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Travel Learning Experiences!

Have you ever had some embarrassing moments in your travels? After reading Sarah Murdochs latest blog "Face Meet Palm, Embarrassing Moments in Travel" I thought about our travel learning experiences. One that stands out for us was language barrier in our early travels. We were taking the train from Paris to Chartres many years ago and asked for clarification. We discovered that it "takes a village" to get an answer. From then on we ask at LEAST 3 people for confirmation. ;)

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141 posts

One on the more embarrassing moments for me was in Nicaragua while getting on a bus just after arriving at the airport. It was my first solo trip outside the USA and I was a tad nervous. A man grabbed my backpack and I grabbed it back, and we proceeded with a short tug of war as i tried to tell him it was my bag and quickly realized my Spanish language lessons may have been lacking when it came to travel logistics. After a few seconds I figured out that he was trying to tell me that bags had to be stowed up front near the driver. I apologized profusely and sheepishly sunk into my seat. I became very good at apologizing in Spanish during that trip!

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2424 posts

There are many learning experiences but one that stands out was when I almost forgot to validate my train ticket. I was sitting on a train leaving from Milano Centrale headed to Varenna on Lake Como and happened to open my RS Italy guidebook and read that I needed to validate my ticket! OMG! I jumped up and the young woman in the seat next to mine also said I forgot to validate MY ticket so we both raced off to find the yellow machine. She said she knew better because she lives in Italy. In any case, it saved both of us a big fine because the train conductor came through asking for our validated tickets!

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2679 posts

Many years ago we were fortunate to spend a week in Venice cooking with Marcella Hazan in her home in Venice. We had a wonderful time and learned so much. She did teach us that Italians were very fussy regarding which pasta dishes got grated cheese and which did not. An absolute no-no was seafood. Cheese on seafood was like nails on a chalkboard. But, there were others. So, if you’re not offered grated cheese in a reastaurant, don’t ask for it. Fast forward to Rome a week later. We are sitting outdoors at a restaurant right near the Pantheon. I ordered a pasta with fresh porcini mushrooms, my wife ordered something else, and the waiter plunks down a dish of freshly grated cheese right between us. We look at each other wondering who this is for. He retreats across the large patio, but he’s watching. My wife sprinkles her dish with cheese. No reaction. I follow at which point he shrieks “no cheese, no cheese!! and runs to our table where he continues on in Italian, clutching his face, gesticulating to heaven, while all the other diners and passers by watch. We were crimson! When the show was over we dined. Mine was delicious anyway!

In Siena we learned mushrooms = no Parmesan cheese! Also, don't bury delicate seafood like lobster in anything.
I have an embarrassing train story. I may report back later when I have time to type it. It already made its way around this forum once before. Perhaps, once is enough for me.

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146 posts

This is a great topic. I would never have thought twice about putting cheese on something - I put cheese on EVERYTHING. LOL Now I will know better should I get to travel to Italy!

When we went to Spain last year, it was our first time staying in Airbnb apartments, where most had a self-check-in process. This was really a different experience than staying in hotels that had front desks for check in. We were sent codes via email to enter into keypads on the doors. I am normally a very detail-oriented person, but I missed some of those codes. In Ronda, we needed three codes and I only had two - we needed one code to enter a door to a lobby, another to a lock box to get a key, and a third code to the door next door to get into a different lobby where the apartment was located. It is easy to panic when you are locked out of your apartment, standing on an unfamiliar road with your luggage. But it all worked out, and I will always know we travel to Make Sure You (I) Have the Code(s)!

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3522 posts

I have been traveling outside the U.S. since 1972; and I have had so many learning experiences, I could write a book. However, I still learn new things; and some things need repetition. The latest of the latter happened in Thuir ( near Perpignan) in September. Our hotel was located outside of the town; and contrary to the description, did not offer dinners. Our gps took us into town, where we had a nice meal. When it came time to return to our lodgings, we became lost. The gps couldn’t get a signal. After an hour (!) of driving around, we called our hotel; and the man on duty came out and led us back.
Check actual locations. In this case, the hotel was out in the country. There was no possibility of walking to anything. If you are counting on dinner on arrival date, make sure it will be available, not a closed day or no longer an option. Another concern in this line is how long it takes to get to a good road from the accommodation.

Don’t put 100% faith in gps. Sometimes they are in error. Sometimes there’s no connection. Because this was a matter of local roads, a paper map would not have helped. We actually had one of the town, but our hotel was outside the map area. We should have stored the return trip, and will do so in the future.

