Flying Home: Jan-5-2014

Today is the last day of my travels, which mostly consists of my connecting flight to Philadelphia via London.  I woke up and had to re-pack my bag.  I don't think too much about it any more--I have been living out of a bag for a month and have a place for everything in my bag.  It's very important to to have a strategy when packing.  Otherwise you will be looking forever for the item(s) you need.  Also, it's important to have fragile stuff protected.   For example, I have my toilet paper on an outside mesh pocket, which is easy to reach for when I'm in need for a bush break.  My documentation, that isn't on my person, does not need to be as accessable becuase if I'm in dire need for backup paperwork I likely have the time to reach inside my bag for it.  I have my first aid, pancho, towels, overnight bag protector, chlorine dioxide water treatment drops, etc. all in exterior pockets.

 

The bottom of my bag holds my my travel pillow in it's compression sack.  The top of my bag, which has a strap-on modular hip sack holds my toilettries, some of my electrical cables/adaptors, and some 5 hour energy drinks, which I took with me on my trip only to proving to be a complete waste of weight.  I have my Maasai 'Seme' Warriar Lion's Blade/Sword in my bag carefully protected next to my hand made oil painting depicting Maasai men jumping.  My carved figures are also packed inside my bag, alongside my dirty laungry bag filled with all the clothes I brought with me.  I have my pair of thongs in my bag as well.  This was all--or mostly all--the stuff I brought along with me.

 

After only a 20 minute drive Kim dropped me off at British Airways around 8:25.  I hugged her goodbye and told her we needed to keep in touch.  She told me that when/if I travel and happen to find myself in Amsterdam that I shouldn't hessitate to look her up--I won't.

 

It took me a long time to get my boarding passes...even though I had checked-in the day before I did not have my boarding passes with me.  The self-help terminal wasn't working for many people so we had to wait in a single line.  When I finally got to the counter she told me I had to go somewhere else to drop my bags off as they were 'over-sized'.

 

More security, more passport and ticket checks....finally at the gate...quick flight to London.  Even though I was taking a connecting flight I had to re-enter the security line and go through this shit all over again.  I went to the bathroom and had a snack.

 

On my flight to London I sat next to a man living in the western suburbs of Philly.  He's orinally from Ghana and has an ex-wife in London.  His new wife and children all live in Philly.  We talked for well over an hour about career paths.  His oldest son is a mechanical engineer who currently works for Accenture in London.  His younger son thinks he wants to go into medicine but my 'new friend' told me he's trying to explain to him that it's important to keep options open.  Having multiple degrees, taking a variety of jobs, working in jobs which grow/expand your talent(s) are important.  We discuss how much money is 'enough'.  It was an interesting conversation at the very least.


I got a kosher meal, because I had ordered it when I booked the ticket several months ago.  I had salmon, a sweet roll, some fruit, and rice w/ lamb.  It was amazing.  I'm watching World War Z right now--It's barely holding my Attention.  I've had three bottles of red wine, though the last one I accidentally spilled during my trip back from the restroom.  I also took a small dose of Xanax.  I thought the few glasses of alcohol would help me sleep, but I'm too scared to take a larger dosage of Xanax...but that's just me, better safe than sorry.

 

It's 10:45 eastern time and I should be touching down in Philly within 5 hours.  What a great trip I had.

 

Cannot wait next year when I WILL take my 12 month RTW trip!

Arrival in Amsterdam: Jan-2-2014

I left for the airport last night at 9:00 and I was arrived no later than 9:30.  I strapped my wooden chairs on top of my bag and hoisted it over my shoulder.  It was a struggle to move about ~70 lbs on my back.  Before I was allowed to enter the airport a man was checking our passports and inquiring about our travels.  People who were not flying today were not allowed inside.  The moment I entered the doors into the aiport I had to have every piece of luggage/baggage I had sent through an x-ray  machine.  Beside the machine was a metal detector for me to pass through.  There was a sign that read, "no weapons beyond this point".  Below the sign was a picture of a small blade and a gun.  I had a single edged 4" locking blade as well as a double-edged 12" Seme (Maasai sword) so I was a bit nervous--but assumed I would be fine as they probably get alot of this type of thing.  I picked up my bag on the other side of the conveyor--no questions asked.  I hadn't emptied my pockets or taken off my shoes...a US policy that is such a hassle.


