Need Some AIR From Our Airbnb

It is 9:20pm in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We survived the deluge of heavy rainfall while walking around downtown, scurrying back to our rental vehicle under the measley cover of our one British pound umbrella purchase in Bath of all places.  After a half day of flying from Newark, New York via a one-hour layover at Chicago’s Midway, and taking a 90-minute bus ride from the Detroit Airport to get our rental car, we drove through some heavy rush-hour traffic and eventually made it here to Ann Arbor.  We were definitely looking forward to our Airbnb, which features a private entrance, a private bathroom, ample parking and stellar reviews.

Upon collecting our luggage from the trunk of our car, a humongous cat approached us meowing and curious as to our presence. Curious because I think we were encroaching on his or her property. We got into the room, and then it hit us. 
The awful stench of cat piss. 
No idea if this odor is fresh or from a few days ago, but from all outward appearances the place is super clean, spacious, comfortable and pleasant. This would be a perfect Airbnb, except for the smell.  We have no Febreze or air freshener drying sheets, nor do we have a clothes pin to pinch our noses. My eyes are stinging. Is this from the toxicity of the air? Or is it just a figment of my suddenly paranoid imagination?  I think the worst part about this is the fact that there is zero ventilation… We have one sliding door with no screen, which means if we open it then the cat gets in, defeating the purpose.  We are in the basement of this home so we are just breathing in stale air from x-number days of cat urine.  
We could leave. We could drive away to a hotel, or as a last resort sleep in our car. We could go up the stairs and complain to the owners.  We could, yes.  But we are hardy travelers, this will not break us!  We have had worse experiences, like the bed bugs of the Bowery’s Whitehouse in New York (which is now permanently closed, which I just found out by looking it up on Google); the Barcelona room with no air conditioning in the middle of summer; the teeny tiny $100 motel room in Missoula, Montana with the super loud yet ineffective air conditioner on the hottest day in record for Missoula; the various hostels in Honduras and El Salvador; the hostel in Anchorage, Alaska with the drunk guy shouting in the middle of the night on the street; and of course the other scary possibly drunk dude who followed me to our Airbnb flat in Copenhagen and pounded on the door saying that he was going to kick my ass.  Comparing those experiences to this one?
Yeah, I think we can survive one night in this Airbnb with the stench.  If anything, we will never forget this place and we will remember that if we have another potential no-so-great Airbnb, we can always compare it to this.
Good night.  We’ll see how much sleep we actually get..


The London One Day Pass Whirlwind Tour

Background:  Lisa and I had been to London four years ago and hit the major tourist sites.  However, we didn’t visit St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey, saving it for another time.  That time was now.  Also, after watching the movie “Darkest Days” and learning more about Winston Churchill through our background reading on World War II, we also wanted to tour the Churchill War Rooms.
Total cost to visit would cost 57 pounds, approximately $76.
The one-day London pass costs 69 pounds; through a special web site discount, we could get the pass for just 62.1 pounds each, approximately $83.  So for just $7, we could conceivably do these three attractions plus more.  That was our challenge…
#1:  Westminster Abbey
Opening time 9:30am
We arrived at 8:50am and there was already a line of about fifty people.  They opened the doors early at 9:25am and the line went quickly.  We paid with our cards, received our audio phone guides, and started our tour just after 9:30am.  The audio tour only took an hour, and we spent another half hour visiting other areas of the Abbey.
Total time spent: 90 minutes
#2:  Churchill War Rooms
Arrived at 11:15am
Line wait:  23 minutes
Less than a ten-minute walk from Westminster Abbey.  This place is pretty cool!  There is a huge museum section devoted entirely to Churchill’s life, which we just kinda skimmed over because there was so much that was very in depth.  Corridors got pretty crowded and it made for a little slow going inside.  We left at around 1pm.
Total time spent:  80 minutes (plus 23 minutes if you count the line)
#3:  St. Paul’s Cathedral
Arrived at 1:10pm
Line wait:  1 minute
Took the Tube from Westminster to the cathedral and had a short walk through the lunch time crowds lining the sidewalks.
Used our audio guide phone devices to tour the ground floor, the upper galleries and the crypt.  We walked up 528 steps!  But the views were incredible, walking all that way up is well worth it.
Total time spent:  120 minutes
#4:  London Bridge Experience and the London Tombs
Single entry cost:  26.95 pounds / $36 (rip off)
Arrived at 4:10pm (we ate lunch and walked between St. Paul’s and the London Bridge Experience)
Line wait:  20 minutes
Our tour started at 4:30pm and lasted for maybe 20 minutes.  Kinda lame, especially since our group of eighteen had three annoying pre-teen kids that were a little too rambunctious and the three different actors had to give them a warning for their behaviors.  Basically, we go from room to room to learn about some historical aspects of the London Bridge.  When that was finished, we were led to the “Tombs,” which is basically a typical Halloween haunted house.  This part was pretty well done, and Lisa even survived it.  However, when we finished with the attractions it was already past 5:00pm — the problem with this is that most of the London Pass attractions close at 5:00pm!
#5:  View from the Shard
Single entry cost:  24.50 pounds / $33
Arrived at 5:20pm
Line wait:  5 minutes
Forget the London Eye, this is the place to get high high up in London — 72 floors up!  We spent a long time admiring the views from all sides and taking a bunch of photos.
#6:  City Cruises London
Single one way ticket cost:  15.25 pounds / $20
Arrived at:  7:15pm
Line wait:  none
We walked for a good 30 minutes from the Shard along the Thames, over the Tower Bridge, and caught the last boat of the evening at 7:35pm.  Rode it to Westminster Abbey and from there we just walked back to our hotel at Leicester Square, arriving back to our hotel at 8:30pm, almost exactly twelve hours from when we left for the Abbey.
For just $7 more, we were able to squeeze in the London Experience, do the Shard and take a scenic boat tour with commentary.  If we really wanted to, we could have also used our London Pass to see a first-run movie at a movie theater, but opted not to.  These are attractions that we would probably never do — however, with the London Pass, it’s a great opportunity to throw in some extra fun. 
Did our day with the London Pass feel rushed?
No, not necessarily.  Reviews warned us that we could spend an entire day in the Churchill War Rooms, so we were careful to be selective about what we saw there.  The rest of the places we took our time.
Is there an attraction that we wanted to go to, but didn’t have the time?
We’ve never done one of those Hop On/Hop Off bus tours, and the London Card includes the routes of one of two companies.  Sadly, the last one running its full loop started just after 6pm and we were much too far to get it.  Normal price for these outfits is spendy at 33 pounds per person, or about $44.
Bottom line:
Well worth it if you are able to prioritize the places that you want to go and plan on the locations being in reasonable proximity to one another.  It wouldn’t make sense for someone to buy this pass, go all the way to see the Windsor Castle and then come back the same day to tour other attractions that have huge lines.  Like I said, many places close by 5pm and they rarely open before 9:30am, so you really just have a small window o eight and a half hours to hit up the main attractions, including the Tower of London.  We did visit the Tower four years ago, and it took a good three hours for us to check it all out. 
All in all I think we did a pretty good job of maximizing our London Pass to see the things we wanted to see, plus three more things that were fun that we wouldn’t ordinarily do as a standalone attraction.  And with the online discount from 69 pounds to 62 pounds, it just make financial sense for us to try and do as much as we could for just a few dollars more versus buying them as standalone attractions. 

Well, This Sucks Part 2


We hoof our way up to the train station after our taxi cab fails to show up.  We get super wet due to the steady rain. But we arrive in time to get our 10:26am train to Bath.

But not known to us until we look up at the departures screen is the word


What?  Cancelled?  No crew?  What the hell!?  

