This is where I will be posting updates on my everyday adventures on this journey called life.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

A Journey Home

Hi everyone!

On January 8, 2014, I began my journey home to Canada after spending the past 3 months in Europe.  My journey seemed pretty straightforward; Hamburg to Toronto with a 2-hour layover in Brussels.  Heading home was bittersweet as I didn't want to leave Europe, yet at the same time, I was excited to see everyone again!  Preparing for my return wasn't an easy task either, especially with luggage.  The airlines I was flying with had strict baggage allowances: checked baggage was 23 kilos (overweight up to 32 kilos) and carry-on baggage was 7 kilos (vs. 10 kilos which I'm used to).  Having spent the past 3 months in Europe (and for those who know me well!), it's no surprise that I went over my baggage limits.

When I arrived in Hamburg last October, I had a checked bag and a backpack.  Preparing for heading home, I had to buy a carry-on suitcase as my backpack was unable to hold everything I needed it to.  Having packed and re-packed a minimum of 10 times, I accepted the fact that I would have to pay for overweight baggage - there was absolutely no way that I could keep it under the free limit allowance!

Heading to the airport was no easy feat: my first flight (Hamburg to Brussels) was at 7:10am, and having to arrive 2 hours early, I woke up at 3:30am and left by 4:30am.  My sister accompanied me to the airport, which helped a lot with my luggage.  The unfortunate part was that she lived on the 4th floor of a building with no elevator.  Needless to say, I lugged that 32 kilo suitcase down all those flights of stairs - and then some more at the subway stations.

When I went to check-in and to check my bag, I was preparing to pay the $150 USD for my overweight baggage.  Luck seemed to be on my side, as I got off the hook without having to pay any overweight fees at all!  It was looking up to be a good journey.

At this point, I was still unaware of just how badly the weather had affected flights at Pearson airport.  I looked at my second boarding pass (Brussels to Toronto) and noticed that my check-in time was 19:45 when the flight was supposed to be at 10:15am.  Strange, though I figured I would get some answers when I landed in Brussels.  After saying goodbye to my sister and thanking her for everything, I went through security and boarded my plane to Brussels.

Landing in Brussels airport, I went to find my connecting flight.  Upon looking at the departures board, I saw that my flight had indeed been delayed - by 10.5 hours!  You couldn't imagine how I felt.  I was so close to heading home, and yet so far.  Upon arriving at the gate while dragging my carry-on and my purse (which together weighed no less than 23 kilos, I'm sure), the attendant informed me of the food vouchers being provided due to the delay.  I decided to save my 13 euro 'breakfast voucher' until I was hungry, since I anticipated not leaving the airport.  Soon enough, everyone who held a Canadian, American, or EU passport was being taken to an airport hotel for the duration of the delay.  A large group of us were lead across the airport, passing through immigration, to get our hotel vouchers.  The hotel voucher line was slowly diminishing, and I was near the end.  When I finally got up to the counter, the system had crashed and I had to wait about 20 minutes for my voucher to go through.

After receiving our hotel vouchers, we went to wait for the hotel shuttle/paid taxis.  The hotel was only a 10 minute ride away, but no one could have anticipated how long the rides would take.  Apparently there was an issue with the hotel shuttle, and the taxis were reluctant to arrive.  I ended up befriending several of my fellow passengers, and a small group of us were unfortunate enough to be on the last taxi to the hotel.  

(To give you an idea of how long the entire process took, the announcement for those eligible to head to the hotel was at 10:25am, with the group leaving the gate at 10:30am.  By the time our taxi arrived at the hotel, it was almost 1:30pm!)

