Global Tour 2023/2024
Woke up shortly before 7 and quickly showered and hustled out the door to rephotograph the store from the previous night while rushing back to the station to catch the 7:42 to Wuppertal. Made it with about three minutes to spare, apple ready to go since I'd no time to buy anything else, BUT OF COURSE the train was delayed, first 15 minutes, then another 11. I had been hoping to get to Oberhausen, after Wuppertal, shortly after the Starbucks opened at 9, but that plan was out, and then in Wuppertal the direct train to Oberhausen was delayed--of course.
I headed over to the platform a few minuts before 9:18, the new departure time, and I quickly realised that I had made a stupid mistake in assuming that the time was accurate. I had expected the train to be delayed further, but I had NOT expected the train to arrive and depart sooner than the newly specified time, and I ended up missing it. I quickly scrambled to figure out a different route, because there was also a train that connected via Dusseldorf. I could not reconcile the trains that the Rail Planner app was showing me with the trains listed on the electronic display, but then I saw a slow train (called an "S" train, no wifi) to Dusselfdorf departing in one minute, and I figured that was going to be my best option.
Arrived in Dusseldorf with a few minutes before the next train, but of course it was cancelled. I was in disbelief that getting to Oberhausen was proving so frustrating, and I went to the Reisezentrum to ask if there was some issue around that city. Construction, said the agent, but he confirmed that the next train, via Duisburg, was still scheduled.
In Oberhausen I finally faced the same decision that I imagine I had in 2008, whether to figure out a bus or walk, EXCEPT that this time I had Google Maps to tell me which buses to take, and how long it would take to walk. I missed the next bus to the Neue Mitte stations by seconds, and the next one was about 10 minutes away, so I decided to walk.
Spend MUCH longer at Centro than I hoped because I needed to sort out which of the two or three stores were closed or relocated, as well as fix apparent mislabeling from my original trip (actually it was that two stores had shared the same store number). I spoke to MANY partners across the three stores, an assistant manager, and a manager, and I finally ended up with one relocation and one brand new kiosk, which I count as a new store.
By the time I finished at Centro, I could easily tell that I would not have time to get to Dortmund (to check on a possible relocation) and Siegen before meeting Sebastian in Montabaur, and I decided to speed things up and take a bus back to the station. Despite this, the ICE I had pegged to Montabaur was cancelled, so I had to take the next one, which was delayed, and it would not arrive at my transfer station, Frankfurt Flughafen, until AFTER the train to Montabaur was scheduled to depart. While trains between bigger cities often depart every 15 minutes, if not more frequently, the next train to Montabaur would be an hour later, and that would make me late to meet Sebastian before he needed to head to his night shift. Of course, if one train is delayed, another train can be delayed too, and even though we arrived at Frankfurt at 15:30, the other train was delayed to 15:33, and I was able to make it!!!
Another mini Starbucking conference with Sebastian, making it around half a dozen times we had met, and nearly as many countries: Germany, Hungary, the United States, and Panama.
Thanks to my making that earlier train to Montabaur, I was able to complete my day's phote calls and still have time to hop onto a train to Wiesbaden after Sebastian went to work. Wiesbaden turned out to be a duplicate, though, because I had thought that Lili was a relocation of the old Lilien Carre store, but it was just a remodeling (along with the entire shopping centre) and expansion, and unlike the case of the replaced kiosk, this does not count as a new store for me. Still, I got fresh pictures, including a cool piece of artwork, and I did not really lose anything because I was going to overnight in Frankfurt anyway because of the great hostel prices.
NOW, if I had missed the two Starbucks at MyZeil in Frankfurt, either because of train delays or incorrect closing times on the app, THEN I would have been upset about the unnecessary detour to Wiesbaden, but since I made it to the centre with half an hour to spare, I was good. Light rain when I exited the mall to take the train back to the main station, then walk to my hostel, but the walk was short. So far I had not had to deal with heavy rain while walking during the first month of my trip, but I expected that could not last.
Tonight's hostel, 5Elements, was in a red light district of Frankfurt, and the email they sent after I booked warned guest of that and gave them the opportunity to cancel. When I approached, the street felt familiar, and I think this was the same street where an overly aggressive club employee kept trying to get me to come in for a drink, even as I told him I just wanted to sleep. He even put his arm around my shoulder, like we were buddies, and I had to be more forceful about begging off, as he protested "I'm just doing my job." Tonight I walked into the hostel undisturbed, but there was street noise through the night, and the Australian dormmate really wanted to keep at least one window open. In the wee hours though, when I noticed the Australian leaving at the same time as there was aggressive shouting on the street, I closed all the windows, but it was no use, I was not able to sleep any further.
September 20 (day 28)
Up just past 7:00, just in time to shower, pack up, and head down to breakfast at 7:30, then walk down to the Starbucks before meeting Renee for breakfast.
I consume bready carbs selectively, and I deprioritise pancakes, preferring to wait until I can be assured of an exquisite pancake experience, or a special occasions. Reconnecting with Renee after a decade fit the bill, and we enjoyed delicious American-style pancakes from LOTS Brunch club, topped with banana, kiwi, passion fruit (or star fruit perhaps), peach, red berries, blueberry, with some type of Dutch syrup on the side (different from traditional American maple syrup).
Renee walked me to the station and immediately noticed, before I had even had a chance to orient myself, that there was a problem with the train to Oberhausen that forced passengers onto a bus instead. We walked over to the bus terminal and said our goodbyes, and then I went over to bay H to wait for the bus. When it showed up, however, I saw no indication that it would be going to Oberhausen, so I let it go and began planning an alternative. I decided to take a train to Aachen instead, even though it was 3 1/2 hours and would require a suboptimal route. I then popped into Albert Heijn for some yoghurt, but I passed on the fruit because I refuse to pay 1 euro for a banana or an apple. I then changed my mind again and decided to try for the bus--I spoke to a different agent who explained that the bus going to Duisburg was indeed the one I needed to be on. I then asked about toilets, and he said there were none, so I had no choice but to pay 50 euro to use the loo in the station. Back at bay H, I asked a couple of passengers about wifi on the bus, and they did not seem to think that the bus would have it. I then decided that I did not want to waste 2 1/2 hours unable to charge or get online to work, so I changed my plans and and went back to the train area to catch that train to Aachen after all.
Unfortunately, neither the train to my first transfer point, Utrecht, nor the train to Heerlen, had outlets, but at least the wifi was... functional (barely), and they had toilets.
Tried to get in and out of Aachen as quickly as possible, but I still lost some time. First during a detour to someplace called Ucambio, in the hopes that it was an independent currency exchange bureau which, in my experince, give better rates than big chains, but it turned out to be a Western Union front, and the rate was lousy. I was almost out of euro, so I finally had to detour to a Deutche Bank ATM, because they have an agreement with Bank of America to waive the ATM fee (still a 3% international fee, though). Then, once inside the Aquis mall, I wasted a good 5-10 minutes finding the loo, only to discover that it was one of this shitty pay toilets. Then I wandered around a bit before finding the Starbucks, which was outside (and yet had no loo).
By the time I got on my way to Monchengladbach, I had missed the train and had to wait another thirty minutes, but I used the time to find some reasonably-priced pork fried rice.
I did much better at getting in and out of the Minto store in Monchengladbach, but when I got to the station in time for the train to Dusseldorf, IT WAS CANCELED!!! AARRGHH!!! Getting to Oberhauses, even from that direction, was still going to require a bus (I would have assumed only the line from Arnhem was the problem), which introduced uncertainty, so I made a snap decision to head to Cologne. I expected to overnight there and then take an early train back to those northern cities (Dusseldorf, Wuppertal, and Oberhausen), but THERE WERE NO HOSTELS AND ALL THE HOTELS WERE $200+!!!
This was a serious budgetary problem, and as soon as I finished with the Starbucks I would need to find reasonable accommodation in another city and travel there. Oberhausen was an option, with many hotels around 60€, but the Starbucks would not open until 9:00 AM. I finally decided on Dusseldorf for 70€, in close proximity to the new Starbucks. During this trip, time has a cost.
Arrived in Cologne to see a political rally in the plaza outside of the Cathedralo, over a dozen police units, and police guarding the speakers. I figured this was normal and not the reason for the dearth of accommodations. As I walked to the Starbucks, I was reminded of how vibrant the city was, and I regretted that I wasn't overnighting.
New addition to my process. Because so many of the shopping centres I have encountered in The Netherlands and Germany impose a cost to use the loo, I must now remember to use the loo when my train is nearing my stop, lest the Starbucks not have one. If I forget, then I have to hold it until I get back onto a train because, as I said before, I loathe paying for this most basic of human rights. Technically I am paying for it even when it is free, but I want the price to be rolled into the costs associated with the shopping centre, station, etc.
TM Hotel Dusseldorf was hard to find, just one narrow door tucked in between two eateries, no sign, but the place was cute. At first I was concerned about the street noise, but I slept quite well throughout the night (even though every time I woke, there were voices outside), and I felt rested in the morning.
Up early once again, as I had hoped, to make up for only having traveled as far as Rotterdam the day before. Making my way to Arnhem by evening looked entirely feasible, so I first headed to that "New York" area of Rotterdame on the way to Espressohouse Kopi Soesoe, which was cute, the second-best coffeehouse design I had seen during the trip. Coffee, an Indonesian from Rum Baba, was also excellent.
Took the tram back to Rotterdam Centraal, and this time there was no ticket machine on the tram. I asked a passenger, and she explained that I just needed to tap with my card when I arrived, then when I left. The machine went green both times, but it did not indicate how much I had been charged. Nor could I see how I would prove that I had paid if an agent inquired.
At the Tilburg store (and the first Einhoven after that), the price for a short filter was once again 1.85€, what I had paid in Groningen and Amersfoort. Still not sure why I was paying a full euro more in Amsterdam, and maybe that much more in The Hague and Rotterdam.
Back on the train quickly, and soon in Einhoven, where I was thrilled to spot my first non-Mexican, reasonably-priced Latin American food, a Venezuelan truck hawking arepas. I had stumbled across and Argentinian steakhouse the night before, but the prices were prohitive. Delicious arepa with beef, white cheese, black beans, and plantain, but super messy. Because of this, I stood at a table rather than eating on the go, and this turned out to be a plus because I had a good discussion with an Honduran kid studying physical therapy in Eindhoven. These random interactions with people from all over the world are a welcome part of my foreign travels.
Finally found a haircut, and for only 17€ (tipping is not a think in The Netherlands, according to my googling). When I passed my first barber with a price of 32€, I had winced and thought I'd need to wait til Germany or even further (a country where the economy was not as strong). I was just about at the month mark, and getting raggedy, so I was quite relieved when saw the cheaper price.
Had my second super-awkward interaction at the Hoog Catharijne in Utrecht. First I was able to use my stamp card (nine stamps = free drink) for a latte, and then I asked about a toilet at the other store (which I had already visited), as this one, in a mall, did not have one, and the mall toilets charged 0.90€! Then I asked about a Starbucks that had been on my map when I came (Hof van Bern, but I could not remember) but no longer appeared on the app. At this point the barista went over to talk to her supervisor, and they spoke in hushed tones before the supervisor, Svetlana, came over and asked for my email or website. At first I thought she knew who I was because some barista who had heard about my travels contact them, but then her tone shifted and she asked why I was asking this question. She had suspicion in her tone, like that barista at the Westfield Stratford kiosk in London, and she went on to say that if I went to other Starbucks, baristas would not be able to answer an questions. This was, of course, ridiculous, because I'd already been to 160 Starbucks during my trip, and nearly every barista who was not too busy, or simply didn't know, had been cooperative with info about openings, closings, the artwork, new stores in area, etc. I walked away wondering if Svetlana was speaking out of her own initiative, or from instructions she had gotten from her manager, district manager, or new partner Alsea themselves.
