Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Spain Interrupted: Our not-so-excellent adventure

Spain Interrupted: Our not-so-excellent adventure

Old Mar 23rd, 2020, 01:51 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,704
Received 83 Likes on 5 Posts
Spain Interrupted: Our not-so-excellent adventure

The Travelers: Mel and Donna, long-time, often long distance friends

The Plan: Fulfill Donna’s lifelong dream of traveling to Spain

The seed was planted back in July during a girl’s weekend at my house. Donna mentioned she’d always wanted to go to Spain, but lacked a travel buddy. I’d never considered visiting Spain, but I’m always up for a trip, so it didn’t take much convincing. The plan was hatched.

We decided to visit in March, as that worked well with Donna’s work schedule and we figured the weather would be cool, the season relatively quiet.

And then I hatched a plan of my own….maybe this would be the perfect opportunity for Bill and me to also visit neighboring Portugal, a country that had been on my wish list for some time.

And so began the frustrating process of coordinating three separate open jaw itineraries. Early ideas included Bill and me flying into Lisbon and out of Lagos or Porto, him then flying home and me continuing on to Spain to meet up with Donna. Meanwhile she and I discussed flying into Barcelona and out of Madrid or vice versa, then going our separate ways to fly home since we live in different parts of the same state.

I spent entirely too much time researching flights, playing around with itineraries and trying to coordinate the three of us. After much effort and angst, I threw in the towel and decided to leave Portugal for another time (we’ve since booked a three week trip to Portugal for May, which will now be cancelled given the Coronavirus).

Donna and I then began our separate searches for flights, both using Expedia, finally deciding that flying into and out of Madrid was the easiest option. We’d take the Renfe AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona and return.

When it came time to book flights in early December, and after adding a few nights to the trip, we discovered that if I flew out the same day she did the price of my tickets increased substantially. So, she opted to fly out a day ahead of me and use that extra time to visit some museums in Madrid.

Likewise I considered staying in Madrid a few days after she left – because longer is always better IMO – but in the end I decided against it, giving me 12 nights and her 13.

Donna’s flights: DEN-DFW-MAD and return on American Airlines

My flights: COS-DEN-FRA-MAD, returning MAD-FRA-ORD-COS on Lufthansa and United.

Flights sorted, we set about working out an itinerary and booking accommodation. Donna would spend her first two nights in Madrid at Hotel Riu Plaza España, located on Madrid’s Gran Vía, a promising hotel that seemed to tick all the boxes. I booked a room at the same hotel for my arrival a day later.

We’d then move on to Barcelona via train for five nights, where we’d booked an Air BNB near La Sagrada Familia. Then we’d take the train back to Madrid for another five nights in an Air BNB near Plaza Mayor and a sixth night at the Crown Plaza near the airport, as my flight was scheduled to depart at 6:10 am the following morning, hers a few hours later.

The next step was to organize an itinerary, a task I volunteered for, working from Donna’s extensive wish list. I don’t usually book attractions in advance, but then again I seldom visit sites that require bookings. Everything I’d read indicated that many of the main sites in Barcelona and Madrid required timed tickets, and because we had a long wish list and a limited amount of time, we agreed to purchase pre-paid tickets for a few popular sites.

Meanwhile Donna worked on logistics, researching and booking the Renfe AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona and return, sorting out the Metro and finding and booking tickets for a Guitar Concert at Paleu de Musica for our first night in Barcelona.

We both researched restaurants and had each come up with a short list of promising options which were loaded into our phones and ready to go.

We were set. Or so we thought.

To be continued...

Melnq8 is offline  
Old Mar 23rd, 2020, 02:26 PM
Join Date: Jan 2018
Posts: 482
Likes: 0
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
Oh Mel, this is the point where I say 'What a great start and really looking forward to the rest of the report', but I guess we all know how this is shaping up.

However, well done you for posting, and I AM looking forward to more.

Regards … Ger
OReilly64 is offline  
Old Mar 23rd, 2020, 02:56 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,704
Received 83 Likes on 5 Posts
Nice to have you along for the roller coaster ride Ger.
Melnq8 is offline  
Old Mar 23rd, 2020, 03:25 PM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 24,414
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Like when we all look over to the car wreck by the side of the road?
mlgb is offline  
Old Mar 23rd, 2020, 03:39 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,704
Received 83 Likes on 5 Posts
It wasn't that bad mlgb. There were some high points.
Melnq8 is offline  
Old Mar 23rd, 2020, 03:54 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 97,105
Received 12 Likes on 11 Posts
Looking forward to hearing your tale of adventure. Thank you for starting the thread. Suspense builds...
suze is offline  
Old Mar 23rd, 2020, 04:19 PM
Join Date: Jan 2014
Posts: 3,146
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I am also looking forward to your report....Even if the ending was unexpected.
Paqngo is online now  
Old Mar 23rd, 2020, 04:21 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 57,091
Received 5 Likes on 3 Posts
signing up with a greater than usual sense of trepidation......
annhig is offline  
Old Mar 23rd, 2020, 07:49 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 706
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Oh, such a promising start and such great planning.
PegS is offline  
Old Mar 23rd, 2020, 07:54 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 27,601
Likes: 0
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
And it sounds like it should have been such a good trip....
thursdaysd is offline  
Old Mar 23rd, 2020, 08:11 PM
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 3,106
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I'm glad to hear there were some high points! I'll look forward to following along.
Songdoc is offline  
Old Mar 24th, 2020, 02:27 AM
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 3,675
Received 19 Likes on 4 Posts
Oh, Mel, normally I look forward to your reports...
Adelaidean is offline  
Old Mar 24th, 2020, 03:49 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,773
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Following along!

