10 Сентября 2011

Filled to the brim with adventures

On the second day of my trip I got an sms from my wife: I miss u. Surprisingly I hardly felt the same — I had no time to. It was the most intensive holiday I’ve ever had, I tell you.

The journey to the sunny island of Mallorca and the corporate volleyball event didn’t begin in the moment our A320 took off the Domodedovo airport and propelled into the azure. It had begun a bit earlier.


Visa or not visa

The day of departure, early morning, a couple of hours left, belongings gathered, tickets in hand — still, no visa. It took a fair bit of my nerves, a high-speed drive through Moscow and an hour-long waiting to get the bloody Schengen visa. Hurray! Another race across the city, a (moderate) speed train and timely online check-in, that’s what I need to catch the aircraft. There I joined other Russian participants — Lena, Katya (not Kate, if you please), and Ilshat.

Mallorca, we’re coming!


Swiss quality 

Swiss is a much respected airline as far as I know. Knew. During the journey I learned it has some room for improvement.

Our connection in Zurich was supposed to be a comfort one — forty minutes. Sometimes it’s convenient, sometimes it sucks. We descended pretty late (thanks to you, our Swiss carrier), fifteen or twenty minutes prior to the departure of our plane to Mallorca. Though, no announcements, no airline guides to lead us through the maze of the airport.

We had to cross vast corridors, pass the border control and hasteless security check — you may guess, at the gate there was no more than the shadow of our skipped flight. Just to put it clear: out of six (!) Swiss flights we took or were to take during that weekend (all by Swiss), this was the only one without delay. They killed swiped our plane! Bastards!

A middle-aged woman at Swiss transfer desk eagerly confirmed: no flights for Mallorca today, only tomorrow morning. If you are lucky enough. A rather phlegmatic attitude, I believe. So, we’re stuck in Zurich for the evening, all in all not a bad idea. What’s more the volleyball tourney starts only tomorrow. Pure luck, isn’t it?

“For today’s night you’ll stay at Hilton,” the woman said, “dinner and breakfast inclusive. Two double rooms will go?” No, we’re colleagues, not a kind of Swedish family (Russian idiom for polyamory).

Ok, then Zurich. The trip seems more colorful now. Not only sunny and hot Mallorca but also small and cozy Zurich.

Do you think we just picked up our stuff and went away? Not at all. It took slightly more time. Ilshat and me had only hand luggage, the girls on the contrary had had checked luggage. At Lost & Found we got clear instructions: go to belt 11, there you’ll have it. So did we. In vain. An eternity later another airport guy took the problem more seriously: so weird, let’s check, let’s double check, your luggage was supposed to be unloaded as you hadn’t appeared at the gate. Maybe they didn’t. But they were to. Then your bags are in Mallorca now, taking a sunbath. Look, I’ll keep on trying to figure out where your luggage is and will call you back. However, if I don’t

He never did.


Sophisticated talking

Provided with two basic necessity bags, we headed to Hilton. Despite a prejudice of mine that all hotels at airports don’t need to be any good at all (this way or another they’ll be filled with latecomers), this one appeared to be a wonderful place. That’s why it’s called Hilton. It offered, however, no free wi-fi (what a shame) but a nice variety of fish dishes to please a quaternion of hungry stomachs.

Up the hill, devouring outstanding desserts, we small talked about thousand various things — meaning of numbers in Dostoevsky's masterpieces, various interpretations of Master and Margarita, and reading style of Lolita — till we realized we want a real Swiss fondue and a walk around Zurich. Some hours later the conversation was resumed: on value of added value (literally), MBAs, and interpersonal relations — on the very top of some observatory tower in the downtown, drinking cocktails and attended by a Ukrainian waiter. Fondue was forgotten.

The town itsself is stylish with its modern infrastructure and old-fashioned architecture, yet gloomy. Switch off the neon lights and Zurich will immerse in darkness.