Immediately I get into the line to get some clarification from the railway station ticket sellers.  I patiently wait for three people ahead of me — my train is cancelled, so of course I’m patient, there is no train to catch!  When I finally get up to the window and explain my situation, the gentleman matter-of-fact informs me that the next scheduled train is not until 12:27pm — a two hour wait!  He said that had I arrived a little bit earlier, they could have sent me on a taxi to a neighboring station on a different route to Bath.  But that ship had passed — even if I could get on a cab now, I wouldn’t make it in time to get to the other train station.  Later I realize that part of the reason why taxis were in short supply is because the train was taking all available vehicles and using it for their passengers.  Sadly, Lisa and I were not one of those passengers.

The only thing we could do now was wait.  Wait and dry off.  Wait and hope that the 12:27pm train will be just fine.  You know that’s not going to happen…

Firstly, we had a confirmed seat reservation for our 10:26am train.  We were guaranteed seats.  The 12:27pm train?  Nope, not a chance to reserve seats on that train because the time window had closed.

Secondly, we were not the only passengers that were affected by the cancelled 10:26am train.  All others before and after us that did not find alternative means to get to their destination were now waiting, like us, for that later train.

Finally, we find out that the 12:27pm train has only three coaches.  Let me repeat that.  THREE coaches.  Which means that everyone will be fighting to get on the train and try to fit — and there’s a strong chance that some people won’t make it on.  Like what happened to us, yesterday when there were only two coaches.

We continued to wait and before long it was 12:20pm.  Unfortunately, the 12:27pm train was now delayed to 12:33pm.  A six-minute delay, which means we would arrive to the Bath Station at 1:27pm.

12:30pm comes.  Passengers get into position.  A lot of passengers.  With big luggage bags.  And strollers.  And bicycles.  Is that a big instrument I see as well?  The anticipation is high. This is “Go Time.”

Lisa and I strategically place ourselves where we think the back of the train would be.  And then the train makes its appearance, charging into the station. It will stop where we want it to, and we will get on the train with no problem.  

But the train doesn’t slow down in time.  It overshoots us and many more passengers.  And that means a mad scramble forward to where it finally stops.  As it passes by me, I can see that the coaches — the THREE coaches — are full, with some passengers already standing because there are no seats available to sit down in.

After two hours of waiting, cold and still a little wet, we do not want to wait for the train after this one!

Lisa and I are caught in a wave of humanity, a sea of people that want and need to get on this train!  The doors open and a trickle of passengers dodge their way out.  And then it is a mad rush on board.  But it is not fluid, not seamless — stupid backpacks, duffel bags, luggage — this is clunky and unwieldy because people try to get on but there is no room for the bags!  People are twisting, squishing, squeezing into any space that they can find onto the steps and into the cab.  This is not a graceful scene — Lisa and I are in this mob, desperate and trying-to-be-civilized but kinda thinking “Me First!” — and somehow we manage to get on to secure our “rightful” place, but I look out the window and see that yes, others were not so lucky.  They miss the train.

For the next 90 minutes — yep, ninety minutes, we pull into more stations and the scene is repeated.  It is ugly.  People on the train have missed connections to other train because – you guessed it – this train is now delayed because it is taking so long for people to get off the train and for people to get on.  We are piled in, packed like sardines, and one poor lady tells me that she’s been battling this since 4:30am this morning.  Yikes!

We finally get into Bath at 2:02pm.  
We were supposed to get into Bath at 11:27am.    
That’s 2.5 hours of our day shot, and I’m not a happy camper.  We get off the train, walk to our hotel to drop off our bags and make the best out of the rest of the day.

Bottom line is that we made it to Bath in one piece.  No bags lost.  No wallets pick pocketed.  No felled trees that we ran over.  No medical emergencies.  Just a two and a half hour delay.  And a good story, with lessons learned (always check the train schedule and look for alternatives in planning for a worst-case scenario; maybe get that rental car next time!).  