Oh, and Hof van Bern was indeed permanently closed, another Dutch store I missed. I realised then that this was the second store that a barista at Rokin must have been talking about, that had closed but I could not identify. I thought she meant in Amsterdam, but she was thinking of this Utrecht store. HOWEVER, I ended up picking up a surprise store, one that had opened in late January or early February, AFTER I had created my map. I had been checking my database for such stores, in the UK, Ireland, Denmark, and Germany, but I had forgotten to check for The Netherlands. I had to make sure that it was Alsea, and the partner, who had been hired the previous week, was not sure, but since the manager was the same, I was pretty sure, and also I compared my receipt from Tilburg with a receipt from that store, and they were the same. For stores that are licensed to other companies, I have always seen that the receipts are different. Also, if they are run by SSP, the partners seem to know that they work for SSP.
Arrived in Arnhem and discovered the greatest discrepancy in store hours of my journey so far. The Starbucks app said that the store closed at 19:30, but they actually closed at 17:00, so I did not make it in time. Ordinarily this would have been a big deal, because I would have planned to get back on a train to Germany, but this time I had plans for breakfast with a friend, so I would be overnighting in Arnhem anyway.
Arepa, plus an apple later, were not nearly enough, and many of the restaurants were closing, so I went to a Chinese spot, Noodle Works, and spent nearly $20, too much. While my food budget was not yet out of control, and I knew from experience that prices would drop once I exited the expensive part of Europe, I still winced a little.
Only one hostel left in Arnem, a good 30 minute walk from the city centre, in a wooded area. Different from the other eight that I had stayed in--refreshing, actually. What was not refreshing was the other occupant. It was just he and I in a four-bed dorm, and he was a rather odd middle-aged stoner (based on how many times he went out to smoke) with an array of snacks and smokables lined up in front of his bed. I got a "don't leave your things unattended" vibe, and I was glad that with the top bunk unoccupied, I was able to take that duvet and use it to create a curtain for myself.
I still felt weird in the morning, possibly a lingering effect from the night before. I immediately downed the coffee I had saved from the Rokin Starbucks to stave off the caffeine-related portion of the headache, but the pain persisted for a while.
Starbucks was complete in Amsterdam, but I wanted to make some headway in my craft coffee pursuits, so I looked up some blogs and chose Bocca Coffe because of proximity to the Rokin Starbucks, which I wanted to reshoot without all the people in front. On the way I passed a bakery and I walked away with a delicious Liege waffle which went great with the juice I had leftover from the previous afternoon. A few blocks down the road I passed the Flowermarket Starbucks and decided to rephotograph. I set my waffle and juice down on some steps, and while I was shooting from the other side of the store, a saniation engineer grabbed my food and tossed it onto the ground with the other refuse!!!
Before I could stop myself, I shouted "hey that's my breakfast" at him, but he just shrugged and walked away, no apology. I thought about it for only half a second and quickly picked up the bottle and downed the remainder of the juice, and then I looked at that waffle and thought "how bad could it be?"
Bocca was the blandest of the three indie coffees I had that morning, BUT the space was large, and I was able to plug in and get online, which was a bonus. The next shop, Uncommon, suggested by a barista, had better coffee, but the space was small and prohibited laptops. The final shop, nearly a thirty-minute walk northwest, Friedhats FUKU Cafe, offered the most delicious coffee, and beautiful decor, and a few outlets, BUT no wifi. That was fine, because I spent most my time there chatting with the baristas about the coffee and the amazing cartoon-themed artwork, and I needed to get on the train to The Hague anyway.
From Friedhats I did not need to return to Amsterdam Centraal, but rather continue west to the Sloterdijk station where I caught a train to The Hague, and then I had to figure out how to take the tram to the Mall of the Netherlands. I think I screwed that up. I had asked a passerby, and he said to tap my card, so upon boarding I tapped my credit card, and th emachine turned green. I wasn't sure what to do next, and the passenger I asked was not sure either, so she pointed me to a ticket machine. I bought a 2-hour ticket for 4.50£, but since I had also tapped my card, I'm guessing that I will be charged twice.
Didn't spend too much time at the mall because a fan wanted to meet me in Rotterdam. Lost some time figuring out the Google Maps directions to Rotterdam, which did not have me taking the tram back toe Den Haag Centraal, but rather to get of at a stop where I had to take a train to Centraal. Unfortunately, when I reached the station, I had to use a barcode to exit, and my barcode did not work (because my Eurail pass was not valid on that line), so I had to follow someone out and hope that nobody noticed.
At the Forum Starbucks in Rotterdam I had a great conversation with a fan who had seen the VICE video and was eager to talk about the artistic nature of Starbucking, as well as my thoughts about purpose. To me, these are much more interesting questions than the basic "aren't all Starbucks the same" types of questions.
Joran suggested I checked out a part of the city called the "New York of Rotterdam" because of the way it was rebuilt after the WWII bombings, and that area was close to one of the craft coffeehouses, I set off in that direction. I needed to eat, though, I stopped for ramen at Ajisan, and by the time I finished it had started to rain. I wouldn't be able to enjoy any views, and I did not want to walk 15 minutes in the rain, so I went ahead and took the metro to Alexandrium where I called my mother for her birthday.
Things you don't see every day--a middle-aged man in a motorised wheelchair speeding across the hallway in front of the Alexandrium Starbucks, while an older woman trotted after him, unable to keep up, while she radioed for help. A minute later, a guard jogged past, also speaking into his radio.
Nearly a month since my last haircut in Panama, and I was looking round for a barber while away from the city centre, hoping for a halfway-decent price, but they were all closed in that part of Rotterdam.
The rain had stopped, and from Alexandrium it was an easy metro ride then walk to my hostel, Hostel ROOM Rotterdam, and after setting some things down to claim a bottom bunk, and went down to the common area to make phone calls and work on paperwork. I had planned for the ramen to be my last meal, but around 19:00 I was overwhelmed by hunger, so much so that I was starting to become dizzy, and I gave in and popped over to a cafe on the next blocked that served some delicious frites topped with smoked beef and light barbecue sauce. I could have done without the extras, like peppers and some other veggie.
Eighth night in a hostel, and this was the first time during which I actually chatted with some of my dormmates. On most occasions, everyone had been in bed, or not chatty, and the only other time that I met friendly dormmates, they were on their way out the door.
One unusual thing about Hostel ROOM Rotterdam, they do not use keycards but instead an app called Goki that opens the door using bluetooth. The downside of this is that I had to turn on my phone every time I went to the bathroom during the night, but I got used to it. In case you are wondering, there IS a code that can be entered if the phone runs out of power (or is left in the room), and I had to use it in the morning (fortunately I had my backpack and iPod) when I thought I had left my phone on the bed.
Turns out the phone wasn't on the bed, and I felt the greatest sense of panic of my trip to that point because I didn't know where it was, and a cardinal rule of my journey is to ALWAYS KNOW WHERE MY PHONE IS. Turned out I had set it on a shelf in the toilet and somehow did not see it, even though it was right behind me.
I had showered the night before, in anticipation of rushing to the station as soon as I woke up, and this plan worked out marvelously. I was out of the hostel within 10 minutes and soon at the station with enough time to pick up a Danish-ish pastry for breakfast, and then a waffle because why not, and also some lousy overpriced coffee from the bakery. That coffee was the first non-Starbucks, non-craft coffee that I had paid for, and while I was loathe to do so, the next 4-5 hours on trains plus a bus would not be fun without coffee.
As I expected, the bus that I had to take from Leer to Weener would not accept my Eurail pass (even though the bus ticket had DB on it). It is possible that the drive was mistaken, but that is not the type of situation in which it makes sense to get into an argument, especially not for €4.50. I struggled a bit to make sure that I was at the correct place to take the correct bus, but several people were willing, even eager, to help me.
I was shocked and relieved when I arrived at the Starbucks in Groningen, the furthest out I have seen in The Netherlands, to discover that the coffee cost me about half what I was paying in Denmark. The short filter size was on offer, and with the cup discount the price was just €1.85, less than in the United States even.
While on the train I had coordinated future plans with a friend and made plans to meet my cousins, on their final day in Europe after their time in Denmark, at a bar in Amsterdam for dinner. To improve my chances of not being late, I rushed through my Groningen visit so I could make the 12:49 train towards Amersfoort, and I made it with a minute to spare even after stopping to buy an apple (since I did not have time for a meal). One thing that slowed me down is that since my first train leg that morning, I had not had any electrical outlets on the subsequent trains, and my batteries were getting low. That meant I had to spend a little time plugging in before ordering, then taking care to pay close attention to avoid theft, which would be a serious problem.
In Amersfoort I encountered something new, a gate to exit the train station, the first such barrier I had seen outside of the London, to the best of my recollection. Took me a while to get help to figure out what I needed to do, which was to scan a QR code on the back of the envelope that held the rail pass. I continued to see this in other Dutch cities, and one noticeable effect is that there were fewer, or no, seemingly indigent individuals within the boundaries of the station.
After visiting the Starbucks I HAD to eat something, preferrably light, and I was thrilled to finally find a fried dough treat, my first since leaving Panama (hojaldres). These treats were called poffertjes, and while Wikipedia likens them to mini pancakes, the ones I had were quite different, but delicious.
Missing the 15:40 to Amsterdam Centraal, but that was okay because I had time to spare, and the next one put me in the city with more than enough time to visit the Starbucks and check into my hostel before meeting my cousins.
We met a Soju Cafe for Korean chicken, as an added bonus, I got to reconnect with a former Scrabbler, Brian, who just happened to be Amsterdam with a companion. Had not seen him since at least the late aughts, when he dropped out of the scene. Chicken was good, and then we walked around and eventually found ourselves at a coffeehouse, where I took the opportunity of being with my cousins, who could help me if the effect went wrong, to try something stronger than what I had tried in 2011, my last coffeehouse experience. I barely felt that one, but this one really hit me, and I am glad that I had the opportunity to walk with them back to their hotel to give the effect time to fade. Still, even 30 minutes later, by the time I returned to the hostel and prepared for bed, I was still feeling the effect, and throughout the night.
I woke up shortly after 7 in no particular hurry because I wanted to take full advantage of the free breakfast, which I was told began at 8. As it turned out, on Saturday they began at 7:30, so I could have gotten to the station 30 minutes earlier and possibly caught an earlier train out to Aarhus. Oh, well--breakfast was excellent, better than your average American motel/cheap hotel fare, and I as much as I could fit into my stomach to better prepare for the multi-hour trip to Kiel.
At the station I hoped to get help from an agent to purchase a ticket from Denmark into Germany, but the customer service office was not yet open, so I had to use the machine, which seemed to limit me to Denmark. I had also wanted to find out if I could pay partly in cash, to use up all my Danish currency, and the rest with a credit card, but the machine did not allow that. I expected the DSB office in Aarhus to be open by the time I arrived, and, coincidentally enough, a ticket there was 204 DKK, just two krone more than what I had left. If I used a credit card, I'd have to try and spend the currency on groceries (and possibly lunch) and carry them around with me, but I lucked out and found a person who was willing to just give me two krone. I've often said that Starbucking is about the journey, not the destination, and part of the fun of the journey is figuring things out, both the big puzzles and the little ones like today's.
In Aarhus, the agent was easily able to find me an itinerary to Kiel, and the total cost of the trip, from Aalborg, was about $120, about what it would have cost to simply fly from AAL to CPH, where I'd have to take another flight. Not sure why I had been so fixated on flying out from Aalborg, and on thinking that I'd lose too much time on a train. In fact, as I write this, I have lost no time at all, as I've been working away on various tasks. Of course, as I write this, I am trying to make a mental note to not make the same mistake when it comes to trains and buses. Sometimes a bus will get me there almost as quickly as a train, and for much less.
Aarhus to Kiel would require three changes--Fredericia, Flensburg, and Neumunster. On the first leg, I chanced a seat that was reserved further down the line, and as a result from Vejle to Fredericia I had to stand, but only for 20-25 minutes. First stop in Germany, Flensburg / Flensbourgh, and I saw something I'd seen in the past, but not on this trip. Polizei were waiting, and they identified two scruffy-looking young men and asked for their passports. No idea if train staff had called the police, perhaps because the men lacked tickets, or if it was a random check, or something else.
