Category: Story Time

Story Time

Day 316: How does a chicken cross the road, and other Asian traffic tales

Rush hour? Not rush hour.

Arrived in Vietnam! Got in a taxi at peak rush hour yesterday. It looks like we drove into a pedestrian zone? No that’s wheel to wheel floods of moped riders trying to get home.

(Actually, I showed this to some Vietnamese people and this is not rush hour at all, somehow it gets even more intense).

Just like a dogs leg goes when you scratch him, my foot was stomping on the imaginary brakes at every twist and turn. Each time there was the slightest gap in traffic my driver put his foot down to get moving, while at the same time mopeds in front would suddenly lurch out at 90-degree cross angles to us and cyclists just seemed to exist carefree in the middle of this. It was gut-wrenching!

It seems that the only responsibility you have as a driver is to make sure it’s clear in front of you. It’s then everyone’s job behind to swerve you, no matter what mad stunt you have just pulled.

There were people riding the wrong way down the street, on the paths, and doing u-turns all around us.

Somehow it works. I saw no one even bump, let alone crash while I was peeking out.

How does a chicken cross the road?

OK, so watching it from the relative safety of a Grab taxi is one thing. However, the next stage of becoming one with the traffic was finding myself at street level, feet on the tarmac, face to face with the bustle and throng.

I’ve been to Bangkok, and I thought I had learned the secrets of crossing traffic. I was fresh off the plane. Everything was an exciting, eye-catching distraction. Now I was stood at the edge of a 6 lane major road in downtown Siam, wondering how anyone got anywhere.

As I prepared to dash out at full speed the first time there was a glimmer of a gap in the traffic, two older ladies arrived at the edge of the road. I’d already been having a hard time imagining how I would make it to the other side, how were a couple of nice old ladies possibly going to fare well?

After barely a pause they just stepped out into the traffic. The thought flashed through my mind that I was about to see two people get run over, but that’s not what happened next. It turned out that their age was the magic sauce for the situation. Their slow pace blended perfectly with the pace of the traffic and they merged together like the teeth on a zipper. As they stepped into the gap between two cars, the drivers slowed slightly and by the time the car would have been worrying about hitting them they were already into the next lane.

It was my only option so I did the same as them. The next few moments were a blur but I found myself on the other side of the road with no scratches and nobody cursing me for this reckless behaviour.

But I digress, I’m not back there in Bangkok any more, I’m stood about 750km away in the tourist district of Ho Chi Minh City and I need to summon the courage to take the same leap of faith.

What’s changed this time to set me back to square one? Well, it was one thing to step out into the mildly progressing Bangkok traffic but Ho Chi Minh City has a very different traffic profile. It’s not 2-3 cars you have to contend with, its 30-50 mopeds, motorbikes, cyclists, taxis and buses that you have hurtling towards you at “that will hurt” speeds.

Like before in Bangkok, the last thing I thought before I stepped off the pavement was “my mum will be so disappointed with me if I get myself taken out in such a stupid way”, but I’d already been told success was for the bold so I started to walk out into traffic. I suppose you have figured out that if I managed to type this up I somehow survived. Maybe you are secretly hoping I’m going to reveal this was typed from a hospital bed? It would have made for a fun post but no, I am fine, the traffic is fine, and despite me going against everything my parents and teachers taught me about crossing the road, the world is still fine.

In Vietnam, when you step out into fast-moving traffic you are not met with anger, you don’t become the target of a honk or fist shake, you are not immediately mowed down causing a 20 moped pile up. No. They want to get to their destination just like you do. You just become part of the contract of the road. As long as you proceed at a casual pace the traffic will adopt you as their own and flow around you.

It’s maybe better to do it the first few times either with a local or just be not really looking. Mad I know, but staring oncoming traffic down inspires the sudden need to dive out of the way and that’s the worst thing you can actually do on these roads.

