OK, NOW It’s Funny

James Thurber, the noted author and celebrated wit once said, ““Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.”  If he wasn’t thinking of travel when he penned thoseJames Thurber words, he should have been.

The intrepid traveler is akin to a playwright who painstakingly crafts the perfect dialogue only to have his script handed over to a troupe of actors at the local improv comedy club.

Weeks before you travel, you begin to meticulously plan every detail of your trip.  Yet, it is virtually guaranteed that you will cram too many activities into way too short a span of time with “emotional chaos” being the inevitable outcome.  You will hardly have begun your trip when reality (such an ugly word) will materialize like an uninvited former girlfriend at your wedding nuptials.

In the “OK, NOW it’s funny” category, here are a couple of random episodes from my personal group escorting history.  Neither was remotely amusing at the time.

GYPSY HIJINKS

Picture yourself responsible for one hundred or so choir directors, each more tightly strung than Charlie Daniels’ fiddle.  You are traveling through a tiny Romanian hamlet on two large motorcoaches weaving your way between ox carts, sheep and milling pedestrians.  This was my unfortunate fate a few years back.

Village in Romania

I had a local tour guide on the first coach and I was sitting in the front right seat of the second coach trailing by a couple of hundred yards.  I noticed that the first coach had made an unscheduled stop in the middle of the road.  I could be pretty confident it was not a stop light because there wasn’t one for several hundred miles.

By the time our coach pulled up behind the first . . .  it had to be  less than sixty seconds. . . I could see a gaggle of gypsies gathered around the coach throwing rocks and screaming what I assume were time-worn, traditional obscenities at the occupants.  I can assure you that there are no chapters in the travel escort’s nifty little handbook for mollifying highly agitated gypsies.  It was only after disembarking from my coach that I noticed a young girl lying on the ground being attended to by other gypsies.   My heart sank with the realization that she might have been hit by the coach. (Let me hasten to add, she wasn’t!)

Only after a trip to the police station, a three-hour delay and no doubt a hefty “fine” paid by the tour company (don’t ask, don’t tell) were we again on our way.  The local guide and drivers assured me this was a common gypsy ruse. They have one of their younger members slap the side of the bus, fall to the ground and claim to have been hit all in the hope of extorting a few bucks from their hapless marks.  Welcome to Romania! (Notwithstanding this incident, a stunningly beautiful country.)

THE TOUR GUIDE’S WORST NIGHTMARE

 For several years I took groups to England and used the services of a rather large and established tour company.  At one point, two of the people I was working with left that company and formed their own concern.  They solicited me to follow them and, given that  I was satisfied with the service I had received, I did so.

London Gatwick AirportOur group arrived at London Gatwick airport ready to begin our grand adventure which we all would have gladly done had our coach driver shown up.  Take thirty or so otherwise quite amicable people, put them on an eight-hour overnight flight, trudge them through immigration and customs lines a mile long and then tell them their transportation is missing-in-action and you suddenly have a cast of extras for the next Frankenstein remake requiring angry villagers with torches and pitchforks.

The coach eventually arrived and we headed off to London for the first couple of days of sightseeing.  Fortunately, that portion passed without incident and the tattered sleeve of my Cotswolds villagecredibility if not mended, had at least been largely forgotten.  Off to the Cotswolds with a stop in Oxford.  Nothing like the bracing fresh air of the British countryside to put everyone in a congenial mood.  We pulled up in front of the hotel and I asked the passengers to wait on the bus momentarily while I gathered up room keys from the front desk.

Most of you will have guessed by now that there was a slight problem.  Not a living soul at the hotel, including the Irish Setter napping by the fireplace, would admit to having ever heard of me, my group or my fledgling inbound tour operator.  By some miracle for which I still burn candles and say Hail Marys (and I am not even Catholic), there was a hotel just down the road that had only opened that week that was largely empty.  Even though utter disaster was averted, faced with having that little chat I thought seriously about sneaking out the back of the hotel, catching a train to London, flying back home and buying a fly-fishing lodge in Newfoundland under an assumed name.

