Okay, the Epic titles and making reference to epic things may be getting old at this point but trust me there will be more and they will be epically cliche. Upon boarding the ship, it was luck time so I headed to the buffet like usual and sampled a bit of everything. Apparently, from the buffet on the first two days of a trip makes up about half of all food waste for the entire week long voyage.
The food was pretty good. Nothing outstanding from most buffets in most ships and restaurants. I was also disappointed that Washie-Washie was not as happy-happy as my last trip. This may seem like complaining, but it is not. The Norwegian Epic is very good, and far superior to not traveling in the first place.
After lunch, I grabbed a drink and explored around the ship until it was time to meet up with the Solo Coordinator at the meetup in the solo lounge. The solo lounge on the Epic was really good and better than the Getaway. It had an espresso machine and was amazing coffee. From this meeting, I went to dinner and then called it a night.
The next day I did a lot of relaxing, and whiskey and rum sampling. After dinner I went to the whiskey bar for a Jack Daniels tasting but was convinced by the bartender that a hour later the Scottish Macallan tasting was more worth the money and had a better quality pairing. So I decided to stay at the bar and socialize for the hour.
The tasting was an incredible experience to learn more about the whiskey notes. (Despite being a certified Jameson Irish Whisky taster) Most people at the tasting and the head bartender seemed to be making flavours up. Anyway after the tasting, we were told of a Martini tasting. This seemed like a great idea.
At the tasting there was 3 gin based and 3 vodka based martinis to taste. The younger woman sitting across from me with her mother was not enjoying at all the non-fruity and classic martinis. From the collection the one that stood out was the Cucumber Martini. It became my friend many times that voyage. The only downside was it was hard to walk around the ship with a martini glass. The glass is just not the best at countering let’s blame it on the ocean swells.
Then it was time for dinner. It was good even if it wasn’t memorable. After dinner was spent between the martini and whiskey bar. Followed by the highlight of the night. The dancing king and queen competition at the Bliss night club. To be honest, with my bad ankle dancing is not the best idea, but there were so few people dancing that I started off the dancing and then sat for a drink. Then come competition time I was dancing back up to the bar and was spotted and selected as the dancing king! From this I won a bottle of wine. Since I had the drink package, I spotted a couple in the back corner on a date night and gave away the bottle.
I then called it a night and went to bed.
The next morning was not the greatest as it was about 11am before I emerged and it was a window that finding food on the ship was hard. I went to the mini-buffet and found a quite place on deck 18 to catch some sun. Which left me burnt for the week. The rest of that day was a blur of activity and fun. I knew I didn’t want it to be a “big night”, as the next day I was off to check the only new county off my list, the British Virgin Islands.
Following the subway ride, I ended up on good old St. Andrew Station in Downtown Toronto on a Just above freezing evening. I was a bit hungry so as I wandered Downtown I was looking for somewhere no but ended up going to Hooters on John St.. The meal was good I had the Steak Spice Quesadilla and it was really good. There was a hockey game on so, I enjoyed the meal and a beer, game, and people watching until about 1am. After that I left and continued to wonder down John to Queen West and then stopped at the McDonald’s at Spidina.
Since I had time to kill, I stayed at the McDonald’s for just over an hour to charge my phone and people watch with a coffee and a muffin. This area in the daytime is high class, in the evening it is just high. I sat up on the second floor and there was a guy at the end of the booths that kept being woken up by security, it looked he was very impaired. Then going in and out of the washroom was an uncomfortable assortment of people. Prior to leaving I needed the washroom and there was a guy on the toilet shooting needles. I went to get out of the place but at the top of the stairs there was another gentleman smoking his meth pipe indoors.
I was so relieved to get out of that place and catch the streetcar to connect with the airport night bus. However, that would not be the end. As I was waiting for the streetcar, wouldn’t you know what happened next? There were paramedics called to pull someone out of the McDonald’s and I highly doubt it was an allergy or choking.
Upon reaching the airport, I picked up my bag from storage and checked in for my flight and quite easily cleared security and the US Border clearance went very quickly, although there were a lot of people panicked for catching a much earlier flight than mine. There is something that, tend to consider Toronto Pearson as the baseline of a good airports. Terminal 1 is an excellent and totally makes sense layout, and the D-E-F layout of the gates it just works for me.
Due to my medical situation, over the past two years, I have gained a lot of weight and now need to ask for the extender belt when on a plane. I find it hilarious that in an effort to be “respectful” the Air Canada staff try to secretly hand off the belt. Everyone on the plane knows, the belt doesn’t fit me, it is not a secret.
I found it surprising how short the flight was from Toronto (YYZ) to Orlando (MCO), it was just a tad longer than Saint John (YSJ) to Toronto (YYZ).
Many airports focus a lot more on the departure passengers over the arrivals. Orlando International is by far a huge exception. The airport consists of 4 terminals linked by automated light rail to the hub. The first thing that happens as you leave the plane is the announcements to where to go and what belt the luggage will be on. Usually you are left to following signs and screens.
Once on the main terminal it has everything you possibly would need and is not as unreasonable as other airports. From the luggage area it is filled with handlers to get people started on their vacation experience so that it starts as soon as you arrive. Disney parks, Disney Cruise, and other cruise lines have the logistics down to a science and make it perfectly effortless,
It is a really beautiful drive to Port Canaveral, there is something about Florida that makes it very unique like you are on safari, and the approaching winter light gives a different world experience.
When we arrived at the cruise port we received the “tip the driver and port people” speech and alighted the bus to wait in a 15 minute long line to get inside to check into the ship. The process was pretty effortless and was much like any other cruise.
An evening on a subway train can be a very interesting experience. Tonight my transit adventure began at Pearson Terminal 1 where I picked up the 192 Airport Rocket to Kipling Subway station. The bus ride was really nostalgic as I haven’t taken the bus in quite some time.
The bus was packed and well filled with travellers, airport and airline staff calling it quits for the night. Once at Kipling station I got on the first eastbound train to transfer a St. George station. Watching people is one thing that I absolutely love to do. I noticed that although Toronto is very unique that it still has a Canadianism about it.
At St. George station, I switched to a northbound train to try and visit the new stations I have never been to. There was a kind of new couple that was sitting next to me. She was teaching him things about the subway because he is new to Canada. Although it was cute that he missed his stop to go one more stop because he didn’t want to leave her.
After they left the train around Downsview Park station was there was a larger but still average woman I would say in her twenties pull a needle out of her bag and stick herself with it and then placed the needle back in her bag.
On the return trip there was a group of university students get on the train near York University and they had 3 bottles of Nestea. Except one was clear and colourless and as they gulped it the familiar look of that unique facial expression was very evident from when you gulp a 40% or more liquid and it burns.
The normal coloured bottle must have also been spiked as their attractive female friend asked then to top up her Starbucks cold drink cup.
After I lost interest in them there was another group of very mixed race and the black skinny guy was looking very exhausted. Apparently he works a security gig and goes to school and just worked 20 hours straight. I only learned of this because they were joking about him as a mall cop. The group then started rapping on the train and it was really good.
A little later on in the journey a bagged tried hitting up everyone on the train because he was hungry.
Shortly after I ended up at St Andrew station and successfully ended the subway journey. Except that the station attendant was evil eying me. I just smiled said hello and continued on my way.
The banged up emotions, banged up car, and big boom finale
As we left off the quest, I was on the back roads of southern Ontario, with the Spotify music pumped. I was taking the back roads partly because it was taking everything to keep myself together, and partly because the 410, 407, and 401 scare the hell out of me.
It was at this point, I decided that seeing Niagara Falls wasn’t going to happen with the gloomy dark cloud of depression. It was also raining and cloudy too. After close to 2 hours, I arrived in Kitchener and the sun came out there. I managed to find a convenient little parking spot and walked down the Festival street. I have written before about Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest but there is something about this festival that in it’s own special way brings it over the top. There seems to even be a much higher percentage of people in traditional dress than you even see in Munich.
The Rogers Hometown hockey was there and there was a beautiful smell in the air that brought nostalgia back. Like most things however, the second time is just not the same and the depression came back. I grabbed a sausage and water and then went to the gift shop to buy a new pin for Oktoberfest hat and Bavarian suspenders. Then got in my car turned on my “Sadness” Spotify playlist and hit the 401.
As I entered Toronto after supper time the only suitable thing to do was to stop and grab some Popeye’s. There was no way after the nerve wrecking of the 401 so far that I wanted to deal with downtown Toronto traffic lights and lanes. I then after eating the meal continued on my way to Oshawa where I was so tired that I pulled over to a Tim Hortons and rested for an hour before proceeding to the ONRoute in Port Hope.
I slept very well that night even for sleeping in my car. The next morning I woke up refreshed and continued towards home. On the way back I detoured a few times the first was to take a photo of the First Railway tunnel. The second was to go to Kingston ON Wal-Mart to buy new shoes because my old ones were so far gone my numb feet hurt.
