By Gerry Haskins on Apr 28, 2010
This blog entry has nothing to do with patching and everything to do with volcanoes.
I traveled home to Dublin, Ireland, on Tuesday April 13th from the Warsaw Oracle Sun Customer Welcome Event which was canceled due to the tragic plane crash in Russia.
Enough time to repack for a weekend away with the wife and 3 kids in Madrid. Flew to Madrid on Wednesday 14th to arrive to news on CNN and BBC World that a volcano was erupting in Iceland.
By Thursday airports in Northern Europe, including Ireland, had been temporarily closed due to the ash cloud and were expected to reopen Friday. Friday became Saturday morning, then Saturday evening, then sometime on Sunday.
On Saturday Aer Lingus kindly texted to say they'd cancelled our flight home on Sunday with the advice to rebook or cancel the flight home. Brilliant!
CNN and BBC World cheerily reported that the last time this volcano erupted in lasted 2 years. Bugger!
Stuck in Madrid with wife and three kids, aged 10, 7, and 3. There are worse places to be stranded but I needed to get home to catch up with work. My wife is a teacher so she needed to get home for school on Monday as did the two older kids.
Armed with my Nokia 5800 smart(ish) phone and occasional access to the PC terminal in the hotel, I looked at the alternatives. I could rebook an Aer Lingus flight for Wednesday with absolutely no guarantee that flights would be operating or else book a ferry home from Cherbourg or Roscoff in France which is 1,368 km away from Madrid according to the RAC route planner.
I called Aer Lingus to be informed by a nice automated call handling system that their offices were closed until Monday. No further information on their web site except to state that flights were cancelled and no estimated date for recommencement. Thanks a bunch, Aer Lingus!
CNN and BBC World were happily reporting that flights could potentially be disrupted for weeks or even longer. Arrgghhh!
I decided to consult the boss – my wife. She said I was over-reacting. OVER-REACTING ?!!! Didn't get much sleep. By Sunday morning, ferries were booked out until Friday night and Aer Lingus booked out until the following Saturday. An hour later Aer Lingus flights were booked out until the following Monday with still no guarantee they'd even be flying by then. Bugger!
Our 3 year old, Suzie, was worried why all the planes had decided to fly into a volcano. She didn't think that was a good idea! The boys were just happy to be off school.
Time to make escape plans.
Firstly, booked a Best Western Hotel for Sunday night. Got good “last minute deal” on bestwestern.com. Had to get two taxis to it as Madrid taxis will not – under any circumstances – take more than 4 people. They dropped us off on the street. No sign of hotel. Bugger! Phone Best Western and ask them for the address. Eventually find hotel at other end of the street, past the roundabout.
Next looked at ferries. Irish Ferries or Celtic ferries from Cherbourg to Roslare on Friday night for 5 foot passengers for EURO 460 and 450 respectively for 19 hour sailing or Brittany Ferries from Roscoff to Cork also on Friday night for EURO 280 for 14 hour sailing. Booked Brittany Ferries after consulting with the boss.
Now, how to get to Roscoff from Madrid ? Phoned Avis, who said they might have a car in Madrid by Tuesday and provisionally booked it. Rang them up next morning to confirm it and was told there would be no cars available from Madrid until Friday. Bugger! Spainish Avis no help at all. Avis Preferred status didn't help at all.
Checked with Hertz. Same story. Arrghhh!
Booked same hotel for 1 more night. Price for 2 rooms had gone up from EURO 136 to EURO 265 without breakfast. Thanks Best Western! Arrrggggghhhhhhhh!!!
Phoned Avis UK reservations and got through to a very nice and very patient lady. So, where had they cars ? There was one available from Bilbao on Tuesday. It would cost EURO 1,200 for 3 days. Bugger!!! Booked it anyway as needed it. But how to get to Bilbao ?
CNN and BBC World were now estastic to report that all intercity trains were fully booked out.
I kept the nice Avis lady on the line looking for places closer to Madrid. My fingers ran over the map of Spain in my travel guide book. Guadalajara ? No cars. Segovia ? Yes, on Tuesday! Booked that. Now, how to get to Segovia ?
Canceled Best Western reservation in Madrid and booked Eurostarshotel in Segovia on smart phone. By now I was figuring out that TripAdvisor hotel ratings are rubbish (I'd previously figured out that their restaurant ratings are utter rubbish) and had started using Hotels.com instead. Good move!
My impressions of my Nokia smart phone are improving although it still tends to drop connectivity at the most inopportune times – like confirming hotel bookings! Bugger!
Asked receptionist how to get to Segovia and off with wife and kids in tow to Charmartin train station on the north side of Madrid. Huge queue in train station for tickets. Would take hours just to get ticket. Bugger!
Went up to a side desk with no queue to check where to get tickets to Segovia. It turned out to be the ticket desk for Segovia, it being the last stop on the commuter line, not the intercity lines! Yippee! Public transport in Spain is good and is cheap. EURO 20.50 for the whole family. Train departing in 40 minutes. Things are finally looking up!
