Friday, 8 August 2014

My Top 5 Worst Wandering Experiences

With the amount of time and effort you devote to travelling, something is bound to go wrong, at least a few times.

I think that's the reason I am still travelling, it is a method for me to learn from my mistakes, because when I look back at the worst experiences I have had abroad, I recognise how I could have dealt with the problems a lot better. Or even avoided them altogether.

We all have a moment where we get lost, or miss the train or maybe get food poisoning when we are wandering the globe, but most of the time these aren’t ground breaking life defining moments that change the way you travel, or even you as a person. I admit getting lost can be terrifying for some, but for me it is that wrong corner turned where the greatest discoveries are found. I'm talking about the ground breaking and life defining travel experiences that left a mark in my life that when I look back have moulded who I am as a traveller, and overall as a person.

So I will let you in on the 5 travel experiences that changed me, some just a little and some a lot. 

Starting from a little:

5. An overnight cruise from Bari to Athens

I told my husband this story for the first time last week, and I must admit re-telling it I feel so stupid and I even shake my head at people who do stupid things like this. So to put it out there first, this experience was a case of poor judgement on my behalf.

I was on an overnight cruise from the south coastal city of Bari in Italy, across the Adriatic Sea and into Greece’s Patras to transit to Athens. My brother had told me when he was in Bari it was a little different to the rest of Italy, and to be careful as some areas may be a little rougher than others. So to prepare I had my guard up already, but I was pleasantly surprised by the city and the locals of Bari and really enjoyed the night and day I had spent there. I was feeling a lot more relaxed and ready to embark on the ferry to Greece, because Bari hadn’t phased me like expected. I jumped on the boat with a friend, and we made ourselves familiar. There were no cabins, just a large dining/bistro area with circular booths I was eyeing off already to sleep on for the journey. And also a theatre room with a couple dozen rows of seats, it was already full I think people had my idea and picked their bed for the night and started relaxing. So we settled later for some dinner, and then sat in the booth where a waiter took our order for a glass of wine. He returned with the bottle and said we could have it on the house. How lovely… We later went out to the balcony to enjoy the sunset with our final glass of wine, where the waiter followed to have a smoko break. I can tell some of your alarm bells might already be ringing. Here is a middle-aged European waiter, who travels out at sea for a job offering free bottles of wine and now follows two girls out onto a balcony for a smoke. 

Enjoying a glass of wine across the Adriatic Sea
I am a friendly person, it’s my personality, ingrained into me and has given me the opportunity to make many friends while travelling so I am grateful. However this can be taken the wrong way sometimes, and I think in this circumstance it did. The waiter told us about the boat, how often it is at sea and the imports and exports on board. He asked us if we wanted to go to the roof where all the truck drivers were to see all the cargo shipments heading for Athens. We were curiously interested, and this is where I have now learnt to signal my alarm bells, flags and whistles in the future. The rooftop was divine, unobstructed views of the Adriatic sea, and was very warm, away from the wind like on the balcony. We watched truck drivers lie on the roof with their beer bellies hanging out, taking in the Mediterranean sun, and saw an aerial view of the lines of trucks parked with inches to spare behind them ready to reverse off the ship when at port. My friend quickly went off to the bathroom, where the waiter put his arm around me. I smiled politely and knew then that he was more than friendlier than I anticipated and it was unwanted. I explained to him, I am definitely not interested and I would like to go back down to the deck. As soon as my friend returned, he was obliging and took us down where we packed up ready to sleep very early to avoid any future confrontation with the middle-aged perve. What makes me call him a perve, while we were trying to get to sleep he came past the theatre room and tickled our feet. I cringed and held myself ever-so tightly to pretend I was in a deep sleep, surrounded by so many passengers this was the place I was going to remain until we got off that boat.

A rooftop view
So lesson learnt indeed, most travel experiences will surprise you like Bari did for me, but a reminder not to let your guard down too far. Enjoy yourself, remain safe and remain alert. I could have avoided that situation indeed, listen to my intuition and when the flag is up, raise it high and move along.