I had gotten so used to fast wifi on the Danish trains that I was caught off guard when the DB wifi on my train was slow, just when I had decided to continue researching a EuRail pass. Eventually I gave up and had to wait until the next train, from Neumunster to Kiel, to figure out that I had plenty of options if I traveled down to Hamburg. This was good, because on my first day back in Germany I ran into the limited-hours issue, with the next store I hoped to visit after Kiel, in Stuhr, outside of Bremen. That store would close at 18:30 according to the Starbucks app, but 18:00 according to Sebastian, so there was no way to get there on Saturday evening. For some reason it was closed on Sunday, so I'd have to skip it. Other Germans stores in that general area did not seem to make sense, so I decided to head straight to Gronigen in the morning.
With no pressure to leave once I got to Kiel, I took time to try and figure out how to register a German Starbucks card so I could earn and redeem rewards, but the website kept erroring out, both during the sign-up process and then when I tried to log in. After thirty minutes I decided it wasn't worth it, and I just wrapped up my first German Starbucks visit since 2015 (and my first AmRest German Starbucks visit) and headed back to the station to try and buy a Eurail pass. I was told I needed to buy it at the Hamburg Reisezentrum, but that was fine because I was overnighting there anyway.
Drama at the Reisezentrum in Hamburg when a man started yelling at an agent before banging on the counter and walking away, only to be met by four police officers.
Woke up to discover that I had finally, after four days in Panama and three weeks in Europe, lost my razor. Hanging onto it while I was urban camping was easy because I'd stick it back in my backpack after shaving in a washroom, but at a hostel I would make the mistake of setting it down somewhere, since my backpack was on my bed.
The train to Kolding was a DB train to Hamburg, and it felt good to finally be back on DB, and a preview of what was to come once I got down into Germany. Of course, DB is not all great, and none of the electrical outlets that were free seemed to work. Since the trip would only been 36 minutes, I just gave up and relied on battery.
During the trip to Kolding I checked my Capital One statement to enter the actual spent amounts (after currency conversion), and I was shocked that what had been charged seemed much higher than what I expected. Turns out that I had accidentally googled up the SWEDISH exchange rate, 1 SEK = 0.09 USD, while 1 DKK = 0.14 USD, significantly more! All of a sudden I realised that I had spent MUCH MORE during my time in Copenhagen than I thought, and my trip across Denmark was going to be quite expensive. In fact a solo espresso was just under $4, and a tall filter was around $4.50, making Denmark the most expensive Starbucks city that I could think of. I was quite glad that there are only 14 stores for me to visit.
Upon arriving in Kolding, I walked over to the bus station and pulled up the DOT app to see if I could purchase a ticket, but I could not figure it out. The stops indicated on Google Maps were not found in the app, nor anything that made sense. I finally asked a group if anybody knew how to use the app, and the only person who responded told me that I should use the Sydtrafik app. Well, as much as I love having T-Mobile roaming coverage while abroad, it is still pretty darn slow, and apps take a long time to download. With no guarantee that I'd even get to work, it made more sense to hoof it. I managed the walk to Kolding Storcenter much faster than the 51 minutes that Google predicted, and I figure I actually arrived faster than I would have if I had waited for the 9:57 bus (if I had succeeded in purchasing a ticket).
Replaced my razor at Bilka and picked up some groceries, BUT NOT orange juice because given the true exchange rate, those prices were unaffordable. I don't care what my income is or how much I saved--I'm not paying that much for unknown quality juice, at least not when I expect to be in a less expensive place soon enough.
At the Starbucks I tried to figure out the Sydtrafik app, but every time I added my card for payment, then entered the confirmation code from Capital One, the screen would stay where it was--no option to move forward. I tried twice and then gave up and decided to suck up the ATM fees to get 400 DKK, which I estimated I would need for buses for the remainder of the day, with any extra spent at Starbucks and on food.
With cash in hand, I was able to take the 103 bus, which was the only option that Google Maps gave from the Kolding Storcenter up to Vejle. Vejle was easy, simply walk to the Starbucks and back, and then a quick train up to Aarhus, where the two Starbucks were also within walking distance. I took a brief detour up to the SkyWalk / Roof Garden at the top of the Salling department store (where the Starbucks was), because as I've written before (and in my book), I love views from tall structures. Did not dawdle too long, though, because I still held out hope that I might fly out from Aalborg that night.
That hope quickly faded when I returned to the Aarhus station, and my schedule fell apart. First, the originally scheduled departure for Aalborg was delayed by around 30 minutes. I used the time to go into the mall and get a burger, and then I returned to to station and found the correct platform with about 10 minutes to spare. Once a train arrived, I boarded and continued eating, but as I looked around I realised that the train was headed to Copenhagen, the opposite direction!
Not sure how I missed it, but my train had been on the same track, but further down, and I had missed it. Fortunately the next train was scheduled for less than thirty minutes later, but that time kept getting pushed back until around 16:10. I was relieved when I finally boarded, and it seemed almost guaranteed that I would be able to visit both Starbucks, because one closed at 19:00 and the other at 20:00. As we neared Aalborg, shortly before 18:00, I deviated from the Google Maps directions, which had me taking the train to the Aalborg station, then a bus down to Skalborg. Upon seeing that we were approaching Skalborg, I quickly calculated walking directions, and upon seeing they were only about 20 minutes, it made more sense to get off and walk.
Upon arriving at the Skalborg store, with nearly two hours to go before the other store closed, a little voice inside my head told me to chat with the baristas about the closing times, and one said that the other store closed at 19:00! I showed her my American app, which showed 20:00, and I explained that Google was often incorrect, BUT I still felt that it made no sense to risk it. A bus to the city centre was only about 20 minutes, so I hurriedly finished up at the store and rushed to the bus stop. Good thing, because the city centre store did in fact close at 19:00, and I arrived with barely ten minutes to spare.
When I learned that Aalborg had the second-largest airport in Denmark, I assumed that it was also the second biggest city and would of course have plenty of hostels, but I was mistaken. Not sure if any hostels do exist, but none showed up on HostelWorld or Booking. I could have searched outside of those sites, but after bad experiences with low-rating, or unrated places, and bedbugs, I thought it wiser to just take a $75 room in the city centre. Because of proximity, I'd save time and possibly leave the city earlier in the morning, and they also offered breakfast--I figure that was worth $15 if I ate a lot.
As an added bonus for my money, Hotel Jomfru Ane happened to be situated on Aalborgs principal street for night life, and I enjoyed walking up and down and taking in the vibe, which had a tiny hint of the types of busy streets I see in Asia.
After some wandering, I returned to my room to make plans for the next day. After a good half hour of searching, it appeared that either I would need to take a 7:00 AM flight, which I hate, or I would lose most of the day AND pay hundreds. I had assumed that I would lose most of the day if I took the train back across Denmark, but I searched anyway and discovered that I could be in Kiel by mid-afternoon, in time to visit the new Starbucks, and for MUCH less money.
September 14 (day 21)
Final morning in Copenhagen, and I was torn between rushing out of the city or visiting a number of craft coffeehouses and getting some breakfast to see if my cousins would end up returning to the city early enough so I did not blow my chance to get to Aarhus in time to check into a hostel. Remaining area Starbucks, Radhuspladsen, did not even open til 7:30, so I could not leave the city too early. April, a roaster I recognise, would not open until 10:00, so I headed over to Darcy's Cafe, a multi-roaster with a number of options new to me. I went with a Colombian coffee from Standout, and while it was not as good as the three I'd enjoyed on Wednesday, I was still four-for-four on Copenhagen coffee.
By the time I finished my coffee, the time was not that far away from 10:00 AM, and I had a craving for a proper breakfast with fried egg. The place across the street had egg on the menu, but they were soft-boiled. I then clicked on spot after spot in Google Maps looking for menus in English, but most were in Danish, so I decided to just walk from place to place to ask for English menus. I finally found what I wanted, a delicious brunch from Wulff & Konstali, fried egg, pan au chocolate, bacon, skyr, and smoothie bowl. Pricey, though, at $13.40. Since my cousin (and godmother) had insisted on picking up my lunch the previous day, however, I didn't feel so bad about spending a little extra.
Next up, April, a delightful space and excellent Kenyan coffee, and then I headed over to The Artisan for a final get-together with my cousins. Peruvian coffee this time, and I thoroughly enjoyed it but still only took half the amount, because I was already wired, and instead gave the rest to a cousin. I hung out with them until nearly 13:00, and by that point I had to get going and take the train down to Hundige to begin the a phase of Starbucking that is a bit of a grind, hopping off the train in a town, rushing to the Starbucks, then rushing back to the station to head to the next town. I could not find a rail pass just for Denmark, and a cousin confirmed that DSB does not offer one, which meant buying a ticket for each destination. Hundige was about $3, and Naestved about $7, so for those first two stores it seemed like my overall Denmark trip might end up being reasonable in cost.
Didn't take long, just the next station, for me to run into one of the delays that make Starbucking by train unpredictable. Those times shown to get to Odense, Kolding, Vejle, and Aarhus were meaningless because every change of train could cost me time. To get to Naestved from Hundige, I had to change at Koge, and that meant, at minumum, a 30-minute wait. But the train was delayed, and the wait turned into an hour.
Unsure of how long it would be before I reached Naestved, I did something I loathe, I paid to use the washroom at the station. Actually, to be honest, I might have tried to hold it, but the loo actually took a credit card, 5 kr, and I figured I might as well use a card for washroom access once in my life. Unfortunately, I got the order of operations wrong. I should have gotten lunch first (hot dog and chips at Xpress Kebab across the street) so that I could brush my teeth in the loo. Just another sign pointing to the sad reality that I am not actually a genius, nor an artificial intelligence. Later, at another station, I paid to use the restroom again, because the trip to Odense would take an hour, but when I entered I discovered that a man was using it BUT HAD NOT LOCKED THE DOOR. Then the train arrived, so I wasted the 5 kr, AND THEN I discovered that the IC trains have toilets, so I need not have paid at all. Grr...
That delay at Koge proved quite costly, because by the time I got to Naestved, visited the Starbucks, then looked up the time to Odense, I was going to be cutting it close. Then I realised that the instructions had me taking a LOCAL BUS to the main station, and I had forgotten to get any cash, after my cousin said during dinner that he did not carry any. I guess I was assuming I could make all the Starbucks visits without buses, but that was dumb.
Going back into the mall to try and find a currency exchange bureau, or take the $5+ hit from an ATM, would blow my schedule, but an older lady overheard me asking another lady if I could buy a bus ticket with a card, and after a few minutes she just went ahead and gave me 25 kr for the ticket, while the other one was also trying to help and looked up the DOT app that I could use. After all that, it appeared that I was going to miss the Starbucks anyway, by minutes!!!
Even so, as soon as I reached the Odense station I made double time (literally--I can usually cover a distance in half the walking time estimated by Google if I'm jogging, and faster in an all-out sprint), and I arrived at 19:06, but that was too late--the doors were shut. Fortunately, unlike Starbucks in the United States and Canada, the stores I have visited in the UK, Ireland, and now Denmark all keep their wifi accessible after the store have closed, and that made it easier to hop on Booking (nothing on HostelWorld) and reserve a room for the night. For the sake of time, I chose a more expensive room closer to the city centre--it was worth paying an extra $30 to avoid walking two hours (or figuring out the bus situation and paying for tickets).
The night's schedule failure was one of the consistent issues with Starbucking across a country (or Europe), by train--I always ran the risk of ending up in a town with no hostels and thus paying more for accommodations. On the other hand, I slept quite well and felt fully caught up by morning.
Slept a good ten hours, finally, and my headache was gone--once I got some coffee I figured I'd be good again. First task was to do laundry, however, because it had been nearly three weeks in Europe plus four days in Panama. Hostel had a laundry room, with relatively easy to use machines that accept credit, my first such experience. A little pricey, around $10, which is what I expected, but necessary. Alas, I made a common laundry mistake for me, forgetting items, in this case my long-sleeved shirt, and my black undershirt. Fortunately, I have not worn either that much because the weather has been warm, mostly just on flights.
