10 Must-Dos in London

10 Must-Dos in London
10 Must-Dos in London

Venice Trip Report

Venice Trip Report
Venice Trip Report

Disneyland California Trip

Disneyland California Trip
Disneyland California Trip

Working at Disneyland Paris 2014 - Accommodation Options

Working at Disneyland Paris 2014 - Accommodation Options

Photo: Sofia Nilsen
So, you have your job offer and now it's time to get accommodation. During your interview you will be asked whether you require accommodation, I said yes. If you answer yes there are a few types of accommodation that may be offered to you depending on your contract.

If you have a CDD (fixed-term contract) you will be offered accommodation either in a Disney residence (Les Pleiades) or in partner accommodation. No matter which you are put in several matters apply: your accommodation price is fixed and includes all bills (excluding internet and phone), a fully furnished apartment and one roommate. The price at the moment is about 310 euros per month.

If you are put into Les Pleiades, these are studio flat style apartments with an open-plan layout where you share a room with someone else and have a kitchen and living area all in the same space, with the bathroom in a separate room.

It may be that another Disney-owned accommodation (La Boiserie) re-opens in the future as it was shut down a few years ago but Disney never told Cast Members why (some say it was for a refurbishment though).

Due to the limited amount of accommodation available in Les Pleiades, Cast who are not staying there are instead offered accommodation in a partner "aparthotel" with similar facilities to Les Pleiades- these also require sharing a bedroom and usually will be for between 2-6 people in total in the apartment depending on the number of bedrooms.

If you have a CDI (permanent contract) Disney unfortunately no longer offers accommodation to these Cast Members. They used to offer CDI's accommodation until recently when they had two Disney-owned places of accommodation (Les Pleiades and La Boiserie); now that there is only one Disney owned accommodation you have more limited options.

Disney will however offer you help with finding housing as this can be a troublesome job. You can ask for the email address of someone from the housing team and they will explain what options you have. In my particular case I have been offered accommodation in the Residetapes residences. Really annoyingly their website hasn't been working for the last week but from what i have seen they seem nice. These are 20m2 apartments which are purely for yourself (you have no roommates) and they are all located in Val d'Europe meaning you have the option of the RER as well as the bus which is incredibly convenient considering how irregular the buses can be at certain times of the day. From what I have been told and read online these Residetapes are full of Cast Members in almost every apartment so it should be fairly easy to meet people whilst also having the privacy of your own apartment. They are expensive at around 570 euros per month though you can apply for l'APL which is a government subsidy, in my case this will bring the cost down to around 400 euros per month which is still more expensive than the Disney residences but then again you have more space so it's a trade off. I will try and write a post about applying for this later when I actually move in.

In the past they also have had links with other residences too, so it may be that you are offered one of those. I will report back when I find out where I am living - hopefully soon.

If Disney cannot find you accommodation they will usually offer to accommodate you in their residences/partner accommodation until you have a place to stay.


Working at Disneyland Paris 2014 - The Talent Pool, The Confirmation & The Details

Working at Disneyland Paris 2014 - The Talent Pool, The Confirmation & The Details

This post details the process of being put in the talent pool, being offered a contract and some of the details of that contract. To read about the interview and application process for Disneyland Paris make sure to take a look this other post.

We'd been told it would be up to a 10-day wait until we found out and I had resigned myself to thinking that if it were anything like last time I worked for Disney we would only find out on the tenth day whether we had made. You imagine my surprise then when less than 48 hours after my interview, whilst immersed in the world of uni waiting for a bus, I refreshed my emails to find a glorious email telling me I had been put into the talent pool.

Being put into the talent pool means that you have passed your interview and that when a job offer comes up that matches the roles you selected in your interview and your dates, then they will offer you the position.

Some people say they have been in the talent pool for months and received no answer. As such, I had just assumed that it would be a bit of a wait for my contract. 4 weeks after being put into the talent pool I got an unexpected email on Good Friday telling me that I had an offer: a permanent contract to work on Indiana Jones et le Temple du Peril starting 10th June 2014. I was elated - it was a contract, permanent, on attractions and on a rollercoaster no less!

This meant that quite a few things started to run through my mind (mostly unrelated) so I'll try and sum them all up in one place - a lot of these are things that have changed since my last contract, others are just observations and there's no logical to their order.

1) Accommodation is not included in CDI (permanent) contracts anymore so when I emailed back asking if it was possible to get accommodation before I accepted the offer I was told yes. I have emailed the respective person and it's being sorted - I'll do another post on accommodation soon.

