Travel Day – Switzerland to Belgium

If I hadn’t known that the Swiss and the French were so-very-different, I absolutely would have experienced culture shock earlier today.

At Leaping Lindy in Bern, Switzerland, everything ran on time. The Swiss bought our plane tickets early, arranged to pick us up on time, bought us train tickets to go to Bern from Zürich’s, put us in a lovely hotel, made sure we had food, and our drinks in the evenings were covered. Mind you, this was all the first day we arrived. On Saturday and Sunday, the students arrived early, classes started and ended on time, people were very polite, and everything was straight forward. The students were good at asking questions but mostly just listened and tried everything we told them to do. On Monday, Kevin and I had a slue of privates scheduled, but our organizer took care of all the small details that normally slip through the crack. We had a studio within walking distance to our hotel to teach 3 hours worth of classes, the students were there on time, someone had a key, the music worked in the dance studio, and there was water. Normally scheduling a private with 5 different people in another city is tricky because something is unaccounted for: the key, water, food, people run late, the sound system doesn’t work, etc., but in Switzerland, someone has accounted for everything. I was, and am, so impressed.
After three hours of privates, we headed to the station and took a train to Zürich’s where we taught another private. Again, all the details were accounted for. After the private, we headed to Uster where Kevin and I taught 2.5hr of group classes and everything ran smoothly. Classes started on time, students were on time and attentive during class, the sound system worked, and everyone had access to water. (Ooh, small slip up: Someone forgot the cable for the iPod to sound system, but the explanation of why that happened was that the person organizing the group class was German, not Swiss. 🙂 Then the Swiss person arrived with a cable and we started on time).
Finally, after class was done, Kevin and I headed home with our new hosts and there place was amazing. We had a room to ourselves, both had a bed, there was laundry, and wifi. A-mazing. And everything worked!!! I was a little beside myself, but lapped up every minute of it. It’s not that things don’t run smoothly in other countries, it’s just that things run exceptionally well in Switzerland. Now, I also say that, and am impressed by that, because I like having a schedule. I like when things run on time. I am the type of person who loves writing notes on post-its. Now, all of that aside, I must say that the Swiss aren’t as eccentric as the French or Italians.

Fast forward to Wednesday. Our host drives us to the airport, walks us in, helps us with our luggage, we check in and drop our luggage. We go through passport control, do some shopping, wander around, then go through security, which Kevin and I were the ONLY ones there. Nobody else was in sight. Nada. I little bizarre, but it kinda of felt like an expensive, European Pittsburgh. We head to the boarding gate, check in, then take a bus to our plane. About an hour later, we are in Paris at CDG.

Here’s the turning point of the entire adventure. After we exited the plane, we check our boarding pass to see where to go next, and there is no mention of the next gate. Now, that’s not particularly strange, but it’s noteworthy. Unfortunately, we were in Terminal G which is a bus ride away from everything, so we needed to know if we were staying in the terminal or not. We couldn’t find our light on any of the boards, but Kev guess we should go to connecting flights which was around the corner. We got to a passport control where we could scan our plane tickets and figure out where we were going. “No record” according to Air France. So we asked passport control. They didn’t know. They said maybe we should go to terminal 1. We headed towards the next set of gates, passed luggage, and found a full board with information. Our flight was not on there. WTF! Our flight was leaving in 35 minutes and it wasn’t on the board. ARG!! The Customer Service desk is open so I headed over there. I present my ticket and ask where to go. The man behind the counter had no idea. “What the hell is going on here? Why doesn’t anyone know where this is?” I ask myself. He looks up our flight number and says that we’re taking a train.

So we’re taking a train. Why the fuck didn’t anyone know that we were taking a train?! That explains why it wasn’t on the boards, but why didn’t anyone else know this? Why did our next organizer, after I sent our itinerary not say “BTW, just so you know, you’re taking a train to Brussels.” When I double checked that planes could fly into the Railway Station in Brussels (fuck, maybe that was the first obvious giveaway), I was assured the airport was connected to the train station (which is the same as CDG so I had no need to question it). When we checked-in in Switzerland, why didn’t the attendant say anything to us? Fuck…..maybe because she didn’t know either. But if she didn’t know either, then where is our luggage? Hahha, this is getting better and better….

