Trouble in Travel | Millbrook, NY

Posted by on February 26, 2002

For those of you who think I am the Pollyanna of travel, you’re probably right. I tend to remember only the good things about the trips I’ve taken, sort of like childbirth. My attitude toward life is that of optimist-in-retrospect. Everything seems just great in hindsight.

In other words, my travels are not uniformly star-crossed and delightful throughout. And if ever there was a year for reality last year was it.

Okay, I’ve never missed a plane, but I’ve been refused a room by a hotel –after I’ve arrived –with a guaranteed reservation!

(That little gem of an incident occurred very recently, in London. I think I told you about it in a recent story.)

Then there are the times when the hotel or inn is not the least bit recognizable by your memory of the write-up in the magazine or the guidebook, or better yet, in the elaborate hyperbole forwarded by the establishment itself.

One does have to learn how to read these descriptions. think the writers and owners share some sort of code.

A recent case in point was a country inn in Italy, which shall be nameless due to what I’m going to say about it.(I’m not interested in being the defendant in a slander suit.) Suffice it to say that we all called it “The Misery” by the time we left. That was close to the name.

A write-up which reads “known primarily for its cooking and its wines” should be translated as “the rooms are less important than the food”.

Another guidebook raves about the food, “though their modern décor contrasts with the country settings.” There is code in them there words.

Our rooms resembled concentration camp cells with heat. Gray cement walls made the bathrooms especially claustrophobic despite ill-placed red faucets. Of course there was no window in said bathroom.

There was a window in the bedroom, not quite covered by a flimsy white curtain, which let in the morning sun much too early.

The bed was hard and too low. The overall ambiance was of a place sadly trying to be contemporary, and not making ago of it.

Needless to say, the place was about as easy to find as Kennels Road, off North Tower Hill.

To add insult to injury, the supposedly friendly proprietor casually watched us (four exhausted seniors) lug our overlarge bags up stairs. His attitude was described in the write-up as “professional.” Apparently you have to look for “as friendly as your old Aunt Tillie” to get the sort of welcoming place you’d like.

You can tell by now that we did not start out well with this “professional” proprietor. Things got worse when we told him we would only stay one night, and asked him for his guidebook so we could search out a place much closer to Verona.

Oh, he said, “I don’t have a guidebook.” “Could we borrow your telephone book?” we attempted. No, he said, “the telephone book is not for the guests.” “Did he know the area code for Verona?” we tried. No, he said.

So, while the Italian maven engaged him in a spirited conversation, I nosed about the lobby and found a small list of area hotels, and with luck I found not only the area code for Verona, but the number for the hotel which we wanted to call.

The final blow came when he wouldn’t make change for the pay phone.

Now, to be fair, the meal was quite good. One of the funnier moments came when the same guy, all dressed up, served our dinner, and acted like the cheerful twin in some strange play. This surreal incident and some marvelous Soave wine cheered us up enormously.

I can remember some very strange hotel stays in various parts of Europe, but most of them turned out to be very funny in retrospect. A particular bathroom comes to mind. It was in Trondheim in Norway. It was small and efficient, the kind I later learned could also be found on ships. To describe it I could say that sitting on the john, you could wash your hands and take a shower, all at the same time. did say efficient, didn’t I?

I also remember going in to a church in Braga in Northern Portugal, where a short pleasant local man seemed much too happy to see us wander in during a Christmas time drenching rain. When we assented to a tour of the treasury, he was overjoyed. After we entered the dank cold room, he locked the door behind us. One hour later he finished his spiel, which was, of course, in Portuguese. His enthusiasm forced us to stay. And he had the key.

Never missed a plane, I said in the beginning of this piece. Never been robbed or even accosted, I used to say, until my last trip.

It pains me to admit that anything could go wrong in the exquisite city of Florence, and to admit how incredibly careless I was. However, as I entered a museum with a crowd behind me, I paid for a ticket, shoved my purse in my open bag, threw it over my shoulder, and sought out the ladies room. I was intent on catching up with my friends, and didn’t think about a woman who followed me into the general area of the loo, and bumped into me. Not a full minute later I sensed something was wrong, but it was already too late.

Due to a lucid moment before I left home, I had my credit card numbers with me in a different part of my luggage, so I could call and cancel them almost immediately. In addition I had had the good sense to leave my passport and airline tickets in the safe at the hotel.

Do copy the smart part of what I did in the above caper, and try to remember not to copy the dumb part.

Betsy Shequine would love to hear about your troubles in travel.

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