Archive for October, 2007

Bathroom blunder

October 27, 2007

One of the reasons I was excited about traveling to England last month was because it was the first time in years I’d be in a foreign country where I could actually speak the language. How relaxing! On Day One, I was reminded how being fluent didn’t mean being attentive. I could blame jet lag, but my friends would know better.The trip went like this: By plane from Durham, NC, to Atlanta to Munich to Manchester, England. By train: Manchester to Newcastle, a three-hour ride. About halfway through the trip I got up to use the loo.automated tubular contraption It was an automated tubular contraption, much like the one pictured here, but in this case tucked inside the hallway area between the conductor and the first car. I pushed the “open” button and the door slid open on its track, much like an elevator. Inside, I pushed the “close” and it closed.

As I was doing my business, I was shocked to hear the whir of the door as it slowly slid opened. While quickly but only partly pulling up my pants, I instinctively stood and reached to close the door, which was as ineffective as reaching for an automated car window on its way down.

I looked up to find an elderly woman watching me, while the male ticket taker had been polite enough to turn away.

“I’m so sorry, love, I guess you didn’t lock it, did you?” she said.

I guess I didn’t, did I?

I mumbled something while I found and stabbed at the “close” button, which, it turned out, was right next to the “lock” button.

“Leave it to the Yank,” I said with a red-faced smile as I exited.

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Mother/daughter climb Kilimanjaro

October 22, 2007

Where they Went by Diane Daniel
(published Oct. 21, Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: I was surprised that the mother was facing her retirement as the end of something, not the beginning. She told me she was viewing the mountaintop as “well, it will be all downhill from here.” Instead, she ended up seeing  it as one of many mountains to climb. An exciting turnaround! Also, I have a fondness for parent/child travel, probably because my trips with my parents were torturous affairs, mostly from the backseat of the car. As an adult, I never traveled with my mother and father, so I’m a bit in awe of those who do, and have fun along the way!

Who: Meredith Dana Krauss, 30, of Waltham, and her mother,  Natalie Dana, 60, of Marlborough, Conn.

Where: Tanzania and Zanzibar

When: Two weeks in July 2007

Why: “I was retiring and turning 60 and I felt like I needed something to knock my socks off, something to fill the void,” Dana said. “I knew that climbing  Kilimanjaro was doable, that it’s a nontechnical climb.”

Meredith and Natalie camping on Mount KilimanjaroMother and daughter: “I was going to go with a friend and when I said to Meredith, ‘Guess what I’m going to do?’ she said, ‘Oh, I want to do that.’ To me, the thought of summitting with my daughter was just amazing.” The friend later had to cancel. Krauss, not a big hiker, trained only a little, keeping in mind “you can’t train for the altitude.” Her mother, meanwhile, ran and backpacked to prepare.

Leading the way: Dana’s online research led her to Tusker Trail of Nevada. “They talked about the treatment of their porters and the detail to our medical condition. They check your oxygen level twice a day and carry a hyperbolic chamber.” Dana chose a nine-day climb so they would have plenty of time to acclimate.

Shaky start: They met their two other group members, a 22-year-old woman from New York and a 65-year-old woman from Louisiana, and their three guides in Tanzania. Their first night of camping, they felt the mountain shake. The guides downplayed it, but a guest swore it was an earthquake. The next day they found out she was correct. A quake in nearby Arusha had shaken the mountain.

Step by step: “We went up the mountain one step a second,” Dana said. “There were a lot of rocks and you really had to watch where you were hiking. We would hike five to nine hours a day. They would break up the long and short days. I was not ever sore.” They were accompanied by 24 porters. “At first I felt like I was exploiting them, but then later I felt good that they were being employed,” she said. Krauss was impressed that the porters brought up a portable toilet for the four women to share. “No other groups had that,” she said of the other hikers camping at the same overnight stops.

Lunar and lofty: “Every day was different,” Krauss said. “First the trees were higher than us, then lower, then there were lava rocks and slate. They say it’s like going from the equator to the arctic. The landscape was “like being on the moon, with black lava rock,” Dana said. “It‘s so vast, a haunting beauty. When we got above the clouds, I thought, ‘I walked over these clouds’ It was just thrilling, a real sense of accomplishment.”

