Exploring & Escapades

bits & pieces of my travels

Month: November, 2010

Travel Fail and Being Stranded in Spain

Well, we missed our flight home to America. I don’t know how it happened, but it did, and hell ensued. Now I’m stranded in Madrid all alone.

So back to the beginning:

Last night, all of my friends decided to go out, regardless of the morning flights. And me, I decided to be no fun and to stay in and get some sleep. Except the second part of my plan never really worked out, since no one left until 2am and everyone came back before 4 (aka very, very little sleep). I had an alarm set, and there were other ones set for Sean, who woke up just fine in time for his 7am flight to Madrid. But the alarm for me and Kim never went off. When I woke up three hours after I should have and realized it was already 9am, I knew it was too late to make out 9:45 flight to Madrid…

Being in a foreign country and not having phones or speaking Spanish and all that fun stuff made it impossible for us to get in touch with any of the airlines or airport, no matter how much we tried. So we ended up just heading to GRX to get the next flight to Madrid and then to figure it out from there.

$400 later, we had two tickets on the first flight that went out at 1:35pm. 15 minutes AFTER my 2nd flight from Madrid to London took off. Fail. But at that point, I knew that I just needed to get to a larger airport to get things figured out. If everything went as planned, Kim would be fine. We would land in Madrid at 2:30, which gave her an hour before her original Madrid to Boston flight would take off. So we took that flight, landed, and parted ways. Then my life became hell.

So here I am in Madrid, a foreign country, by myself, not understanding/speaking (or wanting to understand/speak) any Spanish. I do the most logical thing and go to the British Airways counter, since I booked my flight with them to begin with. I was hoping I could cancel my London to Boston flight in time to get some money back for it. But no, the people at BA don’t work for BA… they work for Iberia! So logical. In fact, everyone in the entire airport works for Iberia.

BA sends me to Customer Service, Customer Service sends me to Ticket Sales, then back to CS, there are 5 seats left on a flight to NY at 5:00, back to TS, no that flight is full, back to CS, back to TS, but there ARE 5 seats on that flight and I NEED one, well we can only give you one if baggage agrees to check your bag this late, over to Baggage, we can only check your bag with a boarding pass, but a boarding pass is $2000 can you promise me if I get it that you can take my bag, no? what?, back to TS, can I have a pass, no its too late, its impossible, BUT WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO, sorry we can’t help you.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh

That was about when the mental break down hit. I must have look very attractive sitting in the corner with my luggage sobbing uncontrollably. Fortunately, I was able to call a friend using Skype (thank God for technology!); he calmed me down and put everything in perspective. So with my newfound strength, I made my way back to Ticket Sales for the last time.

“I need a seat on the first flight that you have to Miami. 11am tomorrow? Fine.”

It was so bittersweet- a way home, but a dagger at the same time: what in the world was I going to do alone in Madrid for 18 hours?

I guess I needed a hotel. Oh but wait, my credit card was just frozen for ‘irregular activity.’ Really? I always buy $800 flights in Madrid, that’s not irregular… But I need my credit card! I ran out of Euros. Now what? Call the bank. How? No hablo espagnol? “Telephonico?” “Telephonisita?” “el Telephone?” Ok now how do I work this thing… hello? Well this was a fail.

Again, thank God for technology and for Skype. I used my minutes to call the bank, and some overly happy woman, who sounded like the was from Tennessee, wished me a “great trip!” The irony, it burns. But at least she also unlocked my card. Next step, purchase converted for my now nearly dead computer.

Meanwhile, while all this is going on, I’ve made airport friends! Two other college students from Boston, who are also stranded in Madrid, and just so happen to be the cousins of a kid that I went to high school with! Perfect- I can listen to the English language again! Even better, I can listen to my native English langauge, aka the Boston accent. At this point, we were all in this together. So I probably spent a few extra hours at the airport just getting them settled (they’re stuck until a Monday morning flight to Boston- poor kids). And they helped me out watching my stuff when I had to race all around the airport. It was kind of sad when we finally parted ways.

Anyways, so when I had called my sister in the States hysterically crying earlier, I made her book me a hotel, since my card had been frozen then. When I left the airport, then, I got in a taxi and told it to take me to the Hilton Madrid.

Let me tell you, the Hilton Madrid is THE nicest hotel that I have ever ever ever been to in my history of hotels. It is the hotel of the future! When I walked into my room, peaceful music played from surround sound, and the tv screen read “Welcome Samantha!” The bathroom was more a glass box corner of the room- everything was glass. The walls were stone and mod white wood accented with deep inward shelves. A giant mod red chair accented the corner. The bed was huge, soft. After sleeping in a bed with 4 other people for the past week, this was beyond welcome.

