, , , , , , , , ,

I’d rather sing one wild song and burst my heart with it,  than live a thousand years watching my digestion and being afraid of the wet……Jack London

(Disclaimer – this will be the only whinge you hear about this trip.  I know the rest will be wonderful but I need to rant a bit… actually a lot.. it’s a very long post, sorry)


The dream trip begins but first let me give you a bit of a back story.  When I started at TAFE many years ago, I met a young girl called Kirsty.  We hit it off and without going in to lots of details, we adopted each other.  I am, to all intents and purposes, her mum, she is my other daughter.  She isn’t a replacement for my beautiful angel Aimee in heaven, she is the second daughter I always wanted to have.  I honestly believe she was sent from Aimee to defrost my heart.  So anyway,  we decided to plan a trip of a lifetime and the day had finally come to head off.

Living in the Blue Mountains it is a two hour trip to Sydney so as the plane was taking off  at 6am,  we had to be at the airport at 3am to clear customs.  We decided that rather than staying in Sydney, we’d take the train in the night before, arrive at about 1am and just sleep in a chair at the airport for a few hours.  Sounds relatively easy doesn’t it?  Well when we got there at around 12 (thank goodness) all the seats were taken in the area you are allowed into at night.  Sydney airport has a flying curfew of 6am to 11pm which is fine, but it seems they close the whole airport during the night, except for the tiny, cold, clinical area they “graciously” allow people to wait in for their 3am customs clearance.

Now I am pleased we still got to be in there ready, but when you are waiting for a flight and have to sit on a cold uncomfortable tiled floor with doors opening and closing,  giving an arctic blast every time they do, somehow the thankfulness wears off quickly.  I am stunned to think that a progressive city such as Sydney, who encourages tourism so much, is so backward in it’s airport thinking.  Young families with children should not have to sleep on a cold floor the night to ensure they make their flight on time.  Nor should middle aged bloggers such as myself.  But anyway, the gates opened and we finally went up to check in.

We checked our luggage in (both well underweight which we were quite proud of) and wen to stand in the security line, WHICH DOESN’T OPEN TILL 4AM.   Okay, so we wait for a hellishly long time in line with lots of other already tired travelers but we’re still in high spirits as we’re embarking on our dream trip.  Finally through security, we head to customs and then sat quietly and had some McDonalds for breakfast before heading to the gate for boarding.  Once we got on board, we got over the fact that we had no sleep or that we didn’t get a window seat, we were on our way.  Our world was great.

Then, the passenger sitting in front got on board.  Sigh!  He was sitting in the front of our section of cabin so had heaps of legroom in front of him and his girlfriend.  He was loud and obnoxious from the beginning.  Probably aged in his 30s or early 40s, he was a complete show pony.    To be honest, I’m sure he was on something as he was so over the top in his speaking and his mannerisms. Anyway, obviously the ridiculous amount of legroom in front of them wasn’t enough as they both laid their seats right back as far as they could ensuring those behind them had no room to even put their trays down.  When meals come, the cabin crew had to continually ask them to put them up so others could have meals.

At one stage, he had the seat upright and I was resting forward with my travel pillow  on the table in front of me.  Without looking to see if it bothered anyone, he threw his seat backward with such force, that it hurt my neck, so I pushed back. He stood up and yelled at me.  I think the look on my face and my curt reply must have told him that I wasn’t a walkover like his girlfriend and that I would fight back, so he sat back down.  His girlfriend, who I felt sorry for at the start of the trip, then threw her chair back while Kirsty still had a meal in front of her, almost sending all the food all over us.

They eventually decided to play a game of something so he sat in the cabin crew seats facing the cabin.  When cabin crew came through, one asked him to sit in his own seat as he couldn’t sit there, it was for emergencies.  He argued with her, but eventually said he’d shift.  Of course when she walked away, he continued sitting there.  Another member came through and asked him to move as well.  He argued with her as well but eventually stood up next to his girlfriend, refusing to sit down in his seat.  Then as a matter of protest, he  decided to lock himself in the toilet and said to his girlfriend that he wasn’t going to come out because he was annoyed they wouldn’t let him sit there.  After about half an hour, he finally came out, realising that no one had noticed or missed him.  So to the gentleman travelling to Dubai on Emirates  in Zone D, seat 62 C, you sir, are without doubt, the rudest traveler I have ever seen in my lifetime and you win Knob of the Year.

I have to say that the food and crew on the second flight were really poor and while Emirates were so  highly recommended by people, I don’t think I’d bother flying with them again.  I’ve traveled overseas twice with more budget airlines (Southern China & Royal Brunei) and both were by far better service.  Let’s hope the trip home proves me wrong.  They didn’t even bother handing out landing cards so we had to fill them in when we got to London airport which meant that the line to clear customs was ridiculously long by that stage.  We’d been on planes for 25 hours so our legs weren’t used to standing for long periods of time, but I felt sorrier for those traveling with children who were waiting.