2) Indiana Jones et le Temple du Peril is an awesome ride and I'm really excited to be able to work on a rollercoaster. I had my heart set on Fantasyland originally as I just assumed that's where I would have been placed due to my experience but to be given a rollercoaster is awesome. If they do in-land attraction cross-training (Disney speak for training you on different ride/attractions within the same land) then there's the potential that Pirates of the Caribbean would be there which is awesome, as well as La Cabane des Robinsons which is not so awesome. However, if I eventually get trained on the Frontierland attractions too my life would be made (Phantom Manor and Big Thunder Mountain!). This would all involve being there for years though.

3) It's going to be weird going back to the Disneyland Paris way of doing things: you can't take your costumes home, can't go in the parks on your days off before 2pm [maybe and hopefully this has changed] and your life isn't controlled by the CDS computer but rather it's all done manually, work days are only and always 8 hours (with an hour lunch in the middle and breaks within that time) as opposed to Walt Disney World's seemingly random schedule of 6 hours one day followed by 14 hours the next.

4) I get to do the full three days of Traditions training which is awesome considering it was all rushed into one day last time.

5) There's going to be a lot of administrative things to sort out: bank accounts, medical records, potentially finding accommodation and more. This is going to be completely independent living - scary but very exciting.

6) My friend has just told me that "La Boiserie" has been closed for refurbishment so I guess that's why they are limiting accommodation so much.

7) I've heard there's some kind of housing assistance that we can get of about 100 euros a month buy I'll have to investigate this. If not, the outside accommodation could be very expensive not leaving me with very much to live on.

8) I was thinking about how expensive it can be to get into Paris itself but I've just found out that the monthly Navigo travelcard (equivalent to an Oyster card) since September 2012 allows you go to into central Paris and all travel zones for free on weekends and public holidays, as well as select other times (like some school holidays). This is a geat money-saver and means I'll be able to go into Paris for free which is great! With 75%-80% of my travel being refunded by the company for the zone 4-5 pass that means it'll only cost me 11.20e to get around which is a bargain and helps to offset some of the high housing costs in the Parisian region.

9) If I do have to get my own residence it should ideally be located along the 34 bus route: at least it's now easy to get the bus timetables online (something that wasn't so easy 3 years ago) - http://www.transdev-idf.com/horaire-ligne-34-pep's_051

10) I'm not going to let myself get out of shape whilst there so I've been doing my research and the FitnessPark gym seems like a great option at 30 euros per month (it is a 1-year contract however).

Previous Post: Working at Disneyland Paris 2014 - The Beginning (Applications Process and Interview)

Next Post: Working at Disneyland Paris 2014 - Accommodation Options


Working at Disneyland Paris 2014 - The Beginning (Applications Process and Interview)

Working at Disneyland Paris 2014 - The Beginning (Applications Process and Interview)

This all seems like déjà vu, but I will in fact be going back to work at Disneyland Paris! Last time I worked there, in 2011, I had a great time and after working at Walt Disney World last summer I knew that I wanted to work in a business that was customer-facing and there's hardly anything more guest-oriented than working at Europe's most visited tourist destination. It's time to once again be a Cast Member for the third time in just as many years. This is a big move however, because it is permanent - this isn't a short-term contract but a full-time job offer. Before we delve into the details though let's take a look back at how I got to this point.

The Application Process:
After applying several times online and not hearing anything within the 3 weeks I was told I'd hear back by, I decided to email my previous recruiter about this and said how much I wanted to work for Disneyland Paris again and that this time I wanted to make a long-term career out of it. Within 24 hours I had an email back with an invitation to an interview in London. The excitement begins!

The Interview:
The Presentation
The interview came up before I knew it in March - this time it wasn't located in central London anymore but instead it was at the ESCP Europe school on Finchley road in North London. If you are interviewing here Finchley Road & Frognal (Overground) and Finchley Road (Metropolitan/Jubilee lines) are the closest tube stops. Even from these it is a good 15-20 minute slightly uphill walk to the school though you can get a bus if you want.

Once I arrived I went through to a waiting area that was in a cafeteria. Promptly, at 9am, we went into a lecture theatre ready for the presentation - there were probably around 50 of us there. This was already quite different to my initial interview experience which was in a conference-style room. Everyone was still very formally dressed as was everyone in my previous interview in 2011. "Should I wear a suit for my interview?" I hear you cry. Yes, it definitely fits in for those who are wondering.

