The Only Trip to Europe I Ever Took That Really Sucked!
My wife has a wild & crazy friend (we'll call her N) who likes to travel. Well, a friend of hers is a travel agent and said that she could get really cheap cruise tickets for a Mediterranean cruise in November, this was say 4 years ago when our daughter was studying in Aix-en-Provence. The cruise was Barcelona - Nice - Livorno - Rome - Palermo and back to Barcelona, one week long. N mentioned to my wife that HER mom wanted to go as well, and then I said to them that if they were going to go all the way to Europe that they really ought to see Paris as well (as N and her mom had never been there). I then volunteered (mistake No. 1) to take them to Paris, and then escort them down to Barcelona and get them aboard the ship OK. I would then spend the week in Spain or go visit our daughter in Aix or go to Portugal, whatever. NO WAY was I going on a cruise with 3 women, NO WAY! "I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid." (Old Texas saying)
We flew to Paris. As my wife was still a Peruvian (mistake No. 2) she had an irregularity at the airport. After much huffing & puffing (and a fine of 200 Euros), we got a 2 day extension for her to try and go to the Prefecture there in Paris to get it straightened out (else, BACK to the USA). Well, France has an impenetrable bureaucracy, and we got NOTHING done the whole day we were there. Keep in mind, that she and I had traveled to France a few times before, and were MARRIED (she also had her green card)!
Having gotten nowhere with the bureaucrats, we just said the hell with it and changed our to travel plans to Barcelona, my wife and I would go by train (to lessen the chance that a guy at the Airport would kick her out of Paris). N and her mom (also named N, so it's "The Ns" now) would take the flight Paris - Barcelona as planned. So, we touristed Paris a couple of days, oh, but my wife had her camera stolen (on the street while crossing) and my wife and N's mom got, uh, "baptized" by some birds there along the Champs Elysees (uh, are we starting to see anything ominous yet?).
OK, so it's departure day to go to Barcelona. The Ns were kind of pissed off that we were abandoning them to fly unaccompanied, but what could we do? We had a hotel reservation so that was OK. The Ns arrived OK.
But, on the train, when we got to the France - Spain border, the train stopped. Our passports were checked by France. Moments later someone kicked open the railcar door and said "PASAPORTES!" Holy Shi'ite! May get into trouble here too... I then took her Peruvian passport and put under my US one and hoped for the best. Bureaucrats came by, barely glanced at our passports and moved along.
Whew, whew, whew! Got to Barcelona without further incident. We celebrated by having dinner. And wondered who and when someone would catch her for being in Europe illegally...
After dinner, I said that I was tired of hanging around women and went out to walk around and find a congenial bar for beer or two. I was mostly down Las Ramblas there when I noticed dark things shooting out of a door, sort of like 00-buckshot coming out of a sawed off shotgun! One of them was headed my way! They were African hookers! One of them planted herself right in front of me, and said (in English): "Heeeyy, baby...?" Oh God, the horror! I was thinking what kind of germs is she carrying and hoping none of her DNA would somehow contaminate me...! I said "No gracias!" turned 180 degrees back to our hotel, and just have my beer there...
Next day, N did not have her suitcase (it was lost on the nonstop Paris - Barcelona flight)... And it was time to board the ship. I got them on OK and was then a free spirit in Europe for a week! I did Tai Chi that afternoon in a park. The next day I went to their Geology Museum (starting to sound OK now, no?).
And then the next day I decided I would travel to France to visit our daughter. Barcelona has two train stations, the Estathion de Franthia (the France Station) and the Estathion Sans (where all the trains to Madrid go). So that morning I told the cabbie to take me to Est. Franthia. I get there to find out that the ONE train to France had left earlier that morning. Uh, ningun otro a Francia hoy? No, señor, hay que ir a la Estathion Sans para ir a Franthia...
OK, another cab I get to E. Sans. I was hoping to get to (ideally) Aix or at least Marseille... But, no the only place even close to Aix was a town called Montpelier. I said, fine get me on that train! So I took it to Montp. and arrived at night. I called our daughter up and explained my situation, that I would have to figure how to get to Aix from there.
Next morning, I got to the station there. There was a train leaving in 20 minutes to Aix!!! But, the line was REALLY LONG at the machines and was not moving, so I thought, well I will just talk to the conductor as I get on the train and get it straightened out aboard. So, I talked with someone in my REALLY BAD FRENCH who just waved me aboard. I was not going to argue with someone did me a favor!
On board I found out I was on a TGV (those really fast trains)... Extra $$$... I had called her again and told her my plan. So the train arrives to Aix..., but I saw NOTHING familiar (I had been to Aix before)! I then asked the conductor how much I owed him........ He said "rien, greve!", well I knew what that meant! But... Shitsky! What now?! As I wandered, dazed and confused, who should appear but our darlin' lil daughter! I asked her, where are we? She said this was the Aix TGV station, she had managed to figure that out...
OK, we're good! And I did not even have to pay for the train! I hung out with her a bit, and wandered around Aix when she was in class. I even payed back a favor from the parents of another student (who had taken their daughter and ours to dinner one time) by taking her friend to dinner with us as well.
In a couple of days it was time for me to go back to Barcelona to get my wife and The Ns. But, the strike was still on, no trains... Sux thinks I. So EARLY in the AM I wake up and go to Aix's bus station to take a bus to Marseille and (presumably) another to Barc. November in France is COLD for me! But, OK, got to Marseille OK. Now how do I get a bus to Barcelona? After wandering around in the deep-freeze morning, I found a bus co. ticket window. Bought passage to Barcelona OK. Not having any idea if the bus had a bathroom (no) nor if they would stop from time to time for food and bathroom breaks, I just thought fcuk it and swallowed 2 codeines to STOP my system and ate and drank NOTHING to avoid problems en route... The bus trip went OK although the 3 Arabs (one in front of me, two across the aisle) chattering in Arabic amongst themselves and their cellphones notched up the needle on my Paranoia and Stress Meter... But, that night I arrived OK to Barcelona.
Next morning I went to Barcelona's airport where I was to meet them. Whoops! I was supposed to meet them at the dock, but since I was not there they figured that they had better get to the airport... At this point, most of the trip was over so we decided just to all go back on the plane to Paris, come what may (re my wife's illegal status there). Our plane arrived in Paris late at night, and it was COLD! We asked the cabbie to take us to the hotel where we were before. Ooops, no room at the inn! Full! So, I asked (groveled really, nothing like groveling before a Parisian...), please, please, please, please, please, please (etc.) help us! And he did. She & I got a very small room in the garette, as did The Ns...
Next day we went to Paris's airport. I was actually kind of looking forward to seeing some French bureaucrat lose his temper and mark my wife's passport with a permanent Do Not Enter France Ever Again stamp or something, but they never even noticed anything wrong, not even with their computers...
Their cruise? Turned out it SUCKED for them as well. The cruise ship rocked a lot in the STORMY Mediterranean and that meant that N was VERY seasick the whole time, so bad that she spent most of the cruise in Sickbay... N did not get her suitcase until Italy... N's mom got bruised from being banged around by the rocking ship. And it rained on most of their shore excursions, they lost their guide in a storm at Pompeii, etc.
So, THAT, my friend, was the only trip to Europe that ever sucked for me! Very stressful and uncomfortable. I got everything done, but, holy moly, at what a cost... My nerves were frazzled not just in Europe but a couple of days after we got back. I cannot say that it was a vacation! Nor was it for my wife and her friends.