We got to Customs and go up to the officer together as Kirsty was nervous about going through, never having traveled overseas before.  Obviously the guy thought it odd that a woman in her 50s should be traveling with a woman in her 20s who weren’t legally related so wanted to know EVERYTHING about us and our reasons for travel.  We were able to show him our return flight, our accommodation bookings, our tour itinerary and our travel insurance and he was still suspicious.  I honestly thought he was not going to let us enter.  In the long run, he finally stamped our passports but actually wrote that we were only allowed to stay for 6 months.. Mate! We have a return flight in one month.  I love it here but we have family in Australia and no plans to defect.  Thank you very much.

By this time, its almost 10.30pm London time, so we jump in a taxi to go to our accommodation which was the ABC Bed & Breakfast in Chiswick.  Nearly 60 pounds (We had googled and they said it would be around 40) later we arrived but couldn’t find the place. The numbers of the street went from 78 to 94 with a street in the middle.  There was no 90A.  It was pouring raini by this stage and we were tired, wet and bedraggled.  We went into a small off license, Best One and asked if they knew where the place was.  The guy there was lovely and he told us.  We went back but couldn’t get in.  There were phone numbers there but our phones wouldn’t find a network.  A passing lady and I think her son were so kind and phoned on their phones for us.

I spoke to the man who ran the aBC and he said, (very rudely and in a very hard to understand foreign accent) ” you have to pick the keys up from blah blah blah hotel .   I asked him where it was and he said about 7 minutes walk from the station. I explained that we had just landed from Australia and we didn’t know where he was talking about and asked for directions.  His answer? “Ma’am that is your problem not mine, it was in the booking information”.  I said to him, I cannot access internet here right now, can you just give me the address so we can find it.  He repeated “it was in the booking information” and refused to give me the address or even repeat the name of the hotel.

By this stage my anger had reached boiling point so I said, forget it, I’ll speak to Bookings.com and let them know what sort of person you are.  He said “I really don’t care Ma’am” and ended the conversation.  We went back to the off licence who had been so lovely and asked if there were any other hotels in the area. They started phoning around for us from their own phones.  They gave us water and a new sim for the phones all for free and offered to drive us to whatever hotel they could find.

As it was all were fully booked out in the area but they suggested the Novotel might have something but they were a few suburbs away so we got an Oyster card and got on the train to there.  We got directions from the station staff and walked and walked but couldn’t find it.  Finally another guy told us where to go so we found it but they had no rooms.  By this time, we’re both beside ourselves.  We’d had no sleep for days and were desperate for a shower and a bed.  We must have looked dreadful because the night manager directed us to the free internet usage for guests  and told us to use it to see if we could find anything.

We did, but by this time it was the middle of the night so we couldn’t phone to book in for that night, so booked in for the next night and then made the decision to find an all night Macca’s and just get comfy and use their free internet.  Heading back to the train station, it was now closed.  We went to the bus station and asked what bus to take to get into London city and she insisted on us telling her exactly where we wanted to go so we had to pick a destination.  She told us there were no 24 hour Maccas stores so our hearts sank even more.  We got on the night-rider bus and headed in to Trafalgar Station.

I think the bus driver had seen Speed too many times and was trying to emulate Keanu Reeves as it was without doubt the fastest bus I’d ever been on. We were on the wrong side of the road, traveling around corners at breakneck speed but through it all, we really didn’t give a damn.  We were too tired to care.  At least it was dry and warm.  The only winter clothes we had were soaking wet on our back, as we’d packed for summer.

We got into the city and started wandering aimlessly around.  Finding a Maccas in Leicester Square, it had just closed at 2.45 and didn’t open again until 5am.  We walked around a bit more, by now looking like something from a zombie apocalypse,  and found a few policemen.  We asked if they knew anything, anywhere that was open and they directed us to a nearby 24/7 kebab place.

We pushed past hoards of late night revelers to get in and find a chair and even though we didn’t want anything to eat or drink, we knew we’d have to order something so we got a hot chocolate.  We felt bad as we were making puddles on the floor with clothes that felt like we’d taken them straight out of the washing machine before the rinse cycle.  But we were past the stage of really caring about anything.  We were just waiting for Macca’s to open at 5am.  By about  4 it was obvious they wanted us to leave though they were really nice and didn’t ask us to go but we left anyway and did the slow sodden walk around again.  Along the way, I saw something shiny and stopped to pick up a penny.  I could almost hear my mother’s voice saying “see a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck”, so I did and popped it in my pocket.   Somehow it made me feel more hopeful.  Finally it was almost 5 and we waited under a tiny bit of verandah willing the clock to move faster.

It actually had the opposite effect and went as slowly as it  possibly could but eventually the doors opened, we found a seat, hooked onto their wifi and ordered a bite of breakfast.  Tbey do a DOUBLE bacon and egg McMuffin here, so I ordered my little bacon loving Kirsty one without egg (strange girl lol) I got one with egg and we sat down to work out how we were going to get to Greenwich.

