The Journey to Pamplona

As I write this, I am currently sitting on a plane heading to Atlanta. Now some of you may be wondering why in the world I'm on a plane bound for Atlanta because my original flight itinerary was Minneapolis --> Amsterdam --> Madrid --> Pamplona. Well, that flight plan went out the window the night before I was supposed to leave. Around 1 am the night before I was supposed to leave, I received two emails, one from Delta and one from KLM. They both said the same thing, "Your flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam has been cancelled. We will attempted to rebook you on the soonest available flight. This usually takes less than three hours." However, three and a half hours later, I still hadn't received any emails or updates from either airline. At that point, it was 4:30am and I could barely stay awake even though I was panicking about what the cancellation would mean for all my other flights, especially the one from Madrid to Pamplona because that was booked through a different airline, so I went to sleep with a plan to call my travel agency right away in the morning.

Right after I woke up today, I called the travel agency to see what was going on and what was going to happen. As I was speaking to them on the phone, I received an incoming call from a 1-800 number that I didn't recognize. I almost didn't answer the call because usually all the 1-800 calls that I get are spam calls. Let's just say it was a very good thing that I decided to answer that call... It was an agent from Delta Airlines calling to ask about booking me an alternate flight plan so that I could still make my Iberia flight (Madrid to Pamplona). The agent said, "Well, are you willing to be rebooked on a 1pm flight out of MSP to Atlanta, then a connecting flight from Atlanta to Madrid?" I don't think I waited until she had finished speaking before I said, "Yes, please rebook me on those flights". The only catch was that the flight to Atlanta left 2 hours earlier than my original flight to Amsterdam, but that wasn't too big of a deal because I still had plenty of time to get ready and get to the airport. It also meant that I had to say goodbye to my family and pets earlier than planned.

Saying goodbye to my pets was very hard. First off, there was the issue that none of them wanted to be hugged or picked up. Secondly, I knew that I wasn't going to be seeing them for a whole year. I managed to track down both the kittens and pick them up to hug them and say goodbye, but it took a while to find them because they were off playing with each other. Saying goodbye to Kinsey (my dog) was a little easier in the sense that she tolerated me hugging her, but it was still very hard emotionally. I'll definitely be asking my family to send pictures and videos of them.

Once we arrived at the airport, I went to check my suitcase but the system wanted to check my suitcase all the way to Pamplona, which wouldn't have worked because Delta and Iberia aren't partners so my suitcase would've gotten lost in the system. Thankfully, a Delta agent managing the baggage counter caught the issue and fixed it before my suitcase was officially checked.

After I checked my suitcase, it was time to say goodbye to my family. My mom, dad, brother and grandpa came to the airport to say goodbye and send me off. We walked over to the start of the security line and took some pictures then said goodbye. At first, I was okay and felt like I was ready to get in the security line, but as soon as I went to walk away, I started crying and didn't want to leave, but I knew that if I didn't take this amazing opportunity given to me, that I would forever regret it. So, I said goodbye to my family and walked into the security line.

My family and I at the airport

Apparently, I had TSA-PreCheck on my boarding pass but didn't realize it, so when I got up to the TSA agent, she asked if I wanted to go through precheck. Assuming it would be faster and easier since I had my laptop and liquids with me, I agreed and went through the precheck line. However, I ended up having to have my carry-on suitcase searched because with all my pins in the suitcase, the X-RAY machine couldn't see enough of my suitcase to clear it. So, I ended up having to stand around for 15 minutes while an agent searched my suitcase. He looked so confused when he pulled out all 3 or 4 bags of pins from my suitcase. But in the end, all was well and I headed to my gate (G17) which was almost at the other end of the terminal. Thankfully I got to the airport earlier than I needed to, so I had plenty of time to get to my gate and find some lunch before my flight departed at 1pm.

When I got to my gate, my name was being paged to the desk because they needed to verify my passport. So, I handed them my passport, boarding passes, and documents that said my parents gave permission for me to travel internationally by myself. While I was at the desk, one of the agents asked if I wanted my seat changed because I had a window seat in the back of the plane. Normally, I would've just declined because it usually doesn't matter much to me where I sit, but because I only have an hour layover in Atlanta and I have to get to the other side of the terminal, I agreed. I didn't realize it at the time, but when she changed my seat, she upgraded me to a Delta Comfort+ seat, which was a lot nicer than the regular seats and  very close to the door, which meant that I could exit the plane sooner.
I am very excited to finally be on my way to Spain because that means I'll soon be able to meet my host families, all the other exchange students and get to know the Spanish culture.

