Thursday, 18 July 2013


Arriving in London 45minutes ahead of schedule was an unexpected surprise, considering the city was usually traffic-jammed around Earls Court at 4.30pm. Ellen's friend Kishan had arranged for one of his uni mates Sheena, to let us stay for the 2 nights we were there. We were meeting her at Liverpool street at 6pm, so we had time now to sort out our Oyster cards and attempt to remember the tangle of coloured lines that is the London underground. We made it to Liverpool street, but couldn't find the tube entrance Sheena was supposed to be meeting us. We noticed one of those LOVE sculptures nearby so decided to stand by it, as it was a large enough landmark. Sheena called us soon after and told us she'd be there soon.

Ellen informed me that kishan had mentioned she was half Indian as well, so we should look out for someone that looked like Ellen. Every brown-ish looking girl that passed our direction we smiled at, staring at them waiting for a response. The predominant response was them becoming extremely freaked out and swiftly side-stepping us. I saw some of the frightened girls start warning others approaching our direction on the footpath to steer clear of us and avoid eye contact (maybe they thought we were a weird Dutch couple looking for an extra partner to join us that evening?). After we'd scared off around 40 incorrect females, Sheena finally arrived. Apart from having dark hair she didn't actually look much like Ellen as her mother was Irish, so she had very fair skin. Ellen mouthed to me "sorry, I thought she was brown" was probably good Ellen had made that assumption, otherwise we would've been enthusiastically smiling at every white girl who had passed us.

We caught the bus to Sheena's apartment in Hackney and dropped our bags. She had generously offered us her room whilst she took the sofa bed. Her sister had just returned from a trip away so was quite exhausted. We said a quick hello, then change into some clean clothes and headed back to the city to meet some of Sheena's friends for dinner. We went to a great Japanese place near piccadilly circus. Sheena's friends were really interesting. One was half-German-Chilean but was born and raised in Japan. They had studied business/finance at King's with Kishan also, so were asking us how he was/what he was doing, as they hadn't seen him in 2 years. Over dinner, we chatted with them about Kishan, their work and our travels through Nepal & Europe. By the end of the meal they were all eager to see Kishan again so were locking-in a trip to Oz for NYE 2014. We said goodbyes then headed back to Sheena's.

Ellen's old friend from Primary school, who she hadn't seen in 10 years, was conveniently in London the next day. She'd arranged for us to meet her at 10am near Notting Hill gate. That night we slept like a dream boat. Forgetting to set an alarm, we woke up at 9.50am. Ellen quickly messaged Lizzie our error and told her we'd find her somewhere on Portobello rd in an hour or so. We quickly showered, got dressed, then attempted to have some breakfast. There was a slight problem in that Sheena and her housemates appeared to not own any cutlery other than a butchers knife and 2 label spoons. We searched frantically throughout the kitchen, but found nothing else. I'd obviously lived in student-shared flats before, but this was bordering on the kitchen set up of psychopathic killers. Perplexed, we resigned to making a couple slices of toast, spreading the butter with a salted cucumber that was sitting on the kitchen window sill, drinking a coffee each, then heading out the door.

We met Lizzie and her mum in Notting Hill about an hour later. Lizzie was in a jewellery store buying a ring (well, her mum was buying it for her). I could see Ellen's eyes light up as we walked in and knew this was dangerous territory. Thankfully I didn't have my wallet on me, just some cash, so neither mine (nor Wolfgang's) credit cards would be affected by this visit. The girls exchanged an excited hello, before both turning their attention back to the jewellery. After a ring was selected, we headed to a café on Portobello rd.

We exchanged travel stories and discussed general life for a couple of hours. Lizzie and her mum then wanted to head-on to get some more shopping done before heading to the airport, so we said farewell. Ellen and I meandered up to Notting Hill gate, then through Hyde Park towards Prince Albert and Princess Diana memorials. Along the way we ran into some squirrels, so Ellen played with them for a while. Then we headed to Bucking Palace, St James park, where we stopped for a monster-sized ice-cream (it wasn't as delicious as Hocking's though) and played with some more squirrels. We sat in the little park outside Westminster Abbey before crossing to Southwark. Walking along the Thames in the afternoon was really lovely. We watched the skaters busting out some sweet tricks on the underground skate park and ate a delicious woodfired pizza from a pop-up street food van.

After eating we continued along the river towards Shakespeare globe, hoping to grab some last minute tix. Macbeth was on that night, so it was naturally sold out and the queue for re-sales already had about 90 people waiting. We sat outside the Tate for a bit enjoying the unnaturally nice evening weather London was offering. As the sun began to set we got going again, walking to London bridge. We wanted to keep going to Tower bridge, but a bus pulled up that moment that could take us all the way back to Hackney, so we jumped on. Due to a crash just past Liverpool street, the bus was re-directed so it was super quick getting back as it didn't make any stops until Mare st, which was exactly where we needed to get off.

We hung out with Sheena and her housemate watching Dynamo (this British magician/Illusionist) for most of the night. We inquired about their lack of cutlery, and whether they were planning on murdering us during the night. They laughed, explaining there was one of those secret drawers in the pantry that held the cutlery (pretty sure there was also a secret trap door for dumping maimed corpses, just near the fridge. But I gave them the benefit of the doubt). Just before we went to bed Kishan randomly called so we all had a chat to him, which was a nice surprise. As the girls would be leaving before us in the morning, we said goodbye, thanked them for letting us stay and then headed to our room to attempt a re-pack.

After 2 hours of trying to organise our 30kg packs as efficiently as possible we gave up and retired for some sleep. Just before I turned off the light Ellen enquired "hey, do you need a visa to get into turkey on an Australian passport?".....I had totally forgotten to properly research this. I knew Turkey gave Australian citizens a 90 day tourist visa, but hadn't clarified as to whether I was supposed to get it approved before I landed. I quickly searched the Turkish Government site. Yep, it said I needed to apply for it before I arrived. I tried avoiding telling Ellen this fact for as long as possible, not that it would change my predicament, but just in a hope that she'd fall asleep before she had the chance to go absolutely ballistic at me for once again not researching our travel plans properly. That didn't pan out. She went crazy-eyed and slapped me with a salted cucumber Sheena had on her window sill, until my face was purple. I followed the link on the Government website to submit my visa application. Even more annoyingly was that the visa price for Australian citizens had recently risen from $20 to $60 USD (and that didn't include the flying carpet tax I'd have to pay on arrival). In an attempt to calm Ellen slightly, I quickly submitted the application and told her it would probably be approved by the morning. Not believing me she grabbed the tablet and read the submission page. "It says right HERE the application takes around 24hrs to process Alex!" She angrily barked, reaching for the cucumber once more. "How long til our flight?" I inqired.
"13 hours" she retorted through gritted teeth.
"Maybe there's someone working late tonight?" I hopelessly proposed.
She glared at me, not blinking.
45 seconds passed and then the tablet vibrated, indicating a new email. It was my approved visa application. "Seems there is someone working late tonight" I chirped. She glared at me a little longer then rolled over muttering something that sounded like: "I AM going to kill you one day"....

I was sleeping so well that night, the morning alarm was like knives in my ears (or that was Ellen stabbing me awake?). Ellen was up straight away, showering and making breakfast. She told me to attempt to print my visa off from Sheena's printer, as we probably wouldn't have a chance to do it at the airport. I spent about 30 minutes hopelessly attempting to download various apps so I could connect the printer (man tablets are pretty flawed in a lot of respects), but to no avail. I went to the kitchen and ate some breaky, informing Ellen I'd have to print the visa at Victoria station somewhere.

Neither of us were really paying attention to the time. We were supposed to be out the door at 10am. It was already 10.15am. Needing to leave immediately, I quickly packed, brushed my teeth and we ran to the bus stop. We probably should've checked the bus timetable the day before. We just assumed they ran every 5 minutes to the city...they did not.  A 20 minute wait later, our bus finally arrived. Traffic was pretty bad so by the time we got to Liverpool street we were well behind schedule. Thankfully Ellen's debit card was actually recognized at the self-serve automatic machines, so we were able to retrieve the tickets to the airport we'd pre-booked. Running down to the tube station, we got a little lost, forgetting which line we were supposed to take to Victoria. When we finally reached the right platform, the train we needed had just left. It was a 6 minute wait til the next one. According to the timetable, from here it was a 33 minute trip to Victoria. Our train to Gatwick was leaving in 36 minutes. Taking in factors such as climbing the 462 stairs up from the underground, then running to the southern-line platform, plus the 6 minute wait here, and the tube trip, we were averaging about 45 minutes at best. We weren't going to make it.

The tube ride was a pretty sombre one. Ellen just glared at me the whole way, occasionally sighing and straightening her backpack. I kept looking at the tube map, trying to find a quicker alternate route, or attempting to guess which station our Gatwick train might leave from. If it was Blackfriars, we might be able to jump out early and get it from there? But then if its one that leaves from Kings Cross or one that departs directly from Victoria, then we'd be screwed. We decided not to gamble anything, just stay on the train. One station away from Victoria, we looked at the time. Miraculously the train was going to arrive at Victoria 14 minutes ahead of schedule. There would be a potential full 5 minute window for us to get out the underground and down to the southern lines. A beacon of hope glimmered. We began preparations: I put on my large backpack, strapping myself in tight. Ellen then gave me both of our small hand luggage bags, ("small" -they did still weigh 10kg each!) before explaining to me I had to run ahead of her and find the right platform, but not run too far ahead that she couldn't see me, otherwise she wouldn't know where to go. When the doors opened we sprang out and pelted towards the stairs. Attempting to get up them, however, was like running in glue. Both of us were striving our arms as fast as possible, but we were barely moving upwards. People walking normally were passing us with absolute ease, and were giving us bizarre looks. I looked across at Ellen and started laughing. She laughed as well, so we stopped, clinging to the hand rail. We composed ourselves and then walked up the stairs normally, just with large strides.

