Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Aspie Traveler, Lost After Midnight: Day 6 Part 2

So, I'm going to a soccer game, but first I had to figure out the logistics of getting there. I've been intimidated by the public transit system thus far (intimidated meaning I'm afraid of getting on the wrong tram and I didn't know how to buy a ticket) so I went to the hotel front desk to inquire. An awesome man behind the counter was more than willing to help out in every way, describing the tram, and the subway, and he even said the hotel sold the tram/subway tickets. I wish I had known that sooner, but then again I wouldn't have had the exercise of walking many, many, many miles.

One thing that was a complete 180 from the earlier part of the day, which was yesterday's post, was that coldness I experienced on the street was not found at the front desk. Maybe it was because I wanted to be visible, maybe it was that I wanted to stretch my social abilities, but as we talked I asked about the game experience and as he answered he mentioned that “away” fans have to stay in their own area, take their own buses, and use special gates and sections to not allow fans to come across each other. This was a stark contrast to what I'm used to.

The conversation was probably ten minutes and he was a big help with getting my tram/subway pass bought and then I waited for the time that I would make the journey to Amsterdam ArenA.

I had purchased a tram and subway pass but I was unsure of where, exactly, to board the tram so I just walked to the subway station. Here's the thing though; I knew the direction of the subway/train but I didn't know exactly where it was. When I got where I thought it was, I looked and saw nothing. Where the ramp should've been, it was closed due to construction. There were plenty of signs but one is at a disadvantage when they don't speak the language. I was hoping someone would just tell me to, "go that way" but that, of course, would be too easy.

The building I was under was the Amsterdam World Trade Center so I walked towards that building where there was a security guard and I asked sheepishly, "Do you speak English," which I need to just quit asking that question because it seems everyone here does, but he affirmed that he did and I asked him how and where the train to the stadium was. He explained I was rather close and I just needed to go around the building. That was simple enough, but when I got to the trains I had a problem. The guy at the front desk had given me a map that had the name of the train. I did have a map on me but it wasn't the right one. I now had a 50/50 chance at making the right choice and since I knew which way the stadium was I figured it'd be whichever train was coming from the opposite direction. It came and I got on and soon I could see Amsterdam ArenA in the distance.

I was early, way early. Kickoff (is that's what it's called?) was at 9:05 p.m. and it was just nearing 6:00 p.m. I splurged on my ticket and got a package which included an amazing seat, a souvenir, and a three course dinner. Now you would think something like that, if I said splurged, was very costly. Surprisingly not! Well, I guess value is in the beholder of the item but there are many NFL games and NHL games that you'd only get a mediocre ticket at the price I paid, and if I traveled all the way from America to watch a team I had somewhat heard of and a team I had never heard of, then I was going to make sure it was a memorable experience. There was only one problem; where do I pick up the tickets?

Amsterdam ArenA is massive and is actually built on top of a busy highway (or in this case low way?) and I once again was asking, "Do you speak English... Okay, where do I go?" I eventually found gate E and was informed that I could pick the tickets closer to 7:00 p.m. I was hungry and couldn't wait until then so I walked back to the train station and ordered Burger King, which I was surprised because it tasted identical to an American Burger King. I remember McDonald's years ago tasting starkly different.

With my pre-dinner done I walked back towards the arena and tried to go back into the area. I was told I could pick up the tickets but there was security guard there now and he said I could only enter if I already had a ticket and that I'd have to go to the container booths around the other side to get them. I did so and these booths weren't open so back I went to the security guard and he said, "You're just going to have to wait then." So back I went to the booths.

Dinner was supposed to start at 7:00 p.m. and now I had to wait for these booths to open. As I waited, I stayed calm because, after all, how often does one wait in line far away from home? When the booth opened I showed the lady my e-confirmation and she said I could only pick up the tickets from the place where the guard wouldn't let me in. So, back I went back and the guard apologized profusely.

I finally got in and the man behind the VIP desk as well apologized and called his coworkers a not so nice name. I was then within the depths of the stadium finding my way to dinner. I was given directions but with each floor I had forgotten exactly where I was supposed to go. When I got to level three the lady said, "Yes, you need to take about four steps left and five right steps in that direction." I stared at her blankly as my brain was about at its end of being able to think after such a busy week, and when I tilted my head, kind of like a Pug, in a manner that implied I had no idea what she was talking about she said, "In other words sir, you're looking right at it!" and then I realized her first statement was a joke, and a clever one at that, and I walked in.

