Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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Aberdeen, Scotland

Posted on 8/29/03

An Irish, back-alley, discount airline called Ryan Air royally screwed me twice in two hours as I tried to escape Belgium. Until my encounter with them, I had heard nothing but rave reviews about Ryan Air and their cheap flights, some for as low as 99 pence ($1.43) plus taxes, etc. It was bare bones econo-flying, but it was inexpensive and perfect for someone with a very flexible schedule. After figuring out their destination routes, I made plans to fly from Brussels to Glasgow, cover Scotland and Ireland and then fly from Dublin to Malaga, Spain all for a laughable pittance. This supposed “pittance” eventually took about 10 years off my life and cost me over 80 Euros in related expenses to enjoy Ryan Air’s services.

Let’s pick up where I left off in Brussels. If you’ll remember, I left for the airport three hours early because it was the most appealing option for me at the time, versus staying in Brussels for one second longer. My plan was to train out to the airport, find my gate, get settled next to an electrical outlet and write until I had to board the plane.

My finely honed travel senses told me that I was in trouble as soon as I stepped foot in the Brussels airport. Foolishly ignoring the rising dread within me, I scanned the departures board for my flight. It wasn’t there. I checked that I had my contact lenses in the right eyeballs and scanned again. Unnerved, I headed for the information booth. I already knew what the answer was going to be, but just for fun I asked where the Ryan Air desk was located. Without even looking up, the irritated, surely information woman replied “Wrong airport.” I was crushed in so many ways at that moment that I didn’t know whether to start screaming, crying or wreaking colossal property damage on the information booth. I had to move fast. The situation wasn’t hopeless, but it was not going to be patched up easily. First, I knew that I was going to expend massive amounts of adrenaline and money running, training and taxiing like the Fugitive to get to the other airport. But worse yet, after having studied the map of Brussels for two days, I knew goddamn well that there was only one airport on the thing, meaning the other airport was very, very far away. “Where is the other airport?” I asked, clenching my jaw in anticipation of the bad news.
“In Charleroi.”
“How far away is it?”
“Eighty kilometers.” Almost 50 miles!
I cursed like a sailor with Tourette’s Syndrome as I ran down to the train terminal. I had to take a train back into Brussels, then change trains to get to Charleroi. I had about 2 and ½ hours to get to the other airport. I knew if things went smoothly I would make it. With God hating me the way he does, a predictably freakish series of decidedly unsmooth events began to unfold. The train back into Brussels refused to go faster that 12 MPH. Then the next train to Charleroi didn’t leave for 25 minutes. Finally, the bus from the Charleroi train station to the airport only ran twice an hour which would’ve gotten me to the airport with only 10 minutes before my plane. In the only glimmer of good luck I had that morning, I ran into another backpacker who was also close to missing his plane and we split a cab to the airport together.

I made it to the Ryan Air baggage desk with 25 minutes to spare. Sweaty and wheezing, I reeled up and sagged onto the baggage check-in desk with a huge groan of relief. The sentiment lasted about 30 seconds. The baggage woman informed me that the Barge was six kilos over the weight limit. “What weight limit?” I asked like an idiot. Evidently Ryan Air had a ridiculously low baggage weight limit that, rumor had it, was clearly illustrated deep in the terms and conditions agreement that I consented to without reading on the web site when I bought my ticket. I had to pay a penalty of nine Euros per over-weight kilo. That came out to 54 Euros ($61), almost the price of my plane ticket. I was sent to the Ryan Air desk to pay the penalty where I cynically inquired if I could move things from my checked bag to my carry-on to lighten the load. To my utter surprise and bewilderment, she said ‘yes.’ I ran back to the baggage check desk. The baggage woman had already sent my bag out to be loaded into the plane and it was “impossible” to get it back. Now, for all intents and purposes, the Barge was being held hostage for 54 Euros. I was so pissed off by this point that I could have thrown the Barge to Glasgow. My rage nearly caused the compassionless, evil bitch at the Ryan Air desk to call security on my ass when I lurched back to detonate a nuclear hissy fit. After much commotion, I eventually handed over my credit card so they could collect their ransom. I swore out loud to no one in particular that I would seek mammoth revenge. As I prepared to board the plane, I laid a three-fold plan to exact retribution. First, I would call Visa and have them reject the charge to my card on the grounds that I did not authorize the payment, which actually turned out to be true. Yes, I gave them my credit card, but it occurred to me while I was fuming on the plane that they never gave me anything to sign or even a receipt, so legally those dumbshits didn’t have my approval! Ha ha! All of that electronic payments knowledge that I collected at the Federal Reserve did have real world applications! Second, I would write a red-hot, scathing letter to the president of Ryan Air, copying the appropriate European business supervisory offices, explaining my woes with the bait and switch airport situation compounded with the Ryan Air agent and the baggage lady working in tandem to illegitimately relive me of 54 Euros. I would sign off by saying that the whole incident had been the worst airline experience that I had in almost 20 years of flying. Lastly, I would sit down and write this essay and I would not rest until it was published in a worldwide, best selling book, translated into 107 languages, released as a series of books-on-tape narrated by yours truly and licensed by Miramax for a future blockbuster screenplay starring me, that would expose Ryan Air’s low-rent tactics and embarrass them so thoroughly that it would eventually lead to their entire board of directors jumping to their deaths off the Eye of London! They would rue the day that screwed with Leif Pettersen!! Justice will be served you beeotches!!! Bwahahahahaha!!!!

By the time I got that waking fantasy out of my system, my plane was landing in Glasgow.

