Category Archives: Travels

Sorry For the Lack of Updates..

After the pure lunacy of last night’s flight to Barcelona, Lauren and I decided to get a nice hotel for the night. (Though I wouldn’t really qualify it as ‘for the night’ since we didn’t arrive until 1am.) But both of us were so done with life, and neither of us had pajamas (or anything else. Both of us were cocky and didn’t pack essentials in our carry-ons. We literally have nothing. Not even Lauren’s vape [electronic cigarette, for those who don’t know]) so a hotel sounded like the perfect plan.

 

Fast forward to the afternoon – we have walked from the hotel to the hostel where everyone is staying, but it was too early so we couldn’t check in. We left our bags, met up with more friends (shout out to Rebekah and her sister, Hannah!), discovered Hannah and Lauren are essentially the same person, and ate some really amazing Tapas. (Y’all, can I just live on Iberian Ham? Because it is AMAZING.) We also run by some stores to get Lauren another vape, and both of us a change of clothes, as well as some makeup so we both look human-ish. Eventually I also give in and buy a sim card so I can keep in contact with everyone (so far I’ve been using Lauren as a wifi hotspot randomly, which is not the best when you are constantly meeting up with different friends around Europe…)

 

All this time, though, we had never actually updated our friends on what had happened…😅 We had messaged our families, we had met up with other friends, but we had never told the group of people we are in Barcelona that we actually did arrive safe the night before…. So after I put in the sim card, I get a flood of messages from my very loving and worried friends because we had not yet checked into the hostel 😅😅😅 My favorite was from Sebastian: “Leave no stone unturned in finding the GINGER; look for the GINGER HEAD; well, GINGER is easy to be spotted among the crowd” or even better (because there was a giant national strike today for International Women’s Day) “Lena is a great activist, maybe she decided to join the strike rather than checking in.”

Whoops!! Sorry y’all!!

 

So: Yes we are alive; yes we are staying at the hostel; no we don’t have bags; yes, I now have data so you can contact me whenever you wish!

 

 

PS Dad – you are lucky I called mom during the flight fiasco, otherwise you might have thought I died too.

Update: The Third Trip Delay

(It has taken me a while to write about this because it was just so outrageous, but here it is:)

 

SO, after arriving to the gate where our flight was suppose to take off, I realized that we didn’t actually have physical or electronic tickets; the email that had been sent did not include them, and from what I could tell there was no link to where to retrieve them. Lauren and I decided to wait in line and have the gate agent print them out for us – I’ve been on many rebooked flights and this has always worked.

 

Not this time.

 

THIS time: Gate agent pushes us to the side because ‘the flight is so full’; we wait until everyone is boarded; we talk to the second gate agent when she is free; she gets angry because apparently we are not checked in for this flight and therefore our bags are not on said flight. Further, this flight is overbooked by 7 people so there is no way we will get on it anyway. ME: W.T.F. Her, and her fellow gate agent, ‘well you were suppose to leave the gate area and collect your bags in baggage claim, then recheck them onto the new flight and go back through security. Everyone else from your flight did it, so obviously this is your fault for not doing it.’

 

Let me make this clear – NO ONE, at all, from the airline employees to the airport employees, ever told us this. The only ‘instructions’ we ever received were the single email that told us we were rebooked.

 

I don’t get angry. I actively avoid being mad while travelling. And I make a serious effort to always see the other side’s point of view. But at this point I am fuming; the lion’s mane is turn into pure flames. I’m surprised smoke wasn’t billowing out of my ears and nose. Or that my eyes were shooting laser beams.

 

The gate agent is the rudest airline employee I have ever met, and she is insisting that we are the ones at fault; the airline has done nothing wrong; we cannot get on the flight because we are not checked in and the flight is overbooked; even if we could, our bags will not be coming with us. On top of that, the airline doesn’t even know where our bags are, because we never picked them up. (Which is like, WHAT!!! I gave you my bags! You cancelled the flight, not me. So you should know where they are! And by any standard I’ve ever heard of, YOU should have transferred the bags to the new flight.) And again – we are just the stupid travellers who couldn’t follow instructions.

 

Finally, in my anger, I asked to speak to a supervisor. Let’s be clear here – never, in my entire life, have I ever actually asked to speak to a supervisor. EVER. It’s just not me. But I was THAT mad. Rude gate agent calls what I can only conclude was another gate agent and asks (in an extremely condescending way, like asking for a supervisor is an outrageous request) ‘she’d like to speak to a supervisor, could you talk to her?’ She hands me the phone. Thankfully the person on the other end was very kind, attempting to sooth the situation rather than enflame it by blaming myself and Lauren. (Lauren this entire time is deliriously tired and is only worried about her bag being lost forever, because it is the bag required by her job and is very expensive to replace.)