And so disappointed that we won’t both be going to Portugal. It was fun sharing the planning, anyway.
progol is online now  
Old Mar 24th, 2020, 04:16 AM
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 23,750
Likes: 0
Received 6 Likes on 1 Post
I have no idea what is going to happen.
kerouac is online now  
Old Mar 24th, 2020, 06:18 AM
Join Date: Oct 2010
Posts: 2,335
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Following along, I am interested in your plans. So sorry for what we know is coming.
willowjane is offline  
Old Mar 24th, 2020, 08:06 AM
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 9,587
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Oh, dear. I hope some of the trip went well.
KTtravel is offline  
Old Mar 24th, 2020, 08:16 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,704
Received 83 Likes on 5 Posts
A week or so before departure, we heard about the first few cases of Coronavirus in Spain. I began checking the CDC website daily; Spain was listed as Watch Level 1, practice usual precautions.

Four days prior to my departure, I discovered quite by accident that Lufthansa had cancelled my return flight from Madrid to Frankfurt, presumably as part of their 25% reduction in flights due to the Coronavirus, which had been announced just the night before.

I discovered this when I logged into Expedia to print out the itinerary - lo' and behold one of the flights was missing. This seemed odd as previously Expedia has notified me immediately of any changes, even departure time changes of just a few minutes. This did not bode well.

I contacted Expedia by phone and simultaneously used their online chat to try to get things sorted. One rep suggested that I either cancel the flights (at no cost - which I'd probably have done were I not traveling with a friend on an unaffected itinerary and if we didn't both stand to lose a bundle on accommodation and attraction bookings) or just show up at the airport and try to get the missing flight worked out then. Yeah right.

Instead, I opted to stay on the phone and keep the chat open until I was re-booked. This involved one rep calling Lufthansa and waiting in their phone queue for a few hours, and another rep calling United and waiting in theirs for a few hours.

The Expedia website was still selling tickets for the same flight on the same day just a few hours later (MAD-FRA), so I asked if I could just switch to that flight. Of course it wasn't nearly that easy, as both reps said they needed authorization from the airlines. Suffice to say some four hours later I was booked on that very flight, but routed through Denver instead of Chicago.

So, my new itinerary:

COS-DEN-FRA-MAD, returning MAD-FRA-DEN-COS on Lufthansa and United.

March 7, 2020 – Donna departs, arriving in Madrid on March 8, quite impressed with American’s Dreamliner Premium Economy product.

March 8, 2020 – I arrive at the Colorado Springs airport two hours prior to my 15 minute flight to Denver.

We board on time, then sit on the plane for 30 minutes while three different pilots faff about the cramped Embraer ERJ 145, completing paperwork, passing stickers and taping various items on the plane.

I was seated in row 1, with a clear view of what was going on in the tiny cockpit. Evidently, the third pilot had hitched a ride and couldn’t climb into the cockpit until the first two pilots had pulled their seats forward – how he physically fit behind one of the cockpit seats is beyond me.

Apparently there was something wrong with the water…so they drained the water tank, then one of the pilots had to get off the plane and go tape something on the exterior.

He came back in and was told to go tape shut an overhead compartment that wasn't locking.

Then one of them left the cockpit to go put a sign on the sink in the bathroom stating that it wasn't working because there was no water.

Each little incident involved more paperwork and a lot of moving about; ground staff coming into the plane, the flight attendant having to get out of the way every time one of the pilots left the cockpit; it was chaotic and bizarre. All the taping didn’t instill much confidence in this grubby little plane.

We eventually pushed back from the gate and began driving to Denver, or so it seemed, as the taxi to the runway took forever.

Once in the sky we began banking to the right, which seemed odd. All the while I could hear wind whistling through the exit door to my right…freaky.

About the time we were due to land in Denver, the flight attendant announced that the Denver airport was closed and we were returning to Colorado Springs.

My 2.5 hour layover in Denver was vaporizing; I immediately regretted my decision to fly out of COS instead of DIA (which I had done to save my spouse the painful 2+ hour drive each way from my house to DIA via the never-ending, soul destroying construction on I-25).

