Friday 27 March 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The Rome Edition

Today I'm going to talk about my first solo (sans parents) holiday.

I was 19 or 20, had just moved to Europe a year or 2 before, but had already become infected with the travel bug. I remember asking my parents if I could go on holiday to Italy with my 15 and 14year old brother and sister. They said yes, really. A naive never-really-travelled Nigerian teenager going abroad for the first time without parental supervision with two younger siblings, why not right? In retrospect, I'm not sure if this was a reasonable decision on the part of my parents. Either they had blind faith in my abilities, or they'd just got fed up of having 5 children and were hoping we'd get lost somewhere in Italy. 

Anyway they said yes on the condition that we sorted out everything ourselves. We had to fund the holiday, book the flights and hotels and even get our own passports/visas. As a bona fide OCD-er, everything went according to plan as you can imagine. I hustled, we scrimped and saved, and I looked for the "cheapest" flights and hotels. I say "cheapest" because at the time, as a rookie traveller, I hadn't discovered the low-cost airlines, and only British Airways would do. Now with my Ajala credentials well-established, I fly Easyjet and Ryanair like my life depends on it. Let's just that say my posh days are well and truly behind me and I have become a true ajepako!

Arriving in Italy after so much hard work, and with our purses full of money, we were determined to have 2 weeks of great unsupervised fun. I remember us living large that first week, eating/sampling the Italian fare and even drinking wine, something that would normally be verboten to us! We ate a lot of amazing gelato, spent a day with my cousins and aunty and went crazy with shopping. In the first week, we also did a lot of the main tourist attractions; the Coloseum, the Spanish steps, the Vatican city, Piazza Navona, the Roman forum, made our wishes and threw coins into the Trevi fountain (as an aside, I have since been back to Rome, so maybe the legend is true?). In short, life was peachy, until the day that my sister's purse and bankcards were stolen on our way back from St Peter's Basilica.

We'd got the metro and as ajebutter kids didn't realise you could be robbed. So when this pregnant lady fell against my sister's bag, she thought nothing of it and just tried to help her up. At that point, she felt a hand in her bag, but before she could react the woman jumped off the train and ran off at the next station. We were in shock! You see we'd been spending the cash I changed before arriving and were saving the money on her card to pay the hotel when we checked out; that is the cost of two rooms for 2 weeks, minus the 10% deposit. As you can imagine, quite a bit of money! In panic, we rang the bank to cancel the card, then went to find a police officer to whom we could report the incident. They were completely useless and very unhelpful, and as a result of all the running around, we missed our bus back to the hotel. Oh yes, tiny but important detail, the hotel was on the outskirts of Rome, about 1hour away, so a free shuttle bus was provided morning and evening. 

Anyway so here we were in Rome, with night beginning to fall, even less money, and definitely no clue about how to get back to the hotel. Light-bulb moment, we called the hotel who told us that as we'd missed the bus, it was up to us to find our way back. However, as no public transport went as far as the place itself, they were willing to pick us up from a train station nearer the hotel. Upset at this news which meant spending even more of our precious Euros, we got the train to the stop as they'd instructed us, and that my friends is when the real fun on that trip began.

We tried to call the hotel a million times, but the combination of my non-existant Italian and their bad English meant that everything was lost in translation, until my phone battery finally died. Frustrated with the whole debacle, we decided to try to find a bar where we could use the pay phone and where we could have a meeting point for them to come pick us up, since the train station was completely deserted. Anyway when we tried to communicate with the people there, we were told that you needed a special card for the pay phones which we of course did not have! I swear at that point, I started to wonder if the people from my father's village had followed us all the way to Italy and decided that we'd never return home. Well that is when God/fate decided to remember that he/she had 3 young kids somewhere in the Roman countryside who needed to be delivered from a bad and rapidly worsening situation. Basically, a kind but completely BONKERS woman heard us talking about our dilemma and offered to drive us back to the hotel. Ecstatic at this wonderful answer to prayers, we jumped into the car, only for her to tell us about 5minutes into the journey, that she wasn't supposed to be driving her car because it was no longer road-worthy.

She drove recklessly in the car that had only one dim headlight, smoked cigarette after cigarette, chattered Italian non-stop, asked us to hang on to the doors as they could fall off at any time, and told us to keep an eye out for the police! I can still remember the fear that gripped me each time she took a bend, I tell you, we were beyond relieved to arrive at the hotel safe and sound. Amazingly, she refused to accept anything from us and even seemed embarrassed when we became too effusive with our gratitude.

After this adventure, we decided (mostly because we had no more money), to stay at the hotel for the last couple of days and truly enjoy the facilities. As the resident OCD-er, I made a budget, subtracting the hotel fees and airport transportation costs from the funds we had left, made a budget for all three of us and divided the money equally.  We lived off cheap tinned foods, until my brother (the ajebutter) rebelled after the second day and refused to eat any more of it. He spent the rest of his money, then promptly made friends with a British family who basically fed him for the rest of our stay there...awon Oliver Twist tinz. Anyway everything went okay, until we decided it'd be a good idea to leave for Rome a day early so we could at least visit my cousins and say goodbye before going home to England. Being that it was the final day, (and due of course to my impeccable money management skills), we were able to treat ourselves to fine food, make the (very foolish) decision to store our luggage at the train station and do some final sightseeing before going for dinner at my aunty's.

