February 10th, 2015 - Auckland, New Zealand - Day 176

We woke up to a beautiful sunrise on our first full day in New Zealand.  Thankfully we all slept pretty well through the night, which was a big deal given that we were now 12 hours ahead of Argentiere.  So when we went to bed last night at 9:30 PM our bodies still thought it was 9:30 AM.  This must be the most difficult time zone adjustment possible and I think we have all been dreading it, but at least night one went smoothly.  

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) we still did not have an internet connection, so Stacie and I had a nice cup of coffee and then went out for a walk along the beach.  We are staying on the west side of Auckland in a little town called Glendowie.  It's a pleasant little suburb and other than the issues with the house we are really happy to be here.  The intent with Auckland was not so much to have a real destination stay, but rather to just break up our trip down to Queenstown and allow us a little time to get used to our new time zone, so we did not have a big sightseeing agenda for the day or even for the stay.  Our flight tomorrow morning leaves the airport at 7:00, so we are going to have to leave the house about 5 AM - meaning today is our only real day in Auckland.  

We went on a nice walk, although the bay we are on is not exactly beautiful.  In fact Auckland, itself is not all that impressive, it's just another big city.  It reminds me of Seattle and San Fran combined.  

After our walk we decided to go find a coffee shop with internet so we could update our family on our safe arrival in NZ.  Stacie and I went while the kids made their breakfast and showered.  After a bit of exploring we found a great little coffee shop in St. Helena Bay, which is a very cute town.  We updated a few things and then headed back to the house to pick up the kids.

The benefit of having to go to a coffee shop for internet - a great cappicuino

We headed downtown Auckland to have lunch and do a little shopping.  Our lunch was really good, but expensive like everything here in NZ.  We have found the people here to be the most friendly of any place we have stayed and had good conversations in every shop we went into.  

After shopping we headed back to the house and did a quick change over for dinner.  We headed back to St Helena's Bay to find a place to eat.  We settled on a cute little bar right on the water.  Unfortunately the food was not nearly as good as the location, but it was twice as expensive as it should be, so that was fun.   

We still had a good time and laughed a lot both at dinner and on the car ride home.  It seems to me that these moments of laughter are becoming more frequent as the trip progresses.  Don't get me wrong, we still have arguments, selfishness, grumpiness, and all of the other typical family issues, but we also laugh more than we ever have, and I for one cherish those moments.  

We made it home, packed our bags for the 30th time in the past 6 months and went to bed both dreading and excited about another day of travel.

February 7th through 9th - Argentiere France to Auckland, New Zealand

You might be asking yourself - a Daily Dump for three days?  That does not seem right, but in our minds the past three days were smushed into one as we traveled from Argentiere to Auckland.  Here is what the travel agenda looked like

Pickup at Apartment at 3:20 PM 2/7 (3:20 AM in Auckland) - 1:30 min drive

Flight from Geneva to London 6:50 PM 2/7 (6:50 AM Auckland) - 1:45 min flight

Flight from London to Hong Kong 10:00 PM 2/7 (11:00 AM Auckland) - 11:30 hour flight

Arrive in Hong Kong 5:00 PM 2/8 (10:00 PM Auckland) - 4 hour layover

Flight from Hong Kong to Auckland 9:00 PM 2/8 (2:00 AM Auckland) - 11:00 hour flight

Arrive in Auckland 1:00 PM 2/9 (1:00 AM 2/9 in Argentiere)

Total planned travel time was about 33.5 hours. 

