You’ve seen her.
Waiting for a flight, with a glass of crisp white wine in front of her and a novel in one hand. She casually glances at her watch, seeing she has just the right amount of time before her flight; she has timed things perfectly to allow for a slow-paced stroll around the shops, a refreshing drink and a chance to drift away into the pages of her book. Maybe the next time you see her, she’ll have a Duty Free shopping bag in one hand (she doesn’t just go there for the free perfume samples) and a flat white in the other, held gently between perfectly manicured fingers. She is dressed comfortably and stylishly in an effortless way that many women struggle to emulate.
Suddenly, a commotion draws her attention to the other side of the departure lounge. Another woman seems to be in a terrible hurry; darting across the room, towards her gate (which just has to be the farthest away). Her face is flushed with colour, a few strands of hair sticking to her sweating forehead. Her wheelie suitcase thuds over the toes of innocent bystanders, she squawks apologies which are lost in the din of tuts and groans. At one point, she nearly collides with a family of four and their towering luggage trolley. As quickly as she arrived, she’s out of sight, racing off to catch her flight to who knows where…
Actually, I know where. That was me, legging my way across the airport to reach my gate upon hearing the ‘Final Call’ announcement.
Disclaimer: I am an unlucky traveller. Not the unluckiest, but pretty unlucky. It could be much worse, of course. I have never been pick-pocketed or mugged or threatened or beaten up or assaulted or arrested or lost my passport or my purse or a tooth or a limb. However, I have had my fair share of travel trials and tribulations (along with someone else’s share. Whoever it belongs to, please take it back!). I thought I would share some of them for your amusement…..or your schadenfreude.
If you have had any holiday disasters, post them in the comments. Misery loves company and all that!
Let’s start with:
Hamburg – London – Hamburg
We opted for a 10pm flight from Hamburg to London, which was the last flight of the day. These should generally be avoided due to delays from early journeys impacted on yours. We had a slight delay, only thirty minutes, which was a tad annoying but no biggie. Half an hour later, we boarded the plane. An hour later….we were still on the tarmac, growing increasingly uncomfortable and desperately wanting to stretch out, which our cramped budget airline seats did not allow. There was a technical problem and several technicians coming on and off the plane trying to fix it, as we worried whether we’d be able to take off or not. Eventually the technical fault was resolved but we had missed the take-off curfew. As Hamburg is not a 24/7 airport, all flights must depart by 11pm. It was 11.10. Bugger. There was another anxious wait while our pilots asked permission from the Gods of the Skies (or whoever they were calling) to take off late. Finally permission was granted and away we went!
Once we landed, we had further delays trying to get to my family’s house. At 1am on the morning of my 30th birthday, I found myself sitting under a dim lamp, cold & tired, reading yesterday’s newspaper, while my boyfriend grumbled and cursed about the hour-long wait for a train. On the other side of us, a man who had five too many was vomiting all over his shoes. Happy birthday to me!
After a fantastic weekend seeing our families and friends and celebrating my birthday and my parents’ birthdays (go Aries!), it was time to head back to Hamburg. I checked the trains to the airport in the morning but stupidly forgot to re-check after lunch. So when we arrived at the train station and found many of the trains to the airport were cancelled or diverted, I panicked! We hadn’t left ample time to travel there because my boyfriend hates hanging around airports, so we didn’t have much lee-way. After getting on the first train we could, phoning my boyfriend’s parents for an emergency lift from a nearby station to the airport (thanks you two!), hitting a long, long queue of taxis and cars trying to get into the airport, abandoning the car to awkwardly half-walk/half-run to the terminal, under the hot sun, getting through security and arriving at the departure lounge, we only had time to hastily buy some Duty Free gin (priorities…) before rushing to our gate. Apologies to all the people I stomped on, bashed and bumped into!
What lessons did I learn? Repeatedly check for updates about travel to/from airport. Leave extra time just in case, despite my boyfriend’s protests. Continue to make buying gin a priority, no matter how delayed we are.
