Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Travel Mishaps (page 1 of 5)

TBT: Getting Lost in Metz, France

My first Throwback Thursday post recounted how I got my wife and myself lost in Rome back in 2016, and I figured I’d follow up with another misadventure. This one is a bit more recent, as it occurred during my week in Europe with the kids last year. It didn’t make the original set of stories I blogged from our trip, but probably should have. Me getting lost is not a normal occurrence, and the fact the kids were along just made things that much more stressful.

Our tricky return plan to CDG Airport

When I initially looked into how to get us back from Luxembourg to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, the train was the preferred option. Tickets were fairly reasonable, and even considering the the two transfers, one in Metz and the other in Paris, it wasn’t a bad option. Not cheap for three people, but not bad. It would also give us most of the day in Luxembourg before the afternoon train departed.

So off to Paris we went,  spending three lovely days in the French capital (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3). Then it was off to Luxembourg (SEE: Our Whirlwind 44 Hours in Luxembourg) for a few days. It was on this day that I belatedly realized I hadn’t actually booked the tickets mentioned above. Although I had settled on a plan, I had failed to book the return leg. No matter. I would do it the morning before we left.

Except there was just one problem: the prices had gone up substantially. We would be spending quite a bit more than I anticipated. Exploring other options, I finally decided that booking a rental car from Metz to CDG directly was the cheapest and fastest option. We would still need to take the train from Luxembourg to Metz, but that was a quick journey and inexpensive.

I prepped…just not enough

This would be only the second time I have ever driven in a foreign country that is not named Canada or Mexico. But with several weeks of driving in San José, Costa Rica under my belt, I had no qualms about driving in France. The streets might be a bit tighter in the cities, but I would be doing mostly highway driving. Or so I thought. 

I carefully mapped out our route. I had directions noted down on paper that would take us from the center of Metz to the highway toward Paris. It was a series of only a few turns, and then it would be smooth sailing to the airport. I noted down the freeway exit as well, but I figured that once we got that far, there would be clear signs for Charles de Gaulle. 

But all this went out the window. When we arrived at the rental car center, it dawned on me that there weren’t any cars parked in the tiny front lot. Turns out they’re actually kept underground in a garage beneath the train station. We hopped in and took off in our tiny Citroen, and that was when things went off the rails. 

Instead of exiting to the east, like I’d planned, the garage spit us out going west. I hadn’t studied the streets on this side of the station and only had a vague idea of how to get back toward where we needed to be. Where was a paper map when you needed one?!? I should have bitten the bullet and just paid for a local SIM. At least then I would have an easy way of getting us out of this predicament.

I did the best I could to navigate toward the freeway, but instead got completely turned around in the middle of Metz. Driving a stick shift along narrow streets wasn’t the issue (SEE: 5 reasons why you should rent a car with a manual transmission). The mess of confusing roads that weren’t arranged in any sort of grid-like fashion was. I finally stopped the car by an old church to de-stress and think. We’d been driving almost 15 minutes, and we weren’t any closer to leaving Metz.

Navigating the old-fashioned way

Even though I was quite turned around, I eventually found my way back to the train station. Using what? The sun, of course. I’d finally figured out that we’d been weaving mostly south instead of west, like I’d originally thought (thank the very rough Google map). Keeping the sun on the left, I eventually spied a sign for Gare du Metz. Following this took eventually us onto a street that dropped us under the station and then back up onto the road I wanted to be on in the first place!

After that it was smooth sailing, following the signs to Paris and taking the few turns necessary to approach Charles de Gaulle airport from the east.

We arrived a bit late, but the Holiday Inn Express CDG Airport gave us a restful sleep before a nice flight home on an Air France A380 in economy.

Conclusion

In hindsight, I’m still happy with the choice I made. It was hectic and frustrating in the moment, but love driving. Flying at 130 kmh over the hills of Lorraine and Champagne on a beautiful evening is an experience I will not forget.

But for the “normal” traveler, I would recommend the train. If we were on an extended adventure through the French countryside, a car would be critical. But this was just to get us back to the airport. Save yourself the potential headache and travel by rail.

TBT: The Time I Got My Wife and I Lost in Rome

As my first “Throwback Thursday”, I figured I’d recount how I got my wife and myself lost in Rome during our European adventure in 2016 (SEE: Thirty Days in Europe). Getting lost is not a normal occurrence for me, which made it that much more interesting a situation.

