Well…we did it.
We are here in Portugal snuggled into our tiny little AirBnB cottage. It happens to be a rainy, blustery day, perfect for taking some time to reflect on our recent travel experience. For those of you on Facebook this update will include some information I have already posted there. Apologies for the duplication.
I’d like to first acknowledge that packing to go on a vacation is a far cry from packing to move to another country. Cripes. We ended up with six pieces of luggage, the maximum allowed because of my Premiere status with United and because we had purchased 3 seats (refer to my last blog post for details on why). In addition to that, Won and I each had a backpack and a carry on. This meant we needed extra help getting to the airport. I’m sending another giant hug and huge thank you to our dear friends, Bruce and Susan and to my son, Matthew and my daughter-in-law Heather, who helped shuttle us and all that luggage to the airport in two vehicles. Unfortunately, once there, our good byes were hurried and a bit chaotic. Was everyone in the entire state of New Jersey flying out of Newark that day??!!! Geez, I’d never seen it so busy! It was 3-cars deep at the departure level. Even though we were rushed I tried to hug each of them as hard as I could to let them know how much I loved them, would miss them, and how much I appreciated their help.
Thankfully, they got us there three hours before our departure because we quickly learned that our plan to check in curbside wasn’t possible. The United Skycaps can’t handle international flights. However, they did load our mountain of luggage on a cart and showed us to the right line for check-in, which was another surprise. We had to use the “Travel Assistance” agents, not the regular check-in kiosks. The Travel Assistance line is for anyone who has a special need like re-booking due to a canceled or missed flight or traveling with an animal, which was our case. As a result, the line moved v. e. r. y. s. l. o. w. l. y. United agents were walking up and down the line to cull anyone who didn’t need to be in it and it still took us 45 mins to reach the counter. As we were inching closer and closer we figured once we got there we’d be heroes to the rest of the poor souls behind us because all we had to do was check-in for our flight.
No such luck, in fact, it was the exact opposite.
First problem was the 3rd seat. Apparently this is not done very often so the agent was struggling to figure out how to handle it in the system as she was checking us in and ended up having to call someone on the phone to help guide her through it. Then her computer crashed. Then she ran out of tape to print the luggage tags. Then she had to find another agent to help print the tags. Then, once she was able to print our boarding passes, we noticed that she had put our dog Sweet Pea in row 40 when we were in row 21! Then she had to find three seats together, even though we had reserved three seats together when we originally booked our flight. In the end, we used my Premiere status to upgrade to Economy Plus, the only section that still had three available seats together. All in all, it took an hour at the check-in counter.
On the plus side, getting through security was a total breeze!! It was now 7:30 PM. We had one hour before departure and our next order of business was to find the Pet Relief Station to see if we could get Sweet Pea to piddle. Found it, but she was totally freaked out in that little, windowless room. It wreaked of urine even though they provided a hose to keep it clean. The last time she had done her business was at 4:30PM right before we left for the airport.
Boarding started at 8PM which gave us just enough time for Won to get a bite to eat, grab a couple of bottles of water, and give Sweet Pea a chance to stretch her legs and re-hydrate.
The flight was the easiest part! We got Sweet Pea settled in her bed with a pillow and she promptly fell asleep. #lovemeagoodpillow
She woke up only when the plane took off and landed. The engines probably sounded a bit like thunder which always frightens her. We used the Rescue Remedy after take off to help ease her anxiety and she fell back to sleep. We tried two times during the flight to take her to the lavatory to get her to pee on the pee pad, but the environment was too unfamiliar.
Once on the ground in Lisbon, the first thing we did was ask if the airport had a pet relief station. Nope. We took her to the nearest restroom and tried once again to get her to use the pee pad. Nope. Now, I got nervous. It had been 10 hours since she last relieved herself and we were about to go through the gauntlet of customs, baggage claim, vet check, and rental car retrieval. The odds she’d be able to hold it until we got outside the airport got exponentially low. All we could do at this point was press on and hope for the best.
She got as far as the customs area where, along with hundreds of other passengers, we were queuing up and she finally had to go. She stopped and pooped. Right there. This is one of those moments when you just have to deal with the reality. I directed traffic around us making sure no one inadvertently stepped in it while Won quickly pulled out the supplies we had brought and cleaned it up, including disinfecting the spot. Now we were on edge waiting for the anticipated flood to happen. We got though customs and were on our way down a long corridor to baggage claim when she squatted and peed. Thankfully it was not carpeted so clean up was easy. We were delighted and relieved when we realized that everyone who flowed around us smiled in an understanding way (did you see what I did there?). Whew! The worst was over and we could now collect our bags and hit the road.
Not so fast.
While Won waited to grab our bags off the luggage carousel, I took Sweet Pea to the Vet Check area. The Lisbon Airport requires every animal that comes into the country via the airport be checked by an on-site vet. We had all of our paperwork with us and the vet was very nice. He had never seen a wire haired fox terrier and asked if he could take pictures of Sweet Pea and, once he saw her in her back pack, asked if he could get that picture too. His computer system and credit card machine were down, but thankfully we had brought Euros with us so we could pay the €40 fee in cash. During this process, Won came to tell me that we were missing two pieces of luggage. Oh, for Pete’s sake. Really???
Our exit from the airport was further delayed while we filed a missing luggage claim. Turns out the luggage was never put on our flight from Newark. We were told they would be placed on the next flight and would arrive the next day. Since it was only two out of six pieces we weren’t terribly concerned as we could manage with what we had. [Funny enough, one of our bags was sent via Amsterdam and the other via France and both finally arrived in Lisbon on Wednesday.] So we pressed on and headed to the car rental counter. This is where Sweet Pea’s K-9 Sport Sack came in handy.
Unfortunately, we had one more surprise waiting for us there. We were informed that our plan to use both the trunk and back seat for our luggage was a non-starter. The rental agent told us that it is illegal to use the backseat for luggage in Portugal. Whether or not that is true, we decided not to take any chances and upgraded to an SUV, which allowed us to put the back seats down. Who knew that having two pieces of missing luggage would turn out to be a blessing. The luggage we had with us filled the cargo space of the SUV. The bad part was that it cost us an additional €400 for the upgrade.
When we landed in Lisbon, the pilot mentioned that it was very foggy, and it was. However, since it took us two hours to get out of the airport, I figured it would have burned off by then. Not so. It was SO FOGGY!!!! Was this a portentous metaphor for what the days ahead would be like as we figured out how to navigate this new adventure?
I’ll let you know in my next blog post!
From Portugal with love,