Days Like These

Trip Start Oct 22, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Hotel Michigan

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Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Today we got up early, said good bye to the old guy running the pension and headed to the train; onwards to Rome. At Roma Termini we were approached by a guy offering cheap hostel rooms. His price was good and it included breakfast so off we walked to Michigan Hotel (why it's called Michigan were not too sure). Checking in, the owner discreetly asked us not to tell anyone else the price we were paying as they were paying a little bit more. Our room was a basic 8 bed dorm room, sharing with some British backpackers. Everything was sweet or so we thought.

Now let's step backwards in time to the 24th August, to the British Airways office in Krakow, Poland. We needed to move some of our flights and at that stage wanted to stay in Europe a bit longer. Unfortunately we were held back by our flight from Madrid to Rio, which we discovered is quite a popular one and was fully booked until November. Since our ticket expires in October it didn't help us and we had to keep the one we had originally booked on the 10th of September, thus giving us eight days to complete our circuit of Europe. Not quite enough time but she happily put us on a waiting list for an early October flight. After discussing it on the hour flight to Berlin we came up with another plan. We changed another flight from Rome to Madrid to the 8th of September and left the Madrid to Rio on the 10th giving us a bit more time (16 days) to rush through Europe. Thinking we had it all sorted out we emailed QANTAS to ask for an updated itinerary and for them to cancel the waiting list we had previously requested to be on, then we sat back and concentrated on seeing as much of Europe as possible.

Arriving in Rome today we decided to check our emails and Rick wanted to print out the updated flight itinerary that had recently arrived in our email. He noticed one little problem - today is the 6th and the most recent updated itinerary showed us booked to fly from Rome (where we had just arrived from Florence) to Madrid on the 2nd, 4 days ago! Hmm well you know what words came out of his mouth then I'm sure. Our day in Rome visiting the Vatican was cancelled. If we couldn't get to Madrid to catch the onwards flight to Rio basically our whole trip would have to be cancelled and that meant no South America. We jumped on the laptop, wrote down the QANTAS phone number and asked the guy at the desk where there was a public phone. He was very helpful and found us a free call number for Iberia, an affiliate with QANTAS, and pointed out the payphones across the road. Just one slightly major problem, in Italy all the public phones use cards, no coins and it seems that no one sells the cards required to use them. So we went to the tourist information office, luckily right next door. They said the QANTAS and Iberia numbers we had were wrong and gave us new ones giving us a total of 4 different phone numbers to call. She also directed us to Internet café around the corner where you can make phone calls and buy phone cards. Off we went to the guy around the corner where we were told the original QANTAS number is a "bad number", the Iberia one from the hostel won't work as it's a freecall (and he can't make money off it) and the other two call centre ones from the tourist information place might work. We tried them but to no avail. He didn't sell phonecards for the payphone but recommended we try the pub up the road, but no they didn't sell them either.

Back we went to the tourist information, as we didn't know what else to try and they suggested a travel agent conveniently located right across the road from the Internet place. We also asked how to get to the airport as this was going to be the next option and found out it was 30 minutes away and would cost us over 40 Euros return. Arrrgghhh! At the travel agent the guy did his best to help and he did manage to get onto someone, we got our hopes up but unfortunately he was told we needed to ring yet another number and he couldn't help us with that. Now we had five numbers to call yet still no phone card as no one seemed to sell the darn things even thought there are public phones on every second corner. We decided to head back to the hotel and ask the guy there if we could use his phone. He saw our predicament and said we could so we dialed the freecall number and after navigating an Italian menu system finally got through to an agent that, after explaining our predicament to, said we had to call yet another number as they only dealt with Internet bookings! At this stage Megan spat it and Rick was getting a little concerned; we were getting nowhere apart from having a lovely collection of useless phones numbers and no way to use them. We would have used our mobile but seems to be broken and people can't hear us when we talk so we can only use it for SMSs now - weird.

Resolved to the fact we'd have to spend the 40 Euro to go to the airport to sort this mess out we headed to the train station. On the way we passed a little guy inside what looked like a cardboard room selling phone cards. We asked him if he sold phone cards "Yes" he replies "International phone cards". No! Can you not get a normal phone card in this place? We asked again and he said "Ahh yes this?" and showed us a domestic phone card. Finally we'd hit pay dirt and had a phone card we could use to try the six numbers we had. Hoping we were finally getting somewhere we began ringing the assortment of numbers we had been given:

06 6501 0468, QANTAS Rome - no connection

06 6595 4583, Iberia Rome - no connection

199 712 266, Iberia Rome - didn't bother as they apparently only did Internet bookings

199 101 191 Iberia, Rome - phone didn't like this one and spat out the card

807 123 456 Iberia, Rome - another spat out card

848 350 010 QANTAS Rome - Ring! Ring! Answer!!!!

Finally we got through to someone. After explaining what had happened to a very sympathetic QANTAS agent she went through our vast booking history and noticed that we had been booked on a flight to Madrid on the 8th, but after requesting the removal of the wait listed flights someone in Australia cancelled all the changes we had made. She managed to get us on another flight to Madrid a day later. Megan suggested we also just confirm the other flights. The next one was from Madrid to Rio, but this time the agent couldn't see our booking at all. We definitely were not on a flight to South America AT ALL. After a bit of searching around we found out that as we hadn't shown for the flight on the 2nd (because we thought we were flying on the 8th) Iberia did a bad bad thing and cancelled not only the one on the 2nd but also our confirmed booking on our flight to Rio on the 10 th. We were now stuffed, stuck in Europe until the end of October as all flights appeared to be booked. Whilst Megan was almost crying at the news Rick explained our situation and the representative put Rick on hold for a while and did some searching, worked her magic and luckily found a couple of spots free on a flight on the 16th October. Finally we had a resolution, compromised but at least we can now get to South America in the end and use the Brazilian VISA we'd already paid for.

All in all we've learnt a lesson. If you make changes, check them, check them again and then check that again. One little mistake from your airline can throw your entire trip into disarray. At one point today we believed we were going to have to cancel the whole trip as without these flights to South America we could not afford to buy another ticket from our ever dwindling savings. We also could not afford to stay in Europe for much longer as the cost of traveling here is killing our budget. It would have made getting back to Australia quite interesting. We could not believe that we'd been stuffed around so badly, at what we think is a crucial time in our trip.
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