To say that the last few days have been interesting would be an understatement.
I left Melbourne late Friday night (3am on Saturday morning if you want to get technical about it) and reached Kuala Lumpur for a brief stopover eight hours later. All was good, no complaints... except, maybe a little stiffness from being in Economy class, which leaves a lot of leg room to be desired.Then, I boarded another Emirates plane to Dubai, where I was to stay for a complimentary night in a hotel near the airport. All was still good. I had a lovely complimentary dinner, got to stay in a more than adequate, comfortable, 3-star hotel, and was provided with a wake-up call at 5am in order to make sure that the airport shuttle-bus would take me to the airport in time to meet my next Emirates plane to Madrid at 7.30am.
As I said, all was good.
Only one little thing managed to throw me completely out of whack...
As I was boarding my airport-bound shuttle bus, the hotel porter took my suitcase to store in the rear of the bus for the trip. I got to the airport on time, no problem. However, it was only when I got there that I discovered that my suitcase was not stored at the back of the bus as I was assured it would be. The porter did no such thing. Apparently, he put the suitcase on the trolley in the hotel foyer for safe-keeping.
Mayhem ensued... Liaising with the hotel's representative at the airport, panicked calls were made to the hotel to ask the whereabouts of my precious cargo. Fifteen minutes later, it was found in the foyer, and rushed over to me at the airport, where I was waiting as patiently as possible.
Now, all would have been fine, but for those of you who have never been to Dubai before, let me tell you... Dubai's International Airport has to be the biggest mother of an airport existing on this planet! I don't even think that the Vatican City would be this big. Sure, I would have got my suitcase on time if I was running from one side of Melbourne airport to the other. But, being disabled, and taking into account that I also managed to get screwed over at Passport Control and the security checks I had to go through, what ensued, stressed me out completely. And I don't get stressed easily.
Firstly, it must be said that going to Dubai was the least of my concerns. I look Arabic (as some people have told me), I can even speak a little Arabic (albeit in a rusty fashion), I even have an Arabic name. No problem, right?
I got looks of suspicion from the "security" guys at each check point. At least, I assumed they were security staff... it was hard to tell when each of them looked the same, dressed in bedouin-style white gallabeyahs (robes), complete with Arab head-garb as seen on the heads of Saudi-Arabian royalty on TV. It truly was hard to discern one guy from the other. Now that I am writing this, and reflecting on my airport experience, I think they thought I was a terrorist, because my name is Arabic and I come from a Western country like Australia. What's with that? I have to be up to no good, surely. They probably thought I was a good Al-Qaida candidate.
So, in a nutshell, the security checks took longer than they should have. I'm sure I would have had to endure a full body-search if I so much as twitched or stopped smiling and trying to communicate with these people in their native language. So, that, combined with the fact that my suitcase was late and that I had to get to my departure gate at the other end of the 10km-long airport, made me miss my final call for departure.
I got to the departure gate for Madrid five minutes late, in extreme pain from over-exerting my damaged leg. Stressed out of my mind, pushing myself to my utter disabled limits, another of these UAE Arabs greeted me and my boarding pass with a snide grin and politely informed me that I wasn't allowed to board this late.
I stopped in disbelief, panting and sweating profusely as my mind raced on to what I could do next. I tried explaining to this vile human being that a mistake was made with my suitcase, and that I had a disability, which slowed me down even further... in a vain attempt to persuade him to call through to the plane to allow me on board. No luck...
So, I resorted to asking him what I should do next. To add insult to injury, the mocking retort I received was: "Arrange for a new flight, of course." If there was an Arabic word for "D'UH", I'm sure this imbecile would have used it.
Without thanking him for his help, I turned and made my way to an Information Desk to ask where I could arrange to be booked onto a new flight to Madrid. The verdict? In 24 hours... I had to wait a whole day before I would endure this airport again.
I angrily made my way back to the hotel's help-desk, to complain about the error that was made in the hopes of obtaining a second free night in their facilities. After much argument about the error and whose fault it was, I was finally rewarded with another night at their 4-star counterpart around the corner at a discount rate of 10% off the normal price of a room. Just let me add an addendum to that arrangement... their "4-star" service provided me with a NON-disabled friendly room for SMOKERS, with a crappy dinner that I had to pay for in full.
Of course, when the receptionist at the 4-star facility happily informed me that she would give me a wake-up call at 5am to catch my flight to Madrid, I laughed in her face. No... not acceptable. Wake-up call will be at 3am.
"But, Madame, our first shuttle bus to the airport is at 5am"
"Well, Madame, you'll have to make special arrangements for my transport at 3.30am. I would like to be at my departure gate at LEAST at hour before my departure time. I am disabled, and that airport is way to big for the likes of me."
Problem solved, I got to my gate the next morning, with time to spare, as I instructed.
And I got to Madrid on time, jumping through far less security checks at Barrajas Airport. I also managed to score a wonderful conversationalist in the taxi driver that took me to my hotel in central Madrid. My room is comfortable, I get a buffet breakfast every morning, and I have internet access to catch up on my blogging, Facebook posts and email. Life is good again.
Today, I used my Madrid Cultura card, and went to the Museo Prado and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. I have Goya, Velasquez, Picasso and Dali on the brain. Not to mention the international offerings... Kandinski, Rothko, Monet, Cezanne, Pollock, Renoir, popping up here and there to be admired in the mix. Looking at works of art for periods of time in a gallery feeds my soul. If the artwork appeals to me, or is abstract, I can spend a good amount of time pondering its meaning, what I feel by viewing it, or what I think it means to me. A thoroughly enjoyable experience.
I also managed to have a wonderfully delicious, thick hot-chocolate in the Plaza Mayor under the cool morning sunlight, as I watched a couple of fascinating street-performers who were trying to keep up with the calibre of the street performers in Barcelona's Ramblas.
I've even spotted a few new and strange Spanish motorcycle brands parked on the streets, as I made my way (slowly) from one point to another in the cuidad.
All in all, Madrid has been pleasant - much nicer than my last time here, so far. I have had the time, despite my delay in getting here, to observe the capital's citizens more closely and with inevitable fascination. They speak so fast, I have trouble keeping up with my poor understanding. Likewise, their need for speed is evident in other parts of Spanish life. They are currently protesting the lowering of the driving speed rates on the freeways from 130-140kms per hour to a measly 110km per hour. *insert jaw drop from Australians here* It really blew my mind when I saw a little old lady in her 60s complaining on the Spanish news about the speed being reduced and that it was better at 140km per hour.
I wanted to call the police back home and broadcast the speed rates in Spain - I've been targeted over the last four years for a mere 5-10kms over the 60/80/100/110km limits in Melbourne and its surrounds, Yep, makes sense to me... *sigh*
Well, I guess I'll leave it there for now. Tomorrow will also be a big day full of activities in Madrid's CBD. There's so much to see and do here, I'm wondering if I'll be able to fit it all in. Time will tell... as will my blog contributions. Stay tuned, friends...