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.

Yum! Instant heart attack.

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.

You have to laugh. What else can you do?

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.

In other parts of the world suit characters have underemployed actors inside them, not just plywood frames holding them up.

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…

May you all have a very merry Christmas, like I'm having!

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.

At least it left me time to photograph one of Europe's most beautiful stations.

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!


Filed under Budget travel, Travel- Europe

10 responses to “MY WORST TRAVEL EXPERIENCES OF 2011

  1. very entertaining, Richard. Still can’t believe that train conductor. I’m eager to help you add to your list when you return to Australia – can I suggest ‘worst hill climb on bicycle’ to describe my suggested Megalong Valley jaunt for the two of us?

  2. I’d love to take a crack at the Megalong Valley climb, Steven. I could start my story about it with…

    ‘Once upon a time there was a very fit cyclist on a very flash new bike. And a long way behind him, there was me…’

  3. (and finish the story with) … but by the end of the ride, the ‘very fit’ cyclist was huffing and puffing and his very flash bike was covered in mud as I serenely rolled past him on the 11% hill 🙂

  4. Yeah though it was worst but you had some good times too as seen from pictures. Plywood suit characters are not good at all.Really a bad idea..

  5. Just about everything in Havana would be my worst travel experience. I hated the place! On looking back on these experiences it all becomes part of the charm of travelling.

    • Sorry to hear about Havana. Was it just the city or the whole of Cuba? I wouldn’t expect luxury there, but would hope a lively street culture and music might compensate for a lack of creature comforts.

      It’s still on my ‘to do’ list – perhaps now with a question mark beside it.

      • We only went to Havana. We were travelling with a Cuban and a couple of members of his family. Unfortunately we got to see how life is for Cubans, with disgusting food and few comforts. It quite put me off. We stayed at the Hotel National de Cuba which must has been fabulous once, but is now dreadful, mainly because of the rotten staff and the revolting breakfast. Thinking about the very smell of it still makes me gag. The music is indeed fabulous, but it wasn’t enough for me. If you want to go, be quick, before the whole place falls down.

  6. Jan Van der Linden

    All hosts of ‘Vrienden op de Fiets’ should provide real beds, not just a mattress on the ground. Please inform the organisation because if no one complains, she will continue offering poor services to fellow cyclists.
    Or did you pay far less than the 19 euro, she’s allowed to charge?

  7. I think those terrible travel story books are still my favourites. I started compiling stories from friends years ago of tales of where things had gone horribly wrong for them. Love it!
    As for your train conductor- how mean.

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