Monday, August 13, 2007

Logbook: In Position For The Unknown

Inposition1As you may recall, Saturday was supposed to be the day that we -- my Mom and I -- were to receive the "final verdict" from the travel company about whether or not our Arctic cruise on Polar Star would take place starting on the 22nd. As you may also recall, my plan had been to hang out in the Highlands awaiting the word, then either head to Newcastle to catch one of three ferries that would get me to Norway in time or set something else in motion. When I Skyped my Mom on Friday, she told me that she had already heard from the company and that the word was "We'll tell you on Wednesday the 15th." Besides being a disappointment from a "being on hold" perspective, the delay made my situation even more difficult: By Wednesday, one of the three ferries would already have sailed, leaving me only a good connection on Friday or a really tight one on Sunday. I checked the ferry company's webite and found that passage was still available on Friday then took a walk and thought it all through. The dicision I came up with -- really the only reliable course of action -- was to head to Newcastle anyway, return my car and be "in position" for the unknown. So, I had another nice "mixed-use" day in Pitlochry on Saturday then packed up and hit the road on Sunday morning, headed for Newcastle again (I was here just a few weeks ago to begin the Hadrian's Wall walk!)

Inposition2The drive out of the Highlands was pretty good, with nice scenery in between rain squalls. I made my way through Edinburgh then continuted south through miles of farmland and moors, strikingly similar to what my Mom and I had recently walked through. By early afternoon I entered Newcastle and found it to be one of the most confusing cities I have ever driven in. Its mix of one-way streets (none of which are straight), "Bus Only" lanes and crazy roundabouts was a bit maddening, but I didn't let it get to me and finally -- after about an hour circling the same vicinity -- found my way to the local Holiday Inn Express. I was pretty tired from the drive and confusion, but decided to at least stretch my legs by taking a little walk. Pretty quickly I discover the main reason for Newcastle's street chaos: It is a very, very old city so it was never "planned" or "laid out". Accordingly, the streets still run approximately as they have for almost a thousand years. Add to that a number of ancient relics that have to be maneuvered around -- like the old city wall you see in the photo -- and you have the recipe for the chaos you've got. To my surprise, I also found a fairly substantial "Chinatown" which -- besides feeling out of place -- looks like a place I might get some "different" food for a change. After my walk, I headed back to my room and watched a movie before hitting the rack.

Inposition3This morning I checked the ferry company's website again -- just wanting to make sure my option for Friday was still open -- but received the message that information was not available, either because of a system problem or because no passage was available. Oh, great. I have learned from experience that on-line booking is usually just fine if you are in a "normal" situation: Sufficient advanced planning, a clear decision that you are ready to buy (versus just "reserve") and a straightforward travel objective. I have none of these, so I decided the best thing was to go to the ferry terminal and see about addressing the situation in person. So, I got on the Metro and rode out of town to the station nearest the ferry and walked about a mile to the docks. Upon entering the terminal I broke into my usual chuckle when I saw that not a single ticket desk was open for business. With a foreboding sense that I had made the trek for nothing, I went outside and looked around, happily finding a "corporate office" for the ferry company. Inside, I was directed to the third floor where I met Janice, a delightful reservation agent who mostly works on the phone. I told her my situation in some detail -- enough for her to get a sense of my "unknowns" -- and asked her advice. She said, "Relax, it's not a problem. I'll hold passage for you on the Friday sailing just in case it fills up, and you can let me know on Thursday whether you want to use it or not. If you still don't know on Thursday, you can always take the Sunday ferry because it never totally books up." So, there we have it! Janice solved my problem -- I think -- and I am pretty much set with a new, revised, tentative, possible plan... and a backup! The moral of the story is: "There's nothing like going there in person when things aren't simple."

I left the ferry dock with a sense of relief and realized I was pretty hungry, so I stopped at a decent pub for lunch and had a delicious chicken salad. As of this moment I am truly in position for the unknown, looking forward to having a couple of days to explore this crazy city and wait for the final, final verdict on my Polar Star cruise. Stay tuned for more scheduling melodrama from The Voyage of Macgellan!


Wes said...

Let what will happen, happen. After all, the truly "unknown" is perhaps the most intriguing risk to consider, the most interesting to act upon, and arguably the most memorable after the fact ... almost no matter what the ourcome.
Besides, I might wager, there are hordes of watchers with ankle bracelets on, second guessing outcomes.
... and the drama unfolds without a plan.

Macgellan said...

Thanks, Wes. "Hordes of watchers with ankle bracelets on"... Good one!