Saturday, September 15, 2012

We’ve Gone To The Dogs: The Canary Islands

Map picture

We’ve Gone To The Dogs

The Canary Islands

I dare say that most people reading this have no idea where in the world the Canary Islands are located, or what country they are allied with, nor where the name “Canary” was derived. I had an interesting encounter this morning at the buffet breakfast while waiting for my omelet; the young man next to me leans over and said “Are you an American?” When I answered that I was he said “it is a real surprise to see an American here for vacation since most Americans I work with back home have never even heard of the Canary Islands, yet they are one of the most popular getaways for Europeans.” That about sums it up! The Canary Islands are home to over 2 million people and are a part of Spain. The archipelago is composed of 13 islands of which the largest is the island of Tenerife which is where we are located. The islands are only 100 km to the West of mainland Africa on a line from the borders of Morocco and Western Sahara. By the way, the term “Canary” does not refer to a bird, but instead when the early settlers arrived they found the island populated with a breed of large dogs which in Spanish is Carnaris, hence the Canary Islands.

Tenerife has two large airports, and we landed at the North Airport from which the drive to our hotel was almost an hour. During the long drive, we sped past one tourist bus after another all completely filled with people arriving for the weekend. In addition to the airports, the island is served by five separate ferries from Spain alone. Upon reaching our hotel, the Gran Bahia Del Duque Resort, we felt as if we had just landed in Florida at one of the Disney Hotels. All the employees are elaborately dressed in old Spanish attire, and the huge complex is spotlessly clean. It is clearly designed for you to spend your entire visit within the enclosure. There are only two entrances/exits, and within the walls you will find every amenity you could desire, including 12 different restaurants.

However, when my AAA batteries in my clock failed, there was no way to find batteries inside the fortress, and so we went for a walk to the nearby shopping center. We were told that the walk would take only 5 minutes, but in reality it took us over 30 minutes. When we finally arrived, there were upscale shops of every kind and description: Rolex, Prada, etc. and no sign of poor, old lowly batteries. After getting some help, we finally located a “quick trip” type store down in a basement tucked away in the back.

Why the Canary Islands? Well one reason is their subtropical climate. If you look at the 10 day forecast, it is the same every day; clear with a high of 89 degrees and a low of 72 degrees. In addition, the islands are located above the temperature inversion layer which means that the skies are incredibly clear, and as such, it is home to two of the world’s major observatories.

Our journey here was not without some “issues.” We flew from home to JFK in New York, and as usual, after landing, we had to taxi for over 30 minutes to reach our parking area. That meant that we had to climb down from the aircraft, and then proceed to walk up a long flight of stairs to get inside the terminal all the while lugging our carry-on bags. We had a 4 hour layover in the new Terminal Building under construction, and thus there we no club lounges available and precious few places to get a snack. When we asked about a “sit down” restaurant, we were told to leave the secure area to where all the services were, but we were not about to go through security a second time – just yet as you will later see.

Our eight hour flight departed the gate on time, but we spent the next hour doing the “taxi” thing before departing. One thing very frustrating was to see us finally reach the position in which we were next for takeoff, at which point our aircraft turned away from the runway, and proceeded to taxi in a big circle while other planes went past us for departure. We did this little 360 degree maneuver three times, and at one point I wondered if they would ever let us depart!

We arrived into Madrid early in the morning of the next day, and had to clear immigration and customs before proceeding to Tenerife. Because unlike many other passengers going on to Tenerife, we were not given boarding passes. We had to leave the security area and go check in for our Air Europa flight. That went well enough, but to reach the check in counters was a very long walk, and then of course, we had that marvelous experience of yet another security checkpoint.

With some time to spare before our flight was to board, we headed to the Lounge located at gate E69. Believe it or not, that meant we had to walk all the way through terminals F and G before starting the long walk to gate E69. At the point where the sign said E69 were a set of automatically closing doors to which was affixed a sign about the club lounge and listing all the airlines that it served. So, we went through the doors and down the stairs only to find ourselves underneath the actual terminal and in an unsecured area. Believe it or not, we had to walk all the way back to the original entrance to the check in area, and then only to learn that somewhere along the way I had dropped my boarding pass. We felt like Alice having dropped down the rabbit hole - all that long walk, we could see the inside terminal but we could not get there and when we did, we had to begin the entire process all over again.

I managed to obtain a new boarding pass, and we yet again cleared security, but by now it was getting close to our departure time. We literally ran this time, and when we came to the infamous E69 doors, just as we passed an older couple entered and went down the stairs, and I would bet money they too had just entered “the rabbit hole.” Just past the E69 sign was a 90 degree turn in the concourse, and just around the corner was the real E69 with a sign for the club that indicated you should take an elevator up to the second level. At this point, we could care less and we continued to run, arriving at the aircraft just in time. We had business class tickets but guess what; business class on this aircraft only meant that they did not sell the middle seat in the standard economy “six across configuration!” We fell into our seats and I was so tired that I fell asleep immediately, and did not wake up until we were ready for landing after a 3 hour flight.

So here we are in the lap of luxury in the middle of nowhere, ready to board our ship The Silver Explorer around noon tomorrow.

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