The briefing presentation went on for about an hour and was very professional with a well-made powerpoint/flash presentation and the recruiters were great too. It was definitely an improvement on last time and the presentation had a few videos and questions throughout, and it was generally more entertaining. To be honest, I didn't learn anything from the presentation as nothing had really changed since I had worked there but I felt that there was a lot more information in it than last time so candidates are better prepared when they arrive at the resort. They have also created a website called Before Your Landing which contains a tonne of useful information that we only used to get on arrival - the important bits are only accessible once you have a job offer. In general it all seemed very well organised.

During the presentation the awkward question of "Do we have any ex-Cast Members here?" came up and I put my hand up. I thought other hands had gone up too, but it turns out they hadn't as when no-one knew the answer to a question it was left to me to answer in front of everyone. I didn't want to come across as all-knowing or anything so it was just awkward.

After the presentation we were left to organise ourselves and I ended up as part of a group of four so we paired up for the interview. This time instead of everyone sitting around people stood up and queued so we ended up doing this in the end which was annoying as I'd rather have just sat and waited my turn. When you reached the front of the line in this cafeteria style area you then got called up to go to a waiting room. Once in the waiting room, you...waited... and then the recruiters came in there and called you into the interview room by pairs. I appreciate this is a bit confusing but it'll make sense when you're there (in my 2011 interview it was just a case of going into the room next door when called in). However, all this moving around did mean that I got more of a chance to meet people which was really nice.

The Interview
I don't think I have ever been so nervous for anything. Despite telling everyone not to worry and that the interviewers were really nice, I was really nervous. I think it was the fact that I knew I was going to be questioned on several things: a) Why Disneyland Paris again? b) Some random question about how awesome was Disneyland Paris before. c) What about your degree?

The interview came round and it was held in pairs. The girl I paired up with was called Eloise and she got to go first which meant that I had to sit there and listen to her answers as I got more and more nervous. When it came to my turn it was actually fine though: we had a chat about the possibility of moving into the communications department long-term and my interviewer said I could apply internally for when positions came up as I wasn't eligible for the apprenticeship-style opportunities because I am finishing uni in just a few months. We also had a chat about my graduation as I mentioned whether it would be possible to have 2 days off together and she said she couldn't see why not. I imagine this will still be a case of speaking to my manager at the time though as I doubt this has gone down on my file for the scheduling department this far in advance. Finally, my interview asked me about: a) What about my degree? and b) A question about my best guest moment, as I had predicted. I hadn't prepared an answer for either if I'm honest which looking back on it seems stupid as I knew I would be asked these questions. I seem to have thought fine on my feet though which is reassuring. When they asked about my availability, I gave them seasonal availability as well as full time availability meaning that my options were kept open. We were told we'd hear back within 10 days.

I came out of the interview really uncertain about how it had gone with no indication of whether I had done well or not, so I didn't feel particularly confident about the situation. In fact, after regrouping I ended up repeating this fear about twenty times in front of everyone which is just annoying - sorry guys! After the interviews all of us that had waited together went to Nandos for lunch, exchanged Facebooks and then waited for our confirmation or rejection emails.

Next Post: Working at Disneyland Paris 2014 - The Talent Pool, The Confirmation & The Details

August MS425 Portable Bluetooth Speaker Review

August MS425 Portable Bluetooth Speaker Review

The kind ladies and gentlemen at August have hooked me up with a portable bluetooth speaker (the MS425) for review - here's what I found.

As I unboxed the product my first impression was that this definitely isn't a premium product as the box definitely leaves a lot to be desired. To be fair this item is priced as a budget buy, it's RRP is just £25 and you'll pay less than £20 online. In fact if you use coupon code "EASTEREG" on Amazon UK you'll get 25% off.

Undeterred by the packaging, I delved inside and took heed of the warning to play it at low volume for the first 30 minutes to train the membrane. A bit unusual, but if it improves performance in the long run then I'm all for it.

Once the packaging was opened I was actually quite surprised by how well made the product felt and that it was solidly heavy but still at a portable weight. The product came partially charged so it was simply a case of switching on bluetooth on my phone and selecting the speaker, a few seconds later the music was playing.

One of the coolest features it has is the inbuilt microphone meaning you can take a call through the speaker itself without needing to find your phone - really neat! I'm also a big fan of the standard 3.5mm socket which means that if your device doesn't have bluetooth but has a standard headphone jack, you can simply plug it in and use it as a normal speaker. The unit also features play, pause, next track and previous track buttons for ease of use. Plus, the utility of a physical volume control should not be underestimated.