Staying at a hotel with 24 hour or at least very lengthy desk hours can be very helpful. If you choose a b&b without that, be sure to get an emergency phone #.

I’m saving my other lessons for that book I might write.

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3522 posts

I should add to my tale of woe (above) that we went out without the hotel phone #. Only going back to our restaurant and having the manager look up the number saved us from a night of sleeping in the car.

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3961 posts

Rosalyn, it's stories like yours that make for the best learning experiences. I just recalled my worst experience. I have shared it on a previous thread but it bears repeating. I had taken a packing class prior to our trip to France. The instructor said to pack a power strip to plug in my phone & iPad. When we arrived at our charming boutique hotel in Paris I immediately put my Adaptor in the wall and attached the strip plug. Oh my!!! Sparks flew and the entire hotel lost power!! Nothing like making a bad first impression. Fortunately they were able to restore power quickly. I apologized profusely. The manager was very gracious and brought me the correct power strip to use for our 5 day stay. Thank goodness my "black cloud" dissipated!

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5697 posts

Driving in England in pre-cellphone-and-GPS days, our B&B gave explicit directions to a local restaurant in the town -- but I got lost. Called the restaurant (from a pay phone) but I couldn't describe where I was, until the church bells started ringing and they directed me the final two blocks. Embarrassment!

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3679 posts

I think I've shared this before...

On my first trip to Europe in 2014, my friend and I arrived in Munich, caught a train to Salzburg, and walked the short distance from the train station to the Gästehaus in Priestseminar Salzburg, arriving there at about noon. We walked up the front steps of the building and pulled on the doors, but they didn't budge. My heart sank a little. There was a push button to call someone if the doors were locked. We pushed it, but no one answered. We pushed it again; still no answer. There was a phone number posted to call if no one responded to the button. We called it; no answer. We called again; still no answer. We sat down on the steps with our carryons and started working on a plan. I looked up to see two guys walking up the steps, giving us a bit of a funny look. They walked past us, PUSHED the door open, and walked through. I felt like I was living in a Gary Larson cartoon. I learned that doors in Europe sometimes work in the opposite direction that doors in the US work. A good lesson!

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70 posts

I write some of these stories down when I get home. Here's one.

I'm a coffee addict. As such, my first morning on vacation in a new country is spent learning how to order coffee in the kind & amount required to satisfy my addiction. Over time I have learned European "americano" style will not do. It's too watery. The small cup of expresso is too small in volume but good on delivering the right amount of caffeine. I've learned a cappuccino is close on taste, strength & only sometimes, you will need to order two to get the right volume.

First morning in Tomar, Portugal, I walked to a cafe bakery in a local area. No tourist around & the lady working the counter reminded me of one of old-time fado singers on a poster we saw in Lisbon. I got in line & thought about how I was going to order. Did I mention I don’t speak any Portuguese or Spanish.

After much hand waving, pointing, & back & forth, I got a cappuccino to go & it was served in a wax Coca-Cola cup usually used for cold drinks. Too hot to handle, so I walked back toward our Airbnb stopping at another pastry shop & ordered just coffee. The barista didn't speak English. But what the heck, coffee is the universal language! I say, "coffee & point to the large cups, & she says, "coffee", with a puzzled look?. After pointing & nodding back & forth again, she understands, I think. I get a double expresso in the big cup .90 cents (euro). We are both happy. I pour this on top of the cappuccino in my large Coca-Cola cup. I told this story to our Tuk Tuk guide in Tomar that day. He took a piece of paper out & wrote down, “café” and handed it to me. Now I'll have to work on that pastry addiction.

I’m glad to report the Italian Babbel & Google Translate apps have been loaded on my phone for our next trip.

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3049 posts

Locking ourselves out of our hotel room on a tiny Greek island only to realize it at 1:00 a.m. and having to wake up half the village calling trying to reach the hotel manager who had to leave her house in a storm to come let our dumb selves in was a low.

Not leaving enough time to collect my luggage at a Paris hotel and return to Gare d'Est due to a Metro delay and literally watching the last TGV of the night pull away. Instead of 4 hours in high speed comfort I spent 11 hours sitting on the ground of the bicycle area overnight to get home and still paid an extra $150 for the privilege...

