I have been celebrating new year overseas since 2012. First was Australia, followed by Taiwan, Yogyakarta and Vietnam. This year, I waited patiently at the runway of Singapore Changi Airport awaiting the plane to take off for a 12 hours long haul flight to Istanbul, Turkey.
The longest 1st January
I embrace all mis-adventures while travelling, taking everything in my stride despite things may not go as plan. Little did I know I had the longest and most challenging 1st January which tested my patients and stretched my limits.
Flight to Istanbul Ataturk Airport was fairly smooth and the aircraft landed right at 6am. I was looking forward for a good stretch at the airport before boarding the connect flight which was due to depart in 1.5 hours time. Unfortunately there was a blizzard when the plane touched down. At first I thought it was magical to be able to watch snow falling from the sky through the thick glass window because I had never seen snow before! Little did I know, that blizzard just interrupted the air traffic and I was stuck in the aircraft for a good 4.5 hours.
Stepped into the chaotic airport with long lines forming at the transfer desk after the long eternal wait. Thankfully I met a few Singaporeans who were just as clueless as me. We worked together to get the updates of our connecting flights.
Flight got cancelled and I was advised to get out of immigration custom to the ticketing office where they will issue me another boarding pass for the next flight to Lisbon. The queue in the public area was worse than the one inside transit area. I was lucky that I was ferried to a Turkish ticketing office just a few kilometre away from the airport where one of the staff tried to book me on the next available flight.
The flight was scheduled to depart at 12.15pm but I remembered seeing the board in the airport stating that the flight will be delayed by an hour. I arrived back at the airport and barely made it to the check-in counter half hour before 1.15pm. The lady at the counter told me that I had to run to the boarding gate (not forgetting I need to clear the immigration custom). The weird part was, the boarding gate was not printed on the boarding pass nor was it on displayed on the TV screens all around either.
That caught me by surprised and I got worried that I will end up missing the flight and no one was able to give me an answer. I could only keep my eyes peeled onto the TV screens.
By the time the gate number was flashed onto the screen, I made a dash for it in the even more chaotic airport than it had been when I first arrive in the morning! Approaching the gate, I started to doubt myself if I was at the wrong gate or there were some missing information i did not catch because the screen at the gate reads Moscow. The ground crew at the gate was just as clueless as the passengers.
If there was any consolation, at least I know other passengers who were on the same flight as me were also puzzling waiting at the boarding gate. When the screen changed the destination to Lisbon, I heaved a sigh of relief and got ready to board the plane.
Of course the story would not have been the longest 1st January if things goes smoothly from this point on.
When everyone was on board the plane, the captain made an announcement that there was a technical glitch where they would need an hour to resolve. At this point, we were already greatly delayed. I was working my brain to solve some logistic issues.
I had made plans to make my way to Evora, another city that is approximately 1.5 hours away from Lisbon by bus or train. However with the delay, I was not sure if there was still any transport to get there by the time I landed.
Just when the hour was up, the drama does not end there. Another announcement was made that due to some aviation regulations that if the plane was grounded for a certain number of hours, there will be a new batch of flight crew taking over the original flight crew. Hence there was more waiting! Trust me, at that point, my patience was running extremely thin because I hardly slept for the past 24 hours and all I need is to lie down on a bed to catch some winks and take the weight off my spine.
Then a new batch of flight crew arrived, even the meals were changed as well, we were ready to set off! The plane made it to the runway, awaiting instructions from air control to take off. Someone, a woman had to have a panic attack on board! The whole drama took flight attendants and a medical personnel to calm her down as the whole plane attempt to catch glimpses of the drama. She was given a choice to continue with the journey or to disembark from the plane. I cringed at that moment because she could potentially lead us back to the parking lot where the family gets off the plane and another round of helpless waiting while their luggages will be located to be offloaded.
THANKFULLY, she made the wise choice of choosing to continue with her journey. Thank you lady, from the bottom of my heart!
When I FINALLY arrived in Lisbon, it was 12 hours since my original scheduled time of arrival. It was 10.30pm, sky was dark and there was no way I can make it to Evora as public bus/ train no longer runs to the city at that hour. I had to book a hotel near the airport using free wifi and made my way there in a cab who overcharged me.
The longest 1st January ever, 30 hours long with all the delays and helpless waits. I was just relieved that my backpack made its way on the same flight as me and happy to stretch my back and rest on the comfortable bed ready to recharge my dying battery to begin the adventure the next day.
Travel Period: 1st January – 15 Janury 2016
Total leaves taken: 10 days
Distance travelled: 24,543km
Countries: Portugal and Spain
Cities: 8 ; Portugal – Evora, Lisbon, Sintra, Porto | Spain – Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Barcelona
Just like the previous trip I made to Europe, completed the whole trip, with flights included, just under 3,000 Singapore Dollars. To be exact, it’s SGD$2949.97 (~€1882.49), here is the breakdown of the cost below.
