Twenty-Four Thousand Four Hundred And Fifty-Five

This is not a random number, it is a big one, but not random. I woke up on the morning of September 2nd, 2016 full of energy and excited as hell. I was about to embark on the most epic trip to date. I thought to myself this is one trip that I will never forget. I remember it was a sunny day. I got up early and walked to McAllister Place and caught the bus uptown to start the day off by doing the same thing I have done for almost 3 years of Saturdays, I went to Billy’s Seafood for breakfast. I remember that I had my favourite menu item the Smoked Salmon Omelette and lots of coffee. Billy’s I always tell people is like dinner theatre the staff especially Billy the owner are a hoot.

For most people, they would have already done the packing rather than go out for breakfast, but that is not my style. After breakfast, I went home and had 90 minutes to get ready for 28 days of travelling. So at this point, you would think I would pack right? Nope! I shaved and took a shower (for 60 minutes.) After 20 minutes of running around to not forget anything, I have my bag packed! Then to weigh it 33kg. Repack 28kg. Repack 27kg. Repack 25kg. Repack 24kg. Repack 26kg!!!! Repack 23kg (cue fireworks!)

I then called a Simonds Taxi and to the airport, I was off! I arrived an hour early for my flight checked in and relaxed there was no turning back. As the plane arrived, I took lots of close photos and emailed them to myself. You never know when and air accident investigator will need them. This was part of the feeling of impending doom that was in the back of my mind from my mother begging me not to go.

I got on the plane and it was a rather unremarkable journey to Montreal. Once at Montreal’s Trudeau International, I went to find my gate, and then to find Starbucks for coffee.

I then got on my flight to London’s Heathrow airport. On the flight, I ordered the beef meal. That was a mistake, the bean salad is to die for, as in your will die. I spent the whole night with the worst gas since the last time I had the bean salad in 2013 on the same flight. It was the overnight flight but I got very little sleep.

We land in London and the first experience with “British Unholy Queueing” happened at the customs halls. This is where people use the seatbelt ropes, and keep changing them so you have no clue how long it is going to take and as you get close… nope, the line has changed again.

After I cleared the UK Border control, I went to the main lobby and picked up my Lebara SIM card so I didn’t pay the ridiculous rates Canadian cell phone companies charge. One of the perks of an unlocked phone.

Since I didn’t want to pay for luggage on my plane to Copenhagen, I decided to drop off my main suitcase at the Contiki basement. So I bought an Oyster Card and hopped on the tube.

“Please stand clear of the doors. Let customers off the train first please.”

“This is a Piccadilly Line service to Cockfosters” (giggle)

“The next stop is Russel Square. Alight Here for the British Museum, please mind the gap between the station and the platform.”

I got to the Contiki Basement and dropped my bag off and then wandered Camden, headed to St. Pancreas train station for lunch and then walked to Russel Square, Then to Green Park where I was a bit tired and had some time to kill so I slept for two hours and then walked by Buckingham Palace to Victoria Station and got on my “National Express” bus to London Luton airport. (That is nowhere near London) It is literally like calling the Fredericton Airport the (Saint John-Fredericton Airport) and assuming it was anywhere close to Saint John.

After a two-hour bus journey, I make it to Luton and the bus stops at the front door. The airport is smaller than a lot of big city airports and was very under construction everywhere. However, in typical British fashion, there was no problem everything was fine. I was really early and hungry and the airport check-in for my flight wasn’t open yet. I asked the RyanAir agent where the food places were and they ended up being on the other side of security. I looked really disappointed. However, the agent early checked me in and I was off to get food.

It seemed like forever that we waited in line and the line was long and was mixed with another flight going to a place I never heard of. I kind of thought I wanted to go there instead for a while. I turned out to be some place in Romania.

As I got on the plane, I once again took photos of the plane and emailed them to myself. This plane was like nothing I have ever flown in. The seats were very basic, no seat pockets, advertising on the bins, no leg room at all, and very friendly flight attendants. (Flight Attendants are always nice.) As we flew we had very bad turbulence and I was scared to death that this was where my mother was right and this was going to be the end, but we landed safely.

I got off the plane and got my passport stamped for country 24, Denmark. This was big as it was a while since I added Turks and Caicos on my quest for 40 countries by 40.

