Volcanic Travel Woes

20 Apr

A few days before i was scheduled for Thailand

The EU conference wasn’t badly organised enough as it was, the Icelanders decided to add a little challenge for the organisers and participants: a beauuuutiful ash cloud that made all travelling virtually impossible. I was grinning a bit with the panic of the people. I was staying on a few days with friends anyway. But then my flight got also cancelled – and I joined all the European chicken running around without head…

  • An Odyssey journey to get back home – but at least I arrived home…
  • Cuz I was scheduled to go to Thailand – and that was an appointment not to miss!
  • Even if that meant doing the crazy things I did.

Thursday 15 April 2010

During the EU youth conference - All OK

The EU youth conference came to an end, lots of new contacts made, beaten the drum of SALTO Inclusion, the priorities were decided. So we could leave Jerez with a satisfied feeling, even though the first info arrived about some volcanic eruption in Iceland.

What’s the South of Spain got to do with it you might think? Not much indeed, except that the ash cloud produced by the volcano blocked air traffic above North of Europe, all the way till France. So taking off from Jerez or Sevilla would be ok, but landing in Brussels was not.

So the colleagues of the Belgian delegation were worried and decided to fly as much North as they could – Barcelona in this case. And from there rent a car to drive all the way to Belgium = 2000 km! I thought they were CRAZY and exaggerating a bit.

Friday 16 April 2010

The founder of Tio Pepe sherry

I just had an extra day of sightseeing in Jerez and visiting friends in Sevilla. Besides a big thunderstorm, nice discussions about love & life and the best steak restaurant ever, nothing much happened. BLISS.

Surely if there would be a cloud of ashes, it would twirl down to earth after a while, no? If I’m cleaning my apartment and there is a cloud of dust, it settles after a few minutes too, so… NAÏVE.

.

Saturday 17 April 2010

75% of the flights cancelled

8am: I was woken up by a text message: “Dear Mr Geudens, your flight has been cancelled, sorry for the inconvenience”. All of a sudden it dawned to me that this volcanic eruption was more than the living room type of dust cloud. NERVOUS.

A friend of mine was in Portugal, so I started texting with him, asking what he would be doing. If he would be renting a car to go back to Brussels, he could pick me up en route. It is in times of need that you close ranks with your friends.

10am: my friends get up (we had a late night I admit – but I was clear awake as soon as I got the cancellation message). I get on the internet (the computer was in their bedroom) as soon as I can. IMPATIENCE.

10h05: When checking Brussels Airlines, they gave the option to re-book your flight, but they advised to only contact their call centre after 21 April due to the overload caused by all the cancellations. But I had 2 important meetings on Monday, so I would need to be there – and certainly before 21 April, because I had my flight to Thailand on 22 April !!!  CRISIS.

10h12: I saw there were still (relatively) cheap Vueling flights from Sevilla to Barcelona, so I unconsciously just booked one for that afternoon, as if I were on automatic pilot. I found a train connection on from Barcelona to Paris by night train and then I could continue by Thalys to Brussels and be home on Sunday lunch. RELIEF.

Car, trains and planes saturated

10h25: We just had to go to the Renfe office to book the ticket, which we did (like a long cue of other stranded people). Once it was our turn, an hour and a half later, the train guy told us that the French trains were on strike! WHAT? The bastards! If they would somewhat want to get rid of their annoying strike reputation, this would be the moment to postpone their strike, to help out half of Europe that was stranded! ANGER.

11h03: I had checked buses that morning too, but since the first bus was on Monday (and me having 2 important meetings on Monday), that was too late. But there didn’t seem any other option anymore. So we went to the bus station to book a bus ticket then. But in the mean time the first bus with available seats was Wednesday! But I was going to Thailand on Thursday. PANIC.

11h30: It was time  to get drastic and forceful. My Sevillan friend had a friend working in a travel agency, and he was checking options for some other desperate cases, like me, too. He would call around for rental cars, and let us know. By the way, he said, Spanish trains would be on strike from Monday, so no way of getting out of Spain anymore. SIGH.

Only Option - abusively priced rental car

13h00: We are summoned to the friend’s of a friend’s travel agency, and the only rental cars that are left cost around 1500€… Reality hits hard when it does. On top of that we were lucky to actually get one, because people were jumping on cars, vans, mini-trucks, anything with wheels, like crazy. DOUBT.

13h42: I managed to get through to my boss, explaining the situation. There were 2 other colleagues blocked in different parts of Europe, and one simply put on a flight to his next meeting in South-Africa without returning via Belgium… So he understood the situation, and gave me the green light IF I would at least try in Barcelona to find some people to share the car (and costs!) with. DEAL.

