Saturday, May 21, 2011

My (Mis)Adventures in Europe!

(I have been back for two months now, but with work and finishing up my Master's degree, this is the first opportunity I have had to actually post this.)

I had planned to wait until my sister got back from Belgium to write this blog since she has most of the pictures to back up my crazy (life) stories. (I can't believe her time there is almost done, and she will be back here on Saturday!) So expect an update with pictures soon!

London
  • We landed on Friday after an 8 hour flight, and had to make our way not only through customs, but from Gatwick airport (which if you don't know, is NOT in London, but about 30 miles from central London) to Victoria Station, where we could transfer from the BritRail service to the Tube (or officially the London Underground). All this with 700 pounds of luggage (okay, not really, but it was probably close to 100 pounds). Not SUCH a big deal, except, oh yeah, it was RUSH HOUR. That meant the train was packed (we ended up in a First class train, and I just paid the extra difference over Second class, since we were already seated and had the luggage stowed) and the so was the Tube. We get off at South Kennsington (because I can't remember which station, I just know its AFTER Earls Court) only to find out that we should have gotten off at WEST Kennsington. Oh well, back on the train. Its only two stops. Finally we make it to our stop, and then we have to lug our luggage up two flights of stairs. Fun times. I made it to the top first, and this very nice lady stopped and helped Traci get one of her suitcases up the second flight. Oh yeah, did I mention she had TWO suitcases? No? Well, she did.
  • On the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station
  • We finally make it to the hotel (bit of a walk, turns out Earls Court was closer, it just involves some extra turns) and our room is not ready. Of course not. It was only 9AM. We check our luggage with the front desk, then go into the public bathroom to change out of our "traveling" clothes. At first I am looking for a place to hang my coat, but there is no where. So I say (outloud) "Well, the counter is dry" and I lay my coat down. Only to have it activate the faucet, pouring water down the back of my coat and onto the floor! Well, poor Traci, after 8 hours of flying (and not sleeping, the girl ate like 3 big packages of Starbursts and was wired!) and lugging suitcases up and down stairs and across uneven sidewalks, really got a kick out of this! I think my blunder (stupidity) made up for the extra blocks of lugging suitcases, sort of.

  • So once Monique finally met up with us at the hotel (she had some issues of her own, delayed in Orlando due to rain, delayed in DC due to rain, and United dropped her scooter in DC) we were off! We headed to Earls Court where they had "step free" access to tube trains (click here for Monique's blog on accessible London), only problem was the lift (elevator) down to our platform was out of commission. Okay, we'll take the other lift down to the other platform, get off at another accessible station, and back track. Yeah, easier said (REALLY?!?!) than done. The train pulls up, and it is totally NOT step free! There is at least a 6 inch step up into the train, not too mention the 4-6 inch gap between the platform and the train. So back up the lift we go. We can catch a bus! Once we finally found a bus that would get us somewhere NEAR where we were headed, we were off, again!

  • We got off the bus at Victoria Station, and we were headed to Trafalgar Square, to get our passes for the hop on hop off bus. This worked well, as Buckingham Palace was on the way. We stopped to get our obligatory Red Phone Booth pictures, and Traci noticed a weird art sculpture-thing covered with polka dots, so of course, we have to get pictures! After we took pictures, I was saying something and gesturing with my hands, when I totally got POOPED on by a bird! YUCK!!!! Well, I've heard this is a sign of luck (but for me I should have looked at it as foreshadowing!) and my mom told me once (after getting pooped on by a bird in Washington  DC) that you really haven't been somewhere until a bird poops on you! Luckily I had tissue and hand sanitizer in my bag.
  • Fairly self explanatory
  • We keep on walking, see the Royal Mews, pictures in front of Buckingham Palace, and then a walk through St James Park. Traci finds some ducks and geese and befriends them by sharing a cookie she bought at Starbucks. What bird doesn't love a good chocolate chip cookie? We're still headed towards Trafalgar Square, and headed out of the park, when Monique decides to go to the restroom. Traci and I are standing around people watching, when she sees a "bum" (her words, not mine) sitting/sleeping over near the restrooms. She asks if it is okay to take his picture? I tell her to be discreet. While she is taking pictures, I decide to stretch my leg. I grabbed my ankle from behind to stretch my hamstring/quadracep (not sure which one the stretches) when I hear a gentleman in a British accent shout "What are you doing?" I look over, and its the BUM! So I shouted back, "I'm stretching!" Neither one of us could hear what he shouted back, but luckily Monique was rolling past him at the time. She rolls up to us and asks what's going on, so I told her I was stretching and that man wanted to know what I was doing. She laughed, and said "Oh! That's why he called you DAFT!" Now I know what this means, but Traci didn't, so I had to tell her, he called me DUMB. You think getting water all over my jacket made her laugh! Her quote of the trip was "A bum called you dumb!"

  • Sunday we planned our trip to Madame Tussauds, and got a decent start to get over to Trafalgar Square (we had waited to use our hop-on-hop-off tour tickets). By this time we had figured out how to get Monique on and off the tube trains (she could step onto the train, and we lifted her scooter on, then she drove it off), so we were able to take the tube from Earls Court to Westminster (I love walking out of the station and seeing Big Ben's tower!). We walked to Trafalgar Square, got our passes, then looked for a bus. This was March 13, but apparently it was the day London was having its BIG St Patricks Day Parade. Cool! NOT. The roads around Trafalgar Square were closed off, and busses were re-routed. When we finally found the ONE bus that would take us to Baker Street (for Madame Tussauds) it would not let us on, because there was already one (or two) people with strollers, and oh yeah, it was raining, and I guess the guy didn't want to kick them off to make room for the wheelchair! Monique figured out another routing that would get us close enough to walk, and luckily that bus was only about a minute behind the one that would not let us on. Once on, I told the driver what stop we were getting off at, and took a seat near the front. Traci was sitting with Monique near the back door with the ramp. After a couple stops the seat next to Traci was empty, so I moved back. When we got to our stop, I waited for others to get off, I stepped off, and waited for the ramp to come out. Only, it didn't. The doors closed, and the bus drove off. After a milisecond of WTF! I started chasing the bus! As best as I can chase a city bus! I kept praying PLEASE DON'T TURN!!! PLEASE DON'T TURN!!! I even walked/ran out in front of a car, but it stopped, and I kept going. The bus did not let them off for another 2 stops, and worse than chasing a London city bus, I later learned, was that the people still on the bus thought that Monique and Traci has lost their MUM. Mum as in MOTHER! How crappy must I have looked to be the mother of the two of them?!?!? Granted, Monique and Traci look young, lets say 25 and 18. Even if I looked 35 (which I don't think I do), that's just CRAZY! They finally get off the bus, and we catch up to each other. I thought chasing a bus would be as bad as it gets...

  • ...until I almost had to chase a TRAIN. Traci wanted to get out of the city, so I did some research and found a town not too far outside of London with wildlife, canals, and world famous cakes! We planned the trip for Monday afternoon, after visiting the Tower of London. By the time we got to the train station, we were only going to have about an hour there before we would have to catch the train back to London. I knew Traci had her heart set on getting out of the city, so I looked at the train schedule and told her she could pick a town closer to London and we would go there. She picked a town called Denham. I bought tickets, and we caught the next train. We got out there, and there was nothing! It was nice, at first, until we realized that we had seen and done everything in the first 20 minutes we were there. As we were walking back to the train station, we met a lovely older couple, who reaffirmed that there was nothing there. While we were talking, the train drove up. I asked "Let me guess, that is our train back to London?" The woman said yes, and that the next one would be a while, so Traci started running. The lady yelled to her husband who had gone on ahead, to hold the train, but he wasn't paying attention to her. I took off running, as best I can. My brain was shouting the whole time "You can't run!" and I got up to the platform just as the doors closed! I guess Traci and I hit the door open button at the same time, because, luckily, the doors reopened! I jumped on, complaining of pains in my back, because my heart was beating so hard, and Traci was certain that I was about to have a heart attack. It was then and there we decided that if one of us got separated again (like on the bus) the others would get off at the next stop and wait until we were all caught up to each other!
  • Traci walking in Denham
  • That was the end of my craziness in London, but I do have one more misadventure story that was more of a misadventure for Monique. Monday night, our last night in London, we went and saw Wicked at the Apollo Victoria theater. We knew which bus from Victoria went back to Earls Court, so we figured we'd be fine getting back to our hotel. We get to our stop, I go tell the driver we need the ramp, and Traci and I get off the bus. The doors close, the doors open, the doors close. The ramp come out, the ramp goes in. The bus pulls forward. Traci runs to stop the driver, but apparently he was just pulling forward. After about 5 minutes (which for a bus to stop is a long time) the driver finally tells us he can't get the ramp to come out. I can see Monique sitting in the bus, and looking at the floor. She thinking "can I drive this thing off the bus" to which I shake my head NO! Traci and I finally talk the bus driver into pulling the bus as close to the curb as possible so Monique can step off, and Traci and I pop her scooter in neutal (we're pros at this!) and pull it off the bus!
Monique stuck on the bus

Don't get me wrong, I had a WONDERFUL time in London, this is just me sharing the MISadventures!

Amsterdam
  • We landed in Amsterdam with no issues, and other than meeting a fairly rude train attendant at the airport, we made it into Central Station and the hotel with little issue. We checked into our hotel, and waited for a fellow Sigma Kappa sister from UNLV to meet up with us to take us around and out for an authentic Dutch dinner. Tessa was on her way to the hotel from where she parked when Monique asked me to meet her in the lobby. I decided to go to the bathroom first. As I tried to exit the bathroom, I could not get the door to open. I had not locked it behind me, but somehow it got locked and/or jammed! We were on the second floor (third if you counted the lower floor) and the bathroom had a big window. But there was no ledge, and a bicycle parked under the window. Yeah, that was not an option. Traci went down to meet Tessa instead, and came back up with one of the front desk attendants. She used her key to try and unlock the door, and succeeded, after I had been in there about 10 minutes. Lucky it was me, and not Monique or Traci, otherwise there may have been some major freak outs (this is coming from the two of the them!). The outside of the door did not have a standard key whole, as I discovered, but the other side of the lock was a bolt with a slit, so the front desk person used her key as a sort of flat head screwdriver. We asked for some tape, and were given a roll of scotch tape, which I used to tape a business card over the latch. There was no way that door was getting stuck again!
Our window (next to the stars on the sign) from the ground

  • After I finally made it out of the bathroom, we left for dinner. It was a rather busy night in Amsterdam, but Tessa took us to a great local restaurant. We had a bit of a wait for a table, but that wasn't a problem, because we ordered drinks. We situated our selved near the door, while we waited for seats at the bar. The place was fairly busy, and I was bumped several times. I put my arm up to protect Monique, who was standing in the corner near the door, because I knew if she got bumped it could be bad. Traci then asked me why I had my arm up, and no sooner had I explained that I was trying to keep Monique from getting knocked over, I got my finger slammed in the door! Let me just say, that hurt like hell!

Alcohol helped with the pain, Tessa, Monique and I
  • The rest of our time in Amsterdam included many near misses and close calls with public transportation, but luckily, there were no more injuries, entrapments, or insults from bums!
Brussels
  • Of all the cities we visited, Brussels was the least eventful, but that was okay with me. :) We did have some additional issues with public transportation, but again, nothing like in London or in Amsterdam. All in all, I'm glad I made it back to Brussels, because it was definitely better than I remembered, and there were NO MISadventures there (unless you count dragging my traveling partners to see a castle in a fairly boring city!).
Ghent Castle

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