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Day 242: Nubian Hostel, my new home in Athens #officeoftheday

I’m happy to be settled in here at Nubian Hostel. It is one of those stylish new builds that have sprung up in many places and absolutely wipe the floor with most traditional style hostels.

The only problem is, it doesn’t have 24-hour check-in so last night after my flight got in late I found myself in one of those very same traditional hostels, where you feel a bit icky about touching anything. All the quilts were floral randomness and they had a pile of mismatched, donated towels to use. The shower was hanging off the wall and the beds creaked really badly.

Anyway, let’s just forget about that place. I’m here now and today I have decided to set up on a small table in the corner, overlooking my new kingdom. I’m booking just for two nights at the moment but I can see myself extending for the full 10 days tomorrow.

Probably upcoming #officeoftheday shots are on that sofa peeking on the left and out in the secluded area, you can see (or imagine) through the windows.

Story Time

Day 242: I’ve never been so happy to find a switchblade next to my bed

I had flown my parents out to see me for a week in Rome and with their arrival, they had brought me a pack of goodies. Things that I had ordered but hadn’t arrived before I left my hometown and some things that I had decided were needed to optimise my daily life on the road.

So they had loaded me up with new things, we had spent a lovely week together and they had got on the plane back home. It was back to business as usual for me, doing solo travel. I had packed everything up and my suitcase was now creaking and weighed in at 19.9kg.

For me personally, this is too much. For RyanAir, it was .1kg under their limit and totally fine. The luggage was checked in as normal and I boarded my flight without a problem.

At the other end, it was late in the evening (we landed at 00:30) and I grabbed my suitcase back from the baggage collection conveyor and headed out to find the transfer bus. Athens is pretty great as they have a bus that runs every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day. I bought my ticket and climbed on. When I was sat down I looked at my suitcase and a knot of panic entered my stomach; the TSA approved, combination lock that was supposed to be keeping my suitcase locked up was gone!

Instead in its place was a tiny piece of plastic wrapped metal twisted through the two eyes of the zips.

I was crammed (literally crammed, sat sideways to fit) into my seat so I couldn’t start mounting a full suitcase investigation. I had already left the airport so there wasn’t any helpdesk or anything I could go to, assuming one was even open at this hour.

It was a problem for another day.

After navigating my way to the hostel it was tickling 3 am. I was tired, everyone else in the dorm was in bed. I went without brushing my teeth, made my bed and climbed into it.

In the morning I woke up in a hot room. I had only picked this one for a single night because at the time I believed the other hostel I wanted to book didn’t have 24hr check-in. This meant that even though I had gone to bed super late I was still going to have to be out by 11 am. Time to get ready.

Now I remembered, my suitcase was locked and within its silver protective shell lay all of my life. I had worn thick jean trousers to fly in which had been fine for walking in the night but weren’t going to cut it heading cross down with a suitcase in the mid-morning sun. I was desperate to brush my teeth, waking with that thick taste in my mouth that usually greets me after a big drinking session. I wanted to have a shower. The answers to all of these problems were the other side of this makeshift lock.

I was the nomad equivalent of being locked out of my house.

Looking around the only tools I had at my disposal were the dorm keys I had been supplied. I spent about 5 minutes scratching away at the tightly wound metal. I managed to make some tiny progress but it was going to be an hours work at this pace and I had already stabbed myself twice with the frayed metal threads I was producing.

Dragging my suitcase out to the reception, the girl on the desk mistook me for somebody who was checking out. I explained my situation and asked if they had any tools I could use. She was in the middle of checking somebody else in and said she would have to ask the building maintenance guy.

I grabbed a towel and returned to my room to wait. Armed with the hand washing liquid soap dispenser taken from the sinks I managed to have a shower. I have stayed in a lot of basic hostels but this one must surely win an award for tiny showers.

I could barely turn around inside of it, I’m not even exaggerating. It had a zig zag compressing slide door which you just sort of put in place rather than locked. There was no space inside for a towel to live. I can only assume if I had gotten up a few hours earlier with everyone else I would have seen a lot of naked bodies walking around that bathroom. I put my towel on the only hook available (on the far side of the room) and got my shower routine over with.

When I came back out my suitcase was still locked and I went so I went back to reception and she told me they didn’t have any tools. I suspect she had been too busy to do anything about it and just bailed on trying to help me as they would surely have at least a screwdriver.

