Expectations Revisited

Sitting in the Columbus airport at the beginning of our trip, we put together a list of things we expected to happen. Looking back at the list now, we were pretty accurate with things. A lot of what we thought would happen – did, and some things that we couldn’t have expected also happened. So here’s a little look back, starting with the original list of expectations. (Post trip comments are in italics)

  • Both: Expect to be sore from carrying our heavy bags around. (Day one and this has already proven true) We got used to carrying them, but that doesn’t mean we liked it. We also picked up a lot of other stuff that we didn’t start with that we lugged around – mostly groceries. The worst walk with bags was the mile and a quarter walk on our way out of Rome when we had a couple bottles of leftover wine, a few bottles of leftover beer, and a couple liters of water – and it was around 100 degrees. So…much…sweat.  At the end, throwing stuff away and leaving things behind gave us a literal appreciation for the phrase “a weight off your shoulders.”
  • Jenny: Expect London’s weather to be equally or more crappy than the food. (Day one, and this has also already proven true)  We did have rain both times we were in London, but it was also really nice the second time through. Traditional English food – can’t speak highly for that. London is like any big city that probably has more than its fair share of good restaurants, if you want to pay for it. 
  • We both expect to get lost, more than once, in multiple cities.  Of course we got lost. Worst moments – probably Jenny getting lost on her own looking for a bathroom in Venice, and Steve being totally and completely turned around while outside the walls of Vatican City. He still thinks the map was wrong. 

    Fez-Medina-map-November-2012

    “Don’t need a map, I got this”

  • We both expect this trip to be good training for our future run on the Amazing Race. It could happen, right? Heck yeah, let’s do it! Really though, traveling is a skill that gets better with practice. Things that were difficult in the beginning were easy by the end. We’ve done a practice round. :)
  • Jenny expects to get tan. Steve expects to get freckled. Jenny has some amazing feet tan lines from her sandals. Steve…. has freckles…
  • Other than our skydiving birthday, we expect these to be among our most memorable. Steve will be in Spain during his, Jenny will be in Nice, probably by a beach. We went to a Flamenco show in Madrid on Steve’s birthday and were on a rocky beach in Nice for Jenny’s. Definitely good birthdays. 
  • We expect to get sick of each other at some point. (Insert joke about being day one and this expectation already proving true). Despite never being apart for more than an hour at a time the entire trip, we never really got sick of each other. In the beginning there were some tense moments as we tried to find our rhythm in strange places. After a while you learn to recognize when one or both of you are stressed because you’re tired or hungry or lost and how to deal with that. 
  • Steve expects to get cranky at some point. (Yep, this happened in a crowded London bar that was too much for him to handle after running on 30+ hours with only an hour of plane sleep) See above. Don’t ask Steve questions when he’s tired and lost. 
  • Jenny expects to get homesick, to cry, and apologized ahead of time. (Day one, and we both miss our cats already. They probably already forget who we are…) We definitely missed the cats, especially by the end. For the most part we were moving around so much that we didn’t really have time to get bored (that’s when you get homesick). We Skyped with Jenny’s family several times, wrote emails, and kept up with each other’s worlds. We got to visit directly with Steve’s parents, so the homesick feelings never got quite as strong as we expected. 
  • Steve expects to spend way more money than we had planned. More, yes. Way more, nah, we did ok. We spent very reasonable amounts on lodging (thanks AirBnB), ate no more than one meal a day at restaurants, kept it to one major attraction per day, and didn’t buy lots of junky souvenirs. Transportation cost a lot more than planned and we’d do things differently if we had it to do over (more budget flying). 
  • Jenny expects to want to eat out way more than we should, and to get shot down by Steve.  See above. Food is horribly expensive if you have to eat at restaurants all the time. Factor in a weaker dollar against the euro and pound, and you can’t eat a simple lunch for less than $30-40. Grocery stores, home cooking, and street food kept the budget in line. 
  • Pizza and beer cures hanger.

    Pizza and beer cures hanger.

    Jenny expects to get hangry often (see above expectation)  We both got hangry a lot. After touring for hours we’d both be tired and hungry and fall into “What do you want? I don’t care, what do you want? I don’t care, what do you want?” We got better at just picking places by the end of the trip.

  • We expect these 11 weeks to fly by. Basically, yep. We often said “I can’t believe we’re already x weeks into the trip.” We moved around so much that there was always something new to do or see. We were getting tired by the last couple of weeks, but even then, it never seemed to drag. Especially after being back in the U.S., it seems like we were there and back in the blink of an eye.
  • We expect that we’ll want to do this again…   Travel, yes, but differently. We covered the major cities of western Europe, but we found that we enjoyed our time in the smaller cities like Seville and Brugge a lot. If we do another Europe trip, it’d be smaller towns where you’ve got more of a chance of running into locals instead of tourists. But we’ve done Europe. There’s a whole big world out there. We’ve never been to South America. Or southern Africa. Or southeast Asia or Australia. So many places to go!

