured I had better go for the sure thing by spending the night in the Washington suburbs at a hotel courtesy of TWA. Although my luggage made the flight I missed, I had a change of clothing in my carry-on for just such an emergency (which I thought, up to that point, would never happen to me in a million years).
I was plenty miffed at first, but I got a free room and food vouchers out of the deal. So, I took the shuttle coach to the Howard Johnsons at Crystal City. After getting settled in, I rung my parents at a time, which, under normal circumstances, I would have been well over the Atlantic Ocean. I started off saying, "Mama, I've got some good news and I've got some bad news." I continued, "The good news is, I made it to Washington all right. The bad news is, they bumped me from my flight." (I didn't mean to rhyme there.) So, Mama rung the study abroad coordinator so she could inform the folks in Madrid that I would be late. So, having done all I could do, I relaxed and got only a fitful night sleep. I could do neither because I knew I was not supposed to be in Crystal City, Virginia.
Sunday 1 July 1990, I took the first shuttle to Washington National and arranged to be on TWA 410, which was to leave at 2.10. I would have a full 5 hours layover and I was confident that nothing short of an apocalypse could keep me off that flight to Madrid that night. Everything was moving on LIKE AN ALL DAY SINGING WITH DINNER ON THE GROUNDS (everything was moving on well). There were a few clouds in the sky when I boarded the plane, but that didn't bother me. If we took off on time, we could beat this thing. However, they saw fit to dawdle between the control tower and the crew. We were sitting on the runway when the sky opened up. I mean, there was thunder, lightning, and wind strong enough to rock a Boeing 727 on the runway as if it were a baby carriage. The pilot announced the wind velocity at 66 mph (100 km/h). Even then, I was not worried. I would still have 4 hours' layover...NO PROBLEM! An hour or so later, we took off and I figured an hour delay with a storm that size, NOT BAD!
However, when it came time to land in New York, we were in something of a holding pattern. The storm appeared to follow the exact northeastern route we took. When we got low on fuel, we refueled, not at Newark or Philadelphia, but to Washington's Dulles Airport. So, it took another hour down, an hour or so on the ground, and another hour back. It was at that point I started to get a little bit concerned. I reasoned that since the storm socked in Kennedy Airport, I would be the benificiary of the backlog. So, I calmly deplaned at Kennedy Airport. I had to fetch my luggage from the claim area, and get back to the international building. I arrived to the gate expecting TWA 904 to be there, but it had just left. It was so close I probably would have just made it if I didn't have to go around Abraham's barn to fetch my luggage. At that point, I was turning red, almost yelling, screaming, and jumping up and down like you see on cartoons (most often by Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd). It is important to note that I wasn't mad at anybody in particular because it was nobody's fault, not even my own. However, I was all for forgetting this trip, going home, and going fishing! I would have done that too if a guy named Saul hadn't told me how many people I'd be disappointing by torpedoing the trip. It turns out, Saul and his group were in the same dilemma. They missed an El-Al flight to Tel Aviv where they would take a religious retreat in Israel. So, I made another "good news, bad news" call home. "Mama, I've got some good news and I've got some bad news..." This time she filled in, "I know, you made it to New York, but you missed your flight." I chimed in, "Right, it came up a bad cloud which totally shot my 5-hour layover." She said she would ring Mrs. Ball again and have her tell my people in Madrid what happened. Since Mama's group was passing through Kennedy airport on TWA the following day, we made plans to meet in the international building long about 5.00 on Monday. Saul talked me into joining his group at the J.F.K. Hilton, where TWA put us up for the night. We stayed up all night playing games and just hanging around. I wouldn't have been able to sleep anyhow, knowing I wasn't where I was supposed to be- I don't care for New York.
Monday 2 July 1990, I was confident that nothing could keep me off TWA 904 bound for Madrid. It was a day of "hurry up and wait". We had to be out of the hotel by 12.00, but the plane didn't take off until 8.00. So, there was 8 hours of dead time (really 5 because my parents and their Lee-Davis entourage would be landing at 5.00 to liven things up a bit). After all the excitement of the previous two days, some dullness was a welcome change. After checking in at the TWA desks (only to find I was too early), I strolled on down to the El-Al building to say goodbye to Saul and his group. Although their plane didn't leave until about the time mine did, they had to undergo more rigourous security scrutiny, so I came not a moment too soon. After hours of walking about, buying key chains for Javier, who has a collection you wouldn't believe, and doing crossword puzzles, my parents finally came just after their appointed time. We took supper at one of the overpriced Kennedy Airport restaurants. I talked not only with my parents, but with Betty Ann Aylor and her mother Florence (Betty Ann is a science teacher at Stonewall Jackson Middle School; I knew her but I didn't have her in class- Florence was a substitute teacher I had from time to time). Mama gave me some extra money because she thought I needed it. Of course I didn't volunteer that I didn't. We then were off to our gates. It was only upon queuing up at the gate that I was sure I would be on the flight. While in queue, I met a guy from Madrid who was a returning exchange student. He and I talked the whole way to Madrid (who can sleep in economy class?).
Tuesday 3 July 1990, I arrived in Madrid looking like two miles of bad road. I hadn't had any real sleep since the night of 29 June 1990. In spite of all that, I had to find my way to the Universidad Complutense, get my classes straight, and cash some of my traveler's cheques. After eating lunch at 1.00 (Madrid time) that was the end of me until the next morning, my first day of classes. From then on, I woke up fresh and was fully accustomed to the time change.
I am glad I did not succumb to that very real temptation, in that moment of anger at missing my second flight in as many days, to call the whole thing off, going home and going fishing. Once I arrived on European soil, I had fun from start to finish. I learned a lot in my classes and from other students. I made a point of associating mainly with the Spanish students who were there studying other things, as many other Americans in my group stuck mainly to themselves, speaking English outside of class. Aside from practicing Spanish, I made a number of friends- many of whom I keep contact with to this day. On weekends, I went by Eurail once to Lisbon and twice to Barcelona to visit friends. After my studies were over, I didn't go home straightaway. I spent a week in France and a week and a half in Germany to visit friends and work on my skills in French and German. I owe all the new knowledge and all the fun to my friend Saul who talked me into pressing on with this trip.
- Pros:Nice, friendly people.
- Cons:Hot as a tar road in Tennessee during the summer.
- In a nutshell:Y'all come!
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