Stadium food in my mind is nachos, hotdogs, and if you're at a baseball game Cracker Jacks. I looked in disbelief when my first course was smoked salmon because this wasn't the stadium experience I was used to. Then came out an amazing salad in a cup, and finally this plate of beef. It was an amazing meal and it felt as if I were cheating the system. How? Because surely this meal would've been €75 and on top of that I have a 3rd row ticket at the corner flag. Seriously, was there some sort of clerical error that allowed me to have such an awesome experience?

In the run around I had earlier, I stopped into the team store and bought the home jersey for the home team, AJAX (pronounced IAX in case you're wondering) which was the first piece of sports team apparel I’ve ever bought in my life! Anyway, I had that on and in this place where I was eating I was so out of place as everyone was dressed rather formally. I didn't mind this because I was the foreigner as it was. The two guys to my left gathered I wasn't from around there and they asked in perfect English, “Where are you from?”

It's amazing, and I think I've used the word "amazing" too much this week but do understand the word is appropriate, that I was able to respond with no hesitation. Once I mentioned that I was, in fact, from America they asked me what I was doing at an AJAX game and I said, rather simply, "For the experience." They then wondered how I got these amazing seats and I said, "Online" which made me wonder if they had set a few aside for people from America? Don't know, but they then asked me, "So Aaron, what do you do for a living?" It was like being on the flight that brought me over here when I talked about autism and the follow-up question they asked was, "So you're a researcher?"  I said I had Asperger's. They instantly knew what that was and they both said, "Good for you!" Then I explained what I do. They followed up by asking if I would ever want to present in Amsterdam and I replied, "Oh yes. Very much so." I explained that this trip was booked in haste after a break-up, which they then both understood. The conversation went to sports thereafter and what soccer is like in America and why the talent pool just isn't there. I tired to sound intelligent and explained that many, many youth play soccer but it seems once high school rolls around the amount of people that play soccer decreases. Whether or not this is true I don't know, but it did sound like I knew what I was talking about.

The time came; it was time to go to my seat. Wow, I was in the 3rd row. The atmosphere, even 30 minutes before the game, was simply electrifying. A section across from me, on the top level, was singing, jumping, and chanting and they would be doing so all the way through the completion of the game. This was 100% different than the experiences I've had in US sports. Go to a baseball game and see if “electric” is a way you'd describe the moments leading up to a game. I can't fathom how a person from here in Amsterdam could go to a MLB game, or NHL, or any other sport and feel as if something important is going on. From the singing to the jumping, there was no forced musical chants from the PA leading songs like, "Here we go defense here we go!" It was all amazingly fluid.

The game started and I was amazed at the sport. Some say auto racing isn't a television sport because it doesn't give justice to the speed, the sounds, the smells, and the spectacle of color. That might be true. But with soccer, you can’t really appreciate the athleticism happening on the field on television either. It was amazing.

From my seat, I got one of the best videos ever recorded on my phone of a corner kick when the ref took a header that he wasn't expecting.

AJAX led 1-0 after regulation, which this was a two legged match so even though the scoreboard read 1-0 the game was actually tied. Early in the first of two halves of extra time Dnipro scored, then AJAX scored. But this now meant the game wasn't tied. Say what? Yeah, I was as confused as you probably were but then I remembered from playing EA's soccer game a decade ago that away goals have more merit than home goals, so even though it was 2-2 overall AJAX didn't have any away goals, Dnipro did. In the end the score remained the same and the hometown fans left disappointed. One thing though, people didn't leave until the end unlike US sports and as the AJAX left the field, ahem, the pitch the home crowd all was cheering. In many US cities the home team will be booed after a loss, but instead there was a chorus of cheers and the dejected players the held their heads high clapping along. As I headed out, that's where the real meat of this story begins.

Remember that part where I said that not speaking the language is a disadvantage? It's even more so at midnight with tens of thousands of people all going to the train station. I knew which way I wanted to go but I didn't know the line so I had to guess. In the train car I looked at the routes and I knew if I saw the words Van der Madeweg on a sign outside I was on the wrong line and sure enough I was on the wrong train so I got out to try and minimize the damage and try and find the right line. Sadly, the next train, according to what the sign said, was 20 minutes away and it was now 12:20 and I didn't want to be alone at a train station. So I figured I'd exit the station and catch a cab.