And for some of the unexpected

  • Steve didn’t expect to slip in puke in Paris, get mildly electrocuted in Bordeaux, or have a bird poop on him at the Tower of London…
  • We didn’t expect to hate other tourists so much. Seriously – we could do an entire post on how to be a good tourist, because we saw lots of terrible ones.
  • We didn’t expect to get so annoyed with people trying to sell us stuff. If you visit tourist spots, just remember, you’re just a walking wallet to the business around. By our return trip to London, we would’ve given anything just to be able to walk down the street without somebody trying to get us into their shop or handing us a flyer for a restaurant. As sad as it is, we got trained to be rude to people this summer. If you make eye contact or are nice to people, they’ll prey on you.
  • We didn’t expect to drink so much beer and wine. It was cheap. In some restaurants, they wouldn’t give you tap water and wanted to charge 4 euro for a half liter of bottled water. Beer was cheaper, and you could buy not-terrible wine in stores for a few dollars a bottle.
  • We didn’t expect to eat so many sandwiches and pizzas. Being on the lower budget end, these things were everywhere. We didn’t exactly have the best diet while we were gone…
  • We didn’t expect to use our phone as we did. Steve took his iPhone, kept it on airplane mode, but used it to take pictures of all the maps, reservations, and directions for the summer. It wasn’t a perfect replacement for a live phone or a real map, but we would’ve had a much more difficult time if we hadn’t brought it.
  • Paris620130620050338We didn’t expect to deal with so many different and foreign compact appliances. Stovetops, mini ovens, microwaves, washers and dryers all in languages we couldn’t decipher. Pictograms aren’t universal, so the three wavy lines on a washer in Spain probably meant something different than the three wavy lines in Morocco. Cheers to us for not flooding or blowing up any apartments.
  • We didn’t expect to get stuck by so many doors and gates. Seriously. We felt like morons on many occasions.
  • We didn’t expect to have to hand wash laundry so many times. We tried to book places that had washers as much as possible, but they seemed to be one of the most commonly broken or missing appliances wherever we stayed. Hand washing sucks!
  • We didn’t expect to go through so many books. You have to do something during long train rides. We’d pick up new ones, leave old ones behind.
  • We didn’t expect to see so many people on crutches. There were people on crutches everywhere! At first we wondered if these were remnants of pre-vaccination polio epidemics or something, but somebody finally pointed out that we were in big cities where most people used public transportation. America probably has similar numbers of crutch using people, but they’re driving cars to the grocery store, not visible to us on the street.
  • We didn’t expect to be delayed by Mother Nature more than man. Seriously, Tarifa, can’t handle a little wind???
  • We didn’t expect to experience squat toilets. Curious? Google it.
  • We didn’t expect so many shops and restaurants in Italy to close for the entire month of August.
  • We didn’t expect to be so ready to work again. For better or worse, doing something of value (e.g. work) with your day is a good feeling. There comes a point during travel when the marginal benefit of seeing one more palace or one more painting just isn’t worth much. We were ready to come back, look for jobs, to feel productive, to get our new lives started in Ohio. … Not that we wouldn’t go on another long trip if the opportunity presented itself 😉raw

Full Circle

August 24th – Brussels to London

Our train to London didn’t leave until around 5pm, so thankfully our host let us stay in the room as long as we wanted. It was Saturday, so the construction crew that woke us up early before had the day off. We got up later and spent the rainy morning drinking coffee and watching stupid cat videos on youtube. Our street was full of Asian restaurants – Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, so we settled on a Thai place for lunch. We ate a couple Belgian chocolates afterward, just to ease the guilt of not eating any traditional food the entire time we were in the country.

Clean. Pack. Leave the keys on the table. Metro to train station.

The last train ride of our trip was to be an underwater English Channel crossing the same as the first. We printed our tickets, spent our last five euros, and went through security. The only times our passports were stamped on the trip was going in and out of Morocco and London. Our final train ride (number 29, for those of you counting) took us out of Brussels to the coast, through the blackness of the chunnel, and up into the familiar gray skies of England.

For our first stop in London we stayed in a shared room in Lambeth, just across the river from Parliament. This time around we splurged on an entire apartment in Covent Garden, a short walk from trendier areas, Trafalgar Square, and a more direct line to the Tower of London. The place we rented was normally occupied by a young oenophile that had wine everywhere – on shelves lining the ceiling, cupboards, cabinets in the bedroom, as bookends on the dresser. Apart from being really difficult to book and arrange check in/checkout, it wasn’t a bad spot. After we got in, we got nutritious groceries such as pizza, Strongbow, and a little cake. We spent a rainy evening enjoying our comfort food and cider before going to bed.

August 25 – The Tower of London

We got a reasonable start on Sunday, but still late enough that our first meal should be called lunch instead of breakfast. The plan was to head east to visit the Tower of London. We made our way to the underground and paid the 4.50 pounds each for a one way ticket that saved us about two miles of walking. We got off and passed the Monument to the great fire of 1666. Following the Thames, we eventually ran right into the complex of brick and stone walls and towers that make up the Tower of London.

