Flying TXL-BCN

Trip Start Oct 20, 2012
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15
Trip End Nov 03, 2012


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Where I stayed

Flag of Spain  , Catalonia,
Saturday, October 20, 2012

After lunch and a boat tour of central Berlin on the Spree River on this beautiful, warm, sunny Saturday afternoon, the Klemms dropped me off at Berlin Tegel International Airport at 3:37 p.m. I checked in with Air Berlin for my flight to Barcelona, bringing my 3.5-week Balkans & Berlin trip to a close and launching into the first segment of my next trip, a 13-night trans-Atlantic cruise from Barcelona to Miami aboard the Norwegian Epic, the world's third-largest cruiseship.

My Balkans & Berlin trip was fantastic. I traveled through six new countries in the Balkans, bringing my total of countries visited to 99. I crossed the major travel milestone of visiting more than half the planet’s nations and am now just one country shy of triple digits. I also spent eight days visiting old friends in Germany, who I hadn’t seen in five or more years. While the trip was outstanding, it was also totally exhausting – changing cities every few days; intensive sightseeing pretty much every day for the past three weeks; constantly packing and unpacking; and lots of time in motion aboard buses, trains, and planes. This last trip falls more in the "adventure" category of travel than the “vacation” category. Now I move into the vacation part of this overall 6.5-week travel period: nearly two weeks relaxing aboard a cruiseship while slowly crossing the Atlantic Ocean en route back to North America.

In addition to a major slowdown in the daily pace, I am also really looking forward to some time alone. I have spent most of the last 3.5 weeks traveling with Mom and spending time with friends in Bosnia and Germany. I’ve only had a few days to myself on the last trip segment. This has been difficult for someone who lives alone, is single, does a lot of traveling strictly solo, and is used to doing what I want when I want without having to consult with other people. I’ve had a great time with Mom and friends, but I’m just not used to being constantly surrounded by other people virtually 24/7 for weeks at a time. The cruise should give me a chance to readapt to my own schedule.

After checking in with Air Berlin, I proceeded to Gate C40 in Tegel’s temporary Terminal C. Berlin has been building for several years a new airport called Berlin Brandenburg International, located adjacent to the current Berlin Schönefeld International Airport. BBI’s opening has been delayed numerous times. Every time I visit Berlin, I think it’s the last time I’ll pass through TXL, which is scheduled to close when BBI opens. And then every time I return, I land again at Tegel. Will this truly be the last time at TXL? We shall see. It’s unfortunate that Tegel is planned to shut down because it’s well located in West Berlin and is such a small, efficient airport. The new BBI will be outside Berlin city’s limits on the southeast side of town, far away from the city center.

A few minutes later, I happened to notice on a monitor that my gate changed to C48. I moved over there and finished reading the Berlin background section of my guidebook while waiting for boarding. I climbed aboard the Boeing 737-700 via rear airstairs; there are no jetways in the temporary terminal.

This is my first flight on Air Berlin, which has grown exponentially since I was last here five years ago. In addition to flights throughout Europe, Air Berlin now serves Miami; Fort Myers, Florida; New York; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Las Vegas; Vancouver; Cancun; Puerto Plata and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Curacao; Varadero, Cuba; Abu Dhabi; Phuket, Thailand; Irbil, Iraq; Tel Aviv; Mombasa, Kenya; and four cities in Egypt. The airline’s short-haul fleet includes Bombardier Q-400, Boeing 737-700 & 800, Airbus 319, Airbus 320, and Airbus 321. Air Berlin’s long-haul flights are on Airbus 330-200 and -300 aircraft. All planes are Economy Class only except for the 332, which includes 20 Business Class seats.

On my 737-700, there are 24 rows of six across for a total of 144 seats. I paid extra to reserve Exit Row Seat 12C on Flight 8722. I believe the cost was 20 euros ($26.20). A flight time of 2:10 to Barcelona was announced.

The two seats to my left were empty until the doors were closed, then a father and his daughter asked if the seats were free and moved into them from Row 11. I thought they were sneaking into the exit row for the extra legroom, but then realized the wife/mother and another kid were sitting in the row behind me, so I guess they were just trying to sit closer together. I frowned at losing my extra space, but oh well – it’s a short flight so I’ll live. We departed one minute late at 4:46 and took off at 4:52.

Unlike some other discount European airlines that charge even for a glass of water, Air Berlin offered a complimentary beverage service. I was also shocked to be offered a free sandwich. There is a menu for paid meals, and I didn’t expect any food to be provided. I turned down the sandwich – the choices were cheese or currywurst. Sandwiches in general do not appeal to me, and I’m still pretty full from the big Thai lunch I had earlier today with the Klemms in Berlin. I did snack on a bag of trail mix, however, remembering that I’m not meeting my friend Craig until 9:30 p.m. for a late pre-cruise dinner in Barcelona tonight.

It’s now 6:44 p.m. I think I just heard an announcement about 30 minutes until landing. That sounds right since we are scheduled to arrive at 7:15. Wow, the flight has gone by rapidly.

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After an extremely turbulent descent, we landed at BCN at 7:11 p.m. and arrived into the gate at 7:18 (three minutes late).

