Sunday, January 15, 2006

Traveling Perils


  • Traveling Perils

  • by D.B. Merritt

Humans have an immense capacity to remember the best and forget the rest. I think this is generally a good thing! For example if it were not true, second and third children would be pretty scarce. Second spouses would be a lot rarer too! And tourism for fun and relaxation would slow to a trickle!!

In 1983 my then wife Donna and I went on a 'Grand Tour' of Europe. We used four primary means of travel, flying, walking, train, and driving.

The main leg of flying portion was from Chicago to Rykavik. We had scheduled a one day stopover in Rykavik arriving at 5:30am one day and leaving at 8:30 the next day. We left Chicago on schedule at 5:30 pm on a plane designed for a comfortable capacity of 250 passengers and all 260 were on board. Now Lufthansa is a very efficient airline. They do not want their attendants to be 'deadheading' on the trip just because it is an all nighter. Therefore the meal schedule was designed to assure that each passenger was contacted politely, gently awakened if need be, every two hours with an offer of food, beverage or snack. Said snack or etc. would be delivered roughly one hour later. In this way the staff is kept busy and passengers needn't fear missing the least moment of the marvelously well orchestrated flight.

We arrived on time and only twenty four hours without sleep. There were a few things that we hadn't realized about Iceland. We knew that it was misnamed with its companion of the North Atlantic, Greenland. After all, it had winters approximately like Toronto. One thing nobody had ever mentioned to us was that it has summers like those of Tuktoyuktuk. It was coldddddd! And the airport is 30 miles from the town. By the time we could get into town it was almost 10:00am which is when the hostels kick everybody out until 7:00pm. We managed to reschedule our flight out so we would actually be able to sleep for a few hours before getting back to the airport.

We landed in Luxemburg, caught a bus to the train station downtown and sussed out a campground 'nearby'. After some inquiries we located the bus that went 'near there' and for only $4.00 we got our tickets. We told the driver where we wanted to go and he agreed to tell us where to get off. He did. The major mode of transport we sampled next was good old 'shanks mare'. 'Near there' turned out to be about 2 miles over hill and dale. Remember this was a 'Grand Tour' so we had summer and WINTER clothes, camping gear, camera gear, painting supplies (Donna is an artist) and most anything else we thought we might need'. Our packs weighed at least 50 lbs each and we'd just left a typically sedentary Fort Frances lifestyle. We survived this first of many foot wearying treks and the camp ground was beautiful. No trees, but they sold beer on the premises and we stayed a week. We enjoyed it but we left as soon as we discovered that a taxi back to the train station was only $2.00 door step to door step.

Ah the EurRail Pass! Now I must say that the EurRail Pass is the best travel deal ever invented. Unlimited travel by first class rail all over western Europe and in someplace where trains are scarce (like Ireland) it works for the bus system.

The main thing that makes the EurRail Pass such a good deal is overnight trains. Need a good nights sleep? Just get to the train station about 7 or 8 pm, find a train that arrives somewhere, who cares where, about 8 or 9 in the morning and you are all set.

See the first class cabins will sleep up to 4 people in relative comfort because the 3 seats on each side of the cabin pull out toward the middle to form a super king sized, cushioned and relatively flat bed.
Of course there are a few tricks you need to know.
1: Bring your own food. If there is any available on the train it will be expensive and lousy. Bring stuff such as bread, cheese, sausage, and, of course, wine.

2: Make sure the food you have includes some of the strongest garlic sausage you are able to find. If you have unwanted company open this up and start eating. Sensible civilized folks will clear out and go crowd someone else. This works well most anywhere north of Southern France and prior to about the end of June.

3: To be prepared for the southern latitudes, later months or the really tough crowds you need your feet. If you started your trip with odor eaters in your sneakers throw them out right away. Now when the sausage will not do the trick, take your shoes off.

By August you will often find that nothing will work to clear you much space. The Irish and the French are all on the trains with you and there is simply no where much anyone can go, but by then you will be addicted to garlic sausage and there is no point in odor eaters because you can't pick your foot odor out of the general miasma anyway.
4: This is where the wine comes in. On a really crowded train oblivion is bliss. And the party on the way there can be fun too. And You can always sleep in the plaza tomorrow.

The next mode of travel we will consider is the automobile. After three months of EurRail Pass travel and lot's of "shank's mare" Donna and I bought a car. We had some advice in advance of doing this but I have developed some tips based on our experience.
1: Buy the biggest vehicle you can afford. In much of Europe the main rule of the road is "Might makes Right.
2: Try to buy a diesel. The fuel is cheaper in many places and if you get some booze that is plain too bad to drink you can at least burn it in the car."
3: In Britain they drive on the wrong side of the road. That is when the road has two sides, otherwise see tip one.
4: If you approach Brussels at night do not worry. You will probably still be approaching Brussels in the morning.
5: If you must try to drive in Paris send your pictures home first so they have something to remember you by.
6: In Greece, when trying to determine how many "traffic lanes" a road has be sure to count both 'Shoulders'.
7: In Yugoslavia headlights are signaling devices. Driving with them on is considered 'gauche' day or night.
So if you plan a big trip please remember what I have told you! Train or plane, walk or drive, the perils of travel are many. But my advice is "do it anyway". You will PROBABLY survive, and being human you will surely 'laugh about it next year."

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