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Stress-free travel: a how-not-to

The trip back from my latest visit to Amsterdam was more stressful than usual. In the hopes that someone may benefit from my misfortune, I give the whole story here: it’s something of a catalogue of rookie mistakes to avoid.

First, I made the classic blunder and scheduled a fondue dinner with friends the night before flying. Never get involved in a land war in Asia, never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line, and never schedule a fondue dinner with friends the night before flying. Or at least, not with those friends. We drank through most of Tom’s wine rack, which made getting up the next morning much less pleasant that it ought to have been; and of course, flying while dehydrated guarantees a second hangover, without the pleasure of the drink (and dirty jokes, and music with bizarre time signatures) to justify it.

Next mistake: travelling with friends whose travel strategy is not at all similar to mine. I pad my arrival at the airport by several hours, allowing generous time to recover from the unexpected. (In consequence, the unexpected almost never strikes on my trips, and I get to “enjoy” hours of waiting in airport lounges. I’ll take it though, and thankfully.) Pavlos and Annita, taking their 6-month-old baby to Greece for the first time, are much more relaxed about the whole process. Which is fine for them, but meant I took on both my own portion of travel-stress and the portions that were rightfully intended for them. I’m not sure whether this is when the facial tics started, or if that was only later.

Third basic preparation failure: I forgot my passport. I realised this on the platform at Centraal Station, waiting for the train that would take us to the airport. Pockets: no passport. Bag: no passport. Suitcase: no passport. Because of cutting the timing fine, it was definitely too late to go back to the apartment and search for it. I decided to travel with them anyway, and hope that perhaps I could fly on my Dutch residence permit: if not, I would be no worse off than if I simply quit right now. On the train I gave my suitcase a final, thorough search: still no passport, in any of the internal pockets or loose among my clothing. Just as the train was pulling in to Schiphol, it occurred to me to check the pockets of the pair of trousers I wasn’t wearing: passport.

You would think that the facial tics would subside as the adrenalin disperses through the bloodstream. You would be wrong, though.

The next hitch in the smooth process of our travel (hah!) I can’t really call a “mistake”: the baggage belt for our entire row of checkin counters was broken. Which meant that processing each checkin took twice as long as it normally would, and we were stuck at the end of a Very Long Line. (Just our luck: our checkin clerk left her desk to escort a blind lady to … well, presumably not to her gate, she assured us she would be back very soon, and we stood and waited and wondered.) While waiting in the line, we were spotted by the bloke whose job it is to check that hand luggage will fit in the overhead lockers. Ours, while (we knew from experience) perfectly overhead-locker-compatible, was larger than the official box used for officially checking official compatibility with said overhead lockers. We would have to check it in: and pay for the extra 15 kilos.

By the time we made it to the front, wondering how to go about arranging this payment, I was quite concerned about the time, but the checkin lady was not at all worried (even at the sight of my facial tics), and took our passports.

One, two, three normal passports: all processed, seats assigned. And an “emergency passport”, an A4 sheet on Greek Embassy letterhead with a photo attached, for the infant. Our checkin clerk had never seen such a thing: where did it come from? (“From the Greek Embassy, see, it’s written at the top.”) Didn’t we have a normal passport? (Helpless handwaving: no, we didn’t, that’s why we have this thing labelled “emergency passport”, the provision of which was another tale of bureaucratic complexity of similar length to this one, but which I will spare you because it’s not really my story to tell, but anyway this is what we have and we would like very much to be able to travel with it, please?) She made a phonecall to her supervisor: put the phone down: “No problem, it’s all fine, I just didn’t know what to do with it, I’ve never seen one like this before.” And she went to check in also the baby, the final passenger of four.

(Beat.)

“I’m sorry, the flight is closed. I can’t check you in. Final checkin was at 12.25, and look, it’s 12.27 now.”

The poor woman was obviously out of her depth with the whole situation (and I suspect her checkin computer probably enforced this rule by simply refusing to process the request at all), so she sent us to the (more senior) troubleshooting counter across the hall. First chance I got, I asked if we were going to be able to fly: the second major adrenalin dip of the day, as she said that certainly we would make the flight, if we moved quickly. Then we were checked in — how many bags? — give them here (this belt was working) — passports? — keep these luggage stickers, it’s important, because you’re late your baggage might end up on a different flight — now run to the gate.

We ran. Well, Pavlos ran to the oversize luggage counter with the baby’s stroller, while Annita and I walked rapidly (she had the baby in a front-pack) to the gate. (Security check pulled open Annita’s bag and made some kind of chemical-test spot-check of the baby food, while we fumed and twitched and worried.) At the gate we found: an enormous boarding queue, not yet moving.

Which we sidestepped, neatly, citing the baby, so that we boarded at the head of the queue and I could subside quietly into hysterics while Annita changed the baby.

