Friday, March 6, 2015

This Camel's Straw

If I had a tugrug for every time I curse the person who came up with, "Getting there is half the fun," I'd be able to pay for my students' trip to Istanbul...

My trip to Greece over Tsagaan Sar ended up being even more of a mad dash than it was originally supposed to be.  The timing of it couldn't be helped - when Western and Eastern calendars magically line up, you have to seize the day and hope that everything goes according to plan.  It just so happened that in this case it didn't, exactly.

I arrived at the airport on February 19th to be greeted by one word, "CANCELLED."  Apparently it was snowing in Istanbul and for some reason this was a problem.  I've never had a flight outright cancelled, and lacking better coping mechanisms I sat down and cried a little before calling Enkhaa to ask if he could come back and get me.  While I was waiting, an airport worker came and told me I should go upstairs to the Turkish Airlines office, where I was told the next flight was on Saturday.  I told them I couldn't wait that long, and when they said they'd have to put me through Beijing or Seoul, I begged them to put me on the flight to Seoul that night.  They sent me away, promising to call and that they would try.  Four hours later I was booked on the next afternoon's flight through Beijing and would arrive 1.5 days later than I was supposed to, not to mention the fact that it meant I would be traveling with the Chinese, who are not my favorite seatmates, to say the least.  I was pissed but there was nothing I could do and 1.5 days late is better than 2, so I resigned myself to another day in UB.  Which had lovely weather for a change but even with the best weather is still not Greece.

The next day I came to the airport, checked in, and was faithfully waiting to board my flight, when it was announced to be delayed, and then five minutes later, cancelled.  SON OF A BITCH!  I joined the queue of people waiting to talk to Air China, and then figured, "Screw this, I'll call the guy from Turkish Airlines," who it turned out was on his way to the airport to deal with those of us who had been added to this flight.  The unfortunate people who were just going to Istanbul were switched to the next day's flight, which was predicted to leave 5 hours late and treated to a taxi ride back to a complimentary hotel.  I once again begged to be put on a flight to Korea - for once, Korean hadn't cancelled a flight when China had, and I can handle pretty much anything if I know there's a bath house in my immediate future - and this time succeeded.  In the end I would get to Athens two days late, but as long as I got to spend time with Bronte, got to stuff my face with Greek food, and got to go to Bourani, I could cope.

After my breakfast at Butterfinger Pancakes got #rekt by Seol Nal (they open late during Lunar.  Who knew?) I went back to Incheon to wait and wait and wait.  Boarding time came and went, while we waited on some sort of delay.  I was starting to get nervous, because I only had an hour in Istanbul to make my connection, but after 15 minutes, we started to board the plane.  And THEN we sat on the tarmac for at least another half hour, waiting to take off, which I figured basically destroyed my chances of making it to Athens that night.  As we flew over central Asia, I watched the clock and counted the minutes we made up.  I had the vaguest hope that maybe, just maybe, I might make it on my flight.  Probably not my luggage, which I was kicking myself for checking at that point, but again - Bronte, Greek food, Bourani, so life goes on.

It was 45 minutes to take off when the plane touched down and started to taxi out to the back 40, because apparently that's how Turkish Airlines rolls.  When we were finally deboarding I managed to get on the first shuttle, the classy one, and got into security 30 minutes before take-off, while the screens flashed, "FINAL CALL" on my flight.  I crammed my stuff into the bins, and of COURSE set off the buzzer when I went through the metal detector.  I explained to the frisk-ee lady that it was my shoes, so she made me take them off and go put them through the x-ray.  When I was finally cleared I started shoving things in my pockets, grabbed my boots, and ran off while someone was still trying to give me back a handful of paek-won coins that fell out on their way to my pocket.  Honestly lady, I don't give a crap about 50 cents.

I ran.  I ran through the main part of the airport, and ran down the moving walkway, until the treads hurt my socked feet enough to make me stop and slip on my boots - precious wasted time.  I ran and ran and ran until I got to the gate, number 303, where the staff replied to my breathless, agitated state with, "It's okay, one more shuttle is coming."  When the shuttle got there, I got on.  And then a member of the flight crew got on.  And then we went to the plane.  As we pulled away from the gate, I saw the entrance to security, a mere fifty feet away from the door I'd just walked through.  I made a mad dash across the airport, and the damn gate was RIGHT THERE.  And I was the last passenger to board, but that was okay, because Bronte and Greek food and Bourani.  So there.

