Author: Matthew Harris

Daily Life

Day 222: German excellence?

Growing up in England, Germany was always held up to me as a centre of excellence. German engineering is engineering at its finest. The trains are efficient. It is a prosperous well-organised machine of a country.

The memo didn’t get passed along to everyone here it seems. In my experience, the locals are just the same as everyone else.

Poor policing? That’s Germany for you. Trains delayed? Of course, it’s Germany!

The general consensus on the ground (from my totally anecdotal evidence) seems to be that German’s have a poor view of their government and their surroundings, just like any other country.

I guess now I write this I am realising I should have had the presence of mind to ask them which country they hold up to be doing things right.

Story Time

Day 220: Triple travel mayhem: Having your flight cancelled on you

Strike it unlucky

I finally booked a flight to my next destination after spending an amazing 7 weeks here in Cologne. It would be a simple train ride to the airport and I would be on my way, I thought.

But I thought wrong.

The first wrinkle in my plan came when my German friend casually mentioned to me that the union behind the trains was staging a strike in several cities, Cologne being one of them.

It took just a short search to discover that they weren’t responsible for the airport transfer train and my only inconvenience would be having to make my way across town to the Central station. It’s a 30-minute stroll but wasn’t a big deal to me. Appeased I continued with my day.

But you have already read the title of this post, so you know that’s not the end of the story.

The live chat of doom

I noticed an email arrive in my inbox mid-afternoon from RyanAir saying there was important news. I figured it was just a reminder to do the online check-in. But it was this email saying that the strike meant I couldn’t take any checked baggage with me:

Now it was serious. I immediately had a small panic. I had to get to Alicante before the weekend, as I had set in motion a string of travel plans which would have all come undone without this initial step. I had a week with a friend, and then a flight already booked to get to Rome to see my parents and then a short window to get to BKK to meet some more friends.

After a deep breath, I got on the live chat to talk to Bence who was supposed to help me sort this mess out. Straight away they tried to send me to the phone line but as I wasn’t sure what the costs were going to be I stuck with the live chat.

Looking back, I wish I had not done this now, because what Bence did for me was helpfully move my flight to Friday, two days down the line, still some hassle but it wasn’t going to mess with my medium-term travel plans and I could deal with it.

I was told it worked like this: first, we have to un-check you from the flight, which went smoothly. Then they will change the dates and I will get an email within the next two hours with my new flight dates. OK let’s do it!

Alarm bells were rumbling in my mind because, well, almost every single interaction with a support dept for my entire life has resulted in creating more problems before the initial problem has been resolved. During this process of rehoming my flight to a friendlier date I had received two further emails confirming my flight but the dates were for the cancelled flight still!

Before I signed off from live-chat I explained this to Bence and I explicitly asked if this was expected and if I would still get my correct flight dates email within the next two hours.

Which Bence confirmed:

Appeased I scrambled to find a booking for an extra two nights here in Cologne and went out to get some food.

Upon my return to the hostel, I checked my inbox and found a total lack of emails. Bearing in mind they had only let me know about this flight problem about 12 hours before the flight, the flight was now in about an hour so I tried to get back in touch with them, only to find all of their customer service channels had closed for the night.

“It’s OK”, I told myself, “the flight isn’t until Friday, I have time to sort this first thing in the morning”, and off I went to bed.

RyanAir Don’t Care

As soon as my laptop lid opened up the next day I was back on the live chat. This time I was connected with Barbara P who went through the basics of validating who I was and then helpfully checked on the flight for me.

Thank you. Let me check this for you.
Your flight is in no-show status
May I assist you any further?

At this point, it hadn’t sunk in and it was so stupid that I found it amusing. I tried to explain that no, this wasn’t an accurate status, I have a screenshot of the confirmation and the entire chat log saying this would be sorted. I was given a stock reply directing me to contact the complaints department, who will review my case in the next 7 days and decide if any action is to be taken. Oh and also, to wrap that up, can they help me with anything else today?

My amusement was fading by this point. I said, no you haven’t helped me with that yet. This is not acceptable and needs to be escalated to the next level up if you don’t have permission to sort it. Obviously, a 7-day complaints department is no use to me, the flight is in 3 days.

I got another stock reply directing me to the complaints department, with an extra stock reply saying this is the Ryanair Reservation Center and they don’t have the power to deal with missed flights. Then they disconnected me!

I don’t normally fume, but I treated myself to a small anger volcano at this moment.

Now I was in a full-on scramble-panic zone. So far there have been two situations where I have suddenly felt very far from home and very alone. One is when I have got poorly, and the other is when I have been wronged.