The Copenhagen airport was massive and it was late at night (10:30 pm) I walked to the subway station and then got on the train to my hostel, The Generator. On the train, there was a very drunk man that got on with his big bottle of hard liquor and was rambling in what I assume was Danish. It was heavy raining that night, and I was wet and tired, so after check-in, I went straight to bed.

The step-count on my fitness tracker … 24,455.

Final Preperations

Let’s continue the story, it is now a year ago last June. It was a great June, I had auditioned again for “As You Like It” and didn’t get a part. I had made Mango Waffles, and ate the peeling, and I booked my trip front bookend.

Apparently Mango skin contains the same chemicals as poison ivy and shortly after I had a face that was totally swollen. On the same day I went for a very long walk and was quite sunburned and my face had really swelled up for a few days. Since then I have had these puss bubbles come and go on different parts of my head. (Important for a later part of this story.)At this point I have decided that for the front book-end I would go to Copenhagen, Denmark. The 2nd place option was Cork, Ireland. Copenhagen won out since it also presented the possibility to day trip to Sweden. For this trip I wanted to try new things and I was debating EasyJet or RyanAir. In the end I chose RyanAir just because every review said that it was the worst airline ever. I thought that everyone must be picky and booked the return flight. My credit card wouldn’t work and had to use PayPal to get the ticket.

The next item I booked was my hotels. In 2011, when I was in Berlin I had fond memories of The Generator so I booked the Generator for my nights in Copenhagen and Denmark.

That was all I planned. Everything else was done improv style for that portion.

For the final piece, I was watching everything book up quickly and decided I could no longer wait for Tony and booked a hostel in Munich. For Rome, the Generator was opening a new location and was advertised as coming soon. It was really stressful and Contiki couldn’t tell me where we were staying in “Rome” and only that it is “usually near Termani”. It wasn’t until mid-August that they opened up bookings and I grabbed it up the same day!

A big part of this trip was to not credit card this trip and to prepay everything that I booked. I had also decided that I really wanted to see Naples and Pompeii. I booked the Tranitalia train to Naples but had heard it was better to get the train tickets there for Naples to Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius.

On July 23rd I received a text from my mother that simply said “can you call me up country”. Now I don’t call my mother very often, let alone up country. This was out of the ordinary. I called her up and she pleaded with me not to go. She apparently had dreams that if I go on the trip that something bad was going to happen. At that point I had so much booked that it was too much stress not to go, but little did I know it was going to be very stressful and cut down the fun of the trip.

About a week before the trip one of the head bubbles started getting really big, and it was too inconvenient to see a doctor before I left on the trip and resolved to see him when I came back.

Planning and Superstition

In August 2015, it was like Christmas! The Summer 2016 flyer came out and I drooled over every page. Vacation planning is not something I do a lot of, it is more of a familiarization of options. As I reviewed my options, let’s face it, maximizing the number of new countries was the main option.

There resulted in one tour that became the only one that worked for dates to take my mother to Europe, and her need to user the Labour Day weekend to make it work, and the need to still hit Oktoberfest with Tony. That tour was the Trail to Rome starting September 9, 2016. It would leave London, then go to in order; Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Krakow, Budapest, Ljubljana, Venice, and Rome. This was it or bust!I have always booked these trips through the tour group directly, as it was just easier. Since the past trips, I took some cruises and booked them through a particular travel agent. As a few weeks passed, the trip date after the one I wanted went completely sold out and my trip was limited availability now. So I went online and booked the trip directly with Contiki. Since the rest of the trip dependent on others, I didn’t get the insurance (later in the story this was a very wise decision), or airfare.

Around the end of the year, some things came up and my mother was going to have to cancel. Then the trip sold out and Tony was only going to do the end week. Come April I needed to buy my airfare and the trip was not firmed up but I knew I was going to take book-end weeks before and after the trip so I planned to fly to London (so I could store my big bag and travel light), then after the trip give half a week to plan later and then fly Rome to Munich for Oktoberfest, spend 3 nights there, and fly home from there.

Now I researched my flights and tweeted the flights to perfection and timings to not be too early, too late, or wait times too long or too short. I also planned to try out Lufthansa to come home. Since this was 3 segments and multi-airline, I determined a travel agent would be my best bet, and I needed to get travel insurance still.

Now since I booked my trip my regular agent didn’t seem pleased that I booked the package directly with Contiki. In addition, I am quite superstitious about things and the two cruises I booked through her using different airlines, both had my luggage delayed. I, therefore, decided to use a different location of the same company to book the flights. I showed up with a post-it note that had dates, flight codes, and airport codes that would confuse most people as a pile of gibberish, but to her, it made perfect sense and I had tickets in no time.

