Friday, July 23, 2021

Revenge travel?

Ah, vacation. Remember what that used to be like? You know, in those carefree, innocent days before Covid-19 stole all of our naive illusions and sent them plummeting into the abyss?

Well, we had a chance last week to do more than reminisce about mobility. With the world gradually opening up to travel again, my hubby and I decided NOW was the moment to finally celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary (which was technically in April) by boarding an actual airplane and flying to an actual place. But where to go?

We chose Malta. Its beauty, history and relative proximity convinced us.

So we sent our kids to visit their grandparents, which was weird in and of itself.

Then we packed, which was also weird after what felt like a lifetime of not packing.

We underwent the requisite Q-Tip-up-the-nose PCR test in a sketchy pharmacy in the ghetto (PCR tests are hard to come by). 

We filled out a lot (A LOT) of paperwork. International travel these days demands much more of that than before. Thanks, Covid.

And we went to the airport. Or rather, we dove head-first into a sea of humanity rather like this:

I’d forgotten how much I hate the airport.

Many hours later, we staggered to our departure gate. Our “airplane” looked like this:

The flight was delayed. First 20 minutes (excusable), then 1.5 hours (inexcusable), and then just flat-out cancelled (have I mentioned that I hate the airport?).

Thus commenced many hours filled with that noxious yet familiar cocktail of boredom and panic that pretty much defines my whole relationship with travel. I’ll spare you the details, but in short, it was bad. At least I met a nice fellow passenger from LA who knew my hometown, which was a little ray of most welcome sunshine.

Ultimately, we were placed on a new flight connecting through Frankfurt. Only here’s the thing: PCR tests expire after 72 hours, and with the rerouting we would technically be over the time limit by a couple of hours. “No problem,” said Lufthansa (you bet I’m naming names).

So we flew to Frankfurt and then proceeded to our connecting flight, operated by Air Malta. Air Malta, you may be surprised to learn, is far less laid-back than Lufthansa. They were not buying our “but the airline said it was OK” spiel. Thus, we were barred from boarding, and were offered exactly zero sympathy from the flight attendants, who suggested we go tell our sob story to Lufthansa customer service before moving on to the next passenger. So much for Mediterranean warmth.

So we went to Lufthansa customer service, which was located on the whole other side of the airport, distraught AF. To their credit, they were kind (as they should have been, considering the whole mess was their fault to begin with). They gave us vouchers for a new Covid test, vouchers for a hotel, vouchers for dinner and new tickets for the following morning. They also made fun of Air Malta, which we appreciated.

Then they sent us, minus our luggage, to an airport hotel whose vibe was something like this:

The hotel offered us a room and a sterilized, socially-distanced buffet dinner consisting of canned vegetables and mystery meat, in an atmosphere somewhere between a wake and a strip mall on a Sunday night. Our bathroom was lit by a single red light. On a timer.

At 5 am the next morning, we fell out of bed and got ready in under 10 minutes—as one can when one has pure anxiety coursing through one’s veins, as well as no luggage.

We boarded a shuttle BACK to the airport, where we took yet another Covid test. It was negative, so that was positive (a little Covid humor for ya).

We boarded the plane to Malta. It didn’t crash, thank God.

We exited the airplane and went to baggage claim. Our bags were not there.

We spent 40 minutes filing a missing baggage report, which at this point was (almost) comical.

But then, negative test results in hand and no luggage weighing us down, we marched boldly past the immigration gestapo and felt the tide turning in our favor.

We picked up our rental car. It looked a lot like this (only smaller):

We rediscovered the thrill of left-hand traffic, which is how Malta rolls, thus kicking my cortisol levels up another notch.

Ah, but a short while later we reached our hotel, whose vibe was something like this:

And believe it or not, but the rest of our stay was really wonderfulalbeit often surreal. It deserves its own post, which it shall have.

To be continued!