Anybody who travels for the experience and not just the destination knows not just that unplanned things will happen–many of them less-than-desirable–but also, in a way, welcomes those things. Because the bad times make just as much of an impression, and a story to tell later on, as the good ones.
Some of my favorite memories from traveling with my sister in Italy (nun in a convent), my husband in Scotland the first time (cornflakes, Christmas) and the second time (where the hell is reverse), with a stranger on the train through Belgium (police in a back room), and in Israel with some other program participants (harbor wall, stranger, too much Arrack) were not happy events at the time. Now, nearly all of them are tales that elicit laughter and a few gasps.
A few weeks ago, I finally finished blogging about our family trip to Scotland and England, which we’d taken in the summer of 2014. I pointedly didn’t mention any of the problems we had, because I typically don’t like dwelling on the negative. But some of those problems have already become points of humor and laughter within the family as we reminisce, so I thought I should include them in the blog as well. If only I had photos to accompany some of them…
Our trip began a little askew right from the start, when the car service sent us a driver with a car that was a little older and more dented than we’d pictured, and we got caught in traffic heading to JFK, even though we thought we’d allowed extra time. I remember being both stressed and nauseous, worrying that we’d miss that extra time allotment needed for international travel. Not the way to start the trip!
We arrived at the airport in time, checked in and checked our bags. Then, I needed a quick detour to the bathroom because of the length of our trip to the airport. I write this for a reason–hang on. So then we all headed for the long line waiting to go through security, with its semi-invasive body-scanning machines. Before we got far, however, a security guy scanned our hands with some handheld thing and my hands set off the alarm. He scanned them again–again, with the alarm. He pulled me to the side of the queue and called his supervisor on the walkie-talkie, or whatever it is these days. I waited. Meanwhile, he told Doug, James and Becky to continue moving in the queue. Which they did, but not without continual glances back at me as they moved farther and farther away. And, I need to mention, the security guy let pass people who look much scurvier and suspect than I did. He asked me if I’d touched anything, put on any lotion, etc. recently. Yes, I replied–I washed my hands in the airport bathroom and used the soap there. That’s it. I am asked that, and answer with the same answer, multiple times. Finally, the supervisor came (and asked me the same question) and I’m eventually pulled into a backroom. They sent in two female security workers and the supervisor left, at which point they explained that they will be “patting me down” (quite thoroughly). Truthfully, I didn’t care one whit. I would’ve stripped naked if it meant that I could go join my family on what was supposed to be our dream trip. I wasn’t worried, but they were. After much more waiting, some looks of consternation, and some other questions, I was escorted personally to my family–Doug and James looking worried, and Becky on the verge of tears. Hallelujah. Moving on. (I guess the moral of this part of the story is: Don’t wash your hands after you use the bathroom?) It’s got to be all uphill from there, right?
Fast forward through the waiting room, boarding, whatever. I bought our plane tickets so that the kids were the two seats in front of us and we were two seats right behind them. I even sprang for Doug and me to have fancier dinners with steak and wine (a waste of money), and ordered a nut-free meal for James. Well, the snack had nuts. Of course. We sent his back. They came back with pretzels that were made in a facility that manufactures products with tree nuts. His Epi-pen? Somewhere under us in the body of the plane, because I’d stupidly checked it with our luggage. Some time later into the flight, he started throwing up. I was hoping it wasn’t his nut allergy. James has always had motion sickness–obviously, I had forgotten to plan for that one small detail. I do a lot of things, but I don’t do barf. Doug endedup switching with Becky, or maybe James switched with me. Either way, Doug handled it (thanks again, honey!). The flight attendants wanted nothing to do with Barfing Boy and gingerly passed us barf bags and retreated quickly. We were forced to dispose of them ourselves. He finally fell asleep and I discovered that his (now mine) entertainment unit wass not working. The flight staff was apologetic, but unhelpful. I was looking at a long flight with no movies. Of course, I’m a reader and brought books, but who wants to read at midnight on a red-eye? Whatever. I made do. I slept. We awakened much too early to land in Shannon (Ireland) and catch the puddle jumper to Scotland. I left a nice cushion of time between our arrival and departure, just in case we were running late, which we weren’t. We were exhausted and trying to puddle like amoebas into the airport chairs to nap.
