Pulling the Plug on Vacation

Our On Again, Off Again Relationship with WiFi

I just returned from spending a week in Germany with my husband. We traveled by train (actually two trains) from Frankfurt to a picturesque little village along the Rhine River, where we stayed in a quaint Bed and Breakfast recommended by our trusty travel guide book. What the book didn't tell us is that the word "quaint” is actually German for "no WiFi” – or at least none that we could comfortably rely on which, as it turns out, was worse than having no WiFi at all.

Here's how our vacation played out. Day One: At check-in we inquired about the Internet service that supposedly was included in the price of our room, and were given a complicated alpha-numeric password code printed on a tiny, easy-to-lose slip of paper about the size of a saltine cracker. After hauling our luggage up three flights of stairs (FYI "quaint” also means "no elevator”) we unpacked and optimistically powered up our gadgets, eager to make contact with the outside world after almost six hours of unbearable separation. Then we waited…and waited… and waited… as that little circle just kept going around and around and around, searching the galaxy for a signal. It found…nothing. We booted down and booted back up, and still …nothing. A trip back downstairs proved futile, as our proprietor had obviously gone to bed for the night. So we did the same thing.

Day Two: Bright and early Marc gave it another whirl and this time – hallelujah! – success! He checked his e-mail, caught the close of the previous day's stock market, and even read the latest news headlines on Yahoo (did I mention "quaint” also translates "no television in English”?) Then it was my turn. Naturally, I went to Facebook first. (Please don't judge.) But before I could catch a glimpse of the photos my daughter had posted of our grandchildren, the connection was lost. Double drick! We tried repeatedly throughout the day to capture the signal again, but only managed once, and even then it only lasted about five minutes. "How do these people live like this?” Marc shouted, after one particularly exasperating failure. I looked down from our balcony at the shopkeepers and the women hanging clothes on the line, and the men unloading crates of apples behind an outdoor bistro and shook my head, "It's as if they don't even care…”

Day Three: Over breakfast we swapped Internet frustration stories with a nice couple from Seattle who shared with us how they'd had marginal luck logging on between three and four a.m. So setting our alarm, we tried it ourselves that night, but with them hogging the airwaves we didn't stand a chance.

Day Four: Our off-again-on-again relationship with WiFi continued. We discovered that the connection seemed to work better outside the building than inside, thus reducing us to hovering on the sidewalk under an umbrella in the rain whenever we wanted to update our Twitter status (again, please don't judge.) We took a boat cruise up the Rhine and toured an ancient castle that, oddly enough, boasted of a WiFi café adjacent to the souvenir shop! Alas, we didn't have our laptop or iPad with us.

Day Five: A morning thunderstorm briefly knocked the power out. All the proprietor had to do, of course, was reboot in order to reactivate the signal, but apparently he had other schnitzel to fry and didn't get around to it until late afternoon. By then we'd given up and gone for a scenic bike ride, followed by a delicious dinner at an outdoor café, and a late-night stroll through the town square.

Days Six and Seven: We spent less and less time trying to log on, and more and more time actually enjoying our tranquil surroundings. For us the term WiFi came to be known as "Why Fight It?” Those fidgety "shakes” of withdrawal that had marked the early part of the week began to subside, and were gradually being replaced with games of gin rummy, hikes through the woods, long naps, and leisurely hours reading books in the park. By the time we checked out on Day Eight, our blood pressure was down, our stress level was zero, and we were completely relaxed. So relaxed, in fact, that you could have rolled us up and packed us in our own suitcases.

All the way back on the train(s) into Frankfurt, as I gazed out the window at the passing beautiful German countryside, I reminisced about our lovely electronic-free week, and how peaceful and refreshing it had been. It was a totally life-changing experience, which is exactly why I couldn't wait to fire up my Internet the minute I got back home. I mean, can you blame me for wanting to tell my Facebook fans and my Twitter followers and my e-mail friends and my fellow bloggers all about it?

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