After Brockville, I dove the side road along the waterfront and found a beautiful little stop in Prescott ON where there is a historic site that was the location of the Battle of the Windmill where rebels were stopped by the Royal Navy in 1838. This was my last detour in Ontario before I stopped for lunch at Denny’s. I gas the most incredible pancakes with a Dolce cream to pour over them and soak in them to make a moist wonderful pile of goodness. Which would be the last goodness of the trip.
I gassed up and hit the road. After the panic of Toronto, I was destined to skip Montreal and take the toll bypass road. Or had wished I did. Instead out of nowhere it seemed I entered Montreal. It was a particular sunny but not too sunny day. From Kingston to Montreal it was “mainly sunny”. I entered the tunnel to leave Montreal and thought well that’s it I made it.
This is when Siri started giving weird directions that made no sense, and I decided to follow signs instead. I was in the 2nd of four lanes and couldn’t lane change due to a transport truck and was forced off on exit 90 of the 20. Well crap… I now had to figure out getting back on the highway and was all frustrated, I was so depressed and just wanted to get home.
I looped back on Boulevard Marie-Victorin and proceeded back to the highway, went to check my blind spot and missed one of two yield signs and the middle on-ramp of two on my left and out of nowhere my fender makes contact with the door of another car! I pull over on the ramp from hell and cars keep proceeding by my car was able to move and my airbags didn’t go off, but my anxiety is through the roof. The bigger fear then the accident, how I was getting home, or even talking to the stranger, my mind went to “what if the guy doesn’t speak English?!” I get my insurance and papers and place them in my pocket and get out of the car taking pictures of the damage and the scene.
The guy started saying something in French and I asked him if he spoke English and he did. Not to get into much detail but the guy has a history in HR and was super calm with a “shit happens, let’s move forward” approach asking if I was alright. After taking the obligatory driver’s license and car licence plate photos we agreed to proceed off the highway and to a nearby mall parking lot. In the lot was spent about 20 minutes exchanging information and then proceeded on our way.
My tire was rubbing on the wheel-well a but on bumps but it was not too bad. I pumped up a Spotify playlist and continued home as fast as I could. Around midnight, I was so tired and a bit low on gas and pulled into the Irving in Saint-Antonin. I slept kind of well until about 6:30 am, got gas, and headed back to New Brunswick on a beautiful, sunny, Thanksgiving Day morning.
That part of the NB highway looks magical and very beautiful with the yellows, reds, and oranges of the autumn leaves over the many rolling hills and the river valley of the majestic Saint John River. I knew that as the water when I reached the end I would be home.
It has been a really long time since I last seen the world’s longest covered bridge, and Hartland also has a Tim’s so it was time to detour into town. Once I hit Fredericton, I was getting sick of Spotify and turned on CBC. This is when I learned that going home might not be as easy as planned. The news broke into programming that there may have been an explosion at the Irving Oil refinery that is only a short 3km away from my house. I texted my sister and she said she was alright and that they were not evacuating the area. As I was passing Grand Bay, I first seen with my own eyes the column would f Barack smoke rising from the refinery.
The journalist side of me knew that so needed to get a photo of it for the day that I wrote about my trip. I stopped at Wolastoq Park where I took my photos and then headed home. I was so exhausted that I went to my TV room and did nothing all day but work on cleaning out my PVR. Thus ended my Thanksgiving Day epic.
Planning for this trip started months ago, it was planned as the best available excuse to visit Brampton Civic Hospital to determine what was real and what was not. I had already sacrificed a day from this mini vacation for my day visiting the Anthem of the Seas and had Friday to Tuesday for a road trip to Brampton. “Coincidence” (with air quotes) would prevail that it was also during Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest.
As the weekend approached, I was starting to have second thoughts about this trip and a feeling that it was not the most financially planned decision to make. It was literally the Friday morning that I was going to go. The plan was Montreal on Friday, Brampton/Kitchener on Saturday, Niagara Falls on Sunday, back to Kitchener on Monday for the parade and then drive home.
As I was leaving Saint John and just passing Spruce Lake. Out of nowhere a sheet of drywall flew in the air just metres in front of me and luckily there was none beside me and I switched lanes to avoid disaster. As soon as that happened, I had this dreadful feeling that this trip was a mistake. I continued on anyway. I crossed the boarder, with fairly little trouble and for once wasn’t searched.
I drove the airline to Bangor and stopped for lunch at Dysart’s just outside Bangor. I grabbed a sandwich, dessert, and bottle of juice. The sit down area was really busy. Since I knew that I could go just over 625km on a tank of gas, I went as far as Newport ME to fill up. It was after this fill up that you experience one of the most amazing drives. The road towards Lac Magantic that follows a river and passes the mountains with the changing leaves of fall is breathtaking. It was taking this route that I came across another broken sheet of drywall in the middle of the road.
As I passed through Sherbrooke, QC I needed to get some cash to go out that night in Montreal and while their, I had a rest stop at Tim Hortons. One of the thing I absolutely love about the Tim Hortons mobile ordering is that I no longer need to know enough French to order coffee and a donut.
As I arrived in Montreal, I shut off the GPS telling where to go. Mainly because it made no sense. I circled a whole lot of blocks and there was a parking lot but it was $30 and I thought that that was stupid crazy expensive. I eventually found a free on street spot on Rue de Bullion. Although there was a mentally disturbed person pacing the street that scared me a little so I waited for him to go down the street and I got out placed my stuff in the trunk and walked quickly to dinner.
My main goal was to get the La Belle Province for a smoked meat poutine. I have to say that it was the best poutine I had in as long as since last time I was in Montreal on my way back from Oktoberfest in 2015. As with all things nostalgia, it was disappointing from my memory of it. The meat was more fried and smaller bits than before. After dinner, I strolled the streets a bit and settled on going to Ste. Elisabeth, which is still my favourite little pub. The crowd was good and listening to other people’s conversations, or at least the few that were in English was a great evening. I spent a good two hours there before heading back to the car to find a truck stop.
As, I left Montreal I quickly ended up in Ontario. As you cost the boarder there is an excessive number of law signs, one after the other for almost 2 kilometres. I spent the night at the ONroute in Bainsville. It was a rough night and I didn’t sleep very well but I tried anyway. My plan was to get to Brampton by 1pm.
After waking up I went to go to the Irving to refuel, but ended up not finding it and went to a Petro-Canada followed by Tim’s and off to Toronto I go. Along the way I saw a sign advertising the first railway tunnel in the country in Brockville and detours to see it. It was closed so I took a photo and moved on.
Until I seen the sign for the Big Apple, and I thought it would be a cool place to get a photo in front of the sign and move on. Oh boy was I mistaken, as I drove by I saw that it was packed and thought that it was just a rural market type thing. As I got out of the car the first thing I noticed was the petting zoo and dog park. When inside the building centres around a giant glass walled bakery that was rapidly making apple and pumpkin pies. It was so cute to see the little children knocking on the glass and waiving to the cooks and the smiles as the cooks waived back. To the left there was a craft brewery and cider house that made a wide variety of tasty beverages and a gift shop the sold local goods mixed amongst the typical gift shop wares. Notable amongst the local made items was wine and hundreds of types of chewy candies.
To the right was a large bakery shop that is typical to a farmers market with more baked goods than you could possibly ever eat. In the by the slice case there were over 20 types of apple pie and tarts to choose from. Also, there was a smokehouse to get the freshest ribs, chickens and, brisket. Outside there were rides, a Beavertails mini golf, and an activities area.
After I left there I was on the road again, it was light raining and overcast. As I approached Toronto the 401 gradually split into a stupid number of lanes, and unnoticed until too late a stupid number of cars going very slow. Magically swiping lanes and the merging nightmare of going back and forth between the 401 and 401 Express. My anxiety was also at a stupid level of stressed that if I could have figured out how to change nine plus lanes I would have taken the side roads. Also it was getting close to 2pm at this point and I didn’t want to get to Brampton too late. Thus not getting to Kitchener too late.
As I first glanced the hospital, I noticed the white church that my mother talked about. The inside of the building didn’t at all look as so had imagined and seemed quite advanced at parts. Hearing the announcement voices were far mor terrifying than the 401. In my mind there would be a person at the desk that I could tell my story to and complete the quest. What I ended up with was a desk with two options, “Pod 1” or “Pod 2” and on the wall above it, was a red clock of terror.
I had frozen and broke down completely, I don’t like calling people, let alone to a pod that I had no idea what was the right one. I just stood there for almost 20 minutes trying to come up with what to say. Also what to say and not sound crazy. I ultimately walked out and went back out to the front doors. I was so devastated that the quest was a disaster.
As I was starting there there was a doctor giving bad news to a woman who was in reality more devastated than I was about how their loved one was progressing and had not much longer. Not because, I didn’t make it but because, I couldn’t hold myself together. As I got to the door, I pulled myself together and convinced myself that I have to go back and try.
As I get back to the phone, I pull together and dial to “Pod 1” then a voice answers and asks what I wanted. I cam up with “Hi I was here 2 years ago on my way back from Rome, and I wanted to see what the Pod I was in looked like.” They then buzzed me in and I took 5 steps and had no idea where to go, then alarms started going off around the corned and I couldn’t breath and had to get out of there.
