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The journey home from Chile

January 30th, 2016 No comments

Normally I consider paying extra for better seats a luxury or an unnecessary expense, with standard seating usually being adequate, but after my final flight home I think the ones I paid extra for were worth every penny. In total I paid in the region of 150 euros for an over-wing exit row from London to Madrid and front row exit row seats on the flights to/from Chile, electing to save my money and have a standard seat on the final flight from Madrid to London. Big mistake.

Never in my life have I had such uncomfortable seats and so little leg room, on any aircraft and with any airline all around the world including the North Korean state airline. The seat was uncomfortable and gave me a back ache, the head rest was too low for my height which hurt my neck and even spreading my legs as far as they could go without squashing the person next to me or tripping people over as they walked past my knees were still pressed into the seat in front of me so solidly that walking off of the plane upon arrival in London caused me a lot of pain. I am just thankful that the person in front of me didn’t even attempt to put their seat back or I could have sustained real injury. Apparently Iberia don’t think people above the size of small child travel on their aircraft.

Iberia have horrible leg room

Horrible leg room Madrid – London

Iberia ()lack of) leg room

Another photo of the painful conditions I found myself in on Iberia.

The flight itself was made worse by a large group of Uruguayan school children who, after hitting me in the face with their bags several times as they boarded, proceeded to be so loud that it gave me a headache. We also did not receive any drinks or food service for the entire flight due to severe turbulence which, although I am not affected by it usually, combined with the lack of food and drink made me feel quite sick. Neither of these problems were the fault of Iberia, but they made my uncomfortable conditions a lot worse due to the fact I couldn’t get up to stretch my legs, use the bathroom or drink any water to calm my stomach or head. Although I guess in some way at least the turbulence meant that the Uruguayan kids couldn’t run around and annoy everybody like they did during the first 30 minutes of the flight as they had to remain in their seats.

Maybe next time I will fly with a different operator, or via a different route, although if Iberia work out to be the best option again I will definitely book the extra leg room seats no matter what the cost especially for the transatlantic legs. No way could I have survived 13 hour flights in those conditions.

Luckily the rest of my journey home was much better. After breakfast we left the apartment for our journey to the airport, which went fairly smoothly. It was a short metro ride to Los Heroes, where the airport bus starts, and the next bus started boarding shortly after we arrived. It is a very efficient service, has a bus every 10 minutes during the day, and is cheap but I do wish they had more space for luggage. By the time everybody boarded the small luggage area on board looked more like a jenga tower. Hopefully they will extend the metro to the airport soon which will make the process even easier, but I had no real problems with the transfers.

Santiago de Chile

Our apartment was in the smaller building in the background

Santiago de Chile

The neighbourhood that our apartment was in

I was able to check straight in when I arrived at the airport which gave me a chance to have a quick lunch and final catch up with Steven. There aren’t that many food options at Santiago Airport, just a couple of cafes from what I saw, so while the airport seems to be very efficient don’t get here too early as you will end up frustrated.

I always like to write about issues that I encounter when I travel just so that anybody reading my blog has an idea of what to expect. I don’t generally moan or complain about anything I encounter when I travel as it is only fair to play by the rules of the countries you visit, and my return journey from Kyrgyzstan to London last year was far worse than anything I encountered returning from this trip. However, the more information you have the more you are prepared and the more you are prepared the more you will enjoy your trip as you won’t let little things get to you.

As I said though the extra leg room seats were worth every penny I paid. I had an extremely comfortable flight from Santiago to Madrid and, while I didn’t sleep for more than a few minutes, I arrived in Madrid refreshed and relaxed. I saw some interesting cloud formations and watched some good movies but other than that the flight was fairly uneventful.

Extra leg room on Iberia

Extra leg room Santiago – Madrid

Santiago Airport

Santiago Airport, waiting to depart

Cloud formations over Brasil

Cloud formations over Brasil

Arriving back in your home city from a great trip is always a low point, but having been in Latin America for 11 days I almost had a culture shock when I got back to The UK. After leaving the aircraft it was well over an hour before I saw anybody smile and in that time I heard 11 people either shouting at people or having arguments with random strangers, in most cases over the smallest of things, and there was a severe lack of eye contact compared to Chile. I guess when you live somewhere you get used to the way things work, and the attitude of the population, but this enforces what I have said several times about travel being essential to personal growth and to opening you up to new ideas / cultures. The more you travel, especially off of the beaten track or at least away from tourist hotspots, the less things tend to bother you and the less you tend to rely on things being exactly how you expect them. That is my experience anyway, I don’t know about in general.

