Sunday, July 11, 2010

My Worst Day So Far

I got back to London last night after a journey of 10 hours from Pisa, Italy. It was one of the worst days of my travels.

The night before, we were to meet up with Laura, an architect student in Florence whom we got to know through our blogs. However, because international flights are through the Pisa airport, we decided to spend the night in Pisa rather than Florence, especially since Yi's flight to Delft was at 9 am. My flight to London was 3 pm. We both felt torn about not being able to meet up with Laura (who had work until 8:30 pm) who's been so helpful, sending us emails on what to see and where to go in Florence. Although the train ride from Florence to Pisa is only 1 hour, I wasn't sure that meeting up at 9pm would give us enough time to catch the last train to Pisa. As it was, we made the right decision because when we got back to the hostel at 5 pm from Montevarchi where the famous Prada outlet is (a must-go! The bags are all latest styles and 70% off! A pair of Prada shoes is about 190 euros, much cheaper than when on sale in Hong Kong or other Asian countries.  Tod's famous moccasins at The Mall outlet are only 150 euros. In HK, when on sale, they are at least twice that price), there was a big sign at the door : "Train strike tonight from 9 pm".

We packed and left Florence pronto. The next day, Yi left at 7 am. I carried most of our stuff in a big bag and a smaller one since Yi still has stuff to bring from Delft. We stayed in a hostel on the "walking street" where no cars ran so I had to drag the bags 10-15 minutes to the train and bus station. I was told that a bus runs every 20 minutes to the airport less than 10 minutes away.

The train station was chaotic with people lined up at self-service machines because no one was working. A guy in the line informed me that the buses were on strike too!  I couldn't believe that, that never happens in  my country! He and his gf decided to still try the trains because not all the trains were cancelled.I dragged my heavy bags out and looked for a bus and sure enough there were no buses. I joined the taxi line but it was 20 persons long and I needed to get to the airport early to do my tax refund. And if I missed my flight, it would be very costly to get a ticket, or maybe there won't be tickets since other travellers were stuck too. 

The guy and his gf came and asked if they could share my taxi because the trains were not running. We waited and waited and no taxis came since they were so busy. The guy wasn't worried because he was going to the airport to rent a car. I left him with my bags and started asking single people (because they would have less luggage) if they were going to the airport. The first two I asked said no, they were not. The third person I asked, an Irish girl, said of course I can join her and her friend, going to the airport to get on a private coach to Florence. And God was on our side because the girl was second in line and two taxis appeared!! Our fare was only 2.50 euros each :))

Ryanair was delayed by 1 1/4 hours and I got through the long immigration line at 6:30 pm, London time. I'd forgotten where to get off from the bus and went to Victoria Station in the middle of London. There were all these stairs to go up and down (a kind lady helped me with one of my bags) and while in the Pisa airport I had trusted a lady to look after my bags (with my passport, $ and handbag inside, because Ryanair only allows 1 hand luggage), here in the subway station I couldn't leave my bags to go to the toilet. I needed badly to go; it's an inconvenient time for me to travel and I hadn't been to the toilet since the plane ride. I had to open my luggage bag on the floor of a busy Victoria Station and get out a sweater to tie around my waist (a black sweater is very handy). Just in case. At that point, I was full of self-pity. To have to travel like that at my age! I missed my Hub and his strong shoulders! I thought of my friends and separated them into who'll be able to travel like me and who won't. V can tough it. PL, NO way. Y, she won't even get into such situations. K, no way. WK and CL, maybe. R, I'm not sure.

I needed to change trains at Green Park or some station before Bond St, can't remember the name. It was peak hour and me with two bags just couldn't squeeze into the trains because the bags were so heavy and the trains full of people standing. I widened my eyes to stop the tears from falling.  I hadn't eaten or drank since 11:30 am. At one point I wanted to get a small bottle of water when I got off the bus but it was £1.40 and I thought I could make it back to my friend's quickly. It turned out that I should've gotten off the bus at Finchley and then take the underground train which is only 3 stops to my friend's.(Yi, remember, take the National Express bus in front of WHSmith at Stansted Airport, tell the guy you want to stop at Finchley bus stop. From there, get to the Finchley Underground station and take the Jubilee line north to Willesden Green).

When I finally got off the train at Willesden Green, I faced a steep flight of stairs, steeper and longer than any stairs so far. I just stared; the obstacles seemed to get bigger and I was overwhelmed. A guy came and asked if I needed help and he carried the large bag up. I really could've kissed his feet for that. As I came out of the station, I looked for  a pay phone to get a taxi. I didn't have coins. A lady came and asked if I was alright. I burst into tears at that show of concern and told her I needed a taxi but she didn't have the number. She then called my friend NS and I just cried when I heard his voice. I was totally totally exhausted. It was 9 pm.

