The Trouble with Travel
How to Handle the Unexpected with
Good Humor and Grace
|A view of the Tuileries gardens
in Paris with the Musée D'Orsay in the background.
"Oh my God," shrieked
the woman on the toilet in the train's bathroom. "What
am I going to do?"
Before I knew it, I was surrounded by the most beautiful
French women—all of whom smelled as sweet as lavender
in Provence. "Where am I?"
New and experienced travelers alike,
even when confident and well-prepared for adventures overseas,
are undoubtedly in for many surprises as well. I still remember
vividly my excitement and overwhelming sense of anticipation
when booking my first trip. However, what I didn't know
was that my journey would provide just as many jolts and
consequent revelations as well. Events that seemed at the
time to be embarrassing or downright exasperating are now
very fond and often hilarious memories.
I am talking about those happy accidents
and missteps along the way of our travels. How did we get
there? A technical glitch? A case of mistaken identity?
Poor recommendations from the hotel's staff? It's funny
how trusting many of us are of people when we travel, forgetting
to don our skeptical hats because we're so caught up in
the moment. Carpe diem, right? Well, many times
I wanted to throw that often-naive leap of faith right out
the window, especially when I found myself in a "moment" and
wished it had ended the very "moment" it began.
So based on accumulated wisdom gained on the road to date,
I humbly offer a few bits of travel advice for unsuspecting
An Episode in Venice: Always Trust
the Advice of the Hotel Concierge
We had just checked in at the Hotel
Palazzo Priuli in the Costello sestiere of Venice,
a delightful boutique hotel along the Fondamenta de l'Osmarin.
Within this splendid 14th-century palazzo, we had our own
private balcony overlooking the canal with a Venetian café
on the other side. The sights and sounds of Venice surrounded
us—church bells pealed from afar, gondolas cruised below
as the song of their gondoliers wooed and enchanted: we
were living in rapture! After we unpacked, we stopped by
the lobby for a lunch recommendation from our concierge.
As were leaving, he told us to come back after we finished
eating for a private excursion to Murano. "Was all
of this really happening," we thought to ourselves, "how
positively wonderful the hotel and its staff!"
| View from the Palazzo Priuli
balcony in Venice.
After a delicious lunch beneath a canopy
of grape vines, we boarded our water taxi and cruised along
the Venetian lagoon to Murano, renowned for the traditional
art of glassmaking. We disembarked at a dock owned by the
glass factory and were escorted into a medieval furnace
chamber ablaze in light. The Venetian master dazzled us
with his glassblowing craft work, demonstrating to us how
he transformed molten sand into stunning creations. Awe-struck
and jazzed by the experience, we were then escorted into
the "factory showroom," which was brimming with
exquisite works. Vases, lamps, baubles, and trinkets filled
the shelves from floor to ceiling. Magnifico! However,
upon closer inspection of these treasures, we found exorbitant
prices to match. And with that came the jarring realization
why we had been brought to his workshop.
| Lunch in Venice on the first
Our concierge had an ulterior motive,
the time-share gambit, and every hard-selling tactic aimed
at visitors with the intention of making them cave under
pressure. No worry if you can't afford the prices at hand,
we were assured that there was an "affordable" room
that should accommodate most purse strings—not! As our anger
surged after interminable polite refusals, we made it perfectly
clear that we were not interested in spending €5,000 for
a Murano vase and made our way to the exit. Needless
to say, the smile on our cool and suave Venetian showroom
guide had quickly evaporated.
At this point, we knew our taxi would
not be waiting, so instead we enjoyed a walk along Murano's
Grand Canal, purchased two pieces from Stefano's (at very
reasonable prices), and hopped into the vaporetto back
| Shops along the Grand Murano
Canal in Venice.
Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool
Me Twice, Shame on Me!
