I’m flying solo this trip, from Valencia to Lisbon, from Lisbon to Boston, and a couple of days later from Boston to Salt Lake City, so I have only my own details to keep straight and my own gear to haul, but that has been plenty.
Despite having packed light on my way to Spain, I did a certain amount of hunting and gathering while there, both of clothes (thanks to interesting hand-me-downs and to the scarf table at the street market) and comestibles (including chocolate, of course, as well as some random goodies).
So my carryon and “personal item,” actually a fairly stuffed backpack, weigh a lot more than Portugal’s national airline generally approves of (online check-in helped me keep from calling attention to that fact by steering clear of any ticket counter with a scale). Since my personal weight falls on the lower end of the distribution for typical passengers, I figured it would all even out.
My heavy bags felt even heavier in Lisbon’s metro. While the airport station has escalators in all the right places, the Alameda station where I changed from the red to the green line and the Intendente station near my hotel both featured many long flights of steps, with nothing to either elevate or escalate me in sight.
While I admit to the impulse to complain, “What were they thinking, with all these stairs, and no help for weary travelers?!” I tried instead to contemplate what the situation was trying to teach me. One answer, of course, was “pack lighter.” Another was, “there might be an elevator here somewhere, if you take the time to look.” I didn’t. As my dad would say, I’m young, so carrying heavy things is good for me.
Having made it to my hotel, and having staggered up the final 50 or so steps with what felt like two anvils, I was glad to begin getting ready for the night. As I undressed I noticed a dark red swath on my right shoulder, temporary evidence of the backpack’s heft. It made me tired to think that I’d be retracing all those steps in the morning, but not tired enough that I found falling asleep easy to do.
The morning was overcast, but not as forbidding as it looks here. El Guapo is better at doing whatever photographers do to make the picture look more like the view that your eyes see.
As I walked through the airport doors, I saw a woman pushing a trolley with the longest piece of luggage I have ever seen. I approached and asked in Spanish what it was–her answer was a word I didn’t recognize, which I followed with “English?” She looked relieved, and said, “pole vaulting poles.” Imagine! I said they looked hard to manage, and she agreed that they were a serious pain.
Given that such poles support the weight of an athlete almost two dozen feet in the air, don’t be picturing a slim zipper pouch like you’d use for a fishing rod. This case was a foot wide, at least 15 feet long, and looked like it weighed enough to make maneuvering it plenty difficult.
I offered to guard her other bags if she needed to haul the poles up the nearby stairs, but she said she was headed off to terminal 2. We parted cheerfully, after which I realized I failed to get you a photo. But just picture this while imagining that gargantuan zippered case:
It was harder than I expected to find the security checkpoint for my gate. It’s always a pleasant change to do security in Europe, where they tend not to require you to take off your shoes, and where they often don’t require you to drag your laptop out. In my flight the previous day I’d even forgotten to take my little liquids bag out of my backpack, and wasn’t even reprimanded.
I’m also interested to see how different airports deal with the logistics. Here they have a system that made a lot of sense: after you haul your backpack out of the ubiquitous gray bins, they drop down into a chamber, and then get conveyed back on another belt to where they’ll appear just when travelers need to pull them out and set them on the rollers, ready to be filled with the next backpack.
From that point, you know the airport drill–a lot of figuring out where to wander, looking for flight monitors, and then being told not where you gate is, but how long you must wait to be told where your gate is,
and waiting around. Airports can be very tiring.
Then there’s the Duty Free gauntlet–the herding of travelers along a path that requires them to weave through the shiny displays of expensive perfumes, candies, liquor and cigarettes in order to get to their gates. The cases of cigarettes are plastered in colorful and ghastly photos: mouth cancer, tracheotomy holes, and more—this time you’ll be glad I bring you no pictures.
There were plenty of other shops, too, but the one that most caught my attention was an entire store of sardines:
There was even a little table giving samples, which I’m usually quite game to try, but the possibility of a persistent taste of sardines accompanying me on a transatlantic flight dissuaded me, and I walked on.
A surprisingly short line met me at passport control, after which I was on my way to the gate, and joining another surprisingly long line for the privilege of pulling out my passport and chatting with yet another official. Last year we drew the short straw and had our carryon baggage searched here, but this year the long shuffle forward ended in a simple, “Thank you and enjoy your flight,” and a hunt for the next line (this time next to “Boarding Group A”).
It’s not clear to me exactly what that line was for, but as the seating area at the gate was rather small, it served to spread the hundreds of passengers out in the larger hallway while we waited. It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s all there was to it.
My upper-body strength held out long enough for me to bench-press my weighty carryon up into the overhead bin, and figure out a way for both my backpack and me to share the seating space I had been assigned. I had a seven-hour break before next having to shoulder the weight of either, and before searching for more lines to wait in.
I found one–the longest customs line I’ve ever seen at Logan airport:
It’s important to note that I was not at the end of the line when I took this photo, so imagine it going on for some distance behind me. The PA announcements had been directing US and Canadian passport holders toward the red lines. In European airports, the locals get the short lines, and the rest of us wait in the eye-poppingly long lines, so I was looking forward to some home-court advantage here.
As we came around the corner and saw the automated kiosks, it was only then that we realized we were looking at the culmination of the process, and we couldn’t even see the end of the line we were destined to join.
If I had been thinking (and what traveler in my situation really is?) I could have paced off the length of the room and counted the switchbacks and then done the math to tell you how many miles we and our bags were shuffling. As it happened, I did have a fitness tracker on, but I have no way of knowing how much of that day’s mileage occurred right there in that room.
Then, when I (finally!) reached the front of the line and had my few minutes in front of the long-awaited kiosk, I answered the questions (Are you bringing suspicious fruits or meats into the country? Did you visit a farm? Do you have more than $10,000 strapped to your body?) and moved to the next stage, which, surprise, surprise, turned out to be another long line!
That segment probably didn’t take more than 20 or 30 minutes (I had gone all meditative by that time), at which point I exchanged about a dozen words in as many seconds with the customs official, and I was on my way to the exit, where my friend had been patiently awaiting my eventual arrival. (Thanks again, Tammy!)
After all that creeping forward slowly, I was ready for a change, but instead there was mid-afternoon traffic in Boston, so it was surprisingly similar to my weave between the stanchions. But the trees were a welcome sight, cool and green and shady!
I should probably be doing weight training with my bags in these few days before my next flight, but I might consider these the off days, when muscle fibers do what they need to do. Instead, I’ll work on the mental heavy lifting of processing the advice shared with me by all those hundreds of Lisbon stairs: “pack lighter!”
If you haven’t seen my travel posts before, here’s a post with little-known customs regulations you’ll want to know, and a list of other dispatches from various places: the Istanbul airport, more from the Istanbul airport, Way too close, Southern sojourn, Infrequently-Asked Questions, and their answers one, two and three, the Montréal airport, the Madrid airport, the Boston airport, and the heartland.