Comfortable and cleaned up at NS', I drank water and coke like a camel. NS warmed up some fried kuey teow; I ate three helpings. I slept straightaway and very well. The bed and room were extra cosy; it felt like home. I felt safe.

Those people who helped me carry my bags and the lady who helped me call my friend (and even offered me coins just in case my friend doesn't turn up) do not know how much they helped. I have learnt that a bit of kindness can save a person who's at breaking point. I want to pass the kindness on too.

Btw, London looks really great from the bus! I passed north London and there is so much greenerry, unlike the cities I've been to the last week. And it's clean and bustling. Oxford St was full of shoppers and sales! Shopping in Florence was disappointing. I couldn't get any nice Italian shoes; many cheaper ones were made in China and the ones I wanted, I couldn't find although I did see them in Milan in May. I've already bought a nice pair of shoes this morning. Things seem cheaper here too. ||And it's nice and warm. London is great!

p.s. I'm now convinced that the best airlines to fly with are Asian airlines. They never go on strike (unlike British Airways) and the service is always good.

I did not get the water. Or the Prada shoes. Or the Tod's shoes. I'm just informing readers of the difference in prices of branded goods in Europe and Asia.


Anonymous said...

I'm so happy you have arrived in London. Take a good rest and enjoy your stay there. W

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy you have finally arrived in London. Take a good rest and enjoy your stay there. W

zurin said...

I dont know if you'll believe me but I was thinking of you last night and was wondering if you were ok because you hadnt posted for sometime. Iwas actually thinking perhaps soemthing had happened. Im glad you re ok Terri. that must have been quite an experience. But you pulled thru. so bravo! time to enjoy urself again :))

tina said...

Oh dear Terri, sorry you had to go thru all that. It's too late to say it now, but of all the things, my office is next to Green Park station, I could have helped you, if only I knew. But, thank goodness you are here safe and sound, although tired. Have a good rest and hope to speak to you soon. Take care

Anonymous said...

At last you have put up a post. Had been coming to your blog daily to see what's up.

Yeah, take a good rest....


Chocolate, Cookies & Candies said...

oh no! You should've called me! I'm just a skip and a hop from London. **hugs** I remember travel nightmares like yours and it wasn't for the kindness of strangers, I would've just burst into tears.

clouds said...

oh dear aunty terri, that must've been an adventure. i dont think i would have made that through. i'd probably be crying at some corner of the train station. haha. glad to know you're safe and enjoy the rest of your days in london!

Lily Anette said...

What an experience! As long as you live to tell/blog, then everything is alright now.

I stayed around willesden green station too during my years in London! I remember there was a Yaohan (Japanese) store around there, next to Asda superstore, if u are craving for Asian snacks ;)

I hope you enjoy London as it is infact a lovely place :)

Anonymous said...

it is quite amazing that we wont pay 1.40pounds for water even when we are so thirsty yet willing to pay more than 100euros for a handbag or shoes which we dont need urgently but buying them cos it is relatively "cheap" n branded!!!

Johnathan Oh said...

Hi Terri, take heart for the Lord is with you. Even in times of despair, He may seemed thousand of miles away but in reality was closer than your breath. Enjoy your holiday and yes, pass of the chain of kindness for you never know who you may have actually helped. God bless.

daomingsi said...

Hai Terri, So glad that you are ok.

Anonymous said...

Thanks goodness you're safe! You are lucky you didn't get mugged or worse! You should travel in a tour group next time ... leave the backpacking to youngsters imho!

Bunnies said...

What an adventure Terri... It is not all that bad la... this is how traveller travels and each obsticle teaches us a little bit of life and that's the essence of travelling.. experiencing life itself.

Laura said...

Hello Terry!!
I'm glad to hear that you're fine now!! I'm so sorry for not having the time to meet you and Yi, but at least it was the right decision for you!! I would have liked to help you more! I would have liked to give you one pack of Prato's famous biscuits (Cantuccini) as a present!!
I'm sorry you had some problems in travelling, but I think you can be proud of yourself!! Not lot women would choose that kind of travel!
Hope you had a nice time in Florence. We have some problems in Italy, and you just find one: public transports! But I hope you found nice people!!
Take care, and hope to meet you one day!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Terri
Am sincerely glad you arrived London safely. Been following your blog and you are one heck of a brave lady...travelling. Good to know there are still some good samaritans in London. Put your feet up and enjoy London weather. Hope you bring some rain to London.

Heather said...

Oooooh!!!! i loveeee london!!!!

its my mostest favorite.

and yes, shopping in London is, I feel, much better than the rest of Europe.


b said...

hey T, glad you're fine now and look forward to seeing you back!

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