Somewhat reluctant, even downright opposed
to accept any more advice from our trusted concierge after
our ill-fated trip to Murano, we agreed to purchase tickets
to a Venetian concert later that night because it was something
we had wished to do from the moment we arrived. With tickets
in hand and directions to the venue on the other side of
town, we arrived at our destination with an hour to spare.
The concert hall was alight and the red carpet stretched
to the door to welcome us in. After looking around, we noticed
the only people inside were a few vendors selling concert
CDs near the door. At the time, we didn't think much about
the absence of a live audience since it was still early.
We walked outside and across the campo to
the gelateria and indulged. "When in Rome—or
Venice" as they say. When we returned, the hall was
still empty save the vendors in the back. It was only 20
minutes to the start of the concert so we asked about the
lack of an audience. As it turned out, we were at the wrong
location! I had to fight back images of our concierge roasting
on a spit.
The vendors explained that tonight's
concert was at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a 20-minute
walk away! With sketchy directions and a mounting fear of
getting lost along the way, we ran and we ran, asking for
some form of confirmation from shop owners and residents
as we zipped by. Finally we arrived and flew up the stairs
to the Sala Superiore. With moments to go, we found two
seats near each other—sitting next to each other at
this late hour was not an option—and collapsed into
our chairs completely exhausted and dripping in sweat. But
not long after the hallowed halls filled with the sounds
of Vivaldi, Mozart, Paganini, and our troubles faded.
Suddenly, I looked up, and staring back
down at me was Tintoretto's masterpiece ceiling. "Oh
what luck!" Seeing Tintoretto's "Sistine ceiling," as
some art historians refer to the work, has always been high
on my list of art to see in Venice, and here we were—enjoying
the art, the concert, the moment—all was right in the world!
| A view of a Venice canal.
Paris: Establishments Without Signs?
Chances Are You Don't Belong
Our first night in the City of Light
began with a stroll around Champs-Élysées. In search for
a place to have dinner, we needed to buy cigarettes as well,
so we hoped we would stumble upon a small tobacco shop or
bar along the way. I don't remember precisely where we were,
but we happened upon one place that had no sign whatsoever,
but we could see a bar through the front glass doors so
my partner walked inside. Directly ahead of him was a beautifully
carved wooden bar with a woman standing behind the counter.
After she explained that they didn't sell cigarettes, he
turned to leave when he noticed a table of the most beautiful
women he had ever seen—every inch of them haute couture from
their beautiful coiffures, to the sparkling jewelry, to
their elegant dresses and shoes. But above all, the women
exuded the sweetest of fragrances. Flushed with embarrassment,
it was only then that my partner realized this must be some
sort of "gentlemen's club." As he dashed for the
door, they exchanged au revoirs!
| A view of the river Seine from
Notre Dame in Paris.
Rome: Beware of Taxi Drivers Requesting
Probably one of the most hilarious moments
in all of our travels happened to us in Rome during a taxi
ride to the other side of the city to meet up with our Angels
and Demons tour guide. While we were stopped at an intersection,
the driver turned to me and asked me for an autograph. The
expression of utter confusion on my face must have translated
well because he shook his pen and notepad at my partner
"Elton John, Elton John, right?"
Did he just ask for Elton John's autograph?
I turned to Matthew and with hearty laugh, I explained that
the driver thinks he's escorting Elton John and David Furnish
to the Piazza del Popolo. We laughed. "Scusi," I
responded offering up the truth.
| Elton John and David Furnish
sighting in Rome.
Roman Forum: Seek Out an OCD Tour
A funny thing happened on the way to
the Roman Forum. It was our first afternoon in Rome and
we were heading to the Colosseum and Forum before they closed
at 7 p.m. After an audio-guided tour of the gladiator arena,
we walked past the Arch of Constantine and entered the Roman
Forum's via Sacra, the main road through the ancient ruins.
We did so before they started charging admission, so the
ancient road was open to those from all walks of life.
"Who needs a tour guide anyway," I
thought to myself. With my trusted Rick Steves guide in
hand, I knew I would be able to identify many of the ruins
based on Rick's detailed walking tour. Alas, it lacked the
human factor, a guide who would regale us with the historical
perspectives we so craved, and who would be able to answer
our many questions as well. The desperation must have been
obvious in our faces, because no sooner did we wish for
a guide than she appeared. She found us? Well, that's how
she put it when she explained to us that after having to
suffer the empty-headed tourists who traversed the ancient
road day after day, she sought us out because she thought
we would truly appreciate a deeper understanding that her
intimate knowledge would offer. I laughed to myself, because
until this point in our travels that was by far the best
sales pitch I had yet heard. So we agreed to her price and
off we went on our journey back in time, 2,000 years ago
to the age of Caesar.
| The temple of Vesta in the Roman
Our illustrious guide's name was Antoinette.
Despite her somewhat disheveled appearance and disorganized
manner, this woman spoke like a scholar. She imparted historical
fact after historical fact about every artifact, column,
relic and rock we examined—from its origin to its demise—and
the circumstances surrounding each point in its genesis.
With every breath, she spewed out facts so quickly that
it was almost impossible to keep pace. Nonetheless, she
was as entertaining as she was knowledgeable. As history
unfolded before our eyes, Antoinette reached into her briefcase—a
plastic bag stuffed with notes, copies, torn pages from
guide books, assorted scribbling—to illustrate her points.
Her method was crude but informative. Without a doubt, this
was the most unusual tour we had ever taken, yet still one
of the best. I have no doubt that the Forum is in fact Antoinette's
passion, and central to her obsession for all things Roman.
Whoever she is, wherever she came from, we are truly grateful!
As fate would have it, we returned
to the Roman Forum the following year, and prayed
we would find her again. Sure enough we did. "Tutta
La Vita!" Antoinette was a transformed woman
and looked fabulous. Needless to say, we were extremely
happy to hire her again and even presented her with
a new guidebook so she could ditch the scraps of paper.
InterRail 101: Remember to Lock
the Bathroom Door on the Train
Saving the best and most important tip
for last, our little mishap in the bathroom onboard our
train to Venice still elicits a burst of laughter every
time I think about it, although quite harrowing at the time
for my partner and the poor woman sitting on the toilet.
Matthew approached the bathroom and
pushed the button to open the sliding door. What happened
next was unexpected to say the least. The bathroom was occupied,
and not only was it occupied but the occupant was still
sitting on the toilet when she received the shock of her
lifetime. Completely horrified by the presence of someone
standing in the doorway (who wouldn't be?), she screamed,
but when Matthew pushed the button to close the door, it
"Oh my God! What am I going to
do?" the flustered woman blared.
Completely flushed, pardon the pun,
with utter embarrassment, Matthew answered "I am so
terribly sorry, ma'am. I am doing everything I can but this
blasted door won't close! I have an idea. I'll turn around
and block the view." Seriously, what else could he
Now facing outwards instead of at this
poor victim of circumstance frozen in fear, he did his best
to block the view from any passersby while he struggled
with the door. After what seemed an eternity, it released
and slid shut. He ran.
As we exited the train, they shared
a brief encounter—eyes met, but only for a moment. No words
As prepared for travel as you may think
you may be, it is best to be ready for those moments for
which there is no possible preparation. Make the best of
surprises and enjoy the ride, rich in the knowledge that
such events will provide hilarious or very fond memories.
Jeff Titelius is
a travel writer and publisher of EuroTravelogue.com—chronicles
of wondrous journeys throughout Europe. As Jeff says,
“"Wherever the roads or rivers may lead, I seek
out cultural connections with places and people." In
addition to his own website, Jeff has appeared here on
TransitionsAbroad.com, Insight Guides, NRK-Norwegian
TV interview, Viking River Cruises brochures, ItalianTalks.com,
and he was a guest journalist on NRK-Norwegian TV’s series,
“Sommeråpent.”—among others. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jefftitelius or @eurotravelogue as
well as Facebook.com/EuroTravelogue.