On our first trip outside of Germany, we went to Marseille and took a day trip via train to Cassis. After a lovely dinner we realized we'd missed the last bus to the train station. We tried to hail taxis and failed, then went to hotel lobbies to try to get a cab, no one could explain why it wasn't possible. Finally we went to the restaurant we'd eaten at where we were informed the taxis were on strike but the hotel manager spent 20 minutes on the phone to find one guy willing to drive us the 4 miles up the mountain to the train station where we caught the last train back to Marseille.

Good lord, I could go on forever.

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4418 posts

I guess I don't embarrass easily....or else old enough to not consider learning situations to be embarrassing or memorable parts of my travel. Clearly they have been minor....except for 2.
My first European plane travel to visit sister in Netherlands. 2 checked bag size suitcases for 2 weeks. Add a train strike in Belgium (where I arrived) and I did not have a happy sister (who travels the world with a backpack). Both suitcases had those teeny tiny wheels on the long side with the snap on leash. Dragging that over trolley tracks, over cobble stones, well, you can imagine. Also taking them on the buses we had to use instead of trains - with all the other train cum bus travelers made me unpopular. Coming home, any spare space was full of wooden toys for my toddler son. That was my first lesson in 'only pack what you can manage to carry'.
Second was more embarrassing. On safari, there are often no toilets, so you go behind the vehicle....which has to be parked out in the open away from bushes so lions don't just out at you when you are otherwise busy. Not once, but twice - out of an empty sky came small Cesna's looking to land in close proximity. I couldn't see their faces, but I am sure they knew exactly what I was doing behind that jeep. 'Smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave'

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1891 posts

Had an embarrassing time in Spain when I attempted to open the door to my flat for the first time. Upon arrival, the rental person had shown me how to unlock the door mechanism but I hadn't tried myself before he left. Big mistake as when I arrived back at my flat around 9:45pm I couldn't unlock my door. I took Spanish in high school and college so I knew enough to have a neighbor couple try and help when they arrived home but they couldn't open it either. Having no phone(I left it in the flat), I ended up finding a payphone about a half mile away and called the very unhelpful agency where I had to leave the pay phone number with a grumpy secretary. After 2 more back/forth phone calls, a representative finally comes 45 minutes later and starts to berate me for not knowing how to use the key. Turns out he had to call his boss because the key wouldn't unlock! Finally after the boss comes a half hour later, we manage to open the front door and I practice twice before they leave again. So always know how and try to lock and unlock door upon arrival.

On the plus side, it gave the other neighbors some entertainment and we always exchanged greetings from then on. But I never rented with the company again.

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1635 posts

I have several, but this is my favorite.

On a trip to Paris back in the late 90s, while I was waiting at CDG to board my flight home to the US, they asked if I would be willing to volunteer to give up my seat. I got a travel voucher and a seat in business class on the next day's flight, and a hotel room by the airport with meals included. A free extra day in Paris! Who could refuse???

I am so proud of my high school French, and when I got to the hotel, I conducted the entire conversation in French. He explained to me various things like where the elevators are, though, strangely, the elevators were not in the direction he was pointing to. But I found the elevators, dropped my things in my room, and hopped on a train back to Paris for the day.

I got back to the hotel around dinnertime and entered the hotel restaurant for my free dinner. I had a spectacular meal topped off with the best mousse au chocolat I've ever had!

The next morning I went to check out and they gave me a bill for the equivalent of $60 US. It seems that when the desk clerk was pointing to the elevators, he was actually pointing to the special dining room for airline passengers with vouchers for free meals.

Today that meal would have been well over $100, and back in the 90s my financial situation was less secure than it is now. I tried as calmly as I could (in English now, all pretense of remembering any of my high school French out the window) that I hadn't eaten lunch or breakfast, and it was an honest mistake, and couldn't they please waive the charge? They finally agreed.

I can only imagine how well I represented my fellow Americans to that hotel clerk.

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8293 posts

After a couple of days in New York City, we boarded the QM2 to cross the Atlantic. We had our confirmed bookings, of course, for a balcony cabin and went through the registration process at Red Hook, received the “key card” for our cabin and off we went to find it and to order a room service lunch.

The cabin was nice we thought, as we entered and inspected all the amenities. Then, horrors, I noticed some meds on a bedside table .... and then a small
piece of luggage, then a bottle of wine on a table. How could this be? We were In someone else’s cabin. Our key card had worked to open the door, the cabin number was our confirmed cabin.....what the heck?! We scrambled ourselves out of there and sought out the Purser’s Desk where we found we had been upgraded, unbeknownst to us, and to the registration agent on the pier, obviously. End of story ..... we enjoyed our superior cabin on the Lido Deck and to this day I wonder if our intrusion was ever noticed by the people in “our” cabin.