As I reached the elevator the woman from earlier also got in. I decided to attempt to say something and I told her that 2 years ago they said I was going to probably dead, and I will never forget her response. “You look pretty not dead”.
As I went to pay for my parking, I paid on the terminal, as another woman who was having difficulty paying let me go first. So I offered to help her with the machine and paid her $6 parking pass. She didn’t expect it and was shocked and didn’t want to accept it and tried to pay me back but I told her to help someone else.
After, I took the back way to Kitchener, avoiding all the highways and pumped up the music. Trying to reflect on the calamity of the day that just happened. It was at this point that I had no motivation to go see anything else and I just wanted to be home and not stuck with a 20 hour drive back.
This is getting 1600 words long so the smashing and booming finale will have to wait for the next post.
This tale begins about a month ago. I received a marketing email from my favourite travel company Maritime Travel. It offered a talk about the offerings by Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, lunch, and a tour of the Anthem of the Seas when it was in port on September 13th. I had never received one of these invitations before but was in envy of those who did. I was kind of in an when I showed it to a colleague, her eyes lit up and said: “I’m your plus one right?”
So, I replied back that I was interested and quickly go a reply back that I was on the list.
About a week before the trip, I received an email with the details that basically confirmed the times.
Meet at the “Port of Saint John” by 9:30 am. There were no specifics. Let’s face it, if I can find a ship in San Juan, Saint John would be a walk in the park. I mean how could you miss it on a beautiful sunny day.
When we got to the terminal the commissioner let us into the terminal and gave us directions to go to the furthest door. We passed through the “Fundy Cruise Market”, which carried all the typical local wares. (Including Maple Syrup). Once in the terminal, it was a flutter of activity with people being directed to their excursions or tours to see the city. Once at the far gate as directed we were then pointed to the group of people sitting at the near door. I then proceeded to the guy checking off names from the list.
We waited there for about a half hour before proceeding up to the ship. This was an incredible people-watching opportunity to see the different types of tourist from the ship and to judge them. Especially the “I’m wearing the T-shirt from my last port” guy.
We were then led up in the group to the security gate, after checking ID they gave us a ship pass and then we were directed to the security gate. The first sign this was not an NCL ship was the lack of “Washie Washie Happy Happy” although there were hand sanitizer stations everywhere. The metal detector part went really fast. I am really good at that even at airports.
The ship itself is like I giant beautiful mall and hotel at sea. There are so many things to do and things to see. It is also well suited for winter in New York(ish) as most of the pools have the ability to be glassed in and there are incredible pools on the front solarium where you can get incredible views.
There are also tons of exercise options from basketball, running, soccer, free falling, wall climbing, roller skating dance hall, and gym.
There are also enough bars that you probably never have to use the same one twice. Although there is even a self-serve bar that has a robot make the drinks for you.
After the tour, we were seated for dinner and there was a mini menu of some of the best dishes on the ship. I ordered the Swordfish which I never knew I would love.
The main discount was pretty much just access to the on-ship Next Cruise desk what had some deals. After we wandered the ship a bit more and took some more photos.
If the economics worked out I would like to travel on this ship or another RCL ship sometime. This ship is incredible. The elevators even have a floor pattern that tells you what day of the week it is. The ship speaker music in common areas was really pleasant and diverse.
I departed the Enterprise starving, and in pain a bit from the ridiculous amount of walking in Belfast. I went down the stairs to the tram station and the Google Transit app said there were no more trains but there was a dot-matrix display showing next tram in 7 minutes with a group of at least 15 people waiting for the tram. Then a local said to the group no more trams tonight and the screen was for the next station down the line.
A vocal man with an American accent convinced the group of people that the local was wrong. I looked at the sign and noticed it said “Busáras” and the blank one said “Connolly”. Since I can also read perfect Gaelic I recognized that Busáras means Bus Station and Connolly was the name of the train station. I decided the local was right and since I didn’t know where the Bus Station stop was, I just followed the track and it was not even a block away.
My plan for the night was to go to an Irish Pub and grab dinner there, but once I got off the Luas (what Dublin calls trams/streetcars) near my hotel most I just had a craving to go back to the Burrito place and have a large Fajita. It was so good.
Then I went back to drop off my stuff at the hostel locker and ended up at the bar in the hostel. I was breaking my rule of local beer and ordered a Tuborg. That is some of the best cheap beer money can by in Europe, especially the draft version. I had a great conversation with the bartender and the conversation lead to making TV shows and then he reviled that he worked on Vikings and Game of Thrones. I will refer to him as Viking Bartender.
As I was coming to the end of using up my cash this guy started talking like a beer snob on the intricacies of Guinness and what it is the greatest beer in the world. To which I countered that Guinness is only to its best potential when paired with a fine Irish Whiskey, and then explodes with flavour. That leads to a round or Guinness and Jameson’s Caskmates Stout for the group in that part of the bar.
At some point, a gorgeous Irish lass comes up to the bar to order a round of beers for her friends listening to the acoustic singer-songwriter in the other side of the bar. She orders a couple of Coronas. I didn’t actually she was Irish at this point. I said, “I would make fun of you for drinking Mexican beer in Ireland, but I just had a burrito for dinner.” She smiles and in a strong Irish accent smiling “While I guess you can’t then can you.” This is the point that I kick myself for not having anything further to say. Then she left.
Then later the other bartender started making drinks and as he cleaned the glasses kept spraying me with a little water. The second time I joked that he got me again. After the third time, he joked that if I stayed there I would just have to accept that I would keep getting “a little wet”. The bartender then began making a pair of Jäger-bombs and as he dropped the shot glasses into the larger glass, he shattered one of the glasses and the liquor soaked my shirt, shorts, arm, and leg. He also got some glass lodged in the skin of my arm. I then said, “This is a little wet?”. He then half horrified and half laughing was like “No I’m so sorry, you know the next drink is on me.”
By this point in the night, I’ve had a good 3 times more drinks than I planned on. I was just going to order another beer, but the Viking Bartender came over and said: “I know you been drinking the cheap beer and whiskey all night but since this one is on us let’s go for a special whiskey.”
I ended up with a special edition 200 bottle Jameson’s that was the most amazingly smooth flavour I’ve ever had. After finishing up, I called it a night as the next morning was a travel day back home to Canada.
For a country I was not excited about before going, I was one that I was sad to leave.
The next morning, I got up and shaved, washed, and packed up my stuff and left the hostel. The morning did not start well as I crushed my headphones in the locker door. As I had some time to kill I went to Costa and had my morning coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I caught up on some news, Reddit, and updated my phone to try to use up my remaining data. At this point, I went a block away and got the shuttle bus to the airport. Since I was trying to use up data, I live streamed the video to YouTube from the bus.
Until which point, I needed to conserve battery life since my boarding pass was on the phone. Once I arrived at the airport the Departures section looks amazing and modern and so not the back hallway looks of the Arrivals area. I checked my bag and placed everything in it so I could easily get through security and enter the duty-free shopping area.
I made the first stop at the Guinness store and bought an Irish Flute kit with sheet music, and a hard Guinness Wallet for holding cards. The second shop was an electronics store, there was no way I was going to use cheap headphones for a 7.5 hours transatlantic flight so I bought a good duty-free pair.
On the flight back, the meal was pretty good. There was this cool pickled cucumber salad side, a bottle of wine, I picked the Chicken and pasta dinner. After the meal I listened to music and podcasts as we flew, I liked to keep the entertainment system on the navigation channel to see where we were.
As we flew over Quebec, I had some land data and Facebook Live posted a bit, then took some long time-lapse videos. Coming back to Toronto there was a long line so I didn’t the “cripple limp” and the navigator pointed me to the fast line for disabled and airline staff. Score! After you go through customs, you end up on the outside and there is an out of the way door that most people don’t notice because the signs point them the other way. It is to the far left wall on the Departures floor.
I quickly cleared customs and went to my gate and waited around for about an hour as my flight was running a bit late. The flight was a success, unlike the Titanic, and I arrived home at the Saint John airport to my mother and stepfather waiting for me. It was the first time ever I arrived to people waiting for me.
Shall we continue where we left off, attempting to sleep—
Update at 2:24am #1 stoped snoring and #4 and #6 are sharing #6 and double “bean flicking” #FML
After the above comment to the Facebook post in my last post, I passed out with exhaustion regardless of the hostel situation.
Buzz!!! Buzz!!! Buzz!!!… it’s 5:45am!
That meant it was time to get up. For once I was prepared with my go bag and clothes for what I needed for the day. Went to the shared washroom, brushed my teeth, and ran (hobbled quickly with only one ankle) to the tram stop a few blocks down. It was a brisk and crispy morning as the sun was already rising over the buildings in the square. I arrived several (23) minutes before the first train. (or so I thought) to the train.
After determining that I had time, I went to Costa to get coffee. (Sorry, Closed) The coffee shop across the street. (Sorry, Closed) The literally 15ish coffee shops in this college/young urban district of town. (Sorry, Closed) Needless to say, I was going to get on this tram coffeeless.
The tram arrived and I got on several stops and I was at the train station. Up the escalator and I was in the hall. The station is not the fanciest in Europe but the crowds flow efficiently and you get to get on trains. Although, I ran out of time to get coffee.
