Holiday fiascos tend to make for good stories later, once the initial pain has subsided.
From fumbled words to wurst memories, our columnists reflect on the fun and fiascos of their travels across Europe.
There are a few places that make me cry at the thought of visiting them, my accountant’s office being one of them. But the tears I shed when I visit Italy are of awe and delight because I love that country so much it makes me feel cheated, like I can never savour everything it has to offer no matter how much I want to. I wish I could have a whole other life there, lapping up the history, food, wine and beauty. I’ve thrown so many coins in the Trevi Fountain to ensure I revisit, as tradition dictates, that I’m sure I paid for its recent restoration. For me, all roads lead to Rome and always will. It’s amore mio.
I have a vivid memory of lying on Paradise Beach, on the Greek island of Mykonos, surrounded by gorgeous young people. Each sunbather was more fantastically attractive than the last, all were bronzed, many of them were nude, and most were enjoying a drink. I, on the other hand, was pale from the Sydney winter and, being six months pregnant, waddled from shoreline to beach chair like a panda in a bikini. Later, as we waited for the bus to take us back to our hotel, I had to wee behind a shed. Pregnancy does not make for a sexy Mediterranean holiday.
Wandering around one of Germany’s famous Christmas markets one afternoon, I got a hankering for sausage. At a traditional snag stand, I saw what looked to my Australian eyes like a tasting plate, with thoughtfully cut up little chunks of wurst on it. There I was, quietly savouring this free sausage when a lady bending down beside me, tending to her child, suddenly stood up and grabbed the plate. Turns out it wasn’t a tasting plate, it was a toddler’s lunch. I don’t understand much German, but I got the gist when the irate mum started interrogating bystanders and I scarpered quick-sticks.
Gough and Margaret Whitlam once took me to a party in Paris. Determined to appear suave, I decided to attempt a little French beyond my usual repertoire of “rendezvous, champagne, liaison and lingerie”. (Clearly I’m fluent in body language!) Unfortunately, there are two French phrases which sound quite alike: one is très gelée and the other is très jolie. Apparently, while attempting to compliment Jacques Chirac on the prettiness of his wife, I actually spent the entire night telling the French president that his wife was very frozen. An amused Gough had to save me from being sent to the Bastille for a swift guillotining.
With one of those kitsch koala backpacks strapped to my back, I shuffled slowly down the icy footpath to Munich’s U-Bahn railway station, marvelling at how a woman four times my age overtook me while I gingerly made my way past a huge pile of snow. Just 40 hours before, I’d left a blazing Sydney summer with dreams of setting the German modelling world alight. It was my first time in Europe and Munich was my first experience of a “proper” winter. The faux-leopard jacket I’d borrowed from a generous girlfriend (sorry it took over a year to return) wasn’t keeping the chill out but I was determined to look cool when I met my agents.
Croatians are hugely resilient after years of fascism, decades of communism, and its 1991-95 War of Independence, so it should have been no surprise that a family hike we’d booked was nine hours straight up Velebit Mountain on a scrabbly path with no safety rail. Everyone survived, including the seven-year-old, but his eyes were like saucers as I quizzed our guide on what she usually sees on this walk. “Bears,” she shrugged. “And vipers.” “Oh,” I asked, “has anyone been killed by a viper?” “Only stupid tourists,” she replied. “One sat on a rock without checking. What else was the viper going to do but bite him? It was his fault.”
Next time I get to Europe, I know I won’t recognise it. It’s not Europe, it’s me. Back then, I was poorer, living four to a leaky flat in outer London, working overnight shifts to fund budget jaunts to the continent. I was also braver, hiring a car in Lisbon to drive to Fátima in search of the shrine of my namesake. Another trip, to Barcelona, involved renting a room so I could learn Spanish. I didn’t, but I did learn resourcefulness and resilience and how to be alone with myself.
Storms meant we’d missed a connecting flight to New York, forcing us to get a room in a very exxy Heathrow Airport hotel. Curse the storms! At 3am we were jolted awake by the phone. It was our insurers refusing to write off the car our newly licensed daughter had crashed. My husband paced the room stark naked as he persuaded them to change their mind. He saved us $15,000. Had we made our connection, we’d have been in the air and missed the call. Praise the storms!
My first visit to Paris was in winter. It was freezing, so I hunted down a super-warm fox-fur hat. I’m opposed to fur now, but back then I was just trying to keep up with the chic French women all around me. But strangely, everywhere I went in my hat, it was obvious people were laughing at me. Finally I asked a very handsome Frenchman what was so funny. He replied bluntly, pointing to my hat, “It is because you look like, how you say, a dandelion head.” The hat was never worn again.