My driver from the previous day showed up right on time as promised, and it was quite a short ride to the airport. We had already negotiated the price, so I knew exactly how much cash to save (plus a tip) to ensure I wouldn’t have any (relatively useless) Algerian Dinars left over. The arrivals area a couple days earlier had seemed rather small, so upon arrival I was surprised to see just how big the check-in area was, with over 50 different counters and three halls:
Immigration was pretty simple, and security was a bit longer, mainly because there were a ton of Chinese construction workers in front of me who spoke neither the French or English to be able to communicate with the screeners. Of course, they also had belts on, phones in their pockets, etc etc, so the whole thing took way longer than it should. Once through, there was also a strange manual check on the other side. This may have been a shake-down for the Chinese (because he was making them empty their pockets) but we had a good chat in French (his brother lives in Montreal it seems) and off I went to the Air Algerie lounge, where I was greeted by:
The lounge was actually quite spacious, rather empty, with big comfy faux leather chairs:
The food selection was poor, but at least there was Coke Zero. One bite of each pastry since they were completely dry, but it was good to know that even though I wasn’t flying them, Air Algerie is always caring for me!
However, while in the lounge, drama ensued. I got an e-mail from Cubana that my “flight had been modified, due to the IL-96 out of repair. You are rebooked on 767 flight instead in economy class.”
Hell. To. The. No.
Checking more details, Cubana had chartered a 767 from some German tour operator, with 29 inch seat pitch, so instead of being comfy in business class, they expected I would be fine sitting not only in economy, but in a super cramped economy for 11+ hours with my knees in my chest. Not happening. I started making some plans, and knew it would be drama. Unfortunately, it was time to bord.
Boarded right on time for what appeared to be (at least in coach) a relatively full flight.
Iberia flight 3305
Algiers, Algeria (ALG) to Madrid, Spain (MAD)
Depart 14:05, Arrive 15:35, Flight Time: 1:30
Airbus A319, Registration EC-HKO, Manufactured 2000, Seat 4D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 114,729
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,153,562
Coach looked pretty full, but in the four rows of business there were only three people, so I was able to move over to a window for takeoff. My first time (I’m pretty sure) on Iberia, and like many places in Spain there was no English spoke. Thankfully I understand the words for pasta and wine. Well, pasta wasn’t really necessary, since it was only being used to tell me my only choice was pasta and would I like it. My meal came sealed in saran wrap…for my protection?
Flight was incredibly…average. Usual EuroBusiness flight, and a piece of cake. Immigration was also simple, and I headed off to find the express bus to Madrid, which supposedly would drop me just a couple of blocks from my hotel. It was easy to find, super cheap at five euros, and after a maybe 30 minute ride I was dropped off for my short walk. No rain, much nicer than Algeria!
Passing the Monumento a los Caidos por España on the walk, a monument to all those who have given their lives for Spain over more than two centuries:
So, got to my hotel, and here’s where the drama would start. The check-in person at the Westin Palace was rather cold, but informed me she had oh so generously upgraded me to a “renovated” room and I “should be happy with that, because you pay a discounted rate, no?” Ok, so the room was nice enough when I got to it…except the suitcase in the middle of the room. I called down to have them remove it…but then noticed the bathroom hadn’t been cleaned either.
Went to the front desk, threw a small fit, and told them I’d like a better room, especially one that was clean and didn’t have other peoples’ belongings in it. I’m going for coffee, and when I get back, please have me in a new room and have my bags moved. I went to Starbucks down the street for some coffee to wake up, where the barista decided my name sounded like Juan and wrote that on the cup. Hah.
Back to the hotel, got the keys to my new room just a few doors down, and all seemed good. My bags had been moved and I was at least mildly happy. Did some work for a couple hours, then went to hang up my clothes…only to find out this room also had clothes already hanging in the closet. Ugh. Do these people every check their rooms? It was a complete disaster. This time, the clothes was removed, and the fight was out of me, so I retired to the hotel bar to enjoy the “complimentary 2-for-1 drink” for platinum members. That’s right no free drink, but if you buy one you can get a second one. How…generous?
While I enjoyed my two glasses of wine, I was frantically looking for alternatives on my laptop. Finally found one that was a reasonable price, Avianca via Cali and Bogota on the 787 to Havana. Unfortunately instead of a 9p arrival it would be a noon arrival the next day, but figured that might not be too bad. Sure, I’d miss 2-3 hours of touring in the morning, but I figured the overnight hotel in Bogota might be nicer than whatever I’d get in Havana, so I booked it…praying Cubana would let me cancel.
Went out for a walk after the drink, and headed to the Mercado San Miguel to get some dinner and drinks…and people watch!
Wandered around the various market stalls, and finally found one that had some reasonable (and cheap) house wine! Had a couple of glasses, chatted with some interesting Australian tourists, and then hung out with a group of guys from Quebec for a bit before decided it was time to wander the market a bit more and find something to eat.
Found a stall selling wagyu beef burgers, and they did look pretty good. Again, English wasn’t a strong suit, so when asked how I wanted it cooked, I dragged out my useful Argentinian Spanish and told them “medio – a punto.” He seemed to understand….
but, apparently in Madrid, that means, kill it, and while it’s still mooing, serve it to me:
That said, it was delicious, and I didn’t get food poisoning, so life was awesome! While eating I also got the email back from Cubana that they were happy to do a refund and a few seconds later I got the notice from Amex that it posted. Talk about efficient…even United can’t manage that. So say what you will about unreliable aircraft, at least Cubana delivered on the customer recovery front!
More wine with the Quebecers, and we were eventually joined by a group of Swiss women whose husbands had disappeared to “somewhere” and much wine was consumed. I did, however, find my way back to my hotel before midnight, which is practically child’s play in Spain. I also managed to take a non-blurry picture:
Off to bed for a good night’s sleep, because it was time for Cuba in the morning!