Two weeks ago a blizzard was forecast for the northeast. I was supposed to meet my editor and publicity team at HarperCollins the next morning and I was determined to be there.
Just before the storm hit, at 7 AM I drove to the Amtrak station just outside of Boston and boarded a train to New York. It started snowing in Rhode Island. Then whiteout. By the time we got to Queens you could not see the surrounding streets, never mind the Manhattan skyline.
But we arrived... only ten minutes behind schedule. I boarded a subway to Brooklyn (the A-train arrived as I was climbing onto the platform). Emerged in Brooklyn and slogged a block in well-trodden snow to my daughters' apartment. Spent the day playing with my grandchildren! Next morning, took the subway to my meeting, feeling as if I'd slipped through a crack in the space-time continuum and singing the praises of mass transit.
On the way back, two days later, I boarded an Amtrak train that had arrived an hour late to Penn Station. By the time it approached Boston it was creeping along at about 10 miles an hour and the PA system had died and many of the doors were frozen shut. I hoofed it through two cars to find a working the exit. But I got there.
MEANWHILE, THAT SAME DAY Mm friend Barbara Fournier tried to get to Boston from... Casablanca:
I had just flown from Casablanca into JFK airport to find my flight, and all others to Boston, cancelled. I went online and managed to buy the last seat on a 10:30 pm Greyhound bus to Boston! I grabbed the shuttle to the Port Authority, slogging through snow and ice. I printed out my ticket and headed for the dock when a representative announced that all buses to Boston had been cancelled three hours ago!!What are your good-luck/back-luck travel stories?
But I just bought the ticket!" I whined. He shrugged.
I then checked the Amtrak train schedule and grabbed a ticket for the 2:30 am train. I cabbed it to Penn station and paced anxiously in the jammed waiting room. We left on time!!! I found a seat and dozed off as the train left the station.
But in a few minutes I was jolted awake by the train stopping. The lights went out except for some dim back ups. The heat was off. The train was dead. We were not fifteen minutes out of the station, in the Bronx. We were getting colder by the minute. The toilets began to overflow. The first announcement informed us that the electrical system was down; an hour later it was announced that 'they' were working on it.
Four hours later, finally the train started. We limped into the next station ( New Rochelle). We were directed to leave the train immediately. We can leave our luggage on board, we were assured. The next train is right behind us. We piled onto the platform. It was ten degrees and the wind was howling. The doors shut and slowly the train pulled out of the station. People who left their luggage on board were yelling.
Three trains stopped but didn't open their doors, despite our pounding. Finally a train stopped for us - but it was already full. Many of us stood for the remaining four hours to Boston. But we were warm! We could go to the bathroom! We were going home!
So it took me six hours to go from Morocco to the US but eighteen hours to go from New York to Boston. What a world!"
(Photo credit Matt Donnelly Lake Shore Limited Boston-DC)
RHYS BOWEN: My worst bad luck travel experience was when we were in Kashmir and wanted to go to Ladakh, in those days a forbidden kingdom high in the Himalayas.
We started in a jeep at four in the morning. Drove up a steep mountain pass with streams gushing across the road and a three thousand foot drop on one side. The pass was 15,000 feet high. Bitterly cold. Then for hours through a high bleak valley. At four in the afternoon we came upon a place where the road had been washed away for fifteen miles. No way around.
We had to turn around and drive back for twelve hours mostly in the dark, with a driver who thought he could save gas by shutting off the engine when going downhill. I had to sit with my hand poised above the keys to knock his hand away!
A good luck experience was when we wanted to visit Yellowstone. We spent the night in Cody where it was snowing and all the signs said the park entrance was closed. John, being stubborn, said we would drive up there, just in case. We drove up and they had opened the gate ten minutes before! We were one of the only cars we saw all day.
INGRID THOFT: A few years ago, my husband, mom, and I traveled to Vietnam. We're an adventurous threesome, and it was a destination that interested us. It was a fascinating and amazing trip in many ways, but it also included one of my worst travel experiences.
As we drove away from our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon,) we did a passport check only to realize that my mom's passport was missing. We had a guide and driver for the day (we were supposed to be traveling to the Mekong Delta,) so we returned to the hotel.
A lengthy search ensued, but the passport could not be found. First, we went to the local police station to report the missing passport. Next, we went to the American consulate where they very efficiently issued her a temporary passport. Phew! Except we then had to go to the Vietnamese immigration office to get a new visa.
The next eight hours were filled with chaos, anxiety, and bribes. Many, many bribes. At one point, I went out to the car to get more money from my husband, only to hear that he and the driver had been involved in a car chase. And you know what? I didn't really care, that's how fraught the situation was in the immigration office!
Finally, with a lot of cash and the help of our guide, we got the required visa and set off for the Mekong Delta. A couple of days later the hotel in Saigon contacted us to say they had found the passport in her mini-bar. Maybe it would have ended up there after our fiasco, but not before. We suspect the front desk staff misplaced it during check-in and eventually discovered it amongst their paperwork.
As for good travel stories, every time my plane lands safely, I consider that a successful trip! Most travel aggravations can be overcome, but not if you don't finish it in one piece!
JENN MCKINLAY: My Mom and I decided to indulge in a trip to Florence (Ah, Firenze) Italy for my fortieth birthday. I left the Hub and Hooligans behind in the frat house for a week of visiting museums, historic sites, and Tuscan vineyards.
It was a wonderful trip. Amazing food, beautiful city, lovely people, lots of laughs, and more gelato than I could ever eat, although I did my best. The only blip in the trip was when Mom got into it with a transportation officer on a city bus and the next thing I knew we were getting hauled off the bus and charged seventy-five euros. Mom hadn't punched her ticket right away and when she remembered and went to do it, the transportation guy nabbed her. Not very sporting of him since she was trying to do the right thing but we were already under way so he felt he had a case. Mom, being feisty, refused to listen to the man, and started calling for "La Polizia!" (I kid you not), meanwhile the other woman who got snagged with us made her escape.