When we got to the train departures board we had 2 minutes until our train was due to depart. We scoured the lists, but couldn't see our train anywhere. Completely puffed-out I strode up to a train attendant and inquired which platform our Gatwick train was leaving from. "Ah, that train's been cancelled. Just wait near platform 17. Another one will leave from there in around 10 minutes".
I marched back over to Ellen.
"Guess what? Our train's been cancelled" I beamed with utter glee. The people standing next to her gave me bizarre looks as to why I was ecstatic about our train being cancelled. We headed over to our platform and waited for our next train.

I will just note at this juncture, that this wasn't a trip-ruining event. Had the train been running and we happened to have missed it, we still could've made it to our flight. We just really wanted to get on that train as I'd actually been organised for once and pre-bought the tickets online so we knew we'd have a good 1.5 hours at the airport, as Ellen needed to find the tax refund customs office and we weren't sure how long the process was going to take. We also didn't have any cash on us so we would've had to withdraw some more, then line up to re-buy new tickets, etc. So being poor backpackers we preferred the thrill of cutting it as fine as possible to make our connection.

As there was still the slight issue of me needing to print off my visa I quickly went into every newsagent at Victoria station, asking if they could print it for me. It actually astounded me that none of them had a computer/printer system. Do they complete all their transactions by making markings on papyrus sheets or something??? Ellen wouldn't let me risk actually missing the train by venturing outside the station to find an internet café, so I resigned to the fact I'd have to attempt to print it at Gatwick. The train ride was reminiscent of my days living in East Grinstead, as it was the same line I used to catch. The trains were pretty much exactly the same, except for the fact that no one was being robbed at knife-point today, and a lady passed through the carriages selling food and beverage refreshments (unless this had always happened and I just never experienced it?). I felt a bit nostalgic and wished I'd planned a longer visit so I could've seen more of my old friends from Sussex. I guess I'll just have to plan a return visit.

We arrived at Gatwick with about an hour to doss-about. We decided to split-up, do what we each needed to do, then rendezvous at checkpoint Charlie 10 minutes before check-in closed. As I had the visa in pdf on my usb, I began with the information counter, as I assumed they had to have some form of a computer/printer setup. They did, but their server wouldn't allow access of external hard drives. They pointed me to an internet hotspot that had some computers and a printer. I tried my usb and again, the computers wouldn't allow access. I then walked around to every airlines ticket sales counter asking if any of them could print one measely piece of paper. No one could. I was about to give up and just show the customs official my confirmation email from Ellen's tablet, when it occurred to me that I could just re-download it from my e-mail and try print it that way. This worked (hooray!). I'd dumped all my loose change into the machine so there was still a fair bit of airtime left. I saw a girl leaning on her backpack on the floor, looking very bored.
I waved to get her attention and said "There's 20 minutes left if you wana skype some friends or something?" She smiled and jumped at the offer.
Walking over to check-in with 15 minutes to spare, visa in hand and seeing Ellen already standing in line, I felt excited for the next leg of our trip. It had been a rollercoaster of a morning, but we were finally able to breathe easy. We'd forgotten to do online check-in so were given seats 20 aisles away from each other. We didn't mind though.

Upon boarding the aircraft, we noticed a young couple behind us with a screaming child who was obviously not happy about flying. I joked to Ellen that she would definitely be stuck next to them and have to deal with the annoying kid..... it turned out that I was actually the unlucky one. You'd think it would eventually  take a break from hysterically crying and throwing tantrums about having to wear a seat belt, and not being able to eat endless packets of lollies. But no. Incessant for 5 hours straight. No breaks. I tried ordering a salted cucumber from the flight attendant but they were all sold out. Fml..... I see why Ellen hates kids.

As we touched down in Antalya and began disembarking, the young couple apologized for the nine hundreth time about their incessantly screaming child. They wished me an enjoyable travel in Turkey and exited also, leaving behind a mountain of dirty diapers and half-drunk juice boxes in the seats for the air hostesses to clean up. Ellen caught up to me inside the airport terminal. "I had SUCH a great sleep on that flight!" She exalted.
"How about you?"
"Let's not talk about it." I replied. We collected our bags and exited into the 30 degree heat of the Turkish evening and headed to our guesthouse.

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