Friday, October 26, 2007

Down and out in Paris and Barcelona

This is the story of our run of extremely bad luck trying to get to Barcelona last weekend. I should point out that once this disastrous day had run its course, we had a fantastic time and so overall the trip was very enjoyable and we soon forgot about all the problems.

We were travelling in a group of five - me and Julie, another couple, and another single friend. The original plan (which was all booked months ago) was that we would go to Paris on the Eurostar from London, have a day in Paris, stay overnight, have another day in Paris, then travel to Barcelona by overnight train arriving Friday morning for a long weekend.

However, 2 days before we were due to leave London, a major strike by French transport workers was announced which meant our overnight train was cancelled. The Eurostar was still running. So at the last minute I booked a taxi from our hotel in Paris to Orly airport (because there was no metro or trains or buses in Paris), a flight from Paris to Barcelona with Easyjet, and an extra night’s accommodation in Barcelona (as we would be arriving a day earlier than planned). The other option would have been to stay in Paris an extra night and fly the next day but because of the rugby, all accommodation in Paris was very expensive and miles out of town. Even accommodation in Barcelona was hard to find, and I ended up having to book a different hotel to our main one.

After our day and night in Paris, Thursday started well. The taxi turned up and got us to the airport in good time. However it turned out that our flight to Barcelona had been cancelled, also due to strikes! The earliest Easyjet could get us to Barcelona was Saturday. This was no use to us, as it meant we would have lost half our weekend in Barcelona, but also there was nowhere to stay in Paris. We quickly decided that we would just try and get out of France as quickly as we could, preferably to somewhere in Spain. Easyjet had a flight to Madrid leaving at 2pm so we decided to get that and just take it from there, either by train or more flights, or possibly staying in Madrid overnight.

Our flight was a bit delayed but we made it to Madrid at about 4:30pm. We had found out that the train would be a very long journey and wouldn’t get us to Barcelona until very late at night so it wasn’t really a good option. So from Madrid airport we booked internal flights to Barcelona, leaving at about 6pm. That flight was mercifully uneventful, and got us to Barcelona at about 7:30pm. If nothing else, it all reminded me how much I dislike flying and would far rather travel by train.

Then we got the airport transfer train into Barcelona city centre and then on to the Metro to Lesseps which is North of the city, near Parc Guell. An uphill walk through a dark and mainly closed part of town finally brought us to the hotel tired, grimy and hungry. The prospect of a shower and a nice meal out was by now very tantalizing.

However just as we thought things couldn’t get worse, when we tried to check in to the hotel at 9pm we were told there was no record of our booking and the hotel was full. I showed my booking confirmation from and explained it had been already paid for. The desk attendant (Alberto) seemed quite shocked and then proceeded to ring round other hotels to try and find us alternative accommodation. For the next hour we just sat in the lobby of the hotel with Alberto giving us occasional updates, but no nearer having anywhere to stay. Apparently Barcelona was also booked solid because of a conference. By now even my usually fairly deep well of optimism and practicality was starting to run dry. At 10pm Alberto offered us some food in their restaurant which was welcome and lifted our spirits a bit. At this stage we were starting to eye up the sofas in the hotel lobby and wondering what they would be like to sleep on! At 11pm Alberto offered us a solution which was to take two double rooms from other guests who had not showed up. It meant some unexpected sharing but we were grateful just to have somewhere to sleep. We thanked Alberto profusely who had worked tirelessly trying to help us, even sending other guests away from the desk. They had put a single bed in one of the double rooms and so me and Julie shared that room with Colin. We finally got to bed about 11:30pm, absolutely drained.

In the morning, we left the hotel and went to our originally booked hotel who thankfully knew who we were, and from then on the weekend proceeded without incident and we treated ourselves to lots of nice meals and drinks.

Now we are all trying to sort out various refund and compensation issues. One of my tasks is to deal with who were responsible for the failed hotel booking. I will do some updates on that as things progress. I am very displeased with them. If I don’t get a satisfactory resolution I doubt I will ever be making use of their services again.

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