My first UK budget airline horror story

London went too smoothly, I was about due for a bitch of a travel day.

London to Glasgow was it.

I should have know it would all be downhill when I arrived at Gatwick Airport and was fined for not having a special Gatwick Airport train ticket.

I honestly thought I could just slap it on my Oyster Card.

But no, it turns out Gatwick Airport is not in London, even though it’s called a London airport – go figure.

Check-in goes smoothly enough, but when I go to check what gate I’m boarding from the sign reads – ‘flight delayed until 22.00.’ It was meant to fly at 6.

Seriously, surely EasyJet could have told me that when I checked in five minutes ago.

Turns out they hadn’t told anyone, so it’s left to the poor sods at the EasyJet information desk to break the bad news – they don’t have a plane for us.

The girl beside me is hysterical, she’s impressively crying and screaming all at the same time.

I just accept my fate and six pound meal voucher (which I soon discover buys you jack shit at Gatwick) and head for the airport pub.

But five hours is a very long time to be stuck at the airport alone with your thoughts, especially when you throw a couple of ciders in the mix.

So I very stupidly pick a fight with Casio watch boy and all I’m going to say is that I’m glad I’m in Scotland, because I’m pretty sure he now thinks I’m weirder than he already thought I was.

22.00 finally rolls around, but to add insult to injury, EasyJet manage to butcher every other aspect of our flight.

They tell us the wrong gate to board from, resulting in us all being bussed to the other side of the terminal.

Our plane then sits on the Tarmac for an hour.

We finally land shortly before midnight and all gather, as you do, at the Gatwick luggage carousel, when in fact our luggage is going round and round the Heathrow carousel.

As a result, I miss the midnight bus into Glasgow and spend the next hour alone with my thoughts -again.

I finally get into Glasgow at 1.30am, half drunk with cider, the other half with fatigue and are met by my bleary-eyed friend who takes one look at me and says – “I don’t even know what to say to you right now.”

But it’s amazing what a good night sleep can do and the next day I wake up human again and in a much better mood, especially after purchasing my Bruce clan tartan and emersing myself in the gritty awesomeness that is Glasgow.

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Return to society

I can honestly say that in the past five months I have not spent this much time by myself since I was in the womb.

That, and the fact I was generally exhausted was why I cut France short and headed for the comfort of London.

And, I know this is going to sound stupid, but the first thing that struck me about London was that everything was in English.

It’s the first time on my travels that I’ve been able to ask for directions without having to play charades and the first time I’ve been able to converse with the people around me.

Although, I wish I could have pulled the ‘don’t speak English’ card when I got stuck next to three generations of quintessential Essex women on the train from Luton Airport (which is by the way in the middle of nowhere).

The youngest was a big-boned girl, wearing a highly unflattering fluoro pink bodycon dress, complete with streaky fake-tanned legs, orange makeup you’d need a chisel to crack off and a travel makeup bag rivalling the size of my backpack.

Accidentally hungover from my failure to balance my food-to-alcohol ratio during my last night in Paris, I snapped when she said she’d like to backpack – “I don’t think you’d be able to handle it.”

I then took slight offence when her grandma made a point of giving me a mini religious lecture complete with a ‘where are you going in life’ booklet. I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know you could be religious and dress like that.

Strangely, two days later I received the same booklet from a lady at the bus stop.

Apart from that I don’t have much to show for my 11 days in London. I was incredibly lazy thanks to the mint digs I found myself in.

The first place was home to the world’s most comfortable couch, the second place I had my own room and the third place I had my own room – complete with views over a tennis court, swimming pool and the river.

I did manage to catch up with a lot of old friends though, as well as new friends from my travels and Casio watch boy from Naples.

I made a pavlova.

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I did a bit of life admin and bought myself some new threads. Although, I cut the shopping trip short, after one sales assistant replied to her co-worker, when he was politely trying to guess my UK jeans size – “hell no I’m a 29-31.”

I went to a hat party without a hat – hence the gimp hat.

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Not sure what the guy on the left is doing… All in all it was a good night, though I did get sprung having a full on conversation with myself in the bathroom (bad habit from travelling by myself).

I ticked off my fair share of touristy London sights.

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I went to Harrods and found myself transfixed watching this poodle get shampooed, seriously some people have more money than sense.

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I watched football at the pub over a couple of pints and found my cousin’s description of Wayne Rooney to be disturbingly accurate – “he’s like a potato with eyes.”

