(RE: Holiday Trip 2007 - Ski Breckenridge, Denver, Colorado )
I have not been skiing in Colorado. I booked a seven days trip to Breckenridge, Colorado, one week before the arrival day. Colorado is a state of party, especially in winter time. Must be good, it truned out to be ......better.
One week before the departure day December 20th, I booked the trip via a ski...com web site. The package included round trip air tickets, accommodations for 7 days, and car rental. I usually booked them separately, easier to handle for last minutes people like us.
Against all the odds, I did not check weather forecast there, did not purchase trip insurance like I always did. Not only that I did not even check the flight status before leaving home.
"Your flight #### is cancelled, please checked with the ticket counter to reschedule your flight." I did not know there was big snow storm at Denver until I saw this on the check in screen at the airport. It was 7:00am, our flight was 9:45am.
It was the beginning of an interesting vacation, with high spirit. We got another sets of confirmed tickets for two days later, at 7:00pm, one-stop flight via Chicago, plus the stand-by passes for the day. ¡°Be positive!¡± the United Airline clerk told us, he also said we had pretty good chance to get on since we were #11 on the stand-by list.
The man outside the security check point was announcing the list of the prohibit items, "no water bottle, shampoo, perfume, any liquid bottles, etc. " I thought about my Vitamin E bottle, it was liquid, but I do not remember where did I put in, my backpack or the luggage. I thought it was in my backpack, I opened it, but did not see it at the place I thought I would have placed it.
We were picked for random check, that we called it the giggling game, it had never happened to us. What kinds of terrorists will get on the plane for action with their young daughter?!
After the check point, I found my vitamin E bottle, not only that, a pairs of scissor and a pair of size 8 knitting needles, all in my backpack.
Don't trust the airports for good security, now you know.
When I took out my knitting needles, my golden shining, one foot long, 1/3 inches thick needles, I got lot of starring at the waiting areas. "When did you pick up such a healthy hobby?" My husband was surprised too. I was planning to make a scarf, as planned several years ago. I was happy that I finally got to it.
We spent 8 hours at the airport for the first day, waiting for stand by, waiting in line to speak to the clerks at the counter. At the time when we were finally driving home, we were planning to come back next morning to stand-by for another day. We were so desperate to ... fly out, that we felt that as people like us who've never done stand-by before, we were going to do all the stand-by in one's life time in one day.
Withdrawing from the vacation mood was simply not what we do during vacations, we felt so good because no matter how sucks it was, we were actually be able to walk out the airport at will, (better than Tom Hanks in "Terminal", at least,) we decided to pretend that we were in Denver already.
We were exhausted, (waiting in lines is very energy consuming, besides we were up before 6:00am), but a movie would be a good rest, we decided, especially a movie called "Holiday".
When we were finally home, more than 12 hours after we left that day earlier, we were thrilled to see the house, "What a nice lodge!" Daddy said, "Look at the kitchen!" the daughter exclaimed, "Wow!" After that there is no more energy left other than hitting the bed directly.
Roundabout 2 The next day we did not have any chance to use our second stand-by passes, since the airport stayed as closed without estimated re-opening schedule. I spent the day checking airport & airline news and calling travel agent, continued looking for alternative options for the trip. Cancellation with refund was not an option, it was impossible to get through the airline phone lines. On the other hands, while our vacation was cutting short and DIA stayed closed, our Friday night confirmed tickets looked better and better.
Two days after the schedule departure date, we went to airport again, four hours earlier. No stand-by was accepted, actually people without confirmed tickets to Denver were asked not to even go to airports. Checking-in and security check were smooth and quick this time. I even signed up as volunteers to accept airline offer for giving up tickets to Denver.
We waited for two hours before they started to process our flight. If we were to give up the flight today and took another flight the next day, we would be awarded another round-trip ticket valid within a year. After waited for so long? No, thank you.
The flight was overbooked by 18, every flight to Denver was overbooked. However, there were actually volunteers. After 30 minutes delay, they settled all the overbooked ticket except one. They announced after everyone boarded and seated, asked again volunteer to help a young lady who really needed to fly to Chicago that night.
