Life Memories: Traveling Terrors

On Dec 13th at 9:45pm I got on a plane to London.  As of 15 minutes before boarding (a 30 minute delayed boarding) the seat next to me was still showing as empty.  My first trip across the Atlantic ocean and to a city I’ve studied and read about all my life… Eight hours couldn’t go by fast enough.

Get on the plane and just before take-off they wheel a wheelchair down the row.  My heart sinks a little, that seat beside me is the only empty seat I can see.  Sure enough, two flight attendants help a young-ish (30?) woman into the seat next to me.  We soon begin to taxi, the woman next to me is restless and wiggly.  I pull out my headphones and watch the hilarious safety video.  An occupied seat will not ruin this trip for me.  I took my sleeping pill (it would be 11:30am London-time when we landed, so sleep was important) and tried to get some rest.  As soon as the stewardesses began moving, the woman beside me complained – she needed two seats.  I couldn’t understand her english very well (the stewardess practically had her ear at the woman’s mouth to hear her) but I gathered she had been in the states to have medical services (surgery maybe) and was now flying home. In pain. Yikes.  There were no other seats on the plane (maybe in first class, but… they didn’t want to bump her up there I guess).

This was one of the worst flights I’ve been on.  Oh, the flight itself wasn’t too bad.  The stewardesses though were somewhat less-than-polite.  About 2 hours in, one woke me up to ask me if I was in seat 36A (really?) and practically threw my low-sodium meal at me. My seat companion wriggled, moaned and jabbed the entire flight.  Ok, she was in pain and I wanted – desperately – to be polite about it.  But how many times is she allowed to jab me with her elbow? And not even apologize (or hell, acknowledge she invaded my space, woke me up, and hurt me).  She insists she can’t walk when we land (lie btw, she went to the bathroom once).  But no, no she can’t walk to the front of the plane to get to the wheelchair, it must come to her.  And because I’m next to the window – I’m trapped on the plane until it’s empty enough to get the damn wheelchair up the aisle for her (she apparently can’t even move over to the now-empty seats across the aisle).

So I get off the plane tired and cranky. Heathrow airport is about as bad as O’Hare for distances.  They apparently don’t believe in putting things anywhere near each other, so you walk what feels like miles with nothing to look at except super-sterile walls (at least O’Hare has art).

Because I was the last off the plane, customs is already a disaster when I get there.  I wait. And wait. Get through and it took so long, my luggage has been pulled off the roundabout and set aside.  I finally find it and follow the signs to the train station.

I get my train ticket from a woman at a window and go down to the platform.  I get on the train and there is a seat! one over from the luggage area.  A woman is sitting right there by the luggage space. No luggage.  Just sitting in the end-seat because well…. she likes it there?  And seriously, you’re coming from the airport with no luggage, why would you sit there?  Because I have the all-direction wheels on my luggage, I can’t just prop my bag and sit down.  I have to hold it in place (could totally do so sitting next to it…)  So I end up standing.

It’s about 30 minutes to the station where I’m going to have to change trains, South Kensington.  I get to the new platform (oh and London doesn’t believe in elevators in a lot of stations, so I’m dragging my 27 lb suitcase up and down stairs) and am just trying to figure out when my train will come when the overhead speakers begin talking “Please evacuate the station.  This is not a drill. Please evacuate the station.”  Seriously.

The station was evacuated because of a small fire. They literally closed and locked the gates and told everyone to go about 3 blocks to the next station.  Ok, it’s only 3 blocks, I can do that. Luggage and all, I cart the three blocks (I swear it felt like 10!) to the station. I get there and…. my card won’t work. It won’t let me into the train station. Ok, maybe its because I wasn’t allowed to swipe out at South Kensington (you know, something about evacuating because of fire they didn’t want people spending time swiping). I go to the teller and tell him my card doesn’t work.  Apparently, I don’t have a train card.  Just a bus and tram card. How the hell did I get here?!? It let me on the train in the airport! Oh, and the machines at this station aren’t working to allow credit cards, so he’ll need me to pay in cash.  It’s £5 more than I have in cash. Seriously.

So Sunday afternoon in the middle of London, I have to find a place I can get cash.  Banks are closed (Sunday).  The little cash exchange place doesn’t have an ATM and doesn’t do it.  Mind you – i’m lugging my luggage. About a block away I find a post office with an ATM.  I put my card in.  It says no.  I try again.  No.

I have to call my card company (thank god I have T-mobile and can do this) to say yes, that note I put on the account saying I’m in London – yeah this totally means I’m using my card in London starting on that date I told you I would be!!  Try my card again and still no.  I go to the teller and pay the ~$5 fee to get some cash.  Go back to the station and give the man £5 and get my train card.

Get to Paddington station. My hotel is less than a block away and I get to it exhausted, hot, and more-than-ready to stop hauling my luggage (the phrase “quivering muscles” applies). They don’t have my reservation. I pull up my email (Thank God for T-mobile) and give them the exact reservation number. Oh, your credit card was declined so that “reserved” on the email is just a lie. I very seriously considered letting myself just burst into exhausted, frustrated tears at this point. I think the guy could tell. Fortunately, they have a room. It actually is cheaper than what I booked for.

I finally get to my room and get to stop carrying everything everywhere.  It’s 4:45pm London time.  I landed at 11:45.  All I wanted to do was sleep.  But I knew if I went to sleep this early, I’d regret it.  So I force myself out of the room and go across the street to the little “Fish bar”.  It’s bland, dried out and they don’t have any condiments (seriously, they apparently were out of ketchup. At this point I’m pretty sure it’s because I decided to eat there).  I sit there and eat it anyway, too tired to fight it and still wanting to cry (again, pretty sure this guy could tell because I think he charged me for a cheaper meal than I ordered).

I think I was in bed by 8pm.  Basically, it was the worst combination of travel-disasters-all-in-one-day:

  • Airline: horrible
  • Trains: meh at best
  • Transfer points: FIRE!
  • Hotel: Off the reservation
  • Food: Deprived
  • People: Mixed bag

Fortunately, the rest of my London trip was much, much better.  Like, amazingly better.  But that’s a different post.