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So after yesterday's depressing story, I decided it was time to get a little jiggy with my writing and give my two cents on International travel. I promise not to bore you with the details of "where to stay" and "what paperwork is required before standing in line at the ticket counter" because those articles are a dime a dozen in the vast and informative world of the Internet. Instead, I thought it would be more interesting to share a few things I learned during my younger days from traveling abroad. Now it's been a while since I went overseas, much less boarded a plane, but I can't imagine that much has changed.
The first time I traveled overseas, was on an all expense paid trip to London, Spain, Brussels and Greece. It sounds extravagant, I know, but the truth of the matter is that I used to help out a family by taking care of their two kids and they had just gotten divorced. I wasn't a nanny per se; I was more of a last-minute babysitter who needed to pay the rent. The girls were much older (8 and 12), so watching over them was more like hanging out with family, and I always wanted to have my own sisters. So when their father, the head of psychiatry at a prestigious university, got divorced and needed some help during a 16-day, all expense paid trip overseas–I jumped at the chance!
Our first stop was London, and I was all doped up in British apparel trying to dress the part. I found myself wanting to say things like, "Don’t get your knickers in a twist!" and "Bugger off!" whenever the father was scolding his girls, but I thought it might be best to keep my mouth shut, especially since had given me his Platinum card and a green light to buy whatever I wanted.
And when we got to the hotel, I was given my very first lesson.
- Grand-Place of Brussels - City of Brussels
The Grand-Place is the central square of the City of Brussels. All over the world it is known for its decorative and aesthetic wealth. The Grand-Place is surrounded by the guild houses, the City Hall and the Maison du Roi.
Lesson #1: Just Because A Hotel Is Rated Four Stars, Doesn't Mean It Is!
The elevator was about the same size as my shoe, so throwing two kids and all of our luggage in really wasn't an option. And the stairs weren't a whole lot better; they creaked at every turn and smelled like my grandmother's bathroom (before she died, of course). But I didn't care... I just wanted to wash my face and lie down for a bit before jetting out to embark on our first of many overpriced meals. I opened the door, hoping for roses and champagne, but was forced to settle on twin beds and a mini bar with a lock on it. I was happy it was only a two night stay.
By the time we got to Brussels, I was an old pro. I knew when to smile and when to pretend I didn't speak English. And since our hotel was just a few miles from the Grand Place (pronounced ɡʁɑ̃ plas), I was able to practice a lot. We dined in the finest restaurants, snacked on chocolate covered Belgian Waffles (hot off the griddle), and roamed the streets for hours on end, looking for nothing in particular. It was magnificent, and I'm lucky to have been there. But there was a very significant lesson to be learned, and it came at the expense of one of the other doctors.
It's probably a good thing he took a cab or this might have been him!
Being thrown into a holding cell overseas can be scary!
Have you ever been arrested in a foreign country?
Lesson #2: Never Get So Drunk You Forget Where You Are
According to sources, he had gone on a late night pub crawl with a group of young drug pushers from the pharmaceutical team, and had gotten so wasted that he didn't know where he was. When it was time to head back to the hotel, he hopped a cab, poured his drunken corpse into the back seat and gracelessly handed the driver a tiny brochure that he had pulled from the nightstand in his room.
The next morning, he reflected upon the chain of events that took place once he got in the cab. He told us that the driver had "laughed in his face" when he handed him his crumpled marketing campaign, but he was too drunk to ask why. And when the cab finally stopped in front of an ornately designed building, he whipped out his wallet and tossed out a few wrinkled bills. Then he jumped out, slurred something that he believed to be French, and waved good-bye to the only friend he'd never have.
And there he stood; the drunken fool... In the exact same spot where the cab had picked him up just twenty-minutes earlier.
A five star luxury hotel worth every penny!
- Hotel Arts Barcelona | Luxury hotel in Barcelona
A haven of comfort and tranquility, caught somewhere between sea and sky. Each of the Hotel Arts Barcelona 483 rooms, suites and apartments offers everything you could need for a restful, relaxing stay.
Lesson #3: Act Like You Know What You're Doing!