But the thing I enjoyed the most about London was visiting Parliament.

I nearly didn’t get in though, after they detected a large amount of metal on me.

Turned out it was just my ridiculous collection of one, two and five penny coins, but it didn’t save me from the full pat down before I was escorted to the welcoming public galleries to watch the debates.

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It was like Parliamentary porn for me.

And, I couldn’t believe my luck when my image of a true Tory woman was confirmed after a member of the House of Lords rose to speak in her pompously pious British accent, wearing a Jackie O type pastel pink skirt suit, complete with pearl earrings and necklace.

I loved Parliament so much I went home and investigated working for a British MP.

But I’m not quite sure I’m ready to be a fully functioning member of society just yet…

Five days in the so-called ‘City of Love’

I can’t say I loved Paris.

I liked it but not loved it.

Perhaps it’s because as a backpacker Parisians sure have a way of making you feel inadequate about yourself.

The females – with their perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect shoes, perfect clothes, just general perfectness.

And the males – with their tortured artist looking appearance – long hair, emasculated, dishevelled men who give off the impression they’re not trying to look cool, although they’ve probably spent hours in front of the mirror.

On arrival in Paris I spent a lot of time people watching, as I hopelessly tried to locate my hostel in what I can only describe as the Ponsonby of Paris (if you’re not a kiwi that means flash wanky part of town).

It took me a good hour to find it, making me very late to meet up with a friend on a whistle-stop tour, in typical kiwi fashion centred around a rugby game.

He’s the opposite sort of traveller to me. He’s mister organisation, he’s even spreadsheeted everything he wants to see in Paris to make sure he gets the most out of every second.

But what he ended up getting was a pretty rough time of it.

Firstly, he got yelled at by a French tour guide over her loud speaker for apparently skipping the queue to get into Notre Dame cathedral – which as a side note houses amazing stained glass windows like this one.

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Secondly, he got told to “not be so particular” by this woman when he was justifying why he skipped the queue, by remarking that it wasn’t clear where the line ended.

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And thirdly, while queuing for a good hour to climb the cathedral this group of woman proceeded to stare at him for long periods of time and we’re still not entirely sure why.

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His day looked up though once we finally got to the top of the cathedral and saw the panoramic views of Paris.

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As for the panoramic views from the top of the Eiffel Tower, I can’t tell you about them because my shitty Nokia phone played up, leaving me sitting at the bottom of the tower waiting for my friends when they were already up there – with Cheryl Cole I might add.

I waited two hours and was about to give up when by pure luck I spotted them emerging from the tower.

They were only here for a day trip but before they left we had time to catch a pleasant if not ridiculously cheesy river cruise.

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Seriously who designed these things? They look like airport metal detectors and the commentary that came from them like – “maybe you too could dance until dawn like the Parisians” was laugh out loud material.

Back to the Eiffel Tower – I’m not to gutted I missed climbing it because I actually think the most spectacular part of it is seeing it at night.

Although, it did take us awhile to actually work out where it was when we emerged from metro.

And, it was slightly embarrassing to have a brash American woman yell at the top of her lungs on spotting our confusion – “you’re looking for the Eiffel Tower, oh my God, (laughing) it’s
right there.”

And it was.

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It was truly breathtaking and it was the perfect end to my date (wine, fromage, nutella crape, light show at the Eiffel Tower) in the Lover’s City – even if my date happened to be an Australian female from my dorm.

Dirty old Paris

One of the first things that confronted me in Paris was a hairy vagina.

And in many ways it set the tone for the rest of the visit.

The vagina in question was a painting called ‘The Origin of the World’ at Museum d’Orsay – a wonderful museum based in an old train station.

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I’ve got to say I was quite blown away by the vagina’s presence in the museum – I just wasn’t expecting to see something like that there.

But I wasn’t the only one and being a massive fan of people watching I did get some perverse pleasure out of standing in a quiet corner and watching people’s reactions to it when they walked in.

Classic.

My girls’ night out with my new Australian friends from my hostel soon ventured south too.

It began innocently enough over a bottle of wine and a plate of fromage.

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But it quickly went downhill when we went in search of a cocktail and got presented with this menu.

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Carrying on the theme, it seemed only appropriate that I order the Le Vag, while the two other girls ordered the Le Clit and Le Douce respectively.