 

According to the ‘supervisor’ – We have two options: take the flight without our bags, and the airline will try to get them to us soon. There are flights very regularly from Gatwick to Barcelona, so this should not take more than a day. OR We could skip this flight, but Vueling (the airline) would not rebook us or pay for our hotel. We would be responsible for booking a last minute hotel (and new flight), and the airline would essentially cut ties. So it boiled down to: a) take the flight without your bags; or b) pay an obscene amount of money, and still not have our bags because – again – the airline had no idea where they were.

 

We chose the first option. Neither of us were happy about it, but it was the lesser of two evils. Both of us will never fly Vueling again. But what else could we do? So the gate agent begrudgingly checks us in on her computer, only to discover that we have assigned seats so we are immediately taken onto the flight so it can leave. The ‘overbooked flight’ had multiple empty seats – Lauren had one next to her. So clearly the gate agent was simply determined to be a jerk.

 

What we later found out: A few minutes after I had left the flight desk to go get Lauren, a random representative from the flight desk had come to collect all the passengers from our flight and take them to baggage claim, then through security again. There was no sign used to collect the passengers. There was no overhead announcement. If you were not actually at the flight desk, there was no way to know what you were suppose to do. Further, there were many bags left over on the carousel (according to the fellow passenger I learned this from), so clearly we were not the only passengers to have missed this information. And after speaking to Lauren’s parents, Lauren’s dad (who has been a pilot for 30 some years) informed us he has never heard of an airline requiring this before. So clearly it is an abnormal procedure.

 

When did we actually get our bags: After a series of calls and mixed messages given by the airline, I finally got my bag at 5pm the next day (after the airline had said 10 minutes before that a] it was still lost; b] it was in Barcelona, but they don’t know where; and c] it had already been delivered to the hostel. All of these were answers. During the same phone call. Vueling had no f*cking idea what was going on, clearly.)

Lauren’s bag, on the other hand, took another 24 hours to arrive. We received mixed messages with her bag too. Apparently her bag had been flown over with mine, but instead of actually delivering them together, it sat in BCN for another 24 hours before being delivered to the hostel. According to the airline, though, it was a] still lost; b] still in Gatwick; c] lost again; and finally d] in BCN, but they have no idea where. About 5 minutes after hearing the last one, Lauren went to the front desk and discovered the bag had actually been delivered hours earlier. But the airline had no idea.

 

SUMMARY: Do not check bags with Vueling, if you ever fly with them. And do not fly out of Gatwick airport unless you absolutely must.

 

A Third Travel Delay – Really?

At this point, I really might just be cursed. Today was suppose to be our flight from London to Barcelona – we got up, got packed, left for the train super early (4 hours until take off, just in case), and got to Gatwick Airport with plenty of time. Which was good – both Lauren and I somehow had to have extra screening: apparently the snack bars in my backpack set off the scanners; we have no idea why Lauren’s bag was flagged.

We walked around the airport, ate, got coffee, explored everything that was actually interesting. I introduced Lauren to Kinder Bueno, which is now one of her favorite candy bars. Finally we went to our gate, still with an hour left until our flight. And we waited. And waited. And waited some more. 10 minutes past our original boarding time, the voice over the intercom finally informs us that an engineer is currently on our plane and they will let us know soon when our boarding time will be.

More waiting. Our departure time passes. Many people leave the waiting area (in Gatwick airport, the waiting area is gated off so you can only enter it if you have a valid boarding pass for that specific flight). A few are on the phone with the airlines trying to find alternative transportation. Lauren and I are still oblivious (well, in Lauren’s case, she is a bit delirious from the exhaustion of my version of traveling). Finally the voice over the intercom contacts us again – there is an issue with the plane that cannot be fixed here. They must taxi the plane to another area of the airport, fix the issue, then we can fly. But in the mean time, we are not allowed to stay in the boarding area – we have to move back to the food concourse where those without flights that hour are kept. There is no estimated time for our flight at this moment.

Annoying as it may be, I’m not totally surprised. At this point I am under the assumption that every form of transportation we plan to take this trip will be delayed – because at this point, ever form has been delayed for me…

Ten minutes later, after grabbing another coffee (4th of the day! All my money is being spent on caffeine!), the electronic board with gate information finally shows instructions for our flight – ‘Gate to be announced at 17:10’. Y’all – our flight was suppose to land at 17:55….

