by Jan Wheatcroft
When traveling, it is easy to enjoy all the smooth, happy, adventurous times. You relish the good meals, the exquisite architecture, the fun of foreign trains, different languages, wonderful art, cafes and people. The list is long. But what happens when things go wrong?
What if you become ill and all the unexpected things occur that have to be dealt with? This summer, I had a month and a half of fun but I also had a number of times when I was dealing with problems I never thought would happen.
Because of various ailments that have entered my life, I now have to take numerous medications. This meant that while packing my suitcase and backpack. I had to bag up whatever I would need for the entire trip. I somehow always managed to forget one major pill, which I didn’t notice until my first settled day in London. This particular pill has to be taken before eating. Aha! It was not there. I never brought it with me and I had no prescription so I emailed my friend, Helen, who has my house keys. She went to my house, picked up the bottle of pills, found a service that would send them (for a mere $75) and they arrived in two days. Bless a good friend. That was just my first unplanned experience.
Frances and I took a train from where she lives on St. Leonards on the Sea to a small village where a very large flea market is held each year. We had reserved a room very close to the market. We got onto the train and entered a disabled train car that had a toilet in the center. The train was nearly empty. We unloaded our bags and I placed my backpack in the overhead hammock. We arrived at the station, gathered our things together and walked to the waiting taxi rank.
As I put down my bags to load them into the back of the taxi I asked Frances, “Where is my backpack?” She replied, “On your back, of course,” as I shrugged my empty shoulders. It wasn’t there. And it wasn’t at my feet or in the taxi and Frances didn’t have it either. I had left it on the train. The two of us ran back into the small train station where a very friendly and helpful man contacted the conductor. When the train pulled into Brighton Station, she told him which carriage we had left it in, the color and we described all the things I had in it—my return ticket, all of my medicine, my iPad, my jewelry bag and all the other small essentials I needed close to my body while traveling.
They told us they would keep the bag at the Brighton Station and we could pick it up the following day. This necessitated an extra trip to Brighton, where we had had no plans of visiting, and we had to get up extra early to go and pick it up before traveling to London to catch our train to Holland. The relief I felt was indescribable and I gobbled up my medication with near gusto. You can bet that after that I kept a close eye on my backpack wherever I went, or just left it in the hotel to make life easier.
In Holland we spent our nine days staying in three different hotels in three different areas of the country. We chose a very inexpensive hotel in Haarlem as it was located right on the main square. Life was busy and fun and there were many restaurants and cafes for us to choose from. We were a short walk from a busy walking street full of interesting shops, smoothie bars and cheese outlets. And it was an easy walk to the canals. Heading in a different direction, we could walk to a number of the better restaurants, which were always bustling. It was interesting to sit and watch the world go by. It was noisy, especially late at night and in the very early morning with clean-up and the setting of tables, deliveries and loud voices. We could let that pass, but the problem of the bed was more difficult.
The room was really small. Everything was squeezed together, and to pass some of the furniture you had to turn sideways and shuffle. But it was the bed that caused my back pain. The mattress, when it actually stayed on the bed, was so soft it was like sleeping on a feather pillow. Most of the time it preferred to slide off and I had to hang on to the other side of the bed. After the first night I could hardly get up and down off of the bed as the pain in my lower back was so bad. We told the managers of the hotel about this and they tried to make it better by putting a board under the mattress. But the mattress still preferred to slide off even though there was more support. After sleeping there, it took a number of days before my back pain eased.
As far as problems go, there is always the matter of food. I don’t always like what I order and the other person’s dish always tastes better than mine. However, that is a different kettle of fish from a badly cooked meal. We had two such really inedible dishes. The first one was in the hotel where we stayed for the large flea market. There was nothing on the plate we could eat so we ended up taking some fruit to our room. The smells from other folks’ meaty dishes was very good. When we were asked if we liked the food, we said “no” emphatically. And we left the plates full.
The other meal was at a lovely looking restaurant on our first night in Holland where we ordered soup and risotto. I think the idea of a real risotto must be hard for some chefs to comprehend. It is not boiled rice. But that’s what we got. Of course this can happen anywhere, whether one is traveling on not. But on a trip when we want to try something new and tasty and the menu makes it sound so delicious, it is always a disappointment to find a blob of inedible food placed in front of you.
But all these mishaps and problems were solvable. After the first wave of panic, you face it head on and deal with it. I did have some hours of worry and once all was ironed out I certainly felt much better.