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Unexpected Road Trip: The Drive Back

Unexpected Road Trip: The Drive Back

I’ve been through Georgia before, of course. But this was the first time I’d driven through alone, with no one to distract me from the scenery. The countryside astounded me.

Liebster Award: So, Here’s the Deal

Liebster Award: So, Here’s the Deal

I love the idea of an award given between bloggers as a virtual pat on the back. Validation always feels good and it’s sometimes hard to come by as a blogger. Especially just starting out.

Delta Airlines: You Done Screwed Up

Delta Airlines: You Done Screwed Up

A bit of a disclaimer before I get into it: first and foremost I want my blog to be a place of positivity. Traveling can be emotionally draining and sometimes I’ll have less than pleasant things to say about a place or experience because I will never lie to you, but mostly I’d like for you all to be able to come here and have a good time. A little bit of wide-eyed wonder, a little bit of self-deprecating humor, a little bit of healthy realism. That said, I am writing this in the spirit of caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware.” Because I care about you and hope that you can learn from my misfortune.

Now let’s get shady.

Delta Airlines… What the actual hell?

If you’ve read my most recent post, you’ll know that I spent some time in the Atlanta airport this past week. I was due to fly out to California for my grandmother’s 70th birthday. A surprise visit that never happened, because I never made it past Atlanta. My mistake was booking my flight through Delta Airlines.

You see, Delta uses Atlanta airport as their hub, meaning that the majority of their flights, pilots, and cabin crew use it as home base. So when Atlanta experienced some foul weather last week, Delta Airlines shut down. And I do mean shut down.

The inclement weather backed up Delta’s schedule internationally because all those planes, pilots, and crews had to go through Atlanta. By the time I arrived in Atlanta on Thursday at noon, there were people in the airport who had been there for two days and were still waiting on a flight out. I fly through ATL pretty frequently and I had never seen it so packed.

There were people lining every hallway, sleeping on the ground. It looked like a bomb shelter. The lines to the customer service counters were 300-400 people long, in every terminal. No one was getting through via the customer service phone lines. Planes were sitting empty at the gates, no crew available to fly them. Chaos.

So wait, how is this a Delta Airlines issue?

Ah, I’m glad you asked. The other airlines that service Atlanta airport went down for a little while during the weather situation, too. But by the next day, they were all up and running again, with minimal delays. It was only Delta and their affiliate airlines struggling.

After twelve hours in the airport with innumerable gate changes and delays, I found myself looking at a screen that read “Flight Cancelled” five minutes after midnight. The plane was waiting at the gate, but we had no pilot and an incomplete cabin crew. I was stuck in Atlanta for the night.

Now, here’s where I tell you that as bad as my experience was, I got off easy. Atlanta is about a 5-hour drive from Tallahassee, where I live. So I spent the rest of the night in a hotel, got a few hours of sleep, and – with no flight out to California in sight – got a rental car to take me back home. Not ideal, but at least I had an out. Not everyone had that option.

There were people waiting in the airport with me who had been there for three days, going on four. Who had their children with them.  They were missing weddings, important business meetings, sick and dying loved ones. They were stuck in an airport just trying to get home. And this wasn’t just happening in Atlanta.

A quick perusal of Twitter, Facebook, and Google told me that this was happening all over the U.S. and abroad. People were stranded in airports everywhere, for days, because of Delta.

The icing on the cake

Throughout this entire horrific experience, not one of us was offered a meal voucher or any type of compensation for our delays, cancellations, and inconvenience. As the problem was “weather related,” they were essentially off the hook. Delta did not pay for my hotel. Delta did not pay for my rental car home. Delta did not even reimburse me for the entirety of my ticket because, according to them, I did, in fact, get a plane from Tallahassee to Atlanta.

I would like to say that the Delta staff that I encountered during my time at ATL were unfailingly pleasant. This article is not meant as a slight to them in the least. I know that they were just as tired, frustrated, and confused as us. Many of them had been there since the early morning with no idea of when they would be able to go home. Delta’s employees are not at fault for my experience nor anyone else’s.

Delta Airlines as a company is to blame. This is not the first time that Atlanta has experienced bad weather, and it will not be the last. For a company that has operated for many years and presumably intends to go on operating for many more, this is completely unacceptable.

