Venturing abroad takes us out of our comfort zone and into unchartered waters. And, occasionally, “accidents” and quirky incidents do happen. Here are some of my own misadventures which, we hasten to add, mostly befell me as an independent sightseer and are totally untypical of what is likely to happen to you abroad!
#1 The Sting – An Englishman in New York
I arrived in New York City, back in 1990, somewhat wary of being mugged. It was just before the city was “cleaned up” by Mayor Giuliani. The first night, I walked out of the YMCA. I wore a cheap watch and a T-shirt with Georgetown on it. I turned a corner. Suddenly a heard a voice shouting “Georgetown” after me. I turned round and saw a guy with a towel.
He said: “Gimme the watch, man! Under this towel I’ve got a gun. I’m gonna blow you away!”
It was all a bit surreal and I just stood there, mouth agape. Suddenly he landed a colossal punch on my head. I felt my head spinning. Then a bus pulled up by the street. The door was open and I managed to crawl in and that was it. And I still had my watch!!
It must have been one of the quickest (attempted) muggings ever in NYC. I was a Londoner who had lived in the UK capital the whole of my life. Yet I had never been mugged. Have to say, retrospectively, such incidents make one angry and trigger Charlie Bronson Death Wish-type fantasies. The main difference between a punch in real life and a punch in the movies is that it leaves you dazed.
The following day, I re-emerged from the YMCA, a little shaken but ready to put the incident behind me. A friendly-looking guy came up to me and said he’d just arrived at the YMCA from Georgia. He quoted his room number. He said he was nervous at being in New York. I could understand THAT.
“Everything seems so BIG and SCARY,” he said with extravagant rolling-eye gestures. He said he needed to change some money but he only had traveler’s checks and everywhere was closed. He promised to pay me back the following day. I agreed to give him 20 dollars. He looked like a decent chap. Needless to say, the next day there was no sign of this guy. I went to his room. He wasn’t there.
I asked around and eventually a janitor told me with a smile – “Oh, that’s Leonard, he’s the friendly neighborhood con man.”
I demanded to get my 20 bucks back. The guy just smiled and said – “You gave it to him voluntarily; he practices that trick everywhere.”
In just two days I had been mugged (albeit unsuccessfully) and conned (successfully). Welcome to the Big Apple!
#2 A touch of the Isle of Wight’s
I think I’d effectively gone without food for a whole week when, sleeping one night, someone banged on the door, shouting “Fire, Fire.” My own holiday from hell was on the Isle of Wight, UK, August 1975. It was an unusually hot month in the UK. I don’t know what was circling around the hotel but a terrible bug laid me low. I fell very ill and couldn’t eat for the whole holiday without throwing up or running to the toilet.
My father (who’d also been ill) and I staggered out in our dressing gowns. Sure enough, we could see flames shooting up from the hotel roof. The firemen arrived but there was a water shortage and it took a time for them to get the blaze under control.
Like many families, over the years we developed our own private language to describe illnesses and afflictions. My main memory of the holiday was appalling diarrhea – so much so that forever afterwards we always referred to any case of diarrhea as the “Isle of Wights”.
Not sure I’d want to return to the Isle of Wight, although I’m sure it’s a respectable place!
#3 The greedy camel driver
I went to Egypt when I was 18. I was a bit awkward. It was an organized tour, taking in the usual sites, the Pyramids, the Sphinx etc. I had mixed emotions. I was aware that we were spoiled Westerners in the Middle East. After Cairo we would be taking a pleasure cruise down the Nile.
On the first day we went to the Sphinx. The camel driver asked for a tip. I was unprepared and took out a five-pound note and handed it to him. And this was in 1986! It dawned on me that this was the biggest tip he‘d probably ever been given in his whole life! He looked at it and then started rubbing his fingers together.
“A little bit more,” he said.
#4 Where am I?
Personally, my most bizarre travel “fail” so far was in 2010 when I was supposed to board a cruise ship from Copenhagen. Knowing the prices of taxis in the city, I booked a train ticket, based on some loose research. So, instead of reaching the port, where I was supposed to board the ship, I ended up in Malmö, Sweden!
I thought there was something wrong because the train was taking WAY too long to reach its destination, but when I saw the Swedish flags, I realized that I hadn’t just ended up in the wrong port/city…I was in the wrong country!
#5 Swimming to the lunch table…
We were in the Algarve, Portugal, one winter, circa late 1970s. We were staying in Praia da Luz, the resort later made famous – or infamous – after Madeleine McCann went missing in 2007. We were having lunch one day at the Luz Bay Club. We sat down at about 1pm. We all ordered some fish. An eternity passed. The manager invented every excuse under the sun, saying that the chef had been taken ill, the fish was out of season (had we thought of ordering steak?) etc.
Eventually, after about two hours had passed by, he came to us very solemn-faced:
“I can promise you the fish will be here soon,” he told us. “It’s on its way from Lagos.” (six kilometers away)
I don’t know whether he meant that the fish was swimming along the coast to get to Praia da Luz but it was about 4.30pm before he put something on our table!! It was like something out of the comedy series Fawlty Towers.
Have you experienced similar “accidents”? Share your stories with us!