Our experience was not that bad.  On public transportation, there are a number of things we cannot control.  Like the weather.  And general strikes / work stoppages.  Track work and construction.  Felled trees.  A sick crew / no crew.  Two coach cars instead of six or seven.  It’s all a matter of perspective.  Lisa and I made it to Bath, we had a great time, and we move on.  And we will definitely always remember this story!

Well, This Sucks

Location: Salisbury, UK
Sunday morning, 8:25am
Set up:
We have a train to catch at 10:26 am.
Our hotel is a mere 1.2 miles away from the train station, or a 22 minute walk by Google Map estimates.  In reality, the walk is closer to half an hour because of all of the heavy luggage that we are dragging through busy neighborhoods and being careful not to be run over by cars that we are not used to looking 1st towards the right as we step off the curb.
Our dilemma is that it is pouring cats and dogs and the forecast is steady rain all morning long. So do we risk getting wet or calling an Uber to take us there?  Easy decision!
Get a ride!
I open up my Uber app to schedule a car.  Unfortunately there is no Uber available here. The same goes with Lyft.  Well that is a shame, but fortunately we can always fall back on getting a cab, right?  I ask the lady at our hotel how much a cab would be to a railway station.  She tells me that the last person who they sent with a taxi had a fare of £15.  What?  That’s like $20!  For about a mile!  I look at my Google Maps and discover that it is actually more like 3 miles because the cab has to take some funky way to get to the railway station.  In other words, it cannot go on the same path that we can go.  And with the demand for taxis on this very wet, windy and rainy morning, perhaps it is even more than £15?!
I check for the possibility of taking public transportation to the train station.  Unfortunately, it will take us about the same amount of time just to get to the bus stop by walking, and we would only ride two stops before we would have to get off and walk the rest of the way to the train station.  Alas, that is not going to work.
So I call up some taxi companies.  I want the cab around 9:45am, building in the some time in case it doesn’t show up and we have to hoof it to the train station.  Unfortunately many people are also needing taxis this morning.  Both companies tell me that nothing is available until after 10am.  That does not work!
I call up a third taxi company, and after many many rings, the dispatch operator picks up.  She asks where I am going to and where I am coming from.  She then asks what time I need the taxi.  9:45am, I reply.  After a few short seconds, she says “We are booked, thank you,” and hangs up.
Fast forward an hour later and we are waiting in the lobby for our ride.
9:45 comes.
It occurs to me that when she said “We are booked,” maybe that meant that they have no cabs for us, instead of thinking that we have booked the reservation for 9:45?!
At any rate, it looks like plan B. We try our best to water proof ourselves for the walk, just in case the cab does not come in the next five minutes.
It does not come.
We set off.
And we walk as fast as we can.  We walk fast to not only try and avoid the rain (not possible), but to make it in time to the train station to collect our tickets and make it on our train.  The one good thing I can say about the rain is that people are afraid of it, which meant our sidewalks and streets were pretty clear of people and traffic for our journey through the popular central tourist district and up the hill.
However, it still rained and rained and we could not escape it.  This is the one vacation where I did not pack an umbrella, an emergency 99 cent poncho or a light water repellent jacket.  I mean, there is no need for it! Especially after reading that Britain has been in a massive heatwave for the last few weeks and to think that it would rain on our vacation at the end of July? Fiddlesticks!
We got soaked.  Most of it was from the rain, but part of it was also because of our sweat.  I did not plan on working out this morning. But we made it.  We made it to the station by 10:18am!  We were going to actually make this train, so long as we were on the right platform this time lol…
We went to the machine to collect our pre-purchase tickets.  I inserted the credit card, punched in our confirmation numbers, and shortly thereafter our tickets were printed and spat out in the receptacle below.
Now all we had to do was wait at our designated platform.  We looked up at the departures screen.  And after the whole ordeal of stressing out about the taxi cabs, giving up ourselves to the rain and rushing to the train station we get our next unforeseen (but really, the way things have gone, should we have been surprised?) event….