I actually saw a taxi do a u-turn on this roundabout. Imagine that middle left white taxi, just slowly turning right and going back the way it came. It blocked everyone up for a minute but nobody got angry. I also saw a white couple just stroll from bottom left to top right without anyone batting an eyelid.

What the beep?

The sound of beeping horns is the bedrock of Saigon’s background noise. It is an erratic yet consistent sound that will lull you to sleep at night. I could sense there was some kind of pattern to the siren song but I couldn’t crack the code. Luckily I have a babysitter while I am here in Vietnam so I have access to a source of local knowledge when I have these types of questions.

I just couldn’t figure out the tone behind the beeps. It wasn’t conversational – they hadn’t spotted a friend. It wasn’t confrontational – people were not shaking fists. Yet, it didn’t feel functional either. No matter where I looked I couldn’t see what it was that was actually being beeped at.

So obviously I concluded that if it wasn’t obvious to me then they were all insane, erratic honking madmen.

As I’ve written earlier, it appeared like it was every driver for themselves on the roads which had stopped me from thinking laterally about these strange honks. My local guide told me a tale of her father and how he beeps almost constantly when he is driving, so much so that she has to tell him that she can not hear any more honks, please. Why is he doing this? Well, I cannot possibly drag this out any further, despite my obvious attempts to do so.

The reason for many of the honks is that, as I observed before, the riders are only interested in whats in front of them. Often riders will simply come barreling out of a side road without stopping to check if there is any traffic on the street they are joining. So many of the honks are actually not at anyone or anything, they are just to warn the potential side-street traffic that there are other players in the game.

The rest of it seems to form a kind of sonar-location system that gives the drivers in front a bit of information about the traffic behind them. Car wants to get through? Honk. Somebody is trying to merge into a space they don’t want to give up? Honk. You just joined the back of the traffic. Honk.

And yes, once I did see a rage-honk from my taxi driver when somebody didn’t get the message. That was more like honk, honk, Honk, Honk, HONK.

Story Time

Day 314: Stay humble and soak in the culture gracefully

Don’t get cocky when you have no idea about the history of a culture. That was my lesson for today.

I’d had a few drinks, that was true, but suddenly I thought I knew better than hundreds of years of Asian history.

I was looking at some art on the wall of a local food hall of a typical historical scene.

“Why do they make it hard for themselves?” I blurted out to my Vietnamese friend, “They should just get a cart with wheels!”

I was referring to the street sellers that carried their shops around by balancing a stick on their shoulders + dangling the wares at each end like a pair of counterbalance scales.

She was calm with me but I needed to be brought down a peg or two.

Firstly, she patiently corrected, the wheeled trucks don’t come for free and not everyone has the money to invest in something like this.

We had actually been talking about homeless people a few days before and this prompted a new thought to form in her head. “I think maybe the reason that Vietnam doesn’t have such a homeless problem is to do with the culture. Here, if we get into difficulties then we can always go and stay with our families for a short period. It is common for many people to live in the same room, which makes rent very affordable. Perhaps even as cheap as 10USD per person a month.”

“In fact, it’s very common to live together with your family when you are younger, in order to save money. People live close together because of the population levels. We have a high cost of land here compared to our wages.”

“Also it is very simple to get started with a small business in Vietnam. You can just get a stick to carry some things around, or buy some small wares to attach to a push bike and you can start to make some money. I think the combination of having the support of your family and the ease of getting going with a business like this means it’s more difficult to end up homeless.”

And secondly, she concluded, the sticks are a product of their environment. Often the sellers would need to cover rough terrain. Concrete paths and tarmac like in modern cities have not existed for long and even today the rural areas are hilly; a wheel just isn’t appropriate everywhere.

“Oh yeah”, was the best I managed to reply.

So I managed to both make myself look stupid and learn some new things at the same time. The important part, I think, is to be curious but not to assume I have better ideas 5 minutes after getting into a country vs centuries of established living practices.

