Travel isn’t perfect. Despite how many instagram photos you see showing off a perfect day; travel is messy. Messy and wonderful but there aren’t always good days just like in life. Life and its unpredictability doesn’t stop just because you start traveling. Honestly it’s even more unpredictable as you hop from location to location, apartment to hostel, train to bus to plane. And with that comes mishaps. We were lucky enough not to face anything serious while on the road but we definitely faced our share of mishaps in travel after eleven months on the road.
Travel is rarely perfect and neither should our storytelling. We should tell the good along with the bad right? Well here are our top mishaps in travel! As my Dad says, it’s all about the story so enjoy our pain 😉
Disgusting Accommodation in London
Oh London, how we love you but it’s always something with you. Something always goes awry for us and yet we still keep coming back because there is something magical about this city. The same however, could not be said for the Airbnb we booked for two nights in Wapping aka the middle of nowhere London. Too be fair, it wasn’t that it was far out that was the problem. We expected that as we were trying to be frugal (which in London is almost impossible). No the issue was the room. Suffice to say it was a DISASTER.
It may not look that bad, but I am not sharing the close up!
The place was very interesting the moment we stepped in the door. Our host was not home so we were let in by a long term renter. He knew nothing, had no keys, no information for us. He just opened the door. So we found our room and that’s where the problems began. The bed was a mess, nothing had been cleaned up. The sheets were stained and not stained as in someone had just slept in them but STAINED. So we called our host, multiple times over the next thirty minutes plus texts through Airbnb and his number. We received no response.
At this point I make the mistake of heading upstairs to the bathroom. It was worse than a college boy’s bathroom after a huge party. Terrible. And we have stayed in some pretty bad places so the fact that this place was SUCH a disaster is saying something.
Dreaming of being anywhere but here!
Normally, I would just wait for our host to get back to us and then solve the problem maybe with a clean up and promise to have things better in the morning but we still had not received a response after forty five minutes and it was almost eleven pm. By this time Alex and I were tired, grumpy and starving. Not a good combination. So we called Airbnb and were greeted by a savior, Chris from San Francisco.
Oh Chris, he made everything better. We sent over photos of the room. He confirmed neglect on the host’s part plus the fact that he could not get a hold of him and said that they would give a full refund plus a credit to use either that night or at our convenience. He also confirmed that there had been a few issues with the host before and that they would look into them. Chris was our hero.
Seriously, the room sucked but the customer service at Airbnb didn’t waver my faith in the company. Sometimes you get a bad egg and unfortunately it was us that landed with it. But they fixed it, helped us find a new room and because of the credit we were able to stay in Barcelona longer than we thought. But I will never forget what that bedroom looked like; still gives me the shivers to think about!
Disappearing Bus in Brussels
Buses are probably my least favorite mode of transportation probably because I get so motion sick but they are an unavoidable reality of travels especially when you are traveling on a budget (despite how much we went out to eat or maybe because of it…).
When we were visiting our friend, Rory, in Holland we decided to pop down to Brussels for two days just to enjoy some beer and frites. So we took the bus from Amsterdam and in just a few hours we were there, easy peasy. We had a great time there and then we were ready to head back to Amsterdam. We checked out of our Airbnb (a fabulous place by the way!) and headed to the train station to pick up our bus. We were about half an hour early and so we mingled with about ten to fifteen other people waiting for the bus. And then the time came for our bus to arrive…. And then it went by.
Another thirty minutes goes by and this is when seven of us start to really worry. We contact the company who is of no help. Then a bus pulls up like a beacon of bright green neon light! We all get pretty excited and run up to the bus when its stops and then our hopes are dashed. This was not our bus, but the driver is kind enough to contact his company to try to locate our bus.
Eventually they are able to contact the driver after about twenty minutes and he claims that he picked everyone up at the exact spot we were standing in. If it had just been Alex, Rory and I we may have believed that claim but there were seven of us who were waiting in the exact same spot waiting for that specific bus… There was no way we could have missed it.