One of the most annoying things about the speaker is its battery life - a 5 hour battery life is decent, but the fact it takes 4.5 hours for a full charge wasn't hugely impressive - it also didn't come with a  wall charger which was annoying. I also couldn't get the 10m bluetooth distance range that was promise; I could only move my phone about 6 metres away from the speaker before the connection dropped out. To be fair, that is fine for most usages.

The MS425 speaker by August is however a great upgrade from your smartphone speaker. Even the iPhone 5S, which can produce some pretty loud sound, is easily defeated by the mighty MS425 both in terms of sound clarity and volume. Being realistic, it isn't going to beat speakers that cost £100 but for its size it is incredibly impressive and it is a little bit funny to see it hopping around the table when you listen to a bass-heavy track and turn the volume up.

If you're looking for a cheap and cheerful portable bluetooth speaker I can definitely recommend the August MS425.

Overall rating:4/5 stars

Venice 2014 Trip Report - Day 2 and 3

Venice 2014 Trip Report - Day 2 and 3

If you missed Day 1, make sure to check out that post here. Here are day 2 and day 3 of our Venice adventure.

Day 2:
Today it was time for a well deserved lie in and then time for lunch. My lunch consisted of a hamburger and a cafe latte to go from a cafe (Interesting combination I know…and yes a hamburger, don't judge).

The main goal of today was to just walk around the city and also tick a few things off our to-do list. Throughout the day we got our boarding cards printed which involved finding somewhere that had a printer - this involved more looking up and down backstreets until we came to an Internet cafe, but it meant we went to places we probably wouldn't have visited before.

You can't really tire of the Venetian atmosphere
As well as this, we needed to get tickets for the boat tomorrow to the airport, these were 15 euros one way which is a bit pricey. Annoyingly the place to get the boat from was not signposted at all - if it weren't for Google Maps, we'd never have found it.

In terms of touristy things we went inside the Basilica de St. Marco inside which was beautiful, and I prayed in there too which was nice.

Inside St. Mark's Basilica
We also roamed around a garden just by St. Mark's Square which was a nice place to sit down but nowhere near as big as we had imagined it being from the map.

The small public garden
The Bell Tower was worth the climb up (okay, it was a lift) as we got a really nice panoramic view of the city and we timed it right so we even got to hear the bell's chime on the hour - they are deafeningly loud!

The Bell Tower at St. Mark's Square
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The view from the bell tower

The Rialto bridge was another stop though I'd like to take a closer look at the nearby markets next time. As well as that, of course we spent the whole day wandering the streets and just enjoying the atmosphere. I haven't mentioned this yet but one of the nicest things is that there are no cars in Venice.

Dinner was a €10 pasta and drink deal which was nicer than the pizza the day before but a small plate as expected for the price. We then walking to the cafe/bar across the street (Osteria da Bacco, S.N.C) for dessert; I had a coffee and a chocolate muffin which were both really nice, plus the lady who served us was really friendly and helpful, and at €3.50 for both the price wasn't to be sniffed at.

Delicious dessert
After dessert we took the short walk to the pier side and sat having a chat as the night drew in. It was a really nice, relaxed day and very different to my usual attraction-packed visits.

It is still really cool to see how different every single street is and how much character they all have, you can definitely get lost (and we did for about half an hour) but you'll stumble across new things around every corner. The streets are very small though and imagine the place much be hellishly packed in the summer (plus I've also heard the water smells bad in the summer, which we didn't have to deal with). April seems like an ideal time of year to go, though I imagine May would have been just as good and potentially a bit warmer.

Day 3:
The time had come and it was time to go home. We got up at 7am having had just 4-5 hours of sleep, left the hotel at 7:30 and made our way to where the boat picked up.

The stunning view from the boat dock of the Grand Canal and beyond
Along the way, we managed to get a morning snack and said we'd get a coffee or something at the airport. The boat arrived on time at 8:15 and we were the only ones on it - this was the start of the line, but it was a 1h 15m journey to the airport.

To be fair it went by surprisingly quickly. The views were alright (but not great) not as good as I expected as we were seated under the main bit of the boat so had to look up and out of relatively small windows. The worst bit was that every time the boat changed direction, ie. every time it stopped, it made a really loud crunching sound which I imagine was the rudder turning.

First on the boat back to the airport.

From the boat dock to the terminal building is about a 7 minute walk under mostly covered walkways. At Venice Marco Polo Airport I found out that the handy plastic bags to put liquids in were not free here (like they are at Gatwick) and I had to pay €1 for two which was particularly irritating as I had thrown one out a few days earlier. We were soon in departures. The layout of the airport was nice with plenty of seating and shopping, though as to be expected the food was incredibly overpriced. There was no free airport-wide Wifi however but Burberry did offer free Wi-Fi  so we sat down at a cafe near the shop with signal. They did however had free yoga sessions which I found hilarious.