4. Bali

I’ll paint a picture for you. Many of you know Bali and if you have been you know the atmosphere, the large amounts of Australians that go. Imagine what you know, now add a group of 7 girls travelling together for 10 nights in Legian Beach just outside of Kuta. Tell me you knew exactly what I was thinking before I even booked this trip…

I didn’t want to go. I had just returned from backpacking Europe, I felt like a nomad. Backpack imprints on my shoulders and back, wrists covered in a band from nearly every city I visited, you could of put feathers in my hair and braided it – my spirit was free and I felt like the world was ready to be discovered. My friends saw this as an opportunity to invite me to Bali for a birthday celebration, a 10 night birthday celebration. I never had an interest in Bali. Indonesia yes, very much so. But Bali was not foreign, too many Aussies saturate the streets and it is embarrassing. My closest girlfriends were going and were holding me up to it to go with them. I felt guilty, and I did want a girls trip to some extent, but not to this degree and I knew it going in what was going to happen. I made a pact with a good friend of mine, that we would stick by one another and if she ever felt uncomfortable or needed time and space I would help her out. A third world country can be confronting, but add fuelled up binge drinkers to the mix, it causes an ugly scene. Don’t get me wrong the trip was relaxing, fun and I got to see all that is Bali. But I felt like I had betrayed my values as a traveller, that I did walk the path most travelled. We didn’t venture out to see the temples, the rainforests, the islands. We walked Poppy Lane I and II about 5 times, and visited Bounty Bar most nights. I enjoyed the time spent with friends, but all it takes is one unhappy customer to cause the group to split, the awkwardness is tripled and everyone is on edge. The birthday girl felt as though we did not want to do everything she wanted to do and this trip was about her and we should be doing and going where she wanted. We were quick to remind her that we all paid our own share to go on this holiday and we would spend 9 out of the 10 nights doing something we wanted to do as a group not as per one individual. That didn’t go down well and the drama and water works arrived. Needless to say I am not friends with this person for other reasons but as you can see we probably aren’t the best suited friends. I spent a night out with some other people we were travelling with, and dined in local Indonesian restaurants, eating local fare and learning some cool words in Indonesian. That night away from the drama made me feel back down to my roots, and realised Bali can offer some experiences that weren’t for the na├»ve Australian tourist. I threw my tourist sticker away that day, and vowed that every future trip will be spent doing something truly amazing with my time and the countries glory to explore.

Cheersing in an Australian restarant, in Bali...
3. San Francisco

Why is San Francisco doing on this list? This Californian city is too beautiful to be considered in a Top 5 worst experience list? I don’t have anything against this city at all, just a series of bad luck occurred the first time I visited.

It was one thing after another, me and my newlywed husband were here for 3 nights and it was our last 2 weeks of our 7 week honeymoon. We had just been to Vancouver and Big White in British Columbia Canada, Couer D’Alene in Idaho, Chicago, New York, Montreal and Washington DC. We’re not tired just yet, but our funds were, we were in between a pay check so dining at IHOP for breakfast every morning was our strategy, along with sharing a bread bowl of Boudin Bakery’s Clam Chowder, AND trying to walk everywhere in San Francisco (the hills don’t look that big til you ¼ way up the top). I remember sitting in front of the painted ladies overlooking the city, and taking it all in as I am on the phone to our useless bank disputing the fact that they were 5 days behind withdrawing funds. Like seriously, what bank takes 5 days to withdraw the $1000.00 you took out of the bank plus the flights etc along the way. So in theory we thought we had more money that we did.

Lesson learnt #1 go back to the trusty travel card.

