Thursday, December 20, 2012

Late for dinner...

"Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!" - Bilbo Baggins on "adventures", The Hobbit

I usually like adventures, going new places and seeing new things. There have been good adventures the last couple of weeks and I'll post the more interesting belated photos soon... But honest advertising requires that I report that travel isn't all fun. I have had rather more nasty and uncomfortable adventures than I would like to the last couple of weeks. I'll report on those first and hope I've seen the last of them.

Things started off on the wrong foot minutes after arriving by train in Paris. My credit card didn't work in the ticket machine. A guy walked up, stuck his card in, and hit the button.  The machine clanked a bit and he reached down and pulled out tickets.  Maybe I should have been suspicious but in 8 months of travel on 4 continents I've had random help from dozens of total strangers and never once been scammed. Even in Nepal (one of the poorest countries in the world) people were fairly honest about wanting money when they helped with anything. So I gave him cash for the tickets and we headed to the train. The tickets were expired and we had to buy new ones at the window. None of the officials seemed very concerned about a couple of tourists being scammed. It wasn't really a big deal in the grand sceme of the trip, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

The lost time and hassle with the tickets meant we made it to the rental car agency later than planned. There I discovered for the first time (despite actually reading the fine print online before booking it) that Hertz cars rented in France don't come with the equipment required to drive in Germany. Thankfully we didn't have places to stay booked in advance so we were able to change our plans on the fly. We decided to stick to southern Europe and headed for Italy. 

On the way to Italy I came down with a cold, which was annoying, but a lot better with a friend along than being alone and sick in Australia. By the time I was over the cold I had my first gout attack in months. That was really disappointing because I thought I had figured that out and gotten past it. The swollen toe also took a bit of the joy out of walking around in Italy.

On the first day in Rome I had someone try to slip his hand into my pocket on the subway. I caught him and he quickly jammed his hand into his own pocket like it had been a mistake and refused to look at me. Then he made a bee line for door as soon as they opened. The second day in Rome my feet shot out from under me on the wet marble stairs going down to the subway platform. It probably looked very comedic, but there's a 2x1 inch piece of skin missing and my knee still hurts whenever I move it. Between the knee and the toe, my right leg just hurt whenever I moved it.

We decided to take a ferry from Rome to Barcelona because it was cheaper than driving and paying all the tolls through Italy and France. We were less than three miles from the terminal in Barcelona when a couple on a scooter drove by motioning that we had a flat tire. We pulled over to a side road in a well-lit area and I discovered that French rental cars don't have spare tires either. About then a guy pulled up on a scooter and attempted to tell us that there was a garage around the corner. When it was clear we weren't really understanding and weren't leaving the car he seemed a little agitated left. I tried to use the fix a flat system to inflate the tire, but the sidewall was punctured in two places and it didn't work. We called the Hertz roadside assistance number and on the 4th attempt we got through to someone who could help us. Rather than replace the tire on the side of the road like they did in England, Hertz said they would have the car towed and send us a taxi to take us to our hotel with a replacement car promised the next day. As we unloaded the car we realized Corrie's duffel bag of clothes was missing. That's when I remembered the scooter in our blind spot (right next to the tire) a minute before our flat... From what I can figure the guy in our blind spot punctured the tire and was probably also the guy who stopped to "help". I think the couple who pointed out the flat must have grabbed Corrie's bag out of the front seat while we were talking to him (we were literally never more than a couple feet from the car). I'm thankful they only got clothes but it did pretty much ruin the visit to Barcelona. It also freaked me out a bit to realize the whole flat was a set up just as the tow truck was loading up the car. I was worried the rest of the night that things were way too organized to just steal a bag and they had stolen the car too, but the tow truck was legit. We got a new car the next day and checked the alleys and dumpsters in the area to see if they tossed the bag when they realized there was nothing of value in it. By the time we finished that searching, I wasn't really interested in spending any more time in town. We've learned since than this is so common in Barcelona that both the police and the embassy just have check boxes for this exact crime on their websites. I can't really recommend anyone visit Barcelona at this point. 

The only photos I took in Barcelona were of the tow truck driver when I got worried that he might from the "garage" the guy on the scooter mentioned. This was just as it was leaving. The others were pretty much all ID purpose photos.
None of these things ruin the trip as a whole and I still think travel is a great idea. It has lost a bit of shine over the last couple of weeks though. It's hard to enjoy wandering in new cities when you are always looking over your shoulder. Maybe I'm just having a little bit of a Hobbit streak, but it would be rather nice to be home for Christmas dinner. Maybe I'll take a break from travel and go see the movie. Then back to the regularly scheduled photo updates and hopefully more enjoyable adventures... 

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