16:55 – I check the board while Lauren is passed out on a bench. ‘Go see the flight desk.’ I wake Lauren up and run down to the desk with my passport; everyone from the flight is huddled around it in a mob. Of course we are the only flight to Barcelona that was cancelled. Eventually, after standing in the mob-line for 30 minutes (with no movement, I might add), one of the fellow passengers informs me that Vueling sent out an email with the new reservations for everyone. Only problem – I’ve used my 90minutes of free wifi at the airport and I don’t have cell service…. Thankfully I could log on to the wifi using my iPad, and we have our new ticket – leaving at 19:40 (7:40pm) and not getting in until 22:45 (10:45pm)….

As I always say, no such thing as an uneventful trip for me, right?

Natural History and Harry Potter

According to our original plan, we were suppose to wake up and go on a huge walking tour of the Kensington area of London where we are now staying (previously we were in the Westminster area). One problem with that plan – Lauren and I are both huge natural history nerds, and we ended up spending almost the entire day at the Natural History Museum.

In our defense, it took us about an hour to walk to the museum this morning because we decided to walk through Hyde Park and see the Kensington Palace (from the outside) and the Albert Memorial. And there were a lot of dogs playing in the park, which made our walk take much longer – gotta gush over all the cute dogs after all! Lauren was more distracted by the birds, and a swan almost attacked her when it decided she was too close. (I was dying laughing, of course. As a best friend should.)

But eventually we made it to the museum. For those that haven’t been, this museum is HUGE. And amazing. Filled with all the most interesting things. There is an exhibit on dinosaurs, there is an exhibit on mammals, there is a human body exhibit and a vault of priceless gems. There is even a giant escalator through what looks like the earth’s core, up to the top floor which is dedicated to two exhibits on earth quakes and volcanos. Its hard not to spend multiple hours exploring. And it didn’t help that my friend Jana from the Hague Academy came out to visit, so we were catching up while exploring. Summary: no giant tour for us, just a nerd day at the museum. Well worth it.

Eventually, when we finally left, we decided to salvage part of our planned day by taking a taxi to King’s Cross to go to the Harry Potter Platform 9 and 3/4. Also well worth it. We got some awesome photos together, and nerded out like true Harry Potter fans. I ended up getting a Gryffindor hat, which Jana promptly pointed out makes me look like part of the Weasley clan (I’m okay with that!) If only I didn’t have five more weeks of traveling, I would have bought a lot more than I did. (Y’all, there is a mug. With the ‘Marauder’s Map’ on it. That changes to reveal the words ‘I solemnly swear that I am up to no good’ when it gets hot. I need that mug in my life. And the chocolate frogs!! Oh the chocolate frogs!! They are so delicious!! Just like Harry in the Philosopher’s Stone, I got an Albus Dumbledore card as my first frog collectible card; it even has the exact quote about Dumbledore like in the books!)

Finally, we were Wizard-ed out, and decided to go eat at a proper english pub. But when we failed to find one that wasn’t full, we gave up and ate at the English Pub in King’s Cross. Tringa was able to come meet us after her classes, so we ended up having more of a mini-Hague reunion that originally planned! (We also learned a single bloody mary will make Lauren drunk – and drunk Lauren is funny.) We may not have been able to explore like we had wanted, but it was definitely a day well spent!

Day 2: The Tower of London

I don’t know if Lauren will make it through the entire 2 weeks she is here without her legs actually giving up on us. It is 11pm currently, and she has been asleep for 2 hours already. The second we got to Tringa’s house (where we are staying) Lauren laid in bed, attempted talking to us for about 30 minutes, then curled in a ball and fell fast asleep. (Tringa and I, on the other hand, are working side-by-side on our to-do list items until the wee hours of the morning).

Today we walked: from County Hill, along the Thames Riverbank, past Shakespeare’s Globe (where we stopped yesterday), down to Tower Bridge. We were planning on going up in the Tower Bridge experience, but the line was out the door so we chose to go to the Tower of London instead.

Y’all – did you know the Tower of London is essentially a mini-town in and of itself?? Like no joke – people LIVE in the Tower of London. Because it isn’t just a tower, its a fortress. With the Crown Jewels. And a shit ton of military personnel. Essentially there are 38-ish Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London (also known as Beefeaters) who are responsible for taking visitors on tours of the Tower each day and looking after the security of the Tower and its surrounding area. The Yeoman and their families all live inside the Tower of London – essentially making its population around 100 people.

