Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone is having a lovely Christmas, especially the Siscoe family. I'm sorry I'm missing the family celebration this year, but I hope this video will bring us together even though we're apart. Tell the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins that I love them!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Christmas in Germany, and sort of in Belgium
This video attempts to capture the better moments of my first week in continental Europe. The narrator is my lovely hostess Brittany Schick, who has gone out of her way several times to make me and Adam's Christmas breaqk phenomenal. Sorry about the slight interference with the audio-we'll do better next time. My favorite part so far is the time we spent in Germany at the Christmas markets. They do Christmas right, or perhaps they taught us Americans what Christmas should be like in the first place. The Belgians on the other hand seem slightly confused at best... Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

London to Brussels has never been more difficult

After the long semester at Oxford, I expected a leisurely vacation of European tourism. Even though it will be quite relaxing, I got off to a child or stressful start. I had the worst airport experience I have ever had at London Heathrow. It all got off to a pretty innocent start, I arrived at Terminal 3 on a bus at around 2:15 for my 3:50 flight. My flight was from Brussels to Terminal 5 however, so I needed to use the Heathrow Express (their underground transportation between terminals) to hop over to Terminal 5. So I headed down the escalator to the train platform, little knowing what was about misfortune to befall me ....
I Boarded the Express just fine. There was a train headed to Terminal 5 waiting for me. Unfortunately, that train decided not to move for the next fifteen minutes. At that point, the conductor instructed everyone to get off and wait on the platform for further information. About fifteen minutes later, we were informed that it had indeed broken down, but they were still unable to pinpoint the problem. Another fifteen minutes passed and the now defunct trolley was still sitting exactly where it had been Forty-five minutes prior. Finally, another train arrived to Terminal 5 at a different platform and I made it to the check-in desk around 3:15. At that point it was obviously too late for me to check any bags, so I was sent over to the customer service desk. From there things went from bad to worse.
I was informed that, since I had booked my ticket with Orbitz, my plane ticket was non-transferable. The customer service rep said that I could get the cheapest flight to Brussels was 220 pounds (approximately $ 350 - $ 375). After my experience in the UK and one of the strongest currencies in the world, my bank account could not take another hit like that. The rep advised me that my best bet was to try and get ahold of Orbitz and see if they would transfer my flight. We'll classify this dilemma as number 1.
I used one of the few pounds I had left in my pocket to get on the internet at Café Nero and find the customer service number for Orbitz. I then tried to use the remainder of my phone card to call them. Unfortunately, I got put on hold until my phone card ran out. Bummer. The next attempt was financed by my credit card, which was successful. However, the voice of the agent Orbitz was so soft I could barely even hear them. Either the speaker phone was bad or the connection was poor, but in any case I could not hear them well enough to get any serious business done. Payphones I switched and tried another call credit. This time I got to a normal-volumed agent, who informed me that Orbitz was currently undergoing a network and update their internet access (including any access to my booking) was obstructed until it was finished. They told me I could call back in about an hour. We'll classify this dilemma as number 2.
At this point, dilemma number 1 plus 2 formed an impenetrable wall between me and a flight to Brussels. My only option was to chill out with my luggage trolley in the middle of Terminal 5, Heathrow airport, London, UK. That is exactly what I did from 5 to 6.
I then attempted my third call to Orbitz Precisely at 6pm. I did not actually reach them this time. Instead, I was patched through to an international operator who informed me that my card had been rejected. Fantastic. When I inquired why my card had been rejected, they informed me they did not possess that information. They said though that I had used it perhaps too frequently, and that my bank may have potentially blocked it. Later I discovered that I had used it on several small purchases throughout the day and that I had reached my daily limit of transactions. Unfortunately, I did not discover that until the next day, so that will have no bearing on my story. All I know is that my debit card was no longer working. Dilemma Number 3.
At this point, I went wondering around Heathrow looking for anyone willing to listen to my sad story. I found one flight attendant who attempted to find a manager I could talk with. After several minutes in the main office, she informed me that all the higher-ups were too busy to provide me with a phone to place an international call. However, she did suggest that if I looked, I Might Be Able to find a manager who would assist me. I was informed that manager's wear blue-and-silver ties. And so I was off again, looking for a blue-and-silver-tied manager in Terminal 5 at Heathrow in London.
I finally found one, and he willingly let me use his cell phone to place an international call. If it seemed this was a solution, do not get too excited. It turns out that his cell phone was unable to make international calls. Next, he took me to the same office the flight attendant to see if there was a phone there. Regrettably, his answer was also negative. The managerial offices at Terminal 5 has no phone for making international calls. Period.
By this time I am thoroughly discouraged. Dilemma 1, 2, and 3 had rendered me completely helpless. It was 6:30, and if I was going to catch the 8 o'clock flight to Belgium something drastic was going to have to happen. I was pretty sure that I was going to have to spend the night at Heathrow with a grand total of two pounds, which might have bought me a cereal bar. And beyond that, I was not exactly sure if things would be any better in the morning.
I trudged to customer service one more time to see if anything else could be done. I told them my predicament, and said that if they could not help me I would understand. I finally got a bit of luck. Sally Dreyphus said that they had confirmed the delay Heathrow Express (I do not know why it took three hours) and now that I could transfer my ticket for the small fee of sixty pounds. That was better than 220, but I wish I had known that before I went and put my credit card out of commission. But fortunately, the one in favor someone did me all day, Mrs.. Dreyphus decided to let the slide fee. She realized that I had a return flight on January 6, and said that she could apply for the charge when I checked in for that flight.
Against all odds, I made it to Belgium. Unfortunately, I had to have the worst airport experience of my life first.