I was too busy laughing at the insanity and taking pictures of the cute police officers, they had white hats just like the British bobbies, who smiled and nodded and told us with a shrug that we had to pay. Mom was miffed but once we caught the bus to our vineyard tour at a castle and had some wine, she settled down.
Still one of my favorite memories. Mom has spunk!
LUCY BURDETTE: Our scariest travel moments involved driving to ski houses in Vermont back in the 1990's. If you rented a house with another couple for a weekend, by God you were going to get there no matter what it took.
I wouldn't have minded staying home if the forecast was for black ice or a blizzard while traveling. Especially with two squabbling children in the backseat! At one point I was reduced to a quivering blob moaning "motel, motel." John honestly could not see the road more than 100 yards in front of him.
I finally prevailed and we got the last room in a crummy dive and we were oh so glad to be there. I consider it sheer dumb luck that we survived all those weekends--and that our fledgling marriage survived too!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yes, good luck is when it all turns out fine and everyone is safe. My plane to Atlanta Friday was FIVE HOURS delayed, and there's nothing like the crazed and frantic atmosphere of a planeload of travelers trying to to figure out how to get somewhere. It was doomed. It was presidents day weekend and school vacation week, and seriously, there was not one seat. It all turned out fine, I arrived five hours late, but my event was the next day, so all fine.
But once on a trip to Indianapolis, I smelled a funny smell. you know how when some thoughtless person brings Chinese food on a plane? That's what I thought it was.
Finally, though, it was clear it wasn't. I went to the flight attendant and said, you know, there's a funny smell. (I mean, you have to understand the level of terror I had to mention it..) And she looked at me like I was really annoying, and said this plot has twenty years of experience, I'm sure it's fine. So I shrugged, and tried (and failed) to believe her
And truly, the smell grew to be incredibly pungent..I had my scarf over my nose. The flight attendant saw me, and said: the smell is less in the back, want to change seats? And I did.
As the Indianapolis airport came into view, and we were almost landing, the flight attendants came on the PA. 'BRACE BRACE BRACE" they yelled. "Heads down, heads down! Brace brace brace!" I peeked out the window.MANY Fire trucks. SILENCE on the plane, except for the commanding flight attendants. We landed. We taxied way to the end of the runway. The pilot came out, and said they that before we deplaned, they had to make sure the plane was not going to catch on fire.
Turns out, the electrical system had shorted out, and been burning, and just before we landed, the ENTIRE electrical system went down.
Forgive me for how long this is, but I had the same pilot on the flight back. I said to him--wow, that was scary yesterday.
And he said yeah, in my twenty years of flying, nothing like that had ever happened. He said--the cockpit was filled with smoke. We put on our masks, and landed.
Oh! PS. He also said "When I first smelled it, I thought someone had brought on Chinese food."
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I made my book signing yesterday in Phoenix by the skin of my teeth! Flying early yesterday morning from Portland, big mess at PBX with a flight very delayed from Chicago and all the American agents scrambling to get people sorted who had missed planes, which delayed my flight, too. But so far, that's the closest call for book tour.
I have a fun travel story. A few years ago, my daughter and I were flying to London. She had booked us for afternoon tea at Gordon Ramsay Claridge's for that afternoon. Even reserving months ahead, that had been the only available date.
So we arrive at Gatwick at 7 in the morning. We get through customs and my bag comes in. Then we wait, and wait, and wait. No bag for Kayti. We finally realize it is not on the plane and fill out the necessary paperwork. Kayti is in sweats and we are panicked about our tea reservation.
So we go shopping in Gatwick and find her a dress at Monsoon, and then some shoes. By this time it's noon and we have to be at Claridge's at two. No time to go to the flat to change and freshen up. I said don't worry, we can change in the Ladies at the hotel. Really? Kayti asks. It's Claridge's, I say. Of course we can.
So we did, and our tea was fabulous, one of our most memorable experiences. Kayti's bag arrived the next morning...
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: My scary experience? A "free" week-long vacation in Manzanillo that my father-in-law got us when he sat through a time share offer. (He used the same technique to acquire a weekend in the Bahamas for us later.) We were young, adventurous and child-free, so we jumped at it.
First off, we booked a cheap flight (not included) saving money by arriving in the middle of the night. There was a driver from the time share company waiting for us, who ushered us into the back seat and began to drive. And drive. And drive. He didn't speak English, and we didn't speak Spanish. We went for what seemed like hours, seeing nothing but impenetrable jungle in the narrow headlight beams. Ross was convinced we had fallen into the hands of kidnappers.
When we finally arrived at the Barefoot Hotel, we were pleased with the spacious accommodations - but the only part of the hotel that seemed lit was our room and the antechamber leading to it. The only sound we could hear was the beating of the Pacific waves. No voices. No muzak. No greeting. Ross told me to bar the door and not open it for anyone, then went to see what he could find out.
Turns out, we were the ONLY guests in the hotel, which was otherwise closed for renovations. Only we never saw any work going on. There was one maid - from the village? - who cleaned our room. We never saw her. The only other person around was Ramon, a sixty-something who spent his days trying unsuccessfully to clear the pool of leaves and who kept a cooler full of ice and beer for Ross, whom he called "Patron." I felt like we had fallen into a Winston Graham novel.
It was a relaxing and eerie experience, made more so by the fact that I can't find any reference to a "Barefoot Hotel" in Manzanillo...
HALLIE: So please, were any of you out and about in a blizzard or trying to get somewhere in California's epic rains? Share the good, bad and the ugly.