Denver local time 0:12 we touched ground at DIA, only 20 minutes delay than scheduled arrival time. Walking out from the terminal to the baggage claim area, we felt pretty good. Denver airport is beautiful, big, clean and neat, hard to imagine there were thousands of people strained there in the past several days. There are only several people I saw still slept on the terminal area.
There was a big crowd there waiting outside the arrival gate for their friends, families and relatives. You could see lots of kisses and hugs there. For a while, I forgot it was already after midnight.
I had to say the vacation was getting real, until we got to the baggage claim area. There were many luggages on the ground, a lot more than the arrival passengers.
We waited and waited, I did not recall luggages were dispatched that slowly, it was like watch an old hen laying eggs. When we were told all were out, we still did not see any of our three bags. Then it was another long line to wait to check and claim missing luggages.
Our ski bag was at far end of the baggage area, among many of the others. It arrived in the afternoon via a direct flight. The other two bags of ours, we were told, were left at Chicago during the stop-over two hours earlier, they would, at the earliest, reach DIA 11:00am via the first flight from Chicago, and it would take the airline six to eight hours to deliver to our destination at Breckenridge, which is 106 miles away from Denver airport.
Colorado is a landscape of breathtaking views and awe-inspiring possibilities, a place as free-spirited as the strong winds that blow from the heights of the Continental Divide. ¡°It takes a long time to become young (P. Picasso).¡± It takes many roundabouts to get to a place like this, refreshed and spirit-lifted. At the place we are going to stay, they call the traffic circle ¡°roundabout¡± and use them as reference when giving directions, the same way as the New Jersey people use Garden State Parkway exit number or people in Beijing use bridge and city gate as location reference.
Roundabout 3 At 2:30am, we were on the shuttle to the rental car office located on the outskirt of the airport premises. The driver was very friendly, the only African American I saw in Colorado during this trip. The music playing in the shuttle was surprisingly good. There is this commanding imperturbableness, growing in the music, surrounding us, and rising into the tranquil night. The driver said it was from the satellite music channel 70, ¡°Most Hertz cars are equipped with that¡±, he said that proudly.
I was the first one from the shuttle to enter the rental office hall, there was a line there already, not long, about 10 people ahead of me. There were some sofa chairs at waiting area. Several of them were occupied by kids who were sleeping. They looked like they were in their deep sleep mood. A group of young men were standing by the counter; one of them was on computer. They were wearing tie shorts, and they looked quite comfortable in the room. I could make out if they are waiting for their cars or returning their cars. I felt puzzled, but soon I found myself settling my daughter in one of the empty chairs. The line was barely moving noticeably.
It seemed that no one was in a hurry, afterwards, it was 3am in the morning, and it was in Midwest. There was a young lady slept on the chair next to us. When her young husband or boyfriend finished the paperwork, came over to her, I saw this amazing look on his face when he surprisingly found out she was in sound sleep. He stood in front of her, did not say anything for a while, then he turned his love-filling eye towards the luggage on the ground. He carried them out to the car in two trips, before he woke her up and left together.
Finally we got our car, after saying no to all the options the clerk patiently explained to us. He was working since 7am the morning in the first opening day after the blizzard. We thank him and continued our long delayed journey.
It was supposed to be a two-hour trip from Denver to Breckenridge. The temperature dropped from 18¡ãF degrees to single digit when we drove away the great prairies into the Rocky Mountains.
We arrived in Breckenridge 20 minutes to 6am, stopped by the rental office to pick up the key to the lodge we booked. There were many packages with keys in a basket outside the office. When I walked up the steps to the porch where the basket was, I noticed that the holes on the metal steps were bigger than the heels of my boot. It took me a while to walk back down with only one fall into the holes, it was bitterly cold. Getting back in the car, I peered at the outside temperature indicator, it was 1¡ãF. Without the additional baggage, I was definitely not equipped to be here.