We’d spent the day in Tivoli, in the gardens of the Villa d’Este. It was a lovely experience, and one of my wife’s favorite parts of our trip to Italy. I highly recommend taking a day trip there from Rome.

We headed back to Rome the exact way we’d come, by train, arriving into the Roma Tiburtina station where we’d transfer to the light rail / metro back to our hotel south of the city center.

It was at this point we ran into a hiccup: I didn’t have any more cash to buy metro tickets. I also wanted to avoid drawing out any more before we left Italy. Plus, we were already in the train station with no ATM in sight, and getting back to the hotel was all we wanted to do. We’d deal with getting more cash after we moved on to Ireland (strange logic, in the moment, as the currency is the same).

Finding a train kiosk, I realized that these took credit card. Pulling up the list of stations, I found Magliana. Our hotel was near the EUR Magliana station which is where we’d begun basically every day.

So I bought tickets and we hopped on the next train. Easy peasy.

EUR Magliana is not the same as Magliana

I mean, the thought crossed my mind that these are not the same station. There was a second set of tracks parallel to the rail at EUR Magliana, which made me suspect the two could possibly be co-located. At least they should be pretty close, right?

Wrong.

We were getting close to our station when I realized that something was amiss. There was a hill to our right, and as far as I’d noticed, there were any real hills near our hotel. We were headed west or southwest, as we were supposed to be, but things just didn’t look right. Sure enough, we got to the Magliana stop, and it was not the one I expected.

Stepping off the train, we looked around. There were two buildings I recognized in the distance, but they looked different. My wife started to get a bit worried. I’d brought us to the wrong spot and had no idea how to get back to the hotel. Without cell service, without WiFi, and without a paper map, I had no way of pinpointing where we were.

Given the orientation of the buildings, and the placement of the hill, I finally concluded that we must be across the Tiber river from the EUR Magliana station, maybe a full kilometer from the hotel, which should be somewhere sorta near one of the tall(ish) buildings. Now how do we get over to where we need to be?

No data. No Italian. No worries?

We set off on foot in the general direction of (where I thought was) the hotel. Soon we found a bus stop, but I did not recognize either of the numbers. We’d only taken the bus once, preferring to take the metro into the city each day.

I did my best to follow the bus route, making a right when we came to a T-intersection, and then hanging a left when I saw another stop that direction. We then crossed over a highway. We were getting closer to the buildings, but all I could see was riparian vegetation on one side, where I assumed the river must be, and now a highway on the other.

We came to a bus stop that appeared to be the last one before the road merged with the highway. Walking along a Italian highway with tons of traffic and no shoulder was something I wanted to avoid.

There was another couple at the station, and I did my best to ask them if the bus was running. It was Sunday, and I didn’t know if this affected the schedule. I pointed over to where we were trying to go. To say I know some minimal Italian is a major overstatement. I can read it well enough to get the gist of the meaning, but beyond that I am nearly useless.

Hysterically, Italian was also not this couple’s first language, as best I could tell. Here we were, in Rome, trying to communicate in a language none of us really knew. Eventually, I gathered that the next bus would take us to where we wanted to go. I’m not sure how the guy managed to help us, but he did. They hopped on the first bus, and he told us to keep waiting.

Sure enough, another bus came along shortly, and we hopped on without tickets. I normally don’t do this sort of thing, but we were without other reasonable options. in short order, we were on the highway, and then crossing the overpass over the river. Soon I saw that we were headed right into the neighborhood of our hotel!

The bus ended up letting us off right in front of our hotel. It was line 771, the same that we’d seen make that stop multiple times. It couldn’t have been a happier ending to our misadventure!

The rundown Sheraton Roma was a welcome sight.

Conclusion

This is one of only a few times I’ve actually felt lost on a trip. It guess not truly lost, as I had a fairly good idea of where we were and where we needed to go. I just didn’t know how to get us back. And I was completely unprepared.

All ended well, though, as we were able to make it back safely and soundly. But next time I will absolutely opt for sticking with what we know, even if it means extra time, and an extra ATM fee.

Visiting the Grand Canyon in May – What’s with the Snow?

Back last spring (I know…just getting around to writing some of these posts!) the older two kids and I had an adventure across the desert southwest of the United States. Some of our stops included Saguaro National Park and a nice resort hotel in Phoenix, as well as an afternoon of hiking in Sedona. It wasn’t the sort of road trip where you get to linger. We had to press onward each day.

