My wierd ash cloud adventure
I Was working with another Brit in Bavaria, Germany when the ash cloud hit on Thursday and supposed to be flying back on Friday to London Heathrow. When the story first broke in the day we all chuckled and carried on working then we watched as the airline network in northern europe slowly closed down and realised it was time to work on other ways of getting home. So we though ok we'll just book a eurostar out of Paris or Brussels for tomorrow evening and leave work early to get the train to France/Belgium however it was all booked up. At this point it dawned on us the land travel networks were about to get a bit overloaded and some lateral thinking was needed, we knew we had only one major obstacle the English Channel. By midnight Thursday the ferries were fully booked if you did not have a car, and by Friday morning we couldn't book train tickets to the ports as they were sold out or websites crashed. Booked another nights stay in the hotel as a precaution, some of the last few rooms and of course the price had doubled.
Gulp. I work for a big international company so we started hearing from coworkers stuck in other countries, one group in Scandinavia were stuck until Tuesday at the earliest and then heard from a guy in Turkey that he was stuck for at least 10 days for a direct UK flight. We also got some other wierd news that six of our German sales people were stuck in my home town. Around the same time luckily someone mentioned that our company office in Munich might have a pool car. So we sat, ruminated and came up with a cunning plan.
We would drive the thousand kilometers to the coast, get the eurotunnel car service which still had spaces as you must be in a car or bus to use it. Then drive to London drop off my coworker drive back to the hotel in my home town and drop the car for the Germans who would then do the same journey in reverse. Decided we would over night the drive as the traffic on Friday afternoon was a lot heavier than normal so went back to the hotel to pack and chill out for a bit. When we checked out late in the evening on Friday
people were camped in the hotel lobby and one group of 3 business execs we saw could only get one room with a single bed. Our checking out caused a mini rush for the unmadeup rooms and people were very nervous especially one group of young American lads who were trying to head south. We assured them that being students stuck in one of the best beer cities in the world on a Friday night was not really the worst thing that can happen to you and the experience would be a nice story to tell down the years which seemed to cheer them up
Chatting to people while we queued we found out that there were no rental cars left, no hotel rooms, the trains were full and some people were really starting to run out of financial resources. People were calm but certainly twitchy and that was bound not to improve as time went on.
So we fled, drove all night chatting to stay awake, only stopping for fuel. At the Calais tunnel checkin we saw people in business suits trying to hitch. After a mad drive through London in a car with the stearing wheel on the wrong side of the car for the UK and a speedo only on kilometers I get to the hotel to see five happy Germans (the sacrifical German was sent sightseeing) some 1200km and 12 hours later. One grinning German told me of his relief at the prospect of getting home but asked "We don't understand something, we came to England but the weather was wonderful and the food excellent, surely something is wrong?" I replied "don't worry it's the volcano, normal service will be resumed shortly".
Once home after a curry and a beer at 11am UK time (how decadent) and some sleep I wanted to share my little adventure plus a few lessons:
If you hear of a trigger event stop what you are doing and make multiple backup plans in good time.
Don't panic! Plus keep a good sense of humour (humor) as it reassures those around you.
Get resources you may need for the plan as early as is feasable.
Try to do the opposite of the herd where possible - the cross channel eurostar passenger terminals are near bursting point currently but eurotunnel car train was very quiet.
Having a partner in crime makes the situation much less stressful
Always makes sure you have few days extra clothes and anything else you might need when travelling.
Unlimited speed Autobahns are wonderful
Just wondering now if I will be able to get the flight tomorrow night to my next bit of work in Rio, Brazil which ironically on my last visit two weeks ago flooded the day after I left. The flight is looking doubtful though so it will be nice to stay home for a while....