The lodge was not far away, we were ready to take a nap, after a long non-sleeping night. But what was awaiting us was yet another big surprise. The place was not cleaned, in fact, it was like a pigsty. There are dirty towels on the floor or the bathroom, the bed was not made, blankets are piled up on the sofa bed. Garbage cans were full, hairs in the vanity sink, and there was an empty wine bottle on the counter¡¡
It was so freaky ridiculous. The place was the only accommodation property listed as platinum or five stars at the time I booked the trip. So at six o¡¯clock in the morning after a long sleepless night, 2 hours driving, 2.5 days delay in vacation, one day before Christmas Eve, we were yelling on the phone. That brought two men over within 20 minutes, cleaning and tidy up the place, and pretty much wiped out our sleepiness. Mark, the maintenance manager, who was yelled at in the phone, came with another guy. Both men were remarkably handsome, I felt funny to look at them doing the cleaning, while answering my questions. Wondering what had gone wrong......
My husband, the one who yelled at him, stepped outside to the sitting area in the hall. ¡°When one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong in a big way.¡± Mark said that with a bitter smile on his face.
At eight, we went out to have breakfast, the sun was up, and the mountain was beautiful. Even the temperature had merrily raised, four degrees to 5¡ãF! The little town was brightened up by rows of colorful little houses. The manicured style of the town is quite a contrast to the massive landscaping around it.
The rest of the day was spent between trying to get some sleep and calling the united baggage claim service number and checking the baggage claim website. The website was working; however, it failed to find our claim based on all the identification we had. We called the 800 number countless time, could not get to a human being to yell at. After around ten tries, I figured out how to by-pass the voice-activated system and to be transferred to connect to a representative. However, still got to the same answering message, ¡°Sorry, all of the representatives were busy assisting other customers, please try again later.¡±
At the end of the first day, at the attitude of 9,000 feet, base of the Breckenridge peaks, we dined at a restaurant called ¡°the Top of the World¡±. I was happy that we made it down to the hill and back to the lodge, without hitting anyone or sliding down to the cliff or stopped by a police. Life is good, even without snow boot, ski boot or ski pants.
Roundabout 4 The next morning, we woke up feeling great. Checked the 800 number and the website again, same result. ¡°When can we go skiing?¡± asked our daughter. Daddy said, let¡¯s go back to the airport. ¡°We are going to take the matter in our own hands.¡± Daddy told his daughter.
Back to the roundabout to get out of town, through the second roundabout to go back to interstate 70, we¡¯re heading back to the airport, 106 miles away. ¡°Now we are going to take a good look of the mountains, since it was too dark on the way here last night, and it will be still dark on the day we are going home.¡± Not sure if our nine year old shared our excitement or not, I, however took many pictures of the Rocky Mountain, or the rocks.
If we were not getting our luggage today, we could visit the town of Aspen and Vail, or go to a hot spring spa, and we would have the luxury to stop at every scenery overlook. We were very positive and packed with back up plans. After all, it is the holiday season, why not?
We were back to the airport as planed, 11:30am, by the time, we parked the car and waited in line to talk to the clerk at the baggage claim office, it was 12:00pm. We were told that our two missing bags just arrived and were being dispatched right there behind us.
We went to the east site of the terminal by mistake earlier before we realized we should go to Terminal West, but it looked like it was a mistake happened on purpose. The timing was perfect that we arrived to the baggage claim just in time to meet our luggage. It was amazing, we felt like we were in a football game that they (the airline) threw the ball two hours again, from Chicago to us at Breckenridge, and we drove those two hours to come to airport, only to catch the ball when it landed.
As you can imagine, we were actually very pleased that we were going to ski FINALLY, even though there were only two days left out of the six days planned for skiing.
The Town and the Mountains
The charming little town as lspk mentioned, was even more colorful at night time.
Comparing to the getting lost in the misty mountains of Whistler, the Breckenridge experience was sunshine between storms. (Another snow storm was coming the afternoon the day when we left.)
It was really a colorful trip, a huge party disguised as roundabouts indeed.