It is now time to seek out new life and new civilizations aboard the Starship Enterprise. (err… Seek out new adventures and an old civilization on the train service “Enterprise”.)
Okay, let’s level with you all. The only reason I’m on this train going to this particular city over Waterford, Limerick or Cork is the train was the “Enterprise”.
So I am on the train and my name is on the LCD display above the seat, this is so unlike the paper slips I am used to on Via Rail and Amtrak trains. The train is on its way and I am off to country 34, Northern Ireland to see the city of Belfast. I slept most of the way there.
Now you are probably asking why Belfast, there must be other cool things in Northern Ireland. Which is very true the original plan after taking the Enterprise was that Belfast would be boring and I love the catchy song “Daytrip to Bangor” so I would connect to the train that goes to Bangor for the day and get a picture. As I looked at the train map, I saw the second stop was named Titanic Quarter. Then looking at the map I found that there was a Titanic Museum and that was the death of Bangor.
At the train station, there are signs that it is free to get on a city bus to transfer to City Hall square in downtown where the bus hub, main tourist bureau, and coffee shops are. At the square, the bus stopped in front of the coffee shop so that was stop number one. Then I picked up a day bus pass and got on the bus to the Titanic Museum.
The museum is a huge and beautiful building on the waterfront with lots of crowds
like you would expect to see at any tourist area/trap. One highlight was the Contiki Bus driving by, I think there is a picture from my 2016 tour on the side of the bus.
The museum is quite pricey but there is a lot to see and it is a very interactive experience. It starts with the history of Ireland, then the history of Belfast, the history of shipbuilding, then the Harland & Wolff company, about Ocean-liners, then the White Star Line.
After that multimedia exhibit then it goes into the design and construction of the ships, and more specifically the Titanic. It then leads up to a big window that overlooks the slipway where the Titanic and Olympia where built. Then you enter a room with a virtual experience on all walls flying through the ship. Then a history on how Marconi operated the telegraph system on ships, filled by the Titanic’s sea trials.
this, it was about how people, interacted and stayed on board the ocean liners and the whole class system. Then it was followed by the maiden voyage where for the first time you learn, the ship doesn’t make it and sinks after hitting the iceberg.
Then it goes into more exhibits on the rescue, and how the Titanic is misunderstood by popular culture. The final exhibit is about the underwater drones that found the wreckage of the Titanic. At this point, it was getting later in the afternoon and was disappointed by the gift shop. After I exited, there was a perfect moment, there was a young musician whose parents were recording her playing the Titanic Song on
the Theremin in front of the Titanic sign.
Upon going back to city centre, I just walked around in pain and exhaustion taking as many pictures of things in the Tourist map that I could before running out of time and getting a bus and barely making it back to the train station.
On the way back, I admired the beautiful views
and mainly wrote the first post in this series of post on this trip.
As we now end this I have just arrived back to Dublin for the most memorable night of the trip.
After a well rested night, it is now my birthday. I slept a bit late and left the hostel to wander around Dublin. The most important first stop was the local Costa Coffee shop across the plaza, and to pump up some energy for the day, and to Facebook creep what was going on in the world.
After coffee, I went to the waterfront (river the passed through the city) and walked towards the area that the hostel said was where all the tour tickets could be brought about a 25-minute walk away. I took a lot longer taking photos and resting due to my limitations every couple of blocks.
It was at this point that it hit me that, I was near no one I knew, in a place I knew nothing really about. This got me really sad. The first bridge I came across I thought was the famous (according to my map) Ha’penny Bridge. I Facebook Live posted a video going across it. (Which had no viewers.)
Then as I continued on to the next bridge it had a sign that it was the Ha’penny Bridge. It looked cooler but yet less impressive and had about a half dozen homeless sleeping on it. I decided not to cross it. I then noticed a little shop that sold souvenirs and I dropped in and picked up a little Leprechaun and a t-shirt. This shop also sold passes to the hop on
buses so I picked one up here.
Outside the shop, I was waiting for the bus with two guys who were waiting for
their wives to finish shopping and picking up tickets to a dinner show. The guy warned his wife that they were going to miss their bus. (Which they did.)
Although I wanted to see the ladies reaction when they got back, I got on the bus. It only went one stop and then we were told we had to get off and could get on the bus waiting in front. Now that first bus had a recorded audio tour, the second bus had a live audio tour and the guy was hilarious.
I spent the next 3 hours going around Dublin on that bus not wanting to hop off because I loved that driver. My plan was to get off at the Guinness Brewery
but opted not to, to stay on the bus. I would also point out that the brewery has the strong burnt popcorn smell. As I approached the hostel, I got off the bus and recharged my phone and rested for a half hour.
After the rest
, I went next door to the Jameson’s Distillery. This is one of the best alcohol attractions I have ever seen, on Heineken in Amsterdam was better. It does the typical, here’s the history, here’s how it’s made, here’s how each ingredient and process matters, here’s why we’re best, here’s the gift shop and finally the grand finale, here’s the bar. I still considered going to Guinness but met so cool Belgians and wanted to try more whiskey.
Closing in now on
the late afternoon, I was stumbling out of the distillery. (Let’s pretend it was because of my bad ankle.) I then walked across the bridge and towards the Viking castle area and then was intending to make it to the Temple bar area. However, I needed to drain from the distillery and came across a restaurant/pub with an “Authentic Irish” menu and decided it was a fitting place for my birthday dinner.
After dinner, I was looking for the bus stop that was on the map and only after it was too late that I was on the wrong parallel street. So I walked along the river, crossed at the Ha’penny bridge, and then retired to the hostel, had another Guinness at the bar, and then “called it a night.”
The quotes on that last part are because it was an interesting night. I had an early morning to catch the train to Belfast. I posted this to Facebook at about
Picture this situation, 4 bunk bed sets, two on each wall, numbered 1-8. I’m in #8 and the world record holder for loudest snorer is in #1 (90% sure it is a she). #3 and #5 are taking up the sofas in the lobby. #7 is about to lose his anger management chip.
So even though I have not posted the last post while I am writing this, I’ve decided to split this into a second post. I wrote the last post on the flight to Dublin and it was how I was feeling at the time. I’m presently at 40,000 feet, travelling at 499mph with 377 miles to Toronto. (Note please Air Canada! give us an option of metric flight information.)
On the way to Dublin, I rested well and the new “chicken” meal was quite good. The loaf for breakfast was disappointing. As we deplaned, it was like a Hurd of cattle being shouted at due to very poor signage and renovations. “Europeans Right! Everyone else left and against the wall!”.
It took over an hour to get clear of the customs hall. The customs guard asked me why I was going to Ireland. I answered “Vacation” then he asked me what I planned on seeing. I must have been like “deer in headlights” because I didn’t have any plans and totally blanked on anything that was in Ireland. I eventually responded with Castles and Churches. Then he asked what I did for work, which no one ever gets on the first try, and this guy was particularly dumb. I had to resort to “When the phone company rips you off and you call a guy and yell at him? I’m the guy.” [Even though I do more than that and the phone company doesn’t rip people off… ever 😉 ]
At the airport I picked up a Vodafone SIM card with 5GB of data and a bunch of other things for only 25€, also I got the round trip bus ticket for the 747 service for 12€. I then took the bus to downtown Dublin and to my Hostel at the Generator. I have a soft spot for public art, especially if it is stupid ridiculous. Dublin has this steel needle on the Northside that is stupid tall. It is apparently to represent ambition or something, my first thought was “If you try to step on Ireland/Dublin you are getting a giant nail up your foot.”
I stayed at the Generator Dublin in the Smithfield neighbourhood. It was a great hostel. Nice, clean, safe, and a great bar. The only downside is it is a 25-minute normal person walk to most of the attractions that are grouped and a very small portion of Dublin. After checking in I took a bit of a time to recharge my phone and look over the map of things to see. I then took a walk around Smithfield and see what was around. My feet were sore from the customs hall and walking so I didn’t go too far. I also picked up a burrito for supper. This thing was no ordinary burrito it was a massive roll (super donair size) of awesome goodness.
I had 20€ of cash on hand but didn’t need to use it the entire trip. They take tap everywhere. After the burrito, I went to the bar in the hostel and got the from Ireland Guinness. It does taste different and to me, not in a good way I really didn’t enjoy it.
After hanging around the bar, I called it a night.
As I begin to write this, I’ll have you know I am viewing the beautiful sunset over what I guess is the St. Laurent river on my way to connect flights in Toronto (YYZ) for this trip and the last 2 cruises, the places are not ones that are on my want to go list and I have been travelling just to get new places on the list. In 2 days from now, I will turn 36 and officially age out of the possibility of a 5th Contiki.
So where am I off to? Dublin, Ireland. Why? Because it had a cheap flight and hotel (err hostel). Most of the good places are too cost prohibitive to travel solo and life has as always left me solo. If I were to be asked what is left in Europe that I really want to see, the list would be in order Luxembourg, Romania, San Marino, Ukraine, Norway, Greece, Bulgaria, Portugal, Spain, Malta, Iceland, Andorra, and then Ireland. (Maybe even Moldova and Serbia outshine Ireland.)