First stop of the morning was the Frederiksberg Centret Starbucks, the other one not in the Cophengagen city centre, and I decided to try something local for food, skyr. My experiences with skyr in the United States had been negative (I was once kidnapped by an elemental monster named Skyr), but this one I had today was quite good, quite yoghurty with great berry flavour and nuts.
With only three more Starbucks, in the city centre, to go, I was able to follow my intended coffee tour plan of visiting indie cafes earlier, before coffee overload had killed my tastebuds. Cophenhagen/Denmark best coffee blogs and articles were multifold, so I went with a name I recognised, Coffee Collective. I happened to choose the roastery location, and the barista I spoke to was super friend as I explained that I only rarely saw European roasters in the United States but recognised Coffee Collective and wanted to try. The Ethiopia Worka, batch-brew, was great, and the barista was happy to offer recommendations.
One of his recommends was not coffee, but Juno the Bakery, and since I had time I figured why not. Great choice, because whatever I had, a vaniljesnurrer, was DELICIOUS. The place was packed, with a line out the door, and from some googling it appears that Juno is a popular spot.
From Juno I walked a few minutes to Prolog, where I had another excellent coffee, a Kenyan Githembe, and another good chat with a friendly Venezuelan barista who gave me some recommendations for Barcelona, where he had lived for a while.
Quick stop at the first on-the-street Starbucks I'd seen in Denmark, on Frederiksborggade, and then I headed towards Kongens Nytorv to meet my cousins and walk around the Nyhavn area with its beautiful coloured houses. I was famished, but I was also experienced enough to suggest getting off of the main thoroughfare next to the canal, and on a side street we found a pizzeria/kebab shop with reasonable prices. No washroom, which we needed, BUT Copenhagen has public toilets, another way in which this place beats many cities in the United States.
Checked out La Cabra, another roaster I recognised from select shops in America (and also from my visit to Prufrock a few days earlier). This shop shared space with Another Aspect, a clothing store, and did not have proper seating, so I could not hang out too long before departing for Starbucks where I could plug in.
Headed to Fisketorvet next because it was further out, with the expectation of finishing up at Radhuspladsen then meeting family in the city centre for dinner, but they changed the plan and decided to dine at Fields. Not a problem, because I could easily pick off Radhuspladsen in the morning without losing any time, on the way to Hundige and beyond.
Turned out that a public transport trip from Fisketorvet to Fields was not direct and went back towards the city centre, where I would likely deal with delays outbound, so I opted to walk back across the river and catch a different line. Arrived late, and then I somehow missed the pasta menu (at Milano, an ITALIAN restaurant), so I ordered a veal plate, and it was pretty large--I struggled to finish long after all the others had completed their meals.
We all went down to the Bilka One Stop where I picked up some groceries for the next day, and then I returned to the hostel to post photos and do some work on my website. I had a lot of Starbucks phone calls to make, but it was almost 22:00, so I opted to put them off to the next day, despite the fact that time is critical if I want to get accurate dates.
My final half day in Ireland was, as expected, a mad dash. I woke up super early and headed over to the Naas Starbucks to see if I could pick up the wifi. It did not work from any of the parking spaces, but I continued my record-keeping anyway until I saw a partner come out just before 6:30. I asked if the lobby would be open, and he replied that it would only be drive-thru UNTIL 8:00!!!
If it had been seven, I would have waited, but I could not burn an extra hour. Moreover, I could not get my cup discount through the drive-thru, and I also ended up losing 20 or more minutes because I entered the M7 in the wrong direction. Not a great start to my Irish coffee blitz.
I made it through Ashleaf and Belgard, picked up a yoghurt from Dunnes Stores (my first time shopping there), then reshot The Square Tallaght, and then it was time to head into the city centre and deal with traffic and parking.
Took a chance at loading zone to reshoot Bishop's Square, and then I made my way into a parking garage next to the Stephen Green's shopping centre. Once I found the Starbucks, I sorted out the issue of another store with the same name (it had existed, down the block, but closed), and I was able to get some additional closure info from that manager.
I managed to hoof it to three additional new stores, Grafton St, Westmoreland St, and Crampton Quay, as well as reshoot Chatham Row and also find another partner who had good closure info. Towards the end of my sprint, I got a notification from SAS about a 15-minute delay, and I had never been so relieved for a flight delay in my life!
Sprinted back to the parking garage, found a place to dump my pillows and blankets for an unhoused person to find (hopefully), and then I rushed to the airport and lucked out with a petrol station right on the way into the terminal. Car rental return went smoothly, but then I had to haul ass to Terminal 1. No passport control on the way out, which was surprising, and helpful, and security went smoothly. Boarding had not started yet, so I had time to find the T1 Airside Starbucks and speak to the supervisor who confirmed that airport stores at DUB are operated by SSP, but they MIGHT be taken over by EE in the future, in which case they would count for me.
Boarding had not yet started when I arrived at the gate, and I would have had time to eat, but I was so far behind on paperwork, my devices running low on power, that I decided to rely on my banana, apple, and Soylent Squared (if necessary). Outlets at a desk near gate did not work, but I still had enough laptop battery to get some work done and also charge my phone some.
Flight was quick and smooth, but no food, not even crackers, so I was famished when I arrived at CPH. I held off on food, though, because I was meeting family at a nearby mall. Instead, I very quickly tried to find the Starbucks still listed on the app, to confirm it is not run by Salling, Starbucks's primary partner in Denmark. I could not find that store, though, and information said that it used to exist but had closed years earlier. Later a supervisor at the Starbucks in the mall would echo this, as would my support centre contact.
Purchasing a train ticket to the Bilka Fields Mall was as easy as I had read, and the trip was just two stops, as my cousin had indicated. This was one of the quickest trips from airport in a new country to first Starbucks outside of the airport, and I was finally able to feel some excitement at adding a new country to my Starbucking count.
Danish Starbucks notes: No short filter size. 5 krone discount for my own cup, making it 31 for tall filter, or 27 for espresso. They have a Starbucks card, but the partner did not know how to load it because customers rarely request it, so I just used my credit card directly. I had not bothered to obtain cash because Denmark is highly card-centric, and I'll only be here for a day and half.
Family arrived not long after I reached the Starbucks, and we went up to the food court so I could eat. I was surprised that I got a burger and fries for under $10--I thought Denmark, especially Copenhagen, would have been more expensive.
Trip to the hostel and check-in were easy, although I experienced momentary confusion when I could not get into room 37... because I had misread a "1" for a "7"! I finally got a bottom bunk, my first in five nights in hostels, but no outlets in or near my bed. I was low on power but not too worried because I had spare time, and as soon as I unloaded some things, I returned to the lobby to catch up on paperwork. I then received a message from a PhD student doing a thesis on Starbucks, and we had a good conversation about the company. By that time it was nearly 21:00, although only 20:00 in UK/Irish time, and yet I had a really bad headache and felt exhausted. I called it a night, and in the morning my headache was gone.
I woke up super early, well before the sun had risen, which meant I needed to kill some time before I rephotographed the three stores in the Cork city centre. Unfortunately, I killed TOO MUCH time because of the maddening one way system that made it nigh well impossible for me to turn around. I intended to get some petrol to kill a few minutes, but the process of getting back to that station (the only one I saw) cost me a good 10-15 minutes, and by the time I parked and walked over to Alberty Quay, the sun had long since risen. I reshoot Princes and Opera as quickly as possible then sat in traffic to a new store, Blackpool Cork. The next three area reshoots went smoothly, and from Cork I headed to nearby Ballincollig to see a really cool store in a former ammunition depot.
That's when the driving got rough. Rather than being able to enjoy the Irish countryside on the way to Tralee, the most remote store on my list, I instead had to deal with narrow roads often barely wide enough for two vehicles. On top of that it was raining, and I just knew that if a car came speeding towards me and I had to brake hard, my Volkswagen was going to skid. As such, I drove much slower that the speed limit, and a trip that Google pegged at 1:38 turned into two hours. The worst part was when I found myself behind a long lorry hauling logs. The road was not wide enough for me to pass, and I had to follow that lorry for miles hoping that he would stop and allow to me to pass whenever there was a wider portion (like a driveway). I probably waited 15-30 minutes for that opportunity, and I have never been so relieved.
Something unexpected along that route, a garda (police) checkpoint, in some random town (if even that big) between Ballincollig and Millstreet. Only one officer, and he just glanced in my windows and told me I was fine to go--did not ask for a licence or passport.
I experienced momentary dismay upon walking into the Tralee store and seeing that the wifi network was named "STARBUCKS-FREE-WIFI". At all of the corporate stores in the UK, the wifi was named "StarbucksWifi", and the Irish stores run by EE also had that same network. In the past, a differnet wifi networks indicates that the store is operated by some other entity, and I feared that I had driven two hours, then another hour plus back, for nothing. Fortunately the manager was in store, and he confirmed that this store was also operated under the EE umbrella.
The manager at Tralee was a wealth of information, and as a result I probably spent more time at the store than I should have. I should have sucked it up and eaten fast food to save time, but I just could not bring myself to do that, and I instead drove 5 minutes into town and spotted a deli that served me up some delicious pork loin with mixed vegetables and mashed potatoes. The cook was in disbelief that I did not want gravy ("everybody likes gravy", he said), but I held firm. I did, however, accept some complimentary beef stroganoff.
As per usual, all the little delays added up, and by the time I reached Shannon, I felt I was probably not going to get to a drive-thru near Dublin that night. I would have to clear Limerick super quickly, but I arrived during the rush hour and lost at least thirty minutes just finding the parking garage. Even forcing myself to do all three city centre stores in one hour was not enough, and it was also disappointing because Limerick is cool, and I would rather have spent the afternoon there.
By the time I left Limerick, the only thing I could hope to accomplish was to return to the Kildare Outlet store to confirm that it had not moved again, and take a fresh photo. I barely got there before the centre shut it's doors. While the Starbucks app said 20:00 closing, that was incorrect--they had shut at 19:00.
The app said that the Naas store would open at 6:30, and if so, it would make sense to wisit, so I went over there (just 15 minutes, in the direction I was headed anyway), but unfortunately hours were not posted on the door. I asked a customer who was waiting for his son to finish work, but he was not sure. I decided to chance it and found camping in town.
For only the second time in my British/Irish urban camping history, I had to move because someone had noticed me. I found a really great spot, quite, off the main road, but shortly before I bedded down, someone parked behind me and went into the house. I thought that was the end of it, but a few hours later, when I woke up to use the restroom, I noticed that the man was standing outside his door, smoking. There was no way for me to hop into the back seat without being noticed, and I had no idea if he would just ignore me or make trouble, so I had to defrost the windows (which took 5+ minutes) and then go find another suitable area. Fortunately, Naas was big enough that I found a good spot.
Sunday was one of those tedious Starbucking days during which I was trying to balance many factors. Because it was Sunday, I knew that stores would be closing early, and that kept the pressure on to keep moving forward. I wanted to pick off as many Dublin area stores as possible, but I also wanted to make sure I got down towards Cork before those stores shut. I also needed to reshoot many stores because those photos were lost. I also wanted to gather my usual open/close data, and in Ireland this was more of a challenge for two reasons. First, many of the "new" stores had opened six or seven years earlier, shortly after my last trip (or I had missed them), and that meant that partners were unlikely to remember a date. In fact, not a single barista/supervisor/manager knew their opening date, and none offered to look. Additionally, EE (Entertainment Enterprises) and/or Tanrat (later I'd be given the name of a third company) were not active on social media, nor did they seem to be eager to promote openings, because articles were often lacking. As if all that weren't enough, I still had my usual North American opening/closing info to gather, and the 15-or-so minutes I lost trying to confirm the opening of a new store in Lancaster, PA, while dealing with rude baristas, did not help.
Querying baristas at each store did yield useful data, though, and I eveen met one at Shelbourne Road (not a relocation after all) who knew of my website and was eager to help.