Getting into the Tower is not cheap. Between the two of us, it was over $60. But, unlike some other tourist draws we’d been on, you can actually get your money’s worth here.

The moat

The moat

We started by walking through the gate down into the green grassy area that was once the moat. Now they had tents with weapons and period players set up. Information boards told of how badly the moats would have smelled when filled with water, and pictures showed how the open space was used to grow food during the last world wars. We waited there for the next Yeoman Warder guided tour.

The Yeoman Warders are the guardians of the Tower and are famously known as “Beefeaters”.  Now the largely ceremonial role is granted to 37 Sergeant Majors who live with their families on the tower grounds, giving tours and being loud, intimidating old men. (Steve neglected to take a picture of one of these guys…fail). The Yeoman leading our tour did a fantastic job of taking a large group of tourists around to various locations on the grounds. He used humor and plenty of shouting to tell us that the Tower is actually a complex consisting of the original, White Tower, in the center, surrounded by a six towered inner wall, which was surrounded by an outer wall of 13 towers. The entire place is dense with history, owed to its long use as a prison, palace, execution site, setting for treasonous plots and daring escapes, defensive bunker, and now home to the crown jewels.

Tower of London complex

Tower of London complex

London20130825090310

The White Tower

After the tour, we got in line to go take a look at the crown jewels. We weren’t aware of the quantity of crown jewels, but first walking into the building where they’re housed, the presentation gives a build up to seeing all the glittering gold and jewels. To put it mildly, it’s an impressive collection of crowns, swords, orbs, scepters, rings, and plates, serving trays, flagons, punch bowls, and other ridiculously carved and gilded banquet settings. If the diamonds and sapphires have names, you know they’re big. No pictures were allowed around the crown jewels. Maybe it was a security thing, but it seems doubtful that preventing photos would do anything to protect the collection that the two foot metal doors couldn’t.

The next stop was inside the white tower itself. The first visitable level of the interior has been converted into a showcase for weapons and armor of various kings.

Intricately detailed armor

Intricately detailed armor

Breastplates in the tower

Breastplates in the tower

Upper levels go into more weapon related history, showing examples of the standard, the odd, and the rare, as well as collected gifts from the colonies around the world.

Swords of kings

Swords of kings

Leaving the tower, we walked around the grounds until just before closing. We snacked on fish and chips before making the two mile walk back to our place.

On this spot... a bunch of people lost their heads.

On this spot… a bunch of people lost their heads.

The tower ravens

The tower ravens

Between the inner and outer walls

Between the inner and outer walls

August 26th – National Portrait Gallery

Being thoroughly impressed by the British Museum on our first London visit, we decided to check out another one of the national museums. The National Portrait Gallery is just what its title suggests – a collection of portraits focusing on the people of England. From the twisting branches of royal lines, to the endless accounts of affairs and plots against (and often by) the government, the descriptions of the paintings told true stories more entertaining than most fiction.

(sigh… no pictures allowed here either)

We left the gallery and got snacks from Pret a Manger. This would end up being the last place where we bought food for the trip, an unintentional but fitting way of coming full circle, as Pret was the very first place we stopped almost 11 weeks before. We walked around for a while, went to a bookstore, bought beers with names like Fursty Ferret and Hobgoblin, and otherwise enjoyed our final evening in London.

August 27th – Homeward

For the last time, we woke up in a strange bed and made breakfast in a strange kitchen. For the last time, we packed our backpacks, taking great joy in throwing out old clothes that we’d been wearing all summer and never wanted to see again. The grocery bag that we bought in Paris and had been filled with coffee, peanut butter, sugar, bread, and snacks remained folded in a corner. For the last time, we left keys on a table and made a (now much lighter) walk to a metro station. We plopped down on the train and quietly made the 40 minute ride to Heathrow airport.

The nearly nine hour flight to Chicago passed painlessly thanks to some seatback entertainment and a summer of practice on long train rides. Jenny got caught trying to smuggle an apple through U.S. customs (i.e. she forgot she had it in her purse). We had a five hour layover in O’Hare, which began as a frustrating game where we’d go up to the desk for one of the earlier flights to Columbus, get told it was full, watch as they called names and had no shows, and then sent the plane out with empty seats. The third early flight already had four people on the standby list so we gave up and got Chinese food. Our flight time slowly approached and the quick flight through the dark into twinkling Columbus finally happened.

After 11 weeks spent traveling to 28 cities in 14 countries on 4 continents via 6 flights, 29 trains, 11 metro systems, 6 taxis, 10 buses, 1 ferry, 3 water taxis, 2 ship tenders, 1 cruise ship, 2 cable cars, 1 horse drawn carriage, 1 gondola, 1 replica pirate ship and countless miles on foot… we were back.