A Travellerspoint blog

Day 3: Lessons Learned?

(otherwise known as “the day that shall not be named” or “hopefully this is the low point of my trip” or “i wouldn't say i'm an expert traveler”)

sunny 80 °F

I awoke Wednesday morning after only a few hours sleep, and opened a message in which I’d been offered a luxury flat in Paris for two nights, for the grand total of $79! I had put myself on a “standby” list for Paris accommodations, and anyone who is on that list can be contacted by anyone looking to fill their rooms, making them a “special offer.” Though this centrally located, gorgeous flat was normally listed for $180 a night, the owner was offering me the place for the special rate of $40 a night! Although it seemed too good to be true, I figured it was a last-minute move on her part to fill the room on two weekday off-nights. Shuffing off the plans where my first impulse had directed me – which was to stay with a normal-seeming American couple in Ghent, Belgium, I accepted the woman's offer, packed up my things, hopped in a taxi to the St. Pancras/King’s Cross train station, and purchased an expensive (179 pounds!) train ticket to Paris. I order a nutella crêpe and cappuccino, and start writing at a table in the station.


[We now interrupt this blog post to refer you, gentle reader, to the GIANT ASTERISK of a pause in the flow of writing in yesterday’s entry.]

At this very moment, I received an email from the woman in Paris, stating something to the effect that she “never agreed to rent me the place for $40 a night” (which she obviously DID…) and that she’d be happy to have me stay two nights for 300 Euro. Oh, how kind of you, Madam Bait-and-Switch. After a flurry of emails to her and to the not-open-for-another-three-hours airbnb headquarters in San Francisco, I realize I’ve been had. Perhaps not intentionally – I do believe this woman made an honest mistake, and didn’t know that when a “special offer” is made at a certain price, and a tenant accepts the offer, that should lock in the deal – but ultimately I was the one inconvenienced. Airbnb writes me to say that the woman is going to cancel the reservation, and I wasn’t about to travel to Paris without secure lodging in place. Unfortunately, the airbnb “support team” wasn't very helpful; after numerous requests for assistance they barely responded and weren’t very sympathetic to my situation, apart from implying it was a mistake so I should just suck it up. [Note: Since this time, they've contacted me and been a bit more apologetic, but still...] I canceled the train ticket to Paris; luckily since the ticket had been so expensive, it was fully refundable (phew), save for a 3 pound fee. I contacted the woman in Ghent in an attempt to salvage some travel plans, but of course by that point it was too late to book. After a morning spent booking travel plans, I wasted an entire afternoon at a train station, not going anywhere. And of course, my computer battery was dying. I hung my head, gathered my stuff, and headed back on the tube to Waterloo. The parallels to a defeated Napoleon were only too obvious. Also, I figured I could now squeeze in the eight miles I needed to reach my June goal! Sadly… THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN. Streak broken. :(

Back at Des’s, and resolving to DO SOMETHING and get the heck out of Dodge, I immediately got online and researched getting to Amsterdam. I figured that unless I made an effort NOW to travel toward the direction of Germany, if I traveled straight south to Paris and Toulouse, I probably wouldn’t make it that far west. I happened upon a terrific idea: I could take an overnight ferry to Amsterdam from Harwich, about a 2.5 hour train ride from London. Impulsively, but decisively (were these the winds I had been waiting for?), I booked the ferry and train tickets and got out the door, tubing it to Liverpool Station (hey, home of the Beatles! not really) and making the 21:30 train. I enjoyed the architecture of the Liverpool train station – like Waterloo, the station is indoors but appears to have originally been outdoors – look at this photo with the sign "HOTEL" adorning a building with is clearly inside, right next to the electronic schedule board!

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On the train, I sat next to a pleasant teenage girl who had just been to Wimbledon – said she paid 70 pounds for her ticket months ago, and had been offered 1,000 for it that day! All was going according to plan... however I departed at Manningtree for a transfer to Harwich, and when I walked to the track of the transfer train, found out that that train was… wait for it… broken. I wait for the replacement bus, sitting on picnic tables in the chilly, middle-of-nowhere station with a handful of locals and travelers. After some time, the bus picks us up, and the driver goes about 90mph trying to get us to the ferry. (I think someone even flipped him off on the road.) We passed through quaint English villages with ancient church graveyards, towns with British-sounding names like named Mistley, Ipswich, and Colchester.

