Travel!

The Joy of Chaos: What I’ve Been Up to Lately

By Dave Fox
Seattle 

[Wondering why I haven’t been blogging lately? Here’s a hastily-written, poorly-edited, long-winded synopsis of my last seven weeks….]

People sometimes wonder about me. They wonder things like, “Why has Dave not blogged in a long time? Is he trapped underneath a heavy object? Has he been devoured by a raccoon? Has he started a new religious cult in which people worship a head of lettuce named Ralph? And if so, where do I sign up?”

At other times, people do not wonder about me. Instead, they wonder things, such as, “What happens to ice cream if you microwave it and then re-freeze it? Can camels have Attention Deficit Disorder? Whatever happened to that actor guy who played that guy, Rerun, on that 1970s TV show, ‘What’s Happenin’?’ Remember that episode where Rerun joined a cult that worshipped a head of lettuce named Ralph? That sure was an original idea for a TV show!”

Whether you’ve been wondering about me or not, here’s a brief update on what I’ve been up to lately:

Friday, May 20: It’s four days until I leave Seattle to go guide a tour in Scandinavia. I should probably start packing and getting my paperwork in order. But instead, I think I’ll have a beer. And some lettuce.

Saturday, May 21: The Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Association Annual Yard Sale is today. I sell most of my possessions, except for a nice, free-standing hammock, which nobody wants to buy because the weather is crappy, and who buys a hammock in crappy weather?

Sunday, May 22: Okay, really. I need to start packing for my tour, and getting my paperwork in order. Kattina comes over. She helps me do stuff. We are very busy. I will guide one two-week tour. Then I will fly home for six days and we will pack our stuff for the shipping container that will be sent ahead when we move to Singapore in July.

At 7 p.m., Kattina phones the school where she’ll be working to check on shipping logistics. Everything is in order, they say. We must just choose a date when the movers will pack our stuff. June 16? Oh, that’s probably too late. How about June 6?

This is a problem. I will not be home from my tour until June 11. I’ve now got around 36 hours to pack pretty much everything I own.

Midnight arrives. It is no longer Sunday, May 22.

Monday, May 23: At 2 a.m., I finish packing for my tour and go to sleep. Six hours later, when I wake up, panic ensues. As the day progresses, more panic ensues. I keep packing. And packing. And packing. I should put my hammock on Craigslist, but there is no time. I keep packing. I really want a beer, but I should not do that right now.

Midnight arrives again. It is no longer Monday, May 21. Panic ensues some more.

Tuesday, May 24: I’m still packing. Holy crap, this sure is a lot of packing. At 2 a.m., I decide, to hell with it. I’m having a beer. I find a fine Corsendonk Christmas Ale from Belgium at the back of my fridge. I keep packing.

At 3 a.m., I am still packing. And wishing I had another Corsendonk. And a fresh head of lettuce. I open a Guinness instead. And keep packing.

At 3:30, I am finished packing. I go to bed.

At 5 a.m., I wake up. It is time to go to the airport.

My plane takes off at 8:30. I begin blogging about shipping containers. I get long-winded and do not finish my epic tale. I fall asleep.

Four-and-a-half hours later, I land in Chicago. E-mail arrives from the US office of the shipping company. They have heard from the Singapore branch. Everything is in order for our move. They are confirming our requested shipping date – of June 16.

I continue on to Washington, DC. My mother meets me at the airport. We drive to Bethesda, Maryland, where I am said to have grown up. Whether I actually ever grew up is questionable, but that’s another matter. We go out for dinner to a Belgian restaurant.

Wednesday, May 25: I wake up and wonder why I chose to eat dinner at a Belgian restaurant, the night before I am flying to the Netherlands. I go to the airport and board another airplane.

(Oh, Benelux people, I know Belgium and the Netherlands are different countries. It is not necessary to send me snippity hate mail about the above paragraph, but feel free to if you wish. I usually find such e-mails amusing.)