I had purchased a 24 hour pass on the public transit system but the demagnetizing ways of my wallet struck again (hotel keys never last as well) and as I used my card on the device that opens the doors the doors didn't open.  A red light began flashing. There was a drunken woman behind me that was getting aggravated and I turned to her for help because I couldn't read the message that was being displayed and then someone else exited and she followed him through the doors. I thought, "That can be legal," and then I waited. And waited, and waited. I couldn't find a place to purchase a ticket and the station office was closed. I was stuck in a prison of sorts.

A few more people passed and they all got out with no problem and here I was stuck. I had to use logic because the last thing I wanted was to be a law breaker, but this card said it was good for 24 hours after first usage so should I have been nabbed for breaking the law, records would show the card still should've worked. So once again I waited, and waited. FINALLY a person came along and when he used his card I snuck out behind him. Then I heard an alarm but I wasn’t going to stay to see how the story was going to end and I started walking.

It's now 12:30ish and immediately I walked into a bike lane not knowing it was a bike lane. It was a close call but I was now in a bit of an overwhelming situation. I have NO GPS, no phone, I barely know where I was, but I did know the general vicinity of the hotel. I did have a map on me but at this time of night the last thing I wanted was to look like was a lost tourist just in case someone thought of doing something not so nice.

There were still many bicyclists out and I was walking behind two people that seemed as if they were not the type that would mug me. Now I'm not saying muggings happen here, but I also don't have evidence that they don't and when you're fully cutoff from everything you know and it's past midnight in a foreign city on the other side of town, well, one's imagination can get the best of them.

The walking continued and there were some high-rise buildings in front of me. So I figured "Find a cab, Aaron, find a cab." This was the mission. A cab would be the answer, but as I passed the first set of buildings there wasn't a cab to be seen. I was alone now. I was walking alone well past midnight. Thankfully, I didn't panic. I had a mission and I was already thinking about writing this most epic of adventures so I couldn't allow myself to think of being mugged, or losing my passport and the procedure of getting home without one.

I walked past a clearing and I looked to my left and there it was! A cab! I walked, no, I ran to that cab and as I got to it the driver rolled down the window and I asked "Are you for hire?" He said, "Oh no, my shift just ended and I'm waiting here for someone who owes me money." The dejection on my face had to be obvious and he said, "You're lost, aren't you? Okay, I'll do this, I'll drive you to Amstel Station where there are plenty of cabs." I got in and he told me his money could wait because the guy would still owe him in 15 minutes, or the day after, and I was lost so he could do this for me.

When we got to the station I asked, "How much?" He informed me that his shift was over and he did this to just do it. This wasn't a good enough answer for me and I took out a €10 note and handed it to him, but he didn't want to take it but I said, "This is for being nice, thank you! You deserve this!" He finally took it and I caught another cab and was headed back to my Amsterdam home of the Bilderberg hotel.

What a day! What an amazing day it was. Once again I got the adventure I craved as well as experiencing a European football match. Tomorrow starts my last day, but this day contained in this post will be one I won't soon forget.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Aspie Traveler: Day 6 Part 1

Jet lag was relentless again. I first woke up at midnight and thought I overslept for a presentation. I must've been dreaming about presenting but once I figured out I hadn't overslept I had no idea where I was. It took some thinking, but I finally replayed the events of the past five days and figured out that I was a long ways from home.

Jet lag again woke me up at 3, 5 then at 7:15 a.m. There was no going back to sleep. And why would I want to go back asleep because the hotel breakfast was now open and I was ready for another amazing meal. I was not disappointed.

On the docket for the morning was walking to the Anne Frank house. From the first time I heard the story, I wanted to see the place where it took place. The line out front extended around the building and down a block so I wouldn't be going in, but the timing was perfect because I got there as the church bells were ringing out the time. It was a somber experience being there and it was hard to imagine what it was like in that exact spot 71 or so years ago.

I continued to walk around a bit and proceeded to almost get run over by several bicyclists. My trip is getting to the latter stages and you'd think I'd have adjusted to the bike lanes, but still it isn't something that comes natural for me. I'm so used to cars that you can hear whereas bicycles sneak up on you.

