Posts Tagged security

Adventures in Overnight Train Travel

Barcelona Sants Train Station

Remember how hard it was for us to buy train tickets in Spain? That may have been a foreboding sign for our upcoming overnight train trip.

We tried to book a sleeping car with an actual bed, but those were all reserved. We ended up getting Perferente tickets, which is first class. Keep in mind that there are 2 classes (Litera and Turista) worse than ours as you read.

Barcelona-Sants Train Station

We arrived at the train station early, assuming that the train would just be stopping for a few minutes to pick up passengers in Barcelona before continuing on the journey. In our limited train experience, you need to be on the right platform at the right time, or get left behind. But as an American, much of the tempo of Spain is slow and train travel (especially the ticket buying process) is no different.

In all fairness, we didn’t give them much of a chance to be fast by booking the 9-hour overnight train instead of the 3-hour day train, which is three times more expensive.  Once again, we learned that you get what you pay for!

When we approached the entrance to our platform, we were told that it was too early to get our bags scanned and to come back in an hour. We grabbed a bite to eat and then looked for seats in the terminal. There were very few seats, and most of them were in the middle of the shops, not near the platform entrances.

While we sat, I used the time to edit photos on our netbook. After several minutes, a young man with a large rucksack approached Mr. HalfFull to ask we would watch his bag while he went to brush his teeth in the bathroom.

Red flag! Huge alert! Don’t they always tell you to never leave your bags unattended, and never to watch a stranger’s bags? Of course, Mr. HalfFull being a good guy, agreed to watch the bag.

After the guy returned, Matt decided to use the bathroom before boarding the train. But he couldn’t because there was a fire in the men’s room! It seems like a strange coincidence that the guy with the rucksack was just in there and didn’t want to be weighed down by his bag. I have no proof; it just seems very suspicious.

Finally, it was time for us to check in and get our bags scanned. This too, was different than the US. Granted, I haven’t ridden a domestic train in a while, but I’ve never seen baggage scanners for trains. The Barcelona scanners were a complete facade of security. We were required to place our bags on the conveyor belt, but no one was watching the screen! Plus, they didn’t require passengers to walk through metal detectors either. So it all seemed like a waste of time.

We proceeded to walk to the correct platform number, but were shooed to a section of seats. I was very confused by this. There was no explanation (not that I would have understood it in Spanish anyway).

Eventually, a man carrying a sign reading Madrid told us to follow him. So everyone grabbed their luggage and proceeded to follow this guy to the other side of the baggage scanner, past the ticket windows, past the shops, and out onto the street. I had no idea what was going on. I thought we were supposed to be boarding a train on a platform beneath where we had been sitting, but now we were walking back out onto the street!?!?

So remember all that heavy-duty security? Anyone could have joined our group walking through the terminal. So much for being secure!

Bus to ???

The man with the sign lead us to a bus. What? A bus? I thought we bought train tickets. Some of the Japanese passengers freaked out and started yelling about the train. I’m not sure they ever got a sufficient answer due to language barriers, but eventually, they too, boarded the bus.

The other problem with a bus is that all our luggage was underneath us, only accessible from the outside. This made me very uncomfortable since we had been repeatedly warned that thefts are common. We had no control of our luggage, but people on the outside had direct access.

Eventually, the bus started moving. We were driving through the city of Barcelona. Mr. HalfFull seemed to think that we were not heading toward Madrid, since he had guided us through the city all week. Eventually, we got on a highway. I began to panic as I wondered if we were taking this bus the whole way to Madrid. It didn’t have a bathroom! I really wished I had gone at the train station.

The bus drove farther and farther from the city lights until we were in a desolate area with a tiny train station 40 minutes later. Woo hoo, we were going to ride a train! Relief flooded over me and my bladder.

To this day, we still have no idea what the bus was about. But we think that perhaps there was some sort of labor strike, which may also explain the fire in the bathroom.

