Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Mama mia, there’s a bassotto!

December 5, 2007

Padova petI photographed this “bassotto,” the Italian word for wiener dog, in November. I’m guessing it translates to something like “low rider” and that a female would be a bassotta. You Italian speakers can let me know. I was stall-shopping at the Wednesday morning market in the historic center of Padova, a university town about a half hour west of Venice by train. I wasn’t sure if the woman would let me take her picture. I tried to catch her eye to “ask” in body language, but she never even looked at me, so I took that as a yes.

The black-and-tan standard dachshund, who I tried to engage in niceties, wasn’t the least bit interested, as he was too busy sniffing for snacks. I was amused that virtually every breed of dog I saw that day, and there were many, was decked out in a coat. I guess that’s amore!

Gelato, make way for cioccolata calda

December 2, 2007

As soon as Wessel and I decided to spend Thanksgiving week in Italy, I started dreaming of cioccolata calda — hot chocolate. In 1986 (!) I spent a winter in Vicenza, a lovely city about an hour west of Venice, and I was addicted to cioccolata. It’s not so much a drink, but a pudding, always served with a spoon.

The first one I had on this trip was in the university town of Padova, on the piazza across from the duomo. I was worn out, while Wessel was still wandering about, so I stopped at a café. cioccolata caldaThe cioccolata was bellisima! I was in heaven. It was dark, rich chocolate and so thick that using the spoon was necessary. I take mine “senza panna,” ($3) but with whipped cream ($4) is always an option. I vowed to treat myself to a cioccolata daily.

Then a sad thing happened. No other cioccolatas lived up to that first one. One barista in Venice started to pour a powdered package into the cup when I order one. Basta! 

Elsewhere, they had the real goods, but they weren’t as good. They weren’t as rich or thick. It was like trading in the Dean’s Sweets truffle for a drugstore Easter bunny. Still, it’s nice to relive that first tazza (cup) and know that more heavenly cioccolatas are out there.

Coincidentally, today’s New York Times has an article on thick hot chocolate in New York in its Travel section.

For you at-home hot-chocolate cooks, I found a recipe online for thick hot chocolate and it was molta buona!

Right place, wrong time

November 8, 2007

A crazy thing happened before my recent nonstop Delta flight from Durham, NC, to Boston. The flight was scheduled to leave at 4:25 p.m. I got an email at 1:25 p.m. saying “we have just been advised of a time change.” The flight was rescheduled for 5:36 p.m. On the way to the airport, around 4 p.m., I got another email and an automated call to my cell saying there was another time change — to 8:42 p.m. I headed back home.
Around 7 p.m. I checked the status online, only to learn that my plane was on the runway awaiting takeoff! What??!!

I called Delta and was told “we’re sorry for your misunderstanding. You should have gone to the airport at the time your flight was originally scheduled to depart.”

Now that’s just ridiculous.

I had to rebook for the next morning, greatly inconveniencing many people and missing a meeting. Not to mention that the flight was at the crack o’ dawn, a time of day I do my best to avoid.

Later, Delta spokeswoman Susan Elliott said in an email, “occasionally we are able to recover from the delay more quickly than expected…. In certain situations, and it is not often, customers can find themselves with circumstances where they are unable to make their flight.”

Translation: There was no “misunderstanding.” I did the right thing, which turned out wrong.

For the record, Delta’s policy of alerting passengers about delays and cancellations is much appreciated. I just hope Delta doesn’t steer me to the right place at the wrong time again. 

Foot and mouth disease?

November 4, 2007

When I travel with Wessel, he does a thorough and spectacular “what-did-we-forget?” search before we check out of our room. He’ll often come up with something he found under the bed, or, more obvious, something I left on the nightstand. (I have been known to find his shampoo in the shower stall.) When I travel alone, I always intend to follow his lead, but more often than not I’m caught up in a mental and physical whirlwind and don’t really see what I’m looking at.

Still, when I returned home from England, having spent a few days alone there after Wessel went home, I could not believe that my electric toothbrush was not in my suitcase. I could picture it next to the sink in my beautiful bathroom at the Radisson Edwardian in Manchester, and I was so sure I’d packed it up. On the other hand, I’d had to leave my room at 5 a.m. to catch a taxi to the airport, so anything was possible.

Being an electric-toothbrush addict (my dentist endorses this obsession), I went out and spent $20 on a replacement toothbrush the next day. OK, it’s not a huge amount of money, but it was annoying.

Today, some four weeks later, I went to put on a pair of shoes I don’t often wear. toothbrush in shoeAs I stuck my foot into the right shoe, something blocked it. “What could that be?” I thought, scared it was a  rodent. Nope, it was my electric toothbrush. I’m guessing that I had shoved it through a small opening in the full, bulging suitcase, and it just happened to slide into the shoe. How I didn’t notice it when I unpacked is anyone’s guess.

You could say that I was caught with my  mouth in my foot. Sort of. It was good for a laugh.  And at least now I have a backup, just in case.

License to kill (a rental-car reservation)

November 1, 2007

As Wessel was driving me to the airport to go to my mom’s, near Tampa, Florida, I said, “I have this feeling I’m forgetting something really important.  Well, whatever I’m missing, I can get it there.”

Not quite. What I couldn’t get was another driver’s license. Arrrrgh!! Just before going up to the ticket counter I discovered that my driver’s license was nowhere to be found.

Wessel, already late for work, dashed home to see if he could 1) locate it and 2) bring it to me. (I did this for him with his passport once – and made it back in time!)

No luck.

Southwest said I could fly without a non-government-issued ID, but that I’d get the full pat-down and search. Then I thought about my rental car, through Dollar. This would not be good. Once in Tampa, the Dollar clerk said, “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do. We can’t rent you a car without your license in hand.” Period. 

Super Shuttle van at TPA airportMeanwhile, I counted my blessings that I could get a Super Shuttle van drive to Mom’s. Of course the “15 to 20 minutes” I was told I’d be waiting was more like 30. When I asked the ticket seller, “why do you say 15 to 20 minutes when you don’t really know?” she answered, “I’m sorry, hon, that’s what I’ve been told to say.” Good to know their policy.

At my mom’s, an hour later, I had a brilliant flash of one more place to look for my license — my rain jacket, which I’d luckily packed. Yep, I’d put my license there while on a bicycle ride a week earlier. There it was!! I’d had it all along.

Because I travel so much, I keep a packing list. At the top, in large letters, is my reminder to “take Swiss Army knife out of purse!” Now I’ll be adding: “Check for license!”

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.

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.