Natalie and Meredith on Mount KilimanjaroTo the tiptop: On summit day, they wore crampons to walk along the icy glacier at top to reach the top, at 19,341 feet. They didn’t stay long because the youngest hiker had altitude sickness. That night they camped at  18,300 feet and were down the mountain in two days. To decompress, mother and daughter spent three days on the beach in Zanzibar, which they called a perfect ending. Once home, Krauss started to hike around Boston. As for Dana, Kilimanjaro was “really empowering and life altering. I’m ready to go again.”

Trying to be a regular bloke

October 14, 2007

Most of the newspapers I write for don’t allow journalists to take any sort of press trips, press rates, or any sort of subsidies. The ethics of subsidized travel is a huge topic in the press and travel industry. I do think it is impossible to take “freebies” and not feel somewhat beholden to the giver. But my top argument for traveling as a traveler and not as a “travel writer” is that I want to get the full experience, as any “regular bloke” would, thereby providing, I think, a much better service to my readers.

I did go to tourism officials for non-financial assistance when I planned an early-October cycling trip with Wessel and two Dutch friends, Victor and Marlene Benard (who co-own Free Spirits, a smashing travel/outdoor store in Amsterdam). I wanted information on the route, lodging, and bike hire (“rental” for you Yanks). I said I wanted no discounts whatsoever. Because I was writing an article on the Hadrian’s Cycleway, tourism officials would have been happy to set me up with heavily discounted or perhaps free bikes, lodging, and probably even meals.

I used the bike-rental company recommended by the tourism folks. The company,  it turned out, subcontracted to another company, therefore increasing the price. Annoying!  They did know I was a writer, so in that way I realize I’m not completely “regular.” But I did ask for services and prices that “any regular bloke” would receive. Wessel and I rented bikes, while Victor and Marlene brought their tandem over on the ferry from the Netherlands.  The bikes cost $220 each for the week. I made sure they’d be equipped with water bottle cages and front and back panniers, as we would be carrying our own gear.  I also arranged transportation for us all from Newcastle, on England’s east coast, to Ravenglass on the west, and the official start of the Cycleway — that cost $550!! 

Diane packs panniers in Greenhead, UKWhen we met our driver and got our bikes, we discovered that Wessel’s bike had no front panniers or water bottle cage. Had everything been free or discounted, would I have expressed my annoyance? Maybe a little, but maybe not. But because I was a regular bloke, I felt free to raise a little hell. It didn’t get me far. Wessel went without front panniers, and Victor and Marlene loaned us one of the water bottle cages from their bike.

What I found ironic was that the bike company, which had been willing to give me a steep press discount, didn’t do for free what would have impressed me most — provide  great service.

In the end, after our marvelous trip was finished, I contacted the company and ended up getting a refund for one of the bike rentals — $220. They offered to refund both, but I felt that was excessive, and likely special treatment based on my being a travel writer. I will say that the bike company has a very good reputation and I think my experience was unusual.

Despite my pleas to be treated like a regular bloke, here’s the final irony. Although the bike company owner said he wasn’t making excuses for the service issues, he did say this: “We don’t normally do just transfers [as opposed to shuttle service *and* accommodation arrangement] because by the time we have paid for the driver, fuel, vehicle costs there is no margin to cover any of our costs. Given you are a journalist and the fact we are keen to promote our region, we were keen to help despite the fact we knew we weren’t going to make money on your tour. “

The moral of the story: when someone knows you’re a travel writer, they’re probably not going to treat you like a regular bloke, even if you ask them to.

Back from England, aren’t I, love?

October 11, 2007

Crikey! I’m home after 16 days in northern England. Today, whilst driving at home in Durham, NC, not to be confused with Durham, England, I got in the left lane when I should have been in the right. I didn’t drive in England, but I did bicycle and it took many days to remember to “stay left!” England_Hadrian’s Cycleway_National Cycle Network_route 72I guess I remembered a little too well. Mostly while cycling there I felt like an owl, turning my head almost 360 before making any move in traffic. When it came to the roundabouts, however, I couldn’t wrap my American brain around the logistics and simply followed just behind my husband, Wessel, who is better at figuring out traffic things. (Though I think I’m a better driver, but we haven’t held an official contest.) He’s Dutch and lived in the UK at one point, plus he’s just better with directional things, although I did get him good one day in Durham, England, not to be confused with Durham, NC, when he was turned around and I wasn’t. I love when that  happens! (Once a year or so.)
Start of Hadrian’s Cycleway in Ravenglass, UK
From left: Marlene, Diane, Wessel and Victor at the start of Hadrian’s Cycleway in Ravenglass, England.