Tag Archives: europe

Disaster 101

Disaster 101- a new name for my blog?

No! That would be asking for trouble although it seems to find us just the same.

After a reasonably comfortable seven week stay in a static caravan/single-wide which welcomed us on our first full day in Blighty with a puddle in the sitting room, himself drove 1260 miles to the south east coast of Italy while I alternately argued with and fumed at the GPS.

In hindsight, four days of driving, six days in Italy and a return trip of four straight days of driving was an even more ridiculous idea than the time we flew from Arizona to the UK and set off, jet-lagged to drive to the south of France.

Needless to say on our return from Italy, we were exhausted, grimy, hungry and already in a poor frame of mind when we stepped into the hell that was to be our home for the next two weeks. The curtains hung in loops from the rails, only attached every few feet like sad bunting; it smelled of dog and the carpet looked like he’d made himself right at home. There was a gaping maw where one of only two kitchen drawers had been and the cookware consisted of two small saucepans, enough for a tin of beans each.

We’d begun the tedious but necessary job of disinfecting every surface when I encountered the last straw – the kitchen sink was blocked. I poked at it with a fork and a black Satan’s spew regurgitated into the sink.

After a fourth trip with the various complaints to reception, the maintenance men turned up, disassembled the plumbing, lost a crucial piece of pipe and blamed us for taking it.

FBI Badge & gun.
FBI Badge & gun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At 10 minutes to closing time we stood in reception, stunned with tiredness and incredulous with our bad luck, to argue our case with an 18-year-old. The manageress had made herself scarce.

We were given no alternative accommodation, no compensation, not even an apology, just a refund.

At six o’clock on a Friday night our car was crammed with suitcases of dirty washing and groceries with nowhere to cook them. We were shattered and we were homeless. Again.

Our only option was to go to the FBI.

Ferry Boat Inn - Outside the Pub
Photo credit: http://www.ferryboatinn.org.uk/index.html

At the Ferryboat Inn (FBI – geddit?), a low-ceilinged, timber-framed seaside pub exuding warmth and comfort, we stuffed our faces with fish and chips and downed large glasses of red wine. On the way to the pub, we’d booked a hotel for the night so felt no further need to molly-coddle the few functioning brain cells we’d left between us.

Dear friends took us in the next day and even offered to put up the marquee for us to sleep in.

We declined the marquee so this is where they made us sleep:

. . . . . to have this view every morning when I opened the curtains:

And this is where they made us eat candlelit dinners night after night . . . .

buxhall 013

. . . .and relax afterwards here . . .

buxhall 015

. . . . kept warm of a chilly evening by a giant inglenook fireplace:

English country house

I had just his tiny garden to play in:

Our friends kindness and generosity kept us from walking into the North Sea – ending our Which Way Now quest forever.

And speaking of the sea, I can feel your sympathy ebbing away.

We are now rested and as sane as we’ll ever be and ready to embark on our next phase – life in a tiny rental house. Our big black Chevy truck is being titivated for the UK roads and our furniture is languishing in a customs shed. We’ve no idea where any of it is other than not at the bottom of the Atlantic.

We have just been emailed and asked to write a review for our “holiday” by the head office of the caravan park – corporate communication being what you would expect. No one thought to question why we had a full refund on the day our “holiday” was due to start.

Trip Advisor here I come!

Chocoholics Unite

So many of you drooled over your keyboards when I posted pictures of our desserts we felt obliged to take the same route back through France and stay in the same hotel so we could go back to the Restaurante de le Maire  to eat the same dessert so I could  photograph it and post it again. So . . . . .

image

Here it is and please no comments about the fact that the wine bottle and glasses are empty. You all encouraged me to drink.
Here is a close up:

image

The profiteroles were full of ice cream and the chocolate was pooling around them. I didn’t eat it all. I left some for you. Enjoy!

Toll Booth Terror

I thought it couldn’t get any worse than yesterday.

Our first toll of the day was €4.10. Take a ticket; drive until a toll booth appears; pay for the kilometers traveled.

Of the dozen or so booths, some had a red X over them and some were for the prepaid Telepass. Others only take a carte – never a good option as you can’t be sure what your credit card will be charged and receipts are unpredictable. That leaves cash only, denoted by a picture of coins and notes – 12 lanes of traffic – quick make a choice!

