320. A Holiday From Our Holiday

After getting stuck in Paris for 2 weeks sorting out insurance dramas, our plans had  changed from camping and cruising around the country side to staying in a horrible hotel in the middle of a busy, expensive and touristy city. Between navigating public transport, lining up for everything and what felt like endless hours of hold music while we tried to sort ourselves out, we were exhausted! Not to mention all the city hopping that had been going on before Paris.

So we decided that we needed a holiday from our holiday, and went in search of somewhere to relax on the beach, tick the “learn to surf” bucket list item off and just chill out for a while. Because it was short notice, we needed cheap flights (which had to be from London, as we had to take the van back, another amazing race-esque nightmare), an easy way to get to Belgium afterward, where we had tickets for a music festival, cheap accomodation, sand and surf. The answer to our prayers came in the form of the small Island of Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands. Whilst technically part of Spain, it is actually a lot closer to the North of Africa.

Fuerteventura, it seems, used to be quite the booming holiday destination, especially popular among the Brits, being Teneriffe’s younger, more relaxed brother. Post GFC, however, the massive boom in tourism has suffered quite the shock and not only is there a tonne of accommodation that seems unfillable, there are heaps of new developments which have been completely abandoned mid-construction. The result for us was staying in a resort for the price of a hostel for some of the time we were there! Ultimately what sold us was a place by the name of “Azul Fit” which appeared from the website to by a surfing/yoga retreat, though when we arrived it was more of an uber relaxing yoga/spa type place with surfing as an add on. What a shame!

Fuerteventura is also often named the “Hawaii of Europe” and has a booming surf culture when the season kicks in (just as summer has ended), so there are a tonne of surf schools available.

Before we could get there, however, we had the problem of returning our campervan which we technically weren’t allowed to drive. Initially the rental company had offered to come pick it up from us, seeing as we had paid for 40 days and only been able to use it for two. However when we called to organise the pickup, it seemed they had decided to put an imaginary time limit on the offer and instead wanted to charge us £1300. Given we weren’t allowed to drive, it seemed our only option (we called around a number of transporters, all quoting similar prices, some even more). Unfortunately our insurance company refused to cover that, which was really frustrating as I’m not sure what else they expected us to do. Neither of us had that much spare cash lying around, nor were we keen on incurring such a cost if we weren’t able to get it back. Thankfully, just as we were tossing up the pros and cons of leaving it on the side of the road, or taking the risk and driving it anyway, we heard back from Spaceships rentals who had finally contacted their insurers after much insistence from us, and found that they would cover us to drive it. One the one hand we were very frustrated it had taken so much time and mucking us round for them to think to contact their own insurers for advice on our situation, but on the other hand we were so excited to get the go ahead to move on with our holiday that we were pretty much in the car straight away and on the road!

As with our earlier Amazing Race-esque experiences with getting between the UK and Europe, we once again had a bit of a nightmare on our hands. After getting from Paris to Calais, just as we were about to get on to the ferry we had a flat tire. As the two of us hopelessly tried to follow the instructions in our little book to change it (I tell you, that thing was no IKEA manual) we could see all the little ferry terminal men standing around laughing at us and being all French. Finally a police car came past and the friendly Gendarmes looked at us (both of us wearing dresses, which really added to the damsel in distress factor), stifled laughter and took over. Who am I to say no if someone wants to do some manual labour for me?

I managed to get the jack under the car, got a little stuck on the bit where you actually need force...