But for now it is time for sleep. It has been an exhausting but absolutely amazing two weeks which I have enjoyed immensely, and one which has made me fall in love with another country all over again. This is only the second time I have been to Latin America but I always have such an amazing time so I know I will be back. I don’t know when, I don’t know the countries I will visit and I don’t know what format my trip will be but I will definitely be back. So many good experiences and so many good memories.

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Bienvenido a Chile

January 20th, 2016 No comments

Welcome to Chile! I have just checked into the apartment where I will be staying for the next 10 nights and it’s really close to everything. It looked a little far out on Google Maps but my friend assured me it was central and he was right – the nearest metro stop is less than 5 minutes walk away, and it’s only 10-15 minutes walk to what I would class as the centre of the city. The apartment is basic but we don’t need anything fancy just somewhere affordable, safe and central. The owner seemed nice, and she even bought us a selection of fruit as a welcome gift, but other than when she took payment we won’t see her again.

Charlie in Santiago de Chile

Charlie enjoying the view from the apartment

Santiago de Chile

Our apartment was in the smaller building in the background

This is my 3rd day in Chile and for the past few days I have been staying at my friend Steven’s house in La Granja, a residential area to the south of the city. The idea of me staying there was to see where Steven lives, meet his family, play with his cat and just relax after a long flight. Oh my what a long journey it was.

I decided to book a cheap Travelodge near Heathrow the night before my flight, even though I didn’t depart until mid-afternoon, as being a weekend I didn’t know about engineering works and also as I just wanted to relax. I’m definitely glad I chose to spend the night as there was so much engineering on that I had to take 2 trains, 3 tubes, a bus and do some walking to get there, compared to the usual 1 train and 1 tube plus a small walk, which would have been stressful on the day of the flight. I knew I would have 24 hours of travelling ahead of me the next day, including a 13.5 hour flight, so all I did at the hotel was relax in the restaurant and then watch TV.

Waking up to snow near London Heathrow

Waking up to snow on the morning of my flight to Chile via Madrid.

I woke up on the morning of my flight to be greeted with freezing temperatures and a covering of snow on the ground which, considering I had not taken any thick jackets due to travelling to South America during their summer, made me look forward to my trip even more than I already was. Transport that day was a lot smoother than the day before and I got to the airport, checked in and boarded my first flight to Madrid with ease. Upon arrival at Madrid I was transported by shuttle bus to the non-EU section of the airport ready for my flight to Chile which, luckily, was on time. There aren’t many options for food at Madrid airport from what I have seen, just a couple of cafes, fast food outlets and a Starbucks but I passed the time eating in a cafe and using the free WI-Fi in Starbucks.

Then it was time for my 13.5 hour transatlantic flight. For the whole outbound journey, and the transatlantic portion of the return leg, I have booked extra leg room seats at a cost of 150 euros total but it seems that it was worth every penny as Iberia, who I’m flying with, seem to have some of the worst leg room I have ever seen. On the way to Madrid most people had their legs pressed very firmly into the seat in front of them and there’s no way I could survive that especially not long-haul. Luckily I had this much leg room.

Exit row on Iberia

This is the leg room I received by paying for an exit row

The flight itself was very smooth, on time, the food was nice and the entertainment system was pretty good considering I had heard lots of bad reports in advance. Plus, being a night flight, having the exit row meant I was able to get up and stretch my legs whenever I wanted. Although a piece of advice – don’t pick the exit row at the front of economy on the left hand side as this is by the entrance people use to board the plane and I got knocked by bags and elbows a lot. The other side should be fine. The man next to me, I think a Chilean businessman, was kind enough to let me have the window seat for descent and landing as it was my first time in South America and I was treated to some amazing views.

Flying over The Andes

Flying over The Andes on my approach to Chile

Santiago Airport

Arriving in Santiago de Chile

Immigration, baggage claim and customs went very smoothly considering the long queues and I think I went from plane to arrivals in 30 minutes – so quick that Steven had not arrived yet. I took the opportunity to change some money and stretch my legs.