When I motioned for a bicyclist at an intersection to go by, and then quickly thereafter a car, I realized something; not once did anyone acknowledge that I had let them proceed. In America, well, at least in Missouri, when you give someone the right of way there is a wave of thanks, but I had not seen this once. The odd thing is I began to miss this, which in my early presentations I stated that I didn't understand why one would give a wave of thanks in such a situation and now it was gone.

This got me thinking that during the entire day up to that point, three hours, the ONLY interaction I had with anyone was at the grocery store where I got some local candy and a Monster Energy drink. Besides that one interaction, checking out, I wouldn't have even known I had existed. Back when I began presenting this would've been my dream! In fact, I've actually had several people with Asperger's across Missouri tell me they envy this part of the world for the lack of interactions that occurs. I didn't really understand what they were talking about until this walk, when I might as well have been a ghost. So I tried something new. I started to make it a point to make eye contact. Whoa, what? Yes, I was now drilling people with eye contact as they walked by to get something, anything, but it was all futile which leads me back to a chapter of Finding Kansas that I purposefully left out of the Finding Kansas Revisited blog series.

The chapter I omitted was “The Fourth Wall.” I mentioned in my series that it was "The Conscious Coma" that I had the dream of someday presenting overseas. This was wrong as it was actually “The Fourth Wall” that I had these thoughts so I apologize for the miscue, but it fit perfectly as I remembered that fact this morning at breakfast, which made me aware of all that has been said so far in this post.

So what is “The Fourth Wall?” The concept comes from the stage. If you were to go to a play, you are looking through the fourth wall as an actor has four; the two sidewalls, the backdrop, and the solid wall for them that separates them from the audience. Few plays do it, but another term is called “breaking the fourth wall,” which is when an actor acknowledges that you're watching. Plays don't often do this but more and more television shows are utilizing this feature which, when it happens it feels more real to life. In my chapter in my book I avowed that I wanted to be that invisible person in the back of the theater that no one notices because this would minimize the chance of a social encounter.

If I had written this in my Revisited series, I would have again stated firmly that I wanted to be that person that was invisible. But now, on the streets of Amsterdam, I was getting my wish. Trying to make eye contact felt as awkward as when I tried to avoid it.  I wrote a blog about this in 2013 when my sister visited Saint Louis and we were walking downtown. She made eye contact with everyone and so many people in return said "Hello", and yet here in Amsterdam I tried the same thing and nothing happened.

I'm not saying anything bad about the culture here, and five years ago I would've wanted such a thing, but now that I got what I wanted in the fourth wall not being breeched at all, I felt this overpowering feeling of just how alone I was on the other side of the Atlantic. Why did I come over here? The original plan was to get away from the relationship that fell apart and write my fifth book, but then I realized I could learn a lot more if I went out searching for bits of info like what I had just found being alone amongst thousands.

Walking back to the hotel I got lost and stuck on the North side of a park and I kept walking, waiting for a road to turn to the south all the while still trying to feel as if I existed. Then, when I did find that road, I notice something else. So often bicyclists were traveling in twos and threes and the interactions I noticed from those that knew each other was like every other interaction I've seen in America. I thought back to the days in the late 90's when I would see a group of friends and I'd pine for such an experience. Once again, at a corner of two roads in Amsterdam, I wanted it again.

Do you see the contradiction here? In my book I said I wanted the fourth wall to not be breeched and when I achieved it, as those with Asperger's told me I'd find it here, as well as Denmark and Sweden from what other people told me, I didn't want it anymore. I often say "X” is the essence of Asperger's’ but once again, I'll state something new and that contradiction is the essence of Asperger's. Why? At the start of my blog in 2010 I talked in great detail of random social encounters and the difficulties with them, the seemingly irrelevance of them, how I'd love a world where it didn't happen, and yet now I'm in a place where I've achieved that and I feel as if I'm a ghost.

Again, this isn't a knock on the culture or the people here. I highly respect the resolve of the people here and their focus, and furthermore, why would someone randomly say "Hello" to me? I'm an outsider, a foreigner, and an unknown stranger walking down the beautiful streets of Amsterdam. And yet I wonder what it's like on the other side of the wall here? What's it like to be in one of those groups on a bicycle with a friend known for many years?