Finally boarded the flight to Edinburgh, which turned out to be quicker than expected because of tailwinds. And it flew relatively low, so beautiful views of Scotland. But, tailwinds = more Barfing Boy. (We made sure to stock up on Dramamine at the local pharmacy before boarding the ferry to the Isle of Lewis, a trip that has made both Doug and me nauseous in the past.) Landed, got bags (customs was in Ireland), headed to pick up rental car. It wasn’t ready. Something about a tire and a field, and we were left waiting for one of the only automatic cars I was able to find in all of the U.K.–a VW Passat that I was pretty sure wasn’t going to fit us and our luggage anyway. James was exhausted, Becky was hanging in, I was tired and admittedly cranky with a fast-growing headache, and Doug was trying to keep us calm. We didn’t want to behave like ugly Americans–we’ve learned when you travel to always be patient and accommodating, and the “flies with honey” technique usually works. As it did this time. After an hour. And a very sympathetic desk agent. Somehow she found us an extremely upgraded SUV (Audi I think) with all of the bells and whistles and automatic shift, for the same price as the never-seen Passat. All worked out, as it tends to do.
So with that mixed introduction to the joys of international travel for the kids, we were on our way, with Doug in his jet-lagged state having to remember to drive on the left side of the road (I very loudly reminded him, often) and we got pretty easily from the airport to Haymarket in Edinburgh center. Minor incidents in Edinburgh–not enough room to eat at Land’s End, walking to the wrong hill for the view, the Queen in town so Holyrood was closed, oh and me almost falling into traffic when I stepped off a curb–but all was nearly well. Especially after Doug had his first Scottish meal in his belly and the kids were stuffed with Italian (yeah, I know) food. Our flat in Edinburgh (as you can see here) was beautiful, and once we rested, we were all so much better off.
I think the rest of our trip was pretty uneventful (at least the bad stuff–we had plenty of great events!) until our time in Inverness. In probably the worst thing to happen on the entire trip, Doug sideswiped another parked car as he was pulling into a spot at our hotel. It was on my side, and the other car moved up, and then down again. Or maybe it was back, and then forth again. Its back right corner was scraped pretty badly, and our rental car was scraped too. I was so upset, now knowing how much we’d be liable for, that I went silent. I was afraid if I opened my mouth, the rage would come pouring out. Doug moved heaven and earth trying to find a phone to call our credit card company, whose rental insurance would cover it. He also left a note for the driver of the car, so they’d know where to find us. The next morning, he asked the hotel staff, who knew the story, if the driver had been found. Nobody had stepped forward as the driver of the car. They thought it might be somebody using their parking lot to leave their car in for a few days illegally. When we finally heard from the hotel, they said the guy had said to tell us that it was no big deal and he’d take care of it. Believe me, in the States that driver would have had us on the hook for at least $1K if not more. Doug said it reminded him of this–“oh no, it’s alright, no worries.”
And when we got back to the States, after a little bit of finagling, insurance took care of everything on our end. So <phew>!
If you’ve read the rest of my blogs on our trip, you know we had an amazing time, with wonderful weather, no midges, beautiful scenery and fantastic memories. Sure, occasionally I’d point out things to the kids as we were driving and I’d turn around to find this in the backseat:
Or I’d try to get a photo of a Hielan coo and end up with the wrong end:
Or somebody or somebodies would need some disciplining or attitude adjusting. Or we’d miss out on the Rosetta Stone because our whole day in London was a bust.
But really, it was a stellar trip, with just enough “outtakes” to make us laugh now. Especially the airline steward on the flight home, who was more interested in chatting with his off-duty colleague than doing his job. After he finally “found” the nut-free meal for James and handed to us, I noted that the tag on it said “Callahan.” “Yes,” he replied in a bit of a huff. “That’s how we say MacAulay in Ireland.”
I think I’ll just leave that there.