Vacation in Europe

If you travel, then things happen and the trip to Europe was no exception. Overall, it was excellent but there were lots of Neatstep situations to wrestle with!

My first mistake was to visit the dentist before going on vacation. I had no problems but thought a check-up in advance of my trip would be a good idea. It was not! On the morning of our departure, my tooth suddenly broke at the last minute, leaving no time for repair. The tooth had a good holiday!

Our next excitement, en-route to London, was landing in Calgary. As we soared vertically upwards from the runway it seemed there was some disagreement about whose turn it was to land! The only cryptic comment from our pilot was that two aircraft on one runway was “not good’! The onward flight was less entertaining since the entertainment system was not working, so we were spared from listening to Spiderman, even though I could see him creeping up and down those buildings as I fell asleep.

I was still dreaming about spiders when we arrived at London Airport, where amazingly, there was no queue for the car rental desk. Why not? Well, because the computer system was down, of course. Not to worry, the queue at the central renting lot nicely made up for that! With our free upgrade coupon, we acquired a larger and more complex car – a big mistake, since nobody knew how to operate it. There was no key (just a control tag) and no parking brake (only an electronic one, which worked automatically – sometimes!) We found one person who knew how to open the trunk – that was a start! Then we sat in the parking lot for 30 minutes reading the instruction book. Finally, we moved off into that horrendous English traffic, on the wrong side! Help! Get me out of here! This is insane!

We reached the airport hotel and went to sleep, but not for long. A thunderous banging and wailing sound was emanating from the room opposite. We managed to communicate with the front-desk clerk in broken English. Apparently it was just a rock band, which had been practicing all week for an Oriental wedding. They always finished at 5.00pm. We returned from dinner at 9.00pm to find them still in full swing. I revisited the front desk and had more words with the clerk, who called the manager, who called the rock band, who probably called me something else but eventually they grew weary and gave up. Peace at last!

We stayed for a week in England where I gradually became fluent in broken English. “Yes, no, me – visitor from North America, do you speak English”! Everyone was very friendly (except perhaps that front-desk clerk!)

We arrived at the next airport and headed for Rome. At check-in we acquired a new friend – an elderly Italian who could speak no English! My Italian is limited to Bon Giorno, Spaghetti and Grazie but we took him under our wing. The Brits are really serious about security and they went into high alert when they discovered his heart tablets, which were promptly confiscated for scrutiny. The magic wand was waved around the bottle, but – no beeps or signals! Not satisfied with this, they took the tablets away for testing – crushing one to see whether it was explosive, but it wasn’t – for which we were all thankful! Meanwhile, our Italian friend was becoming rather faint, not understanding what was happening and clutching his heart! The security people were unconcerned and explained everything to him in perfect English – the one occasion where this was definitely not useful! Eventually, with our friend on the verge of collapse, the tablets – minus one – were returned. They quickly became minus three or four! Upon landing in Rome our friend crossed his heart several times and muttered something, which fortunately, we didn’t understand!

The Internet warned us about two things in Rome – pickpockets and pirate taxis (they’re the ones with no sign and a shifty-looking driver). So, as we boarded our pirate taxi, I ignored the frantic waving signals from my wife and we zoomed off down the Via Mama Mia on the wrong side. After a short distance, our pirate driver suddenly began desperately searching around him, one finger on the wheel and one eye on the road. “What are you looking for”, I asked. “I’ve lost my cell phone”, he said. “Ah, I wondered why my seat was so uncomfortable. I’m sitting on it”, I replied. He grabbed the cell phone. “You have to watch out in Rome! These darned pickpockets are everywhere”, he said! That comment, coming from a pirate taxi driver, had to be priceless!

Sightseeing was uneventful, millions of people everywhere, queues everywhere and like the supermarket, we always seemed to be in the wrong one. We reached the train station en-route to the port. Lots more queues, ticket machines so complex that most people, including myself, gave up and joined the rapidly expanding queues. Our bus had arrived at platform 1, so logically our train departed from platform 28, which was a mere 1 kilometer to walk since platform 28 started at the far end of platform 27 – an obvious afterthought!

If you want a trip, then go on a ship! We did and it worked perfectly! The first day we tripped headlong over two deckchairs and were feeling sorry for ourselves until we met a lady in a wheelchair with a broken ankle and a guy with a broken foot who was run over by a taxi in Rome (probably a pirate one!) After that we recovered miraculously and had a wonderful journey.

Italy was hot, Turkey was hotter and Greece was hottest. You haven’t traveled seriously unless you’ve experienced the Colosseum, the Grand Bazaar and the Acropolis, all at 12.00 noon in the midday sun! What are these tourists thinking? Are they completely crazy? Nevertheless, it was impressive. In Italy we learned how to be patient, in Greece we learned how to relax and in Turkey we learned how to negotiate. We discovered you can negotiate the price of a carpet at the Grand Bazaar, but you can’t negotiate whether to stay in the mosque when it’s prayer time because then it’s everybody out! Question: How do you visit Pompeii, Sorrento and Capri all in one day? Answer: Very quickly, otherwise you’ll miss the boat like our American friends did.

We left the port of Rome and headed by train for the airport, which was a major undertaking. It’s a myth that trains in Italy are always late. They have a special system for avoiding that – it’s called cancellation. If the train is running late, it gets canceled and automatically becomes the next one. That way, the schedule always works perfectly. Our one-hour trip to Rome thus automatically became three-hours, after we had run like headless-chickens from one platform to the other several times, with luggage of course. Without luggage and stairs to climb it would have been much less fun!

We flew from Rome to Germany on board one of the many cut-price airlines, with an Italian crew. I swear that pilot looked suspiciously like our pirate taxi-driver. When we dropped like a stone onto the runway and bounced several times, I knew I was right. He must have misplaced his cell phone yet again!

After the thrills of Italian Rail we were glad to arrive in Germany where the rail system is so reliable, right? Wrong! The very day that we needed to travel was the day of the German rail strike. How about that for perfect timing? More headless-chicken sessions and some backup planning followed. The only German phrase you need to know is “das geht nicht”, which roughly translated, means “no way”! That’s the phrase you’ll hear most often in Germany as it applies to nearly every situation e.g. trains, rental car upgrades, or any other services.

We survived and one week later returned to our London airport hotel. The desk clerk must have remembered us because he was not very happy and it didn’t take much longer to upset him completely when I asked for an extra transaction on my credit card. The transaction sequence became so convoluted that the specialists were called in next morning to unravel everything and reprocess it. There was no express checkout for us!

We flew home and once again, the in-flight entertainment system wasn’t working so we were spared the thrill of listening to the latest pseudo-surreal movies, which made even Spiderman suddenly seem appealing!

All that remains now is to pay-off the credit card bills and start saving for the next exciting vacation.