The day finally came where we would be visiting the Grand Canyon. But it didn’t go at all how I imagined.

Snow? In Arizona?? In May?!?

It was quite blustery during our afternoon of hiking in Sedona [SEE: Easiest Sedona hike (with a view)]. The rain started just as we were on the final stretch back the car and it continued as we wound our way northward and upward to Flagstaff. Funny thing about Flagstaff: it’s at an elevation of almost 7,000 feet. And while it had been a perfect 70 degrees in Sedona, it was now snowing. Snowing! Nothing was sticking, but it was still snow. In Arizona. In May.

When we woke up the next morning, it was still cold and lightly snowing, but there still wasn’t really any accumulated on the ground.

However, as we continued toward the Grand Canyon, we *did* start to drive through real snow. Eventually, the kids couldn’t take it any more and we had to pull over. This was their first time really experiencing the snow. It was not at all part of the plan.

The Grand letdown

I became a bit concerned about our visit to the Grand Canyon. What if it was cloudy and snowy and we couldn’t get a view of the canyon? Does this happen from time to time? I imagine it does. Here we were, in the middle of a trip that would stretch over 1,000 miles of driving, and we may miss our one chance to see the Grand Canyon!

My fears were realized when we parked at the Canyon Rim lot. It was difficult enough to see anything that far from us, as it was quickly obscured by the fog/clouds.  We stopped by the visitor center first, and I hoped that conditions might improve and we’d get a view of the canyon.

But no such luck. Once we were done in the visitor center and wandered over to the lookout point, all we could see was cloud.

I was bummed. This is not how I expected our first visit to the Grand Canyon to go. Who knew that May would be such a poor time to visit?

The kids wasted no time in making lemonade from the lemon of a day we were given. They were enjoying a delightful romp in the snow.

A brief breakthrough

We slowly walked west toward the geology museum at Yavapai Point. The location is normally another picturesque viewpoint from the South Rim, but…there was nothing but cloud to see. However, after spending about 15 minutes in the museum where we got to see a cool model of the canyon, the clouds all of a sudden broke for just a few moments and we had a glimpse of the canyon below! Everyone inside rushed to the window.

It wasn’t a full panoramic view, but it was our first real taste of the Grand Canyon. The viewing window in the museum is great, as it provides a great vantage point while simultaneously letting you stay warm.

We spent a little while longer at the museum and were able to see a bit of the canyon on a couple more instances. Eventually I decided that things probably weren’t going to get much better and we might as well keep moving along on our trip. The breaks were very brief.

Chasing the sky

However, when we arrived back at the car, I could tell that the clouds around us were breaking up a bit. We hadn’t had a good view of the canyon except for those brief moments at Yavapai. But the sky looked slightly better toward the east, and the ranger had told us that there was supposed to be a slight lull before things worsened later in the afternoon. My gut told me that we would be able to have a better chance at a view at one of the viewpoints to the east.

So I started chasing that small patch of blue sky moving slowly eastward. We were eventually able to park at a crowded viewpoint. The gambit paid off. We were treated to this:

Things got even better when we made our way to the next vantage point, which is aptly named Grandview Point. The view was pretty grand, and we finally were able to wonder at this natural marvel.

We took a brief walk down the trail from Grandview, enjoying a couple different vsantage points of the canyon. If not for the clouds looming to the west, you might think there was nothing wrong with our day at the Grand Canyon.

I’m *so* glad we didn’t give up completely. Even though we were only able to enjoy this view for about 20 minutes, I was glad to have seen the Grand Canyon. We’ll be back again, I’m sure. At least the first time wasn’t a complete failure.

Conclusion

It was then time to move on. We had a dinner date in Kingman with friends, and with a few hours of driving to go, I hoped to make it there in time. The poor weather dissipated as we got further from the Grand Canyon, and eventually we were back to the sunny skies and pleasant temperatures that were much more familiar to an Arizona spring.

I finally understand! This is what our airport code stands for ​

A couple weeks ago I had quite the trip. Er, non-trip. I was supposed to fly from San Francisco back up to Arcata on the hour long hop after driving one way to the Bay, but that plan was crushed like always. Instead, I found myself driving back up in a rental car through the pouring rain.

Now I’m still fighting to get the miles back that I used for the trip. But that is a story for another day.