I managed to get the jack under the car, got a little stuck on the bit where you actually need force…

 

IMG_3467Having missed the earlier ferry, the ever so unhelpful rental company once again left us high and dry and said that it would be too late to meet us when we arrived, which was a serious spanner in the works as we had super early flights to Barcelona the very next day. With a sinking feeling we realised we may not be able to make our flights. Could we leave the van parked outside, hide the keys and get to the airport? Do we know anyone we could leave it with? I had an idea that perhaps there might be a car storage company that did pickups and deliveries, and we could pay for one night of storage in order for it to be dropped off the next day during business hours. At our first opportunity, we pulled in to a rest stop where I preceded to call around as many possible companies. Thankfully there was a McDonald’s there so I could do some swift internet searching. There were really only a few options, most of which were giving some outrageous quotes. Finally we got hold of one guy, who although he had just sat down for dinner seemed happy to help us out. He even offered to drop us at the airport after we had delivered the car to his yard! Ideal. By that stage we’d decided to just suck it up and pay the £100+ to get the car delivered.

As we drove to his yard, it turned out to be really in the middle of nowhere. Driving along unlit country roads, we were definitely getting quite nervous about where exactly we were going. I recounted all the horror movies I could (Taken and Wolf Creek especially) and reminded myself that the psycho killer always approaches the victims, not the other way round. I also reminded myself at any point if things seemed weird we could jump ship and take the financial hit!

As it turns out, we were rescued by the official most lovely person on the face of the earth! The company, Jordan’s Car Storage, is a Storage company for mostly very expensive cars, that offers pick up/delivery services and is on hand in emergencies. It was in the middle of nowhere so as to be a safe and secure location for all the classic cars and Porsche’s in the garage. Our Knight in Shining Armour, also known as Marc, the owner, had assumed we were representatives of one of his clients wanting one of their cars moved in the middle of the night, so when two very tired looking girls in a bright orange campervan with a space saver tire and a broken window turned up, he seemed quite surprised! After we recounted our tale of woe and all the troubles we’d had after the break in, he told us about how a few years earlier he was in Cairns, Australia, almost out of money when a woman had put herself out of pocket to get him a job in the mines, lent him money for his medical certification and uniform/steel capped boots and basically rescued him from having to crawl home broke to the UK. Instead he had a great time and worked his way up the ranks fairly quickly. It seemed he felt that this was his moment to pay it forward, and when he dropped us at the airport he refused to take any money from us, not even petrol money.

It was absolutely one of those moments that restores your faith in humanity, particularly as we had until then still been fuming about the rotters who stole from us in the first place, the rental company who was completely useless and seemed to endlessly be attempting to take advantage of us, our own travel insurers who at the time appeared to be worming their way through every loophole to not help us, not to mention the terribly difficult and unhelpful hotel staff at our Parisian accomodation for the time we had been trying to sort ourselves out. There were a number of other people we encountered who, let’s just say we hope we never do again (particularly police in Lille), but those who I really remember in great detail were Marc, the hotel receptionist in Lille who sat down and translated what had happened into French so we could go to the Police station and get a report, and finally the last Policeman who helped us in Lille, after all the others had made stupid excuses to turf us off to someone else because they didn’t want to speak English, and of course the Police in Calais who changed our tire. It is definitely the nice acts that I remember, and thanks to Marc, or perhaps the woman who helped him in Cairns (and maybe someone even helped her out some time when she was stuck in a foreign country), I will definitely make sure I pay it forward as soon as I get an opportunity!

And with that we were on our way to Barcelona for a few days stopover before arriving at what did indeed prove to be the most relaxing, lovely and enjoyable place imaginable, and I still dream of going back there whenever life gets stressful…

281. Stumble Across Feminist Mecca

We got severely lost trying to find our rental car company and wound up dragging our suitcases around an industrial area in the outskirts of London when BAM there it was, the Dagenham Ford factory, AKA where the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968 went down, which ultimately led to the Equal Pay Act 1970.*IMG_3079 (640x480)
Stumbling across that factory definitely made me feel like we were visiting a historical monument or tourist attraction, rather than wandering around in what felt like circles with a really heavy backpack, but also reminded me we were really in the middle of nowhere and should just ask someone for directions…

*OK so a little research revealed that it all actually went down at another factory, but its much more magical to assume the film was historically accurate! A great movie too.

