Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Jim Eagles: Holidays from hell

An aircraft that took several attempts to go fast enough to take off. A shopping trip interrupted by teargas. A family holiday with non-stop sickness. An accident-prone tour bus. Those are some of the holiday experiences provided by readers for our disastrous holiday competition.

Christine Whitta wrote of a 1982 trip from London to Athens with the Magic Bus Company:

It cost only £25 so I guess we should have expected a few hiccups, but the journey, which was supposed to take three days, ended up being a nightmare for five days.

To start with the bus was two-and-a-half hours late leaving London so we missed our connecting boat trip at Dover and had to spend five hours in the terminal.

The next day we had only been on the road for a matter of hours when the windscreen of the bus was shattered by a stone.

This was just the start of a series of delays which included one of the drivers hitting the side of a tunnel in Switzerland and a tyre blowout which meant that we were stranded in a Yugoslavian bus station for a day while the driver and the owners argued over fixing it.

Throughout the whole trip the emergency exit was boarded up with Greek contraband and naturally food and sleeping were ongoing problems.

Kate Lawless described a shopping trip to Bogota, Colombia, to buy an emerald:

My hotel had no running water but I didn't mind. I was only there for 24 hours and I had a mission.

After doing the rounds of the various jewellery shops I bought a 2.3 carat stone and arranged for it to be set in a ring. All I had to do was return before noon the next day, collect it and catch my bus out.

I spent the following morning in the Museum of Modern Art. Meanwhile, unbeknown to me, a rally was being held by teachers demanding better pay and the riot police were out in force to keep them in line.

As I made my way through a park to the shop I could hear gunshots and screaming. Suddenly I was surrounded by hundreds of people running in the opposite direction to me. They were panicked and shouting, "Vamos, vamos".

A wise person at this point would've turned around and joined the fleeing hordes. But I am a blonde and I was focused on collecting my emerald, so I carried on.

About the time I finally saw the hotel the effects of the teargas hit me. There were people of all ages sprawled and choking on the ground. I could understand why. The gas was making my eyes and nose stream, but worse than that was the searing, burning pain in my nose, throat and chest. It was almost impossible to breathe. I thought I would collapse right there but instead made a desperate dash to the entrance of the hotel.

I was nearly barred from entering by guards brandishing machineguns. Fortunately they let me in and, after a quick detour to the restroom to rinse my eyes and drink some water, I hotfooted it to the shop to collect my emerald ring. It wasn't ready, and wouldn't be until the following day.

I was leaving Bogota in an hour so the whole experience had been for nothing. But at least I got my money back.

Briar O'Connor was on her OE in Europe in the early 80s when she and a group of friends took a ski package to Bulgaria:

On boarding our Balkan Air plane we noticed odd-looking round cylinders with facemasks sitting on top of them. We worked out these were oxygen cylinders. However, there were only half a dozen of them.

My seat did not latch into an upright position. We told the steward, who then wandered into the cockpit. The captain came out and handed me a screwdriver.

Our first and only message from the captain on takeoff was, "Hello. The temperature in Sofia is 70 degrees and the flight will take 20 minutes."

When we arrived four hours later the temperature was 5C.

The Hotel Moussala at the resort was fine, if you like heating in your room so hot that it burns up all available oxygen. We slept with windows open, which meant in the mornings when it had snowed overnight we woke up covered in snow.

There was no snow at the top of the mountain. Luckily, some of us were on the absolute beginners' slope at the bottom of the mountain, the only place the snowmaker worked.

Each lunchtime we went to a local restaurant. It took about two visits to work out that no matter what you ordered, everyone received the same meal - even though you paid for the choice you'd ordered. By day three we all knew to order the cheapest offering.

When the time came for our return flight to London we noticed with some trepidation the broken and crashed helicopters and abandoned planes along each side of the runway.

The plane didn't want to reach the required speed for takeoff. We would crank up, nearly get to speed, but then have to slow down, turn around, and repeat the process back the other way. It took several attempts to get into the air.

The people in front of us were seated next to one of the emergency exits and water started coming in from the top of the door frame. Understandably, they asked for help but were told, "Don't worry, it does that all the time". We all kept our seatbelts on.

The Hotel Moussala burned down around 1986. Turns out it had inadequate fire extinguishers.

Sue Bartholomew took a family holiday to Fiji to celebrate turning 40:

The night before we left my dear daughter started to vomit and this continued all night, all through the trip to the airport, on the plane ... you get the drift.

We get to Fiji and are waiting to board the boat to the island and my son starts to cry with earache. On the bright side, daughter has stopped being sick. Instead son gets horribly seasick.

Finally we are on the island and there is a nurse who gives us hope, and drops for son's ear. Ah, that's more like it.

Trouble is, daughter has started to vomit again and, you guessed it, son starts to join in. Beam me up, Scotty.

Day four, no one is being sick, let's go have some fun. Daughter stands on something and her foot is sore. This turns septic and we are back at the nurse's station. All I can think of is Lana Coc-Kroft and get us off this island.

Nicky Molloy's disastrous experience was a day-long stopover at Nadi Airport, en route to Vancouver, several years ago:

As it was hot I decided to stop at a hotel to have a shower before continuing. I hopped in a taxi and asked to go to the nearest hotel.

The taxi driver enthusiastically said, "Oh don't pay for a hotel. I'll take you to a beautiful waterfall and you can shower for free." I was only 19, alone and a bit green, so agreed.

He drove to a waterfall, then threw off all his clothes and ran in naked yelling, "Come on in, the water's fine."

He was a rather large bloke with a huge afro. I started to panic as I needed to get back on the plane. I stayed in the taxi and begged him to take me back to the airport.

Finally he did, but only if I would let him take me for a tour of the city. He drove like a maniac all over the road, beeping and waving at anyone he saw.

When I stopped to cash a traveller's cheque to pay him he stole a couple while I wasn't looking, but I didn't notice until I got to Vancouver.

Andrew Stevenson found an excursion to New York City in 2001 a bit more than he had bargained for.

First we had to endure a 25-hour marathon from Orlando, courtesy of Amtrak, and were lucky enough to share a carriage with a person who insisted on showing off the pistol he was carrying, something you don't get taking the Devonport ferry.

On arrival, we stayed in a hostel in Harlem and seemed to be the only white people within a 20km radius. I don't want to sound racist, but for a then-20-year-old Shore boy, brought up on a diet of gangster rap and Hollywood stereotypes, it certainly seemed dodgy.

For some reason, everyone in Harlem seemed nuts. Not just different, but downright mentally unstable. They would talk aloud to themselves in elevators and follow you around outside. And there can't be too many supermarkets in the world that play Niggaz With Attitude, unedited, over the PA system.

When we did get out of Harlem, the outdoor observation deck on the World Trade Tower was closed because of high winds (now I'll never get to see the view) and the area around the bottom of the towers was also closed - apparently, had an icicle dropped from 110 storeys it could do some serious damage to a person. But all in all it wasn't that bad, We didn't get mugged, murdered or shot and even the dodgiest part of NYC in the middle of the winter is better than being at work.

* These bold travellers will each receive copies of The Idler Book of Crap Holidays edited by Dan Kieran (Bantam Books, $34.95).

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