Overnight Train to Madrid

When we boarded the train and entered our 6-person compartment, there was already an older couple nestled in. Somehow, they must have known about the location of the train and avoided the bus ride. This couple had gotten so comfortable that they took over the entire compartment. None of their luggage was on the overhead racks; it was all across the seats and floor. Plus, they had each taken one side of the car in preparation to stretch out across 3 seats per person. Well, we ruined their ideal situation.

Mr. HalfFull proceeded to lift their luggage into the overhead racks, so that we could enter the compartment. They took one side of the compartment with 3 seats and we took the other. Not too bad; it still seemed like we could get some sleep before arriving in Madrid.

But then another man arrived. He was quite a loud, gregarious fellow. I know loud and gregarious; after all, I live with Mr. HalfFull! But this guy may have also been partially deaf, which made him even louder. Or perhaps Spanish is just a loud, boisterous language. He chatted up the other couple for quite a while. It was a rather animated conversation. Eventually, the loud guy left and we all went to sleep.

The chairs slid out into a full reclining position with your legs on the floor. It wasn’t super comfortable, but it was a much better angle than an economy plane seat. On the downside, the seats were old and some of them didn’t lock into place.

Unfortunately for us, the loud guy returned to slumber around 1 or 2 AM. I can only imagine that he was consuming copious amounts of alcohol elsewhere on the train. He was still loud and quite odoriferous. Of course, he sat right next to me. He was so drunk and/or his chair was so old that he ended up sliding all over the place. He would be mid-sentence and his chair would slide out from under him into a full recline. It was kind of funny, but also a bit scary because he was older, intoxicated, and not a small man.

Finally, the car got quiet again and we were falling back asleep when the snoring started. This was fully reclined, open-mouthed, drunk snoring. It was so loud. This old man was relaxed! He got so relaxed that he started talking in his sleep and at one point threw his arm across me. I freaked out and threw it back at him like a hot potato!

Later that night, we got a 6th compartment-mate. This guy was young, but was also a drinker. He slid in late at night with the lights off.  We were all back to sleep when suddenly, the overheads lights abruptly illuminated and a uniformed train officer was standing in the doorway.  The officer only asked the young guy for his ticket, and summarily kicked him out of our car.  The officer didn’t even speak to the rest of us.  I wonder where that kid was supposed to be sitting or if he was even supposed to be on the train.  Another young kid tried to take that same seat later in the night, but he too was removed by security.

Needless to say, there wasn’t much sleep that night between the people in and out, the snoring, the odors, the fugitives, the lights, and a random arm landing on me! We did save a night of hotel expenses, but I’m not sure we would do an overnight train again.

  • Would you watch a stranger’s bag?
  • Has your travel ever been affected by a strike?
  • Do you have much experience with train travel?
  • Have you endured an overnight train?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Worst Flight Ever

Thankfully for our livers, all things must come to an end.  After a weekend of partying in Germany, it was time to depart for Spain — the 8th and final country on our 30/40 World Tour.

Everyone has heard of “German efficiency,” but there was none to be found in the airport security line.  The line wasn’t very long, but was so slow!  They were basically taking apart each person’s carry-on bag despite having a perfectly serviceable x-ray machine.  They even examined my empty water bottle and told me I was not allowed to take more than 3 ounces of liquid.  My water bottle was clear plastic and attached on the outside of my bag.  This extra scrutiny seemed ridiculous.  But I assured them that my visibly empty bottle was indeed empty by shaking it for them.

Our flight to Spain was not direct.  It was also one of the only flights we did not book through STA, since they didn’t have any deals.  We couldn’t find any reasonably priced direct flights from Munich to Barcelona, so we used a discount carrier with a one hour layover in Düsseldorf.

Of course, nothing could be that easy.  Remember how we always say you get what you pay for?  This was another case in point.

