Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Luxembourg: Nightmare on Vacation Street

Have you ever had a vacation gone nightmare? --- Well I just have; I just returned from one!The short Rhine-Mosel-Luxemburg (Koblenz to Trier to Luxemburg) solo vacation started with the wrong turn in A73, the Dutch highway towards the east going to Germany. I was looking for A61, the German highway, but could not find it. It was very clear on the route I followed that I have to exit this small town in Venlo in order to get to A61... but I have driven around, in and out of the town, and even further to the next town, and still, I could not find any road sign leading to the A61.

Map of Germany, see the Koblenz to Trier route on the west side of the map. Trier sits right on the border of Germany and Luxemburg. The Netherlands is located northwest of Germany. And, that's me in the toilet getting ready to go out for a night out in Koblenz.

Frustrated, I sought for help in the nearby tank station. The manager of the tank station empathized with me. He said I am not the first person nor will be the last to have sought refuge in his business premises looking for the hard-to-pin-down A61 highway. He said that it’s a complicated connection since drivers will have to go through little streets, rotundas and what nots, and added that, the government has just started building the highway that will soon connect to A61.

So the best advice he gave me was --- stop searching for the A61, go back to A73 and just follow Duisburg-Koln, albeit a longer route, then I will eventually reach the highway intersection of A61 leading to Koblenz.

I actually lost an hour from this A61 search and since this is a longer route, I arrived in Koblenz just a shy over 2PM. I missed the Rhine River boat ride from Koblenz to Bacharach. Taking the train to Bacharach is about an hour long and realistically speaking, I would not have enough time to wander around in Bacharach town because the boat back to Koblenz leave around 5PM. Tough! Argh...

Although I can be spontaneous, I’m a planner gal at heart. When I have planned on something, or want something specifically and did painstaking effort on it (yeah I planned ahead my route schedules and did research on the towns, things to see, to do and such), I really make sure that I execute it (or achieve it) according to my original plan. Being a results oriented person, it pisses me off when something in my plan goes haywire. As much as possible I quickly ammend the problem or I treat myself to another, if not, better alternative/s.

Anyway, I spent instead my time in Koblenz. Even though it was raining, I enjoyed the city.
So, fast forward--

Visited the enchanting Stolzenfels castle nearby along the Rhine River; checked out the pretty village further down south of the Rhine called Boppard; did a turn and headed off west to the Mosel River vineyard valley, where Reisling wine had its roots, to a dreamy fairy-tale like town called Cochem; strolled in the vineyards of Muden and the Tries-Karden villages; did a walk back to the past through unpaved muddy roads in the mountain forest towards the magical Burg Eltz castle; had a stop-over in dreamy, charming and panoramic Mosel river bank villages: Traben-Trarbach and Bernkastel-Kues, oh they are a must see! My last stop in Rheinland-Pfalz province, before heading off to Luxemburg was Trier, the capital city of the Mosel river valley, also known as Germany’s oldest city, founded by the Romans.

The zigzagged Mosel River route (a very pretty and romantic route!) from Koblenz to Trier then to Luxemburg.

Pictures and stories of the trip will soon follow in the next coming blog entries, so stay tuned!

It was in Luxemburg that I had a nightmare ending to this wonderful fairy-tale like vacation.

Getting to my hotel in Luxemburg from Trier, which was in the outskirts of Luxemburg city, somewhere in the middle of nowhere forest, was not easy. It was almost 9PM and I could not find the Kopstal exit sign in the highway, so instead, I went to the city center and started again from there for my Kopstal exit search, but jammer, I could not find it! Although there is still light, I was sure that in 30 minutes or so, the skies will turn darker. I dreaded it.

I stopped a couple in the streets who turned out to be tourists heading back to their hotel. They told me to go with them and ask help from the hotel, which was just nearby. Luckily the hotel personnel were very nice and helpful. They told me which exit to take, which was Arlon, then Bridel, and finally Kopstal. They even let me use the telephone in the hotel -to call the hotel I was booked with, lol.

I just got in time to the hotel before it turned dark.

The next day, I woke up really excited for my long day adventure in Luxemburg. I planned to spend the morning in Luxemburg city (they call it “Luxemburg Ville” there), then head off towards the east to Echternach for some light lunch, then after, to Vianden further up north. They say Vianden is an enchanting place with a splendid view of the castle sitting on the top of the hill. After this, the schedule on plan was
to proceed to Bourscheid, Esch-sur-Sure, and perhaps, Clervaux, as my last final stop-over before I drive back to the Netherlands via the Ardennes in Belgium.

Then here it is when it went downhill... to a nightmarish vacation...

When I came back to where I parked the car in the center of Luxemburg city, I was welcomed with a revelation that shook me. Literally.