I should point out that this happened very early in my travel career and I have ever since only worked with carefully vetted and highly experienced destination management companies.

THE MORAL

The point of my little morality play, if there is one (my poor readers often search these posts in vain for one) is that time has a way of transforming temporary disasters into lifelong anecdotes.   I would not be retelling these incidents were it not for the fact that, in both cases, the trips turned out quite successfully in spite of the hiccups described.

As has been astutely observed, if nothing bad ever happened when you travel, you would have absolutely nothing to say at cocktail parties.  Travel misadventures are like noses, everyone has one.  Some are just funnier than others.  Especially with the passing of time!

 

One Aldwych, Five Stars, Fifteen Years

Prestige, for any luxury hotel, begins with a distinguished name and quite often encompasses a noteworthy address.   Waldorf Astoria, 301 Park AvenueThe Peninsula Beverly Hills, South Santa Monica BoulevardAnantara Dubai The Palm, East Crescent

Somehow, One Aldwych has managed to marry both in one succinct name.  Let’s be honest, you are not going to mistake their name for a small motor lodge on the outskirts of Topeka, Kansas.  The fact that the hotel is located in the heart of Covent Garden adds additional luster to anyone longing to find ground zero in the pulsating heart of London.

One Aldwych Covent GarderThere are so many good things to say about this luxury hotel I hardly know where to start (which is unusual for me because normally I don’t know when to stop!)   I will let you judge the exterior for yourself by this image.  Does this not look like the sort of welcome sight you would long to return to after an exhausting day of trudging around London?.  To me it screams home away from home which is strange, I suppose, since it looks nothing like my recently downsized domicile.

The public areas inside are, if anything, even more impressive.  Animal lovers take a deep breath.  This is not some unfortunate canine papered over with comic strips by an One Aldwych, Covent Garden lobbyeccentric dowager from Stow On The Wold.  It is simply The Beano dog (for 75 years Britain’s number one comic) “Spencer” who patiently lingers at reception to greet you.

If you at first found this picture unsettling, I have no idea what you will make of some of the other great art scattered throughout the hotel such as this piece called, fittingly I suppose, “The Oarsman”.  We have a saying in Texas One Aldwych The Oarsmanabout braggarts that they are “all hat and no cattle”.  I guess you would have to say that this poor chap is “all oars and no boat”.   The hotel has original artwork throughout wych you can view here.  (Sorry, just too easy.)

One of the many great things about this property is its location.  And trust me, as someone who has been to London almost twenty times and has walked the shoe leather off a couple of pair of shoes, location is extremely important.  The tube (subway) system is great (get a pass from your trusty travel agent before you leave) and taxis are ubiquitous (and very dear, as the Brits like to say) but even so, if you are the adventurous sort, you will find yourself doing a lot of walking.

The hotel has the neatest little online map pointing out fifteen great things to do, one for each year of their history, don’t you see?  Some are interesting restaurants, some shopping suggestions, others are exhibitions running this summer and they even offer theatre (British spelling) suggestions.  As a quick aside, as a lover of words, one of my favorite aspects of British life is the not so subtle differences in language.  As George Bernard Shaw is reputed to have said, “The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.”

One Aldwych studio suiteLet’s do one more thing right and splurge a little on one of the signature Studio Suites.  These are stunning circular rooms at the apex of the hotel.  Check out (before you check in) a list of features and amenities of this room category.

A couple of other quick items before I conclude.  They do a marvelous afternoon tea with a twist.  Not a twist of lemon . . . it curdles the cream . .  but a theme inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  You simply must take a look at this unique presentation.   For those compulsive personalities for whom walking ten miles a day is simply inadequate to maintain their obnoxious state of buffness, there is a very nice fitness center and 18 metre (there they go again) chlorine-free swimming pool.

Spa Treatments at One AldwychShould you require my presence, however, I shall be found in the nearby spa not doing anything but rather being done to!

A Vacation Without Golf? Say It Ain’t So!