All of these thoughts could change this evening. I'm breaking up today's blog into two days because this evening, and I mentioned yesterday, I'm doing something I've always wanted to do and that is to go to a European soccer, ahem, football match. Tonight is the second leg of the round of 16 in the UEFA Europa League with Amsterdam's AJAX vs. Dnipro. I bought some really good seats and I've been warned that people at a soccer game are very friendly with each other (especially when the home team is winning) so perhaps everything I’ve written today about wanting to be alone, well, perhaps the world of contradictions will live on.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Aspie Traveler: Day 5

After thinking I had slept the entire night, I looked at my iPad and saw that it was 12:02 a.m. Great. Not again. Thankfully that was the truth as I closed my eyes and then I looked at it again and it was 6:00 a.m. Finally, a full night's rest! However, there was some angst as I realized I didn't know if I'd even have a flight much less when. I checked my email and had four different emails regarding travel but they all said the same thing; I did indeed have a seat on a KLM flight and I'd actually be getting back to Amsterdam a couple hours earlier than originally planned.

Wil came by with his dog and we walked back towards his place. It was then that I finally realized just how much people in Europe walk. I've walked more in the last four days than a very long time over three times the time span (or more.)

Whilst walking and passing people who were also walking, I once again became entranced in the notion of wondering who all these people were. I was an outsider getting a small, seemingly negligible glimpse into the life of people that live thousands of miles away. With each person that passed, whether they look like they had taken two hours to do their hair, or the 3/4ths of people that had headphones listening to music, or in the midst of a phone conversation I had this deep yearning of simply wanting to know what their daily life is like. I know my life, I know my routines, but what's it truly like to be elsewhere.

These thoughts were quickly replaced by the sensation of hunger so we went to a pub for breakfast (who knew?) and we both ordered the "traditional breakfast" which was one fried egg, bacon, toast, baked beans, one sausage, and an oddly placed tomato. It was all delicious.

We did a quick lap of some sights and then hopped on the train to get to the airport because the emails implored me to get there early, which I did, and I was fearing this long process of talking to Lufthansa agents, then KLM, then back to Lufthansa in an never ending back and forth game. Thankfully this didn't occur as when I went to the self-check in kiosk of KLM and put in my confirmation number and it worked, I got a boarding pass, and that was that.

Wil and I said goodbye and he was a most gracious host and I will be thanking him for a long time for his time and generosity on my journey to England, but now it was time to return to Amsterdam.

Or was it? First off, the Birmingham airport lacks a lot of essential things that I'm used to such as informative departures board. There's only one, but to get to it one must pass through a conveniently placed duty free mall where the people there are more than willing to squirt cologne or perfume whether you recalled wanting it or not. Once through that there is one, count them, one board. At least that I saw. My ticket said what gate I was at so I went to the gate where there were no workers and the video board had a generic uninformative message so I waited. My flight was supposed to leave at 1:40 p.m. and it became 1:00 p.m. and still there were no employees at this gate. I was now concerned because I'm used to the boarding process beginning at 40 minutes prior to departure, but still nothing. I went to the highly informative boards, which I forgot to mention DIDN’T EVEN GIVE DEPARTING GATE NUMBERS, and it said my flight was boarding in "Ten minutes".

Ten minutes? I started to panic and I checked my phone to make sure 13:40 was 1:40 p.m. (I'm new to the 24:00 hour system) and I was right, which meant the board was right which meant, "Where was my gate?" I remember Wil telling me KLM doesn't have a major presence at this airport. I came to the conclusion that the only gate must be the one with the KLM signs.  Ok, I was waiting but where was everyone? Were my fears from yesterday coming true? Would I not be able to get back to Amsterdam? My panic was now at full acceleration.

As with the day prior, communication was minimal. In the US, when there's an agent at the counter who says something. With the jet bridge thing in Amsterdam, and now this it leaves a lot to the imagination as to just how bad the delay is going to be.

At 1:50 p.m., ten minutes past scheduled departure time, an agent finally opened the check-in desk and I went up and showed him my boarding pass to ask if I was at the right gate and he said, "Yessir, the plane is 40 minutes behind." Whew! At least I now had an answer, but why did it get to this point? I saw a sign on the wall that said, "Announcements are not made at this airport please consult signage boards". Okay, yes that would work IF THERE WERE PLENTY OF BOARDS! Sorry to shout, but it was all so frustrating. Sadly, my day was about to get worse, which means good for you because I've got my entertaining stuff to write about.