During the flight to Atlanta, I watched The Princess Bride and wrote the above part of this blog post.

The Princess Bride

With my new flight plan, I only had an hour layover in Atlanta which was almost not enough time. Once the flight from Minneapolis landed and finally made it to our gate in Atlanta, I only had about 20  minutes to get from Concourse A to Concourse E  before my flight began boarding. The Atlanta airport is a big airport, but thankfully they have a very fast tram between all the concourses, otherwise I would not have made my flight. Another reason that I was able to make my connection was because of the people sitting in the same row as me. I talked to them during the flight and at one point explained that I only had an hour to get to my gate before my plane left, so when we were allowed to deplane, they quickly got out of their seats so that I could leave the plane faster. When I got to my gate, they were just starting the boarding process, which means that I wasn't too late, but I was definitely cutting it close. 

Unfortunately my flight from Atlanta to Madrid was completely booked. There were no empty seats anywhere on the plane. That meant that I was stuck with my seat assignment of 45F, the second to last row on the plane. I had an aisle seat, which was a blessing but also a curse. It was a blessing because it meant that I didn't have to try and climb over someone while they were asleep to use the restroom or even just to get up and stretch my legs. However, on long flights I prefer window seats over aisle seats because then I have something to lean against while I try and sleep. As a result of not having something to lean against while I try to sleep, I didn't sleep at all during my 7 hour flight. Thankfully the flight was over an hour earlier than expected, so I wasn't stuck sitting there for another hour without much to do.

Breakfast on the Atlanta to Madrid flight
(orange juice, yogurt, cheese, and a peach muffin)

While it was nice that the flight from Atlanta to Madrid was over an hour sooner, there were also some downsides. It was nice because it meant that I could get up sooner and not have to sit for another hour. However, it meant that I had an extra hour to spend in the Madrid airport and I already had a six and a half hour layover. A seven and a half hour layover is way too long in my opinion, especially when you are traveling by yourself, because there is no one else to pass the time with. I ended up not doing much during my layover, if you don't count getting lost, standing in long lines, and having to go through security twice in 5 minutes.

When the flight from Atlanta landed, we deplaned in Terminal 1 of the Madrid airport. However, my connecting flight left from Terminal 4, and I wasn't quite sure how to get there. I knew I had to take a bus, but I had no idea where I would get on this bus, or how often it came. But before I could do anything, I had to go through customs/passport control. Since it was still relatively early in the morning when we landed, there wasn't many customs agents working, so the lines were horrendously long. The fact that our flight landed around the same time as 5 other flights, probably didn't help matters either. I knew that I had a really long layover though, so I didn't stress about going through customs fast enough to make my connecting flight. At one point, there was so many people in the customs hall, that people were spilling out into the lobby and back up the stairs that we had to come down in order to enter the customs area. However, once you finally got into the designated customs area, the officials were having people form 7 or 8 lines that corresponded with the customs agents. I, of course, managed to pick the absolute slowest line out of all of them. Out of the hundreds of people, I was one of the last 15 people through customs. I'm still not sure why my line moved so slowly. When I got in it, it only had about 10 people in front of me, yet it took over 35 minutes for me to get through to the other side. Once I got to the other side, I picked up my checked luggage from the baggage claim, walked through the "Nothing to Declare" door and exited the secure area of the airport, which meant that now it was time to try and figure out how to get to Terminal 4 from Terminal 1.

At first, I was following the signs that showed where the bus would be, but then the signs disappeared and I wasn't sure what to do or where to go, so I asked an airport employee. They told me that the bus I wanted to take was number 200 and showed me where to get on. So, when the bus arrived, I got on and waited until it stopped at Terminal 4, but it never did. The bus got to the end of the line, which was about 10-15 minutes from the airport in an underground transit center. I didn't really have any other option, so I got off the bus and checked the signs for the bus back to the airport, which happened to be the same bus I just got off. So, I got in line, got on the bus, paid my first European bus fare (€1.50) and hoped the bus would take me back to the airport. First, it stopped at two stops on the city streets, which made me nervous that it was the wrong bus again, but when it finally stopped at Terminal 1, then Terminal 2, and finally Terminal 4, I was very relieved.

