How many pages have you read?

Augustine of Hippo by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1490.

Augustine of Hippo by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1490. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, quite a few of my FB friends posted following quote by Saint Augustine: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

At first, that sounded like a good metaphor to me, but after doing some thinking I am not sure I agree. I mean, I am not sure, whether it still applies.

Of course, travelling broadens the horizon. Living in foreign countries even more so, as all expats will agree. However, to me it seems that HOW you travel is key.

You see, we live in a very touristy part of Mexico, and as you may know, tourist spotting is one of my favourite things to do. There seem to be 3 different kinds of tourists: A) the adventure tourist, B) the comfort tourist, and C) the thing in the middle. A is the kind of tourist who travels around with his backpack, who doesn’t mind to stay at cheap hostels, eat the local street food and who eagerly studies the country’s culture. C is the tourist who isn’t too adventurous when it comes to hotels and food, but explores the region and culture of the country. (I wished I could say that I fell under category A, but I am afraid I am much more of a C… Well, what can you expect from a taurus, right?) And then there is B, the comfort tourist, the one who stays at the resort day in, day out, enjoys beach life and can hardly be found anywhere else. Those are the ones who get home and upon being asked about their travels, they will tell you about the hotel, the food, and of course, the weather.

When bumping into a tourist of the B category, I always feel a little disappointed with the lack of interest in Mexican culture. I mean, everybody has a right to do what feels best while being on vacation, after all, that’s what holidays are all about. Nevertheless, it just almost pains me to think that, in this case, they miss out on the ruins, and cenotes, and whatever else is typical for this country / region. And I never fully understand why they picked this destination then, certainly, there must be cheaper options that are closer by?

Well, whom am I kidding? Admittedly, it can be hard to pull yourself away from the beach...

Well, whom am I kidding? Admittedly, it can be hard to pull yourself away from the beach…

So when I think of that quote, even though these people travel a good deal and can finally put a pin into Mexico on their little map, they didn’t really read that page, did they?

And then there are those people who for whatever reason cannot travel. Like waiter P. in our favourite restaurant. P. is an elderly gentleman who has never left Mexico, after all, salaries are ridiculously low, while cost of living in this part of Mexico is rather high, and international flights are expensive. When dinner service slows down, P. always comes to our table for a chat, and he always asks us many questions about Europe. And although he has never been to Germany, he knows a big deal about that country – things that sometimes I didn’t know, like the histories of famous churches and such. He gains all his knowledge from books, and honestly, that guy should be on a quiz show! So I’d say that he did read more than just one page – in any sense of the word.

Or then there is my almost 99-year old grandma who clearly cannot travel anymore. Instead she watches every single travel documentary on TV, and afterwards she joyfully tells me that yesterday, she travelled to Mexico! Or that last week, she went to the Grand Canyon!

Travel Guides

Poor Saint Augustine had none of these! (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

Sure, seeing a film or reading a book can’t teach you the experience of being there, on the other hand, just going somewhere doesn’t mean you do get the experience either, does it? I think it is great that nowadays we all have easy access to whatever information we might be looking for, and that this way people who are not so fortunate to be able to travel, can at least recreate the experience – and hey, they are the ones who never get a sunburn! Of course, Saint Augustine who was born 354 could have never imagined a thing like the internet, he couldn’t even look at photographs, so he definitely had a point there back then. But nowadays?

What do you think? Is it necessary to actually travel some place to get a feeling what that particular country is about?

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How I turned into the Miss Marple of the skies

Recently, as you now, I had the pleasure to take a little plane trip again after quite some time. As I mentioned before, in former times I used to fly on an almost daily basis (not only while being a flight attendant), and it definitely is my preferred method of transportation. However, there is just a liiiittle downside…

Is this situation familiar to you: You have already taken your seat and are scanning the incoming passengers thinking who might be your travel buddy this time, and then, sure enough, the person you really, really wish to walk by stops and sits down right next to you? When I was single, I remember my frustration when the most handsome guys all walked past me, and the chubby, smelly nerd took his seat next to me…

Since I am kind of superstitious, I stopped looking at the incoming passengers, hoping to break the pattern. And it seemed to work. This time a nice young couple had reservations for the seats next to me. Huh, what a relief! But then I realized something:

Those were the days… (Like my hair-do?)