14h18:  Luckily my credit card didn’t bounce with the huge rental amounts taken from it. We exit the travel agency with an overly expensive rental car reservation and jump in a taxi to go home to pick up my luggage and then drive to the airport. RUSH.

16h05: I didn’t want to believe it till I was on the flight, but indeed Vueling got me from Sevilla to Barcelona – and even on time! The same evening I heard from my Spanish friend that Barcelona airport was also closed – so I managed to escape before it was too late. OOF.

Driving 2400km back home

18h52: I queue up, with hundreds of others, for my AVIS rental car. I had prepared my little sign in the plane: “I have car to Brussels – 3 places – share costs”. It didn’t take longer than 5 seconds or I had 10 people around me, begging to take them. However when I told them the price, many of them drooped off. Except for a lawyer couple that wanted to come along as far as Paris. SMILE.

19h38: Finally we get to the counter, to fill in all the paper work and get the keys. My travel companions would even take turns to drive, so that was a nice bonus as well, me not having driven for a couple years… and those f*cking roads in the South of France are as windy as a string of confetti – and they don’t do lights! SCARY.

.

Sunday 18 April 2010 – back home

7h22: We arrive in Paris, time to drop off my newly adopted friends (who luckily enough drove most of the time, because I was still suffering from the wine and late night restaurant the evening before). We say goodbye and I drive on, experiencing why the Periferique is so dreadful. CONCENTRATE.

Brussels, almost there

13h48: After at least 4 stops, 4 coffees and 4 energy drinks to stay awake while driving, I arrive in Brussels airport – where I couldn’t fly, but where funnily enough I had to bring back the car. The horrible road trip was almost over… And on top of that AVIS wants to charge me for all kinds of insurances and petrol, which I hadn’t even asked for! “But you signed, sir. Didn’t they give you a Dutch version of the contract?” WHAT???

14h19: That joke didn’t go down very well, and I must say I was instantly awake again to start roaring at the clerk, before I stampeded out of their office. He must have regretted the situation. It was less than half an hour later that he called already to tell me that he had sorted out the contract, and that I only had to pay the amount I was quoted in the beginning. VICTORY.

14h56: I arrive home and simply drag my body into bed. I didn’t wake up till 2am that night. And then I got an attack of anguish: But what if the ash cloud hasn’t disappeared by Thursday when I should leave to Thailand?

  • To be continued…

.

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Volcanic Travel Woes

The EU conference wasn’t badly organised enough as it was, the Icelanders decided to add a little challenge for the organisers and participants: a beauuuutiful ash cloud that made all travelling virtually impossible. I was grinning a bit with the panic of the people. I was staying on a few days with friends anyway. But then my flight got also cancelled – and I joined all the European chicken without head…

An Odyssey journey to get back home – but at least I arrived home…

Cuz I was scheduled to go to Thailand – and that was an appointment not to miss!

Even if that meant doing the crazy things I did.

– – –

Thursday 15 April 2010

The EU youth conference came to an end, lots of new contacts made, beaten the drum of SALTO Inclusion, the priorities were decided. So we could leave Jerez with a satisfied feeling, even though the first info arrived about some volcanic eruption in Iceland.

What’s the South of Spain got to do with it you might think? Not much indeed, except that the ash cloud produced by the volcano blocked air traffic above North of Europe, all the way till France. So taking off from Jerez or Sevilla would be ok, but landing in Brussels was not.

So the colleagues of the Belgian delegation were worried and decided to fly as much North as they could – Barcelona in this case. And from there rent a car to drive all the way to Belgium = 2000 km! I thought they were CRAZY and exaggerating a bit.

Friday 16 April 2010

I just had an extra day of sightseeing in Jerez and visiting friends in Sevilla. Besides a big thunderstorm, nice discussions about love & life and the best steak restaurant ever, nothing much happened. BLISS.

Surely if there would be a cloud of ashes, it would twirl down to earth after a while, no? If I’m cleaning my apartment and there is a cloud of dust, it settles after a few minutes too, so… NAÏVE.

Saturday 17 April 2010

8am: I was woken up by a text message: “Dear Mr Geudens, your flight has been cancelled, sorry for the inconvenience”. All of a sudden it dawned to me that this volcanic eruption was more than the living room type of dust cloud. NERVOUS.

A friend of mine was in Portugal, so I started texting with him, asking what he would be doing. If he would be renting a car to go back to Brussels, he could pick me up en route. It is in times of need that you close ranks with your friends.

