It’s early morning, August 14th. My friends and I are off to the land of sunshine, hills and sardines, also known as Portugal. We really have it all. Passports? Covered. Flight details that the airline never asks for but you print out anyway? Check. Travel guide because we haven’t planned anything yet? Got it. Flashlight in case the rental car gives up at night? Sure thing. Road map of Portugal in case the GPS fails? Of course. We were women on a mission. Two weeks of road tripping along the Portuguese coastline and getting a tan. I’m lying. I barely ever get a tan.
All went well. We climbed the hills of Porto, Lisbon and Coimbra, filled our glasses with wine in fishermen’s villages and got our necessary portion of vitamin D at the most beautiful beach of Europe: praia Dona Ana in Lagos. Sparkling wine sangria [Champanheria da Baixa, Porto], bacalhau pancakes [Taberna Tosca in Lisbon], lemon chicken to share [Meu Limao in Lagos] were the highlights of our trip. Along with fortresses, fisherman’s boats and views to die for – of course. If anyone is ever in Portugal, you cannot leave it without driving along the Alentejo coast. Fill your picnic basket at a pastelaria and stop at any given bay. No regrets.
Fast forward to not so early morning, August 27th. We got a text from a hotel booking site that’s usually known for their confusing refund policies and rather untransparant promotion deals. Today it was nothing of the kind. I cite: “Security strike at Lisbon airport. Travellers are advised to go to the airport earlier than expected”. Being Belgian, strike threats have got nothing on us. There’s nothing our national railroad company hasn’t tried before. So off we go to the airport, 4 hours early instead of the usual 2. No message from the airline so far. No information on the airport’s website. No media. The only clue we have is a tweet that check-in will open 2 hours in advance as usual. Otherwise known as nothing.
What followed was a chain of events so absurd we couldn’t have possibly foreseen it. Waiting an hour at the check-in, standing in line for 5 hours for the security check, missing our flight and ending up stranded with other not so happy customers. It was almost midnight and, needless to say, pizza for brunch only gets you so far. No luck. All the restaurants were closed and the feeble McDonalds light indicated that even fast food wouldn’t be there quick. The carpet in the business’ lounge hallway helped us catch a few hours of sleep. When we woke up at 5 we were in for a treat that even Kafka couldn’t make up. From finding a flight home to tracking our luggage: we had spent 19 hours at the airport. If anyone ever gets lost in Lisbon airport, call me. I know it like the back of my (slightly tanned) hands. A day later we were able to get a flight home. To Paris actually, which is as close to Brussels as we could get in a two day time frame. Don’t even. Once we got to the terminal on time (excellent security check, btw), celebrations were in order. What better way than with an excessive McDonalds order? That, and our unexpected rebooking splurge didn’t allow anything else. When I took the first bite of that burger I knew it: it’s time to go home.
There’s a strange thing about McDonalds. As a Belgian, I feel I’m cheating on my country. I promised myself to go for the real thing when in Belgium. French fries. Belgian fries. After all, Belgians to it better.