I also bought travel cancellation insurance through her. I thought the price was a little high and later found out it was the plus plan, and that was why. By the time I found that out it was too late to do anything about it.

Let the saga begin…

Over the past few years I have not posted as much lately here. Let’s face it FaceBook is where it is at these days to share things. But the main reason has been that I had been in a slump where almost nothing felt interesting to me let alone share.

Back in 2009 when I left university for the last time and decided to leave university and start travelling, I was really in a search to try and find meaning. Then in 2010 when I first set foot on British soil and took my first Contiki it was amazing. Then came 2011 and I tried to duplicate the experience and it was more disappointing and less amazing (just a little). Then when my Great Aunt passed away in 2012, I tried again to travel Europe and it just wasn’t quite the same as that first time either. I wasn’t having any luck at finding meaning in anything, or a relationship.

Then in 2014 I took a cruise and it was impressive. So, I did it again in 2015 and it was very much less so than the first time although it was still special like each of the trips before by the people I meet on the journey.

Although this has now changed and I’m not sure where this will end or how long it will take to catch up to no but boy do I have a story to share, and I will start to post it here.

Contiki’s Virtual Travel

There are somethings in life that VR will just not replace. One such thing is the experience of a Contiki tour. Or can it? I just read an article on Travel Week where with $149 for 3 hours you can experience a 3D VR experience of world wonders like Oktoberfest in Germany.

I’m sorry but there is nothing close to Oktoberfest in Germany then…

Oktoberfest in Munich
Oktoberfest in Munich

Not Even…

Oktoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo
Oktoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo

I have been on 3 and soon to be 4 Contiki Europe trips, and the experiences you get from days with people from all over the globe just cannot be virtually obtained. Especially the smells of cities like London, Paris, Rome, Venice are also part of the experience. Travelling is to me about the experience more so then just seeing the sites.

Check it out here http://www.contiki.com/virtually-unlimited

Note: I wrote this post before visiting the actual Contiki site about this.

The most miserable place on Earth! Rome.

The Face of Truth
Fountain Replica of The Face of Truth

There is not a more fitting way to start this post than with the Face of Truth. The truth about Rome is that it is the most miserable place on Earth.

This was my 3rd visit to Rome and it seems to never get better. Rome has a very limited  Metro system so getting around is not the easiest although unlike many other cities Rome is very consolidated into 2 hour walk to anything. The charm about Rome is it’s history as the centre of an ancient empire. Though when you get to see the real Rome most of the ancient ruins besides the Coliseum, a field where Circus Maximus was and the Pantheon there is really not much left to see of that empire. The only real remaining Empire left to see is that of Christianity and Catholicism.

When it comes to food, Rome is very lacking on it’s own identity it adopts styles from other Italian regions and International inspiration. On my first night in Rome I went to a place called Piazza Navona which was loaded full of people easting at all the restaurants that circled the Piazza. I went through a couple of allies and found Ristorante Ottavio. I was small, quant and “Roman”. In typical fashion while travelling I ask the server what is really good to try. The gentleman says that the lobster is very “fresh and wonderful”.

I then ask him how fresh it is. He quickly leaves and brings back this poor almost dead looking lobster that to most who have never seen a real fresh live lobster before would be very thrilled.

So instead I ordered a pasta dish that was much more amazing than the plate that that poor unfortunate lobster would eventually ended up as. While in the Piazza I saw a Seagull catch a Pigeon in mid-air and fly off with it in it’s beak. This had me thinking that given the number of pigeons and seagulls that we have in Saint John that this is just further proof of the miserableness of Rome.

Rainy Day at the Pantheon
Rainy Day at the Pantheon

Though Rome does have many sides and moments of wonder. Earlier that day I was on a walking tour of of the area and as I approached the Pantheon the skies just opened up and dumped as mush water as it possibly could on the crowds of tourists and street people who with amazing speed switched from selling collectibles to selling ponchos and umbrellas.

That being said it did not rain for very long just long enough to get completely wet, and leave enough water to make it more humid as being evaporated by bright sunshine that rapidly came out.

The Trevi Fountain was amazing as usual and like Pigeons in King’s Square or like any other old thing in Europe was over packed with crowds of people.

And the Coliseum and Roman Forums have not changed a bit since the last time I seen them in 2011.

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