We’re Off!

Of course, as is usual for us on a travel day, we woke up bright and early (about 4:45 am); no chance of getting back to sleep.  We had planned on leaving around 11 am, so had some time to kill.

There were some last-minute emails related to the cruise that needed to be dealt with.  I was still getting emails from people that were just starting to plan their excursions, which completely blows me away.  One couple (from Spokane) had to cancel at the last minute due to family health problems, so I had to look up the tours that they had signed up for and contact each of the tour companies to let them know there would be two less people in our group.

We headed out on schedule and stopped at McDonalds for lunch.  I wasn’t too hungry; I had been very sick a couple of days ago and was still having some GI distress, so didn’t eat much.  We stopped by my daughter’s apartment to pick her up; she was going to take the car home from the airport and use it while we were out of town.  She will then drop it off at the airport before we get home since she is flying out a day before we get back.  Pretty slick!  There was very little traffic on the way to the airport, so we got there early.

The Icelandair counter only opens for four hours per day since they only fly once daily, so we had a seat and waited.  A very nice older gentleman talked to me.  He just dropped off his Thai girlfriend for her flight home to Thailand and had to wait for a phone call from her to let him know that she had been successful getting on to her flight stand-by.  Check-in went smoothly since we were not checking luggage; they just needed to scan our passports and record when we would be returning to the US.

If you read what I had written about the trip, you know that we had booked Economy seats rather than paying for Economy Comfort.  On Icelandair, the Economy Comfort class is basically Economy seats, but with the middle seat folded down so you aren’t so cramped.  You can also order anything off of their regular menu for free (everyone else in Economy pays for all food – they don’t even give you so much as a bag of pretzels).  The only big upside to Economy Comfort is lounge access at the airport, which is a very nice benefit.  A week before our flight, Icelandair sent us an email asking if we wanted to bid on an upgrade to Economy Comfort.  We decided to go for it, but gave the smallest possible bid.  There is a little meter on the bid amount; our bid moved it from “snowball’s chance in hell” to “you’ve got to be kidding me”!  We figured that since no one had reserved the middle seat in our row that the only thing we would miss if our bid was not accepted was the free food (and, of course, lounge access).  To our great surprise, we were notified that our bid had been accepted.  And, better yet, since so few first class seats had been sold, we would be sitting in the first class cabin (though we didn’t get first class benefits).  We also learned at the airport that we would be able to go through the Premium TSA line as well (this did not happen last year when we flew Economy Comfort on IA).  We have TSA Pre-Check status as well as Global Entry (which also gets us into the fast lane at the airport), but since IA doesn’t participate in either program, we were not eligible for the Pre-Check line.

So, we cruised quickly through security and headed directly to the lounge.  We weren’t really hungry, but I can never turn down free food.  I also managed to stuff my purse with a few of their snacks for later; like a squirrel stashing away nuts for winter.  You just never know when you might need to eat!!  Finally, it was time to board the plane, so we headed to the gate.  We were first on the plane and settled into our comfy, wide leather seats.  The flight was supposed to be around 7 hours. The flight was fine; very little turbulence.  I had the ham and cheese baguette and Skyr for dinner.  Funny, the baguette was served on a hoagie.  It tasted fine but looked nothing like the picture on the menu.  Skyr is an Icelandic version of yogurt.  The Skyr turned out to be “plain”, just like plain yogurt; quite bitter.

Clayton slept some on the flight; I did not. I had taken melatonin hoping that it would help me get to sleep, but no joy there.  Part of the problem was the time zone difference; although we landed at 6:45 am at Keflavik airport, that was only 11:45 pm Seattle time.

I am not sure exactly what was going on at the airport, but instead of landing and taxiing to a gate, the plane was parked on the tarmac and a bus came to pick us up.  We didn’t have to go through immigration because we were flying on to the UK.  If we had been flying anywhere else, I guess we would’ve had to clear customs before flying on.  We deplaned (very windy, rainy and cold) and found that our new gate was right by where we entered the airport.  We had about an hour before our next flight was set to leave, so settled in for a bit of a wait, and some people-watching.  The Icelandic people are very, very beautiful. We had noticed this on our last trip to Iceland.

They were bringing people in by the bus-load; ours was not the only flight that bussed passengers to the gates.  I don’t know if there was an issue on that particular day, or if the airport is now too small for the number of passengers.  I do know that Iceland markets their “free stopover” plan very heavily; perhaps it has grown too big for its britches.

Anyhow, we ended up leaving almost an hour late for London.  We were seated back in steerage again, so were not nearly as comfortable as on the flight there!  We had a twenty-something young man seated behind us that was very gregarious and seemed to be compelled to talk non-stop, using the “F-word” repeatedly.  Fortunately, he dropped off to sleep quickly, so we were able to nap a little bit on this flight.  We landed at London Heathrow.  I am glad that I had read up on the airport before arriving there; it is huge.  On their website, you can enter your flight information and they will tell you how to get from point A to point B for a connecting flight.  We had a long walk to find the terminal busses; we had to take a bus to a different terminal and go through security, but fortunately, did not have to go through customs/immigration.  Since we had shipped our suitcase ahead, we also did not have to claim our suitcase and then check it in again (since we were flying on a different airline).  Everything went so smoothly that we had time to have lunch!  We ate at a restaurant called Giraffe.  I had a yummy chicken club sandwich (or what passes as one in England).  There were lots of fun shops at the airport, but I was much too tired by now to want to shop.

