October 8 – 9, 2018 …. Travel days to Ferrol, Spain.
We had a very tight window, so everything needed to be carefully plotted. After weeks of planning, our itinerary was a perfect orchestration. There were two things that we could not change.
- Jeff’s vacation leave from work = 8 days max.
- My Choir absence = 2 days max. (depart after General Conference Sunday 7 October and return no later than early morning Thursday 18 Oct. in time to sing a special concert that night – thus only missing Thursday 11 Oct & Sunday 14 Oct.
As I blogged previously, one of our first miracles was the incredible flight deal that we found via Pomelo.com, combined with our Chase travel reward points. The deal took us roundtrip from SLC to Paris on American Airlines from Monday 8 Oct, returning late night Wednesday 17 Oct (perfect timing). Then we had to get ourselves to the starting point of the Inglés route of Ferrol (closest airport, A Coruña).
Simple? No. It could have been if we arrived in Paris on Mon/Wed/Fri. There was a direct flight to Santiago de Compostela and a bus or train to Ferrol. But, because we were arriving in Paris on Tuesday, it was going to be a bit more complex (of course!). So, in the end after researching a long list of options we needed a flight from Paris on Air France to Madrid with a 4 hour layover, then a direct flight to A Coruña on Iberia Airlines and then a taxi ride to Ferrol.
In total, we would be travelling or enduring lay-overs for 36 straight hours.
We would then walk the Ingles the next five days from Wednesday to Sunday and depart via the direct flight on Vueling Monday 15 October to Paris which would give us two nights and one full day in Paris – fulfilling a request from Jeff, who served his mission in France and on Choir Tour in 2016 only got half a day, and unfortunately he was very ill – so, if we were going to travel all the way to Europe, AND fly in and out of Paris, a day in Paris seemed only fair! (who’s complaining?) 🙂
Since we knew our itinerary, we pre-booked small hotel rooms along our route for each night.
*Pressing Pause: Pilgrims qualify to stay in special hostal-syle housing along the way called Albergues. These typically cost only 5-10 Euro per night – a super deal for those on a tight budget and who don’t mind sleeping on bunk-beds with a group of co-ed strangers in a communal area – using co-ed bathrooms. This is viewed as a minor trade off for saving a bunch of money, plus you get to make friends with other pilgrims – not a bad deal.**
Jeff and I decided that since we had saved so much money on our flights [literally $2000] we could afford to splurge a bit and stay in some basic hotels [which averaged about 50 Euro per night]. We appreciated the idea of having our privacy, our own room and our own bathroom. We also liked the idea that doing this allowed two pilgrims who could not afford a hotel the opportunity to have beds.
This is probably sounding like too much info – however, I want to establish just how painstakingly planned this itinerary was in order for you to appreciate the magnitude of what was going to transpire later on.
Monday October 8, 2018 arrived! This was it!! We were finally packed [an agonizing affair] and ready to embark on our adventure! We decided to arrive extra early to the airport [wise] so that we would have no stress, and we would try packing our hiking poles in our backpacks. Our Camino chat board told cautionary tales about poles being confiscated by security, or pilgrims being forced to check them instead of carry on and risk losing them. Our plan was to see if we could get them through security, and if not, we would have time to take them back out to the car.
Daughter Bee gave us a ride to the airport and we bid farewell. She would wait to see what happened with our poles at security check. A few minutes later we breezed through security with no problem at all. A quick call and Daughter Bee was on her way home.
Just on the other side of security we saw a man seated with a beautiful apricot poodle in a service vest. The pair looked familiar to me. We struck up a conversation and he confirmed that Fred (the dog) was a regular therapy animal at the hospital where I work. How could you forget that cute face?
Fred’s human Preston asked us where we were headed. When we started to describe our pilgrimage in Spain, he beamed and said he used to live in London, and he had walked the Camino Inglés! What are the odds of that? A great “Camino moment” just as we prepared to depart.
We leisurely walked to our gate, found a seat, and made our first “Camino video”.
After this, Jeff decided to go and find something for us to eat while we waited for our flight.
Moments later he came walking back with his ear pressed to his cell phone and a confused look on his face. He pressed a button and handed the phone to me, “you better listen to this, I can’t quite make sense of it.” He had just happened to glance down while he waited in line and noticed that a message was waiting – the phone had never rung. Another odd thing was that this message came to his phone, and not mine since I was the one who booked the flight and he was the secondary passenger.
The computerized voice message was from American Airlines stating that our flight today from Chicago to Paris had been CANCELLED , and we had been booked for tomorrow’s flight – TUESDAY October 9th. End of story. End of call.
Trying very hard to suppress anger and extreme panic we rushed to the nearest boarding counter and rapidly explained our plight, pleading with the airline employees to help us! Somehow, some way, we absolutely HAD to be in Paris by tomorrow in order for us to make all of our connecting flights, the pre-booked taxi and our pre-booked hotels along the Camino, Nothing at this point could be changed without paying full fares – besides not being able to complete the Camino in time for return flights!
Oh. My. Gosh! How was this happening?!
The woman behind the desk began rapidly tapping the keys of her laptop while we held our breath.
A couple of minutes later [which felt like 2 hours] she was making a phone call speaking rapidly in code to someone – but, I understood the last part. There was a flight out of SLC with only one seat remaining. She was asking if they could request a passenger be bumped to open up another seat for us. She quickly asked if we had checked any baggage, and when we said “no” she said “Good! Because this would never work if you had.” She then succinctly explained that there was a flight to Dallas boarding RIGHT NOW. It had – for some unknown reason – been delayed 15 minutes. If we ran down to the gate RIGHT NOW they were going to try to get us on. If we got on, we could potentially connect onto a direct flight to Paris (only a 20 minute window) from Dallas that would arrive just 30 minutes after the scheduled arrival time of our original (cancelled) flight!