I got off the bus at Terminal 4 and headed upstairs to check in for my final flight, but I had no idea how to do so. The way the Madrid airport is set up is that there are many , many check-in counters and they all have a number in the 700's or the 800's. Not knowing how it worked, I headed to the big display board where everyone was gathering before heading off to one of the numbered gates. As it turns out, each flight had it's own numbered check-in counter, but my flight was not on the board. In fact, the board only showed flights until 12pm and my flight left at 2:55pm. After realizing that my flight would not have it's own numbered check-in counter for a while, I started looking for self check-in kiosks. I quickly spotted them, checked in, printed out my boarding pass and luggage tag, then headed to the bag drop to drop of my checked bag, which was a piece of cake. Next was security, and let me tell you, the signage before you pass through security is pretty much non-existent. There were no signs telling you what to take out of your bags or even if you should take your shoes off or not. So, I looked around and copied what everyone else was doing. It was pretty much the same rules as USA security, but everyone was allowed to leave their shoes on, which was odd to me, but also nice because I really didn't want to take off my shoes.

Now, a word of advice. Traveling with pins, badges or even glass paperweights in your carry-on suitcase is a real hassle, because security will either search your bags, like they did to me in Minneapolis, or they will make you take out all the pins and paperweights and place them in separate bins to send through the x-ray machines again. I understand why they do this, but it doesn't mean that it's not a hassle. Anyways, once I satisfied the security agents, they let me pass and I headed to my gate before realizing that I still had about four hours to kill, so I set out to find breakfast/lunch.

There were so many good options for food, but I eventually just got food from McDonald's because there were outlets in all the tables and my phone was down to 6%. Normally, in the US, there are lots of charging stations or outlets where people can plug their devices into, but I didn't see a single one and I walked through the entirety of Terminal 4, which I found odd, but maybe that's the norm in Spain/Europe. 

Terminal 4

The McDonald's was very nice and looked more sophisticated than other McDonald's that I've seen. It even had this cool feature that allowed you to order from a machine and pay at the machine, then it would send your order to the kitchen who would then make it. One thing I noticed about that system is that it was so much faster and efficient than ordering it at the counter like usual. I placed my order and received my food less than 3 minutes later! After I got my food, I ended up sitting in McDonald's for close to an hour while I ate, rearranged my backpack, and let my phone charge. Then, I decided to return to my gate, even though I was still 3 hours early.

McDonald's Machines

McDonald's at the airport

Once it came time to board the plane, we went through the usual boarding procedure, but then they announced that we would all be taking a bus to our airplane since it wasn't parked at the jet bridge. So, we all got on a bus and they brought us to our plane, but the crew was still loading our luggage, so we weren't allowed to get off until they were done. Then, because of the limited room in the airplane (there were virtually no overhead bins), they forced everyone to check their carry-on suitcases, which meant that my suitcase got scratched up, which I'm not too happy about, but I knew it would get dinged up anyways.

The plane was a smaller jet plane, with only two seats in each row and not very many rows. Once we had all boarded and taken off, the flight only lasted about 55 to 60 minutes. It was a very nice, short flight. The landing was a little jerky, but I expected that from such a small plane. We landed then taxied to a spot just off the runway. We deplaned using the stairs on the plane, then walked into the terminal from there. The Pamplona Airport is so small. It only has two baggage belts and the arrivals part of the terminal appeared to be on the same level as the departures, because there it looked like there was only one floor in the entire airport. Once I picked up my bags, I walked through the doors and was immediately greeted by my host family (Angel, Iñigo, Itziar), my Rotary counselor (Javier), his wife, and his daughter (Idoia). My host mom (Jaione) wasn't able to be at the airport to greet me, because she was on a plane returning home from a vacation with her friends, but I met her later that day. After I was introduced to everyone we took some pictures, and then got in the car to go home.

Left to right: Idoia, Javier, Angel, Me, Iñigo, and Itziar