“Look for an arm,” I pleaded with himself, meaning I wouldn’t have to deal with the automated toll horror. I pushed a €5 note towards a human and received my change.

I felt pleased with myself, but we’d only been on the road 15 minutes.

Several miles later we drove to a barrier to pick up the next ticket. Except the barrier was up and there was no ticket. I pressed a red button. Still no ticket. I pressed the assistance button but was secretly pleased no one answered. No parlo italiano was all I could say. What good would that do?

Traffic was piling up behind us so himself pulled off the road the other side of the barrier and stopped.

“We have to have a ticket,” I said unhelpfully.

Himself stared stoically ahead.

“If we don’t have a ticket we’ll be charged the maximum amount.” My hand twitched towards the door handle. The next booth over was dispensing tickets and I contemplated sprinting across two lanes of traffic and assaulting that machine.

Trucks flew out from a blind bend and barreled through the booth we’d just come through. I thought better of offering up my life for a toll ticket. “One of us has to go and get a ticket,” I said, meaning not me. Both lanes had a solid stream of traffic.

Himself was looking over his shoulder by now. His hand moved towards the gear stick. He put the car into reverse and began backing up.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

“Stop yelling at me!”

“I’M NOT YELLING AT YOU!” I yelled at him.

I dared look behind only once to see that the lane was clear before himself began a tenuous reverse chicane maneuver around some superfluous barriers on the wrong side of the lane.

He rounded the first barrier and snugged up between the two for a moment’s shelter from the fear of the trucks appearing and ramming us. He began to reverse around the second barrier and I remember thinking, pathetically, I hope he doesn’t take my wing mirror off by driving too close to the barrier. I mean, really, a) I know he’s a better driver than that, and b) with our lives at risk, who cares?

Miraculously, he reversed far enough to go through the booth spitting out tickets and I grabbed one and slunk down in my seat.

I’m not an alcoholic. I’m really not. I don’t drink in the mornings. I rarely have a glass of wine at lunchtime. I don’t even have a drink every evening. But I’m having one tonight!

'Aloha' from Lake Geneva
‘Aloha’ from Lake Geneva. We made it through the Alps!

Airport Gestapo #2

How about a sharp tongue? Photo Credit: Wikipedia

. . . . . . previously, my bad flight karma had just begun as I faced off with a towering disagreeable-looking security officer at Heathrow Airport while she terrified some other victim of the search police.

Allowing the crush of pushy people and non-stop bags all around to empty my brain of common sense, I tutted and scowled and pushed my carry-on onto apparently her table in order to repack it after the x-ray scan.

It was a big table. There was plenty of room for both of us to conduct our business.

She gave it a resolute shove so it was teetering on the brink. I’d lost my gap on the downhill rollers from the x-ray machine with the flow of bags, trays, shoes and coats clattering along, so now had a cumbersome carry-on in no man’s land with jacket, handbag and computer in trays and not enough hands to deal with them all. Jimmy was not in my frantic field of vision. At least I’d kept my shoes on so my socks were clean.

A momentary vision of being pushed off a cliff with a cascade of dirty underwear, shoes and computers pelting me was shattered by the security führer barking, “You can take your bag over there to those chairs,” showing complete unwillingness to share her precious table.

“I can’t carry all this over there,” I muttered darkly and a little more loudly than I intended. A deep-seated mistrust of strangers in public places had me thinking I must do it all in one trip and not leave anything behind for one moment for some foreigner to steal while my back was turned.

Who was I kidding? I was the foreigner in England.

The mistrust stems back to having my tailored velvet jacket stolen from under my nose while I was having a shoulder massage at a convention in London. By the time I’d replaced the jacket it was out of fashion, or perhaps it never was in and my fashion sense angel took it.

But back to the crisis at hand. Breeeathe, I told myself, Put your jacket on, put your handbag on your shoulder, pick up the computer in one hand and pick up your case . . . . “uuuuh!” . . . with the other hand.

CRASH!

It hit the floor with just a little too much petulant vigor and I rolled it over to the chair, a chair intended for sitting, a chair not really large enough to hold my over-size carry-on, the sort of carry-on Jimmy and I used to point at and grumble sanctimoniously, “That’s too big for a carry-on. How are they going to fit that in the overhead locker? No wonder the lockers are always full and there’s never any room for our bags.” Now we both have one.