Kev and I are let back in to the luggage area by the man who told us we were taking a train. When Kev and I get there, we see that the luggage from our flight has all been collected. Ok, then where is it? We go over to the customer service desk and wait to be helped. Kev and I check, double check, and recheck our tickets. Our boarding passes said they were boarding passes, there was an AF plane number on it, and it said “Here is your flight Information.” Riiiiiight. That aside, it also said “Voiture 1” which means “Car 1” which means train. The seating was also open, but it is with Southwest as well. The boarding time and departure time were only 10 minutes apart, so that should have also been a giveaway….but still…..it said it was a boarding pass!
Finally it’s our turn with the representative. The long of the short of it is that we should try to catch the train because she doesn’t know when the next one will come and she doesn’t know where our luggage is. Mind you, our luggage has been checked all the way through to Brussels, but on what flight? Apparently on the flight we are supposed to take, but there is no plane…..only a train. Does someone take the luggage to the train? After a 3 minute phone call, we find out no. Ok…..so were is our luggage. I understand that it’s unaccounted for currently, but I am pretty darn sure it was on the plane with us from Switzerland, but where was it going? We were told it would make it to Brussels as some point and then someone would bring it to us at Air France’s expense.
That’s rather nice of them to do. Little do they know that we are in Liege which is an hour away from Brussels. I realize there is nothing we can do about this and have some extra clothing and all my valuables on me, but it’s a little bit of a hassle. Ok….now to the train. We need to take the bus terminal F and then head to the train station. Check. We have 15 minutes to do this and a 10 minutes bus ride. We will be fine, I think. Well, we should be fine because the French are a tad flexible on their time schedule; however, I’ve also accepted the fact that we were going to miss our train and figured we catch the next one, hopefully with our luggage in tow.
We catch the bus which slowly winds it’s way through the airport and make it to the train station. I race after Kevin as he runs toward signs that look appropriate. Finally we see a sign for Brussels which is not on the electronic boards, but in a small corner. Unfortunately because of the train crash a few days ago and now the trains are not in use. This means we are taking a bus.

Quick recap with some extra details that you the reader do not yet have. Originally we asked our organizer to find us flights. The only flights he could find from Switzerland were $1200/person flights. That’s ridiculous. Clearly he didn’t look that hard or he’s just used to traveling much nicer than Kevin and I are. I had also asked our other organizers in France (for the next gig) what would be the best way to get to his city. A train would be boring and long, so we should fly instead. Ok, so both of them were little to no help with transportation (in every other way, they’ve been a huge help). The Swiss have bought our international ticket, and I bought our internal-Europe tickets. I found Kevin and myself some flights, sent them to the organizers, got the ok, bought them. Yesterday before leaving for Brussels I sent an email reminding our organizers that we were coming into a different place than the main airport, just as an FYI. I get a message back saying he had class to teach, so we should take a train to Liege, and then we’ll get picked up by someone. It’s nice to be picked up by the organizer, but I understand they have lives outside of the event. It would have been nice to know earlier so that I could have scheduled around that, but no problem. Then, we find out, almost too late, that we aren’t taking a plane to Brussels, we’re taking a train. Then our luggage cannot be located because it’s been improperly tagged (has this never happened before? shouldn’t there be something in the system that alerts people to the fact they are taking a train instead of a plane?). Barely making our train, we find out it’s a bus that will take 3.5hr to get to Brussels. And still, after all of this, we will need to take a train to another city and get picked up by someone for a car ride.

Boy what a day.

I am not quite sure what tone of voice you hear me speaking in when you read this (yes, I checked that sentence and decided to keep it as it was), but I want to clarify that. I am not mad or put out in the least, I am actually rather surprised. I think because I had such an organized weekend, where all the small details were taken care of,  now I feel like this jumble-of-a-time is an adventure instead of a hassle. Luckily I don’t have to teach tonight (so no time crunch) and I was smart enough to keep my valuable and some extra clothes on me, so I am fine. I’ve got Kev – who is taking this rather well, but is a tiny bit more charged than I am about this who situation – I’ve got my computer, warm clothes and some food.

I don’t know what the weekend has in store for us, but I presume this is just the beginning of a very exciting adventure. More later….. 🙂

BONUS

QLL – Don’t take yourself too seriously. Travel days are only as stressful as YOU make them. Keep important stuff on you. Try to schedule yourself some downtime. And finally, in the words of the awesome Shesha Marvin, “There are no emergencies in lindy hop.”

Frequent Flyer Plan

It pays to have a frequent flyer number. What, don’t believe me? If you fly to a lindy event at least once a month, it’s worth your while.