Thursday, May 26: I land in Amsterdam and hop a train to Groningen. My pal Erin meets me at the airport. She introduces me to her partner, René. We hang out and catch up on life things. I hide the fact that I have an extremely upset stomach because that’s kind of gross, and not something I like to discuss in public.

Friday, May 27: My extremely upset stomach continues.

The Jumbostay Hostel at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport: Spend the night in a Boeing 747 without flying anywhere.

Saturday, May 28: I fly to Stockholm. I arrive late at night. I cannot stay at my tour hotel. It is fully booked. So I sleep instead at the Jumbo Stay, a decommissioned 747 that has been converted into a hotel. I still have an extremely upset stomach.

Sunday, May 29: I catch a train downtown. At 4 p.m., I meet my tour group. We have our orientation meeting and dinner. I still have an extremely upset stomach. At 10:30 p.m., I decide I should see a doctor.

Seeing a doctor while guiding a tour is not logistically easy. Time is limited. At 11:15, I catch a taxi to a 24-hour urgent care facility. I sit in the waiting room for an hour. It is no longer Sunday, May 29.

Monday May 30: At 12:30 a.m., I ask the receptionist if she can guess how much longer I will have to wait before the doctor can see me. She says about four hours. I start work early in the morning. Can’t wait four more hours. I catch a taxi back to the hotel and go to bed.

I wake up six hours later with an extremely upset stomach. I leave my group to our local guide for the day. I go to a different urgent care center. The doctor prescribes antibiotics. They are delicious.

Tuesday, May 31: The tour moves on to Kalmar, Sweden.

Wednesday, June 1: My hotel room phone rings at 6 a.m. It is someone from my group in the room next to me, alerting me to the fact that she and her mother have evacuated their room due to an ammonia leak in their fridge.

I can smell the ammonia. It is seeping through the walls into my room. While I have been trained in a variety of basic emergency procedures, I am not versed in the finer points of ammonia leaks. Out in the hallway, the odor is strong.

Is this dangerous? I don’t know. I turn to Google for assistance, where I learn that during some ammonia leaks, entire towns have been evacuated and people have died. The hotel receptionist seems nonchalant, however. What am I supposed to do? Should I get the group out of the hotel? Should I evacuate the entire town of Kalmar, Sweden? I do not know how to do that.

Upon further research, I discover that the amount of ammonia contained in a hotel mini-bar fridge is not enough to kill people. It is just enough to annoy people. We do not evacuate the town. We do, however, leave a few hours later and head south to Copenhagen.

In Copenhagen, they’re expanding their Metro to make it easier to get around the city. As a result, between now and 2017 or something like that, it will completely impossible to get around the city – especially in a large tour bus whose GPS navigation device keeps telling you to drive under bridges that are too low for your bus to drive under.

After 45 minutes of circling, the driver and I drop the group two blocks from our hotel and walk. I then take the group on a city orientation walk, which is scuttled by the Distortion Festival, which involves the loudest techno music ever created, blasting from speakers on every street corner in the entire city center while teenagers who have smeared themselves with fake blood and ingested a variety of mind-distorting substances attempt to infiltrate our tour group. It does not really matter at this point that these teens are distracting my group of mostly 60-somethings from what I am trying to say, because the music is so freaking loud, I myself can’t even hear what I am attempting to say.

You never know what you'll find in Copenhagen.

Thursday, June 2: All is quiet in Copenhagen when my hotel room phone rings – again at 6 a.m. I must again deal with an early morning situation, which involves a taxi ride across town. I am back minutes before our 9:30 walking tour. I pay for the taxi with my company credit card, slug down some hotel coffee, and we are off.

That afternoon: Finally! A break! It is the first day of the tour when I am not with the group the entire day, when I have so-called “free time” to relax and enjoy leisure activities such as filling out my expense accounts and confirming a plethora of upcoming restaurant, hotel, and sightseeing reservations.

In the late afternoon, I have lots of international calls to make. My cheapest option is via Skype. My account is low. I must add money to it with my company credit card, which is… hmmm… not in my money belt… not in my wallet… it’s around here somewhere. Where did I have it last? Hurrying from the taxi in the morning? Ah, yes! I must have shoved it in a pocket. No, not this pocket. This one? No….