Okay. Trauma over. A few steps away from the seething mass and with my carry-on balanced on the arms of the chair, I tried a zipper. Aha! I slipped the computer into its slot amongst its protective underwear, zipped up the case, popped it on the floor and was ready to roll.

“This is all nonsense, taking shoes off being optional. What kind of way is that to conduct security?” I spat at no one in particular as Jimmy was keeping his distance, embarrassed to be with me. I turned to look for our boarding gate.

“Excuse me, madam. Will you come with me?”

Things went from bad to worse.

. . . . to be continued.

Coffee Society

After experiencing pained but patient expressions on harassed staff’s faces, I ask you, “Why can’t I just order a cup of coffee?”

My previous choices while travelling around Europe had been simply coffee or tea. (Although in some of the more remote villages the patron had to leave the beer pumps unattended, dust off a chipped mug and go in search of hot water.)

Taking care to study long menus of coffee in different joints, with much muttering and consternation, I thought I’d finally got it all worked it out.  Depending on what coffee shop I was in, Starbucks et al, I would casually ask for brewed or drip coffee or an Americano.

After a quick glance at the menu at a local café I asked for two small Americanos.

“12 oz or 8 oz?” In other words, small or very small? You can’t possibly want a tiny little 8 oz. cup of coffee.

“8 oz.”

“Single or double?”

What? Oh, right. A double shot would make us tea-drinking coffee novices hyperactive for the rest of the day. “Single.”

“With room?” Oh, I know that one. I should have asked for Americanos with room. Otherwise the cup is filled to the brim with coffee and no room for milk – no, cream, they call it cream, even if it is milk.

“Yes.”

“For here or carry out?”

“Here.”

There, that wasn’t so hard was it for two small plain coffees? But then we had to puzzle over whole milk, skim milk, half & half or soy milk. The land of too much choice was still baffling us.

Starbucks at the mall was a favorite haunt for its amusement value. With a prime location at the entrance of the mall it was always busy, busy, loud and chaotic with three baristas taking orders and three more baristas churning out the orders at the back. I learned to order an 8 oz. brewed in a 12 oz. cup topped up with hot water, as it was always too strong, with room and a cup of ice water to quench my thirst after I’d drunk the coffee which always left a bad taste in my mouth. I would bellow my order over the head of the customer in front who was chanting out their long order to another barista, then hear my order hollered to the back of the shop. A third patron was doing the same. Nothing seemed to be written down. Everyone shouted.

Then one would step to the next counter to wait, and the real fun began. I never identified the body because bags of ground coffee, mugs, coffee pots and other coffee paraphernalia were piled high between me and her but orders began to appear on the counter accompanied by the most wonderful sing-song voice, “I have a tall peppermint frappuccino. I have a grande cappuccino light. I have a tall mocha caramel frappuccino with extra cream. Here’s a cinnamon dolce latte with extra syrup. I have an iced white mocha. I have a venti extra maple extra whipped blended frappuccino and I’m still working on two grande non-fat lattes. Here’s a double-top sugar-free cinnamon dolce frappucinno with hazelnut syrup. I have an espresso macchiato.” And on it went in a high-pitched syrupy voice that sliced through the crowd like a knife through a low-fat double-top strawberry & crème extra whipped sugar-free dolce frappuccino with caramel and chocolate chip syrup, while surely my little black coffee and water got lost in the madness, but no, “I have a small brewed with room and ice water,” and there it was! My order! I felt almost American again immersed in coffee shop society.

But shouldn’t I now get a bit more adventurous?

No Credit? !*#@!

How were we to indoctrinate ourselves back into civilization without credit cards to abuse? Accustomed to being saddled with debt for years in the U.K. and Europe to the delight of all the corporations involved we faced the most extraordinary situation on arrival in the United States – not creditworthy! Credit history is stored under one’s social security number. The problem was that Jimmy didn’t have a SSN on arrival in the U.S. and mine had been inactive for 30 years. I didn’t have a bad credit history, just a curiously dormant past having been an ex-pat.