This was going to be a multi-tab operation. I immediately turned to my parents on Skype chat sending them my indignation at this treatment and seeking advice. I had a tab open on RyanAir to search the flight that I was going to take. I had a tab open for Skyscanner to see what the options were. GoEuro got a tab as maybe a land journey was going to save me. It was all hands on deck.

The scenario was now looking like this:

  • RyanAir had essentially cancelled my flight, messed up my new flight, then washed their hands of me
  • Searching the flight I was supposed to get moved to that Friday was now fully booked
  • All other flights on RyanAir had gone from about 30EUR to 150-250EUR for the next few weeks
  • Searching Skyscanner showed a similar expensive outlook for getting there
  • There were no direct trains, or BlaBlaCar ride shares available

I had that sinking feeling in my stomach where you know something bad has unavoidably entered your life.

Despondently I started clicking around on GoEuro. I was grounded according to the flight costs, so I was trying to see exactly how many trains I would need to take to make it there.

My saviour

Then a little ray of light entered into my life. One of the tabs said there was a 39.99EUR flight to ALC. My first reaction was that it was a cached result and when I dug in I would discover that it was actually already sold. But then I saw some new information that made my heart flutter.

The result was a flight from DUS – Dusseldorf Airport!

Side thought: This is one of the big problems with finding flights on the internet. The AI hasn’t been implemented yet to really show you your options. You have to do a million searches to all different scenarios and then track the results and figure out the best option. This usually involves combining multiple travel methods like busses and trains as transfers combined with the cost of a flight, factoring in the time of the flight, and so on. I guess this probably suits the airlines so there isn’t much incentive but at some point, a scrappy startup is going to collate all this and then everyone will have to follow suit to stay competitive.

Immediately I was back on my favourite flight search engine, Skyscanner (I should be getting a commission for this) and it showed multiple flights that are back down in the sub-40EUR price bracket and DUS was only a 1hr train ride away.

I was back in action.

I made the executive decision to abandon RyanAir and deal with them in the complaints procedure rather than trying to get make some kind of contact and get on their Friday flight. I found a nice flight with EuroWings which although will mean a long night of travel will get me there on Friday, and for a reasonable price.

So that’s where we are right now. I still need to find the right train ticket for me and actually get on the plane but I am hopeful I will make it.

HostelWorld woes

Is this the end of my problems? No. No, it is not. With this huge travel problem, the other side aspect of my hostel booking seems minor. I’m sure it won’t when I arrive there and I have nowhere to sleep.

HostelWorld just takes a deposit and you pay for the rest on arrival. My arrival will now be two days later. The hostel will think I am a no-show and cancel my booking.

I emailed the hostel using their contact details on HostelWorld as soon as I discovered the initial flight problem, explaining my problem and asking for pity and could I change my booking. A long shot but worth a go. Next day, no reply. So now I pick up the phone and call their number listed on the booking confirmation. It says something in Spanish to me and then hangs up on me.

Now I turned to HostelWorld customer support. I was actually hoping they might be surprisingly effective, considering I really like the work they have done with the rest of the site and they have been consistently improving. The wording suckered me in and really implied that they would have a quick response time:

“Our Customer Service team are committed to providing you with the best customer service, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Click here to submit a query and a representative will be in contact with you shortly.”

But I submitted that form and it’s now been a further 24 hours later and there has been no reply. I sent an additional email to the hostel saying this is what I have tried and I cannot get in touch with you, sorry for not showing up. Still no reply from them either.

I guess today I have to decide if I should take the chance that they have my reservation still or book somewhere else ready for my arrival.

Will I make it to Alicante? Will I end up sleeping on the beach? Will sea turtles drag me away and will I start a new life under the sea? I guess we will find out together, this Friday.

Daily Life

Day 217: Did somebody say sandals?

Did somebody say sandallllls? Hyped to finally be able to put on my premium hiking sandals.

Last year I quickly discovered it was hard for a farang to find size 11 footwear in Thailand. It was off the top end of the scales even in the westernised shopping malls.

The ones I did finally find only lasted a few weeks before the rainy season claimed them as its victims – the glue was not prepared for this kind of treatment.

Fast forward to 2018 and I have bought myself some top of the range Merrell hiking sandals which set me back about 20x more than my BKK counterparts but will hopefully also last more than 20x as long 👣

Daily Life

Day 216: Which way is the traffic in Germany?

I have spent 7 weeks here in Germany and I can confidently say that at no point did I have any kind of grasp on which direction the traffic was coming from.

Even the roads I was using every day, I would go to cross, look the wrong way and then cringe inside. It was basically the equivalent of setting a flare off that said: “I’m a tourist!”

It’s left. Look left for the traffic.

I think.

Unless you’re on a one-way street.

Unless there is somebody riding a motorbike on the path.

Unless you’re at a crossroads.

Good luck, I guess.

