29 December 2010

It's official...

...I have the worst travel luck in the world.

In the last 6 weeks, I've done quite a bit of traveling. I'm sure you all remember that I got stuck in Barcelona (how could you forget?!). Here are a couple more stories to entertain you:

Coming home for Christmas, I had a relatively simple flight plan. I was supposed to fly from Edinburgh to Paris, and from there to Chicago. Boy, was I wrong to be optimistic. Since my flight was at 6:10 AM and I had to leave for the airport at 3:30 AM, I just decided to stay up and then sleep on the plane. My first flight, however, was delayed...and then delayed some more....until I finally went down to rebook because there was no way I was going to make my flight to Chicago. After standing in line for over 2 hours, I got rebooked on the same flight to Paris, where I would then go to Detroit and then Chicago. Alright, fine, I can deal with that. It got be in about 7 hours later then I had initially planned on, but I was happy to be getting home that day.

The lady next to me on the plane, however, destroyed any shred of metaphorical shining light that I had left. For the first half of the flight she openly bemoaned the fact that I was sitting next to her -- she wanted to sleep, after all, and she couldn't do that unless she had an empty seat next to her. Alright, cue the ear phones. Time to watch a movie and drown her out. Nay. The woman then proceeded to dry heave into an airplane bag for the next oh, 3 hours. The real kicker? She refused to go to the bathroom. So for the last half of my flight I was periodically diving into the aisle every time she gagged, which would then be followed with me asking, "Are you SURE you don't want to go to the bathroom?" Seriously folks, if you have the option to throw up in the bathroom, TAKE IT! This also prevented me from being able to sleep more than a half hour, which was a bit problematic since I had stayed up the night before. By the time I landed in Chicago, I hadn't slept for going on 36 hours. I was a bit delirious, to say the least.

Oh, did I mention that my flight from Detroit to Chicago was delayed an hour? At this point, that was a drop in the bucket. I finally made it home, albeit a little bit later then planned. When I saw my dad at the airport, it didn't even matter that it took me longer to get home. I was just so happy to see him!

On to today...

I decided to come back to Edinburgh a little bit early so I could experience New Years Eve there. They're supposed to do it up right. There is a huge outdoor street party, a torchlight procession to Calton Hill, fireworks off the castle...the whole works. I figured that as long as I'm spending the year here, I might as well take advantage of all the city has to offer. Did I mention that I have some very dear friends coming to celebrate with me? Elizabeth is flying up from London, and Alexis is coming in from Florida. I am beyond excited to see them both, which makes my long layover in Paris all the more frustrating.

We had our itineraries timed out perfectly. I was to get into Edinburgh at 8:20, Elizabeth at 8:25, and Alexis at 8:40. We synchronized our plans, which was clearly a foolish thing for me to do. My flight from Chicago to Cincinnati was delayed, although the time was made up in the air. My flight from Cincinnati to Paris was delayed an hour, and yet we somehow lost time in the air. Add to that the fact that some guy took my nice, lovely window seat. When I told him he was in my seat, he said, "Does it really matter?" Umm...YES! But it was clear from his tone that he was going to make a big deal of it, thus making me seem like the jerk, so I took his stupid aisle seat instead.

I finally got into Paris -- about30 minutes after my flight to Edinburgh took off without me. Compared to the Barcelona fiasco and the vomit-to-Detroit flight, this is not so bad. I was able to get rebooked for a 3:25 flight this afternoon. The only issue remaining? I am of course providing housing to Elizabeth and Alexis, and both are enroute to Edinburgh as I write this. Here's hoping they find something fun to do in the airport!

I have about 6 1/2 hours until my flight, so let's face it...I'll probably blog again later! Peace.

22 December 2010

I had my Chicago deep dish pizza and a huge hamburger, so now I'm happy. I obviously have my priorities straight.

Days still left at home: 6

I seem to have the worst travel luck in the world. After getting stuck in Barcelona and traveling 28 hours to get home, I was hoping for a smooth trip to Chicago. Boy, was I naive to hope. My initial flight to Paris was delayed 3 hours, causing me to miss my connection. After standing in a line for 3 hours, I got rebooked to Detroit an then Chicago from there. My long flight from Paris to Detroit was fine, minus the woman next to me dry heaving into an air sickness bag. Oh, and she also refused to go to the bathroom. Meaning, I had to endure 9 hours of diving into the aisle every time she gagged. I got into Detroit OK, but then my flight to Chicago was delayed an hour.

