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Challenges of Travel After 40

Standing In line for the toilet

Recently my husband surprised me with a vacation to celebrate our union of 25 years and of course to take note of my unmentionable birthday. He asked earlier this year what I wanted to do to celebrate this glorious year and I told him I wanted to vacation with him since we hadn’t done so for over 9 years.

First of all I want to say how I truly appreciated his plans and efforts to make the vacation happen. We were challenged throughout the year in more ways than one to materialize the getaway but in the end and I mean very end, three weeks before the actual vacation, he was able to put something together for us. I was hesitant and worried about making it happen because of the current “American dream/nightmare” we are all experiencing in this land of opportunity and with that in mind, vacation was the last thing on the list of issues to tackle in 2010.

But he convinced me that it was important for us to do this in order to step away from the stress and regroup, if only for two weeks. I procrastinated and worried and finally realizing how important this time off was for him as well, agreed to do it.

The funny thing is, while planning the getaway, my brain was in my twenties mode and although I was careful and gave alot of consideration to hotel category and location, I still planned the vacation as if I were 25.  The scary thing was that when I got to my destination, I quickly felt like I was kidding myself and within hours knew that I truly was an idiot for holding on to my youth while planning the trip.

When I was 25, I actually was able to arrive in any city around the globe and after checking in my baggage or locking it up at a train station, I immediately went on a walking tour of the city just to familiarize myself with my surroundings and decide what areas I wanted to explore more and in greater detail. I actually made the mistake of doing the same this time. I dropped off my luggage at the hotel and attempted to walk across Paris in ten hours and believe me by the end of the day, I was crawling to my hotel room with blisters on my feet and aches running up and down my spine as if someone were rearranging every bone in my body. I felt like an old classic car in desperate need of a tune up. I assumed a quick shower and two Tylenols were going to take care of the exhaustion but NOT a chance.

By day two I was running a temperature and feeling cold at the same time and it seemed the dinner I had the night before (at the same restaurant when I was 25) wasn’t as healthy a place to dine anymore as it once was (Or perhaps I thought it was when my immune system was much more tolerant). The food I scuffed down in less than an hour made me so sick that I spend the next five days hardly leaving the hotel room and when I did, I spend every moment of my time searching for a toilet, and believe me that was not an easy task at all. Bathrooms in Paris are very scares and  as third world as can be and it is probably the worst part of the city’s infrastructure for a sick American. To add fuel to the fire, it rained the entire time we were there and locating a restaurant that served a bowl of steamed rice was the most adventure I experienced this time around.

What was I thinking, I asked myself on a daily basis. I should have taken a tour or perhaps at my age I should have considered a cruise, better yet I should have just stayed home and looked at photos of Paris on the internet. I remember going to Paris in my 20’s as if it were a going out of style. It rained, I didn’t mind it. I had a cold, it didn’t stop me. I ran a fever, who cared. I walked the entire trip and never felt  one achy muscle. Nothing stopped me. This trip however, I felt vulnerable and like a fish out of water and wanted to cry and run home to my mother just so she could make me her special soup.

After the rain and the countless bathroom visits, we finally left Paris for the French Riviera on the TGV. I love traveling through Europe on train and again this train ride was planned with a 25-year-old mentality in an over the 40 year old body. You would think this would have been a wonderful experience but it turned out, we were in the family compartment and throughout the entire six hours, ended up as stressed out and nervous as the parents trying to cope with their screaming and very talkative children. Note to self 2nd class compartment travel on TGV or any trains are NOT, I repeat are NOT as good as 1st class. It is worth paying more for 1st class, just to get some peace and quiet when you are over 40 and travelling without children or teenagers.