After tearing apart my hotel room for 45 minutes, I call the office back in the States. In Seattle, the business day is just beginning.

“We’ll cancel your card and FedEx you another one,” they tell me.

“Don’t cancel it yet if you’re not seeing any strange charges on it. It must be around here somewhere. “

I tear apart my room some more. I call the taxi company. I shout lots of obscenities. None of these actions help to locate the card. For the next few days, I must cover everything – dinners, sightseeing, akvavit tastings for 24 people – with my own money. Oh, sure, I’ll be reimbursed. And think of all the extra frequent flier miles! Hopefully, everything will go smoothly.

Friday, June 3: Hotel breakfast room. CNN is on. They report a serious e-coli outbreak in Germany and Sweden. Is that what landed me in the hospital a few days earlier? Ehh… who knows? I’m feeling better. However, the e-coli scare is an economic disaster for my religious cult. What if Ralph the Lettuce is spreading e-coli? My followers abandon me and the cult is disbanded.

My tour moves on to the island of Ærø for two days and nights, where the world is dreadfully calm and peaceful. Sunday night, we catch an overnight ship to Oslo.

Monday, June 6: We arrive in Oslo in the morning. I lived here for two years. I feel home’ish. In the afternoon, I ask at the hotel if my new credit card has arrived. It has not. Also, the receptionist tells me, there could be a bank strike tomorrow. I must warn my group.

“That’s okay,” I say. “Everyone’s got ATM cards.”

“If the strike happens, ATMs will shut down. So will all credit card terminals.”

“How long will this last?” I ask. “A day?”

“Maybe several.”

The office has deposited extra money in my personal bank account, but I’m not sure my bank will let me withdraw enough cash in a single day to cover several days’ worth of activities. That upcoming $1,200 group fjord cruise and a couple of $1,000+ dinners could get tricky.

The office sends pleas to some of the places we’ll be going, promising to pay them as soon as the strike ends if they will take care of us now. The businesses are all very helpful. It’s been another time-consuming headache, but the tour is under control. Really, it is.

Tuesday, June 7: The bank strike has been averted through overnight negotiations.

Wednesday, June 8: We head into the Jotunheim Mountains through pounding rains and flooded land.

Thursday, June 9: The pounding rains continue as we head back down to sea level for our fjord cruise. Visibility is not the sort of visibility one would wish for on a cruise through Norway’s western fjords. But at least we can see the curves in the roads – and the vehicle coming straight at us.

“He’s going too fast,” a tour member in the front passenger seat of the bus says.”

“Yes. He needs to slow down,” I say from my tour guide jump seat, roughly two feet from the bus’s giant windshield.

He is not slowing down.

It’s a pick-up truck, with bald tires, hauling a trailer overloaded with giant containers of blue liquid. Fertilizer, perhaps, but that’s not so important. What is important is that the vehicle is headed straight toward me – and it dawns on me the reason it is not slowing down is that the driver, in a moment of panic, has slammed on the breaks and is now in an uncontrollable skid. We are about to have a head-on collision.

All I can do is cover my face to minimize the effects of flying glass. All I can think, is “Really? After everything else, I am possibly going to be killed in 1.27 seconds?”

1.27 seconds later, the truck hits us. I am not dead. I utter words I am not supposed to utter when guiding tours.

Nobody is hurt. But the accident delays us 45 minutes. We blast past our rest stop and make our fjord cruise with one minute to spare. On the ferry, the bus driver duct tapes the front of the bus so it doesn’t look so bad.

We arrive in Bergen. My credit card is still not there.

Friday, June 10: In the late afternoon, just before our farewell dinner, my replacement credit card arrives.

Saturday, June 11: I fly home to Seattle. I have six days there before I head back for another tour.

Sunday, June 12: It’s Kattina’s birthday, and a beautiful day in Seattle, We rent a rowboat. We have a picnic. I relax.

