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25 September 2007

Stranded in Scotland

Night 3 in Scotland: Saturday/Sunday, 21-22 September
It was the last night in Edinburgh for me and Nicole, and we had just missed our bus.

And so began a series of frustratingly unfortunate events.

Disbelief quickly turned to anxiousness, as we tried to beg the one other bus leaving for London at 22:30 to let us on. No deal--they were with a different company and just couldn't acknowledge our tickets. All the ticket stalls in the station were closed. There were no other buses leaving until the morning. But a 9-hour bus then would be tough--I had class the next day, and Nicole had to catch her plane early that next morning.

What do we do? What do we do? What do we do?! This has never happened before--being stranded in a cold foreign city with no way to get home and no place to sleep that night.

We walked to the train station--there was someone at the ticket counter. The next train they had was in the morning, and it would cost £100. Each. And to make things worse, there was repair work going on, so there was a replacement bus for part of the way. We begged the cashier for help, but he simply couldn't offer anything better.

We stopped by two nearby hotels, including the very posh Balmoral, asking the concierge to help us by looking up transportation options that night to London. The two guys behind the desk only confirmed what we feared: There were no buses or trains until the morning. They looked into flights, which cost about £80 each. We thanked them for their help and went back to the hostel to see if we could at least beg to stay there for part of the night.

Things got worse: The hostel was totally booked, because there was a Rugby championship going on this weekend. They wouldn't let us sleep on their couch. We asked to use their internet, and checked for ourselves that there were no buses. I couldn't believe it! After over an hour of trying to calm ourselves down enough to think clearly, we decided to book the first flight back, leaving Edinburgh airport in the morning. £83 each. That's over $160. I cringed. But what choice did we have?

This was probably the costliest mistake I have ever made. We couldn't stop cursing ourselves. How stupid we were! We were taking jumping pictures!

We then left the hostel, paying £3 for the internet. It was past 1 AM. Then, we walked back into the new town to catch a bus to the airport. It was so cold waiting there! Finally the bus came, and we barely had enough spare change to pay for it. Everyone on the bus was raucously drunk from the Rugby game and it simply being Saturday night in Edinburgh. I was completely exhausted, so that I fell asleep on the bus, not even the rowdy Rugby fans could keep me awake. Nicole later told me that there was apparently this really funny passed-out guy who literally had to be dragged out of the bus by his friends. I didn't even see it.

So we made it to the airport. And we slept. In the airport check-in area. Under the ultra-bright florescent lights.

3 hours later I awoke to the sounds of an airport coming alive for the day.(And to the sounds of a loud Russian family sitting right next to me, unaware that I was sleeping right there!)

We checked our bags, luckily not having to pay anything and boarded the flight. I didn't have my passport with me, but my drivers license sufficed. It was my first time flying EasyJet. An hour and a half later, we arrived at London Gatwick airport.

But, we weren't out of the woods yet! They unloaded us from the plane, and made us get on a shuttle bus instead of going straight into the terminal. The bus took us to a small outlying terminal, where everyone from the plane was forced to line up (queue) because of a ridiculous/useless/stupid airport policy: They take a picture of every passenger arriving on a domestic flight, store it on the computer, and they match your picture to your face as you leave the terminal. What the hell? Apparently it's to distinguish arriving and departing passengers. In reality, it simply meant an extra 40 minute delay.

The baggage claim simply sucks at Gatwick, too. It's a one-way conveyor belt, which means that the luggage doesn't go around, it just comes out and some guy grabs it from the end of the conveyor and throws it on the ground. By the time our flight got through the photo-taking fiasco, our luggage was sitting on the floor all over the whole room. At least I didn't have to wait for my luggage. It would have been so easy for someone to steal it, though.

Finally, we were out! But wait--we were at the ticketing/check-in part of the airport. There were no signs leading to the exit, where we could find the train back to London. And it was packed! So disorganized!

We had to squirm through the crowds to get to the international arrivals, where we managed to find a ticket booth selling train tickets to central London. It cost £9 each, but we didn't care; we just wanted to get back.

We got on the first train. And it took us to London. It went to a different station than our ticket said (Kings Cross instead of Victoria), but again, we didn't care. We got off at King's Cross, quickly saw Platform 9 3/4 for the mandatory Harry Potter photo, then made our way to Oxford St to buy something for Nicole's friend, and took the bus back to my place.

I was so happy to be back. I have only been in London for 2 weeks, but for the first time, London felt like home.

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