Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Monday, February 18, 2013

We're going to Europe this summer

Yup, you read that right, we're going to Europe this summer, from June 4 to 18. I can't believe we're actually taking this trip, but it must be true, because I just paid the credit card bill for the plane tickets. I spent January checking travel sites, dithering between flight destinations (London, Paris or Prague?) and flipping out over the prices. Flying from California to Europe is not cheap.

Finally I sat down at the dining room table with my laptop, determined to make this work. I even briefly considered flying into Dublin —  its lack of heavy airport fees makes it just about the cheapest place to fly into Europe — and then taking RyanAir to London. If this was a longer trip, that's what I'd do. But time is precious on a two-week trip, so I found us a San Francisco-to-London, Paris-to-San Francisco trip, nonstops to and from London each way. Travelocity said there were no nonstops, but they lie, so I hopped over to British Airways, and there were the nonstops, big as life.

I plugged all our information in, goggled at the total price, hyperventilated just a tiny bit, and clicked "Book." Then, devastation. Our credit card rejected the transaction. Whaaat? I tried our Virgin card. Nada. So I called up our credit union, sitting on hold, trying not to doubt that my call was very important to them, constantly refreshing my British Airways page so they wouldn't erase all my information. "Oh yes," the credit union lady said. "We always do that with large amounts in France." Apparently if American families make a sudden cross-continent purchase, the terrorists win or something.

So I got the credit union on board with our plans, looked at the total, hyperventilated again (we hadn't put this much on the card since our cat's intestinal surgery) and clicked "Book." The site asked me to read some sort of LSD-laced squiggle, which I failed twice, but then reluctantly allowed me to book the flight. Yay! We now have flight reservations, and I even coughed up an extra $100 to reserve three seats on the SFO-Heathrow flight, so Ron, Benny and I have our own private row.  Ron was at work that day, but he knew our plans immediately, because Virgin called him up, asking if he knew his wife was plotting a European jaunt. Ron, to his credit, resisted the urge to cry, "What? She's leaving me for that French masseur, isn't she!" and merely said yes.

With flight reservations in hand, it was time to consider the passport situation. Ron's was fine, but mine expired in April and Benny didn't have one. So one Saturday Benny and I played tourist, taking the train down to the Financial District and stopping by a passport/visa/shipping/notary public kind of place to get his picture taken. Then we walked over to Union Square and ate hot dogs for lunch, watching the tourist double-deckers rumble by. It was a beautiful sunny day and I'd promised Benny a ride on one of those big red buses when we first came to San Francisco. Well, a mere five years later, today was the day!

Not a lot of tourists in February.
The tour bus lady let Benny on free and me half-price because we were local and we snuggled under blankets and rolled through the Tenderloin, Civic Center, Fisherman's Wharf and the Financial District before getting off at the Ferry Building. We found a bookstore and I bought a stack of European travel books and Benny bought a comic book version of "The Iliad," which had Achilles, Agamemnon and their pals all looking like superheroes of the "Fantastic Four."

TransAmerica Pyramid
Benny had Feb. 11 off (Lunar New Year Observance), but the government was still open, so Ron and Benny met me at work downtown so we could apply for Benny's passport. Apparently a couple hundred San Francisco parents had the same idea, so the place was mobbed and we spent a long two hours in line at the one post office that didn't require an appointment.

So now we've booked our flights and Benny's applied for his passport, so it's time for the next obsession: reserving accommodations in London and Paris. But we'll save that excitement for another time. So for now au revoir!

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