I ended up back in O'Hare 8 hours past my initial landing time. So, compared to the Spain fiasco, it wasn't too bad. Now here's hoping that I don't get delayed going back home. Fingers crossed?

06 December 2010

Burning Daylight

Today's Sunrise: 8:27 AM
Today's Sunset: 3:41 PM

Length of day? 7 hours, 14 minutes

To put this in perspective, I have about 17 hours of darkness each day. Let's compare this to Chicago, which is what I'm used to:

Today's Sunrise: 7:04 AM
Today's Sunset: 4:20 PM

Length of day? 9 hours, 16 minutes

Why the much shorter day? Edinburgh is only 1,100 miles from the Arctic Circle. Compare that to Chicago, which is 3,325 miles from the North Pole.

A good friend of mine told me to start taking Vitamin D since I was missing out on so much sunshine. I scoffed, originally, but then I began to notice how much the lack of daylight was screwing up my daily routine. First of all, it's hard to wake up in the morning when it's still completely dark outside. My alarm will go off at 8:00, and although I want to get out of bed, I just can't bring myself to do it! Add to that the fact that since the sun sets so early, my inner clock gets all scrambled and I end up having no idea how much time has passed. First, I'll be surprised that it's only 7:00 at night, and then I'm shocked that it's already 1:00 in the morning. Needless to say, my sleeping schedule is getting shifted later and later. Edinburgh may truly turn me into a nocturnal creature.

03 December 2010

Oh, the weather outside really IS frightful...

Being from Chicago, I was fairly excited to have a winter where it wouldn't explode with snow. Don't get me wrong, I love snow. It's always gorgeous, especially when it's sparkling in the sun or falling softly from the sky just as the light fades. However, for a change, it would have been nice to have a tame winter in which I didn't have to bundle up to my eyebrows just so I could walk to class.

When in the process of leaving Barcelona, disaster struck. I arrived at the airport only to learn that my lovely, direct flight to Edinburgh had been cancelled. OK...don't panic...I tried to stay optimistic, to remind myself that I would get home somehow. But wait, I forgot that I was flying RyanAir. I only had two options: either receive a full refund for the cancelled flight or be put on the next flight...on Wednesday. That would not do! It was Sunday night, and there was no way I could stay for three extra days. Needless to say, I opted for the refund. I gathered up my things and marched over to the EasyJet desk, hoping that they would have some way to get me home. Oh, they did alright...for a lot of money and two flights, I could get back into Edinburgh the next night. Seeing no other option, I went ahead and booked. I said goodbye to Elizabeth and went to find a spot in the terminal where I could spend the night.

Within the hour, however, the very small terminal began to empty. The one coffee shop was in the process of closing, and people were leaving. Feeling a bit creeped out, I called my mom who then booked me a hotel for the night. Thanks, Mom! Best birthday gift I could have asked for! For a change, I actually got to sleep in a bed. Unlike the Gatwick disaster of 2008, I didn't have to sleep in a Starbucks. Instead, I had a bed, a computer, food, a shower, and a TV on which I could watch Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's Passport to Paris in Spanish...which I did. That alone made it totally worth it.

The next morning I departed for Gatwick. My flight went off smoothly, thankfully. I landed in Gatwick and immediately went to the EasyJet desk to receive a weather update about Edinburgh -- the response? "The 7:15 flight to Edinburgh hasn't been cancelled....yet..."

(The very snowy castle that I came home to)

I found a spot in Costa Coffee, where I planned to park myself for the next 8 hours until my flight. The one advantage of a massive layover? You basically have no excuse to NOT do work. Between chatting with my mom on the phone and all of the cups of coffee that I consumed, I managed to write the bulk of one of my essays.

When check-in for my flight opened at 4:45, I planned to be there right when it opened. Good thing, since I was one of the first to learn that it had been cancelled. Luckily I was only the second person in line at the rebooking desk, for I was able to grab the last spot on the last flight to Glasgow that night. If I had been just one person back in line, I would have been stuck in Gatwick for the night.

