Thursday, April 28, 2011

Which one was best: the phone booth or the McDonald's Bathroom?

              Making friends in a TGV train vestibule!

Sometimes the highlights of a foreign country can remain just a little bit elusive as the headline above will reveal. In a few of my prior travel articles I have advocated that if a few things don't go wrong it must have been a pretty boring trip. It is the mistakes and problems that really create discussion when safely back in the comfort of your living room. In this age of internet travel scheduling I have always prided myself on meticulous planning and scheduling, and many of our travel companions have likewise appreciated these efforts. We have laughingly referred to this as Tom's No Fees-No Commission Travel Agency. After our last grand trip it is now referred to as the No Fees-No Commission-No Sleep-No Seats Travel Agency. Read on for the exciting details!

Our recent trip to Europe was a wonderful three week experience, but was a bit complicated with different travel segments involving planes, ferries, trains, metros, boats, cars and ultimately just a few little (in my opinion) glitches. On various parts of the trip our companions included Les and Carol Cooper of Chelan and Tom and Mall Boyd of Leavenworth. Each had an opportunity to experience a "glitch" or two.

So Les and Carol arrive in London ahead of us and check into the hotel I have arranged. Can I account for the fact that they were put in the basement with a view of a concrete wall and a shower made for midgets? When we arrived we of course had a beautiful room on the second floor with real windows, a view and perfectly acceptable shower. I just do not know how this happens! Now I am aware that the Cooper's do have some bad luck with room assignments. The classic was when we went on an African Safari together. This was their plan and had bought us the same deal at a charity auction. How could I account for management assigning us the lodge suite with surround windows viewing the savannah, walk-in closets, hot tub, animals walking outside our windows, while they received a room about the size of our closet. Go figure!

I think Les really has a perspective problem. As he travels around the world for his employer he of course only travels business or first class and stays in the five star famous hotels. He just does not get out and mingle with the people enough, or find out how the rest of world, and frugal world travelers, really live. On this trip it just was not my fault that I planned ahead, way ahead, for Mary Ann and I, and we were able to make our first visit to Europe with all of our flights being first class or business class. When you use frequent flyer miles you really do have to work at it months ahead. Is it my fault that Les seems to procrastinate! By the time they booked their tickets, unfortunately Les could not find any upgrades even though he has a jillion frequent flyer miles and is a preferred super duper mvp whatever on numerous airlines. So they have to fly in steerage. It is just not my fault!

On occasion I do arrange some really early bookings! The difference on a European train leaving at 5:30 a.m. and one leaving at 8:00 a.m. can be as much as $100 a ticket or more. I am just looking out for their ultimate retirement and I am sure Carol appreciates this, even thought Les might be just a bit spoiled. I am not cheap, just frugal. So maybe we did have a little problem with the ticket machines in the train stations. My travel planning does not have guarantees. You pay for what you get. Travel crises are what makes a trip memorable. Who can account for different machines for different types of trains. Wow, only the French could think up that one. So we miss a train or two. This just gives us a chance to help the French trainmaster and his assistant speak English. How did I know many trains were going to be cancelled because of this little wildcat strike problem over the French pension issue. Besides, quit whining, we did get on the TGV train, albeit in the vestibule between cars, and we did sit down…on our luggage. And really, it was only a three hour train trip and it gave us a chance to meet a lot of very nice French citizens, shoulder to shoulder, who found themselves in the same predicament.

After another wonderful self drive yacht cruise on the canals in France, this time in the Aquitaine region of Southwest France, we were off on a road trip to the Pyrenees' and Northern Spain with Tom and Mall. I do have a little (?) quirk about adding countries to my world travel list, so this journey was going to add at least the small remote mountain country of Andorra to the list. Following a beautiful mountain drive from Luchon, France to enter Andorra, we came upon an immigration and customs center. Mary Ann says to me, do you have the passports? Huh? This trip I was in charge of those little gems, ostensibly in my handy dandy neck pack. I said no, I thought you had them. Tom Boyd, with his laid back travel attitude, without a hesitation pulls the car to road edge. Mary Ann goes to the trunk and looks through all the luggage. Nothing. There was no actual check at the Andorra border, so as we enter the first town we pull over at the next phone booth we find. We of course can't make the phone work when trying to call our previous hotel in Luchon, but with the help of some great office people nearby, we connect. Cheers break out all around when the delightful owner says has found a lot of things left by his guests, but this was the first time he has found passports, which had slid down the edge of an extra bed. Thus my experience in Andorra was the use of a phone booth, then using the bathroom at the McDonald's across the street. This country experience obviously beat just buying gas in Luxembourg. I now believe our passports hate each other. You might remember when Mary Ann was carrying them in Johannesburg and had her purse stolen. We are now each carrying our own passports!


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