Solo Travel, Part 1: the Airlines & Lisbon

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Traveling and vacationing are two different things. At least it seems vacationing should be relaxing and as stress free as possible. Of course that’s rarely true as getting yourself and your necessary belongings to an, often, unfamiliar place in order to sleep in an unfamiliar bed and eat unfamiliar food is not always as fun as you thought it might be. Surprise.

That’s why many people regularly vacation at the same spot where everything is familiar. But, travel is designed to bring you into new experiences. I imagine that’s why many people go on group tours or even cruises where the unfamiliar is reduced by proportional percentages. On a cruise, you get your own room which moves with you and meal choices based on what you already stipulated was familiar to you.

So here is an account of my latest Travel “Adventure.”

When I pulled my bag from the carousel in the Lisbon airport, I noticed it was soaking wet, my first observation of sunny Portugal was that it was not. On my brief guided tour segment of this trip, the guide kept repeating that this was unusual weather. I had looked it up and found that the mid 70’s was the norm for most of Portugal for the first half of June, but it was decidedly chilly and damp. [welcome to climate change=unpredictability]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VJY97l0jVA 

Dire warnings of overly hot weather never came true. By the time I actually caught up to summer weather, which, admittedly only arrived days before me, I was in the Algarve, the little tourist city of Tavira, to be exact and it had become deliciously warm, even a ittle hot.

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Tavira in the Algarve

Airlines & the Inquisition

But let’s go back a bit because I always marvel at airlines’ ability to make air travel as uncomfortable as possible. First, they warn you to arrive a day or two before your plane is due to taxi the runway endlessly. A slight exaggeration but is there a reason that all planes have to attempt to take to the air at the same time and then airline personnel expect you to arrive hours preflight so that airports can make you wait in labyrinthine lines which snake slowly on the linoleum while denying you even a cup of water?

IMG_2018-06-09_21-11-11And then because the flights are scheduled on top of each other (a scary visual to be sure,) you gotta sit on the tarmac and wait out the actual take off in a line with the other air tubes, then taxi around, then rev up, then taxi some more. Ah…by the time of actual takeoff, you are already in a paroxysm of muscle spasms due to the Inquisition-style seats and the fact that you have only a centimeter between you and your seat mates meaty arm.

The seats were designed to cause maximum pain and then reduced by 30%, all the while we have expanded by 40%.  Your lower back is sunk into your tailbone while your head is forced to jut forward and down. You then have to force it back up at much cost to your spinal health in order to view the little TV on which reside memories of earth as you knew it or knew it if you lived in Glendale in the early 60’s or the Village in the late 60’s in an enormous loft. But I digress.

I carry multiple pillows, some plush and some designed for inflation at the point when my oxygen supply has been reduced to barely breathing. I scour the internet looking for travel pillows and other accessories most of which I send back almost as soon as they arrive, some make it onto the plane with me but rarely make it off. If I were allowed scissors on the air tubes, I would have angrily slashed them to pieces before abandoning them in the seatback. But by some miracle the airline folks always seem to discover them in time to remind me of my loss. Let me not mention all the things that have actually been unwittingly left behind. I’ve already forgotten them.

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multiple pillows can fit in or around my backpack

Anyway, lines, surprise staircases, powdered creamer, multiple seized water bottles (yes in one airport after you have purchased yet another water bottle, they take it at the next gate,) kindles that inexplicably refuse to work and, why oh why don’t airline seats come with foot rests? It became far easier to focus on the brief interlude I had between planes always reduced by extravagant taxiing, I found myself racing then riding to my next air tube so that I could wait for my group which is always Group 3 or 4. Ok, one other airline query (yeah, like they’re going to read this,) why is my gate always the last or next to last one? Don’t they use the others?

Enough about flying or too much already, eh, like childbirth, it’s best forgotten or, you know, the species dies out. Arrival-I run around the airport looking for the Rick Steves designated departure area so I can get the good cabbies, ha, never found that so just got in line and it was fine. The way that driver scooted around traffic woke my bleary eyes right up and gave me someone new to respect…or fear. 20180606_212447 (1)

I arrive at my little hotel and it even had an elevator, after you climbed one short staircase, which is why I use only a carry-on which I check and a backpack which I store under my aching feet. No matter how many weeks I’m away, I still come back with at least one shirt I didn’t wear and I always chuck something I didn’t have the heart to at home on my laundry chair (don’t pretend you don’t know what that is.)

My hotelier offers me breakfast even though I’m officially not yet his guest and a map full of suggestions I’m almost too exhausted to contemplate. I inevitably go off in the wrong direction or take the wrong tram but since I didn’t get pickpocketed and eventually found my way home, I considered it all a rousing success. 20180607_200537 (1)

The next day I stumbled around in the rain, not realizing you have to open the train door yourself, doesn’t open automatically, and I began to wonder what the heck I was up to and why the heck I was traveling alone.

But by the next day, I had become the tour guide to some friends from the Bay Area whom I never see there but who had just arrived in Lisbon the day after me-thanks to a facebook tag. By then I was considered an old hand and we wandered the Alfama (medieval Moorish district) and had a wonderful lunch together after which we both had to join our respective tour companies and go our separate ways. 20180608_112121 (1)

That’s enough about this little trip for one post but I just want to state for those who think San Francisco is hilly, you haven’t seen Lisbon much less Porto or Coimbra (look them up.)

