We missed the torrential downpour and ensuing tornadoes by only an hour or so. Any later, and we would have been locked down at YOW, Ottawa’s international airport. With three connecting flights and only a week’s vacation, that would have been a disastrous start to our trip.
The morning seemed fine. Just a little overcast and some typical late May mugginess, but otherwise, fine. My daughter and I did some last-minute packing before my wife, drove us to the airport.
“Come on Dad, quit worrying and let’s go,” she said with her typical bluntness.
We stopped at the drugstore to pick up sunscreen, mints, and a few other traveling essentials. Fortunately, we live only about 20 minutes away from the airport and on a Saturday in this government town, traffic is rarely a problem. My wife dropped us off at Ottawa’s very modern but smallish airport, squeezed us both tightly and wished us a great trip, with plenty of “I love yous” and “I’ll miss yous” mixed in.
Check in was a breeze, having done most of it online the night before. Security went well so we had plenty of time to chill, have a snack and chitchat about the upcoming trip, and about some of my daughter’s ongoing issues – nothing serious, just young adult stuff. And still no hint of any stormy weather. I guess that’s the blessing and curse of unplugging from cable and hardly ever listening to Ottawa’s god-awful local radio stations, thanks to satellite radio. Unless it’s something really serious, I rarely hear any weather forecasts and don’t pay much attention to local news anymore. It was mid-afternoon, May 21, 2022, and we were about to embark on the first leg of a trip to Spain that I had been fanaticizing and obsessing about for years. I am fascinated by Spanish culture and was relishing the chance to bask in its nexus for my first ever time.
The first leg of a trip from Ottawa to Montreal is a bit of a joke because the airplane is only actually flying for about 20 minutes. You take off, level out, and start your dissent about five minutes later. You almost get the impression the flight attendants will toss bags of peanuts and water bottles at you from either end of the plane. They just don’t bother with refreshments.
Our plane, a DeHavilland Q400, was about the smallest commercial plane I had ever been on. Sitting at the gate, as more and more people crowded on this puny plane, made me think I was sitting on the clown car of planes, and we’d all tumble out in heap when we arrived at our destination YUL, Montreal’s international airport. Such is life in a mid-sized Canadian city – almost our international flights feed through either Montreal or Toronto, which can be real pain for us, but we live with it because we have no other choice.
We landed in Montreal and made our way through the airport to the international section of departures and made our way to our gate. Our boarding pass said gate 54A. I wasn’t sure what the A stood for so I walked up the counter and asked the kid in the uniform and got about the snottiest, snarkiest answer I could expect from someone in a client facing role. I am very mild mannered, so I let it slide. Why get into an argument just before our trip? Both my daughter and I had the same muttered under our breath, “what an asshole” type of reaction.
She went off and shopped for perfume and makeup and I went to drool over the watches I saw at duty free as we walked into the international section. I almost had to beg the store clerk to show me the watch that struck my fancy, a nice, blue-faced CITIZEN. I don’t know why, but I really like blue faced watches. And I know, my cell phone tells time more accurately and more easily. I just really like watches. Besides, I don’t need to charge my watch every night like I have to with my phone. I guess it was a really bad day for customer service at YUL, but I finally got hold of that coveted watch and bought it for a very reasonable $308, no taxes, which if you know anything about Canada, tax-free is something really hard to find. Not a bad early birthday present.
More Covid craziness at this shop. The same clerk that I had been dealing with to show me the watch at the display case, only mere inches away from me, was now hiding behind a huge sheet of plexiglass at the cash, when I was ready to pay. Did I suddenly become contagious after walking from the display case in the middle of the store to the cash at the opposite end of the store? I had to ask her three times for her to repeat what she was trying to say to me. Behind her mask and behind the sheet of plexiglass, I could barely hear her. Very few of these Covid protocols make any sense to me. And yet, after over two years of pandemic, I never caught it and only performed one at-home test during the whole time of the pandemic. But I digress…
It was around 4:30PM and I met up with my daughter again. “Ask what time it is,” I exclaimed as I showed her my new watch. I was so proud of it and I can be such a dork. Trust me, the watch has a blue face, regardless how it looks below.
We went for a snack and a drink. Pretty cool to have, for the first time, a drink with my daughter (my only child) as she has reached drinking age in Quebec, Montreal’s home province. She is also of drinking age in Spain, so the stage was set for more father-daughter drinks to come, later that week. While enjoying my beers and fries, we started to hear reports of bad weather from her boyfriend in Toronto, six hours by car to the west of us. My wife also texted us about how bad the weather had turned back home, in Ottawa. She texted me a video of herself being nearly blown off our deck as she was gathering up the lawn furniture.
We then started noticing the skies over YUL getting quite ominous. Oh no, our trip was threatened even more than the already announced half-hour delay. After paying for our snack and drinks – only $65 (airports and ski hills never cease to amaze me in their audacity to overcharge) – we headed toward the gate. After sitting down for a few minutes, we started noticing more and more people were getting those ultra-annoying public service announcements over their cell phones. But as luck would have it, we made it onto our A340 jumbo jet airplane with relatively little trouble and flew off to Germany at our new scheduled time.
In-flight, we experienced few problems and no delays. I watched the Martin Scorsese classic, Casino featuring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Sharron Stone, again, for the fourth or fifth time; read some of my book, First Case by Jim Patterson, which I finished before week’s end; and pretended to sleep (I can rarely sleep on any moving vehicle). This was my first time reading a Jim Patterson novel and I was not disappointed. The man really is a master storyteller. I followed his class on my favorite website, Maseterclass, a couple of years ago. Ever since following that class, I had been wanting to read one of his novels and I finally took the plunge. Great book and very gripping. A real page turner.
Lufthansa is a nice airline. They add nice little touches like a complementary pillow and blanket for your flight. Our meal wasn’t too bad either and they don’t charge extra for beer.
Landing in Frankfurt, Germany the next morning was quite an experience. I had never seen Germany before, and both my daughter and I were struck by just how pretty it was. Our journey had finally begun for real. Next up, our flight to Madrid.
Getting through customs was pretty easy, once we finally found where we had to go to catch our next flight – whatever you’ve heard about German precision, it wasn’t applied to the design or signage of FRA, the Frankfurt airport. We made it to our gate and once ready for boarding, we had to climb down a set of stairs and get on to a shuttle bus – our second one since landing in Frankfurt. Quite a wild ride on the shuttle bus to get to our Madrid-bound plane. Once there, we got off the bus and walked across a section of tarmac and up some stairs onto our Airbus A320 for a quick, two hour and a bit flight to Madrid. The flight to Madrid was uneventful and we landed in there just after noon.
I found it so strange how much the Frankfurt airport relies on shuttle buses to ferry people around – something I’ve never experienced before, and frankly, I am no hurry to experience again.
In next installment, far more about Spain.