On average, it costs me $30 each way to check a bag. Let’s say I do one round-trip each month for a year: 12 months x $60 = $720. Holy cow, think of what you could do with an extra $700. I can think of plenty….but let’s stay on topic here.

I fly. A lot. Maybe too much. The point is, that if I am already flying, I might as well get the miles. Kevin, on the other hand, didn’t focus on this the past year and now one of us has status on two airlines, and the other has status on none (how very Dr. Seuss of me!). All I had to remember to do was when I checked in, either online or in person, I made sure my frequent flyer number was in the system, and viola, I got miles.

But who should you join? I’ve joined the major groups so that I can get miles on just about everything, minus the puddle jumper while I am in Europe.

Northwest Airlines (now owned by Delta) – SKY TEAM – partners with

I like Air France, but I don’t like the CDG airport (Paris). If you fly through here, make sure you have at least an  hour layover otherwise you might miss your flight because you won’t physically be able to get to your gate in time. I am serious….consider this your warning! KLM is a favorite. I just flew Korean Air and I liked it. The bathroom areas were hidden, so they felt a bit more private, and the soap in the restrooms smelled fantastic! They also offer complimentary tooth brushes! Final note, stay away from Aeroflot if you can. I think I’ve already written a blog about it, but it’s more like Aero-fuck if you ask me. I had a hellish time on them two years ago. Bad food, bad service, LONGass layover in Moscow. Stay away from them if you can. 😀

United Airlines – STAR ALLIANCE – partners with:

I like Lufthansa, SWISS, and Austrian Air, but the others I’ve flown, I don’t really like. US Airways is a little ghetto, United is snobby (yet I still have status with them), and LOT is kinda sketchy. Nonetheless, I have heard good things about bmi, Brussels Air, and Ana.

Alaska Airlines – Mileage Plan – partners with:

Mokulele Airlines
Northwest Airlines
PenAir
Qantas

“The airline’s frequent flyer program is called Mileage Plan. Alaska Airlines is not part of any of the three major airline alliances, but Mileage Plan airline partners include prominent members of SkyTeam, such as Delta Air Lines, Korean Air, Northwest Airlines, KLM, and Air France, as well as members of Oneworld, including American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas.”

When I lived on the West Coast, I would fly Alaska as often as I could. I really liked them. Once I moved to the East Coast, I started using NWA more (because they were partners) and kept my miles with Alaska. Unfortunately, Alaska values a number of airlines, but the love is not reciprocal. Sigh. My Alaska account primarily gets miles from American Airlines (which I don’t particularly like flying), British Airways, and Qantas.

Long of the short of it is: if you fly on a semi-regular basis, it’s worth joining one of the airlines alliances. Get miles, use them for vacation (I’ve done 3 trips down to Argentina on miles), check your luggage for free (yup, that’s a perk….perhaps the best one), get priority seating, get a special number to call for booking and/or help, and just feel special.

QLL – noise on airplanes

Travel with a pair of earplugs if you’re going to be flying, especially during the holidays. Not only are parents stressed out, but so are their children (perhaps causation and correlation?). This in turn can possibly mean that the children will be screaming and crying on the airplane. Now, if you’re like me, you’ll have the luck of being right near that lovely and charming family…different issue 🙂

If you don’t have noise canceling headphones, at least have earplugs. They come in a variety of colors, are cheap, and they can block out a decent amount of noise. Once you start wearing them on a flight, you’ll never travel without them. Unless of course, you forget them. Grrrr.

10 Travel Tips – from Outblush

I read this out Outblush and I couldn’t have written this any better. I’ve added bits and pieces after each section. Read and enjoy!

1. Buy wisely: Be a savvy consumer when it comes to flying the not-so-friendly skies. Tuesdays are the cheapest day to buy – the airlines and discount sites publish new deals on Monday and re-publish ever lower prices on Tuesday in an effort to beat out competitors. You might also want to try saving a search in sites like Kayak.com or Farecast and just wait for the lowest price to come to you.

*I use Kayak religiously. I like how I can control my search parameters (multiple airports, airlines, alliances, price, and layover time) and how easy it is to send the flights I like to organizers or friends.

2. Try to get a on a flight that leaves in the morning or afternoon: We know those last flight of the day tickets are appealing because you can leave right after exams or squeeze in one more full day of work, but with winter weather and over-booked flights conspiring against you there’s a good chance of delays and cancellations.

*Try not to go through Chicago in the winter. It’s an amateur mistake. If you absolutely must, try to find some lindy hopping friends that you can crash with.

