Thursday, September 26, 2013

Trip to Washington D.C - Behind the scenes

Some quick notes taken during and after my trip to Washington D.C. for the RDA 2nd Plenary Meeting. In general I had a great time in the states, but sometimes things tend to go wrong:

  • I exchanged 200 euros for USD260 at an exchange bureau in the center of Athens; I would have gotten much less at the Athens airport.
  • I flew from Athens to Washington D.C. through Philadelphia
  • Various snacks and beverages were offered during the flight but I still felt hungry; I tend to get more hungry when I am tired. All experienced passengers had snacks in their carry-on luggage!
  • It was really cold during the flight; it reminded me of Greek ships to the Greek islands, where the temperature in the salon is usually really low. I suppose they want to keep us fresh and young during the long trips in both cases. At least US Airways was kind enough to provide warm blankets to everyone during the flight.
  • Due to extremely long queues at the passport check points in Philadelphia, I missed my connection flight to Washington… had to wait for three hours at the airport, which to my surprise provided free access to the internet. It was the first time I missed a flight in more than 30 trips!
  • My luggage travelled to Washington without me, as I was told this happens with national flights. I was really worried that the last time I saw it would have been at the Athens airport; however, it was on the correct lane, waiting for me to arrive in Washington.
  • I wish I have chosen a direct flight to Dulles or Baltimore airports; I would have saved a lot of time from the security screening and might have shortened my trip – both of them were more far away from the city center though (so I would have to take a bus and a metro later), and this is why I chose to fly to Ronald Reagan Airport. I promise that I will never do that again – Only direct flights to my U.S. destination if possible.
  • While waiting at the Philadelphia airport, I grabbed a snack and sat to eat it; I didn’t notice a small (but oily) piece of food left on the chair. This left me with one pair of trousers less during my stay in Washington.
  • I left home at 07.30 and reach hotel at 05.30 (Greek time), so my trip took almost one day!
  • Metro at the Ronald Reagan Airport was not operational on Sunday evening due to works; I had to get a bus for a couple of metro stations, carrying around my heavy luggage.
  • I reached hotel only to realize that there was a problem with both my debit cards (both Visa and Mastercard); the Mastercard was rejected, while the limit for the Visa was 500 euros. I only had USD250 in cash with me.
  • The hotel policy for Debit card owners was to charge a fee of $60 per night for the use of the card – I was not aware of that rule and would have paid in cash if I only knew about that. They said that it would be automatically refunded after 10 days – I never trust this kind of transactions, as businesses tend to “forget” that they have to give you back your money.
  • Each evening I returned to the hotel room after the meeting, only to realize that the magnetic key was not working; I was told during my last night at the hotel that this was due to the fact that the room was not paid yet. However, this also applied to my first night at the hotel.
  • Fees for withdrawing money from ATMs in the States were rather high - I should have converted more Euros in Athens.
  • I was never sure the amount charged to my card by the hotel (twice), as the transactions took place behind the counter and in a nicely-hidden spot. And we are not talking about crooks here; it was a $250/night hotel at the center of Washington D.C.
  • Finding out the exact price for an item in U.S.A. is hard, as the prices shown never include taxes – and taxes are different in different cases. You can only find out about that after you pay.
  • On top of that, you need to tip in almost any occasion. You need to tip the doorman, the bellman, the waiter, the lady cleaning the hotel room, the taxi driver etc. Sometimes you are kindly requested to do so, sometimes you really need to. This is not common in Europe and of course it adds up to the (already high) prices.
  • I could not find a fast food in Washington, at least the ones shown in movies, with large burgers, large fries, large milk shakes. I only got to each some “big” (but still normal in size) sandwiches and less-than-normal sized milk shakes.
  • Walking around Washington was a pleasure; big pedestrian walks, enormous parks, lots of sights. I walked so much that my feet hurt.
  • You feel safe in Washington. There is police around the city, especially near the public buildings (which are really numerous).
  • I spent about an hour walking to the Capitol, thinking that the river would be exactly behind it; I was totally disoriented as usually, as the river was on the exactly opposite side.
  • There were a lot of buildings that looked like ancient Greek ones; it was really appreciated. On top of that, Americans seem to be really proud of their history and respect monuments and figures; this is not the case in Greece.
  • Jogging is very popular in Washington – you need to take better care of the joggers than the cyclists.
  • Jet lag is a fact – I felt exhausted every day after the lunch for the first days. Then I travelled back home, where things were even worse (see below).
  • There are no croissants in grocery stores (I think they call them Pharmacies here) – The only options for breakfast at the hotel room were biscuits and cereals, along with milk. I lived with that during my last morning in Washington.
  • I did not find any stores to buy gadgets/clothes etc. I wouldn’t have minded to get my hands on a refurbished Microsoft Surface tablet, a Nokia Lumia Windows Phonw or maybe a Mac Pro, but it seems that there was nothing around my hotel (and my long walks).
  • I was nervous about the use of power adapters in US with a Schuko plug (for my laptop) so I grabbed a cheap one from Athens, which costed my 14,5 euros. A similar but more well-built-looking adapter in the Athens airport was sold for 35 euros and the same one (as mine) at Philadelphia airport for about $30. I have seen a similar one selling for $50 in a magazine available in the airplane! I have to admit that I loved my adapter, which allowed me to charge all my gadgets using both the plug and the included USB port at the same time. It is highly recommended as a cheap alternative to the more expensive and elegant ones (such as SKROSS).

  • I had problems checking out of my hotel, as my cards could not be used for paying the remaining amount ($600 while my account balance was much higher in both cases). I had to visit an ATM and use both cards (Visa & Mastercard) for withdrawing money as there was a $400 limit per card by the ATM and I needed $600 (transaction which incurred fees both by the ATM and by my banks). In the end, there was a pre-charging made in both cards and one of them will have to be released (it may take up to 10 working days as I was told by the hotel). I just hope that I will not be overcharged. Cards are a mess-cash is good…
  • On my was back to Ronald Reagan airport I managed to get the wrong metro line and I started moving outside the city – thanks to a friendly passenger, I was told how to get the right line again.
  • Before flying from Washington to Philadelphia but as soon as we were seated in the airplane, we were told that there was an weight imbalance and one (volunteer) passenger from rows 1-4 should be moved to the last row; I am currently 115 Kg and was sitting at row 4, next to a guy who seemed to be twice as big as me. To everyones relief, I offered to move to the last row.
  • This time there were no big queues so I had to wait quite a lot at the airports. However, there was a 50 min delay from Philadelphia to Athens. This trip seemed endless. And there were no duty-free shops with gadgets around.
  • As I flew from evening (U.S.) to morning (Greece) I had trouble getting some sleep during the flight. I spent two days trying to recover from the trip.
  • I was expecting my wife to pick me up with the car from the airport but (of course) something happened and I had to take the suburban railway. This meant a delay of about 20 mins and me, sleepless, carrying my 20Kg suitcase and 15 kg backpack over a quite a big number of stairs at the destination station, as both the elevator and the escalators were out of order.
  • Tourist photos from my trip to Washington are available here.