My Top 8 Surprise Vacation Experiences

Vacations create memories. Sometimes they are over the top. Here are a few:

  1. Seeing myself in the news in China. Temple Restaurant Beijing (TRB) had been named the top fine dining restaurant in the world by Trip Advisor about a year ago. I submit lots of Trip Advisor They are often detailed. We are sitting in the Executive Lounge at our Marriott Hotel in China. I’m reading China Daily the English language newspaper. There’s an article announcing TRB has been named the #1 fine dining restaurant by Trip Advisor. The article quotes a couple of paragraphs from my review! They don’t mention me by name, but as “A Trip Advisor reviewer in Pennsylvania, USA.”
  2. Running into someone you know aboard ship. We booked a New York to Southampton crossing on Cunard’s Walking through the Manhattan pier, I saw a familiar face using a pay telephone. It was a friend from Brooklyn, where we lived. He was also sailing on the same crossing! Once on board, arrangements were quickly made so we were all seated at the same table. FYI: We were traveling with three other people. Another couple and my tailor. Upon asking why I needed my clothing tailored and learning we were doing a transatlantic crossing, he asked if he could come too!
  3. People who know people. My wife was attending a class aboard ship. Walking out with a friend, she encountered a guy sitting by the bar. The fellow had just finished his onboard service club meeting and commented on their laughter and good attitudes. “Where are you from?” transitioned into “Who do you know?” We are friends with our local philanthropist in Bucks County. He owned a swimming pool company decades ago. It turned out the guy at the bar sold him the coping tiles for his pools.
  4. The bridge that wasn’t there. We are driving around Germany in our rental car. We want to get to the other side of a large river. I think it was the Main. Everyone drives fast in Germany. We see this sign. It has icons of waves and a car. Great. It’s a bridge. How else would you cross a river? We go speeding down the road toward the riverbank slamming on the braked when we see a wooden dock, but no bridge! It was at that moment we learned about car ferries. I’ve often wondered what it would have cost us to have pulled our rented Mercedes from the bottom of the river if we hadn’t stopped!
  5. The big car in Zurich. We flew to Switzerland and rented a car. For some reason our German rental car company wasn’t near the airport. We rented a Mercedes “C” class, which is a standard entry level car. The guy behind the counter tells us he has great news. He is upgrading us to a Mercedes “S” class! Even then, they cost about the same as a small home in the US Midwest. He cautioned us not to put a scratch on it because if it was dinged or dented, it would need to go to a central repair location and he might not be allocated a premium car like that again. He was giving us the car because we looked like responsible people. I’m thinking “We chose to rent a Mercedes, because if we were in a serious accident, we would survive in a well built Mercedes. He is giving us a premium Mercedes because he is confident we would never get into an accident!” If only he knew. FYI: We discovered they draw parking spaces much tighter in Zurich.
  6. You just don’t get the point. On another vacation (years ago) we drove to Nancy, a city in France. We stop for lunch at a great brasserie. I tell my wife I’m ordering Steak Tartare. She says “Considering the problems with raw beef and Mad Cow disease, don’t you think you should order something else?” I try to follow advice. The waiter comes to take our orders. I order steak frites. He asks how I would like the steak cooked. I sat “rare, please.” My wife turns to me and says: “You just don’t understand this Mad Cow disease thing, do you?”
  7. The day none of our credit cards worked. We have a favorite restaurant in Mertert, Luxembourg. We’ve been going annually for at least 20 years, as part of our Christmas market driving holiday. We have a great lunch. I hand over my American Express card. The server comes back: “I’m sorry, they won’t accept it.” (There a bit of a language issue too.) Out comes the Visa card. Nope. MasterCard. Nope. I even had the HSBC debit card from the UK. Nope. There was a cash machine nearby. You can guess what happened. Back at the restaurant, my wife has been served an after dinner drink. We are embarrassed and worried. The owner comes by, smiling. He says; “No worries. You can take care of it on your next visit.”  We say: “You can’t do that! We only come once a year!”  He said “Relax. You are regulars.” We pooled all of our Euros and managed to cover the bill anyway.
  8. The first visit to the Luxembourg restaurant. While staying near Frankfurt around 1990, we decided on a Sunday we would drive to nearby Luxembourg, cross the border, get off at the first exit, drive to the first town and have lunch at the first restaurant we found. This was back when Germans used deutschmarks and the French used francs. Little did we know Luxembourg had its own currency, the Luxembourg franc! We happened to choose the “foie gras” menu and suddenly realized we had no idea what things cost! We thought about the two neighboring country’s currency. “This might be a $40 meal. It might be a $400 meal.” We had no clue. We looked at the well dressed patrons in heavy wool clothing. “Do these look like $40 meal people? No. “$400 meal people?” Don’t think so either. I think the bill came out to about $80 USD.

During then pandemic, we haven’t been flying or sailing anywhere. For years my wife has told me: “If for some reason we could never travel again, we have enough memories to last a lifetime.”

Cover photo: Salade Nicoise, photo by Bryce Sanders

2 thoughts on “My Top 8 Surprise Vacation Experiences”

    • Emily, thanks for writing back. Fortunately we had enough Euros to cover the bill, but not a very good tip. I contacted the credit card company afterwards (AMEX specifically.) They showed no record of a charge being attempted. I think the restaurant’s credit card machine malfunctioned. That wouldn’t account for why the ATM didn’t work. We’ve been going almost every years for 20+ years. Maybe 30. Glad the owner was agreeable. He even offered after dinner drinks (actually after lunch) while we were figuring it out. Years ago, I read an article that addressed this type of problem. Assuming you are in your home city (like NYC) you take off your watch and offer it as collateral, to be reclaimed when you return with cash. The article said: (a) It better be a good watch! and (b) make clear this isn’t in place of payment. You want your watch back!

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