I waited in line to check-in--my back was breaking from the weight of my bags and I wanted nothing more than to unload my checked-in baggage.  I had about 70 lbs on my back and another 15 lbs on my chest.  When I finally checked in I found out that my chairs weighed more than 40lbs, while my backpacking bag was under 30lbs.  I would guess that at least 5 lbs of that weight was trinkets and paperwork.


I put a black garbage bag over my overnight bag and sent it on its way to Amsterdam.  Next I went to my gate which included the following:

  1. Showing one man my passport and my ticket
  2. Going through immigration and telling the women about my travel history and future plans.  She inquired about my occupation, etc.  She stamped me 'out' of Kenya
  3. Going into three seperate duty free shops and being turned down by each one because they all refused to change a $20 bill, despite the fact that they all took USD.
  4. Overpaying at a food stand for a diet coke and diary milk chocolate bar
  5. Going to gate #10 which was where my British Airways flight to London was
  6. Was told I couldn't take the diet coke with me so I chugged half of it and threw the rest away
  7. At the gate a women checked my passport and ticket and then let me through...to the 'next stage'
  8. I passed my bag through an x-ray while I walked through a metal detector.
  9. Just as I was putting my things back in my pockets I had to go through another metal detector and send my bag through another x-ray machine.  I was 'screened' here and was told they needed to examine my bag.  Due to all the pockets and straps on my bag it took them a good 10 minutes to figure out how to access all the pockets of the bag.  While they were checking my bag they asked about where I was flying and about my trip thus far.  They asked to see my ticket stub and they recorded some type of ID number down on their clipboard.  I was finally sent through and was able to sit at the gate where I waited another hour to board the flight.

The flight went quickly--I slept on and off for 5 or so hours.  I ate two meals.  Once I got off the plane there were half a dozen agents checking everyone's passports.  They were pulling everyone aside and asking about onward travel and what our business was being in Kenya.  I told one about my tour and the countires I had visited.  The agent had asked for my previous plane tickets or tour voucher.  I told her that stuff was in my checked baggage.  She inquired about my occupation and finally let me through.


Next, I waited 1.5 hours in line to go through immigration.  When I finally got to an agent I told him I was in transit and that I had a flight out later today.  He was suspicious and told me my flight had arrived a while ago.  I told him the line was long and he had some doubt.  He asked for my occupation, I told him, he stamped my passport, I was in.  After this point I noticed my hat was missing and I was really upset becuase I loved that hat.  I wore it every day and had planed on using it quite a bit when I go hiking in the future.  I went to the baggage services department and they called the plane but it wasn't to be found.  I went to the lost and found...no luck.  I'll check again when I go back to the airport, but I might just have to buy another one.  Damn!


I noticed that there was no formal customs.  I think it was closed?  The people who had checked baggage were just taking it through an empty "non-declaration" door and that was that.  I hope this is the case in Amsterdam, but I know it will not be the easy.  By the time I caught the underground it had been almost 3 hours since my flight had touched down.


I took the underground to Hyde Park Circle, walked around for an hour, and finally ended up eating breakfast at a place called "Garfunkel's" on Oxford Street.  I am not impressed with London.  I love the people and think the culture is great, but it doesn't seem like a place to 'visit'.  To me it's more of a place to live.


It's 10:15 now and I'm planning on heading back to the airport at 11:00 which should give me ample time to find an underground stop, take the neccassary transfers I need, and make my way to Terminal 5.  I don't have any bags to check but I imagine it can still take some time getting through.  When I started my trip just 4 weeks ago and I had left Heathrow it took me a few minutes to get through security and back to my gate.  No one checked my passport or ticket last time...it was really weird.  I think since I had already checked in and my bag was being checked in to the final destination I somehow skipped a much needed step.


Anyways, I exchanged a few messages with Kim just a bit ago and she told me she will see me at the airport.  I told her not to rush since I will likely have a slight holdup at customs.  I'm excited to see Kim, but am actually nervous.  I really really really enjoyed spending my time traveling SE Asia with her, but it's been such a long time (~5 years) and we've only talked 1 time via skype and probably only half a dozen times through facebook.  I wanted to get her something as a gesture of kindess.  I ended up on brining her and Oliver a hand-carved figure and a set of 6 napkin rings.


I'm excited for Amsterdam, the weather should be 'good enough'.  I had Kelly check for me when I had talked to her during my wait at the Nairobi airport--mid to high 40s.  With my long sleeved shirt, and fleece I should be warm enough.  If not I have a long sleeved synthetic mock-turtleneck shirt.  I also have a pair of synthetic base layer long pants.