Our flight ended up being delayed, originally it was posted as being delayed by 6 hours but the flight was later cancelled and we were put on another flight to Manchester instead of the Leeds flight. I, and many of the passengers, suspected that the reason for this cancellation was not due to a "technical problem" but rather than both flights were very empty and they just wanted to consolidate them.

This was my first time flying with Jet2 and I was in for a shock. The flight was…basic. Very basic. Especially after having flown BA just a few days earlier. It was far more basic than both Ryanair and Easyjet, and I can't say I felt hugely safe (though I'm sure the plane met all necessary regulations and what not). The whole plane seemed like it was part of a low budget movie set. The seats didn't recline, they didn't have seat back pockets, and even the tray tables were tiny. The entire flight was also spent trying to sell us stuff which I didn't appreciate (including food which was not part of the ticket price). I did manage to sleep through about an hour of the flight which is unheard of for me, so it's a testament to how tired I was. The fact that there were genuinely more rows than there were people helped too as it meant I got an entire row to myself plus the next five rows in front were empty - it really was incredible how empty the flight was. The staff were really friendly though and we landed safely which is the most important thing.

At Manchester Airport we were grouped with others who were on our flight (about 10 of us in total) and were put on a coach to Leeds Bradford Airport. This journey took over 2 hours due to traffic which further added to my frustration at being moved between flights. From the airport it was a bus home and time for some much deserved rest.

Final thoughts:
For those who have none or limited Italian, I do recommend you learn the basic phrase such as 'hello', 'please', 'goodbye' and 'how much'. However, this is more of a matter of being polite than out of necessity - every person we encountered in Venice spoke very good English.

Overall, I was highly impressed with Venice and I would definitely come back. It definitely seems like a place for a nice romantic getaway. I'd love a ride in a Gondola at some point (though I can't quite afford 40 euros for 20 minutes) and I'd love to visit the other islands as well to see what they have on offer. It was a great trip and a place I'd definitely recommend adding to your bucket list - where else can you say that you've slept in a hotel that's being held up by sticks in the sea?

Venice 2014 Trip Report - Day 1

Venice 2014 Trip Report - Day 1

This trip to Venice doesn't start off in the UK as most of my trips do. Instead this one started off in Italy from Genoa (a.k.a Genova in Italian and French). I got there by taking part in a charity hitchhike, so Genoa is the starting point for this trip. 

After getting ready, we got our first quick glimpse of Genoa but it wasn't to last as we had a mere 15 minutes to get to the train station and get tickets. 

As we rounded the corner just outside our hotel we saw this really cool ship!
A bit of speed walking, speed ticket-purchasing and full on running later we were on our train. This was indirect Trenitalia train to Venice via Milan, with tickets at about 50e it was a bit pricey, but then again it is a 400km journey (and about 5 hours in total with a stopover).

The train was very busy which was the first we'd seen it like this so that was a bit strange, but I guess we were going to Milan. The trains didn't have the ever-vital plug sockets which was a bit annoying but at least we got seats! On arrival at Milan it was time for a late breakfast/early lunch and of course to have the full Italian experience I opted for...Burger King.

The gorgeous Milano Centrale station
With a stopover of just 45 minutes between trains, it was soon time to board the next train - this time a 2 and a half hour train journey to Venice. Rosanna and I had assigned seats two carriages apart which was fine. During the journey I took in the scenery, listened to music and podcasts (the £5 per day unlimited internet on Three worked out pretty well for streaming) and also chatted to a lady sitting the aisle across from me. 

This lady initially started by speaking to me in Italian, then I told her I only spoke in English. She quickly switched to English as she needed help with her computer. We ended up chatting for next hour or so (even during a 30 minute train breakdown) and I found out she was a secondary school teacher learning English and her name was Alessandra. I learned quite a bit about Italian culture, her life, she was hugely interested in the idea of the Jailbreak we had just done, and she even told me about the time when she visited London and lived off Red Bull, Parmesan cheese and Twix as she didn't like English food! It was really nice to have someone to talk to for so long and it's always great to meet new people, plus she translated what the problem with the train was, apparently a window had smashed and they had to move passengers out of the carriage - and she got to practice her English too, plus I learned a few bits of Italian, win-win really.