Rome – Verona
My boyfriend and I pre-booked our train tickets from Rome to Verona weeks in advance and they were a bargain! Due to our forward-planning, we could spend less on travel and more on the important things, like food and wine, as we travelled around the Veneto and Emilia-Romagna regions.
However, the Roman public transport system ATAC had a different plan for our hard-earned cash. Let me give you some backstory; ATAC frequently go on strike and the whole city is brought to a standstill. There are only two underground lines as it is and when they are suspended, along with the trams, everyone has to resort to taxis, mopeds, cars or old-fashioned walking. A handful of buses continue to run, but they are few and far between, and always packed so you struggle to get on. Us English teachers, without our own cars or bikes, have three options:
1) See if our schools will pay for taxis to take us to/from lessons we cannot reach without public transport (so grateful my school agreed to do this more than once!),
2) Cancel our lessons (which usually results in losing a day’s pay)
3) Trek across the city, on foot, where you spend more time travelling to the lesson than actually in it.
Strike days are a way of life in Rome, as much a part of the routine as standing up to gulp a 90 cent coffee or waving away the hawkers trying to sell you a “selfie selfie!” stick whenever you go within twenty feet of a tourist attraction. Strikes happen so regularly, no one takes the rationale behind them seriously anymore. They occur at least once a month, 9 times out of 10 on a Friday, which conveniently gives the ATAC workers three-day weekends. Funny that.
So, when Ian and I arrived at the metro station to get our train to Rome’s Central Station, we were surprised to find the station doors barricaded, with a gaggle of baffled Italians outside, gesticulating madly. “Ma non è Venerdì!” we heard, more than once. Turns out ATAC had decided to strike with no warning! After an “Oh s**t!” moment, we joined the taxi queue, behind all the people who had the same idea a few seconds before us. I was frustrated to see them getting into taxis one-by-one, or in small groups. Surely this could be done more efficiently? I lugged my suitcase to the front of the queue and accosted a man getting into a taxi. I asked him where he was going and as it turns out, he was going to the station too. Hurrah! “Can we travel with you? We have a train to catch!”. He nodded and let us join him, startled but hospitable nonetheless. As his company was paying for his taxi journey, he refused to let us contribute towards the journey. Grazie signor!
We missed the train anyway…. by one bloody minute. While my boyfriend contemplated cancelling our whole holiday and going to the nearest bar to mope, I bought new tickets at “on the day” prices. Ouch! Arrivederci money, our time together was short but sweet. We arrived in Verona a few hours later than planned, then proceeded to experience a series of mishaps throughout the day.
1) Arriving at our Air B&B, when I promptly walked right into the sharp, hidden corner of a bed. After several minutes of wailing and rolling around on the covers, I ended up with a sexy, big, black bruise and a lingering hangover of stabbing pain.
2) Draining my new phone’s battery then locking myself out of it because I left my new Italian PIN code in our Rome apartment. I was convinced I could remember the four-digit combination. After about twelve attempts, turns out my boyfriend was right, I couldn’t remember it. God loves a trier though!
3) Getting on the right night bus in the wrong direction. We didn’t have internet access (due to my lifeless phone) and the bus didn’t announce any of its stops (of course) so we tried to track our journey through street names. Difficult to do in an unknown city…in the dark. We were confused as to why the bus journey out of the city centre took so much longer than travelling in. In case you hadn’t guessed, we’d been drinking by this point.
When we were the last ones remaining on the bus, we shuffled over to the driver and politely enquired where we were. I showed the driver where we were staying on my boyfriend’s phone. He took the phone and began to scroll north of our apartment’s location. North, and north and further north. Turns out we were at the end of the bus route, in the suburbs outside Verona, miles from where we needed to be. Great! Luckily Signor Bus Driver told us to sit tight while he had a cigarette, as the bus would soon be doing the long journey in reverse and he would make sure we got off at the right stop! We eventually fell into bed, exhausted and laughing about our terribly unfortunate day (it was either that or cry!)