There are many qualities you don’t like in fellow passengers: The huge ones who can hardly close their buckle and make you feel like a little sardine. The chatty ones who never let go of you. The snoring ones. The head-droppers. The smelly ones. The nose-pickers. The bossy ones (although this might be a remnant of old airline days, I guess). But to me the worst ones are the cuddlers.

Yes, I get it, young love is wonderful. However, sitting next to a couple that doesn’t stop kissing, tickling, giggling, and whispering in 4 hours can be VERY annoying. Doesn’t anybody teach those kids that there is a time and place for everything? And that an aeroplane is not a bedroom?

So while sitting next to those two lovebirds, I started to feel…old. In fact, I started to feel Miss Marple-like. Not a sexy feeling, let me tell you. I felt like I had to look the other way all the time, which made my loosened up by a massage neck go all tense again, and my smile became a little frozen. Oh, how I wished that this nice sweaty, nosepicking guy from my earlier flight were next to me…

Murder at the Gallop (1963)
Yes, that was me the other day. Unfortunately, my Mr. Stringer wasn’t with me. Otherwise, we might have cuddled a bit, too… (Photo credit: Mr. AEL)

Paco, I believe this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…

After a more or less sleepless night in the jungle, we had been looking forward to getting rid of our hiking boots and enjoying some city life in Campeche. Campeche is the capital of Campeche state and was declared world heritage site in 1997. (By the way, Campeche’s original name Ah-Kin-Pech means “place of snakes and ticks” – doesn’t that sound awfully inviting?)

Our drive to Campeche, though, proved to be full of hurdles. Like before, we got stopped at each and every police and military checkpoint. Finally, we were about an hour away from our destination when we entered a roundabout. Straight on, there was a waving policeman standing, however, we needed to turn left. Upon entering the street, we got stopped by a second policeman. He checked our license, registration card and told Mr. R. to get out of the car. Apparently, we had done something wrong. You might remember how I was raving about freestyle Mexican driving but my enthusiasm turned out as a little premature. The policeman, let’s call him Paco, pointed out Mr. R. hadn’t used the indicators.

Although sometimes Mr. R. tends to drive like 007, he almost always indicates, a fact that Paco couldn’t possibly know. He took all the papers and told us we couldn’t drive on, instead they would keep the car until we had gone to the nearest police station to pay a fine, and we would get the car back tomorrow. Mr. R. insisted we needed to get to Campeche where our hotel room was waiting, but Paco kept repeating: “Today you will go nowhere, Sir.” At that point, I would have waved with some peso notes, but Mr. R. didn’t give up. He claimed he had indicated and that I was his witness. Paco started thinking. Then we had to show him that our indicators worked. He thought some more and said, well… MAYBE he didn’t see it because of the sunlight.

Looked like we could have continued on our journey? No, Paco still wasn’t happy. Probably he had to buy his wife a birthday gift or something and was a little short on cash. He took our registraton card and claimed it wasn’t a valid formate. Huh? Mr. R. then pointed out that if the state of Quintana Roo didn’t use the right formate, it wouldn’t be his fault, would it? Paco sighed, shook my husband’s hand and handed him the papers, whereupon Mr. R. gave him a pat on the back. It almost seemed like the tender beginning of a beautiful friendship. But then we drove on and left Paco behind.

And while we were still laughing about how ridiculous this whole incident had been, we entered the next checkpoint. To our relief, they didn’t find anything wrong with our papers or their formates this time. The rest of our trip, it became my husband’s obsession to analyze the faulty vehicles we passed, and almost every car had something that was off: lack of an outside mirror (or 2), no license plates, 25 passengers too many, a sooting exhaust pipe, cracked or missing windows, flat tires… Not to mention all the families that all squeeze onto one motorcycle – without wearing helmets, of course. Well, at least that little incident kept us entertained until we reached the city of Campeche.

Now isn’t that beautiful?

We checked into a beautiful colonial style hotel in the old town and were eager to explore the city. That is until we entered the room. Once I saw the room, I felt like never leaving again, it was stunning. Maybe even more so after our experience of the previous night. But forget about the room, I could have LIVED in that bathroom. Anyway, never mind, we wanted to go for a city tour. When we went outside, it was like walking into an oven, but luckily, the plaza where the city tour busses leave, wasn’t far from the hotel. To our disappointment, though, there were no city tours between 12 and 5pm.