Back on the ground in Colorado Springs we were told that DIA had been closed due to weather, although none of us searching our cell phones found any weather issues.

While I sat on board, Donna and I were texting. Her husband in Denver was searching online to see what was going on at DIA, my husband was doing the same. Neither of them found any references to a closure or bad weather.

As Donna fought to keep awake long enough to see what was going to happen on my end, she caught me up on her day in Madrid, telling me about her adventures trying to find a SIM card and charging cable, and her day at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art. She was chuffed to find no lines and free admission (free entrance to some museums in Spain on Sundays).

Although she arrived at the museum late in the day and was tired from the trip, (having just arrived in Madrid that morning), she managed to see the paintings she most wanted to see, Picasso’s Guernica and Salvador Dali’s the Great Masturbator and Figure at the Window.

Alexander Calder mobile at Reina Sofia

Reina Sofia

She also mentioned how people were packed on the Metro like sardines, due to the Woman’s Day March.


Dancers in a square near the hotel on Gran Via

She reported that the hotel we’d selected in Madrid was quite nice, very high tech and had an excellent breakfast buffet. We were both looking forward to an evening on the roof top bar, but it never materialized (read on). She said the hotel employed some of the nicest people she had ever encountered in hospitality. It seems we’d made a good choice.

View from Donna's hotel room at the Hotel Riu Plaza España

Back on the plane, a male passenger came up to the front; clearly agitated, he said he was having an anxiety attack. He mentioned that he’d flown all the way from Singapore with no issues and then as soon as he got into the United States he’d had nothing but trouble (this sounded familiar, as I used to routinely fly from Australia via Singapore to the US and had the same complaint).

He asked to be let off the plane. The crew hemmed and hawed. Eventually, they brought a van and stairs around for him; telling him in no uncertain terms that if he deplaned, COS would be his final destination and that he would be responsible for collecting his checked luggage in Denver. There would be no flight re-booking, he was on his own. He agreed.

We continued to sit. The flight attendant and the pilots claimed to not know what was going on in Denver and offered no additional information.

We sat. And sat. And sat.

More passengers wanted to get off the plane; they brought another van, told them that they would have to go to Denver to collect any checked luggage and that COS would be their final destination; there would be no compensation or help from United. One woman asked if she could at least collect her gate checked bag which contained the remains of her husband whom she’d recently lost. They agreed.

I watched the boarding time for my flight to Frankfurt come and go. Always the optimist, I was hopeful that if the airport had been closed, flights would be unable to depart and I might still make my connection.

We finally departed at 6:30 pm, three hours after our scheduled departure.

We were the last plane to take off, the 5:10 pm flight to Denver departed before we did.

We arrived in Denver about 7 pm, 3.5 hours after we were scheduled to arrive and minutes after my Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt had departed.

I joined the queue at the United service desk, where I was eventually told they could book me on a flight the following day to Newark and then on to Madrid.

I asked if they could send me to Barcelona instead; if I went to Madrid I would arrive too late to catch the Renfe AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona that we’d booked. Yes, it was possible. Finally some good news.

My new flights: DEN-EWR-BCN

Would they put me up in a hotel in Denver? No, weather delay. Would they provide a food voucher? No. Did I need my luggage? Yes. Well, that would take an hour (which it did).

They did give me contact info for hotels in the area with free airport shuttles, which is how I ended up at La Quinta for the night.

I hadn’t even left the state and I’d already lost my Lufthansa Premium Economy seats, the cost of the aisle seats I’d selected on two flights, my hotel in Madrid, my Renfe AVE tickets (a wash since I'd been re-routed to Barcelona) and I had to shell out for a night in a Denver hotel.

I later sent a complaint to UA as I’m convinced had we taken off on time we would have avoided the entire issue – they decided my trouble and additional expense was worth 7,500 bonus miles.

And about that mysterious weather? United tells me it was a microburst, which according to Google is “a downdraft (sinking air) in a thunderstorm that is less than 2.5 miles in scale. Some microbursts can pose a threat to life and property, but all microbursts pose a significant threat to aviation.”

Fair enough.

I found out later that we were banking right for a reason; my husband had tracked our flight on FlightAware….we’d been flying in circles above COS the entire time.

The trip was not off to an auspicious start.

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Mar 24th, 2020 at 08:20 AM.
Melnq8 is offline  
Old Mar 24th, 2020, 08:37 AM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 24,414
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Lordy, at least your friend had some success in Madrid.
mlgb is offline  
Old Mar 24th, 2020, 08:44 AM
Join Date: Jan 2018
Posts: 482
Likes: 0
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
OMG..I feel like crying on your behalf
OReilly64 is offline  
Old Mar 24th, 2020, 09:28 AM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 5,306
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks for taking the time to write a trip report. I'm already stressed after reading about your flight delays to DEN and your mention of the "soul destroying" gap project. Perfect description. Glad there were some high points on your trip.
wtm003 is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell or Share My Personal Information -