Story Time

Day 274: He was a snakey boy, I said see ya later boy

🎶 He was a snakey boy, I said see ya later boy, he wasn’t slithering up on me. 🎶

First sighting for me in Thailand. Only popped to the 7/11 for a cheeky packet of biscuits and ended up dodging 3 cockroaches, 2 rats and 1 snake.

I mean I call it dodging but they actually had zero interest in me, they just wanted to get from one place to another.

But therein lies the rub.

You see, just the other day I had found a silly little cockroach that had flipped himself over in the bathroom. Given the choice between sending him on his way or having to clean up squashed critter in my bathroom, I selected the charitable option.

But when it comes to memos it appears that cockroaches are a little behind on the times. No, it would appear for all intents and purposes that no memos whatsoever are delivered to the cockroach kingdom.

Yes, I’m quite confident about their lack of memo receiving because when I took an empty water bottle and tried to tippety-tap it over, back to the side that gravity prefers in this region, it didn’t stop to read any memos.

It disappeared.

But Matthew, I hear you say, cockroaches can’t just disappear.

And you would be right.

I first started to realise this when I felt the tickling on my arm. It turns out my brain was a lot slower than the cockroaches, because when it found that all of a sudden its many feet now had friction at their disposal the first thing it did was not flee the scene, exposing itself to a squishing, but run straight up the bottle and onto my arm.

It was so fast and so gross that, well, I’m not sure if my brain couldn’t or just wouldn’t admit to what had happened. Instead, it looked at the bottle confusedly, twisted it around a bit and wondered if I had accidentally squished it. Where did it go? Why didn’t it run away?

And then there was no more putting it off. We were all on the same page. The cockroach knew where it was. My brain knew where it was.

It was on my arm.

I let out one of those screams that start off with a clearly audible version of disbelief and work their way up the tonal scale. The bottle went clattering across the room and my arm started whipping backwards & forwards faster than Ali-G saying booyakasha.

Mr Roach was now in for his turn at being surprised as he suddenly found himself bouncing against the wall on the opposite side of the room and landing back upside down again.

I HAD TOUCHED A COCKROACH.

There was an immediate and intensive session of soaping my hand and arm up while keeping an attentive eye on the upside down guest over the way.

This time he either finally got the memo or just applied some classic cockroach common sense because he managed to flip himself and took the wise decision to flee the scene.

I did the same and locked the door behind me.

Now, I know I gave him mixed signals by holding hands with him so quickly but I am really hoping that neither he nor any of his friends attempt to get a second date…

Story Time

Day 257: Always make sure you have the correct cutlery for the job

Really wished that the ground would just swallow me up at dinner this evening.

Ordered noodles and pork. Chopsticks in a pot on the table. Scoffed it down with them but at the end the bits were small and I didn’t want to be a farang and ask for a spoon so I pushed forward. It got more and more fiddly, so eventually, I just got the bowl up and was tipping it into my face but the spices caught my throat and I did a huge cough right into the bowl, spluttered stuff everywhere, made even louder because the bowl was cupped right to my face. Totally lost control of my body for about 5-6 coughs, and didn’t have any water to fix things with.

Looked around absolutely mortified, expecting to see disgust on everyone’s faces, but nobody was batting an eyelid. Wait staff still on their phones, family next to me still just eating their meal.

I’m not sure if it was really just something that happens to every Thai sooner or later, or if I had blasted so far through the social norms that they didn’t even know how to deal with me any more.

As a British person, I absolutely need the eye contact of at least one person to roll my eyes and shrug off the faux-pas or it just makes it ten times worse.

Decide its time to make a hasty exit as I’m going bright red, and as I stand up I realise that in the same pot on the other side of the chopsticks was a stack of the spoons that I now realise everyone else in the room is busy using to correctly eat their food.

I guess the lucky thing about Bangkok is that you are very unlikely to ever see the same person twice.

Story Time

Day 256: First 7/11 haul back in Bangkok

I stayed away for a few days, I really did, but this evening midnight had come & gone and my tummy was a-rumbling.

