Down Argentine Way
Gent to Frankfurt: 451 kilometres
Kilometres driven in Europe since June 16: 19,796!
It is a sad day today as we leave the comfort of Yves and Marc’s great home, and Europe, to continue our journey to Argentina and the last leg of this year-long journey. Our time in Europe has been wonderful and we have traveled much of it. We are both in agreement about some countries we don’t have to see again. There are more that we have enjoyed thoroughly, that we will return to. The second 5 months of our trip have proven very different from the first 5. Traveling by car has meant that we have uprooted ourselves and moved more often than when we were traveling mainly by air. We have discovered that the stress of being constantly on the road has been compounded by having only 1 driver, and by constantly making our way through unfamiliar streets and cities. But we have also experienced lots of little victories in our travels, and feel quite confident that we can find our way through any city anywhere.
Onto Frankfurt and our Overnight Flight to Buenos Aires
Our appointment to return the car in Frankfurt is at 6:00 p.m. After a quiet morning and 1 final walk into downtown Gent for lunch, we start the journey at about 2 p.m., lots of time, assuming good traffic. And of course, we get only to the outskirts of Antwerpen when the traffic bogs right down. But we need to average only 112 kilometres/hour to make it, so we don’t worry. Traffic in Belgium and Holland, which we pass briefly through, is averaging about 130 kilometres/hour. We are sorry to be giving up the car: a Renault Laguna 5 door diesel, it has been the perfect car for us: not too big, but big enough for our years-worth of luggage; powerful enough to keep me happy on the autostradas of Europe; wonderfully economical in gas consumption, drinking a very modest average of 5.7 litres/100 kilometres, well less than half of what our car back home drank. This has been a real bonus on a continent where diesel, 20% cheaper than gasoline, still costs an average of 1 Euro/litre, about C$1.65.
By 4:30, we are in Germany, and traffic is moving considerably faster: at 130 kilometres/hour, I am without question the slowest car on the road. My speed nudges up a bit, to a point somewhere between Greg’s comfort level (less than 140 km/h) and mine (something faster), and we drive up to the door of the Renault service bureau at 6:05, to find it locked up tighter than a drum, and dark as dark can be. We try all the phone numbers we have, and none are answered except the Renault roadside assistance number, in Paris. They have no suggestions, except to wait. And to call again if nobody had shown up by 6:45. And so we wait. At 6:40, a man drives up in a van, and our hopes rise, but it turns out he has rented the van and is returning it after hours. We call Renault service at 6:45, and they tell us they have nothing to tell us. We decide to shove the keys and documentation through the late-night slot, and take a taxi to the airport. Fortunately, the man returning the van knows where to find a taxi, and offers to drive us there. By 7:20 we are at the airport, our initial frustration dealt with, and in lots of time for our 10:10 p.m. Lufthansa flight. We check in, and are told that seats won’t be assigned until later, at the gate, so are being given stand-by passes. We think nothing of it, until we get to the lounge.
“This is Very Bad”
The woman who lets us in says “this is very bad”, and makes some phone calls, but cannot get us seats. She tells us that, due to weather, the plane will require extra fuel, and not everybody who has a confirmed seat will get onto tonight’s flight. She says there is nothing to do but to go to the gate at 9:20, and hope. As instructed, we are at the gate right at 9:20, but there is no hope. We will not be boarding the flight tonight. Apparently, the plane will take off with 60 fewer passengers on board than there are seats on the plane. We are told to head to the Transfer Desk, where we will be given accommodations and our schedule adjusted. We are also told that if we are lucky, “you may get on tomorrow night’s plane, there are no empty seats”. We walk to the Transfer Desk. The Lufthansa agents there tell us that they cannot help us; we need to go back to the gate. Needless to say, we voice our disapproval, and somehow, after we continue to voice our disapproval, they get authorization to help us. But they do not do it gracefully.
When all the rearranging is done, we are on tomorrow’s plane. The agents give us a strongly-worded suggestion that we go back to the lounge and wait for tonight’s flight to take off, as the minute it is gone, we can be checked in for tomorrow night’s flight, and can then get our boarding passes. There is the suggestion made that bad weather is also expected tomorrow night, and that 120 people will be disappointed, as there will be a backlog of 60 from tonight, and then another 60 who are confirmed for tomorrow night’s flight. We do as they say, and wait patiently until 10:45, when the agent in the lounge smilingly (the only smile we’ve seen all evening) hands over our boarding passes.Finally, just before midnight, we have been checked into our hotel, and are seated in the hotel bar, which at this late hour is also the only dining option available. We recognize almost everyone sitting there from the chaos at the gate.
And we decide to enjoy Lufthansa’s hospitality, and order a good meal and a nice bottle of wine.