“Do you know a proven technique how to identify a Russian girl abroad?” I teased Lena and Katya during the walk, “Russian women are the only ones to wear shoes with stiletto heels.” Should I have known that I hit a raw nerve! “Look, look, there’s a girl on high heels! And there once more! We’re not odd!”


Clash at the gate

I omitted a little detail about the Swiss agent at the transfer desk. She didn’t hand over four tickets for Saturday morning. Instead she gave three for the second flight and one more for the first flight, although without a specified seat as the plane was overbooked. You may guess that the guy to try his luck on the first flight was me.

6 a.m. The gate stand is empty but for me. All I can do is wonder: what the heck I'm to do here half an hour before the boarding start? where's my savior to come and rescue me? will I finally fly off to Mallorca?

"I've a very special ticket," I warn a Swiss employee as soon as she arrives, "and I need to Mallorca." She examines the piece of paper I hand over and says only this: "Wait!" My mood grew darker and darker as other opportunistic travelers appeared at the desk with their no-seat tickets. The line of genuine ticket owners irritated me as well because it seemed to never end.

However, when my nerves were about to burst, the Swiss employee turned to me and said the words that made my day: "You may board."

I'm flying to Mallorca, yahoo!


Tricky way a la playa

Mallorca is a nice place with just ten rainy days a year. Less than once a month. Yes, I bet you've already got it — the day of my arrival was a rainy one.

Not a problem for a true adventurer. After a long and twisty way through the airport labirinth a taxi drove me off towards Sa Rapita beach, where the volleyball tournament was about to begin.

Spanish drivers are a remarkable type of human beings. They drive — unbuckled, one hand stuck out of the window — at 120 km/h on a two-lane highway with a shell stone fence half a meter away from the car. Apart from this, Spanish drivers tend not to know any English at all. Even if they do, they season it with local phrases. Once you've shown you speak some Spanish, they immediately switch into it and hasten their speech tempo many times.

There was no clue that relaxation on a front seat of the car was just the beginning of yet another adventure. Mallorca is a pretty tiny island, 60 x 80 km or so. Nevertheless, this fact didn't stop my driver from taking me to a wrong beach!

With a trolley case in one hand and a shoulder bag in the other, I left the taxi and stepped onto the beach. Totally empty. It didn't seem like a volleyball tourney. I dragged to a nearby bar and approached the host: "Do you speak English?" "Why not," his answer. "Is Sa Rapita beach here?" "No, it's a mile away."

Sa Rapita is over there:

How cute. One mile of sand separated me from my target. Behind my back — a tiny village named Ses Covetes with no taxis to see. What did I choose? Of course, an absolutely new experience called "With a trolley bag along the beach".

My poor trolley bag on the beach:

A pleasant walk — and I'm right there, in the middle of turmoil, surrounded by players, judges, and spectators. At once I encountered Daniela, our always-friendly hostess and organizer, whose message was clear: Join the party, the tourney is underway and you Russians are the only ones to be late!


80-year-old-DJ party

Sixteen teams, four members each, two group stages and the finals — those are the facts.

My team — number five — was really strong: Vladena, our indispensible captain from Prague, Michael from Brussels, and Benedikt from Munich. Still, they had managed to lose one match before I arrived and fixed the situation. A 21 to 7 humiliation in the next game, 21 to 11 hammering in the following and so on and so forth. That's I call a key player :) 

The event was lively and fascinating with opposing representatives of nearly all offices, some vigorous but exhaustive beach football, cheerful and amusing judges, and the person, which appealed to me best of all: our elderly but full of life DJ. He was pure energy and drive.

It's he:

Somewhere in the middle of the day Ilshat arrived (a 40-minute delay is almost on time for Swiss, you know). Several matches, wins and loses and — bang, the finals! Ilshat's team opposed a really classy one (Jan Flemming, Emmanuel Godard, Chen Liang-Reissl, and Adrian Weber), which knocked out us in the challenging pre-final match (semifinals in other words) and could reckon only on the second place. Not that bad, I'd say. Gratz to the winners and gratz to Ilshat and his team, you did very good!