Finally we arrive at the ferry dock, where I and another traveler get off the bus and head to the ferry. OK now – anyone want to take a stab at where this story is heading? At the gate, we’re told that although the ferry is still in the dock – we can see it just a ways ahead – the loading plank is up and no more passengers are being allowed on board. (The voice in my head asks “Even for desperate American travelers who already have one severely blundered travel story today?”) The guard tells us there’s another ferry leaving at 9am the following morning, and that there’s a b & b not far up the road, which sullenly I slink off to with a nice fellow named Bram. Bram is Dutch, friendly, and his even-toned demeanor has a nice calming effect on my pent-up frustration. He reminds me of Larry, the chess-playing manager for Franklin’s, a brewery I used to work at in Hyattsville, MD. Bram, however, has a PhD in Protein Crystalization – an area which I don’t even know enough about to know how little I know about it – but his work has something to do with the 3D imaging of protein molecules in order to build better pharmaceuticals, and he sells machines to enable this. We knock and the b & b owner comes down – he had “just retired” (which is what the English say when they mean they had just gone to bed, smirk), and he agrees to let us in at the rate of 60 pounds (and no less) for a room with two twin beds. We walk in and the smell of “old English house” hits me. Thankfully I had hit the cash machine before leaving Waterloo, and had exactly 30 pounds on me, and Bram scratched enough together to please the owner. I sleep in the surprisingly comfortable bed along with the sounds of the English countryside in my head – deep silence, an infrequent car engine, finally penetrated by yammering gulls in the early morning hours. We have a well-put together breakfast which for me features traditional baked beans, toast, and Weetabix, (“you don’t want any meat?!”) and have a chat with Don, the roly-poly, ruddy faced proprietor, who is in keener spirits at this hour – as am I after a good night's sleep, admittedly. Don purchased this guest house seven years ago and his wife died suddenly shortly after they moved in, and it’s moving to hear him tell this story, providing a nice human counterpoint to the annoyance I had about having to pay 30 pounds for the price of a bed a few hours previous. Hey, business is business, right?


We make it to the 9am ferry by 7:30 and I have a pleasant chat with an Irish/Australian fellow in front of me in line named Paul, who is carrying his bike in a bag! Formerly he was on the Australian biking team, but crashed at 70mph in Tasmania, losing the ability to move his right arm significantly. He knows Boston via his knowledge of the Dropkick Murphys. (Doesn't everyone?) Presently I’m writing at a table across from Bram, and I can look out at the pleasantly passing waters of the English seas. I have a place booked in Amsterdam tonight, though sadly I won’t arrive until around 6pm – had the correct train been operating last night, I would’ve been there by 10am and had the day to spend. But… I’ll make the best of it and see what I can see tomorrow. Perhaps the Van Gogh museum? There are worse things. Also, I booked a cheap room for two nights (ooh) in Berlin for Friday and Saturday. I have left England and given yesterday’s battles I see this as a major victory. Lesson learned for future travel? Planning ahead pays off and helps to avoid situations like what transpired on Day 3. Anyway, onward and upward. A fine Belgian ale can’t make it to my lips quick enough!

Posted by coolmcjazz 01:32 Archived in England Tagged photography

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Wow, what an adventure! I know it was probably frustrating, but that's solo European travel for you :)

Loved the Van Gogh Museum. Loved everything about Amsterdam, acutally. I'm jealous of the folks at Boom Chicago, an American improv troop working over there. And forget running! Rent a bike and explore the Dam city! ((cracks self up)) Also eat pannenkoken, or however you spell it, the BIG dutch pancakes that they'll put just about any thing on--I had a malaysian coconut curry chicken one.

I hope you'll keep this up, 'cause I'm still travelling vicariously :)

Toni Rae

by Toni Rae

Look at all your trials and tribulations . . . I am happy for you because it's all vacation, eh?

by Tony

Tony: there are events that I would not have experienced had things not happened which "at the time" felt incredibly frustrating. Such is the way one works when one follows the wind.

Toni Rae: Tryin' my best but LIFE keeps getting in the way. Vienna post up shortly. :)

by coolmcjazz

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