Monday, June 13: What the hell was I thinking? When I left for Europe three weeks earlier, believing my stuff was adequately packed and ready for shipping, I was delusional. I spend the next several days continuing with my moving and wedding preparations.

Thursday, June 16: This is it. The official moving day. The movers do an impressive job wrangling my stuff into a moving van. The movers are very thorough. They are so thorough, they pack stuff I don’t want them to pack, stuff I still need in Seattle such as my dishes. Also – this is my fault – I have packed every pair of shoes I own, save for the two pairs I will have with me on tour.

Friday, June 17: I fly back to Stockholm to guide another tour. My second lap around Scandinavia, my final tour for Rick Steves’ Europe, goes by, relatively free of catastrophes. No medical emergencies. No lost credit cards. No bank strikes. No bus crashes. Surely, something has to go wrong. Another Icelandic volcano eruption? But the tour goes smoothly.

Friday, July 1: Two weeks later, the tour ends in Bergen, Norway. I say my final farewells to my group, and meet Marius, my host-brother from my days as an exchange student, for a wee dram of akvavit. We talk until 1 a.m.

Saturday, July 2: After two and a half hours of sleep, I wake up in Bergen, Norway, to fly home. My Scandinavia tours are finally done.

“Your flight to Frankfurt has been cancelled,” they tell me when I check in at the airport.

“Volcano?”

“No.”

“Mechanical problem?”

“No.”

“Terrorist threat? E-coli? A mob of angry gerbils has eaten the flight attendants?”

“Well, you’re on the right track with that last one.”

“Huh?”

“We don’t have a flight crew.”

Bergen airport is chaotic. SAS, who handles Lufthansa’s flights there, has only two people helping to rebook around 150 passengers. One of those two people is apparently a trainee, who has not yet learned how to check the appropriate box on a meal voucher. Some passengers wait three or four hours only to be told to come back tomorrow for another flight.

As for me, they will get me to Frankfurt that evening. I’ll spend the night there and fly the rest of the way home a day late.

“Is there any other option?” I ask. “I’m getting married and moving to Singapore in two weeks. I really have a lot to do.”

“This is the best I can offer,” the man says. “Good luck on your marriage.”

So I spend the night at the Frankfurt airport. Lufthansa provides me with a nice, lonely hotel room.

Sunday, July 3: I fly home.

Monday, July 4: It’s a jetlaggy Independence Day.

Tuesday, July 5: And here we are today. My wedding is in 11 days. Two days after that, we move to Singapore. My to-do list is such that I have no business taking time out to blog like this. But it’s been a while. And at 4:30 a.m., when my body thinks it’s lunch time, and businesses are closed, and I have this unfinished, dreadfully long blog entry I started writing weeks ago, I thought I’d let you know what I’ve been up to. And why I just haven’t had time to get my Ralph-the-Lettuce religious cult up and running.

Stay tuned. Bloggage from Singapore begins in two weeks.

 

Published on Wednesday, July 6, 2011

3 Responses to “The Joy of Chaos: What I’ve Been Up to Lately”

  1. Dave Fox
    July 6, 2011 at 10:26 PM

    Yikes! Thanks for catching that little typo, Erin! As I said… hastily written… poorly edited. (And did I mention jetlag-addled?)

  2. Erin
    July 6, 2011 at 6:46 PM

    I was with the story up until June 18 when you apparently led a one-day tour of Scandinavia and then spent more than two weeks waiting in the airport for a flight home. That must have been hell! But, seriously, we enjoyed having you here. And you hid that upset stomach well. I hope you come back again soon, feeling better and with your new bride!

  3. Joan Kerr
    July 9, 2011 at 8:15 PM

    I am breathless after reading about your last month…but I think I will recover from my deep distress for your health (and mental well-being) by strolling through the Sarlat marketplace this afternoon as I enjoy my “vacation from your vacation” day mid-way through our Rick Steves tour of Paris and the South of France with Rolinka. Very good wishes to you and Kattina!!!

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