Your reaction when you hear the phrase, “Say it ain’t so!” is a barometer of your interests and, perhaps too, your age.  If you are an aficionado of  baseball, you immediately think of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and the famous Black Sox scandal of 1919.  If you are a rocker, on the other hand, you will recognize the phrase as the title of a song written and performed by the American rock band Weezer.  I am appropriating the term, however, with deference to neither but rather simply to register my shock and horror at such a heretical idea.  A vacation without golf?  Please!

Even I am astute enough to recognize that the entire populace does not share this view.  Therefore, this post will attempt the impossible.  (Why squander our time on the merely difficult, right?)  I shall attempt to deconstruct and reprogram the minds of those of you whose opinion of golf tends to parallel a popular quip attributed to Mark Twain, among others. “Golf is a good walk spoiled.”  Whoever may have said it first, it succinctly sums up to the opinion of a multitude of non-golfers.

As seems to be the case ever more frequently in my advancing years, in this matter I am convinced my view is the proper one and all those of a contrary opinion are sadly misguided.  Having shed all pretense of modesty, let me begin to marshal my evidence before I lose your attention altogether.   Here are three incontrovertible reasons why golf should be part of every vacation.

1)  Golf Affords The Opportunity For A Fresh Beginning

I have a preacher friend who once told me that he loved preaching in black churches.  When I enquired why, he replied, “In black churches,  you get to start over every week.”  He did not mean this in any derogatory sense.  Quite the opposite.  He admired the black churches’ emphasis on forgiveness and manifold grace.

This may seem a bit of a stretch but golf is like that.  When you stand on the first tee, youQuestro Golf Cabo San Lucas have nary a blemish on your scorecard.  The card in your hand looks positively pristine, not unlike the closely mown grass under your feet.  You may have gouged and hacked your way through the previous round to the utter consternation of the groundskeeper but all those snowmen (8′s for the uninitiated) on your last scorecard are but a wispy vapor of the mind, melting into nothingness in the morning sun.

As you peer down the first fairway, in a moment of sheer delusion, you ask the starter about the course record.  You pretend it is idle curiosity but inwardly you are fantasizing.  You never know, right?  Sometimes that seductive mirage even lasts a hole or two.  I once started a round with two birdies.  If they could only bottle euphoria like that!

2)  Golf Is Played In Idyllic Surroundings

Questro Golf Cabo RealHave you ever walked the grounds of some palatial estate dreaming that some day your ship would come in (personally, mine broke apart on the twin reefs of poor judgment and bad advice several years ago) and when it did,  you too would finally live in such breathtaking environs?  My humble suggestion . . . in the meantime, of course . . . is to just take up golf.  I have strolled the grounds of the Palace of Versailles and I have ambled through London’s Kew Gardens.  I have also played the incomparable Pebble Beach and Maui’s stunning Plantation course and the former pair have nothing on the latter.

Golf by the seaIf you are a lover of nature, if you like beautiful panoramas and grand vistas, if you like endless variety, fresh air and the sound of birds chirping, if you like gently rolling fields and  towering pines . . . you get my drift . . .  may I gently remind you that the game of golf is played in the great outdoors where nature in all its grandeur is, at least  temporarily, your private estate.

3)  There Is No Such Thing As A Bad Round Of Golf.

OK, admittedly this blanket assertion assumes no freak accidents such as golf cart rollovers, lightning strikes or beanings of your fellow golfers.   Let’s dismiss those negative thoughts at the outset.  Barring such rare occurrences, golf reminds me of a comment I once heard about sex.  Even when it’s bad, it’s good.  As long as you go to the golf course with the right attitude, every round can be a pleasure.

I know what you are thinking.  Precisely because golf is played outdoors, isn’t it true that the vicissitudes of nature are always looming to spoil your outing.  Au contraire, mon ami.  As Oscar Wilde famously said, “There is no bad weather . . . only inappropriate clothing.”  That is precisely why they make rain gear!