I’m, however, still going to attempt to make the best of it and see if I can like it. I had low hopes for Copenhagen in 2016 but that city really won me over. I have a list of places to see, but in reality, I will probably just get lost and see what speaks to me.
The second day of the trip started on a beautiful sunny day. Everyone was talking about how cold it was from a cold front and it was still shorts weather for me. I woke up at 7 and went downstairs for coffee in the lobby and a Guava Cheese Danish that was to die for. I returned to my room and watched the best of Sunday morning TV. It was one of the cooking shows where I learned that the Agave syrup I like in my tea at David’s Tea is the same plant that is used to make Tequila.
I had booked the early embarking at 10 AM online in the check-in to the cruise-ship. However, when I got to the hotel 12 noon was the only shuttle time left. Since the shuttle was the cheapest option, I reserved it. The hotel also had a noon checkout time, so I took a long shower and relaxed until 11:30 when I went downstairs and got on the shuttle.
Miami looked not much different from San Juan, and I was not wowed to want to spend more time there. When we arrived at the port, I dropped of my bag to the longshoremen who stated adamantly and more forcefully then San Juan or Charleston the “A tip is expected for this!” Therefore, I gave him $1.
I walked to the door to the terminal and after about a 4-minute queue I entered the main hall. I was asked if I needed a wheelchair but I declined and limped into the hall. I filled out the health form and then went to the handicap line where you can sit down and wait. It took about 15 minutes to get checked in and I got my ship key card proceeded up the escalator and had my photo taken (that wasn’t available at the photo shop on the ship.)
Then I boarded the ship, after my first encounter with the NCL “Washy Washy” team. I was hungry and the rooms were not ready yet so I went to the buffet and sampled a bit of as much as possible. I sat on the side watching Miami Beach and had a great view while joining another couple for lunch.
As I finished lunch the room was ready so I went down to settle in and get off my feet for about an hour. Then it was time for the safety drill. My spot was A5 in the main theatre since it was down steps the crew said I could sit with the A11 people at the top. It was hilarious all the people being told they couldn’t bring their drinks into the safety demonstration. It went by in less than half the time as Carnival’s demonstrations.
After the safety drill, I did some exploring of the ship and then made it to the Mojito bar where it just happened the Single/Solo cruiser group was meeting. After talking to some people, a group of 6 of us ditched the Solo group and went to dinner at Taste. The service that night was the slowest of the entire cruise we arrived at 6:30pm-ish and finished the third course after 9 pm.
After the dinner, I went to the Welcome Aboard show which was really good. Especially the comedian Dean Edwards, he was incredibly funny stereotyping the type of people on cruises.
After the show, I called it a night and had an amazing sleep.
For those of you that love my travel stories, this is the beginning of a new series of them.
Once again I visited a new travel agent and had no idea where I was headed. The only criteria were the most affordable cruise to where I can add the most new countries to my list. This resulted in the Norwegian Getaway going to Rotan, Honduras, Harvest Cay, Belize, Costa Maya México, and Cozumel México.
Checking in for the flight was different this time and in the end a lot easier. Online you need the address of the Hotel you are staying at, in the past this was only asked at the airport. The hotel I decided on was the Holiday Inn near the airport. I picked that based on price, that they had an airport shuttle, and they arrange shuttles to the port. Miami is very well organized as a home port town.
On Saturday (Dec 9th), I woke up really early and had to do laundry and pack. I had meant to do that on Thursday night but for no good reason, that just didn’t happen. My wonderful sister drove me to the airport, dropped me off, and took off to enjoy her vacation from me.
I used the mobile kiosk to print my boarding pass. I always prefer a paper pass over a mobile version as it is convenient for going through security and is a great place to stick your baggage tag stub. I then checked in my checked bag. I brought my medium sized one. Getting through security took about 90 seconds, the Saint John Airport is great for that. The airport is having renovations and now has a shop inside of security that offers duty-free on international flights.
Getting on the flight there was a cheap woman with her maximum allowed bag trying to fit it in the overhead bin. The plane was a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 that has smaller upper bins. Let’s face it however you try to angle it, it is never going to fit. The maximum allowed size is for placing under the seat in front of you. Which is where she shoved the bag and grumbled all pissed off that she has none of the very little leg room left for the next just over two hours.
The flight was mainly uneventful, I took the orange juice on this flight. I was sat next to a young group of women off to Toronto for some “holiday retail therapy”.
Arrived at Pearson and very efficiently found the security for transfers to USA flights which is a very long string of people checking boarding passes and ID. After going through the scanners and kiosks it took me about an hour from arrival to passing security and US Immigration. The guard asked where I was going and scoffed that seeing Rotan is not real Honduras.
I had dinner at an Italian place until it was time for the flight. People at the airport do not care/respect the Zone boarding system as soon as there was an announcement that they were starting pre-boarding soon it was almost all 240 people in a line. My Zone was Zone 4 so I just sat until most of the line was gone.
They were checking bags and people were being forced to check and bag that had the “fat zipper” unzipped. I got through no problem and was seated next to a teenage anime artist travelling with his family to Miami. The Miami airport was very easy to find the baggage pickup. For the first time in 3 trips to the USA, my bag arrived with me. I was thrilled even if I was a nervous mess over it being one of the last bags to arrive.
Finding where the hotel shuttle was you get led by the way finders out the second level door to a curb. There is no marking where each hotels shuttle stops and you see them all go by and then you flag down your hotel’s vehicle. After an hour I was basically tired and went screw this, went downstairs to the taxi stand and for only $13 got a blue taxi. This was the best decision ever. You can pay with a card on the tablet screen on the back of the passenger seat.
When I arrived, I checked in and the gentleman was the friendliest person I have ever met and really seemed to enjoy his job. I found my room “507” and settled in for the night. The room was spacious and well laid out and clean.
I fell asleep and that concludes this part of the story.
This post also has a soundtrack. The André Rieu version of Arrivederci Roma.
It is September 24th, as we left for the sightseeing of Rome. I was a bit worried to go out on the street. There was a long protest going down the street for the freedom and recognition of a people in a region near Georgia. (The country) The parade ended
just before go time and my feet were really sore. My last pairs of socks had holes in them and combined with the bleeding heels walking was getting harder. Rome is also not known for the flattest and smoothest sidewalks/streets either.
We hopped on the bus and went to the area near the Italian government buildings. For there we walked around Rome to the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and various other buildings. We also ran into a group of protestors that were fighting for the right of deaf people to have interpreters at churches. They made a lot of noise.
Then we went for a fancy supper and my feet were killing me. At supper, I had noticed my feet were still hurting even when not standing on them, and my butt and hip were getting a sensation of falling asleep. I stood up and walked outside a few times to relieve the cramps and asleep feeling but it was getting worse. By the end of the night
, my feet were going from sore to numb.
After dinner, we went back to the hostel for drinks as for a chunk of us it was the big
goodbye night. The rest of the travellers would be heading to London again over the next week. The place was small and cramped but I didn’t want to miss out as this was the last big night with everyone so I stayed until about midnight. The group then decided to go to a club but I really wasn’t feeling it.
An amazing person that was also leaving in Rome decided not to go out and since I have feelings for her and we are in Rome, we went for a stroll around the block and I tried to hit on her nervously. She explained what was important to her, and I respected her and we continued to walk back to the hotel and called it a night.
The next morning I woke up and the scariest thing happened. My feet were still numb and three fingers on both hands were numb. This had me really scared and the hotel had terrible internet so I had breakfast and checked out of The Yellow Hostel. I knew my next hotel the check in was not until
2 pm but I wanted to drop off my heavy bag to baggage storage there, as I was planning to travel light for 3 days and had the necessities in my side bag.
To my luck the hotel
lets me check in early and I started to Google what could be going wrong with me. The main hits were Diabetic Nerve Pain or MS. (In my head better than diabetic as I love good food.) The internet was bad so I decided to go out and went to Termini station to get online. From there I started iMessaging / Facebook messaging and emailing everyone I could back home to get advice.
Since it was just after
6 am back home only a few answered. None suggested coming back and several suggested it could be something even worse and that I should go to the hospital. My sister was one of the few that answered but wasn’t happy I woke her on a Sunday morning. I ate lunch at McDonald’s in the station then went to find Michelangelo’s Keyhole that I missed by a few metres in 2013. Once you miss doing something it really sticks with you.
As I climbed the hill and passed the rose garden, I crested the top of the hill and saw a long line of people. This is the universal sign of you found the attraction.
I waited about 45 minutes in line and then made it to the front and looked in the hole. It was cool but had bigger hype and expectations than I was hoping for. On the way back down there is a park with an overlooking view of the Vatican.
Considering how much my feet hurt, I had to rest. I started to question myself on what I should do. It was at that point that I thought I heard a voice say “Go Home” in the wind. As I was walking down the hill, I need to go to the bathroom suddenly and had little control and didn’t quite make it to the pay toilet, that also was dirty and had little paper left. It was not good and I was so conscious of my smell. I went back to the hostel to look at my insurance papers and get my numbers in line to go to Ospedale Santo Spirito near the Vatican. However
, when reading my travel insurance papers, I read it in detail and noticed an Early Return clause and called them up via Skype and asked about it.
