After 7 hours spent on the fab (but super cold) AirCanada plane...the adventure began!
First, I must tell you guys: I am not an experienced traveler; I have been so nervous about my big trip that I couldn't sleep well all through July-August. Planning, organizing my luggage, contacting schools and friends...that was my daily routine. But hey, as curious about the world as I am, giving up on my plan was not an option!
After 2 months of working 40hrs/week, I was glad to have finally gathered sufficient money for my trip, and was heading to see the beauty that lies on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean...
But wait, let me tell you a bit about myself: My name is Raluca and I am a 20 year-old student in her 2nd (3rd according to USA) year of university. I love making the most out of life and honestly sometimes things get a little difficult as I strive to fill my time with amazing experiences. While meeting my wonderful then-roommates Lara, Victoire and Adela, who came on exchange to my university from Germany, France, and Spain respectively, I decided it would be wonderful if I too went on exchange the following year. And so my quest began, paperwork after paperwork to be filled, courses to be chosen and deadlines to be met. I worked for 2 months in the summer in order to gather enough money for my big trip.
Going to Europe was going to be amazing for me and I decided to undertake a 21-day trip before my exchange began. I was scheduled to leave on the 1st of August so that I would have more time in Europe, but it was pretty hard to plan while I worked and so my real planning process (booking planes, trains…) began in August. My mother had talked to a friend of hers that lives near London to host me for one day and I asked her if I could leave my luggage at her place. Carrying a huge suitcase with me all over Europe was not the best idea so I decided to first arrive in London and start my big European visit afterwards.
The plane ride to London was horrible. I am pretty saddened that Air Canada gave me such a bad experience just as I was leaving home. Not only were the seats very tight so you could not sleep nor move much, which is understandable for such a big plane (so that when the person in front of me reclined their chair I stood with the little TV straight in my face), but what made the experience terrible was the VERY COLD temperature inside the plane. I had my hoodie, my scarf, the blanket offered in the plane and still my hands were cold and my nose started to run. I coughed so much on that plane, and even though the people next to me asked for the temperature to be raised, the flight attendants told them some people complained it was too hot. I am a little disappointed for I caught a big cold on that plane and my throat and head hurt during most part of my Europe trip.
Tip: Invest in a neck support-pillow. Your neck will thank you for it, trust.
When I arrived in London (HTR), such a big airport terminal btw, I stood in the ‘all other passports’ line for 1h30 waiting to cross the border. As I watched the EU people pass by me, I regretted not renewing my Romanian passport. But hey, I guess the wait made the moment I crossed the border that much more exciting.
When I finally made it, I realized I had NO IDEA what my mom’s friend looked like. Luckily, she recognized me standing awkwardly at our meeting point and gave me a big great hug.
She was very nice to me, although I probably looked like a zombie after my long (relatively…guess I can’t complain in front of people coming from Asia or Australia) flight. The first thing I noticed was how huge the terminal is, and that it is only one terminal out of 5! Secondly, the airport in London is very well organized with signs everywhere, and I really liked the little lady saying "beware of your step" after I got off of each rolling mat. When we got to the car, my reflex was to get into the "passenger seat", and it was after seeing Ana's perplexed face that I noticed I was actually hopping in the driver's seat! It was so strange for me to go to the other side, and even stranger when we were on the road and some cars looked like they had no driver, as I could not see the driver from my standpoint. I guess it took me some time (and I am still not that used to it) to stop panicking every time I saw a kid in the front left-side of the car.
The drive there was pretty cool. London has this giant freeway circling the city, so cars can fluidly circulate and get to wherever they need to go without going through the city center. Ana’s house was very cute. I felt like I had stepped into an Old English movie, with the countryside-style houses all neatly arranged with flowers and nice gates. The neighborhood was very peaceful and I enjoyed taking a walk to the park with Emily and her dog, later that day.
As I got in, I got to meet Emily and we talked for some time. Ana made me tea, and we sat in the living-room watching British TV-shows. Haha "Made in Chelsea" got me laughing so hard as I realized how pointless the show is and how all they do is avoid talking to each other and discussing their couple problems other people. I was actually a little saddened afterwards when I though how much money these people make...and for what? As this show had no value whatsoever. (I have to insert a little note here saying I do not judge people who do like the show, but from my point of view, my time could be spent better doing something else). The show I actually enjoyed watching was one of those cooking shows where participants had 3 challenges and they had to cook interesting deserts. Yummy!
Later in the day, we took a car ride to an older part of the region. We decided to go to a park and take a nice walk. I had been such a long while since I had seen swans and I loved the fact that the park’s nature was so well preserved, and that both humans and animals could enjoy the amazing green space.
Driving back, I was so tired that I started slurping my words and drifting in and out of sleep. I think Ana may have noticed as she suggested I take a nap before dinner. I felt so embarrassed; I knew she understood the plight of the “no sleep traveler” and did not get mad at me for almost passing out in the car, but I had so little time to spend with her family, and they were so nice, that I really wanted to make conversation. I do have to say, however, that after more than 12 hours with no sleep a nap was divine.
Later in the day, her husband came home and we had a nice chat. While Ana is of Romanian descent, her husband is British. I really liked spending the day with their family and their two daughters, and more so enjoying a nice home-cooked meal. We ate shepherd’s pie, with green peas and veggies at the table before heading off to the living room to have desert while watching The Great British Bake Off. Desert was wonderful, it consisted of fruits with a white cream on top and a cookie. I am so grateful to them for welcoming me in their family. I think we all had a very pleasant evening.
The next morning, I had to leave very early to catch and early flight to Brussels. I said goodbye to my hosts and headed towards the airport. Ana’s husband drove me to the airport and waited for me to safely cross the check-up point before heading towards my gate. I was a little concerned since I took a razor with me and was unsure whether or not that was allowed, but everything went well. Well…..up to the point where I awkwardly waited 1h to know my gate number! I get it, it is a HUGE airport so they constantly change which gate planes will arrive at…but it was very hard for me to get to my gate when the number showed up just 30 minutes before departure and I was waiting at the opposite end of the airport.
I don't remember the flight to Belgium. This is mostly due to the fact that I drifted to sleep 10 minutes after the doors closed and was woken up by the plane landing. Needles to say, it felt as if I had been teleported to my destination. I do know that we left with a 40min delay and still managed to make it close to time. Praise that dear captain for taking us so promptly to Brussels.