More soon…I think. Meanwhile remember, travel, like life, is not for sissies but if you have cab fare and a paid bedded room somewhere, you are waaay ahead of the majority of the world today which is moving relentlessly and in ever larger groups around the globe in search of any semblance of home. Please donate accordingly.

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Air Travel Etiquette for flyers and airlines….

I thought I’d share a few ideas on airline travel after my recent coast-to-coast trip. Let’s all check our list of the do’s and don’ts when flying. You’d think we should know them by now, but judging from recent experience, we don’t or, rather, YOU don’t.

1) If you have an aisle seat or window seat, do not, do I really have to repeat this-yes-I do-do not hog the armrests! The person in the middle cannot lean against the window, cannot lean out in the aisle and does not have an armrest to herself. So why is it so hard to understand, big guy or skinny lady? That armrest is the least you can do, back away and enjoy your ONE free arm rest!

2) If you are on the aisle, do not be a deep sleeper unless you don’t mind, a)being walked on or b) being peed on, nuff said. Not, not really enough, do no huff and puff like the person with the need to go, should not bother you-try being gracious. If you don’t know what that means, just visualize Michelle Obama (and you don’t have to like her politics to see how much she puts up with).

3) Even though your seat can go way back -all the way into the lap of the guy behind you, does not mean you should do it.

4) Just because you have headphones on does not mean the person next to you, or across the aisle, or a couple of rows back (or in the town over which you are now flying), cannot hear your heavy metal or whatever those tinny and thumping sounds are which are bouncing off everyone else. Sometimes those box cutters would come in handy, FAA folks, just sayin.

5) Falling asleep does not give you license to lean on the next person much less stick your bony knees into their calves on top of exposing them to your seaweed, yuck. I’d prefer the decaying smells of a real beach to eating that slime, and I sure don’t want to smell it while experiencing turbulence for 6 hours.

6) If you’re going to sleep in your window seat, please check first whether your seatmates want the glow of the window while they sleep or want to gaze at a darkened hole when the co-pilot announces the wonderful view of the Grand Canyon, try asking first.

7) Don’t insist on standing up as soon as the plane comes to a halt after which there will be a 20 minute disembarkation wait. If you must get out fast and believe that you somehow will, in spite of the obvious physics of 75 people and their luggage in front of you, ask to change places with the passenger who is more patient (or on better drugs).

8) This one may not be that obvious, but if you have running-of-the-mouth disease, try forcing yourself to shut up for a few minutes every hour or so. Yes, the people in front of and behind you really can hear you droning on; even your listening “partner” might enjoy a moment of silence.

9) Oh, by the way, we all realize that traveling can wreak havoc with bodily fluids but don’t pretend you’re at home where you have your very own bathroom. And, while we’re at that one, don’t hang on the poor schlub’s seat who’s stuck in the back and you’re just leaning over her while you’re waiting on the loo. You are not the only who will be dong that and, one more-remember, when you turn around with a full back pack in the aisle, someone has just gotten a dislocated jaw and needs your sympathy.

No, I’m not going to list all the complaints everyone’s already registered about other people’s children. I was once a parent of young, darling babes. My daughter was a particular joy on a plane and, to this day, I’m still afraid someone will track me down.

However, I don’t think we should forget to leave our suggestions for the airlines who we surely trust as much as we do someone elses politician or tax attorney ; and yet we put our lives and our credit cards in their hands. Just a couple of little suggestions:

1) Somehow, those airline seats have not been redesigned since Neanderthal or Cro-Magnon man whichever one preferred that head jutting forward back slumping position.

Maybe the point is to promote all the travel do-hickey businesses which sell lumbar support pillows plus little support pillows for your head since your seat mate would prefer it not rest in her lap.

I have bought or researched most of them. Back in the day when airlines furnished something to make the experience of  shoving yourself into a little tube where there is no air to breath-except your neighbor’s-and your hope of survival depends on the type of drugs you can procure, they offered you the use of pillows and blankets while they taunted you with temperatures which soared from too hot to allow air intake to too cold to feel your feet. So okay, they were unhygienic. In those days, we didn’t sanitize ourselves from head to toe we just wanted to come out of the little tube with our joints in tact.

So there are all those devices to sort of make that chair into something tolerable for up to 30 minutes, but you would need an extra suitcase to lug them along which the airlines will surely charge you for.

2) The other thing about airline seats besides being designed to push and pull you in every direction that can cause pain, lack of sleep and hip bruising (I must confess, Jet Blue has seats for real women who have hips, even those my age who have little coffee tables built into them) is that every bus, every train, every amusement park ride knows that people want a footrest. A foot rest, folks, is a necessity when riding anywhere longer than a ride at Great America.

Why can I find one on the Capitol Corridors, buses in almost every country I’ve been to, excluding chicken buses (there you have a chicken at least) and not on the freaking plane tube??! Is it so you can stuff more crap up under the seat since the guy with the overstuffed “carry-on” already took the overheads? So design the thing to move like they have on Amtrak and everywhere else. Hire a freakin engineer, fercryin’outloud. Didn’t you just write them an immigration bill?

We’re not complaining about the lack of tiny little airline meals with iceberg lettuce and jello anymore. We’ve gotten used to the abuse and larceny of your ticket pricing game and the change fees that would make a mafioso blush with shame. We’re almost glad that you charge for the movies-because how often can we watch a film where Clint Eastwood is trying to be cute? Krissakes tho’, get someone to design comfortable seats with footrests in front of you, and, by the way, it is possible to serve real orange juice? What the heck is in that stuff anyway?

Tell us your suggestions? We’re all ears, at least, while we’re still in the air.