We breathlessly thanked this angel of mercy and ran to the gate of the departing flight to Dallas.
By the time we arrived at the gate, a random stranger had agreed to be bumped (thank you angel person)! The flight attendants had already printed out our tickets to Dallas and the connecting flight to Paris – apologizing that we would not be seated together (“are you kidding me?! That doesn’t matter!!”). We boarded the airplane immediately as the final two passengers in the final two seats. Everyone else was already seated. The doors were locked behind us as soon as we stepped inside, and the plane immediately started taxiing to the runway while we were stowing our backpacks in the overhead bin.
Jeff was seated in the front of the plane and I was on the last row. The magnitude of this entire event began to sink in, and I was absolutely stunned. What had just happened?!
A TRUE MIRACLE!!
I have never felt so overwhelmed with gratitude to be sitting in the middle seat on the last row of an airplane – or in any seat on any airplane – in my entire life!!! I wanted to shout and dance and sing the Hallelujah Chorus! I excitedly began to tell my seat mates what had just happened – but was met with very tired eyes. No matter. I was getting my last glimpse of SLC for 10 days… and we were headed to Dallas!
For the next 2 ½ hours I just sat there grinning from ear to ear, offering prayers of thanks. I honestly have no idea to this day why American Airlines cancelled that flight (which was completely full, so hundreds of lives were disrupted!), nor why they didn’t call us sooner which would have stopped us from going to the airport (and would have been a disaster since we could not have been booked onto the Dallas flight), nor why the automated message was sent only to Jeff’s phone two hours before we were supposed to depart from SLC for Chicago, and the phone didn’t ring but he still actually saw the message at the most critical moment (this was a BIG deal since he’s notorious for never looking at his phone – and why would he at that very moment?) …
… all I know is that the Lord created the perfect intervention for us.
At about 2:30 pm local time we were preparing to land in Dallas, Texas. I saw a nice view from the window. I’ve never been to Dallas.
Moments after our plane touched down, before we had even started heading to the gate, everyone’s cell phones began making a tremendous racket. It was the oddest thing I’ve ever witnessed and it made me chuckle for a moment. A local weather alert was being issued for a severe hail storm. Literally 15 seconds later our plane was being pelted with golf-ball sized hail. The captain’s voice announced that we would be staying on the runway until the storm passed. He told us that all airplanes that had not landed yet were being diverted to other airports or placed in a holding pattern, so we were lucky we had already landed.
ANOTHER MIRACLE? YES INDEED!
We’d been warned we only had 20 minutes to catch the flight to Paris! I was trying not to panic. By now, everyone seated around me was sympathetic to our plight and jumped into action trying to pull up the flight info for me on their phones. Two attendants nearby were able to log into their system and tell me that the Paris connection was listed “on time” and that it was “now boarding passengers”!
A veteran flier nearby tried to reassure me in his Texan drawl; “Listen ma’am, if our plane is delayed from this storm, then that plane is definitely going to be delayed also. Don’t you worry yourself.”
I prayed he was right!
The hail kept coming. The minutes ticked by…
Eventually, the captain’s voice announced that he had been given clearance to proceed to the gate – and he added; “We have a few passengers on board that have to make very tight connecting flights, so I’m going to ask everyone who does not have an immediate connecting flight to please stay put and let these passengers disembark first, thank you!”
Sure enough, when the cabin door was unlocked everyone stayed in their seats while Jeff and I and two other women stood up. We grabbed our backpacks, and made our way out. My seatmates called out “Best of luck!” and waved.
Wow, people can be so good!!
A flight attendant was standing outside the ramp and gave us great news. Our Paris flight was delayed 30 minutes. We had enough time to take a train to the correct terminal and gate (which was quite a distance – Whew!)
HAPPY [LONG] TRAILS
When we arrived at the gate we were informed we had been reassigned seats together for our long flight to Paris. How sweet!!
Up next, our 9½ hour flight to Paris…
…Our 5 hour layover in Paris – spending 1 hour getting lost and wandering down long hallways we weren’t supposed to be in (who knows how that happened?). That airport is HUGE!!!
A 2 ½ hour flight to Madrid…
A 4 hour layover in Madrid (more wandering down long hallways and climbing out of service escalators…
… until we were told, in broken English that we needed to take a bus to the Iberia terminal (which was not close at all!!). Thank heaven we had a long layover!
This beautiful rainbow lasted the entire time we were in the Iberia terminal, all the way to take-off. What a glorious gift! It felt like heaven was celebrating our journey.
Then a 1 ½ hour flight to A Coruña…
It was dark, no photos!
And then… a 1 hour taxi ride to Ferrol. We had the sweetest little Spanish grandmother for our taxi driver. She was so excited to meet Americans. We decifered that she had just started to take English classes and she was very excited to practice her English with us. Sadly, we didn’t get a photo with her because she was delightful!
We made it to our final destination for the night! Despite our exhaustion, we were so thrilled to see our beautiful lodging in Ferrol, Spain the lovely Hotel El Suizo, and what a beautiful miracle it was!! Hooray!
Upon check-in, our lovely hostess offered to stamp our pilgrim credentials so that we would not forget to do it in the morning. She carefully placed the first stamp in each of our “pilgrim passports” and dated them 10/10/2018. This was such an exciting moment for us, I had to take photos of each step (of course!) which entertained her.
Early tomorrow morning, we begin walking our pilgrimage on the Camino Inglés!- Holly