At this point the driver of the bus on the phone for us states that he has to leave which while understandable was frustrating. This is when we all start to go into Plan B. Two people simply decided to stay another night and catch the bus the next morning. There were two Argentinians there however, who had to get back to Amsterdam that night however as they had an early morning flight.
So we started brainstorming ideas. Of course by this time all the other buses and trains had departed and there were no more options until the next morning. Then Rory’s dad suggested we rent a car. It was really our last option besides stay the night but we felt that we should help the two Argentinians out by that point. So we all piled into a taxi and headed to the airport.
After talking to all desk agents we realized our only option was to rent the car for a few days and drop it back off in Belgium. Luckily we were heading to Antwerp at the end of the week and so we agreed to a multi day rental so we could get back home.
All five us piled into our new rental car (Brand new car by the way; we were the first people to drive it) and headed back to Amsterdam. It all worked out despite the bus and the Argentinians were able to catch their flight however this leads us into our next story….
Driving Stick in Antwerp
So we have this rental car right? And we need to drive it back to Antwerp. Did we mention it was a stick and Alex and I combined have just under two hours of lessons?
Well we left Rory’s house in Haarlem with a false sense of bravado which was quickly dispelled the second I tried to reverse the car and stalled immediately. Do you know how hard it is to navigate a car through the streets of Holland without the additional handicap of not knowing how to drive stick? Cars, bikes, people! They are everywhere!
Eventually I get out of Rory’s parking lot and we head to the highway. I am doing alright but for some reason I can’t get it into sixth and the car keeps beeping at me to up my gear (I know now that I never really needed the 6th gear). AND THEN there is traffic in front of us it is completely stopped!
Just the sight of this car makes me anxious!
I know that I can’t handle traffic with a stick so I take the other fork to God knows where just so I don’t have to sit in traffic. And then the panic attack begins to set in.
(Oh ya guys, this is a good one. It’s a DISASTER in every definition of the word)
So I pull off the highway. I am barely able to park the car in a lot before the hyperventilation really sets in and the tears stream down my face. At this point I am just ready to call it quits and live forever in whatever town we were in, Schengen and the rental car agency be damned. We were never getting that thing to Antwerp.
But then Alex takes over. He says he will drive and that we just have to get the car to Antwerp. There is nothing else we can do but go on. So we do.
Alex takes over the wheel and we start to figure out how to get back towards Belgium. At which point my phone’s data dies and we are left mapless. We figure it out though and we are doing great. Alex is handling the enormous amount of stop and go traffic and everything else like a champ. He gets the car into sixth and we cruise right into downtown Antwerp.
And then shit hits the fan.
Alex loses the rhythm. All of the sudden we are in downtown Antwerp at rush hour filled to the brim with commuters, bicyclists, pedestrians, buses and trams and we are a bucking bronco. And then the honking starts, because that’s how you solve things people…
We get my directions back up and running and just keep telling ourselves that we will be there soon. We can see the train station where we need to drop off the car. The end is in sight.
Except it most definitely is not. Our directions take us down a one way street and then tell us to park the car and walk the rest of the way to the train station. Not helpful google. So we try a different tactic. We drive all the way around the train station, navigating the one way streets, the flood of bicycles, and crossing too many tram tracks probably illegally to arrive around the back of the station only to find no parking. We have absolutely no idea what to do or where to go. At this point I am all for abandoning the car. The tears shed and the screaming at each other, trams and pedestrians have worn us out.
The rental car company’s office is closed but I decide to check anyways. So I leave Alex in the car in the taxi parking only with no keys. Oh ya and his shirt is ripped in half out of frustration by this point. THANK GOD no police officer came to bother him while I was inside. That would have been hell to try and explain!
So I pop into the train station (one of the most beautiful ones in Europe by the way, even though I was in no mood to appreciate it) and see that the rental agency is closed. Still determined I head towards ticketing and I wait my turn. When I get up to the gate I say hello and mention that I am actually just looking to find where I can return a rental car.