The lady explained that it would cover any economy class ticket on a reimbursement basis. I then was worried about trying to contact my travel agent on a Sunday and jumped on the Air Canada app and looked up flights. I didn’t want to miss the Coliseum tour I had booked later that day so flying out that night wasn’t on my radar. (That would have been the smartest option.)
The fastest and cheapest flight back the next morning was to fly Rome to Philadelphia to Toronto to Saint John. I almost booked it but then I noticed that if I went Rome to Munich to Toronto to Saint John I could leave Rome early rather than stupid early, I would avoid the US TSA, get a Munich passport stamp, and fly in a Dreamliner! (Since I wasn’t paying it what is an extra $40 for more sleep and a wish list airplane.) I booked the trip and coordinated with a friend to pick me up at the airport the next afternoon and bring me to the hospital. The internet then crapped out and I
left for my tour.
As I went through Termini, my mother got back to me and I told her I was coming home. I then headed off to the tour. I had already done this tour in 2010 so it looked the same as before and I was not really into it. All I was thinking about was leaving the next day. I took a bunch of photos to prove I was there but I was so weak and sore that I was glad it was over. I said no more goodbyes and slipped away and back to the hostel. I ordered a chicken burger and fries at the hostel restaurant and thought my sore throat was coming back, but it turned out probably the muscles were going numb and I was
losing my swallowing abilities. I then got my bag from storage and went to bed. I was going to shower in the morning. As it turns out I won’t get to shower again until December.
The next morning I woke up at 5:30 am and am really numb. It is terribly bad, I can barely stand from kneeling without the ladder, and I had the top bunk bed. I didn’t pack the night before and I put all my liquids in my main suitcase and started throwing away clothes that I didn’t want to get at
the weight. After three attempts I make it to the exact most I can check in. (Wine bottles are heavy.) I grab my side bag and suitcase and am off. It is only a few blocks to the train station but it is a slight uphill slope and my legs can barely make it. Rome at night is also a very scary place in those parts.
I am starving and I pick up a few things at the convenience store style place in Termini and go to the kiosk to get my train ticket to the airport. I decide on the Leonardo Express train over the local train as I don’t know how much effort I have left. The train arrives and I get on barely enough grip to lift my excessive bag.
I then arrive at the Leonardo
da Vinci airport and walk a long hall to the Lufthansa check-in for my first flight to Munich. She checks everything for me takes the bag and then I proceed through security. This is a really simple process as I have gotten good at this. I then find my gate and have a seat. Once it comes birding time I have great difficulty standing. I do manage and get on the flight. Scared to death, I start to be even more scared thinking about my mother’s prediction something bad was going to happen.
When the plane arrived, I went to the other terminal to get my flight that involved lots of halls, trains, elevators and, escalators. After getting my Schengen leaving stamp, I go to the gate and wait for boarding. Then boarding gets announced and I cannot stand up. I am really scared and freaking out just like a bathroom in Amsterdam incident. After everyone mostly boards I manage to use my everything to stand and it is not at all good. I get on the plane and have a seat in the second row of economy class. As it happens to turn out the group of people around me work for Air Canada and used their travel perks to go to Oktoberfest (lucky them). The gentleman to my left was leaving the airline to change careers. My hands were not working well to at all at this point so I couldn’t put my seatbelt on and he helped me. I din. Want to keep asking for help so I didn’t get to watch a movie at all for the flight and got to watch as we flew back the map of where we were. Our flight was delayed due to a technical fault, this made me nervous that this was it, the technical fault was how this was going to all end. After they fixed the plane, it took almost another hour to get a new route, and the route took us north until we followed the UK coast then towards Greenland and then direct to Toronto.
As the meal came I could not eat hardly anything and drank the water and wine and bean salad. (Again the bean salad is always a mistake.) I had the guy next to me open the items I did eat. He could tell something was not right and we talked briefly. He was friends with the crew and I think he told them as I was embarrassed to ask for help. I have a bad anxiety for things like that.
Since I had 8 hours to Toronto left I decided sleeping it off was the best decision. I
, however, started around Greenland noticing if I slept I stopped breathing and this scared the hell out of me but not as bad as telling someone and divert the plane in 2 hours to Newfoundland as we were literally in the middle of nowhere and piss off everyone on the flight. I instead waited it out silently as it got worse and worse. I needed to use the bathroom and got up and waited in line to make it just in time. I then returned to my seat. This is the last time I would get up or use the bathroom on my own.
We then land in Toronto. My phone still had my UK SIM card and I physically don’t have a tool to open the SIM card door so I turn it on but can’t use it. If I could I could text everyone or post on Twitter that I arrived. As the doors open, I try to get up and can’t with my own power to the guy next to me helps me up and grabs my bag for me.
I take about 60 steps to get off the plane and the first step is a big one so I roll my ankle and can’t get up and am blocking the door. I am in fear at this point more from blocking everyone behind me, and only
have 25 minutes to get through customs and my flight to Saint John. The flight attendant guy was right behind me and I was rolled to the side and covered with a blanket until the rest of the passengers deplaned. Then he took off and the flight crew and airport manager took care of everything asking me lots of questions. The ambulance arrived and I was forced to help due to my weight to get up to a wheelchair and then transfer to the stretcher.
I asked about my checked bag and the Air Canada manager assured me they would take care of everything. I was taken down the sky ramp steps and placed in the ambulance and off we went.
Next post I will continue with the hospital portion of this story. This concludes the travel portion.
As the story starts to get more dramatic we need to get into the mood. I have a fitting sound track for this portion. “Walk to Rialto Bridge”
This is the final day September 23rd before things start to go bad. The morning is sunny. We check out of Hotel Park in Ljubljana. Since the elevator is small I walk my bag down with a lot of effort 12 stories of stairs. I’m not feeling the greatest, I drank too much the night before. (Again)
After a small breakfast it is on the coach for a 2 hour drive to the meal stop where I get a better meal, then over an hour to the causeway to Venice, but we hop a boat that drops us off near Piazza de San Marco. (aka tourist trap/pigeon central) I went with a group to have lunch at a small restaurant, then ditched them.
I grabbed a bottle of wine and got lost for the afternoon. I really didn’t do any of the big attractions since I’ve done most of them before, and the 3 hour line to see in San Marco was not a useful waste of time. I spent most of my time exploring parts of the island I have never seen, and try flavours of Gelati (you can’t just have one Gelato) I had not tried. My heals were bleeding from cracked heals at this point, 25-35k steps a day in sandals will do that.
Late afternoon the group reconvened and went on a gondola ride. This time around they didn’t sell wine to drink on the gondola which was disappointing but still an opportunity to get more canal photos.
After the trip we had a free hour to get more Gelati, and I found the supermarket that I could stick up on bottles of wine for half the price. Also a perk was I could weigh the bottles and knew exactly how much weight allowance I had to make for it.
The next plan on the Itinerary was a tastes of Venice tour where we went to 3 different restaurants and sampled the food and had a glass of wine at each. Most of the food was great but there was a battered seafood place and some of them made my tongue go a bit weird, but not really as bad as an allergy. I think in hindsight that this may have been an accelerator factor of the symptoms to come.
After the tour we had about two hours and the sun had set and Venice at sunset then night is much cooler than Venice in the daytime. I started by going to the Aperol Spritz party in a piazza and with the wine a bit tipsy. Then I went to see the Academia Bridge that I didn’t get to see on this trip yet. I was starting to run out of time so I hurried back to San Marco’s Piazza as we were warned that they would leave without us. At past stops, this was an empty threat as people were late all the time.
Not this time we actually left two people on the island. After a boat ride to the other side, we got on the bus crossed the causeway and checked into Hotel Vienna. This place was a place to sleep and that is about all.
The next morning after breakfast it was on the road again, off to Rome! As the saying goes “All roads lead to Rome” and the tour I was on was even called the “Trail to Rome”. The adventure as well will end in Rome. As we left Venice we had some goodbyes as a few were not destined for Rome and rented a car and drove around for a few days.
The trip to Rome was short, and my feet were hurting a bit so I was fortunate it was a bus day. With only one stop we arrived in Rome around 2pm and had an hour to get settled and then go on a walkabout.
We will leave it here and the next post will be the last of the Europe Trip 2016 story, but not the last of this series.
We arrive in Budapest around 5pm on September 20th. We were staying at Wombats Budapest and I was hungry. I needed to find a currency exchange place since I had too much Polish Zlotys left and the receptionist recommended this place around the corner. (Ibla Change) I did very well, I got close to 12,050 Forints. ($55 Canadian) Most of the other places were giving 8,700 for it. Now this place was really cheep! (Think the waiter from EuroTrip that would open his own hotel on a US Nickle.)
We went for a river tour that night and it was an amazing buffet and was as pretty as Budapest at night. On the cruise there was one couple that had been fighting the past couple days made up and got engaged!
