Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Southern Yankee's European Vacation - Part 1

You might remember a few weeks back that I wrote this post about finding my old journal. I'd purchased the journal in London when I was traveling with two of my college roommates during our last year of college. I didn't fill it up during our trip so I used it to write bits and pieces during my first year of marriage. And then I completely forgot about it. I was so excited about finding it and read the whole thing from cover to cover. As I was reading, I was struck by two things: 1) how very different yet very similar the writing style of my former 20-year-old self is to that of my current 31-year-old self and 2) how much common sense I lacked while possessing more wisdom than I gave myself credit for.

As promised, here is the first installment of my adventures from a decade ago:

Thursday, April 29th, 1999

We should've predicted the disorganization that was to come when we left Gainesville to head to the Atlanta airport. None of us were prepared for what we were doing. We were less entertained with the fact that we would be in Europe in 15 hours and more entertained by the fact that the night before, when we were packing, we threw our carpet out the window because it was easier than carrying it down the stairs of our sorority house.

When we get on our British Airways flight, they tell us our packs are too big, so they must "go in the hole". We check them at the door of the plane and the whole ride I worry that they will be lost. I left my return ticket in my bag and V. left her wallet. I am also terrified of losing my passport and I keep checking my pocket over and over to make sure its still there. The flight is long but not unpleasant. The stewardesses (er, called flight attendants in the year 2009) pampered us from the moment we got on board. We are given socks, headphones, a menu, a sleeping mask and a blanket as soon as we sit down. Then we are given a glass of orange juice. Then a snack with a complimentary cocktail from the bar, then a really delicious meal. Our stewardess is extra friendly and wears bright pink lipstick. We eat chicken, onion and leek souffle, pasta salad and cheese cake.

After we eat, I sleep uncomfortably with the British Airways blanket and mask. We arrive in London at 6:00 a.m. with dry skin and static-y hair. We see our bags on the truck heading to the terminal and we are instantly relieved, although the panic returns while we wait for them on the carousel for what seems like a really long time. When we are finally reunited with our bags, we are immediately overwhelmed. We have no plans. No agenda. No hotel. No idea where we are or what we are doing.

S. has family friends in Terneuzen, Netherlands and they said we could stay with them for a few days. We need to get to Brussels where Anita will come to pick us up. We are completely lost and disoriented. We are on neither London time nor Florida time. All we know is that it is some time of the day.

There are not as many directories as we hoped there would be. We find a British Airways counter and the price for a flight to Brussels is 120 pounds, much more than we wanted to pay. From there, carrying our heavy packs and bumping into people constantly, we find an information booth and book a Eurostar train to Brussels that leaves in two hours, but we are at the wrong station, so we must get to Waterloo Station via the Metro. I exchange a substantial amount of dollars and get very few pounds in return. We are directed to platform #4 and hop on the first train that arrives. It doesn't take long for me to realize that we are on the wrong train. We stepped on the train that arrived at 8:38 instead of the train that arrived at 8:42. The later train would have brought us to Chatham Junction where we would've connected with a train to Waterloo. Now we are pressed for time and I begin to get nervous. I think there is no way we will ever survive this trip.

I am panicked inside but try to remain calm and sensible on the outside. My backpack is extremely heavy and uncomfortable. I'm not used to its bulk so I keep hitting people with it at every turn I make. We ask the ticket collector for help and she points us in the right direction. It is scary being on a train and not knowing where it is going. The air is thick and gray and the sky has a yellowish tint. The ride is ugly and disappointing with the exception of a few cathedral tops poking over the graffitied brick buildings. WE are in the south of London and hope that the north is better.

We get on the right metro to Waterloo and at the station I must pay 20 pence to use the restroom, which is surprisingly clean. I buy a croissant and water and have no idea how much I spent in U.S. dollars. Once again, we find ourselves struggling to find the right platform. We ask for help (again) and although the conductor shows us the right way to go, we find ourselves on the wrong train again.

I still am bewildered by the time changes, by the fact that I am halfway across the world. I can't comprehend the time change. It is neither day nor night for me.


Monica said...

I love it! I can't wait to read more. It's like a novel. And I am still hoping that you'll get chapter 2 or 3 this fall when you come to visit me??

BigLittleWolf said...

Delightful post. Gainesville, hmmm? Hotbed of cultural activity. No wonder they're commenting on your redhead... Enjoying exploring your blog.