My legs took me there almost on autopilot. It’s not hard to do this in Thailand it really isn’t. The 7-Eleven is the national corner shop here. In Germany, you have your Kiosks everywhere but in Thailand its the 7-Eleven store. It’s the same company that is also all over America.

There is a joke in Thailand that involves giving directions to a friend and goes something along the lines of:

“Go out the door, turn right at the 7/11 then head straight down until you pass a 7/11. Keep on until you see the 7/11, then turn round the corner, go down there until you get to the 7/11 and it’s just there.”

It’s almost a joke but not really, because you could actually follow these instructions in most areas of Bangkok that I’ve been to.

Last time I surprised and intrigued my Facebook friends with a steady stream of photos of the 7/11 treats. There was a smorgasbord of new cakes just waiting for me to delve into. It became an addiction. I would find myself stopping off most evenings to quickly grab something sweet after my evening meal.

The problem with this habit was that instead of limiting what I bought to a sensible calorie count, I actually ended up buying them by the total cost. The fact that everything is so cheap in there meant I would often end up with multiple products from each category. A few packs of biscuits, a few types of cakes, a few selections from the fruit and nut, maybe a beer, maybe a milkshake. It was bad. For the belly, not the wallet.

So this time around I mentally distanced myself from that habit.

Now some may say, Matthew, you are only on day 4 and I would say back to them… yes, that seems like an accurate count of the days. But in my defence, I at least tried to get some of the healthier options from the shelves this time.

Here is the haul:

Let’s have a chat about these.

Obviously, on the far left, we have normal plain water. The tap water is not potable here, which means you can’t drink out of the tap. It’s ok to brush your teeth but you shouldn’t be gulping it down. Most hostels let you have some but my bottle got scooped up today so I needed a new container.

The green packet at the bottom middle are sunflower seeds. Most of the nuts that you can get here have been interfered with. They are roasted with sweeteners or salt or some other kind of coating. Getting plain food is tricky. I thought I had found some in this case. I thought wrong. My first mouthful instantly told me this. Looking back at the packet now you can see in the top right what looks like some coconut shells. That is exactly what they are, the list on the back reads spices, then sweeteners, then coconut for its top 3 ingredients. They were tasty, and 190 calories in total if I had eaten the whole bag.

To the right, we have what I think is cuttlefish, dried, put on skewers and then undried a little bit by being coated in a sticky sweet flavouring. The flavouring did little to mask the very impressive simulation of what it would be like to eat cardboard dipped in ketchup.

In the middle, the thing that looks like an apple is, in fact, dehydrated guava. I was about to grab the mango in the shop which I love but remembered to keep pushing myself to try new things and grabbed this instead. This hasn’t been eaten yet so I have no report for it yet.

Above that at the top is chocolate biscuits filled with matcha green tea cream. I bought them to have them over the next few days. They may have been more than nibbled at this evening though.

The milkshake looking thing is a bit of a mystery to me. It comes in pink and yellow varieties and has a kind of sour taste to it. I don’t know what it is but its kind of nice. The price of this little bottle is so insanely cheap I don’t know why they bother even charging for it. 7THB. That’s 16p in pounds sterling. It hardly seems worth the bother of ringing it up.

The Japanese cheesecake is not what people from England would taste and say “oh that’s a nice cheesecake”. No, they would take a bite of this and go “oh, that’s a nice almost plain sponge”.

And that leaves us with the strange looking triangle thing in the middle. What is it? It is Onigiri. Its white rice, wrapped in seaweed with some tastiness in the middle. Some might say this sounds like sushi, but for technical reasons, no it is not. This one came with teriyaki salmon in the middle and it was very tasty.

In truth, I should have walked in there, grabbed the onigiri, the water and then paid and left. I let my belly do the buying with only a minor consultation from my brain. Oh what a terrible waste of money, and now most of this is sat there in a bag next to my bed.

But how much do you think the entire bag of goodies came to? Well if you walked in there with 130bt tucked into your pockets you would have left with 9 spare. So 121bt total, that comes out at just under £3.

