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  • Writer's picture Jana

European Vacation. When it's Your Life, it Doesn't Exactly Feel Like a National Lampoon Movie.

I am thinking of changing our last name to Griswold, after our last two vacation experiences. To clarify, our vacations seem to turn out okay once we arrive to our destination, however, the getting-there part is eerily reminiscent of a National Lampoon movie, The only difference is that it's not even mildly funny when it's happening to you.

In April, it was the James Bond caper down Benedict Canyon. We were attempting to get to LAX airport in time in, in the midst of a shutdown of the entire 405 freeway, to catch our plane to Hawaii for Spring Break. Stressful and harrowing certainly, but child's play compared to what we endured a few days ago trying to get to Europe

So many things went wrong, leading up to the day of departure, it's difficult to know where to start? Do I start with last weekend, when we realized that Garin's outbound ticket had been reserved with a "typo" (yes, it was I that typed in Jana Grayson Lieblich as his name, in haste, when I was editing the reservation for the umpteenth time online in January)? A word of caution, don't ever make that kind of mistake. I am now convinced that it is easier to clear your name from a wrongful felony conviction than it was to change an airline ticket with a partially incorrect name on it.

Whilst (we had a layover in the UK, so I'm getting my British on), resolving the incorrect ticket, we embarked on what turned out to be the Covid 19 testing nightmare. Although it is still somewhat unclear to me whether we actually needed Covid tests, since we are fully vaccinated (which is required to enter Portugal), we erred on the side of caution and had our tests done at Walgreen's on Saturday, 72 hours in advance of our departure time, as stipulated. The only problem is that by Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours before our departure, the results were still not back. From all indications it seemed we might not get the results back in time. Amongst the many frantic calls I made, one was to Walgreens, who informed me that sometimes their tests come back after one day, or three days or even five days. Five days! They certainly hadn't disclosed that little detail when we registered online to have our tests there.

I could write an entire voluminous blog on what transpired over the next 15 hours, between calling both airlines we were flying (American and British); engaging multiple people (Garin, Anna and Michelle) to try to research our options as to whether we needed the tests or not and if so where to get them just hours before flying; driving to multiple pharmacies with the kids in search of rapid antigen tests (no luck); pacing; crying; fretting and at one point yelling at the kids (really it was at the universe) when the stress became more than I could bear. We had been planning this trip for close to six months, so to see it all disintegrate before my eyes, over delinquent Covid test results, was unthinkable.

When I awoke around 6:30 AM, the next morning (after staying up until nearly 2 AM troubleshooting the problem), I immediately ran to my computer and checked my email again, for the hundredth time, to see if Walgreens had returned our results. And indeed they had, just minutes before I logged on. I quickly ran through each email, to make sure the tests was all negative (they were), and then spent a few minutes cursing Walgreens under my breath, vowing to never set foot in another one again. And I will keep that promise!

Unable to check-in for our flight online, for reasons that were unclear to us or American Airlines, whom I called yet again, a few hours later we were off for the airport. I tried to steeled myself for we might face. It was exactly as I thought it would be, lines, very long lines. We waited in line at LAX, for well over an hour to get our boarding passes. We then waited in line at security. From there we boarded our flight to London, which lasted a rather painful 10 hours. Despite it being an overnight flight, only Miles slept for a few hours. The rest of us were too uncomfortable to sleep at all, which made for a rather unpleasant experience.

The next leg of the trip turned out to be ever more difficult than the first. After 10 sleepless hours over the pond, we landed at London Heathrow, where once again we were faced with the daunting task of obtaining boarding passes for our next flight to Lisbon, Portugal. Again for reasons unclear to us, or to American Airlines, they could not book us all the way through and provide us boarding passes in LA, for the second half of our trip, as should have been routine.

After inquiring with various employees of British Airways at Heathrow, we were bumped from one long line to another and then back again, with no one seeming to know where we belonged. It took us nearly two hours of waiting to get our boarding passes, From there, we faced not one, but two different sets of security lines, with multiple crying babies, cranky adults and a lot of flared tempers. The icing on the cake was when Graham mistakenly went through the (very stringent) security check with a belt on. He may as well have been carrying an assault weapon to witness how they treated him. That mistake lead to the longest pat down I have ever witnessed. They used every kind of detector on him imaginable and patted down every square inch of his body. If we hadn't been through so much already I would have either screamed (well, probably not, given that I would have more likely than not been thrown in a British jail) cried, or perhaps even laughed. But instead, I stood there numb, in disbelief as they frisked my 9 year old boy for what felt like an eternity. And then, the cherry on the sundae was when we were randomly chosen for bag check. They instructed us to unpack every last thing in our carry on and then ran chemical tests on my calcium tablets. Are you kidding me?

Nothing got much easier fom there, when we finally arrived to our departure gate and were told that not only would the flight be leaving late because the plane that would be taking us to Lisbon had not yet arrived from Aberdeen, Scotland, but that it was also oversold and therefore most of us would need to check in all of our carry-on bags due to a shortage of storage space. Where is Chevy Chase in this scenario?

Finally, after a rather uneventful two and a half hour flight, we arrived to Lisbon at last, and to our Airbnb, about 24 hours after we left home in Hidden Hills.

My takeaway - believe every word you hear about the nightmare of air travel these days.

All packed up and ready to go. Anna arrives to take us to the airport and to take Fitzy to her house, Camp Wisner. I think he was more excited for his adventure than we were. There is nothing that pleases him more than staying with the Wisner's.

Negotiating the long lines at LAX.

Finally on the plane, headed for London.

The first measly meal I have seen on an airplane in years. When flying for 10 hours, beggars can't be choosers.

Approaching London, having no idea the mayhem that await us there.

As we looked for our connecting flight, it appeared to us that there was no crevice in the world that couldn't be reached from Heathrow Airport.

And of course, the obligatory Harry Potter store. There were so many enticing stores in Heathrow that we had hoped to visit during our nearly four hour layover, which never happened due to the chaos of the boarding passes. I had promised the kids fish and chips (when in Rome....) as well, which never materialized either. Rather we got on our next flight, famished, and were only given a tiny bag of potato chips to nibble on.

So exhausted from the journey, Miles fell asleep, leaning against this total stranger on the flight to Lisbon. Since the man was sound asleep as well and didn't seem to notice, I didn't have the heart to awaken either of them.

Lisbon at last! After clearing customs, retrieving our luggage and figuring our way out of the airport to the taxi line, we were Lisbon-bound. By the way, no one in LA, London, nor Lisbon ever asked to see our negative Covid tests. Don't get me started.....

Our Airbnb. We've never been so happy to arrive somewhere that approximated home.

After dropping our bags and getting organized, we headed out to look around, grab a bite for dinner (Jamie Oliver's Pizza, since that seemed easiest) and picked up some lovely pastries from a local bakery to bring home for dessert.

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