A SIDE NOTE ON MY CLOTHING:  I brought two pairs of pants, I wore 1 of them 85% of the time, the other 10% of the time, and a bathing suite 5%.  I never wore my pair of athletic shorts or my pair of technical shorts.  I brought two pairs of technical long sleeved shirts, I wore these %65 of the time.  I wore my Under Armor t-shirt 20% of the time, my Columbia 'cooling technology' long sleeve shirt 5% of the time (which is a bummer since the shirt retails for $60).  I wore all my 3 pairs of socks.  My thickest pair of merino wool socks that come up mid-calf are great!  I have worn them all day for the last 7-10 days and they have NEVER been washed.  Believe it or not they have almost no odor.  They keep my legs dry and warm.  But they breathe oh-so-well!  I am sold on merino wool.  I brought 3 pairs of underwear and I have washed each one 1 time--though only using water.  I have been wearing my current pair for 5 days, and the pair before that for about the same tome, maybe longer.  One pair is a low-priced 'no-name' synthetic pair and the other two, that I wore 90% of the time, are boxer briefs I bought on sale off of Amazon.  They retail for ~$30 apiece but I found a great deal via slickdeals and got two pairs for $24.  They are Exofficio, which is a very well known brand around the world.  The company specializes in high-quality travel clothing.  Their product tagline is, "17 countries. 6 weeks. One pair of award-winning underwear. (Ok, maybe two.)"  Wearing these boxer briefs 5 straight days, including nights and the hot muggy days, still leaves these things odorless.  I can wear my Cole Hann loafers for only 30 minutes before my feet smell like a freshly opened bag of Fritos.  I wore my other tops a few times but probably didn't need to pack them.  I brought more clothing than I needed.  However I have been wearing the same pair of underwear, socks, long-sleeved tech shirt, and pants for the last 4 days?  Given that I just cycle my clothing, not having really washed any of them, I guess you can say I've warn the same thing for the last 4 weeks nonstop.  Take it from me, there is a reason technigal shirts are $50-$80, 100% thick merino socks are $25/pair, travel underwear is ~$30/apiece, and tech pants run almost $100.


Even though I have only been on my own for the last day, and not even, I really enjoy it.  I forgot how much more I enjoy traveling as an solo traveler.  I just wander with no one to hold me accountable or to be accountable for anyone else.  I rely on myself and myself alone.  It's easier to just 'get lost' in everything and approach strangers/locals/fellow passer-bys.


Ok, time to head to the nearest underground--that is, after I pay my bill of 8.40 GBP.


It took me a while to find the Piccadilli Line, but I finally got on and made one transfer to get to terminal 5.  I was through security in no time and had 1-2 hours until my flight.  Heathrow had wi-fi, which was free for 45 minutes.  I got an extra 45 minutes becuase I signed up for their loyalty program.  I also used my phone and tablet to double these times since I had used up my day's allowance earlier this morning.  I was reading online how I could get my Maasai sword into the Netherlands, but I was not finding anything useful.


The flight was a short one--45 minutes.  After landing I headed towards baggage claim.  I saw my overnight bag, still wrapped in the black garbage bag, and my self packed wooden chairs.  I loaded them onto a cart, which was free, and headed over to customs.  There was a green tab on the garbage bag that said "security checked" and I tried very hard to make this small sticker visable as I loaded my cart.  I re-read the customs notice on the wall which stated I did not have to claim gifts or souvenirs--well, that's only what I have so I walked through the 'green', nothing to claim, divider.  I went unstopped and left the baggage area.  Score!
Arriving in Netherlands


As I walked into the general airport, outside the baggage area, there were 4 attractive women, dressed in traditional dutch clothing, passing out some very sweet fried pastry--they were delicious.  I walked around the area for 5 minutes until I met up with Kim--we hugged and chatted during our short drive back to her house.  She lives just a 10 minute bikeride outside the city.


Kim's place is amazing--it must be 2-3 times larger than mine and 100s of times more fashionable.  In her bedroom she had used one of the photos she had taken at Ankor Wat, blown it up, and used it as a wallpaper behind her bed.  I met Oliver and we talked about my trip for a little.  He was preparring dinner, which we ate a bit later.  He eats similar foods that I eat.  Dinner consisted of cooked pumpkin and eggplant with a caper-oil dressing he had made, cubed grilled chicken, green beans, and some salad.  Lovely!