Things started off really well.  Stacie and I had planned on doing our climb to mid station at Grand Montets one last time on the morning of our travel.  She was a little worried about having enough time to get everything we needed to do complete before pickup, but we thought the exercise on a massive travel day would do us good.  We made great time up the mountain and were at the top after 1:35 mins, which was a full 15 mins faster than our previous time.  We hustled back down and started working on the to-do list, which included packing our bags, returning our skis back in Chamonix, and preparing our ski gear to ship home.  This last point was proving to be the most difficult.  I had found a service called SendMyBag.com which seemed perfect and the most economical.  I placed our order a couple days prior and arranged for the manager of the property we were staying in to keep the bag until they picked it up.  However, I had not received confirmation of the pickup as of 9:30 that morning, so I called.  After checking the details the agent told me, “yeah, sorry, we can’t pick up from that zip code”  WHAT!  This was a BIG problem as we had all of our ski gear and now it was potentially going to be stranded in Chamonix.  Fortunately, they would pick up from Chamonix and I was able to quickly change the pickup location to the office of our first rental agent Chamonix All Year, who were great and happy to help.  Now all I needed to do was print and laminate our shipping labels and customs forms and figure out a way to attach them to the outside of the bag.  I was not aware that I needed to do any of this until the night before, so I was a little panicked at being able to get all of this done in a tiny little resort town.  Peter wanted to take one more run before leaving Chamonix so he headed over to GM, while the rest of us hurried along with our duties.  He was going to help with the return of the ski gear and I needed to wait for an email with my shipping labels, so between all of that it was 11:30 before we could leave for Chamonix.  We had until 3:30 to be back for the pickup, so we had plenty of time, except for the fact that EVERYTHING in Chamonix closes between 12:30 and 3:00, so we needed to return our stuff AND print and laminate the labels in 1 hour.  Unfortunately the bus to Chamonix was late so we did not end up arriving into Chamonix until 12:10, which gave us 20 mins to finish.  I dumped most of the gear on Peter and told him to run to the rental store and to not let them close, and I ran to the office supply store for the printing and laminating.  The office supply store was dead and the lady behind the counter super helpful, so I finished there quickly and ran to the rental store with the rest of our gear.  Peter was there and it as it turns out, they do not close for their siesta on Saturdays so we were in no rush.  We got everything returned and could finally breathe again because things appeared to be under control.  

We jumped on a bus back to Chamonix and made it back there by about 1:30.  We found the girls sitting in the stairwell of the apartment with all of our bags.  The cleaning crew was inside and the girls had moved everything out of their way.  As soon as we walked in Stacie said - “um we have a little problem - the zipper on the bag broke”.  I nearly lost my shit.  After all this running around and changing of plans, we were going to be derailed by a freaking zipper.  As it turns out the zipper was broken, but it broke in a great place and with a little maneuvering we were able to make it secure - another disaster avoided.  

Peter and I were starving, so we left our bags in the stairwell and headed to La Petite Verte - the restaurant in our building, for lunch.  Peter had the Tartiflette, and I had an Omelette, and both were fantastic.  Since we still had time to kill we ordered coffee and the kids ordered desert.  Peter ordered a hot fudge sunday and Lea ordered Flur de Sel, which was Ice Cream with hot salted caramel and some kind of crunchy biscuit.  Peter’s was very good, but Lea’s was the most incredible dessert I have ever tasted - hands down.  We could all tell Peter was a little disappointed, and in what I consider to be one of the most generous acts I have ever seen, Lea gave her big brother the worlds best dessert.  I could not have been a prouder papa.  I know it sounds a little silly, but these little things are what make this trip so special.  When does a 13 year old girl give up some that incredible to her brother?  As a teenager I would have been gloating and saying “oh Julie - this is the best - too bad you didn’t order it” rubbing every ounce of my superiority in her face, and here she was being incredibly generous and kind - like I said a proud parent moment.

