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Archive for December, 2010

The Last Day!

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The journey was long but somehow the tale was even longer! Hopefully there’s a few of you out there reading this still. You deserve something special for making it this far, checking for updates and reading all the posts. Thanks!

Anyway, let’s get on with the story.

I opened my eyes on that last day and was so happy to be going home. The trip was so much fun but I was ready to be back in the states and enjoy the comforts of a normal home. I took a picture just to commemorate that moment of joy. I didn’t have a whole lot to do that day, just grab a few souvenirs and take the bus to the airport. The flight left at 12:30 and I wanted to get there with plenty of time to spare. A transatlantic flight is not something to be missed. And if I’d learned anything from 6 weeks of travel, it was to expect the unexpected and give yourself plenty of buffer time.

I got packed up and toted my stuff down the main streets of Dublin. Tried to soak up as much as I could in that brief walk, but really I shouldn’t even claim to have visited that city. I found a good souvenir shop and got some last minute gifts. I didn’t have a whole lot of money left, but thankfully it was enough to get what I wanted: a polo shirt, a cool Guinness mug shot glass, and a keychain.

I found the bus stop and hopped on board. Suprisingly, there were two other Americans on board. One was from Seattle. Crazy! It was always nice to meet a fellow American on the road but running into another Seattleite was incredible. I think she was a student at Seattle Pacific University. Anyway, I chatted briefly with them on the way over to the airport and before long we were there. Not much interesting happened at the airport, as far as I can remember. Oh, except some jerk US Customs agent who asked where I had gone and so I started rattling off the countries, he stopped me at Rome and said “I would’ve taken Italy” with a strong air of annoyance. Thanks, bud. To top it off, he stamps my passport, waves me through and then says “Good luck” in some snide tone of voice. Yup, that’s an American for you, I was coming home.

I was just so glad when I got on the plane and settled down to head back. Thank god there were no adventures on that last critical step of my journey. It was a 6 hour flight back to JFK airport. It felt good coming back to the US and seeing all the familiar signs. No more fumbling to communicate or understand what’s going on. This was my kingdom, man.

The adventure wasn’t over yet though. My connecting flight to Spokane was the next day and had I wanted to save money so I decided I wouldn’t get a hotel. Sleeping in the airport couldn’t be that bad I thought. So after I got my bag, I went over to Terminal 5 with it’s blissfully free wifi and convenient AC outlets. Called my parents to let them know I’d made it ok and then started trying to find info on the best place to sleep in the airport. The flight was leaving out of La Guardia, so I started reading about people’s experiences there. Some had done it, but others said it was a hard place to sleep and they got bugged by the security guards. Not one to seek confrontations, I started re-thinking my plan. I did have enough money to afford a hotel room for the night, but it’d barely be worth it, since my flight left at 6:15am the next morning. It wasn’t worth $110 to sleep for 5 hours.

But then I remembered there was a much better, cheaper option: that hostel where we’d stayed at the beginning of the trip. It would mean I would take the subway at 3am but would be only $35 for a room and a bed. That was worth it in my book, so I called them up. They had one free spot, so I hurried over there. It felt good to be back in that familiar spot and end where it all began. They got me booked into a room and I went up there for a blissful shower and unpacking. I hadn’t showered in a while and it felt great. Plus this hostel was cleaner than almost any I’d stayed in for a while so it was nice.

Met one of the roommates who woke up from a nap and we chatted for a while. If I remember right, he was a Swiss PhD student visiting New York for a conference. I told him I’d just come from a big European trip and was nearly broke. We talked about Switzerland a bit and his background. We ended up going out to Subway for dinner and he bought my sandwich, very nice of him. Every penny counted at this point and it was nice to see such kindness in a near stranger.

So we went back to the room and I decided it was time for bed. I think it was around 9pm by then. So I tucked in for the last time to a hostel bed, turned on my airplane white noise and fell asleep. Of course I double checked to make sure my alarm was set correctly.