Lunch was only being served until 2pm, so we hurried to check-in, dropped off our bags in our rooms, and headed to the dining room.  It was so good to finally eat (as I only had a brotchen and that was at 4am).  While some of the others decided to explore Brussels for a few hours, I decided to shower and nap.  I was up late finishing a book, and only managed to get about 30 minutes of sleep before my flight.  Besides, I had explored Brussels on my first layover en route to Hamburg, so it wasn't a difficult decision to stay behind and rest.  While getting to know my new friends, I found out that many of them had had various layovers throughout India (Jet Airways is an Indian airline); some had even begun their journeys a day or two before!  I couldn't complain much since I only began my journey that morning.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Airport hotel, which was surprisingly nice.  I took a refreshing shower, followed by a nice snooze.  The airline was supposed to keep the manager updated and the hotel was supposed to call each of the rooms to inform us of which airport shuttle to catch, in order to not miss our flight.  It turns out our flight was even more delayed than initially thought, pushing our expected departure time to 23:45 - 13.5 hours later.

The airport shuttle ran every half an hour.  We were instructed to take any of them starting from 18:30, before 20:00 (that was the latest shuttle we were supposed to take, though not recommended as it was reserved for the flight crew).  My friends and I decided to take the shuttle at 19:30, though there were still many fellow passengers waiting.

After arriving at the airport and going through security (again!), we were provided with another 13 euro food voucher.  By the time the vouchers were handed out, most of the restaurants were closed.  Therefore, the one restaurant still open had a huge line, composed primarily of passengers from my flight.  My friends and I all enjoyed some food, some Belgian beer, and each other's company.

After some more waiting, we finally began boarding!  Somehow, upon boarding the plane, I ripped my airplane pillow and its white insides began flying everywhere.  I somehow made it to my seat and quickly put it on the floor, hoping it would be somewhat contained.  I slept through most of the flight, and woke up to find that I had kicked the airplane pillow a lot while sleeping, and the entire floor looked like it was covered in snow - including my boots, my pants, and everything I had on the floor.  What a nightmare!  I could only say it was the perfect end to the longest day ever.

Since our flight was so delayed, our expected arrival time was pushed from 12:45pm on January 8th, to 2:35am the following morning.  We landed on time, but due to the weather, we spent about 20 minutes moving slowly from the landing strip to the arrivals terminal.  Customs actually went by really quickly, and before we knew it, my friends and I were waiting at baggage claim.

After claiming my checked bag (with lots of help from my new friends - thanks again guys!), I headed to the taxi stand to finally head home.  I had a nice cab driver, who helped with my luggage, and I finally arrived home shortly before 4am.

As relieving as it was to finally be home, I couldn't help but feel that the delay turned out to be for the better. It allowed former strangers to become new friends, and that is invaluable.  I'm sure we'll all see each other around sometime!

Finally, I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who has helped make this trip what it was: whether you hosted me, helped me out, we met randomly, had short conversations, or you followed my blog - I sincerely thank you for your support!  This has been a wild journey and will definitely not be the last.  Stay tuned for more adventures to come!

Until next time - cheers! :)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

A Day in Berlin

Hallo alle!

Last Saturday, my sister and I went on a day trip to Berlin.  We bought cheap train tickets and arrived mid-morning.  We then went on a free walking tour of Berlin, before exploring the city a bit more with new friends we made along the way!  Berlin is a wonderful city, with so much history.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate

Hotel Michael Jackson hung a baby out the window

Memorial for the Jewish victims of the Holocaust

Jewish Memorial

Jewish Memorial

Berlin Wall

Trabi cars!

Checkpoint Charlie

Radio Tower

First doner!  With Jesse


Christmas Market

Brandenburg Gate

Giant giraffe

Until next time - cheers!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

A Look Back at 2013

As the new year begins, I can't help but think back to the amazing year that was 2013: a year full of friends, family, travel, and new experiences.  I started out the year with a bang, ringing in the new year with my best and oldest girlfriends.  It was that night that I told myself this year would be the year: to let go of my fears, to embrace life, and to make it unforgettable.