Let the Great Escape begin!
Train pulls out and 1 hour 40 minutes later after constantly climbing we reach the beautiful, fabulous city of Segovia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site or so I'm told. Even better, by tomorrow it'll have an Avis car for rent!!! Short taxi ride to hotel beside the impressive Roman aquaduct. Explore old town – fabulous - then walk back to Avis office in train station to make absolutely sure they'll have the car tomorrow and that it'll have enough space for 5 plus luggage. The man at the desk assures me they'll have something, either a return or a car sent up from Madrid. He doesn't sound entirely convincing. Fingers crossed!
Tuesday dawns and go to collect car at lunch. The Avis man is true to his word and has a brand new Audi A3 Estate waiting for me. Just 121km in total on the clock. But no child seats or GPS available. Never mind, beggars can't be choosers. For the first time in days, I feel like I'm back in control of the situation.
I'd used the PC terminal in the hotel that morning and the previous night to book hotels along the route: San Sebastian, Bordeaux, Nantes. I must say the hotels and prices that hotels.com came up with all turned out to be excellent. Printed door-to-door route maps using the RAC Route Planner as I had no maps and no GPS. The Great Escape would be winging it.
And so at 1:30pm Tuesday we set off for Morlaix, France, nearest Avis drop-off to Roscoff, 1,368km away (or purportedly a bit less from Segovia).
The motorway down to San Sebastian is absolutely superb. A string of long tunnels and frighteningly high bridges for mile after mile. Built with EU money I guess, but it's surely one of the most impressive roads in the world.
4 hours and 400km later, reached San Sebastian, or Donastia as the Basques call it. Lovely town, nice hotel on hill, kindly signposted by the local tourist authority.
They don't eat until very late in Spain, and even at 7:45pm it's very hard to find any restaurant open yet. Kids and I are tired after drive and getting grumpy. Find a wine bar serving food. Have 3 course menu of the day. Meal for 5, including a bottle of wine comes to a grand total of EURO 39! EURO 39, now that's value! Things are looking up!
Come back down to earth next morning when breakfast of orange juice, coffee, and croissants in a local cafe in the old town also costs EURO 39!. Bugger!
Right, off to Bordeaux, stopping at Biarritz. Weather decides to have an aberation, and goes from 16 degrees Celius or preceding and subsequent days to 29 degrees today. Kids strip off and go swimming in Biarritz. Water painfully cold! Really PAINFULLY cold! Kids don't seem to notice. Drive onto Bordeaux reaching the hotel quite late due to an accident on the quays. Very tired. Eat in nice Pizzeria on quays. EURO 82 this time. Back to normal pricing!
Next day we drive to Nantes, getting hopelessly lost on the Peripheric (ring road) and then in town, partly thanks to me forgetting the hotel I've booked is outside Nantes, not in the city center. After 5 ½ hours driving, we finally reach the hotel. It's the Best Western De La Regate, centrally located in the middle of nowhere. Actually, it's a beautiful location, beside a lake looking across at a chateau, surrounded by very expensive looking summer houses, and quite close to the Peripheric as it turns out. Have nice walk by lake. Lovely wild flora, horses, rabbits, etc. Very posh restaurant attached to hotel. Would be a lovely place for a couple but decide it's not for the kids - no chips!
Get lost (again!) trying to follow directions to local restaurant and end up at a charming typically French restaurant called Le Cheval Blanc in a small town nearby. Again find the Menu du Jour excellent, both in terms of quality and price. So is the wine.
Return to hear from CNN and BBC World that planes are flying again. Some mumblings of excuses for the climbdown by the EuroControllers or whatever the folks who control European air space are called. But too late for us!
Next morning, it's off to Roscoff! Need to return car by 1:30pm in Morlaix or incur more costs. Drop kids and baggage (I mean the luggage, not the wife!) in Roscoff and return car to Morlaix 25km away. Over 1,600km on the car's clock now. Meet more Irish refugees in the Avis office and share a taxi back to Roscoff with them - Barry the dentist, Trish, Claire, and whats-her-name ? Spend nice afternoon in Roscoff and then an even better night sleeping on the Pont Avon as it sails to Cork. The ship is fabulous. Extremely quiet, luxurious, and well appointed 4 berth cabins with minature ensuite. Sea is perfectly calm. Pleasantly surprised by prices in restaurant for breakfast. No price gouging here!
Got picked by in Cork by brother-in-law and father-in-law and driven back to Dublin, arriving shortly after 3pm Saturday. The Great Escape is over after 5 days traveling. Enjoy sleeping in own bed at last!
Just enough time to repack for a flight Monday morning to Istanbul and then onto Prague via Budapest for more Oracle Sun Customer Welcome events. Bugger! Will be home Friday, volcanoes and Aer Lingus permitting!
This posting comes courtesy of the free WiFi in the Budapest Airport transfer lounge. Time to board for Prague and not an ash cloud in sight!