Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Travel

TRAVEL: For best experience, go with no reservations

December 29, 2012

A trip to Corsica? Sure, that sounds fun.

But for Katrina and me, that trip unexpectedly turned out to be one of our most dangerous.

We rented a car after arriving by air and were driving to our hotel in Ajaccio when, at the major intersection in town, a wild commotion suddenly surrounded us. People were running past, some pounding and kicking our car, trying to get away.

Then, about 20 feet from us, a dozen or so officers, guns firing, rushed out of a police SWAT team van.

Katrina, who was driving, yelled contradictory instructions to me: Duck … and get the camera.

On inquiring at the Napoleon Hotel, we learned that these were French police fighting French separatist terrorists. The hotel clerk insisted it was safe, saying it happens all the time. We were told not to worry.

We later learned they were shooting rubber bullets. But comfort goes only so far in hindsight.

Sometimes, in our travels, we are the safety concern.

Before GPS, we were passing through Genoa en route to Portofino and pulled off the highway to look at a map. The parking lot seemed safe, but within a minute, a concerned man with a wide grin stopped and offered to help. We got our bearings and pulled out of the lot and suddenly four lanes of traffic started moving forward.

Turns out we were not in a parking lot at all, but on a busy thoroughfare. Drivers were apparently so stunned that somebody would stop on a street with multiple lanes that no one even honked or yelled. Anything they had heard about blonde American women was confirmed at that point.

As we approached Portofino, we were stopped by police and told to pull into a line of cars and wait until we were instructed that we could drive the remaining two miles into town when it again opened.

Huh?

Seems we had to wait for enough cars to leave the town so we could enter. Because Portofino has one of the highest ratios of visitors to residents in the world—second to Las Vegas but with fewer parking spaces—it controls the number of cars entering the town.

Perhaps the most important trip for me was when I took Katrina on a nostalgic journey through areas that were meaningful to me while growing up in Louisiana.

We started out in my hometown of New Orleans, where we spent a couple of days eating gumbo, red beans and rice, po’ boys and beignets, and drinking café au lait at Café du Monde, getting our fill of jazz clubs at night.

We drove through the southern part of the state along old U.S. 90 instead of Interstate 10, passing through Cajun country, including bayous and swamps with alligators and pirogues, and through such towns as Basile (really), Avery Island (where Tabasco is made) and New Iberia, where I introduced her to crawfish pie.

Like most of our trips—including one we took that included Venice, Vienna and Budapest—the only reservations we made were the flights. In between, we stayed in hotels we found on the spot, generally located in the heart of each city.

In Kiev, on yet another trek, we were having dinner at a restaurant when a gentleman came up to our table for no apparent reason and asked if we were Americans and if we were there on vacation or business.

After responding, we asked him the same questions. He said he was from Salt Lake City and pointed toward a woman sitting alone on the other side of the restaurant. He said he had come to Kiev to meet her, explaining that they had met online and were about to talk in person for the first time.

We were aware that there was a big business in adoption there. In fact, a niece and nephew traveled to Kiev a year before to claim their child. But we did not know about the brides.

Here’s hoping that he found a partner who, like Katrina, puts up with him even after police actions or highway near-misses—someone who has no reservations about not having reservations.•

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Basile is an author, professional speaker, philanthropist, community volunteer and retired executive of the Gene B. Glick Co. His column appears whenever there’s a fifth Monday in the month. Basile can be reached at Frank_Basile@sbcglobal.net.

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