Our final flight of the day went very smoothly.  The only notable parts were how empty the plane was and the most delicious lemon cookies dipped in white chocolate that we were served as a snack.  We arrived in Rome at around 5:30 pm, completely wiped-out from our long day of travel.  We were staying at the airport Hilton which is so close to the airport that you can walk there.  The problem was actually finding that hotel!  We did have to go through customs which involved handing our passports over to the agent who stamped them.  She didn’t talk to us at all, didn’t ask us anything, just stamped our passports and sent us on our way.  Easy-peasy!  We stopped at an ATM to pick up some Euros and were ready to find the hotel.

I was assuming I would find some signs that would direct us to the hotel, but couldn’t find any, so asked an employee at some random booth we found along the way.  He said to follow the signs to the train, and then follow the signs with an H on them.  It was a long walk to the train and turned out to be a fairly long walk from the train to the hotel.  I am so glad we asked, because if it were not for the signs with the bed on them (and the letter H), we would have been so confused.  Finally, we reached the end of the walkway and found no more signs.  There was an elevator, so we rode it down to the ground floor, and could then see the hotel across the street.  Finally!  We were almost there!

Unfortunately, rarely does everything run smoothly, and here is where our “easy” day of travel got a bit more complicated.  A friend that I met on Cruise Critic, Candace, had originally purchased the room for herself on Priceline (she was going on the cruise with us).  Unfortunately, she had to cancel the cruise, and very generously offered that we could use her room.  We had booked a room in Rome already, but discussed it and decided that it would be awfully nice to have a room right by the airport because it would make it so much easier for us (and, they offered a free shuttle into Rome).  So, we accepted.  Candace contacted the hotel to try to put the reservation in my name and was told that they were not able to do so, and since she had booked it through Priceline that she would have to work with them.  So, she contacted Priceline who were able to add my name to the reservation.  They also talked to someone at the hotel and were reassured that it would be no problem for me to check in even though Candace would not be there.  They sent a fax to the hotel and were told that it had been received and filed.

I ended up calling the hotel about a week before we left just to reassure myself that everything was set up; I am so glad I did!  They claimed that they had never received a fax from Priceline and that they had no record of anyone other than Candace on the reservation.  They said they could not help me.  So, I contacted Priceline, who verified that they had sent the fax in August and that everything should be fine.  But, it was not fine!  So, they agreed to send another fax.  I called the hotel again to verify that the fax had been received and that everything was set.  They reassured me that all was well, and there would be no problems when we checked in.  In thinking about it, we realized that we had nothing in writing from the hotel, so called back one more time to request an email or fax that I could show at check-in just in case there was a problem.  I was told that they would not do that, but that I could send them an email that they would then respond to and I could use that for my verification.

I did indeed receive an email back as well as an official confirmation with my name on it (though they spelled my last name Bhillibs!)  I printed out the emails from the Hilton, the confirmation from the Hilton and all of the emails from Candace and added them to our travel documents.

So, I confidently stepped up to the counter to check in.  The clerk looked up the reservation number and told me that the reservation was for Candace and that my name was not on the reservation.  I was not too concerned because I had my official-looking confirmation from the hotel.  I showed it to her.  She said it was not the right kind of confirmation.  I showed her my emails from the reservations department and she seemed to accept those (I did point out the misspelling of my last name as well).  She asked for our passports and scanned them.  Then, she stopped and told us that we could not check in because the name did not match the reservation.  She seemed to want Candace to be there.  I showed her the email where I told the reservations department that Candace would not be with us.  She again told us that we could not check in.  Finally, she agreed to go back and speak to her boss.  She came back and said that she could continue checking us in.  Then, she again stopped the check-in process.  This time, the problem was that she thought we were not supposed to check in until November 3rd; today was October 28th.  Arggghhhhh!  The original reservation clearly stated that we were to check in on the 28th and check out the 30th.  She once again needed to go back to check what to do.  Her boss gave her approval for the date; we finally got our room.

The room itself was just fine.  It had a very fancy shower with 4 handles and a bidet.  After unpacking, Clayton fell asleep almost immediately.  I flipped through the TV channels for a while.  Obviously, the majority were Italian, but there were 4 news stations in English (CNN, MSNBC, Sky News and one other) as well as multiple German-speaking stations, and Arabic stations.  I watched some Arabic music videos and was quite surprised to find how overtly sexual the videos were.  I really didn’t think that sexually explicit videos would be allowed, but I guess I was wrong! Oddly enough, on the next night, we only had 20 channels; the Italian ones and the news stations.  Weird.

I turned the tv off at 8 pm and went immediately to sleep.  I slept the sleep of the dead until 1:30 am and woke up.  Fortunately, I could get back to sleep and slept all the way until 8:30!