While we were in the midst of packing for our move from Ireland to Italy last month and I was sicker than a dog so Tony was doing all the packing, I was reading Around the World in 80 Days. Now I am not a huge Jules Verne fan. Let’s face it: the only thing that bores me more in a novel than techie explanations is outdated techie explanations. But I didn’t have too much of a choice when it came to books I could get for cheap at the thrift store down the street. And at least it did not involve insane inventor submarine captains or cannons to the moon.
As I read it, I couldn’t help thinking about all our travels and moves over the past few years. And I had to ask myself if travel has really improved in the past 138 years. Yes, we can do it more quickly, but is it really better? How do red-eye flights and layovers and weeks of jet-lag really compare to staterooms on a steamer or leisurely games of cards and formal dinners onboard a train? I couldn’t help but conclude that Mr. Fogg, servant in tow, never really had it that rough. There was that one elephant incident, but it resulted in his becoming a hero and winning the love of his life, so in the end it wasn’t so bad.
I asked Tony for his opinion on which of our travel experiences was the very worst. He, like Passepartout, has a mortal terror of being left behind by trains. Not surprising, since we’ve puffed up at the last minute to many trains, busses, airplanes, and other miscellaneous forms of transportation, always towing obscene amounts of luggage. We don’t usually actually get left behind, although there was that one time when our London hotel’s wake-up call system just happened to malfunction on the day we had to get up at 4:00 in the morning to make a Ryanair flight from an airport an hour away to which we had planned to take the bus. Of course, we were almost as richly rewarded as Mr. Fogg by that particular mishap.
Transatlantic trips, in my opinion, have not been improved by the replacement of luxury steamers with airplanes. My memories of our trips between Europe and the United States merge into one interminable, sleep-deprived nightmare in which the main goal of my life is to keep my children entertained and semi-civilised. This may be why even though Turin is a beautiful city with many charming attractions and only an hour away from us by car, my only impressions of it are of dragging suitcases to and from the airport, train station, and bus stop. Oh, and that one really bad Chinese restaurant.
I think my pick for very worst travel experience (or maybe I just remember it as the worst because it was the most recent of the said transatlantic trips) was the one where we missed our rental car. Ha. You probably didn’t think it was possible to miss a rental car. But it is. And in some ways, it’s worse than missing some other forms of transportation. Because there will always be another train or bus if you only wait long enough.
I just realized as I was vainly searching my blog archives for the account of our trip from Florence to Ireland that it was so bad I didn’t even write about it. It took us three trips on the city bus (yes, that’s the one with only standing room and no place for luggage underneath) to get all the luggage to the train station in Florence where we had to catch the bus to Pisa. No, it wasn’t because we just had to get one last glimpse of the Leaning Tower. We’re just too cheap to fly anything but Ryanair (even though every time we do I swear we never will again), and of course they make a science of locating themselves in the most inconvenient airports possible. Everything actually went like clockwork, I think mostly because I had already made all the possible planning mistakes on previous trips. We ended up in Mullingar, Ireland by eleven at night. I was starving enough that after driving all through town and finding nowhere else open, McDonald’s actually sounded good to me. Only until I’d eaten it, though.
At least my children adore traveling. Today they are playing bus, complete with old tickets that they have begged off of me. Axa also keeps old train and airplane tickets in her box of special things, and uses them regularly as she turns beds, couches, chairs, and blankets into various modes of transportation. Hopefully after I’ve been able to stay put for at least a few months I will once again find that same delight in getting from one place to another.