Three and a half months on the Old Continent are coming to a close and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I know I should be thinking about all the things for which I am grateful.
But that would be boring, right?
All this travel is supposed to help me find my zen (or at least something resembling it, dammit!), but after fifteen weeks, sixteen countries and twenty seven different places called 'home', I'm exhausted and in the mood to whine a bit.
So, if you will indulge me while I get this negativity out of my system, I promise to end on a positive note.
First, I will begin with the nonstop rain, which has been my nemesis since the end of September. What began as a mere annoyance has become downright miserable with a couple of stories I will share for your Thanksgiving entertainment.
Bus Stop: Riga, Latvia
Trusty instructions from our Airbnb host clutched in my hand, we stepped off the bus from Lithuania near Riga's Central Market and made our way to the city bus station.
Our apartment was only two miles away and normally we would just walk, but as it was raining, decided to find trolleybus 23 to, you know, make it easy on ourselves. We stood in the busy transport area for quite awhile before we spied a bus with number 23 and quickly hopped on. Paying the fee, we positioned ourselves out of the way and everything seemed fine until it turned a corner that didn't match up with my map.
After several minutes, realizing we were moving farther and farther away from our destination, the bus stopped and the driver turned around, yelling at us in Latvian while pointing at the street. It was the end of the line, and he was telling us to 'hit the road, Jack'.
So there we were, in the middle of nowhere Riga. I was too furious to take another bus back to the center and figure out where things went wrong, so decided to cool my heels and without consulting Perry (sorry, babe), began to walk in the direction of our apartment.
Texting with the owner, I was informed that there is a difference between a bus and a trolleybus. Trolleybuses look like regular buses, but are also attached to overhead cables. Apparently we had taken an ordinary bus. Why the authorities in Riga felt the need to use the same number for two different services that stop in the same place (where most tourists arrive in the country) remains a cruel mystery to me. There is no logic in this place. (Said in Sad Cat Diary voice)
Eventually, cold, wet and exhausted, we made it our apartment, but the buses of Riga weren't done with me yet. The next day, we stood outside our apartment (in the pouring rain, of course), debating if we should walk one mile to the mall or catch the bus. I turned to point to the bus stop about 100 feet away when the 23 trolleybus sped past me and splashed a large puddle directly into my face.
Drenched, I turned to Perry whose shocked face searched mine for a reaction.
I burst into laughter, because considering the day before, it was pretty funny.
GETTING THE BOOT: Paris, France
I'm proud of my nearly complete transformation from fashion-saddled overpacker to dressed-down spare traveler. But while I gave zero shits about how I looked in Asia, there is something about traipsing about the cities of Europe that the remaining hint of my former self demands I TRY to look as pulled together as possible.
Thus, the boots.
Bulky, sweaty and impractical for a full-time traveler that needs to prepared to walk miles at a moments notice, I realize the decision to bring my black Frye boots was irrational and borderline ridiculous. But I did.
While I didn't wear them during the waning days of August and first week of September, temperatures cooled quickly and I pretty much wore them every day until the end of October. Then, the Boot Curse of Paris struck again.
First, the back story.
Paris, New Year's Eve 2013.
Perry and I visited the City of Light to ring in the New Year under the Eiffel Tower. I was convinced it would be memorable and soo romantic. Well, it was memorable.
I had a special outfit and thought I was oh-so-Paris chic. I can't even remember what clothes I wore anymore, but I do know what I had on my feet.
Frye boots. Gray leather. Brand new. Gorgeous.
It could have been the best night ever, for me and my boots, but instead it rained.
I mean POURED. We looked like drowned rats standing under the Eiffel Tower and after the underwhelming light show at midnight, began trudging back to the hotel, about three miles away, because all of the metro stations were closed. I remember it well because my feet were soaking wet and the leather soles of my boots kept slipping on the slick pavement in a bizarre and irritating dance sequence: clip, clop, slide, repeat. ACK!
Back in our room, my feet were a hot mess of blisters and the boots, ruined. Lesson learned, right?