I had been warned in advance that Scotland was nowhere near as hot as the rest of Europe, but it just didn’t seem possible that a short one hour flight north could make that much of a meteorological difference. I brazenly sauntered off the plane wearing shorts and a t-shirt and out the front door of the airport into 58 degrees, windy and raining Glasgow. Ouch. I quickly pulled on my jeans before boarding the train to Aberdeen.

I found a church that had all of the U.S. state seals decorating the ceiling.  Apparently the Scots love Americans.

A fellow Berlin sufferer that I befriended in the Generator hostel lived in Aberdeen and promised to be my tour guide in Scotland. Initially, the prospect of going to Aberdeen, Scotland sounded worse than going to Aberdeen, South Dakota, but after repeated, badgering emails, I was eventually convinced to make Aberdeen the first stop on my tour of Scotland.

Aberdeen’s hostel was in the dormitories of the university. As frightening as this sounded, I was pleasantly surprised with what was easily the best hostel room I had stayed in, ever. The room was clean, spacious, outfitted with a private bathroom, a TV, coffee maker, telephone, towels, sheets, soap, shampoo and their kitchen served the greatest hostel breakfast I’d had all summer. It was the Four Seasons of hostels and I soaked it up by taking numerous showers, sleeping very late and using every towel in the room, including the spares that I found in the closet.

Aberdeen wasn’t nearly as bad as I had imagined. It wasn’t exactly jammed with noteworthy things that I wanted to run out and see, but it was affordable, had an enviable bar district and offered what would turn out to be a bizarrely entertaining night club scene.

Our first stop was Frankenstein’s Pub, a trendy place with a great menu and an impressive mad scientist décor. The best was yet to come. It wasn’t enough that they had Strongbow on tap, but they served it in steins! Sweet merciful ca-ca, one liter steins of cider!!! I promptly ordered one of those mothers and got busy eating the first of many servings of French fries that I would consume in Scotland.

The Scottish steadfastly insist that the U.S. is responsible for the invention of the fry, but there’s no question as to who eats the most fries per capita. I had French fries forced on me three meals a day for the six days I was in Scotland. And to the chagrin of my arteries, I accepted the fries almost every time. This turn of events came right on the heels of the confirmation that I had indeed dropped the last bit of nagging weight that I had around my middle, revealing abs that were so rock-like that they could’ve sharpened an ax. This development was easily traced back to my vastly improved diet combined with endless daily walking excursions and hauling two screaming hernias worth of heavy baggage all over Europe for two months. Consequently, I was about three sit-ups away from being a Speedo model, but the Scottish peer pressure to eat a truckload of fries every day undoubtedly set me back by about 756,094 sit-ups.

After consuming about three liters of cider at Frankenstein’s, we headed across the street to the Cotton Club where the night’s entertainment was already heading to a feverish pitch of creepy social taboos. I quickly learned that the Aberdeens in both South Dakota and the U.K. had one thing in common; Kids had nothing better to do than to drink and have sex. Aberdeen, Scotland had bouncers at the doors of their nightclubs, but they were just there for show. Kids who were obviously 15 and younger were ensconced in the club. We took a seat in a corner booth, affording a long, wide view of the club and watched the show progress. Rambunctious boys with fresh black eyes and missing teeth were starting fights. Young girls were standing around, drinking heavily and dressed like prostitutes in low cut tops that scandalously revealed the area where they would one day have cleavage and skirts shorter than my attention span. Fifteen year old girls were being hit on by men in their 40s. Baby-faced, drunken guys were chain-smoking and doing their very best to look cool and mature next to people that could have easily been their parents. It was like being at the after-party for the Jerry Springer 100 Most F*cked Up Guests Reunion Show.

Things got a little sketchy soon after I discovered that pints of cider were only one pound each. Dirt cheap cider has always been my Achilles' heel. I ended up drinking enough cider to hospitalize three teenagers while I watched the cabaret of social ills and made drunken notes in my Timeport before heading back to my comfy hostel bed.

I had been holding off on the undeniable, looming need to get a haircut until I arrived in Scotland. I’m not overly concerned with the state of my hair, but something deep inside me told me to wait until I was in a place where English wasn’t going to be the hairdresser’s second or third language. Due to the unusual number of girls that drop out of school and embark on careers in cosmetology, Aberdeen had enough hairstylists to service the Wookie home planet. Finding a place that would take a cheap, walk-in appointment took almost no time and I was quickly on my way to the shopping district to expand on my ailing assortment of boxer shorts.

Aberdeen has the bragging rights of having a huge, long beach, but the pride pretty much ends there. Besides the weather being prohibitively too crappy to even consider wearing a swimsuit outdoors for 361 days a year, Aberdeen’s beach is windy as hell, the water is oily and if you somehow make it past these barriers, you will have to deal with the sticks and twigs in the water that are so dense that they will almost hold the weight of a six year old above the water line all the way out to the tanker zone.

While the day of my arrival in Scotland wasn’t exactly Disney-esque, the sun that had been ever-present all summer caught up with me the following day and started a nearly unbroken streak of fantastically beautiful days while I was in Scotland. I, of course, took personal credit for this turn of sunshine and walked around telling everyone I met as much.

Between drinking cider and recovering from drinking cider, my time in Aberdeen was carefree and devoid of my usual miles of walking and seeking out sights that didn’t suck. Despite this welcome rest, I was excited to move onto to Edinburgh where the combination of having no place to stay and the final weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival assured me high-speed action and sleeplessness.

Go to Edinburgh

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©Leif Pettersen 2012