Of course, my flight to Glasgow was a bit delayed, but we managed to land fine. From Glasgow, I found a shuttle to the city center, where I then walked to the train station. Once there, I ran to the train -- which was the last one going to Edinburgh that evening. I still can't get over my luck. If I had been just 5 minutes later, I would have been stranded in Glasgow.

Once I got back into Edinburgh, about 28 hours later than originally planned, I finally saw the reason for my two cancelled flights. On Monday night, there was about a foot of snow on the ground. Not a huge,
debilitating amount for Chicago standards, but if you never get snow, then your city would certainly shut down. Even now, on Friday, most of the roads still aren't very clear. People have left their cars abandoned in the snowy streets until the snow melts, refusing to even try driving.

Almost none of the sidewalks are shoveled -- except for the areas in front of the pubs (Scotland really has their priorities straight). Most all of my classes have been rescheduled to a later date, with one cancelled all together. The library closed early for a few nights so that the staff could actually get home. Our cleaning staff has been MIA all this week - I know, poor little privileged kids have to do their own cleaning. Boo. Some Tescos still don't have bread or milk in stock, and their frozen food sections have been cleared out (guess I'm eating cheese and crackers for the next few days). The airport just opened yesterday, and it had been closed since Sunday. And, my personal favorite, an avalanche warning has been issued for Arthur's Seat. Add to that the fact that our mail only got delivered once this week, and we have got ourselves a ghost town.

Barcelona is so...fuh...fre...fresh?

Thanksgiving in Barcelona - what a novel idea! This year, instead of being sad because we were missing our family time, Elizabeth and I decided to ship out. We opted for Barcelona, which was, even at 50ish degrees, significantly warmer than anywhere in the UK.

Our trip began flawlessly. Despite having no method of communication, we still managed to find one another in the airport. We located a shuttle to
the city center, found a cab, and checked into our hotel. Our first night was nice and chill. We found a lovely Tapas place not too far from our hotel, where we dined croquettes, prawns and mushrooms, and a bottle of wine. What a delicious way to begin our trip.

For our first full day, Thanksgiving, we journeyed to the Catedral de Barcelona, which has the feel of a very classic cathedral. There was plenty of gold adorning the walls and statues of Jesus, complete with the massive crucifix suspended from the ceiling. Outside there was a courtyard rife with fountains, palm trees, and statues hidden in the greenery. Elizabeth and I spent quite a bit of time walking around and admiring our surroundings, admiring the ornate art and exotic plants.

(View down the nave of the Catedral de Barcelona)

(The courtyard/garden in the center)

From there we wandered and somehow found La Rambla -- which is a sight to be seen! Walking in the center of this stretch of road, you are surrounded on all sides by little shops, vendors, and street performers galore. Our night ended at Plaça de Catalunya, where we encountered our first gypsy (curses!) before trying to find our way back to our hotel.

(Chillin' with Jack Skeleton on La Rambla)

Friday was our Gaudi day. Antoni Gaudi is an artist from Spain that is adored in Barcelona. Our first stop on la tour de Gaudi was Casa Batllo, which he designed to look like there were bones protruding from the facade. Indeed, the exterior looked like a cross between The Little Mermaid and Nightmare Before Christmas. To me, the balconies looked like the top half of a skull and a portion of the roof looked like the back of a dragon. It was one of those buildings that I couldn't even believe someone commissioned, let alone lived in. I mean, all of the tile work alone made it look like it was covered in rainbow scales.

(The front of Casa Batllo)

(Part of the roof of Casa Batllo -- designed to look like a dragon's back!)

From there we continued our journey on the metra to La Sagrada Familia. If Casa Batllo was funky, then this cathedral was just downright strange. The outside looked like it was covered in coral, and a lot of the overhangs looked like they were melting. Plus, the tall spires had a weird spaceship vibe. All together, a very surreal effect. The sensation was so strange, in fact, that Elizabeth and I were not even sure if we liked it. Yes, it is impressive. I was definitely in awe. But is it pretty? Well, in a lot of respects, no.