Daily Life

Day 212: Clash of the coffee

OK so this is my life right now:

I bought a jar of coffee and was storing it in the same cupboard as another guy that lives here.

Then his coffee disappeared.

And since then he has been using my coffee.

I think he must have thought he had two coffees so put one coffee away.

But now I’m in a situation where I have to sneak my own coffees in.

Or I think he will think I’m just stealing his coffee.

Because he has just been cracking through the coffee I bought.

And there is no reasonable way to bring this up as far as I can see, so I just have to ride it out and put my name on the new jar.


Story Time

Day 209: A gay bar tour of cologne (Warning: nsfw text content)

On easter weekend I went out drinking with Tom, one of the long term residents at Smarty Hostel.

It was my last night with Magdelena as well, a girl from South Africa that I had met a few nights before in my dorm. We had really hit it off, having some very interesting conversations and becoming fast friends. She had actually already gone up to bed as she had plans for the next day but somehow, when I went up to get changed, I managed to convince her to change out of her jim jams, put mascara on and come out for a few drinks.

Tom took us on a tour of his favourite gay bars of Cologne. Starting at ExCorner which was decorated with lots of detail for easter. It has astroturf all over the roof and bunnies and eggs everywhere. I got my bum squeezed while I was in there. Moving on to Shampanja next, it was literally around the corner. It was a small place and there wasn’t really much of a vibe there that night, we had one drink and hot-stepped across town to the final pre-club bar called Barcelon.

This was not technically a gay bar I don’t think but I did get talking to a guy at the bar as I was having trouble translating the ingredients in each of the cocktails available. Tom was busy chatting to the barmaid as this was one of his regular spots.

Not that many photos but I did get some snaps which are below!

Luckily Magdalena had to go home after these starter bars, because Tom then took me to a gay nightclub called Pullermanns. I was told this is a polite way to say penis in German. I say lucky because it was a men’s only club and they wouldn’t have let her in if she had stayed in our entourage.

I won’t go into too much detail of my experiences in this establishment other than to say upon arrival the man who was running the coat check and tending bar (and actually the owner of the club) was stood there totally naked. We were issued our drinks cards and in we went. Tom explained to me that there was three areas for the club. The drinking area, the toilet area and the cruising area.

The cruising area was, to put it mildly, an all out sex-fest. There was a small maze full of little cubical sized rooms with various doors and viewing spots. Inside these cubicles are a range of interesting sights to behold, including sex swings, bondage clad gentleman and even two blokes going at each other with a small group of additional men just enjoying the show.

I was under Tom’s protection that night so I just did a walk through and then he ushered me back out into the normal drinking area. After that experience it didn’t seem so shocking to spend the rest of the evening drinking and talking while various naked men stood around the room casually sipping on their beers like clothes had never been invented.

I don’t know exactly what my reaction was to the evening. I think it was definitely one of respect. Even though it’s not something that tempts me sexually, I was absolutely into the underlying ideas behind such a place. I have been thrown out of bars before just for rowdily picking up a friend and hugging him. It was refreshing to see a place where people come together and are treated as adults. People who can set their own boundaries without having their hands held and having to be policed and dictated too. Everyone was friendly and I didn’t see any negativity within those walls.

It’s particular flavour is maybe not for everyone but it was a microcosm of an intentionally formed society that the rest of us could learn from.


Day 203: The stumbling stones of Cologne

From day one of my time here in Cologne my eye was drawn to these small brass squares that were dotted around the pavements of the streets.

At first, I was unaware of what they were until I recognized the word “holocaust” and a picture began to form of what I had been looking at.

If you have been around many countries in Europe then this might be old news to you. It turns out they have a name, Stolperstein (Wikipedia link), and there are over 67,000 of them installed in 22 countries.

The name translates to stumbling stone and they are the brainchild of a German artist, Gunter Demnig, who started installing them in 1992.

Its hard to internalize the many horrors of the past, but these small squares are a simple reminder of the individuals involved on a person by person basis.

Daily Life

Day 200: Celebrating my 200th day of being a digital nomad

Today is 200 days since I got on the plane to Bangkok and became a digital nomad.

Some of you may cry foul as I spent about 60 of these days in my hometown, but even digital nomads need their mummies every now and then.

I lived out of a suitcase and worked from a laptop the whole time, so really, why are you picking a fight with me?

For those that don’t know me yet, I actually did “100 days of digital nomad – an experiment in lifestyle design” which kicked this all off. It was originally a way to semi-commit to this new lifestyle and work up the courage to book a one-way solo flight in the first place. After the first 100 days, I was then convinced it was for me. I went back home, moved out of my house, got rid of a large number of my belongings and now I’m a legitimate full-time digital nomad.

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