8. Master the London Underground

I tried to catch snippets out the window as the train whizzed through somewhere-between-Gatwick-and-London. The train was faster than any I had been on before and it was nighttime so I couldn’t see much. Just blurrs of light smudging past. At one stage I thought I could see lanterns hanging across a street, but I couldn’t be sure. I thought I would be far more excited, having made it to the other side of the world, but aside from novel bakery stalls in the Gatwick Airport train station it didn’t seem like anything I hadn’t seen before. One of the stations even looked like the Auchenflower Station in Brisbane, a big carpark behind it, exactly like the Auchenflower Hospital. Perhaps it was because I was too focussed on making sure I got off at all the right stations, diligently following the instructions printed off from the London Transport Journey Planner site.
My ticket cost me more than my flight to Denmark, but I made sure I was getting the cheapest option and the fastest route, AKA I was that annoying person asking the ticket man a million and one questions. Poor guy.

Drinks in Notting Hill and Soho

Things got a lot more interesting when I moved from the ‘overground’ to the underground. My station (Edgeware Rd) looked like something straight out of Harry Potter and I got far too much entertainment out of whizzing past stations with names from Monopoly. Maturity stepped down a notch as my friend told me about a stop called ‘Cockfosters’ on his line that makes him laugh every time.

The backpackers I checked in to gets an A+ for efficiency, with triple layer bunks in the room, but after the concierge (read:bartender) proudly let me know reception (read: the bar) would be open 24/7 and Karaoke would be going all night I made the executive decision to not even bother sleeping. I could here awful renditions of rap songs (who ‘sings’ a rap song at a karaoke bar?) loud and clear in the room. Plus I had to be on the road at 3am and allow time to either wear most of the items in my suitcase or cram them in to my pockets.

After drinks in Notting Hill (it was JUST like the movie) and a wee spot of clubbing in Soho with a friend from Brisbane and 2 friends from Uni who are now studying at Cambridge I then took my London public transport skills to the next level as I mastered the double decker

Goblet of Cider!

buses. So good, was I, that on both the buses I needed to take before getting to the Stansted airport I managed to have just the right amount of foreign naivety for the drivers to waive me on without paying! (Giant notes also help).

My final experience in London was what can only be described as the most invasive security procedures imaginable. I had to take my shoes off and put them through the scanner, my bag had to be opened up and examined because there was so much in there. In fact, I received some very skeptical looks for having a 2 phones, a laptop, ipod and harddrive. I also had to have all my liquids re-scanned because one lip balm tube fell out of the not so well sealed bag. I think I got off pretty lucky though, as the girl before me set off the detector and had every inch of skin on her body rubbed (not patted) down by Airport Security (luckily a woman). They took particular interest in the poor girl’s underwire bra – I could have sworn I was witnessing a mammogram! I would take the full body scanner over that any day.

And with that I was away on my Ryanair flight direct to Aarhus. There may not have been a movie to watch, but there sure was a lot of in-flight entertainment – an astonishing amount of advertising going on! Every seat has an ad on the back, as do each of the overhead lockers, and every 20minutes or so the air hostesses would enthusiastically read out a sales script. So bizarre.

DiscoDisco! Dancing in Soho. Ever so European of us

6. 25 Hours in one seat

It wasn’t until the day of my flight that I actually worked out the amount of time I would be on the plane (that time zone changing business is deceptive, you know). 11 hours first leg, 14 second. Definitely the longest flight I have ever been on!

Before that I had a pretty long wait in Christchurch Airport (4 hours, plus the flight was delayed a further hour). I managed to get 90 minutes (instead of the usual 30) of free Wifi by logging in with three different devices: iPod, phone and laptop and three different email address. Proud of myself for that stroke of genius! I also started a movement by stealing couch cushions and sitting in the kids play area so I could plug in my phone and computer. Next thing it was packed with adults and their technical devices.