At the beginning of February, I celebrated my 22nd bithday.  For the first time in a long time, I actually really enjoyed it.  I was surrounded by friends, both new and old, all of whom had taken time out of their lives to celebrate with me - I was showered with love and well wishes and I would not have traded it for anything.  My best girlfriends surprised me with cupcakes from my favourite bakery,  a onesie, and the final season of my favourite television series on DVD.  My oldest girlfriends surprised me with a cake, and 22 presents for my 22nd birthday.  Combined with various cards and birthday wishes from other friends, it made for an incredible birthday (dancing the night away didn't hurt either!).

By April, I had finished my last term in university.  After successfully completing my final exams, I was approved to graduate!  I had spent the last 4 years earning my bachelor's degree, yet it felt bittersweet that my time in university had come to an end.  Upon receiving my final grades, I had received a 94% in one of my 4th year classes.  I was ecstatic!  What an accomplishment.

In May of 2013, I went on an Alaskan cruise with my mother and my aunt.  It was a week-long cruise, departing from Vancouver and docking in Seattle, stopping in the ports of Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan.  Like any other cruise, the food was amazingly decadant.  What I remember most is looking out at the snow-covered mountains, breathing in the fresh Alaskan air, and thinking to myself how serene it all was.  I remember seeing and hearing pieces of a glacier break apart and crashing into the waters below.  I remember the blue tint of the glaciers, and the clarity of the Alaskan water.  I remember seeing whales in their natural habitat, peeking out of the water to sneak a breath.  There's also nothing like sitting in an outdoor hot tub sailing the ocean and admiring the view of snow-covered mountains, while breathing in that fresh Alaskan air.

By June, I had renewed my contract with my former workplace where I worked as a Human Resources Assistant.  My first day back, I went to Blue Mountain for the organization's annual recognition awards.  The Human Resources branch was norminated for the Team Building Award.  As a recipient, I was able to go to Blue Mountain, where I had my own room, and enjoy a lovely awards dinner - all expenses paid.  I must say, it certainly was the best first day anyone could have asked for!

Later in June, I had attended my convocation ceremony.  I walked across the stage and received my diploma - the very expensive piece of paper that I spent 4 years working toward.  I remember feeling very proud and accomplished, yet sad because the day I was so looking forward to seemed to flash by in a blink of an eye.  As did my 4 years at Waterloo.  Bittersweet to say the least.

Sometime in July (though officially recognized in August), I became debt free.  Between help from my mother and my summer job, I was able to pay off my student loans.  This was an incredible accomplishment for me and took a huge weight off of my shoulders.  All of the time I spent worrying about repaying my loans vanished and I was finally able to breathe.

The rest of the money from my summer job was used to fund my 3 month trip to Europe.  I had always dreamed of travelling through Europe, but had always found reasons not to go. Suddenly, I found that I was at a point in my life where I wasn't studying, in debt, or tied down to a job - I no longer had a reason not to go.  My sister has been living in Germany for about 5 years now, and so I went to stay with her.  Hamburg would be my home base while I travelled around.

In those 3 months, I explored Brussels, Hamburg, Florence, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Porto, Barcelona, Salzburg, Vienna, Montabauer, Koblenz, Trier, Luneburg, and Lubeck.  I travelled solo, I couchsurfed, and I met some great people along the way.  I stood barefoot in the Atlantic ocean for the first time (in December no less!) at a beach in Porto, I saw the sunset from high atop Florence in Fiesole, the beautiful beaches of Porto and from Park Guell in Barcelona, I drank 1 euro beers at a punk/rock bar in Barcelona, I saw and experienced real German Christmas Markets, I went on a tour of a castle in Southern Germany, and I bonded with my sister.

The best part about spending 3 months 'vacationing' on a different continent was the incredible amount of love of support from my family, my friends, and my boyfriend back home.  I'm so grateful for all of them.

Looking back on 2013, it really was an incredible year.  I learned to let go of my fears, doubts, and worries, and to just enjoy life.

I can't wait to see what adventures await in 2014!