Archive for November, 2005

“I Hope You’ve Learned Your Lesson”

November 1st, 2005 1:18 pm by Dave

When you buy more than 155 euro worth of stuff at a store in Italy, and perhaps elsewhere in the euro zone, that you intend to take out of the country, you can get a refund of 12% on the 20% tax included in the price. The retailer gives you a receipt, you take it to a money change place to get the money, and you get a customs stamp when you leave to prove you’ve left.

The Trieste airport is very small, and it takes awhile for things to get going in the morning. There’s a very obvious place where customs stamps are stamped, consisting of a room with signs containing a desk. But no one ever showed up there. I hunted down the customs guy by talking to police, tourist information, airport security, and lost and found, and they had him come out of the arrivals area to “do a tax free” for me. He took me the wrong way into the arrivals area, got my information, and stamped my form.

Then I got in the checkin line. My flight had a United flight number which was nowhere in evidence at the airport. United is in “Star Alliance” with Lufthansa, which did have a number for my flight, which was operated by Air Dolomiti. The airline lady wouldn’t accept my electronic ticket. “You have to change it for a paper ticket at the ticket office”. So fine, I went over there. “They were supposed to send one — we don’t have one.” So I went back, somewhat more panicky. The lady called Lufthansa, who told her that United shouldn’t have issued an e-ticket for the flight, and that they would have to authorize it. I didn’t have a phone, they didn’t have any presence in the airport, and going back to the ticket office the only option offered me was to buy a ticket. The original itinerary was for two transcontinental flights plus an Alps-jump for $960. The ticket for just the Alps-jump was 375 euro plus 35 euro in cash for the trouble. What else could I do? I bought the ticket, got my bags checked only to Munich instead of SF, and got on.

The flight itself was quite nice. It was an above-the-wing turboprop, so all the window seats had good views, though photos might get your occasional propeller. Trieste was covered with a layer of clouds, but after awhile I started to see Alps emerging from it. I switched to the other side of the plane away from the sun, and got some pictures. Ultimately the mountains formed a barrier for the clouds and there was quite a wide swath that were perfectly clear and occasionally snowy and all very Alpy. Another cloud layer extended from Munich, and the mountains went back down into it. They served a very cute little hors d’oeuvre with a strawberry champagne drink with a green cherry in it.

The Munich airport, or at least Terminal 2, the Lufthansa Terminal, looks brand new. Perhaps the baggage claim area is brought to you by BMW, which had a huge front grill on a wall there. I had a few hours to kill, and there was plenty to do. I collected my bags, and soon ended up at Lufthansa Ticketing to apply for a refund for the flight I’d paid for twice. They were quite helpful, even though my problem was escalated to a series of people and took quite awhile to solve and research. I got a refund for the 375 euro (minus any currency conversion my stupid credit card will charge) but they said I’d have to deal with United for the 35 euro. That’s a start. The lady said “I hope you’ve learned your lesson — never fly with an e-ticket in Italy”.

My e-ticket worked just fine to SF, including my window seat. After going thru security and determining that what the airport restaurants were offering wasn’t the exact combination of German food I was looking for, I went thru the second special security that people going to the US go through. It was pretty much the same as the first one, but with practically everyone being wanded, taking off their shoes, and having their hand luggage inspected. The waiting area had a smoking kiosk, basically an open place to stand in the corner with a big ventilation hood. Just as my flight was about to board, I heard a series of frantic announcements naming the people who hadn’t yet boarded the flight to New York — one of them was named Oppenheim. When I passed through the gate, they asked to see my baggage claim receipts — I suspect it was related.

Twelve-hour flights are never fun, but this one was as good as could be expected. Perhaps there weren’t quite enough bathrooms, and the food was definitely airline-quality, but the stewards were cute, the nice lady next to me was returning from a family reunion in Germany to the music school she runs in Santa Barbara while her husband continued to travel. We played cat-and-mouse with the sunset line — we left at 4 heading pretty much straight north over Hamburg, and the sunset got ahead of us, it got dark. As we headed over Greenland, the size of each time zone became very small, and we easily overtook the sunset line. By the time we were over the north end of Hudson’s Bay, it was back to mid-afternoon and the sun shone into the plane. As our great circle turned south the sunset line passed us again, and we crossed over Calgary at dusk as the lights were starting to come on there.

Meeting Amy at the airport was easy — she was just getting on BART from work as I got in the passport line, and after getting her car in Daly City she started circling as the customs guy was hand-inspecting the souvenir suitcase which was completely strewn with receipts, pretty coins, and bars of soap. He seemed disappointed that after being in Tunisia, I wasn’t hiding drugs or large amounts of US currency, and that I had answers to all his questions, but finally he decided I wasn’t evil and let me repack everything. The most fragile souvenirs appear to have arrived intact. Amy stopped to get some Chinese food for Boris in Redwood City, and I was too spaced out to have more than two bites. Now, a few hours of sleep dreaming about some Italian town later, it’s 4 AM and time to be awake. I’ll get on track pretty soon.