May 1st (May Day)
In order to explain our worst day of the trip, I must first explain the scavenges.
One of the bonuses, worth the most points (500), was to complete scavenges in the four primary countries: Belgium, Netherlands, England, and Ireland.
This seemed like a no-brainer, and one that was easy to accomplish in four days.
But, there were three catches:
- We all had to complete a mandatory scavenge in Cambridge, England, otherwise none of the points we earned would count.
- Within each country there were mandatory scavenges, in order to get the points for that country.
- There was a -500 point penalty for flying
As I mentioned in my previous blog, our first day was spent in Antwerp, Belgium, so we thought our second day would be spent in the Netherlands, and then we’d head to Cambridge, England and end in Dublin.
So simple, right?
But, three more catches:
- We never bought a proper map and/or guidebook because the bookstore was closed, so we had no way of garnering distance.
- The train schedule we picked up was wildly inaccurate
- I really really wanted to go to Isle of Man.
The Isle of Man is an island in between northern England and Ireland. It was listed as a bonus scavenge, and I’ve never been, so I perked up as soon as I read it. Mark was amenable to the idea, but without a map, a guidebook, or Google, we had no idea what we were getting into.
On Monday, we woke up early and went to the train station to book our ticket to the Netherlands. That’s when we found out the schedule we had was not at all close to reality, and not only did we have an hour to wait until departure, but also the commute time was twice what we expected.
After some heavy sighing, we altered our plan from “let’s spend five hours doing awesome scavenges” to “let’s have lunch and complete the two mandatory scavenges.”
So we bought tickets, but immediately afterward I started feeling like we’d made a mistake. We were about to take a 4-5 hour round trip just to eat lunch and leave? Was it worth 500 points, or would we be better off using that time to go to Isle of Man?
We sighed again and went back to the counter. “What are our options for getting to London?” we asked.
“Today?” said our teller. “Everything is booked already for the holiday.”
We must have looked stricken because he started plugging things into his computer. “All we have left are First Class tickets for the noon train” he said, quoting an exorbitant cost, “or you could take an overnight bus.”
The noon Eurostar from Brussels to London was a high speed train that would get us there by 1:00pm, but it was so expensive. The overnight bus was one-third of the cost, but it would take ten hours for us to get to London, arriving the next day, and we wouldn’t be feeling strong after such a journey–don’t forget, we would still have a booklet of challenges to accomplish.
We closed our eyes and handed over our credit cards, internally dry heaving. Netherlands tickets: gone. Bonus points: gone. Money: gone.
Fast-forward to 11am:
- We tried to complete scavenges; we could not find them.
- We wanted to buy a guidebook; the bookstore was closed for the holiday.
- We (okay, I) wanted one final indulgent Belgian hot chocolate before leaving the country; we ran out of time.
Just as we made it through London’s security and border control, about to eat subpar train station waffles and hot chocolate, I reached inside my purse to take a photo, and I realized my brand new iPhone 7+ was missing.
The feeling of panic that ensued was the worst. Something valuable is missing and I have no idea where it is feels just like there’s a giant grizzly bear in front of me and it might maul me to death. Obviously, a cell phone is a cell phone, but it was my brand new cell phone, with a camera I loved, and it was an attachment of my person.
Naturally, that was the moment the train started boarding, so I ran back through border control and security, who basically said, “If you’re not on the train in five minutes, it will leave without you,” so I did the quickest “PleasecanyouhelpmeIcan’tfindmyphone?” to at least four people. No one helped me.
I had no choice but to board the train and leave the country.
I was halfway through my bottle of wine, which was complimentary, before I realized “Oh yeah. I’m in first class. I suppose I should enjoy this.”
Mark was an angel and called the restaurant where we ate breakfast, the chocolate shop where I took my last photo, and he let me text my parents to let them know what had happened so we could file a claim.
The worst part of the story is that we discovered the ferries to Isle of Man weren’t running, so all of that rushing to get to Cambridge and then the port city was for nothing; Isle of Man was a no-go.
We did experience a few redeeming moments.
I played piano at St. Pancras Station in the heart of London (Bonus Scavenge: “Become a street performer for 15 minutes and earn two donations”). I made £3.50.
We met Laura, the Cambridge station information guru, who spent 45 minutes with us figuring out every possibility to go to Wales to earn bonus points and still get to Dublin on time. She was the brightest star of the day!
And then we met Julian, our punting guide through The Backs of Cambridge, who was fantastic. He answered half of my scavenge questions as we drifted down the Cam River behind all of the colleges. Julian was wonderful.
And of course, Mark, who not only took care of logistics during the chaos, but also has loaned me his iPhone, to use for pictures, alarm clocks, etc. He is truly great!