Saturday, June 16, 2012

Eurotrip 2012 - Days 0-1 (6/14-15) - Airports

The trip did not get off to a good, or even decent start. You know things are bad when there are events related to the flight...

I made it from STL to Chicago OK, but was annoyed at having to exit security to get to the international terminal, and go through security again. Joe caught up to me while I waited at the gate for the flight to Warsaw. When I went to board the plane, I was told that I had to go back to the ticket agent to get a stamp. They had apparently been announcing my name (among others) over the PA system - I had suspected that the "O" name I had been hearing was mine, but the PA system sucked and the pronunciation wasn't anywhere near correct. When I went back through the boarding line, a plane-side agent asked to check my big backpack since the plane was full. I was hesitant at first, but acquiesced when she assured me that it would be checked all the way to Donetsk. This seemed like an even better idea when I boarded the plan (as one of the last ones on) and saw how much people were struggling to fit their carry-ons.

The flight itself was less than ideal, mostly due to the lack of a decent entertainment system. LOT's ancient 767 had one screen in coach, and was based on cassette tapes.  I didn't even bother trying to watch the crappy programming they had on. Also, they did not have electrical outlets at the seats, so I couldn't use my phone, which had a dying battery. At least they gave us 2 meals, though they didn't compare to the Qantas meals (but, to be fair, nothing does).

The worst came when we landed in Warsaw and arrived at the gate at 10:35, 40 minutes late. Coincidentally, 10:35 was the departure time for our connecting flight to Donetsk. So...we missed our plane.  And the soonest they could get us there was 9:00 PM, so there was no way to make the 6:00 soccer game. Needless to say, we were not very pleased. We considered changing to fly straight to Moscow (instead of flying to Donetsk only to fly to Moscow 10 hours later), but eventually elected to continue to Donetsk via Kiev since we weren't sure where my bag was. We then had to go through passport control to go get my bag...which didn't show up at the baggage claim. There was another guy from our flight, Anthony, who was in a similar situation (missed the flight to Donetsk and bag didn't show up) so he tagged along with us in our search. We went to the baggage lost & found and they directed us to the baggage services office next door. The baggage services people were able to locate our bags and have them sent to a nearby conveyor. Anthony's bag showed up in the first batch, but mine did not. We went back to the office and they directed us to wait a little longer. My bag thankfully showed up in the second batch.

After exiting customs (where nobody was checking anything) we went looking for the appropriate place to check in. We eventually found it around 12:15 (with some help from the info desk) but would not be able to check in until 1:20, two hours before the flight. So we walked to a Marriott Courtyard across the street to lounge in the lobby for a while.

We headed back to the airport around 1, and waited in line for check-in to start. When they finally started, Joe and I went up to the counter to check in together. The lady seemed to find my info pretty easily, but had some trouble finding Joe in the system. She eventually did, and sent us on our way. But after walking a few steps I realized that she had given me the wrong boarding pass - mine belonged to a Johan O-something-not-my-name. Thankfully I noticed this before going to security, and was able to get it corrected easily and quickly.

We eventually caught up to Anthony on the other side of security, and the rest of the trip to Kiev was mostly uneventful. Kiev did happen to be the site of the other game that night (England vs. Sweden), and seeing fans headed to that game on board the plane made me a bit depressed to be missing the France v. Ukraine game). As we had heard, the airport in Kiev was a bit chaotic, especially for its small size, but we got in and out OK. Anthony did not have any more problems checking his bag, and I made sure not to check mine.

We continued to hang with Anthony after the flight to Donetsk, where we arrived around 9 PM. He needed to get to Lugansk, a 2 hour drive from Donetsk, while we decided to try to use the beds we already paid for at Hostel SK Dax. A taxi driver approached us as we exited the airport and convinced us that he could take us to those places for a reasonable price, so we all hopped into his "taxi" - really an unmarked car for hire. This was the first of a string of questionable decisions on our part.  When he took us to where he the hostel was, we were on kind of a shady looking back road, with no clearly marked hostel anywhere in sight. So we freaked out a bit and asked him to take us back to the airport, where we would spend the night. There was a lot more traffic on the way back (due to the game, which had completed soon after we landed), so the going was very slow. The driver called up another guy to come pick up Anthony to take him to Lugansk - we pulled over for a few minutes while waiting for him. Then the driver became fed up with the traffic and decided that he wanted to be a movie stunt driver for the rest of the drive - instead of just weaving in and out of cars, he now started driving on the opposite side of the road for clear stretches and then cutting back into traffic when oncoming cars approached. It was a bit exciting at first, but then I became a little scared for my life. In any case, we made it back to the airport, and we paid him in US dollars - $20 for each direction, and $10 for his troubles. We arrived around 11:30 and our flight was due to depart at 7:10. So we made ourselves as comfortable as we could for the next few hours.

Observation of the day: Eastern Europeans love clapping when the plane touches down - they apparently are super glad to survive every flight.

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