Plaza Mayor in Madrid, where all of my photos were really crappy because I was under the assumption that what I lacked in quality I could make up for in quantity.
Well, I did it. After an entire month of musical airbnbs, deceptively valuable coins, and tall, blonde, ambiguous Europeans, I’m finally back in the US of A, where laundry machines are the size of behemoths and no one drinks bubbly water (because that ish nasty). A month is a long time, and I definitely returned with a lot more than what I left with, including 1,500+ iPhone photos (most of which are of cats), scars on my neck from falling off a bicycle (my rather protuberant adam’s apple spared my face from harm), and this:
This is Plötulopi (one of the easier Icelandic words I came across), which is unspun Icelandic wool! For those of you who didn’t fully appreciate the awesomeness of that last sentence, Plötulopi is basically the fibers of yarn before they’re turned into the balls and skeins you see in stores. It’s very thin, so you can break it quite easily, but you can also glue two strands back together with just a little bit of moisture (the lady in the store showed me this using her spit. How cool is that?!). Plötulopi is meant to be knit holding multiple strands, depending on how thick you want your yarn to be, and once it’s knit, it magically becomes as durable as regular, spun yarn! Go Plötulopi!
Not to be dramatic or anything, but Iceland was sort of like a knitter’s mecca for me. Knitting is everywhere there, since the weather oscillates comfortably between “wool sweater and a pair of fair-isle mittens” cold and “light merino cowl and maybe some arm warmers” chilly. They even sell yarn at gas stations! (bonus points for the absence of Red Heart Super Saver) Go Iceland!
Sad to say, that is the extent of my knitting updates. I would have had a great deal more, but, thanks to the hugely inconvenient carry-on limitations of Ryanair, I was unable to bring any knitting with me on my travels. It took several repackings of my small duffel for me to finally admit that I couldn’t bring a single skein with me and that I’d have to find some other activity to pass the hours waiting for the 6 flights and 2 train rides I was scheduled to take.
But, as it turns out, bringing my knitting wouldn’t have done much good, since over the 8 different countries I passed through, I actually ended up spending very little time waiting in airports/train stations. Why, you ask? Well, it was because I was late, and then I was late again, and then I was late again, and it was the worst, ever.
Before I go on, I should describe the other players in these tragedies, my traveling companions, the full-time friends I spent 35 straight days with, my fellow (fine i’ll do it) #theeurobears (in case you were wondering, #eurobears is already in use by an eastern European gay couple). Hopefully, this will help you better understand our dynamic as a nomadic troupe and imagine what it was like for us to travel together. Also, it’s an excuse for me to make fun of my friends publicly and garner popularity at their expense. For the sake of full transparency and blatant disregard for confidentiality, I will use their real names:
- Vivian: fellow introvert and all around heavyweight. She beat a couple of Polish lawyers at foosball in a Czech ruin pub, so I guess that’s pretty legit.
- Josh: punny and neurotic with chronic pink eye, a suspected hypochondriac.
- Cheny: connoisseur of modern art who wears a watch ironically.
- Michael: annoyingly optimistic with an unworldly metabolism. He once ate an entire tub of plain greek yogurt, 2 apples, and a bowl of pasta for breakfast.
Okay, so what follows are the 3 worst moments of my trip to Europe and quite possibly among the top 10 most stressful experiences of my life (right next to the time I got the runs and then hit a school bus with my car). Here are the 3 times we were very very very late.
Midnight train to (that country that’s close but not really to) Georgia: Prague → Budapest. Departure time: 11:45pm
11:10pm: We arrive via metro and take the escalator outside. There is an empty parking lot with no train station.
11:15pm: Czech stranger tells us we missed our stop. 7 stops ago.
11:17pm: We find a taxi driver who says he can get to the train station in 15 minutes. But he can only take 4 of us.
11:18pm: Michael and Josh agree to take metro back (Michael agrees. Josh gets kinda pulled out of the cab).
11:25pm: While in the cab, Vivian says, “This will make for such a thrilling story!” I have never come so close to punching a girl in the face.
11:30pm: Taxi driver (bless his heart) is speeding through Prague. I am counting down the minutes.
11:35pm: We arrive at the train station. Cheny and Vivian unload bags while I throw money at the driver.
11:40pm: We run to our platform. Michael and Josh have not arrived yet. I need some albuterol because that’s the fastest I’ve run in a long time.
11:42pm: First half of the train arrives and people board. Our cabin is in the second half.
11:43pm: Second half of the train arrives just as Michael and Josh race to our platform. We embrace (first and last time) and board our train.