Some of the reshoots cost me a ridiculous amount of time, and I figure I lost at least two hours because of that, especially going down to Blackrock, where parking was tight, and Dun Laoghaire, where street parking was nonexistent, so I had to park in a nearby garage and walk to both of the area's Starbucks (the third had closed down). I took advantage of the opportunity to order some lunch, so that saved time, but then I spotted Twobean Specialty Coffee, serving the barn, and I of course had to order a pour over. It was good, but not as great as my past experiences with The Barn, and I did not appreciate the way that the owner(?) responded to my expression of enthusiasm about seeing that they were serving The Barn. Maybe my perspective is off, but I think that shop owners should appreciate when a customer is passionate about what they offer and echo that enthusiasm back.
The reshoots in Blackrock and Dun Laoghaire cost me so much time that by the time I got out to a new store, in Bray, I was concerned about reaching Cork that evening, but I still had to do my paperwork. The next store, at the Bridges in Arklow, was about an hour away, and as I approached and looked up directions to the next one, in Waterford, I realised I wasn't going to make it! In fact, I still had to rush in and out just to make it to Dungarvan just minutes before they closed. I will add that as I looked for the store, I asked a security guard and an employee where the Starbucks was, and they both said it was closed--important lesson not to trust what people say.
Dungarvan was it for the night, so I slowed down and got my usual Chinese takeaway next door, chicken and sweet corn soup + egg fried rice, and I sat down to book my hostel for Copenhagen. As soon as I did so, on Hostels.com, I got an email from the hostel, Sleep in Heaven, with a restriction I'd never dealt with before--NOBODY OVER 35 IN THE DORM!!! I had known in the back of my mind that some hostels had age restrictions, but I had forgotten, and now that I was 50+, I expected to have to deal with this. I had not bothered to check the rules, but at least I was able to cancel except for the website deposit. I then made sure to check the rules for the other options and booked a different one.
Drove the relatively short distance to Cork and found some parking with relative ease.
With my flight to Dublin booked for 18:10 out of LHR, this was my final day in London, and I wasted no time trying to sleep any more and was up well before 7 and on the way to the only remaining store open early, on Warren Street, but when I got there I discovered that the next logical store would not open until 8, so I had to wait. That next store was a gorgeous one in Camden, BUT because of a delay on the Northern Line, there was nobody at the store at 8. I took some photos then walked to the older Starbucks near the station to see if any partners had heard anything, and they told that about the Northern Line delay.
I wasn't sure how much time I was willing to kill to pick up that store, but at minumum I could get some breakfast from Pret-a-Manager and use their loo (Starbucks did not have one, like many in London), and when I walked back in the direction of the new store I saw that two partners were inside, setting it up. I still had to wait, 15-30 minutes, much better than if I had returned to more central London to visit those stores then back to Camden.
This new Camden store also did not have a loo, so I caved and had a croissant from Pret just to use their loo, and then I headed down to High Holborn 14, where the two partners were helpful in identifying opening dates and closed stores. At that point I remembered to check for craft coffee, and the London Coffee Festival map reminded me about Prufrock, which was just seven minutes away. Even though I like adding new craft coffeehouses to my list, Prufrock is just too darn good, and I had to head over, for my fifth visit, to see what coffees they were offering--I was not disappointed.
I did add one more indie to my list, Monmouth Coffee Company, conveniently located just a few doors down from the Monmouth Starbucks, and as I walked towards Marble Arch I got lucky again and stumbled across my London ramen experience, Kanada-Ya Ramen Bar, just minutes from opening.
Marble Arch was a spectacular Reserve store, and the supervisor was quite helpful with closure info. From there it made most sense to the Westfield at Shepherd's Bush, and there I made an interesting discovery. The first Starbucks I encountered was the older kiosk, except that it did not look familiar. Once I got up to the new store, the Reserve one, I looked up my photo of the old, and it looked quite different. After completing my visit of the new store, I went back downstairs and talked to some partners to try and sort things out. They were all relatively knew, and none of them remembered the old kiosk, but they agreed that it was different and appeared to have been moved. That was good enough for me--according to my rules if the kiosk is replaced and/or moved, then it should count as a new store, even though it will usually have the same ID and store number. Unfortunately, there are countless of these types of upgraded kiosks that I will never know about because Starbucks does not usually give them new IDs.
By the time I sorted out the kiosk issue, I was starting to become concerned about my trip to the airport (sometimes there are delays), but I still had to visit one more store, on Earls Court Road 203 , and also try to learn whether 185, just down the block, had ever existed. It had, so I added it to my missed stores table, and then I picked up a quick banana at Sainsbury's (no loose apples) and skirted over to the tube station that was conveniently on the Picadilly line already.
No delays to the airport, and I arrived well before 16:00 for an 18:10 flight, and that gave me time to investigate two things. First, even though I had checked in, I went to the Aer Lingus counter anyway to have my backpack weight. The reason I had gone with the more expensive Aer Lingus (about about £50 plus another ten for carry-on) was because I wasn't sure if my pack was under 10 kg and of the proper dimensions to meet Ryan Air's requirements. With Ryan Air, if you don't pay extra for carry-on in advance and they have to check at the airport, they charge £95!!!
Well, my pack was only 8.8 kg (and I could easily get that down by wearing my undershirt and shirt, and dumping the water/food), and the agent immediately said it would be fine for under the seat (my pack usually is). Of course I inquired about a refund for the £10, but there was no Aer Lingus customer service at the airport. I would have to make a call, and no way was I going to endure that hassle for just ten pounds.
Super fast flight to Dublin, which was great because the plane had no outlets (I expected more from Aer Lingus), but then I lost some time because the immigration agent was suspicious, due to my not having accommodations nor a flight out of Dublin. He was finally persuaded, and I was soon in my rental car, a Volkswagen Polo. Good thing was that the Bluetooth worked for my iPod, but the bad thing was once again figuring out another set of controls. The drive out of the airport was awkward at first, but within ten minutes, by the time I got to the Omni Starbucks, which I needed to rephotograph, I was already more comfortable. Wish I had not lost time at immigration or figuring out the car, though, because even 15 minutes earlier would have yielded a better photo.
Headed over to a Tesco Superstore for bedding, and then drove around looking for a suitable place to park. Sleep was rough in part because the rear seatbelt connectors were protruding into my back. I first used my small towel for padding, but later I had to end up using the duvet, too. Worse sleep than the wretched MG3.
Despite all the coffee I'd had later in the day, I did not wake up so much during the night, and I slept until just past 7--I needed it and felt no need to short myself even if that meant missing out on some Irish stores.
Sorted out the Clapham Junction situation and walked from PubLove to that store, and then back to check out the first Whole Foods that I remember seeing in the UK. This store was relatively small, with a main room that felt tiny, but two others that added to the space. I was surprised that fresh juice was only £3.49--I expected much higher. No hot bar, nor breakfast, so I picked up a yoghurt to go with the juice and continued on towards Battersea Power Station. Initially I was going to walk the whole way, but I made a snap decision to hop on a bus. In the past, I avoided buses because I did not know where they were going, but with specific directions on Google Maps, it was easier to save a few minutes, and worth the cost.
While at Clapham Junction I finally googled for best coffee, specifically for a map, and I stumbled across the London Coffee Festival website. Their map was great and identified a number of cafes in the areas where I would be traveling. The first was in the same direction I was already walking, BUT, like many cafes I will encounter in the UK, Europe, and throughout the world, they did not serve filter coffee.
Maps and blogs are useful, but as always, in a city as large and dense as London, I was likely to pass coffeehouses while walking around. The previous day I had stumbled across Curious Roo's, but they just happened to have run out of filter. Today I passed by District, serving Origin, a coffee I'd enjoyed in Birmingham. I popped in, and actually I was served Radical Roasters instead--not bad.
After the Nine Elms Starbucks I headed down to Coffee Studio 7Gr., moand the barista there was more than eager to chat about their coffee, Lot Zero from Italy. I liked the vibe of the place, larger than District and quieter, and I wished that I had more time in London so I could really take in all these coffeehouses. The Chemex-brewed natural Nicaraguan coffee was excellent, in the top third of the UK coffees on this trip so far.
As good as Google Maps transport direction are, sometimes it shows directions that do not appear optimal. From Coffee Studio it wanted me walk all the way up to Oval to catch the Northern Line, but I was able to use the Stockwell station instead and get back to Balham (to reshoot the store) with no issues.
I wasn't sure how easily I could get from Balham out to Streatham Hill, and I was expecting a hassle, a few transfers, but instead I lucked out and happened to be at a Southern Line train station. Different from the Tube, but my Oyster Card still worked. I was then able to use the Southern Line to get to Sydenham, and then the Overground to get to New Cross Gate, and at that point I was close enough to central London to use the regular Underground and walk.
Lost time due to a bagel craving, and also at the Shard Arcade store figuring out if it was actually new, and these delays almost cost me the opportunity to get to Fenchurch and Moorgate, two stores in a part of London known as The City, where businesses shut down early (because the offices have closed). Fortunately, I made it with a few minutes to spare, which was great because the managers/supervisors at both stores were able to help me figure out some closed stores.
With no more stores in the area still open, I called it a night and headed over to Mikkeller Brewpub to meet a Time Crisis/Starbucking fan who worked there and comped me a ginger beer, then gifted me a Mikkeller passport. Good thing I did not arrive later, because the place was starting to get slammed because of a rugby match. By the time I finished my drink and we took a selfie, the space was overwhelmingly crowded, and I was anxious to get out of there and head to the hostel.
After a day and a half of carrying my backpack whenever I was walking, I was truly appreciating the lighter laptop, lighter camera, and my choice to trim every ounce of weight I could, including packing just two spare shirts. I wondered if I could have trimmed more, like only packing one washcloth, or no small towel, but the truth is both of those had come in really handy during the two weeks in the car. Same for three extra briefs and socks, rather than just two.
Packing as light as possible was also important in helping me keep track of my things. My great fear was losing items, and in fact I had a recurring dream about losing my backpack.
After three nights in hostels, I experience my first weird moment when I woke up in the morning to discover that the young man whom I'm met the night before was sleeping with his briefs half off! No idea how that happened, but it appeared that one leg of the briefs was still on, but the other off. Hard to tell, actually, because I wasn't about to stare at him, but at a glance it was not obvious how that might have happened.
September 7 (day 14)
Final day in the rental car, and I stumbled across a shocking realisation. I drove down to the Hayward Heath Starbucks, which opened early, before the Sainsbury's, and although I wanted to make the best use of the car, my phone was close to empty, so I had to stay and charge it while catching up on my record-keeping. As I uploaded photo and generated webpages, I noticed that I had the new Haywards Heath and East Grinstead stores designated as "UnitedKingdom\West", but I did not have "West" in my Metroplexes table. Should have been "WestSussex", actually, and after I fixed the two stores, I ran a filter to see what other stores I had in WestSussex, and that's when my jaw dropped!
I ALREADY HAD THE HAYWARD HEATH and EAST GRINSTEAD SAINSBURY'S STARBUCKS IN MY DATABASE, and I immediately thought that this was another Taplow situation, but much more expensive because the detour south to those stores had cost me many hours that I could have used to go out to Wales. I immediately pulled my old photos, and that's when things got weird, because the photos I was looking at looked nothing like the Hayward Heath and East Grinstead Starbucks of today. If they had been relocated, that would be great--two more stores to my count. However, my contact at the Support Centre repored that they had only been relocated, so I was doubtful. What I needed was to find someone who had lived in those towns for fourteen years and could verify one way or the other.
I also lost some time trying to use the Sainsbury's travel money (currency exchange) service, to get a better deal than Eurochange, but just like Eurochange, the good rate was only available online, AND in addition, only by using a bank card--no cash. Since I wanted to use cash, that did not work for me. What I ended up doing instead was using No1 Currency Exchange just a few minutes from the Ealing Broadway Starbucks--the rate I got was better than the Eurochange rate from a few days earlier.