After the cruise if you read the past posts in this series it was Shots and Beer time. We walked though this ally of restaurants and bars that was incredible. There was this amazing grunge looking place we went to that had many stories and bars in it. It was so packed, after a few beers, I just left everyone and walked back to the hotel. This is when I was approached by a woman of the night, we talked a bit, but I turned her down. She then got upset and started yelling something in Hungarian and then spit on me and said I was cursed.
Totally freaked out I went back to my room and showered. My giant bubble on my head bursts at this point and was filled with yellow puss. I decide to shower and go to bed. As I move the sheets there is a little black bug moving along the sheets. I move the mattress and there is more and then so look at the joints of the bunk bed any there is even more. Then I check the other sets of beds in the room and there is none.I go to reception and they address the problem by cleaning my stuff and giving me a different co-ed shared room for the night as they are fully booked, and would get a new room the next day. As I enter the room it is dark and I use my phone as a flashlight to make the bed (check for bugs) and then I fell asleep.
As I awoke the next morning I awake and look around the room, and there is a Australian blonde laying on the sheets, like Copenhagen, naked. I had a tour in the morning so I got breakfast and placed my stuff in storage until I got my room. The tour was okay we walked all around the Pest part of town, seen the statues, buildings and learned the history. The tour ended in the Terror Museum that was okay, but there are better things to do like the baths
After the tour some of us went to a fancy Italian restaurant that was so good. I then left the group and wandered to the Buda side to climb up to the castle and take photos. I then went to find a restaurant in that ally that was the most expensive local cuisine as I had so much money left (about 5000 forints).
That night everyone was going out again and I joined them for pre-drinks but was not feeling going out. So I just sat and talked until late with those who were sitting around.
The next morning we drove to Slovenia, we were close to the Croatian border where there is a fence and fields to keep out the migrants. Kind of felt like the Berlin Wall in theory. We got to see the biggest tourist trap in the area Lake Bled that has a famous cake. Let’s face it you had me at cake, that was what I was doing getting coffee and cake. The cake was good and the patio views were good too.
We then ended up at the destination city of Ljubljana the capital of Slovenia. Most of the group ended up going to a Mexican restaurant that was really good. Then we ended up at a very cool dungeon bar for drinks. As half the group went to a club, I went with the other group for drinks at a kind of sketchy packed place. It was the most fun I’ve had. I got waisted… again.
As we headed back it was hilarious everyone was following me as I was waisted trying to find my way back.
The next morning it was off to the final country, Italy.
Sundays are typically good quiet days to reflect on the week that has passed. It is now September 18th. We are leaving Vienna, and for the first time in weeks, I am not hung over. After a decent but shorter ride we arrive at Olympia Olomouc mall in the Czech Republic and there is a TV in the middle playing a Canada vs Czech Republic game from a tournament being held in Canada. Canada was of course winning. Go Team Canada! However, it was thee lunch stop and since we were at a food court I had to try local food… I at at this local place that serves fried chicken in wraps called KFC.
Back on the bus and we arrived at the Birkenau concentration camp. It had gotten really foggy, dark, and cool as we arrived there with spots of rain. It was very spooky. I went in two of the buildings and there was lots of Jewish groups having guided tours. I didn’t read most of the plaques or go in most of the buildings, the place just hit me with sorrow and I just wandered around the paths.
Next we went across the street to the much smaller and more interesting Auschwitz camp. This place was built in the late 1800’s to house the Polish troops from the Franco-Prussian war. Then around 1940 the entire town was deserted as the Polish peoples were no longer allowed to live in the area and their leaders were jailed here. Then as this place was filled up, the second camp was built across the street. If you went to Auschwitz you were lucky compared to Birkenau.
I managed to go through three buildings, each of the twenty some buildings are dedicated to the story of a different group of people that were “holcausted”. The buildings I went through told the stories of the Polish People, the Politicians and the Cripples. After that I couldn’t take anymore and had to just wander around. Something was just not right and I’m a person that needs to know why to understand and there is just no why when it comes to the holocaust.
Then it was off to Krakow for dinner, and then a night on the town. Not sure how much money to take out, I take out 250 Polish Zlotys. ($90 CAD) I had lots of shots at an awesome shots bar. As everyone else mostly decided to leave to find a club, I wasn’t really in the mood so I went to get a Chicken Kabab that tasted off but I was drunk and hungry so I ate it anyways (a big mistake). The other person I was walking back with wanted to go to the gift shop at the Hard Rock Cafe so I waited outside for her. As we were walking down the street every single place on the Main Street it seems converts to a Strip-club, and get calls to come in. I was really partied out at this point and getting sick from the Kabab.
Since the Summer I was getting these bubbles on my head, and still am but not as bad. This night incredibly drunk, I decide that I need to get a better look at this. It has been worrying me since before the trip, and I didn’t have time to see a doctor. I therefore spend two hours in the shower shaving my head with a face razor. This was a huge ordeal, and I wanted to give up a few times. How can you give up with a partly shaved head? So I had to finish.
The next morning was a free day for the morning, I went to the old town square and met up with the “free” walking tour. We spent hours going around and seeing everything and learning the importance of Krakow since Medieval times, and finishing with the castle. I tipped him 50 Zloty for the amazing tour, which apparently was an excessive amount. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at another Kabab place for lunch.
The group then took the bus to the nearby salt mine. This place was beyond amazing and we walked for hours through this maze of underground marvels. There was the most amazing cathedral carved in the cave. Although I couldn’t take a picture of it without buying a licence. My feet were so sore this day, the tough skin was starting to crack and bleed at this point of the trip. It was a lot of walking for sandals.
Then we went back to town to make and eat Polish Pirogies and other awesome Polish food. Since My feet were sore I didn’t go out and had drinks near the IBIS Budget hotel.
The next morning we left Krakow, we made a few hour stop along the way in the beautiful town of Banská Bystrica, Slovakia. Unlike Pisa, the whole church is leaning in this town. I had to borrow pocket change in this town as my Euros were in the suitcase and we were transitioning from Zlotys to Forints and I really needed to use the washroom. After touring the town, I found the grocery store and picked up lunch on my credit card. We then took the best group photo of the trip and were off to Hungary.
“Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true. When will you realize… Vienna waits for you?” –Billy Joel
This is truly a special city. One does not really understand Europe without Vienna. This was the first of the several cities that were new to me on the Contiki tour. I was starting to feel like I was more the tour guide in some of the previous cities and they started to seem ordinary. Not, Vienna.
It is September 16th, about 10 days to go until the fateful day and the greatest day ever. When we arrived in Vienna we checked into the a&t Holiday Hostel Vienna then dressed up for a night out. The night started with a concert with a quartet, opera singers, and ballroom dancers. Of course there was an intermission with wine. After this we went to Kern & Waldmann amusement park for dinner. I think the restaurant was called Schweizerhaus. The beer and the food was amazing.
While here others in the group went on rides as I watched. I was getting more and more depressed by the minute. I was really convinced if I went on a ride, that was it. A scene from the Final Destination movie was about to happen. After the rides a few people decided to go back. I went with them not wanting to have to rely on a taxi to get home.
At the subway station, I got a 24 hour ticket and got on the train helping a few others find the right train. On the train I realized our tour manager was wrong about the trains ending and I wanted to tell people at the bar. This and I had no excuse for transportation that I stood up half way back to the hotel and decided tonight would be a “Fuck It” night, even with a bit of a sore throat, and ran off the train and switched to a train going back.
I was headed back to the club Prater DOME and there were no regrets. When I got there the amusement park was dying down for the night, but the club was rocking. This place was one that gives you a card and you cover the tab on the way out. I went to the bar and got a drink, and another, and another, and another.
Then I got to the dancing point of the night. The music kept me going and going. I was on top of the world and the depressed me was too drunk to care. That is until I was too drunk to go to the bar and order more. This place had evil bottled alcohol vending machines. So a few more drinks later… it is close to 3:30am and I call it quits, mostly because one of the women on the tour is too drunk to stay and needs help getting back, more so someone to help her get back safe. So I bring her on the subway, and then guessing based on a bad map find the way back. I drank lots of water and slept well for a few hours.
The next day was great but more quiet for obvious reasons. We started with a sightseeing tour of the area around the Royal Palace, and made our way to the Swarovski crystal “museum” that was really just a pay to look at shiny things in a store that you can buy if you a super rich. There was literally 5 things under 10€ to spend the 5€ for a free gift. The breakfast at the hotel really didn’t cut it so the group of us headed to McDonald’s. I had a coffee since Austria is well know for their coffee.
I then wandered around and saw lots of cool things on a “Not the typical tourist traps you would see on a Vienna tour” tour. It included highlights like the cement benches that the locals consider the ugliest, a mural of a cow playing backgammon, the little know lookout for St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the tiniest alley in Vienna.
After this I had some time to kill and tried finding the movie museum that I ran by earlier but never did find it. Instead I found a museum about the history of stage performance and how Vienna as a centre of music and culture for hundreds of years was ahead of everyone and developed almost every stage technique used today. For stage fans this place is second only the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. (technically Southwark)
Still not feeling the greatest I went to ride the Metro for a bit and see a weird shaped building. Then it was off to the see the Schnapps museum (shop). It was good and interesting how the company was run and then ended.
