Years ago, I wrote a book – Never Hitchhike on the Road Less Travelled – that in hindsight, was mistitled. It should have been tagged, I Hate It When She’s Right.
The book was a collection of humorous travel stories, the kind of “holidays from hell” we’ve all been through, except I took notes. Good book according to the reviews; a solid seller according to the publisher; wrong title. Here’s why:
Monica and I arrived at Pearson Airport for our flight to Lisbon two hours prior to takeoff. Four hours later, we were still in line with several hundred anxious passengers staring at the Air Transat counter employees, who are doing nothing except staring back at us.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the Portuguese. Portugal is a vibrant country of postcard seascapes and breathtaking mountain vistas, a country with outstanding food and wine. However, under what they consider to be the very broad category of check-in luggage, Portuguese returning home will often include refrigerators, central heating systems, motorcycles and sofas.
This flight’s luggage, which ton for ton equalled all the military hardware shipped to Desert Storm, broke the conveyor belt at Pearson Airport behind Air Transat’s check-in counters.
The staring contest ended when an Air Transat supervisor came up with a brilliant idea: carry the luggage 20 feet to where the belt was still working! By unanimous vote, he became our choice for Air Transat’s “Employee of the Month.”
Everybody was in a bad mood as we left late, arrived late and then spent an hour at Lisbon airport watching luggage go around a long, snaking carousel. The bad news? Our luggage was not to be seen. The good news? Hey, their conveyor belt was working.
Apparently, the luggage that refused to board in Toronto later refused to get off the plane in Lisbon. Our luggage went instead to Oporto, 340 kilometres north, a lovely city, I’m told, and a favourite jumping-off point of my clean underwear and tennis racquet. Looking at one suitcase circling around the ramp for an hour, I thought, “I wonder what size that guy is?” I’m here two weeks, I can wear anything.
We spent another hour waiting in line with a disgruntled group of passengers that could become a mob any moment, filling out lost luggage forms. Then, we went down to the lobby of the airport to pick up our rental car, which, suspiciously enough, was ready to go.
It was dank, dreary and pouring rain in Lisbon. After being up for 34 hours straight, I was slapping myself on the back of the head to stay awake as I drove up the narrow streets of Lisbon towards our hotel at the top of the highest hill in the old Graca area. The Senhora do Monte is small, clean and quiet, with terrific views of St. George’s Castle and all of downtown Lisbon. I couldn’t wait to drop our passports on the front desk and pass out between the sheets.
Oddly, people on the street were waving to us from under umbrellas and inside doorways. Although I couldn’t remember exactly what I had done on my last trip here, I had obviously made quite an impression on the locals. They were genuinely excited to see me.
I’m waving at people: “Hi, Bill from Canada! How you doin’?”
And that’s why I love Portugal! The people are the friendliest in all of Europe.
As the streets got narrower and steeper, the rain pounded harder and the people kept waving. Finally, one guy jumped straight into the path of the car with his hands raised. I hit the brakes, stopping in front of him.
Travel tip: in Portugal, when people shout “Bomberos!” it is not an endearing term meaning “frequent foreign visitor.” It means “Firemen!” That’s right, concerned citizens of Lisbon were waving at us because the car was on fire. Driving up the steep streets, I could not see the smoke coming out the bottom of the car. They could.
The good news is it’s raining so hard that as soon as I popped the hood the fire was extinguished. We abandon the car. That’s now somebody else’s problem.
The bad news is it’s raining so hard I can barely see the Castle St. George at the top of the mountain, which is next to our hotel. I estimate we have 50 minutes to trudge uphill through the stinging rain. Thoroughly drenched we plod ever upward one foot in front of the other when Monica says something rather diabolic.
“This,” she says, “could be worse.”
You have to understand I am jetlagged, sleep-deprived, soaked and cranky, so I will clean up my response to Monica.
“How in the … heck, could this … gosh darn situation be worse … Dear?” I said.
And Monica said something that I will never forget, she said: “We could have luggage to carry!”
As I said, I hate it when she’s right … which would have been an excellent title for my book on travel.
For comments, ideas and copies of Never Hitchhike on the Road Less Travelled, go to www.williamthomas.ca
JUNE 2012 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE