Thursday, September 22, 2016

European Odyssey - Part 1: Sometimes just getting there is a challenge

Late in 2015, after Christmas was over but before New Year's, I was starting to go stir crazy.  I wanted to get out and travel, it had been a while since I'd done some serious international travel and my wanderlust was kicking my butt.  My passport had been renewed a little over 3 years prior to this and the poor thing didn't have a single stamp in it yet.

The only problem is that from the end of February through the end of September my work schedule is so busy that it's difficult to take more than a few days off in a row.  If I wanted to go somewhere it had to be within the next month during our slow season. 

I started looking for flight deals to anywhere that wasn't North America.  I found a good deal on flights to Europe so I contacted my friends in Ireland and Belgium and asked if they wanted to let me couchsurf.  This is the message I received back from my friend M in Brussels whom I haven't seen in person for over 6 years:
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! And I can come meet up where ever you want! We also have a couch and an air mattress if you want to crash here! Our place is right on the bus line to downtown Brussels. And we're really close to the airport. And I can pick you up or we're on the bus line to that as well.
With a welcome like that, how could a girl refuse?  I was telling a friend of mine about the trip and she was so excited about it that she decided to come with me, meet my friends, and share in my adventure.  S. and I arranged for time off from our jobs, booked our tickets, and within just a few weeks were on our way overseas.

In case you were thinking this was some cushy pre-arranged tour, or a relaxing river cruise, or a simple vacation where we came back to the same hotel every night, I will start off by sharing our itinerary.  We flew SLC to JFK (short layover) to BOS (12 hour layover, 10 hours to explore Boston) to SNN (36 hours in Cork with friends) then ORK to LCY (short layover) to ANR where we caught the last train of the night from Antwerp to Brussels North for 2 1/2 days.  Then we caught a train to Amsterdam and stayed for 3 days.  Then it was flying from AMS to DUB for 22 hours with friends before flying DUB to BOS (short layover) to JFK to SLC and then home.  The entire trip involved 9 flights, 2 cross country train trips, 2 separate sets of bunk beds, a couch, an air mattress, and one VRBO stay that can only be describe as "interesting".  The whole trip  lasted 10 1/2 days.

We started out Friday.  After work I changed, grabbed my trusty backpack, turned my house and pets over to my awesome friend K. and then drove to S.'s house.  Before I get a head of myself I'd like to introduce our third travel companion...Amy Farrah Fowler.

S., Amy, and I having dinner in the airport before we leave on our trip.
Yes that's a POP! figurine of the character from the sitcom Big Bang Theory.  If you've read the blog for a while you may remember the many adventures of Sheldon.  You can catch up on his exploits here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

After picking her up I fueled up my Subaru and we drove the hour and a half to the Salt Lake City International Airport.  Along the way my cell phone rang but I didn't look at it since I was driving.  After arriving at the airport, getting through security, and settling down for a pre-flight dinner inside our terminal I listened to my voicemail while waiting for our food to arrive.

Then I listened to the voicemail again.  Someone had tried to use my debit card at a Sephora and H&M in Fashion Place mall that evening and they didn't believe it was me since I had placed a travel warning on my account a couple days before.  I called them back and told them that it definitely was NOT me making those purchase and to block the charges.  They got back on the line and said "Great we've confirmed that it wasn't you making those purchased, the first one for $300 went through but we were able to block the others."  In total this fraudster had try to use a clone of my debit card to make more than $1,000 worth of purchase in less than an hour.  What the customer rep said next made my heart sink.

"So we've gone ahead and cancelled that card and will be issuing you a new one.  You should get your new card in about a week."  I only had $200 cash on me was planning to use my debit card to get cash in Europe so that I could avoid the lines, opening hours, and high fees at change bureaus.  This was how I was going to get cash to pay for meals, taxis, tickets, etc...and it was cancelled.  I was boarding my flight in an hour, it was late at night on a Friday and all the branches of my financial institution were close and suddenly I had no way to get cash.  I used to work at this particular institution so I texted and called a few of my friends who still worked there trying to figure out what was going and how I was going to get access to my account.  One of them gave me the number of a person in one of the branches that was going to be open Saturday morning and told me to call them first thing and see if I could arrange to get cash from a co-op credit union in Boston the following day.

Then we had to get on our red eye flight on Jet Blue to JFK.  I felt ill.  I tried not to worry.  I did not sleep.  But I did take lots of photos with Amy enjoying all that our plane had to offer, like...

Complimentary snack and beverage service!
Lay-flat seating in coach!
And a sleep kit that included ear plugs and an eye mask.
Free wi-fi and convenient charging stations in the Jet Blue lounge at JFK.
Our flight attendants took really good care of us on all of our Jet Blue, Aer Lingus, and City Jet flights.  This isn't an advertisement, I'm not getting paid to say it.  I am just very grateful for flight attendants everywhere who work hard to take care of the flying public and I think they deserve a shout out. 

After a quick plane change in JFK we arrived in Boston bright and early. We took the airport transfer to the subway and to the first train downtown.  I finally convinced myself to just relax and not think about it.  I had 2 credit cards that I could use and the small amount of cash that I'd brought, it wasn't a crisis.  So I pushed the frustration of the night before to the back of my mind and I took out my DSLR and took photos as we worked our way through Boston on the Freedom Trail.  But more on that in our next installment of the TAKE NO PRISONERS world tour, AKA Adventures in Punishing Travel.

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