Monday, September 20, 2010

The Travel Bug

Is a travel bug a virus that you can't shake or an insect that gets under your skin and leaves a longing for which there is no cure? Either way, it is an obsession that will never leave you once you are infected. I was bitten by the bug when I made my first train trip as a child. I know of two other people who were victims of the bug. One is Vagabonde who writes a beautiful post on her travels complete with great photography. The other is a friend who is returning from a cruise today and is close to his goal of visiting 100 different countries. I envy them being able to continue their dreams.

My bucket list was long. I never managed to see half of the places on my list and I never made it to the one that always headed the list (Egypt) , but I am grateful for the wonderful places I did see.

Like many travelers I had "the trip from hell" along the way. Here is my story.

I signed up for a trip with Grand Circle Travel, to go to Morocco and Spain. I extended my trip for an extra week in Spain as an add-on option. I didn't want to miss a thing. I was so excited before leaving home that I felt like a child on Christmas Eve.

Being on a tight budget I wanted to avoid having to stay overnight in NYC and I scheduled a plane trip that gave me 3 hours between my connecting flight at JFK airport. That seemed like a safe window in the event that my plane was delayed. I now advise anyone to stay overnight at the connecting airport to give yourself plenty of time to relax before continuing on and to avoid missing your connecting flight. Seasoned travelers already know that this is wise.

I arranged for a shuttle service to pick me up at my home at 4 am for my 6 o'clock flight to Phoenix where my first change of planes was to occur. I was afraid I wouldn't hear the alarm clock and would not be ready when the shuttle van arrived and I am overly cautious in such situations. Because I lived alone, I decided to be ready for the van before I went to sleep. This meant that I needed to be fully dressed with my luggage at the door. I slept sitting up on the couch. At least, that was the plan. I was so nervous with excitement that I only dozed for short periods. Not to worry, I told myself, I will sleep on the plane.

The first leg of my journey was so short that I didn't dare doze. I was on an America West plane and their concourse in Phoenix is spread out in a very long T shape. My arrival gate was at the very bottom end of the T and my departure gate was at one end of the short top of the T. When I got to my departure gate I sighed with relief thinking it would be a piece of cake from then on. Panic struck when I looked at the departure sign and, instead of NYC, the destination was Seattle. I went up to the desk and asked what happened. I was told that my plane was delayed so they were letting another plane come in to that gate first.

Being afraid I might miss my connection at JFK, I walked back up the long concourse to customer service to check on the situation. They called JFK and informed me there should be no problem. Yeah, right! I toted my heavy overnight back to the departure gate only to see that the sign now read Denver. Upon questioning this I was told that my departure gate had been changed. You will never guess where. Since this is the trip from hell, I, of course, had to go back to the first gate; the one that I arrived at.

By this time I was becoming very tense when, at last, I boarded my cross country flight much later. I was so fearful that I would miss my connection that even a nap was impossible. Still, an overnight flight was ahead and I would be able to sleep at last.

We were so late reaching JFK that they were already boarding my plane to Spain. I was on Iberia Air and the Spanish people at the gate were laughing at me when they checked me in. In a great rush I asked for a non-smoking seat and they gave me my seat number and told me the gate was upstairs. I literally ran up the stairs and down the concourse, arriving just as they were about to shut the gate. I guess that is one part of my trip that I can say was very lucky because 3 seconds later I would have been stranded and probably would have missed the first week of the trip. (Another woman who missed her connecting flight did lose about 5 days of the trip.)

I settled in my seat with great relief to have this first harrowing part of my trip behind me. I would sleep as soon as the plane was airborne. Then I found out why the Spaniards were laughing ; they had seated me in the smoking section. (That item alone will tell you how many years ago this all happened). I asked a flight attendant to move me and she told me that if I could find a vacant seat up front to take it. The only vacant seat available was right across the aisle from the galley. I didn't want to smell like a smoke factory so I took it and moved. That row was 3 seats wide due to being next to the galley and the other two seats were occupied by a young Spanish couple who wanted to practice their English on me. Since my Spanish is limited to a few words (some of them unprintable) and their English wasn't much better we had a lot of laughs trying to converse. Dinner was served after we were airborne and I put the open packet of oily salad dressing on the side of my tray which immediately tilted spilling the dressing on my skirt.