As we were sitting and waiting to take off, the announcement came on that we were waiting for some luggage to be loaded.  Say whaaaaa?!?  Was there a possibility that one single thing would go right on this trip?????  I got to the baggage claim in Athens, and the answer was, "NO."  My luggage was not there.  I went to the luggage counter and made my claim, and after telling them I wouldn't be in Athens the next day was promised that they could put it on a bus to Larisa.  Finally, FINALLY I walked through the doors to see Bronte's sunshiney, smiling face.  And then we went to Gazi where we stayed out all night eating and drinking and talking before catching the first train to Larisa, and if I had no luggage it didn't matter, because I was in Greece, at long last, and we were in a compartment by ourselves so we could stretch out and sleep and after setting my phone to go off a half-hour before we should have arrived, we were gooooood.

Or she was, anyways.  I was jetlagged, which goes along with traveling and is just as well, because a half-hour before the alarm was set to go off, I poked my head up to see which station we were coming to, and it turned out to be Larisa.  I nudged Bronte awake, asking if this was our Larisa, and we shoved our boots on as we grabbed our backpacks and hopped off the train.

Let me just stop here for a minute to say that in spite of being very good friends with Bronte and having worked together for almost three years in South Korea, we have only traveled together once, on a very tightly controlled Adventure Korea trip to Geumgangsan in North Korea.  After the luck I had during this trip, she may never want to try it again.  I have had the occasional bout of bad travel karma, particularly when it comes to delayed flights (even without throwing Mongolia into it), but it has never, EVER been this bad.  It's possible that my jealous God didn't really want me going to Dionysos' revels, but what can I say?  I've gotten good at kicking against the pricks lately.  And since that last sentence sounds a lot less religious in this context than it was meant to, I guess it's time to move on.

After sitting down for a few minutes in the cafe at the station, we decided to go to the Hotel Achillion, which I'd booked and then cancelled in a panic because I thought I was going to get stuck in Mongolia.  Here, at last, was a ray of sunshine - the old papous who ran the hotel noticed that I had booked it, cancelled, and then showed up anyway, and the 30 or so euro that were forfeit because of my late cancellation he applied to our bill when we left.  It was not a luxury hotel, because that's not how we roll, but it was clean and convenient and they served a good breakfast which Bronte assured me was Clean Monday appropriate and were helpful.  Even if they hadn't put the cancellation toward the bill, I would have been happy with the Achillion.

And hallelujah! - the wifi worked!  When we got to the room I called on my skype credit to the baggage company (Bronte's phone had stopped working some time the night before...possibly my bad luck striking again).  Yes, my luggage had arrived!  Yes, they could deliver it Larisa!....but not until Tuesday, thanks to the holiday. took me a minute to process this...

Well, I guessed I'd just have to pick it up that day on my way back to Mongolia and I'd be spending pretty much five days straight in the same clothes and stinky because Bronte didn't have deodorant because she didn't USE deodorant because of her awesome Korean genes but that's okay because BRONTE AND GREEK FOOD AND BOURANI!!!!!!!!

And it was.  We had a great time and talked pretty much non-stop for three days and ate some good food - buyurdi is my new Greek love - and after one last dinner in the shadow of the Parthenon on Tuesday evening, we went back to the airport so I could claim my luggage.  I followed the instructions - went to Info, went through a door, picked up a phone, went through another door, was sent to get my suitcase and tried to go back the same way.  And I finally, FINALLY lost my shit when the lady told me I couldn't.  No.  I had to go ALL THE FUCKING WAY DOWN TO CUSTOMS AND COME ALL THE FUCKING WAY BACK TO MEET BRONTE.  I don't think she understood the severity of the situation - that this was the worst travel experience of my life to date, and why the hell did I need to go through customs when I was just going to take the damn thing upstairs to re-check it???  I, however, did - I was in a secure area of the airport and if I went nuclear at that point like I really wanted to, I was pretty likely to find myself enjoying the hospitality of Greece on an extended basis, and although I'm sure the food in Greek prisons is probably better than anywhere else in the world, I didn't really want to find out.  So I stomped off, swearing under my breath, and after putting on deodorant and putting on fresh new clothes for the first time since leaving Mongolia, I made Bronte go with me to get my hair chopped off at the airport salon, which was surprisingly good (in fact, she decided to go ahead and get her Emeli Sande haircut there this month on her way to the States) and actually calmed me down a lot.  Which is good, because I still had three hops including a long layover to get me back to Mongolia.

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