Once in Venice, Rosanna and I reunited on the platform and started walking towards the hostel/cheap hotel we'd seen online. We of course took a touristy, round-about way of getting there to take in some of the culture along the way.

Rosanna called me a poverty tourist for taking this one but look how nice it looks

The hostel was decent but not as nice as the hotel we stayed at in Genova which was a real bargain. It was €42 for 2 nights which isn't too bad at all.

Such a tourist: flip flops and jeans (my feet were aching from all the walking of the past few days)
Venice was incredibly picturesque and temperatures reached 17 degrees which was nice. Venice is really a place that you can just walk around in and look at all the streets, and canals and then once in a while come up to a big monument. 

There's no pressure to get in long queues to go and see monument after monument, though there are still a few to see.

After dropping our stuff off at the hotel,  we got some ice cream by the Grand Canal and then I went back for a nap whilst Rosanna went to explore. I had had a good night's sleep but still really needed a rest. I didn't really get to sleep during this time but I caught up on a few emails and worked on some emails that needed to be sent out for a university project. 

Picturesque, even with the cloudy sky.
Next, it was time for dinner. To be honest, it was nothing special plus there was a compulsory 15% service charge and then a cover charge (3 euros per person) on top. Cover charges are commonplace in Italy in tourist-laden areas. I got a pizza (the toppings were not the best quality) and a coke and the total came to €25. Ouch. The coke alone was €5.50. I definitely won't be going back. Reviewers on Tripadvisor do disagree with me though, but compulsory charges are not my kind of thing.

After that somewhat sobering experience it was time to head back to the hostel and book a flight on Friday to Leeds Bradford Airport. 

Read Day 2 and 3 here.

Jailbreak 2014 - Part 2

Jailbreak 2014 - Part 2

This year I participated in a charity hitchhike, called Jailbreak, with my housemate Rosanna. You join us here in part 2 of the adventure. So far along the journey we'd manged to get a free train ride to Manchester Airport from Leeds, failed at getting flights, got a train back to Manchester Picadilly, failed at getting a coach, got another coach to London, got a hotel, fundraised almost £100 in just a few hours AND booked flights to Nice, France. To read about all of that, take a look at Part 1. Now...back to the action. 

So, we booked our flight for 7:40am, which meant getting up at 3:45am. It was now already 3am and by the time I got to sleep I had only had about half an hour of actual rest.

So Tuesday 1st April we got up at 3:45, got ready, checked out and walked to Victoria, arriving at 4:35am. Here we charmed our way onto the Gatwick Express for free, which was a necessity as we were going to play the whole game by the rules.

At Gatwick Airport we boarded our British Airways flight which was due to leave at around 7:40. It was really foggy and we ended up leaving about 30 minutes late. I hadn't flown BA for a while and it was surprisingly nice. Especially considering only £10 out of the £45 we had paid actually went to BA, with the rest being fees and taxes.

We touched down in Nice, France at around 11:20am local time and then the real work started. Luckily we both spoke French so at least that was a positive. After a quick bite to eat, we decided we'd try and hitchhike: we tried by the airport slip road, moved to another location (all whilst holding a sign saying "L'autostop"), then we tried another location where my theory was that s people would be forced to stop and read the sign as it was by traffic lights. After only about 10 minutes there (yes, we got bored easily) we moved down to a much busier location. To our credit it was very windy (not that you can tell by this very sunny photo).

During all this time, only one person stopped and offered us a ride but he was going towards Cannes which was in the opposite direction to where we wanted to head (might I add that this man who stopped was by the traffic lights so my theory didn't completely fail). We now wanted to go to either Italy or the centre of Nice - to be honest, we weren't fussed which. We just wanted to get out of this airport location.

We weren't great at hitchhiking and after being at our final hitchhiking spot for about 15 minutes a man in a parked car asked us where we were going, we said the centre of town and he said we could just get a bus. We explained that we couldn't spend anything on transport so he kindly gave us €3 to get the bus into town. It was so nice of him - I dread to think how much longer we might have waited there for a lift. He really made the rest of this trip possible.

The bus journey took about 20 minutes and it was only now that I realised how warm it was in Nice compared to London. After some quick googling, we found that the town had a train station. We hopped off the bus and walked to the train station (I am trying to imagine how impossible this trip would have been without Google and the internet on my phone). 