The 40 minutes was more like 70 minutes and we started boarding. When I got to my seat I fully misjudged the clearance of my head to the ceiling above the seats and I slammed my head with full walking force into it. The impact knocked me down and I instantly had a headache, but also five different people saw it (yay self image!) and I heard in five different languages, "Are you okay?" or that's what I assumed they said. I was and I sat down and after the pounding headache ebbed I got out my iPad and started to write the conclusion to yesterday's blog as well as the start of this one. There was a problem though, I was three wide in the middle and the seats left no elbowroom. While I typed I kept brushing up against my row mates. The guy on my left didn't care because he had fallen asleep and was resting against my shoulder, but this businessman headed to Shanghai was getting a little aggravated as he tried to finish his Sudoku puzzle.

The snack cart came by first and here's another observation about Europe compared to the US; in America drinks come before food, but here it's the opposite. Also, when a soda is ordered at dinner you're given a glass that is 300mL or 11.5ish fl. oz., which is a stark contrast to your 20oz bottle or you free refills. I'm used to taking a drink after every bite, which simply does not work over here with the prices of drinks. Anyway, the snack came but I continued to write until the drinks came and when they came the businessman was borderline irate so put the iPad away and as I got my drink I thought I'd do a good deed. This good deed went horribly wrong.

When opening a can one usually has to move their arms outward, or at least I do. To prevent this, I figured I'd have the can partially in the cup and open the can while it was tilted a bit. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, have you ever seen a victory ceremony like a podium presentation in F1 or anytime a baseball team clinches something and champagne is sprayed? Yeah, if you have you'll know what I'm talking about because when I pulled the tab an explosion of soda flew everywhere. Thankfully none got in my eyes but my glasses were covered, but not only that I managed to drench the businessman, the sleeping man, and all three occupants in the row in front of me. The flight attendant simply said, “Sir, I'll get you a napkin. Or two." (Haha, humor at my expense.) I deserved it, however, but the fun wasn't over. When it came time for the trash to be picked up, I wanted to be real careful as to not touch anyone when I handed the cup and can to the lady. So I put the can and napkins in the cup, which made the can wobbly, and when I lifted it up to hand it to her the can fell out and it was only a few drops but the sleeping man once again had soda on him.

For the two people beside me, they will always have it in their minds as the worst flight they ever had and the worst passenger they ever sat by. Not the distinction I wanted but each thing happened so innocently. When we landed and I deplaned it was a sense of pure liberation and I'm glad I will probably never see them again because they will probably just give me the evil eye for making a one hour ten minute flight much more interesting that it had to be.

I caught a shuttle this time to save money and got back to the hotel and had one of the best tasting burgers ever (Amsterdam is totally going to ruin food for me when I get back) but after that I was finished. It was only 7:30 p.m., but after all the days of walking and the minimal sleep my body had given me every sign in the world that it was, indeed, exhausted. Besides that, I needed my rest because tomorrow could be a long night as I live out a dream as I attend an event. What event is that? You'll find out tomorrow; but I can say I'm bursting at the seams waiting for it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Aspie Traveler (Put to the Test!): Day 4

(NOTE: This post was written on Wednesday, March 18, 2015. While Lufthansa had no control over the pilot strike, my heart goes out to the families that lost loved ones in the recent crash in France.)

Once again my day started early. way too early. My flight was scheduled for 7:00 a.m. and I had reserved a cab for 5:00 a.m., but as I looked at my phone it was an astoundingly early 12:01 a.m. Blah! I tried to go back to sleep and it took a while, but sleep was achieved until 1:30 a.m. Double blah! Would this jet lag please loosen its grasp on me?

Sleep was achieved once again, this time until 3:30 a.m. I was now at the point of not even trying to go back to sleep so I got up and got ready for my trip. What trip? I'm glad you asked because I haven't explained it yet.