Getting to Orly Poorly: Copenhagen → Paris. Departure time: 7:05pm
5:30pm: We arrive at the bike shop to return our bikes, but owner is MIA.
5:45pm: We decide to leave for the airport regardless (the consequences of this decision is a huge mess in and of itself, but that’s for another time…) and start walking to train station.
5:50pm: Half of Copenhagen floods into the streets as we realize today is the first day of a huge music festival. Also, public consumption of alcohol is legal, which soon starts to suck for us.
5:55pm: Train station is much farther than we thought (1.5 km to be exact), so we walk faster, pushing through hordes of drunk teens and crazy DJs on floats.
6:00pm: We arrive just in time to catch the train to the airport. Michael is carrying Cheny’s suitcase instead of rolling it because Cheny bought the worst suitcase possible.
6:20pm: We arrive at the airport. We’re mildly less sweaty due to air conditioned train ride, but still somewhat panicky.
6:30pm: We get through security. Can’t find Cheny. No one is surprised.
6:35pm: Look everywhere. Still no Cheny.
6:40pm: We decide to go to the gate, hoping Cheny is there.
6:50pm: Finally reached farthest gate ever in Copenhagen airport and find Cheny. We board soon after.
Gatwick sUKs: London → Reykjavik. Departure time: 12:20pm.
8:45am: Cheny, Josh, and I are waiting, all packed, for our car, which is scheduled to come at 8:45am.
8:50am: Car company says we scheduled a pick-up at 9:45am, not 8:45am. We check reservation. It says 9:45am. We’re so moded.
9:45am: Still waiting for our car, not too worried because it shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes to get to Gatwick (WRONGWRONGWRONG).
10:00am: Car arrives. Driver says we probably won’t make our flight (least helpful driver ever).
11:00am: We sit in traffic. I check email and see that check-in for our flight closes 45 minutes before departure (i.e. 11:35am).
11:15am: Driver stops to go to the bathroom. Yes, the bathroom.
11:30am: I bolt out of the car and run to departures. Josh is close behind. Cheny is probably still getting out of the car.
11:37am: I can’t find the check-in counter for our airline. I let out a few choice words (a short prayer, of course).
11:40am: I finally find the check-in counter, and we’re next in line. I send Josh back to get Cheny. Can’t find Cheny. No one is surprised.
11:50am: Josh finds Cheny and we get our boarding passes.
11:55am: We run through security. They hold Josh to search his bag.
11:57am: A nearby monitor says our gate closes at 12pm. Security finds a huge bottle of contact solution (to be completely honest, that bottle was for me, so I guess that’s kinda my bad) and confiscates it.
11:58am: We run to our gate, which is 3 sets of moving walkways away. so. friggin. far.
12:00pm: We board as they close the gate. We are literally the last people to enter the plane.
Okay, so if I were being incredibly knit-picky, I’d have to admit that technically we were never actually late, since we never missed a flight or train. We were just very close to being late. But for diehard ISTJs like myself, there’s no difference. You’re talking to the guy who made an entire travel booklet complete with metro directions, confirmation codes, city maps, a currency conversion matrix, and phonetic guides (Lam, D., Eurobears: A Comprehensive Guide, 2014). I made back-up routes to my back-up routes so that being close to late wouldn’t even be a possibility. But somehow, in a strangely appropriate execution of Murphy’s Law, directions were misread, flight delays were essentially non-existent (first time i actually wished for flight delays), and I became as late as I have ever been in my entire life, and it was the absolute worst.
Or maybe not. While I was bowling over little kids and slow old people on my sprint through Gatwick, I remember thinking that it was comical, almost–how after so many close calls we still couldn’t get it right, and how everything could have possibly gone so wrong. That’s the funny thing I learned from traveling for so long (other than my high tolerance for wearing dirty socks multiple times), after a certain number of times, seemingly critical mistakes start to matter less and less. Bad is as bad as bad gets. Once you accept that, things don’t seem as, well, bad.
Would I be saying the same thing had we actually missed some of our flights? Probably not, but I’d sure hope so. I’d hope that having been late on the very days when punctuality was paramount would have, on some level, changed me for the better, making me more flexible and quieting the tiny clock in my head (fellow J’s you know wassup). Don’t get me wrong, I’m still and forever will be a schedules-and-timetables kind of guy, and being late most definitely sucks. But maybe being late doesn’t have to be the worst. After all, I’d be lying if I said all I felt was complete dread when I recount the times we were panicked and out of breath, and that there wasn’t just a hint of nostalgia whenever I tell people the stories of my 3 worst moments in Europe.