Caveat emptor.

So beware, buyer. When you’re scanning those low-price flights on Google Flights or Momondo.com, just double check which airline you’re buying from. I can’t tell you not to fly with Delta (and I wouldn’t, there are many people whose livelihood depend on that airline), but I also want to give you the tools to make educated purchasing decisions. I will not be flying with Delta again, and I think it will be a long time before I take any flights connecting in Atlanta, either.

A Day of Flight Delays: How to Keep from Losing Your Mind

A Day of Flight Delays: How to Keep from Losing Your Mind

Flight delays, amirite? They sap the joy out of any travel experience. Find out how to pass the time while everything goes to hell around you!

Solo Female Travel: My Three Golden Rules

Solo Female Travel: My Three Golden Rules

It can be nerve-racking as a woman to journey alone. I mean, I still get nervous. To help combat those nerves, I follow the Three Golden Rules of solo female travel.

An Island Day Trip Worth the Boat Ride: Cayo Costa

An Island Day Trip Worth the Boat Ride: Cayo Costa

Just off the coast of Ft. Myers, Florida lie a string of islands with exotic Spanish names, hailing from a past drenched in imperialism, piracy, and probably some heavy-handed exaggeration. I recently found myself on one of these islands while staying with Chris’s family. Although Cayo Costa isn’t named after Spanish princesses or infamous pirates, it does boast 7 miles of beaches and a state park, making it an attractive choice for an island day trip. It felt a little less attractive once we arrived at the dock for our scheduled departure.

 
Perhaps it was the weather that dampened my enthusiasm: a high of 69 F and wind speeds reaching 20 mph doesn’t exactly scream “tropical island.” Or perhaps it was being packed into a ferry with a large crowd of senior citizens that kept saying helpful things like “Oh, this isn’t even winter weather!” Or perhaps it was the nagging voice reminding me that my windbreaker was sitting at home in the closet, useless, while I died of exposure (the voice belonged to my mother-in-law).

Land, Ho!

Regardless, after a 50-minute boat ride through choppy water, we arrived. We made our way down to the beach on the western side of the island to eat our packed lunch. Unsurprisingly, it was just a beach. The water was no bluer and the sand no finer than any you can find along the mainland’s coast. In fact, when compared to the white sugary expanses of Ft. Myers’ Beach that we lounged on two days before, the gray shell composite was a little underwhelming.

Following lunch, we fell asleep among some cacti and scrubby sea grapes that provided little shelter from the wind. The sun felt nice, but there wasn’t much redeeming about the bare, windswept beach.

So, Chris and I rented a pair of ancient beach cruisers from the camp store and headed up to the north side of the island in an attempt to warm up. The ride was only 1.5 miles. By the end I was comfortable enough to strip down to my rash guard and shorts. When we arrived at Old Quarantine Dock, which is sheltered somewhat from the wind, two massive driftwood trees greeted us. Gray skeleton sentinels, looking out into the Gulf.

Accidentally Bare Toes

In my excitement, I forgot about the incoming tide and rushed down onto the sand. My sneakers were immediately soaked through. I have a long history of falling into various bodies of water, so I’m actually surprised my shoes were the only casualty. Leaving them to dry on one of the driftwood trees, I convinced Chris to get barefoot, too, and roll up his pants. We walked for a ways down the beach. Our path wound between bleached branches and sharp mounds of shells and other detritus that would one day be sand. Before too long, we had rounded the northern tip of the island and the wind began to buffet us again. So we turned back.

Chris found a bench to sit on while I waited on the beach for my shoes and socks to dry. A fallen palm tree, sheltered from the wind but still in full sun, made a perfect lounge chair. Leaning back, I basked in the warmth and silence, drinking in the quiet beauty. To my left, several tall palm trees leaned out over the water. To my right, the rounded leaves of a sea grape tree fluttered in the breeze and just beyond a cluster of mangroves sent their tendrils out in search of moisture.