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3961 posts

I am really enjoying everyone's unique experiences! Here's another story. I recall our experience on an Out Island in the Bahamas years ago. After our 5 days on Long Island we said goodbye to the people we had met at the resort. We hired a taxi to drive us across the island to catch our flight at Devils Cay. It was an $80 ride- ouch! The airport building was "shack-like." Walking inside we discovered it was filled with locals. We were the only "outsiders." A few locals thought my husband was the host of the Bahamas TV fishing program. When he told them he was not, they said, "yes you are!" This went on back & forth for awhile. Our connecting flight was detained by 3 hours. When our flight arrived we were diverted back to the Long Island airport! Lo and behold all the people we said goodbye to a few hours earlier boarded the plane! We all had a good laugh. Long story short we missed our connecting flight in Miami. That said, we enjoyed a night in Nassau compliments of the airlines! Looking back it was one of those unexpected experiences that was memorable.

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551 posts

At our end, there are far too many examples, enough to fill a book. They range from humorous to cringe-worthy. Some have stayed with me for a long time. I have always placed a huge premium on learning whilst traveling. Learning language, different cultures, how I could be better and on & on.
But travel seems wasted on some. Our tiny street has an unusually high quotient of accomplished travelers, most of whom just happen to be older women. There is one such traveler who regularly demonstrates that she has learned very, very little. Too often, we have suffered through yet-another one of her travel tales wherein the themes are:
1) She is God's glorious gift to travel.
2) She is God's glorious gift to travel.
3) The rest of us are amateurs.
4) Only her stories are worth listening to with patience.
5) Her unfortunate travel-mates were once forced to endure an ongoing nightmare of her narcissism and racist ways (she unknowingly reveals this fact).
6) She is ready to be inducted into the Travel Hall of Fame.

We literally duck into alleys to avoid her.
Great topic here Janis!
I am done. The end.

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2272 posts

When I visited Portugal, I had been inspired to do so by singing a program of Renaissance Portuguese music in a choir - I had therefore read and learned quite a bit about Portugal. In Évora, I got wind of the existence of a church choir that sang that sort of music, so I went to the church office to inquire. The lady running the office told me the choir director was Padre Joaquim, and she got an umbrella (it was raining) and hustled me across the street to what I presume was the priests' quarters, where she commenced banging on the door and shouting 'Padre Joaquim! Padre Joaquim!', while I attempted to sink into the pavement. On the one hand, I appreciated her enthusiasm, and it was pretty funny, but on the other, I was relieved that Padre Joaquim wasn't in.

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11 posts

This is an excellent topic! Our travels starts in 2005 w/my first trip to Italy w/ our then 18 yr. old son. This trip was at the urging of my husband after many years of homeschooling our three children. Our son was our last and my husband thought we needed to celebrate. In 2007, my husband and I did our first trip to Europe together. We landed in Amsterdam and boarded our first train ride ever taken in Europe. The train had barely left the station and the conductor came by to check our tickets, of course, we were on the wrong train! He said, "your on a tourist detour" and explained where to get off and get back on the correct train. We have never forgotten that and have shared the story w/laughter with many other people. It is one of our favorite memories that we will never forget.

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458 posts

That was fun. Loved Sarah’s blog. We had an embarrassing moment on a train from Paris to Normandy. I was convinced we were in the right car & seats. A family came on and showed us we were in the wrong car. Went to the right car & a family with young kids was in our seats. When we showed them they were in our seats the parents got up and left us with their kids! Of course we then said ok we will move. We had to split up but our family of four did finally make it to Normandy.

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935 posts

too many to remember... In retrospect travel has rewarding experiences but there are often snags due to missing info, incorrect assumptions, all helped along by the language barrier. Here are a few examples:

in Brussels carefully checking the video display for the next train thru downtown; we had arrived from Amsterdam and the long-distance trains don't stop at the downtown station but the RS book assured us all trains thru downtown stop at all stops. We confidently got onto a train only to go thru downtown w/o stopping. Still not sure how it happened

In Paris looking at the sign at the top of the stairs for the line & endpoint we wanted. We went down the stairs and got onto the next metro. Then realized we were on the wrong line. Turns out what we needed to do was go down the stairs, walk the full distance of the platform, and go down another set of stairs to the line we wanted.