The frustrations of flying ACV

It’s no secret we live in an isolated pocket of the country, and our unreliable air service doesn’t help matters at all. Maybe it’s just me, but literally half of all flights I’ve ever taken with United between ACV and SFO (either way) have been either severely delayed or outright canceled. It’s so bad, that I gave up and generally fly out of Sacramento (SEE: 5 Reasons Why Sacramento is my Favorite Northern California Airport).

While at Arcata, I met a fellow member from the Travel Grumps 101 Facebook group that I am a part of. We’ve previously both commiserated online about the difficulties of flying out of Humboldt, and we got to chat travel for a bit. Until our flight was summarily canceled.

She headed out to retrieve her luggage and rent a car to drive home while I decided to grab dinner for free at the Giants Clubhouse before heading back to the city. A little while later I received a Facebook message from her saying the United baggage handler definitely knew the woes of flying into ACV. He asked her if she knew what ACV stands for.

I’ve always wondered what our airport code stands for, and his answer finally shed some light on the odd airport code. It makes complete sense now.

What does ACV stand for? That’s right: Another Canceled Vacation.

Flying United always reminds me why I love Delta

One of the pains of living where I do is the fact that United has a monopoly on our tiny regional airport. They offer three daily departures to San Francisco, one to LAX that just started recently, and another to Denver will start next year (SEE: United adds another nonstop destination out of Arcata!).

The convenience of our airport cannot be understated. Even though it is 45 minutes from home, that is much better than a solid 5 hour drive to San Francisco, Oakland or Sacramento. But every time I convince myself to try flying United out of Arcata yet again, something goes wrong (or must I bring my kids along to make everything magically go right?).

Why I dislike flying United

I’ve flown United more times than any other airline, and they have cause me the most pain. Nearly half of my United flights to date have either been substantially delayed or outright canceled. While their on-time performance has improved lately, I’ve had enough bad experiences that I will choose not to fly them if timing is critical.

Sure, avoiding a drive to the Bay is nice. But it would also be nice to arrive at my destination on time. And even if it takes me just as long including the drive, at least I have control of the situation. I’d rather hit the road for a few hours than sit at O’Hare with rolling delay updates.

Contrast this with Delta where I’ve experienced a single short delay and a single misconnect. The latter was many years ago and due to a large thunderstorm over Atlanta that caused a good number of planes to either enter a holding pattern or divert. Delta offered me a hotel voucher and meal voucher in that instance. As I was only 16 at the time, offering me a hotel voucher became an impossibility. I spent the night in the terminal. The Delta agent was over-the-top apologetic about the situation and gave me extra meal vouchers.

Contrast that with United, who doesn’t really care if they inconvenience you. When we experienced a 3-hour mechanical delay on Alaska Airlines back in January, the airline proactively sent us a text apologizing for the delay and informing us that they would be sending us a $100 voucher for the inconvenience. The $100 was in excess of the cash value for our tickets (SEE: Turning 20,000 Amex points into 25,000 Alaska miles and $500). This immediately changed my outlook.

With United, they’re just happy if they get you there…someday. Or they’ll send you a survey regarding your experience that deletes everything you’ve entered the moment you click submit. Ok…maybe I’m getting a bit too cynical.

I should mention United has made things somewhat right by handing me a voucher or two over the years when everything goes completely wrong. Usually it’s not for much.

Call me a control freak

One difficult aspect of air travel is that so much is out of your control. It’s nice when things go right. Stepping on a plane in Arcata, making a tight connection in San Francisco, and enjoying a pleasant flight to the east coast while getting some work done is awesome when it happens.

But then there are the times when everything goes wrong. So many times I’ve arrived at the gate just in time for the delay announcement. Or we sit on the apron forever waiting to take off. Or the plane has to turn around and head back to the gate due to some mechanical issue.

In short, I tend to want to have control of travel when possible. And for me, that means flying a carrier other than United. Due to cost, I can’t always justify driving to Sacramento or the Bay Area to fly with another airline for work. But I can justify it when I must be somewhere on time. When feasible, I leave town to catch a Delta flight out of Sacramento. It may be slightly longer. But it is also so much less painful.

My pipe dream is having a direct Delta flight to Salt Lake City once again. I’d choose them whenever possible. Although I’m excited United is adding another nonstop destination next year, I’m still hoping we will one day have a second carrier again.

« Older posts