I had planned for more stores on the way back to the airport, but by the time I left Haywards Heath and fought the traffic up to Croydon, I was running low on time. I was thus relieved when a chat with the supervisor revealed that the next store on my map, in Kingston-upon-Thames, was a phantom one, no longer on the app. Moreover, the supervisor said that it might be an experimental store he had heard about that would be a joint venture between Starbucks and a franchise partner. I wondered how this would affect my future UK Starbucking, but I did not have time to worry about it.
Took a loooong time to drive to the Budger rental return center, including a long stop for petrol and to pack, but I still made it on time. I was worried if I'd be charged for the additional scrapes on the wheel, but I made a point of explaining that this MG3 car was one of the worst I'd ever rented, and I listed much of what was wrong with it. As I hoped, the manager, as a courtesy, decided not to charge me for the wheel.
I flirted with the idea of carrying my blanket and sheet around London with me so I could use them in Ireland, but as soon as I got out of the rental car and grabbed the blanket, I realised this was a stupid idea and left it in the trunk along with the pillows. I took the sheet, rolled up, in my arm, but when I got to the terminal I decided I really wanted my hands free, only my phone, so I tried stuffing it in my backpack. I walked around a bit like that, but it just felt too bulky, so I ditched the sheet too. Not worth the additional hassle, or even the risk that in fumbling with the sheet I might drop or forget my phone, or some other item.
Surprised that my Oyster Card from 2016 still works! My NYC Metro Cards stop working after just a year or two, maybe less. I wondered if my half dozen or so cards from other countries, like Turkey and Singapore, would still work if/when I returned.
Since I had only managed two (or one, not counting Hayward's Heath) stores in the morning, I tried to make the most of the afternoon in London, stopping only to get cash, eat, and research store data, mostly opening dates, some closing dates, and some "phantom" stores. This process involved a lot of googling for articles, tweets, Instagram or other posts, reviews, as well as talking to partners. The latter rarely yielded useful info because of the relatively high turnover at London Starbucks (I seek partners who have been with the company a while), and also because, like NYC, London Starbucks tend to be busy, and most baristas will not wrap their heads around why this strange American is asking questions.
Rushing aside, I was thrilled to finally be back in London, not in a rental car, and walking around the city, a process that I absolutely love. Walking in general is much better than driving, because I can see more, and in London, just as NYC, there is just SO MUCH TO SEE. I did, however, take the tube and buses whenever possible, for the sake of time, and I was finding that the Google Maps public transport directions had gotten even better than I remembered.
Not sure which was greater, my joy at being back in London, or my relief at finally getting a shower and sleeping in a relatively quiet space where I could stretch out. The PubLove hostel was tiny and cramped (shower/toilet combo, for example), but I did not care. It was in the area that I needed to be, and cheap enough, with a reasonably high score, and that was good enough for me.
Wednesday morning was a mad dash across four Starbucks, from Benthal Green to Shoreditch to Dalston (two). Speed was critical to avoid parking restrictions and the increasing level of traffic heading in towards central London. By the time I finished at Dalston and began headed outbound, I could see inbound queues everywhere.
With five coffees in me in about 90 minutes (including the one from the night before), I was happy to take a break and rephotograph stores, starting with Leyton Mills from the night before, then Stratford Westfield and two at Canary Wharf. Those were stores that I had photographed in 2016, but after my trip my laptop had been stolen, and I lost the originals.
While I do value having original images of each store, I lost WAY TOO MUCH TIME on those reshoots. First, I accidentally ended up in the Blackwall Tunnel (under the Thames), and while the trip outbound was speedy, traffic inbound was naturally backed up. Parking at Westfield took time, of course, and then I took some time to try and discover the opening date for the kiosk, which I had somehow neglected to discover in 2016. During that process, I experienced a rare reaction from the supervisor who treated me with suspicion, sharply saying "WHY?" when I asked if she remembered when the kiosk had opened. Since there was another location on the lower ground floor, I took some additional time to speak to the supervisor of that store and explain what happened so that he could communicate to the other partner that she should not speak to customers like that.
Canary Wharf was also time consuming, as I first could not find the parking garage, and then I could not find the South Collonade Starbucks. By the time I set out for actual new Starbucks in Beckton, the morning was getting away from me, and my notion of making it out to Wales that day was disappearing. I tried to speed things up by ordering pizza for lunch while I visited a nearby Starbucks, and by forgoing a lot of record-keeping, BUT I still had one non-Starbucking priority, watching the latest (and most excellent) episode of 'Ahsoka'. Delays added up, and by the end of the day, I would end up realising that I would miss the Hayward's Heath Starbucks, by about FIFTEEN MINUTES.
Since I wasn't going to make it to Hayward's Heath, I took the opportunity to sate the persistent hunger that hovered around me during my trip, with some Chinese food in East Grinstead, and then I lucked out with a really quiet spot to camp, and warm weather.
Tuesday was a finally push towards London on Tuesday, where I hoped to pick off some stores that would be time-consuming to reach by train/bus, plus ones well east and south of London, before heading over to Wales during the final day in my rental car. The total distance was not that long, but all of the tasks that I had to do at each Starbucks were inevitably time-consuming. I lost precious minutes, sometimes 5+, every time I tried to inquire and search about a store openening/closing date, but the best chance to obtain accurate information has always been when I was in store. The exception is when the info is online, but if I wait until later to search, and I don't find it, I have lost my opportunity.
In Coventry I gave in to hunger and took nearly an hour of my schedule to sit down and have an Afghan meal, with the rationale that I was also charging my phone, something I had to do anyway. Keeping the phone charged was a challege because I had chosen to only carry one UK adapter, which meant that if I was using the computer (almost always), I had to plug the phone into the laptop, which does not charge it as fast. I had a similar issue with my camera battery, except that I could not plug that into my laptop. What I had to do instead was take the photo immediately, then plug the battery charger in while I went to the loo or did shopping. With this technique I hoped to keep it charged enough until I was out of the car and in hostels (where I could charge at night).
I also took a detour in Cambridge to check out Hot Numbers, a craft coffeehouse that looked interesting, but that stop was relatively brief because my car was sticking out of the parking space because I still have not mastered the art of parallel parking while sitting on the right side of the car. I have trouble seeing behind me, and I cannot judge the distance from the curb correctly.
In Hoddesdon I encountered only the second partner (both at Sainsbury's), who noticed me taking the photo and was concerned that she not appear in it.
Made it back to London, and I was immediately of why driving is a LIABILITY in this city, not an asset. Lost time finding the first Starbucks, in Tottenham Hale, then parking, and those delays cost me the chance at a daylight photo of the next store, at the Leyton Mills Retail Park. At that point I had to take a pause from the rushing and work on my record keeping until the store closed at 21:00, and then I decided to find parking in the direction of London so I could visit several outlying stores before the parking restrictions went into effect.
As I had hoped, and similar to my first night, the temperature in the city was a bit warmer, and that was quite helpful because it is hard to find any isolated parking in London, which means that I do not want to turn the engine on in the middle of the night to attract attention. Didn't have to, and in fact I was able to remain in my shorts and t-shirt, no thermal underwear.
I woke up hoping to make it all the way to that missed store in Coventry, but at the same time I wanted to take the opportunity of being in Newcastle, a fairly sizeable city, to add another craft coffeehouse to my list. I had to wait until 8 AM of course, but I was easily able to kill the time by going to a Starbucks in the city centre for some porridge and then catching up on my record-keeping and blogging. The wait was worth it, and Pink Lane Coffee was delicious and delightful. On the way, however, I encountered yet another of those UK driving issues that flummox me. A lorry was blocking the only car plane, and in order to go around it I would need to enter the bus lane. Many cities have bus lane cameras, and I have received a penalty before, so I was skittish and finally went only after the lorry behind me began honking. As I passed, I asked the driver of the unloading lorry about the penalty, and he said that cameras had been taken down. However, a barista from Pink Lane told me that was incorrect.
The Sunderland relocation took a lot of time. First I had to find the parking structure, and then figure out how to get from the garage into the building, which involved actually going out onto the street. Then I had to wait for the end of a customer service meeting that was taking place next to their kiosk, which was next to the Starbucks. Finally, I had run out of cash, but Eurochange was conveniently located around the corner from Starbucks.
I then detoured to Durham, an older Starbucks noteworthy because it was one that I wisited in a hurry a decade earlier in 2012, as I rushed to a Scrabble tournament in Coventry. According to the website, the store should have opened at 8 AM, but they were still closed, and I thought I'd have to abandon it. I was able to waive a barista over, who reported that the hours had been changed, BUT he was kind enough to sell me a coffee so I could check the store off my list. I was NOT able to go inside, however, and I've been waiting all this time for another opportunity. Going inside is NOT one of my Starbucking rules, but I still like to, if possible.
I lost more time in Leeds futzing with glitching wifi, and also having a good chance with the baristas at Crown Point who showed me a cool conference room that the store has. Additionally time lost when I could not find the parking lot for the White Rose Sainsbury's, and by the time I got on the M1 to Worksop, I was doubting that I'd make it Coventry. Then I ran into my longest highway delay in all my time driving in the UK, nearly an hour due to a horrific wreck that left half of a small car a burnt-out husk. By the time I reached Worksop, Coventry was out of the question, and even Loughborough and Leicester looked doubtful.
The manager of Worksop proved a fountain of information, and even clued me into a brand new Derby store that I had left off my map, and at that point I abandoned my plans to get to Loughborough and decided to go into Worksop to find a proper meal. Even that took longer than expected, and I still had to rush to make it to the first Derby store, a relocation, at the Derbion Centre (formerly Intu). That was another situation because the parking structure did not issue tickets, and I struggled to figure out how to pay and get out. Pressing the button on the pay machine for help did not work, and I finally had to involve three security guards.
Woke up early, as per usual, and downed my saved coffee from the previous night during the two-hour drive into Edinburgh. I was eager to get through two outlying stores and into the city centre before it got too crowded, but I had a lot of record-keeping and blogging to complete, with my Time Crisis appearance as the highlight.
By the time I did make it into the city centre and found parking, I only had about thirty minutes before free parking ended at 12:30, and I did my best to rush to a craft coffeehouse, Lowdown, and then the new Starbucks. Lowdown was busy, as I expected, but so was the Starbucks, which ended up being Edinburgh's flagship store, and by the time I got out of there with a solo espresso in my tumbler, the time was 12:29. Despite the heat, I double-timed it and made the trip in about eight minutes, no ticket, but I paid for this in the form of becoming even more gamey, and later on, feeling a pain in my calves and thighs (since I'd not run in about three weeks).
I even had time to pop into one more craft coffeehouse conveniently located right across the street from my car, and I managed to get back to my car before a parking agent walked over. I had hoped to clear Newcastle and Sunderland on Sunday, but when I arrived at Fort Kinnaird and saw how busy the retail park was, I abandoned any thought of rushing south and just took my time covering the remaining two stores in Edinborugh.
In Newcastle I learned that yet another store, the sixth overall, was phantom (not yet built, perhaps never), but I nonetheless needed to overnight and wait for Sunderland, which had closed at 16:00. This is typical of my Starbucking Sundays while overseas, because it many places, especially the UK, Starbucks (and other shops) will close quite early.
I did not mind so much, because I had not had a sit-down meal in days, and I took the opportunity to head over to the Jesmond suburb, recommended by a couple of baristas, and there I found my first ramen spot of the trip. It wasn't great, but the staff was friendly, and I appreciated slowing down and catching up on some tasks before bedding down next to a nearby park.
Seven new Starbucks in Glasgow and East Kilbride, and I wanted to get to them as quickly as possible, preferrably by noon, to improve my chances of getting up to Aberdeen and back by nightfall. Still, I took a little time out to chat with Time Crisis/Starbucking fan in Braehead, and then to check out two craft coffeehouses in the city centre, Laboratorio Espresso and Outlier.
Didn't get on the way to Aberdeen til after 14:00, and even to manage that I had to debase myself by eating from KFC to save time. I eschew fast food back in the States, and I certainly don't want to eat that crap while abroad, but the rigourous nature of my aggressive Starbucking ambitions meant that I would have to compromise.