For over two years now I've been a commentator with Wil Vincent on iRacing for various races. I primarily do the color analysis on the Indycar coverage and he's one of the few people who knew where in the world I was going. He then offered to give me a tour of London, which I have always wanted to go to England and I checked airfares and I was astounded. To fly from Amsterdam to London was $85 and then tomorrow I'll fly back to home, ahem, Amsterdam from Birmingham, UK for just $99. I wish airfare was that cheap back home in the States! I wanted this trip to be me against the world solo, but this was a once in a lifetime chance to do something cool like this so I allowed for the two days. Thankfully I did because as luck would have it an interesting thing happened on the way to London.

I arrived at the airport shortly after five. It was dark outside and even though I have been here for three days now I still have a sense of awe of my surroundings. I made it to security where I botched the "hold still for three seconds" as I noticed my feet weren't on the right marks so I moved as it scanned which resulted in the system thinking I had objects all over my body. When I stepped out the security official spoke to me but I didn't respond because I didn't understand a word he said. I think he then spoke another language and I was stuck processing what to do. which meant I did nothing but stared at him blankly. This was unique because I talk about processing delays with hearing words, but I didn't know how to respond when I couldn't even understand the language. Eventually he spoke English and mentioned that he had to do a full pat down because the system said I had objects everywhere. I again just stared at him. He then again mentioned it and it was the second time I realized his statement was a question because he was asking permission to go ahead with the check. I finally realized this and said yes to which I passed the test.

While walking to the gate I connected my phone to the airport Wi-FI. I was able to use Apple's FaceTime audio feature to call my mom. I don't have international data or calling so I can't just phone my family any time I'd like, but it was an almost bizarre feeling walking the terminal talking to my mom eight time zones away. While I was getting ready for my day, her's was coming to an end but we talked for 30 minutes on what I had seen, done, and just had a great conversation. I then sent her yesterday's post (remember, I'm writing this as it happening but you won't read it until a week later) and then said goodbye.

After saying goodbye I got to my gate and I marveled, just as I did in 2005 when I went to Kenya and got to the Amsterdam airport, at how an almost empty place earlier begins to bustle with life as dawn gets closer and closer.

The time of departure was nearing and the schedule board time was 6:20 a.m., but it was now 6:30 a.m. I began to get concerned and I looked out the window and saw several men in orange coats with the words "technician" and "operator" on their coats. This was not a good sign and I picked up on this before anyone else. I watched for a while, a long while actually, and when I looked at the clock again it was 6:50 a.m. We were scheduled to depart at 7:00 a.m. and there was no way this was happening. My anxiety spiked because I only had a fifty-minute layover and Wil would be waiting for me in London. So what would I do if I missed my flight and say, the next plane out was that evening? Panic? Oh yes, there was lots of panic flowing through my body.

To compound the panic there had been no announcements. I was watching the mechanics talk to the gate agent, and go outside, and come back in. I approached the ticket counter and at this point others were realizing something was amiss. I listened to their conversations but I couldn't understand a word they were saying. From arm gestures, I gathered the problem wasn't with the plane but with the jet bridge. I hoped I was right because a plane issue means a new plane is needed and that can take all day.

At 7:05 a.m. the agent gave an announcement I couldn’t understand. Now, don't get me wrong. It's right that I don't understand. I'm not complaining about this because this is what I wanted on my journey; to experience the unknown and be thrust into a situation that is new to me and will challenge my ability to handle it. When the lady ended the message I finally heard words I understood! It was, indeed, a problem with the jet bridge and the alarms were stuck in an armed position and while there was no danger, protocol would not allow anyone to board the plane whilst alarms were blaring. And then that was it. There was no more; there wasn't an estimation given on the possible departure time.

I watched the clock like a hawk. I had a fifty-minute layover in Munich, Germany but that time was quickly evaporating. It was now 7:15 a.m., then 7:30 a.m., and finally at 7:40 a.m. we boarded the plane. I've had enough airport experiences to realize that catching my next flight was slim to none and I was quickly starting to loathe Lufthansa.

In the air, I tried to take my mind off the race that was about to take place. Would I have to compete in the 10,000-gate dash? Would I be stuck in Munich all day? What was going happen? It's rough being in a race that I had no control over. I couldn't hurry the plane up. I couldn't find a shortcut. This was 100% out of my hands and despite knowing this I was trying to mentally hurry the plane up. This, of course, did nothing but make me more anxious.