Golf in bad weather

I once arose at six in the morning keenly anticipating my first round of golf ever in Ireland.  I flipped on the TV to catch the weather only to be told that I should expect rain and gale force winds off the North Sea.  When my friends and I entered the clubhouse, we were met by the club manager who made the sign of the cross muttering, “God bless you, my children” under his breath.  Not even the locals had ventured out.  True to the forecast there was steady rain and forty mile an hour winds all day.  Ever prepared, I was wearing the proper gear for the conditions.  This undoubtedly renders my sanity suspect, as if it took this final bit of evidence, but I have to say that experience is one of my favorite golf memories of all time.

A Life Lesson Learned in London

I have been an Anglophile as far back as I can remember . . .which lately seems to be about the day before yesterday.  Even before I got into the travel business, my brother and I used to own a book store and had a yen to visit the mother country.  I realize now that no amount of yen would have done us any good in Great Britain, since they use pounds, but, to my credit, my grasp of world currencies has expanded greatly since then.

Our bookstore was located next to the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary whose students had a rapacious (unfortunate choice of words, perhaps) appetite for classic 19th century biblical commentaries.   This seemed liked the perfect excuse, as if we needed one, to hop over the pond and scour used book shops for as many of said tomes as we could unearth.

London Tower Bridge

Picture from Health Insurance Solutions of London

Having, if possible, less sense in those days than I do now, my first introduction to London was landing at Gatwick Airport, renting a stick-shift car and driving blithely into the heart of central London as if I were taking a Sunday stroll in Hyde Park.  After grinding the transmission into first gear with an unfamiliar use of the left hand and finding the clutch in a ridiculously unlikely spot on the floorboard, we were almost flattened by a lorry the size of a Cotswold Tudor cottage pulling out of the car rental agency because I instinctively glanced in the wrong direction.  Had the guardian angel in charge of dim-witted book sellers not been working overtime, you hapless readers would have never had a chance to read all these stimulating blog posts you find so entertaining.  I know, a very chilling thought indeed.

The point I am trying to make in my insufferable, laborious way is that from that first visit I fell in love with England.  My role as a travel entrepreneur . . . goodness, that term makes me sound almost successful . .  has enabled me to make many return trips.  On one such trip I was delivered a mortifying tutorial as only the Brits can dispense.

I was wandering one day off Fleet Street when I stopped by Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub.  The sign outside reads “Rebuilt 1667″ which, of course, was the year following the great London fire making it practically a new build in English historical terms.   The pub has been the haunt of literary geniuses for centuries making it all the more apropos that I should stop by.  Speaking of other literary lights, I had just read the famous biography  Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

Portrait of Samuel Johnson commissioned for He...

Portrait of Samuel Johnson commissioned for Henry Thrale’s Streatham Park gallery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Samuel Johnson, who compiled one of the earliest English dictionaries, was a frequent visitor to said pub and, in point of fact, you can to this day sit in his favorite chair.  He won’t mind.

The house where Johnson lived and did all his lexicographical labor is now a museum and just a short walk away from the pub.  I decided to take a tour since I had enjoyed the biography so immensely.  Upon entering the very narrow, four-story edifice, I turned to the right and began examining various objects on display.   Sitting quietly on a bench was an unassuming, bespectacled  lady.  As our eyes met, she asked me “Are you a fan of Dr. Johnson?”  “Oh yes,” I assured her.  As if to offer proof, though none was requested, I blurted out, “I loved the clever remark he once made about an attorney,” at which point I offered what can only be called a badly mangled version of the quote.

Without a pause the woman replied, “I believe the remark you have in mind is where Johnson said ” . .  he did not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was an attorney.”   Thus having inserted the stiletto into the deepest recesses of my bloated ego, she slowly turned it further by saying, “I have always thought Dr. Johnson is best remembered when he is quoted accurately, don’t you?”

I learned two important things that day.   The woman in question was the curator of the museum and more importantly, “Never attempt to carelessly quote any famous personage in their own home!”

Have you had any similar “teachable moments” in your travels?