Now I am starting my trip with a big oil spot on my skirt and no sleep. Ah well, I can soon make up for the latter problem, think I. He He !! They put the movie on and the sound was so loud (this was before individual speakers) that sleep was not to be. At last they dimmed the lights for the night; all lights except those in the galley. Guess where the flight attendants spent their leisure time now that their duties were over. Why, in the galley next to me. Their chatter kept me awake all night. Heck, not speaking Spanish I couldn't even understand the juicy stories they were probably telling.

When we arrived in Madrid for another change of planes I had probably had a total of 3 hours sleep in the past 48. It was afternoon in Spain when I finally arrived at my final destination, Malaga. A feeling of relief was soon dispelled when I discovered that I had finally made it, but my suitcase hadn't.

After the group was assembled at the hotel we were told to be ready at 4 the next morning for a bus ride to the port where we would board the ferry for Morocco. Of course, this meant that I would not be able to make up for my lost sleep that night. At least I didn't have jet lag .

When I came down to dinner in my hot pink travel dress with the oily stain on the skirt the people in my group complimented me on my attire for the evening. It became a nightly joke that was a great ice breaker. As I entered the dining room someone would say, "Oh, Darlene, I love the dress that you are wearing this evening." Believe it or not, I was able to laugh.

A few kind people loaned me bits and pieces of clothing to supplement my pink dress and I had to make do for ten days until we returned to Spain where my suitcase was patiently waiting minus some things that had been removed. (I am sure a man took the stuff because the only things missing were sex neutral, such as a box of instant coffee. a bottle and can opener, etc.)

The tour included a stay in a former palace in Fez and it was fantastic, but, being the trip from hell, nothing could go smoothly for long. I was careful to use bottled water for brushing my teeth and taking the usual precautions to avoid traveler's complaint. In spite of my care, I unwisely ate a salad even though I had noticed that the squash had not been fully peeled and I ended up with many trips to the loo.

The morning we left I made the stupid (I know you are going to say so and I am beating you to it) mistake of leaving my purse in my room when I went to breakfast. Since I only had a carry on, my purse was large and heavy with travel necessities that I had purchased and was a nuisance to hold on my lap when eating. I foolishly decided that since I wouldn't be gone long there was no danger. That was a huge mistake. When I returned to my room I opened my purse to get the money for the tip to the maid. Alas, I had been robbed. My American $1 bills that I used for tips was gone. The $300 worth of pesetas and the remainder of my Moroccan money was gone. You could say I had some good luck there, too, because I had my passport, credit card and traveler's checks in a neck safe. The thief could have taken my airline tickets, but I guess he decided that he would not be able to cash them in without being caught so I did have some resources left.

After we returned to Spain all went well until I pulled a shoulder muscle going up a steep step in the beautiful
Generlife gardens of the Alhambra . After many of the group departed for the U. S. I came down with a miserable cold and spent most of my time watching old movies in the hotel recreation room.

During that period of my life I was a collector of David Winter and Lilliput Lane
cottages . While in Gibraltar I bought four of them because they were so much cheaper than in the U. S. If you are familiar with them you know that the cottages are small, but the boxes are not. I was afraid to have them shipped home because I had heard of disasters when the 'paid for' purchases in Europe never arrived. By this time I had gotten the message that Murphy's Law was alive and well on this trip; what ever could go wrong, would go wrong. I was taking no chances.

At last it was time to bid adios to Spain. I now had a very large bag with four cottages to take on the plane in addition to my carry on and my purse. That totals 3 items and you are only allowed 2. When I started to board the plane a man standing at the door told me to step aside. He informed me that I was not getting on the plane. And he was adamant. When I asked why , he pointed to my 3 carry on pieces. I was nearly in tears when an American woman who had been on my tour started to board the plane and asked me what was wrong. Her husband had handled their carry luggage so she only had her purse. When I explained the situation she said, "Give me that." and took my bag of cottages. We both quickly got on the aircraft and I thought the man was going to have a stroke. He got red in the face and almost jumped up and down like Rumpelstiltskin when the princess guessed his name. He had been thwarted and I am sure he wanted to kill me. Only later did it dawn on me that if I had handed him my last $20 he would have let me on with no further hassle. I don't think fast when upset. (Sometimes I don't think fast when calm, either).

You may think this was the end of my trip to hell. Au contraire, it was not to be. When we reached Madrid and a change of planes the fog had settled in and all planes were grounded. There was not a chair left to sit on by the time our plane arrived and we had to stand for 3 hours until the fog lifted and we could be airborne once more. I was once again in possession of my 3 pieces of luggage and standing was not fun. However, another kind man took my cottages when we boarded the next time.

