Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Out of the Steam Room and into the Sauna

Last week was a nail biter. The US congress was doing its level best to default on our national debt (or at least scare the bejeezus out of world markets), and the Consulate General of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in NYC was doing the best to do the same to me! After a frustrating attempt at a Do-It-Yourself visa experience, I turned to my old friends at CIBT (actually, I'm an old ZVS fan, but they merged), and had all the paperwork submitted by Monday (only a week or so after I meant to). On Wednesday at 4:30, I learned that I would not, in fact, be flying to Frankfurt that evening, as my visa had not come through.

First stop, call Continental. Next stop, panic. Final stop, American Express Travel Services, who after an hour and a half found a fascinating routing for me: EWR->CDG->CAI->JED. This was particularly fun, as I needed to go to Riyadh, and only found out about the last bit on receiving email confirmation at drinks. Calling back from an available conference room (thoughtfully provisioned with left over brownies and coffee), I got a wonderful veteran agent from Houston who transformed this to EWR->CDG->BAH->RUH. I could now finish getting drunk for the last time in a while in peace!

Thursday was dedicated to relaxing about visa mayhem, and enjoying the downtime I would be missing with Saudi Arabia's Saturday through Wednesday work week. A last batch of chicken wings for lunch kept the day rolling nicely, and around 4 p.m. I learned that my visa was read, and I would be leaving that night at 7:30. From Newark. For those of you not native to NYC, getting a cab between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. requires an Act of God. Luckily, walking to Penn Station was a supremely unpleasant task, but one within the purview of mere mortals. As a side note, I shall not miss the New Jersey Transit train at all!

Arriving in Paris, I have made an important discovery: Charles de Gaulle airport is basically like a crappier version of O'Hare (my least favorite US airport), with incompetent transfer desk capabilities and baggage handling. I would avoid this airport, unless you're going to Paris and think Orly is inconveniently located. The rest of my trip went well, until I arrived and learnt that my bags had been left (as alluded to) in Paris. Luckily, I was prepared with a 2-day carry on including a suit, two ties, two shirts, and some gym clothes. I met my driver, hoped in the car, and was whisked away to the car-bomb-protected sanctuary of the Sheraton Towers Riyadh. Check in was uneventful, and a shortly collapsed into bed for 6 much needed hours of sleep.

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