Given the financial stress, Shaun and I had a big argument while we were walking along the bay. Not about money. About who was better at exercising during our personal training, yeah go figure. The thing is with Shaun and I, and both our parents will agree, we will argue til the cows come home about who is right. A search on Google is generally how we end arguments, but when it’s personal we will keep going and no-one will admit they are wrong until Shaun realises he won’t win, so he does. I remember arguing with him about the Bugatti and he thought it was a V12 engine, but I said no it is two V6 engines so they classify it a W12. I was right, I am Top Gear certified. So the argument isn’t the issue, this happens all the time, but the issue was that I couldn’t take it anymore and I walked off. I think it was a good 2 hours wasted when we could have been exploring that Shaun was looking for me, when all along I was waiting for him at the information centre – duh look there!

Lesson learnt #2 when travelling it’s OK to argue, but don’t walk off.

The money scenario was sorted, the argument was long gone and we had made up. And we were off to Vegas! We had a 7:30 am flight from SFO. So we checked out of the motel at 5:00 am and called a taxi to take us to the airport. We have this thing in the US, where you check in your biggest bag, then you take your backpack and carry on etc. to the gate and they ask passengers if it’s a full flight if they want to bring their bag to the front to check it in – no extra cost! So anyway we’re untangling our bags to go through security, when the security officer asks us to take out any laptops or aerosols. Shaun looks at me and says get the tablet out of your backpack. But the tablet isn’t in my backpack? “I gave it to you at checkout”… I think San Francisco had just consumed me by then and stress was visibly coming out of my ears. I knew right then and there the tablet was either at the counter at the motel or in the taxi. And guess what, the receptionist at the motel didn’t have it and the taxi company said the driver didn’t have it, I wonder who has it now?

Lesson learnt #3 when things are going bad, just go with it an expect it to get worse – and don’t panic, keep it together.

So, San Francisco is still an incredible city, I just learnt 3 valuable lessons here.

2. Singapore Changi Airport

This is the funniest of the lot. I actually love this one, and contemplated making My Top 5 Greatest Experiences, and put it on there.

I’m sure all of you are familiar with preparing for your departure to a country, to check your government, embassy and lonely planet guides about entering permissions for the country your visiting. I for one have used Australia’s Smart Traveller, run by our government. I have used this plenty of times, for every country I have been to, ensuring I can always enter when I arrive. I do wonder at this point, how do the Amazing Race contestants manage to organise visas and entries to a country if they have no idea they’re going?

So we arrive to Changi Airport just before 11:00 am for our 2:00 pm flight to Ho Chi Minh City. We had just spent the morning walking around Marina Bay and the F1 track in the hottest day of our stay, so the air conditioned terminal was bliss. We are flying Tiger across the Gulf of Thailand and go to check in once we hit the 3 hour mark. I love being at the airport early because I love exploring and people watching as locals and tourists come and go. At check in the attendant takes our passport and flicks through asking where is your arrival letter into Vietnam? I said we don’t need an arrival letter, I checked with our government before we left Australia can pay on entry. She checks with her supervisor and returns to say, no you need an approval letter before you depart I cannot check you on this flight. My heart starts palpitating, so what do I need to do? She tells us to contact the Vietnamese Embassy and arrange an approval letter and this could take up to 3 days. OK my heart is really beating out of my chest now – I am thinking about the all-inclusive resort we have booked in 3 days’ time on a beach resort in Mui Ne. I do not want to miss out on this. I walk away from the counter with Shaun and he is telling me to relax. We head downstairs to get the free WiFi I am visually distressed, and the soldiers walking around with AK47 rifles are looking at me. That immediately calms me. I call the Australian Embassy international number AND their local Singapore number. No answer, on all numbers. I would hate to actually be in trouble. I look up the address and we get into a taxi and drive out to the Australian Embassy, right near Orchard Rd aren’t they lucky. The security guard is suspiciously looking at us. I see some DFAT workers coming from their lunch break. I ask them for help, one was the assistant to the Australian Ambassador in Singapore. She told me to go to the Vietnamese Embassy and gave us the address, and gave me her card to let me know how we went. She also said, did you try calling us… I laughed and said yes dear, on every number. They don’t make it easy for you.

