The season for holidaying in countries with temperate climates is winding down.
Kids are back in school, harvest has begun in ernest, and we must gear up to handle another frigid six months of winter.
Some lucky folks already have plans for an escape to warmer temperatures, but I only have those extra pounds I gained in Paris this spring to keep me warm.
Of course, I have memories to content myself with – bringing me to the purpose of this column today.
One can’t help but learn valuable information each time they travel, and while mine may never rival Rick Steves (personal hero) I have a couple of points to share which may prove enlightening.
When in Rome with family last year, we were directed to a restaurant by an enthusiastic local.
It was so authentically Italian that no one there could speak a word of English.
Around 8 p.m. people poured through the door in a boisterous stream, lively discussions with plenty of arm waving ensued, and tables of happy Italians spilled out onto the street.
Orange flames leapt from a wood-fired oven in the corner and bright checked tablecloths hosted guests, eager to eat.
We were ushered to a spot in the center of the room where clearly we were an oddity.
Interested stares followed our conversation, and our halted attempts to order from the menu.
When my turn arrived, I looked nervously into the uncomprehending face of the waitress.
Jabbing a finger at the only word I understood – mozzarella – I nodded encouragingly.
How wrong could I go choosing an item featuring cheese? She raised an enquiring eyebrow, but schooled her features quickly as she moved along. Melanie was thirsty.
“I’ll have a tall glass of lemonade,” she said brightly, pointing to another item on the list – limoncello.
How was she to know it wasn’t lemonade at all, but an after-dinner digestive averaging 26 per cent alcohol?
Entirely unprepared, she took a deep swig from the pretty, chilled glass and recoiled backward onto her chair choking and spluttering.
More odd looks.
Finally our food arrived and mine was plunked before me.
Nestling wetly in a bed of pale, shaved lettuce, lay a glistening ball of cheese.
That’s it – nothing else. Just a glob of cheese. In disbelief I studied the gelatinous orb for a moment before picking up a fork and poking it suspiciously.
This was supper – great. Poising my utensils over its shining flesh, I sliced.
It squished audibly like a sponge wrung out in the bath.
Streams of liquid spurted unpleasantly from its sides and soon the greens floated in a vast pool of white liquid.
I may have been raised on fresh cow’s milk, but this was ridiculous! Their mouths full of delicious pizza, my family hooted at me in laughter. Buon Appetio Helen – you nut!
Tip #1 Take a pocket translator; next time it could be cervelli fritti
In France this April, my friend Susan and I toured the fabulous Palace of Versailles, home of King Louis XIV.
It’s popular to visit at any time of year so we rose early, rushed out of our apartment without a bite to eat and boarded a train hoping to beat the rush. It was not to be.
We arrived at the gates to find several hundred people ahead of us. Crestfallen, we stood on the cobblestones until I remembered taking a private tour of the Kings apartments would avoid the queue!
Minutes later we began the visit, but the morning had taken its toll on my pal. Susan felt faint.
The air was heavy and oppressive as we trudged through each opulent room. We saw the library, Louis’ personal dining area and a large space dedicated to his clothes.
(My friend was fading, but unwilling to quit.) We traversed the games room, the clock room, and made it through an apartment set aside for the King’s hounds, but as we entered his lavish sleeping quarters my comrade walked unsteadily to an open window and clutched the sill in an effort to find fresh air.
Immediately an attractive guard was at her side with a chair, inquiring in broken English if he could be of assistance.
Additional emergency personal (all male) were radioed and attended her closely – each one ruggedly good-looking.
They clustered about her in concern. Despite Susan’s protests, they helped my chum to stand and, flanking her closely on either side, led her from the room where her hand was held consolingly, and she was plied with fruit and chocolate to revive her failing strength.
Ultimately, my friend was fine apart from low blood sugar, but her timing was perfection itself …
Tip #2 Feeling faint? Swooning in the Kings bedchamber is the only way to go
When we’re open to advice, it’s possible to learn from mistakes other travellers have made.
Of course, sometimes lessons can’t be taught by example.
Sometimes they’re only acquired by trial and error; making the same blunder several times over – you with me Sue?