In Geneva before waiting for flight number 1

We finished up our last wonderful meal in France and then went to wait for our ride to the airport.  The shuttle showed up a little early and we were off.  We dropped off the ski gear bag in Chamonix and headed to the Geneva airport.  Everything went smoothly, tickets, security, customs, spending our last Euros on overpriced snacks in the airport, boarding, takeoff and then it happened.  About halfway through the flight one of the flight attendants came to our row and said the dreaded words “Mr. and Mrs. Gombert?”  At that point I knew something was wrong.  Flight attendants don’t come up to you mid flight with good news like - "guess what I just spoke to central reservations and we have upgraded you to first class for the remainder of your journey”.  I looked up at her with a pleading look as if to will her to say something good, but instead she said “your flight to Hong Kong was just canceled”.  I put my head in my hands and sighed.  So far on this entire trip we have not had one flight even delayed.  I have not written about it, I have not talked about it, because I felt like it was a streak of good luck and I did not want to jinx it.  Well the streak was over and it could not have happened at a worse time - our longest travel day of the entire trip.  The attendant saw my despair and quickly moved in to reassure me - “oh wait, it’s not that bad, we have already rebooked you on a Virgin Atlantic flight that leaves at 9:30, so you will be departing 30 mins early.”  OK, I thought, things are looking up, we will not miss our connection and we get to fly Virgin, which I have only heard good things about.  However, I knew there was still one problem - seats.  Having traveled for 20 years for business I know one thing - the difference between a good seat and a bad seat on a 2 hour flight is something that can be annoying, but manageable.  The difference between a good seat and a bad seat on a 12 hour flight is the difference between sleep and misery.  Since we were being rebooked, I knew our chances at a good seat were slim and none.  

We landed safely at Heathrow and hurried through the airport to try to get to the Virgin desk as quickly as possible.  We went through security and I got stopped because of some camera equipment that triggered a cavity search of my bag.  While I was putting my bag back together, Stacie and the kids headed off to the Virgin desk, by the time I got there our fate was sealed - middle seats for 12 hours, there was nothing to be done about it.  We accepted our fate and were happy to be on a flight rather than having to deal with a complete re-booking.  The flight left on time and was really pretty easy in the end.  We arrived into Hong Kong a little early and were happy to be back on our original itinerary.  

We noticed that Hong Kong airport had a United Club and my membership was still valid for another couple of weeks so we headed over there to wait for our flight.  This United Club was far better than most.  They had real food, including Sushi, Teriyaki Chicken, Fried Rice, and a whole bunch more.  The food was not great, but it was good, free and plentiful, so we were happy.  Better than that, they had showers.  Nothing makes me feel better and more refreshed than a shower.  Peter and I took advantage, while the girls passed.  It felt incredible to be somewhat clean.  

After a couple hours in the lounge it was time to head to our gate.  Our flights had been delayed about 40 mins, but that was not big deal.  Now, Hong Kong airport is HUGE, so it took us about 20 mins to walk from the lounge to our gate.  When we got there, we were still a little early, so we took a seat and waited.  Once they announced boarding everyone seemed to run to get in line.  By the time we got in line we were dead last out of 300 people.  It was at that point when Stacie turned to me and said “I think I left my other bag back at the United Club”.  It was another oh crap moment.  We had about 30 minutes to take off and a bag full of stuff we needed back about a mile away from us.  The bag was just a plastic grocery bag with some medication, food and Stacie’s neck pillow, but at the time (sleep deprived) it seemed important.  So I handed Peter my backpack and said “I’ll be back” and started sprinting.  By the time I reached the United Club I was drenched in sweat and out of breath.  I tried to convey what was going on to the receptionist, and she jumped up to help, but looked confused.  We ran back to where we were all sitting, and big surprise, the bag was gone.  I told her the bag probably looked like trash and was thrown away, so she went to the cleaning crew as I started digging through the trash bins while looking at my watch thinking about how much time I had left.  People were looking at me like I was a junkie scrounging for my next fix.  I was sweating like a pig, tired from my last flight, dressed in yoga pants and a flannel digging through trash cans in what is supposed to be a refined place of peace for weary travelers - it was not a shining moment for me.  

