I like the idea of being flexible, adaptable and resilient, moving with the ebb and flow yet not losing the core. I have, in storage, a beautifully illustrated book on Zen teachings and my favourite is a thank-you from a traveller who, turned away from an inn, spent a wonder-filled night under a fragrant magnolia tree beneath a moonlit, starry sky. Often, when life throws you lemons, as the saying goes, lemonade is a refreshing solution. However, this thinking doesn’t always work, try as I might.
A few weeks ago I was on holiday in the south of France, along the French and Italian Rivieras moving into northern Italy, and travel disruptions along the rails caused me to let the ebb and flow meander away. I like train travel, for the most part. I like sitting back and being able to see the countryside as you move through it, being able to get up and walk around, enjoying a packed lunch at your seat or splashing out on a meal in the dining car.
What I don’t like: train strikes in France followed by trains delayed by bad weather in Italy, causing me to spend most of my sightseeing time inside train stations, not knowing how long I was going to be there or if I would ever get to my hotel that night, too late to cancel without paying for my room. Often, once the situation is resolved, it doesn’t take much to make it fade away — a lovely sunset in Monterosso, a walk by the sea. But, on this trip, the travel glitches kept popping up over and over again, until I just threw up my hands and was very glad to get back home to Cardiff.
So, my last holiday was a learning experience.
Lesson 1: I realized, after staying at four hotels in eight days, that it is better for me to stay longer in just one or two locations, for two reasons: less travel time open to disruption, and a new side effect of working in the hotel industry — when you stay in hotel rooms too much it feels as if you haven’t left work. In May, while in Riomaggiore, I stayed in a housekeeping flat and this may be a better option for the future during longer stays.
Lesson 2: I need to pick my hotels better, up my game, spend a little more money. I have been fortunate in the past, but on this trip I didn’t pay as much heed to TripAdvisor warnings as I should have and in most respects, got what I paid for.
Lesson 3: Travel of any kind, when you are carrying or lugging your baggage, no matter how light, is tiresome. The pluses of train travel have to be considered with the minuses: there are always stairs to be negotiated up and down platforms, the powers-that-be may change the platform at the last minute, when the train arrives you have about two to five minutes to get on it (or off, as the case may be) and, if you are to go to a certain carriage, you can be sure that where you are standing on the platform is the wrong end.
Lesson 4: Having a little knowledge of French and less of Italian, may be a fun challenge when all you’re thinking about are questions of what dish to order, but is rather disconcerting when conductors ask for your ‘Attention’ or ‘Attentione’ over the sound system, and you know that what they’re saying is important, but you have no idea what they’ve just said — and neither does anyone else near you.