It’s amazing the kind of haul you can get for such tiny prices, and you can probably now see why I vowed to steer clear of this place. Just imagine what damage you could do if you turned this kind of spree shopping into a daily cake and biscuits adventure!

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
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.

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.

Story Time

Day 191: My first digital nomad enemy

Made my first digital nomad enemy… Haha. Sorry Alison!

This hostel you just get assigned a room and pick your bed when you get there. The whole room was fresh when I got here, all beds unmade, no names on the beds, no personal belongings, no locks on any lockers, no luggage underneath.

I can only assume she is travelling light and the cleaning staff got confused and reset the whole room because when I arrived this was a clean, fresh, available bed. Obviously, when she left his morning it was hers but she left no trace behind.

Hope she doesn’t murder me in my sleep…  🗡😴

It took me a long time to figure out what was going on with the angry face. If you tilt your head to the left its an angry monster, but if you tilt it to the right it looks more like one of the kids out of Ducktales.

Story Time

Day -47: How I became a digital nomad

“I just did”. While I was setting up this blog that was all that I wrote in the draft placeholder. Now I come to flesh it out I think it actually answers the question succinctly. Becoming a digital nomad was a major life transition but it went so smoothly that I was already in Cologne on day 180-something before I realised I had actually really done it.

If you had met me even as close as 2 months before I set off and asked me about becoming a digital nomad I would have said: “What’s a digital nomad?”. I stumbled across the concept of it totally blindly. I was at a stage in my life where a change was badly needed but at this point, I had never lived outside of the city I was born in. I had never travelled alone, in fact, I used to put off going to the shops to buy socks unless I had a friend to walk in with.

But I wanted to go on holiday and my friends were not making the right noises about a group holiday so the idea started to form that I would go and stay in a hostel somewhere for a week and do it for myself. It was not a welcome idea. I was wracked with concern that the whole idea would be too scary, that I would be bored, that solo travel somehow was not for me.

A few of my friends had been travelling like this before and they insisted there was nothing to worry about, they had been fine, in fact, better than fine. Still, I told myself, this was some kind of special case for them and it still wasn’t for me.

Through the wonder of the all-seeing-eye that is Google, I have just traced back the exact point where a search for hostels turned into the beginning of a new life and “digital nomad” entered my lexicon. It was on 17th July 2017 at 7:34pm. Over the next few weeks, I would slowly internalise the idea and find myself consuming epic amounts of YouTube videos on everything digital nomad and mostly Chiang Mai.

A friend of mine had been to Bangkok and she had put a video up of her travel day. I watched as she packed her suitcase. I could do that. Got on a train to London. I could do that. Got on a plane. I could do that. Landed in another country and got in a taxi. I could do that. Then she checked into a hotel. I could do all of that.

Apart from the fear I couldn’t see what was holding me back.

For the first time in my life, I was internalising actually visiting Asia. With the high flight prices, it was never on the cards for any normal holiday. I was aware that side of the world existed but I didn’t ever connect the thought and think that I would actually go to it. Now the dots were falling in to place and I was picturing myself there; it was exciting.

37 days later on a sunny July lunchtime, I booked my flight to Bangkok. If you’ve booked online you will know that flight companies like to create a sense of urgency by threatening to time-out your booking and make you start again. I filled out the form and then sat there several times until the order reset me back to the homepage. All I was thinking and worrying about was the vast unknowns of going to the other side of the world on my own. Could I do it?

Seconds before the third time out I tapped my finger down on the mouse and the flight was booked. It was happening.

The idea had been formed. I was calling it “100 days of digital nomad – an experiment in lifestyle design”. I was going to set up this blog. I was going to start a YouTube channel. I was going to get an apartment in Chiang Mai. I was going to hire a scooter. So many plans made in the excitement of the run-up. The actual trip turned out vastly different – as things normally do – but this wasn’t a bad thing at all.

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