Looking back on my 2012 travels, I feel fortunate. Very few problems cropped up on my 132 nights on the road, certainly nothing as bad as my husband getting pickpocketed in 2009, the Mexican projectile vomiting episode from 2010 or the New Zealand flight from hell last year.
So now it’s down to nit-picking. I missed a connecting flight in Dulles because the TSA in the international terminal were simply not prepared to handle the amount of passengers deplaning from Madrid. Now that was a scene. Our Aer Lingus flight had left Spain about three hours late, and you could feel the tension building before we left the plane. When the doors opened, dozens of us started running.
I sailed through passport control and even got my suitcase early through customs (thanks, Star Alliance status). But the TSA bottleneck to go through security again kept building – and they chose that time to examine every inch of my backpack, without finding anything, I might add. The backups grew to the point where almost the entire Madrid flight missed their connections.
I arrived at the gate just as the plane to Seattle was pulling away. The lines to get rebooked were full of people muttering about TSA stupidity in several languages. United refused to route me on another airline, so I ended up spending one more night – after 30 already away from home – in an airport Westin. Blech.
But really, that’s all just an inconvenience, not the type of thing that ruins a vacation. The flu that I picked up off some fellow passenger on the River Adagio almost did that. Don and I had already toured Bucharest and were ready to set off on our own three-day trip to Transylvania when I woke up feeling like I was going to die.
“We’re going to have to cancel,” I rasped to Don, before falling asleep. We paid a fee to get out of the private tour we had already set up and asked the Radisson Blu, where we had made reservations for our last night in Romania, if we could check in early for the same rate.
Luckily, the hotel obliged. I have never felt as happy as I did when we arrived and were greeted by a front desk clerk who seemed friendly, assured and confident. The type of person who you know gets things done. She arranged an early checkout, and I went upstairs to sleep the illness off.
While I was bummed that I missed seeing more of the Transylvania countryside (we ended up going to Dracula’s Castle and Peles Castle on a daytrip), we used our extra time in Bucharest – not known as Eastern Europe’s most exciting city – to our advantage.
We ate at Caru ce Bere, where beer has been brewed since 1879 (although I was so sick, I could only have a sip), toured the jaw-dropping interior of the Parliament of the People and walked around the small Old City (Nicolae Ceausescu had most of the city’s historic buildings ripped up for his spectacularly spartan, Communist-era apartment high rises).
I took things easy and recuperated while Don shot photos (neither of us could get over the somewhat shocking memorial to the 1989 revolution, which looked like a toothpick piercing a brain).
And man, did we both love that Radisson Blu. The lobby looked gorgeous at night, with blue glass giving the lounge a mellow feel. The adjacent restaurant, while terribly expensive by Romanian standards, was affordable to us (and very convenient for this sickie). The hotel felt like a haven for the days that we were there.
(I stayed at another Radisson Blu in Basel, Switzerland in December, and was a little disappointed that it didn’t feel as fab as the Bucharest one. I would try the chain again, though, based on our experience in Bucharest. My stay in Basel was comped by a cruise line, we paid a media rate for the Bucharest property).
So there you have it. Even the worst experiences came with happy endings. I hope that my travels are as easy in 2013.