Paris, October 29, 2017
After dropping our bags at left luggage in Gare du Nord, we took the metro to Cité with the plan to walk along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. Despite no mention of it in the forecast, it began to rain. Initially, I was cool about it and we popped into a cafe for some coffee. After an hour, it had let up slightly so decided to give it a go and down the Quai Voltaire we went!
Thirty minutes later, we arrived at Invalides station, which was appropriate considering my feet were soaking wet and had so many blisters, I could hardly walk.
Back at Gare du Nord, we spent hours in the cold standing around waiting for our Eurostar to London. Eight hours after our walk in the rain, I finally removed my footwear and took stock of the damage. Four blisters, two frozen feet and one pair of ruined boots.
I stashed them in the closet of Sue and Roger's house in Yaxley and when we returned to Paris on November 17, they were laid to rest in a dumpster in Versailles, which is a pretty classy funeral, for shoes.
I'd like to think this won't happen again, but....
So, if it hasn't been pouring, it's been freezing. Like a miserable bickering couple, rainy and cold just go together!
We've lacked sufficient heat in many of our European apartments with Vienna, Vilnius, Riga, Belfast and Paris having none at all! They eventually fixed the heat in Paris, but for a while, it all felt very starving artist as I bundled up and wrote by candlelight in our crappy, cold apartment. At least Riga had a space heater which I positioned next to me, huddled over my laptop, blanket pulled tight around my shoulders. I couldn't help but feel I was in a Dickens novel of my own creation.
I'd like to think this won't happen again but...
All travelers have mishaps at some point. Be it injury, theft or transport snafu, these moments can range from minor inconvenience to major disaster. I'm grateful to have never had a true catastrophe, just a debacle or two.
Eurostar: What Happened?
The first time I took the Eurostar, it was 2011 and it was my 40th Birthday. We had started the day with breakfast in Geneva, lunched outside on a glorious sunny day in Paris and ended the evening with fish and chips in London.
Between Paris and London, I was able to enjoy a glass of champagne and scenery in the comfortable, classy environs of Eurostar. Between 2012-2014, I rode on Eurostar several more times and had no reason to think anything had changed.
That was then, this is now.
Eurostar 2017 is something else. After waiting in an angry mob-style queue for hours, our train departed over one hour late causing us to miss our onward journey to Peterborough, forcing us to buy new tickets at triple the cost. The coach itself was woefully rundown and dirty, but one thing has remained the same, the outrageous fortune they charge to take this service.
I'd like to think this won't happen again but....
Belfast: Know Your Airport
We flew from London Luton to Belfast International in Northern Ireland a few weeks ago and our time there was a fine experience, highlighted by a day trip to Dublin. On the day of our flight to Paris, we were up early and walked a mile (in the rain OF COURSE) to the bus station at 6 am to catch the airport shuttle which takes about 40 minutes. Inside the airport, we decided to exchange our Pounds into Euros, when the cashier noticed my boarding pass and with a full on Irish accent, said the following:
'Darlin, ye be at the wrong airport, it's City Airport ye be wantin'. Ah, and at this hour gettin' there ain't goin' to be pretty.'
If I hadn't been so freaked out, I would have queried her further to be sure the accent wasn't fake.
Fast forward, and a long, expensive cab ride back into town and George Best City Airport, we did make our flight, but not without a ton of angst. Even though I'm aware lots of cities have two airports, I really didn't think Belfast was one of them.
I'd like to think this won't happen again but.....
THANKFUL FOR FRIENDS
So, there is our European autumn in a nutshell- cold, wet, tiring. But I promised to end on a positive note, so here it is.
I'm grateful for my friends & family all over the world, especially the ones who helped make these last few less-than-ideal travel months worth it. In Sweden, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, France, UK and the US (including the wedding of two very lovely people), we had wonderful moments with friends old and new, including several of the feline variety.
Last but not least, we've hit up forty two cat cafes in the last fifteen weeks. Check out theneighborscat.com if you want to hear more about our crazy cat adventures.
Happy Thanksgiving America and thanks for reading!