Ten minutes later Pavlos was on board also, carrying the coffee that I had resigned myself to flying without (my gratitude still glows within me, almost a week later), and we settled into our seats and waited for takeoff. In fact, after the rollercoaster my adrenalin levels were running had settled to its final stop, I fell asleep before we even left the runway.

Despite my gratitude for the coffee, I don’t think I’ll be travelling with Pavlos again. He has decided to pursue this tactic deliberately on his next flight, because of its beneficial outcome (did you notice?): we didn’t get asked to pay for the excess baggage.

Culture shock

Hey, hasn’t it been quiet around here?! Don’t worry, we’re still alive! We’re enjoying summer holidays, Manu is walking and talking, I’m starting a new job in October, all is well.

Today I got accosted in the supermarket by a Greek grandma who tried to convert me to Christianity.

(Continued)

Mysterious benefactors

Presumably in celebration of Manu’s birthday, two beautiful books have turned up in the post: “Slowly, slowly, slowly,” said the sloth and All of baby nose to toes. Both are fantastic! But, we don’t know who sent them…

Whoever you was, thanks to you!

Dripfeed (a niche Python utility)

The last couple of weekends I’ve been working on a little Python side project: dripfeed. This is partly a tool to help me keep my webcomics addiction under control, and partly an excuse to try a bunch of Python tools that I haven’t played with yet.

(What it is and what I learned from it)

A list too long for twitter

The wikipedia page for Hugh Cook’s series Chronicles of an Age of Darkness currently includes the following extraordinary paragraph:

At different times, the novels portray or allude to murder, bestiality, female genital cutting, cannibalism, racism, sexism, speciesism, abortion, masturbation, mutation, incest, inbreeding, constipation, assassination, gambling, drunkenness, brawling, diarrhoea, capitalism, leprosy, castration, slavery, evolution, patricide, regicide, venereal disease, forgery, treason, dwarf tossing, torture, orgies, incontinence, suicide, disembowelment, capital and corporal punishment, drug use, religious fraud, bribery, blackmail, animal cruelty, disfigurement, infanticide, the caste system, democratic revolutionary movements, rape, theft, genocide, transvestitism, premature ejaculation, prostitution, piracy, and polygamy.1

I have too many amazed responses to this, and can’t decide which is funniest. It’s probably best if you just read it aloud to yourself, repeating each item in a tone of astonishment.

Notes:

  1. Every element of the list is linked, except “religious fraud”. []

Lensmen: Space!

Among the many books my parents have been keeping for me (lo these ten years past) I rediscovered a Panther Science Fiction box set of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s 1930s/40s/50s space opera, the Lensman series.

Box set of E.E. "Doc" Smith's "Lensman" series, plus bonus two from his "Skylark" series.

“Lensman” and part of “Skylark”.

(This is not a review, except sidelong by implication.)

Manu’s lifetime record lifetime average speed

Today, after returning from New Zealand, Manu’s lifetime average speed is 6.5km/hr.

That’s likely the highest it will ever reach in his life, unless he’s lucky enough to get off-planet or unlucky enough to become an inter-continental commuter:1 a round trip from Greece to New Zealand is pretty nearly the furthest you can travel on Earth (without making extra loops), and one such trip per year is worth a bit over 4km/hr towards the L.A.S. His average speed is higher than that partly because that’s not the only trip he made this year, but mainly because he’s not even one year old yet.2

According to wikipedia, human walking speed is typically about 5km/hr. This is rather mind-boggling: if Manu had been walking since the day he was born, every hour of every day, he would only just have got to New Zealand and back,3 let alone the other trips inside Greece and to Sweden and The Netherlands that he’s made.

It’s even more impressive given that he only learned to crawl last month.

Notes:

  1. I know a bloke who moved from New Zealand to England, with his family, among other reasons to follow a job prospect. He promptly got work… in Australia. []
  2. He’s travelled 49 thousand kilometres so far, of which 37 thousand are just getting to New Zealand and back. []
  3. Assuming he, rather pointlessly, took the same route from airport to airport that we did. Also assuming some kind of floatation device, I suppose. []

Prisoner’s tales: on the proper form of address

My wife’s parents, Giannis and Elli, are communists. They were imprisoned for their political beliefs during the Greek dictatorship: Giannis for five years, Elli for three. With their permission, I’m collecting here some of the stories they tell about those years. You can find them all filed under “Prisoner’s tales”.

(This one is about the proper form of address for political prisoners)

2013: Year in review

The biggest and best event of 2013

(No resolutions. Some plans.)

Prisoner’s tales

My wife’s parents, Giannis and Elli, are communists. They were imprisoned for their political beliefs during the Greek dictatorship: Giannis for five years, Elli for three. With their permission, I’m collecting here some of the stories they tell about those years.

(These ones are about books, and about pigs and radios)