The Tower is also residence of a group of Ravens. Legend has it that the kingdom and the Tower will fall if the six resident ravens even leave the fortress. Currently there are seven ravens in the Tower, and they are all taken care of by a Yeoman who is called the Ravenmaster. Y’all – these ravens get fed 170g of raw meat a day, plus bird biscuits soaked in blood. And still one of the resident Ravens stalked Lauren and I while we were eating lunch, staring me down and clearly eyeing my Sausage Rolls. Have you seen a Raven??? These birds are HUGE. And extremely cunning! I’m not planning on fighting one for a sausage roll; that bird would beat me and definitely leave a scar. Instead I chose to put my food away and advise Lauren to do the same. (Later I saw one raven who captured some poor soul’s lunch which was not guarded well enough. The poor woman was trying to steal back what remained of her food while the Raven was tearing her sandwich apart.)

The Tower was also the location of multiple public executions – including many Queens of England (Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Jane Grey, to name a few) – and many of these poor souls are currently buried in the Tower’s grounds. When renovating one of the chapels, the workman found over 1,000 bodies buried underneath the church – many of whom had been beheaded. The Tower of London is said to be one of the most haunted places on earth – I can definitely see why.

There are so many stories to tell about the Tower; I would highly recommend attending a tour by one of the Yeoman should you ever be in London! It is free with entry! Or read a book about its bloody history. Totally worth it!

P.S. Dad – Still alive, and thankfully not haunted by any of the ghosts from the Tower (but let’s be honest, it’d be pretty cool to be haunted by a ghost of a queen though right?)

Day 1 of London: A Walking Tour

Today we walked. And walked. And walked some more. Until our legs were ready to fall off.

Lauren is not used to my version of traveling. In my version, you wander all day. No plans needed, eventually you will find something interesting. Maybe you have a bit of an outline for where you want to go, and maybe it gets followed. For the most part, though, you are just walking and looking, trying to take in the city. For the past few months, I have been on a super health kick, so walking 10 miles is no big deal for me. For her, on the other hand, standing for work is normal (she is a flight attendant), but walking 10 miles? Nope.

Today: we walked from County Hill to Big Ben [it’s under renovation right now and hidden under scaffolding!!! Super sad I can’t take awesome photos of it!!], through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace, back through St. James Park to Horse Guards Parade, looped around to go back towards Westminster Abbey, looped back down again along the Thames Riverwalk, through the Whitehall Gardens, across the Golden Jubilee Bridges, down past the Waterloo bridge and Blackfriars bridge, all the way to Shakespeare’s Globe, and finally Lauren gave up. We ended up walking back to the hotel near County Hill and resting for a bit – only to go back out and walk down to where we ended again. 20,852 steps later (my apple watch keeps track), we finally grabbed dinner by Waterloo bridge with Tringa, and ended a pretty jam-packed day. Overall totally worth it. The best way to see the city is to walk it! Lauren may disagree though, haha.

P.S. Dad – Still alive. Lauren is not, but I am.

Impromptu Edinburgh Escape

After two days of having every train be cancelled and the entire city be essentially shut down, everyone at the hostel was hopeful that maybe, just maybe the trains would be running on Saturday (today). But late last night, as myself and some new friends (shout out to Tony and Warren!) were getting back from drinks at the pub down the street, we saw on the Virgin Train twitter feed that all trains for Saturday were cancelled due to giant, multi-foot snow drifts in Renton…

There was nothing much we could do. For me, this meant another day that Lauren (my best friend I’m suppose to be traveling with) is stuck on her own in London another night, and my other best friend Tringa has another night of studying before we begin our flatmate mini-reunion. For others, on the other hand, this meant that they would miss out on all their time in London (ex: Jane), or they would miss their flights out of London on Sunday (ex: Joey and Aadit). After so many days of being snowed in, we had all become equally resigned to our fate, ready to take full advantage of our extra time for whiskey tours and amazing hostel-organized events. It sucked, but what else were we going to do? No point in being mad; all that was left was to make the time worth it.

 

Then – as I was preparing to leave to go on a whiskey tour – Virgin updated their website: another company, CrossCountry, would be running trains to Newcastle (where you could easily take a connection to London) and Virgin tickets would be accepted on these trains. I immediately told Joey and Aadit, since they desperately needed to be in London for a flight, and they ran out the hostel with their bags to the train station. Jane and I were iffy though – we had already decided to stay the night, had paid for the hostel, were excited for whiskey tours and beer pong tournaments, and there was no big reason to go to London at this point. But then again, what if the storm starts again and these are the only trains out? Plus, if we didn’t go now, we wouldn’t be able to actually experience London… Both of us gave in: better to leave now and be safe, than to wait and be stuck in Edinburgh longer.