Despite the fact that I was sleeping better, or so I thought, I found myself getting sleep during a motorway drive for the second time in two or three days. I really wanted to nap at a parking area, but I did not want to have to overnight in Aberdeen, which I assumed would be colder than Edinburgh. I pushed on and managed to get to all five new Starbucks and complete some other tasks, and I even had time to pick up some Indian food.
Some bad news though, a barista at one of the stores says that he thinks the stores that do not offer filter coffee are a trial for a wider expansion. He is expecting that the UK will be doing away with filter altogether, but I hope he is wrong.
Couldn't bear to depart Manchester without visiting at least one craft coffeehouse, but I had to find one open early, and I did not want to deal with city centre parking. I lucked out with B'spoke, on the way to the Stockport Starbucks, which turned out to be my best indie experience of the previous week. Barista was super friendly and eager to talk coffee, and the brew itself was my best cup so far in England.
Spotted my first Tim Horton's of this UK trip, and I could not resist checking out their menu. Upon noticing pancakes, I had to try them, and they were as mediocre as expected. Something interesting was that this Tim Horton's, like McDonald's, is pushing customers to order using an electronic display, although they will still take orders at the counter (but not cash). On a related note, this location was in a parking lot controlled by one of the companies that uses registration plate readers to detect entry and exit, with the threat of a penalty if one does not pay. No idea if I could just rush in and out with my food, as I could do in the past, so I had to go ahead and pay a pound, which, for a $3.49 food purchase, is quite a lot.
After rushing rushing rushing for all of Thursday afternoon and evening, I finally slowed down, at the Stockport Starbucks, and caught up on myriad tasks.
At the Ashton Moss Starbucks I was recognised by a fan, a barista, for the first time of this trip--he had been following my Instagram and knew I was in the area.
Finally sat down for a proper English breakfast--egg (poached, I think), sausage, bacon, toast, baked beans, and something called potato rosti. Would have been nice to enjoy this at a local cafe instead of an M&S Cafe, but time was beginning to become an issue, and M & S was right next to Starbucks.
The drive to my first new Scottish store in eight years, in Prestwick, was longer than I expected, partly due to queues, partly due to distance, and partly due to missing an exit and ending up on a slower road. Still, I made it before nightfall, although it did not matter because that store was fully inside Sainsbury's, no door to the outside. Still, I had time to grab a quick Chinese dinner and then make it back to Glasgow to overnight, where I once again slept pretty well.
My eighth day in the UK began with my biggest mishap of the tour so far, due to a data error that I did not even know to look for. Over time I had learned that the database that drives the Starbucks app and website contains countless error, and I already knew to check for incorrect addresses, countries, or renamed stores. What HAD NOT occurred to me, however, was that ownership codes might be wrong, and that is exactly what happened with the store in Bangor. Only after driving around 75 minutes into Wales and entering the store was I clued into the mistake, when the wifi network was not "StarbucksWifi". I immediately spoke to the supervisor, and she confused me further because she was referring to the store as "equity", which was the opposite of how partners in England were using the term, which means "company-owned" in Starbucks-speak. She offered to contact the district manager, and I hoped to speak with them to try and see if there was any other relevant info on this topic. Meanwhile, I dove into my database and discovered that the cause of the discrepancy was quite simple--when the store was initially entered into the database, the ownership code of CO was used, and later it was fixed to FR, but I did not know to check for this.
About two and a half hours of driving, plus around thirty minutes sorting out the discrepancy, plus petrol--a significant cost. PLUS, the most important cost was that those three hours would ended up costing me real Starbucks.
I encountered more data issues later in the day, but they were not as costly. I had three stores with newer IDs plotted on my map around Manchester, and two of those had fallen off the website since I made my map back in January. It did not make sense that the stores had closed so quickly, and when I spoke to a number of partners, I learned that these stores had not yet opened (and might never). This was actually a relief--fewer stores to visit--and the only thing I lost was some time wandering around Salford Capital Quay looking for an apparently nonexistent drive-thru Starbucks.
Because of the delays, I did not clear greater Manchester on Thursday, BUT I did manage to visit the two relocations in the city centre, and without getting a parking ticket, despite making a huge mistake. I neglected to snap an image of where I parked, and as I rushed to the second store I realised my error and began to panic that I would not be able to find my car in time. Fortunately, in the 10 minutes that I was over time, I was not ticketed. Additionally, I even managed to make it up to the Manchester Fort location, and on top of that I found parking in an industrial area nearby, and I managed to sleep better.
All told, except for Bangor and having to settle for a hamburger when all other eateries appeared to be closed (in the town of Sale, where I felt so famished that I just could not tolerate any more coffee without getting some food in me).
August 30 (day 7)
Thanks to the bed, I slept until nearly 8, and I definitely felt better, but, oddly enough, later that day during a long motorway drive to Stoke-on-Trent, I had to fight through persistent sleepiness. Despite my later start, I still undertook a mini tour of three Birmingham craft coffeehouses--Urban Cafe, Saint Kitchen, and Under Pressure Espresso. With 8-12 ounces of coffee from each, I was hellah wired for much of the afternoon, and I did not mind so much that I only got to seven Starbucks today.
In Dudley I took at brief detour into the Merry Hill Center to exchange dollars for pounds at Eurochange, and I discovered an oddity, that I needed to register the transaction online in order to obtain the best rate, then go to the branch to make the actual exchange. Later I would realise that car rental agencies also charge a higher rate for walk-ups, so the idea was not that strange after all.
Finally had my obligatory fish and chips from Island House, a place I spotted on the way to Stoke-on-Trent, and I had forgotten just how many chips these places serve--soooo many carbs. Something new, though, peas, mostly mashed, that came with the order.
I continued to encounter more stores that did not offer filter coffee on the menu, which forced me to order espresso, and I have no doubt that this was contributing to my difficulties sleeping--another rough night, this time in Ellesmere Port, where the new Starbucks would be in the morning.
I had hoped to clear all of the Starbucks in greater Birmingham on Tuesday, but by choice, accident, and circumstance, I lost too much time. First, I opted to sleep as much as possible (strategic, to bolster my immune system) and I did not force myself up until around 8:15. I then returned to the previous night's Starbucks for a fresh photo, and when I was finally underway to Coventry, too far to return, I realised that I had LEFT MY PLUG ADAPTOR!!!
Leaving my plug adaptor plugged in has been a mistake that has plagued me for the decades I have been traveling overseas. In fact, just in the last five days, I had almost left it twice already. Actually, I did in Kempshott, and the mistake almost cost me the chance to visit the new Southampton store that night, but I caught my error when I was just a few minutes away. I almost left it again the next day, and I you'd think I would have learned, but I still had a lot of trouble remembering to pull the adaptor out of the socket, rather than my laptop's charger outof the adaptor.
After stopping at the first Starbucks, Binley, I discovered that I should have gone to Crosspoint first, AND THEN I discovered that I did not have the newest store, Arena Park, plotted, and thus my route was even more suboptimal. Then, as I headed to Boots to look for a plug adaptor (I had found those there during earlier trips), I missed the exit. Rather than turning around, I continued on to the Crosspoint Starbucks and tried at Tesco, but they did not have it, and then Home Bargains--no luck. I finally found it at a different Boots, in Arena Park, and by that time I had lost quite a lot of time.
Up in Birmingham, my laptop seemed to be having trouble with the wifi at the first store in the area, in Solihull. I tried at the next store Maypole, and I had the same problem. Problems connecting my computer or my iPod, or any device, to Starbucks wifi, is not uncommon, and I should not have worried, but for some reason I got it into my head that my laptop's wifi card might be glitching, and I decided to try at Sainsbury's. Unfortunately their wifi, supplied by O2, requires a code to be texted, and I never received it, so I tried again at a McDonald's down the road. That delay probably cost me 20 minutes, and the adaptor delay at least 40, maybe more--definitely over an hour.
Well, by the time I was ready to head to the Amblecote store, in a Sainsbury's, I discovered it would close at 19:00, in just 22 minutes, and the drive was 29, at least--if I had not lost all that time, I could have checked that store, and Dudley, off my list. Probably not the other two Sainsbury's Starbucks, not without having sacrificed sleep, but every bit of time saved helps.
Oh, and I also missed the Fairfax Avenue store in Coventry because it was closed due to a maintenance issue. Another glitch was that at the A38 store, I was told by the supervisor that they did not serve filter coffee at all, nor would they serve me an Americano for the price of a short filter coffee. Up until that point, every other store had either been willing to brew filter if they did not have it, or serve me an Americano at the cheaper price. Without this option, I had to settle for the next cheapest thing, a shot of espresso, at 2.25, minus .25 for the personal cup. West Bromwich was also like this, and I wondered how many such stores I would encounter. The issue for me is that the shot of espresso contains more caffeine than the 4 ounces of filter coffee, and this would affect my sleep.
Nonetheless, I made it to nine stores today, eleven in a 24-hour time frame, and I really do not regret having prioritised sleep. Doing that probably helped stave off a headache which was starting to come on because of hunger.
In other good news, with the jetlag and fatigue past me, and Scrabble out of the way, I was starting to feel a persistent, low-level bliss due to the recognition that I was finally back in the UK, a nation that I love dearly. I was also feeling grateful that I'd been able to make the trip at all, given my family sitation, COVID-19, and the general state of the world.
After West Bromwich I headed to the Birmingham Central Backpackers hostel. Typically I would not pay for a hostel if I have a rental car, but I needed a strong wifi connection, and a quiet space, for a radio interview. Fortunately, unlike in London, where hostels can be pricey, this dorm bed was only £20.
Fifth day, jetlag pretty much gone, and I once again woke up early enough to take care of some things. Waitrose was closed, unfortunately, but that turned out to be a good thing because it prompted me to head over to the Marks & Spencer Food Hall, where I was thrilled to find that they still serve the Devon scones (called "plain" scones). I also got that fresh picture of the Midsummer Place Starbucks, but no luck on my final task of the morning--Out of Office Coffee was closed.
As a result, I ate my lunch hurriedly and had just enough time to rush back to Out of Office and check out their cafe. Coffee wasn't great, but in order to discover the great coffees, I have to put in the effort to give them a try. Fortunately I had only lost fifteen seconds off my clock when I returned for my Round 22 game. Unfortunately I lost the game. Fortunately, I won my final two and came in ninth, better than expected. And all this while managing my usual Monday task of verifying Starbucks store openings and closings. This was going to be quite a challenge during this trip, more so than in the past, for two reasons. One, the level of North American openings was higher than when I had last traveled overseas. Two, I was also tracking closings more diligently, and this was critically important for identifying relocations. All this effort was going to chew up A LOT of time, and thus cost me money, but I had no choice.
As soon as Scrabble prizegiving finished, I rushed up to Bedford because, to my surprise, the Starbucks was still open, even on a bank holiday. My past experiences in the UK were that I often had to stop earlier than I hoped in the evenings because of early closures. It was looking like this had changed, at least as far as Starbucks was concerned. Not only was the Bedford lobby open until 22:00, but the drive-thru was open 24 hours. In fact, as I had already noticed several other 24-hour drive-thrus, and I suspect this is going to be more common throughout the UK than in the United States.
After Bedford I rushed up to Northampton. Actually, I did not "rush" because the roads seemed to be narrower than I remembered, narrower at pedestrian crossings, and speed cameras more plentiful. As such, I arrived a little too late to capture a daytime photo. I needed to catch up on sleep anyway, so I took advantage of a really dark parking spot nearby and bedded down for the night. Unfortunately, this was the toughest time falling asleep that I had experienced so far on the trip.
Fourth day in England, and my jetlag had worn off enough that I was able to wake before 7 without feeling horrible, and that gave me plenty of time before the first game to get some things done. Of course, as it typically goes with me, I am too ambitious and try to pack too much into whatever time I have available.