All kudos for airport ingenuity was out the door at the check in desk though. In in epic display of idiocy, the man behind the counter pointed out I had mispelled my own name when booking the flight. I knew I was going to do something stupid when booking everything, but that’s a special brand of idiocy right there.

For a brief few minutes I almost didn’t think I was going to be allowed on the plane (based on when the man behind the counter said “we can’t really allow you on the plane”). Luckily only one of the 3 G’s in Geoghegan was missing and my doe eyes worked a charm on the guy behind the counter. I was ready to whip out some tears but a little white lie: “Yeah, someone else booked it for me” was sufficent. Thank God. I didn’t want to check my Ryanair boarding pass because I had a hunch that the folk at Stansted wouldn’t be nearly as nice as Christchurch…

After that minor stressful moment, I was ready to go! Not as ready as this girl, though…

Pre-departure neck pillow

I had pre-booked my Air Asia comfort pack, an absolute winner. Note to anyone else thinking of flying air asia, bring your own earplugs too. I also pre-booked a meal on each flight. I was astonished that on the NZ-KL leg the meal cost $25 and from KL-London it was only $10. The only reasoning I could drum up was that they pass on the savings from buying ingredients in Malaysia to the passengers. I was pretty worried that I would get hungry on the flight – 2 meals in 25 hours isn’t much. And I get grumpy and forgetful if I don’t eat enough! So all afternoon I was carbo-loading like I was about to run a marathon. Anything with calories, send it my way! Turns out they did two rounds of food per leg, so my backup box of meusli bars wasn’t essential (but definitely handy). Judging by other passengers (and the smells wafting through the plane) the ‘Malaysian Meal’ was a winning choice, with the ‘European’ meal looking rather sad. I figured I ought to stick with what they know best.

First AirAsia Meal

Plus my love of all variations of asian food helps. I definitely would have eaten those meals again, which is lucky because I they were going to be my next two meals. Another bonus of the comfort pack was all the plastic wrapping it comes in. Next tip – don’t rip it all apart, the air hostesses don’t come round to get your meal rubbish and the pockets in front of you are tiny so they make for good resealable rubbish bags.

Second Airasia Meal

A lot of people seemed to screw their noses up at me when I said I was flying air asia, but it really was no different to most other flights apart from the lack of complementary anything. But who needs a few free drinks when the price difference is $400? If you really have problems going without you could buy one of the mini bottles at duty free… The seats went pretty far back too (compared with Jetstar) which was great until I was getting up to go to the bathroom and as I was squeezing past the girl on the end the guy in front put his seat back rather violently, resulting in my sitting awkwardly on her lap. On returning the guy in front wasn’t there so I kindly put his seat up for him.. We were about to land, after-all. Next tip: if you are a frequent toilet goer, book an aisle seat.

The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful, armed with a fistful of not so legally acquired prescription drugs I planned to knock myself out for the rest of the flight. I woke up very refreshed, just in time for my next meal (unnamed Malaysian rice concoction).

The second leg was much the same, only 3 hours longer. The sleeping pills didn’t do too much the first time, so I took two the second and slept on and off for most of the flight. One thing that was interesting was the difference between the meals on the first leg vs the second, particularly as they were meant to be the same. They were noticeably more stingy, but also a whole lot more spicy! I also learned from Captain Lim, a columnist in the in-flight magazine that being seated by the wings is the best place if you don’t like turbulence (plane’s centre of gravity) and down the back if you don’t like screaming babies (loudest engine noises).

Second round, decidedly more ‘average,’ to be polite

As per usual there were quite a few screaming babies on the plane. Every single time I fly I am astounded by how many parents don’t realise that when their ears are popping as the plane lands, their babies ears are popping too so of course the child is going to cry. On one of the flightsI actually gave a child a lollipop to shut it up – worked a treat! I laughed at Dad when he gave me corporate branded lollipops from work as a joke farewell but they were actually quite useful.