At the train station we tried to get the ticket office to donate a ticket, they couldn't but explained that we could try our luck with the train guards themselves. We charmed our way past the ticket barrier men (this is the first I had seen this anywhere in Europe) and got onto the platform. I talked to the platform train dispatcher and asked him where the guard usually is on a train in France (hooray for me being fluent in French); he said it varied and we'd have to try and simply look out for them. The train arrived and we jogged up and down the platform to find the train guard and couldn't see him or her. We looked back and the dispatcher had asked the guard to wait so we ran to the train door and explain the situation. The guard seemed skeptical at our idea but she said that we could get on and if the train police came on she knew of nothing. This seemed fine to us. We'd spend all of about an hour and a half in Nice in total, and only about 20 minutes of that in the city centre.

An hour and a half later we were in Ventimiglia in Italy, having travelling past some beautiful countryside and even through Monaco. 

We arrived in Ventimiglia, Italy and spoke to the guard that was just about to leave for Genoa (having looked at timetables on my phone I knew this was the furthest we could possibly get). He said he couldn't let us on but said we should try the next one. The next train came along an hour later (we explored the town a little bit during this time) and we spoke to the conductor who spoke very little English and said no but he would check with someone. 

He brought over a lady who worked at the station, and who also spoke some French (hallelujah). She explained to us that we wouldn't be allowed onto InterCity trains for free (even though we'd just done that), as the "ticket police" get on. She said that we'd need to try our luck on the regional trains. She was firm, but very helpful. The lady even gave us the route we'd need to take (train to Savona, change, train to Genoa) and the time that the next train left Ventimiglia. It wasn't the result we wanted but it was hugely helpful. 

The time came round for the regional train and the conductor let us on after some explaining. This was a slow train taking the scenic route but we didn't mind as we were going further into Italy. And towards Rome and Venice for after jailbreak. The scenery en route was stunning and despite my expectations of the regional trains being run down (like many in the UK, I'm looking at you Northern Rail), these were very comfortable (and also very empty).

Two hours later we were in Savona and figured out the time of the final train to Genoa. We asked the train guard who didn't speak much English or French. As I began the spiel, he gestured us onto the train with the face of "I can't be bothered to deal with this today, just get on". It was incredible and once again it was an incredibly comfortable train (probably the best of the day). We made it to Genoa (or Genova in Italian and French) with an hour to spare. 

On the train, we found a hostel we liked and after arriving in Genoa we started walking towards it. It was now dark and we could really do with a bed. We arrived and rang the doorbell and couldn't find a way in and no one answered - good job we hadn't prebooked it! We started walking towards another hostel but along the way I found something online called the mini hotel. It was £45\€55 for the room including a private bathroom. Excellent. We got there and took the room without having a look at it (not wise). We were shattered. 

We got lucky: the room was amazing and I got a king-sized bed. The bathroom was huge and it was just lovely. Especially for the price. Then it all sank in: We'd arrived in a hotel room in the middle of Italy, spent no money of our own getting there, and we still had time to spare - it had been a hugely successful jailbreak (we ended up coming 4th out of 27 teams) and we were delighted, but also exhausted. I fell asleep whilst Rosanna was unpacking - I was that tired. I had only got about 4 hours sleep in the last 48 hours and really needed it. 

That's it for jailbreak - but the next day we travelled to Venice, be sure to read my trip report.

Jailbreak 2014 - Part 1

Jailbreak 2014 - Part 1

This year, my housemate Rosanna and I took part in a charity hitch hike challenge called Leeds RAG Jailbreak. The idea was that we had 36 hours to get as far away from Leeds (in England) as possible. The catch was that we weren't allowed to spend any money on transport at all: that meant hitch hiking, trying to get free public transport and relying on donated tickets for our whole journey. 

The aim of the Jailbreak was also to raise money for charity; it's well known that events are the best way to fundraise and collectively we raised about £600 for Marie Curie Cancer Care in the process. 

It was Monday, 31st March 2014 at 9am and we gathered on the Parkinson steps at Leeds University ready to go. Our plan was quite optimistic: to get down to Leeds train station, get on a train from East Coast (as we had heard that they were helpful in previous years) and arrive in London a couple of hours later. In London we would spend all day fundraising in tourist-filled areas and then get a flight to somewhere nice the following day. We had until Tuesday, 1st April 2014 at 9pm to do this. Would our plan work?

9:00 - the klaxon sounded and we were off! We took a shortcut through Leeds Uni on the way down, instead of taking the more direct path straight down the hill to the train station, as we knew everyone would be going that way. As I mentioned earlier, the goal was to ask East Coast trains for a ticket. We arrived at the customer service office and two Jailbreak groups were already ahead of us and at the office. The group at the front was on the phone to someone at East Coast; we split and Rosanna went to ask someone else whilst I stayed with East Coast. The front group got told no by East Coast so we moved on. 