Hotel Casa Don Gustavo

One of the beautiful Streets of Campeche

Instead, we went for a walk. So we walked down one pretty, colourful street and found out that all shops and restaurants were closed until 6pm. Then we walked down another pretty, colourful street, and then another. One street looked like the other – beautiful, but if you’d seen one street, you’d seen them all. We decided that there had to be more, probably on the outside of the old town.

Reminds me of some people: A beautiful facade with nothing behind…

The tiny picturesque old town of Campeche is surrounded by an old city wall, and we paid a little fee to go up and enjoy the view of the city. Maybe then we would discover where we had to go. Well,… There was really nothing to see. What amused us was the fact that we saw many colourful housefronts – with nothing behind. It was like a theatre backdrop, very bizarre! Sweaty and exhausted from 97 degrees (36 Celsius), we returned to our cool hotel room and hung out until 5pm to then finally take that sightseeing tour. However, the friendly lady at the ticket counter informed us that today there was a big event in Campeche that all busses were needed for. But the next morning, they would start again at 9am.

A little disappointed, we went to the waterfront (Campeche is by the Gulf of Mexico), watched the sunset and went for a little walk. And then we saw the event that the lady had referred to earlier: Hundreds of people were marching into the town square, all wearing Mexican costumes, a band was playing, and all those people started performing a dance. It was beautiful to watch! Well, maybe not the dancing, but all the costumes, the cheering crowd, and all the happy faces put us into a very festive mood.

We found a charming little restaurant serving Italian and Mexican cuisine and a little chocolaterie where we had the best chocolate cake ever, and decided that Campeche was worth a visit for half a day – preferably after dark.

Campeche’s cathedral at night.

When on the next morning we were informed that the next city tour would leave at 12pm only – in the unlikely case of 5 or more passengers showing up until then – we packed our bags and drove back to Playa del Carmen.

By the way, once we had passed the border to Quintana Roo, we never got stopped by the police once.

Green Stones and Colourful Murals – Yaxchilan and Bonampak

The next morning, the rain had stopped, the sun was about to peep through the clouds, and the jungle was wide awake. We skipped breakfast and instead signed up for a boat trip to Yaxchilan straight away, the only way to get to this isolated Mayan site. Since it was early, we were the only guests on the trip, and it was stunning!

Rio Usumacinta

The trip takes about 45 minutes and the boat goes really fast – better put on sunglasses for otherwise, you get all kinds of insects in your eyes! Oh, and keep your mouth shut. Luckily, our boat driver wasn’t the talkative kind, so we could admire the nature and the early morning light.

When we reached Yaxchilan, we got off and climbed a large flight of steep stairs that lead us right into the jungle. Again, we were the first and only visitors so far and were tempted to only whisper. The howling apes however, didn’t feel shy about making a lot of noise and were howling away like crazy. But after all, that’s their trademark.

Yaxchilan is called the “place of the green stones”, and once you arrive you see why. Whereas the Tulum ruins are all pretty and clean and dried out by the sun, and while Palenque rather reminded me of a beautiful campus with fancy (and strangely decayed) buildings, the ruins of Yaxchilan are mysteriously mossy so you actually get the feeling for how old they are! The whole place is humid and sticky, yet I got the chills when we had to find our way through a pitchdark ruin. The walls exuded an unfamiliar coolness, and I screamed when something dropped on my head – why hadn’t we brought our torch lights???

Doesn’t it look mysterious?

Being the only ones wandering around the ruins was, of course, a very special treat. Everything was so quiet (apart from the apes) and peaceful. However, when I did a little research on Yaxchilan’s history, I had to find out that it hadn’t been a peaceful place at all. Yaxchilan had been founded prior to 300 A.D. as a little hamlet that evolved into a powerful city by 600. Somehow, I would have thought that due to its remote location, Yaxchilan’s inhabitants would have had no choice but to stay to themselves and lead a quiet life. Silly me. In fact, Yaxchilan’s history includes a series of wars with neighbouring kingdoms like Piedras Negras, another site by the river which is now Guatemala, and surprisingly Palenque. Now, when I think of how much time it took us to travel from Palenque to Yaxchilan, it goes beyond my imagination how they actually got there. But they did, and they also liked to take war captives. They apparently were not so wise and peaceful as I would have thought! At the end of the Maya classical period around 900, Yaxchilan collapsed as did the other Maya hubs.

One thing that always surprises me when visiting Maya ruins is the height of the steps. I am an average size kind of girl, but I really have to stretch my legs. At the same time, the steps are that short that it becomes clear that Mayas at that time must have had tiny feet, and on top of that, the stairs are terribly steep. Mr. R. and I used to zigzag our way down in order not to fall and jolt our way down… But how did those tiny guys do it? Mr. R. suggested they might have gone on all fours. Maybe that’s the solution. Or they must have had bouncing powers, hopping up and down the ruins – anything is possible, right?

Sometimes I think that maybe those Mayas were able to fly. How else would they be able to do all those beautiful carvings so high up?

After visiting Yaxchilan, it was time for us to get to know Bonampak, a site famous for its still colourfully preserved murals. You cannot drive to the site itself but have to leave your car at a small parking lot where a handful of guides are waiting for you. Luckily, they are not as intrusive as the ones we met earlier on… From the parking lot, you can continue on your way in a little shuttle. Well, shuttle sounds quite sophisticated, doesn’t it? An old Indian was driving us in his van while chewing and spitting out his chewing tobacco. When he dropped us off, he promised to be back in an hour since Bonampak is rather tiny. Then he disappeared in the jungle, and we were surrounded by silence.

We had to walk across some fields to the site, passing some stalls with Indian jewellery, but nothing in this area is as touristy as are Palenque or Tulum or, of course, Chichen Itza. In fact, apart from us, there was only one other family inspecting the site – we got spoilt that day! There is really not much to see other than the murals, but those are truly impressive. Understandably, you are not allowed to take pictures as the flash light would harm the colours, but I was amazed by how well they are preserved.

A photograph of one of the paintings at Bonampak

A photograph of one of the paintings at Bonampak (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After Bonampak, we felt we had seen enough ruins for a day and drove to Campeche as the last stop of our journey. So next time, I will tell you about the weird backdrop city of Campeche and how Mr. R. found a new friend amongst the Mexican police force…

Oops, how did we end up in Guatemala?

After the most lovely time in San Cristobal, it was time to hit the road again. This time we wanted to drive further south to the city of Comitan. Hoping that our GPS might actually show us the correct way this time, we typed in “Comitan, Chiapas” and were surprised to see it wanted to direct us to the very opposite direction, towards Tuxtla Gutierrez.

We decided to be smart and follow the signs rather than our GPS, after all, it didn’t prove terribly reliable when we arrived to San Cristobal… It took us a long time to get to the outskirts of the city as it was market day everywhere. Finally, we found the highway towards Comitan – only that it was blocked that day and there seemed to be no alternative route. So we didn’t have much choice but to eventually follow our GPS that would surely lead us some loop road somewhere.

Only it didn’t. We ended up in Tuxtla Gutierrez where we turned around again to head back to San Cristobal. That little detour took us 3 hours, yet we hadn’t gone anywhere really. By that time, we had realized that there were several Comitans, and the one we wanted was Comitan de Dominguez. Petty but important details…We consulted our old fashioned road map and found a countryside highway in order to avoid the downtown traffic of San Cristobal. What should have been a 90 minute drive at most turned out as a 5 hour trip, but never mind, in the end we made it to Comitan. De Dominguez.

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Hardly anyone ever mentions the city of Comitan but it was actually quite beautiful, and we found an extremely nice, extremely cheap hotel downtown. We also found the said to be “best restaurant in town” where we had a mediocre dinner at best, while 6 waiters were eyeing us curiously from behind a column. Every now and then, one of them got pushed forward by his colleagues to approach our table and see how we were handling the pasta. At 9pm they started their live music programme which seemed weird since we were the only guests, and it got so noisy that we finished our dinner in sign language.

The next morning we started off early because we wanted to see the Lagos de Montebello National Park, before we would drive all the way to the border of Guatemala where we intended to spend the night. This time, we didn’t bother to use the GPS, we just followed the signs that luckily were everywhere.

When you drive through Mexico, you will always encounter numerous police and military posts. At the Riviera Maya, where we live, they always exclusively stop Mexicans, tourists (or expats) never get checked which I always found highly unfair. In Chiapas it is the other way round, not a single Mexican needs to undergo a screening but we did every single time. That day I believed we might have gotten our fair share. I was wrong, there was more to come on the last bit of our trip.

I am not sure what those guys are looking for as every checkpoint does different controls. Some just ask you where you are from and where you are headed to, some will check your papers, some will note down your license plate, some the serial number of your car which seems a silly thing to do as they have no computers. I am sure they hand their handwritten papers to someone like once a week, and that someone throws them away immediately. But maybe it is to practice calligraphy.

