“Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.” – Anthony Bourdain
“In a nutshell, air travel is the worst part of touring.” Eric Burdon
About 10 years ago I decided I wanted to put together a life where I would get paid to see the world. I was able to start this by teaching workshops for fitness professionals, and actively booking events in parts of the world I wanted to see. Being able to see a sight with your own eyes is very different from seeing a picture of it in a book or on television, plus experiencing a culture entirely different than my own would help give perspective on the world like nothing else could.
That being said, probably the worst part of any kind of travel is the travel itself. I hate flying, and tend to run into every conceivable type of scheduling issue while traveling, plus some that I didn’t even know could happen to someone. Who knew “BUS” didn’t stand for Business class on a train across the German countryside, but for an actual bus? Most years, March and February have the exact same dates of the month and days of the week, so making sure you pick the right one can be a seriously big deal. Also, some airports are essentially demon gateways, hells on earth, where plane booking occur but flights never arrive or leave when they’re supposed to, and flights get canceled because the moon is in the seventh house or Mercury is in Gatorade or other much less plausible reasons.
In anticipation of getting back out to explore the world again after an extended hibernation, I wanted to pen a few posts reliving some of my worst travel experiences, as well as lessons learned from them to help you avoid such fates when you’re looking to experience the same things. I have no fear of looking stupid, especially if it produces some really fun stories such as these.
No, it stands for “BUS”
In 2016, Lindsay and I had the good fortune to put together a dream European vacation with the benefit of 2 workshops with Tony Gentilcore. One workshop would be in Prague and the other in Oslo, Norway, giving us 2 events to earn income and essentially pay the way for our travel expenses.
For those wondering, the workshops are set up to allow attendees to learn how we coach and train, they each pay a fee to attend, and we use this income to pay for our ability to get to the location, for time away from our actual day jobs, and hopefully have a little extra that we can use to have some fun. Booking workshops on successive weekends in a different continent is a way to do such a thing, which makes travel a bit of a mix of pleasure and work.
We started our trip by flying into London, where we would be for 2 days before heading off to Paris for a few days, and then on to Prague to teach the first leg of the workshop tour, which for the sake of sounding too much like a complete douchebag I’ll refrain from calling a tour for the remainder of this piece.
London was unseasonably hot. Like melting the tar on the road and spoiling your Guinness kind of warm, and as most commercial buildings only have air conditioners as a tacit statement of “what, you thought these things actually worked? It’s never above 25 and we just have these here to amuse the locals,” our hotel room on the top floor of a 200 year old building was hotter than a Times Square Rolex and of course the air conditioning didn’t work. After complaining to management, we were switched to a different room, one that also had malfunctioning air conditioning. We were switched to a third room in 3 nights, and once again had no functioning air conditioning, which seemed to be a harbinger of the trip to come.
We were off to Paris along the train through the Chunnel, which was lovely and unproblematic as a whole. At the end of our stay in Paris, we looked to take trains to Prague, which seemed like an easy enough thing to do. When booking, we were apparently needing to go from Paris to Mannheim Germany, at which point we’d transfer to a second train heading to Prague.
Now you would think booking a train would be a fairly simple process. We were looking to book in business class to get access to wifi, which was easy enough to do from Paris. The train from Mannheim to Prague was a bit trickier to find, and once we found one leaving shortly after ours arrived, looking to book in business class, I saw “BUS” on the booking and said to myself “cool that must mean business class.”
Trains in Europe are amazing, especially for anyone from the western half of North America. They’re so fast, run on time and can take you pretty much anywhere across the entire continent if you know how to do such a thing.
The trip to Mannheim was so smooth. Every time a train past going in the opposite direction, it was like the Flash himself had blown by on a casual jog, causing the entire train to shake in the draft. Going three times the speed of a highway driving car in Canada and half the speed of a plane while on solid ground was incredible.
Arriving in Mannheim, we looked for the train stop with our departure, but couldn’t find anything. I approached a help desk to see where we had to go and where our train was. The person helping likely spoke English as her fourth or fifth language, and managed to say one clear yet defeating statement.
“No Train. Bus. There,” as she pointed outside of the train station to a waiting strand of double decker buses.
This…….. wasn’t what I had planned.
Did any trains go from here to Prague? Apparently not. I’m not sure what happened, but we were about to be on a bus for the next 9 hours through the German country and into Czech Republic land with no clue as to how this whole thing came to be.
Lindsay was unhappy. This is a gross overstatement and reaching use of the actual emotions involved during this time. Instead of a zippy train we were about to be stuck on a bus for the better part of the remainder of the day. As I was expecting to present at day one of the workshop the following morning, there wasn’t really any time to sit around and plan out a potential option B for getting there, so we found a coffee shop to get some food, a bit of something to drink, and headed on to our captive prison for the coming 9 hours.
The bus was pretty awesome compared to most I’d been on. It had wifi, albeit spotty (first world problems for sure), a washroom that seemed pretty ample and clean, and a vending machine full of food. We’d survive, I assured myself.
I tried to use the vending machine, but it didn’t take credit cards and we had no cash. So now not only were we on the bus for the rest of the day, but we were there without any additional food.
Lindsay didn’t take well to this news.
Stuck on a bus for the next 9 hours with nothing but the meagre snack and sandwich we grabbed at the coffee shop before boarding, we hunkered down for our long trip in relatively awkwardly unhappy silence.
We made it to Nuremburg on the east side of Germany, and the last stop before entering the Czech Republic, and at such a stop some people got off and a few got on. Apparently it was also a long weekend in Germany for some reason, so a bunch of German party boys got on the bus to go to Prague and party their faces off. Having never been I didn’t know Prague was essentially a Las Vegas for Germans on long weekends, and they regularly went to get prepared for Oktoberfest.
Along the way, these party boys started drinking on the bus, got a bit rowdy, and started causing problems for some of the other passengers and the bus controller. We didn’t really notice much as we were on the lower level and they were all on the upper level. It wasn’t until we pulled into Prague at about 10:30 that evening that we realized how disruptive they had been.
When the bus stopped, the controller got off the bus, and locked the doors. She returned a few minutes later with police in fatigues and carrying rifles on their chests.
Welcome to international travel, am I right?
The controller opened the doors and proceeded to pull off the German party boys to discuss their actions with the police, leaving us to walk through the throng of armed individuals and other passengers thinking “oh god we’re so Canadian right now.”
We finally made it to our flat where Tony and his wife Lisa had arrived hours earlier (taking a plane like intelligent people), and headed to bed to get ready for the next day.
Other than that, it was a pretty good trip!