Barcelona was everything I had ever imagined and more! We had come a long way since London, and we were living large–in a two bedroom flat at the Hotel Arts Barcelona, (which I would highly recommend). I stayed on one side with the girls, while their father was shacked up on the other side with a remote control and an enormous stacks of paperwork, most of which were our receipts. And the next day, when the sun came beaming into our room, we stuffed our faces with a fabulous meal and headed out to observe.
I couldn't talk my way out of a paper bag in any language, but I quickly learned two Spanish phrases that left people wondering if I was a local or just an idiot trying to be funny. So whenever anyone asked for the time or what I wanted for dessert, I simply responded with one of my well rehearsed passages; "Estos niños me hacen ver gorda?" - "Americanos estúpidos!"
A few nights into our Spanish expedition, we were invited to join a group of upper crust doctors on a visit to a local art gallery. And just like everything else had been during our all-inclusive vacay, the field trip was a four star event. It was also an opportunity to learn something new.
Lesson #4: While Attending A Private Art Gallery Tour, Don't Act Like A Jerk!
The kid's father was pretty high up on the crazy chain; and because of it, the pharmaceutical companies were all vying for a position to be one of his key ass kissers. So all of our expenditures; meals, hotels and private parties, were coming straight out of their budgets–and their pockets were obviously quite deep. About thirty-minutes into the evening, a young woman stepped up to the microphone to make a brief announcement. Her English was not very good and she was a bit soft spoken, but I wanted to hear what she had to say, so I listened. She was inviting us to join her on a tour of the gallery, which I for one did not want to miss. And that's when the next thing happened.
As she herded us down the hallway towards the first exhibit, we could hear a group of high school boys giggling and being disruptive. We stopped in front of a sculpture; where our tour guide began describing the message behind the piece. But I couldn't hear a thing. What I did hear were the obnoxious jokes and chuckles coming out of a group of boys that were standing right behind me. I looked at the oldest daughter, who was rolling her eyes in disgust, and then turned around to say something. And there he was; her father, whooping it up with his little doctor buddies and not listening to a word. "Shh!" I hissed–and shot him the same look that my mother gave me the night she caught me playing quarters with the older twin brothers who lived down the street.
As we shuffled our way into the next room, he hit me in the arm and smiled... "What are you getting all huffy about?" At the risk of getting fired and having to fly all the way back home before making it over to Greece, I bit my tongue–but only for a minute. Then I gave him a five minute lecture on proper etiquette and asked him to stop being so rude. "I can do whatever I want!" he barked, "Who do you think is paying for this little shindig?" And that's when I laid down my hammer and reminded him of who the real debtor was. The next day, we packed up our bags and headed off to the airport to learn another series of important travel lessons.
Lesson #5: If You're Going To Take A Puddle Jumper To An Island In The Aegean Sea, You Might Want to Make A Few Calls
Like I said, it was my first trip overseas and I didn't know what to expect–but dying wasn't even on my radar! It was like a Europen episode of Gilligans Island, only the professor wasn't there to fix anything. We shaked, rattled and rolled for one solid hour; and when the plane finally landed, the entire cast and crew stood up and started to cheer.
Later that evening, while drinking away my nervous tick, I uncovered yet another euro rule.
Lesson #6: Never Order Anything Off The Menu That You Can't Eat
So there I was, sitting with thirty of the top neurosurgeons, psychiatrists and drug runners from across the globe, trying to figure out what to order off the menu. Did I mention I was the only girl, other than his two daughters? It was obvious to me what had been twirling around in everyone's one-track mind–that he's paying me for more than just watching his kids. But I decided to throw the old dog a bone and pretend it didn't matter (because in the grand scheme of things, it didn't).
As I continued to squint my way down the menu, an overwhelming fear of what to order began to brush over me. "Dude," I whispered, elbowing my bosses' best friend, "Can you read any of this? it's all in Greek to me!" He laughed for a second, then gave me his neither can I face and suggested I try the red snapper. So when the waiter came over and asked if I was ready to order, I just smiled and pointed to the number twenty-six.
It was a gorgeous night, and we were seated outside on the patio overlooking The Aegean Sea. As always, my plate was the final delivery; and when our waiter came around to hand me my last supper, I could hear the muffled laughter of thirty well-fed mouths boring into my paranoid eardrums. He was carrying a plate that was as big as my chair, which required the use of both hands. And as my bountiful feast began to make its final descent, I could hear my advisor preparing to deliver an old fish joke that he had tucked up his sleeve.