Transportation SGD$1,608.71 (~€1020.55)
Accommodation SGD$209.82 (~€133.95)
Communication SGD$39.01 (~€25.25)
Food & Beverages SGD$440.60 (~€285.18)
Insurance SGD$82.15 (~€51.99)
Sightseeing/Tour/Admission Fee: SGD$344.77 (~€219.90)
Miscellaneous: SGD$224.91 (~€145.57)
Despite the rough beginning, there were many beautiful moments in this trip. If I had to choose, I will pick the very last evening where I was in Barcelona for it was one of the craziest of my solo travels.
The evening started off with a spontaneous tapas tour, then en routed to Espit Chupitos, a cool bar that served more than 100 different type of shots and the bartender spontaneously mixed shots base on personal preferences.
Walked back to my hostel with a couple of new friends, enjoying the late night in a foreign land. I was able to let my guards down a little without fearing of being robbed or mugged. I heard far too many crime stories on Barcelona that made me a little paranoid so it was nice to just relax and embrace the moment. Nearing my hostel, we decided to pop into a bar just a few doors away for some beer.
I upped my alcohol tolerance level for I was still sober (and high) after 1 cider, 1.5 glasses of wine, a glass of sangria, 4 shots and 2 mugs of beer. I vividly remembered everything that happened, I was toasting really rowdily to my last night and did it in the supposedly ‘military’ way, had a random conversation with a Spanish girl I bumped into on my way out of the bathroom. I remembered telling her a little about Singapore!
A wicked night it had been.
7) Worst moment
If you think my longest new year was the worst thing that happen, I clumsily twisted my right ankle after my first Portugese meal when I was walking up to Church of St. Francis.
The oh-so-familiar dreadful feeling came rushing over me as I sought temporary resting spot to assess the severity of the twisted ankle.
Thankfully it was just a sprain. I limped around Evora on the cobblestone roads and iced it on the same night when I returned to the hostel. Upon returning to Lisbon the following day, popped into a pharmacy to buy a sprain relief spray to reduce inflammation and an ankle guard which I wore throughout the whole trip to keep the ankle secure.
I guessed the sprained did not turn out to be as bad. I learned to adjust with the situation I got myself into, listened to my body and try not to push limits like I always do because I needed plenty of rest stops for it to heal. With that, I had to cut short some of my sightseeings, especially the first few days as I walked with a visibly limp.
It took about a week for the ankle to recover and I was all good again! 😃
It is funny how this trip literally went from the lowest point all the way to its peak in 15 days. From 12 hours of flight delay to sprained ankle to experiencing the kinds, meeting wonderful people from all around the world to partying till late on my last evening, ending off with a blast!
I enjoyed walking around the ancient cities, visiting beautiful castles, in awe with gorgeous architectures, indulging in local food ( I did not even miss Asian food at all!), affordable (read: cheap) boozes and meeting strangers turn friends. These are part of my experience, my memories for keepsake.
Travelling at a considerably low season has its pros and cons. It rained and got very windy (sometimes both) about 80% of the time with gloomy and greyish sky. Somehow I kind of love the moments because there were less crowd and I can even get to walk the whole park by myself and appreciate the tranquility of just being there although it was very challenging to take gorgeous instagram-ready photos featuring with blue skies. cool travel pictures with blue skies. I guess I cannot have the best of both world.
Each time I travel solo, I will attempt to challenge myself in different tasks. The last time I took up the challenge of going to a country that English is not the first language and this time again there was a certain language barrier too and on top of that, I decided to try Couchsurfing. I know, the community does get a little bad reputation however my hosts were very kind to me. Stayed with couchsurfing hosts in Porto and Madrid who had been very hospitable, brought me to the haunts where locals frequent, helping me to plan my trip, shared their food with me and I actually had comfortable beds to sleep in, a safe haven. Thank you.
There were many firsts during this trip. Apart from experiencing Couchsurfing, this was my first winter backpacking trip where I made many friends during the trip which made it more memorable, watched world class soccer live, enjoyed a Fado performance, got invited into a girl’s place and spent the afternoon cooking and eating as well as the flight delay. Although the flight delay is not pleasant but hey I think I handled it pretty well, if I say so myself. HAHA… *shameless*
I did very very little planning and research. I only started booking some of my transports and confirming my accommodations at the last moment. I tried to be a little flexible to allow some spontaneity. Good or bad thing, depending on how you see it. However I learnt that perhaps I should do a little more homework such as to find out what interest me or not before heading to certain place so that I waste less time in deciding where to go. After all, time is not on my side, still it did not ended up bad as well because I had all the friendly locals, new friends and Internet to help me figure my way out and there is still something good about it too.
It has been the longest period I am away from home. I travelled for travel sake, I came back rejuvenated. Unlocked many achievements and checked off many goals off my list. It was a good experience. I still want to learn Spanish so that I can unlocked more communication achievements and challenge myself to speak the language when I head to Latin America or back to Spain some day.
I will share more of my trip in more elaborated details in the upcoming posts so do stay tune.
Till the next solo trip out of the sunny island!