September 8, 2021

Dateline – Porto, Portugal

International Travel in the time of the Delta variant. I wouldn’t have booked this trip last spring if I had any idea of what was going to happen over the last couple of months but I did and when push came to shove, I decided Europe, where the population still believes in basic public health measures and community values was likely safer than the rural communities of North Alabama that I make my house calls in so here we are. My general takeaway from a twenty hour travel day involving four airports, three flights, two continents, and one set of lost luggage? Europeans are much better at universal masking than Americans, no one fusses about it, and everyone fills out a whole lot of paperwork so the authorities can find you and get you tested if you’re determined to have been in close contact with an infected person. Testing and contact tracing are believed in as general public health tools that have been used for centuries to mitigate epidemic disease rather than as some sort of impingement on ‘freedom’.

I arrived at Birmingham airport yesterday afternoon with plenty of time to spare just to give me some breathing room in case anything went wrong with my sheaf of travel and health documents. The lady at the Delta counter was very nice but thoroughly confused as to what I needed to have for the various legs of my flight as the rules keep changing and they no sooner get training in how to assist passengers then it all proves to be out of date. Bags checked through to Porto, a quick snack and then the hop to Atlanta for the trans Atlantic flight. We board in Atlanta and get settled in our seats. At takeoff time, we don’t – instead of phalanx of maintenance guys come down the aisle bearing mops. Not a good sign. The intercom comes on in English, and then French with a Chinese accent (my French is pretty good, but I could barely make out every fourth word. The flight attendant responsible for the French announcements was a native Chinese speaker and some of the pronunciations were quite new to me…) One of the aisles is dripping with water and we’re not going anywhere until the source is found and it’s cleaned up and repaired. The mop guys figured out the problems pretty quickly, a broken water line in one of the lavatories and not something that was going to bring the plane down, replaced a section of the aisle carpeting and we got underway an hour late.

The long flight was uneventful, save for a closed lavatory on the opposite side of the plane, and we arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris safely, just an hour later than planned. That took my two hour layover down to one hour and it was a quick sprint through a maze of tunnels and concourses to find the domestic terminal. The only real issue being that the airport is designed so that you exit the secure area on leaving the international terminal and therefore have to go through security screening again. Fortunately, the line was moving without too much difficulty. On to the next plane for a flight over the Pyrenees from Paris to Porto. Unfortunately, I did not have a window seat so I didn’t get to see very much. Porto airport looks like every other midsize city airport you’ve ever been in. Down to baggage claim to wait for suitcases that never arrived. All of us who had been on that trans Atlantic flight, about ten of us, were luggageopenic. Apparently the late arrival kept the Delta carts from interfacing with the Air France carts or some such. I have a feeling that anyone who had less than a two hour layover that was on my transatlantic flight arrived at their destination sans baggage. Large crowd at the baggage office to register our missing bags (all apparently happily spending a night in Paris) and I have been told they will be on tomorrow’s flight and delivered to the hotel – unless the flight is late in which case they’ll show up on Friday. As I’m here until Sunday, it’s all good.

I was met by a lovely young man with a luxurious Mercedes who drove me from the airport into town and to my hotel, the Intercontinental, right in the middle of the old city. I got to my room, threw open the curtains and discovered that my usual luck was holding. I have a lovely view of the construction site next door. As I had no clothes other than the ones I’d been wearing for thirty six hours and had slept in, I located the nearby pedestrian shopping street, wandered up there, and found an H & M and a Benneton which supplied the basics for the next few days. The only thing in the suitcases I’m going to miss is my CPAP machine, too bulky for my carry on. Ah well, I just won’t sleep as well tonight as I might otherwise. I haven’t seen a lot of Porto yet. I’ll take care of that over the next couple of days. It appears to be a pleasant enough small city, full of baroque building covered with decorative tiles and with red tile roofs being the order of the day. Lots of tourists so plenty of different languages on the street. I can understand the English, French, some of the German, and some of the Spanish I’m hearing. I haven’t figured out the Portugese yet. I can read it without too much trouble but I haven’t figured out the rules of pronunciation.

I’m going to bed early this evening and will try to sleep as well as I can and that should adjust me for the rest of my sojourn.Be like the Portugese – wear your masks, watch your distance, wash your hands, get your shots.

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