I thoroughly love traveling, and I thoroughly adore my teenage son, and putting those two elements together, at times, has proven to be quite the Ninja Warrior challenge for me. I usually begin our trips with an intensive well-thought-out list to include all those must-not-leave-at home items, namely, a backpack filled with bags of teriyaki flavored beef jerky for constant grazing, dried fruit and nuts to add a bit of healthy ingestion, the indispensable pack of chocolate bars, a travelling DVD player for marathon airplane endurance contests, MP3 player with a 1000 song play list, and let's not forget the little bottle of imodiums. However, no matter how finely tuned my planning, at this point in my life, I have conceded that at times we are going to be miserable, and we are going to love it. As long as my crucial items do not totally deplete during our usual ten-day romp in a foreign land, the trip can be relatively stress free. I carefully plan our site seeing itinerary with unparalleled geekery along the routes of important restaurants, crepe stands, the local McDonalds, popular pubs, available toilets, and gelato stores.
Along our paths, however, we have had a few misunderstandings, but not between ourselves. When I book hotels online prior to the trip, the web sites can be somewhat deceiving. I must cite a fairly recent trip to Napa Valley, California when hotels were scant, mostly full during the smoldering, last hurrah week of August before school started back up. I booked us into a delightful place called the Rose Mansion, (names have been changed to protect the innocent), a small, intimate, private inn where you are pampered and can enjoy the perfect Napa wine tasting experience. Little did I know that this was a honeymoon destination. When we arrived, we were greeted with admiring glances and smirks by the hotel staff. We were quickly escorted to our "love nest" of a room complete with oversized bed, fluffy down comforters, extra pillows, claw foot tub, and special DVD's. I overheard the chef when he whispered to the desk clerk, "Well, she got herself a young one!". Sam looked a bit out of place as he took a swim that evening in a pair of Hawaiian style swim trunks as crooning couples watched, nursing their wine glasses and small herbed crackers in poolside chairs. This feeling was only amplified when we arose the next morning to a formal breakfast room of newlywed couples, holding hands while trying to consume a poached pear glazed in raspberry sauce. We got a few stares but smiled back with a satisfied smile, never disclosing our true relationship as mother and son. I started to actually find this pants-off amusing after I thought about it. Keep them wondering, was my motto, and eat dessert first. Life is short. A subsequent trip to Sicily yielded a similar situation in the ancient town of Ragusa. Little did we know, but we had booked yet another romantic interlude in a place that accented the bedrooms with red light bulbs and supplied us with his and hers deluxe pink terri cloth bathrobes. I simply disregarded those chocolate heart shaped bon bons the maid placed lovingly on our pillows at night, and realized that anyone with a brain and a pulse could see that we were not a couple in love. Yet, none of this put a damper on our trip. We felt oddly comforted by these amenities, and left the hotels stellar reviews.
There have been other somewhat embarrassing situations which have arisen from teen travel adventures. As I take these trips to photograph various parts of the world to sell fine art in galleries, and on web sites, I strive to find a unique perspective on the otherwise painfully ordinary. Again, while on the Napa Valley trip, my son and I had finished consuming a local specialty of a heavy version of Mexican burritos smothered in a jalepeno cheese sauce. We were in the town of Napa, and decided it would be ideal to drive into a nearby winery to photograph the robust, plump grapes that were dangling from the lush green vines. Oh, what a fabulous photo op this would be, but I wanted a different angle (literally). My son began to suffer from post traumatic digestive syndrome, and wanted to remain in the car while I wandered out into the vineyard with my camera. I left him seated in the passenger seat while I took my photos. A deep slumber overcame him, and he reclined his seat and passed out as the digestive enzymes possessed him like an evil spirit. At that same moment, I decided to actually lie down on my back between a row of vines to allow my camera to swoop in, zooming in and out, to find the most unusual view of the purple orbs from the world below. A vineyard worker, who had just ended his shift, drove his pick up truck past our car, saw Sam limp and seemingly dead in the front seat, and eyed me lying off in the grassy underworld of the juicy grapes. Fearing the worst, he immediately called 911 as he thought we had been attacked and left for dead. Lucy, you got some "splainin' to do". We had to wake Sam from his vegetative state to corroborate my version of the events, but all's well that ends well, and we continued on our way through the valley after making headlines in the local paper with the little disturbance we had caused.
Something quirky that we have started to adopt in our travel routine is to not settle for the usual, mundane, dull airplane meal that is served to the masses, but to request, at the time of purchasing the airline ticket online, a "special" meal. We have chosen this option on the last six trips overseas, and enjoyed cuisine ranging from Halal to Kosher. It is a rewarding experience to have your "special" meal served first before any of the "regular" tourists, and the meal, depending on its origin, is usually tasty, hand-selected and one-of-a-kind, at least on that particular flight. I recall being awakened by a flight attendant who shouted in a loud whisper across the row, "Mrs. Werder! Are you Jewish??". For a moment, I had forgotten about the "special meal", and wondered why anyone would want to know my religious preferences at 3 AM Paris time. She handed me a foil-wrapped sandwich from Saul's Deli in New York City, overstuffed with an outrageously delectable corned beef on yummy rye bread. Everything was Kosher and it was a meal I will not soon forget. Sam has become a follower of my desire to sample a variety of religious menus as we circumnavigate at 3000 feet. We leave no rock unturned as we have our list of untried cultures on the drop down menu for Air France, Virgin Airlines, Aer Lingus, United, and a multitude of other airlines. On our next trip, which we have already scheduled for Barcelona, we plan to dine either Hindu, gluten-intolerant, or diabetic.
I recall another misadventure in Portugal when overcome with a feeling of starvation, and hastily driven by Sam's hunger pangs to find a dining establishment, we plunked ourselves down into a very pleasant, outdoor restaurant equipped with wooden tables, colorful tablecloths, pitchers of cool fruit punch, and hot crusty bread. We quickly sat down, and poured ourselves a long tall glass, smothered our bread with creamy butter and started to unwind from our 112 mile hike around the city. After the bread came the seafood, the vegetables, the hot soup, more meat, and then on to dessert, hot coffee, a bit of fruit. I had never tasted such a superb meal. The waiter seemed to know what we wanted, and we were delighted. This must have been a standard tourist fare menu as everyone in the restaurant was enjoying the same dish. We ate our fill, after relaxing for at least two hours in this fun filled atmosphere, people all around us, speaking the buzz of Portuguese and truly loving life. We figured if the locals liked this place, it must be one of the best in all of Lisbon. I decided to highly recommend it on Fodor's Best Bites. After 10 PM, we decided it was time to get the bill, and head back to our hotel. We waited and waited, scanning the crowd for the man who had served us all night, but to no avail. Our waiter must have gone home. After 30 minutes, we heard someone speaking English and asked her where we should pay our bill. "Bill!?? " she exclaimed. "This was the wedding reception for Armando and Carolina!!" "Oh, so we were at a private party", I thought. And we came with no gift.
Yes, we have fallen into a few crevasses along our travels, marinated in trouble from time to time, but always managed to crawl our way out. We have discovered that we are "survivory" in nature. We feel quite happy moving between places, not knowing what we will encounter in the next bend, and never allowing ourselves to settle for too long. I have traveled alone, with friends, husband, extended relatives, and my teenaged son. The most amusing adventures by far, seem to occur when I travel with my son. My tip is to keep him entertained, laughing, well fed, properly hydrated, and close to a source of sugar (preferably one that contains chocolate) at all times. Follow my advice and you, too, can endure any unexpected mayhem on the road with your teen. Just remember, on some subways, you can get fined for spitting, but you can throw up for nothing.