Travelling without a smartphone is so much more interesting
In today's world of technology, travel demands a smartphone - or does it?
There is no doubt a phone with maps and a GPS tracker takes all the guesswork out of travel but - and it is a big but - you lose the most exciting parts of travel. Finding your own way can be such fun.
Maybe my arrival in Morocco will illustrate this point.
It takes 30 minutes by train from Casablanca airport to the old city. A taxi would have been slightly quicker but when in holiday mode, time is not always a top priority.
Today, delays in reaching one's destination are normal. Procedures through customs can be long and tedious but modern society has made a necessity of that.
I booked a hotel near the train station so that I could easily walk the distance once I arrived in Casablanca. Unfortunately, my plans didn't take into account time differences and delays. It was almost 10pm when I walked out of the station and surveyed my options.
I was immediately swarmed by a group of taxi drivers who knew enough English to appear knowledgeable and ready to take me anywhere! They must have a pecking order because they left me to the persuasions of one fellow who assured me he would take me to hotel for 50 dirham. Then again, it could have been the name of my hotel that caused the sudden lack of interest.
"No, no, far too much," I remonstrated. "My hotel is close by here."
Night rates, he intimated, and would not budge from 40 dirham.
I had a 20 dirham note in my hand so tried the blackmail stunt. "No more money – only 20 dirham."
It was the first taxi I had used on my trip - also the only one - and I had no intention of being taken for a ride in more ways than one. I turned and started to walk away. He soon came after me and cheerfully said, in perfect English, "Ok, ok, hop in!"
Off we went and he drove almost one block, then stopped!
"Is this it?" I asked incredulously.
He was grinning all over his face.
"This is it!"
"You utter scoundrel!" I laughingly retorted. "You wanted 50 dirham for this!"
We both ended up in fits of laughter.
I know when I am beaten.
"It is your turn now," I said. "Before I pay, I want you to come to reception with me so that I am sure this is the right hotel. You need a little walk to earn your money."
It was the right hotel. I gave him his 20 dirham and he left, still laughing and enjoying his joke. I too enjoyed the joke, he deserved the money for his audacity and getting me safely to my hotel.
It had been a long day for me. It might sound a lot of money but at slightly less than NZ$3 it was not much to pay for the ease of finding my hotel and meeting such a likeable scoundrel. The hotel was back from the street and as I did not speak Arabic or French, it would have been difficult for me to locate in the dark.
Ah yes, this is where a cellphone would prove its worth. After a few touches, I would have known instantly where to walk but, in the process, I would have missed meeting my taxi driver. Both of us would have been losers in the fun travel market.
I know. I guess I will have to give in to a phone and data next time I travel, but I am loath to do so yet.
If I have a choice to make connections by bus or train, I prefer trains for one simple reason. They always have the name of the place clearly displayed at each station. On the other hand, a bus stop seldom has the name where you can spot it. Most times there is nothing to indicate where you are or where you are meant to get off. In a foreign country, it is often difficult to pronounce place names but seeing the name in black and white gives your confidence a needed boost. Yes, you are heading in the right direction.
In Italy, the trains are excellent. Many have names that also show in your carriage and tell you which stop is coming up next.
It is also easy to find platforms as they are clearly sign-posted. Once, when looking for my platform at a station, there was a sign beside my number with more specific details. I was intrigued to read, "Kiss and Ride." Unfortunately, I had had to turn a different way, as my platform was number 8, but my curiosity was aroused.
I could not resist back-tracking a little to see what I might be missing out on. I found to my amusement the "Kiss and Ride" was the taxi stand outside the station.
Morocco is an ancient country but some train stations are definitely upmarket when you compare them with the draughty stations we often see in New Zealand. Many stations sought to cheer travellers with barrels or plots of colourful flowers. The station in Casablanca excelled. It was very modern and had a long wall covered in brilliantly-coloured bougainvillea, which was in full bloom when I was there, and a delight to the eye.
Before Morocco, I had travelled from Corsica on a night ferry to Marseille. It was big, yet so quiet. I could hardly hear a faint hum from the motors.
Calm water is an essential for me if I am to survive boat travel. This time it was it was so calm I never had the slightest twinge of pointless fear. Most people opted for the comfort of a cabin for the night, which would have been more luxurious than the reclining chair I had, but the chair was quite sleepable. Towards 10, the steward put out the lights so it made for easy sleeping. There were only a dozen people in the room which had about 100 big, soft reclining chairs. A much more interesting experience than sleeping in a cabin.
We berthed at Marseille early the next morning. I had one particular thing I wanted to see at the port. Twice I walked the length of what I thought was the port, yet nothing looked familiar. It was two years since I had been at Marseille, maybe my memory was slipping.
It might br laughable to some people but I desperately wanted to see a certain "merry-go-round." I know I am a tad ancient to have an addiction for carousels, but this was important to me – it was a fair dinkum merry-go-round.
My lack of French is a distinct disadvantage when it comes to finding a certain place. I decided to change tactics and use a novel way to ask directions. I stopped the next likely-looking person and added a further dimension to my graphic demonstrations. Showing them the mirror in my powder compact and asking the way to the Port Pavilion (Vieux – but I didn't remember that name) a high stainless-steel mirror canopy that reflects people when they walk underneath. Instant success!
I knew the mirror pavilion was not far from my carousel.
While I had been walking the stretch of portside where the ferries came in, I needed to walk past the far corner for at least a further 500 metres, to get to the main port. Yes, I know the answer again, a smartphone, but it lacks the ingenuity of my compact mirror.
To my delight, the merry-go-round was in the same place and exactly as I remembered it.
As it was early in the morning it stood still and waiting, waiting and ready to entertain little children who would come later in the day for the delights of whizzing round and round on a make-believe horse. Perhaps it was just as well I was seeing it early in the morning. Later in the day I might have been tempted to have another ride, forgetting that the second time around, certain things can lose their attraction.
Since my previous visit, another attraction close to the entertainment arena had been added – a great big Ferris wheel like the London Eye. It made my little carousel look ridiculous. It too was standing waiting for customers who would appear at a later hour when normal people are looking for amusement.
The early morning streets were still dotted with street people who, having spent the night sleeping on the footpath, were packing up all their worldly possessions in supermarket trolleys. It is a way of life to them. However, they must be hardy as their flimsy sleeping blankets would do little to soften the pavement.
It is a wondrous world we live in. People the world over are so different. Travel can be adventurous and an exciting time when we make memories to keep forever. Memories we can pull out and mull over when we have to be content to stay at home.
Television is marvellous and brings the world into our living rooms but it lacks the one vital factor which makes the world come alive. It lacks the feeling and experience of being in the picture yourself.
Sometimes second best is the only option we have but if you have the chance to experience travel, grab it with outstretched arms. It is far better than any tonic or medicine.
Don't worry about the smartphone. It may save you time but you will miss such a lot of fun.