And then there are those who let you get off the car and search for God knows what. They even check under the vehicle floor and under the car mats. One of them very seriously asked me to hand him my bag which he searched thoroughly. Thank goodness, there was nothing embarrassing in it! Nevertheless, an airline refreshing towel aroused his suspicion, but he just couldn’t figure out what it might be. Uh, the misteries of foreigners! This very determined search process lead to my belief that we must look like real European criminals trying to smuggle their grandma tied to the vehicle floor cross country. Or German potato dumplings. Another guy, though, was checking for something else: He asked us how to say “God” and “Jesus” in German. Maybe that was a test to see whether we were real Germans and not just mental patients talking in some funny accent.

Anyhow, after passing several stops we didn’t really pay attention anymore so we must have missed a crucial detail somewhere… I got a little suspicious because I thought we should have arrived at Lagos de Montebello by now, so I got out my iphone to check my GPS. I didn’t have network anymore and was informed, I should enable roaming services. Seemed a little odd to me, so better consult the map. And who would have known: We were in Guatemala already!

We turned around, found the junction that we apparently had missed earlier due to a missing sign, and finally arrived at the National Park. On the road leading to the park, we got stopped like every 10 minutes by someone who offered his services as a guide. Since we didn’t want a guide, we drove on. Then we passed the first stall to pay an entrance fee and more guides waiting for work. After a while, we passed the second stall to pay another entrance fee and even more guides who tried to stick their hands and heads into our car. After a while, we got stopped by an old man who showed us ancient, possibly inherited postcards of the park to prepare us for the stunning sights (maybe he thought we might collapse out of joy otherwise?) and who wanted to convince us to take his young colleague as a guide. By then, we were rather annoyed. We drove on a little and stopped to take a look at the map – but the minute we stopped the car, someone started running towards us waving a screaming – another guide.

Lagos de Montebello

Upon leaving the car at the first lake we encountered, we were surrounded by helpful guides and an old gentleman who insisted we took a horse ride. I told him that Mr. R. was allergic to horses, but he probably had never heard of such a fancy thing as an allergy. Finally, we got rid of all the people and could admire the lake.

However, all this brash behaviour had dampened our spirits a little. We drove to a few more lakes and then decided to continue our journey towards the little border village of Frontera de Corozal which turned out to be a wise decision as it got dark soon. The last few miles to the village, we had to drive on dirt tracks full of potholes. I felt literally shaken when we arrived at our destination. The village of Frontera de Corozal was awaiting us in complete darkness, but luckily we found the hotel very soon.

It was 8pm when we received the keys for our hut and were informed that the restaurant was closed already. However, they’d be happy to prepare a little something for us. We ordered two surprisingly delicious quesadillas (for our anniversary dinner, by the way!) and got out our torch lights to search for our hut in the jungle. It was very simple, just a bed under a large palapa, the toilet was missing its seat, the shower had no walls, but well, it would be enough for a night. However, we slept miserably. A thunderstorm was shaking our hut, and we could hear the howling apes really loud. On top of that, I was worried that a tarantula or a scorpion might enter our room through one of the many gaps in the wood.

I was relieved when the alarm clock indicated 5am and I could get up to start into a new adventurous day!

Palenque: Meeting King Pakal

So, hmm.. I am back! Back from a relaxing, interesting, inspiring, and adventurous vacation in Chiapas. But where to start? Maybe the beginning would make for a good…err…beginning. Right?

So on our first day, we drove all the way to Palenque which is about 500 kilometers or 300 miles southwest from Playa del Carmen. Our numerous travel guides informed us that the city itself wasn’t worth visiting, but I actually found it quite charming. Maybe I am just very easy to please. Or have a weird taste. Who knows? But a little Mexican city on a Saturday night is just buzzing with music and laughter and fun, it is impossible to not like it. But the deafening music and cheap beer were not the reason for our trip, we wanted to explore the ruins!

Isn’t it stunning?

We arrived at the site as early as 8 o’clock in the morning which I would recommend to everybody. The minute you enter the parking lot, you are surrounded by helpful (money expecting) Mexicans. One will hold out his hand for finding you a parking spot, the next one for guarding your car while you are visiting the ruins, the next 10 or so want to be your guides, and then there are all the boys and girls who offer you little bracelets and good luck charms and whatnot. If there is one thing that you need when travelling this country, it is change. And hand sanitizer.