Bali – London (via Bahrain)
In 2010, after ten amazing days in Bali, my ex and I arrived at the airport for our evening flight back to the UK. After checking in and heading to the nearest bar, we heard several names – including ours – being announced on the loudspeaker. Hmmmmm, probably not a good sign! The customer services desk told us our flight had been cancelled and we had to come back the next day for an update. We weren’t given the reason why, but Google quickly told us – Eyjafjallajökull, an Icelanic volcano, had erupted and sent tons of ash into the air, causing utter chaos, closures and delays across most of the European airspace.
We collected our suitcases and got into a taxi to take us back to the villa we’d been staying in (like I said before, it could be worse!). We couldn’t reach my ex’s family by phone and unfortunately we didn’t have the villa’s full address (I don’t know why – I blame being young & dumb!). Our taxi driver didn’t seem to know the area well so we drove around aimlessly for an hour, stopping several times for the driver to ask for directions. Finally defeated, he drove us back to the airport. It was very early in the morning and we were exhausted, so checked into the nearest, cheapest airport hotel. We It was pretty grim (there were blood stains on the bed sheets and the whole place was very dirty). I sent emails and texts to my ex’s family; the general premise being “We are in this dingy airport hotel, please come save us!”.
The next day after reuniting with his family, we travelled to a nearby travel agent and were told that the next flight to the UK wasn’t until May. It was mid-April by this point. I remember calling my boss and having a very surreal conversation: “I will be coming back to work….I just don’t know when”. Luckily, our ex’s family paid for us to fly to Bahrain, where they lived, to wait it out but many people weren’t as lucky. In the queue at the travel agent, we stood next to a very tearful, anxious mum who was borrowing money from her family and friends to pay for all the extra hotel room nights she needed for her and her children, while waiting for the airspace to reopen. As exciting as it sounds, having a holiday extended by ten days, was very stressful. None of the light and skimpy clothes I wore in Bali were appropriate for Bahrain. I was worried about leaving my apartment unattended for so long. I felt guilty about my colleagues having to cover me for so many days. I even missed my own birthday party, which my friend and I had organised. While she and our friends went out celebrating, I was on the other side of the world, sulking and re-watching all of the OC Season 1 (Great show!).
Here are some other honourable mentions
1. The time when someone accidentally took my purple suitcase to Saudi Arabia with her (I was in Doha, heading to Bahrain), leaving her near-identical purple suitcase with me. It is a horrible feeling when everyone collects their luggage and yours doesn’t arrive. It wasn’t much fun being without my clothes and toiletries for four days but luckily I had all my valuables with me (always put these in your hand luggage! No matter how heavy it becomes), I was staying with my ex’s family and his mum had plenty of clothes I could borrow and the airline returned it to me as quickly as they could.
2) When my boyfriend and I spent twelve hours in Prague airport. The day started fine, we had a morning flight and an early check-in. We boarded after a slight delay, then had a long wait on the tarmac, before being told a flock of birds had collided with the plane on its descent. They had caused so much damage that the flight had to be cancelled. Bloody birds! So, we all got off the plane, were reunited with our luggage and waited for an hour in a queue to speak to customer service representatives. We were offered an evening flight to London via Germany, or a direct flight the next day. As tempting as it was to have a free night in a hotel, we both had work the next day so opted for the evening flight. We could have travelled back into Prague’s city centre but it was raining heavily, we were tired and irritable so just waited it out in the airport. As we all know, airports are really dull after a couple of hours. We read, we surfed the net, we stretched out on benches and stared at the ceiling, I tried unsuccessfully to get my boyfriend to play Eye-Spy with me. The highlight of the day was getting lots of free food vouchers and making it our mission to spend every last penny of them (stocking up on eight chocolate bars! Just because!)
Anyway I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my misfortunes. Remember to share some of yours!
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow