I like to think of myself as a well-seasoned traveller who can handle all the chaos and confusion of international travel. But when I arrive at the airport to start a six-week adventure and am greeted with "Oh, did you know that your flight is delayed?", I too get frustrated. No, I did not know that. Despite downloading your app and checking my emails, there was no message from your airline, thank you very much.
But it was supposed to be a two-hour delay and my layover in London was three hours, so I still had optimism. I used my "bonus" time to admire the planes landing and taking off at Vancouver-YVR.
After getting onto the plane, we seemed to spend a lot of time on the tarmac. But no worries, I was told. There will be time to connect onto Belgrade, I was told. I relaxed in my window seat and slept for most of the flight. Like a well-seasoned traveller. Approaching Gatwick-LGW, I again mentioned my connection to the flight attendants. We'll make an announcement to have all the connecting passengers get off first, I was told. Sure enough, we arrived at Gatwick-LGW at the exact same time my connecting flight was scheduled to take off. (And no such announcement was ever made.)
A well-seasoned traveller can go with the flow. Time for Plan B.
I approached Montenegro Air's booth so I could ask them about my options, but with their last flight—my flight—having gone, they were closed for the day. A simple rebooking was not going to happen. Time for Plan C.
I then approached a general ticket counter so I could see what flights to Belgrade were available and see what kind of extra cost I was looking at. The sooner I could get there, the better. I was going for a wedding, after all, and I was the kuma (maid of honour).
Unfortunately Belgrade is not a popular destination out of Gatwick, so, other than an out-of-my-budget flight via Istanbul, the next flight was THIRTY hours later out of another London airport I had never heard of (Luton-LTN). Looks like I was in for a long layover in London.
Having no expectations of spending time in London this trip, I hadn't given any thought to where to stay or what to do. There was a train from Gatwick into the city, so I rode that all the way to London Bridge. Unsure of my next move, I started walking. I stumbled upon a library and I got the idea to drop in. Libraries have internet, which I was in need of. Nothing was going to happen easily, though, which is why I now have a Southwark Library Card.
I was not impressed with this major change in plans when I was supposed to be in Belgrade. Spending $500 from my emergency budget on a flight and hostel on day one of a six-week European vacation was not exactly the start I was hoping for. But if there's anything I've learned from my past travel experiences, it's that things never go as planned or hoped. If I was going to even pretend to be a well-seasoned traveller, I would have to get over these frustrations and enjoy what I was given. Plus, I had discovered how I could use libraries to score free internet in an emergency—a new trick to remember for next time.
So I spent my surprise day in London eating fish and chips, wandering the streets, and crossing the Thames. But the theme of the day was art. I found found street art along the Southbank of the Thames. I hung out with Turner, Degas, Cezanne, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Dali and Pollack at the National Gallery and Tate Modern, where I found a spectacular vantage point from the 10th floor. I remembered why I love the city.
And I still made it to the wedding on time.