I am still not sure what I did wrong. I was probably in such a hurry to get the bookings confirmed that in my hubris, I didn’t pay enough attention to those ever so important details that can make or break a family holiday. We had waited for years until the youngest child was old enough to let us enjoy a week of ‘budget’ travel in Switzerland. Reserving beds in the affordable youth hostels was a vital part of our plan. The holiday almost ended before it began.
“I thought you booked a family room?” Christine asked in dismay as we purveyed nineteen perfect strangers laying in sleeping bags on the loft floor of a Lake Brienz hostel. Open rucksacks overflowed with fleece and wool. The musty odor of exhaled exhaustion and damp socks hung in the rafters. Dripping rain ponchos left small puddles in the corners of the room. Muddy boots aired on wire racks at the door.
The drive through Basel up into the mountains had been a harrowing one. The windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the deluge coming from the clouds that were ascending into. The only relief from the road blindness were the long, deep tunnels carved through the towering mountains. The children nearly turned blue trying to outlast the mile-long tunnels with bloated cheeks and bulging eyes. They popped, one by one, in the order of their lung capacity; how sweet the thin air tasted after nearly passing out. They panted in the back seat as the rain once again thundered on the roof of the mini-van. The windows fogged up.
“I thought I booked six beds. I thought–” I answered checking and rechecking the printed confirmation in my hand in the light of the hallway behind us. “I don’t know what I did wrong!”
We found some space on the floor between the soggy, middle-aged trekkers, where Christine kept the three youngest under her wings, near the door and the restrooms. Matthew and I had to venture further into the dark rows of snoring micro-fiber sleeping bags to burrow out a place for ourselves. We slept in our clothes.
In the morning I did not wait in line for the shower. We did not try to get breakfast in the dining room. We threw our backpacks in the car as fast as we could and buckled the crying kids into their car seats.
“Can we get a refund?” Christine asked.
“I don’t think so. I booked and paid for this months ago. I don’t know what I did wrong.” I wouldn’t look her in the face.
“Are we going home?”
“We’ll find someplace else to stay. I hope.”
“Do we have the money for it?”
Despite being semi-professional budget travelers, Switzerland offered such a challenging par-cours that we almost packed it in and drove home. I pulled every trick out of my well worn travel bag with no effect. In the end, to make it all work, I had to swallow my pride and ask for help.
Before driving out of Brienz, I stopped the car at the tourist information office and shuffled inside, with my head bowed.
“I have four hungry kids and a very unhappy wife in the car outside. I really goofed up our reservations. Can you help me find a private room in a B&B nearby for XX francs?”
“For tonight?” she startled.
“For right now, if possible.” I whimpered.
The young lady asked me to wait while she answered the ringing telephone. I was certainly not her priority in the land of ski chalets and fondue for jet setters.
As I waited, I watched a small gauge train of the Rothorn Bahn begin its slow chug up the steep mountainside, towing open cars filled with mountaineers and tourists. The regrets piled on to my shoulders as I saw the excitement of the children as they waved to those below, growing smaller by the second.
We had plans to visit in Zermatt; to gaze on the rugged profile of the elusive Matterhorn and hike over summer snow fields. We looked forward to a few days in Bern; searching out the best, the biggest Toblerone ever made. Now, I could only see us driving home, defeated, sleeping the night in a Formule 1 motel with a view of a truck yard. I waited patiently for the young lady to finish her telephone call, sure she would laugh at me after she hung-up the handset.
“You’re in luck!”
“Do you see this lakeside chalet out the window?” she said pointing to a three story wooden house overlooking the silted water of the lake, “It just became available for the next three days.”
“I can’t afford that!” I balked.
“It’s already paid for. A Sheik from Qatar and his family cancelled just now. They will not be arriving today so they get no refund. The owner will make you a deal to fit your budget, of XX francs, but only for three nights.”
From the balcony of the chalet we could watch the ferry boats between Brienz and Interlaken come and go, unloading and loading hikers and day trippers. The kids would rush to the railings when the air horn announced an imminent arrival or departure. The opaque-turquoise water churned to foam, as the boat revved its engines, to head out again to the villages on the far shore. From the master bedroom, a view of newly snow-dusted peaks and the long ribbon of a misty waterfall could be enjoyed while laying in bed.
As it happened, the family from Qatar who had booked and paid for our magical Swiss chalet had returned home before even leaving the Zurich Airport. They had booked a van to tour Switzerland in for a month, but arrived with more people than the van had seat belts for. The rental agency refused to allow them to pile eleven passengers in a nine seat vehicle. Offended, the Sheik ordered his family back on the airplane. As a result of his unrepentant pride, we were gifted a stay in a luxurious house, for the price of a youth hostel, with breathtaking views from every window in a country as expensive as it is beautiful.
With the car unloaded, warm showers enjoyed and breakfast on the table, I went quickly from ‘ZERO’ to ‘HERO’! Feeling my super powers returning, I suggested to my exuberant children and my now starry eyed wife, that we ride a train up the Rothorn and walk down, in search of the world’s largest Toblerone.
Did you enjoy this story? Watch for it and others like it in V M Karren’s new short story anthology: The Tales of a Fly-By-Night, coming soon, as well as his second novel in The Deceit of Riches Series: From the Rooftops. Learn more at www.flybynightpress.com.