To get a credit card with our bank (a large multi national organization that doesn’t recognize that anyone outside of the United States has a credit history) I was required to deposit with the bank whatever amount of money I wanted as a credit limit, say $500. I could spend the $500 of my own money that I had deposited with them but then must pay my own money back to the bank each month. At the end of six months my account would be reviewed and “some restrictions may be lifted.”

Jimmy and I were both angry about this ridiculous requirement and got a bit snappy with each other because of our credit-card-free predicament, which was unfortunate as we can get snappy with each other without outside provocation. We’d made deposits to the electricity company and the phone company but the bank’s requirements were just the last straw. That and we don’t like banks.

After much wrangling (not with the stingy bank) I am now the proud owner of two U.S. credit cards – one with a credit limit of $300 and the other with a credit limit of $500. So I am blessed with a total of $800 of credit in the U.S. despite the fact that my two UK credit cards have a credit limit of, well, quite a bit more than that.

Note: Five years later, the credit limit is still restricted to $800. What gives?

Second note: I still don’t have a credit card with the bank. I say let them struggle along without my credit card business.

Welcome to America

A house with no wheels
A house with no wheels

Back to the beginning and the start of homelessness. We packed our four-bedroomed English country cottage into storage and traveled through Europe in a trailer.

We sold the trailer after two years, packed up what was left of our belongings and flew from London to America via Copenhagen. A 10 hour transatlantic flight was endured with two Danish cats across the aisle yowling and peeing all the way.

Empty-headed from last-minute preparations, jet lag and sleep deprivation as well as sad at having given up my previous life in Europe, I mustered enough brainpower to be sanctimoniously pleased at not being the one faced with A Green Card Interrogation. This wouldn’t be the last time I could relax in the relative safety of being an American passport holder on native soil while my other half runs the gamut of being the alien.

I tried to keep up the pretense of being supportive as Jimmy had only recently sprung free of the concentration camp of working life. Forty-two years of long, high stress days had taken their toll on his health. Living in America was his reward. However. The Immigration Officer was going to be his problem.

We were ominously singled out from the long snaking queue of disheveled travelers channeling through the immigration hall in Seattle. Indian saris and African native dresses brightened up the drab, wrinkled mass of humanity. Rich spicy smells and exotic perfumes let me know I wasn’t in line quite yet for Would you like fries with that?

The taciturn immigration official who’d beckoned us to his desk greeted us with “Sit down!” Jimmy’s green card application papers were requested with a glare and a gesture and he poured through them with fierce determination. After a nerve-wracking five minutes and without a word he waved Jimmy back up to the desk. I languished in my chair until he pointed a knobbly finger at me and grumbled, “Her too.”


Here it comes. The inquisition. A marriage of convenience with the spouse as sponsor? He’s going to ask me what color toothbrush Jimmy uses, his mother’s maiden name and the name of his first pet. Did he even have a pet? Unsure of much less obscure facts in my present state – What is your name? Where have you flown from? Are you here for business or pleasure? all tricky questions, I’ve found, when jet-lagged – I got up and stood meekly by, avoiding eye contact with the man who had so far spoken only four words.

He continued to shuffle Jimmy’s papers as though looking for some incriminating information he’d spotted earlier but then said to Jimmy, “I’m gonna take your fingerprints,” and suddenly grabbed Jimmy’s right index finger in a vice-like grip. He inked the digit, hovered it over a form and commanded, “Now relax and le’me do it.” He aimed the finger at the box on the page then backed off and accused Jimmy, “You’re pushin’.”


This was the last step in the immigration process for Jimmy that had so far taken two years, hours of pouring through contradictory forms, hundreds of pounds sterling spent, prodding by expensive London doctors, several visits to the U.S. Embassy in London and unnecessary chest x-rays carted thousands of miles.

Mr. Congeniality waggled Jimmy’s hand, shaking his whole arm like a dog with a bone, aimed again, and fumed, “You’re still pushin’.” Keeping my eyes down, I stared at the blank form. Involuntary pictures – hallucinations? – formed in my head. The gnarly immigration officer began to resemble Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, but without the hair and the beard and the staff and the long dress.

After ten bouts of finger wrestling and with Jimmy’s whole upper body relaxed by the imposed mini Mexican waves, the fingerprints were eventually smeared on the page and the form filling was quickly completed. I never spoke. Jimmy never spoke. We were dismissed with a “You’re outta here.” What a sweetie.