What concerns us, I've already said that my team was really strong — once stumbled in the semifinals we took the bronze medals in a rather easy way (place four, no offence, still we were better :) ).

Congratulations to all of us!


Head judge:

Third place:

Second place:

First place:


Girls’ adventures

And what about Katya and Lena? They arrived together with Ilshat and headed for Lost & Found to claim their luggage. Surprisingly it made no trouble, though took a while. And then true adventures commenced.

The Palma airport overlooks a promenade leading to the parking zone. To the right, along the promenade, a special zone for taxis is marked with steel fencing. A straight corridor for those waiting in a queue to get a taxi. The line ends at a special "distributor", a man, which distributes people among taxis.

Lena and Katya didn't bother themselves with all those lines and everything, they were cunning enough to creep under the fence, yet not that smart, as they appeared right in front of the distributor — the macho turned out to be a stubborn one. He made the ladies return and stand the line from the very beginning.

Burning with anger, they did it. However, once it was their turn to be seated in a taxi, one of the girls lost her temper and addressed him with the f-word. Despite it was pronounced behind his back, the Spaniard got the meaning. Offended, he refused to serve them. No arguments were of any help, a police officer couldn't help neither.

Empty handed, the girls tried their luck with the bus. In vain. Tthey had no cash, the bus driver accepted no credit cards and the nearest ATM was pretty far away.

The last chance: car rental. Unfortunately it was as untoward as the previous two. Sold out — everything and everywhere. In despair Katya and Lena approached the only company left — Hertz (no publicity, just the truth) and there they hit the jackpot!

Still, another problem emerged. One of the girls had no driver license but was a competent driver. The other one wasn’t skilled in driving at all but had a license with her. So, a car could be rented only by the second girl, with the license on hand. What a show it was, when she got into the car and tried to maneuver within the parking lot. Many lulz to gain, I assume.

After the jockeying under high pressure, the girls switched places and successfully reached the beach just to see the finals and have a group bath in the Mediterranean.

Russian supporters are (the most) beautiful, aren't they?


Hotel stories

The next page of our adventures. It’s about hotels.

After the swim, the four of us crossed a half of Mallorca to reach the hotel in Illetes. In front of the hotel, the girls disembarked Ilshat and me so that we could check in, while they parked the car. Apart from our luggage, we had a nice supplement — a bath towel that was to be returned to the hotel.

We approached the receptionist and tried to hand over the towel. The following dialogue: “Here is your towel.” — “We don’t have such towels.” — “Then you will.” — “No, thanks”. At that moment we started to realize something's odd: “Here lives Roland Berger?” And an unexpected answer: “Who is Roland Berger?”


A wrong hotel. Our sweet girls erred. Ok, not a problem: a five-minute walk with all the stuff and we finally arrived at Riu Palace. As for me, a very solemn place with a piano playing in the lobby and a picturesque view out of the bar. I was quick to get my room and enjoy its magnificence.

Ilshat wasn’t that lucky. He got his key, tracked down his room, unlocked the door, stepped inside and… found there a couple having sex on the bed. Sorry, no photo available.

Swift as a lightning he was again at the reception with a fair question: “What the…?” In this case the hotel staff presented itself quite bad. First of all they didn’t apologize. Secondly it took them half an hour to find another room. Thirdly the new room was downgraded. Not a very pleasant experience, you may guess.

This way or another, soon we gathered at the hotel entrance to go to the restaurant for a dinner. Let me remind you of ten rainy days out of 365 in Mallorca. It was high time for yet another surprise. For now it was a tropical shower! For the last time Ilshat tried his luck with the hotel: he asked for umbrellas. Of course he never got them as what a hotel could possibly need umbrellas in sunny Mallorca, I wonder?