Every five minutes I'd check my boarding pass and check the time. The boarding pass stated that the boarding time was 8:50 a.m. and it was now 8:55 a.m. as we started our approach to the airport. The departure time was 9:15 a.m. and we weren't on the ground yet as it neared 9:00 a.m.

The taxi time wasn't that long and we rolled to the gate at 9:02 a.m. At this point I relinquished any hope I had of making it to London at all. Have I ever mentioned I'm a catastrophic thinker? If you didn't know it, I am. Things can go from all's well to the end of the world faster than you can snap your fingers.

At 9:04 a.m. the airline opened the rear exit to expedite the deplaning process. I found it curious because what about a jet bridge and when I got to the door I uttered, "uh-oh" as there was a bus awaiting all the passengers. Whatever small bit of hope I had, and I had some, was stomped on and lit on fire. I got on the bus but the a man holding a sign saying "connection to London" walked by and I rushed to him as if he were a family member I hadn't seen in a decade. He asked for my passport, and once verified he rushed me and another man to a van and when we were seated he slammed the throttle and we were off. To where I didn't know but there was now hope.

He zoomed towards a police checkpoint for a passport check and this officer did this with a hesitant haste, much more thorough than when I arrived in Amsterdam, and once the passports were stamped we were rushed back to the van, and I do mean rushed. This was the 10,000-gate dash with a hint of the Grand Prix of Germany mixed in.

A few turns later we arrived at a gate and we were rushed towards an elevator that our driver had to unlock with a special key. Speaking of special, this did, I must admit, make me feel as if I were some sort of celebrity, and when the elevator arrived we went up and there it was, we were already in the jet bridge and the other man and I thanked our driver and we got on the plane at 9:14 a.m. with one minute to spare. I was elated but the looks on the passengers that were waiting patiently to leave certainly were of disapproval. Travel note: try not to be the last person on a plane in order to avoid the leers, sneers, and a genuine look of disdain. So with Lufthansa now back on my good side, I was at ease and en route to a city I thought I'd never see in my lifetime.

Going through immigration took a good half hour but after that I took the Heathrow
Express to Paddington to meet Wil. The train I was on had to Wi-Fi, which was great to be able to communicate with Wil to know where I should meet him once at Paddington. I met up with him and the walking tour began.

It was great, just as if being in an alternate world. I've seen plenty of videos and the like of London but to be walking the streets, and to have to be wary of crossing the street because of the alternate flow of traffic was a most enjoyable new experience.

We walked past the US Embassy, towards the Queen's palace, and many more places that I can't remember as it all went so fast. Eventually we grabbed a burger at The Clarence and thinking back to what I wrote earlier in this series about, "wanting to appreciate every moment," I already am a bit sad because we did so much, saw so much, and I was so exhausted that I don't know if I was even capable of fully appreciating this tour that Wil was giving.

Time ticked on and we had to catch a train to Birmingham, which left at 4:00 p.m. and I was hoping to take a nap on the train but how could I? It isn't every day I'm in England and it isn't every day I get to talk to Wil, much less in person, so between talking racing with Wil and watching the English countryside go by there was no sleep to be had.

In Birmingham, when we arrived, the sun was just starting to set and we did a little walking around, went to a shopping mall to see if they had a certain sports team's jersey (They didn't. More on that later in the week) and then proceeded to go to a place that served fish ‘n chips because how could one come to England and not have fish n chips?

Wil booked me a room in a hostel, which I at first was worried, but the place is much more like a hotel than the college dorm party atmosphere that comes to mind with the word hostel, and the room was quite nice. I connected to the Wi-Fi and immediately my eyes were met with these words, "There's been a major change in your itinerary. Please call us immediately as your options may be limited." I think these are the worst words any traveler wants to see, much less when I had no ability to call.

Remember at the start of this when I said I'd have to deal with things myself if something came up? This was something that was beyond what I could do. I had no way to call. The hostel didn't have a phone and my cell phone is not set up for international calls so I could only do one thing and that was to forward the email to my dad.

He called and found out that 750 Lufthansa pilots went on strike and that meant my flight had been cancelled, which also meant whatever good side Lufthansa got on from the race in Munich had now been erased. It took hours of being on the phone, but it looked as if I had been booked on a KLM flight the next day. It wasn't 100% sure, though, but exhaustion won out and I went to sleep not knowing what the next day would hold.