10am: my friends get up (we had a late night I admit – but I was clear awake as soon as I got the cancellation message). I get on the internet (the computer was in their bedroom) as soon as I can. IMPATIENCE.

10h05: When checking Brussels Airlines, they gave the option to re-book your flight, but they advised to only contact their call centre after 21 April due to the overload caused by all the cancellations. But I had 2 important meetings on Monday, so I would need to be there – and certainly before 21 April, because I had my flight to Thailand on 22 April !!!  CRISIS.

10h12: I saw there were still (relatively) cheap Vueling flights from Sevilla to Barcelona, so I unconsciously just booked one for that afternoon, as if I were on automatic pilot. I found a train connection on from Barcelona to Paris by night train and then I could continue by Thalys to Brussels and be home on Sunday lunch. RELIEF.

10h25: We just had to go to the Renfe office to book the ticket, which we did (like a long cue of other stranded people). Once it was our turn, an hour and a half later, the train guy told us that the French trains were on strike! WHAT? The bastards! If they would somewhat want to get rid of their annoying strike reputation, this would be the moment to postpone their strike, to help out half of Europe that was stranded! ANGER.

11h03: I had checked buses that morning too, but since the first bus was on Monday (and me having 2 important meetings on Monday), that was too late. But there didn’t seem any other option anymore. So we went to the bus station to book a bus ticket then. But in the mean time the first bus with available seats was Wednesday! But I was going to Thailand on Thursday. PANIC.

11h30: It was time  to get drastic and forceful. My Sevillan friend had a friend working in a travel agency, and he was checking options for some other desperate cases, like me, too. He would call around for rental cars, and let us know. By the way, he said, Spanish trains would be on strike from Monday, so no way of getting out of Spain anymore. SIGH.

13h00: We are summoned to the friend’s of a friend’s travel agency, and the only rental cars that are left cost around 1500€… Reality hits hard when it does. On top of that we were lucky to actually get one, because people were jumping on cars, vans, mini-trucks, anything with wheels, like crazy. DOUBT.

13h42: I managed to get through to my boss, explaining the situation. There were 2 other colleagues blocked in different parts of Europe, and one simply put on a flight to his next meeting in South-Africa without returning via Belgium… So he understood the situation, and gave me the green light IF I would at least try in Barcelona to find some people to share the car (and costs!) with. DEAL.

14h18:  Luckily my credit card didn’t bounce with the huge rental amounts taken from it. We exit the travel agency with an overly expensive rental car reservation and jump in a taxi to go home to pick up my luggage and then drive to the airport. RUSH.

16h05: I didn’t want to believe it till I was on the flight, but indeed Vueling got me from Sevilla to Barcelona – and even on time! The same evening I heard from my Spanish friend that Barcelona airport was also closed – so I managed to escape before it was too late. OOF.

18h52: I queue up, with hundreds of others, for my AVIS rental car. I had prepared my little sign in the plane: “I have car to Brussels – 3 places – share costs”. It didn’t take longer than 5 seconds or I had 10 people around me, begging to take them. However when I told them the price, many of them drooped off. Except for a lawyer couple that wanted to come along as far as Paris. SMILE.

19h38: Finally we get to the counter, to fill in all the paper work and get the keys. My travel companions would even take turns to drive, so that was a nice bonus as well, me not having driven for a couple years… and those f*cking roads in the South of France are as windy as a string of confetti – and they don’t do lights! SCARY.

Sunday 18 April 2010 – back home

7h22: We arrive in Paris, time to drop off my newly adopted friends (who luckily enough drove most of the time, because I was still suffering from the wine and late night restaurant the evening before). We say goodbye and I drive on, experiencing why the Periferique is so dreadful. CONCENTRATE.

13h48: After at least 4 stops, 4 coffees and 4 energy drinks to stay awake while driving, I arrive in Brussels airport – where I couldn’t fly, but where funnily enough I had to bring back the car. The horrible road trip was almost over… And on top of that AVIS wants to charge me for all kinds of insurances and petrol, which I hadn’t even asked for! “But you signed, sir. Didn’t they give you a Dutch version of the contract?” WHAT???

14h19: That joke didn’t go down very well, and I must say I was instantly awake again to start roaring at the clerk, before I stampeded out of their office. He must have regretted the situation. It was less than half an hour later that he called already to tell me that he had sorted out the contract, and that I only had to pay the amount I was quoted in the beginning. VICTORY.

14h56: I arrive home and simply drag my body into bed. I didn’t wake up till 2am that night. And then I got an attack of anguish: But what if the ash cloud hasn’t disappeared by Thursday when I should leave to Thailand?

To be continued…

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