Friday, September 4, 2009

Travel rant and continent-hopping...

8pm London
3pm Atlanta
2pm Quito
So what better place to write my travel rant than waiting for my second inter-continental flight of my 30-hour day in the Atlanta airport?
Well I promised I would tell you guys about missing my flight way back a couple of weeks ago… Sadly I really don’t have a good story, I just missed my flight. We got caught in traffic and then it said you have to be through security 30 mins before departure, but I missed the really, really small print that said the bag check and international passport verification desk closes 40 mins before. Well, I got a bit lost in the airport and got there 39mins before my flight. Ugh, so I would’ve been fine but I’m not an EU citizen and insist on bringing more than one change of clothes with me for 4 weeks…
So then I found myself stuck in Manchester with no Ryanair flights until the next day at 20:00…. Panic! Actually I more just felt like crawling into a corner and crying but that was sadly not an option. I frantically called my friend but she was driving and didn’t pick up so I paid a ridiculous amount to use the internet and did some lightning-fast research of all air and ground transportation to southern Germany, everything was way out of my budget until at last, out of desperation I tried Brussels and there was a ‘cheap’ (everything is relative) flight with some obscure airline called Flybe. After a bit more research to make there was an affordable train from Brussels-Köln that wouldn’t leave me stranded in a random train station overnight, I ran off to the other terminal and bought my ticket. From there it was just another disgusting day of travel, crazy 5-hour train ride with 4 connections but I made it in before midnight! The End. Moral: Never, ever trust traffic. Read ALL the fine print. An hour’s sleep is not worth being late. (I still have trouble with that last one, but did get up at 4:15 this morning to take the earlier train and don’t regret it).
Second travel disaster: Ended up on the train from Belgium to Germany without a ticket. Well, without a paper one anyway. I booked so far ahead of time to get an über cheap ticket then just wrote down the code in my planner, which is supposed to mean I just have to put the number in the machine at the station to retrieve my ticket… Well I was going to check but didn’t really have internet in Belgium so left it. Then I get to the station and find it won’t work in the Belgian machines because theirs are letters only, so I ask the ticket man and he says well, the number is good but I can’t print it because the printer wasn’t working so gives a paper explaining and says there’ll be no problems. Yeah right… The train lady was like no this just says you can buy a ticket on the train without the surcharge and you have a Belgian number so can only print that in Belgium, too late we’re across the border, buy another and see if you can get it reimbursed. So 90 euro later we’re trying to explain the lady in the station I need it sent to Belgium to get reimbursed and she goes no, this is actually a German reservation number but you have to have printed it yourself, tant pis pour vous. She tried to get my original one reimbursed but I just got a letter saying I don’t even get the cheap ticket back. Lesson: Always, always double check. Booking in advance is not always an advantage!
Confused yet? So am I, it’s a permanent condition for the traveller.
Since I left on July 24th, I have slept in 18 ‘beds’ (‘beds’ because plane, train and ferry seats are included). Yuck. With travelling a lot of things end up in “ “. My scarf has also been a ‘blanket’, ‘blindfold’, ‘jacket’, ‘towel’, ‘door’, ‘seat’, ‘beach wrap’, ‘fashion accessory’ and ‘rope’. Or take food for example: early on the plane I was trying to convince myself that the “tomato sauce” on my plane pizza à la “italiana” was one serving of “fruits and veggies” for the day… yep. Between that and my total exercise today being walking from concourse E to A (about 1.5km), travelling doesn’t exactly facilitate a healthy lifestyle. Lack of sleep, clean clothes and showers leave me in a perpetual state of GROSS. I also picked up a cold in Sweden… it started in the left side of my throat and has now progressed up, over and back into the rear of my right nasal cavity leaving me all stuffed up and with a headache. And sure that some of these grumpy security people are going trying to get me quarantined for swine flu. Like I try to be as friendly as possible but these people are cold-blooded machines. I’m obviously a sneaky criminal, what happened to innocent until proven guilty? I’m also obviously an American even when they are holding my passport. Britain is the worst, twice now it’s been: What state are you from? And the other one: Is Atlanta your permanent residence? Ugh.
I think I have seen every single possible way to flush a toilet. From automatic, to hand flush on the side, on the wall, to buttons on the top, on the wall, a ceiling chain, foot pedals, close the lid… ok maybe not a voice command one yet…
Wales had these crazy “sinks” and hole in the wall where you stick your hands and then press ‘soap’, ‘water’ and ‘air’ and each substance squirts down.
I can figure out any new shower within one minute. On/off, hot/cold, pressure, nozzle adjustment. Even ones where you set everything and then just press ‘On’. I think I’ve mastered the washrooms of at least 2 continents, still working on South America but the next few months should leave me an expert there too. I already have the golden rule down: never go anywhere without a roll of toilet paper.
Communication is another headache. Even with 3 languages. I hate being anywhere I don’t speak the language at all (even if 99% of the population does speak English, I still think it’s rude to assume). You can’t order food, get directions, if someone asks for the time you can only look at them like duh? Sorry, English? You feel terribly stupid. Of course miscommunication can be amusing too…
I also hate having to say goodbye every 2-4 days… It’s awful, I just never know what to say to thank people that have been too generous and who you have no clue when you may see again but who are really among the best friends you have. Of course that is more than compensated by getting to say hello every 2-4 days and just seeing everyone again! That was so wonderful. Really, ignore this whole rant, that whole trip was more than worth it (though I’d say a once-in-a-lifetime) and I just can’t get over how generous, hospitable, and welcoming everyone was. I meet the most amazing people, the world is a fantastic place. I really really hope that someday people will come visit me so I can spoil them and get an excuse to be a tourist chez moi.
If any of you are reading this: Thank-you so much, merci beaucoup, muchas muchas gracias.
Yesterday I spent one last day in London organising and packing my stuff (ugh, so much stuff, I realised I really don’t need more than what fits in my backpack and had forgotten what I had left in my suitcase, now I feel rich! (and over-burdened with stuff)) I also met up with my ex-roomies (Alaina and Hayley) who are going to be teaching in London for the next two years and we went out for dinner. Delicious Indian food at probably the creepiest restarant ever. We were the only ones there the whole time. So awkward!
Well, my Europe trip is over, one continent down. It is only just hitting me now what wonderful sights I got to see, things I got to experience, ideas to discover, beauty to admire. Carefully pack those treasures away before I start another chapter I hope will be just as incredible. Trading in the best in fresh dairy for the best in fresh fruit!

(Now safe and happy in Quito! Thinking about staying until Tuesday then going to the coast since I ran into a friend (Chad) on my flight down here (I love chance, it keeps life so interesting!) so I have someone to do things with and would like to see more of Quito. Jet lag definitely hasn't hit yet, I'm just so amazed that I'm actually back here and can still communicate in Spanish!!)

1 comment:

  1. My sentiments exactly, from the various toilets, showers and beds to the hellos and goodbyes. People on this side of the world and simply wonderful too! There aren't enough ways to say thank you in any language, eh?