Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Amazing Race 16, Episode 4

San Carlos de Bariloche (Argentina) - Frankfurt (Germany) - Hamburg (Germany)

You wouldn't have known it from how it was edited for television, but more of this week's episode of The Amazing Race 16 took place in the air than on the ground in Germany, and even more of it took place on the ground before the racers even left Argentina. That's often how it is in real life: the more of a hurry you are in to see and do things in widely separated places, the larger the proportion of your time you'll spend getting there rather than at your destination. When I sent USA Today reporter Laura Bly around the world in 8 days a few years ago, I don't think she was able to spend more than 12 hours in any one place.

Even readers familiar with my advice that most people planning a trip around the world try to visit too many different places in too little time -- whether they have 8 days, 80, or 800 for the entire trip -- often don't think through, when filling in a calendar or spreadsheet of dates and places, how many of those entire days or nights will be spent in transit. Leave the USA on day 1, for example, and typically you won't get to Africa -- with connections via Europe to the majority of African capitals without direct flights from anywhere in the Americas -- until sometime on day 3. The international dateline creates the same effect for even direct flights from North America to Asia: leave on the evening of day 1, and arrive on the morning of day 3, local time.

Getting from Bariloche (BRC) to Frankfurt (FRA) took the racers roughly 36 hours. (A side note: After years of work with airline reservations, I automatically interpret three-letter abbreviations for places as airline city or airport codes. So I was mildly surprised the first time I saw an oval sticker like a country label, but with the letters "BRC", on a car in San Francisco. I "knew" that this meant Bariloche, of course, but I didn't think Bariloche had a contingent of civic boosters in San Francisco , and I couldn't figure out why someone was identifying it as a nation. Only as I began to see these stickers more frequently did I eventually realize that they were intended to show allegiance to Burning Man's "Black Rock City".)

As I mentioned last week, there are virtually no direct international flights from provincial Argentine airports, and domestic flights all go to the downtown airport, Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP), on the riverfront in the Palermo district of central Buenos Aires. Starting out late at night, although not so late by Argentine standards -- some of them found a travel agency still open well after 22:00 (10 p.m.) local time -- the racers spent the night in the airport in Bariloche (unless perhaps they went to a hotel after figuring out the flight schedules).

The first flight isn't even that early in the day, since the planes are all based in Buenos Aires, two hours flying time away, and return from Bariloche or other provincial cities only as the return leg of morning departures from the capital. Arriving at the Aeroparque, they would have had to take a taxi or a "remise" (car service -- less expensive between downtown B.A. and EZE than a metered taxi) out to the international airport at Ezeiza (EZE).

There are several flights each day from Ezeiza to various European hubs, but for the usual sorts of operational reasons they mostly depart at around the same time in the evening. So the racers probably had plenty of time for a good dinner at the airport before boarding their flights to Europe. Just as well, since other than airplane food their next substantial food and drink was the next afternoon or evening in Hamburg at the sauerkraut-eating and beer-chugging challenges! EZE has one of the two best sit-down airport restaurants I know of, although it's outside the security checkpoints so you have to be careful, as this review in Travel + Leisure correctly notes, not to lose track of the time and miss your flight. My other favorite high-end airport meal is also outside security checkpoints, although slower ones, and three times as expensive: steamers (steamed clams) at Legal Seafoods at Logan Airport in Boston.

All told it would have been close to 24 hours after they left the dude ranch outside Bariloche before the racers' flights left Buenos Aires for Europe. And those flights are themselves among the longest trans-Atlantic nonstops. It's more than 14 hours flying time from Buenos Aires to anywhere in Europe, and almost 16 hours nonstop to Frankfurt. Rushing into the soccer penalty-kick challenge without warming up and stretching enough, Caite gets a cramp or muscle pull in her leg that she and her partner Brent attribute to having been cooped up on the plane for too long.

Moral: Don't plan anything too athletic after getting off a long flight and before you've had time to rest, rehydrate, and limber up again. Even an "orientation" bus tour of a city can involve substantial walking and stair-climbing at museums and sites. Take it easy at first. Arrive the day before you plan to start almost any planned activities, especially those requiring you to follow a fixed schedule or keep up with other people. Once when I was quite a bit younger I arrived in Europe in the morning from the USA, expecting to be able to sit in on meetings (not speak, just listen) that same day. It was a mistake I won't repeat. Now I know to expect myself to be useless the entire rest of the day I arrive, until I've gotten a full night's sleep.

In Frankfurt, the racers got intercity trains directly from the airport to Hamburg. As I mentioned a couple of seasons ago when The Amazing Race 14 was making its way through Europe by train, many Western European airline hubs including Amsterdam, Paris, and Frankfurt (but not London and Dublin, which have rail lines to the airports but where you have to go from the airport into the city center, in most cases, to change to trains back out to most other part of the respective countries) have mainline airport rail stations with direct trains that can get you to provincial destinations and even neighboring countries more quickly than connecting flights (especially when, as in Paris, most domestic flights leave from a different airport from the one at which most international flights arrive).

After all this, the racers had more difficulty finding their way the last 20km around Hamburg to the tasks they had to perform, and to the finish line, than the first 13,000km from Bariloche to Hamburg. At least one of the teams had trouble figuring out the subway (U-bahn) and streetcar/tram (S-bahn) system and got on either the wrong train or a train going in the wrong direction.

Another team took a taxi, but discovered -- as we've seen before -- that a GPS isn't a panacea, but is vulnerable to the "garbage in, garbage out" failure mode. The taxi driver entered the address wrong, then confidently followed the GPS directions miles out of town. The racers in the backseat thought the districts they were passing through looked unlike where they expected to find their destination, but that's a difficult call for a tourist to make. I've been picked up by plenty of taxi drivers who wouldn't lose a possible fare by admitting that they didn't know the place I said I wanted to go, and drove around randomly or kept asking other people for directions until they figured it out. But a taxi driver is unlikely to get on an expressway without any idea of where they are going. If they set off steadily down the highway, it usually means either that that's the right way to go, or that they've completely misunderstood where you wanted to go, and are taking you someplace else entirely.

In the end, no one was eliminated this week. so the same teams will resume racing in next week's episode -- after a night's sleep in a good hotel to begin to get over their jet lag and recover from the previous two nights in an airport and on a plane.

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 7 March 2010, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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