We then went to see the Summer Royal Palace, and had a classic Vienna dinner. Since we were practically forbidden to “go big” that night it turned into a quite rest night.
The party bus adventure continues. The date is now September 14th, 2016. This day has a stop along the way in the most beautiful city of Dresden, Germany.
As most of the crew were sightseeing, or going to a local restaurant, I ditched them and headed straight for the McDonald’s that was a few blocks over for a quick lunch. I explored the area and curled around the outside of the square to areas I never had time to see and found a building with lots of cool details to photo.
We then proceeded on the rest of the day to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. The tour began with the typical castle tour. I never gets old as the church in the castle is the most amazing thing ever. We then proceeded past all the pick pockets to the Charles Bridge, and into the town square to see the astronomical clock that I never found impressive to look at, but has a cool story.
We then checked into the Plus Prague for dinner and pre-drinks. Heading into town, as we jumped on the streetcar we went several blocks then got thrown off the street car for being obnoxious drunks. The guy even let us off on a piece of track that no trains come on. We then got on a different streetcar and made it to town.
This was my first big club night at Zlatý Strom this place was awesome. There was so many room with different feel, style, and music. There is even a pole dancing room. The large drinks don’t hurt, even if it was $23CAD when in a foreign currency I don’t convert it, I just get what I want.
After leaving this place at 2 in the morning, I really wanted a Kabab. Unfortunately, I didn’t get one because the line was too long and got in a cab back to the hostel.
The next morning I did not want to be alive. Everyone else went to a bike tour but my head was so bad that is bad it needed 400UI of Advil. Even then I didn’t get up until almost 11am. Last time in Prague, I had really wanted to see a Honey Badger at the Prague Zoo.
I found out that it was easy to get to with an express bus from the nearby subway station. I spent most of the afternoon there and didn’t even see it all, but for the first time of my life I seen a Honey Badger!!
After the Zoo, I went downtown to visit the mall and get a souvenir for Prague. (Which I Lost) I ran into a big chunk of the guys from the tour, and they were all weighting for the streetcar back to the hostel. I instead convinced them the subway was better, and the pack agreed to follow me.
I had dinner and joined everyone for pre-drinks, but opted not to go out since I was starting to feel a sore throat.
The next morning began another travel day. The trip involved a stop at this amazing and very creepy skull church Hřbitovní kostel Všech Svatých in Kutná Hora.
It is September 10, 2016. They day begins with a nice British Breakfast on the ferry from Dover to Calais. It was a sunny and calm day. I have just taken the compulsory photo of the White Cliffs of Dover. Followed by a coffee just to tip and clear out my UK Pounds.
I have yet to mention this but with two exceptions to be mentioned later in the story (Several posts from now), I have a habit of blowing the rest of my currency as I switch currency zones. After passing through customs and getting my passport stamped, it is a several hour drive to Amsterdam. I stayed at Nieuw Slotania Hotel in Amsterdam. I took a walk to the supermarket across the street where I found they sold Brunswick Sardines that come from my home province. While waiting in the lobby I ran into Nunu my driver from my 2011 tour and was so excited to see him. We had a few more run-ins as the tour progressed.
That night we went out to see a live sex show at the Casa Rosso. While waiting out front it was hilarious people up in the hotel across the canal put on a show for us. After the I went to a coffee shop and had a brownie. Then the group found a club and I decided not to go in. I instead went window shopping and ended up depressed that I lacked the confidence to even see one of them, that I in life am alone, that I have no one to share the experience of this amazing trip, and that I feel old and no energy to party. I, therefore, went to Dam Square and got the streetcar back.
The next morning was sunny as well. I didn’t want to take the bike tour of Edam, so I wandered the town aimlessly again like 2011. I, however, found a cool skinny church.
Then we went to a cheese and clog shop. Then dropped off in town. The first thing I got was a stroopwafel, then went with some of the travel-mates to go to a pancake house that was to die for
I went back to the House of Bols that was not as great as 2013. Then I didn’t go to any other museum and just got lost. I followed the wrong canal for half an hour unknowingly before I was surprised nothing I expected to be there was there and I GPSed my location.
I met up with the tour bus again and we went for the optional meal after a group photo to Volendam for a nice dinner. After that, we went to a shots bar and I had a bunch of shots, everyone went to a club. My goal was to party in Leidseplein for the first time ever but I ended up being depressed and called it a night around 11 pm.
The next day was one of the longer travel days. We ended up in Berlin and checked into Plus Berlin around supper time. That night I have several beers at the hotel bar. Then called it a night. The next morning at breakfast I got one of the best pictures of my trip.
The morning began with a need to find Advil for my hangover. I found the Mall of Berlin and spent so much time there it was my lunch stop. After the mall, I found a Spy Museum that was the greatest museum on the whole trip.
From there I hung out around Alexanderplatz until we met up and went to dinner at the Hofbräuhaus, did a tour of Berlin in the Cold War. (different tour than a few years ago) This tour turned into a bar hop and the first bar was nothing more than an abandoned building with a bar, a ghettoblaster, and a toilet.
The second bar was an awesome patio and go a little scary when this drunk guy started to cuddle a female member of our group, then nearly started a fight, was ejected, and then threatened to kill one of the people of our group. (I was drunk so some details are vague) We then finished off at a bar across the street. I had two drinks before a gay German guy started hitting on me and I had to leave. I learned that night what ladies go through.
The next morning I was off to Prague, but that will wait for another post.
Every Turn A Surprise, With New Horizons To Pursue
This is part 9 of the series, with my 7th time in London. (Err Camden, and Westminster) The title of this post will make sense later in this post. We are on September 7th as this portion of the story begins.
I arrived by bus to the Victoria coach station, where I found a pay phone and called my bank collect to get my credit card to work again because like in Sweden, it was cut off again. After that was taken care of, I went to the nearest Underground station “Victoria” that involved going through Victoria Train Station at rush hour. This station has 4 overground and 3 underground lines and it looked like every line arrived at once and like bees in a hive, all moving very efficiently but looked nuts to figure out.
I took the Victoria Line then transferred to the Piccadilly Line to Russell Square. I checked into the Generator, had dinner there, and went down the street to The London Pub at the Royal National Hotel. I met up with a few Contiki groups, drivers, and team managers, and had a couple of British beers. There is something about British beers that mess you up.
The next morning, I saw a sign for a free walking tour. So, I plan on doing that for the morning. It was a really good tour and walked from hostel to hostel, and then we get on the tube to Green Park where all the tour wranglers bring the people. The tour guide was really funny and new his stuff. He took us in 5 minutes to get a better changing of the guard view, then people waiting 3-4 hours had.
We then went to the buildings around Parliament and Westminster Abbey and lots of things on the way. The way the free tours work is they pay per person for the advertising costs to the company and then they get paid by tips. I tipped my guy well. After the tour, I only hung around the area for a half hour or so, then took the tube to Canada Water. I originally went here in 2010 since it had Canada in the name to explore the area, but it has a decent but still shabby mall, Surrey Quay. Now, this mall has gone downhill in the last 6 years but still has a full Tesco and a Burger King with free Wi-Fi.
I had broken my Garmin VivoFit 2 band and I was hoping to find a new one but had no luck here. One of the shops suggested you can get anything at the Camden Market, so that was where I headed next. I never found what I was looking for but I have no regrets of going to Camden Market as it was amazing window shopping, although I didn’t buy anything.
I was starting to run short on time so I headed back to the hostel, showered, and changed. One of the big things to do in London was to see a musical. I had got my ticket at a ticket seller in the subway station that had a ridiculous service fee, but I later found out the ticket works out about the same anyway if I had bought it from the theatre. Let’s face it if you are penny-pinching theatre ticket prices, you are not going to a West End London show.
If you recognized the post title, you know that the show I’m going to see is Disney’s Aladdin the Musical. The London theatre crowd is unique and hilarious to watch. From the elite posh couples to the tourists, to the families on a special outing, to the folks that this was the backup since they couldn’t get into Harry Potter. On thing about this show was that no one puts on a show like Disney. The music, story, dancing, singing, special effects (like the magic carpet), and Pyro were spot on and fantastic.
After the show, I did what all Londoners do. I went to the pub, London Pub. Had “some” drinks and chats with the Contiki crowds. Then went back to my hostel and there was a TopDeck party going on. Who was I to miss out on a party, so I partied on.
I had to check out of this hostel and had hours to kill so I dropped off my bag at the Contiki Basement and went to Green Park to tour Buckingham Palace. It was really bad, the hangover was so intense that I couldn’t move far without puking so I slept in Green Park again for a few hours. I then went to St. Pancreas Station used the washroom and got lunch and checked email on wi-fi.
It was time to check into the Royal National Hotel so I went to the Contiki Basement, picked up my London knickknack along the way, got my suitcase and bag and, rested until the evening meeting with the tour manager Kyle and driver Alex. After the meeting can you guess what happened? I went to the Pub…
The next morning it was an early morning and I was excited and ready to go. No hangover for some reason this morning.