I’m in Gibraltar now, here to play in the Gibtelecom Masters which begins later today. Somewhat unfortunately, my plans in between the tournament in Sevilla and this one were scuttled before they ever took off though. The plan was to fly from Madrid to Marrakech and spend the time between the two events in Morocco. From Tangier, I would then take a ferry across the Strait to Gibraltar.
After the prize ceremony in Sevilla, I took a train to Madrid, spent a night there, and went to the airport the following morning. Unfortunately, after a few hours of waiting, easyJet canceled my flight (along with 3 other flights they had from Madrid that morning) due to “inclement weather.” We all had to collect our bags from the baggage carousel and then go back to the check-in area to figure out what our options were.
I thought something was a bit odd, as the weather in Madrid that day (January 17th) wasn’t particularly bad – it was cloudy, may have been sprinkling at the time (although it wasn’t when I came into the airport or left), and wasn’t especially windy. Pretty much all the other carriers in the terminal had some delays on their flights, but none of them were canceling their flights. After doing some searches online, it seems that easyJet has one of the highest cancellation rates of any European airline. I’m not sure why it makes sense for them to cancel flights since it leaves planes and staff out of position (not to mention costs them money for the people who they reimburse for hotel expenses, etc), but they seem to pull the trigger quickly on canceling flights.
In any case, we had no choice but to wait in line with hundreds of other passengers to hear our options. They made another strange move at this point, opening only two of the desks for these displaced passengers, but leaving six desks open for new check-ins – the lines at those desks were about two deep, so it shouldn’t have been too much trouble to accommodate their other passengers, but we weren’t going to have such luck.
After standing in line for 3 hours, I finally made it to the front, only to hear that their offer was a flight to Marrakech in a few days! If I took that flight, they would reimburse my hotel expenses in Madrid until then (within a reasonable amount).
Unfortunately, the loss of a few days would effectively derail my plans in Morocco. I had planned on visiting Marrakech and Tangier, combining some sightseeing with some rest. But with only a few days in Marrakech before a 10-hour train ride to Tangier, the new schedule wouldn’t give me enough time to do both – I’d either have to cram a lot of sightseeing and exploring into my trip, or go to Morocco to sleep. Neither option appealed to me, so I declined that offer.
Thus, I ended up spending the interim period in Madrid. I was disappointed that my trip had been shot by the weather and easyJet, but as I like Madrid, I didn’t mind it too much in the end. I made a couple daytrips to Segovia and Salamanca, and then went to Malaga to be a bit closer to Gibraltar.
From Malaga, I took a bus yesterday to La Linea de Concepcion. There, the bus station is just a short walk from the border. While there were cars backed up waiting to get through, I crossed on foot! Of course, the border is manned, and I had to show my passport at an immigration counter, but it was quite fast and I think that’s the first time I’ve crossed a border on foot.
On the bus from Malaga, I ran into one of my opponents from Sevilla (GM Damian Lemos). Because Gibraltar is so expensive and the tournament organizers don’t provide conditions to (male) players below 2600 FIDE, he decided to stay in La Linea and will just cross the border every day before the game. I can’t think of any other tournament in the world where you would stay in a different country from the site and commute every day!
Gibraltar is a tiny British colony and the massive Rock of Gibraltar marked the end of the world for the ancient Greeks. Amusingly enough, the tournament is on the side of the Rock that faces Greece, whereas my hotel is on the other side – I guess they never would have made it here!
The tournament itself should be very strong and the pre-registered list lives up to the billing of being one of the most prestigious open tournaments in the world. The top seed is French GM Etienne Bacrot. One of the strongest American players ever, GM Gata Kamsky, clocks in as the 5th seed.