It woke me up at 2:40am and I was ready to go. Grabbed my stuff and walked out the door. I was a little scared to be walking around a rough area of Manhattan at that time of night, but I had to do it. It was about a 6 block walk but I didn’t really see anybody out, and even then, nobody that looked menacing. Grabbed a couple 25 cent bananas from the street vendor and headed down into the subway. I was early and waited on the bench right in front of the security guards office, just to be safe. I was still sleepy but a little on edge and still physically tired. I just had to keep pushing to the end. The subway came eventually and I boarded.

Once at the airport, I checked in my stuff and got on the plane. This was the final leg– a 9 hour trip with a layover in Salt Lake. It went much faster coming back then when I went. It was hard to believe that 7 weeks had already passed. The time really flew.

It felt like an eternity, but I eventually made it into Spokane around 9am. Weary and with less than $10 to my name, I had made it back home. Victorious! Made the trip of a lifetime and lived to tell about it. It was an incredible experience and one I’ll always look back on fondly.

And that’s the end. Thanks everybody for reading!

P.S. I’ll be posting more pictures of the entire trip later.

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December 19th, 2010 at 8:41 pm

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Amsterdam Day 2

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So we’re coming down the home stretch now– this was my last full day in Europe. I was sad that things were coming to an end but looking forward to seeing family and friends and live the comfortable life back in the states. The main agenda for the day was to buy souvenirs. Since my trip was almost over, I could load up with gifts and not have to pack them much longer. So I got all packed up and checked out of the hostel. I was going to take my bike into town for some shopping, so I went over to it and… what the heck?! Somebody had locked their bike through mine and to the metal railing. Knowing Amsterdam, the dude was probably nowhere near his right mind when that happened so I just laughed it off. No problem, I’d just walk 100 yards over to the bike shop and get them to unlock it with a spare key. So I went over there and asked for the spare. They said, “We don’t keep spare keys.” Whaaaat?! How could you not keep spare keys? What if somebody loses theirs? They said that the spare keys are kept at the central shop and they’ve been waiting a couple days already to get a spare key for a different bike. Well, what was I going to do now?

So I thought of having the hostel call the guy who checked out the bike and luckily he answered. He said it was his friends and he’d be right down to unlock it. Phew! So I stood out by the bikes and waited. And waited. And finally after about 20 minutes of my anger building, some guy finally came down and unlocked the bike. I was ready to berate him for locking up my bike and then making me wait so long, but he apologized profusely so I figured he was already sorry enough. He said his friend meant to lock it to another friends bike but messed up– makes sense, cause all the bikes from that rental shop looked the same.

So a little delayed but calmed down, I rolled off down the street. Went down to the flower market and shopped for bulbs and delft. I was happily surprised to see the delft prices here were much more reasonable. No doubt it wasn’t the same level of workmanship of the $500 pieces but it’s better than nothing and looked good still. Plus I was nearly out of cash– I mean dead broke– and I still wanted to eat for the next two days. I’d carefully calculated my remaining stash and I was just barely going to make it.

Finished with the shopping and though I wanted to visit the Van Gogh museum, which I’d bought a ticket for, I just wouldn’t have the time to thoroughly enjoy it. That was fine, the front desk person had told me I could return it if I didn’t use it. I pedaled my way back to the hostel– a 15 minute journey– and returned my bike. Went to return the ticket and there was a different person who refused to give my money back. What’s their deal? The other lady who told me I could return it was there too and I said “well she said I could return it.” So they argued a bit and then decided that there was no way they could tell if I’d used it or not. Well that was a fair argument, but they also should’ve stood up to their word. I angrily left the desk, later wishing I’d argued with them more and mentally rehearsing different play-by-plays. Of course, that always helps you calm down. Not.

Anyway, I took various trains and got to the airport. For once, my schedule was not crunched and I even did a last bit of shopping at souvenir shop in the terminal before heading to the gate for an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin. It was just a short 45 minute flight and I’d be there at 5:50, just enough time to get to the Guinness storehouse before they stopped doing tours at 7:00. So I waited at the gate for a while, making small talk. They said the plane was running a little late, so I got a little stressed. Waited for a bit and then saw our plane pull up to the gate. Yay! Passengers got off that flight but they wouldn’t let us board. Hmmm. They announced that the plane was having mechanical difficulties and that a mechanic was coming immediately. They’d keep us updated on the new departure time. Great! Glad they discovered the problems while they were on the ground, instead of us blowing up in mid-flight.