We talked for hours and Kim showed me the book she had made from her Asian trip.  It was so good to talk about time's past--the pictures she had taken looked very similar to mine.  We also discussed some potential plans for the following days.  I had wanted to go to the Ann Frank house, but the pre-paid tickets were sold out--we are planning on going there first thing in the day to try to beat the line (it's the morning of the 3rd right now).  Kim has to call a client around 9 this morning, which is in an hour so we'll probably be leaving in the next 90 minutes.  There is a Modern Art Museum, the Rikes Museum, and the Van Gohg Museum...I'm not sure which one we'll go to--may only one?  They have tours along the canals which are supposed to be fun.  Kim had pointed out a very pretty theater, but there was only one English movie playing--The Hobbit--which I can very happily miss.  She said going to the red-light district is best at night or else it's empty.  Although Kim has never been inside a cafe she told me she is happy to go with me.


She has an extra bike and we're planning on riding into the city around 9:30.  I'll keep you posted about my day.  Cheers!

Arrival In London: Dec-7-2013

Caught my flight out of Philly at 10:00 pm.  It was very hard leaving my love back at home, but I know she will be ok (she's a strong little lady).  I hadn't thought about finding out beforehand in which terminal British Airways was located, but I definitely missed it by 3 terminals.  I had to walk back outside, in the rain mind you, and hike back to the first terminal get my tickets and check my bag.  While walking outside I found a woman who was struggling with her bags.  I got off the phone with Kelly and asked the girl if she needed help with her bag(s).  I took a bag and we were on to the ticketing.  I hung out with her for the duration leading up to our departure (she was also on the London flight).  Her name is Sarah and she was an Au Pair, which is a live-in nanny. 


JUST AN FYI...NOT ONLY DOES THIS APP ON MY TABLET NOT HAVE A SPELL CHECK, BUT ALSO MY SPELLING COMPREHENSION IS OFFICIALLY THAT OF A 6TH GRADER...DEAL WITH IT!  We ALL have strengths and weaknesses now...now you know my spelling is my Kryptonite.


She has been living in a wealthy suburb on the main line...which I'm sure gave her a very stilted perspective of "American Life" as it was her first time in the states.  She has had a boyfriend for the last 3 years and was long distance for the last year...that HAS to be hard!  She was en route to her home country, Austria.


After buying an apple, turkey, Brie, and craison salad I boarded my flight.  I chatted for a while with the gentleman next to me.  He lived ~1 hr. outside London and was in Philly for the week on business.  He said he worked in IT...but was hesitant.  I think his job was more complicated but he was trying to keep things simple for me.  I have asked him if he had seen the show, "The I.T. Crowd"?  He said he had and that he thought it was Brilliant.  Actually he said that main guy with the Afro is a funny comic in Britain and that he performs often.  Please watch that show if you get around to it.  I watched it on Hulu.   It was such a success they made a US version.  PLEASE do yourself a favor and watch the UK version.  This is series does not follow the same relationship that the UK "The Office" did when it came to the US.  The UK version is ACTUALLY much BETETER!


I told him about my pending adventures through Africa and he told me about two of his friends that recently took quite the adventure.  They had a truck that they converted to a camper--Installed a bathroom, cots, etc.  He wanted to call it a Lorry (I'm not sure what this is, but I presume it is a robust overland recreational vehicle).  They started in London and drove all the way down to Cape Town, South Africa.  It took them 18 months and they stayed no longer than 10 days at any one location.  They then shipped the vehicle back to London and vacationed in nice hotels while in South Africa.   That is a great trip that I would love to do through the American National Parks.


After chatting for ~45 minutes we started to watch our respective in-flight entertainment.  I caught up on 3 episodes of "The Big Bang Theory".  The medicine I took prior to boarding had been taking its hold on me and I stopped fighting it.  I took out my inflatable travel/backpacking pillow (Filo Nemo - $45 retail).   I was sleeping in no time.


Woke up for dinner:  Chicken curry w/ rice, a salad (that I didn't touch), a roll (that I didn't touch), and a cinnamon cheesecake like dessert.  Food was all in all very good.  Also woke up for breakfast, which was a sweet croissant.


