Spain Eye Openers: New Airport Terminal, Fast Trains, Hospital Emergency, and Wind Power: Part I

This is the first of four installments on Spain which I recently visited with my husband and two other friends. I am struck by how much it has changed since I first visited in June of 1975, just months before the death of Franco. Today, it is a modern, vibrant country, and like many nations, it struggles with the effects of the economic crisis. Yet, it refuses to stand still. Even though Spain’s unemployment rate had reached more than 17% by the second quarter of this year there is serious investment, rapid development, a reverence for excellence, a preference for lively discussion, an acceptance of the idiosyncratic, and an elegance of living that I find most appealing.

New Airport Terminal

Following an eleven hour flight from San Francisco, California and a four hour lay-over in Frankfurt, Germany we’re on our way again flying the 950 miles down along the alps and then southeastward across France’s Provence region to the blue Mediterranean and then on to Barcelona, Spain. It’s late afternoon by the time we land. As we taxi to the terminal, we are struck by the lack of plane traffic on the tarmac and absence of the usual hustle of ground vehicles and workers scurrying from one gate to another. The terminal is also eerily empty except for the passengers streaming off our flight and down the long pristine floors to baggage claim. We follow the crowd down the wide avenue and into a shopping area that offers everything from books and games, to clothing and accessories, not to mention a variety of restaurants and cafes serving all sorts of menus. There’s an organic food restaurant, a traditional tapas bar, and an Illy coffee cafe.  The space is light and sleek; the floor is gleaming black marble. If only there were shoppers and diners, this place would be most exciting. But, where are the travelers? Even baggage claim is quiet except for the lively conversations of our fellow passengers. One impeccably dressed gentleman in blue linen blazer and crisp beige slacks, smiles as he proudly tells a visitor in heavily accented English, “Barcelona is an Olympic city, you know.”

It isn’t until we have left the terminal and are on our way, traveling the 18 kilometers to the city, that our taxi driver solves the mystery. “You are among the first passengers to arrive to the new terminal. It only opened only a couple of weeks ago. Not even the taxi drivers,” she continues, “have gotten used to it yet. My friends who drive taxi call me all the time to ask how to enter and exit,” she says proudly.

Two and one half weeks later as we retrace our path, we once again find ourselves in the new terminal. Having done some research since our last visit I have learned that the terminal is an important part of the project to make the airport of Barcelona a key air hub serving the Mediterranean region. And, when operating at full capacity, it will handle 100,000 passengers a day and employ 15,000 people.

This morning the scene is different as travelers, many bewildered, try to find their connections, stream from one end to the other. We, too, are lost. Not having been able to get our boarding passes for our connecting flight to Frankfurt in Sevilla, we search for the Lufthansa transfer desk. We don’t find it but do find an information booth and ask for directions. “Sorry,” the young woman says, “It’s at the other end of the hall, but no one is ever there. You’ll have to go to Lufthansa check-in and then re-enter through security.” I look at my watch; there is not enough time to do this highly inefficient maneuver.  We thank her and leave, scanning the gates for other Lufthansa flights; surely we will find a Lufthansa employee close by. After several minutes, we spy a young woman impeccably dressed in the navy suit and orange scarf of Lufthansa. We approach her and ask for her assistance. “No problem,” she says, when I finish boarding the Munich flight, I’ll take care of you. But I’ll have to do the boarding passes by hand; we have no printers here at the gates.” No printers at the gates? No one at the transfer desk? Oh well, it is a new terminal and, at least, we have found someone to help us. We wait patiently, but the Munich flight is delayed because the aircraft has arrived late. I’m beginning to feel nervous and wish that plane travel were as easy and efficient as rail. Finally the young woman arrives with our passes in hand; relieved and we board our flight immediately.

All original content copyright 2009 Mary E Slocum


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