travel horror and hilarity
Pink skinny jean disasters, foreign alphabet menus and a wedding gatecrash – travel hitches can make for great dinner-party hilarity.
Confession time… I’m a travel addict on the road to recovery. Nah, just kidding – I’m actually on my way to the airport. Travel is my therapy and, as usual at this time of year, I’m about to head off to the other side of the world, escorting foodie tours to Europe.
Travel is such an investment in yourself. It’s often been said that it is the only thing you buy that actually makes you richer. I’m a firm believer in the theory that the only trip you will regret will be the one you didn’t take.
However, along with all the joys, excitement and liberation of travel, there are, at times, the slightly scary situations and accidental mishaps. Turning these incidents into hilarious dinner-party travel stories is my way of coping with them, and I can recall many from my years of travelling and escorting tour groups. Besides the usual nightmare scenarios of missed flights, weather delays, lost tickets and bursting-zip luggage malfunctions,
I’ve had times when things have gone a bit crazily – and funnily – wrong.
When my children were quite young – about five and six years old – we went to Singapore for a holiday. There was much excitement for these country kids to be staying on the 29th storey of a huge high-rise hotel in the heart of the city, but even greater excitement when the fire alarm went off and sprinklers started spraying water everywhere in the middle of the night (something we were not responsible for, thank goodness). I’d seen enough Towering Inferno kind of blockbuster movies to take this very seriously. Grabbing our passports and wearing our fluffy towelling hotel dressing gowns and slippers, we headed off down the fire exit stairwell. No one else anywhere in the hotel seemed particularly perturbed by
events but the sensible Seagar Gang of Four weren’t taking any risks, so off we traipsed, down and down and down all those hundreds of stairs to the ground floor and through big, clearly marked Fire Exit doors... only to find ourselves on centre stage with the bridal party of a huge, obviously very grand, formal Chinese wedding! Here we were, holding hands in single file, looking like the von Trapp family singers… On this floor of the hotel, the alarms were definitely not blasting out, so the very red-faced Kiwis had to do some pretty fast explanations and apologies for gatecrashing.
Apparently there was a faulty alarm just outside our room, confined to our floor only, but no one had told us. At least we were prepared and got safely out, and, of course, it added to our travel stories worth repeating.
On another trip, this time to Odessa in the Ukraine, we were with a small tour group in a lovely, very local, non-touristy restaurant. The menu was in not only an unfamiliar language but also a completely foreign alphabet, so very tricky to read. Even prices were impossible to decipher, so we just pointed at various things and the waitress wrote them down. I felt quite smarty-pants chuffed when my huge platter of beautiful caviars arrived with all the accoutrements, however Ross was not so thrilled when he was presented with what loosely resembled jellymeat, and someone else received a single red lettuce leaf on a plate. Even more startling was the five-litre flagon of sweet sherry I’d ordered as our wine choice. A fun and memorable meal was shared that day and it has made a good story to dine out on ever since.
In Rome, my best friend and bridesmaid, Trish, had been admiring those cool Italiano girls on Vespas whizzing by and was quite taken with one girl’s fabulous pink skinny jeans. Trish, being an enviable size 6, decided she just had to have a pair of these uber stylish pants, so off to Zara we marched. The fitting rooms were small even for my svelte friend, and the skinny jeans were more of a challenge to squirm into than any of us in our group could comprehend. We never give a moment’s thought to Trish having a prosthetic leg, but doing the only thing she could to get out of the “skinnies”, poor Trish removed her limb completely. This was fine in itself, until the terribly efficient sales lady popped in to assist with sizing and fainted clean away with a case of the vapours big time – the tears of laughter from all of us mates not really helping the situation. Whenever we get together now, somebody will start the “remember the pink jeans incident” trip down memory lane.
At other times in other places, I’ve been known to misread route-number signs as speed limits… slowing right down when passing the Highway 45 sign and speeding up alarmingly on the 140 expressway.
How about trying to explain to Customs why you had 14 small, clear plastic pouches of white powder lying flat on the bottom of your suitcase? “Well, Officer, it seemed a spacesaving idea at the time to remove all the packages of angel food cake mix from their bulky cardboard boxes.”
I was very nearly arrested for a snorkelling incident in the Greek island of Skyros when I thought I had discovered a buried Ancient Greek urn a few hundred yards offshore, only to be mistakenly digging up a sewer pipe from the beachfront hotel.
Another time, the sleeping pills taken to help my friend Peggy and I cope with a three-day bus trip from London to Dubrovnik were a bit of an overkill – we slept through all the scheduled convenience stops so had to be terribly creative with plastic bags, if you follow my drift.
Saving the funniest and best till last, my Dubai nightmare still comes back to haunt me – actually, it usually returns as a horror-filled, screaming nightmare. I was leading a party of 12 during a stopover in the UAE en route to a cooking tour in Italy. We were heading out to dinner, as well as to see the fantastic night-time fountain display and do a spot of late-night shopping, as you do in Dubai. I had briefed everyone on the dress code… being a strict Muslim country, women don’t wear exposing outfits – so no bare shoulders or plunging necklines and quite modest, long hemlines to avoid accidental leg exposure. Everyone had passed inspection and I was leading the way down a long escalator in the very busy shopping mall. I had taken a quick glance at my reflection in the big mirrors as we passed by them and thought, “Not looking too bad, Jo Seags, you’ve scrubbed up quite nicely.” Well, you know about that moment of pride before the fall… seconds later I stepped off the escalator but – Hello! – my dress got caught in the concertina-ing steps and it decided to go once around the cogs and head back on up, leaving me fully exposed in front of hundreds of startled
Emirati shoppers and security guards. The dress was shredded in the mechanics of the conveyor system and all the people following behind were having to backtrack up the comingdown escalator! It was a total “disastrophy”, as my friend Jen would say, and there was Monty Python-like pandemonium until someone kindly pressed the emergency stop button. My darling new best friends from the tour group dashed into a shop to buy multiple pashminas to wrap me up, bandage-like, to toddle back to our hotel in. This was my Miranda moment! I was mortified and I still blush whenever I recall it. It took quite a few medicinal brandies to see the full humour of it.
However, it was not enough to put me off and here I am heading off again. The travel bug has bitten and with no known antidote I’ll be happily infected for life.
“I stepped off the escalator but my dress got caught in the steps, leaving me fully exposed in front of startled shoppers.”