We head over the the Vietnamese Embassy, a two-storey house with open gates and no-one attending. It is hilarious the comparison to Australia’s Fort Knox premises. It was also highly convenient for us that the visa approvals was only open from 9:30 am – 12:00 pm, and here we are now at 12:30 pm... There is a laminated piece of paper telling us to contact a travel agent who can organise a visa for us. I call them and they say, yeah we can do for you in 2 days, $70.00. Can you do it for me today? Yes, $250.00. Each. Get here now. Our taxi driver is waiting for us, Amazing Race style, to take us to the travel agent. This place was awesome, an 11 storey building with tiny little offices for local Singapore businesses. A different side to Singapore and here we are sitting in their office. They process Vietnamese travel and visas all day every day, and see many Australians every day just like us. Too many of us get it wrong confused with the website… hmmmmm maybe something needs to change there. He takes our passports and fills out paperwork while Shaun is at the local ATM withdrawing $500.00 SGD to pay for our 2 hour visa application. The agent, Kelvin, drives Shaun and our passports to the embassy and chats friendly with the officers, who produce a nice fresh new visa approval into our passport. That visa cost more than our actual passport. The next thing Kelvin does once he is back at the office with Shaun and our passports, is book us a flight leaving Singapore at 5:00 pm (in 3 hours). Off to the airport we go, this time Jetstar so I don't need to face the Tiger attendants in embarrassment.

Vietnamese Embassy

I am so amazed at how quickly we managed to sort that out, and depart Singapore on the same day. It was one of the best travel experiences I have ever had, as well as the most avoidable. I will always read the information a lot more clearly now when travelling to another country. And when in doubt, call to find out.

1. Paris

It has taken me a few days to think about writing this one, I have been  procrastinating. This experience I hold mainly to myself, but it is important to share with others because many other people have been caught in similar situations. This is about being at the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Happy exploring the Parisian streets

Many people have mixed reviews about the City of Love that is Paris. You either love it or you don't. I'll tell you my overall review of Paris would be a beautiful city decorated with wonderful, historical and architectural masterpieces. It is frightening the idea of gypsies and over the top salesman who shove Eiffel Tower keyrings in your face constantly, but that comes with the nature of travelling to high traffic tourist destinations. For me the City of Paris is not a place of love. An unfortunate experience occurred which resulted in fleeing from the city 2 days earlier than anticipated. 

I had taken the advice from a fellow hostel roommate to view the Eiffel Tower directly from Trocadero station and the Trocadero Gardens. Beautiful spot, and as I am laying my eyes on the landmark for the first time up close and at night taking pictures, I am approached. A function was going on somewhere behind me and there were drunken locals fluttering about, and there was one there I was not interested in at all. With a plastic cup of booze in one hand and his other on me, this guy grabs onto me and basically harasses me in front of one of the most romantic spots in the world. I run to a couple to make it look like I am surrounded by people, and speak English to them for help. They do not understand as they are not French nor speak English. At that point this guy chases me and grabs hold of the back of my belt loop pulling me backwards and placing parts of him on parts of me that or not welcomed. At this point I am feeling overwhelmed and run to the bottom of the Eiffel Tower and am surrounded by dodgy market men trying to sell their souvenirs. It all happened so quickly, but I was out of there and out of Paris the next morning. 

I know full and well that this can occur anywhere in the world, including locally in my own city/country. This is why it would shame me if someone did something like this to a traveller in Australia as it would destroy the person's experience. That is why I will always watch what is going on around me, not only to embrace the world and the people in it, but to also be aware, even in the most populated cities on this earth.

I did not fall in love with Paris when I visited, but I hope to revisit and try and fall in love with the French capital one day. Travelling is an experience, and it can be positive or negative but it will mould you.

Let the spirit of wander change you. Learn from mistakes and bad experiences, and allow them to frame your mind to become not only a better person, but a greater traveller. And never stop seeing the world.

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow, what experiences and (mis)adventures! But it's true, when you travel a lot something unpleasant is bound to happen sometimes. Thankfully there are always more positive experiences than negative ones :)