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Tribulations of a European vacation

For the past three weeks my wife and I traveled to Greece, then met up with the rest of our family for a week in Southern Spain. We looked forward to some rest after our nonstop Greek touring, but hadn’t anticipated how much more grueling traveling would be, due to the unpredictably of flying. 

Flying from Heraklion, Crete to Athens, we arrived at the relatively small airport shortly before 5am for a 6am flight and encountered a huge line of about 400 people waiting to go through a single security line. If we hadn’t had our Gold status on United for the Aegean flight that allowed us to go to the front of the line, we still might be waiting.

We connected in Athens on an Iberia flight to Malaga and encountered another long line to check in at the Iberia counter that took almost an hour, and that was for business class. With Iberia running so few flights from Athens, they outsource their check-in counter to another company. Lesson learned: better to fly from an airport on an airline with more than a modest presence.

My son and his family joined us in Marbella from Barcelona and had a much easier time. They traveled by train and it was right on time. And when we later traveled to Cordoba and Madrid by train, it was a welcome relief from flying. My grandson remarked how much better planes would be if they had the spacing and seating of a train: wide aisles, comfortable seats and plenty of storage space.

While much of the trip went smoothly, I learned some lessons about renting a car in Europe. I used Costco to reserve a 7-passenger van to be picked up at the Malaga airport from Alamo, at a cost of about $670. (Alamo is no longer the low service/low cost rental company; they’re now part of National and Enterprise using the same office and pool of cars at this location.) A few days before our rental was to begin, I wanted to switch the drop off point from the airport to the train station. But Alamo couldn’t modify the reservation since it was booked through Costco. And Costco said to call Alamo or rebook, because changes cannot be made on their site. I tried booking a new reservation on Costco with the new dropoff location, but the cost jumped to $890! On a whim, I called the Alamo office in Spain and asked what would my cost be to make a new reservation directly. It was just $530 for the same vehicle and booked it.

When I picked up the van, I opted for the $250 insurance, which I rarely do, but considering I saved hundreds renting directly, my cost was still reasonable. And that turned out to be fortuitous.

A few hours after renting the car I drove back to the Malaga airport to pick up my daughter. I parked in the short term lot next to the terminal. Squeezing a 7 passenger van into the tiny parking space was a challenge, but I managed to do it. However, when pulling out of the space, I carefuly maneuvered past a large cement column, watching through my left side mirror to prevent scraping the side of the car, completely unaware of a large metal box strapped to the column protruding into the parking space above the sight line of the mirror. Suddenly, I heard a crunching sound as the corner of the box pierced the large side window of the van. The window shattered as pieces fell into the back seat.

I drove back to the rental car office and an Alamo examined the damage, put the information into their tablet computer, and declared it was fully covered by insurance. They gave me another van and off I went, a little shaken but grateful.

International travel isn’t as much fun as it used to be, but it’s still a wonderful experience sharing new experiences together with your family, even with the inconveniences and occasional glitches.