I went in, called some people to tell them I was ok, showered in the shower of angels, stretched, organized my life, set 4 different alarms, and fell into the best sleep ever- at least until the alarms started going off at 5am. A breakfast of angels was delivered on a car built for angels, and I feasted on fresh strawberries, wheat toast with butter and honey, corn flakes with skim milk, and green tea with lemon- my first real, satisfying, my choice meal since I left the US a week before. It’s hard to have a bad day when it starts like that.

So now, I’m just about ready to head back to the airport and give this whole flying home thing a shot again. Really, I can NOT wait to get back. I’m tired and want real food and miss my own bed and being able to take nice long showers. Plus, this is my last week of classes for the entire semester. I kind of need to get home if I don’t want to fail…

I’m just glad that all this worked out. There was nothing worse than the feeling that I felt when it first hit me that I had no way home yesterday. It was such an expensive, stupid mistake… but still a mistake nonetheless. I guess we learn from experience. And I guess that’s life.

But now, its off to the Madrid airport for the last time.

GOD BLESS AMERICA!

Last Day in Spain

Wow, I can’t believe that this trip is already almost over! This week went by so fast. Everything has been so crazy, and I’ve been so busy trying to take advantage of my time here, so it’s been hard to keep up with posts, but I’ll try my best to get everything in.

Everyone woke up around 10:30 today to go have breakfast with Rudy’s host mom on the other side of Granada, but I decided to stay in, so that I could shower, eat, and organize my life. As unexciting as that sounds, it was definitely a great decision on my part- I needed the time to myself, especially after living in a hotel room with four other people for four days.

Around noon, I walked to the circle to take a taxi to meet up with everyone. It’s funny how I’ve only been here a few days, and I already feel comfortable walking around the whole city. Granada is very small and fairly easy to navigate. It’s also much safer than Paris, so other than the fact that I don’t speak any Spanish at all, I don’t mind being alone.

I met my friends at Aljibe, an Arab bath in the center of Granada. We had appointments at 12:30pm for massages and baths. The whole thing was incredible! The actual architecture and design was sooo culturally accurate; I felt like I was in the ancient Middle East.  Through a giant iron door, there was a giant dark, quiet room that was separated into various chambers with seven different baths at varying temperatures, lots of candles, and even pots of delicious Moroccan mint green tea. It was one of the most relaxing experiences ever! I would love to bring something like it back to the United States someday.

I lost track of time there, but eventually, a woman came and got me and brought me to a side chamber and gave me a massage. I had never had one before, but I think that now I’m addicted.  The whole sum experience was unreal. It was such a nice way to spend our last day in the city.

After that was over, we walked back to the hotel and stopped at the supermarket along the way to buy some food. I bought vegetables and fresh bread and cheese to make a sandwich- so satisfying! I have such a hard time eating here, because none of my friends eat healthy like I do, so we’re always at gross places. The whole week I’ve been craving fresh vegetables and fruit, and I get so happy when I can find them.

Once we got back to the hotel, everyone fell asleep pretty quickly. We were so tired from being out last night and waking up early. Thank God Siesta is part of the culture! We slept until almost 6pm, and then woke up and wasted another few hours just relaxing and hanging out, until we decided to walk into town to find dinner.

It was raining, so we didn’t want to walk too far. There was a small Italian place along the way that Sean wanted to eat at, so we stopped there. I didn’t really eat, but I had some bread and cheese and my very last European glass of wine. It’s been so nice being able to order wine with dinner here; it’s going to be so weird going back to America and not being able to do that for another six months. O well, it was fun while it lasted.

Now we’re back at the hotel again and my friends are getting ready to go out. It’s already midnight here. I know that I’m only in Europe once, but I have a flight at 10am tomorrow morning, and I would rather get some sleep and be organized. I like my healthy, normal lifestyle.

This time tomorrow, I will be home in Boston again- it seems so strange to think that! This trip really has flown by. It had its up and downs, but overall, its been absolutely amazing. It really reminded me how much I love culture, art, history, and languages- topics that I really haven’t been able to cover in college. I’m so glad that I did this with my best friends! And I am so lucky!

I can’t wait to see where we go next! For now though, its time to get everything ready for a crazy day of traveling tomorrow.

Adios!

Paris Day Two: Friends, Food, and French

My second day in Paris began at 9 am. Meghan was up early to go pick Sean and Kim up from the airport, as they were arriving today. That gave me a glorious 4 hours to myself to workout, eat a good breakfast, shower, and work on my journalism article- a much needed relaxation break after a crazy past couple of days.