 

It was a good decision. The storm did let up, and trains have been running ever since, but the train ride with all four of us was really fun and interesting. And finally being reunited with Lauren (after a year) and Tringa (after eight months) was well worth the mad dash to make the train. One thing, though – NEVER attempt to pull a rolly suitcase through slushy snow on a giant hill. Get a taxi. It’s easier. And your arms will thank you.

 

P.S. Dad – I’m alive and in London. And making Lauren stop being a lazy bum on a log, and actually leave the hotel.

Second Weather Delay in 4 Days

For the second time in the first 4 days of a 42 day trip, I have been delayed by weather. Because of the Beast from the East, everyone in Edinburgh is stranded for the day (three days now, actually. A new friend from my hostel [shout out to Jane if you are reading this!] has been stranded here since Wednesday.) No trains, planes, buses, or even cars out, which means I will be in Edinburgh another night – perhaps it’s the universe giving me back some of the time that was taken away by my delay to Newark!

Even though it is horribly wet outside and I only have a pair of mesh tennis shoes, I didn’t want to spend the whole day indoors. So I decided to do my favorite travel past-time: Wandering, getting absolutely lost, and using that to get to know the city.

Now, if you know me very well, you know I am irrationally petrified of a zombie apocalypse (thanks to watching the original Night of the Living Dead. Not recommended for the faint of heart like me.) Because of this fear, I actively avoid going near cemeteries. It is a rare occurrence for me to willingly go traipsing around one – I always have flashbacks to that scene in Hocus Pocus where the zombie bursts out of his coffin.

200w_d

Like I said – irrationally petrified. But today, I was so desperate for something interesting to do that I willingly went and explored a cemetary. Alone. Completely vulnerable to the zombies should they rise up in this devil of a snow storm. Picture evidence:

Hopefully the last photo is a good testament to how much snow Edinburgh has gotten. It is easily 8 inches, possibly more. There are times when you put your foot down into the powder and it goes all the way to your shin. It is not too surprising that essentially the entire UK is reeling, barely able to function. I just find it absolutely hilarious that the storm of the century would happen in the 3 days that I was set to visit Edinburgh. But hey, who can really complain about being trapped in a country filled with the best whiskey, gin, and bourbon in the world? And some pretty awesome dancing too.

P.S. Dad – thankfully the zombies did not rise up while I was visiting the cemetery, so I’m still alive!

Bonus pictures:

Ceilidh: Traditional Scottish Dancing

After spending the entire day sleeping the jet lag away (and hiding from the snow storm, aptly named the ‘Beast from the East’. I’m not joking. Google it.), I came to the conclusion that I had to do something outside of my hostel room to salvage the day. Lucky for me, hostels are awesome and often have nightly events organized for guests. And since the snow storm was so terrible, nearly every guest at this hostel planned on attending the ‘Ceilidh’ (pronounced ‘Kay-lid’ I think) organized last night.

So, with three inches of snow on the ground and the storm still coming down strong, myself and about 40 other twenty-something year olds bundled up and set out into the snow to make the trek to a pub about 10 minutes walk away where the Ceilidh was taking place.

Not our best idea in the world. By the time we actually got to the pub, our clothes were coated in snow (and the lions mane [my hair] was pure white and frozen solid). But it was worth it. I wish I had the words to describe how truly hilarious it is to watch a bunch of foreigners, most a few beers deep, attempt Scottish dancing, but unfortunately I don’t. So here are some videos instead:

Essentially Snowed In

Finally arrived to Edinburgh – one problem: the giant snow storm that took over the rest of Europe in the past week just hit the UK and has shut everything down.

Those are the view from the hostel window, which has basically been the only part of Edinburgh I’ve seen besides the places along the bus route here. After having to drag my suitcase up a giant, snowy hill to the hostel, I was exhausted enough to sleep all day.

Side note – I really should remember that if your hostel is next to a castle, that means it is at the top of a hill. And you should take a taxi.

Hopefully it’ll be better tomorrow so I can see more of the city, but as of now the city is shut down and I’m taking shelter in the hostel, watching the snow from a distance.

P.S. Dad – I’m exhausted and freezing, but still alive. (Yes, it is the return of the ‘I’m not gonna call my dad everyday so here is proof I am alive’ sign off)