(The famous Nativity facade)

(Statue overlooking Barcelona)

To add to this, once you enter you are flooded with colorful lights coming through the stained glass windows. The tall columns were designed to look like trees, so you feel like you're in the middle of a forest. This is not to mention the scaffolding everywhere, since, after all, La Sagrada Familia is far from complete. Building began in 1882, and the goal is to have it done by 2026, making this the most visited construction site in the world.

(Elizabeth and me inside La Sagrada Familia)

(Me on the top of La Sagrada Familia)

From the massive sensory overload that is La Sagrada Familia we wound our way through the city to Park Güell. To get there, we had to climb up a massive hill that was, from my perspective, straight up the side of a mountain. Barcelona, though, does it right. About halfway up this intense climb we found some escalators that took us the rest of the way to the top. My knee says, "Gracias, Barcelona."

When we finally made it inside the park, darkness was just starting to fall. It was fairly empty, so we got to enjoy the sites without the massive crowds. The Park Güell is where Gaudi did a lot of his early, experimental stuff. The stone columns are swirling, and almost every inch of the park is covered with tiles. My favorite part? The long, winding benches at the top. The twists and turns of the bench make it just that much more fun, and the mosaics here are absolutely gorgeous. Gaudi broke apart a lot of the tiles so that they were molded perfectly to the surface he was working with.

That night, Elizabeth humored me and let me drag her to an ice bar. A silly ambition, I know, but I have always wanted to go to one. An ice bar, for those of you that don't know, is a bar completely made of ice...the walls, the chairs, tables, glasses...everything! When you go in, you're immediately given a bit, fluffy coat complete with a fur hood. We had a blast sipping on our drink while we danced near an ice sculpture of La Sagrada Familia and Happy Feet played on the TV. The funniest part? We ordered screwdrivers, and they came out of the bottle half-frozen.

One thing that I got to briefly experience was the insanity of nightlife there. After a full day of sightseeing, Elizabeth and I were beat by 1:30 -- which is when most people were finally emerging. The vendors on the streets replaced their day products with nightly goods -- namely, cans of beer they tried to sell you the moment you stepped out of the metra. Couple that with the multiple offers for pot (or "hasha? marry-jew-wanna?" aka marijuana), and I was a little overwhelmed with the scene. And I thought I was living in the land of drinking! Sheesh...they could teach Scotland a thing or two.

On Saturday we went back to the Park Güell, where we got to
experience it during the day. This time, the park was PACKED. The weather was nice, so a lot of people were just enjoying the outdoors. You couldn't turn your head without spotting a vendor or a street performer. Elizabeth and I found a spot on the benches and wrote our postcards. The best part? Actually needing sunglasses because it was that sunny. Silly, I know, but it actually becomes an enigma when you live in a country where the sun starts to set at 3:45 in the afternoon.

Before our dinner that night, Elizabeth and I headed over to Font Màgica de Montjuïc, which is a laser/fountain show. If you know what the fountains at the Bellagio look like, it's fairly similar except there's music pumping and lights coloring the water. It was, in a word, mesmerizing. We were both perfectly content sitting on the steps of the National Palace watching the fountain show -- especially when they started playing the scores from The Godfather and Highlander. It made it that much more awesome.

For our last day, Elizabeth and I enjoyed another leisurely stroll down La Rambla down towards Monument a Colon -- the huge statue of Columbus pointing towards America. From there, we found ourselves at the Picasso Museum, which is free after 3:00. Win! They had a wonderful exhibit of Picasso and Degas, so it was a special treat.

(La Rambla, home of fun shopping)

(In case you were wondering in which direction America is...)

All in all, I had a great time in Barcelona! It was a ton of fun, especially since I was traveling with someone that I know so well. Plus, it was the perfect distraction from being so far away on Thanksgiving. When your family is all gathered without you, you can't help but feel a little sad. We were going to find a Subway for lunch so that we could at least say we had a turkey sandwich on Thanksgiving, but alas, we were unsuccessful.

(Gettin' sassy with the lions around Monument a Colon)

(Sitting in the benches in Park Güell)

(View from the plane as I took off...finally)

(Mid-flight, this what I found outside my window. Hello, Pyrenees!)