By the time we reached Cannes, we were brain-dead and probably, more so than me, hated every kid on the planet as a result of what we experienced in the 2nd class compartment. The train finally arrived at the station and when the doors slid open, we were overwhelmed by the crowd on the platform. For a minute there I thought the train took a detour to Bangladesh. We could not disembark the train. It was a madhouse. We barely struggled to step off with our luggage when a man spit on the floor right next to my foot, while another blew cigarette smoke directly on my face while he pushed me out of his way. I scratched my head, looked up at the signage just to make sure that we were in Cannes, France and then stood around to find the SORTIE (exit) sign in hopes of finding some visible cement. Oh how a private car or perhaps a tour would have done me justice by now, I thought to myself.

Getting out of the train station was yet another challenge when you have to go down 20 steps just to go back up 50 more on the street side along with 3000 other travellers. Crossing the street through the crowd and the impatient car drivers was the second most adventure I experienced on this trip. At least our hotel was right across the street from the train station, I said to my husband. I was proud that I had planned it that way since we were going to use Cannes as our base in order to explore the French Riviera. He nodded as he pulled the heavier suitcase across the street while making sure we didn’t get killed by the cars, who didn’t understand the meaning of Red light versus Green (Or perhaps  I didn’t).

We arrived at the hotel and since we had purchased an upgraded room on Hotels.com I was happy that at least we would be in the best of their rooms no matter how bad of an area we were in. Well, it seems  my interpretation of an upgrade and the receptionist’s was, of course, not the same. She felt if we were overlooking the nasty alley which smelled of rotten fruit  and listening to everyone use their toilets was better than having three windows in a semi-circular room overlooking the mountains . We argued diplomatically (myself more than her) but she insisted there wasn’t much she could do as they were all booked up. You ask, did I believe her. Of course not but what can I do, I chalked it up to the language barrier and called it a day.  Besides, I was a recovering food poisoning victim and wasn’t about to behave as I do when I feel someone in a customer relation position isn’t doing their job as they should.

We spend the next five days exploring the French Riviera and looking for steamed rice once more (see my next entry about the Riviera) and then finally took a flight from HELL back home (again thanks to screaming kids all around and an unattentive crew to say the least).

Note to self: Lady you are getting older no matter what you think or want to believe. You must plan your future vacations wisely and as off-season as possible, even tho you worship the sun. Consider business class air travel and 1st class on any train rides. Remember to bring bags of steamed rice you can throw in a microwave or a cup of boiling water just in case and finally start saving for a cruise…it will for sure come in handy.

3 Comments

  1. Ain’t it the truth! Funny, in our 20’s the guy spitting and the guy with the cigarette would have been considered “quirky”. Now it’s just irritating. I wish we could all hang on to that sense of wonderment we have in our 20’s where everything is exciting just because it’s new to us. Too bad we have to grow up and demand comfort!

  2. I’m sorry you had so many troubles while you were here! You’re right of course, when one travels anywhere in their 20’s, everything is easy and it’s all a grand adventure… but the older you get, the more you appreciate the little luxuries that make life so much more enjoyable.

    You’re also right to think of planning a trip to the French Riviera in the fall – now for example, the beaches are (almost) empty, except for us locals who usually hide or go somewhere else during the crazy summer months. Plus in the fall, you have the advantage of low season prices, there are no lines and the best (non-touristy) cafes and restaurants are easy to get into.

    Spring on the Riviera is also good, although you run the risk of being here during the spring rains – which I love, but do put a damper on lazing on the beach (unless you enjoy being in a mud pie, I guess.)

    And there are some really fun tours you can take here as well… for example, you can take an artist’s retreat, and paint your way around the same places as the masters did… Or you can take a cook’s tour, and learn real French cooking as well as visit special restaurants… Or there’s always the wine lover’s tour… These are usually small groups, and it’s possible to arrange a private car or small bus. Or, another idea is to do a housing exchange – something very common here in Europe, and live like a local.

    Anyway, I’m glad I discovered your blog and am enjoying reading about your adventures!

    Warmly,

    Cheryl Antier

    • Thank you Cheryl for all the suggestions, I am dreaming of doing so in the future. I hope I am able to make what’s in my heart always become a reality.

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