The staff at station quoted us a price for 24hours which sounded sensible and within our budget, so we agreed and left our stuff. The next day, arriving at the station early in order to take our train to the airport, imagine our surprise when they told us that the fee was at least 100€ more than the initial quote! Remember every single cent of our money had been calculated and accounted for. When we'd begged/cried to no avail, we reported them to the police, but they couldn't and didn't give a flying fuck about our situation. Eventually, I did some calculations, and realised that if we gave them everything, and asked our parents to come get us from London, we'd be missing only 25€. That is when I decided to do something that still makes me proud of myself, but also makes me cringe in shame whenever I remember it. I basically left my siblings at the station and started begging on the streets. I repeatedly offered my phone to whoever wanted it, in exchange for the money. Of course I wasn't very successful. No one wanted my shitty phone, many people didn't speak English, and of course the stereotypes of seeing a black child begging on the streets of Europe meant that many people instinctively avoided me, that is until I came across my American Samaritan. He was young, (must have been in his early 20s) and didn't seem particularly to have a lot of money, but he took pity on us and gave me the money without taking my phone. He even refused to take my address as guarantee that I would reimburse him! He was just a good Samaritan plain and simple. Thanks to this amazing kindness, we were able to pay, retrieve our luggage and rush to the airport....but of course the story doesn't end there haha!

We got to the airport late and had only a few minutes to spare before our flight left but thought we'd make it because things were finally going well, that is until we got to the security/border control.  In a hurry, and still stressed from the events from earlier on in the day, my sister got pissed and became very sassy with the officer who then decided to pay us back by holding us hostage. He repeatedly checked hers and my brother's passports, called his colleague over and wasted precious minutes laughing at the pictures. That my friends is how we missed the flight.

After all that kerfuffle we sha arrived at the BA counter, where the British people, took one look at us and decided to take pity and put us on the next flight home. Miraculously this was completely and utterly free of charge. Looking back, and writing this really makes me think how God/someone was watching out for us.

Anyway, back in London, we made up some flimsy lie and got my parents to pay for our coach tickets home over the phone. Till today, we have never shared that story with our parents, initially because we were scared they'd prevent us from going on future trips, and now because it's a kind of special secret between us children. We still laugh about that holiday, and the three of us became closer after it. The younger two think we're cool survivors, and are kind of jealous of our Italian adventure. 

So, ever been on a crazy holiday or trip? Please share your experiences and let us all laugh about them!

Monday 23 March 2015

Revised Weekly Language Goals: Review

Still going hard on the grind. This week was also really productive even though I seem to have lost the feeling that I'm progressing in leaps and bounds. I think that is what happens as one moves away from being a complete beginner; the steep learning curve which also means massive leaps in knowledge acquisition gradually becomes less steep and of course the leaps become "just" strides.

Anyway on to this week's review...
  1. Done. As with last week, I did a bit of listening to radio, because I automatically put it on whenever I am out and about in Brussels. However, I am loving Das Erste and ZDF; German TV stations where I can watch stuff with subtitles. I even watch a short 6minute documentary last night about Nigeria. Love, love these two stations!
  2. Done. I saw Hanna on Thursday and spoke quite a bit of German. I am really glad I met her, becuase apart from the German, we get along very well and spend most of our meetings giggling. Last time I met her, an elder gentleman stopped us as we left the restaurant to tell us how refreshing he found us. He'd been watching, and said he loved the fact that two young women could just meet up and spend the evening laughing away. It was so sweet!
  3. Done. I wrote a super long email to MIL on Tuesday (the words flew off the tip of my fingers), then got Hanna to correct it on Thursday, the poor thing. I hadn't done that in a while and it was good to have her input, and for her to pick up on my many many mistakes.
  4. Done. I finished the book I was reading and started another one. It is about 250pages long, so it should take much less time anyway, but I think I've also become a bit better and faster at reading in German. It's a much harder book to read, but I like the story and am enjoying the book, so I will not give up.
  5. Done. I reviewed the 12 chapters that I previously done and became a bit more confident with some of the rules.
  6. Done. I am so happy that I have re-found my zeal for Duolingo. I have done it everyday since last week and I find myself flying through the levels. I kind of re-did the whole thing, but it was worth it, and I think it was good to refresh my memory.
I'm hoping I can repeat last week's successes and work even harder this week, although I have another friend visiting this weekend. 