The look I received was one of pure loathing and the response was as banal and rude as the look. “How would I know? This is ticket sales”. So nice, lady. So frustrated and ready to punch anything given the chance, I stalk away and try to rethink my options.
No help at the train station. No help from the rental agency. Just no help.
Then I spot the hotel at the train station and a bright spot appears on the horizon. I walk in and am greeted warmly by the concierge. I explain my problem and she very kindly informs me that the parking garage is below the train station and can be accessed by a ramp just outside the hotel. I could have kissed her.
The only problem was that we had to circle around the ENTIRE TRAIN STATION AGAIN to get to the entrance of the garage.
We eventually made it into the garage after two hours of driving around the city in a panic. By this point we are also getting annoyed texts from our Airbnb hosts because we are so late but I am out of data to message them back.
Once we are in the garage we are hit with another roadblock. There are three entrances to three separate garages and we have no idea which one is the right one. We finally choose one when I see the world’s most minuscule sign saying the rental car agency’s name on the OTHER entrance. We start to reverse when a car comes behind us and starts to honk for us to get a move on.
This was the final straw. Alex starts screaming. I start screaming at him. The middle finger is flying. The car pulls up next to us in a rage. The passenger window rolls down. She starts to scream at us and that’s when the floodgates open and tears just come coursing down both our faces. This is not really a proud moment for either of us.
When the driver sees that we are both bawling both he and his passenger stop yelling and kindly ask if they can help us. By this point we are so over it and know our destination that we tell them no and apologize for screaming at them. They take it in stride and say it’s fine and then drive off.
We are left alone to finally complete this journey. We get through the right gate. We park the car. We get our stuff. I notice that we are parked in the car pick up spot but by this time we can’t take it anymore. We walk away.
We catch a taxi to our Airbnb and are just so over it that we run to the closest bar and grab beers, sitting outside and just decompress. I honestly don’t know if a situation has ever been that stressful and emotionally draining as this one. And I don’t want to find out.
The Train to Nowhere
When traveling in Greece it is all bus travel. Trains don’t really function in this country. However, when we heard that there was in fact a train that went from Sofia, Bulgaria to Thessaloniki, Greece we decided to gamble with it. By this point I was sick, really sick but we had to move on and the thought of hopping on ANOTHER bus was just too much. I didn’t care how long it took, we were taking that train.
So we got to the station in Sofia only to be told we had to pay in cash of which we had none. So after a dash to an ATM down the road thanks to our Airbnb host (who was absolutely awesome!) we came back with enough cash for the train and just enough time to board it. As we hopped on I realized that we were about to attempt a six hour train journey with absolutely no food or water and we hadn’t eaten anything that day.
As we got cruising though, we settled in. I was drugged up and the train was speeding towards our destination. It seemed that it actually wouldn’t take as long as we thought especially since Sofia and Thessaloniki are only three and half hours away from each other.
We crossed the Greek border with no issues and we continued along our journey until all of a sudden we weren’t. The train stopped at a deserted station. No one got on, no one got off. We just sat there. Then the lights went out.
They were out for about fifteen minutes and then they flickered back on intermittently and continued to go on and off during the rest of the trip. Not really the situation you want when you are sitting on a train. We then start moving but heading the wrong direction, back towards the Greek border. We were only about twenty minutes down the road.
Then the train stops again. This time for half an hour and then we start heading northwest, the exact opposite direction we needed to be going. This continues on and off for the next hour or so with us stopping in random spots and then heading in the wrong direction.
FINALLY after four hours on the train and no closer to Thessaloniki than when we had left Sofia, really, we started to head south. We finally arrived around eight thirty at night about three hours after the bus had arrived. The first thing we did after pulling out some euros was to head straight to Goody’s which was the best worst hamburger I’ve ever had in my life. But hey, when you haven’t eaten all day and that is the only thing open, you take what you can get!
Moral of the Story: If the country you are visiting is not known for having any trains at all you are probably better off not taking the one they do have….
These are just a few of the mishaps in travel that we faced while on the road! Stayed tune for PART TWO which will be up on Thursday to see what else went wrong while we traveled!
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