Rosanna spoke to someone at the station who said it'd be best to ask individual train conductors. So that's what we did! The plan now was to get a train to Sheffield, but a train to Manchester Airport turned up first while we were waiting. Who could say no to that? We asked the guard if we could get on, she said yeah and we were on our way to Manchester. We met some nice people on the train and even got a donation from a fellow passenger. 

Over an hour later we reached Manchester Airport. We then spent the next three hours going from airline desk to airline desk across three very spread out terminals, walking miles and miles in the process. We called all kinds of media contacts (and I have the phone bills to prove it) but all to no avail. No one could help us with a flight at all. It was really disheartening, but I think it made us want to persevere more. 

So, we blagged a train back to Manchester Picadilly and then walked to National Express' coach station. They couldn't help us and suggested we try Megabus. When we got to the Megabus stop, they (reluctantly) let us on the bus to London. We were warned it was indirect and that if other people got on with paying tickets at Birmingham or Coventry we'd have to get off. We were perfectly happy with this arrangement (though I was secretly terrified on ending up stranded in Coventry where transport links aren't incredible). We assumed this bus journey would take four hours. It didn't, it took six hours! So dire.

We had made plans when arriving in London to go and fundraise outside Wicked, the musical, in Victoria. Our plan was definitely to fundraise no matter what happened by moving onto Piccadilly after the show started and trying to catch some tourists there. 

We arrived in London too late to do our Wicked plan so we grabbed some food from McDonalds before heading to a hostel. We had a bit of a disagreement in McDonalds about what we'd do next which was inevitable after being in each other's proximity for so many hours. With that over we walked towards the hostel. We needed somewhere to dump our bags and we wouldn't be leaving London that night, so it was a worthwhile investment. 

I'm not sure what happened but we never stuck with our hostel plan, probably because on the way there we came across a load of B&Bs. "Let's try and get a free B&B in the name of charity" we said, following the lead that at least one other group had done this. That was in Manchester however...this was London. Trying to get a free room was a complete failure and no one would help us. We saw an easyhotel here and just took it after trying to get it for free. £20 each for a double room - very basic but comfortable and we needed somewhere to leave our stuff. 

After adapting our hitchhiking sign to a fundraising one we set off. It was now pretty late: around 10pm and we has missed most of the crowds which was a bit annoying. However, our plans developed and we both thought it a good idea to try pubs - drunk people with money in their pocket who might be 'jolly' enough to donate. We went to the Shakespeare pub in Victoria first, and asked the manager if it was ok to fundraise in there. Given the all clear we spent about 15 minutes in there and got around £10-£15 which was a great start, though we'd need a lot more if we were going to be able to catch a flight. Rosanna said she wanted to make it very clear that the money given to us would be towards flights and we were very explicit about that to everyone, giving them the option of donating money to Marie Curie on the side as well. 

Knowing London pretty well, I said our best bet for pubs nearby was to walk down through Victoria, past the Houses of Parliament and try all the pubs on Whitehall (there's quite a few). Along the way I remembered the Albert pub, which became our next stop. What a great decision - with a bit of patter, speaking to a family from the US and then a couple from Scotland we made about a tenner. Then it was onto a group of businessmen who gave us a pound each and them finally onto a group of three businessmen stood away from everyone else. Here we spent about an hour chatting to them, getting tips on hitch hiking and (as they tried to outbid each other) we made over £60 in total at this pub. Tim, one of the nicest people I have met, really helped out with money, giving us hitching tips and info on how to get cheap flights AND he also told us that all pubs would close at a certain time in Westminster. That time was approaching fast. By the time we left, all the pubs had closed. Gulp. 

We weren't done yet and so popped into a few more bars around Soho and then walking back to Victoria through the pounding, torrential rain (who said this was going to be easy?). We went back to the hotel and counted our pennies and pounds; we had raised a grand total of £92 that evening. We'd also been donated £3 throughout the day and someone had donated £2.50 to Marie Curie specifically (not for our travels). Almost £100 in just a few hours. We hoped that it would be enough for a flight. 

We looked for flights online (it was my first time using the "Anywhere" feature on Skyscanner which was rather exciting), and saw that Oslo was only £30 each but for £14 more we could make it all the way to Nice in Southern France. Plus the difference in temperature was between 7 degrees and 17 degrees, and from Nice we had more of an opportunity for onward traveling due to speaking French. Very excitedly we booked tickets to Nice for 7:40am that morning. 

Check out Part 2 to find out how far we got.