Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Travel 101

Never take a dead grandmother with you on vacation.

On our way to the airport, totally on a whim but thinking of the long eight-hour flight to Europe, we bought a portable DVD player. It had a 10-inch screen that we would both be able to see and while we were at the store we bought about 3 or 4 of the latest movies. We were set for a wonderfully relaxing flight.

Because we got one of those fantastic travel deals where our flight would be cheaper and more flexible, we arranged a detour to Boston for almost a week. (This, of course, meant that in the long run it cost us twice as much.) When we settled into the hotel room we opened the box to find that the DVD did not work. We called Sam’s in Dallas and arranged to return the thing once we got home. Meanwhile, we had three weeks of travel with something that was totally useless and only took up space and weight in our luggage. We took it with us to Boston, London, Milan, and Florence.

Where did I get the “Dead Grandmother” title? It reminded me of the movie “Vacation” where the loveable but quirky old great aunt invites herself on their vacation then dies mid-way. Clark Griswold isn’t about to interrupt his vacation, turn around and take her back home; instead he continues on with the poor dear packed up in various ways, including strapped to the hood of the car at one point. That’s what it felt like hauling the DVD player with us all over Europe. It never got any smaller or lighter, only bigger and heavier. By the end of the trip I could swear we had loaded up a big screen TV set. The space it took up could have stored souvenirs for every person I know. So, if you are one of my friends who only got a bookmark, that’s the reason.

We had a wonderful time on this vacation, regardless of dead weight. We’ve been on enough trips now that we pretty much know what we’re doing: how to pack light, how to order food and buy train tickets in other countries. The only things we really haven’t learned to do is peacefully coexist. Beaven and I have totally different travel styles.

When we took a side trip to Bath, England, I spotted a small plaza with benches. People had come to eat their lunch and listen to a classical guitarist who was sitting in the center of the circle of benches. He had his guitar case open to receive donations but it was such a serene sound in a peaceful place. A few pigeons wandered around gleaning from the sandwich crumbs. The sun was shining in a brilliant blue sky that had only a few whiffs of cloud to complete the picture.

I told Beaven I wanted to sit down for a while and listen to the guy play. At this point in our trip he was on track for a visit to the Roman Baths that made the town so popular in the middle ages. And, I swear to God, this is what he said: “I didn’t come three thousand miles to just sit around and do nothing.”

So, he went to visit the baths alone. I had seen the roman baths in the Cluny museum in Paris. To be real honest here, once you’ve seen one roman bath, you’ve seen them all.

We had a similar clash of interests when he obsessed over train schedules. He set our alarm clock in Milan for 5 a.m. in order to catch a 10 o’clock train to Florence. I started to voice my outraged opposition until I realized that the jet lag was going to wake me up at 4 am anyway. So I humored him and, of course, we ended up with a couple of hours to burn in a noisy and crowded train station with no place to sit down.

Did I mention the election? We managed to place ourselves in every conceivable place that afforded crowds. We left Boston the day Jill Carroll landed at the same airport. We were in Florence on Easter. And we traveled in Italy the weekend of the elections. The trains were crowded with everyone going to vote in their hometown in a hotly contested election. The guidebooks told us how relaxed and easy the ticketing process would be; they neglected to reveal that, at election time, it becomes more hectic than the floor of the New York Stock Exchange at 3:45.

We have pretty much overcome the differences in our travel styles ever since I printed out small business cards and had them laminated. I made two of them, one for each of us. The rule is that either of us can take the card out at any time in the vacation and simply hand it to the other one. We’ve found that it eliminates a lot of wordy arguments. Here’s what I printed on it.

“You are mentally ill and I am going to have you committed
as soon as we get home. In the meantime, please do not
talk to me or let anyone know we’re married.”

I have to admit that there were times I was the nut case. The bathroom we had in Florence was so small that one night when I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom I smashed my mouth into the sink just bending over to sit down. I hit it hard, too, immediately tasting blood. It was one of those injuries that made me kind of feel around to see if my teeth were loose. I had a fat lip for the next 3 days. Even worse, it happened the night we had the wine tasting. No one remembered the next morning that I was one of only two people not drinking wine that night. What was I going to do? Admit to being totally incompetent at one of the most basic function of life?

But I was not the one driving the Bataan Death March. I really do appreciate Beaven’s insistence on using public transportation. By getting tube and bus passes we can usually get ourselves anywhere we want in big cities and on our own schedule, not someone else’s. It gives us a lot of freedom to not have to depend on taxis and such. I did think it was overkill, though, to make a special trip to the Paddington station just to make sure that it was the correct station for buying a train ticket to Bath. He didn’t want to actually buy a ticket, mind you, he just wanted to go see where the tickets are sold. It was at the end of an already long day and my feet hurt. We had been averaging about six miles a day. It called for a long walk and even though we didn’t have to transfer from one line to another, it involved five stops during rush hour, standing the whole time and my feet hurt. I guess I mentioned the feet already, didn’t I?

Next week I will tell you about: Sculpting Carrera Marble and/or Meeting Max. However, sometimes the work of a writer finds them and will not release them until the words have their say. So, if you have the energy to stay with me, I offer you another piece I wrote today. Well, I didn’t actually write it by myself. I was more of a typist for the Holy Spirit today. It happens that way sometimes. Go to the next piece with the title:
Singing the Song

1 comment:

VLB said...

You make me laugh out loud! I love the card idea....and I can just see you and Beavin using them!
Thanks for the travelogue, and the chuckles.