Thursday, July 26, 2007

That’s How They Getcha

note: 2nd post today! Be sure to read on . . .

We’ve just arrived back in London today, and our summer seems to be over. There’s been a lot of rain here recently (including right now)—not sure if any of you Americans have heard this on the news, but it’s actually been pretty serious here in the UK. Lots of people without water (the great irony of floods, but, as with Katrina back home, beer tankers have been coming to the rescue and delivering emergency H2O), transportation messed up (Heathrow and the Tube), and various other issues. Welcome to Prime Ministerhood, Gordon Brown.

So, as usual, we purchased a case of port in Porto. Not only is it a family tradition now; it’s really, really good. I’m not sure if I mentioned that Ian and I sampled some other 20-year tawnies the day that we bought ours—I’m pleased to report that Calém is, in both our opinions, still the best (and no, not because the name sort of resembles mine). It’s always an issue transporting the port, though. It’s heavy, and evidently no one in Portugal will ship alcohol privately to the States (since each state has its own liquor importation laws, customs and tariffs and whatnot are complicated, so Portugal just doesn’t play). We can’t carry it on to planes either, not anymore, so we purchased a new bag (a bright orange roller), and thought that three checked bags between the two of us would be more or less manageable to get out of Portugal, and ultimately back to the US (we’re staying with friends in London right now, and will again at the end of August, so Big Orange will stay here while we continue our journeys. We’re not going to be popping on and off of buses and trains with giant rucksacks, heavy computer bags, and a large orange roller suitcase carrying twelve bottles of port. That’s just ridiculous.).

Anyway, first stop at the airport this morning was the car rental agency to drop off our car. This one, too, was an Opel Corsa, and brand-spanking-new. I think it had 26 kms on it when we picked it up. It had an even more useless engine, though, than the last one. On the motorway, we could more or less almost maintain 100 kph (speed limit was 120) going up a slight incline, if we downshifted to 4th and floored it. More or less. But back to my story.

I reserved the car online, and we got a pretty good deal for it—€236 or something for 9 days—and then when we picked it up, evidently the rate had changed, and they dropped the total cost down to €226. That’s at least one lunch, so we didn’t argue (okay, anyone who argues with a multinational corporation about a €10 discount is crazy, anyway).

Sometime while we were in Trás os Montes, my credit card stopped working. When I called to find out why, it seemed that the rental car company had, instead of charging me €226, charged me about €1,000 instead. That looked suspicious, so VISA had put a hold on my account. I did not authorize them to pay the charge, figuring it would all get worked out when I returned the car.

So this morning at the agency I waited patiently while they checked me in on the computer, then found my initial paperwork and perused that, then looked over everything again (seriously, it was a 20 minute process), then finally went into the back. I assumed they would come back with some notice that I hadn’t paid, but no. The agent handed me €6, said “Obrigado,” and sent me on my way.

So, it would seem that, instead of paying €226 for our 9-day rental, we actually got paid €6. Okay . . . (note: since writing this, I've accessed my CC records and they did, in fact, charge me for the car. Still, a discount of €16 is nothing to thumb your nose at.)

So off to the terminal to check in for our flight, on TAP. We handed over our two rucksacks, then started to haul Big Orange onto the scale.

“Oh no,” said the agent. “Is that yours too?”

“Yes . . .”

“Because you’re only allowed 20 kgs each on this flight.”

“Can we pay for the extra bag?” asked Ian.

“Yes,” said Claudia, our agent, “but I’m afraid it’s very expensive. It’s €50 per 5 kgs over the total.”

“What?” we gasped, shocked. “FIFTY EUROS for every extra five kilos?!?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” she replied. “That would be about €360 for this extra bag.”

I explained that it was port, and we couldn’t send it, and we couldn’t carry it on, so what should we do? Our tickets, both of them together, had cost less than €200. Could we just buy another plane ticket, and its attendant 20 kg, and call it good? But of course we couldn’t—tickets purchased one hour before the flight are much more expensive.

“You could try air cargo,” Claudia suggested. “You can walk there—it’s not far. I’ll check in all three bags just in case, but as cargo it will probably arrive sometime today, and it will probably be cheaper. Try it, and come back to see me and let me know if it works. But see me only, okay?”

So, off we went to air cargo, which is in the old terminal of Porto’s airport, from which I actually flew several times 10 years ago. We were able to send Big Orange to London (Heathrow instead of Gatwick, where we were flying, and so obviously not on our same plane), arriving this evening, for only €93, which, if you divide by two and add it to the tickets we’d already purchased, really didn’t end up being that much more. Our toiletries are in Big Orange, but I think we’ll live without them tonight and go collect them in the morning. I'd like to note that our flight from Porto to London wasn't even 1/5 full, so it definitely wasn't a space or weight issue. On the other hand, they clearly weren't making much money on our flight.

Back in the fancy new terminal, we waved at Claudia We made it! from across a crowd of new checker-inners, and negotiated security and passport control with a minimum of fuss.

The only bad part of the journey (as opposed to the cargo part, which was a somewhat bemusing novelty and, ultimately, only a bit irritating) was landing at Gatwick, where there were still rainstorms, and after descending for some unknown amount of altitude through choppy, gray clouds, we put the landing gear down, saw some green pastures near below us, and suddenly did one of those reverse descents (read: very labored and speedy ascents) back up into the misty turbulent closeness. We bumped around for another 15 minutes before attempting to land again (Ian and I tried to distract ourselves with Tintin and the Broken Ear, in Portuguese, with nominal success). This time we came down completely, but several times we wondered if one of the turbulent drops was going to slam us into the ground just a little too hard for the landing gear to handle.

Five days here, then off to Latvia! The adventure continues . . .

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