Because our plane was also fighting a headwind we were so late in arriving back in the U. S. that nearly everyone missed their connecting flights. We were all lined up at the Iberia counter trying to get chits for an overnight hotel room. There were two lines and I stood in the short line. After they cleared that line they stopped helping when they got to me and they all started attending to the long line while I stood there waiting. I was ignored until a representative from Grand Circle travel came up to check on me. She asked me if they had served me yet. My reply of "no" had her slam her fist on the counter and in her best Brooklyn voice loudly say, "Lets have some action here." I was speedily given a chit for dinner, a room and breakfast. They wanted to kill me too.

I requested that they call my daughter who was meeting my plane to tell her that I was not coming that night. That request, like the 'non smoking' request was ignored, also.
By this time I was wondering what I did to Spain that they wanted to punish me for. I always thought I loved the Spanish people, but they were making it hard.

Now I can assure you that all went very well from that point on. Because I did not have an assigned seat on the morning flight I was in the last row in the plane. A tall handsome young flight attendant came rushing down the aisle when he saw me board and he carried my overnight to the back of the plane. After he was through with his flight check duties he asked me if I would like coffee or juice. I had never had so much personal attention before and was happy that my trip was ending on a high note. Later when I got out my my pre-purchased ear buds t0 watch the movie I discovered that they had gotten broken in my carry on. The flight attendant noticed and brought me a new pair. After the movie he sat on the arm of my seat and chatted. Then I found out why I gotten so much attention. He told me that I looked just like his mother. After I wrote a letter to America West telling of the good service he gave me, he wrote thanking me and we exchanged Christmas cards for years.

After telling you my tale of woe, are you wondering if I was sorry I went? The answer is a resounding NO. I would do it all over again exactly the same way, glitches included, if I had the opportunity. After all, you can expect some things to go wrong on a trip, can't you? And, remember, I was bitten by the travel bug. Beside, it has provided me with material to fill
up this space.


Barry said...

Oh, Darlene. I am exhausted just reading that! Well done and thanks for sharing your story. I have never been overseas, and wonder how on Earth I would have handled it. I like coming to Arizona now for many reasons but also because, after 3 trips, I know exactly where to go and what to do. I could probably even handle San Juan after just two trips there. I am not a big fan of too much chaos, though I can handle more of it as I add the years on.

Great story.

Xtreme English said...

wow...i've always wanted to go to Morocco and Spain, and you took me there! or at least as far as the airports and plane rides. what a nightmare!!! but fun to write about years later, non? did you get to Barcelona? That's where I want to go--to see the Gaudy architecture (is that how you spell it?)

wonderful post!!

Lydia said...

I loved this post, Darlene! Having still never been on an overseas trip I sat here and lived your trip and saw the places (and faces) in my mind. You told this, from beginning to end, so well that I think you should submit it to a ....what? travel magazine? newspaper? It is extremely interesting and I won't forget your outlook and positive, excited attitude if and when I ever get a chance to travel as I dream to do.

Darlene said...

*Barry - Someday you may want to get out of your comfort zone and live dangerously. It is never dull. ;-)

Thank you for the compliment.

*Xtreme English - Sorry to say that I have not been to Barcelona. I was on the Costa del Sol most of the time.

I think that church in Barcelona would make me dizzy to look at.

*Lydia - Why, thank you Maam for the praise.

kenju said...

What a great story, Darlene, even if you had some glitches! Egypt has always been at the top of my list too, but I'm sure I'll never get there now.

Darlene said...

*Kenju - Maybe we can make the trip together. ;-}

Jack Jodell said...

I wanted to thank you for stopping by my site and commenting a few days back. Sorry I didn't reply until now, but by the time your comment had posted I had already moved on to another post.

I share your passion for travel. I am addicted to the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, clothing, music, and architecture of faraway places. I am glad that I have not experienced the same misfortunes you did on this post, but I commend you for your patiwence and excellent attitude. God bless you, and keep those spirits up! :-)

Darlene said...

*Jack Jodell - We seem to have two things in common; a love of travel and contempt for the right wing.

That was the only trip I took when everything seemed to go wrong. Of course there were minor incidences on other trips, but this one that was the pits.

Thank you for returning my visit. I do hope you will stop by again.

rummuser said...