Once you enter the archaeological site, you leave the vendors behind (for now) and immerse yourself in tranquility. Early in the morning, the ruins are still covered in mist, there are not many people – it is a magical place!

The palace.

King Pakal

Despite the fact that Palenque was discovered already in 1773, it was only in the 20th century, that the excavations got started. Everything was covered under a jungle canopy, and still there must be many buildings hidden in the jungle. Palenque is very well kept, you feel like walking in a beautiful, sunlit park. And the ruins are just stunning. First you get to see the temple of inscriptions where King Pakal’s crypt was found. Palenque was founded around 300 A.D. and became a flourishing Maya hub. However, after some military defeats, it was King Pakal who made the city regain its wealth in 700 A.D. That’s probably why you see his (not so attractive) face EVERYWHERE.

Next to the temple of inscriptions, there is temple 13 where they just recently discovered the remains of an apparently rich guy together with a female and a child. When you walk further, you get to the very impressive castle, the temple of the sun and the temple of the cross from which you have a wonderful view of the site. But make sure to bring some decent hiking shoes – I saw a lady on wedges, it wasn’t my favourite sight of the day, I can tell you.

Between the ruins, there are a lot of vendors setting up their little stalls. Well, maybe not stalls, they present their goods on blankets, and you can get some very pretty things there if you are in the mood. We weren’t, but they also were not chasing us around like we experienced it in other parts of the country…

Misol Ha

Not far from Palenque, we visited the waterfalls Misol Ha and Agua Azul. I believe, that Agua Azul is the more famous one, at least that’s the one I had heard of before. However, I found Misol Ha so much more impressive! Again, there are not many people (unlike at Agua Azul), and you can walk all around the waterfall amidst the dense jungle. Due to the humidity, it is quite a sweaty activity, but when you walk right behind the waterfall, you get a refreshing spray of water all over you!

At night, we found a very unique little Italian restaurant (since we live here, we don’t feel the urge to always eat Mexican food…) hidden in the jungle. It is called Monte Verde and it feels very remote. When you feel like you have reached the end of the world already, keep driving. Of course, there are no lights on the way, so the ride gets a little bumpy, but the experience is worth it! We sat outside on the terrace and were the only guests after a most suspicious little group of people, consisting of one guy and three ladies whom he all kissed and caressed equally, had left. Uh, well, those Mexican machos, they seem to do something right with the ladies… But anyway, the food was really good and cheaper than cheap – a perfect end to a beautiful start of our vacation!

Sounds all lovely and cosy, doesn’t it? Well, it got all rougher and more adventurous afterwards, you’ll see!

How to embarrass myself

Recently, I wrote about livability of cities, and when studying the international top 10 lists, I also came across the city of Vienna. Now, as I told you, as much as I love Vienna, I wouldn’t somehow like to live there. Strange, huh? I love Vienna’s morbid charme, all those beautiful, beautiful buildings, its picturesque setting, and at last but not at least its delicious food. So why not live there?

Well, it might have something to do with a most embarrassing experience that I once had there on one of my business travels. Which brought me back to a post of one of my favourite expat bloggers The Traveling Times called “Embarrassing Moments in Travel“. You should check it out, Tara’s drugged out in London, screaming in Brasil and struggling with language moments are hilarious!

I didn’t award her the Inspiring Blog Award for no reason, and that post amongst others did inspire me. Probably, everybody who travels a lot can tell quite some stories… So what’s with my Vienna experience? Well, I was working for a prestigious cosmetics company at that time and had to visit one of our employees. She is the nicest lady you can imagine and she always took time to show me around and entertain me. That one evening, she had arranged for a dinner at one of Vienna’s at that time most fashionable and poshest Italian restaurants.

