By Deb Zulawski
Blogger, artist, photographer, global traveler and soon to be expat currently living in the Pacific Northwest
LONDON, ENGLAND - Following a three week safari through Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, I had planned an overnight stay in London to rest and regroup before flying back to Seattle. I arranged for a nice hotel about 15 minutes from the airport by the Underground, so it would be quick and easy to get to the airport in the morning for my flight back to the states.
I enjoyed a wonderful relaxing dinner in the hotel restaurant and then returned to my room to settle in for the evening. It was so wonderful to soak in a hot tub and climb into a cushy bed with crisp white linens after being on a hot and dusty safari and riding in an open air truck throughout the Serengeti for weeks.
Climbing under the covers, I set the alarm in time to get up, have a quick cup of coffee and a bit of breakfast, before heading to the airport. I wanted to be well rested and ready for the upcoming long hours of travel before arriving home to Seattle, collecting the dog from the boarder and continuing north by car for another hour. It was going to be a long travel day.
It had been a wonderful trip. Seeing the animals in their natural habit was a lifetime dream and hiking up to the high altitude mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountain jungles of Rwanda was beyond my expectations and more exciting than I could have ever imagined. I was, as I always am after a vacation, exhausted and energized, full of renewed enthusiasm for travel and appreciative for being able to see the world.
The next morning I collected my bags, checked out of the hotel and headed to the underground which wasn’t more than a block away. I could see that it was going to be a beautiful day by the light of the dawn, as the sun rose over the horizon. I was refreshed.
I had taken the underground to the hotel from the airport, so no problem getting back. The route is simply backwards from where I had come from yesterday. Easy. Or so I thought.
After dragging my luggage down the stairs to the underground, I waited on the platform. The train arrived and I pulled my luggage and myself onto the train. Watch the gap! The door closed and I found a seat where I could keep my luggage close. The train was almost empty. There were only a couple of other people who appeared to be going to the airport too, although I wasn’t certain. They looked like travelers.
The train began to move. The rocking motion of the train was calming and, as I sat back to enjoy the ride, I began to relive the safari in my mind. The people, the guides, the wildlife. What an experience! The baby rhino that stood next to its mother on the sandy shore of the river, the lake filled with pink flamingos, a blur of pink that went on forever, the 3 lions that sat next to the dirt road in the tall grass, thankfully full after a mid-day meal, elephants on the move, giraffes stretching their necks to munch on the leaves of the tall branches, and the gorillas. Oh, the mountain gorillas. To stand in the high-altitude jungle within feet of wild mountain gorillas, a mother laying on the jungle floor with her arms wrapped around her baby, being watched by the very large and protective silverback not far away. The tea plantations, the genocide museum, the...
Oh! I need to pay attention for my stop!
The train had slowed, stopped ... doors opened. It’s the airport! I raced to collect my luggage and get off the train in time before the doors closed, but by the time I reached the doors they were shutting. I heard a ‘poof’ of air and the train pulled forward. Too late!
Panic kicked in. I hadn’t planned any extra time for mistakes like this. 15 minutes on the train, 45 minutes to get to the check-in counter, security, and a bit of wiggle room before the plane loads. I didn’t plan on missing my stop. This is what happens when someone travels for a living. They become overly confident in their ability to maneuver airports and this was a prime example of that over confidence. I was mentally beating myself up, when the conductor entered the car and noticed immediately that I was in panic.
“I missed the airport! I am going to miss my flight! When’s the next stop? How do I get back there?” The questions flew out of me at rapid speed.
“The next scheduled stop is over half an hour away. I don’t know how long it will be before you can catch another train back. Sit down. I’ll be back.”
The train raced down the tracks as the airport platform disappeared in the distance. Well, this is a fine mess I had gotten myself into. Now, what? I settled in to my seat. There was absolutely nothing I could do.
After a while of admonishing myself, I felt the train had started to slow and I could hear the sqeaking sound of the breaks as we came to a stop. The conductor entered the car and said, ‘follow me.’
I grabbed my luggage and we exited to the platform. Watch the gap! He motioned for me to quickly cross the platform.
On the track, pointing in the opposite direction was a waiting train. The doors opened and another conductor stepped out onto the platform and motioned for me to hurry. The first conductor had called and arranged for a special stop and for the other train to be held so that I could be transferred and returned to the airport. This is unbelievable, I thought. They had stopped both trains for me. I may just make it after all.
The conductor on the returning train got me settled on one of the cars and told me the next stop was the airport. I thanked him profusely and felt more than a bit embarrassed as two male passengers on the opposite end of the car sat and watched the whole conductor to conductor transfer took place. I smiled at them and looked down, trying to hide my embarrassment.
We rocked and rolled down the tracks until the train began to slow. I realized it was the airport stop just as one of the men on the opposite end of the car yelled, ‘Hey, lady, this is your stop!” I smiled and nodded, got my luggage, and stood by the door on my end of the car, luggage within reach, in readiness for a quick exit.
The train came to a stop and the two men exited the door on the other end of the car and I followed them on the platform toward the airport entrance. They turned right and I, looking at the signs for where to go, decided to turn left.
In one final moment of humiliation, one of the men yelled, “No...this way!” with a shake of his head and with that tone used when talking to someone who just can’t seem to get it right.
I laughed and did a quick spin to the right, walking a bit slowly so they would get lost in the crowds ahead of me.
With a bit of racing through the airport I made it to gate just as they were preparing to close the airplane door. What a morning. What an end to my adventure.
As I settled into my seat on the plane, letting out a deep sigh of relief, I thought to myself, you never know what kind of adventure you will find when traveling. Sometimes it is watching a leopard stalking its prey in the heart of the Serengeti and sometimes it’s a train, a conductor, and missed stop on the London Underground.
Have you ever experienced a travel mishap that ultimately was turned around by the kindness of a stranger? Please leave your comment below.