But the icing on the cake came in the form of two hilarious text messages from one of the girls’ French friends.

Being polite when he text to say he was in hospital visiting a friend, she text back asking what was wrong with him.

Soon after she received this reply.

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Dumbfounded as to what that entirely meant she text back for clarification.

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Oh well, I guess you’ve got to expect the so-called ‘City of Love’ to have some un-intended consequences every once in awhile.

Backpackers’ wall

I’ve hit what can only really be described as backpackers’ wall.

It happened when I tried to wash my clothes in Venice.

To put it in context – I was sleep deprived thanks to the school group at my hostel playing a very late night game of spotlight where all the girls shrieked and screamed, which in turn whipped the dogs into a barking frenzy.

Bleary-eyed I train to Venice and settle into the luxury of my dorm tent before realising I have no clean clothes.

So I load two machines with pretty much the entire contents of my pack and head off to eat yet another plate of pasta.

But I return an hour later to discover I’ve put my clothes in the dryer opposed to the washer – so now everything smells like warm wet dog opposed to just standard wet dog.

In fairness, the dryer did look like a washer and the washer like a dryer.

And, I did actually see the funny side of it, until my search for eight euro coins to redo my washing failed, leaving me to spend my first day in Venice wearing filthy clothes and inside-out undies.

It was a low point.

But any feeling that I was turning into a feral backpacker was put to rest when I came home to discover I was sharing a room with a truly feral kiwi backpacker.

Travelling for five weeks, this girl only showered once every three days because she didn’t have a towel, she only carried a day bag, didn’t mind regularly sleeping at the airport to save on accommodation costs, and had exactly eight euro a day to spend on food.

But despite the lack of personal hygiene she didn’t smell and was a lot of fun to get lost in Venice with.

Our highlights included perving at the Carabinieri and trying to take covert photos of them – somewhat unsuccessfully.

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Stumbling/getting stuck for a good hour by this parade through St Mark’s Square – although I’m still not entirely sure what it was for.

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Getting yelled at by an angry whistle man for standing too close to this statue.

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Finding some nice Venetian lanes.

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And, feeding the pigeons at St Mark’s Square.

Now that was a big moment for me, as I not so secretly hate pigeons.

I think it stems back to that fateful day jogging in Wellington when one flew/got blown by the wind into me and the fact my journalistic career was once reduced to reporting on the backlash to the city council’s plan to cull the flying rats who shat in Midland Park.

Anyway, after having a total freak-out moment I did manage to compose myself just long enough to allow one to land on me.

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And, I was stoked with myself until I stumbled across this uber composed little girl.

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E-letters to Juliet

I’ve really got to stop going to romantic destinations by myself.

It always rams it home when travelling solo just how very very alone you are.

It probably didn’t help my mind-frame that getting to Verona from Sardinia was a 12-hour ordeal – bus, bus, plane, bus, train, bus, walk with the entire contents of my life on my back to find hostel.

I was so relieved and excited when I did find it, but the girl at the front desk soon has me in a feral mood.

No welcome to Verona, no map, no sheets, no room key – she pretty much just confiscates my passport (which they’re not allowed to do) and throws me a slip of paper with my room number on it – D13.

Now there’s a bad omen.

I trudge up the four flights of stairs to my room, which she assures me is open but it’s locked.

I go back down and then pretty much get in a stand-off with her when she won’t give me bed sheets and plays dumb when I ask when their wifi will be fixed (wifi never seems to work in Italy).

Seriously, why do people who obviously hate other people work in hospitality?

Is it their form of a sick joke or do they derive some sort of perverse pleasure from it?

That said, Verona is well worth the hassle and you can see exactly why Shakesphere set Romeo and Juliet here.

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Like many others I make the romantic pilgrimage to Juliet’s house, which can be found through these love graffiti-covered courtyard walls.

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As a side note, if you look closely at the last picture you’ll see the guy standing next to statue of Juliet is rubbing her right breast – apparently it’s good luck.

Seen I’ve come all this way, I pay the 6 euro to go stand on Juliet’s balcony.

And, I think my last post about paying it forward when it comes to people offering to take photos of solo travellers worked, because the lady who took this photo was kind enough to take it from two different angles and I didn’t even have to ask her.

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After that I find a portal to send a letter to Juliet – when I say letter I mean email, clearly Juliet is now technologically savvy.

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I’m still waiting on her reply.