When they did finally return, though, it was exciting. The second that I heard Sean’s voice from down the hall, I sprinted down to meet them. It was so exciting all being together again- in Europe!

We took about an hour for everyone to get settled and then it was off to the supermarket to buy food and wine for the rest of the day, and we waked, even though it was chilly. I love being able to wear warm coats and scarves again! Before we went to the store, though, we had to stop at McDonalds to get Sean a latte… typical Americans. Sean is soooo embarrassing here! He REFUSES to even attempt French, which I think is rude in itsef. I absolutely hate when people speak Spanish to me in Miami- to me, its just as offensive to speak English to people in their own country when French is their native language. Anyways, after McDonalds, we stopped at Subway, because I was absolutely craving vegetables. All I had eaten since I had arrived here was bread and cheese and wine- I need REAL food, and Meghan assured me that I would not be able to order any decent salad at a real restaurant. So I also had to be a typical American and stop at a chain store. But it was totally worth it.

After that, we finally went to the store. We bought a lot of French wine and more bread and cheese (of course). I bought blueberies, even though Meghan yelled at me, because “fruit is too expensive.” Honestly, I’d rather pay extra money to have good, healthy food than eat carbs and dairy all day…

We took the tram back from the store and took some time to eat some of the food that we just bought. My sub was AMAZING- I don’t think that I’ve ever enjoyed a pure veggie sandwich as much in my life. Before we knew it though, Meghan was forcing us out the door to begin our first day of excursions in Paris.

Our first stop was Montmartre- a beautiful neighborhood at the top of a steep, STEEP hill, with amazing views of the city. At the foot of the famed Sacre Coeur, we looked out across the illuminated city, pointing out monuments that we recognized like Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. My favorite part was the little French puppet show being perfored in the clearing, recounting the story of Creation. Hoards of small French children, wrapped in scarves and wool coats, surrounded the makeshift stage, sucking on chocolate and candy canes. It was something that I woud expect to find in a classic Christmas storybook.

We then went into the Cathedral itself, which was amazing. I absolutely love churches, and I have been to several very special ones in my life. But this one- wow. It really made me appreciate how blessed that I am to be on this trip in the first place. Sean lit a candle for someone, and I lit a candle for my dad there- I think that he would have liked that.

Soon, we left the Cathedral and returned to the streets of Paris. Meghan brought us to the Moulin Rouge to take pictures outside. We also stopped at Starbucks (American, I know), and I (finally) used my French for the first time to order un tea verte. I was long overdue for tea at that point, so it was worth it.

Then, we walked along the streets in the cold, taking it all in. There were markets and stores and artists lining the streets. Finally, we stopped at a restaurant to have dinner. Meghan did most of the talking- I’m still nervous to use French here- and we ended up enjoying a really good meal. Meghan and I insisted on ordering les escargots (snails) for an appetizer, and we tried to make Kim and Sean try them too. Kim did. Sean refused, because he is no fun. I actually really enjoy escargots, though. I’ve had them before in Canada, and I don’t think that they are bad at all.

After dinner, we proceded to walk back to the metro. It was COLD! But we made it back easily, and decided to relax and have a bottle of special French holiday wine. Since we have to be up at 9am tomorrow in order to follow Meghan’s busy itinerary, we decided to stay in tonight and go to sleep. Four of us to two twin beds with two pillows… should be interesting. Everyone is asleep now, but I’m typing. I feel like there is so much to say and that I’ve left so much out! This is only the second day of the trip and already, it’s amazing. I can’t wait for tomorrow!

Au revoir de Paris <3

My First Day in Paris

Its 1:38 am in Paris. Not even 24 hours ago, I was waiting at the Miami International Airport for my flight. Now, I’m ready to crash in my little Parisian cot in Meghan’s dorm room, after having spent 12 hours traveling in two countries and walking around Paris. Busy day!

There are so many things that I want to mention, but I know that I’ll forget stuff. So many things are the same here- but so many things are different too!

When I first got off the plane in Paris, Meghan was waiting for me in the doorway (thank God, as I don’t know what I would have done otherwise). From there, everything happened so fast. Meghan got us tickets for the train, and next thing I knew, we were traveling to her university in the city.

My first impression: Wow, Paris is dirty! The train was filthy and covered with graffiti- quite like any American public train, but I guess that I was expecting more. The train stations smell vile, and its customary for men to urinate anywhere in the station (so unsanitary! This still is shocking to me). And the sidewalks were filled with graffiti, as well- though this was almost exclusively in the suburbs. But I guess that goes to show that Paris is a city like any other.