Taking the train to Harlem from downtown Amsterdam to go to our hotel for the start of the RS tour we are watching the stops. Along comes a sign that says "Harlem". We get off. Turns out there are 2 Harlem stops and the city is the 2nd one; the first one is pretty much the middle of nowhere. And an hour between trains...

Practicing with some Pimsleur and Michel Thomas tapes before travelling to Italy. We weren't going to be the ugly Americans, we were going at least try to use their language. Proudly rehearsing and asking our first question in Italian, we quickly realized that they were going to answer in Italian and even an Italian toddler understands and can use far more words. Came up with an idea for a travel t-shirt: "here are the words I know, speak them slowly, no more than 4 in a sentence".

Trusting our GPS brought from home that worked fine on our first trip but on the 2nd took us right past what we thought was our exit, another 20 miles down the autostrada, only to demand we exit and retrace the 20 miles to take the exit from the other direction.

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8673 posts

John, this is why I recommend asking people standing around on the platforms or on the trains if this is the correct train, is this the correct stop? It gives you a chance to speak to people and will save you from getting lost and taking the wrong train, etc. Why are people scared of asking? I get asked all the time, from Germans as well as lots of foreigners, is this the right train, is this the stop I need, is this the right ticket?

It is nice to ask in their language, excuse me do you speak English? before asking your question.

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2316 posts

I was part of a multi-national and multi-generational group attending a conference in Beijing and early in the week I had a free morning so I took a taxi on my own to the Summer Palace -- not a real taxi, though, a gypsy cab. The jalopy was in rough shape and the driver used a route that seemed to include pathways that were not intended for cars, but he got me there, and then I see that there's no handle for my door, which meant that he definitely had the advantage as we dickered over how many pretty pieces of paper I was going to give him.

Next day at breakfast when I told the story to everyone it was no surprise to learn that I'd paid about 4 times what I should have, but I kinda knew that already since when I left the Summer Palace using the official taxi stand and mimed the same amount I'd paid to get there, a big smile and nod came along with a really nice Ford Crown Victoria with shiny upholstery and blasting air conditioning.

Every time we walked out of our lodging for the rest of that conference there were several gypsy cabs waiting in a line halfway over the curb, so word got around quick. Our Chinese hosts also got a kick out of it. Endearing, is how I like to remember it. I broke the ice.

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14 posts

This was just in Washington DC. My wife does lots of running and I do a little. She got accepted to the Marine Corps Marathon and so I signed up for the 10K. We went to the National Mall and stayed there. From there we got on a bus and it takes you to the Pentagon (where the start of the race is) and ends around Rosslyn. After we finished, we figured that it's a piece of cake to get back to the National Mall. This is because we have prided ourselves on traveling on many other public forms of transportation all over Europe and Asia. We ended up going the wrong way and then had to make a few transfers to get where we were going. We were joking because since everything is in English, it'll be too easy. In the end, it was the most lost we ever got.

The amazing part is, we had traveled all around there 25 years ago and never got lost.

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23 posts

My most embarrassing moment was my first time traveling to Europe. Since I was traveling solo I had to share room with another traveler. She arrived few days before the tour and requested staying the same room for the beginning of the tour. When I checked in the hotel she wasn't there; I was happy to get in the room first thing in the morning and forgot completely the room number and her name when I left for sightseeing on my own. When I got back to the hotel that evening all I can remember was the floor number and the reception only had her name on the reservation not mine. It took the reception a while to find out the correct room for me.

Lesson learn: always keep room key card in the same envelop the hotel give you which has the room number on it. Also take a look of your surrounding inside and outside the hotel before you leave.

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279 posts

My wife and I were taking the train from Amsterdam to Cologne. Somewhere in between, in the Netherlands, we had to change trains. The new train arrived and the other passengers proceeded to board it while we looked for the carriage listed on tickets. And the train pulled out. We were left standing on the platform!

We went inside and I approached the ticket desks to see if they could help us. One desk was busy. I explained our situation to the young man at the other desk. He said that I would have to wait for the woman at the first desk to be available to help me. In a few minutes she was and I explained our problem. She looked at me like I was an idiot and said “you can board the train on any carriage!” She was right, a rule to live by when riding the railr! After that statement she was very helpful in getting us sorted out to catch the next train to Cologne with only a minor cost.

So when riding the rails remember “you can board the train at any carriage!”