02/15/2011 05:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Frustration-Filled Vacations Can Be Fun (in Retrospect)

It goes without saying that the most snafu-riddled trips can be the most memorable ones. Actually, I just said it, but it's true.

An example of this was a four-day stay in France with my community-college professor wife, who had been invited to give a paper at the 2007 Emile Zola Society conference.

After arriving at Marseille's airport, Laurel and I wanted to visit the city's port area before going to the conference town of Aix-en-Provence (where 1840-born novelist Zola grew up). So we headed to the airport's luggage-check counter, got there at 12:05 p.m., and ... found it was closed for lunch from noon to 2!

We then decided to leave our suitcases at Marseille's train station. After riding a slow bus and walking a circuitous route to get into the under-renovation station, we discovered that the luggage-check room was locked because of a railroad strike.

"Why don't we just bring our bags with us to the port?," said Laurel, ever the can-do trooper.

So we bumped our luggage down the (broken!) escalator of a Marseille metro station, boarded the subway to the port, emerged at about 1:50 p.m. into a stiff wind that threatened to blow down our suitcases, and looked for the restaurant a friend of Laurel's had recommended. The second we spotted it in the distance, the steel gate was being pulled down!

Then we approached several other eateries, but they were all closed now, too. So -- hungry, tired, and jet-lagged -- we gave up and boarded a bus to our modest but nice hotel in Aix.

We did return to Marseille two days later, and took a boat to the island of If to see the former prison that figures so prominently in Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo -- the best novel about revenge ever (though no Fox News commentators were harmed). It rained, of course, and we got drenched -- but the visit was more than worth it.

Unfortunately, a guide who just wouldn't stop talking attached himself to us on If, and we nearly toppled over rushing down the rocky wet path to the boat we needed to catch in order to get back to Aix in time for a dinner connected with Laurel's conference.

During our last full day in France, Laurel and I joined conference attendees on a bus to see the Provence countryside and the magnificent Mont Sainte-Victoire peak that Zola's childhood friend Paul Cezanne often painted. No one was told we had an arduous hike ahead of us, so I was wearing dress shoes and some of the female professors had on heels! We stumbled up stone-strewn mountain paths for about two hours before reaching a dam that Zola's father built. One of the hikers was Zola's great-granddaughter, so that was cool! But boy we were exhausted. We had to trudge back down, too -- luckily on what was (almost!) a road.

The next morning, Laurel and I flew from Marseille to Paris, where the wrong gate was listed for the connecting flight to New Jersey's Newark airport. By the time we reached the correct gate, the plane door had just closed. We tried to book another flight, and -- sure enough -- most of our airline's agents were at lunch as we waited on line for more than an hour.

Actually, I don't begrudge French citizens long lunches. I wish more of America's overworked employees had that opportunity. And French food -- yum!

Anyway, there was no other plane to Newark until the next day, so we instead flew to New York's JFK airport, from where we had to ride two buses and a taxi before getting to our New Jersey home more than four hours after the plane landed. "Taking the long way," as the Dixie Chicks sang.

So that was our trip, which would not have been as memorable if everything had gone right.

Our cat Angus wasn't happy, though. He was so irked about us getting home more than eight hours after the pet sitter last fed him that he hasn't read Zola to this day.