Monday 16 March 2015

Revised Weekly Language Goals: Review

After so many weeks of slacking with German, I seem to have found my zeal again, thank God! I worked hard this week, and felt myself slowly sliding back into the world of German grammar and vocabulary. I learnt a hard lesson which is that no matter how hard you've worked previously, slacking off usually leads to a loss of muscle tone, in this case brain muscles. I am basically having to re-remember vocab. that was slowly becoming normal to me, and catching myself making silly grammar mistakes. Still I'm back on the horse now, and happy with my progress. I'm off to see MIL and Jen from Ibibio girl in May, and I am determined to impress them both. As I've got just over 7weeks left, I'm going to have to knuckle down and work really hard.

So on to this week's review...
  1. Done! I did a bit of listening to radio, but really focused my energy on watching lots of German TV. I've discovered that I can watch the public channels online with subtitles (for deaf people), and this is such a life-saver as it means that I can follow the programme both by listening and reading. Already seen a few films and documentaries, and there seems to be a whole lot waiting to be viewed. I am so very thankful for HOLA, the browser add-on that lets me change my geographic location online!
  2. Done. I saw Hanna on Wednesday and again spoke a lot of German. She taught me a few choice words this time, and we were both much less in the polite, well-brought up girls mode. I was a bit tipsy, which made pronunciation a bit interesting, but I have so much fun.
  3. Done. I wrote an email to my MIL, and immediately noticed the wasting away of the German muscles of my brain. As in it was hard to get the words to sound smooth on paper, but I persevered and did it. This week should be better.
  4. Done. I am STILL reading the book I bought about 4weeks ago, but I think I'll be done today, as I only have a few pages left. I am sooooo looking forward to reading something else. At this rate, I'll probably end up reading much fewer books than I usually get through each year.
  5. Done! I did my one chapter, but I think this week's grammar goal will be revising all the previous chapters to make sure I've really got the lessons.
  6. Done, and I am so happy about this! I finally managed to get back into Duolingo and I realised it really helps with the vocabulary and even the grammar. 
I'm hoping I can repeat last week's success and work hard, even though I have friends coming over this weekend. And on that note, I wish everyone a lovely week!

Sunday 8 March 2015

Recovery and Recuperation

Normally I have a hectic lifestyle, but these last four weeks have been particularly tiring. I'm not sure if it's because I'm getting older, or just because I overdid things, but I am exhausted! Of course this has taken a toll on my healthy lifestyle and German goals. My diet although far from being completely disastrous, hasn't been perfect, and the quality and quantity of exercising plummeted this last week. In addition to this, I have been struggling with achieving all my language goals. The straw that broke the camel's back though was the terrible day I had at work last Wednesday, when I was attacked twice (once quite viciously) by some of the children. My head has been really messed up since then, and although I had my lovely sister's graduation to distract me this weekend,  I am apprehensive about returning to work. As someone with slight OCD tendencies, I know that routine and order help me cope, and are the best means of dealing with my anxieties. So I have decided to push the reset button by going on a four-day lifestyle detox, encompassing every area of my life including food, sleep and socialising. I'm going to try to eat right, sleep well and take time out to do the things I enjoy doing. I haven't had the time to interact with many people in the blogging community recently and I miss that for example. I also actually enjoy reading, working on my German and seeing my progress, so I am looking forward to picking it up where I left off...
So yeah,  Monday to Thursday will be spent looking after Clara and nursing her, body and soul, back to health.

Monday 2 March 2015

Last Weekend.

First of all, there'll be no language review this week because....well I only did 4/6 things on the list (conversation exchange, reading, grammar book and radio), because I was yet again very busy. The thing is that I don't actually have the right to paid holiday at the moment, because in Belgium you have to work for a whole year before you can take time off i.e. I can only take my 6week holiday for 2015 from January 2016 onwards, and if I no longer work for them, they'll have to pay me in lieu. In reality, what this means that I have to make up all the hours before or after, every time I travel. As you can imagine, I am exhausted from all the extra work because God knows February was more than crazy. Anyways enough whining for today...

In other more important news *drumroll please* T met the fam! We both left our respective cities on Thursday and travelled down to England to spend the weekend with my family, and I honestly was amazed at how loving everyone was. My naturally shy T completely opened up and really made the effort to talk to and get to know my siblings, my parents outdid themselves with all the cooking/driving/spending/etc., and my siblings...gosh, I have no words! They all told me so many times how good/respectful/sweet T was, and they made such an effort with him. At some point on Saturday, I was completely ignored while all the boys chatted football, then later on hung-out around the XBox. Honestly, I was super worried about this meeting and had been trying to put it off for as long as possible, but that became unsustainable because my parents (mum in particular) were really pushing for T to meet them. Well I'm glad to say that my fears were utterly and completely unfounded, as even the English weather cooperated! 

I stayed one day longer in England to rest, and will be going back to Brussels and real-life tomorrow, at least for a few days....I'm off to Paris on Friday for my younger sister's graduation. Hoping I'll be able to get back on the language horse this week.

Have a lovely week everyone, I hope your weekends were as happy as mine!

P.S. Many thanks to Duru who checked on me when he noticed I'd gone AWOL online. I'm fine, and the busy times are (mostly) behind me now so I'm back.