It was one of the biggest fish that I had ever seen, and he had the most beautiful eyes. But they wouldn't stop staring at me! "Eww!" Screamed the eldest of the two girls, "That's NASTY!" And she proceeded to poke it with her fork. When the initial shock wore off, I couldn't help but laugh. "Only me!" I smiled, while wiping the draining eyeball up with my gently-used napkin. And when my soon-to-be ex advisor offered to "send it back to the kitchen and order something else," my voice of reason began chanting in my other ear... "Never send back a meal in a foreign country!"
And I'm glad I didn't; because it truly was one of the tastiest slabs of meat I ever had!
Car Rental in Greece
- Auto Europe Car Rentals
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Lesson #7: When In Rhodes, Rent A Car!
Getting to dinner was no problem. The hotel had a plethora of taxi's eagerly waiting outside to cart us around their proud city. But after dinner; all bets were off. We walked for what seemed like days, looking for anyone that would be willing to give us a lift. And there were cats everywhere. It's almost as if they KNEW what I just had for dinner!
When we finally were able to flag someone down, the girls and I were the first ones to go. "Make sure you send him back!" they shouted, unsure of my intentions. But when I asked if he could "go back and get them after dropping us off," he just laughed and said, "No." I was confused, but didn't want to give him any reason to kick us out, so I just smiled in my innocent American way and asked if he "wouldn't mind calling one of his friends to see if they could do it." Again, he just laughed and told me that he couldn't, while pointing to a non-existent phone in his front seat. It wouldn't have done any good to point out the phone that was glued to his knee–he didn't care. But it did make me happy to see him in such a good mood, and I thanked him by not leaving a tip.
I always wanted to go to Greece and get in touch with my inner archeologist; so when we woke up the next morning and asked the girls what they wanted to do, I could feel the tears begin to well up in my eyes... "POOL!" After an intense negotiation, we agreed that the first day would be theirs, and the second was all mine. And when my turn came, I slid one of the drivers a wad of bills and asked him to be our chauffeur for the day; which brings us to our final lesson.
An interesting read as you're waiting in line...
Lesson #8: Never Wear A Dress When You're Riding A Donkey!
And as you can imagine, I was never going to be ready for what I was about to experience.
I was dying to see the Acropolis, and when we got there I was ready to roll. But it was a big hill, and I, of course, was wearing the wrong shoes. When we got out of the Taxi, we were greeted by several freaks and a handful of mules. The little one wanted to ride on a donkey, which seemed like a great idea (for a kid). I offered to walk alongside her, but was quickly dismissed with a shrug and a set of despondent eyes. When we finally made it up the hill and managed to climb the ancient stairwell, I entered into my own fanstasical universe–where I would remain for next few hours.
On the way back down, the little one asked again if she could "ride a donkey?" And for a second time, I offered to walk alongside. "That's okay," she began, "I don't need to." But I knew how much she wanted to ride that beast... And what kind of non-nanny freeloader would I have been to turn my back on her last European wish? I took a deep breath, looked over at her sister and uttered seven words that I wish I could forget, "I'll do it if YOU do it!"
Now, there are a few circumstances here that I want to address... First, I was wearing a sundress with a pair of platform sandals (yes, I know, you don't have to tell me). Second, I got chased by a wild horse when I was a kid and ended up jumping into a lake in order to escape his toothy grin. In other words, I'd rather walk. And lastly, I'm petrified of heights. But hey, I'll take one for the team when I need to, and I needed to that day.
But imagine my surprise when I found out that donkeys actually prefer walking on the edge of a cliff (without railings), as opposed to walking in the street with everyone else. And when a little thick-skinned man came over and asked if I was scared, I felt obligated to tell him the truth, "I'm scared shitless!" The next thing I knew, he pulled out a whip and cracked it straight across that ass (and I'm talking about mine); generating a hefty gallop that will forever be known as the most embarrassing three-minutes of my life.
And I can't wait to go back one day and do it again... But not in Lindos; word on the street is that they abuse their donkeys. Kind of makes you wonder who the REAL ass is?!
© 2014 Lisa René LeClair