Anyway it was back to the key method so I spent another 10 minutes trying to scratch my way through metal. It clearly wasn’t going to work. I had to just give up, accept I was walking through town in my jeans with a mouth like an ashtray and try to solve it at the next hostel.

As I went back over to my bed I had one final search around for anything that could possibly help me out. Then my eyes saw it. The room was quite dark at the back end of it (the room itself was a very long 16 bed dorm room and mine was the furthest from the window). On top of one of the lockers was a tray of crap that had been left behind by other travellers. Some kind of stopwatch, a bracelet, either tablets or a film reel, some American money and what looked like a switchblade.

I’ve lightened this photo up considerably which is why it looks funny but there it was, waiting for me! An actual switchblade!

I picked it up wondering if it was a toy one, or if it was broken or something but no, it was the answer to my prayers. A fully working, sharpened switchblade with a serrated, fish gutting style edge on the backside of the blade!

To put it in a very British way – I couldn’t have been more chuffed.

While trying to move quickly (it was almost check-out time) but safely (I didn’t want any more cuts or stab wounds) I expertly cut and sawed away at the offending steel threads. Then it happened, the final thread popped and I managed to get back into my suitcase. In short order I was changed and handing in my keys, heading out into the midday sun.

I’d never been so happy to find a switchblade right next to my bed.

But what had caused this invasion of my privacy in the first place?

Well when I had finally gotten it opened up I had obviously looked for something missing. They had not taken anything. I was half expecting some kind of note to be left in there saying that the suitcase had been formally opened for XYZ reasons but no, there was nothing like that left behind and no evidence that it had been tampered with, it was still packed how I had left it.

So why would they be in there? Well I figured it was either simply a broken lock which they damaged accidentally or the secondary x ray checks had shown something that had caught their attention.

Now there is something that I have deliberately left until the end to tell you (unless you have read my earlier posts about what’s in my suitcase). Of these new goodies that my Dad had brought to me, one of them was a hecking great big 23cm kitchen knife.

Yes, yes this might seem like an obvious reason for them to be inside my suitcase but I had actually checked this out beforehand and it is generally fine around the world to pack such things as long as they are in your checked luggage. Why did I want this? I had grown frustrated trying to cook on the road as there was either no chopping knife at all in hostel kitchens or there was a totally blunt one. I figured it made sense to carry my own.

After relaying this tale to my dad he didn’t think it was this – he said he always took a knife with him on self-catering holidays and never had any trouble – so I started wracking my brain for some other culprits.

My next idea was maybe my new laptop tray that he had brought had obscured the x rays somehow. It was only bamboo though so not a likely reason. Then the final idea my brain alighted on was that just before my parents left they handed me an oversized box of tic tacs. Could airport security have suspected me of trying to smuggle some drugs through the country? I had seen this type of thing before on those trash tv shows so it was plausible I suppose. That coupled with the knife could have been enough to trigger a secondary examination.

The (un)likely culprits

I guess we will never know, but just for fun here is a poll for you to share your guess as to what really happened:

  • The kitchen knife
  • The laptop stand
  • The tic tac’s
  • Just a broken lock
  • Something else

Day 241: A brief moment to catch up in Rome #endoftheholiday #officeoftheday

Finally found a few moments to catch up with everything after an amazing week off, on holiday with my parents in Rome, Italy.

Parents flew home and I stayed on in Rome one more day to recover before heading over to Athens, Greece.

If you are reading this in the future my review for this hostel might be out there by now but for the moment I will just say this turned out to be an amazing hostel and I wish I had got to spend more than one night.


Day 241: A morning jog in front of the Colosseum

Managed to get a quick morning jog in on my last day of Rome. I’ve been trying to get at least one jog in every city I’ve been to. Not quite managed it so far, sometimes I wasn’t there long enough or I was just busy, but I can at least claim I have jogged in every country I have been in.

This morning I set off just for the first patch of green I saw on the map. I didn’t exactly realise where I was heading until I saw the Colosseum peeking out from between the trees.

Colosseum peeking out between the trees

The place was called Parco Del Colle Oppio. It’s an unassuming scrap of land that you wouldn’t even think twice about but, of course with it being Rome it is also the home to some huge ancient buildings.

This was Nero’s grand villa complex, Domus Aurea, but it’s a bit busted up now:

Domus Aurea

This was on the other side and is the remains of the Baths of Trajan:

Baths of Trajan

After going around the four corners of the park I got a good shot of the Colosseum which was just sitting there in front of some old men. They were either enjoying the park benches and catching up with friends or they were homeless. I’m not entirely sure. One guy looked homeless but was busy combing his dog for most of my time there.