In India,a recent survey found that 80% of the population do not travel beyond a fifty sq Km radius from where they are born! Coming from that milieu, for me it was an exciting career to be a traveling man all my working life. I have experienced some of the adventures that you have had plus some and have been planning to launch a separate blog on my travel experiences. God willing, I should find the energy and time soon! Very inspiring post yours, which should prod me along nicely!

Vagabonde said...

What a trip Darlene! It is great that you still like to travel. You know by reading my posts how addicted to travel I am. I have had good and bad trips, scary ones (fire in the plane having to land near Afghanistan), funny ones (being grounded in a monastery in Luxembourg and an air base in Iceland) and I’ll try to mention them along my posts. I went to Morocco with my daughter just after having torn my ligaments in my ankle and had a cane, but we had a good time. Last December I went to Barcelona and should have a post on this soon. My first cousins are Egyptians so I have been there 4 times now. My problem is that I travel faster than I can post. I still have to write my post about going down the coast of Norway last month and since returning I already went to Nashville and last week to Savannah. In two ½ weeks we are going to New York and 4 weeks after that to Guatemala and other places – planning all these trips is one of my great pleasures. I enjoyed your post a lot.

20th Century Woman said...

That was an amazing trip! I'm like you, I'd go anywhere. One of these days I am coming to visit Arizona and you -- or better yet, come here to the Northwest and visit me!

Darlene said...

*rummuser- as many flights as you have taken I am sure your experiences can surpass mine and a blog on them would be fun to read. I am giving you another prod. ;-)

*Vagabonde - You really are a jet setter. I think foreign places must be more familiar to you than your own home.

20th Century Woman - That sounds like a plan. I would welcome you with open arms. Mi casa, su casa.

I have always wanted to see Seattle and Vancouver, B. C. I think you must be near there. My daughter and I have hoped to take Amtrak to see those places. If I live long enough and she works long enough to get a vacation we may just do that.

One Woman's Journey said...

Darlene, I am breathless after reading "The Travel Bug"
There are a few places I would like to go but was never brave enough to go. That sure looks sad.
So I have created homes and gardens. Who knows maybe I will still venture out. Sounds silly - just do not like to leave home. I would love to visit my son in Thailand. Guess I should take a few short trips first :)

Darlene said...

*One Woman's Journey - If you want to visit your son in Thailand just get a passport, schedule a flight and GO. We only go around once and we should not put off things we want to do.

I went alone on 4 overseas trips. With a son to meet you at the other end it should be easy. All you have to do is sit in the plane and relax.

mildred garfield said...

What a trip you had and yet it did not curb you desire to travel, you love it so. That trip was one for the books. I've had some things go wrong on some of my trips but NOTHING like what you experienced!!

Some people complain and make a big deal about small things and you had a lot to be unhappy about and did the very best you could and still had a great trip.

What a woman!!!

Darlene said...

*Millie Garfield - I think you and I have learned that it's better to laugh than cry, so we make the best of things, don't we? it just makes life easier.

Ugich Konitari said...


I think you should venture further east and visit India. Of course, the shorter route would be to fly westwards and across the Pacific. India will be a totally different experience for you....

@One Woman's Journey : If you plan to come as far as Thailand, I am just a hop skip and jump away , aeronautically speaking...

Maybe you and Darlene can plan together ..

Darlene said...

*Ugich Konitari - India has always been on my bucket list. I have many photos of the Taj Mahal and the Red Palace, but money and physical limitations are, alas, the reason I will never see them in this life. It would be nice to come with Ernestine, who certainly should make that trip.

Kay Dennison said...

My goodness!!! I would have had a breakdown!!!!! You are a lady of courage and great heart!!!! But I knew that. I envy you the trip.

Darlene said...

*Kay - It was worth it. I wish you had the opportunity to take the trip, but without the problems.

joared said...

Great story! Not so much fun living parts of it.

So, when do you leave for Spain again??? To think I was upset the time I had luggage lost going from Ontario, Calif. to Monterey, Calif. and they sent my baggage to San Francisco. Had to go to next day's conference in the same clothes I flew up in and I thought that was bad. Guess I had nothing to complain about.

Come to think of it, I believe my luggage was late arriving in Quito, Ecuador years ago, but family met me there, knew the ropes and my luggage was brought to their house the same day.

Darlene said...

*Joared - This wasn't the first time my luggage was late. It happened when I flew to England, but came in on a later plane the same day. I'm sure my luggage came in the same day in Malaga, but because we were bussed to Torremelenos from there and because went to a different country the next day my luggage was not forwarded to me.