I claimed my checked suitcase, then headed down to the bus stop outside Terminal 1 only to realize I have no map indicating where my hotel is. At the A1 express bus stop, there’s no map indicating the route. So I don’t know where my hotel is, and I don’t know whether this bus stops anywhere near it. This was some terribly poor logistical planning. Argh, I’m really frustrated.

I went back upstairs into the terminal to find the tourist information office, where an employee gave me a city map, marked the location of my hotel (the Barcelona Hilton), and handed me maps of the subway and bus networks. He told me to take Bus 46 from the airport to Espanya Station, then take the L3 subway northbound to Maria Cristina Station.

Boarded Bus 46 at 8:13. It departed T1 at 8:17 and T2 at 8:23. The bus terminated at Plaza Espanya at 8:49. From there it was a long walk down many stairs, then up stairs, then through this 150-yard-or-so tunnel to the L3 subway platform. What a mess with my two heavy suitcases. Too add to the misery, it’s really hot in the subway station and I am dripping with sweat. This is not fun. And it would only get worse. After the eight-minute subway ride, I arrived at Maria Cristina Station at 9:09. It then took me 14 minutes to climb out of the station (using two elevators and an escalator), then roll my bags a long way to the Hilton. I’m now drenched in sweat and about to scream.

I finally made it into my hotel room at 9:32 p.m. – an unbelievable 2 hours 14 minutes after arriving into BCN. I don’t know how so much time passed by. This is what happens when you arrive into an airport not prepared for an efficient transfer to your lodging. Ugh. To make things worse, I was supposed to meet my friend Craig for dinner at 9:30 and have no way to let him know I’m running really late. That just adds to the aggravation.

I changed shirts, then went down to the lobby to log onto the free Wi-Fi (it’s a jaw-dropping 20 euros/$26.20 for in-room access; though I would later discover the free lobby Wi-Fi works in my room since I’m on the second floor right above the lobby) to Google Map the address of the restaurant where I’m supposed to meet up with Craig. This was another thing I had failed to map out in advance. I was not happy to see the restaurant is more than two miles away. I realized it was way too far to walk and I would have to take two subway lines to get there. Double argh.

Left my hotel room at 9:50. Subway L3 to Espanya, then L1 to Urgell Station. As if tonight hadn’t been challenging enough already, when I emerged from the subway, it was suddenly raining hard. And I didn’t have my umbrella. :-(

Finally found the Marquette restaurant and Craig about 10:15. He had just ordered a vegetable pizza. I looked over the menu and ordered a plate of fried calamari and small salad. I was starving and while the food tasted good, I was disappointed with the small portion size, especially considering the cost (11 euros; $14.41). I finished my meal and was still feeling famished. Just not having a good day today. I think I’m worn out from almost four weeks of hopping around Europe. Remember what I said earlier about really looking forward to a slower pace and lots of chill time on the cruise? How true that is right now.

We asked for the check and instead received two cocktails. Craig and I looked at each other, puzzled. Um, we didn’t order these. Craig got the waiter’s attention, and the waiter said these are on the house. Okay. The check then arrived about 15 minutes later. Good thing we weren’t in a hurry.

Craig had passed an ice-cream place nearby on his way to the restaurant, so we dashed through the rain to get some dessert. I was again disappointed by the small serving size – a “large” was only two small scoops, and for the high price of 2.80 euros ($3.67). Gone are the wonderful days Mom and I enjoyed in the Balkan countries, where three scoops of ice cream cost $1. Wow, I forgot how incredibly expensive Barcelona is. So glad I’m only here for one night before boarding the cruiseship tomorrow. My eyes are already hurting from bulging out looking at pricetags.

After dessert, Craig and I walked to the Universitat subway station. He headed eastbound to Urquinaona while I went westbound to Espanya, then transferred to L3 northbound to Maria Cristina. When exiting at Maria Cristina, I came across the largest vending machine I’ve ever seen. Built into the wall of the subway station, there are perhaps 80 products on offer. I watched a man purchase a bottle of water. This big bin moves over to the product, grabs it, and then the device slides forward and down to the dispenser. Fascinating. I could have made use of this great convenience as I need to buy Coke for my cruise. But the prices were incredibly exorbitant. For example, 1.30 euros ($1.70) for a 33-centileter can of Coke. There were also 1.5-liter bottles of Coke; those were something like 2.90 euros ($3.80).  Total insanity. I will have to find a convenience store in the morning to look for affordable Coke. Sadly tomorrow is Sunday, which in Spain means all grocery stores – the best places to find decently priced sodas – are closed. <sigh> I fear it’s going to be a wild goose chase tomorrow morning trying to find a convenience store nearby that A) is open on Sunday and B) doesn’t have gouging prices. It’s just been one logistical headache after another here in Barcelona. Thankfully I’ll be aboard Epic tomorrow afternoon and all these aggravations will be in the past.

Returned to my hotel room at 1:04 a.m. Ate some delicious German caramel chocolate and finished this blog entry. It’s now 2:12 a.m. Time to get this posted and get ready for bed. I can’t believe how late it is already. I didn’t get much sleep last night, and I am dead exhausted.  
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