I ended up just doing laps up and down Viale Cesare Caradini in the end because there was too much distracting me wanting to be photographed!

Viale Cesare Caradini

It was a decent spot to jog in and it put me through my paces considering I hadn’t jogged for a few weeks. The park is on a small hill so its a light incline, enough to get the heart going, with some flat spots to recover on.

Daily Life

Day 222: Arriving in Alicante

After leaving Cologne I travelled all night and arrived in Alicante at about 9 am feeling very tired. I was a lot more confident in getting the bus this time after making quite a mess of the Berlin transfer.

I hopped on without knowing the route it was going to take, just that I was supposed to get off at Plaza de Los Luceros 17. I was watching on my sat nav on my phone as I got closer to the spot. But then instead of turning up the street like the directions said the drive carried on driving along the waterfront and started moving further and further away from where I wanted to be.

It was time to make a decision. In my sleep-deprived state, I was feeling quite exposed and it was tough to make the call. Despite every muscle in my body screaming “panic! panic! immediately panic!” I decided no, the bus would go around in some loop and not end up 5 miles up the coast leaving me with a taxi or long walk back. My faith was validated when a few minutes later we went in a big swooping motion around a corner and started heading back towards the roundabout on my map.

In the end, for some reason, I did bottle it a little bit. When the bus stopped at the stop before I leapt to my feet, grabbed my case and stumbled out into the morning sun. Squinting a bit (my sunglasses had remained packed away in my suitcase so far into this trip) I took in the sight around me. You can see what I saw actually in photo two in the gallery below. This was about 5 meters from where I got off the bus.

Why did I panic? Well, the voice was telling me to panic and it suggested to me that we were technically close enough and that what if, hear me out, this whole street was Plaza de Los Luceros and my sat nav wasn’t showing me the exact spot I would have got off. I wasn’t able to stand strong against a second thought of overshooting it and I decided I had been lucky enough so far that day.

It turned out that getting off the bus was a great idea. The weather was nice, the people were calm and in a morning mood.

It also later turned out that the bus would have dropped me off exactly where the spot on the map was flashing.

But this way I got to stretch my legs for a few streets and I spotted the cafe I would later have breakfast in.

I quickly found my way up to the hostel but I was not granted permission to check in until 2pm that afternoon. It was still about 10am at the time. They took my luggage into relative safety and I set off back out into Alicante to go grab some breakfast at one of the cafes next to the roundabout with the idyllic view. I just wanted to keep it simple at this point.

I ordered a bocadillo de tortilla de patatas and a cerveza. That’s a Spanish omelette baguette and a beer in English. I took great pleasure in saying “una cerveza por favor” when he asked me about drinks, even though it was before 11am in the morning, just because it was one of those phrases I had batted around for years but never thought about actually using it to communicate with a local. I guess it felt like I was delivering a punchline in my head but to the waiter I was just saying something totally pedestrian.

While I was scoffing I was busy tagging and photo sharing and taking great pleasure that my phone was now working with data straight from the plane – a luxury I most certainly was not afforded in Germany (now, to be fair this was my phone settings fault but it was of no relief to discover that after battling my way around Germany for several weeks with only Wi-Fi).

After that, I was well and truly ready to sleep but still homeless until 2. I returned to the hostel and passed out hard on their sofas until they woke me up at check-in time. It was a risky move as there was nowhere secure for my laptop bag. I had it tucked into the left of me and I was kind of leaning on it.

I had to take the chance as there was no way I was staying awake any longer. Hostels are pretty safe places. People leave electronics around all the time and they are there when they come back. Personally, I stay on full watch all the time. I take my keys and phone into the shower with me. I keep everything locked up. At worst case, I ask a friend I have made to watch my stuff while I duck off to the toilet quickly. So far there hasn’t really been any trouble but the problem is that if it does happen just once then it’s my whole world is gone and I have nobody to blame but myself.

This time I was lucky and I got the tour and shown to my bed at 2pm where I promptly got my head down for a few more hours. That evening I managed to drag myself to the supermarket and get the pizza and beers you see in the gallery below and then I spent the evening chatting to people on Skype before being the first in my dorm to turn in for the night (a rare occasion).

I was tired but I had also been invited on a walking tour that morning which I was too tired to take up but the same tour was heading out the next day on Saturday at 10:15am so I wanted to be up. That journey is described in the next Daily Life post.

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.


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