I decided to go into central London for a few hours since I had ~8 hrs. till my next flight.  I took the Piccadilly line (and NOT the faster express) because it was 1/4 the cost.  I am taking the Piccadilly Underground to the Piccadilly Circus stop and will transfer to the Bakerloo line.  I plant to take this to the Waterloo stop.


My Plans while in London (for the 3 hours that I am here):  Start off south of the River Thames and work my was northwest following the Jubilee line.  If I make it all the was to the Green Park stop on the Piccadilly line I will head east to the Piccadilly Circus stop and get back on the head back to the Airport.  I wanted to walk around Piccadilly Circus (the reason for walking back that way).


I really like meeting people while traveling alone...even if it's when it's on the airplane or in the airport.  They are like you're best friend because at the time there is no one else either person has and it's human nature to form connections with people.  Traveling alone really gives the traveler the ability to reach out and talk to anyone.  I met a great couple from France on the Piccadilly line.  They are visiting London for the first time.


Or I forgot to mention...I was able to use my first aid kit for the first time EVER.  And I have taken it with me to at least half a dozen countries and on at least half a dozen overnight backpacking trips thus far.  That girl, Sarah, had actually fallen and torn her jeans and cut up her knee pretty bad.  I guess that was the reason she was struggling with her bags when I met her outside.  I used antibacterial spray and a Band-Aid.... You would have been proud, Mom!


Just finished walking around London and switched onto the Piccadilly line to Terminal 5 (where British Airways is)--should arrive at the terminal w/ 2.5 hours before my flight.  I have needed to go to the bathroom since I was on the plane but still haven't found time yet...I'll be able to relax a bit at the airport before my 12 hr. flight to J-Burg, South Africa.
I walked west along the south bank of the Thames River and visited a large Ferris wheel and merry-go-round.  There was
a fair going on and what seemed to be a weekly farmer's market.  I could see Big Ben from across the river and took a few photos.  Along the way I came across a handful of street performers--some were actually very good.


I walked up to Big Ben and approached Westminster Abbey.  I was a bit disappointed...I guess I was expecting more.  I mean, don't get me wrong.... it WAS beautiful!  I think I just appreciate different elements of countries when I visit.  Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and Trafalgar Square were ok.  Nothing I haven't seen before.  I went into the free National Museum but didn't have the time to have my bag searched so I just looked at the interior.  It was beautiful. 



The entire square was a bit too touristy for me.... THIS is the entire reason why I have NO desire to travel through Western Europe.  I'm trying to work out the logistics of a Round The World (RTW) trip sometime in the next 5 years.  Seeing as I want to skip over (much) of Europe I think I can avg ~15/yr.  But I guess that is for another blog.


All on all I really enjoyed London...more so for the people than any one thing I actually saw.  Everyone has been extremely nice--though most people I stopped on the street to talk with are not even from the UK.  Did I already say how Touristy London was/is?


After 4 solid hours of walking around London I'm ready to take breather.  Call me odd but there is something so fulfilling about pushing oneself through fatigue and getting completely engulfed in the culture/environment.  I probably asked a dozen strangers all around down if they wanted me to take their photos.  About 80% of them said yes.  Of those 80%, a bit more than half seemed to actually be grateful.  Either way, it allowed me to spark up some great convos.

Trafalgar Square

I am on the train right now and it doesn't feel too different than the regional rail in Philly.  The Subway in Philly is pretty Ghetto, no a problem with all the train/underground lines here.  My guess is that there is some type of 'Urban'' influence on the matter...


I was able to get Wi-Fi for a bit at the airport and checked my email.  I was able to secure a spot on the Dec-9-2013 Devil's Pool tour ($80) in Zambia and a spot for the rafting trip ($140) along the Zambezi River.  Sources have stated that this rafting trip is the best, more intense, one-day rafting trip in the world.  The guides make us actually take our raft out of the water and walk around some of the rapids that they think is not safe.  They call some of these class-6, but I've never heard of this?  I know people say that different regions will grade their rapids on dissimilar scales, but I've only heard people use the 5-grade system.


The cost of my train ticket, which can be used on ANY train/underground as many times as I want for the duration of the entire day, was ~8.5quid.  In the previous sentence I used quid because I thought 8.5pounds didn't look right.  Also, what does lbs. REALLY mean?  Is it the abbreviation for the word pound or for JUST the weight?


Nothing else to say...probably already said too much for only having been gone not even a full day.  But I'm bored on this train and this is keeping me busy.


Keep you Posted!