My mind went blank and for those momentary seconds I was spaced out, and shocked, I could hear sounds coming from the insides of my ears. The sounds become louder. I hear footsteps; people are running. I hear an old train speeding through its tracks and about to crash. Then suddenly I feel this pang. Light traces of cold shivers were beginning to grow from the back of my spine. Stop!

When I regained back my mental consciousness, my heartbeat was running fast. I cannot help but panic - SHIT WHERE THE HELL IS MY CAR!!! I was just gone for less than an hour? Sheer pandemonium attacks have now gripped me. I feel I could not breathe, my throat is tight, and all of a sudden, my vision blurred. I am in hysteria - OMG, carnapped? Carnapped in Luxemburg!

I had to compose myself, and with the last ounce of courage squeezed out of me, I tried, very much tried, to remain calm, so I can think clearly. The Dutchman, who is a regular business traveler to Luxemburg (one of the reasons why he does not want to come with me) told me that the country is relatively safe. In terms of criminal activities,it is no way near Holland. I really wished it was true.

With that last ray of hope, I gathered myself and approached an old couple who were busy rearranging the terraces outside of a café. I think they were the owners. They both spoke terrible English but I understood what they said, which is:

*Sigh of relief*

These mighty Luxemburgian police were so quick? And I AM JUST SO STUPID to park the car where I should not have. I have brought the problem to myself, so now I have to pay for the consequences. I wanted so bad to slap and kick myself a hundred times but how do you actually do that to yourself?

Anyway, I hailed a taxi and within minutes I was in the police station. The police confirmed that they have the car in their possession but could not release it because it is past 12 noon. I am so lucky, the police administration office is only open in the mornings on Sunday. I was told to come back the next day at 8AM.

I had no other choice but to extend my stay for another night in Luxemburg. The police was nice enough though to let me use their telephone to call the Dutchman in Holland.


(1) I only have € 75 left in my wallet.

(2) My debit card ran out of money. I need to transfer funds from my savings account to debit but my online banking security identifier equipment is in the luggage that happens to be in the car’s trunk.

Luxemburg being the richest country in Europe (highest buying power per capita) is definitely not for the cheapies. The hotels are bloody expensive. I also need to survive the whole day and of course until the next day. Plus, I need to pay the penalties which I know, will be enormous.

(3) The new credit card system in Luxemburg asks for a PIN, which is by the way a new European Union banking regulation targeted to be fully implemented across the EU by 2007, but this financially sophisticated little country called Luxemburg have already implemented it, albeit quite early. They must have been the first in the EU! Without a PIN, you cannot use your credit card, therefore no money.
The problem: I don’t know my PIN!!!

The Netherlands and other European countries have not yet implemented this additional security function. A few weeks ago, I actually received a letter from ABN Amro Mastercard for my new PIN, and being lazy, I just shoved the letter aside. Now I am regretting it. So foolish of me.

At any rate, an American couple was also running into the same problem. They ran out of money and were trusting to pay the hotel with their credit card, but they also do not know their PIN!

(4) My mobile phone’s load is almost zero. I accepted several calls during the day, which, as we already know with international calls, will be directly charged to the account that is outside the country when call was received. In this case my phone.
I have ignored Dutchman’s advice long time ago to activate automatic transfer of load from my bank account to my personal mobile phone. I never listened. Since I could not call, I SMS’d Dutchman asking him to deposit money into my debit account. The long SMS was in fact the last drop of load I have. I could not even respond back anymore when Dutchman replied that he already transferred funds into my account. Talk about hanging on the edge of a cliff. lol

(5) Of course, my luggage was in the car’s trunk. So were my clothes, my underwear, my toiletries, my toothbrush...

I checked in to the hotel with the same outfit and checked out with the same outfit. At least the hotel had some toiletries but there was no toothbrush and toothpaste. It didn’t help a bit to know that all shops are closed on Sundays and there are no 24-hour convenience stores, which is typically Europe anyway.

(6) And the final painful brush of all, I had to pay an exorbitant amount of money to get the car back. I’d rather not tell how much because it’s just… erm, I am still whacking myself... how stupid have I been to waste such money? With that amount I could have booked another holiday!

The drive back home was uneventful. The Ardennes Mountains were breathtaking though. I drove more than 5 hours, and was I so glad when I saw the sign MAASTRICHT (the big city in the south of NL) up ahead in Liege, Belgium. I could not wait to be back in the Netherlands.

When I finally got home and opened my email, a sermon-on-the-mount was waiting in my inbox, from the Dutchman, entitled --- Lessons Learned. I don’t know if I should laugh, get angry, beat myself, or throw a pity party.

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