The receptionist came back with that “sorry crazy man, but I can’t help you” look on her face and told me nobody had seen anything.  At this point I thought I had about 25 mins to get back to the plane, however, I had somehow confused the departure time as 9:50 instead of what it actually was which was 9:40, so I really had 15 minutes.  I decided I needed to give up and started my O.J. Simpson impersonation (the Hertz commercial, not the murderer part) and started sprinting back to the gate.  When I got 100 yards away there was an agent who asked if I was Mr. Gombert.  I confirmed and she raised her walkie talkie to her mouth to confirm I was on my way.  I got there just before they closed the door.  It was 9:32 for a 9:40 international flight, not a good move, but I was on.  I relaxed and started heading towards my seat, which was 59K, however, when I got to 52K I saw Peter and Lea sitting together in an Exit row.  “Hum", I thought, “why are they in the wrong seats? And where is Stacie?”.  Peter looked up, completely flustered and said “they just moved us without telling us why”.  I was at the end of my rope and nearly turned from Hertz O.J. to Brentwood O.J. instantly.  I found Stacie in the next isle looking equally as pissed.  It turns out that when Cathay Pacific canceled our flight from London to Hong Kong and then rebooked us, they could not tell if the 4 HOUR layover in Hong Kong was going to be sufficient for us to make the flight, so they unchecked us in and gave away our seats - nice - well done Cathay.  Now Peter and Lea - 13 and 15 were responsible for the safety of the rear of the plane by manning the exit row and Stacie and I were sitting apart from one another and were probably in middle seats - I say probably, because they did not actually tell me where my new seat was.  

We caused a big commotion on the plane complaining to anyone we could and refusing to take our seats.  We were those people on the plan you look at and want to kill because they are being unreasonable crazy people who are delaying your takeoff.  However, if they knew the backstory of the canceled flight, the middle seats and the random changing of our new seats for this 11 hour flight they might be more on our side.  I have to say in 20 years of flying I have NEVER had my seat changed without permission unless I am being upgraded, so I was furious (and tired).  We held out until we got seats together, but they were in the middle of the plane, not the window and asile we booked.  We sat down and fumed for about 45 minutes, replaying the whole thing and then decided to put it behind us and get some sleep.  We sleep most of the way to Auckland and woke up with only a couple hours left.  

We landed a little late (thanks to us), but we were safe and all received to be at our destination finally - it was 2:30 PM Auckland time on Monday, 2:30 AM in Argentiere - 35 hours after we departed.  We cruised through immigration and went right to baggage claim.  All we wanted at that point was to get our bags, get our car, and go take a nap.  However, Cathay had different plans for us.  Once again they figured we would be better off with a change of plans, so they decided to leave our bags in Hong Kong.  In reality, I think Cathay Pacific (which Peter aptly renamed Crappy Pacific) was just looking out for our best interest.  I mean who would want a clean set of clothes after 35 hours of travel?  They believe deeply in the adage of what does not kill you makes you stronger and like to help their customers to gain this perspective when traveling.  Suffice it to say I will NEVER travel on CP again.  

We picked up a voucher for our incidental expenses and then headed to get our rental car, totally frustrated and exhausted.  We got our car with relative ease and found our rental house about 30 mins later.  The house has a beautiful view overlooking the ocean, and half of the house is really nice, the bedrooms and bathrooms, however, are not nice, but for two nights we figured we could manage.

We decided to go walk around Auckland for a while to pick up some necessary supplies given we did not have our bags.  We finished our errands, and then had a good dinner at a local pub.  When we got back to the house we figured out we had no internet access so I had to contact our host to see what could be done.  This took a little while, but I finally go through and as I sit here on Tuesday afternoon at 11:52 AM our bags just arrived 5 mins ago, but we still have no internet.  Regardless we are here safe and sound and looking forward to another travel day tomorrow to get down to our real New Zealand destination - Queenstown.  

Mishaps while traveling are part of what you expect, and can even be fun sometime.  You hope to handle these difficulties with grace and dignity.  I can’t say I handled this situation exactly how I would have wanted to, and maybe there is something to learn from that, but right now I am still fuming at CP.  I don’t mind when bad weather or mechanical issues throw a wrench into your plans, but when an airline just treats you like a piece of meat to be shipped from point A to B, they deserve some ire, and in this case we were ground chuck.