When we got back to the dorm, I really only wanted to sleep. Meghan granted me two hours to do so, which I took advantage of. Then, I was forced to get up. Meg went to the store to buy bread and cheese; I showered and ate some cheerios and made tea- my first meal since 1:30pm the day before. When she returned, she had two different loaves- a wheat and a classic- and three different types of cheese, but I forget their names. For the record, I looooovvvve cheese for some reason, so this was especially exciting for me. I feasted.

Once we were fed, we put on our warm clothes (its only in the 40s here- very different from Miami) and headed back to the metro, which we took into the city. Instead of taking it all the way to our destination, the Louvre, we got out at Notre Dame and decided to walk. It was beautiful! With my peacoat and scarf, I was comfortable in the weather. The sky was clear, and we walked along the Seine, Meghan pointing out historical buildings along the way. I also stopped at the ATM and got my very first Euros!

Soon, we arrived at the Louvre- something that I’ve learned about constantly throughout my years of studying French, but have never actually been too. It was unreal standing in the courtyard, staring at the glass pyramid with my best friend. We joked about how 10 years ago, we met taking swimming lessons together in Holbrook- now we were standing together half a world away, about to enter one of the world’s most famous museums! Wow.

On Friday nights, the Louvre is free for anyone under the age of 26. Score. So we got to go in for free, AND it was not crowded at all! We stood, literally, right next to the Mona Lisa. And the Venus de Milo. And a Sphinx. And the foundation of the original palace. And tons of other amazing pieces of art. This is stuff that I had previously only seen in books, but let me tell you, seeing it in person is something else! Its mind-boggling to me that a man was able to create the pieces on display in that museum; I have so much respect for humanity. Why don’t we do this stuff anymore? It really is sad how much our society has forgotten about art! If only everyone could go to the Louvre…

We didn’t stay that long, because Meghan needed to go back to watch Oprah’s Favorite Things, which was airing in America. But its ok, because we are going back again once Kim and Sean get here tomorrow. I was tired anyways. Still, it was nice getting  a taste of what was to come!

So we returned to the dorms, watched Oprah on Meg’s computer, ate more bread and cheese, and had a bottle of rose wine. Now it’s almost 2 am and time for me to (finally) get a good nights sleep. Kim and Sean get here tomorrow- I can’t wait! And I still can’t believe that this is real!

On that note, Bon nuit de Paris!

Flying across the Atlantic and My Forty Minutes in London

I don’t really know what I was expecting, but that flight that I just took from Miami to London was quite possibly the most miserable thing that I’ve ever done. Seven and a half hours of being absolutely exhausted, but not being able to get even a minute of sleep. Seven and a half agonizing hours being conscious and awake and cramped for every single minute. Its like 2 1/2 flights from Boston to Miami, but all at once!

At least the British were nice. I like their accents (surprise, surprise), and they gave us all pillows and blankets and meals in boxes. And circling around over England was beautiful! From the sky, everything in the country is just green, green, and more green! Then we landed, and I began my quest to navigate the London Airport.

The British have the stupidest security system ever at their airport. They made us take out all of our liquids and carry them up stairs and down a long hall rather than just having us remove stuff there. Somehow, I managed to make it across the entire airport, go through securty again, and find my way the the farthest gate in my forty minute lay-over. Now, I’m sitting on the plane, waiting to leave. Still very confused as to why they haven’t asked me to turn off my computer yet… Considering I think I just paid a ridiculous amount of money for 10 minutes of WiFi, I’m not turning it off until they ask.

Airport safety is starting now- it’s in French. Ahhh I wish I remembered how to speak it better! I did definitely just hear something about turning things off, though. Guess it’s time to go. I cannot wait to sleep all day in Meghan’s bed.

The Start of My Europe Adventures

Sitting in the airport, sipping Revolution tropical green tea, waiting for my British Airways flight to London- my first international flight ever! I’m beyond excited!

Its been a stressful past few weeks at school (right up until the end), so its hard to believe that I’m finally here. This time tomorrow, I will be at the ‘ice bar’ in Paris with my best friend, Meghan, who I haven’t seen since August!

I’m so excited to have this opportunity. Though I know my professors aren’t happy about me missing class, I know that, in the end, this will be worth it. How many people have the chance to go to Europe with their four best friends?!

Its going to be weird not having a phone to connect me to the world. I’m hoping I find a way to cope… At the very least, I’m going to try to blog every night, so that people back home can keep track of what I’m doing. On that note, hope you enjoy my trip as much as I will! I’ll post again in London (well hopefully!).

au revoir!!!

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