As I often tell my writing students, a good story always starts with something going wrong. So when I caught myself writing a summary post about the best meal, prettiest town, most charming B&B and most spectacular scenery etc of the past five months, I thought, ‘Stop that immediately, Richard! Everyone prefers reading about your disasters.’
So here are my worst travel experiences of the past five months:
Worst meal – Friesland, Netherlands
We were tired. We were hungry. All the cafes were closed. Then outside a small village in the northern Netherlands, Mevrouw T and I came upon a kaatsen tournament in progress. It’s a complicated game for the uninitiated – like beach volleyball without a beach or a net, played on a field. A small hard ball is whacked back and forth by players with gloves on their hands. But to the food from the stall by the field – the fries were okay, but the gehaktbal (meatball) tasted every bit as bad as it looked. A bit like a deep-fried kaatsen ball. Maybe that’s what it was.
Worst accommodation Somewhere else in the Netherlands
When you book Bed and Breakfast, a bed is normally included as part of the package. Through the Dutch Vrienden op de Fiets (Friends on the Bike) network cyclists and walkers can arrange very cheap accommodation in the homes of other members. You get what you pay for but it was a challenge to us to sleep on a couple of single mattresses on the floor of a tiny upstairs office. Our hostess is entitled to anonymity. Her company and the breakfast were excellent.
Worst weather – Dordrecht, Netherlands
Somewhere above the potato fields the heavens opened, and stayed open for days, forcing Mevrouw T and I to suspend our cycling tour along the Pieperpad. Fortunately the Netherlands is a small country with good transport connections. We rode to the nearest station and were back in Amsterdam with our clothes in the dryer within a couple of hours.
Saddest family entertainment – Atyrau, Kazakhstan
There wasn’t much going on in this oil town in western Kazakhstan. I had a very good time teaching there, but for local kids there was little on offer.
Most disappointing town – Sint Niklaas, Belgium
The Flemish Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) traditionally looks like a bishop. The town named after him boasts the largest city square in the country, and anyone familiar with the Great Markets of Brussels and Bruges will know that Belgians do town squares very well indeed. The Sint Niklaas square was certainly large, but also a windswept void. So I took a shot of the particularly ugly statue in front of the town hall, and hopped on the train. Only to find…
Worst service – Antwerp, Belgium
An easy winner in this category was the Belgian train conductor at Antwerp Central Station. When I asked politely where I should put my bike in his (almost empty) train, he directed me to wheel it along to Carriage 5. But as soon as I started in that direction he blew the whistle and sent the train to Amsterdam, leaving me and my bike on the platform.
Hardened travellers will note that the above complaints are mere quibbles. We never suffered from dysentery on a bus with no toilet. We never fell from cliffs or rode in taxis or buses driven by drug-crazed lunatics. We were never attacked by bears, robbed at gunpoint or taken hostage by rebels.
Europe is a safe and pleasant place these days and we thoroughly enjoyed nearly every day of the past five months.
Thanks for following our adventures and feel free to add your tales of travel disasters to the comments below. The worse they are, the better the stories!