After the rain had stopped, it was done with surprises for today. The dinner… quite delicious but nothing special. Slippery stairs down to the restaurant — hopefully I wasn’t that drunk when returned to the hotel. Good night!


Got cleaned out

The next day, Sunday. Some time left before the return flight and it ought to be spent for something valuable. Like to see Palma. A nice little town full of narrow (oh, I love them) streets paved with stone (very convenient for my trolley bag), Gaudi-style architecture and the most magnificent building — the Cathedral. During the morning mass, the sun shines through the stained-glass rose window above the altar and colors the interior. Charming.

When I was climbing up some staircase on my way to the Cathedral, a middle-aged woman approached me and held out a twig of some tree. “Un centimo,” demanded she. I knew I hadn’t taken minor coins. Still, some change I had in my purse and the woman didn’t seem to step back. Ok, ok, I took out a 20 euro cent coin for her. The woman tried to nose into my purse, which didn’t please me. “No,” she said, “un centimo.” As she saw I didn’t have it, she grabbed the twig and went away.

How weird, I though and checked the purse. The partition for euros was full, the partition for rubles was empty. Not a big surprise, after all. Burdened with my both bags, I turned and followed the woman. At that time she was some hundred meters away. Another woman of the same age accompanied her (as far as I know it is a common practice among thieves: one does the job and gives the money to the other). But how two short-footed ladies could oppose a third place holder of Roland Berger ProSports Event?

“You stole my Russian money (I didn’t know why but I stressed the word Russian)! Should I call the police?” I shouted at their faces, while being perplexed with two thoughts: are there any police nearby at all? and have they somehow understood me?

However, the ladies got it that the simplest way out was to give my money back. The second one quickly returned it to me and pointed at the ground, like see we’ve found it right here, ho-o-onestly.

Btw, centimo is one hundredth of a peseta. At least, Wiki states so.

For the rest Palma was great: a man in park who made huge soap bubbles, Catalan clara (beer mixed with lemon soda but tastier than Radler), sepia a la plancha, even such an outstanding manhole:


Way back. Swiss again

More walking, meeting my colleagues, drive to the airport, no gas station in between, trying to return the car at Hertz, another search for a gas station, another attempt to return the car, success, airport, security check, duty free… Stop!

Like on the way from Moscow to Mallorca we had connection in Zurich, so I wanted to buy some alcohol (Malibu to be precise) in Switzerland because you never know what to expect from those customs officers. But a 20% discount almost made me change my mind. And when a cashier girl assured me, you’ll have no problems at all as your purchase will be properly packed, I did buy what I wanted.

At Zurich customs my duty free beg was scanned, gazed at, pawed and sniffed but at last I was allowed to have it. However, later some other guys were denuded of their spirits though the bag was properly packed as well. That’s what I hate most of all about border-crossing, besides the red tape: you never know the rules to play because there’re no exact rules. Brrr. In some airports they never take a bottle of water from you, in most they do, in Domodedovo they didn’t take my 150 ml deodorant (half-empty), in Zurich they did take it. What a mess!

Our airline was Swiss, haven’t you remember? In Mallorca we didn’t take off in time because… we didn’t. Dear passengers, we have no time slot. We have to wait twenty minutes. No, we have to wait forty minutes. Hm, dear passengers, we can take off.

And in Zurich there was the last and I’d say the heaviest strike at our already disturbed confidence in Swiss. Dear passengers, the flight to Moscow is delayed as passengers from the connection flight are late. WTF?!?!


So, to sum up, it was a journey to remember. A mix of two different European cultures, an active and well-organized volleyball event (Daniela, special thanks to you!), a curious and cheerful Russian team (Lena, Katya, Ilshat, it was a bright experience, I think you’ll agree) and plenty, plenty of surprises by the mother nature, ourselves, natives, and Swiss Airlines, not to forget!

Thanks to all! It was great!

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