I had forgotten this, but the UK has regulations about what shops can open early on Sunday, and thus Waitrose was closed, so I went in search of another grocer/breakfast. On the way I stopped for petrol, and I was shocked when the total came to 46 pounds, after a relatively short distance driven since I picked up the car, only around 120 miles. During dinner I calculated how much I would need to drive to get to the furthest Starbucks in Aberdeen, then back south, and the estimate would be well over 1200 miles. Based on around 50 pounds per 120 miles, I was looking at 500 pounds in fuel, probably more, about the same as what the rental car itself would cost!
Next I went over to the Starbucks at The Place Retail Park, which I had visited in 2015, hoping to speak to a partner who had enough experience and knowledge to answer questions about franchising. I got lucky, and I had a pretty good conversation about franchising and general UK store growth. I had noticed that since my 2016 trip, the number of company-owned stores had increased dramatically over the first three years since franchising was introduced, and the partner echoed my suspicions, that the franchisees were not living up to Starbucks quality standards, and Starbucks was probably concerned that they would dilute the brand.
I did not expect any of the craft coffeehouses to be open so early on Sunday, so I did not even try. Instead, I went to the city centre to rephotograph the Starbucks at Silbury Arcade and Midsummer Place, but I only made it to the former before I had to rush off, stop at a Budgens market, and then barely make it to the tournament on time.
During lunch I hoped to finish up early and then rush back to the city centre to visit Out of Office Coffee, but the time got away from me. On the other hand, I did quite well in Scrabble and ended up in 10th place after 17 rounds, with seven more rounds to play.
Something else that was working out was that I was becoming more reacquainted with the driving and more comfortable. On the flip side, sleep was rougher, and I had to take a melatonin. I was trying to limit this because I only brought around a dozen pills and preferred to avoid until absolutely necessary. Oddly enough, I actually felt warmer during the early part of the night and changed out of my thermals and into shorts and a t-shirt, and only later, around 3 am, did I need to put the thermals back on.
Second night in the cramped MG, I slept better. Perhaps I was getting used to it, or perhaps I was simply so exhausted that I had no choice but to sleep. Another factor might have been caffeine withdrawal, as I had not been Starbucking up until the evening as I would have done were it not for Scrabble. Probably for that same reason, plus the jetlag, I woke up quite late. Actually, I ALMOST went back to sleep, but I decided to check on the time, and it was 7:45--yikes!
Round 9 would begin at 9, and that did not give me much time to go get groceries, breakfast, and also try to find craft coffee in the city centre. And as it turned out, none of the best indie MK coffeehouses listed on a blog seemed to be open that early, so I abandoned that plan, finished up my porridge, and rushed back to the conference center.
Long lunch break in between the Warm Up and Main Event, and that gave me the opportunity to hit up Bogota Coffee Company, after a light meal of dal makhani and pratha at the Indian restaurant across the alley. Coffee was okay, not great, but I nonetheless had a side goal of trying to visit as many overseas craft coffeehouses as possible during the trip.
Pretty much Scrabble all day, but I did manage to make progress on various Starbucking-related tasks. Additionally, my jetlag was well on the way to fading, and I was feeling much better by evening. Scrabble wrapped up earlier, and I managed to get some good sleep that night, although the MG still felt really cramped because I could not stretch my legs. In fact, one of the times I was trying to stretch out my right leg, I ended up with painful cramping. On top of that, the temperature dropped, I think, and my night felt much chillier despite my thermals and covers.
Despite my jet lag, I forced myself to get moving before 7, yet despite this I found myself rushing through an ambitious schedule of six Starbucks before the Warm Up event of the British Matchplay Scrabble Championship about an hour away in Milton Keynes. I knew that I would be cutting it close, maybe even skipping lunch, but every store I checked off my map meant a time savings after the tournament, especially those in Luton and Dunstable. If I missed them, I would lose a lot of time detouring as I returned to London after clearing the Starbucks in the north of England and Scotland.
Tried the Starbucks UK porridge for the first time since around 2015/2016, and either they changed how they prepare it, or I just forgot. Unlike in North America, the porridge is kepted in a fridge, and the barista will add milk (not water) and then heat it up in the oven. Slightly cheaper than in America, but not something I'd go out of my way for.
Despite extensive experience driving in the UK, I was having a rougher time of it than I remembered. One thing that flummoxed me were narrow roadways, and I struggled to avoid scraping the tires (and sometimes failed). I seem to remember that in the past, I had been able to study Scrabble words or watch videos while driving in the UK, but I could not imagine it today, as it took great concentration to both avoid damaging the car and figure out my correct turn.
The merger between Sprint and T-Mobile, and subsequent conversion to the latter, was a game changer for my traveling. In the past, I had to download offline maps of everywhere I planned to travel, and sometimes they were not detailed enough. Without such maps, I had to wander around looking for wifi so that I could located my next destination, or find food or other services, and I lost countless hours on this. I even lost time looking for wifi simply so I could check in to a location with the Swarm app, and even today I cringe at all of the things I could have seen or done instead of seeking out wifi.
Around mid-morning I discovered something that left me in a near panic for most of the rest of the day--MY WEBSITE WAS NOT WORKING!!! I was seeing a permissions error, while others were seeing an "account suspended" error, and I was on pins and needles as I awaited an email reply from OLM support, and as I tried to call them over and over, with no answer. Of all the possible times that this could have happened, it occurred just when I was embarking on my first global tour in seven year, and shortly before I was expecting a burst of publicity that would drive fans to my site. Additionally, I had just directed my Instagram followers and FB phrends to this blog, but they could not access it. Finally, in the late afternoon, a technician reported that this had been a mistake I was fixed.
As I expected, I had to skip lunch, but I managed to visit those six Starbucks, and I made it to the tournament with a few minutes to spare. Unfortunately, I was jetlagged, exhausted, and played poorly, and I went 4-4, with three games to play in the morning.
My experience at Sutton Bonington in 2016 had taught me that parts of England can be quite cool in the evening, and that is why I made sure to pack thermal underwear and also carry around a blanket and sheet until I reached my rental cars. All those items came in quite handy on Friday night. Unlike Thursday night, just west of London, further south, where it was warming, I would have struggled to sleep in Milton Keynes without the thermals and covers. Especially since the MG car had no way to turn off running lights while engine is running, so I could not run the heat without the risk of attracting attention. I was told that sleeping in my car at the venue should not be a problem, but I still did not want to risk being spotted by any security.
Given the passage of seven years since my last trip to the United Kingdom, I expected changes, and the first I experience was the introduction of automated eGates at the immigration checkpoint. The United States has been (or was--I haven't seen them recently) using these for a long time, and they have never been able to process my single-name passport. I expected the same from the eGate, but, as I have learned many times, other countries often do things better, and the eGate software did handle my passport and allowed me through the gate.
Because of the eGate, I was not asked any of the questions I have experienced on previous trips to the UK, such as "what are you doing in the UK", "how long will you be staying", etc. Based on my googling, technically entry to the UK requires proof on onward travel, or proof of sufficient funds to purchase travel, but no questions were asked (by the eGate or any other agent). Apparently the eGate system will automatically track how long a person remains.
Next step was to find a Barclays ATM and obtain cash without a Bank of America fee, but the airport did not have any Barclays, so I proceeded to the designated shuttle bus stop for Budget/Avis and then waited nearly thirty minutes. While I was not in a huge hurry at the beginning of my trip, I did want to make it to Southampton that night, so I could not dawdle. The rental car itself, an MG, was immediately disappointing because it lacked an Apple CarPlay feature which forced me to listen to podcasts while driving using one earbud, not ideal. Additionally, the MG has a number of other annoying "features": radio turns on automatically every time I start the car; much too tricky to turn off display; running lights turn on with the engine, even if car is not moving.
On the other hand, didn't take me long to get used to driving on the left again, or shifting with my left hand, BUT I spent much of the afternoon forcing myself to stop driving too far to the left (because the driver seat is on the right).
I was expecting to spend extra time at the first store sorting out the wifi and figuring out if I could use my Starbucks app, but I also spent some time talking with the manager, to confirm that Sainsbury's stores were indeed corporate (called "equity" here in the UK) and ask why so many new ones. During the talk I learned that the Taplow store had opened A LONG time ago, and that made me suspicious, because I should have visited already. As it turned out, I had been there in 2009, but for some reason Starbucks had changed the store's ID on the web (store # remained the same). I was relieved that I caught it and reminded myself to always ask when a store opened.
After finding a Barclays ATM and getting some cash, I continued on to Winnersh, Tadley, Kempshott, and Southampton, all four new stores inside Sainsbury's, and I barely made it to the last one with a minute to spare, in large part because of an AVERAGE SPEED CHECK zone on the M3. There is no way to speed past those without receiving a ticket. I also lost a bit of time figuring out how to purchase a pillow, because since my last trip Sainbury's has entered into a partnership with a company called Argos, and they have automated checkout in which one orders as if ordering online, but then an employee retrieves the item, if it is in the store.
After all that rushing I was famished to the point of feeling faint and found some nearby Chinese food, and then I made the wise decision to head back up towards London to camp out near my first store of the morning. Because of construction on the M3, there was a lengthy and time-consuming detouring, but dealing with that at night was much better than in the morning.
2023 August 23
IT IS TIME
Leaving for the airport shortly, and after a lengthy PTY -> ATL -> LHR overnight flight, I will undertake overseas Starbucking for the first time in SEVEN YEARS. If all goes as planned, I will remain abroad for six months and wisit stores across Europe, Africa, Asia, and possibly Australasia (doubtful).
So, in addition to what I am wearing, what have I packed for six months living out of this backpack...?
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra - significantly improved camera over my S10, an excellent supplement for my mirrorless Nikon
13-inch Dell XPS laptop - lighter and more compact than the laptops I have taken on past trips
Nikon Z50 mirrorless camera - lighter and more compact than my previous DSLR. Lens zoom capability is not as good, but my Samsung Galaxy phone can make up for that when necessary
Samsung tablet - primarily for reading comic books, but could also be useful when I need to show a Starbucks manager a Google Map to help me locate a Starbucks, or when I need to show a translation to a non-English speaker
iPod - for podcasts and music, but also useful for accessing warriors apps if my phone is charging. Also, two additional pairs of earbuds, because Apple earbuds are notorious for glitching after a few months
chargers for aforementioned deωices
spare chargers for laptop and phone because these chargers are not designed for constant movement in and out of a backpack for many months
plug adapters for the UK, Europe, and one other that I'm not sure about. Still need a U.S. 3-prong to 2-prong adapter
2 XL brand new craft coffeehouse t-shirts
shorts for sleeping
3 pairs of boxer-briefs
3 pairs of socks
1 small towel
thermal underwear - important for urban camping in the U.K. and Ireland, and for when the weather gets cold, because I am not taking a coat
toothbrushes and extra toothpaste
razor and extra blades
Reusable Starbucks tumbler because in many countries Starbucks offers a discount, and over the course of 1500-2000 stores, even small discounts will add up
random bottle to refill with water
blanket and sheet for urban camping, to be discarded once I reach continental Europe
about a dozen 100-calorie Soylent Squared bars. Not nearly enough for six months, obvs, but could help me during a food pinch for the coming weeks, especially if I am hungry on flights and want to aωoid overpriced airline junk
Air Travel Challenges
While I arrived at my Delta departure gate with time to spare, today's air travel was not without its challenges. First, I was not able to check in online because the Delta system generated an error when it could not find a ticket departing the United Kingdom. I was easily able to check in at the counter, but the glitch (actually programmed behaviour) still created some uncertainty.
Because I would be flying directly from PTY to LHR (connecting in ATL), I had to enter Panama with cash in excess of the limit, and thus declare it, and thus lose an hour while forms were filled out, and the cash counted. Moreover, upon leaving today, I had to arrive at the airport extra early to go through an analoguous process--presenting receipts and filling out forms, although this time they did not actually count how much cash was exiting with me. In the future, I'll likely want to avoid this hassle by traveling with less cash, but that will limit my ability to save on fees by obtaining the best exchange rate I can find.