The flight from Düsseldorf to Barcelona was delayed.  We had done a great job of booking direct flights with week-long layovers in exotic locales.  Our only true airport layover of the 30/40 World Tour was at LAX, but even then we planned a beach outing in Santa Monica.  This time, all we were able to do was hang out in a terminal filled to capacity with people from various delayed flights.  There weren’t any seats; even the nuns were sitting on the floor.  So we headed to the bar to wait.

Once it was finally our boarding time, they packed us into busses en route to the plane.  Finally, we had made it to the plane.  Thank goodness!

Not so fast.  Our journey was not yet over.  It was not yet time to relax.  This flight involved screaming children from all directions.

AirBerlin plane

After escaping the worst flight ever and arriving in Spain, we paused in the terminal to capture photographic evidence of our tormentor

The irony is that we had been on plenty of other flights with children.  Long flights.  Hours and hours of being constricted to a little seat.  But this tiny little 2 hour flight was horrible.

Perhaps I have a special intolerance as a person without children, but it really didn’t seem like the parents were doing anything.  The little girl in front of us was traveling with her German mother and Spanish father.  She was perpetually backward in her seat so that she could stare at us during the flight.  She got increasingly bold and started sticking her arm through the gap between the seats.

This was a nuisance, but not a major problem…until her arm swatted my drink.  Of course, it spilled all over my legs.  So I got to spend the rest of the day with sticky legs and socks.  Just lovely.

To understand just how much I disdain messes and sticky things, I will take you back to kindergarten.  I hated using glue because it could get on my fingers.  Other kids would smear glue all over their hands and wait for it to dry.  I found this appalling.

Back to the flight.  In the US, they would never serve food on a 2 hours flight.  But this was Europe.  They gave us some sort of boxed meal, but all the “fresh” food was inedible.  I think the sandwich was just mayo — gobs and gobs of mayo.  Perhaps there was something else in the sandwich, but it was hidden by the mayo.

We eventually arrived in Barcelona where we had to hurry up and wait for the train.  Despite visiting Dubai, it seemed excruciatingly hot in the train terminal with little air flow.  I expected it to be cooler in the evening as the sun descended.  Perhaps I was just being my half empty self with additional annoyance and stickiness.

We ended up in a train car with a group of boys on vacation.  With a liquor bottle.  They ended up making quick friends with the two girls nearby, and the liquor went back and forth across the train.  Hilarious people watching!

Barcelo Sants elevator lobby

Can you spot Ms. HalfEmpty? She's sitting in the spacey egg chair in the Barcelo Sants hotel elevator lobby.

After an afternoon of travel that seemed like days, we checked into our hotel — conveniently located above the train station.  This hotel had a space theme.  All the hallways were dark until you walked by the sensor and then a group of vertical lights from floor to ceiling adjacent to each door would illuminate.  It was a neat effect and probably saved a good bit of electricity too.

Barcelo Sants room

Outer space portal above our glowing hotel room bed

Our room was elegantly modern with space touches including a captain’s swivel chair.  There were also round portals in the room with pictures of the moon.  Oddly, one of them was above the toilet.

Barcelona taxis

During our 4 days in Barcelona, I spent a lot of time watching the parade of taxis from my hotel room window while waiting for Mr. HalfFull to coif himself. He takes longer than me! It was great people watching to see the drivers smoke and chat. It was like I was spying from space!

We even had multiple sizes of pillows with varying degrees of firmness.  Plus, there was an amazing ergonomic backrest for sitting up in bed, and a perfect bed tray. Our room was so awesome and relaxing that we didn’t leave until 1 PM the next day in search of food.

Maybe the flight wasn’t actually that bad.  I mean it wasn’t great, but it could have been much worse.  Perhaps we had just been spoiled by awesome airlines with hot towels, edible food, and the gift of silence.

  • How do you select flights?  Price?  Schedule?  Number of stops?
  • Describe your worst flight.
  • Does a dislike of glue as a kindergartener make me an old soul?
  • Is it a sin to spend the whole morning of your first day in a new country asleep?  Or is sleep important to help you enjoy it?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Bummin’ It In Mauritius

Mauritius beach

Belle Mare

Water, volcanic rock, sand, and grass meet in Belle Mare

Mauritius was beautiful. Of the entire 30/40 World Tour, this was our most relaxing stop.