One thing you should know about Santiago airport is that there is no metro or train service to the city. They have plans to build it but it’s not there yet and so your options are taxi, private shuttle or airport bus. We took the airport bus as it’s reliable and fairly cheap, only a few thousand pesos per person. The ride into the city, to Los Heroes metro station, took around 30 minutes and from there we took the metro a few stops before taking a shared taxi to Steven’s house. The shared taxi system will be confusing for non-Chileans but it seems efficient – they travel on vaguely set routes, for a cheap fixed fee, and leave either when full of when the egg timer they have reaches the end. I think we were in the taxi for maybe 10 minutes before we arrived in La Granja.

La Granja is not an area of the city that you will ever visit as a tourist unless you have a reason as there isn’t much there. It’s a fairly residential area, I believe with houses mainly built in the past for the military, with a couple of malls but nothing for tourists. It’s also a commune which a number of guide books say to avoid but I never felt unsafe there, although granted I never went out at night. Except for a few Mormons, and the Chinese family that run a general store on the main road, there generally aren’t any non-Latinos in the area either so you will stick out like a sore thumb, unless you are Latino yourself, but this is never something that has bothered me. But as it’s an area with a certain amount of crime I didn’t take many photos.

Pancracia

Steven’s cat, called Pancracia

The two days in La Granja I spent mainly relaxing, adjusting to the time zone and heat, playing with Pancracia thr cat and eating some good home cooked food. Wow what food it was. We did a little bit of shopping and walking around seeing the area where Steven grew up but didn’t do too much as we knew that we would be doing a lot of walking around for the rest of my trip. We did travel a few stops on the metro one afternoon to visit the Mall Plaza Vespucio, where Steven used to work, to stretch our legs and have some coffee but that was about it. As I said this area isn’t really for tourist so you won’t really have a reason to visit here.

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A nightmare journey home

June 6th, 2015 No comments

After arriving back in London I think I needed the luck that I wished for in my previous post as the journey was certainly an experience. This is going to be a fairly text-filled post as I didn’t take many photos due to it being a travel day and due to the crazy fellow passengers – sorry about that.

When travelling, especially on trips like this, I plan for the unexpected. That’s why when I was told I wouldn’t need to arrive at Bishkek Airport until 2 hours before my flight I told my hotel the wrong flight time in order to arrive there 3 hours before and I’m glad I did as the first half of the return journey, from arriving at Bishkek airport until transferring in Moscow, was a nightmare.

I arrived at the airport about 3 hours 15 minutes before my flight was due to depart, as they were starting to set up ready for check-in to open, so I ate the on-the-go breakfast which my hotel provided while waiting. By the time I finished eating the check-in desk was open and I joined the queue behind maybe 4 groups, totalling around a dozen people. You would have thought that check-in would have been quick with that few people there but this was not the case. No sooner had I joined the queue but a couple of coaches of Russians arrived all at once and caused chaos. A large number of people decided to just push in because they didn’t want to queue (some used trolleys as battering rams, some picked up children and placed them in the queue so that when they got to the front and started crying the family would join them). During the time it took to get to the front more queues had formed either side of the real one so that people could just barge in. Several of the people who jumped the queue, after being checked in, then proceeded to walk back up the queue to attempt to sell mobile phone sim cards to fellow passengers. I eventually got to the check-in desk over an hour after joining the queue.

Then came the fun of passport control. After completing check-in I proceeded straight to the passport control queue and there were maybe 100-150 people in front of me in the queue. Once again I use the word queue lightly as it quickly turned into one big mass of people all pushing each other out of the way to try to get to the front quicker, which delayed things for everybody. It took so long for the queue to begin to clear that they had to keep calling passengers forward when their flight was boarding. Other than the fact people were pushing in I’m not sure why it took so long to go through passport control as both myself, and a friend I made in the queue who was on the same flight, were processed in less than a minute. We were both stamped with the incorrect exit date but were told that it was not a problem – we didn’t query the officer in case he sent us to the back of the queue.

By the time I made it through security and into the departure lounge my flight was due to board within 10 minutes, despite how early I arrived at the airport. I grabbed some snacks in the shop and then tried to find which gate my flight was due to depart from, but it was not listed on the board. I tried to find some staff members to ask but other than the shop cashier there were no staff to ask. Eventually me and the other passenger walked up and down the departure lounge until our flight appeared on the screens at one of the gates.