3.Travel light: Avoid checking your bag if you can. Leave you bumble and bumble behind and ship your gifts. Not only does it save time, but if your flight is canceled and they have to redirect your luggage it’s a good bet you’ll spend your first day home arguing with a surly baggage attendant.

* Due to our tour/performance schedule, the members of The Killer Dillers travel with an excessive amount of luggage (excessive for a weekend, but not for 3 months). Unfortunately we cannot carry-on our luggage, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t! I strongly believed that if you are checking your luggage, you’re bringing too much stuff. I still stand by that statement, but I now understand why it can happen. Let’s see you travel with top hats, roller skate, canes, feather fans, banana skirt, and aviator outfits and still have space for your regular clothes for the weekend!

4. Check-in and print out your boarding pass before you leave: Again, anything you can do to avoid lines or waiting is good. Everything takes more time during this time of year: security lines are longer, weekend traffic is even worse than average, there are about three times as many people to run between if you’re dashing to make your flight.

*On top of that, see if you can travel with someone who has status. At least you’ll have a shot at being bumped to the front of the (shorter) line.

5. Don’t follow the crowd: If your flight is canceled make sure you listen to the announcement carefully – there’s often a precious tidbit of information that most panicked travelers ignore – like an alternate flight you might be able make or a request that you rebook at the airline’s main check-in desk instead of the kiosk within the terminal.

*I totally lucked out by following this advice. I was traveling to Italy and flew into Bologna instead of Genova. Luckily (or unfortunately for many) there was a historically large storm that came through Germany and our flight was canceled. Over the loud speaker we were told where to go to rebook our flights. I was one of the first in line because I followed the directions. Needless to say, not everyone got where when wanted to go when they wanted to get there.

6. Smile and play nice: Having a flight canceled after waiting through hours of delays is heart wrenching and infuriating. You are not alone in your fury, but you can stand out and get home sooner by staying calm and charming your way onto a new flight. Airport employees get yelled at, abused, and threatened about a hundred times a day. Don’t underestimate the power of their special airline industry computers; they can work wonders if you ask nicely.

*Be nice. Remember, you don’t want to be yelled at when you’re at work either. You can’t more flies with honey than you do vinegar. Most likely there is someone who can help you, so why not be nice to them?

7. Just in case undies: Even the most cunning and organized traveler can’t win every time. Freezing rain in Chicago could mean flight delays all over the country. If you had to check your bag make sure you have a fresh pair of clothes and the essential toiletries. Being able to put on clean knickers and brush your teeth after spending the night using your laptop as a pillow will make you want to punch everyone in an airline uniform a lot less.

*If you’re going to teach at a dance event, bring a pair of dance shoes with you! Don’t chance it (like so many of us have done), because that one time you don’t, you’ll be stuck dancing in your snow boots like a tool. Learn from other people’s mistakes!!

8. Pack a snack: Not only is airport food expensive, but a lot of restaurants and shops close around 9 p.m. You do not want to be stuck in travel purgatory hungry, and by that we mean a dangerous state in which you are both hungry and angry at the same time. A bag of trail mix and a few granola bars are always good to have on hand.

*I travel with oatmeal at the very least. It’s relatively easy to find hot water (for free) from any of the coffee shops and because it comes in a cup, you already have something to make your oatmeal in. Rather genius if I do say so myself. Nuts are also good.

9. Baby wipes, Purell, Airborne: The travel trifecta of illness protection. There’s a reason why the expression “this place smells as fresh as LaGuardia” doesn’t exist. Airports are veritable petri dishes during the holidays so do your best to fortify yourself against the onslaught of germ stranger-danger.

*I’ll add mouth wash and or toothpaste. It never hurts to have fresh breath!

10. Be safe, Be smart: Scoundrels of all varieties lurk in airports – a $120 ticket is a small price to pay for a half dozen iPods, wallets galore, and perhaps a MacBook or two. Use your good sense, keep your stuff zipped up, and be prepared to pitch the mother of all hissy fits if someone gets all up in your business.

*I am fortunately enough that I have not had my stuff stolen, so I presume this is good advice. In general, be smart about what you’re doing and where you are going, and try try try to not look like a tourist. You make for such easy pickings!

Last bit of information that is invaluable as an international instructor (and probably traveler). Have an address and phone number of who is coming for you. I repeat: have an address and phone number of the person or hotel you are staying with. England in particular will put you through the ringer if you don’t have this. Going through customs is a serious deal, even if you are used to breezing through them. You only need to be caught once to get flagged, so always have that information on hand.