So we’re all waiting and watching and then they announced it’d be a 2 hour delay because they had to get parts from some warehouse offsite. Noooo!! It was cutting into my precious time in Dublin. Way too much hassle for a simple 45 minute flight. So I waited patiently for the two hours, mostly typing blog posts on my phone. So as the two hours were getting close to being up, they came on the intercom again and said that the flight was cancelled all together. At this, my heart dropped. My flight from Dublin back to NYC left at 12:30 PM and there was no way I could miss that flight. I thought of all the other ways I could get to Dublin– but they were all complicated by the fact that there were two large bodies of water along the shortest path. A combination of ferries and trains would’ve just taken too long. I could be screwed.

So they announced there was another flight that they could pack high-priority passengers onto. Women and children and frequent fliers first. Felt like I was on the sinking Titanic, packed into the 3rd class dungeons with no hope of survival. I didn’t even try to plead my case with them. Other people were saying that this happened to some of their friends on other Aer Lingus flights and was a known problem with the planes. Guess that’s what you get when you go with a super budget airline. So I sat there for a while in a panic, but then they announced that they were sending a replacement plane from Dublin that would be here in another hour and take the rest of us back. We were saved, yay!

I felt a nice wave of relief as I realized I was going to make it home the next day after all. My plans for Dublin were hosed but at least I wouldn’t miss that flight back to the states. They gave us free meal coupons– up to $12 to spend anywhere in the airport. So I took that and went on a fast food spending spree. I went to the McDonald’s and stood in front of their menu like a king. Anything my heart desired and more could be had without a penny out of my own pocket. I loaded up—-Chicken Sensation, McKroket, McFlurry, Large Fries and an OJ. Came out just a squeak below $12– perfect!

The McKroket was the weirdest sandwich I’d ever had. I think it was a local specialty but it just tasted like a breaded and fried slab of gravy with weird meat chunks and pickles in it. Not something I’d have again. Nonetheless, I happily wolfed it all down. Any anger that I felt towards Aer Lingus and their shoddy aircraft maintenance plan was dissolved by the simple delight of a McDonald’s meal. Of course I was regretting it about 30 seconds after the last bite, but I still remember that feeling of sheer delight to this day.

Finally I was back at the gate again and eventually boarding the plane. This was the moment we’d all been waiting for. I don’t think anybody had ever been happier to get on a plane. We were off before long and after a short flight, touched down in Dublin. I took a bus from the airport to downtown Dublin and got a cab from their to my hostel. I think it was about 11:30 by the time I wearily reached the front desk.

The place was alright– a little on the shabby and old side, but it felt good to be there nonetheless. I found my room a complete mess, thanks to the other three girl roommates, who were out at the time. After dropping off my stuff, I figured I should just go talk a walk around and see what was happening. It was after midnight by this time and surprisingly almost everything was shut down. Just the usual tipsy groups of people walking and yelling down the street. It was fun to hear everyone’s Irish accent.

Ended up finding one bar that was open. Thankfully! I’d had one hell of a long day and it was time to relax over a pint of Guinness. And the Guinness here doesn’t get any better– after all, it’s brewed in the same city. So maybe I was too tired or anxious or something, but I didn’t taste much difference from the American variety. They say the Irish stuff is completely different because they don’t have to add as much hops to keep it fresh, but my palette didn’t detect the difference. Not like I’d noticed with the Heineken in Amsterdam.

Finished up my pint and wanted to take the glass home as a souvenir. I asked the bartender if I could buy it and she just laughed. Take it, she said. The Irish are truly nice people! So I washed it out and then left the bar, happy to have checked that off my list.

Ten minutes later, I was back in my room. The others still weren’t back yet but that was just as well. I was ready to hit the sack and I hit it hard. There ends another day, the last full day I’d spend in Europe.

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December 11th, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized