Sunday, March 31, 2013

Return trip from Nice, with stumbles

Bruce and I got back from southern France a few weeks ago, one day later than we'd planned and sans luggage.  We flew out of the airport in Nice early in the morning and made it to Amsterdam without difficulty.  By the way, the Amsterdam airport is wonderful:  it’s very spread out, but well-organized and varied as to shops, with excellent signage.  If I had to choose an airport in which to spend a few hours on layover, it would be this one. 

Then we found out a mechanical difficulty disabled the plane we were supposed to take from Amsterdam to Chicago.  Our carrier KLM, after a couple hours wherein they delayed the flight twice, couldn't find an available jet anywhere in their system.  We milled around the airport for awhile, buying presents for our cat sitters, and talking to several wonderful KLM people who were doing their utmost to find everyone a flight home, most via Paris.  Bruce had the brilliant idea of flying to Dublin, which is west, instead of going north.  Eventually we got the booking, and received our precious new tickets.  During the delay, the airline gave us more vouchers than we could use for meals in the airport, phone calls, and discounts on future trips.  The best one was for an overnight stay at a hotel about 15 minutes by shuttle from the airport, necessary because the flight to Dublin didn’t take off until early the next morning.  The KLM people said again they were sorry for the inconvenience, pointed us toward the door outside, and said goodbye.

The translated name of the hotel is Toucan.  We didn't expect much, and were pleasantly surprised.  It sits beneath the path of landing jets, and is also adjacent to a major highway, but it was QUIET!  Whoever soundproofed this place knew what they were doing.  The room was austere in its Danish ultra-modern style:  white and chrome, clean lines, nothing extraneous, no facial tissues, but everything else (which was important because our luggage was still somewhere between Nice and Amsterdam).  There was a duvet covering the twin beds pushed together to make a super king-sized bed that must have had four inches of loft to it.  And a peculiar rendering of the portrait of Vincent Van Gogh on the wall which appeared made up of large pixels, with a beer bottle cap as an earring.  That was the only color in the room.  We freshened up as much as possible after we figured out how the unusual shower worked, and headed to the bustling restaurant at the front of the hotel for dinner.

I thought we might be relegated to a restricted menu because of the vouchers, but the maitre d’hôtel waved us right in, inviting us to help ourselves.  And oh my gosh, I've seldom seen anything like this buffet!  First on the menu were five foot tall towers of fresh fruit, surrounded by everything you'd want in or on your coffee offered from an extended wooden serving bar about five yards long.  To the right were stands of fried fish, fried chicken, and other fried bits that looked yummy.  The next stand was square, and featured several kinds of sausage and cured meats, also steak tartare.  Over there was an overwhelming number of salads. Another display featured pasta. And right next to that were three kinds of shrimp, lobster, and other seafood goodies.  AND behind that was an extended display of desserts.  Not to mention an extensive hot buffet.  The tasteful seating area was almost hidden behind the food, set with crystal goblets, white linens, and brocade chairs at tables for eight diners.  Copies of famous Low Country paintings hung on the gold-colored walls above wooden wainscoting.

That was it: I quit looking at the food and savoring the ambiance, and ran toward the plates.  I hadn't been hungry before seeing and smelling this place.  Everything tasted as good as it looked, too.  Their house Chardonnay was not only included in the voucher, it was also an excellent compliment to nearly anything they served.  There was no way I could taste everything, but I did my best.  I estimate I got through about 1/10th of it by eating no more than two bites of any dish.  Talk about variety!  And everything was really, really tasty.  Bruce and I met at our table to share comments about the food, and to trade bites of particularly delicious delicacies.  After dinner, we returned to our room, read our books for awhile, then snuggled down for a night’s rest.  And I slept through most of it, which is very unusual.

A similar feast happened the next morning for breakfast.  Everyone who wanted coffee made it from one of two cappuccino/espresso machines, and the serving bar loaded again with fresh fruit also offered different types of cream, creamers, and other condiments, as well as green and black teas.  Muffins, Danish pastries, croissants, several types of toast, perfectly scrambled eggs with two kinds of sausage, a pile of bacon, fried fish, hash browns, poached fruit in spiced simple syrup, and three kinds of yogurt with various toppings were on the menu, and there was more.  And more, everywhere I looked to the left and right.  Having the feeling that we might get stuck somewhere, we loaded up, again enjoying the variety and the excellent cooking.  The cappuccino from that little machine was great!

Good thing we ate well.  The flight on Aer Lingus to Dublin was absolutely packed, and as a bonus featured a crying baby right behind us. Upon arrival in Dublin we were directed toward US Customs because of our wandering luggage.  This was my first time in Ireland, and Bruce wanted to celebrate that with a glass of Guinness.  The first person we consulted in Customs was a kindly woman who said it would only take ten or fifteen minutes to connect with our luggage. After that time passed, she escorted us back to what I can only describe as a "containment" room for people who carried more than the accepted allotment of liquor or cigarettes.  A tall dark-haired square-faced officer who obviously didn't want to be working at that place on that day told us to sit down, it would only take ten or fifteen minutes more, (notice a theme here?) that we were required to be on the premises to identify pictures of our luggage when he found them. 

Right. We were there for our entire two and a half hour layover, getting more and more irritated with each passing moment.  Bruce and I went up to the officer's desk three times, asking if we could do anything to hurry the process along, as in calling Aer Lingus to verify that our luggage had even made it to Dublin in the first place.  Our officer-guard called another seven or eight people to his desk, one by one, to charge them customs fees; otherwise, he spent the entire time tapping slowly with six fingers on a computer keyboard, staring fixedly at the screen and ignoring us.  He finally picked up the phone, called a number, and said, "You've got to get someone down here and explain it all to these people."  As if he didn't want to, or he was too important for that dirty little job.  Grrrrr. Within minutes, a customer service supervisor from Aer Lingus came to us and explained that she was certain our luggage was all right, but it was still was in Amsterdam.  Then an Irish-accented voice on the PA system called our flight.  Sigh.  The Customs officer finally relented and allowed us to leave, without enough time to obtain our Guinness, to board our flight home.

I must have looked pretty stormy when I got on the plane.  In my opinion, and Bruce's, we'd been detained due to an unacceptable reason while that US Customs officer did next to nothing aside from making us wait in his uncomfortable hard-edged precinct.  It seemed as if he was making us be where he was because he knew we didn't like it either.  A dark-haired female flight attendant leaned toward us soon after everyone on the flight was seated, and with a lovely Irish lilt asked, "Is everything all right?  Is there anything I can do?"  We gave her the short version of our wasted two-plus hours with no Guinness in the Dublin airport.  "Ah, I'm so sorry for that," she replied. "Could I bring you some nice hot tea?  I find that when things go wrong, a cup of tea helps."  We agreed, and within minutes were holding two cups of scalding, strong black tea.  It smelled good, and tasted even better.  Because of its heat, we had trouble finishing the tea before takeoff.  I asked the brand:  it was Lyon, one of the most favored teas in Ireland.  (I'm still trying to get some from an Irish import store in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.  They were out until sometime in April.  I'm anticipating its arrival.)

The flight home was painful for me because I had a sinus infection. It affected my Eustachian tubes, which sent stabs of pain from my throat to my head and face every time the plane changed altitude or pitch.  Or sometimes just when the infection decided I needed to know it was alive and well and lurking inside.  I tried to ignore it and concentrate on my Kathy Reich book.  We also had an argumentative curmudgeon and his wimpy wife sitting behind us, who complained about nearly everything.  He even objected to Bruce shifting in his chair because it made the movie impossible for him to watch!  Otherwise, it was a good flight with an excellent pilot and crew.  I'd fly Aer Lingus again without hesitation.  After landing at O'Hare, we spent time with a young lady from Aer Lingus giving descriptions of our luggage, and she assured us it would be delivered by courier on Saturday at the latest.

We dragged back to the apartment after more than an hour's drive, greeted our ecstatic cats, and began getting back to normal for work, and blogging, and cooking, and everything else.  When it came, the call about our luggage finally arriving at O'Hare was very welcome.  The courier arrived with it at 9 pm that night.  Even though there were some odd labels on the suitcases, the only casualty was one bent knitting needle.

Good for KLM.  Good for Aer Lingus.  Bad for US Customs in Dublin.  Good for the young lady at O'Hare who found our luggage and routed it correctly to us in southern Wisconsin.  Bad for my sinus infection, because my ears still aren’t normal.  Things could have been worse.