A glass of champagne

No, this was not the reason for my mishap… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We both had dressed up for this occasion and were prepared to paint the town red. The restaurant was beautiful, and my consultant was excited to see some famous people. After sharing a glass of champagne, I felt strangely lightheaded (at that time, I was still used to drinking LOTS of bubbles, so this wasn’t my normal reaction, believe me!), and by the time the starters arrived, I even felt very nauseous. However, not wanting to spoil this special evening, I digged in – and had to RUN outside where I threw up right in front of the entrance where everybody inside could see me through the glass door. Needless to say that for me the evening was over. I spent a lousy night in my hotel room praying to die right then and there. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, and I could swear that some Viennese still point fingers when they see me…

I had a similar accident of “spitting it all out” on a flight to England with my mum. I was 13 at that time and terribly nervous for I was supposed to be a bridesmaid – a tradition fairly unknown in Germany. On our flight back to avoid another mishap, our friends gave me a full load of Dramamine which already knocked me out on the way to the airport. I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. So there I was on the train to Heathrow, drooling, my head resting on my mum’s shoulder rolling off every now and then and upon arrival, I was barely capable of standing on my two feet. My poor mum had to drag our 2 suitcases on her own, and since probably everybody just thought that she had a misbehaved drugged out teenage daughter, nobody was willing to help. On my flight back home, I had a clear head again. And a revolting stomach. Oh well…

I also had a funny incident in Prague: Our company had a beautiful office there in a very old building right downtown. However, the lifts were kind of small, and since we had a lot of stuff to carry, we had to take it in turns. I got into the lift first and shared it with an elderly gentleman. The doors closed, and we started chatting. After 30 seconds the doors opened again – and there were still my colleagues waiting outside and we hadn’t gone anywhere. I told my colleague to wait a little longer to press the button since apparently, this was a very slow lift. The doors closed again, we continued our little conversation, the doors opened – same scenario. It happened three times, we just couldn’t make our way up, but each time I failed to notice! At the fourth time, I couldn’t help but hiss at my poor colleague what she thought she was doing. As it turned out, it wasn’t her fault. The lift only could be operated from upstairs, they had to get me up as a security measure. My “What are you DOING???” and my lift romance clearly made me the laughing stock for the duration of our stay…

Boeing 747-400 takes off from London Heathrow ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At another conference, we had been staying in Southampton, and I had decided to travel further to London to spend the weekend. When our taxis arrived to take us to our various destinations, we were all fluttering around, hugging, blowing kisses – we must have looked like a flock of colourful doves. Heel wearing doves. Of course. After I had said good-bye to everybody, I grabbed my two suitcases (there’s a lot of pressure to look stylish during a conference, two suitcases were the minimum amount of luggage you could bring for a week) and scuttled towards my cab. However, I tripped and came down really hard – elephant like. My trousers tore, my knees were bleeding like mad and that’s how I arrived at my very chic hotel in London! Luckily, the British are much too polite to comment on those things, but if the Queen had seen me – she wouldn’t have been amused!

Another time that I thoroughly embarrassed myself during a conference was when my luggage went missing. I had been doing a makeup installation in Switzerland and got a call that I had to attend a conference in England last minute. Not a problem of course for a tough world traveller. Since I didn’t have much time, I didn’t bother to change but got on the plane in my dirty installation clothes. When I arrived at London Heathrow, there was no sign of my luggage. Never mind, it would probably get there the next day. Fingers crossed. I got to the hotel, exhausted, sweaty and dirty, grabbed a Gin & Tonic with my beautifully dressed colleagues and went to bed. The next morning, I had no choice but to put on the same clothes again and walk into our conference room full of well rested, chic ladies. I felt so embarrassed that I didn’t dare to speak up, let alone walk to the front, and my luggage only showed up one week later!

Amsterdam

I didn’t care much for Amsterdam’s beauty that day. (Photo credit: maurobrock)

And my last incident that I am going to share with you happened in Amsterdam. It had been a long, tiresome day. I had flown in the very same morning on the red eye from Hamburg and was eager to get home to unwind. So I made my way to the gate, sat down and waited. Apparently, the flight was delayed since there was not boarding announcement but I was so tired, I didn’t mind, I just kept staring ahead of me trying not to fall asleep. Finally after about 90 minutes, the boarding call came, I grabbed my stuff and went to the gate where the friendly ticket lady told me that my ticket was for another airline. “So?” I asked dumbly. She said, “You must be mistaken, this is not your flight.” upon which I asked, “But where is my flight?” That lady must have thought I was the thickest person on the planet, but she very friendly suggested I should check the departure information. I pulled myself together in an attempt to make my last brain cells work and checked the display – only to find out that my gate had already closed. Nevertheless, I started running towards it and luckily, there were still people queueing up. Relieved, I got into the queue – and finally saw that this was the line for Milano! My flight to Hamburg had long left, and since there was no other flight, no train, no nothing, I had to check in at the Hilton to take the first flight the next morning. Yep, travelling is such a glamorous business!