If you travel, you will have dumb days. That's a given. You’ll get on the Metro, but on the wrong train, and you’ll end up at the wrong end of Paris. You’ll order dinner in Tokyo, and with a flourish, the waiter will set what appear to be raw snails in front of you. You’ll book a hotel in Miami, and when you get there, discover that the elevator hasn't worked since the Nixon administration. These are dumb days. They will happen.
The trick is to avoid VDDs — very dumb days.
I just survived one. Barely.
Jules’s Very Dumb Day began in our hotel room in Luxembourg City. We’d been here a week, a week of nothing but sunshine and warmth. Okay, maybe I'd grown cocky about the weather.
Now, we were heading north to Vianden, a town of winding, cobbled streets; an ancient mountaintop castle, lovingly restored; and such overwhelming charm that… well, in 1871, Victor Hugo found refuge here.
Bet he brought his raincoat. Though I’d searched our hotel room from gurgle to zatch, I couldn't find mine. Not that it was raining — just in case. After seven straight days of Luxembourg sunshine, no worries.
We took the Hop-on Hop-off Bus to Vianden. We arrived at 11 a.m., and though he spoke no English, the driver assured us in the modern traveler’s Yiddish — FranglishDeutch — that he'd pick us up at exactly 2 p.m. on that self-same spot. And off he drove.
That was where we had to make our first decision. Walk up to the castle or down to the tourist chairlift, then hike from the top of the chair to the castle. Effin said. “I felt a raindrop. Let’s walk up. It’s shorter.”
I said, “Nah, let’s take the lift. It’ll be an adventure.”
It was an adventure. As we boarded the chair, the skies darkened, and the first drops hit us. As the safety bar lowered, the rain began in earnest. As our chair slowwwwly crossed above the River Our, the rain turned to pour. By the time we were halfway up the mountainside, pour had morphed into drench.
“Still liking the chairlift, Jules?”
“Sure wish I had that raincoat. It has a hood, and all. But isn't it lucky, I bought this hi-tech, windproof sweatshirt before we left San Francisco.”
“Good that it’s windproof, though, of course, there's no wind today. But is it waterproof, too?”
“Yes, I think… I'm pretty sure… I… I don't know.” I tried to picture the label I'd read in the store: This highest of hi-tech apparel is woven of Space Age micromesh that is guaranteed to be windproof in a blizzard, fireproof in a volcano, sunburnproof in the desert and…
And I couldn't picture how the sentence ended. I didn't have to. Before we reached the top, I could wring torrents of water out of the sleeves, as if my new garment had gone through the washing machine but skipped the spin cycle.
Nearing the top, I saw bright flashes of light. Uh-oh — my worst chairlift nightmare. Lightning.
No, not lightning. A photo flash. At the booth near the top, tourists are offered pictures of themselves riding the chair. Ours showed two sad creatures, dressed in swamp black, huddled together in a lump of dripping wretchedness. We declined to buy the photo.
The torrent continued unabated as we trudged back toward the castle. I could feel rivulets streaming down my face. I could feel Space Age micromesh growing sodden with rain. I could feel hypothermia setting in.
The last drop fell as we stepped inside the castle door. An hour later, as we stepped back out onto the cobblestones, the rain started anew. With renewed vigor.
We sloshed into town. “I need coffee,” I groaned. “And food. And warmth. And a change of clothes.”
“And your raincoat, which I bet is sitting on the kitchen table in San Francisco.”
“Yeah, okay, that, too.”
“And a dose of justsmartenoughs.”
“Justsmartenough not to get on an open chairlift when the skies are about to open.”
We sloshed into a restaurant, dripping like The Creatures From The Black Lagoon. As I ordered coffee, soup and more coffee, I peeled off layers of wet clothes and hung them up to dry on every hook-like contrivance I could find near our booth. The waitress looked neither sympathetic nor amused as she watched an ever-growing puddle forming beneath our feet.
I'd have apologized to her, except that:
I don't speak Luxembourgish
My mouth was full of hot soup
Despite said soup, my teeth were ch-ch-chattering like a jackhammer.
I inhaled my lunch, ordered still more coffee; then, with great reluctance, inserted my still-wet body into my still-soaking garments.
“Jules, sit down. It’s only 1:30. The bus won't be here till two.”
“I can't take a chance. If we miss it, I’ll die of exposure. Let’s go.”
Back to the street. Back to the rain. Back to cold and wet and Les Miserables.
We stood in the deluge. 1:40. 1:50. 1:56, 57, 58, 59.
Two o’clock. No bus.
“Jules, are you sure we’re standing in the right place?”
“Of course, I'm sure. This is exactly where he let us off.”
“Okay, why did you ask?”
“No, if you're sure… fine.”
“It’s five after two. Every bus in Luxembourg runs on time to the minute. Why did you ask?”
“Well, about five minutes ago, I did see a bus that looked a lot like ours.”
“And it was driving out of town.”
I groaned a cold, wet, tired, Les Mis groan. Then, without another word, I sprinted up the hill. Fifty yards up a cobbled street that curved just enough to hide a bus stop… was the bus stop. Sans, of course, le bus. Le bus sans us.
The rain fell even harder on my cold, wet and very-dumb-day head.
Jules Older is author and publisher of the ebook, DEATH BY TARTAR SAUCE: A Travel Writer Encounters Gargantuan Gators, Irksome Offspring, Murderous Mayonnaise & True Love.
Photography by Effin Older.