Our hotel was right on the beach in Belle Mare.  Even though we had already been to beaches on the 30/40 World Tour, as my feet sunk into the sand in Belle Mare, I remember thinking the sand was so soft.

La Palmeraie

La Palmeraie bar area and overflowing pool

In fact, our entire stay made us a bit soft. I think there were probably more employees than guests at the hotel since it was the off-season. Our breakfasts and dinners were included, and we had an assortment of goodies to taste daily. When returning to my seat from the buffet, a member of the staff would often intercept me to grab my plate so I could walk unencumbered. How’s that for soft?

New Zealand Butter

Mr. HalfFull holds New Zealand butter against the backdrop of the gorgeous beach

Speaking of food, remember how we told you that dairy was a big deal in New Zealand?  Well it’s such a big deal that they had New Zealand butter in Mauritius!

There was often entertainment during/after dinner. One night, the band played, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”  I’m starting to wonder if that is the first song that all non-native English speakers who work in hospitality learn.   We heard the song in Fiji too!  It’s kind of ridiculous to hear a song about West Virginia while in Africa. It reminded me of the days when Mr. HalfFull and I were driving to West Virginia from our home in Virginia, and my dearest husband played (and sang) that song 10 times before I got a reprieve.

La Palmeraie

View of our Moroccan-inspired hotel from the beach

While in Mauritius, we spent much of our time lounging, but also ventured out to snorkel via a glass bottom boat, swim, paddle boat, and play volleyball.  One day we even decided to do the group fitness class on the beach. Mr. HalfFull and I constituted 2/3 of the participants. The instructor was a wiry man who was all abs and muscles. Needless to say, we were pretty sore afterward.

What’s the best way to recover from soreness?  Massage!  I love massages, so we decided to indulge in a couples massage at the resort spa.  It started out with a bath of coconut milk and lemongrass.  It smelled wonderful, but made us a bit leery that perhaps we were getting prepped for the grill and not a massage!

Thankfully, the massages did occur.  I was very glad that Mr. HalfFull and I were in the same room.  There was virtually no draping as is customary in the US, and the strokes did not neglect the inner thighs or breasts.  I was surprised!  Did she really just go there?!?

Christian Shrine

Christian shrine along the beach

Hindu Shrine on Beach

Hindu temple on the beach surrounded by offerings placed on the volcanic rock

We also took lots of walks along the beach and discovered various religious shrines — Hindu and Christian.  We also saw local boys playing a game of pétanque on the beach.  This time it wasn’t men on their lunch break.  We witnessed the smallest boy throw the winning shot.  Immediately, all the older boys went over to verify the proximity of his ball, while the little ones jumped up and down with excitement.

Arsha Vidya Ashram

Arsha Vidya Ashram along the beach

Pétanque

Boys playing pétanque on the beach

One evening, I inadvertently created a security incident at the hotel.  We were down at dinner when a manager came to tell Mr. HalfFull that there was a security problem in our room.  We had no idea what happened.  It turns out that I had left the safe open when we went to dinner, and the maid had entered our room to turn down our bed.  She noticed the open safe and alerted the security guard.  By the time Mr. HalfFull got there our room was being guarded by security and they asked him to verify that nothing was stolen.  It turned into a huge incident.  Oops!

Mauritius Taxi

Ms. HalfEmpty on the taxi ride to the airport

After our week of relaxation, it was time to head back to the airport en-route to Dubai.  Check back to hear about our adventures in the United Arab Emirates.

  • Where was your most relaxing vacation?
  • In what country have you heard, “Take Me Home, Country Roads?”
  • Do you exercise on vacation?
  • Have you had a massage that made you uncomfortable?
  • Have you ever left a hotel safe open?  Did the staff alert you?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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