A Quiet Moment

There wasn’t a single other human in sight. Just me, a friendly honey bee, and one tiny, stranded sea urchin. Luckily for him, the tide was incoming and would soon sweep him back out to sea. For me, however, that meant I had to abandon my fallen palm tree and solitude. The crazy wind, nauseating boat ride, and wet shoes were worth those few minutes of sunshine and quiet. Really, that’s all I ever ask for when I travel. Just to spend a few moments in a quiet place, so that I can write that beauty on my heart.

Crazy Cat Lady Abroad: Too Many Cats!

Crazy Cat Lady Abroad: Too Many Cats!

Well, as it turns out, two cats is way different than five cats. Especially when they’re someone else’s cats…

Host Family Fail: How the Other Half Lives

Host Family Fail: How the Other Half Lives

That month in Puglia, I lived with a rather wealthy host family. I felt like I’d won the host family lottery!

The Spider Dance

The Spider Dance

When I was a kid, my grandparents owned a tarantula. After a few years, they decided to downsize the number of strange pets they had (including but not limited to a turtle, a salamander, an iguana, several chickens, and a whole aviary of doves). But did they sell the tarantula back to the pet store? No. They drove up into the mountains surrounding Yosemite and released it near the Merced River. Now, I’m not much of a spider person to begin with, so releasing one large enough to eat small birds (or, for all I knew, little girls) for breakfast in the mountains of Northern California struck me as a singularly bad idea. My only reassurance was that – at least to my knowledge – tarantulas aren’t native to Northern California. The same is not true of Puglia.

A Different Kind of Spider

Using the word tarantula in this case might be slightly misleading as the region of Puglia, Italy has a proliferation of what the locals call tarantule (a name which originates from the province of Taranto), but they’re actually a kind of oversized wolf spider, not what the rest of the world thinks of as tarantulas. In either case, they’re not really all that dangerous to people, although the Puglians seem to have missed that memo.

The Legendary Bite

See, way back in the day – we’re talkin’ B.C.E. – the bite of la tarantula was believed to be incredibly dangerous. There’s some contention about whether or not it was originally considered a cure or a symptom, but all accounts seem to agree that the victims of the tarantula would dance. That’s right. Dance or die, friends! The dancing that derived from this bite became generically known as la tarantella and it is accompanied by a specific rhythm, usually beat out on the tambourine. During my stay in Lecce, I was introduced to the charm of the tarantella, or as they call it in the province of Salento, la pizzica. Literally translated, it means “the bite”.

I thought this dance would have died off along with the notion that you can exorcise poison from your body by dancing, or at the very least remain popular only among elderly folks in rural areas. My image of the standard pizzica enthusiast looked something like this: A comfortably plump, leathery woman is dishing pasta out to her family around a weathered farm table. Her granddaughter turns up the radio, blaring some new American hit single. “Bah,” the old woman says with contempt, “you call this music? I remember when music meant something! When it stirred a fire in your soul!” A misty look comes into her eye. “Did I ever tell you how your nonno and I met? I was dancing la pizzica in the piazza-” Her granddaughter interrupts, “Basta con la pizzica, Nonna! We know…” And the family chuckles good-naturedly over Nonna’s sentimentality. [End scene.]

But in truth, I could not have been more wrong.

Living History

A friend and I were invited to a free concert one night, put on by a local band. We decided to go as a spur of the moment decision, arriving after they finished their set list. The chairs had been pushed to the sides of the room and the audience, most of whom were our age or a little bit older, were all on their feet. The band had put away their mike stands and guitars and were sitting on the edge of the stage, with a tambourine and an honest-to-God accordion, playing that ancient tune, la pizzica. The female vocalist was whirling and stomping in rhythm on the stage, her red scarf and skirt whipping in her wake and everyone was stomping and dancing along.

There certainly weren’t any tarantulas in evidence at the concert – of either kind – but the energy was infectious. Suddenly, I understood the legendary frenzy of la pizzica. This was no little old lady reminiscing about the past, this was a heaving body of young people living out their cultural heritage with unironic abandon. I wanted to dance with them, even though I had no idea what the steps to the dance were. I wanted to share that feverish joy with them. I should have checked myself for spider bites because I was definitely bitten by something. Maybe it was a tarantula – if tarantula venom makes you fall in love with Salento and never want to leave.

Language Barriers

Language Barriers

They didn’t bother to learn any Spanish… And that plan served them pretty well – right up until they went to Madrid.