About 5 minutes after they started processing people for boarding an announcement was made in Russian which prompted everybody, including the gate staff and passengers who had already been processed, to start rushing to the other end of the terminal. I asked a lady near us what was happening and she told me that the announcement said the buses which were due to take us to the plane had turned up at a different gate and the drivers didn’t want to move. No I’m not kidding!

I eventually made it to my seat, after what seemed like a mission, and found out that I was sat directly behind a large, drunk, loud man whos first act after sitting down was to slam his seat back with such force that be broke it and slammed it into my knees making me jump in pain. Throughout the flight the Aeroflot staff did a brilliant job of trying to control him, and refused to serve him any alcohol, but he proceeded to open a bottle of cognac he had smuggled onto the plane and became even more annoying. He was so drunk by mid-flight that he couldn’t get out of his seat to go to the toilet so tried to call for help. Unfortunately he couldn’t focus enough to work out which was the call button so ended up making some sort of disco effect with the overhead lights of his row until he eventually pressed the correct one and was pulled out of his seat by Aleksei, a very patient flight attendant.

On the way back from the toilet he tried to get back into his seat but couldn’t work out how to so launched himself sideways, headbutted the man in the middle seat, and ended up with one leg over the arm rest and waving into the aisle. A lot of people were getting embarassed by this point, including the elderly Russian lady next to me who started shaking her head muttering various things under her breath.

Throughout the remainder of the flight he kept asking for alcohol and was continually refused. From the little Russian I understood I worked out that after being denied alcohol he just kept asking for Vodka, because apparently that isn’t alcohol, and was then denied this because on Aeroflot only Business Class are served spirits. He wasn’t happy about this so waited for the cabin crew to walk away before getting out of his seat, storming into Business Class and being chased by the cabin crew for a few minutes.

I wish I had made the above story, and the details of my bus ride to Bishkek yesterday, up but unfortunately it is all true. The general response of people who I have told the story to has been utter disbelief, and a lot of open-mouthed shock. I have a feeling that I will be telling this story for many years to come, but for some reason the entire experience didn’t get to me. I sometimes let things get to me in my day-to-day life but when travelling you have to expect crazy things like this. I must admit I wasn’t expecting so may crazy things all in one journey but whether you enjoy travelling to unusual destinations like Kyrgyzstan depends on whether you are able to handle things like this. I did keep thinking “this has to be some sort of test” to myself throughout the journey and maybe in some way it was – I now know that when travelling I can overcome some pretty crazy things!

Moscow Airport

Transiting through Moscow Airport

My transit through Moscow airport and the flight back to London were fairly uneventful. The flight, in comparison to the last one, was luxurious and I had an entire 4-seat row of a Boeing 777 to myself to be able to stretch out and watch TV in.

After arriving back at Heathrow I changed my unused US Dollars back before making my final journey back home. I already know that my next trip will be to Chile, I just don’t know when it will be yet. Either way hopefully my journey will be less eventful. Stay tuned to my blog!

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I’m on my way to Central Asia

May 22nd, 2015 No comments

Central Asia is an area that I’ve wanted to visit for a while, so I’m glad to finally be on my way.

When I travel I like to visit new places, maybe places that have a unique culture, but definitely places that I believe I’ll discover things and experience something new. That’s one of the things that appealed to me about Central Asia – the area has had influences from so many cultures over the years from Europe, the Turks and Chinese during the era of the Silk Road, to the Russians more recently. This, from what I have read, has allowed the area to develop into a melting pot of people and ideas from around the region while still maintaining its own identity.

The second reason I wanted to visit the area is because it just looks so beautiful. Several years ago I discovered a photo of a Dragoman vehicle and tents next to a beautiful lake and thought “I don’t care where this is, I want to go there one day”. I later discovered that this photo was taken in Kyrgyzstan and so when last year I discovered a sale on flights to the region, and a special offer with Dragoman, I thought I had to jump at the chance!

I’m at London Heathrow waiting for my flight now and I’m really excited about my journey ahead, although for personal reasons this will be an emotional trip. There were the usual last minute rushes to get read but I got here with plenty of time to spare in the end. My mum decided to accompany me as she had the day off so we had a meal at the airport before I went through security.

The next couple of weeks should be amazing, as long as the group are nice and relaxed, so expect lots of updates to the blog and lots of photos. Although just a reminder that all of my travel blogs, due to the locations I travel being generally away from reliable internet connections, are typed up after I get back based on notes that I make on the road.

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