We decided on somewhere in Greenwich to book as we had already booked at Novotel Greenwich for the night before the Europe tour starts because it’s the first pick up point.  When it was a more reasonable time and we were feeling a bit more human we headed to the station where a lovely man at the information desk gave us some directions for getting here.  For some reason, my oyster card had less credit than Kirsty’s, even though we’d put the same amount on them and had traveled the same distance, so the lady at the train station let us through regardless as did the next lady when we got off.

Getting to Greenwich,  we then had to find how to get to where we’d booked for the night and since my mobile still wouldn’t let me get any internet  though I could make calls, we went into the Novotel, explained that we were staying TOMORROW night and couldn’t find where we’d booked for tonight.  The lovely guy at the desk hooked us up onto the internet and we found   where we needed to be.  We also organised with him to leave our luggage there in the morning so we could go out without it.   I loaded google maps up and even though I  have no data, I knew the last loaded map would stay if I didn’t close it down.

Waiting at the bus stop, we asked a lady if she knew where the plaza stop was.  She didn’t know but googled it for us on her phone and gave us clear directions.  I could have kissed her.  We asked the bus driver to tell us when we got to a certain destination which he did ( I could have kissed him too) and then we started following google maps. Arghhhh.  It took us on a complete dog’s leg when all we had to really do was walk a bit further up the same road and turn left.  During this time,  the elastic in my underwear had a massive blow out and they wouldn’t stay up.. Thankfully I was wearing trousers so they didn’t fall off in the middle of the street but it was extremely uncomfortable.  It was the tipping point where I could see the ridiculous side of this whole thing so far.  I finally started to laugh.

Feeling optimistic by now, I phoned the place we were staying to see if we could get in any earlier and she said they were full so while guests left at 11 our book in wasn’t until 2.  I explained what had happened so she got onto the guy who cleaned and asked him to set our room up first so we could get some sleep.  She said it was fine to drop our bags off right on 11 though , so we went out to have a cuppa somewhere and just wait.

Even though we needed to shower and sleep, it felt so much better knowing the end was in sight for us and we went to a Costa coffee shop and ordered some cuppas.  I ordered a medium mocha for Kirsty and the cup was almost as big as her face.  We sat there for quite a while until it was time to bring the bags up.  We dropped them off had a few minutes downtime in the room before it was cleaned which gave us   WiFi to face-time our families and let them know we were safe.  Then we went and had some lunch and got a few groceries in case we woke up in the middle of the night because of the time difference.

As soon as we could we went back to the room, had showers and I fell into bed.  Kirsty pottered around for a while first but I’d already crashed by then.  By this time it was well over 60 hours since I’d had real sleep, so I slept right through the afternoon till 4am London time.  We both woke up, I had a cuppa that Kirsty had set up for me before she slept.  How sweet is that.  She filled the jug, put a teabag in a cup, a bottle of water and the food we’d bought out for me in case I woke up  in the middle of the night.  We pottered around for a few minutes, then Kirsty went back to bed and I started to write this.  You’ll have to excuse all the photos for this first blog of our travels.. We didn’t’ even take our cameras out of our bags, we were too tired.  All these have been taken on my iPhone.  The one taken from the London eye is from my last trip over here.  From now on, we’ll take photos on our cameras.

I can’t believe how much better I feel.  It’s amazing what 14 hours of straight sleep can do to renew the mind, body and soul.  I know this sounds like a very negative post but I have to tell you, what we took with us from this ordeal was the amazing people who helped us along the way.  From the man who picked up my passport from the floor of the plane where I dropped it without realising, to the lady and her son who phoned the hotel for us.  The gorgeous staff of the Best One at 102 Turnham Green Terrace, Chiswick, the staff at both the Novotel in Hammersmith and Greenwich,  who went above and beyond what they needed to do.  All the fabulous  rail staff who helped along the way, the amazing lady at the bus stop who showed such kindness to total strangers and of course the wonderful people at the Armitage in Greenwich where I am currently writing this from bed.

Thank you to all of you wonderful strangers of London for your therapeutic smiles and kindness.  Your smiles restored ours.  It just goes to show that kindness is much stronger than rudeness.  So man in seat 62C on the Emirates flight and to the manager of the ABC Bed & Breakfast in Chiswick, your poor treatment of  us is merely a temporary blip on a much bigger and happier radar.  The rudeness of a few individuals isn’t what we took from the last few days, it was the way total strangers went out of their way to help us.  People who went above and beyond to help a stranger and to welcome them to their city.  Please remember when you smile at someone, that smile might change that person’s  day and it’s such a small thing to do.  While the arrival in London might not have been kind to us, the people of London have showed their true colours and they really are a wonderful  group of people.

Happy smiling at strangers…. Livvy xxx